Chris Skidmore is Vice Chair of the Conservative Party for Policy, and is MP for Kingswood.
As we approach leaving the European Union on 29 March next year, it is vital that we set out a bold new vision of how the United Kingdom will be able to shape its destiny as an independent and sovereign nation. As the Conservative Party, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that we are the only party thinking about the future, ensuring that future generations will be able to benefit from the opportunities that Brexit brings.
We also need to look to renew ourselves within government, considering what challenges we need to face for the future, and how best to solve these with Conservative policies that will resonate with the country. We need to be confident about the future that lies ahead, but also confident that it is a Conservative Government that will continue to deliver future prosperity and opportunity for the British people.
To achieve this, we need a fresh and expansive domestic policy agenda for the future: a positive blueprint that highlights our values, and which provides the Party with a new forward-facing policies that will enable us to win for the future.
Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that the Conservative Party is establishing a new Policy Commission, to which I have been appointed Chair in my position as Vice Chair of the Conservative Party for Policy.
The launch of a new Policy Commission, operating from CCHQ, will help to begin the process of setting out a Conservative vision of Britain in the 2020s. The Commission will consist of five task forces, which will be tasked with answering key questions that they will be set. The Task Forces to be established cover some of the key challenges for Britain as we approach the next decade:
- Energising our economy – how we drive technological opportunity whilst guaranteeing good jobs; harness markets to shared regional prosperity; and invest in infrastructure and support clean growth.
- Transforming our public services – how we understand the future responsibilities, technologies and delivery role for high quality public services.
- Building a fairer society – how we use government to drive social reform and social mobility; remove the remaining barriers to disability; promote integration and equality.
- Sustaining our democracy – anticipating the future devolution framework across the United Kingdom, how we support the health of our local democracy; how we encourage participation and representation of young people in civic life.
- Shaping a Global Britain – how we balance our future economic, strategic and humanitarian needs and responsibilities in the world.
Each task force will be chaired by two of our backbench MPs, with a wider membership that will include the relevant Chair of the 1922/Association of Conservative Peers Backbench Committee, other Conservative MPs, Peers and non-parliamentarians. Invitations to for Conservative Parliamentarians to apply to be either chairs or members of the task forces have been sent out today, and successful candidates will be appointed before the July recess.
Each Task Force will also have a secretariat and policy adviser appointed from the Conservative Research Department that will oversee the organisation and smooth running of each task force.
Once further non-parliamentary members are appointed by September, the work of the task forces will turn to the exercise of policy engagement across the entire country, in what I envisage will be the largest single exercise of its kind ever undertaken by the Conservative Party in government. Aside from its weekly work in Westminster, each task force will be committed to a monthly evidence gathering session across the country, visiting every region and where applicable the devolved nations. Across five task forces, this will mean that there will be at least 30 evidence sessions taking place across the country from September to late Spring 2019. It is vital that the task forces take this opportunity to listen and hear to all communities, businesses and charities, and both our public services and private sectors who face future challenges and can identify opportunities ahead.
Each task force will then produce an Interim Report, based upon the questions that they have been set and the evidence that they have gathered. These will be published in stages in Summer 2019. I view this as an opportunity to trial ideas, but also to allow for a consultative period with our membership and the wider public. Final reports for each task force will then be published around Conference 2019, providing the Conservative Party with a wealth of ideas to take forward, either in government or as part of a future manifesto process for 2022.
I began my own political career as one of the Directors of the Public Services Policy Group, established under David Cameron in 2006. Then the Conservative Party Policy Review was undertaken from the vantage point of opposition, where we were able to look down on a decade under a Labour government. Our task now will be a more complex one, for we must balance our own successes and achievements in government with an honesty that there is still more we can do, more that we should have done, highlighting the injustices that continue to exist- that the Prime Minister so acutely did on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016.
That challenge may be greater, but so too is the chance of renewing the Conservative Party in government, providing it with fresh ideas that mean something to people’s lives and can make a real difference. Above all, we must reflect on how we believe it is through Conservative policies and Conservative values alone that we can make everyone’s lives better, crafting a vote-winning series of policies that, vitally, can be communicated to the electorate on the doorstep at the next general election, setting out who we are, what we stand for, and what we will do for them.
Policy-making can sometimes be seen as dry or dull: I entirely disagree. The best policies can set individuals and communities free, changing lives, even saving lives. The Prime Minister’s creation of the Conservative Policy Commission will, I believe, give the party the best possible opportunity to demonstrate that it is the only party of the future, and indeed the only true party of hope and change.