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‘We called quite a few dead people’: How the Tories’ lack of data let them down in Eastleigh

2 March 2013

At 9.15pm, with 45 minutes until polls closed in the Eastleigh by-election, the ‘get out the vote’ telephone operation at Conservative Central Headquarters stopped. As one fellow volunteer put it, it was so late in the day that we were just ‘pissing people off’. Having been there all day, I’d had that feeling for several hours, as voter after voter spoke of the harassment they had received during the Eastleigh campaign from all of the major parties. By the early evening we were calling people who not only had received several calls already that day to remind them to vote, as well as one or two visits to their doorstep, but these poor voters had sent in their ballots by post, and had told everyone that. One of the practical reasons the Conservatives lost was a lack of data: banks of volunteers young and old spent hours on the phone and walking the streets pestering postal voters who’d already sent off their votes and we’d failed to record this fact. We called quite a few dead people.

Much is already being written about the influence of UKIP on this election. I spoke to dozens of people who voted for UKIP wilfully aware that by not voting Conservative they would be making a Liberal Democrat win more likely: many of them didn’t care about splitting the vote on the right, because they wanted to send a message. Daniel Hannan’s astute point that ironically the rise of UKIP may be the thing which denies the public a referendum on Europe after 2015 wouldn’t have troubled these voters: they were voting for UKIP in protest. Astonishingly some of them even admitted to me that they knew it was ‘the wrong thing to do’ but expressed anger at cuts in the welfare their children were receiving, and the slow pace of reform.

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Despite being in favour of the change myself, there can be no denying that in a place like Eastleigh gay marriage hurt the Conservative vote. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, with so many still stunned by this undeniable social change, UKIP may have been the beneficiaries of opposing gay marriage. People spoke of the shock in their local communities at this change, a shock that the Conservatives must now hope subsides with time.

We were not as bad as the Liberal Democrats for bombarding the voters of Eastleigh with flyers, voters told me. In electioneering there is no perfect number of flyers you can put through the letterbox: for 30 years the Conservatives sent nothing, one caller told me, and now there was a deluge of material. Neither was what she would have wanted. More than one person complained that they started to receive leaflets on polling day at 6am. Voters – it would seem – always feel either deluged or ignored. One voter followed up this complaint at the sea of paper coming through his door by saying that he’d have voted for Maria Hutchings instead of UKIP if he’d known that she was against gay marriage, despite her opposition being one of the most famous things about her candidacy. We may not have been as bad at harassing the voters with leaflets as the Liberal Democrats, but then they won the seat. The local data required to win elections takes years of work by active grassroots supporters.

There will be a huge collective sigh of relief in Eastleigh: people can go back to picking up their phones, and they won’t need snow ploughs to clear the carpet beneath their front doors. No constituency will received the resources come the general election that the voters were subjected to in Eastleigh, a fact which will doubtless dilute UKIP’s ability to perform as strongly. I have never seen an election in which the voters were so saturated with information: usually you get more than the odd household where they don’t even know that it’s taking place.

Whilst the writers of Westminster decide what this all means for 2015, we would do well to remember that by-elections are unusual creatures, and that people use them to send different messages from the ones they send at general elections. For the voters of Eastleigh, as one harangued man put it to me at about 8pm, it’s all over.

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Show comments
  • KenM42

    Boris must have annoyed a lot of voters.

  • walworthman

    Isn’t the simple truth that the election was won by the most pro-European and most pro- human rights party? All other debates are among losers, surely?

    • ButcombeMan

      The election was won by the lunatic fringe party but the votes against them, UKIP & Tory combined, show what a fringe they are. There are not too many seats with the demographic of Eastleigh but the rise of UKIP does show that the LibDems are likely to win more of them.

      Curious is it not ? Something for the LibDems to ponder, they are the beneficiary at Eastleigh of the “first past the post system” that they opposed and over which Clegg threw his handbag on the floor over, when deciding on boundary changes.

      The voters of Eastleigh reject LibDems and their ideas by share of the vote, yet Clegg declares a “triumph”. He is truly deluded.

  • rollahardsix

    There are some intersting observations on ukpollingreport, about how, based on polling data, leaving the EU is not the primary driver for increased UKIP support – and why Cameron’s renegotiation & referendum policy (or even a new policy to offer a referendum right now) will not necessarily make much difference to the loss of Conservative support to UKIP.

  • andagain

    but expressed anger at cuts in the welfare their children were receiving

    So future welfare cuts will be a real vote-winner then.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    ‘the wrong thing to do’

    Ah Yes.

    I can think of quite a few things which are ‘the wrong thing to do’ which are far more damaging to the country. Those poor voters have nothing to be ashamed of compared to the wrong things done by Cameron, the odious Clegg and Huhne, the imbecile Milliband and the psychotic Broon and Balls.

    ‘the wrong thing to do’ indeed. These politicos are complete cnuts.

  • O M

    Very perceptive article. I’ve done local canvassing for the Tories in the past and if my experience is anything to go by the local organisations just aren’t up to scratch. Very little engagement with the electorate between elections, a local party that is great at selecting candidates with little knowledge of the area and often too late into the electoral cycle, and a charming belief that leaflets and a bit of doorknocking are going to swing even one vote. A Great Leap Forward in local party organisation is needed, instead of this reliance on CCHQ to tell the local what to do.

    • Rupert Myers

      Thank you for reading on it & commenting!

  • disqus_IoelivnRUE

    Even now you try to patronise us real Conservatives with your unreal version of what you want the truth to be, we will no longer put up with people that ignore what we want

  • growing-0

    “One of the practical reasons the Conservatives lost was a lack of data:”

    No, you lost because you’re not popular. Blaming the data and such is just looking for excuses rather than taking it on the chin and listening to what voters want, not what you think they want.

    • Latimer Alder

      If the Conservatives want to present themselves as competent to run the country, then they should have got the right data long ago.

      It isn’t rocket science, and if they can’t do even that easy task, then why should we trust them with the hard and difficult stuff?

    • Daniel Maris

      Agreed. There was clearly a sufficient basic organisation there, had the Tories’ personalities and policies been popular.

    • Rupert Myers

      Data allows volunteers to be more efficient & more effective. Data is collected by the grassroots. It can be a virtuous cycle if it’s done properly

      • dansmith17

        The problem is with a by election you either already have the basic data because you are in permanent campaign mode at local level, or it is too late no matter how many resources you throw at it.

        The Lib Dems in Eastleigh started with 100% of District Council seats, 100% of county Council seats and the MPs seat and all would have canvass returns for multiple campaigns.

        The Tories started with zero elected officials, a local campaign that had been allowed to whither and die since they last held the seat in 1994.

        If your average voter is older than average and your records are a decade out of date you will end up trying to contact the dead.

        The issue is why was the local organisation so poor if this was allegedly a target seat both in 2010 and for 2015?

  • Geoff103

    “The local data required to win elections takes years of work by active grassroots supporters.”

    Really? At its most basic level this data (electoral roll) is readily available online and is updated every year. Week-by-week changes can also be tracked from BMD’s. (and others) can reveal house moves. Marketing data from other sources can also be bought.

    The LDs don’t have an exclusive lock on these sources. It’s just a lack of drive and initiative that leads to this sort of excuse. The Party has paid HQ staff and Agents. Just get on with it.

    • dansmith17

      You need more than just the basic who lives where?
      Who did they vote for last time?
      Did they vote at all last time?

      Parties that are serious invest lots of time and effort gathering exactly that data.

      Parties that are arrogant and entitled assume people are just supposed to vote for them.

  • FMarion

    You mean that you don’t let dead people vote? How odd. Here in the US many of our cities have a long standing tradition that the dead don’t lose their franchise rights until they’ve been buried for at least a decade.

    • Russell

      Dead labour supporters get postal votes, so dead supporters of all parties should.

      • FMarion

        I’m glad to hear that at least one UK party is devoted to equality between the living and the dead! And postal voting is only fair given the widespread social prejudice against zombies showing up at the polls to vote.

      • Tom Tom

        Conservatives elect Dead Candidates…..look at Tatton

    • Noa

      And there are probably more dead voters in UK elections from Islamabad than there are from Manchester.

      • FMarion

        Noa: Now that is commendable multi-culturalism! Not only are the dead assured of equality, but there is a positive commitment to protect the franchise rights of the immigrant dead. I trust that at least some of them are encouraged to vote early and vote often?

        • Noa

          As with the Conservative voters of Eastleigh, such communication is best effected by Ouija board.

  • In2minds

    “We called quite a few dead people” – There’s a few brain dead people on the Tory front bench!

  • Edward Sutherland

    “by not voting Conservative they would be making a Liberal Democrat win more likely” –

    UKIP came second at Eastleigh. The Tories were the nutty fringe party who split the vote.

    • Noa

      Ask yourself Rupert, if Beppe Grillo would not now be more likely to win the next election than a party led by the uxorious Cameron, never mind UKIP, and then give us your opinion as to why that might be.

      • Portendorfer


        What a wonderful description.

        It can be applied to the last three.

        Samantha, Sarah and the delightful Cherie.

        Now what would you use to categorise Denis’s wife?

        • Portendorfer

          To contine analogies.

          Who is our candidate Beppe?

          John Carr?

          I think a better Chancellor.

          Ian Hislop?

          Perhaps a bit left wing.

          Stephen Fry?

          We do not want compulsory Gay marriage yet.

        • Noa



    Gay marriage pissed everybody off ,except the Gays, Rupert, wake up mate ! UKIP wont be diluted , The vote on the EU is a none starter because 1 cameron is a liar, 2 he wont win the next election. UKIP is on a roll now, more and more voters will back them because they talk sense and they back the policies that are right for this country

  • Adrian Drummond

    “…. there can be no denying that in a place like Eastleigh gay marriage hurt the Conservative vote.”

    Ha! You think this applies just to Eastleigh?

    • Portendorfer

      Tell me Adrian.
      If Nick Clegg was pushing for it why did it hurt the Tories and not the LibDems.
      Or could it be that you are just one of these reactionary toads who wish to scare the Tory High command into out-Hannaning that odious creature Hannan.

      • Rilman

        It hurt both very badly, look at the voting statistics, UKIP took over 10k votes of both.
        They are the party to watch for now, people are sick of the same three parties telling us the same old lies.

        • Portendorfer

          The message I got from the Myers post was that many knew it was the wrong thing to do.
          Oh yes there were the 3 or so percent representing the usual UKIP crackpots but come a proper contest proper voters will vote properly.

          • Tom Tom

            “proper voters will vote properly” and if they don’t …..there is always the gulag

          • Rupert Myers

            Thank you – that was certainly the message!

      • Ron Todd

        Because most liberal supportes will be pro gay marriage.

        • Portendorfer

          Most Liberals are Liberal because they are neither for or against anything.

          • Tom Tom

            No. Because they have cognitive dissonance and a dysfunctional childhood

      • ButcombeMan

        Simple. The LibDems are regarded by many people as often off the wall. The LibDem support is therefore an irrelevance. They are expected to support minority causes and mad unworkable schemes.

        Cameron is blamed, because HE alone instigated it, he did not HAVE TO do that, it was not in the Tory manifesto, it was not in the coalition agreement, it IS, his perceived as his baby. Without his support it would not have happenned.

        He is a fool to needlessly alienate so much of his core and potential core support. He also did it when he slagged off potential Tory drifters towards UKIP as “fruitcakes” etc.

        These are the actions of someone being careless with his party.

        • Portendorfer

          I guess your key points are that the Liberals are irrelevant and UKIP are fruitcakes.
          Ergo it is back to the 2 main parties and more, within these parties down to personalities.
          Again therefore it comes bown to a decision between Cameron and Miliband.
          Now which one do we judge has the character to lead the UK?

          • Tom Tom

            Neither actually has displayed any leadership skills. Since the theme nowadays is that FAILURE is writ large in every institution it is time for The People to take back control of their destiny and remove the Corrupt Agents. Direct Action is clearly the way to rid ourselves of cabals of chaotic cliques of sectional lobbies

          • ButcombeMan

            No, my point was in response to the question “why did it hurt the Tories and not the LibDems”?

            Simply because Cameron did not NEED to do it, not only did he support it and drive it through, he did that, knowing, it would upset many long time core supporters. His core supporters find that just inexplicable.

            It was a very conscious decision. It was an extremely foolish decision, it reinforced the perception, rightly or wrongly, that Cameron does not understand the British people, he does not understand racial minorities (Moslems in particular), he does not understand potential blue-collar supporters.

            The fact that the vote was un-whipped is not relevant. Cameron allowed, even ensured, that he personally became too associated with the whole thing.

            This was absolutely mind blowingly stupid, political tactics. Going out on a limb like that should only be done for clear political benefit. There was none.

      • Tom Tom

        People expect Clegg to be a fanatic for lost causes

  • Paddy Briggs

    The imperatives o the Westminster Village and the real people of Eastliegh ( or nywhere else) are completely different:

    • ButcombeMan

      And an article full of garbage yours is Paddy. The right wing press would not have wrritten about his Lordships (allegedly ) wandering hands, if Channel 4 and Cathy Newman had not exposed the matter. Most non-Liberals had never heard of the chap.

      Secondly it only became such an issue because Clegg handled it so ineptly and apparently dishonestly at the beginning..

      The LibDems scraped it, like it or not the “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” are in the ascendency and they are not JUST “the right”.

      Cameron lost votes for the Tories by going to Eastleigh, he lost votes by talking about “fruitcakes”. he just does not get it. He is going to have to. The protest vote is going to make him do that.

      Cameron holds ordinary folk with basic common sense, in contempt.

      • FMarion

        Butcombe Man: You say that Mr. “Cameron holds ordinary folk with basic common sense in contempt.” In fact, isn’t that true of most politicians of all stripes–they think they are far smarter, better and all around more wonderful than the rest of humanity? I only find it surprising that more people don’t vote for protest parties all of the time.

        • ButcombeMan

          Cameron has made an art form of it, see my post above.

          It is about time Cameron looked up the meaning of “representative democracy” and how it came about.

          He is behaving as if he dictates policy, he is going to have to learn he does not. Well not without their being a political cost.

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