Conservative Diary

Building A Majority

5 Aug 2013 13:44:36

The wave of poverty sweeping Britain's coastal towns requires urgent action

By Mark Wallace
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Yarmouth Clipped

A new report from the Centre for Social Justice, Turning the Tide, explores the troubling wave of poverty engulfing numerous seaside towns, which have fallen from their former position as prosperous holiday destinations.

The CSJ's findings show exactly how serious the problem has become:

  • "Of the 20 neighbourhoods across the UK with the highest levels of working-age people on out-of-work benefits, seven are in coastal towns..."
  • "In one part of Rhyl, two thirds of working-age people are dependent on out-of-work benefits"
  • "...coastal towns are among the most educationally deprived in the whole country. Some 41 per cent of adults in Clacton have no qualifications, almost double the national average for England and Wales."
  • "Of the 10 wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four are in seaside towns"
  • Blackpool local authority has the highest rate of children in care in the whole of England – 150 per 10,000 population – far exceeding the English average of 59."

Such issues are not unique to the seaside, but as a class of towns they share a remarkable number of symptoms regardless of location. As ConHome's recent feature on the topic found, there is an urgent need for the Conservative Party and the Government to address the issues faced by the British seaside.

It was bad enough for former tourist resorts and fishing towns to see the rise of the package holiday and the devastation brought by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. But those were the beginning, not the end, of the coast's problems.

Today's report explores the way in which poverty attracts further poverty, with some local authorities using collapsing house prices and converted guest houses to make the seaside a "dumping ground" for the vulnerable, the poor and the long term unemployed.

That numerous such towns are represented by Conservative MPs - such as Brandon Lewis in Great Yarmouth and Douglas Carswell in Clacton - offers unique insights into how these issues might be addressed. But we can only get such insights, and have time to act on them, if the party takes an interest.

As we recommended at the start of July, there are three steps that must be taken to get the process started:

  • Instead of simply pairing coastal PPCs with a nearby MP as their mentor, seek to pair them with a sitting coastal MP who can share more relevant knowledge
  • Treat coastal seats as a distinct group within the "40/40" marginal seats - both in terms of the policy challenges they face and in terms of analysing their new Mosaic demographic data to understand the electoral features they have in common
  • Establish a group within the Conservative Parliamentary Party specifically made up of coastal MPs, to raise the pressure on Ministers to address their shared issues

The CSJ's findings make this all the more urgent.

15 Jul 2013 13:01:08

A hearty welcome for Renewal, the new campaign group designed to extend the Tories’ electoral appeal

By Peter Hoskin
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Actually, there’s another word of the day – and that word is “group”. David Skelton’s campaign group Renewal, designed to extend the Tories’ appeal into areas like the North, properly launches this evening. The Forty Group, composed of Tory MPs in marginal seats, is publishing a list of policies designed to attract those voters floating in the centre of the political spectrum. And then a cross-party group called British Influence, as chaired by Ken Clarke, Peter Mandelson and Danny Alexander, is saying some stuff about Europe.

Of these various group interventions, perhaps the most eye-catching is the first. ConservativeHome readers will already be familiar with David Skelton’s campaign, not least because he wrote about it for us at its conception in April, and we also, last week, published four extracts – one, two, three, four – from a collection that it is releasing today. But familiarity oughtn’t breed anything other than cordiality, in this case. Renewal is doing important work, and all signs are that it will do it well.

I suppose one question is whether the Tory leadership will take up Renewal’s ideas. Looking at the policies that the group is advocating today, I’m sure Cameron & Co. will be struck by the proposal for allowing trade union members to donate their political levy to whichever party they choose. But as for raising the minimum wage, that could fall against worries that an ever-rising minimum wage will dissuade employers from taking on new staff. The trend within Government has been more towards a frozen, or even reduced, minimum wage.

But let’s leave all that aside for now, and simply welcome Renewal to the Westminster landscape – and beyond. Good luck, David.

1 Jul 2013 07:29:02

Understanding - and winning - seaside seats

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 07.26.04
By Mark Wallace
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I grew up by the seaside, and have always counted myself lucky to do so. Despite being an island nation, with so much of our history tied up in maritime commerce and adventure, it is remarkable how many of us rarely visit the coast.

There is something about the sea which has a deep impact on those who live near it - perhaps it's the constant changes between rough and calming weather, or the opportunity to see for such a distance without interruption. You never meet anyone who used to be a coastal resident who says they are glad to see the back of it.

Whether it's for that reason or some other cause, coastal constituencies have always had a distinct, if under-appreciated, character of their own, too. Current discussions about how to succeed in different seats nearly always rest on the supposed North-South divide, but ignore the more subtle ways in which we are divided by our geography.

Continue reading "Understanding - and winning - seaside seats" »

9 Mar 2013 07:02:46

Only 7% of Tory members think Cameron can win a majority in 2015

By Tim Montgomerie
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Over the last year, since March 2012, the percentage of Tory members thinking that Cameron and the Conservatives can stay in power after the next election has shrunk from 62% to just 25%. The percentage thinking Cameron can win an outright majority has shrunk from 23% to just 7%. The specific expectations are:

  • 31% expect an outright Labour majority;
  • 9% expect a minority Labour government;
  • 34% expect a Lab / Lib Dem Coalition;
  • 8% expect a second Tory / Lib Dem Coalition;
  • 11% expect a minority Tory government;
  • And 7% expect a Conservative majority.

Continue reading "Only 7% of Tory members think Cameron can win a majority in 2015" »

7 Oct 2012 07:17:07

Nearly everything you've ever read about 'the Tory brand problem' is wrong

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Tories should stop banging on about Europe if they want to win.

The Tories are too hard on immigration and crime.

The Conservatives are homophobic, anti-women and sometimes even racist.

How many times have we heard things like this said by commentators, our opponents and even Tory über-modernisers?

A new YouGov poll for ConHome suggests that these obsessions of the chattering classes are not, actually, the explanation for why Conservatives have struggled to win more than a third of the vote at four successive elections. The reasons are perhaps more straightforward, obvious and, at the same time, more challenging. The party needs to prove that it is committed to the public services and is on the side of ordinary families. To put it another way - our problem is not that we're too right-wing or insufficiently libertarian but that we aren't seen as committed to 'Britain's social contract' - to the NHS, to pensioners, to a basic safety-net.

Continue reading "Nearly everything you've ever read about 'the Tory brand problem' is wrong" »

6 Aug 2012 15:08:21

No more Lords reform — and dwindling hope for a Conservative majority

By Peter Hoskin
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Just another quiet Monday afternoon in August? Not at all. Nick Clegg has just given a statement confirming something that is equal parts unsurprising and politically significant: Lords reform is dead for this Parliament. He says that David Cameron has been unable to persuade enough Conservative MPs to back the proposed legislation, and so it’s been binned. As a result, the Lib Dems will now vote against the boundary changes as currently proposed, although the legislation will still go through Parliament.

The Deputy Prime Minister was eager to suck the poison from this moment, claiming that this is the first time since the election that the Coalition has broken one of the mutual bargains in their original Agreement. But that fact also highlights how noteworthy today’s news is. Today marks a new chapter in the biography of this government, and it is likely that all subsequent chapters will be ill-natured. Many Tories and non-Tories alike are pointing out that Lords reform and the boundary review weren’t actually linked in the Coalition Agreement as Clegg linked them today. The actual passage from the Agreement ties up the boundary review with the AV referendum, as below. So is it Clegg who’s going back on what was promised?

Continue reading "No more Lords reform — and dwindling hope for a Conservative majority" »

23 Jul 2012 17:45:20

Conservatives must champion "the consumer, the taxpayer and the entrepreneur"

By Tim Montgomerie
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Matt Sinclair of the TaxPayers' Alliance has written a good blog over at Coffee House defending George Osborne's determination to take on the green lobby and get a better deal for energy users. The Chancellor, argues Matt, is on the side of the consumer.

Standing up for the consumer is just one manifestation of what I've called a "Conservatism of the little guy". In an article I highlighted yesterday from US Congressman Paul Ryan he said Republicans should be the party of "the consumer, the taxpayer and the entrepreneur". Simple, but true. This idea of battling for the Average Joe against the machine is one of the themes being tested in the latest ConservativeHome survey. Item 12 in a list of 23 ideas to win the next election is "a new consumer agenda that reduces the power of big banks, energy companies and supermarkets".

Continue reading "Conservatives must champion "the consumer, the taxpayer and the entrepreneur"" »

5 May 2012 12:24:01

Ed Miliband makes fewer mid-term gains than William Hague but Britain has only swallowed 15% of the Coalition's medicine

By Tim Montgomerie
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So were the results good for Ed Miliband? He certainly won more council seats than Conservatives expected him to win. Labour certainly performed better than I expected. But are they an indication that Ed Miliband is heading to Number 10? Grant Shapps suggests no, tweeting: "Two years into the Labour govt Hague made a far more impressive 1,300 gains. EdM might note that William never actually became PM!" But Ed Miliband doesn't have to make anywhere near as much progress as Hague had to do. Hague started with 165 MPs. Miliband begins with 258. The Labour percentage of the vote has been boosted by the defection of two million or more ex-Lib Dem voters. These left-leaning voters will not quickly vote Yellow again after seeing Nick Clegg do a deal with the 'evil Tories'. Labour goes into the election with 34% to 36% locked up - not so far away from being the largest party.

And if Labour don't face such an uphill struggle as Hague, IDS, Howard or Cameron did, I'm not sure that the Coalition can look forward to gentler slopes itself. We may be in the mid-term of a parliament but the Government's work is not half-done. It's not close to being half-done. Only 15% of the austerity measures have bitten. The biggest and least pleasant welfare cuts are still to come. According to the Prime Minister we're not even halfway through the €urozone's crisis. The NHS reforms are still around the corner. The Coalition's rose garden moments are behind it.

DNULASome big things could, of course, get better. Growth might resume. Inflation might subside. The boundary review, a focus on defeating Lib Dem MPs and a reunification of the Eurosceptic vote might all happen. It may also be the case that in difficult times voters will prefer George Osborne and David Cameron over Ed Balls and Ed Miliband as economic managers (they do at the moment by 36% to 28%). My overall sense remains that we need a game-changer to win the next election, however, and that, while Ed Miliband may be a liability for his party, his party is back in power in Harlow, Southampton, Plymouth and Reading as well as recovering in Scotland and dominant again in Wales. As I've argued before, there is a distinction between underestimating Ed Miliband and underestimating Labour.