By Tim Montgomerie
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One of Grant Shapps' first acts as the new Tory Chairman has been to ask for the election countdown clock to be put back on the wall of Conservative HQ. Meeting him yesterday afternoon he told me that there were less than 1,000 days until the next general election (969 actually if its 7th May 2015) and the party machine needed to start getting into battle mode.
Yesterday he announced the team that he hopes will help the party deliver victory for David Cameron. He, Lord Feldman and Mr Cameron made five new appointments:
Nicola Blackwood (Social Action), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (International), Alan Lewis (Business) and Andrew Stephenson (Youth) were reappointed as Vice Chairmen. They are all pictured above.
Grant Shapps told ConservativeHome that one of the jobs facing him, Lord Feldman and the new team was to overcome the cynicism that people feel about the tasks currently facing Britain. He suggested that we were in the phase two or three years before the Olympics when people were suspicious about the cost of the Games and wondered whether all of the effort would be worthwhile. It was the whole Conservative Party's task, he said, to use the rest of the parliament to convince people that the road may be hard but the destination of better schools, a benefits system that rewards work and a paying down on the deficit will all be worth it.
The new Tory Chairman will be writing a regular monthly column for ConservativeHome.
PS Can any reader remember the last time that we had a party chairman who has won a seat from Labour?
By Matthew Barrett
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The 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
By Matthew Barrett
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The company Key Business Insight's "Commons Performance Cockpit" ranks MPs by their total cost - that is, staffing costs, travel expenses, office costs, salary, and so on. The majority of the 50 "most efficient" MPs, in terms of total cost, are Conservatives.
The top 50 "most efficient" MPs between 1st April, 2010 and 31st March, 2011 are listed below:
*Took his seat on 3rd March, 2011
**Took her seat on 13th January, 2011
***Resigned his seat on 8th February, 2011
By Tim Montgomerie
Highlights from yesterday's Commons debate on the Localism Bill.
Rory Stewart summarised why localism works: "This is a strange time and place because all hon. Members believe in that decentralisation, whether we call it localism, hyper-localism or double hyper-localism, but we are obstructed by our anxieties about power, knowledge and legitimacy. Let us remember the basic instinct and work together. We should support the Bill because we know that communities know and care more, and that they can and ought to do more than distant officials in Penrith, Carlisle, London or Brussels."
Stewart Jackson on new powers for local governments to act more freely: "The big society is about empowering local people to make decisions at local level. It should be seen not as lots of disparate, discrete initiatives at local level, but within the context of the Bill's provisions. I see the general power of competence, for example, as a key unlocking a huge amount of progressive development by local authorities. The New Local Government Network specifically praised the general power of competence and said: "This represents both a significant philosophical shift towards local democracy and a practical transfer of power to the local level." That is something that Labour never did in its 13 years of power, although it promised to do so in its 1997 manifesto. The other important issue-unfortunately, one cannot look in detail at the 406 pages of the Bill and its 201 clauses and 24 schedules in five minutes-is whether it is permissive, as opposed to prescriptive, as an approach to local government? On any objective test it is an extremely permissive piece of legislation. The general power of competence will give local authorities autonomy by unlocking accelerated development zones, tax increment financing, asset-backed vehicles and real estate investment trusts."
Mr Jackson also highlighted the economic advantages of decentralisation: "An econometric study in Germany found that Government efficiency increased in direct proportion to decentralisation and could drive it up by up to 10%. That would release in this country the equivalent of £70 billion. The Spanish institute of fiscal studies found that fiscal decentralisation could boost growth in the economy by 0.5%. The Bill speaks to that concern. If Opposition Members ask me whether we are going far enough in fiscal autonomy and decentralisation, the answer is no, but the Bill is a bigger and better start than what went on before."
He gave his maiden speech last night and opted to focus on the challenges and opportunities for Britain presented by the emerging economies such as India and China.
“Over the past decade the relationship between emerging economies such as India and China on the one hand, and the industrialised nations in the west on the other, has developed from one of the emerging economies being junior partners to a relationship of equals, with real potential for the likes of China and India to emerge as first among economic equals.
“The emerging economies present challenges for us. We have seen some British jobs offshored to low-cost locations. With increasing globalisation and cost pressures on corporates, a certain level of offshoring is here to stay, whether we like it or not. But emerging economies also present a huge opportunity for British companies and jobs in this country. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Jeremy Browne), talked about statistics. Let me give the House a few on India. We have heard about annual growth rates of 7 to 9%. There is a middle class of around 400 million people and growing. Well over 60% of the population is aged below 35. India is looking to make significant investments in its infrastructure, in pharmaceuticals and health care, IT, green technologies, and food and agriculture, to name just a few sectors ripe for investment and growth. We in Britain have leading companies with significant expertise and know-how in many of these and other sectors.
“In Reading, I have met home-grown technology companies that are exporting value-added products across the world. As a Government, we should be doing everything we can to help and encourage our companies to take advantage of the growth markets in the emerging economies. That will in turn help to create value-added and long-term jobs in the United Kingdom.
“I was very pleased that the Gracious Speech made mention of developing an enhanced partnership with India. Because of our shared history and the mutual good will and affection between Britain and India, we already have a special relationship on an emotional level. We now need to make sure that we translate that good will and understanding into a special relationship based on trade and commerce to our mutual benefit. If we can do that in a timely manner, it will be to the advantage of British companies and will help safeguard and create jobs in our country which will be vital as we aim to grow and expand the British economy.”