Andrew Sharpe OBE is Chairman of the National Conservative Convention and Pamela Hall is President-elect of the National Conservative Convention.
As Chairman and President-elect of the National Convention it gives us great pleasure to welcome Boris Johnson as the new leader of the Conservative and Unionist party. We will do our utmost to support him as he faces future challenges, the most significant of which, it hardly needs restating, is to deliver Brexit and unite our party.
The leadership hustings proved to be a very positive experience for our party. We argued the case at the party board that every region had to have a hustings and that all members should have the opportunity to access at least one. The board agreed, the candidates agreed, and the next three weeks proved to be a resounding success.
From the first event in Birmingham, where the quality of questions from the audience was highlighted by the Financial Times as ‘spot on’, to the London Excel where upwards of 4000 members packed the cavernous hall, the candidates were grilled fairly but rigorously under the professional eye of Iain or Hannah, the independent moderators. The organisation of each event was slick and professional and the team at CCHQ deserve much credit.
The usual media trope about us as a party of mustard cord-wearing majors from the shire counties was comprehensively deconstructed as large and diverse audiences packed these events. (To be clear, majors who favour mustard are still very welcome!) Both candidates expounded an attractive vision of a post-Brexit Britain that is global in outlook, pro-business, pro-free enterprise, tolerant and optimistic.
But most of all what was on display was a voluntary party that is ready to unite and, as so often in the past, fight to help the new leader to deliver on his promises. We know that the Conservative Party offers the best hope for the future of our country and we will not let that be jeopardised. That is why our volunteers work so hard, year-round, come rain or shine. The party on display at the hustings is tolerant but it clearly places high value on loyalty.
MPs please take note. You may successfully argue that you are a ‘trustee’ and not a ‘delegate’ as defined by Edmund Burke. That is between you and your Association, but we will defend your Association’s right to take a different view and those rights are protected by Schedule 7, article 15.2.6 of the party constitution. Under whatever circumstances the next election is called that will remain the case. Please also note that there is zero evidence of widespread ‘entryism’.
We are excited that our next opportunity to get together will be at the Party Conference in Manchester and we intend to harness the positive momentum from the hustings. We have been working hard on the Conference programme. At the National Convention on Sunday morning, we intend to start by having the first of a series of real debates that will occur throughout the Conference.
These will be led by the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF) which has grown exponentially both in numbers and in confidence since the 2015 General Election. CPF’s contribution to future manifesto development was enshrined in the Pickles Review of the 2017 General Election and we are determined that this commitment is honoured. The hustings process proved that member engagement is not something to fear but should be encouraged and it was particularly pleasing that Johnson singled the CPF out for praise at the first hustings event on June 15th. Expect more details to follow.
This year has been challenging in many ways but the National Convention has risen to meet those challenges. At the Sunday morning meeting we will be proposing that the NC should meet more frequently. Over the past year, a Senior Volunteers’ Forum has met on a number of occasions. This comprises the officers of the National Convention, the Regional Chairmen plus the Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Association Finance Board and the Voluntary Party Director of the CPF. It offers an opportunity for senior CCHQ staff and senior volunteers to interact, discuss issues of the day and solve problems in a timely fashion.
This has worked well and we now see no reason why we should not extend this format to the entire National Convention, say once a quarter, if there is sufficient demand. Most of the issues and problems that are fervently discussed in various forums and chatrooms are relatively easily solved by better communication.
There will be much more on display throughout the Conference and that will include showcasing many local organisations that are truly changing lives.
We hope to see you there. Despite our current difficulties, there is much to look forward to. The hustings showed our party at its best. We are confident that the Conference will continue that positive vibe. We have faced and overcome significant challenges in the past and we will no doubt have to do so again. We should never forget that there is more that unites us than divides us. Many of you will have heard Andrew quoting Lord Hailsham in his introductory words on the hustings’ stages, but those words bear repeating: “Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society.”
We need to remain true to that and we will work very hard to do so, not least because we recognise that our political opponents are far less committed to that free society than we are.