It is in its documents that the electoral campaign is made visible, in and through which its practices are constituted and articulated with one another. When the Conservative Party in Dumfries and Galloway set out to recover the electoral presence it had lost in the general election of 1997, it did so on paper. Building toward both Scottish Parliament and local council elections to be held in early May 2003, a core campaign team met every Monday morning from the beginning of January in the Party’s local offices. It worked to a standard agenda, which directed the attention of participants to different aspects of the campaign. Its principal instruments were documents – the questionnaire, the letter, the press release, the leaflet and the plan – and they determined its principal activities.
As the election approached, the letters pages of local newspapers became ‘a discursive battleground for rival activists’. The party’s Local Opinion Survey, meanwhile, distributed by post, sought the views of householders on a range of local issues, and asked about their voting intentions. Its main purpose was to identify supporters, actual or potential, who then became the focus of more intensive target letters as polling day approached.
A leaflet pushed through every door made the party present in voters’ homes, gave evidence of its local existence and activity. Its design and presentation testified – at least to party organizers – to their and their party’s professionalism. And its content worked to make connections between local issues and concerns, the national organization and the forthcoming elections: it effectively linked a person (the candidate) to a place (the ward or constituency) and to a party (the Conservatives). It served as a useful physical prop, too, in the doorstep encounter, converting the always potentially agonistic relationship into one of gift-giving: ‘we may or may not want to argue, but let me give you this leaflet in case you want to give me your vote’.
Back in the office, a spreadsheet, the Campaign Plan seen and used by the strategists alone, set a schedule of what was to be deployed when, bringing different elements of campaign into relation with each other. So it was in this ‘chain of documents’ that the campaign was made real, through which it became a tractable thing capable of being talked about and acted upon.
The story of the Conservative campaign in Dumfries and Galloway is drawn from Alexander Smith (2011) Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives: banal activism, electioneering and the politics of irrelevance, Manchester: Manchester UP; successive quotations are from pp 31, 57 and 132
Betsy Super’s remark on the field work list is from her Everyday Party Politics, op cit, p 115, and the analysis of the Labour flyer from Sam Page and Jason Dittmer (2015) ‘Assembling Political Parties’, Geography Compass 9 (5) 251–261; the quotations are from pp 256-7 and 258