Conservative Diary

Fleet Street

10 May 2012 08:32:50

Financial Times leader identifies ten weaknesses of Cameron's leadership

By Tim Montgomerie
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I got a stern lecture from a Tory MP last night about my "Tory MPs are at war" blog of yesterday evening. The Government is fundamentally sound, I was told, the party's biggest problem is its "crazy Right". If only everybody could get behind the leader, she said, all would be well. I invite that MP to read the leader in today's FT. I count at least ten criticisms...

Too much compromise, not enough leadership: "Mr Cameron lacks the undisputed authority of his predecessors. But even so, he has exhibited a worrying lack of grip that leads him to split differences rather than set clear direction and priorities."

Inadequate direction from Number 10: "Mr Cameron, the self-styled chairman of the board, has allowed ministers too long a rein. He should not, for instance, have allowed his health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to press ahead with a flawed and unnecessary NHS reform bill. Other ministers have been cut too much slack."

Questions of probity: "When the coalition was formed, the prime minister preached that his administration would be “whiter than white”. This is hard to square with his decision to leave his culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in his post in spite of apparent breaches of the ministerial code, for which Mr Hunt has yet to give a satisfactory explanation."

Narrowness of the leadership and poor party management: "Mr Cameron’s party-management skills also need sharpening. He has rightly taken heat from his backbenches for running an aloof and exclusive administration."

Too much power in George Osborne's hands: "An administration that saddles the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, with responsibility not only for the economy but also for the government’s political strategy and keeping Scotland in the union, is one that is too narrowly based."

Poor record of appointments: "It cannot be denied that some of Mr Cameron’s personnel choices have turned out to be flawed. He should not have brought Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, into Number 10. His decision to make Peter Cruddas the Tory treasurer backfired within days."

Too much headline chasing: "The government as a whole is suffering from a growing perception of incompetence. Too many initiatives are launched, and too few delivered."

Inexperienced advisers and failure to reform civil service: "A few more grey hairs among the special advisers would do no harm. But above all, Mr Cameron desperately needs a proper political operation in Downing Street, with clear lines of command and control... Problems with delivery stem partly from the failure to reform the civil service, where officials should be charged with making sure policy is translated into action."

Some ministers are clearly failing: "After two years it is clear some of his ministers are not up to their responsibilities. While this newspaper shares the prime minister’s unease about excessive reshuffles, the time for a reorganisation has come."

Cameron too hands off: "The coalition must rediscover its ambition and the prime minister must assert his leadership. He is not a chairman. He is the chief executive officer. His government would run better if that was beyond doubt."

2 May 2012 13:33:10

The FT stays silent in the battle between Boris Johnson and the candidate who joked about hanging bankers

By Tim Montgomerie
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Lots of endorsements for Boris Johnson in today's newspapers.

Four years ago the first big sign that The Sun was deserting Labour came with its 2008 endorsement of Boris Johnson. It endorses Boris again today and more importantly gives him a big opportunity to make his pitch to White Van Man.

The Times (£) also gives Boris a big thumbs up, concluding that he deserves a second term.

More predictably The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have backed Boris. "A victory for Mr Johnson," The Telegraph declares, "would be a tonic for London and the country." Amen to that. The Mail endorsed him yesterday, saluting his Tory values and declaring that "he is undoubtedly the best man to be Mayor and represent London on the world stage during the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee."

FTBut what about the FT? It has been silent in the battle between a man who has championed Britain's financial services sector and one who hates it. The FT still has time to make an endorsement tomorrow but I'm told that the newspaper doesn't want to get involved in "local politics" when it is an international newspaper. That's silly. A massive proportion of the FT's UK readership works in London. It is the newspaper of the City of London - or at least was.

Continue reading "The FT stays silent in the battle between Boris Johnson and the candidate who joked about hanging bankers" »

4 Apr 2012 16:06:29

Charles Moore apologises to David Cameron for implying that last week's petrol furore was a sinister Tory plot

By Tim Montgomerie
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Charlesmoore220_1785033fOne of the most damaging stories that hit the Government in the last week was Saturday's Telegraph column from Charles Moore. He wrote that Conservative high command was distributing a carefully-prepared message to constituency associations and that message was that the Tories were deliberately stoking up the petrol furore into an anti-union "Thatcher moment".

It was a serious allegation and was tweeted and blogged about by numerous left-wingers throughout that day. I was asked about it when I did TV interviews for Sky and the BBC.

Mr Moore now admits that what he put in quotation marks was actually his own words:

"In the eirenic spirit of Easter, however, I must offer an apology to Mr Cameron’s party leadership. In my column in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, I attacked the private party line about the tanker drivers’ dispute. This was that the stockpiling of petrol would be the government’s ‘Thatcher moment’, like her stockpiling coal for the miners’ strike. I summarised this message in inverted commas, thinking it was clear from the context that this was not a real quotation, but the gist. I was rather surprised on Saturday to be rung up by lots of television stations asking me to appear, but it was a beautiful day in the country so I refused their requests without asking what they were on about. It turned out that some people thought I had disclosed a terrible ‘secret document’, when all I had actually done was to report the line that was being used by MPs in their constituencies. All hell broke loose. Since I was attacking Francis Maude for careless talk, I should have been more careful with my own."

Continue reading "Charles Moore apologises to David Cameron for implying that last week's petrol furore was a sinister Tory plot" »

23 Mar 2012 10:30:46

The Sun's anger at Osborne is a warning that Tory High Command is still failing to reach the strivers

By Tim Montgomerie
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After last year's Autumn Statement The Sun decided that George Osborne was the 'Tin Man'. The newspaper blasted the Chancellor's lack of boldness on growth. The occupant of Number 11 isn't getting any more popular in Britain's best-selling newspaper. Over the last 48 hours he's faced terrible headlines in all newspapers but The Sun has provided the most worrying attacks. On inside page after inside page the headlines have been grim, grim, grim...


Continue reading "The Sun's anger at Osborne is a warning that Tory High Command is still failing to reach the strivers" »

24 Dec 2011 08:08:09

2011 was the Year of The Right

By Tim Montgomerie
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Patrick O'Flynn is in festive mood in his Christmas Eve column for Saturday's Daily Express. He's even wearing a Santa hat to celebrate the good things that 2011 has brought the Right:

"The fact is that across almost every significant area of public policy the liberal Left has been routed. It has lost a series of set piece battles leaving conservative values in the ascendant and with the capacity to effect permanent change for the better."

I'm not so positive as Patrick but here's his list of seven magnificent victories:

  1. Immigration: "Ministers are tightening rules governing several major migrant streams: student visas, economic migration and the family route included. So powerful has been the public backlash against Labour that it has been forced to admit it got the issue of immigration wrong."
  2. The drive for a smaller state: "As recently as the 2005 election campaign the Tory MP Howard Flight was sacked for merely thinking aloud about the potential for spending cuts. But the economic crash and massive public sector defi cit have killed the Left’s position stone dead."
  3. European integration: "The efforts of this newspaper, of Ukip and of other campaigning groups have helped change the debate. There has also been the small matter of the farcical failure of the euro experiment. These pressures led to a decisive victory earlier this month when David Cameron wielded the veto in Brussels... Cameron’s ratings soared. The Left and their acolytes at the BBC crawled away to lick their wounds and think anew."
  4. Law and order: "At the start of this year it seemed that no major party wanted to push a tough line on law and order. But the summer riots changed all that. Seeing what anarchy really looks like led the courts to shake off their obsession with soft sentencing and hand down some stiff punishments. It led to a new generation of no-nonsense police chiefs, exemplified by Bernard Hogan-Howe at the Met."
  5. Education: "In education the “progressives” are suffering a fearful battering as Michael Gove brings back traditional standards and subjects and breaks the stranglehold of the Left on state schools."
  6. Electoral reform. Enough said.
  7. Welfare reform: "The Coalition’s imposition of a maximum benefit, housing benefit cuts and a tougher regime for disability benefits has commanded massive public support."

Would it be unfair to thank the Liberal Democrats for their part in making this happen?

10 Dec 2011 09:02:30

Cameron enjoys his best ever newspaper coverage but the BBC is spinning for Brussels

By Tim Montgomerie
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If you read ConHome's front page today you'll get links to probably the best press that Cameron has enjoyed since becoming Prime Minister. Each columnist is competing to outdo the others. "Genius," declares Peter Oborne. Cameron has been braver, in a sense, than any previous Prime Minister, says Charles Moore. And the most surprising bouquet of all comes from one of the PM's most relentless critics... "Today I salute Mr Cameron," proclaims Simon Heffer. Yes, Simon Heffer.

The feeling is not shared at the BBC. George Osborne has just told John Humphrys not to be so gloomy about the outcome. Mr Osborne challenged the Today programme interviewer about his wholly negative questioning. Sometimes it is right, he said, to reject a deal if it isn't good enough for Britain and the BBC should recognise this.

The BBC's coverage over the last 24 hours has been doom-laden. Even the contributor on Thought for the Day was talking up the isolation theme, warning it can be "scary". Today's other main guests of the day were Lord Heseltine (groan) and the Editor of the pro-€uro FT.

Karl_smTory MPs have noticed. Karl McCartney tweeted that there were two ways of describing the EU outcome. You could emphasise the Labour line that Britain was isolated (although let's not give up on the CHUKS group) or you could stress that the PM had defended Britain's interests. Karl concluded: "So no prizes for guessing which one the BBC led with on 1800 news bulletin last night. & they wonder why we accuse them of inbuilt bias".

Quoted in the Daily Mail, Peter Bone MP has also slammed the BBC's coverage:

"‘The BBC seemed to be using language that suggested it was a disaster. It was being pro-EU and anti-British, and it was in marked contrast to how other major news organisations reported it. ‘In fact, it was a triumph for Britain and a triumph for the Prime Minister. When it comes to Europe, the BBC is institutionally biased.’"

6 Dec 2011 08:28:32

Don't treat us as "congenital idiots", Mr Cameron. Mail, Telegraph and Sun warn PM over Europe.

By Tim Montgomerie
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I recently blogged that David Cameron's relations with the centre right press are very poor for this stage of the Parliament. They might be about to get worse...

"Downing Street said yesterday that a referendum is unnecessary. It is, at the very least, an odd negotiating strategy for Mr Cameron to throw away the strongest card in his hand before the game has even started." - Telegraph leader

"Slapping down Iain Duncan Smith, who pledged on Sunday that ‘the British public will have a say’, Downing Street’s official spokesman says there is no need for a popular vote, since the plans involve no significant shift of powers from Westminster to Brussels. How much longer can politicians go on treating the British people like congenital idiots? Yes, it may be true that the proposals for a single economic government of the eurozone will make no specific mention of further diluting Britain’s sovereignty. But this is sheer, legalistic nit-picking. The inescapable fact is that the plans being drawn up by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy would create an entirely new-look EU, with an inner power bloc whose interests will often be diametrically opposed to those of the UK. Inevitably, the implications for the City of London, whose pre-eminence Frankfurt and Paris have been eyeing enviously for decades, will be enormous. So how can the Coalition pretend this is merely a concern for the eurozone, too insignificant to justify a referendum?" - Daily Mail leader

"We know David Cameron doesn't like confronting Brussels, but this time he must not surrender." - The Sun Says

This issue is about more than Europe. It's about trust in politicians and in David Cameron, in particular.

7 Nov 2011 18:31:30

9/10 Rebooting Project Cameron: Repairing relations with hostile centre right newspapers

By Tim Montgomerie
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The daily newslinks are the bread and potatoes of ConHome. Every morning that I'm on duty I start looking at the papers from about 5.30am. One of the big things that has been noticeable in recent weeks is a further deterioration in how the Big Four centre right newspapers* are covering the Coalition...


  • The Sun is unhappy with the Coalition on defence - especially the military covenant and Afghanistan, crime, immigration petrol tax, trade unions and Europe. Last week it mocked Cameron up as Neville Chamberlain. Ouch. It is one of the more interesting changes on Fleet Street that The Sun isn't showing the same loyalty to Cameron that it showed to Thatcher and Blair when it had endorsed them. Perhaps that's a function of the Coalition. Perhaps it's a reflection of Murdoch's unhappiness with Cameron. Whatever the truth, the newspages of Britain's best-selling daily are as likely to be critical of the government as positive.
  • The Telegraph is unhappy on defence, Europe, regulation of the City, the 50p tax, HS2 and planning reform. It now posseses a formidable line of political columnists across its daily and Sunday titles. Boris Johnson on Monday, Mary Riddell on Tuesday, Benedict Brogan on Wednesday, Peter Oborne on Thursday, Fraser Nelson on Friday, Charles Moore on Saturday and Janet Daley and Matthew d'Ancona on Saturday. Amazingly only one - d'Ancona - could be said to be reliably pro-Cameron. Telegraph blogs are not as critical as they once were but still, on balance, negative.
  • The Mail's complaints against the Coalition include Europe (inevitably) but also crime, overseas aid, the family and, interestingly of late, climate change and green taxes. Last week it joined with The Sun to push MigrationWatch's ePetition calling for stricter immigration controls. RightMinds, the new comment section of the paper, has recruited voices who are definitely to the right of Cameron. The Mail's new Saturday political columnist is Simon Heffer. Enough said.
  • The Express is seemingly unhappy about everything the Coalition is doing but especially human rights laws and Europe. Its lead political columnist, Patrick O'Flynn, is - shall we say - adversarial in his view of the Coalition.

In a list of the Coalition's vulnerabilities this hostility must be in the top three.

Continue reading "9/10 Rebooting Project Cameron: Repairing relations with hostile centre right newspapers" »

1 Nov 2011 08:08:31

Sun and Mail throw weight behind ePetition calling for more action on immigration

By Tim Montgomerie
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Both the Mail and Sun give prominence today to a new ePetition launched by MigrationWatch. The petition calls for the Government "to take all necessary steps to get immigration down to a level that will stabilise our population as close to the present level as possible". Last week estimates suggested British population was heading towards seventy million in less than twenty years. Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch notes that "this is equivalent to seven cities the size of Birmingham or 14 times Bristol or Manchester."

In a joint article for The Sun, Tory MP Nicholas Soames and Labour MP Frank Field warn David Cameron that he hasn't taken enough action to fulfil his promise to reduce net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. They encourage readers to sign the petition in the hope that it will send a strong signal to the "foot-dragging Lib Dems" that the public want action. There is certainly more that the Government can do. Cameron, for example, stopped the Home Office imposing work restrictions on students.

Continue reading "Sun and Mail throw weight behind ePetition calling for more action on immigration" »

17 Oct 2011 08:30:58

Osborne ready to stake more UK taxpayers' money on €urozone rescue plan

By Tim Montgomerie
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Today I introduce a new chapter in ConservativeHome's development. I'm launching a manifesto for a Conservative majority with an assessment of the Conservative Party's underlying electoral weakness. I argue that the Tory opinion polling position is flattered by the weakness of our opponents and that the Conservative Party still has a long way to go to prove that it is the party of ordinary voters, rather than the rich. I summarise my arguments in today's Times (£). One of the weaknesses of Cameron's Tory party is that it has little support amongst the old right-wing newspapers. These newspapers, like many traditional Conservative voters, sense that there is something not quite right about the Cameron project. It's not committed enough to growth. It's flaky on crime. In its environmental policies it has followed fashion rather than common sense. Stephen Glover analyses this phenomenon today, noting how once papers like The Telegraph would have rallied to the support of an embattled Conservative minister but now they rush to stick the knife in. There are few areas where there is a bigger gap between Team Cameron and Tory voters, MPs and the right-wing press than Europe. That gap looks even bigger this morning.

Osborne NewXThe Mail, Sun, Telegraph and Express all report that George Osborne is again prepared to increase Britain's contribution to the IMF in order to save the €urozone. Osborne feels he has no choice. On Saturday evening he explained that there was real momentum towards a deal to save the €urozone from calamitous collapse and if a deal could be struck then that would be the best possible news for the UK economy.

So - although an end to bailouts was the policy Tory members would most like to see - we are about to get another one. And a very big one.

The Sun is angry:

"Britain is broke, unemployment soaring and families fearful of another harsh winter and the crippling bills they will face. Yet the Government stands ready to throw billions more at the IMF to bail out the Eurozone's squanderers. Yes, the Eurozone we were wise enough to steer clear of, but which we subsidise anyway. For years The Sun and others warned of the insanity of the single currency, as the Europhiles sneered. They're silent now. Yet still it falls to us all to bail out their grand folly to the tune of £20billion and rising. The only comfort is it could be worse. We could be the ones holding the begging bowl."

And the FT (£) quotes three unhappy Tory MPs:

  1. Peter Bone: “[The bail-out package] should be done entirely by the eurozone countries. This is nothing to do with us and we should let them get on with it.”
  2. Bernard Jenkin: “This is throwing good money after bad. There is no bail-out that can address the fundamental flaws of the euro.”
  3. Mark Field: “It is pretty inconceivable that we won’t be making some form of contribution. Osborne and [David] Cameron probably think they are strong enough to get this through, but it does run counter to the promises they have made.”

If the €uro is to be saved I can't see an alternative to some kind of bailout but, of course, the best policy for Europe's long-term is a break up of what remains a fatally flawed single currency zone. Sadly - albeit understandably - neither Osborne nor Cameron will countenance that.