Adam Afriyie is MP for Windsor. He was Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation from 2007 to 2010. He is Chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST), Chairman of the Parliamentary Space Committee, President of the Conservative Technology Forum and Founder of Conservative Friends of Science.
The Coalition Government will conduct a review and report on progress to date in the next few months. The LibDem party is discussing and appraising its views of what comes next for the Coalition Agreement and, historically, almost every political party around world has undertaken some form of mid-term evaluation.
The Conservative Party must be allowed to follow suit. It must be involved in reviewing and renewing the Coalition Agreement so that it can get behind what remains of the Coalition by addressing emerging issues before they create further tensions. At minimum, Conservatives should be permitted to consider the future of their Party’s commitments and report back their recommendations in a structured and considered way. Their views can positively influence what happens next in coalition and reaffirm party unity.
The Coalition Government rightly came together in the national interest to fix the economic mess left by the previous administration. Despite the constraints of coalition, some significant progress has been made both in reducing Labour’s deficit and creating the jobs the country needs.
But changing circumstances are forcing the Coalition to step beyond its original mandate and there are growing concerns about its accountability and legitimacy. When the partners appear to be pulling in different directions on Lords reform and the concept of marriage, and new measures are being introduced outside the scope of the agreement, it is only fair to ask what happens next. Conservative MPs recognise that the withdrawal of the motion on Lords reform is a symptom of growing tensions, when the Government is stepping beyond what was endorsed by the Conservative parliamentary party in 2010.
Mid-term renewals of Coalition agreements are commonplace (see the Institute for Government’s recent report). What we need is a Party review of the Agreement to stand a chance of uniting behind what remains of the Coalition. Such a review should rightly encompass Conservative MPs, peers, MEPs, councillors, the CPF, Associations and voluntary party members through their Associations. It can act as a conduit to provide recommendations and to tease out those ideas that might be more appropriate for a Conservative manifesto. A failure to do so may unnecessarily risk a rising sense of detachment between the leadership and those who elect and support them.
Aside from the greater sense of connection and purpose it would bring, there are other compelling reasons for an immediate party political review of the Coalition Agreement.
Newly emerging issues
As we enter the third year of Coalition, new issues are emerging that require legislation. Banking reform, adult social care, party political funding and legislating on Lords reform were not covered by the 2010 Agreement. To ensure continued harmony these issues must, at minimum, be recognised, prioritised and accepted by the Party before further tensions arise. A party review and renewal will enable the Party to reaffirm its confidence in the direction of travel and a commitment to support new measures as they emerge.
Resolute focus on the National Interest
Our country is in desperate need of jobs and economic growth. Recent polls confirm that people are primarily concerned about their income and livelihoods. They feel that politicians are out of touch. It is rightly felt that Westminster politicians should not be wasting time debating the finer points of constitutional reform, which is why coalition tensions should be addressed by the Party before they boil over in public.
The country wants a stable and united Government with a clear sense of purpose. This is difficult to achieve in a managerial coalition. With a Party-led review we have the opportunity to give the Conservative part of the Coalition a voice to articulate how it hopes to create jobs and economic growth in the coming years.
The Conservative Party
Having been a grassroots Conservative activist since the 1980s, I know how loyal, hard-working and effective the voluntary party can be. But when I visit Conservative Associations, I pick up a sense that members feel somewhat distanced from their elected parliamentary leaders. Party members are a valued source of their representatives’ power – not a problem to be managed – and their input into coalition policy renewal should be welcomed. It will reinvigorate members and make for a healthier Party.
The views of party members on the next part of the Coalition, if valued and channelled, can help rebuild that distinct sense of identity for the next general election. Loyalty runs deep in the Conservative Party, but it does not extend to the idea of perpetual Coalition. This is why a structured review, in which recommendations are made for the Conservative priorities in Coalition, would reinvigorate the Party and allow it to once again become what we know it can be: a formidable foundation for winning elections.
Mid-term polls rarely make enjoyable reading for governing parties, but we cannot escape the possibility of a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition after the next election if things don’t change. Something must be done before it is too late. We must win the arguments for a more prosperous Britain led by a determined Conservative majority government after the election. Consideration of what the country needs for the remainder of the Coalition is a vital part of that process.