Conservative Party members want greater democratic control of the Party’s institutions, a ConservativeHome survey reveals.
An overwhelming 86 per cent of members surveyed want the power to directly elect at least some of the Party Board, 61 per cent want to elect the Chairman of the Board, and 54 per cent believe the post of Party Chairman should elected by the membership.
A further 50 per cent of Conservative members also want the democratic power to amend the Party’s constitution.
Such changes would represent a major shift in the way the Conservative Party is governed. Currently, the voluntary Party is represented on the Board by the five officers of the National Convention, who are elected by Association Chairmen, Area and Region officers, as well asrepresentatives of Conservative Future and the Conservative Women’s Organisation.
The Chairman of the Party is appointed by the Party Leader and operates as a close ally – changing the role to that of an elected representative of the Conservative grassroots would potentially redefine the post as that of a scrutineer of the leadership.
The findings come as Lord Feldman, the Party Chairman, is undertaking a wholesale review of the Conservative membership model and governance structure.
While CCHQ has experimented with various forms of direct democracy in candidate selection – including the recent process to choose the London Mayoral candidate – Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent to the Labour leadership has privately raised some concerns about whether such approaches are vulnerable to entryism.
Notably, while Conservative members clearly want greater control of the senior officers of the Party, in the same survey they reject direct control of policy.
Asked whether “motions should be debated and voted on at the annual Party conference, perhaps in closed session without the media present”, 66 per cent supported the introduction of such debates. But 67 per cent oppose the idea that such votes should automatically determine Conservative policy.
Instead, 72 per cent of those surveyed would prefer conference votes to simply recommend policies to the Party’s leadership. Such a system would be more democratic than the current arrangements, while still falling short of those seen at Labour’s conference – where last week the hard left threatened to force the Party to adopt a policy of opposing Trident renewal.
The nature of politics and political activism is changing rapidly. These findings are a clear sign that Conservative members are no longer simply content to choose a leader and be governed from above thereafter.
The Party is rightly exploring how to broaden its base and bring in new supporters, and it should also consider what rights it gives to its paying members.
This isn’t a revolutionary demand to overthrow all aspects of how the Party works – members aren’t suggesting that conference votes should bind the leadership on policy, for example – but they not unreasonably want to be able to elect the people who oversee the CCHQ apparatus.
The survey was conducted in the last week of August, and over 950 Conservative Party members took part.