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Fiona Hodgson: The Conservative Policy Forum will be at Conference and wants to hear members' views

Hodgson Fiona2Fiona Hodgson is the Vice-Chairman (voluntary) of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), a national group chaired by Oliver Letwin MP that gives its members the opportunity to discuss the major policy challenges facing Britain today. Over the coming months she and other members of the voluntary team will be writing a regular post for ConservativeHome.

"Join the Conversation" has become the CPF catchphrase, neatly encapsulating the new Conservative Policy Forum. Since its relaunch in early January 2011, the CPF has developed to provide an effective and responsive mechanism for the Conservative Party to listen to its membership and beyond. People join political parties because they are interested in policy and this is reflected in the flowering of CPF groups across the United Kingdom.

When I am out and about, people sometimes say that they are concerned we may simply be "window dressing" and that the Party is not really interested in hearing from the grassroots. Let me assure any cynical readers that that is far from the truth. There is a well-resourced team in the Conservative Research Department, who have been established to ensure that all your views reach the ears of Oliver Letwin, the Party Co-Chairmen and the relevant Minister, as well as circulating their responses back to all the groups.

This year’s Party Conference programme builds upon last year’s successful CPF events, offering an extensive programme that will give members many opportunities to participate. The programme kicks off on Sunday night with the Annual Lecture, revived by huge demand, and delivered this year by Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s Enterprise Advisor; and last year’s popular "CPF in Conversation" again sees Oliver Letwin, our CPF Chairman, putting your questions to a panel of Ministers and PPSs – James Brokenshire MP, Martin Callanan MEP, Amber Rudd MP, Harriett Baldwin MP and Gavin Barwell MP.

Oliver is also hosting two stage debates on "Cutting the Deficit" and "Challenging the ‘Something for Nothing’ Culture", and there is a further debate on "Should we all work for longer?". There are also two new events this year: there is a Conservative Future Policy Forum debate on "This House believes we need to focus less on everyone going to university and deliver more apprenticeships" – the Conservative Future have been very active about supporting CPF; and a Dragons’ Den where members can put their own policy ideas forward to a panel of "dragons" from business, Parliament, CCHQ and the press. Every member has the chance to come and participate.

However, we still need to engage more widely. We need to ensure that voices are heard from every Conservative-held seat, as well as from those constituencies that we will need to win at the next election if we are to form a Conservative Government, rather than another Coalition. We also need to hear from beyond our own membership, so we are encouraging groups to extend meetings and take them into their local communities, capturing the views of a wider audience and engaging with people who have not connected with the Party before.

We are also producing CPF papers that reflect what people want to talk about and taking on some of the more controversial subjects that at times the Conservative Party has shied away from. In May and June this year we discussed international development aid, a subject that provokes many column inches on ConHome. This autumn we are publishing papers on welfare reform and immigration, with Europe to follow in January - issues that also rouse strong feelings!  

We want to hear your opinions so that the right policies are formed for the next election. So, please take part! If you are coming to Conference, make time to participate in the CPF events. Even more importantly, please ensure that CPF groups are flourishing around where you live and that they are engaging as widely as possible.

In other words... come and "Join the Conversation"!


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