Conservative Diary

Big Society

9 Nov 2012 15:39:46

Justin Welby is a good choice for Archbishop of Canterbury

By Harry Phibbs
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The Church of England's decline has slowed, but not halted. Average church attendance in 2010 was 1.12 million, in 2011 it was 1.13 million. On the other hand, the number of church weddings is up even while the numbers getting married is down. In 1960 there were 2.2 million of us who took communion on Easter Sunday, by 2010 it was under a million.

This does not mean that Christianity is in decline. The numbers for the Roman Catholics and Baptists are on the up. Pentecostal numbers are sharply up.

Rowan Williams has been a popular Archbishop of Canterbury with the Guardianista atheists. But it is difficult to think of his being a success by any other criteria. The problems for the Church didn't begin with him but he has made matters worse.

As The Bible says:

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

Continue reading "Justin Welby is a good choice for Archbishop of Canterbury" »

13 Aug 2012 08:31:42

Does the Big Society belong in David Cameron’s new narrative?

By Peter Hoskin
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And the word of the day is “narrative”. Bruce Anderson uses it in his ConservativeHome column today, suggesting that David Cameron needs to find one — and quick. But it has also been hovering, more generally, over this Olympic period. As I suggested in a post yesterday, the Tory leadership has clearly recognised how the Games might help them tell a new, more optimistic story about this government and its plans.

One question is whether the “Big Society” should, in some form, be part of that story. After all, it may have stuttered and stumbled in the past, but this Burkean vision of society has just been given a boost by the Olympics’ own little platoons: the thousands of volunteers, troops, policemen and others who gave of their time and energy to make sure that the Games ran smoothly. The Big Society minister, Nick Hurd, is interviewed in the Times (£) today, praising their efforts and pushing for more in future. “Just as we want to use the Games to inspire a new generation of sports people,” he says, “there is the opportunity to inspire a new generation of volunteers.”

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3 Jul 2012 11:53:56

The Tory grassroots see education and welfare reforms as the political successes of the Cameron years

By Tim Montgomerie
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In last week's edition of the New Statesman I took a brief look at the state of Tory modernisation. I suggested that certain of the big change themes that Cameron has pursued since 2005 or more recently had not really stood the test of time - notably climate change (which he hardly mentions anymore) and the Big Society (ditto). I argued, however, that the party was succeeding in two big areas:

"The Conservative Party can emerge stronger from the ashes of the coalition in 2015 but the offering has to be consistent with the high points of Cameron’s time at No 10. Education and welfare are the two stand-out strengths. In Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, the Prime Min­ister has two of the most outstanding social reformers of our time. It would have been far-fetched to think of the Tories as the party of social reform before Cameron, but no longer. All the ingredients are there. They just need to be knitted together.

IDS is refashioning the welfare state so that work always pays more than benefits. He is reforming pensions so that the burden that faces the next generation of workers is not so impossible that they flee to less taxed nations. He is taking giant steps towards fashioning a welfare state that is focused on caring for the most deserving – the very young, the old, the sick and the severely disabled.

Gove, meanwhile, is pursuing his reforms to education. Over recent decades, the UK has slid down the international education league tables even faster than Leeds United have fallen behind in football. Central to Gove’s purpose is the restoration of honesty and ambition to the exams system."

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8 Apr 2012 14:31:29

There's nothing big society about capping big donations to charities

By Tim Montgomerie
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Photo (5)

George Osborne gave a good defence of his Budget yesterday, declaring that he wasn't in this for short-term politics but had taken decisions for the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy. Putting aside my belief that he should have done a lot more on competitiveness a lot earlier, should have accelerated spending cuts so he could afford substantial emergency tax relief for the low-paid and, thirdly, putting aside the Budget's dodgy presentation, I can't quarrel with most of the individual budget decisions. The so-called granny tax is perfectly justifiable given the heavy burdens on the young. The pasty tax clears up the anomaly whereby you pay VAT in a fish'n'chip shop but not for your pie in Greggs. The tapering of the child benefit policy tackles the cliff edge problem. Most of all the 50p and corporation tax cuts are vital for the UK economy's job creating potential (although if you are going to take the flak for lowering the top rate you might as well cut it to 40p and straight away).

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7 Feb 2012 08:26:58

The three kinds of compassionate conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the latest ConservativeHome survey we asked respondents to rate the importance of 23 policy themes for convincing voters "that the Conservatives are a modern, compassionate party". Respondents voted between 0 (unimportant) to 10 (very important). The average ratings are pasted below:

  1. Improve schools: 8.48
  2. Keep inflation under control: 8.33
  3. Fight crime: 8.29
  4. Helping the unemployed into work: 8.07
  5. Cut welfare bills: 8.02
  6. Looking after people who do the right thing: 8.02
  7. Cutting the debt burden on tomorrow's taxpayers: 8.01
  8. Reduce taxes on low income people: 7.77
  9. Address problem of long-term care for the elderly: 7.70
  10. Protect income of pensioners: 7.55
  11. Supporting marriage and the family: 7.46
  12. Improvement of the NHS: 7.10
  13. Early intervention programmes that prevent the most disadvantaged children becoming tearaways: 6.89
  14. Ensuring bankers and the rich make their full contribution to the nation's finances: 6.56
  15. Protection of Britain's environment: 5.85
  16. Help for poorer children to get into university: 5.66
  17. Better childcare: 5.56
  18. Improve the rights of disabled people: 5.25
  19. Reduction of regional inequalities: 5.23
  20. Encourage more giving to charities: 5.16
  21. Promote more northern candidates: 4.29
  22. Guard the rights of gay people: 3.39
  23. Fight hunger and disease in the poorest parts of the world: 3.38

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7 Nov 2011 19:30:37

10/10 Rebooting Project Cameron: Cameron needs a new big message

By Tim Montgomerie
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With the exception of "the grand bargain" and the idea of a Bruges-sized EU speech today's 'Rebooting series' has been focused on the mechanics of governing, especially personnel matters. Let me end, however, by returning to the big picture from which every thing else flows.

The biggest barrier between the Conservative Party and floating voters is the sense - polled by Lord Ashcroft - that we are a party for the haves rather than the have nots. George W Bush and Cameron both understood this and both crafted more compassionate brands of conservatism. Polling suggests Cameron is failing to change perceptions of the party. That's a shame because (for reasons I summarised this morning) he has delivered real and significant pro-poor changes. We are still, however, seen as too close to the wealthy and big business. This is partly because the sum of Cameron's efforts is smaller than the parts. They don't add up to anything resonant. Cameron's way of communicating a kinder, gentler Conservative Party - the Big Society - is very poorly understood. In fact it is electorally impotent.

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29 Sep 2011 08:17:34

What is Cameron's offer to the poor? What is Cameron's offer beyond deficit reduction?

By Tim Montgomerie
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6192391070_a632b31cb0 The latest edition of the New Statesman may boast an image of Margaret Thatcher on its front page, covered with kisses, but the main essay inside is a call from Philip Blond - the self-styled Red Tory - to form a post-liberal conservatism that is every bit as radical a departure from the status quo as Thatcher herself delivered in 1979.

Blond believes that Cameron's vision of the Big Society is the answer to the current crisis. He defines the crisis as a collapse in the social infrastructure that lies between the individual and the state. He agrees with Centre Forum's Julian Astle that Britain has long been run by a secret, albeit informal, club of thirty liberals - Cameroons, Blairites and Orange Book Liberal Democrats. I can imagine Peter Hitchens nodding vigorously. This, says Blond, has disastrous:

"Social liberalism, in freeing people from their obligations to each other and from nearly all conceivable constraints on behaviour, preached the progressive consequences of choice in anything from sex to fast food. Meanwhile, the variant of economic liberalism we were presented with seemed to provide endless credit on the basis of endlessly appreciating assets."

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18 Sep 2011 12:00:01

Gay marriage, and why CCHQ should carry out more polling

By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron fought the last election on a manifesto theme that was never tested with voters.  "An invitation to join the Government of Britain," it proclaimed - but no-one seems to have tried to find out whether the electorate would like to.  At first glance, it is surpassingly baffling that a leadership so consumed by changing the party to please voters didn't bother to find out whether the Big Society would do so.  Perhaps Steve Hilton simply didn't want any polling, and Cameron therefore wouldn't have it.  Perhaps - since no-one was clearly in charge of the campaign - the decision was so rushed that there wasn't time.  Or perhaps the Prime Minister believes in the idea so strongly that he believed testing it unnecessary.

I don't believe that opinion polls are the be-all and end-all of politics - as they came close to being under New Labour - but they have their place in it: as David Davis puts it, they should be a speedometer, not a compass.  The party certainly commissions them.  When I was in the Commons, MPs were regularly shown CCHQ's polling (or parts of it, anyway).  So what's puzzling is that it tends to use opinion polls so partially and incuriously.  This brings us to gay marriage.  I am against the proposal, but the debate's gone back and forth on this site, and I see no point in adding to it now.  What is worth adding, though, is that the idea provides a good example of where a little private party polling would do no-one any harm.

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17 Jul 2011 14:19:34

Are these David Cameron's ten biggest mistakes?

By Tim Montgomerie
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IMG_2418 In today's Sunday Telegraph I list what Tory members identify as David Cameron's ten biggest mistakes since becoming Tory leader in December 2005. Each respondent were asked to list THREE errors so the numbers add up to close to 300% not 100%:

  1. Making a "cast iron" commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and then abandoning that commitment: 48%
  2. Supporting climate change policies that are likely to increase energy bills: 40%
  3. Embarking on bold NHS reforms but then having to U-turn: 32%
  4. Making the Big Society a big part of the Conservatives’ electoral appeal: 25%
  5. Flirting with softer prisons and sentencing policies before U-turning: 24%
  6. Opposing grammar schools: 23%
  7. Agreement to Nick Clegg’s participation in the election debates: 22%
  8. Not making defence a spending priority: 21%
  9. Not campaigning on immigration: 20%
  10. A lack of economic policy-making before the recession, including the decision to match Labour's spending plans: 18%

If I had to pick the three biggest mistakes they would be (1), (7) and the biggest mistake of all, (10).

The Lisbon U-turn wasn't so much significant for what it said about Europe (although that did and does matter) but what it appeared to say to many voters and newspapers about Cameron's trustworthiness. I explain more in The Sunday Telegraph:

"Members remember that the binning of this pledge raised big questions about the Conservative leader’s trustworthiness. Newspapers attacked Cameron for being as cynical as Tony Blair in breaking faith with voters. If you look back at the pre-election opinion polls you can trace the slide in the Tory ratings to this “trust moment” and not, as is commonly suggested, after George Osborne had begun to set out controversial austerity measures."

Economic disarmanent and confusion throughout our time in opposition was members' tenth biggest mistake. I'd put it at the top of the list:

"Up until the economic crash, Osborne was mimicking Labour’s high-tax, high-spend policies. Even today the Tory leadership hasn’t got a powerful growth agenda. Cameron and Osborne need to be ready for the likely moment when the eurozone crisis reaches boiling point. That will be the time to pass controversial but necessary reforms to our tax, regulatory and banking systems and restore the British economy to competitiveness. After all the drama of the past two weeks, it will be economic policy that makes or breaks Cameron."

Read the full piece.

9 Jun 2011 11:09:16

If Lambeth Palace calls for a ceasefire, Downing Street's got no-one to negotiate it

by Paul Goodman

David Cameron's vengeful streak co-exists with a relaxed disposition.  On the one hand, the frontbenchers who crossed him in opposition are now backbenchers (think Patrick Mercer, for example).  On the other, he doesn't get too worked up about whatever the Daily Mail's editorial thunderbolt-of-the-day or Vince Cable's verbal atrocity-of-the-hour happens to be.  So although he'll be very alert to the dangers of Rowan Williams's rambling arabesques in the New Statesman - when will the Archbishop volunteer his services to the Spectator, by the way?* - my best guess is that he'll be less angry with what was in Williams's remarks than how they were released.

For as Tim reported earlier this morning, the Archbishop said what he said without tipping off Downing Street.  No-one picked up the phone to Number 10 yesterday evening to say: "Look, guys.  You know that Rowan doesn't agree with the Government about everything.  That's life.  He's just given an interview to the New Statesman slagging you off, and the Telegraph has the story.  That's life, too.  But it's only fair to give you notice, since that we've got to work together.  So no hard feelings, ok?"  Downing Street would probably then view the interview - and the hostilities that must follow - as a limited military engagement.  In their absence, it would be entitled to view the Archbishop's words as a declaration of war.

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