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IHAV’s take on The Conservative Party Conference

For those who’ve never attended a Party Conference before it is essentially an opportunity to hear from politicians, experts, and commentators on every topic you can imagine! It is also an opportunity to ask them questions and to meet up with other people to discuss your shared campaign aims.

Lots of organisations run events, from think tanks to businesses and charities – and lots of organisations have stands in the Exhibition Hall for you to visit. Kudos to Renewable UK for always having the longest queue of people as you were printing their faces onto their coffee (brilliantly absurd)!

We attended loads of fringe events – many in the Youth Zone, which had a brilliant agenda and range of speakers. Check out our highlights below!

Leia and Aaron from Youth Focus NW’s session with Anne Longfield CBE and Cllr Holly Whitbread’s discussion on whether young people can be active citizens. It won’t surprise you to hear everyone thought yes they can! However, barriers to participation need to be addressed. These include better political education, more platforms for young people, and providing community-based volunteering opportunities in easy-to-reach safe places. Holly raised the importance of debate and spaces for people to disagree and challenge one another encouraging the audience to be brave and stand up for their convictions. They discussed whether active citizenship on social media is performative if it doesn’t translate into wider engagement, but acknowledged it is useful for informing young people about political issues. We were delighted to discuss our shared goals of getting MPs and Cllrs to visit schools in their area and to make sure all young people have an opportunity to take part in social action.

A brilliant session from The Policy Institute and APPG on Inclusive Growth about fixing poverty and tackling inequalities. This was my standout session – the speakers were passionate and thoughtful, and the research shared by Bobby Duffy was insightful and instructive. It led to a wide-ranging discussion with John Penrose MP saying action is needed to support social mobility, improve health inequalities, and tackle the rise of addiction. He also shared his views that the way income and wealth are currently taxed means the haves are being subsidised by the have-nots. This was followed by Patriotic Millionaire's Julia Davis stating that paying tax must be seen as investing in Great Britain and passing costs down to our children by not dealing with climate change and the costs of an ageing population are not aligned with Conservative’s family values or belief in fiscal responsibility. I also really enjoyed John and the CSJ’s exchange on the benefits of stability in relationships for young people, after CSJ shared its analysis that the two most significant common denominators in child poverty are absent dads and domestic abuse.

An interesting session from the National Youth Agency with the National Youth Sector Advisory Board, presenting their vision for young people with the roadmap to National Youth Strategy in the Youth Zone. Joined by Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commission for England and Mims Davies MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression the panel had an interesting discussion about how to improve the youth sector and ensure it remains strong and resilient. Everyone agreed on the importance of young people having space to play and have fun and enjoy themselves and, on the benefits, it has on young people’s mental health.

Michael Gove’s response to being asked how he had built his reputation as someone who can deliver policy change by the Director of Centre for Policy Studies, Robert Colville, was ‘think ink’. In other words, does your policy make sense when delivered in a speech, press release or slogan – not just when it is conveyed in a lengthy policy document. He also relayed how important it is to think about what incentives there are in the system to be able to understand what behaviours a policy change will drive. He’s also not a fan of the 4-day week and thinks people not going back to the office is bad for social mobility. What do you think?

IPSOS hosted a session encouraging attendees to step “Beyond the Bubble” and discover what polling is showing the public is thinking. Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at IPSOS, kicked off the panel with a presentation that detailed recent public opinions. It presented polling data about low economic optimism, Labour’s lead in the polls, and the Conservative brand. Issues such as Net Zero, Lib Dem coalition options, and the cost of living and the impact they could have on the next election were discussed by the panel which included Lord Robert Hayward and Dr Liam Fox MP.

Robert Halfen MP who has made it his life’s work to champion apprenticeships and skills as an answer to social justice and addressing the skills shortages in the UK labour market. He spoke about the need for the education system and employers to focus on people gaining the skills they need to thrive in a career, instead of seeing going to university as the main measure of success in education. The policy and public affairs sector could helpfully reflect on these comments!

The pandemic revealed many families and children were struggling to access technology and broadband and the Digital Poverty Alliance and Currys hosted a session discussing a UK-wide approach to digital inclusion. The panel including Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy, Matthew Robinson from TechUK, Sarah-Jane Sewell from the Digital Tories and Kirsty McIntosh from the Scottish Tech Army, discussed the issues that affected people across age ranges, and the different reasons that is. While Sarah-Jane Sewell raised some of the issues AI has, especially with facial recognition software, the group agreed we need to make tech more accessible to everyone and less scary. Kirsty McIntosh suggested we shouldn’t keep tech separate from other subjects in school or treat tech as a separate industry, it is in every job and should be utilised in all subjects in schools. How do you think we could make technology more accessible?

The Institute of Economic Affairs hosted a lively discussion about intergenerational wealth inequality, with the panel focusing on housing and pensions. Damian Green MP made the argument that there aren’t enough resources to encourage older people to move from family-sized properties into more suitable accommodation because there are few attractive properties for older people to move onto. He suggested focusing on the “last-time buyer” as much as we focus on the first-time buyer. Samuel Kasumu was very critical of recent government decisions and felt they weren’t doing enough to help young people get on the property ladder, urging the government to “build, build, build!”

While debating the perceived wealth differences between younger and older adults, Alex Morton made the point that we can’t shake down money from elderly people, much of their wealth is tied up in assets such as their homes. One audience member agreed with this, adding he didn’t feel like he had wealth he had bricks and mortar. At this point, panellist Emma Revell added she’d love some bricks! The spirited debate explored the varying issues facing older and younger adults and the impact it has on the economy, the housing market and the birth rate.

The Women’s Budget Group shared their research showing that whilst women are less likely to express an interest in politics, they’re more likely to express an interest in specific causes and issues. They’re more likely than men to say they don’t know how they’re going to vote in the next election (25% vs 11%) – however, this could be because women are more comfortable saying they don’t know than men. The biggest issue amongst undecided voters is the NHS and healthcare services. Interestingly, men are more likely to say they’re concerned about the economy, whereas women are more likely to say they’re concerned about the cost of living crisis.

It was great to attend so many panels and discussions and hear a wide range of opinions. We’ll be attending the Labour Party Conference next, what issues would you like to see discussed there?

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