Conservative Diary

Queen's speech

16 Jun 2013 08:32:42

If Cameron is to defuse Leigh's criticisms, he must get on the front foot over renegotiation

By Paul Goodman
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Cynics will say that now Edward Leigh has his knighthood in his pocket (so to speak), he will feel free to be as openly critical of the Government as he likes.  But I think this would be to mis-read the significance of his sweeping dismissal on this site today of the Queen's Speech as "the weakest legislative programme in recent memory", and his warning that "unless there is a change of course, and a firming-up of our Conservative instincts, we could lose the election".  He writes: "A group of like-minded Members of Parliament – the Centre-Right Steering Group – have been coming together in recent weeks to question the path the leadership are taking and to scrutinise their policies".

The steering group brings together some of the main groups on the centre-right of the Party - including Cornerstone and the No Turning Back Group.  It is likely that some of its key members will have been aware of Leigh's article in advance of publication.  And David Cameron is acutely aware that views of his leadership on the Party's centre-right range from the loyally critical to the contemptuously hostile: hence his recent appointment of John Hayes, who co-founded Cornerstone with Leigh, to Downing Street as his Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Signs of economic recovery and of progress in the polls, and attempts by the Prime Minister to reach out to his right (such as the masterminding of James Wharton's EU referendum bill) seem to have done nothing to pacify some of Cameron's critics, for whose grievances he must take some of the blame.  I believe that Leigh is right on some points (same-sex marriage, HS2) and wrong on others (tax and spending).  David Cameron isn't going to tear up his election pledges, and un-ring fence aid and NHS spending.  So to suggest that he does is a waste of breath.

In which case, the economies that Leigh wants - and for which he has such a keen eye in his role as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee - wouldn't be enough to deliver tax cuts on the scale he implies.  The Government would need billions of pounds in savings, not millions - and to find them, it would need drastically to re-think the role of state, along the lines set out by Harry Phibbs set out recently on this site, and pursued by Liam Fox in a recent speech in which he praised our Local Government correspondent.

I am all for such a re-think - ConservativeHome is one of the few centre-right publications to have run a series on how to scale back public spending further - but, when it comes to cutting spending, much of the right is all mouth and no trousers.  All in all, Leigh's worry about "a percentage of our people [peeling] away to the right" is absolutely correct but, if such imagery is to be used, David Cameron must worry no less about the Party's appeal to the centre.  Successful conservative leaders abroad, such as Stephen Harper, appeal to both at the same time.

The leitmotif of this site since it was set up has been that to campaign on such Tory staple issues as tax and Europe is necessary but not sufficent.  To maintain power, it must recognise that most of the seats it needs to win and hold are urban and suburban ones in the midlands and north, where the public sector is larger, selling a scale-back of the state is more difficult, and voters (as they are elsewhere) are at least as concerned about, say the NHS as the EU  - to put it mildly.  Leigh places an electoral stress on the issue that the polling evidence doesn't justify.

But in doing so, he sends an important message to Downing Street.  Only a majority Conservative Government can deliver the In/Out referendum to which David Cameron is committed.  The promise of the latter has satisfied some of the Prime Minister's former critics on the EU who simply want Out.  But it hasn't quelled the appetite of many of his backbenchers for a major renegotiation, and Leigh's views are an eloquent expression of them.  If Cameron delays setting out his own view until late next year, he risks a destabilising row about its scale and ambition during the run-up to an election.  Better for him and everyone else to have it sooner rather than later, rather than let the matter drift through inertia and irresolution.

8 May 2013 15:10:56

The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again.

By Mark Wallace
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HOME-OFFICEWhen Nick Clegg announced that the Communications Data Bill - AKA the Snoopers' Charter - was being dropped, he prompted jubiliation from campaigners for privacy, individual liberty and digital technology.

The past history of the issue, however, suggested this wouldn't be the last we would hear of the proposals to gather data on emails. This idea has come up again and again, under different Governments, suggesting it is the pet project of someone or some group within the Home Office Civil Service.

Indeed, when one campaigner tweeted "What's next?" after the Government backed down, I was cynical enough to reply:

And lo, it came to pass. Only hours after the Queen's Speech, the BBC is reporting that the Government is looking at "fresh proposals" to pursue the same rotten idea.

Continue reading "The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again." »

8 May 2013 13:31:30

What a Martian would take away from the State Opening of Parliament

By Andrew Gimson
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Snip20130508_1In a clear, level and impartial tone the Queen read out her Government's great list of aspirations: "continue to focus on building a strong economy...a fairer society that rewards people  who work hard...strengthen Britain's economic competitiveness...invest in infrastructure...improve the quality of education...committed to supporting people who have saved for their retirement...further reform Britain's immigration system...reform ways in which offenders are rehabilitated..."

By this stage, some of us were beginning to wonder whether her Government was trying to do a bit too much. But no hint of doubt entered the Queen's voice. No trace of satire could be detected even in her final wish: "I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels."

Commentators chattered excitedly about how she had said nothing about minimum prices for alcohol or plain packaging for cigarettes. But a visitor from another planet might have noted that here on Earth, or this part of Earth, we look to the Government to arrange a very great many things on our behalf. Heaven on Earth is somehow to be introduced by legislation, though to ensure complete success the blessing of Almighty God will also be required.

One trusts that any visiting Martian would have enjoyed the glittering ceremonial which surrounded the speech: for even if there is life on Mars, one suspects it does not include anything as magnificent as this. And one trusts that our friendly Martian would have appreciated the double submission which lay at the heart of the ceremony. Everyone deferred to the Queen. Bishops, peers, judges, ambassadors and ministers all stood when she entered the House of Lords, and only sat when she told them they could.

Democratic politicians were crowded into a cramped space at the far end of the chamber. Hereditary dignitaries - the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl Marshal - and ancient symbols of authority - the Imperial State Crown, the Cap of Maintenance, the Sword of State - played much far prominent roles than they did. The Queen was escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, her ladies in waiting, her pages and any number of gallant guards. This was the first time the Duchess of Cornwall had taken part in the State Opening, but she proved her fitness for the occasion by looking as if she might always have been there. Every kind of gorgeous uniform was worn as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The heralds, in their tabards, looked more than ever like a de luxe set of playing cards.

Even Chris Grayling, in normal life the Justice Secretary, was allowed to adorn himself with the robes of the Lord Chancellor. As Mr Grayling handed the speech to the Queen, he had the decency to look as if he was there for the first time.

Yet it was the democratic politicians who dictated what the Queen said. Her words were not her own, and when she sent Black Rod to summon the Commons to hear her, he had the door of that Chamber slammed in his face, and had to knock to gain admittance.

Once inside the Commons, Black Rod was heckled by the Beast of Bolsover, an ancient part of the British Constitution, who on this occasion shouted: "Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised." The Beast, also known as Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), has himself been marginalised by having himself turned into a House of Commons character.

But our Martian friend must not allow himself to be distracted by such sideshows. Let him take home to Mars a report which says that we possess a hereditary monarch, who occupies the space which a dictator might otherwise try to seize, but who wields no political power. For the Queen is told what to say by a band of democratic scoundrels, who promise to achieve far more than they are actually able to perform.

5 May 2013 17:41:59

The Queen's Speech and the language of priorities

By Harry Phibbs
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QueensspeechThe Independent on Sunday this morning offered some predictions for what to expect in the Queen's Speech in the coming week. Its top tips are broadly consistent with the ones from Paul Goodman offered on Friday.

Contrary to cynicism, whatever ends up being included will not have been changed since Thursday's local election results became known. The parchment was made out of  goats' skin more than a week ago to allow time for the ink to dry.

That is not quite the same as saying the rise in support for UKIP is irrelevant - their growing support has been apparent for some time, certainly since the Eastleigh byelection.

The IOS thinks the following will be in the Speech:

Immigration/welfare - Limiting benefits to some immigrants, stopping NHS "tourism" and giving extra power to deport foreign nationals.

Social care - A cap on payments of £72,000, introduced in 2016.

Pensions - Legislation introducing single-tier pension.

High-speed rail - A paving bill to allow construction to start on the controversial HS2 line between London and the north of England.

Energy Ordering - energy suppliers to make clearer, simpler bills, with fewer tariffs; encouraging private investment to electricity sector.

Business - Cutting National Insurance contributions for small businesses, saving employers up to £2,000.

Health and safety - Allowing self-employed to be exempt from health and safety law where their work poses no potential risk of harm to others, plus other cuts to red tape.

Continue reading "The Queen's Speech and the language of priorities" »