Last night saw the formal launch at Policy Exchange of "Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, Why We Need
by Jesse Norman and Janan Ganesh.  As Conservative Home regulars
will know from our advance coverage on Your Platform this presents a vision of
the "connected society" of renewed institutions outside the state as a
foundation for the revival of the Conservative Party.  This is not a policy
programme, but an attempt to lay down a basis for future policy.  No, it’s
nothing to do with George Bush; and don’t be misled by the name into thinking
this is the rebirth of the Wets.    This is a significant contribution to the
debate over decentralising Britain.
Policy Exchange’s offices in Storey’s Gate were packed out, and they had
chosen a novel format for a book launch.  Firstly the authors outlined the
themes and objectives of the book, then a diverse spread of invited guests gave
their reactions to it, and finally there was a question and answer session from
the audience.  Very prompt and efficient time management ensured a close of the
proceedings to those interested in such things to leave and catch the next World
Cup match.
Readers can refresh their memory on the authors’ views with the four serialisations in YourPlatform or by reading all 82 pages here)
he comments of the invited panel are worth an airing since they set out
the broad issues which will emerge in the coming debate over the
over-centralised nature of the British state.
Neal Lawson, from a "Democratic Left perspective" agreed that British
politics was currently going through a period of fluidity and it was anyone’s
guess how things would turn out.  He doubted the real political appeal of
decentralisation: a strong state will always be needed, he claimed, to handle
the fall-out of a free market and diversity in public service provision will
always lead to unacceptable inequality of outcomes.  As a parthian shot he
suggested that Cameron needs to "kill Thatcher" in the same way that Blair
killed Old Labour.

The Times columnist Minette Marrin, describing herself as "right of centre,
not centre-right", agreed that localism will mean allowing some areas to fail
and she doubted whether the British electorate’s aversion to inequality would
permit that.  Although sympathetic to the author’s theme she was dubious about
whether non-state institutions could now be revived: they have been crushed by
state control and political correctness and the multi-cultural society has
weakened the ties that bind us.
David Willetts was on as the token Tory.  He explained that at the current
point in the parliamentary cycle, the Party’s emphasis should be on developing
intellectual substance and investigating philosophical foundations rather than
adopting rigid policy positions.  The biggest issue facing Britain is the need
to handle the consequences of family change, and the challenge facing the
Conservative Party is discovering a new language to articulate the unspoken
values of the British people.  Rather tongue-in-cheek, he agreed with Lawson:
Thatcherism has been misrepresented, but perhaps Lady Thatcher’s final service
to country and party might be to offer herself up as a spoof Clause IV?
The centre of gravity in the political blogosphere is clearly on the right,
and the challenge is to harness this vitality and apply it in the wider public
debate.  Policy Exchange should be congratulated for a stimulating evening and
for their contribution to that debate.
Now over to the rest of you.

William Norton