Will help to quell the charge that the Party is being led by a "Chumocracy" unrepresentative of its MPs and members.
Will stop David Cameron being ambushed by Conservative backbenchers on EU policy, as he was by John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.
Will thus prevent these two problems from inter-acting with each other to suggest that the Party is divided. (If a perception of division persists, victory in 2015 will certainly be impossible.)
They are as follows:
The Prime Minister should create an Inner Cabinet - to build collective Party leadership and kill the Downing Street chumocracy charge. As I've previously explained, the Cabinet is too big: 32 people are entitled to attend it. And the Quad, at only two people, is too small (besides, two of its members are Liberal Democrats - giving the junior Coalition partner equal representation at the top, a cause of Tory resentment). The Prime Minister needs a Conservative Inner Cabinet which meets weekly to shape policy and make decisions. Attendance should be formal and collegiate, with the following membership: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman. Obviously, the right people are needed to fill those posts - but that's a matter for another day. What matters is that membership of the Inner Cabinet should be strictly related to Ministerial and Party function, and that it should consist of senior politicians only.
The standing, morale and effectiveness of the Whips Office should be raised by it becoming a vehicle for promotion - not sacking. The natural complement to an Inner Cabinet - and thus proper collective leadership - is a Whips Office with real authority. That able MPs such as Dominic Raab, Ben Wallace and Rob Wilson turned posts in it down at the last resuffle, as was reportedly the case, is a sign that something is wrong. Perhaps there was a connection with the fact that several Whips simply left the office at the same time: James Duddridge, Brooks Newmark, Shailesh Vara, Bill Wiggin. There are always special circumstances, but the status of the Whips Office was not raised by so many of its members failing to move on to Ministerial posts. Cameron will also need a new Chief Whip, since Sir George Young - loyal trooper that he is - only returned to the Cabinet to help the Prime Minister out. Again, who his replacement should be is a matter for another day. Enough for today to point out that improving the standing and effectiveness of the Whips Office must be a priority.
The Prime Minister can't cure his EU problem until he grips it. As a wise old hand put it to me, Cameron mistook his EU referendum speech for a process. He hoped by offering his Party an In-Out referendum to halt internal Party debate on Europe - at least for a while. The gambit failed. And it won't succeed while his stance on the repatriation of powers is unresolved. The lesson of last week is that if the Prime Minister hopes that the Government's review of EU competences and the Party's own manifesto formation will quiet discussion of renegotiation policy within his Party until 2014, he is mistaken. Two courses of action are open to him. The first is to make it clear that he favours a minimal repatriation of power after 2015 - social and employment policy plus protection for the City, perhaps. The second is to put Conservative policy-making on renegotiation in the hands of his Party - the 1922 Committee, the Conservative Policy Forum, and so on - and accept that what would emerge would be, most likely, "Common Market or Out".
Having been in the Commons for the best part of ten years, I appreciate that logic isn't everything in politics: sometimes, even often, there's a role for fudge. But a lesson of so much that's happened to Cameron on EU policy - from the dropping of the Lisbon referendum commitment in opposition to the EU referendum revolt last week - is that by consistently seeking to put off making decisions on the EU issue, the Prime Minister has merely stored up trouble for himself later.
The next general election will not be concentrated in the counties, but it will decide the government. For this reason, voters will return to the two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, one of which must lead in forming an administration, if not win outright. Turnout will rise, UKIP's share of the vote will fall, and the best course that David Cameron can take, in the meanwhile, is to hold his nerve, build on his recent conference speeches, and promote a strong, mainstream, sensible programme, for government and for the future. In short, no single, silver bullet will slay the Farage werewolf.
Such a programme would be a conservatism for Bolton West, as I've put it: reducing net immigration, tackling welfare dependency, holding fuel and electricity bills down, showing leadership at home by bringing the deficit down further, boosting job security and helping to keep mortgage rates low. All this is the conventional wisdom, and it's true as far as it goes. I started to look at UKIP and what drives its vote relatively early, and noted that EU policy is not the main factor: immigration and crime are bigger factors. Above all, UKIP's support is driven not so much by ideas as by anger - by the urge to put two fingers up to the entire political class.
I'm in a position to offer this morning to offer an insight into current thinking in Number 10. Tim Montgomerie touched on its current charm offensive yesterday, of which the Jo Johnson appointment was a part. I'm not going to comment on this thinking - though I will certainly return to the subject soon - but relay it as straightforwardly as I can.
Number 10 claims that it's in a better place with Conservative MPs. First, it cites the appointment of Jo Johnson and the new policy board. (And there are clearly more changes in Downing Street to come.) Second, it says that the introduction of political Cabinets before Cabinet has given the Conservative operation a more political focus. Third, it stresses the degree of contact between David Cameron and Tory backbenchers - regular gatherings of the Parliamentary Party (sometimes chaired by Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and sometimes chaired by George Young the Chief Whip); repeated meetings with Ministers of State and with Under-Secretaries - every six weeks or so in the case of the latter, I was told; the Prime Minister's weekly trip to the members dining room after each PMQ session. "No Conservative leader," I was told, "has done more to make himself available to Conservative MPs".
The Conservative Party is itself in poor health as it gathers to bury Margaret Thatcher. It hasn't won an election in over 20 years. The effects of vote distribution and out-of-date boundaries conspire against it breaking the habit next time. It has lost Scotland altogether, and is the third party in much of the urban north. It won 16% of the ethnic minority vote in 2010: by 2050, ethnic minority members will make up one in five of the total. It has a serious political competitor on the right, UKIP, for the first time in living memory.
Labour's rout on welfare earlier this month, and its squabbles over leadership and policy last week, have cheered up some Tory MPs - unduly so, all considered. A doctor's diagnosis of their party's condition would find serious illness, perhaps terminal decline. And the structural obstacles to a Conservative majority would remain even were this not a Government of which the whole is much less than the sum of the parts. So what can the Conservatives learn from the most potent election-winner in their history - the woman who they will honour today?
A free school battling for its future in a Labour-held marginal. An imaginative housing development set up by a Conservative-run council. A childcare facility which shows how provision can be made more affordable.
LibDem bloggers Stephen Tall and Mark Pack, and Mike Smithson of Political Betting, raised some solid objections to the Coalition breaking up some six months before the 2015 general election - which I recommended on this site earlier this week. (Mike suggested that I should see "This House", the well-reviewed play about the Parliament of the mid-1970s - and a reminder of the terrible fate of governments without majorities. I replied that neither of us can expected to be around for the play about the hapless last six months of this Coalition - due, on the same timescale, in roughly 2053.) Let me deal with the two main points raised, before going on to make a new one.
Stephen raised the Fixed Terms Parliament Act. This is indeed a major obstacle to either of the two Coalition partner breaking up the arrangement, but I wasn't arguing for an early general election - which, as he has written, is very difficult to achieve, given the act. Rather, I was suggesting that the two parties might want to move to Confidence and Supply.
Stephen than said that LibDem members don't want to do this - and cited a Liberal Democrat Voice poll which shows that 76% of them want the Coalition to go the distance. Again, this is a strong point: for obvious reasons, I'm not an expert on the LibDems, but their MPs have to date stuck to coalition with a discipline that parts of their Conservative equivalents don't always show. However, it may be that even those who understand the LibDems far better than I don't know whether Nick Clegg will still be the party's leader come mid-2014, or whether he will have been replaced by, say, Vince Cable. That would well and truly put the cat among the Coalition pigeons, and a move to Confidence and Supply couldn't be ruled out in such circumstances. For what it's worth, my hunch is that Clegg will see the Parliament out as leader, but no-one can be sure.
Let's presume, however, that the Liberal Democrats are indeed unwilling to move to Confidence and Supply, and will stick with coalition until the 2015 election. They will none the less continue to push their own point of view, as they did yesterday over Trident: that in itself is perfectly understandable. More novel is their view that they should have lots of latitude to vote in a different way to their majority partner - remember what happened over the Jeremy Hunt vote. It may of course be that the Conservatives behaved in the same way previously, though I'm not aware of this having happened. But whether they did or not, the Hunt vote was a reminder that the two partners don't always vote in the same lobby. All in all, David Cameron would certainly be able to break up the Coalition de facto if not de jure in September 2014. Ways can be found for the Commons could debate John Baron's referendum bill plan, Chris Grayling's proposal to curb the ECHR (which will surely be announced by then), a tighter welfare cap, and so on. Conservative Ministers might not be able to vote for all these plans, but they would be able to voice support for them from the dispatch box, while backbenchers would show their backing for them in the lobbies (quietly encouraged by the Whips). A recipe for paralysis, I hear you cry. Unlike, of course, the productive, co-operative, harmonious six months of the Coalition that will otherwise be the case.
Photographs in this post are the copyright of i-Images
Matthew Parris has conducted an interesting survey of thirty Tory MPs in marginal seats. You can read my summary of the results he found on the MPsETC page. The MPs come across as a pretty cautious bunch and are anxious about making any big moves. They largely oppose, for example, a big tax cut or any more welfare cuts. They don't want a U-turn on gay marriage or any further reorganisation of the NHS. They like the idea of reforming human rights laws but, sensibly, don't want the party leadership to promise anything that can't be delivered.
Matthew Parris (Times (£)) also finds that all thirty think David Cameron is an asset to the Conservative Party:
"At least one (and I suspected a handful more) had personal doubts about their leader, but all were clear that on balance he won them votes. Most of them reminded me that he is “more popular than the party”. He’s a “huge plus,” said another. I jotted down phrases like “massive asset”; “More voted for him than for me”; “He got me elected.” “Not just ‘on balance’,” one MP corrected me, “Cameron’s by far and away our strongest card.”"
Cameron's leadership is indeed looking like a lost decade.
In Cameronism's first phase there was huge ambition. He was going to transform Britain and conservatism. He was going to fight climate change, protect the NHS from further reorganisation, rebuild the family, cut big business down to size and work towards a ministerial team that was one-third women.
David Cameron could have ended his talks with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, and refused to put his proposals to a vote in the Commons at all. If he had done so, however, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have moved amendments seeking statutory regulation of the press to the Crime and Courts Bill for debate on Monday - as they're apparently planning to do in any event.
The Prime Minister could then have withdrawn the entire bill, rather than allow statutory regulation to take place. However, Clegg and Miliband would doubtless then have sought to amend another bill to the same effect. Cameron would then have had to withdraw that bill to avoid statutory regulation - and so on. The Government he leads would have been paralysed. By lining up with Miliband on statutory regulation, Clegg has clapped a loaded gun to the Prime Minister's head.
John Rentoul Tweeted that the presentation of yesterday's ConHome conference resembled a 1982 Michael Foot event. Kevin Culwick, Director of LordAshcroftPolls.com, joked that there was a Soviet look to the event! I certainly wanted a different feel to the event... although I made have gone too far. If you weren't at the event here's another look at the banners...