Harry Cole

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

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.

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