Brian Binley is MP for Northampton South. He is co-author of a new book, A Spotter’s Guide to Sound Conservative Policies.
Never let it be said that Conservatives lack ideas. The vigour and drive that regularly encourages my fellow MPs to push hard-hitting yet self-evidently beneficial Ten Minute Rule Bills demonstrates that the Right is alive and kicking in Westminster. Then of course there is the example of the sheer two-brainery of colleagues such as Steve Baker and John Redwood. Forget the Labour Opposition’s wind power; being in the Commons can be a daunting prospect, observing on nearby benches such intellectual power plants in full flow.
Notwithstanding some notable and high-profile individual exceptions, the Party itself has perhaps been less successful in adopting and running with the ideas of the Right within Government. Sometimes this has been a painful by-product of coalition – assuming of course you accept the founding premise of setting up such a Mephistophelian Pact in the first place. Even if you think it was correct to choose that route, you must surely though agree that compromise has stifled ingenuity.
Now as we look forward to life after the Coalition, we can open up our horizons once more. In the coming weeks, the Party will start to more clearly develop the outriders of its forthcoming manifesto. What should feature as part of the main body?
This is where a new publication may be of help. It’s been put together in conjunction with seasoned think tanker Dr Lee Rotherham, and with additional immensely-valued input from a man who knows a few things about policies that win general elections and improve the country – Lord Tebbit.
A Spotter’s Guide to Sound Conservative Policies sets out one hundred policy ideas to address a range of critical failings and gaps across Government today. As Lord Tebbit points out, not everyone will agree with everything being suggested. But I believe everyone will agree that the underlying issues themselves do need to be addressed and not ducked by ministers. I also believe that the solutions we highlight would, by and large, prove to be popular.
That certainly does not mean that they invariably will be easy ones to pursue. In many cases, their path will be obstructed by barricades of vested interest, civil service indifference, and especially of Left wing myopia. Fears of a few negative headlines over the short term often threaten vital reform. In putting the book together we’ve had some fun with this and suggested a points system. It’s somewhat arbitrary but does have the advantage that anybody looking at manifesto pledges from the Conservatives – or indeed from any other political party – can cross check the points awarded to judge how creative the front bencher is being.
Boldness bingo, if you will. Since assembling the centenary list, Chris Grayling, for instance, has scored a hefty 50 points for daring to put the ECHR fully in the sniper scope. I suspect from recent press releases, Messieurs Pickles and Gove may end up doing quite well soon too.
Each idea is succinctly and individually presented. Of course there is a limit to what you can set out on a single page, so perhaps most valuably of all we direct the reader to think tankers, campaigners and published research that more fully and properly develops what are all very complex subjects deserving more than a swift fly past.
There have been some absolutely fantastic ideas that have been put forward that Whitehall really does need to take up. For instance, the IEA’s exploration of sock puppetry has revealed the need to sever the insidious backdoor state-sponsored support that both Socialist and pro-EU campaigns get. By contrast, the work of campaign group Open Doors, coupled with the ‘Cranmer blog’ spotlight of Dr Adrian Hilton, has informed us of the critical need to modify how we work in government to protect Christians overseas. In addition to game-changing ideas such as these, we also add suggestions of our own such as the idea of a (entirely privately-sponsored) patriotic film fund. But these are just three swift and very different examples.
Producing this book means that a single big bag of pick-and-mix ideas is now out there, to help campaign planners explore the flavours in the shop. Downing Street and CCHQ can dip in and try out what they like, and then go on to the manufacturers at source and ask for more. With such a variety of brilliant and often under-exploited think tanks that now exist on the Right, there’s really no excuse for policy writers to leave them undertapped. If the Centre for Policy Studies was the motor for the Thatcher Revolution, with such a range out there today there’s certainly no excuse for the 2015 Agenda to be any less radical.