James Morris is the Member of Parliament for Halesowen and Rowley Regis and Conservative Vice Chairman for Training and Development
Our experience at the polls in 2017 taught us many things, the chief one being we, as an organisation, were not prepared. Last year’s result was a warning: if we don’t change the way we operate, then we will suffer the consequences at the ballot box.
At last year’s Conference, Lord Pickles published his review into June’s General Election and issued 126 recommendations on how we can improve what we do and how we do it. Several of the recommendations explored the need for more training and development within the Party.
The Prime Minister took action, appointing me as Vice-Chairman responsible for training and development. It’s a role which recognises the importance of equipping our members, activists, MPs, councillors, Assembly Members, and professional staff with the knowledge and skills we all need to ensure the Party is campaigning as effectively as possible.
We also invested in our Party infrastructure by appointing Sara Matthews, our Director for Training, with whom I have been working closely to make training and development more easily accessible to members.
Now, a year on from that review, we have been able to launch Conservative Academy: a learning platform to revolutionise the way we campaign. It will be a tool for everyone in our Party to develop and learn new skills, and will be transformational in the way we engage with people. The launch includes the first ten areas of training for members, and the Academy will be continuously growing with new content and ideas.
We know our people are our biggest asset and, if we don’t invest in our members, staff, and elected representatives then we will fall behind as a political force. That’s why Conservative Academy’s whole purpose is to help build an engaged, energetic, professional and motivated campaigning force which is in a permanent state of action – and that’s exactly what we’ve designed it to do.
Training areas include Voter ID, the 0-10 scale, and how to use Connect Calling. Data is essential in GOTV operations, enabling us to know what people think and to target membership recruitment. Some members feel uncomfortable knocking on doors or asking how people vote at election time, so we want to make sure everyone has the confidence and knowledge to get onto the doorstep and collect as much data as possible.
Organising fundraising events or social occasions may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. But we’ve put together some handy tips and advice on how to make the most of these events, allowing us not only to engage with members, but also to raise money for our vital campaigning work.
In terms of our digital presence, this area of campaigning has to be absolutely central to our operations rather than a mere afterthought. We’ve put together e-modules on Facebook, email, and websites to make sure we are all maximising the benefits digital campaigning can bring.
Several members have also said to me they don’t understand the way the party is structured, in terms of who does what or even why they do it. To enable us to engage more effectively with our existing members it’s critical they know how it works so they can feel part of the team and play their roles. For new members it’s a way of introducing them to our Conservative family and developing their knowledge.
We’ll also have a section on membership which will set out best practice in recruitment and retention on the ground, as well as our actions from the centre.
All the above is just a snapshot of what we have launched at this year’s conference – but Conservative Academy will be expanding into every area of the Party.
We’ll have new modules on compliance, councillors, and maximising incumbency; training for our new campaign managers; professional development for our Party’s staff; best practice for engaging with minority and ethnic groups; and much more. All of this will be regularly updated and managed so we are providing the latest information and ensuring everyone has the right knowledge and skills at every level within our Party.
The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated. If we want to make sure we are match fit – that our members are engaged, MP’s are maximising their incumbency, and activists are properly equipped – then we need to start now.
The Conservative Academy will transform the way we do things and help us do our bit in ensuring training is at the heart of what we do. Put simply: if we don’t invest in our people, we will be out-manoeuvred by the likes of Momentum and ill-prepared for the electoral challenges of the future.