Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: As the post-leadership battle dust settles, the battle for the ear of the new regime begins. Guido wrote previously about the alignment of the think-tanks during the election hustings, now the importance of having influence with Cameron has shot up the think-tank agenda because New Labour seems so intellectually tired and the novelty of the Notting Hill set seems as attractive to wonks as much as voters. So who in wonk-land looks to be favoured by the new regime?
The old generation right-of-centre think-tanks frankly missed the whole Cameron phenomena. They also backed, in the main, the man they knew – Davis. So Cameron owes no debts to them. The big winner is Nicholas Boles, the fairy godmother of the modernisers, his Policy Exchange think-tank was the platform for modernising ideas, it even hosted C-Change, the virtual pressure group that first told the Tories it was time to adapt or die. It was also home to Francis Maude before he was brought in by Michael Howard to begin the re-making of the party. Labour researchers will be poring over the output of Policy Exchange for an idea as to what Cameron’s Conservatives will be about policy wise.
Boles’ wonk-shop has had no influence on the government, but it has had a lot of influence on the Conservatives. Policy Exchange’s themes of localism and quality of life are now key policy objectives, but more importantly the fresh look and feel of the Tories owes much to their modernising attitude.
Boles himself is an ex-flat mate of Michael Gove, he was a councillor on Westminster council along with Ed Vaizey so he is as close to the Cameron crowd as you can get. If 211 voters more in Brighton Hove had voted for him he could now be on the Tory front-bench. Boles may yet be parachuted in to parliament, although he could equally be as much use outside as a domestic policy outrider.
On international affairs the policy outrider is Alex Singleton’s Globalisation Institute. Which has taken Guido’s advice and swapped the ‘z’ for an ‘s’ in its name since its launch. As a charity it kept out of the fray during the Tory hustings, but the many stirring pictures of Cameron on the website’s blog told you clearly where its heart lay. The evidence suggests Cameron’s speechwriter (Steve Hilton) was familiar with the Institute’s output as this blog article hints. CCHQ sources confirm that Alex Singleton has recently been seen in the building.
Singleton is the former research director of the Adam Smith Institute who kicked off the flat-tax debate by commissioning a report on it in 2004. When he left to set-up the his own shop, the Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in on the first report from the man the UN’s secretary-general’s chief-of-staff calls “the high priest of globalisation”. The whizz-kid wonk is a former geek technology writer and has no time for girlfriends – or perhaps that’s just a phase. (What is it about right-wing wonks?)
Guido bets the forthcoming, but as yet unannounced, Tory Commission on Globalisation and Global Poverty will take up the theme of enterprise-based development promoted by the Globalisation Institute.
All the think-tanks of the right will no doubt be switching priorities to the modernising agenda, but these two outriders have a headstart.