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tive, circumstances are making this group of new MPs particularly influential. Thanks to the expenses scandal, and to the Tories’ gains at the last election, the 2010 intake dominates the parliamentary party; it accounts for just under half of Tory MPs. Coalition has also given them a freedom to think that is not normally granted to new members. It is not disloyal for them to push for new policies and ideas while there is not a Tory government.When any interviewer asks why the party leadership isn’t doing as they suggest, they have an easy answer: coalition. Equally, the constraints of coalition put greater responsibility on the backbenches for thinking about the Tory future. Letwin remains in charge of policy development, but he has told young MPs that it is they who have the time to craft the tools with which the leadership can win the next election.

Tellingly, when five of the New Radicals —Truss, Kwarteng, Patel, Chris Skidmore and Dominic Raab — last year set out their political credo in a book, they called it After the Coalition. The scale of change they want can only happen with a Tory majority. The same group is producing a volume for conference this year entitled Britannia

Sailor’s Song Remember when you breezed into the Swan, The Mermaid or the Dove, and swayed And swaggered like a buccaneer Who scented plunder, how the crew Sat laughing in the stern, how far gone The ship’s complement of women were? Remember that sharp stink in the heads, The rocky beds, the calm As you rowed free; the path, a thin brown arm Thrown around the cliff, and how she threw Her thin brown arm around you, au bord de la mer? How you might have made a go of it with her? Will you – same old riff – never learn? That you will not find safe moorings here, Or at Chiswick Eyot, or anywhere; That some mistakes are final, And leave you all at sea; that too late Is too late, is spindrift, is thin air?

— Alan Jenkins

It helps that most of the New Radicals were not born into the Tory party.

They have the zeal of converts

Unchained. Its argument is that Britain has to work harder, learn from developing economies and embrace science if it is to pay its way in the world.

As all these books and the pre-Budget conference show, these New Radicals are not shy about putting themselves forward. They are also free of the hang-ups that have traumatised the Tories over recent generations: they don’t spend their time fretting about whether they are seen as the ‘nasty party’.

‘Detoxifying the brand’ was, with justification, regarded as a prerequisite of a Conservative return to government. But the self-examination went on for so long that the party began to lose touch with what it actually believed. Nor has detoxification proved a particularly useful guide to governing. When Steve Hilton, Cameron’s closest ally during the early years of his leadership, left Downing Street recently, he confided to friends that his greatest regret was that the modernisation had not been built on surer intellectual foundations. When circumstances changed, the lack of a philosophical underpinning had left them floundering.

The New Radicals, by contrast, are sure of what they think. It helps that most of them were not born into the Tory party.They chose it, and they have the zeal of converts: they don’t want to move to the political centre, but to move the centre.They are unapologetic about their belief that the country needs to embrace both wealth creation and profit-making. They believe that the rapid pace of economic development in Asia and Latin America means that western societies must change to succeed. They are fond of discussing Germany’s labour-market reforms, and the strong growth that has followed them (cheap euro-denominated exports may also, of course, have helped).

Aconvert mentality is also part of what sets these New Radicals apart from oldschool Thatcherites. They want to take the gospel of the free market into traditionally Labour areas. Truss, for example, campaigns to cut the red tape around childcare. When the last government tried to help working parents, she argues, it did so with subsidies — and the main result was to make childcare more expensive. Fewer regulations would mean more childminders; and more competition would mean lower prices. The government, characteristically, acknowledges the problem. It has set up a commission on affordable childcare. But because of

‘Have you tried turning him off and then turning him back on again?’

the spectator | 23 june 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk coalition, the commission will be led by the Liberal Democrat children’s minister, Sarah Teather. It remains to be seen if she is prepared to back Truss’s solution.

Success in politics is very often about being in the right place at the right time: that is where the new intake of Tory MPs find themselves. They arrived in parliament as it became clear that the assumptions of the past two decades had to be jettisoned, while coalition has reduced their chances of being brought into government, it has given them the space they needed to construct their response to this crisis. Not since the late 1970s has there been a group of Tories thinking so hard, with such freedom, about the future of the country. And there has not been such an impressive cohort of new Tory MPs since at least 1983.

What is absent from this group, for the moment, is a leader. But this is about an agenda, not a person. There is no animosity towards David Cameron, no talk of a Prince over the Water. Thatcherism started not with Thatcher herself but with an agenda: she agreed to become its champion only once it became clear that her mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, could not take on that role. The idea came first, the person came second — and so it is in today’s Conservative party. As always happens at times of crisis, politics is once more becoming a battle of ideas. It is a fight which the new Tory radicals are determined to win.

James Forsyth and Liz Truss MP are on this week’s Spectator ‘View from 22’ podcast: spectator.co.uk/podcast

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