Dominic Raab is MP for Esher and Walton, and a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
I believe the central mission of the Conservative Party should be fairness – a fairer deal on Brexit, a fairer deal for workers, and a fairer society so every young person can make the best of their potential, whatever their start in life.
We must keep our promises on Brexit, or we won’t be listened to on anything else. I’m the candidate who has set out the clearest plan, and I’ve shown the most steadfast resolve to make sure we leave by the end of October. I am the Brexiteer who can be relied upon to navigate the rocky road ahead, and make sure we leave without any further delays.
The country needs the finality of leaving, and we as a government need to move forward so we can talk about all the other things we have to offer. I want us to be able to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, from setting our own immigration policy to a more energetic approach to global free trade – which can boost wages, create jobs and cut prices for consumers at home.
I want the Conservatives to be the natural home of the ‘blue collar’ vote. That is why my priority is to raise the point at which people start paying National Insurance and cut the basic rate of income tax – a pay rise for those lowest-paid workers. We mustn’t fall into the predictable trap of letting Labour caricature ours as a party of privilege, or our priorities as being those that favour the wealthy. No one can say that of my plan.
I also want us to build a more meritocratic society – one that gives the aspirational underdog, from a humble background, their shot in life. From reviving Young Apprenticeships for 14- to 16-year-olds to boosting Degree Apprenticeships to give ambitious and hard-working young people more opportunity and wider choice, this should be our guiding light as Conservatives – as I set out at my recent speech to the think tank Onward.
If we’re going to build a more meritocratic society, we as politicians had better practice what we preach. I will end the patronage that has defined career progression in the Government, and appoint the best people for the job – whilst ensuring we have a well-balanced and rounded team. And I will restore collective responsibility in government, which has been missing for far too long.
At the same time, we’ve got to energise our fantastic grassroots – to help us campaign and sell our optimistic vision for the future. Our hard-working members deserve a fairer deal, too. After all they are the ones who canvass, deliver leaflets, organise fundraising events, and support us locally and nationally at election time.
Although there has been a welcome revival in membership levels recently, thanks to the hard work of Brandon Lewis and his team, we need far more members. The key is to create stronger incentives for people to get involved at the local level.
We need to make the Conservative Party a more democratic party, where members feel their views are respected and heard. That means strengthening the links between the voluntary Party and the centre. The first fundamental change I’d make is to enable the whole Party, including our members, to elect the Chairman of the Party Board – rather than it being decided by the Leader. That would give our volunteers a greater role and say in the strategic direction, right at the top of the Party.
At a local level, people join us because they want to make a difference in their communities and for their country. They see the Conservative Party as an organisation which can offer them a way to do that. Yet when they sign up, they are often frustrated to discover that there are relatively few formal mechanisms to do so in practice.
I propose that, in future, Associations should be encouraged to propose policy motions to be debated at Conference – perhaps to kick things off on the Sunday – so members are more involved in debating Party policy. The Party Board could set criteria for motions to be debated on the main stage at Conference. The relevant Cabinet minister would then respond to the motion – engaging directly with our grassroots members.
Not only is that the right thing to do democratically, it would also bring two welcome effects: it widens the talent pool contributing ideas for future policy, and it would revive the attendance levels at Conference which has become too much of a lobbyists’ playground.
We should also engage more with our local Conservative Policy Forums, by giving the best of them a slot at Conference to bring forward their ideas and have them debated and responded to by ministers.
We need to become far better at recruiting and retaining members in other ways, too. The best way to do that is by recognising what individuals do. How about creating an annual Leader’s Dinner, where the best-performing and most committed activists are rewarded with a special dinner hosted by the Leader of the Party?
Let’s extend that emphasis on awards and recognition right across the Party. We can link that to our annual Conference, by having awards at Conference for the best local campaign, the best digital campaign, the outstanding young activist (and many more).
When it comes to attracting younger members, we should extend the current £5 per year membership fee for under-23s to under-25s. Let’s combine the experience of our membership base with a new generation of energetic younger activists.
I want also to revive the Party as a campaigning machine. With that in mind, I would create a bespoke initiative to raise funds to employ more professional Party Agents in our battleground seats. We all know that a terrific local Agent can be the difference between success or failure in marginal seats.
We must also raise our game digitally. We were outgunned in the last election by rival parties, and the Brexit Party showed how far behind the curve we are in the European elections. We can and will get better at digital campaigning – if we invest more money, recruit world class talent, and make the Head of Digital a Director of the Party. Future elections will be won and lost in the digital sphere. We need to take this much more seriously if we’re to give ourselves an edge in digital campaigning at the next election.
I believe this leadership contest is a moment of change. I’m offering a change of vision and a generational change in leadership. To deliver that, we’ll also need to revitalise our campaigning capability, by giving our grassroots a greater role, recognising the inspirational work they do, and sharpening our campaigning cutting edge. That’s the way we can win the next election, and take Britain forward.