Selina Seesunkur: Conservatives need to show more enthusiasm for online campaigning

19 Nov

Cllr Selina Seesunkur represents Larkswood Ward on Waltham Forest Council and is a Conservative list candidate for the London Assembly.

I have been a Conservative all my politically conscience life. Both my parents are Conservatives and yet I got into this political arena quite late; or should I say, had an activist knocked on my door sooner, I would have joined the Party sooner. But no-one did and, quite frankly, growing up in a traditional household where your parents hound you to become a Lawyer, Doctor, or Accountant, joining a Political Party or becoming an MP or Councillor was never discussed.

I was elected as a local councillor in 2018 and have not looked back. My story above, shows how important door knocking can be. It allows us to find and adopt new members, making our Conservative family bigger. The number of people I have been door knocking with who forget about membership astounds me. Door knocking allows us to ascertain issues within a community as well as providing us with the opportunity to tell residents about the things we have done locally, but above all, it allows us to connect with people on a truly personal level.

So what now? Has Covid taken our ability to campaign away from us? Of course not.

Being part of the Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO) has introduced me to a whole of host of zoom meetings which have replaced meetings and traditional development sessions; I even got to run my own sessions. I realised through speaking to women in my capacity as the CWO Lea Valley Area Chairman, there was a gap between people wanting to get selected and an understanding of the way in which the Party operated. I designed and delivered “The Voluntary Party, Associations and Me” which was attended by over 100 CWO members. Marjorie Baylis, Anne Steward, and the CWO Chairman, Fleur Butler, were on the panel and attendees gave really positive feedback. We ran the course again at Party Conference.

Taking your time to upskill or refresh yourself is always a good thing as it is an investment in yourself, whether you are looking to become an Association Chairman, councillor, or MP. The CWO offer so many classes that they have been able to build their membership as their events are members only.

As someone on the London Assembly list, Connect Calling sessions have been a fab way to connect with my London Assembly candidate colleagues on Zoom before engaging in a session of ringing around. If you were ever down about being stuck at home, or not able to see all your family at the same time, under one roof, make a few phone calls, the positive vibes associated with Shaun Bailey, our London Mayoral Candidate, will tickle you pink. As a teenage girl, I was on the phone a lot, typical, yes I know, but my mum would go ape, she gave me phone phobia for years, so if I can pick up the phone, so can you.

Ok, so you are a pro and you are savvy with Zoom and you are making phone calls, what else? I have What’s App fatigue, so I created a private group for London local councillors on Facebook to keep everyone connected. It is in its early phase but in the absence of London Council meetings it’s shaping up to be a good forum for sharing best practice. I felt it important as the CCA Rep for London to do something that brought councillors together at this difficult time. Yes there are so many Facebook groups out there, so I believe it is now best to be selective; this group is open to Conservative Councillors and Assembly Members only.

But the most active group I create, which runs itself now, was created at the beginning of lockdown, and it remains a non-political group. I noticed everyone was talking about getting meals to the vulnerable, but very few were dealing with the mental health risks associated with lockdown, so I started a Self-Isolation Help Group (now called the Friendship Network). I knew this could be an unmanageable task so I asked a team of Conservative Activists to help me administer the page. The page started out as an advice page but it took on a life of its own as people joined it, jokes, cool things to do at home, exercise, fun things for children, a couple of members used it as a platform to share their Covid art and more.

It was a little hairy at the start but with the help of David, Andrea, Mara, and Rathi, it’s the only group (that I am aware of), where people from all political persuasions co-exist and we can share a post from the Prime Minister, the Party, and from MPs, like Dr Luke Evans and Alicia Kearns and no-one gets sworn at. We have had such great feedback, but this group member (Phil) says it all “It’s the most positive group on Facebook”. The group has plateaued since the lockdown eased but it is still very much there, and people join us regularly. I have not used the group as a campaign group, but the thing about politics: it’s about making connections and you never know where new connections may take you. So my advice to you is “think outside of the box”.

Selina Seesunkur: Conservatives need to show more enthusiasm for online campaigning

19 Nov

Cllr Selina Seesunkur represents Larkswood Ward on Waltham Forest Council and is a Conservative list candidate for the London Assembly.

I have been a Conservative all my politically conscience life. Both my parents are Conservatives and yet I got into this political arena quite late; or should I say, had an activist knocked on my door sooner, I would have joined the Party sooner. But no-one did and, quite frankly, growing up in a traditional household where your parents hound you to become a Lawyer, Doctor, or Accountant, joining a Political Party or becoming an MP or Councillor was never discussed.

I was elected as a local councillor in 2018 and have not looked back. My story above, shows how important door knocking can be. It allows us to find and adopt new members, making our Conservative family bigger. The number of people I have been door knocking with who forget about membership astounds me. Door knocking allows us to ascertain issues within a community as well as providing us with the opportunity to tell residents about the things we have done locally, but above all, it allows us to connect with people on a truly personal level.

So what now? Has Covid taken our ability to campaign away from us? Of course not.

Being part of the Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO) has introduced me to a whole of host of zoom meetings which have replaced meetings and traditional development sessions; I even got to run my own sessions. I realised through speaking to women in my capacity as the CWO Lea Valley Area Chairman, there was a gap between people wanting to get selected and an understanding of the way in which the Party operated. I designed and delivered “The Voluntary Party, Associations and Me” which was attended by over 100 CWO members. Marjorie Baylis, Anne Steward, and the CWO Chairman, Fleur Butler, were on the panel and attendees gave really positive feedback. We ran the course again at Party Conference.

Taking your time to upskill or refresh yourself is always a good thing as it is an investment in yourself, whether you are looking to become an Association Chairman, councillor, or MP. The CWO offer so many classes that they have been able to build their membership as their events are members only.

As someone on the London Assembly list, Connect Calling sessions have been a fab way to connect with my London Assembly candidate colleagues on Zoom before engaging in a session of ringing around. If you were ever down about being stuck at home, or not able to see all your family at the same time, under one roof, make a few phone calls, the positive vibes associated with Shaun Bailey, our London Mayoral Candidate, will tickle you pink. As a teenage girl, I was on the phone a lot, typical, yes I know, but my mum would go ape, she gave me phone phobia for years, so if I can pick up the phone, so can you.

Ok, so you are a pro and you are savvy with Zoom and you are making phone calls, what else? I have What’s App fatigue, so I created a private group for London local councillors on Facebook to keep everyone connected. It is in its early phase but in the absence of London Council meetings it’s shaping up to be a good forum for sharing best practice. I felt it important as the CCA Rep for London to do something that brought councillors together at this difficult time. Yes there are so many Facebook groups out there, so I believe it is now best to be selective; this group is open to Conservative Councillors and Assembly Members only.

But the most active group I create, which runs itself now, was created at the beginning of lockdown, and it remains a non-political group. I noticed everyone was talking about getting meals to the vulnerable, but very few were dealing with the mental health risks associated with lockdown, so I started a Self-Isolation Help Group (now called the Friendship Network). I knew this could be an unmanageable task so I asked a team of Conservative Activists to help me administer the page. The page started out as an advice page but it took on a life of its own as people joined it, jokes, cool things to do at home, exercise, fun things for children, a couple of members used it as a platform to share their Covid art and more.

It was a little hairy at the start but with the help of David, Andrea, Mara, and Rathi, it’s the only group (that I am aware of), where people from all political persuasions co-exist and we can share a post from the Prime Minister, the Party, and from MPs, like Dr Luke Evans and Alicia Kearns and no-one gets sworn at. We have had such great feedback, but this group member (Phil) says it all “It’s the most positive group on Facebook”. The group has plateaued since the lockdown eased but it is still very much there, and people join us regularly. I have not used the group as a campaign group, but the thing about politics: it’s about making connections and you never know where new connections may take you. So my advice to you is “think outside of the box”.

Douglas Pullen: Zoom has boosted participation in local democracy

10 Sep

Cllr Douglas Pullen is the Leader of Lichfield District Council.

One of the many COVID-induced jolts that local government received related to our distinctly 20th century meeting schedule. While the private sector has been hosting Webex/Zoom/Skype meetings for nigh on two decades, the “compelling event” never arrived for councils to make the shift. Our officers all worked in one building, the councillors attended the Council Chamber for our meetings, and requests for conference calls involved someone putting their phone in the middle of the room on loudspeaker.

Well, the compelling event has arrived now – and the arguments to maintain some of the provisions of the Coronavirus Act beyond 7th May 2021 are impossible to ignore.

Here in leafy, largely uncontentious Lichfield District (with a population 130,000) we have had over 3,000 views of our 15 Zoom meetings, which have been streamed live via YouTube. Intrigue and novelty no doubt have played a part in these numbers, but we are seeing the numbers hold steady, and far in excess of the two or three politicos that would usually turn up our meetings in the chamber. Our attendance rates by councillors has shot up too, with virtually no “apologies” sent in so far, compared to a usual turnout figure of 80 per cent.

So councillor attendance rates are up and there’s increased public engagement. There’s also a reduction in our carbon foot-print, improvements in record-keeping, and greater transparency – all laudable, but that is just a mild improvement on what has gone before. The real transformative powers of retaining broadcast remote-meetings lies in how this shift could affect the demographic of our next cohort of councillors.

As a young(ish) leader with a family and a full-time job, I am rather unusual in local government. This isn’t because community activism isn’t appealing – it’s the almost daily dash across the country to return for a rigidly-fixed 6pm meeting which is distinctly unalluring. So the role of a councillor typically attracts retirees, the self-employed, small business-owners, and MP staffers, and typically excludes those with young families, the 9-5’ers, the commuters, and the night-workers.

We need a better mix of all of these types to ensure we can live up to the mantra of being “representatives of our community”, which trips so easily off our tongues when asked about our work as a councillor. Imagine the tectonic-shift in the demographic of our councillors if meetings could be attended by video-call from your toy-strewn living room, your office in another city, your work canteen, or the 17:43 Euston – Lichfield Trent Valley.

It gives an opportunity to strengthen local democracy and widen participation. Imagine how quickly our annual group photos will change to include more females, younger members, more ethnic minority councillors – and how that will positively impact our decision-making processes.

Amongst the many painful jolts of COVID, this is one which I warmly embrace.

Douglas Pullen: Zoom has boosted participation in local democracy

10 Sep

Cllr Douglas Pullen is the Leader of Lichfield District Council.

One of the many COVID-induced jolts that local government received related to our distinctly 20th century meeting schedule. While the private sector has been hosting Webex/Zoom/Skype meetings for nigh on two decades, the “compelling event” never arrived for councils to make the shift. Our officers all worked in one building, the councillors attended the Council Chamber for our meetings, and requests for conference calls involved someone putting their phone in the middle of the room on loudspeaker.

Well, the compelling event has arrived now – and the arguments to maintain some of the provisions of the Coronavirus Act beyond 7th May 2021 are impossible to ignore.

Here in leafy, largely uncontentious Lichfield District (with a population 130,000) we have had over 3,000 views of our 15 Zoom meetings, which have been streamed live via YouTube. Intrigue and novelty no doubt have played a part in these numbers, but we are seeing the numbers hold steady, and far in excess of the two or three politicos that would usually turn up our meetings in the chamber. Our attendance rates by councillors has shot up too, with virtually no “apologies” sent in so far, compared to a usual turnout figure of 80 per cent.

So councillor attendance rates are up and there’s increased public engagement. There’s also a reduction in our carbon foot-print, improvements in record-keeping, and greater transparency – all laudable, but that is just a mild improvement on what has gone before. The real transformative powers of retaining broadcast remote-meetings lies in how this shift could affect the demographic of our next cohort of councillors.

As a young(ish) leader with a family and a full-time job, I am rather unusual in local government. This isn’t because community activism isn’t appealing – it’s the almost daily dash across the country to return for a rigidly-fixed 6pm meeting which is distinctly unalluring. So the role of a councillor typically attracts retirees, the self-employed, small business-owners, and MP staffers, and typically excludes those with young families, the 9-5’ers, the commuters, and the night-workers.

We need a better mix of all of these types to ensure we can live up to the mantra of being “representatives of our community”, which trips so easily off our tongues when asked about our work as a councillor. Imagine the tectonic-shift in the demographic of our councillors if meetings could be attended by video-call from your toy-strewn living room, your office in another city, your work canteen, or the 17:43 Euston – Lichfield Trent Valley.

It gives an opportunity to strengthen local democracy and widen participation. Imagine how quickly our annual group photos will change to include more females, younger members, more ethnic minority councillors – and how that will positively impact our decision-making processes.

Amongst the many painful jolts of COVID, this is one which I warmly embrace.