Tory ideas factory: who will lead the intellectual fightback?
A handful of Conservative MP, mainly from the 2015 intake, could provide the intellectual fuel for the party’s future.
"The reform and renewal of the Conservative Party is now urgent,” says Downing Street policy board chair George Freeman in recent a letter to the prime minister, seen by The House.
“As well as organisational renewal, we need political renewal: a strong clear signal that under your leadership the Conservative party will not become the soulless, technocratic managerial defenders of a divisive austerity Brexit, but the champions of a bold new generation unleashing a spirit of enterprise, energy and ambition.”
To say that Freeman is not the only Tory MP keen to see new ideas would be something of an understatement. At Tory conference, Dr Philip Lee called for his party to “to step forward with something new, something fresh and something coherent”. Nick Boles has taken to the airwaves to advise his party that “we cannot expect to be re-elected if we have no new story to tell.” And Graham Brady has declared that the challenge for his colleagues is “to come up with solutions that are as appealing, and encapsulate our principles as perfectly, as the sale of council houses back in the 1980s”.
In private, some Conservative MPs are more gloomy about the current impasse. One Tory says that ambitious MPs who are still on the backbenches are starting to get restless: “There’s a feeling of frustration,” says the MP, who is seen by many as a rising star. “Where are we going? What’s our post-Brexit offer on domestic policy?”
While many Conservative MPs have made no secret of their impatience in recent weeks, what has been less obvious is where the new ideas will come from. But according to a number of recently-elected MPs, the appetite for ambitious thinking is there if Number 10 wants to look for it.
Speaking to The House, members of the 2015 and 2017 Conservative intakes pointed to a handful of colleagues, mainly from the 2015 intake, who could provide the intellectual fuel for a recovery.
The MPs are all regarded by many of their peers as cabinet stars of the future. But for now, it is hoped that they can work their policy magic from outside of the prime minister’s top team.
The good news for those MPs who are keen to be active on the ideas front is that senior colleagues are finally starting show an interest.
With support from 1922 Committee chairman Brady and home secretary Amber Rudd, the Centre for Policy Studies has launched its “new generation” project, offering support and a platform for MPs from the 2015 and 2017 intakes to develop policy ideas. Meanwhile Freeman is understood to be exploring whether Number 10 could reconstitute the Prime Minister’s Policy Board to make it more of a platform that backbenchers and activists could feed ideas into.
As far as one MP who was elected 2015 is concerned, such a move cannot come quickly enough. “There’s lots of energy and lots of ideas outside of government, especially coming from my intake,” says the MP. “The question is, how do you get it fed into the government machine? Because the government needs to harness that energy.”
According to another lively MP from the same intake, the answer is simple: “There’s no one in Number 10 who says ‘my door is closed, sod off’. You have to seize the opportunity.”
So who are the new MPs being tipped to lead the party’s intellectual fightback?
Business - Kit Malthouse
The former deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise was thought by some colleagues to have kept his head down after getting elected in 2015. But the MP for North West Hampshire is now speaking out and is said by one fellow Tory MP to be “full of ideas”.
Education - Alex Burghart
Having previously been a policy adviser at Barnardos, a senior adviser to the Children’s Commissioner for England, a think tank boss and a Downing Street adviser, Burghart has impeccable credentials as a policy brain and many Tory MPs think he has an important part to play in the Tory revival. For now Burghart is still getting his feet under the tale as MP for Brentwood and Ongar. He is expected to speak out more in 2018.
Environment - Rebecca Pow
The MP for Taunton Deane once worked for the National Union of Farmers and prides herself on “the very prominent agricultural and green streak running through my work”. Pow is now a member of both the Defra and Environmental Audit select committees. She is also a vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and chair of the APPG on Ancient Woodland.
Health - Helen Whately
Having worked in healthcare consultancy for McKinsey before becoming an MP, Whately‘s first move in the Commons was to sit on the health select committee and she now chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mental Health. In the Commons, the MP for Faversham & Mid Kent has called for routine recording health assessments and a greater focus on mental health issues.
Housing - Will Quince
As well as campaigning vigorously for paid leave to be given to parents who lose a child, Quince has also been had plenty to say on the all-important topics of housing and homelessness. The MP for Colchester is co- chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which is calling for “focused and evidence-based interventions” to prevent homelessness.
Technology - Matt Warman
As the former technology editor of the Daily Telegraph who interviewed the likes of Jeff Bezon and Tim Berners Lee, Warman is seen by many of his Tory colleagues as something of a tech guru. The MP for Boston and Skegness is now a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee and Co-Chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Broadband and Digital Communication. “No profession is safe from the digital onslaught,” wrote Warman in a recent article on government the digital economy.
Trade - Rishi Sunak
The high-flying businessman who took over from William Hague in 2015 has been energetically pursuing a number of projects, most notably exploring the concept of Free Ports. In a report published last year, Sunak argued that Brexit provided a new trade opportunity for Britain by allowing the introduction of Free Ports that would increase manufacturing output, reinvigorate the North, and promote trade.