It’s been four days since I woke up, for the first time ever, in a Labour seat. In the (very) few hours since I fell asleep, Battersea had fallen to Labour candidate Marsha de Cova. Given Jane Ellison’s majority of nearly 8,000 - she was not thought to be in trouble. How wrong we were.
If campaigns can be broken down into four sections, this is what they are.
- The Manifesto
- Communicating it
- Ground War
At the next General Election, please can we see a return to a campaign that puts the voter first? Here’s how this campaign didn’t:
- The inevitable mad rush to get 650 candidates in place in two weeks was frankly an impressive feat for the Candidates department to have achieved. They could have been a little more sensitive to local Associations but the scale of the task they faced and the difficulty in ensuring every seat had a candidate should not be underestimated. However, these candidates lived in fear of being kicked off the candidates list for either breaking some social media rule or underperforming in their seat. They had to deal with immense restrictions on their literature (more on this below). In some cases being they were sent to nearby target seats instead of being a presence in the constituency. Send the volunteers, not the candidates surely? Moving forwards, there should be much more transparency over how you become and remain an Approved Candidate. Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging the talented to stand?
- A manifesto that seems to target the young (school lunches), the elderly (social care) and the slightly irrelevant (fox-hunting) does not a happy electorate make. If there were reforming, ground-breaking policies within the manifesto that did cater for the average voter - my bad, I missed them. Which leads me onto my second point.
- Writing manifestos is half the battle. Policies need to be explained and sold. School lunches is a good example of ‘bad comms’. The fact that this was only introduced in 2014, every child would still get a free breakfast and children from poor backgrounds would still be in receipt of free lunches, was left to a handful of individual MP’s to tweet about. And by the way no-one understands or changes their vote based on ‘Personal Taxation Allowances’. The Party can be defined by people that vote for it. One person who gets it is Lynton Crosby. During the election campaign in 2015 the long term economic plan was the foundation of the campaign. It was written on the walls in CCHQ. Whether you agreed with it or not - it was the clearest most concise piece of campaigning material that undoubtedly led to our victory. The only piece of comms I could parrot from this election is Strong and Stable leadership and Coalition of Chaos. Both orchestrated by Crosby at the beginning of the campaign. My hunch is that Crosby was just getting going. If the press are to be believed, he was seen as an advisor, not the person in charge by No.10 Chiefs of Staff. There was no effort to communicate or sell the manifesto to the electorate that would most certainly have taken place had Crosby been able to retain the same control he had in 2015.
- A lot has been written about the ground war and the ‘Presidential’ approach but it is worth adding - when people arrive at the ballot box, it isn’t the Prime Minister’s name on the ballot paper. It is the candidate. A candidate who is seeking to represent the voters not the PM. Target seat candidates were delivering leaflets with their name as just a footnote, and in some cases not even that. I’m not sure how we expect local candidates to win elections when they aren’t able to campaign on local issues, say what they will do should they win and increase their name recognition within the constituency. At the ballot box, the voters need to be crystal clear on who it is they are putting their X against and who they are. It seemed to be further proof that the people at the ‘top’ were disregarding anyone who wasn’t up there with them, from the candidate down to the voter.
Despite Jane’s majority, I had been in receipt of several campaign emails from Battersea Association. They were anything but complacent. There has been mention that the lack of a Team 2015 model damaged the ground war nationally. I have no idea of figures but my twitter feed was full of groups of happy campaigners nationwide led by the Party (and CWF). So let’s not blame the volunteers…
Finally, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy have certainly been made the scapegoats for most of the above. But their resignations aren’t enough. We need to ensure we learn from the last six weeks, so at the next election we can once again deliver a Conservative majority.
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