By Harry Phibbs
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The Conservatives had plenty of criticisms of the Labour Government over the Iraq War which took place a decade ago. There was the dishonesty used by the spin machine to exaggerate the case for military action, there was the contemptible failure to provide our troops with adequate kit and the failure to make sensible preparations for restoring order afterwards.
For all that the basic decision to support military action to remove Saddam Hussein was brave and right. It was to Tony Blair's credit that he took it and to the Conservative Party's credit to support it.
The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein and so is Iraq. It was the Lib Dems who opposed removing Saddam although one of the strongest accounts I have seen for vindicating his removal was a blog post on Lib Dem Voice by the Lib Dem peer Baroness Nicholson. It is not just the removal of a genocidal dictator but the positive progress that has since been made:
By Harry Phibbs
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Congratulations to Michael Hintze who has been awarded a knighthood. Mr Hintze is very rich - a billionaire if measured in US dollars, although probably not quite in terms of sterling. His hedge fund CQS is among the top perfomers in the world. This is a success not just for its investors but also for the rest of us, helping to create jobs and wealth around the globe.
Mr Hintze was ahead of the pack in warning that the scale of toxic debt due to sub-prime mortgages meant some UK bank balance sheets were less than solid. A pity more people didn't listen at the time.
It is not surprising that Mr Hintze takes an interest in politics. His family were refugees from Communism - twice. His grandparents fled Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. To escape Communism they went to China. Whoops. Michael was born in the Chinese city of Harbin. Again a Communist takeover prompted a departure and so he grew up in Sydney.
With his wife Dorothy he has set up the Hintze Family Charitable Foundation. It has made donations of over £30 million in recent years - £1 million to the Old Vic, £2.5 million to the Nation Gallery, £3 million to Wandsworth Museum which was saved from closure. In fact Wandsworth has done particularly well out of him - he is a local resident and is fond of the borough. A new inpatient centre at the Trinity Hospice there is another cause he has supported.
By Harry Phibbs
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For the last 650 years in our country we have had an honours system "recognising merit, gallantry and service." As well as the New Year’s Honours, we have another list for The Queen’s official birthday. The latter for this year was announced this morning.
It is a great source of celebration. The tradition is crucial to the prestige. Money is a very good way of rewarding achievement but it is welcome that it's not the only one. So the honours system is a national asset. It very much goes along with the system of monarchy - being given a medal by President Cameron or President Miliband would not resonate in the same way.
The quiet patriotism of the British means that the correct form is to treat receiving an honour as a bit of a joke while secretly having a sense of great pride. For Conservatives there is a double satisfaction. There is the rejoicing for colleagues who are honoured. (Well done Edward Leigh on your knighthood.) Then there is also the good sport of teasing Lefties for taking honours. (Arise Sir Brendan Barber for services to UK Uncut...) How wonderfully subversive the British establishment is.
Amidst this innocent pleasure and merriment the traditional role of the Daily Mail is to strike a sour note as they do this morning. The trouble is that they have got a point. Too many of the honours do go to the wrong people. For instance, they note:
Robert Collington – whose company Thames Water stands accused of ripping off customers, avoiding tax and enforcing a farcical hosepipe ban during some of the wettest weather seen in England – will be given an OBE ‘for services to consumers’.
Thames Water is a monopoly. There are plenty of business leaders out there who have genuinely achieved great things for the consumer in providing new products and better value. A monopolist is an odd choice. But do go-getting entrepreneurs get an even break compared to the cosy corporatists schmoozing around the CBI?
By Mark Wallace
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One sure sign of a successful reform is when the vested interests it is intended to take on start to squeal about it. So it is good news that Chief Constables are getting their knickers in a twist about Police and Crime Commissioners using their powers.
Their protests come after the Chief Constable of Gwent was ousted from her job by independent PCC Ian Johnston. Sir Hugh Orde of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the deeply suspect (and very wealthy) union for senior coppers, has demanded a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss proposals to rein in PCCs.
They don't need reining in - in fact, Gwent is a good example of a PCC doing his job. As a representative of the people, Ian Johnston is meant to do what he thinks is in the best interests of effective policing. He has done so, and will be judged on the results at the next election. If the Chief Constable was to be protected from such action, PCCs would be hamstrung - which is exactly what senior police officers want.
A few years ago, I spoke at an ACPO conference. I told the assembled top brass that the MPs' expenses scandal was just the beginning - that transparency and accountability would come to policing just as they were starting to come to other parts of the public sector. They should prepare to embrace such a process, I suggested, or else fall foul of it.
It's fair to say my message didn't go down well (not helped by the fact that day's Sun front page featured me criticising an absurd ACPO report on training police officers on how to ride bicycles). In fact, I felt about as popular as Darth Vader at an Ewok's birthday party, but I hadn't come to make friends.
Some senior police officers took on board the fact that democratic oversight was coming - either at that conference or since. As Sir Hugh Orde's intervention makes clear, many others still haven't woken up to the new situation. The louder he squeals, the more committed to preserving accountability the Home Secretary should become.
The image is borrowed from Clarissa Eden, wife of Anthony Eden, who told a group of Conservative women in the aftermath of the Suez crisis that "in the past few weeks I have really felt as if the Suez Canal was flowing through my drawing room". At first glance, there is no reason why the Syrian tragedy should provoke a similar image. We have no immediate interest in Syria. Our armed forces have withdrawn from Iraq. They are now being scaled back. The conflict in Syria is being transformed from one of protest versus tyranny to one of Sunnis versus Alawites (with the Christians and other religious minorities nervously sheltering behind the latter).
It is thus part of the wider struggle between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam in the middle east (see above). Saudi Arabia is leading for the Sunni world, or rather for its own form of Sunni Islam, the takfiri version which goes all the way back to the Kharijites, and is expressed in the oil-financed export of its extremist modern successor, Wahaabism/Salafism. Iran is leading for the Shi'ite one, or rather for its own form of Shi'ite Islam, shaped by the Khomeini revolution. The latter threatens Israel, an ally; has had a calamitous effect on the balance of Lebanon, and occasionally strikes at Jewish targets outside the middle east.
By Mark Wallace
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In the latest edition of the Spectator, Toby Young studies the revolutionary tactics and moral zeal of Michael Gove. He cites the Education Secretary's fondness for adopting the language of Communism - be it in terms of "permanent revolution" or Gramsci's long march through the institutions - but crucially sees beyond the jokey surface of such remarks.
Yes, it's amusing to see the Left struggle to deal with a Conservative who cites the slogans of beret-wearing barricade-builders. But the attention Gove pays to Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and Gramsci goes far beyond the self-mocking habit some rightists have of greeting each other as "comrade" - he means it in practice.
He appreciates an often-neglected truth: that in the face of a left-wing establishment, it is the right in Britain who have a revolutionary task to fulfil. In terms of his education brief, that has meant taking on the entrenched power of the education unions, handing power to parents rather than bureaucrats and radically reforming the school system to offer opportunity to those with the least money as well as the most. Almost everything he found on his first day will be abolished or changed by the time this Parliament comes to a close.
By Peter Hoskin
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“Us? Encourage Stephen Hester to stand down? Nah, really? You mean the RBS Stephen Hester, right? Pffft, nothing to do with us. I mean, why would we even...? It’s not like we want the bank privatised according to some sort of timetable, y’know. We’re completely hands-off. See my hands? Off. Completely. Why would you even think…? Nah. Us?”
And so on and so on.
The above quote many not be – how you say? – real, but it captures the general noise coming out of the Treasury today. They don’t want their paw-prints anywhere near the Hester resignation, and for very understandable reasons. This state-owned bank may be state-owned, but no-one wants to create the impression that politics is determining its future. Any privatisation must be done for the good of the bank, the public and the public finances – not for the Tories’ electoral chances.
Conservative leaders who now govern with a majority, and who previously didn't, don't visit Downing Street every day. But today marks an exception. Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, will meet with David Cameron - and address members of both Houses of Parliament. Harper led a minority government after Canada voted in 2006; led another after it voted in 2008 (winning more seats in the process), and led a government for the third time after the 2011 election - only, this time, it was a Conservative one.
This Anglosphere Conservative who clawed his way to majority is surely a model for Cameron to follow. So what lessons can be learned from him? I suggest three.
Cameron is trying a version of the same - sending Cabinet Ministers who grasp the issues, such as Theresa May, Eric Pickles and Chris Grayling, on a similar quest.
However, the Prime Minister's capacity is smaller. Canadian Ministers are well supported by SpAds. Alok Sharma, the Party Vice-Chairman responsible for outreach to ethnic minority groups, has a relatively puny resource at his. None the less, money isn't everything. One Canadian strategist told me that only connecting with people's deepest values has the party gradually built trust. Cameron's push for same-sex marriage will, at best, have done him little good with ethnic minority voters, who on the whole have a socially conservative profile, and much harm at worst.
And the third lesson Cameron can learn from Harper? I would say it is Dare to be Dull - or at least consistent. The Canadian Prime Minister is not an exciting politician. But my take is that he concentrates on getting the political basics right, assisted by a strong team - especially, perhaps, John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Jason Kenney, the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. (Kenney, a dedicated and relentless campaigner, is known as the "Smiling Buddha" for his outreach to Chinese Canadians.)
"You observe how these new Canadians live their lives. They are the personification of Margaret Thatcher's aspirational class. They're all about a massive work ethic," he was quoted as saying in the same article. The reference to Thatcher carries the taste and flavour of Harper's team - Movement Conservatives, certainly, who have campaigned against Kyoto; are strongly pro-Israel and have made the endangered position of Christians in the middle east a touchstone of their approach to foreign policy. (Harper takes a very different position on Syria to Cameron.)
But Movement Conservatives who look outward, not inward: who practice what Tim Montgomerie calls the Politics Of And. If Cameron is looking for advice on how to develop a conservatism for Bolton West, he could do worse than listen carefully to his visitor from Calgary South-West.
By Andrew Gimson
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David Cameron got the better of this bar-room brawl, but despite the involvement of the two Eds, the contest was not an Edifying one. It became all too clear from these scrappy exchanges that the Prime Minister is determined to seize every chance to kick Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor: to unEdify him, as it were. Ed Miliband performed respectably enough as Leader of the Opposition, but was reduced for much of the time to the role of a spectator.
Would Labour reverse the Government's cuts in the spare-room subsidy, or bedroom tax, or whatever one wishes to call it? The question was put to Mr Balls, not Mr Miliband. Mr Balls's denial that the last Labour Government was profligate was treated as one of the most significant statements of the last ten years, and one that "is going to be hung around his neck forever".
One fears it will certainly be hung round his neck until the next general election in 2015. When I use the word "fears", I mean that to those of us who follow politics with some attention, this style of debate might start to become slightly wearisome. But Lynton Crosby has never been a trainer who worries about such aesthetic questions as whether his man's mode of fighting is elegant. Mr Crosby clearly wants Mr Cameron to remind people at every turn that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy: a message to be conveyed by kicking, scratching and pummelling Mr Balls for week after week after week.
This morning's Times (£) reported that David Cameron, John Bercow and Andrew Lansley have "paved the way for new rules governing the heads of select committees" in the wake of the Yeo controversy. The paper also claimed that Select Committee chairmen themselves want changes, naming Keith Vaz, the Labour Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and David Davies, the Conservative Chairman of the Welsh Affairs committee. It also quoted Richard Ottoway, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, as saying that an outright ban on outside interests “would diminish debate” and John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, as saying that MPs having outside interests “strengthens Parliament”.
Cameron and Bercow and Lansley and Vaz and Davies and Ottoway and Whittingdale are all right. MPs should be citizen legislators, who almost by definition have outside interests, rather than professional politicians, who (almost by definition) don't, and this applies to Select Committee Chairmen no less than other MPs. But since those Chairmen now take a special salary, like members of the Executive, it follows that they should be treated like them - in broad terms, anyway, especially since most Select Committee Chairman have acquired a new legitimacy by being elected. There should be a bar on conflicting interests, not an outright ban - as Isabel Hardman and I have both argued.