Sunday, June 25, 2006

Review of the British General Election 2005 - Part I

Assessment of the “The British General Election of 2005” by Dennis Kavanagh and David Butler

During the Christmas period I picked up a copy of “The British General Election of 2005” by Dennis Kavanagh and David Butler. Written in an objective manner, it does not seek to make judgements, yet piece together its piercing analysis, and its clear that the Conservative Party screwed up the 2005 campaign through poor organisation and bad strategy. Here's what it inspired me to write

Campaigning in the 21st century

During the London hustings for Tory leader, the candidates were asked what they would do to improve the party’s organisation. DC’s response was that he had the support of 115 MPs, which is a great answer… to a different question. The killer quote in the Study must be:

“The Conservative Party certainly concentrated on too broad a front of seats; mass targeting was a contradiction in terms”.

Despite losing 2 general elections by a landslide the Conservative party still could not get back to electoral basics. In a first past-the-post system concentrating the team marginals is crucial. I remember being in CCHQ during the election and one shadow cabinet minister taking umbrage at my suggestion that their majority could be reduced, in order to put more effort into a marginal. The 2 big swings in London came in the 2 seats injected with large numbers of Tory CCHQ staff on the day of the election. (Putney and Battersea). Other London marginals like Finchley and Golders Green suffered on election day from a total lack of resource from safe and loser seats, whilst Labour packed the place. The Conservative party must play as team, otherwise its simply handing the more coherent Labour an unnecessary advantage.

The Party has 120 full-time agents, yet these are often in safe seats and are often recent graduates. This point was made by Peter Walker in a 2003 Conservative History Group discussion, who compared them to the elder and more experienced agents of the post-war period. Rather than concentrating on a Gold or A list of candidates, the party could better train and develop an A list of Agents for marginal seats and to let the higher membership in safe seats to look after themselves.

The Study credits Labour with preparing well for the street battle long before the campaign, even when the New Labour aristocrats were having their customary spats. Labour presented its MPs as local champions. For example in Finchley and Golders Green their campaign literature stressed that Rudi Vis MP was a hard working local resident, which any survey of his attendance at the House indicates that only the latter part is true, but they got away with it. The Lib Dems were smart, focussing not just on seats with slim majorities but taking into account voters with a high propensity to change to Lib Dems, eg Asians and students due to the war and tuition fees, and made gains in consequence. Such tactical nous was missing from the Tory campaign. Much is made of the inbuilt bias towards Labour in the current electoral system but read this Study with a critical mind, and you have to question whether its bias against us or our own incompetence and lack of teamwork that generates this distortion.

Part II of this essay will follow later this week....


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