One of the running debates on ConservativeHome has been the tension between
image and policy.  Some say the first priority is to rebuild trust in the
Conservative Party, and that it would be wrong to make too many commitments
too early; others are impatient for red meat and claim that it is never too
early to start winning the argument.  Probably, you have to do
both (see for example "The Way Ahead (and Why)".
The pause for reflection while the Policy Groups compile their
recommendations has created a space for free enterprise: campaigning groups have
the opportunity to set out their stalls and make a case for what they believe
and open a "Second Front" against the Blair Regime and all its works. 
This is beneficial tactically for the Conservative Party, in that it
effectively outsources their message-testing to out-rider organisations and buys
breathing-space for the critical Change-to-Win agenda.  When the point in
the manifesto cycle has been reached where a successful idea can be adopted
formally, the chances are that a lot of the preliminary spadework will have
undertaken already.  If an idea doesn’t take light, then it can be buried
quietly without too much damage.
There are, of course, a host of anti-EU groups and websites, and the Right
site has
acted as a clearing house for bloggers, for example on the campaign against the
Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill.

However, up to now most of the running in this area has been made
by the TaxPayer’s Alliance
In a few short months they have assembled an impressive membership of several
thousand (and an even more impressive income stream of donations) and have
carved a distinct niche for themselves making an aggressive case for lower
taxation from a non-party, not to say anti-politician, standpoint.  A
useful marker of success is that the mainstream press have started to take
quotes from Matthew Elliott, the TPA’s Chief Executive, on stories
originating from other organisations.

As revealed in yesterday’s newslinks, the TPA are now set to be joined
by Direct Democracy as
a full-time professional campaigning outfit.  This will be a group worth
watching since they were responsible for a publication last
year called "Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model
", which outlined a series of innovative linked policy ideas
on health, education, crime, local government and constitutional reform from
some of the up-and-coming praetorian guard of the future (see further
details here .)
The ideas on localism and devolution were, said The Daily Telegraph, “the most
interesting to have come out of the British centre-Right in a long time”.
Direct_democracy_1Significantly, the 23 authors were split as to their
first-choice for party leader last year – this is not a small faction, but a
broad-based grouping whose ideas should be attractive to all wings of the Party
and to non-Party sympathisers.  Perhaps even more significantly, David
Cameron has already begun to pick up some of their ideas: most notably in
his response to the Power Commission report.
The out-rider process can only be good for the wider Conservative
, since it demonstrates a renewed vitality in right-wing thinking. 
The launch of Direct Democracy is particularly to be welcomed.  Support for
the command-and-control model of government (with its consequent attitude of
do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do) is one of the few things which just-about unites all
the potential and current leaders of the Labour Party.  The return of a
Conservative Government will require not just the discrediting of this model but
the development of a credible alternative.  Localism is an idea whose time
has come.   
We can now expect vigorous campaigning from at least two groups with
the firepower and credibility to make the running across a wide front of
issues – a debate that Conservative Home intends to cover and join.  It
will be interesting to see how they work with each other, and whether they are
joined by further out-riders.

William Norton