Brian Jenner, a speechwriter, journalist and Conservative activist, sets out the case for a new conservative social organisation based on creativity, friendship and fun.
Browsing through Facebook this week, I had a sense that a dramatic
change is on its way. Looking through the friends of some prominent
Conservatives, I was struck by something. They have a large group of
attractive friends – there is hope at last.
A few years ago, an American academic, Robert Putnam wrote a book
called Bowling Alone. He described how the pressures of modern life
were breaking up our institutions. The politicians acknowledge this,
but they see it as an irreversible social trend, which means that they
deserve to be funded by the public purse.
But what if it’s the other way round.
The reason the political parties are bankrupt is because they are not
adapting to what people want. In ten years of organising business
events, I would say that people are reluctant to join traditional clubs
because they involve formality, cliques, tedious meetings, financial
commitment, dealing with status-obsessed individuals and a rigid
adherence to old ways of doing things.
One thing that irritates me about the Conservative localists is that there is one institution that conspicuously fails to fulfil its role in the local community in the way it used to. That is the Conservative Party. Where is their vision of a new local political organisation that actively involves the people it aspires to govern?
Traditionally the Conservative Party attracted the talented, intelligent and wealthy members of the community to their social events. Julian Critchley described in his memoirs how he turned up in the 1950s and there were hordes of attractive young women. To run an effective political party you need thousands of members who wouldn’t dream of running for political office. They’re there for the food, the company and the chance to be part of something important.
The great thing is that new technology has given us the tools to create a new political movement based on the traditional vision of what being a Tory was about. That political movement must be more social than political. The object is not to meet online, but to use the technology to organise events in smart places for smart people. It needs to be a Conservative equivalent of the Fabians.
Membership can be defined by subscribing to an email list. Events can be organized by whoever wants to set something up. People will pay to come to something that’s fun. In my experience setting aside one evening a month in a pleasant venue quickly builds up a following. You need a speaker to speak for about fifteen minutes to create a sense of a beginning, a middle and an end. The important thing is to get people away from their computers and in contact with others who share their values.
This new organisation needs to have an ethos, and I would suggest it should be "creativity". Creativity is something women feel comfortable with. It’s the buzzword in business. Globalisation and new technology have swept away many of the traditions and rituals of British society. What Conservatives must do now do is "create" new traditions and institutions, appropriate for transient populations.
My name for a new centre-right organisation would be the "Civic Creatives" but I’m sure there are other suggestions. Creativity comes through the imagination of individuals. Observe the tremendous energy the creators of ConservativeHome have unleashed.
Facebook teaches us a lesson. I’m sure we’d all like to hear George Osborne’s thoughts on the economy or David Willett’s views on education, but wouldn’t we prefer to meet all Iain Dale and Jonathan Isaby’s fashionable friends? Robert Putnam ends his book about social disintegration by urging people to organize more picnics. That’s what’s got to be the focus of the organization, because without the picnics, there is no politics.
Also by Brian:
- Ten tips for local elections,
- Finding a new Tory idealism,
- Ten reasons not to go into politics,
- Ten ways to liven up your Association,
- How about some jokes, Dave?,
- Lamenting the rise of the urban regeneration practitioner,
- A reading list for new age Tories,
- It’s time to put the Party back into the Conservative Party