Lord Feldman is the Chairman of the Conservative Party.
On the Monday after the election, I sat in CCHQ, weary but exhilarated, and surveyed the scene around me: piles of leaflets explaining the choice between ‘competence and chaos’; the Alex Salmond masks; a cardboard cut-out of Nigel Farage, beer bottles – the usual detritus of an election campaign. At least I didn’t have an eight foot high stone tablet to dispose of too!
And I saw around me the tired but smiling eyes of the people that had given their all to this campaign. This was a monumental team effort. Much has been written about the leadership of David Cameron, the strategic genius of Lynton Crosby, the social media skills of Jim Messina, the brilliant ground campaign and targeting operation run by Stephen Gilbert and the inspired development of Team 2015 by Grant Shapps – and rightly so.
But there are thousands of people beyond this, who showed a unity and purpose that took us well over the line. I think of activists whose dawn raids on polling day went on until lunch-time; members out canvassing day after day; MPs lending a hand in key marginals – even though they had to keep an eye on their own seat.
Together, we proved that when the Conservative Party is united, we are unbeatable. We won because of our people, our leader, our ideas – but we also won because we had been laying the groundwork since 2010.
Spool back give years, when we had just entered government in coalition. It would have been tempting to think we could take a breather, and put CCHQ on autopilot. It’s the classic error made by political parties: get past the election, then mothball your central operation for a few years. But in 2010 we didn’t do that. We had a clear-eyed post-mortem of the campaign, and decided it was both a time for continuity and a time for change.
We had continuity in all those areas that were working: the key team; the financial rigour which was getting our party back in the black; the target seats programme that was already delivering.
But we were also ruthless about where we needed to change. Our message discipline was poor, so we brought in the most disciplined campaign strategist in the world in Crosby. We had far too few campaigning professionals on the ground, so we recruited a hundred full time campaign managers in target seats years out from the election. We had spent too much money on posters and old media, and not enough on targeted voter communication and social media, so all this was put right – with the rewards of that more focused strategy being reaped last week.
And it’s the same story in 2015. This is a time for continuity and a time for change. Of course we must retain the key people, and maintain the message discipline and targeting strategy that worked so well this time. I’m delighted, in particular, that Stephen Gilbert will stay as my Deputy Chairman for campaigning.
However, we must also be open to improvement ,and our task is a huge one: making sure we have the structure in place to be a modern, dynamic political movement for many years to come.
We have all heard the last rites being read for major political parties like ours. The consensus is that traditional party affiliation is dying; that membership is withering on the vine; that the old tribal loyalties are being fragmented beyond repair.
But I believe this is defeatist. Yes, like all other major political parties across the West, we need to answer the question of how we thrive and grow in the 21st century. And, yes, membership of our party has declined over the decades as members have aged.
Yet the facts should give us real hope and incentive for change. At this election, the proportion voting for one of the two main parties went up. And in recent months we have seen staggering online engagement with the Conservative Party: hundreds of thousands of email addresses, countless ‘likes’ on Facebook, over a million people following David Cameron on Twitter.
These people are not all members, but they care enough to make a connection – and if we want to thrive in future years we must recognise this change and harness it. Now is the time to ask big, searching questions about how we can keep the Conservative Party as a living, breathing movement; a movement that reflects the times we live in, and engages as many people as we possibly can.
So during the coming weeks I will establish a pan-national, across-the-Party review of how we operate. This review will involve members, activists, digital friends, MPs, councillors and professional staff, and I want all the big questions asked: How do we expand our membership, and is traditional membership the only way forward? Is affordability of membership an issue, and what else can we do to make it more attractive? How can we open more doors to those interested in the Party? Is our Party constitution in tune with the times? How do do we build on our progress in attracting people from all backgrounds to become candidates and to enter public life?
This will be a no-hold-barred conversation about how a modern political movement should work. I’ll also be setting up a panel selected from across the Party to take evidence and discuss these issues, with the whole review wrapping up by the end of this year. We will have events, discussion groups, online questionnaires and, I hope, vigorous debate. By then, we’ll have a plan to re-shape our Party, renew ourselves and grow stronger for the years ahead.
I’m extremely lucky to be supported in this task by Rob Halfon, our new Deputy Chairman – a man who embodies grassroots conservatism and feels passionately that to thrive long-term, our Party must be a mass movement which reaches out beyond its traditional heartland.
These are exciting times for Conservatives: a majority in Government, and new energy in our Party. Of course it would be tempting to sit back and bask in this moment. But we have a golden opportunity to ride the wave and renew our Party – and we must seize it. The road to 2020 starts here.