Conservative Diary

Conservative movement

23 Sep 2012 12:55:37

Who are your conservative heroes?

By Tim Montgomerie
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At yesterday's Windsor Conference (a terrific event btw that I hope will be replicated in the months ahead) I suggested that Michael Gove (for his school reforms) and Iain Duncan Smith (for his commitment to social justice) were the two most inspiring ministers in the current government.

At a dinner for the European Young Conservatives in Oxford last night, I named four other contemporary conservative heroes - Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin for taking on the public sector interests that had caused his state's deficit to swell; New Zealand's John Key for not just acknowledging but celebrating the role of the government safety-net (we are, after all, small state rather than no state conservatives); Canada's Stephen Harper for his blue collar conservatism; and Boris Johnson for his can do optimism.

I also paid tribute to my great political hero from history, William Wilberforce - the politician who fought a successful forty year battle against the slave trade and then slavery itself. He teaches us the inspiring value of perseverance in the service of great goals.

Please use the thread below to nominate some other great conservatives from history. Say what they achieved and why they inspire you.

And please try not to mention the greats that always get mentioned - Thatcher, Reagan and Churchill. We know about them and, perhaps, our focus on them has sometimes distorted our understanding of the breadth of conservatism.

11 Sep 2012 06:39:18

New group Conservative Voice aims to help build an election-winning Tory machine

By Tim Montgomerie
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It's not quite as exciting as the overnight news from Flushing Meadows but I am genuinely delighted to report the launch of Conservative Voice.

A central belief of ConservativeHome's Majority project is that to win the next election we don't just need a refreshed party message and manifesto, we also need a new Tory machine. We need to rethink our approach to party activism, use of the internet, relations with third party groups, candidate selection and so many other aspects of our party's voter identification and mobilisation strategies. London and the centre right have plenty of policy-orientated groups but not many groups that are dedicated to these questions of party organisation, membership and getting out the vote. This gap has now been filled.

Don Porter CBE, a former Chairman of the National Convention, is the brains behind the initiative and I'm delighted to report that he and the dynamic Conservative Voice team will be working closely with ConservativeHome and our own Majority project*.

Continue reading "New group Conservative Voice aims to help build an election-winning Tory machine" »

29 Aug 2011 14:30:58

The Iron Lady: A series of interviews with Charles Moore about Baroness Thatcher

By Matthew Barrett
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It's the August Bank holiday, and what better way of enjoying politics this afternoon than watching this set of videos of the peerless Charles Moore discussing Lady Thatcher - whose authorised biography Moore is writing. He is interviewed by Peter Robinson, of Stanford University's Hoover Institution:

Continue reading "The Iron Lady: A series of interviews with Charles Moore about Baroness Thatcher" »

4 Nov 2010 07:39:46

A metropolitan meets MigrationWatch - Nick (or is it Nicholas?) Boles's new book

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-10-21 at 16.29.44 Book Review: Which Way's Up? by Nick Boles (Biteback, £8.99)

Books by serving politicians tend to fall into three categories (novels excepted).

  • Those that are written for the moment which turn out to last far longer (for example, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France).
  • Those that pursue a passion (such as David Willetts' "The Pinch" - a sustained assault on the author's own generation, and a mine of information on heavy petting, vampire bats, and how microwave ovens have raised IQs).
  • Those that are written for the moment which - unlike Burke's work or Paine's riposte - turn out to be of the moment only.

Nick Boles's "Which Way's Up?" seems to fall into the third category.  I write "Nick" because this is what the new MP for Grantham and Stamford calls himself on his website, although he's still "Nicholas" to "They Work for You", Wikipedia and Charles Moore, the greatest living Englishman.

The last author of a Conservative work of the moment who was shortening his name at about the time he wrote it was Chris Patten.  The book was "The Tory Case", published in 1983.  (We've not yet had an essay from the pen of "Dave Willetts".)

Continue reading "A metropolitan meets MigrationWatch - Nick (or is it Nicholas?) Boles's new book" »

15 Sep 2010 08:46:36

The Coalition's main policy is right - and it's time to get behind it

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-09-15 at 08.39.41 James Arbuthnot, the Conservative Defence Select Committee Chairman, warned earlier this morning on Today that the speed of the defence review is worrying, and that decisions are money-driven and not defence driven.  Arbuthnot is a sonorously imposing figure - a former Defence Minister and Chief Whip, recently tipped for Defence Secretary himself and once singled out by John Major as a future Party leader.  His warnings will be taken seriously.

They continue a week in which the waters that the Government's negotiating are turning very choppy.  Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, says we have a "demolition Government, not a Coalition Government".  (This morning, the Daily Telegraph notes that full-time public sector staff earned an average of £74 a week more than those in the private sector.)  BBC Unions are demonstrating their political neutrality by threatening to time their coming strike during David Cameron's Party Conference speech.

The Police Superintendents Association has warned of coming "disaffection, social and industrial tension".  Little wonder that YouGov's daily tracker poll finds Labour only one per cent behind the Conservatives - and that's without the former having a leader in place.  How big will their poll lead lead stretch once they do?  One Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister has reportedly warned that the Party's ratings could fall to five per cent, and the Conservatives' to 25 per cent.

During the darkest political period for the Thatcher Government during the early eighties, the Party ran at very roughly that level - third behind both Labour and the newly-formed SDP/Liberal alliance.  But although the Government was divided between "wets" and "dries", Margaret Thatcher had a clear and consistent narrative about the Government's purpose - to reverse Britain's decline.  Tim, The Spectator's James Forsyth, and I have written here, here and here of how one is presently lacking.

Conservatives must highlight the Coalition's problems when necessary, though they should also (as we're trying to do this week on the narrative question) have solutions to offer.  But it's also essential to stand back from the daily dramas of the 24 hour news cycle, and try to look at the big picture.  The Government's main purpose is to pay off Labour's deficit - thereby helping to create the conditions for growth, jobs and prosperity.

It's trying to carry out this aim in the face of Labour hostility and public scepticism.  But it can't be said often enough that this objective is right and the alternatives disastrous.  George Osborne explained why in a bold Commons performance on Monday (from which his colleagues could learn), explaining how the Coalition's determination to tackle the deficit has helped cut market interest rates while they've stayed flat or risen in other deficit-troubled countries.  As he pointed out -

"£61 billion [of the spending scaleback]...will come from reductions to departmental expenditure plans. It is worth reminding the House that £44 billion of that £61 billion was assumed in the figures left to us by the previous Government. In other words, for all the synthetic noise and fury that we hear, £3 of every £4 that we are having to cut were cuts that the Opposition were planning to make. Unfortunately, not a single one of those pounds was allocated to a specific programme."

On the most important plank of Government policy, the Coalition is right and Labour is wrong (not to mention hypocritical).  David Cameron will have the chance to make the point later today at Prime Minister's Questions, and again and again during the months to come.  As he does so, his Party should get behind him.  His venture's as right and necessary as Margaret Thatcher's was some 30 years ago.

26 Jul 2010 08:33:00

Why it's time for the Tory left to be out, loud and proud

By Paul Goodman

The-Tory-Left-#4 Four of the five new Conservative backbench committees are chaired by right wingers.  All three MPs on the Party Board are from that wing of the party.  The right dominates the '22 Executive, holds all its officer posts, and its Chairman, Graham Brady, is one of the few men alive who've taken on David Cameron and won: the Prime Minister wanted to stop his election by merging the '22 with his front bench, and was forced to back down.

With a rampant right, where's the Tory left?  What's happening to it, and what's its future?  Here are ten snapshot notes:

  • It's worth asking at the start - are these terms out of date?  Some see talk of left and right as simplifying and misleading.  There's something in this.  For example, Jonathan Evans, the new Chairman of Parliamentary Mainstream (its website needs updating), is strongly pro-life.  Does that make him, in party terms, left wing or right wing?  It's true that individuals shouldn't be filed away like rare stamps.  But it's worth noting that it's often people viewed as being on the left of the Party who argue that these terms are meaningless - for reasons I'll come to later.
  • The answer is that, yes, there's still an identifiable left - which tends to accept, as the right tends to reject, the establishment consensus.  This definition isn't perfect, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb. On issues that touch the heart as much as the head - immigration, criminal justice, and of course Europe - the party left tends to seek, as it would put it, "the middle way".  There are, of course, exceptions everywhere.  Read Andrew Tyrie on climate change or Nicholas Soames on immigration.  But the One Nation or Nick's Diner dining clubs in the Commons are very different animals from the No Turning Back Group or Cornerstone.
  • The left has lost two crucial political debates during the last 30 years.  During the 1980s, it lost the argument on the economy.  The "wets" of the decade believed that the Thatcher economic experiment would neither work nor last.  It did both: by 1997, Labour had given up trying to challenge it openly.  In the 1990s, it lost the debate on the single currency.  In 1998, Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke shared a platform with Tony Blair to make the case for joining the Euro.  Now even Nick Clegg's given up trying to junk the pound.
  • These defeats drove the left behind closed doors.  The Thatcher hegemony, the travails of the Major Government, the defeat of Ken Clarke in the 1997 and 2001 leadership contests, and the restrained, toffish diffidence of senior figures on the left (another simplification - but remember the gibes at the "Grocer's daughter") caused a collective loss of self-confidence.  Hence some on the left tend to deny that it exists at all.  One senior figure insisted to me that "all these differences are imaginary - which is a bit like being told while standing in the rain that one isn't getting wet.  There's a slight sense that the left is a kind of freemasonry, replete with funny handshakes and rolled-up trousers.
  • But it's beginning to come out into the open.  "What's the left doing in Parliament, other than losing internal elections?" I asked one of its leading lights.  "Running the Government and the Select Committees," he replied.  It was an exaggeration, but not by much.  I don't want to embarrass anyone, but Ken Clarke, Theresa May, George Young (who chairs One Nation), Caroline Spelman and Dominic Grieve all sit comfortably on the centre-left of the Party.  So do Select Committee Chairmen James Arbuthnot, Richard Ottoway, Andrew Tyrie and Tim Yeo.  I'll avoid a Witchfinder-General's trawl of the junior Ministers.
  • The left's figureheads are getting a bit long in the tooth...  Do you doubt the claim that the Tory left hides its light under a bushel?  If so, have a look at the website of the Conservative Europe Group (wasn't this the Conservative Group for Europe?).  Out of the 25 officers it lists, only two are current MPs.  Still dubious?  Turn to the website of Conservative Mainstream.  Its news section was last updated in November 2007.  The Tory Reform Group does better.  Six out of its 23 officers are current MPs, one of them being the Speaker (doesn't this compromise his neutrality?)  I appreciate that such lists are often a bit of a blast from the past, but some on them left the Commons almost 20 years ago.
  • ...And it's time for the younger generation to take its place in the sun.  Again, I don't want to slot people into brackets.  But Robert Buckland, Neil Carmichael, Jane Ellison and Caroline Nokes are usually thought of as being on the left.  Ben Gummer and Robin Walker follow in a family tradition.  Richard Fuller and Anna Soubry were very much of the party left in their student days.  That was, admittedly, a while ago, but both will be able to draw on their past.  The older colleagues of all these new MPs should be looking to bring them on, working with Ministers who lean left of Tory centre, such as Damian Green, the former Chairman of Parliamentary Mainstream.
  • The left needs to build new bridges and make new alliances.  A clear-thinking and mild-mannered figure from a right-of-centre think-tank went recently to a TRG event.  He was greeted by one of those present with the words: "I suppose you're one of these people who don't believe in climate change."  The tone of this reaction is indicative of the siege mentality that clings to parts of the Tory left and which I've been trying to describe.  It needs to do more to build bridges with people and bodies that emerged from the right of the party, such as the Centre for Social Justice, that have common interests and, in some ways, a shared outlook.
  • Could the Big Society be the left's big chance?  Sections of the party left have an organic, Burkean view of politics.  So it can be argued that the Big Society is right up its street - and that the Thatcherite right, with its stress on the individual, is more sceptical.  This case is far from proven, but there's certainly an opportunity for a part of the party - a movement within it, or a group such as the TRG (whose website suggests an impressive level of activity), to seize ownership of the Big Society project, and put up ways to the government of making it work.  (Nick Hurd, who's responsibilities for the Big Society in the Cabinet Office, is very much from the party's centre-left tradition.)
  • Screen shot 2010-07-22 at 18.35.38Finally, the Conservative left is well-placed to help keep the Liberal Democrats on board, by making the case to them that the two parties have enough in common to work together.  This isn't as pleasant a task for all its members as might be assumed: some MPs from the left of the party centre dislike the Liberal Democrats strongly (usually on the basis of constituency experience).  But the thought will certainly have struck David Cameron - whose office in opposition, we read, bore a photograph of Harold MacMillan (see above), and is the first left-of-party centre leader since John Major.  Coalition gives the Tory left a chance to break free of its recent marginalisation.

I've no particular brief for the party's left.  Though it's where my roots are, I'm very much out of sympathy with its take on Europe (in relation to which it may think that its hour has come).  But the Conservative Party will always have a left as well as a right.  The former should be a bit more upfront about making its contribution - and be, to borrow a figure of speech from elsewhere, out, loud and proud.

11 Jun 2010 12:45:32

The Budget must provide some protection for the striving class

LoomingHardship Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange wrote a cogent piece recently here about cutting back middle class welfare.  He welcomed, without qualification, the likely scaling-back of Child Tax Credit and, with a reservation, the possible means-testing of Child Benefit.

These rumoured changes should be considered in the context of other possible reforms and clear commitments.

According to the Coalition Agreement, the Government is committed to -

  • Protecting those on low incomes from public sector pay constraint.
  • An increase in personal allowances for "lower and middle income earners".
  • A "significant" pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils.
  • Reducing the Child Trust fund for higher earners.
  • Taxing capital gains "at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities".
  • An increase in "the proportion of tax revenue accounted for by environmental taxes".
  • Introducing a new per flight duty.

Although the Agreement only refers very broadly to transferable tax allowances for married couples (Conservatives will vote for; Liberal Democrats will abstain), it's reasonable to presume that the restriction set out by the Party during the election will apply: namely, that the allowance is only transferable -

"So long as the higher-income member of the couple is a basic rate taxpayer".

(See here.)

Furthermore, the Agreement makes it clear that in reversing Labour's planned national insurance increases:

"Lower earners will get the greatest benefit as a percentage of their earnings".

It also says:

"We will prioritise [increasing the personal allowance to £10,000] over other tax cuts, including cuts to Inheritance Tax."

And the Agreement is silent about the future of the 50p top rate, of which the Conservative Manifesto declared that:

"We do not regard the 50p rate as permanent feature of the tax system".

Put all this together, and a picture begins to emerge.

During the months ahead, the middle class, as some call it, or the striving class, as others do, will be hit by:

  • Higher prices, and upward pressure on mortgage rates;
  • Higher taxes on car journeys and holidays abroad;
  • Cuts in "middle class welfare" payments, such as the Child Trust Fund, the Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit;
  • In some cases, the CGT rise;
  • The withdrawal of the marriage tax allowance (if introduced) once the main earner hits the top income tax rate.

Continue reading "The Budget must provide some protection for the striving class" »

10 Jun 2010 08:40:46

The Parliamentary Conservative Party of 2010 should reinvent itself as a centre for policy development and for modelling the best of political campaigning

David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party but he is also leader of the Coalition government. His Head of Communications - Andy Coulson - now has a Liberal Democrat as his deputy. His Head of Strategy - Steve Hilton - also has a Liberal Democrat constantly at his side. When the Cabinet met earlier in the week to discuss political strategy it was as a Coalition; Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together.

I see a massive role for the 1922 Committee - or, as I recently proposed, the Parliamentary Conservative Party (PCP) - in these uncharted waters. Graham Brady and the other recently elected officers of the '22 should be ambitious in (1) policy development, (2) improving the party's campaigning and (3) in representing the interests of the Conservative grassroots.

In policy development the PCP should ensure that the new backbench policy committees are properly resourced. Some Tory donors are unhappy with the Coalition at present. They are particularly angry at CGT plans. It would be a shame if their support was lost to the Conservative Party family. I think it would be perfectly possible for the Parliamentary Party to raise £500,000 or more a year to resource policy development and other work. This is absolutely in the interests of David Cameron. It will increase the policy options that he has at the next election but will also create distance between him and the more radical thinking. As I argued yesterday, it is vital for the Right of the party - which dominates the PCP - to define itself in terms of a future-orientated agenda and not against David Cameron. CCHQ has no external relations unit. The PCP could become the gathering place for the best ideas of the much-neglected conservative movement and think tanks. It would be relatively easy to staff this capacity. Because of the Coalition's self-defeating cap on the number of Special Advisers there are some very talented individuals out-of-work.

The PCP should also take on a role in modelling campaign excellence. Working with the MPs who have been the best vote winners it should develop an independent capacity to advise candidates to fight more successfully. That capacity could include advisors such as Lynton Crosby, Mark Fullbrook and other successful campaigners. All talents not properly used by CCHQ. The campaign unit's first job should be to commission an independent review of the General Election campaign. This campaign unit could also start to think about the referendum campaign on electoral reform; how it should be fought and who should lead it.

A third major role for the PCP should be to champion the voluntary party. The voluntary party was completely excluded from the Coalition negotiations. Nick Clegg held a special meeting of activists to tell them about the deal. Nothing was held for grassroots Conservatives. There are big questions in the months ahead about what it means to be a Tory member. Many of their rights have been eroded since 2005. Who will speak for them? The Party Board has been silent on all these questions. CCHQ is the leader's machine - jointly led by two of Cameron's closest allies. The PCP could develop a role in independent representation of members.

Some in the Cameron circle will see a powerful PCP as a threat to the party leader. They should not. The Conservative Party should not be a centralised machine, controlled by a few individuals, vulnerable to groupthink. It should have other independent hubs for the development of policy and campaign excellence.

Tim Montgomerie

TOMORROW IN THIS SERIES: Who - outside the frontbench - best represents the grassroots?

YESTERDAY IN THIS SERIES: The state of the Conservative Right

18 Mar 2010 08:45:42

New network for progressive conservatives is launched

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 08.32.56 A new group was launched yesterday evening to champion the Conservative Party's "progressive conscience". The group is called 'Bright Blue'. It declines to be described as a network for "modernisers" but its agenda closely resembles that of the Platform10 blog.

At its launch party one of its principal founders - Tim Flagg - said that the network would focus on poverty, inequality, climate change and education. It promises to be independent of the party leadership and optimistic about what conservative politics can achieve. The full team members are listed here.

Speaking at the launch David Willetts said that Bright Blue was rooted in Disraeli's desire to see the "elevation of the poor". He said that he hoped the group would be open to new ideas including the application of evolutionary biology and game theory to political development.

BrightBlue - which is led by very young Conservatives - had, Willetts continued, a particular interest in the arguments of his recent book, The Pinch. Conservatives he said had a responsibility to ensure justice across the generations and today it was harder for the young to get a foot on the housing ladder, harder to build up pension funds, harder to enjoy social mobility and harder to see the same quality of natural environment.

Contributors to the first edition of its quarterly magazine include a number a number of people from the left, including former Blair advisor Matthew Taylor and Observer journalist Anushka Asthana. Some more conservative voices were also included, such as me!

I wish BrightBlue much success. I won't agree with everything it does but it is another sign of the liveliness of today's centre right.

Tim Montgomerie

25 Feb 2010 15:35:44

Could Britain have an anti-tax revolution? Dan Hannan wants to get one going.

The American people face neither the tax nor the regulatory burdens of the average Briton but they are up in arms at the fiscal incontinence of Barack Obama. The Tea Party Movement is a massive phenomenon in the US and the issues it champions help explain why Obama got sucker punched in one of his party's safest states, Massachusetts, earlier this month.

Where is the anger in Britain at Gordon Brown's 111 tax rises and his doubling of the national debt?

Brighton might not be the best place to launch Britain's Tea Party Movement (perhaps it is - tell us, Graeme Archer?) and it might not be the best branding for over here... but Dan Hannan intends to have a go this Saturday. If you live in the city or are attending this weekend's Tory Spring Forum you should go along at 5.30pm on Saturday to hear what Dan has to say. All the details are here.

Tim Montgomerie

Two other recommended events in Brighton: