Andrew Stephenson is Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Pendle.
In my first ConservativeHome article as your Co-Chairman, I outlined how the Party would go about delivering on my priority, of ensuring this leadership contest is delivered with the membership front and centre.
Here I want to outline the exciting plans we have put in place to deliver that pledge.
Our principles in making all of these decisions have been focused on: putting the membership front and centre; delivering a fair ballot; allowing both candidates to make their case to every member; ensuring that we do not allow our Party to fall into the same internal arguments as Labour; and that we keep our focus on the most important people – the electorate and on that historic fifth general election win.
And thanks to the support of my Co-Chairman, the Chairman of the 1922 Executive, the Chairman of the National Conservative Convention and the Board of our Party, we have made excellent progress in meeting those principles.
At each stage of this process we have listened to the voluntary party, refining our plans based on your feedback.
That’s why thanks to the overwhelming response from members in the North West, South East and the compelling argument put forward by the Voluntary Party Chairman for Northern Ireland, we expanded our plans – which will now see both candidates in Manchester and Eastbourne and why we changed our plans for a virtual hustings in Belfast to a physical one taking place later in August.
The hustings in Manchester, Eastbourne, and Belfast sit alongside a full UK schedule of physical events which will also see us go to Leeds, Exeter, Cardiff, Eastbourne, Darlington, Cheltenham, Perth, Birmingham, Norwich and London. All of which are now available to book at conservatives.com/hustings.
This time we have introduced a small £5 administration charge for our hustings. This is because during the last leadership election in 2019 we saw a high dropout rate of attendees at some events. This was unfair on members who wanted to attend hustings but couldn’t where they were sold out.
We want to ensure venues are full and that members have the best experience. This small fee will help improve turnout rates, make a more engaging event, and ensure members’ money isn’t wasted on the wrong sized venues, allowing us to keep spending on campaigning to keep Keir Starmer out of Downing Street.
And the response to our hustings has been incredible, in less than a week we are already at capacity in Leeds, Exeter, Cheltenham and Norwich, showing just how healthy the strength of our Party is. Indeed we have seen a strong uptick in new members and our membership renewals, although I should stress the minimum three months of membership rule applies to this leadership election.
All hustings will be live streamed on our website. Meaning even if you’ve missed your chance to secure your ticket or you’ll be away in August, you will still be able to take part from the comfort of your living room, or from a sun lounger.
When members start to receive their ballot packs, from the 1 August you will have two options. You can vote either electronically or through the post and as ever, it’s one member one vote.
I am not prepared to see any member lose their vote because of any circumstances, for example the threatened Royal Mail strike, and voting online is secure. This will help maximise turnout and ensure no member misses out, whilst ensuring the election is secure and fair.
I would encourage all our members to take the time to listen to the cases put forward by both of our fantastic candidates. That’s why we have increased their spending limit from £150,000 to £300,000. This will allow both campaigns to engage more freely and directly with members without the involvement of CCHQ. This natural, grassroots focus on campaigning should be the defining part of this Leadership Election.
This leadership election will see us select not just a new Party Leader but also the next Prime Minister, and robust debate is rightly part of that process. I know our members will ask probing questions but give each candidate a fair hearing.
And whatever your views are on how we got here or whoever your preferred candidate is – let’s ensure that just as the membership is front and centre of my mind for the next five weeks, that the electorate remains at the front and centre of all our minds and that we come together united to beat Starmer and secure that historic fifth term.
I’m looking forward to welcoming hundreds of members to Leeds for our first hustings this week, where I’ll be working from our new Party Headquarters.