Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Coalfield Challenge

There is a myth that some areas are out of bounds to Conservative campaigners. A council estate is assumed to be a Labour stronghold and a leafy suburb assumed to be Conservative. While this is the stereotype it doesn't have to be true.  In ConservativeHome today Mark Wallace hit a nail so squarely on the head it hammered home in a single blow. Go back to the Coalfields. I live in Leigh which was home to two large collieries until 1992 and there were more, lots more, in the outlying areas. I've campaigned in Leigh for the Conservative Party for years (more about that later) and one thing that gets repeated time and time again on the doorstep is how Thatcher closed all the mines. The truth is that there were two mines at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher's tenure and there were still two at the end of it. The picture is of me at Astley Colliery near Leigh. Even here while out canvassing an angry resident yelled at full volume about the 1000's of miners who worked there until Thatcher closed it. The truth, the mine closed in 1970 on the orders of Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. This is an uncomfortable truth for many in Leigh where, to some, voting Labour is part of the DNA but this is no reason to concede defeat. At its lowest point the local vote in the heart of Leigh barely got into double figures. After just a few years of targeted campaigning this has risen to almost 35%. In neighbouring wards the success of hard campaigning is clearer where Conservatives have been successfully elected. The lesson is, it can be done. Mark Wallace's analysis is correct but I've found it takes a special kind of Get Out The Vote in the coalfields. In communities like Leigh it isn't enough to have a campaign of voter ID, GOTV and knock up. There is an added dimension of overcoming the WSIBTAW (Why Should I Bother They Always Win).  There are more Conservatives in these areas than you might imagine but you really have to earn their vote. This cohort has a tipping point which, if past, brings the votes in. This is evident in areas just outside Leigh where the tipping point has been tipped but Leigh's core still has someway to go, but it can be reached.

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