The Future of The Party: Part III- Young Conservative Reform Group (Exclusive interview with Co-Director Joe Markham)
The New Voice of the Young Conservatives?
“libertarianism, free markets and social liberal”
- By Rosalind Hulse- Regional Reporter for Yorkshire and Humber, chairman of South Yorkshire CF. email@example.com.
Many people believe that the best form of democracy or opportunity is variety. More than one option, more than one direction. People often forget that parties like Labour and the Conservative party have what you might call groups within the party. It is very easy to say all people who carry a Conservative membership card think the same way, but it isn’t true, clearly. But because a party like ours is split on issues and share different ideas about which direction it must go, it is often hard for voices outside Westminster to be heard. So for the young Tories, the blues who will be entering the spotlight of politics in future years its vital that they get their views across and show both the people on top of the party and people on the outside what they want their party to become. And in times when unity in the Conservative party appears to be slipping and the constant trend of members leaving for UKIP it is vital that whatever the method…we support it.
The third CF event I ever attended was the Sheffield University election, despite neither of us being student there both I and Joe Markham turned up to see the outcome. We spoke both about his personal political views and also the University and our connections with it. Just under a year later and I am once again talking to Joe, not about the University but about the ‘Young Conservative Reform Group’.
Interview with Joe Markham.
Co-Director and Co-Founder of Young Conservative Reform Group.
ME: What made you set YCRG up in the first place?
MARKHAM: Myself and Owen noticed that Conservative Future contained a strong element of libertarian, classical liberal and free market supporting members who didn’t seem to have an organised base within the party through which to promote their ideas. We wanted a way to work within the party to help deliver these as well as encourage more libertarians who may not currently vote, or may have switched to UKIP, to rejoin the party.
ME: Do you think the issue with Tories leaving for UKIP is worse in areas like South Yorkshire where there is an absence of Conservative MPs and Council members?
MARKHAM: Possibly, I couldn’t say for certain. Also there are other problems in areas like this as it’s often difficult to secure speakers or be as engaged with the national party and CF with it being so far from London. It’s possible for members to feel disengaged from decision-making and important party decisions, and occasionally some will feel inclined to leave. A strong, diverse and responsive Party organisation ensures we retain more members.
ME: So you feel that because of the tight relationship between the national CF board and Conservative party HQ causes a split between them and the rest of the country?
MARKHAM: Often, yes. The CF policy forum has began to move towards changing this, but CF can still seem very London-centric and a little closed off to members further away. To an extent this is to be expected but we feel there’s a lot more than can be done, certainly in terms of representing the view of a large chunk of CF members who may approach issues from a different angle. Our focus is ensuring that a broader part of the conservative movement feels represented within Conservative Future. We’re looking to work within the CF framework and give our supporters from around the country a voice and a forum in which to campaign collectively.
ME: Currently David Cameron isn’t very popular in his own party. Does CF Central pro-Cameron-ness cause divide in CF between those who are pro-Cameron and Anti-Cameron regardless on personal political views?
MARKHAM: I don’t think the leadership of the Party or any one individual in the Party is the issue here. I think what counts is that CF members have faith in the overall direction not just of the Government (we waited a long time to get back into government, after all) but also of the Party.
What we see the role of CF as being is ensuring that younger people on our side of politics feel most comfortable within the Conservative Party, and of course the best way of working toward that goal is ensuring that those younger people are heard when they have concerns or wish to campaign on their priorities. You know, we’re often told by memberships of local associations that our generation is “the future of the Party”. We agree, and like any sensible Party, the Conservatives should keep their eyes on the future of their own Party but also the broader conservative movement. If it does that, then CF members’ faith in the Party and the Government will be strengthened further still.
ME: Do you agree that CF should be more of an idea of what the party will in the future and less part of the party of the day? Because clearly CF cannot be too outspoken, as we saw with the Federation of Young Conservatives in the 80s, but do you think that CF is too afraid to make a stand and say ‘we are the future of the party and this is what we want’? Also if that is the case how will YCRG help change that?
MARKHAM: It should be both. CF is a huge organisation and young members do a great deal of work, usually voluntarily, to help the party in lots of ways. It’s of course necessary that, as the future of the party, they help to shape its future direction, but CF should also be able to play a part in helping to influence policy today.
The essential thing is co-operating with the wider Party on issues where young people are directly affected, or feel there should be greater emphasis, or perhaps approached from a different angle. For example, young people are increasingly aware that the debt of this generation will be theirs to bear in the future for instance, and many perhaps are more open to certain social changes. These are issues we should feel comfortable speaking out on as any group within the party would. The party has always represented many strands of thought and brought them together through common principles, and we should lobby for our beliefs just as other groups lobby for theirs, but NEVER without losing that crucial emphasis that we are a party working toward a common goal, namely an improved present and a more optimistic future for all people in this country, and that we should remain united in pursuing that endeavour.
YCRG aims to be the main forum within CF for those with libertarian, socially liberal and free-market views. We want to find the issues that libertarian and free market CF members (which we think represent a substantial amount of the organisation) care about and provide a forum in which they can discuss and create policy suggestions and campaign for them. We want to help shape the direction of CF while at the same time ensuring CF can help shape the views of the wider party.
ME: Many young Tories have very little personal memory of what it was like to have a Conservative government before Blair. I being one of them. Of course this is a Con-Lib government. But do you think the younger members of the party are looking more for a government or a leadership like what we saw in the 80s. And if so do you agree that even if they have some very liberal ideas, for example gay marriage, that the younger members of the party, the majority of CF are more on the right than our party members in the Cabinet?
MARKHAM: I certainly think the bold, no-nonsense leadership of the Eighties is something that many CFers admire, and I’ve met very few CF members that don’t consider Margaret Thatcher to be one of, if not the, greatest peacetime prime minister. The current government has shown many positive signs pointing in the right direction, like deficit reduction and the free schools programme, but I think CF members really want to ensure these are followed through boldly. We’re facing very tough times and with little prospect of improvement in the near future, and people are realising that radical solutions are needed and so want to make sure the government delivers on these. And for that, the leadership of the Party needs to stay bold and focussed.
In my own personal view, I’d say that the majority of CF members I’d say are to what many would regard as the ‘right’ of the government economically (to at least some degree) and to the ‘left’ socially (again to some degree). Most CF members I would see as supporting more radical tax cutting proposals or an EU referendum for instance, as well as many being more inclined towards reducing government intervention in the form of things like smoking and drinking alcohol.
Again this isn’t all members, but broadly the consensus among a great many CF members is that the government is too big and needs scaling back across the board, economically and socially, and they want to ensure the Conservatives are bold and radical enough to deliver this.
ME: Do you think if CF or YCRG publicly backed these things then maybe people who share the views of the young Tories and not the government might get involved. Do you agree that the government can often overshadow the true beliefs of the party?
MARKHAM: These are the kinds of issues YCRG will be campaigning on. Specific campaigns and policy suggestions will be decided at our regional policy forums, but the focus will be on libertarian, socially liberal and free-market thinking, and it is this style of thinking that we hope CF will in time become better at articulating. Being seen as a think tank of creative, bold, radical solutions from thousands of young members across the country would be a huge step in the right direction, and this focus on more active politics would do a lot of good for the party as well. The message of less intrusive government, low taxes etc is a popular one, not just among the wider Party, not just within CF, but also across Britain too. People are no longer seeing government as the answer to their problems in this country, and the Conservatives need to be at the forefront of providing solutions that address their problems.
I would contend that as this is a Coalition government, it would stand to reason that the Conservative vision for Britain does not have the total right of way in being implemented, but that doesn’t mean that organisations like the Party, and Conservative Future and within it the YCRG cannot fight for that vision in the wider country.
ME: What areas do you think you will have the greatest support in the first year? Do you think that the party’s political views are different depending on where about in the country they live? Do you think there are areas where Tories are more traditional and other places where they are more libertarian. And if so why and how could YCRG use this to your advantage?
MARKHAM: In the first year I see us campaigning on things like an EU referendum, which obviously has a lot of support inside and outside the party and is something to be very optimistic about. I don’t know what people will choose as the campaigns specifically, but early indications show people want to encourage greater spending reductions and greater costed tax cuts, a sensible and productive end to the war on drugs, less government intervention in people’s personal lives and habits and going further with the education reforms, encouraging more free schools and possibly campaigning for ‘for profit’ free schools to be set up to create a real market in them.
However, it is important to emphasise that the YCRG is a very new organisation, and though I am confident and optimistic about its future prospects, we are still growing, and it is to be expected that debate on what to campaign on will evolve with time. There is no set agenda. We’re flexible.
As for members around the country, not that I’ve noticed. Each CF group tends to have its own broad range of supporters. This is itself is a great advantage though. We’re looking to encourage as many members of each branch to pledge support to us and they can then look to spread the ideas within their branch to their friends. We don’t want to run in to the problem of the group becoming centred in a few regions, we want it to be as wide and broad as possible, so this very much helps our aims. A group for One Nation, you might say!
ME: Therefore because you want a widespread of support do you agree the internet and social websites like Facebook are a blessing for things like this, and if so do you feel CF or even the party as a whole is using the internet enough?
MARKHAM: Completely, the ease of communication has helped make all kinds of campaigns possible. On Facebook alone we’ve been able to gather almost 200 supporters far quicker than we expected, and we’re optimistic about our future outreach potential. The party nationally is quite good in terms of internet use. I think a lot of Twitter and Facebook use by MPs is incredibly useful. It helps break down the barriers between those inside and those outside the ‘Westminster bubble’. Getting more MPs and party staff online regularly would be a great step though.
ME: What sort of structure will/does YCRG have, you and Owen run it, but will there be anything like CF where members can run for positions or jobs?
MARKHAM: We have an advisory board of MP’s, campaigners etc to help us and who will hopefully speak at our events etc, with people like Syed Kamall, Ruth Lea and JP Floru involved at the moment.
We’re also going to look to take on somebody to run our website and help with social media and also possibly an operations manager to help organise policy forums and speaking events.
When we do the regional policy forums we’re hoping to be hosted by a branch chairman and we can have the forum and a social event or speaking event after.
ME: How much support have you got so far from MP’s, what sort of responses have you got so far. I can imagine there may be some people, not just MPs, but people from CF who feel this is an attack, would you disagree with people who view something like YCRG to be more of a negative way of airing ones views?
MARKHAM: The support from people we’ve approached has been excellent. In addition to the people I mentioned before, a number of other MP’s and MEP’s as well as several think tank members have expressed an interest and we’re currently in the process of organising speaking dates with them. We’ll be announcing additional members of the advisory board over the next few weeks. Also a number of CF branch chairmen and other elected members have pledged support.
I think it’s an enormous positive for CF that ought to be fully embraced. The group is fully committed to CF and the Conservative Party and is looking to attract supporters from UKIP and many that don’t currently vote. As I mentioned earlier, the party has always succeeded by being a broad church and working together in pursuit of common goals while many of our opponents splintered into factions. There are already a number of campaign groups for all sorts of issues within the party, and we feel it’s time a strong libertarian element was added to the diverse spectrum of opinion.
ME: To sort of round-up the interview. In one sentence sum up Young Conservative Reform Group
MARKHAM: A grassroots youth campaign to promote the ideas of libertarianism, free markets and social liberal principles within CF and the Conservative Party.
Since its founding, the YCRG has sparked off both positive and negative publicity. But I feel this new pressure group is just what is needed. In the early 80s the ‘wets’ were replaced with pro-Thatcher Tories in groups like the FCS. Conservative Future is still rather young as a youth wing, but it is strong. Isn’t it natural then for its members to push for change? As the name says, it’s the future of the Conservative party, then shouldn’t we praise the YCRG because they are looking at the future of the party and not the present? You have an opinion on this? You want to get involved with the YCRG? Or you simply have an opinion on this series?
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Gossip Tory or contact Joe Markham – co chairman of the Young Conservative Reform Group @ http://www.facebook.com/YoungConservativeReformGroup