I have been a member of the Conservative Party for as long as I can remember and even as a child have fond memories of Christmas fairs and bring and buy events in my constituency. Over those 50 or so years as society has changed, so has being involved with the Conservative Party. Essential ingredients have remained much the same, such as local fundraising, campaigning on local issues, delivering newsletters and talking to people on their doorsteps about what is important to them.
Most importantly for most members is the selection and election of candidates to represent their neighbourhood and community. The Conservative Party is a grassroots movement, reliant on volunteers and backed up by a small team of dedicated professionals. People of all ages and backgrounds are welcome and there are specialist groups such as Conservative Future for young people.
For some supporters and members their involvement is largely social, wanting to spend time with like minded people. Or an opportunity to network. For others it is about getting off the fence and joining a political movement that has been the most successful in English history; constantly responding to the challenges it faces and innovating.
It is a values based organisation and seeks to represent the whole nation so has members in associations and groups around the UK. Increasingly, members and supporters can get involved through social media. The Conservatives’ Facebook page has 158,000 ‘likes’ compared to 134,000 for Labour and 94,000 for the Lib Dems. @David_Cameron, the Twitter handle for David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party launched in October 2012, had 177,639 followers by December 1st and is growing at 4,000 to 6,000 per week.
Integrating social media into all our work as well as sending regular updates on the Conservative Party to members and supporters is increasingly important. Our conferences are videoed and highlights are easily available on a wide range of social media sites. While there is no replacement for face-to-face conversations, for many busy people juggling work, home and activities in the community, getting involved online works well.
Everyone involved with the Conservative Party wants to make a positive difference and a growing number are actively taking part in the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF) – the party’s policy discussion network. They exist to give members the chance to discuss the major policy challenges facing Britain and feed into the 2015 manifesto preparation.
The national CPF team oversees nine different discussion papers each year with every member invited to contribute. The relevant Government Minister then reads a summary of submissions and replies accordingly. All these submissions and responses are available on the website www.conservativepolicyforum.com. Schools, Europe and immigration will be key discussion areas in the next few months.
Other CPF activities include a broad programme of events at the Party Conference which last year was attended by more members than for many years, thanks to some good deals negotiated on travel and accommodation to keep the cost down.
CPF has come on leaps and bounds since its launch in early 2011. So far 19 discussion papers, from the first on the Alternative Vote to the most recent on schools, have sparked active discussions in communities nationwide. There are around 250 groups and over 11,000 viewpoints have been captured.
The Conservative Women’s Organisation has a nationwide network that attracts women from all walks of life and communities who come together to feed into the agenda setting of the party through their influential reports on issues. They also play an additional and vital role of encouraging women into public life at all levels including public office as a councillor, MP or MEP. They have helped talent spot and nurture talent over many years and contributed to the significant increase of Conservative women in Parliament in 2010 from 17 female MPs to 48.
For members who like to roll up their shirt sleeves and take direct action to make a difference in their community, there is Conservative Social Action with regional volunteers co-ordinating more than 150 projects across the country and three internationally in developing countries. At the last Conservative Party Conference volunteers packed over 1,300 boxes of donated items including biscuits, sweets, playing cards and crisps, which will be sent out to our troops currently serving in Afghanistan.
The plans for the General Election of 2015 are well underway. By opening up policy forums, developing specialist groups and utilising social media we are encouraging more people to participate in the politics.