Nicholas Bennett: It was Bromley wot won it
Nicholas Bennett, a Bromley councillor, Chairman of Beckenham Conservative Association and former MP and Minister, explains how the mayoral vote was got out in Bexley & Bromley.
"It was ‘Bromley that did for us" said a Minister, according to the Guardian so it must be true.
The Bexley and Bromley result was a superb tribute to the work done by the six and half constituencies which make up the GLA constituency. James Cleverly, our first rate candidate, was elected with a 75000 majority and took over half the votes cast. In the Mayoral poll Boris received 120000 votes to Livingstone’s 40000. The 80000 lead represents 58% of Boris’ majority.
The new Beckenham Constituency will be London’s safest Tory seat. Normally we specialise in mutual aid. At the last General Election we helped John Horam in his fantastic achievement to end the last vestige of Liberal taint in Orpington and at the next election we will be helping Gareth Johnson in Dartford, so to be a receiver of mutual aid was a new experience for us.
Lynton Crosby having spelt out the key strategy to us at the Millbank briefing to get the Tory vote out in the suburbs (or as Boris memorably put it for the donut to attack the hole) it was up to us to energise our activists and voters. In the two previous elections the apathy party had topped the poll. Bromley had been the only borough to vote ‘no’ to the concept of a Mayor and many older residents are proud of their Bromley/Orpington or Beckenham Kent postcodes despite having been part of the London Borough of Bromley for 40 years.
In Beckenham we started canvassing every Saturday morning with our MP, Jacqui Lait, last October and this included three successive Saturday morning stalls in the three main high streets in the constituency – Beckenham, West Wickham and Hayes in February as part of our ‘We want a Referendum Campaign’. We canvassed every evening from April 7th onwards and again on the last three Saturdays of the campaign organised a stall in each of the High Streets with a loudspeaker and our candidate James Cleverly – now our Member of the London Assembly was on hand with our MP to meet voters.
Beckenham doesn’t have an agent and so the GLA agent, Andrew Lee asked us whether we would like Carol Jackson-Droege to act as our agent for the election. We agreed, and Carol, a councillor in West Berkshire, who has previously worked for Peter Belini in Windsor began working for us in mid-March. I was particularly grateful because traditionally the Chairman acts as agent! Carol dealt with all the official side of the campaign including expenses and liaison with the Boris team. She found new deliverers and handled mutual aid leaving me free to organise the campaign on the ground with my two excellent Deputy Chairman Steve Wells and Alexa Michael.
Like the Boris team we issued a daily e mail to all of our volunteer team and from post election responses it is clear that this can be a great motivator and helps to improve team morale.
Boris came to Beckenham at the beginning of April and walked the length of the High Street, surrounded by a media scrum. Although he didn’t meet many voters I’ll never forget the schoolboy who ran ahead into the Pizza Hut and shouted ‘Boris is here’, dozens of Kelsey School kids on a half day poured out to meet him and get his autograph!
Like every constituency you can never have enough volunteers. We knew that it would be impossible to deliver five leaflets across the constituency and settled for two mass drops. The arrival of the ‘pledge poll cards’ on the Wednesday of the week before polling day (in fact based on the less accurate voter vault system than recent canvassing) faced us with a challenge particularly as we didn’t know they were coming! In my own West Wickham ward we had four box loads representing about 2500 separate addresses. Fortunately we had the support of George Eustice, Amanda, David and Michael from CCHQ for the whole of Monday and between us and with the help of Ben from Syed Kamall MEP’s office, James Cleverly and Jane and Stephen two West Wickham activists we got them all delivered.
Our strategy for polling day was simple, use whatever support we had to run a full polling day operation with a committee room in every ward and tellers on all the polling stations and to knock up and get out the vote. In the end we didn’t get a 100% coverage in one ward but even there the pledge cards were through the doors on April 30th.
We hired a minibus which covered in balloons and Boris posters toured the constituency throughout the day with a loudspeaker. The ‘battle bus’ proved a great success and although I was hoarse by the end of the day it certainly had an impact in getting voters out. We calculated that as, in most wards, there were three Conservative voters for every opposition one, we would get far more supporters out than opponents.
The other key strand of our GOTV was to cover the eight railway stations from 4.30pm to 7.30pm to leaflet home-going commuters. As some stations had second exits this was quite labour intensive and at Beckenham Junction we kept the team in place until 9pm. Judging by the numbers voting until late in the evening we reckon this was an effective use of resources and that each volunteer at the station made contact with far more people than merely concentrating on traditional knocking up.
What the 2008 campaign proved is that the way to win a campaign is to have the right candidates and messages allied with solid planning and organisation an effective use of new technology – blogging, Facebook, e mail - together with some good old fashioned razzmatazz is the most effective way to win.