Fraser Nelson

Freud defects to the Tories

Freud defects to the Tories
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The first serious Tory defection will be detailed in tomorrow's News of the World. David Freud, the architect of the Purnell welfare refrom that we've been admiring in Coffee House, is to become a Conservative peer and shadow welfare reform minister. So someone with genuine expertise will be in the DWP driving through a desperately-needed agenda. This is a real coup not just for David Cameron but George Osborne whom, I understand, has been working on Freud for months.

Freud is a banker by training, but don't let that put you off him. He was hired by Tony Blair to think the unthinkable on welfare reform - and his suggestions (here) were genuinely radical. The sort that Blair now wishes he'd done in 1997. But this was 2007 and Gordon Brown was having none of it, so Freud was cut adrift. The Conservatives then picked him up, and Chris Grayling adopted his plans and launched them in Jan08. Then, his ideas - adopt an Austrlian-style work-for-dole, and assess every one of the 2.6m on incapacity benefit for what work they could do - were seem to be too controversial to mention. Grayling boldly embraced them, and Freud was there at his launch. Grayling's plans were a surprise hit with the public. Hain was sacked, then James Purnell took his place. Purnell instantly saw the benefit in the Freud proposals, and moved to close the gap - by nicking Freud back. So the Freud proposals, having been the backbone to Grayling's plans, became a blueprint to the Green Paper on Welfare Reform - which I very much welcomed on its publication. Scroll forward a few months, and Theresa May is appointed to succeed Grayling. I was dismayed: what's her record on reform? "Just wait till you see who we have working with her" I was told by a Tory deepthroat - only to find that her team hadn't changed. Humpf, I thought. But not it turns out that had been working on Freud all along. Cameron realises that welfare reform is needed in a recession above all other times: the tragedy of past recessions is that it has left a residue of people who never work again. This is the danger of the unreformed welfare state, and the Tories are encouragingly determined not to let it happen again.

This gives several deeply encouraging signals. First, Cameron is willing to identify genuine experts: he is serious about reform. The appointment of May had, I confess, led me to question this. Next, Cameron is getting serious defections. I hear that more are in the pipeline. And most importantly. Cameron is mature enought to identify and bolster the best ideas of this exhausted Labour Government. Welfare reform and City Academies are great ideas, and if you let the momentum slack then you lose years on the reform agenda. The Blairites did have excellent ideas for government, and Brown hasn't managed to destroy them all. As I say in my News of the World column tomorrow, all they need now is Lord Adonis. He was, after all, a LibDem once. Surely he could go for a hat trick?

P.S. Read more about Freud here.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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