Wanted: fresh thinking to challenge the consensus

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Education is only one field of public policy in desperate need of new thinking. It is, therefore, in the interest of the nation as much as of the Conservative Party that the supporters of Michael Portillo should be setting up a new think tank to push forward with some of the ideas promoted in his failed bid for the leadership.

True, the themes of his campaign were almost Blairite in their vacuousness, and he was tripped up on the specifics of gay marriage and legalising cannabis, which would only be controversial in a party in its dotage. Nevertheless, he alone of the leadership candidates appeared to understand the need for his party to reach out beyond its bunker. He alone seemed to appreciate the need to learn from New Labour the lessons of how it had successfully leapfrogged Margaret Thatcher, so that the Tories could themselves escape her deadweight legacy.

If his supporters can put some intellectual petrol into the new think tank to give that ambition some traction, it can only benefit the party and ultimately the country. The manifestos of both Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke are pathetically thin on policy, especially on the central issues of education, health and transport.

What British politics needs, as the flat years of social-democratic consensus stretch before us, is some of the old abrasiveness of the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute in the Thatcher years. Mr Portillo may have retreated from the front line, but some of the ideas he could have espoused as leader still deserve to enliven the political battle over the years to come.