By Harry Phibbs
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It is true the Lib Dems often act as a drag on this Government. Yet the Government has still been surprisingly radical in the scale of its reform programme. We are just over the half way point of this Parliament and so we can expect still more to be achieved. However, already consideration is being given to the Conservative Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Such people as the Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and the Treasury Special Advisor Neil O'Brien are understood to be already on the case.
The Conservative Policy Forum has been revived, with their proposals going direct to Mr Letwin, who is their Chairman. Given the prohibitive cost of attending the Party Conference, this opportunity to give the Party grassroots a fair hearing is all the more important.
We also have more Tory MPs who are interested in policy than ever before and there are more think tanks producing policies consistent with Conservative philosophy. The ambition, of course, is that the Manifesto will form a programme that will be enacted by the first Conservative Government for a generation.
By Paul Goodman
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The intention had always been that, at some point mid-Parliament, these committees would "go live" - in other words, start receiving submissions about what should be in the next manifesto. Next, those committees will consider what they've received. And finally, they will draw up manifesto recommendations, which will be presented to Oliver Letwin (or someone else, if Letwin's not in charge of the manifesto at that point). There are five of these backbench policy committees, and the subject areas they cover are divided up as follows:
The Economy: John Redwood.
Home Affairs and the Constitution: Eleanor Laing.
Public Services: Steve Baker.
Foreign Affairs: Edward Leigh.
The Environment and Local Government: Neil Parish.
Tim Montgomerie recommended the '22 raise money and fund its own policy unit. Senior figures on the committee felt that to so would be like creating a party within a party, and thus didn't. However you feel about the matter, it highlights the unusual nature of the next manifesto process. Because the party is in coalition, it can't rely on the Downing Street policy unit (which in any event is largely staffed by civil servants: a mistake). The '22 groups will thus be short of staff to back up their work, which helps to explain why some are talking to think-tanks.
I gather that the Centre for Policy Studies and Civitas are among those showing an interest, and that some of the '22 groups have begun talking to senior party members about drawing on the views and talents of the voluntary party. This raises the question of how the groups will dovetail with the Conservative Policy Forum, which is already doing its own policy work on the next manifesto. ConservativeHome work on its own Strong and Compassionate manifesto project continues.
By Paul Goodman
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What should a manifesto be? Should it be an impressionistic sketch - all ideals, values, and themes, but with little hard policy? Or should be a detailed blueprint - a mass of whirring policy wheels and cogs? This was one of the questions that a panel of Mark Littlewood of the IEA; Paul Maynard, the MP for Blackpool North, and Sean Worth - the former senior Downing Street staffer who's now at Policy Exchange - and I grappled with yesterday. We did so at the invitation and in the company of the Conservative Policy Forum, the Party body charged with helping to draw up the next manifesto, under the charge of Oliver Letwin.
About 80 party activists were there, including Dr Spencer Pitfield, its Director, and Fiona Hodgson, one its two Vice-Chairs and a force behind the CPF's revival. The conference was, I would say, younger, less male and less white than is usually the case at party gatherings. It looked rather southern-flavoured to me - but then again, we were meeting in Bristol. Since the gathering contained a fair sprinkling of councillors, a lot of those present will have knocked on a lot of doors, and thus were well aware of the difference between having a policy that looks good on paper, and having one that will sell on the doorstep. The panel's brief was to lead a discussion on the next Conservative manifesto.
By Jonathan Isaby
Earlier, Natalie Elphicke wrote about the re-launch of the Conservative Policy Forum at en event in Birmingham today, whilst party activists Tony Devenish and Stephen Sobey have just posted their account of the day here.
In a speech opening the day's proceedings, party co-chairman Baroness Warsi took the opportunity to explain how during her first eight months in the role she has been working to bring the voluntary party more closely into the political process:
"Our Members are our strongest supporters and our biggest asset. They are the ones who go out and lead our campaigns. They are the ones who pin on the blue rosette, come rain or shine. And they are the ones who ultimately have to make the case for our policies to the public, on doorstep after doorstep. So we need to bring them more closely into the political process. We’ve already taken a number of steps to do that:
In terms of the re-establishment of the CPF, she looked back on how the CPC strengthened the Conservative Family when it was set up in the 1940s and promoted a two-way movement of ideas, and said that she wanted the re-launched CPF to do the same:
by Paul Goodman
It's clearly important that the Party has its own policy-making programme up and running well before the next election - and that it isn't merged by stealth with that of the Liberal Democrats. (The Downing Street Policy Unit can make policy only for the Coalition, not the Party.)
This is why I wrote recently that Graham Brady, the 1922 Committee Chairman, should issue David Cameron an ultimatum next summer if Downing Street has, by then, made no move to form party policy for the next election.
Today, there's encouraging news to report.
Oliver Letwin has written a letter to all MPs headed: "Conservative Party policy development". Its main points are -
by Paul Goodman
Earlier this year, I asked how Party policy was to be developed for the next election - since the Government's official machinery, such as the Downing Street Policy Unit, works for the Coalition, not the Party.
I identified three non-mutually exclusive options, as follows -
I also wrote: "I may be wrong, but I can't see the voluntary party leadership taking a predominant interest in policy development."
What's happened since?
The 1922 Committee has the opportunity to build on the start that Redwood and his committee have made. Tim suggested during the summer that the Committee should raise some money, model campaign excellence, champion the voluntary party - and develop policy.
Some MPs and Party members fear that David Cameron doesn't really want progress on this front at all, because he's hoping for a joint Coalition front at the next election, and therefore a joint manifesto with the Liberal Democrats. Nick Boles wants the Coalition to last beyond the next election. This week, he was joined by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
There's no great rush, but if obfuscatory noises are coming out of Downing Street at, say, this time next year, the Chairman of the '22 should quietly have a word with the Prime Minister, and tell him that the Committee will begin its own policy development process the following summer, if there's no movement from Number Ten in the meantime.
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.
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.
Oliver Letwin has been an enormous influence on Project Cameron. The first of Michael Howard's shadow cabinet to back David Cameron for the Tory leadership he has played a pivotal role in setting the party's strategic direction. Caution on tax, an emphasis on climate change, social justice and 'not banging on about Europe' all have Letwin's fingerprints all over them.
Noone works more closely with David Cameron's number one adviser, Steve Hilton.
Mr Letwin is just one of two shadow cabinet ministers to sit in David Cameron's leadership suite - the other being George Osborne.
Mr Letwin - now directing policy for the Conservative Party - has told today's Daily Politics show on BBC1 that it's very unlikely that an ordinary voter would be able to name even one of his party's policies:
DAILY POLITICS REPORTER ROSS HAWKINS : "Which of your individual policies do you think that somebody who isn't involved in politics is going to know? If we went and asked people..."
OLIVER LETWIN <INTERRUPTS>: "Very few. Probably none. My own view is that formulating policies in opposition is a fantastically important thing to do becaue if you get elected they will be the things that actually lead to a successful govt or otherwise. But I don't believe that you fight and win elections primarily on people going to websites and reading every last detail of your policy on x or y. I don't suffer from that delusion."
REPORTER: "So if we went out onto the streets now and asked 200 people if they could name a single Conservative policy and none of them could, that wouldn't worry you?"
LETWIN: "No and I think if you went and asked them the same question about Labour or Liberal policy you'd find the same. Most people are just not very interested in the details of policy."
It is, of course, true that October 2007's inheritance tax policy had a massive impact on Tory fortunes but it's true that most voters don't pay a lot of attention to policy. As I suggested on Saturday, moderation of style is probably a lot more important than moderation of policy in reassuring the electorate (if reassurance is the goal).