I recently found myself talking to a chief executive of a leading UK charity, and I asked about her view of charities campaigning. Her response surprised me – she replied by saying, “oh, we won’t be doing much of that – campaigning is just about stunts.”
Campaigning can certainly include stunts. I remember when Tony Blair was proposing to reform the House of Lords, and his preferred route seemed to be, at the time, an appointed second chamber. As a result of that decision, Charter 88 arranged a brilliant photo shoot on Palace Green with loads of people in robes all with masks of Tony Blair. Yes it was a stunt – but what a powerful way to challenge a policy decision.
Yet campaigning is so much more than stunts. Whenever I have done campaign training within an organisation, I have always started by asking people how they define campaigning. When you pose this question you will always get a wide array of answers, and that is not a problem – campaigning is firmly an art and not a science. What I think is important is not that there is one universal answer to this question, but that the organisation has a common definition that everyone signs up to.
For me campaigning is about having a burning desire to achieve a policy or practice change. Once you have identified the problem and the solution, a campaigner then assesses the political environment and decides which campaigning tool (or tools) to use to drive the campaign forward. These tools can include media work, lobbying, supporter action, work with allies and even stunts.
The critical point is that the choice of tool is made in the context of both the political environment and the goal of the campaign.
So campaigning stunts will always have their place – but let’s start with that burning desire to achieve change – and the rest should then follow!