Tom Jones is Agent for Harrogate & Knaresborough and Deputy Chair (political) for Richmond (Yorks).
Between the 28th October and the 12th December last year, the Conservative Party rang hundreds of thousands of people across the nation, seeking their votes.
But once the busy world was hushed and our work done, phones naturally fell silent.
All that has changed with the emergence of the Coronavirus and the prospect of long-term isolation on the horizon. It’s time for Conservatives to gear up and connect with people during this pandemic.
Telecanvassing is a staple of modern campaigns. It’s importance has waxed and waned as different schools of thought won over election theories, but in a winter General Election it proved invaluable.
Darkening nights prevented any doorstep canvassing on weeknights, while the ever-reliable British weather kept us away on weekends.
When it’s pitch black outside and the rain is absolutely siling down – more Baptist downpour than Presbyterian rain – telecanvassing allows volunteers to stay warm and caffeine-d up while hitting potentially hundreds of voters in one sitting.
Telecanvasssing has problems, of course. The lack of face-to-face interaction means that the quality of voting intentions is not always as reliable as a doorstep canvass. But this is vastly outweighed by the sheer volume of calls you can make.
As Stalin once said, quantity has a quality all of its own. As well as the number of constituents you can contact, it is a very easy practice to pick up. All they need is a script, a phone and a list of numbers. It’s hardly jury-rigging the air filter on Apollo 13.
This is an activity we conduct for every election, large and small. There is no reason we shouldn’t turn that campaigning capability to combat the Coronavirus.
Many Associations, like us, took a responsible but difficult decision to suspend campaign activity some time ago.
With May’s elections now suspended, we have campaigners with spare time and spare capacity.
Votesource gives campaigners and agents like myself the capability to produce lists of voters for campaigners to contact – and what’s more, following yesterday’s guidance, we can do this completely remotely, via phone or email.
Of course, we should not be attempting to replace any service. The Prime Minister’s advice recently shows the stark severity of the problem that Coronavirus presents to us.
Soon, the local hubs network will enable pharmacists to deliver medicines and local councils to ensure grocery deliveries, all backed up by the armed forces.
But now people can get their shopping and prescriptions, there will still be work to be done.
Beyond the immediate physical threat to people’s health, there is another more latent threat. That is to people’s mental health.
For anyone, 12 weeks is a lot of time. 12 weeks inside a house is likely to drive even the most happily self-contained person a little Dagenham East (four stops past Barking).
For those living alone – particularly the eldest in our society – going this length of time with limited social contact is to be incredibly difficult.
This is the campaign we must fight.
Many Associations will have received numerous offers of help from campaigners or members who otherwise would have remained otiose.
Asking volunteers to start reaching out to those potentially in need of social contact immediately is more than providing them with a bourgeois sense of productivity.
Lending an ear can significantly reduce the feeling of stress, loneliness or isolation someone is feeling, while enabling the authorities to get on with necessary actions.
This is not about voting intentions or shoring up support, but about reaching out to people and having real conversations, giving them someone to talk to and the knowledge that even in these dark time community is still strong.
In the midst of plenty, we shall not suffer want.
We have a ready supply of campaigners who are willing and able to reach out to our society’s most vulnerable at a time of their greatest need.
We can help. It is not for us to ask how, but how many.