Conservative Diary


4 Apr 2010 11:20:58

David Cameron says that the leaders' debates are a risk and he would be inhuman not to be nervous about them

Picture 8 > WATCH highlights of the interview here.

Sky News has just broadcast an interview with David Cameron conducted yesterday by Adam Boulton.

Here are the main points  the Tory leader made (not verbatim):

Election date: It looks clear it is a May 6th election and I'm sure Brown will go to the Palace on Tuesday or Wednesday. The Tory campaign is ready to get out there and roll. This parliament has been a "good advert for fixed term parliaments" and I am tempted by the idea, though not yet persuaded.

The leaders' debates: I've always been in favour of them. They are a good thing, a good way of communicating with millions. Is it a risk? Yes. Is it a risk for me? Absolutely, yes. Am I nervous? You bet. You'd have to be unhuman not to be nervous. But it will be an opportunity to say what you would do differently and how the country would be a better place.

Expectation of the result: I've never said we will win, I've said we can win. I just believe we can do so much better than the current government and we now have a great opportunity, and I'm going to be working every hour of every day between now and polling day towards it. We're going to run a very positive campaign, that's why we started the year with positive reasons to vote Conservative, such as cutting the deficit but protecting the NHS and identifying people who've never voted Conservative before.

The style of a Cameron government: A Tory government would need to learn the lessons of where Blair went wrong, by putting aside the "tools of opposition" and rolling up sleeves to get on with the business of government. (He repeated some of the points he made in his Telegraph article yesterday about the values and character he would have, in addition to the policies - which matter most).

Would he work with Nick Clegg in a hung parliament? I'm not going to discuss that. I'm fighting for an overall majority. A hung parliament would be damaging for the country and the economy. We need decisive government and that's what we want to deliver.

This week's debate over National Insurance:  It has been a "very significant moment", showing that the Conservatives have a positive alternative to stop the tax rises which are most threatening to the recovery. There has to be a balance between spending reduction and borrowing reduction and Labour have got it wrong. The Tories are able to be progressive Conservatives and stop what is a tax rise that will hit the economy, jobs and people earning less than £20,000.

Weren't all the businessmen backing the Tory policy on National Insurance all Tories anyway? No. They talked about the "risk to the recovery" of the NI increase and include a number who have advised Gordon Brown. "The idea that they are a bunch of stooges is insulting". Richard Caring, for example, still has an outstanding loan to Labour. I welcome good people from business wanting to make a contribution to public life and it is not a bad idea to bring people in from business into politics. (He refused to rule out giving peerages to any of the signatories to the letters).

Labour's failure to tackle inefficiency: Labour have identified £11 billion of efficiency savings but are doing nothing about them in 2010. Which business or family would identify waste but no go ahead and eliminate it as soon as possible? The Government should behave in the same way as every business and family in terms of savings; there would be some job losses through abolishing the ID cards scheme and certain government IT programmes.

The NHS: It remains my "number one priority", and I'm going to put it "right on the ballot paper" and campaign on it all the way to polling day.  Any NHS savings from reducing waste, inefficiency or NICs will be available to spend on things that make a difference. (He explained again the new policy announced this weekend to use the money saved from NICs for a Cancer Drugs Fund to help thousands of cancer sufferers get the drugs they need.  He also expressed concern about the growing gap between the UK and other countries on cancer survival rates).

The Gene Hunt poster: I'm a fan of Ashes to Ashes and thought it was "extraordinary" that Labour depicted me as Gene Hunt. It was a "very strange poster". People will be thinking it would be great if police officers were out nicking villains and arresting people rather than sitting in offices filling in forms.

God and religion: I expect to go to church on Easter morning. I always said I have faith but wouldn't say I have a direct line [to God]. I'm a fairly typical member of the Church of England but have all sorts of doubts and uncertainties and questions but have found it helpful in my private life. I'm a great fan of faith-based organisations in this country - they bring a huge amount in terms of helping the homeless, helping people find jobs, and looking after the vulnerable in our communities. They have a big role to play. The Papal visit will be a big moment for Britain and I would do all I can to make sure it;s a success.

Jonathan Isaby

9 Feb 2010 17:00:40

(8) Vote Conservative... because of Francis Maude

VoteConservativeMaudeIn most of this 'Vote Conservative' series I've focused on policy (the biggest one is to come in part 10) but it's also worth noting the importance of the Implementation team being run by Francis Maude and Nicholas Boles.

One of the worst legacies of New Labour is that voters no longer believe a politician when they promise to do something. A failure to think policies through, constant reshuffling of ministers, a lack of attention to detail and endless reannouncements have fed this legitimate disbelief.

David Cameron has been determined to change this by (1) keeping frontbenchers in place so they master their briefs; (2) building policies on the rock of success in other parts of the world (eg Sweden's schools policy); (3) paying private and voluntary contractors by results; (4) limited Whitehall reform; and (5) by ensuring the Tories are better prepared for government than any opposition in modern times.

Because of the work of Maude's team, there is a business plan for every portfolio which sets out specifically what the four year objectives for each minister, what they will seek to achieve in the months after the election, what new legislation is required, what kinds of administrative action and secondary legislation is required, what kind of secondary legislation is required and how long these things are likely to take and how they will be measured [See this from Oliver Letwin].

Tim Montgomerie

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1 Feb 2010 08:46:39

Tory plans for reforming Whitehall

Oliver Letwin gave an interesting and under-reported signal about Whitehall reform during his talk to the ConservativeIntelligence conference two weeks ago.

The Party is committed to the following changes if elected:

  • A new National Security Council (re-establishing in the process the seniority and clout of the Foreign Office, since the Foreign Secretary will chair it in the Prime Minister’s absence).
  • A new Social Justice Council or Committee.
  • Keeping the Party’s Policy Board in place. (Nick Boles has confirmed that he will no longer attend Board meetings after the general election.)
  • Making the Health Department a department of Public Health – as more spending decisions move to a new NHS board.
  • Publishing all Government spending of over £25,000 on the net.
  • Reviewing all quangos.
  • Cutting the number of Ministers.
  • Curbing the number of Special Advisers.

In addition, it’s possible – as part of  the Post-Bureaucratic Age drive - that Whitehall rules for approved suppliers will be torn up; that new non-executive members of departmental boards will be able to recommend that poorly performing Permanent Secretaries be sacked, and likely that the new Prime Minister and Chancellor will in effect work from the same Downing Street base.

Continue reading "Tory plans for reforming Whitehall" »

21 Jan 2010 08:59:20

A Conservative government's first 100 days

At yesterday's ConservativeIntelligence conference, launching our guide to the Tory manifesto, we published a league table of the likely policy priorities of a new Conservative government. The table's rankings were based on the votes of 47 journalists and politicians, selected because they closely observe Tory politics (click on the table to enlarge):

Screen shot 2010-01-21 at 08.34.49 My own view is that the following changes will feature most prominently in a Conservative government's first 100 days:

  • Immediate cuts: As we learnt last week, a Conservative government won't wait until an emergency budget (promised within fifty days) to start reassuring markets that it is serious about cutting the budget deficit. Cuts will be announced immediately.
  • C-Home UK flag girder Focus on growth: The big message of the first 100 days will be (and should be) growth and jobs. As discussed yesterday, Cameron cannot afford Obama's big mistake. He must deliver a laser-like focus on getting the economy back in the fast lane.
  • Education: Schools reform will be the flagship policy. In order for at least 100 new schools to be up and running by the end of the parliament (breaking open the local authority monopoly of state-funded education) there'll need to be immediate enablement of new education providers.
  • Welfare: Welfare reform will also get underway. Although progress in getting the unemployed into work will be hard for the paid-by-results contractors the tough inspection regime will force many people who shouldn't be on benefits to stop claiming. Cutting welfare bills is the number three priority of the next generation of Conservative MPs.
  • The transparency revolution: There'll be a rapid move to put government spending and contracts online for public inspection. Conservatives believe that this transparency revolution will produce massive downward pressure on budgets as alternative suppliers offer to undercut existing contractural arrangements when they expire and the public identify wasteful and extravagant spending.
  • Cheaper politics. The crackdown on the cost of politics will begin. I predict that the expenses issue will be much bigger in the election campaign than many of our politicians are expecting. This will create pressure for a new Conservative government to act quickly and decisively on the number and cost of politicians and ministers.

Tim Montgomerie

> If you would like to buy a copy of the ConIntelligence guide to the Tory manifesto please click here.

30 Dec 2009 17:07:42

Could Lord Ashdown and other non-Conservatives be offered roles in a Cameron administration?

Hague&Ashdown There was a somewhat intriguing joint byline in the FT this morning with William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and former Lib Dem leader, Lord Ashdown, co-authoring a piece about the need for the West to continue to take a keen interest in what's happening in Bosnia.

It was there that the latter was formerly UN High Representative - and his political adviser whilst in that post was of course one Ed Llewellyn, now Chief of Staff to David Cameron.

It got me wondering whether there is now a possibility that Lord Ashdown could yet find himself offered a role in a Cameron administration - in some advisory or ambassadorial role, or even directly as a minister.

For that matter, who else from other political parties could be approached about serving a Conservative government in some capacity?

Boris Johnson already has Labour MP Kate Hoey serving as his Commissioner for Sport.

What about Frank Field, whose contribution to the debates on welfare and immigration have generally found favour in Conservative circles? Or Lord Adonis, whose views on education and transport (the two ministries in which he has served) chime with the Conservative leadership (just today he was promoting high speed rail in The Times).

Or could any of the economically-liberal "Orange Book" Lib Dems be persuaded to serve David Cameron? The names of Somerset MPs David Laws and Jeremy Browne would probably be top of any list of those likely to be approached.

Is there anyone else who should be borne in mind?

Jonathan Isaby

12 Dec 2009 09:07:22

Why is the Tory party having an outbreak of the jitters?

Andrew Grice uses his column in today's Independent to report on the background to the "outbreak of the jitters" going on inside the party.

It comes after a series of opinion polls saw the Tory lead reduced to single figures (something which Tim considered here a couple of weeks ago).

Grice points to a number of possible causes:

  1. The policy change on the Lisbon referendum - which, he reports, resulted in 4,000 angry letters to Mr Cameron: "The issue for many correspondents was not Europe but trust, a promise broken".
  2. George Osborne's spelling out of some spending cuts at the party conference,
  3. Renewed reports that the Tories are out of touch with ordinary voters, with reference variously to the privileged background and non-dom status of well-known figures and the inheritance tax policy. 
  4. The failure to use shadow cabinet members other than Cameron or Osborne for big announcements.
  5. A reluctance on Cameron's part to go big on the environment.

The PoliticsHome poll at the beginning of the month certainly suggested that the downturn in ratings was a direct result of the change of policy on Lisbon.

I'm certainly not convinced that the last point is of any great significance with most voters and I fail to see how the second point should be taken as a negative: as Grice himself concedes in reference to Lisbon, "trust matters", and being honest about the need for austerity is absolutely vital. Unlike Labour, which, for example, used the PBR to plan benefit increases only to be followed by cuts the following year, the Conservatives are rightly telling voters that it will likely be a painful road to recovery. To say otherwise would be dishonest.

Probably the point above requiring most attention is the fourth one, about the need for greater use of the other members of the shadow cabinet and their teams. True, David Cameron is the party's hugest asset, but he must reinforce the picture of the frontbench being a government-in-waiting by doing all he can to ensure that his shadow cabinet colleagues get more exposure (although some blame for this can arguably be pointed at the media).

On the wider point of seeing a narrowing of the lead in the polls, I would assert that it is probably no bad thing: it serves as a reminder not only that the electorate should not be taken for granted before a single vote has been cast, but also that this election will be closer than some people have previously suggested.

People will have a choice between a tired, failing Labour Government doing its best to bankrupt the country and a fresh Conservative alternative. In other words, there's not going to be a Lib Dem government and any vote for the Lib Dems will only serve potentially to allow the discredited Labour administration to cling on.

Jonathan Isaby

26 Nov 2009 21:08:23

Philip Hammond to announce plans to boost civil service productivity and efficiency

HAMMOND PHILIP Tomorrow's Guardian is reporting that Shadow Chief Secretary Philip Hammond - "increasingly seen as a pivotal figure in a future Cameron government" - is to make a speech in the morning which will be about embedding a new culture of efficiency and productivity in the civil service.

According to the paper's report, his proposal include:

  • Civil servants would be put under a statutory duty to protect public money, with the honours system being discreetly used to reward those civil servants who dedicate themselves to improving productivity;
  • Civil servants would receive a week's pay for each year of service in redundancy (rather than the current month's pay for each year);
  • There would be a presumption that government services would be contracted on a strict payments by results regime, with  Whitehall departments gaining the right to bid to run another's services;
  • All public sector property would be handed to the private sector for management, requiring Whitehall departments to pay rent on the property and giving them incentives to sell surplus land and assets; departments would then become tenants and pay rent, giving them incentives to use property more efficiently.

The paper also suggest that David Cameron will ask senior shadow cabinet members to agree their future spending budgets "as a condition of being offered their departmental portfolio at the time of the election".

Read the full report here.

Jonathan Isaby

6 Nov 2009 16:46:42

Three lessons for Cameron from Obama's first year

On AmericaInTheWorld I've listed the worrying weaknesses at the heart of Barack Obama's foreign policy.

Earlier this week, on the International blog, I noted Tuesday's bad results for the Democrats.

As Britain's Conservatives look across the Atlantic, what political lessons can be learnt from Obama's first year? Three stand out.

Cameron & Obama Be focused: Tories are keen to avoid the mistake of Tony Blair in coasting through their early years in office and so will begin reforms immediately. Deficit reduction and education reform will be two top priorities. Dramatic reform of corporation tax is looking a more and more important theme (see paragraph six of this Telegraph piece by Irwin Stelzer). But if they will be bolder than early Blair they should be more focused than Obama. America's 44th President has tried to do too many big things too quickly and there is a growing sense that he hasn't done enough of them well. Think of the biggest stimulus in US history, healthcare reform, Afghanistan, cap and trade, banning nuclear weapons, battling Fox News, making peace with the Muslim world, and a hundred smaller initiatives...

Reach across the aisle: Barack Obama has lost a lot of support of independent voters. This is for a variety of reasons but partly because he has failed to build the support of moderate Republicans. His attempted recruitment of New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg failed after Gregg objected to the size of Obama's stimulus package. Bipartisanship can't be cosmetic.

Promote experience: The new members of the real West Wing sometimes give the impression that they think they are starring in TV's West Wing. Embassies and foreign governments talk of a chaotic White House staff that is too focused on politics. The people good at running a campaign are not necessarily the right people to run the White House/ Downing Street.

Tim Montgomerie

2 Nov 2009 11:04:58

David Cameron sets out the next Conservative Government's five priorities for health policy

Picture 12 At his press conference last week, David Cameron said that all shadow ministers would be expected to set out a small number of priorities for their policy area.

Today see the publication of the party's five priorities in government for health and David Cameron has just given a speech in central London in which he outlined these five priorities.

He also called again on Gordon Brown to commit to protecting the NHS from any spending cuts, as well as seeming to re-iterate his previously made promise that Andrew Lansley will be Health Secretary if he forms a government next year:

"Nobody is better placed to bring about this change to the NHS than Andrew. He has an exceptionally detailed knowledge of his brief, a cast-iron determination to reform and improve the NHS and a deep understanding of what the health service and its values mean for this country."

Mr Cameron also referred to the priorities as relating to "a Conservative Department of Public Health", revealing that the Department of Health will be subtly renamed (a pledge which, I imagine, comes with not insignificant menu costs).

So here are those priorities:

1. Create a patient-led NHS where patients are in control of the care they receive

  • "We want to deliver an NHS where every patient has the power to design their healthcare to meet their own specific needs. And by introducing new providers into the NHS to meet those needs, we will increase innovation and improve the quality of healthcare on offer."
  • "We will allow patients to choose any provider – from either the public or independent sectors – to deliver care within the NHS so long as they do so to NHS standards and within the NHS tariff. We will also enable patients to choose the GP that is right for them."
  • "We will give patients control over their own health records, so they can take them to their provider of choice, and introduce personal budgets for patients with long term conditions."

 Immediate actions to be taken to achieve these goals

  • New ‘choice in commissioning’ guidelines will be issued, then the ‘choose and book’ system will be restructured to include new providers and provide greater choice.
  • Healthwatch will be created to act as an advocate on behalf of patients' interests.
  • A full consultation will be carried out on how to move to patient-held records, with a view to introducing them throughout the NHS.

Continue reading "David Cameron sets out the next Conservative Government's five priorities for health policy" »

27 Oct 2009 12:54:03

David Cameron reiterates Tory opposition to Tony Blair becoming EU President

Picture 14 I am just back from David Cameron's monthly press conference where he made several announcements.

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
On the back of what he said at conference about marginal tax rates for the poorest in society, he said that some families' marginal tax is in fact over 100%, meaning that they would be better off on benefits than in work. He said that he was instructing George Osborne, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith to consider the disincentives to work created by the present benefit withdrawal rates and develop a "lasting and affordable policy solution".

Priorities for Government
On the basis that he wants people to be confident that change can happen under a Conservative government, he said he wants ministers to have "a clear idea of what they want to achieve and how to go about it". He has therefore asked every member of the shad cab to set out their reform priorities - "not a dream wish list or vague aspirations or vacuous pledge card promises" - but rather three, four or five key priorities for which he, as Prime Minister and the people could hold them accountable. With transparency being one of the most important things, he said that these priorities would start being published next week.

Peers' residences
Having led the way on dealing with the MPs' expenses issue, he announced that Lord Strathclyde has today written to all Conservative peers who claim expenses to clarify which is their main home.

Other issues which came up
  • He said he would not debate against Nick Griffin in an election leaders' debate - the debates should just be between the three main party leaders;
  • He said that the party will shortly be announcing two more all-postal primaries, as used in Totnes to select Sarah Wollaston;
  • He accused those attacking the new European Conservatives and Reformists group in Brussels as waging "a totally politically-driven campaign" based only on the premise that they don't like the fact that the Conservatives are now part of a group that doesn't go along with everything Europe does.  He dismissed the attacks on our sister parties and their leaders as "complete nonsense".
Jonathan Isaby