Invitations are going out this week for the launch party of Onward, the new Tory think tank promising to come up with ‘retail’ policies to win back under-45 voters. Onward was the brainchild of Tory MP and former Osborne SpAd and Policy Exchange director Neil O’Brien, with Nick Faith, the former PX comms chief who now runs WPI Strategy with Sean Worth. So is it just Policy Exchange Mark II?
Onward’s main aim seems to be to bring the Cameroon and May brands of Tory party politics together. Last summer O’Brien and Faith organised a dinner at the home of Tory donor David Meller (don’t mention the President’s Club), who hosted Nick Timothy and JoJo Penn from May’s inner circle, top Cameroon Nick Boles (a former PX director) and a number of younger ambitious MPs. Onward’s director will be former May adviser Will Tanner, its chair is Osborne confidant Danny Finkelstein (former PX chairman), and its board members include former Cameron advisers Kate Rock and Kate Fall, ex-Osborne aide Eleanor Wolfson, and Craig Elder, who co-ran Cameron’s digital campaigns in 2015 and the referendum. Their main financial backer is Martyn Rose, who ran Cameron’s National Citizens Service.
The plan is to create a party-oriented think tank for MPs rather than wonks, which combines Timothy’s statist agenda with the more liberal politics of the Cameroons, and has both Remainers and Brexiters on board. They have signed up MPs from the left and centre-right of the party, from Ruth Davidson and Tom Tugendhat to Michael Gove and Kemi Badenoch. It will have some external authors but most of the reports will be written by MPs.
The danger for Onward is it goes down the road of expensive, interventionist, big-state policies which mean higher taxes, more spending and more borrowing – social democracy with a blue-wash. A May-Osborne fusion could mean more cumbersome policies like the energy price cap, HS2 and ever-creeping vice taxes. Guido also fears the instinctively more liberal, small-state, low tax MPs may fail to resist the temptation to drift leftwards as they seek wider support ahead of the next leadership contest. Number 10’s hopeless lack of a domestic agenda means the Tories are crying out for post-Brexit polices, or, perish the thought, policies that could actually be implemented while Brexit is taking place. They won’t beat Corbyn with lite versions of his policies…