Another week, another ConservativeHome gossip column from Iain Dale in which he, once again, sets about attacking the conservatives within Britain’s Conservative Party. Dale, who failed in his pursuit of elected conservative politics, appears to be setting himself up as Westminster's Bête Noire, resolute in his assault on the strongest opponents to the now farcical Same Sex Marriage Bill, making threats that Conservative Parliamentarians who didn’t support it would be "outed" and publishing books with concerning content about rape.
In politics, it is said that enemies should be more carefully chosen than friends. As such, Dale is a rare gift, thrust upon a movement such as ours that desires to shift the conservative debate away from the epicene gossip of the Westminster bubble, to core ideas and principles.
Writing on ConHome some weeks ago, I laid out some of the things I felt had gone wrong with the conservative movement, from a loss of principle and direction to the inevitable factionalism and civil war it has created.
It is true that conservatives have somewhat lost their way in Britain, and all of us must share part of the blame for that. However, to apply a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, of which Margaret Thatcher was particularly fond, "Small minds discuss people, mediocre minds discuss events, but great minds discuss ideas."
Division within movements usually leads to infighting, which invariably creates a platform for the “small minds” to which Roosevelt referred. While it is of great importance to tackle the internal issues relating to a Conservative Party with a growing resemblance to the Liberal Democrats, we must never falter in the pursuit of principles and ideas above personality.
As I stated previously, the reason why Conservative Grassroots underwent a change in management is because the lobbying organization, Christian Concern, had, via their funding, management and facilitation, taken control of the organization with the dogmatic Bob Woollard as chair and mouthpiece. Whilst I am a determined advocate of the involvement of religious individuals and groups in the national debate and in public policy, I take the view that they should do so openly.
Those involved in Conservative Grassroots originally came together to address the obvious disconnect between the Party’s leadership and members, which had simmered for years but became more evident in the uncompromising approach to undemocratic and poorly considered legislation in the SSM Bill. Conservative Grassroots has been remarkably successful in a very short space of time in underlining many of the core problems within the Conservative Party, but now we must be successful in also moving onto an agenda for constructive thought and ideas.
Conservative Grassroots held a “town hall” meeting at the recent Conservative Party Spring Forum with over 100 people in attendance. Whilst the contributions from the floor were on a variety of issues, consistent themes emerged: the desire for greater freedom and democracy within the Conservative Party; a clear contract between the leadership and the volunteer membership of the Party; and the need to debate the loss of Conservative members – particularly in the United Kingdom’s Independence Party.
These are all issues of great concern to the membership of the Conservative Party. The leadership, however, has been reluctant to consider them openly, and so we are now creating a space in which to have those debates -- in a constructive and positive fashion.
The establishment of Conservative Grassroots has caused some excitement among party members and backbenchers alike. We believe this is because we are seeking to create a forum in which ideas can be discussed freely, and without the presence of the dull whip of the party machine.
We are therefore organizing a debate on June 24 to focus on the potential of a Conservative-UKIP pact going into the next election. We will hear from speakers for and against a new form of coalition on the right.
In July, we will publish our first paper, “Open Politics,” which seeks to explore how the Conservative Party can better reflect the desires and views of its grassroots members. We will consider how to open up the governance of the party and candidate selection to the principles of freedom and democracy.
In the lead up to the Conservative Party Conference 2013, we intend to produce a “Grassroots Contract,” that will lay out what the volunteer members of the Conservative Party offer to the leadership, and what they expect in return.
In taking these steps we believe we can go some small way beyond the unfortunate and shallow politics of personality, toward the politics of ideas, and in doing so play a constructive role in rebuilding the conservative movement in Britain.
Councillor Miles Windsor is the chairman of Conservative Grassroots, an informal network of local conservatives across the United Kingdom pushing for the flourishing of core conservative values across the nation.