Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association.
As regular readers of ConHome may be aware, I have now organised three motions to be put before the meeting of the National Convention. The second one, designed to support the Prime Minister and ensure No Deal stayed on the table, was not only passed by the National Convention overwhelmingly but was also passed by a large number of Associations at their AGMs – something advocated by ConservativeHome.
The last one called for an Extraordinary General Meeting to decide if the Convention had confidence in our Conservative Prime Minister. This was something that Party members would never have envisaged happening and in ‘normal’ times would, quite rightly, be viewed as reprehensible. I would certainly hope that any such motion would never again be needed. The fact that I got so much support for the No Confidence motion and very little negativity demonstrates it was the right move.
When I started organising these motions it never occurred to me that I would run for the National Convention. It was going through the process that made me realise that there are some serious flaws in how our Party is run. Campaigning for the EGM has allowed me to work and engage with a wide group of local and regional officers from across the UK. One thing that has never ceased to strike me is what a dedicated, brave and talented group they are. But they are unhappy. We need to address this seething anger from people who have never been disloyal to the Party. We need to listen but more than that we need to ensure there is a structure that means their voices are heard. That is why I am standing.
Despite recent polling woes, Labour’s dangerous Marxist Momentum are still a powerful force that are currently out-campaigning us. At the same time the Brexit Party is taking political ground that should be ours. To address this we need to take a serious look at what we are doing in the Party and obviously as good Conservatives keep what is working, but change what is not. Failing to change is not an option. We have so many professional staff who are doing a tremendous job and work tirelessly for the Party; we need to support them and crucially utilise them better. A great example is our new Campaign Managers scheme. This is a fantastic initiative, but we need to ensure it is fully supported and works effectively with the associations on the ground.
However what really stood out to me is that there is no independent mechanism for the volunteers to register their concerns. In fact it became clear how much democracy has been reduced by the recent initiative of forming Federations from a number of Associations. In many cases they appear to have lost their additional votes on the National Convention. This demonstrates the level of importance the grassroots gives to what is in fact their governing body, the National Convention. In itself this should be a worry.
What needs to change? Well, certainly the Party needs to be more democratic, more accountable and transparent to its members and, in order to grow the membership, empower the Associations and members. The first change that needs to be made is that the Party Chairman needs to be elected for a fixed term by the Party, only then can the Party start to become accountable to its members. The members will then have buy-in to the decisions made and the Party Chairman will be cognisant of the views of the members.
In the Party structure we have central committees that are not accountable, with few knowing who serves on them, where decisions are not only made without consultation but no-one knows what decisions have been made. Each of these committees need to report to the Regional Boards, so the information can be disseminated, decisions challenged if needed, but more importantly the committees need to consult with the regions on proposed changes.
A huge area of contention is Parliamentary candidates, which does not seem to work for either the candidates or the associations. Candidates feel they are just used as foot soldiers, whilst associations feel they have their best talent taken away from them and sent around the country, as it is perceived that working hard within associations to win an extra council seat is not as well rewarded.
We need to look after our candidates and make sure that they feel valued. We also need to ensure we are selecting future politicians, not management executives. It’s good to have an opinion and not just spout the line! However, it’s essential that candidates understand the Party, so they need to have been intrinsically involved in the usual functions of an association. As I have been espousing for a long time, Parliamentary candidates should provide a third referee who is an officer of their designated ‘home’ constituency.
I believe that the associations need to be at the heart of the Party, they are our beating pulse. They need to be empowered to go out and win elections, they alone have the local knowledge. Associations have to choose their own Parliamentary candidates without this responsibility being watered down, and should be able to consider local candidates who are assessed and passed for that seat.
We need to rejuvenate our conference and make it worthwhile for members to attend and justify the expense. Those of us who remember when we were sent ballot papers with our conference passes mourn the passing of debates and member participation at conference. We need to re-activate this again, and why not be able to put a motion at a National Convention meeting, too? Or question a Cabinet minister? The recent ‘Grassroots Live’ call was extremely well received, especially with the inclusion of polling. We need more of these events.
Our Party needs to learn to talk to each other again and, as Cllr Steve Bell CBE, a former President of the National Convention said when he endorsed me, if I am elected then my voice will be your voice.