Sebastian Payne

Revealed: the Tories’ plan to up their ground game in the final 10 days with ‘Battlebus 2015’

Revealed: the Tories' plan to up their ground game in the final 10 days with ‘Battlebus 2015’
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Membership of the Conservative Party has halved under David Cameron, leaving him with fewer activists to help him in this election than were available to any of his modern predecessors. So how to fight a Labour Party that has not suffered from the same hollowing out? One answer is to bus in activists, which is being done via Roadtrip2015 — a traveling ensemble of young volunteers who move around the country en mass for a day of campaigning in a key seat. This morning, a new phase of Roadtrip is kicking off as the election campaign enters into the final 10 days. Tory activists are being persuaded to sign up to ‘Battlebus 2015’, a plan to bus volunteers into the most vital seats to get out the vote and make some final door-step conversions.

The first two coaches are leaving London this morning, each with 50-odd experienced activists on board. One bus is off heading to the West Country, where David Cameron is also set to give a speech later today. The other coach is off to Tamworth. The 'battle buses' will be returning to these areas later in the week to focus on Liberal Democrat and Labour marginals respectively. Volunteers will spend eight to nine hours a day campaigning for five days. To join this merry brigade, volunteers are asked to pay £50 (£25 for students) to show they are serious and won't drop out. In return, CCHQ will be paying for accommodation and sustenance during their five days on the road. Another two coaches are being added to the Battlebus 2015 operation in the final week of the campaign.

The folks behind the Battlebus operation hope the canvassers will do three things: canvass areas that are lagging behind, hold 'final conversations' with Tory voters to ensure they turn out to vote as well as some final persuasion conversions on the doorstep. On each of the buses, a prominent Conservative will join the activists. I understand that Francis Maude, Nick Boles, Nadine Dorries, Liam Fox, Rory Stewart and John Redwood have all signed up to jump on the buses in the last 10 days. Tomorrow, Sajid Javid and Patrick McLoughlin will lead the two buses.

Both the Roadtrip and Battlebus operations are run by Mark Clarke, a 37-year-old marketing executive and a Conservative activist since the age of 15. He was frustrated at the lack of dynamic activism from Tory volunteers and overwhelmed by the strength of Labour activist base, who were being bussed around key seats at weekends. At first, it was an independent operation from Conservative HQ, who were running 'Team 2015' to allocate activists to target seats. Some PPCs in were flagging so Clarke supplemented the Team 2015 work independently. But as Roadtrip was consistently bringing in upwards of 100 Tory activists to campaign days, CCHQ put their backing behind it. Now the focus is on the 40/40 marginals that will decide who wins on May 7.

These trips aren’t going to win the ground war for the Tories on their own; the buses and activists can’t be everywhere at once. But with the polls in today's papers showing that the Tory lead remains small or non-existent, every door knock will count. There's no getting away from the fact that the Tories have a smaller activist base than Labour and it's shrunk in the last five years. Roadtrip has been a useful way of ensuring that the volunteers are used as effectively as possible. At the very least, Tories will be hoping that the Battlebus operation will push towards a late Conservative surge and 2015 turns into another 1992.

UPDATE: Here are the two battle buses, leaving Westminster this morning:

— Team2015 (@Team2015) April 26, 2015