On November 4th, the South West Region CPF held a conference with the theme of Brexit and looking forward. Interest was significant: even after increasing the number of places available, they were full to capacity and ended up with a waiting list.
George Freeman, Chair of the PM’s Policy Board, talked about the development of new Conservative Policies. He was visionary and positive and fascinated his audience. They found his positive approach uplifting.
Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade talked about the development of his department and explored opportunities around the world for increased trade. He reminded us that only a small percentage of businesses exported. It was swiftly obvious that a great deal of work has been done by this department. The approach seems to be that opportunities must be identified and businesses helped to explore those opportunities. He referred to the help that other countries give to their exporters. It was interesting to note the monetary value that education brings to this country. An outstanding speech which fully warranted the standing ovation he got as he left.
Ashley Fox the leader of the Conservative MEPs gave a realistic report on views within the EU. They are not simple, but complex and varied. Some countries will be badly affected by no deal but others want to demonstrate that leaving the EU is a risk not worth taking.
We then had talks by Alex Stevens from the National Farmers' Union and Jim Portus and David Cuthbert from the fishing industry. These, along with defence, are really major contributors to the South West Economy but we have not explored them properly before. Fascinating, informative and at times disturbing. I was left with a feeling that we made a big mistake in handing these over to the EU to manage. Very Positive feedback from the audience about these talks.
Johnny Mercer MP gave an equally informative talk on defence. He has a real knowledge of this subject having served in Afghanistan. Again a subject we need to spend more time on.
Peter Wharf gave a hilarious talk about the attempts at creating a Dorset Unitary Authority. Funny but deadly serious in its description of local interests and national wobbling in the face of those often conflicting local interests. A wonderful talk by a man who can make a subject seem funny and deadly serious at the same time.
Two working groups looked at housing and the NHS/Social Care interface, both huge subjects. Their findings will be passed up to the CPF office.
Lessons: Do not underestimate the demand for such a conference. If you get a clear theme and good speakers, it can inspire and reconnect those who attend with Government policy-makers and the complexities of current policy-making, unfiltered by media bias.