The Feldman Review has sparked discussion on a wide variety of topics, and those of us who have attended meetings about it have been impressed by the way the Review Panel has been willing to listen to both criticism and praise. Contributions on this site have been interesting to read – and one of the best was a ConservativeHome article by my counterpart in Camberwell and Peckham, who emphasised the importance of Conservative Associations in traditionally Labour areas.
In consultation with activists from across the party, our Association has been working on a paper for the Feldman Review that calls for a Majority Seats Unit to give tailored support to Associations in opposition strongholds. Having just come out of a successful general election, we have a unique opportunity to change the way we campaign across the country.
A "Majority Seat", for the purposes of this proposal, is a constituency in England or Wales where the Conservative vote is exceptionally low, and in need of support that is very different to that needed by a marginal or “safe” seat.
The paper goes into detail about why we believe that such a unit is necessary and how it would function in practice. However, I have set out the core proposals below, to give people an idea of how we can continue to build a truly national party. If you would like to read the entire proposal, would be interested in endorsing it before we submit it, or if you'd like to find out more, please e-mail West Ham Conservatives.
This would be a natural extension of the successful 40:40 strategy deployed during the recent General Election, in which seats are primarily grouped by their electoral similarities – as opposed to just by area and region – and given different levels of support and expectations accordingly. We believe that there is a strong case for all seats to be grouped in this way, but our priority is Majority Seats, where the needs are more long-term and profound.
A Majority Seats Unit could have a huge range of benefits, but the core reasons why it is necessary are as follows: to -
- Maximise the Conservative vote in elections in wider formats (European, Police and Crime Commissioner, Regional Assembly);
- Increase the number of Conservative councillors in all areas of the country;
- Recognise the increasingly mobile nature of the population and improve membership retention rates;
- Prepare for parliamentary boundary reviews between every General Election;
- Prepare for the unexpected in an increasingly volatile electoral climate;
- Improve the Party's chances of securing a mandate in the event of a hung parliament;
- Widen the party's appeal among urban, ethnic minority and traditionally non-Conservative voting sections of the electorate; and
- Lessen the burden on parliamentary candidates who, in many cases, have to pay for their own leaflets while being under instruction to campaign elsewhere.
To be successful a Majority Seats Unit should be:
- Run in parallel with area and regional party structures;
- Semi-independent from CCHQ; and
- Governed in a similar manner to the party as a whole.
In practice the Majority Seat Unit would:
- Have at its core seats where the Conservative share of the vote was less than half the national vote share;
- Be set-up in interim form in January 2016 for formal launch in May 2016;
- Require £500,000 per year of ring-fenced funding this parliament followed by £400,000 per year after that;
- Be based in four offices, each office being equipped with print and design resources and staffed by an administrator;
- Guarantee an election address to every household at a general election at no cost to individual candidates;
- Match-fund local election literature; and
- Give support and training to officers and activists in Majority Seats on useful skills such as desktop publishing and election campaigning.
We believe the arguments for a Majority Seats Unit are overwhelming for a party that seeks to govern the entire country regardless of the level of support the party has in certain areas.
It is our hope that the Feldman Review will give serious consideration to our Majority Seats Unit proposal and enable the party's potential in these areas to grow.
Gareth Knight is the Chairman of West Ham Conservative Association and a former Party Agent in London, Hampshire and Yorkshire. He now works as a freelance political consultant.