Conservative Diary

Local government and local elections

23 Nov 2012 21:37:56

Departmental budgets are coming down: 5) CLG spending. Eric Pickles wins the golden axe award

By Paul Goodman
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Harry Phibbs wrote about Eric Pickles's record this morning.  CLG spending is counted under two headings - CLG Local Government and CLG Communities.

The former, the larger of the two budgets, has risen by about a £1 billion, and is slightly south of £27 billion.  Figures for the latter come in as follows:

2010 - 2011 Outturn: £10,348,900 b

2011 - 2012 Outturn: £5,566,000 b

Pickles has thus cut almost half CLG's non-Local Government spending in his department.  He thus tops the league table and scoops this website's golden axe award.

"Unprecedented reductions in spending on public services" - Paul Johnson, Institute of Fiscal Studies.

19 Nov 2012 06:42:10

Why George Osborne can't afford to bring in higher council tax bands

By Paul Goodman

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The Mail on Sunday claimed yesterday that George Osborne and Nick Clegg are drawing up "secret plans" for new council tax bands on homes worth more than £1 million.

I should add at the start that senior Treasury sources told me yesterday that the story is wrong - though it's all not quite that simple, as we will see.

I want to take readers through the pledges, practicalities and politics affecting any new council tax band changes - ending with a reflection on the position of Mr Osborne himself.


  • Eric Pickles and David Gauke, on behalf of CLG and the Treasury respectively, have pledged that "the Government will not carry out a council tax revaluation in England during the lifetime of this Parliament".
  • The last Conservative manifesto promised to "scrap Labour’s plans for an expensive and intrusive council tax revaluation", and it presumably follows that a Conservative Government would not have introduced a revaluation.
  • George Osborne told the Mail on Sunday on October 6 that new council tax bands would be a "tax snoopers charter...‘You would have to send inspectors out and it wouldn’t raise much money. I’m not going to let the tax inspectors get their foot in the door."

Continue reading "Why George Osborne can't afford to bring in higher council tax bands" »

14 Oct 2012 19:59:36

Why shouldn't Eric Pickles be the next Home Secretary?

By Paul Goodman
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In today's Mail on Sunday James Forsyth wonders if Eric Pickles could be the next Chief Whip. For last Wednesday's ConHome Party Conference newspaper Paul Goodman argued that Mr Pickles was under-rated and under-valued. This essay is republished below.


Who is the most successful Cabinet Minister?  Polls of party members by ConservativeHome give a twin answer: Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove.  But this is unfair to a Tory colleague who comes in a little below them and gets a lot less publicity - outside his own brief, at least.  Let us consider the case for their colleague, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

Continue reading "Why shouldn't Eric Pickles be the next Home Secretary?" »

1 Sep 2012 07:16:55

Housing - if not radical reform now, then when?

By Paul Goodman
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Policy Exchange's housing plan might have been written to offend vested interests...

Screen shot 2012-09-01 at 08.42.33In our Comment Section today, Alex Morton of Policy Exchange urges the creation of a Secretary of State of Housing in the coming reshuffle, so that this new Cabinet appointment can drive through radical planning reform.  He also argues that the current centralised system has failed and that localism will succeed: under his scheme, set out in the think-tank's paper Cities for Growth and in previous Policy Exchange papers, planning would be taken away from local councils and given to local communities.

In short, these would vote on development proposals for their own backyards, and yes votes would bring compensation for those affected.  NIMBYs would thus have an incentive to become YIMBYs - Yes-In-My-Back-Yardies.  Local plans would be stripped down.  Section 106 agreements would go.  Quality control would be more about local material, less about high density and zero car spaces.  When supported locally, building would be easier on brown field and green field sites - but there would be a green belt improvement levy to improve the parts of it that aren't built on.

Continue reading "Housing - if not radical reform now, then when?" »

26 Aug 2012 07:53:10

IDS and Pickles back Theresa May's fight to strengthen immigration policies

By Tim Montgomerie
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Theresa May writes in today's Sun about her determination to tighten Britain's immigration laws. She restates her determination to bring net immigration down from the hundreds of thousands every year to the tens of thousands. "This country," she writes, "cannot cope with the influx we saw in the last decade — equal to a new Norwich or Northampton springing up every year."

Mentioning double Olympic gold medallist for TeamGB, Mo Farah she says that immigration can bring big benefits to Britain. "Our door," the Home Secretary insists, "will be open to those who benefit Britain, the brightest and best, entrepreneurs who inspire us, businessmen who invest in us, the gifted who entertain us — on the stage or on the pitch." But, she continues, she has to to weigh the benefits of immigration with the costs which include "more pressure on our health, education, transport and welfare services, more competition for jobs." Data released at the end of last month by the Office of National Statistics suggested that increased immigration may well have contributed to reduced incomes. On 31st July the ONS noted that "sustained population growth led to incomes being spread across a greater number of people, and therefore further reduced the growth of actual income per head".

Screen Shot 2012-08-26 at 07.43.35
In her determination to control immigration Mrs May has formed a close alliance with Iain Duncan Smith and Eric Pickles. It is not just the Liberal Democrats who are sometimes unethusiastic about her efforts to control immigration. Certain Tory ministers representing education and university interests have raised concerns about the policies being pursued by Mrs May and immigration minister Damian Green. ConHome has also learnt that certain political and civil service officials inside Downing Street are also pressing for a relaxation of policy - although not the PM or Chancellor themselves. Mrs May's hand has been strengthened by ideological support from the two Cabinet ministers most concerned about high levels of net immigration. IDS fears his welfare-to-work programmes will struggle to succeed if UK employers can easily hire immigrant workers while Eric Pickles is worried about pressures on local government budgets from immigration. Central funding of local authorities often lags behind immigration statistics meaning that local budgets come under unexpected pressures.

5 May 2012 12:24:01

Ed Miliband makes fewer mid-term gains than William Hague but Britain has only swallowed 15% of the Coalition's medicine

By Tim Montgomerie
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So were the results good for Ed Miliband? He certainly won more council seats than Conservatives expected him to win. Labour certainly performed better than I expected. But are they an indication that Ed Miliband is heading to Number 10? Grant Shapps suggests no, tweeting: "Two years into the Labour govt Hague made a far more impressive 1,300 gains. EdM might note that William never actually became PM!" But Ed Miliband doesn't have to make anywhere near as much progress as Hague had to do. Hague started with 165 MPs. Miliband begins with 258. The Labour percentage of the vote has been boosted by the defection of two million or more ex-Lib Dem voters. These left-leaning voters will not quickly vote Yellow again after seeing Nick Clegg do a deal with the 'evil Tories'. Labour goes into the election with 34% to 36% locked up - not so far away from being the largest party.

And if Labour don't face such an uphill struggle as Hague, IDS, Howard or Cameron did, I'm not sure that the Coalition can look forward to gentler slopes itself. We may be in the mid-term of a parliament but the Government's work is not half-done. It's not close to being half-done. Only 15% of the austerity measures have bitten. The biggest and least pleasant welfare cuts are still to come. According to the Prime Minister we're not even halfway through the €urozone's crisis. The NHS reforms are still around the corner. The Coalition's rose garden moments are behind it.

DNULASome big things could, of course, get better. Growth might resume. Inflation might subside. The boundary review, a focus on defeating Lib Dem MPs and a reunification of the Eurosceptic vote might all happen. It may also be the case that in difficult times voters will prefer George Osborne and David Cameron over Ed Balls and Ed Miliband as economic managers (they do at the moment by 36% to 28%). My overall sense remains that we need a game-changer to win the next election, however, and that, while Ed Miliband may be a liability for his party, his party is back in power in Harlow, Southampton, Plymouth and Reading as well as recovering in Scotland and dominant again in Wales. As I've argued before, there is a distinction between underestimating Ed Miliband and underestimating Labour.

4 May 2012 22:12:15

Boris wins London mayoral election

By Matthew Barrett
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Mayoral screencap 4

Midnight Boris' victory speech thanks to BBC London 94.9:


Mayoral screencap 3

Boris has won. 

Continue reading "Boris wins London mayoral election" »

4 May 2012 15:09:49

How the commentators are reacting to the local election results

By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from Tim Montgomerie's six immediate reactions to the local election results, I've summarised the reactions from other leading political commentators. 

Daniel Hannan argues that part of the reason the Tories (and Lib Dems) did badly was the Coalition's incompetence in dealing with the deficit:

"Any government at a time of austerity has to exude competence. People will put up with a great deal provided they sense that their leaders know what they're doing. Going without jam today is fine if we can credibly expect a recovery. When the suspicion arises that the government is headline-driven, at the mercy of events or – worst of all – simply inept, the goodwill disappears. Put bluntly, voters need to see that the deficit is falling, prices stabilising and growth returning."

10-downing-streetJames Forsyth says many Tories want a shakeup of the Number 10 operation:

"Now, undoubtedly some of this is just the acceptable way of criticising the leader. But reinforcements arriving in Downing Street — especially ones with deep roots in the Tory party — would reassure quite a few people, as well as broadening Number 10’s support base in the party."

Dan Hodges says Ed Miliband has been victorious enough to supress any rumours about his leadership:

"He secured strong enough gains to suppress, for the rest of the week at least, grumblings about his leadership. The elections were framed as a test for him, and it’s a test he has passed. At the same time the wins were not of such a magnitude that Labour is suddenly going to let success go to its head and start casting around for a leader to pull itself those last few yards over the finishing line. This represents steady progress that will give Miliband and his party time to calmly sit back and take stock."

Continue reading "How the commentators are reacting to the local election results" »

4 May 2012 08:47:22

Six immediate reactions to the election results

By Tim Montgomerie
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No breakthrough for Labour: Radio 4's Today programme is insisting that Labour had a "very good" night. If they achieve 700 gains that will be true but it's not a transformational night. Far from it. If there was real enthusiasm for Labour and Ed Miliband it wouldn't be losing control of Glasgow (as seems likely) or failing to win the London Mayoralty (as most predict). Miliband is, after all, a triple loser in Labour's heartlands. Nick Robinson says the results have, nonetheless, secured Ed Miliband's leadership. The #SaveEd Tories won't be unhappy at that.

Johnson Boris Ruffling HairThe rise of Boris: The good news for Conservatives is that Boris does appear likely to win re-election. As Fraser Nelson writes in today's Telegraph his victory means there's now an alternative to David Cameron. Boris may not be an alternative leader (although in my Times column (£) I suggest that that idea is no longer fanciful) but he does represent an alternative vision of Conservatism. Fraser argues that "Boris' Conservatism" is more self-confident about traditional Tory beliefs than the Cameron brand. It certainly appears to be more potent. Boris is "the Heineken Tory" that reaches voters that other Conservatives cannot.

Yellow incumbents hold out against the Blues: Harry Phibbs is suggesting that there's not much evidence that the Conservatives are gaining from the Liberal Democrats. I'd like to see more results before drawing that conclusion but that's not a good omen for crucial Tory-Lib Dem General Election contests.


Unhappy Tories: Tory MPs are unhappy and not just the usual suspects. Number 10 should be worried that the normally ultra-loyal Gary Streeter MP went on to BBC TV last night to say that voters wanted more Conservatism from the Prime Minister and less Liberalism. He said that the Lib Dem tail needed to stop wagging the Tory dog. Alun Cairns MP had a similar message for the Conservative leader, tweeting: "Need to remember that David Cameron was most popular when he vetoed EU treaty. Lib Dems holding us back". Even one frontbencher has broken ranks. Gerald Howarth MP, defence minister, warned the PM to avoid distractions like gay marriage and Lords reform. He asked: "Do we need to do this at a time when the nation is preoccupied with restoring the public finances?"

The divided centre right: UKIP did well yesterday but without winning councils or many councillors. They are, as John Redwood blogs this morning, not a party of power but a party of protest. Their main function is to split the Eurosceptic and centre right vote and therefore they allow more pro-EU Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians to prosper. Harry writes about this on the Local government blog.

No to City mayors: The most disappointing result of all - as far as I am concerned - was the defeat of directly-elected Mayors in nearly every referendum. I've always seen this reform as one of the Coalition's most far-reaching. City mayors had the potential to attract big new talents to the leadership of Britain's great cities and deliver a decentralisation of economic and political power. Mayors would also be a way back into the northern cities for Conservatives and a great pool of tried-and-tested talent for an incoming new government at national office. I hope this reform that has been sabotaged by the vested interests of existing councillor establishements can still be salvaged. I'm not optimistic.

3 May 2012 21:06:23

The Tories' boom years in local government are over

By Tim Montgomerie
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Test graph for Harry

One hour to go until polling stations close and the expectation is that Labour will gain about 700 council seats tonight. Anything less and they will be seen to have under-performed. Roughly two-thirds of the gains will probably come from the Conservatives and a third from the Lib Dems. It will mark the end of an almost uninterrupted sixteen year period of Tory gains in local government.

The graph above tells a powerful story. We suffered a long and slow decline in the Thatcher and Major years before an almost complete rebuild during the Blair and Brown years. The recovery in local government helped compensate for the decline in party membership. Hopefully we won't ever decline again to those mid-1990s troughs but the price of being in power in central government is that we are going to see good Tory councillors lose office because of mid-term protest voting.