By Harry Phibbs
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They don't wish to call it a manifesto, but the 2020 Group of Conservative MPs have come up with a work in progress towards one. 2020 Vision – An agenda for tranformation is a collection of essays. Some have an individual by-line, some are the joint effort of a group of MPs.
Adam Afriyie has already outlined some of the thinking on economics, but the range of the paper is far wider. The content is a mix of broad themes as well as specific proposals but I suspect Oliver Letwin will find some cherries to pick from for the 2015 manifesto. There are also items which the Government could get on with over the next couple of years.
Here are some of the ideas I like:
- Charles Elphicke offers some proposals on how Judicial Reviews could be scaled back. He argues that Ministers are accountable to Parliament and should be able to get on and take decisions without timewasting challenges based on "mischief."
- Nadhim Zahawi makes the pretty reasonable point that ministers "have no formally recognized control over promotions, rewards or sanctions—of the most basic tools of management in other words. This leaves ministers in the position of being accountable to Parliament for the success or failure of a given project, but with no say over who heads the team brought in to deliver that project."
- "We should consider the difference benefits can make between regions. Benefits in Croydon might not stretch very far but in Middlesbrough the same amount could be a favourable alternative to work."
- "We should consider abolishing the retirement age. If you want to work and can work, you should be allowed to continue to do so. We should dismiss the notion that at a certain age we should stand aside. Saving for retirement should receive greater encouragement, perhaps through the concept of SARA (a savings and retirement account) an ISA and pension combined."
Sometimes the 2020 Group are portrayed as a bit left wing in a Conservative Party context. Certainly they are supportive of David Cameron. But reading the paper one senses a range of views – for instance, some of them clearly have greater confidence in the free market than others.
The subject of the EU is avoided although there was this nod to Euroscepticism:
We believe that the scale of the economic challenge facing ageing western European democracies demands a radical response. The Eurozone nations appear set on using the crisis as an opportunity to drive ever closer union to entrench the federal structure of statist economics. That is unlikely to be right for Britain, where in any case our structural deficit, creaking infrastructure and chronically uncompetitive public services need a profound injection of innovation and new technology.
There is the following proposal on schools:
The length of the school day may need to change. In Hollywood, schools are open from 8am to 6pm, 360 days a year. And if exams are failed, students come back in the holidays to catch up.
Shouldn't this be a matter of choice for schools? Let them experiment and see if standards are improved. The judgment should be on the outcome. Parents should be allowed a real choice of schools. Failing schools should close or be put under new management. But is it really for Michael Gove to tell every school to stay open until 6pm?
George Freeman says that we shouldn't be rude about publc sector workers and in our criticism of public sector performance we should "focus rather less" on our criticisms of low paid employees and "rather more" on the better paid managers. I'm not sure we should blame either. I blame the system. Certainly we should remember that those who work for the public sector are just as likely to be frustrated by red tape, inefficiency, delay and mismanagement as those using public services.
Mr Freeman also says:
Even after appropriate ‘rebalancing’, with Government spending likely to remain at circa 40 percent of the economy, public spending will remain a major part of our economy.
I hope he is wrong and that a lower figure can be achieved. Surely no Conservative should greet with equanimity the prospect of such a large chunk of our income being spent for us by the state?
Some contributions are of a specialist, technical aspect. For example Penny Mordaunt's piece on the Big Society considers how Government grants to charities could provide better value for money, giving the example of the £13 million grant to the Book Trust.
There can never have been a time when Conservative MPs had as much enthusiasm or ability for getting stuck into the detail of policy.