Party leaders want to win elections, and Party Chairmen want to please them – especially since it is the leaders who appoint them. The nearer an election looms, the more narrowly money, staff and resources are concentrated on winning it. After it takes place and regardless of the result, the accumulated teams and expertise are broken up: staff depart and knowledge goes with them. This cycle has been repeated many times, leaving CCHQ with little institutional memory, if any.
This isn’t to say that specialist understanding doesn’t exist within the Party. The Conservative Christian Fellowship has good links with the churches. Conservative Friends of Israel and the Conservative Middle East Council know their stuff. But ad-hoc expertness isn’t a substitute for a sustained capacity at CCHQ to engage with, say, ethnic minority communities. The figures are familiar. In 2050, one in five voters will be members of ethnic minorities. We won only 16 per cent of their votes last time round.
Diverse faces on the front bench and policies targetted at particular groups of voters are ultimately no substitute for a presence on the ground in city and suburban seats and councils. Expertise at the centre helps to builds it up. Alok Sharma, the Party Vice-Chairman responsible for the Party’s drive to win BME voters, is doing a very good job. But it would be hard for anyone so charged to make rapid progress with only two full-time members of staff at their disposal, as is the case at present.
In short, what is needed is a Communities Department with expert staff who have knowledge and contacts – some of whom at least will survive the shake-ups that tend to follow elections. Obviously, such a happy outcome cannot be guaranteed. But it would be made a bit more likely were such an enterprise to have its own funding stream. The money given to the Conservative Foundation cannot simply be lavished on elections. The Party needs a similar arrangement to pay for long-term campaigning.