Conservative Diary


1 Sep 2012 07:16:55

Housing - if not radical reform now, then when?

By Paul Goodman
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Policy Exchange's housing plan might have been written to offend vested interests...

Screen shot 2012-09-01 at 08.42.33In our Comment Section today, Alex Morton of Policy Exchange urges the creation of a Secretary of State of Housing in the coming reshuffle, so that this new Cabinet appointment can drive through radical planning reform.  He also argues that the current centralised system has failed and that localism will succeed: under his scheme, set out in the think-tank's paper Cities for Growth and in previous Policy Exchange papers, planning would be taken away from local councils and given to local communities.

In short, these would vote on development proposals for their own backyards, and yes votes would bring compensation for those affected.  NIMBYs would thus have an incentive to become YIMBYs - Yes-In-My-Back-Yardies.  Local plans would be stripped down.  Section 106 agreements would go.  Quality control would be more about local material, less about high density and zero car spaces.  When supported locally, building would be easier on brown field and green field sites - but there would be a green belt improvement levy to improve the parts of it that aren't built on.

Continue reading "Housing - if not radical reform now, then when?" »

24 Aug 2012 15:28:34

As the growth row over Heathrow goes on, don't forget the one over housing - and building on the Green Belt

By Paul Goodman
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There was more in ConservativeHome's newslinks this morning about Ministerial disagreements over Heathrow, which are being projected by suggestions that Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, may be moved.  The report was from the Financial Times (£).

The lobby is writing less about the other big divergence of view over building and growth - namely, over housing and the green belt  This is probably because are no suggestions that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, will be moved in the reshuffle.

Continue reading "As the growth row over Heathrow goes on, don't forget the one over housing - and building on the Green Belt" »

4 May 2012 15:09:49

How the commentators are reacting to the local election results

By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from Tim Montgomerie's six immediate reactions to the local election results, I've summarised the reactions from other leading political commentators. 

Daniel Hannan argues that part of the reason the Tories (and Lib Dems) did badly was the Coalition's incompetence in dealing with the deficit:

"Any government at a time of austerity has to exude competence. People will put up with a great deal provided they sense that their leaders know what they're doing. Going without jam today is fine if we can credibly expect a recovery. When the suspicion arises that the government is headline-driven, at the mercy of events or – worst of all – simply inept, the goodwill disappears. Put bluntly, voters need to see that the deficit is falling, prices stabilising and growth returning."

10-downing-streetJames Forsyth says many Tories want a shakeup of the Number 10 operation:

"Now, undoubtedly some of this is just the acceptable way of criticising the leader. But reinforcements arriving in Downing Street — especially ones with deep roots in the Tory party — would reassure quite a few people, as well as broadening Number 10’s support base in the party."

Dan Hodges says Ed Miliband has been victorious enough to supress any rumours about his leadership:

"He secured strong enough gains to suppress, for the rest of the week at least, grumblings about his leadership. The elections were framed as a test for him, and it’s a test he has passed. At the same time the wins were not of such a magnitude that Labour is suddenly going to let success go to its head and start casting around for a leader to pull itself those last few yards over the finishing line. This represents steady progress that will give Miliband and his party time to calmly sit back and take stock."

Continue reading "How the commentators are reacting to the local election results" »

4 May 2012 08:47:22

Six immediate reactions to the election results

By Tim Montgomerie
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No breakthrough for Labour: Radio 4's Today programme is insisting that Labour had a "very good" night. If they achieve 700 gains that will be true but it's not a transformational night. Far from it. If there was real enthusiasm for Labour and Ed Miliband it wouldn't be losing control of Glasgow (as seems likely) or failing to win the London Mayoralty (as most predict). Miliband is, after all, a triple loser in Labour's heartlands. Nick Robinson says the results have, nonetheless, secured Ed Miliband's leadership. The #SaveEd Tories won't be unhappy at that.

Johnson Boris Ruffling HairThe rise of Boris: The good news for Conservatives is that Boris does appear likely to win re-election. As Fraser Nelson writes in today's Telegraph his victory means there's now an alternative to David Cameron. Boris may not be an alternative leader (although in my Times column (£) I suggest that that idea is no longer fanciful) but he does represent an alternative vision of Conservatism. Fraser argues that "Boris' Conservatism" is more self-confident about traditional Tory beliefs than the Cameron brand. It certainly appears to be more potent. Boris is "the Heineken Tory" that reaches voters that other Conservatives cannot.

Yellow incumbents hold out against the Blues: Harry Phibbs is suggesting that there's not much evidence that the Conservatives are gaining from the Liberal Democrats. I'd like to see more results before drawing that conclusion but that's not a good omen for crucial Tory-Lib Dem General Election contests.


Unhappy Tories: Tory MPs are unhappy and not just the usual suspects. Number 10 should be worried that the normally ultra-loyal Gary Streeter MP went on to BBC TV last night to say that voters wanted more Conservatism from the Prime Minister and less Liberalism. He said that the Lib Dem tail needed to stop wagging the Tory dog. Alun Cairns MP had a similar message for the Conservative leader, tweeting: "Need to remember that David Cameron was most popular when he vetoed EU treaty. Lib Dems holding us back". Even one frontbencher has broken ranks. Gerald Howarth MP, defence minister, warned the PM to avoid distractions like gay marriage and Lords reform. He asked: "Do we need to do this at a time when the nation is preoccupied with restoring the public finances?"

The divided centre right: UKIP did well yesterday but without winning councils or many councillors. They are, as John Redwood blogs this morning, not a party of power but a party of protest. Their main function is to split the Eurosceptic and centre right vote and therefore they allow more pro-EU Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians to prosper. Harry writes about this on the Local government blog.

No to City mayors: The most disappointing result of all - as far as I am concerned - was the defeat of directly-elected Mayors in nearly every referendum. I've always seen this reform as one of the Coalition's most far-reaching. City mayors had the potential to attract big new talents to the leadership of Britain's great cities and deliver a decentralisation of economic and political power. Mayors would also be a way back into the northern cities for Conservatives and a great pool of tried-and-tested talent for an incoming new government at national office. I hope this reform that has been sabotaged by the vested interests of existing councillor establishements can still be salvaged. I'm not optimistic.

29 Feb 2012 15:01:31

We need competition between Britain's cities to get the economy growing again. Here's how...

By Matthew Barrett
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INNOVATION UK copyThe Government's localism agenda so far has made positive, but limited progress. Directly-elected Police Commissioners are a good example of conservative reformism - handing the power over local policing to local people. But policing should be just one power handed back to local government. More powers, including powers of taxation and welfare spending, should be devolved to the largest British cities to help re-balance our economy and regenerate the regions outside the South East.

When our economy does well, our cities do well. This would seem to be an obvious statement, but it's not quite true. In reality, London and, to a lesser extent, Edinburgh, thrived over the last few years - because of the large financial services sectors in those two cities. But our reliance on London undermines our versatility as a global power.

Germany is a country we could learn a lot from in recognising the benefits of having a number of important cities, not just a very big capital city. Frankfurt is the biggest financial centre on the continent - despite being only Germany's fifth-largest city. Berlin, Germany's biggest city, is its centre of government, arts and culture. Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in the world. Munich is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, with businesses like BMW and Siemens headquartered there. Stuttgart is well-known for its high-tech industry base with companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Daimler, Porsche, and Bosch based there. There are a good number of other cities in Germany with specialised skills and industries. The same points can be made about the United States, where cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago (and many more) can compete on a global scale and specialise in various industries.

With London as our centre of financial, business, cultural, creative and government activities, we allow ourselves to be disproportionately influenced by the needs and concerns of only one part of the country and economy. It would be healthier, and allow our economy to be much more robust, if we were able to fall back on industries and sectors in other parts of the country. If Britain was less reliant on the City, our economy might have bounced back more quickly than it is doing - as Germany's economy did.

Continue reading "We need competition between Britain's cities to get the economy growing again. Here's how..." »

11 Feb 2012 11:30:29

A belt-and-braces solution to councils' Christian prayer problems

By Paul Goodman
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The human rights and equality challenges of former Liberal Democrat councillor Clive Bone failed in court yesterday.  I will repeat that sentence.  The human rights and equality challenges of former Liberal Democrat councillor Clive Bone failed in court yesterday.  The point has not been all that easy to spot amidst reporting of the verdict on his legal challenge, which unsurprisingly projected the most newsworthy part of it - namely, that the judge ruled that prayers in council meetings are now banned.

He did so because he concluded that local authorities had no power to "say prayers or to have any period of quiet reflection as part of the business of the council" - because of a technicality in the Local Government Act 1972, a point that Nadine Dorries noted in her column on this site this morning.  Eric Pickles has said that the Localism Act will empower councils to hold prayers and indicated that the judgement is therefore mistaken.  (The judge gave Bideford Council, which held the prayers in question, permission to appeal.)

Cranmer points out this morning that the new act will protect Islamic prayers at the start of council meetings as much as Christian ones, and indicates that this fact sits awkardly with David Cameron's proclamation that this is a Christian country "and we should not be afraid to say so".  I have made contact with the disembodied presence of His Grace, and his spectral voice has informed me that the custom of Christian prayers at the start of council meetings isn't written into law.

It follows that councils could have held Islamic prayers if they wished before the court ruling, so the Localism Act isn't sneaking some new dispensation onto the statute book.  I am not a lawyer, but would have thought that a brisk amendment to the 1972 Act, in combination with the Localism Act, would be enough to turn the tables on Mr Bone - a swift belt-and-braces exercise.  Councils would then be free to revert to their former practice.  A warning, though: one never, never knows what judges will choose to do when human rights are on the menu.

9 Feb 2012 07:55:20

This autumn's wonderful, wild and wacky world of Police Commissioner and City Mayoral elections

By Paul Goodman
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Has anyone else pointed out yet that our electoral cycle this year will be different from usual?

The norm is that elections take place in the spring and the party conferences in the autumn.  The political parties are judged to have done well or badly in the elections; the party leaders are then judged to have done well or badly at their conferences.  The elections and conferences thus provide a framework for Britain's political year.

Two sets of polls in 2012 will tear up this calendar.

First, elections for 41 police commissioners in England and Wales will take place on November 15.  (These were originally planned in May, but our wonderful Coalition partners insisted that they were put back until the autumn.)  Second, elections for up to 15 city mayors will take place on the same day (if local voters approve this plan in referendums this May).

Continue reading "This autumn's wonderful, wild and wacky world of Police Commissioner and City Mayoral elections" »

19 Sep 2011 10:01:33

Business leaders are mobilised in favour of the Government's planning reforms

By Matthew Barrett
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We featured on our front page this morning two stories about the Coalition's national planning policy reforms. One, in the Daily Telegraph - which is campaigning hard against the reforms - notes that the Women's Institute "is joining the fight against the Government’s controversial changes to planning rules and is calling on its 208,000 members to write to their MPs and organise public meetings.". 

The second story (£) concerns a letter to the Times (£), which is signed by business leaders including Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, and Sir Stuart Rose, the former chairman of Marks & Spencer, and is supportive of the proposed policy changes. 

The letter focuses on the current planning processes: 

"But there is one British institution that actively deters investment: our creaking planning system is increasingly driving investors away and putting the brakes on UK businesses that want to expand. We have all seen worthwhile, job-creating projects killed off by a system where the presumption is “no”. Even when permission is granted it can take years to deliver a decision on vital pieces of infrastructure."

Continue reading "Business leaders are mobilised in favour of the Government's planning reforms" »

15 Aug 2011 16:33:42

Do our cities need more elected Mayors?

By Paul Goodman
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 Given government's penchant for announcements, I was surprised that the Prime Minister didn't declare this morning that Lord Heseltine has been appointed to conduct an enquiry, chair a taskforce, or head an investigation.

After all, Heseltine was the man who wrote the "It took a riot" memo after the Liverpool disturbances of 1981, and intervened before breakfast, lunch and dinner - as he might put it - in order to revive the city's fortunes.  He visited the city as recently as July.

With characteristic lack of timing, I was about to write a Where-on-earth-is-Lord-Heseltine piece when...up he pops on the World at One, where he reiterated his support for directly elected mayors "with real powers" in more big cities.

Continue reading "Do our cities need more elected Mayors?" »

13 Aug 2011 08:25:10

Cutting prison numbers is like cutting front line policing. It's time for Ken Clarke to go back to the drawing board.

By Paul Goodman
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I have been away on holiday for a week, and can report no looting near Chale, Isle of Wight.  Perhaps the sea air has gone to my head, but there are reasons for hope on returning home.

  • The riots told us much that we need to know.  They were like a symptom of sickness.  Yes, only a few thousand people robbed and pillaged.  Yes, most of the country was unaffected.  And, yes, the illness was, as it were, confined and local - not widespread, not national.  But those who downplay the significance of what happened are simply wrong.  The fact is that the authorities lost control of the streets in some of our biggest cities: worse still, they were seen to lose it.  We caught a glimpse of how economic and social decline spiral downwards together.  Of how the illness could spread in Britain.  Of how Europe is set to fall as Asia rises.  Of a future in which public officials seek, as they did in the 1970s, merely to "manage decline".  Being reminded of all this is for the good.  If you're sick, it's best to know it.  After all, the sooner illness is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated.
  • The state has asserted its authority.  There are different views on the right, as well as on the left, about how big the state should be and when it should act.  But on one point tories and libertarians agree: when the state does act, it must do so with authority.  And the good news is that it did so this week - very late, certainly, but better late than never.  Ministers returned from holiday, Parliament was recalled, meetings were held, decisions reached, announcements made - and the rioting stopped.  That this had far more to do with a surge in police numbers than any broadcast from Downing Street is beside the point - which is that the authorities were eventually perceived to have more muscle than the looters.  Those who claim that order was always going to be restored swiftly should ask themselves: did it really look that way last Monday afternoon?

Continue reading "Cutting prison numbers is like cutting front line policing. It's time for Ken Clarke to go back to the drawing board." »