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 naïve 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.