At the end of August 2017 political journalism was dominated, briefly, by the launch of Activate, a new Conservative supporting youth movement. No one was more surprised by this than the leadership of Activate itself, who had expected a much quieter launch. Many of the groups leading members received death threats, including one which was sent to the home address of a 17 year-old organiser. In response, quite understandably, many stepped down. Nearly five months later the group, which has largely avoided the intense publicity which marked its launch, is planning resurgence. I spoke to Sam Ancliff, the 23 year-old Afghan war veteran who acts as Activate’s Campaigns Director, about what the group has planned for the future.
When Ancliff picked up the phone he told me he’d just been helping to plan a telephone canvassing app, which one day will be available for Activate supporters to download. The idea is that Activate’s backers will be able to canvas on behalf of Conservative Party candidates, in key constituencies selected by Activate, wherever they are. Activate has been busy rebuilding its team of regional organisers, which was decimated by the fallout from the groups original launch. Ancliff explains that the group has regional organisers in place for the South East, East, East Midlands, North West and North East of England as well as Wales. They also have potential candidates to be their Scotland and South West England organisers, and are still looking for organisers for the West Midlands and Northern Ireland.
Activate is planning to pivot from its original focus on online activity to grassroots campaigning, and is planning to use the May local elections as a testing ground. Ancliff explains that ‘the first two weeks [of social media campaigning] is largely done and dusted, I don’t think anyone except the hard-core Corbynites actually care about it’. This period ‘was absolutely horrendous at the start but it’s got us to where we are today, we wouldn’t even be close to where we are if it wasn’t for all that’. For the local elections Activate are planning to ‘target three key seats inside London [including Watford] as well as another four outside London, that way we feel we can make a significant difference’.
Hammersmith – one of Activate’s key local election targets
In London Activate is planning to target Hammersmith and Fulham and Harrow, both of which are ‘just four conservative seats away from an overall conservative majority’ (with most observers expecting the Tories to loose London Councils this shows Activate’s ambition). Outside London the group has different targets, including Newcastle-under-Lyme’. When campaigning Activate plans to hand out Conservative Party literature rather than producing its own, though it has no formal relationship with the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).
Ancliff explains that the groups intention is to ‘concentrating all assets into these seven councils because whilst we could try and hit 20, 30 councils we’re not going to be able to make the same kind of impact as if we put all assets into these small areas’. As part of this ‘we’re going to be running at least three campaign days which is going to be getting the minibus out, getting the nice big dinners out to get everybody going’ as well as organising telephone banking, and the group is also seriously considering holding training sessions for Conservative activists. Activate are holding their first big event, a drinks reception for Conservative candidates, agents and association officers from London on 17 March at a central London location.
In terms of membership Activate is over 900 strong, and may well have hit a thousand by the time this piece goes out. Regarding members Ancliff claims that ‘I think most have come from social media outlets but at the same time I know we’ve had Government Ministers, refer people…tell them to check us out unofficially as well’. In particular ‘the lady who I’m speaking to about becoming our Scotland rep was actually referred to be a Government Minister’. According to Ancliff ‘that is a huge thing for us as it shows that not only are we appealing to people randomly in the Twittersphere, but also we’re appealing to the people right at the top as well’.
Activate is controlled by a governing committee, led by Chairman Gary Markwell, which holds a monthly conference call, though ‘the bulk of Activate is actually run through a Facebook group’. In terms of money ‘the bulk of our funding is from members’, via membership fees and small donations which the group is spending on campaigning and administrative costs such as the London mailing address which they have just setup.
It looks like the next few months are going to be a crucial time in the development of Activate and we wish them the very best of luck. You can join Activate via http://www.activate.uk.net/join/.