Jacob Rees-Mogg has compared this year’s Conservative conference to a North Korea-style rally, saying the party will face a crisis unless members are given more stake in it.
The backbencher, who has been packing out fringe meetings, said ordinary party members had no power to debate policy compared to when he entered politics.
“It has now become like an American presidential convention where we just expect them to turn up and cheer the great and the good,” he told a Policy Exchange fringe meeting.
“It isn’t even American, it’s Kim Jong-un style. If it stays like that for long enough we’re going to be in real trouble.”
Asked about whether the party needed to give more power to its members, Rees-Mogg said: “We treat them appallingly. We expect them to do all the work, deliver all the leaflets, knock on the doors, go out in the rain and then the CPF [the members’ policy-making forum] sends in its reports and they get ignored.
“They come up with brilliant ideas. We used to have system that took the policy ideas from our members seriously.”
Party members at the conference are given time on stage but do not debate policy motions or vote, something which grassroots Tories have suggested might need to change to reinvigorate the membership.
Speeches in the hall from cabinet ministers have not always been full, with many activists preferring fringe meetings with some popular politicians such as Rees-Mogg, currently second favourite to be the next Tory leader, and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.
In the fringe, Rees-Mogg said the Conservatives had “given up in confidence in our principles” and suggested it needed to re-inspire people with the principle of individual responsibility.
“When you say to anybody that they can decide their own life, that’s attractive to anybody, isn’t it?” he said, calling the offers on issues like tuition fees which Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn made to young people “baubles ... [which are] desperately condescending”.
“Of course they want to give everyone free tuition because they’re socialists,” he said. “They like spending other people’s money. That’s what socialists do.”
He said his party still needed to make an offer to younger voters. “In the last general election we didn’t say anything at all to young people, we pretended they didn’t exist because we thought they wouldn’t vote, and we were wrong,” he said, adding that he was “young once, though I wasn’t very good at it”.
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