Ryan Jacobsz is a Hull West & Hessle representative to the Conservative Area Council and campaigns in marginal seats throughout the country.
With another general election looking increasingly likely, I’ve been campaigning on ‘the frontline’ in marginal constituencies which, critically, also have council elections in 2019.
From Northampton to Mansfield, Calder Valley to Stockton-On-Tees, I’ve chosen these seats because, as others have previously said, we can run a brilliant short campaign in marginal seats at a general election and still lose because of a poor preceding local council campaign.
First, a note of optimism from my travels. The ‘Pickles’ Review in 2017 called for more campaign managers in marginal seats, and I have been very impressed by the level of organisation they have delivered. They’re co-ordinating campaigning activities and doing well to build campaign teams.
But whilst some (such as Mansfield and Ashfield) have had great success in recruiting ‘ordinary’ activists, most are still over-reliant on sitting Councillors and a few ‘Candidates Listers’ keen to avoid the ire of Brandon Lewis (who has threatened expulsions for lack of campaigning). We must help them on this score.
I live in a very safe Tory county council which has full elections next year but I know that my efforts are best used down the road, in an area with a marginal Parliamentary seat and where we may actually have a chance to unseat the Labour administration and perhaps even put the Conservatives in control.
This approach could be invaluable to the Party when it comes to a general election. I speak to many Conservatives who, whilst willing to help neighbouring marginal seats in a General Election, don’t see the need to help those same areas in local elections. Associations (prompted by the new Campaign Managers) must take the lead in explaining to those volunteers why council elections in marginal Westminster seats are important to winning those seats at the general election.
If we want to win the next election we need to identify our voters in the years before it – and council campaigning offers a great means of doing it. If we assume that we need to win 20,000 votes to claim/defend a Parliamentary seat, and we assume that we can do a pretty good job of ‘getting out the vote’ at 80 per cent (no mean feat), that means we have to have identified 25,000 Conservative supporters in the preceding years. That relies on effective surveying of the local populace, not only to identify ‘our people’ but to understand what which issues are most important to them.
A word of caution here: whilst there are more full time campaign managers to do this, don’t assume that they have four more years to gather this information. Does anyone really think that we won’t have a General Election before 2022? That’s why we need foot soldiers now, doing the survey drops (which include questions about voting intention) and talking to the public. Where we find supporters, we should be encouraging them to join in campaigning themselves.
If we win more council seats in Westminster marginal areas, that’s more ready-made campaign team members come the general election. In every seat I visited, nearly all councillors turned up to help! More importantly, we’ll have more contact with the local community and an opportunity to win hearts and minds.
A final note to the broader Party on making life easy for those willing to help in seats further afield; the sooner we reinstate the ‘find my nearest marginal’ – that is, the online tool enabling people to find where their campaigning efforts can best be spent – the better. However, that on its own is not enough: Momentum coupled their own version of this tool with information about car-shares in 2017 and this worked extremely well.
We’re never going to compete with Labour on numbers, but if we can get more organised we can make much better use of those willing to give their time.