It gives His Grace no pleasure at all to write this post: Policy Exchange is David Cameron's favourite think-tank, and has some outstanding minds doing some excellent work for the advancement of the conservative cause, especially in the fields of education and poverty alleviation. But having twice been fobbed off by their Head of Communications Nick Faith, it is important to combat misrepresentation and obfuscation with a little light and truth.
As reported yesterday
, Anglican Mainstream had planned to debate the issue of gay/equal marriage at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference, using the Policy Exchange booklet ‘What’s In A Name?’ as the starting point. After a month of preparation and negotiation, at rather late notice (last week), Policy Exchange decided to pull the plug on the event, citing the inability of both sides to engage an MP to lead the arguments. His Grace wrote that this seemed a little unfair, because at no point was the participation of MPs an explicit pre-condition for this debate to take place, and members of Anglican Mainstream have lost in the region of £1000.
Bizarrely, Nick Faith tweeted: ‘Anglican Mainstream agreed to hold an event post conference so very bizarre allegation that we're not up for a debate’.
His Grace responded that a debate at the Conservative Party Conference was always the agreement, not a debate in general at some point. He also enquired as to when the 'no debate without MP' policy emerged.
Nick Faith didn't answer the question: he responded: ‘that's not the case. PX doesn't hold conf fringes without MPs. Happy to discuss if you want to call’.
His Grace was reluctant to call, not merely because he lacks a corporeal presence, but also because there is little point augmenting a he-said-she-said conflagration with further uncorroborated conversation. Mr Faith wrote: ‘why don't you give me a ring or email me. I'm in and out of fringe meetings all day’.
His Grace sent an email, but has heard nothing back. This is odd, considering that the immediacy of a phone conversation was twice requested.
So, here are the facts of the case:
On 4th September, Alan Craig of the Anglican Mainstream wrote to Neil O'Brien, Director of Policy Exchange:
...I write to ask if Policy Exchange would be willing to debate and defend your publication 'What's In A Name?' at a fringe meeting, impartially chaired and hosted by the Bow Group, at the Conservative Party conference next month.
...If you agree to such a fringe debate...
...I am aware Policy Exchange already has a large fringe programme at the Conservative conference. However, equal/gay marriage is a vital cultural and family issue, and we very much hope you and your colleagues will be up for publicly defending your analysis and proposals in front of attendees at this important and influential political conference.
On 6th September, David Skelton, Deputy Director and Head of Research at Policy Exchange, replied:
Many thanks for your invitation to a debate on equal marriage at the Conservative Party conference and for your feedback on our report.
In principle, I would be very happy to participate in the debate.
On 18th September, a meeting took place at the offices of Policy Exchange, with David Skelton and Nick Faith, chaired by Ben Harris-Quinney of The Bow Group. They thrashed out the details of the debate which included that (a) PX would ask Joey Jones, deputy political editor of Sky, to chair the debate and (b) both sides would try to find a Tory MP to lead for their side in the debate. It was also agreed that they would use Jury’s Inn – PX’s venue for fringe events at the Conservative Party conference
In the event, unsurprisingly, both sides had difficulty finding Tory MPs who would put their heads above the gay-marriage parapet and debate against each other. On 28th September David Skelton emailed suggested holding a debate at Policy Exchange in the autumn, when MPs were more likely to be available.
Anglican Mainstream responded on the same day:
I reckon we should continue trying for MPs (I've currently got invitations out to three) and, if that fails, PE and AM just put up our own two speakers each.
We plan to leaflet conference attendees so hopefully there'll be adequate numbers in the audience - especially if we offer strong coffee for a spicy early morning debate! The issue itself will help draw people in.
It is evident (in bold) from this email audit trail, that Anglican Mainstream are wholly justified in their assertion that the plan was always to hold a fringe meeting during the Conservative Party Conference. For Nick Faith to assert that ‘Anglican Mainstream agreed to hold an event post conference’ is patently false. It may be the case post-cancellation that there are attempts to keep the possibility alive, but to conflate a subsequent agreement
with the original plans is duplicitous and obfuscational. Indeed, Anglican Mainstream clearly initially rejected the proposal, and continued discussion with PX on such details as coffee supply and how the debate would be promoted.
Then, last Wednesday (3rd October), Nick Faith evidently phoned Alan Craig, who wrote to David Skelton:
I understand from Nick that you are considering pulling the debate next week as there are no MPs who will lead it, and that you are willing to offer a debate at Policy Exchange later in the autumn.
May I request that the debate goes ahead? The evidence is there will be significant interest even at that early hour and we (and you) need to road-test our ideas with ordinary conservative punters and away from the hot-house of Westminster.
If you could supply another speaker to yourself (Robert Flint or Blair Gibbs?) we could have two from each side and have a useful informative debate - which will be available to the rest of the world through your video recording!
The message was reiterated the next day, when it was made clear to PX that publicity had already been printed and paid for; intensive work had been carried out in response to ‘What's in A Name?’; one person had even taken days off work; hotels had been booked and travel arrangements made; and that both sides might benefit from ‘robust road-testing’ of their views in front of ordinary Conservative Party members. The plea was: ‘For the sake of honest democratic debate, we reckon the event should go ahead.’
Later that day, Nick Faith wrote to confirm the cancellation of the debate ‘for logistical reasons’. He claimed that 'Policy Exchange do not hold conference events without MPs present', explaining: ‘This has been the rule we have acted on in recent years and is based on the demands such events place on our resources and the fact that MPs are really needed to make a conference event a success.’
You will note from all the preceding correspondence that at no point, even in the final phone discussions, did Policy Exchange say that MP participation was a condition of holding the debate. Moreover, it is abundantly evident that Policy Exchange do, in fact, hold conference events without MPs being present:
See also here
So, it being evident – contra Nick Faith’s assertion – that this was always about a debate during the Conservative Party Conference. And it being evident – contra Nick Faith’s assertion – that Policy Exchange do hold conference events without MPs being present. And it being evident – indeed, manifest common sense – that Anglican Mainstream would not have forked out £1000 and
arranged travel and
hotel accommodation if, as Nick Faith asserts, they ‘agreed to hold an event post conference’, it is patent, reasonable and incontestable to conclude that Policy Exchange is being disingenuous.
Given that Policy Exchange conducted all their equal/gay-marriage research and compiled ‘What’s in a Name?’, the natural conversation partners would be those who have similarly researched this minefield: MPs undoubtedly attract audiences, but so do contentious issues. Anglican Mainstream are left scratching their heads at Policy Exchange's insistence of the presence of non-experts to lead the discussion.
It is far more likely (indeed, persuasively plausible) that they cancelled this debate at the behest of the Conference organisers, in order that the media wouldn't be distracted from the big issues by Anglican 'bigots' and 'homophobes'.
But His Grace would like to make it known that the ‘debate’ is proceeding today
at 12.45pm in Room 107, Jury’s Inn, 245 Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2HQ. Alan Craig and Anglican Mainstream will argue against gay/equal marriage, and an empty chair (featured right) will make the case for.
Considering this evidence, at the very least Policy Exchange owe Anglican Mainstream an unreserved apology. It is His Grace’s view that they ought also to offer some financial compensation.
UPDATE: 12.30pm Policy Exchange agree to debate
David Skelton of Policy Exchange - the author of 'What's in a Name?' - has
agreed to debate with Anglican Mainstream today, in Room 101, Jury's Inn, at 12.45. Canon Chris Sugden will be chairing the debate, and Dermot O'Callaghan will represent Anglican Mainstream.
His Grace thinks this is what you call a result.