Rob Semple is Chairman of the National Conservative Convention
The last few months have been a time of great change for our country. Theresa May has made clear that as a party of Government, the Conservatives are moving with the times. But in order to remain in Government and continue our important economic and social reform, it is vital that we continue to go from strength to strength as a Party. That is why it is absolutely crucial that our Party is fit for purpose.
On the first day of our conference, the National Conservative Convention will meet to consider a number of proposals, which came out of the Party Review, aimed at achieving just that.
These proposals are the result of many hours of consultation and feedback from thousands of volunteers across the country, and I want to thank everyone who took part in those vital discussions. The proposals aim to address a number of important issues. These include our membership, our Party infrastructure and ensuring that our Parliamentary Party better reflects the population it is elected to represent.
There is, amongst our membership, understanding and agreement that we need to move towards a centrally-administered system of membership – like other professional, UK-wide organisations – if we are to be a modern organised entity. This would not only reduce the burden on local Associations, but also allow us to get a much better view of our membership, their opinions and the sorts of things they want to get involved in to play their role in our large and diverse Party.
I am, however, acutely aware of the importance of having an IT system at Conservative Campaign Headquarters that can deliver on these aims. I am, therefore, pleased that the Party Board has agreed to our request that an Independent Advisory Group should be set up to look at the ability of the Party to deliver on a centralised administered system.
This Advisory Group would report directly to the Board, and would be made up of external individuals with expertise in the areas which are central to making this work – for example IT and membership – alongside a representative user. The Chairman of the National Convention would chair this group, which would also consider other related matters. These might include questions about the ownership of data and administrative fees.
At Conference, the National Convention will need to decide whether or not to give the green light to this. My fellow voluntary members of the Party Board and I think the argument for the central administration of membership – done properly, of course – is a strong one, and we hope members will agree so that we can get started on making it work.
Another recommendation which the National Conservative Convention will also be asked to consider is the establishment of Multiple Constituency Associations (MCAs) to allow members in a local area the freedom to share experience and resources if they want to. I am pleased to say that there has been broad support for this – with a number of Associations already asking to trial it. Of course, this will be on a voluntary basis only -with the democratic consent of the local members. It is this latter point that give MCAs their great strength, as they will be a product of the approval of the membership in each participating Association. I hope we can gain support for this at our Convention.
There has also been a great deal of support for the introduction of our proposed candidates’ bursary scheme. As our new Party Chairman has rightly said, to govern a nation, you must reflect the nation – and this £250,000-fund to support low-income candidates will help ensure that we can be a Party of opportunity for all.
Other recommendations which have also received a lot of support and which will be put to the National Conservative Convention include five-year terms for Association officers, moving the deadline for AGMs to June to better fit the electoral cycle, and an improved website for members.
I strongly hope that my fellow Party members will back these reforms. They aim to grow our Party membership, help improve our Party infrastructure and also ensure that we get the best candidates from all walks of life. Implementing them will make our Party an even stronger campaigning force whilst ensuring that we truly value our members in every part of the UK.