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Westlake Legal Group > Conservative strategy

The Conservatives must resist any temptation to get greedy in which seats they target

Among the many things that went wrong in 2017 was a serious error in the selection of target seats, and therefore the allocation of campaign resources and activists. Starting with insufficient and somewhat obsolete data, the Conservative Party struggled to select its targets in the early stages of a campaign for which it wasn’t adequately prepared. Desperate to inform its decision-making, it then updated its selections after a few weeks, based on polling and local election data – only for that information to be rendered incorrect by events, not least the manifesto problems and the growing ‘weak and wobbly’ narrative about the Prime Minister.

The trouble was, the damage was done before the error was realised. They started ambitiously – even targeting a few rare seats with Labour majorities as large as 8,000 – and then the early poll leads and encouraging locals led the operation to get greedy. They switched resources out of defence seats and tight marginals, and into stretch targets, with ruinous effect.

Here is my report after the election:

‘…as the results came in, numerous experienced campaigners in Tory seats with large majorities realised to their horror that while they had been travelling often long distances to give mutual aid to supposed target seats where Labour won convincingly, Tory-held seats far closer to them had been lost. In one instance, a well-resourced association saw the Labour majority in their allotted target seat increase, while a Conservative seat which they drove through regularly to get to the target was lost.

This mismatch got worse as time went on, too. Positive early canvassing returns (pre-manifesto) and the encouraging local election results led CCHQ’s strategists to start not only treating Tory-held marginals as safe, but to divert resources away from the more marginal Labour-held target seats and towards target seats further down the list, ie those with bigger majorities. A candidate in what was supposed to be a top target – Leave-voting, and narrowly held by Labour in 2015 – tells me that:

“CCHQ’s eyes were definitely bigger than their belly. The limited resource we had in [our area] was originally due to be directed to us. That would have already been a stretch, but once canvass returns came in we lost it all together as 5-8,000 majorities were targeted instead. It left us very exposed.”

The moral of the story is that it’s better to stay focused on getting the essentials right than neglect them because you’re carried away with fantasies of a landslide. It’s a lesson that must be remembered at Tory HQ right now. Having enjoyed large poll leads so far, and with an encouraging MRP from YouGov last night, this is precisely the time when the siren temptation to expand the target list comes a-calling.

It must be resisted. If anything, the campaign should be kicking the tyres and ensuring that its defence operation in Tory-held marginals is running properly, and ensuring its must-win target seats have all the resources that they need. A campaign is a complex thing, and myriad moving parts can easily go wrong.

The last election shows the importance of retaining focus, the polls already show some tightening of the Conservatives’ lead, and (as I discussed with John Curtice in this podcast yesterday) all the signs are that the severely underperforming Lib Dems are vulnerable to being squeezed by Labour. In short, things may well get tougher, and closer, before this election has run its course – as Dominic Cummings warned last night.

So if CCHQ’s eyes start once more to get bigger than their belly, they must be alive to the danger of over-reaching, and restrain themselves. If they stay disciplined, they might even benefit from Labour failing to do so – Buzzfeed reports that there are growing frustrations in the Opposition’s campaign machine that troops are being misallocated, either due to over-ambitious plans or discrimination in favour of hyper-loyal Corbynite candidates.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sunder Katwala: Childcare, not Kashmir. Neither Narendra Modi nor Imran Khan are candidates in this election.

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

Successive Conservative party leaders have seen the party’s historically distant relationship with British ethnic minorities as an existential challenge. The party has been only half as likely to win the vote of a non-white as a white British citizen. British Future’s research showed how that ethnic vote gap made the difference between a hung parliament and winning a majority in both 2010 and 2017.

This should be a question of values as well as votes. Any party that aspires to govern our country should want to pass a simple one nation test: that no citizen should feel any tension between supporting that party and their ethnic and faith background. All parties have got work to do for that aspiration to be realised.

The Labour Party’s ruptured relationships with the Jewish community will be a significant election issue. The broad majority of British Jews have lost confidence in Labour’s response to anti-semitism, so that the party which proudly pioneered anti-discrimination legislation in Britain finds itself the subject of an EHRC investigation into evidence compiled by Jewish party members about its failure to create a process or party culture to deal with anti-semitism effectively.

The Conservatives have made some progress with Indian voters, somewhat more slowly than the Conservatives had hoped, or than the socio-economic profile of Indian voters would suggest. So the Conservatives are clearly not the party of Enoch Powell anymore, but the focus on “historic baggage” has overlooked the extent to which the party has risked creating new baggage, as the Windrush scandal exemplified.

The Conservative Party has flat-lined or slipped back from a low base with both black British voters and British Muslims. There was little public debate in the party after Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for London Mayor in 2016. and the sluggish progress after Boris Johnson’s commitment to an inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice in the party, secured by Sajid Javid during the party leadership contest, captures a reactive and reluctant approach to grasping this nettle.

There is an increasingly divergent pattern between different minority groups, but generalising about ethnic groups also over-simplifies if it does not recognise how cleavages of class, education and geography play out within minority groups too. Black British and Asian voters were also Remainers and Leavers . Those who work in the public sector, who lean left, and private sector, who lean right, may prioritise different issues too.

Johnson has said that he is proud to have appointed the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in British history: the party plans to give  Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and rising star Rishi Sunak a prominent role in the election. The Conservative 2019 campaign will seek to narrow the ethnic voting gap, but it may have become a second-order priority in the short-term. The central focus of the party’s Brexit realignment bid in 2019 is on Leave-voting towns held by Labour, that have an older and whiter demographic, rather echoing how the 2015 majority combined some progress with British Asian voters along with heavy gains in the south-west, among England’s least ethnically diverse regions.

There are towns, including Bedford, Keighley and Peterborough where the ethnic minority vote may play a significant role this time around. The gradual geographic spread of ethnic diversity means that ethnic minority voters are not just a large share of the vote in London marginals like Battersea and Kensington, but one part of the electoral jigsaw in suburban marginal seats too.

The Conservatives may be slower to increase their share of Indian voters if they can’t reverse the broader generation gap in British politics, so that young graduates and the under-30s are leaning left across most groups, as part of the polarisation by education and age of post-Brexit politics. Beyond the 2019 campaign, any sustainable majority strategy for the party depends on working how to bridge these generational and ethnic minority gap.

British elections often see noisy, self-promoting claims about the ability to deliver ethnic minority voters en bloc to swing seats from one party or another, with a noisy row over claims to represent the Indian vote in this election.

Foreign policy issues are, doubtless, somewhat more salient to diasporas than to other voters – but to nothing like the extent that media coverage suggests.  The evidence suggests that ethnic minority voters also prioritise domestic issues – the economy, jobs and the NHS – over foreign policy ones.  For most ethnic minority voters, the central questions are who should lead the country; Brexit; jobs, crime, the economy and the NHS.

Views of foreign policy may reinforce broader feelings of trust or mistrust about Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, but neither Narendra Modi nor Imran Khan are on the ballot paper in a British general election and British voters from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds have mixed views of both leaders.  There will also be British Indian voters for whom crime, childcare or climate change are more pressing issues than Kashmir.

Temples, mosque and gurdwaras remain popular for colourful political photo opportunities. Younger British-born ethnic minority voters will expect to hear from national party leaders or their local candidates about why they deserve their vote – rather than listening to those who claim that their faith or ethnic background should determine their vote. The idea that those in the congregation want to be instructed on how to vote is an outdated form of minority politics that younger British-born voters often want to leave behind.

Efforts to play ‘good minority’ and ‘bad minority’ on either side of the party argument would be bad for social cohesion in Britain – and deserve to fail electorally too. As all parties seek to secure support from these growing sections of the electorate, they need to do so for the right reasons if they want to pass the one nation test.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alex Hall: Why the Conservatives shouldn’t enter into an election pact with the Brexit Party

Alex Hall has worked as a Conservative Party Agent for twelve years and currently covers the constituencies of Stratford on Avon, Kenilworth and Southam and Warwick and Leamington.

You can scarcely open a newspaper or venture onto social media without hearing about the need for the “pact” between us and the Brexit Party. I fundamentally disagree.

You should know that at 7am on the 23rd June 2016 I drew the biggest, fattest cross I have ever drawn on a ballot paper next to the box that said “Leave the European Union”.  So why do I, a staunch Brexiteer who backed first Dominic Raab and then Boris Johnson in the recent leadership election, and who believes a No Deal Brexit would be perfectly fine, think that a pact with the Brexit Party is a bad idea?

1: We should always field a candidate

Living in the left-wing stronghold of Liverpool as a younger man, I received my postal vote for the council elections and was horrified to see only two candidates; Labour or Lib Dem. The disillusionment I felt at not being able to vote Conservative gnawed away at me.

A year later at the general, came within a whisker of spoiling my ballot paper. Not that it would have mattered much in the Labour fortress of Liverpool Riverside but in later years, when I lived in marginal constituencies in the West, could have done. Today’s Conservative voter in Hartlepool who we abandon for the Brexit Party could be tomorrow’s disgruntled former Tory living in hyper-marginal Morley and Outwood, and who stays at home on polling day.

2: Unwinnable today, marginal tomorrow

That part of Liverpool in which I was the “only Tory in the village” was once safely blue. Likewise Buckingham, a safe Tory seat before it was held by the Speaker, was once Labour.

But there is no better example than where I lived until two years ago; Kingstanding in Birmingham. Kingstanding is working class, with high levels of deprivation, Leave-voting (over 70 per cent) and, 20 years ago, it was the safest Labour ward in the City.

In short, it is exactly the kind of area where supporters of a pact with the Brexit Party would have had us lay down our arms. Now both councillors representing it are Conservatives (and staunch Brexiteers). More importantly they were both elected, in 2014, despite having to face a challenge from UKIP. Times change and the Conservative Party must be there to change with it.

3: The doorstep just does not support it

It is tempting to assume that people who voted Leave and Conservative would switch to the Brexit Party and vice versa – but talk to the people who knock the doors and the canvassing shows it just isn’t so.

A great many of those Brexit Party supporters would likely not vote at all or return to Labour if their new party stood aside for us. And what of Conservative voters who, if faced with the awful choice, would prefer the Lib Dems or Greens to the Brexit Party? We make the mistake of thinking voters can switch between blue and turquoise interchangeably at our peril.

4: We are not the Brexit Party, and nor should we wish to be

We absolutely should attack the Brexit Party. They have, if we are honest, one policy – and that is that that any deal at all with the EU is wrong. If the deal that came back from Brussels had been bad, we would be right to leave without one.

But the Prime Minister has pulled off something that would have been laughably impossible years and united the Conservative Party on Europe with a good deal. Who wants no deal at all with our neighbours, partners and friends on the continent when we have a good deal from Johnson?

And what of our voters who would be repelled by a pact with the Brexit Party? I can see the Lib/Lab slogan already: “Vote Blue, get Farage”. I will admit that a guilty pleasure of mine is to listen to Nigel Farage’s show on LBC; he’s a great radio presenter, but he’s Marmite to the voters and a pact could see a lot of our supporters abandon us.

5: Our Party must remain a broad church

In response to emails to members about the current state of politics, I have had many overwhelmingly positive replies.  But there are other members who tell me that their loyalties are being tested right now. If you dismiss these members as “fake Tories”, then you do not know our Party at all: many of these members have been the backbone of our Party for years. A pact with the Brexit Party would tip these dedicated supporters over the edge and we might never get them back.

Some of our members have sympathy for the Brexit Party (a few quietly admit to voting for them in May), but others are appalled by them. I have campaigned for many fantastic MPs and councillors who voted Remain. We should never underestimate their contribution. They were here working to deliver Conservative policies long before the Brexit Party came around.

We are richer for being a Party that boasts both Steve Baker and Ruth Davidson as members. And, yes, I’d take Ruth over Farage any day.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Gauke: The three Brexit policy options from which the Prime Minister must now choose

David Gauke is a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and is MP for South West Hertfordshire.

I wrote the first of these columns as a Conservative MP. I write my second still a Conservative and still an MP – but not as a Conservative MP. However, it is not the purpose of this column to debate the wisdom of withdrawing the whip from 21 Conservative MPs – we are where we are – other than to make two points.

First, if the objective of the threat to withdraw the whip was designed to deter and see off a rebellion, it obviously failed. If anything, attitudes amongst potential rebels hardened as a consequence of the Number 10 approach. The number of rebels had been expected to be 15 but ended up at 21.

Second, all that has happened since the rebellion of September 3 has confirmed the analysis held by the 21. This was that the Government had not developed a strategy to reach a deal (as confirmed by Amber Rudd); that crashing out on 31 October would be hugely damaging (as confirmed by the Operation Yellowhammer assessment) and that Boris Johnson was determined – unless Parliament intervened – to leave on October 31 ‘come what may’ (as confirmed by, well, Boris Johnson).

In other words, but for the intervention of 21 now former Conservative MPs, the UK would be crashing out of the EU at the end of the next month and facing a whole host of problems. If anyone is expecting an apology for this action from the 21 MPs, they are going to be disappointed.

So given the string of reversals the Government has suffered, what does it do next? What are the broad, strategic choices available to it?

The first option – perhaps best described as the ‘Cummings option’ – is to double-down, stick with a strategy of squeezing out the Brexit Party, appeal to Labour leavers, take on the ‘Remoaner Establishment’ (Parliament, the courts, rich people who live in London), try to recreate the coalition of voters who voted leave in 2016 and smash divided opponents led by the abysmal Jeremy Corbyn. “A general Eelection cannot be far away, now’s the time to hold our nerve, ignore the Westminster bubble, a battle may have been lost but complete victory is in sight,”  say the strategy’s proponents. “Dom has everyone exactly where he wants them.”

It will not surprise many readers to know that I am not a fan of such a strategy, but it deserves to be taken seriously. There are plenty of people who are fed up with the Brexit saga, just want to get on with it and think that this Parliament is in the way. Johnson is a good campaigner; he could tap into that mood and, if an election is framed as Boris & Brexit versus Corbyn, even some of those nervous about No Deal would back the Conservatives. A vote share of 35 per cent might be enough to win a stonking majority.

Putting aside the small matter that a No Deal Brexit is a terrible outcome for the country: even on pure electoral terms alone, it is a strategy that has enormous risks. The Conservative Party would split. Don’t expect all of the rebels to go gently into that good night. More importantly, do not expect millions of moderate Conservative voters to buy the choice between No Deal and Jeremy Corbyn. Many will conclude that it is perfectly possible to use their vote to try to avoid both disasters.

And do not underestimate how hard it will be to win over Labour Leave seats to replace the inevitable losses in Scotland, London and the Home Counties and Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginals wherever they might be. As a recent report by Bristol University shows, in many of the seats that would need to be won, Labour leavers simply will not vote Conservative (as we discovered in 2017).

I also want to make a point about what such a campaign would do to our politics. It would be confrontational, divisive, bitter. It would pit the ‘people’ against our institutions. It would motivate people by provoking anger and hatred. Regardless of whether it was successful electorally or not, it would leave this country a less pleasant place in which to live.

All of this points towards an alternative strategy. The law means an extension will have to be sought if a deal has not been reached. How about getting a deal? (To be fair, even with a deal, an extension will be needed to put in place the legislation, but that was always the case.)

This approach means being realistic as to our demands of the EU (so that rules out scrapping the backstop without a workable replacement) and looking to deliver a deal that will have some cross-party support (assuming that some Conservative MPs won’t support any kind of deal).

This is my preferred option for a number of reasons, including the fact that it would enable the recent split in the Parliamentary Party to be reversed (on which point, I obviously have a personal interest to declare). But, to be fair, it is worth acknowledging the problems.

First, there is no guarantee of getting a Parliamentary majority for a deal. A lot of work will be needed with MPs across the House. (This might be easier were the Commons sitting, but that is another matter.)

Second, it means taking on Nigel Farage and, potentially, losing the support of voters enthusiastic about No Deal. It is a real problem for the Conservative Party. Too many of our voters have listened to those who have argued that any compromise constituted a betrayal, and that this great nation had nothing to fear from a no deal Brexit.

That type of rhetoric has boxed the Government in and made it harder for us as a country and Party to face up to the trade-offs inherent in reaching a sustainable compromise. Only a very skilled communicator could move from being an opponent of compromise to an advocate for it. In my view, we have a Prime Minister with the capacity to do that, but it will not be easy.

In short, Johnson has two options if he is going to face an imminent general election. Tough it out, be a No Deal Brexit Party and lose votes to the Liberal Democrats. Or get a deal and risk the return of the Brexit Party.

There is a third option, of course, if a majority for a deal cannot be assembled. Try to resolve Brexit this side of a general glection by holding a referendum, as suggested recently by Oliver Letwin. This could mean that Brexit will have been resolved by the time we get to that election and, the argument goes, the traditional Conservative coalition of voters can be restored.

This, too, has its risks and downsides. Speaking for myself, I have long argued against a second referendum and still want to avoid it. But unless we can make rapid progress towards Parliament supporting a deal, those calls are only going to grow.

No choice will be easy. Over to you, Prime Minister.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Garvan Walshe: No Deal has failed. The choice is May’s deal, no Brexit or no United Kingdom.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

Until this week I had thought that Brexit, though something I had opposed, had become inevitable. The referendum victory, though narrow, was clear, and those who continued to oppose Brexit lacked the ruthlessness and tactical sophistication to press their case successfully.

That’s started to change. The campaign, begun in earnest during the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, to take Britain out of the EU is now at risk of failing altogether. The manner of its failure, the scorched earth tactics of its more extreme partisans, and the increasing radicalisation of the Remain electorate (reflected in the Lib Dems’ tactically astute shift in position to direct revocation of Article 50, without a referendum) could cause a significant portion of the public to feel completely alienated from the political system, at a time when Britain’s constitutional traditions are being subverted for factional gain.

(As in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, blame for constitutional vandalism is not evenly shared; people just disagree about who should shoulder most of it.)

So though I opposed Brexit, I still don’t think it should currently be reversed. Around half of Remainers still see EU membership in transactional terms: but it is that transactional idea of membership that David Cameron tested to destruction. Many of the rest have turned into pro-European partisans, but out of opposition to Brexit rather than love of European integration.

Should a stable majority of the British public come to understand that the European Union is a project of political integration that involves the nation states of Europe sharing the sovereignty they once jealously guarded, then the UK should rejoin. But cancelling Brexit now would be bad for both the UK, which would find itself kicking against the loveless marriage to which it had returned, and the EU, which would have an unhappy and divided Britain to contend with.

The Brexiteers failed internationally because they overestimated Britain’s power. They began promising the easiest trade deal in history and some even suggested that Ireland should leave a failing EU and rejoin the UK; now they’re stuck negotiating a trade deal with Phil Hogan, the Irish Commissioner.

They failed domestically because they mistook a moral argument for a political one.

Their moral claim is that winning the referendum creates an unanswerable case for having some kind, indeed any kind, of Brexit. Both sides of the referendum campaign said that they would abide by the result, and that moral duty, they believe, is sufficiently strong that it should override other considerations, including Britain’s traditions as a representative, not a direct, democracy; whether the actual exit deal negotiated in fact turned out to be good enough; and whether during the time between referendum vote and implementation, the people might have changed their mind, or the electorate changed its composition (changes, in particular youth registration and naturalisation of EU citizens, themselves prompted by the Brexit vote).

But moral claims on their own do not a political strategy make. Brexiteers needed to have converted their victory on the day of 23rd June into a broad and lasting consensus in favour of Brexit. It had appeared that May had planned to do just that when she became Tory leader in 2016, but she changed tack during her conference speech that year in pursuit of a very specific hard-right fever dream that came unstuck the following July.

I’ll come back to this electoral mirage in a moment. Its effects however, were to deprive May of a majority, force her to rely on the DUP whose demands proved incompatible with those of the EU, as well as the need to avoid giving the SNP an argument to demand the same status as Northern Ireland, and resulted in the Withdrawal Agreement, which couldn’t pass the House of Commons, disastrous EU election results, the rise of the Brexit Party and her resignation and replacement by Boris Johnson.

Johnson inherited a war on two fronts — against the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems — and devised a sort of Schlieffen Plan to get the Conservative Party through. Complete Brexit by 31st October, then pivot to the kind of one-nation Toryism he professed as mayor, to give a country tired of Brexit and austerity something to unite around.

Over the summer, it looked like he had maintained just enough ambiguity about his intentions to keep his opponents divided. Instead he united them by proroguing Parliament and horrified the party by taking the whip from 21 rebels including Nicholas Soames and Philip Hammond, sparking the resignation of Amber Rudd, his own brother Jo, and even the Duke of Wellington. Whatever the Conservative Party is these days, it doesn’t have space for the descendants of Britain’s national heroes. Much of this is attributed to his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who combines the flexibility of the younger Moltke with the defence-minded attitude of Marshal Foch.

Unable to force his policy through a parliament in which he doesn’t have a majority, having reduced that majority further by his purge, he has been outmaneouvred by Jeremy Corbyn; his bid to call an election twice blocked by the Commons.

Situation excellente says Cummings, j’attaque.

The quite obvious plan, as is clear from adverts promising a “People versus the Politicians” election, is to reactivate enough anger from Leave voters to win a parliamentary majority against a divided opposition. It’s a plan with superficial possibility. Some pollsters, particularly YouGov, are showing a sizeable Conservative lead. Others give a much closer result. Panelbase has a Tory lead of three points, Opinium of ten. Leaving aside differences in weighting, having five parties means that even variations of one or two percent because of sampling error can mean the difference between the Tories on 35, Labour on 25 and Lib Dems on 17, Brexit Party on 13 (Tory Majority of 88, says Electoral Calculus) and Tories on 32, Labour on 28, Lib Dems on 15, Brexit Party 15 (Hung Parliament. Tories ten short).

Consider this poll, conducted in the middle of the crisis by FocalData, for the Conservative Group for Europe, with a sample of 10,000 – enough to use the statistical technique for MRP:

  • CON 33 per cent
  • LAB 30 per cent
  • LD 15 per cent
  • BXP 11 per cent
  • GRE 4 per cent
  • NAT 4 per cent
  • OTH 2 per cent

MRP calculates a statistical correlation between demographic characteristics (e.g. age, income) and voting behaviour, and then applies the results of those correlations to individual seats. The theory underlying it is that a 55-year-old man with a degree in Wakefield is likely to vote the same way as a 55-year-old man with a degree in Winchester. Wakefield votes differently to Winchester because different sorts of people live there, not because people from Wakefield are different to those in Winchester. This is broadly true (with some exceptions, which are relevant) and well-designed MRP has been able to predict individual constituency results far more accurately than uniform national swing. Crucially, it still works when swings are not uniform, and votes change between several parties, not just the big two.

That poll shows Labour a bit on the high side, and the Lib Dems a bit on the low side, but it is roughly in the region of recent polling. FocalData’s MRP calculations, which do not model Northern Ireland, yield 312 Tories, 242 Labour 21 Lib Dems, 52 SNP plus 5 others. I applied some swing modelling to these numbers, and if the Labour vote falls a few pecrentage points lower, and the Lib Dem vote rises, this could lead to the Conservatives winning a small majority; but equally small changes in the other direction could make Labour the largest party and able to form a majority for a second referendum with the support of the SNP and Lib Dems.

More ominous still, the poll asked Tory voters whether they would vote tactically to prevent a No Deal Brexit and a quarter said they were “likely” or “highly likely” to do so. I think this would be balanced by Labour voters who would vote tactically to ensure Brexit was done. Though I don’t think this question was asked, as there are fewer Labour Leavers than Tory Remainers a reasonable equivalent estimate would I think be 15 per cent.

I applied this adjustment to the individual constituency results, in two different ways. The first scenario adds takes a fraction of the Tory vote away and assigns it to the highest of Labour, Lib Dems, the Greens or one of the nationalist parties; it also takes a fraction of the Labour vote and assigns it to the highest of the Tory or Brexit Party column. The second scenario makes the assumption that Tories opposed to no deal are also opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, so it assigns the tactical vote to the pro-Remain party, other than Labour, who with the best chance of winning. Labour votes are assigned as in scenario 1.

Some caveats are in order: not everyone who says they’ll vote tactically actually will. Some will pick the wrong party and waste their vote; these estimates don’t take Labour-Lib Dem switching into account, and on the other side of the equation, they make the assumption that Brexit party voters who were thinking of switching to the Conservatives have already done so.

Nonetheless, the results are sobering. If anti-No Deal tactical voting included the possibility of voting Labour, the results would be a solid Labour majority of 50.

  • CON 135
  • LAB 374
  • LD 63
  • SNP 55
  • GREEN 1
  • PLAID 4

The possibility of this occurring could indeed deter anti-No Deal Tories from lending their votes to Labour. If Labour don’t benefit from anti-No Deal tactical voting the outcome is predicted as:

  • CON 224
  • LAB 277
  • LD 71
  • SNP 55
  • PLAID 4
  • GREEN 1

These are properly considered “edge” scenarios. Actual voter behaviour is likely to be somewhere in the middle (there will be some seats where Tories might feel comfortable voting for an increasingly rare Blairite, for example). Nonetheless, it makes an election a rather dicier prospect that some of its cheerleaders hope.

The fever dream I mentioned was the idea that the Conservative Party can somehow extend its reach into the northern working class (or, given the demographic profile of such voters, chiefly northern pensioners retired from industry) while still holding on to its urban professional vote in the cities and suburbs. A slightly more realistic version proposes cancelling the losses from cities and suburbs with greater inroads in to towns by adding a working class vote to the existing middle class Tory vote there. This has been partially successful in the south, the midlands (the only area where the Conservatives picked up seats in 2017) and probably in Wales, but has repeatedly failed in northern England, where people are willing to vote Leave, and even for the Brexit Party, but for whom a Conservative vote is a step too far.

I met quite a few of these voters on the outskirts of York in the 2017 campaign. They quite liked Theresa May herself, they said. She seemed solid and serious, but they didn’t trust the Tory party which, they felt, would always find a way, however devious, to screw people like them. The current front bench is not short of people who could convey that impression. Stirring up anger at the establishment and fear of Corbyn worked in the referendum, where Labour essentially gave up campaigning, but failed in the general election when Labour were able to keep onto their core vote. It would be quite a gamble, albeit in keeping with World War I inspired strategy, to repeat the 2017 plan two years later.

As I write, the Scottish courts have ruled Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful, prompting No 10 to issue an attack on “Scottish” judges, questioning their independence. This latest Fochian outburst is highly unwise and should not have come from a government of a party that still calls itself the Conservative and Unionist Party. The Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707 preserve the independence of Scottish and English legal systems and as a result jurisprudence has developed separately in the two nations of this kingdom. The Supreme Court, which hears the appeal next week has three options. It can declare prorogation lawful in both, allowing the SNP to say “English” judges overruled their traditions. It could declare it unlawful in both, which would, insofar as it upheld the Scottish verdict, require the Supreme Court to rule in effect that the Prime Minister had misled the Queen; or, it could produce the even more uncomfortable verdict that prorogation might have been lawful in England and Wales but unlawful in Scotland (in this situation the judgement that the Prime Minister misled the queen would still apply; but the English courts would have ruled that misleading her as to the reasons for prorogation was not, somehow, material to the case).

Also yesterday, a poll of Northern Ireland was released by Lord Ashcroft showing majority support there for the backstop, and an essentially evenly split vote on reunification with the Republic (51–49 in favour). The even split is maintained thanks to a majority of older voters continuing to support the Union. The youngest age group of voters breaks 60–40 in favour of a United Ireland.

The Johnson government’s strategy of heightening the contradictions has so far been an unqualified failure. Prorogation united the opposition to require him to seek an extension if he stays in office. The attempts to call an election failed. The removal of the whip from 21 Tory MPs reinforced their determination to defy number 10. Polling for the election itself increasingly suggests it would produce another hung parliament and quite possibly one led by a pro-second referendum administration. Continuing with this aggression is not only putting the Conservative Party’s continued existence at risk, and increasing the chances of Jeremy Corbyn establishing himself in No 10, it is threatening the integrity of the UK as a whole.

The Prime Minister needs to accept this failure and change tack. Leaving without a deal is no longer possible. Parliament will both prevent that, by requiring an extension, and, prevent an election that could (but probably wouldn’t) deliver a parliament that would accept it. Substantive modifications to the deal are also out of the question (the only one bruited is replacing the UK-wide backstop with an NI-only one, which is actually a retraction of a concession the UK made to the EU). The deal itself allows for a wide variety of Brexits, from Canadian-style free trade to a Norway style membership of the single market. If it is agreed, the UK will stay in the single market and customs union for at least a further year and a half, possibly up to three and a half years, limiting the economic shock of disruption. It would allow the Prime Minister to pivot to the One Nation Conservatism needed to win centrist voters back from the Lib Dems, and of course, it would allow him to tell Brexit Party supporters that we had left the EU.

The Spartans who consider this capitulation should think very carefully. Theresa May said there were three options: this deal, no deal, or no Brexit. The effect of prorogation has been to take away the option of no deal by constitutional means. The choice left is now this deal, no Brexit, or no United Kingdom.

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Rachel Wolf: When voters say their priorities are the NHS and schools, politicians ought to believe them

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

The prospect of another general election inevitably brings back nightmares of the last. I know that elections can be a bit like being a parent – you either copy your own parents or try to do the opposite of what they would have done. But I do think there are some lessons to learn which should affect how Boris Johnson approaches policy and a campaign, and which have been relatively under-discussed.

When people say their top priorities are the NHS and schools they actually mean the NHS and schools

Most of us remember knocking on doors, being told to talk about strong and stable government, only to find voters wanted to talk about the NHS and schools. And many of them were visibly furious.

And that was before the manifesto arrived. Interestingly, I remember that the first comments on the manifesto from many in Westminster was how beautifully written, how intellectually coherent, how correct much of it was. Just as they have in the last couple of days, Westminster swung very rapidly from believing Theresa’s team were strategic geniuses to certified morons.

The Conservative Manifesto had a lot of things to say about fixing the broken private sector. It proposed interventions on tech companies, worker protections, energy price intervention. It was reasonably close to Ed Miliband, if not willing to go quite as far as Jeremy Corbyn.

This approach is increasingly part of Westminster convention. It flips everything the public complain about into commentary on a broken market system. When people say they’re unhappy with immigration, the response is ‘oh actually they mean they’re worried about being left behind in a globalised world.’ If they say they’re unhappy with school funding:‘oh actually they mean they don’t think their children will have lives better than theirs’.

What in the last few years – in fact until Johnson became Prime Minister – we have been terrible at is saying ‘if people say they think NHS funding is a disaster and there aren’t enough police maybe we should listen to them and fix those things. Specifically.’

The manifesto was a lot less compelling on the public sector than the private sector. That’s what I, at least, got asked about campaigning. On this I think Johnson has made an unequivocally strong start.

No one is sown up

I and a number of other candidates had a phone call early on in the campaign with a professional member of the team at Central Office. At one point she said ‘you have to understand: if Theresa May could personally stand and campaign in every seat in the country, she would win. You are Theresa May’s Conservative Party.’ (I am quoting from memory).

I don’t think most of the people working on the election would have sanctioned this claim – even in the early days when it looked like impossible seats might be won. But it is a reminder of how strong she seemed.

It is easy to see why – from their seemingly unassailable position in the polls going into the election – the Conservative 2017 manifesto was so focused on winning a mandate to make difficult decisions. Theresa May had been governing for several months and had been visibly frustrated by the constraints of the previous manifesto, written by her predecessor David Cameron. She wanted to have free rein when she won what seemed – then – like it would be a big majority.

And a slightly puritanical liking of difficult decisions and hard work was a big part of her public persona. As she said in the foreword to the manifesto “[These policies] do not offer a quick fix…it is the responsibility of leaders to be straight with people about the challenges ahead and the hard work required to overcome them.”

This assumes a reliance on a trust in politicians and parties that simply doesn’t exist. This is an opportunity – if you have the most attractive programme for voters you’re able to win them over – and a loss. You can’t assume they’ll just swallow bad news.

Fairness remains the central value for people and policy needs to reflect that

At one of my hustings I was asked by an 18-year-old boy why his granny was going to suffer so badly under our dementia tax proposals. It’s not fair, he said. So much for inter-generational war.

Why did the social care policy enrage people? Because it cut at their sense of fairness. If something terrible happens to me – to my health – through no fault of my own, my family suffers. Worse, if I’ve done the right thing and built up savings, I’ll be penalised more.

We’ve done a lot of work recently on welfare reform and this sense of fairness is unbelievably strong with voters. We shy away from moral judgements on people – with good reason: it’s hard to do it as a central state looking at millions of people’s lives. But people have no such issue. From their point of view, if you have worked hard and done the right thing you should be rewarded. If bad things happen to you – disability, or ill health – that you could not possibly have avoided, you should be looked after. It’s that simple.

From this, you get the inverse of the social care policy.

The new spending review has been all-but-ignored in a conversation about Brexit. The public care about leaving the EU. But they also care about health, schools, and fairness. This is a chance for the Conservatives to get the messages on those right.

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James Frayne: An election is coming. Here are the messages – beyond Brexit – that the Conservatives need to win it.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Let’s assume an election soon. While the Conservatives are surely finished if they don’t go into the campaign as the clear choice for Brexit voters, this won’t be enough to secure a majority. The next election will not be a re-run of the referendum: people will be make their final decision on a broad range of issues. It’ll fundamentally be like any other election.

Last time around, the Conservatives slipped up badly with prospective voters. This has been endlessly discussed but three mistakes still stand out: firstly, they made no effort to own the “change” narrative even though public demands for change must have been clearly audible in their focus groups; secondly, they angered vast numbers of people by suggesting those that had lived a careful and modest life – owning a house with savings – should be punished with massive social care costs; and, thirdly, the threat to raise people’s taxes was mad. Brexit aside, there was comparatively little to attract working class and lower middle class swing voters – which explains the party’s patchy performance amongst them.

Politics is so volatile it’s hard to predict where the Conservatives’ relative strengths and weaknesses will be in a week, let alone two months. As I write, the weakness of Corbyn’s Labour and the lack of a powerful and credible anti-Brexit party means the prospects for the Conservatives look good. However, the Party still has vulnerabilities it must address fast. I won’t dwell on the obvious – like the NHS (and the text on that bus) – and instead look at those areas that haven’t received the political attention they deserve. And I’ll look at vulnerabilities amongst the working class and lower middle class of provincial England – who the Party needs to turn out in massive numbers and where this column has always focused.

Everyday life in England’s towns. In focus groups I’ve moderated in recent times, I’ve been struck by how people across provincial England are in despair about the state and prospects of their towns and suburbs. We’re a country that enjoys self-deprecation about our own backyards. But pessimism has intensified recently. People have come to terms with industrial decline as time has passed, but bad memories are returning now they’re witnessing the rapid decline of their town centres – as shops, pubs and services close, as anti-social behaviour and crime increase, as aggressive begging comes to small towns from cities, as visible drug use rises, and as more and more kids leave school and college with few local career prospects.

The Conservatives recently pledged new funds to support British high streets. This shows they’re hearing something. But they need to be careful not to misread or underplay what’s really being said. People don’t look at their town centres and just think: “we need more shops”; in fact, many people think high street shops are a rip-off, open at stupidly inconvenient times, and have a tiny range of interesting or useful goods. Rather, above all, the residents of these towns want to feel like they live in a proper community. They want safe and clean streets, integrated populations, free and cheap leisure facilities and parks, buzzing high streets and nice, affordable local pubs. The question the Conservatives need to answer is not “how do you save the high street?”, but “how do you improve everyday life in provincial towns?” It’s a completely different question. (And the Party’s approach to crime should be framed partly through improving communities, not just, say, dealing with serious violence).

People know the answer does not lie in simply throwing huge amounts of cash at these places. But, in the absence of ideas, the Conservatives are highly vulnerable to a Labour offer of vast new spending on things like public transport, libraries, parks, leisure centres, social housing, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation programmes, community integration programmes, youth clubs, CCTV, policing and security guards and so on. The Conservatives need to think about the challenges of living happily in these towns, not narrowly around simply more shops or more police.

The party of the rich. When the audiences we’re thinking about here are asked about the Conservatives, one thing always comes up: “they’re the party of the rich, while Labour are the party of the working class”. This perception has been widespread for years, and the recent defection of working class voters from Labour to the Conservatives has barely changed this fact. Boris Johnson’s only mis-step in his leadership campaign was to give disproportionate attention to tax paid by higher earners and he is lucky this was barely noticed by the electorate. The Conservatives need to ensure they do everything possible to avoid looking like they’re a party of the rich, for the rich. (Incidentally, it doesn’t matter necessarily that Boris Johnson is rich and posh).

What does this mean in practice? A few obvious ones, which they surely won’t get wrong: target tax cuts on working class and lower middle class voters and don’t talk about helping higher earners; don’t ever talk about the benefits of private education; and ensure there are enough spokespeople from ordinary backgrounds.

But there are some less obvious ones, too: don’t focus economic and social policies purely on the poorest, which sends the message to working class and lower middle class audiences that they in turn must be rich; be careful about how you talk about aspiration, which can seem you’re saying their lives are substandard; and carve out some specific tax cuts directly targeted on the lives of working class and lower middle class voters (tax is really rising up the public’s list of priorities, incidentally, which I will write about in more detail here soon).

Education for all. (I should point out that my agency Public First has worked for many clients in the education world. Here, our work for Pearson and Universities UK is relevant.) The Conservatives’ reputation as the party of the rich is usually undeserved, but there are times, because relatively few of their senior team come from ordinary backgrounds, where they unintentionally make it look like they live on another planet. Two issues stand out, one specific and one general.

Firstly, in an act of breath-taking political stupidity, the Department for Education is consulting on the de-funding of the best known and respected vocational qualification, the BTEC. To be clear, this would mean telling the vast numbers of young people currently studying for BTECs that their courses are essentially worthless and introducing a new system that would make many of their chosen careers impossible. (James Kirkup of the Social Market Foundation wrote about this for the Spectator recently). Secondly, more generally, the Party still gives off the sense that it considers the expansion of universities to have been a mistake and that most students of newer universities are wasting their time.

The Conservatives should certainly be promoting academic excellence and indeed elite education where appropriate. In fact, I believe they should do this far more explicitly than they ever have done. But this does not mean they should not be promoting education for all – high quality education for those with differing interests and with different levels of academic ability. They should be on the side of educational progress and achievement full stop. Working class and lower middle class audiences will not mind if the Government promotes elite education for those that will thrive in such institutions (they have no hostility to these people) but they will mind if it looks like the Party wilfully opposes or misunderstands those institutions and courses that enable them to improve their children’s lives. (Personally, I would have focused on this way more than on things like teachers’ pay, which never comes up amongst ordinary voters).

Rewarding hard work. Over the last decade, and particularly under George Osborne’s time as Chancellor, the Conservatives began to establish a lead over Labour as the party that rewarded hard work. In focus groups I’ve run in the last few years, working class and lower middle class voters have consistently fumed at Labour’s excessively generous attitude to welfare and talked positively about Conservative welfare reforms (yes, including Universal Credit). Such is the strength of feeling on this issue, the Conservatives emphatically must not consider their lead secure and their reforms effectively banked with the public. And they must not confuse media criticism of UC with public opposition; the two are different. They must look at how to double down on their recent progress and take this further. The most obvious place to look is at introducing a much greater contributory element to the welfare state (another declaration of interest: Public First is working for the Centre for Policy Studies on creating such a system).

Ownership of the change narrative. Last time around, it seems likely that the Conservatives underplayed the change narrative because Theresa May was a new Prime Minister that theoretically embodied change. That wasn’t enough and it won’t be enough for the Conservatives this time around. Boris Johnson is seen as a different sort of politician and his early start has sent shockwaves through the political system. But, again, it’s vital that the Conservatives keep up the pace. Johnson has been around now on the frontline of British politics for over a decade and the Conservatives have been in power for nearly a decade. Many of their most visible politicians have also been around a long time. As a Government and Party, they look comparatively new but not absolutely so. They should be rolling out new faces consistently in coming weeks. Their general rhetoric – and how they package both fights and positive announcements – should focus on how they’re changing the political system as we know it. Before I bored everyone to death about the importance of lower middle class and working class voters, I used to bore people about the need to harness anti-politics as a force for change. Now is the time to do this in earnest.

In very difficult circumstances over the last few weeks, Johnson’s Government has not put a foot wrong politically. His team know the path to political and electoral success is extremely narrow, though, and it will be hard to deliver. In the next few weeks they’ll need to raise their game even further.

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Johnson calls his opponents’ bluff

So the Government seeks to hold a Queen’s Speech on 14th October, with an attendant prorogation from 10th September.

Ministers argue that this is a normal thing for a new administration to do, that it is within their usual constitutional rights, and that it is standard practice to prorogue before a Queen’s Speech. They also point to the fact that Parliament normally doesn’t sit for most of this period anyway, due to the Conference recess, and that they want to get on with their job. They’re right.

Furious Remainers argue that it’s a deliberate tactic to reduce the Parliamentary time available for the newly-founded Remain Alliance to pursue the plan they announced yesterday to legislatively block Brexit. They’re right, too.

By extension, there are some things each side claims which aren’t entirely right. The Government has its tongue in its cheek when it suggests this is solely about its legislative agenda, and not about disrupting its opponents; and its opponents are talking flagrant nonsense when they rave that it’s a ‘coup’, a threat to ‘the very nature of our democracy’, and so on.

The question really is how well either side’s arguments hold up politically, and what power they have available to convert them from rhetoric to reality.

It’s within Remainers’ rights to seek to disrupt and obstruct the Government, as they announced they intended to yesterday; but equally there’s no obligation for the Government to make it easy and opportune for them to do so.

Similarly, it’s rather difficult for pro-EU MPs who recently tried to arbitrarily alter the British constitution in order to create new rules and powers for themselves in an open attempt to simply get their way, to now criticise the Government for doing far less by using the executive’s usual and existing powers to get its way.

Big shock: both sides want what they want, and are working to get it. It’s called politics.

What happens next?

Johnson has slammed the ball back into the Opposition’s half of the court, apparently to their dismay. It’s a characteristically Cummings strategy, seeking to knock opponents off balance and to dictate the agenda before they can right themselves. They now have a short time to decide how to bat it back, and a wobbly position from which to make that decision.

Their first problem is fundamental: who now speaks for them, and who has the authority to set their response? That in itself will shape the nature and form of the response.

Officially Jeremy Corbyn is the alternative Prime Minister, but as his absence from yesterday’s press conference showed, the tentative Remainer coalition is still founded on pretending he doesn’t exist, because he’s too toxic for most of them to contemplate putting into power.

Some MPs look to John Bercow, who has come out swinging already, in the hope he might be willing to sanction (or even invent) new ‘unconventional’ constitutional arrangements to undermine the Government’s powers.

The lawfare merchants, who have waged so many well-funded court cases in the last three years, will no doubt be considering any possible legal angles, but the early take from lawyerly types is that they will struggle to find one.

If the Government’s approach stands in the face of the Speaker and the courts, then that simply focuses the battle onto the House of Commons next week.

Bluntly, do the opponents of Brexit have the numbers to enforce their will through the Chamber? Only yesterday they opted not to hold a confidence vote, presumably on the basis that they did not have the numbers.

Will they now risk it anyway? Might Johnson’s announcement have swayed enough Tory rebels against him?

And ultimately, if there are enough votes to defeat the Government, are the Opposition completely sure that doing so wouldn’t constitute walking into a trap, teeing up the Prime Minister to announce that, regretfully, an alliance of the hard left and anti-democrats have left him no choice but to go to the people in order to deliver not just Brexit, but the new age of optimism and national reform that he intends this Queen’s Speech to usher in?

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The Boris bounce: where are the votes coming from, and where might more be available?

As you’d expect on the Sunday after a new Prime Minister takes office, there are a raft of new polls out in today’s newspapers, each trying to judge what impact Boris Johnson’s arrival in Downing Street is having on the electorate.

The four polls vary in various details beyond being from different pollsters – some include different lists of parties (Greens or no Greens), some are based on more recent fieldwork than others and might therefore pick up the effects of more news about the new Government, and they each test rising or falling vote shares by comparing back to differently dated previous polls, ranging from earlier this week to all the way back to the start of June. Here are all the details:

ComRes

Conservative: 28 per cent (+3)

Labour: 27 per cent (-1)

Liberal Democrat: 19 per cent (+2)

Brexit Party: 16 per cent (-3)

Green: 4 per cent (-1)

Poll undertaken Wednesday 24th – Thursday 25th July. Changes compared to 16th July.

YouGov

Conservative: 31 per cent (+6)

Labour: 21 per cent (+2)

Liberal Democrat: 20 per cent (-3)

Brexit Party: 13 per cent (-4)

Poll undertaken Thursday 25th July – Friday 26th July. Changes compared to 24th July.

DeltaPoll

Conservative: 30 per cent (+10)

Labour: 25 per cent (-1)

Liberal Democrat: 18 per cent (+2)

Brexit Party: 14 per cent (-10)

Poll undertaken Thursday 25th July – Saturday 27th July. Changes compared to 1st June.

Opinium

Conservative: 30 per cent (+7)

Labour: 28 per cent (+3)

Liberal Democrat: 16 per cent (+1)

Brexit Party: 15 per cent (-7)

Green: 5 per cent (-3)

Poll undertaken Wednesday 24th – Friday 26th July. Changes compared to 5th July.

There are few things to note.

First, the Conservative vote is up in each poll. Which you believe, +3, +6, +7 or +10, is up to you, but the presence of a shift in the same direction in the findings of each company is hard to ignore.

Second, the Brexit Party appears to be being squeezed, with changes in their vote share of -3, -4, -10 and -7. Watch how closely those match the Tory rise in each respective pollster’s results.

Third, the Liberal Democrat vote is essentially unchanged across the board: +2, -3, +2, +1. They gained a new leader this week, just as the Conservatives did, but Jo Swinson appears not to have changed their standing much at all as yet.

Fourth, Labour is essentially unchanged, too: -1, +2, -1, +3.

So what we’re currently seeing is not a single, two-sided race, as is traditional; nor a simple free-for-all melee in a country which has become a four-way marginal.

Rather, there are two electoral contests underway. The Conservatives under Boris Johnson are squeezing the Brexit Party, to try to reunite the old Vote Leave majority for getting out of the EU. At the same time, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are battling over territory which is varyingly lefty and Remainy.

In the former contest, Johnson’s early days show some promise, but in the latter it appears Labour are unable to win back the votes they lost to the Lib Dems, while Swinson is in search of a moment to cut through to further eat into, and maybe even overtake, the Labour vote.

Each race has one new participant within it, which makes both unpredictable and subject to potentially swift change as voters get to know the new leaders. While the Conservatives have made early progress, any actual seizure of voters from the Brexit Party at the ballot box is for obvious reasons dependent on actual results in delivering Brexit. By contrast, Swinson inevitably had difficulty cutting through in the media in a week dominated by Boris Johnson, but as the only female leader among the four top parties, and the youngest leader too, she has a clear chance to differentiate herself if she gets and seizes the opportunity. She must be hoping hard for a TV debate along the lines of the one that created Cleggmania in 2010.

The final thing to consider is that while these early stages of Johnson’s leadership involve a battle for votes with the Brexit Party, there’s nothing confining the Prime Minister to that conflict forever. If – and it’s not a small if – he can really squish down Nigel Farage’s vote, or somehow form a pact with him, then he can turn, secure in his Brexit flank, to focus more fully on Labour. The nightmare scenario for the Opposition is one in which they lose Remainer and moderate left ground to the resurgent Liberal Democrats and Leaver plus working class ground to the Conservatives.

In a four-way contest, currently divided into two skirmishes, the race is on to find who will be trapped fighting two opponents at the same time.

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Andrew Kennedy: To energise our Party, and restore it to winning ways, Cleverly must reform its voluntary organisation

Cllr Andrew Kennedy is the Group Agent and Campaign Director in West Kent. He blogs at www.votingandboating.blogspot.com

“Nothing has changed…nothing has changed.”

This short sentence perfectly summed up the despair and frustration of Theresa May about her faltering 2017 election campaign. And “nothing has changed” perfectly sums up how most of us feel about the progress made on voluntary party reform since the publication of the Feldman Review almost five years ago.

In my evidence to that review I demonstrated that the average Conservative Association spent just 16 per cent of its income on campaigning, with 58 per cent used for internal administration and 26 per cent on premises and utilities.

Five years later, those figures have barely changed. If the voluntary party nationwide matched the 66 per cent spent on campaigning in West Kent that would pour an extra £10 million per annum into our core task, which remains winning elections. Just imagine how many more votes we could win, and how much more relevant the voluntary party would be, if we could redirect that £10 million.

With a new leader and Prime Minister comes a new Party Chairman – and with that new Party Chairman comes another chance to implement what is already widely agreed, and overwhelmingly supported, by votes at the National Convention, namely the wholesale reform of our voluntary organisation to make it “fit for purpose”.

Reform of our management and reporting structures

Archie Norman’s reforms of 1997 drastically reduced the size of our management committees. These roles (Chairman plus two deputies) are too broad and deep to be done properly or efficiently. Office-holders cherry-pick the bits of the job that they like, spitting out the unpleasant and unpalatable pips. We need to revisit our local leadership and make the following alterations.

The role of Chairman should stay, but with renewed focus on setting and managing performance indicators. The Treasurer’s role should be re-established in its own right, and the job specs of the two Deputy Chairmen should be split into six new specific roles:

Doorstep campaigning: traditional canvassing and VI;

Delivery co-ordinator: developing and maintaining delivery networks

Digital and Social Media Fundraising: social activity and events

Membership: recruitment and following-up lapsed members\Engagement: encouraging members and supporters to become activists.

Youth: Young Conservatives and campus activity

Outreach: building relationships with faith groups, commuters, farmers and other sympathetic special-interest groups. This new structure should be replicated, where possible, at branch, association, area and regional levels, ensuing clear lines of direction and responsibility throughout the voluntary Party.

Reform of Terms of Office and Annual Meetings

It is ridiculous that our Officers are elected annually and therefore those elected immediately after a General Election are seldom in office when the next election is fought. It is also risible that Annual Meetings are held in March, taking up time and resource during a campaign period, when we should be focussed on elections. We should seek to follow the American Republican Party model where:

Officers at all levels (from branch to region) are elected immediately after a General Election, and remain in office until the next General Election (up to five years).

Their first function would be to review the success/failure of the GE locally, and then put in place a detailed plan to address weaknesses and ensure a better result next time.

General Meetings to be moved to June so that they are clear of campaigning periods, with the primary purpose changed from the election of officers, to the review and management of performance and targets.

These changes would ensure the team that devised the plan were responsible and accountable for delivering its outcome; would provide continuity of leadership at all levels, and most importantly, give ownership of the strategy to those elected to deliver it.

Reform of buildings, staffing and operations

We still own too many buildings that we cannot afford to heat, and employ too many long-serving secretaries, who spend their time printing tickets and inviting people to attend coffee-mornings to raise money to pay the secretary to print more tickets for more coffee-mornings! Groupings/joint-working work because sharing premises and staff-costs releases money to spend on elections, which is the primary purpose of our existence as a political party.

We need to establish a national network of Campaign Centres each covering sufficient constituencies to provide the organisation with a secure financial base.

Association freeholds should be sold and capital invested wisely to provide long-term income.

Each Campaign Centre should have a Director responsible for strategy and development, an Agent responsible for legal and compliance issues, and sufficient secretarial support to look after the routine needs of the member Associations.

Each Member Association should be a full and equal partner, but financial contribution to the running of the Group should be based on a pro-rata membership levy.

CCHQ should be willing to subsidise individual Groupings until they are financially stable (for example, after two years the West Kent Group was able to raise 40 per cent of its running costs, considerably reducing the financial burden on member Associations).

Campaigning, procurement and routine management issues should be devolved to the Groupings from the centre whenever possible, improving localism and giving candidates and activists greater ownership of their campaigns

Reform of the National Convention and the Party Board
Much to the surprise of fellow party reformers, I am not convinced of the wisdom of electing the Party Chairman. Any democratic advantage this might bring would probably be out-weighed by the risk and potential damage of electing a Chairman at odds with the Party Leader. This does not, however, preclude the need for significant reform over how the Voluntary Party is represented at Board level.

If we elect Branch, Association, Area and Regional Officers for the lifetime of a Parliament we should consider doing likewise for members of the Party Board, and covering their expenses, so the roles are accessible to all members based on merit and ability, not just those wealthy enough to finance the expenditure.

There should be specific roles on the Party Board with candidates competing for one of them, rather than the present three Vice-President roles with responsibilities allocated ad hoc as is presently the case.

A new position of Deputy Chairman of the Party should be established and elected by the members. This person would be, in effect, head of the Voluntary Party at Board level, with the existing Chairman still appointed by the Leader.

It is a nonsense that the voluntary Party’s representatives on the Board are elected by a few hundred people, from a membership of 160,000. The franchise (presently members of the National Convention) should be expanded to include all Party Members.

With internal elections once every Parliament (rather than every year) there is no reason we shouldn’t have a series of national hustings and a proper ballot to fully engage our membership and test the candidates in a public forum.

To summarise:

Groupings – to reduce costs and ensure all Associations have access to professional advice and support.

Leadership – to focus our efforts where they are needed and to share the workload

Accountability – to our members, donors and activists

Empowerment – of our Associations, and the re-establishment of autonomy

Continuity – building on what works, whilst implementing the much-needed reforms that we all know must come.

As I wrote five years ago, we must not allow ourselves to continue to manage decline, with a few recalcitrant associations paying lip-service to change whilst working tirelessly to block it. To deliver and implement these reforms we will need a Chairman who will lead, not just manage; someone with the charisma to take the voluntary party on a journey many of its members will be reluctant to make, and to finally deliver those exciting reforms that gave so many of us hope before they sank in the grey-suited mediocrity of the past three years.

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