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Building a Conservative Majority (6)... Building an online Conservative Coalition

By Tim Montgomerie
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I hope you are enjoying this Building A Majority series. It's going to be an uphill struggle to govern on our own after the next election... but it's essential for what we want to achieve... and I believe it's perfectly achievable. After this week the series will take a short pause but it will soon restart and it will, I hope, become central to ConservativeHome's mission up until the next general election.

So far I've proposed four ideas for a Conservative manifesto: (i) Replacing the Barnett formula with a nationwide Social Justice Fund; (ii) Ending windfarm subsidies; (iii) dropping the NHS Bill; and (iv) English votes for English laws.

But victory requires three M's - message and machine as well as manifesto. I'll come back to message soon but the focus of today and tomorrow will be on reforms to the Conservative machine. So far on the machine front I've proposed the recruitment of more northern candidates. Today I suggest we rethink the whole structure of the party. Tomorrow we'll turn to fighting the Liberal Democrats.

Our party is essentially organised the same way it has always been organised - in geographical clumps of members, constituency-by-constituency. Given MPs are elected from defined geographical constituencies this is understandable and it is essential it continues. Party membership should remain the most special thing within the party. Members remain the core of the party and deserve a special say in how it is run and who is its leader. But going forward we need to think about additional ways of organising. Some big trends should influence our thinking...
  1. The rise of the internet. More people spend more and more time online. Many people are more likely to know people through Facebook and Twitter than through the local church or residents association. The youngest voters don't buy newspapers anymore. Insofar as they consume news they do so online.
  2. The decline of a national conversation. Fewer people watch the 6 o'clock BBC1 news. Fewer people read the Mail. There's no defining World in Action ITV current affairs programme.
  3. The rise of single issue politics. People haven't stopped being political but they're less likely to identify themselves as red or blue, socialist or capitalist etc etc. They'll sign up to individual campaigns to save a local hospital or get a referendum on the EU but they won't necessarily sign up to everything a political party represents. Third and small party allegiances are growing across the world.
  4. The decline in trust. Whether it's newspapers, to a lesser extent broadcasters and certainly conventional politicians there's less willingness to take either reporting or pledges at face value. Perhaps there never was much trust but convincing a jaded public of your position is, I would wager, getting harder.

All these factors add up to the need for the Conservative Party to establish new connections with voters. Less reliance on physical connectivity. Less big, top-down messaging. Less use of conventional media.

My recommendation is that Conservatives begin by drawing up a list of the most important non-geographical groups in the country. For example...

  • Churchgoers
  • Environmentalists
  • Eurosceptics
  • Expats
  • LGBT folk
  • Parents
  • Servicemen and their families
  • Small business people
  • Students
  • Taxpayers
  • Teachers
  • NHS workers

There are many more.

And for each of these groups the party would establish an online meeting point. Run by an MP (there are enough in the new intake with spare capacity and they could compete with each other to run the best sites), it would be updated on a daily basis. Yes there would be politics on each site but there would also be much more content likely to be of interest to those people. The aim would be to steadily build up a community and then an email list of people interested in these topics. Over time the community could be asked to help fund campaigns on issues of mutual concern. Also over time visitors to the site could be recruited as peer-to-peer volunteers. Working on the basis that we are more likely to listen to a fellow churchgoer or fellow teacher etc etc than someone with no connection to us it makes sense to recruit thousands of people over the next few years who will become our entry points into the networked and decentralised world that I've described.

The Conservative machine would cease to be one party all believing in exactly the same thing - although, I repeat, the core membership would continue. It would become a coalition of people motivated by different but not conflicting causes. Local parties could also develop this model and apply it to local issues.


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