Conservative Diary


29 Aug 2011 14:30:58

The Iron Lady: A series of interviews with Charles Moore about Baroness Thatcher

By Matthew Barrett
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It's the August Bank holiday, and what better way of enjoying politics this afternoon than watching this set of videos of the peerless Charles Moore discussing Lady Thatcher - whose authorised biography Moore is writing. He is interviewed by Peter Robinson, of Stanford University's Hoover Institution:

Continue reading "The Iron Lady: A series of interviews with Charles Moore about Baroness Thatcher" »

14 Dec 2010 09:01:34

Michael Howard attacks Ken Clarke's "fatally flawed" prisons policy

Tim Montgomerie

In an article for The Times (£) Michael Howard - the Home Secretary who oversaw the first reduction in crime in Britain's post-WWII period - describes Ken Clarke's proposal to cut prison numbers as "fatally flawed".

He tackles the Justice Secretary's arguments head on:

"He suggested that the fall in crime was caused by economic factors. But the day after he made this claim the crime statistics were announced for 2009, a year in which we saw the steepest recession in modern times. Crime had fallen. And research carried out by, among others, Steven Levitt, of Chicago University, demonstrates the absence of any link between economic conditions and crime and, on the contrary, the presence of a link between crime levels and imprisonment.

Then Mr Clarke suggested that the fall in crime since 1993 had taken place in all developed countries. The rise in crime in that period in, for example, Canada, Denmark and Italy, all accompanied by a fall in the numbers in prison, gives the lie to that. Indeed, you do not have to look any farther than Scotland, where an increase in the prison population was accompanied by a fall in crime, and Northern Ireland, where a fall in the number of prisoners was followed by a rise in crime, for further corroboration of the obvious proposition that there is a direct link between the rate of imprisonment and the rate of crime."

The former Tory leader pays tribute to other aspects of the Coalition's justice policy. He salutes efforts to reduce reoffending and pay prison service providers by results. He also writes that "it is essential to tackle criminal behaviour at its roots" and praises the "giant steps" taken by Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith in this regard. Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime?

COSTS Overall, however, Mr Howard stands by his prisons policy which, I've argued before, is one of modern conservatism's greatest policy successes. In the teeth of opposition from the criminal justice establishment, in the mid-1990s, Mr Howard sent more offenders to prison and crime started falling. The public were protected because a larger number of high volume offenders were no longer a menace to the public. As Howard reminds us, "Home Office research has shown that, on average, those in prison have committed 140 crimes in the year before they were sentenced at a cost to society of about £400,000." The anti-prison crowd are rightly concerned about the effect of prison on inmates and that is why we need more imaginative rehab programmes. The real concern should be for the victims of crime, however, and with more high volume criminals on our streets there are going to be many more victims.

12 Dec 2010 10:16:00

John Major says Labour attacks on Coalition make his blood boil

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-12-12 at 09.46.00 Sir John Major was in robust form on this morning's Andrew Marr programme.

John Denham, Labour's spokesman on universities, had been on the couch before him and had relentlessly attacked the Coalition. That makes my blood boil, fumed the former PM. Labour inherited the best economy in Europe but turned it "into a wasteland of debt". They are "thoroughly irresponsible", he said, to attack what are inevitably hard decisions. He paid tribute to the Liberal Democrats. They didn't choose to snipe from the sidelines but they put country first.

He told the Lib Dems to ignore current opinion polls. We are four years from an election, he continued, and if the economic mess is cleared up, the Liberal Democrats will share in the credit for delivering that. If both sides of the Coalition keep their courage and do the right thing he forecast that things will come right for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats by the time of the next election.

Sir John did not revist his recent suggestion that co-operation between the two parties should continue beyond 2015 but insisted the two parties, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, should remain distinct.

He celebrated the fact that he had won an opt-out from €uro membership for Britain. The northern and southern states of the €urozone weren't compatible, he said, and he forecast a decade of slow growth across the continent as economies adjusted to recent shocks.

And finally... Sir John ended the programme by saying he had only known one politician who had the skin of a rhino and was indifferent to attacks from the media. He wouldn't say who it was but my guess would be Ken Clarke.

26 Nov 2010 22:09:26

Sir John Major expresses support for longer term Tory-Lib Dem co-operation

By Jonathan Isaby

John Major 2010 Tomorrow's Daily Telegraph reports a rare intervention from former Prime Minister, Sir John Major. In a lecture at Churchill College, Cambridge, Sir John suggests that the Coalition could result in a permanent realignment of British politics:

“Can the Coalition achieve its purpose in five years? It will be hard pounding but its programme is essential to national wellbeing and so, if uncompleted, I hope some way can be found to prolong co-operation beyond this parliament... It may be that a temporary alliance will turn into a mini-realignment of politics: after all, in a world that is changing so comprehensively, why should politics not change, too?”

“Neither party will admit that possibility at present, not least because it would upset their core vote but, if events turn out well for the Coalition, I, for one, would not be surprised at that outcome."

Full story here.

Update: Click here to read the full text of his speech

Saturday am update:

Blogging on the paper's website, Telegraph deputy editor Ben Brogan makes the point that Sir John's interventions are relatvely rare these days, but often come with the blessing of Downig Street:

"Keep in mind that Sir John some time ago put himself at David Cameron’s disposal to intervene in politics whenever the leader wanted a point made or an argument advanced. There is nothing to suggest that he speaks for Mr Cameron, but after the Nick Boles proposal for an election deal, Sir John’s comments will add weight to that cause."

Did David Cameron know about this speech in advance? Did he even sanction him to include this passage??

I have said before that to go into the next election in any guise other than a Conservative Party fighting every single seat in its own right would be defeatism of the highest order, akin to saying in advance that we cannot win an outright majority ourselves. That next general election may be four and a half years away, but we must not talk in terms of anything other than seeking an overall Conservaitve majority when it happens.

6 Sep 2010 17:16:31

Voters agree that Margaret Thatcher was better PM than Tony Blair

By Tim Montgomerie

Blairhidingbehindthatche A poll for YouGov has confirmed what every good Conservative already knew. Margaret Thatcher was a better PM than Tony Blair.

Nearly 2,000 Britons were asked to name the best Prime Minister from the post-war period who had served for five years or longer. Maggie secured a clear win:

  • Margaret Thatcher: 35%
  • Tony Blair: 21%
  • Howard Wilson: 9%
  • Clement Atlee: 6%
  • Harold Macmillan: 5%
  • John Major: 2%
  • Don't know: 25%

Poor Mr Major.

3 Aug 2010 20:00:43

Who wrote this?

By Tim Montgomerie

"The choice is...clear.  It is the choice...between a community in which nothing stands between the Government and the individual, and a community in which there are many centres of vigorous and independent group life. Only a society, decentralised, diversified, neighbourly, resourceful and resolute can have the idealism and vitality required to meet and defeat the challenge of the pessimist or the materialist wherever he is found."

Very Big Society, eh?

But it wasn't Oliver Letwin or Steve Hilton, David Cameron's guru.

It was drafted by Lord Hailsham and tweaked by Churchill himself for the Conservative Party's 1949 policy statement, The Right Road for Britain.

I'm grateful to Tim Bale for drawing the passage to my attention and providing further proof that the Big Society has deep roots in the Burkean traditions of small platoons conservatism.

31 May 2010 20:32:57

Major blamed for 1922 putsch

106305977I first heard the suggestion last week and it's now been repeated to me three times over the bank holiday weekend - by different people...

Ex-PM Sir John Major is being blamed for advising David Cameron to neuter the 1922 backbench committee. Two weeks ago Mr Cameron attempted to end the committee's independence but was forced to retreat in the face of universal anger from MPs and "unusual suspects" within the conservative commentariat.  Yesterday, James Forsyth reported a more collegiate Cameron was emerging.

Major certainly had an unhappy relationship with the '22 when he was Prime Minister and he and Cameron are certainly very close. The former PM was used by Cameron to argue for coalition government within hours of the General Election result. Sir John visited Mr Cameron in Downing Street last week.

Tim Montgomerie

9 Apr 2010 18:21:55

Remember what happened eighteen years ago today?

I have only just been reminded that eighteen years ago this very day, Britain went to the country to vote in a general election.

And as Andrew Marr reminds us in the clip below, John Major secured over 14 million votes  in 1992 - the greatest mandate of any British Prime MInster ever.

Jonathan Isaby

5 Apr 2010 08:19:24

"Iain Duncan Smith may prove to be the most influential ex-leader of all time"

DUNCAN-SMITH-+-YELLOW Bruce Anderson in The Independent:

"Mr Duncan Smith may prove to be the most influential ex-leader of all time. It must have been a blow, losing the leadership without even fighting an election. No one could have blamed him if he had foresworn politics and gone off to the City. He did indeed set off for a city, but his destination was not Eastcheap, EC3. It was Easterhouse in Glasgow. This was an admirable, heart-warming response. IDS immersed himself in the social problems of the inner cities. He also stole a Labour catchphrase. Traditional Tories have always been suspicious of the term "social justice". It would seem to imply that social outcomes could be determined in the political equivalent of a courtroom. So when IDS called his new think-tank the Centre for Social Justice, old-fashioned Tories did not know whether to be amused at the clothes-stealing or alarmed at the implications. But there was no need for alarm. There is an argument that the poor deserve a much greater degree of social justice, in that large sums of money are already spent on them, often to little effect. A child condemned to a bog-standard comprehensive is a victim of social injustice. A single mother – or an elderly pensioner – constantly menaced by young criminals is a victim of injustice. Even members of the criminal underclass are suffering from social injustice. Why were they allowed to deteriorate until they are fit for nothing except punishment? So when a Tory insists on social justice, he is not succumbing to socialism. He is indicting socialism. Most of the victimised poor have lived under socialistic regimes for decades, and much good it has done them."


ConservativeHome's panel of influential journalists, parliamentarians and thought-leaders last week voted the Centre for Social Justice as the think tank which has had the most influence on the Cameron project.

Tim Montgomerie

26 Feb 2010 14:39:58

Ted Heath's house should be kept open for the nation

Screen shot 2010-02-26 at 14.32.31

Screen shot 2010-02-26 at 14.31.55 The Salisbury Journal is reporting that the house of former Conservative Prime Minister, Ted Heath, is to be sold. The beautiful house in Salisbury Cathedral Close, Arundells, was left to a charitable trust and in recent years it has been open to the public. The Journal reports, however, that the coming year is likely to be the final year in which that is affordable:

"Sir Edward, who died in July 2005, left his £5million estate to a charitable foundation which included opening his home for the education of the public... But the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation say that the costs of opening, running and maintaining the house and garden far outweigh the revenue raised from visitors. The Foundation has no other sources of income and says it does not have sufficient resources to keep Arundells, which was Sir Edward’s home for the last 20 years of his life, open indefinitely. Today, the trustees released a statement saying that they had come to the conclusion that the Foundation could never be viable on the income of visitors alone... If the Charity Commission gives its permission, they plan to sell Arundells so it can be reverted to residential use and the proceeds of the sale will go to other charitable purposes provided for in Sir Edward’s will. This would include musical and other education charities in which he had a strong interest."

I feel quite disappointed at this news. Ted Heath, in taking Britain into the Common Market (as it was then), was an incredibly consequential Prime Minister. It's regrettable that his house cannot stay open for schoolchildren and others to visit and learn more about his own life and the life of a British Prime Minister. And I write this as someone who believes Heath's legacy was as negative as it was consequential. In America they could find the money to keep such a senior politician's house open. Why can't we? If I didn't think they would fill it with propaganda I'd even support the EU paying to keep it open!

Screen shot 2010-02-26 at 14.39.07 Click here for information about visiting the house before it closes at the end of 2010.

Tim Montgomerie