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Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.

There is something potentially controversial that I need to get off my chest.

Jeremy Corbyn is not always wrong. Indeed his political instincts are so well-tuned that we as Conservatives could learn some lessons from him.

There. Said it.

Now let me add my all-important coda. Good as Corbyn may be at instinctively diagnosing a problem (and therefore a political opportunity), the same cannot be said for his proposed solutions.

He may have a nose for some of the real challenges facing local communities, but whatever the problem, he sees a larger state and more government intervention (funded by taking more money from working people) as the solution.

I could not help noticing on Monday that as the Prime Minister was proudly parading her new team to reinvigorate CCHQ and to better engage with different age groups and communities, Jeremy Corbyn was quietly stealing a march. While Theresa May’s intentions and her choice of personnel were both excellent, that should not stop us acknowledging Labour’s potential strengths where they present themselves.

As Brandon Lewis, my good friend James Cleverly, Kemi Badenoch, and the new CCHQ leadership were lined up for their Downing Street photoshoot, a quiet corner of the BBC website was telling readers how Corbyn had set up a new team at Labour HQ to encourage communities to organise around local issues and develop campaigns. The unit will target seaside towns and traditional Labour heartlands, where the party reckons it needs to rebuild support.

The instinct is spot on. We know already, however, that Labour will offer the wrong solution because it only ever really has one course of treatment. You can rest assured it will encourage locals to lobby for more government intervention and taxpayers money, rather than to solve the problems locally.

“There is a dire problem here,” the campaign will say. “The taxpayer must pay for it and employ more public servants.”

We as Conservatives can do much better than that – and I believe it incumbent on the new team in charge at CCHQ to put this at the forefront of their thinking.

We should embrace some of Corbyn’s instincts for community issues, but come up with our own unique, lasting and genuinely radical solutions. In this spirit, I have organised an international conference on global poverty – and ways of addressing it that do not rely simply on a bigger state or large NGOs.

I am convinced not only that Conservatives care deeply about poverty, but that our principles are the best ones to build a path away from it. However, we need to demonstrate that our philosophy of individual and community empowerment will work in our local communities across the country – among all cultures, all ages, all backgrounds.

And individual Conservative Associations should lead the way.

As I have said before: instead of complaining about people who cannot speak English properly, why don’t we volunteer to run free English classes from our constituency offices? Instead of demonising single parents who find it hard to work, why don’t we help set up creches and nurseries in our associations? Instead of criticising jobless people, why don’t we offer them opportunities to start their own enterprises through crowd-funding or specialist seed loans?

I am afraid I hear many Party members these days questioning want they get for their £25 subscription, apart from the occasional newsletter and an open invitation to stuff envelopes. Many members see virtually nothing of their local association.

Wouldn’t this renewed level of genuine local engagement be the ideal way to revitalise our network of local associations, help them to become hubs of their local communities, and give them a sense of purpose once again?

Instead of seeing our associations as one cog in our great, big national campaigning machine, we should see them as community hubs for local engagement. They should not just be our mouthpieces in their local communities,  but be our eyes, ears and helping hands, helping not only local Conservatives but also playing their part in local communities to tackle local problems and poverty.

They should be there to not only campaign for improvements to local neighbourhoods and more opportunities for local people, but to actually deliver these improvements and opportunities.

While the Labour Party will organise marches and protests, Conservatives could steal a march by actually delivering local solutions.

32 comments for: Syed Kamall: A renewed focus on community engagement can revive our associations and membership

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