Conservative Diary

Family and relationships

6 Aug 2013 07:54:42

Osborne's pro-marriage move is part of the Cameron charm offensive

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By Paul Goodman
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George Osborne is sparing with the appearances on camera, deploying them mostly when he wants to make a point - as recently with his visit to night workers.  His trip to a nursery yesterday was thus intended to identify him with childcare help for working parents - a modern-minded cause which appeals to the Chancellor's inner political strategist (never long absent).  But the visit also drew from him what seemed to be an unambiguous commitment to transferable tax allowances, which would balance the new childcare voucher scheme with help for non-working parents. "Later in this parliament we're going to be introducing tax breaks for married couples", he said.  The coverage of his remark about some parents caring full-time for their children being a "lifestyle choice" has been unfair: he clearly meant simply that this is their decision.

Continue reading "Osborne's pro-marriage move is part of the Cameron charm offensive" »

31 Jul 2013 06:32:18

Over half of Conservative members support Cameron's anti-porn net plans

By Paul Goodman
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Respondents were asked in our latest survey whether or not they supported David Cameron's proposals on the internet and pornography.

  • 57 per cent said that they do.
  • 27 per cent said that they don't.
  • 15 per cent said that they have no view.

This represents decisive support for the Prime Minister's proposals, which have been strongly driven by the Culture Department. It's worth adding that at this stage this is very much support in principle: we have yet to see the detail.

None the less, the result suggests when I wrote recently that "Conservatives aren't libertarians," I was right.  The libertarian view shows up very forcefully 'below the line' when comment pieces are published.  But it isn't that of party members, as the poll shows. If you want further evidence for the claim, glance back at our June poll on the Communications Data Bill, a.k.a the Snoopers' Charter.

The margin was less emphatic.  None the less, 43 per cent of respondents agreed that "the Tory leadership should do all it can to enact the Communications Data Bill, even against the wishes of the Liberal Democrats". 34 per cent took the view that "the Communications Data Bill is an invasion of privacy and should not be made law."  22 per cent believed that the Conservative leadership should "produce a version of the Bill that both sides can broadly agree with".

22 Jul 2013 08:40:23

Cameron's anti-porn plans: problematic in practice, but right in principle. Conservatives aren't libertarians.

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 08.39.48Fleet Street was briefed over the weekend that the Prime Minister's anti-internet porn plan marks a return to the early David Cameron - the one who campaigned against British Home Stores selling padded bras for children, and against W.H Smith for placing chocolate oranges near checkouts.  This is true as far as it goes.  The parent in the Prime Minister doesn't like the sexualisation of children.  And the politician in him doesn't want a policy agenda only for Conservative loyalists: an EU referendum, a tougher welfare cap, tighter immigration controls, Abu Qatada deported, local vetoes on wind farms.  He will want a broader prospectus as the next election nears - with more than a touch of what the first George Bush called a "gentler, kinder" conservatism.

This truth offers a clue about the Prime Minister's wider motives.  He will be worried about the effects of the Lynton Crosby controversy - in particular, about the claim that Government's cigarette plain packaging decision means that it doesn't care about smoking-related deaths.  So he is proving his caring credentials by homing in on an unpopular cause: poorer voters may not approve of government targetting the cigarettes they buy, but they don't disapprove of it tackling the extreme porn that they don't (on the whole) consume.  This unpopularity runs especially deep among mothers and women.  Cameron's standing is lower with them than with male ones.

Continue reading "Cameron's anti-porn plans: problematic in practice, but right in principle. Conservatives aren't libertarians." »

24 Jun 2013 08:26:18

Your starter for ten. Which Minister is responsible for families policy?

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 07.56.56David Cameron said in opposition that he wanted "the next Government to be the most family friendly Government we’ve ever had in this country".

Andrea Leadsom writes on this site today about her recent experience as a member of the Children and Families Bill Committee, pointing out that there was no Minister for Families to help the bill through Parliament. She writes: "The Minister for Employment and the Minister for Children both shared the responsibility instead." What does a list of Ministers with some responsibility for families look like?

Some of this division of labour is inevitable, but much simply reflects a lack of clarity.  For example, why do we need two separate Ministers to be responsible for issues affecting girls?

Such duplication has wider consequences.  Very simply, this is a Government without a families policy - and that fact has knock-on effects, such as Downing Street's extraordinary suggestion that parents who support children at home should get less help from the tax system than those who work in the labour market.  Leadsom says that although the Coalition has achieved a great deal for families, a Minister for Families is essential to end muddle and shape policy. By way of illustrating her case, she gives a small but telling example.

She wants Children’s Centres to be able to offer the registration of births within their premises, arguing that such a move would enable Children’s Centre workers to meet families who might be struggling with the pressures of parenthood.  The idea may be good or bad (I think it is good), but no Minister is empowered clearly to give a verdict: instead, the idea is marooned in an inter-departmental no-man's land.  The Prime Minister's ambition won't be fully realised until or unless he appoints a Minister for Families in the next reshuffle.

27 Mar 2013 12:21:41

What is causing the stagnation of wages? Matthew Hancock MP sets out a Tory agenda for the low-paid.

By Tim Montgomerie
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I've just come back from an event at the Resolution Foundation. Matt Hancock MP was setting out a Conservative agenda for tackling low pay. You can read his speech in full here but the two big things you need to know about the event and the speech are...

  • A Conservative minister was addressing the subject, not pretending that wage stagnation wasn't real or that it wasn't important. He talked about how those on the median income (£21,583) had missed out on much of the boom years. He called that "unjustified".
  • He then set out three ways of tackling the problem:
    • "Strengthening" the minimum wage by ensuring there was always an appropriate incentive gap between being on benefits and earning. He said most academic evidence suggested no negative consequences for employment/ unemployment of the existing minimum wage although he said that that could change if it was increased too quickly.
    • Taking the low-paid out of the income tax system by raising the income tax threshold.
    • Making the workforce more productive by improving their skill set. He focused on the apprenticeship policies that he inherited from John Hayes MP.

Continue reading "What is causing the stagnation of wages? Matthew Hancock MP sets out a Tory agenda for the low-paid." »

24 Mar 2013 13:00:43

Why the Government's new childcare scheme is unfair to stay-at-home parents

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-23 at 21.48.32"Parenting is the most important job there is…I have always wanted this Government to do everything it can to help families of all shapes and sizes…All families, including those relying on a stay-at-home parent, will continue to receive more financial help towards childcare".

Claire Perry's recent article on this site about the Government's plans for childcare tax breaks was nothing if not defensive: it was crafted to persuade readers that they're fair to those "families of all shapes and sizes" - including single earner and two earner couples.  But they're not.

Let me explain why.  Government affects both the supply and demand sides of childcare.  Its main lever on the demand side is the tax and benefit system.  The most important childcare element of that system is child benefit - which, as Andrew Lilico has explained on this site, is not a welfare benefit, but a tax rebate.  Since the Government has withdrawn child benefit, in some circumstances, and wants to bring in the new childcare tax breaks, it makes sense to look at both measures together.

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21 Mar 2013 08:25:30

Cameron can claim three historic moral achievements --- 0.7% spent on aid. 2.7 milion people lifted out of income tax. Gay marriage.

By Tim Montgomerie
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In my other blog this morning I give the Coalition low marks for its record on deficit reduction. Progress has been dismally slow. Let me celebrate two other things that the Budget delivered, however, and point to three big achievements overall.

First, Britain will become the first major economy to spend 0.7% of national income on international development. I realise that most readers of this website and most voters object to spending more on aid when domestic budgets are so tight but the plight of this nation is nothing compared to the plight of many hundreds of millions of people in parts of the developing world. It's true that some aid is wasted and some goes into the pockets of corrupt officials and politicians. Most, however, puts food in hungry bellies, innoculations in vulnerable bloodstreams and resilience in subsistence farmers' crops. We should be very proud that a Conservative Prime Minister and Chancellor have delivered this commitment and have done so in the teeth of very significant opposition from people who give the impression that our aid budget is much bigger than it is and that incidences of corruption are the norm rather than the exception. Even readers of this website become much more positive about aid when the very specific benefits of it are spelt out. What is vital is that the reforms begun by Andrew Mitchell and maintained by Justine Greening are accelerated. They include greater transparency of the aid budget, redirection of aid to poorer countries, more market-driven aid and streamlining of the DFID bureaucracy.

Continue reading "Cameron can claim three historic moral achievements --- 0.7% spent on aid. 2.7 milion people lifted out of income tax. Gay marriage." »

20 Mar 2013 08:09:40

What's the Chancellor's policy towards one-earner families?

By Tim Montgomerie
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It's hard to find much welcome for the Chancellor's new £1,200 childcare giveaway in any of today's newspapers. Left-leaning pundits complain that the allowance that benefits families earning up to £299,999.99p is a poor use of limited funds when many low income families are struggling to make ends meet. Right-leaning commentators worry that it is a measure that complicates rather than simplifies the tax system. Social conservatives see the subsidy as another snub to those parents who choose to stay at home to raise their children.

I admit to being something of a traditionalist on these matters. I believe that children and communities benefit a great deal from having a parent at home in formative years but I also respect the fact that some parents cannot afford to stay at home or are quite simply happier mixing work and parenting. What isn't right is a tax system that heavily subsidies one lifestyle choice at the cost of another. There are two words for that: social engineering. Throughout the OECD we have a tax and benefits system that penalises one earner couples. We need a much simpler tax system that doesn't cajole parents out of the home environment and into the workplace or we need forms of transferable tax allowance that compensate for the heavy taxation of one-earners. Parents should be able to make their own choices about whether to spend more time in the workplace or at home with their kids (or to undertake other caring responsibilities). Those choices are deeply personal and shouldn't be subject to manipulation by the state.

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12 Mar 2013 08:26:09

The Guardian discovers that "right-wing" views on Europe and immigration are quite popular

By Tim Montgomerie
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On a whole range of issues - including immigration - very few voters hold 'centrist' positions

On Saturday at the Victory 2015 Conference Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov published fascinating polling that disproved the nonsense idea that most voters inhabit a mythical centre ground. The reality is that voters have strong views on most subjects - strongly opposed, for example, to NHS privatisation and more immigration but very supportive of repatriation of powers from Europe and making the rich pay more into the national coffers.

Continue reading "The Guardian discovers that "right-wing" views on Europe and immigration are quite popular" »

6 Feb 2013 08:27:52

Can Cameron heal his divided Conservative coalition? Here are three suggestions for the Tory leader...

By Tim Montgomerie
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81 Tory MPs rebelled on David Nuttall's EU referendum motion.

91 Tory MPs voted against Lords reform.

143 Tory MPs have voted against the Coalition's policies at some point. 37 are hardcore rebels.

136 Tory MPs voted, last night, against the Tory leadership's position on gay marriage. Another forty abstained.

Technically, of course, last night's vote wasn't a rebellion against government policy. It was a free vote. But it was certainly a vote against one of David Cameron's most important initiatives since becoming Prime Minister and also against his model of modernisation. Read today's papers and the result is certainly being presented as a rebellion against his authority. The party looks divided in the eyes of voters and voters don't like divided parties. Very divided. Some gay people may have new confidence in the PM but less faith in the Conservative Party.

Continue reading "Can Cameron heal his divided Conservative coalition? Here are three suggestions for the Tory leader..." »