Conservative Diary

Big Beasts

1 Sep 2013 14:16:51

Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere

By Paul Goodman

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Andrew Gimson has correctly fingered David Cameron's temperament as Anglican, which makes it very different from Michael Gove's Manichean-flavoured one - of which the latter's view of foreign affairs is a reminder. This helps to explain why, although the Prime Minister and Education Secretary are friends, Gove almost certainly won't be sent to the Foreign Office in any second Cameron-led government. It's true that in opposition, Cameron tilted towards an interventionist-sceptic view of the world, and in government has tiled away from it again, as his actions in Libya and aspirations for Syria show. However, this makes him even less likely than before to send Gove to King Charles Street. He needs a Foreign Secretary who can sell intervention, if necessary, to a instinctively resistant Party - a role that William Hague could have played over Syria had he indicated more caution than the Prime Minister. The Education Secretary is not that person. If that second Cameron-led Government happens, Gove will be a candidate for the Home and not the Foreign Office.

Continue reading "Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere" »

2 Aug 2013 06:50:37

How Boris plans to run the Ultimate Bandwagon Leadership Campaign

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-08-01 at 18.07.04

"He is the Ulysses of our time, and sees the leadership as his Penelope. The Mayoralty is only Calypso - a stopping-point on the way back to what he sees as his own, as his possession. His competitors are the suitors.  He is coming for them with a quiverful of fiery arrows."

The Mayor of London's leadership ambitions are haunted by what Donald Rumsfeld would call a Known Known and a Known UnKnown.

The Known Known is the unhappy timing, from his point of view, of the next general and Mayoral elections.  The first takes place in May 2015.  The second takes place a year after.  Were Boris to re-enter the Commons in 2015 and David Cameron to lose, the election the former would not be able to enter an immediate Conservative leadership contest without being seen to break his word to serve a full-term as Mayor. (It is one thing to be both Mayor and an MP, as Ken Livingstone has done.  It would be another to be both Mayor and a Party leader.)

The Known UnKnown is the general election result.  I write above about the possibility of Cameron no longer being Prime Minister after 2015, but it's far from certain that this will be the case. He may well return to Downing Street at the head of another coalition government - either a recasting of this one with the Liberal Democrats, or a new one with the minor parties.  A Boris who had re-entered the Commons would, in these circumstances, be entitled to a Cabinet post: given his twice-victorious record in London, a Labour City, it could scarcely be otherwise.

Continue reading "How Boris plans to run the Ultimate Bandwagon Leadership Campaign" »

1 Aug 2013 06:34:56

Gove now almost level with Boris as Party members' favourite for next Tory leader

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

Gove Looking RightWhen we last reported on who Conservative members want as Party leader after David Cameron, the Mayor of London was the clear leader.  Preferences divided up as follows in May:

  • Boris Johnson: 30 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 17 per cent.
  • David Davis: 16 per cent.
  • William Hague: 16 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 12 per cent.

The results of our latest survey, conducted late last week, now find as follows:

  • Boris Johnson: 21 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 20 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 16.5 per cent.
  • William Hague: 15 per cent.
  • David Davis: 14 per cent.

Gove's steady rise will reflect the view of members that he is the Government's most effective Minister - in terms both of shaping policy to Conservative ends and taking on the left.

There's no convincing reason for Boris's fall of ten points other than the obvious one: he hasn't been in the news much during the past month.

This poll should be read in conjunction with James Forsyth's column in this week's Spectator.  James sets out the Mayor's planned path to the Premiership - which we will return to.

More directly to the point, as far as this poll is concerned, is Boris's apparent belief that Gove will now not run for the leadership post-2015 if David Cameron loses.

James claims that the Mayor now sees Theresa May, the deporter of Abu Qatada, as his main potential rival.  She's up in our poll - but her rise is modest.

Gove may not stand for the leadership if his friend, David Cameron, vacates it.  Or he may.  But one thing is certain: he has no shortage of admirers who would urge him to.

These include the Prime Minister himself.  George Osborne, of course, is not on easy terms with Boris, to put it mildly.

The prospect of the Cameron and Osborne duo pleading with Gove to stand - and preserve their legacy from the ravages of Boris - is not so far-fetched as to be beyond raising.

30 Jul 2013 12:06:08

How Maude believes government could save more taxpayers' money

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

For all Francis Maude's ultra-modernising views, his Conservative roots run very deep: after all, his father, Angus Maude, was Margaret Thatcher's Paymaster-General and co-author, with Enoch Powell, of Biography of a Nation.  In his time, man who now holds the same post as his father has been a Treasury Minister, lost a seat, found another, served as Shadow Chancellor and been Party Chairman.  In short, Maude is a veteran politician who could have put his feet up in office - as others have been known to do as they age - and treated his appointment as a bit of a last hurrah.

This hasn't happened.  Even his critics concede that he has made "far-reaching reforms", and Maude himself points out that the civil service is now at its smallest since the Second World War.  And although some of the work will doubtless have been outsourced, there's no doubt that the waste and extravagance of the Brown and Blair years is being curbed.  Behind the Times's paywall today, Rachel Sylvester describes how a team of civil servants helped to drive finding £500 million of savings last year, and believes that there are big digital reductions to be made across Government - "the Cabinet Office believes it can save 40 per cent on the cost of building secondary schools". (Peter Hoskin has described the enthusiasm of younger civil servants for change on this site.)

Continue reading "How Maude believes government could save more taxpayers' money" »

29 Jul 2013 10:40:20

Bad news but tabloid praise for Thesea May. The lady in the leopard print heels is now a Big Beast

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

May Theresa in blackI hate needles, and thus wouldn't care to inject myself twice a day, either in the stomach or thigh, as protection against Type 1 diabetes. The condition is nasty, but manageable - a point that she was careful to make yesterday about her sad news.  ‘There’s a great quote from Steve Redgrave who was diagnosed with diabetes before he won his last Olympic gold medal," she told the Mail on Sunday. "He said diabetes must learn to live with me rather than me live with diabetes. That’s the attitude.’

May was projecting the message that having Type 1 diabetes doesn't necessarily stop one from reaching the top - in sport or in politics.  One can have it, and still be an effective Home Secretary...or even (for who's to say what might happen in the future?) Prime Minister.  What strikes me the day after her interview is the contrast between the hearing she's had and the news about immigration.  Mark Wallace wrote yesterday about the Public Accounts Committee's criticisms of the way the figures are calculated.  I asked on Friday how May will persuade voters that her claims of having reduced immigration by a third are true.

Continue reading "Bad news but tabloid praise for Thesea May. The lady in the leopard print heels is now a Big Beast" »

18 Jul 2013 06:43:36

IDS, the one-man labour party - in the real sense of the word

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

Duncan Smith September 2011The formidable Conservative backbench support for transferable tax allowances shows how crucial marriage is to Tory thinking about social policy.  It's often accompanied by a preoccupation with the position of one-earner couples within the tax and benefit system, and a certain sympathy for universalism and hostility to means-testing: hence the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail's hostility to George Osborne's treatment of child benefit.  Iain Duncan Smith's support for marriage is well-known.  And although he isn't in charge of family policy - no-one is: a glaring weakness - he is central to its formation as delivery in his role as Work and Pensions Secretary.

At first glance, it might be assumed that Duncan Smith's position is aligned to his backbenchers, the Mail/Telegraph axis, and right-of-centre social policy writers such as Laura Perrins and Kathy Gyngell - who have recently set out similar views on this site.  But I have been discovering recently that it ain't necessarily so.  The Work and Pensions Secretary is carving out his own distinctive view, shaped by his experience with the Centre for Social Justice and evident in what his department is putting into practice.  He is certainly an enthusiast for transferable allowances, which he sees as helping to level the taxation playing-field for one-earner couples.

Continue reading "IDS, the one-man labour party - in the real sense of the word" »

8 Jul 2013 07:40:47

"What do they do all day?" Theresa May's struggle to make the Home Office fit for purpose

May Theresa Home Office
By Paul Goodman

Follow Paul on Twitter.

"Well done, Mrs May," says the Express this morning.  "Well done, Mrs May," echoes the Mail. (Or perhaps it's the other way round.) "The best Home Secretary in years, declares the SunThe Times (£) is more restrained: "Abu Qatada’s scrupulously legal expulsion shows the vitality of democratic values," it says.  The Guardian's Patrick Wintour reports that "calmness, sheer determination, thoroughness and prime ministerial were among the many plaudits being sent [May's] way". The editorial praise would have been mirrored by front page headlines had not the terror suspect been flown out of Britain in the early hours of Sunday morning, too late for that day's papers, and had Andy Murray not scooped Wimbledon yesterday.

None the less, the explusion of Qatada has been a political coup for the Home Secretary.  It follows falls in both gross and net immigration; a drop in the crime figures - despite the spending scaleback - and the (admittedly shaky) introduction of police commissioners.  All this has been managed from a department notorious for shredding the Secretaries of State who run it.  Charles Clarke resigned after the bungled release of foreign prisoners.  David Blunkett was forced out after a rumpus about his nanny's visa.  Jacqui Smith wished afterwards that she had had "training" for the post.  John Reid branded the department over which he presided "not fit for purpose".  How has Mrs May flourished, at least to date, where her predecessors failed?

Continue reading ""What do they do all day?" Theresa May's struggle to make the Home Office fit for purpose" »

7 Jul 2013 08:04:50

Theresa May, Strong Woman

May Theresa Home Office
By Paul Goodman

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Abu Qatada could have launched a last ditch legal appeal, rather than get on that plane from RAF Northholt.  Why didn't he?  Perhaps life in Belmarsh was proving unpleasant.  Perhaps he and his family were slowly ground down by all the negative publicity and its consequences.  Perhaps he simply thought he'd lose in court.  But whether so or not, he and his lawyers must certainly have been persuaded that he will now get a fair trial in Jordan.  And the factor that would have made the difference in this calculation would have been the new treaty between Britain and Jordan, drawn up after months of toil by James Brokenshire and Theresa May.

This is a huge moment for the Home Secretary.  She has already notched up Abu Hamza on her office wall.  Now she can add the name of Abu Qatada, one of Al Qaeda's most senior players.  The Government's critics will say that we shouldn't be in the ECHR at all and that, were we not, Qatada would have been forcibly deported many years ago.  They are undoubtedly right on the first point, and probably so, too, on the second, since our courts have twice upheld efforts to expel him.  But they are missing an important point.  The word on the street is that Britain's politicians are lost amidst a swamp of human rights laws - to the scorn of benefit-claiming terrorists.

Continue reading "Theresa May, Strong Woman" »

28 Jun 2013 10:53:24

Is the Defence Secretary really on manoeuvres?

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 09.58.42What is the best course to take in an interview if your name has been touted as a future Conservative leader - and you might not be averse to the prospect? Phillip Hammond provides a masterclass of how to navigate such choppy waters in his interview with Paul Waugh in this week's House magazine.

  • Deflate your prospects - but deny nothing. "Well I think they probably haven’t checked my birth certificate. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for that kind of thing. Look, I’ll be nearly 60 by the time of the next election.”
  • Attack the LibDems: it never does any harm. “I think it’s people who want to cut spending on the deterrent and really don’t care about maintaining our deterrent capability. That’s not naivety, that’s recklessness with Britain’s national security.”
  • If asked about your state school education, remind readers that you're not a posh boy (and know the price of milk). "I could give you, if you wanted, a list of very expensive public schools that don’t provide a very good education."
  • If portrayed as a Guardian reader, threaten to sue. "The scruffy hair, the tie undone, I’ll accept all of that... But what I absolutely will not accept is the Guardian under my arm. Never in a million years. Actually, I went through a phase of being an FT reader at school.

But is the Defence Secretary really "on manoeuvres"?  An important difference between Hammond and those others mentioned in the same breath as the leadership - Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May - is that there is no suggestion, no sign of a Hammond team: of an operation that works on his behalf.  (Up to a point, this is also true of the Education Secretary.)

His public demand for a further scaleback in welfare spending can be seen simply as a Minister defending his Department.  And his following in Gove's footsteps on how he'd vote in an In/Out EU referendum were one held today could be read as a man speaking his mind - as could his vocal criticism of Downing Street over same-sex marriage.

None the less, the accumulation of events is suggestive.  But what's good for the goose is good for the gander: having written earlier this morning that it's too early to take a firm view about Boris, it follows that it's too early to take a view on anyone else.  And Hammond has work to do: keeping our armed forces out of the Syrian swamp, for a start.

28 Jun 2013 07:51:56

He has protean strengths and is a proven winner. But it's too early to say that Boris should be the next Tory leader.

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 07.38.34
By Paul Goodman

Follow Paul on Twitter.

The sum of Lord Ashcroft's stupendously sizeable poll about Boris Johnson this morning - Ashcroft Polls will soon be taking samples from the entire country - is that the London Mayor is more popular but less rated than the Prime Minister. Our proprietor writes on this site today -

"When asked who would make the best PM, each of the three party leaders or Boris, David Cameron came out narrowly ahead on 33 per cent, two points ahead of Ed Miliband, four points ahead of Boris and 26 points ahead of Clegg. Among Conservatives, Cameron was the clear winner over Boris, by 81 per cent to 18 per cent."

Stephan Shakespeare wrote recently on this site about a YouGov poll on Boris, which found that "30 per cent of the intending voters in this sample said they would vote Conservative with Cameron in charge, and 36 per cent said they would vote Conservative with Johnson".

However, as Shakespeare himself pointed out, polls that ask how people would vote today were the party leaders different are highly speculative.  His polling converges with Lord Ashcroft's in finding that Boris scores well with UKIP voters, despite his shape-shifting views on Britain's EU membership.

All in all, Boris has protean strengths, some weaknesses and a proven track record as a Conservative election winner in what is essentially a Labour city - as well as a marvellous sense of the challenges facing ever-pullulating London.

But there is no evidence that he is better placed to succeed David Cameron than Michael Gove or  Theresa May or the unexpected candiate who pops up in leadership elections and usually wins.  Furthermore, the timing of a Boris Commons re-entry and a post-2015 poll don't fit neatly: he remains Mayor until 2106.

And finally, the whole caboodle may never arise, since Cameron could well lead a re-formed Coalition after the next election.  I end in oleaginous agreement with the proprietor: the case for Boris as leader isn't proven, and it's too early to start making it.