Coffee House

Grant Shapps has built an activists’ team to fight for the Tories in Newark – and in 2015

2 June 2014

The CCHQ strategy is to never to talk about strategy, but Tory chairman Grant Shapps cannot hide his excitement on this Saturday afternoon. Just a week after the Conservative Party came third in a national poll for the first time ever, 650 Tory activists are out campaigning in the Newark by-election. That is enough boots on the ground to deliver 40,000 leaflets and canvass the entire Nottinghamshire constituency ahead of Thursday’s vote. ‘I haven’t seen anything like this since Crewe,’ one seasoned activist tells me, referring to David Cameron’s narrative shaping by-election victory over
Gordon Brown in 2008.

Shapps is particularly pleased with a text from the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, said to be the PM’s favourite columnist, who gets in touch to tell him that Labour figures are baffled by the noticeable beefing up of the Tory ground machine. As chairman, Shapps has staked his reputation on turning around the party’s field operation, which was in poor shape in 2010:

‘I think the trend has been obvious for quite some time – that politics is moving away from the treasurer and secretary of the local association organising three other people to come out. I think the realisation that the world had changed in that way was probably something we intuitively knew, but we were too slow in time for the last general election.’

‘Team 2015’ was launched to some eye rolls in 2013 as a reward-based activist pool designed to target the 40 key seats that the Tories need to hold or gain in order to secure that elusive majority. Shapps says he modelled it on his own operation in Welwyn Garden City where he turned a 5,000 majority in 2005 into a ultra-safe 17,000 at the last election. ‘I will regularly get thirty people out on Saturday morning. Am I paying them? No. To professionally deliver the entire constituency would cost £7,000 but you know what I do, I put all the names in the hat at the end of the delivery and there is lunch for two in the best restaurant in the area, which probably costs the association 180 quid.’

His backyard also notably bucked the Ukip trend in this month’s local elections. Instead of lunch, ‘Team 2015’, which is run centrally by CCHQ staff, dishes out awards and meetings with Cameron and the cabinet. ‘As I joke with the PM, the top platinum, platinum prize is you get to go to Ibiza with Sam and David – it’s for the person who devotes their life to the campaign.’

‘In fairness to the PM, he has always loved it,’ Shapps assures me. ‘When I presented ‘Team 2015′ to MPs at one of our parliamentary meetings, he stood up afterwards and said “this is the best things I’ve seen from CCHQ in thirty years”. His quote may be a slight exaggeration, but we’ve now built up our network to almost six thousand people.’


The numbers are grabbing MPs’ attention too. Many of them hold the party’s troubled Merlin voter data responsible for losses in 2010, and an increasing number are wondering, at all levels in the party, why they are still using it in the run up to the next election. Anything that can bypass the cranky, dated system is seen as a blessing. If just half of the pledged ‘Team 2015’ supporters are deployed effectively, the hundred most marginal seats in the country will have a 30 strong volunteer team at their disposal.

Plenty of campaigns have tried to recreate the carrot and stick structure of Obama’s unprecedented 2008 fundraising and voter mobilisation effort, with the Tories going further than most by hiring the President’s former campaign manager Jim Messina to advise on strategy. Shapps is quick to mark his territory when asked what it was like working with one of the world’s most successful political strategists:

‘Actually, it’s just interesting to compare notes, but we run our own campaign. Team 2015 is a great example of something I had come across from my own experience. Other organisations like the London Olympics had the Games Makers, their recognition system. It turns out Jim had that, what are they called, thing for Obama. I can’t remember what they called it. Anyway, the Team 2015 bit of it had it’s own name. So of course it’s interesting to compare notes.’

Bellwether by-election defeats hang heavy on the Tories, most recently in Corby and Eastleigh, where they failed to defend or win seats they need if they are to win outright in 2015: ‘These things don’t take a few weeks and months, it takes years to build these structures, and that’s why I made it my number one priority upon becoming Chairman. And suddenly a year, year and a half later, people are going “bloody hell, I get it. Now what you can do is deploy lots of people around the country.”’

‘I haven’t really heard very much about it’ Deputy Chief Whip Greg Hands tells me as we watch Shapps and ‘Road Trip 2015’ coordinator Mark Clarke firing up 150 such activists outside Newark Conservative Club ‘but it seems to be working. It seems to be something that people would want to join.’ No. 10 Political Secretary and increasingly isolated Tory by-election grand panjandrum Stephen Gilbert isn’t sure where to look as a brace of activists sloppily snog in the car park rather than go leafleting.

‘It’s a bit of a dating agency’, chuckles Clarke, who set up a team of roving
campaigners that have now been brought into the fold under the ‘Team 2015’ banner. The formula is remarkably simple: activists are bussed in from around the country – this time it’s 150 from London and another 150 from Nottingham, York, Manchester, Oxford, Essex and Birmingham. They
blitz the seat and then there is a free curry and beer afterwards. Transport is free, and hotels are block booked for the cheapest rates. In Newark on Saturday night, grassroots darling Eric Pickles was there to get the troops – most of whom are students – thumping the tables. Though his speech was interrupted by the same lascivious young couple arriving late and looking a little flustered. Tory MP Robert Halfon was handing out cigars and I made my excuses and left before it descended into a sambuca fuelled
romp in a local nightclub.

‘It isn’t hard to get people to sign up to this’ Clarke tells me. ‘These kids
want to give Labour a kicking and then go out afterwards. It’s the organisation element that is so important.’ Having lost a gritty campaign in Tooting against Labour’s Sadiq Khan in 2010, Clarke was booted off the approved candidates list by the then Party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi, and has as much invested in the success of this road-trip offshoot as Shapps does in the project as a whole.

‘It’s entirely in the PM’s hands whether I do this or a different cabinet duty,
it’s up to him,’ Shapps says in a wearily rehearsed tone when I mention the looming reshuffle. Whoever runs the David Cameron Twitter account was clearly pleased with Saturday’s turnout though, with the PM’s online persona proclaiming: ‘Great work @Team2015’.

If this is the first sign of fruit from Shapps’ campaign reforms, it could not have come at a better time for him. ‘My biggest worry of all? It’s not any of that. It’s what happens in 2016. For starters we can’t call it Team 2015, or maybe we can – like the 1922 Committee, which is still called that even though it’s retrospective. Serious point though, whatever job I do, to win elections we need to work like a modern responsive movement,’ he concludes, sounding a lot like Jim Messina.

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  • Jimble

    Cult of Shapps or were they all under threat of losing their Universal Credit if they didn’t accept the job?

  • icini

    So the Tories have loads more money than UKIP. This is a sound basis for electing a government , something to be proud of ? Says it all really. I’ll be working hard ( for free) to get real people elected.

  • agneau

    I’ve not seen anything like the current crop of Tories since I last went to Crewe either.

  • HappyinHerts

    Shapps is my MP. Is it any wonder I joined UKIP.

  • FrankS2

    “Shapps says he modelled it on his own operation in Welwyn Garden City…”
    No doubt the Hatfield part of his Welwyn Hatfield constituency will be delighted by that!

  • Raddiy

    How exactly are they going to repeat this with 650 constituencies for the 2015 GE. On my reckoning for each MP and candidate to make 3 visits to each constituency and each cabinet minster making 4 visits, that is 1950 visits for MP’s and 2600 for ministers.

    On that basis the MP’s need to visit about 6 constituencies a day, and the ministers need to visit about 8 constituencies a day starting from today, and for every day until the general election.

    The problem with desperate cunning plans is that the desperation shines through more than the cunning. As a matter of pedantry on Saturday the day they were supposed to have had 600 people on the ground, they could only find 135 to take part in the staged photo shoot, seems like Mr Exaggeration has been making a visit to Newark

  • Chingford Man

    The problem with “Team 2015″ is going to be knowing what seats to target, because the UKIP Surge and the Lib Dem Collapse are going to scramble any calculations.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, the politics and campaigning have suddenly become 3-dimensional, and clueless muppets like the Camerloons, who aren’t even any good in a flat environment, are going to find themselves lost.

      • Chingford Man

        If they do get lost at least Jenrick will have a house nearby.

  • George_Arseborne

    Dan Hodges the PM favourite columnist in Telegraph. Then the Tories are doomed.

  • Thomtids

    “The PM’s favourite columnist, Dan Hodges”.
    Pass me the sick-bag, Alice.

  • Otto von Bismarck

    Very innovative, although it highlights Tory weakness more than anything else if they can no longer rely on their grassroots activists and are forced to bus people in from around the country (with the prospect of financial reward rather than Party loyalty). Still a good idea by Mr Shapps though I’ll give him that, but I’m still not convinced it will be anywhere near effective enough at a General election. It sounds like more of a By-election strategy more than anything.

    Interestingly, Team 2015 will be up against many of those same former Tory activists who are now batting for UKIP. It could turn into a generational battle with age and experience up against youth and enthusiasm, old style tactics against the new. I remain however unconvinced Team 2015 will work; good for by-elections but rather ironically due to the name I don’t think it will be effective in a year’s time. Seats are won in General elections by boots on the ground in the long term, and for that nothing beats your typical party activist campaigning in their own local constituency for the entire life cycle of a Parliament. Team 2015 are too few in numbers and their presence is too fleeting for them to have any great effect at a constituency level across the country. People also place value on local issues, and unless they’re well briefed I don’t see a student from South London being able to campaign effectively on the local issues facing residents in somewhere like Norfolk or East Devon.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Call Me Dave has personally destroyed half his party’s membership count.

      HALF of them have walked off.

      And now a massive count of them are voting UKIP.

      And the muppets think this Schappy kid is going to lure them back? Dream on.

      • you_kid

        You read the wrong paper, lad. We will miss you once you’re gone.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …so you fascists are opening the camps then?

  • misomiso

    All this crowing is very foolish of Grant Shapps. Labour have a year to go to the general election. You can bet they’re reading this and are going to revamp their whole organisiation over the summer.

    Boast about how good your organisation is after you have won a majority. Not before.

    • Martha

      I’m curious to know what you think Shapps is revealing here about campaigning that Labour doesn’t already know. Unless it’s top quality bullshit about the amount of people willing to knock on doors for you but Labour don’t need that.

  • Grey Wolf

    This is the most boring article written about the most boring man -Grant Shapps – and his most boring plans and deeds. I think what Nigel Farage said about Herman Van Rompuy in his famous rant at EU applies to Shapps in equal measure.

  • Kitty MLB

    Its a shame we cannot have a election this year. Instead of
    having those lame duck and pointless Lib Dems attached
    to us. Yet they are a reminder that coalitions do not work.
    The Country needs a Conservative majority with our
    core Conservative values returned. Untainted by Lib Dem
    And for heavens sake…Grant Shapps, if only David Davis was
    not party chairman.At least.

    • Grey Wolf

      There are no conservative values in the Conservative Party. In fact, it is only appropriate that Cameron and the most awesomely boring Shapps are its poster kids. Its their party – of progressivism, of metropolitan elitism, of globalism, of sham world improvement projects, of undue focus on middle-east and defeatism at home.

      • Kitty MLB

        I find Shapps as dull as a mule I must admit.
        Where are the Douglas Carswells, Sir Malcolm Rifkind
        and obviously the delightful David Davis.
        They hopefully might appear at some point.

  • Kitty MLB

    Harry. Dan Hodges is the Prime Minister’s faviourite columnist.
    You wouldn’t be purposely stirring now would you, trying
    to encourage our very excitable, revolutionary Kippers.
    Trying to encourage them to utter Lib/Lab/Com.

    • icini

      We use legacy parties, the Troika, the establishment party and the idiots in Westminster more now. So much more descriptive.
      You need to remember most of us are unpaid, no one has to bribe us to turn out or can order us to campaign. Our biggest problem is the unbalanced and highly biased, dangerous media hate campaign. it’s sickeningly and obviously a stitch up. Short of a call for actual violence against us it’s difficult to know how much lower the establishment can sink in it’s action to retain power and keep we plebs in our place.
      Those of us who were Tories are not surprised at the fear and hate radiating from CCHQ, though it’s come as a surprise to the former abstainers and even the Ex Labour people.
      Viva UKIP.

  • Lady Magdalene

    A 16,000 majority and the Tories are having to send the PM, the whole Conservative side of the Cabinet, plus goodness knows how many junior Ministers and backbenchers as well as conscripted activists in order to defend it.
    Reeks of desperation.
    Come Labour voters in Newark ….. switch to UKIP and help us give Cameron a very bloody nose.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh bless.UKIP want the help of the treacherous EU loving
      anti English Labour Party.I’d watch your back if I were you
      Labour are not as gracious as the Conservatives.

      • telemachus

        You should dear Ladybird read the coded narratives of the Charismatic One

      • Grumpy

        I think that is less wanting the help of the Labour Party and more the votes of those people who just cannot bring themselves to vote Tory. Let’s face it, in many parts of the country if faced with Jesus Christ with a blue rosette and three-legged, mentally retarded donkey with a red one–the donkey would win every time.

    • Tom W Huxley

      Redrawing the boundaries on “desperation” more than a little, there.

    • telemachus

      Many Labour voters did this with blessing on May 22
      The aim was not bloody noses
      Labour does not do this
      The aim was to galvanise the established politicians from their torpor
      This was achieved
      We have seen a spring in the step of both Miliband and the PM
      We are back to real politics
      The Tories will prevail in Newark
      But it will be for nothing when the forces of reason take over next May

  • UniteAgainstSocialism

    Bollox to the Tories – the party of traitors

    Vote UKIP

  • Kaine

    Didn’t the fox hunting group Vote-OK mobilise 15,000 people at the last election for the Tories?

    Between UKIP and the refusal to scrap the ban, one has to wonder whether the hunts will be providing people this time.

    That’s quite a deficit to make up.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    What’s going to be funny is that after Newark, no matter the outcome, the tweet de jure is going to be:

    “David Cameron shut down the government and sent it all down to Newark to win a flippin’ by-election.”

    • Aberrant_Apostrophe

      If this was done in working hours presumably the taxpayer was paying for Tory party propaganda?

    • John Marlow

      Ah! That why he closed down parliament two weeks early.

  • White Lightning

    Grant Shapps is following me on Twitter. For the life of me I can’t figure out why, I tweet Simpsons quotes and invective about football teams other than Liverpool.

  • goatmince

    “Shapps is particularly pleased with a text from the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, said to be the PM’s favourite columnist …”

    Ahahaha-HAHA! Popcorn time!

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …by the way, that’s still a sheep, and you’re still a socialist nutter, lad.

      • Hello

        Sounds like the People’s Army is meeting the Special Forces up in Newark. F*cking militias.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …can any other of you socialist nutters translate this nutter’s gibberish?

  • goatmince

    Now that this is resurfacing in the red tops, can we please please please have a boxing ring erected on Newark town square, not to see that god-awful Saatchi but Shapps going head-to-head with the Farge? I would pay good money for that. Pleeease?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, and if you brought all of your sockpuppets, there’d be quite a turnout, eh lad?

  • kyalami
  • Andrew Parke

    Mr.Cole you of all people know exactly how Shapps got Tory activists out- by threatening all Parliamentary candidates to go to Newark, or face a thinly-veiled threat of deselection!
    Having to essentially conscript activists to defend a majority of 16,000- reeks of panic does it not?

    • Tom W Huxley

      You’re conflating two separate events. Last Sunday everyone on the candidates list was compelled to go to Newark. About 150 turned up in all. None of the 650 who turned up on Saturday are on the candidates list. How could they be – as the article makes clear, most of them are students.

    • Aberrant_Apostrophe

      Dave’s going to be worn out next year visiting the 150 or so seats that UKIP will be contesting.

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