I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll. It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth. On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.
Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:
There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them. However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.
I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.
If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:
I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.
The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that. There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale. It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues. We will turn to them tomorrow.
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered. We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable". Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.
"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven. I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings. (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".) Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.
Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May. It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.
Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent. Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position. Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues. Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.
In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead. What should the Party do in such an event? Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government? Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists? Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats? And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?
By Tim Montgomerie
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Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former head of communications, has written an article for the October edition of GQ (out this week) in which he gives some advice on how the Tories might counter UKIP. In summary...
I sent out yesterday the following series of tweets on Syria, which re-iterated the case against intervention. Here they are:
This morning, I'd add a further thought:
In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate. What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.
Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April. But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.
By Mark Wallace
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The news today that Graeme Wilson, Deputy Political Editor of The Sun, has been appointed as press secretary is one result of that process.
It's a good choice - Graeme has a great nose for a story, and just as importantly is extremely likeable. Not everyone in the Lobby gets on with each other, to put it mildly, so it is both important and tricky to secure a candidate who is universally liked.
There are two interesting aspects to flag up. The first is that while parts of the left predictably moan about "another Murdoch man" being hired, it isn't that simple. As well as Murdoch's supposed control of individual journalists being very much exaggerated, Wilson hasn't always worked at The Sun. Indeed, he spent ten years writing for other papers before joining it - several of them at the Daily Telegraph.
Ed Miliband has broken all the conventional rules of opposition: neutralise your Party's weaknesses, work hard early to make an impression on the electorate, appeal to floating voters. These rules are far from being perfect or complete, but Labour's leader has done himself no good by breaking them. He has got himself up a gum tree, and has no idea how to climb down. His dismal summer continues today with a poll in the Daily Mirror, which finds that a third of Labour voters believe he should quit. His strategy seems to be to get the party's vote up to about 36 per cent by adding anti-austerity voters to Labour's core supporters. This is the opposite of Tony Blair's plan to build the biggest electoral tent possible - one that won him three successive elections. Looking at Miliband, the question is: where's the ambition?
The same question could not be asked, for roughly the first half of this Parliament, of David Cameron. Having failed to win a majority in 2010, he immediately set about creating the conditions for one in 2015 - which, furthermore, would make it more likely for him then to win further terms in office. The core of his plan was to cull the electoral advantage that Labour gains from the distribution of the vote. The means of effecting it was to reduce the number of MPs, a reform which would have brought with it the public benefit of cutting the costs of politics. A deal was struck with the Liberal Democrats whereby they would support the move if the Conservatives backed a referendum on AV. Readers of this site know what followed: the latter delivered their side of the bargain, and the former did not. Ever since Cameron's scheme failed, the question for him has been: what's the plan now - that is, the plan to deliver a Tory majority?
David Cameron is absolutely right to plan properly for post-2015 election negotiations, as the Daily Telegraph reports today, either with the Liberal Democrats or with other parties (such as the Democratic Unionists, were the numbers to add up). As the paper kindly acknowledges in an editorial, one of my leitmotifs since the 2010 election is that the Conservatives can't win a majority next time round given the distribution of the vote - a problem that the cut in the number of Commons constituencies proposed by the Government, and so ignobly sunk by the Liberal Democrats, would have addressed. If the Commons is hung in 2015, the Prime Minister would have a responsibility to the country to strive to keep it out of Labour's hands.
This means building strong foundations for any consequent coalition - a necessity which, last time round, was compromised by the rush to office of both parties, and their unpreparedness, plus that of Whitehall, for the dance of negotiation which a hung Parliament brings with it. The Liberal Democrats made a hash of their position on tuition fees. And the Conservative leadership was too quick to dump parts of the programme on which it had just fought the election, such as its commitments on inheritance tax and stamp duty. Furthermore, Tory MPs weren't given the chance to vote formally on the coalition deal. It was presented to them at a single meeting of the 1922, and sold to them on a mistaken prospectus.