Ming Campbell addressed the launch of the ‘Taking Power‘ virtual conference as follows:
Over the next few weeks, the UK’s political parties will descend on towns throughout the UK in order to hold their traditional autumn conferences. Political activists – the usual suspects – will flock to Brighton, Bournemouth and Manchester to discuss the issues that they consider important, and to consider their strategies for the coming year.
Only a small number of voters will ever go to a party conference and it should be of real concern to all of us that there are 17 million people in this country who did not vote in the last general election.
60% of young people stayed away from the ballot box in polling day last year. For them, the prospect of voting for their local MP, or playing a part in choosing the next government was clearly not a real priority.
This is a serious problem. It threatens the very legitimacy of our political system – because if you do not vote when you are young, you may never develop the habit of voting at all. And with successive generations turning there back on conventional politics in ever greater numbers, our participatory democracy is beginning to lack participants.
My party has often diagnosed problems with the health of Britain’s democracy. And written prescriptions too.
But this year, the POWER Commission, has reported on its mission to identify practical ways of reconnecting voters with the political process.
Its work has been invaluable, and is all the more credible for the non-partisan way in which it went about its task.
The strength of the POWER analysis is that its investigations took it well away from the Westminster Village and the political professionals: this was very much a consumer view. The POWER commissioners came from a diverse range of personal, political and professional backgrounds, from a Radio 1 DJ to a Finance Director. Not a single spin doctor in sight.
At the POWER Conference in May, I announced that an online “virtual conference” would be organised this autumn. Its purpose would be to re-engage people – especially younger people – in political discussion and decision-making.
I am therefore particularly pleased to launch Taking Power, which goes live today. From now until October 6th – while the party enthusiasts are gathering for their respective conferences – we will aim to gather people electronically to debate the issues raised by the POWER report.
There are no registration fees, no travel expenses and no need to take time off work. This alternative conference is open to every one of all political persuasions.
Prominent democrats of all three parties – and of none – will be involved in the online debate. This is a genuine attempt to engage people on a relatively non-partisan basis.
Liberal Democrats have long supported and encouraged dialogue with residents at the community level. We know from experience the value that dialogue has in engaging people with issues of concern in their area. To my mind Taking Power is a natural extension of that approach..
And the medium of the internet is all important to that. Our democracy can gain from connecting political thought with twenty first century technology. It could very well attract the participation of those who have kept their distance from the political process in the past.
By addressing new audiences in a way which is more convenient, accessible and meaningful than the old style draughty village hall, we demonstrate that politics need not be remote.
What will be the end result? That depends on those who take part, and what they say. What I can promise – and I hope other parties will do so too – is that we will listen very carefully indeed to the views that emerge from this unique process. The opportunity to engage people in debate and help to breathe new life into political debate in the UK is simply too big to pass up.