Policy Exchange

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Policy Exchange
Formation29 April 2002; 17 years ago (2002-04-29)
FounderNick Boles, Francis Maude and Archie Norman
TypeThink tank
Legal statusCharity
Dean Godson
Chairman of Trustees
Alexander Downer, former High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom

Policy Exchange is a British centre-right[1] think tank, created in 2002 and based in London. It has been variously described as "the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right", in The Daily Telegraph.[2] The Washington Post said Policy Exchange's reports "often inform government policy in Britain."[3] At an event in November 2018, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, described Policy Exchange as "multidisciplinary, highly influential, a productive force at the heart of Westminster and our political system."[4]

The policy ideas developed by the think tank which have been adopted as government policy include free schools, Police and Crime Commissioners, Garden Villages and protecting the armed forces from ‘lawfare’.

Policy Exchange has been addressed by senior figures from all governments of the past 15 years including Theresa May, David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Sir Michael Fallon, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, Hazel Blears and Ed Miliband. Other speakers include Mark Carney, Benjamin Netanyahu, General James Mattis, General David Petraeus, Speaker Paul Ryan of the US House of Representatives and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Its alumni can be found across parliament and government – including Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Leader of the House of Lords and previously Deputy Director of Policy Exchange); Neil O’Brien (MP for Harborough and previously Director of Policy Exchange); and Nicholas Boles (MP for Grantham and previously Director of Policy Exchange).

It describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free-market solutions to public policy problems, with research programmes covering education and social reform, energy and environment, Britain’s place in the world, economics and industrial policy, housing policy, demography and immigration and security. Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project[5] examines the power of the British judiciary and argues that unelected judges have accrued too much power. Jolyon Maugham QC said of the Judicial Power Project during the Miller case at the Supreme Court in 2016 that "An awful lot – possibly all? – of the secondary material the Government is citing is to be found on the website of @judicialpwr".[citation needed]

Policy Exchange authors have included former government advisor Professor Dieter Helm, economist Robert Shiller, author and broadcaster Bill Bryson, historian and journalist Anna Reid, former Financial Times journalist John Willman, and Olympic athlete James Cracknell.

Policy Exchange is a registered charity.[6]


Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by a group including Nicholas Boles (director), Michael Gove (chairman) and Francis Maude.[7] Maude went on to become Minister for the Cabinet Office, and names being one of the co-founders as his proudest political achievement.[8] Gove went on to become Secretary of State for Education, Secretary of State for Justice, and Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He is currently Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

In May 2007, Boles was succeeded as director by Anthony Browne, a journalist and political correspondent for The Times. In September 2008, Browne stepped down to work for Boris Johnson, and was succeeded by Neil O'Brien, formerly director of Open Europe.[9] In November 2012, O'Brien was appointed as a special adviser to George Osborne,[10] and in 2013 he was succeeded by Dean Godson, formerly head of Policy Exchange's security unit.[11]


Think tank Transparify, which is funded by the Open Society Foundations, ranked the Policy Exchange as one of the three least transparent think tanks in the UK in relation to funding. Transparify's report 'How Transparent are Think Tanks about Who Funds Them 2016?' rated them as 'highly opaque,' one of 'a handful of think tanks that refuse to reveal even the identities of their donors.[12]' Website 'WhoFundsYou?' rate Policy Exchange as 'E', the lowest score out of five for funding transparency.[13]

Notable publications[edit]

Building More, Building Beautiful[edit]

In June 2018, Policy Exchange published Building More, Building Beautiful,[14] which argued that if developers build more homes in ways that the public find beautiful, there will be less opposition to new housebuilding. The paper argued that this would make development less risky, with increased benefits to people’s physical and mental health. The report included a poll of more than 5,000 people, which detailed their preferences for the design and style of the built environment. Its foreword was written by James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the report was by commended by Theresa May in a speech to Policy Exchange[15].

The Government subsequently announced the establishment of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission[16], an independent body that will advise ministers on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods. An article in The Economist[17] hailed the policy as the “brainchild of Policy Exchange” and “the biggest idea in housing policy since the sale of council houses under Margaret Thatcher.” To feed ideas into the Commission, in January 2019 Policy Exchange also published Building Beautiful[18], a cross-party essay collection with contributions from politics, architecture and the housebuilding industry, including by the Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP, Dame Fiona Reynolds, and Jon Cruddas MP.

The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online[edit]

In 2017 Policy Exchanged published The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online,[19] which provided a comprehensive analysis of the struggle against online extremism. It included a major survey of public opinion which showed that two-thirds of people believe the leading social media companies are not doing enough to combat online radicalisation. Three-quarters of people want the companies to do more to locate and remove extremist content. The report explored a range of policy options for interdicting the supply-chain of extremist content. In covering the report, Con Coughlin of the Daily Telegraph called Policy Exchange "One of London's most effective think tanks, which has done ground-breaking research on the emerging jihadi threat"[20] while William Booth of the Washington Post said that its "reports often inform government policy in Britain".[21]

The Fog of Law[edit]

In 2013 Policy Exchange published The Fog of Law,[22] which argued that the increasing application of civilian norms to military conflict, and resulting increase in legal claims against the Ministry of Defence, risked undermining the effectiveness of the armed forces and therefore the security of the nation. The co-authors were former US army lawyer Laura Croft and former British Army officer Tom Tugendhat.

The report recommended that the government should legislate to define Combat Immunity to allow military personnel to take decisions without having to worry about risk of prosecution, that the MoD should be exempt from the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, for the UK to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights during deployed operations and for legal aid to be removed from foreign nationals.

In March 2015, an update was published called Clearing the Fog of Law by Tom Tugendhat, Professor Richard Ekins and Dr Jonathan Morgan.[23] This further developed the argument that the expansion of “lawfare” hinders the ability of commanders on the ground to make immediate and potentially life-or-death decisions. Five former Chiefs of the General staff wrote to the Times on 8 April 2015 to support the recommendations, saying “We urge the government to recognise the primacy of the Geneva Conventions in war by derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights in time of war and redefining combat immunity through legislation to ensure that our serving personnel are able to operate in the field without fear of the laws designed for peacetime environments.”[24]

At the Conservative party conference in October 2016, Michael Fallon announced that the Government would follow Policy Exchange’s recommendations, saying in his platform speech that “in future conflicts we intend to derogate from the Convention. That would protect our Armed Forces from many of the industrial scale claims we have seen post Iraq and Afghanistan. Now this isn’t about putting our Armed Forces above the criminal law or the Geneva Conventions. Serious claims will be investigated – but spurious claims will be stopped. And our Armed Forces will be able to do their job, fighting the enemy, not the lawyers.” The Ministry of Defence published a consultation on 5 December 2016[25] as a first step to turning Fallon’s speech into reality.

Andrew Gimson of ConservativeHome said that "Policy Exchange’s work on “lawfare”, as it came to be known, was the UK equivalent of the Manhattan Institute’s “Broken Windows” moment, for it drastically changed the terms of the debate, and led to decisive action to deal with the problem."

The Cost of Doing Nothing[edit]

In 2016, the then Labour MP Jo Cox started working with Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat on a pamphlet[26] which would examine Britain’s attitude to intervening in humanitarian situations overseas. They intended to publish the report to coincide with the publication of The Iraq Inquiry’s report into the origins of the Iraq War. The report was put on hold when Jo Cox was murdered in June 2016. However, her family agreed that the report should be completed and her friend Labour MP Alison McGovern helped Tugendhat to finish it.

The report examines the history of British intervention overseas and argues that successful examples such as Sierra Leone, Kosovo and the Gulf War demonstrate the value potential for intervention to succeed. The authors contrasted this with examples of Britain and the wider international community failing to intervene in time to prevent mass atrocities, such as the Rwandan genocide, massacres in Bosnia and most recently the death of hundreds of thousands of people in the Syrian Civil War.

A supportive message from Prime Minister Theresa May was printed on the back cover, reading "There are few more complex questions than when to intervene overseas. Jo Cox was an inspirational humanitarian who cared deeply about preventing violence and protecting people around the world. It is a fitting part of Jo’s legacy that this paper will challenge politicians of all parties to consider how we can put such considerations at the heart of the decisions we take". The report was launched by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown with Tom Tugendhat and Alison McGovern on 26 January 2017.

Clean Brexit[edit]

In January 2017, Policy Exchange published a paper by the economists Gerard Lyons and Liam Halligan which argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Economic Area when it leaves the European Union and that the British economy could thrive trading under World Trade Organisation tariffs.[27]

In the week following its publication, Theresa May made a speech setting out her proposed approach to Brexit which incorporated many of the ideas set out in 'Clean Brexit', including that she would be prepared to walk away from negotiations if the EU does not offer a good enough deal. One commentator said that her speech "appears to be based on Policy Exchange's recent Clean Brexit paper".[citation needed]

Just About Managing classes[edit]

In June 2015, Policy Exchange published ‘Overlooked But Decisive: Connecting with England’s Just about Managing classes’.[28] The report examined the values and political attitudes of C1 and C2 voters by the NRS social grade classifications in marginal seats in England. The author of the report, James Frayne, argued that these families rely heavily on public services like state schools and the NHS, and rely on a stable economy, low inflation and low interest rates to keep their jobs and ensure their mortgage payments are affordable.

The phrase 'Just About Managing', coined by Policy Exchange and now abbreviated to JAMs, was reportedly adopted by civil servants ahead of the Autumn Statement in November 2016 to describe the people who Theresa May’s government hoped to help.[29]


Policy Exchange’s work on education is acknowledged as some of its most influential contribution to debate – Schools Week wrote in February 2017 that "Policy Exchange’s power can be seen in the impressive number of policies foreshadowed in their reports: reducing the frequency of Ofsted inspections, sharpening up accountability, removing vocational qualifications from league tables in favour of a focus on so-called academic GCSEs."[30]

More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings[edit]

In March 2011, Policy Exchange published a report that argued government should reform the Use Classes Order to make it much easier to move buildings and land from Use Classes A (retail) and B (employment) to C3 (dwelling houses). The report postulated that such a move would result in a more collaborative and flexible development model that delivers both more and better development.

In April 2011, the Government produced a consultation document on reducing planning controls relating to the conversion of commercial properties to residential use. The results of the public consultation were published in July 2012. The summary document showed that just 12% of respondents supported the proposed reform of the use class order in relation to commercial to residential conversion. In January 2013 various news sources reported that the Planning Minister Nick Boles was planning on pushing ahead with the reform of the use class order, in line with the Policy Exchange proposals of 2011.


Policy Exchange's Judicial Power Project researches whether the power of judges has increased in the UK, and what effect such a rise in judicial power is having on the principle of the separation of powers.[5] The research unit focuses on the proper scope of judicial power within the Westminster constitution, arguing that judicial overreach increasingly threatens the rule of law and effective, democratic government. The Judicial Power Project has been at the heart of debate surrounding the UK Government's proposed derogation from the ECHR European Convention on Human Rights. On 19 October 2016, the Head of the Judicial Power Project, Professor Richard Ekins, gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee recommending that the Government make permanent in UK law its unwillingness to have the conduct of British soldiers reviewed by human rights legislation.[31] Policy Exchange's Judicial Power Project has also been involved in scrutinising the Miller case R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, publishing a number of arguments that were used by the Government in their Supreme Court appeal.[32]

Senior trustees and staff[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wintour, Patrick (21 July 2014). "UK jobcentres should face competition, says thinktank". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  2. ^ "The Right's 100 Most Influential: 50-26". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  3. ^ Booth, William (19 September 2017). "The 5 countries where people click most on ISIS propaganda (and the U.S. is No. 2)". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Mark Carney on "Capitalism in America" | Policy Exchange". Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Judicial Power Project | Examining the proper limits of judicial power". judicialpowerproject.org.uk. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  6. ^ "Home". Charity Commission. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  7. ^ Williams, Zoe (27 October 2010). "Brains for hire: the thinktank". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Francis Maude". Conservatives.com. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  9. ^ Neil O'Brien is new director of Policy Exchange ConservativeHome 12 September 2008
  10. ^ Montgomerie, Tim (30 November 2012). "George Osborne appoints Neil O'Brien". ConservativeHome. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  11. ^ Hoskin, Peter (31 January 2013). "Dean Godson is the new director of Policy Exchange". ConservativeHome. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  12. ^ "How transparent are think tanks about who funds them 2016?" (PDF). Transparify. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  13. ^ "Policy Exchange | Who Funds You?". whofundsyou.org. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Building More, Building Beautiful | Policy Exchange". Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  15. ^ "A speech by the Prime Minister to Policy Exchange, 20 June, 2018" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission". GOV.UK. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  17. ^ "How to defeat nimbyism: build more beautiful houses". The Economist. 15 November 2018. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  18. ^ "Building Beautiful | Policy Exchange". Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  19. ^ "The New Netwar: Countering Extremism Online". Policy Exchange. 23 September 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  20. ^ Coughlin, Con (20 September 2017). "Tech giants should be the front line in the war on terror". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  21. ^ Booth, William (19 September 2017). "The 5 countries where people click most on ISIS propaganda (and the U.S. is No. 2)". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  22. ^ "The Fog of Law: An introduction to the legal erosion of British fighting power". Policy Exchange. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  23. ^ "Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving our armed forces from defeat by judicial diktat". Policy Exchange. 29 March 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  24. ^ "Combat zones". The Times. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  25. ^ "The Ministry of Defence published a consultation on 5th December 2016" (PDF).
  26. ^ "The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Price of Inaction in the Face of Mass Atrocities". Policy Exchange. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  27. ^ "Clean Brexit". Policy Exchange. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  28. ^ "Overlooked But Decisive: Connecting with England's Just about Managing classes". Policy Exchange. 15 June 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  29. ^ Parkinson, Justin (21 November 2016). "Who are the Jams (the 'just about managing')?". BBC News. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  30. ^ McInerney, Laura (3 February 2017). "Beware John Blake, the "Red rebel" with great influence". Schools Week. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Defence Sub-Committee". Parliament Live. 19 October 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  32. ^ "Government deploys arguments developed by Policy Exchange in its Supreme Court appeal". Policy Exchange. 7 December 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2018.

External links[edit]