Thursday, 21 July 2016

Membership Recruitment Campaign

With the Labour Party in disarray, Theresa May riding a crest of popular support and with nationwide interest in political engagement at an all time high, Conservatives should be pushing home our advantage by embarking on an ambitious recruitment campaign. 

In West Kent we have just dispatched 2,000 recruitment letters to "test the market".  We have carefully selected:
  • 500 pledges in socio-economic groups heavily inclined to Leave
  • 500 pledges in socio-economic groups heavily inclined to Remain
  • 500 brand new pledges identified as Conservative during this year's local elections
  • 500 former members whose membership lapsed between 2005 - 2015
The letter basically carried the same core messages:
  • There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in politics
  • Theresa May has hit the ground running / strong support for new cabinet and government
  • Need for experience in challenging times ahead
  • Time for people who share our views to help shape the future of the Conservative Party
Here is a sample of our of the letters sent:

And here is our revamped recruitment leaflet

Above - front of leaflet (folded to DL)

Above - reverse of leaflet (folded to DL)

And, of course, here is today's great team of volunteers who braved the heat and humidity at West Kent Towers to pack 2,000 envelopes:

Today's star packers (from bottom left): Chris Baldock, David Adams, Joan Tree, David Elliott, Catherine Adams, Sue Nuttall, Joe Mamo, Jeff Tree - with Owen Baldock out of range on the franking machine.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

New Members' Survey

Following my article on ConHome regarding our influx of new members, I have been contacted by several Associations enquiring about the mechanics of how we conducted this research, and the questions we asked. As always, happy to share. 

In West Kent we use two online tools:

(a) MailChimp: there is a limited free to use service or an enhanced service with payment. We pay to use the professional service as we manage multiple mailing lists, and we benefit from the increased analytics which are not available on the free service. MailChimp allows users to upload and maintain databases and send personalised mailings to specific target groups.  

(b) Survey Monkey: again, there is a free and a paid-for service. We use their free service as we have found this meets our needs, though there is a lot of advertising which can sometimes put people off or cause confusion. 

To survey our new members we simply uploaded the membership list, ensuring the respondents first name and email address were in different columns. We then sent each a personalised email with a link to the online survey. 

Here is a copy of the email. As always, I am happy for other Associations to copy and use anything they like:

Please note that we put the link to complete the survey at the top and bottom of the letter. Many people do not read to the end of an email, so if the link is only at the end of the letter it is often overlooked or never reached. By placing an invitation at the top of the page, even those who have no time or patience to read the whole letter have an option to click and participate. 

And here is a copy of the survey CLICK HERE  

Please feel free to click the link and copy any of our questions, but please refrain from completing the survey as this will simply corrupt the quality of the data. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Is the mood music changing for Grammar Schools?

I am absolutely delighted that the Government (and party's) attitude towards selective education appears to be changing.

I attended a comprehensive school, but I was fortunate insofar as it had been a grammar a few years earlier. The ethos was still there: respect for the teachers, morning assembly, discipline, focus on learning with zero tolerance towards disruptive pupils.

At the last Olympic Games our entire country celebrated the success of our athletes.They achieved success because their skill was identified, they were removed from the pack and given the specialist training and support to ensure they fulfilled their potential. No-one said this was wrong. No-one said that the sprinters and runners and rowers left behind felt snubbed. As far as I can tell, their success was celebrated by their former colleagues and the nation cheered their success.

If we accept that our top athletes benefit for specialist training and focused support, how on earth can we deny the same potential to our top students? Britain needs excellence and we should be prepared to identify and develop it in every aspect of our national life. And this includes our education system.

West Kent's Survey of our 500 New Members

An unexpected consequence of the recent EU Referendum has been a remarkable surge in membership. In the first three days we were being notified of around 100 new members a day between the five Associations in the West Kent Group, and even though the rate soon slowed we have had a steady trickle ever since. Our count is now 500+ new members; the most intense period of recruitment I have ever witnessed.

At first many of us were suspicious. Was this influx something organised by one of the left-wing pressure groups protesting about the EU vote?  Or perhaps an exercise by jubilant UKIP supporters riding a post-referendum tidal wave and landing on our shore?

Our priority was to process the applications, record them on VoteSource, and send the new members a welcome letter. In that letter I also had to deal gently with the fact that they would not have a vote in the leadership election, an issue which I knew would cause anger from many who clearly had enrolled for that reason. I am pleased that CCHQ put a note to this effect on the enrolment page, thus managing expectations.

My next task was to try to understand who our new members actually were. Why did they join? What was their background? Why did they join now and not in response to our previous invitations to do so? What did they expect from their membership? And, what might they be willing to do to help us win future elections?

Last week we sent each new member an online survey asking these very questions, and it was satisfying that by Saturday over 50% had responded. Admittedly the sample has not been “weighted” by age, gender or social group, but a sample of 250 from a pool of 500 is probably sufficiently large to be meaningful. It is also worth noting is the responses do not significantly vary from one Association to the others, so it is fair to assume that they will not differ significantly nationwide.

First of all I was interested in whether these were brand new people, or if they had been politically active previously. So we asked, “Have you ever been a member of a political party previously?”

I then asked,
“If you have been a member of a political party previously, which one was it?”

NB The figures do not add up to 100% as several respondents selected more than one party. What is interesting to note, however, is that none identified as being previous members of UKIP.

I was then keen to explore in some detail the factors that motivated them to join. Rather than a simple quantitative yes/no, I provided a sliding scale resulting in a “score” of between 0 and 100 for each of the options presented. These may not have been exhaustive but hopefully covered the main areas. Obviously, the higher the score indicates the stronger the factor for joining.

Concern about leaving the EU was a bigger motivational factor than those celebrating our departure from it, and only 7.8% had identified as previously supporting UKIP.

From these figures I see no evidence of any form of entryism, though our main concern must be managing the disappointment of the biggest group (75.8%) who cited the opportunity to vote for the new party leader as being a motivational factor.

ComRes and YouGov have already published polling on how Conservative supporters and Party Members voted on 23 June. I thought it would be interesting to see how our new members compared, so I then asked, “Out of interest, which way did you vote in the EU Referendum?”

Suspecting many members would be extremely disappointed at not being allowed to vote in the leadership ballot, I thought it was worth measuring this factor and their likely response to being excluded.  “If you had been aware at the time of joining that members were only allowed to vote after 3 months’ membership, would you still have joined the Conservative Party?”

Clearly we have some disappointed people, and several have already emailed to say that they have resigned in protest, but the overwhelming majority have accepted our explanation of the ‘three month rule’ and, with a bit of TLC, there is no reason to assume they will not become long-term participants in our activities. 

Finally, I asked if our new members were willing to do more than pay an annual subscription to help the Conservative Party succeed in the years ahead. 76% answered “yes”, and 24% said “no” (those answering negatively were almost identical to the group who said they wouldn’t have joined the Party if they had known that they wouldn’t get a leadership vote).  Of the 76% willing to do more ...

From our survey it is obvious that our new members are moderate, politically engaged and (with encouragement) could reinvigorate our Associations and replenish our pool of potential Local Government candidates.

It would be a tragedy if lack of communication or poor organisational ability resulted in our new army to drift away. In West Kent we have already developed a plan to engage and encourage; each of our MPs will be hosting a New Members’ drinks party, and each Association will have a designated person to phone and welcome them to the Party.

There was one final question not dealt with above. I asked, “If there had been a leadership ballot and you had been able to participate, which of the candidates would you have been most likely to support?” Interestingly, over 70% said Theresa May.

There is clearly huge goodwill, both for our new leader and for what she is planning to do. It is our duty to seize this opportunity to rebuild our grassroots in the constituencies. It might be decades before we get an opportunity like this again. 

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Drawing ahead!

With the EU Referendum on the horizon we anticipated this would have a detrimental affect in our fundraising, and in particular the Summer Draw which would be running at the same time as the EU vote. 

We decided to put back the "end date" for our Summer Draw tickets from July to August, to allow the dust to settle, with good results as a consequence. 

In the three weeks since the 23 June referendum we have taken as much money as the four weeks before it. As of yesterday the five West Kent Associations had reached 90% of the 2015 total, with one Association (Chatham and Aylesford) reaching 112%.  We also contacted pledges in several target wards, raising over £1500 and identifying 150 brand new donors.  Given the wider political climate, I am very pleased with this result.

Below is our "reminder" letter, posted to previous buyers who have not yet responded. With four weeks to go before the deadline, I am confident we will easily exceed our 2015 totals. 

For the original letter and information about the prizes, click HERE

New Members' Welcome Letter

Like every other Association in the UK, new membership applications have spiked in the two weeks since the EU Referendum. We have processed over 400 in West Kent with another 100+ waiting to be dealt with.

I thought regular readers might appreciate sight of our "welcome letter" in which we thank and welcome the member, deal with the fact they will not be qualified to vote in the leadership ballot then try to soften any disappointment and ensure they feel welcome by inviting them to a new members reception hosted by the local MP. 

As always, please feel free to borrow the content if you like it. 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

100 new members a day !

Since Friday over 200 people have joined the Conservative Party in West Kent. That's an enrollment rate of 100 per day. Fifteen more this morning, and it's not yet 10am. They have all enrolled at the full £25 rate via the CCHQ website.

I have no idea yet what is driving this, Is it...

  • Pro Brexit people joining as we delivered the referendum
  • Pro Remain people angry at the outcome and trying to change the party's direction
  • Former UKIP members returning to the fold
  • People hoping to participate in the leadership election
  • Or perhaps just an increase in awareness following the campaign

I will be writing to all the new joiners on Monday to thank them for their support and at the same time I will send them an online survey to try and ascertain why they joined. Many local agents and organisers have contacted me aboiut a membership recruitment campaign, and knowledge of what is driving this interest might be useful ib hiw we approach recruitment in the weeks ahead. 

I will publish details on this blog as soon as I have something of interest to share. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Dignity in defeat

At around 11.00pm on Thursday evening, before Newcastle and Sunderland changed despair into hope, David Dimbleby was interviewing Iain Duncan-Smith on the BBCs Referendum Night programme. Dimbleby asked IDS how he and the Vote Leave team would react to the constitutional crisis which would follow if England voted for Brexit but Remain won due to the votes of Scotland. IDS was clear. "We are a United Kingdom and we will accept that result. The votes of all British people have equal value."

24 hours earlier, late on Wednesday night, I believed that we were going to lose.  I knew in the event of Remain winning that there would be anger, dismay and demands for another vote. I wanted to blog but knew that in the early hours of Friday morning, following a hard day on the doorsteps and a stressful night with no sleep, I would not be in a good emotional place to write. 

I therefore wrote the following blogpost in advance (along with another more optimistic version just in case we won). Some of you might understandable think I have written this retrospectively to help with my narrative, but I can prove that not to be the case; I sent a draft copy to one of my local MPs and one of my Chairmen for their comment.

We now know the outcome and to my delight my second "be gracious in victory" blog was published on Friday. I assumed these words would never see the light of day. Why should they? Sadly, the media firestorm from those who support Remain, the petitions calling on the government to ignore the democratic will of the people, the demands of David Lammy for Parliament to pretend the vote had never taken place, and the positioning of the 'establishment' to hold a second referendum, have made me change my mind. 

When I wrote this post it was meant to trey and stop disappointed Brexit campaigners for making a fool of themselves and damaging their case. The words are just as true for the other side. 

 "So we have lost. 
For me, and I suspect most of my readers, this will be not just bitterly disappointing, but the end of a dream. 
My personal journey began in the early 1980s. At that time it was tough being a Eurosceptic in the Conservative Party. At Party Conference the platform was flanked by a Union Flag on one side and the European flag on the other; hostility to Europe was a minority interest, and a young man wearing a “Set Britain Free from the EEC” lapel badge was an unwelcome guest.
There will be a temptation from Brexiteers to cry foul. Please don’t. Yes, the fight was unequal. Yes, the Remain campaign had the backing of the Government, the Establishment, the business community, the international community, and even Bob Geldoff and the Pope! In comparison, we were a rag-bag army of true believers; libertarians, Tories, UKIPers and several very odd people who wear a suit on a Saturday. It was optimistic to believe that our David could ever slay that Goliath, but we were right to try.
Yes, the fight was not fair nor balanced, and it was bloody. The £9,000,000 spent on government propaganda was a blow. The warnings of war, terrorism and economic Armageddon were alarmist. The accusations that we were all “Little Englanders” were very hurtful and also untrue. The finger pointing and blame over the tragic murder of Jo Cox was (quite frankly) obscene. 
This was a fight between the little people and the Establishment. At the end of the day, they may have been unfair, they may have been underhand, but nothing they did was illegal. 
In 30 years as an Agent I have helped over 2,000 Conservative candidates over the finishing line. When I act as Agent or Campaign Manager I use every tool at my disposal to help my team win. I never break the law, but I’m sure there are hundreds of defeated opposition candidates who think I have acted unfairly. From using my contacts to attract hundreds of activists, to swamping seats with literature (printed in house at a fraction of the cost), to using our database to target key voters. None of this is illegal, but it creates enormous bad will from those who lose. In doing this I am congratulated by friends, colleagues, and candidates for my ruthless efficiency. This is just what the Remain side did - they used every tool at their disposal, just as any campaign team must do,.

The people of Britain do not tolerate bad losers. In 1997 the MP for Winchester, Gerry Malone, lost his seat by 2 votes. It transpired that over 30 Conservative Party votes were not counted due to an error by a Presiding Officer who didn’t stamp the ballot papers with the “official perforation” which was required at the time. The Presiding Officer admitted his error. Had these votes been counted Gerry Malone would have held his seat. Understandably he went to an Election Court which upheld his complaint and ordered the election to be re-run. Despite a solid and proven case the Conservative narrative of “fair-play” was overwhelmed by the LibDem narrative of “bad loser”. The LibDems held the seat by a majority of 21,556!

Those who want us to enter “Neverendum”, or are seeking technical reasons to run the vote again, need to accept the reality that we lost. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, but the people have spoken. We will do no favours to our cause by playing the victim card and demand that we vote again.
We fought like tigers but, quite simply, we didn’t make the case for change."

Sunday, 19 June 2016

If you repeat a lie often enough people will eventually start to believe it

It was a pleasantly warm autumn day in 2012, and life pootled on at the West Kent Campaign Centre . I was replying to email, and our office manager, Jon Botten, was opening the morning’s post. A sudden and loud expletive from Jon indicated that all was not right. I looked up with concern, as a few weeks earlier we had received a letter containing razor-blades and was fearful that it had happened again. The reality was worse. Jon was standing, clutching an envelope – out of which was pouring a suspicious white powder.

We laughed, nervously, in that over-confident way that blokes do when they don’t wish to show they’re afraid. “It must be a hoax. Isn’t it?” I asked, trying to sound reassuring, but both of us were clearly conscious of the consequences if it was real. Not wishing to cause an unnecessary fuss (in that frightfully British way) I called my contact in Special Branch. All I wanted him to do was to tell me what Ricin looked like, so that I could confidently reassure myself that the powder spread over Jon’s desk was something else. I got as far as “we have received a letter with white powder in it....” when I was told to close the windows, stay inside the building, but move to another room. “Someone will be with you in ten minutes”.

Almost immediately a police car arrived – within 30 minutes they had sealed-off West Malling, and evacuated the shops, businesses and local residents. Emergency response vehicles filled the Georgian High Street with alien flashing lights; police, fire brigade, ambulances, decontamination units, and even the army. Two men in hazmat suits entered the office. Jon and I had to change into disposable paper-suits, before being led outside for medical assessment. Whilst this happened a robot retrieved the package for testing. More teams went in to clean up the powder and the surrounding areas. 

By this time the Press had arrived and news of a “Chemical Attack on a Conservative Party Office” was spreading. A live minute-by-minute account was being posted on the local newspaper’s website, with the story being picked up by regional media.

Fortunately, two hours after Jon had opened the package, the substance was proved to be harmless – it was actually ground, bleached, sand.

Jon and I were conscious of the Press, and their shouted questions from behind the safety barrier. What I didn’t know, however, was the sub-plot developing alongside the official story in the Comments section of the newspaper. Using false names, and with pernicious disregard for truth or accuracy, it was all, apparently “a set-up”. ‘Centurion’ thought it “served [us] right” – ‘Jelly-Belly’ said we “deserved it, as [we] were part of the ruling class”. And when it was announced that the powder was harmless, then, according to ‘Vanguard’, it was “clearly a hoax to try to gain publicity”. This comment, however, was somewhat kinder than that of ‘RageAgainstTheMachine’, who expressed regret that “Kent wouldn’t be rid of two evil Tories”. 

As far I as I know none of these people knew either Jon or me. None of them were there to see what was really happening. And none of them cared about our wellbeing, or that of the local traders who lost an afternoons’ business, or the anxiety of local residents as they were evacuated, or to our families who heard of a “suspected Ricin attack” at the Conservative Office in West Malling, but were unable to contact us for two hours to see if we were OK.

What concerned me most is how the anonymous lies started to feed the story. Suddenly journalists, writing up the “attack” on West Kent Towers, drew on the “Comments” to add colour to their story. There was a reference to “an attack which many thought could be a publicity stunt”, and in one case, “Residents are asking if this was done to garner sympathy for the Conservative Party.” News spread around the town that we had “brought it on ourselves”.   An accusatory letter was pinned to the front door, and even the kindly lady in the newsagents asked me if it was true.

The writers of such poison clearly have a political agenda of their own and are quite willing to say, and repeat, whatever suits their purpose with scant regard for the facts, just as we saw last week when those sympathetic to Remain tried to exploit the tragic death of Jo Cox in order to further their cause. As they say, “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

This begs the question “Why are people so willing to think and believe the worst about those of us who work in politics?”

No doubt a degree of impropriety over expenses, and one or two bad apples, have not helped. But no-one thinks that every doctor is a murderer because of the actions of Harold Shipman, any more than they believe that every businessman is corrupt because of the history of Robert Maxwell. Yet in the court of public opinion all politicians are now fair game. Councillors are all “on the make”, MPs are all “on the fiddle”, those of us who work in political support roles “deserve what we get” – after all, we are “all as bad as each other”.

From this irrational hatred comes irrational anger. “Fathers for Justice” think it’s acceptable to throw condoms filled with talcum powder at the Prime Minister in Parliament. As a consequence, a screen is erected to keep our politicians safe (and who came blame them?). In West Kent, instead of an open-door, welcoming visitors and passers-by, we now have CCTV and an entry phone (and who can blame us?). After being followed around by a stranger one night in Sainsburys, Tweeting the contents of her shopping trolley, one Kent MP now drives outside the constituency to shop (and who can blame her?). And, after the appalling events in West Yorkshire last week, many MPs will be under pressure to change the way they interact with their constituents (and who can blame them?).

Yet, as our politicians understandably retreat to safety – so this will feed the anger of the mob, who will claim that they are becoming increasingly remote. This anger will feed more anger, until we all descend into another self-fulfilling layer of hell. What these “haters” fail to appreciate, is that their anger, their vitriol, and their loathing is part of the problem, not the solution.

For around a decade we have heard the cry that “better people” should be entering politics. But this coincides with the same period when our Members of Parliament have had their remuneration frozen, their private lives exposed, their personal frailties ridiculed, their honour denigrated and their motives questioned. Is it any wonder that many of the people we need in Parliament decide it simply is not worth the sacrifice?

I never believed, for one moment, that the majority of people thought that Jon and I were responsible for the attack on our office – but, as so often happens (whether through fear or ignorance), the majority stayed silent and allowed the debate to be shaped by the angry mob. 

Since the death of Jo Cox almost every politician I know has received emails and calls of support as people hopefully start to appreciate the good work they do. It is a tragedy that it has taken the death of such a promising politician for us to reach what I hope is a turning point.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Normality in the fog of war

It may be difficult for many outside observers to believe, but even in this "fog of war" the day-to-day life of local Conservative Associations and grassroots politics continues as before.

This week the West Kent Campaign HQ has organised teams to provide Campaign Support in Tooting, we are arranging the usual round of social events, including two annual dinners, barbecues and quiz nights, this week I have attended two Executive Council meetings, 2016 Summer Draw ticket reminder letters are about to be dispatched, we are launching a new Patrons' Club in Maidstone & the Weald, and last weekend  the great Ann Widdecombe came back to West Kent and spoke to members and supporters at a packed coffee morning in her old Maidstone constituency, where she also pulled the 500 Club winners. 

Tonight we hosted an informal evening for potential new County Council candidates, where those interested in standing for election were invited to hear from me about campaigning and from an incumbent County Member about the work of the County Council and the difference he feels he makes locally. My thanks to Cllr Richard Long who gave up his evening to speak about life at County Hall. 

It was good to see so many people interested in public service, particularly two people below thirty years of age, who are insufficiently represented in local government. 

Onward and upward!