Simply separating the Conservative Party into a Left and Right, and then trying to navigate it, would be a bit like using the Fra Mauro Map as an international route planner. The 2020 Group is probably best seen not in this way, but in terms of its relationship with the Party leadership. The driving force behind its instigation was Greg Barker, one of David Cameron’s earliest backers, and its consistent mission has been to revive the ideals, optimism and zest of the early Cameron project – with the active support of Downing Street. Matthew Barrett named George Freeman, Nadhim Zahawi and Claire Perry as co-founding the group with Barker in 2011. (The Climate Change Minister has form with initiatives to organise Tory MPs in support of the leadership.)
Number 10 is therefore well aware of, and is backing, the group’s latest initiative: a manifesto project. Essentially, this will divide into three parts: an economic section, in which Freeman and Laura Sandys will be leading figures; a social one, organised by Damian Hinds and Andrea Leadsom, and ideas on government and governance masterminded by Nick Herbert and Zahawi. We can expect a publication from Sandys as early as next week. There is a timetable for these groups to publish their proposals, but it looks as though they will have several bites at the cherry. The economic group, for example, will float ideas both during the spring and at Party Conference. Other MPs involved include: Harriet Baldwin, Therese Coffey, Charlie Elphicke, Mark Garnier, John Glen, Ben Gummer, Margot James, and David Ruffley. It is doubtless invidious to single anyone out, but James Morris, who has a strong record of campaigning on mental health issues, will be writing: that very much communicates the flavour.
How does all this activity fit together with the official manifesto process overseen by Jo Johnson – Policy Board, Policy Unit and all? The official answer is: not at all, and it is certainly true that the whole exercise has a let-a-hundred-flowers-bloom flavour about it. But I expect that Johnson and the team will hoover up anything they find promising. (After all, there would be little point in the exercise were this not the case.) Readers will have noticed something about the names: overwhelmingly, they’re from the 2010 intake. The 2010 is certainly setting the pace on manifesto suggestions, and now all it has to do is deliver. Question: will other backbench groups follow suit – Free Enterprise, the 301, and so on? (ConservativeHome will itself have something to say on manifesto ideas in due course.)