By Peter Hoskin
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Change is afoot in Wonkland. ConservativeHome can reveal that Mark MacGregor has been appointed as Deputy Director of Policy Exchange, replacing David Skelton, who has, of course, departed to run a group dedicated to broadening the Conservative Party’s appeal in the North and elsewhere. Mr MacGregor will operate alongside the recently appointed Director of Policy Exchange, Dean Godson.
Many of you will recognise Mr MacGregor’s name from the party’s near past. He was, and then wasn’t, Chief Executive of CCHQ during the tumultuous Iain Duncan Smith years. And he went on to manage Steven Norris’s campaign for the London mayoralty in 2004. Since 2007, he’s been in the private sector, as CEO of Connect Support Services, an IT company which, incidentally, was founded by Adam Afriyie.
Mr MacGregor’s return to Westminster means that Policy Exchange now has quite a collection of modernising former party advisers at its disposal, including Sean Worth and James O'Shaughnessy. Their continuing influence is assured.
By Peter Hoskin
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I'm told that Godson was appointed by Policy Exchange yesterday afternoon. He is at present Head of the think-tank's Security Unit, and was previously the Daily Telegraph's Chief Leader Writer. He is also the author of Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism (Harper Collins, 2004).
Godson succeeds Neil O'Brien who, as Tim Montgomerie reported last year, was appointed as a Special Adviser to George Osborne. It's an interesting shift of direction for Policy Exchange, since Godson's expertise is in security issues, rather than the think tank's familiar home ground of public service reform.
By Paul Goodman
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Tim Montgomerie yesterday offered congratulations to George Osborne, and commiserations to Policy Exchange, on respectively gaining and losing Neil O'Brien. Seconded. As Tim wrote, "Team Cameron is succeeding in recruiting the calibre of people that it needs to maximise its effectiveness".
By Paul Goodman
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Policy Exchange's housing plan might have been written to offend vested interests...
In our Comment Section today, Alex Morton of Policy Exchange urges the creation of a Secretary of State of Housing in the coming reshuffle, so that this new Cabinet appointment can drive through radical planning reform. He also argues that the current centralised system has failed and that localism will succeed: under his scheme, set out in the think-tank's paper Cities for Growth and in previous Policy Exchange papers, planning would be taken away from local councils and given to local communities.
In short, these would vote on development proposals for their own backyards, and yes votes would bring compensation for those affected. NIMBYs would thus have an incentive to become YIMBYs - Yes-In-My-Back-Yardies. Local plans would be stripped down. Section 106 agreements would go. Quality control would be more about local material, less about high density and zero car spaces. When supported locally, building would be easier on brown field and green field sites - but there would be a green belt improvement levy to improve the parts of it that aren't built on.
By Paul Goodman
There being no dominant political story today - as Audit Commission bosses reel from being sacked by Eric Pickles, and the Treasury limbers up for its next tussles over Trident and welfare - it's time to turn to the Guardian. The paper clears space today for Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of the Spirit Level, to complain that their work is being savaged. The report cites the Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange, and Toby Young and Ed West of the Daily Telegraph.
According to the Guardian -
"Wilkinson was shocked by what he believes is part of a worrying trend in political discourse, also happening in the US, where a few people, often attached to right wing institutes, have set themselves up as professional wreckers of ideas. "Do they even believe what they are saying?" he said today. "I suppose it doesn't matter if their claims are right or wrong; it is about sowing doubt in people's minds."
But think-tanks and journalists can't wreck ideas. They can only test them in the court of opinion, which is as it should be. The jury (that's to say, the public) is more than capable of making up its own mind. Furthermore, it's deeply insulting - as well as wrong - to suggest that Policy Exchange and the Taxpayers' Alliance don't believe in their own work. What would the Spirit Level authors say if the same was said of them?
In sum, Wilkinson and Pickett's arguments are either strong enough to bear scrutiny, or they're not. If they want to play the game, they must expect to be tackled. (And both think-tanks were operating well within the rules.) If our sensitive academics can't cope on the pitch, they should return to the dressing room - and take an early bath.
On Sunday ConHome published a statement of support for a LibCon coalition from the Tory Reform Group.
Another important pressure group within the party, Conservative Way Forward, has called for the Tories to go-it-alone in minority government. The CWF statement signed by its Chairman Don Porter - who, until recently, led the party's voluntary wing - and its Senior Executive Mark Allatt, also says that there is no doorstep demand for electoral reform.
The Thatcherite CWF's full statement is pasted below:
"We have observed the recent negotiations with considerable concern. The executives of CWF would like to convey the following key points on the way forward.
It is high time that the voice of the volunteers within the party is heard and listened to. We are not prepared to sit and observe while the daily dramas unfold."Tim Montgomerie
I remember meeting some parents of inner city kids a few years ago. They told me that the whole system was weighted against them. Kids who misbehaved at school got more attention from teachers. Teenagers who terrorised the community were let off again and again by the police. "Welfare layabouts" were as well off as those do took low-paid jobs. People rarely got caught if they fiddled the system and those that did weren't punished. There was no reward for those families who did the right thing.
A society cannot survive if it is not built on people of good character. Many laissez faire conservatives argue against any government role in civilising young people but the costs of dysfunctionality are borne by every taxpayer. We all have an interest in reducing that dysfunctionality and promoting good character. We do so first by doing no harm (eg by stopping the disincentives to form two parent families) and second, and more controversially, by promoting good character (eg incentives to volunteer and donate to good causes).
"I know this is tricky territory for a politician. We're not exactly paragons of virtue ourselves. But to those who think politics should stay away from issues of character and behaviour, I say this: When there are more than 120,000 deaths each year related to obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug misuse. When millions of schoolchildren miss out on learning because their classmates are constantly disruptive. When British families are drowning in nearly one and a half trillion pounds worth of personal debt. And then ask yourself: do any of these problems relate to personal choices that people make? Or are they all somehow soluble by top down government action, unrelated to what people actually choose to do? Can we hope to solve these problems if we just ignore character and behaviour?"
The question of the "how" is what Cameron begins to address in his speech to Demos and talks about policy action to promote families and good schools in particular. Read a full PDF of the speech.
I hope Demos won't be a major influence on this agenda. This Left-wing think tank has courted the Conservatives in recent times as they have striven to 'stay in business' during a period of Tory ascendancy. Their opposition to support for marriage suggests to me that they don't 'get it'.
PS When I set up the Renewing One Nation unit (the predecessor to the CSJ) inside Conservative HQ in 2000 we had three aims: Investing in Families, Strengthening Communities and, most relevant today, Building Character. David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Gary Streeter and David Lidington were our principal sponsors at that time. My colleagues were Peter Franklin, Robert Halfon, Guy Hordern, Cameron Watt and Karen West. It is encouraging to these ideas taking off under David Cameron's leadership.
By way of further footnote our renewingoinenation.com website domain wasn't maintained and now promotes Thigh High Red Boots!
The TPA - working with Roger Helmer MEP - have already explored the cost of EU membership angle but entering the cinema market is a big leap forward. Good luck to Matthew Elliott and his brilliant team.
> The campaign coincides with the release of a book by Lee Rotherham that looks ahead to a Britain that has left the EU. An amazing 22,000 copies of the book have already been ordered. Extracts were published on CentreRight throughout last week.
In meeting that challenge they are getting somewhat conflicting advice from centre right think tanks. The TaxPayers' Alliance and Reform are urging “meat not mood” with regard to intentions. Policy Exchange and the Centre for Policy Studies argue that big principles rather than long lists are more what is required.
In April, Reform's report ‘Back to Black’ set out £30 billion of cuts and argued that no budget should be protected. The TPA (with the Institute of Directors) published a report last week that set out £50bn of spending cuts. This week, Reform's Lucy Parsons welcomed Vince Cable's list of £14bn of spending cuts which Reform had published. She concluded that "his proposals will do much to engage the public in the tough choices the UK faces" and concluded that it was "the kind of credible plan that the public is still waiting to see from the Conservative Party.”
Andrew Lilico, Chief Economist of Policy Exchange, had already set out a different viewpoint (also on CentreRight). He argued against an explicit list of cuts – partly because of the sheer scale of deficit reduction that is going to be necessary. He calculates that a £100bn adjustment will be necessary to take Britain back towards sustainability. Lilico argued that “cross-cutting themes” including a “general policy towards public sector pay, pensions or the general approach to procurement” should play a much larger role than specific cut suggestions.
Andrew Lilico’s argument is backed by Jill Kirby of the Centre for Policy Studies. Talking to ConservativeHome, he CPS Director said that direction of travel is more important than a ‘shopping list’ of cuts. It should be remembered that –also facing a dismal economic inheritance - Margaret Thatcher did not set out line-by-line cuts but made strong arguments about her intentions. She said that exercises by think tanks (and our own ‘StarChamber’,) were still “very useful” for an incoming government but politicians did not need to specify which they would sign up to. The TPA agrees that the Tories do not need to publish an exhaustive list of cuts but examples that add up to double-figure billions are necessary in order to gain credibility with the public and the media.
Policy Exchange’s Neil O’Brien worries that ‘big lists’ are difficult to translate into government. Many of the necessary cuts will only be clear when Cameron/Osborne are in government and after the whole of Whitehall has been enlisted in a delegated search for efficiency. O’Brien also worries about crude across-the-board freezes in public sector pay when the last decade’s growth in pay has not been across-the-board. Pay for health-related workers has gone up twice as fast as for the police, for example. Should all now suffer equally? No.
David Cameron and George Osborne have made their intentions clear in some important regards. There are five areas of particular clarity:
In my mind there are three things that the Conservative Party still needs to do: (1) It has not made it sufficiently clear that the next few years are going to be painful; (2) It has not reassured that any tax rises will be temporary and (3) We haven’t yet had a big ‘to-the-camera moment’ that can be used in the years ahead to say ‘we have a mandate to make these difficult cuts’.
Taking those three points in quick succession:
(1) THE NEXT FEW YEARS ARE GOING TO BE PAINFUL
George Osborne’s speech to Demos in August was a mistake in this regard. He came close to saying that public service reform would be enough to put things painlessly right. That’s the wrong strategic message.
(2) ANY TAX RISES WILL BE TEMPORARY
The Conservatives (somewhat dubiously) have protested that they are not even discussing tax options. When they do discuss tax options they need to insert sunset clauses into what they propose. Every Tory message on the budget must show that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
(3) THE BIG TRUTH-TELLING MOMENT
David Cameron needs a look-into-the-camera moment that gives him the mandate for the tough times ahead. I’m thinking of something like George H W Bush’s 1988 ‘Read my lips’ passage. It’s not an ideal example because Bush reneged on his promise but Bush made a promise to keep taxes down. Cameron will be making a very different promise – of austerity. My point is it needs to be a high-impact moment of candour.
What the Conservative Party needs most of all is what Lord Lawson has called a doctor's mandate. The patient knows that it is ill and that illness has produced a fear of the future. The patient does not need to know exactly how the doctor intends to make them better but they need to know that there will be a period of discomfort associated with the medicine, a period of convalescence and then every prospect of a return to full health.
Tim Montgomerie* Honesty about intentions and size of victory do not have to be in conflict.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson has spoken to a conference organised by London's new Legatum think tank today and urged a split between banks that perform retail and investment banking functions.
According to a press release from Legatum (I do not have Lord Lawson's full text), "he called on the Government to split up the banks, saying that, ‘plain vanilla’ banking, (high street banking) should be split up and regulated, but that the rest of the financial sector should be allow to operate under a light touch regime on the understanding that there would be no help from the taxpayer for those who gambled and lost."
He said that banks had forgotten economic history and thought that the good times would roll and roll. "We know from history," Lord Lawson said, "the bigger the binge the bigger the hangover".
Writing on CentreRight recently, David Green of Civitas outlined a model of small retail banks that could invest in their localities.
PS Do keep an eye on the Legatum think tank. I'm confident that it is going to be a big gain for the centre right community in Britain. Although it has a global remit - with a focus on prosperity, civil society and international justice and security issues - it is determined to put deep roots down in London. It held a conference today on the future of capitalism and with the Henry Jackson Society is holding an important conference on Iran on Thursday. One of its team members, Ryan Streeter, wrote for ConservativeHome yesterday on the need for Britain to renew its enterprise culture. Much more about Legatum on its website.