Conservative Diary

David Cameron

17 Sep 2013 06:24:36

Lib Dems in Glasgow cannot hide harmony in Downing Street

By Andrew Gimson
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At the heart of government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get on surprisingly well. Nothing the Lib Dems have said or done in Glasgow has forced a revision of this view.

It is true that Vince Cable set out to be rude about the Conservatives: “We’ve got dog-whistle politics orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler.”

But what else does one expect from Mr Cable? It would be much more worrying if he managed to suppress his anti-Antipodean prejudices, stopped playing to the Lib Dem activist gallery and instead expressed his complete approval of everything done by David Cameron and George Osborne.

When asked if he would ever quit the coalition, the canny Mr Cable replied: “I think President Obama has just proven very eloquently in recent weeks the danger of parading your red lines in public.”

So it seems Mr Cable is determined not to back himself into a position where he feels obliged to take action instead of striking attitudes.

Continue reading "Lib Dems in Glasgow cannot hide harmony in Downing Street" »

11 Sep 2013 14:38:52

Nigel Evans thanks his friends and colleagues for their "unstinting support"

By Andrew Gimson
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Nothing during Prime Minister’s questions was as striking as the personal statement made by Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley) immediately afterwards. Mr Evans has just stepped down as deputy speaker while he robustly defends himself against charges which include sexual assault and rape.

One might have expected that he would make a very brief statement, no more than a sentence or two, saying he had stepped down from the deputy speakership in order to concentrate on clearing his name. But Mr Evans instead took the chance to offer his heartfelt thanks to many friends and colleagues, including the Speaker, John Bercow, “for their unstinting support”.

Mr Evans said he found himself in “the land of limbo”, but also quoted Winston Churchill’s words, “when you’re going through hell keep going”, and described this as “sage advice”.

Mr Bercow responded by praising the “exemplary service” given by Mr Evans. In earlier times it seems likely that the greater part of these cordial exchanges, made to a packed House, would have been saved for after the legal proceedings were over. Many observers did not know quite what to make of it all, but perhaps that is always the case during a period of modernisation.

Prime Minister’s questions offered no such innovation. Mr Cameron did, however, employ a wider range of tone about Ed Miliband than has recently been the case. The Prime Minister actually thanked the Labour leader for welcoming the fall in the unemployment figures.

Continue reading "Nigel Evans thanks his friends and colleagues for their "unstinting support"" »

7 Sep 2013 11:46:27

Cameron's good decision on Syria and aid

By Paul Goodman
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This site is quick to boo David Cameron when it disagrees with him - as earlier today, for example, when considering HS2.  By the same token, ConservativeHome should be swift to cheer him when we agree with a decision he's made.  I wrote earlier this week that the Government is in a good position to offer a lead to other countries on Syria and aid (that was before Putin's spokesman apparently dismissed Britain as a "small island", and the Prime Minister crafted a Hugh Grant moment in response).  A combination of humanitarian feeling and self-interest should move Ministers both to help Syria's refugees and support its neighbours: were the civil war to spread across its borders, the consequent turmoil would be likely to shake the world's economy and thus ours.  I repeat: a way of beginning to grasp the scale of the Syrian conflict is to imagine that it was Britain.  Were this the case, over 20 million people here would be in need of food, water, medical care, shelter - or would simply have fled abroad: that's more than three times the population of London.

Continue reading "Cameron's good decision on Syria and aid" »

3 Sep 2013 16:00:06

Over two-thirds of Tory members now believe Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015

Cameron superhero 2
By Paul Goodman

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  • This month, 24 per cent of respondents said that there will be a Conservative majority after the 2015 election; 24 per cent said there will be a minority Conservative Government and 19 per cent that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. So just over two-thirds of respondents believed that Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015.
  • Last month, 26 per cent of respondents said that there will be such a majority; 23 per cent said there will be a minority Conservative Government and 16 per cent that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. So just under two-thirds of respondents thought that Cameron will be Prime Minister after 2015.
  • This month, 56 per cent of respondents say that the Coalition is good for Britain, and 38 per cent say it isn't.  Last month, those figures were 59 per cent of respondents and 35 per cent. Last month, 31 per cent of respondents said that the Coalition was good for the Conservative Party and 60 per cent that it isn't. This month, those figures are 31 per cent and 61 per cent.

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.

30 Aug 2013 07:37:18

How David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could become more authentic

By Andrew Gimson
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CommonsAs our politicians return from their holidays, they renew their desperate quest for authenticity.    

In Chambers Dictionary, the word “authentic” is defined as “genuine: authoritative: true, entitled to acceptance, of established credibility: trustworthy, as setting forth real facts…”

Our politicians are very often dismissed as a bunch of proven liars: greedy, bogus, unreliable, untrustworthy and unentitled to the benefit of the doubt. So one can see why they would prefer to be considered authentic. 

But how does one attain authenticity? One cannot go around saying “I am authentic”, any more than in former times one could go around saying “I am honourable” or “I am a gentleman”.

The quality of authenticity has to be shown rather than proclaimed. It proceeds from being seen to be true to oneself. But for a politician, this requires the courage, or foolhardiness, to believe that one’s true self is what the voters are looking for.

Continue reading "How David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could become more authentic" »

30 Aug 2013 07:17:26

Cameron suffers the worst foreign policy defeat in modern times

By Mark Wallace
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Having had a few hours to mull the implications of last nights extraordinary defeat for the Government on their watered down Syria motion, here are my eight observations on what it means for Britain, Westminster, the Conservatives and David Cameron

1) Iraq Syndrome has afflicted Westminster.

In The Path Of Power, Margaret Thatcher wrote of "Suez syndrome":

"[The political class] went from believing that Britain could do anything to an almost neurotic belief that Britain could do nothing."

It took until the Falklands to shake off the affects of Suez Syndrome on Britain's political will. While the onset has taken longer, and the symptoms are more complex, Iraq Syndrome has undoubtedly set in. 

The new affliction is more pernicious than a simple lack of confidence - not only has it made MPs sceptical of UK military capabilities, it has shattered Parliamentary and public faith in the intelligence services.

Cameron was blunt about the limitations of intelligence, apparently as a counter to memories of Tony Blair's messianic certainty. He couldn't guarantee the outcome of war (who can?), nor could he declare 100 per cent certainty about what happens on the ground in Syria. It wasn't enough.

The Blair Government has more to answer for than first realised. While they wheeled and dealed to get what they wanted over Iraq, they apparently gave no thought to the longer term consequences of their willingness to do anything to win. In their belief that the moral imperative to save Iraqis from Saddam justified almost any tactic, they have inadvertently today helped to condemn Syrians to continued suffering at the hands of Assad.

One day, we will almost certainly say "never again", again.

2) Parliament is in the ascendant over the Executive

The 2010 manifesto promised "greater democratic control" of Royal Prerogative powers like war-making. 81 Tory MPs wrote to the Prme Minister earlier in the summer demanding a vote on arming the Syrian rebels, and earlier in the week at least 70 MPs of all parties campaigned for a Commons vote before any military action be taken in Syria. ConHome supports that principle.

Last night we saw the first test of this Parliamentary Doctrine. It certainly makes things less predictable, and in this instance shows the potential for the Commons to make policy more representative of the people.

I was half expecting Cameron to stand up at the end and produce a cautious statement about how the House doesn't support action against Assad "at this stage", but instead he accepted the verdict as final.

Parliament has gained the upper hand over the Executive in what ought to be a permanent way. I don't share MPs' opinion on what is right to do in Syria, but I am glad we now require the representatives of the people to vote before we fight. What that means for how our foreign policy works in future is still unclear.

3) Relations with the US are rocked, while Putin will gloat

It's true to say that the Americans can - and still may - act without us. If they do it will likely be with France as their main ally, and without British, Chinese and Russian agreement at the UN Security Council. 

Vladimir Putin will be delighted that he has succeeded in dividing those who pose a threat to his own foreign and domestic plans, while Washington will be justifiably unsure if it can rely on British promises ever again. This isn't the destruction of the special relationship - the anglosphere is built on cultural and trading ties rather than just political agreement - but it is the start of a new age of more uncertain alliances.

4) Cameron's summer sun didn't last long

Before the recall of Parliament, the Prime Minister was having a brilliant summer. Labour were in disarray, the backbenches were pleased that Wharton's EU Referendum Bill was making progress, Abu Qatada had finally gone away, Andy Murray won Wimbledon, England won the Ashes and so on.

But now he is back to where he was before the summer. Unable to control his party, and on foreign policy in the awkward situation of being unable to make reliable promises to his allies. We had predicted that the return of Parliament would swiftly threaten the love-in in the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and it has collapsed even more spectacularly than we would have imagined.

5) Relations between the leadership and the backbenches are at a new low

As well as the biggest defeat on foreign policy in living memory, and the first Government defeat on a matter of war and peace since the vote which saw us lose America in 1782, this will inject a new tension into the already fraught relationship between the centre and the backbenches.

The Prime Minister may have fronted up to the defeat, but it is undeniably a painful and embarrassing experience for him - particularly as he lost at the hands of his own MPs, not the Opposition. John Major's "bastards" never inflicted anything so personally damaging. We have already heard reports of Michael Gove shouting "disgrace" at the rebels last night, and no doubt others feel the same way.

It will take a cool head and a lot of rising above to prevent this turning into a total breakdown of communications between the ministers and other MPs.

6) The Whips are in for a thrashing

An remarkable aspect of last night's defeat is the part which the Whips played, or rather failed to play. Many MPs heard almsot nothing from their Whip until the night before Parliament returned - and some weren't contacted until the very last minute on the day itself.

We don't yet know who made the misjudgement, but there seems to have been an assumption that the Government's majority was not under threat. Perhaps Sir George Young miscalculated, or perhaps he warned Downing Street and was ignored.

Either way, alarm bells should have been ringing when MPs were tweeting about how light and free vote-like the whipping operation was. Instead, the Government seems to have thought everything was fine until the very last minute.

7) "Coffee with no biscuits" for Justine Greening and Mark Simmonds

Reportedly, these two Government Ministers somehow missed the vote by accident. Accounts vary as to whether they were in a meeting somewhere and didn't notice the time, or that they didn't hear the division bell, or both. 

It's extremely embarrassing, and not the kind of thing a Minister would choose to do immediately before a reshuffle. I'd expect there will be some stern words this morning.

8) Miliband is still a mess

Despite Labour's attempts to claim this as a victory for them, in fact their strategy - such as it was - turned out to be fairly irrelevant. Miliband's decision to pledge support to the Prime Minister and then backtrack may have destabilised Cameron's plans at a crucial moment, but it doesn't seem to be what the Labour leader wanted to do.

Instead, he was caught up in in-fighting among his own Shadow Cabinet and even lost a Shadow Minister over the issue. His alternative yesterday was one of the most muddled things to come before the Commons that I can remember, and his flip-flop is not a good sign for his decision-making on serious matters.

Voters may not agree with Cameron's plan, but they certainly won't be attracted by an Oppposition leader who can't make his mind up.

29 Aug 2013 00:29:24

Cameron hasn't solved his Party problems this summer - and his Syrian humiliation proves it

By Paul Goodman
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Cameron EU surrenderSome believe that the executive should control foreign policy, others that the legislature should do so.  But whatever view one takes of the theory, one thing is certain about the practice: an administration that can't shape its foreign policy risks being seen abroad as weak.  This is precisely where the Government stands today.  Yesterday morning, it was poised to move a Commons motion proposing immediate military action against the Assad regime.  A day later, it is proposing one suggesting such action later…perhaps…after the report of the U.N Investigation Team…despite that team having no mandate to "apportion blame" (in the words of the motion)…and after further efforts to secure a Security Council resolution…despite previous efforts to do so having been unsuccessful because of the council's "failure…to take united action" (again in the words of the motion).  These contortions and contradictions only highlight what is not so much a U-turn as a V-turn.

It isn't yet clear whether Ed Miliband took a lead, and went for Cameron's throat in the same way that he eventually went for Rupert Murdoch's over Leveson, or whether he merely followed his own Iraq-traumatised backbenchers' reluctance to support the Government.  Similarly, it also isn't apparent whether the Prime Minister took the initiative in amending his own motion, or whether others in government confronted him with the brutal reality - namely, that he was set to lose this evening's vote.  Hence the climbdown.  The simple fact is that Cameron began the week by talking very big about Syria, and will end it by acting very small.  In one sense, this is arguably for the good.  It isn't clear why a missile strike on a few Syrian military compounds or Presidential palaces would deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again, assuming (as it is reasonable to do) that it used them recently in Damascus.  And as I have written many times on this site, Britain must not be drawn into Syria's civil war.

Continue reading "Cameron hasn't solved his Party problems this summer - and his Syrian humiliation proves it" »

27 Aug 2013 08:25:40

Is there anyone left who still supports HS2?

By Mark Wallace
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IoD LogoThings just keep getting worse and worse for HS2. After the IEA's cost warning, the revised financial estimates by Treasury officials and the criticism of the scheme by Alistair Darling and this site's own Tim Montgomerie, now it turns out even its target market don't want it.

A survey of 1,300 business leaders, carried out by the Institute of Directors, shows that 70 per cent think that HS2 offers them no improvement in productivity.

Aha, supporters cry, of course the majority wouldn't expect to benefit directly, as HS2 is targeted at particular regions. That's true, but unfortunately for them only 29 per cent of the business directors polled in the North West think it offers good value for money.

There's also a handy reminder that Yorkshire and the North West are not the sum total of "the North" - support in the neglected North East is even lower. In fact, in no region of the UK do more than 35 per cent of those polled think HS2 is good value for money - and this is from a survey carried out before the IEA and Treasury's higher cost estimates were released.

Continue reading "Is there anyone left who still supports HS2?" »