Tuesday, May 30, 2006

David Burrowes' Guide to How to Win a Marginal Seat

David Burrowes won back Enfield Southgate for us at the last election with the biggest pro-Conservative swing in the country. So it is a very good thing that he has published a paper on how he achieved his stunning success. You can download a 5 page summary of it HERE. It's provoked quite a debate today on ConservativeHome. I wholeheartedly endorse what David says and hope that many of those who are about to be selected will take his words to heart. Tim Montgomerie says that the pamphlet, Pick 'em Local, Pick 'em Early, is a direct challenge to the 'A' List. Well, up to a point, your honour. The whole concept of the 'A' List seemed to mitigate against local candidates when it was first announced, but CCHQ has now made clear that it will not be a bar to local candidates being considered. The creation has delayed some selections, but only by a few months. Apart from that I cannot see anything in the pamphlet which is a direct attack. However, it is published under the Cornerstone imprint, and sadly the Cornerstone chairman John Hayes MP has let his mouth run ahead of his brain and castigated the whole concept of the 'A' List. As regular readers know, I have little reason to speak out in its favour (!), but surely it is right that the Party should indeed promote its best and brightest? Naturally people will differ on the identity of who those people are, but we all know that an unofficial 'A' List operated before the last election, but few people ever talked about it. So to bring it out into the open is a welcome development in some ways, but of course having decided to do that the Party grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory and tried to keep the identity of the 104 'A' Listers secret. As if that were ever likely to be possible with Tim Montgomerie's network available to find out the gory details! But let's go back to John Hayes. In amongst otherwise sensible and thought provoking comments, John said this: “The idea that we can parachute insubstantial and untested candidates with little knowledge of the local scene into key seats to win the confidence of people they seek to represent is the bizarre theory of people who spend too much time with the pseuds and posers of London’s chichi set and not enough time in normal Britain." This sort of comment is self indulgent and uncalled for. As an ex senior whip and a shadow education minister, surely John is appraised of the virtues of collective responsibility? Many people in the Party have reservations about aspects of the 'A' List process but most have managed to zip it, or express those reservations in a constructive, rather than destructive manner. I suspect that there will be more than a few Cornerstone MPs who will have made just those views known to John Hayes today. Hopefully fairly vociferously. But this should not detract from David Burrowes' central message - where possible pick local candidates in marginal seats and pick them as early as possible. This is especially important in what I call 'development seats'. These are seats which we may not win next time but we must target for the time after that, or even the time after that. We must shamelessly copy what the LibDems do. In my old seat in North Norfolk, Norman Lamb had fought it twice before we won it. In 1992 there was a Tory majority of 15,000, which in 1997 was whittled down to 1200. Lamb won it in 2001 with a majority of 500, which he then turned into a massive majority in 2005. If you look at the graphic above my campaign ticked most of those boxes - except for a very important one - Early Selection. I was selected only 18 months before the election, yet I had to compete with a man who had been there for 15 years and developed a very good local reputation. I do not offer that as an excuse for the result, but it was certainly a major part of the explanation. So in seats like Lewes (which we used to hold) it is vital to pick a local candidate who can nurse it and fight it two or three times. It's frankly the only way to win back seats like that. There are many Northern seats which fall into the same category. I don't know what strategy there is in CCHQ for seats which are not classified as target seats at the next election. We have got to look to the long term and not just concentrate on those 120 seats we need to win next time. Hat-tip to ConservativeHome for the graphic


Anonymous said...

one minor point, ian; it is possible to use paragaphs in the blog when it's such a long post like this one, it can be quite difficult to read i find without the breaks.
pathetic, i know.

Anonymous said...

I'm worried that you're being a bit bitter here, not about the A List, but about John Hayes. Obviously you can't be expected to have warm feelings for him, given that Cornerstone, by backing Cameron over Davis, effectively sealed your man's fate, but still that's not the thing. Where you're dead wrong is when you say, everyone knew there was an unofficial A list before 2005, so it's better to have to out in the open. The point about the rigging of candidate selection that happened before the last election was that no one had the courage to speak. Thank God Hayes and co are not staying silent now.

Yet the real objection to the A list has to be that, you say, in effect, that locals/non A listers will be able to apply. No they won't. A few 'tokens' will be allowed in to some slections, but that's going to be it, unless CCHQ are forced to formally abandon the A list sytem. You have the evidence: even in seats where only 2 or 3 people applied, CCHQ still hasn't allowed non A Listers in. Though, it's an obvious point, how are non A Listers meant to know when to apply? And even if they do find out, what chances that CCHQ will pass along their CV if the face doesn't fit?

The A list is a bad idea, not because it discriminated against you, but because there is no evidence that it will do one single thing to help us win one extra seat at the enxt election.

Bob Piper said...

Yes, silly old John Hayes... having the temerity to think for himself instead of blindly following what he doesn't believe in for the sake of "collective responsibility". How shallow and pathetic. Politics is so full of those who just want to stick their tongues up the rectum of those "in power". Truly, truly the most sycophantic of your many sycophantic posts in recent months Iain.... and look how they have rewarded you.

If only everyone simply trotted along tamely behind their Leaders we could abolish political parties altogether.

Ellee Seymour said...

I agree with what David Burrowes says, it was certainly the same way that Justine Greening, Stewart Jackson and Grant Shapps worked.

What should be added is that you have to give 110% It has to be THE No 1 most important part of your life.

Your difficulty Iain was that you stood against a candidate who was well liked and respected and had proved himself amongst his constituents, while you had no track record and was probably still considered an outsider. But you gathered tremendous loyal support and people worked tirelessly for you, they really too you to their hearts, you couldn't have done more. You were up against a candidate with local history that gave him the advantage.

I also like your reflections on the A'list, trying to still have an open mind, despite your disappointing personal experience.

Anonymous said...

I live in David's constituency and although I consider myself to be "left-wing" I was jubilant that Labour got kicked out and didn't really care who got in - just as long as New Labour/Twigg got the boot. And so were many others like me. Why? Because we are vehemently anti-war and wanted New Labour punished - Twigg voted for the war. There were loud cheers all over Enfield when David Burrowes was elected - for a very wide range of reasons, not simply because many wanted him in: many also really really wanted Twigg out.

By the way, I have had cause to contact David by e-mail three times since he was elected. He got back to me on all three occasions within 48 hours. I am impressed by him.

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous1 - will bear in mind in future.
Sceptical, If you really tyhink I'm shallow enough to hold what john hayes did in the leadership campaign against him I despair! You should re-read what I wrote. I do not think the A List has been handled well, but that does not mean it is intrinsically a bad idea which could not be made to work. I agree with those who say that everyone ought to be allowed to apply, but I see no reason at all why candidates with exceptional talent shouldn't be drawn to the attention of the local association. Where we would all surely agree is that their decision is final. I don't agree with your final para at all. My situation is irrelevant, and I bear no bitterness at all. I do think that handled correctly it could indeed help us win seats if the right people are selected in the right seats. And that's really what David Burrowes was saying, I think.

Bob Piper, so that was a sycophantic post? Don't make me laugh.

Craig Ranapia said...

Bob, Bob, Bob... I know there's a certain mindset that doesn't understand the concept of not throwing your toys out of the cot when things don't go your way, but do try.

The Daily Pundit said...

What's your campaign slogan, Bob? 'Vote Bob Piper or he'll invite himself over for Sunday Lunch'.

Anonymous said...

If the 'A' list members are so bloody wonderful why haven't they been snapped up by their local (or neighbouring) constituencies as worthy choices for representing the electorate?
Makes you wonder.
Too delicate and fragile for the rough and tumble of constituency politics, perhaps? Can't make it on their own merits, need a helping hand from the Central Office heavy mob?
In that case fat lot of good they'll be in Westminster.

Also makes you wonder how long the party will be considered to be a grass-roots democratic set-up - if it still is; I have my doubts.
Maybe that's why I didn't renew my subscription this year. And if they keep going the way they appear to be going, not only won't they not get my subscription, they won't get my vote, either.

Iain Dale said...

bt, you are being completely irrational. Many on the A List are on it purely so they will be selected by the seats they fought last time. That must surely be a good thing. Of course people are concerned that some do not have any experience. There's always a risk with people with no experience - look at Theo Walcott! The main thing is to get the right mix, and the right person for the right seat.

Craig Ranapia said...


Well, there's an argument that working a constituency organisation (which by it's very nature is about as partisan as you can get) is very different from fighting a general election. There's also a counter argument, that if you can't win over your own grassroots activists you're screwed on the hustings...

While, like Ian, I think the A List is a bit of a curate's egg that's been badly handled I think you're going way OTT. While 'grassroots democracy' is a wonderful thing worth dying for, anyone with any sense of political history (Conservative or Labour) wouldn't pretend consistency associations have some kind of papal infallibility.

Anonymous said...

"bt, you are being completely irrational. Many on the A List are on it purely so they will be selected by the seats they fought last time. That must surely be a good thing."

Irrationality can be a.. um.. nebulous concept. It depends on where you're standing (no pun intended).

Personally I think it undesirable for anyone to consider that they have a 'right' to be a candidate, that a constituency is their fief - even if they fought it hard previously. It's now a fresh contest and should start from scratch. If they're any good they'll get the nomination again - without outside interference. And if someone better has popped up in the meantime, then tough luck.

Not too happy about having an unknown but significant number of MPs more than averagely beholden to the London mob, either. It's not healthy.

Anonymous said...

The slippery concept here is 'local'. What exactly is a local candidate? One born and brought up in the constituency? One that has been resident for twenty, ten, two or less years? Or is it someone declared local by the local association?

Seems to me that an A list candidate chosen four years into an election to nurse a seat might be more local than someone born there but never having lived there as an adult, and wanting to parachute in from a well paid job that makes them live elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

So does anyone have a guide on how to win a local election? I lost a few weeks ago by less then 50, and wondering on how to change technique to give myself the extra few....

The LibDems seem to be the master of such things, but is it really just a case of monthly leafleting (what on earth can you talk about every month?)?

And how do you aproach a mid year canvass, when you are not in a position to advocate on their behalf with the Council?


Anonymous said...

Ellee Seymour cites Justine Greening's victory in Putney, is that the Rotherham-born Southampton-educated 'local' Putney girl?

Louise said...

I think more importantly than someone being born locally or even living locally is that once selected the candidate makes themselves known locally and knows exactly what all the local issues are.

Anne Main in St Albans is a good example. For completely understandable family reasons she did not move to the constituency on selection, but did get involved in local groups and charities, spent time speaking to local residents and gained a real knowledge of the different issues in the different parts of the constituency.

I live in a constituency that I have no real knowledge of (or frankly interest in), I was born and brought up in a constituency that I no longer know much about.

A good candidate is one who cares about their constituency and works to become an advocate for that area.

I would rather someone who lived 20/30 miles away but worked bloody hard rather than a mediocre candidate who just happened to live in the constituency.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous@ 12.15,

Probably off topic but I'll give it a shot...

Firstly a reasonable amount of leafleting is essential - I reckon the way to go is quality rather than quantity. Also make sure you've covered absolutely every house in the ward.

One candidate up here was canvassing in October/November - his approach was just to say "Hello, we're doing a survey in the area" and ask a few questions.