By Matthew Barrett
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Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.
Origins of the Group:
The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.
Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."
Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".
The group includes about a quarter of the Parliamentary party. Key non-founding members include Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, and Hugo Swire, the Northern Ireland Minister. Backbenchers include Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk), Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Margot James (Stourbridge), Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central), Nicky Morgan (Loughborough), Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Laura Sandys (South Thanet), Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire), Helen Grant (Maidstone and the Weald), Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton), Nichola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abindson), and Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth).
"We are a group of Conservatives who believe in a modern, fair, and inclusive politics, an open, aspirational and liberal economics, and a strong, just, and pluralist society. We want to open political debate to new ideas, which liberate individuals and extend opportunities. We champion policies which are rooted in evidence, respectful of nature, and radical about human potential. We welcome change which makes our country the champion of progressive thinking in the future."
The 2020's central goal is to examine ways to take the Cameron project forward, while "refreshing and renewing it". One member explained: "We're broadly supportive of Cameron today, but we're also thinking of where the agenda goes tomorrow". The 2020 sees itself as a policy-focused group that can help complement groups like the 301, who concentrate more on election-winning strategies and tactics to win seats in urban areas, the North, etc. The 2020 "is trying to do the longer-term thinking… setting out a compelling, radical and progressive vision of where conservatism is going", and its key policy aim is to find the answer to the question: "What would the country look like after a successful majority Conservative government" – i.e. in 2020.
Where and when the Group meets
The 2020 meets weekly in Parliament, on a Monday or Tuesday, for around two hours. It is not a dining club, unlike some Parliamentary groupings, but operates as more of a policy and strategy discussion forum, with guest speakers (including Mark Littlewood of the IEA and John Cridland of the CBI), and, more regularly, members of the 2020 discuss ideas drawn from their areas of expertise from their careers before Parliament. In the run-up to the Budget, the 2020 concentrated its weekly presentations on the topics of growth and industry.
Members of the 2020 note the efforts made by the founders to stop the group from being seen as a mostly 2010-intake group. Whilst the 2010 intake contains MPs with diverse backgrounds, and therefore lots of scope for presenting ideas to the 2020, the custom is for two MPs to give each talk: one from the 2010 intake, and one from 2001, or 2005, etc.
The founders of the group are keen for the 2020 to take things slowly and steadily build resources before actively producing reports, holding public events, and so on. Therefore, the group has not yet produced anything physically, but there are plans afoot, headed by Nadhim Zahawi, to set up a website which will publish articles based on the policy ideas presented in the 2020's weekly meetings. These ideas could then be developed into pamphlets or reports, or become policy recommendations. Contrary to Michael Crick's report, this website is, in no way, an attempt to "counter the influence" of ConservativeHome.