There are many things the Conservative party needs to do before it is election fit – whether local or national. There’s securing a good Brexit deal, building more homes and repairing the damage done in the snap election – to name a few. As I write in today’s i paper, one of the big things brains at CCHQ are currently working on is firing up the party’s campaign machine. While the Tories don’t have a problem attracting party donors, they do have a problem getting people out door-knocking.
One of the many missteps Theresa May made last year was catching her own party’s campaign machine off guard with her decision to call a general election. The party was unsure how to campaign on the ground as a controversy over election spending limits and a bullying scandal in the party’s youth campaigning wing – Conservative Future – meant that the successful 2015 model of bussing young activists into marginal seat with the lure of curry and late night political positioning was off the agenda.
As a result, the party now has 48 seats with wafer-thin majorities of under 3,000. Were Labour to take this number of seats, Jeremy Corbyn would have 307 – more than David Cameron had when he formed a coalition government in 2010. Making things worse for the Tories is Momentum, the grassroots Labour campaign group. While the Conservative’s man power has dwindled, Labour’s has multiplied. In London ahead of the local elections, activists are open about the fact they cannot match Labour’s numbers or size.
However, the Tories are adamant that this is a fixable problem. As part of their plans to get back in the game. Brandon Lewis – the new party chairman – is expected to announce plans for a new youth organisation at this month’s party’s spring conference. This should help stop the emergence of unofficial Tory groups like the cringeworthy Activate, with its WhatsApp chat about gassing chavs. There’s also a proposal to issue special conference passes to stand out young campaigners so Cabinet ministers know to stop and thank them at the annual meet-up. Along with the introduction of paid campaign managers and a more involved CCHQ, this should sharpen up the operation. Activists already report a more positive energy since Lewis took over.
Of course, even the best machinery in the world can’t deliver success if there isn’t a clear – positive – message. This is why the ultimate factor for success still rests with No 10. What is the party trying to say? Nowadays the message seems confused – promises on education seem to consist more of a partial climbdown on party policy on tuition fees than shouting loud about the success of free schools. There’s a clear effort to distance the new operation from the Cameron agenda but a clear May agenda is yet to emerge.
At a Grassroots Women event this week, Nicky Morgan complained that her party’s bad snap election result was in part down to the fact no one had anything positive that they wanted to share online. In that vein, CCHQ had best hope No 10 gives their new campaign machine something activists want to go out and talk about.