Back in February I posted some thoughts on an essay published in Commentary Magazine by Mike Gerson and Peter Wehner called ‘How to Save the Republican Party’. At the time I also submitted a letter to the Editor of Commentary Magazine picking up on the suggestion that the Centre for Social Justice could provide a model for the US.
The letter has now been published in the June 2013 edition of the magazine and I have reprinted it here:
To the Editor:
IN THEIR superb essay, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner highlight the considerable challenges for Republicans. As the authors state, the current troubles are not simply the result of a communications problem. In some key areas, policy needs updating, too. The big question is how.
In the ﬁnal section of their essay, Gerson and Wehner suggest that a British think tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), could provide the answer for the GOP.
The CSJ has been one of the most inﬂuential think tanks in the UK in the last decade. It was founded by the former leader of the Conservative Party (and current secretary of state for work and pensions) Iain Duncan Smith, following his 2002 visit to a deprived housing estate in Glasgow where he saw ﬁrsthand the damaging effects of poverty. Duncan Smith and the CSJ focused their work on overcoming the “pathways to poverty”: family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependence, indebtedness, and addictions. What accounted for the CSJ’s success and what can the GOP learn?
First, all ﬁndings and recommendations from the CSJ are ﬁrmly rooted in evidence, including the use of thorough public polling. The 2007 report Breakthrough Britain, for example, included two waves of polling, which collected the opinions of almost 50,000 people. In an era of pontiﬁcating and punditry when evidence can be relegated below opinion, this approach is powerful.
Second, the CSJ is a superb example of how politicians and policymakers can make the most of their time in opposition. The result is that once the Conservatives were back in government, crucial reforms were pre-packaged and ready to go. This gave the party a huge head start on the current welfare reforms that are being introduced in the UK (led by Duncan-Smith).
Third, the CSJ is a conservative organization with conservative beliefs and principles. However, it has never been bound by partisanship or tribalism. When the Labour Party was in government, the CSJ was actively engaged in working together with Labour MPs to see their policies implemented. Perhaps the best example of this approach is seen in the 2008 report Early Intervention, co-written with Labour MP Graham Allen. This report led to all of the main party leaders’ signing up to the new social policy of “Early Intervention.” This willingness to reach across the aisle has given the CSJ a coalition of supporters from different political spheres.
If it is to change in any meaningful way, the Republican Party must resist the temptation to do what many political parties do following defeat: repeat more loudly the same failed policies under the assumption that the people simply didn’t hear the message the ﬁrst time around.
The Washington D.C. think tank scene is highly competitive. If, however, there is space for one more, modelling it on the Centre for Social Justice would be an excellent starting point. And the good news is that work has already begun at state level. The Georgia Center for Opportunity seems to be following the CSJ model. Perhaps it will be only a matter of time before we see this scaled up to the national level.
Legatum Institute, London
Commentary Magazine provides space for the authors of the original essay to also post their response to the published letters. Concerning my letter, Mike Gerson and Peter Wehner said this:
And we thank Nathan Gamester for his insightful letter on the Centre for Social Justice. We’re great admirers of the CSJ, and we believe there is much the Republican Party can learn from it.