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Iain Anderson: Five months and five ideas to reshape and bring more purpose and clarity to this Government

Screen Shot 2012-10-11 at 04.55.43Iain Anderson is co-founder of Cicero Group and is an expert in global political risk and economic public policy issues. He was worked for a range of Conservative policymakers. He writes in a personal capacity. Follow Iain on Twitter.

Commentary on the state of the Government - and Conservative fortunes within it - is starting to resemble that of the Eurozone crisis. Like that crisis everyone knows what needs to be done, but no one seems to be able to do it. It’s like knowing there is a slow motion car crash about to happen but everyone seems afraid to grab the wheel and steer a better course.

Competence is a fragile thing in politics. Voters understand the economics have dealt the Government a cruel hand. But clearly they want to know that their government is in control of events rather than the other way round.

For me, the next five months leading up to the Budget are crucial. For they will set the dial permanently on the Coalition and its fortunes.

A lot of "electronic" ink has been spilt in the last few days analysing David Cameron’s government. By March, that commentary will have become the accepted wisdom taking us to the General Election. There is time to change the political weather. The Prime Minister gets endless advice, but here are five ideas that can be made to work quickly.

Time to think... tank

The Prime Minister got the tenor of his conference speech just right. But that now needs to translate into policy action. Being on the side of those who work hard and do their best has to be the political test for all policy initiatives, and especially for the March Budget. So that must point towards giving middle Britain the right personal and fiscal incentives to continue to strive.

Rather than relying on Whitehall, the Chancellor should get out into think tank land and beyond to find the better ideas. There is a danger of running out of steam - and the commentators will seize on that. Whether it is Reform, the IEA, Policy Exchange or even IPPR, there is a wealth of ideas out there which I don’t think the Government is considering, or even has on the agenda. The Free Enterprise Group might be the best place to start.

Invigorate the Number 10 Policy Unit

On a similar theme, the time has come to beef up the No10 Policy Unit. I understood the Government’s initial desire to show it was gripping the costs of Whitehall and reducing overheads on special advisers in its early days. However, this has come at the price of being able to seek out the best ideas and to test them rigorously at the centre of the political machine. A powerful Policy Unit would provide the Prime Minister with the ammunition to drive through his political narrative with more force.

Bigger tent politics - project ministers who are getting it right

A long-standing criticism of the Cameron project from the outset has been its supposed "cliquey" nature. This is overplayed, but I think there is a need now to widen the talent pool at the centre of Government. Bring in more skills and experience which can add both to the development of good ideas and their projection. Rather than relying on a narrow number of core spokespeople, start to project those ministers who are getting it right and who chime with ordinary aspirations.  

It was great to see Theresa May fronting broadcast coverage at the weekend. She has shown firmness of touch in Government. Michael Fallon gets the message across and Liz Truss is in the right place at the right time to talk about core household concerns. Project them, and also bring in the backbenches to front the message more often. A bigger tent might bring a more cohesive mission to the parliamentary party.

Master strategist

Tim Montgomerie is right. The No10 machine needs a master strategist and now is exactly the time to bring this person in. Looking only at the 2015 general election and combining it with the political lens of what's good for "strivers" would be the sole purpose of the role. Lynton Crosby would be a good choice, but there are others. I found myself having a couple of conversations at conference with serious people who I believe would be excellent. They stand willing to help the Prime Minister.


In the immediate aftermath of David Cameron’s conference speech, on ConHome, I called for a Chief Operating Officer for Government. My email and phone lit up with comments and ideas. In fact, someone in Government did point out to me that Stephen Kelly has recently been brought into Whitehall to fulfil just such a role for the Cabinet Office. 

I welcome that move, but I stick with my central premise. We need a COO close to the Prime Minister at Number 10, and I think LOCOG Chief Executive, Lord Deighton, who is just about to join the Government, may be just the man to do it.

So there we are - five ideas to bring more purpose, clarity and show a clear direction to government. 

Last weekend I went to the National Theatre to watch This House - the brilliant new James Graham play about the 1974-79 Parliament. I could not help but think: there is still time. There really is.


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