By Mark Wallace
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Predictably, there are acres of newsprint devoted to the EU issue in the press today - what should Cameron do? Ought ministers to be allowed to vote for the amendment? Is this a damaging split or a realigning of the Conservative party to a more popular position?
It's easy to focus so much on the big ideological debates that we miss the more mundane practicalities - and yet a party needs both the right policies and the right day-to-day infrastructure to win elections.
As it happens, while the headlines are all about Europe there is a practical debate going on too, about how the party uses its European representatives.
As reported on MPsETC today, the selection process for the European Parliament elections is now underway. With a list system demanding that we order our candidates as well as just select them for each constituency, it's quite drawn-out.
There is also understandable controversy about the fact that sitting MEPs, if reselected, automatically go to the top of the list, effectively removing the power of the party membership to democratically deselect them should they so wish.
But this time round attention is falling on the bizarre purdah period the party rules enforce. For the duration of May, June and July, all Conservative MEPs and MEP candidates are forbidden from speaking at party events, going out campaigning with activists, host visitors at the European Parliament or even send out their regular emails updating party members on what is going on in Brussels.
By Matthew Barrett
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David Cameron, in the latest edition of The House magazine, has given an interview to Paul Waugh, in which he suggests the Conservative Party should use the ongoing boundary reviews - and the consequent Party selection processes - to push for more women candidates.
Mr Cameron says:
"We’ve obviously got a Boundary Review, which is a very big issue so I don’t want to pile another new set of issues on top of that, but I think where there are opportunities, new seats, entirely new seats where we hope to take on Labour, or perhaps some seats where people are retiring, we’ve got to ask ourselves, the party needs to ask itself the question, ‘what are we going to do to help keep pushing forward the agenda of getting more good women to stand for Parliament and to get into Parliament. That’s a conversation we are starting now."
On a similar note, Mr Cameron was asked "Do you still have the ambition to have a third of your ministers as women? Is that still viable?". He replied:
"I do. Look, I’m very committed to the progress of getting more women standing for Parliament, getting more women elected to Parliament and when in Parliament, making sure that we have more women on the front bench. Obviously we are in a Coalition and we have two parties and that changes the arithmetic but I certainly want to do my bit."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Last night I reported Rachel Sylvester's claim that "Aides to Cameron want Coalition to continue even if Tories win a majority". I'm getting hot denials of this from good sources today. The general view is that certain Liberal Democrats would be offered baubles by a majority Conservative government including some policy commissions and quangoes. There may even be a small handful of ministerial positions for Orange Bookers. Just enough would be offered to keep the door open to future co-operation with the Liberal Democrats but there would be no second coalition.
Rachel Sylvester is on the money in terms of the Cameroonian attitude to the Right, however. This was the final paragraph of my blog last night:
"Over the bank holiday weekend three senior ministers have told me that senior advisors to Cameron are actively discussing ways of "castrating the Right". The alleged purge of the candidates' list, appointments of many "tame" peers and active briefing against senior right-wing members of the government are early signs of this strategy."
The inner Cameron circle hate the idea of governing with the Tory Right (or as I call it, the Conservative Mainstream). James Kirkup at The Telegraph sums up the Cameroonian view: "Ask yourself, who would David Cameron rather have as his Deputy Prime Minister: Nick Clegg or Liam Fox?"
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw about around 150 defeated Conservative candidates from England and Wales (I have picked up disquiet from some quarters in Scotland that those north of the border were not invited) gather in London for a debrief on the general election.
The overall impression from those to whom I have spoken is that it was a very positive and constructive afternoon and that candidates hugely appreciated the opportunity to share their experiences with each other and those at the top of the party.
There were presentations and Q&A sessions involving George Osborne, Director of Campaigning Stephen Gilbert and Party Co-Chairmen Baroness Warsi and Andrew Feldman, with the highlight of the afternoon being a reception at 10 Downing Street addressed by the Prime Minister - which I gather candidates felt was an especially generous gesture on his part.
Here are the highlights that I have picked up from conversations with some of those who attended. Anyone there who would like to pass on any other thoughts can email me in confidence.
David Cameron believes we failed to win a majority because we didn't reassure enough swing voters (and not because the core vote was marginalised)
The Prime Minister was keen to dispel any talk of the election result being poor, reminding candidates that more seats were gained than at any election since the 1930s, and that many people had said that it would take two elections, not one, before he could countenance entering Downing Street.
Whilst he said on the one hand that he didn't want to prejudge the findings of CCHQ's own inquiries into the election outcome, he was forthright in rejecting any suggestion that the party failed to win because it had failed to focus on core values or be Right-wing enough. The reason the party did not win a majority, he said, was because not enough people trusted the party with their vote and that more reassurance needed to be given to swing voters so that they could vote Conservative with confidence and without fear.
Observers of Mr Cameron yesterday came away with the impression that he views that coalition arrangement as a positive way of showing how much the Conservatives have embraced change in a way that should appear to those centre-ground voters.
It has also been reported to me that he seemed extremely bullish about the coalition providing the potential for a broader realignment of politics on the Centre Right that could keep Labour out of power for a generation - the exact opposite of the dream of the Left-wing commentariat which would have seen a realignment which marginalised the Conservatives for the foreseeable future.
A regular topic of speculation and discussion in Westminster is which of the Shadow Cabinet would make the transfer to an actual Conservative Cabinet, and in which jobs.
In his speech to the spring forum this afternoon, David Cameron gave the clearest signal yet that he would not want to make radical changes to the top table when he said:
"I believe in finding good people, trusting them and letting them get on with the job."
The following members of the Shadow Cabinet were name-checked by the Tory leader and linked to the keeping their job in government:
He also commended "the team led by Michael Gove" for what they are going to deliver in schools and Sayeeda Warsi for having "destroyed that ghastly piece of filth, Nick Griffin" on Question Time.
Also, in terms of candidates who represent the changing face of the parliamentary party, the following were name-checked:
More important than the Tory manifesto, more important than the character and vision of David Cameron is the next generation of Tory MPs. Long after the manifesto is gathering dust on a library shelf and long after Cameron's authority has begun to wane the 'Class of 2010' will be deciding parliamentary votes and running government departments.
More than half of the next parliamentary Tory party will be 'freshers' if the Conservatives become the government.
On Sunday Jonathan Isaby examined their make up in terms of gender and ethnicity. Ten times as important is what they believe. ConHome's polling of the intake suggests they are Thatcher's children. They are overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. They favour small government. They support marriage. They are sceptical about gung-ho environmentalism. They support the teaching of British history in schools. More worryingly, they are split on the future of the UK. This page and this page are the two best guides to ConHome's polling of the candidates.
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The Tory grassroots are one of the last groups that it is acceptable to mock and caricature but there is more and more evidence that they deserve a much better press.
Yesterday Jonathan Isaby published an analysis of seat selections in top and target seats. He showed that of 51 selections in Tory-held seats during this Parliament, 31.4% of selected candidates were women and 7.8% from a minority background. This is not the false progress that would have been produced by All Women Shortlists but, then again, who wants another generation of 'Blair Babes'? Tory members are choosing women and minority candidates in roughly the same proportion as they are applying to be on the overall candidates list. It's not stratospheric progress but it is sustainable progress because the women and minorities who will form about 20% of the next parliamentary Conservative Party will all be there on merit.
At the weekend Therese Coffey won the battle to succeed John Gummer as MP for Suffolk Coastal. Her Euroscepticism and Thatcherite style won over an Association that didn't care if she was a man or a woman. They liked her politics. Second in that selection was Nadhim Zahawi.
Sajid Javid was selected for Bromsgrove. He is the third candidate from a Muslim background to be selected for a top target or Tory-held seat. Already selected is Zahid Iqbal in Bradford West and Rehman Chisti in Gillingham.
The average Tory member is blind to the colour and gender of the people that want to be their MP. If their politics are right they'll happily embrace them. Given that the average Tory activist gives so much time freely to the party - without any hope of reward - it's beyond time that they got a little more respect.
Jonathan Isaby's pick: My one to watch is a politician who has served uninterruptedly on the Conservative front bench since he was made a junior whip in the House of Lords by Margaret Thatcher in 1988. Chief Whip in the Lords in John Major's Government, Lord Strathclyde has now ably led the party in the Upper House since 1998. He has constantly been in the top third of the ConHome shadow cabinet league table. Whilst David Cameron may become Prime Minister next year with an overall Conservative majority in the Commons, any administration he forms will start its life as a minority government in the House of Lords. Mr Cameron will of course be entitled to appoint a fresh raft of working Conservative peers - hence ConHome's search for new nominations; but using his political and diplomatic skills, it is Lord Strathclyde who will be a key figure in delivering key votes from the red benches. Few members of Cameron's Cabinet will be more important to the success of any Conservative government.
Tim Montgomerie's pick: I have never been a fan of the A-list but I am a big fan of the female candidates who have been selected as Conservative candidates during David Cameron's leadership. Many female A-listers were of relatively poor quality but Conservative Associations have had the sense to ignore CCHQ's ambition for more than 50% of candidates to be women and have selected the best of the crop. I don't want to mention too many names but Karen Bradley (formerly of the Tory policy unit), Philippa Stroud (because of her lifelong commitment to social justice), Liz Truss (a radical thinker on public sector reform), Harriett Baldwin (because of her knowledge of the financial world) and Fiona Bruce (because of her legal and business background) are just five stars-in-the-waiting. There are many others. My hope is that David Cameron does not promote them too quickly. They deserve a chance to learn the ropes of being an MP - particularly those with marginal seats and the need to make good first impressions on their constituents. My one-to-watch for 2010 is therefore not a person but 'the female Tory MP'.
> Previous picks: The gaffe of 2009
Tim has already blogged on what Mr Cameron had to say about All Women Shortlists in response to my question about candidate selection.
Blair for EU President?
On the potential for Tony Blair to become EU President, he reiterated that he didn't believe that the EU should have a President and that he didn't support Blair in that role even if there is a President. If such a role had to exist, he would rather it were a "chairmanic" role rather than the "all-singing, all-dancing, all-acting" Tony Blair. He later said that William Hague had made the party's position on the issue of Blair clear and that he had himself always made his position clear whenever asked by visiting European politicians . The Mail's Quentin Letts asked what he thought a former leader like Blair should be doing. "I've got so many things to worry about, that what Tony Blair does with well-funded retirement is just too far down the list... I thought he was solving the Middle East? He could carry on with that for a bit."
On Lisbon, he repeated his previous commitment that if Lisbon comes into force, then new circumstances will exist and he would set out the position as to what to do about it then.Looking at the disincentives to work
Yesterday afternoon and until 8am this morning nearly 1,900 Tory members voted on the issue of All Women Shortlists. The emphatic verdict is captured in the graphic below:
John Maples writes for ConHome today about the All Women Shortlists. There is no attempt in the article to persuade, encourage or inspire. It's not so much a defence of AWS as a bureaucrat's statement of the party's plans. It's an insulting article.
David Cameron would do well to think about that quote above. He and John Maples can ignore the upset of grassroots today and can do so without any electoral consequence. David Cameron can ignore the upset of his MPs at the unfairnesses of Legg and Kelly. Again without any electoral consequence. But being on top of public opinion isn't the only skill required in a party leader. Managing the conservative coalition is also a skill. He can treat core supporters in a cavalier way now but he will need them in the lean times that almost certainly lie ahead.
I hope I won't be writing about this topic again for some time. Enough has been said this week. Later next week I'll be writing about the enormous potential of the Cameron project. I still believe that it could transform the nation and the Conservative Party could again become the natural party of government. It would just help if the manager was a little more respectful to his team.