By Tim Montgomerie
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As reported widely in today's written and broadcast media a new Tory-led group has been formed to support equal marriage. You can read more about 'Freedom to Marry' on its website.
I should declare an interest. Some months ago I made a conservative case for gay marriage on this website and I've joined the group as one of its supporters. The other initial supporters are listed below:
As media outlets have noted the support of evangelical Christians Alistair Burt and Desmond Swayne as well as the Catholic Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin is an indication of the group's broad base. More high-profile supporters will be announced in the coming days and weeks.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Matthew Barrett
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In my series profiling groups of Tory MPs, most groups I've looked at have been mostly or wholly composed of 2010 intake MPs. The next group is bit different, as it was founded more than 25 years ago. The No Turning Back group has a proud history of celebrating and promoting Thatcherism. How is the group doing now? In this profile, I'll be examining what No Turning Back, the backbench group for Thatcherites in Parliament, is doing now.
Origins of the group
No Turning Back was founded in 1985 to defend Mrs Thatcher's free-market policies. The 25 founding members included, amongst others, now-Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon, now-Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, and the late, great Eric Forth.
The name of the group comes from Mrs Thatcher's famous conference speech given in October 1980:
"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.” I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends."
There are about 100 members of the group, which is chaired by John Redwood, including "quite a lot" from the 2010 intake. Members include such big beasts as John Redwood, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Peter Lilley, Lord Forsyth, and Liam Fox. Current Conservative officeholders who are members of the group include the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron's PPS, Desmond Swayne; Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mark Harper; the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers; a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly; three government whips, Angela Watkinson, Mark Francois and Greg Hands; the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Greg Knight; and the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, John Whittingdale, who was Mrs Thatcher's Political Secretary in the late 1980s.
By Paul Goodman
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Lists of how Conservative MPs vote on "moral" issues have a perennial fascination (since they tend to divide more evenly than Labour ones.) Some vote for reasons of principle alone; others, particularly senior ones, want to show a bit of ankle to the party's right or the liberal media - and these motives aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
Here below from Hansard is the list of MPs who voted for the Dorries/Field abortion amendment yesterday on counselling. Among the senior Conservatives who voted in the Aye lobby were Henry Bellingham, Graham Brady, Chris Grayling, John Hayes, Gerald Howarth, Tim Loughton, Maria Miller, and Desmond Swayne, David Cameron's PPS.
I noted yesterday that Liam Fox, Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan Smith voted for the amendment, which was lost by 316 votes to 118. I will try to have a look later at those who passed through the No lobby.
by Paul Goodman
Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) and Julian Lewis (New Forest East) entered the Commons together as New Forest neighbours in 1997. Both were on the right of the Party; both were rumbustious Parliamentarians; both were greeted with werewolf howls from Labour backbenchers; both served on the Conservative front bench. But their ways have parted: the first is David Cameron's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the second is a backbencher.
To the second, the first is his "dear and hon. Friend", but these neighbours - two of the three Conservative backbenchers who spoke in yesterday's Commons debate on Spelman's proposals - disagree. The nub of Swayne's position was as follows -
"I hope that those critics will look at these proposals with an open mind and wonder whether they might just be looking a gift horse in the mouth. There might be an opportunity to rebalance the interests of the forests that have been so shoddily disrupted by the creation of a national park. Within the Crown lands of the New Forest, there are already many private lands and private commons. Indeed, the National Trust itself owns two of the real gems: Hale Purlieu and the Bramshaw Commons. The land is not all owned and managed by the Forestry Commission...
...The New Forest is unique and what I would like to see is something along the lines of what we have in Queen's house in Lyndhurst - perhaps even with exactly the same staff and personnel who currently manage the forest there - but reporting not to a board in Edinburgh, but to a board in the New Forest representing the proper interests of the New Forest, and particularly those of the people who have always safeguarded the forest and been responsible for the law of the forest-namely, the Verderers...I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, and also to opponents, that there is an opportunity here for us that we would be foolish to pass up."
Question Time in the Commons on Thursday saw a large clutch of questions about the campaign to Save General Election Night aimed at Tory MP Gary Streeter in his capacity as the MP representing the Electoral Commission.
He gave the following update of when counts are scheduled to take place:
The Electoral Commission informs me that it has asked all returning officers to provide information about their current plans for commencing the count at the next UK parliamentary general election. This information has been made available in the House of Commons Library. In summary, as of 7 January returning officers for 586 out of the 650 constituencies had provided information.
Of those, returning officers in 330 constituencies plan to start counting on polling day, a further 17 will commence counting on polling day unless the general election is combined with local authority elections, 52 have decided to count on the Friday and 187 were still undecided.
There were a number of further questions on the issue, with Tory backbencher Peter Bone being especially robust in his denunciation of those Returning Officers seeking to delay counting until the Friday:
The House of Commons returned yesterday, and launched into questions to ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone ensured that he won't get an invitation to join the front bench any time soon:
"Given that we spend far too much time in this country celebrating cultures other than our own, is it not time to start redressing the balance by creating a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in promoting Englishness and the flag of St. George. I would have to discuss with Government colleagues the idea of holding a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day, but I hope that people will follow the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and celebrate St. George’s day, while also remembering that we will also be celebrating the birth of William Shakespeare."
Shadow DCMS Minister Tobias Ellwood asked about lapdancing clubs:
"As the Minister will be aware, the so-called designated premises supervisor is legally responsible for the conduct of any pub, club or lap-dancing establishment. However, there is no requirement for that supervisor to be present in his establishment at any time; he can verbally hand over responsibility to an untrained manager with no qualifications. Will the Minister examine whether that is the best way to ensure that pubs, clubs or lap-dancing operations are run properly? The feedback from local authorities with vibrant town centres is that it is not.
Mr. Sutcliffe: Designated door supervisors have been a force for good in the sense of working with establishments, the police and local authorities. I made an enjoyable visit in my Bradford constituency to police on the licensing route late one Friday night, to see at first hand how door supervisors were working. [ Interruption. ] No, lap dancing was not on at that venue that evening. We are trying to ensure that local authorities, the police and the industry are working together in trying to protect the public."
Yesterday the House of Commons hosted Treasury Questions.
Justine Greening, MP for Putney and a Shadow Treasury Minister, asked about loans to small businesses:
"For the 1,500 people losing their jobs and the 60 small businesses going bust every single day, the Government are not tackling the recession. The Government’s small business loan guarantee scheme will not even be up and running until mid-January and even then it will not cover 99 per cent. of loans to companies. Does not the Minister agree that that is too little, too late, that he should get on with our national loan guarantee scheme and that Britain is facing the deepest recession of any G7 country because we have the most incompetent, ineffective Government?
Mr. Timms: The hon. Lady should have a word with some of her colleagues on her Front Bench. I agree with her that it is right for the Government to address these problems, but that contrasts with the policies of those on her Front Bench, which are the policies of do nothing. Those were the policies that we saw in the catastrophic recessions under the last Conservative Government and they are being repeated by Conservative Front Benchers now. The policies that we are putting in place are directly addressing precisely the challenges that small businesses are facing, and that is why such an ambitious and effective package was set out at the time of the pre-Budget report."
They're making every effort to get that "do nothing" line to stick.
North West Norfolk MP and Shadow Minister for Justice Henry Bellingham tabled a question about the balance of payments:
"The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The pre-Budget report forecast the current account deficit of the UK balance of payments to narrow in the second half of 2008 and in 2009, with net trade forecast to add three quarters of a percentage point to gross domestic product growth next year.
Mr. Bellingham: Is that not an incredibly complacent reply? Is the Financial Secretary not ashamed that having inherited a trade surplus in 1997, our deficit last year was the worst since records began—when William of Orange was on the throne? Is it not a disgrace that the trade deficit in manufactured goods has grown from £7 billion in 1997 to a staggering £59 billion last year? Why do the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor never talk about the balance of trade? Is it any wonder that the pound is falling so sharply?
Mr. Timms: I remind the hon. Gentleman that there have actually been quite a few occasions in the past when the current account deficit was higher than it is now. To give him one example, it was 3.8 per cent. in the third quarter of 2007, but it was 4.9 per cent. in 1989 and it is more than 5 per cent. now in the United States. Our strategy is to ensure strong competition in every UK market by promoting openness to free trade, minimising product market regulation and ensuring that there are world-class competition authorities. That is the strategy we are pursuing and we will do so successfully."