Cllr John Moss is a Councillor in Waltham Forest, a Campaign Manager at College Green Group, and former Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Chingford & Woodford Green Conservatives.
We are less than seven weeks from Polling Day in May’s elections and, mostly, candidates are in place, canvassing is being done, and deliveries are getting organised. But are you getting ready for the most vital phase of the election?
Local elections have low turnouts. In some wards it can be as low as 25 per cent – in most it is between 35 per cent and 45 per cent – very few get over 50 per cent. Turning out your supporters who might not usually vote can be the difference between winning and losing.
Take this example. A ward in the North West, where the Conservatives have been less than four per cent behind Labour in the last three election cycles, was lost by just 158 votes in 2021. It has an electorate of 9,002. Increasing the turnout of Conservative voters by just 1.75 per cent could mean victory.
So are you getting ready for the two phases of the campaign when you can reach those people you need to get out to vote in order for you the win? If not, I recommend you start today.
But what is ‘Get Out The Vote’? In simple terms it is your last chance to make a difference.
It starts before the first postal ballot packs are delivered. People canvassed with any of the seven or eight ‘possible’ Conservative VIs should be receiving a reminder letter or card, warning them that their ballot paper is about to arrive. You might also want to add uncanvassed postal voters who match the mosaic codes of your ‘Strong Conservatives’ too.
Ideally, you should be “knocking and dropping” these in an effort to have the maximum number of conversations with the people who you are hoping will vote for you. Remember, being spoken to by a candidate is the most effective way to ensure that somebody votes.
Straight after the postal ballot packs land, you should switch to knocking up those postal voters with a poor record of returning their ballot papers. This might only be 50-100 people in a ward, but getting those votes in could be the extra votes you need to win. And you have a few days to do it before the unused ballot packs have been dumped in the bin. Think about when the recycling collections are in the areas you are focused on. Make sure you get there before the bin men!
Once you have exhausted all reasonable efforts on your postal voters, you can switch your attention to your polling day target audience. Just like your postal voters, these will range from ‘Strong Conservatives’ with a 100 per cent voting record to those who rarely vote, but fit the profile of a Conservative supporter. It will also include your waverers . I like to think of this phase in terms of ‘return on investment’.
Your 100 per cent turnout ‘Strong Conservative’ is almost certainly going to vote and vote for you. Visiting them may well confirm that, but the return on your time and money invested is zero in terms of extra votes. However, if you speak to someone who previously voted for your main opponent and persuade them to vote for you, that’s plus two in terms of extra votes. Because you have taken one off their pile and added one to yours. It is therefore sensible to use more of your time and money on these voters, because it has a much bigger impact on the final result.
So between the delivery of the postal ballot packs and polling day itself, you might need to do a number of things. You might deliver a letter to your 100 per cent turnout voters who are ‘Strong’ or ‘Weak Conservatives’. You might then target your canvassing on the Labour, Lib-Dem, Green and Reform ‘waverers’ to see if you can get them over the line.
You should also target people who are canvassed as ‘Strong’ or ‘Weak Conservatives’, but who have a low turnout record. With tight local elections where just a few votes can be the difference between winning and losing, this kind of focus can deliver those last 10, 30, 50 or 100 votes to get you over the line.
Then, it’s polling day. And we all know what happens on polling day. There’s a mad panic about not having enough tellers. Then no-one can work the polling day programme in Votesource. The WiFi in the Campaign Centre is a bit dodgy and there is no paper for the printer. All these things may not happen, but preparation now is a good way to make sure they don’t.
So identify your Campaign Centres for polling day now. Make sure they have space for a Votesource operator, separate from where helpers will collect stuff or take a break. Make sure they have good WiFi, a PC or laptop which runs Votesource properly and a printer with plenty of paper and spare toner cartridges.(If you don’t have spares, order them now – I just did).
Then set someone the task of calling all your members and activists and asking them what they can do to help. You could email out a Doodle poll as well, asking people what time they have and where they can help. When they commit, send them a diary invitation so it is in their phone/calendar. Finally, don’t forget to confirm them in the days before polling day, so if they have changed their plans, you can too!