Conservative Diary


12 Dec 2012 18:38:42

Michael Gove issues a battle cry over teachers’ pay

By Peter Hoskin
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Two bits of evidence, today, to suggest that Michael Gove is escalating his fight against the opponents of schools reform, and particularly the teaching unions…

EXHIBIT A is the letter that he has sent out to schools about the industrial action currently being undertaken by two teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, over pay. This industrial action isn’t a traditional sort of strike, but involves teachers retreating to only their “core responsibilities” — and refusing to do things such as supervising pupils during lunch breaks, or covering for other teachers. In his letter, Gove is scathing about the practice. He calls it “highly irresponsible” and “threatening to damage children’s education”. But, most importantly, he also says that schools can — and, in some cases, should — dock the pay of staff members who take part in the protest. Detailed advice about the hows, whats and whys has even been published on the Department for Education website.

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5 Dec 2012 14:01:31

Osborne makes the right calls on benefits, basic income tax threshold, corporation tax, shale gas, fuel duty and teachers' pay

By Tim Montgomerie
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I won't revisit what I said at the end of my earlier blog. If Osborne had embarked upon a growth strategy from the beginning of this parliament then the Chancellor might have made more progress on fulfilling his ambition at that time to eliminate the deficit by 2015. Instead the country will still be borrowing £73 billion at the time the Coalition parties go back to the country, seeking re-election. Even though much of the blame can be put at the door of the international trading environment - verified by the independent OBR - today's news about the lengthening age of borrowing and austerity raises big questions about the debt burden that will shackle British business and will hinder Britain's long-term competitiveness.

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23 Nov 2012 14:07:05

Departmental budgets are coming down: 4) Education

By Paul Goodman
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And now for something bigger still: Education.

2010 - 2011 Outturn: £59,922,700 b

2011 - 2012 Outturn: £56,391,000 b

Michael Gove's department is a particularly interesting one to examine, given the plan to cut his department's administrative costs by half, which Peter Hoskin reported recently on this site.

I gather that the Education Department's own administrative spend is £500 million.  That figure comes with a health warning, since administrative costs can be a moveable feast.

Of course, every penny matters, and it's a good thing that the department is striving to save money.  But however you cut it, those costs are clearly a tiny fraction of the total.

"Unprecedented reductions in spending on public services" - Paul Johnson, Institute of Fiscal Studies.

20 Sep 2012 12:26:45

The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle

By Matthew Barrett
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At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.

At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament. 

At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?

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17 Sep 2012 07:52:04

The "Gove-Level" deal suggests there's still some life in the Coalition

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the early 1980s nearly half of the British people identified coalition government as their preferred model of government. Today, after two years of watching the political horse-trading involved in the current LibCon alliance, that percentage has declined to under one quarter*. The British people like the idea of politicians working together but they also think they should honour manifesto promises. One or both of those two things have to give when in coalition.

But if this Coalition government hasn't boosted overall public confidence in the idea of multi-party government there have been a few signs in the last two or three weeks that Cameron and Clegg haven't given up on their project:

  • A week ago we got a new push towards deregulation and planning reform. The Tories seem to have 'bought' this by allowing Vince Cable (and David Willetts) to pursue their idea of some sort of industrial policy.
  • Last night I was a guest on Five Live for Jon Pienaar's Politics programme. The main guest was Norman Lamb, the new Lib Dem health minister. He was upbeat about the prospect of the Coalition securing a deal on long-term care.
  • And then there's the news from the last 24 hours that Michael Gove and Nick Clegg have reached a deal on reforming the exams that the nation's sixteen year-olds sit. Earlier in the summer when Michael Gove's plans for a new O-Level were leaked to the Daily Mail the Deputy PM went ballistic. It was seen as another low point in the life of the Coalition. Gove, one of the biggest enthusiasts for the Cameron-Clegg partnership, in its earliest days, was becoming increasingly frustrated at its failure to deliver. Fast forward to today and the two men have struck a deal. Gove gets a tougher, more conventional exam that, unlike the GCSE, won't be made up of multiple modules that can be resat and resat. Grades will be tougher or more honest, depending upon how you want to spin it. Clegg has, however, won concessions too. The exam will be introduced a year later (making it vulnerable to Labour cancelling it, should they win the next election) and also, reports The Guardian, it will a one-tier exam sat by most pupils, not a two-tier system as the Education Secretary had originally envisaged.

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5 Sep 2012 13:51:21

Why Laws's appointment could threaten the success of Gove's Tory Flagship Department

By Paul Goodman
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Yesterday morning, Michael Gove was the monarch of all he surveyed in the department over which he presides.  Supported by dedicated and expert Conservative Ministers - Nick Gibb, who covered schools; Tim Loughton, who dealt with adoption and fostering, and John Hayes, who has made a success of the apprenticeships programme - the Education Secretary was the Tory flagship Cabinet Minister, surpassing his colleagues in delivering results.  Half of all secondary schools are now academies and over 50 free schools open this month.  Mr Gove has somehow pulled off the trick of building on Labour's academies legacy while wedging explosives into the foundations of the left's almost 50 year-long educational monopoly over the commanding heights of the state system.

GIBB NICKToday, Messrs Gibb and Loughton have been sacked and Mr Hayes has been shuffled.  Details of change are not yet complete, but in has come Elizabeth Truss.  There is a temptation to see the tentacles of Octopus Osborne everywhere, but they have surely touched this appointment: he and Ms Truss see eye to eye on the need to make it easier for working women to get and stay in the workplace.  Her appointment is very good news and Mr Gove will welcome her warmly.  However, she will be a more challenging Minister than her predecessor.  The Education Secretary has focused his attentions like the proverbial laser beam on schools, and had Sarah Teather, Ms Truss's LibDem predecessor, in his pocket.  Ms Truss knows her own mind and will challenge other Ministers if she thinks it necessary. Mr Gove's life is about to get more interesting.

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21 Aug 2012 08:00:20

The Left's real target isn't Gove's playing field decisions. It's his education reforms - and it's time we all got wise to their game.

By Paul Goodman
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Michael Gove is under attack again this morning over school playing fields.  The Guardian has a story headed "Michael Gove 'made council let free school be built on playing field' ".  (He didn't: Departmental officials spoke to the local authority in question.)  And the Daily Telegraph reports that the petition being run by 38 degrees, the left-of-centre website, may soon pass 100,000 signatories. The petition claims that:

“The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has quietly relaxed the rules protecting school playing fields, opening the door for them to be sold off to developers. Without their playing fields it’s hard to imagine the children of today will ever match this year’s record Olympic medal haul. And once playing fields are sold off and built on, they're gone forever.”

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1 Aug 2012 18:43:53

Will Hinchingbrooke Hospital and IES Breckland detoxify profit?

By Peter Hoskin
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What a happy coincidence that on the day the Prime Minister delivers a speech about innovation in the health service, there’s a stunning example of just what that innovation can achieve. And that example is Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire, the first NHS hospital to be run by a private company. If you haven’t heard the Today Programme’s interview with the chief executive of that private company, Ali Parsa, then I’d hasten you in its direction now. But the basic story is this: the hospital was flat-lining, stuck with £40 million of debt and a poor track record, before Circle took on the contract to administer it in February this year. Now, only six months later, there appear to have been dramatic gains in several directions. Waiting times and costs are down; quality of care and patient satisfaction are up. Hinchingbrooke is now ranked as the fifth best hospital trust (or the very best trust with an A&E) among the 46 in its corner of the country, the Midlands and East of England.

And guess what. Circle are making a profit out of Hinchingbrooke, or at least they will once they’ve paid off the hospital’s debts and curtailed its projected losses in the years to come. I’m sure people will begrudge them this, even if their success so far continues — but let them. It’s still a totemic demonstration of the fact that, with due diligence, profit and the private sector needn’t translate to malpractice and miserliness. It will be a joy for ministers to see this in practice after years of dread rhetoric from Labour about the ‘privatisation of the NHS’. Little wonder why Chris Skidmore MP has taken to the Telegraph to write that this is “a coup for the supporters of innovation”.

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15 Jul 2012 08:46:09

Cameron says something interesting but is anyone paying attention?

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron writes for this morning's Sunday Times (£) and sets out why the Coalition still has a uniting purpose. Two paragraphs stand out to me. One in which he set out some core beliefs and another in which he set out the Coalition's main achievements (so far).


  1. "We can’t keep paying the government’s bills on the back of more and more debt.
  2. We can’t keep creating jobs in the public sector to make up for a lack of private sector growth.
  3. We can’t afford a broken welfare system that pays people to sit at home doing nothing.
  4. We can’t put up with schools that don’t teach properly and exams that are too easy.
  5. And we need to find new ways of competing in a world where countries such as China are getting richer by the day and new technologies are transforming jobs everywhere."


  1. "We’ve got the deficit down by a quarter already.
  2. We’re reforming schools and welfare. We’re on the side of people who work hard and want to get on in life.
  3. We have tackled some long-term challenges — such as funding our universities, capping benefit bills and reforming public sector pensions — that have eluded one-party governments. Just last week the independent Office for Budget Responsibility concluded that we had cut the long-term costs of our public sector pensions by almost a half."

This is a good story to tell but it's not getting through to the public. Cameron's ratings, in particular, are poor. According to The Sunday Times/ YouGov poll (PDF) only 34% think Cameron is doing well and 61% think he is doing badly. 66% think he is out of touch (a -43% net rating). 44% think he is dislikeable (-2%). 47% think he is weak (-9%). 47% think he is indecisive (-7%). 52% think he has run out of ideas (-20%).

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3 Jul 2012 11:53:56

The Tory grassroots see education and welfare reforms as the political successes of the Cameron years

By Tim Montgomerie
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In last week's edition of the New Statesman I took a brief look at the state of Tory modernisation. I suggested that certain of the big change themes that Cameron has pursued since 2005 or more recently had not really stood the test of time - notably climate change (which he hardly mentions anymore) and the Big Society (ditto). I argued, however, that the party was succeeding in two big areas:

"The Conservative Party can emerge stronger from the ashes of the coalition in 2015 but the offering has to be consistent with the high points of Cameron’s time at No 10. Education and welfare are the two stand-out strengths. In Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, the Prime Min­ister has two of the most outstanding social reformers of our time. It would have been far-fetched to think of the Tories as the party of social reform before Cameron, but no longer. All the ingredients are there. They just need to be knitted together.

IDS is refashioning the welfare state so that work always pays more than benefits. He is reforming pensions so that the burden that faces the next generation of workers is not so impossible that they flee to less taxed nations. He is taking giant steps towards fashioning a welfare state that is focused on caring for the most deserving – the very young, the old, the sick and the severely disabled.

Gove, meanwhile, is pursuing his reforms to education. Over recent decades, the UK has slid down the international education league tables even faster than Leeds United have fallen behind in football. Central to Gove’s purpose is the restoration of honesty and ambition to the exams system."

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