I thought I’d write about opening up the Party, following on from James Morris’ excellent piece last week.
James is completely right in his observation that for too long the Party has been talking to itself. Paradoxically those of us who have for years been on about the need for the Party to make itself contemporary have been the ones criticised for navel-gazing. And indeed it does require us to be self-critical. But the result of ducking this challenge is that we continue to talk only to people who already vote for us. And we really do know by now how to get 33% of the voters to vote for us. We’ve done it three times in a row.
Both candidates in this contest talk warmly about the need to reach out beyond that 33%. It is surely blindingly obvious that without it we have no chance of making progress. And to do that we do need to be a much more open party. That’s partly about language, tone, policy and what we talk about.
But it’s also about becoming a much more open organisation, less hierarchical, more accessible, more engaged in the daily life of contemporary Britain. Our admirable www.conservativehome.com editor has, with others, been doing some serious thinking about how we might make this happen. This website is just one example. I’d like to take some of his trade away to www.conservatives.com in time, as we develop some open forums there.
And we need to think more broadly about how the party relates to its supporters. At present the first subset of our 8 million May 2005 voters is fewer than 300 thousand members.
From their number we expect to raise all the money we need for a modern campaigning party, and to recruit the activists we need to run it. And yet we know how reluctant people – especially younger people – are to wear the tee-shirt that says “Conservative Party member”. There must be – there are – hundreds of thousands more who would be willing to register as supporters, be kept in touch with us, contribute ideas, take part in surveys, perhaps deliver a few leaflets from time to time, perhaps give us some money occasionally. People who are willing to be part of a virtual organisation but not a physical one. And if we made it possible for these supporters to take part in candidate selections – even leadership elections? – who knows where it would take us?
I suspect there may be some cynics (are there any on this website?) saying: “Can this be the same Francis Maude who only weeks ago was trying to take the decision on the leadership away from members and give it back to the MPs?” Well, yes, it is. And yes it is perfectly consistent. The Board’s proposal was put forward at the request of the voluntary party as well as the MPs, was supported by nearly 60% of the Convention in the vote, and by a rather higher proportion of the membership, if the polls were any guide. There is no theology in how to elect a leader. It is done in very different ways in different places.
Our challenge is to become the kind of organisation that is institutionally and culturally outward-looking, forcing us away from our Westminster focus, and outward from our internal hierarchies and structures. Then we’ll have a chance of appealing beyond our 33% to the next 10% that we need if we’re going to win.
There’s never any shortage of trenchant views on this website. What do you lot think?