This diary is written by a Parliamentary candidate contesting a marginal seat in May.
The weather is changing. And encouragingly, the receptions and welcomes are becoming warmer with the weather too. We have issued 10,000 survey forms in the last fortnight – and less than ten of the responses were personally offensive. There is one thing that has not changed very much as I write, and that concerns me: the polls.
I’m not sure any polling at this stage on a constituency level does anyone any good. If you’re well ahead, efforts may be slowed; if you’re far behind, spirits will drop. Every campaign surely runs to a plan – with better and better results, hopefully. closer to the election. With the toughest decisions out of the way early, polling should reflect this. We are doing, as a Government – by all measures and by most independent analysis – very, very well. Yet, nationally, we have remained more or less tied with those who crashed the car, buried the keys and then denied they were the driver.
I struggle to understand this. For me – a straight thinking, middle of the road, pretty average individual, I cannot foresee anything but a Conservative Government if we are to continue our national recovery. I’m not a die hard Tory, and I am embarrassed by some who are. But there are no other feasible options with anything like a feasible policy to challenge us. Ed Balls has resorted to making up figures; UKIP are losing ground each day, as the media finally do their job and scrutinise their every move, revealing that party’s programme for what it is: cruel opportunism.
And yet people still don’t like us. Sometimes when I tell people I am a Conservative candidate they react with anger. Others laugh, and others still feel sorry for me. How on earth did there become such a gulf between a competent Government and something that people want to vote for? Surely people are pleased that we have an improving economy, 1000 jobs being created a day and more people owning their own home than ever before.
I would understand if this had been done on the ‘backs of the poor’ – but, after the Labour Party claiming representation of the ‘working man and woman’ for so long, that lie has been blown open along with all the others. Low paid workers pay less tax than ever before, and the most vulnerable in our society have actually seen their benefits increased. Ok, so some of those who really should have been working for years have been pushed off the benefit system and into work because they wouldn’t jump…but I haven’t met a single voter who wants to pay for people who through a lack of effort, rather than skill or opportunity, cannot find employment.
So what is so unlikeable about us? Policies: good. Working for all sections of society in some way: yes. Pro-business: yes. Pro-immigration control: yes. Referendum on Europe: Yes. Personalities?…er…
And that is perhaps where we fail. There are some wonderful individuals within the Conservative Party – but they are not always viewed as such. I remember very early on in the recruitment and selection process saying that I admired Sarah Wollaston – a strong Conservative, but clearly her own woman, with a high level of personal integrity.
I was told rather angrily that she’s ‘not really a Tory’ and that ‘Cameron will never do an open selection process like that again, simply because of her’. It sucked the wind out of me. Like telling me my wife was in fact my cousin (she’s not). To me, Sarah ‘got it’. She represents a party – but she also represents herself and her community first and foremost. Her integrity (as demonstrated in the Nigel Evans affair) is faultless. And this reflected well on a party prepared to question itself and its people for the sake of policy success and a relentless pursuit of social reform. But to many, Wollaston is not a ‘good Tory’. She doesn’t ‘play the game’.
But what game is this? To push through the constituencies some ideas put together in London, designed to keep ‘the Party’ in power through low turn-outs and general apathy? This is our fatal mistake. Politics is changing and we must change with it.
I would love to see a majority Conservative Government in May, but it is unlikely to happen, despite an almost faultless record. That is some achievement: to be so successful and yet so unpopular in one move. And everyone will round on David Cameron – unable to beat the worst Prime Minister in history in 2010, and still yet to win a majority five years later. The clamour for his disposal as Party leader will rise, but this would be another serious mistake. We must look at our ‘tactical teams’.
The candidates’ team, for one, seem to aim for bland, typical and uninspiring candidates – the precise opposite of what the public want. Some seem to ‘get the joke’ that Harry Enfield’s character ’Tory Boy’ was so popular – it was largely true! But I’m afraid people don’t want Tory Boy now; he is firmly the past, and we should adjust accordingly.
Come on, CCHQ : the 40/40 tactic is understandable, but did no-one think that by not only prioritising seats over others (which is understandable) but essentially cutting off the other candidates’ and MPs’ Associations, some may feel betrayed – permanently? The attitude of CCHQ remains depressing, despite not winning an election for 23 years – telephoning donors and asking them not to contribute to non-40/40 seats, and in the next call ordering candidates to support the party’s by-election efforts or risk removal from the list.
There is a distinct hue of arrogance stemming from this team towards us ‘ground troops’. They seem to think that come the election we will all still be around afterwards, wanting to jump on the next Candidates List’, pay through our noses for the privilege and travel all around the country supporting the inevitable by-elections that will come in the years following May.
Bad news – many of us will never have anything to do with the Party again. My Chairman has already told me she is quitting. I remember her telephoning me after the Prime Minister visited the area, asking if I knew anything about it. I didn’t – and neither did she. She goes out in all weathers, every day, trying to get him into power. It left a bad taste. It’s not his fault – it was a 40/40 visit. But the damage with this particular 30 year Conservative was fatal.
There is not an endless supply of the good-will our Party depends upon from Associations across the land. In some places, membership is through the floor; discontent is rife. The Party may never win a majority again unless we adapt to give the people what they want, both activists and voters. Politics is not ours to play with: it belongs to the people and communities from which our candidates and associations come from.
Please lets professionalise. Lets listen to what people want beyond the reaches of London, in particular those who don’t like us. Lets give candidates and MPs’ scope to think for themselves, without standardising all of our literature and defending policies that, whilst a good idea nationally, are blindingly unpopular in some parts (such as the Spare Room Subsidy if there is no accommodation for families to move into locally).
There’s a reason why MPs ‘get caught’ doing stupid things involving nazi uniforms, camera phones, and expenses. Let’s get higher quality candidates that we can trust, to seek election on their own merit whilst retaining the Conservative principles; those who know the time to ‘play the game’, and the time to put their communities above Party policies.
And lets look after our candidates and activists properly. Its not hard to run a visit’s programme properly. Its not hard to return phone-calls and emails to candidates or Associations asking for ‘advice’ from non 40/40 seats. It’s not hard to ask rather than tell a candidate to support an important by-election. It’s not hard to show an interest in people whose work – unpaid – will often determine their own personal success.
Lets keep knocking. You can never change anything from the outside.