How to Solve a Problem Like CCHQ | Sarah Stook
Conservative Central Office (CCO) was founded in 1871, becoming the Conservative Campaign Headquarters/ CCHQ in 2014. Based in the heart of London, Westminster to be precise, CCHQ is the centre of the Conservative Party. The home of its campaigning, those outside mostly see it as one of two things- the centre of evil or the glossy, photogenic side of the Tories.
Realistically, CCHQ should be the real voice of all members. Instead, it’s the classic example of the Westminster bubble. Tucked away inside the capital, CCHQ is an outdated organisation that does not listen to members, instead spending their time showing off pretty photos on Twitter and sending out tone deaf emails to disgruntled members. It retweets statistics, but offers no technical insight. Phone banks mainly occur in its London office, cameras at the ready, whilst just giving out packs to those outside of the M25.
This is not a dig at the activists who do their work from CCHQ- they’re taking advantage of an opportunity to help out at something they believe in and at least they’re trying. The issue is CCHQ itself, which lives in a realm of fantasy. It no longer represents the thousands of members, ignores any attempts at conversation with the grassroots and won’t even take notice of the criticism that it regularly receives. It is no longer an organisation for all Tories, but a manifestation of everything we all hate about the Westminster bubble- and that’s not usually just a criticism for the Conservatives. Many members of other parties may despair at their central office, but this is not a comprehensive piece regarding the difference between London elite politicians and everyone else. CCHQ is the one in the literature firing line.
So what does CCHQ need to do?
- Go Outside London
There is a phobia that exists inside of politicians, a rare one that you may not find elsewhere. It’s called Non-London Phobia and is usually find in MPs, especially those who represent constituencies in the capital. CCHQ is based in London and that is because of the capital, the home of Parliament, which makes sense. Politicians are based in Westminster most of the week, so it makes sense that they should be able to get to that location quickly. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken that to heart.
London may be the centre of politics, but it’s not the centre of the universe. Millions of people live outside of London, some of which is *GASP* in the North. Many members live outside of London, from university students to just normal members. Politicians like to make trips outside the M25 to talk about a particular policy or celebrate a win. Take Grimsby for example- Theresa May did a speech there in March regarding EU policy, as fisheries are an essential part of it and the town itself is deeply Eurosceptic. Two months later, she visited again because North East Lincolnshire went blue for the first time since its inception. Even though a Town Deal for Great Grimsby has been announced to up its terminally flagging policy, no major politician has visited to celebrate it.
They seem to value members outside of London and the South when they make a good photo op, shoving leaflets through the door and braving elements to talk to voters. CCHQ is ready to show off the North then, but not before. It might seem like a revolutionary idea to the people there, but maybe events outside of London might be a good idea. Even if it’s not MPs, we can invite retired politicians as well as prominent supporters to events. Champagne evenings about the free market might be fun when they’re not full of those with the financial and time privilege to get to the capital.
If one example shows how incompetent CCHQ is when it comes the North, the government spent £40K hiding the lack of visits by former Northern Powerhouse minister James Wharton. When his diary details were presented, it showed that 90% of official visits were based in- you guessed in- London. Yeah, it’s not even a surprise, is it?
- There’s Policy Outside of Brexit
Ok, so CCHQ isn’t the main provider of the manifesto and policies. That comes down to a small group of pretty clueless advisors. Still, there is one part of policy making related to CCHQ- Conservative Policy Forum. An official branch affiliated with the party, its aim is to get grassroots involved in policy decision. They release five reports a year and have a round 3,000 members, but it has little sway in policy- even though they are more reflective of the party than a handful of advisors are.
So why don’t we push this? The Conservative Party has become the opposite of what true conservatism actually is- there is a constant need for taxing everything fun, banning everything in sight and restricting the personal liberties of individuals. At a grassroots level, it seems that most are crying at these restrictive, draconian policies that are driving not only voters away, but members. If these members actually had a say, and CCHQ gave them a voice, then we’d have actual decent policy.
- Members Exist
Instead of just receiving random visits and superficial thank you letters, maybe at least remember that members exist. Not every member hangs out at CCHQ; many others do phone banks from their own home without the positioning of cameras.
I’m not talking about the prize draws that they do every so often, I can get that done in my local supermarket. Show the members that they are valued, by actually LISTENING to them and visiting them in places that aren’t revolved around elections. When it comes to young people, the most contact MPs may get is with university groups. Not every young Tory is in university, they may just have to tag along with events. Holding meetings in non-Tory areas, especially ones that have seen a Labour local government for years, is another great way of showing members that they are appreciated even when their contribution is not quite recognised.
- Better Campaigns
‘Potholes, not Brexit.’
Oh God, that was just a bad idea. Yes, local elections are more than about Brexit, but they have to factor in that people will vote based on national policy. There doesn’t seem to be a cohesive ground campaign, especially during council elections. Yes, each area has its own problems, but the party isn’t great at highlighting successes. It’s shown on social media, but many members, especially the elderly, do not have Facebook or Twitter. For example, in the many years I’ve lived in my house, I have only ever had one knock on the door canvasser- a Labour gentleman. We rarely get campaign literature, our voting bloc often taken into consideration here. They won’t bother if it’s a Tory stronghold or a place they have zero chance in.
That in itself is incredibly lazy.
The General Election in 2017 is worthy of an article itself, but that was a lesson in how to NOT campaign. First off, it’s fair to say that members were working with a particularly terrible manifesto featuring some hugely unpopular and ill thought out policies. Secondly, they decided that their focus would not be on policy, but Theresa May. It’s hard to believe now, but May was actually popular and had an extended honeymoon period after her July 2016 ascension. Now, that is dangerous- one politician does not represent the party. It is not the same as a US election, whereas people are voting for a person and not a party. May’s popularity slipped, one of the many features that helped lose a majority. The only reason there wasn’t a total wipe-out was because of the Scottish Tories and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is a genuine idiot. Instead of focusing on policy, giving out reasons why the Tories are better than a Corbyn-led government and reaching out to the non-voters that the Brexit campaign captured, they used May as a figurehead.
A campaign shouldn’t stop in May/June. The campaign should be all year around, with phone banks at every opportunity and constant knocks at the door. Voters are cleverer than we give them credit for; they know when they’re being used. If CCHQ knock on the door of a Tory voter way past election season, they’re reminded that the party is there and that they want to hear their views. It’s not even a new concept, plenty have thought of it before this article. Of course, this is down to members being pretty annoyed with the party- that’s putting it lightly- but there should be opportunity for those who still believe.
In conclusion, CCHQ needs a change, because they’re in dire straits. It seems that members are getting money for nothing, their only opportunity for ‘fun’ being conference- and even that has become a congratulatory, pat on the back love fest. With opportunities outside London, listening to members, pushing on policy and campaigning more effectively, it could win back the trust of the members. ConHome should do a survey, though I’m sure it may not impress Amber ‘certain people read ConHome’ Rudd and her disengaging ilk. Members and the Conservative Party itself deserve more than what the drones are giving us.
CCHQ needs to lend an ear, but we’re actually seeing their back.