What can the BJP learn from Britain’s Conservative Party?
This post is part of the CRI’s 1st year anniversary celebrations. We have launched a blogging festival where every member of the CRI Commentariat will participate and write on issues that affect their political outlook. Podcasts with Conservative intellectuals are also coming up, so stay tuned
In a parliamentary democracy, one major advantage that the ruling party enjoys is its ability to pass off innovative bureaucratic interventions and government institutional policy formulation as its own despite the fact that it might not be even remotely linked to party’s core ideological principles. Additionally, they can leverage the visionary policy making of previous ruling dispensations and accrue to itself all the political capital that comes out of it. Given this undeniable reality, political formations operating in the opposition space in parliamentary democracies are left with no choice but to invest necessary capacity building to come up with alternative policy formulations that differentiate themselves from the ruling party in clear and cohesive manner. This can be done only if political formations have the necessary wherewithal and mechanism to conduct long-term policy development. In the case of the BJP, they need to address a widespread perception that the party, which was in the forefront of setting the agenda by its creative formulations in the 90’s, has atrophied to a considerable extent in coming up with a path breaking formulation. The party needs to evolve a model that is a judicious mix of the agitational and the aspirational in keeping pace with the varied demands of political discourse today
As part of an effort to achieve policy renewal, we suggest that the BJP adopts a two pronged approach to plug the lacuna in information and research. Whilst a ‘Vision Group’ can be entrusted with the onerous job of envisaging a longer term blueprinting of organizational objectives, the Research Department that is being proposed here will work on meeting the day to day demands for information and research. This will also insulate the Vision Group from the rigmarole of addressing any transactional policy issue and focus essentially on macro-normative issues.
Given the ever-changing electoral landscape as a result of social churning, demographic shifts and constituency delimitation, the BJP today is required to perform political analysis and research based on systematic data collection and interpretation in addition to intuitive native political wisdom that should be widely available in any party organization. Deployment of sophisticated statistical modeling tools will go some distance in building an element of predictability in political analysis.
In order to engender policy renewal and perform focused data oriented political research, the BJP can attempt to set up a new department on the lines of the Conservative Research Department in the United Kingdom. In terms of its structure and role, this new department can work under the auspices of Party President’s office. In the mature political democracies that this writer uses as benchmarks, it appears that such policy cells have a big role to play in the party apparatus.
Conservative Research Department
The BJP can benefit immensely by learning lessons on how party organizations that operate in mature western democracies have evolved inner party mechanisms to meet the ever expanding challenges of information and research. The Conservative Party was facing a predicament similar to BJP as a consequence of continuous electoral defeats. It was seen as the proverbial nasty party without any meaningful alternative agenda to offer .This led to strengthening of its in-house Conservative Research department which has done a sterling job in steering the course of the party’s policy making.
“The Conservative Research Department was an organization founded by the British Conservative Party to develop party policy and to support the party leadership in promoting their policies and opposing those of rival parties. After the war, the Conservative Party engaged in a profound rethink of its policies following its severe election defeat. Rab Butler was appointed as Chairman of the CRD, and assembled a much larger and highly skilled team which produced The Right Road for Britain (1949) which reshaped party policy and was the basis for the Conservative governments of the 1950s. Its extended post-war role included the provision of extensive briefing material on major legislation before Parliament and all the main issues of political controversy as they arose, as well as to create the post-war Conservatism embodied in the famous series of charters of the late-1940s.
In the 1970s under Margaret Thatcher, CRD was a vital link between a reforming administration and the Party on whose support it depended. It was entrusted with the production of her general election manifestos and worked closely with her during election campaigns.
The CRD today is widely acknowledged as a training ground for leading Conservative politicians.” (Via–Wikipedia)
Functions of the proposed department
The proposed research department can be vested with 5 primary functions
A) Policy Convergence
B) Best Practices Aggregation
C) Issue Management
D) Legislative Research Assistance
E) Political planning & election management/analysis
A) Policy Convergence
- Extensive research of publications, specialized papers, briefs, reports and publications and feed in to party policy formulation mechanism
- Maintain structured liaison with a network of ideologically affiliated policy experts /think tanks and aggregate inputs that can feed in to eventual crystallization of party policies
- Function as single point of interface between policy ecosystem and party
- Interface extensively with /energize party cells to feed in to policy formulation and analyze government policy proposal implication
- Prepare briefing for key party functionaries on complex issues of governance and policy
- Prepare ready reckoners to educate the public on key party policies
- Identify learning opportunities for key party functionaries on broadening their horizon on public issues and policy solution
- Content management activities related to upkeep of Party website on policy articulation
The BJP should compile a list of policy experts/thinkers/ideologues and the party should seek to engage them on a continuous basis. Given the hostile intellectual environment that it encounters, it would be difficult for the party to convince some top policy analyst to engage with it. But good intentions and persuasion coupled with determination to find a common ground can help.
B) Best Practices Aggregation
The party should realize the imperative for a Central locus that serves to aggregate the best practices by BJP governments/NDA policy interventions. NDA ruled state governments, urban municipal bodies and rural local bodies have to their credit many path breaking and innovative policies, practices and programmes. However the party does not appears to have a centralized mechanism which aggregates these best-in-class policies, practices and programs in order to facilitate further knowledge sharing across states. This would go a long way in preventing time and effort expended in “reinventing the wheel” as far as policy formulation goes. If replication of best practices is achieved across NDA ruled states, it would provide a credible case for seeking electorate mandate for nationwide implementation. It would also provide an opportunity to standardize consistent and cohesive communication strategy for effective dissemination of NDA success stories
Best Practice briefing repository will be a good idea in this direction – summaries of selected practices from NDA government designed to provide an overview of how various levels of governments are solving critical social, economic and environmental problems. These briefs, will illustrate how BJP vision 2025 will be translated in to implementable actions
The best practices briefs can be organized under the following thematic areas:
- Women Empowerment
- Police Reforms
- Rural Poverty
- Urban Planning
- Children and Youth
- Urban Governance Practices
- Environmental Management
- Urban Infrastructure
- Water and Sanitation
To start off with best in class practises would have to be identified, collected, organised in a meaningful structure. This can eventually evolve in to one stop shop which will deliver performance benchmarks and best practice research findings on key areas of governance from NDA ruled states, urban bodies and rural local bodies. The party can also expand the horizon of our initiatives by looking at good governance practices at a global level.
C) Issue Management
- Keep the Party President informed about the ever-changing political environment so that he continues to focus on macro picture without worrying about their political reverberations.
- Preparation of the daily focus daily news reports on political developments relevant to the party Its imperative that president is provided with an accurate assessment of the political dynamics affecting the work of party, forces ranged vis-à-vis supporting the advancement of presidential agenda, and ensuring that the party understands the priorities of and can remain in close contact with electorate across the nation.
- Focus and be responsible for staying in close communication with constituents and stakeholders of the party, tracking and assessing developments in various state units and creating and supporting opportunities to advance the President’s agenda and implement his policies.
- Additionally the party need to assess trends and intra-regional issues that impact the political situation, and recommend solutions/possible action that could be taken by the president.
- Conduct periodic field missions in order to update the overall political situation would be part of this agenda
- Prepare consolidated daily/weekly/monthly reports to president about major political happenings and analyze information contained in communications and publications received from different sources, including the press and extract politically useful information
D) Legislative Research Assistance
This function can be potentially outsourced
- Responsible for tracking legislation, conducting research on specific legislative and policy issues,
- Maintaining and updating the legislative portion of website,
- Reviews and analyzes proposed legislative bills.
- Coordinates with the senior Party leaders/policy analyst on implementing action plans to respond to proposed legislation.
- Prepares background and information materials, including hearing briefing documents, summary reports, and other materials explaining the party’s legislative policies, position and objectives.
E) Electoral data management/analysis
- Design and build advanced regression models and other sophisticated statistical models
- Manage the planning and Designing of pre-election surveys commissioned by the party to formulate electioneering strategies
- Establish causal inference and design experiments and/or use statistical techniques to identify causal effects.
- Deploy principles of political targeting, politics and/or political campaigning
- Statistical analysis of new and existing data, constructing and analyzing models and designing, implementing and analyzing.
- Develop an electoral plan including voter registration, voter education and mobilization.
- Survey the political landscape and develop endorsement strategies in response to that environment.
- Survey and endorse/decline to endorse candidates.
Leveraging good organisational design principles, building a sound infrastructural backbone, learning lessons from best practises on policy formulation and research, an innovative media strategy with social media as the lynchpin in tandem with conventional political strategies including ground level political mobilisation, restrained and meaningful parliamentary behaviour, networking effectively with ideologically affliated social organisations should be party’s preferred route to reganing preminence.
(This idea was developed in a series of conversations CRI team had with Arun Narendranath, a cerebral young political researcher. He deserves complete credit for providing a structure to these thoughts)