Thursday, July 31, 2008

On ideology in youth wings

Tory Bear has recently posted Back to the Future about the lack of ideological battles in Conservative Future elections. And he has a strong point - for as long as I can remember in Conservative Future (since about 2000 - yes I'm showing my age!) virtually all the candidates in elections for the national executive have run campaigns based on what sort of administration they would run if elected and nearly all have had supporters' lists that are ideologically all over the party. The handful who've tried for purity have never got anywhere and even those candidates strongly associated with certain ideological groups in the party have not tried to run on such a line.

Now to a large extent this is because the Conservative Future national executive is an administrative body and so it's utterly irrelevant as to what are someone's opinion on grammar schools, whether or not Conservative MEPs should sit in the European People's Party (although the issue of Conservative Future's affiliation to the European Democrat Students is one that could do with settling) or so forth.

But it's also because a lot in Conservative Future have always been deeply wary of bringing ideology into elections. Many of us have encountered the teenager and twenty-something year-old for whom everything in politics is absolutely back & white with nothing in between, for whom ideas of pragmatism, compromise, electability and so forth are anathema and who often calls for those who don't agree with them to leave the party. Friends in Labour and the Liberal Democrats have confirmed that this is not a feature unique to the right. The idea of ideological based elections brings the danger that the outcome would be a very ideological Conservative Future that would be very off putting to new members, to the detriment of membership and effectiveness. (That problem exists at the moment but it would hardly be resolved by this!) It could also become an embarrassment to the party in general if the youth wing started coming out with absurd policies. Then there's the danger that particular groups in the party would regard the youth wing as a platform to be captured for espousing their own particular policies rather than for benefiting the younger members of the party as a whole.

And what exactly is the point of a party's youth wing espousing political views, which would generally not be those of the membership as a whole or even a national council, but probably those of just those members of the executive controlling decisions and/or accessing the microphone? If it's to influence the party policy there are far better ways to do that - indeed it's better to be enabling individual members and groups to be able to submit their voice rather than have one single voice for all young members. If it's to give the organisation a sense of purpose then it's rather an extreme step to take. And taking it back to the issue of elections, what difference would it make if one candidate is from the One Nation wing of the party, one from the Thatcherite wing and one from the Faith, Flag & Family wing? How would their ability to do the job be in any way affected by this?

(The one point I have seen a few people raise is over the allocation of forty-two places on the Conservative National Convention that are reserved for Conservative Future. How the places should be filled has been a somewhat contentious issue over the years and in one election a chair candidate's supporters asserted that there is a danger of putting forty-two voting places in the wrong hands. But the answer to that must be reform of the Convention places, not hoping for the "right" hands!)

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