Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

I have always been a confident person. Whether setting up my own business, pitching a new idea or appearing on TV, I have always thought that I am perfectly capable of holding my own. But speaking at a party conference? It never even crossed my mind that I would go to one, let alone organise my own fringe meeting. So I must admit that, as the conference season kicked off, I had a moment of self-doubt.

Since launching OUR SAY (a new campaign pushing for the introduction of citizen-initiated referendums) I have been hugely encouraged by the positive feedback, even from those who do not entirely agree with our proposals. But at the party conferences, I have been speaking directly to the politicians and asking them to give up some of their power over important decisions that affect all our lives. As I wander around the conference halls, I have been struck by how few nonwhite faces there are. For the first time in a good while I felt out of place.

But that isn't the only way in which the whole conference atmosphere seems detached from real life. Many of the political activists appear decidedly unreceptive to new ideas, or things that challenge their own views. Coming from a business environment, I'm used to creative thinking, overcoming obstacles and making things happen. In the world of politics, there appears to be an innate conservatism that prevents people from welcoming new ideas. They have their own set views and if an idea doesn't conform, then it just can't be right. I remember Tony Blair saying that government is at its best when it is at its boldest, but boldness appears to be the one ingredient missing from party conferences.

The response in my home town of Nottingham could not have been more different. I went there to film a piece for the Politics Show, and I found the people far more open to new thinking than I had expected. Talking to them about why they are frustrated with our current political system was extremely revealing. For most people, politics is something that happens to them and around them; it is certainly not something they feel they can influence in any real way. That's the root cause of the disillusionment with our political system.

Give people an opportunity to express their views, however, and you can reignite their political interest almost instantly.

Old, young, black, white -- everybody had an opinion on the things that affect their lives. You would think that sticking a microphone and a camera in front of someone's face as they walk down the street would leave them lost for words, but everyone had something to say. …

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