by Johnny Munro 22nd August, 2019

Engaging with the Conservative Party’s new policy forums

Since barrelling into Number 10 and laying down the law with civil servants, fellow special advisers and junior ministers in his first week, Dominic Cummings has given the impression that he alone is running the government. His ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy for leaks has already been widely derided, with an immediate leak from a dazed Spad last week confirming that all special advisers would now report directly to Cummings.

Yet despite Number 10’s iron grip on the policymaking process, with a shiny new cabal of advisers, there are still plenty of other policymaking forums within the Tory Party which may be less well known but are still important avenues for businesses to pursue in search of furthering their commercial interests with government.

In 2015, the Conservatives were thought to be less advanced than the other parties in developing policy for 2015 and lacking formal structures to develop manifesto policies. Backbenchers had long complained that it was too difficult for them to distinguish between coalition policy and Conservative Party policy. As a result, the Party restructured itself to be more receptive to policy ideas from outside the small policy team in Number 10 and opened itself up to hear more from its talented backbenchers.

For businesses, there are now two key options for engaging in the Conservative policymaking process:

Parliamentary Advisory Board on Policy

The Parliamentary Advisory Board on Policy is staffed entirely by Conservative MPs. Two members of the Parliamentary Advisory Board focus on public services. The Board was primarily designed as a way for the leadership and advisors to better engage with backbenchers, rather than as an independent policy making body. Board members have the capacity to feed policy ideas into the leadership and demonstrate backbench support for them.

The 1922 Committee

The 1922 Committee came to prominence during the 2019 leadership election and is regarded as a barometer of party opinion. It has long been a forum for backbench MPs to connect with the leadership, and they should be seen as influencers of policy rather than decision makers. However, the Committee has taken on more formal structure of recommending policy and is now subdivided into five policy committees each with a focus on the major government departments.

Yet even with the knowledge of the policy forums above, Number 10’s policy unit will still have the ultimate say of the direction of policy. One of Johnson’s most eye-catching appointments is Munira Mirza, who will head the policy unit after serving as his deputy mayor for arts for eight years. She is known for her libertarian and unorthodox views, and her appointment to such a senior job in charge of all policy was unexpected given her lack of experience in Westminster politics.

Her appointment demonstrates that the biggest contingency in Downing Street is now made up of alumni from the Vote Leave campaign. New appointees include Lee Cain, now director of communications; Rob Oxley, the prime minister’s press secretary; and Oliver Lewis, a policy expert to support Johnson.

Despite the Number 10 policy unit having the ultimate say on policy decisions, businesses may now find Number 10 consumed with Brexit planning, and approaching the Conservative Party’s other policy making bodies may prove more effective.

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