Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Conservative Party Conference - Round Up

After four days in Manchester, the Conservatives have thoroughly debated the party's policies - from deficit reduction and business growth to law enforcement and welfare reform. The Prime Minister struck a workman-like note with his speech today, leading the audience with his theme of stubborn optimism in challenging economic times.

Aside from the main policies and themes that have been well publicised in the media, a number of aspects stood out for me. I was genuinely moved by the video presentation made by Burmese dissident, Aung San Suu Kyi, this afternoon. After four days in the bubble of a political conference - and the wearying media scepticism that accompanies it - she reminded us all that we are lucky to have the democratic opportunity to debate what we stand for so freely.

On the domestic front, Justice Minister Nick Herbert talked about modernising our magistrates courts. Given the spending review, many magistrates courts are being closed because their throughput is low. I have been worried about the impact on the local dispensation of justice, bearing in mind that our Justices of the Peace (JPs) work for nothing and therefore represent good value for money. Nick talked about plans to modernise their role, by allowing them to sit in less formal (and expensive) and more flexible settings - like town halls - in order to maintain their vital functions. I am a big fan of the magistrates courts. We need local judicial oversight over the wide array of powers that local police and councils now have, as a safeguard to protect our liberty as citizens. They also proved their worth in firmly but fairly dispensing criminal penalties in the wake of the riots. So, I was delighted to see Ministers are thinking creatively about their future role.

On a personal note, I participated in a range of debates - seven in total - from taxation to extradition, and launched two books which I co-authored on the future of the Conservatives. The Observer included me in a profile of the new intake here.

However, the real lesson for me was that, as a backbencher, you can influence policy development. Two major policy announcements addressed personal campaigns I have spear-headed over the last year. First, the Home Secretary's announcement of a change to the rules governing deportation orders, to curtail their frustration by spurious claims to family and social ties (as reported here), was the result of a long campaign arising from a tragic local case in Esher (as I blogged previously here).

Second, Ministers announced they were scaling back the scope for full time civil servants paid out of taxpayers' money to work on union business (as reported here), responding to my research highlighting the extent of the problem (as explained here in an article for the Daily Telegraph). It shows, that even as a humble backbench MP, you can make a contribution to policy-making.


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