James Morris: The Conservative Party and Open Networks
ConservativeHome.com campaigns for a more open, democratic and decentralised Conservative Party. We helped lead the campaign against the attempt to disenfranchise party members in the current leadership election. Last week Daniel Hannan MEP made the case for open primary elections. Today, James Morris, the Director of Mind the Gap, argues for a much more open, networked Conservative Party - fully engaged with the hopes and fears of the British people.
The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that all ‘closed’ systems will inevitably lead to ‘entropy’ – that is to say that they will be characterised by disorder and chaos. For too long the Conservative Party has been a closed system - inward looking, engaged in a dialogue only with itself, deriving energy from internal conflict – rather than reaching out to the host community on which its survival depends – the British people. As a result its internal structures and modes of thinking have become incoherent and chaotic. In order to avoid the evolutionary fate of other ‘closed systems’ the Conservative Party needs to adapt itself rapidly; to open itself up to the networks of the modern world and once again become a force in the political universe.
The party needs to develop quickly on outward facing and positive attitude to the wider networks of the modern world. It needs to develop rich and varied connections with networks outside of its traditional hinterland. This means developing coalitions and partnerships with civic, voluntary and other pressure groups in a variety of areas of the nation’s social and cultural life. This might mean, for example, developing unusual or counter-intuitive alliances with whole range of groups – informal and formal – from text messaging networks of young people as they consume and enjoy popular music, to environmental groups focussed on the debate on climate change. This must mean more than an embarrassing form of gesture politics but must constitute an openness or attitude which is embedded in the DNA of the party - in the web and wharf of how the party properly sensitises itself to the rapid changing nature of modern world.
This openness to the networks of the 21st Century will be facilitated through the millions of conversations which occur daily on the blogs of the world wide web as well as the millions of ordinary conversations that go on in local communities day after day. The party needs to develop a sensitive awareness of all these conversations and how they shape understanding of the world in which we live today. The party needs to use this new networked understanding to engage in real consultations with local communities – not in the empty gesture of Labour’s Big Conversations – but in a way in which promotes continued and sustained involvement of local people in the development and formation of policy. Local people should be involved in the testing and piloting of policy ideas, not in the anodyne atmosphere of a focus group – but in the messy reality of everyday life. This new Conservative Party, by becoming part of these wider, changing networks, will truly become a party which can demonstrate, even in opposition, that it can make a difference to lives of ordinary people and translate policy into action.
As the party begins to evolve from an inward looking organisation, separated off from the world of which it is a part, it needs to demonstrate visibly that conservative ideas can translate into real change on the ground. This means a change in the mind set of every person involved in the party – from elected representatives, party activists, policy advisors in Westminster and anybody else loosely associated with Conservative Party though, perhaps, not a member of it – so that everyone becomes plugged into the social and political networks which they can influence. By doing this the party should be able to benefit from positive network affects, as the positive associations of the new mentality of conservatives and their demonstrations of success of the ground begin to form a virtuous circle with the wider public.
This will not be an easy task but is the only way to achieve the goal of making the party ‘look and feel like a completely different sort organisation’ The type of effort required to transform the party requires it to be open to a complete re-wiring of its inner structure and workings. Open, flexible, and responsive to ideas as they flow up, down and across the fizzing networks of our inter-connected world;embedded in the communities of Britain which, for too long, the party has retreated from, and demonstrating in its words and actions that conservative ideas are relevant to the future challenges people face in their day to day lives.