- Conservative members are being charged to watch hustings in the campaign to succeed Boris Johnson.
- Viewers are asked to donate up to £100 before registering, while attendees are charged an admin fee.
- Pre-paid postage has been dropped from ballots, raising concerns that some votes could be delayed.
Conservative members are being charged to be involved in the leadership contest, raising questions about the financial health of the party.
Party members have been asked to donate as much as £100 before they can register to watch one of the various hustings online, at which Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are vying to become the next Prime Minister.
Those attending in person have also been asked to pay a £5 “administration charge”, which the party says “will help offset the costs of running these events, meaning we can continue to fund our ongoing campaigns”.
Meanwhile postal ballots have gone out without return postage being prepaid, raising concerns among Tory members that thousands of votes could be missed from the count.
One MP said it was a “very odd” move, while another Tory source said members were “all going mad” about the change. The two sources and others were granted anonymity to speak frankly.
The second individual asked what CCHQ would do “when Royal Mail says ‘there are thousands of unpaid letters'”, asking “Are they not going to get counted?”
He said: “What about all the older votes? Liz’s vote skews older – a lot of people are assuming it is freepost – so it could end up hurting her.”
The source noted that this was the third successive leadership contest in six years after those in 2016 and 2019. The source estimated that each contest cost the part around £1 million.
Another Tory source agreed, telling Insider: “Given everything that’s been going on with the Tory party I would say they’ve most likely seen a huge drop in donations.”
One MP added: “We’ve lost some donors, and others have been reluctant to support us because of the prime minister… but CCHQ has been getting more and more like this – penny pinching on little things.”
Another source blamed “CCHQ tightwads” for the changes.
Other MPs played down the prospect of a cash-flow crisis at CCHQ, although they agreed that hustings were expensive for the party to put on.
“They are significant venues, so it costs quite a few quid to hire,” said one. “The £5 won’t go close to covering I wouldn’t imagine.”
Another said the “nominal fee” was to offset venue and security costs, as “last time only 40% of those who registered turned up”.
Accounts for last year’s income and expenditure are due to be published by the Electoral Commission later this month. For 2020 the party was more than £5,000 in the red.
A Conservative party spokesperson did not respond to questions about why the party was charging for hustings or had dropped free postage on ballots.
Instead they highlighted a column by party co-chairman Andrew Stephenson saying the measure “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”.
He also did not respond to questions about contingency plans should ballots be held up.
However, he said: “Eligible members can vote either online or by post. We recommend online voting and have reminded members that should they choose to vote by post, a stamp is required.”