Conservative Diary

Mainstream Conservatism Project

7 May 2012 08:25:55

The Alternative Queen's Speech offers popular, pro-poor and broadly-based legislation

By Tim Montgomerie
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What would the Queen's Speech have looked like if a majority Conservative government had been elected two years ago? That's the question we attempt to answer in the Alternative Queen's Speech that ConservativeHome publishes today.

It will, no doubt, be presented by some commentators as a Right-wing agenda - or as a "lurch to the Right". By Right many people mean extreme, or mean-spirited or narrow. In today's Guardian I explain why - what I prefer to call Majority Conservatism - is none of these things.

  • Majority Conservatism is popular. Big majorities of the British people want tougher control of immigration, a referendum on Europe, lower taxes on fuel and income, more conditionality in welfare and less community punishment of repeat and serious offenders.
  • Majority Conservatism is pro-poor. In The Guardian I write: "Polly Toynbee has herself acknowledged that it's the working class who have suffered most from uncontrolled immigration. I would argue that Europe has also been bad for those on the lowest incomes. The EU's common agricultural policy has inflated the average family's grocery bill and its energy regime has made it more expensive for pensioners to heat their homes." Within this Alternative Queen's Speech there will be a number of measures that aim to bring more competition to education, water supply, banking and energy because choice and transparency are the two tools that most empower the little guy against big business.
  • Majority Conservatism is balanced and broad. This is the bit where I repeat that we need to walk and chew gum at the same time. A majority party won't just talk about Europe, tax, crime, immigration, defence and welfare. It will also be committed to healthcare, family life, education, social enterprise and so on. It's full spectrum or full orchestra conservatism. Boris Johnson is the example of this. He is the Heineken Tory because he's both a traditional Tory but comfortable at using government when necessary and also at ease with modern Britain and hopeful about its future.

The Alternative Queen's Speech has no single author or group of authors. I'm grateful to MPs like David Davis and John Redwood for contributing individual ideas to it. You may have heard David on yesterday's The World This Weekend talking about it and John was on this morning's Today programme. There is also this preview in the Daily Mail. We will be publishing its fifteen component bills, one-at-a-time, on our Comment pages today and tomorrow. You can read them via this link.

23 Jun 2011 08:54:09

Fourteen Tory MPs set out a 'Mainstream Euroscepticism' in letter to the FT

By Tim Montgomerie
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On the day that Germany will renew its efforts to persuade Britain to join other EU countries and agree a new bailout for Greece, fourteen new Tory MPs have written to the FT (£) with a simple message:

"We are concerned that the solutions to the crisis proposed by eurozone countries amount to no more than “throwing good money after bad” and will further expose the British taxpayer to any future economic meltdown."

The fourteen, led by the former MEP Chris Heaton-Harris, are determined to set out what I'd describe as a 'Mainstream Euroscepticism'. They want to push the Coalition to be more ambitious for EU reform but they also reject what they see as the 'impossibilism' (again my phrase) of some of the backbench Eurosceptics. Heaton-Harris recently led opposition to a motion from Mark Reckless on bailouts.

Continue reading "Fourteen Tory MPs set out a 'Mainstream Euroscepticism' in letter to the FT" »

14 May 2011 21:12:10

If Cameron can convince on the NHS and crime he is on the road to a majority, says mega poll of 10,000 voters

By Tim Montgomerie

Lord Ashcroft has just completed one of his mega polls. The latest - entitled Project Blueprint - sets out to examine what the Conservative Party needs to do in order to win a majority at the next election.

In polling more than 10,000 voters Lord Ashcroft attempts to examine the different views of Conservative members, long time Conservative supporters, people who voted Conservative for the first time last year and also people who considered voting Conservative but stopped short of doing so.

In his introduction to the data Lord Ashcroft highlights six areas of policy. In only one area is the Coalition being seen to comprehensively succeed:

  • Welfare reform: "We found that people grasped and strongly supported specific elements of the government’s plans, such as ensuring that people are better off in work than on benefits, and they recognised that these plans are being implemented. In our segmentation analysis, agreement that the Conservatives have the best approach to welfare emerged as one of the factors most closely correlated with Conservative voting intention."

In three areas progress was seen to be mixed:

  • Immigration: "Many people strongly supported Conservative plans, which they remembered from the election campaign, to restrict immigration from outside the EU (though they often lament the immigration from within the EU is the bigger problem), and to establish a Border Police force. It was very much less clear to them, though, exactly what had been done in the last year, prompting many to wonder whether any government will take the issue seriously."
  • Taking the two issues of jobs and debt together: "Voters recognised that cutting the deficit was the government’s overriding purpose, and they agreed it should be an important priority. But for them, the more important factor was getting the economy growing and creating jobs. The two are complementary, of course, but voters thought the government appeared to see everything – economic growth, welfare reform, changes to sentencing policy, immigration control – as a means to the end of deficit reduction. But what is the end to which deficit reduction is the means? What are the bigger goals that a lower deficit will allow us to achieve?"

In two other important areas a big gap emerged between what voters wanted and what the Coalition was delivering:

  • The NHS: "Many in our research believed the NHS was subject to cuts, though the government maintains its budget is being protected and increased. Most people were sceptical of the proposed reforms, and those who had noticed that some health professionals opposed them tended to take the same view. Nobody seemed to know is why the reforms were needed and how, even in theory, they were supposed to improve things for patients."
  • Crime: "One of the things people expected from a Conservative-led government, whether they voted for it or not, was a tough approach to crime, but so far they have been disappointed. Asked what the government was doing on the issue, previously one of the Conservative Party’s strongest suits, most people thought only of police cuts – with some adding that they had heard we want to send fewer criminals to prison."

Continue reading "If Cameron can convince on the NHS and crime he is on the road to a majority, says mega poll of 10,000 voters" »

18 Jan 2011 08:59:55

The central beliefs of Mainstream Conservatism

Tim Montgomerie

As part of the Mainstream Conservative project we asked the ConservativeHome Members panel to rate various beliefs on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 was "least central to Conservatism" 10 was "most central to Conservatism". Many of the beliefs were taken from Andrew Lilico's recent essay; "Mainstream Conservatism is a broader offering than Liberal Conservatism and most of us want to see the party promoting it". 1,551 Tory members took part and these are the results (with some of the more recent trends in Conservatism in magenta):

  1. Limits on “nanny state” restrictions or interference with people’s private lives or mundane business conduct: 8.70
  2. Strong defence: 8.59
  3. Reforms to welfare that encourage greater independence: 8.56
  4. A belief that EU integration had already gone too far and there needs to be renegotiation of our position within the EU: 8.42
  5. Tighter control of immigration: 8.18
  6. Low regulation and competition in the private sector: 8.17
  7. Tough punishments for those convicted of crimes: 8.15
  8. Tight control of inflation: 8.12
  9. Welfare measures that protect the poor, especially the sick, severely disabled and very old: 8.04
  10. Fairly low (but by no means libertarian) levels of public spending and tax: 8.02
  11. Reforms to create more competition in the public sector (especially in health and education) so as to make public services work better: 7.82
  12. Support for marriage as the ideal environment for raising children: 7.69
  13. Protecting the Constitution from rapid change: 7.66
  14. Opposition to ID cards and also to widespread use of CCTV: 7.28
  15. A belief in improving the LOCAL environment (including recycling, preservation of green spaces and respect for wildlife): 6.64
  16. Encouragement of charitable giving and volunteering: 6.43
  17. International action to combat global warming: 3.67.

10 Jan 2011 15:40:10

Public rejects LibCon Coalition candidates in three opinion surveys

Tim Montgomerie


For those who were away from their computer screens over the weekend allow me to summarise three polls that dealt a triple blow to the idea of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems fighting on joint tickets at the next election:

  1. The idea was rejected in an Angus Reid poll: "While the merged party would hold on to four-in-five voters who cast a ballot for a Conservative candidate in 2010 (83%), only one third of Liberal Democrat voters in 2010 (32%) would support a joint Tory/Lib-Dem candidate. In fact, almost half of them (46%) would vote for Labour instead."
  2. The idea was rejected in a Sunday Times/ YouGov poll: "YouGov asked what people’s reaction would be to a Con/LD pact at the next election. Only 12% of Conservative voters would be in favour and only 21% of Liberal Democrats. A full merger between the parties was even less popular, only 8% of each party’s voters backed the idea."
  3. The idea was rejected in a poll, commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, of 1,503 voters in Oldham East and Saddleworth: Labour would beat a joint Coalition candidate by 5%.

Continue reading "Public rejects LibCon Coalition candidates in three opinion surveys" »

7 Jan 2011 23:01:24

83% of Tory voters would support a Coalition candidate but only 32% of Lib Dem voters would do the same

Tim Montgomerie

I cannot remember this having been done before but Angus Reid has asked voters which party they would support if the Tories and Lib Dems combined as a Coalition Party against Labour.

The result is that Labour would score 45% and the Coalition would win the support of 38% of voters.

Angus Reid finds normal voting intention as Labour 40%, Conservatives 35%, LDs 12% and UKIP 5%.

So if the Lib Dems and Tories join together they lose supporters while Labour gain supporters.

More from Angus Reid here:

"The main hindrance for the unified Coalition party—if it ever materialises—would be the patent disappointment from Liberal Democrat supporters. While the merged party would hold on to four-in-five voters who cast a ballot for a Conservative candidate in 2010 (83%), only one third of Liberal Democrat voters in 2010 (32%) would support a joint Tory/Lib-Dem candidate. In fact, almost half of them (46%) would vote for Labour instead."

5 Jan 2011 16:11:10

Fisking Ian Birrell: He's wrong about Mainstream Conservatism

Tim Montgomerie

I wrote a piece in yesterday's Daily Mail warning against continuing the Lib/Con alliance beyond the next election and, in particular, fighting together in certain or all seats. Ian Birrell has responded in today's FT (£) to my piece and to articles by Mark Pritchard MP and Fraser Nelson. Ian has been close to David Cameron for many years and was briefly a speechwriter for him. I've said before that I wish he was in 10 Downing Street but I'm not at all convinced by today's article. I fisk some of what he says below.

Screen shot 2011-01-05 at 16.34.10 IB: "After weeks of muttering and coded articles, the new year has arrived with hostile outbursts against the coalition from within its ranks."

Not quite. Most concern isn't directed at the Coalition but against turning the Coalition from an emergency arrangement into a more permanent alliance. It's true that the weaknesses of the Coalition are the cause of the opposition to making it permanent but it's important to make a distinction. ConHome surveys of Tory members find that three-quarters support the Coalition but an even greater proportion oppose Coalition candidates at the next election" 

IB: "Leading members of the old guard have joined the fray, sniping from the sidelines over prison reform and control orders."

HOWARD-MICHAEL "Sniping"?!?! You must mean Michael Howard and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Ian? When he was Home Secretary Michael Howard reversed a fifty year growth in crime by incarcerating more repeat offenders. Ken Clarke is putting that record at risk and Howard is rightly defending one of the greatest Conservative policy successes of the post-war era. And Sir Malcolm is Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. If he thinks control orders need to stay he has a duty to say so. Neither are sniping.

IB: "Senior Tory figures [believe] there are few genuine malcontents. “A dozen at most,” said one cabinet minister."

Jonathan Isaby's analysis of Commons rebellions would suggest that 12 is about right in terms of regular "malcontents" but only 24 Tory backbenchers haven't expressed any dissent this Parliament and we're only eight months in. Wait until the Europe Bill and Votes-for-Prisoners Bill comes before the House.

Continue reading "Fisking Ian Birrell: He's wrong about Mainstream Conservatism" »

1 Jan 2011 20:59:43

Mark Pritchard MP warns "purple plotters" against a "Frankenstein" merger of the Conservatives and Lib Dems

Tim Montgomerie

You may have missed the big story in Christmas Eve's Independent but it was genuinely big and has been overlooked since: the Cabinet discussed how they might help the Liberal Democrat candidate win in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Publicly senior Tories are backing Kashif Ali. Privately they are backing the Lib Dem.

It's only the latest sign of a movement towards turning the coalition-of-temporary-convenience into an ongoing alliance. John Major and four Tory MPs (Nick Boles, Glyn Davies, Peter Lilley and Jacob Rees-Mogg) have already backed joint candidates. The Sunday Telegraph splashed last week with the news that a senior minister also backed the project.

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 20.51.38 In tomorrow's Mail on Sunday Mark Pritchard MP writes a strongly-worded article calling on the Tory leadership to level with Tory MPs and the grassroots party:

"If there are plans to try to agree a long-term political settlement between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats beyond 2015, then senior Ministers must show due respect to the parliamentary party and the Conservative Party at large and agree to an open discussion about the merits and demerits of any such pact."

He warns that there will be "fractures" if "the parliamentary and voluntary party discover that an electoral deal is being proposed behind their backs". The over-taxed British people, worried about the European courts over-ruling UK laws, will want "a distinct and self-confident Conservative Party" at the next election, Pritchard writes, not "a 2015 Frankenstein or political chimera".

There is a calculated slipperiness to the language being used by senior Tories, at present. David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Fallon have each carefully said that they "expect" Conservatives to fight as Conservatives at the next election. Mark Pritchard has seen through the formula and calls for clarity from the leadership:

"There should be an early and unequivocal statement from the highest level of the Party that no electoral pacts – assembly, regional or local – have been agreed or are being attempted. Further, that no coalition agreement has been agreed, or is being proposed, beyond the current Parliament. At the next General Election, the Conservative Party must fight to win – to win an outright majority and send the Liberal Democrats packing. It is the ‘temporary’ nature of the existing political settlement from which the Coalition draws its strength – not the prospect of its permanence."

[The Mail on Sunday has given ConHome advance sight of the article. Here's the link to the full piece.]

24 Dec 2010 07:00:22

The Cabinet discussed last week how to help the Lib Dems win in Oldham East and Saddleworth

By Jonathan Isaby

LibCon-rosette-with-shadow Last week I questioned whether CCHQ was taking the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election seriously amidst concerns brought to me by many that the party wanted to maximise the chances of the Lib Dems gaining the seat from Labour.

I repeated this concern in a report on yesterday's Today programme, during which Baroness Warsi insisted that the party was taking the campaign "extremely seriously".

So I am shocked and unnerved in equal measure by the news in today's Independent that the Cabinet last week discussed how to maximise the Liberal Democrats' chances of winning the by-election.

The paper's political editor, Andrew Grice, reports:

"Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative International Development Secretary, is believed to have called on his party to do everything possible to help the Liberal Democrats beat Labour in the 13 January contest.

"The by-election was discussed when the Cabinet reviewed the Coalition’s strategy for 2011 on Tuesday, The Independent has learnt. There was a brief “political session”, without civil servants present, at the end of the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

"Cabinet sources say David Cameron and other ministers did not disagree with Mr Mitchell’s remarks. But some of his Tory colleagues were angry and surprised because – in public – the Tories insist they are fighting to win the by-election in what is seen as a three-way marginal."

"The Cabinet talks will infuriate Tory traditionalists, who suspect that Mr Cameron would be happy for the Liberal Democrats to win the Oldham East contest. A week ago, he said he “wished them well” in the by-election but insisted the Tories were fighting to win it."

As it bids to repair the country's economy, the Coalition has my full support, but it is vital that its two constituent parties retain their independence and continue to fight all elections as separate entities. The party leadership should not forget that 79% of Tory members want to see the Conservatives governing alone rather than in Coalition after the next general election.

> Nominations closed for the by-election yesterday and you can click here to see the full list of candidates.

20 Dec 2010 07:00:04

Mainstream Conservatism v Liberal Conservatism? Or Coalition Conservatism v Majority Conservatism?

by Paul Goodman

Like Sarah in the Bob Dylan song, conservatism is "so easy to look at, so hard to define".  A French conservative is very different from a British one.  So's an American one, though less obviously.  One man's conservatism can be another's socialism, and though the same's true the other way round, the former is more local, and therefore - I believe - more diverse.

This variety is the spice of life, as David Willetts appreciated, and presumably still does.  In the darkest days of the Major Government, he suggested to the drained Prime Minister a novel means of reviving the Party: that each Conservative MP sum up his own vision of conservatism on a single side of paper and send it to Downing Street.  Major reacted as though Willetts had dropped his trousers.  A friend of mine defines  conservatism as being -

  • Eating chicken tikka masala in an Indian restaurant...
  • ...While reading a copy of Clarendon's History of Rebellion...
  • ...And drinking half a pint of snakebite.

I've been thinking of Major, Willetts and my friend while reading Tim, Andrew Lilico, Graeme Archer, Daniel Finkelstein, Fraser Nelson, Peter Hoskin, Iain Martin, Alex Massie, Fiona Melville, David Skelton, Janet Daley and others on the Mainstream Conservatism v Liberal Conservatism debate.  It goes without saying that their view of conservatism is wrong and mine is right.  As is yours too, at least most of the time.

Continue reading "Mainstream Conservatism v Liberal Conservatism? Or Coalition Conservatism v Majority Conservatism?" »