This is the first of three posts about Conservative Party reform.

On this site last week, Tim Montgomerie wrote in passing about Party reform, arguing that successive leaderships and Party Chairmen have been become too focused on short-term goals at the expense of medium-term ones.

In other words, they have channeled their energies into winning whichever general election is next in the electoral cycle – rather than also striving to forge a Party that is “built to last”.

The result is an intense concentration on perhaps 80 marginal constituencies out of the 650 total: that’s less than a sixth of the seats.  These others then sink or swim.  In much of London and the Northern cities it has sunk – for example, in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull.

On the credit side, the CCHQ election-fighting machine is in good shape (Merlin and computes aside). The Party is debt-free. Online campaigning is improved.  Membership is up.

But the present centralised model, with members having a big say in leadership elections only, is unsustainable.  In this mini-series, Mark Wallace and I will revisit three themes for reform that ConservativeHome has campaigned on before.

The first is turning the Party into a network of local campaigning alliances.

  • Associations would be free to band together into groups.  To some degree, this already happens, at least when it comes to candidate selections – as the City Seats Initiative shows.
  • They would also be free to campaign together – concentrating their efforts where they think these matter most. Again, this already happens to some degree, with stronger Associations helping out weaker ones.
  • What doesn’t happen consistently, though, is an explicit branding of that effort – a campaigning effort online, in literature, and through social and local media to project [name here] Conservatives as a local force.
  • The balance of doing what’s right for the country and standing up for your local interests is a fine one, but the trend has been for local voters to look for local champions.  So the local branding should ideally be matched by a stronger focus on local action.
  • This could include the MPs making a point of pledging that their following of the Conservative Whip is conditional on what’s best for their locality.  Again, this is usually the score in any event – so they should make more of a song and dance about it.
  • The MPs could choose a convenor to act as a spokesman for the locality.  He or she would become the lead negotiator with the Treasury and departments, in effect, for provision and investment into it – and the leading public face for it locally.
  • Local branding and campaigning must be backed up by more local independence if it is to work.  Associations should have more leeway to select local Parliamentary candidates who aren’t on the approved list. And CCHQ should stop trying to have the last word on manifesto content.
  • Some Associations already campaign with single issue or third party organisations.  This should become the norm as politics changes – with local Conservatives linking up with independent campaigns for, say, free schools or lower taxes.