Cllr Gareth Lyon is a councillor in Rushmoor and the Chairman of the Aldershot and North Hants Conservative Association.
When the Prime Minister refers to this as The People’s Government he is usually referring to its resolve to deliver on the big policy goals which were drummed home so effectively during the election – Brexit, health, policing etc. There is however another equally true justification for the claim.
Fifty seven per cent of the commitments in the Conservative Party Manifesto in 2019 had their origin in Conservative Policy Forum responses. This means that not only were our policies for the people – they were from the people too.
In Aldershot, we have seen how the forum can both give us an insight into the concerns of new supporters and keep us true to the values of our existing Conservative Party members.
Aldershot CPF was one of the first to be set up and remains one of the best attended in the country. We have submitted policy responses over the years on subjects from the Alternative Voting system to Zero Carbon goals. Having been involved in nearly all of these discussions, I have seen first-hand how providing forums such as these gives people confidence that ours is a party which listens and takes their views seriously.
Our local party has experienced a massive surge in membership recently – nearly doubling in size. A major reason for that is that we are consciously positioning ourselves as both a caring community party – and a party which, after listening to our community, is prepared to act. The success we have felt in terms of local membership and electoral success is a reflection of this. I would also argue that similar factors contribute to the success of our party nationally.
Giving people a chance to have their say on our policy goals is a major part of this. Not only that but by opening up our policy development process our party is actually producing better policy as a consequence.
Readers of ConservativeHome do not need reminding that brilliant and original ideas abound amongst our membership – some of them are featured here every day.
But as well as coming up with ideas, the collective wisdom of members and supporters is often a very effective means of improving, fine tuning and stress testing ideas too. As believers in the free market we should not be surprised by the fact that tens of thousands of individuals can constitute a great and wise invisible hand, providing far more perspectives and information points than any wise and benevolent central institution ever could.
As I’ve mentioned, the forum is already helping us as a party to benefit from this process to a great extent – but we could and should go even further.
The potential for open sourced and genuinely democratised policy development goes much further than most people have so far realised. The forum should set up permanent subject groups in areas of policy which matter to our members – not just health, policing and the environment (important though all of these are), but ultimately in every area which interests members – justice, defence, tax, transport, education, business being some of the most eagerly discussed policy areas in my association.
Members and supporters would appreciate the opportunity to engage with these policy areas on an ongoing basis as part of a group of similarly enthusiastic Conservatives throughout the country.
There is also more that could be done to foster the mechanics of policy discussion – to help sometimes small local groups of policy enthusiasts to engage more with their neighbouring constituencies, to provide training, advice and support on how policy discussion groups can best be facilitated and to reward and acclaim the great work which these groups are doing.
Most importantly we can do far more online to allow more organic interactions between policy enthusiasts amongst our membership and supporters. Providing tools for people to make the case for particular policies, and then to test them out, try to win support and to adapt them in response to feedback from peers. Such an approach would allow us to tap into what has been one of the main drivers of success in open source development – the acclaim and recognition (particularly amongst one’s peers), which is so often lacking in our party’s approach to its volunteers.
The picture on the ground here in Aldershot, and nationally, is clear – we have a unique opportunity to tap into the enthusiasm, ideas and goodwill of a huge proportion of the electorate. By opening up our policy development even further we stand a brilliant chance of retaining and building on that support – and developing much better policy too!