Andrew Kennedy is the Group Agent & Campaign Director in West Kent. He blogs at www.votingandboating.blogspot.com.
In the weeks that followed the EU referendum, over 50,000 new members joined the Conservative Party. The surge took us all by surprise. Over 600 of those new members lived in West Kent, taking membership of our five local Associations back to levels last seen a generation ago.
Curious about what was motivating such large numbers of people, I undertook a detailed survey in which I asked who they were, where they came from, what was their motivation, and what they hoped to gain from their membership. The results of that survey were published on this site last July.
During the weeks that followed, a not insignificant proportion of these new members let it be known that their primary motivation was to vote in the Party’s leadership election – which of course was not possible due do our longstanding “three month rule”. The numbers complaining about this led CCHQ to place a notice explaining the requirement on the Party’s online membership page, and I understand that many refunds were issued. In my view, that so many had joined simply to try and influence the leadership election totally justified having the rule in place, and I hope we continue to enforce it in the future.
In our own survey, I gave new members a number of multiple choice options covering the areas that motivated them to join. When asked to rank these reasons, 75 per cent (by far the highest number) chose “I joined the Conservative Party to vote in the leadership election” compared with just 8.4 per cent who said this issue was not an important factor for them. And later on in the survey, I asked more bluntly: “If you had been aware at the time of joining that members were only allowed to vote after three months’ membership, would you still have joined the Conservative Party?” to which over 25 per cent replied “no”.
Over the last nine months, these figures have weighed heavily on my mind, and from the many questions I have been asked by some senior figures at CCHQ and around the country, I suspect I am not alone. I have never had much doubt that the 25 per cent of new members who said that they would never have joined had they known they would not have had a chance to vote will not pay again. But what of the other 50 per cent? Have we done enough (locally and nationally) to win their hearts and minds and keep them on board?
It is now coming up to nine months since the first signs of the membership surge, and many of the members who joined early on will soon be receiving invitations to renew. To test the water and to see if I could identify how our new members feel we have performed locally (in terms of meeting their expectations and keeping them informed and involved,) we have run a similar survey again, the findings of which are published below.
However, a word of caution. Our original survey attracted a 50 per cent response rate, sufficiently high to make it significant and probably representative. This time the response rate was just below 25 per cent – and it is highly likely that the subsequent null responders are those who have lost interest and decided to walk away. So the true situation may be somewhat worse than the findings below suggest.
Given that I was asking people to remember what motivated them to do something nine months ago, I think the above findings are remarkably similar to those received then – the only change of note perhaps being the fall in the number of respondents identifying as Remain, which could indicate some of this group may well have disengaged – a likely outcome given the determined and unequivocal approach being taken by the Prime Minister over Brexit.
Always conscious that Associations are often held responsible for not engaging or contacting new members, I was keen to ascertain how they felt we had engaged with them on a local rather than national level.
So far, so good. Despite processing 600 new membership applications, 98 per cent received a local letter of welcome and 82 per cent received a personal visit or contact by telephone within a few weeks of them joining. The majority of our new members also recall being invited to a complimentary welcome event, though only 14 per cent of them attended.
Next I was keen to find out about how we communicated with them and had we met their expectations.
At least they are hearing from us, and on most issues we got it “about right”, though the cynic in me would say our new members seem much more enthusiastic about attending policy discussions than ensuring we are in a position to implement those policies by campaigning and winning elections!
And finally, the million-dollar question.
As I suggested at the start of this article, this final finding is likely to present a rosy view of reality, as respondents will be drawn disproportionately from those who are still engaged and willing to respond. I am, however, confident that in West Kent our new members have been contacted, welcomed and made to feel wanted, needed and loved.