As ConservativeHome reported at the weekend, there is mounting discontent within Conservative ranks at the decision of CCHQ to produce a special range of leaflets, adverts and postcards in support of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.
It is a peculiar situation when a Party leadership sends out campaign material to its grassroots in the hope that members who mostly disagree with a policy will agree to deliver leaflets urging voters to lobby in favour of that policy, as a way to dissuade a growing number of that Party’s own MPs from opposing the policy in a Commons vote.
Predictably, the idea has proved to be about as popular as a hedge fund stall at a Corbyn rally. Furious activists are simply refusing to deliver the leaflets – and plenty of Conservative association officers are not even bothering to collect the proffered supply from their regional and area distribution points. A sizeable majority of associations I have spoken to have avoided, in one way or another, taking receipt of the leaflets, either out of outright opposition, or due to the knowledge their activists wouldn’t deliver them, or in the belief that delivering them will not have a positive effect on voters (or all of the above).
Meanwhile, members who dislike the deal are left wondering if they should donate to the Party in future, if their money is going to be used for campaigns which they strongly disagree with.
I have asked CCHQ how much Party money is being spent on this campaign, how many leaflets have been printed, and how many associations have agreed or refused to take part, but they have declined to release any of those numbers. Instead, they have issued the following short statement: “CCHQ routinely supports, promotes and campaigns for Conservative Government policy.”
The damage being done in terms of morale, fundraising and unity is obvious, however. One senior Parliamentarian described the decision to try to mount such a campaign as “counterproductive” and “stupid”, and MPs are unimpressed at having their activists annoyed by a clumsy attempt to use them to pressure the Tory benches into obedience. This site has recounted at length the ways in which Conservative activists have become disillusioned in recent years – this situation won’t heal those wounds.
Readers will recall that before the EU referendum, the Conservative Party Board decided on a wise policy that Party resources – money, staff, facilities – would remain neutral. That decision was taken in order to avoid the damage the Board feared would be done by trying to use the organisation to support of a policy which its leadership supported but most of its members and many of its donors did not.
The current row is a small-scale snapshot of what might have happened had the Board not been so sensible back in 2015.
As it is, the latest decision to spend money – and try to deploy activists – in favour of the deal has not yet been discussed by the Party Board at all. Its next meeting is on Thursday 13th December. Ordinarily, a dispute of this nature would be an obvious topic for that meeting to consider, but the outcome of the ‘Meaningful Vote’ two days earlier may leave them with more pressing matters to address.
Meanwhile, large numbers of these new leaflets seem destined to head straight into the recycling bin.