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AHAdrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian and educationalist. He writes a 
Daily Mail blog. Follow Adrian on Twitter.

 There is perhaps no more urgent a task for the
Conservative Party in the present era than that of renewing democracy – to
revive its foundational raison d’être; to resurrect its national framework of
membership; and to reform its mode of engagement with party members. A
political party that is immune to policy progression and insensitive to the
beliefs of its core support-base ceases to be a movement for renewal: indeed,
it rapidly becomes a fading testimony to past triumphs and a decaying monument
to ancient glories. Reformation leads to enlightenment and revival – in
politics as well as theology.

The Conservative Renewal conference, which is due
to be held in Windsor on 14th September, has a declared mission ‘to help conservatives win elections through the
strength of ideas’. They say they are independent, ‘but work in partnership
with local party associations, think tanks and local people’.


Publicised speakers this year include Vacláv
Klaus, former President of the Czech Republic, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP,
Daniel Hannan MEP, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Rt Hon John Redwood MP, Toby
Young, Adam Afriyie MP, Paul Staines, Douglas Carswell MP, Hon Jacob
Rees-Mogg MP, Tim Loughton MP, and Hon Ed Vaizey MP.

But not anymore. The organisers have tweeted:
“Shame to see apparently coordinated pull-out of
speakers from Conservative Renewal conference.” And that coordinated pull-out
consists of all ministers of state (Gove, May and Vaizey), who have apparently
been urged by No10 to reconsider their participation, having previously had
their involvement approved. “There has apparently been a last minute concerted
effort by the Conservative leadership to discourage people from speaking at our
conference,” the organisers wrote in a letter to attendees. Richard Ashworth
MEP has followed suit, as has (budding prospective?) parliamentary candidate
Toby Young, who apparently now has a diary clash (which may, of course, be
genuine).

I understand from unofficial sources that while No10 is briefing that the
en masse pull-out is due to the high-profile involvement of Windsor MP Adam
Afriyie, the real reason for the sudden boycott is that the conference is open
to non-party members. That is to say, CCHQ/No10 are concerned that the
Conservative Renewal conference is nothing but an opportunity for Ukip
entryism, for it is the presence of Ukip members which is the apparent cause of
anxiety.

Now, I am quite sure that a few Ukip members and supporters will be
attending, not least because quite a few former Conservatives have veered off
in that general direction. But what is the point of a Conservative renewal
conference that does not seek to address their valid concerns and somehow
attempt to re-graft them into the party? And why should we consider giving
non-members a vote in open primaries if they may not debate such issues in even
a local conference? Isn’t that consistent with ‘Big Society’ engagement and
participation objectives?

The important point is that (pace
self-styled libertarian Paul Staines) only recognised Conservatives are
addressing the sessions. I can scarcely believe that Adam Afriyie’s reported
leadership ambitions are causing such disquiet in No10 that no ministers may
now be seen within 50 feet of him. I despair at this fabricated and wholly
unnecessary conflict which is (again) indicative of the contempt which No10 and
CCHQ appear to have for ordinary Conservative Party members.

Because it is they who have paid to attend this conference; it is they
who have paid to hear these keynote speakers and to have input into policy
formulation and share their thoughts on the Conservative way forward. The mere
fact that they have been prepared to pay anything between £19-£79 speaks
volumes for the inept, inefficient and ineffectual ‘official’ processes of
‘consultation’ engineered by CCHQ – like CPF, the Conservative Policy Forum. When I was deputy chairman (political) of my
local association in Beaconsfield, I spent three years faithfully sending out
these policy briefs and encouraging local branches to form discussion groups
and report back with their insights and intelligence. And every other month I
would faithfully collate these responses and send them on with my
carefully-crafted summary to Conservative Central Office, as it was then.

It was only when I became an approved
parliamentary candidate that I was told by a senior MP (and Cabinet minister)
that it all went straight in the bin. I was shocked, but perhaps I was naïve.
Like the annual party conference, CPF is nothing but a façade of democratic
membership engagement.

The whole point of the Conservative Renewal conference in Windsor is to
re-engage the party’s grass roots. The 200 people who have already paid their
money and bought their tickets are being treated appallingly. They are not
involved in petty Westminster spats and they are certainly not responsible for
the haemorrhaging of members to Ukip. Yet they are being treated as
inconsequential collateral damage in No10’s absurd attack on Ukip and/or Adam
Afriyie.

The irony is that last year’s conference was not at all critical of the
leadership: it focused, as it promised, on debating the complex political and
organisational issues. This year’s conference cannot now avoid discussion of
No10’s autocratic instincts and CCHQ’s authoritarian centralisation. Only when
the party restores its internal democracy and learns once again to trust its
members will there be a revival in its political fortunes.

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