Cllr Alexander Stafford is an Ealing councillor representing Ealing Broadway Ward
Election night in Ealing was bittersweet. Nationally, we secured a stunning majority victory, but the local fight was tough and our popular local MP, Angie Bray, lost her seat by the tightest of margins – 274 votes. Whilst the national party is taking stock ahead of next year’s push for the London mayoral election, we must not rest on our laurels.
There are many challenger seats across the country, including Wirral West, Ilford North and beyond, where we were narrowly edged out, despite the national success. We must fight to win them in 2020 and the battle starts well before the official election campaign. However, next time, the campaign in these seats will be harder than last, when national party resources will be used to defend those seats which we currently hold. This makes it unlikely that we will be able to fight a conventional campaign in these challenger seats. The operation must be approached in a different manner.
With fewer resources and a lower media profile, we must build upwards and fight a guerrilla campaign. In opposition it is easier to lead the attack, condemning out of hand the policies of a national government, with little accountability. With a Conservative national majority, the job in these challenger seats will be harder.
Like all guerrilla movements, the campaign must be supported and rooted in the community. It is the local community organisations that provide support, succour and ultimately the demand for us to launch our political attacks against the policies of our opponents.
Also like a guerrilla movement we need to operate like a lightning force in challenger seats. Short sharp bursts of activity will generate maximum impact and spread awareness of our values. We can show residents that conservative values align and support those of locals in a host of different, and sometimes unusual, ways. This can be anything from keeping a local library open to clearing up rubbish in a canal.
By using the Conservative Party infrastructure and networks, we can secure better results for residents and show them that even where we are not in power, we are on their side and can make a difference. Ultimately, we can show them that it is only the Conservatives who are willing to reward aspiration, protect the vulnerable and strengthen the economy for the benefit of all.
Once we have piqued people’s interest and attention, we cannot waste the opportunity to get them more deeply involved. Too often once a potential conservative supporter is discovered, they will be packed off with a stack of leaflets to deliver, treated as mere cannon fodder for the party machinery. If we’re really lucky, they might be persuaded to join the party and the first contact they receive will be a begging letter asking for more money, or their attendance at a range of “social” events (including the compunction to buy raffle tickets). This is no way to win a war. You wouldn’t send raw recruits into battle without training, nor would you requisition their resources without fully winning their hearts and minds.
New recruits, just like the revolutionaries they are, need to be nurtured, fettered, trained and respected. Only then will they become stronger and more effective. The party should focus on grouping together like-minded people, creating an environment of enjoyment and mutual benefit. Only then will they want to fully engage and campaign throughout the year, through all weathers, rather than just during the exhilarating short campaign. People who are curious should not be seen as mere pamphlet deliverers – that is no way to raise long-term recruits, who will win back seats.
In challenger seats, the party should not prioritise numbers of members or even the amount of money being brought in arbitrarily. Instead, like a guerrilla force, it needs to be lean and mean – filled with skilled, highly motivated people who can make a difference both to the local area, but also to the party as a whole. A dozen keen and inspiring members will have more benefit in the long run than 50 people who are only willing to help out once.
This guerrilla warfare has already been seen in action, including in Southampton by Flick Drummond and Royston Smith, and by Byron Davies in Gower, who all achieved success in May. But above all, these tactics have led to the huge success in Harlow, where Rob Halfon launched wave after wave of attacks to eventually secure this seat – he is truly the Conservative version of Che Guevara. Now, more than ever, as we have a Conservative majority, this type of campaigning needs to be rolled out further to secure those seats tantalisingly out of reach – “Hasta la Victoria Siempre, Conservador!”