28 SEP 2017

Party Conference

Kent Messenger Column - 28-09-17

The excessive cost of attending party conferences has been a bugbear of mine for years now. I last wrote about this a couple of years ago, with particular reference to young people and how we can better securing their political engagement – with whatever party.

Since that time we have witnessed an enormous amount of political activity, with levels of engagement not experienced for decades; 72% of people voting in the European referendum and nearly 70% in this year's General Election, the highest turnout for a quarter of a century and a greatly increased proportion of young voters.

It should follow that conference attendances might reflect this, offering inspiration and engagement to new generations of activists debating the enormous challenges and opportunities that we face. But despite a youthful up-swell supporting the banning of tuition fees at the last election, the follow-through to full political engagement is not evidential.

The new voters I speak to in Maidstone and the Weald are taking a real interest in the future of our community and our country, but they are looking for change in how we do our politics. They say party conferences seem like echo chambers of elite discussion, producing little truly collaborative policy involvement for grass roots and entry level members. They tell me the format is out of touch and indicative of an old style of politics which is distant and detached.

Parties and leaders who can think innovatively will be the winners here, and the opportunity is huge.

Reducing the cost of entry and actively promoting low-cost travel and accommodation offers are obvious fixes, but how about upping the ante on the entertainment front too? We have world class politically orientated talent in music, mirth and satire that would add pizazz to any conference fringe. And what about zapping up the food offering too...

All ideas welcome. I will pass them to our Party Chairman.

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