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10 Sep 2013 11:27:00

With Caroline Lucas in la-la land

FloruJP Floru is a City of Westminster Councillor and is the author of What the Immigrant Saw and Heavens on Earth: How to Create Mass Prosperity

So what are the “cuddly” Greens up to nowadays?  Caroline Lucas became the only ever Green MP when she was elected for Brighton Pavilion with a 1,252 majority in 2010.  Not so cuddly herself, erhaps – during the campaign she would not even acknowledge über-nice Conservative candidate Charlotte Vere. Two weeks ago Lucas made headlines by virtue of being arrested at an anti-fracking protest in the company of assorted weirdos. Not that the darling of the BBC lacks media interest, of course.  But let us try to look beyond this.

We all like a bit more green and a bit less concrete – I do, too.  In addition, protecting cute puppy animals and the like is an easy political win. But when one studies Lucas’s track record my impression is that of a rather mixed bag of the good, the contradictory, and the outright wacky.  I cannot resist reporting some of it back to you.

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10 Sep 2013 06:40:51

Mark Prisk: Our new grassroots-led campaign to boost Right to Buy

Mark Prisk is Minister for Housing and MP for Hertford and Stortford. Follow Mark on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 18.36.54If you look back over the last 30 years, of all the ways in which Conservatives have helped people who want to get on in life, the Right to Buy stands out. Over two million families have benefitted since Margaret Thatcher launched the policy early in the 1980s.

However, under Labour the policy was strangled to death by John Prescott and by Labour councils who despised the idea that someone might want to move on and up. Without ever having the political courage to just scrap it, Labour put every possible obstacle in the way until, by the end of their 13 years in power, quarterly sales had dwindled to just a few hundred.

But, three years on, Right to Buy is staging a comeback. And its revival is being driven, in part, by a new grassroots-led campaign.

When I took on this job a year ago, quarterly sales were just starting to improve, but were still just over 400 per quarter. Grant Shapps had already raised the maximum discount to £75,000, and we quickly raised that to £100,000 in London, to reflect modern property prices. And, later this year, the Deregulation Bill will extend the right to those living in their council home for three years, just as back in the 1980s.

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9 Sep 2013 06:37:45

David Skelton: Let's offer trade union members free Conservative Party membership

Skelton DaveDavid Skelton is the Director of Renewal, a campaign organisation aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party. Follow David on Twitter.

There are almost seven million trade union members in the UK. In many of the marginal seats that Conservatives have to win to gain an overall majority in 2015, trade union members could hold the balance of power. The Party is right to disagree with the ideologically driven wreckers who lead the major unions, but that shouldn’t stop them reaching out to ordinary trade union members, many of whom are sympathetic to conservatism.

Trade unions are, after all, fairly conservative institutions. They’re voluntary institutions, which aren’t part of the big state, and they’re based on conservative ideas like mutual assistance and community. There’s also a lot of evidence that many trade unionists are very receptive to conservative ideas. Recent polling by Lord Ashcroft showed that Unite members overwhelmingly back policies like the benefit cap and right to buy, both of which are opposed by their union’s leadership. Only 12 per cent of Unite members say that they would join the Labour Party if they were no longer made affiliate members.

Conservatives are right to take on trade union leaders, like Len McCluskey, who are getting in the way of much needed reforms. But they should be careful not to make it appear that they’re hostile to trade unions and trade unionists in general. As Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests, firebrand union leaders are almost entirely unrepresentative of their members.

Tory politicians should appeal to union members over the heads of the out of touch union leaders gathering at the TUC Congress this week. And they should learn from Margaret Thatcher when they’re trying to appeal to trade unionists. In 1950, Mrs Thatcher was elected President of the Dartford branch of Conservative Trade Unionists and, after being elected as party leader in 1975, she vastly expanded the organisation, to the extent that Conservative Trade Unionists had around 250 branches and held a major rally at Wembley before the 1979 election.

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9 Sep 2013 06:36:40

Lord Ashcroft: What Scots voters think about Scotland's Parliament, leaders and Government

Screen shot 2013-09-08 at 08.40.39By Lord Ashcroftt KCMG PC. Follow Lord Ashcroft on Twitter.

What proportion of Scots say they have a clear understanding of the powers of the Scottish Parliament? Fourteen years after Holyrood opened for business, the number is surprisingly low. In a recent poll I have found only 14 per cent of Scots claiming to have a very good idea of what is decided in Edinburgh and what powers remain with Westminster; 44 per cent said they had “some idea” but four in ten admitted to having “very little idea” which parliament was responsible for what.

The finding has emerged from an eight-month research project I have conducted on Scottish politics, to be published in full soon.

Despite their hazy view of what it does, it is a measure of Holyrood’s established place that more than half of Scots say Scottish Parliament elections are as important as general elections for Westminster. (Most do not agree with one of our focus group participants that Holyrood should be turned into a Travelodge and all powers returned south). Just over a quarter say Westminster elections still matter more to them, and just under one fifth think the opposite; SNP voters are the only group more likely to say Holyrood is more important than the UK Parliament than they are to say the reverse. Geography also plays a part – voters in the South of Scotland were twice as likely as those in the Highlands and Islands to say Westminster mattered more; Highlanders were also the group most likely to say the two were equally important.

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8 Sep 2013 13:30:57

Laura Perrins: What is a ‘sex expert’ and where can I find one?

LPLaura Perrins is a former barrister turned stay at home mother. She campaigns for Mothers at Home Matter.

What is a ‘sex expert’ and where can I find one? According to a new campaign by the Telegraph WonderWomen (who I sometimes blog for), they are needed. Badly.

Personally, as a married women with two young children I have been there at the beginning and know how it all turns out at the end so I believe I am something of a ‘sex expert’. But this, it seems, is not enough to guide my children through this particular minefield. No. We need the ‘sex experts’ and a review of the sex education curriculum that is irrelevant to the young and the hip.

I am not against a review per se, but that is the easy part. Setting the content of the curriculum is the tricky issue. Claire Perry MP says we need to teach children about the difference between pornography and ‘healthy and caring’ relationships. Tim Loughton MP, who is also backing it, does at least call for a values approach to sex education, but that the Department of Education should ‘get a grip on preventing bad experiences of sex’. Really? Is this was the Department of Education is for – to give sex advice in competition with Cosmo? If by bad experience, it is abusive or threatening, then we already have the criminal law to deal with that.

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8 Sep 2013 07:38:34

Michael Gove MP: Why traditional education is a work of social justice – one that I'm striving to deliver

GOVE MICHAEL NWMichael Gove is the Secretary of State for Education. This is the second of two extracts from an article which originally appeared in Standpoint magazine. You can read part one here.

At the moment, access to the best that has been thought and said is restricted to a fortunate few. Because of the dumbing-down of both our exams and school curricula under Labour, children can go through school never having read a novel written before the 20th century, never having read or seen an entire Shakespeare play, never having learned a poem by heart, never having had the chance to appreciate, or play, classical music, never having the chance to learn about the achievements of the greatest scientists and engineers, never having had the chance to play in the competitive sports in which England has long excelled, never being encouraged to engage with anything which is not immediately “relevant” to their lives.

But if all children are told about is what they already know, how will they ever - like Rita - learn better songs to sing?

There is no doubt that most parents have aspirations for their children which are far higher than many of the professionals who condescend to them. The Millennium Cohort Study of 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000-01 recently interviewed mothers about their ambitions for their seven-year-old children. An astonishing 97 per cent of mothers wanted their child to go to university. Whether or not a student decides that university is right for them, the evidence is clear that a proper academic education to the age of 16 is the best way of maximising any child’s chances of success in the future.

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8 Sep 2013 07:36:45

Luke de Pulford: The CPS is wrong to turn a blind eye to the abortion of baby girls on demand

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 17.46.27Luke de Pulford is training for the priesthood and lives in Rome.

Earlier this week, the unelected officials of the Crown Prosecution Service effectively legalised sex-selective abortion in the United Kingdom. In doing so, they have failed to stand up for women's rights by forsaking the opportunity to work towards a Britain that is any safer for baby girls than India or China, the world's sex-selective abortion capitals. If that seems like too strong an interpretation, read on – I don’t think there’s any other way of viewing it

In their statement on Thursday, the CPS made clear that they have all the evidence they need to bring two doctors to justice for permitting illegal abortions, but will not be prosecuting as it's "not be in the public interest" to do so.

Now, no one likes talking about abortion. It's so uncomfortable and emotionally laden that taking a position invariably puts you in the firing line, whichever side of the argument you're on. But this particular case is not really about rights and wrongs of abortion at all. It's about whether or not we are a nation content to turn a blind eye to the targeting of girls in the womb.

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7 Sep 2013 07:01:26

Michael Gove MP: Be angry on behalf of those failed by the education system - if we aren't, who will be?

GOVE MICHAEL NWMichael Gove is the Secretary of State for Education. This is the first of two extracts from an article which originally appeared in Standpoint magazine.

Most of the time I don’t think about being adopted. Any more than I think about the colour of my eyes. Or the size of my  feet. It’s all part of who I am—and how I was made. But sometimes it hits you. There’s a moment when you can’t help but think that your life might have been different—very different—if  another family had taken you into their hearts.  

Like the day six years ago when, as Shadow Education Secretary, I was looking at the recently published GCSE performance of schools. One in particular caught my eye. A comprehensive on Merseyside where just 1 per cent of the children had managed to get five C passes at GCSE, including English and maths. Five GCSE passes (including English and maths) is the basic passport any child needs to be eligible for further study or a decent job. It’s the minimum a 16 year old needs to have a decent chance in life. There’s not a single Labour politician, Guardian columnist, trade union general secretary or university professor of education who would conceivably find their child falling short of that standard acceptable. But in that school in Merseyside, 99 out of 100 children failed to acquire even that basic level of knowledge.

What would happen to them, I thought? Who was angry on their behalf? Who cared?

And what would have happened to me if I’d been at that school?

My own, adoptive, parents weren’t wealthy. They’d been accepted to adopt me because their background was similar to my birth mother’s. They were also chosen because they lived a few hours away from her home city of Edinburgh. What, I wondered, if I had been adopted by similarly loving parents who happened to live a few hours south of Edinburgh? On Merseyside? In the catchment area of that school? What chances in life would I have? Would I now be sitting around the Shadow Cabinet table?

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6 Sep 2013 16:40:06

Adrian Hilton: Why Number 10 is wrong to pull Ministers from the Windsor Tory Renewal Conference

AHAdrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian and educationalist. He writes a Daily Mail blog. Follow Adrian on Twitter.

 There is perhaps no more urgent a task for the Conservative Party in the present era than that of renewing democracy – to revive its foundational raison d’être; to resurrect its national framework of membership; and to reform its mode of engagement with party members. A political party that is immune to policy progression and insensitive to the beliefs of its core support-base ceases to be a movement for renewal: indeed, it rapidly becomes a fading testimony to past triumphs and a decaying monument to ancient glories. Reformation leads to enlightenment and revival – in politics as well as theology.

The Conservative Renewal conference, which is due to be held in Windsor on 14th September, has a declared mission ‘to help conservatives win elections through the strength of ideas’. They say they are independent, ‘but work in partnership with local party associations, think tanks and local people’.

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6 Sep 2013 14:57:52

James Frayne: Where the Tory campaigning operation is succeeding, and where it's lacking

Frayne JamesJames Frayne is a communications consultant. His new book – Meet the People – on what makes campaigns work and what this can teach businesses and other public-facing organisations is being published by Harriman House.

As we approach the last two years of this Parliament, increasing attention will be paid to the relative strengths of the parties’ campaign machines. There are no settled fundamental “facts” in politics – only public perceptions of them – and that means campaigns count.

But what really makes campaigns work? What distinguishes the great campaigns from the mediocre? And what can all this tell us about the current state of British politics?

I’ve been thinking hard about these questions over the last year while researching a book on public persuasion – on what organisations need to learn from campaigns as they come face to face with public opinion online. Part of this research involved looking at recent campaign case studies, as well as interviewing some of the best campaign consultants in the UK and the US.

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6 Sep 2013 12:16:16

Peter Franklin: The benefits of real free trade in carbon

This is an extract from the forthcoming collection of essays 'Green conservatism: protecting the environment through open markets'. Similar collections will be published under the Green Alliance's ‘Green social democracy’ and ‘Green liberalism’ projects as part of the Green Roots programme, which aims to stimulate green thinking within the three dominant political traditions in the UK. 

There’s no use denying it, the environment is a difficult area for the Conservative Party. And the biggest environmental issue, climate change, presents the greatest difficulties.

Although Margaret Thatcher was the first world leader to warn about the threat of global warming, and although David Cameron famously highlighted the issue too, other prominent Conservatives including Nigel Lawson and Peter Lilley have been outspoken in their opposition to the mainstream agenda on climate change.

Other Conservative or right-leaning voices, both in politics and the media, have gone even further, denying the reality of climate change altogether.

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6 Sep 2013 06:47:31

Justine Greening MP: The key question on international aid is this - do you want to shape the world, or be shaped by it?

GREENING JUSTINEThe fifth piece in our series looking at the arguments for and against international aid is by Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development.

This week, the UN announced that the number of refugees fleeing Syria had passed 2 million, 1 million of them children. It is a dreadful reminder that the real victims of Assad’s assault on his own people are the civilians who have had to leave their homes, often with literally no more than the clothes on their backs. These people are utterly reliant on the generosity of neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and on support from the international community.

Britain can be proud of our role in providing this humanitarian support. We will not forget the plight of refugees. Nor will we stand back and wait for the pressure on surrounding countries to become unbearable as thousands of new people arrive every day needing food, water, shelter and medical attention.

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6 Sep 2013 06:45:20

Mark Lehain: Today is the Bedford Free School's first birthday – we have all learned so much

Lehain MarkMark Lehain is the founder and Principal of Bedford Free School.

Today marks two very important anniversaries for Bedford Free School. It isn’t only a year to the day since we opened our doors to our first students, it is also exactly three years since our project was on the list of the first 16 free schools approved by Michael Gove .

Last September we opened with two year groups and nearly 200 students, and yesterday we grew to four year groups and just under 400 students. We had a phenomenally successful first year of operation: all 200 places filled, a strong staff body, excellent feedback from students and their families and, perhaps most importantly, incredible academic progress: on average our students made 2 years’ progress in maths and English in just 10 months.

And all of this took place against an extremely hostile local political backdrop and a planning permission dispute that dragged on and on and on, until it was eventually resolved in our favour.

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5 Sep 2013 15:13:52

George Bathurst: Cameron's defeat in the Syria vote shows how urgently Conservative Renewal is needed

Bathurst GeorgeGeorge Bathurst is a Conservative councillor for Windsor, Lead Member for Policy & Performance at RBWM and one of the organisers of the 2nd Conservative Renewal Conference. Tickets are on sale at You can follow George on Twitter here, and the Conference itself here.

David Cameron is not leading a coalition just with the LibDems.  As the vote on Syria illustrated, he is attempting to lead a three-party coalition including Labour.

As the dust settles on David Cameron's Parliamentary Calamity, it becomes increasingly clear that he sees himself not merely as leader of the Conservative Party but of the political party of Great Britain. Sane, sensible people agree with him and everybody else is a bastard/gadfly/racist/disgrace (add your insult here).

In this, as in so many other ways, Cameron is an echo of Blair.  The difference is that Blair's rhetoric may have soared but he didn't often lose touch with political reality (at least until Iraq).  Cameron, by contrast, is attempting to govern without reference to the usual laws of political gravity.  Having left behind the leaden clothes of the mere mortals in his party, he has forced through a remarkable series of Acts, in the teeth of fierce opposition from his own side and the support of the official opposition.  There is a remarkable degree of consensus between Labour and the Cameron Tories on all the big issues, including gay marriage, HS2, the EU, bashing the rich, the desirability of a large state and - above all - the economy: the spending commitments of the two largest parties differed by less than a rounding error before the last election and since then, the Coalition has in fact spent more than Labour promised to.

That Cameron has got as far as he has, pursuing his personal agenda rather than that of his party, is testament either to his great political skill or how unbalanced our constitution has become.

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5 Sep 2013 06:04:58

Nick Boles MP: With power comes responsibility - Conservative councils must say Yes to Homes

BOLES SMILINGNick Boles is Minister for Planning and Development and the Member of Parliament for Grantham and Stamford. Yes to Homes, a campaign from the National Housing Federation, encourages councillors and local people to say yes to new homes in their area. Sign up and join the campaign at:

The desire to provide a secure home for yourself and your family is one of the most fundamental human urges.  People love their homes, take pride in them, invest in them. If you know that you are likely to stay in your home for some time, you are more likely to meet your neighbours, support local community groups and get involved in local schools.  That’s why Conservative Prime Ministers from Harold Macmillan, through Margaret Thatcher and John Major, to David Cameron, have believed in extending home ownership.  All of them understood that the more people who are given the opportunity to buy their own home, the better it is for society as a whole. 

For some years we have not been building enough new homes to meet the needs of a population that is ageing and growing: partly because of an excessively restrictive and bureaucratic planning system and partly because of constrained access to finance following the bursting of Labour’s debt bubble.  This Government has acted to reform the planning system and make it simpler and more responsive.  We have also introduced Help To Buy, so that those who can afford to service a mortgage but don’t have the money for a 20 percent deposit are given a chance to get a mortgage and buy their own home.  These actions are beginning to bear fruit: there was a 20 percent increase in the number of housing units with detailed planning permission between 2011/12 and 2012/13; and housing starts have risen by six percent in the last quarter and are one third higher than they were this time last year. 

Nevertheless, there is much more work to do before we will be building enough to make homes available and affordable for all working people who want them (and not just those who can rely on the bank of mum and dad to give them a leg up.)  We are asking local councillors around the country to take this seriously and draw up plans identifying enough land to build the houses needed in their area in the next five years.  It is right that decisions about where new houses should go should be made locally – by people who know their area best.   But with that power comes responsibility: the responsibility to provide enough land to meet people’s housing needs in full.  Of course councillors should protect the Green Belt, our finest landscapes and areas of special environmental value.  Of course they should locate as many new homes as possible on brownfield sites.  These are admirable objectives which the Government strongly supports.  But they must not become excuses for local councils not to provide enough homes for the next generation.

The Conservative Party wins elections when it backs people’s ambitions to create a good life for themselves and their families.  It loses them when it defends the privileges of a comfortable elite.  As the next election approaches, David Cameron is clear that the Conservative Party should be saying Yes to Homes.