Alexander Temerko is an industrialist and a Conservative Party donor and activist.
In each of the past three general elections, we have seen a tightly controlled and centralised Conservative campaign. This trend has become worse over time – and rigid adherence to a centrally imposed national message contributed to the disastrous result of June this year.
A few slogans and the best leader in the world are not enough to deliver electoral success. Voters want to see a team. We can only build that team, and strengthen our Party, on the firm foundations of our membership.
If Labour comes to power, the UK’s economic, social and cultural face will radically change in the coming decade. Instead of realising the opportunities of Brexit, we will instead see communist decline, as Labour start to negotiate away whatever has been agreed as they chart our future relationship with the EU.
I was born in the former Soviet Union. I know exactly how much damage hard left politics can do. We need to start serious and thorough preparation for this battle. CCHQ should be transformed into a proper party office. It should act as one team in which activists, volunteers, donors, councillors and members can find their place and apply their talents.
Today, the Conservative Party faces a crisis. There is a lack of democracy and of bravery. Many Party members, activists, donors and MPs can no longer accept the fact that all major decisions seem to be taken by a small elite.
Party members are needed. They leaflet, campaign and spread our message. Yet in recent times we have seen a significant decrease in membership: from more than 200,000 to less than 100,000. We risk becoming a party of elderly people living in the south of England. To address this, we must reform. The recent Conservative Conference was attended by perhaps only 30 per cent of our MPs; this serves to underline the disconnect that now exists in our ranks. I truly believe we can achieve a million members, but only if we transform the Party from a bureaucratic machine into a generator of new ideas and leaders.
The reformed party should always support back-benchers and MPs in their continuous efforts to stand against Government attempts to introduce “Henry VIII powers”, and hand a blank cheque to the Cabinet to change legislation without a broad parliamentary scrutiny.
Reforms will allow the Party to establish clear and transparent performance indicators including, among others, the increase or decrease of party members.
Theresa May is a good caretaker, and has an important task ahead in delivering Brexit. She should be given an opportunity to complete the Brexit negotiations. But she cannot lead the Party into the next election. Before long, we will choose a successor. When that time comes, it will be important to elect our leader by means of a of democratic vote – with no coronation or other sleights of hand. This way, a new leader will get a full mandate from our members to fight the economic and social threat of Labour’s ideology.
Our focus on Brexit negotiations constantly diverts our attention from pressing domestic issues while Labour, on the contrary, prioritises them. This will be crucial ahead of local elections in the spring of next year. A number of important issues will need to be resolved, and it is these that the Conservative Party should be addressing. We need to have a strong emphasis on our core conservative values, and show to voters that we are not only the Party of Brexit, but the Party of reform.
The Party is like a living organism. It requires rejuvenation and revitalisation. I agree with Nicky Morgan and Ruth Davidson that we need more differentiation, more democracy and the fostering of initiative. The Party should not be a sub-department of Number 10 Downing Street. The key figures in our Party should not be appointed without a mandate.
Party members should elect our next Chairman and other key figures. Through this process, we will be able to identify talented candidates and platforms. We will be able to see which messages work and which ideas are both Conservative and deliverable. In turn, this will inform who we then choose as our next leader. It is crucial to do this before the spring of 2018, when local elections are again upon us. If we perform badly in these elections, then a challenge to the leadership will potentially follow. It we have not prepared, then we will have to find a new leader in a hurry, undermining our chance to rebuild.
The Party, along with Cabinet ministers, should also play an active role in drawing up our next manifesto. Afterwards, the Party should follow its implementation, ensuring we deliver on our promises. We should appoint Party ambassadors to work in the fields of business, minorities, sports, youth, healthcare – everywhere where there are problems or concerns.
We need to reaffirm that the Conservative Party and our Government are pro-business. The Government should restore the now abolished Business Council, which should include real business leaders, and not just bureaucratic trade organisations. It would be useful to have the same type of business council within the Party. Business leaders should have their say in the creation of our manifesto. If we include more people and organisations in this process, then more of them will be willing to share their experience with voters and explain why they support us.
Another important task is candidate selection. Our current process offers too little chance for talented and bright people. The Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB) and process should be reformed. Under the present system, I doubt whether Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill or Boris Johnson would have been allowed to stand for Parliament as Conservatives. It is unacceptable that before the general election campaign, the Party cancelled hundreds of applications without assessment. Those responsible should resign, and the Chairman of the Party should issue an apology. Far more applicants should have been given the chance to take a shortened PAB.
We must not only recognise our mistakes. We must also effectively correct them.
Let us not be afraid of democracy, modernisation and bravery! This is an opportunity; it may also be our only hope.