By Tim Montgomerie
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On ConHome Adam Afryie's Eastleigh reflection urged a focus on measures to boost economic growth. Read it here.
The best contribution I've seen so far came from Gavin Barwell. He urged a focus on rebuilding our ground operation and focusing on so-called pavement politics. Paul Goodman has also worried today about the decline of our grassroots strength.
Here's a collection of what some other Tory MPs have been saying in reaction to the Eastleigh by-election:
Eleanor Laing warned David Cameron against alienating more traditionalist supporters: “Loyalty is a two-way thing and the leadership of the Conservative Party asks for loyalty from our supporters but those supporters don’t feel that they’re getting loyalty back.” She continued: "In my own constituency, on the doorsteps in Eastleigh and generally people I talk to – they actually feel hurt and they feel left out. They are told they are old-fashioned and they think they don't matter and what they stand for and what they believe in doesn't matter. Those people who for decades have put their faith in the Conservative party – the only way to take forward those issues people really care about is to have a truly Conservative government. To do that, the leadership of my party has to tune in better to the people who want to support it, who want loyalty and who now feel rather left out." Quoted in The Guardian.
Here's what some MPs have been saying on Twitter:
And I was glad to see some kind words from Claire Perry for Maria Hutchings:
I hope there'll be no briefing against a good lady.
By Tim Montgomerie
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The boundary reform is dead. That means, according to some estimates, that the winning post at the next election has got about twenty seats further away. Despite frantic attempts by the Tory leadership to salvage the boundary review it seems very unlikely that it'll proceed. Tory MP Michael Fabricant has, however, suggested another way of winning twenty or more seats. He suggests a pact with UKIP. The Conservatives offer an In/Out referendum, he says, and UKIP agrees not to fight the general election.
Mr Fabricant sets out his thinking in a paper that you can read here.
The thrust of the argument is that UKIP do not have to win a single seat at the next election in order to inflict serious damage on Tory candidates in marginal seats. Not every UKIP voter is a lost Tory voter but many are. At the last election there were 21 seats where the Conservatives' losing margin was less than the UKIP vote. In perhaps 8 to 12 of these seats you could sensibly argue that if there hadn't been a UKIP candidate then the Tory candidate would have won given that they were the most Eurosceptic alternative choice for UKIP voters.
Since the general election a mega poll by Lord Ashcroft has shown that we are losing as many voters to UKIP as to Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined;
By Matthew Barrett
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Paul Goodman and Harry Phibbs have already covered this strange case of UKIP-supporting foster parents having children taken away from them by the council in Rotherham. Such a breach of political freedom and liberty has been greeted with concern by a number of Tory MPs - including the Education Secretary, Michael Gove - in tweets and elsewhere. I have collected some below.
Michael Gove has released a statement (via here):
"Rotherham have made the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. Rotherham's reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible. The ideology behind Rotherham's decision is actively harmful to children. We should not allow considerations of ethnic or cultural background to prevent children being placed with loving and stable families. We need more parents to foster and many more to adopt. Any council that decides supporting a mainstream UK political party disbars an individual from looking after children in care is sending a dreadful signal that will only decrease the number of loving homes available to children in need."
By Peter Hoskin
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Here's David Cameron's statement:
“I would like to congratulate Barack Obama on his re-election.
I have really enjoyed working with him over the last few years and I look forward to working with him again over the next four years.
There are so many things that we need to do: we need to kick start the world economy and I want to see an EU-US trade deal.
Right here in Jordan I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.
Above all, congratulations to Barack. I’ve enjoyed working with him, I think he’s a very successful US president and I look forward to working with him in the future.
By Paul Goodman
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By Paul Goodman
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Imagine what it's like to enjoy a pint or two, be locked away in the Priory for years - and then suddenly be released into a brewery.
Follow Michael Fabricant MP on Twitter.
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 Paul Goodman
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The most thankless task in any front bench team is the job of pairing whip - the number three post in the Whips' Office. He is the man who in effect tells Conservatives MPs whether or not they will be required for any vote. This means calculating how important any particular division will be, whether it's likely to be won or lost, whether Ministers must be hauled back to Westminster from Northern Ireland or visits abroad, whether MPs who plead urgent constituency business, family difficulties or travel problems should be allowed to go or asked to stay, and so on.
Quite properly, he cannot force anyone to do anything, and must rely on the solidarity and patience without which there'd be no Parliamentary Party at all - particularly in the case of some older MPs who have bid ambition farewell, and have little incentive to appease the Whips. One or two in my time in the Commons - Douglas Hogg being perhaps the most vivid example - liked it make it very clear that they hadn't been elected by voters to be given instructions by whips. I remember Peter Luff doing the job with charm and John Hayes doing it with force.
The most effective was probably John Randall, now Deputy Chief Whip, a mordant figure whose jokes have Ronnie Barker timing. Michael Fabricant has held the post in Government to date, and been the subject of a steady flow of complaints from backbenchers. I have discounted some of these as the usual grumbling from those who'd rather leave the Commons early than sit late, but there's been too much around for it to be dismissed altogether. Fabricant is an energetic character with a fizzy style, and won't have liked some MPs trying not to pull their weight.
At any rate, a quiet note went out to the Parliamentary Party from the whips yesterday which contained in passing the news that there has been a reshuffle of responsibilites in the Whips Office, which include the replacement of Fabricant by Robert Goodwill. Goodwill has the knowing air of a man no longer shocked by the less salubrious aspects of human nature. Perhaps his years in the European Parliament are responsible for this. I will risk the worst pun in the world by writing that faced with the most rebellious party in modern times he'll need all the goodwill he can get.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): For what reasons she decided to prevent Michael Savage from entering the UK; and if she will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Michael Savage was excluded for engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and by fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence. The exclusion is in line with the strengthened policy on exclusions that I announced to the House on 28 October last year. In his radio broadcasts, Mr. Savage has spoken about killing 100 million Muslims, and he has spoken in violent terms about homosexuals. Coming to the UK is a privilege. I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.
Michael Fabricant: Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s answer, she will be aware that the things of which she accuses Mike Savage are also illegal in the United States of America, and he has not faced prosecution there. Does she realise how ludicrous her ban is and the disrepute into which she has put this country in the eyes of many right-seeing—and, indeed, left-seeing—people in the United States? Does she also plan to ban Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and other middle-aged, white, ordinary, American radio presenters?
Jacqui Smith: I subscribe to the view, as expressed by another Member of this House, that “It’s clear for reasons of our security that we must expel or refuse entry to those who preach hate, pit one faith against another and divide our society.” Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he was right. Frankly, if the hon. Gentleman believes that it is appropriate for somebody to use words about Muslims such as, “I said so kill 100 million of them, then there would be 900 million of them. I mean would you rather us die than them?”, then he has a very different set of values than I have, and I want to ensure that those are implemented in the decisions that we make about who we do and do not allow into this country.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Home Office’s production of a “name and shame” list was a self-evident gimmick and demeaning to Government, and it has led to a completely avoidable legal action that is producing splendid publicity for Michael Savage. Does the Home Secretary think, on reflection, that that was a mistake and the wrong way for the Government to behave?
Jacqui Smith: No, I do not, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s party leader that we need to be clear about who we will and will not accept into this country. We need to be clear about the values that we have. Where someone preaches hate and foments hatred in the way that has happened in this case, where they provoke others to serious violence, and where they use phrases such as, in relation to somebody who said on his radio programme that he was gay, “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig!”, then it is right that we express our view about that. We recognise that coming to this country is a privilege, and we will express our values in terms of those we exclude.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If it is an even-handed approach, could the Home Secretary explain why we have welcomed back to this country from Guantanamo Bay two UK residents, but not citizens, who are not only suspected terrorists in Afghanistan but wanted on murder charges in Spain?
Jacqui Smith: We have, for some period of time, taken a position of wanting to see Guantanamo Bay closed. In order to help to facilitate that, we have accepted back, and in fact sought the return to this country, of those who are nationals and have previously been resident in the UK. I think that President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay is the right one, not solely because of the individuals there but because of the ability that that gives us internationally to take forward the sort of values that we hold, and the US holds, in fighting and tackling terrorism.
Work and Pensions questions came around again yesterday.
Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Andrew Selous called for reform of the local housing allowance:
"It is now clear from reports across the country that not only tenants but charities helping the homeless are being very poorly served by the local housing allowance, so will the Minister agree to urgent reform of that allowance, which, frankly, is failing the very people whom it was designed to help?
Kitty Ussher: We always said that we would review the local housing allowance after two years, but the evidence so far does not bear out the hon. Gentleman’s points. In the pathfinder evaluations, it was shown that 96 per cent. of customers had a bank, building society or Post Office account, and a quarter of those had been opened in order for those customers to pay their rent. We are talking about an important policy, giving more choice to tenants. It is an important part of our plans for financial inclusion. We will, of course, listen to all interested parties, but we do not currently have the evidence that the hon. Gentleman needs to make his point."
Here are the highlights from yesterday's Children, Schools and Families questions.
Buckingham MP John Bercow advocated a more liberal exclusion policy:
"Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that."
By contrast Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton stressed the importance of protecting pupils from violence:
"Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that."
Yesterday saw Foreign Office questions.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind both asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions:
"The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.
Mr. Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama’s recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?
David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran’s neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?
David Miliband: Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran’s legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned."
The following Parliamentary Question was tabled by Michael Fabricant and has just been answered:
Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for each of the demonstrations about Gaza and Israel held since 1 January 2009, how many police were injured; what damage to police vehicles took place; and what the cost of policing was; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Coaker (Home Office Minister): Information provided by the Metropolitan Police Service is that to date police officers have reported 55 assaults by protestors and nine police vehicles have been damaged. The Metropolitan Police Service estimates that the total cost of the policing operation, between 29 December 2008 and 24 January 2009, is £2.7 million.
Needless to say, there were no assaults or damage arising from the pro-Israel demonstrations. You have to wonder what sort of nervous political correctness has ensured that the damage done by anti-Israel and extremist Islamic protesters has previously been hidden from the press.
Lichfield MP and Opposition Whip Michael Fabricant is good fun. But he has a keen interest in a wide variety of issues. Yesterday in the Commons he asked a very pertinent question about global education of International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander:
"Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly identified the need for equality of opportunity for both sexes in education, and he will know of the tremendous improvements that there have been in Afghanistan. However, such opportunities are not available in other fundamentalist Muslim states. What is the Department doing to encourage those states to provide equal opportunity in respect of education for girls and young women?
Mr. Alexander: The focus of our work at the Department for International Development is not dictated by the majority religious views of any one country but the requirements of the country for support in tackling poverty. We are working with Governments in a number of different countries; the hon. Gentleman mentioned Afghanistan, and we have contributed about £60 million to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund specifically for education. Where we are working we are in regular dialogue with Governments about improving the lot and opportunity of young girls in particular. To take one example, today about one in six of young girls around the world not in education are in northern Nigeria. That is why we are engaged in dialogue with the Nigerian authorities to see how we can extend opportunities to young girls and the disabled; it is necessary to get them into education if we are to see the progress that we want on the millennium development goals."
Conservative MPs should keep these kind of questions coming.
Michael Fabricant MP: Will the Secretary of State come, too, to places such as Burntwood and Chasetown and see how important it is to regenerate such areas? Housing on brownfield sites could be built to the highest ecological standards. Will she also come with me to Curborough and see just why it is totally impractical to try to build an eco-town in the middle of nowhere where no roads are available?
Hazel Blears MP: The hon. Gentleman tempts me, as ever, to spend time visiting the sites that he has identified.
Michael Fabricant MP: We could go on our motorbikes together.
Hazel Blears MP: We certainly will not be going on our motorbikes together; that is for sure. I cannot promise that I will go to those specific areas, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman and the whole House that the eco-towns programme, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has said, is subject to intense scrutiny and proper examination. We have to make some difficult decisions.
More from Hansard here.