People join political parties for many reasons; personal identity, to campaign for (or against) something, to support their beliefs financially, to bring about change, to seek elected office for themselves, to expand their social circle - and some to debate and help shape policy.
Whilst each brings value and attracts different people we must remember that everything we do should be directed towards the single goal of winning elections.
Like many campaigners I am often frustrated by those who think that sitting around and "talking about it" is a replacement for talking to voters on the doorsteps. This is not to say that many involved in our Policy Forums do not pull their weight as campaigners, but it is fair to say (at least in West Kent) that few of those whose names come up most regularly in the discussion group minutes are regularly seen tramping the streets at election time. For me, the nadir came several years ago during a fiercely contested by-election fought in the bleak winter snow. As I accompanied the local Chairman and MP around the streets for a final 8pm "Knock-up" we saw through the windows of the local Constitutional Club around 20 of our members talking about the latest CPF Policy Brief. I popped in to appeal for help, only to be castigated by the chairman (herself a councillor) for not attending her discussion and stopping the MP and Chairman from attending too! Apparently she did not see why her meeting should have been cancelled or postponed as it was "in the diary before the by-election was called." I suspect the bluntness of my response was not appreciated, but at least it has saved us both the cost of sending each other a Christmas card ever since.
I was therefore delighted to hear that my good friend Dr John Hayward has just been appointed as Conservative Policy Forum (CCF) Manager by CCHQ and will be working alongside Hannah David to relaunch the Forum and make it more relevant.
I first met John 12 years ago when he and his family moved to Tonbridge. John is one of the most intellectually astute people I have ever met, but despite having a first-class academic brain he is also a grafter. He made it his personal mission to win the last remaining Labour council seat in Tonbridge and worked tirelessly with our local candidate to do so. John's intellectual capacity and ability to solve the most complex political and mathematical questions continues to astound me. I once needed a macro which would divide households based on gender and household size and he created one in 20 minutes, which worked perfectly. To my shame I must admit that I did not understand the explanation of how it worked let alone how it did actually worked!
John's enquiring mind, together with his evidence-based research background, will make him the ideal person to promote the policy debate. But, just as importantly, he will approach this task as a long-term Party activist who both understands the Voluntary Party and the role it should play. If there was ever an appointment which could be considered a round peg in a round hole, this is it.
I wish John and Hannah David every success, and in doing so send a message about how I feel the CPF could be improved. I hope it can be used as a vehicle to reach out beyond the Conservative Party, to involve all those who share our broad vision, but are not necessarily paid-up members. By this I mean using CPF to involve churches, youth groups, small businesses, carers and the hundreds if not thousands of organisations which keep the wheels of civic society turning, rather than just as a talking-shop where we sit around in draughty halls talking to each other.
If they achieve that then CPF will become a very valuable tool in not only redefining and developing policy but also expanding our intellectual base.