Conservative Diary

Conservative strategy

12 Sep 2013 07:54:22

On tax, raising the stamp duty threshold tops our "red lines" poll and restoring the 10p tax band comes last

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By Paul Goodman

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I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll.  It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth.  On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.

Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:

  • Stamp duty threshold should be raised to £250,000 or higher - 7
  • The inheritance tax threshold should be raised to £1 million or higher - 7
  • Tax allowances should be fully transferable between married couples - 7
  • Cut the 45p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • Cut the 20p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • Cut the 40p tax rate, raise the threshold or both - 6
  • A 10p income tax rate should be introduced - 5

There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them.  However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.

11 Sep 2013 06:06:00

Fewer and equal seats. The benefits and immigration cap. And shale gas. High priorities from Tory members for any Coalition talks

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By Paul Goodman
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I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.

If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:

  • The number of constituencies should be reduced and their size equalised.
  • The benefits cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • The immigration cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • Press ahead with the development of shale gas as swiftly as possible.

I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.

The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that.  There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale.  It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues.  We will turn to them tomorrow.

10 Sep 2013 06:37:54

Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation

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By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered.  We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable".  Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.

"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven.  I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings.  (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".)  Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.

Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May.  It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.

Continue reading "Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation" »

9 Sep 2013 08:15:03

Party members want a say in any decision about a second Coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015

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By Paul Goodman

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Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent.  Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position.  Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues.  Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.

In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead.  What should the Party do in such an event?  Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government?  Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists?  Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats?  And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?

Continue reading "Party members want a say in any decision about a second Coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2015" »

3 Sep 2013 08:04:47

UKIP is part of a global splintering of the Right and is probably here to stay

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 16.58.21Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former head of communications, has written an article for the October edition of GQ (out this week) in which he gives some advice on how the Tories might counter UKIP. In summary...

  • David Cameron, Ken Clarke and every Tory should abandon "dismissive, arrogant and downright rude" attitudes to UKIP's members.
  • UKIP's key selling point is not Europe or even immigration but the way it has presented itself as a home for voters unhappy with mainstream politics and politicians.
  • UKIP's key vulnerability is that it is inauthentic in presenting itself as politics' outsiders - "A party that claims to be anti-sleaze," he writes, "is riddled with the same problems of vanity and self-interest that inflict all the major parties... and before any real power has been secured or scrutiny applied."
  • Nigel Farage should actually be seen as Nigel "Mirage" - many of his party's MEPs have had questionable ethics records, his economic policies don't add up (they have a £120 billion black hole, Coulson claims) and, far from improving politics, UKIP adds to the crudeness.
  • A still tougher and more sceptical line from the Tories on Europe ahead of next year's EP elections is needed as well as a focus on competence. Overall: "The Conservatives should tread carefully on immigration but never tire of talking about fairness, particularly on jobs, welfare, health and the cost of living."

Continue reading "UKIP is part of a global splintering of the Right and is probably here to stay" »

2 Sep 2013 08:09:55

There should be no second Commons vote on Syria. We must stay out of its civil war.

By Paul Goodman
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I sent out yesterday the following series of tweets on Syria, which re-iterated the case against intervention. Here they are:

  • A dictatorship bent on using chemical weapons against its own people is unlikely to be deterred by a single series of strikes.
  • If as is likely Assad continues to use such weapons after any such strike, the alternatives are further intervention or backing down.
  • Further intervention would mean arming rebels, military advice, a no-fly zone - and perhaps "boots on the ground". We would thereby assume a share of responsibility for Syria.
  • It is most unlikely that Assad would be replaced by pro-western democratic liberals if ousted.
  • It is probable that Assad would be replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood-flavoured, Hamas-type regime.
  • Extremist Shiites have not carried out terrorist acts in Britain since 9/11: extremist Sunnis have carried out such acts. British troops in Syria would be vulnerable to attacks by both.
  • Britain thus has no national interest in intervening in Syria's civil war.  In any event, we can now project less military power abroad than ten years ago.
  • From a humanitarian point of view, it's worth remembering that both sides in Syria's civil war are committing atrocities.
  • Thursday's Commons vote didn't commit Britain to action. There was thus a strong case for anti-interventionist Tory MPs to support David Cameron.
  • However, those MPs had legitimate worries about Britain being drawn into Syrian conflict. So did voters. The Commons reflected their view.
  • Cameron acted sincerely, but made a horrible mess of party management. The voters will note.
  • Miliband acted opportunistically, probably insincerely, but made a temporary succeess of party management. Voters will note.
  • The special relationship (such as it is): it will recover. It's worth adding that the vote helped to send Obama to Congress, which will displease him.
  • Government authority on foreign policy: this is weakened - because last week's backbench defiance of the whips wasn't a one-off. Rebellions have become more frequent.
  • On foreign policy, the Government is weaker abroad and the Commons is stronger at home. Take your view on whether the latter gain is worth the former loss.
  • Britain should be pro-America, but not to the point where we simply approve everything a US President proposes.
  • Britain should be pro-intervention when practicable (Libya), but not when it's neither practicable nor desirable (Syria).
  • Voters have gradudally got more Euro-sceptic (over 25 years or so) and more intervention-sceptuc (since Iraq). Those who dislike this must get used to it.
  • Finally: it's easy to be swayed, on Syria or anything, by the heat of moment or coverage of atrocities. It's harder by far to think things through.

This morning, I'd add a further thought:

  • None the less, domestic politics and our national interest are the same as they were last week.  a third or more of Conservative MPs and a majority of voters are opposed to military action in Syria.  Over half of Liberal Democrats MPs voted against the Government last week.  The Labour Party is traumatised by Iraq and has a weak leader: it would thus be an unreliable partner any military quest.  As above, there is no strategic or political case for intervention.
  • David Cameron's apple cart turned over last week.  Putting the apples back in it will take time and trouble.  He mustn't let it be upset all over again.

30 Aug 2013 11:11:14

An inner Cabinet. More status for Whips. Changes in his circle - and at the Foreign Office. What Cameron should do next.

Cam ear fingers 2

By Paul Goodman
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  • Yesterday evening's vote makes no real difference to anything.  The economy will continue to grow, David Cameron will recover his position, Britain's non-intervention in Syria will be a mere blip in the continuing special relationship with America, our world standing won't be affected, the Commons will continue to assert itself - and the Westminster Village will calm down.
  • Yesterday evening's vote marks a sea-change in our foreign policy and a shattering of the Special Relationship - as well as a wounding blow to Cameron's authority, a shot in the arm for his previously demoralised Tory opponents, and a wiping-out of the ascendancy over Labour that Downing Street has achieved over the summer.  Britain cuts a diminished international figure on the world stage.

In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate.  What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.

Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April.  But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.

  • Cameron needs to share authority with his most senior colleagues in an Inner Cabinet, and consult its Conservative members more often.  I know from talking to some of the latter that they don't expect Cabinet to be a debating society.  None the less, they are fed up with being cut out of decision-making when they feel their views and advice would help the Prime Minister.  The Inner Cabinet should be based on what office its members hold, not on their personal relations with the Cameron, and should consist of the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman who sits in the Commons.
  • The status of the Whips Office should be raised.  Sir George Young was brought back as Chief Whip after Andrew Mitchell's resignation, and brought a sense of calm and courtesy to its workings.  It would be unfair to blame the Whips for the decision by Cameron to try to impose his view on Syria on an unhappy Parliamentary Party.  And it would be a mistake to try to re-impose military-style whipping on the independent-minded generation of MPs elected in 2010.  Furthermore, the best changes in the world won't improve the Whips if Downing Street doesn't listen to them.  Tony Blair moved them out of Number 12. They should be moved back to the heart of the Downing Street complex.
  • Cameron's inner circle should widen.  None the less, Number 10 would benefit from having a Chief Whip and Leader of the House more independent of the Prime Minister, and thus in a better position to "speak truth to power".  No Cabinet reshuffle is expected, and this isn't the time for it.  But in due course one of the 2010 intake is required in a senior position in the Whips Office, and the next Chief Whip needs to be a listener and an organiser.  Greg Hands or Nicky Morgan could act as Deputy.  David Lidington, Mark Harper or Oliver Heald are good candidates to be Chief Whip.  Eric Pickles is as independent-minded as Cabinet members get, and as Leader of the House would give Cameron plain and shrewd advice.
  • The Foreign Office doesn't reflect the views and mood of the Parliamentary Party This should change.  I've been concerned for some time that the gap between its view of EU policy and that of the Party is too wide: the balance of competences review has so far proved the point.  It also doesn't reflect the shift towards giving the national interest a higher priority that has been taking place in the Parliamentary Party since Iraq.  Mark Francois is a former Shadow Europe Minister, very much a Euro-sceptic and a senior Minister at Defence, where he will have a grasp of what our armed forces now can and can't do. He should be moved across to King Charles Street before the election.

27 Aug 2013 16:56:41

The Number 10 operation is beefed up by two wise choices

By Mark Wallace
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DOWNING ST INSIDEIt's been common knowledge for a while that Cameron's team have been looking at a Number 10 shakeup.

The news today that Graeme Wilson, Deputy Political Editor of The Sun, has been appointed as press secretary is one result of that process.

It's a good choice - Graeme has a great nose for a story, and just as importantly is extremely likeable. Not everyone in the Lobby gets on with each other, to put it mildly, so it is both important and tricky to secure a candidate who is universally liked.

There are two interesting aspects to flag up. The first is that while parts of the left predictably moan about "another Murdoch man" being hired, it isn't that simple. As well as Murdoch's supposed control of individual journalists being very much exaggerated, Wilson hasn't always worked at The Sun. Indeed, he spent ten years writing for other papers before joining it - several of them at the Daily Telegraph.

Continue reading "The Number 10 operation is beefed up by two wise choices" »

20 Aug 2013 08:27:24

Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?

By Paul Goodman
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Camerons thinking copyEd Miliband has broken all the conventional rules of opposition: neutralise your Party's weaknesses, work hard early to make an impression on the electorate, appeal to floating voters.  These rules are far from being perfect or complete, but Labour's leader has done himself no good by breaking them.  He has got himself up a gum tree, and has no idea how to climb down.  His dismal summer continues today with a poll in the Daily Mirror, which finds that a third of Labour voters believe he should quit.  His strategy seems to be to get the party's vote up to about 36 per cent by adding anti-austerity voters to Labour's core supporters.  This is the opposite of Tony Blair's plan to build the biggest electoral tent possible - one that won him three successive elections.  Looking at Miliband, the question is: where's the ambition?

The same question could not be asked, for roughly the first half of this Parliament, of David Cameron.  Having failed to win a majority in 2010, he immediately set about creating the conditions for one in 2015 - which, furthermore, would make it more likely for him then to win further terms in office.  The core of his plan was to cull the electoral advantage that Labour gains from the distribution of the vote.  The means of effecting it was to reduce the number of MPs, a reform which would have brought with it the public benefit of cutting the costs of politics.  A deal was struck with the Liberal Democrats whereby they would support the move if the Conservatives backed a referendum on AV.  Readers of this site know what followed: the latter delivered their side of the bargain, and the former did not.  Ever since Cameron's scheme failed, the question for him has been: what's the plan now - that is, the plan to deliver a Tory majority?

Continue reading "Where's the ambition?...And what's the plan?" »

19 Aug 2013 08:30:48

Any proposal for a second Coalition should be put to all Party members - not just MPs

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By Paul Goodman

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David Cameron is absolutely right to plan properly for post-2015 election negotiations, as the Daily Telegraph reports today, either with the Liberal Democrats or with other parties (such as the Democratic Unionists, were the numbers to add up).  As the paper kindly acknowledges in an editorial, one of my leitmotifs since the 2010 election is that the Conservatives can't win a majority next time round given the distribution of the vote - a problem that the cut in the number of Commons constituencies proposed by the Government, and so ignobly sunk by the Liberal Democrats, would have addressed.  If the Commons is hung in 2015, the Prime Minister would have a responsibility to the country to strive to keep it out of Labour's hands.

This means building strong foundations for any consequent coalition - a necessity which, last time round, was compromised by the rush to office of both parties, and their unpreparedness, plus that of Whitehall, for the dance of negotiation which a hung Parliament brings with it.  The Liberal Democrats made a hash of their position on tuition fees.  And the Conservative leadership was too quick to dump parts of the programme on which it had just fought the election, such as its commitments on inheritance tax and stamp duty.  Furthermore, Tory MPs weren't given the chance to vote formally on the coalition deal.  It was presented to them at a single meeting of the 1922, and sold to them on a mistaken prospectus.

Continue reading "Any proposal for a second Coalition should be put to all Party members - not just MPs" »