Cllr Andrew Snowden is a County Councillor for Hoghton with Wheelton and Lead Member for Highways and Transport on Lancashire County Council.
Now that the deal with the DUP is done, and we will progress forward with the stable government we promised the electorate, I thought it an appropriate point to reflect on the two elections we have just fought and the lessons from them.
I personally believe that the answers to the questions the General Election posed, can be found in the results of the local elections.
On May 5th this year, I walked up the steps onto the stage of the Lancastrian Suite at Chorley Town Hall – the Returning Officer having just told me I had taken the seat, despite new boundaries meaning Labour should have won by a few hundred votes.
I had worked hard for nearly 12 months; doorstep by doorstep, week in and week out. Despite the fact I was running against the retired district GP of many years, it felt good and the canvass sheets backed it up. We were making ground and Labour’s disastrous record in charge at County Hall meant the tide was with us. However, it was the calling of the general election whipped up that favourable political undercurrent into a tidal wave. We took overall control of Lancashire County Council for the first time in three decades.
As I made it to the top of the steps I realised we had done it. I had contested the Borough seat the year earlier and made big in-roads into the Labour vote, but this time I had actually won. I went on to thank my wife for her amazing and dedicated support and the local volunteers and stalwarts of the party such as Peter Malpas, our Deputy Chairman.
But I also went on to say:
“We are taking ground here in Chorley. We will stride into this campaign with our heads held high – proud to say we are Chorley Conservatives, we offer a better future for our town and stronger leadership for our Country, so let’s get out there and win this”.
I was on message, up-beat, and ready to win the fight.
So what went wrong?
Only a month later I left that same room utterly gutted for our hard-working local candidate, Caroline Moon.
A lot has been said about ‘the incompetence of CCHQ’ but at the local elections I actually received good support from CCHQ – and Theresa May was a huge help not a hindrance. As a target Council seat CCHQ sent targeted letters via direct mail, they ran a campaign to register postal votes and I also used CCA grants and grants from the County Group to target voters I chose with surveys.
We had support from the regional Party to help glue our local knowledge with best practice in terms of electioneering tools. Theresa May’s strong and stable message resonated.
But this was the key difference to the general. The letters that went out from CCHQ were in my name, not Theresa May’s. The surveys were to voters I knew we needed to talk to and contained questions on the issues I knew mattered to those people.
Our excellent Campaign Officer was gleaning local knowledge from the candidate to mix in with the CCHQ campaign techniques. What made the difference was the fact that we ran our own campaigns. Our leader Cllr Geoff Driver knew what was broken at County Hall and we were getting that message across. The CCHQ resources gave us that extra momentum we would not otherwise have had and it was beyond a doubt Theresa May that got us home and dry.
In the midst of the analysis of the disastrous general election campaign, we are missing the point that the answer came in the result a month earlier.
Locally run campaigns, with the weight of the CCHQ machine behind them proved a winning combination – a partnership of equal weighting. Yes, some of CCHQ’s stuff was a bit naff, the Plan to Vote idea that assumed we had divisions of volunteers lying around waiting for something to do was a bit bizarre. But despite that, it proved that Theresa May is a winner, the ill-advised control-freak general election campaign clouded that advantage. It was unrecognisable to the sensible and well-fought campaign that had just ended.
I think the lessons we have learnt are about the philosophy we apply to our campaigns and the relationship between local and national party operations. I despair at some of the soul-searching about what needs to change in our political ideology; we are the most dominant political party locally and nationally. We now need to learn the lessons and regain our policy momentum and our proficiency in campaigning.
The jury is now out as to whether Theresa May can regain that lost momentum, but for now she has my support as the best person for the job at hand. She also has my thanks that I, like hundreds more, am now a proud Conservative councillor.
As we move on from the disappointing general election, let us never underestimate the impact we Conservatives will have as a result of the successful local elections, the local services we will improve will make a real and meaningful difference to people across this Country.
Thank you, Theresa.