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Making (a) Difference

Paperwork and the Political Machine

Alexander Thomas T. Smith

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Dumfries and Galloway, this article describes how Conservative Party activists put a variety of discursive artefacts to work as they sought to mass produce and distribute leaflets during the 2003 local Government and Scottish Parliament elections. The leaflet, called In Touch, rendered explicit the need to demonstrate that a political candidate and political party are connected (in touch) with a wider community. This leaflet was therefore designed to invoke a set of connections between person (the candidate), place (the Council Ward/community) and political party (the Conservatives) that might register with even the most disinterested elector. At the same time, the production of these leaflets facilitated the generation of an activist network amongst the party's volunteer base, which exhausted itself by the time Polling Day passed. I argue that addressing logistical and organizational questions - that is, activist methodology - in the production of the In Touch leaflet focused the attention of political activists more than the 'issues' on which they intended to campaign, which were 'found' or 'produced' as artefacts or contrivances of activist labour. In addressing such questions, Tory strategists hoped to 'make (a) difference' given that they tended to view previous campaigns to have been executed in an amateur and disorganized fashion. Through the sheer scale of their production and distribution throughout Dumfries and Galloway, it was hoped that the In Touch leaflets would produce social as well as electoral effects.

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Disaggregating the electoral roll

Electioneering and the politics of self knowledge

Alexander Thomas T. Smith

Following their ‘wipe-out’ at the 1997 General Election, Scottish Conservatives worked from the assumption that they had endured their own ‘crisis’ in representation. The material consequences of this ‘crisis’ entailed losses of !nancial and other resources, knowledge and political legitimacy. This article describes how some Conservative activists addressed this ‘crisis’ in the period leading to the 2003 local Government and Scottish Parliament elections. Their efforts to render the secret ballot transparent in order to discern the voting intentions of potential supporters both demonstrated and re!ected their efforts to manage this crisis. Despite legal constraints, they constructed an imaginary of thousands of local voters’ preferences through a variety of discursive instruments, which allowed Party activists to disaggregate the electoral roll in order to apprehend a new whole – the Conservative electoral base. This, in turn, enabled a Conservative politics of self-knowledge, as a form of empowerment for these activists.