Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons’ Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell’s Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
It is often said that the Right won the battle of ideas in the 1980s
and 1990s thanks to the groundwork done by the Centre for Policy
Studies, Institute of Economic Affairs and Adam Smith Institute, among
The excellent first two episodes of the BBC’s series "Tory! Tory!
Tory!" shows how the fusion of philosophical underpinning, funding,
research and promotion of ideas helped embolden the Conservatives for
almost two decades. Episode One of "Tory! Tory! Tory!" was broadcast on
Monday evening on BBC2 and, World Cup schedules permitting, Episode Two
will be broadcast this Monday evening. It is such a good programme that
you have to pinch yourself that it was made by the BBC (although
Episode Three falls back into the usual trap of BBC journalism of
whining leftism and blaming Thatcher for all of society’s ills).
This three-part series highlights the importance of not only coming up
with the right ideas, but promoting and acting upon them effectively.
There remains a considerable body of research being published by a
number of think-tanks in Britain today but much of that research is
either pie-in-the-sky and politically unattainable or written in such
cerebral tones that even David Willetts would need to develop a third
brain to understand it.
In the United States, there are a number of groups that translate
philosophically pure theses written by academics in their ivory-clad
towers into a format that is capable of being understood and digested
by civil servants, politicians, advisors, activists and – most
importantly – electors.
There is little doubt that the work done by the Heritage Foundation and
the Competitive Enterprise Institute is philosophically sound and that
its fellows, staff and researchers are ideologically pure and
intelligent individuals. Nonetheless their publications – while
underpinned by the purists’ research – are presented clearly, logically
and with a laid out pathway from A to B so as to achieve the aims of
This makes considerable sense. Heritage and the CEI recognise that
legislators, civil servants and their advisors have considerable
demands on their time. For them to "do the right thing", the "right
thing" needs to be explained as simply as possible. Getting from where
we are to where we want to be is set out step by step. Often draft
legislation is provided. Voter-friendly poster and viral email
campaigns are devised. Unreliable legislators are fax-blasted and
pressured in other ways to ensure they do not scupper the passage of
the reforms in question. Philosophically complex notions are translated
into every day policies with a professionalism that we can only admire.
But why should we only admire that professionalism? Surely we can emulate it?
For people to endure sitting through a political meeting, the chairman
and speaker(s) must make that meeting as interesting as possible
otherwise the listener’s mind switches off. My Latin teacher at prep
school, affectionately known as Bod, didn’t manage this very well and
instead we became proficient at pencil cricket. My A-level History
teacher, Anthony Seldon, on the other hand, inspired my interest in
history and was instrumental in helping me achieve an A grade.
Even though the conservative movement in the UK is not as strong or
financially well-resourced as the movement in the US, that does not
mean that we should not try harder to replicate this particular
approach from across the Pond. Some groups are already very good at
turning impenetrable dissertations from policy wonks into
understandable English that can be digested intellectually in bite size
chunks. Reform and the Taxpayers’ Alliance deserve particular credit.
Where there is a yawning gap is in translating outstanding, necessary
and worthy research produced by the likes of the European Foundation,
IEA or CPS into policies understandable by politicians, activists or
voters. Those executive summaries then need to be turned into campaigns
by activist groups such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Young Britons’
Foundation and party pressure groups such as Conservative Way Forward.
Groups such as the Society of Conservative Lawyers ought to be
producing draft legislation so that once the Conservative Party takes
power, not only will it have won the argument and know what to do, it
will know how to do it.
If we don’t do this, I am confident we can still win power. My concern,
however, is that we will not know what to do when we win power because
even our political elites have given too little thought to what to do,
how to sell it and how to enact it. It is therefore up to us, the
activists and movement leaders, to help them do what needs be to done
so we do not throw away the chance we are given if and when we return
Previous entry in this series: You can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent