Conservative Diary

LibDem-Tory relations

19 Aug 2013 08:30:48

Any proposal for a second Coalition should be put to all Party members - not just MPs

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 07.53.20
By Paul Goodman

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David Cameron is absolutely right to plan properly for post-2015 election negotiations, as the Daily Telegraph reports today, either with the Liberal Democrats or with other parties (such as the Democratic Unionists, were the numbers to add up).  As the paper kindly acknowledges in an editorial, one of my leitmotifs since the 2010 election is that the Conservatives can't win a majority next time round given the distribution of the vote - a problem that the cut in the number of Commons constituencies proposed by the Government, and so ignobly sunk by the Liberal Democrats, would have addressed.  If the Commons is hung in 2015, the Prime Minister would have a responsibility to the country to strive to keep it out of Labour's hands.

This means building strong foundations for any consequent coalition - a necessity which, last time round, was compromised by the rush to office of both parties, and their unpreparedness, plus that of Whitehall, for the dance of negotiation which a hung Parliament brings with it.  The Liberal Democrats made a hash of their position on tuition fees.  And the Conservative leadership was too quick to dump parts of the programme on which it had just fought the election, such as its commitments on inheritance tax and stamp duty.  Furthermore, Tory MPs weren't given the chance to vote formally on the coalition deal.  It was presented to them at a single meeting of the 1922, and sold to them on a mistaken prospectus.

Continue reading "Any proposal for a second Coalition should be put to all Party members - not just MPs" »

2 Aug 2013 17:15:48

Conservative members want the Coalition to end shortly before the election (and are opposed to the idea of another afterwards)

By Peter Hoskin
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Like I said a week ago, the summer recess has delivered an upturn in chatter about the Coalition. And, here on ConservativeHome, we added to that chatter this week with a rather striking poll finding: that a majority of party members now say that the Coalition is good for Britain.

Well, now we have some more Coalition-related results from our latest survey to share with you – specifically on its duration. Here’s the first, on the question of when the Tories and Lib Dems should split up. As you’ll see, the most popular choice was “shortly before the 2015 general election”, although the other three options each received around 20 per cent of the vote:

Graph 1

Then the question of when the Tories and Lib Dems will split up. Again, “shortly before the 2015 general election” came out on top, but by a larger margin this time. Only one per cent of party members believe that the divorce will happen this year, well below the proportion that wants it to:

Continue reading "Conservative members want the Coalition to end shortly before the election (and are opposed to the idea of another afterwards)" »

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.

30 Jul 2013 07:28:26

A majority of Party members now say that the Coalition is good for Britain

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 07.16.43
By Paul Goodman
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In May, 47 per cent of Conservative members said that the Coalition is good for the country...and 47 per cent said that it isn't.

There has been little alteration since then in our surveys, but this month's finds a step change among activists: 59 per cent now say that Coalition is good for the country, and 35 per cent say that it isn't.

In May, 23 per cent said that the Coalition is good for the Party and 71 per cent said that it isn't. Those figures are now 31 per cent and 61 per cent.

That almost a third of activists now say that the Coalition is good for the Party is a striking result - though, obviously, these findings chop and change, and are largely led by the fortunes of the two main parties.

As I wrote yesterday, "Cameron is handling his Parliamentary Party better, and Ed Miliband is on the back foot over welfare and Unite".

"Abu Qatada has gone, James Wharton's EU referendum bill is here, the benefits cap is in place, the economy is gradually recovering." Confidence in Cameron as the person respondents would like to lead the Party into the next election has also risen - from 55 per cent to 65 per cent.

Just over 1550 people responded to the survey, of whom over 700 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

26 Jul 2013 07:24:25

Will there be another Con-Lib Coalition? The reasons to think not outweigh the reasons to think so

By Peter Hoskin
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Cam Clegg

Blame it on the heat or whatever, but we’re spending a lot of time talking about the shelf-life of the Coalition at the moment. There was my post last Saturday, itself a distillation of articles by Matthew Parris and Simon Heffer, about when the Tories and Lib Dems should split apart. That was followed, on Sunday, by Graham Brady and Bernard Jenkin advocating a split next year. And subsequently both Paul Goodman and Steve Richards have written columns about the prospect of another Coalition after 2015. It’s almost as though we’re less than two years away from an election, and the whole thing has become a pressing concern.

By way of summarising some of the current arguments, I thought I’d produce a quick list of the reasons to think that there will be another Con-Lib Coalition after the next election, and the reasons to think that there won’t be. Of course, as with much political soothsaying, this is based on how things look now. The overriding determinant of whether or not there will be another Coalition is simply the next election result. A strong Conservative majority, or a strong Labour majority, could reduce everything below to naught. But I hope you’ll read it anyway…

Continue reading "Will there be another Con-Lib Coalition? The reasons to think not outweigh the reasons to think so" »

20 Jul 2013 08:47:50

That question crops up again, when should the Tories split from the Lib Dems?

By Peter Hoskin
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There are two particular reasons, at the moment, to discuss whether and when David Cameron should break the bonds of coalition. First, there’s the spirit of self-confidence that has descended on the Tories with the hot weather. Second, there’s the fact that so many simmering divisions between Conservatives and Lib Dems – benefits, Europe, Trident – have recently boiled over into the newspapers.

And so, two columnists have set their pens to the matter today. The first is Simon Heffer, who, in the Daily Mail, usefully outlines the two broad strands of Tory thought, whilst placing himself with the first:

“One influential group wants him to break the Coalition and separate from the Lib Dems after May’s European elections, so as to govern as a minority administration for the last eight or nine months before the next general election.

This would allow the Tories to demonstrate to voters the more radical policies that would be pursued by a Conservative Party governing on its own.

However, another group of advisers wants Mr Cameron to remain yoked to Nick Clegg & Co until May 2015. This is not out of any sense of loyalty to the Lib Dems, but because they fear the Tories might need them to form a second Coalition if there is another election that results in no one party winning an outright majority.”

The other is Matthew Parris in the Times (£). He belongs more to Heffer’s second group, although not just for the sake of another Coalition. He’s also concerned that an anti-Coalition stance could both alienate “middle-of-the-roaders  who may vote Conservative, but sometimes waver,” and place power in the hands of what he calls “the awkward squad on the right”. Or at least that’s my précis – it’s worth reading his column for the full argument.

Continue reading "That question crops up again, when should the Tories split from the Lib Dems?" »

6 Jun 2013 08:26:15

Two in five Tory members back the Communications Data Bill - and a third oppose it

May Theresa Home Office
By Paul Goodman

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It would be an exaggeration to write that every Conservative born into the world alive is either a Little Authoritarian or a Little Libertarian.  But how much of one?  The result of our last monthly survey question about the Communications Data Bill (a.k.a the Snooper's Charter) may point towards an answer.

  • 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."
  • And 22 per cent believed that the Conservative leadership "should compromise with the Liberal Democrats to produce a version of the Bill that both sides can broadly agree with".

That last fifth of Tory respondents is quite a big slice of the whole, and is a reminder that all Conservatives don't come down on one side of the fence or the other.  Since compromise with our Coalition partner isn't always a popular option with party members, the figure indicates that a significant percentage of them find it hard to make their minds up about the bill.

However, the remaining three-quarters or so seem to have made their minds up.  And I think the results point towards a general truth - namely, that regardless of whether one agrees with them or not, libertarians make a lot of noise in proportion to their number.

Perhaps the Woolwich horror has had an impact on the figures.  However, the proportions certainly wouldn't justify any claim that Conservative members are lined up to support the bill: compromise is perhaps where the Home Office is heading in any event.  Over 700 Tory members responded to the survey - as did over 1400 readers in total.

4 Jun 2013 07:19:24

Get ready to register yourself as a lobbyist. Or risk a fine. Or prison. Or maybe both.

By Paul Goodman
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Clegg curseIn an attempt to learn from what James Surowiecki calls "The Wisdom of Crowds", I asked yesterday on Twitter what difference a statutory register of lobbyists would have made to the Patrick Mercer case.  The best answer I got was, first, that Mercer would have checked the register and, second, would have found the Panorama/Daily Telegraph operation wasn't on it - after which he presumably would not have been drawn into the sting.  So the main difference a register would have made, according to my interlocutors, was to protect MPs against investigative journalists - not necessarily a very happy outcome.

However, it is possible that it wouldn't have made any difference at all, and certain that it would not do so in the case of an MP determined to breach the rules and the law.  An MP who is prepared to defy both today in a quest for money is unlikely to be deterred by both tomorrow in the form of a statutory register.  (Mercer was in breach of rules on paid advocacy, and faces a possible police investigation under the Bribery Act.)  Furthermore, the wits of the regulators are unlikely to be more sharp than those of investigative journalists.  As Mark Wallace pointed out, the latter could set up a front company in say, Switzerland - and get on the register that way.

Continue reading "Get ready to register yourself as a lobbyist. Or risk a fine. Or prison. Or maybe both." »

29 May 2013 17:49:19

Philip Hammond's spending review rebellion may be more loyal than it looks

By Mark Wallace
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John_LilburneWhen Freeborn John Lilburne, the Leveller, appeared before the Star Chamber in 1637, he refused to do as they asked. He would not take the oath or answer questions, and as a result he was fined £500, whipped, humiliated in a pillory and thrown in jail.

Given that history, it is not hard to see why George Osborne has chosen to refound the Star Chamber to deal with those in the Cabinet who are refusing to sign up to the cuts needed for his spending review. A number of ministers must be hoping the pillory, at least, has been decommissioned since Lilburne's day.

The psychology is simple. Instead of being pelted by the London mob, any modern day John Lilburnes who won't play along are set to face humiliation in front of their peers. Eric Pickles, Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin will be sat alongside the Chancellor flinging the metaphorical rotten turnips.

But the politics is rather more complex than it appears.

Continue reading "Philip Hammond's spending review rebellion may be more loyal than it looks" »

15 May 2013 23:22:38

Cameron's been likened to Major. More votes like this one, and the comparison will be with Lord North.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 22.15.01
By Paul Goodman

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Parliament means Party, and Party means Whips. In other words, MPs must always form themselves into political parties, which in turn will require whipping, if the executive is to work in our system of Parliamentary government.  It follows that Prime Ministers have both a selfless and a selfish reason for taking special care of their whips.  If they don't, coherent government becomes impossible (the selfless reason) and their own position becomes endangered (the selfish one).  And since it has never been harder to be a Whip - given the transformation of MPs into constituency champions, and their consequent rebelliousness - David Cameron must zealously care for their condition and morale.

The Prime Minister's EU referendum bill gambit was rushed out to quell the threat of a large number of Conservative MPs voting for John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.  Over 100 did - so the manoevre failed. That's roughly half of all Tory backbenchers.  Blame must therefore lie either with the Whips, for failing to minimise the rebellion, or with Cameron himself, for failing to tell them to do so.  The guidance consistent with both minimising the rebellion and good party management would have been to offer one of those free votes that aren't really free votes at all.  Both Ministers and backbenchers would have been encouraged by the Whips to abstain, to drive down the number of Tory MPs supporting the Baron amendment.

Continue reading "Cameron's been likened to Major. More votes like this one, and the comparison will be with Lord North." »