Conservative Diary


23 Apr 2013 08:18:28

Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both.

By Paul Goodman
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Earlier this month, after the news was announced of Rohan Silva's depature from Downing Street, I listed some of those who had left previously:

  • Tim Chatwin, Head of Strategic Communications.
  • James O’Shaughnessy, Head of Policy.
  • Peter Campbell, who helped to prepare him for Prime Minister's Questions - as he did former Conservative leaders.
  • And Steve Hilton (who needs no introduction).

Continue reading "Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both." »

30 Mar 2013 08:57:42

(1) I don't buy the idea that Cameron is a major asset to the Tory Party... but (2) he shouldn't be ousted... and (3) he can still win the next election

By Tim Montgomerie
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Photographs in this post are the copyright of i-Images

Matthew Parris has conducted an interesting survey of thirty Tory MPs in marginal seats. You can read my summary of the results he found on the MPsETC page. The MPs come across as a pretty cautious bunch and are anxious about making any big moves. They largely oppose, for example, a big tax cut or any more welfare cuts. They don't want a U-turn on gay marriage or any further reorganisation of the NHS. They like the idea of reforming human rights laws but, sensibly, don't want the party leadership to promise anything that can't be delivered.

Matthew Parris (Times (£)) also finds that all thirty think David Cameron is an asset to the Conservative Party:

"At least one (and I suspected a handful more) had personal doubts about their leader, but all were clear that on balance he won them votes. Most of them reminded me that he is “more popular than the party”. He’s a “huge plus,” said another. I jotted down phrases like “massive asset”; “More voted for him than for me”; “He got me elected.” “Not just ‘on balance’,” one MP corrected me, “Cameron’s by far and away our strongest card.”"

Continue reading "(1) I don't buy the idea that Cameron is a major asset to the Tory Party... but (2) he shouldn't be ousted... and (3) he can still win the next election" »

24 Mar 2013 21:20:58

The shrinking Cameron project

By Tim Montgomerie
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I have never been a huge fan of Cameron. The über-modernisation. The disregard for the views of Tory MPs and grassroot members. The incompetent 2010 general election campaign. The rush to coalition, including a badly-negotiated deal on AV. The decision to backload spending cuts and frontload tax rises. The lack of a proper growth strategy. This last week has taken me to a new place, however. The shambolic handling of press regulation. The decision to offer a childcare subsidy that wasn't in the Coalition Agreement - alongside a failure to deliver a marriage tax allowance that was. And, most significantly, the Budget that gave up on deficit reduction and, in its place, announced a housing policy that may create another dangerous boom.

Cameron's leadership is indeed looking like a lost decade.

In Cameronism's first phase there was huge ambition. He was going to transform Britain and conservatism. He was going to fight climate change, protect the NHS from further reorganisation, rebuild the family, cut big business down to size and work towards a ministerial team that was one-third women.

Continue reading "The shrinking Cameron project" »

21 Jan 2013 06:58:39

Let's acknowledge that Cameron has moved towards the Conservative Mainstream in recent months

By Tim Montgomerie
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We still don't quite know for sure what David Cameron will say in his Europe speech but I would now be flabergasted if he doesn't promise the biggest ever attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with Brussels and also an In/Out referendum at the end of that process of renegotiation. I fear he won't deliver the third commitment that the ConHome Editors requested last week - legislation in this parliament to underwrite the referendum promise (the 'John Baron commitment') - but David Cameron is set to make a huge attempt to take Britain off the path to ever closer union. When we hear the speech I suspect he will embrace a great deal of the Fresh Start agenda co-ordinated by MPs Andrea Leadsom, Chris Heaton-Harris and George Eustice.

The speech is not going to contain everything Tory MPs or Tory members wanted but it is a huge step forward. It is going to be interesting to see how the party reacts.

  • Will the party's Eurosceptics celebrate the huge stride forward or complain that it wasn't quite what they wanted?
  • Will we focus on the fact that this Tory PM is more Eurosceptic than any of his predecessors or will we publicly fret that he's not as Eurosceptic as we'd like him to be?
  • Will we attack Labour and the Liberal Democrats for denying the people a say on Europe or will some of us focus on the complaint that Cameron is not offering a mandate as well as a post-renegotiation referendum?

Continue reading "Let's acknowledge that Cameron has moved towards the Conservative Mainstream in recent months" »

19 Jan 2013 09:01:39

What the Tory modernisers did next

By Peter Hoskin
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BookcoverI’ve just finished reading Bright Blue’s pamphlet Tory Modernisation 2.0, which was unleashed on a Europe-fixated Westminster on Wednesday. It contains, of course, the excellent essay by Graeme Archer that we published on ConHome that day — but there are nine others, on subjects ranging from the environment to the north, by authors including David Willetts, Matthew d’Ancona and David Skelton. It’s certainly one I’d recommend for this snowbound weekend. You can download the whole thing here.

But in case you don’t have the time or inclination to shuffle through Tory Modernisation 2.0, here are five brief points that I’ve distilled from its pages. They by no means offer a complete overview of the book; just some of its more persistent themes, which I shall likely return to in future. And they also happen to suggest where the modernisers’ minds are at now. Here goes:

Continue reading "What the Tory modernisers did next" »

15 Dec 2012 13:29:13

Cameron risks the revenge of "the elderly of the earth"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-12-15 at 13.02.46Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly.  For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then).  The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled".  But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower.  And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn.  Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse.  You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people.  But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views.  (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots).  Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.

Continue reading "Cameron risks the revenge of "the elderly of the earth"" »

11 Oct 2012 08:16:40

Is Cameron 7.0 the real thing or a false dawn?

By Tim Montgomerie
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I can't remember a Cameron speech that has had such a good response from the whole centre right...

  • The Sun calls it "impressive and statesmanlike". The Telegraph praised it as "uncomplicated and distinctively Conservative".
  • Tory modernisers and mainstreamers both applauded. Ian Birrell described it as "a definition of modern conservatism that unites the left and right of the party while challenging the shallow one-nation rhetoric of his rivals". Iain Martin blogged that the speech had got the PM back in business.
  • Bruce Anderson writes this morning that the speech mixed Churchillian hopefulness and Thatcherite resolve.
  • IDS told The Express that it was probably Cameron's best. Even Nadine Dorries Twittered that it was "excellent".

But what now?

A speech rarely changes anything. We must now wait to see if Cameronism 7.0 (copyright Matthew Engel in today's FT (£)) is the real settled thing or if it's just another iteration, designed for the Tory leader's seventh party conference speech but not for beyond. Ever since it was first forged in very different times Cameronism has struggled to find definition. His inner circle has sometimes given the impression that Cameronism is whatever Cameron says it is - seeming to believe that the Tory leader's own reasonable, moderate personality is the personification and sum of what modern Conservatism needs to be. Up until now Tory modernisation has been pursued with carelessness, even recklessness. The NHS was put centre stage but then a massive reorganisation was introduced, contrary to promises. The big idea of the Big Society was never tested in focus groups or in opinion polls and flopped on the doorsteps. Greenery - as a political message - has been all but abandoned since Cameron became PM.

Continue reading "Is Cameron 7.0 the real thing or a false dawn?" »

24 Jul 2012 15:37:11

Happiness measures may seem trivial, but...

By Peter Hoskin
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Smiley Face

Are you happy? What makes you happy? Do you feel that your life is worthwhile? I ask not out of fluffy concern, I'm afraid, but because these are the sorts of questions that underpin the datasets released by the Office for National Statistics this morning. Yes, some years after David Cameron first talked about focusing on National Well-being (or General Well-being, as he called it at the time) as well as GDP, we finally have some numbers to process. Although, a health warning first: this is all still a work-in-progress. The ONS has published a glut of ‘experimental’ figures relating to one aspect of National Well-being — subjective well-being, aka "how we feel" — as well as a couple of more laid-back documents investigating how health and home contribute to our happiness. They're still working towards a more holistic measure.

So what do these experimental figures show? The headline finding is surely that we’re a fairly contended bunch. For instance, 76 per cent of people over 16 rate their ‘life satisfaction’ at 7-out-of-10 or higher. That increases to 80 per cent on the question of whether ‘the things you do in your life are worthwhile’. And then ... oh, hold on a minute, I know what some of you are thinking. Aren't these happiness measures rather trivial, particularly at a time when the hard economic statistics — GDP growth, inflation, unemployment rates — seem to better capture what many people are going through? Why should we even care?

Continue reading "Happiness measures may seem trivial, but..." »

15 Jul 2012 08:46:09

Cameron says something interesting but is anyone paying attention?

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron writes for this morning's Sunday Times (£) and sets out why the Coalition still has a uniting purpose. Two paragraphs stand out to me. One in which he set out some core beliefs and another in which he set out the Coalition's main achievements (so far).


  1. "We can’t keep paying the government’s bills on the back of more and more debt.
  2. We can’t keep creating jobs in the public sector to make up for a lack of private sector growth.
  3. We can’t afford a broken welfare system that pays people to sit at home doing nothing.
  4. We can’t put up with schools that don’t teach properly and exams that are too easy.
  5. And we need to find new ways of competing in a world where countries such as China are getting richer by the day and new technologies are transforming jobs everywhere."


  1. "We’ve got the deficit down by a quarter already.
  2. We’re reforming schools and welfare. We’re on the side of people who work hard and want to get on in life.
  3. We have tackled some long-term challenges — such as funding our universities, capping benefit bills and reforming public sector pensions — that have eluded one-party governments. Just last week the independent Office for Budget Responsibility concluded that we had cut the long-term costs of our public sector pensions by almost a half."

This is a good story to tell but it's not getting through to the public. Cameron's ratings, in particular, are poor. According to The Sunday Times/ YouGov poll (PDF) only 34% think Cameron is doing well and 61% think he is doing badly. 66% think he is out of touch (a -43% net rating). 44% think he is dislikeable (-2%). 47% think he is weak (-9%). 47% think he is indecisive (-7%). 52% think he has run out of ideas (-20%).

Continue reading "Cameron says something interesting but is anyone paying attention?" »

20 May 2012 11:00:47

The uses and abuse of Steve Hilton

By Paul Goodman
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Every boy and every girl, That's born into the world alive...

HILTON STEVEThere are as many ideas about what politics is as there are people to conceive them, but here are two.  The first is that the reach of politics is unlimited: that it is capable of ushering in the perfect society, or something very close to it.  The second is that the reach of politics is limited: that it doesn't transfigure the depths of the human heart, and thus can't bring about that perfect society.  It can only make things a little bit better, or a bit less bad.  The first sees politics as a form of social engineering; the second as a kind of human artefact.  The first sees it as a science; the second as an art.

Socialists, international and national, tend to lean in the first direction and conservatives and liberals (classical ones, anyway) plump strongly for the second, but what shapes the flavour of a person's politics is less belief than sensibility - temperament, taste and, in the Burkean sense of the word, prejudice: I have known libertarians so dazzled by ideas that theirs have come to have the smell of ideology.  Steve Hilton is not a libertarian, but his politics has about a religious flavour, a messianic zeal, unique among the Ed Llewellyns and Andrew Coopers and Patrick Rocks and other worldly creatures who make up Team Cameron.

Continue reading "The uses and abuse of Steve Hilton" »