A lot of activists – and inactive members – are walking away from the Conservative Party. Even more are keeping their memberships in hand for a future leadership election, but refusing to get out there and campaign in the local elections.
Not me. Every weekend, and sometimes a mid-week session or two as well, I’m out there knocking on doors. Not just taking the easy ‘you don’t have to talk to anyone’ route of delivering leaflets; but actually knocking on doors and asking people what they think.
As you can imagine, it is not easy. Actually, it is hell out there. I am campaigning in heavy Leave voting areas in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. These are Labour held areas, but within them are seats – both council and Parliamentary – that are Conservative targets.
I came out strongly against the Chequers Plan when it was first published, and then the Withdrawal Agreement. The WA hasn’t changed since, and neither has my position. I support those Conservative Brexiteer MPs who voted against the WA.
And my stance means that I am coming in for criticism from two directions.
On the one hand, people who back the WA consider me ‘impractical’ and ‘disloyal’. I don’t mind this, since these are the kinds of people who put Loyalty before Principle, and Party before Country. I have no interest whatsoever in doing either of those things.
On the other hand, Brexiteers who feel as I do about the WA and also think we should have left the EU on March 29th are criticising me for continuing to campaign for the Conservative Party. This article is for them. This is why I keep on campaigning:
1) People deserve to be heard
Never have people felt more ignored. Their opinions disregarded; their vote seemingly meaningless to a Remainer Parliament.
And it’s not right. They should have a way to express their opinions that is not just shouting into the abyss that is social media. They deserve to be heard, they deserve to be listened to, and they deserve to have their views fed back to Conservative HQ.
That’s what I’m doing. I simply don’t believe in stopping listening when people stop having nice things to say. I don’t believe in quitting when it gets hard – we should be listening more now, not less.
There is a secondary benefit to listening to what local people have to say, and that’s that it makes holding firm on my position easier. When people call me disloyal, or try to say Brexiteers are angry with the ERG for voting against the WA, or whatever other fairytale line – I know better. Knocking on doors gives an important reality check; especially since straight-talking northerners cut through the Westminster BS and tell you exactly what’s on their minds.
2) Local elections are important
It’s not often you’ll hear people say this, but they really are. The elections in my area on May 2nd will determine all kinds of important things including who sets council tax and who manages local services.
We have got some great local candidates. Some experienced political veterans, some enthusiastic young newbies, and everything in between. I think our local area will be better off if they are elected as Councillors over the alternatives.
It might be an old fashioned view, but I think being involved in politics is substantially about public service. And just because we’re annoyed (yes, this is an understatement) with the Conservative Party leadership and government, that doesn’t mean we should abandon our local communities.
We’re not kids, and we shouldn’t be having a strop and walking off with the ball. I want the democratic vote of 2016 to be respected, and it seems to me to be inconsistent to call for that whilst ignoring other elements of democracy – like local elections.
3) The Conservative Party is bigger than May
Yes, she is the leader. Yes, she is the figurehead. But the Conservative Party is bigger than Theresa May. She is now acting contrary to the views of a majority of her MPs, and has long been acting against the views of a majority of the membership.
These activists and members are the core of the Party. I am getting messages from multiple people every single day despairing at what is going on; at what May is doing to the country. I say the same thing to them all: if you leave, you lose your voice. There is going to be a reckoning, and those of us who can see that what the government is doing is wrong need to be part of it.
I don’t think the Conservative Party is dead. The future of the Party will be decided by the people who show up, and so I am showing up. It is likely that at some point this year we will have a leadership election: I will use my vote in it wisely.
Once we have a new leader, the Conservative Party will have to rebuild. It will still be in government, and it will have to decide what it does next in terms of Brexit – where ever the hell we’ve got to by then – and in terms of every other area of government too. My voice will be stronger because I have continued doing the work through the tough times. My voice will be stronger because I am listening to voters and can argue for a future on that basis.
“Keep buggering on”, was what that most famous of Conservatives, Winston Churchill, said.