Bernard Jenkin is Chair of PACAC (Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee) and Member of Parliament for Harwich and North Essex.
I prepared this for the 1922 Executive, and for a diverse group of Conservatives of all opinions and age group. It’s for anyone interested creating a Party that’s more effective and appealing, and better able to combat the resurgent Left.
What can I bring to this discussion? Well, the core purpose of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) (which I Chair) is: “to conduct robust and effective scrutiny in order to help create conditions where the public can have justified confidence in public services/government”.
Substitute the words “public services/government” with “the Conservative Party”, and you have at least one core purpose of the 1922 Committee.
On PACAC, we have accumulated much understanding about why organisations function well or badly. We scrutinise the Cabinet Office and Number Ten, the Civil Service, public bodies such as the PHSO and the Public Appointments Commission, and until 2016 we looked at charities (e.g. Kids Company, and the charity fund raising scandal).
We also look at regulators such as the Civil Service Commission, the Electoral Commission, the UK Stats Authority, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, and at codes of conduct and the role they play in organisational effectiveness (for example the Ministerial Code and the Civil Service Code).
What’s this got to do with the performance of CCHQ?
In all the failings uncovered by heads-must-roll-type investigations and inquiries into the messes that afflict every kind of organisation (look at the banks!) the standard output tends to concentrate on the failures of a few individuals, or the need to make more rules, have more punishments, create new structures or bodies, and to pass new laws. Do we want the equivalent response to CCHQ?
So often, analysis and solutions miss the wood for the trees. It sounds pat, but organisations rely on people: often lots of them. How they are led, and the attitudes their people adopt as a consequence, determines how those people tend to behave. The “culture” of the organisation is vitally important.
People in any organisation need clear and consistent leadership. The word “leadership” does not mean some single superhero at the top who can impose their vision and will on everyone around them. It depends on the collective effort of tens or even hundreds of people who should be accountable for the functioning of that organisation.
So in CCHQ, who are these people? They are the many executives who are in charge of the huge variety of operational units in our party’s structure, and who ultimately look to the Chair, the Board and the Chief Executive. Have all these people had, or been given clear and consistent leadership? Obviously not.
This is not to criticise anyone, or to suggest different people would do better. They are all highly committed people, all wanting the Conservative Party to succeed. How can we help clarify their purpose, align their efforts, and improve their ability to form effective teams and to become a more effective organisation?
It is about changing peoples’ expectations and attitudes: changing the “culture”.
PACAC attaches the highest importance to effective governance, which is the fiduciary responsibility of the Chair and the Board. Governance is not just about them ensuring compliance with rules, though that is important. It is about the tone the leadership adopt in their discourse, and the atmosphere they choose to promote: in their own discussions; in the way their senior people conduct their business; in the way relationships function throughout.
There is also an intrinsic link between governance and reputation. No organisation can function unless it is trusted: by its customers and members, by the public at large, and by its stakeholders including lenders, investors, funders, donors, suppliers, and supporters. There can be little trust for any organisation unless there is also trust within that organisation.
So what is the first step to take to improve governance at CCHQ?
The first thing is to have a very open and trusting discussion about what has gone wrong. The Board must make sure that everyone can finally tell the truth. In less well-functioning organisations, people very often know what is going wrong and why, but cannot talk about it to the people who could change that, because they don’t trust what would happen to them as a consequence.
How do you generate that trust?
First you must clarify the core purpose of the organisation. What are we all doing this for? That is why many modern organisations have a mission statement to clarify what they do, why they do it, who they are doing it for. You can search as hard as you like, but the Conservative Party has no mission statement – so our paper proposes one.
Second, promoting trust and openness is about promoting the right values: not political values, but personal ones. So the paper proposes adopting a clear Statement of Values, to inform people about what attitudes will be encouraged, and which will be discouraged; and about what behaviours will be rewarded, and which, henceforth, will no longer be tolerated.
Again, take a look! The Conservative Party has no values statement. No wonder we are afflicted by “road trips”, shouty spads, and short-termism.
We can all come up with our solutions to fix CCHQ, but things will always tend to revert to type unless we start to change the way people think and feel about what they do, and how they go about it. You can change as much as you like, but if you don’t change the way people think and behave, then everything will stay pretty well the same in the long run. Many of the good people at CCHQ are crying out for that kind of change.
Finally, the worst way to get change is to think you just throw out this lot of people at the top, and get some new, “better” people to run the thing. No serious organisation can function in that way, constantly clearing out the top people and starting again. In fact, there has been quite a lot of that at CCHQ over the years.
Perhaps we MPs also need to look at ourselves, and start to think about our own attitudes and the way we behave. Requiring the Party as a whole, consciously and sincerely, to start to debate why we have an organisation, what it is for, how it should function, and on the basis of what personal values, is the first step we can take to promote the better Conservative Party we all want to see.