Diaries from the Campaign Trail - Knocking on Uncertain Doors

Sarah Hodes, Junior Consultant

This insight follows Atticus team member and Conservative Party activist Sarah as she campaigns in London and the surrounding area, gaining firsthand detail on what the election looks like on the doorstep. Please see our Insights Section to read a Labour campaigner’s perspective.

Walking up to a constituent’s door is very different in this election than in most for a Tory campaigner. Even with targeting of likely Conservative voters through the VoteSource app, nothing is certain. No matter where in the country I’ve been – Oxfordshire, Dorset, London, Kent, Essex (even Clacton) – the reaction is mixed. There are few strong Conservative supporters, with many who have voted Tory in the past disillusioned with the party and feeling apathy at the thought of going to the polls. Others might be leaning to vote for another party, typically the Liberal Democrats or Reform.

Being on their doorsteps, hearing their displeasure with the party, it’s hard to argue. It can be challenging to defend a party that has had a bumpy campaign with a number of missteps, from Rishi Sunak on D-Day to the ad putting Keir Starmer alongside the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

Compared to other elections where there’s a real tangible offer to voters with an aim to win, this election has been about bargaining with voters, whether it be making the argument for the need for a strong Opposition to hold the incoming government to account, or endorsing the candidate as a man or woman of the people whose strong on local issues and is great person, even though you’ve only just met them at the beginning of the session for a quick handshake or drive from the nearest train station.

In Wimbledon, the sell was that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for Labour, with a side order of highlighting the high taxes in nearby Kingston. In West Dorset, I spoke to one voter about the candidate being the son of a farmer who was in support of the badger cull – this coming from a Londoner who hails from the concrete jungle of New York. 

This attitude isn’t only noticeable on the doorstep. Campaigns all over the country are struggling with getting numbers to volunteer. With apathy from local members and some disinterested councillors, campaigns, including for tight races, are being forced to make do with what they can. Some have relied mainly on leafletting, given they just don’t have the bandwidth to canvass. Others have made up for that, with some incumbents door knocking for hours upon hours, feeling that they can’t sit at home or in an office knowing there is still more to be done. Some action days have been rather successful, particularly for likely riders for the looming party leadership race, while others I’ve attended have just been myself and a friend in addition to the agent and candidate.

From my time in Clacton, it seemed clear that the race is not as far in Mr Farage’s favour as polling would appear to suggest. Conservative incumbent Giles Watling has had a warm reception across the constituency and I had also heard from those who had been on the ground that it appeared much closer than polls are showing. While I was somewhat concerned after my morning of leafletting, as I had seen a number of Reform and Labour posters, driving to Frinton more and more posters with Giles’s face began to appear. Additionally, one team member reminded me that just because people are putting posters of Reform up, doesn’t mean this will translate to the ballot, as the constituency has seen in the past. With recent controversies surrounding some of their candidates, Reform’s vote might be eaten into, even if only slightly. This, in addition to the Labour candidate being pulled and Alistair Campbell’s endorsement of Giles, could be just enough to keep Clacton blue and the Farage show out of Parliament.

As my colleague rightly pointed out from her time on the Labour campaign trail, an earthquake is indeed coming. But when an earthquake comes and devastates a community, people pick up and rebuild their homes and livelihoods. Communities band together and come together as one to renew and come back to a strong, albeit new, normal.

I believe this to be true for the Conservative Party for this election. The party will take a major blow, but it will clear up the debris and rebuild. It’s not lost on me that this might mean some “aftershocks” but in time the party will come back tougher and, hopefully, more unified, even if initially smaller in number.

This will not be immediate, and likely take us through at least one or two new party leaders, but I’m hopeful that this day will come. This is not the extinction of the party, but a time for the party to change course, reflect and rebuild with new and fresh ideas and faces.

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