The structure of our Party has never been the most engaging of issues, but recent events have acted to highlight deficiencies in the way the youth movement of the Conservative Party, Conservative Future, is managed.
Coupled with the ongoing Party Review, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure the correct changes are made for the good of the membership and the organisation as a whole.
Its right that the Party is already looking to ensure there is adequate supervision of the youth movement, as well as putting in place a robust anti-bullying procedure. Although politics is notorious for rough and tumble, there is still no excuse for this spilling over into bullying.
But the reality is that the organisation has been dysfunctional for some time, even before this year.
This hasn’t always been to do with the people in charge at any given time, but rather is a reflection of the structure of Conservation Future itself.
Just as with the matter of devolution and local politics, people should be represented in groups within which they naturally identify; and the reality is that no-one instinctively subscribes to the artificial grouping of ‘Under-30’.
While acknowledging there must be some cut-off, it is important to recognise that although being young is something of an identity, it is not the primary identity held by many young people.
The Under-30 classification for Conservative Future must also be reflected upon when it comes to our responsibilities to our younger members. Currently, everyone from 14 year old students in secondary school to late twenties professionals are grouped together, creating challenges for cohesion.
This is not to say that these ages groups can’t get on – all young members who engage with the Party mix with older people, it’s a clear by-product of our Party’s demographic.
Rather, it is to recognise that our youth structure should be encouraging and equipping, planting the seeds of a strong future Party, and this is best achieved when our young members can mix in groups they naturally feel at home in.
Therefore the first consideration given to reforming the youth movement by the Party review should be in enabling the Party to capture the various identities that young people have: students, young professionals, apprentices, and so on.
The current catch-all solution fails because it doesn’t appeal to any of these groups on a wide enough level, and important areas get missed. An example of this is support for our members in student politics.
With recent examples like Warwick University CF, who recently took 11 of the positions in their Student Union elections, it’s clear that students want a Conservative option on the ballot paper. But within an all-encompassing Conservative Future, often led by young professionals, this isn’t a priority, and opportunities for our Party to flourish are squandered.
It’s important to remember that for many young people, the first opportunity they get to vote Labour is in their Student Union elections – it’s only right we ensure there’s a Conservative candidate alongside that.
Furthermore, the problems of lumping in students within Conservative Future is further compounded by their disenfranchisement under the current system of membership.
Given that members of student societies are not considered to be party members unless the relevant society passes the data (and potentially another payment) to a local association, hundreds if not thousands of students never receive a vote in Conservative Future elections.
This “democratic deficit” only acts to exacerbate tensions. Any future arrangement has to ensure this problem is addressed and that student members get a vote in the annual elections of their organisation.
With a lack of identity comes a lack of perceived necessity. The problem is neatly summed up by the comments of a recent candidate for the Conservative Future National Executive, when they said “I’m not really sure what the CF National Chairman does”. Herein lies a big part of the problem.
A clearer picture of what our youth movement is, and who it is for will breed a stronger culture of ownership, and with that a more secure position within the Party as a whole. For too long Conservative Future has been seen as a rallying point for leaflet deliverers, and not much more.
Other Parties recognise that their youth members have much more to contribute, in matters of leadership and policy, and it’s time that the Conservative Party did the same, and had structures fit to support this.
The starting point should therefore be to split the organisation into (at least) two segments under the auspices of the Party’s affiliate organisations.
The first organisation would be Conservative Students, and the other would be Young Conservatives, for those members not in education. Other groups may also be necessary.
A separation similar to this has already successfully operated for some time in London, providing members with what they need in the most logical way, whilst still offering the freedom for students to attend young professionals and other events.
The 1998 reorganisation to consolidate all our youth groups into Conservative Future may have made sense at the time, but after nearly 20 years, it’s clearly time for reform. Change is needed so our Party has the activists it needs to counter a rising Young Labour membership.
But more importantly, our activists need change so that they can feel part of an organisation they identify with. The time for Young Conservatives, and Conservative Students, has come again.