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With May 2015 fast approaching, there is a growing desire from Conservative activists across the country that David Cameron be returned to No. 10 not only as Prime Minister, but as the Prime Minister with a Conservative majority. To ensure that this happens the Conservative Party must not only keep the seats they won in the 2010 election, but they will also need to win several more across the whole of the United Kingdom. This is now commonly known as the 40/40 seat campaign.  Not only do we have to get all our present MPs reselected, we have to get forty more.

Funding
To have a Conservative Member of Parliament elected, one must first have Conservative Councillors who are active and high-profile in their local area. To have Conservative Councillors elected, one must have a team of volunteers and activists. These must be prepared to pound the streets: knocking on doors, canvassing, delivering surveys, and speaking directly to voters in the years and months prior to the election. Their efforts are crucial in getting out the vote in the last few weeks of the election campaign – not just on polling day, but from the moment postal votes hit the doormats in a constituency.

Volunteers are an essential face of the Conservative Party, but also represent an important source of funding. I along with many of fellow Conservatives think it is wrong for the taxpayer to foot the bill for the costs of the campaigning of political parties. In fact, in my opinion the only way that political parties should be funded is by their members and supporters.

Declining support
For all of these reasons, maintaining our current membership, and recruiting new members, must be a priority. In the past, this was simple. Conservative constituencies had agents who had to fundraise for their own salary. Hence, there were countless membership drives done locally by the branches. One would call on members once a year for their subscription and call on new people in the neighbourhood to see if they wanted to join the party. This may have been time consuming, but it kept the party in touch with what the current political feeling was locally.

Since that time, however, political party membership has fallen across the country. When I was Chairman of the Hexham constituency in 2005, membership stood at over 1,200; it is now less than 800. I believe that this can be traced to the removal of the agent in the constituency, which the Association instigated shortly after my tenure. This led to the loss of personal door-to-door contact with members. We have, however, made gains in other areas. The party has begun to attract younger supporters. This has coincided with increased recruitment and activism on Facebook and Twitter, as well as ‘Action Days’ around the country supporting local candidates.

Although membership has declined in the last number of years the party is attracting a good number of supporters in the 40/40 seats especially where there is an inspiring and hardworking incumbent MP or Candidate.  These are people from all walks of life who are prepared to be activists, to deliver the leaflets and knock on the doors.  But, they are not necessarily prepared to become fully paid up members of the Conservative Party. This is particularly true in the North of England where so many jobs are tied in directly or indirectly with the public sector and they are fearful that by joining a political party their job prospects could be damaged if was common knowledge where their political affinity lay

My own view is that we are especially lacking active support from women with children. Not so long ago the backbone of every constituency was its women’s organisation. Now the majority of women go out to full time work. The women’s organisation must reflect the changing pattern of women’s lives and make the Conservative Women’s Organisation more attractive and relevant to the lifestyle of working women today.

Building the base
In order to successfully recruit and support our membership, we must  remember that not everyone is on Facebook and Twitter.  We have still got to maintain a personal presence locally. Also, we have to appreciate that not everyone wants to join a party to deliver endless leaflets, and get constant appeals for money through the post. Constituencies unable to collect in their membership or follow up their lapsed members should consider signing up for the membership renewal service now being operated from CCHQ under the auspices of CAMS.

Local Council candidates should be encouraged to follow up their campaign in the weeks following elections by calling on their canvassed pledges to see if they would be interested in becoming a member of the party. Elected Councillors should be expected to sign up new members.

Local campaigns
Election campaigns should be run locally, involving as many local people as possible, rather than relying heavily on outside help. For mutual aid to work and be effective there has got to be a lot of planning before hand. Don’t give people impossible delivery rounds,  always make them feel welcome and always write or email with a thank you afterwards.

Most importantly, it is imperative that we never take the voluntary party for granted. We must value them, thank them and encourage them to join in a shared conversation.

Policy and social action
Many people join a political party because they are genuinely interested in discussing politics. The Conservative Policy Forum is an ideal way to do this. Conservative Policy Forums are monthly discussion groups, ideally with an expert on the subject to be considered leading the discussion. Input from members is taken note of by the team in CCHQ. Then there is Social Action, where members come together to tackle a project or problem in their community. This is also an important way to get members involved locally. This may take the form of a large event organised by the local PPC or MP, or a smaller individual project.

In supporting the voluntary party, we should strive to make the joining of a political party a meaningful commitment, to make party membership available to everyone, and to ensure that our members feel valued and included. Successful fundraising, successful engagement, and success on polling day all depend upon it. And, please not too may begging letters for more money!

Charles Heslop is the President of the National Conservative Convention, and has served on the Board of the Conservative Party for the last three years. Charles is the Vice Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum, and also manages two investment companies and a property company based in Newcastle.