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Conservative Conference Overview

Submitted by on 14 Sep 2011 – 13:48

Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party

I shall be delighted to welcome our members back to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. As Co-Chairmen, conference is an opportunity for Andrew Feldman and me to discuss the key issues affecting our Party and outline our plans for the forthcoming year. It’s also the best occasion to showcase what Conservatives are doing in Government and to hear feedback from our members.

Since the party met in Birmingham last October, we have fought some incredible campaigns. 2011 is the first time in over 30 years that a government has improved on its general election vote share in local elections. Some reports predicted that we would lose 1,000 seats at these elections. Instead, we gained over 80 councillors and 4 extra councils, winning over half of the council seats that were up for election. Conservatives held councils against Labour in the key areas needed to win a majority in Westminster, fighting off Labour majorities in crucial locations. We won the highest vote share for a governing party at a local election outside of a General Election year since 1988.

We also achieved our highest vote share in Wales since devolution. We became the second party in Wales, leapfrogging Plaid Cymru to become the official opposition to Labour. We outperformed our poll ratings in Scotland. And of course, the party spearheaded a successful campaign to keep First Past the Post in general elections, fighting off plans for the disproportionate and unfair Alternative Voting system.

As Co-Chairman, I am proud to be part of one of the most radical, reforming, progressive governments this nation has seen in decades, winning elections and implementing so many of our key manifesto promises. But we haven’t forgotten that it is the campaigning efforts of our members on the doorstep that have brought us in to government. 2011 has been a time for listening to those members who worked so hard to bring us here today.

This time last year, I told Conference that I wanted to see a strengthened, robust voluntary party with a strong voice for our grassroots on policy. The Conservative Party has always been at its best when we develop policy together, and we want to harness the talents of all of our members to help identify the future challenges that Britain will face.

Since then, Andrew and I have worked hard to ensure that our members’ voices are heard. So when members said they didn’t receive regular enough communication from the centre, we introduced a new members magazine. When they said after the last election that they wanted the party to listen more, we introduced a new Office of the Voluntary Party at CCHQ. And when they asked for the opportunity to ask tough questions of the party leadership, we started to tour the country with our ‘Meet the Chairmen’ events, to offer a no holds barred discussion at which members can to do just that; directly discussing Conservative issues with the Party Chairmen.

Our most significant internal Party innovation is the Conservative Policy Forum. Relaunched and revitalized, this forum gives members a real voice about the challenges Britain will face in the future. The issues the CPF addresses range from delivering affordable housing, improving child wellbeing, to reducing the scale of central bureaucracy. It is truly a democratic achievement of which we are proud.

And so, this year more than ever, Conference will be a time when our members can get right to the heart of decision-making. We have built a Conference programme that gives members the opportunity to question, debate and involve themselves in every area of party development. We’ll be offering new training and social action programmes, as well as enterprise development opportunities. And through our Conservative Policy Forum events at Conference, members will have the opportunity to engage in live debates about the party’s future programme with Conservative ministers, putting them right at the heart of decision making.

Party Conference is the culmination of another busy year for the Chairman’s office. In the run up to the local elections I visited 30 constituencies covering 27 different councils travelling over 3,115 miles. And as soon as our meeting in Manchester is over I’ll be back on the road. I’ll be out in the country each week, listening to the concerns of our members and continuing our successful Meet the Chairmen programme.

I’ve also joined a group of Conservative volunteers working in Bangladesh. Building on the successes of Project Maja: Bosnia which I set up in 2009, the party has begun a new social action project. Conservative MPs, members and central office staff have teamed up with UK charities to build education, health and sport projects in the country on Project Maja: Bangladesh.

Conservative Party Conference is always one of our greatest events – showcasing our achievements in Government and setting out our priorities for the coming year. For me, it’s truly the best way to bring the Conservative Family together.