RoadTrip is a perfectly reasonable concept: you get hundreds of campaigners from around the country to descend on one of the target seats, and give them a great experience that hopefully keeps them coming back. Seems fair enough. But my problems are with the way that it is administered, and the logic behind the leadership. For starters, there are questions about the selection of seats which are visited. The first RoadTrip went to support Aiden Burley, who was not even an MP in a 40:40 seat. So who is making the decisions on where RoadTrip goes, and how meritocratic is this process?
Building on that, we have to ask questions about when RoadTrip announcements are made. Twice now, RoadTrips announced only weeks in advance have clashed with long-arranged regional campaign days in the West Midlands, leading to very low turnouts in West Mids 40:40 constituencies. RoadTrip is robbing Peter to pay Paul. And yet this could so easily be remedied – simply announce the RoadTrip dates in advance to that the CF Regions, Areas and Constituencies can work around them. I am amazed that following repeated requests through various channels, within a Party that is meant to stand for localism, we are still pilling on the support for a centralised one-size-fits-all campaign plan, which is damaging campaigning organised closer to the coalface.
Just to be extra clear, because I know what conclusions some people will draw from this, I am not anti-RoadTrip. I am against the way it has been implemented.
Which neatly brings us on to the Conservative Future elections 2014, so far dominated by, you guessed it; RoadTrip! That’s right, the people who bought you centralised, we-know-best campaigning (do I hear cries of ‘Shame! Socialism!’?) are now running to be the leaders of our very own youth organisation. Now I know some of the individuals involved, and I like them, and in many ways they are unfortunate for being the first to raise their heads above the electoral parapet. But that must not prevent some very serious questions being asked of the democratic process.
If various online murmurings are to be believed, the RoadTrip slate of candidates was well aware that an election was on the way before the rest of us. Indeed the only formal announcement I can find that nominations had opened was a rare tweet from the Conservative Future account. I myself, as a member of the National CF Strategy Team asked earlier this month in emails and in a report, for guidance on when the elections would be. Answer there came none.
Are we to assume that one needs to be a RoadTripper to get access to this electorally favourable data? Wouldn't it be much better if we just had a set, defined, 12 month term of office, so everyone knows where they stand? And what of the mysterious campaign emails people have been receiving? Where did the list of email addresses come from?
But let’s also look at what, or who, may be behind this slate. This slate is united in RoadTrip, and if the blogs are to be believed, have begun to amass funds to support the campaign. So why don’t they be open with us about where this money has come from, if indeed it does exist. In a general election we expect transparency in Party donations so questions about influence can be addressed. Its time all those standing in this election volunteered this information so that we can have faith that our democracy is not being unduly influenced from outside.
Finally, I want to look at the idea of a slate so united by one notion. As I have already said, I do know some of those on the slate, and have faith in their ability to fulfil the role; however wouldn’t it be better to have a little more political diversity? In the same way we would question a team comprised solely of individuals from London, is it healthy to have our leadership dominated by the notion that campaigning is the be all and end all. I am front of the queue when it comes to wanting more of our members to go and knock on doors, but I want to see a CF that is more than that. One that has a proper, grown-up relationship with HQ, where we are respected and listened to. One where we influence our parties debates, and not just deliver leaflets. One where we all genuinely work together, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, and don’t work cross purposes.
I want to wish Alexandra and her team the very best for the election. I don’t want this to be seen as simple against a particular slate. Those that know me will confirm that as more information trickles down, other candidates will get the spotlight shone on them. Overall I want to start a debate, so that this election can be different that the others. We need our leaders to open the window to questioning, but just as importantly we need members to ask those questions which are too long overdue.