Conservative Diary

Tea with Pickles

21 Apr 2010 19:42:26

The Liberal Democrats are all hat and no cattle

Tea with Eric Pickles

Gladmorning saw me in the North East of England; an area that the Labour Party have taken for granted for too long. I did a tour of some of our target seats, starting in Middlesborough South and East Cleveland with Paul Bristow. There I was met by a keen team of canvassers concentrating on getting our vote out as postal votes begin to hit doormats.

Next stop was Stockton South where we met James Wharton in The Black Bull in Yarm where they have a unique way of judging leaders popularity. You are given a choice of pint from the blue pump, the red pump or the yellow pump. While we were there the Cameron pint was doing well, at full strength with great clarity. I didn’t try it myself but I am told that the red pint leaves a nasty bitter aftertaste and the yellow pint was neither one thing nor the other.

Onwards to Darlington where our candidate reported some move away from the Lib Dems to us. We talked to local traders in the covered market. The greengrocer, a Mr Blair reported that the grounding of flights were being felt in the fresh vegetable part of his business.

Sunderland Central might seem an unusual place to visit so far as our targets are concerned but believe me, something special is taking place there. We have recently upgraded its status because of reports coming back. Our candidate, Lee Martin wants to promote Sunderland after years of Labour neglect and has a young and energetic team, out delivering 50,000 postal vote letters. They are so keen that they have organised a shift system so this is one part of the country the Conservative Party is delivering virtually on a 24 hour basis. Labour are rattled. They’ve delivered 6 leaflets since the start of the campaign, each one that little bit more desperate than the last.

The day ended with a meeting with Wendy Morton our candidate in Tynemouth. This is a place where we have shown that the Conservative Party can win in the North East. The Mayor is Conservative, the Council is Conservative and soon thanks to Wendy’s hard work they will be represented in Parliament by a Conservative.

Thanks to the wonders of the BBC iPlayer I was entertained by the Chancellors debate. On a day when 1100 small and medium sized businesses backed the Conservative plan to stop Labour’s job tax,  I was struck by Mr Darling’s refusal to back Mr Brown’s record as Chancellor and in particular his refusal to endorse Brown’s hollow brag of ending boom and bust. Now that there is lots of attention on Lib Dem polls it is extraordinary how quickly Mr Cable’s position fell apart under forensic analysis from Andrew Neill and George. From his admission that spending £6billion less than Labour would not hurt the recovery to his confusion over the effects of Labour’s job tax, Vince Cable was in disarray. Here was a man when asked to come up to the plate was unable to deliver.  Liberal Democrats have been the most political of the three main parties and it was interesting that the slightest probing of their policies brought about almost total disintegration. As a Texan chum often says, big hat, no cattle.

Eric Pickles

20 Apr 2010 19:57:26

Another day, another mess

By Eric Pickles.

Alan Johnson contradicts the Prime Minister on police numbers; the government can’t run a bus service out of Spain; inflation is more worrying news for hard pressed families and the Prime Minister won’t see real people in Swindon.  Another great example of a Labour government at work.

All that mess aside, it remains my experience that elections tend to come down to one big idea.

And its precisely because of this mess, that the big idea in this election is ‘change’.

Not because we say so, but because people tell me on the doorsteps of every road I’ve canvassed and in every market place of every town I’ve visited this election.

Even the students in the ‘Brentwood School’ Election hustings told me that today.  As a insight into the eventual election result, the Lib Dem came third!

‘Change’ is not a buzz word, people tell me that ‘change’ has to happen.

And if there’s one other thing I’ve learned in politics, ‘trust what people tell you’, especially if they’re  18 years of age and part of the upper sixth at Brentwood School.

All the more reason how a Conservative government will tear up the old ways of dealing with worklessness, the free ride is over.

That why they tell me that our economy must change so that it works for everyone.

They tell me we must change the values at the heart of government so that our broken society mends.  And they tell me to clean up politics for good.

So let’s be clear, only David Cameron can deliver that change.

19 Apr 2010 19:08:40

Tea with Pickles: "Do you want five more years of Gordon Brown?"

Eric Pickles 2 2010 Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign.

I am genuinely puzzled. I watched the debate on Thursday and like millions of others, I reached the conclusion that if Gordon Brown is the answer it must be a very rude question.  I am not saying that Mr Clegg didn't do well, but my main puzzlement is that I can see no trace of it on the ground. What I did see was David Cameron looking like a serious leader ready to get us out of the huge economic mess the Prime Minister has left us in.

Like hundreds of our candidates and thousands of our supporters canvassing across the country over the weekend, there was no discernable movement away from us from our pledges.

I remain convinced that people are not going to elect a government on the basis of one and a half hours of television. As one elector put it to me on a sunny doorstep on Saturday afternoon:

"Yes, sure, Clegg did do well but it is not going to change my vote, the last thing I want to do is let Gordon Brown in by the back door of a hung Parliament."

Let's be clear - this country needs change and everybody knows it.

We need to take decisive action, especially as we tentatively come out of the recession.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats are vulnerable on their policy of throwing away our nuclear deterrent in uncertain times, their commitment to an amnesty for illegal immigrants which will only encourage more illegal immigration, and their refusal to protect the NHS.

But as much as it's right to talk about these things, the main threat that the Lib Dems pose is a hung Parliament, propping up Gordon Brown who can't deliver the change we need.

Our country needs change from an overpowering incompetent state. We need to give people an opportunity to shape their country through our Big Society proposals.  We need change that passes power down to and through local government to real communities who want to make a difference.

The question remains on the doorstep: "Do you want five more years of Gordon Brown?"

The answer is that if you vote Liberal Democrat or Labour you will. Only by voting Conservative can we be sure of the change we need.

Eric Pickles

15 Apr 2010 18:52:42

Eric Pickles: Oh shirt - how my Twitter typo cheered up hundreds of glum lefty tweeters

Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign for ConHome.

Picture 5 Oh shirt. It all started so quietly, following an overnight stop near Sheffield. I boarded the Leader’s campaign bus, all mine for the day but without David who was in Manchester getting ready for tonight’s debate. I was on my way to a tour of the East Midlands (picture below is supporting Andrew Bridgen in North West Leicestershire).

Having watched the gathering volcanic clouds for a while I decided to see what was happening on Twitter and I spotted an amusing tweet which shows that now famous photo of flunkies opening the door for the supreme leader.  I noted that they were wearing expensive Jermyn Street shirts. Your Chairman, in a moment of vanity to bolster his man of the people image, copied the tweet on, informing all those in tweetland that I bought my shirts in M&S. Sadly in my eagerness I left the R out of shirts. As typos go, this is in the upper ranks. I was alerted to my mistake seconds after pressing the send button by a remarkably calm chum from CCHQ suggesting that I deleted it before anyone noticed. Too late, the Leader’s bus was lost in a black hole of telecommunication coverage.

Oh the ignomy, hundreds of lefty tweeters feeling glum over the campaign so far were brought to life in a surge of happiness for the Chairman of the Conservative Party inadvertently using a vulgar word. Most are unrepeatable on ConservativeHome. The best came from John Prescott who expressed envy at the sponsorship deal that I appeared to have obtained from M&S.

I was faced with a dilemma: should I adopt the Labour bloggers' approach and say that my dog had eaten my Blackberry, that I had been tapped and my account had been hacked by sinister forces or that it was another Eric Pickles bearing an uncanny resemblance to myself? I decided against calling the police and wasting public money. Sometimes the easiest way out is to just admit it was a typo.

I am on my way back to host a ‘Watch’ party at CCHQ and hopefully to link up with some of you before the debate. I am sure David will do well. From my canvassing on the doorstep there is a shift to us, we are seeing Labour and Liberal Democrats come towards us - but there are still a lot of undecideds out there. many of whom will be watching tonight. We have a strong case to make, on the doorstep, on the TV and at the debates.

Do try and join fellow Conservatives and watch this important debate together. Do join in any discussions or programmes after the event. If you decide to tweet, don’t forget to use the hashtag #leadersdebate and most important of all, if you decide to use the word shirt, don’t forget to include the R!

Eric Pickles

14 Apr 2010 19:39:40

The black hole in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto

Tea with Eric Pickles.

Nick Clegg swapped the photocopying room in Cowley Street for much more stylish surroundings of a news agency to launch his manifesto today, complete with blue backdrop and green parrot. After the cartoons of the Labour Party and our more serious tomes, they adopted a homage to a West Yorkshire 1970’s bus timetable. The old West Riding had a great affection for that post modernist look when it came to imparting vital transport information.

I had a much loved copy of the timetable, so it was with much excitement I started to turn the pages, to find to my disappointment that it didn't give me the quickest route from Heckmanwike to Todmorden, but contained some "fully worked out pledges". Within minutes this "fully costed manifesto" started to dissolve before my very eyes like the foresaid timetable left out too long in the rain.

I won’t bore you with all the detail but needless to say there is £11.6 billion black hole in their calculations. The one of the more bizarre overstatements is the amount of tax avoidance which they claim they will save £4.65 billion through ‘anti-avoidance measures’ on income tax, National Insurance Contributions (NIC), Corporation Tax and Stamp Duty. However, HMRC estimates ‘tax avoidance’ in income tax, National Insurance and Capital Gains Tax is only between £0.8 and £1.6 billion. Perhaps Lib Dems know more about tax avoidance than we had previously anticipated.

I expect you might have come across the odd example of Lib Dem’s varying their message for different audiences but how about this for a ‘u-turn’.  For weeks, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg have come out in support of Labour’s anti-business jobs tax and attacked businesses supporting Conservative opposition to the jobs tax. They were unkind enough to call our refusal to implement Labour’s job tax as “school boy economics" and "voodoo economics.” Compare that with "the increase in National Insurance Contributions is a damaging tax on jobs and an unfair tax on employees, so when resources allow we would seek to reverse it.’ (Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, April 2010, pg. 97).

It just reinforces my view that if you want to see Liberal values in a Government, if you want to see improvements in the environment or pull back on the way in which the state is oppressively intruding into personal freedom and liberty, the sensible thing to do is vote Conservative. That is why Liberal Democrat voters are going to switch this time to the Conservatives to remove, rather than prop up Mr Brown in Number 10. Interesting that one of the first telephone calls that I took was from a Liberal Democrat County Councillor in the South of England who has chosen today to leave the Liberal Democrats and join the Conservatives. More on that later but suffice to say, she is very welcome.

I saw for myself today in West and South Yorkshire, in particular Bradford, Colne Valley and Penistone, former Liberal Democrat voters, lots of new helpers, lots of activity and lots of commitment to getting David Cameron into Number 10. Off with the team now for a much earned and anticipated curry.

Eric Pickles

13 Apr 2010 20:30:37

Eric Pickles: Today we published a serious manifesto for serious times

Party Chairman Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign.

The left just doesn’t get it; they see everything through the eyes of state provision. They think unless it is provided centrally through a quango or through local government that somehow it is not legitimate. Today we demonstrated clearer than any other single promise how different we are from the Labour Party, we trust people.

David showed there was another way where we liberate workers from the monotony and the uniformity of state provision. Over the years I can think of numerous occasions where people in Local Government departments or the Health Service have said to me the Government makes us do it this way, but we could deliver it better, cheaper and more efficiently if they only let us. Under our reforms they can. We are going to oversee the greatest flowering of the cooperative movement.  We can take pride that our school reforms will produce better state education and more power to parents and teachers.

Ours is a serious manifesto for serious times, we offer a change of direction and a chance for the British people to join in with Government in solving the many problems that face our county.

Picture 43 The manifesto was greeted with equal enthusiasm in Nottingham where I went to launch the manifesto in the East Midlands (as you can see in Jonathan Marsh's photo - click it to enlarge and see how many candidates you recognise). From the centre of Nottingham overlooking Nottingham countryside I met with candidates and workers in our key target seats. They reported to me a growing weakness in the Labour vote and a recognition that their area could deliver David a majority.

There was a launch in every region of England and there will be a separate launch in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. 

If you want a copy of the manifesto it is available to download for free online from the party website or can be purchased at all good bookstores.

Free copies are also available in Braille, Easy Read, audio and large print. To obtain a copy of these alternative formats please email Warren.

We are just a couple of days away from the Leaders’ debate. Following the success of the watch parties held earlier this year we are organising a series for fellow Conservatives to come together to watch the Leaders’ debates in each other company. If you want to organise a party, click here.

Eric Pickles

12 Apr 2010 19:59:11

Eric Pickles: Someone’s sunrise is someone else’s sunset

Party Chairman Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign. He is pictured here on the campaign trail with Henry Smith in Crawley earlier today...

Picture 1 My old chum Henry Macrory from CCHQ has a well thumbed copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. With 1984 and its use of double-speak it might be the Labour spinners manual. He noticed a striking resemblance to an early cover of the masterpiece and the Labour’s 2010 manifesto - chilling in a semi-comical kind of way.  I have commented on their use of the sunrise before, it is in the eye of the beholder: someone’s sunrise is someone else’s sunset.

There was nothing much in the bundle of half thought out policies that makes up their pledges to the electorate other than a vague indication that they would fit in very well within Labour’s 13 years of broken promises.

The most interesting announcements are the ones they shamelessly stole from the Conservative Party. We have identified 5 so far:

  1. Any government-controlled appointment with a salary over £150,000 will require ministerial sign-off;
  2. Pay as you go home energy insulation;
  3. No stamp duty for first time buyers for house purchases below £250,000 for 2 years;
  4. New national non-emergency service telephone number 111;
  5. Promote the transfer of buildings and land into the ownership or control of voluntary and community groups.

The Labour Party might have done better to postpone their manifesto launch until after the Conservatives - then they could have stolen a whole load more.

These are my suggestions for a couple of promises they may care to steal from us:

  1. Abolish Labour’s Jobs Tax that will kill the recovery; and
  2. Stop spending public money on government waste.
Eric Pickles

9 Apr 2010 19:19:07

"If you don't like the folks, don't be in our business"

Eric Pickles 2 2010 Today's report from Party Chairman, Eric Pickles...

The words 'posh' and 'pickles' aren't usually found in the same sentence, unless accompanied by the word 'not' - but today, in Milnthorpe Farmers Market, I purchased a pot of the extra fiery 'Posh Pickles' while I was there supporting our candidate Gareth McKeever.

Westmorland and Londsdale was the starting point of the second day of my campaign trail across the North West which will eventually lead me to appearing on Any Questions tonight with Andy Burnham, Jo Swinson and Peter Oborne.

Before meeting Rory Stewart for a discussion on the future of Penrith's local economy I visited John Gough, our PPC in Barrow and Furness and I saw first hand how hard he is working to turn the seat blue.

I watched the first political death by Twitter of Stuart MacLennan. A lot has been made of his use of obscenities and aggressive language towards women, but in my view not enough attention has been given to the utter contempt he showed for his constituents, calling them 'chavs', and being particularly offensive to elderly potential constituents.

As an American friend of mine once said: "If you don't like the folks, don't be in our business."

Fortunately for the people of Moray and Parliament, Mr MacLennan will now have to look for a new line of work.

Eric Pickles

8 Apr 2010 19:47:04

Labour sound and look rattled

Today's report from Party Chairman, Eric Pickles.

Day three of the election dawns, bringing us that little bit closer to liberation day in May. Every campaign has its own rhythm and pace. I keep warning activists that there will be good days and bad days.  Today has been a great day, more signatures from employers on Labour's job tax and a new initiative from the Conservatives, our National Citizen Service endorsed by Sir Michael Caine. It has dominated the headlines all day, you might say to misquote Sir Michael “a lot of people do know that.”

I’ve seen a lot of policy launches over the years but I’ve never seen one that whether you were a journalist, an activist or a voter, you just got it. No one seems to have a bad word for it, except for a few grumpy middle aged Labour Cabinet Ministers.

I’m pretty struck how rattled Labour not only sound, but look. What were they thinking presenting the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Lord M (whose full title is too long to fit in to a tweet) against the backdrop of what I think was a sunset at the Labour Press Conference? All that was needed was sombre music and a voice over saying “as the sun goes down we say goodby..”

Fleetwood I’m in the North West on a tour. I’ve met with our candidates in Blackpool South (Ron Bell) and Blackpool North and Clevleys (Paul Maynard) and I am just off to do a meeting with Eric Ollerenshaw in Fleetwood. On the knocker in the residential part of the town, it’s clear that traditional Labour support has just had enough of Gordon Brown and they are definitely not going to vote Labour. As I reported yesterday, they are starting to switch to the Conservatives, many for the first time. Regardless of age our National Citizen Service really seems to have caught people’s imagination.  As a young man said to me just off Cavendish Road in Blackpool “this is great, this is much better than politicians preaching what needs to be done, this is about us being given a chance to do something with a purpose that is both interesting and fun.”

Eric Pickles

7 Apr 2010 19:06:59

Whatever the polls are saying during the campaign, the election will be won on the doorsteps of this country

Eric Pickles writes his latest exclusive daily take on the election campaign for ConservativeHome...

Eric Pickles 2 2010 Everyday I’m asked by even the most enquiring journalists what I think of the state of the polls. Well the answer is that ‘they go up and they go down’.  And of course in this election, the most ‘electronic’ of elections yet, people will follow the polls more keenly than ever.

But whatever the polls, I have always believed that this election would be won constituency by constituency, district by district, street by street – on the doorsteps of this country.

Over the past year or so I have visited just about every corner of the UK, canvassing in many places, to get my own feel for where our support lies.  But there is no place like your own patch for getting a feel as to what it is really like.

Starting off in Wales yesterday I saw the determination of Welsh Conservatives to win more seats from a washed out Labour Party. But today I was back home, walking on drives that as candidate and MP I have been walking down a few months short of twenty years. These have been years when there was uncertainty about the Conservative Party, at times hostility towards us, and more recently interest in our Party rebuilding.

We have always canvassed regularly in Brentwood and Ongar, so our records are good. Any good canvasser knows that the relationship on the doorstep is part science and part raw emotion. You can feel disenchantment or support well before you count the tally of responses. As you can imagine in a Conservative seat there was a lot of support, a readiness to display a poster and a desire to see the back of “that man Brown,” but this afternoon, in Priests Lane I came face to face with a lifelong Labour supporter who was going to vote Tory for the first time in her life.

Labour, historically, in Brentwood and Ongar has been squeezed by the Liberal Democrats; direct switches to us were comparatively rare. My team and I decided to go to areas of the constituency where the Labour vote is the highest, there we found more Labour switchers. People round here realise that Labour’s tax on jobs could kill the recovery.

Little sign of Liberal Democrat activity, I await the phoney graphs and the “It’s a Two Horse Race” leaflets with jaded anticipation.

It is as good as I can remember it locally, and the team out helping our target seat reports similar good news. Still we have a long way to go until May and still the polls will go up and go down.

Eric Pickles MP