I really enjoyed speaking at Spring Conference on Friday 16th March. You can read my full speech below.
Spring Conference Speech
I’m really thrilled to be here today, since looking around the room I believe that we are at the start of something exciting here today.
I remember when I joined my first local Conservative association in my twenties, how important it was to be supported and encouraged by older members. I vowed then that if I ever got elected I would do the same.
One of the reasons, we have been one of the most successful political parties in the world, is that we recognise that to remain relevant, we must constantly reinvigorate and renew our party.
We can never take electoral success for granted.
For success in the past is no guarantee of our future existence.
That means we all have a duty to encourage each new generation of political activists to join the Conservatives.
Over the years, I’ve been happy to advise, encourage and support younger members of the Party,
And while it may reveal how old I am!
I am proud that many have gone on to become MPs or Councillors.
I was the future once, but you are the future now.
Last year’s general election was a wake-up call for our Party.
As a MEP for the whole of Greater London, covering 73 parliamentary constituencies, I could see that we are in danger of seeing seats slip away from us as the demographics continue to change.
I sat down with my team and decided to focus my efforts in London in three areas:
Engaging with London’s diverse communities
Tackling poverty through Community Conservatism
Encouraging younger members and branches
I used to think that one of the best ways I could promote racial diversity was just by “being there.”
I thought that by being elected as the the first non-white leader of a pan-European political group in the European Parliament and being a Conservative would be enough.
I now realise that I was wrong and we all need to do more.
So last year I held a conference with speakers from many of London’s diverse communities, looking at what we do badly and what we can do better. I have just released a report from that conference, but that is just the start. We will be holding more events, but I know we have to do more than just talk.
We need to go into local communities and actively sell our Party and give individuals from different backgrounds – who may share many of our values – a reason to join us.
Community Conservatism is a passion of mine.
In January, I held a global summit where local projects fighting poverty all over the world came together to share how they were making a difference in their local communities. These were started by people who rather than complaining about a local problem decided to be part of the solution.
As Conservatives, we should be at the forefront of empowering local communities to help themselves.
Many Conservatives already volunteer to help in their local communities, but do it outside of their political activities. But it is precisely their political beliefs that drive them to make the difference locally.
So rather than complaining about migrants who can’t speak English, wouldn’t it be great if local Conservatives offered free English classes?
Let’s see more Conservative associations run classes, youth clubs or drop in centres tackling loneliness and isolation. It won’t be easy, but wouldn’t it change how people saw us if Conservative associations become hubs of their local communities?
And thirdly, engaging with young people. The reason we are here today.
Statistically, you are in the minority in this room in that you are under 40 and vote Conservative (I hope!).
We have to change this and the only way we can do this is to bring more young people into the party as ambassadors for our Conservative principles.
I am delighted to be here at the launch of our new youth movement. It’s reassuring to see that the party Chairman Brandon and his team at CCHQ are serious about devoting resources to help the party engage not just with young people, but with local communities up and down the country.
Last Saturday, I hosted a youth conference in London which attracted over 100 young Conservatives.
After the opening speeches and panels, I turned the microphones over to the audience and let them tell us what changes they wanted to see.
I heard about how it is not always easy to be a Conservative on campus or on social media. How you wanted support from the party on the ground in supporting local branched and online.
We were told about how we have to engage better on social media but also to give you training and resources to be ambassadors for the Party, just in the same way we train members to canvass and use Votesource.
I was told that we need to focus on policies that make your lives easier and give you hope for the future, getting on the housing ladder, not burdening students with too much debt, explaining why we take the tough decisions we do.
A 17 year old told me of her experience of attending a local Conservative Future event and wondering what she had in common with the 25 year old young professional man speaking to her.
We must not patronise or lump all youth together. A 17 year old may be interested in different events to a university student or a young professional. We must not assume that all young people will go to university and have to appeal to young non-graduates too.
You wanted to see us show empathy with the everyday difficulties some people face, not harking back to the past but also being positive and offering something for the future.
I will continue to work with those 100 people to create a report for the Party and bring together their ideas on policies into a youth manifesto. If you would like to be part of this, then please get in contact with me.
One of the things I have heard from both my diversity and youth events is that we as a party need to make room. I am sure there are many people here today who have offered help, or suggested doing something in a different way, showed ambition in taking on a role within their association and have either been ignored or dismissed.
We have to be ready to embrace change, take risks and be relevant to the communities we hope to serve. By that I mean, we need to look like them, sound like them and care about the things that they care about. We need to stop talking at people and listen more.
Most of what I have said can be summed up in one word. Engagement.
Engagement in new ways and with different communities.
And you, all of you, all of us, are the answer to the problem of how?
You will be both the messenger and the message.
I hope this new start today allows you to bring new ideas to the party so that we can offer hope and aspiration to the British people.
And if there is anything I can do to help, please get in contact
And let’s all be the change we want to see.