Below are 10 steps that the Bow Group, Conservative Voice and Conservative Grassroots believe the Conservative Party need to urgently implement to halt declining membership and reconnect the Party Leadership with its base…
1. Party Board Chairman – Let Volunteers Decide
There needs to be real and regular dialogue between senior volunteers and Conservative Members of Parliament. We passionately believe in the concept of ‘one party’ – volunteers and parliamentarians working together for electoral success. During his time as Chairman of the Conservative National Convention, Don Porter was delighted to pioneer the election of three additional MPs to the Party Board. This simple change, overwhelmingly endorsed by both senior volunteers and MPs, allowed those with different roles within the Party to work together more closely to deliver a single vision and such initiatives could be rolled out in other more localised structures.
2. Empower the National Convention
The National Convention is the Parliament of the Voluntary Party. It comprises all Association Chairmen and Regional Offcers, along with representatives from the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Conservative Future. This body, whose members bring with them so much campaigning, experience and understanding of the Conservative grassroots should be given real powers and authority.
For example, National Convention members should have a real say about how the money they raise for the Party is spent. Volunteers raise over £28 million annually – more than even the most generous individual or corporate donors. They keep the blue fag fying at the local level by campaigning in local elections, fundraising and producing literature. Locally, they decide how to spend the money they raise. It is only right that they should have a say in how the money they raise for the national Party is spent by CCHQ.
3. Hold a Conservative Annual General Meeting
There should be a Conservative Party AGM which is open to all members. In addition, biannual regional meetings of the Party, to which all members in the region are invited, should also be resurrected nationwide. All MPs and MEPs should play a role in these sessions.
4. Let Volunteers Choose Candidates
Every Party Board committee should be led by an elected and experienced volunteer. Similarly, there must be no dilution of the involvement of members in the selection of their local and national candidates. This is an essential component in the fabric of our party.
To that end, open primaries should be scrapped in favour of closed primaries. They de- motivate Conservative activists and members. Loyal activists should not be overlooked by people with no history of commitment to the Party in favour of candidates who may feel that they owe no loyalty to the Party. Closed primaries offer a better alternative, and CCHQ should have no involvement in pushing forward an ‘approved list’ that has been centrally picked. The role should be reduced to one of very basic background checks.
5. Build a Broader Base of Support
The days of vast membership politics may be over. Therefore, we need an enlightened approach which allows the Conservative Party to reach out to groups which share our values, and to mobilise their support for the Conservative cause. We need to learn lessons not just from the American political parties but also from major charities, and to become more professional in our retention of members and supporters.
Both the Republican and Democrat Parties seek support from other like-minded organisations, political or otherwise, as a core part of their engagement activities. They use these ‘affnity groups’ to build up the level of trust in their party; they fundraise or gain volunteers for specifc issues that voters relate to and then ‘grow’ them into regular activists over a period of time. In an age where voters are more likely to support a single issue campaign than to join a political party, it makes sense for the Conservative Party to seek support amongst members of other groups which share our values.
6. Let Volunteers Drive the Conference Agenda
Volunteers should be given more chances to choose motions for debate at the annual Party Conference. These debates should be held away from television cameras and the media. By allowing members to speak in the main hall once again and vote on party policy as well as election manifestos, the conference can be reformed into a democratic, open and less stage-managed occasion.
7. Recognise and Reward Volunteers
There should be a real emphasis on recognising and rewarding loyal volunteers across the Party. Volunteers do not give up their time because they expect financial reward. However, some form of recognition – even a simple letter showing that the Party is aware of and appreciates a volunteer’s efforts – would be hugely appreciated and could raise grassroots morale.
Trusting the electorate to make decisions about local issues must be matched by trusting our local activists and members to have a greater say in the organisation of our Party and in the development of policies based on our values and principles. The time is now ripe for a real engagement of volunteers and parliamentarians in the running of our Party.
8. Revolutionising Online Communications
Digital has opened a whole array of options to interact with a politically curious but disaffected population. This requires a less centrally managed approach based on the delivery of a static message, and greater interaction by being open to petitions and motions to be debated. This is done successfully by pressure groups such as Avaaz and 38 degrees but needs to be mimicked by political parties in order to remain relevant.
9. Direct dialogue between grassroots members and the 1922 Committee
Grassroots members need a voice in Parliament that the leadership of the Conservative Party take seriously, that is what the 1922 Committee is for, and a formal annual dialogue between grassroots members and the committee would facilitate that process more clearly.
10. Say No To State Funding
No public money should be given to political parties. This would further damage levels of engagement among activists and reduce the incentives for the leadership to engage with them and place the beat traditions of British democracy under threat.