Tom Spiller: Why I’m standing to be Chairman of the National Convention

3 Jul

Tom Spiller is the former President of the Conservative National Convention and chaired the 2017 party conference.

I am honoured to have been nominated as a candidate to be Chairman of the National Convention. There is a problem though – too few people have even heard of the Convention. This has long been an issue, so last summer, I produced a webinar to try to raise awareness of the institution, its history and its work.

Let me tell you a bit about my background and why I want to serve in this important role.

I caught the politics bug back home in Nottingham when I was 16 and have been hooked ever since. I have done pretty much every voluntary job but never put myself forward for election to Parliament, and do not want to be an MP. For the last two decades I have immersed myself in political campaigning because I believe in the cause.

I served as Vice-President and President of the National Convention during the critical Brexit years from 2016 to 2019. It was certainly an interesting time! I am no child of summer – I have experience of operating at that level in a challenging environment.

My wife and I have two young children, aged 3 and 1. I have always believed we need a range of representation in our Party and have (I hope) successfully managed a happy family life, career and my role as an activist. I am part of that hard-to-reach demographic which is so often in short supply in our Associations. I know first-hand the struggles that working men and women of my generation face.

I am a lawyer by trade and work in the City. It is a job that requires advocacy skills, high levels of organisation, the ability to operate under pressure, diplomacy and the ability to assimilate large amounts of information about new topics on a daily basis. I hope these qualities stand me in good stead.

So what do I want to do as Convention Chairman?

Our party is made up of three parts – publicly elected, professional and voluntary.

The voluntary part is vital, it is the lifeblood that drives the heart of our party. Goodwill is the fuel that keeps us going and motivates us to give our free time to this cause in return for nothing other than the satisfaction of doing what we feel is right.

I want to establish a stand-alone annual event which thanks rank-and-file activists for their hard work to nurture goodwill. It will be called the Activist Awards and will also serve as a showcase for best campaigning practice.

A key ingredient of the vital goodwill I refer to is respect. We must restore respect so that all three parts of the party remain in balance during these politically turbulent times.

One sphere in which I want to restore respect is in relation to Parliamentary selection. We must now see an expansion of the selection rights of members. There can be no side-lining of members in selection processes, or railroading them into making choices that they haven’t been properly consulted on.

Now is the time to make these changes because, as we all know, a significant amount of goodwill is necessary to navigate the upcoming Parliamentary boundary changes, and to get match fit for the next general election, whenever that may come.

To get match fit we also need a proper, rigorous focus on training.

This is something I was passionate about during my time on the Board; I ran the regular, over-subscribed, ‘Behind the Scenes’ events series at CCHQ. Training is something that I have stayed focussed on through my work at Conservative Progress in recent years. One of the events I am particularly proud of was my first-of-its-kind, peer-to-peer familiarisation webinar for first-time Association Chairs that I produced last year.

If you elect me I will re-double my efforts on this front so that our activists will always have the support they need.

To be clear, I don’t want to put just on any old, bland events! They must be practical in focus, easy to understand, and above all they must feature a mix of expertise from the professional and voluntary party alike. One past event I am particularly proud of is the webinar that I produced shortly before the May 2021 local elections, which featured advice from, amongst others, grass roots hero Mayor Ben Houchen, who I am pleased to say has endorsed my candidacy.

How will I set the training agenda?

By asking you what you need, as I did in my Covid support survey at the start of this year. I want to keep on undertaking exercises like these, but on a much larger scale!

It is not just the sphere of training where I will ask your views before making decisions. I will do it whenever a matter of significance arises.

The voluntary party needs the Chairman of the National Convention to be its champion. I believe I have the experience and skills to do this. I have shown in my time on the Board that I am committed to the party and our shared beliefs.

I hope Convention members will consider giving me their support and look forward to speaking to as many as possible over the coming weeks. If you would like to get in touch with me to arrange a time to speak please fill out the form on my website: www.tomspiller.co.uk.

Tom Spiller: Celebrate our election wins. But to keep winning we need to equip activists with tools that work.

15 May

Tom Spiller is the former President of the Conservative National Convention and chaired the 2017 party conference.

What a fantastic set of results our Party had in the May 2021 elections.

I have no doubt that these historic achievements are only possible because of the efforts of our voluntary activists – some of whom travelled to Hartlepool and Tees Valley from as far afield as Dorset, South London, and Shropshire, in gruelling day trips.

Time to reflect

The road to the next General Election – whenever that may come – is now well and truly open, and our party must put serious thought into both holding the new ground that it won in 2019 and 2021, and maintaining its position in long-held territory, some of which now looks weaker than we would like.

Our first challenge will be defending the late Dame Cheryl Gillan’s seat in Chesham and Amersham. Then we face the challenge of gaining Batley and Spen – a seat which we narrowly won in last week’s local elections.

Some suggest that the political phenomenon of “realignment” is a two-sided coin – but it does not need to be. We can never rest on our laurels and, as a party, we always need to think for the long-term. Therefore, we must carefully analyse the unexpected results in (amongst others) Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Sussex, to see what lessons we can learn.

Ask the activists

Earlier this year I conducted an online survey that asked Conservative associations across the UK what support they needed to get ready for the 2021 elections and – to borrow a well-used phrase – build back better, following the lockdown era. (Click here to watch a short video summarising the results.)

I received just over 580 responses to my survey, which came from every nation of the UK, and every region in England. The answer was resoundingly clear and twofold: unsurprisingly, lockdown had a significant detrimental impact on their resources, and they were hungry for campaign-focused practical training.

Time for training, training, training

As many will know, this year our party intends to open the CCHQ Northern campus in Yorkshire.

This represents a fantastic opportunity to channel resources and support to Blue Wall associations that need them. Indeed, we must do that if we are to maintain our Parliamentary majority, to hold onto our freshly-won councils and PCCs, and to further widen the battlefield. However, this can only be done via a proper collaborative partnership with activists on the ground who have vast experience of their local political terrain. And we must all now insist on this.

I know from personal experience that this approach would be hugely beneficial. Last year I hosted an online webinar for first-time associations chairs, and I can tell you that of the 112 attendees, the majority were from the Midlands and the North.

With a particular focus on digital

Another striking feature of this year’s results, which was also echoed in the survey results, was the critical impact of well-executed digital campaigns – after all, for much of the lockdown era, digital campaigning was one of the few tools available to us. This forced many to both innovate and evaluate the approaches they had been taking to date.

But as my survey showed – in the run up to the short campaign, regardless of geographical location, all associations felt that they need more help with campaigning – and, in particular, digital.

The power of digital campaigning cannot be underestimated. A hardy team of volunteers might be able to leaflet a couple of polling districts in an afternoon – but a well-crafted digital messages could well reach thousands of voters with the click of a button.

The example of Ben Houchen

By now everyone will have heard of Ben Houchen’s fantastic achievement – he won the Tees Valley Mayoral race in the first round by winning 73 per cent of all votes cast. A key feature of Ben’s campaign was a relentless focus on digital campaigning. The content that he created ranged from easily-shareable, unspun endorsement videos sourced from small local businesses (click here to view) and construction workers (click here to view) helped by the projects he has made happen, to more heartfelt rallying cries for Teessiders to pull together to get the economy back on track after Coronavirus (click here to view).

If we are to maintain our position in both newly-won and long-held political territory our party must now engage with associations all over the country (especially those with newly-elected chairs) and with a focus on training, particularly in effective digital campaigning. And once again – this is something that I intend to insist on.

Time for a change in approach

This is something that is based in data. I know what the party activists want because I asked them and they told me. This bottom-up, data-led approach should be the basis for all allocation of the party’s resources. If we are going to win the elections of the future we need to equip our activists with the tools that work.