On Saturday Sam wrote a brief post about the party’s welcome initiative to encourage internet-based public participation in the policy review process. ConservativeHome will offer all the practical support it can muster for this initiative but I urge the party to be much bolder still.
The aim shouldn’t be to harvest a few ideas from voters and win a few admiring headlines (‘Tories use internet to develop policy’ etc). Our aim should be to build Britain’s first online political party. That means tapping into the fact that today’s voters tend to be more focused on single issue campaigns. It means realising that the distinctions between campaigning, journalism and representation will become less and less obvious in coming years. The Conservative Party needs to be less of a centralised machine. It needs to become more of a coalition that knits together groups of people who care about certain issues. Conservatives.com shouldn’t be something run by a team of two or three but a team of at least a dozen programmers and writers. Three or four MPs should be dedicated to its development.
Here are a quick few thoughts on how Stand Up, Speak Up might be developed…
- Find a contemporary name for the initiative: Stand Up, Speak Up sounds like a sixth form debating club from the 1970s.
- Run must-read sites on six issues of public concern: I would suggest taxpayers’ rights, fighting crime, the NHS, schools, immigration and international justice. Ensure new content every day. Content should be the best newslinks for that topic, interactive blogging, photo sharing, regular polls and, of course, policy ideas. Make each of the six sites the most important sites in Britain for those topics. Each site would probably need a dedicated analyst to keep it up-to-date and lively.
- Give a platform to diverse voices: Get third
party groups to make contributions to each of those sites. People from Oxfam, Tearfund, World Vision and individuals who are volunteering overseas should be
encouraged to write for the international justice site, for example. Alongside them there should be a platform for people who are sceptical about the benefits of aid and favour free market solutions to third world poverty. Publish research, stats and interesting photographs and videos on the site that are relevant to the topic.
- Give every individual site a personality and a human face so that the party builds community:
The editor/ editors of individual sections should be a real person/
real people that readers of the website can identify with. The
initiative won’t work if the site looks and feels too corporate and
people leaving comments and ideas don’t receive proper feedback.
- There should be real votes on real issues: If, for example, the party decides that it can afford £Xbn of tax cuts at the next General Election then registered
members of the tax site should be able to determine whether that tax
cut goes to council tax-payers, for example, or off inheritance tax or
as relief for small businesses. The votes shouldn’t determine our
party’s principles (ie an instinct to lower tax) but could help to
determine practical applications of those principles (which taxes to
cut). This is a radical proposal and shouldn’t apply to all policy discussions but it should become part of the mix. I intend to write more about this in due course.
Related link: Politics 2.0