Last night Lady Chisholm, the Tory peeress who has been appointed Chair of Conservative Future, called upon Conservative Future branches to cancel all upcoming events.
The Guardian reports the message as saying: “it would not be appropriate for any CF branch to hold any social events for the foreseeable future, and we would request that any such events that are planned are cancelled.”
Several CF members have reacted with indignation on Facebook and Liam Walker, who chairs the Witney branch in the Prime Minister’s constituency, is refusing point blank to cancel his branch’s event.
Does this move, on top of the sacking of the national executive, portend the dissolution of CF? Not officially, at least according to those officers I’ve spoken to who’ve tried to clarify the issue with CCHQ.
However, some find it difficult to see how the youth wing can be said to exist in any meaningful sense if there’s an ongoing moratorium on organising events.
It isn’t immediately apparent why this ban is needed. The serious allegations at the heart of the Mark Clarke scandal are concentrated on the national executive and the now defunct Road Trip campaign, not the Christmas parties of ordinary branches.
There are also concerns that putting the youth wing on ice will actually do more harm than good. One CF officer said:
“Getting rid of the youth wing gives the appearance of solving the problem for the purposes of press consumption. The reality, however, is that it simply avoids solving any of the underlying issues that allowed Mark Clarke to assume prominence.”
The Party has serious thinking to do about where it fits younger members into its structures in the future. But it is making a mistake if it feels that trying to squash or marginalise them in the answer.
That just leaves more space for external organisations to provide the things those members are looking for, be it campaigning in Road Trip or training and professional development from the Young Britons’ Foundation.
It also risks alienating or failing to attract the younger members who provide the Tories with vital foot soldiers as the overall membership shrinks. As one CFer put it:
“The idea of just leaving young activists to get involved with local associations is insane. The events are usually too expensive, the positions are inaccessible and it would just leave them to be leaflet fodder without the ability to organise anything to make it worthwhile.”
The lesson CCHQ needs to learn from this scandal is that if it wants to reduce its exposure to problems of this sort, it needs to invest the time and effort into providing what young members are looking for when they join in-house, with proper, accountable oversight by the Party.
Cancelling Christmas parties – or more likely, forcing them to drop the CF branding as they happen anyway – is a poor start.