Conservative Diary


22 Oct 2009 10:55:11

Questions for you on candidate selection

At 1pm today I plan to conduct a special poll of grassroots members on All Women Shortlists and what can be done to create a better parliamentary party. Please use the thread below to suggest any questions I should be asking. Thank you.

Tim Montgomerie

15 Oct 2009 08:54:33

David Cameron should not abuse his powers of patronage

Lords chamber The Daily Telegraph's Benedict Brogan notes in this morning's paper that if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year, he will swiftly need to appoint a raft of new peers in order to rebalance the arithmetic in the House of Lords "as a matter of urgency".

This I do not doubt; indeed, it is an issue which ConservativeHome has addressed previously by seeking suggestions as to who should be appointed to the Upper House by an incoming Conservative administration.

But I am somewhat concerned by the rumours flagged up in the article that Mr Cameron may be thinking of following the lead of Tony Blair in seeking to persuade MPs to stand down at the last possible moment - on the promise of a peerage and ministerial office - in order to free up safe seats for favoured candidates:

"Tory sources talk of 30 to 40 new peers to be created in short order, which explains the accelerating Establishment stampede to catch up with the Cameron bandwagon. Baubles remain a potent inducement, and the Tories know it. Particular attention is being paid to sitting MPs who might be suitable for a ministerial job in the Lords. The Tory front bench there is in need of bolstering in order to cope with the drudge of government. While those caught dredging their moats cannot hope for the consolation of ermine, a list of candidates is being quietly drawn up. I'm told that the names circulating include James Paice, Keith Simpson, Tim Yeo and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown*. All could be asked to exit the Commons at short notice before polling day, giving Mr Cameron another clutch of seats to distribute."

As we have previously reported, any candidate selections taking place in seats where the sitting MP announces their retirement after Christmas will see by-election rules kick in - i.e. CCHQ will limit associations to choosing from a list of just three names to pick a new candidate. Party chairman Eric Pickles told ConservativeHome in July that he wanted MPs to make their intentions clear as soon as possible as regards whether they would stand down or not:

The chairman also added that he expects to see "a significantly larger number" of retirements than have already been announced and expressed a desire that his colleagues did make their minds up before Christmas in order that associations get "the widest possible choice they can".

It is therefore unnerving to hear rumours that the party leader may be actively seeking to circumvent the full selection process in some seats at the last minute. I hope that he too will echo the party chairman's call for MPs wanting to stand down to make that announcement as soon as possible so as to maximise the choice (as far as it goes under the already amended rules) open to associations when selecting.

Jonathan Isaby

*Tuesday update: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP has been in touch and says: "I would like to state that there have been no discussions with me on this proposal and I fully expect to be the Conservative Candidate for the Cotswold constituency at the next election. I would be grateful if you could clarify this in your piece."

16 Sep 2009 12:39:00

David Cameron covers welfare reform, public spending, the Lisbon Treaty and candidate selection at his monthly press conference

David Cameron press conf Sept 2009 At his monthly press conference this morning, David Cameron gave his take on the leaked Treasury documents showing planned spending cuts of 9.3%, which I have added to the original thread on that issue.

He also covered a range of other issues, including the following.

On today's Centre for Social Justice Report: "The report shows that the big thinking on reforming the welfare state is taking place on the Centre-Right of British politics". He said that it was an "interesting report" and that the party would study it "very carefully".

Defending ring-fencing of the International Aid budget: He defended the ring-fencing of the DfID budget, saying that it was about showint "the sort of country that we are... a generous, outward-looking country" that wants to recognise that even in a recession people on the other side of the world are "desperately poor and need our help". But he emphasised the need for transparency in the aid budget and said he agreed that it was not appropriate that aid money was going to China.

On the potential for defence cuts and/or cancelling specific projects: He said it was difficult in Opposition to get details of contracts and so on, but that it was important there was a proper strategic defence review "quickly after the election". He said that defence firms should not take everything they've read in The Times at face value. He added later that no area is exempt from the need to control public spending... Do we discuss all things that could be done? Of course we do".

Continue reading "David Cameron covers welfare reform, public spending, the Lisbon Treaty and candidate selection at his monthly press conference" »

22 Aug 2009 08:58:18

How well did Conservatives use our years of Opposition?

"This is almost certainly the Conservative Party’s final summer in opposition: for Tories, the last of the summer whines. After that, one more party conference; and then they look forward to government. For them it’s about the future now: no time to linger over might-have-beens, no point in post mortems on opposition.  But the rest of us are entitled to sneak a backwards glance. What kind of opposition have they proved? How did they handle those 12 years?"

So asks Matthew Parris in his column for Saturday's Times.

Here are my random observations (inspired by Peter Franklin's 'Ten unwasted years' piece written in May 2007):

Hague Keep The Pound We saved the pound. If William Hague hadn't have campaigned so vigorously against Blair on keeping the pound (and against Ken Clarke and the other Europhiles) Britain may have been in the eurozone now. By making it a party political issue (something that would have been impossible if Clarke had become leader in 1997 or 2001) Blair did not dare hold a referendum.

Without Tory support the Iraq war may never have happened.  That's certainly my view and the view of the Bush White House.  I suspect a good half of Tory members regret the position that Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Ancram, Michael Howard, Oliver Letwin and the rest of the shadow cabinet took at that time.  I do not.  I regret the way the war was prosecuted.

We have accepted key parts of the '1997 settlement'.  We have not struggled against all that Labour has done.  We have accepted that devolution is here to stay.  We now support Bank of England independence - if not the tripartite regulatory regime that accompanied independence.  We support the minimum wage and 0.7% of national income being spent on overseas aid.  We support the rights introduced for gay Britons although are more careful than Labour about protecting the freedoms of churches and others to disagree with homosexuality.

Continue reading "How well did Conservatives use our years of Opposition?" »

15 Aug 2009 18:42:12

Reasons why the next parliamentary Conservative Party won't be subservient

NearlyAll The new conventional wisdom out there is that the next generation of Tory MPs is going to be dull, careerist and Cameroonian.  John Kampfner in today's Daily Mail writes an article headlined "Hunky Dunky is an odious fool - but lobotomised, cloned MPs could be even worse."  He goes on to write that the new intake of MPs "have never entered the real world" and "are well tuned to the subservience needed to climb the ladder."  "Most worryingly," Kampfner concludes, "David Cameron (who once proclaimed himself the 'heir to Blair') seems, like Blair, comfortable only in the presence of such clones."  The pundits hate the idea of a grey political political class but then rant at any elected member who dares to be different.

Kampfner and the many commentators who have joined the herd are going to be surprised.  Jonathan Isaby and I have spent more time studying the views of 'the Class of 2010' and offer three main observations about them:

  1. The majority of the next generation of Conservative MPs are not CCHQ's first choice.  David Cameron's first choice of candidates appeared on his 'A List 100'.  Only a quarter of the candidates in the top 225 target seats are members of the 'A List 100'.  44 were adopted under the leaderships of Hague, IDS and Michael Howard.  They are fighting their seats for the second and third time and have a certain independence because of that.  A large number were selected as local candidates against the wishes of CCHQ who regularly rang Association Chairman, encouraging them to choose female A-listers.  Of the women A-listers that were adopted (I think of Philippa Stroud, Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Louise Bagshawe, Karen Bradley and so on) they tended to be more independently-minded. 
  2. They are Thatcherites at home in today's Britain.  They are Thatcherite in that they want lower taxes, support foxhunting, are deeply Eurosceptic and believe in school choice.  They are at home in modern Britain in that they are supportive of gay rights, are civil libertarian and use the NHS.  See polling.
  3. They cannot afford to be seen as too subservient to the whips.  If Cameron goes ahead with his commitment to cut the number of MPs by 10% then nearly every MP will have to be readopted (by their Associations or in open primary contests).  MPs (and more won't be ministers given Cameron's planned cull of frontbench posts) will keep close to local voters or risk a 'save the local hospital/ regiment/ bypass/ library/ wetland' candidate. 

Any reader wanting to know more should scroll down The next generation of Conservative MPs category on the Seats and candidates blog.

The other reason why the next Parliament won't be slavishly loyal to Cameron is that existing MPs don't think he has been loyal to them during the expenses crisis.  ConHome was first with an analysis of 'the upset' between MPs and David Cameron's office because many felt he hadn't stuck up for them against a frenzied public.  That feeling was one reason why Cameron dare not sack Alan Duncan for his 'we-are-treated-like-s**t' remarks.

I don't predict big tensions.  In the early months of government the 2010 intake will be too busy to do anything but behave.  But commentators and the Tory whips office are making a big mistake if they think them "lobotomised."

Tim Montgomerie

8 Jul 2009 09:03:09

84% of Tory members want Conservatives to give British people a referendum if Lisbon is ratified

Click on image to enlarge.

PostLisbonStrategies Interestingly most believe that the referendum should not just address the issue of powers transferred under Lisbon but also Britain's wider relationship with the EU*.

Last week we published a survey of 144 Tory candidates in our top target seats which pointed to their deep Euroscepticism:

Tim Montgomerie

* 1,528 Tory members voted from 30th June to 2nd July.

7 Jun 2009 08:55:23

Should Conservative candidates be able to say that they support leaving the European Union?

That was the question asked of Conservative Party members in the recent ConHome grassroots survey.  I promised not to publish the results until after polling day and, now it's 6th June, here they are:

  • Yes, they should be completely free to do so: 59%
  • Yes, but they should not expect to be able to join the Conservative frontbench if elected: 18%
  • No, they should support official policy with regard to Britain's continuing membership of the EU: 23%

I asked the question after two adopted candidates in highly winnable seats had contacted me in response to my own declaration of joining 'Better Off Out' on 22nd May.  The two candidates told me that they would like to do the same but had been forbidden from doing so by CCHQ.  One of the candidates had been told: "We give you permission and the floodgates will open."

There's only one candidate who has got away with identifying with Better Off Out so far and that's Gordon Henderson (our candidate in Sittingbourne and Sheppey).  He made the pledge before the CCHQ clampdown.

Candidates are subject to stricter control than MPs.  Anti-membership MPs are not allowed to sit on the frontbench but Philip Davies MP and Douglas Carswell MP, among others, retain the whip despite their opposition to Britain's continued membership of the EU. 

Tim Montgomerie

> A ConHome survey in July 2006 found 63% of members supportive or sympathetic to the Better Off Out campaign.

1 Jun 2009 07:31:00

Boris wants Heffer in the Commons

HefferObamaed Simon Heffer may have rubbished Boris Johnson on the eve of last year's election but London's Mayor urges his Telegraph colleague to run for Parliament today.  The whole column is Boris at his teasing best.  Read it all but here's a taster:

"Imagine the thrill of watching a debate in the Commons, and all the Buggins'-turn merchants making their predictable contributions; and then imagine the look on their faces as Heffer rises to satirise the proceedings – irascible, implacable and, above all, independent. Imagine if Heffer could be persuaded to serve on one of the European standing committees. He would not succeed in stemming the tide of European legislation, since it is constitutionally impossible to do so; but he would make the most fantastic fuss, and he would remind the British public what was going on.

I have heard it said that the Conservatives are using this crisis to drum out some of the old guard and install a cooler, groovier and more metropolitan breed of Conservative. Well, anyone anxious about such a move should vote for Heffer, since it is frankly hard to imagine anyone less groovy or metropolitan. If we send him to Parliament he would be the grit in the oyster, the bacillus that makes the yogurt come alive. The embers of his political ambition have plainly been smouldering quietly, ever since Cambridge. We must all puff on those embers now.

If it helps spur him to action, let me say that to wimp out and content himself with being a journalist – with an expense account, without responsibility, a mere chucker of rocks from the sidelines – would be the action of a big girl's blouse. This is no time for pussyfooting. This is no time to trifle with the hopes of the people. I speak with the assurance of one who has worked with Heffer for 21 years. We want the Heff, as we affectionately call him, and we want him now."

Tim Montgomerie

31 May 2009 09:03:36

Grassroots divided on non-members standing for Conservative Party at next election

4847 Meanwhile, over on Seats and candidates I discuss the need to manage wannabe MPs' expectations.

Tim Montgomerie

25 May 2009 08:34:24

Boris Johnson v Alan Johnson on proportional representation

JohnsonVJohnson In a barnstorming article for The Daily Telegraph the Mayor of London launches a savage attack on MPs and backs David Cameron's call for an immediate General Election:

"How can Parliament raise more taxes when the toiling voters have seen the duck houses and the plasma screens bought with taxpayers' money? How can Members call on the courts to punish benefit cheats when they have so manifestly cheated themselves? How can they sit there and pass a single law when it looks as though some of them may have broken the laws against fraud and theft? They can't. It's over. They must go to the country, and I don't mean to their second homes in the country."


Boris Johnson also attacks the attempts by advocates of proportional representation to use expenses-gate to get their favoured constitutional reform introduced on the back of the current crisis:

"We don't need a constitutional convention. We don't need to contemplate proportional representation, since that will only intensify the power of the party machines and create even more lobby fodder. We want a new breed of MPs who will consistently tell the whips to get stuffed; who will smash the brutal and intellectually enervating system of party discipline that turns Westminster into a kind of Seventies Leyland car factory, apathetically turning out badly assembled laws to plague the people of this country."

Continue reading "Boris Johnson v Alan Johnson on proportional representation" »