About the Bow Group


The Bow Group started, in February 1951, as an association of conservative graduates, set up by a number of students who wanted to carry on discussing policy and ideas after they had left university. They were also concerned by the monopoly which socialist ideas had in intellectual university circles. It originally met at Bow, East London, from which it takes its name.

Geoffrey Howe, William Rees-Mogg and Norman St John Stevas were among those attending the first meeting. From the start, the Group attracted top-flight graduates and quickly drew the attention of a number of government ministers, notably Harold Macmillan. In the intervening time, Michael Howard, Norman Lamont and Peter Lilley have all held the Bow Group chairmanship. Christopher Bland, the current Chairman of BT, was Bow Group chairman in 1969.

Since its foundation the Bow Group has been a great source of policy ideas, and many of its papers have had a direct influence on government policy and the life of the nation. 

Broadly, much of the Group's thought can be categorised as supporting both a market economy and social responsibility. Along this line, it was the Bow Group which promoted the idea of a World Refugee Year in the late 1950s. In the 1960s the Group attracted significant controversy over its views on decolonisation. Though it was in tune with the Conservative Government of the day - and was believed to be influencing its line - the Group was castigated widely, especially for its outspoken view that Kenya should be granted independence. Later in the '60s, the Bow Group took a leftward turn, as the party as a whole moved to the right.

In the 1970s, the Group was also closely associated with the development of post-Keynesian economics and policy, which would come to fruition in Britain and throughout Europe in the late 1980s.

The ability of the Bow Group to house different strands of the Tory tradition was demonstrated at its 25th anniversary dinner in 1976. This occasion brought together both Margaret Thatcher, the new party leader, and Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister.

In the period to 1979, the concept of freedom infused much of the Group's work, although it was not directly associated with Mrs Thatcher, and indeed maintained an objective view of her government.

The 90 policy papers published by the Group in the 1990s covered topics including pensions, the charity sector, shareholder democracy, people with disabilities, housing, education, public transport and the reform of governmental institutions.

The 2005 election saw Bow Group representation in the Commons rise yet again, with the election of Justine Greening, John Penrose and Tobias Ellwood, all of whom had served on Bow Group council. Links with former members continued to be strong and the Group published a paper by Peter Lilley making "The Case against ID cards".

Also published in 2005 was "Choice and freedom for all", an important contribution to almost all areas of education policy, as well as papers on the Charities Bill, the increase in the economically inactive and UK health standards, the latter revealing the shocking fact that a lung cancer sufferer has a higher chance of surviving the disease in Poland than in the UK.

Shortly before the 2005 Conservativeparty conference the Bow Group published a book, "From the ashes", a collection of essays detailing the visions held for the future of the party by senior Conservative figures, including all who stood in the leadership contest. This accompanied some powerful structured polling evidence released by the Bow Group at conference which made it clear just how far the party would have to go in rebranding itself to become electable once again.

Early in 2006 the Group hit the headlines once again, this time due to "Keep it simple", a paper which details the extent of maladministration in the UK tax system and gives some ideas for reform.

2010 saw the Bow Group publish an influential pamphlet on the future of UK rail transit, "The Right Track" authored by Tony Lodge and Lord Heseltine. The paper set out a proposed route for the UK's High Speed Rail Network (HS2) as an alternative to the then Labour Government's route. The paper was later to be the source of controversy in 2011 when, though the Conservative-led Coalition Government did not implement the proposals set out in the paper, in October 2011 the Shadow Transport Minister adopted the "Bow Group Route" as Labour Party Policy.

In 2011 research secretary Richard Mabey produced a paper with Bernard Jenkin MP on the Alternative Vote system "Death of the Conviction Voter - Fairness and Tactics under AV", which was often cited during the 2011 AV referendum debate and was seen as being an influential contribution to the thinking of the "NOtoAV" campaign.

Also in 2011 Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney co-authored a paper with Dr Charles Tannock MEP on "The Eurozone & Germany - understanding the German Mind". The paper argued for greater engagement and dialogue between the UK and the German populous, and the necessity for policy makers in the UK to better understand the economic and foreign policy motivations of Germany as the nation at the centre of the eurozone. The paper was seen to advocate EU realism as an antidote to the increasingly controversial debate on EU membership within the UK Conservative Party.

The Bow Group remains at the forefront of new thinking within the conservative movement.

The Bow Group: A history by James Barr was published by Politicos in early 2001. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy, please contact office@bowgroup.org.