A new type of MP has come into existence: the MP as social entrepreneur.
That thought came to me a few minutes after I arrived, late, for the launch, live-streamed on ConHome, of Trusting the People: The case for community-powered conservatism, an admirable pamphlet bearing the names of ten Conservative MPs and published by The New Social Covenant Unit, which was established earlier this year by Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger.
Claire Coutinho (pictured right; MP for East Surrey since 2019) chaired a passionate debate about how to encourage local leadership in order to mend the grievous social problems and fill the crying social needs which local people know most about.
Michael Gove, the new – indeed first – Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, listened with a sage expression, took notes, nodded his support, and every so often made mellifluous contributions which while they fell short of making policy at a fringe meeting during the party conference, indicated that he will do everything he can to help.
He observed that there is, “to use a phrase I’ve been accused of using too often in the past, a desire on the part of many people to take back control”.
Paul Howell, who in 2019 won Sedgefield for the Conservatives, agreed that local people have “a passionate desire to do something”, and wondered “how we get to the most left-behind neighbourhoods”.
There isn’t any one answer to that question, but what struck this observer is the extent to which Conservative MPs are now rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in the founding of every kind of social enterprise, while at the same time telling central government what it needs to do enable and foster this work.
Guy Opperman, MP since 2010 for Hexham and now a pensions minister, touched on his involvement in setting up two new banks in Northumberland which help people avoid falling into the hands of pay-day lenders.
Impossible in a few words to summarise the debate, but if interested you can watch the whole thing on ConHome.
A generation ago, MPs appeared to be turning into social workers, taking on extra staff to cope with vast amounts of case work, including many very hard cases which no one else had been able to resolve.
MPs are now just as likely to get involved in setting up social enterprises which can help to avert or heal such problems.
None of this is easily reduced to a headline. It is local and various and tends not to fit in the various categories in which politics is usually debated and reported. But it is a profoundly hopeful development.