Conservative Diary

Northern challenge

17 Mar 2012 09:00:20

Osborne ready to abolish national pay bargaining

By Tim Montgomerie
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If you work in the public sector in Wales you are likely to earn an average 18% more than if you work in the private sector (and that's before pension privileges and job security is factored in). This makes it hard for private sector businesses in the principality to attract the most talented staff.

If you work in the public sector in the South East of England you often can't afford a decent home. This means schools and hospitals in the region can struggle to attract enough 'key workers'.

The reason for these tensions is national public sector pay scales. A doctor in Swansea gets paid the same money as a doctor in Swanage or Slough or Surbiton - even though the cost of living might be very different.

In last year's Autumn Statement George Osborne announced a review of national pay bargaining and it appears from this morning's press (see the FT (£)) that he plans to abolish national pay scales in Wednesday's Budgets. He'll introduce gradual change by freezing or curtailing public sector pay (perhaps only for new recruits) in less prosperous regions until some sort of public/private equilibrium is restored. The Government believes pay flexibility will produce more willingness among workers to move between Britain's regions but ther system could also become quite bureaucratic if pay scales are not properly devolved to local hospitals and public sector managers.

Continue reading "Osborne ready to abolish national pay bargaining" »

29 Feb 2012 15:01:31

We need competition between Britain's cities to get the economy growing again. Here's how...

By Matthew Barrett
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INNOVATION UK copyThe Government's localism agenda so far has made positive, but limited progress. Directly-elected Police Commissioners are a good example of conservative reformism - handing the power over local policing to local people. But policing should be just one power handed back to local government. More powers, including powers of taxation and welfare spending, should be devolved to the largest British cities to help re-balance our economy and regenerate the regions outside the South East.

When our economy does well, our cities do well. This would seem to be an obvious statement, but it's not quite true. In reality, London and, to a lesser extent, Edinburgh, thrived over the last few years - because of the large financial services sectors in those two cities. But our reliance on London undermines our versatility as a global power.

Germany is a country we could learn a lot from in recognising the benefits of having a number of important cities, not just a very big capital city. Frankfurt is the biggest financial centre on the continent - despite being only Germany's fifth-largest city. Berlin, Germany's biggest city, is its centre of government, arts and culture. Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in the world. Munich is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, with businesses like BMW and Siemens headquartered there. Stuttgart is well-known for its high-tech industry base with companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Daimler, Porsche, and Bosch based there. There are a good number of other cities in Germany with specialised skills and industries. The same points can be made about the United States, where cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago (and many more) can compete on a global scale and specialise in various industries.

With London as our centre of financial, business, cultural, creative and government activities, we allow ourselves to be disproportionately influenced by the needs and concerns of only one part of the country and economy. It would be healthier, and allow our economy to be much more robust, if we were able to fall back on industries and sectors in other parts of the country. If Britain was less reliant on the City, our economy might have bounced back more quickly than it is doing - as Germany's economy did.

Continue reading "We need competition between Britain's cities to get the economy growing again. Here's how..." »

7 Feb 2012 08:26:58

The three kinds of compassionate conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the latest ConservativeHome survey we asked respondents to rate the importance of 23 policy themes for convincing voters "that the Conservatives are a modern, compassionate party". Respondents voted between 0 (unimportant) to 10 (very important). The average ratings are pasted below:

  1. Improve schools: 8.48
  2. Keep inflation under control: 8.33
  3. Fight crime: 8.29
  4. Helping the unemployed into work: 8.07
  5. Cut welfare bills: 8.02
  6. Looking after people who do the right thing: 8.02
  7. Cutting the debt burden on tomorrow's taxpayers: 8.01
  8. Reduce taxes on low income people: 7.77
  9. Address problem of long-term care for the elderly: 7.70
  10. Protect income of pensioners: 7.55
  11. Supporting marriage and the family: 7.46
  12. Improvement of the NHS: 7.10
  13. Early intervention programmes that prevent the most disadvantaged children becoming tearaways: 6.89
  14. Ensuring bankers and the rich make their full contribution to the nation's finances: 6.56
  15. Protection of Britain's environment: 5.85
  16. Help for poorer children to get into university: 5.66
  17. Better childcare: 5.56
  18. Improve the rights of disabled people: 5.25
  19. Reduction of regional inequalities: 5.23
  20. Encourage more giving to charities: 5.16
  21. Promote more northern candidates: 4.29
  22. Guard the rights of gay people: 3.39
  23. Fight hunger and disease in the poorest parts of the world: 3.38

Continue reading "The three kinds of compassionate conservatism" »

12 Jan 2012 13:34:29

David Cameron tells The House magazine he wants to use the boundary review to select more women candidates in key seats

By Matthew Barrett
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HouseCoverJan12David Cameron, in the latest edition of The House magazine, has given an interview to Paul Waugh, in which he suggests the Conservative Party should use the ongoing boundary reviews - and the consequent Party selection processes - to push for more women candidates. 

Mr Cameron says: 

"We’ve obviously got a Boundary Review, which is a very big issue so I don’t want to pile another new set of issues on top of that, but I think where there are opportunities, new seats, entirely new seats where we hope to take on Labour, or perhaps some seats where people are retiring, we’ve got to ask ourselves, the party needs to ask itself the question, ‘what are we going to do to help keep pushing forward the agenda of getting more good women to stand for Parliament and to get into Parliament. That’s a conversation we are starting now."

On a similar note, Mr Cameron was asked "Do you still have the ambition to have a third of your ministers as women? Is that still viable?". He replied:

"I do. Look, I’m very committed to the progress of getting more women standing for Parliament, getting more women elected to Parliament and when in Parliament, making sure that we have more women on the front bench. Obviously we are in a Coalition and we have two parties and that changes the arithmetic but I certainly want to do my bit."

Continue reading "David Cameron tells The House magazine he wants to use the boundary review to select more women candidates in key seats" »

8 Jan 2012 21:23:28

HS2 could be a massive moment for Tory prospects in northern England

By Joseph Willits 
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GreeningAfter significant extra concessions to the campaigners justifiably worried about the environmental impact of HS2 it looks like the Government will give the go signal to Britain's high speed rail project. This represents a perfect opportunity for David Cameron to show northern voters that the Conservative Party is determined to spread economic growth to Manchester and Leeds, as much as to any part of the south.

Today's Sunday Times leader (£) condemns the project as "folly". It argues that £32 billion could be better spent on an airport in the Thames Estuary. There are good arguments for the so-called Boris Island Airport but - if it has to be one or the other - a one nation Conservative Party should choose the project that benefits Britain's poorer regions and that is clearly HS2. The unhappiness of some very wealthy southern constituencies shouldn't be seen as a problem for Cameron but a big opportunity. By having to fight for HS2 he can dramatise his commitment to rebalance the UK economy. He can side with those business leaders from the North and Midlands who have argued for it. 

This isn't just about the internal balance of the UK. International comparisons show that Britain is in danger of becoming the slow coach in a global high-speed railways revolution. Yesterday's FT (£) reported that "China has laid almost 10,000km of high-speed rail track since 2007 – more than the rest of the world combined." "Elsewhere," it contined, "Saudi Arabia is building a line linking the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, Morocco has started work on its first line, while Russia is close to awarding initial contracts to start work on a line between Moscow and St Petersburg." Any big project is a risk but HS2 is a project that really is worth the gamble.

25 Jul 2011 14:59:45

Cameron appoints Greg Clark MP as the new Minister for Cities

By Tim Montgomerie
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CLARK GREG OFFICIAL One story we missed last week (it was quite busy!) was the decision to appoint Greg Clark as a new Minister for Cities. Commenting at the time Greg Clark said:

"I am thrilled to be appointed Minister for Cities. For Britain to be successful, Britain's cities need to be successful. Our cities generate well over half of our wealth and are home to the majority of our businesses and our leading universities. If our cities do well, the country does well. I am looking forward to working with the leaders of Britain's cities to ensure that the Government does everything possible to help urban Britain thrive".

Initially Clark will focus on the so-called 'Core Cities' outside of London; Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield.

The announcement was warmly welcomed by the Yorkshire Post although it wished it had happened sooner.

Although the title is Minister for the Cities one insider described the position as "Minister for the North". Greg is the comprehensive school-educated son of a milkman from Middlesbrough.

Continue reading "Cameron appoints Greg Clark MP as the new Minister for Cities" »

26 Jun 2011 08:46:06

What could solve the Tories' northern problem... before it goes the way of Scotland?

By Tim Montgomerie
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The geographical location of the Tory Cabinet members' seats. Not on the map are the Yorkshire woman Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Strathclyde.

Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer argues that the Tories have a problem with northern voters. The Cabinet, he writes, is "a very southern English affair." This hasn't escaped David Cameron's notice and he sees High Speed Rail as a big part of the Tories' attempt to break through in the north (see Independent on Sunday report). Rawnsley's main focus is the idea that northern England is getting a raw financial deal:

"Looked at from the north of England – or indeed by any fair-minded observer – this is grossly unfair. Income per head in Scotland is 99% of the average for the UK. Income per head in the poorer north-east of England is less than 80% of the national average. Yet Scots receive £507 per person more in government spending. Crunched between well-favoured Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh and a southern coalition in London, the north of England has sound grounds for feeling aggrieved."

Continue reading "What could solve the Tories' northern problem... before it goes the way of Scotland?" »

4 Jan 2011 09:01:52

The Conservatives' G.R.A.N.D. strategy for re-election

Tim Montgomerie

2011 will be a difficult year for the country and the government. We can expect a quadruple whammy of higher taxes, higher mortgage rates, faster inflation and the first of four years of significant cuts in public spending. Resuming his essential column this morning, after a Christmas break, Allister Heath tells City AM readers that there is no need for too much pessimism, however. Despite problems in the €urozone area that could yet cause major problems, Heath says robust growth in emerging markets and an improving US economy bode well. The doomsters were wrong about a double dip recession in 2010, he notes, and predicts "unspectacular growth of 2%" for this year.

The next two years are nonetheless going to be difficult for the Conservatives as cuts bite and vested interests are upset by reforms. But, despite short-term trials, the party's long-term prospects are good. It's very hard to glean much from Downing Street on electoral strategy but over the last 48 hours I've been talking to MPs and commentators who take a close interest in party strategy. A re-election strategy with five crucial components is becoming clear. I call it the G.R.A.N.D. strategy.


Screen shot 2011-01-04 at 06.30.34 GROWTH: Cameron will be re-elected if George Osborne succeeds. If the Chancellor's first budget was about eliminating the deficit his second budget must be about further measures to jumpstart the economy. Education and welfare reforms will improve Britain's long-term competitiveness but the Coalition's policies towards the City and on climate change endanger competitiveness. Tough pro-growth decisions taken now will help build a feelgood factor for 2014/15 and that will be the best possible underpinning of a re-election campaign and the promise of tax relief for the 'pound-stretching' class of striving voters. In today's FT (£) Osborne gets top marks from a majority of economists for his deficit plan. The much-underestimated Mr Osborne had a very good 2010.

RETIREMENT: Tory strategists have identified older voters - those thinking about retirement and already retired - as crucial to re-election prospects. This is the part of the electorate most likely to vote and the Coalition has bent over backwards to protect the benefits and health services on which they depend. The IDS/Webb plan for a universal pension of £140 is also key to this strategy. This may be bad for the young (the 'IPOD' generation David Willetts championed in The Pinch) but the grey vote is the Tories' number one priority.

ALLIANCE: This third component of the G.R.A.N.D. strategy is the least defined but leading Tories are determined to convert this parliament's coalition-of-necessity into some kind of realignment of British politics. It might mean that certain Lib Dems become part of a new Tory Party (eg Clegg, Laws and Alexander - long a Cameroon ambition). It might mean a non-aggression pact in seats like Eastleigh where Chris Huhne would face almost certain defeat if a Tory candidate stood. It is unlikely to mean a full merger.

NORTH: At the last election the Conservatives did least well in the North. Special regional investment subsidies and Philip Hammond's £34bn rail project are the beginnings of an attempt to win over northern voters. Beyond northern England there is despair inside Number 10 at Tory prospects in Scotland. It is one of the reasons why David Cameron is so grateful for the Coalition. Without Lib Dem MPs he would be a Prime Minister with just one MP from north of the border.

Part five of the G.R.A.N.D. strategy is the personality of David Cameron. He is as natural a PM as Ed Miliband does not look prime ministerial. He has much better ratings than either Clegg or the Labour leader. According to party polling his commitments to social justice, the environment and to diversity of candidates mean the party reaches sections of voters, particularly women, that his predecessors cannot reach.


Ipsos-MORI has talked about an iron triangle of political success. That triangle included party leader image, economic competence (where the Conservatives enjoy an increasing advantage) and party unity. Party unity is good despite the debate about a secret alliance with the Lib Dems but it is something that Downing Street must still do much more to nurture.

25 Jan 2010 13:00:34

Closing the deal 6/10: Big regional roles for the big beasts

Sometimes the Conservative Party looks like a one man band. It isn't. The Conservatives now have most of the big talents. We've got Boris, Hague, Clarke, Osborne, Eric Pickles, Chris Grayling, Sayeeda Warsi, Caroline Spelman, John Major (who has had some terrific media hits recently), IDS, David Davis.

We should make a virtue of that broad team and use all of them in the election campaign, giving David Cameron some rest from the limelight and ample space to prepare for the all important debates.

FourBBs If I had to pick the four biggest beasts that will be helpful on the campaign trail I'd put Boris as our big hitter in London, Hague as a big hitter in the South West (with Liam Fox) and Yorkshire, Ken Clarke (with Caroline Spelman) in the Midlands, and Eric Pickles* as lead man across Lancashire and Yorkshire (supported by Sayeeda Warsi). Local newspapers and regional broadcasters enjoy high trust levels from their readers, listeners and viewers. The regional media war will be less noticed by the Westminster class than internet activity but invisibly will sway more votes (at least for this election).

One of my favourite Conservatives is Lord (Michael) Bates. Former MP for Langbaugh and the brains behind Campaign North he's a super talent. He should lead for the party in the North East (with Greg Clark).

Tim Montgomerie

* Chris Grayling should be lead attack dog from CCHQ.

27 Nov 2009 20:53:50

Tories 6% ahead in northern marginals

10pm: Tories 10% ahead nationwide:

YouGov ***

It wasn't a good week for mainstream political commentary. Just one opinion poll by Ipsos-MORI sent Fleet Street's political reporters into a tizzy about the possibility of a hung parliament. As is increasingly true, the more sobre analysis came from the blogosphere - notably UK Polling Report, Mike Smithson and, of course, our own Stephan Shakespeare.

Today's local by-election results are a warning to all Tories that victory isn't in the bag but we need to avoid panic the next time there's a rogue poll. There'll be other such polls between now and the General Election but we should look at trends rather than individual polls - particularly when they come from a pollster with a track record of volatility.

During the week Angus-Reid - polling for PoliticalBetting - confirmed the overall opinion poll pattern that suggests a comfortable Tory majority. Another poll - tonight in The Telegraph - will provide further encouragement to the Conservatives:

"The YouGov opinion poll that we publish today is very encouraging for the Conservatives: it shows that the party leads Labour by 42 per cent to 36 per cent in northern marginal seats. Indeed, the Tories appear to be doing better in marginals than they are nationally: the results reveal a swing in these seats of eight per cent since the 2005 election, as opposed to 6.5 per cent nationally. But we suspect that, for David Cameron and his strategists, the most interesting statistic might be the only one that shows Labour ahead. Working-class voters in these seats favour Gordon Brown's party by a margin of 40 to 38 per cent. In other words, Labour's lead among its core voters in battleground seats has shrunk to only two points. That is tantalising indeed, for it suggests that Mr Cameron is close to replicating Margaret Thatcher's greatest electoral trick: poaching the votes of people who were previously regarded as the Labour faithful."

More at The Telegraph.

Tim Montgomerie