Conservative Diary

Team Cameron

6 Feb 2013 08:27:52

Can Cameron heal his divided Conservative coalition? Here are three suggestions for the Tory leader...

By Tim Montgomerie
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81 Tory MPs rebelled on David Nuttall's EU referendum motion.

91 Tory MPs voted against Lords reform.

143 Tory MPs have voted against the Coalition's policies at some point. 37 are hardcore rebels.

136 Tory MPs voted, last night, against the Tory leadership's position on gay marriage. Another forty abstained.

Technically, of course, last night's vote wasn't a rebellion against government policy. It was a free vote. But it was certainly a vote against one of David Cameron's most important initiatives since becoming Prime Minister and also against his model of modernisation. Read today's papers and the result is certainly being presented as a rebellion against his authority. The party looks divided in the eyes of voters and voters don't like divided parties. Very divided. Some gay people may have new confidence in the PM but less faith in the Conservative Party.

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24 Jan 2013 08:02:52

David Cameron will enjoy this morning's newspapers

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday I argued that Cameron's Europe speech would bring four benefits to the Conservative Party. One of those benefits was a better relationship with the centre right press. There's plenty of evidence of that this morning. Here are key quotes from Britain's five centre right/ Eurosceptic newspapers:

  • Daily Mail: "This was an historic day, which could yet mark a turning point in this country’s relationship with the EU. For the first time in the 25 years since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech, a British Prime Minister openly called into question the founders’ ambition to forge an ‘ever closer union’ among the peoples of Europe."
  • The Telegraph: "Many of the arguments in yesterday’s speech were made in another keynote address, delivered by Margaret Thatcher in Bruges in 1988. She, too, bemoaned Europe’s insularity, its lack of accountability, its drift towards federalism, all of which have accelerated since. What even she did not offer, however, was to let the people decide whether they wanted to stay in. In proposing that they should, Mr Cameron has taken an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise."
  • The Express: "This newspaper has had its criticisms of the Prime Minister and would much prefer the in/out referendum to take place before the next election rather than two years after it. But nobody should deny that yesterday David Cameron did something genuinely bold. The question that many non-aligned voters will be asking themselves between now and polling day is why on earth they should trade in a Prime Minister who has shown high-level leadership qualities for an Opposition leader who has not? The fact is that Miliband isn’t even up to the job he’s got, let alone the post he aspires to fill."
  • The Sun: "WHO should decide Britain’s future in Europe? David Cameron finally answered the question yesterday and promised us a referendum. He was immediately condemned by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Europhile grandees like Tony Blair. They do not want the people to have their say. It wouldn’t be in the national interest, they claim. But the truth is they do not trust us to come up with the “right” answer. Mr Cameron, by contrast, said the people must decide."
  • The Times (£): "Mr Cameron is correct that the EU has become bloated and inflexible in a global marketplace where the penalties for such failings have grown, and that newly emerging nations will leave the European economies behind unless there is change. This was a speech with Europe’s interests at heart, not only Britain’s; and framing his argument in such a way gives the Prime Minister a chance of building an alliance inside the EU."

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13 Jan 2013 16:35:45

Can Steve Hilton be tempted back to Government? It doesn't sound promising…

By Peter Hoskin
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Even from America, Steve Hilton makes waves that lap at our shores. The Sunday Times reports (£) on a seminar that David Cameron’s policy-chief-on-sabbatical recently gave to students at Stanford University — and, boy, does it contain some spicy quotes about government and its frustrations. Mr Hilton complained that, in his experience:

“Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the government is doing. And you think, well, hang on a second — it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The government can be doing things ... and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?”

And he went on to explain how “the bureaucracy masters the politicians”, with a particular emphasis on paperwork. By Mr Hilton’s calculations, about 40 per cent of the Government’s to-do tray is filled with directives from the EU. Another 30 per cent is related to “random things… which were not anything to do with the Coalition Agreement”. And that means that:

“…only 30% of what the government is doing is actually delivering what we’re supposed to be doing. It just shows you the scale of what you’re up against… When I found that out, that was pretty horrific.”

In truth, none of this should come as a shock. We knew about Mr Hilton’s disgruntlement with the clunking machinery of British government even before he departed from No.10, and more so afterwards. And it was, I believe, Tim who first revealed that 40/30/30 split in a blog-post for this site.

But it’s still striking to hear Mr Hilton vent these frustrations in public — and in such blunt terms, too. Indeed, if you were to play armchair psychologist, you might guess that these remain raw, itchy memories for the man. It does not sound as though he’s eager to return to Downing Street any time soon.

Of course, the official line is that Mr Hilton is just on a break from his job, and hasn’t actually quit permanently. But the truth is that few, if any, people in Westminster are certain about his future intentions. The possibility that he may never settle back into his former role is a very real one, and it ought to worry the Conservative Party. As the Sunday Times says in its leader column (£) today, the Government needs energetic, radical thinkers such as him.

So, what might draw him back? Harder, better, faster and stronger reform of the civil service, of the sort that Francis Maude now appears to be delivering, is surely one thing. Repatriation of powers from Europe, or at least the prospect of repatriation, might also help. Again, none of this is really a surprise.

But there are other problems that may need dealing with. In an excellent post over at his blog, Damian McBride — yes, he of Team Brown fame and shame — suggests that Mr Hilton’s complaints may have much to do with failings in No.10’s political operation. I won’t spoil his full argument here, suffice to say that it involves the question, “What on earth has happened to the No.10 grid system?” It seems that a lot will need fixing if Mr Hilton is ever to make happy, fulltime return to government.

6 Jan 2013 16:58:32

Boris is (again) GQ's most influential man in Britain (and nine other things you need to know about its list of top 100 men)

By Tim Montgomerie
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Cover boy - Boris sporting a very nice silk and patriotic handkerchief in his suit pocket.

It's that time of year again when GQ names the one hundred most influential men in Britain. I've read it so you don't have to. In no particular order of importance (or silliness) here are ten observations on the list...

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31 Dec 2012 08:44:32

Eight pieces of New Year advice for David Cameron

By Tim Montgomerie
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In my Times column (£) I offer eight pieces of New Year advice to David Cameron:

  1. Offer an In/Out referendum in your January speech on the EU. Nothing else will quite restore goodwill amongst traditional supporters in the country and press. In today's Sun, Trevor Kavanagh agrees.
  2. Communicate regret rather than relish about having to squeeze benefits. The squeeze is necessary for deficit reduction and to incentivise the leap from benefits to work but no Conservative should give any impression that below inflation increases will be easy for already hard-pressed families.
  3. Throw everything at the IT challenge that endangers the Universal Credit. Whitehall isn't good at IT and the Coalition's reputation for competence is at stake if this flagship reform fails.
  4. Don't retreat on gay marriage but do reassure Christian and other traditionalists that you're are on their side. Recognise marriage in the tax system. Promote faith schools. Fight against religious persecution overseas. I presented other ideas on Christmas Eve.
  5. Give more one-to-one interviews and fewer speeches because you are at your most persuasive in these fora.
  6. Respond to the Lib Dem disloyalty. Don't personally sink to Clegg's level but authorise Grant Shapps to counter punch at the constant Lib Dem attacks on the Conservative Party.
  7. Lovebomb your party for the next two-and-a-half years. Appoint someone like David Burrowes MP as a second PPS to help you reconnect with the parliamentary party.
...And number eight...

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20 Dec 2012 07:17:08

Apparently Tory backbenchers rather than the Tory leadership are responsible for the party's difficulties

By Tim Montgomerie
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It's blame-and-bash-b-b-b-b-backbenchers week on Fleet Street. Matthew Parris kicked it off last Saturday with his attack (£) on the "spittle-flecked" "Rabid Right". Ian Birrell joined in in yesterday's Evening Standard. And in today's Telegraph Peter Oborne throws his keyboard at lots of Tory MPs with surnames beginning with 'B'...

"The backbench rebels (an unfeasibly large number of whom have surnames which begin with the letter B – Binley, Bray, Burns, Baker, Baron, Bingham, Bone, Bridgen, Burley, Bebb, Blackman, Blackwood, Brady, Brazier, Brine, Byles) appear to have fallen for the illusion that if only the Conservatives move sharply to the Right before the next election, all will be well and a tremendous victory will be won."

In reality a good number of Mr Oborne's Bs are largely very loyal to the Tory leadership but it's not so much fun to let facts get in the way of a bit of alliteration.

The traditional Right is not perfect. ConHome recently ran a series on some of its failures. I recently admitted some of my own errors. What would be dangerous, however, would be for this bash-the-Right Fleet Street narrative to also become the dominant mindset within the Tory leadership (if it isn't already).

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17 Dec 2012 08:28:30

The unhappy Tory family mustn't turn on itself

By Tim Montgomerie
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Circular firing squad

Exhibit A: "Having been an office holder in the Conservative party for fifty-three years, I find it difficult to remember a time when the party’s leader in government failed consistently to chime with the natural instincts of our supporters." From Brian Binley MP.

Exhibit B: "I’ve always wanted to believe that “better inside the tent” was a sensible approach to the Rabid Right and that the Conservative Party had a social duty to house, sedate and, so far as possible, neutralise the irreconcilist elements on its side of the spectrum: a sort of care-in-the-community role... How much tolerance should the party’s leadership show (and how much attention should commentators give) to MPs whose mandate has been centrist, who would not have been elected except to a centrist party, but who spend time between elections chucking rocks at the very moderation that brings in their vote? Challenged, they have the cheek to growl and whimper about “the party’s instincts”. That their tiny claimed sounding-board for these instincts (a panel of typically less than 100 serious activists) should echo their own views is unsurprising, given that the local MP has spent a career repelling from party membership anyone under 70 who isn’t a spittle-flecked, obsessively anti-European, immigrant-hating social and cultural reactionary." From Matthew Parris in The Times (£).

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12 Dec 2012 08:00:12

Beneath Cameron's drive for same-sex marriage lies disdain for his own MPs

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 07.02.50When I left the Commons in 2010, the local Association activists were more or less the same people as when I entered it in 2001 - though, of course, older.  Others had died during that decade or so, like other, less active members.  Others still failed to renew their membership, or moved away from the High Wycombe area.  But they were essentially the same people at the end as at the start: decent, hard-working, public-spirited, not always well-off, seldom movers and shakers (unlike some of the people I worked with at Westminster, though this wasn't necessarily to their disadvantage), distinguishable from their neighbours largely by being politically active - and, by the end of my time as the local MP, a bit more set in their ways, as older people tend to be.

As time like an ever-rolling stream bore those ten years away, I noticed a change in their attitude to the party leadership.  They didn't exactly become more disenchanted - though this was so in some cases - but they definitely became more detached, as all the while around them election turnout stayed very low, public disenchantment with the political system grew, and party membership fell further.  After David Cameron became leader in 2005, trying to report what he was doing became rather like trying to explain to an elderly couple what their grandson was up to.  Imponderable words and phrases began to flow from my lips even more frequently than usual: "huskies...modernisation...inclusivity...hoodies".

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1 Dec 2012 08:36:32

A twitch of a tentacle from Octopus Osborne puts Neil O’Brien in post

By Paul Goodman
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Tim Montgomerie yesterday offered congratulations to George Osborne, and commiserations to Policy Exchange, on respectively gaining and losing Neil O'Brien.  Seconded.  As Tim wrote, "Team Cameron is succeeding in recruiting the calibre of people that it needs to maximise its effectiveness".

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30 Nov 2012 11:08:14

George Osborne appoints Neil O'Brien as new adviser and opens door to a more blue collar, northern conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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Another sign this morning that Team Cameron is succeeding in recruiting the calibre of people that it needs to maximise its effectiveness. Less than a fortnight ago we learnt that Lynton Crosby would be joining the political side of the Cameron operation on a consultancy basis from the new year. In last Saturday's Times the Tory Chairman Grant Shapps confirmed that Crosby would be overseeing the general election campaign.

O'BRIEN NEIL CONINTELLNews is just breaking that Neil O'Brien, director of Policy Exchange, will be joining George Osborne's office as a Special Adviser*. This is a big loss to PX but a big boost to Number 11. O'Brien has been wooed for some time by the Tories and they've finally got their man. I've always thought highly of Neil and included him in my 2020 Cabinet as "Minister for Cabinet Office and Policy Development".

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