By Paul Goodman
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The intention had always been that, at some point mid-Parliament, these committees would "go live" – in other words, start receiving submissions about what should be in the next manifesto. Next, those committees will consider what they've received. And finally, they will draw up manifesto recommendations, which will be presented to Oliver Letwin (or someone else, if Letwin's not in charge of the manifesto at that point). There are five of these backbench policy committees, and the subject areas they cover are divided up as follows:
The Economy: John Redwood.
Home Affairs and the Constitution: Eleanor Laing.
Public Services: Steve Baker.
Foreign Affairs: Edward Leigh.
The Environment and Local Government: Neil Parish.
Tim Montgomerie recommended the '22 raise money and fund its own policy unit. Senior figures on the committee felt that to so would be like creating a party within a party, and thus didn't. However you feel about the matter, it highlights the unusual nature of the next manifesto process. Because the party is in coalition, it can't rely on the Downing Street policy unit (which in any event is largely staffed by civil servants: a mistake). The '22 groups will thus be short of staff to back up their work, which helps to explain why some are talking to think-tanks.
I gather that the Centre for Policy Studies and Civitas are among those showing an interest, and that some of the '22 groups have begun talking to senior party members about drawing on the views and talents of the voluntary party. This raises the question of how the groups will dovetail with the Conservative Policy Forum, which is already doing its own policy work on the next manifesto. ConservativeHome work on its own Strong and Compassionate manifesto project continues.