Throughout today – every ninety minutes – ConservativeHome will be posting the answers that the five candidates for the Party Board gave to six questions posed by New Forest Councillor, Derek Tipp. I’m very grateful to Derek for taking this initiative and for suggesting that ConservativeHome publish the answers he received.
Derek is an ex-teacher and company director. He first joined the New Forest East constituency in 1998, became a district councillor in 1999, gaining the seat from the Lib Dems. He became a Branch chairman in 2000, and then an Association Officer. He has been Association chairman since 2003, and is now doing his fourth and final year.
The first of Derek’s question refer to constituency autonomy:
Would you support the compulsory merging of constituencies into larger groupings under any circumstances, if so what are they?
[The candidates’ answers are listed in alphabetical order – except those given by Emma Pidding. Emma’s answers to some of the questions are particularly detailed and it seemed unfair to Toby Vintcent for his answers to always come after hers.]
JOHN FLACK: Yes. Where Constituency Associations are clearly failing but for some reason local activists are unwilling or unable to deal with the problem it must make sense for them to be merged into larger, more effective campaigning units.
JEREMY MIDDLETON: As a general rule I would hope we would only have mergers where all Associations agree. As we have approaching 60 merger proposals currently with the Board and other ones may emerge, I think we have our hands full trying to turn these into a reality. I would not rule out compulsory mergers under any circumstances. However, the only time I would consider reasonable is where an Association is both small and has over a consistently long period failed to effectively serve its members or the wider Conservative electorate. I have no particular examples in mind but if there were cases where there were very small cliques running an inactive Association and yet there is a clear opportunity to develop the Party further by merging it with a much stronger Association that was both interested and capable of revitalizing the original Constituency then I don’t think we should rule it out.
SIMON MORT: No. I do not favour compulsory groupings. I favour groupings and have considerable experience of them. I may be given some role in this area from Manchester. I can not think of any circumstances in which I would favour compulsory groupings. There are other opinions in the senior levels of the party.
TOBY VINTCENT: Compulsory merging? No. Voluntary co-operation as pioneered, say, in Hertfordshire in the build up to the last election was hugely successful – we won an extra 3 seats. This, though, was voluntary.
EMMA PIDDING: I wholeheartedly support the concept of groupings. They should be encouraged where ever appropriate. The benefits that result are immense, in terms of money, equipment, and the deployment of professional personnel. However, I believe that the success of any grouping is dependant on the willingness of each individual Association involved. Groupings cannot be made compulsory. I can speak from personal experience on this issue. Six years ago, in my home Association of Chesham & Amersham (C&ACA) I was instrumental in the initiation of a grouping with the neighbouring Beaconsfield Association (BCCA). Due to poor management of the C&ACA over a number of years prior to my Chairmanship, I inherited an Association that was in very poor financial health – it was almost bankrupt. I, along with my fellow officers, had to take the very difficult decision of making the incumbent Agent redundant. I spent the next six months covering the role of the Agent. It was clear that this situation could not be sustained, and an alternative answer had to be sought. The obvious solution was to seek a partnership with a neighbouring Association. We were fortunate to find a willing and enthusiastic partner in BCCA. Since the establishment of this grouping both Associations have continued to grow in strength. Six years down the line the C&ACA has annually been able to make a significant contribution to CCHQ, culminating in a payment of £10,000 being made in 2005.The relationship between the two Associations continues to be a very happy one. I believe this success is due to the firm foundations that were laid from the outset, and that all ‘parties’ were fully on board with the concept of the grouping. If my input was required to look at future groupings elsewhere, my priority would be to seek to agreement of ALL parties involved.