By Mark Wallace
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The news today that Graeme Wilson, Deputy Political Editor of The Sun, has been appointed as press secretary is one result of that process.
It's a good choice - Graeme has a great nose for a story, and just as importantly is extremely likeable. Not everyone in the Lobby gets on with each other, to put it mildly, so it is both important and tricky to secure a candidate who is universally liked.
There are two interesting aspects to flag up. The first is that while parts of the left predictably moan about "another Murdoch man" being hired, it isn't that simple. As well as Murdoch's supposed control of individual journalists being very much exaggerated, Wilson hasn't always worked at The Sun. Indeed, he spent ten years writing for other papers before joining it - several of them at the Daily Telegraph.
I'm presuming that the headline on this article is what John Rentoul would call a QTWTAIN. But over at Labour List Mark Ferguson is convinced that Ed Miliband will soon have the power to close it down - and that David Cameron will have the same power over this website. Ferguson's anxieties stem from the bill on lobbying and transparency which will come before the Commons when it returns in September. Today, the Sunday Times puts that claim in context from behind its paywall. Charities are up in arms about the bill, which it claims will curb their campaigning.
The nub of the matter is the difference between campaigning with a political dimension and campaigning for a political party - one which can sometimes be elusive. The paper claims that the bill will slap a limit on what charities can spend to promote causes they support during a general election, and place new registration conditions on them. The Cabinet Office is quoted as saying: “The intention is to bring greater transparency where third parties campaign in a way which supports a particular political party or its candidates.”
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.