They say you only really learn from your defeats. Last Friday I found out.
Seeing your candidate win on the first round of voting only to lose on transfers is bad enough. When it’s your father, it’s a lot worse.
We knew it would be tough. The Humberside Police force area was technically a Tory marginal. Add to that the fact it was being held in November, there were no local elections on the same day or freepost to send out leaflets, it became herculean.
And thanks to a voting system that the Tories had campaigned against in the AV referendum, a little known Conservative councilor called Matthew Grove won by 2,231 votes on second preferences.
I blogged at the time about the problems we faced and that gut-wrenching feeling of falling short.
As we walked out of the declaration at Bridlington Spa, I turned to Keith Hunter, the man who ran JP close in the selection to become our Humberside PCC candidate.
I said: “Keith. In four years time, we’ll be back here. And we’ll get you elected.”
There was no doubt that Keith would make an impressive candidate. 30 years in Humberside Police, he went from beat bobby to commander with a proven track record of reducing crime.
And even after losing out to John, he still came out to campaign for the man who beat him. He never knew this, but JP had lined him up to be his Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner. They would have made a great team.
Instead, Grove won and promptly appointed his mate as his Deputy. Neither had any experience of policing and sadly it showed.
After a hopeless police force reorganisation, Humberside Police was ranked ‘inadequate’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.
I kept in touch with Keith over the years, hoping one day to convince him to run for it. Since that election, he’d been an advisor on criminal justice for the Foreign Office and out in Bosnia.
So as the selection was about to open at the end of last year, I and others convinced him to go for it. He breezed through the selection as members knew he was the most experienced person for the job.
He also managed to secure a fantastic agent and campaign manager in former Brigg and Goole MP Ian Cawsey. There was also a team of people across the force area who’d campaigned in 2012 and knew where we went wrong and how we could do better.
People like Shona McIssac, George McManus, Shelagh Finlay, Paul McCartan and Victoria Mumby. Added to that, we had some very talented young people – Rich Newlove, Terence Smith to name but a few. Then there was the sterling support from our MPs; Melanie Onn, Nic Dakin, Karl Turner, Alan Johnson and Diana Johnson.
And then there was Keith himself. Thirty years in Humerside Police, from the beat to the boardroom, gave him an unrivalled level of knowledge of how the force works and how to set the strategic direction.
That’s why we developed the slogan ‘It’s time for a professional.’ His action plan was rich in the kind of detail that only a criminal justice expert could bring.
So what did we learn from that loss in 2012 to try and secure a win in 2016? I wrote some initial thoughts on what we could do back in 2012.
But this election was going to be tougher because it was clear the Government had decided to hold on to as many Tory PCCs as possible by not promoting.
With Welsh, Scottish, Mayoral and local elections all on the same day, the PCC contests were the Cinderella races.
£3m was spent promoting the inaugural PCC elections in 2012. This time, that cost was £2,700.
In light of it being an even harder election, I think these are the key reasons why Keith won.
Firstly, it’s all about the candidate. John is marmite – you love him or hate him. That works for first-past-the-post elections but not when you’re looking for second preferences.
Nearly every PCC candidate – from UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom to the Lib and the Tory, all attacked JP. On their leaflets, on the airwaves and in the newspapers.
Keith, on the other hand, didn’t come across as political with a big P. Experience, knowledge and being less partisan, proved to be very appealing to the electorate.
Secondly, we did more on digital. Last time we used Twitter a lot but didn’t engage enough on Facebook. Technology and targeting has advanced since 2012.
As I discovered at a Facebook training session for fellow General Election candidates last year, we could target the news feeds of potential voters on a constituency basis.
So I crafted a bit of content to reach them. This short film, made with Jack Slater, got more than 10,000 Facebook views in the constituency.
I used Jack again to make this film about Keith.
We felt it was important that he was seen on the street, introducing himself, highlighting the problems and making his case.
Targeting the Humberside Police force area, it received more than 32,000 Facebook views.
Thirdly, Keith’s campaign did the basics a lot better. A better postal vote strategy, better liaison with the local Labour parties and better rebuttal.
This third point proved to be crucial when the Conservatives did one almighty ‘Hail Mary pass’ to try and knock Keith out of the contest.
A week before the election, Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy stood up in the House of Commons and asked Leader of the Commons Chris Grayling if PCC candidates who were former police officers should publicly release their service record.
Grayling, not surprisingly agreed, but went further to say – under parliamentary privilege – that he had heard ‘allegations about the Labour PCC candidate for Humberside.
He added: “If the stories alleged about the candidate are true, he is unfit for public office, and it is a matter of public interest that the truth should be known before election day.”
It was a cowardly act. Keith’s response was perfect – he calmly published his service record which proved he’d been nothing but a brilliant officer.
Faced with such a swift and categorical denial, Percy backtracked to say he wasn’t referring to Keith and Grayling failed to say what the unfounded allegations were.
On the doorstep, this smear actually had the reverse of the intended effect. True blue voters told Keith they were angry and it just strengthened their resolve to vote for him.
And as the polling booths opened, this story was splashed on front pages across Hull and the East Riding. It seems what goes around, comes around.
As we were getting out the vote in Hull on election day, I had people stopping their cars to talk to Keith and shake his hand. In the city of Hull alone, over 20,000 people voted for Keith – 15,000 more than Grove.
He also led in North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. Our big worry was East Riding, a solid Tory area that proved our undoing in 2012. But even here, Keith’s vote was competitive – Grove got 19,933 votes to Hunter’s 18,458.
So when the first preference figures were declared for the whole region, we knew we’d done it. Keith had a first round majority of over 21,000.
Only half of the 48,000 or so UKIP and Lib Dem second preferences came into play – and Keith got almost 60% of them.
His final majority over Grove was 24,353. In 2012, the Tory sneaked in with a 2,231 majority. We’d managed to get a swing to Labour of 11% on 2012 and a 9.3% swing on the General Election result.
Needless to say we were quite happy.
There are still concerns that need to be addressed. Our turnout, 22.84%, was higher than 2012’s 19.15%. But it’s still way too low.
That’s because many people refused to vote because they hadn’t heard from the candidates.
Like 2012, the Home Office refused to pay the Freepost for the candidates’ leaflets, in spite of a warning from the Electoral Commission that turnout would continue to be low if they didn’t fund them.
A simple booklet featuring a page from each candidate would have helped and kept the costs down.
In conclusion, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Keith has many people who can righty claim to have helped secure that victory. If I’ve left names out, please forgive me.
And Keith deserves huge credit for being a great candidate, who kept his dignity and composure when his opponents started throwing mud.
But as an electoral orphan, I’ve carried that lonely guilt since 2012 that we could have done better.
So to see Keith declared the victor in the very same hall where we lost, made the win so much sweeter.
It allowed me to lay a ghost to rest.
And Matthew Grove finally got beat by a Prescott.
Today we’ve heard about the dark side of the Olympics and social media.
So let me show you how it can be used in a positive way – and solve problems too.
As you may have read before, on Saturday I went to the Olympic Park after managing to get a £10 entrance only ticket to the park, not expecting to see any games action other than on the big screens.
But as we walked around the site, I came across a long queue for the ticket office. It was for recycled tickets to watch the basketball and handball. So after a half hour queue, I found myself picking up a £90 ticket to see the US v Croatia in the basketball arena for just….£5.
When I went home I saw the huge PR disaster that was emerging from the blocks of empty seats at various venues in and outside the Olympics Park.
TV, print and online were all showing the pictures of sparsely-attended events, because of the absence of VIPs, sponsors and the ‘Olympic Family’ – officials, dignitaries and the media.
So I thought I’d sit down and attempt to come up with a solution in my blog – a 30 minute use-it-or-lose-it plan to recycle tickets for seats not taken within half an hour of the start.
You can read it here.
I posted the blog on Saturday night and since then I’ve been amazed it has been viewed more than 20,000 times with more than 500 tweets and re-tweets.
For the first and probably only time, I trended on Twitter in London. My tweets were RTd by Stan Collymore and Alastair Campbell.
Even Gary Lineker supported the campaign and started the hashtag #filltheseats.
As a result I found myself doing a live two-way on Sports Tonight on Sky (live via my iPad’s Skype from my kitchen!, an hour long discussion about the Olympics on the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say show to 180 million listeners, a two-way with France 24 and an hour long slot on Nick Ferrari’s LBC 97.3 Breakfast show.
On Sunday afternoon, the Chair of the British Olympic Association Colin Moynihan adopted my 30 minute use-it-or-lose it policy and yesterday Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was backing the plan too.
But whilst that’s all well and good, the #filltheseats plan has not come into effect yet.
Locog are still trying to solve the problem by getting the Olympic family to hand back tickets.
I’ve been receiving tweeted photos throughout the day on the hashtag to show there are still not enough bums on seats.
Whilst it’s a start to get more than 3,000+ unused tickets a day back in the system, the 30 minute plan would free up thousands more – and a lot more quickly.
There is also still confusion as to where you could get recycled tickets. It appeared the recycling system was stopped completely on Sunday as Locog tried to regroup.
It transpires, from a Games official who told me on condition of remaining anonymous, that Locog thought if it actively promoted ticket recycling there would be massive queues of disappointed people waiting for hours to get a recycled ticket. That’s an image the organisers desperately didn’t want to see.
The alternative was of course rows and rows of empty seats, giving the wrong perception that Locog can’t organise a Games and the British public don’t care about sport.
My guess is that Locog had hoped it wouldn’t have to forcibly recycle tickets for fear of alienating the ‘Olympic family.’
But the images continue to be plastered across papers and TVs around the world and I think there is now no choice. (Check out the Guardian’s running blog of empty seat pictures.)
Here’s just a few pics I’ve had tweeted to me today which I’ve RTd at #filltheseats
Believe it or not the Wimbledon match was Venus Williams’!
What we need know is for Locog to grab the nettles – even if it annoys the IOC – and bring in the policy of ‘use-it-or-lose it’ after half an hour. If they’re later than that, they can be fastrtrackerd to get the next recycled ticket.
But I’m also hearing from people that there’s still a big problem on ordering tickets online.
@stevenjcourt tweeted: “I spent an hour last night “buying” non-existent tickets, 15 minute wait time to confirm then tickets not available.”
@nerdalicious_me said: “Can you blog about the monstrosity that is the London 2012 ticket site? No point release tix if ppl can’t buy them!!”
And @Bonkybonkbonk tweeted “They’re releasing seats at their full corporate price. So upwards of £125 per ticket, out of reach for your average fan.”
I’ve just taken a quick look at the ticket site (actually it’s not a quick look, it’s painfully slow with log-in process and a terrible search facility) and prices are still quite high though there’s odd bargain if you fancy football.
But the one ticket you won’t get are day Olympic Park access tickets. Which is a shame because there’s more than enough space inside for people to enjoy the Games even if they can’t get into an event.
So I hope they go further and follow my other proposal to make more day access tickets available, maybe 100 on a first come first served basis on the gate but ONLY if you go straight in there and then. (That would stop them being touted.) You could then add more based on people on a one in one out basis.
But out of any adversity or crisis comes humour. And Twitter has a new star.
“The Empty Seat” (@olympicseat) uses humour very powerfully to make the point and already has nearly 17,000 followers.
I’ll leave you with some of the best!
Two years ago, two men met at City Hall.
Both were known to those in the know but were still waiting for that big breakthrough.
The first was Andrew Adonis – a No10 backroom wonk who’d become Schools Minister and was making a name for himself with Academies and renewing the capitals schools with the London Challenge programme.
The second was Bow’s finest, Dizzee Rascal, who’d just released his ‘Maths + English’ album to critical acclaim but was still waiting for his first number one hit.
Whilst both came from different worlds they actually had a lot in common. Adonis had a difficult childhood and was given a council funded place at a boarding school. Dizzee was expelled from a handful of schools.
And both had that unyielding drive to get to the top against the odds.
Political commentators said Adonis, who I worked with for three years on improving the image of London schools through London Challenge, would be axed from Government as soon as Brown got through that famous black door.
Music experts said Dizzee, who rapped on Band Aid 20, would never crossover to the mainstream in his own right. Both proved their critics decisively wrong.
Two years later, Adonis is probably the most talented Secretary of State in the Cabinet, this week announcing to the delight of the Labour benches plans to renationalise the East Coast Line whilst Dizzee wowed Glastonbury and has two number ones under his belt.
I brought them together to launch a new website promoting out of school summer courses. Dizzee agreed to do it because he got his break at an after-school club. He was able to learn how to lay down tracks and produce music. Summer Uni was the making of him.
So it’s good to see that their hard work paid off and I for one will always remember that we had more people at our bash than Mayoral Questions, which was going on at the same time three floors below. They even asked us to turn the music down!
Dizzee’s surprise choice of the track ‘Pussyole’ did give me a bit of a fright but luckily the client couldn’t hear the lyrics because the bass was so loud. And the kids LOVED it.
Here you can see both men in action in the clip – but check out DJ Semtex. A remarkable turntable maestro.
Even more remarkable when you consider he only has one arm and can scratch with his nose.
Now THAT’s talent.