Rachel Wolf: The Right is good at producing ideas. We need to get better at founding and running institutions.
Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.
Every week ConservativeHome publishes a list of public appointments because ”our Party has punched beneath its weight”: few Tories apply.
There are other issues with appointments. Previous administrations have treated the appointment of someone on the Left to lead a review or run a project as a major moral victory (Labour does not tend to return this favour). This is classic bubble thinking – who outside Westminster would notice?
Nevertheless, the basic analysis of this site is right. Not enough apply. The problem is broader, and deeper, than appointments to pre-existing, government-funded jobs. We remain, on the Right, insufficiently interested in creating and running the institutions that deliver on ideas as well as think about them.
On ideas, we are blessed. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Centre for Policy Studies in the last year and they – along with others – have come up with a series of brilliant proposals for future governments.
But coming up with the idea is only the first step, and it is simplistic just to say ‘government should deliver’.
I was reminded of this twice in the last few weeks.
First, because I’ve been reading the General Election Manifestos of the last several decades. In 1945 the Conservatives failed to win an election with ‘Winston Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors’. The author of Labour’s manifesto – which led to the government that founded much of the welfare state – was Michael Young. He later created, among many others, the Open University, Which?, and the first Research Council for economics and social sciences. He has been more important to people’s lives than the vast majority of Cabinet Ministers. I can’t think of any organisations like his being created now.
Second, because this month is the tenth anniversary of the launch of the New Schools Network (NSN), the charity I founded to create Free Schools. I set up NSN because I did not believe that putting Free Schools in an election manifesto was enough – civil servants weren’t going to hunt for the teachers and charities and community groups up and down the country who might want to set up the first schools. I remain convinced of this – I don’t think there would have been many Free Schools without NSN. I don’t think many of our social justice reforms would exist without the Centre for Social Justice, which was founded by Tim Montgomerie, the former editor of this site.
We need many more of these kinds of entities, across the country. For example, we now have a plethora of graduate public sector recruitment programmes – Teach First for teachers, FrontLine for social workers, Unlocked for prison officers. That’s brilliant.
But when I think of my grandmother, who became a social worker when her kids had grown up, and had all her life experience to draw on, I wonder how many older people we are failing to tap. The government is never going to do that well.
Or if I think of my mother, who had young children in the US, and relied on pre-existing co-op systems for babysitting and childcare, I wonder why we don’t have equivalent structures here.
I look in vain for the equivalent of Which? for schools. No producer interests – just an organisation that aims to inform and help parents really understand what their kids should be learning, what that looks like, and how to get the best for their child.
You may think these are terrible ideas – and you may be right! i think my point still stands – governments alone do not create change, and we still lack institutions that can.
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