Cllr Paul Maginnis is Lead Member for Health & Wellbeing at Erewash Borough Council
On May 2nd 2019, the Conservative Party lost 1,330 councillors nationwide. Having failed to deliver on the 2016 EU Referendum result, we faced our worst result since 1995. I was one of many councillors standing for the first time in this election. I was selected as a ward candidate in February 2018 to stand for Erewash Borough Council and I worked tirelessly for 15 months. Our small team completed knock and drop surveys, direct mail contact, and canvassed my ward, speaking to several thousand voters in the process. We knocked on over 75 per cent of houses in my ward and we relentlessly targeted our ‘Turnout and Persuasion’ Audience (Vote Source nerds will understand this reference). On the afternoon of May 3rd I found that I had scraped in by 13 votes. So, how to keep it in May 2023?
Finding a cause
As a relatively young councillor (I’d just turned 27) I had lots of ideas. As somebody who had spent their career working with young people, I was determined to set up and run a local youth club. With the support of my fellow ward councillor, we worked together to create one. I set up Sawley Youth Club nearly three years ago and we have proven a great asset to the local community – meeting over 200 times despite the many restrictions we faced. My favourite part is our social action projects that we organise. This has included making and delivering dozens of poppies and Christmas Cards to older residents and most recently delivering hundreds of Jubilee cupcakes as part of the Queen’s Jubilee. It was wonderful to see the young people so interested in the Queens Historic Reign – they were full of questions! We have managed to keep our youth club free for all to join as I spend a lot of time submitting grant applications. Furthermore, I’ve delivered for other age groups. This includes organising balanceability sessions for young children and using my background as a careers adviser to provide careers advice to all age groups.
So what about the politics? Being in an extremely marginal seat, it would be complacent to think that my good work would sell itself! Many of you will be familiar with ‘knock and drop surveys’. Between April-September this year, my team and I knocked on over 2,000 doors and received 360 survey responses. Personally speaking to hundreds of voters is a sure way to pick up a lot of casework but also a good way to continue that ongoing connection with voters. Moreover, it’s a great way to learn voters’ priorities and, crucially, to gather voting intentions. Alongside our surveys (that we always put in an envelope) was our calling card. This calling card identified 5 key achievements which included much of the work mentioned above.
Building a team
Ahead of the May 2019 local elections, the vast majority of our work was done by me and my colleague. Working with a man who had spent decades in the armed forces was not just an honour, but a lesson in developing organisational skills. However, to be truly successful in the long term, we knew that we had to build a team. Our work in the community has led to half a dozen ‘normal’ residents joining our campaign (including several lifetime non-voters). During this summer’s knock and drops, we had at least 6 of us out in the ward every week. This hugely lightens the load and we have all become great friends. Setting up a Whatsapp group is a must and so is taking your team out for drinks afterwards!
Any would-be council or parliamentary candidate needs to be on Vote Source. This is the database for Conservative Party activists. It allows us to target as we simply do not have the legs to knock on every door. The Vote Source algorithms aren’t perfect but without this tool, we are flying blind.
Social media (and dealing with opponents)
We are very fortunate in my ward to be up against far left Corbynista types, so full of hatred for any Conservative it’s hard to describe. The first time I bumped into one of them in 2019, he heard my Northern Irish accent and mocked me saying “You must be UDA then?” (Ulster Defence Association – the Northern Irish Paramilitary group). He then went on to boast about his Catholic heritage and his republican views. This proved to be a high point…ever since then and despite the hard work I have written about above, they have constantly hurled personal insults at us, mainly on social media. I used to respond when I first got elected but now I mainly ignore them. Ed Balls once said that politicians should have goldilocks skin – not too thick and not too thin. We stick to our positive messages on Facebook through my councillor page. I am not generally party political as I am hoping that our community work speaks for itself.
It seems unlikely that the national swing will be in our favour in May, so it is more important than ever that we keep the momentum up. In the next month, we will be responding to all 360 people who filled in a survey and we will be delivering postal votes to those who requested one. From these surveys, we have our top priorities identified (anti-social behaviour is by far the number one local issue on the doorstep). In December we will deliver our annual reports to our target audience which will outline all the good work we’ve done this year. Early in the new year, we will be focusing on a postal vote drive before we move on to the campaign proper. Once again, we will have our ‘Turnout and Persuasion’ Audience. Then it’s all about reminding the voters of the positive change we have delivered and working on election day to GOTV!