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Andrew Young: The grassroots challenge

Andrew_young_3 The good thing about being a candidate for Chairman is that for a month and a half I get a captive audience and – for the price of a free blog - that’s not bad. Here’s the most important message of the campaign.

We must fundamentally change the balance between the regions and the centre, and in these vital nine months, the next chairman must regionalise this organisation.

The NME must stop acting as a super branch and become a service provider to the regions, and regional coordinators (a select group of senior CFers), must be appointed to bring area chairmen and the senior Party together to plan the revival of CF in their region.

Each region already has its own identity, its own informal networks of support and contacts (hence the senior party is building up its own regional coordinators) - CF must match that effort.

Why? Well the argument that CF can be a force for good is proven. Where CF works the senior party benefits, however, for large tracts of the country, getting elected area or branch chairman is a terrible job.

At the Reigate training conference (Reigate should be a template to much of the country) I met a young woman who had travelled for hours to get to the training day and was desperate to learn how to get started as a local chairman. Living as she did in a non-Tory area she was largely unsupported and had no support network to fall back on.

This is the problem with CF.

Why are we dominated by students? It’s not their fault, and disadvantaging them at our best events is misreading the problem. Student branches exist in an organised system  of student unions that provide support and demand a certain contribution from branch chairmen. Hence, setting up on campus is easy.

To start attacking the demographics we are missing out on, and strengthening our activist base (and the senior party as a result), we have to provide a similar system in the constituencies that provides support, but also one that demands contribution – no more ‘title riding.’

Long-term success will only come about by building up our grassroots, and regionalisation is the only way to do it.

I started helping CF by having some success with the Copywriters teams on, and I’ve applied the volunteer-teams approach to projects started this year (CF Net and CF TV).

However, any success I have had in volunteer projects was not achieved by just me. Rather, I found people who could do the jobs and organised them into teams where everyone knew what was required of them. We provided training, guidance, a simple system that we knew worked and the rest came easily.

With every one of the 240 volunteers I have worked with over the past few years there comes a point when they stop asking “What do I do?” and start saying “Here’s what I’m going to do!” That is when CF starts paying for itself.

Imagine we had eleven regions with volunteers saying the same?

So, when deciding what to spend these next nine months doing, there is a clear choice between short-term gains (and there is lots of scope for eye-catching ‘success’ for the NME) or the long-term transformation in how we work.

I decided to leave the exec because I knew that without changing how we do things, long-term success will continue to escape us.

Don’t get me wrong, the exec have worked hard. But those campaign days, those great events in trendy London bars will count for nothing in the long run, because for every event organised centrally our volunteers, our grassroots, lose the opportunity to learn how to do it for themselves.

Lots of central funding sounds great, but at the centre we are brilliantly funded. Teaching our branches and Areas how they can better raise funds is the key.

Campaigning in ‘National Action Days’ was fun, but each region must take ownership for its success at the polls.

One big expensive training weekend is brilliant, but one-day training days organised by region deliver more, better.

Setting up individual branches from the centre sounds great, but CF is failing because we have no system to support the branches we already have and to fill the gaps where no branches exist. Being an area chairman is such a bad job that only 18 of 44 places have been filled – our most important elected position and we can’t even give it away.

We need to stamp a regional identity on each CF branch and area, and within those regions coordinate events, training, fundraising and yes, targeted campaigning.

It won’t work any other way. Seven people based in and around London can work really hard, but, as we’ve seen, lasting results only come when people take ownership of their own success.

Thank you to the volunteers who have been so generous with their time and energy on the various teams. Their hard work, talent and ingenuity have been an inspiration to me and have kept me going in what has been a tough year.

And to you guys, the CF members who we’ll rely on – it’s been nice working with you.


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