Yesterday I was pleased to travel to Seaford on the south coast to join a 'sharing best practice" day, organised by Maria Caulfield for East Sussex Conservatives. The attendees where Association Officers and those who would like to be.
It is always good to travel to other areas. Even as one of the 'trainers' I value the opportunity to listen to others and I always learn something new. Yesterday I was particularly pleased to hear Brighton councillor Andrew Wealls talk about their own best practice in local government candidate selection, and how in Brighton & Hove they are implementing the Candidates' Contract, which is now mandatory and an integral part of the re-application process.
I was leading two discussions; the roles and responsibilities of Association Officers, and later in the day a very dry and technical section on Schedule 7 (which is the section of the party's constitution dealing with local Associations).
The first thing that strikes me when I attend any of these events is the enormous debt the Conservative Party owes to its members, and the responsibilities and demands we place on those who volunteer to run our affairs locally.
I took a straw poll of see how many knew what Schedule 7 was, and if they had ever read it or understood its implications. Of the 18 there I think only three had ever heard of it and just one of those was familiar with its requirements. Had 17 known about it and just one not, then perhaps we could say the fault lies with the one. But when 80% of Association Officers present had never read the rules which legally constitute and govern their Associations perhaps we must ask if the fault lies with our training and development process.
And why should they know ? As one of the speakers said yesterday, we ask someone to join the party and charge them £25 to do so. Having allowed them to join, we then expect them to send donations to appeals, trudge the streets delivering leaflets, get insulted on the doorsteps, attend dull and tedious meetings and buy tickets for social events. After they have paid to attend these events they usually end up cooking and donating the food which they will later eat, they will be expected to take a raffle prize then spend more money purchasing raffle tickets to win back a prize of lesser quality than the one they donated. Then when something goes wrong locally because these poor buggers haven't found the time to read a 37 page document (which they probably never knew existed) they are criticised for not running their Associations properly.
I met one chap yesterday who joined a few years ago, and has now found himself running his Association after the ruling faction walked away leaving them penniless, office-less and with 30 paid-up members. Another lady in her 70's who was Chairman of a large and active Association; she had been out every single night in May supporting branch social events or chairing meetings. And another lady who had joined last year and found herself as a paper candidate on 2 May and an Officer of the Association. She admitted she was out of her depth and was desperate to do the job well, but apart from a CCHQ job description, there was no-one she felt she could turn to for help.
These people, and thousands like them, are champions. I am not sure if any of us on the 'paid' side of the Party fully appreciate the sacrifices so many of our volunteers make to keep the show on the road, or where we would be without them.