Conservative Diary

Mainstream Conservatism Project

15 Dec 2010 15:21:50

Liberal Conservatism's central error

Tim Montgomerie

3 In his column for today's Times, Danny Finkelstein writes this (£):

"The latest vogue idea among party activists is for the party outside government to start working on distinctively Tory ideas that show what the party would do if it didn’t have to compromise with its partners. Most of this involves being more obviously right-wing. Yet there is an irony here. If the party wishes to have more independence of action and not to rely on the Liberal Democrats, then it should move towards the centre, making the Lib Dems redundant. If it wishes to be in perpetual coalition it should move towards the right, keeping its core but making it necessary to add the support of other parties in order to govern. In other words, it should act in exactly the opposite way to that which the activists are advising."

I think Danny's, in part at least, responding to my argument that Conservatives should aim for a majority at the next election and not continuing coalition with the Lib Dems. In 1,000 words I appreciate that it's difficult for Danny to do justice to another person's arguments but to simply say that I and others are arguing for a "move towards the right" over-simplifies things.

Let me be direct: At the heart of the Liberal Conservative experiment is a lack of confidence in Conservatism. The experiment began with one gigantic but simple error. Liberal Conservatives decided that the reason the party lost elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005 was that voters didn't much like Tory views on immigration, crime and tax. They didn't put the defeats down to the sleaze of the Major era, the popularity of Blair, the strength of the UK economy or to a failure by the party to occupy the whole political stage. They (and conventional wisdom) concluded that the party had been, in their analysis, too right-wing.

So Cameron became Tory leader and moved the party away from the kind of policies that characterised the 2001 and 2005 campaigns. Don't mention Europe but do talk about the Big Society. Shut up about immigration and campaign on climate change. Don't talk about the tax burden but do talk about spending more on international development.

Continue reading "Liberal Conservatism's central error" »

12 Dec 2010 08:59:49

Tory members want an elected Chairman

Tim Montgomerie

Paul Goodman has recently written a series of posts on the future of the party organisation.

In the latest monthly survey we put some of his key recommendations to the vote and the results can be seen in the graphic below.  Click on the table to enlarge.

Screen shot 2010-12-12 at 08.49.50 There is also strong support for a move back to the seaside for Tory Conferences (where prices are much lower), transparency of party accounts and more mergers of Tory Associations to pool resources.

The most controversial finding is that two-thirds of members want a directly-elected Chairman. 23% oppose this idea, perhaps fearing that the post could be used by a rival to the party leader as an alternative source of power. That is, indeed, a real danger.

Cameron B-Card smaller 3 A Chairman would give members someone dedicated to their concerns, however. An independent Chairman could be particularly important in these days of Coalition. David Cameron may be leader of the Conservative Party but his first priority is, rightly, his job of Prime Minister. Second in the pecking order is the challenging task of keeping his Coalition partners happy. Leading the Tory Party is his job number three. There is a case for someone to get up each and every morning with the task of producing the best possible Tory campaign machine and a winning policy manifesto for 2015. I see no chance of Mr Cameron agreeing to an elected Tory Chairman, however.

11 Dec 2010 16:37:30

Mainstream Conservatives can't be expected to sit quietly while Liberal Conservatives prepare for ongoing coalition

Tim Montgomerie

A few commentators have responded to my argument for Mainstream Conservatism. They include Janet Daley, Iain Martin, Peter Hoskin, Alex Massie and on Comment, Graeme Archer. The latest to join the debate is Platform10's Fiona Melville. At Coffee House she writes that in setting up a distinction between liberal and mainstream conservatism I'm "setting up unnecessary dividing lines". Andrew Boff made a similar comment on yesterday's thread defining Mainstream Conservatism. This was my reply to Fiona in the Coffee House comment thread:

"In the language of the playground, I didn't start this! I've only joined a debate initiated by Nick Boles and Sir John Major. They have started an argument in favour of continuing coalition after 2015. I'm simply arguing for a majority Tory government, pursuing mainstream conservatism. In ongoing alliance with the LibDems we don't get mainstream conservative positions on Europe, crime, tax and public service reform. We only get the liberal half of the 'politics of and'."

My wake up moment was a fortnight ago. I sat having a cup of tea with a senior member of the government. He was telling me why he couldn't achieve progress on a major issue because of Liberal Democrat resistance. The Tory leadership regularly plays this card whenever a Tory MP wants something on tax or crime or human right laws. They blame the LibDems. Fair enough but when Nicholas Boles MP (very close to Francis Maude) and Sir John Major (who has often been used by David Cameron to float tactics) start arguing for ongoing coalition I smell a rat.

Continue reading "Mainstream Conservatives can't be expected to sit quietly while Liberal Conservatives prepare for ongoing coalition" »

10 Dec 2010 08:58:55

What is Mainstream Conservatism?

Tim Montgomerie

Yesterday I introduced the idea of "Mainstream Conservatism". Here's an initial attempt to define its beliefs...

MAINCON The need to actively build an alternative to Liberal Conservatism: The Liberal Conservatives who want an ongoing alliance with the Liberal Democrats are organising. They are arguing publicly and behind-the-secenes for a continuing arrangement between today's two governing parties. Mainstream Conservatives must also organise and prove that there is a better future for the Conservative Party and the country.

Working with the Liberal Democrats, while good, is far from perfect: Co-operation with the Liberal Democrats in government is working well, but far from perfectly. It is working well in the sense that deficit reduction is being delivered and important welfare and localist reforms are underway. Unfortunately, however, the Liberal Democrats are also blocking key education reforms, action to support the family and repeal of European human rights laws. As the economic emergency passes the Left of the Liberal Democrats is likely to re-assert itself.

Continue reading "What is Mainstream Conservatism?" »

9 Dec 2010 08:51:49

79% of Tory members do not want Coalition to continue beyond the next election

Tim Montgomerie


Poll of 1,787 members from 30 November to 2 December 2010.

At some point in this parliament the Conservative Party will need to decide if it becomes a liberal or a mainstream centre right party.

Sir John Major recently suggested that the Coalition should continue after the next election. We should be under no illusions as to what that means. A whole range of core Tory beliefs will be vetoed by a Liberal Democrat party which is at heart, left-wing. The Coalition is working today (and it is working) because of Nick Clegg. He is not your average Liberal Democrat but even he objects to many Conservative policies on, for example, Europe, crime, tax and the family.

The alternative future for our party is Mainstream Conservatism; not a conservatism that retreats to where we were at the end of the Major years - or even where we were in 2001 and 2005 when our electoral pitch was unbalanced. Mainstream Conservatism would not jettison the social justice of IDS, the civil libertarianism of David Davis, the internationalism of Andrew Mitchell or the green conservatism of Tory local councils. But it would not be embarrassed about Tory beliefs in lower taxation, a strong identity for England, repatriating power from Europe and retaining stronger national defence capabilities. I believe it is a conservatism that can win. Let us never forget that Liberal Conservatism failed to win a majority earlier this year.

The latest ConservativeHome poll of Tory members finds 79% of members wanting the Tories to govern on our own after the next election. Only 16% want to follow the John Major route. These are not unhappy, grumpy, anti-Cameron Tories. 75% approve of the Coalition today (20% do not). 87% approve of David Cameron's performance (11% do not). These members are just against the Coalition going on and on. I suspect most Liberal Democrat members feel the same.

I write more about this choice for the Tories in The Times (£).

Tomorrow I'll be launching a major ConservativeHome drive to rebuild Mainstream Conservatism.