by Paul Goodman
"In Hull, Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull, any student in receipt of Education Maintenance Allowance also gets a travel grant to cope with the full cost.
"Well they won't if a Labour council takes power, I suspect. But if they're wise enough to vote Liberal Democrat at the next local elections in Hull, or for the Conservatives in any seat where we are well-placed to defeat Labour, then they will have a council that is fulfilling its statutory duty.
"And it's no surprise that there are Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils that are ensuring that all students receive the support that they deserve."
Now, local elections are one thing, and the next general election another. But even so, I can't recall a senior Conservative urging voters to back another Party in similar circumstances. Perhaps I'll be corrected.
And it's not as though blue candidates don't run in Hull. Here's a link to some of the results as recently as last May. What will local Tories have to say?
The Education Secretary has been reported as being "undecided" about whether or not to support replacing first-past-the-post with AV. The BBC's report says that he "smiled and winked" after this comments today.
By Tim Montgomerie
Over the next week ConservativeHome will be looking at seven leading vulnerabilities of the Cameron strategy and operation. Before we start that series it is worth looking at the underlying reasons why the Tories have a good shot at re-election if, if, if the Coalition holds together*. Five reasons stand out to me...
A benign economic cycle. Lots could go wrong with the world economy in the interim but the chances are that the economy will be off the floor and heading strongly upwards by 2013 and onwards. This should see a feel good factor beginning to return by 2014/15 as long as - and this is very important - George Osborne frontloads spending cuts. If, however, measures like child benefit are delayed until 2013 (and beyond), voters may grow tired of austerity.
Ed Miliband's partisan denial of the deficit. In appointing Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor the new Labour leader has eschewed the full ostrich position recommended by Ed Balls but it looks unlikely that he will join Cameron's "national interest" party. There's short-run upside for Ed Miliband if he opposes the Coalition's cuts but if the deficit is brought under control and the economy starts to motor he'll be painted by David Cameron as a partisan obstructionist; a politician who ducked the tough choices.
Weakness in the Liberal Democrat vote. If the Liberal Democrats are unable to recover their left-leaning voters they'll face big losses in LibCon and LibLab marginals. MPs like Chris Huhne in Eastleigh will be defeated as left-wing voters who supported him in order to 'keep the Tory out' drift back to the Labour candidate. An analysis by Lord Ashcroft suggests the LibDem position will remain weak, even under AV.
The coming together of the Conservative Party. Earlier in the summer I worried that Downing Street wasn't paying enough attention to the Tory side of the coalition. At times - such as with the enoblement of John Maples - Cameron almost appeared intent on poking loyal members in the eye. In recent times there are signs of improvement. The strong tribute to the grassroots in last week's Birmingham speech. The appointment of Michael Fallon as Deputy Tory Chairman. A birthday party in Downing Street for Lady Thatcher later this week. And most significantly of all, backing IDS on welfare reform and taking charge of saving the defence budget. The improving Downing Street/ party relationship could be tested by the steady flow of concessions to the Liberal Democrats but a united party is a precondition of future success.
The big one nation offering. At the heart of the Cameron project is the transformational idea that the Conservative Party can be restored as the natural party of government if it occupies the whole political stage; adding a concern for the poor and the environment to the tried and trusted messages on tax, crime, immigration, Europe and (fifthly) welfare. Blair destroyed our electoral chances when he invaded our territory. We can do the same in reverse if we build a greener, gentler Conservative Party. If Gove and IDS, in particular, can succeed over the next few years the party can fly high at the next election.
* Current betting is 6/4 for a Tory victory at William Hill.
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?
In a leading article The Independent argues that "Conservative messages have become increasingly contradictory".
The Independent thinks the party cannot modernise and also talk about more familiar Tory issues: "What made Mr Cameron initially seem radically different from his predecessors William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard was his decision to stop talking about those old Tory obsessions of crime, Europe, immigration and tax cuts. Instead, he set reform of the public services at the heart of his agenda."
The idea that there is a contradiction between these things is a nonsense and it's a view that is shared by many anti-modernisers on the diehard Right (but far from every 'Rightie'*). These anti-modernisers blindly interpret every effort to talk about global poverty or gay equality as a sell-out.
I've long argued for 'a politics of and'. A politics that twins entirely compatible propositions. A Conservativism that is broader than in 1997 rather than fundamentally changed. The ConHome shields attempt to represent pictorially the breadth of our ambitions and potential coalition.
Here are a few examples:
Ensuring that we get this balance right and are very serious about the broader conservatism is essential to the future of the Conservative Party. Talking only about crime, tax, Europe and immigration won't be enough to realign British politics. Fusing a concern for the poor, the environment and civil liberties with the issues more associated with the Conservative Party gives us the opportunity to become the natural party of government again.
At the heart of 'the politics of and' is one simple and very British idea: Fairness. Fairness to those who create the wealth and fairness to those who need help. If David Cameron is still looking for a title for the draft manifesto he's launching on 4th January I would suggest fairness as a uniting theme.
* Some seen as on the Right have done more to 'modernise' the party than those on the Left. Think, for example, of what IDS has achieved on social justice and David Davis on civil libertarianism.
Political scientists talk of realigning elections when what comes to power is not so much a familiar party but a new coalition. In realigning elections politics isn't changed for four or five years but for a whole generation.
I want to explain why - if things go well - the Conservatives can re-establish themselves as the natural party of government. In a year's time David Cameron could be the most important centre right leader in the world - not just leading Britain but defining the future of conservatism around the world.
The tables are now reversed. It is Eric Pickles warning Tories that they face dismissal if they engage in dirty tricks campaigning. It is Labour - from the very top - that has deserted all claims to the moral high ground.
After the McBride emails you would have hoped that Labour would have learnt its lesson... but clearly not.
First Harriet Harman bracketed the Tories with the BNP in a fundraising email but she then took things to a new low during the Labour Party Conference when - completely dishonestly - she said that George Osborne wanted to replace a SureStart in every community with a lapdancing club. There is no other word for that than a lie. And a disreputable lie at that.
Gordon Brown has, of course, set the tone when it comes to honesty. His Porky Pies have been a feature of Westminster politics for some time. Remember his claim that he didn't look at opinion polls when he bottled an autumn 2007 election? In the last few months he attempted to claim that the choice at the election was between Tory cuts and Labour investment. He had to abandon the line after every journalist in Westminster told the Labour machine that it was unbelievable. A leak of Treasury papers to George Osborne proved the dishonesty of the Brown position. At the time Telegraph columnist Benedict Brogan wrote this devastating paragraph:
"Fascinating that the Shadow Chancellor has this morning accused the Prime Minister of lying and there isn’t a collective intake of breath. Do that in the House of Commons and even this Speaker will call you out. For one rt hon gentleman to challenge the integrity of another would once have provoked if not outrage then at least tut-tuts of disapproval. But here was George Osborne on the Today programme trumpeting his secret documents: “Gordon Brown has misled the public, he has misled the Commons, he was not telling the truth.” And if there is no reaction, it is because we have collectively come to the same view, that the Prime Minister cannot be trusted to tell us the truth. How depressing."
The change is captured in this goosebumps moment from David Cameron's speech:
It was important because Cameron meant it and the Tory grassroots loved it. Jonathan Freedland still can't bring himself to believe what is staring him in the face, however. "The audience thundered its applause," he writes in this morning's Guardian, "probably approving the machismo of the attack rather than sharing its concern for the badly off". At some point the Left will realise that the Conservative Party is serious about its compassionate politics - from the top of the party to the grassroots. I've seen Iain Duncan Smith get consistently positive receptions - sometimes even rapturous receptions - when he talks to local Tory Associations about the agenda of the Centre for Social Justice. And, Mr Freedland, he gets that warm reception without attacking Labour.The Conservative Party has always been a powerful political force but if it raids deeply into Labour territory over the next few years - planting the Tory message deeply into the soil of social justice and green politics we could be talking of realignment. The Left thought it had a monopoly of 'values voters'. No longer. It should be worried.
“Thirty years ago this party won an election fighting against 98 per cent tax rates on the richest. Today I want us to show even more anger about 96 per cent tax rates on the poorest.”
Tory members rose to their feet when Cameron launched an angry attack on Labour's failure of the poor:
"Labour still have the arrogance to think that they are the ones who will fight poverty and deprivation. On Monday, when we announced our plan to Get Britain Working you know what Labour called it? “Callous.” Excuse me? Who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories… you, Labour: you’re the ones that did this to our society. So don’t you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative Party to fight for the poorest who you have let down."
This week we have seen more policies that substantiate compassionate conservatism. George Osborne's pledge to protect low income workers from a public sector pay squeeze. Michael Gove's commitment to put the worst failing schools under new management within 100 days of a Tory government coming to power. Reaffirmation that the pensions-earning link will be restored.
And in his announcement that Iain Duncan Smith "will be responsible in government for bringing together all our work to help mend the broken society" David Cameron was promoting a man who sees his whole purpose in politics as building a pro-poor agenda.
The Tory tank is not so much on Labour's turf but in full occupation. The Tories for too long had been narrow - talking only of crime, tax, Europe and immigration. We now - like the ConHome shields - cover the whole political waterfront. But we don't mimic Labour's means even if we share ends. The family, voluntary organisations, private sector development charities, school choice, tough love in welfare and thrift are among our distinctive non-state weapons in the war on poverty.
I have just made these arguments over at The Guardian too.
As we look forward to what we hope will be our last Party Conference in opposition here is my checklist of five hopes for what will be achieved in Manchester.
(1) David Cameron needs a TV moment on the deficit: The next few years will require some painful budget measures. David Cameron and George Osborne do not need to spell out every measure that will be necessary but they need a mandate to take tough measures. They need to be able to say - credibly - that we warned the country that we would do these things and we are now doing them. The message should be framed as necessary to put Britain back on track; 'We are going through a tunnel but there is a great future for Britain at the end of that tunnel'. We need a clip from within David Cameron's speech that will be replayed on TV in the years to come as the truth-telling when David Cameron made it clear what was coming.
(2) More concrete reasons for voting Conservative: It would be great to have another inheritance tax moment. That may be an unrealistic hope but we need some stronger policies for the doorstep. In today's Sun - see graphic on right - David Cameron has set out ten positive changes that the Conservative Party will deliver. It's a good list but could be stronger. Pledges 3, 5, 7 and 9, in particular, need a lot more definition.
(3) An ambition for realignment: Labour may not be heading for defeat but for disaster. Their reaction to The Sun's endorsement of the Conservatives was puerile (eg this and this). As Scott Colvin records on today's Platform there is now a nastiness to Labour. The initial years of Tory government are going to be hard work but there is a possibility for realignment of the whole of politics in the year ahead. I've addressed this before but a Conservative Party that take social justice and internet activism (which takes a leap forward today) seriously could raid deep into Labour territory. I'd like to see hints of that ambition this week. Lower taxes for the low-paid could underpin realignment.
(4) Education, education, education: Michael Gove's education policies are the most exciting ingredient of Tory policy but David Cameron has not made a big statement on education since the start of the year. In Manchester this week I'd like a sign that Gove is getting the 100% backing that his supply-side revolution needs.
(5) Patriotism manifesto: I've advocated a Shoestring manifesto of measures to ensure we deliver progress as a government without spending too much money. The Shoestring manifesto included ideas on democracy, social justice, the environment, media reform and patriotism. I'm hoping to see a particular emphasis on patriotism and a commitment to end the ignorance of British history. If you are going to Manchester don't miss Chris Grayling MP talking to ConHome at 9am on Monday on the theme of patriotic renewal. More details here.
For me the most important theme of David Cameron's leadership has been his determination to make our party a true party of social justice. If we are not in public life to help every member of our society we should not be in public life at all.
Our party has a great tradition of social reform but we have sometimes hid our light under a bushel and allowed Labour to claim a monopoly of the moral high ground. That is stupid politics. Many voters deserted us in 1997 because - although they, personally, had profited from the Thatcher-Major years - they felt too many people were being left behind. A winning conservatism, as Iain Duncan Smith says, will convince voters that we will be good for them but also their neighbour. The prize if we succeed is the complete realignment of British politics.
Ten themes seem important as we build a compassionate conservatism:
Basic reassurance: David Cameron has made it clear that the NHS will remain free-at-the-point-of-use. Conservatives are also prominent defenders of the basic state pension and David Willetts was ahead of Labour in saying that it needed to be reconnected to the rise in average earnings. Michael Gove has underlined his commitment to poorer families by suggesting higher funding for schools in very disadvantaged communities. As James Forsyth has noted, David Cameron has made social conservatism fashionable again by (among other things) respecting same-sex relationships.
Education reform. Michael Gove's Swedish supply-side revolution is likely to be the most radical idea in the next Conservative manifesto. Alongside reforms that would allow schools to choose to use different methods of examination system and to set teachers' pay and conditions it will cause big clashes with the teachers' unions. The one hole in the policy is the prohibition on new schools being able to make profits. There is speculation that this might change. My own view is that start-up schools that combine a real vision for teaching of British history with a strong disciplinary code will be particularly popular with parents.
Prison and welfare reform. While at Justice Nick Herbert set out some very interesting ideas on how to reduce reoffending. They included payment of prison governors by results. Jonathan Aitken in a report for the CSJ has recommended a range of measures to tackle the drug problem in prisons and to encourage more volunteer mentoring of prisoners. Theresa May and Lord Freud are now developing the tough requirements to seek work that were first announced by Chris Grayling.
The Shoestring manifesto for the poor. We all know that money is going to be tight for the next Conservative government but a chapter of ConservativeHome's Shoestring Manifesto was dedicated to policies that would help the poor and can be implemented immediately, with little or no cost. Those ideas included financial literacy education; action against loan sharks; divorce law reform; enactment of a Right-to-Move for council house tenants; a massive simplification of the system which delivers care to parents of disabled children; and protections for faith-based welfare groups to receive fair funding.
Support for marriage and the family. There are opponents of David Cameron's commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system but the vast majority of Tory members and the next generation of Conservative MPs are supportive (and rightly so). It would be very wrong to see Tory family policy only in terms of the marriage commitment. Probably more important is the commitment to invest in relationship education and to abolish the worsening couple penalty in the benefits system.