Malcolm Dunn, regular ConservativeHome contributor, reflects on last night’s ‘Built To Last’ roadshow event.
Last night around 100 Conservative party workers, activists and CH bloggers gathered in a compact little venue in Hammersmith for the first of what I understand will be a number of debates around the Built To Last statement of values and principles. David Cameron was there to both explain the reasons for BtL and take questions from the audience.
He began by explaining why he feels it is essential that the public is made aware of this statement and that the party both understands and accepts it. He made particular reference to those points which dealt with economic competitiveness, economic stability, the need to be representative of a modern Britain and finally the environment.
Our esteemed Editor, Tim Montgomerie, was then asked to make a short
presentation of the ConservativeHome poll on BtL. He was able to tell
David Cameron that according to the poll BtL will be passed by the
membership with a very large majority. He warned that the ballot had a Soviet feel to it
and that turnout might be derisory if members aren’t given meaningful
options to amend BtL. Tim did point out however that if members were
given a choice between ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’ and a clearer
commitment to economy-boosting tax relief interest in the process might
increase. Cameron was emphatic that this wouldn’t happen and explained
that people needed to be reassured that their mortgages wouldn’t rise
and that their current standard of living would not fall. He was both
plausible and passionate in defence of ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’.
As Conservative Home was co sponsor of the event two bloggers (Oberon
Houston and I) had been asked to ask probing questions about two of the
Mine was the statement: ‘We are an open and inclusive party. We will
act to ensure that our party at every level is representative of modern
Britain’. I chose to question this saying that I believed it was image
politics. Rather than have this imposed from the centre, it would be
more sensible to trust local associations to make the right choices as
to who should represent the Conservative party. David Cameron replied
that having more women was essential not just for how we look to the
outside world but also how we govern. He also made the familiar
refrain that we have only 5 more women MPs than we had in 1932 and that
painful as it was that has to change.
I confess that whilst I expected this answer I was a
little disappointed with it. The imposition of candidates from the
centre was pushed through with no debate and throughout the evening
there was huge criticism of the Labour Party for its attempt to
micromanage everything and adopt a top down approach. Isn’t the
imposition of priority lists etc exactly the same thing? Sadly
there was little opportunity for follow ups but a young Asian woman
from the East end made the very interesting observation that she had
been very welcome into the Conservative party and was doing fine
without any positive discrimination. Would people now think that she
could only do well because of it?
Oberon was next. He looked at the statement ‘We will improve the NHS
and schools for eveyone, not help a few to opt out. But public
services paid for by the state don’t have to be run by the state.’
Oberon asked Cameron to look at the political implications of this. Mr
Cameron explained why it was absolutely essential that the public know
that we intend to raise standards for EVERYONE which was why patients
passport have been abandoned as they could not help all people. He
then gave us a number of examples where providers outside the NHS
could help provide better services. He also made the welcome point
that money isn’t everything and there was a need to restore discipline
Sadly the meeting then went off topic and Cameron had to deal with
several questions that had little to do with Built To Last including
noise pollution from aircraft, building more affordable housing and how
to ensure that money to education actually reached the schools.
Cameron answered each question skilfully and well but with an absence
of detail on what he would do. This is understandable but as the
months pass some difficult decisions may have to be made.
The meeting then drew to a close after little more than an hour.
Cameron admitted that the time devoted to this had not been sufficient
which was absolutely true.
At these events in future I would recommend that much more time is
devoted to debate, that the events should be smaller with no TV
cameras to stimulate genuine discussion and that off topic questions
Cameron came across as highly personable, extremely articulate and
excellent at giving answers that relate to his personal experience. He
does need to update some of his anecdotes and some of the jokes are
getting old. I must have heard that he thinks Frank Dobson is a
dinosaur quip half a dozen times now!
On a more serious point I would also hope that more thought is given to
whether positive discrimination (or ‘positive action’ as Cameron
prefers to call it) is in the best interests of the party or the
RELATED LINK: Francis Maude asks ConservativeHome readers for their views on Built to Last.