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The Centre for Policy Studies didn’t always go in for snappy titles during its first flowering. Monetarism: an essay in definition…’Second Thoughts on Full Employment Policy’…‘Conditions for Fuller Employment: the uncompromising earnestness with which these essays were presented conveys the flavour of a less frantic era. Not that CPS authors weren’t direct when they felt they had to be: Stranded on the Middle Ground is perhaps the most famous pamphlet that the think-tank ever produced. There’s no need to clarify the point that Keith Joseph, its author, was trying to get over.
Joseph was one of the few politicians to write for the CPS during that time – the late 1970s. The authors of the first two publications named above were Tim Congdon and Sam Brittan. They and others had a common project: to push monetarism, although, as Joseph would have added, Monetarism is not enough. (He said that it should go hand in hand with spending and tax cuts.)
Today, the CPS’s New Generation project, about which Robert Colvile wrote on this site last year, takes its next step. No shortage of Tory MPs here. Ben Bradley and Michael Gove, without a speech from whom no think tank event is complete, host a reception this evening to promote New Blue: ideas for a new generation – a series of essays from members of the 2015 and 2017 Tory intakes. The CPS goes in for snazzier headings these days. Colvile is reviving it after a bumpy period. He has also commissioned some polling which shows both that young people support Labour (well, more than the Conservatives, at any rate) but are ambiguous about statism, both backing more intervention and believing that taxes are too high. Go figure. That last finding has turned up before: here’s Mark Wallace on some other polling from a few years ago.
The CPS is a natural forum to host Tory MPs en masse. It is a famous name. It still pushes the Thatcher brand – see the front page of its site – though Colvile is keen to be ecumenical. We will know more when the essays are published later this morning. They are trailed in today’s Sun with a story about a proposal from Bim Afolami for a new tax on big developers.
What Conservative MPs have produced for the think tank to date is quite scattergun. No harm in that. It’s important to cover the whole policy range. So it is that Alan Mak has written about a paperless NHS (see his ConHome piece here). Chris Philp has produced a detailed report about boosting home ownership. Rishi Sunak has got out a timely Brexit-related one on freeports.
With the input of our columnists Alex Morton and James Frayne, the CPS wants to produce “big ideas on tax, enterprise, housing and welfare”, Colvile tells us. Perhaps the think tank should also return to its roots and ponder the wider framework of the economy. Morton likes doing so.
After all, the post-crash economic landscape is both strange and familiar. Familiar, in that we’ve got used to it during the best part of last ten years. And strange, in that one of the main instruments of policy has been to keep interest rates artificially low. We wrote in our own manifesto in 2014 that “Government now needs to send a strong signal that the age of cheap money, financial repression and quantitative easing is over.”
The Bank is yet to raise rates. (though Trumponomics could finally bring this about). Theresa May worried in her launch speech during her campaign for the Conservative leadership that “there has not been nearly as much deep economic reform”. After she had won, she went on to criticise artificially low rates during her first Conservative Party conference speech. Mark Carney hit back – and no more has been heard from her on the subject. Then there is the coming Tory debate about how big the state should be. Plenty for the think tanks and Tory MPs to get their teeth into.