You make your own luck

Part two of John Haywood’s journey

Cllr John Haywood

In the previous instalment of this blog, I covered the 2015-2019 period of local campaigning in Ringwood.  At the 2019 local elections, due to the Tories not having enough candidates to maintain their usual near-stranglehold over Ringwood Town Council,  we managed to get three town councillors elected in Ringwood out of fourteen in total – two elected unopposed.

It shows why it’s important to stand everywhere – town and parish councils often have wards with many members and there are often not enough candidates.

Visibility is key

The district council elections in Ringwood were two-horse races – insofar as a contest can be in a two member ward – 2 Tory and 2 Labour candidates.  We delivered an election address leaflet during the campaign and we ran Facebook adverts.  In Ringwood North in the final week we delivered targeted eve-of-poll and election day cards with a Get Out The Vote operation helped by Labour Coast and Country’s own Hywel Lloyd.  To my knowledge this is the first time that Get Out The Vote had been attempted here.

Our targeting was mostly demographic-based suggestions as our data was still poor – something we resolved to fix in good time.

Long-term trends

Ringwood North – New Forest District Council local election results
Ringwood North – New Forest District Council local election results

The lack of Lib Dems and Greens worked for us while a lack of UKIP in what was an election riven by Brexit was a strong factor against us – I am convinced that had UKIP stood we’d have had councillors elected.  Even with this, we were only 241 votes short of victory in Ringwood North and 260 votes short in Ringwood South.  This is almost 40% and – given the near lack of campaigning in the South ward – really remarkable.  It showed we were close and that the wards were winnable with the right campaign and conditions.  And it produced the chart above for Ringwood North – now there’s a trend to follow!

Build from the bottom

Being active and visible as Labour on Town and Parish Councils is a really important strategy for gaining visibility and a foothold in a local area.  Get elected, get co-opted, just do it – and then use the platform to show what Labour councillors do for residents.

Do street stalls, put out newsletters, talk to the media.  But above all – knock doors.  “We’re your Labour councillors, what can we do for you?”.  The perfect “permission to knock”.  You’ll get casework, some of which you will be able to fix, but some of which you won’t, but above all you’ll be showing that you care for residents and will listen to what they want.  And all the time you’re improving your data on who might vote for us come the next election.  Data is key in modern political campaigning, you won’t get anywhere without it.

“I’ve never had a knock from a councillor before”

Being newly elected town councillors we didn’t rest on our laurels.  Our local Tories don’t believe in knocking doors and the Greens and Lib Dems aren’t particularly active in the town.  After the 2019 local election we set ourselves the challenge to knock on every door in the town during the four year election cycle.  The doorstep welcome was almost exclusively warm with people often commenting on how nice it was to get a knock from a councillor – even people who told us they were lifelong Tory voters.

Regular knocking mean that we were building up our data – contact rates went up and up from a starting point of 7%.  Most streets started with no data recorded in Contact Creator – door-knocking sessions felt like walking on freshly-fallen snow.  However we rarely came back anything other than surprised at the warm response and the number of Labour voters and potential voters we spoke to.  There clearly was something to tap in to here.  But then along came COVID.

More in the next blog…

John Haywood is a Labour Co-op district councillor for Ringwood North & Ellingham, a town cllr for Ringwood North and a parish cllr for Ellingham, Harbridge and Ibsley

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