Conservative Diary


18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?

Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:

Home Office

With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows

Local Government

Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'.  Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows


It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.

Blues 3 - 2 Yellows

Constitutional Reform

The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.

Blues 0 - 0 Yellows


It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.

Blues 5 - 1 Yellows


Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.

Blues 2 - 1 Yellows 


The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.

Blues 1 - 1 Yellows


Energy and Environment

Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition. 

Blues 1 - Yellows 5

Tax and Spend

Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.

On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.

Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.

Blues 2 - Yellows 2

Welfare Reform

Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.

Blues 2 - Yellows 1

Business and Banks

Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.

Blues 2 - Yellows 3


To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation. 

Blues 2 - Yellows 1


This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.

Blues 1 - Yellows 2

Scores so far

Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.

The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.

11 Jun 2013 06:30:05

Should we object so much to the "postcode lottery"?

By Mark Wallace
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PostboxOne of the most flawed phrases in modern politics is "postcode lottery". I'm unable to find evidence of its origins, and when first coined it may have had more subtlety, but now it simply means a rejection of any and all local differences in services.

It is used with a heavy emphasis on the "postcode" element. It emerges like a tired jingle whenever one town or street gets a different service than elsewhere - the implication being that the state should look, feel and act the same wherever you might go.

But if we are honest, we should accept that no two places are the same. The age, habits, diets, occupations, interests, incomes, racial make-up, accents and many other aspects of any given population are always a unique composition.

A one-size-fits-all state would be a poor answer to such glorious variety, as well as a deeply unappealling organisation to deal with.

Continue reading "Should we object so much to the "postcode lottery"?" »

4 May 2013 07:46:54

How the Conservatives and UKIP can kiss and make up

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 06.41.39The next general election will not be concentrated in the counties, but it will decide the government.  For this reason, voters will return to the two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, one of which must lead in forming an administration, if not win outright.  Turnout will rise, UKIP's share of the vote will fall, and the best course that David Cameron can take, in the meanwhile, is to hold his nerve, build on his recent conference speeches, and promote a strong, mainstream, sensible programme, for government and for the future.  In short, no single, silver bullet will slay the Farage werewolf.

Such a programme would be a conservatism for Bolton West, as I've put it: reducing net immigration, tackling welfare dependency, holding fuel and electricity bills down, showing leadership at home by bringing the deficit down further, boosting job security and helping to keep mortgage rates low.  All this is the conventional wisdom, and it's true as far as it goes.  I started to look at UKIP and what drives its vote relatively early, and noted that EU policy is not the main factor: immigration and crime are bigger factors.  Above all, UKIP's support is driven not so much by ideas as by anger - by the urge to put two fingers up to the entire political class.

Continue reading "How the Conservatives and UKIP can kiss and make up" »

20 Apr 2013 08:14:58

Pickles dismantles Osborne's new conservatory

By Paul Goodman
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Mike Jones, the Conservative leader of Cheshire West and Cheshire Council and a senior figure in the Local Government Association, has reason to raise a sceptical eyebrow at how the details of the Government's compromise scheme over home extensions will work.  But there's no doubt that Eric Pickles, who has cobbled it all together, has calmed some quivering nerves.  Earlier this week, a Tory backbench revolt over CLG's original proposal cut the Government's majority to 27.  Zac Goldsmith, one of the rebellion's ringleaders, tells today's Daily Telegraph that the Communities Secretary's approach is sensible: "Crucially it protects people's right to object, which has always been a red line for me. I'm pleased the Government has listened to concerns."

Pickles isn't being blamed for the original snarl-up.  Indeed, it was his appeal to backbenchers, made from the despatch box itself, that soothed the revolt.  The Communities Secretary isn't always an emollient figure, but the former Bradford Council leader is a veteran fixer, and friends tell me that he relished the chance to go to the chamber and quell an upset.  He was in a marvellous position to do so because Conservative MPs, rightly or wrongly, don't blame him for the original plans: they point the finger at George Osborne.  I wouldn't claim for a moment that Pickles encouraged them to do so, but his CLG team is very cool about some of the Treasury's more fervent schemes for growth.

Nick Boles is widely seen as an exception - as a committed ally of the Treasury - but this is to simplify the position.  The Planning Minister has indeed been sent into the valley of death by the Chancellor (as I've put it previously), but he's well aware that this mission puts his political life in danger, and though he believes in the cause - after all, he's backed housing growth since his Policy Exchange days - he isn't at all gung-ho about it.  Indeed, he didn't seek to go above Pickles's head and appeal to Osborne over the climbdown, and played his part in trying to head off the backbench uprising.  But since he's seen as the Treasury's man, he was far less well placed to do so than wily old Pickles.

This week's news from Fitch is a reminder of how desparate Osborne is for growth, and how apprehensive Ministers can be when the quest for it raises thorny questions about principle and practice.  Let me raise just one: if localism means anything, is it right not to allow them local discretion over planning practice on, say, ground floor home extensions?  Different people will answer in different ways, but the question is legitimate.  My own view is that Osborne is more sinned against than sinning when it comes to clashes with other Ministers over growth - that he's on the right side of the argument over housing, airports, infrastructure and green taxes (though he must take a big share of the blame for ensnaring the party in green excesses in opposition).

Which isn't to say that the Treasury's original plans were correct in this particular case.  But the resistance of backbenchers to development on their patches, the ambiguity of the Liberal Democrats (some of whom are pushing More Garden Cities Now), the lateness of part of the Treasury push and the long timetable for building houses conspire against the Chancellor getting big housing growth in the little-more-than-two-year-period between now and the general election.  If the present moment was the start of a new Parliament, there's little doubt what Osborne could and perhaps would do: cut the rise of spending further in order to cut taxes further.  But we aren't there, and it's hard to see where a big upturn is going to come from.

21 Mar 2013 08:20:17

If politicians don’t look beyond the numbers in the Red Book, they’re neglecting Britain’s economy

By Peter Hoskin
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Dear me, the numbers in the Red Book are enticing. I know this from first-hand experience. A good portion of my day yesterday was spent constructing charts to show the latest growth, debt, deficit, employment forecasts – and that’s how it has been, for me, for several Budgets in a row. These are Big Charts for Big Figures. Look, the Office for Budget Responsibility has downgraded its growth forecast for this year from 1.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent. That’s significant.

But there’s also a danger to focusing so heavily on the Budget and on the attendant OBR forecasts. These economy-wide statistics and predictions may be important, but they’re often the only thing that we in Westminster talk about. It’s GDP this, and national debt that – and, all the while, some more unassuming numbers are neglected. It’s a reversal of that old saw: we can’t see the trees for the wood.

In which case, I’d like to point out a tree: this report that the Office for National Statistics released last week. It’s about economic growth, but not the economic growth that we usually dwell upon. Instead of GDP, it talks about GVA – the Gross Value Added to our economy by different parts of the country. If you want to know the GVA of London or the North-West or Wales, then this is where to look. It provides a level of local detail that yesterday’s Budget, with its macro-concerns, just doesn’t.

Continue reading "If politicians don’t look beyond the numbers in the Red Book, they’re neglecting Britain’s economy" »

6 Jan 2013 12:02:26

The row over NHS treatment of the elderly shows up the limits of localism

By Paul Goodman
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Last week, the Daily Mail reported that David Cameron intends to improve the treatment of older people by the NHS by ensuring that the following measures are implemented:

  • Nurses will carry out hourly rounds of their patients.
  • Every NHS ward will have a "dementia champion".
  • There will be a "friends and family test" of the standard of care in NHS institutions.
  • Every NHS organisation will have a "dementia nursing expert".
  • "Nurses and midwives at the beginning of their career will be given the opportunity to become 'care markers', a new initiative to use volunteer ambassadors in hospitals and homes to improve care."

Today, Jeremy Hunt writes in the Sunday Telegraph that he intends to improve the treatment of older people by the NHS by ensuring that the following measures are implemented:

  • A "friends and family test".

Continue reading "The row over NHS treatment of the elderly shows up the limits of localism" »

16 Dec 2012 08:47:28

Ministers are said to be pursuing regional pay for civil servants. They would be unwise to do so.

By Matthew Barrett
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BoundariesReviewMiliband2Conservative Ministers are still pushing for regional pay for civil servants, according to a report in the Sunday Times (£).

The newspaper reports that civil servants' pay outside London is said to be "hampering recovery in the private sector", because an internal Cabinet Office report said many junior civil servants earn as much as or more than private sector workers in equivalent positions.

In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne said he would not introduce "centrally imposed changes" to civil service pay, but Tory Ministers are said to wish to bypass this by introducing regional pay to individual departments. 

However, the big obstacle for Conservative Ministers is that Nick Clegg and his party are thoroughly opposed to regional pay. The reasons why are obvious: many Lib Dem MPs represent either rural or industrial areas, in many cases in the Celtic fringe, which will have income levels below London, and would therefore feel the impact of any regional pay reductions.

But Nick Clegg is not the only obstacle. Few Conservative members of the Cabinet represent seats in the north, and those who do, such as William Hague (Richmond in Yorkshire) and George Osborne (Tatton in Cheshire), could not be said to represent the toughest seats currently held by the party. However, backbench Tory MPs from areas which would be affected, such as the North East, have also strongly opposed regional pay, knowing how many votes it could cost David Cameron in 2015.

Continue reading "Ministers are said to be pursuing regional pay for civil servants. They would be unwise to do so." »

17 Nov 2012 08:54:49

Despite the low turnout, David Cameron says PCCs will have more legitimacy than their unelected predecessors. He's right.

By Matthew Barrett
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PCC newspapers

You wouldn't think there had been an England and Wales-wide election yesterday. Only three newspapers prominently display news of the PCC elections (above). All three make reference to the low turnout, which will be the only memorable feature of the elections for the average person.

To be sure, the turnout was low, and was disappointing, but was it a "humiliating blow" for the Prime Minister? No - or at least it shouldn't be. With elections at a highly unusual time of year, for a new office people might not yet understand, with relatively little awareness advertising (I saw one advert, about a month ago), and no taxpayer-funded leaflet campaigns, I'm not surprised turnout was low. It would have taken a Churchillian giant of British public life to secure any other outcome.

Continue reading "Despite the low turnout, David Cameron says PCCs will have more legitimacy than their unelected predecessors. He's right." »

3 Nov 2012 08:57:17

The dark facts of government appear to have dimmed David Cameron’s sunny optimism about localism

By Peter Hoskin
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The last Tory manifesto made much of what it called “collaborative democracy” — pushing power away from Westminster and towards the public, whether to individuals or to local communities. This restless form of localism was also an area of easy overlap with the Liberal Democrats. And so a great deal was expected of the Coalition.

And yet the progress of “collaborative democracy” has not been what we might have hoped. This is true in both the round (as Nadhim Zahawi MP admitted in a post for ConHome this week, “I know I'm not the only Member of Parliament to have been let down by Localism in action”) and in the case of specific headline policies. Plans for directly-elected mayors were stymied by immense public indifference. And there are signs that the police commissioners agenda is, as Janan Ganesh put it in his Financial Times column (£) this week, “another good idea let down by neglect”.

Continue reading "The dark facts of government appear to have dimmed David Cameron’s sunny optimism about localism" »

5 Sep 2012 08:24:50

The tentacles of the Octopus Chancellor are all over this reshuffle

By Paul Goodman
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George Osborne wanted to move Iain Duncan Smith from Work and Pensions, and failed.  Ken Clarke was moved to take up a roving economic brief, thus gaining a licence to meddle in the Chancellor's affairs.  The reshuffle even brought some distressing family news: Lord Howell, Mr Osborne's father in law, has been moved from his Foreign Office job to make way for Sayeeda Warsi.  The Chancellor must steel himself for some lengthy familial exchanges about how difficult the post will be for a tyro.  And David Cameron's transport gambit provoked a blast of the trumpet from Mr Osborne's leadership rival, Boris Johnson.

No wonder the Chancellor was written up as a loser from yesterday's events. But this broad assessment is undermined by the reshuffle's details.  Mr Osborne has been portrayed on this site and elsewhere as the Submarine Chancellor, surfacing only to make carefully controlled interventions before plunging back into the depths of the Treasury.  Something about him clearly attracts marine metaphors, since he can also be imagined as an octopus, with tentacles reaching out to manipulate even the more obscure parts of Westminster and Whitehall.  Yesterday's moves saw them extended even further. Consider:

Continue reading "The tentacles of the Octopus Chancellor are all over this reshuffle" »