Dr Spencer Pitfield, is the National Voluntary Director of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), a national group chaired by Oliver Letwin MP that gives its members the opportunity to discuss the major policy challenges facing Britain today. Follow Spencer on Twitter.
We have just finished our final discussion brief of the year asking members to contribute their views on education policy. Michael Gove’s policies have arguably been some of the most successful and speedy of the current Parliament but there is – inevitably – more to be done.
Some parts of the country remain opposed to the formation of Academies and Free Schools, while primary schools have so far been converted at a far lower rate than secondaries. There is still a gulf between levels of achievement in the state and independent sectors. And vocational education – considered vital by our Members in last year's Skills paper – is still a mixed bag, in which neither students, nor parents, nor employers know which of the myriad of available courses are to be best respected.
These are challenges that will, no doubt, be raised in our 2015 manifesto and that matter not only to party members but also to the communities in which we live, work and canvass. That makes them perfect for this month’s CPF discussion brief and for reaching out to non-members to ask for their opinions.
Since our re-launch, we have been on the lookout for great examples of "best practice" within our local CPF Groups, and many of these have involved reaching out to the neighbourhoods in which we live and campaign:
- Harting and Rogate CPF invited representatives of the local youth club along to their meeting on Vulnerable Young People. This enlivened their monthly meeting, added depth to their policy submission, and gave them access to potential new voters who might otherwise have been hard to meet;
- Gainsborough CPF used a paper on Local Transport to reach out to constituents in a key Council ward. A discussion on policy proved much more appealing to market than a ‘campaigning event’ and yielded very positive results;
- Rothley CPF launched a new CPF branch by publicly advertising a speaker-led event with a local academic, bringing in an audience of 43;
- East Midlands CPF invited representatives of CWO and CF to their regional meetings to make sure that all sections of the Party are involved in the CPF and to strengthen internal ties; and
- London, under the leadership of CPF stalwart Graham Postles, has brought its CPF regional co-ordinator onto the regional team, integrating our Groups into their plans for expansion within new communities.
Some of you may ask what difference can 43 people make at a local meeting in Rothley? Others will point out that the CPF is supposed to be for Members only.
But at the CPF we are really excited by this development. If the CPF can create opportunities for, or ease the administration behind, talking to non-members and undecided voters, we will not only have contributed to the next manifesto but also to our chances of implementing it. As one councillor put it: "The CPF is a good way for local parties and councillors to listen to the views of local people and show them that we Conservatives do listen to people and that their views do count."
Every conversation – on the doorstep or in a CPF meeting – moves the CPF and Party forward hugely. That is why, from this month, we will be adding a monthly "quick survey" to our offering. We hope that CPF Groups will take these out on the doorsteps, or use them to engage with constituents at street stalls. You can tell us the answers or not – we merely hope that they will be another resource at the fingertips of our hard-working CPF activists up and down the country.