Don Porter CBE is a former Chairman of the Conservative National Convention, and is a founding member of Conservative Voice.
“Are you going to Party conference this year?” “No, it’s not really for people like me, is it?”
“So, are you a Party member?” “No, I used to be, but I just don’t see the point anymore”
Conversations like this are taking place all the time, right across the country. Party members, or those who used to be or should be feel completely disconnected and disenfranchised with an organisation that should be theirs. The situation has reached breaking point. Over the last ten years, the influence of the membership in the running of our Party has been marginalised. Members are tolerated and are only expected to emerge when it is convenient for the central Party organisation, and little, if anything, is done to attract new members to the Party.
We set up Conservative Voice seven years ago to bridge the ever widening gap between the Party and the grassroots. What we offer clearly appeals. Run exclusively by part-time volunteers, Conservative Voice is free to join has amassed a follower base of 10,000 across the country and, among other things, has:
- Provided regular opportunities for Party members and activists to engage with senior Parliamentary figures.
- Mobilised our followers to campaign for candidates and MPs.
- Conducted regular surveys of our followers to solicit their views and amplify them to the Party Leadership.
Our followers are clear, they are fed up with being marginalised and want to play a greater role in the running of the Party. The days of paying an annual subscription fee to simply become a postman are over. Members and prospective members want and deserve their say. Perhaps if they had, such MPs as Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston would never have been selected as candidates, and our Party would be stronger as a result.
We are clear that regardless of who becomes our next leader and Prime Minister, Party reform should be at the very top of their priority list. The case is clear, and we are pleased to outline the following points as a manifesto for change:
- The Chairman of the Party Board should be elected by the membership. The Party Chairman is a separate role chosen by the Party Leader. The Party Board Chairman should focus on organisation, The Party Chairman, on policy.
- A new organisation of senior volunteers should be created to bring together Regional and Area Chairmen, Women and Young Voters.
- This body should meet regularly with the Parliamentary Party.
- The Sunday of Party Conference should become ‘Members’ Day’, in which motions are accepted from Associations across the country and debated with the relevant Ministerial teams.
- An annual general meeting should be held to include all parts of the Party where real decisions are taken and implemented.
- All Board Committees should be led by an elected volunteer. In particular, there needs to be greater involvement of volunteers in the selection of the Chairman of the Candidates Committee. Also. there should be no dilution in the involvement of members in the selection of their local and national candidates. This will be an essential component in the fabric of our Party moving forward.
- A different and far more positive style of communicating and engaging with potential supporters is required.
- A robust Awards & Recognition Strategy should be introduced across the Party to include activists, members, professionals and Parliamentary colleagues.
Trusting the electorate to make decisions about policy issues must be matched by trusting members to have a greater say in the running of the Party.
Conservative Voice is calling on both leadership contenders to commit to a strategic plan to take these points forward with clear timescales and accountabilities. Specifically, the new Party Leader should establish a Party Commission to take this agenda forward.
An election is coming, sooner or later, and if we’re going to win, we need to seriously reboot and regrow our Party. If we don’t we could be handing the keys to Number Ten to a communist. The stakes are simply to high to fail.