Conservative Diary

Electoral reform

4 May 2011 08:49:08

The Liberal Democrat dream for electoral reform may be dead for a generation... and their 'friends' on the Left have helped to kill it

By Tim Montgomerie

The overnight opinion polls look ominous for the Yes to AV campaign. YouGov gives the No campaign an 18% lead. A ComRes survey for The Independent gives No a whopping 32% lead.

No will be boosted by a massive effort by Fleet Street this morning to get Britain to reject AV. On ConHome's front page we list the latest newspapers to urge their readers to keep First Past The Post. The Mirror has, belatedly, backed Yes (as a way of kicking Cameron) but it has done so too late and with too little editorial clout to even to begin to change the fact that the Labour vote is split on what to do.

If you want to understand why Chris Huhne, in particular, is behaving so appallingly you have to understand the importance of electoral reform to the Liberal Democrats. That's the subject of Danny Finkelstein's Times column (£):

"Electoral reform has long been everything to Liberal Democrats. The solution to every problem, the title to every policy paper, the chorus to every song. I promise you. You have to have seen it to believe it. Thus for Liberal Democrats, finally — after all that talking, all those motions, all that work — getting a referendum on electoral reform and losing it is a catastrophe. A total and complete catastrophe. It would be something like the impact on the UK Independence Party of finally forcing a referendum on membership of the European Union and then having the other side win. It wouldn’t be a passing nuisance, it would be an historic setback. Now, it isn’t over. Unpredictable turnout makes the result unpredictable. But I think it is fair to say that my friends’ countenance reflects the expectations among Lib Dems in the Government that they are highly likely to lose. And that this would be, for them, a bad thing."

Continue reading "The Liberal Democrat dream for electoral reform may be dead for a generation... and their 'friends' on the Left have helped to kill it" »

3 May 2011 08:53:32

Cameron insists AV will be costly to taxpayers and says UK can't afford Pakistan to be taken over by extremists

By Tim Montgomerie

Politicians all across the country of every colour probably enjoyed the Prime Minister's interview on Today. So many have been monstered by John Humphrys over the years and it was good to hear a politician hitting back. Asked about AV Mr Humphrys didn't seem to understand how and when voters' second preferences were counted. He also seemed to imply that elections in the USA weren't conducted under First Past The Post. Mr Cameron enjoyed pointing out both of his interviewer's errors.

In the interview the Prime Minister trod a careful line - distinguishing between his own No2AV campaign - run 100% by Tory HQ - and the independent, cross-party No campaign. Mr Cameron said that he wasn't responsible for the output of the operation overseen by Matthew Elliott (which has drawn such bitter criticism from Liberal Democrats) but he also declined to disown the No campaign's claims about the cost of a change to the voting system. He said that counting machines probably were likely and defended the poster campaigns that have suggested AV might cost up to £250 million.

He repeated his arguments in favour of FPTP. It was a simple, fair and decisive system where the candidates with the most votes win.

The other big theme of the interview was Pakistan. The Prime Minister insisted that it was in Britain's interests to continue to back the democratic forces inside the country who were fighting terrorism. He argued that Pakistan had suffered more at the hands of terrorism than almost any other country on earth. Yes, there were questions to be asked about how bin Laden's base was not known to Pakistan's security services but Britain would not turn its back on the country. If we give up, he said, we'll leave a nuclear power that could be taken over by instability and extremism.

Asked about his "calm down dear" remark at last week's PMQs he said that people needed to get a sense of humour.

Clegg DPM Earlier on the programme Nick Clegg had been interviewed. He admitted that the Coalition was moving into a new phase. He said it was important in the first year of Coalition that the two governing parties showed real unity but that the parties were seperate and would remain separate and there would be more distinctive positioning in the future.

30 Apr 2011 21:59:28

Is Britain a centre left country? No.

By Tim Montgomerie

Tomorrow in an article in The Observer Chris Huhne argues that it is (reported here). The man defeated by Nick Clegg for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats joins forces with the Green Party's Caroline Lucas and Labour's John Denham to pen these words:


Putting aside for a moment what Huhne's words mean for Coalition harmony (Cable also argued last week for an anti-Tory majority) and for the Energy & Climate Change Secretary's ambition to succeed Clegg I want to argue with the idea that Britain has a centre left majority.

Four quick points:

  • An anti-Thatcher majority did not mean a majority wanted something more like Footism or Kinnockism;
  • A good portion of Liberal Democrat voters are closer to the Conservatives than Labour and the Lib Dems would lose many of their southern seats if they got into bed with Labour (just as they are losing northern strongholds because of their alliance with Cameron);
  • Opinion evidence such as that produced last week by Policy Exchange on welfare suggests Britain remain a pretty conservative nation;
  • Even if you think Thatcherism never represented the majority of British people I'd argue that a broader and more compassionate conservatism - of the kind I outlined here - is closer to the majority view that the economic denialism of the two Red Eds or the way-out-greenery of Caroline Lucas. Mr Huhne should be more careful about the company he keeps!

30 Apr 2011 14:47:43

Final No2AV leaflet seeks to exploit Nick Clegg's unpopularity

By Tim Montgomerie


Landing on many doorsteps across Britain in the final days of the AV campaign will be a leaflet with this front page.

The No campaign is an independently-run and cross-party campaign but it won't stop the Liberal Democrats complaining at David Cameron for not trying to stop this targeting of his Deputy. This similar leaflet had already angered the junior members of the Coalition.

[Download a PDF of the full and final No2AV leaflet].

Meanwhile the Tories have sent poster vans across London with the boxing poster:

Screen shot 2011-04-30 at 12.42.40

One van will be at the Chelsea v Spurs game later. During the course of this week the vans will be travelling to venues across the whole country. See more images of the vans.

30 Apr 2011 07:49:06

Is the AV referendum all over bar the shouting?

by Paul Goodman

As attention returns from the unifying Royal Wedding to politics as usual, Andrew Boff below puts the case for AV - a sign that the referendum campaigns continue.  But with polling day in a mere five days time, it's worth asking: is it all over already bar the shouting?

Here is the last poll summary by the magisterial Antony Wells of UK Polling Report.  Last Tuesday, he wrote -

"The change from YouGov’s previous AV poll is only minor, but it suggests the NO campaign are consolidating that big lead that opened up last week."

On the same day, he noted -

"The three most recent polls (from, in chronological order, ICM, YouGov and Angus Reid) have all shown identical results of YES 42%, NO 58%."

On Thursday, he reported a ComRes poll that had "the NO campaign ahead by 60% to 40%, the biggest lead the NO campaign have recorded so far", and "a new poll by a company called ICD Research in the New Statesman, which shows NO ahead by 14 points: NO 53%, YES 39%.

Continue reading "Is the AV referendum all over bar the shouting?" »

28 Apr 2011 17:04:10

No2AV lead still in double figures as Yes campaign becomes more dishonest and more dirty

By Jonathan Isaby

NO2AV logo As much of the country retreats into another double bank holiday weekend, there is good news for the No2AV campaign from two new opiniopn polls.

An ICD Research poll for the New Statesman has a a 12-point lead amongst all respondents for the No Campaign (No - 46% | Yes - 34% | Don't know - 17%), increasing to 14 points amongst those certain to vote (53% | 39% | 8%).

It is especially encouraging to see big No votes in the Scotland and Wales, where turnout is expected to be higher than the UK average due to the elections for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly:

  • Scottish voters currently oppose AV by 50 per cent to 30 per cent
  • Welsh voters currently oppose AV by 56 per cent to 26 per cent

There is also a new ComRes poll commissioned by No2AV which gives the No campaign a 12-point lead (No - 45% | Yes - 33% | Don't Know - 22%) , which extends to a 20-point lead (60% | 40%) when excluding Don't Knows and only taking into account those likely to vote.

Picture 5 Meanwhile, it has emerged this afternoon that the desperate Yes Campaign are descending into ever more dishonest and dirty tactics with a week to go before polling day.

The latest Yes leaflet (pictured, right) clearly suggests that the Labour Party are backing the Yes Campaign, when it is a fact that the majority of Labour Party MPs, peers and Councillors are backing the No Campaign, including many of the shadow cabinet, not least the Labour Chief Whip in the House of Commons. The leaflet also see the words ‘Liberal Democrats’ removed from their party logo (despite ‘Green Party’ and ‘UKIP’ being clearly visible).

Furthermore, the leaflet tries to suggest that only the Conservatives and the BNP are backing the No campaign, forgetting the thousands of Labour activists in support of it and overlooking the fact that the BNP are not in fact an official supporter of the No2AV campaign (and according to the ICD Research poll cited above, their supporters overwhelming back the Yes campaign by 72% to 18%.

Labour MP Tom Harris and backer of No2AV slammed the leaflet as "a shameful example of the Yes campaign’s dirty tricks" given that the majority of the Labour Party are voting no, whilst George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said:

“If the desperate Yes campaign are relying on this sort of disgraceful scaremongering to get a ‘yes’ vote, one has to question whether they deserve the support of anyone in the UK? As the most recent polls show, the supporters of fringe, extremist parties want the Alternative Vote, because they know it will give them more influence at the ballot box.”

24 Apr 2011 08:38:11

Nasty Nick

Tim Montgomerie

One thing that most Labour and Conservative activists will agree is that the Liberal Democrats are the dirtiest campaigners in politics. Mr Clegg will have to forgive us, therefore, if we struggle to take his moral high horse routine seriously.

Screen shot 2011-04-23 at 20.49.39

In today's Independent on Sunday the Deputy Prime Minister accuses the Prime Minister of telling lies and of funding "the very nastiest reactionary politics". According to The Sunday Times (£) Chris Huhne has written to George Osborne, accusing him of "untruths" and "falsehoods". It's playground stuff.

I'm not sure Mr Clegg believes in this or if he is attempting to strengthen his beleagured position in his own party but Michael Howard, interviewed in The Sunday Telegraph, hits the nail on the head:

"I do think it is remarkable and disappointing that, as the campaign enters its final stages, the Yes group is spending all its time talking about the internal politics of the campaign. They are realising they are losing the main arguments."

After accusing the 'No campaign' of low tactics Nick Clegg uses his interview to get into the gutter himself:

"On one side of the stage, pro-AV, you'd have me, Ed Miliband, (Green) Caroline Lucas, (Ukip) Nigel Farage, (SNP) Alex Salmond and (Plaid Cymru) Ieuan Wyn Jones. The other side, you'd have David Cameron, (BNP) Nick Griffin and whoever leads the Communist Party. Now that tells you volumes about the very reactionary interests that are defending the indefensible."

Continue reading "Nasty Nick" »

22 Apr 2011 22:04:23

Cable calls for "progressive majority" to keep Tories out of power

Tim Montgomerie

Cable plot #2

Earlier this week Matthew Barrett compiled a list of Vince Cable's long list of attempts to undermine the Coalition. They are now arriving every 72 hours. No senior Tory has attacked Mr Cable for his acts of disloyalty but the tantrums continue. When he fails to get a response this small man escalates his rhetoric, constantly daring Cameron to act against him.

The Business Secretary ups the rhetoric again tomorrow - shooting at Cameron on two fronts:

  • He calls for Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats to come together to win the AV referendum so that they can then come together and exclude the Conservatives from power: "It's time for the progressive majority in the country to rise above this narrow tribalism and support this reform because we need to make sure the progressive majority wins elections in this century and not the Conservatives as they did, by the back door, for two-thirds of the last century."
  • He then calls for Mr Cameron to disown the "no" campaign for its "brutal personal attack on Clegg". The brutal personal attack is this; "Nick Clegg is unpopular because he broke his promises: job cuts, VAT increase, tuition fees, public spending cuts. That's why he's pushing for AV to save his party." Mr Cable comments: "He [Cameron] may not directly control what his supporters are up to. But he must make it clear that he doesn't condone and will endeavour to stop personal attacks on his deputy for loyally supporting coalition policy. To stand by and let this happen is dangerous and puts considerable strain on the coalition. I haven't really reacted to this spat. But that leaflet was absolutely dreadful. It does take it on to a different level."

It is one thing to have a coalition of two parties where each party wants to advance its own interests. It is an entirely different thing to see a senior member of one those parties plotting to build a coalition that excludes the other.


Screen shot 2011-04-22 at 22.07.58

19 Apr 2011 14:51:36

Are the Liberal Democrats genuinely angry about the No2AV campaign or are they playing politics?

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-04-19 at 14.32.48

I was a studio guest on Newsnight last night and had a ringside seat for Chris Huhne's explosive attack on the tactics of the No campaign and of George Osborne and Sayeeda Warsi, in particular.

  • The Energy and Climate Change Secretary accused the 'No' campaign of "gutter politics" and "downright lies".
  •  "I am frankly shocked," he said, "that coalition partners can stoop to a level of campaign that we have not seen in this country before."
  • He said the Tory Chairman hadn't responded to a letter he had written to her, complaining about "scares and smears".
  • Only the Tories and BNP support AV, he said - forgetting the position of a majority of Labour MPs.

You can watch the interview via BBC iPlayer (6 minutes, 20 seconds in). George Eustice, the Tory MP on the programme, was a model of unflappability by the way.

6a00d83451b31c69e2014e60ff1159970c-250wi Putting aside the issue of dirty historical campaigning by the Lib Dems... what is Huhne up to? What is Cable up to with his multiple provocations of Cameron (listed by Matthew Barrett here)? What is Paddy Ashdown up to?

Over at Coffee House James Forsyth notes that the final No2AV leaflet "is centered around a direct assault on Clegg". I wonder if the angry Lib Dems are trying to stop that tactic, knowing that it would not only hurt the cause of AV but might really wound the already badly damaged Lib Dem leader. Or are Huhne and Cable positioning themselves as heroes of the Lib Dem grassroots, in preparation for a change of leader (probably in the second half of this parliament)?

The dire political position of Clegg's party - particularly if AV fails - is going to make the Coalition a lot unhappier but won't destroy it. The Lib Dems know they'll be obliterated if they bring down the government. Keeping the Cabinet united, however, will require the best of David Cameron's skills.

18 Apr 2011 15:03:32

Would the Conservative Party "go demented with fury" if England rejects AV but "a Celtic yes" kills First-Past-The-Post?

Tim Montgomerie

I ask because Andrew Rawnsley posed the question in The Observer yesterday:

"The double nightmare scenario for David Cameron is that the result is swung in Scotland and Wales where there is a higher turn-out because the referendum coincides with the elections to the Edinburgh Parliament and Cardiff Assembly. Elements of the Conservative party will go demented with fury if England says no but a Celtic yes vote wins it for AV. The Thatcherite former Scottish secretary, Michael Forsyth, has already described such a outcome as "rigged", which implies he and other Tories might try to resist the introduction of AV on the grounds that the result was not legitimate. One senior Conservative MP on the right predicts that Tories will go "completely mad" if they lose the referendum – to the extent that they might even jeopardise the coalition."

"Demented fury" is not the kind of language I would use but if Wales and Scotland does vote "Yes" by a large enough margin to overwhelm an English "no" it would certainly vindicate those MPs who said that the referendum should not take place on the same day as the elections to Holyrood and the Cardiff Assembly.

A "Celtic yes vote" is more likely to overwhelm an "English no" if turnout in England is low - vindicating those like Lord Lamont who said there should be a 40% threshold.

Whatever the referendum result - and however it comes about - Ed Miliband will be able to get in the popcorn and enjoy the Coalition fallout. The Coalition will endure (neither party wants to bring the government down and face the voters) but either Clegg or Cameron will face serious internal party unhappiness. What we cannot have is any attempt to overturn the result. The rules for the referendum might not be as some of us would have wished but I can't think of anything more likely to increase disdain for MPs than if they vote to reject the people's decision. Let's leave that kind of thing to Brussels and EU Treaty votes.