ConHome’s Tim Montgomerie has worried about this before but it’s been obvious for some time that Policy Exchange and the Conservative Party had grown too close. Both are at fault but PX itself needs to take the lion’s share of the blame. Outgoing PX Director Anthony Browne (outgoing because he’s off to join a host of other ex-PXers working for the Tories) cultivated the idea that they were ‘David Cameron’s favourite think tank’ – at least once suppressing material that could be uncomfortable for the party. A recent analysis of their press coverage revealed that one of their top reasons for press mentions was their (genuine) closeness to Team Cameron.
The Tory leadership will be reconsidering the benefits of having a ‘favourite think tank’ when they survey this morning’s (unthinking) press cuttings…
The press cuttings refer to a report edited by PX’s Oliver Marc Hartwich on the difficulties of government policies that attempt to thwart profound changes in the geographical balance of the UK economy. It’s a thoughtful report (debated over at CentreRight) and exactly the sort of report that PX should be publishing. But Chris Grayling had to disown it this morning – concerned to avoid the report overshadowing David Cameron’s tour of nine marginal northern seats, beginning today.
As PX Chairman Charles Moore considers who should replace Anthony Browne he should think of appointing someone who has no ambitions to be a Tory MP or a Tory adviser. He needs someone of independent mind and someone who will be happy working at Policy Exchange for a number of years to come. If rumoured applicants like James Bethell, Camilla Cavendish or Alice Thomson fit that bill, all well and good. Mr Moore also needs to find someone to replace Chief Economist Dr Hartwich. Graeme Leach, Chief Economist at the IoD, would be perfect. Economic issues are back in spades and Mr Leach would provide the kind of challenging advice that the Tories need to hear.
None of this is to say that PX isn’t a successful think tank. It is. PX’s research on school choice, housing and Islamic extremism has added handsomely to the public square. But they must not be tempted to follow the model of the IPPR. The IPPR enjoyed incredible access to Labour ministers during the Blair years but many suspected that their advice was conditioned by needing to maintain that access. Britain’s challenges are too considerable for a less-than-frank conversation between the Conservative Party and centre right thinkers.