Conservative Diary

Conservative strategy

22 May 2013 06:57:24

Three ways for Cameron to get back on the front foot - and stay there

By Paul Goodman
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Cameron heart tshirt 2Here are three measures that, if implemented -

  • Will help to quell the charge that the Party is being led by a "Chumocracy" unrepresentative of its MPs and members.
  • Will stop David Cameron being ambushed by Conservative backbenchers on EU policy, as he was by John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.
  • Will thus prevent these two problems from inter-acting with each other to suggest that the Party is divided.  (If a perception of division persists, victory in 2015 will certainly be impossible.)

They are as follows:

  • The Prime Minister should create an Inner Cabinet - to build collective Party leadership and kill the Downing Street chumocracy charge As I've previously explained, the Cabinet is too big: 32 people are entitled to attend it.  And the Quad, at only two people, is too small (besides, two of its members are Liberal Democrats - giving the junior Coalition partner equal representation at the top, a cause of Tory resentment).  The Prime Minister needs a Conservative Inner Cabinet which meets weekly to shape policy and make decisions.  Attendance should be formal and collegiate, with the following membership: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman.  Obviously, the right people are needed to fill those posts - but that's a matter for another day.  What matters is that membership of the Inner Cabinet should be strictly related to Ministerial and Party function, and that it should consist of senior politicians only.
  • The standing, morale and effectiveness of the Whips Office should be raised by it becoming a vehicle for promotion - not sacking.  The natural complement to an Inner Cabinet - and thus proper collective leadership - is a Whips Office with real authority.  That able MPs such as Dominic Raab, Ben Wallace and Rob Wilson turned posts in it down at the last resuffle, as was reportedly the case, is a sign that something is wrong.  Perhaps there was a connection with the fact that several Whips simply left the office at the same time: James Duddridge, Brooks Newmark, Shailesh Vara, Bill Wiggin.  There are always special circumstances, but the status of the Whips Office was not raised by so many of its members failing to move on to Ministerial posts.  Cameron will also need a new Chief Whip, since Sir George Young - loyal trooper that he is - only returned to the Cabinet to help the Prime Minister out.  Again, who his replacement should be is a matter for another day.  Enough for today to point out that improving the standing and effectiveness of the Whips Office must be a priority.
  • The Prime Minister can't cure his EU problem until he grips it.  As a wise old hand put it to me, Cameron mistook his EU referendum speech for a process.  He hoped by offering his Party an In-Out referendum to halt internal Party debate on Europe - at least for a while.  The gambit failed.  And it won't succeed while his stance on the repatriation of powers is unresolved.  The lesson of last week is that if the Prime Minister hopes that the Government's review of EU competences and the Party's own manifesto formation will quiet discussion of renegotiation policy within his Party until 2014, he is mistaken.  Two courses of action are open to him.  The first is to make it clear that he favours a minimal repatriation of power after 2015 - social and employment policy plus protection for the City, perhaps.  The second is to put Conservative policy-making on renegotiation in the hands of his Party - the 1922 Committee, the Conservative Policy Forum, and so on - and accept that what would emerge would be, most likely, "Common Market or Out".

Having been in the Commons for the best part of ten years, I appreciate that logic isn't everything in politics: sometimes, even often, there's a role for fudge.  But a lesson of so much that's happened to Cameron on EU policy - from the dropping of the Lisbon referendum commitment in opposition to the EU referendum revolt last week - is that by consistently seeking to put off making decisions on the EU issue, the Prime Minister has merely stored up trouble for himself later.

Continue reading "Three ways for Cameron to get back on the front foot - and stay there" »

9 May 2013 08:24:13

Clegg's treatment of Elizabeth Truss's childcare plans throws a harsh light on the Coalition's future

By Paul Goodman
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Roy Jenkins used to argue that the Conservatives dominated British politics during the last century - and mustn't be allowed to do so in this one.  He went on to maintain that the two parties of the left - the Liberal Democrats and Labour, as he saw it - should work together to keep the Tories out of office.  When the voters returned a hung Parliament in 2010, David Cameron could have opted for a minority government.  Instead, he chose coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  I suspected at the time that part of his aim was to do a Jenkins in reverse: to ensure that his party and Nick Clegg's worked together to keep Labour out of office, and in doing so begin to rebuild his own party's Parliamentary dominance.

Working together, though, means coherence.  And a problem even since the Cameron-Clegg rose garden love-in, brutally accentuated by the referendum defeat of AV, is that the blue and yellow teams are not natural partners.  On economic matters, they have come closer together since the rise of the Orange Bookers.  But on social and constitutional ones - the gut issues that move hearts as well as minds - their instincts and dispositions are different.  When it comes to welfare, crime, immigration, Europe, the Lords, and the voting system, the two parties march to the beat of different drums.  On these issues and most others, the most natural partner for Nick Clegg's party is Labour.

Continue reading "Clegg's treatment of Elizabeth Truss's childcare plans throws a harsh light on the Coalition's future" »

8 May 2013 18:57:40

Under one in seven party members want the Coalition to continue into 2015

Libdem bird vs TORY
By Paul Goodman

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And almost a third want it to end as soon as possible - some 30%, according to the latest ConservativeHome survey.

17.5% want it to end in 2014.  I'm interested to see that 37% want it to "stop shortly before the 2015 general election so the parties can set out their different plans".

That's my own view - although I think that David Cameron can prepare the way by loosening the Coalition from October 2014 onwards.

Just under 1850 people responded to the survey, of whom over 800 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

6 May 2013 07:28:47

A third of Conservative Party members want an electoral pact with UKIP in 2015

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at 18.14.03
By Paul Goodman

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They divide a third, a third, and a third in our latest survey, issued last Friday morning, about whether to treat UKIP as a friend or enemy when the general election comes in 2015.

The question was

  • 34% believe that the party should form a pact with UKIP for the poll.
  • 33% believe that it shouldn't.
  • And 33% want to wait and see.

Asked if they believed that such a pact will be formed for 2015, 10% of Tory member respondents said Yes, 53% said No and 37% said that the leadership will wait and see.

Understandably, the leadership's position is that there should be no pact with UKIP (or anyone else). So only a third of members are lined up behind it.

To write that this evidence suggests that there's a big gap between Downing Street's views and those of Party members would be an understatment.

Daniel Hannan has long urged a pact. So recently has Michael Fabricant. I'm opposed to one, though I've suggested a new "safe space" in which both parties' activists could meet.

Just under 1850 people responded to the survey, of whom over 800 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

5 May 2013 08:56:13

Redwood wants an EU poll bill. So does Baron. Both raise the question: how long should the Coalition last?

By Paul Goodman
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Camerons's choice copy
John Redwood writes on this site today to advocate a mandate referendum on the EU in this Parliament - a move that would require an Act to make it happen.  John Baron continues to lead the campaign for a separate Act in this Parliament, which would write the In/Out referendum to which David Cameron is committed into legislation.  I will write about the arguments for and against both ideas in due course, but will for today limit myself to the implications which they have for the maintenance of the Coalition.

It might be that the Commons would vote for one of the two measures, or even both, because enough Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs would support them: it is arguable that Ed Miliband would not oppose the Baron initiative, in particular.  But let's presume that Nick Clegg lines up against both bills (a reasonable presumption).  In such circumstances, could Cameron whip Conservative MPs to go into one lobby if Liberal Democrat MPs were going into the other?

The question of whether the Prime Minister supports Redwood's or Baron's proposal (or both) thus turns out also to be a question about the future of the Coalition.  Readers must decide for themselves whether it could work effectively were the two Parliamentary parties directed into different lobbies by their respective whips - and whether the Coalition is worth preserving.  It's worth noting that the Coalition Agreement doesn't insist that the two parties vote together in all circumstances - for example, over tax breaks for marriage - and that the Liberal Democrats helped to enshrine it when they failed to support Jeremy Hunt.

My own answer is that the Coalition is worth preserving, and that while EU referendum bills might not bring it down, they would certainly strain it severely.  This raises a further question: if the Coalition is worth preserving, how long should it last for? Again, readers must give decide for themselves, but my answer is that since it will effectively be inoperable for its final six months - or as good as - Cameron could loosen the whipping arrangements during that period.

It would probably be too late for a mandate referendum by then (mind you, I suppose one could be held on general election day itself), though there would certainly be time to enshrine the In/Out referendum in law.  I would certainly like to see a series of initiatives from the backbenches, which Tory Ministers would support from the dispatch box - and, more often than not, in the lobbies.  In that last six months, backbenchers could propose a tougher immigration cap, a tighter benefits cap, a British Bill of Rights, English votes for English laws - and so on.  The alternative for David Cameron, at that stage, will be Parliamentary paralysis.

26 Apr 2013 06:15:33

A view from Downing Street

Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 23.38.09
By Paul Goodman

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I'm in a position to offer this morning to offer an insight into current thinking in Number 10.  Tim Montgomerie touched on its current charm offensive yesterday, of which the Jo Johnson appointment was a part.  I'm not going to comment on this thinking - though I will certainly return to the subject soon - but relay it as straightforwardly as I can.

  • Number 10 claims that it's in a better place with Conservative MPs.  First, it cites the appointment of Jo Johnson and the new policy board.  (And there are clearly more changes in Downing Street to come.)  Second, it says that the introduction of political Cabinets before Cabinet has given the Conservative operation a more political focus.  Third, it stresses the degree of contact between David Cameron and Tory backbenchers - regular gatherings of the Parliamentary Party (sometimes chaired by Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and sometimes chaired by George Young the Chief Whip); repeated meetings with Ministers of State and with Under-Secretaries - every six weeks or so in the case of the latter, I was told; the Prime Minister's weekly trip to the members dining room after each PMQ session.  "No Conservative leader," I was told, "has done more to make himself available to Conservative MPs".

Continue reading "A view from Downing Street" »

23 Apr 2013 09:42:11

The Conservatives must campaign for Justice for England in 2015

By Paul Goodman
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On this day three years ago, David Cameron and Boris Johnson took themselves off to Leadenhall Market where, according to the Daily Mail, they were joined by knights in chainmail, morris dancers and maids in "traditional outfits with plunging necklines".  Yes, it was St George's Day - and time for a spot of general election campaigning.  The Mayor "risked angering party chiefs by saying that the Tories could make St George's Day into a Bank Holiday".  Three years on, amidst a day of gorgeous sunshine, we are bowed over our computers - those of us who are working, at least.

We are also waiting, more fully, for justice for Engand.  As Peter Hoskin suggested recently, the Mckay Commission report is going nowhere fast, the Blair/Brown post-devolutionary settlement is blatantly unfair to England, and polling suggests that only a quarter of English people are content with it.  Those who believe that only poor leadership is preventing the party from returning to the golden years of the Thatcher age are neglecting stark electoral realities.

Continue reading "The Conservatives must campaign for Justice for England in 2015" »

23 Apr 2013 08:18:28

Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both.

By Paul Goodman
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Earlier this month, after the news was announced of Rohan Silva's depature from Downing Street, I listed some of those who had left previously:

  • Tim Chatwin, Head of Strategic Communications.
  • James O’Shaughnessy, Head of Policy.
  • Peter Campbell, who helped to prepare him for Prime Minister's Questions - as he did former Conservative leaders.
  • And Steve Hilton (who needs no introduction).

Continue reading "Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both." »

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?

Continue reading "Margaret Thatcher's legacy should be a Conservatism For Bolton West" »

8 Apr 2013 08:21:54

IDS and Osborne complain that the BBC isn't representing the majority view on welfare

By Tim Montgomerie
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The graph above comes from YouGov's Joe Twyman. It shows how supporters of ALL three parties agree that the benefit system needs "some significant" or "major" reforms. Overall, 70% of voters want changes. Five other YouGov findings (PDF) included:

  1. 63% thought the benefit system wasn't strict enough and is open to abuse and fraud - just 22% disagreed;
  2. 78% thought the £26,000 benefits cap was fair - just 10% thought it was unfair;
  3. 59% supported the 1% cap on benefits uprating - 28% did not;
  4. 78% thought there are at least a minority of cases who are abusing the benefits system;
  5. 61% thought child benefit should be limited to two children - 29% did not.

Continue reading "IDS and Osborne complain that the BBC isn't representing the majority view on welfare" »