EXCL Policy chief warned Theresa May Tories seen as party of 'nostalgia, hard Brexit and privilege'

Posted On: 
17th November 2017

Theresa May's policy chief warned her the Conservatives risked being seen as "soulless, technocratic managerial defenders of a divisive austerity Brexit", it has been revealed.

Theresa May is under pressure to turn around Tory fortunes.
Credit: 
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George Freeman has also warned that the Tories risk looking like “a narrow party of nostalgia, hard Brexit, public sector austerity and lazy privilege”.

The senior Tory MP first voiced his concerns in a hard-hitting letter to the Prime Minister in September.

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Details of the letter were revealed as it emerged Mr Freeman is making a radical bid to overhaul the way the party comes up with fresh ideas.

Frustrated Tory MPs are demanding a new approach in an attempt to see off the threat from Jeremy Corbyn.

Part of Mr Freeman's strongly-worded letter to Mrs May is published in the latest issue of The House magazine.

"We are now in a new battle of ideas which is reshaping 21st century politics,” he told PoliticsHome.

“We need to move fast to show that the Conservative party has learnt the lessons of the last election and is serious about intellectual, organisational and cultural renewal.

"If we allow ourselves to be defined as a narrow party of nostalgia, hard Brexit, public sector austerity and lazy privilege we risk alienating ourselves from an entire new generation of voters."

Mr Freeman, the MP for Mid-Norfolk, is working with Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell to open up the Downing Street policy board to backbenchers and even grassroots party members.

He was appointed to chair the board last year, when it was dominated by senior Number 10 operatives such as Mrs May’s controversial former joint-chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.

The board was wound down after the 2017 general election, but Mr Freeman has remained in place as chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum.

One suggestion for the new-look board is that Tory backbench policy committee chairs could sit in, giving them a direct line to Number 10.

Mr Freeman is also understood to be looking into changing the name of the board so that it is not seen to be controlled by the Prime Minister.

'ENERGY AND IDEAS'

One highly-rated Tory MP elected in 2015 said action was urgently needed to open up the policy-making process to bright backbenchers.

The MP said: “There’s lots of energy and lots of ideas outside of government, especially coming from my intake. The question is, how do you get it fed into the government machine? Because the government needs to harness that energy."

At this year’s party conference, a host of Tory MPs expressed similar concerns, with justice minister Philip Lee calling for his colleagues to “to step forward with something new, something fresh and something coherent”.

This week, Tory 1922 chairman Graham Brady declared that the challenge for his colleagues was “to come up with solutions that are as appealing, and encapsulate our principles as perfectly, as the sale of council houses back in the 1980s”.

While many Tory MPs will welcome the attempt by Freeman and others to breathe new life into the party, others are sceptical about whether Ms May will act upon them.

One Tory insider with knowledge of Mr Freeman’s movements said: “George is making a lot of noise but ultimately we need a leader who is driving things forward and is genuinely interested in new ideas.”