Cllr Katie Perrior, is a former spokesman for Boris Johnson during the 2008 elections and is a Director at iNHouse Communications.
It is an odd time for Boris Johnson. Being the first politician in Britain to span the celebrity-political spectrum, four years ago he would have expected another Ken v Boris rematch to be a walkover. Not so – people are falling on hard times and are looking to politicians to assist them. The cut in Child Benefit for families who are anything but rich has shocked traditional Tory voters to the core – and those living in London are feeling the pinch just as much as anywhere else. The polls which are always within a 3% margin of error are still too tight for comfort and there is everything to play for as we enter into the last 48 hours of the race. In my experience, at this stage in the game, candidates face a real dilemma. Where to go, who to meet in order to have the biggest impact. There is nothing worse than aimlessly going from one place to the next without really knowing who you are targeting and why they need winning over in the final days. Political apathy will be a real challenge this time around – Boris must get people out of their homes to vote. He will be praying for sunshine on Thursday but will that be enough?
For an hour at 7pm yesterday evening Boris reached out to 16,733 Londoners and took live questions about the issues that mattered to them. It was the biggest ‘conference call’ (or Tele-Town Hall as we like to call them) ever to take place in the UK – but instead of people talking over each other, everyone was able to listen to the call and one-by-one people went live into a conversation with Boris.
This technology, provided by my company, iNHouse Connex is very new to the UK. It originates from the United States where millions of pounds every year is spent dialling people in their own homes. Clients include Barack Obama and the National Football League to name just two. When Boris first trialled this technology back in March this year, he clearly loved the opportunity to connect with so many Londoners at once. Speaking live to over 10,000 of them, spanning Bexley to Hillingdon, Sutton to Havering, he faced some tough questions about the Freedom Pass, Boris bikes, crime and the economy to name a few. At the end of the call he had some of the sparkle that several newspaper columnists have said he is bereft of this time around – he managed to cut through all the nonsense that comes with live TV debates, ignore Ken and get on with what he does best – connecting with Londoners. We joked in the office afterwards that we would have to create a 'Boris Jingle' as he clearly excelled at the radio style format. Boris did not believe that he could call that many people in one go and have a live, meaningful discussion with them.
The list of 50,000 numbers that were called last night has already closed – it was collated over months of the campaign from people who agreed to be contacted by the great man himself. Not all of whom are supporters by any means. A few months ago Boris surveyed thousands of households in London and participants ranged from die hard Tories to floating voters, unsure of which candidate to back this time around. The call was free to people in their own homes and on mobiles. During the last call Boris did in March, over a fifth of those selected to ask a question and the average time spent on the call was 40 minutes, showing us retention rates not seen in the US on this type of call for years. This alone points towards the suggestion that UK voters enjoy being contacted by this method. Last night 70% stayed on the phone for the full hour. Boris received over 500 questions and those not answered directly by him last night will be answered over the next week.
Those who participated in these calls say it’s the best form of political engagement they have experienced.
So is it worthwhile spending a morning on the stump in the last few days of campaigning? Certainly. People want to meet and often feel (yes, I’ve seen it for myself) the man who has bridged the gap between celebrity and politics – the most charismatic Conservative they have ever met. They want to shake his hand as he travels by tube, often endangering themselves to do. But can you reach enough people in such a short space of time to make that much of a difference? One of last night's phone calls just might be enough to clinch the deal.