Like the Queen, ConservativeHome has two birthdays. Well, almost. The site was launched on Easter Monday 2005. We can celebrate our anniversary on Easter Monday, therefore, or alternatively March 28. There are no big celebrations this year because, as you’ll have noticed, there’s an election on. A decade of ConHome shouldn’t go without some recognition, however.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate Paul Goodman and his team for all they do. The site is in great shape and I love reading it. Recent polling by IPSOS/Mori found that it’s still the top reading choice of Tory MPs. More Conservative MPs read ConHome than read the BBC, Guido Fawkes or the Daily Telegraph.
I’m particularly delighted about beating the latter. The Telegraph hated ConHome a few years ago – thinking we were challenging it for the best insights into the Conservative Party. We were! The Telegraph aimed to close us down, but we’re still standing and many of the people at the paper who plotted our downfall are no longer in their jobs.
We survived and flourished because of quality journalism and a certain Lord Ashcroft. ConHome was kept afloat in its earliest days by Stephan Shakespeare, but it is Michael who has written the cheques over recent years, and they’ve been large cheques. In the pre-ConHome days, the voice of the party membership was largely ignored. It can’t be ignored now. The monthly opinion surveys and guest opinion pieces give a platform to the grassroots. We’re the party conference fringe that is 24/7, 365 days a year. My big thanks to Michael for making that possible.
I vacated the editor’s chair two years ago. At 5am every morning I’m now fast asleep, dreaming of Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United, rather than pulling on dressing gown and heading bleary eyed towards the glow of my computer. As much as I loved running the website I don’t miss those early starts or the occasional emails from readers complaining that the site should be fully uploaded by 8am, rather than 8.30am. “What kind of service do you call this?” was the moan. I’d always reply with one word: a “free” one!
One of the most important qualities of ConHome has been its breadth. The shields that crowned the site from the very beginning represented the different causes we march behind as a Tory movement: Home and family; Wealth creation; Compassion; Security; the Sanctity of human life; Faith; Conservation; Culture; Patriotism; Openness to the world; and political service.
Not every Conservative is equally enthusiastic about every one of those causes, but none of them should be neglected. We are at our best when economic liberals can find a way of getting along with social conservatives and when Eurosceptics can join arms with green Tories.
That coalition building is sometimes very hard work, and it’s why party management is probably the most important responsibility of any contemporary party leader. Good leaders have to simultaneously be able to possess vision, master policy detail and have great communication skills – but maintaining a broad church in an increasingly fractious, consumerist age requires special skills. The great disappointment of the decade in which ConHome has operated has been the fractures that have arisen across the centre-right – and not just in Britain.
We didn’t just choose Conservative ”Home” because we wanted Tories all over Britain to bookmark the site as their homepage. Ideally, a version of our little “home” logo wouldn’t just be our logo but the party’s logo. The “home” stands for so many things that are dear to conservatives. It represents independence from the state, for family, warmth, locality, identity, security and often ownership. The decline of home ownership should worry all Tories. I hope next week’s election manifesto will take up some of the housebuilding ideas that were set out in the excellent ConHome manifesto that Paul and his team launched last August. We don’t have long to wait to see if it does.
Blogging has changed a lot since Sam Coates, my first deputy editor, and I muscled ConHome into the daily lives of Tory activists. Twitter, in particular, has reduced the importance of instant blogging but increased the usefulness of longer, reflective pieces. LabourList – our nearest equivalent site – is particularly impressive at providing these.
ConHome can’t just be an analytical, however. It must be a campaigning site. I’m proudest of the battle we fought to ensure party members retained their say in party leadership votes. And most disappointed that ConHome’s efforts to stop the unnecessary and unheralded NHS reform bill ended in defeat. Here’s to decade two!