Tuesday, October 31, 2017

From the Grass Roots

(The following article has been written by a member of COPOV and is a personal reflection on the current political situation and does not necessarily reflect the view of other COPOV members)

The party conference season is over and it is back to business as usual. In the last eighteen or so months everything has changed and nothing, it seems, is better.  I am profoundly depressed and frightened by what the future holds.  A referendum campaign which has split the country in two setting family members against other family members,  a USA President totally out of his depth and who seems to think that shouting slogans such as ‘Rocket Man’ is going to solve anything, a tin pot dictator in a far away country threatening the world with nuclear weapons, the major opposition party in the U K now led by a group of M P s who worship the doctrines of Karl Marx and a government in office but not power led by people who voted ‘Remain’ in the referendum and who have no idea as to how to implement ‘Brexit’ effectively.  The ‘botched’ general election campaign has given the Labour leadership a spring in its step and credence to an ideology that has enslaved and murdered millions over the last hundred years.  That is unforgivable and we must take full share of the blame.  Yet our party has been dying for the last forty or so years. I would contend that the last real general election win was in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher formed her first administration. Each win since -four outright (1983, 1987, 1992, 2015) and two biggest party (2010, 2017) – is the result of special circumstances surrounding that particular general election.  The 1982 Falklands War rescued Margaret Thatcher whose economic policies the previous year had been castigated by 364 leading economists. The rise of the SDP / Liberal Alliance in both 1983 and 1987 split the parties of the left leading to easy victories for our party.  The result in 1992 after a recession was probably ‘touch and go’ with Neil Kinnock’s disastrous Sheffield Rally speech in which he looked more like a circus ringmaster than a Prime Minister in waiting tipping the balance in John Major’s favour.
The vagaries of the first past the post system however meant that John Major’s overall majority was only 21 even though the party polled 14 million votes, its highest ever. Since then it has been downhill all the way. After thirteen years in opposition so called modernisation and a financial crisis in 2008 we still could not win outright in 2010; in 2015 only the complete annihilation of our former Liberal Democrat coalition partners gave us an overall majority (we actually lost two seats overall to Labour). But nothing was more disastrous than 2017 when an unnecessary general election was called by the Prime Minister and an opinion poll lead of 15 to 20 points was needlessly thrown away.

That Jeremy Corbyn, rejected by three quarters of his parliamentary party, should increase the Labour vote by 10% is no mean achievement. But how and why did this happen?  He offered hope – an end to austerity, the writing off of student debt, more resources for the NHS.etc.  We shot our own supporters in the foot with the ‘dementia’ tax, offered nothing new and completely failed to expose Labour’s irresponsible spending commitments which would ruin the country and would make a mockery of all the difficult financial decisions taken in the last seven years. As a country we are still spending 50 billion a year more than we raise in taxes and the debt interest is enormous.

That the general election would be fought simply on which party would be the better at delivering Brexit was a non starter; other issues were bound to crop up but the complete lack of any kind of strategy was fully exposed and was fully exploited by the other political parties.
Probably our biggest failure over the last twenty years has been trying to outsmart Labour on its own natural territory. Because we were reduced to 166 seats in the House of Commons in 1997 and Tony Blair was at the time the master of all he surveyed we assumed that the only way back was to court progressiveness. Hence we readily accepted at one of our party conferences our Chairman telling us we were a ‘nasty’ party (this comment alone giving ammunition to our political opponents should have disqualified her from the highest office) and we had to do something about it. I have voted Conservative all my life and I certainly don’t regard myself as nasty; quite the opposite in fact.

Nastiness is not confined to any one particular party as the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton showed. But we took it as gospel and alienated a lot of voters who would you believe are conservatives with a small ‘c’.  Brexit happened partly because millions of Labour voters in the north of England and the Midlands were unwilling to be part of a European super state whose leaders appear to be accountable to no one but themselves, wanted control over who comes into this country and the problems excess immigration can cause in the fields of housing, education and health, and laws made in the United Kingdom Parliament and interpreted by U. K. Judges.  And instead of being called patriots they are labelled racists, out of touch etc. Yet we were warned fifty years ago as to what might happen by a politician now long dead; a politician who changed parties and whose name is, simply due to political correctness, unmentionable and erased from history .Yet he was one of the most brilliant scholars of his time, was a Cambridge don, rose to the rank of Brigadier in the Second World War, and was for one year a Member of the Cabinet. We have allowed what is known as ‘cultural Marxism’ - the idea that the white population- in particular white males- are oppressors of other races, that heterosexual marriage and the procreation of children is not to be encouraged, and that religion and in particular the Christian religion is as Karl Marx said the opiate of the people – to manifest itself in various ways and have done little or nothing to combat it.  The left has had a field day but like everything else the left is never satisfied. You could spend 200 billion on the NHS and the left would still want more.   In 1987 Neil Kinnock thought he had seen off the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party yet it was only sleeping and in 2017 has reared its ugly head in the form of Momentum. It says something about the current state of the party that Tony Blair the most successful Labour leader at winning elections in its 117 year history is now regarded as a pariah and a traitorous war mongerer by the  members of the party he led for thirteen years.

         Europe has been the cancer at the heart of our party for nearly sixty years. If you read the history books it was only with great reluctance that Harold Macmillan’s 1961 Cabinet agreed to consider entry into what was then the Common Market. To facilitate this Macmillan could have chosen no greater believer in the European super state that his  chief negotiator Edward Heath who when he became Prime Minister in 1970 made sure by every means he could that Great Britain would eventually lose its sovereignty and become simply a province in a greater Europe. This was concealed from the general public but one only had to read the Treaty of Rome to see that this together with complete economic and monetary union was the plan. And every Conservative Prime Minister from Margaret Thatcher through to Theresa May has fallen on the European sword. It has nearly destroyed us. How can two former Chancellors, John Major and Kenneth Clarke, who want to remain in the European Union and two, Lords Lawson and Lamont, who want to leave the European Union, be in the same party?  No:  the decision to hold a Referendum however desirable was a way of papering over the cracks; a device to stop more Conservative voters deserting to UKIP. And when in the course of time the referendum was held and Leave won there was no adequate preparation for the outcome as the Establishment and the Civil Service were for Remain. And that is why we are in the current mess ; a minority government trying to negotiate its way out of a bureaucratic nightmare with a Prime Minister who refuses to say which way she would vote if the referendum were held now, a First Secretary and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who are at heart both Remainers, and  a Foreign Secretary whose ambition knows no bounds but who judging by his speech at the party conference, at least seemed to believe that there could be a bright future ahead outside the E. U.. And what kind of Brexit?  No one seems sure.  The European negotiators who know that when we leave there will be a financial hole to fill are determined to squeeze as much cash out of us as they can  They are placing all sorts of obstacles in our way and deliberately making life difficult.  I voted ‘Remain’ but with no real conviction (better to hold on to nurse for fear of something worse) but having seen what is going on and the intransigence from the Europeans I would vote Leave were there to be another referendum.  Of course having never dreamt that any country would be so foolish as to leave they are now being vindictive and petty and against a country which from May 1940 to June 1941 stood alone with its then Empire and American allies as a beacon of hope and freedom in a continent over run by one of the vilest tyrannies ever known to mankind.

I said at the beginning of this article that our party is dying. What then of the future? What is the point of being a Conservative if it is only to mimic the Labour party in the extension of state control over each and every one of us?  Who is making the case for lower taxes, free markets and dare I say it capitalism?  We seem more intent on not offending this group of people or that group of people than of making any attempt to build a property owning democracy based on conservative principles. And because we seem unable to do this we have lost a generation of younger people who out of desperation look upon Jeremy Corbyn as their saviour.  We have to find solutions and fast.   We need to use what young talent we have in the party to its fullest potential. It means giving a bigger say to people like Ben Houchen the new mayor of Teesside and to our younger Members of Parliament. It means less centralised control from Central Office; it means that local associations are given the right to choose their parliamentary candidates. It means that more people like Kemi Badenoch, the new Member of Parliament for Saffron Walden, are encouraged to join the party, to participate in policy discussion and formation... And to say why they support the Conservative Party.

We need to nail the lie that we are a party only for the rich. We have voters from all creeds and classes; our M P s are far more representative of the population as a whole than it has ever been. The Labour Party’s slogan ‘For the Many not the Few’ implies that our party is exactly the opposite. We never ever seem to question that assumption. We are too timid in defending our values. Too afraid to say what we believe.  The Corbynite luminary Laura Pidcock is filled with hatred for the Tories and our policies and made particular reference to the food banks in her constituency. Why has nobody taken her up on this? For everybody knows that a Corbyn government would be such a disaster that there would be plenty of banks with no food in them at all. And how many millions starved to death under Joseph Stalin in the USSR, a country so loved by the Pidcocks of this world.?

The clock is ticking and time is short.  Brexit will probably happen in some form or other. Hopefully the Remainers in our party would come on board and try to make it a success. The prospect of a Corbyn government should concentrate our minds wonderfully. The Labour Party policies would have far more scrutiny and surely we could not run such an abysmal election campaign as in 2017.

I cannot even bear to contemplate Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister leading the nation’s mourning at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday morning. Yet that could possibly happen if our party cannot get its act together and quickly. Courage and vision seem in short supply but they are sorely needed now.  Who in our party can rise up to the challenge? Who is our new Winston Churchill?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Party Reform by Don Porter

The following speech was given by Don Porter on October 2nd at a fringe meeting at the Tory Party conference in Manchester Town Hall:

I am here today as someone who has given 48 years of my life to the Party.  Starting as a branch treasurer in Macclesfield, rising to National Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Board.  I have continued to work tirelessly for our Party co-founding Conservative Voice five years ago.  This is not a disruptive organisation.  I am not here today to disrupt.  It is in this spirit of service and loyalty that I am here today.

Let me at the outset declare my 100% support and loyalty to our Leader and Prime Minister.  When I chaired the Party Conference in Blackpool in 2002, Theresa May was Party Chairman.  I worked very closely with her and saw at first-hand her many qualities of hard work, commitment and saw her totally principled approach to all issues of the day.  It is time for the team to work together to help her win with the challenges that lie ahead. 

BUT: It is because I want to see her remain in Downing Street and not be replaced by Jeremy Corbyn that I strongly believe that the organisation around her is not fit for purpose and has to change.  Our leader deserves a far superior organisation.

We have to reverse the erosion of engagement in our Party.  Members and activists feel undervalued, ignored and under-utilised.  It is ironic that after years of privatising industry, pushing down decision-making within the NHS, creating free schools and giving parents choice and strongly supporting elected mayors that this engagement never extended to the running of our own Party.  We run the Party in a command and control style.  Trusting the electorate to make decisions locally must be matched by trusting our members to have a greater say in the running of our Party.

It is 30 years since we won a General Election with a real working majority.  Yet, we have continued to behave and organise as if our election machine and structure is the gold standard of campaigning.  Can you imagine if we were shareholders in a listed company where the dividend and share price had been going down for some time that those shareholders would have just passively observed the deterioration?

Real engagement is essential: I still remember with pride many years ago, as Constituency Chairman in Woking, being chosen to propose a Conference motion.  The Constituency spent weeks engaged in discussing motions for submission.  You saw them printed in the handbook.  You reported back after Conference on the reaction to the session.  This all made it worthwhile.  There was real interest and ownership.

Modernisation – During recent previous regimes, I never quite understood what this meant in terms of benefit to the Party organisation or to its performance.  One thing is certain, it is strange that it did not include increasing the influence of activists or members or in developing an external audience interested in politics.  Those activists and members raise money for both the National Party and keep the Party running year-round locally.  It is a na├»ve belief that a Party can be run entirely from the Centre.

What a tragedy when the Party destroyed the high quality professional agents.  Throughout the Country, they were a force for stability and action in the most difficult times.

In my view, the head office of any organisation be it a business, charity or political party, is also there to serve its internal customers. We are not there to be told what to do, when to do it, when it suits the Party administration.  CCHQ should treat activists and indeed Members of Parliament, as their customers, not its resource.

So, what are the priorities as far as I’m concerned? 

  • We need an elected Chairman of the Board of the Party. I think it is perfectly appropriate for the Leader of the day to select their own Political Party Chairman but the Board of the Party should be more about the future direction and strategy of the Party.  Over the 9 years that I served on the Party Board, I worked with nine Party Chairmen.  Many of those former Chairmen are amongst my closest political friends.  But, no-one can make long term decisions with such frequent changes

  • The members should have an involvement in how the Party spends the money that we contribute to the Party nationally.  All too often, some people choose to forget that we keep the Party running at a local level which requires around £30 million each year.

  • I fully support an AGM for the whole Party with real powers of decision-making.

  • The way that the candidates’ selection is undertaken needs to change radically and I look to an elected Chairman of the Candidates’ Committee.

  • All Board Committees should be led by an elected volunteer.

  • Membership should be made meaningful.  Why should anyone contribute £25 only to have access to the occasional selection of candidates?

  • We should be looking for greater autonomy for local associations, not to conform to what the Centre expects us to deliver.  On previous occasions, I have suggested a franchise approach for the structure of the Party.  Branches and Associations working and performing within a set of core parameters but with healthy local autonomy.

  • It would be good to return to a robust and effective awards and recognition programme for all parts of our Party to recognise achievement.

If we are THE Party of aspiration for our Country then we should be the organisation providing aspirations for our members and potential followers.

Trusting the electorate to make decisions about local issues must be matched by trusting our members and activists to have a greater say in the running of our Party. 

Let me close by referring to quotes from my work with organisations and businesses which I believe are relevant to our Party from leading business people:

·         “The real dampener on engagement is the soggy, cold blanket of centralised authority.”

·         “People want to know they matter and they want to be treated as people.  That’s the new talent contract”.

·         “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace”.

Ladies and gentlemen, to win the next election we must first and now win inside our own Party.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tory Party and the General Election

The following is the speech given by John Strafford at the fringe meeting at the Tory Party conference on 2nd October 2017 organised by the Bruges Group and the Campaign for Conservative Democracy.  The meeting was held in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall:

Good morning Conservative Party members.   Today you are the rocks on which we will start to build a democratic Conservative Party fit for the 21st century.
A party based on Conservative values of Freedom, Liberty, Democracy and Justice.
A party that believes in the rule of law
A party that believes in defence of the realm, sovereignty of the nation and free trade.
A party for the people!
For a political party to win a General Election it has to have the right policies which appeal to the electorate and it has to have the right presentation of those policies.
In the fifty years I have been a member of the Conservative Party I do not recall a more abysmal set of policies put before the electorate.
WHERE was the hope?
WHERE were the opportunities for young people?
WHERE was the vision for the future?
No wonder the result was disappointing.
The manifesto said we would “means test” the winter fuel allowance.
The  Manifesto announced a new policy on Social care.
Issues which affected our core voters.   Yet no details were given.
This calamity arose because just a few people drew up the manifesto.   Even the Cabinet didn’t see it.
Oh for the days of the party conferences when we had motions for debate and  a vote at the end of them, when Executive Councils debated those motions before submitting them to the conference. When all motions submitted were printed in the conference hand book.  When the media televised the debates in an open way.   Where were the joint meetings with the voluntary party and the parliamentary party working together to develop policy?    Why was the old CPC emasculated?   It is only through discussion and debate that policy can be developed and daft errors eliminated.   It involves party members.   They feel included in influencing the policies of their party.   It is time to bring them back.
Who took the decision to make this a personal campaign as though we were ashamed of the Conservative brand?   In my constituency of Beaconsfield I received an official party document which didn’t have the word “Conservative” on it anywhere!
But quite often the great British public cannot decide which party has the most attractive policies and it is in these circumstances that party organisation becomes critical.   In my fifty years membership of the Conservative Party I cannot recall a General Election that was so badly organised.   The party Chairman is responsible for organisation but where was he in the election?   I am told he was side lined.   Can you imagine Chris Patten in 1992 being side lined?   He probably forfeited his seat because he spent so much time on the National campaign.   Can you imagine Cecil Parkinson or Lord Tebbitt or Lord Thorneycroft being side lined?   No, the problem we face in this 21st century is that the Party Chairman is unelected and unaccountable to the membership of the Party.
WHO  took the decision to spend £4.5 million with an Australian consultant rather than spend it on the training and employment of professional agents in marginal seats?
WHO  took the decision to use algorithms to get out the votes out on Election Day which meant we were getting socialists out to vote?
WHO did not stand up for the voluntary Party when the decision was taken by the Party Board to ignore the Party’s constitution and impose candidates on the constituencies using the clause in the constitution which says that they can take any decision if they believe it is in the best interest of the Conservative Party, which incidentally makes the rest of the Party’s constitution not worth the paper it is written on.
And finally WHO took the decision to use a canvass return so long and complicated that most people abandoned it very quickly - a return devised by those with no knowledge of the strength of the Party in the constituencies?   At the Spring Forum we were told by these clever clots at Central Office that the traditional way of canvassing was useless.   How did we employ such people with so little knowledge of the Party?
Which brings me on to the membership of the Party?    When I joined the Party we had 2.5 million members.   Today it is about 100,000 and falling.   There are 300 constituencies with less than 100 members including some with Conservative MPs.   You cannot fight a National Campaign on the ground with that number of members and get out the vote.
The last national membership campaign was in 1988 which was the “Bulldog” campaign under Peter Brooke as Chairman.   By 1992 we had approximately half a million members.   This was the last General Election at which we were capable of fighting a ground campaign.   Every single Party Chairman since 1992 has seen our membership decline and done nothing about it.    If only they had been elected by and accountable to party members it is inconceivable that this would not have been a major issue. That is why we have to have an Annual General Meeting of all Party members at which the Party Chairman is elected.
To those that have said over the years that people were no longer interested in joining political parties just look at what the Labour Party has done. Their membership has increased to 600,000.   The income they have received from their membership is £14.5 million. Compare that to the Tory Party income from membership of £1.5 million or adding in constituency membership fees perhaps £3 million.
On Election Day volunteers were directed to help out in Slough which was a CCO target seat.   It had a Labour majority of 7,000.   This went up to 17,000 while in Oxford West and Abingdon a Conservative MP was losing her seat because volunteers were instructed not to go there.  North Oxford, a safe conservative seat next door to Oxford West and Abingdon were instructed to send all their volunteers to help in Coventry where you guessed it the Labour majority went up.   How can CCO have got it so wrong?
We have to radically change the way the Party is organised.   We have to increase our membership.   This can only be done by giving the members of the Party some power, a sense of involvement, let their views count, let them have some say in the development of policy, that those who are running the Party are elected by and accountable to the members of the Party.
Party organisation should be the responsibility of the Party Chairman.   He or she should control the campaign.   All consultants, special advisers etc should report to the Chairman and he or she should be answerable at an Annual General Meeting.   The Leader determines policy and priorities. He or she should take responsibility for the political aspects of the campaign.
One final thought. Anything can happen in politics.   We could have a General Election within the next couple of months.   The Labour Party have spent the summer campaigning. They are putting candidates into all their seats which have not got an MP, so what is the Conservative Party’s position?   We have the same Party Chairman who presided over this last debacle.   We have no candidates in position.  We have not set out a coherent vision of the future.   Lord help us if there is an election.

So it is time for us to trust our members.   Let us seize this moment.   Let the grass roots grow, the swallows soar; let us ride this rainbow of opportunity.   Out of the jaws of defeat we can ensure victory at the next General Election.   The alternative is oblivion!   Join with me and let us change the Conservative Party so that once again we can say that the Conservative Party is the best organised political party in the democratic world.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Questions for the Tory Party

Watch an extract from John Strafford's speech at the COPOV fringe meeting at the Tory Party conference on 2nd October held in Manchester's Great Hall.   CLICK HERE 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

COPOV Forum 21st October 2017

Do come to this Forum.   The time for Party reform is now.   For further details see EVENTS For TICKETS CLICK HERE