James Bethell is Director of Westbourne Communications and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Political power in the UK is on the move. This is something Westbourne has been saying since we launched almost five years ago, and we do not mourn these changes.
Our in-depth Westbourne report into swing seats, “The next generation: rising stars for 2015″, written by Lewis Baston, the psephologist, backs this up. Power has been seeping from Westminster in all sorts of directions – not least back to the people.
At the 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010 general elections we were, each time, greeted by a good handful of people at least that we knew well from their days as special advisors and researchers to some popular cabinet minister or other. This time, the lack of career politicians is noticeable. Some things haven’t changed, however. The stereotype of a Labour candidate coming from the voluntary sector and Tories coming from financial services is only cemented further this time around.
In the past, observers could rely on single-graph headline polling and crude demographic groups for helpful insight. Times have changed. Most strikingly, modern voters have traded consistent tribal habits for strident consumer choice, the parties have lost their financial, ideological and grass-roots duopoly of political support, and partisan media-owners are diluted by peer-to-peer communications.
As a result, individual MPs can now make a huge impact in their home patch, moving the needle of opinion by up to 10 per cent or more against the national swing. Smaller parties may hold the balance of power.
In such a world, it is essential that any meaningful assessment of the election battle should be based on a seat-by-seat analysis of the battleground constituencies. Of course, the tone is set by the Presidential battle at the despatch box, on the motorway poster sites and on the evening news. But the important battles are fought at the door-step between increasingly sophisticated candidates, with loosening affiliations with their parties.
This report gives a clear picture of the constituencies that count and the people who are winning the ground war. What is most interesting about the people who look set to become the rising stars of 2015 is the wealth of talent coming through the ranks and in particular females. Parliament will continue to be feminised in 2015 – and that can only be a good thing.