BY CHARLES ABLE SMITH
The Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), formerly known as Conservative Central Office (CCO), is the headquarters of the British Conservative Party, housing its central staff and committee members, including campaign coordinators and managers. As of January 2018, Brandon Lewis MP has been Conservative Party Chairman. Sir Michael Davis – a South African businessman – currently serves as the Chief Executive and Treasurer of the Conservative Party.
CCHQ is responsible for all campaigning of the Conservative Party, though it delegates responsibility for local campaigns to constituency Conservative Associations. It maintains overall responsibility for targeting voters and seats, including shortlisting and finalising the selection of Conservative candidates across the United Kingdom for local and national elections.
Currently, CCHQ is broken and – as it was reformed under Michael Howard and David Cameron – it needs to be repaired. Whereas in the past CCHQ was seen as a neutral entity – the extended arm of the party leader operating as a private civil service – now senior personnel are telling MPs what to do. There are complaints of bullying. Treasurers are going on strike if they don’t get their way with Brexit, or with preferred leadership candidates. Offices of the Party are being dragged into disrepute by individuals who do not know either their place or the historical eminence of their office.
Worse still perhaps, staff do not know the enemies they are facing. Ask staff what they know of intersectionality, of Neo Marxist Postmodernism, or of Foucault, and they stare at you with blank expressions on their faces. How can a team face Momentum without knowing how its enemies’ brains became warped?
Perhaps the current situation is not so surprising. When both the Prime Minister and the Party Chairman (the incumbent and his predecessor) are weak, the resulting vacuum leads to chaos and staff at each other’s necks. Worse still, when a leadership election is occurring, the party apparatus needs to be seen to be whiter than white. What would happen if say Boris Johnson lost to Michael Gove by a vote? Would Johnson be able to accept the defeat knowing that CCHQ was a shambles with officers no longer impartial and – to quote one member of staff – “being frog-marched into taking a side”?
Agents of old will be spinning in their graves – those silver fox thinkers. Current staff normally become journalists – their opinion of the party is already negative. Allegedly there are “infiltrators”.
CCHQ has upped membership numbers of late to 160,000. This should be applauded. But how can the current structure cope with the rise of the Brexit Party and a far stronger Labour campaign machine on the ground? How can the Tories learn from young Steve Edgington and his daily box of Brexit Party slick social media tricks? How can the Conservatives bridge the gap between current app generation and the deft work of Ruth Berry at Momentum who comes up with new apps regularly and expands Labour activism and membership as she builds? On top of this, how can a dishevelled CCHQ tackle the Lib Dems, who seem set to rebound under a fresh and photogenic leader? The Brexit Party could fold in a week if someone at CCHQ had the foresight to set up a Kroll account.
It used to be – in the days of Chief Agents rather than CEOs – that CCO would quietly go about its business and get the job done, whether paying off Churchill’s gambling debts or conjuring up Zinoviev over a cognac. These were men (mostly men back then) who would operate in the shadows and drip blue if they ever suffered a paper cut. They would live for the party not themselves and they knew exactly who they faced and how they intended to face them. A return to those days of humility, Machiavelli and Tzu – hard edges and loyalty – are needed once more, brought up to speed by 21st Century technology and luminescent organisation that has not been seen since Caplin. A modern machine built on the best traditions is hardly rocket science – buy in the right sausage and you’ll generate the right sizzle.
When the new Conservative leader is chosen – and becomes Prime Minister – they should appoint someone with the work ethic of Leadsom as Chairman and then clean out the barn. Downsize. A sound Chief Treasurer is already known. The office of chief agent should be resurrected and impartiality and humility become restored to the other great offices of the most successful political party the world has ever known. Radicals are needed who can see round corners.
History is important too. Sir Nicholas Soames would be a good man to shout on CCHQ recruits as they attended obstacle course away days. Developing a love of the party and all its traditions – interspersed with lectures on Hayek – should be the order of the day. Conservatism taught by men and women who can remind them why conservatives are sound. No future career politicians required – teamwork and brains obligatory assets.
Times are fast changing. The Conservative Party is facing splits and annihilation if it does not gel, and fast. Oddly enough, Boris and a radical CCHQ overhaul are the two vital steps required if the Marxist orcs are to be headed off at the pass. Gove would be a far more competent Prime Minister but he’s voter repellent in the real world, not that this blind crop of CCHQ staff can envision that.
Charles Able Smith is a Guest Writer.