Last week, we reported the Croydon Conservative Association’s appeal for a recruitment officer, to try to stem the decline in local Tory membership. Here, ANTHONY MILLER provides insight into what may await new recruits
The dismal size of the Conservative party is 177,000 members nationally – about 10 per cent of which, or approximately just 18,000 are “activists”. Half of those activists are already elected local councillors; the other half are their family and friends.
John Strafford, of the ironically titled “Conservative Campaign for One Person One Vote” described the problem in detail on the Lord Cashcroft-owned ConservativeHome website: Why would anyone join the Conservative party when you don’t get a vote on who your candidates will be?
When my brother was involved in the selection procedure of Gavin Barwell as the Conservative candidate for Croydon Central, ordinary members (the ones who do the legwork) were not granted a vote in the final round of the exhaustive ballot, despite being invited to an exhaustive number of hustings. The time and location of each new round of the exhaustive ballot was only ever revealed at the end of the previous one, apparently to exclude anyone with a life.
The effect on democracy is awful.
The Conservative Party is now just a huge promotional machine run from Central Office that does not even pretend to any internal democracy and simply imposes professional politicians on constituencies – most of whom have never had a life outside the professional political machine.
My brother allowed me to read the CVs of the final four candidates. I think the final four candidates in 2007 were Barwell, Lindsay Frost, Lynne Hale, the Sanderstead councillor who is already “at Westminster”, as a parliamentary assistant to Croydon South MP “Tricky” Dicky Ottaway, and Mimi Harker.
Of these there wasn’t much of a contest.
Lindsay Frost (the councillor for Ashburton ward who died suddenly in 2010) and Lynne Hale were/are no doubt nice people and competent local councillors, but they were really not going to be able to compete with a man who used to work in the same office as the Prime Minister.
So that was them out.
The only real contender was Mimi Harker, now an OBE and from out of town. But CCHQ had sent a very strong message that she wasn’t desired as the final choice putting some pressure on her to withdraw, which she did not. In due course Barwell “a key aide to Lord Ashcroft’s target seats programme”, of which Croydon Central was one, was selected.
Why they couldn’t let ordinary members vote in the final round of the exhaustive ballot is beyond me, as in all probability Gavin, himself a local councillor, would have won it anyway.
Maybe that would have been living too dangerously for “Call Me Dave”, and for moneybags Cashcroft?
It’s not as if my brother has any ambitions even to stand as a councillor – like many devoted local Conservatives, he’s happy delivering leaflets. But no doubt they think giving them the power of a meaningful vote would give them “dangerous” ideas.
At least if they’d told him at the start of the process that he wouldn’t have had a vote at the end of it, he could have saved himself the effort of going through the tedious process of turning up to vote in all the preliminary rounds.
Still, everything about the Conservative party is a bit odd, and more often old.
I particularly liked it how those on the final selection committee called themselves rather grandly the “Officers of the Federation” – a phrase so old-fashioned it sounds like it came from the last episode of Blake’s 7.
Of course the “federal” structure of the Conservative Party is long dead. It’s now run firmly from the top down.
The average age of Conservative party members is now 68. It was not always so. In 1952, national membership stood at 2,800,000. Even in 2003, it was at 320,000.
I’m no fan of Conservatism, but this can’t be good for democracy. The modern Conservative party has no grass roots. Its policies are made by professional policy-makers in response to surveys, thinktanks and computer simulations.
Even the Labour party has precious few grassroots left, although it pretends to believe in one-man-one-vote, even if in practice many of the political class know how to bend the rules.
Depressing. But why would anyone join a party that doesn’t give you a meaningful vote and as a result ends up schisming itself over Pellingate? The only meaningful vote ordinary members get in the Conservative party is for the leader who … oh look is a Central Office professional politician who went there straight from Eton and the Bullingdon Club and has never done anything else for very long apart from a brief spell in “PR”.
All very very sad. I believe Labour party membership was around 185,000 the last time it was properly counted (it may have improved since then, as there was something of a collapse during the Gordon Brown era), so nothing to write home about there, either.
Historically, party memberships rise while the party is opposition and decline when they are in government (Tony Blair got Labour’s up to 400,000 at one point) but still. It’s all a bit pathetic.
You certainly wouldn’t vote for it, even if you were allowed.
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