Stephen Barclay is the Member of Parliament for North East Cambridgeshire and a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Follow Stephen on Twitter.
Yesterday morning I was delighted to join the launch of Conservative Voice, a new group founded by Don Porter, alongside fellow MPs Liam Fox, David Davis, Dom Raab and Robert Halfon.
Political party membership is falling across the board and progressively ageing. A key challenge is therefore how we engage and enthuse those who hold right of centre views but who do not currently identify with the Conservative Party. In doing this, the focus of Conservative Voice is unashamedly to secure more elected Tory representatives across all levels of local and national government and – above all – to defeat Labour at the next election.
However, it is not, as many media outlets have tried to suggest, a group which is concerned with promoting one particular brand of conservatism as a rival to the leadership. Of course we will help in the development of new policies, but our core principles are those which are shared by the majority of those with centre right views, from all wings of our party.
What we will do is provide a forum for all conservatives to focus on the campaigning and policy challenges ahead of us. This includes working with the leadership and CCHQ as well as parliamentarians, activists and those who hold centre right views but are put off by traditional party structures. We have seen through wider engagement like open primaries, initiatives on the left like the e-mail campaigns of 38 degrees and government innovation on e-petitions that there are huge numbers of people beyond the party membership who can be energised and enthused.
People care about political issues deeply, but not politicians. As my colleague Dom Raab noted yesterday morning, Conservative Voice needs to be the ‘Heineken’ of the centre right, reaching the parts a traditional party cannot. It can also offer an alternative way into politics for those who, like me, come from a non-political background. It will achieve this as the only new group explicitly to bring together the voluntary party, the parliamentary party and those not directly involved with the Party. It will also have a focus on social media; import US campaigning techniques and grassroots fundraising.
I believe the Conservative Party is the natural place for people of aspiration, but I have to recognise that not everyone out there sees us this way. By engaging in new techniques not only can we harness ideas and experience from across the centre right, but fundamentally change the perceptions of those who do not believe the Conservative Party is for them.