Essex. It has given us the extended vocabulary of Joey Essex. It has supplied us with the musical delights of Blur, Prodigy, and Olly Murs. It has inspired authors such as HG Wells and Joseph Conrad. And now? Now it represents the sort of people we must stay connected with to ensure the Party is fighting fit for 2020.
Essex is a place where the “get-on-and-do-it-yourself” philosophy rules the roost. This is found in people like my father who left school at 16 to become a self-employed painter and decorator and has been for the last forty years. He represents the 'Essex man’ (to echo the 1980s term). The ‘Essex Man’ is not just confined to the country's greatest county but represents the hardworking men and women in Britain, from Land’s End to the Orkney Islands.
If the Party is serious about making itself the Workers Party, it needs to give these people a say. They aren’t going to come to us willingly because our structure doesn’t currently encourage them - so we must change. So how do we connect to those who fit perfectly with our philosophy but who wouldn't necessarily define themselves as 'big c' Conservative?
A good start would be the creation of a ‘policy forum lite’, which would be focussed on ideas and discussion, steering away from copious minutes and formality. It is an opportunity to hold internal debate but also for the Party to connect externally with the public. In order to engage a broader base of participants, much of this could be moved online. This has been trailed by PwC in India with ‘MyGov.In’ which in its first six months has seen over one million citizens participate in discussion threads about policy and government proposals.
The opportunity here is huge - Members of Parliament could be running their own local consultations within their constituencies. It would enable MPs to hear regularly and directly from those who elected them. People will be able to communicate their opinions and thoughts on everything from the local area to national and global issues. This would echo the emergence of local moaning and discussion pages on social networks which have proved hugely popular but consolidate the concept in an more accountable and productive form.
Successfully engaging and maintaining a relationship with a larger proportion of the population, outside of our core supporters, is the key to long term success and sustainability for the Party.
Stephen Canning is a district and county councillor in Essex.
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