During the last few days the media frenzy around party funding has produced many column inches. One of the worst aspects of all this is that it has resulted in some really vicious articles with truth and accuracy being sacrificed along the way. As somebody who has been involved in the voluntary party for the past 20 years I would like to add a few points to the debate.
Financing of political parties is clearly a contentious issue and whilst the Party Treasurers get much attention, sometimes in unwanted ways, the crucial role the voluntary party plays in helping with this is usually overlooked and somewhat taken for granted. Across the country it is the volunteers who painstakingly raise the money to run the local Party Associations – through membership and fundraising events of various kinds – the ubiquitous raffles, the wine and cheese parties, the dinners. These are hard work and pull in a great deal of money.
A view has been expressed by some that there is an absence of what has been described as a 'proper' Tory Party Chairman. I am not in agreement with that view at all. Roles in any 'living' organisation naturally change and evolve. Having been on the Board of the Party for the three years has meant that I have worked closely with our Co-Chairmen. From my volunteer stance I think that the splitting of the role of the Party Chairman has worked well because the job naturally has two parts. In the past there have sometimes been Party Chairmen who are good at one bit, but not so good at the other, which has caused problems.
Sayeeda Warsi has brought a much needed 'new look' to the Tory Party, being not only Muslim, but female. In raising some important and difficult subjects that the Party has previously struggled to address, she is in a prominent position to demonstrate that the Conservative Party has changed in line with the more diverse Britain of today. Remember, the Tory Party is still nowhere near to winning support from BME communities, so it's imperative we take a lead at the top – and that's what Sayeeda and the Campaign Team are doing – while leading victories like last year's local election results and defeat of the Alternative Vote referendum.
Andrew Feldman, meanwhile, fulfils the less glamorous role of managing Conservative Campaign HQ (CCHQ) and takes the lead on looking after the voluntary party. CCHQ has a history of not being easy to manage and this is not the first Prime Minister to have brought in a successful businessman to undertake this role – John Major also tasked Paul Judge in a similar way in the early 1990s. I know that Andrew's professional and straightforward stance is appreciated by many of the team at CCHQ. He has streamlined the structure there and carefully managed the costs to eliminate any deficit. The Party lives within its means and has not only paid off most of its historic debts, but has not taken a single new loan since 2005 when David Cameron became leader.
It is no secret that in recent years relationships between the voluntary party and the centre have been somewhat strained at times. Whatever scepticism might have been felt by some at the time of his appointment, I can report that Andrew has gone out of his way to work with the voluntary party, to repair the rifts and to ensure better synchronisation, and thus better working, between all the parts of the Party. The "Meet the Chairmen" sessions that have taken place all round the country to connect with volunteers have been incredibly popular. So, although less conventional, my view is that this is a successful partnership bringing more to the role than one person alone would be able to.
The implication that you can dictate policy by writing a cheque is particularly absurd. This is absolutely not how policy is made. In fact, during my time on the Board, one of my major projects has been to re-launch and reinvigorate the Conservative Policy Forum – the organisation which brings together and collates views from members across the country, before presenting and publishing their recommendations to ministers. This is because I passionately believe that Government needs to listen to ideas from everyone, whoever they are, whatever they are and whatever they do.
In whatever walk of life, mistakes do happen. However, if we want democracy then we must have political parties, and political parties cannot exist on thin air. In this current climate, with this enormous deficit, it is not the time to further burden the long-suffering taxpayer. Neither is this a problem for the Conservative Party alone. So instead of blaming all and sundry, with lashings of vitriol, what needs to emerge from this sorry interlude is a serious, pragmatic discussion.