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October 24, 2006

The new professionalism at Central Office

Posted by Watlington

Not so long ago, if someone from Conservative Central Office said "I'm from CCO and I am here to help", most constituency activists, MPs and candidates would have fallen about laughing.

Yet - slowly but surely - CCO (now rebranded Conservative Campaign HQ-CCH) is turning itself into a highly professional organisation. Rather than being an alternative Civil Service for Frontbenchers, CCH is gradually turning itself into a serious campaigning organisation.

Through reforms initiated by Party Chairman Francis Maude, the Research Department has been disbanded with desk officers moving to the Commons to work with Shadow Ministers. Meanwhile, all the key resources are being ploughed into campaigning, , i.e. CCH is now doing what it is supposed to do - fight elections.

The campaign department has been massively beefed up with the talented George Bridges working on campaign strategy. David Mackintosh - a seasoned campaigner - has been put in charge of a new by elections unit, overseen by Grant Shapps MP. Mr Shapps is one of the party's most successful campaigning MPs having had a huge swing in his constituency of Welwyn Hatfield at the last election. The MP has over 10,000 of his constituents on email and they are contacted on a weekly basis.

Stephen Phillips, one of the best former agents in the country, is now the candidate co-ordinator and tasked with ensuring that target seats are kept abreast of the latest developments. Richard Murphy, also extremely experienced, runs the party's war room in Coleshill in the Midlands. Sam Roarke, poached from Google is in charge of the party's internet campaigning.

With Lord Ashcroft on the board and in charge of target seats as well as Conservative Future, there is a new degree of professionalism and of getting things done. In target seats across the country Conservative Future are busy engaging with young activists to persuade them to join the party.

Meanwhile CCH are organising a series of campaigns on subjects as diverse as the NHS and Post Offices to ensure that MPs and candidates are right at the heart of their communities. Candidates in selected seats are now required to take part in a weekly conference call, led by Mr Bridges and other senior staffers.

Of course, all this is still in the early stages and there is much to prove. There is a desperate need for serious campaigning Agents in key target seats and many of these constituencies have little or no campaigning infrastructure at grassroots level.

But CCH is clearly on the mend. By the time of the next election CCH may have become an election fighting machine to be feared.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.


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