Grant Shapps is the new Conservative Party Chairman. He'll be writing a regular column for ConservativeHome. Follow him on Twitter.
This time next week, we’ll swap Westminster for the West Midlands. Conference is upon us, and as we enter the second half of the parliament we are increasingly focused on campaigning, mobilising and winning in 2015. Conference is about seeing those things in action.
I hear the criticisms of conference – too many lobbyists, too many journalists, not enough for members. People say it’s all about set pieces on the main stage. I think they’d be surprised if we did away with the Prime Minister’s speech, but I hear them.
Things are changing. There’s more engagement, more members sessions, more interaction. Great work started by my predecessor Sayeeda Warsi. Our focus on members has changed the game at conference. We’ve created more members-only events than we’ve seen for years:
- Six interactive mainstage sessions – proper debates bringing proper discussion to members.
- A new parliamentary area for MPs to meet with constituency activists in a more private setting.
- New guides to digital communication, which we’ll use to reach a new generation of voters. Going digital opens up an online world that can act as a campaign base, monitoring tool and ideas exchange. In short, it’s changing everything about the way we operate.
- The return of the Conservative Policy Forum, giving members the opportunity to debate policy with Cabinet Ministers.
- Meet the Chairmen – a closed forum where Andrew and myself will genuinely answer any question our members pose.
- The Road to 2015 session by CCHQ’s Director of Campaigning Stephen Gilbert. After the success of the campaign sessions at Conference last year, Stephen his team are back to set out the milestones on the road to the next election.
Conference had become too expensive, as ConservativeHome revealed last year. We think that's right and my predecessor had already negotiated to lower the price. Now it needn’t cost members a fortune to come. Members have exclusive access to deals where the trains are cheaper, the hotels are cheaper and you can even drop by for the day. I’ll be keeping a close eye on cost as the week goes on.
Upping our game, getting online and preparing for 2015 – we’ll discuss all this and more next week. But if you’ve got an idea – if the Labour literature in your ward drives you mad, if you think you’ve got the key to winning more votes, if you’ve had a successful initiative in your area that’s attracting young people – then tell us. We want to hear it. Take this opportunity to air your views – and if you can’t make it to Birmingham, join us online. We’re tweeting – just use #cpc12.
I’m looking forward to my first Conference as Chairman. It’s the one time our voluntary, professional and parliamentary parties are together in one place – not to mention the Conservatives I’m welcoming this year from our sister parties all around the world. It’s not just about the set pieces – it’s a time for talk, and there’s no better environment.
This year, we’re back at the heart of Birmingham; one of Britain’s most prosperous cities, where they’re creating thousands of new jobs. It’s the Britain of today, and it suits the direction we’re travelling. We may like to be beside the seaside, but for now, we’re back in Birmingham and better than ever.
Meeting ministers, sharing ideas, launching the campaign and the Road to 2015 – I can tell you wholeheartedly – that’s members only.