Conservative Diary
17 Sep 2013 18:08:22

Danny Alexander can't bring himself to celebrate wealth creation

By Harry Phibbs
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Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury - like Nick Clegg but unlike Vince Cable - is a supporter of the Government of which he is a member. That came across strongly in his speech to the Lib Dems conference this afternoon:

With every step towards economic recovery we take, the party that caused the mess, the Labour Party, become even less credible. Ed Balls bet the house on a failing economy. He banked on a double dip that never happened. He predicted a triple dip that never came.

And now even his closest colleagues admit he is a busted flush. The Labour Party has opposed every single decision we’ve made. That was until Ed Balls declared that the Labour party would adopt a new found ‘iron discipline’ in public spending.

In fact, so strong is that commitment that the two Eds have managed to limit themselves to a meagre £45 billion of extra spending commitments. To be fair, once you’ve left the next generation with a debt of £828 billion to pay off. Rising at the rate of £3 billion a week, without any plan to deal with it, well what's another £45 billion between friends?

The trouble with Mr Alexander saying the Lib Dems should be able to claim some of the credit for the economic recovery is that Mr Cable and people like Tim Farron also "bet the house on a failing economy."

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17 Sep 2013 15:12:57

Euroscepticism is rising on the Continent, but is it enough to aid Cameron's renegotiation?

By Mark Wallace
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Euro meltdownTwo new polls out today offer some insight into the state of euroscepticism across the Continent. 

First, a poll by Ifop for the French newspaper La Croix shows rising opposition to Brussels. Their findings are that:

"In Spain, 37 percent of respondents said EU membership was a bad thing, up from 26 percent in June 2012, rising to 43 percent in France (from 38 percent), 44 percent in eurozone powerhouse Germany (from 36 percent) and 45 percent in Italy (from 39 percent)."

Following hard on their heels is Open Europe, who have polled German voters to find:

"Strong support for devolving powers from the EU to member states: By a margin of two to one (50% in favour, 26% against), German voters say the next German Chancellor should back the efforts by some European politicians to decentralise powers from the EU to the national, regional or local level."

German euroscepticism seems increasingly deep-seated, over a number of policy areas

OE Policy List

The European Parliament and the EU Commission are also viewed as the two most untrustworthy institutions by German voters - further testimony to the stereotype of teutonic common sense.

This has potentially interesting connotations for David Cameron's renegotiation. I've long been sceptical of his chances for success (particularly given the woeful Balance of Competences review), but the new polling suggests widespread sympathy among European electorates for his position.

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17 Sep 2013 06:24:36

Lib Dems in Glasgow cannot hide harmony in Downing Street

By Andrew Gimson
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At the heart of government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get on surprisingly well. Nothing the Lib Dems have said or done in Glasgow has forced a revision of this view.

It is true that Vince Cable set out to be rude about the Conservatives: “We’ve got dog-whistle politics orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler.”

But what else does one expect from Mr Cable? It would be much more worrying if he managed to suppress his anti-Antipodean prejudices, stopped playing to the Lib Dem activist gallery and instead expressed his complete approval of everything done by David Cameron and George Osborne.

When asked if he would ever quit the coalition, the canny Mr Cable replied: “I think President Obama has just proven very eloquently in recent weeks the danger of parading your red lines in public.”

So it seems Mr Cable is determined not to back himself into a position where he feels obliged to take action instead of striking attitudes.

Continue reading "Lib Dems in Glasgow cannot hide harmony in Downing Street" »

16 Sep 2013 15:13:35

2015 coalition conundrums: What if Labour get the most seats but Conservatives get most votes?

By Harry Phibbs
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Interviewed by Andrew Marr yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was asked whether the Lib Dems would choose a coalition with the Conservatives or Labour if the 2015 General Election delivers a hung Parliament.

Mr Clegg said that the formation of the Government would mostly depend on which of the main parties "got the clearest mandate from the British people - the most votes, the most seats and therefore has the democractic right to seek to assemble the Government."

It all sounds rather reasonable. But what if one Party gets most votes and another gets most seats?

Should the Labour Party get the most votes it is most unlikely that they will need to be bothering Mr Clegg and his colleagues. There is a website called Electoral Calculus which allows one to offer alternative scenarios for vote shares and see what the projection those would mean in terms of seats should a uniform swing apply.

Even if Labour were only a point ahead of the Conservatives - say 36 per cent to the Conservatives on 35 per cent and the Lib Dems on 14 per cent - Labour would practically have an overall majority. On the scenario I have given they would be just two seats short - given that Sinn Fein's five MPs don't turn up that is effectively an overall majority.

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16 Sep 2013 13:43:33

Clegg faces down the Lib Dem left over economic policy, but they remain a disunited party

CoalitionBy Mark Wallace
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Nick Clegg has emerged victorious from his calculated confrontation with the left of the Liberal Democrats over government economic policy. It's a personal victory for him and a political victory for the coalition, ensuring the principle of deficit reduction goes untouched (although the practice will continue to be difficult around the Cabinet table).

By the same token, today's result is a blow to the Lib Dem left and Vince Cable in particular.

Any political party is a coalition of sorts - we Conservatives certainly have plenty of tribes of our own, who disagree about plenty of issues. But Lib Demmery is a more divided creed than most.

Having been formed from a merger of two parties, it has never succeeded in bringing the left and centre any closer together. The rift extends to the social level as well as just the ideological - you don't see many deficit hawks hanging out over beers with the Keynesian wing of the party.

Today's debate and vote in Glasgow was a symptom of that affliction.

Continue reading "Clegg faces down the Lib Dem left over economic policy, but they remain a disunited party" »

16 Sep 2013 06:13:03

The Molotov-Ribbentrop, Miliband-Farage Pact

Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 20.42.08
By Paul Goodman
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Lord Ashcroft wrote yesterday on this site, while analysing his latest poll from Conservative-Labour marginals, that he is more optimistic about the Tories' chances at the next election than the survey "might at first glance give reason to be".  A brief look at its findings indeed provides no cheer for David Cameron, since "Labour’s lead in these seats has grown from nine to 14 points over the last two years, largely because of the defection of Tory voters to UKIP". Our proprietor's reasoning is that since leadership matters to voters, and David Cameron continues to lead Ed Miliband in that respect, Labour's lead in those marginals will fall as the election approaches.

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16 Sep 2013 06:11:53

Coming for Party Conference - a ConHome redesign

Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 17.29.40
By Paul Goodman

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Since I became Editor of this site in April, it has changed a lot: Iain Dale, Marina Kim, Jesse Norman, Priti Patel and Stephen Tall are now columnists, which means that almost half of all of them are new.  And since I became Editor, it hasn't changed at all: the categories under which we write - ToryDiary, Platform, LeftWatch, MPsETC - are all exactly the same.

That both claims are true hopefully helps to explain how I think change should work and the site should develop.  In a nutshell, I believe that Tim Montgomerie left the site he founded in fine condition, and that evolution is better than revolution.  Which means not destroying the wheel and then reinventing it.

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15 Sep 2013 13:51:15

Switzerland shows that life outside the EU isn't just possible, it can be better

EU Exit
By Mark Wallace
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Only a couple of years ago, conventional wisdom in Westminster scoffed at the concept of leaving the EU. Yet today we have an in/out referendum on the horizon and the Sunday Times magazine devoting a whole edition to the EU question. How times have changed.

The highlight is Dominic Lawson's essay on his recent visit to Switzerland, in which he explores how the Swiss live outside the EU.

His journey was inspired by David Cameron's put-down to eurosceptics:

“If your vision of Britain is that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests.”

And yet, notes Lawson, Switzerland isn't doing half badly:

"Outside the EU it has thrived, with the lowest unemployment rate on the continent — and in July it signed a trailblazing free-trade deal with China."

"...Britain’s annual net contributions to the EU budget run at over £8bn. While wealthy Switzerland, in return for selective facilitated access to the single market, has paid out a grand total of £860m over the past five years, and retains the right to control how its aid to the poorer EU countries is spent on the ground, rather than allowing it to be channelled through the Brussels bureaucracy."

Inherent to the article is the simple fact that Switzerland disproves so much of the scaremongering put about by those who think we should remain as EU members. Being better off and having control of our own trading relationships with the growing economies outside the EU, while paying far less money to Brussels, seems a very long way from "a complete denial of our national interests".

Lawson also secured a rare interview with Christoph Blocher, the man who funded the 1992 campaign which kept Switzerland as an independent nation. The challenges Blocher faced 20 years ago are likely to be very similar to those the British Out campaign will face in 2017:

"The old political class, the government, the parliament, the business organisations, the unions, they were all for entry.” And why was that? “They were afraid that we were always too small as a nation and that it would be better to be part of something bigger. And perhaps the politicians thought they would have more power."

Despite the institutions heaped against him, he won. Two decades later, the doom predicted by Euro-enthusiasts has not befallen Switzerland, and only 6 per cent of the population support joining the EU. When Paddy Ashdown stood up yesterday to declare that "tens of thousands" of jobs would be lost if Britain became independent - a watered down version of an old falsehood - he should perhaps have borne in mind the egg which has adorned the faces of his counterparts in Switzerland for many years.

The frustration they still feel is evident in Lawson's interview with Christa Markwalder, a representative of the Swiss Liberal Democratic party. She is forced to admit that

"at the moment it’s hopeless, we will never win a popular vote on it."

The Swiss story is precisely what British eurosceptics need. We must put forward a positive, viable vision for our future without the EU - and we must be able to rebut the unfounded fears raised bythe project's fanatics, whether they are talking down Britain's economic capabilities or threatening the prospect of a re-run of World War One. 

No-one would suggest a Britain free of Brussels would be exactly like Switzerland - if anything we should seek to be in an even better position. But the prosperous and free existence of the Swiss shows that there is an attractive alternative to being little Europeans, hiding from the world behind trade barriers and handing our democratic rights over to unelected Commissioners while the EU becomes ever less competitive and ever more dysfunctional.

Perhaps it would be most appropriate to leave the last word to that rare beast, a self-confessed "unrepentant EU fanatic" who is willing to tell the truth about how a non-EU Britain would manage its affairs -Wolfgang Munchau:

“Everything would be up for grabs. Britain can negotiate a favourable or a non-favourable deal. My best guess is that an exit would put Britain in a similar situation to Switzerland, which would not exactly be an economic disaster. The UK is a large economy with a small industrial base. For such a country the regulatory burden of the single market outweighs the benefits. There may be reasons why the UK may wish to remain a member of the EU, but whatever they are, they are not economic.”


15 Sep 2013 11:00:51

What Party members want most from Cameron is a little bit of love

By Paul Goodman
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I chaired a panel on family policy yesterday at the Conservative Renewal Conference at Windsor: the speakers were Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation, Kathy Gyngell of the Centre for Policy Studies and my former Parliamentary colleague Tim Loughton.  Later, I was a panel member myself for a Question Time-type session with Adam Afriyie, Marta Andreason, Alex Deane from the City of London and Weber Shandwick, Simon Richards from the Freedom Association, and Matthew Sinclair from the Taxpayers' Alliance - very ably chaired by our own David Dimbleby, Windsor and Maidenhead's very own David Burbage.

Continue reading "What Party members want most from Cameron is a little bit of love" »

15 Sep 2013 08:10:08

The problem with the Lib Dems: No-one likes them, and they do care

By Mark Wallace
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Clegg UnhappyI dare say I won't win any prizes for political analysis for this, but it's fair to say that the Liberal Democrats are quite unlike Milwall fans.

Neither the woolly jumpers and sandals, the bleeding heart greenery nor Nick Clegg's confession that he "cries to music" would sit comfortably at the Den. By the same token, Milwall's famous chant, "No-one likes us, we don't care", would never make it into the songbook at the annual Glee Club held at Lib Dem conference.

The first clause might be acceptable, given that the Coalition's minor party still lag behind UKIP and regularly dip below 10 per cent in the polls. It's the second half that they struggle with.

The crippling problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they do care about their unpopularity - and they care very strongly. 

It's a symptom of being the all-things-to-all-men third party for so long. Coherent principles may never have been their burden to carry, but being the "nice" party certainly was. Consciously or not, they enjoyed the warm feeling of being able to promise whatever made people like them without the hangover from actually having to implement anything.

They were Parliament's conscience, or so they thought, without realising that a conscience is only meaningful if you have to use it in practice on difficult decisions.

That's why the last three years have been such an uncomfortable shock for many Liberal Democrats. They decided to live up to their promise that they were a serious party of Government by entering coalition when the country needed stability - which is to their credit. But the party had not fully come to terms with what was actually involved.

Continue reading "The problem with the Lib Dems: No-one likes them, and they do care" »