Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A campaign launch like no other

On Monday evening, Gavin Barwell, Member of Parliament for Croydon Central and Government Whip, launched his 2015 re-election campaign.
For other MPs, campaign launches are quiet, unglamorous affairs typified by a one inch column in a local paper, a largely ignored press release on the candidate’s website, and a few sporadic but generally unimpactful tweets.
Barwell’s launch, however, was none of these things. It was the closest to a US-style political rally that any constituency MP has ever attempted, replete with an energised Mayor of London as star speaker and nearly 400 in attendance.
Unlike in many American senate or congressional races, lone British MPs don’t hold the popular status that necessitates a large and similarly slick campaign launch. We on Gavin’s team felt that this perception needed to be at best challenged and at worst irreparably shattered.
Croydon Central has a Conservative majority of 2,969 – not small enough to be on Conservative HQ’s 40:40 ‘attack and defend’ list, but far and away not enough to be free of the electoral danger zone.
The decision was taken a few months back to do something different to the usual, bland political campaign kick-off. This was for two reasons: first, with his current majority it could obviously do no harm to Gavin’s reputation. Second, why not try something different to the little-noticed, vanilla British politics to which we’ve all become accustomed?
In the past two months, Barwell’s volunteers delivered around 35,000 leaflets targeting largely non-Conservative residents to his #BackBarwell2015 campaign launch. The theme: to celebrate a positive ‘Vision for Croydon’, the title of his co-authored 20,000 word manifesto for the borough.
Email invites were sent to tens of thousands of residents. Social and local media were used to spread the word as widely as possible. Huge banners were designed and the Fairfield Halls, a large performance theatre in Barwell’s constituency, was booked.
A positive campaign launch, championing the people that make Croydon a fantastic place to live, was put on. A celebration where key and non-political local figures would come together to promote their work, their love for the town and share their passion for change all under the banner of the enabling MP for Croydon Central.
A local development director spoke first, followed by a feisty tech entrepreneur. A head teacher discussing her educational philosophy preceded by an expelled teen who has set up a successful anti-gang and knife crime charity. A head boy from a local school and a young political mentee of Gavin’s cleared the way for the Mayor of London.
In typically fine, bombastic form, Boris Johnson praised Gavin for his work in Croydon, bantered with the willing panto-crowd and waxed lyrical about the potential of ‘London’s Third City’ in light of the £1 billion Westfield and Hammerson retail development coming to the town.
Boris praised Barwell’s work fighting for local residents in the wake of the Croydon riots in 2011. He referenced the piloting of his Mental Health Discrimination bill to an Act in 2012. Boris also mentioned his own success working with Gavin to ensure 117 extra police would be coming to Croydon by 2015.
By the time Gavin arrived on stage, the crowd was ready. His speech wove together all preceding themes, illustrating his positive, conservative hope for what his home town could become, built on the grassroots work of aspirant communities.
Leaving the stage to a suitable Kings of Leon track to greet his wife and children, the dozen or so ‘Back Barwell’ clad volunteers descended on the crowd to encourage people to help Gavin’s campaign. It proved to be a very valuable night, with dozens signing up to support the Conservative candidate.
Those that attended left elated – they’d never seen anything like it and, from the numbers wanting to help, they evidently liked what they saw. The Conservative troops exited energised at the start of what’ll be a closely fought constituency campaign. The local press has favourably reported an unexpected and refreshing start to their electoral season. Gavin’s Labour opposition has thus far made no comment on the event. Stunned silence, perhaps?
To our knowledge, this has never been done before in British politics. For a constituency MP to launch a local campaign and successfully attract a crowd of 400 people, with a professional production and a set of diverse, interesting local speakers is unheard of.
Let’s hope other candidates mimic this initiative. If successful it’ll change the tone of all future general elections, upping our collective game when it comes to engaging with the electorate. It’ll help raise the profile of incumbent MPs, potentially counterbalancing any negative national party political connotations, making all the difference to those in marginal seats. Who knows, it may even eventually contribute to increasing turnout and decreasing voter apathy.
This is may all be hopeful conjecture, but one thing’s certain: for 2020, I’m getting Gavin a glitter cannon.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Do the Conservatives not have a plan for Croydon Tech City?

A piece I wrote for The Croydon Citizen about whether Croydon Conservatives actually have a plan for Croydon Tech City.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Conservative Home: A “genuine democracy” plan that can’t work in practice

Written for ConservativeHome on Friday 10th January 2014 discussing the 'genuine democracy' electoral pledge of the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Portsmouth South and Moorview.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The gentrification of Croydon and why we're all to blame

Gentrification is coming to Croydon, so we better be ready for the good that it can bring - a piece for The Croydon Citizen first published on Monday 30th September 2013.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Holborn Essay: Urbanisation and the Economy

An essay for the superb The Holborn site discussing the impact of urbanisation on our economies and way of life.

First published on 8th August 2013.

Monday, 8 July 2013

In defence of the busy-body

A blog for The Croydon Citizen defending the political and community activist.

First appeared on The Croydon Citizen on 8th July 2013.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013