After last week’s reshuffle and the gap left by Jesse Norman’s departure from the policy board, Number 10 has announced a number of promotions which increase the board’s size – and its brainpower. Alun Cairns, Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Nadhim Zahawi have all been promoted, which is interesting as all of them bar Skidmore are rebels to a greater or lesser extent. So it’s a sign that the Tory leadership wants to forget past troubles and use all the best brains to forge 2015 policy. But it’s also useful to have independently-minded MPs joining the group anyway, as the last thing the board tasked with developing flagship policies needs is a group of obedient MPs without any ability to think freely.
Patel and Skidmore are co-authors along with other MPs of After the Coalition and Britannia Unchained and represent the hard-headed, free-market wing of the party, along with Cairns, Zahawi and Leadsom, who are also members of the influential Free Enterprise Group. Perhaps these appointments will also deal with the charge from some quarters that the original board was a bit too lefty and Europhile. Leadsom in particular will be essential in developing policies on Europe: her Fresh Start Project has been instrumental in making the case for reform to other European parliaments. And Cairns is a member of that thoughtful ‘curry club’ group of MPs.
One of the concerns about the policy board so far was that its members had failed to gel. It will be interesting to see how the new bunch works – and what its first policy announcements will be: so far we’ve only heard one peep from this group.