Francis Maude MP: Further thoughts on a more open party...
When I submitted my blog last Monday, the editor’s reply email read: “You’re a brave man!” Shades of Sir Humphrey: “That would be a very courageous decision, Minister”. I awaited postings with some nervousness, quite unnecessarily; I’ve been really encouraged, and actually rather touched, by the welter of constructive, thoughtful and serious responses it provoked.
Reponses were on three broad areas: selections, affinities, and communications in the broadest sense. Actually all these overlap both in your responses and in real life. Real open primaries can be done – I doubt whether a commission to study this makes sense – we need to get target seats selected by this time next year so don’t have time to spare. But anyone else with knowledge of the previous trials – I think Warrington and Crewe and Nantwich were the open primaries – please feed in thoughts, ideas and reflections. I really like the idea of doing this for council selections and for the London Mayor, as well as for Parliamentary candidates. Apart from anything else it would give us terrific public exposure – in a good way we hope.
Semi-open primaries could be open to all registered supporters. The conflict of desirable objectives in the whole of this area is between getting many more people engaged in the political process and diluting what you get for your membership subscription. Obviously, as I suggested before and many of you agreed, we need a much more active – and interactive – programme for involving people who engage with us, whether as supporters or members. And yes the concept of registered supporters must encompass Conservatives Direct, a brilliant idea still in its infancy. This takes us straight into the third area, of communications. Here there were loads of ideas – too many for us to do! We will need serious time, money and brainpower to get this right. But it is emphatically not just about a rehashed Heartland.
There is an emerging thought here about the creation of a parallel, almost a virtual organisation alongside our traditional hierarchies and structures. With the right technology to replace Blue Chip, which we are currently procuring, this could be transformational and very attractive to younger and busy supporters who don’t want to show up at a committee room but who would see the point of a canvass list appearing on their PDA either to visit or telephone.
But the traditional structures still need revitalising. We still have resources concentrated in too many safe seats while target seats struggle. Changes to this ideally come from the ground up rather than being imposed from above. I’m delighted to be able to report that on Friday evening a general meeting of the Horsham Association voted by more than nine to one to merge with Crawley. This will create a single political entity with one dominant political objective – winning the Crawley Parliamentary seat for the Conservatives. In May we had a huge swing in Crawley – nine per cent – and missed winning it by only thirty seven votes. This merger gives us the best chance of winning it next time.
Doing something like this inevitably causes some anxieties. How are we going to raise the extra funds needed to run a target seat? Will it mean diluting our effort over a larger area to the jeopardy of holding council seats in Horsham? What happens to our property? What do we do if it goes wrong?
Going through this process has enabled us to deal with these issues. The property remains in the hands of the same trustees for the same purpose. If it goes wrong – also if it goes right and Crawley becomes in a few years completely self-sufficient – the merger can simply be dissolved at the instance of either side. On the topic of resources, both people and money, the evidence so far is that you can mobilise much more for a merged entity than for one alone.
We are already raising more money for the future Horsham and Crawley Association, because people feel they are supporting the Party in the front line of the battleground. And we are finding more people. Someone showed up at our General Meeting on Friday whom none of us knew. She said she has joined the Party as a central member because she felt Horsham didn’t really need her. Now we were merging she thought it looked really worthwhile. So there was a new – and young – activist emerging without us even looking.
Grateful for further thoughts and ideas…