Tom Harwood is a final year student at Durham University. He chaired the national student arm of Vote Leave, and has run successful viral campaigns within the National Union of Students.
Surprisingly late at night, earlier this week, a self-styled Conservative answer to the Labour Party’s ‘party within a party’ hard left social media machine ‘Momentum’, launched with what is quite possibly a contender for the worst tweet ever compiled.
Whilst it is easy to mock a hopelessly ‘how do you do, fellow kids’ attempt at creating a spicy #meme machine, there is a serious lesson to learn before another copycat group is created, but with shinier graphics.
Too many in the Conservative Party now believe the only path to winning over more young voters like me is to copy Labour, the party that lost the last election. Blindly replicating the structures of one half of a bitterly divided party just because they happen to be good at social media is a recipe for disaster.
The crucial point about Momentum is that it was formed with, well, momentum. It was born out of a successful and transformative leadership campaign and already had a base of loyal and ideologically driven people. The very founding of the organisation had one goal in mind, to defend the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and consolidate his power within a party establishment that would fight him at every turn. Hard left activists knew that this was their one shot at taking over the Party, and consequently were incredibly motivated.
Every Conservative Momentum-like organisation that has been touted, on the other hand, just feels stale. There is no excitement, they feel designed by committee, compromising and visionless. We’re at risk of creating camels while the Labour Party has found itself with a horse.
Though those in Momentum won’t like hearing this, the success of their organisation is a product of market competition. It was not formed by central decree, but won out by being better at selling its product than the campaigns of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall. This is what we should learn from our opponents: competition raises standards across the board. The sad truth about Activate Dot UK Dot Net is that all it seemed to do is stand against Jeremy Corbyn, but not for anything. Creating an ideology-free, edgeless, and sanitised broad church party within a party is not going to do anyone any favours.
Any engaging Conservative movement would need to see itself in its own right, and not simply as an answer to the Labour Party. To this end the problem the Conservative Party faces is not so much a lack of structures, but a lack of vision. Once we recapture a vision of what this country can be, once we have a path and can see light at the end of it, all else will be able to flow from that.
For any campaign groups that spring up to be successful, they must stand for something. It’s hard to engage people to fight for eternal compromise. To this end, the real saving grace of the Conservative Party has to come from rediscovering our soul and our mission. If the Prime Minister wants to set the party on the best possible footing to win the next election, she should consider promoting potential leadership figures who can offer competing visions of the future, and let the best vision win. Young people won’t flock to the party just because we have better graphics, young people will come when we offer solutions.
The fact that Momentum creates shareable content does not mean that it is a healthy panacea of all that is good and true in this world, and it is clear that a carbon copy would not fix the Conservative Party’s worries. We must create the conditions to let innovative ideas compete in order to deliver the Conservative revival we all want to see.