London Influence by Matt Honeycombe-Foster
— Inside the new campaign aiming to convince ministers that voters actually do like stuff getting built, “cheems mindset” be damned.
— A triple-whammy of calls to reform Westminster’s alphabet soup of influence watchdogs.
— Rishi Sunak loves a pharmacy photo op — but family-run firms are pressing for much more from the new PM.
TAKING ON THE CHEEMS MINDSET: It says a lot about politics in the U.K. right now that top policy wonks are having to run a campaign in favor of economic growth.
But, hacked off with what they see as years of big promises followed by NIMBY-ism, dither and delay in areas like energy, transport and housing, that’s exactly what new outfit Britain Remade is trying to do.
Who they? The campaign is led by Sam Richards, the former head of pressure group the Conservative Environment Network who, until May this year, was Boris Johnson’s special adviser on energy and the environment. Jeremy Driver, a public affairs pro most recently at Lloyds who coined the meme-tastic term “cheems mindset” to describe a malaise in Westminster’s policy ambitions on his popular Substack, is on board as head of campaigns. And Sam Dumitriu, the former head of policy at the Adam Smith Institute who’s also done stints with the Entrepreneurs Network and Bright Blue, is point-man for policy.
So what’s the thinking? The group has Britain’s sluggish record of growth since the financial crisis firmly in its sights, pushing the stark stat this week that British families are already poorer than Americans and Germans and are on track to be poorer than Polish families by the 2030s on current trajectories. “One of the big factors in this is just an inability to build,” explains Driver, who is somehow managing to coherently talk to us after becoming a dad for the second time. “Our planning system’s just not up to scratch — housing, transportation, energy infrastructure, all three of them just aren’t working. It’s been 27 years since we’ve built a nuclear power station. And it’s not always been like this.”
And so … Remade Britain is intentionally trying to tap into Britain’s industrial heritage, pointing out that it was a trailblazer on railways, power stations and nuclear energy back in the day. And while politicians often balk at noisy local opposition to new developments, the team is bullish in its view that there are “lots of people in the country who feel frustrated about Britain in the same way” as they do. It’s pitching itself as a “broker” between SW1 and people out there in the country who “feel that frustration about Britain’s current trajectory and want to do something about it,” Driver says.
Who funds them? Britain Remade has so far declared grants from organizations including the European Climate Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the Quadrature Climate Foundation, a spinoff of fintech firm Quadrature.
Don’t call us a policy shop: The outfit is pitching itself as a campaign group, rather than a think tank, aiming to get out and about and tap into what Driver reckons is a “popular consent behind getting things built again.” He’s keen for Remade Britain to be able to show MPs and policymakers “that actually, there are a huge number of people in constituency X, or town X, or area X that back these ideas.”
What about the NIMBYs? Driver acknowledges that in politics, often “the loudest voices are heard,” so the team will be on the hunt for people “who do want to see wind farms near where they are, housing in their area for their children, and better transport,” and trying to give them a voice. Expect focus groups, polling, plus pub nights around the country as the campaign tries to get actual, normal people (we’ve read about them!) to think about barriers to growth.
Truss take: So what did Driver make of the Truss administration, which banged on about growth a lot before going down in flames within weeks? “There’s always a problem with talking about growth in the abstract, right?” he says. Britain Remade will, he says, focus instead on what growth actually means for normies — “better jobs, better quality jobs” and the “chance to get on in life and a future that looks more bright.”
Sunak so far: He’s not impressed with Rishi Sunak’s ongoing opposition to onshore wind, but hopes there’ll be a rowback on the Truss government’s roadblocks to new solar power at least.
What to watch for: After the listening tour, Driver’s promising a “rolling” program of policy announcements from Britain Remade to try and turn its ideas into reality. It’s deliberately going for a cross-party approach to the campaign rather than just focusing on the Tories, and Driver wants the team to “garner support and speak up for people who don’t necessarily feel they have a political affiliation” too. “It doesn’t matter how they vote,” he says. “It’s sensible, practical solutions for some of the problems holding Britain behind.”