Conservatives need to become more effective at winning marginal seats if they have any hope of gaining a majority at the next general election. But what exactly does the party need to do if they wish to improve on their 2010 performance? This was the question posed at a ConservativeHome fringe event this evening, where several MPs who took marginals in 2010 spoke of their experiences and recommendations for 2015. The successful marginal MPs — Jesse Norman, Nicola Blackwood, Robert Halfon, Richard Harrington and Martin Vickers — have written a pamphlet Lessons from the Marginals that will be published online shortly.
Halfon, who took Harlow with a 4,925 majority after a decade of trying, stressed the need for the party to ‘bring local issues to the doorstep’, not ‘Westminster Village issues’ . Halfon highlighted ‘local schools, local head teachers’ and his successful petrol prices campaign as what activists should promote. I caught up the Harlow member who gave some further thoughts on the strategic changes Tories need to make:
Another area where the Tories need to up their game is the methods of campaigning. While Richard Harrington, who took Watford with a 1,425 majority, praised Tory chairman Grant Shapps as ‘king of the leaflet as a communication tool’, he also stressed the need to interest more younger people in campaigning as well as using emails to engage with voters. Halfon suggested use of the left-wing 38degrees campaign website as a useful method to gather addresses.
The role of Tory councillors and local associations was an area where the parliamentarians disagreed. Harrington rubbished associations for being ‘not a campaigning structure but a social structure’. This view no doubt comes from his own experiences in Watford, where there was ‘no money, no organisation and no volunteers’ to assist his battle, which he said was a full time job. Harrington suggested that the Tories should take the ‘McDonalds’ approach, blanketing voters to alert the electorate to the presence of a Conservative candidate
Most of what was suggested this evening may seem common sense but the notion of changing the tools, not the message is a clear alternative to the shift to the right some Conservatives activists are advocating. It is hard to disagree that these methods have worked for these candidates in places that would traditionally be no-go areas for Conservatives.
Whichever direction the rank and file take, all the speakers warned against political apathy, something Fraser has written about recently. Harrington said that ‘in America, they offer them something. We offer them rubbish’. The Tories need to take on this message and provide real reasons for people to believe and vote in them once again.Tags: Conservative conference 2012, Conservatives, Marginals, Robert Halfon, UK politics