Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The next moves forward

Last week I blogged about the importance of using the post-election honeymoon to rebuild the voluntary party and seek new and innovative ways to engage with our supporters - see HERE

Part of that initiative is a series of constituency-wide hand delivered "thank you" leaflets sent jointly by our parliamentary and local candidates, which include a reply-paid tear off slip enabling residents to become "Registered Supporters" at no cost. (see HERE). The first two constituencies worth of cards have been signed off and are with the printer. 

This afternoon the following email was sent to a sample group of around 2,000 known Conservatives who have given us their email address. By 9pm almost 250 (significantly over 10%) had responded positively and signed up to be "Registered Supporters".  I expect that number to increase to 20% by the weekend.  Perhaps I am being naive, but I am very encouraged by this positive response, especially as we excluded from the mailing all those who already help or support the party financially.

Finally, the West Kent Chairman, William Rutherford, has been invited to write a piece for ConHome on the new methods we are using to rebuild the voluntary party in area. All good stuff and exciting for the future. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Linking love and triumphs

Politics can be a consuming, brutal and unforgiving business - especially so for our partners left at home, more so if they do not share or obsession and commitment.

My own partner, Steve, is a case in point. In peacetime he puts up with me being out at least three evenings per week and many Saturdays, too. During elections I am seldom here unless to sleep and shower. Phone calls at 11pm are common as is the inevitable "crisis" whilst on holiday. We look back and laugh, but three consecutive holidays were interrupted by various "trouble at mill" phone calls. 

One of his favourite dinner party stories is the time we were boating up the Thames and had just arrived at Cliveden Reach when the "gay marriage" issue broke. Greg Clark's support for the measure resulted in a few raised eyebrows in the more "disgusted" areas of his constituency. I was briefing the newspapers on the importance of equality and justice, but being on the water and in a natural rural valley, the only way I could get a signal was to stand on top of our narrowboat ducking overhanging branches - to the bemusement of other boaters queueing for Cookham Lock. "Don't let the buggers get him down" said the sympathetic reporter. I didn't know if he was referring to the members or the gays.

With stoic understanding Steve has come to accept that for at least one month a year he lives with a stranger. Even if I am here in body, my mind and my attention is elsewhere. He once said living with me during an election is like being married to a man with 165 demanding mistresses. I do my best to leave work behind, but I know I fail. He says that it was my drive, energy and determination which he fell in love with and he wouldn't want me to change. I am lucky to have a man who loves me so unconditionally as without him I would be lost. 

Each year since we met he has marked the end of the election with the gift of silver cuff links, always left for me to find when I return from the count. I am a tad pernickety with cuff links - I don't really like those swivel bars which are so common now, much preferring solid bars or chains.  He told me that researching and buying them gives him great joy as it means the campaign is drawing to an end and he's about to get his partner back. How lucky am I to be so loved?

Today I was sorting out my little leather box in which I keep my cuff links, collar stiffeners and shirt studs. Each pair of 'election cufflinks' brought back memories; my favourite set being the first he bought - truly lovely square Art Deco silver and mother of pearl ones from the early 1930s.   

So here's a toast to Steve and all the wives, husbands and partners of politicians, apparatchiks and activists who spend too many nights alone than is fair or just. I for one would be lost without my partner's love and support. I suspect I am not alone.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

West Kent THANK YOU cards about to land in the doormats

I have always been a strong advocate of delivering a THANK YOU leaflet following the election, regardless of the outcome. Having bombarded residents with paper asking for their vote, the least we can do (win or lose) is thank them for their support. 

This year I have designed a nice, good quality card sent jointly from the local council candidates and the MP. It includes a perforated tear-off freepost reply card inviting residents to sign-up to be "Registered Supporters". 

This is how the front of the card will look on the doormat:

This is the front once opened out

And the reverse, localised for each ward

Please let me know if you would like a copy of the InDesign file for use locally. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Can anyone spot what's missing?

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council election results... 

We won the war, now let's win the peace

In the euphoria following the unexpected scale of our victory we must not avoid addressing the very real problems we have with our ground troops. We would be failing in our duty if we missed this once in five years opportunity to rebuild our activist base and reform the relationship between the party and those who support us in the country. 

We won on Thursday due to the accuracy and strength of the "air war",  and thank God for it as I doubt very much we could have won had we been solely reliant on "boots on the ground". 

There are of course exceptions. We still have Associations who manage to maintain a first rate campaign organisation with the sole purpose of winning elections.  In my own patch, Chatham & Aylesford is a prime example.  Despite being Kent's smallest Association with just over 100 members, C&A activists, with no outside help, delivered this year eight pieces of literature to every household, canvassed every voter and went back on the outs. Over 80% of C&A members were actively involved in the campaign. I even had to deploy C&A activists into other "safer" Kent seats with 3x the membership to assist with clerical and delivery tasks. 

Despite sending over 1,000 "man hours" of campaign support to 40:40 seats and our phone bank making in excess of 5,000 GOTV calls, I still received a degree of flack for putting too much resource into our West Kent "safe seats". I took much of this on the chin, but I did respond snippily to one senior figure by reminding him that his own target seat had a 13,000 majority in 1992 and was considered "safe" - had we not taken it for granted we probably wouldn't have lost in in 1997 and then had to spend 15 years and so much money to win it back. He graciously accepted the point. 

I absolutely accept the need to deploy activists where they are required, but there must be a balance. In our so called "safe seats" we may still have a large membership, but most are into retirement and far from fit and active. In many of these seats a lack of a sense of urgency, little professional support and a laissez fair approach to campaigning has weakened our base and deskilled our activists.  I have visited many such constituencies in recent years and I despair at how often I hear that "canvassing irritates people", "more than one leaflet puts people off" and "there's no point doing anything on polling day as people have already made up their minds". Too many branches spend their days finding tellers for polling stations and run lovely "Committee Rooms" but then don't do anything with the information the tellers provide as "we don't have the manpower to knock-up". When I suggest that perhaps the one or two activists they have would be better knocking on doors reminding people to vote than sitting at a polling station looking at those who have already voted, I am viewed with suspicion and horror. Apparently, "if people go to the polling station and there is no Troy teller, they will change their mind and vote for another party". Really?

On the other end of the scale, in large swathes of the country there is little or no Conservative organisation at all. I know these are seats we will probably never win, but we have done politics and our own campaigning ability no favours by allowing ourselves to become irrelevant in so many constituencies. There are now entire cities with no Conservative councillors and I know of three large cities where there are fewer Conservative Party members than we have in an average branch in West Kent. 

Does this matter? Actually yes it does. In 1992 my home constituency of Wallasey was held by 279 votes in no small part thanks to dozens Liverpool activists, knowing they couldn't win locally, coming to help Lynda Chalker defeat Labour. If we relied on that campaign support now it simply wouldn't happen as those activists are not there. In the 1980s Merseyside returned seven Conservative MPs with majorities of between 5,000 - 20,000. Now there are none. When we have no-one on the ground shaping the narrative we cannot be surprised when the narrative (and the ballot boxes) are dominated by those with opposing views. 

The Conservative Party is at its best and strongest when we are part of the day to day life of our local communities. That doesn't mean busing-in coachloads of willing activists in the weeks before an election. It means having Conservatives on Neighbourhood Watch Groups, residents' associations, parish councils, credit unions, parochial church councils, play groups and all the other groups and societies which form part of our communities. I accept that Kent isn't Merseyside or Manchester, but there are wards in West Kent which elect Conservative councillors with thumping 60% majorities despite having equal levels of social inequality as any areas in our great northern cities. Why? Because we have identified and nurtured activists from within these communities who share our values, work hard for local people, gain their trust and subsequently win their hearts, minds and votes. 

In West Kent we are going to strike whilst the sweet taste of victory lingers. Within weeks there will be a thank you card to every voter (localised by ward) and a pre-paid reply card for people to sign-up as a "registered supporter" at no charge.  We will nurture this group for the future, as I believe from within them will come our next generation of activists, councillors and community leaders. 

Having won an election the easiest thing is to celebrate then do nothing in the safe knowledge that we have five more years.  If we don't strike now we never will. By November the gloss will have faded and the cold winter nights will deter. By spring it will be business as usual and the moment will have passed.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Well done to the Tally Team

I blogged earlier in the week about the training we provided for our Counting Agents, with particular emphasis on sampling. We even want as far as running a fake "count" with a real ballot box filled with almost 2000 (dummy) ballot papers with the tables set-up as they would be at the count. This allowed the Counting Agents an opportunity to practise their sampling in "real time" in as life-like an environment as possible. 

A number of people asked if it was "worth the effort" and / or "was it sufficiently accurate" to be useful. To which the answer is a resounding "yes".  By 2am, 6 full hours before the declaration, I was able to call Tracey Crouch and say "you've won by 11,000". We now also have a detailed picture from each of the 50 polling districts showing were out strengths and weaknesses lie.

The skill is having Counting Agents who are able to remain focused, dispassionate and thorough even when exhausted. Our guys did a great job. 

Here is the summary of the sample with the actual result alongside.

Standing Proud for Conservative Votes

Highlight (or perhaps the low point) of all the counts I attended was finding myself in a heated debate with a Presiding Officer over a spoilt ballot paper.

A voter had drawn seven penises alongside the names of all seven candidates on the ballot paper. Six were flaccid, apart from the one alongside the Conservative, which was standing proud. The Presiding Officer declared it an invalid vote. I wasn't giving up without a fight. To me it was a clear intention.  I even found Case Law - previously a judge had accepted that a "happy face" drawn alongside the name was a valid vote. If a "happy face" is allowed surely a "happy willy" should be accepted, too. 

The row between a bloody-minded agent and a somewhat po-faced Presiding Officer raged on for several minutes before the absurdity of the situation got the better of me and I gave up the fight. The Labour candidate sniggering next to me didn't help nor did the intervention of a Lib Dem activists who asked "how can one be sure that an erect penis is a sign of approval?"

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Why my life-long Christian Socialist partner is voting Conservative tomorrow.

Tomorrow, Thursday 7 May, my partner for the last 13 years will do something for the first time. A lifelong Christian Socialist and former member of the Labour Party, Steve will be voting Conservative. 

In truth, this is actually the second time he has voted Conservative - but the first time was at the Rochester & Strood By Election when he would have voted for whichever party was best placed to stop Mark Reckless.  

Tomorrow he will be voting Conservative because he wants the Conservative Party to win and for David Cameron to remain Prime Minister. 

This is not some Damascene conversion. Nor has he switched allegiance under pressure from me or for a peaceful life at home. He remained a Socialist and voted Labour for 12 of the 13 years we have been together. 

His change is due to two things

  • He wants to vote on Britain's membership of the EU and he knows that only one party can realistically offer that, and
  • He simply doesn't trust Labour with Britain's economy. 
Many years ago I accepted that we would probably never agree politically and whilst we talked about politics we resolved to never let such differences divide us.  I am not going to say I am proud of him for changing his politics as I am proud of him regardless of how he votes. 

However, it speaks volumes for the state of today's Labour Party when a man as committed to Labour's cause as he was, who happily voted Labour under Kinnock, Blair and even Gordon Brown, now feels he cannot vote for them under Miliband and Balls.