Tom Spiller is the former President of the Conservative National Convention and chaired the 2017 party conference.
What a fantastic set of results our Party had in the May 2021 elections.
I have no doubt that these historic achievements are only possible because of the efforts of our voluntary activists – some of whom travelled to Hartlepool and Tees Valley from as far afield as Dorset, South London, and Shropshire, in gruelling day trips.
Time to reflect
The road to the next General Election – whenever that may come – is now well and truly open, and our party must put serious thought into both holding the new ground that it won in 2019 and 2021, and maintaining its position in long-held territory, some of which now looks weaker than we would like.
Our first challenge will be defending the late Dame Cheryl Gillan’s seat in Chesham and Amersham. Then we face the challenge of gaining Batley and Spen – a seat which we narrowly won in last week’s local elections.
Some suggest that the political phenomenon of “realignment” is a two-sided coin – but it does not need to be. We can never rest on our laurels and, as a party, we always need to think for the long-term. Therefore, we must carefully analyse the unexpected results in (amongst others) Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Sussex, to see what lessons we can learn.
Ask the activists
Earlier this year I conducted an online survey that asked Conservative associations across the UK what support they needed to get ready for the 2021 elections and – to borrow a well-used phrase – build back better, following the lockdown era. (Click here to watch a short video summarising the results.)
I received just over 580 responses to my survey, which came from every nation of the UK, and every region in England. The answer was resoundingly clear and twofold: unsurprisingly, lockdown had a significant detrimental impact on their resources, and they were hungry for campaign-focused practical training.
Time for training, training, training
As many will know, this year our party intends to open the CCHQ Northern campus in Yorkshire.
This represents a fantastic opportunity to channel resources and support to Blue Wall associations that need them. Indeed, we must do that if we are to maintain our Parliamentary majority, to hold onto our freshly-won councils and PCCs, and to further widen the battlefield. However, this can only be done via a proper collaborative partnership with activists on the ground who have vast experience of their local political terrain. And we must all now insist on this.
I know from personal experience that this approach would be hugely beneficial. Last year I hosted an online webinar for first-time associations chairs, and I can tell you that of the 112 attendees, the majority were from the Midlands and the North.
With a particular focus on digital
Another striking feature of this year’s results, which was also echoed in the survey results, was the critical impact of well-executed digital campaigns – after all, for much of the lockdown era, digital campaigning was one of the few tools available to us. This forced many to both innovate and evaluate the approaches they had been taking to date.
But as my survey showed – in the run up to the short campaign, regardless of geographical location, all associations felt that they need more help with campaigning – and, in particular, digital.
The power of digital campaigning cannot be underestimated. A hardy team of volunteers might be able to leaflet a couple of polling districts in an afternoon – but a well-crafted digital messages could well reach thousands of voters with the click of a button.
The example of Ben Houchen
By now everyone will have heard of Ben Houchen’s fantastic achievement – he won the Tees Valley Mayoral race in the first round by winning 73 per cent of all votes cast. A key feature of Ben’s campaign was a relentless focus on digital campaigning. The content that he created ranged from easily-shareable, unspun endorsement videos sourced from small local businesses (click here to view) and construction workers (click here to view) helped by the projects he has made happen, to more heartfelt rallying cries for Teessiders to pull together to get the economy back on track after Coronavirus (click here to view).
If we are to maintain our position in both newly-won and long-held political territory our party must now engage with associations all over the country (especially those with newly-elected chairs) and with a focus on training, particularly in effective digital campaigning. And once again – this is something that I intend to insist on.
Time for a change in approach
This is something that is based in data. I know what the party activists want because I asked them and they told me. This bottom-up, data-led approach should be the basis for all allocation of the party’s resources. If we are going to win the elections of the future we need to equip our activists with the tools that work.