Andrew Griffith is the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, and is MP for Arundel.
With the benefit of the strong mandate that the Prime Minister obtained at the last general election, and building on the Government’s leadership during the Covid pandemic, the Number Ten Policy Unit has a vital mission to deliver policies that reflect the priorities of people across the UK.
You would not know it from the media headlines, but families want to hear about our plans to grow employment, tackle the NHS backlog, control our borders, make their streets safer, bring down the cost of living and return rapidly to the point when we can cut taxes to let everyone keep more of their own money – all policies that are rooted in strong Conservative values.
As the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, these are my top priorities together with delivering the tangible opportunities from Brexit that will allow our economy to be more competitive and the reform of government to deliver better public services. Whilst the Policy Unit’s remit is to advise the Prime Minister across the widest breadth of government policy, we will be unafraid to ruthlessly focus on the key issues. It is ultimately outputs that matter.
I bring to the role my personal experience of growing up in the early 1980s, when an unconventional Conservative Prime Minister built an unusually broad coalition of support, secured successive large election majorities, confounded pessimists and radically improved the way that the world and its own citizens perceived Britain. From a comprehensive school in south-east London, I was the first in my family to go to university, where campaigning to keep the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned me into a lifelong Conservative.
I stood for election in both the 2001 and 2005 general elections, reducing an initial 12,000 Labour majority. Corby, after the closure of its steelworks, was very much a target ‘red wall’ constituency of its time. It taught me the vital importance of policies being clear, relevant and simple to communicate on the doorstep.
More recently, having entered Parliament from business, I know first-hand that prosperity is created not by government but by the ‘fly wheel’ of enterprise and entrepreneurship creating jobs and providing the tax revenue to finance high quality public services. A competitively regulated, low tax and high skills economy trading globally has always been the right combination for economic success.
As we formulate and deliver policy it is vital that we harness the energy, experience, and insight from Members of Parliament, Parliamentary candidates and supporters, including the readers of ConservativeHome. Our Party represents voters across the whole of the UK and every generation, gender and religion. We have the opportunity to be a ‘hive mind’ of centre-right policy development.
It is important that we do so. In the battle of ideas, we remain an insurgent force: outgunned by the hegemony of left-wing orthodoxy that often lurks without challenge within swathes of the cultural and education establishment and in the state supported media.
One way we will do this is through Sir Graham Brady and the 1922 Executive’s ambition to re-establish backbench policy committees. The Prime Minister and I warmly support this, and we are committed to make them work. Covid has suppressed proper policy discussion for too long – indeed, for the majority of the time that I and my 2019 colleagues have sat in Parliament.
A large majority is a poor substitute for proper engagement between Ministers, Number Ten and backbench colleagues who in many cases possess decades of relevant experience. The 1922 backbench policy committees – one covering each major government department – will form just one part of changes in how a sleeker Number Ten operation engages with Members of Parliament.
Ministers, too, will notice a difference. In today’s complex, competitive and dynamic environment it’s a fallacy to control everything too tightly from the centre. Decisions are usually taken best close to where their impact is felt, and high-performing departments should expect a light touch approach, freeing up bandwidth for deeper interventions elsewhere.
Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, constructive engagement makes for good policies that last the test of time and that colleagues can unite around. The things that make the largest differences to the most people tend, by definition, to be challenging. It is not simple to reverse 40 years of EU ‘muscle memory’ overnight as we move to more competitive regulations. We will have to make brave and bold choices as we reform an asylum system that pre-dates the existence of mobile phones and the global internet. Getting Brexit done was not easy. But this is a Government that consistently takes tough decisions. In bringing forward plans to reform social care we have shown the courage to grasp a nettle that our predecessors had long shirked.
This Government has much in its favour. Clear leadership, an ambitious programme and political fuel in the tank in the form of our largest majority since Margaret Thatcher. But the yardstick of long-term political success is real action making a difference to the real experience of electors across the UK.
The British people understand that results take time, particularly as we emerge from an unprecedented global pandemic. So long as they see that we are focussing on them and their needs rather than fighting amongst ourselves, I believe that they will continue to place their trust in us. As I start my role as Policy Director today, it is time for we Conservatives to unite, to support the Prime Minister and to get on with the job.