Conservative Diary

Conservative strategy

12 Aug 2013 07:56:05

"The ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP in no fewer than 168 constituencies"

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 07.18.05"Bluntly, the Conservative Party’s problem with ethnic minority voters is costing it seats," Lord Ashcroft wrote last year after the publication of his report, Degrees of Separation.  Correcting the problem is a long-standing cause for this site.  Tim Montgomerie has pointed out that the number one driver of not voting Conservative is not being white.  I have argued that the Party had made strategic errors through tokenism and ignorance; that it doesn't matter if we think we're not racist but ethnic minority voters do, and that it's time to end the Conservative war on multiculturalism (which, by the way, is supported by 71 per cent of Tory voters).

The new study by Operation Black Vote which found that Britain's ethnic minority voters may determine the 2015 election thus makes a point which all of us should have grasped already, though the detail is compelling. In its account of the study today, the Guardian reports that the number of seats where black and Asian voters could decide the outcome had rocketed by 70 per cent compared with the 2010 election, and says that the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP in no fewer than 168 constituencies.  ("The seats extend beyond inner-city areas to include places such as Southhampton Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton," according to the paper.)

One can quibble about the detail, but the trend is unmistakeable.  In 2001, one in ten voters were ethnic minority members; by 2050, that figure will be one in five.  It would be easy to conclude that nothing can be done to halt a Conservative slide to demographic marginalisation, as we dwindle into becoming a rump party of the shires, like the protectionists of the 1850s.  However, there is cause for cautious optimism, for three reasons.  First, because although the Party won a mere 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, the figure is higher among some groups: among voters of Indian origin, for example, it came in at 24 per cent.  Second, because Downing Street and CCHQ have grasped the scale of the problem.

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6 Aug 2013 07:54:42

Osborne's pro-marriage move is part of the Cameron charm offensive

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By Paul Goodman
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George Osborne is sparing with the appearances on camera, deploying them mostly when he wants to make a point - as recently with his visit to night workers.  His trip to a nursery yesterday was thus intended to identify him with childcare help for working parents - a modern-minded cause which appeals to the Chancellor's inner political strategist (never long absent).  But the visit also drew from him what seemed to be an unambiguous commitment to transferable tax allowances, which would balance the new childcare voucher scheme with help for non-working parents. "Later in this parliament we're going to be introducing tax breaks for married couples", he said.  The coverage of his remark about some parents caring full-time for their children being a "lifestyle choice" has been unfair: he clearly meant simply that this is their decision.

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5 Aug 2013 13:44:36

The wave of poverty sweeping Britain's coastal towns requires urgent action

By Mark Wallace
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Yarmouth Clipped

A new report from the Centre for Social Justice, Turning the Tide, explores the troubling wave of poverty engulfing numerous seaside towns, which have fallen from their former position as prosperous holiday destinations.

The CSJ's findings show exactly how serious the problem has become:

  • "Of the 20 neighbourhoods across the UK with the highest levels of working-age people on out-of-work benefits, seven are in coastal towns..."
  • "In one part of Rhyl, two thirds of working-age people are dependent on out-of-work benefits"
  • "...coastal towns are among the most educationally deprived in the whole country. Some 41 per cent of adults in Clacton have no qualifications, almost double the national average for England and Wales."
  • "Of the 10 wards in England and Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, four are in seaside towns"
  • Blackpool local authority has the highest rate of children in care in the whole of England – 150 per 10,000 population – far exceeding the English average of 59."

Such issues are not unique to the seaside, but as a class of towns they share a remarkable number of symptoms regardless of location. As ConHome's recent feature on the topic found, there is an urgent need for the Conservative Party and the Government to address the issues faced by the British seaside.

It was bad enough for former tourist resorts and fishing towns to see the rise of the package holiday and the devastation brought by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. But those were the beginning, not the end, of the coast's problems.

Today's report explores the way in which poverty attracts further poverty, with some local authorities using collapsing house prices and converted guest houses to make the seaside a "dumping ground" for the vulnerable, the poor and the long term unemployed.

That numerous such towns are represented by Conservative MPs - such as Brandon Lewis in Great Yarmouth and Douglas Carswell in Clacton - offers unique insights into how these issues might be addressed. But we can only get such insights, and have time to act on them, if the party takes an interest.

As we recommended at the start of July, there are three steps that must be taken to get the process started:

  • Instead of simply pairing coastal PPCs with a nearby MP as their mentor, seek to pair them with a sitting coastal MP who can share more relevant knowledge
  • Treat coastal seats as a distinct group within the "40/40" marginal seats - both in terms of the policy challenges they face and in terms of analysing their new Mosaic demographic data to understand the electoral features they have in common
  • Establish a group within the Conservative Parliamentary Party specifically made up of coastal MPs, to raise the pressure on Ministers to address their shared issues

The CSJ's findings make this all the more urgent.

24 Jul 2013 07:04:13

Yesterday's statements won't quell the Lynton Crosby controversy

Crosby Lynton 1
By Paul Goodman

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I wrote last week that Lyton Crosby should first drop his other clients, and then take complete charge of the Conservative campaign machine - as Tim Montgomerie and I have recommended from the outset.  The next day, the Daily Telegraph reported senior Conservatives as saying that there is a "working assumption" that this will happen, and that the strategist is “not averse” to working exclusively for the Party in the 15 months before the next general election.  Boris Johnson, for whom the Crosby did such effective work, has recommended that the Party kill the fatted calf, push the boat out and do "whatever it takes" - in other words, pay the strategist enough to make it worth his while to put his other clients aside until June 2015.

Yesterday's publication of Crosby's terms of engagement and statement by the Cabinet Secretary can thus be read as part of a holding position.  Crosby confimed that he hadn't discussed tobacco with the Prime Minister (as was obvious from the start) and that he hasn't used his position as a campaign adviser improperly (ditto).  Sir Jeremy Heywood said that the strategist hasn't influenced policy on alcohol or energy either, and repeated Downing Street’s assurance that he does not meet civil servants.  He also published the Party's terms of engagement with Crosby.  These bar him from lobbying the Government or claiming privileged access.

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20 Jul 2013 12:40:33

Crosby: Will Cameron adopt the ConservativeHome solution?

By Paul Goodman
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Crosby LyntonThe Andy Coulson saga involves a trial.  The Lynton Crosby controversy does not.  This helps to explain why the latter is a classic Westminster Village story, with its complex calculations about conflicting interests and chinese walls.  (David Cameron's strategist is a Party and not a Government employee, and even then only a part-time one.)  Boris Johnson's dismissal of the whole business as a "storm in a teacup" will have reflected Downing Street's hope that the Crosby story is only still running because the lobby has little else to write about at the end of the Parliamentary term.

However, the story won't go away forever or even for long, whether this hope is realised or not.  Any enterprising journalist can simply look at Government policy on the one hand, dig around about Crosby's business interests on the other...and then write his story.  Number 10 will want to close this drip-feed of allegations down, rather than take the risk of them not reverberating beyond the village.  I wrote earlier this week that there are only two ways of doing so - either sacking Crosby, or promoting him: in other words, getting him to drop his other clients until 2015, which would involve, as Boris puts it, killing the fatted calf, pushing the boat out and "doing whatever it takes".

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16 Jul 2013 08:25:36

First drop Crosby's other clients. Then put him completely in charge.

Crosby Lynton 1
By Paul Goodman

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It doesn't seem to have occured to Lynton Crosby's critics that he could both have a commercial interest in a policy and believe that it's right for the Conservatives.  The decision not to impose plain packaging on cigarette packets is a good example.  The Australian strategist is an experienced communicator of conventional conservatism - of the immigration-restricting, welfare-capping, tax-cutting, patriotism-proclaiming variety - and believes that anything which gets in its way must be cleared out.

David Cameron's Big Society instincts, with their fondess for miniumum alcohol pricing and cigarette plain packaging, might have been deliberately drawn up to drive our antipodean visitor nuts.  (Remember Cameron's opposition attack on W.H.Smith for its offering of chocolate oranges at checkouts rather than real oranges.)  There is a connection between Crosby's talent for no-nonsense advice, the sharper Tory profile of the past few months and the Conservative poll recovery.  The Independent's last poll of polls found the gap between the two main parties closing.  Today's Guardian ICM poll finds that it has closed altogether.

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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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1 Jul 2013 07:29:02

Understanding - and winning - seaside seats

Screen shot 2013-07-01 at 07.26.04
By Mark Wallace
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I grew up by the seaside, and have always counted myself lucky to do so. Despite being an island nation, with so much of our history tied up in maritime commerce and adventure, it is remarkable how many of us rarely visit the coast.

There is something about the sea which has a deep impact on those who live near it - perhaps it's the constant changes between rough and calming weather, or the opportunity to see for such a distance without interruption. You never meet anyone who used to be a coastal resident who says they are glad to see the back of it.

Whether it's for that reason or some other cause, coastal constituencies have always had a distinct, if under-appreciated, character of their own, too. Current discussions about how to succeed in different seats nearly always rest on the supposed North-South divide, but ignore the more subtle ways in which we are divided by our geography.

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27 Jun 2013 07:58:57

George Osborne, the best political strategist we've got. (Indeed, the only one we've got.)

By Paul Goodman
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Osborne PenknifeYesterday, Mark Wallace set out in detail on this site George Osborne's patchy record as Chancellor.  Progress on deficit reduction has stalled.  There have been some welcome tax cuts, but little tax simplification.  Big infrastructure decisions have been slow to come, though there may be some good news today about nuclear.  (Patrick McLoughlin takes to this site today to make the case for the money-guzzling HS2 project.)  The proof of the Michael Gove schools and skills pudding will be in the eating, which won't take place for a decade - in other words, until today's generation of children become tomorrow's workers.  Michael Fallon is striving mightily at BIS, but while £4bn of regulatory costs have been eliminated, £3bn of new costs have been imposed in the last two years.

Indeed, the Chancellor has compromised his original version of a German model for Britain's economy (what Tim Montgomerie called in opposition "a heavy emphasis on economic fundamentals like skills, high-end manufacturing, science investment and regionalism") and is staking his hopes on a good, or rather bad, old-fashioned British housing boom - talking of which, today's papers remind us of the possible consequences for Britain's indebted homeowners when the Bank of England abandons quantitative easing.  Why, then, are the centre-right papers - with the exception of the Sun - positive, on the whole, about yesterday's spending review, which announced a mere £11.5 billion of savings: little more than the total Government spend of well over £700 billion?

I think there are three main answers.  First, because the review will have reminded them that there is no alternative to a Cameron-led Conservative Party as a governing force - when it comes to comparing it with Ed Miliband's unreformed and unready Labour Party, at any rate.  Second, because they will have liked most of Osborne's announcements: the cap on the welfare bill, the requirements to learn English, the seven-day wait before signing on, the end to automatic pay rises for millions of public sector workers.  There will be devils in the detail of some of these plans: I'm curious to know, for example, exactly how they will apply to disability benefits.  But the broad thrust of them is right, and they thus have merit regardless of whether or not they place Ed Balls on the wrong side of a dividing line.

Furthermore, the Chancellor got them past the Liberal Democrats and, in doing so, held out a tantalising glimpse of what a majority Conservative Government - or rather, to be realistic, a second blue-yellow Coalition - might look like after 2015.  Very slowly, imperfectly, but unmistakably all the same, Osborne is striving to shape a Conservative idea of Britain, in which Gordon Brown's client state is, if not rolled back, at least trimmed, and in which the state pension, the NHS, science, the security services, free schools and defence (up to a point) are protected.  Rab Butler once agreed with the suggestion that Anthony Eden was "the best Prime Minister we've got".  The Chancellor is not only "the best Chancellor we've got" but the best political strategist the Conservatives have got.

This is certainly a compliment, but less of one than it seems.  For the fact is that Osborne is the only political strategist the Conservatives have got.  None of his Tory Cabinet colleagues quite fit the bill, at least yet.  Iain Duncan Smith's long crusade for social justice has helped to change the climate of opinion about welfare.  Michael Gove is the Government's most effective reformer to date.  Eric Pickles's achievements at CLG are under-rated.  Theresa May is beginning to spell out her view of what the Conservative Party should be and do.  But none of them have produced a big plan that has put Labour on the back foot - and is helping to change the content of national debate about welfare, immigration, integration and public sector pay in a way that was almost unimaginable until very recently.

12 Jun 2013 14:27:09

Commons sketch: Cameron wages an unEdifying war of attrition against Balls

By Andrew Gimson
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AndrewGBigBensketch David Cameron got the better of this bar-room brawl, but despite the involvement of the two Eds, the contest was not an Edifying one. It became all too clear from these scrappy exchanges that the Prime Minister is determined to seize every chance to kick Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor: to unEdify him, as it were. Ed Miliband performed respectably enough as Leader of the Opposition, but was reduced for much of the time to the role of a spectator.

Would Labour reverse the Government's cuts in the spare-room subsidy, or  bedroom tax, or whatever one wishes to call it? The question was put to Mr Balls, not Mr Miliband. Mr Balls's denial that the last Labour Government was profligate was treated as one of the most significant statements of the last ten years, and one that "is going to be hung around his neck forever".

One fears it will certainly be hung round his neck until the next general election in 2015. When I use the word "fears", I mean that to those of us who follow politics with some attention, this style of debate might start to become  slightly wearisome. But Lynton Crosby has never been a trainer who worries about such aesthetic questions as whether his man's mode of fighting is elegant. Mr Crosby clearly wants Mr Cameron to remind people at every turn that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy: a message to be conveyed by kicking, scratching and pummelling Mr Balls for week after week after week.

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