Conservative Diary

Quality of life

22 Apr 2011 07:39:44

David Cameron cites unease at how judges are creating a privacy law by the back door

By Jonathan Isaby

David Cameron 2010 open neck serious Yesterday's Times (£) carried a powerful report on page three of the paper about a Premier League footballer's affair with a former Big Brother contestant in which the identity and a variety of details about the story had been redacted in line with injunctions granted by the courts.

Judges are basically having to weigh up competing articles of the Human Rights Act on the right to a private life and the right to freedom of expression in issuing their decisions on such matters and whilst on the local election campaign trail in Bedfordshire yesterday, David Cameron expressed his concerns about it:

“I think there is a question here about privacy and the way our system works. Judges are using the European Convention on Human Rights to deliver a sort of privacy law without Parliament saying so. I think that we do need to have a proper sit back and think: is this right, is this the right thing to happen?

“What ought to happen in a parliamentary democracy is that Parliament, which you elect and put there, should decide how much protection we want for individuals and how much freedom of the press and the rest of it. So I am a little uneasy about what is happening.”

Continue reading "David Cameron cites unease at how judges are creating a privacy law by the back door" »

7 Apr 2011 10:48:42

David Cameron commits the Government to reducing the overall burden of regulation, inviting you to identify red tape which needs to be abolished

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 11 David Cameron has this morning set the Government an admirable ambition:

"I want us to be the first government in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, rather than increasing it."

This he wrote in a letter to all ministers as he launched the Red Tape Challenge, an initiative in which the public are being invited to make the Government aware of the regulations which burden them and/or their businesses and should be abolished.

A Red Tape Challenge website has been launched, which over the coming months will be publishing all the laws and regulations affecting specific sectors every few weeks to aid readers in identifying those which are unnecessary. The first sector to get the Red Tape Challenge treatment is the Retail Sector.

This is a highly commendable initiative and I sincerely hope that it is a success - although I fear that many of the regulations people would like to dispense with are the result of EU-inspired directives which we are powerless to revoke.

Below is the video of the Prime Minister launching the Red Tape Challenge.

1 Dec 2010 07:33:49

Conservatism, love, evolution - and why reciprocal altruism just doesn't cut it

By Paul Goodman

Daniel Finkelstein wrote an arresting post recently in the wake of a public debate with Roger Scruton.  According to Finkelstein, Scruton argued that at the heart of conservatism is love.  Finkelstein regards this as true, but as an "incomplete explanation", and asks: "what produces love"?  One answer - God - "satisfies some, but has been increasingly less convincing as religion has been on the wane".  Another - "the ideas of evolutionary psychology" - are a source which "many Tories now seek an explanation".  He writes -

"What produces love for others who do not share our genes is reciprocal altruism. We have developed the capacity to co-operate and even love others because reciprocity has proven a good evolutionary strategy."

Finkelstein continues by writing that Scruton "said publicly that he thought much of this nonsense, and to me afterwards merely that he regarded it as overdone."  He concludes: "But I think reciprocal altruism an idea of front rank importance. If it is correct it suggests that Tories can develop a distinctive Conservative idea of fairness, an explanation of social cohesion, insights into how to strengthen it and a theory of when to wage and how to avoid war.  Love by itself just doesn’t cut it."

Continue reading "Conservatism, love, evolution - and why reciprocal altruism just doesn't cut it" »

27 Nov 2010 22:00:23

Government poised to ban shops from selling cheap alcohol as a "loss leader"

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 4 Tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph carries news that the Government is poised to announce plans to stop shops from selling any alcoholic drink for below the cost of duty on the product, plus VAT.

The report states:

"Under the plans, the minimum price for a litre bottle of spirits would be £10.50, while a 20-pack of beer would have to cost at least £8.50, and a bottle of normal-strength wine at least £2.

"Ministers are also to review the duty paid on beer, with a view to creating a new higher tax "bracket" for super-strength brews.

"The proposals are expected to be announced within weeks, according to coalition sources, and could be included in the forthcoming Police and Social Responsibility Bill, to be piloted through the Commons by Theresa May, the Home Secretary."

In June, Andrew Lansley had rejected the idea of minimum pricing for units of alcohol, although David Cameron has long expressed concern about the availability of "very cheap drink... that's fuelling so much of the crime in our country."

The formula banning those loss leader deals which the Government is set to adopt is based on that already used by the supermarket chain Asda.

25 Nov 2010 08:00:36

There's more to David Cameron's well-being message than "Hullo clouds. Hullo sky."

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 21.26.14 The Prime Minister returns today to the themes of his underwhelming Party Conference speech.  In a speech on well-being, he'll announce that it will be measured by the Office of National Statistics; that the attempt's not a distraction from salvaging the economy; that peoples' quality of life can be improved, and that "the whole thing" isn't so "wooly and impractical" as to be not worth the effort.

He'll say -

"If your goal in politics is to help make a better life for people - which mine is - and if you know, both in your gut and from a huge body of evidence, that prosperity alone can’t deliver a better life - which I do - then you have got to take practical steps to make sure government is properly focussed on our quality of life as well as economic growth, and that’s what we are doing."

My initial reaction to all this is to concede that I was wrong recently to compare David Cameron to Grabber, who in the imperishable Molesworth books is "Head of Skool, Captain of Everything, and winner of the Mrs Joyful Prize for Rafia Work".  I see now that the Prime Minister more closely resembles Basil Fotherington-Thomas (see illustration above), who is described by Molesworth as follows -

"As you see he is skipping like a girlie he is utterly wet and a sissy.  He reads chaterbox chiz and we suspekt that he kepes dollies at home.  Anyway his favourite charakter is little lord fauntleroy and when i sa he hav a face like a tomato he repli i forgive you molesworth for those uncouth words."

Fotherington-Thomas's catchphrase is: "Hullo clouds, hullo sky."  Some will say that this is all there is to the Prime Minister's notions of measuring well-being - and that Steve Hilton, popularly believed to be the Svengali behind all the quality of life stuff, ought to be dispatched from Downing Street for an early bath.  But, on reflection, I think there's more to the speech than that, roughly as follows -

  • Cameron's taking a risk by going on and on about well-being... Indeed, he's taking three risks.  First, that he'll be mocked as an out-of-touch toff, roughly along the lines above but doubtless more effectively.  Second, that his persistent stress on quality of life, while inoffensive enough while the economy's booming, will not so much amuse as anger voters at a time when their standard of living is under pressure - as spending is scaled back, taxes rise, family incomes are squeezed and jobs go: in short, the Prime Minister risks looking out of touch.  Third, that any measurement of general well being will find it to be low (though it could rise later, which would be helpful, at least to Cameron).
  • ...Which is exactly why he should persist.  Establishing authenticity is very difficult for establishment politicians.  There's no such thing as Cameronism but, if there were, its essence would be his persistent interest in well being, quality of life and the Big Society.  This is part of the reason why he should stick at it, despite the scoffers and the critics.  And more importantly, the Prime Minister's got a point.  When he says in today's speech that a country being hit by an earthquake or a country being torn apart by rising crime can cause GDP to rise, he's illustrating that economics isn't everything.  People don't live by growth alone.

15 Nov 2010 17:40:47

A job for Jesse Norman, the new MP for Hereford

By Paul Goodman

NORMAN-JESSE So the Office of National Statistics is to measure general well-being.  Has Steve Hilton had a word with Jesse Norman, the new MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire?

I ask because he's kindly sent me a copy of his new book, "The Big Society" (Norman, that is, not Hilton), and reading the Hilton-esque news rang a bell.  Sure enough, I opened Norman's work, turned to Chapter Seven, and found that its title proclaims -

"The Danger of Happiness"

- and that part of the text declares -

"It has been a truism since the time of Aristotle that the term "happiness" can cover many things.  There is no single and stable concept in common use.  Rather, the term has been used over the years in connection with a bewildering range of different ideas including well-being, self-fulfilment, blessedness, virtue, excellence, skill, moral or physical health, the full possession of one's faculties, wealth or property, honour, virtue and cultivated tastes, to name only a few."

Continue reading "A job for Jesse Norman, the new MP for Hereford" »

15 Oct 2010 19:22:30

Lord Young's publishes his "common sense" review of health and safety legislation, promising to "free businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens"

By Jonathan Isaby

Lord Young of Graffham After much trailing, Lord Young of Graffham's report into the operation of health and safety laws, Common Sense, Common Safety, was published earlier today.

As he explains in the introduction to the report:

"Clearly, it is right that people who have suffered an injustice through someone else’s negligence should be able to claim redress. It a basic tenet of law and one on which we all rely.What is not right is that some people should be led to believe that they can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their actions, that financial recompense can make good any injury, or that compensation should be a cash cow for lawyers and referral agencies.

"It is my firm belief that the UK’s compensation system should focus on delivering fair and proportionate compensation to genuine claimants as quickly as possible – not fuelling expectations that injury means automatic compensation regardless of the circumstances.

"The recommendations in this review are designed to deliver the necessary reforms to achieve this. The aim is to free businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal fees. Above all it means applying common sense not just to compensation, but to everyday decisions once again."

You can download the full report by clicking here, but some of the highlights of his recommendations include:

Compensation culture

  • Introduce a simplified claims procedure for personal injury claims similar to that for road traffic accidents under £10,000 on a fixed costs basis and examine the option of extending the upper limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims to £25,000.

  • Clarify (through legislation if necessary) that people will not be held liable for any consequences due to well-intentioned voluntary acts on their part.

Low hazard workplaces

  • Simplify the risk assessment procedure for low hazard workplaces such as offices, classrooms and shops.

  • Exempt employers from risk assessments for employees working from home in a low hazard environment and exempt self-employed people in low hazard businesses from risk assessments.


  • Insurance companies should cease the current practice that requires businesses operating in low hazard environments to employ health and safety consultants to carry out full health and safety risk assessments.

  • There should be consultation with the insurance industry to ensure that worthwhile activities are not unnecessarily curtailed on health and safety grounds. Insurance companies should draw up a code of practice on health and safety for businesses and the voluntary sector. If the industry is unable to draw up such a code, then legislation should be considered.


  • Simplify the process that schools and similar organisations undertake before taking children on trips and introduce a single consent form that covers all activities a child may undertake during his or her time at a school.

Local authorities

  • Officials who ban events on health and safety grounds should put their reasons in writing.

Health and safety legislation

  • The HSE should produce clear separate guidance under the Code of Practice focused on small and medium businesses engaged in lower risk activities and the current raft of health and safety regulations should be consolidated into a single set of accessible regulations.

  • The UK should take the lead in cooperating with other member states to ensure that EU health and safety rules for low risk businesses are not overly prescriptive, are proportionate and do not attempt to achieve the elimination of all risk.

Police and fire services

  • Police officers and firefighters should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act.

Adventure training

  •  Abolish the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority and replace licensing with a code of practice.

Here are videos of Lord Young and David Cameron talking about the issues raised by the report:

15 Oct 2010 15:27:57

What will the right-wing papers make of Nick Clegg's new "fairness premium"?

Screen shot 2010-10-15 at 15.16.59
By Paul Goodman

Nick Clegg trailed his proposed £7 billion "fairness premium" on Today earlier.  We now have more details, as follows -

"I can announce today that in the Spending Review we will provide extra funds – a total of over £7 billion – for a “fairness premium”, stretching from the age of two to the age of twenty: from a child’s first shoes to a young adult’s first suit. This is more than £7 billion spent on giving the poorest children a better start in life.

First, all disadvantaged two year olds will have an entitlement to 15 hours a week of pre-school education, in addition to the 15 hours already available to them at three and four years of age. By offering more help at an earlier age to the most disadvantaged children, we will directly tackle the gaps in attainment that open up in the critical early years of life.

Second, a Pupil Premium to help poorer pupils wherever they live in the country. Schools will receive additional funds to offer targeted help to every pupil eligible for free school meals and reduce educational inequalities.

Third, we must make sure that bright but poor children grow up believing that a university education is not out of reach. So we are looking now at what can be done to remove the obstacles to aspiration that hold back bright boys and girls from deprived backgrounds. Their passage must not be blocked.  Alongside new reforms to Higher Education, we are proposing to provide a form of student premium for the least advantaged students.

The spending review is a difficult process. As a government, and as individual ministers, we need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and know we did the right thing, even when – especially when – it is a hard thing."

Four quick points -

  • Clegg's vehicle of choice for the release of these details was Liberal Democrat Voice.  In other words, the announcement's a pitch to his base after its tuition fees trauma this week (which Mark Pack recognises in his report).
  • The Liberal Democrat base can't help but like it - after all, if the scheme is as reported, £7 billion is a huge chunk of public money - but what will the Mail and Telegraph say?  Many of their readers are to lose child benefit, and many of their readers children are to pay higher tuition fees.  By and large, their readers won't get the pupil premium or the new student premium.  Here's more ammunition for the universalism v targetting row (particularly since this new spend seems to be roughly seven times the value of the child benefit saving).
  • The tug of war between the Conservative right-and-centre and the Liberal Democrats continues.  It's Wednesday, and pow!  Market proposals win out in the student finance policy mix.  It's Friday, and wham!  A new £7 billion fund is aimed fairly and squarely at Liberal Democrat sensibilities.  Matters are more complicated, since some Conservatives will welcome the new fund and dislike the tuition fees hike, but there's a lot in it.  Will the Liberal Democrats win out (see Montgomerie's Law of the Coalition) or will the two forces fight each other to a standstill (see Goodman's Coalition Dilemma)?
  • The golden rule of sudden spending announcements applies - namely, it'll be worth studying the small print closely.

8 Oct 2010 08:57:50

Five problems with the Big Society

By Paul Goodman

David Cameron and The Sun One regular media conference season stunt is for journalists to note, time and measure which bits of the leaders' speeches their activists clap and cheer.  It wasn't hard for them to spot earlier this week that David Cameron's passages on the Big Society - the main theme of his speech - won less applause than, say, his attacks on Labour.

The Prime Minister's clearly sensitive to this, and to the reporting that's followed.  He's written a piece about the Big Society in this morning's Sun which is noticably defensive in tone: the headline reads "Yes, my Big Society plan is ambitious, but I make no apology for that."  The article repeats one of Cameron's main messages - that the idea's about "giving millions of people more control over their lives".

So why aren't activists and MPs cheering the Big Society from the rafters?  (Jo Johnson, Boris's MP brother, described it last week as "a kernel of a good idea trying to get out and no one can argue with the broad thrust of it, but up until now it's been a bit intangible and incomprehensible, making it an odd and unpersuasive theme to some people.")  Are we just a cranky and obdurate lot?  After all, most Conservatives lap up all that stuff about the little platoons, civil society, the voluntary sector, non-professionals helping to run state services, and so on.

Futhermore, quite a lot of us are the voluntary sector, so to speak.  Many of the Wycombe Association members and supporters when I was the local MP were volunteers, helping to run the local Red Cross or raise money for the Iain Rennie Hospice.  The situation won't have changed in the six months or so since I left.  So why weren't some of us more enthused by the Big Society bit of the Prime Minister's speech?

I think that there are five main reasons -

  • The main problem facing Britain is the state of the economy - and the Big Society idea seems distant from it.  The country faces its biggest spending scaleback in modern times.  The speech was a chance to level with voters about why it's necessary - and make them an offer about better times to come after it's over.  It didn't grasp the opportunity.
  • To some, it's a bit paternalistic.  I don't agree with this view, but I know people who do - who think that the Big Society conjures up an image of comfortable types in rural settings helping to run the village fete, and risks sketching a caricature of the Cameron leadership as a bunch of out-of-touch toffs.
  • To some, it risks irritating voters.  "So you're cutting my services, raising my taxes - and now you want me to run the local school.  Get lost - that's the Government's job."  This is the response that some Tories I know fear the electorate will give to the Big Society concept.  I think the problem's managable, but I see the point.
  • It's a bit vague.  I suspect that this is intrinsic to the Big Society concept.  Lots of good and often little things happening locally are hard for voters to grasp, and for government to package in a big way - unlike, say, selling council houses to their tenants or shares to individuals.  Those policies gave people concrete, personal gains - and government clear, hard numbers of winners.  The Big Society isn't a retail offer.
  • It's not clear what the Government's plan is for helping to make the Big Society happen.  I think this is the biggest difficulty.  Activists would wear the Big Society more easily if they could see how the Coalition's going to help deliver it.  They want to know answers to such questions as: which Department's in charge?  How many are involved?  What's their collective plan?  Will there be a Big Society bill and, if so, why?  How much will it cost?  How much will it save?  How will progress be measured?  How will it be presented and sold to voters?

None of these problems are insuperable.  I repeat: the Big Society's a great idea.  But I'm not convinced it should have been the final focus of the Party's Conference week.

6 Oct 2010 08:34:33

David Cameron must point the way to the sunlit uplands today

Cameron bw looking right
by Paul Goodman

Some Conservative conferences are thrown off course by events at a fringe meeting, by a chance remark at a rally or in a bar, by scandal and coming resignation (remember the 1983 conference and the Cecil Parkinson affair), or by events from outside - like that of two years ago which was hurtled off course by the banking crisis. Others are rocked by a plan or speech that comes from the leadership itself.  This has been one of them.

The turmoil over the Government's child benefit plans has consumed two of the conference's four days to date.  This morning's papers report the carnage - an apology from the Prime Minister, a letter from George Osborne, claims that key Cabinet members weren't consulted, off-stage noises from David Davis and other MPs, continuing editorial anger and critical story angles from the media left and the right, and suggestions of a tax cut for married couples to compensate (which would consume much of the savings gained from the child benefit move in the first place).

It's evident that George Osborne and David Cameron cooked up the plan between them.  They'll take some comfort from today's Sun poll, which at first glance suggests that voters don't give a fig for what the media think, and don't care for universal welfareism either: 83 per cent of those polled by YouGov support scrapping child benefit for those on higher incomes.  However, the poll also shows that opinion on the plan's main anomaly - that two-earner households below the threshold gain disproportionately from it - is much more evenly divided.

What's certain is that the Party leadership's not out of the woods on the matter, that the row's revived accusations of closed decision-making by a leadership magic circle, that it's a foretaste of the furore that will hit the Government after this month's spending review, and that the polls will worsen over the autumn.  Much of this is how it must be: salvaging the nation's finances - a task no less imperative now than during the early 1980s - was always going to be arduous, tough and bloody.

Toil and sweat this week and in the future, then, plus some tears, though (hopefully) no blood.  The intended conference message to date has been formal, consensual, even bland - "Together in the National Interest".  As I wrote on Sunday, I rather like its patriotic overtones.  It's not inappropriate for the Party to deck out its symbol in the Union Flag, since we are, after all, a patriotic party.  And voters seem to like the idea of two parties working together in Coalition for the common good.

But there's a risk in all this that the Government will come to be seen not so much as Stanley Baldwin but as Victor Meldrew, dispensing not the early Cameron change, optimism and hope but inertia, pessimism...even despair.  Ed Miliband moved to exploit this possibility last week.  David Cameron knows well this morning that after the week's sweat and toil - not to mention the child benefit turmoil - he has to try to persuade voters today that the hard journey will have a happy end, and point the way towards the sunlit uplands.

As John Lennon once crooned (dire song: but the words serve a purpose), "it isn't hard to do".  Imagine a country in which the deficit's been eliminated, the economy's recovering, living standards are rising, the immigration cap is in place, the universal credit's coming in, free schools are steadily opening, elected police chiefs are in place, GPs are fundholders, our aid budget's helping more people and giving value for money, 28 days imprisonment without charge has gone, national and local spending state is on-line for inspection and local referendums are happening.

Sure, Britain won't be perfect in 2015 (if the Coalition lasts that long).  On - in particular - lower income tax rates and the recovery of powers from the EU, the Coalition Agreement is deeply disappointing.  But the prospect sketched out above would be an immeasurable improvement on what we have now.  And it can be turned from imagination to reality if the Government holds its nerve, and its leadership plans its strategy and tactics more effectively than it has this week over child benefit.  Let's hope that David Cameron delivers today an agenda for growth and reform.