To my mind Party conferences are there to serve two purposes, on one hand to showcase the Party to a wider audience, and on the other hand to give Party members the opportunity to engage directly with MPs, Councillors and the policy development process.
Our Spring Forum this year will deliver both of these, with exciting announcements on how to help families and a strong emphasis on interaction from the voluntary Party.
Last year’s autumn conference is a tough act to follow – the success we had at Blackpool was undoubtedly a major factor in Brown’s decision to cancel last year’s General Election.
Conservatives gathering in the North East has become something of a novelty. This weekend will see the largest gathering of the Conservative Party in the North East since the 1980s. Our last conference in the region was in 1985. Tonight William Hague will host a dinner for over 500 guests, oversubscribed and with a healthy waiting list.
There were lessons to be learnt from the loss of local government representation – and we have taken that into account. It is significant that our fight back in the North East has started with success at a local government level. So it is great we can celebrate this in Newcastle Gateshead. Supporters who come to Spring Forum and the Party Conference come away feeling invigorated and encouraged in their work for the Party, one once said to me it was like plugging into the mains.
This weekend the focus of our Spring Forum is to show how, as part of our Responsibility Agenda, we will make Britain more family friendly, this follows the policy Green Papers that we have published on schools, welfare reform and security.
Whatever colour your politics are you’d have to accept that there is an
urgent need to make changes which will give families a helping hand and
strengthen the role they play in society.
Last year’s UNICEF report showed that our country was the worst in the
developed world for children to grow up in – a damning indictment of
the extent to which Labour has subordinated the role of the family to
the role of the State.
So we’re going to use Spring Forum to set out our vision of how we will
help families, and how in doing that we will tackle the related
challenges of poverty, anti-social behaviour and educational failure.
We’re going to be setting out specific policy plans which always
carries a risk if you are in opposition. After Blackpool last year
Labour, in an explicit admission that they had run out of ideas, sought
to copy our plans for inheritance tax even though their policy later
fell apart in the detail.
However, we have taken the decision to set out policy plans for helping
families because people need to see that we’re being up front with
voters about our plans. We can’t ask people to simply have faith that
we will do things better than Labour we need to demonstrate how it
would be done.
The other reason is that we don’t want to get into government without a
clear routemap for how to deliver the changes we want to make. In
opposition Labour concentrated solely on getting in to power, but then
had no idea what to do when they go there. In contrast, we are putting
time and resources into how we will deliver the changes our country
This weekend’s Spring Forum will let us show people how these changes
will come about. Spanning Friday and Saturday, we will have a range of
sessions starting with our preparations for government, showing how we
will deliver economic stability and competitiveness, and highlighting
our plans for strengthening families and communities.
All of this will take place with NewcastleGateshead as the backdrop –
and it really is quite a backdrop. The Sage is a breathtaking
conference venue and the Tyne, with its bridges and quayside
redevelopment (initiated under Lady Thatcher, I would add), is an
impressive host city.
I very much look forward to welcoming you to Spring Forum if you are
attending, if not we have Birmingham in the Autumn beginning on 28th