Baroness Warsi explains what she has done for party members since becoming chairman as she re-launches the CPF
By Jonathan Isaby
Earlier, Natalie Elphicke wrote about the re-launch of the Conservative Policy Forum at en event in Birmingham today, whilst party activists Tony Devenish and Stephen Sobey have just posted their account of the day here.
In a speech opening the day's proceedings, party co-chairman Baroness Warsi took the opportunity to explain how during her first eight months in the role she has been working to bring the voluntary party more closely into the political process:
"Our Members are our strongest supporters and our biggest asset. They are the ones who go out and lead our campaigns. They are the ones who pin on the blue rosette, come rain or shine. And they are the ones who ultimately have to make the case for our policies to the public, on doorstep after doorstep. So we need to bring them more closely into the political process. We’ve already taken a number of steps to do that:
- We’ve set up an Office of the Voluntary Party in Conservative Campaign Headquarters, so that our volunteers are represented at the highest level of the organisation.
- We’ve started a new and exclusive “Members First” Newsletter to improve internal communications, including a first edition from the Prime Minister last year.
- We’re creating a new Speakers Bureau and reinvigorating the old one, to make sure that every Association can get access to prominent Conservative speakers through the year.
- We’ve placed Social Action at the heart of our Membership activity, supported by a full-time professional at CCHQ.
- We’ve introduced a new group of special awards for Membership performance in Associations at the annual National Excellence awards.
- We’re developing a new and streamlined website service available to every local Association in the country.
- We’re releasing a new Membership toolkit to offer guidance and best practice to local Associations on developing and driving Party Membership.
- And Andrew [Feldman] and I have established a new series of regional “Meet the Chairmen” events open to Conservative members where we answer your questions personally."
In terms of the re-establishment of the CPF, she looked back on how the CPC strengthened the Conservative Family when it was set up in the 1940s and promoted a two-way movement of ideas, and said that she wanted the re-launched CPF to do the same:
"We’re saying to every Conservative Party Member that no matter who you are, where you live, or what your experience of politics is, you will have a strong voice about the issues which matter for the future of Britain and your voice will be heard and will count."
"The new CPF format is a great example of what we mean by bringing the Conservative Family together. Here, in one structure, we have MPs and MEPs, Ministers and Members coming together to talk about policy. But the CPF also does something very specific which is vital for the Conservative family: it provides a link between Conservative ideas, Conservative members, and Conservative policies.
"For the next five years, our Party will be working in coalition with the Liberal Democrats to clean up the mess left by the Labour Government. The reforms we are embarking on are some of the most radical Britain has seen in a generation. By the time our reform programme has been completed in around 2015, we hope that Britain will be a very different place. With more stability in our national finances. World-class public services. And a bigger society where everyone can take control and do their bit.
"This means that what we as a Party need to do is now is to think hard about how our Conservative values and ideals should be applied in the years after 2015. We need to think what the big questions will be in 2015 – and start to develop long-term answers based on our values."
"We’re here together, to identify the policy problems of the future, starting a process which will take us through the next five years, harnessing the hopes, the experiences, the ideas and the aspirations of Conservative members - so that by the time the next General Election comes along, we will once again be equipped with the best polices and plans for our country and together we will be ready to fight that election – and win."
This all sounds very encouraging. I have been saying even since the Coalition was formed that we needed some serious policy-making structures to come up with ideas and proposals to push the Coalition in a Conservative direction - not least because the Liberal Democrats have a highly democratic policy-making process which gives their members significant opportunities to pull the Coalition in a Lib Dem direction.
Moreover, there absolutely needed to be a process outside the Coalition-shackled Downing Street and Whitehall apparatus to come up with a Conservative policy agenda to put to the country at the 2015 general election, with the goal of governing alone again with a Commons majority behind a Conservative manifesto.