Brian Jenner is the Conservative prospective councillor for Kinson North in Bournemouth. He shares some of his insights after several weeks of hard work.
1) Canvassing must be fun
If you want to retain keen volunteers, there has to be a payoff. You’d be amazed at how enthusiastic the 20-30 year olds are. Get lots of people out so it’s light work and a social event. Be sure to balance pain (90 minutes campaigning) with pleasure (an hour in the café/pub having a debrief).
2) Beware armchair generals
Use email to confirm arrangements, but don’t fire off emails indiscriminately telling people what they should be doing – it annoys and upsets them. In politics you have to talk to people on the phone or face-to-face and work out what they’re feeling. You’re in the persuading business.
Decide when a meeting will end at the beginning of the meeting. Never go over time.
4) Meet in smart places
‘Old’ Conservatives love meeting in cold church halls, seedy Conservative Clubs or dingy offices. It’s their brand values. This puts off women and smart people from joining. We are the beautiful people now. We meet in pleasant cafés and modern conference facilities. As far as possible, get the oldies into these environments. Good luck.
5) Say Hi to the Lib Dems
The Lib Dems are rattled by the ‘new’ Tories. Don’t spoil it by being ungracious towards them. They’ve peaked and they know it. Demoralise them by working harder and wave to them as they sink in the polls.
6) Do something different
The amazing thing about the “Old” Tories is how they find brilliant reasons for keeping things exactly the same.
Try some subversive techniques. For example, get into the office in the middle of the night and put up a picture on David Cameron on the wall. Commission a rogue sign-writer to paint the new logo on the front of the office on a Sunday, or change the terribly unhelpful Association answering machine message, when the Agent is out at lunch.
7) Dealing with doubters
When people ask, what party are you from? I say a new party. I explain that history shows that every 30 years political parties have to go back to the drawing board. We’ve been smug and arrogant in the past, but now there’s a new generation in charge. Would you be interested in joining?
8) Answering on the doorstep
When people tell me they’re voting Lib Dem, I say, “I respect you for that. They’ve taught us some lessons about pavement politics. They’re decent people. Trouble is they’re not the types to run their own businesses. They don’t tend to know much about finances. The kind of people we’re recruiting to our Party are bright and effective people. Take another look.”
9) Respect people’s other commitments
People have families and they have jobs. Negotiate what time they are able to devote to the campaign and ask them when they like to be contacted. Taking calls at work can be terribly disruptive.
10) Be gentle
There is only one mode of dealing with your colleagues in a voluntary association: appreciation. You can’t tell people off. You can’t tell them their faults. You can’t force them to do anything. The only way to put a stop to dysfunctional behaviour is not to tolerate it. If someone abuses you, put down your leaflets and go home. It’s a powerful way to send the message that things must change.