A structure built on sand

Whilst the Conservative Party has a commanding poll lead and looks long odds on to become the next Government, is it masking a fundamental weakness with the Party Structure. The membership issue was addressed in part in an illuminating article on Conservative Home by John Stafford, where he asked why would you become a member of the Conservative Party now. I think we need to have examine the Conservative Association model as well.
I’ve looked at the records of some of the Conservative Associations and it’s a very mixed bag. Whilst some continue to thrive with membership in the several hundreds, there are many more surviving on a membership of a couple of hundred and less. The problem with this is it’s the marginal seats, the seats that will take us and keep us in Government that are struggling for members and money. Now whilst Lord Ashcroft’s marginal seat unit has given life support and revival to these the campaigns in these Associations, what happens next time round when you can be sure even more members will have disappeared?
The sensible plan would be for wealthy associations to cross subsidise their poorer neighbours, to pool funds for county or regional campaign centres. To organise properly attended events with more professional fundraising and ensuring the money is spent where it‘s need to maintain a Conservative Government. Whilst sensible, it would meet huge opposition. I’ve sat in meetings where this has been suggested to the disgust of Association Officers from wealthy associations. They talk of the party spending their money. Money they would prefer to use adding a few hundred votes to a ten thousand majority.
It seems clear to me that future Chairs of the Party need to be as strong in sorting out our own house as we will need to be to sort out the problems of the Country. Wealthy associations need to realise that to return Conservative Governments, money needs to go where it’s needed. If not, we’ll still have an 1980s internal structure at least 20 years behind where is logically needs to be when we‘re defending seats in a tougher point of the political cycle.

Andrew Woodman

One Response to A structure built on sand

  1. editor says:

    Andrew an interesting piece. Isn't there cause to distinguios between members and activists as well. I recently got invovled in the County Elections in Notts in the Parliamentary seat (Bassetlaw) where I stood in 2005. The Association has never had huge membership – but finally we got a very small but hardcore group of activists to fight the election (the reason for being a member in my book) and that's why we got one of (if not THE) biggest swings in the country.

    Members join for many reasons. Some for social events alone. That's fine – they can help raise funds. But by God don't sit on them for that "rainy day" The funds are for campaigning and Associations and their Chairmen need to remember that.

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