What Isle of Wight Conservatives can teach us about campaigning

Campaigning

I have argued over the past few months that we need to start listening to people on the ground more when it comes to campaigning. The activists, the campaigners and most importantly, voters. I am concerned that we have been far too top-down in the way we campaigned in the recent General Election, putting us out of touch with voters in some areas.

So, it comes as no surprise to me when I read an article in Conservative Home a few weeks back about the power of listening at a local level and I wanted to put a few thoughts down.

In short, the article, written by Cllr Chris Whitehouse, tells of how the Conservatives on the Isle of Wight went out and asked people what they wanted.

This wasn’t a campaign slogan or a pretend exercise to gain votes but a real effort to understand what the people they wanted to represent actually needed. As Chris puts it, they went out and “crowd sourced” their manifesto.

The result was that at the May local elections they went from being in opposition to running the council with a big increase in seats. It just shows the power of understanding your voters.

Dutifully posting leaflets through letter boxes is no longer enough.

We’ve all done it. We’ve all gone and dutifully posted leaflets through letter boxes and we still need to do this but it is no longer “enough”.

We have to go where people are today and ask them about the issues concerning them. That might mean online, it might mean at local associations (whether it’s a political association or the local butterfly society), pubs or meetings halls. In London, we need to understand why we are losing support from some groups and struggling to breakthrough in winning support in some communities.

We can’t just talk among ourselves either. Everyone on our street or in our village, town or city will have a different set of problems to you and me and if we want their vote we can’t assume we know what is best for them or that a simple slogan such as “Strong & Stable” will be enough.

If calling yourself a Conservative is a barrier then just focus on the issues. We don’t want people to vote for us because we are label ourselves Conservative. We want people to vote for us because we as Conservatives have got the best approach to solving their problems. It’s our job to listen to the problems they identify and then down to us to solve them.

I am not saying we should just do what people tell us to do though. It is our job to find the solutions to voters’ problems. Perhaps it’s a local education issue, homes, even a local park that needs renovation. The vast majority of people are looking to us for leadership. So it’s our job to listen to the problems they identify and then down to us to solve them.

I think one of the big problems we’ve had, is that we have taken a top down model of campaigning. We have assumed that there is a generic person that votes Conservative and targetted all our efforts at that one type of person. That’s great if you want to only reach those people but don’t we want and need to be reaching many, many more?

I believe it’s time to do what the Conservatives on the Isle of Wight did. Listen to the individual concerns of people in an area, let local campaigners who understand the local message, formulate the arguments and offer local voters a solution.

Do you agree?  Do you think it would it work in London or in your area?

To read more about my thoughts on how I believe we need to change our approach to campaigning, have a look at my article here on Compassionate Conservatism.

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