Osborne and Willetts join Demos advisory board

Centre-left think-tank appoints first Conservatives to board

Demos, the influential think-tank that was central to the development of Blairism in the 1990s, has announced that George Osborne, the shadow chancellor and his party colleague David Willetts will join its advisory board.

The news follows Demos’s appointment of ‘Red Tory’ Philip Blond as director of its Progressive Conservatism project. Osborne and Willetts, the shadow universities secretary, will join other senior politicians on the board including Vince Cable, Jon Cruddas and the prominent Blairite Alan Milburn.

Following his appointment, Osborne penned a comment piece for the Guardian in which he claimed that it was the Conservatives who were now making the intellectual running and developing progressive solutions.

He said: “I'm confident Demos will help us with these questions, alongside other leading think-tanks we work with. For while Gordon Brown and his ministers have given up providing answers, the Conservative party has not.”

The news is likely to add to claims that director Richard Reeves is steering the think-tank away from its centre-left roots. The appointments mark the first time that Conservatives have sat on the Demos board.

Since taking over last year, Reeves has promoted the cause of localism, arguing that the key political divide is now not between left and right but between “centralisers and dispersers”. In the most recent Demos pamphlet, The Liberal Republic, co-authored by Reeves and former Labour speechwriter Phil Collins, he argues that the left and the right have mistakenly focused on granting power to the state or the market rather than to the individual.

Demos was founded in 1993 by New Statesman columnist Martin Jacques and Geoff Mulgan (now director of the Young Foundation) and forged close links with New Labour during the early years of Tony Blair’s leadership.

Asked about Demos’s current ideological direction, Jacques said: "As the person who set Demos up and co-founded it, our motivation was that it would be non-affiliated on the centre-left. I think we need an anchor of some kind. But I still think you need some coordinates. People need to know where you're coming from and I don't think I know where Demos is coming from now. I know where it was coming from."

The Progressive Conservatism project was launched in January and will run for three years. The first year will focus on the economy.