As a historian, I’m used to being an external observer in things. My perspective is like looking at the world from the International Space Station: I can see all the facts and the connections like dots in a puzzle when everyone who was living those facts can only see what’s in their views.
This makes me very aware now that I see history unfold before my eyes.
The opening remark of a recent informal meeting with Hannah David (national director of the Conservative Policy Forum) “Who shapes the narrative?” is a very poignant question that resonates with me. The idea, to use my friend Gerard’s words on that night, that “Power is there for those who seize it” is what made me, and I imagine many others, take an active interest in politics.
However, we live in a world where people think they cannot influence change despite the fact the British system of government is made for people to be actively involved in our democracy. This is a problem especially for younger people in politics as a whole, but most specifically in the Conservative Party. It’s traditionally a party for older people, despite the many young passionate activists, councillors and even a 27 years old MP as of the last general election.
A few people who get involved in politics for their own personal gain, running this or that group (especially university societies) just so their CVs look better as prospective candidates, but who hardly ever do any significant campaigning or policy discussion, give a bad reputation to us all, and may even put off people from getting involved. And if we don’t get involved, then who shapes the narrative? Who shapes policy?
We cannot complain our interests aren’t met if we’re not speaking up about what we need and want our representatives to do.
In the past decades there has been a decline in involvement in the voluntary parties across the political spectrum. Looking at the reasons why is likely enough material for a proper report. Many would say it’s a broader shift in societal attitudes, others would blame the apparent contempt in which the parties seem to hold their grassroots, but it’s evident that the tide is changing, and people are starting to join parties again rather than just casting a vote on a manifesto built by someone else. The momentum seems to be on social justice: last year’s conference speech by former Prime Minister David Cameron was the culmination of 4 days of standing-room-only fringe events on topics from community housing to combating poverty. Despite the idea of social justice pre-dating the birth of left-wing politics, being in fact a Christian concept, we seem to identify it with that side of politics, forgetting a long Conservative tradition that saw such small achievements as the abolition of slavery in the British Empire (I wrote more about social justice here).
Cameron’s idea of a big society, which his successor vowed to follow through with, cannot function without a personal commitment on behalf of everyone, including involvement in politics. As Theresa May said in her opening speech, “If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise” and they can’t know anything different unless they are given the tools to walk in our shoes.
The Conservative Policy Forum exists to be a bridge between the people who have something that matters to them they want to see happening, and the people with the power in practice to make that happen. They’ve been working very hard to make it easier for local associations and individuals to be involved despite the constraints of our busy lives, but it’s also worth the bit of extra effort to get involved in the local groups while an online system is being developed. Things like the micro-policy initiative are not a time-consuming effort and offer the opportunity to put what we care about on the CPF’s agenda to be discussed, and, as a result of that, on the party’s agenda.
Having a new Prime Minister means that we have an unexpected chance to shape the rest of this government as well as influence the new manifesto for 2020.
It can appear a daunting perspective when you think of policy-making as a very specialist researcher’s job, but it’s a partnership and the most valuable element in the chain is the real life experience of the people that are affected by those policies. Nothing is too small to be without value, and that’s another reason why the CPF is keen to engage young people in the process. We are the future, and have all the stakes possible in shaping it.