Conservative Diary

Labour strategy

4 Dec 2009 08:35:03

It's game, set and croquet match to Eric Pickles in his clash with John Prescott

Eric Pickles and former John Prescott debated Labour's attempt to fight class war against the Conservatives this morning. Eric was on very good form.

SpotTheDifferenceRemembering those famous Mail on Sunday images of John Prescott playing croquet on the lawn of a country mansion, the Tory Chairman said it was like a scene from the final stages of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Great, great line.

Mr Pickles reminded Today listeners that two-fifths of the Labour Cabinet went to fee-paying schools. It shouldn't be an issue, he said, and the fact that Gordon Brown was attempting to make it an issue was a sign that New Labour was truly dead. Mr Pickles urged Labour to stop the personal attacks and stop judging people by where they were born and how their parents chose to educate them.

John Prescott blustered back - managing to confuse Lords Ashdown and Ashcroft but it was game, set and match to Eric Pickles.

> Listen again to the interview, broadcast at 7.50am

Tim Montgomerie

PS There are two worth-reading articles on this subject in this morning's newspapers. In The Guardian Fraser Nelson notes that his News of the World mailbag has "never" included people worried about David Cameron's upbringing. And in the Daily Mail that old leftie Mark Seddon says Labour's failure of the poor means it has no moral authority to wage class war:

"My real concern — and it is a concern, I suspect, that the public clearly understands — is that Gordon Brown should not be making cheap political capital out of a concocted class war when so many of the working class in Britain feel betrayed by his party. The point is that real inequalities of class have almost become a taboo subject for our political elite. To ignore the problems faced by the poorer sections of society — the schools that fail their children, the sink estates where crime is endemic and jobs are non-existent — seems safer for today’s Labour Party than confronting them. But unless Gordon Brown has the courage to tackle these problems honestly, and to stop taking the votes of the working class for granted, growing numbers of them will either not bother with the ballot box or, worse, be seduced by the obnoxious entreaties of the British National Party. Britain’s working class has been neglected for decades. Only this week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that poverty levels in Britain are no better than they were in 2000."

Yesterday on CentreRight, Jill Kirby summarised how poverty has grown under Labour.

1 Nov 2009 08:55:49

Andrew Lansley says Labour's latest health pledge shows they are using the NHS as a "political football"

LANSLEY ANDREW NW Yesterday it was retaining the hunting ban which was to be a "key plank" in Labour's election strategy.

In today's Sunday Telegraph, the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, declares that a Labour pledge on health will be a "key battleground" at the general election.

The pledge in question is Labour's promise to give patients the legal right to free private care if they don't get the treatment they need from the NHS within 18 weeks - with cancer patients getting funding for private treatment if they haven't seen a specialist within two weeks of being referred by a GP.

It would appear that Labour's tactic is to pass a law enacting this pledge shortly before the general election in order to enable the party to scaremonger during the campaign by suggesting that an incoming Conservative Government would abolish it.

Says Burnham:

"This is about embedding patient rights and will prevent a return to the days when people languished on waiting lists under a Tory government... Will the Tories row back on measures that give patients what they have a right to expect?"

But Andrew Lansley has hit back, and accused Labour of using the NHS as a "political football":

"This is the latest in a series of unaffordable and uncosted pledges that have more to do with electioneering than improving the NHS. It will be treated with contempt by NHS staff and rejected by patients because it does not put them in charge.

"They claim that these will be legally enforceable new rights, but are Labour really planning to put the lawyer in the operating theatre? Do they trust the doctors to do their job or do they want judges telling surgeons who they should operate on first?" 

Jonathan Isaby

30 Oct 2009 21:56:37

Labour to make retaining the hunting ban a "key plank in its election strategy"

Picture 14 With all else that's going on with which the Government ought to be concerning itself, believe it or not, this is the news carried in tomorrow's Times:

"Labour is to make the preservation of the hunting ban a key plank in its election strategy... Anti-hunt activists want to use the issue to shore up Labour’s core vote at the election and to protect the legislation.

"Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, has agreed to front Labour’s campaign against repeal. He has sent an e-mail to Labour Party members to tell “as many people as possible that a Conservative government would mean an end to the ban so many people worked so hard to introduce”.

"Mr Benn has sought to contrast the Government’s focus on tackling the recession with a Tory priority to repeal the hunting ban. Using emotive language, he said: “Make no mistake — David Cameron and members of his top team have made it very clear that their intention is to see the return of the cruel spectacle of foxes being torn to pieces in Britain’s countryside.”

Jonathan Isaby

> Labour bigged up the foxhunting issue during the Norwich North by-election

18 Oct 2009 10:05:58

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are concocting cunning plans

CunningPlans In terms of popularity the bankers and politicians are in a race to bottom. A year ago the bankers were winning the wooden spoon competition but politicians are now highly competitive.

The Sunday Telegraph is reporting that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling hope to improve their own standing by taxing the "windfall profits" of banks. I should imagine that it will be a popular move and the Tories will find it difficult to resist. The last thing David Cameron and George Osborne want is to be presented as defenders of the banks.

That does not mean that we should sign up to the specifics of Labour policy. There may be better way of dealing with the problem of bank bonuses, for example. Those banks owned by the state can simply be instructed that there will be no bonuses for senior staff this year. On his blog John Redwood sets out the very obvious problem with the Brown-Darling tax ruse:

"Could you take a lot of tax off them next year? Yes. Would it be popular? Yes. It would however be a strange thing to do when the Regulator is shouting at them they do not have enough cash and capital for their current level of business, and when you want them to carry out more business. If you take tax off Lloyds and RBS the state if taxing itself. The money is just going round in circles. If you take tax off Barclays and HSBC you force them to raise more money some other way, maybe by increasing charges on UK customers."

If Labour hope for salvation through attacking bankers the Liberal Democrats are pondering the recommendations of former SDP leader, David Owen. In Friday's Times Lord Owen recommended that Nick Clegg abandons the pretence that the Liberal Democrats can win the next election but he should say that a vote for the LibDems is a vote for restraining the excesses of any Conservative or Labour administration.  The idea that politicians should work together for the national good is very popular (and misplaced because it stifles scrutiny and policy innovation).  A message that a large number of LibDem MPs will ensure moderation from the next government could yet save some LibDem MPs and you can be sure that Nick Clegg would proclaim it loudly in the TV debates that he sees as a lifeline.  

With the Tory lead down to 11% in the latest YouGov poll the Conservatives do not need reminding that the election is not in the bag.

Tim Montgomerie

29 Sep 2009 13:10:41

Live blog of Gordon Brown's conference speech


Picture 4

2.20pm The scene is set... Will Sarah Brown be coming out to introduce her husband again?

2.23pm "Sit Down" by James is keeping the delegates entertained...

2.26pm A video us is telling us that without the Labour Party, "working people" and women wouldn't have got the vote, Apartheid would not have been ended etc etc

2.27pm Neil Kinnock gets a big round of applause when he appears on the screen.

Picture 3

2.28pm Sarah Brown is doing the intro... again.

2.30pm "He's messy, noisy, gets up a terrible hour... but I know he loves our country and will always put you first".

2.32pm "I've seen what can happens as a result of the changes that government makes... thank you for giving Gordon the chance to change so many lives".

2.33pm Another video is being shown about how Gordon Brown has saved the world through his leadership...Bono and Kofi Annan lead the tributes.

2.36pm Gordon Brown takes to the stage, "We're going to change the world again... We're going to fight to win for Britain".


2.38pm He reels off a long list of achievements of the Government since 1997. Cabinet minsters begin a standing ovation...

2.39pm Harriet Harman is a brilliant deputy leader and "constant friend". And he says he will back her in ensuring there is no place for the BNP in the democratic politics of this country.

2.39pm Alistair Darling is doing an "absolutely brilliant" job.

2.40pm On the "special relationship", he says "Peter Mandelson and I are getting on just fine... the Labour party has really learned to love you".

2.41pm The country faces not only two parties but two directions.

2.42pm Nationalising the banks helped the hard-working majority and not the privileged few... a theme which he uses on several economic themes. It seems the Tories are to be painted as only being willing to help "the privileged few".

Continue reading "Live blog of Gordon Brown's conference speech" »

29 Sep 2009 07:40:19

Gordon Brown is still dithering over whether to debate David Cameron on TV during the election campaign

Sky Leaders' debate graphic

At the beginning of September, Sky News launched its campaign to get the three party leaders to agree to a series of TV debates during the general election campaign.

David Cameron was quick to agree, and Nick Clegg followed in indicating his willingness to participate. But four weeks later and we are still yet to get a straight answer from Gordon Brown.

The Tory leader called on the Prime Minister to "get off the fence" a few days ago and last night it initially appeared that Brown was ready to do just that and say during his speech to the Labour conference this afternoon that he was ready to take part in the debate.

Indeed, today's Times reports that "Gordon Brown is poised to agree to a series of televised election debates that aides believe will enable him to show up David Cameron’s lack of experience and seize back the political initiative"; but the FT seems to suggest that he is still unsure about whether to make a solid commitment:

"The prime minister spent hours on Monday night agonising over whether to include in his speech a decision to take part in a US-style television debate with rival party leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg. However, he is understood to have put that announcement on hold."

We'll find out later on if he opts to mention the matter in his speech in Brighton - which I will be live-blogging from 2.15pm.

8.30am update: Nick Robinson has just said on the Today programme that the speech had included a passage saying that Brown wanted a series of TV debates with Cameron starting now, but that this had now been removed from the final draft on the grounds that Labour strategists wanted the speech to focus on policy not tactics.

Jonathan Isaby 

31 Aug 2009 09:00:11

New YouGov poll suggests economic recovery won't rescue Labour

From now on it's total politics.  The August season ends today and from tomorrow we are in countdown to the General Election.

DARLING ALISTAIR 2 Alistair Darling gets in some early fire this morning with an article in The Guardian that seeks to take credit for the nascent economic recovery:

"I am determined the recovery will be sustainable and lasting, that no one should be consigned to the scrap-heap, like so many were in the 1980s and 1990s. The Tories were wrong then, just as they are wrong now – David Cameron and George Osborne appear to wallow in the prospect of swingeing cuts, unwilling to spell out their economic and social consequences."

There are at least four reasons why recovery won't rescue Labour:

  • It will be a slow recovery and unemployment will continue to rise as a lagging economic indicator.
  • People will not necessarily feel better off... as taxes begin to rise to pay off the huge Darling/Brown deficit (VAT will go up at year end/ fuel duty has risen 2p today)... interest rates may start to rise again as inflation worries grow... and the public spending squeeze will begin to hurt frontline services.
  • Most people know that the British recession has been deeper than most of our competitor economies because Brown's mismanagement.
  • Labour's multitude other failures on crime, immigration, social breakdown... You are familiar with the list.

In today's Telegraph there is an opinion poll which does show that public confidence about the economy is growing but it shows a stable Tory lead of 16%.  Time will tell but I don't think that will change much.

YouGov Tim Montgomerie

17 Aug 2009 09:01:13

Labour's latest salvo in the NHS "debate" is pathetic and smacks of desperation

I thought that the "Tory split" story about the NHS had run its course by the close of play on Friday: it was then that Sky News's Peter Spencer made the eminently sensible observation that it was "palpably absurd" that David Cameron agreed with Daniel Hannan on the NHS and rightly dismissed it as a silly season story.

As Tim pointed out on Wednesday when the media began to get excited about Dan Hannan's comments, he is  a backbench MEP who has zero influence on Tory health policy.

Yet by the most spurious of means, Labour and their allies in the media (some of whom aren't even allies, but just desperate for copy at this time of year) have managed to ensure that the "story" is still live, albeit I suspect gasping its last breaths, in today's papers.

And today's coverage (see, for example, the Telegraph and Times) is based on this Labour press release in which Health Secretary Andy Burnham makes a series of preposterous demands of David Cameron. 

Mr Burnham wants any American politician who disagrees with David Cameron on the NHS to be barred from attending the Conservative Party conference; he says the Tory whip should be withdrawn from Dan Hannan; and says that shadow ministers should be forced to resign from a group (Cornerstone) which once published a pamphlet calling for reform of the way health services are delivered.

That the so-called debate has come to this pathetic level on the Labour side suggests how desperate they have become.

Will Labour be refusing entry to its conference to the assorted dinosaurs who are fellow members of the Socialist International? Will the Labour whip be being withdrawn from backbench politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, Frank Field and Kate Hoey who regularly dare to question and vote against the party line on any number of issues? Similarly, will ministers be banned from being members of any group or faction which may have, at some point, allowed views to be aired which challenged party policy?

No, of course not, on all three counts.

All political parties are broad coalitions where there is room for those with differing viewpoints - and the same is inevitably even truer of international alliances.

It is preposterous to suggest that every politician in a political party should have to agree 100% with every word his party leader says: not only would it be dishonest if they did, but it would also stifle debate in what should be a grown-up democracy.

Jonathan Isaby

16 Aug 2009 12:06:23

The public believe that the "progressive" mantle has been ceded by Labour to the Conservatives (and Lib Dems)

Before Alan Duncan and Daniel Hannan dominated the political news in the second half of last week, there was that spat going on between George Osborne and Lord Mandelson as to which party was the most progressive in British politics today.

The shadow chancellor argued in a speech to Demos that it was the Conservatives, whilst Mandelson vehemently disgareed in a pretty personal attack on George Osborne.

Picture 11 The public have now have their say - in a PoliticsHome poll - and their verdict is that Labour is the least progressive party, with only 12% agreeing that Mandelson et al are the most progressive force in British politics. 22% identify the Conservatives as the most progressive - the same number who assign that label to the Liberal Democrats.

As to what the term progressive actually means, "reforming", "modernising" and "enterprising" were the three most popular adjectives chosen by the nearly 1,200 people polled last week.

Full details here.

Meanwhile, the Observer reports this morning that Tory insiders as believing that the party's "push for government" is being run by true "progressives":

"A batch of young advisers who are light years from the Thatcherite tradition is gathering round. Jonty Olliff-Cooper, 26, a former policy adviser to the party, now works at the thinktank Demos, running a programme called progressive conservatism that was launched by Cameron in January. He said he could list 50 people working with or close to the party's leadership who were true reformists.

"He described a new group of twentysomething advisers who were, in effect, the new Notting Hill Set. And there were many more "young and fashionable" people working on the periphery of the party. "People like Hannan exist within the party, but the people actually pulling the strings have really interesting and progressive ideas," Olliff-Cooper said. "They are people who are conservative in that they want to lower taxes and reduce the size of the state, but they don't want to leave people without support."

"He said he would not describe himself as rightwing but as progressive. He studied history at Oxford and went on to work as a management consultant, teacher and then civil servant. He ended up in the prime minister's strategy unit, working on public service reform and was about to move to the Foreign Office when he got a call from Conservative HQ. "I asked a friend working with George Osborne, and she said, 'Really, they have changed – take a look'."

"Olliff-Cooper, who had never voted Conservative, was offered a job as a policy adviser. He is now in the process of setting up a new group to be called Bright Blue or Right On made up of Conservatives in their 20s who want to promote the progressive agenda internally and externally. Others include Rohan Silva, also in his 20s, who came from the treasury to work for Osborne. Then there is Sam Coates , formerly the deputy editor of Conservative Home, who is now a speechwriter for Cameron. Also on the programme at Demos is Max Wind-Cowie, who is gay, went to a comprehensive school in Cumbria, and whose background is in charities and social enterprise."

Jonathan Isaby

12 Aug 2009 15:05:26

Dan Hannan under attack for criticising NHS during US visit

Picture 7 John Prescott is attacking Dan Hannan MEP as the "true face of 'caring' Conservatism" after Dan made criticisms of the NHS during a visit to America. 

I agree with most of what Dan said about NHS inefficiencies but John Prescott's attack is irrelevant.

Dan has zero influence on Tory health policy.

Z. E. R. O..

The Conservative leadership is committed to keeping the NHS more-or-less as it is. We don't use the statements of Stephen Byers or Dennis Skinner to say that's what the Labour leadership believes. Trying to say that Dan speaks for the Tories on this issue is dishonest and desperate politics.

Mr Hannan's remarks begin after 1 minute 20 seconds into the video below:

Tim Montgomerie