How local elections were won: Greg Smith
The Conservative victory in Hammersmith & Fulham marked the end to a long era of Labour rule in the borough, with Conservatives winning an overall majority of Councillors for the first time since 1968.
Three major factors contributed to the win. Firstly, having a clear and radical plan for the borough; secondly a professional, all year round approach to the way we communicated with residents – both in person and in print; and lastly a focussed and determined effort to get out the vote.
The clear and radical agenda for the borough was built up over many years, focussing on a genuine understanding of residents’ views and concerns – and applying conservative principles to solving the problems faced. A combination of years of talking to borough residents on the doorstep and through surveys and reviewing polling data, some of which the former Labour administration had commissioned, gave a very clear picture of what residents wanted from their council. They wanted lower council tax bills, which in Hammersmith & Fulham had reached double those in neighbouring Wandsworth. They wanted a crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour and they wanted cleaner streets. Our agenda reflected that in our campaigning – with pledges of Wandsworth levels of council tax within two terms, zero tolerance towards crime and anti-social behaviour and plans for a cleaner, greener borough. All of which are now firmly at the top of the agenda for delivery in administration.
On the practical side, faced with a local media that commands a readership of 5,000 at best, getting the message out was always something that needed to be done ‘in house’. On top of regular, professionally printed full colour glossy ward newsletters and leaflets, the campaign made extensive use of direct mail. Not only does this get over the practical problem of competing with the mountain of take-away and estate agents leaflets landing on people's doormats on a daily basis, but provides a vehicle to talk to targeted groups of residents about what really matters to them - and in some detail.
Polling conducted after the general election, where most households had received in the year run-up at least one leaflet a month, often two, revealed that only 40% of people remembered having received a leaflet at all! The major conclusion to be taken from this is that communication, in all forms, must be consistent all year round – to use the popular slogan, “not just at election times”. It also must be genuine – talking in terms of what Conservative Action Teams have actually done for a street, neighbourhood or ward. There is no point just putting out something with the word ‘Conservative’ on it that has no genuine content.
By no means is this offered as a template to how we won Hammersmith & Fulham – but it does offer the guiding principles followed at all stages of the campaign. To recap – a bold, radical agenda that meets residents demands and a professional, all year round approach to communication, willing to think outside of the box.