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Andrew Young: Harnessing the internet

Andrew_young_1Andrew, standing for CF Chairman, explains his vision for CF Net and other projects

Guilty Secret #1: I know nothing about computers.

I’ve spent the past year in charge of ‘e-Campaigning’ (like most phrases involving the Internet it’s a made-up term) and I have no technical expertise other than that which I’ve been able to teach myself.

However, as I had previously managed ‘the website team’ (writers, not techies) that was the job I was given. Strange then, that I, a non-technical person, am now the leading proponent for IT in CF.


Well, as part of the frantic research for my new job, I soon realised that you, the CF member are surfing the wave of a technological revolution. Almost entirely connected to the Internet, increasingly through new broadband connections, you are even starting to switch off your telly in favour of surfing the net. Wait ten years and there mightn’t be a difference between the two.

For a fractured national organisation, with members under-30, the Internet, with its power to connect people at little cost, is a natural home. However, we have a lot of work to do.

Working in the NME for a year, it became clear that we fail as a national organisation by being unable to communicate well. Hence brilliant work by individuals stays just that, and if you’re miles from an active branch the chances of you getting really involved are between slim and none.

Communication-wise, the only point of contact is with the national website, which was a rush-job when it was built four years ago. Hence the Copywriter teams I started back in 2004 have now outgrown the site they write for. Additionally, if you want to find out who your branch chairman is, what your area chairman (if you have one) is doing, or how to get involved - you will struggle. Though we’ve redesigned and the bulletin this year, any IT project involving CCHQ is a major production and will take months to become reality.

As a result, and taking our lead from the success of ConservativeHome, I’ve repeated what I did for the Copywriters, and set up a team of website moderators who have built a national network of regional websites called CF Net.

The idea is simple, rather than trying to provide from above, the regional websites directly engage the membership. They supply the content (events, contact details, web links, photos etc.), and the centre provides the technical support and national news.

The sites are based on Blog software. Partly because they are free, simple to use and update (all chairmen will be able to post directly to their area page), and also we can write the computer code ourselves and so amend the websites on a weekly basis (the sites will look and work better the longer CF Net has been in existence). More importantly, as Conhome, Iain Dale, Guido and RecessMonkey have shown, blogs are the future, combining the traditional Internet platforms of websites with forums.

Interactivity is the key. The Internet has sparked the beginnings of a ‘democracy of information’ – put plainly, people have so much choice that they will create a little virtual world for themselves. To stay relevant, we must offer them something they actively choose to include in their virtual world, in this case an information site that keeps them up to date with events, info and news.

CF Net will eventually be connected to the new website, allowing members to find what’s going on with CF in their backyard. It can also act as a great incentive for a stronger organisation – allowing lots more people to find out what’s going on in their backyard, but equally, exposing where Area and branch chairs are not being active and allowing members to hold their representatives to account.

Any round-up of new technologies would not be complete without a mention of the newest. CF TV, is a volunteer run Internet TV station that allows us to start using multimedia – the next frontier of Internet communication. Not only does this expand the scope of the already successful copywriters, but it also helps raise the profile of the party’s youth wing.

When I helped run CF’s national training conference in 2004, getting good speakers was a chore as MPs often said "What’s CF?".

Now the balance can be tipped slightly in our favour. When you have the ability to stick a microphone in someone’s face and immortalise his or her words of wisdom in easily email-able form, interest tends to perk up slightly - bees to honey and all that. Events with good speakers can be recorded and shared beyond the M25, and it works in reverse. Members in other parts of the country with the right technology can easily provide programming for CF TV, just as the copywriters provide articles from various parts of the country and abroad.

Key to all these projects is my first point – I don’t know anything about computers, but I know quite a few who do.

All these groups I call ‘CF Support’ because I don’t think the centre should be doing anything other than supporting the work of the regions. They are all run on a voluntary basis and use the Internet as the common medium.

Volunteers, around 120 of them of all ages and from all parts of the country, give up their time to use their own skills to help improve our organisation. They are the key to the success of all these projects. We received no funding, absolutely zero, but the power of the Internet is to enable people to cooperate.

Why stop there?

CF members have skills that are in demand, why should we not provide that support to the senior party? Each of the projects involves setting up a group of volunteers into a simple system according to their skill set and coordinating their contributions towards an end product. Why not expand this to include new areas?

The Internet has provided a tool of awesome power for politicians, the scope for improvement in campaigning, fundraising and distributing information cannot be underestimated. In this new virtual world the party needs new skills, Conservative Future is well placed to provide them.


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