This year’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham (CPC22) saw the CPF deliver its largest ever fringe event offering, including no fewer than five members’ debates.
In contrast with other fringe events—and reflecting our mission to harness the wealth of wisdom and experience embedded in the Party’s grassroots—our events were highly interactive. Four of our events were introduced by a panel consisting of two “influencers” and one parliamentarian. Our fifth event was focused around the four best policies posted by CPF members in our online Members’ Hub during the last year. The diversity of excellent and innovative ideas discussed across each of these events demonstrated the merits for policymaking of questioning established ways of dealing with things, encouraging new and creative ideas, and being open to the suggestions of others.
Each panel member presented a two-minute “elevator pitch” to the audience, ending with a challenge or a question. The audience then broke into small groups of around six to eight people to discuss these issues, enabling everybody to have their say. CPF-trained breakout leaders took notes in each group of the ideas raised and presented a one-minute summary of their small group’s top policy proposal(s). The relevant panellist had one minute to respond after each one. The strictly enforced time limit really helped to keep people focused, generating a wide variety of policy solutions for each of the concerns raised.
The focus of the events were:
Rural Voices with Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner, Warwickshire PCC Philip Seccombe, Conservative Rural Forum Cllr Lizzie Hacking and Greg Smith MP. Looking to amplify the rural voice and strengthen our appeal in traditionally Conservative rural seats, this session considered questions such as food security, tree-planting, reducing rural crime and how to make “rural proofing” work.
Unlocking the Youth Vote with Cllr Holly Whitbread, Dr Dolly Thesis, and Shaun Bailey MP; organised and presented by our CPF Youth, with colleagues from Conservative Young Women and Young Conservatives. Issues included council housing, the role of health policy as an essential part of a healthy economy, and how to strike a balance between promoting economic growth and protecting the environment. This event set us up strongly to develop the youth strand of CPF’s activities, helping associations with legacy planning and demonstrating that, contrary to popular myth, an often quiet minority of under-30-year-olds support the Conservative Party and its commitment to responsible capitalism and opportunity for all.
Levelling Up for Women with Fleur Butler (Conservative Women’s Organisation & President of the CPC22), Ella Robertson (Conservative Young Women Chair), Charlotte Carew Pole (Director Of Women-2-Win) and Rt Hon Mimms Davies MP. This considered policy ideas aimed at addressing the concerns of the largest swing voter group from 2019, namely women under 50. These included the promotion of female-led LEPs and support for mothers, particularly those who return to work.
Ideas for the Next Manifesto with John Penrose MP (CPF Chairman), Dr John Hayward (CPF Manager) and Cllr Penny-Anne O’Donnell (CPF Voluntary Director). This was our most popular and oversubscribed event, with breakout groups taking place in the space outside our venue in order to accommodate all of the extra participants. The responses will be integrated along with submissions to our current national consultation.
National Discussion Group Members’ Debate with the same panel as the previous event. Introduced as the “X-Factor of Policy Pitches” this did not disappoint. The authors of the best four policy ideas submitted during the course of the year to our Ideas Forum had the opportunity to pitch their proposals via pre-recorded videos. The floor was then opened up for attendees to raise points or questions about one or more of the proposals. At the end of the event, a vote was taken. Even including the votes from a parallel poll online, there was a clear favourite: the winner was a call to reform non-domestic business rates. As in past years, the winner of our members’ debate will now meet with the relevant minister to explore this proposal. Given that the floor debate made clear, however, that many who supported the proposal thought alternative reforms should also be considered, this is likely to widened to include other CPF members who have proposed similar ideas.
Our sixth event was our very well-attended CPF drinks reception, with MPs Anna Firth and Grant Shapps as special guests. The CPF Voluntary Director was also invited to speak at the joint West Midlands, East Midlands and Eastern Region drinks reception to highlight the importance of CPF and how it can help local associations to attract and engage a wider supporter/volunteer base.
Gathering a team of volunteers to help deliver our wide range of events was a great opportunity for our CPF Champions, CPF Regional Ambassadors and National Discussion Group Coordinators to meet all together and to bond as a brilliant group.
One thread that ran throughout all of our events was the importance of consultation between policymakers and grassroots members—and the vital role that the CPF plays in this. Many people stated that the CPF had never been so relevant or necessary, reinforcing the need to ensure that the voice of Party members is both heard—and seen to be heard—in the corridors of power.