No.10 this week announced new members of its Policy Board, following the departure of Jesse Norman in the wake of the Syria vote last month. The new members are: Alun Cairns, Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Nadhim Zahawi. Given that, as the Spectator points out, most of these new members are, technically at least, rebels, what does this say about the role of the Board? Is it a serious forum for policy development or does the appointment of rebels underline what many are saying – that it’s a pressure valve for frustrated backbenchers?
Unless you watch No.10 like the CIA used to watch the Kremlin, you might not know that the Policy Board is a Conservative party body, not to be confused with the No.10 Policy Unit (now the Policy and Implementation Unit). Whereas the Policy Unit is firmly part of the No.10 furniture and shapes government policy, the Policy Board is a party instrument, which was set up specifically to take views from backbench MPs and factor them into current government policy and also to develop policy thinking for the next general election.
The Board is divided into working groups, which address areas including the economy, foreign policy, public service reform, the environment and energy, and home and constitutional affairs.
With the new appointments, the board is staffed by immensely talented, and in some cases highly experienced, backbenchers, so it will definitely manage to develop a few ideas from the Tory backbenches that can be implemented within the constraints of coalition government.
However, the fact the board exists alongside various other bodies with similar functions – the Policy Unit, the party’s backbench policy groups, party strategists (Jo Johnson and Lynton Crosby), other prime ministerial advisers (Letwin and Hayes), not to mention Ministers and Tory select committee chairs – suggests that its role is less than clear-cut. As my colleague Dean Duke rightly puts it: “Whether any policies generated by the Board can cut through these layers and have an impact is questionable.”
We can’t help thinking that, as a serious forum for policy development, its influence on government will be limited. That said, it should certainly help with establishing a distinctly Conservative party identity within the coalition government, and should play a role in developing 2015 manifesto ideas.
For those of you after a full list of members, here they are:
Jake Berry MP
Elected in 2010. Previously PPS to Grant Shapps, both in DCLG and latterly the Cabinet Office.
With a background in housing and development law, Berry has placed an emphasis on the business sector, the role of local and regional bodies in stimulating economic growth (through, for example, enterprise zones), apprenticeships, housing and the private rented sector, and regenerating town centres. Berry has also displayed an interest in rural issues, e.g. the provision of public transport services, the rollout of broadband. Berry’s portfolio on the Policy Board includes housing, regional growth and local government.
Berry previously drafted a briefing paper- “New Deal for Generation Rent”- proposing that longer-term tenancies be made available to families, to make renting a viable housing option for families. This policy has been picked up by Eric Pickles.
Berry has previously called for the localisation of business rates and for local authorities to be able to give “rate holidays” to new businesses within certain zones.
Alun Cairns MP
Elected in 2010, Cairns was previously a member of the Welsh National Assembly. Before that, he worked for Lloyds Bank in a business development role.
Cairns’ interest is in economics, and he places an emphasis on economic development, infrastructure and transport. He holds an MBA, specialising in inward investment policy. His wife owns a small business. He is a member of the Free Enterprise Group, which focuses on competitiveness, deregulation and taxation.
Cairns is also interested in special education needs and protecting children online. Cairns was one of the MPs to accept tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show from Japan Tobacco International. Cairns sat on the Localism Bill Committee.
Nick Gibb MP
Gibb was elected in 1997 and served as Minister for Schools from 2010 to 2012. He continues to have an interest in education policy (Ofsted, pupil premium, GSCE reform). Gibb is a charted accountant and worked for KPMG prior to being elected. Gibb is also focused on competitiveness and the structure of the UK economy. Gibb is a member of the Mayor of London’s Expert Advisory Group for the London Schools Excellence Fund.
Margot James MP
James was elected in 2010 and has served as PPS to Lord Green, Minister for Trade and Investment. James has previous experience of internal Tory policy-making, having been involved in the Women’s Policy Group in opposition, while serving as the party’s Vice Chairman.
James is currently serving as Chair of the APPG on Trade and Investment and Vice Chair of the APPG on European Reform. James has displayed an interest in the benefit cap and the universal credit scheme, women in business, investment in infrastructure and competitiveness on the export market. She is an advocate for renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU.
She served on the Public Bill Committees for the Energy Bill and the Health and Social Care Bill. James’ Prison (Drug Testing) Bill is scheduled for debate in the House on Friday 25 October.
Andrea Leadsom MP
Leadsom was first elected in 2010. Leadsom’s background is in finance, having worked in the industry for 25 years. She has been the Financial Institution Director for Barclays and the Head of Corporate Governance and Senior Investment Officer for Invesco Perpetual. Leadsom has worked in swaps, treasury, project finance and hedge funds.
Leadsom has an interest in children’s issues. She is the Vice Chair of the APPG on Sure Start. Leadsom has served as the chair and trustee of the Oxford Parent Infant Project, and she launched a national counterpart to this charity in 2012. Leadsom is an advocate for early years intervention.
Leadsom is also interested in EU reform, and she serves as a Co-Chair of the APPG on European Reform. She advocates a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and is involved in Fresh Start.
Leadsom sits on the Treasury select committee. She is vocally opposed to the impact that the HS2 project will have on her constituency and voted against the HS2 bill.
Peter Lilley MP
Lilley has been an MP since 1983, and served in the cabinets of Thatcher and Major (as Trade and Industry Secretary and Social Security Secretary). Lilley chaired the Bow Group 1973-75. Lilley is currently Chair of the Trade out of Poverty APPG, and a member of the APPG on Overseas Development.
Lilley has previously called for marijuana to be legalised. He has interests in the oil industry and is a vocal climate change sceptic; he voted against the Climate Change Act. Lilley has spoken about the impact that “expensive” renewables have on consumer’s bills, in contrast to “lower-priced fossil fuels”. He has advocated the use of fracking. His constituency is located near to Luton Airport, and Lilley has expressed concerns about Luton being expanded.
Priti Patel MP
Patel was first elected in 2010. Patel was a press officer for the Eurosceptic Referendum Party from 1995 to 1997, before joining the Conservative press office after the 1997 election. She has also worked in public relations, serving as Director of Corporate Communications for Weber Shandwick.
Patel is particularly interested in justice issues; she has advocated capital punishment, opposed votes for prisoners and called for tougher and mandatory sentencing.
Patel sits on the party’s 1922 Committee. She is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and chairs the APPG on Small Shops. Patel is also a member of the Free Enterprise Group, and has an interest in business, trade and competitiveness. Patel co-authored After the Coalition and Britannia Unchained.
Chris Skidmore MP
Skidmore is a historian, having worked as an historical researcher before being elected in 2010. Before becoming an MP Skidmore was an education adviser to Willets and Gove. He is a member of the Health select committee. Skidmore is a former Chair of the Bow Group and is a member of the Free Enterprise Group.
Skidmore has campaigned for his local greenbelt and chairs the APPG on the greenbelt. He has an interest in education and children, and especially in young disabled people. He is an advocate for reducing immigration and is concerned with the use of public services by immigrants. Skidmore co-authored After the Coalition and Britannia Unchained.
Paul Uppal MP
Uppal was elected in 2010 and is the Chair of the All Party Urban Development Group. He has served as PPS to David Willetts. As a businessman, he has an interest in enterprise, small businesses, high streets and apprenticeships. Uppal is in favour of HS2. He has criticised the government’s approach to foreign students, and has called for these figures to be extricated from overall immigration figures. Beyond this, Uppal appears to be a strong constituency MP and is interested in a wide range of issues, including health and education.
Nadhim Zahawi MP
Zahawi was elected in 2010 and is a member of the BIS select committee. He is a co-founder and former Chief Executive of YouGov. Although Zahawi is in favour of a cap on immigration, has also called for students to be removed from immigration figures and has called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants – a call publicly slapped down by the Prime Minister. He also has an interest in business, trade and investment. Zahawi is also in favour of repatriating powers from the EU.