Bow Group

The Bow Group is a UK-based independent think tank, promoting conservative opinion internationally. Founded in 1951, it is the oldest group of its kind, counting many senior conservative MPs and peers among its members. It represents a forum for year-round political debate with its varied programme of events and official journal.

Bow Group
Formation7 February 1951 (1951-02-07)
TypePublic policy think tank
Official language
Ben Harris-Quinney
Key people
Geoffrey Howe, Norman Lamont, John Redwood, Roger Scruton, David Starkey, Norman Tebbit


Although often associated with the Conservative Party, the group is an independent organisation that operates globally.[1] It backed Leave in the UK's EU Referendum in 2016.[2] The Bow Group exists to publish and promote the research and policy proposals of its members, through policy papers, policy briefs and larger collaborative projects. Its members include leading conservative politicians.[3]

The group's journal, Crossbow, published three times a year, and the group's programme of meetings during the parliamentary year also provide its members and guest speakers and writers with a forum for political debate.

It is possible to join the Bow Group although it additionally accepts outside donations, sponsorship and advertising. No information about its funding is available on its website.[4]


The Bow Group was founded by a group of students[1] with the aim of providing an effective counter to socialism and the Fabian Society. Since then, it has expanded under chairmen such as Geoffrey Howe, Leon Brittan, Norman Lamont, Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Sir Christopher Bland. Much of the group's thought can be categorised as supporting both a market economy and social responsibility. The reputation of the group was founded on the need for innovative thinking to address the pressing problems of the day. In keeping with this trend, 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 in Conservative circles over its support for Kenyan independence. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the group was closely associated with the development of post-Keynesian economics and policy. The publication in 1973 of Peter Lilley's Alternative Manifesto marked the beginnings of the intellectual shift from the policies of the Heath government. The group was later in the vanguard of developing policy on privatisation and new enterprise zones, and promoting the extension of share ownership. The group continued to publish pamphlets on an enormously wide range of issues during the 1980s and 1990s.

In July 2012, the Bow Group, reflecting on 60 years of its history in British politics, appointed former British Prime Minister John Major as its President and Lords Howe, Howard and Lamont as its Senior Patrons to serve on the advisory board of the organisation.[5] Their appointment was announced officially by the group's chairman Ben Harris-Quinney at the Bow Group's 60th Anniversary Summer Reception, in celebration of the landmark.[6] In 2014 the conservative academics David Starkey and Roger Scruton joined the advisory board of the Bow Group,[7] with professor Scruton addressing the Group on the difference between modern Conservatism and ideological conservatism.[8] In 2015 Norman Tebbit, former Conservative Party Chairman and long term confidant of Margaret Thatcher, also joined the Bow Group's Board. Addressing the organisation at a lecture prior to his appointment he criticised the centrism and lack of ideological clarity in the modern Conservative Party,[9] and called for an end to the "Bedroom Tax".[7]

In May 2015, with polls pointing to a hung Parliament in the run up to the 2015 general election, the Bow Group chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney, called on voters in marginal constituencies to support the values of conservatism by voting UK Independence Party (UKIP) where the Conservatives could not win, and the Conservatives where UKIP could not win.[10] However, this suggestion of tactical voting was opposed by Bow Group patrons including Lords Heseltine, Howard and Lamont, in a joint statement.[11]

Geoffrey Howe, founder and Senior Patron of the Bow Group,[12] died on 9 October 2015.[13] Harris-Quinney described him as a "quiet revolutionary" at the heart of the Thatcherite Government and movement.[14]

Chairmen of the Bow Group

Years Chairman
1951–52 Bruce Griffiths
1952–53 James Lemkin (first time)
1953–54 Richard Stone
1954–55 Robin Williams
1955–56 Geoffrey Howe
1956–58[A] James Lemkin (second time)
1958–59 Russell Lewis
1959–60 David Hennessy (first time)
1960–61 Tom Hooson
1961–62 David Howell
1962–63 David Hennessy (second time)
1963–64 John MacGregor
1964–65 Leon Brittan
1965–66 Henry Bosch
1966–67 Julian Critchley
1967–68 Dr Reginald Watts
1968–69 Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler
1969–70 Christopher Bland
1970–71 Michael Howard
1971–72 Norman Lamont
1972–73 Peter Lloyd
1973–75[A] Peter Lilley
1975–76 Patricia Hodgson
1976–77 Ian Clarke
1977–78 Michael Stern
1978–79 Douglas French
1979–80 Richard Barber
1980–81 Richard Simmons
1981–82 Nirj Deva
1982–83 Colin Coulson-Thomas
1983–84 David Shaw
1984–85 Michael Lingens
1985–86 Nick Perry
1986–87 Nigel Waterson
1987–88 Cheryl Gillan
1988–89 Marie-Louise Rossi
1989–90 Ian Donaldson
1990–91 David Harvey
1991–92 Dexter Jerome Smith
1992–93 Nick Hawkins
1993–94 David Campbell Bannerman
1994–95 Alexander Nicoll
1995–96 Nick Button
1996–97 Jeremy Bradshaw
1997–98 Nick Green
1998–99 Nick Edgar
1999–2000 Andrew Jones
2000–01 Guy Strafford
2001–02 Damian Hinds
2002–03 Jocelyn Ormond
2003–04 Giles Taylor
2004–05 Chris Philp
2005–06 Kwasi Kwarteng
2006–07 Sam Gyimah
2007–08 Chris Skidmore
2008–10[A] Annesley Abercorn
2010–11 Brian Cattell
2011– Ben Harris-Quinney
^A Two consecutive terms.

Recent contributions

In 2006, the Group published a paper called 'Keep It Simple',[15] which details the extent of maladministration in the UK tax system and gives some ideas for reform.

2010 saw the Bow Group publish an 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"[16] as Labour Party Policy.

In 2011, former research secretary Richard Mabey produced a paper with Bernard Jenkin MP on the Alternative Vote system[17] "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.[18]

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 populace, 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.[19] The paper was seen to advocate EU realism as an antidote to the increasingly controversial debate on EU membership within the UK Conservative Party.[20]

In March 2012, the Bow Group released a report opposing the Government's plans to trial badger culling in England, stating that the findings of Labour's major badger culling trials several years earlier were that culling does not work. The paper was authored by Graham Godwin-Pearson with a foreword by Dr Brian May and contributions by leading tuberculosis scientists, including Lord Krebs.[21][22][23]

In April 2012, at a Bow Group debate with Dr David Starkey, Shami Chakrabarti and Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Starkey described Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond as a "Caledonian Hitler".[24][25]

On 2 May 2012, the Bow Group published a short article supporting directly elected mayors in large English cities.[26]

In July 2012, the Bow Group released a report by Liam Fox and James Boys critical of the Coalition government's lack of progress to reform the National Security Council.[27]

The Bow Group published "A Fourth Way - Ideas for a New Conservative Manifesto"[28] to the 2012 Conservative Party Conference and "Party Shrugged - The Lost Conservative: How the Conservative Party lost its base and how it can win it back" to the 2013 Conservative Party Conference.

In May 2013, the Bow Group warned MPs of the dangers of privatising Royal Mail, including the potential for stamps to increase in price, the threat to rural Post Offices and the political danger to the Conservative Party. The Bow Group also warned that Royal Mail was being significantly under-valued by the Government in its flotation by over £1 billion, which proved to be accurate.[29]

In April 2014 Priti Patel MP, writing in the Bow Group's Crossbow Magazine, called for the coalition to come to an end stating that the country wanted to see "more Conservative policies", and with growth figures of 2.7% the reasons for the existence of the Coalition Government had "effectively expired".[30] These calls were echoed by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady MP, at a Bow Group debate in July 2014.[31]

In October 2014 the Bow Group produced a special pre-election edition of its Crossbow Magazine entitled "A conservative manifesto for the Party and nation"[32] it argued for an end to the politics of the third way and a return to clear conservative values for the Conservative Party. The magazine included an essay by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson MP which called for a greater degree of localism and urban devolution.

From 2013 to 2015, the Bow Group held a number of debates on whether the Conservative Party and UK Independence Party could work together to unite based upon common conservative values.[33][34]

In October 2015 the Bow Group joined the Leave.EU organisation and declared it would be campaigning for Britain's exit from the European Union.[35]

The Bow Group opposed Government proposals to cut tax credits on the grounds that it would disproportionally affect the poorest in society and small business start-ups. The Bow Group also argued that the decision would damage the Conservative Party politically in the long-term.[36]

On 11 January 2016, the Bow Group released an article opposing the junior doctors' strike on the grounds that it would place patients at risk.[37]

In February 2016, the Bow Group raised concerns that the Prime Minister's EU renegotiation package contravened pledges made in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto.[38]

In May 2019, the Bow Group sponsored the conference "Europe at a Crossroads: The Virtue of Nationalism" which brought various commentators and politicians together to discuss nationalism in the context of Yoram Hazony's book "The Virtue of Nationalism".[39]


In December 2016, the Bow Group (then in its 65th year) won the 2016 Public Affairs Award for "think tank of the year" for its "very strong spread of detailed initiatives leading to significant outcomes."[40] The award was given after the British vote to leave the European Union and the rise to power of Donald Trump in the United States, both of which the think tank strongly supported.[41] In accepting the award, Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney said: "A revolution is sweeping across the world. Centrism is dead, and full bloodied conservatism is back..."[41]


  1. Porter, Tom (2017-03-10). "The Bow Group: How Britain's oldest conservative think tank became aligned with the populist right". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  2. Ross, Tim (2015-10-03). "EU Referendum: grassroots 'out' campaign wins business and Tory backing". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  3. "People: The Bow Group". Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  4. "Join: The Bow Group". Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  5. "People". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  6. "The Bow Group at 60". Bow Group. 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  7. "Norman Tebbit Attacks 'Bedroom Tax', Tory Peer Says It Will Cost Conservatives At Election". The Huffington Post UK. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  8. "Roger Scruton: British conservatism and its future in the Conservative Party". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  9. "Reflections on the 'State of the Party'". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  10. Christopher Hope (4 May 2015). "Vote Ukip where Tories can't win, oldest Conservative think tank says". Daily Telegraph.
  11. "Election 2015: Bow Group think tank split over UKIP backing". BBC. 5 May 2015.
  12. "The Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon Kt CH QC PC". The Bow Group. 1 June 2015.
  13. "The Bow Group pays tribute to our founder and Patron, Lord Howe". The Bow Group. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  14. Serina Sandhu; Lucy White; Melanie Newman (10 October 2015). "Geoffrey Howe dead: Fond tributes paid to 'gentle and deeply thoughtful' former Conservative chancellor'". The Independent.
  15. "Keep it simple". Bow Publishing. 2006. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  16. "Labour is now supporting original Conservative route for HS2". ConservativeHome. Nov 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  17. "Death of the Conviction Voter: Fairness and Tactics under AV". Bow Group. Apr 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  18. "Bow Group argues the AV will bring an end to conviction voting". ConservativeHome. Apr 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  19. "Charles Tannock MEP - The need for new thinking in the Conservative Party". ConservativeHome. Sep 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  20. "Whoever controls Germany controls Europe: why Britain must better understand the German mind". The Commentator. 19 Sep 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-21.
  21. "Bow Group urges the Government to Scrap Badger Cull plans". Bow Publishing. 25 Mar 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  22. "Badger Cull divides Tories". The Guardian. 26 Mar 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  23. "Now even Tories are calling for the badger cull to be scrapped". Western Morning News. 3 Apr 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  24. "Starkey compares Salmond to Hitler". Press Association. 20 Apr 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  25. "Anger after Historian compares Salmond to 'a Caledonian Hitler'". Daily Express. 20 Apr 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
  26. Godwin-Pearson, Graham (2 May 2012). "Bow Group - Why England's cities should say 'Yes' to elected mayors". Retrieved 2012-05-03.
  27. "Intelligence Design - UK National Security in a Changing World". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  28. "Crossbow Magazine - Conference 2012". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  29. "'Poisonous' privatisation of Royal Mail will cost the Conservatives votes in 2015, Bow Group warns Tory MPs". Daily Telegraph. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  30. "Priti Patel: Reason for Coalition to exist has 'expired'". 5 April 2014. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  31. "Senior Tories call for end of Coalition". 25 June 2014. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  32. "A conservative Manifesto for the Party & Nation: The blueprint for restoring conservative values to Britain and the Conservative Party". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  33. "Andrew Lilico: What will and won't appeal to Ukippers". Conservative Home. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  34. "Unite the Right". Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  35. "EU Referendum: grassroots 'out' campaign wins business and Tory backing". Daily Telegraph. 3 October 2015.
  36. "Nic Conner: Tax credit cut will hit Tory party and the country". The Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  37. "Strike by doctors will put 200 lives at risk, says fellow NHS medic – The Sun". The Sun. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  38. "Cameron under pressure to let Cabinet Brexit supporters campaign - AOL". Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  40. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-01-10. Retrieved 2017-01-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  41. Nick Gutterridge, VINDICATED: Eurosceptic think tank declares liberal elite 'dead' as it scoops top UK award, The Daily Express (December 8, 2016).

See also


  • Copping, Robert, The Story of The Monday Club - The First Decade, Foreword by George Pole, Current Affairs Information Service, Ilford, Essex, April 1972, (P/B), p. 28.
  • Coxall, Bill, and Lynton Robins, Contemporary British Politics, Macmillan Publishers, London, first published 1989, revised reprint 1992, p. 239, (P/B), ISBN 0-333-34046-9
  • Barr, James, The Bow Group: A History, Politico's Publishing, London, 2001, ISBN 1-84275-001-1
  • Seawright, David (2010). The British Conservative Party and One Nation Politics. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8264-8974-6.
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