CCHQ needs a Policy Unit
In effect, Tim asked recently here: How will the Party develop policy for the next election?
When we were last in Government, the main body responsible for doing so was the Downing Street Policy Unit. Its former heads include Brian Griffiths, John Redwood and Ferdinand Mount. The latter's autobiography, Cold Cream, covers his Downing Street years. Blair merged the Unit with the Number 10 Private Office.
So why not re-invent the Policy Unit? Because it's an instrument of government. And the Government is a Coalition, not a Conservative one. A re-cast Number 10 Policy Unit could work only for the Government, not the Party.
Policy development's essential. On paper, political parties must have a sense of mission and progress if they're to advance, anticipate the country's needs, win votes. And in practice, the Party must maintain its own identity if it's not to be swallowed up in the Coalition.
I can see three routes forward. They're not mutually exclusive - and there may be more.
- The voluntary party leadership should quietly approach David Cameron, tell him that it intends to set up a policy development process, ask for backing - and go ahead if it doesn't get it.
- As Tim suggested, the 1922 Executive should raise some money, and use it to support its backbench committees as policy-developing bodies.
- David Cameron should ensure that a Policy Unit is re-established in CCHQ. Greg Clark headed up such a unit between 2001-5, and it laid the ground for much of the social justice drive in present Party policy.
I may be wrong, but I can't see the voluntary party leadership taking a predominant interest in policy development. And I don't think the '22 Executive should simply go ahead regardless. The best option is for it to discuss the matter with the leadership, suggest that a Policy Unit's revived at CCHQ, but make it clear that if one isn't in place in a year they'll take up Tim's suggestion.
I don't want to encourage a punch-up between David Cameron and the '22, but this problem must be dealt with.