What has happened to Steve Baker’s relaunch of Thatcherite pressure group Conservative Way Forward?

Steve Baker MP announced the relaunch of the Conservative Way Forward campaign group in December, so what happened to it?

Steve Baker is not happy with the direction the Conservative Party are going in. Baker knows what Conservatism means to him and “across a range of issues, today’s Conservative Party is in the wrong place and heading in the opposite direction of Conservatism”, he said in December.

Baker has therefore decided to relaunch Conservative Way Forward (CWF), a Thatcherite campaign group within Parliament. Baker is already involved with a number of other Tory pressure groups, such as Net Zero Watch and the European Research Group. 

Baker also founded educational charity The Cobden Centre to promote the Austrian school of economics which influenced Thatcherism, or what is generally called Neoliberalism today. They publish articles with titles like ‘Ludwig Von Mises’ Free Market Agenda For A Post-War Ukraine’.

But it seems that Baker still has time to spare to devote to the relaunch of one of the most famous Tory pressure groups, which prides itself on having supported every candidate who has won the Conservative leadership race since 1997. CWF is a bit like Momentum, the group founded to support Jeremy Corbyn’s political agenda within the Labour Party, except for Thatcher fans. 

When Baker announced the relaunch of the group in December, his pitch was largely about opposing mask mandates and mandatory vaccinations for NHS workers. But since December, there does not seem to have been any new posts on the group’s Facebook page, and the website still says they plan to relaunch at an unspecified point in the future.

Perhaps the Ukraine war and the end of most Covid restrictions has somewhat rained on Baker’s plans for the group.

Byline Times reported in December that Baker “sits within a cross-section of anti-science disinformation networks – receiving donations from the murky ‘Recovery Alliance’, a nexus of pro-Trump anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists with links to the Koch-backed Great Barrington Declaration, and acting as trustee for the notorious climate science-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation.”

Looking at Baker’s recent declaration of members’ interests from March 14, 2022, he declares “The services of a media and strategic campaign consultant between 10 December 2021 and 10 February 2022 for the Covid Recovery Group, of which I am the Deputy Chairman, and the coming relaunch of CWF, of which I am to be the Chairman; value £5,000”.

This donation was given by Neil Record, who is Chairman of Net Zero Watch and former Chairman of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Both organisations are based at 55 Tufton Street.

Byline Times also reported that Conservative Way Forward’s executive director, Conservative councillor Paul Simon Osborn worked for Cherish Freedom, an organisation with links to Cambridge Analytica and the Mercer family, who funded both Brexit and Trump campaigns.

Guido Fawkes reported on March 10 that CWF will relaunch in April, “with chairman Steve Baker set to unveil the leading members of the group’s parliamentary council and drum up much needed support for free market policies within the party… The big policy focus, Guido hears, will be on housing. They’re also keen to present a softer, more ‘pro-social’ side to their campaigning and policy agenda.”

In October, Baker explained to GB News how he would solve the housing crisis: “what we need to do is realign people’s incentives, give people the power to say no but the incentives to say yes. What this paper is doing is saying that the planning law should give local people supplementary powers to say yes to development where they can see it’s in their interests.”

Free marketeers like Baker have long championed planning reforms as the key to solving the shortage of housing, believing that red tape is the only barrier to making the housing market work efficiently.

“I believe the Conservative Party is the party which should be offering hope and aspiration to young people. But that aspiration has to be grounded in practical things like owning your own home. I do believe the Conservative Party is in electoral peril both in the short and the long run if we don’t sort out this problem”.

I used to have a job reporting on Parliamentary committee meetings, and these arguments are a rehash of things I heard 8 years ago in committees. Tories, refusing to countenance investment in social housing, clung to a belief in planning reform. However, councils had had their budgets cut so much that they didn’t have enough planning officers to deal with planning applications, meaning that only big developments were likely to get planning permission.

It doesn’t seem to me like Baker has any new ideas for actually dealing with the housing crisis, continuing to believe that a free market which has created the crisis in the first place will somehow be able to fix it. With the end of lockdown rules, Baker has pivoted from anti-lockdown libertarianism to a subject his party has not been very interested in fixing, and which doesn’t seem like fertile ground for free market fundamentalism.

Baker also wrote a foreword to a report on housing by the Social Market Foundation, another Tufton Street group, in October 2021. This report hoped to influence the upcoming Planning Bill, which has now been withdrawn: “Housing secretary Michael Gove has reportedly told MPs that instead of a standalone bill, the government will now deliver its planning proposals announced in the ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper of summer 2020 through levelling up legislation this year.”

You’ve got to feel for Steve Baker. Every time he decides on a theme to relaunch his Thatcherite pressure group, the government moves the goalposts.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

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