The EU referendum saw a high turnout of 72.2 per cent. Many who hadn’t voted for years were inspired to do so. But there was also a boost to democratic participation in terms of those who campaigned. A huge number were out canvassing and leafletting who had never been involved in politics before. Many of these people – both Leave and Remain campaigners – have since joined the Conservatives or the Labour Party. Of course the Party leadership elections also spurred people to join – even if this didn’t actually result in them getting a vote.
The media has given plenty of coverage to new members in the Labour Party. But there has also been a quiet influx for the Conservatives.
This provides an opportunity for the Conservatives to boost local campaigning. Many of these new members have campaigned hard during the referendum – they will have already overcome those initial inhibitions over manning a street stall or knocking on doors. Naturally their might be some tension between those who were doing so on opposing sides in the referendum but in the Conservative Party there is an overwhelming mood to accept the referendum result and move forward with Brexit.
However, this will not happen automatically. There needs to be a proper effort to make these new recruits welcome and encourage them to get involved. One obvious example is to encourage them to consider standing for election to become a councillor. Some might be willing to stand even if they had little chance of electoral success in their specific area.
But it is also important that capable individuals have a chance in winnable seats. They should not be blocked by idle sitting councillors. One difficulty is that the payment of allowances encourages councillors to cling on. I have argued these should be abolished in order to allow a higher calibre of councillors to come forward with the right motivation. Yet even with this hurdle, councillors who are performing poorly could and should be eased out.
Of course new members who might not wish to be councillors should be advised of other ways they can become involved. For example, they might be willing to put themselves forward as a school governor or to join the board of a housing association.
I would hope that Patrick McLoughlin, the Party Chairman, will write to all the new members urging them to become actively involved. There needs to be a back-up mechanism that enables them to do so even if they live in a constituency where the local association is moribund.
In some areas the increase in Conservative membership has been dramatic. This is fantastic.
Tens of thousands of people are waiting for the call. They must be given every opportunity to champion the Conservative cause in their local communities.