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Cllr Victoria Borwick: Why aren't the Conservatives encouraging more events like Conservative Renewal?

Cllr Victoria Borwick AM is London Assembly Member and Statutory Deputy Mayor.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 15.11.06I would like to commend the organisers of the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor last Saturday.  An informal gathering enabling delegates to hear, debate and discuss ideas from a broad range of speakers.  It was wonderful to be away from the frenetic body searches, and expense of Conference – is this the way forward?

Far from shunning such grass roots activity, the Party should actively be encouraging local conferences of this nature – if we as a Party want to engage with our supporters who enjoy the opportunity of debate then every local association, particularly in those areas where we have less support, should be encouraged to run their own mini-conferences.  These should be supported by the offer of excellent speakers from the Party.

Windsor attracted about 50 speakers on a broad range of topics, including a thoughtful debate on “what should be the nature of the UK’s new relationship with the EU”, and a good debate on immigration - how refreshing that this is now a subject that we can discuss without rancour.  Two sessions on how to improve our campaigning including hearing about new Kanto software for real time canvassing, data collection and telling – long overdue innovations to making sure we use our volunteers better.  Yes, there are Conservatives out there who want to win and make sure we have the tools to do it.  There were also everal breakout sessions, including on our arts policy, and a well attended session on “marriage and the family”

In spite of the array of speakers, I gather that front bench spokesman were barred from coming to share their vision on their portfolios – a great shame, as I think they would have been well received in a friendly positive atmosphere.  No doubt they may have received some “constructive challenge”, but from those who wish them success in the long term -not backstabbing colleagues who cannot wait to usurp their position.

So who attended?   Although visitors came from far and wide, the vast majority were within an hour’s travelling time with a good smattering of local members, and that is why this is a format that we should repeat around the country.  Get our messages out locally and enthuse people to come and share ideas and have the opportunity of contributing to policies and campaigning initiatives.

If we as a Party care about encouraging our supporters then let us meet together, break bread together, and encourage people to join our tent, listen to debate in a relaxed environment, give your views – I heard members of the audience say to a speaker  “I don’t agree with your view,  what about ......” - and voicing their alternative.   When did we last have that sort of debate at Conference?  I believe these more informal occasions are good for the Party, and say “come and join the Party that cares what you think”.  An active Party with a vibrant and thriving membership is a winning party – who is going to take up that challenge?

Come on, CCHQ – this is something you should be encouraging, and commending associations for promoting localism, let’s build up a network of these events – the old format of Party Conference is too long and too expensive.  Although I shall be making my way to Manchester, I know that others will give it a miss.


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