Research was not merely not commissioned; it was ignored. Our initial focus group work clearly showed that people were contemptuous of the idea that electoral reform would prevent corruption; people only approved of notions such as AV “making MPs work harder” in the context of them having to reach out beyond their core party support during elections. Despite this advice, the campaign repeatedly sought to conflate the two. Similarly, the advice we got from veterans of the 2004 North East referendum was that celebrities were of limited value. Despite this, we ran a campaign that was obsessed not merely with celebrities but with ones who appealed only to the educated middle classes.
This is the only office I’ve ever worked in where the female staff felt it necessary to hold regular ‘ladies lunches’ in the interests of mutual support. The initial attempt to get the campaign to entrench the principles of “respect, empower, include” into the way it treated staff and volunteers was openly mocked and disparaged by members of the senior team. In the commercial sector, this would be seen as evidence of highly aberrant behaviour, yet the situation was left to fester.
A lot of Liberal Democrats have been calling loudly for John Sharkey to be held accountable in some way for the campaign’s numerous failures, and it has to be said that the buck did stop with him – at his insistence. He certainly does need to address his critics’ points.
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