Friday, 19 February 2016

Feldman Review - I hope it's bold, but we mustn't throw out the baby with the bathwater

Another row is taking place this morning on Conservative Home about the forthcoming Feldman Review. My position on this is well known and set-out in my own article on ConHome in August last year. If you haven't read it, see HERE.

From reports I have received about last weekend’s meeting with Area and Regional Chairs, my submissions seem to have been accepted as the basis for reform with one or two caveats. For example (and probably out of character for someone who takes a radical approach to party organisation) I have some concerns about the implementation and management of a national membership database, and those concerns were set-out HERE.  This article is worth reading for any involved in membership collection. I am not aware that any of my concerns have been properly addressed. 

Running five Associations in Kent whilst dealing with dozens of others on a regular basis I realise two things. 

1. What a joy it is to work alongside people who are selfless in their dedication to the Conservative Party and who willingly rise to every challenge. 

2. I also realise that this is not always the case and just how many Associations are (and I don't use this word lightly or without consideration) dysfunctional.  Such as

  • The Association with 400 members and a near full slate of Conservative councillors who don't think they can deliver more than one or two wards of GOTPV letters.
  • Or the Association refusing to support our excellent PCC candidate as their Management Committee have decided unilaterally that they don't like the PCC position and have therefore 'opted-out'.
  • Or the Association which has refused to pack or deliver GOTV letters as they don’t like the colour of the envelope. 
I have little doubt that the above Associations will be first in line demanding their rights and autonomy once the Feldman Review is published. 

Whatever comes out of the Feldman Review must address these failures. Yes (apart from people like me) they are all volunteers. But when one accepts elected office (either as a councillor, branch or Association Officer) one also accepts the responsibilities and duties which come with that office. And this includes supporting the wider aims of the Conservative Party.  If you are an Association Officer it is quite frankly not acceptable to opt out of an election campaign because you don't like the democratically selected candidate or you don't think the office should exist. 

But with the stick must also come the carrot. And Lord Feldman's review mustn't punish or destroy fully functioning and successful Associations as it seeks to improve the rest. For example, in the last 10 days the West Kent Office have undertaken two major projects on behalf of the Conservative Party in Kent. 90% of this work was for other Associations and of no benefit to West Kent whatsoever (other than we want to see Conservatives elected and are willing to use our muscle to make this happen). These two projects are:

1. Hand addressing 88,000 envelopes on behalf of the PCC campaign
2. Printing, mail merging and packing 45,000 letters to target seats on behalf of the Kent CC Conservative Group 

These projects involved 220 volunteers. Some took work home, others came into the office every day for up to six hours a day, or popped in as and when they could. Between them I have calculated that these 220 volunteer envelope writers and packers worked 1,500 hours this week for the benefit of the Party. Had they been paid, even at minimum wage, the cost would have been £10,200.  But of course we don't pay them a penny, and what's more they actually pay us an annual subscription to support our work!

I have no romantic view of the present Association-based structure, and I hope Lord Feldman and his team are radical with their recommendations, but I hope we don’t destroy or demoralise or demotivate all that is good with the voluntary party as we seek to address those who don't perform. 

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