By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs often features groups with ideological goals, such as those representing the traditional right or Thatcherite wing of the Party. There have also been profiles of newer groups with less immediately ideological aims, such as Fresh Start or the Forty. My group this week, Deep Blue, straddles both of these categories. They come from a firmly centre-right standpoint, although they aim to focus not so much on immediate policy issues but more on what the longer-term direction of the Conservative Party should be if it is to win future elections.
Origins of the group
The foundation of Deep Blue was the idea of Mel Stride, the Member for Central Devon. Stride decided to set the group up a few months ago, and the first meeting was held roughly two and a half months ago, after Stride took soundings and found there was "a strong appetite" from colleagues to get together.
Stride, who chairs the group, is an entrepreneur with a strong background in business and is a former President of the Oxford Union. He is PPS to John Hayes, who is the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. In my report on the Cornerstone Group, I listed Stride as a "friend" of Cornerstone, which is often seen as being on the traditional wing of the Party, while Hayes co-founded Cornerstone.
Members of Deep Blue include Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Nick de Bois (Enfield North) and Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove).
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 Jonathan Isaby
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Central Devon's Tory MP, Mel Stride, wanted to know what will happen to the 9,000 tickets for the 2012 Games which have been allocated to the Government:
"Will he reassure the House that none of them will be provided as free perks either to Government employees in general or, in particular, to UK politicians?"
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt replied:
"I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend about the details of those tickets: 3,000 tickets have been allocated to staff associated with the project — they will be purchased and are available through a ballot; 2,400 are being made available to host towns and cities, and they, too, will be purchased; 2,900 will be made available to guests of the Government, including international business guests and dignitaries, to make sure that we secure an economic legacy to the Olympics; and 450 tickets will be allocated as prizes in the school games, to which 6,000 schools have signed up."
I make that 8,750 accounted for; I wonder what will become of the other 250?
By Jonathan Isaby
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I think it's fair to conclude that the scepticism about meddling with the composition of the second chamber exhibited yesterday from the Tory backbenches is representative of widespread opposition within the parliamentary party.
Here's a selection of the exchanges:
Mel Stride: Given the country’s firm rejection of AV in the recent referendum and the fact that the Government’s proposals include the possibility of some form of proportional representation for election of Members of this Parliament, will my right hon. Friend at least consider giving the people of this country a referendum on this important constitutional change?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The first point of which to remind my hon. Friend is that this was a manifesto commitment of all three parties. It is something that we as a country have been discussing for around 100 years or so, and we have introduced changed electoral systems to a number of Assemblies and Parliaments in the UK without referendums in the past.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw MPs debating the merits of the Big Society on a backbench motion moved by Dover's Tory MP, Charlie Elphicke, which stated its support for the Big Society, "seeking stronger communities where power is decentralised and social action is encouraged."
"The big society has been "much discussed in the media", yet this was, Elphicke asserted, "practically the first proper occasion on which it has been discussed on the Floor of this Chamber."
His motion had been co-signed by a number of Conservative MPs, as well as Labour's Jon Cruddas and Tristram Hunt and Lib Dem Bob Russell.
Here are some excerpts from a variety of the 24 speeches delivered by backbench Tory MPs - who, interestingly enough, were all members of the 2010 intake.
What I want to talk about is the sense of annoyance that everyone has when an individual feels put off from simply sweeping the snow from the pavement outside their house for fear that they will be sued, or when they are scared to jump into a pond and rescue a drowning child.
How have we got to the situation where individuals do not feel that they can take responsibility, and that rules and procedures stop them doing so? It is important to encourage people to take more action and more responsibility for their own lives and for their communities. People in communities are frustrated, such as the head teacher who cannot decide which children are in his school and feels that he is being told what to do by diktat, and the hospital worker who wants to take responsibility for his area, but who has to follow detailed rules and procedures.
Communities as a whole-big communities such as mine in Dover-want a greater sense of being able to chart their own destiny and future direction, but feel hampered by central Government saying, "No, these are the rules. This is how it is going to be. It is all going to be top-down and what you say doesn't count for much." It is that sense of annoyance and frustration, which stalks the land up and down the country, that the big society aims to counteract.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday at questions to Eric Pickles and his team of ministers from the Department of Communities and Local Government, a number of Tory MPs took the opportunity to highlight how their local Conservative-run councils are coping with the financial squeeze. Doubtless their local papers will be encouraged to cite the praise heaped upon them by the ministers.
Here's a sample:
Peter Bone (Wellingborough): Northamptonshire county council, East Northamptonshire district council and Wellingborough borough council have all frozen their council tax this year and they are all Conservative controlled. Is it not the case that Conservative councils cost you less and deliver more?
Eric Pickles: What a wonderful slogan. I wonder who first thought of it. [Interruption.] It is indeed mine and what it says has proved to be the case. There is a really strange thing about this whole process. If we match up councils authority by authority, we see that Liberal Democrat and Conservative authorities are protecting the front line, but under Labour authorities the front line is the first one to go, the voluntary sector is the first one to go and the most swingeing cuts are the first thing to happen. It is time that the right hon. Member for Don Valley [Caroline Flint] accepted some responsibility for that.
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Hammersmith and Fulham council, which, in four years of Conservative control, has reduced its staff by a third, from 4,087 to 2,787, with almost no redundancies? It has cut the communications staff by half and reduced the human resources headcount from 100 to 47, all at a time when its services are rated among the highest in the country.
Bob Neill: Hammersmith and Fulham is an exemplar of how councils with imagination and political courage can deal with the matter. My hon. Friend is right to point out that it has done so-without any significant redundancy-by deleting needless posts.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan): Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and recognising the Vale of Glamorgan council, which is one of two authorities in Wales that have chosen to publish all invoices in excess of £500? The other authority is another Conservative-led council, Newport city council. What influence can my right hon. Friend bring to bear on the Welsh Local Government Minister to force Labour-run and independent-run authorities across Wales to follow their lead and do the same?
Eric Pickles: I am sure my hon. Friend has done more than enough to demonstrate to the people of Wales the desirability of transparency. It is gratifying that every local authority, with the exception of Labour-controlled Nottingham, now trusts the local population with that vital information.
Mel Stride (Central Devon): Conservative-controlled Devon county council has reduced chief executive pay and slimmed down middle and senior management, and it will reduce back-office expenditure by £14 million in 2011-12. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending its efficiency savings? Does he agree that responsible councils should take such actions in order to protect front-line services?
Eric Pickles: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating that council. He lays out a valuable lesson. One thing we are discovering in those authorities that are cutting libraries, Sure Start and all front-line services is that none of them has attempted any of the things that his local council has so excellently done.
Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye): Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Conservative-run East Sussex county council, which, after a disappointing grant from the Department for Education, has stepped in with £12 million of capital that it had not planned to give to ensure that the St Leonards academy is rebuilt to provide better education in Hastings?
Eric Pickles: I am always glad to congratulate my hon. Friend's council and have no hesitation in doing so today.
Later, in reply to a complaint from Labour MP Mary Glindon about cuts to the voluntary sector in her local council, the minister Greg Clark delivered a roll call of Tory councils that are dealing with the situation without such cuts:
"I am grateful for the hon. Lady's question. I hope that she recognises that different councils are doing things in different ways. With a maximum cut of 8.8%, there is no reason for any council disproportionately to cut the voluntary sector. I hope that she will look at the examples of positive councils such as Reading, Thurrock, Lancaster, Ipswich, Watford, Stafford, Rugby, Redditch, Crawley and Wolverhampton - 10 councils that are either maintaining or increasing their support to the voluntary sector at this time. She should look at them, and go back to her constituency and talk to her councillors."
Here are extracts from four more maiden speeches given during yesterday’s debate on developing a high-skilled economy which focused on education.
“I have a strong belief that the greatest gift that any young person can receive, after a loving family, is that of a good education. For those who choose the vocational path, it is vital that education be provided with the same energy and vigour as that afforded to the more traditional academic routes.”
“Education is the great highway of social mobility—for individuals to move on and up, in many cases escaping poverty and deprivation in the process. I say that as someone whose mother and father left school at ages 15 and 14, and whose life was transformed by the winning of a free place at a grammar school. The greatest opportunity ever provided to me, that school became the foundation on which the rest of my life was built. I would like to see others have the opportunity that I was privileged to receive.
“I have long admired the ideas and the reforming passion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. They have fully understood the force for good that education and skills can represent, but they have done more than that. They have truly understood the disgraceful and inhumane waste that is represented by continued educational failure—the appalling destruction of life chances, especially among the least advantaged. It is they who have understood the extraordinary power of choice; that choice will drive up standards; that parents know better than bureaucrats; that giving power to those who otherwise just have to take what they are given is the key to raising up the less advantaged; that future generations must be sustained not just by hope but by taking control of their destinies; and most important of all, that there is an age-old truth that the quest to create a stronger and better society cannot be left to the planners, to the bureaucracies, to the well-meaning architects of the state, but must be gifted to those for whom the consequences of success or failure are most keenly felt.”
“We should try to improve quality and variety in education along the line—primary, secondary and tertiary. There has been a focus in tertiary education on what I can only describe as the intellectual professions, such as law and accountancy. There has not been a focus on careers as plumbers, engineers and electricians. Those are all valid careers that require no less intelligence, just intelligence of a different variety. I should like some colleges to be the technical colleges that we all knew and loved when we were younger. They should look at proper hands-on training. When I visit colleges I am distressed to find that because of health and safety and all the other rules and regulation, education is all about bits of paper, not about students getting their hands dirty. Getting one’s hands dirty is an extremely good and valuable thing.”
“Then there is the issue of linking tertiary education with jobs, and for my money it is absolutely crucial that we give apprenticeships a real chance. When I talk to people with small businesses in my community, they say, “Anne Marie, one of the challenges is that we cannot afford to take on apprentices, because at the moment all of the burden falls on the employer and it is a huge burden.” I am therefore very pleased to see new initiatives from the new Government that will share the cost of apprenticeships.”
“I welcome the Government’s pledge to increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships that will be available. I hope that such pledges will further the work of facilities such as CATCH—the Centre for the Assessment of Technical Competence, Humber—and training providers such as HETA, the Humberside Engineering Training Association, which operate there. During the election campaign, the Minister for Universities and Science, who was then a shadow Minister and is now, I am pleased to say, a member of the Government, visited the CATCH facility in Stallingborough and I think it fair to say that he was suitably impressed. It is a joint venture between the public and private sectors, and it has an extremely good success rate in securing permanent positions for the young people who train there, educating and training today’s school leavers, so that they become not a lost and forgotten generation but a driving force behind the economic recovery that remains the key aim of Government policy.”
“Many of us in Battersea hope that the next chapter in its life story will be as a school. For the parents involved in the Neighbourhood School Campaign, supported by Wandsworth council, the free schools legislation offers the best chance of realising their dream of a new state secondary school for south Battersea. A new school would be enormously important, giving further choice to parents in my constituency, irrespective of their means—an important factor in an area that has a lot of families on low incomes. I therefore particularly welcome the coalition’s plans for a pupil premium and more apprenticeships, and its determination to boost the private sector. All those things will greatly assist the many young people in my constituency for whom life is a struggle against the odds from the start, and for whom a good education and a skilled job are an essential way of getting on in life.”