A high-tech Conservative Party campaigning centre in Warwickshire is to close with the loss of 40 jobs.
The site, at Coleshill, was equipped with sophisticated computer technology used to identify target voters across the country, and played a key role in the party’s 2004 general election campaign.
But it is facing the axe, apparently as part of a series of cut-backs caused by the recession.
The centre, called Constituency Campaigning Services, was subsidised by leading figures through the Midlands Industrial Council, chaired by philanthropist Bob Edmiston, head of the IM Group in West Bromwich. Other members include Sir Anthony Bamford, of the JCB digger empire and one of Britain’s wealthiest men.
It had been at the centre of a two-year inquiry by watchdog the Electoral Commission, after Labour claimed the facility – which is registered as a commercial company, and charged the Conservative Party for its services – was really an arm of the Tory Party. Earlier this year, the Commission cleared the Conservatives of breaking electoral law.
It was opened in 2004 and equipped with the same computer system used by outgoing US President George Bush’s campaign in the 2004 presidential elections.
This is designed to identify floating voters who will have the most influence on the outcome of an election.
Quirks in the electoral system mean that a relatively small number of voters in marginal seats can determine who wins. By working out who they are and where they live, down to the name of their street, Conservatives were able to inundate them with publicity, including three million leaflets tailored to their interests and concerns.
The Coleshill site was also a call centre, and staff telephoned 300,000 people in the 2005 General Election campaign.
It is believed that the Midlands Industrial Council funded the centre to the tune of about £1?million a year.
A financial squeeze has also led to the Tories cutting staff numbers at its headquarters in London by ten per cent, with 24 posts to go.
The exact status of Constituency Campaigning Services has long been a source of confusion. Labour claims it is effectively part of the Conservative Party, and donations to the centre should be treated as donations to the Tory Party. But the Electoral Commission threw out the claim after concluding the centre had charged commercial-level fees.
Labour MP Brian Jenkins (Lab Tamworth) said he had written to Justice Secretary Jack Straw asking him to urge the Electoral Commission to look at the centre again.
The Conservative Party said it could not comment on the centre as they were not responsible for it, but confirmed that they would no longer be using its services. A spokesman said: “Ahead of elections next year, the Conservative Party will be setting up an in-house campaign centre which will co-ordinate the party’s campaigning work across the West Midlands.”