Conservative Diary

Constitution and democracy

18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


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:

Home Office

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

Local Government

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Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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

Constitutional Reform

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

Welfare Reform

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.

3 Sep 2013 06:33:54

Today, we are taking our concerns about the Lobbying Bill to Parliament

By Mark Wallace
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CommonsToday will see the Second Reading of the Lobbying Bill (or the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill”, as it's known by those with breath to waste).

Alongside representatives of a wide range of organisations, including the British Legion, Guide Dogs, the Wildlife Trust, Oxfam, the Children’s Society, the British Youth Council, the Quakers in Britain and LabourList, I will be going to Portcullis House to raise our concerns about it with MPs .

It's now two weeks since Paul warned of the threat the Bill poses to the independence of blogs like ConservativeHome. The more we examine it, the more damaging it looks. As David Allen Green wrote for us last Friday:

"...unless the government re-thinks its proposals, then a number of bodies – such as Conservative Home – are going to be caught up in misconceived and illiberal legal regime."

This isn't just about blogs - though for obvious reasons we believe the blogosphere should not be strangled by regulatory red tape. The Bill is so loose in its language and so vague in its drafting that anyone who spends over £5,000 on anything that can be in any way said to potentially affect an election will be caught up in the rules it lays out.

Continue reading "Today, we are taking our concerns about the Lobbying Bill to Parliament" »

1 Sep 2013 08:37:46

This is democracy - it's good for all of us, so get used to it

By Mark Wallace
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CommonsIn my view, Parliament made a mistake on Thursday. In fact, it made the latest mistake in an series of mistakes Britain has been making for two years.

Had we helped to protect innocent Syrians at the start of the conflict, rather than waiting while Assad slaughtered a hundred thousand of his own people and drove the survivors into the arms of extremists, then things would be very different today.

As it is, we will continue to sit on our hands, like people peering through their curtains while someone is murdered in the street outside. I wrote the other day that we may well say "Never again", yet again, as a result - and come to regret allowing yet another massacre of the type we promised and failed to prevent in Bosnia and Rwanda.

However, it is right that this was Parliament's mistake to make. The Conservative manifesto in 2010 promised that Royal Prerogative powers would be subject to greater democratic oversight, and so they now are. War costs lives and money, but it also changes our national identity in fundamental ways - the people's representatives, not just the Prime Minister, must have a say in deciding to engage in it.

Continue reading "This is democracy - it's good for all of us, so get used to it" »

26 Aug 2013 08:25:54

Compulsory voting? It's politicians, not the people, who need to change their ways

By Mark Wallace
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Candidate Map

“Unequal turnout unleashes a vicious cycle of disaffection and under-representation. As policy becomes less responsive to their interests, more and more decide that politics has little to say to them.”

So says Guy Lodge, of the think tank IPPR, in a new report released today about the low turnout among young voters.

He is undoubtedly right that this is a slow crisis of democracy, which crushes the validity of Parliament and raises popular disaffection more and more at each election.

He is, however, dreadfully wrong about the solution.

IPPR proposes compulsory voting, backed by a fine, for first time voters. Faced with a problem by which young people in particular are not turned on by politics, and often feel voting does nothing for them, it is hard to imagine a worse response.

Many of these voters think politics has nothing positive to say to them - or, worse, is a scam by people who don't care about their wellbeing. Making their first interaction with the electoral system one of compulsion, backed by a demand for money if they refuse to obey, will simply confirm and strengthen those opinions. 

Yes, you would probably see a rise in first time voter turnout. But for many of those voters, such compulsion would guarantee this would be their last vote, too. Plenty of others would spend months being chased by enforcement officers seeking to collect their fines, hardly a positive experience to inspire democratic participation.

We can all have sympathy with IPPR's concerns. A healthy democracy has high participation, and the "vicious cycle" argument that politicians ignore the opinions of those who tend not to vote is undoubtedly true.

There are policy problems which are already developing due to this trend - just look at the vast cost of pensions and associated benefits which remain entirely unreformed due to the political power of older voters.

But to solve this problem requires a proper understanding of it. Turnout isn't low because there isn't enough negative pressure, through fines and laws, to visit the ballot box. Turnout is low because there is a lack of positive reasons for young people to vote.

Voters (or rather, non-voters) have no reason to lie about this. When we knock on their doors and they say "voting doesn't change anything", they are often correct.

Look at the vast alienation of Parliament's sovereignty to quangos and to Brussels, and the unwillingness of the Westminster establishment (at least until recently) to break the polite conventions by which almost every politicians publicly held the same opinions about wind farms, international aid, the EU, fuel duty and so on. Listen to the politicians who declare "you have to understand...." on radio phone-ins when voters ask common sense questions which do not fit with an established consensus.

Those are the reasons for not voting, and they are perfectly understandable. Frankly, as someone who always votes, I have to admit that my friends who mock my optimism that participation can change things have often been right.

The parties, not the people, must change their behaviour in order to drive up turnout, among voters generally and young people in particular.

They need to offer policies which will make politics matter directly and obviously to more people, and our democratic system must be demonstrably open to change driven by popular demand - not hamstrung by European courts, outsourced to "expert" quangos and bound up in cosy consensus after cosy consensus.

There must be a radical offering to people struggling to find their first job, people who battling to pay the bills and people who want their country to become a better place. Those, not fines and bullying, are positive ways to encourage more voting.

The IPPR is right that there should be consequences for doing the wrong thing. But it is all of us who already suffer the consequences of uninspiring politics - in return we get higher tax bills, turgid policies, slower reactions to serious issues and a declining rate of return for those who do continue to vote.

Politicians will eventually suffer the consequences, too, if they don't up their game.

There is much hand-wringing about this issue when it comes up, followed in practice by a decision to continue to focus on those who are guaranteed to vote, even as they get older and start to die out. The attitude is to focus on the next election, and the long-term trend be damned.

But the long term trend will make itself heard eventually. The bigger the share of the population who don't participate, the larger the potential resource is for new parties to harness their frustrations and upset the apple cart.

There's evidence that much of UKIP's support is drawn from long-term non-voters. Unless the mainstream parties inspire and engage those left outside the system, then the sudden UKIP boom will prove to be the first of a common phenomenon - not a one-off.

There is no inevitability about the decline in turnout, and it can be fixed. Managing decline was the wrong response for economic policy in the 1970s, and so was trying to force things to work through top-down intervention. Compulsory voting looks at the problem the wrong way round - are the people broken, or is our politics?

23 Aug 2013 10:46:57

Michael Fabricant is right, we must give political equality to England

By Mark Wallace
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Fabricant St GeorgeVoters' appetite for constitutional change is limited, to say the least.

AV was rightly shot down in flames, as were the regional assemblies pushed by John Prescott. People are naturally, and rightly, suspicious of creating new layers of political complexity at taxpayers' expense.

With a cost of living crunch following a bitter recession, as well as a vast national debt to pay for, most politicians would choose to talk about the economy rather than reforming the way we are governed.

But there are exceptions. For example, it is impossible to divorce the EU as a constitutional issue from its dire economic impact, while the tendency for Brussels and Strasbourg to constantly overrule Westminster on important issues hobbles good government.

Similarly, the democratic imbalance left by Labour's patchy devolution is too serious a problem to ignore.

Scotland and Wales deserved devolution - it is a fundamental democratic principle that people should control their own affairs. However, England was left off the list by Tony Blair, leaving English voters subject to decisions made by Scottish MPs.

As we reported in July, the Government are finally looking at possible steps to address the West Lothian question. Today, Michael Fabricant takes up the issue in the Telegraph, calling for a new Act of Union to provide for English votes on English laws in Parliament (thanks are due to General Boles for the illustration of the Lichfield MP as St George).

As a matter of principle, the problem must be solved - it is clearly wrong for England to have the responsibility of footing the bulk of the UK's bills but not to have the right to make her own decisions.

Electorally, not only would such a step reduce Labour's over-representation, it would also offer an opportunity for the Conservative Party to represent an English political consciousness which currently has no voice in Westminster. 

Too often in politics, winning votes does not involve righting wrongs, and righting wrongs often brings no votes. Giving political equality to England is an opportunity to buck both of those trends - Fabricant is surely right that we should do so at the soonest possible opportunity.

20 Aug 2013 08:27:24

Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?

By Paul Goodman
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Camerons thinking copyEd 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?

Continue reading "Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?" »

23 Jul 2013 07:37:52

The royal baby may be crowned King as this century grows old - testament to the monarchy's enduring power

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 07.31.22Let us be optimists on this morning after a royal birth, and hope that the Queen reigns until she is at least 100.  Prince Charles would thus become King in his late seventies.  Let us be positive all over again, and hope that he, too, makes it to over 100 - in this epoch when more people live for longer. Prince William would thus become King during his eighties.  Let us be hopeful a third time over, and assume that increasing longevity takes King William, as he would then be, to the age of 110 or thereabouts.  His son would ascend the throne in his eighties, once again: by my calculation, the year would be roughly 2093.

On the occasion of royal births, political writers and columnists tend to think short-term, and try to calculate what the effect of the one in question will be on opinion polls and Government ratings (if any).  This morning, it is surely more appropriate to think long-term.  I'm most unlikely to see Prince William become King if my cheerful hopes about royal lifespans prove correct.  But whether I am or not, it is both sombre and strangely comforting to think that most of those Britons alive today will be dead when his own son becomes King, but that a new generation will be alive and flourishing - such is the power of endurance, God willing, of our monarchy.  As the poet almost wrote: "History is now and Britain".

ConservativeHome sends its warmest congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

15 Jun 2013 09:06:03

The honours system needs more rigour and less political correctness

MailhonoursBy Harry Phibbs
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For the last 650 years in our country we have had an honours system "recognising merit, gallantry and service." As well as the New Year’s Honours, we have another list  for The Queen’s official birthday. The latter for this year was announced this morning.

It is a great source of celebration. The tradition is crucial to the prestige. Money is a very good way of rewarding achievement but it is welcome that it's not the only one. So the honours system is a national asset. It very much goes along with the system of monarchy - being given a medal by President Cameron or President Miliband would not resonate in the same way.

The quiet patriotism of the British means that the correct form is to treat receiving an honour as a bit of a joke while secretly having a sense of great pride. For Conservatives there is a double satisfaction. There is the rejoicing for colleagues who are honoured. (Well done Edward Leigh on your knighthood.) Then there is also the good sport of teasing Lefties for taking honours. (Arise Sir Brendan Barber for services to UK Uncut...) How wonderfully subversive the British establishment is.

Amidst this innocent pleasure and merriment the traditional role of the Daily Mail is to strike a sour note as they do this morning. The trouble is that they have got a point. Too many of the honours do go to the wrong people. For instance, they note:

Robert Collington – whose company Thames Water stands accused of ripping off customers, avoiding tax and enforcing a farcical hosepipe ban during some of the wettest weather seen in England – will be given an OBE ‘for services to consumers’.

Thames Water is a monopoly. There are plenty of business leaders out there who have genuinely achieved great things for the consumer in providing new products and better value. A monopolist is an odd choice. But do go-getting entrepreneurs get an even break compared to the cosy corporatists schmoozing around the CBI?

Continue reading "The honours system needs more rigour and less political correctness" »

25 May 2013 13:19:59

Boris and Carswell show Conservatives how to win

By Mark Wallace
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Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 13.15.02The need for politicians to reconnect with the electorate is beyond debate. Falling turnout, the collapse in party memberships, and widespread disillusionment with politics and its practitioners all demonstrate the scale of the problem. 

The initial reaction of the political class to this problem was to come up with the worst possible response: blaming the people. 

Even the choice of word to label the issue was patronising and inaccurate: apathy. All the polling, as well as the clear evidence of growing online activism and rising pressure group membership, shows that people don't care any less than before about political issues.

Rather, voters increasingly feel that the political process, and the parties who operate within it, does not offer any solution to their problems. Why donate, volunteer and vote if in return there is no appreciable change?

Continue reading "Boris and Carswell show Conservatives how to win" »

8 May 2013 15:10:56

The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again.

By Mark Wallace
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HOME-OFFICEWhen Nick Clegg announced that the Communications Data Bill - AKA the Snoopers' Charter - was being dropped, he prompted jubiliation from campaigners for privacy, individual liberty and digital technology.

The past history of the issue, however, suggested this wouldn't be the last we would hear of the proposals to gather data on emails. This idea has come up again and again, under different Governments, suggesting it is the pet project of someone or some group within the Home Office Civil Service.

Indeed, when one campaigner tweeted "What's next?" after the Government backed down, I was cynical enough to reply:

And lo, it came to pass. Only hours after the Queen's Speech, the BBC is reporting that the Government is looking at "fresh proposals" to pursue the same rotten idea.

Continue reading "The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again." »