Conservative Diary

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London hustings report

Edward_keene_1 By Edward Keene

The London hustings for Conservative Future’s national elections were, to say the least, a raucous affair which affirmed that ancient piece of conservative wisdom - one cannot change society through governmental or technocratic mechanisms. When Conservative Future was set up in 1998, it was intended to be a clean break with the sordid history of a shamed Young Conservatives movement. In reality, just the same sort of problems affect CF as did the YCs, as amply demonstrated by the high proportion of hustings attendees who clearly had no interest in the serious political nature of the event and were rather more interested in shouting out typically ‘Oxford‘ ‘rah-ish’ remarks such as ‘shame’. This even lead one audience-member asking whether CF had already ‘run its course’. The answer, despite being a definitive ‘no’, did nevertheless iterate real underlying concerns about the sustainability and effectiveness of CF.

The proceedings of the evening kicked off rather shabbily late, after some nauseating and predictable back-rubbing and glad-handing by a few over-eager young politicians, in the Press Room of CCHQ. The Chief Returning Officer, Roger Pratt, introduced our Chairman, Conor Burns, former candidate for Eastleigh. Mr Burns presided magisterially throughout, intervening at all the appropriate moments (including when National Chairman candidate Andrew Young made a slightly risqué, politically incorrect joke) and keeping time of speeches with the precision of one of Nicholas Parsons’ assistants. Perhaps the most salient moment was when another National Chair candidate, Mark Clarke, pointed out that the primary purpose of CF must be to get candidates like Conor into the Commons and, as Conor himself had stated at the outset, to get dear leader David Cameron into power.

The most visible candidate for the London North-West elections was undoubtedly the irrepressible Greg Stafford standing both for Ldn NW and NME - and speaking consecutively for one after the other. Indeed, few present will soon forget Greg’s shameless self-publicism during the question period, prefacing each of his questions (the questions themselves evidently being of secondary importance) with his own uncompromising autonym. Andy Peterkin and Munish Chopra also both acquitted themselves admirably, cutting noticeable figures in a what was, on the whole, a shabbily attired parade of members.

The candidates for NME were up next. Matthew Richardson and Craig Cox failed to appear on stage, leaving eight candidates vying for the six positions up. Following more of Greg Stafford (it seemed we couldn’t get enough really), Jonathan Ash-Edwards’ very populist stunt of refraining the use of the
podium backfired, in the face of a cynical CF membership - yet he persevered nevertheless, asking for re-election. The charming duo of Claire Palmer and Karen Allen addressed us next, the former pulling off rather more successfully a foray into the darkness of the floor during her allotted time, and the latter valiantly representing not only our female membership, but also the ‘young professionals’ whom CF must do more to boost membership amongst. Christian Walker of Derbyshire gave a staple offering, before Ranil Jayawardena’s double-entendre-laden speech (“I’ve done it in Hampshire; now I want to do it all over the country.” (in reference to setting up branches - or so we believe) sic.). The last two candidates, proud leaders of the infamous Nottingham delegation, Tim Aker and Patrick Sullivan, gave crowd-pleasing orations calling for an end to the socialist autocracy in the NUS and a revival of big-C Conservatism in our nations’ universities, both as an honourable end in itself and a means to the aforementioned objective of NUS-salvage. The questions to the candidates were bland and unmemorable - and certainly not particularly revealing.

After a short (and quite unnecessary) interlude, we re-started for the main event - the National Chairman hustings. The candidates’ speeches were a boon to youth democracy, each offering a distinctly different emphasis and thus presenting voters with a clear choice. Andrew Young ran on a broad ticket, supported by a solid history on the Exec last year (overseeing e-campaigning) and an irreverent approach. Caroline Hunt offered more training for Area Chairmen and a bubbly enthusiasm. Mark Clarke meanwhile placed his chips on the aspiration of setting up CF branches in as many marginal constituencies as possible and subordinating the interests of CF to those greater ones of the party at large.

The hustings were poorly attended, with barely sixty people in the room. It was pointed out that this figure has been declining year-on-year. With such erosion in both CF’s quality and quantity, the speculative discussion of ‘politicisation’ seemed laughable - no member of the senior party in attendance would have found CF per se a credible body capable of serious input to the policy process. Certainly this reality is an issue for the new Chairman, whosoever that may transpire to be, to address in all earnestness, not least for the sake of older members turned off by the discourtesy of supporters’ chattering during candidates’ speeches. Other items of interest brought up by the event included the possible election of CF’s permanent staff and greater ‘regionalisation’. The future is bright for CF, given the great potential for its expansion and the activity of some very able people within it. Yet internal daemons must first be confronted and dealt with. I’m sure we all wish the new Executive the very best of luck in their term of office.


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