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:
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
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Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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
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
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.
I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.
If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:
I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.
The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that. There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale. It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues. We will turn to them tomorrow.
By Paul Goodman
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I 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.
By Mark Wallace
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Early in June, I wrote a reply to a Peter Kellner article in which he lamented that the public are illogical and don't trust official statistics. "Don't pity the rational politician - applaud the sceptical electorate. They are often absolutely right" was my conclusion, given years of misleading data - particularly on immigration.
Today, a new report from the Public Administration Select Committee reveals that the statistics those claims are based on are little better than a guesstimate. Rarely have I been more frustrated to be proved correct.
The Government's pledge to reduce net migration is a key plank of the next election campaign - CCHQ regularly issues infographics and updates reminding everyone that the Coalition's record starkly contrasts with Labour's incompetence in border control. If real doubt can be cast on those claims then it would be politically disastrous.
Those opposed to the current level of immigration into Britain tend to divide into two main groups. The first consists of those who believe that it reinforces a change in the character of the country for the worse: most members of this group will be relatively old and (generally) white. The second is made up of those who are less unhappy about immigration per se, but very critical of the pressure which current levels - and those experienced during the New Labour years - place on housing, public services and jobs. It consists of people from all ethnic backgrounds.
The first group will not be persuaded by any claim that the Government makes. The second are perhaps more biddable - but this morning's papers show how steep the mountainside is that Theresa May has to climb. The Financial Times reports that Ministers intend to press ahead with a trial scheme to make visitors from six countries, including India and Nigeria, pay a £3000 tourist bond. And the Daily Telegraph claims that doctors could be forced to carry out immigration checks on patients. The Home Office is pressing on - having already cut net immigration by a third. (Gross immigration is at its lowest since 2001.)
By Peter Hoskin
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The jury: 85 carefully selected members of the public.
The defendant: a regular ol’ hot potato called… immigration.
Don’t get me wrong, immigration wasn’t actually on trial yesterday. This was just the name of a research event put on by Lord Ashcroft Polls: “Immigration on Trial”. The aim was to gather a range of public opinion about immigration under one roof, and press and prod its skinfolds. The readings that emerged would supplement a nationwide survey, with some 20,000 respondents, that has already been conducted and that will be published soon. In his introductory remarks, Lord Ashcroft referred to it all as “the most comprehensive and detailed account of people’s attitudes towards immigration in Britain”.
And so, nearly one hundred people congregated at 9.30am in the Park Plaza hotel near London’s Victoria Station. They had been selected according to pre-defined attitudes towards immigration. Each group was seated around a table, ten in all, and joined by a moderator. For the next six hours, with breaks for food and drink, they’d discuss the issue at hand. “It’s like focus groups meets speed dating,” explained one of the attendant pollsters.
Ah, there’s that phrase: “focus group”. Before we continue, I feel two things ought to be said about it. The first is that focus groups don’t deserve the sneers they sometimes attract. Removed from behind the oak-panelled doors of Westminster, as it was yesterday, it becomes clear: they’re a very useful means of gauging public opinion. Here were various people, of numerous incomes, backgrounds, ethnicities, persuasions and creeds, all giving their take on a seriously serious subject. A politician needn’t be led or swayed by the information that emerges from it – they might simply be informed.
And the second is that there have rarely, if ever, been focus groups such as this. A normal focus group might involve one of the tables at yesterday’s event. Here, there were nine others as well. And pains were taken to make the whole process as “interactive” as possible, not just a list of what-do-you-think questions. Throughout the day, there were presentations and video clips for the audience to respond to. They were armed with little gizmos (pictured to the right) through which they could express their views. Even from the sidelines, where I was skulking with my laptop, it was all very engaging.
The first session of the day saw those gizmos put to instant use. To establish a framework for the ensuing discussion, people bashed out their immediate thoughts on immigration. And the nature of those thoughts? Peering over the pollsters’ shoulders, one thing struck me: this wasn’t so much an outpouring of public opinion, as a general appeal for facts. Most of the audience members were asking questions rather than making statements:
“How many immigrants in prison?”
“How many immigrants are on benefits?”
“How would you describe Britishness?”
And the answers? They started to come in a pair of presentations that had been arranged for the morning. The first was by Sunder Katwala of British Future, and was broadly pro-immigration. He set about listing various benefits that immigration has brought to Britain – from entrepreneurialism to student fees – but was careful to address some of the downsides, and how they might be curbed. “I see very few benefits to Britain if we have immigration without integration,” is how he put it in his conclusion – to nodding from the more sceptical tables.
The second was from Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch, who was there to question the scale of the immigration that this country has experienced over the past few decades. “When we have arrivals on this scale, it becomes very difficult to achieve integration in our society,” he said. Ear-catchingly, he also suggested that, as Lord Ashcroft tweeted, “he’s coming to the view that EU membership may not be compatible with controlling immigration”. This is not something that MigrationWatch has loudly broadcast before now.
Of course, the response to these presentations was varied. Weaving through the tables after each, I heard remarks such as “good sense”, “fantasy”, “spin”. That was the nature of this crowd.
After lunch, a session from which more certain conclusions could be drawn – at least from my perspective. And this was when the technology really impressed. Three short video clips were played, of each of the three main party leaders – Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, in that order – talking about immigration. The audience members were then to bash furiously at the numbers on their gizmos, registering either their approval or disapproval of what they heard. Press 1, and it would mean “strongly disagree”. Press 5, and it would mean “strongly agree”. A live “worm poll” was simultaneously constructed out of everyone’s responses, as pictured to the right.
The result would have been rather disconcerting for the Coalition parties. Miliband – yes, Miliband – seemed to come out on top. He was followed by Cameron and then Clegg. What won it for Miliband was his insistence, at least in this clip, that immigrants should be able to speak English. What lost it for Clegg was disbelief, even laughter, at the government achievements he claimed. When he said that the Coalition had cut net migration by a third, you could almost hear a collective “yeah, right” ripple through the audience – even though the Lib Dem leader was speaking the truth. And this response wasn’t just reserved for Tuition Fees Nick. Cameron got some of it, too.
And it didn’t get much better for the Coalition partners in the final session of the day. Here, the tables were presented with some modest proposals for immigration policy. Depending on which group you listened to, some did like and some didn’t like ideas such as, “Impose an annual limit on the migration from outside the EU” – but there was widespread uncertainty about whether these were already Government policy or not. It brought proceedings back to those questions asked in the first session: however much the politicians blather on, voters still aren’t sure of the facts.
“We’ve certainly gleaned a lot from all of you today,” said Lord Ashcroft in his closing remarks. We shall have to wait for the final report, due later this month, to see just how much that “lot” is – but, from what I saw yesterday, it’s likely to contain much for the party leadership to ponder. Trust is a sparse commodity in British politics. You can probably underline and italicise that fact when it comes to immigration.
By Andrew Gimson
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The Home Secretary’s statement on the deportation of Abu Qatada is a model of its kind. Theresa May conveys steely determination undiluted by any resort to vulgar rejoicing. She is “glad”, but recognises that we still need “to make sense of our human rights laws”.
Not the least of the merits of this statement is its concision. It is only half a dozen sentences long. Here it is in full:
“Abu Qatada was deported today to his home country of Jordan to face terrorism charges.
His departure marks the conclusion of efforts to remove him since 2001 and I believe this will be welcomed by the British public.
I am glad that this government’s determination to see him on a plane has been vindicated and that we have at last achieved what previous governments, Parliament and the British public have long called for. This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country.
I am also clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport. We are taking steps – including through the new Immigration Bill – to put this right.
By Mark Wallace
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Later this morning, Theresa May will send an email to Conservative Party members drawing the dividing lines with Labour on immigration. We have a sneak preview in the form of the infographic which will be sent out with her message:
By Mark Wallace
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The Eurocrats' latest wheeze is a legal case intended to strike down the restrictions used to prevent benefit tourists milking the British benefits system. Such a campaign is obviously outrageous - and deeply unpopular with taxpayers who are already concerned about some of their fellow Brits taking undue advantage of the welfare state.
IDS - and eurosceptics more generally - could not have asked for a more perfect goody.
He will "fight it all the way", apparently even to the point of appearing in court himself. He won't just thunder about this, expect him to have a full Thor outfit winging its way to his office on mail order. To slightly adjust the originally quote, the quiet man is smashing Brussels with a viking war hammer.
By Mark Wallace
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This week, ConservativeHome's "Getting to Know U-KIP" series explores the reality of the party hitting the headlines - who they are, how they work and what they believe. Today's piece is an introduction to UKIPpers, and asks what motivates them, why they do what they do, and what implications that has for British - and particularly Conservative - politics.
In June 2004, buoyed by the high profile declaration of support by Robert Kilroy-Silk, UKIP reached 26,000 members. It was a heady moment for the party - and one that would not last. Within months, the tangerine TV man had stormed out and the new recruits were melting away.
Last Tuesday, UKIP broke that 26,000 record for the first time. They are booming at grassroots level, as well as in the polls. They now have two targets - to reach 30,000 members by the time their party conference begins in September, and to hang onto the new recruits this time.
But who are the UKIPpers? We know what senior Conservatives think of them - from Michael Howard's "cranks and gadflies" and David Cameron's infamous "fruitcakes and closet racists" to Ken Clarke's disastrous "clowns" comment on the eve of the local elections. And yet despite the abuse, they are still on the march - for clowns they are very serious, and they have proved unusually long lived for supposed gadflies.
Understanding them matters - without an insight into their motivations, their history and their views then Conservatives have no way to come up with an informed response. Whether you want to defeat UKIP, ally with them or bring them into the Tory fold, you stand no chance of success if you don't know them.