Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Do campaigns really change elections?

The Tory short campaign has exposed how Labour can beat them with a better long campaign, writes Progress deputy editor Conor Pope

Can you change tack in the middle of a campaign? The Tories’ are still suffering from a terrible period in the polls that has left them hovering dangerously close to the 40 per cent mark. It is the kind of disappointment we could only dream of, yet has spooked them into a relaunch, less than two weeks before voters visit polling stations.

Rather than a relaunch, it is more of a refocusing. They cannot bring anything new to the table now. Campaigns do not change minds; they reinforce narratives. Your aim is to get your voters out and stops the other side’s turning up. A well-run get out the vote operation can be worth up to five points on the final tally.

But a good campaign in the final six weeks means nothing if you have not had a good campaign for years running up to it. That is when you put the work in to convincing Conservative supporters to give Labour a go, and when you put ideas about politics in the heads of people who have still not given it enough thought to know who they are voting for when an election is called. In the short campaign it is those ideas you revisit – the amount of time it takes to change someone’s mind from scratch is simply not available to you for the initial work not to have taken place already.

It is one reason why Tory candidates  are standing as part of ‘Theresa May’s team’. They will not have the opportunity to build up their own merit because of the nature of a snap election. Attempts to build up name recognition in their constituencies is, frankly, wasted time. They can try and do that after they are elected, but for now, they are simply message carriers. The old election agents’ joke that candidates are simply ‘the legal necessity’ on a campaign has rarely been as true as it has for those standing on a ‘Team May 2017’ ticket.

There does also seem to be another issue for the Conservative candidates at this election that has gone largely unnoticed: a lot of them are not very good. The announcement of a general election in late-April appeared to take CCHQ by as much surprise as anyone else, and the level of vetting of prospective MPs in winnable marginal seats has suffered. That is why you have hopefuls like a former member of a church linked with faith healing in Hove and an expert of the paranormal ‘sciences’ in Hyndburn (sadly, the Torybot in Wirral South only looks like Scouse ghostbuster Derek Acorah, and does not appear to share his enthusiasm for channeling the spirits of the dead).

One good reason for May to call a snap election is that her candidates in 2020 could have suffered because of the Brexitmania sweeping her party. Local Conservative associations were set to pick hundreds of swivel-eyed, ‘we’re going to make a success of it’, hard Brexit ideologues. By surprising people with a snap election, May could have centralised selection power and used the chance to parachute a number of her ilk into seats about to turn from red to blue. That she has not is another daft wasted opportunity on her part.

Yes, the Tories’ bad campaign may not cost them too dearly, as they appear to have built themselves a stubborn 40 per cent floor before final six weeks, but May’s misjudgements are not the only things that should leave us hopeful that things can easily turn around. The word ‘Conservatives’ only appeared in their campaign for the first time yesterday, suggesting that they believe there is a toxicity still attached to the party brand. In the minds of many people, it seems, the ‘nasty party’ never went away. If our long campaign is good enough, they are beatable.


Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope

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Conor Pope

is deputy editor at Progress

1 comment

  • Jeremy’s doing really well. It helps that we’ve got a proper socialist manifesto to push. I always found it hard to sell the Tory-lite ones.

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