Conservative Diary


12 Jun 2012 17:11:20

Impressive performance by Sir John Major at Leveson Inquiry

By Harry Phibbs
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Enoch Powell famously commented that "politicians who complain about the press are like sailors complaining about the sea." That was not the view that Sir John Major gave to the Leveson Inquiry this morning. However, Sir John did acknowledge that as Prime Minister he had been "too sensitive" towards personal criticism.

He said:

"I was much too sensitive from time to time about what the press wrote. God knows in retrospect why I was, but I was.

"I think you can explain that in human terms. If you pick up the papers each day and read a caricature of what you believe you are doing and what you believe you are then I suppose it's a basic human emotion to get a bit ratty about it."

Confident and lucid Sir John willing answered all the questions about the past. Yet he was clearly animated by what practical remedies could be offered for current difficulties.

Sir John paid lip service to "press freedom" but, understandbly perhaps, he did not really seem all that keen. He added "that must not be a licence for the press to do whatever it wishes." He gave an example of how a photograph had misleadingly presented him as dropping litter and how there should be a remedy for that. But surely there is already.  Does it not constitute libel for such a false allegation to made?

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7 Apr 2012 08:36:21

How did John Major win 14,093,007 votes?

By Tim Montgomerie
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We're cutting welfare bills. Reforming schools. Devolving power to local councils. Lowering taxes on business. Introducing democratic oversight of policing. And, of course, embarking on the longest period of spending cuts in British history. This is the impressive list of reforms that Downing Street trots out whenever they receive incoming 'friendly fire' from Tory MPs and numerous critics in the centre right press. Cameron cannot understand why he has so few friends in the 'Conservative family'. In today's Daily Mail I attempt to offer an answer. Few people see Cameron as a winner. Only 23% of party members think he will win a majority at the next election. Few are convinced by the Tory battle plan. The growing suspicion is that Cameron will seek another deal with the Lib Dems as he contemplates the difficulty of winning more votes and more seats after being the Prime Minister who presides over five years of austerity.

Screen Shot 2012-04-07 at 07.55.02A central purpose of ConHome is to explore how we can win the next election and in my Mail piece I focus on what Conservatives might learn from John Major. Twenty years ago, on 9th April 1992, John Major won a majority in the House of Commons and if we don't change course he might continue to be the last Conservative leader to have done so.

Despite John Major's achievements as Prime Minister (I recently listed them) many Tories don't remember him fondly. They remember the landslide defeat of 1997. They remember Maastricht. The years of sleaze. The Spitting Image caricature. And, sadly, the affair with Edwina Currie. Please put all of that out of your mind for a moment and remember the 1992 general election. It was the election we shouldn't have won. The poll tax/ community charge was fresh in the memory. We had messed up economically and had been in power for perhaps too long. But Major won and he won more votes than any British party leader has ever won - before or since. The most votes Margaret Thatcher ever received were 13,760,935 (in 1987). Blair won 13,518,167 votes in his 1997 landslide victory. Two years ago 10,703,654 voted for Cameron's Conservative Party. In 1992 John Major won 14,093,007 votes. How did he do it?

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28 Dec 2011 08:56:50

Tory members feel closest to the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson

By Tim Montgomerie
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In another ToryDiary this morning I note that the Tory grassroots are much more satisfied with David Cameron's leadership after his popular decision to veto the EU Treaty. We also asked members to rate fifteen politicians on a scale of minus five (furthest from their political views) to plus five (closest to their views). The results reveal that Margaret Thatcher's politics are still the gold standard for the party faithful. Boris Johnson is the highest rated of today's active politicians.

I don't think the survey results should be seen as an indication of how members would vote in a leadership contest. Although members, for example, may feel ideologically closer to David Davis or George Osborne the PM would handily beat either in a leadership contest. When electing a leader people don't just look for an ideological fit.



17 Dec 2011 11:32:20

Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive

By Matthew Barrett
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Dole Queues and Demons"Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive", a new book written by Stuart Ball, a Reader in Modern History at the University of Leicester, was released this month. The book contains nearly 200 of the 650 election campaign posters in the vast Conservative Party Archive, which is contained in the Bodleian Library - the main research library at the University of Oxford. Many of the posters have never been shown in print. 

"Dole Queues and Demons" provides a guide to the political issues and electoral strategies of the Party throughout the twentieth century, and up to the present state of affairs.

Housewife Bbc












Right-hand poster from 1958, left-hand poster from 1952.

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20 Nov 2011 12:09:53

Thatcher tops league table of best Prime Ministers

By Tim Montgomerie
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Lady Thatcher has been in the news this week given the impending launch of the Iron Lady movie (watch trailer). In the latest YouGov poll (PDF) for The Sunday Times, voters installed Lady Thatcher at the top of the league table for best post-war Prime Ministers:

  1. Margaret Thatcher: 27%
  2. Winston Churchill: 20%
  3. Tony Blair: 9%
  4. Harold Wilson: 6%
  5. Clement Attlee: 5%
  6. Harold MacMillan: 2%
  7. Gordon Brown: 1%
  8. John Major: 1%
  9. Edward Heath: 1%
  10. Anthony Eden: 1%
  11. Jim Callaghan: 0%
  12. David Cameron: 0%
  13. Alec Douglas-Home: 0%

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16 Nov 2011 16:15:19

Thatcher "briefly" considered staying on as Prime Minister after standing down as Tory leader

By Joseph Willits 
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Thatcher1Joe Murphy of the Evening Standard has described "an astonishing new story" told by John Whittingdale about Margaret Thatcher, who delivered the Speaker's Lecture on Great Parliamentarians last night.

Whittingdale, who was once Thatcher's political secretary, said that because she "always said she had never been defeated by the people", Thatcher "briefly" considered carrying on as Prime Minister.

Thatcher, he said, deliberated "whether or not she could continue as Prime Minister without being leader of the Conservative Party". Although he said it "was not an entirely practical idea", her deep sense of "disloyalty and betrayal", and the impropriety with which she felt forced from office, spurred a longing to carry on serving the country.

Murphy writes that Whittingdale, elaborating on his comments, "pointed out that Lady T was at that time playing a kew role in the build up to Gulf War I and fighting for the hard-won freedom of eastern Europeans. For that reason, she felt her departure would let down literally millions of people who were relying on her".

With renewed attention being placed on Thatcher with the release of "The Iron Lady", commentators and politicans are recollecting their relationships with Thatcher in Government, offering insights into her character. In the Telegraph today, Norman Tebbit states that in his experience, Thatcher was never "the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep." Thatcher, he said, "could be angry" but "contrary to some accounts of her negotiating tactics, I never felt that she was playing “the feminine card”. Tebbit said: "It was all about reality, not emotion, and she was no stranger to the game of hard ball."

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16 Nov 2011 07:46:36

Cameron is reminding me of Major but it's time to remember what Major achieved

By Tim Montgomerie
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Over the last couple of days Bruce Anderson has been doing exactly what I hoped he would do when I asked him to join ConservativeHome. He's been defending David Cameron from right-wing "belly-achers" (like Iain Martin and, I think, like me). He's been telling us all that we should "revel in our good fortune" - yes, revel - that people like Osborne and Hague are in charge in these difficult times. Bruce is, as James Forsyth has noted, closer to David Cameron than any other commenter. Whereas the handful of other leading Coalition-sympathetic columnists tend to be closest to George Osborne (notably Matt d'Ancona, Ben Brogan and Danny Finkelstein), Bruce is arguably unique in orbiting Planet Cameron.

Reacting to Bruce's apologetics Simon Richards tweeted his response: "He did the same for Major". Which got me thinking.

It is sometimes asked whether Cameron is more of a Heath or a Thatcher; whether he is a false dawn or the real thing. Insofar as he's like anyone I think it's John Major. And I don't say this to bash Cameron. I've long thought that history should be a lot kinder to Major and his government.


The failings of the Major years are well rehearsed - and, of course, they ended in electoral disaster - but behind the noise of the ERM debacle and those years of sleaze, enormously important work was done. The economy was in terrific shape by 1997. The Ken and Eddie show laid the foundations for Bank of England independence. Peter Lilley introduced long-term reforms that cut future welfare bills. The National Lottery revolutionised funding of sport and culture. David Curry's City Challenge was accelerating the urban regeneration that Michael Heseltine had begun. There was the Northern Ireland peace process. The opt out from the single currency and social chapter. And most importantly of all there was Michael Howard's prisons revolution. Where Thatcher had failed, John Major's administration turned the tide on what had seemed a remorseless post-war increase in crime.

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9 Oct 2011 10:19:48

John Major says crisis in Eurozone gives UK opportunity to repatriate control over employment law, financial regulation and fisheries

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen shot 2011-10-09 at 09.48.58

In a wide-ranging interview Sir John Major told Andrew Marr that it was important that Greece defaulted as quickly as possible. The Euro had got into terrible difficulties because the Maaastricht criteria had been ignored, he said: (1) There was inadequate convergence before the Euro was created as the Treaty had required and (2) because the Commission didn't take action in the single currency's early days - when France and Germany had breached their borrowing limits - the zone became riddled with ill-discipline.

He predicted that the EU had "fundamentally changed" because of member states' flouting of the Maastricht criteria and because of the movement to an "unsafe" Eurozone. We would now see, the former Prime Minister predicted, what he and Douglas Hurd had advocated in the 1990s. Europe would follow a model of "variable geometry" with different member states working at different levels. He predicted that Eurozone members would seek their own Treaty and gradually forge fiscal union characterised by tax harmonisation and budgetary control. This, he said, was an opportunity for a looser union and for the UK to repatriate control over parts of employment law, notably the Working Time Directive; financial services regulation; and control of Britain's fishing industry. EU leaders had to realise, he continued, that 27 member states could not operate in the same unified way as when there were much fewer members.

Sir John Major also backed George Osborne on Quantitative Easing (as Ruth Lea does in her ConservativeHome column today) but warned that rapid tightening of banks' capital asset ratios was limiting their ability to finance business expansion.

Andrew Marr didn't ask Sir John if he thought Edwina Currie was doing well on Strictly Come Dancing.

3 Oct 2011 11:48:43

Iain Duncan Smith reiterates David Cameron's promise to implement tax breaks for married couples

By Joseph Willits 
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Ids In his address to the party conference today, Iain Duncan Smith reiterated the promise that David Cameron had made to proceed with, and implement tax breaks for married couples.

Duncan Smith said that the tax breaks for married couples were not "about government interfering in family life" but "about government recognising that stable two-parent families are vital for the creation of a strong society."

He continued:

“It is about government realising that we have to create a level playing field for the decisions people make about family. This means reversing the biases against stability we’ve seen in recent years, including the damaging financial discouragement to couple formation, despite the evidence of its stable outcomes for children”

The renewed focus which Duncan Smith has put on Cameron's promise, comes at a time when fears are rising that the issue has been cast aside due to the coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In a very powerful speech, Duncan Smith said that "strong economy requires a strong social settlement", and that in order for economic recovery to take place, societal breakdown had to be repaired also.

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30 Aug 2011 08:29:26

United at the top. Major, Hague, IDS and Howard are giving Cameron all the support they can.

By Tim Montgomerie
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4L The rebelliousness of many on the Tory backbenches has been well documented on ConHome's Parliamentary pages. We've also recorded the unhappiness of many Tory members about certain government policies (although not, significantly, its main priorities). One thing we've not really covered is the perhaps obvious but no less significant fact that - at the top of the Tory tree - the Conservative leadership has rediscovered the party's once great weapon of loyalty and party discipline.

For as long as I can remember ex-Tory leaders have caused trouble for current Tory leaders. Heath and Macmillan, for example, provided regular headaches for Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was a famously unhelpful backseat driver to John Major. Hague couldn't escape Thatcher's shadow. Look at the situation now, however. Each one of the party's ex-leaders is very supportive of Cameron. The PM regularly talks to John Major, especially about security and foreign policy issues. Major was unofficial spokesman for Cameron at the time of the Coalition negotiations. Michael Howard is an important behind-the-scenes influence and engineered the extended leadership process that gave Cameron the opportunity, in 2005, to thwart the frontrunning David Davis. Then, of course, there's Hague and IDS - two pivotal members of Cameron's Cabinet. For those with a subscription to The Times I've written an OpEd column about all of this today.

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