Attack-mails from Grant Shapps and his sorcerer's apprentices in CCHQ's kitchen seem to be arriving in my in-box at a rate of approximately one a minute. I'm not going to report each time the Party Chairman announces a new attack website, but here's today's, timed for the start of Labour's Conference, which gives a sense of how much the Tory assault operation has improved.
It's no surprise to see Conservative attack dog Chris Grayling sinking his fangs into Labour's spending pledges in today's Sunday Telegraph. By the same token, it wouldn't be a shock to see Conservative attack dog Michael Gove unleashed on Ed Miliband's vulnerabities (I leave it to the reader to decide exactly what and where these are). After all, Grant Shapps and his apprentices in CCHQ's devil's kitchen cannot be expected to carry out every assault themselves.
But who's this popping up behind the Sunday Times paywall? Why, none other than the relatively lowly figure of Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove - and number five in the Treasury team, the bottom figure in the ranks. Javid warns that Miliband has a £27 billion hole in his spending plans. Watch for that figure to rise as this week's conference goes on.
And watch out for Javid, too. That so junior a Minister in the Government pecking-order is trusted to work at the same level as Cabinet Ministers such as Grayling says much about him - and how highly the Party leadership rates him. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury is a very modern success story.
The son of a family of Pakistani origin, he was brought up for a while in "Britain's most dangerous street", went first a Bristol comprehensive, then to Exeter University, and onwards to Chase Manhattan - where he became the youngest Vice-President in the history of the bank. Elected to the Commons in 2010 and already a Minister, he will be promoted before 2015.
The move may stir suspicions of tokenism. It shouldn't. You don't get to a senior level at Chase Manhattan by being a slouch. Javid is very bright, straightforward, sharp and, for that matter, right-wing: he pushed earlier in this Parliament and on this site for a debt ceiling. My only question is whether he is, well, political enough: business people and politics don't always mix.
This is presumably why George Osborne - whose previous PPS, Greg Hands, is very political indeed - talent-spotted Javid and made him his PPS. (The Bromsgrove MP had previously served John Hayes in the same position.) Javid will be learning some of the political tricks of the trade in the Treasury, not to mention gaining experience of Whitehall's most senior department. You will hear more about Sajid Javid in the months to come. Which is why I say: watch him.
By Harry Phibbs
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At last we have a clear Labour Party policy in place for the 2015 General Election.
They have given a clear pledge to reinstate the spare room subsidy. The Conservatives will challenge them on how they would pay for this. That is a reasonable challenge. As I noted on Thursday - and if the early figures from Barnet are anything to go by - the savings will be far more than estimated. Well over a billion instead of around half a billion. This is because many of those affected are being prompted to take jobs and come off benefits altogether.
On the other side of the ledger Ed Miliband's claim to pay for it - even if it were a mere half billion price tag - with a £145 million Stamp Duty hike on pension funds is also vulnerable to scrutiny.
The short term politics of Mr Miliband's spare room subsidy announcement are understandable. This has been the big campaign of the year for the trade unions and left wing activists.
Labour's media allies - in the BBC and also such papers as The Independent and the The Mirror - have been denouncing the policy with great prominence. This has had some impact on public opinion. Then there have been Conservative taunts - led by David Cameron at PMQs - about Labour's failure to say what they would do on the subject.
Certainly Mr Miliband needed to clarify his stance on a number of policy issues. However on this one his announcement is a sign of weakness rather than strength. It is also imprudent to have made it at this stage. Labour has seized on the rise of rent arrears, but what will they be in a year's time? Labour has said that many have found difficulty finding a property to downsize into. Can they rely on this continuing?
Guido has the better headline: "It'll be All White On The Night."
And as he acknowledges the spot was originally our very own Mark Wallace's.
In 2001 or so, I wrote a speech for Iain Duncan Smith that went well enough, and was drafted on the back of it into his team for Prime Minister's Questions prep. The other three members were David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson (and I should say in passing that those first two were infinitely better at the task than I was). I thus spent part of each week, for the best half of four years, with the duo that leads the Conservative Party.
I never saw them tip the wink at their underlings to "destroy" a senior Shadow Minister, or leak details of another's alleged "drinking, fighting and carousing", or tip off newspapers about their rivals "drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs" - all conduct that Damian McBride writes of in his memoir, serialisation of which opens in the Daily Mail today. There are three possible explanations for this (assuming that Tory MPs as well as Labour ones are vulnerable to drinking, fighting, carousing, drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs which, since human nature is a given, is a reasonable presumption).
The first is that I'm incapable of seeing what goes on at the end of my nose. The second is that Cameron and Osborne did all this and more when I wasn't around. The third is that it didn't happen - or at least, to nothing like the same degree. Call me sentimental, self-deceived or a liar, but I'm sure the explanaton is the third. You don't get to the top of politics without being ruthless - and both are as much so as any politician I worked with during my ten years in the Commons. None the less, I can't imagine either discussing plans to set up a paper called, say, "Blue Rag" to smear a woman Labour MP with fictitious tales - as McBride did in relation to Nadine Dorries.
In my ToryDiary of earlier today about Andrew Mitchell case, and the failure of Operation Alice to report a year after it was set up, a long list of articles is enclosed supporting the MP.
Some of them are very fine, all of them make good points, and we're going to make it Mitchell Is Innocent Day on ConservativeHome.
One will be posted on the site each hour until close of play. In order to avoid having two threads on the same subject, we will close the one below shortly.
It is a year today since Operation Alice, the investigation by the Met into the Andrew Mitchell affair, was launched: 30 police officers were apparently put on the case. Yet it has failed to produce a report: 12 months is apparently insufficient time to probe an incident lasting some 45 seconds. Here are some more figures relating to the case. Six people are reported to have been arrested, four of them police officers, four of them from the Diplomatic Protection Unit. Four members of the unit are undergoing disciplinary proceedings. Three members of the Police Federation are being investigated by a separate inquiry for alleged misconduct over comments they made to the media.
Now let's turn from figures to facts - and the meticulous investigative journalism of Michael Crick. A witness who e-mailed his MP backing up the claims about Mitchell in the police log said later when questioned by Crick that he "wasn't a witness to anything". He had also failed to tell the MP that he is a serving police officer. As Crick also reports, "according to the leaked police logs there were "several members of the public present - around the gate - they heard the altercation and were 'visibly shocked'. What this CCTV shows is that there are no crowds of people watching and listening".
Viewers of the footage will decide for themselves whether - as Mitchell wheels his bicycle towards the pedestrian entrance to Downing Street without visibly engaging with an accompanying policeman - he actually said the words attributed to him: "best learn your f*****g place. You don't run this f*****g Government. You are f*****g plebs". I agree with Crick that the tape "doesn't really seem to support this version". But whether one shares this view or not, the facts of the case are clear. There is no evidence that Mitchell said the words attributed to him other than the police log. That log has been proved to be not fully accurate. And an account backing it up has proved to be false.
By Harry Phibbs
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Nick Clegg didn't have anything terribly interesting or new to say in his speech this afternoon but the tone was more assertive. Usually the Liberal Democrat politicians avoid being messianic. They like to project a let's be reasonable, split the difference, would you like a cup of tea message.
The pitch is to be nice and trying to vary that by assuring the audience that they can also be jolly tough tends to sound contrived and embarrassing.
Here was an unaccustomed effort within the Lib Dems to build up a leadership cult. They were practising power worship. Mr Clegg accommodated the power worshippers. Thus there were a few insidery anecdotes - something about sorting out the furniture when he first became Deputy Prime Minister and also something about meeting Andy Murray.
Then there was plenty of of "back story" - his upbringing, lots about his wife and children and the values they believed in. All the American stuff which is now familiar to our politics too.
Amongst all this Mr Clegg listed policies that the Government had brought in that he wanted to claim credit for he gave a list of policies which he claimed to have stopped:
Sometimes compromise and agreement isn’t possible and you just have to say “no”. Inheritance tax cuts for millionaires - no. Bringing back O’ levels and a two-tier education system - no. Profit-making in schools – no. New childcare ratios – no. Firing workers at will, without any reasons given – no, absolutely not.
Regional pay penalising public sector workers in the north - no. Scrapping housing benefit for young people – no. No to ditching the Human Rights Act. No to weakening the protections in the Equalities Act. No to closing down the debate on Trident. Had they asked us, no to those ‘go home’ poster vans.
No to the boundary changes if you cannot deliver your side of the bargain on House of Lords reform. And if there’s one area where we’ve had to put our foot down more than any other, have a guess. Yep, the environment.
It’s an endless battle; we’ve had to fight tooth and nail; it was the same just this week with the decision to introduce a small levy to help Britain radically cut down on plastic bags.
They wanted to scrap Natural England, hold back green energy. They even wanted geography teachers to stop teaching children about how we can tackle climate change. No, no and no – the Liberal Democrats will keep this Government green.
There is a lots of nonsense in this section, of course. For example the proposal on Inheritance Tax was to cut it for everyone but millionaires - raising the threshold to £1 million. Most people would have been pleased that had taken place. Most people would probably support most of the other measures that the Lib Dems are boasting about stopping. However they are not interested in what most people think - only the 25 per cent who are potential Lib Dem voters.
On free school meals Mr Clegg said:
If you want to know what I really believe in you will find it in these policies. Using the muscle of the state to create a level playing field when it counts most – when boys and girls are still forming their views, their characters, their hopes and their fears.
That’s why I’m delighted to tell you that we are now also going to provide free school meals for all children of infant school age.
From next September we’ll give every child in Reception, and Years 1 and 2 a healthy lunch every day – saving families more than £400 per year, per child.
And, for the Liberal Democrats, this is a first step: my ambition is to provide free school meals for all primary school children. Another reason we want to get into Government again next time round.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else - that tells you everything you need to know about their values.
But extending free school meals helps some families over others. It helps the rich - who will no longer have to pay for them - over the poor - who were getting them anyway. There might be a case to be made for encouraging a proper hot meal at school rather than a packed lunch. But it is silly to claim the new policy as egalitarian.
Still what comes across from this week is Nick Clegg and, on the whole, the Lib Dems generally like being in power. The modesty has been junked.
There might well be Conservative or Labour MPs who would prefer opposition to a Lib Dem coalition. However for all the stick tehy have taken the Lib Dems will be keen to get another deal if they have a chance.
By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?
Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:
With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'. Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.
Blues 2 - 0 Yellows
It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.
Blues 3 - 2 Yellows
The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.
Blues 0 - 0 Yellows
It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.
Blues 5 - 1 Yellows
Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.
Blues 2 - 1 Yellows
The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.
Blues 1 - 1 Yellows
Energy and Environment
Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition.
Blues 1 - Yellows 5
Tax and Spend
Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.
On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.
Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.
Blues 2 - Yellows 2
Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
Business and Banks
Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.
Blues 2 - Yellows 3
To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation.
Blues 2 - Yellows 1
This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.
Blues 1 - Yellows 2
Scores so far
Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.
The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.
I asked on this site in early August why the Party wouldn't declare a membership figure, and ran the editorial asking the question every day for a week - a first for this site. The answer was plain. 253,600 members voted during the 2005 leadership election, and Downing Street didn't want headlines declaring that since David Cameron won it membership has fallen by roughly half. These are certain to follow the figure that senior CCHQ sources have disclosed to ConservativeHome - 134,000 constituency members, which is a bit over that halfway mark. So how reliable is that headline total? And why has CCHQ changed its mind about releasing it?
This site has seen an individual constituency breakdown of the 134,000 figure, but has not had the time to examine it closely: we will do so during the next few days. (The Party claims that the total membership figure is 174,000.*) There are three main reasons for the decision itself.