Conservative Diary


20 Sep 2012 12:26:45

The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle

By Matthew Barrett
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At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.

At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament. 

At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?

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20 Aug 2012 15:58:12

For first time since 1987, let's have a Welsh Welsh Secretary from a Welsh constituency, fighting for Conservatism in Wales on a full-time basis

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the forthcoming reshuffle one of the Cabinet ministers likeliest to get the chop is the Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan. Cheryl has been a good fighter for Wales in Cabinet, delivering the referendum on extra powers for the Cardiff Assembly that Labour did not, won railways investment and secured S4C's future. Nonetheless, there has been speculation that Maria Miller MP might replace her. David Cameron is anxious to retain the same number of women at the Government's top table. Ms Miller, like Ms Gillan, represents an English seat (Basingstoke) but was educated in Wales. Don't get me wrong - I think Ms Miller has been an effective minister and is a good TV performer - but it would be a mistake to appoint her to oversee Gwydyr House.

Continue reading "For first time since 1987, let's have a Welsh Welsh Secretary from a Welsh constituency, fighting for Conservatism in Wales on a full-time basis" »

15 Aug 2012 12:19:45

David Cameron should reject a "devo-max" option in the Scottish referendum, and demand a simple in/out question

By Matthew Barrett
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SALMOND ALEXAlex Salmond has long been agitating for a two-part referendum on Scottish independence. He doesn't just want the option to stay in or leave the Union, he also wants a question to determine support for "devo max" - full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. Salmond knows that if Scots vote for fiscal autonomy, after four or five years, they will see little practical (rather than cultural, emotional, etc) reason to stay a part of the United Kingdom, so a vote for devo-max would still be a victory, if a delayed one, for Scottish nationalism.

Earlier this year, it was reported that David Cameron is, or was, considering forcing an early referendum with a pure in/out question, and getting the issue out of the way. I don't think that's necessarily a wise idea, and the fact that we haven't heard about it too much recently may suggest Number 10 know they would create precisely the caricature "English Westminster Tory dictating to Scots" image Salmond could use to win a referendum, early or not.

However, Cameron's commitment to holding a simple in/out referendum must not fall by the wayside. A report released today by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee makes clear that there is no mandate for a devo max question - it wasn't mentioned in the SNP manifesto - and an alternative question would only serve as an insurance policy for the SNP.

The Committee, which is made up of five Scottish Labour MPs, a Scottish Lib Dem, one SNP member (who is currently refusing to attend), and four Tories from English seats (Fiona Bruce, Mike Freer, David Mowat, and Simon Reevell), says in its report:

"The success of the Scottish National Party in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections was seen by many as giving it legitimacy to call for a referendum on separation. ... Over the summer period, however, the position of the Scottish Government, and the Scottish National Party, appears to be changing. Instead of being willing to be persuaded by others that an additional question should be included in referendum, the Scottish Government now seems to be arguing for this themselves."

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8 Jun 2012 15:31:45

Osborne, May, Lansley, Hammond, Mitchell and Greening all suffer big losses in association membership

By Matthew Barrett
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Last week we reported on the decline in Lib Dem membership figures, which are down by 20% since the Coalition was formed. Notable amongst those findings was the fact that membership is falling fastest in seats held by Government ministers. ConservativeHome has now seen figures taken from association statements of accounts published by the Electoral Commission - provided by the Independent on Sunday's political correspondent, Matt Chorley - for membership in Conservative seats.

Although we don't have a full picture of all seats, or all Conservative-held seats, there is a sizeable number of seats' data, and some individual constituency figures worth noting.

The Cabinet members with the worst decline in membership are Andrew Lansley (-28%), Philip Hammond (-24%), Andrew Mitchell (-23%), and Theresa May (-20%). These figures are amongst the worst for all seats we have data for, although the five worst declines occurred in Stirling, Welwyn Hatfield, Thornbury and Yate, Bedford, and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. The decline of 37% in Welwyn Hatfield - Grant Shapps' seat -  is not great for a man tipped as a likely new Party Chairman.

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13 May 2012 08:56:43

Philip Hammond says gay marriage and Lords reform aren't deliverable, as he prepares for a balanced MoD budget

By Matthew Barrett
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HammondPhilip Hammond's interview in the Sunday Times (£) this morning covers a number of different issues, the most notable of which is that the Defence Secretary comes out against gay marriage and Lords reform taking up time in the legislative timetable. I've pulled out four topics below.

Balancing the MoD's books

Firstly, following the understandable opposition to the prospect of losing some historical regiment names in Scotland (which Hammond responds to: "None of that is remotely true. We hugely value the regimental system, and nobody, as far as I know, is suggesting dismantling it."), Hammond stresses the light at the end of the budgetry tunnel - the MoD's books are nearly balanced. In remarks given fully in a separate Sunday Times story, Hammond says:

"“In the next few days we will be in a position to make the grand announcement that I’ve balanced the books,” Hammond said. “In terms of reducing the size of the civil service, the army and the air force, we shouldn’t have to do any more over and above what we’ve already announced.” ... “For the first time in the defence budget we’ve got a reserve in each year, which means that if something comes up we’ll be able to manage it, drawing on our own reserve rather than having to cancel or postpone equipment,” he said."

Gay marriage and Lords reform

In light of the local election results, Hammond rejects the push for legislation to allow gay marriage or reform of the House of Lords. He tells the Sunday Times that at present, the Lords "works rather well", and that voters are "probably largely indifferent" to any reform. He also fears gay marriage legislation will not be "do-able", or "deliverable". These remarks are notable because Hammond - neither a leadership loyalist, nor a firebrand of the right - is the first Cabinet minister to come out in opposition to the Coalition's marriage plans:

"“We’ve got to be clear that we focus not just on the things that are important, but on the things that are do-able, the things that are deliverable, and the things that chime with ordinary people’s sense of what the priorities are,” he says. He believes gay marriage is too controversial for the government to tackle right now, suggesting it would be “difficult to push through”, “use up a lot of political capital” and “a lot of legislative time as well”."

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29 Feb 2012 08:29:56

Cameron has an opportunity to stop Alex Salmond charging English students attending Scottish universities. Will he take it?

By Tim Montgomerie
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On the morning of David Cameron's well-crafted and well-received speech about the future of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom I warned that the Prime Minister must start to address the English question if the Union really was to be made safe. Since then I've called for movement on the Barnett formula and a move towards English votes for English laws. My argument is that (1) the English deserve fair treatment and (2) any resentment from England - if not addressed - could discourage the Scottish people from wanting to remain part of the historic partnership between the UK's four great member nations. Up until now Mr Cameron has appeared reluctant to address this issue. During last week's PMQs Labour's Frank Field gave him a grandstand opportunity to say he is ready to address the lopsided nature of the current devolution settlement but the Tory leader did not take it.

Forsyth Michael QTIn today's Telegraph Michael Forsyth, former Scottish Secretary, gives the Prime Minister and Government a golden opportunity to begin to show some sympathy for the English taxpayer. Why, asks Lord Forsyth, do Scottish or Greek or German or Polish or any EU student get free tuition at Scottish universities but students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland have to pay fees of up to £36,000? He writes:

"This is a vicious and divisive policy that is guaranteed to stoke resentment. The injustice is compounded as English taxpayers, under the Barnett formula, are contributing nearly a quarter more per head to spending in Scotland than they are spending on themselves."

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16 Feb 2012 08:01:03

Cameron should not forget the mood of the English in his defence of the Union

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron is in Scotland today. His spinners are keen to say that he's not so much making the case against independence but, instead, the case for the continuation of the United Kingdom.

He previews his speech in an article for today's Scotsman. The PM emphasises four big benefits for Scotland if it stays part of the UK:

  • Strength: "We’re stronger because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in Nato and Europe, and unique influence with allies all over the world."
  • Security: "We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe."
  • Prosperity: "We’re richer, because inside the United Kingdom Scotland’s five million people are part of an economy of 60 million, the seventh-richest economy on the planet and one of the world’s biggest trading powers. Today, Scotland has a currency which takes into account the needs of the Scottish economy as well as the rest of the United Kingdom when setting interest rates and it can borrow at rates that are among the lowest in Europe."
  • Solidarity: "The United Kingdom helps ensure fairness, too. Not just because we all benefit from being part of a properly-funded welfare system, with the resources to fund our pensions and healthcare needs, but because there is real solidarity in our United Kingdom. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a setback, the rest of the country stands behind it. Whether it is floods in the West Country, severe weather in the north or the economic dislocation that has hit different parts at different times and in different ways we are there for each other."

Alex Massie has written a thoughtful analysis of Mr Cameron's arguments at The Spectator, which I recommend.

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11 Jan 2012 08:20:40

Britain needs an all-party campaign for the Union. The battle against Salmond can't be led from 11 Downing Street.

By Paul Goodman
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For all one reads about Alex Salmond's mesmeric and talismanic powers, his position is fundamentally weak when it comes to the cause that his party stands for.  The polls show that most Scots don't want independence.  (A recent Mori survey found 38% of respondents for and 57% against.)  His plan, therefore, is gradually to manoevre Scotland out of the Union without it noticing - hence his support for "devo max" (which the same poll found 68% support for).  The counter-plan of those who want to stop him must therefore be to remind Scots of the core choice they must make about the future of their nation, and to win their support while doing so.

Michael Moore was doubtless right to tell the Commons yesterday that the Scottish Government does not have the power to call a referendum, which helps to explain why Salmond has been so hostile recently to the Supreme Court.  The Coalition is therefore in a strong position to insist that the choice put to the people of Scotland is the one that really matters: in or out.  It cannot achieve its aim without such an outcome.  But since the future of the Union touches hearts as well as minds, the battle for it cannot by won by the reasoned pronouncements of judges.  Salmond would like nothing better than to frame the coming battle for the future of the United Kingdom as one between Scotland the Brave, personified by himself, and the perfidious Sassernachs.

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9 Jan 2012 08:04:48

Cameron ready to gamble and force early referendum on Scottish independence

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen shot 2012-01-09 at 08.01.04

Image from the SNP's optimistic Your Scotland, Your Future paper.

Alex Salmond wanted to choose the timing of a referendum on Scottish independence and he wanted to choose the question. It now appears that David Cameron is moving decisively to end both options for the SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland. There is talk of the referendum needing to happen within 18 months and that the question should be a straightforward one between independence and continuation of the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond had been wanting a multi-option vote in which Scots could also choose 'devo max' - an option short of independence but involving further devolution. Opinion polls suggest that Scots would probably reject independence but might endorse 'devo max' if it was presented as a middle way.

Mr Cameron stated his position on yesterday's Marr programme:

"I think what Alex Salmond is trying to do – I think he knows the Scottish people, at heart, don't want a full separation from the United Kingdom – and so he's trying to sort of create a situation where that bubbles up and happens. Whereas I think we need some decisiveness, so we can clear up this issue."

Cameron's move is one long advocated by former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth but in today's Times (£) Magnus Linklater warns that there are real dangers in it:

"Mr Cameron is taking the one gamble that cautious Tories have always argued against: the so-called Thatcher move. This involves an English Prime Minister appearing to dictate matters to the Scots, rather than leaving them to take the decision for themselves. It tends to go down badly. Mr Salmond is a formidable player. He is likely to turn the Cameron move to his advantage by pointing out that this is a Tory gambit aimed at forcing the pace of change on the Scots rather than allowing them to take their time."

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8 Jan 2012 12:28:25

Cameron tells Andrew Marr that "every avenue of policy is about helping the economy to grow"

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 11.41.06On this morning's Andrew Marr Show, Cameron reiterated his commitment to battle against "crony capitalism" and pursue a transparent agenda. Both the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister would personally back plans to make shareholder remuneration votes mandatory. Speaking to Andrew Marr, Cameron said that "pay going up and up and up when it’s not commensurate with success businesses are having" was wrong in a time of "market failure". He continued:

"Excessive growth in payment unrelated to success that’s frankly ripping off the shareholder and the customer, and is crony capitalism and is wrong ... payments for failures, big rewards when people fail, make people’s blood boil."

Cameron promised "clear transparency" in three ways:

  • "The publication of proper pay numbers, so you can really see what people are being paid".
  • "Binding shareholder votes so the owners of the company are being asked to vote on the pay levels".
  • A shareholder "vote on any parts about dismissal packages and payments for failure.”

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