Isaac Duffy is an A-level student from Hartlepool, a Borough Council Candidate, and Deputy Area Chairman of Cleveland and County Durham Conservatives.
My first experience with the Conservative Party was one that I will never forget. Back in the summer of 2011, I decided to join the Conservatives and was invited to my first ever action day: leafleting in Hart Ward, Hartlepool.
I remember meeting up with about five other teenagers and we joined up with members of the main party to help in the ward. There were probably about 20 people there, their ages ranging from me (13) to 80-something Association members. It was soon after this I joined Conservative Future, an organisation which I’ve spent the past three years of my life putting a great deal of effort into bolstering. My experience, however, has only left me more confident than ever that it’s an organisation the Conservative Party (and the people in it) could do without.
After a few weekends of campaigning when I first joined, I began to go to social events with other people in the Party my age. I’m not sure if I realised at the time, but this is when I first became involved in CF. There was never really an established CF presence in my area, so I don’t think it ever occurred to us that we were ‘CFers’. We were just a bunch of young people, who all had support of the Conservative Party in common, that got together and had some laughs.
After about a year, I decided I wanted to actively try and get more young people involved in the party, and when Teesside CF was set up at the end of 2012, I decided to throw my name into the hat during the election of officers. The term ‘election’ must be used cautiously, however: less than half a dozen people showed up to the branch launch, despite it covering six constituencies. As I recall, all of the positions were unopposed and the event turned out rather more like a sort of lonely coronation than an election.
I spent the next three years building CF up in my own constituency, then moved onto helping the rest of the Area, and eventually the Region; accumulating various pointless titles in the process. By the time I became Regional Chairman at age 16, my portfolio in CF looked much like an over-decorated Christmas tree. After a few months of being chairman, an endless number of branch positions, committee memberships and executive titles left me unable to even remember some of the positions people in my region of CF held.
Nationally, the situation was just as bad. Following the creation of the ‘National Strategy Team’ – essentially a glorified list of the Chairman’s mates who only held ceremonial responsibility – positions of the most trivial and minor consequence began to be created here, there and everywhere. For example; the first National Constitution Officer, the purpose of which I will never really understand, was appointed last year.
Over the years, I slowly became more and more distracted by the shiny plastic baubles of the wilting CF Christmas tree, and almost lost sight altogether of what was important: bringing young Conservatives together. In October of this year, I made the decision to resign from all of my positions within CF. Looking back, I’m more glad than ever I made that choice. Despite having dumped CF to focus on helping the main Party, I’ve still found myself meeting with young Conservatives simply because I enjoy mingling with people my age in the party, not because I have an obligation to.
It was only then that I realised that young members of the party don’t need Conservative Future – we gather together instinctively, not because we’re told to. Members who join in their teens are usually quite mature for their age and prefer to be treated as adults – putting them in a box and telling them to “go play with the other kids” is the most off-putting message we could be possibly sending to young people. Instead, the Party should totally scrap its organised youth movement and treat young every member as an adult. The entire notion that a 14-year-old and a 29-year-old share something that someone over the age of 30 won’t is absurd. Not only that, many people under 30 are treated as adults, and already do jobs in Associations and other arms of the Party. Just after I turned 16, I was elected as my local Association’s secretary. At the start of this year, I became its deputy, and was just recently elected as an Area Deputy Chairman. I’m not the only party member under 30 who holds an ‘adult’ position: many across the country do the same, and some even represent us in Parliament.
They key difference between these positions and CF ones is that they do entail genuine work, and CF’s culture of division isn’t carried on into the main Party because we’re more worried about finding local election candidates and making sure local Associations run smoothly rather than bickering over positions.
Instead of focusing on how to get more young people involved, CF members are sadly playing the part of Francis Urquhart (or Frank Underwood) and more often thinking about who might stand for what in the next election, how they can gain a new addition to their title collection or how to smear an opponent vying for the position they want. People are far too caught up in CF’s formal structure and put more effort into securing their titles than helping support the Party.
The tragic events of the past few weeks aren’t just down to one person, as is often alleged. They’ve happened as a result of CF’s horribly factious and divided culture – a direct consequence of having an organised youth movement with a National Chairman and Executive, and the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other CF titles across the whole of the country that distract people from what’s important.
There has been a lot of talk of what changes Conservative Future will undergo as a result of the Feldman Review. I sincerely hope that the party review will look seriously at integrating CF with the main Party and abolishing our youth movement altogether.
A few weeks before he died, Elliott Johnson said something to me I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget: “I hate that show [House of Cards]. I have never watched it but it makes every CFer want to imitate them.” Sadly, it’s probably now more true than ever. It’s appalling that it’s taken such a loss for people – including me – to realise that CF as a concept is flawed from the base up. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. For the sake of the Party, and more importantly importantly every member of CF, I truly hope this horrible affair will mark an end to Conservative Future.