When pressed on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson will call an early general election in 2023, Conservative Party Chairman @OliverDowden tells @TrevorPTweets that "sleeves are rolled up" in government to deliver "what matters to people".#Phillips: https://t.co/6irCsXgqud pic.twitter.com/m60oNUMzaA
— Trevor Phillips on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) October 3, 2021
Cllr John Moss is a Councillor in Waltham Forest and was Association Chairman and Deputy Chairman Political in Chingford & Woodford Green from 2013 to 2020. He works as a Campaign Manager for the College Green Group, supporting candidates seeking to get approved, selected, and elected at all levels.
Some people always vote. Some people never vote. Most people sometimes vote. Why does this matter?
Activist time is the most precious thing in a campaign. People volunteer to help. They don’t get paid and the one thing guaranteed to make sure they don’t come back is them feeling like their time has been wasted. But in every election I have worked on since 1999, I have seen hours and hours of time wasted because somebody insists, “We knock on every door”.
But if you are going to persuade candidates and activists that they do not need to knock on every door, what is the one piece of data that you need? That’ll be the Marked Register.
The Marked Register is the only piece of data on a voter, apart from their name and address, that is 100 per cent accurate. It tells you, unequivocally, that somebody voted, either in person at a polling station, or by returning their postal ballot pack. If you enter this data over repeated election cycles, you can confidently identify electors and households you should definitely target and those you can safely drop from your canvassing lists.
This is because there are, simplistically, two types of elector; those you target because you need to persuade them to vote for you, and those you target because you need them to go out and vote.
The former probably always vote, but your data doesn’t tell you which way. You speak to them because if they had previously voted against you and you persuade them to vote for you, you are +2 in terms of votes. One off the opposition pile and one on your pile. And if it turns out they were always going to vote for you, or never going to vote for you, that is still valuable data, even if it doesn’t make a difference to your result.
The latter group probably don’t always vote, but your data suggests they will support you if they do. These voters can be targeted for personal visits from the candidate, which is scientifically proven to be the very best way to motivate someone to actually vote. They can also be targeted for postal voter recruitment drives and for more intense GOTV efforts as postal ballots arrive or before and on polling day.
Looking forward to the next cycle of Council elections in 2022, we have identified several wards which can be targeted purely on the basis of low turnout. If a ward has an electorate of 6,000 and you lose by 500, getting a ten per cent increase in turnout from your supporters means you win. But it is the Marked Register which will allow you to identify those voters.
So look at your VoteSource dashboard under Register/Marked Registers then go to Reports. This will tell you whether they have been entered. If not, did your Association buy them and are they sat in a box somewhere, or do you have them as PDF files, on a CD, or DVD? For the most recent elections, you might still be able to get them, especially if your Council has been providing them as scanned PDFs and will still supply them.
Whatever you can get is worth having. Then you simply need to invest some time to enter the data – 30 minutes per polling district is the average time it takes – and start building your most valuable data resource.
Case study: Plymouth
Control: No Overall Control.
Numbers: Conservatives 25, Labour 24, Independents 8.
Change since last local elections: Conservatives +6, Labour -6.
All out or thirds: Thirds
Background: Plymouth has a strong tradition of local administration. It was recorded as a borough from 1276, was incorporated in 1439, and became a City in 1928. But Plymouth City Council, in its current entity as a unitary authority, only came into being in 1998. Since then it has alternated between being Labour or Conservative run. Or being hung. Parliamentary representation has also produced mixed fortunes for the parties over the years. Johnny Mercer was returned for Plymouth Moor View as the Conservative candidate at the last General Election with a majority of nearly 13,000. But Labour won the Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency. This seat had been won by Oliver Colvile for the Conservatives in 2015. Sir Gary Streeter, the Conservative MP for South West Devon, also has some Plymouth wards in his constituency.
Former MPs from Plymouth include Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, who won Plymouth Sutton for the Conservatives in 1919. Her successors included Alan Clark. David Owen, the former Labour Foreign Secretary and co-founder of the SDP, represented Plymouth Devonport.
Margaret Thatcher’s last speech to an election rally was in this city in 2001. She offered a rousing appeal to local pride:
“Where better to take a stand than here in Plymouth? Plymouth – England’s historic opening to the world. Plymouth – from where Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and Captain Cook set out to take the ways of these islands to the uttermost bounds of the earth? Plymouth – from where the Pilgrim Fathers left in that cockle-shell vessel on a voyage which would create the most powerful force for freedom that the world has known?”
Despite this Labour held both seats. But the reduced majorities meant the triumph was slightly deceptive. Looking back, it was the start of a slow decline for the Party. In the EU referendum, the people of Plymouh voted Leave by a margin of 60 per cent to 40 per cent.
Results: The Council is now Conservative led. They were elected on an impressively thorough Manifesto. It included some bold ambitions for economic revival and infrastructure projects. But also promised to sort out the “basics” such as bin collections and enforcement against graffiti and other anti social behaviour. They are getting on with delivering their promises with a Hundred Day Plan. They have even cut spending on allowances. Cllr Nick Kelly, the new council leader, is showing great energy and determination.
Before the elections, there had been a serious split with several councillors leaving the Conservative Group to sit as independents. This has not yet been resolved. But it seems they were not sufficiently alienated from their old colleagues to come to an arrangement with Labour.
There is a big divide between rich and poor areas of the City. The grime and unattractive social housing in the Keyham district was brought to national attention last month as a result of the appalling shooting incident resulting in six deaths. The Council is working with charities to seek to revive community spirit in the area. The challenge will not only be recovering from the shock of those events, but a wider one of despair and social decay being quietly felt by those who do not resort to violence.
Plymouth is to become a freeport which should see the creation of wealth and jobs. That is welcome. But transforming some of the rundown districts will be a big local mission. Replacing the depressing concrete “housing units” with beautiful homes would help. Just replacing a shabby ugly soulless block with a shiny new ugly soulless block (that will be shabby in a few years time) would be no use. Also needed are one of two really good new free schools – giving the sort of motivation that Michaela offers the children of Brent. At present, the City is below the national average for educational attainment for both primary and secondary schools. The Council could have an important role in making sites available.
Such progress is not impossible to achieve. But until it is, the main political trend may be growing reluctance to vote for anyone.
As Preston Byrne, a legal fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, pointed out a few weeks ago, the Taliban had been quietly preparing the citizens of Afghanistan for their takeover via WhatsApp for a good while before it actually happened.
But they’re not the only radical forces who make proficient use of technology to organise – our own home-grown loonies are doing the same thing over on this side of the world too, albeit in quite a different way.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) has a comprehensive network of people in place to ‘support’ their members who are arrested – for behaving disgracefully, generally-speaking – which is all co-ordinated over WhatsApp and with the aid of a ‘back office’.
Using a map of local police stations and a veritable patchwork of WhatsApp groups around the country (all wide open), they have a vast operation in place to ensure maximum peace of mind for anyone who gets arrested. There’s even an hour’s worth of online training on all this for people to familiarise themselves with!
After all, you’ll feel a lot more confident chaining yourself to the nearest available railing if you know that dozens or even hundreds of people have got your back, won’t you?
Why worry about causing considerable criminal damage to someone else’s property, like smashing their windows in, if you know that ‘Police Station Support’ will be coming to your aid?
And forming part of a human chain that’s blocking an ambulance from getting to an innocent person in desperate need is far more of a breeze when you can be sure there’ll be someone to provide ‘emotional support’ and find you somewhere to stay after your outrageous ordeal of being held to account by the state for your own iniquitous behaviour, isn’t it?
Nor are Extinction Rebellion the only people on the Left who make some very effective use of online tools to maintain their movement’s integrity. Two years ago, Momentum had a tool called My Campaign Map (pretty blank nowadays), which performed much the same function as XR’s one. During the last General Election campaign, you could type in your postcode and it would show you your nearest marginal seat to go and campaign in.
There were also plenty of WhatsApp groups to join to help organise the activism, and there was the ‘Labour Legends’ initiative, whereby activists would be matched up with hosts in a marginal seat to put them up for a couple of weeks while they went out on the streets every day to campaign.
(Shame none of that came to much… all of that annual leave might have been put to better use not being a nuisance to ordinary folk who’d rather not see a terrorist-sympathiser in Number 10!)
But of course, there’s plenty more mischief you can get up to that’s co-ordinated online too – such as planning a mass betting initiative in a bid to swing the election result, or getting all your activists to distribute illegal leaflets… and none of it with a shred of conscience.
All of these kinds of tactics probably feel pretty justifiable if you believe you’re part of a mass movement to ‘save the world’ – the notion that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions doesn’t seem to have caught on with this lot.
Then again, as we can see from a recent XR event, the kinds of people who genuinely seem to believe that ‘celebrating global art, music, food, dance and stories in the UK’ is somehow going to do anything at all to ‘take action against climate breakdown’, while leaving behind another 120 tons of rubbish, were probably never going to have all that much going on upstairs.
Hippies always did think they could change the world with their music, though – it’s just that we used to pay a lot less attention to them, back when the world was a good deal less crazy.
In fairness, it’s not as though you can blame these people – or anyone else – for using any tools they can get their hands on to co-ordinate their movement’s activities. Indeed, the planning and effort that goes into it is quite extraordinary. But it does seem striking how it’s pretty much only the one side of politics that does this, and hardly ever the other.
Perhaps if the ordinary folk with some common sense who just want to get on with their lives could do much the same kind of thing to counter it, the online battlefield between Left and Right would be a lot more level. At the moment, there is no answer to the Left’s considerable organisational capacity from the other side.
I happen to know the MoD believes that whichever side can make the best use of digital technology will win the next war. Let’s hope that doesn’t play out on the political battlefield too.
Philip Wilkinson is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon.
I first considered applying for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire when I was home on leave from Somalia sometime in 2018. Consequently, I approached the Devizes Conservative Association, where I am a member, but was told that they had already selected a candidate. I considered standing as an independent but decided to return to my challenging and stimulating job, working with the Minister for Internal Security in Somalia. With the Covid lock-down and travel restrictions, working in Somalia became impossible. Life then took a very pleasant turn, as my wife Ruth and I spent many hours exploring our lovely county on foot. As life started to return to normal Ruth returned to work albeit virtually and I set to writing my memoirs called ‘Sharpening the Weapons of Peace’, which I have now completed and are with the publisher. Retirement had finally caught up with me, or so I thought!
In May, having cast our ballots we were watching the news and saw the debacle of the Jonathon Seed saga unfold. My first thoughts were of dismay for the party but tinged with relief as I was not convinced that the Party had selected the best person for such an important role as the Police and Crime Commissioner. Over the next couple of days, it gradually dawned on me that as I was no longer intending to return to Somali, I could bring my experience and expertise back to Wiltshire and that I could serve my community here. I could also help to dig the party out of a reputational hole. When I had a phone call from our Association President asking if I was considering putting myself forward, it required one very short conversation with Ruth before I said yes.
For the next month, I was put through the Party selection process and was finally elected as the Conservative Party candidate for the Wiltshire post of Police and Crime Commissioner on June 23rd, with an election date of the 19th August. As I was experiencing this process, the true importance of the role of the PCC finally hit home, which was brilliant as it sharpened my focus and helped to prepare me mentally for challenges of the election itself. Essentially, I had two months to win over our seven constituency parties in Wiltshire in order that they would throw their weight behind my bid for election; and not through party loyalty alone but because they truly felt that I was the best person to make our lovely county a safer place. And I then had to persuade our voters that I was the best person for the job. Assessing my situation, which was clearly challenging, I knew that I was blessed in living in such a true-blue county; and with seven MPs and their associations behind me, I felt confident that I could take on all challengers and win.
My first challenge was personal in that I had never engaged in any form of local or national election before. I did not know the electoral processes let alone have any experience of running and managing a campaign. And this is where Head Office and Swindon and Wiltshire Conservatives stepped forward. Without the advice, guidance and support of my campaign team of Thomas James, Nicholas Stovold, Tamara Reay and the heavy lifting of Byron Quayle my campaign would not have left the ground. As the campaign progressed, I was given fantastic support from our conservative associations and a whole raft of councillors and helpers that are too many to mention. I owe them all a huge dept of gratitude. I really appreciate the shoe leather that they wore out to get me elected. I also want to thank our MPs for their support and advice. They were fantastic. I thought I was fit but Justin Tomlinson put me in the shade!
My only serious contender was an ex-policeman who was fortunately standing as an independent. I don’t think that a relatively junior police officer could perform the functions of a PCC effectively but he had a couple of years to put his campaign team together and I suspect that if had a party infrastructure in support, he would have been an even closer contender. His strap-line of less politics and more policing had a resonance on the doorstep. The most consistent complaint I faced related to the cost of the rerun of this second election and that Jonathon Seed had not stood down or been stood down by the Party pending the results of the investigation by the Thames Valley Police. In my view this was a serious error; it would have been the right thing to do and very nearly cost us the election.
I have now been in office for a week and I am blessed to have a great team to support me in my office and along the corridor in the Chief Constable’s office. While I only had two months to campaign, I met a great many of our residents and was able to refine and nuance my campaign pledges as I went along. In terms of crimes, my immediate priorities are drugs, rural crime and anti-social behaviour especially speeding and my immediate procedural challenges are the complaints process and the systemic challenges of case file development, disclosure and the backlog in court cases, largely caused by Covid. I’ve already dived into the police estate and I know I need to find a fix for Salisbury and to improve our training facilities in the Headquarters. Within Home Office guidelines, I’ve sharpened the complaints procedure that will now focus on my office, which I will reinforce for this purpose. Of course, the Chief Constable will remain responsible for the operational investigation of complaints but I will improve our communication processes such that by tracking and reporting on the progress of complaints, I am more responsive to our MPs, councillors and the general public. I will take our complaints process democratically closer to the people.
Cllr Olivia Lyons is the Leader of Cannock Chase District Council.
Our local election campaign was demanding, and the campaign period short, but as we stood on each damp, cold, doorstep, the message was the same. Labour had lost touch with what was, for years, their core vote. Nationally, they no longer represented the working class and, locally, the years of sheer neglect in our once vibrant market towns was both stark and noticeable.
The position of no overall control had taken its toll. In the months prior to the local elections, the local Labour Party were in disarray. The longer-standing members, true to the more traditional ‘New Labour’ ideology had capitulated to the growing number representing Corbyn’s hard left, the divide was growing by the day. Quickly and visibly, they were losing touch, losing control, and losing all credibility. It was a minority administration growing enraged and thrashing around clutching to their evaporating dream of their future.
In the space of a few months, the Leader of the Labour Group moved from an informal ‘Supply and Demand’ arrangement to form a formal Coalition with what was, at the time, the local Green Party. Relationships quickly broke down and the manifestation of hostility was undisguised.
A breakaway Party was collectively formed by the former Labour parliamentary candidate and the former Green parliamentary candidate; they formally registered as a political party and, ironically, called themselves ‘Chase Independents’. Their aim was to be a knight in shining armour sweeping in to oust a disorderly administration on a fabricated platform of distortions. Fielding a group of supposedly apolitical, community minded candidates – they were undoubtedly the most political of all, and their masterplan was to campaign dirty. That included conning their way into the new Designer Outlet Village by pretending to be workmen in a desperate attempt to seek publicity but instead culminated in a visit from the Police. The Chase Indies Leader publicly asserted that his only ambition was to be a local voice, whilst he stood against a backdrop of failed attempts to become Police and Crime Commissioner, a Member of Parliament, and even a Member of the European Parliament.
Two years prior, when forming a new Shadow Cabinet, we promised to be a credible and strong opposition, a promise we must keep. As a small group of 14, we refused to be distracted by the internal happenings and the ever-evolving dynamics of the other parties. We were clear that the middle of a global pandemic was not the time to ‘play politics’. Our continued focus remained very clearly with the residents that we were elected to represent. They had put their trust in us and our duty to serve was now more important than ever.
Fast forward a few months and we received confirmation that the public would be going to the polls. Restrictions were slowly easing and the vaccination programme was well underway. Initially, we decided not to knock on doors but instead develop and grow our online presence, acutely aware that residents may feel uncomfortable being approached after such a long period of isolation. Alongside this, we continued working within each of our local communities, at the time supporting the ongoing response to the pandemic and also re-established our InTouch literature.
As time went on, the campaign intensified with leaflets increasing in frequency and, eventually, with yet further easing of restrictions, we took to the doorstep. That was when we really began to gauge the shift of public opinion. We were a group of locals, campaigning and caring for our local community, no doubt helped along by an increasingly positive national picture – personal freedoms were gradually returning, Covid case numbers in a slow decline and there was hope that we were slowly and cautiously returning to a life that somewhat resembled normality.
The focus of our campaign remained on what mattered – it was a local election and we focused solely on local issues. Labour literature evaded the local issues that had fallen within the remit of their administration for many years – declining town centres, decaying parks, and detrimentally high taxes, the list simply goes on. Instead, they adopted a negative campaign, slating every Conservative proposal or decision whether by Government, the County Council, or us as an Opposition – noticeably without offering any alternatives and, more so, without offering up any credible policy suggestions at all.
Come May 6th, we entered the counting hall with an optimistic mindset, carrying with us the enthusiasm from the doorstep. The national picture was better than expected, the red wall was crumbling. Not taking anything for granted, we were both fearful of becoming carried away yet quietly hoping to be the next blue brick in the wall. The results came in thick and fast, without the need for many recounts.
The electorate had unequivocally placed their trust in us. The real hard work was about to begin. We instantly promised to work tirelessly to repay that trust, a promise made by all 24 of us.
In the few months that followed, we have uncovered more that a few Labour skeletons buried in the Council’s closets but we will govern with the same positive mindset that we campaigned with.
Post pandemic we have a challenging, yet exciting opportunity to repave the path ahead – focusing on economic recovery, rejuvenating our town centres, and improving the overall wellbeing of the residents we serve.
As a very wise lady once said “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony”, a very fitting quote to encapsulate the past year in Cannock Chase.
Cllr John Moss is a councillor in Waltham Forest and spent seven years as Deputy Chairman and Chairman in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency, seeing Sir Iain Duncan Smith re-elected three times. He now works for College Green Group, advising on campaign strategy and management. In this occasional series, he offers advice on campaigning tools and tactics used by the best campaigns.
Over the past few years, I am sure many of us have sat in association meetings and been told at least once that we don’t need traditional literature anymore and “everything can be done via social media”. In truth, all forms of media provide a way of communicating with the electorate and all have value if used sensibly at the right time. Social media is no different. So, what is the best way to use it?
I am a great believer in multi-channel communication strategies which mean that you get your message to the voters one way or another. But I want to focus on one of the tools that we at the College Green Group regularly use for clients who want to expand their reach into a target audience on a specific topic. Facebook Ads.
A Facebook Ad looks like any other post that appears in your timeline, apart from a disclaimer. But only specific, defined audiences see the adverts that you create. This is where it can be very effective in driving engagement either in a targeted geographic location, or with a specific demographic, or both.
There are a few steps you need to make before running a successful and effective advertising campaign.
In response to various concerns raised about how ‘political’ ads could be hidden, Facebook now requires anybody running political ads to verify their identity and the ads themselves have a specific disclaimer on them. So if you want to run political ads you need to go through the following steps.
First, identify the person or persons who are going to be the ‘admins’ on your campaigns and get them to verify their ID, then set up a Facebook Business account. After that, you need to create the Page that you want to run the ads from. This could be a ward or constituency specific page, or be about a specific issue you are campaigning on.
Keep this ‘unpublished’ until you have populated the Page with posts and pictures, so it does not look sparse when you do, and set up your contact details. Do consider having a separate email account for the Page so you are clear that it is Page engagement that is driving those contacts. We always recommend groups have two or three authorised people per page to ensure that there is always someone available to set up and run a campaign, or edit and amend as needed. Facebook’s political authorisations do expire so please make sure everyone checks they are registered at www.facebook.com/id.
In the Business account, you add the Page and you are ready to go. If you are running a local election across multiple wards, you can set up Pages for each ward or division and add each separately. This allows the campaign to be controlled in terms of timing and content across all wards. For example, if you have a specific event in a specific ward that you want to push, you can schedule a campaign just for that ward, but when Postal Ballots are about to land, you might want to run the same ad everywhere.
Creating the actual adverts is also something that needs preparation. Text and images, possibly video, all need to be prepared in advance. But the key things to remember are; who do you want to talk to – and what do you want them to do?
Take, for example, a campaign to build a petition against an unpopular decision by the local Council. You should ask yourself, who will be affected by the decision? Can you define a clear geographic area that will be affected by town name, postcodes, or even by dropping a pin on a map? Then, is there a particular demographic or interest group that might be affected?
Taking an example close to my own experience. Let’s say a Council wants to allocate a site for development which is currently the local authority sports centre. You can choose a geography of, say, two miles around the centre, and add demographics like swimmers, gym users, and badminton players. If the pool has a popular toddlers’ swim session, add parents and grandparents too. You can also exclude demographics and locations.
As you build the audience, you can see the total number of Facebook users that will potentially be targeted. This is important because it affects the cost, but it is also a good reality check. If you’re targeting a million users for a ward campaign, you’ve probably got something wrong in the set up!
The next question is what do you want those people to do. With a petition, that’s quite easy. You want to get them to click on a link to go to the petition page and sign it. But you can also run a more general campaign to get people to go to your Page and like it, building capacity for future engagement, or sign up for email newsletters via your website. Craft your message carefully so your ‘call to action’ is clear.
Always have images, preferably more than one, set up as a ‘carousel’, so repeat insertions show with a different image. Even better use video (with subtitles) as it is proven that posts with videos get more opens than those with just static images, or those with no images at all.
Finally, you can set the ads to run at specific times, or let Facebook decide the best times, and choose the start and end dates. Set the budget, check the box that confirms it is a political ad and you’re ready to go. Get somebody to test it and double check you’ve ticked the special ads box. College Green Group will always recommend three people look at every advertisement before it goes up!
All advertisements of a political nature are displayed in the Facebook advertisement library. This means anyone can see any political advert run by anyone. For example, you can see all the advertisements the Conservative Party is currently running here.
College Green Group top tip: You should check the advertisements library regularly to see whether your opponents are using Facebook ads, just as you make sure you get copies of their leaflets when they deliver them.
You then submit it to Facebook, which approves it before it runs. If it doesn’t get approved, there is often a small technical flaw in the set-up. You can usually sort that out quite quickly, or contact them to resolve the issue.
As your ad runs, you can check it in real-time to see the results in terms of engagement. Cross-check that with your petition page and you should see ‘conversion’. If you’re not getting that, you should pause the ad and recheck everything, especially links. When you restart it, make sure the set-up has remained as before. A good starting budget is usually £500 to £1,000 and you will usually see an immediate impact on getting members, donors and Voter Intentions.
College Green Group top tip for this is to make it interesting – people love to watch a video, take a quiz or survey, but make it snappy, so the whole thing can be done in no longer than 90 seconds, because our attention span is incredibly short.
Hopefully, this will help you capture lots of data, email addresses and phone numbers – in a fully GDPR compliant way – and help you to campaign more effectively in the elections themselves next Spring.
Cllr John Moss is a councillor in Waltham Forest and spent seven years as Deputy Chairman and Chairman in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency, seeing Sir Iain Duncan Smith re-elected three times. He now works for College Green Group, advising on campaign strategy and management. In this occasional series, he offers advice on campaigning tools and tactics used
by the best campaigns.
Our volunteers’ time is precious and as the recent three by-elections have shown, should be used wisely to have the most impact. The “rusty machine” referred to in a recent article on this site can be oiled with the right tools and can be brought back to life. Here is an example that costs nothing.
A QR code on your literature ensures you will get responses quicker and are more likely to collect email addresses. Here’s what might happen.
A leaflet has been delivered and the busy elector scoops it up with the rest of their post as they return from work.
As they cook their evening meal, they sort through the mail and discard the menus and estate agent fliers, but your leaflet catches their eye, because there’s a plan for a new housing development near them and the option to fill out a survey.
After trying three times to type “www. littlesnodderburyconservativeassociation.com/ housingdevelopmentsurvey” into the browser on their phone, whilst chopping the carrots, the busy elector gives up and tosses the leaflet in the recycling with the other discards. The alternative to this scenario is a QR code like this.
“Open the camera on your phone and scan here to take our survey” takes up no more room than the long url quoted above. But the busy elector is taken straight to the survey on your website, where they can complete it. Hopefully, they also give you their email address and mobile number and confirm that you can use their data to contact them about this and other campaigns.
QR codes have been a quirky addition to marketing campaigns for some time, but with near ubiquitous smartphone use, especially amongst those hardest to canvas by traditional methods, they are a tool all campaigns should be using to maximise data capture.
Innovation in this area has gone as far as an online gaming company using hundreds of drones to form a huge QR code in the night sky which, when wowed crowds below pointed their cameras at it, opened their browser and took them to the site where they could buy the game. Perhaps a little bit of a stretch to see how this might replace the banner flown behind the light aeroplane on Polling Day, but it could be on your GOTV literature and take people to the Council website so people can find their Polling Station, or on GOTPV literature and take people to a YouTube site where your candidate takes them through how to use their vote.
QR codes can also be designed to match your company or party logo, adding to brand awareness. They can even spell out a candidate’s name.
One further advantage of QR codes is that they do not just take electors to your website; they also provide you with tracking information. So you will know how many times it has been scanned. If you are sophisticated, you can use different QR codes on different leaflets (say, for different wards), which even if they take the electors to the same survey, will give you a result by ward for the level of response. This can tell you about the electors, but also about how well you’re covering the ground with your deliveries.
As we try to work out the best ways to gather information from the electorate, whether past vote history, voting intentions, or issue positions, we need to make that as easy as possible for our precious activists, but also for the electors themselves. QR codes are a quick and simple way to do that.
Cllr Antony Mullen is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Sunderland City Council.
The last few years have been difficult for Labour in Sunderland.
Two of their former councillors have been convicted of child sex offences, the ex-Deputy Leader of the Council was publicly sacked by his Leader, and the Council’s children’s services provision has been deemed Inadequate by Ofsted. If that was not enough, one Labour councillor was sued last year, after he falsely branded a local businessman a “paedo”. Another recently appeared in court charged with allowing minors to ride a quad bike without insurance, though the CPS has dropped the case on the basis of evidential difficulties. Nonetheless, it was unfortunate that just two days before his first court appearance, Bridget Phillipson, the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, launched a campaign against the blight of quad-biking in the constituency.
It is almost incredulous that a local political party can be so bad at PR. The words “Promoted by Alan Mabbutt” would not be out of place beneath some of the newspaper coverage Labour has earned in Sunderland in recent years.
It is something of a running joke among Conservatives in Sunderland that Cllr Graeme Miller, the Labour council leader, reflects upon local elections results and blames “the national issues”, almost as if to replicate the “This is Fine” meme, in which a dog offers itself reassurance whilst the surrounding room is engulfed in flames.
It perhaps does not take the intellect of Professor Sir John Curtice to figure out that some of the local issues I’ve described also explain why the number of opposition councillors has increased from eight to 33 since 2016.
But at the heart of this joke is a more serious point: Miller is wrong for another reason.
Labour does not just lose seats, we win them. This year, we won six new seats: three in wards where we already had councillors and three in wards where we had no councillors before 2021. We won one of these three new wards – St Anne’s, formerly die-hard Labour territory – by just three votes. But what all the wards we won have in common is that we worked them. We delivered leaflets, canvassed, held litter picks, delivered shopping and prescriptions during the various periods of lockdown, and our candidates kept an active presence on social media. None of the seats we gained were “flukes” or won solely off the back of the so-called vaccine bounce. Indeed, it was striking how little the pandemic or vaccines came up on the doorstep. This year felt very much like politics as usual for us and turnout (which was roughly the same as 2018 and 2019) compounded this feeling.
Certainly the national picture is important – it goes some way to explaining why we improved our vote share across the board – but it was not enough to get us over the line. We needed to showcase our candidates, emphasise their local links, and expose the Labour-run Council’s numerous failures (or as many as the Campaign Toolkit templates would accommodate).
This is what Labour fails at. Its councillors are divided into at least two warring factions. Its leadership fails to properly handle criticism. Tired rhetoric about funding cuts and austerity that feels like a throwback to the Ed Miliband years is the ‘go to’ response for every question asked or criticism levelled. It lacks dynamism and creativity and many of its councillors look ready to retire (and this year, many of them did).
This kind of account might sound obvious (party that puts out a lot of leaflets does well, party with a record of failures doesn’t) but it reflects the kind of local factors that are often not captured in national accounts of why local elections produce the results they do.
An exception to this is the New Statesman. Its coverage of Sunderland’s local political scene is excellent, with one minor issue. Whilst it correctly identifies the Lib Dems’ strong performance in the city, it overlooks that we have outperformed them at the last two sets of local elections. Their ambition to become the main opposition party – sometimes by questionable means – has been unsuccessful.
That said, if Labour is looking to improve its local results, it should take a closer look at the Lib Dem vote.
In the local elections of 2019, Labour lost seats to the Lib Dems by some quite large majorities. Then, at the general election later that year, the Lib Dems got fewer votes across Sunderland Central than they got in the constituency’s Millfield and Pallion Wards alone, just seven months earlier. Then, at 2021’s local elections, those voters returned and the Lib Dems once again got more votes in Millfield and Pallion than they managed at the 2019 general election.
If Sunderland Labour was able to come to terms with its own flaws, it might ask why more people vote for the Lib Dems at local elections than at general elections. Having faced up to reality, it might accept it is not all about ‘the national issues’ and develop a strategy for taking back the voters who support Labour nationally, but not locally.
Is that likely to happen?
Well, as we look ahead to 2022, I am preparing for “No Overall Control.”