Sunday, 23 June 2013

A new approach to Policy Discussion?

I have never been able to get very enthusiastic about Policy Discussion Groups, whatever guise they take. I remember them back in the 1980's - I think they were called the Conservative Policy Centre (CPC) then.  Turgid briefs came in the post each month from 32 Smith Square and Associations were invited to discuss the issues and provide answers to various set questions, which were duly typed-up in great detail and then studiously ignored unless they chimed with party policy!

Back then (I am sure it's different now) the attendees at such discussions were all of a type - the type you would hide from in a supermarket in case they engaged you in conversation! You know them - they carry various press cuttings in their wallet, which they can produce to add weight to their well rehearsed theories on the knock-on effects to British tin mining following the devaluation of the Ecuadorian Quito.  

Now I must, at this point, say that policy and political discussion are for many the reason they join a political party.  And I am all for it; provided talking about it never replaces actually doing something positive to help us win the election. Sadly, for too many, talking about it is their raison d'ĂȘtre.

Two years ago we were fighting a critical council by-election. Polling day was the same night as the monthly meeting of that Association's Policy Group - so I suggested to the organiser that it might be cancelled or at least put back to 9pm, so the members could come out and knock on a few doors and help us win. My request was declined on the basis that moving the date or time might cause confusion. So whilst eight of us where slogging the cold, dark November streets desperately working to retain a marginal seat, 15 others were sitting in the warmth, talking about House of Lords reform. We did hold the seat, but I have found it quite difficult to either forgive or forget.

I am therefore in an unusual position to find myself actually feeling enthusiastic about changes the TW Deputy Chairman Political, Nicholas Rogers, is proposing to make to the local Policy Discussion Forum. His plans include moving the meetings to various locations around the constituency thus making access easier and encouraging new people to attend, inviting an interesting and relevant guest speaker to lead the discussion, not necessarily an MP - perhaps a local councillor, voluntary sector or charity manager or someone with direct experience of the policy area being discussed and inviting local pledges and opinion formers in the village or ward to attend and participate (thus hearing the views of our local supporters and community leaders, not just the party faithful). All of this is music to my ears - reaching out beyond the narrow confines of our base, encouraging others and extending our reach into local communities by involving them in our work.

Well done to Nicholas Rogers for a radical and original approach.

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