Conservative Diary


18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?

Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:

Home Office

With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows

Local Government

Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'.  Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows


It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.

Blues 3 - 2 Yellows

Constitutional Reform

The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.

Blues 0 - 0 Yellows


It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.

Blues 5 - 1 Yellows


Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.

Blues 2 - 1 Yellows 


The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.

Blues 1 - 1 Yellows


Energy and Environment

Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition. 

Blues 1 - Yellows 5

Tax and Spend

Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.

On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.

Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.

Blues 2 - Yellows 2

Welfare Reform

Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.

Blues 2 - Yellows 1

Business and Banks

Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.

Blues 2 - Yellows 3


To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation. 

Blues 2 - Yellows 1


This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.

Blues 1 - Yellows 2

Scores so far

Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.

The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.

5 Sep 2013 14:35:05

Michael Gove defending teachers from their unions

By Harry Phibbs
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Last week Michael Gove gave a speech which, among other things, differentiated between opposing trade union leaders and trade union members.

In another speech this morning he praised teachers while attacking the teaching unions.

Mr Gove told his audience at Policy Exchange:

It is because the teaching profession is so crucial that our programme of education reform has been designed to empower teachers; to give them more freedom, more power and more prestige.

Indeed he presented the case that it was the teaching unions who were the ones insulting their own profession.

There were four attacks on the profession:

The first attack holds that teaching is a depressing and demotivating activity - and that the profession is suffering reputational decline.

The second attack is a denial that teaching can make any real difference.

The third attack is the sidelining of the teacher from the activity of learning.

And the fourth attack comes from those who believe teachers can't be trusted – that they need outsiders at every turn to monitor, police and approve their activities.

So far as the first attack on the profession is concerned, Mr Gove responded, that the freedom to innovate had never been greater. In an echo of Harold Macmillan, that "there's never been a better time to be a teacher."

Continue reading "Michael Gove defending teachers from their unions" »

1 Sep 2013 14:16:51

Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere

By Paul Goodman

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Andrew Gimson has correctly fingered David Cameron's temperament as Anglican, which makes it very different from Michael Gove's Manichean-flavoured one - of which the latter's view of foreign affairs is a reminder. This helps to explain why, although the Prime Minister and Education Secretary are friends, Gove almost certainly won't be sent to the Foreign Office in any second Cameron-led government. It's true that in opposition, Cameron tilted towards an interventionist-sceptic view of the world, and in government has tiled away from it again, as his actions in Libya and aspirations for Syria show. However, this makes him even less likely than before to send Gove to King Charles Street. He needs a Foreign Secretary who can sell intervention, if necessary, to a instinctively resistant Party - a role that William Hague could have played over Syria had he indicated more caution than the Prime Minister. The Education Secretary is not that person. If that second Cameron-led Government happens, Gove will be a candidate for the Home and not the Foreign Office.

Continue reading "Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere" »

15 Aug 2013 11:53:33

A-Level results show pupils, not just ministers, want greater academic rigour

By Mark Wallace
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GoveToday's A-Level results provide further evidence that the simplistic grade-is-good analysis is being replaced by an appreciation for a more rigorous exam system.

For the second year in a row, the proportion of A or A* grades awarded has fallen (by 0.3 per cent to 26.3 per cent).

Interestingly, it seems pupils are also gravitating towards those subjects which have traditionally been more academically demanding, suggesting they also appreciate the value of a more rigorous set of qualifications. 

While the uptake of General Studies has collapsed by 30.4 per cent since 2010, Law has fallen by 14.3 per cent  and Business Studies has declined by 9.3 per cent, the number taking Chemistry is up 23.7 per cent and Maths is up by 19.2 per cent. Economics saw a jump of 7.4 per cent in a single year.

Continue reading "A-Level results show pupils, not just ministers, want greater academic rigour" »

8 Aug 2013 14:04:43

The unassuming significance of David Willetts’ statement on profit-making universities

By Peter Hoskin
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Bongos, Gibraltar and Mark Carney – all three have set the printing presses roaring today. But there’s another significant story in the newspapers that is altogether less conspicuous. It’s this one in the Independent about a new profit-making university. According to the paper, David Willetts has welcomed it as “an important step towards increasing the diversity of the higher education sector”. He adds: “A wider range of higher education providers helps broaden access, focuses attention on teaching quality and promotes innovative learning methods.”  

It’s worth setting out the bare facts about this university, for clarity’s sake. It was originally a college, with branches across the country, specialising in law, business and various other professions, that was operated by the private company BPP Holdings. When it was granted degree-awarding powers in 2007 it changed its name to BPP University College of Professional Studies. But it’s only now that it’s achieved full university status according to the Business Department’s criteria. After registering with Companies House on Tuesday, it became the second for-profit university in the country, after the University of Law last year. It is now officially called BPP University.

Continue reading "The unassuming significance of David Willetts’ statement on profit-making universities" »

1 Aug 2013 11:27:12

Proportion of Free Schools found to be good or outstanding rises to three in four

Screen shot 2013-08-01 at 11.21.52

Source: New Schools Network

By Paul Goodman
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I reported recently that two in three Free Schools had been found to be good or outstanding by OFSTED - and that "the Department for Education says that the proportion of Free Schools rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding' is broadly in line with all state schools inspected since the introduction of the new framework".

Which promoted a riposte from a few people in the comment thread and on Twitter - namely, that if Free Schools were doing no better than other state schools, what was the point of them?  An answer is that for a new school to establish itself as a success in its very early days is no mean achievement - and that even better things can be expected in future.

You may or may not agree with that view.  But whether you do or don't, it is now out of date.  We now have the OFSTED results from 24 free schools, and the proportion of them rated as good or outstanding now stands at three in four.  The tranche of results I wrote about recently covered 15 Free Schools.

The Free Schools Network points out that "the results compare favourably with the achievements of state schools generally, with Free Schools more than twice as likely to be awarded an Outstanding judgement under the new tougher Ofsted inspection framework". There are 81 Free Schools in all.

1 Aug 2013 06:34:56

Gove now almost level with Boris as Party members' favourite for next Tory leader

By Paul Goodman
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Gove Looking RightWhen we last reported on who Conservative members want as Party leader after David Cameron, the Mayor of London was the clear leader.  Preferences divided up as follows in May:

  • Boris Johnson: 30 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 17 per cent.
  • David Davis: 16 per cent.
  • William Hague: 16 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 12 per cent.

The results of our latest survey, conducted late last week, now find as follows:

  • Boris Johnson: 21 per cent.
  • Michael Gove: 20 per cent.
  • Theresa May: 16.5 per cent.
  • William Hague: 15 per cent.
  • David Davis: 14 per cent.

Gove's steady rise will reflect the view of members that he is the Government's most effective Minister - in terms both of shaping policy to Conservative ends and taking on the left.

There's no convincing reason for Boris's fall of ten points other than the obvious one: he hasn't been in the news much during the past month.

This poll should be read in conjunction with James Forsyth's column in this week's Spectator.  James sets out the Mayor's planned path to the Premiership - which we will return to.

More directly to the point, as far as this poll is concerned, is Boris's apparent belief that Gove will now not run for the leadership post-2015 if David Cameron loses.

James claims that the Mayor now sees Theresa May, the deporter of Abu Qatada, as his main potential rival.  She's up in our poll - but her rise is modest.

Gove may not stand for the leadership if his friend, David Cameron, vacates it.  Or he may.  But one thing is certain: he has no shortage of admirers who would urge him to.

These include the Prime Minister himself.  George Osborne, of course, is not on easy terms with Boris, to put it mildly.

The prospect of the Cameron and Osborne duo pleading with Gove to stand - and preserve their legacy from the ravages of Boris - is not so far-fetched as to be beyond raising.

25 Jul 2013 06:35:41

Two in three Free Schools rated Good or Outstanding in latest inspection results

By Paul Goodman
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Gove IDCC9These are early days, and only 15 out of the country's 81 Free Schools have both been inspected and had results published, but two thirds of these have now been judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted - which itself introduced a more rigorous inspection regime last September.

Canary Wharf College has joined ARK Conway Primary Academy in Hammersmith in being judged ‘outstanding’ in its first inspection since opening in 2011.  Michael Gove has said that “for a school to be rated outstanding within just two years is quite some feat".

The free schools rated ‘good’ are West London Free School in Hammersmith; Langley Hall Primary Academy in Slough; Woodpecker Hall Academy in Edmonton; Aldborough E-ACT Free School in Ilford; Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School in Barnet; Bristol Free School; Krishna-Avanti Primary School in Leicester and Rainbow Free School in Bradford.

Continue reading "Two in three Free Schools rated Good or Outstanding in latest inspection results" »

21 Jul 2013 08:49:06

Allowing tuition fees to rise above £9,000 (in some cases) may not be a bad idea

By Peter Hoskin
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Do you remember all those students tearing through London in protest at £9,000 tuition fees? Well, what would happen if tuition fees were extended beyond £9,000? And that’s not just a moot question, either. An intriguing story in today’s Sunday Times (£) suggests that ministers are considering doing just that. Apparently, “Institutions whose graduates are likely to receive high salaries could be allowed to charge more than the current maximum of £9,000 a year for a degree.”

First things first, I wouldn’t expect this to happen any time soon. A “senior government source” tells the paper that “any changes would not happen in the near future,” which I suspect is a euphemistic way of saying, “You expect the Lib Dems to agree to this? Ha! No way.” If this were to happen, I suspect it would take a majority Tory government.

But, beyond that, the idea is worth considering, not least because it has some merit. To understand why, you need to cast your mind back to the New Labour years. Back then, ministers marketed the newly-introduced tuition fees by talking of a “graduate premium”. The average graduate would earn £400,000 more over their lifetime, they said, than the average graduate – so, cough up. But this figure was soon exposed as a charade. It was revised downwards and downwards to £100,000.

Continue reading "Allowing tuition fees to rise above £9,000 (in some cases) may not be a bad idea" »

17 Jul 2013 07:05:45

Claire Perry's porn filter is fantasy policy-making, and it's coming unstuck

By Mark Wallace
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Think of the childrenYesterday, the BBC published an embarrassing leaked letter, sent by a Department of Education official, on the topic of internet porn filters. In essence, the letter asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to agree to a form of words which would exaggerate the level of protection offered - allegedly in order to allow the Prime Minister to claim a victory.

Today, the row over the leak grew, with an anonymous source within DCMS (which has now taken over the issue) telling the Daily Mail that "the Department for Education is part of the problem", implying that while Maria Miller's department is supporting Claire Perry's moral crusade, Michael Gove's team are standing in its way.

The issue is only going to get messier - not because of internal divisions on the topic, but because this is what happens when politicians promise the press they will implement an impossible policy.

The fact is that the impression Perry gives about this being a simple issue of flicking a switch is a false one. As Big Brother Watch point out, the only way to even start trying to filter all pornography is to empower the state to monitor everyone's internet browsing, all the time.

Even if we were to accept such an unpalatable and intrusive policy, it wouldn't actually do the job - for example, proponents of filtering have yet to offer an actual definition of what constitutes pornography or adult material. (It is important to remember that this issue is about filtering legal content, and is totally separate to criminal material, such as child abuse imagery or terrorist handbooks, hence the difficulty producing a definition.)

China is the world's biggest practitioner of internet censorship, and even their vast resources, technical capabilities and enthusiasm for totalitarianism have failed to prevent citizens getting round their systems.

Those Ministers who have flirted with the media by implying they support the Perry position have led people further down the garden path, deploying what is perhaps the worst argument in politics: "won't somebody think of the children".

In doing so, they have now created a monster which threatens to devour them.

The Daily Mail, for example, has publicly committed its support to a policy which Ministers are starting to realise can never happen. How will they react when they are publicly let down, as they inevitably will be? This leak is only the start of what will be an embarrassing backfire - all caused by fantasy policy-making.

Of course, there is plenty of stuff on the internet which is legal but kids still shouldn't be exposed to - somebody should indeed think of the children. What Claire Perry and her allies have yet to realise is that the only authority who can and should do so is the children's parents, not the state.