Rob Semple is Chairman of the National Conservative Convention.
I want to update those who were unable to make it to Cardiff for our recent Spring Forum and National Convention on developments that have taken place since. I was delighted that the forum was held on a larger scale again, and am grateful to our colleagues in Wales who hosted us.
This gathering was our first since the historic win in Copeland for Trudy Harrison – winning a seat that has not been Conservative since 1935 was a truly stunning result. Trudy gave a great speech at the forum, and thanked activists from across the country who had braved often hostile weather conditions to play their part in her victory. It was a real team effort by volunteers, professionals and Parliamentarians across the Party – so thank you to everyone who helped out, whether that was on the ground or making calls from home.
Cumbria is also leading the way in the good progress we are making in implementing proposals from the Party Review. Members in Copeland and the other five Cumbria constituencies have now voted overwhelmingly in a members’ ballot to create the Party’s first Multiple Constituency Association (MCA). The Party is now in the process of recruiting a dedicated campaign manager for the area to help drive this initiative forward. Close behind, another MCA has been approved by a similarly convincing majority in a ballot in Northumberland – another important step which will help us to strengthen our campaigning power across the North of England.
I can also confirm that the initial trial of central administration of membership has started in the East Midlands this month. As promised, an independent advisory group will continue to oversee progress. Our aim is that, subject to the success of the trial, this project will be rolled out region by region in the months to follow. Apart from bringing us into line with most other UK-wide membership organisations, it will also allow us to run far more effective national recruitment campaigns and deliver a much enhanced membership service.
The revisions to rules on the selection of local government candidates – based on feedback from the membership through the Party Review – were passed unanimously by the Party Board in February, and came into effect at the start of March. They have been widely welcomed and show why it is important we engage with our members at every opportunity.
At the convention, we discussed updating the Party’s constitution to allow the recommendations from the Party Review which received such overwhelming support at Party Conference last October to come into effect: extending Association Officer terms, and moving AGM dates from March to July. We will also take the opportunity to look at areas that need modernising, such as the introduction of electronic voting for internal elections and taking on board further suggestions from the Party Review.
The Convention also looked at the vital topic of the proposals to create fairer, equally-sized Parliamentary constituencies – a long overdue reform, and a manifesto commitment scuppered by the Liberal Democrats before the last election. Up and down the country, we can see examples of the unfairness of the current system, in my home city of Leeds, we have a constituency with a total electorate of 66,000 compared with Elmet & Rothwell’s 77,000. Such anomalies mean that the current boundaries are unrepresentative of the electorate and votes are not of equal worth. Party members were emphatic that this must be put right and were united in their expectation that every Conservative MP must back these proposals when they come to Parliament.
My aim is that we complete the implementation of the Party Review proposals and the changes to the Party Constitution in time for next year’s Spring Forum.