20 Sep 2013 10:42:23

And the winner of the Conservative awayday quiz was...

By Paul Goodman
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Stop me if you've heard it already, but ConservativeHome has the crucial detail from the Tory awayday - namely, that Robert Buckland's table won the quiz at yesterday evening's dinner.  Take a bow, too, Henry Bellingham, Nicky Morgan and Christopher Pincher, whose knowledge, according to my source, won the victory.

19 Sep 2013 06:10:30

Today's Tory MPs awayday will be told that the 40/40 strategy is now a 50/40 strategy

By Paul Goodman
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Today's Conservative Parliamentary Party awayday takes place at a mystery location in Oxfordshire - indeed and to be more specific, in David Cameron's constituency, I am told.  Downing Street is presenting it as a chance for the Prime Minister to "listen to the views and concerns of Conservative MPs".  Predictably, Cameron will address the gathering.  Almost as predictably, so will Lynton Crosby.  Break-out sessions on policy will be led by George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.

Continue reading "Today's Tory MPs awayday will be told that the 40/40 strategy is now a 50/40 strategy" »

18 Sep 2013 14:28:51

New edition Loyalty Boris hits the shelves

By Mark Wallace
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Having spent part of 2012 dangling from a zipwire, nowadays Boris is balancing on a tightrope.

As Paul discussed in August, he has to weigh competing expectations and risks - he doesn't want to spend years on the backbenches under Cameron, but he doesn't want to be absent when the chance for leadership comes, he wants to differentiate himself from the Tory leadership but he doesn't want to inherit Michael Heseltine's reputation for disloyalty, forced to wear it for the rest of his days like a Nosferatu cape.

For that reason, we've seen different editions of Boris. The flirtatious touter of alternative ideas, toying with EU exit or an illegal immigrant amnesty from his philosopher's tower at City Hall. The king over the water, carefully phrasing remarks that could be interpreted as criticism of Cameron's leadership.

Today, at the Institute of Directors' Annual Convention at the Royal Albert Hall, he was new, improved Loyalty Boris (batteries included, moving parts, press here for anecdotes).

Continue reading "New edition Loyalty Boris hits the shelves" »

14 Sep 2013 12:56:56

Lorraine Fullbrook announces she is standing down as MP for Ribble South at the next election

FullbrookBy Harry Phibbs
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Lorraine Fullbrook, the Conservative MP for Ribble South, has announced that she is standing down at the General Election.

The message on her website placed last night says:

Lorraine Fullbrook has announced that she will stand down as an MP at the next General Election in May 2015. Lorraine informed her Association Executive of her decision at their meeting this evening, held at Leyland Conservative Club (the same place that Lorraine was selected as South Ribble's Conservative Candidate back in 2003).

Citing personal reasons, Lorraine informed the Association that she had written to the Prime Minister this morning advising him of her decision. She pledged her continued support for both her constituents and the Prime Minister: "I intend to both serve out my term as a loyal and dedicated member of your Parliamentary team, and as a committed constituency Member."

In her speech, Lorraine explained her decision and confirmed that she would be working on behalf of her constituents right up until the General Election. "By May 2015, I will have given 12 years of my life to winning and serving this seat. That is long enough in this job, and now, I will be looking to conquer fresh challenges."

"I will remain, carrying out my duties to my constituents, full time and fully committed as the Conservative Member of Parliament for South Ribble until my successor is elected in May 2015."

Speaking after the meeting this evening Lorraine said: "It is a huge honour and a privilege to serve the people of South Ribble and sit on the Green benches. This has not been an easy decision but the right one for me. I want to re-assure my constituents that this announcement will not in any way compromise the way in which I carry out my duties.

"I will continue to work hard for residents in South Ribble right up until my successor is elected."

Continue reading "Lorraine Fullbrook announces she is standing down as MP for Ribble South at the next election" »

12 Sep 2013 00:05:07

Grant Shapps writes to the UN Secretary-General in protest at biased Housing investigator

By Mark Wallace
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SHAPPS NEWFollowing the remarkable and scandalous decision of the UN's rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, to attack the Government's welfare reforms yesterday, there was considerable outrage.

She has used taxpayers' money to launch a politicised attack on a legal, domestic policy of democratically elected government. Worse, her conclusions are apparently based on anecdotal and deeply biased evidence, rather than any representative or academic study.

For that matter, she seems to think it appropriate to be grandstanding in Britain rather than focusing on more pressing (and more UN-relevant) matters of housing - like the fact that refugee camps for those fleeing the Syrian civil war are now full, leaving large numbers of people without even the most basic shelter, for example.

Grant Shapps has written in protest to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, demanding an immediate investigation. Here is the full text of his letter:

"Dear Secretary-General, 

I am writing to request an investigation be carried out into the actions of UN Special Rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik.

Ms Rolnik came to Britain to complete a report into adequate housing. She concluded the Government's action to end the Spare Room Subsidy should be reversed.

The United Kingdom's legal system has already ruled that the abolition of the Spare Room Subsidy is lawful. I am therefore extremely surprised and disappointed to  learn that the UN has directly contradicted the decisions of our courts. 

Furthermore, I believe that the Special Rapporteur's report has been influenced by political bias and suggest that the UN withdraw her claims pending a full investigation .

Ms. Rolnik's investigations lasted for less than 12 days. In the course of this investigation, not once did Ms Rolnik request a meeting with the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, or anyone within the Department for  Work and Pensions, to discuss the policy - nor did she request any detailed policy analysis from the Department.

An official from DWP sat in on one hour long meeting at the Department for Communities and Local Government, where the Spare Room Subsidy was one of several items on a longer agenda. However, no further information was requested by Ms Rolnik.

The full report is not due to be published until March 2014 - yet Ms Rolnik has already reached her conclusion and declared as much in her press release.

Ms Rolnik has also already completed interviews with parts of the UK's press, including the Guardian and Independent newspapers.

The Rapporteur also took time out while visiting Scotland to take part in an interview and photo opportunity with the Daily Record, a paper which has actively campaigned against ending the Spare Room Subsidy, and accepted "a dossier compiled by the Daily Record featuring stories we have published illustrating the effect" of the measure in Scotland.

Ms Rolnik never refers to the money the Government has put into Discretionary Housing Payments. Nor does she reference at all the fact that councils have been given this money in order to try and keep those who genuinely need their spare room in their house.

Ms Rolnik never references the 250,000 families in this country living in overcrowded accommodation. Nor does she suggest what should be done about the families living in these cramped conditions.

By referring to the policy as the 'bedroom tax' and posing for photos receiving 'dossiers' from those opposed to ending the Spare Room Subsidy, I believe that Ms Rolnik has shown political bias. We would have hoped that Ms Rolnik would have taken the necessary steps to ensure her report was based on all the information available to her from the Government before she declared her conclusion less than two weeks after her 'mission' began.

I would like to request that a full investigation is conducted by the United Nations, including the provision of answers to the following questions:

i. What was the detailed process leading to the commissioning of this report?

ii. Were  representations received from the British Labour Party, and from groups actively campaigning against the introduction of this policy?

iii. How did Ms Rolnik determine which organisations to consult as part of her data gathering?

iv. Why did the report's author decide not to visit the responsible Department or Minister?

Can you confirm that Ms Rolnik is the person featured in this Stop the Tax video, prior to being commissioned to produce this report? 

I look forward to your response.

The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

Chairman of the Conservative Party 

Minister without Portfolio"

6 Sep 2013 15:57:35

Candidate applications open for five more seats

By Peter Hoskin
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More constituencies are now open for candidate applications, namely:

  • Bath
  • Croydon South
  • Newark
  • Plymouth Moor View
  • Tonbridge and Malling

Of the five, two are currently held by Conservatives. Sir John Stanley has been the MP for Tonbridge and Malling since 1974. Sir Richard Ottoway has held sway in Croydon South since 1992. Both are standing down at the election.

As for the other three, one is Labour (Alison Seabeck, Plymouth Moor View); one is Lib Dem (Don Foster, Bath); and one is technically independent, although that independent is Patrick Mercer in Newark, who was a Conservative MP until not that long ago, of course, and who is also standing down at the next election.

Although figures from the last election are always an imperfect guide, it’s worth noting that the Tories came second in both Plymouth Moor View and Bath – by 1,588 and 11,883 votes, respectively. Although perhaps it will be Croydon South that most catches the eye: that, you’ll remember, is the seat that was recently linked with Boris.

6 Sep 2013 13:15:39

Sajid Javid says he’d “embrace the opportunities” that leaving the European Union would bring

By Peter Hoskin
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SJDid you ever hear about the Exeter Mafia in Conservative politics? David Burrowes, Sajid Javid, Robert Halfon and this site’s founder, Tim Montgomerie, were all contemporaries at that city’s university.

Anyway, the reason I mention it is that one of their number, Sajid Javid, has been interviewed by Paul Waugh for the latest issue of the House Magazine. I’d recommend you read the whole thing for an insight into the workings of this risen-yet-still-rising member of the 2010 intake, but one passage stands out:

“The minister is also a noted Eurosceptic. Though the eurozone has turned the corner, he’s still wary and is delighted the PM has promised a referendum on the UK’s membership. ‘The best outcome is we do have a renegotiated relationship. I’ve done thousands of negotiations in my job in business and you never go into a negotiation without some sort of weapons in your arsenal, so we are right to have a referendum as it increases our ability to negotiate. I think the European Union should be much more focused for us on free trade in goods and services. If the British people decide that they want to leave the European Union, that’s not something I’d be afraid of.

‘In my 20 years in business I’ve worked around the world, I think we are already a global player, an international country when it comes to business. I want that to happen inside the European Union and we can reform it and focus it on trade and ensure it is not insular looking. We can all be better off inside the European Union if it can change some of its ways. But as I say, if the British people decide the decision is they want to leave the European Union, then that isn’t something that I’d be afraid of, I’d embrace the opportunities that would create.’”

Mr Javid is, of course, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I wonder if the Government’s rather sizeable Eurosceptic Mafia is about to become more outspoken.

5 Sep 2013 16:23:54

We need more social entrepreneurs as Tory MPs: Toby Young must do his duty

By Harry Phibbs
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The author Toby Young wrote an amusing book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which chronicled failure. However he has since become a pioneer in one of the great success stories of the decade, the free school movement.

Mr Young is now contemplating a new career as a politician.

In his Spectator column this week he says he is considering seeking nomination as the Conservative candidate for the Hammersmith constituency at the next election.

He first outlines his understandable reservations but adds:

True, my chances of getting selected and winning the set would be slim, but those are the kinds of odds I like. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really feel alive unless his back is against the wall. I
could go for a safe seat instead, but where would be the fun in that? If the Conservatives are returned in 2015 with an overall majority, and I beat Andrew Slaughter in the process, I would feel as if I’d
contributed to that victory. The satisfaction of having helped keep Labour out would be a source of comfort during the five years in the salt mines that followed.

I won’t pretend the brickbats thrown at me during the campaign wouldn’t hurt, but I’d be a sorry excuse for a man if I let that put me off. I’ve long ago learnt that the best defence against people bad-mouthing you is to continue to behave decently and honourably. You must judge yourself by your actions, even if others won’t. To paraphrase Kipling, don’t deal in lies even if you’re lied about, and don’t give way to hating even if you’re hated.

Finally, and most importantly, I love this dirty rotten country. So what if people have a low opinion of politicians? I don’t want to be an MP because of any special status it might bring. Like the majority
of people who embark on this treadmill, I’d be doing it out of a sense of patriotic duty and the belief that my lot would be better for the country than the other lot.

As I say, a tough decision. And I’m going to have to decide whether to go for it in the next few weeks.

Continue reading "We need more social entrepreneurs as Tory MPs: Toby Young must do his duty" »

1 Sep 2013 12:24:10

Reshuffle speculation, what reshuffle speculation?

By Mark Wallace
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It's a measure of how uncertain politics can be that on my grid of events likely to dominate the news on a particular day, today's date has the words "RESHUFFLE SPECULATION" scrawled next to it. 

For obvious reasons, the news agenda today is dominated by Syria instead.

As it was written a few weeks ago, and I don't have a source inside Assad's chemical weapons team, I'm going to take the liberty of forgiving myself. The near total lack of reshuffle speculation suggests that the ministerial rejig has been put off while the crisis (in Westminster and Damascus) boils. 

Even if it does occur, it seems likely to focus on junior positions. It's noteworthy that what little mention there is of reshuffling in today's papers features Alan Duncan and Sir George Young in very different tones.

In Duncan's case, the Mail's Black Dog reports that a Number 10 source criticises his "disloyalty", and the column speculates freely that this "doesn't bode well for Duncan in the coming reshuffle".

By contrast, in the same paper James Forsyth has been told that the Prime Minister intends to keep Sir George Young as Chief Whip despite last Thursday's fiasco. Of course the ideal situation is for no-one to be talking about your being replaced, and the fact a cabinet minister is quoted defending him suggests Young knows that all too well, but it seems Cameron is willing to quash rumours of an imminent replacement.

Reshuffle prediction often has a lot in common with scrying through tea leaves, but the order of beasts is seemingly intact - junior ministers will continue to feel rather more endangered than the kings of the jungle.

30 Aug 2013 09:04:08

Who's to blame? Cameron, the Whips, or both?

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 08.55.21Conservative MPs I spoke to yesterday were excoriating about the shambles of the recall of Parliament and the whipping of yesterday's vote.  One told me that the first he heard of the decision to recall was a message from EasyJet offering him a flight back.  "Perhaps the Whips Office should just be franchised out to EasyJet," he told me.  Another said that he wasn't contacted by the Whips until Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours before the start of yesterday's debate.  A third said that he had a missed call from one of the Prime Minister's PPS's, but no message or text explaining it or asking him to ring back. One of the three said that although Sir George Young runs the office in a calm and courteous way, it lacks the presence of MPs with a feel for what their backbench colleagues are thinking: as others have done, he recommended the recruitment of Tracey Crouch, one of yesterday evening's rebels.  He also offered the thought that the Government Whips Office has not recovered the status it lost under Tony Blair, when it was moved out of 12 Downing Street.

A senior backbench source disagreed with this view, claiming that the Whips warned Downing Street months ago that as many as 70 Conservative MPs could vote against intervention in Syria.  (Those who opposed the Government motion yesterday were only the tip of the iceberg, since the motion was effectively a dry run for one proposing such action.)  I suspect that the truth is between these two extremes.  It's important to remember that most Whips would themselves have been absent from Westminster earlier this week, and a co-ordinated office ring-round both to ask backbenchers to return to the Commons and seek their views on military action would therefore have been slower to get under way than in term time.  Above all, David Cameron was clearly thrown by Ed Miliband's volte-face on missile strikes: he was expecting a Labour abstention which would allow the original Government motion to pass.  In other words, he was prepared to push his Syria policy through in the teeth of the opposition of perhaps a third of Tory MPs, and thus risking yesterday's wounding blow to his authority - and defeat for Government foreign policy unprecedented in modern times.

30 Aug 2013 00:36:08

Full list of Conservative rebel MPs who sank the Government's Syria motion

By Mark Wallace
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The Government's watered-down motion on the principle of military intervention in Syria was defeated tonight by 13 votes.

9 Lib Dems rebelled, along with 30 Conservatives. Embarrassingly, two Government Ministers - Justine Greening and Mark Simmonds - accidentally failed to vote because they apparently either didn't hear the bell or were in a meeting, while Ken Clarke couldn't attend due to "logistical family reasons".

The 30 Conservative rebels are as follows:

David Amess

Steve Baker

Richard Bacon 

John Baron

Andrew Bingham

Crispin Blunt

Fiona Bruce

Tracey Crouch

David TC Davies

Philip Davies

David Davis

Nick de Bois

Richard Drax

Gordon Henderson

Philip Hollobone

Adam Holloway

Dr Phillip Lee

Dr Julian Lewis

Jason McCartney

Stephen McPartland

Nigel Mills

Anne Marie Morris

Andrew Percy

Sir Richard Shepherd

Sir Peter Tapsell

Andrew Turner

Martin Vickers

Charles Walker

Chris White

Dr Sarah Wollaston

[**UPDATE** This list was originally published including Tim Loughton - rather than rebelling, he voted in the Aye and the No lobbies in order to formally register an abstention.]

There'll be more analysis from us in the morning - for now, a lot to consider in an historic defeat inflicted on the Prime Minister by his own MPs.

29 Aug 2013 16:15:10

LISTEN: Cameron and Miliband's speeches in the Syria debate

By Mark Wallace
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Courtesy of the Spectator, here are the full speeches on Syria given by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

David Cameron's statement:

Ed Miliband's response:

27 Aug 2013 14:11:30

Parliament to sit on Thursday to debate Syria

By Harry Phibbs
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The Prime Minister has sent the following tweet:

"Speaker agrees my request to recall Parliament on Thurs. There'll be a clear Govt motion & vote on UK response to chemical weapons attacks."

According to a tweet from Labour Whips (why do Conservative whips not have a Twitter account?) the House of Commons will sit from 2.30pm to 10pm. 

For most MPs the news came via an email from easyJet - who evidently have a sharp eye for making a fast buck (or to get a bit of PR they are offering a £60 return flight deal.)

We await news of the text of the motion and of any whipping arrangements. No doubt there will be several Tory MPs who will vote against any military action while others (such as Julian Lewis) will be looking carefully at the wording of the motion to see just what is authorised. Then there will also probably be some Labour MPs who break ranks to support the Government - reflecting the views of Tony Blair.

*UPDATE* easyJet have been in touch to confirm that they will not be making a profit on their "MP rescue service".

27 Aug 2013 11:03:28

70 MPs sign up to call for Parliamentary debate before war is declared in Syria

By Mark Wallace
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Paul reported yesterday on the start of a campaign by MPs to insist on a Commons debate before any action is taken against Assad over his use of chemical weapons.

That campaign is now gathering pace. Graham Allen, the Labour MP who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, sent out an appeal to his fellow MPs yesterday afternoon for signatures on an EDM which reads:

This House believes that Parliament should hold a full debate before any British commitment to military action in Syria

He tells me that he has already secured the signatures of 70 MPs. The incomplete list I have been sent includes no fewer than nine select committee chairmen:

Graham Allen, Richard Ottaway, David Davies, Hywel Francis, Malcolm Bruce, Graham Stuart, Tim Yeo, Keith Vaz and Clive Betts

and 52 other MPs:

George Mudie, Martin Caton, John Redwood, David Wright, Adrian Sanders, Bob Blackman, Mike Crockart, Nigel Mills, Stewart Jackson, Mark Lazarowicz, Sammy Wilson, Steve McCabe, Robert Ainsworth, David Ward, James Gray, Albert Owen, Douglas Carswell, Julian Huppert, Naomi Long, Fiona O’Donnell, Angus Robertson, John Leech, John Robertson, Adam Holloway, Jim Sheridan, Philip Davies, John Hemming, Kate Hoey, Robert Smith, Diane Abbot, Mike Weir, Sandra Osbourne, Martin Vickers, Bill Esterson, Grahame Morris, Mary Glindon, John McDonald, George Galloway, Michael Meacher, Dai Harvard, Katy Clark, Toby Perkins, Paul Flynn, Mike Gapes, David Anderson, Madeleine Moon, Graham Stringer, Gisela Stuart, Andrew George, Julian Lewis, Eleanor Laing and Stephen Doughty.

As you can see, support is drawn from a wide range of parties and opinions. Some undoubtedly support the motion as part of their opposition to any intervention against Assad, but others view it as a constitutional principle that Parliament should be able to scrutinise something as important as a decision to go to war.

As readers will be aware, I support military action against Assad - indeed, I think our policy of isolationism is responsible for the rise of Al Qaeda in Syria - but I cannot see why Parliament should be bypassed on this issue.

The Conservative manifesto pledged in 2010 to make Royal Prerogative powers, such as the declaration of war, subject to "greater democratic control". That promise should be honoured.

26 Aug 2013 09:56:12

Bridgen, Wollaston and Stewart among the Tory MPs pushing for Parliament to have a say in any Syria action

By Peter Hoskin
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It’s no surprise that Tory MPs are joining Douglas Alexander in seeking a recall of Parliament ahead of any military action in Syria. After all, 81 of them signed a letter to David Cameron in June, demanding a vote on any decision to dispatch British arms to the rebels.

And it’s also no surprise that the author of that letter, Andrew Bridgen, is among the most insistent voices this time around, now that missiles appear poised to strike at Assad. “We need to recall Parliament immediately, if that’s what’s on the table,” is how he put it on the radio yesterday. “I want to hear what the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary has to say at the despatch box.”

Continue reading "Bridgen, Wollaston and Stewart among the Tory MPs pushing for Parliament to have a say in any Syria action" »