A case study on how to knock the Tories out of office
On 16 May 2016, the Conservatives took control of Plymouth city council, having formed a Faustian pact with the three United Kingdom Independence party councillors. It was the worst birthday present I had ever had. But as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake that evening, I made a wish that I would be back in that leader’s office in less than two years – that Labour would take back this city.
The confusion around the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union affected our flow and, to be frank, failed to galvanise an already demoralised local party. With a fallow local election year in 2017, keeping our spirits up for that long period was always going to be difficult. However, our game was to keep busy with doorstep campaigning as the heart of our operation – the voters would keep our focus. That first year was painful, with not much to aim at.
From the outset, we branded the Tory-Ukip marriage of convenience as ‘Blukip’. It stuck and struck a chord, particularly with the communities who voted Ukip as an alternative to the Tories.
We kept up a massive programme of voter-facing conversations and leafletting, before and after the 2017 general election. Our aim was to knock on every door in the two largest constituencies. Those thousands of conversations were to form the basis of our 2018 manifesto. We latched on to service failure at a local level, but went big on the National Health Service. Eight years of Conservative central government cuts had led to a turn for the worse locally – issues like general practitioners surrendering their contracts, poor performance of the local hospital and collapse in NHS dentistry.
But it was playing up local council failure relentlessly that was at the heart of our campaign. It was plain that the failure of these Blukip coalition councillors to get a grip was a message, if we kept repeating it, and it was soon being reflected back on the doorsteps. As a political junky, few things make you prouder than hearing your messaging repeated back at you by voters, without prompting. We knew we were on to a winner.
Our success in the 2017 general election on social media meant we were keen to use the party’s Facebook offer and we used it to the full. We built a team of enthusiastic and knowledgeable social media users. They did infographics and videos for all key target seats.
It worked for us, and we had a great night on 3 May 2018, winning against the odds and against the trend. The only things better than hearing back your message is the feeling of winning – wrong, of beating Tories. And then beating their Ukip lackeys. Depriving Blukip of a council and winning the trust of your neighbours to serve the community you love. If anyone wants as taste of it, and wants to know a bit more, there is a load of us in Plymouth who are ready to help! I promise, it is infectious.
Tudor Evans is leader of Plymouth city council
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