Imagine yourself as a new Conservative MP for a Red Wall seat – one previously regarded as safely Labour. There are few or no Tory councillors. There is no local Association worth the name. You weren’t a target seat last month and had no special help from CCHQ. You didn’t expect to win. Now you are on your own.
The Whips, James Cleverly and company are telling you to be in your constituency as often as possible – campaigning. How and with whom? What do you do from the Thursday evening – probably – until Monday morning? (P.S: we’re assuming the necessary time and space to take some time off from politics during this period for the good of your mental health.)
Part of the answer lies in utilising the expertise of your predecessors – that’s to say, the Conservative MPs who won Labour seats in the North and Midlands in 2017.
Consider their majorities in that year and last month.
Jack Bretherton: Stoke-on-Trent South
- 2017 majority: 663 (49 per cent of the vote).
- 2019 majority: 11,271 (62 per cent).
- Swing: 13 per cent.
Ben Bradley, Mansfield
- 2017 majority: 1057 (47 per cent).
- 2019 majority: 16,306 (64 per cent).
- Swing: 15 per cent.
Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough and South-East Cleveland
- 2017 majority: 1020 (50 per cent).
- 2019 majority: 11,626 (59 per cent).
- Swing: 11 per cent.
Eddie Hughes, Walsall North
- 2017 majority: 2601 (50 per cent).
- 2019 majority: 11,969 (64 per cent).
- Swing: 13 per cent.
Lee Rowley, North East Derbyshire
- 2017: 2861 (49 per cent).
- 2019: 12,876 (59 per cent).
- Swing: 10 per cent.
It’s reasonable to assume that they had a personal vote last month, and didn’t just gain from the pro-Tory swing.
Bradley and Rowley have both written about the 2019 election and their local experience on this site. Bradley’s piece emphasised values. Rowley’s did too. He also wrote as follows:
“There is no secret magic formula for holding a seat like this; no grand ‘House of Cards’ plan which makes Labour seats blue. But there is a certain place where you can start. Turn up. Get involved. Be interested. Properly support your community. And most of all roll your sleeves up. That red wall has tumbled because people want to get things done. So, get going.”
He emphasised focusing on limited but deliverable local priorities; holding meetings in different places – “not necessarily because there were burning local issues but often just to give people the opportunity to chat” and staying in touch. (Hughes wrote yesterday on this site about moving CCHQ northwards.)
The Whips and Cleverly and company should call this Gang of Five in; arrange for them to hold a series of workshops for new Red Wall seat Conservative MPs; produce a handbook – or something like it, and ensure that there’s plenty of follow-up.
CCHQ already provides incumbency support, and all new MPs have had induction. But that is not quite the same thing. If a Tory MP feels that he or she needs advice or help, they are more likely to confide in a colleague, who they mix with in committees or in the lobby, than go to CCHQ, which can feel a bit remote.
Mark Spencer himself has built up his Sherwood majority from three figures in 2010. So the Chief Whip would presumably get the point. Both Cleverly and Boris Johnson himself have operated in London – the opposite of Red Wall territory but, nonetheless, natural Labour territory.
It would be no use telling these new MPs to go back to their seats and campaign while leaving them to sink or swim on their own.