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Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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.

13 Sep 2013 11:34:45

An attack on climate change sceptics by Greg Barker turns out not to be an attack

By Paul Goodman
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Barker GregToday's Guardian reports its own article on energy policy by Greg Barker, which it carries today, as part of a "fightback against sceptics on the right of the party". (The paper presumably includes in that category those who believe that human activity plays a part in climate change, but who would decarbonise more slowly, as well as those who believe it doesn't play any part whatsoever, and wouldn't decarbonise at all.)  And certainly, the Energy Minister is neither a sceptic about climate change nor on the right of the party, if the latter term is simply used to describe critics of David Cameron. Indeed, he was one of the latter's earliest backers during the 2005 leadership election, and is a leading member of Conservatives 2020 - which seeks to keep alive, in Barker's own words, "a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message".

Continue reading "An attack on climate change sceptics by Greg Barker turns out not to be an attack" »

11 Sep 2013 06:06:00

Fewer and equal seats. The benefits and immigration cap. And shale gas. High priorities from Tory members for any Coalition talks

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 05.47.58
By Paul Goodman
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I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.

If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:

  • The number of constituencies should be reduced and their size equalised.
  • The benefits cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • The immigration cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • Press ahead with the development of shale gas as swiftly as possible.

I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.

The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that.  There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale.  It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues.  We will turn to them tomorrow.

21 Aug 2013 08:44:36

Police failure in Balcombe has spurred on mob rule across the country - the Sussex PCC should get tough

By Mark Wallace
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PoliceThe primary responsibility of the police is not to solve crimes or catch criminals - it is to prevent crime happening in the first place.

However they do it, it is a role that must be fulfilled. The alternative is a society which is cowed by criminals, which is inevitably mired in economic and social degradation.

For the police to acquiesce to crime is an abdication of their duty. That aquiescence starts at very low levels - when you think about it, posters telling people to hide their valuables due to the risk of pickpockets is a clear message that police are giving up, and resorting to victim-blaming rather than crime-fighting.

We saw this most vividly in the London riots. Faced with a situation which they found intimidating and had not prepared for, the Met's commanders effectively backed off when the riots began.

I know frontline officers who wanted to be out protecting life and property from violent thugs, but were ordered to hang back. The result was devastating - criminals were allowed the run of large parts of Greater London, others joined them as soon as the police's weakness became clear and in some areas civilians were forced to organise their own defence.

Things were only put right when the police, with assistance from forces across the country, went toe to toe with the rioters and reasserted control. Lesson learned - or so it seemed.

That this experience was so recent makes it all the more outrageous that police in Balcombe decided to show weakness in the face of anti-shale gas protestors at the weekend.

They announced that they could not protect the perfectly legal industrial site, and thereby allowed thugs to intimidate law-abiding citizens.

In their failure, they have simply encouraged yet more disorder and law-breaking at this and other sites - now the protestors have had a sniff of victory. Instead of preventing crime, they have made it more likely. Today's Telegraph covers the discomforted experience of Balcombe residents in the face of an army of professional green fanatics - Sussex police have simply made that problem worse and more widespread.

The Police and Crime Commissioner system should give a route for such institutional failings to be set right. So far the Sussex PCC has defended her officers' decisions, soft-soaping the fact that they essentially allowed law-abiding citizens to be successfully intimidated by a mob. That should change, and change soon, before her problem spreads across the country.

4 Aug 2013 08:53:29

Shale gas is too important to abandon the debate to its scaremongering opponents

By Mark Wallace
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Growth ConHomeAnother day, another front page row about fracking. This time the Mail on Sunday has gone to town on Michael Fallon's comments about the impact of the process on the countryside:

"Referring to people living in the countryside who have supported fracking, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said at a private meeting in Westminster: ‘We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive!’"

Fallon is a great minister, and an enthusiastic supporter of shale gas as a route to boost the British economy. It seems fairly clear his remarks were hyperbolic - and as a backer of the new industry, Fallon was warning of the political challenges to come rather than making what the Mail on Sunday's Brasseye headline calls a "Doomsday alert".

Continue reading "Shale gas is too important to abandon the debate to its scaremongering opponents" »

30 Jul 2013 17:57:49

Tory Peer comes under fire for recommending fracking in the "desolate" North East

By Mark Wallace
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"Fracking OK for 'desolate' North East, says Tory Peer". Oh dear. 

As a Government energy adviser, a former Cabinet minister and father-in-law to George Osborne, Lord Howell should have known better on a number of fronts than to set himself up for the headlines which are sure to savage him in tomorrow's newspapers.

By declaring that "there are large and uninhabited and desolate areas" in the North East of England where fracking would be appropriate, he should have seen the controversy coming a mile off.

For a start, it's worth noting that the row which has now blown up about exploiting shale gas in the North East of England is slightly misplaced. I have no idea why he chose to discuss the North East, particularly given that most of the UK's shale reserves are estimated to be in the North West and the South East. Perhaps it was an incident of mis-speaking and he named the wrong region, but if so then it could not have been less fortunate.

Continue reading "Tory Peer comes under fire for recommending fracking in the "desolate" North East" »

21 Jun 2013 06:27:50

Whatever happened to the Tories’ green agenda?

By Peter Hoskin
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Silent Running

Back, back before the last election, David Cameron seemed rather like Bruce Dern’s Lowell in Silent Running (1972) – he’d kill for those trees. You could put him in a spaceship, with only some flora and a pair of huskies for company, and he’d hightail it to Saturn and beyond in the name of the environment. “They’re not replaceable!”

But what’s happened to Cameron’s environmentalism now? It’s a good time to ask, what with the Energy Bill, and its various climate change-related provisions, winding its way through Parliament at the moment. And there’s another reason to ask, too: with the next general election approaching, the Tory leadership is going to have to make some decisions about its commitment to greenery. Will that commitment run strong through the manifesto, as it did at the last election? Or will it crumple like an autumn leaf?

Continue reading "Whatever happened to the Tories’ green agenda?" »

16 Jun 2013 13:00:51

Wind farm subsidy equivalent to £100,000 per job

SunwindBy Harry Phibbs
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The Sunday Telegraph this morning has some astonishing figures on the extent of the subsidies spent on the hideous wind farms despoiling the British countryside:

A new analysis of government and industry figures shows that wind turbine owners received £1.2billion in the form of a consumer subsidy, paid by a supplement on electricity bills last year. They employed 12,000 people, to produce an effective £100,000 subsidy on each job.

It adds:

In Scotland, which has 203 onshore wind farms — more than anywhere else in the UK — just 2,235 people are directly employed to work on them despite an annual subsidy of £344million. That works out at £154,000 per job.

Donald Trump has warned the Scottish Parliament about the loss of tourism and danger to wild life of proceeding with wind farms. As well as the more fundamental point that they are pathetically inefficient at producing energy - which is why other countries such as Spain and Germany are giving up on them. If subsidy is regarded as justified to provide low carbon energy then nuclear power is much more realistic. Better still, of course, is shale gas which can reduce carbon emissions while making a profit. 

Continue reading "Wind farm subsidy equivalent to £100,000 per job" »

3 Jun 2013 16:47:25

Shale gas becomes an even more compelling opportunity – we must seize it

Growth ConHomeBy Mark Wallace 
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A few weeks ago, I wrote here about the potential benefits of UK shale gas in terms of new engineering jobs, reduced reliance on expensive imports and an opportunity to address the energy gap which is fast approaching.

Today, there is yet more good news on the shale gas front.

As recently as 2010, the best estimate of British shale gas reserves was 5.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) - a valuable resource but less of a game-changer than the shale revolution in the US. After the Government lifted the moratorium on exploration, licensed companies have raised their estimates based on new data.

Now we learn that IGas and Cuadrilla, who have exploration rights in Cheshire and Lancashire respectively, have found far more than expected. They now estimate that the Bowland Shale deposit in the North West alone may contain as much as 500 tcf of shale gas.

Now that's a game-changer.

Continue reading "Shale gas becomes an even more compelling opportunity – we must seize it" »

25 May 2013 09:05:41

Unsexy perhaps, but deadly serious - the Coalition must not fail on infrastructure

By Mark Wallace
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Growth ConHomeInfrastructure is never going to be the sexiest part of the deeply unsexy field which is public policy. But it is just about the most important - if it goes wrong. 

There are few rewards given to politicians who get our transport, digital and energy systems right. In the short term, they are bashed over the head by pressure groups and people who don't like planned developments in their neighbourhood. If things go well, then the economic benefits take sufficiently long to become clear, and are so wide-ranging, that the ministers who made the right decisions in the first place rarely get the credit they deserve.

If these systems break down, or go over budget, though, there is immediate hell to pay. Power cuts, unaffordable energy, rail delays, endless traffic jams - few things make the electorate more furious, understandably.

So the Government must not ignore today's infrastructure headlines.

Continue reading "Unsexy perhaps, but deadly serious - the Coalition must not fail on infrastructure" »