Opinion: Left speechless at the events

Lisa Harker, who is chair of the Daycare Trust, but writes in a personal capacity

It's six months before the most likely date of the General Election, and the round of autumn conferences have more than the usual political edge to them. Speeches and debates will be scrutinised for ideas that could be set out in manifestos.

In the next month, two influential organisations on the left are organising major events. First Compass, an independent organisation established to rejuvenate political thinking, is holding its first national conference, which it describes as "a unique opportunity for all those on the democratic left to ambitiously discuss far-reaching, radical and transformative left-of-centre policies for a third term".

Then Progress, whose members are card-carrying Labour Party supporters and trade unionists, is holding its own one-day event, open to members and non-members alike. The conference also promises debate about the changes necessary to build a more progressive Britain.

Both conferences will be addressed by members of the Cabinet and those with a close eye on the content of Labour's manifesto. They will be an opportunity for delegates to test the political temperature, swot up on the latest developments and, of course, contribute to the debates that will inform Labour's thinking.

Yet, there are barely any representatives from the voluntary sector speaking at either conference, despite the fact that the agendas are full of issues to which the sector makes a major contribution. If the voluntary sector is going to influence policy in areas such as service delivery and citizenship, then its voice must be heard at these kinds of events.

November is also the NCVO's annual political conference. This offers those in the sector a chance to brush up on their lobbying skills and to hear from each of the main political parties.

Many in the sector will be eager to pick up tips about how they can ensure that their concerns are heard by politicians. But as well as boning up on the theory, voluntary organisations need to be putting it into practice.

Joining in the main political debating forums this autumn would be a good place to start.

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