Stephen McKenzie, the Conservatives’ Team2015 co-ordinator for the constituency of Hendon (which the Conservatives held) gives his reaction to the shock result of Thursday’s election and explains how David Cameron led his party to victory.
The Aftermath: The Conservatives
By Stephen McKenzie
|Clear and effective messaging won it for the Conservatives. (Photo: CCHQ Press Office)
What explains a victory like this? Four factors: the economy, the SNP, successful voter targeting and strong local candidates.
“The economy, stupid!” was a phrase coined by James Carville which summarised Bill Clinton’s momentous 1992 election victory and will be held as the principle reason by most behind May 7th’s comprehensive Conservative victory. A relentless focus on the economy by the Conservative plan completely paid off; any signs that Labour were being to change the agenda were ruthlessly undercut, such as by Michael Fallon’s extraordinary but successful attack on Ed Milibandcoming the day after Labour’s announcement that they planned to remove “non-dom” status. The news shifted the focus back onto Labour’s failings and the party failed to capitalise on a broadly popular policy announcement.
The Scottish National Party can also claim significant responsibility for Labour’s destruction, both above and below the border. By taking all but one of Labour’s seats north of the border they have redefined Scottish politics but do have a huge amount to prove. Possibly the biggest winner from this election has been Nicola Sturgeon, who will quickly become one of the most important people in the country when the Conservatives deliver our plan for the Scottish Parliament to be one of the most powerful devolved governments in the world. However, not only did she decimate Labour north of the River Tweed, such was the fear factor we had managed to create of a Labour-SNP coalition that she managed to turn English voters away from Labour in droves. As one, long-term Labour voter said to me on the doorstep just a week ago, “That Nicola Sturgeon woman is so effective, but it’s going to screw us English.” We got her vote.
Another, less well recognised, reason why the Conservatives were able to win on Thursday was because of the uber-targeting of voters. Without going into too much detail into private strategy, voters were put into specific categories and messages specific to them were tailored. This occurred across the country in 40/40 seats (40 seats the Conservatives needed to keep, 40 they needed to gain) in order to secure a majority. For example in Hendon, where we increased our majority from 106 to 3,724, white working class voters who might lean Labour but didn’t like Ed Miliband received different literature and personalised letters to former Lib Dems living in large houses in our more suburban areas. This level of personalisation happened across the country and negated Labour’s larger but less well targeted ground game.
However we have to talk about the candidates in a country where each of us walks into that ballot box and puts a tick next to the name of the candidate who we want to represent us as individuals. On Thursday at 20:45, I was able to take ten minutes out from the relentless campaign to put a cross next to the name of my friend, Matthew Offord. Even on the ballot paper the contrast was remarkable, our candidate has his home address printed, located in the centre of the constituency while our opponent had an undeclared address in Westminister down as his home address. Local candidates matter and people respond to them. It’s no surprise that in the polling district where our candidate lives, the turnout was the highest. He served as a local councillor and is a strong supporter of the Barnet state school system, having never been to private school; a passion for the area and support aspiration of local community groups, particularly the Nepalese, Hindu, Cypriot and Anglo-Iranian community were essential to holding what was consistently predicted as a Labour gain.
|Community groups are essential to Tory holds in London: Bhaktivedanta Manor before the election. Back Row: Conservatives Bob Blackman MP, Matthew Offford MP & Richard Harrington MP, all now re-elected. (Photo: Stephen McKenzie)
Across the country, the Conservatives got rid of the A-List (the strategy of parachuting high fliers into safe and marginal constituencies) and allowed local associations to choose candidates that they wanted (admittedly a few national high fliers such as Boris Johnson were selected but that was supported by local associations); this galvanised local activists to a point that has been unseen in the Conservative Party since the time of Margaret Thatcher. Andrea Jenkyns, who miraculously took out Ed Balls is a prime example of this; a local Yorkshire-born and raised candidate who was knowledgeable and active in local campaigns and was able to prove herself as someone who cared deeply for the area she now represents.
Yet now comes the really hard part, which is proving to the electorate that a Conservative-led government can deliver on its promises, bringing strong economic growth, less regulation and supporting aspiration. The leadership have to do this without leaving anyone behind. On a personal level, I would hope that we can encourage more people into work without stigmatising those who, despite being eager to work, do not have the skills necessary in our globalised economy. We still won’t see for a generation whether “Govian” education reforms have worked, but despite the stigma surrounding them, I believe they will. Other priorities will be the European in/out referendum; in the last week, it’s been proved how unwise it is to make predictions about results before they are official, however, I predict that Britain will vote to stay within the UK, and will tackle devolution in a fair and consistent way. English voters will want to see that they are not being held to random by a large group of Scottish MPs while the Scottish want to see their vote respected. Choosing a cabinet that represents all wings of the Conservative Party will be difficult but without the weight of the Lib Dems, there is more room for Cameron to balance the various groups.
On a personal note I’d like to end this by saying thank you to everyone who cast their ballot last week. I was glad to see the highest youth turnout of a generation with nearly 44% of those under 25 estimated to have voted Conservative. We have an engaged and aspiring generation and it’s the responsibility of this new government to empower it.
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