Conservative Diary

Party conferences

14 Feb 2012 07:23:53

Sayeeda Warsi and Andrew Feldman negotiate cut-price party conference deal

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter

Screen shot 2012-02-14 at 07.11.52

Above and below are clippings from the ConHome Party Conference newspaper.

Screen shot 2012-02-14 at 07.11.17Last year ConservativeHome's Party Conference newspaper highlighted the high cost of attending Tory Conference. Based on a survey of ConHome readers we calculated that the average attendee was spending £722 on conference. We and the many journalists who followed up on the story noted that these autumn conferences were no longer dominated by rank-and-file members but by journalists, NGOs and lobbyists. We revealed that barely a third of people registered for last year's gathering in Manchester were grassroots Tories. The end result was many empty seats during David Cameron's closing speech. That had never happened before.

It seems that the co-Chairman of our party, Baroness Warsi and Lord Feldman, were listening. In a Valentine's Day email they announce a cut-price conference deal for early birds who book their conference arrangements now.

Continue reading "Sayeeda Warsi and Andrew Feldman negotiate cut-price party conference deal" »

24 Nov 2011 10:42:06

New sign of backbench unhappiness at Osborne with call for MORE borrowing to fund tax relief

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.

RUFFLEY DAVIDDavid Ruffley MP, a senior Conservative member of the Treasury Select Committee, and a former special advisor to Ken Clarke during his time as Chancellor, has called on the government to introduce short-term growth measures to stimulate the economy. The Conservative Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, also raised doubts about the government's "incoherent and inconsisent" approach to growth during Conservative conference at the beginning of October. Appearing on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Mr Ruffley set out his primary aim:

"We want an adrenaline shot in the arm to the economy. All the very worthy stuff about long-term deregulation, welfare reform, making work pay – all good stuff, but that is not going to show up in the growth figures in the next 12 months."

Mr Ruffley then said Conservative backbenchers were even weighing up the possibility of cutting VAT - a VAT cut is probably the most prominent economic proposal Labour's Ed Balls has come up with since he became Shadow Chancellor:

"There is even talk on the backbenches of temporary tax cuts, even VAT being cut for a period, now I don’t expect the Chancellor to heed those siren calls, but the fact they're being made by Conservatives tells you quite a lot about the concern we have."

Continue reading "New sign of backbench unhappiness at Osborne with call for MORE borrowing to fund tax relief" »

14 Nov 2011 17:30:42

What is the best way of reviving the Spring Forum?

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

A key question for modern political leaderships is: what role do you want party members to play?  How important to you is regular contact with them?  Do you want them to have a role in policy-making?  Above all, perhaps: is your conversation with them one way only or two-way: in other words, is it a real exchange that is grassroots-up as leadership down?  Do you think members really matter anyway - or do you reallty see them at best an anachronism and at worst an embarrassment?

It was reported this morning that Spring Forum "is to be cancelled".  This was never likely to be the full story.  The event gives the leadership a kind of mini-version of the TV coverage won each October by party conference.  For this reason alone, neither David Cameron nor CCHQ have reason to pull the whole event - a course which in any case would only have stirred complaints of autocracy and centralism.  CCHQ issued a statement earlier this afternoon, the most important part of which reads as follows:

"We have decided to try a new kind of Spring Forum in 2012. It will still include the meeting of the National Convention as required by the constitution.

The rest of the event will have a different look and feel to previous years. It will be a one day event and will be focussed on the issues concerning the Voluntary Party. The agenda will be designed to promote a conversation amongst senior volunteers, senior politicians and the professional party about issues of concern to the Voluntary Party including areas such as campaigning best practice, membership, CPF, candidate selection and the Boundary Review.

All members of the National Convention and other senior activists will be invited to attend."

Continue reading "What is the best way of reviving the Spring Forum?" »

3 Oct 2011 08:04:06

George Osborne to announce council tax freeze for a second year

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter

Screen shot 2011-10-03 at 07.07.52 The Daily Mail and The Times lead with George Osborne's declaration today that the Government will make more than £800million available to help local authorities avoid council tax rises.  The Mail says:

The freeze will save the average family £72 next year, on top of another £72 saved from a similar move this year, and means council tax will not rise before April 2013 at the earliest. Mr Osborne will say: ‘I want to help families and pensioners with the cost of living.’   The spending commitment, to be funded from ‘underspends’ in Whitehall, comes as a surprise after repeated Government claims that there is no room in the public finances for tax cuts.

While the Times reports on the source of the funding:

Mr Osborne’s aides insist that the underspending is the result of the coalition’s drive on waste and a shift in Whitehall culture. Instead of rushing out spending towards the end of a year to ensure a departmental budget was fully spent, the money was now being used on priorities. One said: “Instead of sitting on an underspend we are giving it back. The days of the year-on-year spend are gone.”

The Chancellor's speech today is in one sense the most important of the week, since the main question pressing the Government is: what's your growth strategy?  He likes to trail an announcement in the morning papers and save a surprise for speech itself, in order to dominate the political news for the rest of the day, so don't be astonished if there is one.

That said, the cupboard is bare - for all the Treasury's ingenious juggling with "underspend" - and The Times claims that he is saving his main growth measures up for November autumn statement.  Certainly, one of Team Cameron's conference aims is to persuade voters that the main Coalition partners "feels their pain", a phrase that is being briefed out.

In the week of the year when the Party is most likely to achieve mass media cut-through, Osborne will be thinking as much of the voters as the markets - particularly those who are less bothered about what to them is an abstract "growth agenda" than the squeeze on their incomes, as shopping and energy bills rise.

The Chancellor is not a natural conference orator.  But he takes a lot of time and trouble with his speeches: after all, he may have a leadership election to fight in the future.  One of them, remember, helped to frighten Gordon Brown off calling a 2007 election, when Osborne committed a Conservative Government to inheritance tax and stamp duty cuts.

So don't expect him to give all his growth answers today.  Watch for announcements not trailed in today's papers.  (By getting on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, too, he has succeeded in his aim this morning.)  And keep an eye on the degree to which his speech follows Brown's example as Chancellor by setting its deliverer up as scarcely less important than the Prime Minister.

One of Brown's means of establishing ownership of Blair's Governments when he was Chancellor was by naming Cabinet Members and announcing their plans at conference.  This reminded his audience of the power of the Treasury and the status of the Chancellor (at the same time as infuriating his colleagues by pilfering their announcements).  Osborne's not above doing the same.

2 Oct 2011 17:01:51

Warsi says we are working for an outright Conservative majority in 2015

By Harry Phibbs
Follow Harry on Twitter.

Baroness Warsi had one of the first speeches to deliver to the Party Conference in Manchester and also one of the most difficult. There has been plenty of criticism that she been too low profile, too deferential towards the coalition to champion the Conservative Party's interest.

On the other hand under her Chairmanship the Party has had a good year. Gravity was defied to increase the number of councils and councillors controlled by the Conservatives. There was also the decisive victory for the No campaign in the AV referendum despite the leaders of Labour and the Lib Dems backing the Yes campaign.

In her speech she said:

Let me let you in on something.

As proud as I am of the Coalition, as charming as Chris Huhne is to me I have a single driving ambition as Chairman of this Party: to win an outright Conservative Majority in 2015.

For the Party Chairman to voice such sentiments should hardly be required in normal times. But these are not normal times.

She went on to stress that the modernising, inclusive effort should go beyond the passive matter of not discriminating against people. It should involve an active effort to reach out to those who might be suspicious of the Conservative Party.

Continue reading "Warsi says we are working for an outright Conservative majority in 2015" »

8 Oct 2010 17:53:59

The No To AV campaign had a good week in Birmingham

By Tim Montgomerie

Here's five reasons why:

(1) David Cameron made it very clear that he will personally campaign for a 'no' victory. There had been some suggestion that he might stay above the fray. He told activists in the National Convention on Sunday that "we can win the argument" and in his main speech on Wednesday he said: "I don't want to change the electoral system any more than you do." Interviewed for ConservativeHome he went further:

"I think the argument for the First Past The Post system is strong and I will be making that argument. I think the No campaign has a strong argument: the Labour leadership election was not exactly a great advert for Alternative Vote - you end up with your second choice."

(2) The rest of the Cabinet were also clear in their condemnation of the Alternative Vote. William Hague told Conference on Monday that “As Labour have discovered, under the alternative vote system, one candidate gets more votes and a different candidate wins. No wonder Ed Miliband is in favour of it" and Sayeeda Warsi opened Conference on Sunday with "I will fight against AV in the planned referendum campaign because I believe it is the wrong voting system for our country".

(3) The CCHQ machinery is also taking the referendum campaign very seriously -- there were four well-attended briefing sessions in the Party's training theatres to explain how the campaign will fit in with the campaigns for next year's local elections and the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

(4) But it's clear that the 'No' campaign can rely on a strong, independent and well-organized group -- which it needs to be in order to get more than 50% of voters to vote 'no' next year. Matthew Elliott and Charlotte Vere have clearly been busy over the summer and the cross-party NO2AV campaign was out in force: they had a well-attended fringe event on Tuesday morning and their 'NO2AV' stickers were the 'must-have' accessory of the 2010 conference, sported by activists and Cabinet Ministers alike.

(5) The 'Yes' campaign won't be able to caricature the 'No' side as conservative dinosaurs -- some of the Party's most radical reformers, like Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan, made it very clear that they see AV as a fig leaf, not a step in the right direction. Both urged a 'no' vote at a Conservative Action for Electoral Reform (CAER) fringe event, arguing that we need real reforms like the power of recall, citizens' initiatives and true open primaries if we want to change our politics for the better.

7 Oct 2010 08:38:19

If Ancelotti was negotiating to buy Wayne Rooney, he wouldn't discuss the details live with Gary Lineker

by Paul Goodman

Question: "Minister, when were you told about the Government's spending plans?

Answer: "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to tell you.  Let me explain why.  We simply can't carry out the Government's business in public.  I'm afraid that it needs confidentiality if it's to carry on - and much as I like you, I'm afraid we couldn't make decisions if you were sitting at the Cabinet table with your tape recorder.  So I'm going to pass on that one, I'm afraid.

I appreciate that it's not a great answer.  Voters like transparency.  Journalists know this.  Explaining live why discussions between Ministers must be confidential if government's to carry on isn't easy.  Especially since politicians gossip (at one end of the scale) and leak (at the other) to journalists all the time.

But at least it closes the question down, and is better than this -

Question: "Minister, when were you told about the Government's spending plans?"

Answer: "From memory, I think roughly three days ago."

Question: "Were you consulted about the decision?"

Answer: "Well, I'm not responsible for welfare, so -"

Question: "So you weren't consulted?"

Answer: "As I say, I'm not responsible for -"

Question: "Was it discussed in Cabinet?"...

...And so on.

Establishing why journalists shouldn't be told everything Government does shouldn't be mission impossible.  After all, if Chelsea's manager was negotiating to buy Tim's beloved Wayne Rooney, he'd hardly want to discuss the details live on TV with Gary Lineker, or whoever.

7 Oct 2010 08:37:27

Ten point review of the 2010 Conservative Party Conference

By Tim Montgomerie

IDS-THE-HAWK-TURNED-DOVE (1) The party of the working poor: In a move as significant as Margaret Thatcher's decision to sell council homes to their tenants, Iain Duncan Smith announced a seven year programme that will simplify the benefits system and ensure that every person who takes work is better off. Sat alongside the Coalition's commitment to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000* it is a proud moment for our party. While Gordon Brown extended dependence up the income scale - sometimes it seemed for nakedly political purposes - David Cameron is leading a government that is helping people to be more independent of the state. As he said in his speech yesterday: "Let us support the real routes out of poverty: a strong family; a good education; a job."

(2) The week that universality ended: The decision to stop higher rate taxpayers receiving child benefit is unlikely to be the last universal benefit that George Osborne will touch. The deficit, said IDS, made it "bonkers" for people earning £50,000 to be receiving lots of benefits. Ed Miliband has vowed to defend universal benefits and sees such a posture as a way of winning support throughout middle Britain.

Timthumb-2.php (3) The Telegraph and Mail savaged Osborne over child benefit: Two of Britain's most important centre right newspapers savaged the party this week. In a leader striking for its language The Telegraph described George Osborne's child benefit change as "crude and unfair". Osborne and Cameron, thundered the newspaper, had revived the idea "that they were privileged young men for whom money had never been a concern and were, therefore, unable to relate to the day-to-day concerns of the voters." The Mail splashed with the story two days in a row, complaining at the impact on stay-at-home mums. Patrick O'Flynn of The Express described the intensity of opposition to the change among target voters as "deadly".

(4) What happened to the return to Cabinet government? At a fringe meeting on Monday Michael Gove said coalition government had improved decision-making. The extra layers of decision-making meant decisions were improved. Unfortunately the extra layers appear to have been bypassed during the child benefit decision. We already know that the Cabinet has not discussed the overall shape of the public spending settlements, leaving the 'real Cabinet' to decide how much goes to defence and how much to education and so on. If Cameron was a little more collegiate we'd avoid car crash TV interviews of the kind suffered by Theresa May on Tuesday's Newsnight. Decisions might also be improved and better briefings prepared so that Tory MPs are immediately given the facts on announcements. We most hope the operation will be improved by the time of the comprehensive spending settlement.

(5) Cameron has taken charge of defence spending: Following the leak of Liam Fox's explosive letter, Cameron has decided that tensions between the Treasury and Liam Fox required his intervention. The PM began Conference by making pro-defence noises in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph. The MoD is now expected to get a much better settlement and Fox will get much more of what he wants. Relations between Downing Street and the Defence Secretary have, nonetheless, been damaged by the whole process.

(6) A good week for Gove; a bad week for Warsi: The most exciting moments on the main stage were the presentations on education before Michael Gove spoke. Frontline teachers and people from the Left mounted the stage to salute Coalition education plans - powerfully arguing that they will help the poor in radical ways. [WATCH]. It wasn't a great week for Sayeeda Warsi. She gave a good speech on Sunday but performed worryingly badly in two set piece interviews, with Jon Sopel for the Politics Show and on Andrew Neil's Daily Politics yesterday.

Cameron-poll-lift-2 (7) The grassroots are learning to love David Cameron... For the first time in more than fifty ConHome surveys David Cameron is more popular than William Hague - and largely because more and more members are satisfied with the performance of the PM rather than disappointed with the Foreign Secretary. Members have their grumbles. They think the party should have won the election outright. They are unhappy at some concessions to the Liberal Democrats. Overall, however, they are increasingly supportive of the Coalition and, in particular, its focus on fixing Britain's public finances. [Details].

(8) ...But the Tory grassroots are dying: I published the numbers last night. Tory membership is in freefall. Approximately 80,000 members have left the party - by choice or by death - in the five years since David Cameron became party leader. The future of the voluntary party will be a big project for ConservativeHome in the months ahead.

(9) Tory Conference has become a political trade fair: There may have been 13,000 people at this year's Conference but the number of grassroots members seemed smaller than ever. 2,200 of the attendees were media. I suspect thousands more were lobbyists, NGOs and exhibitors. The move to Birmingham and Manchester (albeit great venues) has priced ordinary members out of Conference. Most members I spoke to were spending at least £500 for their Conference experience. Those members that do now come have a professional interest in the party - either as Westminster candidates or via local government. The fringe has become much duller. The think tanks, for example, have taken the money of corporate giants and run meetings dedicated to narrow legislative issues rather than the big ideological debates. As Jonathan Isaby has written, the Freedom Zone is now the real fringe. Simon Richards of the Freedom Association launched the Zone three years ago and it is now financially solid enough to be going into a fourth year. ConHome held one meeting at the Zone - dedicated to an analysis of the General Election campaign. The BBC reviewed it here.

Screen shot 2010-10-06 at 21.25.48 (10) A good Conference season for the Conservatives: Cameron's speech may have been forgettable but the three week Conference season was, overall, good for the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats appear committed to the Coalition. David Miliband has left frontline Labour politics, leaving the union's brother in charge. And, ahead of the crunchiest of spending rounds, Cameron has the confidence and affection of his party.

* A Liberal Democrat contribution to the Coalition Agreement but advocated by Lord Forsyth in his 2006 Tax Commission and supported by 80% of Tory members.

> Andrew Sparrow's ten point review.
> All of the week's policy announcements.

7 Oct 2010 06:55:55

Three cheers for the Freedom Zone - the home of the real conference fringe

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 1 There was by all accounts more action on the fringe at this year's Conservative conference than ever before: 420 meetings as compared with 371 last year in Manchester.

But as the old adage goes, quantity does not necessarily outdo quality and I fear that vast swathes of the fringe meetings have become depressingly anodyne and corporate these days.

Compared with when I started attending the conference in the late 1990s, so many of the meetings now seem packed with lobbyists, interest groups and vested interests wanting to fight their corner - both in the audience and on the panels themselves as well.

With all vestiges of debate long since disappeared from the main conference hall itself, the fringe is the only opportunity for a bit of robust policy discussion among party members.

And with that sorely absent from so much of the fringe programme now, there is all the more reason to celebrate the one place on the fringe where ordinary members were taking part in no holds barred debates about a variety of issues: The Freedom Zone (click here to see the full list of events), as put together by Simon Richards and the Freedom Association.

Yet again, Simon this year assembled a full two-day programme at a venue a stone's throw from the main conference centre featuring a string of refreshingly open debates - with a number of top-notch speakers - which were full of ordinary party members: the good old-fashioned fringe as I remember it. So three cheers for the Freedom Zone, without which the fringe would be a far more tedious place.

6 Oct 2010 20:53:53

The blogosphere's reaction to David Cameron's Birmingham speech

Selected by Tim Montgomerie

Tim Collins of Bell Pottinger praises the Prime Minister's "commanding" performance: "Mr Cameron needed to make sure that his Government’s greatest asset is preserved. That asset is his own personal popularity. He has an approval rating of plus 24 on the latest polls, while the Government as a whole is on minus four. His speech today – commanding, dynamic, energetic – was thoroughly Prime Ministerial, and deliberately raised echoes of Mr Blair and Mrs Thatcher in their prime. Mr Cameron is aiming for a long Premiership – this speech will be a small but important step along the way towards helping him get one." (MORE).

Fraser Nelson found the speech a bit flat: "This was the perhaps the lowest-octane speech David Cameron has ever given to the Tory conference. He didn't need to give the speech of his life, for once - so he didn't. He dutifully ran through all the various points of government policies, but there were too many of what Art Laffer calls MEGO figures (my eyes glaze over)." (MORE).

Lord Tebbit was pleased that Cameron focused on eliminating the benefits trap*: "The attack on Labour’s record was well constructed, well delivered, well deserved and well received, and I particularly welcomed his almost word-for-word repetition of what I and Mr Clegg said months ago in condemnation of a tax and welfare system which robs single mothers of 96 pence in the pound of their earnings if they go to work rather than live on benefits." (MORE).

The BBC's Nick Robinson noted what was applauded by his Tory audience... and what was greeted with silence: "His party loved his passionate attacks on Labour for the state they'd left the country in, they warmly applauded his list of what the government had already achieved but they were almost entirely unmoved when again and again David Cameron tried to evoke the spirit of the Big Society - the big idea which many hoped their leader would quietly drop." (MORE).

Continue reading "The blogosphere's reaction to David Cameron's Birmingham speech" »