Friday, 6 September 2013

Declining membership; perhaps we should put our own house in order!

One of the joys of writing this blog are the (usually) delightful emails I receive from complete strangers. Many write to thank me for sharing best practice, for making them laugh or for showing that new ideas can work without devaluing membership.

Increasingly however I am an "Agony Aunt" for members and supporters for all across the country - someone to turn to for advice (or to express their frustrations). All too often these emails are about the inability of our local Associations to respond to people in a timely, welcoming way - or too often to even reply at all!

I would never use this blog to name and shame, so as always I have deleted anything which would identify either the author or the Association concerned, but here are couple of examples received this week. The first concerning a very strong Home Counties constituency with a majority of over 10,000

"Hi, I don't suppose you happen to know if the (Association) is DOA do you? I have been emailing for over a week asking for a membership form, and they don't reply. If you would poke them please - either they're not reading their email or the email is being lost to the ether.  Neither of these is good. I appreciate that they belong to another region, but it was your blog that finally prompted me to at least enquire about membership - and since you appear to care about the membership as a group, I didn't think you'd mind too much."
After diplomatic enquiries via CCHQ it transpires this this Association has recently "lost" their Organising Secretary, not appointed a new one, and no-one is willing to go into the office to clear messages or read emails. It was suggested that I pass my correspondent details of the Association Chairman's private email address, which I have done.
How about this one, from another safe Conservative seat in the East Midlands
"You don't know me, but I find your blog inspirational. I joined the Party in 2009 as I wanted to help change the government and was inspired by David Cameron's leadership. My local office happily took my membership money (though it took them 14 weeks to bank my cheque). I didn't even receive a membership card or acknowledgement - though they managed to remember my address three times a year for financial appeals. My emails requesting details of events and campaigning activities were simply ignored. The one event I did manage to attend resulted in me being left standing in a corner, no-one spoke to me, introduced me to others or even thanked me for attending.  I emailed my councillor during the local election to offer help and was asked to join a canvassing team. Nervously I turned up at the appointed time and place but there was no-one there. I waited 30 minutes then went home. When I enquired my councillor told me that he had changed his mind as something else had cropped up. It would have been nice if he had called or emailed to inform me. I finally gave up on the lot of them. It was clear all they wanted was my money, I felt they didn't even want my presence at their events as I was an intruder in their private club. In the end I walked away. I am still an enthusiastic Conservative, and I accept this might be a local case of bad leadership, but I must ask why, in a safe seat with a high status MP, this inefficiency and rudeness is allowed to go unchallenged. I would like to help the Conservative Party but I am not willing to donate locally. Can I join your Association in Kent? I won't be able to help, but at least my small donation will be doing some good for the Party and I know it will be spent well."
I have suggested to this chap that he signs-up for Campaign 2015 and helps with phone canvassing from home for a marginal seat, and asked his permission to forward his email to the MP and local Regional Chairman (I wouldn't do so without his authority). And within 24 hours of receiving his email, he was enrolled (by credit card over the phone) as a "out of area" member of Chatham & Aylesford - where his financial contribution is welcomed and will indeed be put to good use in helping ensure Tracey Crouch is re-elected in 2015! 
Sadly the above are just two of many examples - and they make my blood boil. I probably receive 10 similar emails every month. Too many Associations complain about our decline in membership, blaming the leadership, CCHQ, Merlin - anyone but themselves, where too often the blame really lies.


  1. Andrew - you aren't the only person in the party that gets frustrated by examples like this.

    As the Deputy Chairman for South London, I'm currently touring the constituencies in my patch discussing membership best practice. Although I hate the term 'best practice', I can't think of anything better to describe the sharing of ideas to boost grassroots recruitment and engagement. I've made a presentation that I'll happily share with you and your readers here:

    Thoughts on improving it always welcome!

    Best Wishes,


    1. Super presentaton - and I love the Prezi presentation. I have not seen it before. Is it difficult to master ?

  2. Sadly I don’t think any of these horror stories with new members are surprising – we’ve all heard of them before. I was very lucky when I got involved, I wrote to my Association offering to help and come in on work experience and they gladly accepted. I was also extremely lucky in that the Association then had an Agent who was excellent. He taught me everything that I know about politics today and I’ll always be indebted to him! Sadly he left four years ago and although we’ve had some very talented organising secretaries, they simply don’t match the expertise and experience he offered.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel that the Party has allowed the old Agent network to decline – Agents like you Andrew seem to be a very rare breed now. That’s why I love reading your blog – it should be compulsory reading for all those working for Associations!

    Anyway back to the subject point. I can’t help but wonder that half of the reason why these new member horror stories occur is the fact that the Associations in question aren’t staffed by political Agents anymore who would surely chase up these offers for help. I’m sure that there are many Constituency secretaries/organisers who *do* follow up offers for help, but the fact that many local parties can no longer afford to employ someone to look after and run their affairs full time must be one of the reasons why these horror stories happen. If the Party is serious about reviving the membership then it must invest (or re-invest) in an Agents network, otherwise I fear what remains of our Party organisation (with the exception of excellent areas like yours Andrew) will crumble even further.