Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 21 November 2009

On Monday I attended a party at the Carlton Club for a new book about the Conservative Research Department, now 80 years old.

On Monday I attended a party at the Carlton Club for a new book about the Conservative Research Department, now 80 years old. Traditionally, this would have been a dusty occasion: the Research Department has almost prided itself on its separation from the vulgar worlds of media and power. But it was all rather glamorous. The fact is that, for the first time ever, its alumni have taken control of the Tory high command. George Osborne and Oliver Letwin began political life there; so did Cameron’s closest assistants, Steve Hilton, Ed Llewellyn and Kate Fall; and so did David Cameron himself. As Andrew Gimson discusses on page 19, Mr Cameron is the first CRD product ever to have led the Tory party. He spoke, revealing that when he worked there in the late Eighties and early Nineties, he conducted espionage on Labour extremism, joining groups like Militant Tendency and Red Wedge under the pseudonym of Robin Norse (or North, I couldn’t quite hear). What does this CRD takeover signify? Not, surely, a return of Heathites and Wets, which is what Mrs Thatcher thought the Research Department represented in her early days as leader. Not, in fact, an ideology at all, more the attitudes which stem from such a background. The bad things include: too much interest in politics, a lack of adventurousness, an absence of visceral feeling. The good things include: knowing policy very well, knowing one another very well, being highly intelligent. In short, the advantages and disadvantages of professionalisation. I do not think professionalisation is the answer to our ills, but it is undoubtedly better than amateurism.

One reason to be uneasy about the habit of governmental apology for past wrongs — the transporting of British orphans and poor children to Australia is the latest — is that the apology is only made when it is considered easy.

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