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. Over the coming months he and other members of the voluntary team will be writing a regular post for ConservativeHome. Follow Spencer on Twitter.
I am honoured to have been asked to take over as the new CPF Voluntary Director. CPF has come on in leaps and bounds since its launch in early 2011 by Oliver Letwin and Sayeeda Warsi and now I want to engage even more Members across the country.
So far, 16 discussion papers – from our first on the Alternative Vote to the most recent, "Visit Britain and Britons visiting" - have gone out, sparking an increasing number of very active discussions in communities nationwide. We now have around 250 groups (in every part of the United Kingdom) with 55 per cent of Conservative-held constituencies regularly offering their views. Indeed, (not that we're counting!) over 9,000 viewpoints have been captured.
I'm sure there are some reading this who still aren't exactly sure what CPF is or why they should get involved. Well, we work on many different levels but, most importantly, we are asking the Members about how we develop a manifesto fit for the 2015 General Election. Key areas of debate include rebalancing the economy, our ageing population and building the towns and cities of the future.
The national CPF team oversees nine different discussion papers each year with everyone invited to contribute. Groups meet in their constituencies and record their comments and ideas on a simple response form, then email it back to us and, I can assure you, every submission is read from cover to cover. The relevant Government Minister then reads our detailed summary of submissions and we distribute their reply. You can see all these submissions and responses on the website.
Along with these discussion papers, we have Sectoral (specialist) policy groups led by distinguished senior volunteers who are tasked with taking pertinent and pressing areas of policy discussion and writing papers in consultation with experts from the field. Those policy volunteers – led by Oliver Letwin and informed by suggestions from the membership – set our topics for the next year, so the questions we put to the Members are as relevant as can be to the debates taking place amongst the specialists. We've just set our calendar for the coming year and I am very pleased to confirm that both Europe and immigration will be key discussion areas in the next few months.
The CPF is here to listen to the views of Members and ensure they are fed through to the Party leadership but we are also trying to more than that – we are trying to reach beyond, to new parts of the community and to those who aren't Conservative members at the moment. CPF events have been held in public forums where businesses, community groups and even the local press have joined the conversation. Some constituencies are using CPF papers as a way of starting conversations in target wards, speaking to young adults, or to increase attendance at surgeries. And with no less than seven CPF events at Party Conference this year – including a main hall Ministerial discussion led by Oliver Letwin, our annual CPF Lecture and for the first time, a CPF "Dragons Den" policy discussion – you can be sure that we are not stopping there!
*Do visit our stand at Conference, or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to join our national conversation.