Andrew Gimson’s report from the fringe

Oct 6, 2016

Andrew Gimson reviews Policy Exchange and Conservative Home’s “What will the government’s social reform agenda mean in practice?”conference event.

“What will the government’s social reform agenda mean in practice? A high-level panel convened at a joint ConservativeHome/Policy Exchange meeting to consider this question. David Willetts, who chairs the Resolution Foundation, said he was not sure whether he was being asked what he thinks the agenda should mean, or what Theresa May will actually do. But since he hopes these two positions will turn out to be identical, he proceeded to offer his own opinions. To deal with the oppressively high cost of housing, Willetts commended “Beaverbrookism”: the term used by Harold Macmillan in the early 1950s to mean the harnessing of both the private and the public sectors to achieve a dramatic increase in house-building.

Paul Goodman, the editor of ConservativeHome, said he expects Theresa May and her adviser Nick Timothy to pursue “Erdington Modernisation”, which means a relentless focus on improving the lives of ordinary working people. But Philip Collins, a columnist for The Times, said the most notable feature of Erdington is Spaghetti Junction, on entering which “you don’t know where you’re going and could end up anywhere”.

Nick Bosanquet, Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College, London, observed that Erdington is best known for “the making of the Mosquito bomber which completely transformed the bombing effort in the second war”. Among the “Mosquito-like moves” he wants to see is the raising of interest rates to 2.5 per cent, their level from 1861-1914, which encouraged people of modest means to save.

David Goodhart, of Policy Exchange, remarked that the new Government appears to favour “a more active state”. One of the actions he would most like to see is the creation of many more apprenticeships: last year, he pointed out, only 6,000 construction apprenticeships had been completed, compared to 20,000 as recently as 2008.

All four speakers were admirably concise, behaving in accordance with Voltaire’s dictum that the secret of being dull is to try to say everything.”

This report originally appears on Conservative Home.

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