If I had to draw up a list for reasons why the BNP are gaining ground my list would be topped by Labour sleaze, Labour's failure to control our borders and then Labour's record on crime, housing and poverty. But apparently I'm wrong. Tory European policy is apparently to blame.
"Slowly, the European election is coming to the boil. The Observer rightly highlighted the worry that the BNP will make a breakthrough. It was the Greens in 1989, UKIP in 2004, so perhaps in 2009 it will be the BNP. The Tories have prepared the ground with their constant xenophobic attacks on Europe."
Tory Community Cohesion spokesperson Sayeeda Warsi reacted furiously to the Labour MP for Rotherham's intervention (from MailOnline):
"It's much easier to blame somebody else than address the failings and shortcomings of the current government, which means some voters feel that a fringe party is an attractive alternative. I know more than anybody else what it's like to campaign against the BNP. They got 6,000 votes in my home town of Dewsbury at the last election. Labour either shout and scream that everybody who votes BNP is a racist or alternatively they try to blame us for raising legitimate issues to which they have no answer. It used to be immigration, now it's Europe. Most people who vote for the BNP aren't racist. I accept that they feel so frustrated by the sort of politics they see today that they feel the only way to be heard is to vote for a racist party. They would never want to have them in power. It's their way of giving the other parties a kick up the backside."
There are signs that Labour may be using the BNP to hide their own problems (see John Rentoul today). Something to watch.
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers certainly believes the answer to the above question is "yes", based on this letter to yesterday's Sunday Times signed by a number of leading businessmen.
The signatories - including Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse, Justin King of Sainsbury’s, Ian Cheshire of Kingfisher and David Levin of United Business Media - insist that "many individuals in the business community do not believe that the rationale put forward for the third runway at Heathrow is sufficient to justify the Government’s recent decision".
Calling on the Government to rethink its decision, they added that the business benefits of Heathrow expansion are "unclear and unproven" and that the alternatives have not been adequately explored.
Theresa Villiers has responded to the letter by saying that Labour’s "misleading claim" that all business is behind the Government's plans for the third runway has been "blown out of the water":
“These are serious and very senior figures in the business world and they are telling Gordon Brown he has got it wrong on Heathrow. This is further proof that Labour is increasingly isolated and that they are on the wrong side of the argument on Heathrow. Only with a Conservative Government can we be sure that a third runway will not go ahead."
But John Cridland, the deputy director-general of the CBI, maintains that the signatories to the letter are in a minority:
“What the CBI has promoted is the strong view of the majority of companies that Heathrow is vital to the London economy and needs extra capacity.”
Pasted below are some highlights from a brilliant speech given by Lord Forsyth in Scotland to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's election as Prime Minister. Baroness Thatcher, four hundred Scottish Tories, including Lord Lang, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Annabel Goldie MSP and almost all the Conservative MSPs, several former Scottish MPs and many candidates were present to hear the speech. Pictured with Baroness Thatcher and Lord Forsyth is Jackson Carlaw MSP, Chairman of the Anniversary Dinner.
Margaret Thatcher's historic achievements: "We are here to celebrate a famous victory and to pay tribute to a great Lady who not only saved Britain but together with Ronald Reagan, ended the cold war, tore down the iron curtain, and enabled millions to escape the tyranny of communism."
Margaret Thatcher's work ethic: "My abiding memory of being in Margaret’s Government was of relentless work and pace. David Davis then a new member of Parliament stopped me as I was rushing through the member’s lobby and said, ‘ Slow down, Michael, Rome was not built in a day’. ‘Margaret Thatcher was not the shop steward on that job’ I said hurrying on."
Margaret Thatcher's personal ethics: "When Margaret wanted to redecorate the study in no 10 she paid for it herself. She always paid cash and never signed the bill in the members dining room and many of her colleagues who did so were given stern lectures on the dangers of debt and credit."
Margaret Thatcher's inheritance: "When Cecil Parkinson went to the Soviet Union as the new Trade minister his Communist opposite number told him they were no longer prepared to buy from Britain because of the poor quality of goods and the unreliability of deliveries."
Margaret Thatcher's economic revolution: "Breaking state monopolies, encouraging competition, lowering taxes and returning control of the trade unions to their members unleashed a new age of enterprise and wealth creation. Council House sales meant thousands of families were given the chance to have capital for the first time in their lives and freed from municipal controls that even decided the colour of their front door. Workers in privatised companies were given shares in the business as she set about achieving her vision of a meritocratic property owning democracry."
Margaret Thatcher's victory over Arthur Scargill: "By 1984 we had prepared for the day when Scargill would confront the Government. The miners strike was a disaster for the coal industry and was scarred by violence and intimidation as the leadership sought to defy the laws of the land and the laws of economics. The miners were lions led by donkeys. They deserved better and I shall never forget the courage shown by the working miners. One of them is now our chief whip in the House of Commons , Patrick McLoughlin. I would not advise any rebels to take him on! Ted Heath had asked the question in 1974 Who Governs Britain? And he had lost. But 10 years later the Conservative Government was ready to answer- resoundingly."
Margaret Thatcher's Iron quality during the Falklands War: "Enoch Powell speaking in Parliament which was recalled to sit on a Saturday referred to the Russians calling you an Iron lady. In the next week or two this house, the nation and the Rt Hon Lady herself will learn of what metal she is made’... After Victory was declared Enoch Powell asked the Prime Minister another question in Parliament: "Is the Rt Hon Lady aware that the report has been received from the public analyst on a certain substance recently subjected to analysis and that I have obtained a copy of the report. It shows that the substance under test consisted of ferrous mater of the highest quality and that it is of exceptional tensile strength, is highly resistant to wear and tear and to stress and may be used to advantage for all national purposes."
Margaret Thatcher's relevance to today: "She changed the way people thought about wealth creation, enterprise and the role of the state. Part of her legacy was the destruction of socialism and the creation of New Labour. Today we are back to the 70s in a Britain on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to the meddling excesses of Gordon Brown, the irresponsibility of some bankers and the searing incompetence of the regulators and monetary authorities here and in the United States. Old Labour is back. Margaret’s fixed ropes of sound money, living within our means, controlling public expenditure and smaller Government to release the enterprise of the British people are still in place. We know that we can climb this mountain and we have in David Cameron and Annabel Goldie a formidable summit party. In truth my mountaineering days are over but I am willing to be a Sherpa on this expedition as should everyone who cares about our country. We can succeed in putting Britain back on top of the world. It will take time, hardship, sacrifice and determination. Our inspiration lies in the victory in 1979 and the example of this great lady who saved our country." A PDF of Lord Forsyth's full speech.
Speaking on BBC1's Politics Show the Shadow Defence Secretary appeared to put an end to speculation that replacement of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent could be scrapped under an incoming Conservative government:
"There'll be a replacement for our Trident system under the Conservatives... The country requires it for its defence."
Dr Liam Fox would not set out the exact nature of the deterrent, however, avoiding direct questioning on the number of submarines that would be associated with the deterrent. He repeated however that a nuclear deterrent would be necessary to defend Britain from "nuclear blackmail" by states such as North Korea and Iran.
Dr Fox also refused to be drawn on other defence commitments. He said that an incoming Conservative government would have to take account of the "train wrecked" public finances. The Conservatives would, he said, conduct a strategic defence review, define Britain's national interest, the threats we'll face, and then set out the equipment and alliances necessary to meet those threats.
A clash with Britain's defence industry seems highly likely, however. Dr Fox is known to be sympathetic to the Canadian model where that country's armed forces are being renewed by purchasing cheaper, off-the-shelf defence equipment from overseas.
In terms of defeating the UKIP threat in June's European Elections a leaflet from Tory MEPs chooses to emphasise their MEPs' record of failure rather than addressing the independence argument head on.
Point 1 of a leaflet charges:
"UKIP let down their supporters. They returned 12 MEPs in 2004, but completely wasted their big opportunity. Their MEPs have been characterised by in-fighting and scandal; as a result, one third of their MEPs have left or been expelled."
The leaflet in the series that attacks Labour focuses on a failure to honour a promise to hold a referendum on Lisbon, Labour MEPs' support for joining the Euro, support for the Working Time Directive, support for an EU Space programme and also for a Euro Army:
"Labour MEPs have repeatedly voted in favour of steps towards a European army. For example, they voted in favour of an ‘integrated European Armed Force.’ Yet on another occasion, they voted that the EU should be a ‘nuclear-weapon-free zone.’"
The best of the leaflets is against the Liberal Democrats. The themes are similar to the Labour leaflet with LibDem Europe policy at least as bad as Labour's and much less known among the voters in, for example, the West Country, who still support Britain's third party in large numbers. Key quote:
"The EU Court of Auditors has been unable to give the EU accounts a clean bill of health for 14 successive years, but Liberal Democrat MEPs have voted year after year to approve the EU accounts."
Access a full PDF of the anti-Liberal Democrat leaflet.
> Last Monday we published the leaflet that made the positive case for voting for Conservative MEP candidates.
I know where the SunTel is coming from but let's never forget that Maggie was as much a tactical genius as a conviction politician...
She wasn't averse to putting politics first: She accepted Callaghan's pay deals with the public sector that delayed fiscal retrenchment until 1979.
She picked the timing of battles: Arthur Scargill sought confrontation with her in her first term but she knew she wasn't ready to win and gave the NUM what it wanted. She delayed confrontation until 1984/85 when she could win.
She left some things largely untouched: Think of the NHS, the BBC and the welfare state.
"I wanted to write and send my best wishes on this, the 30th anniversary of the great day when you first walked into Downing Street as our prime minister.
I still find it awe-inspiring to think of the state of the nation you inherited and the immense achievements of your governments. Getting the country to live within its means, bringing the trade unions within the law, rolling back the tide of state ownership, standing steadfast with our allies in the cold war ... but above all giving the British people back their pride and self-belief. The whole country owes you a huge debt.
It is with huge trepidation that I attempt, 30 years on, to get rid of an exhausted Labour government and start the process of mending the national finances and tackling some deep and entrenched problems that we face. If we are elected as the next government, I know that it will be extremely difficult work - but in your life and your work you have given all of us an example of real courage to follow."
Inspired by the Christian campaign, What Would Jesus Do? the Republicans in America already have What Would Reagan Do?What Would Maggie Do? is a favourite media template at the moment.
The Daily Mail uses the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's election to urge David Cameron to emulate the Iron Lady. Last Saturday Matthew Parris suggested that Mr Cameron should follow Mrs Thatcher's example in opposition and not be too specific about his plans for government.
Of course there are lots of things Margaret Thatcher can teach us. Some of the parallels between 1979 and now are huge but there are also big differences between her times and ours. Here are a few that should be keeping Tory strategists awake at night...
Austerity began under Callaghan. Margaret Thatcher inherited a situation where - because of the IMF - the government had already begun some austerity measures. Alistair Darling's Budget showed that our current government is still in denial.
The civil service is a much less effective machine. It has been politicised in numerous ways. Francis Maude will need to think radically about new forms of delivery mechanism to ensure the Cameron agenda is enacted. Making the situation potentially much more tricky David Cameron also has a frontbench team that is much, much less experienced than the Thatcher team.
We've had a thirty year transfer of powers to the EU. Dan Hannan says four-fifths of UK laws are made in Brussels. Westminster is not nearly as powerful as it was in 1979.
Public trust in politicians is much lower now than in 1979. Their promises are much less likely to believed. This had led many Cameroons to believe in the politics of small (and supposedly therefore more believable) promises. What does it mean for today when only big reforms can save the public finances?
The media moves fives time as fast. Mrs Thatcher could appear on the BBC 6'o'clock News and be seen by twice as many Britons as she would reach today. She could write an article for The Daily Telegraph and it would be discussed for days. Nothing lasts as long today. Cameron has to work harder to reach as many people and the media is likely to get bored quickly. He won't have a honeymoon in power although Labour could be in desperate straits. It won't be long before journalists (and, of course, thousands of bloggers) are writing their 'David Cameron has had his worst week since coming to power' stories.
There is a Populus poll in The Times tomorrow which does not appear to cover voting intention, but rather asks the public what they expect they outcome of the next election to be.
The results are:
Conservative overall majority - 55% Hung Parliament with Conservatives as largest single party - 12% TOTAL EXPECTING CONSERVATIVES AS LARGEST PARTY - 67%
Labour overall majority - 18% Hung Parliament with Labour as largest single party - 7% TOTAL EXPECTING LABOUR AS LARGEST PARTY - 25%
Personally I am astonished that nearly one fifth of people still expect Labour to get a majority, given that it will require the party to lose only 24 seats on a swing of a mere 1.6% in order to fall into Hung Parliament territory.
A poll of 873 adults by PoliticsHome finds strong support for more co-operation between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Conservative strategists are delighted at the politics of Wednesday's vote on Gurkhas. They believe it sent out two key messages: (1) Brown is isolated and (2) the Conservatives are the reasonable party, prepared to work with others.
ConHome reported in February that the Conservatives are considering "generous outreach" to the Liberal Democrats in the event of an election victory:
"A group of shadow ministers believe that one of Tony Blair's bigger strategic mistakes was to row back on co-operation with the Liberal Democrats when he won such a large Commons majority in 1997. These shadow ministers believe that - contrary to Labour's 'under-delivery' to the LibDems - the Conservatives should deliver more in practical co-operation in government than they promise in opposition."
At his monthly press conference yesterday Mr Cameron admitted that he didn't know Nick Clegg well but restated his December 2005 identity as a "liberal conservative" and he said that the Conservatives will work with the Liberal Democrats on issues of common interest, such as the environment, strengthening local govenment and opposing the surveillance state.
> On Seats and candidates today Leah Fraser explains how she is love-bombing Liberal Democrat voters in Wallasey.
Boris Johnson celebrates his first year as London Mayor today and most Tory members say that they are satisfied with his performance although a very large minority doubt that he is yet a credible Prime Minister in waiting:
He has made a massive impression on the public and Time magazine yesterday announced that he was one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
A ConservativeHome poll of Tory members finds that his role in the ousting of Sir Ian Blair was his most important act since replacing Ken Livingstone.
Freezing council tax, banning alcohol on the Tube, opposing a third runway at Heathrow and opposing an extension of the congestion charge also feature prominently.
In recent days Boris has announced a plan to devolve more power to local government in London. He has also been in the newspapers for apparently wanting to be Prime Minister after he has finished at City Hall. Last Saturday he told ConservativeHome that talk of him despising David Cameron was "tripe". He also said that the London Mayor job was "almost certainly" his last big job in British politics. Not many Westminster insiders believe him.
After some early difficulties with staff picks he is carving out his own brand of modern Conservatism in London. He has annoyed traditional Tories by expressing sympathy for an amnesty for illegal immigrants but delighted others with his fierce opposition to higher taxes on London's wealth creators.
He said that he was most proud of the efforts that he had made in fighting crime. London was getting safer and safer, he said, and putting more police officers on the beat and into the transport system would remain a top priority.
He issued a "massive Mayoral apology" to me after I told him that my fourth bike had been stolen - just last month. He promised a rent-a-bike scheme soon that might solve my problem. The environment would be a "passion" in the remainder of his term, he promised, and he hoped to make substantial progress in sponsoring Electric Cars across the capital.
Being London Mayor had so far been a "fascinating and demanding" experience. It was the most rewarding thing he had done in his life. He had very few frustrations although the London bureaucracy was sometimes "treacly".
"I want to stand for a second term" he said but had not taken a final, final decision. The Tories are currently 12% ahead in London but he will be running for re-election in what is likely to be the mid-term of a Cameron government and the Tories might be unpopular across the country because of painful decisions on the budget deficit. Boris has made a great start but re-election won't be a cakewalk.
That is the conclusion of The Times this morning, which calculates that of the £52 million received into party coffers over the last three years, "a growing proportion" has come in the form of individual donations of £50,000.
According to the paper's analysis of Electoral Commission figures:
"In 2006 the party received £17.6 million and there were 26 donations of £50,000, generating £1.3 million. In 2008, by contrast, the last year for which full figures are available, the party received £15.8 million in donations, of which £3.1 million came in 62 donations of £50,000."
However, it would seem that there is still some way to go before it becomes viable to introduce a £50,000 cap on donations - which David Cameron aspires to introduce and about which I expressed my scepticism quite recently.
Whilst the number of people giving £50,000 donations has increased over the last three years, The Times also notes a recent pledge of £1 million from Stanley Fink and the fact that the amount of money channelled into the party through Lord Ashcroft's company, Bearwood, has also increased during the that time:
"In 2006 Bearwood donated just over half a million pounds in cash and polling. Last year that figure had climbed to £1.6 million."
How broad will that growing donor base remain as the recession continues to bite?