Opinion: Why I'm avoiding the parties' parties

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

Are you as bored as I am with this endless general election campaign?

Unless it's announced between Third Sector's copy date and the time you're reading this, it isn't even officially happening yet.

Intriguing invitations have started to arrive to events with senior ministers, all of which point to occasions at which they will highlight the Government's achievements and announce their policy intentions. Very often, they don't say where the event is happening, while some are rearranged, or even cancelled, at short notice.

Like most would be, I'm secretly flattered to be asked to meet senior politicians. I am, however, a bit circumspect about these occasions. They remind me of the event in the 'Big Conversation' series I was invited to last summer. Again held at short notice, it turned out to be a short walk from home and my office in Lambeth, so I didn't have to reorganise my entire day.

With notification of the venue just a couple of days before the event came an urgent request to propose some service users who could contribute.

Ever helpful, we found a couple of interested and articulate people affected by cancer, and turned up on a sunny morning. If this was a 'Big' conversation, it would be interesting to see a 'Small' one. There were three dozen of us, all hand-picked. The group included two residents of the borough (I was one) and - in Brixton - almost every one of us was white. Other charity heads, leaders of public sector bodies, think-tank personnel and party functionaries made up the audience.

The minister explained that he would depart from the usual 'Big Conversation' format by first telling us about the Government's plans. So he did - for 45 minutes - leaving us 45 minutes to consider and report our findings on the day's great policy issues.

Did our opinions, some of them strongly if hastily asserted, make a difference to the Government's intentions? The policies unveiled before our opinions were canvassed were announced to the media again that afternoon, entirely unchanged. OK, so I was naive to think this was a real 'Conversation', far less a consultation. But it was depressing that our hand-picked participation was solely to legitimise conclusions we had not remotely influenced.

So thanks for the invitations, guys, but I'm busy until after the election trying to make you hear what Macmillan's constituents want to tell you.

If you want some names to lend authenticity to your policies, look to the lists of your own party faithful.

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