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Policy Exchange begins its second decade with a focus on the striving classes

By Tim Montgomerie
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Maude Francis November 11A belated happy tenth birthday to the Policy Exchange think tank. Alongside the Centre for Social Justice it has been the most influential centre right think tank of the last decade.

Francis Maude - described by PX's current director Neil O'Brien as the organisation's godfather - delivered a lecture on Wednesday evening to mark the think tank's role in delivering "modernisation".

During the long, hard years in opposition Francis Maude was likened to the Private Fraser of the Conservative Party. He is a much more optimistic figure of late and I recently noted how such a controversial figure in opposition has become one of the Coalition's most effective ministers.

In his speech he looked back on how the Conservative Party had developed in four key directions...
  • The first was what he inelegantly called "groupism" or voluntary collectivism. With the Big Society this is central to today's Conservative Party.
  • Second was localism. Maude is right to say that decentralisation runs through the Coalition's reforms to police, education, health and local government itself.
  • Third was social justice. In this second of the speech Maude acknowledged the contribition of his old adversary, Iain Duncan Smith.
  • Fourthly internationalism. Euroscepticism, he warned, had to avoid become isolationism and it has.

This, of course, is largely uncontroversial and many on the Right will have warmed to the themes he set out later on in his speech - notably the advance of mutualisation and the transforming effect of transparency. The full text of Mr Maude's lecture is here.

Tim Shipman of the Daily Mail wrote a long blog arguing that Francis Maude was quite possibly the most influential Tory of his generation...

"Maude was a moderniser before modernity dawned in the Tory ranks, a Cameroon before David Cameron. He moulded Michael Portillo's leadership ambitions. It was hardly his fault that when Portillo had a chance to grab the crown, he looked into the mirror and realised he didn't want it. That there was a modernising agenda which David Cameron could adopt off the shelf in 2005 is, with respect to Oliver Letwin, primarily the work of Mr Maude."

I have many quarrels with Francis Maude's brand of modernisation and its narrowness was on display again during Wednesday night's event. While he was Chairman of the Conservative Party there was an obsession with the gender, ethncity and sexuality of candidates. Next to no attempt was made to address the deeper problem - that of the class, schooling and regional identity of our party. Conservative HQ still seems obsessed with promoting certain kinds of candidates regardless of their ideological fidelity. We learn today from PoliticsHome, for example, that the gay businessman Ivan Massow is back on the Tory candidates list despite having previously resigned from the party and stood as an independent against the Conservatives. Is he really the best we can recruit or is he simply much better connected than the long-served Tories who've been dropped from the list?

What is more interesting, however, is that the gap between the Conservative Party's two modernising wings has narrowed substantially in recent years. The Soho modernisers of which Maude was a leading light are moving beyond their focus on issues of importance to the metropolitan elite. They have largely won the debates on women candidates, gay rights and the centrality of the NHS. Equally the Easterhouse modernisers are broadening from their focus on domestic and global poverty. To coin a phrase the Soho and Easterhouse modernisers are all now Bolton West modernisers. The focus is on the kind of policies that will get us from 36% in vote share to over 40%. There is an understanding that many of these voters aren't in the leafy south but in urban Britain and in the north and midlands. The more left-leaning modernisers realise that target voters are anxious about the cost of environmental policies and of Europe. The right-leaning modernisers understand that wealthier voters have to bear a big share of the cost of deficit reduction and that the NHS is currently as precious to voters as the BBC and even the Royal family.

It is interesting that Policy Exchange is at the heart of this second phase of modernisation. Stuffed today with state-school educated and many northern researchers it is looking closely at the issues facing people who are in work but struggling to make ends meet. It is to the great credit of PX's Neil O'Brien and Danny Finkelstein that this is the case. The second decade of PX is beginning promisingly.


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