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The Conservatives Are Losing Their Young Activists. What Now?

As Labour struggles to control its growing crop of young members and activists, the Tories seem to have been quietly shrinking theirs.

The Tory’s youth contingent has been on the decline since 2013, and recent scandal has all but shut down Conservative Future (CF), the party’s official youth group.

But party sources say that this has been secretly welcomed by Conservative head office, and that there are few plans to revive CF.

“One of the theories is that they will let the youth bit die because they don’t care about membership”, says one former national executive of CF, who calls the drop in young members “a crisis”.

“The party prefers to have activists on their books, but not make them full members. It’s less trouble. If someone does something stupid they can say they are not a member, just an activist”, he said.

“Obviously in public the line is we are working hard to get new young members. But there is no sign that is the plan.”

Another Tory source agrees, indicating the trouble young members have brought other parties. “It’s very difficult to control them”, they said. “There are no rules. If a member’s misbehaving, bringing the party into disrepute, the rules are very vague on how to deal with them.”

“In fact they would prefer not to have any official young members. In the ‘50s they used to throw weird parties.”

Since a scandal in early 2016, CF has existed “in name only”, according to a former CF official, who say membership lists have been wiped, and it will have no stall at this year’s party conference. Ben Howlett MP, a former CF head says it has “closed down for the foreseeable future”. 

But Liam Walker, former CF chair in Witney, says that only the London office has shut down, after it was were sent a memo instructing it to stop events, but that CF events are still being organised locally.

Others say there are some CF events but not many. Once source describe attending events which usually host around 50 people, and finding five. 

A spokesperson for CCHQ told HuffPostUK: “While the national executive remains suspended, CCHQ continues to support our youth members both on campus and in constituencies.” 

Howlett says the party’s drop in youthful interest predated the scandal in 2016. “It wasn’t Mark Clarke. He was the ultimate reason it had to close. But he was not behind the reduction of the numbers of people.”

One source agrees, and recalls turning up to last year’s Conservative Future Christmas party to a room with 30 people in it. Pre 2013, they said, there had been around 350 people there.

*

 

Things were once very different. In the late 1990s, the Young Conservatives – with their associated mullets and taffeta – were rebranded as Conservative Future. Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, even as Tory membership halved, the youth wing swelled, moving from around 12,000 to a peak of around 20,000 in 2013. 

 

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As party membership plummeted between 2002 and 2013, the youth wing swelled.

 97-98 the old organisations of young conservatives ended up being closed down, and there was a big review in late 90s. That was around 12,000 – 15,000 members, which then rose to to 18,000.

It was a bit like the embarrassing uncle at a party. Everyone thinks the youth wing is like it ever was.

Let’s bring it back into the fold. In 2010 there were 150 branches, in 2013 there were 320. 

Reception at downing street every year. *** Raised 10s of thousands. In  2013 it reached a peak at 23,000. 

It all looks very different now.

Liam Walker puts it “Got a bit house of cards-y. It turned very nasty.” 

Other reason – CF infiltrated quite a lot by the right wing of the party – young britains foundation and others. Little groups like that. I suppose that pushed some people away.”

Howlett “It wasn’t Mark Clarke. He was the ultimate reason it had to close. But not the person behind the reduction of the numbers of people.”

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“Obviously in public the line is we are working hard to get new young members. But there is no sign that is the plan”

“We are losing members. It is a crisis – a lot of young tories have stopped being active.”

There are some events but not many. Members describe attending events hosting 5 people, where a couple of years ago there would have been 50.

According to party sources, Conservative Future exists “in name only”. Membership lists have been wiped, and it will have no stall at this year’s party conference.

Ben Howlett, a Conservative MP, says it has “closed down for the foreseeable future”. Liam Walker says that only the London office has shut down, after it was were sent a memo instructing it to stop events, but that Conservative Future events are still being organised locally, such as in Witney, where he is x. 

A spokesperson for CCHQ told HuffPostUK: “While the national executive remains suspended, CCHQ continues to support our youth members both on campus and in constituencies.” 

who says that CCHQ “reacted terribly” to the Mark Clarke furore, which resulted in several of Conservative Future staff suspended. “They left the rest of us not knowing what was going on. Were social events stopping? What is next?”

 “It all went very quiet. Nobody knew what was going on”. Baroness Chisholm. “No disrespect but someone over the age of sixty chairing it doesn’t make sense. It annoyed a lot of people, people cancelled their events”

“Since then we haven’t seen any updates about what has happened with membership. Lots of young members have left. Even events organised by external groups have shrunk”, he says. Conservative Way Forward, an x, “is now filled with middle-aged men.”

One member recalls turning up to the Conservative Future Christmas party to a room with 30 people in it. Pre 2013, they said, there had been around 350.

What next?

Party sources say speculate that central office doesn’t want a thriving youth membership, indicating the trouble this has brought Labour. “It’s very difficult to control it”, one says. “There are no rules. If a member’s misbehaving, bringing the party into disrepute, the rules are very vague on how to deal with them.”

One former national executive of Conservative Future’s committee says: “One of the theories is that they will let the youth bit die because they don’t care about membership. They prefer to have activists on their books, but not make them full members. It’s less trouble. If someone does something stupid they can say they are not a member, just an activist.”

“In fact they would prefer not to have any official young members. In the ‘50s they used to throw weird parties.”

Walker says that new outreach officers at CCHQ have asked him to meet and discuss how to get more of the youth involved. He was tipped as a main contender for leading CF, but says he isn’t interested in chairing an official party youth wing, and will be starting his own unofficial grass roots group of 20-30 year olds. 

Howlett says there are some plans to revive the group, but “it won’t be called conservative future, it will be called something else.”

One suggestion is to keep it just for students, and at freshers fairs. He leans towards Something for the student group, something for the professional group.

“Keep it as it is, was one suggestion, I thought was off the wall”. 

“You become a member of a political party because you want to influence the direction of that party. Labour has opened up and that caused problems. Does that mean parties should close down? Membership of the tories is on the decline. I’d like to see a lot more.” 

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Whatever next for young conservatives?

Boom, the dwindle, the Mark Clarke revelations.

What is the plan now?

What are the problems? What do the party want?

Have they suffered from the 

Have always been cadgy about membership. 

Recent update for August, not for tories

CHQ does not routinely publish its membership estimates. The latest estimate published by CCHQ, for December 2013, reported 149,800 members.8 As of July 2016, Queen Mary University Professor Tim Bale estimated that Conservative Party has between 130,000 and 150,000 members.9

Conservative Party membership fell by more than half from 273,000 to 134,000 between 2002 and 2013, although the decline was temporarily reversed in the mid-2000s.10

In September 2012 former Conservative Party Co-Chairman Grant Shapps announced the creation of Conservative Party ‘‘Friends’’.11 Subsequently CCHQ has released membership estimates that, in addition to persons regarded as members in the traditional sense, ‘‘also tallies a larger figure for the wider party …including donors, activist and others who play a supportive part but do not pay membership fees’’. In September 2014 Conservative Home reported this wider estimate to be 224,000.12

CCHQ:

 

Liam Walker:

In name it is still going. CCHQ reacted terribly. They left the rest of us not knowing what was going on. Were social events stopping? What is next?

I was supposed to have a meeting yesterday with CCHQ – new outreach officer wants to work it out.

Prior to that I wouldn’t have thought they wanted one. It all went very quiet. Nobody knew. Baroness Chisholm. No disrespect but someone over the age of 60 chairing it doesn’t make sense. It annoyed a lot of ppl, ppl cancelled their events.

 

We hadn’t done anything wrong. We still have events in Witney. We have got one coming up with the former prime minister. Not sure where the memo came from about no more events

 

London CF got a memo no more events. I can only assume that a lot of the key ppl involved were more London centred. Maybe its to stop any more incidents.

 

Other events still going – Conservative future branch.

 

Anyone under the age of 30 becomes a member.

 

That’s all been wiped, likely. Team 2015 stuff. Targeting active members. 

 

It’s good that the party are looking at doing something – maybe rebranding, starting again.

 

Would be silly not to have one. I know a lot of branches that have carried on. It needs CCHQ not to interfere. Not entangled with the party.

 

It;s very difificult to control it. There are no rules. If a member’s misbehaving, bringing the party into disrepute, very vague on how to deal with them.

 

Summer bbq at Witney. Everyone else seems to be carrying on campaigning. 

It has dwindled somewhat. To be honest when he stood down it dwindled since then.

Got a bit house of cards-y. It turned very nasty.

Other reason – CF infiltrated quite a lot by the right wing of the party – young britains foundation and others. Little groups like that. I suppose that pushed some people away. 

It’s not trendy anyway. Should have been about having fun.

 

I think it needs to go back to basics. Have fun, socialise, win elections and become future councillors and future MPs.

 

I know that we were in the tens of thousands. The branch I looked after – steady increase in membership. We are more a group of friends. 

 

That was my intention, but I’m thinking about doing something else – blue future. Grass roots campaign 20 – 30. Not an official party group – side group. It is interesting how after I announced all that they are now approaching me.

 

I can just do it myself. Lots of people who have moved away from CF have approached.

 

Came out of the blue. Wants to know ideas of getting more young people involved. 

 

Ben Howlett:

“It was pretty big when I was running it. Difficult to compare as the organisation has closed down for the forseeable future. 

The organisation won’t have a party conference event any more. Until the party decides what the next steps are.

A number of options were considered. Effectively starting from a complete clean slate. I did put forward a number of proposals.

It dwindled for the next few years.

 

We were very successful in the first time in history of the 25-35 age groups. Looking to get involved in different ways from students. 

They want different things. We had young professionals group, which ended up launching into 25-35 – networking, skills. 

 

Let’s match them as consumers. Conservative future women we set up – they wanted a younger age group. They didn’t want to be involved with conservative womens group as older, Wanted networking and training.

 

When I left: proposed 2 separate organisations. The difference between tories and labour – less of a rigid structure. I tried to make it more rigid. More like a chairman of a company. The figures show from 18,000 – 20,000. That worked.

 

It was 40 hours a week, running round the country, was a volunteer. 

 

When to start. 97-98 the old organisations of young conservatives ended up being closed down, and big review in late 90s. That was around 12,000 – 15,000 members. Right the way through until about 2005. Went up to 18,000.

*****ask******

It was a bit like the embarrassing uncle at a party. Everyone things the youth wing is like it ever was.

*****ask****

Let’s bring it back into the fold. We ended up with 150 branches 2010 – 320 in 2013. Not just university branches. Almost every area had a branch. 

Recreation of cf wales. National conference, staff, budget.

Reception at downing street every year. *** Raised 10s of thousands. In  2013 it reached a peak at 23,000. 

Then the elections happened, I couldn’t re-stand. Oliver Cooper took over. What I tried to do was make it more about the fun, lets get involved with the party, I was invited to senior meetings.

That didn’t carry on. Oliver had other things on his.

Now website taken down and no members – point is zero on all figures.

It was dwindling anyway. 

Off record:

*I turned up to the xmas party and went into one of the small dining rooms and there were about 30 ppl in it. I had 350.*

It wasn’t Mark Clarke. He was the ultimate reason it had to close. But not the person behind the reduction of the numbers of people.

They are still party members. However there aren’t any national events. No conservative future branches. 

You become a member of a political party because you want to influence the direction of that party. Because Labour has opened up. Does that mean parties should close down. I’d like to see a lot more. Membership of the tories is on the decline. What we should be doing is looking at the future of our party and seeing how we better represent our country.

It was quite clear that the formal report needed to be made by clifford chance, then the tories are going to decide what they need to do about their youth wing. Andrew Feltman asked what the party’s view was of the youth wing.

It won’t be called conservative future, it will be called something else. Something for the student group, something for the professional group.

Keep it as it is, was one suggestion, I thought was off the wall.

Something for students, something for freshers fair.

Used to be something called fast-track – a cheaper way of being a donor for conservative party. Up and coming new bars in Manchester and Birmingham. They had quite a few. One asked for.

 

She is the interim chair. But because CF is shut down is not doing anything at the moment. You need someone who is 

Patrick McCloghlan. What are plans for CF. Now that the Clifford Chance report is out, what.”

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Former national executive of committee.

“They haven’t done anything since then. Completely shut down.

 

CWF is separate from the party. Now run by a woman (look up) chrissie boyle.

 

Since then we haven’t seen any updates about what has happened with membership. Lots of young members have left. Even events organised by external groups have shrunk.

 

No-one knows what is happening

 

70 year old baroness was put in charge of CF.

 

CWF is also dead. It is full of old middle-class men.

Kind of like conservatives for liberty.

The piece should be about conservative future and membership.

The started this party review. Lord Feltman started party review. LAs across the country put together a big doc – kind of like Chilcott. Especially in terms of the youth wing. In name it technically exists. No-one in charge, no accountability. How are you going to join if you are a young member.

“One of the theories is that because they don’t care about membership. Changed message since 2015 database – those ware activists not members. They prefer to have that. Less trouble. If someone does something stupid they are not a member.

They would prefer not to have any official young members. In the 50s they used to throw weird parties.”

 

If there is an election just use the list to get activists out

 

Obvs in public the line is working hard to get new members. But no sign that is the plan.

 

We are losing members. It is a crisis – a lot of young tories have stopped being active.

 

Not many events going on. Witnesses that say events went to where there were 5 people rather than 50.

 

Word of mouth. A lot of my friends have left.”

 

Find out:

 

When was last time they had a campaign day?

 

London CF. (they don’t do anything).

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  • Liam Walker – he wants to be next CF chairman, hates Mark Clarke
  • Former national executive of committee. (Mayar – don’t say his name)
  • Ben Howlett MP for Bath. Even though he have to be careful about what he says – he might say something outspoken. Flatter him – “you used to be really great when you were in charge”
  • Patrick McLoghlan – in charge of everything – so check with him at last resort.
  • Or ask baroness person.
  • Management.

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/08/31/the-conservatives-are-losing-their-young-activists-what-next_n_11803746.html?utm_hp_ref=uk-politics&ir=UK+Politics