The Board of the Conservative Party are consulting local Associations on
changes to the membership rules, and specifically the annual subscriptions. 
This involves an online questionnaire for voting between various options and
even a private blog.  I ought to come clean and confess that I’ve been sent
these details as an Area Deputy Chairman in London.  Because of the nature of
the consultation exercise it’s difficult to hazard a guess on what the result
will be, but an overhaul of the system has been due for some time.
This review is part of the improved professionalism Francis Maude promised
in his recent Tory Radio interviews in
the May 2006 archive.  As such, it should be welcomed.  At a recent City Circle
event in London I was talking to someone from the Income Generation department
at CCHQ.  There are some very creative ideas for helping local associations in
the pipeline and some genuinely impressive people working on them.
It’s worth putting on record that, for all the stick Francis Maude has
received in recent months (not least from visitors to this site) he does deserve
applause for the way in which these changes are being handled.
The £15 minimum annual membership fee was set nearly ten years ago, and it
is possible to join either centrally via CCHQ (e.g. through the website)  or through a local constituency (find yours here ). 
I know from my own experience that the national membership facility is bitterly
resented by local officers (largely because it has never really worked
efficiently).  It’s also true to say that constituencies have been less than
enthusiastic about helping to fund the Centre, with the annual quota often
descending into an undignified haggle.  There has to be a better way of doing
these things, and it reassuring that CCHQ is on the case.

During the period that the Conservatives have had a minimum of £15, the Lib
Dems have put up their membership fee to £42 and Labour are now charging £36
(yes, even after all those peerages).  We could make snide comments about
whether the other parties are delivering value for money, but that’s a fair
reflection of the inflation rate involved in campaigning.  When I was the Agent
for NESNO in the North East Regional Assembly Referendum in 2004 we spent
£150,000 on a shoe-string campaign, and our opponents together spent £525,000
(and achieved little for it).  None of the major parties raise a significant
slice of their income from their own grassroots members.
Democracy costs money and if we don’t want political parties to be reliant
on a few rich men  – or the British taxpayer – then people are going to have to
start paying for it.  And that includes paying for CCHQ.  Get out your
chequebook and credit cards (and while you’re at it: don’t forget Conservative
Home, either).

William Norton