The ‘arrogance’ of Conservative Campaign Headquarters lost the Tories one of the most marginal and most winnable seats, says local activist.

A Conservative Party activist in Brentford & Isleworth has spoken of their anger in the way Mary Macleod, a strong candidate with deep local knowledge and experience was ‘diminished’ by Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

At the beginning of the campaign Mary Macleod, MP for Brentford & Isleworth in 2010 – 2015, was expected to win back the seat, having lost it by 465 votes in the last election. In one of the most marginal seats in the country, when the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the polls, the only discussion in the local party was whether her majority would be in hundreds or thousands.

She lost it because she was ‘completely constrained’ and ‘not allowed to talk about local issues’ by Conservative Party Central Office, according to the activist who does not want to be named in case of repercussions.

What particularly annoyed local activists was that they were told not to hold community events, not to talk about local issues and not to canvass their own supporters, but instead to focus on ’10,000 conversations’ with individuals identified by the party’s data analysts as swing voters.

An email from Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters was sent to the local party after the late May Bank Holiday weekend. It says:
1. ‘New script and data. Last night I provided … new script and data for the next five days of canvassing.

2. ‘Message has to be national. Research has shown that in this seat any mention of local issues will push voters to Labour. I know it is tempting to discuss local issues as this is Labour’s approach, but we must not be tempted. If we once discuss local issues on literature, social media or the doorsteps, we risk losing this seat.

‘It is critical that we now push on with what is advised in this email, this has come from the top following this 72 hour review, and it has been made clear that if we deviate from these plans we will lose the seat. I have also been asked to pass on that if these points are not followed then the DM support from CCHQ for this seat will be pulled’.

Speaking about the mismanagement of the campaign, the local activist says what rankled more than anything was the arrogance and complete dismissal of local knowledge and expertise. Particularly costly was the decision not to target the youth vote. When asked what they were doing to attract the 18 – 24 demographic which turned out to be so significant in this election, the answer from Tory party Campaign Headquarters was – nothing. ‘They are not part of our data set’ was the response.

The emphasis on targeting ‘swing voters’ was based on ‘poor data from Central Office’ according to the local activist and it flew in the face of the experience of a committed team of campaigners, whose deep local knowledge should have made the election of an excellent candidate a sure thing. They felt that the dismissal of whole demographic groups – not just young people but their own core supporters – was a huge mistake.

The result was that Mary Macleod fought this election campaign ‘completely constrained’ and ‘with a noose around her neck’ unable to capitalise on the local goodwill and the strong relationships she had formed as a former MP and local resident. Instead she was ‘made to appear as a mouthpiece for Theresa May’.

Videos on a raft of local issues produced and published on social media by Mary’s campaign team were taken down to accommodate Central Office’s requests. Her campaign leaflet could only feature her picture if it also showed Theresa May’s. She was told to repeat the ‘strong and stable’ mantra, stick exclusively to national issues and repeat the message ‘I’m working with Theresa May’.

Ruth Cadbury by contrast, the incumbent Labour MP and a local councillor of 25 years standing before that, pushed home her advantage in hustings after hustings and on the doorsteps talking about education, social care and the NHS while Mary was left looking as if she didn’t care about local issues and was only serving as a channel for the Prime Minister’s messages.

Ruth Cadbury’s majority was 12,182 on a turnout of 72.55%.