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The race to be the Conservative candidate for London Mayor just got serious

Yesterday Zac Goldsmith formally announced he has joined the race to become the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

The 40-year-old had sought permission from his Richmond Park constituents in an all-postal ballot and 79% of those who responded gave their backing for the move.

Having been encouraged to put his name forward by top party figures, insiders hope his campaigning on environmental issues will allow him to win second preference votes among the capital’s left-leaning electors. Severely critical of plans to expand Heathrow airport, Goldsmith increased his parliamentary majority in May by a staggering 19,000 votes. An Eton education isn’t the only thing he appears to share with current Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson; negative stories that would damage lesser politicians seem to have little or no effect on his reputation. He has appointed Nick de Bois as campaign chairman and is being advised by CTF Partners according to GuidoBookies’ favourite: 1/3 with William Hill

Goldsmith’s formal entry into the race followed the news on Friday that Syed Kamall, the Conservative leader in the European Parliament, has also declared his intention to seek the Tory nomination. Born and brought up in London, Kamall became an MEP in 2005 and has earned the respect of many party members for his hard work supporting Conservative Associations. There was little surprise when he was voted to the top of the ballot of Conservative candidates for the 2014 European elections – a decision which proved crucial given the loss of a Conservative seat. 11/2 according to William Hill

Goldsmith and Kamall entering the fray means six candidates will battle for the right to take on Labour in next May’s contest.

Having led a flagship London Council and as the current Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing, Stephen Greenhalgh can make a claim to be the “continuity candidate”. Another born and bred Londoner, Greenhalgh has sought to couple his significant achievements in Town and City Hall with his working-class roots. Lacking the profile of Goldsmith or Kamall, Greenhalgh will have to make the most of his connections in the party to be successful. 20/1, William Hill

London Assembly member Andrew Boff is, for the third time, seeking to become the blues’ candidate for the top job at City Hall. He faces an uphill battle against the better known candidates. He does, however, command respect among the party faithful as a committed campaigner and never fails to make a good impression on those who meet him. 28/1, William Hill

Financial services entrepreneur Ivan Massow launched his campaign to win the Conservative nomination with this video. It met with a mixed response and following an extremely difficult interview on LBC his campaign has fallen flat. 25/1 with William Hill

Former England defender Sol Campbell went into the nomination process two-footed, declaring “People that have gone to Oxbridge, had thousands spent on their education, and I mean they are royally mucking up.” Such a damning indictment of the Conservative leadership didn’t stop him supporting the Tories during the general election. LBC have provided a highlights clip of his "own goal" interview. 28/1 with William Hill



Why the Conservatives lost the marginal seat of Enfield North pt II

As I explained in the preceding post, I was the Agent in Enfield North in 2010 and ran the campaign that secured Nick de Bois’s election as our MP. Since then I’ve stayed involved with the seat in a number of ways, so I was therefore right at the centre of our unsuccessful attempts to get Nick re-elected this time.

Results like the one in Enfield North are important because while overall the Conservatives won 35 new seats, this was mainly at the expense of the Lib Dems (27 seats). Against Labour the party actually suffered a net loss of two seats.

If you’ve read the post on what we got right, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a miracle we lost. To be fair, we did increase the number of votes gained on 2010 (from 18,804 to 19,086) and saw our share of the vote drop by just 0.9%. The constituency is 46% White British and home to some of the most deprived areas in the country. Of the constituency's 21 Councillors, just 8 are Conservatives. The fact we came so close is a testament to Nick’s record of achievement in just five years in Parliament and the campaign we fought.

But we lost. Here’s why.

What we got wrong

Election campaigns have three phases: voter identification, motivation and GOTV (get out the vote). A good campaign will begin by using the first phase to identify the people minded to vote for you. In the second phase you spend your time and resources ensuring those supporters are sufficiently encouraged to turn out and vote for you (hence all the leaflets, letters, door-knocking and phone calls). Finally, you need the logistics in place so that GOTV runs smoothly and all your supporters know when polling day is.

From the number of people you identify in the first phase, Conservatives work on the assumption that you can turn out roughly 75 – 80% of them. I think Labour work on about 65% or something. So if you’re trying to win in a seat where 45,000 people will vote (being spread among 4 or 5 candidates), you’re going to need at least 20,000 votes to have a good chance of winning. So we needed to identify about 25,000 – 26,500 supporters.

We started the short campaign in January with just 16,000.

Our efforts during the campaign found another 3,000 – but we should have been spending this time just motivating identified supporters instead of finding more.

I have it on good authority that Labour started their campaign in Enfield North with 24,000 potential supporters identified. It brings to mind the Mexican proverb from Fistful of Dollars about what happens when the man with a pistol meets the man with a rifle.

Why was this?

In truth it goes back to the local election campaign of May 2014. Labour, who took control of Enfield Council in 2010, ran a very smart campaign which laid the ground work for the general election ahead. By stark contrast our local campaign was, in a word, horrible. Absolutely horrendous from start to finish – in part due to the very different national picture at the time, with UKIP being at their peak because of European elections coinciding with the local poll. But mostly the campaign was awful because of failures locally - failures which we were able to address following those results. Data for a strong pledge base takes years to collect, but in a five year cycle 2014 represented our most significant elections before the general election. Missing our opportunity here was like tripping and stumbling in the approach to the home straight; from there we were always playing catch up.

With a really good canvass and a “pledge base” to work with, you can be really efficient with your limited time and (election expense-constrained) resources by just knocking on the doors of/delivering to/phoning those identified supporters you want to turn out. Without that pledge base, you can't.

The lack of data wasn’t only about not having enough of our own supporters identified. Where we had doorstep conversations with people we had found out previously were UKIP, we were winning back between half and two thirds of them. But we had only had 900 identified. Using mosaic data we added another 300. In the end UKIP polled a whopping 4,133 (9%) despite a pitiful local campaign and an embarrassingly poor candidate.

In conclusion, (i) not having 20,000 pledges and (ii) failing to identify enough UKIP supporters killed our chances.

Lib Dem strategist and former Spad to Nick Clegg, Ryan Coetzee, lamented in the Guardian last month:

People shy away from articulating the emotional consequences of a loss so comprehensive, preferring catch-alls such as “devastated” and the very British “gutted”. The full range goes something like this: disbelieving, horrified, guilty, embarrassed, angry, vulnerable, resentful.

I think he's right. The difference for us in Enfield North and Conservatives up and down the country is that we had the satisfaction of seeing David Cameron walk back into Downing Street as Prime Minister of a majority Conservative government - the first for 18 years. By learning why we lost in a seat like Enfield North, we can ensure we increase that majority in 2020.