Benjamin Harris-Quinney is the new Chairman of the Bow Group. Previously he was Political Officer and Chairman of the Foreign Policy & Security Committee. You can find out more at Bow Forward or by following Bow Forward on Twitter.
A week after Lady Thatcher’s 86th birthday, one of the institutions that formed a pillar of the philosophy of her government, and of many before it, faces a crisis of existence.
The Bow Group is sixty years old this year, and rather than a celebration of its great history, the institution is battling is on the precipice of its own demise.
While the group may have been for many years a vibrant hotbed of conservative thought, of immeasurable value to the prosperity of the Conservative Party, the nation and the Commonwealth, it has consistently failed to apply many of the principles it espoused to the saviour of our nation, to save itself.
It is no advert for conservatism to compare the Bow Group to its long standing opposite and rival, the Fabian Society.
While the Fabians have become an immensely powerful institution, wealthy, stable, competitive, king maker to Labour leaders and Prime Ministers, the foundation stone of one of our finest universities, the Bow Group has increasingly become an also-ran, first in wealth and stability, and then inevitably in thought and influence.
It is not my view that the Bow Group has fallen into peril suddenly, but that rather in failing to modernise and reform to acknowledge the change in the political world in the last decade, a cycle of decline has been evident over a number of years.
As a result, a negative culture has permeated within the group, accepting of the decline and welcoming to a lower quality of effort and output.
Westminster has become one of the world’s most competitive markets for NGOs and think tanks, and while many including the Fabian Society have professionalised their structure and adapted to the challenges of this competition as the market dictated, the Bow Group has remained rooted in the past.
I have a great interest in history and I must confess that is what drew me to the Bow Group, to preserve an element of the Conservative Party’s past, but that cannot be what continues to draw people.
There must be the present and future potential for the organisation and its members to have a say in what’s being done in the Party and in government.
One of the great strengths of the Bow Group has been the ability to draw from a wide membership base to contribute thought, commentary and influential research.
That strength remains, but in the modern world where even the twenty-four hour news cycle seems unable to cope with the volume of content, a think-tank cannot go on without a professional attitude and a structure able to react swiftly and incisively.
The Bow Group was once the staunchest defender of free market principles, so we understand that in such a competitive environment, if you cant keep up, you can’t take part.
It is not just a passion for history however that gives me hope that the Bow Group can survive and again flourish.
There is no other group engaged solely with the thought and practice of the Conservative Party, and no other group truly open as a forum to freely debate all strands of conservative thought.
The youth movement in the Conservative Party is lacking in original thought, or a podium on which to present it.
There should be a natural political destination for young aspirant conservative intellectuals.
The conclusion I draw is not that the Bow Group cannot afford to keep itself, but that it must adapt to survive, because the conservative family cannot afford to lose it.