By Matthew Barrett
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Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.
Origins of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party - there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 - so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director.
Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
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.
Michael Brown has written a thought-provoking piece for The Independent.
One of his most interesting observations is this:
"Assuming a Tory victory with an overall working majority, Mr Cameron will be faced with a parliamentary party numbering 350, or thereabouts, of whom only just over 100 will be previously sitting MPs. By comparison, when Margaret Thatcher formed her first government in 1979 her party gained 62 seats from other parties, but she was able to choose widely, from over 250 re-elected MPs from the previous parliament, the 100 or so cabinet and junior ministers."
ConHome has already speculated about the return of the likes of Michael Howard, Peter Lilley, Malcolm Rifkind and John Redwood to the frontbench to give an inexperienced incoming government some weight. Michael Brown implies that this might not be enough and he suggests that some new MPs might become ministers immediately. He mentions Nick Boles as a candidate for instant promotion and cites the preecedent of one Harold Wilson:
"Attlee was faced with a similar situation when forming his 1945 government. He had no hesitation in asking the newly elected MP for Ormskirk, Harold Wilson, to become Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Works.
Wilson made his maiden speech from the Treasury bench speaking for the government, as a minister, on the amenities and facilities for MPs. Within two years he had joined the cabinet at President of the Board of Trade. So who might be destined to repeat Wilson's achievement? Step forward Nicholas Boles, soon to be Tory MP for Grantham and Stamford, and who is now currently working for Mr Cameron's implementation team, preparing for government, in Tory HQ. Mr Boles may already be dreaming of the arrival of a ministerial limousine before he even makes his maiden speech."
My inclination is to believe that every new MP should be given some time getting used to the Commons before such elevation but Cameron may feel he does not have much choice.
The Government was sensationally and splendidly defeated yesterday in the House of Commons.
A Liberal Democrat motion backed by the Conservatives and 27 Labour MPs was supported by a vote of 267 to 246. It offered all Gurkhas equal right of residence, which the Government had wanted to restrict. David Cameron later commented that "Today is a historic day where Parliament took the right decision ... The government now has got to come back with immediate proposals so that the Gurkhas can have an answer."
During the debate, Michael Howard made an impassioned speech:
"The 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at Shorncliffe, in my constituency. In a bitter irony, soldiers from that battalion returned to Shorncliffe on Sunday 19 April, 10 days ago—just five days before the Government made their announcement—from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was a tour of duty in which, yet again, they demonstrated their heroism and valour, and during which they lost two of their comrades. On Tuesday 4 November, Rifleman Yubraj Rai received a gunshot wound from enemy fire. He received medical treatment at the scene but he died a short time later from his wounds. Only a few days later, on Saturday 15 November, Colour Sergeant Krishnabahadur Dura was taking part in a road move in the Musa Qala district of Helmand, when the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle in which he was travelling was struck by an explosive device.
Those Gurkha soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for our country. When they died, the Prime Minister told the House that we should never forget the sacrifice that they had made, just as he did some three hours ago in respect of the death of the Welsh Guardsman who lost his life yesterday. However, those words must be accompanied by deeds.
Yesterday Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made a statement on the twelve arrests that took place in the North West of England earlier this month. She told the House of Commons that:
"The arrests were pre-planned as the result of an ongoing joint police and Security Service investigation. The decision to take action was an operational matter for the police and the Security Service, but the Prime Minister and I were kept fully informed of developments. The priority at all times has been to act to maintain public safety.
The House will also be aware that during the course of Wednesday 8 April, photographs were taken of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick as he was going to a meeting in Downing street. Mr. Quick was carrying papers that contained sensitive operational detail about the investigation and some of that detail was visible in the photographs. As a result, a decision was made by the police to bring forward the arrests to a few hours earlier than had been originally planned. The fact that these papers were inadvertently made public did not make any difference to the decision to carry out arrests—it simply changed the timing by a matter of hours. Assistant Commissioner Quick offered his resignation to the Metropolitan Police Authority on the following day and it was accepted. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his work on counter-terrorism and for his many years of service. He has made an enormous personal contribution to making our country a safer place."
I'm afraid it stretches credulity to say that being forced to bring forward arrests by several hours is a simple matter.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling responded for the Conservatives:
"I was asked after the event in an interview whether I blamed the Home Secretary for the fiasco. I said no—for once she was blameless, and I am glad that she recognised immediately that Bob Quick had to go. Such a blatant breach of the relevant protocols meant that his position was completely untenable. That is as far as I am going to go in praising the Home Secretary. The past few weeks have been another chapter of chaos in the Home Office. We have warned for years about abuses of the student visa system for immigration purposes, but the emergence of a terror threat within the UK from this system is a worrying but perhaps unsurprising new development.
Michael Howard made another useful intervention in the Commons yesterday.
The Prime Minister had made his statement on the European Council held in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. (We carried David Cameron's response yesterday.)
Mr Howard had a humdinger for Mr Brown:
"In discussing the financial crisis with his colleagues at the Council, did the Prime Minister draw to their attention the important report of the National Audit Office on the nationalisation of Northern Rock? Did he consider with them the lessons that can be learned from the report’s finding that in 2004 the Treasury over which he presided was specifically warned that we were ill-equipped to deal with a systemic banking crisis, but decided that the issue was not a high priority? Does he now regret his failure to take that warning seriously?
The Prime Minister: Long after 2004, we did a number of exercises with the American authorities about what we would do in situations in which individual banks collapsed and about whether there was a systemic crisis as a result. Far from not taking action, we did take action and looked at what the global repercussions of individual bank failures would be. We talked to the United States Treasury and Federal Reserve and the regulators. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that Northern Rock, among other companies in the United Kingdom, was buying assets, from the United States of America, which were at that time labelled triple A but which turned out to be absolutely worthless. So there is also a failure in international regulation, which must be dealt with. I hope that he will agree that the measures that we are taking at the G20 are the right ones to take."
I think young Mr Howard (MP for Folkestone and Hythe) could have a future in politics ...
Erstwhile Conservative Leader Michael Howard made a noteworthy contribution to the debate on the economy yesterday.
"It seems to me that we cannot arrive at the right prescription for the future of our economy unless we gain a clear view of why we are where we are. We cannot expect to be led out of our current crisis by a Prime Minister who puts his head in the sand. Before prescription, however, there must be diagnosis, and it is in that spirit that I offer my remarks this afternoon.
Of course it is true—we can all agree on this—that we are in the throes of an international recession, or something worse. Of course it is true that almost every other country is affected in one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent, but we are almost uniquely vulnerable. We are almost uniquely ill equipped to deal with the calamity that has befallen the world, and we need to consider the reasons for that. They are not too difficult to identify.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, was quite right, last Friday, to accept responsibility for the things that we got wrong. We certainly failed to anticipate that the crisis we now face was anything like as serious as it has proved to be, but there are two main reasons for our present plight. Both of them were directly the responsibility of the Prime Minister, and, in respect of both of them, we certainly warned of the consequences. I have looked at the record, and I am in a position to answer the question posed from a sedentary position by the Exchequer Secretary earlier, when she asked, “Where were you?” I shall do my best to answer that question during the course of my observations.
Yesterday Michael Howard made a point of order in the Commons:
"On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You responded yesterday to the letter written to you last week, signed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and me. In that letter, we asked you to give precedence to our complaint of breach of privilege in respect of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). You have declined that request, which means the House does not have the opportunity to consider whether the matter should be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you will be prepared to give the House this afternoon your reasons for declining that request?
It is right that MPs treat the Speaker with respect in the House of Commons. He holds a great office, and it is vital that MPs defer to that office. It is one of Mr Howard's many qualities that he has considerable reverence for Parliament. But Michael Martin should not expect to be free from criticism elsewhere. And he can afford to show a little more humility without losing face.
Sadly, he has never looked like he is up to his job. His predecessor Betty Boothroyd was superb. Contrastingly, Speaker Martin has frequently given the impression that he doesn't understand procedure and is unwilling to set aside partisan feelings. He won't fool anyone that is on top of things by trying to belittle a senior MP like Michael Howard.
We can also dismiss the notion that all of Michael Martin's critics are snobs. He has demonstrably failed to perform adequately - and that has precisely nothing to do with being Glaswegian.
My ConservativeHome colleagues have already covered yesterday's debate on the Damian Green affair. But such is its significance that it is worth recording contributions from other Tory MPs. (The motion was introduced by Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House of Commons.)
Shadow Home Secretary made a crucial point, albeit that Sir Gerald Kaufman didn't accept it.
"Since the passage of the Official Secrets Act 1989, the leaking of material not concerning national security has ceased to be a criminal offence. On what basis, therefore, is a civil servant arrested for that, and on what conceivable basis is my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) arrested? If the right hon. Gentleman starts by asking himself that question—which relates to a gift to civil liberty from the last Conservative Government—he will start to conclude very quickly that the basis for the police’s erupting into this place and searching a Member of Parliament’s offices is shaky in the extreme. That is why he should be very concerned about what has happened, particularly because all the normal processes and protections that should have operated—including the consulting of the Director of Public Prosecutions—never occurred.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: What puzzles me, in view of that bout of rodomontade from the hon. and learned Gentleman, is why he says that Christopher Galley should be sacked, because Christopher Galley appears to have been doing something which is hugely praiseworthy."
Former Home Secretary and Leader of HM Opposition Michael Howard weighed in too:
“to investigate suspected criminal offences in relation to a substantial series of leaks from the Home Office potentially involving national security and the impeding of the efficient and effective conduct of government.”
I particularly want to draw the House’s attention to that last phrase. So far as I am aware, it has never been a criminal offence to impede the efficient and effective conduct of government and nor should it be. I do not think that the police should have been called into investigate on that basis, and they should not have agreed to do so.
I have written to Mr. Ian Johnston, the chief constable of the British Transport police who is carrying out an inquiry into the police’s handling of the matter, and asked him to consider this point in his inquiry. I have written to the Minister in charge at the Cabinet Office to ask who in the Cabinet Office called in the police on that extraordinary basis and whether the Minister authorised or knew of that action."
The Government has just defeated an attempt by a cross-party group of MPs to widen the remit of the committee investigating the circumstances of the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green and the search of his office by a mere four votes.
The amendment - moved by Sir Menzies Campbell - was also signed by a plethora of seniors MPs from different parties, including Conservatives David Davis, Michael Howard and Kenneth Clarke. Defeated by 285 votes to 281, it would have allowed for the committee to get on with its deliberations immediately and not necessarily have a government majority.
The main motion setting up the committee was then passed by 293 votes to 270.
Theresa May has just told the Commons that she and David Cameron were recommending that Conservative MPs do not sit on the committee because it "blatantly flies in the face" of the desire the Speaker outlined last week as to its nature.
Simon Hughes said that the Liberal Democrats took the same view.
The debate saw contributions from a number of Conservatives and here are some of the highlights as documented by PoliticsHome:
"The motion before us today flies in the face of the Speaker's statement. It is not only a gross discourtesy to the Speaker, but a flagrant abuse of the power of the executive, a blatant attempt to pack the committee, and delay its work until the controversy is over. This Parliament deserves better from its Leader.
"The Leader should be in no doubt that if a committee is set up with a government majority that it would not have the support of the opposition."
"The police will not think worse of the Home Secretary to ask awkward questions like 'have you applied for a warrant?' That is not improper interference. It is the proper exercise of scrutiny for ensuring that the police are doing their job.
"If this Committee is stuffed with Government Officials, we will treat this committee with the same contempt that this Government has shown to the House."
"I do realise how annoying leaks are. They're not always heroic.
"I don't think that anybody here is in favour of a totalitarian government. No one on this side is running spies in the government and no one on the front bench is advocating a police state. I think we have a House of Commons that is committed to parliamentary democracy.
"We are led in an increasing air of carelessness and indifference. We don't all respect the rule of law."
Other robust contributions were made by Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith came before the House of Commons yesterday to make a statement on the Damian Green arrest. She was very much on the defensive:
"As the statement issued by Sir David Normington on 28 November made clear, he was informed by the police at about 1.45 pm on 27 November that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition Front Bench. Sir David was subsequently told that an arrest had been made. This was the first time that anybody in the Home Office was informed that a Member of this House was the subject of the police investigation. I have made it clear that neither I nor any other Government Minister knew until after the arrest of the hon. Member that he—or any other hon. Member—was the subject of a police investigation or was to be arrested. I hope that those who have asserted the contrary will now withdraw their claims.
Let me be clear that even if I had been informed, I believe it would have been wholly inappropriate for me to seek to intervene in the operational decisions being taken by the police. I will not do that and I should not do that."
As Quentin Letts writes in the Daily Mail, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve was ruthlessly efficient. This page has already carried his statement. One point that the Home Secretary made in response does need highlighting:
"The hon. and learned Gentleman asserted several times that “there is not the slightest evidence”. He does not know what evidence the police have. I do not know what evidence the police have—but I do know that it is wholly appropriate that the police should use their professional judgment to follow the evidence during the course of a police investigation without fear or favour."
Unfortunately for the Government, no-one is going to give them the benefit of the doubt. If no breach of national security is uncovered, they will look very foolish.
Other Tory MPs were furious too.
Hansard has the full report of the Speaker's statement on Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green and subsequent contributions from MPs here. There will be a debate on the issue on Monday.
Some highlights from yesterday are reproduced below.
The Speaker is to be commended for one thing: offering no public comment before addressing Parliament:
"In the past few days there has been much pressure on me to make public comment about these matters, but I felt that it was right and fitting that I should make no comment until Parliament reconvenes, because it is this House and this House alone that I serve, as well as being accountable for the actions of its Officers. I should emphasise from the start that it is not for me to comment on the allegations that have been made against the hon. Member or on the disposal of those allegations in the judicial process."
After making the point that Parliament is not a "haven from the law", Speaker Martin gave an outline of events:
"On Wednesday last, the Metropolitan police informed the Serjeant at Arms that an arrest was contemplated, but did not disclose the identity of the Member. I was told in the strictest confidence by her that a Member might be arrested and charged, but no further details were given to me. I was told that they might be forthcoming the next morning.
At 7 am on Thursday, police called upon the Serjeant at Arms and explained the background to the case, and disclosed to the Serjeant the identity of the Member. The Serjeant at Arms called me, told me the Member’s name and said that a search might take place of his offices in the House. I was not told that the police did not have a warrant. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the Serjeant was not obliged to consent, or that a warrant could have been insisted upon. [ Interruption. ] Order. Let me make the statement. I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant at Arms, without consulting the Clerk of the House.
I must make it clear to the House— [ Interruption. ] Order. I must make it clear to the House that I was not asked the question of whether consent should be given, or whether a warrant should have been insisted on. I did not personally authorise the search. It was later that evening that I was told that the search had gone ahead only on the basis of a consent form. I further regret that I was formally told by the police only yesterday, by letter from Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick, that the hon. Member was arrested on 27 November on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office."