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Artillery Row

Why do the Tories love to promote their enemies?

They have failed to find and empower their own supporters

Why do the Tories hate winning? It’s a strange question to ask of the world’s most successful political party, which has been snapping up one electoral victory after another over the last few centuries.

It must be asked nonetheless, because the ministerial men and women pinned with blue rosettes seem almost entirely preoccupied with ensuring the best possible conditions for the advancement of their enemies.

Last week, journalist Poppy Coburn told Conservative Home’s readers that the government needs to stop funding the charities blocking its legislative programme after she uncovered that, after thirteen years of Tory government and years of bleating about sorting out the borders, the government had been funding activist charities that push for even more liberal arrangements.

Just earlier this week, the Taxpayer’s Alliance found that LGBT charity Stonewall — described by a recent staffer as an “all-purpose left-wing group” — had received over £1 million in taxpayer’s money.

Attention must also turn beyond charities and blobby funding, over to the personnel the blue team end up backing. Selecting allies for useful quangos and the unbearable array of “tzar” roles is an easy method for securing political advances. It’s a shame, then, that everyone seems to know this except the Conservatives.

This malaise in thinking spreads from the cultural to the economic spheres. The previous chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, Andrea Coscelli, was selected by May and endured by both Johnson and Truss, even after impotent ministers regularly briefed that Coscelli hampered post-Brexit economic opportunities, detailing him as a “hurdle” in the longed-for splits with Brussels competition policy. 

Rather than push full-throttle to replace him with a radical ally as his position expired in 2022, sources told the press that “the Government believes the role should be given to a woman”.

Perhaps, in fact, the role should go to someone who can perform effectively as an ideological associate. Last month the business secretary named Sarah Cardell as the CMA’s new CEO, even after leading Tories and allied lawyers raised concerns about the authority’s “stricter” approach since her period as general counsel from 2013. They reportedly shared fears that her leadership would risk the blocking of mergers that might benefit commerce and consumer alike.

This has happened over and over again.

In 2017, Theresa May appointed Matthew Taylor — a former Labour chief of the No10 policy unit and head of the IPPR, a major progressive think tank — to conduct a review of “modern working practices”. It was a classic case of May finding that there weren’t many Mayites in public life, then appointing progressives over conservatives to cover for it. Last week, Taylor slammed Rishi Sunak for “abandoning” pledges on workers’ rights.

Simply put: there aren’t enough Tories in public life

In 2015, economist Mariana Mazzucato was advising Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s most leftist leader for generations. By 2018, the Conservatives had her advising on the government’s industrial strategy. The industrial strategy white paper was centred around four “Grand Challenges”, a big idea touted by Mazzucato in her research, which she alternatively terms as “mission oriented innovation”. This strategy sees the government adopting a top-down innovation goal and picking winners to achieve it, which flies in contravention to much of modern conservative economic thinking. Generally, our side holds that businesses know better than the government when it comes to determining what must be funded to achieve innovation. By selecting a left-ish adviser, the Tory government ended up pumping out left-ish plans.

In 2019, Michael Gove appointed former Green Party parliamentary candidate Tony Juniper to run Natural England. He relinquished his Green Party membership to take the Tory appointment, which was extended in 2021. Last year, Juniper said that “our economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of nature”. Juniper was also the former head of campaign group Friends of the Earth, an organisation that has rarely shied away from being critical of Conservatives. In 2015, its then chief executive Craig Bennett referred to the “swivel-eyed loons in the Conservative Party” in an interview with the Guardian, describing his outfit as being at war with Cameron and his allies. Just the sort of mob you’d want to be hiring from to run a Tory organisation.

Why does this keep happening? Simply put: there aren’t enough Tories in public life. But this is a problem of the right’s own making. Leftists interested in public policy, government and administration enjoy a vast network of organisations that exist to train them up and find them influential roles, regardless of the government of the day.

One of these groups is the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON), which claims to train up to 1,000 activists in left-wing campaigns “from anti-racism to environment and housing activism”. Their board of directors and employees is something of a “who’s who” in progressive campaigning. I expect plenty of them will have MBEs after the first year of a Starmer government.

From 2013 to 2022, Campaign Bootcamp trained activists that participated in several of the agenda-setting progressive issues of the last decade. Its remit was so extensive that it even offered training packages for those aged 60+ — which goes some way towards explaining why I often encountered legions of pensioners sitting in the middle of the road screaming about Armageddon whilst going about my business through central London in recent years.

At its peak, Campaign Bootcamp used nearly £1 million a year to train up to 260 left-wing activists. Only £35,000 of their income was in donations. They had almost no grassroots support, but they could direct progressive and woke political aims due to the left-wing universe of patronage. NEON enjoys similar support, being funded by all the usual Blob suspects. Dark money in politics!

By contrast, what does the conservative universe offer its budding thinkers and activists? Not an awful lot. Critics might point to the smattering of think tanks on Tufton Street and the others dotted around SW1, but the difference between these outfits — that often punch well above their weight — and the universe of progressive institutions is enormous.

With Tory appointments like these, who needs enemies?

The Tories have not successfully planned for long-term human capital development that nurtures and executes their policy plans.

As this crisis of conservative appointment rolls on, the former head of Boris Johnson’s policy unit, Munira Mirza, has set up a new venture called Civic Future to train new leaders in public life. Civic Future notes that “so few of our most capable citizens aspire to enter public life”. It wants to change this by producing a “new talent pipeline to attract brilliant and inspirational participants from different backgrounds” to “support them to become the public leaders we deserve”. Civic Future is non-partisan and non-party political, but with the range of training programmes and courses touted to progressive wannabes, Mirza’s plans could benefit Conservatives more simply by virtue of training an equal slice of participants from all perspectives. Nobody else is bothering to do this, and no Tories have attempted to seriously foster an alternative.

If they keep ignoring this basic necessity to cultivate a legion of allies prepared to do your political bidding, the Tories will continue to appoint people who either actively disagree with their worldview and plans, or who will stab them in the back as soon as the winds change.

Labour looks most likely to win the next general election. After fifteen years of Conservatism, activists in public life are now starting to preen themselves for being picked by Starmer and his associates should they achieve what most forecasts expect. This has been signposted most clearly in the case of Nimco Ali (OBE), a friend of Carrie Johnson’s who was made a Government Adviser for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in 2020 by then Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Last month, Ali said she would not serve under the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman, criticising her for “crazy rhetoric” (e.g., that open borders should perhaps stop). This month, Ali has started tweeting about how Shamima Begum was “a victim” who was “groomed”. By February, I suspect she could put a red rose emoji in her Twitter bio and call for a general strike. 

With Tory allies and appointments like these, who needs enemies?

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