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Paul Maynard MP: Spreading our support

PmPaul Maynard is Conservative Member of Parliament for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. Follow Paul on Twitter.

This is the second part of his two-part guide to winning votes in the North. The first part was published yesterday.

We must start by understanding demographic change, and what demographics are. As a party, I often hear us talk of areas moving away from us. We rarely hear of areas moving towards us. But considering the demographics of the North, and changing patterns of habitation, it is true. Anyone who drives the M62 from Liverpool to Manchester won’t pass through a Conservative seat, yet it is the ultimate commuter belt! Whether it is the income domain of DCLG’s Indices of Multiple Deprivation from 2010, or Experian’s Mosaic data with which so many of us are familiar, there is no lack of information allowing us to determine where we could be doing better. The missing element in all of the appraisals of our electoral performances is whether we are ‘under-‘ or ‘over-performing’ against demographically similar areas. Mosaic is too often rejected on the basis that it said that voter X was Mosaic category Y when she is a multi-millionaire. We can all find an example of a nonsensical category if we look hard enough. Yet Mosaic remains a powerful tool for analysing the totality of an electorate, and understanding what Conservative areas could, or should, look like.  

This is a crucial piece of the jigsaw, since it allows us to ask the right questions. No longer can we determine target lists of wards merely by the number votes we are behind, but we can identify wards where we ought to be doing better than we are, and then, critically, look at what the reasons are for under-performance.  And that is where the novelty is here. I’m not just saying “Do as your Campaign Director says or else”. Under-performance is a concept that I think we have fought shy of for too long. It isn’t about castigating a particular branch or Association for not winning a ward. It’s about the wider Party family asking itself the right questions, identifying where value can be added to existing campaigns, or initiating where there isn’t  much to build on. We can know where we ought to be winning, and we can try to do something about it.

There will be arguments against this. Some will say that it diverts effort and attention away from key target constituencies. This may be true, but I would argue having a Councillor in Liverpool might transform that media market’s narrative, and benefit us in Wirral South or Sefton Central.

Some will say it costs money. This is indubitably true – but if we are looking at wards where little happens currently, then costs will be relatively low. I have just done a postal survey of a marginal ward of 5,000 voters in my constituency. Printing a nice double-sided glossy A4 survey, with window envelope and reply-paid envelope cost us £300. This is calculated on the basis of a 2.5% response rate where half put a stamp on (always put the prompt on, you’ll be amazed how many will put a stamp on) and we pay 33p per reply. On top of that is the time I spend composing overly-detailed replies – but its worth it, and it is how I build the delivery network, and build the trust of electors.

So in front of me right now I have my ‘top secret’ Forty for the North. These are affluent wards where we underperform – sometimes struggling to even get 5% of the vote – and are all in constituencies we do not hold, and which have not yet been announced for selection in the first batch. A few are in 2010 target seats, but the bulk is actually in safe Labour seats. Fifteen are in the North West, fifteen under the geographical misnomer that is “Yorkshire & Humber” and a further ten in the North East (because it’s a little smaller).

My challenge to the Party is to work with the local associations to ask the right questions to understand what the political ‘aroma’ is in each ward. There may be a good reason why we can’t get 5% of the vote in a ward which is amongst the 10% most affluent in the country and the Lib Dems win with 80% of the vote, still, despite their difficulties. But we won’t know that if we don’t ask and seek to understand why.

We then need to invest a bit of time and effort in building up a pledge base in each ward, ensuring that election campaigns are run professionally, that delivery networks are built up using surveys and canvassing, and that GOTV on the day maximises yield, and that we analyse yield afterwards. All pretty straightforward stuff the Party has preached for years – yet it might be the first time ever in many of these fifty wards, perhaps.

We can’t guarantee every year will be a bumper year, but we can do our utmost to ensure that we maximise our return on seats given any level of national support. We have to be authentic in our constituencies, not pretending to be someone we’re not, rooted and embedded in our local communities rather than merely appearing come election time like will o’the wisps.

I challenge every incumbent MP in the North, every Euro-candidate on the list, every aspiring MP on the list to donate a Saturday afternoon to one of the ‘forty’. We all have a stake in changing the facts on the ground. This isn’t about ‘one more heave’ to get us over a finishing line. It isn’t even about trying to win the unwinnable. But it is about the ‘theory of marginal gains’ that brought British cycling such triumphs, and which I think can make such a difference in our local election performance. Starting from a premise that a seat is one we ought to be able to win, even if we are 75% behind at the previous election, is a very different attitude from only focusing on closely-fought wards. It’s about party building, pure and simple, and reaching back into the areas we might never have realised we retreated from.

If we spend too much time yearning for a nostalgic past, as Larkin’s own poetry did, rather than engaging with the present, then the closing lines of Here will describe us all too perfectly:

‘untalkative, out of reach’.

That won’t solve the Northern Dilemma any more than hunting the magic policy lever at the end of the rainbow will. 


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