Grant Shapps is the Chairman of the Conservative Party and Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield. Grant won his seat on his second attempt. In three elections he has turned a 5,595 Labour majority into a 17,423 Conservative majority. Follow Grant on Twitter.
With conference season behind us, I can now explain a little more about our plans for the 923 days – countdown clock still ticking – in the run up to the election.
Amongst the key strategies we announced in Birmingham was our plan for target seats. This weekend, we’ll be making some important decisions on those seats, and setting out the battlegrounds for the next election.
Over the next few days, the campaigns team at CCHQ will be examining their target areas and deciding on the seats that most need our attention. There are 80 positions in the running order – the 40 most marginal seats of our own that we’ll defend, and the next 40 most marginal seats belonging to our opponents – and before you ask, yes, that does mean targeting both Labour AND the Liberal Democrats.
Once more, we’ll be looking at seats across the country: examining where we could best help communities the Midlands, looking at concerns of constituents in the North West seats we narrowly missed out last time, and considering local issues from the North East to South West. But it’s not just a matter of arithmetic. We are considering a number of different factors in our decisions and will draw on our experiences from 2010.
Once those seats are decided, we also have plans to put the personnel in place to assist them. We’re in the process of recruiting and training a team of campaign managers – with help from our professional field staff – who will base themselves in each seat and really drive the campaign. We’re recruiting from a broad range of backgrounds – the worlds of business, marketing, finance – we’re keen to have new ideas and fresh blood.
I can also reveal that their initiation process won’t be a walk in the park. Our Campaign Manager "Elite Boot Camp" programme is up and running as the first recruits arrive for their training in a residential facility in the Midlands. There will be through-the-night election training and a course in campaign management to tackle the issues they’ll face. By really focusing in on these eighty seats, we’ll be making maximum use of our resources.
We’ll also be looking carefully at what it is that makes a successful campaign team tick. I’ll be examining the success stories of constituencies across the country. And we’ll be looking at the grassroots tactics of our parliamentarians and volunteers and working them into our campaign strategy.
We’ll also continue to harness the power of the digital campaign. Not just lots of email addresses but, for example, signing up volunteers to a delivery network alert system which will allow them to join with MP action days in their areas. The simple power of a knock at the door and a friendly chat with a canvasser can’t be underestimated. In my case, without my team of volunteers, I wouldn’t be able to reach half the number of constituents. But it’s actually the digital campaign that drives this rather traditional door to door activity.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be meeting with parliamentarians, volunteers and professional staff to listen to their ideas and experiences; what works and what doesn’t. We have a wealth of experience in our campaign force and it will help us to build a picture of the battleground for 2015.
And today I’d like to invite ConHome readers to join the process. As Chairman I’m touring the country discussing campaign tactics with our members and am keen to take submissions. But you don’t need to wait for me to turn up. If you have a campaigning idea or approach that works well in your area, then please let me know about it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing about your campaign ideas and experience.