Conservative Diary

Constitution and democracy

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" »

15 Nov 2012 20:17:34

Just how low has today's turnout fallen?

By Paul Goodman
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Jim Pickard of the Financial Times has published a piece of which the first four words of the headline are "record low turnout expected".

The Electoral Reform Society has predicted a turnout of 18.5 per cent.

Over at YouGov, Anthony Wells predicts that "the actual proportion of people who turn out to vote on Thursday is likely to be much lower" than the 28% who told the pollster they would.

Some political journalists asked readers how it was all going where they lived, and have been retweeting answers reporting near-empty polling stations.

I maintain that the real test of whether police commissioners are workable will be what voters think after a term of them - and when elections are held in a spring.

14 Nov 2012 11:47:19

In defence, for once, of Bercow

By Paul Goodman
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In some ways, John Bercow has turned out to be a good Speaker, speeding up business, discomforting Ministers by allowing more Urgent Questions, and generally standing up for the legislature against the executive, which is a big part of what he's there's for.  In one particular way, however, he is a bad one, in that his troubled relationship with his former party has compromised his impartiality.  This assertion is backed up by facts.  Rob Wison, the very capable Conservative MP who's taking an active interest in the Savile scandal, has meticulously reviewed Mr Bercow's Commons interventions, and doesn't mince his words about them.  The Speaker, in his view, is biased.

My reaction on first reading today's news of the resignation of four out of five of IPSA's board members was thus to raise an eyebrow, and my assumption was that the flammable Mr Bercow had messed up again.  But first readings aren't always right and stories sometimes need a second glance.  For example, the Guardian's story today about Chris Heaton-Harris, James Delingpole and the Corby by-election suggests that Mr Delingpole was never going to put down a deposit - so its implication that Mr Heaton Harris "backed [a] rival [candidate] candidate" is wide of the mark, which perhaps explains why these words are in quotation marks in the article's headline.

Continue reading "In defence, for once, of Bercow" »

16 Oct 2012 11:55:47

Cameron gives the vote to Rolfe

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-10-16 at 09.23.36Michael Forysth thinks that David Cameron has lost in his battle with Alex Salmond over the Scottish referendum terms, and has compared the Prime Minister to Pontius Pilate.  (Who is Jesus in this comparison?)  Malcolm Rifkind believes that Mr Cameron has won, and has said that Mr Salmond has experienced "a comprehensive defeat".

I don't know which one of them is right.  Nor do I know whether Ministers are correct to be "confident that lowering the voting age will not benefit the SNP’s cause", as Alan Cochrane reported yesterday - agreeing while doing so with Sir Malcolm.  Mr Cochrane believes that Mr Cameron has "run rings round" Mr Salmond.

Nor still do I have a set view on whether 16 year-olds should be allowed to vote.  I am not persuaded, as politicians say, that it should fall further to 16, but am open to argument on the matter. What I am not open to is Messrs Cameron and Salmond's agreement that 16 year olds should have the vote in the forthcoming referendum, for three reasons.

Continue reading "Cameron gives the vote to Rolfe" »

3 Aug 2012 08:30:53

If the Lords is not to be elected it should be reformed

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Telegraph is reporting this morning that David Cameron is to abandon the Coalition's plans for an elected House of Lords. The Prime Minister had hoped that the reform could be salvaged by some sort of compromise deal with the 91 Tory rebels. One suggestion had been that the remnant of hereditary peers could be elected but the dissenting Tory MPs remain resolute in their opposition. They want nothing that will challenge the primacy of the House of Commons.

If the Liberal Democrats don't get Lords reform there seems little hope for boundaries reform. Tory MPs will be furious. They supported a referendum on AV on the understanding that the Liberal Democrats would support the boundary review. Since then, however, the Lib Dems have successfully linked delivery of an elected Lords with the boundary issue even though Tories could complain that the Coalition Agreement only committed to proposals for an elected Lords, not certain action. One Tory MP told me that "Clegg has outfoxed Cameron".

Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street were counting on the introduction of equally-sized constituencies to overcome some of the intrinsic anti-Tory disavantage in Britain's electoral system. Conservatives need a 10.5% lead to win an outright majority on existing boundaries but a much more modest 7.6% on what had been expected to be the new, fairer boundaries. Winning the next election has just got a whole lot harder. The only upside is that Cameron and Osborne may now be forced to consider game changing shifts of strategy and tactics.

Continue reading "If the Lords is not to be elected it should be reformed" »

16 Jul 2012 07:53:51

Any Liberal Democrat Minister who votes against the boundary review must be fired

By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron is reported to be considering not proceeding with the boundary review at all, rather than see it voted down by Liberal Democrat backbenchers and Ministers who - in the latter case - he would have to dismiss.

There are also complaints about Conservative backbenchers voting against the Lords Reform Bill and Liberal Democrat ones voting, in due course, against the boundary review.

It is thus important to grasp, amidst these controversies, exactly what obligations backbenchers and frontbenchers respectively have, from each Coalition partner alike, to commitments made in their manifestos and in the Coalition Agreement.

Continue reading "Any Liberal Democrat Minister who votes against the boundary review must be fired" »

12 Jul 2012 07:29:01

That Cameron-Jesse Norman clash. What really happened. Role of Prufrock revealed.

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-07-12 at 07.23.18"You see, Albert," said Stephen Crabb, Whip to J.Alfred Prufrock, MP for the marginal West Midlands seat of Grummidge West, ""we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister?  And let's face it, the best way we can do so is by voting for Second Reading.  Because, let's be honest: this bill has a future.  All that voting against Second Reading will do is to record a futile protest, delighting Labour and damaging party unity.  So you see: it's in all our interests for the bill to pass.  Or to put it more plainly, David Cameron wants you to vote for the bill. I'm sure you get the point."  And with that, Crabb reached out, tugged Prufrock's right-hand shirt cuff with his own right hand, winked, and sauntered off into the "Aye" lobby.

Prufrock turned, and found himself, as chance would have it, facing Priti Patel.  "You see, Priti," he said, "we have to ask ourselves: how can we best help the Prime Minister?  And let's face it, the best way we can do so is by voting for Second Reading.  Because -"

"- Excuse me," Patel cut in, staring at Prufrock with a curious detachment, as if from an infinite distance.  "But...Do I know you?"  And as Prufrock bowed his head in embarrassment and raised it again, he found himself gazing instead, as if by some act of cinematic magic, upon the masterfully-drawn mouth, visionary gaze, noble countenance and domed philosopher's forehead, as majestic as the dome of St Peter's or St Paul's Cathedral, of Jesse Norman.

Continue reading "That Cameron-Jesse Norman clash. What really happened. Role of Prufrock revealed." »

11 Jul 2012 17:57:28

Tories must deliver at least "tiny" elected element to Lords or lose boundary changes, Cameron tells 1922 meeting

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Prime Minister has just addressed the 1922 meeting of Tory MPs - his final opportunity to address them before the summer recess. I'm told he got a warm if not rapturous reception and, in return, spoke candidly without bluster. More peers were present than for some time... Can't think why!

The top line is that he promised to launch "one more" push for Lords reform. If we don't give the Lib Dems even a "tiny" elected element to the Upper House we will lose other constitutional changes, he warned. By other constitutional changes he means boundary changes. If we can't deliver that element the Coalition will need to move on swiftly to other things but there will be a price for the Conservatives in losing the boundary review, he implied.

Looking forward the Tories needed, he said, to focus on three things: (1) the Coalition's awful inheritance (he said the British people were fair-minded and will be fair to Government if it keeps country safe from the global economic storm); (2) our values, especially social mobility/ aspiration and compassion - as most illustrated by the Gove and IDS reforms; and (3) that Labour, not UKIP or the LibDems were the Tory enemy. He has instructed ministers to go after Labour over the summer and autumn. Father of House Peter Tapsell in questions rebuked David Cameron in his unique style. Labour are opponents, not enemies, he said. Debate in the Commons had become far too personal, Sir Peter added.

Interestingly the PM began by paying handsome tribute to the Chief Whip, Patrick McLoughlin and gave him a big hug. My cynical/ realistic sources interpreted this as a sign that Mr McLoughlin's seven year period of service would not survive the post-Olympics reshuffle.

11 Jul 2012 07:42:31

Can the Coalition be rebooted?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Forget for a moment that most of us didn't want to be here. Most Tory members didn't approve of the kind of changes Cameron made to the Conservative Party. Most Tory members didn't think much of the awful Tory election campaign. Most Tory members wanted to govern as a minority government, not as coalition. Most Tory members then wish we'd pursued a more ambitious growth plan.

In summary --- The wrong modernisation. The wrong election campaign. The wrong post-election strategy. The wrong economic policy. Those four things are all true but we are where we are. Can the Coalition be saved?

Restart 2

Let's be clear, it needs to be saved. If there's an election now there's little chance of an outright Tory majority. Who thinks we will go from 33% (our overnight rating) to 43% during an election campaign? It's possible, yes, but likely? Hardly. Certain? You must be joking. An election would be fought on the old boundaries. The likely result is a Labour-led government; either in partnership with the Cable-Farron-Hughes wing of the Lib Dems or with Ed Miliband enjoying his own Commons majority. Ed Balls would be Chancellor.

Continue reading "Can the Coalition be rebooted?" »

10 Jul 2012 07:31:32

Loyalist MPs will be doing David Cameron a favour if they vote against the Lords Reform Bill today

By Paul Goodman
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Because this bill is neither one thing nor the other, it threatens the stabililty of our constitution

There are two workable models for the House of Lords.  The first is for it no longer to be a revising chamber, and for a wholly elected second chamber to replace it as part of a rationalist package of constitutional reform (which would also include a fully-fledged written constitution in which the relationship between the two houses would be set out).  The second is for it to continue to be a revising chamber, in which case it is best kept much as it is, since the presence of elected members would only muddy the constitutional waters by raising the inevitable question: which elected House should prevail in the event of a clash?

I prefer the second model.  Some ConservativeHome readers would opt for the first, for which John Strafford argued on this site yesterday.  There is no doubt that Nick Clegg's plans are a halfway house between the two.  They offer the emergence in the Upper House of "senators" elected for a single 15 year terms by proportional representation on regional lists.  These pushmepullyous represent the worst of both worlds.  On the one hand, no-one who stands for a single 15 year term has an incentive to respond to voters once elected, especially since he or she will be hand-picked for the lists by the party machines.  On the other, he or she will be able to claim a democratic mandate - and, in some cases, a greater legitimacy too (in the event of the Senator in question spurning the validity of first-past-the-post).

Continue reading "Loyalist MPs will be doing David Cameron a favour if they vote against the Lords Reform Bill today" »