Hug An Activist
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the rise of UKIP as a political force (something I’ve warned about for some time) and what it means for the other parties – but most particularly my own. In a recent poll UKIP were equal with the Lib Dems and in very many polls they are only a point or two lower than the Yellow Peril. It is not inconceivable that in the near future they might become the official “third party” – at least in terms of overall vote share.
I don’t believe that UKIP’s principle threat comes from their vote share. As has been pointed out, their unusual electoral breadth means that while they can get quite good numbers of supporters, they struggle to get a critical mass that will deliver even a single MP. The Greens have the same problem and really just “lucked into” Brighton as a very unusual constituency, the political equivalent of lightning striking multiple times in the same place.
Political parties are strange creations. What people see are the folk on the top of the pyramid who are doing all the TV appearances and radio interviews – the ones who the unions hate this week, or Mumsnet users are criticising, or the Taxpayer’s Alliance are doing an expose on. But in order to get elected, those people relied on thousands and thousands of others who nobody really sees at all. It is those lower party levels I want to consider.
So, as a purely strategic thought experiment, let’s imagine that ”support” is broken up into multiple levels. You’ve got the people who will sometimes vote for a party if they like what it is currently saying. You’ve got the people who will always vote for a party in a tribal fashion, but limit their support just to that vote. Then you’ve got local activists who will help the party in campaign periods as long as somebody encourages them to do so. Then you’ve got local activists who will reliably help the party all year long as long as somebody encourages them to do so. Then, there are a small handful of people who are both rare and vital to the party. These are the people who not only help with everything, all year long, reliably and diligently – but who also encourage and help others to get involved. For the sake of my thought experiment I call these people the “Core Activists.”
Having been involved in politics for many years I have seen these Core Activists everywhere. They are quite rare – most local political associations only have a few handfuls of them in each town. But it is hard to ignore the very fundamental part they play in the scheme of things. Without those die-hard grass roots there would be little or no leafletting, little or no canvassing, little or no “telling”, little or no postering, little or no fundraising. They are often the people who write to local papers, who point out when opposition folk are playing fast and loose with the facts. They are the people who organise other people into doing all these things and encourage participation in local and national politics. They are the people who discover and encourage new members to a party and who will engage in long debates to clarify policy or positions. They are the people who sell tickets for fundraising events and often organise and attend themselves as well. They are the people who quietly get on with delivering the party’s message on a personal level, face-to-face, to real people.
So when I hear that a couple of MPs might switch to UKIP I won’t be losing a great deal of sleep over it. I mean, it’d certainly be a coup for them, but in the scheme of things it wouldn’t change very much. UKIP hope it will help them deliver a “critical mass” effect whereby people stop thinking of them as a protest and start thinking of them as an altenative. I don’t think it would. Nor do I think the world will end if councillors cross the floor. I wish they wouldn’t, of course, because we need them over on our side of the fence working for sound policies from within the Conservatives. But it’s a storm in a teacup.
But I am afraid of losing the core activists. Because down beneath the press releases and the grand schemes and latest banners – those are the people who are doing all the political groundwork upon which the foundations of a party are built. And if you lose one of them, it is a double loss. You not only lose all that passion and dedication and hard-work, but you hand it lock, stock and barrel straight to the opposition to be used against you. I dread the day that I phone up one of my reliable helpers come election time and tell them I want to “get the band back together” only to be told that they’re sorry, but their time is being used elsewhere. By another party.
UKIP may seem dangerous in terms of MPs, or voter share, or close marginals. But it is the effect on those valuable, vital people upon whom every party depends that I think is often overlooked. The people who do all this mostly thankless work are, by their nature, extremely loyal. But loyalty is a two-way street. This is why they must be treated with respect and not – ever – taken for granted. With that in mind, I think I’ll go hug an activist tomorrow. I reckon it’s better than hugging a hoodie. But if I can find a Conservative activist with a hoodie, so much the better.Filed under Conservatives, General Rant, UKIP | Comments (10)
Is it just me or are the weeks flashing by right now? A packed diary always seems to be mean a fast pace, but even bearing that in mind things are fairly zooming along at present.
Outside of politics all the areas of business I’m involved in seem to have dramatically picked up. I can only hope this is more than a temporary blip and isn’t isolated to me! Within party politics my rolls as chairman of the Wisbech Conservatives, executive member of NECCA, county councillor, Overview and Scrutiny chairman and generic political activist are certainly keeping me active.
Today, for instance, I went with a few friends to assist fellow Conservatives in the Hornchurch and Upminster area – or more specifically to assist Boris Johnson in his campaign to gain a second term as Mayor of London. Now look – every politician will always sing the praises of every campaign day, so you should feel free to take my words with a pinch of salt if you want to. But the buzz on the streets we visited was exceptional. No Labour posters, no stand-offishness, just a lot of people who seem to really like Boris.
Tomorrow I’m working in the day at my engraving/engineering company but have to rush home to attend the first committee meeting of the new Leverington Street Pride group which I have helped to set up. On Tuesday i’m off to Impington to walk the route that is discussed in an appeal to the Service Appeals committee that I sit on (and which is happening next week.) Then I’m speaking at CCC Cabinet as a local member and then in the afternoon I have the cross-party scrutiny management committee to attend.
On Wednesday I’m volunteering with the Wisbech Street Pride team to help clean up areas in Clarkson, Wisbech. Then i’m off to my cafe (Number10) to work in the afternoon. On Wednesday evening I have a NECCA officer’s meeting to attend.
Thursday has me back in London on business and on Friday I’m back in Shire Hall, Cambridge, for a seminar and then a group meeting. Saturday is my monthly Councillor’s surgery (this month it is in Leverington) followed by a committee meeting to arrange fundraising for (hopefully) a new skate park for young people in my division. And on Sunday I have a fundraiser to attend.
As you can see, this is another week that is going to be gone in the blink of an eye. But that’s fine by me. I love to be busy.Filed under Clarkson, Leverington, NECCA, Roman Bank & Peckover, Street Pride, Wisbech | Comment (1)