Conservative Diary

The Coalition

18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?

Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:

Home Office

With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows

Local Government

Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'.  Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows


It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.

Blues 3 - 2 Yellows

Constitutional Reform

The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.

Blues 0 - 0 Yellows


It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.

Blues 5 - 1 Yellows


Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.

Blues 2 - 1 Yellows 


The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.

Blues 1 - 1 Yellows


Energy and Environment

Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition. 

Blues 1 - Yellows 5

Tax and Spend

Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.

On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.

Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.

Blues 2 - Yellows 2

Welfare Reform

Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.

Blues 2 - Yellows 1

Business and Banks

Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.

Blues 2 - Yellows 3


To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation. 

Blues 2 - Yellows 1


This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.

Blues 1 - Yellows 2

Scores so far

Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.

The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.

12 Sep 2013 07:54:22

On tax, raising the stamp duty threshold tops our "red lines" poll and restoring the 10p tax band comes last

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 07.28.35
By Paul Goodman

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I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll.  It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth.  On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.

Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:

  • Stamp duty threshold should be raised to £250,000 or higher - 7
  • The inheritance tax threshold should be raised to £1 million or higher - 7
  • Tax allowances should be fully transferable between married couples - 7
  • Cut the 45p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • Cut the 20p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • Cut the 40p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • A 10p income tax rate should be introduced - 5

There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them.  However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.

11 Sep 2013 06:06:00

Fewer and equal seats. The benefits and immigration cap. And shale gas. High priorities from Tory members for any Coalition talks

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 05.47.58
By Paul Goodman
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I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.

If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:

  • The number of constituencies should be reduced and their size equalised.
  • The benefits cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • The immigration cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • Press ahead with the development of shale gas as swiftly as possible.

I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.

The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that.  There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale.  It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues.  We will turn to them tomorrow.

10 Sep 2013 06:37:54

Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 07.32.56
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered.  We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable".  Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.

"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven.  I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings.  (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".)  Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.

Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May.  It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.

Continue reading "Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation" »

9 Sep 2013 08:15:03

Party members want a say in any decision about a second Coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 07.32.56
By Paul Goodman

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Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent.  Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position.  Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues.  Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.

In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead.  What should the Party do in such an event?  Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government?  Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists?  Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats?  And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?

Continue reading "Party members want a say in any decision about a second Coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015" »

3 Sep 2013 16:00:06

Over two-thirds of Tory members now believe Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015

Cameron superhero 2
By Paul Goodman

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  • This month, 24 per cent of respondents said that there will be a Conservative majority after the 2015 election; 24 per cent said there will be a minority Conservative Government and 19 per cent that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. So just over two-thirds of respondents believed that Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015.
  • Last month, 26 per cent of respondents said that there will be such a majority; 23 per cent said there will be a minority Conservative Government and 16 per cent that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. So just under two-thirds of respondents thought that Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015.
  • This month, 56 per cent of respondents say that the Coalition is good for Britain, and 38 per cent say it isn't.  Last month, those figures were 59 per cent of respondents and 35 per cent. Last month, 31 per cent of respondents said that the Coalition was good for the Conservative Party and 60 per cent that it isn't. This month, those figures are 31 per cent and 61 per cent.

20 Aug 2013 08:27:24

Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?

By Paul Goodman
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Camerons thinking copyEd Miliband has broken all the conventional rules of opposition: neutralise your Party's weaknesses, work hard early to make an impression on the electorate, appeal to floating voters.  These rules are far from being perfect or complete, but Labour's leader has done himself no good by breaking them.  He has got himself up a gum tree, and has no idea how to climb down.  His dismal summer continues today with a poll in the Daily Mirror, which finds that a third of Labour voters believe he should quit.  His strategy seems to be to get the party's vote up to about 36 per cent by adding anti-austerity voters to Labour's core supporters.  This is the opposite of Tony Blair's plan to build the biggest electoral tent possible - one that won him three successive elections.  Looking at Miliband, the question is: where's the ambition?

The same question could not be asked, for roughly the first half of this Parliament, of David Cameron.  Having failed to win a majority in 2010, he immediately set about creating the conditions for one in 2015 - which, furthermore, would make it more likely for him then to win further terms in office.  The core of his plan was to cull the electoral advantage that Labour gains from the distribution of the vote.  The means of effecting it was to reduce the number of MPs, a reform which would have brought with it the public benefit of cutting the costs of politics.  A deal was struck with the Liberal Democrats whereby they would support the move if the Conservatives backed a referendum on AV.  Readers of this site know what followed: the latter delivered their side of the bargain, and the former did not.  Ever since Cameron's scheme failed, the question for him has been: what's the plan now - that is, the plan to deliver a Tory majority?

Continue reading "Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?" »

30 Jul 2013 07:28:26

A majority of Party members now say that the Coalition is good for Britain

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 07.16.43
By Paul Goodman
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In May, 47 per cent of Conservative members said that the Coalition is good for the country...and 47 per cent said that it isn't.

There has been little alteration since then in our surveys, but this month's finds a step change among activists: 59 per cent now say that Coalition is good for the country, and 35 per cent say that it isn't.

In May, 23 per cent said that the Coalition is good for the Party and 71 per cent said that it isn't. Those figures are now 31 per cent and 61 per cent.

That almost a third of activists now say that the Coalition is good for the Party is a striking result - though, obviously, these findings chop and change, and are largely led by the fortunes of the two main parties.

As I wrote yesterday, "Cameron is handling his Parliamentary Party better, and Ed Miliband is on the back foot over welfare and Unite".

"Abu Qatada has gone, James Wharton's EU referendum bill is here, the benefits cap is in place, the economy is gradually recovering." Confidence in Cameron as the person respondents would like to lead the Party into the next election has also risen - from 55 per cent to 65 per cent.

Just over 1550 people responded to the survey, of whom over 700 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

16 Jun 2013 08:32:42

If Cameron is to defuse Leigh's criticisms, he must get on the front foot over renegotiation

By Paul Goodman
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Cynics will say that now Edward Leigh has his knighthood in his pocket (so to speak), he will feel free to be as openly critical of the Government as he likes.  But I think this would be to mis-read the significance of his sweeping dismissal on this site today of the Queen's Speech as "the weakest legislative programme in recent memory", and his warning that "unless there is a change of course, and a firming-up of our Conservative instincts, we could lose the election".  He writes: "A group of like-minded Members of Parliament – the Centre-Right Steering Group – have been coming together in recent weeks to question the path the leadership are taking and to scrutinise their policies".

The steering group brings together some of the main groups on the centre-right of the Party - including Cornerstone and the No Turning Back Group.  It is likely that some of its key members will have been aware of Leigh's article in advance of publication.  And David Cameron is acutely aware that views of his leadership on the Party's centre-right range from the loyally critical to the contemptuously hostile: hence his recent appointment of John Hayes, who co-founded Cornerstone with Leigh, to Downing Street as his Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Signs of economic recovery and of progress in the polls, and attempts by the Prime Minister to reach out to his right (such as the masterminding of James Wharton's EU referendum bill) seem to have done nothing to pacify some of Cameron's critics, for whose grievances he must take some of the blame.  I believe that Leigh is right on some points (same-sex marriage, HS2) and wrong on others (tax and spending).  David Cameron isn't going to tear up his election pledges, and un-ring fence aid and NHS spending.  So to suggest that he does is a waste of breath.

In which case, the economies that Leigh wants - and for which he has such a keen eye in his role as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee - wouldn't be enough to deliver tax cuts on the scale he implies.  The Government would need billions of pounds in savings, not millions - and to find them, it would need drastically to re-think the role of state, along the lines set out by Harry Phibbs set out recently on this site, and pursued by Liam Fox in a recent speech in which he praised our Local Government correspondent.

I am all for such a re-think - ConservativeHome is one of the few centre-right publications to have run a series on how to scale back public spending further - but, when it comes to cutting spending, much of the right is all mouth and no trousers.  All in all, Leigh's worry about "a percentage of our people [peeling] away to the right" is absolutely correct but, if such imagery is to be used, David Cameron must worry no less about the Party's appeal to the centre.  Successful conservative leaders abroad, such as Stephen Harper, appeal to both at the same time.

The leitmotif of this site since it was set up has been that to campaign on such Tory staple issues as tax and Europe is necessary but not sufficent.  To maintain power, it must recognise that most of the seats it needs to win and hold are urban and suburban ones in the midlands and north, where the public sector is larger, selling a scale-back of the state is more difficult, and voters (as they are elsewhere) are at least as concerned about, say the NHS as the EU  - to put it mildly.  Leigh places an electoral stress on the issue that the polling evidence doesn't justify.

But in doing so, he sends an important message to Downing Street.  Only a majority Conservative Government can deliver the In/Out referendum to which David Cameron is committed.  The promise of the latter has satisfied some of the Prime Minister's former critics on the EU who simply want Out.  But it hasn't quelled the appetite of many of his backbenchers for a major renegotiation, and Leigh's views are an eloquent expression of them.  If Cameron delays setting out his own view until late next year, he risks a destabilising row about its scale and ambition during the run-up to an election.  Better for him and everyone else to have it sooner rather than later, rather than let the matter drift through inertia and irresolution.

12 Jun 2013 07:22:00

First, fewer Special Advisers. Now, a record number. But where's much of the growth? Step forward, Nick Clegg...

By Lewis Sidnick
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Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 20.12.17The departure of Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson from Downing Street received widespread media coverage.  But much less attention has been given to the wave of Prime Ministerial advisers and Special Advisers (SpAds) deserting their posts. Since 2010, with a few exceptions, Secretaries of State have been allowed to have a SpAd, but other Ministers have not (in contrast to the Blair and Brown Governments). When entering Downing Street, David Cameron placed great emphasis on cutting the number of advisers across Government from 82 to 61. The decision got some good headlines - but it was a mistake.

SpAds are crucial to their Ministers. First, they are political, and can therefore protect, warn and be a safety net for a Minister walking the tightrope of Ministerial office. Civil servants have agendas (to varying degrees). They want to direct their Ministers, and they want to influence decisions. A Minister often stands very little chance against an army of civil servants and the boxes of papers that they present. A little advice and perspective from their political adviser can be crucial - but this is unavailable to most of David Cameron’s Ministers below Cabinet level.

Continue reading "First, fewer Special Advisers. Now, a record number. But where's much of the growth? Step forward, Nick Clegg..." »