In 10 weeks' time Conservative Future members will have the chance to vote for those who want to lead it. The organisation has grown from strength-to-strength but there needs to be change. In short our future leaders must be more focused, more strategic; work even harder to deliver a Conservative majority in 2015 (including voters from BME groups and the inner cities).
It's taken Conservative Future, which was founded by William Hague more than 14 years ago, until recently to be taken seriously as both a nationwide campaigning tool and policy-building organisation. We made progress with Mark Clarke, but have seen this accelerated under Ben Howlett: an increase in supporters, a mobilised campaigning base and a professional reputation.
So what's next for Conservative Future? While our members decide which direction they want the organisation to go for the next 15 months and UKIP's youth wing reconsiders its future in light of the appalling treatment by their Party Chairman earlier this week - I wanted to offer up my thoughts to the base.
Conservative Future has become a fast-reacting campaign force but there's still more to do. In 1997, while we were just getting started, the Conservative Party was wallowing after its catastrophic defeat. A number of lasting legacies were left that continue to affect the party. One of these was the damaging impact on our activist base and the readiness of associations to get stuck in. As an activist in Lewisham and a former cabinet member in Southampton, I remember only too well how tough it was to establish and maintain a respectable campaigning operation.
It is clear to me that this needs to be addressed under the new leadership: a clear focus on delivering that majority; as Conservative Future, not Coalition Future. There must be a huge push in making sure branches are maintained or created in the 40 most winnable seats as well as having the support they need to win elections. We must continue to support branches in the 40 most marginal, Conservative-held, seats. Although branches have been created at increased rates there is still a need for sustainable activity. Furthermore, our organisation needs to move away from sending people to various parts of the country, when bases should be established on the ground.
Conservative Future members are not just campaigners. Among our number are some of the future leaders of the Conservative Party. There is no doubt in my mind, that every time I attend one of many events, we have a huge array of talented, thoughtful and intelligent people. We can go further in harnessing this talent. It is true that much more recognition has taken place of Conservative Future members, however there needs to be more links between the parliamentary party, local party and our base. We have the makings of good councillors (while lowering the average age). More organised events and a mentoring programme between willing MPs, AMs, Councillors and leading Conservative think tanks would be warmly received. I can vouch for that.
Conservative Future has a great amount to offer the Conservative Party, a party which is going to need all hands on deck in just under two and half years' time. More than an organisation that just offers 'boots on the ground' strong and enhanced branches, boosted by strong regional management, can offer the party a decent thinking capacity too. CCHQ should welcome and encourage a greater say for Conservative Future in the policy development of our next manifesto. We already have the Conservative Future Policy Forum in place but its arguable how much impact this has had. Again, we must do more.
So in short, Conservative Future is at its strongest for years. With a small but significant number of tweaks, it could become a powerful and fulfilling organisation for many years to come. The next national chairman should be willing and able to support you, listen to you and be your voice in CCHQ, the party and media.