Sunday, 24 February 2013

Why a Conservative win in Eastleigh might be the worst thing for the Party's future.


The most worrying thing for my Party is the prospect that we might actually win the forthcoming by-election in Eastleigh. Don't get me wrong folks, one fewer Liberal Democrat in Parliament would be a blessing for the nation but the Conservatives need to face the truth about their organisation, membership and structures.

This isn't about whether the Party wins the next election but about whether it survives at all. Or indeed deserves to survive. Everywhere I look, the Party's 'grassroots' are looking pretty parched and uncared for. This isn't about policy scraps over Europe, gay marriage or whatever but about the outlook of the London operational leadership.

There is no doubt - and the appointment of Lynton Crosby confirms this - that the brief from the Party leadership to what we used to call the 'professional party' is entirely tactical. The entire focus is on the 2015 General Election and the whistles, gongs and bells that must be blown bashed or rung to secure victory. And the concentration here will be on destructive politics - blackening the opposition, cat-calls and dog whistles.

It may work. Part of me hopes it does, for another Labour government - even a Labour-led government - would likely kill what small hope remains for the nation. But the Conservative Party has to look to the 2020 election and beyond. Has to ask how it is going to rebuild the supporter base that made it the world's most successful political party of the last century. For it wasn't any politician that made this party. It was two million active members - the Party's achievements, the rebuilding of Britain in the 1950s, the rescuing of the country in the 1980s, were possible because of those members. Without them there would have been no Macmillan, no Thatcher.

If we win in Eastleigh. Because of scandal in the Liberal Democrats, because of local anger over housing or because our whistles worked better than our opponents. If we win in Eastleigh the leadership will be vindicated in their disparaging exploitation of the Party's remaining members. Nothing will be done to build support in our big cities, no campaigns to attract new young members will be run and local control - mostly removed under William Hague - will remain a distant memory.

As Paul Goodman - who rather gets this problem - put it:

In the crucial Midlands and Northern marginals the Conservatives must win in 2015, councillors are losing their seats and membership is falling, as it is elsewhere: the national figure may be as low as 130,000. The Tories have made much during the by-election of learning from President Obama’s victory last year, but his triumph was achieved by a combination of computer-held data and boots on the ground.

One would have thought that Mr Cameron would make a priority of reviving his party membership. Instead, he has drawn the opposite lesson from the decline of political parties. Like Tony Blair, he has sought to define himself against his own party...

If we win Eastleigh on Thursday this lesson will be ignored - the grubby business of tactical campaigning will be seen as the way to proceed. And a little more of the Party's base will decide to stay home and watch telly rather than attend the branch meeting, deliver leaflets or run a coffee morning.


1 comment:

Dan said...

There is a reason why this is happening, you know. It all comes down to party economics. A good first place to look is the USA; there isn't any limit on election spending there, so elections are incredible money-sinks for parties there. To enable them to do this incredible expenditure, they need lots of donors, so the parties need to listen very, very carefully to their supporters.

Over here there is a limit on election spending, so that small parties are not disadvantaged. However, the downside of this is that all parties can get away with wooing just a few big donors, and frankly ignoring everyone else save for election lip-service to the bulk of the population.

If you want to get memberships back, impose a very strict and quite low limit on the amount of funds which any one donor can give to a political party, and police it rigorously. This will hurt the Conservatives, but it will seriously cripple Labour as much of their funding comes from a few big union donors; it will actually benefit UKIP somewhat which ought to be a much-needed wake up call to the Conservative leadership.

Finally, I would ask you this: who makes the laws in Britain, the elected government or the unelected EU? Decide which it is, and tell the other one to bugger off. I don't much care which; on present form each is as daft as the other, but I can do without paying for two collections of twerps expensively telling me what to do.