Matthew Elliott is founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Big Brother Watch, and Chief Executive of Business for Britain
Today the TaxPayers’ Alliance has announced some staff changes, with the superb Matt Sinclair moving on as Chief Executive after over six years of service to be replaced by ConservativeHome and Daily Telegraph alumnus, Jonathan Isaby. John O’Connell will be the new Director and Dia Chakravarty is moving from the Freedom Association to be our new Political Director. The next election is shaping up to be one of the closest in living memory, and I’m pleased that the TPA will be in good hands over the crucial eighteen months running up to 7 May 2015.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour look as though they’re about to stretch out a decisive lead, and several questions are yet to be answered over the resilience of the Liberal Democrat vote and size of the eventual UKIP vote. This uncertainty offers campaign groups a huge opportunity to shape the political agenda over the coming year. Each political party will be on the lookout for policies that might give them the edge over their rivals, and each will be monitoring the output of Westminster’s active think-tank scene for inspiration.
Surveying the recent political landscape, it is not hard to find examples of keynote coalition policies that have emerged from the various wonk shops situated off Victoria Street and beyond.
Lottie Dexter and the Million Jobs campaign deserve a special mention for the announcement in last week’s Autumn Statement of the abolition of National Insurance for the under-21s, as does Nick Pickles for his work at Big Brother Watch to curb efforts to monitor our web activity. Equally, the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) superb campaign against human trafficking was picked up by the Sunday Times and taken on by Theresa May in the form of a much-needed new anti-slavery law. And the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s (TPA) recent campaigns on cutting beer duty, business rates and green taxes have been picked up by the Treasury as part of the drive to get Britain’s economy moving again.
There are also the big picture ideas that governments often shy away from as they chase the next morning’s headlines. The announcement of the Institute for Economic Affairs’ (IEA) Brexit Prize is likely to be a key moment in the ever-present EU debate, as Euro-sceptics try to learn from the SNP’s failure to make the case for Scottish Independence by defining how life would look outside the European Union. And Boris scored a huge hit for the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), when he used his recent Margaret Thatcher memorial lecture to start a discussion on education that is unlikely to let up between now and 2015.
We should also take heart from the think-tank alumni now rising up the ranks in Parliament, setting the political weather from within the Commons. Nick Herbert, co-founder of Reform and former Home Office minister, remains an influential figure on the Tory backbenches with his campaign to modernise the civil service; and Nick Boles, a former director of Policy Exchange and now Planning Minister, continues to give us food for thought on the future direction of the Conservative Party.
2014 is likely to be a defining year for British politics and think-tanks and campaign groups will all be lobbying hard to influence the parties’ manifestos. Everyone who wants to see a creative, innovative and provocative political debate over the next eighteen months should welcome the fact that, whilst politics inside the Houses of Parliament can often feel stale, in Britain we are lucky to have a thriving think-tank scene.