Conservative Diary

Electoral reform

18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

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


By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

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pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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

11 Sep 2013 06:06:00

Fewer and equal seats. The benefits and immigration cap. And shale gas. High priorities from Tory members for any Coalition talks

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 05.47.58
By Paul Goodman
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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:

  • The number of constituencies should be reduced and their size equalised.
  • The benefits cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • The immigration cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • Press ahead with the development of shale gas as swiftly as possible.

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.

14 Jan 2013 12:30:07

The biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves (reprise)

By Paul Goodman
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There is a rush of interest in the boundary review.  The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday that David Cameron is gearing up for another push.  The Times reports today behind its paywall that William Macrea, the DUP MP, won't vote for it.  The party may disagree with my view that without the changes David Cameron won't win a majority in 2015 - it could scarcely do otherwise - but its sense of urgency dovetails neatly with my analysis.

So it's worth reproducing the breakdown of the Commons numbers that I gave last year:

Continue reading "The biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves (reprise)" »

12 Nov 2012 18:27:52

The biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves

By Paul Goodman
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Reports suggest that Downing Street may seek to push the proposed boundary reforms through the Commons in alliance with Democratic Unionist MPs, Plaid Cyrmu MPs and even the SNP.

Let's leave aside for a moment the obstacles to the boundary changes winning the assent of the Lords (though the Commons can presumably have the final say if if it is determined to).

Let's also leave aside the problem of whether Conservative offers to the nationalist parties - such as a new Government of Wales Act - would win the support of the Liberal Democrats.

Instead, let's put the Commons numbers under a magnifying glass, and begin by assuming, sadly, that Labour will win the coming Corby by-election and keep the other seats it won in 2010.

Continue reading "The biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves" »

13 Aug 2012 11:56:19

The scale of the Conservatives’ boundary problem

By Peter Hoskin
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We have already committed Peter Kellner’s post on the electoral implications of constituency boundaries to our MustBeRead Twitter feed, but I thought I’d mention it here too. After all, the table he has produced (and that I’ve pasted below, click for a larger version) is an unadulterated, no-nonsense guide to how difficult it will be for the Conservatives to win the next election. Cut it out and keep it in your top pocket, lest you ever need a reminder.

Peter Kellner's table

Continue reading "The scale of the Conservatives’ boundary problem" »

9 May 2012 10:21:23

Cameron cannot gain a workable Conservative majority without the boundary review

By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron has told the Daily Mail that he wants a Tory majority at the next election and complained about the Liberal Democrats:

"Mr Cameron singled out human rights law, reform of workplace rights and support for marriage as areas where Tory principles are being held in check but urged senior MPs growing tired of coalition not to ‘waste’ the next three years.

‘There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t, which will form the basis of the Conservative manifesto that I will campaign for right up and down the country,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘Be in no doubt, I want a Tory-only government.' "

Continue reading "Cameron cannot gain a workable Conservative majority without the boundary review" »

5 Apr 2012 16:02:55

The London mayoral candidates releasing their tax returns sets an unfortunate precedent

By Matthew Barrett
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During last night's mayoral debate, the candidates reportedly agreed to release their tax returns. This arose from the fact that Ken Livingstone is suspected of keeping his taxes arranged in an exotic manner, so Boris Johnson and Conservatives in Parliament attacked Livingstone for his tax affairs, and therefore Ken began to question Boris' own arrangements. The day before last night's debate, Boris told Ken "You've got to stop lying" about his taxes, and the culmination of all these allegations is that all four candidates released their tax returns today, as ageed during the debate. Ken had a little more difficulty than the others, but that's a different issue to the one I wish to address.

Earlier this afternoon, the Independent on Sunday's John Rentoul tweeted: "That Americanisation was quite sudden. London mayoral politics now requires the publication of candidates' personal tax returns."

This is a very disappointing situation. I have two gut reactions to the idea that British politicians - one assumes all Parliamentary candidates may now have to do this in future - should release their tax returns. The first is that if we want Parliamentarians of the Carswell school - patriotic people who have decided to enter Parliament not for fame (Today programme fame, anyway), career advancement, or to cash in, we will quickly find the incentives for them to do so are running out. Not only will they endure the general distrust towards MPs as is currently the case, but in future they will be expected to undergo the public trial of having their tax returns released and examined by the local or national press. This is made more important by my second point.

In America, where candidates regularly release their tax returns, there is no great question of a divide in the wealth of candidates. That is to say, both candidates are likely to be millionaires, therefore the real reason for seeing their tax returns is to ensure they have clean records of handling their own affairs. They might use clever lawyers to pay a bit less tax than their opponent, or they might be making money from some sort of insider-y schemes that indicate corruption. Both of these would raise questions about the candidate.

Continue reading "The London mayoral candidates releasing their tax returns sets an unfortunate precedent" »

21 Jan 2012 08:49:15

Has the Coalition retreated on recalls and open primaries?

By Matthew Barrett
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BALLOT BOX 1Over the last few days, Zac Goldsmith MP has noted the mysterious disappearance of the Coalition's proposed "recall" system for MPs. 

The point of recalls is for constituents to be able to remove their MP if he or she has committed a crime, or claimed suspicious expenses, etc. However, the Coalition's proposals for a recall system would mean a by-election could only be triggered if the MP has either been sentenced to more than a year in jail, or if a Commons committee decided a Member's behaviour was bad enough to warrant a by-election. Then if 10% of the MP's constituents signed a petition calling for a by-election, one would take place.

There are two obvious points to make here:

  • MPs being sentenced to more than a year in jail already cause a by-election. The Representation of the People Act 1981 provides for this (although the 1981 Act was designed to deny prisoners like Bobby Sands election to the House, rather than to deal with misbehaving MPs).
  • It is hard to imagine a Commons committee having refused to subject the worst expenses offenders to a by-election at the height of the scandal. It is hard to imagine a Commons committee refusing to subject a Member to a by-election now, even some time after the scandal. But regardless of the likelihood of a committee blocking a by-election for a misbehaving MP, there should be no possible impediment to a recall. 

Continue reading "Has the Coalition retreated on recalls and open primaries?" »

17 May 2011 16:15:06

Nick Clegg sets out his proposals for Lords reform

By Matthew Barrett

CleggSpeaking In the House a short while ago, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set out his ideas for reform of the House of Lords. His main points:

  • The White Paper contains a proposal for 300 members, each eligible for a single term of 3 Parliaments' length
  • There is an option for a 100% elected Lords
  • There is also a proposal for 80% elected, and 20% appointed - the appointed members being Crossbenchers, rather than party members. Under this plan, Bishops would remain - although their number would be reduced to 12
  • Elections would be staggered, in order that the Lords is not a mirror image of the Commons
  • A third of current sitting members would be removed every Parliament, at the same time as new members are elected, or elected and appointed in the case of the 80%/20% plan
  • Elections would take place in 2015, 2020 and 2025
  • The Lords would have a different electoral system - STV "in order that votes are cast for individuals, not parties"
  • A party list system has not been ruled out

Clegg sounded keen to compromise, and stressed that the White Paper contained options, rather than a clear and straightforward blueprint for reform. 

Clegg announced the reforms today, but he won't be responsible for carrying them through. Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) today reported that the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Mark Harper MP, both Conservatives, will be responsible for "selling" the reforms.

It's unlikely that these Lords reforms will pass through the Commons without major revision - questions from all sides of the House were overwhelmingly hostile to the plans. Last month on ConservativeHome, the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire, Jesse Norman, set out why plans for replacing the House of Lords with an elected alternative should not be a priority - and that was very much the sentiment of other members.

In terms of support in the Lords, a new poll for ComRes today shows a large majority of Lords oppose reforms, and think it unlikely any such reforms will pass during this current Parliament. A representative cross-section of 121 Peers were asked about:

  • Replacing the current Lords with roughly 300 members elected by PR - 15% were in favour, and 78% against
  • Regarding a change of names, the possibility of changing to a "Senate" has 24% support, but 63% oppose it
  • On the likelihood of major House of Lords reform being passed during the current Parliament, a total of 78% considered it to be unlikely, including a majority of Lib Dem peers

6 May 2011 16:19:24

In praise of Matthew Elliott, campaign manager of No2AV

By Tim Montgomerie

Cameron on shoulders
The big winner of this election cycle is David Cameron. Conservative HQ was expecting 500 losses in council elections but the party may have added 60 or so councillors to the blue column. The party has gained in Wales (although Nick Bourne, the party's Assembly leader, was sadly defeated). The result in Scotland was disappointing but the Tories were not as badly damaged by the Salmond surge as the Lib Dems or Ed Miliband.

The key explanation for the unexpectedly good result is the No2AV campaign. There are many reasons for the campaign's success and I'll be setting them out in detail in a 5,000 word essay on Sunday morning. The Tories' million pound Get Out The Vote operation saved many of our councillors by energising many more of our voters to go to the polls than in a normal mid-term electoral cycle. I hope the many people who contributed to these operations will forgive me for singling out Matthew Elliott, No2AV's campaign director, for praise today.

Over the last few weeks and months Matthew has been subject to endless attacks from Westminster's chattering class. He was fighting on the wrong issues, we were told. He was too negative. He was wrong to target Nick Clegg. But he has won and he has probably won big. Electoral reform has probably been defeated for a generation. Elliott has fought a campaign that was derided by the Westminster pundits but ruthlessly followed best practice in market research. Not only did he fight a national campaign - difficult enough for any person - he had the skill and basic likeability to lead what could have been a difficult cross-party campaign.

The man who created the influential TaxPayers' Alliance has now helped to save First Past The Post for two decades or more. I want to thank him publicly and acknowledge him as a new star of the centre right.  Brilliant job Matthew. I hope you'll be available to lead an In/Out referendum in the not too distant future...