Conservative Diary

The Conservative Right

28 Mar 2013 09:10:40

Two of the Conservative Party's success stories get bigger roles: Fallon and Hayes

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron has conducted a mini reshuffle this morning. He has appointed John Hayes MP to the Cabinet Office and Michael Fallon will be taking over John's Energy brief. Both men have been two of the Coalition's success stories.

HAYES JOHNTaking John Hayes first. In his previous ministerial incarnation Hayes oversaw the Coalition's skills and apprenticeships policy. He was a master of the subject - having shadowed the portfolio for most of the last parliament. In government he worked closely with George Osborne to ensure that, in this era of austerity, this long-term investment in our nation's future got extra funding rather than less. Hayes has had a rocky relationship with Ed Davey at DECC, with the two men disagreeing rather publicly over windfarms policy. Nonetheless, I understand that one of John Hayes' last acts was to sign off a settlement of the government's onshore wind policy. It's not exactly clear what John Hayes' new role will be but the MP for South Holland and the Deepings and co-founder of the Cornerstone Group understands the Right of the Tory Party (including the 2010 intake) and Number 10 doesn't. Hayes will be acting as a political and parliamentary adviser to the PM and will, I hope, be doing a lot more media. His non-southern, non-posh voice is one the Conservatives lack. He is a curious mix of Right-wing and One Nation. He signs up to nearly all traditional Tory positions on immigration, Europe, crime and the family (especially the family) but he's not much of a liberal when it comes to economic matters. Although a businessman before entering politics he's never been much of a fan of free trade. He sees a large role for the state in providing a social safety-net and underpinning UK manufacturing. Cameron's decision to bring Hayes into his inner team - a team that doesn't understand working class Conservatives - is a very good one. Hayes recently claimed to be the personification of blue collar conservatism.

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15 Mar 2013 06:37:34

Cameron's strong move on Leveson exposes his growing weakness

By Paul Goodman
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  • Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 05.22.51David 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.

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12 Mar 2013 08:26:09

The Guardian discovers that "right-wing" views on Europe and immigration are quite popular

By Tim Montgomerie
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On a whole range of issues - including immigration - very few voters hold 'centrist' positions

On Saturday at the Victory 2015 Conference Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov published fascinating polling that disproved the nonsense idea that most voters inhabit a mythical centre ground. The reality is that voters have strong views on most subjects - strongly opposed, for example, to NHS privatisation and more immigration but very supportive of repatriation of powers from Europe and making the rich pay more into the national coffers.

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11 Mar 2013 11:18:01

Fox moves away from Osborne

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 11.10.17Liam Fox and George Osborne have been united for years by a mutual love of America, excellent links with the Republicans, and neo-conservative foreign policy instincts - not to mention a shared sense of humour.  After Fox left the Cabinet, word got around that the two were enjoying regular curry suppers together at the Treasury.  None the less, more than misty-eyedness when the Star-Spangled Banner is played - plus a lively interest in political strategy and a shared love of the political game - bound the two together.  Fox will have seen Osborne as part of his route back to office.  And Osborne will have seen Fox as a useful shield against attacks from the right.  I suspect the hand of the Chancellor behind rumours that the former Defence Secretary should become Chief Whip at the next reshuffle but, then again, I have a way of seeing Osborne's tentacles everywhere... 

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5 Mar 2013 07:16:31

The next Conservative leadership election is under way

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 17.58.32
By Paul Goodman

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There's a triple significance to the post-Eastleigh interventions of the three main Conservative members of the National Union of Ministers - Philip Hammond, Theresa May, and Chris Grayling.

It may look at first glance as though Hammond's plea for savings from welfare to be found to protect his budget, and May and Grayling's interventions over the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act last weekend, have little connection, if any - but they've more in common than meets the eye.

  • All three show up Downing Street's lack of authority and grip.  It wasn't clear at the weekend whether David Cameron had licensed Hammond to defend his budget.  It now seems that it didn't: today, an anonymous "close ally of the Prime Minister" is quoted as saying: “You cannot be a fiscal conservative and then say that does not apply in your own department.”  And it still isn't clear whether or not Number 10 was aware of, or was perhaps even the source of, this weekend's report that Theresa May favours leaving the ECHR.  (It was presumably aware of Chris Grayling's on-the-record support for tearing up the Human Rights Act).  Indeed, news of her backing for the measure doesn't seem to have come from her, though it hasn't been denied by the Home Office and hasn't drawn a view from Downing Street.  This is the nub of the matter.  Prime Ministers will sometimes encourage Ministers to float ideas, and then let it be known that they approve of them.  But there has been no real follow-up to Grayling's words or May's view from Number 10 - no rowing-in behind abolishing the Act or leaving the ECHR, no sense of political purpose, commitment or direction. Instead, Ken Clarke has taken his colleagues to task. This sense of Ministers stating their own views and going their own way, with Downing Street apparently powerless to prevent them, opened up Number 10 to Mark Field's blood-drawing counter-attack.
  • The May and Grayling follow-up, together with Number 10's own reaction to Eastleigh, shows that it hasn't a settled strategy for dealing with UKIP.  Tearing up the Human Rights Act...leaving the ECHR...restricting the access of immigrants to legal aid and benefits...proposals for less Europe and more border control are leaking from Ministers and Downing Street into the media.  It is unfair to accuse Downing Street of "lurching to the right" after Eastleigh.  (Why do we hear so little from the BBC and others of Ed Miliband "lurching to the left"?)  David Cameron's Sunday Telegraph article was careful to balance "bringing down immigration" with "proper investment in the NHS".  But Downing Street is undoubtedly preoccupied with how to deal with UKIP in the aftermath of Eastleigh and the run-up to this spring's local elections.  Promises of tougher border control and tighter benefit conditions won't be enough - and nor will hints about quitting the ECHR.  UKIP is a boot which angry voters, who believe that Britain is changing for the worse, are using to kick the system.  Those disillusioned voters now include a significant slice of the Conservatives' natural electoral base, who believe that Cameron is a creature of the political class who cares nothing for their values.  May's record of reducing net immigration  won't win them all back.  Nor will Number 10's "Santa Claus" line of attack - at least until voters stop using UKIP as a protest vehicle, and start questioning how it would reconcile tax cuts for "everyone" with more police, prison places, NHS services, student grants, bigger pensions and higher defence spending.  Hammond's intervention on the last shrewdly recognises another UKIP pressure point.

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2 Mar 2013 22:04:57

Cameron adopts ConservativeHome's And Theory of Conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen shot 2013-03-02 at 22.03.39

Last Wednesday I announced that I was moving to The Times. For its eight year life ConHome has been championing what we've called the And theory of Conservatism. For example...

"(a) A commitment to actively support healthy, traditional marriages and fair pension and inheritance arrangements for gay adults… (b) A bigger budget for the armed forces and an end to the sale of arms to despotic regimes… (c) Faster, longer imprisonment of repeat offenders and more care for the vulnerable children of prisoners... (d) A willingness to confront the Islamic roots of global terrorism and more opportunities for mainstream British Muslims to set up state-funded schools..."

In tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph David Cameron writes:

"We are the only party simultaneously committed to proper investment in the NHS and bringing down immigration. We are the only party simultaneously asserting Britain’s interests in Europe and seriously investing in a better education for poorer children. It's not about being left-wing or right-wing - it's about being where the British people are.  And where the British people rightly are on all these issues is where the Conservative Party is too."

Exactly. Not Left-wing or Right-wing Conservatism. Not centre ground, lowest common denominator Conservatism but common ground, ambitious Conservatism. Or, as I argued in my musical essay for the Today programme, full orchestral Conservatism.

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20 Jan 2013 07:55:38

"Rebel reserve" of 55 Conservative MPs "is being gathered for Cameron leadership challenge"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 07.54.36The Sunday Times reports behind its paywall that:

"An increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls.

For the first time, discussions about ousting Cameron before 2015 appear to be spreading beyond the so-called “usual suspects” — a hard core of about 20 backbenchers who are hostile to his leadership."

It also claims that:

  • Up to 17 MPs had now written letters of “no confidence” to Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee.
  • A “rebel reserve”, comprised of about 55 MPs ready to write simultaneously to Brady, chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, is being gathered.  46 signatures are needed to trigger a ballot.
  • Their names are being held by a co-ordinating MP who has obtained firm pledges from them to act at the same time.
  • Reasons for dissatisfaction include same-sex marriage, the EU and - above all - the state of the polls and prospects for the next election.

Hmm.

I've heard similar talk within the last six months - but, although Cameron's leadership has been at risk since the boundary review, 17 MPs is only about 5% of the Parliamentary Party.

And at least 5% of Tory MPs are always unhappy about something or other. There is no serious disaffection with the Prime Minister at Cabinet level, and no obvious successor.

My view of a challenge is to ask: Is this the Conservative Party or the Judean People's Front?  (Or the People's Front of Judea?)

A push for a ballot would be particularly maladroit given the likelihood of an In/Out pledge in the Prime Minister's EU speech - "within days", according to the Observer.

None the less, there hasn't been a leadership challenge story for some time, and the appearance of this one is worth noting.

30 Dec 2012 17:35:17

Owen Paterson is ConHome readers' One To Watch in 2013

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2012-12-27 at 10.59.16

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In the fourth set of results from our end-of-year readers' survey Owen Paterson has been voted as the One To Watch in 2013. The man who succeeded Caroline Spelman as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was an overwhelming winner - garnering 53.3% of the more than 2,500 votes. The other three individuals nominated before Christmas received the following percentage of votes...

  • Treasury minister and rising star Sajid Javid: 18.3%
  • Education minister and free market thinker Liz Truss: 16.5%
  • Backbencher Andrea Leadsom and her campaigning on Europe and children's welfare: 11.9%

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15 Dec 2012 13:29:13

Cameron risks the revenge of "the elderly of the earth"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-12-15 at 13.02.46Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly.  For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then).  The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled".  But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower.  And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn.  Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse.  You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people.  But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views.  (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots).  Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.

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5 Sep 2012 08:02:02

A shift to the Right or a shift to ooooomph?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Right

The left-wing newspapers all portray yesterday's reshuffle as a shift to the Right. They regret it; the Mail does not. And there certainly are more Mainstream Conservatives in the Cabinet and in more senior positions:

  • The promotion of Chris Grayling to Justice is the most obvious example of this. But Theresa Villiers' arrival at the Northern Ireland Office means her's is also another Eurosceptic voice at Government's top table. I'm delighted for both of them. Both raised some serious questions about the Coalition Agreement when the then shadow cabinet met after the general election. The fact that neither got into the real Cabinet soon afterwards was seen as a punishment for their candour. Justice, in more than one sense, has now been done.
  • The Right also gains in Owen Paterson's big promotion. Owen is a keen environmentalist but he's a local conservationist rather than a change-the-world climate change advocate. He's also very pro-enterprise as a former businessman himself and will strike a good balance between the needs of agriculture and of countryside groups. Britain's fishing industry will love his appointment. As fisheries minister in opposition he persuaded Michael Howard to leave the CPF.
  • The third gain is Grant Shapps. I'll publish my suggested action list for Grant, probably on Friday, but not only is Grant closer to grassroots views than Baroness Warsi, it's just good to have a new Chairman who is an MP, a listener, good on TV and a proven campaigner.

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