From Peel to Thatcher, the concepts of science and innovation have been integral to Conservative attitudes. Indeed, as a respected research scientist, Margaret Thatcher was the embodiment of science in office.
If science is about building on acquired knowledge to inform decisions for the future – a fundamentally Conservative notion – then innovation is its perfect partner. Innovation, as an evolutionary process, has always been a mainstay of Conservative thought. By invoking the past to make sense of the present, science and innovation blend the most appealing aspects of the traditionalist and progressive traditions of the party, and offer a convincing route to increasing the nation’s prosperity.
Conservatives are natural innovators
Adaptation is the key to survival. To innovate goes with the grain of human nature. Conservatives take this outlook a step further. We believe that people should be free to adopt new practices, rather than have ‘grand ideas’ imposed upon them by self-appointed elites in smoke-filled back rooms. We understand the intrinsic risks of radical change, but we recognise that to stand still or retreat into the past would be equally destructive.
But what is innovation? It is more than scientific discovery. Innovation is about the introduction of new products, services and ways of doing things that will improve our quality of life.
The Government’s role in innovation
If government is to allow innovation to flourish in wider society, it must first introduce innovative approaches to the process of government. It must adopt a two-track mindset: first, to incorporate innovative practices in the public sector and, second, to establish an environment in which innovation can thrive in the private sector.
At the second anniversary of the Conservative-led Coalition notable progress has been made, but the direction of travel has sometimes been muddled. The Prime Minister has set out his vision for a more dynamic British society with bigger people and a small state, but Coalition politics naturally gets in the way of putting that vision fully into practice. Radical and destabilising reform of the Lords is not a priority for hard-working families and job-seekers. It will not create the jobs and prosperity that an innovative and wholly Conservative Government can bring. It is time to reaffirm our progressive Conservative values in the modern world, not shy from them.
Francis Maude’s efforts to embed open data as an operating principle of government will drive economic growth and improve public services. Now could be the time for all new government IT systems to publish datasets for commercial use as the default position.