Brian Jenner: Ten ways to liven up your Conservative Association
This is Brian's fifth Platform piece for ConservativeHome. Brian runs a blog on the subject of speechwriting.
I have a pet theory. I’ve noticed that the effectiveness of a political organisation is directly proportional to the sexual energy generated at its meetings.
It’s rare to find many women between the ages of 25 and 40 at an average Tory local association event. Why can’t a Conservative Party social occasion just be a chance to have a good time and meet personable people who don’t talk politics? As the Party moves to the centre ground, young women will start coming back, but it’s important to organise events where they feel comfortable.
David Cameron says, we must be the change. Well, political parties bemoan the fact that close-knit communities are a thing of the past. What do you do? Change your community. Do things that will bring people together.
Cancel the jumble sales and cheese and wine evenings, ditch the black tie and the strawberry teas. Organise events that will attract people beyond the usual suspects. The object is to interact with the local community. I’m a fan of the psychologist Dorothy Rowe who says, ‘It is only by talking together, by participating together in some undertaking, that we can start to glimpse how the other person sees certain things in ways very different from us.’ Here are ten suggestions to rebuild a political movement.
1) SERVE GOOD FOOD
People want to try something new. Keep an eye on your High Street. If an exotic restaurant opens, put your head round the door and introduce yourself. ‘I’m involved with the local Conservative Association, could we do a deal to have a buffet in your fantastic new place? We’ll supply 20 people and give you some local promotion on our website and in our newsletter. You give us one free drink, a free buffet and a short talk about your cuisine.’ You charge your members, you learn something and you’re guaranteed to be in a cutting edge venue.
2) GO UPMARKET
People love going to somewhere a little bit more expensive than they would usually go. Think, how can we make something special, affordable to our members?
3) GET PRIVILEGED ACCESS
Is there somewhere in your local area which you would really like to visit, but it’s not open to the public? A nuclear power station, a stately home, a corporate headquarters? Give the head honcho a call and ask if you can have a tour.
4) DO SOMETHING JOINTLY WITH ANOTHER LOCAL GROUP
Why not organise an event and invite the local Rotary Club/ Junior Chamber of Commerce/ Toastmasters’ Club/ Business Networking Club? It proves to outsiders that Conservatives are not aliens, it promotes the exchange of ideas and it makes for a good turnout with new faces.
5) ORGANISE A STREET PARTY
If you are involved in politics it helps to know your neighbours. Create a flyer saying that you’re going to organise a street party in the road/ a back garden/ park to generate some neighbourhood spirit. Ask anyone who wants to help to send you an email. Organise tables and make plans in case of rain. Get everyone to bring their own sandwiches and drinks. Don’t tell them you’re a Conservative. Let them find out later.
6) BE FASHIONABLE
As far as possible organise things in smart and modern surroundings.
7) MAKE PEOPLE WELCOME
The object of any political organisation is to recruit new members. Make a fuss of new arrivals. Talk to them. Find out why they have come. Tell them that you would love to have them as a member. Give them a call or send them an email after the event. Introduce them to everyone else.
8) CHARGE BUT DON’T MESS ABOUT WITH SMALL CHANGE
Get people to pay up front. Sort out an online credit card payment facility. People are very mean about small amounts of money. Better to charge £15 for an event, than charge £10 and bother people with raffle tickets. Banning raffles from the Conservative Party would be my Clause 4 moment. You can raise more money in the long term by generating goodwill and providing a proper service.
9) GET NON-POLITICAL SPEAKERS
Don’t stick to getting MPs as speakers. Invite people who have interesting things to say or who you can learn from. I’ve heard Mary Balfour of Loveandfriends.com give an excellent talk on the dating industry. Former MP Hugo Summerson has great tips for public speakers. Widen horizons and build contacts - you could get a successful local businessman, an author or the person who runs the local Arts Festival.
10) LEARN HOW TO PUBLICISE THINGS
The local Conservative Party should publicise their events to everyone. Serve the community first, ask for votes second. Have an events page on the website and update it regularly. Most magazines need six weeks notice to include an event. Send them pictures and a short press release.
You always need to give the punters at least one month’s notice of an event. Ideally get people’s email addresses and remind them a week in advance and the day before.