Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons’ Foundation,
Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell’s Laws of the Public
Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
Politicians and the mainstream media often furrow their brows and earnestly opine about the lack of interest in politics. Their self-serving analysis is wrong. This supposed lack of interest is not in politics or political issues per se. It is in the party political and parliamentary system and is borne out of cynicism and the fact that elected politicians seem to fail to respond to the concerns of voters – either because they are unable to deal with those concerns (because they are blocked by civil servants or EU law precludes action in Westminster) or because they are unwilling to.
Party politics is a volunteer effort. With the exception of agents and those employed in CCHQ, the Party’s army of campaigners are volunteers with busy lives and everyday concerns that weigh on their minds. It seems that this is all too often forgotten by the powers that be and it is a problem that is getting worse, not better.
The problem seems to have been exacerbated by the reforms pioneered by arch-moderniser Archie Norman which saw the formal creation of the Conservative Party as a legal entity (until 1998 the Party was a loose federation of independent local associations). It is those reforms that saw greater centralisation of control and the removal of power from local associations. The rationale for this was financial and organisational. Associations were assured that by pooling their resources, their campaigns would be more efficiently run than ever before. The converse has been the case.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the most frightening words to a Conservative activist most surely are: "I’m from Central Office and I’m here to help".
Volunteer activists are "good guys". Not all activists are rousing
orators, enthusiastic leafleters, prolific organisers, welcoming hosts
or energetic campaigners. Few have any vested interest in a particular
campaign. While they might like to see a Tory victory, it would not be
the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. In those circumstances it is
more important than ever that these volunteers are sincerely welcomed,
properly managed, efficiently deployed and – most crucially – regularly
thanked for their efforts.
This week’s unedifying stories concerning the extension of nominations for the Mayoral campaign and the failure of CCHQ to write to B-List candidates
exemplifies the wholly inept attitude displayed by CCHQ. It smacks of
arrogance, insensitivity and taking people for granted. In any walk of
life it would be rude and unacceptable. In volunteer politics it is
astonishing. One would have thought that an organisation with an annual
turnover running into the tens of millions of pounds might just have
been able to nurture its candidates (on both the A-List and the B-List)
but it seems that it cannot even manage to do that.
As Iain Dale and Jonathan Sheppard
have commented elsewhere, it would be no surprise if many hard-working,
talented and committed activists simply walked away from the
Conservative Party and told them where they could shove their
Candidates’ List (I fear that things are so bad that those who might be
told this by disgruntled candidates would attempt to shove the List up
their elbows given that they seem not to be able to distinguish their
elbows from their backsides).
Local associations are not immune from criticism either,
particularly in their attitude to new or younger members. Those who
design websites, deliver leaflets, attend fundraising events, canvass
voters, stand as candidates, hold office and so on are all volunteers
and yet sometimes even these "officer volunteers" forget that they too
were once new or young. The number of stories told by activists ranging
from where associations fail to return phone calls from potential new
members to where associations simply give new activists piles of
leaflets to deliver (without having the courtesy even to talk to the
new volunteer and to find out his interests or skills) are testament to
the fact that high-handed attitudes are not just prevalent inside CCHQ.
Volunteer activists are the good guys. They should be treated far
better than one would treat the bad guys. All too often the good guys
are treated worse. If the Party is to recover and again to become an
army of volunteers from all walks of life, its culture needs to change
– from top to bottom. To paraphrase Macpherson, the Party seems to be
institutionally inept. If fundamental changes in attitude do not take
place, it will soon see that it doesn’t have enough activists to
campaign effectively in the next election. Maybe this is why state
funding is being sought after all?
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