Douglas Hansen-Luke, former Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North, is Managing Partner of an investment consultancy.
It would be wrong to say that the Conservative Party is riddled with bullying and fear, but it would be equally wrong to say that these things do not exist at all. Whilst most people enter politics out of a sense of duty or a wish to use their talents for the public good, it is naïve not to recognise that there are some for whom intrigue and unbridled ambition also play a part.
I read and endorse Conservative Home’s piece on the Clarke allegations and a Party culture not always fit for purpose. As a 40/40 Parliamentary candidate this year, my experience was sometimes similar to that of Rebecca Coulson and I’d agree that too many activists and professional staffers have fallen for the culture of The Thick of It and House of Cards.
For the majority of people such an environment is not an attractive one and doubtless we lose volunteers as a result. This problem is common to all parties and the unattractive attitudes, in-fighting and self-serving behaviour alleged in Clarke-gate may go some way to explain the drop in numbers of political activists. If so it is a self-perpetuating, vicious-cycle which must be halted.
This path towards Clarke-gate has been accelerated because of an under-resourced and over-extended Conservative Party; a party that was only just able organisationally to hold it together to secure our brilliant win in May. In such circumstances it is not surprising that manners became rougher than usual and that the utterly egregious acts alleged to have been committed by Mark Clarke went either un-noticed or were brushed under the carpet.
In an age where fictional political heroes represent the worst of politics and where there is a shortage of resource, bad practice and short-cuts will more easily prevail.
So if the problem is culture and lack of resources, what can be done?
In my contribution to the Feldman Review I highlighted that the Party is significantly undervaluing it’s several-hundred-strong body of candidates. In retrospect, I can see this also represents a cultural failing in which we forget to listen to or fully recognise the contribution that can be made by volunteers who are instead often treated as cannon-fodder.
By not systematically incorporating the experience of the hundreds of voluntary candidates working at the sharp end of campaigns we lose our institutional memory and endlessly re-invent the wheel.
In my review submission I talk about how candidates (who have been chosen through the Party’s excellent selection process for their leadership, experience and energy) can be given more of a role between elections and how their campaigning experience should be formally incorporated in to the Party’s structure across boroughs and counties.
If top-quality candidates and campaign managers can be more easily matched to the seats in which they can be most successful then they can work over the long-term to build a culture of inclusion supported by adequate resources and time.
This proposed long-term and consistent approach of aligning candidates and campaign managers with specific areas will reduce the vulnerable points in our organisation and reduce the culturally toxic occasions when Party professionals have to work under time-pressure and adopt quick fixes.
Mark Clarke’s RoadTrip was an excellent idea that made an important contribution to our General Election victory. It could, however, have been even better and its alleged improprieties would have been revealed earlier if it had not been put together as an emergency plan to mobilise much needed support. Trust, time and space are needed for any professional work. They allow a supportive culture that is the very antithesis to the coercive and destructive experience that many seem to have experienced around RoadTrip and other elements of the campaign.
Grant Shapps has already paid the price for accepting a good idea without ensuring proper supervision and safe-guarding. Before others fall or we repeat the mistakes of the past, let the Party reach out to the untapped resource of able and experienced candidates who have already proved their commitment and allow them to build a campaigning force capable of winning election after election. Let us maintain trust with the faithful and let us not turn away or use the terrible circumstances of Elliott Johnson’s death and Clarke-gate for settling scores. Instead, let us use this crisis and failure as a necessary warning that the Conservative Party must regenerate and renew both its culture and its organisation to fully tap the resources and support available to it.
My suggestions are born of my own experience and that of the other candidates that I have spoken to. It would be interesting to hear the views of more candidates, winning and losing, about what worked for them and where they believe they could contribute most between elections.