Grant Shapps is Chairman of the Conservative Party and MP for Welwyn Hatfield
Getting people involved remains one of the most important things for any politician to do. Our job is to bring individuals together to forward our common beliefs and goals. That’s something that’s been a proud tradition of this party and the country for centuries.
But today we’re witnessing some of the greatest advances in communication ever known. Personal technology is more affordable and accessible than ever before. We’re connected in ways never thought possible, even a generation ago. Through social media, growing numbers of people can speak for themselves.
With such enormous changes, it's easy to understand the concern that traditional party membership won’t survive. But I disagree. It’s just that it will change. Mass communication may have taken a digital turn, but it’s not the end for membership. In fact, quite the opposite.
All around us, new movements are bringing people together. The London Olympics Gamesmaker programme engaged thousands of volunteers from across the country using digital technology, and rewarding people for their dedication. This was a form of short-term membership.
The 2012 Obama campaign reinvigorated supporters ahead of the Presidential re-election – creating a renewed zest for grassroots campaigning. These volunteers were effectively short-term members. And across the world, people are growing campaigns of their own – made easier by donation sites such as JustGiving and the sharing facilities of sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It’s clear that people still want to be members of their chosen community. What’s changed is the form that this association takes. Sometimes it’s more issue based. Sometimes more transient. But it is no less meaningful as a result. Today, in a world where you can choose between the traditional town hall meeting or a debate on Facebook, individuals are opting to create their own patterns of association, membership and sense of belonging.
If parties are to build from the ground up, we must do the same. Full members of our party still have the most rights and control – choosing Members of Parliament and the Party leader. But we shouldn’t be turning our backs on folks who want to be involved, just because they haven’t shelled out £25 to join us yet. That’s why we’re inviting new ways to contribute and interact – and our approach is already changing things on the ground.
Support for our party now ranges all the way from a simple ‘Like’ on facebook to becoming a Member of Parliament – and many different forms along the way. It all adds up. The person joining our campaign for an EU referendum through a click on our virtual "Co-sponsor the Bill" app might not go on to share our campaigns on the economy or child protection. Yet these micro campaigns allow for expressions of support on specific issues.
Together, this all amounts to hundreds-of-thousands of people who now keep up-to-date with Conservative ideas and campaigns that they care about each week. And so we’ve modernised our campaign network to meet this new demand. Direct from the Conservative homepage, volunteers can join Team2015 and work to secure victory in our 40/40 target seats. This has already allowed nearly 3,000 people to make a very meaningful contribution to the campaign. But unlike in days gone past, we don’t require them to pay us before we accept their help. So some of these people aren't members just yet. Some might never be members in the traditional sense. But they all form part of a wider Conservative family – a broad church – carrying their own Conservative message to the nation.
And I’m confident that by inviting more people not simply to join, but to join in, we’ll increase our participation levels even further in the years to come.