The following article was published on the Conservativehome web site on 9th March. We would make the following comments:
Rob, you state that the "National Convention is about as decentralised as any decision-making body can be". Not so! Most organisations have an Annual General Meeting to which every member is invited e.g. The National Trust, which has 5 million members and which streams its AGM online to those members who cannot attend.The National Convention is not fit for purpose. It is a barrier to communication between the Party Board, CCHQ and Party members. It is based on pyramid democracy which the Conservative Party made illegal in the Trade Unions in the 1980s on the grounds that it was a distortion of democracy and could easily be manipulated.
The electoral College system of changing the Constitution should also be scrapped. Why should an MP, MEP and front bench spokesmen of the House of Lords have a vote but ordinary members of the Party do not?
You say we are making huge strides to the central administration of membership. May I point out that under the Party Constitution brought in in 1998 it has been the Party Board's responsibility to administer a National Membership List. Why have the Board ignored this for twenty years? Perhaps this is another good reason why the Chairman of the Party Board should be elected by and accountable to all Party members!
Rob Semple: A progress report on changes to the Party’s constitution
By Rob Semple
Rob Semple is Chairman of the National Conservative Convention.
As Chairman of the National Conservative Convention, I have the responsibility of driving forward efforts across our party to make life easier for activists and members. As a member of the Pickles Review Panel, the committee reviewing the Party’s constitution and overseeing the introduction of central administration of membership, I want to take this opportunity to report on the progress we have made since the summer.
The Party’s constitution has undergone little change since it was first launched 20 years ago. Since then, we have introduced many more elected bodies such as mayors, police and crime commissioners and regional assemblies. There has also been a technological revolution in the way people communicate with each other. The internet was then in its infancy, email was only just beginning to emerge and Brexit was nowhere near the political agenda. The constitution reflected none of these things, so it is well overdue that we should look at bringing it into the twenty-first century.
It was written with a clear intention to maintain a balance between all the different strands that make up the Party. Any changes can only be made by a clear vote of an “electoral college” made up from the National Convention (a body that includes every Association Chairman, area and regional officer in the country), Members of Parliament (Westminster and Europe) and Party spokesmen in the House of Lords. It is about as decentralised as any decision-making body can be, and requires real consensus across the Party before anything can be changed.
Members of the National Conservative Convention who attended a meeting last November to discuss some ideas to update the constitution will have been surprised by speculation about alleged plans to remove the rights of Party members. I want to reassure those who were not at that meeting that no such ideas will be forthcoming, and that there will, in fact, be proposals to strengthen the voices of our volunteers as the Party moves forward.
Every proposal that has so far appeared in our draft consultation document has originated with Party members. After the 2015 election, the then Party Chairman, Andrew Feldman, launched a huge consultation exercise across the Country, and suggestions for improvement came via contributions from thousands of members. Last year, Eric Pickles conducted further consultation following the general election and reported to Party members at our October Conference.
The vast majority of proposals in the “Pickles Review” do not require constitutional change, and many of these have already been actioned, including the reorganisation of our campaigning staff in the field bolstered by the recruitment and training of new campaign managers. But where an amendment to the constitution is required or helpful, I would want to put it forward for consideration.
At the November meeting of the Convention, the majority of ideas to improve the constitution were met with enthusiasm, but there were some areas where members sent us away to look again. A revised set of draft proposals will be published in the spring. Amongst the changes under discussion are proposals to strengthen the voice of the voluntary Party in relation to:
• The Party’s Committee on Candidates
• The production and publication of election manifestos
• The Party Board
• Youth organisations
• The rights of Associations to unfettered access to their data on the Party’s central database
• Online local and national decision-making within the Party though the use of email; and
• Numerous “tidying up” changes directly requested by our Associations in the light of their own experience.
Many of these will clarify ambiguities in the current rules of Associations.
There will be no proposals to change the right of members to select their Parliamentary candidates, and the suggestion that anyone would seek to remove Associations from our organisation is clear fantasy. There are an increasing number of Associations that have formed by voluntarily merging with neighbours to create a stronger fighting force, but the constitution would go no further than permitting and acknowledging what is already happening.
When a ballot of the constitution is held, members of the electoral college will be free to vote on those proposals they support and against those that they do not, though I would hope we can achieve as much support as possible to bring our organisation up to date.
Finally, I want to mention the long overdue move to the central administration of Party membership. We have made huge strides in the development of this project, and we will soon be able to roll it out across the Party, which will free up our Associations to concentrate on campaigning, membership recruitment and providing a welcoming and fulfilling experience for members locally. We are also increasing the support we offer via CCHQ, with a new Marketing Director and an increasing number of membership staff.
As we look towards the challenging local elections in May, the feedback from many of our activists is that we have made great strides with our efforts to develop our organisation into the successful voluntary and professional fighting force that it needs to be and it is vital that the work continues. Thank you for your continued support for the Party.