The Conservatives are planning to beef up their regional operations partly by shifting resources out of the party’s headquarters, as the Tories seek to shore up support for MPs elected at the December 12 poll in areas previously represented by Labour.
With 109 new Tory MPs at Westminster — some from constituencies the party has never before held — management is working on plans to slim down Conservative central office by moving some “field operations” from London to the regions.
The Tories need to step up their presence in “red wall” seats traditionally represented by Labour — including many spread across Wales, the Midlands and northern England — because the Conservatives had deployed very limited resources in these constituencies in the past.
Boris Johnson said after the Tories won an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons at the general election that the party would have to change to reflect its new heartlands.
In the run-up to the election, the Tories employed more than 100 campaign staff outside of London. These included campaign managers hired after the 2017 election — when the Conservatives lost their Commons majority — to boost the party’s chances of winning target seats.
The Tories are hoping to retain many of these staffers to try to ensure the momentum from the December 12 victory is maintained — notably in preparations for May’s local elections. The Conservatives are also hoping to ensure that more of their field operations previously run out of central office are now put into the regions.
“Central office really just needs to focus on media and research,” said one Tory insider. “We are looking at how we can boost our field operations and keep as many campaigners on the ground as possible — especially where we won for the first time.”
One Conservative official said not all field operations would leave central office, but there would be “moving to reflect a general refocusing on geographical balance”.
Newly elected MPs representing seats in northern England and the Midlands — such as Jacob Young in Redcar and Jo Gideon in Stoke-on-Trent Central — are likely to benefit from the focus on supporting areas where the Conservatives have had little or no electoral success in the past.
More effective regional operations are one way the Tories hope they can combat Labour’s bigger army of activists.
The number of Conservative party members has risen to 191,000 this year, boosted initially by the prospect of Brexit and then when Mr Johnson became Tory leader. But Labour has 500,000 members.
The Tories’ plans to beef up their regional operations may also help the party to cut costs. Conservative insiders suggested the party may seek to reduce the office space at its headquarters in Matthew Parker Street at Westminster.
“It obviously helps the party financially should it not need such a large piece of premium Westminster office space,” said one insider.
The next test for the Conservative party machine will be May’s local elections where Labour is expected to contest the majority of council seats up for grabs.
The Tories are hopeful of making gains. One newly-elected Conservative MP said: “If we get our s**t together, we have the opportunity to take a load of council seats — even control of some councils — and kick Labour while they’re down.”