Paul Abbott is Chief Executive of Conservative Way Forward and an Associate Director at Portland Communications.
Andrew Feldman has announced the first major change of his Review: a £250,000 fund, to help people on lower incomes to reach Parliament. This is an important new reform: a decent slug of cash, aimed at making our Party more meritocratic. It will tilt people more towards fulltime campaigning in marginal seats, where they can. And, it is funded by private philanthropy – not the taxpayer. Good! Therefore, it is hugely welcome, and we should give our Party Chairman every possible help and support.
As I said in an earlier column, many young candidates face serious financial hardship, and can end up with lifechanging debts. This is especially the case if they are self-employed, single parents, or commuting long distances to earn a living.
After every General Election, the result of this has tended to be that there is another generation of young(ish) Conservatives out there who are half-bankrupt, struggling with the exorbitant costs of candidacy. Many simply throw in the towel: and our Party – and our country – suffer as a result. There is a reasonable question about how the moolah will be doled out in this new fund: and what specific costs it will cover. But, Andrew Feldman’s reform – if it is allowed to grow and to develop organically over successive Parliaments – could transform our long-term capacity in marginal seats. It deserves to be a smash hit, and hopefully it is a sign of bolder new reforms to come.
There are many Conservatives who will feel buoyed by the good news, too, here in Manchester. Robert Halfon, Iain Dale, Tim Montgomerie and others have all written for ConHome in the past, expressing their worries about the crippling costs of candidacy – and the negative impact that it can have on our Party’s long-term health. The Conservative Party has a duty – I believe – to show that this problem and others like it can be solved through private and voluntary giving: through individuals giving generously of their own savings, rather than just lazily resorting to the State. Say what you like about Andrew Feldman and his new bursaries: his scheme will be funded by people who are putting their hands in their own pocket: not by the Government whacking everyone with new taxes, and taking money off you by force. Our Party Chairman is doing a profoundly Conservative thing. More please!
What a dismal sight it is, to see the hate-fuelled Socialists queuing up to shout and jeer and throw eggs at other people – simply for the so-called crime of being a Conservative. They ought to remember: many of the people who come to Conservative Conference actually come here to work. For Labour to hate people for labouring does seem to be a particularly bizarre irony. And the Conservative Party has, actually, just won a democratic election – only a few months ago. The measure of popular authority in Britain is not whether you can get a few drunk people to ransack Manchester on a Sunday afternoon: it is whether you can win a majority at the ballot box, once every five years. 11.5 million people have just chosen to vote Conservative. Perhaps the protesters should consider why that was.
It is depressing, actually, to see how threatening and violent the Corbynistas have become. I cannot understand it. Here is a bunch of otherwise ordinary people who seem to have chosen to come to Manchester to wreck the City centre, to hurl sickening abuse at strangers, and to trash anything that looks like the other team. I cannot think why anyone would sacrifice their Sunday afternoon for this: when they could be drinking whisky in front of a roaring fire, or listening to jazz music, or whatever it is that British people do for pleasure these days. It is completely absurd.
Imagine if I had rocked up a month ago on ConHome, for example, and said: “Hang on! Why don’t we all get a bus to Brighton for Labour Conference in a massive gang, to smash up some plantpots, annoy the Police, and throw eggs at the young Labour students?” If I said this, you would think I was insane. Because Tories do not do this sort of thing. But, sadly, this is not true for Her Majesty’s Opposition anymore. There are elements now lurking in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour mob that seem to be fuelled only by hatred, and a desire to cause chaos. If Darth Vader arrived on planet Earth in 2015, I suspect that he would join the Labour Party these days: probably paying the £3 to vote for Corbyn. The dark side of leftwing British politics is starting to look very ugly indeed.
A final thought. While the Marxists were trying to destroy the City centre, Conservative Way Forward were doing something positive. We organised a campaign day of 100 activists in Trafford, with Graham Brady MP and Cllr Sean Anstee – to deliver a Conservative magazine to 12,000 homes. The magazine was packed with stories about all the constructive things that Conservatives are doing locally: including freezing the Council tax, which is now the most affordable in Greater Manchester.
Trafford is a marginal Council and we need to hold it next year. But, if the best that the Labour Party has to offer is yesterday’s display of vainglorious thuggery – then we are in with a decent chance.