Priti Patel is MP for Witham, and a former Secretary of State for International Development. This is the second in her two-article series about Conservative Party reform.
Yesterday I shared my thoughts on our inability to compete against a Labour movement, who will do anything to get their Leader elected against the essential need for us to become a grassroots movement once again. Devolution and reform of our membership were amongst my suggestions but we must go further to empower our membership and also present a Conservative vision based upon our values and beliefs to the country and to every generation.
I have always believed that, since the Conservative Party is a champion of democracy, we should allow our activists to elect the Chairman of the Party. This would build an important link between our Party machine and our members, making the Party more accountable and engaged with our grassroots. The dedication of our activists has earnt them the right to have more of a say in how our Party is run, in candidate selection, and in discussing and forming the policies, ideas and vision relevant to their communities and our nation’s future. Not policies dreamt up in the Westminster bubble, but those grounded in the knowledge and experience of activists across the country. A link between the Chairman and activists is vital if we are to truly represent the views of our nation locally and nationally.
I also believe that it is time to give a voice to the membership and enhance their role within the Party. Having a dedicated Members day at conference would enable members to propose and debate motions from the floor at Party Conference and allow them to have their voice heard. We should never be afraid of debate either with ourselves or with the public who we seek to serve. We should not be scared of trusting our members to elect the Party Chairman, finance their associations or debate issues relevant to them or their communities.
And this matters because our Party has survived and thrived for so long because our values and principles are consistent and enduring. There is no other Party for people who believe in our country, welcome freedom, value meritocracy, and want to live in a society where hard work and aspiration is rewarded. The ‘aspiration Britain’ – a land of opportunity and a country where anyone whatever their background, can succeed.
While we must call out Labour for their freedom-destroying, economy-wrecking, tax, spend, borrow and debt approach, we must also offer the public a positive vision for our country and stand tall on our own terms. That means rediscovering our belief in freedom and free markets, but also restating our proud Conservative tradition of care and compassion, of protecting people from the worst excesses of the system.
We believe in freedom and free markets not out of ideology, but because freeing people from the control of the state demonstrably delivers more wealth, jobs and opportunity all across the world. We believe in care and compassion, not because it makes good economic sense to look after those who can’t look after themselves, even though it does, but because this is the ultimate test of our civility and our humanity.
How we address the new challenges facing our country, including Britain’s place in the world post Brexit, and how and why we invest in people, institutions and services and tackle social injustice at home and abroad with Conservative solutions should all be part of how we engage with the public.
We must also stop talking about policies without speaking about the underlying principles and values that underpin them. Slogans, placards and in the case of Corbyn appearances at music festivals may grab headlines, but they do not transform lives, create jobs, provide public service or raise our standing in the world.
We must show the public that it is only the Conservatives who believe in the future of our country and people; with their inherent potential to succeed; in a prosperous nation living within its means; in a country where inspiration and hard work brings rewards; and where a strong economy provides comprehensive public services to provide protection and opportunity to all of us – a vision for a successful and prosperous Britain.
If ever there was a time when the British public, my children, your children, and future generations needed a continued strong Conservative vision then it is now. With the courage of our convictions and the self-belief to stand up for our values, our Party can deliver a country built on aspiration, opportunity and freedom which creates success everyone in Britain can share in.