Raheem Kassam is the Campaigns Director for The Henry Jackson Society.
Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and the most recent idol of the masses – Senator Congressman Ron Paul. Long bygone and more recent speakers you could expect to find at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC. It took place last week, with 11,000+ delegates – and I was there for my second experience.
There are hundreds of top level speakers, back to back – inspiring, drumming up support for their campaigns and even taking some jeering on the chin when they step out of line with what is a split American conservative/libertarian audience. If this just sounds like the Conservative Party Conference to you, then I'm not doing a good enough job yet.
I know we conduct our politics differently, but there are so many tips and tricks that we can learn from our counterparts overseas and plenty that small delegations of Brits have taught them over the past few years also. Activism shouldn't stop at blogging or leafleting. In fact, those are just the foundation. Things like straw polls, webinars (online seminars) and sponsored sessions could do more to inform the droves of activists to which the Conservative Party here already has access.
But there's a trick – CPAC isn't partisan per se. Of course you'd be hard pushed to find a Democrat around, (although someone did shout across the hotel at one point, "right wing devils!") CPAC appeals to the broader 'Right' movement. From pro-lifers, LGBT groups, the NRA to Muslim conservative groups, libertarians, neo-cons, Austrian economics buffs to anarcho-capitalists – they're all under one roof. They're fuelled by the presence of one another – engaging in the best ecumenical discussions I've seen in years, testing each others' premises to breaking point – mostly amicably – but so that both parties are able to take the fight to the real opposition post-conference. It's informal, it happens in the bars and pubs surrounding the venue as well – but it's undoubtably the benchmark. The Republican Party only convene once every four years – perhaps there's something in this.
Pivotal to all of this is the passion. The mood is different. The average age is probably about 25 years old – a far cry from the 45-60 mean of Tory conferences. I'm not suggesting the Conservatives chuck out the stalwarts – but it's about making the premise attractive for youngsters. Currently at UK party conferences, youngsters attempt to get around to whatever events have some free food and/or alcohol. There are few sessions set up explicitly for them, let alone 20-30 different youth-aimed booths.
This isn't a proportional issue either, it's a monopolistic one. Currently, Conservative Future own the monopoly on the centre-right – and it often fails miserably at mobilising members. The monopoly here must be broken to allow different organisations with specialisations to fill the gap. The Young Britons' Foundation has shown how it can be done – but it requires input, time and most importantly, money.
The most important point to make when juxtaposing CPAC and Tory conference is about the energy, the atmosphere. There's always expectation, delight or anger, never complacency or disinterest. This is because they still mean it. They refuse to kowtow to 'progressivism', the welfare state or government run monopolies. They still mean what they say about being a conservative, about low taxes, about smaller government and a strong national defence. Not only do they believe in it – they become furious when their beliefs are under attack. The emotion in speeches carries to the audience and remains with those activists and future leaders. When did you last see a British politician get furious purely for ideological reasons? It's healthy, but it rarely happens here.
So there's what makes CPAC as successful and inspiring as it is. This year, I will be saving my money from party conference and putting it towards my next trip to the US. Despite their inability to rally around one leader at the moment, the American Right at least have their passion in order – now it is our turn.