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Stephen McPartland: The case for effective urban campaigning

Stephen McPartland is a Party agent in North East Hertfordshire.

People worry about developing the right policies to motivate and enthuse electors in towns and cities to vote Conservative. However, communicating policy rather than policy development is the problem. We often hear that our policy is received well on the doorstep, but who tells voters our policies on the doorsteps in towns and cities? 

The honest answer is this does not happen and we have almost no organisation in many towns and cities other than on paper. The lack of any real representation in northern urban areas provides the starkest example of this problem, but we should not allow ourselves to believe that it is purely a northern problem. Excluding London, we have a serious lack of representation in most urban areas and this is an issue we must tackle not just talk about if we are to form the next government.

We all know the real challenge facing the Conservative Party is to re-engage with the electorate before the next election, but this must also be done on a practical organisational level if we are to achieve electoral success.

The purpose of this article is to provoke a discussion on the need for an "Urban Campaign Unit" that focuses on what practical steps we need to take to achieve electoral success in towns and cities.

The Party does not know how to campaign effectively in urban areas, traditional Conservative campaigning techniques just do not work. There are very few agents who have campaigned in urban areas and even less who have done so effectively. The Party recognises that to campaign effectively against the Liberal Democrats it has to campaign differently and has set up a Liberal Democrat Unit. It is now time to set up an active Urban Campaign Unit to develop the campaigns to make a real impact in our towns and cities.

I started work for the Conservative Party in Liverpool and Manchester and understand our desire to rebuild our organisation in northern cities, but this is never matched with any real commitment. It is time for a new breed of campaigning that is modern, aggressive and focused on targets.

The first and most important phase of any successful campaign, whether urban or rural is identifying the issues that are relevant to local people. Campaigns are often conducted on issues that matter to Conservatives, which can win local elections due to differential turnout, but not a General Election. We must develop the issues that concern local people in the local community we are campaigning in, irrespective of political affiliations, and persuade them to vote for us by talking about the issues that matter to them.

For example, mass telephone canvassing asking people who they normally vote for and if they would ever consider voting Conservative. If they said yes they would consider it, ask them why and get a reason. This would allow us to identify what policies to promote in the area.

The second phase of the campaign would be identifying what it is that we hope to achieve as a political party in each individual area. For example, it could be to win just three or four council seats in Liverpool and illustrate a clear commitment to the media and the public that the Conservative Party is relevant to people everywhere and is ready to form the next government. It could be anything, but the important point is that a clear target is set in every urban area and a campaign is created which can achieve these targets.

The third phase is to provide the resources required to deliver these campaigns on the ground on a day-to-day basis. If the local activists who have done a valiant job for many years are asked to continue working on their own with little support, is it any real surprise that we cannot make any real impact? It is time to work very closely with them and harness their energy and local knowledge in concerted effective campaigns that have specific, measurable, achievable and realistic targets.

To achieve this, I believe we need to develop an Urban Campaign Unit with proven campaigners in charge and investment to make it work. Urban campaigning would have to be conducted on a central campaign model that utilises innovative campaigning techniques to identify the issues that are relevant and design campaigns that would capture the imagination of the community. Local Campaign Directors would have to be responsible for working with local volunteers to achieve their targets and central support such as Conservative Direct to kick-start deliveries, mass direct-mail exercises, telephone canvassing and mobilised motivated campaign support would make a real difference.

Quite simply, the Conservatives need to fight Labour and the Liberal Democrats in urban areas to be considered a serious alternative to the government. Boxers believe that the ‘hunger to win’ is a vital ingredient of success and with hungry and aggressive campaigners in charge of a National Urban Campaign Unit, we could gain footholds inside our cities once more and win the next General Election.


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