Conservative Diary

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How blue is the Coalition? Part Two: Home and Constitutional Affairs

By Paul Goodman

This is the second post in a five-part series asking: in practice, how Conservative is the Coalition?  In doing so, I'll examine its work under the same headings that Tory backbench committees follow, risk a very brief comparison with the Thatcher and Major Governments, and give a mark out of ten for "blueness".  It goes almost without saying that my view on what a Conservative view or policy is won't be everyone's.

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Home and Constitutional Affairs

It's a bit early to tell.  I'll consider the Government's police reform plans alongside its other public service revisions on Thursday.  Ken Clarke clearly wants to cut the number of people in prison.  The public would be endangered by such a move, though aided by separate plans to give them greater powers to protect themselves against criminals.  Theresa May's made a promising start in relation to barring extremist preachers from abroad.

There are questions over the future on civil liberties.  It's good that Labour's ID scheme's been scrapped, less so that the Government's dithering over 14 days. On immigration, the key decision will be at what level the cap will be placed.  Disagreements on this in government have been as much within the Coalition partners as between them.  The big blue casualty of the Coalition Agreement is the plan for a British Bill of Rights - itself an uncertain protection from the Human Rights Act.

Tories will dislike the main constitutional elements of the Agreement - the possibility of AV and no action on the West Lothian question.  Many won't want an elected second chamber.  The plan to cut the size of the Commons is right.  All in all, a very mixed bag to date, and even assuming that the police plan's delivered I can't go higher at present than...

Conservative Credentials: 5/10

The Coalition's prison view is not unlike that of previous Conservative Home Secretaries up until Michael Howard.  The Thatcher and Major Governments kept immigration relatively restricted, and preserved the British constitutional settlement.  The Coalition doesn't fare well by comparison on the latter front.  Howard helped to recast criminal justice policy, and the Government shouldn't squander his inheritance.


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