The Angry Grassroots | Sarah Stook
If Twitter is anything to go by, the Tory membership is not happy with Theresa May’s recent Brexit swing. Clearly, the Prime Minister’s decision to open talks with Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit have not made her members happy, as well as her constant defeated attempts to actually get anywhere. A quick browse of Tory social media will show you members cutting up their cards (though that’s purely symbolic), swearing to not support the party or do any canvassing.
Of course not all of the grassroots are on Twitter and Facebook, especially the older ones, but it’s an indication of how they feel. May, even amongst Remainers, has been steadily losing popularity due to her inability to govern, her Brexit policies and general leadership. That’s not to say there aren’t supporters, but they are easily becoming a minority against the anti-May majority. A Conservative Home survey from a few days ago showed that a record of 70.55% of respondents believed that May should announce her resignation immediately. Of the 26.14% who said no (3.31% said ‘don’t know); we can assume some will want her to resign at some point. It’s by no means a full survey of members, but it’s fairly indicative (like the votes).
Let’s delve a little deeper. In the most basic sense, the unhappy members of the grassroots are either against May, the party or both. The main issue with the party tends to be its policies- generally due to their mess up of Brexit but also their increasingly non-conservative policies like further regulation and taxing everything that moves. Out of the general membership, only a certain amount will have the time/dedication to knock on doors, call phones and drop leaflets. If the ones who do go out to canvass are dissatisfied, then the party is losing very valuable foot soldiers. That can be more dangerous than the ones who won’t vote Conservative, because that canvassing can convince people and remind others to. There will be the loyal ones, but then there are the ones who are quite happy to stop because they don’t believe in the cause.
Local council elections focus on things like pot holes, road repairs and libraries but people will tend to vote by party- though that is less likely than in a general election. If they think that the Conservative have abandoned them on Brexit, they’ll spoil the ballot, not vote or even go for a party such as UKIP for a protest vote. Though councils do have a good amount of power, most people will see them as representing the party at large instead of their borough. Your local councillor has no power over Brexit, but they are still representing a party that is making a bit of a fudge of it. Councils affect so much of a Briton’s daily life that voting or not voting in them can change a lot. The party in power usually suffers in local elections, but the Conservatives are looking at a real wipe out here.
If we take away from the anger over May and Brexit, there’s still the case of an undervalued membership. Foot soldiers are often rewarded with fish and chips or even a pretty photo op, but there is a clear case of the membership being ignored. Opportunities to network rarely take place outside of the M25 and even they tend to be champagne events inside meeting halls. Government officials tend to have a phobia of visiting places outside the London area, only going for a five minute photo op with the handful of selected canvassers. CCHQ does a lot of networking, but that again takes place in the capital. There is Party Conference, but that is only for those who can afford it and to take the time out. It’s not really a thank you, but an opportunity to get wasted, get selfies with their favourite politicians and take time out to listen to their flavour of the month.
When was the last time you, the Conservative canvasser, felt that Brandon Lewis listened to you?
If the answer is never, then that’s a clue.
The party doesn’t seem to care about members beyond those who are able to smile prettily for the nice photos that will come up on CCHQ Twitter. The party members are the ones who make it special, the friends you make in canvassing who buy you a beer and take you to events. It is a shame that people are dropping out of canvassing because there are amazing candidates out there who will do a great job in the council or in Parliament.
There’s no need for prize draws for dedicated members, but there is a deep lack of appreciation. Even more worryingly, grassroots do not seem to be listened to. Yes, Parliament are elected to represent our views- it is not a direct democracy- but even things like candidates are chosen by CCHQ (*cough* parachute candidates *cough*). Support for grassroots seems to be solely based on vanity, who can make photos for press releases showing how dedicated everyone is. Disillusionment is a tragic thing, most especially in politics.
You know things are bad when over 100 council candidates across the country write an open letter to Theresa May telling her that her Brexit policy will directly result in a wipe out and good candidates losing their seats. The party is begging for council candidates, something that shows that the party isn’t doing well at all. We haven’t had a choice in leader since 2005, which in case you don’t realise, is one long time. The only reason we got May was because Andrea Leadsom withdrew after some ill-advised and possibly Michael Gove stabbing Boris Johnson in the back. The party is defined by a lack of choice, much like how its new big government policy.
All we can hope for is that the party begins to realise who knocks on doors and shoves leaflets into the jaws of angry dogs. Until then, we can only watch as the grassroots revolt against a party leadership that doesn’t give two figs about it.