Challenge the Chairman 3 – Run down

Tory Radio Columnist Andrew Woodman takes a look at what Francis Maude has to say in the latest Challenge the Chairman podcast. To listen to the podcast visit our archive section.

Challenge The Chairman 3

On a rainy day in Bournemouth, and amongst the chaos of the accreditation crisis at the Conservative Party conference, Francis Maude spoke to Toryradio in his third Challenge the Chairman programme. Here are the salient points coming out of the interview regarding questions relating to the Chairman’s remit.

The first topic to be tackled was Francis Maude’s gloominess as defined by David Cameron in his opening speech. That was said in an affectionate manner of course, and Francis believes it probably derives from his time being one of the few people to recognise the real problem the Conservative party had in the past. He claims however to be an immensely cheerful person.

When asked what he was most proud of in his role as chairman, Francis saw the local election results as his number one achievement in breaking the 40% barrier and producing the best set of results for 21 years. Some areas he admitted were patchy but he’s hoping for further progress in the 2007 elections.

On the subject of Built to last, Francis attributed the poor turnout to the fact the Conservatives are at heart, not a very ideological party. Only in the 90’s did parts of the party become ideological, and like Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is now taking the Conservative party back to the centre ground.

The A list cropped up again as ever. When the figure that 70% of the candidates list, and applicants to the A list  were men, The chairman admitted that men were being actively discriminated against. The controversy surrounding Rehman Chishti’s inclusion on the A list then came up, and the bitterness some loyal Conservatives have towards new people being on the priority list. Francis retorted that being on the candidates list is not a case of long service, but who will be the best and most balanced candidatesin the judgement of the panel. With regards to achieving more women candidates, he believes the changes in the selection procedure with more inaction and open primaries will help. Francis also cited that during the first round of selections, the 12 seats that chose from the priority list chose 50% women, and the 10 who chose local candidates overwhelmingly chose men.

The subject then turned to tree’s and more specifically, the new party logo. Francis believed the most opinion had been favourable, and that the logo represents long term Conservative values such as permanence and Britishness. The cost at £40000 is considered cheap in the business world.

On the subject of the new by election unit, Francis confirmed that Paul
Marland is currently recruiting a volunteer task force to commit a couple of weeks a year to help in council and Parliamentary by elections. Some of the younger MP’s under Grant Snapps will also form a campaigning unit for by elections.

When asked whether he would agree to a Conservative PPC signing up to the Better Off Out campaign, on the basis that UKIP would not field a candidate in their seat, Francis stated he wouldn’t agree with that, and that Conservative Party policy is to work within the EU to achieve reform.

Regarding the selection of candidates for the European Parliamentary elections, Francis was asked what steps would be taken to ensure candidates agreed with party policy on Europe. Francis stated the party wouldn’t be Stalinist in it’s selection of MEP candidates, but not much thought has gone into how candidates would be selected just yet. Francis then asked for members views of what form the selections should take.

On blogging, Francis believes it’s not yet come of age, but it’s now part of the political landscape. It’s exciting because it’s the reverse of a control freak media. He loves the vigour and immediacy of it. He believes there is more blogging on the right of politics rather than the left because that’s where the action is with idea development.

The message to take away from conference is this is where the future lies. We are a party with a clear sense of direction. We are preparing the ground and digging the foundations for party policy. Francis hopes people will go away from Bournemouth excited and that we’re a party of change.

18 Doughty Street – what its all about!

I intended writing a piece to give a few more details as to what 18 doughty street is all about, however Iain Dale has written a great article for the Sunday Times.I thought it was worth posting the uncut version here:-

Political television in this country is on the decline. The BBC appears to think that it can only get ratings for political programmes if it invites comedians and celebrities to pontificate on great affairs of State. Have we really reached the stage when we have to listen to Shane McGowan or Jo Brand making a mockery of political discourse?

Political programmers reckon that most of the British public have the attention span of a flea and cannot listen to a debate for longer than four minutes. Listen to most current affairs programmes on Radio 4 and Radio 5 and count the number of times the presenter utters the dreaded phrase ‘I’m sorry, that’s all we’ve got time for’. What has happened to the hour long forensic interview such as those Robin Day or Brian Walden used to conduct? You won’t find them in any current channel’s schedule.

There’s also an inbuilt liberal bias in the BBC and most other broadcasters. It’s not necessarily party political, but broadcasting institutions tend to be staffed by people with a certain world view. It’s just the way it is. That’s not to say there aren’t notable exceptions. There undoubtedly are, but let’s take two examples to illustrate what I mean. The continual sneering at and caricature of George W Bush together with the unbalanced and emotional reporting of Orla Guerin and Fergeal Keane in the Lebanon demonstrate that whatever aspiration broadcasters might have towards impartiality, they can rarely achieve it.

The New Media world of blogs and social communities has opened up the old media to a new dimension of scrutiny. People are demanding transparency in a way they haven’t been able to before. Journalists are now being held accountable by their readers, in a similar way that voters hold politicians to account. Some journalists are embracing this new world but others remain deeply troubled by it.

This is the background to Britain’s first political internet TV channel, Talk TV, which launches on Tuesday evening. The interest in it by the conventional media has taken us slightly by surprise, but it is living proof that such a channel is needed.

18DoughtyStreet is going to be opinionated, edgy, anti-establishment and different to anything you might see on terrestrial TV. All its presenters are people who hold strong views and they will be encouraged to express them. We’re not going to pretend that we are something we are not. We’re going to be open about where we’re coming from and let the viewer judge what we’re saying. We’re going to be offering politics for adults in a way that conventional broadcasters seem unable to.

We not striving for impartiality, an assertion that had Channel 4 News’s Krishnan Gurumurthy spluttering through an interview with my 18DoughtyStreet colleague Tim Montgomerie recently. He just could not conceive that you could produce current affairs TV without being completely impartial. You can and we will.

It has to be said that Channel 4 News is the very personification of a media outlet with an overtly liberal world view. Actually, it’s a great programme and I make no complaint about its world view, but we’re going to try to provide something different –even complimentary.

Yes, 18DoughtyStreet is run by some well known Conservatives, but that does not mean that it is Tory TV. If we’re ever thought of as the broadcasting arm of the Conservative Party, we will have failed in our mission. Describing us as ‘Tory TV’ is a trap wise media journalists would be unwise to fall into. I suspect some of our programmes will cause just as much angst among the Conservative hierarchy as among our opponents.

Just because our presenters aren’t impartial does not mean that there won’t be an element of balance across our schedule. Two of our main presenters are on the left and most of our programmes will have a left of centre input. We want to provoke controversial debates so we need different views. Talk Radio led the way with this format and Talk TV will now follow.

Because we are broadcasting on the internet we aren’t regulated by OfCom. On the internet there are no rules about impartiality, balance – or indeed much at all.

We’re quite prepared to face an onslaught from media correspondents who have been conditioned to expect BBC production values. We make no bones that some of our programmes won’t be perfect. We’re a new station, using new presenters, new formats and new technology. We never actually intended to launch in the gaze of the media spotlight although is hugely encouraging to us that we have attracted so much interest. Our aim is to reflect the priorities of the great mass of the British public. They remain fed up with conventional politics and the Westminster village gossip circuit. We will try to reflect the priorities of the guy in the street rather than the metropolitan elite.

This is why, to use marketing speak, our unique selling point will be our reporters. We don’t have the budget to hire celebrity names and even if we did, we’d spend it elsewhere. Our reporters will be ‘citizen journalists’ – one hundred of them, many from the blogging world. We’ve given them each an MP4 mini camcorder and they will file short reports as MP4 files which will then be used as the basis for studio discussions. Our website will have a live blog for each programme so our viewers can influence the debate and the subjects we discuss on air.

We believe we are at the forefront of a new internet revolution. At the moment few people realise they can hook up their computers to an adaptor at the back of their TV screens and watch Internet TV on their normal television sets. Just as a year ago most people in this country were ignorant of the rise of blogs, most people at the moment don’t even know about Internet TV. But just as blogs have become a big media story in 2006, Internet TV will be the big story of 2007. Our aim is to be a market leader in anticipating where new technology is taking us. We are adapting to the modern world in a way that established media brands have failed to.

So what’s the next step? I heard an amusing anecdote the other day. Apparently some people at Conservative Central Office are nervous about 18DoughtyStreet and think it is the precursor to a new political party. That’s ludicrous of course, but it would not surprise me at all if at some point the internet did not give birth to a new political movement. There are more ‘Amazing Mrs Pritchards’ out there than people think. launches at 8pm on Tuesday and will broadcast for four hours per night on weekdays

18 Doughty Street beckons!

There are times in everyone’s life when an opportunity presents itself that is just too good to turn down. If you are lucky enough it happens at just the right time to grab it with both hands and you can see where it may lead. A few weeks ago I was made such an offer. Many of you will know that I have worked in Public Affairs and Communications for the last 10 years for some great companies, the most recent being Boots The Chemists.  Well in 2 weeks time that all changes and I will become Head of Communications for 18 Doughty Street. What an impressive title (well I did choose it myself) but the specific role will involve being resposnible for the web-content for the site.  

18 Doughty Street Talk TV goes live this coming Tuesday, and I for one can’t wait to be involved! I know Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie have been working their socks off, pre-recording shows, and generally getting everything ready. Only 3 days to go! Make sure you tune in!


Personal Conference roundup

Bournemouth 2006 was particularly memorable for me. The weather wasn't the best, the pass situation didn't help the party get all the right headlines, yet it was one of the best conferences I have attended.

Compared to 12 months ago, the party has made a real effort to embrace new technology. This culminated in a bloggers row made up of James Cleverley (when he finally was allowed in) Conservative Home, Iain Dale and myself. It was great to meet fellow bloggers and even chat with the mysterious Guido Fawkes!

The media interest in blogging was an eye opener and certainly shows how seriously they are taking developments in new technology.

I thought the Cameron camp had a great conference. They went into the Conference with the media pushing stories about tax cuts, stuck to their guns and set the agenda on the issues that they want to talk about. When you contrast our conference with that of our opponents which were both dominated by leadership talk, the Tories certainly came out on top.

As for me – it's the last conference I will be attending working for that large retail chain where you go to get your headache pills from. Why you ask?

I was made an offer I just couldn't refuse!

New Media Conference Fringe special



One of the few Conference fringes I attended was one organised by the Hansard society and sponsored by BT on the subject of the New Media and politics.

Anne Widdecombe spoke along with some chap called Iain Dale who you may have heard of. Well worth a listen – even if its just to hear about the Widdeo Video.

Anne Widdecombe
Iain Dale
Questions from the Floor

Sheppard's on Sky

Well I think I talked the hind leg off the proverbial donkey with my webcam appearance on Sky. I have just been called a "media tart" by a friend too! That's fighting talk in Derbyshire you know.

It was interesting to be asked about Energy policy – as I spent a small part of the day showing a Labour MP round one of the most efficient Combined Heat and Power stations in Europe today – and have taken an interest in energy policy recently. It did amuse me that I was asked if we as a party would have nuclear power stations and what our policy was on Europe. Given I'm not even an A lister I think perhaps I'm the last person that should be making Tory policy!

 Anyway – I hope the good folks at Sky invite me back!

Cameron's speech hits the mark

Unfortunately I wasnt able to be in Bournemouth for the final day – and had to make do with listening to Cameron's speech later on the BBC's website.

 I have to say that I think it was a good speech which hit all the right notes. Was it the best speech I have ever heard  – probably not. Was it delivered excellently – yes. Did it cover the issues I wanted to hear – yes lots of them. Did it flesh out Tory policy in detail – No. But it was never going to and in my book it shouldn't. A leaders conference speech should leave the troops in good spirits ready to take the gospel out to the towns and cities and in this respect I think it served its purpose.

Cameron paid tribute to many of his Shadow Cabinet colleagues and helped to give a sense of unity and common purpose that the party hasn't seen for quite a few years. There will be those in the party who are disappointed that DC didn't give in a promise tax cuts now – but this conference has served to strengthen his grip on the leadership at a time when Blair is on his way out, and the Lib Dems aren't really sure which direction to turn.

I've been asked to give my comments by webcam to Sky News – on at about 9:30 so do tune in!

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Apologies apologies – its 1:22am on Tuesday and I still haven't had chance to upload the Francis Maude interview. I've also the audio from a great fringe meeting addressed by Widdy and our one and only Iain Dale.

Are you ready for the Widdeo Video?? All will be revealed!

 I was actually taken out by work colleagues last night as a bit of a farewell dinner – as I will be moving on to pastures new working on a certain little project that you may have heard of. More will be revealed later!!

Maude interview coming soon

Just done an interview with party Chairman Francis Maude MP. A fascinating chat which lasts for 30 minutes where we touch upon the A list (again) the new logo and even why David Cameron things Francis may have been a bit grumpy in the past. Make sure you come back for the interview which should be online at about midnight tonight!

Something liks Alas Smith and Jones?

Well I gave enough hints didn't I. Iain Dale and myself were guest's on Webcameron last night. I think it comes across pretty well – but it really does remind me of the sketches that appeared on Alas Smith and Jones. And if anyone says I look a bit like Mel Smith there will be trouble.