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Edward Keene: Holding onto alumni

There is generally acknowledged to be something of a crisis in party recruitment amongst younger voters, and this is not least in the Conservative Party. On the whole, the bulk of young professionals outside London who are active in the party are those interested in standing for elected office. This is in contrast to the multitude of healthy student branches and associations where there is much more of a pronounced social side to membership – indeed, the main focus of student groups is ‘the social side’!

As Mark Clarke, the new National Chair of CF is fond of saying “You are four times more likely to be a Conservative if you are 19 than if you are 29.” Note well: that is a big-C Conservative – not a little-c conservative. There is ample and growing little-c conservatism in young Britain, as people across the country wake up to the fact that society can run itself without the nannying intervention of big-government. Thus the lack of members in the 21-35 age band is not down to decreasing conservatism in society, but a failure of mechanism and structure.

The exact nature of this failure is debateable, and arguably academic, but I would say it is a result of greater mobility, which has produced a generation of natural conservatives who, rather than return to the communities of their upbringing after University or training, move to areas overwhelmingly populated by similar individuals. These areas are even more lacking in social hierarchy and entrenched social institutions.

The graduates have thus left behind the personal bonds which might have in the past normally gravitated them towards the social environment of the local Conservative Club or Association, and have instead replaced this communal context with that of modern urban culture. This is however, as I say, academic. The fact is that society has structurally changed – and so must the Conservative Party.

Whilst the hardcore one in four students will retain party membership on graduation, the other three quarters will not be bothered to get, fill in, and return the relevant membership forms. Therefore just as the natural time, for many, for joining the party is at University, given the useful co-location of other campus conservatives (– and specifically ones who are manning a freshers’ fayre stall which provides all the necessary documentation!), so the natural focus around which to draw older young conservatives, is their ‘Alma Mater’.

Student branches should capitalise on the good experiences they provide to undergraduates and on the interest ex-members will have in the fortunes, endeavours and enterprises of their former club by retaining mailing lists and keeping ex-members ‘in the loop’. Further, they should extend associate membership to graduates and invite them to an annual reunion event – indeed such an event could easily be used for renewing membership of the party. The extent to which alumni are interested in the evolution of the structures they once operated in and through themselves is greatly underestimated both by Universities and their respective subsidiary organisations.

Depending on the breadth and size of membership, and on the activity of the Association, there is also capacity to go one step further. If natural conservatives will no longer by default coalesce around geographically arranged Conservative Associations, it may well be a profitable project to create officially constituted Graduate Associations for more Universities.

This would require reform in both the CF and party constitutions, but provided a few enthusiastic persons willing to liaise with the corresponding University Association, put on events, send out mailings and maintain contact lists, this could prove to be a prodigious source of both sustained membership and grassroots party financing.

As a disclaimer, I will note that I do only speak from the experience of one or two Universities where the possibilities for this appear immediate and fruitful, so comments from others who have trialled this or have thought about it would be most welcome. In the meantime, watch this space for information on how NACA (Nottingham Alumni Conservative Association) develops!


The Chairman of NACA has made a "point of order" on this below


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