Conservative Diary

David Cameron

26 Aug 2013 20:22:24

The Commons must have a say on any strike against Assad

By Paul Goodman
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It's clear that the instincts of David Cameron and William Hague, as well as those of French Ministers, have long supported further western military intervention in Syria - that's to say, the supply of more weapons to the Syrian Free Army (British and French pressure eased an EU arms embargo in May); training for elements of it; backing for a no-fly zone.

However, any window for such intervention is no longer open.  Opinions vary about whether it ever was: Mark Wallace and I have made different cases about the matter on this site.  But the military advice the Prime Minister has received is that such action in concert with other western countries isn't practicable (regardless of whether or not it is advisable).

What the Prime Minister now wants overlaps with such action, but isn't identical with it - namely, a missile strike by western countries in response to what he believes was the use of chemical weapons in Ghoura by the Assad regime.  But given the wariness in Westminster of Britain being dragged into Syria's civil war, he has three main obstacles to negotiate.

  • The Cabinet. Peter Hoskin wrote yesterday about the possibility of Theresa May and Philip Hammond on the Conservative side - leading Cabinet resistance to intervention.  This may well be so if military involvement were to be prolonged.  But as one Cabinet member told me this morning: "Any Cabinet discussions on Syria next week will be sewn up in advance."  This source said that such intervention would be "dubious", and claimed that Samantha Cameron influences policy on Syria. Another Cabinet Minister told me it would be "mad".
  • Conservative backbenchers. Peter also today reported Tory MPs such as Andrew Bridgen, Rory Stewart and Sarah Woollaston calling for Parliament to have its say before anything is done: in effect, they and others are demanding that the legislature, not the executive, take any decision.  Some Conservative MPs are concerned about constitutional propriety; others are flatly opposed to intervention.  But they are united in calling for the Commons to debate the matter before any action is taken.
  • The Opposition. The legacy of Iraq has put pay to liberal interventionism on Labour's benches.  Douglas Alexander has also urged that Parliament be recalled if military options are being considered, and wants Britain to work with "the international community" (i.e: Russia and China) to find "an agreed way forward".  The Prime Minister will want to keep a wary eye on the Liberal Democrats, who made such domestic hay with Iraq, as well as Labour.  Winning Nick Clegg's support is one thing; keeping that of his party quite another.

Julian Lewis, the former Shadow Defence Minister and an opponent of intervention, told me earlier today that there is a case for a missile strike (to show Assad that the use of chemical weapons will meet a response) and a case against (that it would almost certainly end the fragile rapprochment between America and Russia established over weapons inspections).

On balance, he said, he was against such a strike - but that there is an argument for it, and it can be kept distinct from the kind of intervention I described earlier.  The Prime Minister could gamble by meeting with the National Security Council on Wednesday, obtaining its consent for an immediate strike, and justifying it after the Commons returns next week.

However, MPs would almost certainly see such a move as a breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of recent Foreign Office indications that the Commons would be consulted.  Such short-term action would thus make any further strikes and intervention more difficult for the Government in the medium-term.  My sense is that Number Ten recogises this.

The most rational way forward for Ministers, therefore, would be for them to make the case for a strike in the Commons.  But it is far from certain that this would succeed.  On the one hand, MPs will feel that any use of chemical weapons by Assad demands a response. On the other, they won't want Britain to act without UN agreement, and risk being dragged into the Syrian conflict.

14 Aug 2013 15:19:04

In praise of older politicians

By Andrew Gimson
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Labour needs to bring “grown-ups” such as Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson into the shadow Cabinet. So says Chris Mullin, and it is worth noting why his observation prompts such immediate and heartfelt agreement.

The shadow Cabinet is callow, but in this it merely reflects the catastrophic callowness of our political class. The assumption has developed at Westminster that youth is more valuable than experience.

Politics is treated as a sprint for high office, followed by 40 years of retirement. Just as a minister begins, amid difficulties and setbacks, to gain some inkling of how the world works, or at least of how Whitehall works, he or she is supplanted by some gormless young careerist with a full head of hair and a mind unformed by adversity.

There was a time when most of our rulers had front-line experience of war as well as politics. Nowadays they have experience as backroom boys.

Continue reading "In praise of older politicians" »

9 Aug 2013 08:06:45

Cameron’s everywhere – and that ain’t necessarily a bad thing

By Peter Hoskin
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Saunter through ConservativeHome’s newslinks this morning, and you’ll notice something: David Cameron is everywhere in them, even more so than usual. From shale gas to social networks, from Gibraltar to the tenets of his Christianity, the Prime Minister is broadcasting more content than the average satellite channel, at the moment. He’s even ‘fessed up to his love for The Boss.

This is something that the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour has noticed, too. In a fine article for the Guardian, he describes Cameron as a “24-hour news machine”, and contrasts his and Nick Clegg’s hyperactivity with Labour’s relative silence. As Wintour puts it:

Continue reading "Cameron’s everywhere – and that ain’t necessarily a bad thing" »

30 Jul 2013 12:52:08

The PM shames Labour's referendum filibusterers - but lets their Lib Dem allies off the hook

By Mark Wallace
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James Wharton, the MP who is bringing forward the Private Member's Bill for an In/Out EU referendum, just tweeted a letter he has received from the Prime MInister. It's interesting, as much for what isn't included as for what is:

Wharton Letter
It reads:

"Dear James,

I wanted to drop you a line to thank you very much for all your hard work last night during the first stages of the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee.

I know that the Committee was incredibly frustrating with Labour attemption to filibuster your Bill. They should know better that Conservatives will not can into these sort of tactics - especially with such important legislation. You did a terrific job seeing this through and I am hugely grateful for your persistence and dedication.

Well done, and keep up the great work!

We will get there...keep going!



It is only right and proper that James is given credit for his efforts - he has done an excellent job so far in steering his Bill through waters that threatened to be quite choppy. The letter is symptomatic of Downing Streets newfound enthusiasm for building bridges with the backbenches.

The PM is also right to highlight and lambast Labour's dishonest attempts to filibuster the Bill, despite their failure to even turn up to vote on it in the Commons. But they weren't the only filibusterers on Committee night. As Wharton recounted on this very site, the Lib Dems were up to exactly the same tricks, and yet are notably absent from the letter.

On Coalition policy disagreements, ministers (mostly) manage to carry out their disagreements in private - and rightly so, given collective Cabinet responsibility. But there is surely no need to spare the Lib Dems' blushes on a matter of party, rather than government, policy.

As today's ConHome readers' poll shows, party members are committed to the Coalition in order to do the right thing for the country. Solidarity with our partners on government matters is part of what is necessary to get that job done - but it is worth questioning how far into party business that should extend.

Lib Dem backbenchers behaved disreputably in trying to undermine Wharton's referendum, and their party leadership continues to oppose a policy which they once proposed. For reasons of principle and politics they should be held to account for their attempts to stop the electorate getting to decide our nation's future.

30 Jul 2013 07:28:26

A majority of Party members now say that the Coalition is good for Britain

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 07.16.43
By Paul Goodman
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In May, 47 per cent of Conservative members said that the Coalition is good for the country...and 47 per cent said that it isn't.

There has been little alteration since then in our surveys, but this month's finds a step change among activists: 59 per cent now say that Coalition is good for the country, and 35 per cent say that it isn't.

In May, 23 per cent said that the Coalition is good for the Party and 71 per cent said that it isn't. Those figures are now 31 per cent and 61 per cent.

That almost a third of activists now say that the Coalition is good for the Party is a striking result - though, obviously, these findings chop and change, and are largely led by the fortunes of the two main parties.

As I wrote yesterday, "Cameron is handling his Parliamentary Party better, and Ed Miliband is on the back foot over welfare and Unite".

"Abu Qatada has gone, James Wharton's EU referendum bill is here, the benefits cap is in place, the economy is gradually recovering." Confidence in Cameron as the person respondents would like to lead the Party into the next election has also risen - from 55 per cent to 65 per cent.

Just over 1550 people responded to the survey, of whom over 700 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

29 Jul 2013 07:48:45

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

Cameron superhero 2
By Paul Goodman

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The figures are as follows from our latest monthly survey -

  • 26 per cent believe that there will be a Conservative majority (up from 15 per cent).
  • 23 per cent of those polled believe that there will be a minority Conservative Government (down slightly from 24 per cent).
  • And 16 per cent believe that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (up by more than double from seven per cent.

That adds up to 65 per cent of those polled expecting David Cameron to return to Downing Street as Prime Minister after the next general election.  That total is up sharply from 46 per cent, and suggests that Party members have been impressed by a better run of news from the Government and a worse from Labour - whose fortunes we look at in a special series on LeftWatch this week, which opens with Christian Guy's excellent piece today.

Abu Qatada has gone, James Wharton's EU referendum bill is here, the benefits cap is in place, the economy is gradually recovering.  Cameron is handling his Parliamentary Party better, and Ed Miliband is on the back foot over welfare and Unite.  September will be a difficult month for the Prime Minister, since the "hacking trial" opens then.  But, like the Lynton Crosby controversy, it will be a Westminster Village affair.  Overall, the big picture is much better for Cameron.

Just over 1550 people responded to the survey, of whom over 700 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

23 Jul 2013 14:45:47

If it carries on like this, the review of EU powers is set to fail - and here are four reasons why

By Mark Wallace
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EU Exit
When a Government announcement on the EU causes Liberal Democrats to celebrate and Conservative backbenchers to complain, it is never a good sign for eurosceptics. So it is with the newly published first batch of Balance of Competences (BoC) Reviews, which assess six areas of powers split between Brussels and Westminster.

In short, the yellows are cheering while the backbenches are spitting blood because the reports have come back with the conclusion that the balance of powers on tax, foreign policy, the single market, healthcare, aid and food safety is "broadly correct".

While the finding is absurd, it is no great surprise given who is running it and how it is run. 

There are four major problems with the BoC process, so far as I can tell:

Continue reading "If it carries on like this, the review of EU powers is set to fail - and here are four reasons why" »

23 Jul 2013 06:51:30

Cameron limits internet porn: social conservatives in all parties will applaud

By Andrew Gimson
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Cameron Serious 1009David Cameron’s speech about the control of internet pornography is a more astute and temperate piece of work than one would think from the attacks made on it. A note of hysteria is detectable in the charge that the Prime Minister’s reforms would turn this country into a totalitarian state.

We are warned we shall find ourselves living in China, yet in the same breath we are assured that Mr Cameron’s  proposals are mere posturing which will not work. As Paul Goodman observed on this site yesterday morning, these two accusations cannot both be true.

Having read the speech, I would like to confirm that neither charge is true. People of an extreme frame of mind will never comprehend Mr Cameron. He wishes to pursue a middle path. This makes him an intellectually unsatisfying figure to those for whom politics entails the pursuit of ideological certainty.

We do not wish to be unrealistic about this. As Mr Cameron says, “Young people have always been curious about pornography and they have always sought it out.” We know children are ingenious, and often possess a better understanding of computers than we do ourselves. We don’t imagine the circulation of bad material can ever be stopped entirely, or that even if it could, no one would ever have depraved ideas about sex.

But we do worry that the laxity with which we police, or fail to police, the internet amounts to a kind of complicity in the supply of hard-core porn to impressionable minds. As Mr Cameron observes, in no other market “do we have such an extraordinarily light touch when it comes to protecting our children”.

Continue reading "Cameron limits internet porn: social conservatives in all parties will applaud" »

21 Jul 2013 10:53:41

From firmness on internet standards to wobbliness on Crosby – Cameron’s Marr interview

By Peter Hoskin
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David Cameron was chin-juttingly firm about many subjects in his interview with Andrew Marr. On child pornography, the main subject of the piece, he warned of “stronger laws” if the internet firms don’t act stronger themselves. On the idea that Samantha Cameron is influencing Government policy toward Syria, he claimed it’s “a total urban myth”. And on Europe, he raised the prospect of Brexit if we don’t get the renegotiation we want.

But it was two wobblier moments that stood out. The first was on Lynton Crosby, when Cameron twice or thrice declined to directly answer the question of whether he had ever spoken with his adviser about plain packaging for cigarettes. Instead, he tried a one-size-fits-all response – “He’s not advising us on policy or issues and he doesn’t intervene on those” – and laughed “that’s the answer you’re getting” when Marr pressed him to be more specific.

Continue reading "From firmness on internet standards to wobbliness on Crosby – Cameron’s Marr interview" »

17 Jul 2013 14:31:02

David Cameron and Ed Miliband are a disgrace to public life

By Andrew Gimson 
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"Is there any point in this, Gimmers?" my neighbour in the press gallery asked half-way through PrimeAndrewGBigBensketchtwo Minister's Questions. "Yes there is, but I'll have to tell you afterwards," I replied, for I like to listen with morbid conscientiousness to what is actually said in the Chamber.

By the end of the session, I had to admit that the point of the exchanges did not appear to be to convey any new information. David Cameron kept saying the Labour Party has been bought by the trade unions, while Ed Miliband and other Labour MPs kept saying the Conservative Party has been bought by the tobacco industry.

How one wished Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband would plead guilty to these charges, or at least place on record their gratitude for the generous donations they have received from the tobacco industry/the trade unions [delete as appropriate], and point out that these are preferable to taxpayer funding.

Instead of which we got a continuation of last week's dialogue of the deaf. Mr Miliband asked in vain whether Mr Cameron "has ever had a conversation with Lynton Crosby about plain cigarette packaging".

The Prime Minister did not, it seems, wish to admit to complete deafness, for he did at one point respond: "The role of Lynton Crosby is to advise on how to defeat a divided and useless Labour Party."

Continue reading "David Cameron and Ed Miliband are a disgrace to public life" »