There is lots of attention paid to those who give money to the Conservative Party – usually involving the assumption that selfishness rather than political belief could be the only conceivable explanation for making donations. But just as important – perhaps more important – than giving money is giving time. It is rather hard to portray a student or pensioner spending a few hours knocking on doors for their local candidate as being a scandal. So instead the anti Conservative (or anti politics) element resort to sneering at them.
Some Tories feel that to prove their sophistication to the chattering classes they need to privately go along with it. “Swivel-eyed loons,” was the phrase that Lord Feldman was accused of using in a media briefing.
The comment was denied – but in any event it was shrugged off with good humour. After all, we are used to being treated with disdain by the high-ups for whom we work so hard without pay. Arthur Balfour said:
“I’d rather take advice from my valet than from the Conservative Party Conference.”
There are certainly plenty of eccentrics in the Conservative Party – but then there are in the country generally. There are eccentrics in the street you live in, the office you work in, the local pub, the local church. UKIP, the Lib Dems – even that sour bunch the Labour Party have a few engaging but distinctive characters. All this is part of those British values we are trying to stick up for.
In any event this is good day for Conservative Party workers who feel unappreciated. There is recognition for some of the heroes and heroines of the voluntary party.
There is an OBE for Charles Heslop, former President of the Conservative National Convention. There is also one for Stephen Philips, a crucial link between the voluntary party and CCHQ. Also for Jean Baker, the former Chairman of Torbay Conservatives – not always an easy role.
There is an MBE for Tiz Baskerville – the former Chairman of Eastern Area Conservatives and a Vice President of the National Convention. She champions the Conservative Policy Forum, the Conservative Womens Organisation and Conservative Future.
Also MBEs for Adrian Mitchell, the former North West Conservative Chairman and Cllr Ian Galletrey, the former Chairman of the North East Conservatives.
James Wharton MP says:
“This is well deserved recognition for someone who has given countless years of public service. Ian can rightly be as proud of this as many of us are of him.”
Are there some other signs that the Party’s campaigners – that link between the Party and the British people – need to be given greater priority?
I think so.
There is a recognition that the Party conference must be reclaimed by the members – rather than purely being a trade fair for lobbyists and an expenses jolly for the media: who claim to find it very tiresome yet pitch up in their thousands.
Grant Shapps recently tweeted that 4,000 Conservative members have signed up to attend this year – already more than the total for last year. Is there a chance that Conservative members will represent a majority at this year’s conference?
This week I had a letter from the Prime Minister congratulating me on my re-election as a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham. I suspect (indeed would hope) that many others had a letter with very similar wording. But it was still nice to have it. I didn’t get one four years ago – although I suppose the Prime Minister was rather busy then forming a Government.
Then there is the astonishing success of the Conservatives Road Trip team of (mostly young) volunteers. They delivered that decisive victory in the Newark by-election. Nor was there any shortage of Conservative MPs tramping the streets along side them. Had UKIP won the by-election it would have undermined the crucial Conservative message at next year’s election – the choice between the Conservatives with David Cameron, or Labour with Ed Miliband.
Years after talking about the Big Society and the role of volunteering, some recognition of this principle is being applied to the Conservative Party itself. A welcome development.