Thursday, 28 February 2013

Lesson from Eastleigh

It's 1.30am and I am about to go to bed. I fear there is nothing to wait-up for apart from a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. The writing is on the wall, the Lib Dem's have held their seat and we have almost certainly come third, behind UKIP.  That is the democratic process. I am not happy, but the people have spoken.

I am not going to join the Armchair Army in their faux outrage and predictions of Armageddon. I have found over the years that most who comment on-line with pompous authority have seldom set foot in the town where the election is being fought.

In truth, I actually thought the CCHQ Campaign Team did a good job. The literature was fine, the teams of helpers were well organised, the campaign was well supported. Technically, we did all we could have done.  It just wasn't quite enough.

When I left Hampshire in the early 1990s Eastleigh had a Conservative Council and a Conservative MP. In 1992 we polled 39,000 votes and we had a majority of over 17,000. Tonight, I predict we will poll around 10,000 votes. Even allowing for a reduced electorate through boundary changes, that is quite a decline.

Back then  the Association had a full time Agent (his name was Adrian Bridle, and he was a friend of mine). They had over 1,000 members and active branches in most wards. Whilst the LibDems and Labour held most of the town centre seats, we were solid in the villages, Botley, Hedge End, West End, Bursledon, Netley, Hiltingbury and Hamble. 

We then lost the by-election following the tragic death of Stephen Milligan. But even after that defeat in 1995, we were still in contention. Adrian Bridle had retired as Agent and Gordon Williams took over. He rebuilt the council base to 20 Conservative councillors and the membership to 900. Sadly, after Gordon left, things appear to have gone wrong.

I understand that membership is now around 100, mainly very old. We have lost every single council seat (apart from the four in Hiltingbury, which are not part of the Eastleigh Parliamentary constituency). Even the formerly rock solid yachting haven of Hamble (where they filmed Howard's Way) is now very safely Lib Dem. 

Tonight's result isn't a reflection on CCHQ or Maria Hutchings. They did the best they could with the tools available.,

The lesson from Eastleigh is this is what happens when a political party loses its membership, loses its branches, loses its district, county and parish councillors and ultimately loses its roots and understanding of the community it is there to represent.

Across the country there must be many Eastleighs just waiting to happen - and it affects all main parties, not just us.  I can think of a few in Kent - so goodness only knows what we must be like in much of the Midlands, North West and North and Scotland.

CAMS (centrally managed membership) is a fig leaf. You don't reconnect a political party with the community by handing the responsibility of collecting  membership subscriptions to a centralised database, which posts out the letters on your behalf. You rebuild a political organisation from the grass roots upwards. Street by street, polling district by polling district, ward by ward and eventually the Parliamentary seat will fall.

We most stop this management of decline. Yes, the endless branch meetings where members spend more time talking about the next jumble sale than they do about politics can be tedious, but they bring people into the fold who would otherwise be excluded. And by bringing them in we hear what they say, and they tell others that we listened and bring them in too. And once enough friends talk about us in favourable terms, we have a chance of winning back the council seats - and perhaps, one day, just perhaps, when we have won back the council seats and organised enough coffee mornings, and signed up the helpers, Eastleigh, and many seats like it. may once again have a Conservative MP.

Post script: it would appear that the great Bill Deedes got there 12 years before me. He is an article he wrote for the Telegraph on 2001 on this very subject: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1309788/How-Tories-lost-their-precious-volunteer-army.html   I am grateful to my friend, Philip Young, for bringing it to my attention.

24 comments:

  1. John Hayward1 March 2013 02:45

    By extension, the secondary lesson is presumably that there are no "safe" seats. Any seat is winnable – or losable. To suggest otherwise is to take the electorate for granted.

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  2. Good stuff. I don't know why there is so little appreciation of this, it's easy to watch the Liberal Democrats doing many of the things you describe and reaping the benefits. "The bindweed of British politics" they're often called for their ability to tenaciously hang onto seats; we could do with a bit of that.

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  3. Very good article. Tories cannot rely on winning seats unless they broaden their appeal. They won't do this by heading in the UKIP direction.

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    1. If the Conservatives are going to win the next election the only way they can go is in the same direction as UKIP. However with a leader who has no understanding of life, never had a proper job, is unable to connect with 99% of the population, is a serial liar and an utter pompous twat, the party will lose the next election.

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  4. Paddy - Possibly. Tories have tried 'broadening their appeal'. That went well then. A former Tory party member and supporter.

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  5. Its staggering. You really have no idea why you got trounced at Eastiegh, do you?

    Let me enlighten you.

    You got trounced because for thirty years, the electorate have been lied to about the EU. You got trounced because Cameron lied about an EU referendum. You have lied about English politics. For 30 years you, Labour and LibDems have maintained the pretence that politics is still about left right. in fact, politcis is no longer about left/right, its about the EU. Every main party has been infiltrated and taken over by the Europhiles, the result being it doesnt matter who you vote for, you get EU.

    Cameron promised an Eu referendum, then went back on his word, as did Clegg, Brown, and Blair. People are sick of promises to control immigration, promises made in the full knowledge you cannot do that as long as we are in the EU. Cameron will not let us leave the EU, he is a closet Social democrat liberal europhile.

    The fact is people want mass immigration stopped, and they want out the rotten, corrupt EU, a body so wasteful and [profligate the accounts havent been signed off for 15 years, with vast, VAST, amount s of money missing, presumably embezzled , by rotten corrupt europeans.

    If you think the flight to UKIP by people sick of the Eu is bad now, wait till your government lets in 4 million Romanian criminals - pickpockets, cash point fraudsters and copper cable thieves, and crime goes thru the roof.

    The Eu will continue to be a bad deal, and people will continue to flock to UKIP.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head.

      Roger Dewhurst, Auckland

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  6. @Anonymous: 'You got trounced because for thirty years, the electorate have been lied to about the EU.'

    Which will be why the most pro-EU party in the land actually won the seat (again), obviously.

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  7. The LDs won the seat for 3 reasons. 1) They had an awesome machine that no other party in Eastleigh could match. 2) They hoovered up a large section of the anti-Tory vote (remember they got just over 30% of the total vote) and Labour came nowhere. 3) The Tories tried to beat UKIP rather than the LDs. They did very little exposing the effect the LDs have on Eastleigh.

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    1. No they didnt. LibDem vote was 14% down, the tory vote was 13% down, Lab was near enough 0% and the UKIP vote was 24% up. Isnt rocket science to work out who switched vote and where they went. There was peopel who hadnt voted for 30 years turnign out to vote ukip.

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  8. The point I am making, Ray, is a longer-term one. In 1992 we polled 38,000 (51%) votes and had a majority of 17,000. In those days the seat was much larger, it included the Labour-inclined Woolston ward (now in Southampton Itchen) plus LibDem Chandlers Ford and Tory Hiltingbury (now in Romsey). We also controlled the Council. In the last 20 years we have lost 27,000 voters and every council seat. I was not posting about Thursday's defeat, but rather the consequences for the Party when it loses it's local organisation and local government base. Nowhere else in Hants has seen such a total collapse.


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    1. Point being i voted Tory for the last 6 elections, but never again. i am exactly the sort of voter you need to win back, and here you are discarding my opinion with a dismissive wave of your hand. Thats why you will get wiped out next election. You have no connection with the mood of the people, and your MP's continue to break election promise after election promise. Cameron lied about an EU ref. They lied about rolling back the Big brother State (instead cameup with an appalling bill for Secret Courts instead). You lied about stopping immigration. You even lied about upping motorway limits, thats been dropped. SO we dont believe camerons repeat promise of a referendum, the electorate wont fall for the same lie twice, there not as stupid as they think. Unless you take UKIP seriously, they are going to seriously fuck you up next election. Ignore thie advice at your peril!!! I am not alone in this view!!

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  9. I think in general if you leave it until election time to start talking to voters you are too late, the campaign needs to start the day or so after the previous election.

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  10. As a member of Eastleigh Conservatives I can remember winning here and also remember the people you reference.

    I think you make some very good points but I also think there are some ommissions as to the Lib Dem actions as well as other things.

    I would love to discuss this article with you as Eastleigh, while an extreme example, is far from alone and the party need to act before it is too late.

    John Milne

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    1. Hi John, thank you for your comment. I posted this article as I wanted to add my own weight to those from people, many far more important than me, who are saying we must address the issue of the voluntary party being in decline in many areas. I think we have got that issue into the spotlight and hopefully others will take the matter forward. I hope you will understand that I don't really wish to be drawn-in to detailed discussions about individual Associations, as I have neither the detailed knowledge or authority to comment. I still visit Hampshire regularly and have many fond memories, and I do wish you all every success.

      Best wishes
      Andrew

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  11. Vote Labour, get Eu and mass immigration
    Vote LibDem, get Eu and mass immigration
    Vote Tory, get Eu and mass immigration
    Vote Labour, get no Eu and no mass immigration

    And thats what the public see, increasingly, and by there millions. Which all of the first three are shedding votes to UKIP, and will continue to do so. And Tory Central Office, and people like you, need to stop deluding yourselves it isnt so.

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  12. Sadly there are a lot of seats like Eastleigh. Seats which, if the Tories can't win them now means that they are unlikely ever to form a majority government. Eastleigh is particularly worrying because it is a southern seat and so shows how far the rot has gone, but there are similar tales that can be told I'm sure in a lot of midlands and northern seats that were once homes to large Conservative majorities (eg Leeds North West where at 40 I'm one of the youngest members after all the students left for UKIP in the misguided belief it was a libertarian party and Leeds North East).

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  13. I was Agent for Eastleigh from 1967 to 1972. In 1970, we took the Conservative majority from 701 to 8,052. A couple of elections later, the Labour voters concluded that the seat was unwinnable for Labour, so they started tactically voting Liberal, which they still do.
    Ironically, some friends of mine who live in the constituency told me that had they realised that UKIP were so close they would have voted UKIP instead of Conservative, to keep the Liberals out.
    Mid-term bye-elections are not a good guide.
    This parliamentary term has been the one where all the spending from borrowing has come home.
    Parliamentary elections are popularity contests. Now that the country is skint, and we do not have the productive capacity to export our way out of it, we are in for a long, hard winter

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Anon. I guess you are now retired, where did you go after you were at Eastleigh?

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    2. I left the agent's profession in 1972. I took an opportunity to go into business. This allowed me to assist voluntarily in politics, and make some money. As it was easier not to work in your former constituency, I helped James Hill in Southampton Test until that went underwater with redistribution.
      I take no active part in politics now. I have not left the Conservative Party; I sometimes think it has left me!
      David Conroy.

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  14. theres some good point youve made i live in blackpool my constituancy is blackpool south and were in the same boat weve no branches and weve lost 62 members in the last 12 months its very sad for a constituancy that was a safe conservative seat for 150 years till 1997 and had a majority of 7 to 8000 regularly sometimes more. We need to start at the bottom and go from there because it is the type of seat the conservatives need to win in 2015 if we want a majority.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Anon. You are right, I always remember Blackpool as a good Conservative seat; though I suspect the change of demography has done as much damage with the decline in the previous sold seaside landlady vote. However, unless we can win back Blackpool and seats like it, we will struggle to form a majority.

      By the way, I know Blackpool well. I was born in Bootle, grew up in Wallasey and Blackpool was one of my childhood holiday destinations - many a happy week was spent at Pontins back in the early 1970s. I do wish the party would take the conference back to our seaside resorts, they had a much better atmosphere.

      Best wishes

      Andrew

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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