Tory MPs' radical approach

CONSERVATIVE MPs are preparing to take a key role at next month's party conference in Blackpool with senior backbenchers hosting a series of policy forums aimed at getting the Tory rank-and-file involved in forming manifesto policy.

CONSERVATIVE MPs are preparing to take a key role at next month's party conference in Blackpool with senior backbenchers hosting a series of policy forums aimed at getting the Tory rank-and-file involved in forming manifesto policy.

Traditionally, conference is designed as a showcase for front bench initiatives. But the debates are little more than a sham, with hardly any criticism from the floor, and finishing with standing ovations for what are, quite frankly, uninspiring speeches.

This year, private morning sessions are to be held, chaired by shadow cabinet secretaries but, importantly, facilitated by the 1922 Committee, the influential body of back bench Tory MPs. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley has been charged by 1922 chairman Sir Michael Spicer with handling the policy session on constitutional affairs and Northern Ireland.

Says Mr Ruffley: "This is a radical approach, inspired by the 1922 Committee. These are no fringe meetings taking place in obscure hotels miles away from the conference centre. They will be held in the main Winter Gardens venue, open to all delegates whom we hope will become involved in shaping policy for their party."


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A report back session on the Wednesday morning will be open to the media and will give the main bullet points agreed by representatives.

BURY St Edmunds constituency Labour Party has pulled off a coup with its two-hour rural affairs debate, being staged at The Athenaeum in the town on Monday September 22 (7pm).

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Michael Meacher, former Government minister and opponent of genetically modified crops is one of four panellists. The others are: Liz Mort of the Countryside Alliance, who supports hunting with hounds; Margaret Wright, the Green Party's lead candidate for the East of England in next year's European elections; and Paul Rylott, chairman of the agricultural biotechnology council.

Admission costs £5 and questions should be e-mailed in advance to janet@preece70.fsnet.co.uk or telephoned to Janet Preece of Stowlangtoft on 01359 230626. Expect topics to include GM crops, hunting, regional government, transport, and planning, development and access.

And this coming Sunday, the Cannabis Party holds its fourth annual conference. The pot smokers will be having a high old time at the University of East Anglia in Norwich – an e-mail from Don Barnard, the Legalise Cannabis Alliance's press, officer tells me: "If it's a hot day we expect people will picnic on the grass, in more ways than one."

I trust his remarks are tongue in cheek. Even though cannabis is about to be downgraded to a class three drug, it's still illegal to use the drug in public view.

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