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How local elections were won: Mike Jenkins and Val Bowles

Chairman Councillor Val Bowles and Vice Chairman Councillor Mike Jenkins offer their thoughts on the Bassetlaw campaign

Firstly, it didn’t happen overnight.  We have elections every year in Bassetlaw and  we went from 15 seats (out of 48) in 2002 up to 24 and NOC by 2004 before getting our majority this year (in 2005 we had a year off for the County elections).  So, many people over a number of years have contributed to where we are now.


What made 2006 different and so successful was that we set out a strategy to win a number of identified target seats and focussed on them.  As a target council we also had support from our Area office.


We were very fortunate to have had high calibre candidates who were very committed; they were well received and really  worked themselves into the ground. The personal touch whilst out campaigning also made a lot of difference.


We really did target.  Having targeted the seats we then targeted likely Conservative voters, likely Conservative areas and likely Conservative issues.  We had the results from a voter survey paid for by HQ and distributed by Area office.  This meant we could pinpoint key issues in different target wards and we produced candidates’ issue –based leaflets on that basis.


We had very limited canvass returns and too few people on the ground to do traditional canvassing during the campaign period. Therefore, using local knowledge and with the help of  Voter Vault we identified the streets and estates with our highest support levels.  Candidates leafleted them until they dropped.


We made good use of the Localiser campaign manual produced by CCA.  However, we did have to simplify the recommendations dramatically because we didn’t have the time or people to produce multiple leaflets, nor to produce lots of photos and graphics.


We were also successful because of things we didn’t do - including certain local Tory campaign myths and rituals – so we didn’t try and knock on every door. The turnout’s only thirty odd percent, so why waste time that way?  We didn’t waste time in strongly Labour areas just to show them we weren’t afraid. The aim was to win in the target seats and we stayed focussed on it.

The new seats we won in May are in areas where membership is low and we have little or no formal organisation.  As logic dictates, our membership is concentrated in those areas where we have safe seats, so we must now work hard in those newly won seats; we cannot rest on our laurels.


We had a visit from David Cameron at the beginning of the campaign which provided some good publicity and was a great morale booster for the candidates. 

The Cameron effect in Bassetlaw was that a) he came here and no other leader has done that for an election b) he visited one of our council's successful community partnership schemes which gave us positive publicity c) he did a very good job talking to people who aren't our natural supporters.  On the other hand our voter survey question on the Cameron effect indicated mixed results.  We have no evidence to suggest that he affected the result significantly.

In the successful target seats we fought on very local bread and butter issues: crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour;  local environment ie clean streets and litter; traffic and illegal parking ; facilities for children and teenagers.  So, it was classic "pavement politics" and it worked.  There's no doubt in anyone's mind that the national background of Labour's chaos helped. Having said that, where we won, it was a textbook case of local council campaigning straight from the manual.


So we have a working majority on the District Council. The down side is that among our twenty eight seats we have a long   tail of marginals with five vulnerable to a swing of less than 1%.  The challenge now is to consolidate our position by building up membership in our new seats and to get members at large to appreciate the importance of holding on to those marginals. Next year will be the real test.

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