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pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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

14 Sep 2013 16:04:22

A plastic bag tax will hit the poor and small shops but won't help the environment

By Harry Phibbs
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Today we learn that the Government is to introduce a Plastic Bag Tax.

It will start at 5p a bag. The policy has the political attraction of placating both the Daily Mail and the Liberal Democrats. It is claimed that it will help the environment. It is then added that implementing the change can be done quite smoothly and that the charge proposed is modest.

All these claims seem to me to be flawed. A customer irritated by the charge will not think to himself: "Still, most politically adept of the Government to please the Daily Mail and the Liberal Democrats at the same time so I mustn't grumble."

Will it help the environment?

At best any gains could only be modest. Plastic bags are very thin. They account for less than one per cent of household waste by volume. 80 per cent of plastic bags are reused at least once. Voluntary effort has already resulted in fewer plastic bags being used (halved from 13 billion a year to 6.5 billion a year) and more recycled content in plastic bags for those we do use.

From an aesthetic point of view I prefer paper bags to plastic ones. But paper bags are thicker and less likely to be re-used. Will paper bags be taxed? Will cardboard boxes? Where will the meddling end?

If there is a switch from plastic to paper that would sharply increase the carbon footprint. In research by the Environment Agency it was found that if re-used, (as mostly happens), the plastic bag is better environmentally than the alternatives.

Continue reading "A plastic bag tax will hit the poor and small shops but won't help the environment" »

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.

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?" »

20 Jun 2013 11:00:01

Key points from Owen Paterson's speech making the case for GM food

By Harry Phibbs
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Paul has already given some of the context of the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's speech this morning making the case for GM food.

Mr Paterson soon made quite clear his own support for GM but added he was "conscious of the views
of those who have concerns and who need reassurance on this matter. I recognise that we – government, industry, the scientific community and others – owe a duty to the British public to reassure them that GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation. We must lead this discussion, explaining to the public not only what GM technology is but also how it can help."

The world's population is growing, which means we must produce more food:

The recent OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2012 to 2021 concluded that agricultural production needs to increase by 60 per cent over the next 40 years to meet the rising demand for food. Our growing population will put further pressures on land, energy and water - creating a food security risk. We need to adopt new technologies, of which GM is one, if we are to combat this.

Already great progress has been made on productivity - "between 1967 and 2007 world food production increased by 115 per cent but land use only increased by eight per cent." The suggestion of a choice between greater food production or protecting the enviromenet was a "false premise." We mist do both and GM is helping.

Continue reading "Key points from Owen Paterson's speech making the case for GM food" »

20 Jun 2013 07:17:54

The optimistic conservatism of Paterson's support for GM foods

By Paul Goodman
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Paterson Owen IIThere were many means by which food production rose during the twentieth century - despite the earlier, apocalyptic forecasts of Malthus, who believed that demand would outstrip supply as population grew, leading to mass starvation.  These included the use of improved machinery and methods of irrigation, as well as that of new fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, not to mention the selection of higher-breeding crops, which helped to increase rice yields (for example).  All this is a reminder that mankind has been selectively producing crops and breeding animals for centuries - and that we rub up against that fact of life every time we shop in Tescos or watch the Derby.

The central contention of Owen Paterson's speech today on genetically modified foods (GM) is that they are only the latest manifestation of this selective principle, but that Europe is falling behind in the development of this new technology - which is good for farmers, consumers and the environment.  (The Environment Secretary claims that in other parts of the world, "plants are better protected against pests and insects are better protected against accidentally being sprayed".)  Previous governments have also banged the drum for GM, while previous oppositions have marched to a different rhythm.

So it was, for example, that Tony Blair was gung-ho for GM, but William Hague's Conservative opposition called for a moratorium.  Paterson's speech demonstrates how parties in government tend to get behind British companies and technology, and his is being billed as the most vigorous pro-GM statement made under the Coalition to date.  But the heart of the Environment Secretary's speech isn't technical so much as moral: that in a world in which population growth is soaring, GM is but the latest means of ensuring that there's enough food to feed a hungry world.  His is an optimistic vision that sees capitalism as the great feeder of humankind - and socialism, by implication, as the great producer of the mass famine of the Great Leap Forward.

It's part of the same positive worldview which holds that human ingenuity and inventiveness will provide new technology and products that will end reliance on CO2-emitting oil and coal - and that these are better route to prosperity and sustainability than central targets, state planning and over-fast, growth-reducing and poverty-spreading decarbonisation.  It will be asserted that Malthus will be proved right in the long run (and pointed out that access to a healthy diet isn't universal, and that the use of pesticides can be harmful).  But whether he will or won't be, Paterson's speech gives the lie to the claim that conservatism is invariably a pessimistic creed.  Rather, it is an optimistic one - or, to be more accurate, one full of hope for the future.

And regardless of Malthus's folly or wisdom, the Environment Secretary's claim that GM is only the latest manifestation of selection is right.  The last word lies with Paterson: "Farmers wouldn’t grow these crops if they didn’t benefit from doing so. Governments wouldn’t licence these technologies if they didn’t recognise the economic, environmental and public benefits...Less than 0.1% of global GM cultivation occurred in the EU...While the rest of the world is ploughing ahead and reaping the benefits of new technologies, Europe risks being left behind. We cannot afford to let that happen. The use of GM could be as transformative as the original agricultural revolution was. The UK should be at the forefront of that now, as it was then."

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" »

4 Jun 2013 12:45:39

Voters have good reason not to believe politicians and their statistics

By Mark Wallace 
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Truth"Pity the rational politician", laments the header on Peter Kellner's Telegraph article today. Leaving aside the question of how many rational politicians there are, why should we pity them?

Do so, Kellner tells us, because they're lumbered with such a stubborn electorate. Voters just won't believe the facts. The numbers and the academic analysis tell us that immigration is falling, educational standards are rising and crime is down, but the people don't buy it. That, he argues, leaves us prey to a "knee-jerk", "populist agenda".

It's undeniable that the people do not trust the political class. Saying that voters think politicians are prone to lying is about as insightful as revealing that Wayne Rooney doesn't keep a copy of Wittgenstein's collected works in his kit bag.

Continue reading "Voters have good reason not to believe politicians and their statistics" »

9 May 2013 11:49:40

There are plenty of questions to which shale gas is the answer

By Mark Wallace Growth ConHome
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A few years ago, I visited the Soviet-era Stalin museum in the tyrant's home town of Gori in northern Georgia. The museum has many curios - from the small hovel in which he was born, sheltered under a ludicrously overblown marble gazebo, to his official railway carriage in which tourists can (and always do) take a snapshot of his toilet. The museum has itself become a historical exhibit - a staggeringly dishonest exercise in totalitarian propaganda, preserved for posterity as a demonstration of the Soviet regime's lies.

Even the staff are engaged in a stark demonstration of living history. Our guide, a rather stern lady, had clearly learned her entire tour in English by rote at some point in the 1970s. She rattled through it word-perfectly, shooting magazines of syllables at us like a stuttering machine gun. It was an impressive memory stunt - but when she was interrupted by questions her comprehension of English was very limited, and it became clear as we went through the plush galleries that she didn't have a clue what the words in her patter actually meant.

Sometimes political ideas gain the same rote-learned quality. We repeat them as obvious statements with which no-one can disagree, while paying far too little attention to what they mean in practice.

Here are a few: "we must rebalance the economy", "we need a British manufacturing renaissance", "more young people should go into engineering", "energy prices are too high", "the North must not be left behind by growth focused on the South East". I'd wager that most MPs and commentators have said at least one of those at some point - many will have said all of them repeatedly in recent years.

But what can be done to fulfil these aims?

Continue reading "There are plenty of questions to which shale gas is the answer" »

27 Mar 2013 12:05:30

Making business uncompetitive. Moving emissions abroad. Blighting the landscape. Soaking poorer voters. Problems with the Government's climate change policy

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 11.56.38Man-made global warming is a menace to the planet.  For this reason, we must not only cut our carbon emissions, but do so faster than our competitors.  To the aggregates levy, the landfill tax, and the EU's emissions trading scheme must thus be added the carbon price floor - and the legislative framework of the Climate Change Act.  Fossil fuels that produce emissions, such as oil and coal, must give way to solar and wind power - even if these are expensive for consumers, especially poorer ones, and unsightly for the environment itself; and even if, too, they can't provide the necessary power - risking a return to 1970s-style power cuts.  If you don't believe this claim and have an hour or so to spare, test it out on the Climate Change Department's own 2050 Pathways Calculator.

Continue reading "Making business uncompetitive. Moving emissions abroad. Blighting the landscape. Soaking poorer voters. Problems with the Government's climate change policy " »