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pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime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

17 Sep 2013 15:12:57

Euroscepticism is rising on the Continent, but is it enough to aid Cameron's renegotiation?

By Mark Wallace
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Euro meltdownTwo new polls out today offer some insight into the state of euroscepticism across the Continent. 

First, a poll by Ifop for the French newspaper La Croix shows rising opposition to Brussels. Their findings are that:

"In Spain, 37 percent of respondents said EU membership was a bad thing, up from 26 percent in June 2012, rising to 43 percent in France (from 38 percent), 44 percent in eurozone powerhouse Germany (from 36 percent) and 45 percent in Italy (from 39 percent)."

Following hard on their heels is Open Europe, who have polled German voters to find:

"Strong support for devolving powers from the EU to member states: By a margin of two to one (50% in favour, 26% against), German voters say the next German Chancellor should back the efforts by some European politicians to decentralise powers from the EU to the national, regional or local level."

German euroscepticism seems increasingly deep-seated, over a number of policy areas

OE Policy List

The European Parliament and the EU Commission are also viewed as the two most untrustworthy institutions by German voters - further testimony to the stereotype of teutonic common sense.

This has potentially interesting connotations for David Cameron's renegotiation. I've long been sceptical of his chances for success (particularly given the woeful Balance of Competences review), but the new polling suggests widespread sympathy among European electorates for his position.

Continue reading "Euroscepticism is rising on the Continent, but is it enough to aid Cameron's renegotiation?" »

15 Sep 2013 13:51:15

Switzerland shows that life outside the EU isn't just possible, it can be better

EU Exit
By Mark Wallace
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Only a couple of years ago, conventional wisdom in Westminster scoffed at the concept of leaving the EU. Yet today we have an in/out referendum on the horizon and the Sunday Times magazine devoting a whole edition to the EU question. How times have changed.

The highlight is Dominic Lawson's essay on his recent visit to Switzerland, in which he explores how the Swiss live outside the EU.

His journey was inspired by David Cameron's put-down to eurosceptics:

“If your vision of Britain is that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests.”

And yet, notes Lawson, Switzerland isn't doing half badly:

"Outside the EU it has thrived, with the lowest unemployment rate on the continent — and in July it signed a trailblazing free-trade deal with China."

"...Britain’s annual net contributions to the EU budget run at over £8bn. While wealthy Switzerland, in return for selective facilitated access to the single market, has paid out a grand total of £860m over the past five years, and retains the right to control how its aid to the poorer EU countries is spent on the ground, rather than allowing it to be channelled through the Brussels bureaucracy."

Inherent to the article is the simple fact that Switzerland disproves so much of the scaremongering put about by those who think we should remain as EU members. Being better off and having control of our own trading relationships with the growing economies outside the EU, while paying far less money to Brussels, seems a very long way from "a complete denial of our national interests".

Lawson also secured a rare interview with Christoph Blocher, the man who funded the 1992 campaign which kept Switzerland as an independent nation. The challenges Blocher faced 20 years ago are likely to be very similar to those the British Out campaign will face in 2017:

"The old political class, the government, the parliament, the business organisations, the unions, they were all for entry.” And why was that? “They were afraid that we were always too small as a nation and that it would be better to be part of something bigger. And perhaps the politicians thought they would have more power."

Despite the institutions heaped against him, he won. Two decades later, the doom predicted by Euro-enthusiasts has not befallen Switzerland, and only 6 per cent of the population support joining the EU. When Paddy Ashdown stood up yesterday to declare that "tens of thousands" of jobs would be lost if Britain became independent - a watered down version of an old falsehood - he should perhaps have borne in mind the egg which has adorned the faces of his counterparts in Switzerland for many years.

The frustration they still feel is evident in Lawson's interview with Christa Markwalder, a representative of the Swiss Liberal Democratic party. She is forced to admit that

"at the moment it’s hopeless, we will never win a popular vote on it."

The Swiss story is precisely what British eurosceptics need. We must put forward a positive, viable vision for our future without the EU - and we must be able to rebut the unfounded fears raised bythe project's fanatics, whether they are talking down Britain's economic capabilities or threatening the prospect of a re-run of World War One. 

No-one would suggest a Britain free of Brussels would be exactly like Switzerland - if anything we should seek to be in an even better position. But the prosperous and free existence of the Swiss shows that there is an attractive alternative to being little Europeans, hiding from the world behind trade barriers and handing our democratic rights over to unelected Commissioners while the EU becomes ever less competitive and ever more dysfunctional.

Perhaps it would be most appropriate to leave the last word to that rare beast, a self-confessed "unrepentant EU fanatic" who is willing to tell the truth about how a non-EU Britain would manage its affairs -Wolfgang Munchau:

“Everything would be up for grabs. Britain can negotiate a favourable or a non-favourable deal. My best guess is that an exit would put Britain in a similar situation to Switzerland, which would not exactly be an economic disaster. The UK is a large economy with a small industrial base. For such a country the regulatory burden of the single market outweighs the benefits. There may be reasons why the UK may wish to remain a member of the EU, but whatever they are, they are not economic.”


10 Sep 2013 06:37:54

Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 07.32.56
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered.  We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable".  Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.

"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven.  I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings.  (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".)  Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.

Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May.  It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.

Continue reading "Tory members' top "red line" for any post-2015 coalition deal is...the EU referendum & renegotiation" »

30 Aug 2013 11:11:14

An inner Cabinet. More status for Whips. Changes in his circle - and at the Foreign Office. What Cameron should do next.

Cam ear fingers 2

By Paul Goodman
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  • Yesterday evening's vote makes no real difference to anything.  The economy will continue to grow, David Cameron will recover his position, Britain's non-intervention in Syria will be a mere blip in the continuing special relationship with America, our world standing won't be affected, the Commons will continue to assert itself - and the Westminster Village will calm down.
  • Yesterday evening's vote marks a sea-change in our foreign policy and a shattering of the Special Relationship - as well as a wounding blow to Cameron's authority, a shot in the arm for his previously demoralised Tory opponents, and a wiping-out of the ascendancy over Labour that Downing Street has achieved over the summer.  Britain cuts a diminished international figure on the world stage.

In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate.  What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.

Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April.  But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.

  • Cameron needs to share authority with his most senior colleagues in an Inner Cabinet, and consult its Conservative members more often.  I know from talking to some of the latter that they don't expect Cabinet to be a debating society.  None the less, they are fed up with being cut out of decision-making when they feel their views and advice would help the Prime Minister.  The Inner Cabinet should be based on what office its members hold, not on their personal relations with the Cameron, and should consist of the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman who sits in the Commons.
  • The status of the Whips Office should be raised.  Sir George Young was brought back as Chief Whip after Andrew Mitchell's resignation, and brought a sense of calm and courtesy to its workings.  It would be unfair to blame the Whips for the decision by Cameron to try to impose his view on Syria on an unhappy Parliamentary Party.  And it would be a mistake to try to re-impose military-style whipping on the independent-minded generation of MPs elected in 2010.  Furthermore, the best changes in the world won't improve the Whips if Downing Street doesn't listen to them.  Tony Blair moved them out of Number 12. They should be moved back to the heart of the Downing Street complex.
  • Cameron's inner circle should widen.  None the less, Number 10 would benefit from having a Chief Whip and Leader of the House more independent of the Prime Minister, and thus in a better position to "speak truth to power".  No Cabinet reshuffle is expected, and this isn't the time for it.  But in due course one of the 2010 intake is required in a senior position in the Whips Office, and the next Chief Whip needs to be a listener and an organiser.  Greg Hands or Nicky Morgan could act as Deputy.  David Lidington, Mark Harper or Oliver Heald are good candidates to be Chief Whip.  Eric Pickles is as independent-minded as Cabinet members get, and as Leader of the House would give Cameron plain and shrewd advice.
  • The Foreign Office doesn't reflect the views and mood of the Parliamentary Party This should change.  I've been concerned for some time that the gap between its view of EU policy and that of the Party is too wide: the balance of competences review has so far proved the point.  It also doesn't reflect the shift towards giving the national interest a higher priority that has been taking place in the Parliamentary Party since Iraq.  Mark Francois is a former Shadow Europe Minister, very much a Euro-sceptic and a senior Minister at Defence, where he will have a grasp of what our armed forces now can and can't do. He should be moved across to King Charles Street before the election.

6 Aug 2013 19:11:59

Who on earth are British Influence trying to influence?

Screen shot 2013-08-06 at 19.08.37
By Paul Goodman

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My old friend Peter Wilding of British Influence begins a riposte to Douglas Carswell in the Daily Telegraph as follows: "In the 1970s you could find in Tory Associations up and down the land cabals of retired colonels and spotty youths coming together to agree that the country had gone to the dogs and the only way forward was back. These were not the Thatcherites. They were the fruity cocktail of old League of Empire Loyalists, sad Monday Clubbers and new, tie-wearing teenagers on the make. They wanted the empire back, the immigrants out and Russia bombed. It would only take 15 divisions to reconquer India, Enoch was right and Moscow was toast."  Wilding goes on to compare Carswell to "swivel-eyed forebears" and mock "the Carswell handbag".

Leave for a moment the rights and wrongs of the argument (though I think, given his ad hominem attacks on Carswell, Wilding is unwise to criticise him for playing "the men, not the ball"). Instead, consider those retired colonels and tie-wearing, spotty youths.  Having been a spotless, tieless youth at the time, Wilding knows as well as I do that a big chunk of the spotty ones were Thatcherites - not to mention those harrumphing retired colonels.  And in believing that "Moscow was toast", they were right: it may temporarily have escaped Wilding that the entire Soviet system collapsed roughly a decade later.

Continue reading "Who on earth are British Influence trying to influence?" »

30 Jul 2013 12:52:08

The PM shames Labour's referendum filibusterers - but lets their Lib Dem allies off the hook

By Mark Wallace
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James Wharton, the MP who is bringing forward the Private Member's Bill for an In/Out EU referendum, just tweeted a letter he has received from the Prime MInister. It's interesting, as much for what isn't included as for what is:

Wharton Letter
It reads:

"Dear James,

I wanted to drop you a line to thank you very much for all your hard work last night during the first stages of the European Union (Referendum) Bill Committee.

I know that the Committee was incredibly frustrating with Labour attemption to filibuster your Bill. They should know better that Conservatives will not can into these sort of tactics - especially with such important legislation. You did a terrific job seeing this through and I am hugely grateful for your persistence and dedication.

Well done, and keep up the great work!

We will get there...keep going!



It is only right and proper that James is given credit for his efforts - he has done an excellent job so far in steering his Bill through waters that threatened to be quite choppy. The letter is symptomatic of Downing Streets newfound enthusiasm for building bridges with the backbenches.

The PM is also right to highlight and lambast Labour's dishonest attempts to filibuster the Bill, despite their failure to even turn up to vote on it in the Commons. But they weren't the only filibusterers on Committee night. As Wharton recounted on this very site, the Lib Dems were up to exactly the same tricks, and yet are notably absent from the letter.

On Coalition policy disagreements, ministers (mostly) manage to carry out their disagreements in private - and rightly so, given collective Cabinet responsibility. But there is surely no need to spare the Lib Dems' blushes on a matter of party, rather than government, policy.

As today's ConHome readers' poll shows, party members are committed to the Coalition in order to do the right thing for the country. Solidarity with our partners on government matters is part of what is necessary to get that job done - but it is worth questioning how far into party business that should extend.

Lib Dem backbenchers behaved disreputably in trying to undermine Wharton's referendum, and their party leadership continues to oppose a policy which they once proposed. For reasons of principle and politics they should be held to account for their attempts to stop the electorate getting to decide our nation's future.

28 Jul 2013 17:14:22

Saying "Better Off Out" was once enough to kill a career, but now the taboo is shattered

By Mark Wallace 
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EU ExitIt was not so long ago that openly talking about leaving the EU was enough to make people think you were quite odd. Indeed, on launching the Freedom Association's Better Off Out campaign in 2006 I clearly remember several well-intentioned friends telling me that by doing so I was killing my campaigning career before it had started.

Needless to say, things are very different today. The latest public figure to declare support for leaving is Helena Morrissey - a successful businesswoman and a prominent campaigner for better representation of women on boards, as founder of the 30% Club.

Notably, in her Sunday Telegraph article she explains that the EU Commission's heavy-handed attempts to legislate for mandatory gender quotas for the boadroom was an important factor in leading her to become an outist. Any idea that Brussels is winning friends by seeking to piggyback on such campaigns is evidently flawed.

Westminster and the City too often run on a system of taboos and compulsory opinions - ideas which one absolutely must not hold or which one absolutely must sign up to. This is one reason why opposition to EU membership in Parliament and the senior levels of business has for so long lagged behind the levels of support seen in the wider electorate. 

Continue reading "Saying "Better Off Out" was once enough to kill a career, but now the taboo is shattered" »

23 Jul 2013 14:45:47

If it carries on like this, the review of EU powers is set to fail - and here are four reasons why

By Mark Wallace
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EU Exit
When a Government announcement on the EU causes Liberal Democrats to celebrate and Conservative backbenchers to complain, it is never a good sign for eurosceptics. So it is with the newly published first batch of Balance of Competences (BoC) Reviews, which assess six areas of powers split between Brussels and Westminster.

In short, the yellows are cheering while the backbenches are spitting blood because the reports have come back with the conclusion that the balance of powers on tax, foreign policy, the single market, healthcare, aid and food safety is "broadly correct".

While the finding is absurd, it is no great surprise given who is running it and how it is run. 

There are four major problems with the BoC process, so far as I can tell:

Continue reading "If it carries on like this, the review of EU powers is set to fail - and here are four reasons why" »

15 Jul 2013 08:28:26

As a signal of intent, Conservative MPs should vote against today's EU Criminal Justice motion

Screen shot 2013-07-15 at 08.29.23
By Paul Goodman

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As Christopher Howarth pointed out on this site last week, the Government has an unappetising choice over a final piece of Lisbon Treaty business - namely, a mass of EU crime and justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).  If Britain opted out of them, we  would be outside existing laws on co-operation altogether, to the gain of criminals.  But if we opted into them, we would bring ourselves within the jurisdiction of the court which, as Howarth said, has "a history of judicial acticism".

As he wrote about the EAW, "I won’t bore you with stories of injustices inflicted on UK citizens by the EAW, UK citizens languishing in Greek jails, those tried without their knowledge etc. I will refer simply refer you to the thoughts of an MP who campaigned against it when it was first proposed and foresaw some of the problems if an EAW is presented." He then quoted David Cameron (for it is he) saying in 2002: “The Home Secretary would have to say, I am sorry. You may spend time rotting in a Greek or Spanish jail. Weeks may pass before you are even charged with an offence that is not a crime in this country. But there is nothing I can do about it.’"

Continue reading "As a signal of intent, Conservative MPs should vote against today's EU Criminal Justice motion " »