The Parliamentary Conservative Party of 2010 should reinvent itself as a centre for policy development and for modelling the best of political campaigning
David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party but he is also leader of the Coalition government. His Head of Communications - Andy Coulson - now has a Liberal Democrat as his deputy. His Head of Strategy - Steve Hilton - also has a Liberal Democrat constantly at his side. When the Cabinet met earlier in the week to discuss political strategy it was as a Coalition; Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together.
I see a massive role for the 1922 Committee - or, as I recently proposed, the Parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) - in these uncharted waters. Graham Brady and the other recently elected officers of the '22 should be ambitious in (1) policy development, (2) improving the party's campaigning and (3) in representing the interests of the Conservative grassroots.
In policy development the PCP should ensure that the new backbench policy committees are properly resourced. Some Tory donors are unhappy with the Coalition at present. They are particularly angry at CGT plans. It would be a shame if their support was lost to the Conservative Party family. I think it would be perfectly possible for the Parliamentary Party to raise £500,000 or more a year to resource policy development and other work. This is absolutely in the interests of David Cameron. It will increase the policy options that he has at the next election but will also create distance between him and the more radical thinking. As I argued yesterday, it is vital for the Right of the party - which dominates the PCP - to define itself in terms of a future-orientated agenda and not against David Cameron. CCHQ has no external relations unit. The PCP could become the gathering place for the best ideas of the much-neglected conservative movement and think tanks. It would be relatively easy to staff this capacity. Because of the Coalition's self-defeating cap on the number of Special Advisers there are some very talented individuals out-of-work.
The PCP should also take on a role in modelling campaign excellence. Working with the MPs who have been the best vote winners it should develop an independent capacity to advise candidates to fight more successfully. That capacity could include advisors such as Lynton Crosby, Mark Fullbrook and other successful campaigners. All talents not properly used by CCHQ. The campaign unit's first job should be to commission an independent review of the General Election campaign. This campaign unit could also start to think about the referendum campaign on electoral reform; how it should be fought and who should lead it.
A third major role for the PCP should be to champion the voluntary party. The voluntary party was completely excluded from the Coalition negotiations. Nick Clegg held a special meeting of activists to tell them about the deal. Nothing was held for grassroots Conservatives. There are big questions in the months ahead about what it means to be a Tory member. Many of their rights have been eroded since 2005. Who will speak for them? The Party Board has been silent on all these questions. CCHQ is the leader's machine - jointly led by two of Cameron's closest allies. The PCP could develop a role in independent representation of members.
Some in the Cameron circle will see a powerful PCP as a threat to the party leader. They should not. The Conservative Party should not be a centralised machine, controlled by a few individuals, vulnerable to groupthink. It should have other independent hubs for the development of policy and campaign excellence.
TOMORROW IN THIS SERIES: Who - outside the frontbench - best represents the grassroots?
YESTERDAY IN THIS SERIES: The state of the Conservative Right