Conservative Diary

Conservative movement

18 Aug 2013 08:09:28

Will the Lobbying Bill give Cameron the power to close down ConservativeHome?

Screen shot 2013-08-18 at 08.11.37
By Paul Goodman

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I'm presuming that the headline on this article is what John Rentoul would call a QTWTAIN.  But over at Labour List Mark Ferguson is convinced that Ed Miliband will soon have the power to close it down - and that David Cameron will have the same power over this website.  Ferguson's anxieties stem from the bill on lobbying and transparency which will come before the Commons when it returns in September.  Today, the Sunday Times puts that claim in context from behind its paywall.  Charities are up in arms about the bill, which it claims will curb their campaigning.

The nub of the matter is the difference between campaigning with a political dimension and campaigning for a political party - one which can sometimes be elusive.  The paper claims that the bill will slap a limit on what charities can spend to promote causes they support during a general election, and place new registration conditions on them.  The Cabinet Office is quoted as saying: “The intention is to bring greater transparency where third parties campaign in a way which supports a particular political party or its candidates.”

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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.

3 Jul 2013 09:29:06

The significance of Team 2015

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By Paul Goodman
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Membership has been the base on which popular backing for the Conservative Party has been built for time out of mind.  Some believe that it is indispensable to that task, together with the local Association structure.  Others think that both are out of date in the age of Facebook and Twitter, and that the Party should be looking for supporters rather than members.  Grant Shapps's column on this site today sees him enter the debate publicly, and suggest that membership isn't the be-all and end-all for the future.

Those who've joined Team 2015 don't have to be members.  Some came via the Party website, others via advertising on Facebook.  (Shapps is fond of pointing out that some 800,000 on that network identify themselves as Conservatives.)  They will get the same chance to meet the Party Chairman or leader as those who've signed up to Team 2015 and are members.

Shapps has drawn from his own experience in Hatfield, which he refers to in his piece: "I was...stunned to discover I needed to sign a thousand thank you letters to folk who’d directly helped in my re-election campaign - far more than the number of members in my Welwyn Hatfield Conservative Association." (Labour has a similar scheme.)

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2 Jul 2013 06:59:03

The Torygraph is dead, long live the Telegraph

By Mark Wallace
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TelegraphJust as the Church of England used to be the Conservative Party at prayer, the Daily Telegraph was at one time the Conservative Party at breakfast. Marmalade, English Breakfast tea and a hefty dose of support for the party leadership went hand in hand.

The Torygraph tag, certainly popularised by Private Eye if not invented by it, was a fair one for a newspaper which backed the blues through thick and thin.

But things have changed. The most stark evidence of a shift in attitude is the paper's long-running Hands Off Our Land campaign against the Government's reforms to the planning system, has involved everything from petition-gathering with various pressure groups to hard-line critiques of ministers who are supposedly wrecking everything green and/or pleasant. While Nick Boles has been given a more sympathetic hearing recently, he would be the first to admit he's had a torrid time at the Telegraph's hands.

The gloves have well and truly come off.

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18 Jun 2013 13:11:06

If Cameron's popularity is achieved at the expense of his Party, the latter can't be Built To Last

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 11.29.30A survey by Lord Ashcroft recently found David Cameron to be less popular than his Party.  A survey by YouGov has found the opposite, and Peter Kellner writes about it in the Telegraph today.  But whatever the public opinion may be, we can all agree that exercises such as these, which are scarcely new, set the leader against his Party through the simple means of contrasting them.

However, there is a more literal and recent sense in which the one is set against the other.  A core part of the New Labour doctrine was to set Tony Blair against his Party to improve the political prospects of both.  The Tory uber-modernisers, for want of a better term, have consistently sought to graft the belief on to the Conservative Party since its defeat in 1997.

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13 Jun 2013 06:48:35

Welcome to Britain, Stephen Harper – and here are three lessons that David Cameron can learn from you

By Paul Goodman
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Conservative leaders who now govern with a majority, and who previously didn't, don't visit Downing Street every day.  But today marks an exception.  Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, will meet with David Cameron - and address members of both Houses of Parliament.  Harper led a minority government after Canada voted in 2006; led another after it voted in 2008 (winning more seats in the process), and led a government for the third time after the 2011 election - only, this time, it was a Conservative one.

This Anglosphere Conservative who clawed his way to majority is surely a model for Cameron to follow.  So what lessons can be learned from him?  I suggest three.

  • Unify the right... The Progressive Conservatives lost all but two of their 156 Parliamentary seats in 1993.  Harper won 166 in 2011, the year he gained a majority.  The years in between saw the rise of the Reform Party; the merger of Reform and Progressive Conservative members into the Canadian Alliance, and the merger of the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives into today's Conservative Party.  These were the milestones that marked the journey from disaster to triumph for the centre-right in Canada, and it's worth grasping that Harper was first elected as a Reform MP, not as a Progressive Conservative.  In other words, he came from the end of the centre-right spectrum that might have been lampooned as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", or as "mad, swivel-eyed loons".  But unlike most of those in UKIP, Harper wanted to unite the right, not divide it, and to govern as a practical man of power.   If Cameron had been in Canada at the time when the right was divided, he would doubtless have been a progessive conservative.  But he has a common with Harper a preoccupation with winning and government.  And the lesson from Canada is that one needs a united right to get back into that game.
  • ...And occupy the centre... But Harper has done far, far more than simply win by re-forming a divided right into one political unit.  Here is an example.  In Britain, Cameron's Party wins roughly 16% of the ethnic minority vote.  In Canada, Harper's wins 45%.  This difference is partly accounted for by the ethnic mix and prosperity levels in Canada (the largest non-white and non-indigenous group is citizens of Chinese origin, followed by those of Indian origin).  But this background is only part of the story.  Conservative Party strategists point out that the mix was much the same at the turn of the century, but that the party's support among ethnic minorities was registering at only 18%.  So what changed?  One version of events is that the Liberal Party's drive for same-sex marriage opened doors for them among socially conservative minority groups who had previously kept them closed.  And once those doors were opened, the Conservatives entered the room - and stayed.  The party's focus on these voters is unwavering: for example, Conservative Cabinet Ministers were compelled to visit ethnic minority events at weekends, and report back.

Cameron is trying a version of the same - sending Cabinet Ministers who grasp the issues, such as Theresa May, Eric Pickles and Chris Grayling, on a similar quest.

However, the Prime Minister's capacity is smaller.  Canadian Ministers are well supported by SpAds.  Alok Sharma, the Party Vice-Chairman responsible for outreach to ethnic minority groups, has a relatively puny resource at his.  None the less, money isn't everything.  One Canadian strategist told me that only connecting with people's deepest values has the party gradually built trust.  Cameron's push for same-sex marriage will, at best, have done him little good with ethnic minority voters, who on the whole have a socially conservative profile, and much harm at worst.

And the third lesson Cameron can learn from Harper?  I would say it is Dare to be Dull - or at least consistent.  The Canadian Prime Minister is not an exciting politician.  But my take is that he concentrates on getting the political basics right, assisted by a strong team - especially, perhaps, John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Jason Kenney, the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.  (Kenney, a dedicated and relentless campaigner, is known as the "Smiling Buddha" for his outreach to Chinese Canadians.)

"You observe how these new Canadians live their lives. They are the personification of Margaret Thatcher's aspirational class. They're all about a massive work ethic," he was quoted as saying in the same article.  The reference to Thatcher carries the taste and flavour of Harper's team - Movement Conservatives, certainly, who have campaigned against Kyoto; are strongly pro-Israel and have made the endangered position of Christians in the middle east a touchstone of their approach to foreign policy. (Harper takes a very different position on Syria to Cameron.)

But Movement Conservatives who look outward, not inward: who practice what Tim Montgomerie calls the Politics Of And.  If Cameron is looking for advice on how to develop a conservatism for Bolton West, he could do worse than listen carefully to his visitor from Calgary South-West.

4 May 2013 07:46:54

How the Conservatives and UKIP can kiss and make up

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 06.41.39The next general election will not be concentrated in the counties, but it will decide the government.  For this reason, voters will return to the two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, one of which must lead in forming an administration, if not win outright.  Turnout will rise, UKIP's share of the vote will fall, and the best course that David Cameron can take, in the meanwhile, is to hold his nerve, build on his recent conference speeches, and promote a strong, mainstream, sensible programme, for government and for the future.  In short, no single, silver bullet will slay the Farage werewolf.

Such a programme would be a conservatism for Bolton West, as I've put it: reducing net immigration, tackling welfare dependency, holding fuel and electricity bills down, showing leadership at home by bringing the deficit down further, boosting job security and helping to keep mortgage rates low.  All this is the conventional wisdom, and it's true as far as it goes.  I started to look at UKIP and what drives its vote relatively early, and noted that EU policy is not the main factor: immigration and crime are bigger factors.  Above all, UKIP's support is driven not so much by ideas as by anger - by the urge to put two fingers up to the entire political class.

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17 Apr 2013 06:15:34

Margaret Thatcher's legacy should be a Conservatism For Bolton West

By Paul Goodman
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Majority StepsThe Conservative Party is itself in poor health as it gathers to bury Margaret Thatcher.  It hasn't won an election in over 20 years.  The effects of vote distribution and out-of-date boundaries conspire against it breaking the habit next time.  It has lost Scotland altogether, and is the third party in much of the urban north.  It won 16% of the ethnic minority vote in 2010: by 2050, ethnic minority members will make up one in five of the total.  It has a serious political competitor on the right, UKIP, for the first time in living memory.

Labour's rout on welfare earlier this month, and its squabbles over leadership and policy last week, have cheered up some Tory MPs - unduly so, all considered.  A doctor's diagnosis of their party's condition would find serious illness, perhaps terminal decline.  And the structural obstacles to a Conservative majority would remain even were this not a Government of which the whole is much less than the sum of the parts.  So what can the Conservatives learn from the most potent election-winner in their history - the woman who they will honour today?

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11 Mar 2013 08:19:21

Four headline conclusions from Saturday's Victory 2015 Conference

By Tim Montgomerie
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On Saturday ConservativeHome held our Victory 2015 Conference - on how we might win the next General Election. Lord Ashcroft has already written his review of the day and here are a few headline conclusions from me:

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There is an appetite for serious politics. Saturday was quite heavy. There were some detailed polling presentations, a serious philosophical speech from the Home Secretary and some very thoughtful workshops on how the party might reach out to key demographic groups. And from all of the feedback I received people really enjoyed it. Again and again people said that this was what a political conference should be like. There'll be more events like it from ConHome in the future. My biggest regret was that we booked such a small venue. We'd sold out after about three weeks and had barely promoted the event. We could quite easily have sold two or three times as many tickets. Perhaps, one day in the not too distant future, ConHome will have one thousand people at such conferences.

The next election is going to be very hard to win. Even before the Conference started only 7% of Tory members expected Cameron to win a majority. That was before Lord Ashcroft had published his survey of 19,000 voters in marginal seats. The good news from his mega poll was that the Tories are doing better in the marginals than in the country as a whole. The survey also found that, despite Eastleigh, the Tories could hope to win 17 seats from the Liberal Democrats. Overall, however, unless the outlook improves (and Trevor Kavanagh is sure that it must) Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister with a large Labour majority.

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9 Dec 2012 21:07:40

Calling all young conservatives. Register now for the Young Britons' Foundation...

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday I travelled to Churchill College Cambridge for the ninth Annual Young Britons' Foundation Activist Training Conference. I'd never been before but was impressed with the range of speakers that YBF Director Donal Blaney and his team had gathered together for the 48 hour political extravaganza. They included...

  1. Steve Baker MP;
  2. The genius political consultant Peter Botting;
  3. Graham Brady MP;
  4. Rory Broomfield of the Freedom Association;
  5. Conor Burns MP;
  6. David Canzini, formerly campaigns director for the Conservative Party;
  7. Emmar Carr of Big Brother Watch;
  8. James Cleverly AM;
  9. Alex Deane;
  10. Matthew Elliott;
  11. Shane Greer;
  12. Robert Halfon MP and his colleague Paul Abbott;
  13. Jonathan Isaby of The TaxPayers' Alliance;
  14. Raheem Kassam of The Commentator blog;
  15. Christian May, formerly of YBF;
  16. Cllr Paul Osborn;
  17. Lord Parkinson;
  18. Eric Pickles MP;
  19. Cllr Greg Smith of Hammersmith and City Council;
  20. Lord Tebbit; and
  21. Andre Walker of the Trade Union Reform Campaign.

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