Regular readers will know that I am passionate about bringing new blood and fresh thinking into our organisation. This, of course, includes doing anything I can to launch a Conservative Future (CF) branch or follow any other route which will engage a new generation.
Our local Associations are hugely supportive of CF and not in the "here's an army of leaflet deliverers who can cover the areas we don't want to go to" kind of way. Most of our local Associations have set aside a sum of money to support the establishment of a CF branch (mailshot, sponsorship etc); the difficulty we have is attracting sufficient people in constituencies which have no campus and where over 70% go up to university or higher education.
I often think back to my own early days in Conservative politics. My marginal north-western constituency could sustain three thriving Young Conservative branches. Fifteen years later, in the mid 1990s, Wessex Area YCs was still thriviing and run by a team of the most dedicated and committed people imaginable; Paul Gray, Paul Nettle, Peter Fleet, Andrea Stanyer, Andrew Crisp and many others whose names I have sadly forgotten.
I recall watching in awe as they spent hour upon hour of unpaid time writing newsletters, organising training days, social events and campaigning across the Region. When he was Regional Chairman I remember asking Paul Gray why he willingly gave of so much of his time. His reply was that having sought and secured election, he had a duty to do his best and to leave Wessex Area YCs stronger and better prepared than when he took over. He was conscious that his success would be defined by what he had achieved during his year in office: I fear attitudes have changed and for far too many their raison d'etre is to get themselves elected so they have a line for their CV rather than considering what they will actually do with their position once they have attained it.
Very recently someone I knew en passant emailed to ask if I would 'endorse' him for national CF office. The simplest thing would have been to ignore his email, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Over the past two years I had emailed this person four times asking for help or support (once to help launch a new branch - the email was ignored), and three times asking for support with by-elections. Each request was met with "sorry, too busy" and further requests for CF Campaign Support were declined on the basis "no-one is available to assist". Given a national position (especially in a GE year) requires time-management skills, plus the ability to motivate others, I saw no evidence whatsoever that this person possessed those skills, and therefore declined the request for an endorsement on that basis. Moreover, I told him why I was doing so.
We are told that CF has 15,000 members, and I have no reason to doubt that figure. Yet last year only 746 votes were cast for the three candidates standing for Chair. That's a turnout of 5%. Even the unloved Police & Crime Commissioners managed 20%. This year I don't believe all the candidates have yet declared, but we already have websites, endorsements, manifestos and launch parties. I don't know the candidates sufficiently well to make any comment on their abilities, though reading their lists of pledges and priorities gives me a dreadful feeling of deja-vu.
Whoever wins, I wish them success; stewardship of the organisation which has responsibility for identyfying and motivating the next generation of activists and politicians is far too important to want otherwise. However, I hope that when I email and ask for advice, help and support in forming new branches in West Kent they won't ignore my email as four of the last five national CF Chairmen have done. The one honourable exception being Ben Howlett who understood that the purpose of CF wasn't to talk to each other at black tie receptions in SW1, but to reach out beyond the Westminster bubble to the 99.9% of young voters who we need to attract.