Theresa May’s policy chief has said he is standing down from his role at No 10 to concentrate on grassroots reform of the Conservative party.
George Freeman said an “ambitious” programme was needed to reconnect with younger voters after the Tories’ “ill-conceived” general election campaign.
It is understood the prime minister’s policy board, which Freeman had chaired, has not been reconvened since June’s election. The MP for Mid Norfolk is still chair of the grassroots Conservative policy forum, but that has no formal link into Downing Street.
Freeman has previously said that despite being appointed to chair May’s policy board when she became prime minister in July 2016, he was given no opportunity to contribute to the Conservative manifesto in June, primarily written by May’s co-chief of staff, Nick Timothy.
Freeman called the manifesto shambolic and said it was the product of “the undemocratic concentration of power in the hands of a narrow inner circle”.
Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “When a manifesto is produced without having even being seen by ministers (or myself as chairman of the prime minister’s backbench policy board) it shows a fatal contempt for parliamentary opinion.”
Freeman has been an outspoken critic of the Conservatives’ strategic approach to grassroots members and younger voters in recent months and he hosted his own Big Tent festival dubbed the Tory Glastonbury as part of efforts to reconnect with those groups.
In the run-up to the election, he warned May that the Tories risked being seen as “a narrow party of nostalgia, hard Brexit, public sector austerity and lazy privilege”.
Freeman announced he was formally stepping down from his No 10 role in an article for the website Conservative Home, in which he said the Conservatives needed to take the lessons from the election result seriously and address the decline in membership numbers.
“Given the deepening disconnection between the Conservative party and the new generation of aspirational voters under 45, the new intellectual battle of ideas reshaping our political landscape, this is now urgent,” he said.
“The stark choice we face is reform or decline. As in the 1980s, we must be the leaders of a Great Disruption to shake up the status quo, empower consumers, and open up markets here at home, and around the world, to new entrants for a new cycle of growth.”
Freeman said he had agreed with No 10 in July to take on the job of reviewing the role of the policy board after Conservative party conference and had agreed last week it would be wound up so he could focus on his role as chair of the Conservative policy forum, whose members contribute policy ideas.
The shadow Cabinet office minister, Jon Trickett, said: “For a man who once said that the raison d’ être of his role in No 10 was to face the challenge of renewal in office, his resignation speaks volumes on the current state of the Tories in government.”
The Liberal Democrats’ chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, said Freeman’s departure was “another serious crack in Theresa May’s crumbling government.”
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