Conservatism, Character and Constitution

The importance of grassroots activism

The Senedd elections are fast approaching and candidates are having to get to grips with a new approach to campaigning which, due to Covid, will have to take into account both social distancing and social media writes Mike Bryan.

The question as to whether we will ever return to traditional campaigning is one for a later date but what these elections will highlight is the importance of selecting local candidates, those who are able to embrace 21st century campaign methods and candidates who know how to run targeted campaigns.

GDPR rules have changed the way that we can collect and make use of contact information from voters and it is vital that the time in between elections is used to run opinion surveys both online and via door to door delivery and canvassing. Over the years, it is something that we have done well in Preseli Pembrokeshire and we know that it helps to solidify the relationship with our constituency.

It is here that a grass roots campaign comes to the fore and where the value of having a group of County Councillors becomes invaluable.

Like many things in our party, the wheels have moved slowly in recognising the value of an active, energised local Councillor base.  However, as we can see from the candidates selected in target constituency seats and for the top of regional list seats, it seems that we have turned a corner for these Welsh Parliamentary elections.

In the top two of the five regional constituencies we see 7 out of 10 candidates who are sitting County Councillors. Across the constituencies which we either hold or won in the 2019 General Election, we have 10 candidates who are either currently sitting or former Councilors. 

You may question why this is important, but to fully understand its relevance we need to take a look those elected to previous Assembly / Welsh Parliaments.

In the first election in 1999 of the nine Welsh Conservatives only two had experience of holding an elected position. Although this has improved over the years we have only hit 50% of members with local government experience for a 12 month period between 2015 and 2016. 

Over the same period, other political parties have had Local Government experience flowing throughout their groups with many hovering around 50% and the Liberal Democrats peaking between 2003 and 2016 with all bar one of their elected members having served as a County or City Councillor.

The experience that these members had of working cohesively and with compromise to achieve results was often schooled in County Halls across Wales. This is how change is effected and how  opposition parties learn to work together to compromise in order to achieve change. Committee work teaches how to turn small, sometimes seemingly incidental victories, into changes of policy and direction. With Independent Councillors running Counties such as Pembrokeshire for many years, this consensus building is be vital. It is these skills that will prove invaluable to new members being elected to the Senedd with their ability to work on committees and hold the Executive to account

As a party we have far more work to do to improve the demographic, gender and ethnic make up of our politicians. It is shameful that it took us until 2019 to elect Welsh Conservative women to represent Westminster seats in Wales. With the loss of Angela Burns and Suzy Davies from our Senedd group, it is unlikely that we will see an increase in female representation at this election. We should encourage people from varied backgrounds to feel that politics is a career for them. We need people with different life experiences to better represent the people who elect them.

The work that the Conservative Women’s organisation is undertaking with their “Ask Her to Stand” scheme is one such way we can do this and I am pleased to see that the Senedd group is making grants available for BAME candidates at the election this year. We must put our hands up and say we are late to this party and that we have got a lot of time to make up.

We must all work to see the best people for the job selected in winnable seats across Wales.

This isn’t going to be a quick win but by growing our Local Government base at next year’s elections we are putting the building blocks in place to create a larger, more diverse and experienced pool of talent to take our party forward.

The charge has often been made by some that the Cardiff Bay Senedd is a glorified County Council. Let us address that slur and show that by bringing a grass roots, campaigning background to the Senedd we can grow our party in numbers and relevance.

Mike Bryan is the Chair of Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservative Association and Senior Member of the Welsh Conservative Senedd staff.

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