Conservative Diary


22 Sep 2013 08:12:41

Watch Sajid Javid

Screen shot 2013-09-22 at 08.12.46
By Paul Goodman

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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.

19 Sep 2013 09:29:52

Yes, it's Mitchell Is Innocent Day on ConservativeHome

By Paul Goodman
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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.

19 Sep 2013 06:09:20

Andrew Mitchell should be returned to the Cabinet at the first opportunity

By Paul Goodman
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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.

Continue reading "Andrew Mitchell should be returned to the Cabinet at the first opportunity" »

1 Sep 2013 14:16:51

Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere

By Paul Goodman

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Andrew Gimson has correctly fingered David Cameron's temperament as Anglican, which makes it very different from Michael Gove's Manichean-flavoured one - of which the latter's view of foreign affairs is a reminder. This helps to explain why, although the Prime Minister and Education Secretary are friends, Gove almost certainly won't be sent to the Foreign Office in any second Cameron-led government. It's true that in opposition, Cameron tilted towards an interventionist-sceptic view of the world, and in government has tiled away from it again, as his actions in Libya and aspirations for Syria show. However, this makes him even less likely than before to send Gove to King Charles Street. He needs a Foreign Secretary who can sell intervention, if necessary, to a instinctively resistant Party - a role that William Hague could have played over Syria had he indicated more caution than the Prime Minister. The Education Secretary is not that person. If that second Cameron-led Government happens, Gove will be a candidate for the Home and not the Foreign Office.

Continue reading "Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere" »

31 Aug 2013 10:30:03

Downing Street's Corporal Jones moment?

By Paul Goodman
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I asked yesterday whether David Cameron or the Whips bore the main responsibility for this week's party management disaster over Syria.  A day later, the answer is evident.  Downing Street presumed, not unreasonably, that Ed Miliband would deliver a Labour abstention on the vote.  The Whips - also not unreasonably - took their cue from Number 10, made the same presumption, and told some Conservative MPs that they didn't need to return.  One was no less senior a person than the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.  In essence, the Prime Minister was prepared to hold a vote on missile strikes despite opposition to the move from a third or more of Tory MPs.  This is party mismanagement on an epic scale.

Continue reading "Downing Street's Corporal Jones moment?" »

30 Aug 2013 11:11:14

An inner Cabinet. More status for Whips. Changes in his circle - and at the Foreign Office. What Cameron should do next.

Cam ear fingers 2

By Paul Goodman
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  • Yesterday evening's vote makes no real difference to anything.  The economy will continue to grow, David Cameron will recover his position, Britain's non-intervention in Syria will be a mere blip in the continuing special relationship with America, our world standing won't be affected, the Commons will continue to assert itself - and the Westminster Village will calm down.
  • Yesterday evening's vote marks a sea-change in our foreign policy and a shattering of the Special Relationship - as well as a wounding blow to Cameron's authority, a shot in the arm for his previously demoralised Tory opponents, and a wiping-out of the ascendancy over Labour that Downing Street has achieved over the summer.  Britain cuts a diminished international figure on the world stage.

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.

  • Cameron needs to share authority with his most senior colleagues in an Inner Cabinet, and consult its Conservative members more often.  I know from talking to some of the latter that they don't expect Cabinet to be a debating society.  None the less, they are fed up with being cut out of decision-making when they feel their views and advice would help the Prime Minister.  The Inner Cabinet should be based on what office its members hold, not on their personal relations with the Cameron, and should consist of the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman who sits in the Commons.
  • The status of the Whips Office should be raised.  Sir George Young was brought back as Chief Whip after Andrew Mitchell's resignation, and brought a sense of calm and courtesy to its workings.  It would be unfair to blame the Whips for the decision by Cameron to try to impose his view on Syria on an unhappy Parliamentary Party.  And it would be a mistake to try to re-impose military-style whipping on the independent-minded generation of MPs elected in 2010.  Furthermore, the best changes in the world won't improve the Whips if Downing Street doesn't listen to them.  Tony Blair moved them out of Number 12. They should be moved back to the heart of the Downing Street complex.
  • Cameron's inner circle should widen.  None the less, Number 10 would benefit from having a Chief Whip and Leader of the House more independent of the Prime Minister, and thus in a better position to "speak truth to power".  No Cabinet reshuffle is expected, and this isn't the time for it.  But in due course one of the 2010 intake is required in a senior position in the Whips Office, and the next Chief Whip needs to be a listener and an organiser.  Greg Hands or Nicky Morgan could act as Deputy.  David Lidington, Mark Harper or Oliver Heald are good candidates to be Chief Whip.  Eric Pickles is as independent-minded as Cabinet members get, and as Leader of the House would give Cameron plain and shrewd advice.
  • The Foreign Office doesn't reflect the views and mood of the Parliamentary Party This should change.  I've been concerned for some time that the gap between its view of EU policy and that of the Party is too wide: the balance of competences review has so far proved the point.  It also doesn't reflect the shift towards giving the national interest a higher priority that has been taking place in the Parliamentary Party since Iraq.  Mark Francois is a former Shadow Europe Minister, very much a Euro-sceptic and a senior Minister at Defence, where he will have a grasp of what our armed forces now can and can't do. He should be moved across to King Charles Street before the election.

15 Aug 2013 08:26:56

"No-nonsense Villiers puts her credentials on parade"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 07.47.56Northern Ireland's marching season has a coat-trailing element, in which loyalists and republicans behave like two antagonists needling and circling each other, probing for a weakness.  Today's Belfast Telegraph reports that a Belfast Grand Black Chapter parade will pass St Patrick's Catholic Church in Donegall Street, that seven police officers were injured at the same event last year, and that the Parades Commission has slapped down restrictions.  The Police Federation wants a ban on all contentious marches: 500 police officers have been injured during the past year - 64 of them last Thursday and Friday.

Loyalist groups helped to fuel last winter's flag protests in Belfast, and their gambits are mirrored by the republicans: Sinn Fein doesn't want to cede ownership of republican mythology and matyrology to "the dissidents", who are an ever-present threat.  (Three men have been arrested after the attempted murder of a police officer who was leaving a police station in Dungannan.)  This helps to explain the recent republican march through Castlederg to commemorate two IRA terrorists who were killed by their own bomb.  Such events can be par for the course in overwhelmingly Catholic villages, such as Carrickmore.  Castlederg, however, has a mixed population, and hundreds of protesters, including relatives of IRA victims, turned out to protest.

Continue reading ""No-nonsense Villiers puts her credentials on parade"" »

1 Aug 2013 06:34:56

Gove now almost level with Boris as Party members' favourite for next Tory leader

By Paul Goodman
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Gove Looking RightWhen we last reported on who Conservative members want as Party leader after David Cameron, the Mayor of London was the clear leader.  Preferences divided up as follows in May:

  • Boris Johnson: 30 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 17 per cent.
  • David Davis: 16 per cent.
  • William Hague: 16 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 12 per cent.

The results of our latest survey, conducted late last week, now find as follows:

  • Boris Johnson: 21 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 20 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 16.5 per cent.
  • William Hague: 15 per cent.
  • David Davis: 14 per cent.

Gove's steady rise will reflect the view of members that he is the Government's most effective Minister - in terms both of shaping policy to Conservative ends and taking on the left.

There's no convincing reason for Boris's fall of ten points other than the obvious one: he hasn't been in the news much during the past month.

This poll should be read in conjunction with James Forsyth's column in this week's Spectator.  James sets out the Mayor's planned path to the Premiership - which we will return to.

More directly to the point, as far as this poll is concerned, is Boris's apparent belief that Gove will now not run for the leadership post-2015 if David Cameron loses.

James claims that the Mayor now sees Theresa May, the deporter of Abu Qatada, as his main potential rival.  She's up in our poll - but her rise is modest.

Gove may not stand for the leadership if his friend, David Cameron, vacates it.  Or he may.  But one thing is certain: he has no shortage of admirers who would urge him to.

These include the Prime Minister himself.  George Osborne, of course, is not on easy terms with Boris, to put it mildly.

The prospect of the Cameron and Osborne duo pleading with Gove to stand - and preserve their legacy from the ravages of Boris - is not so far-fetched as to be beyond raising.

29 Jul 2013 10:40:20

Bad news but tabloid praise for Thesea May. The lady in the leopard print heels is now a Big Beast

By Paul Goodman
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May Theresa in blackI hate needles, and thus wouldn't care to inject myself twice a day, either in the stomach or thigh, as protection against Type 1 diabetes. The condition is nasty, but manageable - a point that she was careful to make yesterday about her sad news.  ‘There’s a great quote from Steve Redgrave who was diagnosed with diabetes before he won his last Olympic gold medal," she told the Mail on Sunday. "He said diabetes must learn to live with me rather than me live with diabetes. That’s the attitude.’

May was projecting the message that having Type 1 diabetes doesn't necessarily stop one from reaching the top - in sport or in politics.  One can have it, and still be an effective Home Secretary...or even (for who's to say what might happen in the future?) Prime Minister.  What strikes me the day after her interview is the contrast between the hearing she's had and the news about immigration.  Mark Wallace wrote yesterday about the Public Accounts Committee's criticisms of the way the figures are calculated.  I asked on Friday how May will persuade voters that her claims of having reduced immigration by a third are true.

Continue reading "Bad news but tabloid praise for Thesea May. The lady in the leopard print heels is now a Big Beast" »

12 Jul 2013 15:23:38

The reshuffle: A little local difficulty with male Conservative MPs

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By Paul Goodman

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The way reshuffles work is roughly as follows:

  • Downing Street lets it be known that a shuffle will happen about a week in advance.
  • Journalists and politicians look down the list of Ministers and identify the longest-serving.
  • They repeat these names to each other as likely shuffle victims.
  • These names duly find their way into the press and on to the blogs.
  • Number 10 then gives the weekend papers a firmer steer on those who will be dismissed.
  • This is often the first that those who are about to be dismissed have heard about it.
  • These names then appear alongside those that have done so already, to general confusion.
  • The Prime Minister then summons those who are about be dismissed to his Commons room.
  • He tells them that they're doing a first-rate job from which he is sacking them.
  • Details of some of these meetings end up in the press, not by Number 10's design.
  • Those who are promoted aren't always grateful and those who are sacked are often angry.
  • A culture of loyalty once insulated the leader from that anger, but it is rather frayed.
  • The same culture also bolstered gratitude, or at least restrained further expectation.
  • Ambitious 2010 intake members who weren't promoted last year will be hopeful.
  • Unhappy former Shadow Ministers left out in 2010 will see this as their last chance.
  • There are 17 LibDem Commons Ministers (counting whips).
  • This means that there are 17 fewer Ministerial posts for Conservative MPs.
  • It follows that most Conservative MPs are men.
  • Cameron's aspiration therefore raises that hoary old debate about promotion on merit.
  • This Government's reshuffles are therefore even more problematic than usual.
  • And this one has its own particular problems, as we see.
  • The headlines after next week's moves, if they happen, will be all about women.
  • But when it comes to backbench reaction, keep your eye on those men.