Everyone knows Trentham High School was under threat of closure from BSF and was saved due to a massive community campaign.
We had friends and enemies in that fight; of our three councillors at the time Terry Follows was on our side, Roger Ibbs and Ross Irving were against us.
Terry Follows was re-elected in 2008, Roger Ibbs did not dare to stand in the ward in 2010 and was defeated elsewhere, but Ross Irving had the audacity to stand for election in Hanford and Trentham in 2011.
I was outraged at Ross Irving. I spoke to a few people about whether to mount some sort of protest. The Sentinel failed to publish letters I sent to them.
I sat on the fence for a while, not really drawn to the idea of a negative campaign. Everyone I knew disliked Ross Irving for acting against us and everyone they knew felt the same. So we nearly concluded a campaign against him was unnecessary.
Then I spoke to some more people at the Trentham High Cooperative Trust launch and found Trentham Action Group members enthusiastic about the idea. After that I jumped off the fence and embraced the notion of a negative campaign against Ross Irving.
As a law abiding citizen I was keen to follow the rules for what is classed as a ‘local campaign’
I had thought acting alone I would have a couple of thousand leaflets printed and distribute them to all postal voters and to the middle of the ward where I live. I felt postal voters are important as they have chosen to vote so have a high probability of doing so whereas other voters maybe have only a ~25% turn out. At the risk of outrageous stereotyping I thought the South of Trentham has more staunch conservative voters, some of whom may tend to vote that way regardless of who the candidate is and Hanford is likely to have fewer conservative voters anyway. I figured we are more likely to float our vote in my area.
As I doubted I could leaflet the whole ward on top of full time work and a holiday away I had booked, this seemed like a sensible allocation of effort.
After some initial email discussions a TAG group met to discuss the campaign. I took some near final leaflets and a map.
When Trentham High was saved TAG had decided to campaign against Roger Ibbs or Ross Irving if they ever stood for election in the ward again. We did not imagine it was likely Ross could win but nevertheless felt we should follow through with having our say. Besides, if we did nothing and by chance he did win, we would be inclined to blame ourselves for our apathy.
It was agreed that TAG would endorse the campaign and members would help with the leafleting so we arranged to get 5,000 A5 black and white leaflets from a printer used by TAG before and distribute most of the ward. We allocated leafleting areas on the map.
The leaflets were I think far better as a result of input from other people than I would have produced myself. I was happy to pay for the leaflets but a number of TAG members wished to contribute so the cost was split.
The 5,000 leaflets were nearly but not quite sufficient for the whole ward. Apologies to residents in a few pockets of Hanford who did not get a leaflet.
The leaflets were black and white A5 versions of the following.
The one distributed had my address and the printer’s name and address included to comply with local campaign rules, although I have omitted these now for the web.
The campaign was not party political. We decided not to suggest who people should vote for and we did not target the other conservative candidate. This was just a campaign against Ross Irving, a reminder of his failure to support the overwhelming wishes of the community over Trentham High.
A member of the team preferred to just get the information out on the ground, rather than make any announcement. The team consisted of 12 leafleters that I am aware of, although there may have been others who helped that I am not aware of. Additional people were involved in discussions and planning. Everyone did whatever they could within their other commitments and I am grateful to all.
I was a leafleting virgin before this campaign. I had never liked the idea because of my dog phobia, which stemmed from childhood in an era when dogs frequently ran free in the streets and it was normal to walk to school alone from the age of 5. However this phobia I suffered from for about 50 years has been all but obliterated, as people are now sensible with their dogs, have them safely enclosed in the back garden or have a post box at the front gate.
I discovered after initial experimenting that my favoured method of posting was to roll the leaflet up into a tube as I walked to the house for ease of sticking this tube through the draft excluder in the letter box. I tended to leaflet a street on one side including at the same time all the cul-de-sacs off, then the same on the other side, whereas I know others do the main streets first and the streets off afterwards.
All postal voters in the ward were leafleted before they received their ballot papers. In fact a large part of the ward was completed by that time. In some cases leafleters were able to deliver completely to their areas on that time scale. For others who could not, I delivered to the postal voters to allow the rest to be done at leisure.
I personally delivered 2,048 leaflets. The first ~600 were easy because they were so close to where I live I could nip out for an hour and deliver ~150 effortlessly. Then I took on some areas a bit further away, I didn’t bother to get in the car but accessed them by canal path and other footpaths. I had scheduled some leave from work and after some longer leafleting sessions suffered some aches and blisters. This surprised me as I regularly go on 5-10 mile walks for leisure anyway, it was probably due to carelessness with footwear. What a wimp I thought to myself about myself. But I just carried on anyway, the problems seemed to go away and I felt fitter than ever.
I preferred leafleting the open plan areas having main roads and loops with cul-de-sacs off them. I didn’t like Hanford so much because many of the areas I did have garden gates, which slows the process down. Barlaston Old Road was the most time consuming as the houses are mostly huge with large grounds and long drives. These were the least efficient 63 leaflets I delivered.
Experience at the care homes was varied, some were happy to take leaflets to pass on to residents while others were a little more guarded, although all were polite and took some leaflets to consider passing on to some residents as appropriate.
During the campaign we had a further meeting to redistribute leaflets amongst us and I also liaised with others individually.
The 5,000 leaflets were nearly but not quite sufficient for the whole ward. There will have been a small amount of double posting although not much. I apologise to residents in a few pockets of Hanford who did not get a leaflet because we had run out.
The Ross Irving Encounter
Prior to postal voting I was tackling the last cul-de-sacs to complete the South of Trentham where another member of the team had already done a large amount of leafleting. Who should I meet but the man himself, Ross Irving. Ross wasn't as far ahead, he was going round just delivering to postal voters.
"Hello Ross" I said and smiled pleasantly/smirkingly and covered the leaflets poking out of my leafleting bag with my hand. "Hello" he said pleasantly/smirkingly "how are you?" "Fine" I replied, grinning rather manically. "It's confusing with these postal voters mixed in all over the place" he said, "it is" I agreed, although perhaps he might have noticed I wasn't just doing them at that time, I was finishing the lot. Both of us remained polite.
I received a ‘phone call and a letter from pleased members of the community congratulating me on the campaign.
When speaking to residents whilst leafleting I found no opposition to the campaign against Ross Irving and most were very positive and supportive.
Only one resident I encountered was negative and that was without looking at the leaflet or knowing what it was about. He asked if it was an election leaflet and when I said it concerned the election he refused it and said he didn’t want to have anything to do with the election. I said it was very important information from the Trentham Action Group but he still declined.
All in all conducting the campaign was a positive experience and I actually enjoyed the process.
Hanford and Trentham is a two member ward
in which 11 candidates were standing
two independent, two Conservative, two Labour, two Liberal Democrat, two UK Independence Party and one British National Party.
This gives 55 possible combinations of two candidates and with one vote also being permitted, a total of 66 combinations excluding blank or spoilt ballots
I was very keen to attend the count, out of a general interest in Stoke-on-Trent politics and of course to see the ballot papers and counting process for multimember wards such as Hanford and Trentham. Ballots for these wards were counted in the Jubilee Hall and tally charts were used. It can be hard to tell exactly who is winning during the count, but it did seem whilst Ross Irving was getting some votes, the top three seemed to be Terry Follows, Peter Hayward and Mark Wright. In fact I thought during the count that Mark had the edge, but I did not watch it all closely as I was chatting to various people.
The result for Hanford and Trentham was as I had hoped for.
I had always wondered whether the campaign was actually necessary to defeat Ross Irving. I think it was certainly a good idea. Furthermore even Ross Irving attributes the outcome to our success:
"There was quite a strong campaign by the remnants of the Trentham Action Group to persuade people not to support me", he told the Sentinel.
If I were considering a future election campaign, perhaps for my own election, I have learned the following:
- Leafletting the whole ward is a manageable task. Even if I had to do this alone for two leaflets I am confident I could. If I were standing for election I would have ceased working, making this even easier.
- Ask for input on the leaflet from supporters to achieve a better product.
- Get 6,000-7,000 leaflets printed to provide well for the ward with plenty to spare.
- Post out to care home residents and possibly some flats for ease of delivery.
- The decision to leaflet all postal voters before they receive their ballots is clearly an obvious tactic to maintain.
- Roll the leaflets up en route for ease of posting or consider card.
- Deliver to distant parts of the ward when there are several hours to spare, leaving the near areas to be done effortlessly by popping out for the odd half an hour to an hour.
- Wear proper walking socks and walking shoes or boots rather than trainers.
- Taking lists of postal voter addresses, maps and highlighter pens out with me, keeping a record of numbers of leaflets used in different areas and colouring in a master map at home, seem to be good things to do.
- A good leafleting bag is immensely useful, I already have one suitable for A5.
- People are sensible with their dogs, caution is advisable but hysterics are unnecessary.
- Stopping for a chat with residents is largely a good idea and more active canvassing may be even better.
- Rain – I have no lessons to be learned about rain as there wasn’t any!
Goodbye Ross Irving – Well done TAG!
Congratulations to Councillors Follows and Hayward on their election.