Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Teamwork...



This evening we have Cllrs Thelma Huggett and Bev Palmer (from Tunbridge Wells), Cllr Stuart MacGregor (from Edenbridge), County Councillor John Davis (From Tunbridge Wells), Cllr Nicolas Heslop (Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Council) plus the grandson of the former Chancellor of Germany - all on the 'phones in support of Ron Leagas, our candidate for Coxheath & Hunton ward of Maidstone. 

This wonderful teamwork is one of the benefits of our West Kent Group; people from across the area working together to support our target seats. 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The difference we make...

The show’s not over till the fat lady sings.

Over the next 11 days the majority of readers of this column will be fighting like tigers to Get Out The Vote on behalf of their local Conservative candidates. If your area is anything like mine, someone will send your blood pressure over the edge by pompously proclaiming, I’m not sure this campaigning malarkey actually makes any difference.”  This self-indulgent claptrap will invariably be spoken by someone who has never knocked on a door or delivered a leaflet, and will be used solely to justify their own idleness.  

So for the edification of those who should know better and to encourage those who are working their socks off across the UK, let’s examine the difference we make.

In a low turnout election almost anything is possible. I am going to use the fictional Barchester ward as my example. Barchester has 4,000 registered voters and a turnout of 30%. With five competing parties, a candidate could technically win with just 241 votes. Too often we approach a campaign thinking we must convince at least 50% of the electorate that we are right. Not true. Our job as campaigners is to find the 241 people who agree with us and will turn out to vote.  Winning with the support of just 6.02% of the electorate is an extreme (though technically accurate) example, but the principle remains the same even if the numbers will change based on turnout and the split of opposition candidates.

Fifteen years ago Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives were in a bad place – politically, financially and emotionally. The Constituency had been recently redrawn by the Boundary Commission, combining the politically weakest parts of two adjoining safe Conservative seats. The BBC had predicted a notional Conservative majority of 15,000, but the cold political landscape of the time saw Labour win by 2,800. By the time I arrived, the Association was demoralised and its local government base destroyed (only 1 Conservative councillor out of 29!).

We all accepted that rebuilding our local government base and winning the parliamentary seat would likely be a two-term project; we had neither the money nor the manpower to do anything other. In the southern part of the constituency there were two adjoining wards held by the LibDems. Both were demographically similar, both had LibDem councillors with 50% of the vote, and both had Conservative challengers about 15% behind. With the resources to properly tackle just one, our efforts focussed on Aylesford ward. Both wards received a basic leaflet but Aylesford got all the trimmings of a targeted campaign. On Polling Day 65% of our Pledges voted in Aylesford and we won the seat with ease. In neighbouring Ditton, however, only 40% of pledges voted and the LibDems held on by a wide margin. The difference between these results (25% more Conservatives voting) is the difference we can make on the doorsteps; 250 more Conservatives voted because of our campaign. This is the difference we make.

Last year West Kent faced a difficult by-election in Maidstone’s most marginal Council seat. Fant ward had regularly swung between the three major parties, with the successful candidate’s vote share seldom topping 30%. With the three parties “of the left” (Labour, LibDem and Green) polling over 70% between them, a Conservative victory was always going to be difficult. We did win, however, because we not only fought the best campaign but we also had the ability to win the battle of differential turnout. We convinced around 50% of identified Conservative supporters to cast their vote on Polling Day – compared with a turnout overall of 25%. This advantage delivered victory, but would not have been possible without our amazing team of activists knocking on doors so we knew who those supporters were and the key messages that would encourage them to vote. This is the difference we make.

As the electorate become more fickle in their party political allegiances, so political parties must become smarter in how they communicate. But the building block for every victory is simply boots on the ground. Without gathering that vital data there can be no targeted campaigning. This is the difference we make.

CCHQ have developed their own tool-kit of campaign support, much of which is excellent – but there is much more we can do locally to drive up turnout and maximise our advantage. 

For example,

  • In target seats the West Kent office can now localise leaflets on a road-by-road basis. By using our incumbent councillors’ local knowledge and achievements, and linking these by “variable paragraph mail-merging” we can produce tailor-made content for each road (or, in some cases, sections of a road) ensuring that the literature is relevant to those reading it.       
  • Similarly, by recording door-step and postal survey responses, and by using the same technology, we will this year be producing voter-specific GOTV material focussing on the candidates’ responses to issues raised by individual voters, so Julie Jenkins might receive a GOTV card talking about childcare, play areas and community safety whilst Vera Dobson next door will hear from us about the local pensioners’ group, anti-social behaviour and public transport. 
  • And finally, by using “Propensity to Vote” (PTV) data, we now have the increasing ability to target messages based on a voter’s second preference. For example, in our target wards we now know how almost 70% of UKIP voters would vote if there wasn’t a UKIP candidate, opening up new opportunities for targeted campaigning during GOTV.

With dwindling resources political parties must also learn how to work smarter. In some of our wards we are now not only recording voter turnout from the tellers-slips, but also what time of day people voted. This enables us to build a picture of morning/afternoon/evening voters, allowing our doorstep teams to focus on the right people at the right time of day – another initiative we have developed locally to help ensure our resources are used effectively. This is the difference we make.
At the top of this article I used the phrase “The show’s not over until the fat lady sings”. In Kent the fat lady sang for Labour at 2.15am on 3rd September 2009. That was when the Medway Returning Officer declared that Tashi Tamang Bhutia had been elected as Conservative Councillor for Luton & Wayfield ward... by a majority of 4 votes.

Tashi’s election was hugely significant. It was not only Labour’s safest seat in Kent, but it had never been won by the Conservative Party before, not even in the post Falklands’ elections of 1982/1983. Labour’s inability to hold their Chatham heartland (which included some of Europe’s most economically deprived neighbourhoods) was probably the moment they realised the show was over. At the victory party that followed every single activist told me the story of the four people that they had personally convinced to vote – from the family of 4 who were persuaded to break their journey to the airport, to the old couple who went to vote in their dressing-gowns at 9.15pm, to the disabled serviceman who wanted to vote for a former member of the Brigade of Gurkha’s – each and every volunteer knew that they had played their part. Without them we would not have won. That is the difference we make.

So when some pompous old fart puffs out his chest and tells you that "campaigning puts people off" puff out your chest even more and tell him that he's wrong. 

Whether you are fighting for your local councillor, your City Mayor, or your Police & Crime Commissioner, I wish you the best of luck over the next 10 days. As my good friend, and a former Agent, Louise Parry once told me, “Winning elections isn’t difficult – it’s just hard work.”

Friday, 22 April 2016

Bunker mentality

With the Phone Bank in full swing and every available inch of floor and desk space at West Kent towers taken-up by volunteers calling, packing, guillotining and data-capturing, we literally ran-out of room today. 


A team who came in to sort Police & Crime Commissioner GOTV postcards into wards were relegated to work in the gloom of the underground car park (though we kept them supplied with coffee, chocolates and digestives).

Tonight we have 14 people on the phones with a target of 1,000 calls. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Ring Behind The Swing!


It's good to see our West Kent Phone Bank running at full capacity once again ahead of the 2016 council and P&CC elections. 

Between now and Thursday 5 May our aim to make 15,000 GOTPV / GOTV calls to voters in marginal council seats, encouraging them to vote for their local Council candidate and Kent's excellent Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner candidate, Matthew Scott.  

The Phone Bank is operational every evening from 6pm - 8.30pm and from 10am - 8pm during election week. If you can help please email westkentconservatives@gmail.com to confirm availability. 

Be part of the ring behind the swing!  Sign up now.

Spare a thought for the Helpdesk

I know that waiting for the CCHQ Helpdesk to return your call or email can sometimes be frustrating, but I ask you to spare a thought for the poor guys (and ladies) who answer our calls. 

Last week, West Kent's Director of Paperclips had to call the Helpdesk to ask about TVTs. The chap dealing with our call had to check something with a colleague, leaving the phone on his desk and the line open. As he waited, Paperclips could overhear the person at the adjoining desk dealing with another caller.

From the conversation it was clear the Helpdesk operator was dealing with someone who had locked themselves out of their account by entering an incorrect password too many times. The operator was asking the security questions in order to re-activate the account, which Jon was overhearing...

"What do you mean, you cannot remember
where you were born."

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Still plenty of fat to trim in local government

I often "compare and contrast" the six local authorities I deal with in the West Kent area, to highlight "best practice" or expose waste and inefficiency. 

This morning's post brought this prime example. 




Twenty identical letters (each addressed to me as "election agent"). Each letter had two identical enclosures and sent in a sealed envelope with a first class stamp. 

Now I accept there are statutory requirements under the PPERA, and local authorities have a legal requirement to send these letters to the agents, but it is also fair to say that each letter does not have to be sent in a separate envelope with a first class stamp. In fact, another council I am dealing with this year sent all the letters together in the same envelope with just one stamp.

Twenty unnecessary letters and stamps might not break the bank. Nor might it be significant in the wider scheme of local government spending. However, given the same has probably happened with Labour, LibDems, Greens, UKIP and the others, I have calculated that around £140 in postage and copying has been spent unnecessarily, without taking into consideration the time of a council employee. This is the equivalent to one household's district council tax! 

The hard fact is, if the person sending these letters was self-employed and the money spent was coming directly from his or her own bank account, this would not have happened

Next time you hear a councillor or council officer claiming "we've cut waste to the bone in this authority" and "we really have no alternative but to increase Council Tax by the maximum the government will allow", take it with a large pinch of salt. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

GOTPV packers - 10,000 in five hours!



A fabulous team of volunteers working all day today to pack 10,000 personally topped and tailed GOTPV letters in the two constituencies where we have local and PCC elections. Thanks to a great team effort, all 10,000 were packed and delivered to the fulfillment house 35 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Thank you to a super team: Paul Cooper, Joe Mamo, Ron Leagas, Alan Chell, Michael Payne. Pam Bates, Owen Baldock, Chris Baldock, Janet Sergison, Elliott Self and Pat Perry.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Police & Crime Commissioners: no matter how bad they are, we can now vote them out

I can look back over 32 years of voting with absolute certainty that I have never missed a vote, nor failed to vote for the Conservative candidate at any given election. Some friends, even those who share my politics, find this blind loyalty to a party somewhat bizarre. For me, there is seldom doubt. I believe Conservative principles provide the best framework for leadership, and the only way to elect a Conservative government (or council, MEP or PCC) is to vote for the Conservative candidate on the ballot paper.

Three and a half years ago I had the privilege of running Craig Mackinlay’s campaign for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner. It was perhaps the hardest, emotionally draining and frustrating campaign I have ever worked on. The scars were not left by 6am starts at remote commuter railway stations, nor the scale of the campaign (1.3 million electors across 17 parliamentary constituencies), nor by standing on cold, wet and windy High Streets trying to convince passers-by of the importance of their vote in an election few understood and even fewer cared about. The problem was that for the first time in my life I was fighting an election which too many people thought shouldn’t be happening and where people who should know better allowed their traditional loyalties to be blurred.

At the count the “independent” candidate Ann Barnes won the election by two to one. Her victory was, in my opinion, based on three misconceptions, which I shall attempt to explain below.

Firstly, there was no need for Police & Crime Commissioners.
If anyone looks at a Band D Council Tax bill in Kent (and I suspect most other areas) they will see that their local Police Authority precept is higher than that charged by the local district council. No one would accept that their local council should be run by political appointees with no democratic accountability to those who pay the tax, yet people who opposed the creation of an elected Police & Crime Commissioner were quite happy for taxation without representation when it came to police spending, which in Kent amounts to £300 million a year. It is also worth remembering what the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner replaced – the former “Police Authority” - the composition of which was almost exclusively by patronage of the leader of the County Council. I once asked a County Council Leader how he selected those who would serve on the local Police Authority. “I pick those who cause me grief at County Hall and those I want to get rid of as they challenge my authority.” Having our police priorities and £300 million spending supervised by the old, grumpy and awkward, none of whom were accountable to residents and taxpayers, was clearly unacceptable.

Secondly, that a party politician was unsuitable for the role and an “independent” candidate should prevail.
This view, widely held even by some active in our own party, was the most bizarre and difficult to deal with, especially as the same people were happy to vote on party lines to elect a party-political Home Secretary or Chief Justice; positions with far more control and influence over the criminal justice system than PCCs would ever have. Here in Kent the delight shown by Ann Barnes’ supporters at having defeated the “nasty Tory machine” soon dissipated when her actions led to serious questions about her judgement and brought ridicule onto the office she held.

Before looking at Mrs Barnes’ record, let us first re-visit some of the questions about her “independence”. Kent LibDems did not field an opposing candidate and most were campaigning for her. Her Campaign Manager was a former LibDem parliamentary candidate and subsequent SpAD to Danny Alexander. If these two facts are not enough to convince readers perhaps this tweet from Martin Shapland (a LibDem staffer) will remove any doubt:

Lib Dem national PCC vote share is depressed by Independent candidates
in North Wales, Bristol and Kent backed by our Party”
.

Mrs Barnes probably became Britain’s best known Police & Crime Commissioner for all the wrong reasons: including her ill-advised appointment (without adequate due diligence) of a Youth Commissioner (subsequently ridiculed for her racist and offensive tweets), the infamous and cringeworthy fly-on-the-wall documentary, her emotional outburst in a local pub over how much wine she had consumed, and the investigation by the CPS for driving without insurance, to name just four.

It is valid to ask whether a candidate with such poor judgement have got through a political party’s vetting and approval process and if so, would that party not have had the organisation and support in place to stop the car crash before it happened?

The third misconception was that the previous system worked well and didn’t need changing.

I find it deliciously ironic that Ann Barnes’ public hostility to the creation of PCCs, and her subsequent high-profile election to a role she didn’t believe should be created, followed by her appalling record in office, has inadvertently provided one of the strongest reasons for its continuation.

Mrs Barnes was appointed to the Kent Police Authority in 2001 and became its Chair in 2005. She occupied that role for seven years until November 2012 when she was elected PCC. In that time she was never accountable for what she did, and could not be removed by the people whose taxes paid for the services she supervised. The ineptitude and poor judgement she has shown since her election as Police & Crime Commissioner did not surely start on the day she was elected? Her election exposed her to media scrutiny as never before, something which she had avoided previously as she was neither elected nor accountable. And had she not been elected, and become accountable, and been forced to conduct her affairs in the spotlight of public scrutiny she probably would have continued to get away with it.

There can be no doubt that her actions have been exposed because she holds elected office and this in itself is one of the strongest reasons to elect Police Commissioners. It has been a difficult three and a half years for the people of Kent, but thanks to this legislation we could (had she not wisely decided to “step down”) have voted her out of office and elected someone new. An option not available in the days of patronage. 

The role of PCC is a big job with great responsibility. I am delighted that CCHQ is focussing on the responsibilities of the role in the belief that as people learn how important it is, so they will give greater consideration to the qualities needed to fulfil it. Being the PCC is not about politicising the local police, it’s about managing hundreds of millions of pounds of public money, ensuring the views and concerns of residents and taxpayers are heard, and securing best value. And as with national or local government, I believe Conservative Police & Crime Commissioners will be best placed to deliver these objectives.  


Over the next 24 days I hope Conservative members and activists will give as much support and commitment to their local PCC candidate as they would to their parliamentary candidate or local councillor. If not, your county might end-up with the next Ann Barnes.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Tunbridge Wells Annual Dinner

We are all looking forward to welcoming Maria Caulfield MP to Tunbridge Wells this evening, for the Association's Annual Dinner. Such a shame she's bringing the grumpy old bugger Steve Bell with her :)