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:
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
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Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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
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
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.
Some people say that George Osborne is useless on the 50p tax rate. They say: why won't he give a clear commitment to scrap it - and in his first budget, too?
If they read the manifesto, they might be pleasantly surprised. (I've been steadily poring through since yesterday: you can never be sure what you'll find in the detail - and won't find, in one or two cases.)
Certainly, the 50p rate won't go in the first budget:
"We will not abolish it for the rich while at the same time asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze", the manifesto says.
But it also contains the golden words:
"We do not regard the 50p tax rate as a permanent feature of the tax system."
It's of course possible that a Conservative Government will be elected with a clear majority, govern for four years, leave the 50p rate in place, and say in 2014: "Well, we've always made it clear that we don't regard the 50p tax rate as a permanent feature of the system. And that's our view going forward into a second term."
But I doubt it. It's telling that the 50p rate is mentioned at all - the manifesto could have ducked the issue, just - and significant that it's referred to in the same section as prospective tax cuts: the raising of the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, the raising of the stamp duty threshold to £250,000, the partially transferable personal allowance for married couples and civic partners, and so on.
A fair assessment would be that Osborne is paving the way to scrap the 50p rate during the middle-to-late years of a first Conservative term - when a pay freeze is no longer in place, and at roughly the same time as those other tax pledges are honoured.
This is just as well, because the tax system mustn't be permanently burdened by new disincentives to earn, make money and accumulate wealth.
David Cameron will be pleased with the press coverage of yesterday's manifesto launch.
He is widely credited with bringing a lack-lustre contest to life and, in the words of The Daily Telegraph, giving us a Big Idea to tussle over.
He has also framed the terms of the debate - Big Society versus Big State - and one that works to his advantage.
To a greater or lesser extent, The Sun, Telegraph, Express, Mail and Times are all on board. Even The Guardian was generous about the Tory pitch.
"The new manifesto is a liberal Tory prospectus from a party which wants to capture the centre ground in an election it believes it can win," said its editorial.
The Times signalled that it will be supporting Cameron come polling day.
“Manifestos are expected to be boring. This one is not. It is thought-provoking, imaginative and intelligent."
"It is worldly, open-minded and peppered with ideas from other countries. It is pragmatic, but it is more than merely a ragbag of policies. In the parlous state of the economy and the public finances, there is an opportunity to unleash entrepreneurial spirit and reshape the State.
"In the Conservative Party there is a group of people making a powerful case that good government can cost less and do more.”
The Mail will worry Cameron though. Outstripped only by The Sun in circulation terms, it is Middle England's favourite paper and one read most widely by women, generally reckoned to hold the key to the outcome of this election. No wonder that three female members of the Shadow Cabinet featured in yesterday's warm-up act for Cameron.
Once again the Mail does not put the Tories on page one. It doesn't even give him a front page picture - unlike the Express. And its leader is lukewarm by tabloid standards.
He wasn't one of the shadow cabinet ministers invited to address the 90 minute launch. He sat near the back of the stage but I rang Oliver last night to congratulate him on the Tory manifesto. Without Steve Hilton's enthusiasm the manifesto would never have happened but it is the Tory Head of Policy who is the intellectual force behind this document.
Daniel Finkelstein reaches the same conclusion in The Times;
"Letwin’s manifesto — with its claim to a big idea, its policies for handing back power to communities, its talk of a Big Society — definitely comes from the modern too-clever- by-half faction of the Conservative Party. And with its emphasis on a smaller State, its methods owe much to the Thatcherites. But with its interests in nurturing the softer virtues — compassion, community, group spirit, kindness, neighbourliness — it has moved beyond Thatcherism."
Oliver has been a hugely important influence on the whole Cameron project. He was, as Danny writes, the first shadow cabinet minister to back David Cameron's leadership bid. His caution about cutting tax; his enthusiasm for green issues; his desire to reach out to the Liberal Democrats; his support for greater redistribution have all become hallmarks of Cameronism.
Despite the suggestion that Samantha Cameron was the author of the quote, 'There is such a thing as society, it's just not the state', it was actually Oliver Letwin who first delivered the remark that encapsulates Cameronism. He delivered the line on 2nd July 2002 to the Adam Smith Institute. Yesterday's manifesto was a tribute to one man's faithfulness to a massive idea.
Party Chairman Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign.
The left just doesn’t get it; they see everything through the eyes of state provision. They think unless it is provided centrally through a quango or through local government that somehow it is not legitimate. Today we demonstrated clearer than any other single promise how different we are from the Labour Party, we trust people.
David showed there was another way where we liberate workers from the monotony and the uniformity of state provision. Over the years I can think of numerous occasions where people in Local Government departments or the Health Service have said to me the Government makes us do it this way, but we could deliver it better, cheaper and more efficiently if they only let us. Under our reforms they can. We are going to oversee the greatest flowering of the cooperative movement. We can take pride that our school reforms will produce better state education and more power to parents and teachers.
Ours is a serious manifesto for serious times, we offer a change of direction and a chance for the British people to join in with Government in solving the many problems that face our county.
The manifesto was greeted with equal enthusiasm in Nottingham where I went to launch the manifesto in the East Midlands (as you can see in Jonathan Marsh's photo - click it to enlarge and see how many candidates you recognise). From the centre of Nottingham overlooking Nottingham countryside I met with candidates and workers in our key target seats. They reported to me a growing weakness in the Labour vote and a recognition that their area could deliver David a majority.
There was a launch in every region of England and there will be a separate launch in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
If you want a copy of the manifesto it is available to download for free online from the party website or can be purchased at all good bookstores.
Free copies are also available in Braille, Easy Read, audio and large print. To obtain a copy of these alternative formats please email Warren.
We are just a couple of days away from the Leaders’ debate. Following the success of the watch parties held earlier this year we are organising a series for fellow Conservatives to come together to watch the Leaders’ debates in each other company. If you want to organise a party, click here.
Daniel Hannan MEP applauds a revolutionary document: "This is a revolutionary manifesto. I use the word advisedly: this programme would amount to a turning of the wheel, a setting upright of that which has been placed on its head, so that the state becomes once again the servant of the citizen rather than the other way around."
Harry Phibbs also likes the Power to the People message: "The 1970s sitcom character Wolfie Smith bellowing ‘Power to the People!’ from the streets of Tooting was not an obvious Conservative pin-up. Yet ‘Power to the People’ is not only David Cameron's mantra in this election campaign. It is also a traditional Conservative theme and none the worse for that."
Michael Crick accuses Cameron of not delivering decentralisation within the Conservative Party: "The sacking of MPs over expenses, giving no say to their local parties of constituents; the centralised A-list of candidates; imposing shortlists on local constituencies in selections since 1 January this year; controlling the order of the party lists for the 2008 European elections, and stopping activists from sacking Conservative MEPs; by-passing the Shadow Cabinet, and avoiding significant discussion or decision-making at Shadow Cabinet; centralised leaflet formats and wording; centralised and very detailed requirements of candidates for money granted under the Ashcroft strategy; making candidates get approval for articles, literature and even tweets; threatening councillors in East Surrey they would lose the party whip if they complained about the selection of Sam Gyimah; telling activists in Westminster North they had no option but to keep Joanne Cash as their candidate, or the local party would be disbanded; the huge influence of a small group of unelected individuals around David Cameron; the taking of the whip away from the Croydon MP Andrew Pelling before he had ever been charged with any offence (which he never was)."
Fraser Nelson on Gove's passion for education: "Gove impressed, as usual, speaking with fluency, authenticity and passion about the education reforms – and he even took an education question at the end, which is far better than watch Cameron wing it. You get the feeling from Gove that he does not regard education as a stepping stone to a greater career path, but that his mission in politics is to bed these reforms down. Blair had that in Adonis (which is why Brown moved him) and Cameron has that in Gove."
As the Third Marquess of Salisbury used to say.
Or rather, as he didn't.
I mention Robert Cecil for a reason. This must be the most un-Tory manifesto ever published by the Party. It would have astounded that bleak, frowning, gloomy-bearded Victorian statesman. It's altogether lacking in the sense of evolutionary caution, of politics as the art of the possible, of the fragility of public affairs, and of the frailty of human endeavour that, not so long ago, coloured the lifeblood of the Conservative Party.
Consider this: "Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group." Please note: every adult. How will voters find the time? After all, they'll be too busy taking over schools, forming co-operatives to run hospitals, organising their own single budgets if ill long-term, sacking MPs in recall ballots, electing police commissioners, voting in local referendums, undertaking national citizenship service, and monitoring government spending on-line to do very much else at all.
This is not so much a Tory manifesto as a Californian manifesto - so much so that it actually boasts a snap of Silicon Valley. It has Steve Hilton's fingerprints all over it. If enacted, it will make government under David Cameron an invigorating business. The state will be smaller. But it will also be louder. It won't walk away from civil society, but instead will, in the manifesto's words "agitate for, catalyse and galvanise" for change. If you doubt it, have a look at the action it pledges against firms that encourage the commercialisation of childhood. If elected, Cameron will use Number 10 as a bully pulpit.
No-one who actually reads the manifesto and absorbs the detail will be able airily to say afterwards that there's no difference in this election between the main parties. Sure, most people won't read it. If they haven't already made up their minds, they'll go to the polls asking if they can bear four more years of Brown, or whether they can really trust Cameron. Or they'll plump for whoever they think is likely to make a fist of running the economy. But manifestos are important in other ways. They reveal much about the approach, temper and tone of the parties that publish them.
This one marries the modernising spirit of Margaret Thatcher to society rather than the economy. It's partly Hannan and Carswell as well as Cameron and Hilton. It's transatlantic in its can-do spirit - and is another sign, were one needed, of the Americanisation of British politics. If its vision is deemed too radical, what does that say about the voters? Will they want to leap at the chance of transforming their country…or roll over and go back to sleep?
In the red corner, the Big State. In the blue corner, the Big Society. The battlelines are drawn today by David Cameron as he unveils the Conservative Party manifesto.
The media, ever anxious for a bit of colour to enliven the story, will contrast the garish Stalinist realism illustrating Labour's prospectus with the sober imagery of the Tory pitch for the nation's support.
A laughably phoney optimism from grumpy old Gordon Brown is pitted against an offering from baby-faced Mr Cameron positively dripping with gravitas. It is a neat clash of imagery with both leaders seeking to neutralise their negatives - gloom in Gordon's case, inexperience in Dave's.
But the real difference lies beneath the cover. Gordon may have so shattered the economy that he can no longer seek to bribe the voters with their own money - or more accurately bribe the voters with money borrowed from foreign investors. But for all the Blairite gloss, the great, lumbering Big State still lurks beneath the surface gobbling up £650 billion of our money every year and hungry for more as soon as there is any sign of an economic upturn.
Cameron is facing in the opposite direction with his notion that the Big Society can replace the Big State. It is both a genuinely radical idea and one in tune with the Tory tradition, from Burke's little platoons to the Trust the People message of the One Nation Conservatives to Maggie Thatcher's people power revolution of the 1980s, most clearly seen with her sales of council houses.
His vision is one of a Britain where the public is no longer the passive recipient of services doled out by the Big State, be they health, education, law enforcement or care of the disadvantaged.
12.15pm update: DOWNLOAD THE MANIFESTO HERE
I'll be blogging the highlights below (not verbatim).
10.54am David and Samantha Cameron arrive.
11.18am Samantha Cameron takes her seat
11.19am William Hague: comes on and says that Battersea Power station is ripe for regeneration - just like our country. He welcomes Cameron to the stage, saying this is the culmination of four and a half years work. He says that the Conservative party was too narrow in its thinking before but has changed under David Cameron. "The party of one nation is back where it belongs." Problems cannot be solved by politicians alone... come and join the government... we are in this together... let's work together to mend the broken society, to mend our broken politics and to restore Britain's reputation... Vote Blue Go Green was never just a slogan... Change comes from strong people, not strong government. And that change cannot come soon enough.
Yesterday evening Tim wrote this first preview of the Conservative Party's manifesto for the general election, which is being published at 11am this morning.
He cited David Cameron's foreword which sought to fire up millions of people into playing a part in the nation's future and highlighted eight of the party's direct invitations to people, which would empower them in a variety of ways.
And it is the notion of giving power to people which leads the previews of the document in most of the papers this morning:The Times: "David Cameron will invite voters today to take greater control over their own lives as he challenges Labour’s vision for Britain’s future. The Conservative leader says that he wants to put the public in the driving seat, wresting control of their lives from the State, a sharp contrast with Labour’s pledge to form an “active reforming government, not an absent government”.
The Guardian: "In a direct invitation to voters to join him in governing Britain, the Tory leader will promise in his election manifesto to offer California-style referendums on any local issue if residents can win the support of 5% of the population. Adopting historic language from the Labour movement about the "collective strength" of society, Cameron will also pledge to let people "be your own boss" as public sector workers are allowed to assume ownership of the services they provide."
The Independent: "The 130-page policy blueprint, billed last night as a "people's manifesto", invites the nation to join Mr Cameron "to form a new kind of government for Britain". It will contrast his aim to devolve power to individuals and communities with what it calls Labour's top-down management style. The manifesto will promise parents that education will be revolutionised by the creation of a "new generation" of free schools run by other schools, charities or private companies."
Daily Telegraph: "He [David Cameron] will allow people to be “your own boss, sack your MP, run your own school, own your own home, veto council tax rises, vote for your police, save your local pub or post office, and see how the government spends your money”... The Tory document will include key tax policies, including a pledge to reverse most of the Government’s planned National Insurance rise — an issue that has dominated the election campaign. It will outline plans for a £150-a-year tax break for four million married couples and include eight benchmarks for economic growth by which the electorate will be able to hold a new Tory administration to account."
Daily Mail: "Immigration is 'too high' and will be reduced to levels last seen in the mid-1990s under a Tory election blueprint to restore Britain's 'sense of national purpose'... A key section of the document, seen by the Daily Mail, seeks to address claims that the Conservatives have shied away from the issue of immigration, which polls suggest is second only to the economy among voters' concerns. The manifesto pledges barriers on immigration from countries joining the EU, an annual cap on non-EU migration and a tougher points system to limit access to those with most to offer the British economy."
The Sun: "David Cameron's Tories will lock up anyone convicted of a knife offence - even those caught carrying a blade, he will reveal today. The party would also fast-track the introduction of mobile weapons scanners on streets, trains and buses."
The Financial Times, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to suggest that the party's programme being announced today is rather different from that which it would have put forward had Gordon Brown called an election in 2007:
"A combination of the economic crisis and a squeeze on the Tories' opinion poll lead has tempered the opposition party's modernising aspirations with more pragmatic policies designed to appeal to its traditional base and woo floating voters."
From what we've seen, it looks to me like an optimistic, coherent programme and the emphasis on power to people is one which anyone sceptical about the burgeoning power of the state should welcome.
There will obviously be further coverage of the manifesto launch on ConHome after 11am.