Tory's death sparks debate among members

Andy McSmith examines Christopher Shale's divisive legacy
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Indy Politics

More tests will be needed to determine exactly why a senior Conservative and personal friend of David Cameron died in a portable toilet at the Glastonbury Festival over the weekend.

Christopher Shale, 56, collapsed just after being warned that a private strategy document he had written for the party had been leaked.

Mr Shale’s stepson, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, 27, said yesterday that his family were sure the death was caused by a heart attack: “We have been told that it is 99.9 per cent sure that he had a heart attack. But they want to do the extra tests because of the publicity around the case.”

There is no evidence that the news contributed to what is thought to have been a massive heart attack. At the opening of an inquest yesterday, the cause of the death was recorded as "unascertained".

One effect has been that Mr Shale's last political document, meant only for the eyes of a few hundred paid up Conservative Party members in Oxfordshire, is now being read by thousands.

In it, he warned of a widening difference between party activists and Conservative voters. Potential supporters are put off joining because they fear they will face never-ending demands for money, and will be expected to take part in activities that do not appeal to them, such as door to door canvassing, he claimed.

Others suspect that sheer inefficiency is a part cause of falling membership. In March, Conservative headquarters carried out a "mystery shopper" exercise, by writing to 300 local associations posing as individuals wanting to join. Half did not reply, a handful wanted would-be members to undergo an interview, and 10 per cent of the associations replied that they were closed to new members. Conservative Party membership has fallen from 259,000 when David Cameron became Tory leader nearly six years ago to 177,000.

Mr Shale suggested that the way to stop the shrinkage was to organise imaginative social events so that being a party member would be more fun – though he conceded that "to many potential members, the idea of Tory party social activity is at best rather more threat than promise, at worst a perfect oxymoron".

The West Oxfordshire association, which he chaired, has 11 upcoming events listed, none of which seems overtly political. They include a summer party, a coffee morning, a lunch club, a bridge day and winter drinks.

After the shock of Mr Shale's death, party officials were not prepared to be drawn into a discussion of his strategy document. But one leading London Tory activist, who asked not to be named, claimed that Mr Shale's description applies to the Tories' rural heartland – "where you are joining a Dad's Army" – but not to metropolitan areas where the Conservatives have to fight for votes. "In a metropolitan one, you get a lot more discussion and sophisticated social events," he said.

Tim Montgomerie, of the ConservativeHome website, questioned whether Mr Shale's solution would work, and suggested that a better strategy would be to give back to party members some of the powers they have had taken away.

"He wanted to return to the Conservative Party to a modern equivalent of what it was in the 1950s, when it was a social occasion, but I doubt whether any political party can compete with what there is on offer commercially," Mr Montgomerie said. "At the moment there is no real benefit in being a party member. Why would you join when more and more of the privileges of membership are lost?"

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Dem-ocracy, said: "Christopher Shale's analysis of our party membership is absolutely right. Where he goes wrong is in saying that people are put off by politics.

"The problem is that participation has been wiped out of the Party. The ordinary member has no rights at all. This problem is going to be huge. If the Conservative Party wishes not to become the third party, then they have got to start taking democracy seriously."