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The truth about Conservative target seats

The Telegraph picked up on a previous post about candidate selections in marginal seats, as did the Independent.

CCHQ dismissed my findings, pointing out that they haven’t published a list of target seats and so it’s impossible for me to produce credible figures on the number of candidates selected.

While CCHQ hasn’t published the list of target seats as such, it is in the public domain. Not wanting to be rebuffed, I went through the same exercise and sought to find how many had candidates selected.

The 40/40 strategy aims to defend the 40 most vulnerable Conservative-held seats and target the 40 most winnable. There’s a key distinction highlighted on Conservative Home yesterday about what’s “winnable” and what’s “marginal”:

A marginal seat is one in which the vote was close in 2010, while a target seat is one the Conservative leadership has identified as offering a good chance of victory and is therefore sending greater resources to.

In the past our marginals were often automatically targets – but ever since the announcement of the 40/40 strategy, CCHQ has emphasised that they are now picking target seats based on more complex factors than simply the 2010 election result, such as demographic changes, the local political situation and so on.

As an example, take Cheltenham. A Lib Dem majority of 4,920 puts it way outside the top 75 marginal seats for the Conservatives. But with Labour securing just 2,703 votes in 2010, it makes sense that Cheltenham is targeted instead of a host of other seats that on paper have smaller majorities but in reality are less winnable.

Of the 80 seats in the 40/40 strategy, 99% have candidates selected.

Not only is this figure extremely encouraging, but when the selected candidate in Nottingham South stepped down just before Christmas last year, Jane Hunt was installed as the new candidate within three months.

I therefore think I have to hold my hand up here and say I got it wrong in my previous post. Yes, the figures were correct. But looking beyond the stats is crucial for seeing an accurate picture – and by arguing the Conservatives aren’t ready in target seats I don’t think I was providing an accurate picture at all.

The reality is that having a candidate in the likes of Cheltenham, Cardiff North, Brecon & Radnorshire (40/40 seats but not top 75 “marginals”) is a higher priority than, say, Darlington, Coventry South or Newport West (top 75 “marginals” but not in the 40/40). And yet my previous post gave these seats more importance by arguing it pointed to the Conservative machine being outpaced by Labour.

Seats in the 40/40 strategy are being turbo-charged from the centre. Direct mail (with an emphasis on data capture) is being supplemented by funding for top quality literature using templates designed at CCHQ. In a break from the traditional “Agent” model of campaign organisation, the new breed of Campaign Manager is joint-funded by the central party and local Associations, giving the former not only more control but the ability to monitor and adapt local campaigns. Assigning experienced Field Campaigners to groups of individual target seats, rather than geographical areas, makes sense for ensuring their know-how can benefit the constituencies that need it most.

While the Conservatives may be behind in candidate selection in lower priority seats, the party is certainly on the money in its target seats.


Polling day dawn raids - what are they, and are they worth the effort?

If you’ve been at the centre of a local election campaign, perhaps to win council seats or get a prospective MP into Parliament, what time did you get up on polling day? For some, it was 4am.

Yes, 4am. Those hardy individuals would’ve been taking part in what’s called a “dawn raid” – delivering an early morning piece of literature on polling day from 5am until 7am, when the polling stations open. Is it really worth the effort?

The vast majority of activists will probably tell you it isn’t worth it. The prospect of a 4am start when there’s a whole day ahead of campaigning until polls close, plus the Count which can run to the early hours of the next morning… no thanks. Especially as that 4am start comes on the final day of what has been a gruelling 6 month campaign of knocking on doors and delivering leaflets in all weathers, not to mention years before of weekend campaigning and fundraising.

Perhaps those not wanting to appear soft will argue about effectiveness. What difference will a single leaflet make at that hour when there is until 10pm to knock on doors and get people out to vote? The key hours are really 4pm to 8pm, they’ll say – and they’re not wrong on that point.

However, when some council elections (and even some Parliamentary seats) can be won by the smallest of margins – sometimes a handful of votes – don’t you want to take every opportunity possible to turn out your supporters?

That is essentially what dawn raids are for – turning out your supporters, not everyone else. That's what all of your efforts should be about, and missing a chance to do that won't help you.

Dawn raids therefore have to be targeted at the electors you’ve identified as likely to vote for you. Just because someone has told you on the doorstep or via a survey that they’ll vote for you, doesn’t mean they will actually turn out. They have to be motivated (by your campaign message), informed (about where their polling station is and when polling day is) and reminded of this a number of times to ensure they actually turn out. Because, amazingly, polling day is not as big in their lives as it is in ours.

Dawn raids therefore not only need to be targeted at supporters but for maximum effect, it needs to go to supporters living near polling stations. Your eve of poll leaflet can go to supporters living further afield.

It needs to be bright and simple. “Good morning, it’s polling day. Don’t forget to vote for [your candidate] between 7am and 10pm at [polling station]”. That’s it.

The difference between a dawn raid leaflet and almost any other un-addressed leaflet is this: it’s highly likely it will be on the doormat on its own. No pizza leaflets, household bills or leaflets from other parties for company. Your supporters will know it’s been delivered early in the morning and, provided you didn’t bang the gate or kick over the milk bottles, it will prove to them how hard you are working to win their vote.

If polling day is the culmination of months (possibly years) of effort, what else will you be doing between 4am and 7am that morning that will be more effective in securing victory?