Holmes PaulPaul
Holmes is Parliamentary Advisor to Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP and
former Cabinet Member on Southampton City Council (2008-2012).

In 10
weeks’ time Conservative Future members will have the chance to vote for those
who want to lead it. The organisation has grown from strength-to-strength, but
there needs to be change. In short, our future leaders must be more focused and more strategic; and work even harder to deliver a Conservative majority in 2015
(including voters from BME groups and the inner cities).

It’s taken
Conservative Future, which was founded by William Hague more than 14 years ago,
until recently to be taken seriously as both a nationwide campaigning tool and
policy-building organisation. We made progress with Mark Clarke, but have seen
this accelerated under Ben Howlett: an increase in supporters, a mobilised
campaigning base and a professional reputation.

So what’s next for Conservative Future? While our members
decide which direction they want the organisation to go for the next 15 months
and UKIP’s youth wing reconsiders its future in light of the appalling
treatment by their Party Chairman earlier this week, I want to offer up my
thoughts to the base.

Future has become a fast-reacting campaign force, but there’s still more to do.
In 1997, while we were just getting started, the Conservative Party was
wallowing after its catastrophic defeat. A number of lasting legacies were left
that continue to affect the party.  One of these was the damaging impact
on our activist base and the readiness of associations to get stuck in. As an
activist in Lewisham and a former cabinet member in Southampton, I remember
only too well how tough it was to establish and maintain a respectable
campaigning operation.

It is
clear to me that this needs to be addressed under the new leadership: a clear
focus on delivering that majority; as Conservative Future, not Coalition
Future. There must be a huge push in making sure branches are maintained or
created in the 40 most winnable seats as well as having the support they need
to win elections. We must continue to support branches in the 40 most marginal,
Conservative-held, seats. Although branches have been created at increased
rates there is still a need for sustainable activity. Furthermore, our
organisation needs to move away from sending people to various parts of the
country, when bases should be established on the ground.

Future members are not just campaigners. Among our number are some of the
future leaders of the Conservative Party. There is no doubt in my mind, that
every time I attend one of many events, we have a huge array of talented,
thoughtful and intelligent people. We can go further in harnessing this talent.
It is true that much more recognition has taken place of Conservative Future
members, however there needs to be more links between the parliamentary party,
local party and our base. We have the makings of good councillors (while
lowering the average age). More organised events and a mentoring programme
between willing MPs, AMs, Councillors and leading Conservative think tanks
would be warmly received. I can vouch for that.

Future has a great amount to offer the Tory Party, a party which is going to
need all hands on deck in just under two and half years’ time. More than an
organisation that just offers ‘boots on the ground’ strong and enhanced
branches, boosted by strong regional management, can offer the party a decent
thinking capacity too. CCHQ should welcome and encourage a greater say for
Conservative Future in the policy development of our next manifesto.  We
already have the Conservative Future Policy Forum in place but its arguable how
much impact this has had. Again, we must do more.

So in
short, Conservative Future is at its strongest for years. With a small but
significant number of tweaks, it could become a powerful and fulfilling
organisation for many years to come. The next national chairman should be
willing and able to support you, listen to you and be your voice in CCHQ, the
party and media.