Conservative Diary

The big picture

5 Apr 2013 07:04:54

How Cameron could end the Coalition

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By Paul Goodman
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LibDem bloggers Stephen Tall and Mark Pack, and Mike Smithson of Political Betting, raised some solid objections to the Coalition breaking up some six months before the 2015 general election - which I recommended on this site earlier this week.  (Mike suggested that I should see "This House", the well-reviewed play about the Parliament of the mid-1970s - and a reminder of the terrible fate of governments without majorities.  I replied that neither of us can expected to be around for the play about the hapless last six months of this Coalition - due, on the same timescale, in roughly 2053.) Let me deal with the two main points raised, before going on to make a new one.

  • Stephen raised the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  This is indeed a major obstacle to either of the two Coalition partner breaking up the arrangement, but I wasn't arguing for an early general election - which, as he has written, is very difficult to achieve, given the act.  Rather, I was suggesting that the two parties might want to move to Confidence and Supply.
  • Stephen than said that LibDem members don't want to do this - and cited a Liberal Democrat Voice poll which shows that 76% of them want the Coalition to go the distance. Again, this is a strong point: for obvious reasons, I'm not an expert on the LibDems, but their MPs have to date stuck to coalition with a discipline that parts of their Conservative equivalents don't always show.  However, it may be that even those who understand the LibDems far better than I don't know whether Nick Clegg will still be the party's leader come mid-2014, or whether he will have been replaced by, say, Vince Cable.  That would well and truly put the cat among the Coalition pigeons, and a move to Confidence and Supply couldn't be ruled out in such circumstances.  For what it's worth, my hunch is that Clegg will see the Parliament out as leader, but no-one can be sure.
  • Let's presume, however, that the Liberal Democrats are indeed unwilling to move to Confidence and Supply, and will stick with coalition until the 2015 election.  They will none the less continue to push their own point of view, as they did yesterday over Trident: that in itself is perfectly understandable.  More novel is their view that they should have lots of latitude to vote in a different way to their majority partner - remember what happened over the Jeremy Hunt vote.  It may of course be that the Conservatives behaved in the same way previously, though I'm not aware of this having happened.  But whether they did or not, the Hunt vote was a reminder that the two partners don't always vote in the same lobby.  All in all, David Cameron would certainly be able to break up the Coalition de facto if not de jure in September 2014. Ways can be found for the Commons could debate John Baron's referendum bill plan, Chris Grayling's proposal to curb the ECHR (which will surely be announced by then), a tighter welfare cap, and so on.  Conservative Ministers might not be able to vote for all these plans, but they would be able to voice support for them from the dispatch box, while backbenchers would show their backing for them in the lobbies (quietly encouraged by the Whips).  A recipe for paralysis, I hear you cry.  Unlike, of course, the productive, co-operative, harmonious six months of the Coalition that will otherwise be the case.

30 Mar 2013 08:57:42

(1) I don't buy the idea that Cameron is a major asset to the Tory Party... but (2) he shouldn't be ousted... and (3) he can still win the next election

By Tim Montgomerie
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Photographs in this post are the copyright of i-Images

Matthew Parris has conducted an interesting survey of thirty Tory MPs in marginal seats. You can read my summary of the results he found on the MPsETC page. The MPs come across as a pretty cautious bunch and are anxious about making any big moves. They largely oppose, for example, a big tax cut or any more welfare cuts. They don't want a U-turn on gay marriage or any further reorganisation of the NHS. They like the idea of reforming human rights laws but, sensibly, don't want the party leadership to promise anything that can't be delivered.

Matthew Parris (Times (£)) also finds that all thirty think David Cameron is an asset to the Conservative Party:

"At least one (and I suspected a handful more) had personal doubts about their leader, but all were clear that on balance he won them votes. Most of them reminded me that he is “more popular than the party”. He’s a “huge plus,” said another. I jotted down phrases like “massive asset”; “More voted for him than for me”; “He got me elected.” “Not just ‘on balance’,” one MP corrected me, “Cameron’s by far and away our strongest card.”"

Continue reading "(1) I don't buy the idea that Cameron is a major asset to the Tory Party... but (2) he shouldn't be ousted... and (3) he can still win the next election" »

24 Mar 2013 21:20:58

The shrinking Cameron project

By Tim Montgomerie
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I have never been a huge fan of Cameron. The über-modernisation. The disregard for the views of Tory MPs and grassroot members. The incompetent 2010 general election campaign. The rush to coalition, including a badly-negotiated deal on AV. The decision to backload spending cuts and frontload tax rises. The lack of a proper growth strategy. This last week has taken me to a new place, however. The shambolic handling of press regulation. The decision to offer a childcare subsidy that wasn't in the Coalition Agreement - alongside a failure to deliver a marriage tax allowance that was. And, most significantly, the Budget that gave up on deficit reduction and, in its place, announced a housing policy that may create another dangerous boom.

Cameron's leadership is indeed looking like a lost decade.

In Cameronism's first phase there was huge ambition. He was going to transform Britain and conservatism. He was going to fight climate change, protect the NHS from further reorganisation, rebuild the family, cut big business down to size and work towards a ministerial team that was one-third women.

Continue reading "The shrinking Cameron project" »

15 Mar 2013 06:37:34

Cameron's strong move on Leveson exposes his growing weakness

By Paul Goodman
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  • Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 05.22.51David Cameron could have ended his talks with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, and refused to put his proposals to a vote in the Commons at all.  If he had done so, however, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have moved amendments seeking statutory regulation of the press to the Crime and Courts Bill for debate on Monday - as they're apparently planning to do in any event.
  • The Prime Minister could then have withdrawn the entire bill, rather than allow statutory regulation to take place.  However, Clegg and Miliband would doubtless then have sought to amend another bill to the same effect.  Cameron would then have had to withdraw that bill to avoid statutory regulation - and so on.  The Government he leads would have been paralysed.  By lining up with Miliband on statutory regulation, Clegg has clapped a loaded gun to the Prime Minister's head.

Continue reading "Cameron's strong move on Leveson exposes his growing weakness" »

10 Mar 2013 19:11:48

What are Conservatism's "great goals"?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 17.31.11

John Rentoul Tweeted that the presentation of yesterday's ConHome conference resembled a 1982 Michael Foot event. Kevin Culwick, Director of, joked that there was a Soviet look to the event! I certainly wanted a different feel to the event... although I made have gone too far. If you weren't at the event here's another look at the banners...

Continue reading "What are Conservatism's "great goals"?" »

10 Mar 2013 07:34:01

Theresa May defines her Conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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May Merkel Warhol 4

There are good reasons why some Conservatives see Theresa May as Britain's Angela Merkel

I'm not going to comment on the hype about "TM4PM" - as Twitter knows it. I've already made it clear my view that Cameron is not going to be replaced as Tory leader and shouldn't be replaced as Tory leader. He should be our leader, right up until 2015. Despite what you read in the newspapers I don't believe Theresa May disagrees with that judgment. It's true that she's fighting her corner in the spending review - allying herself with ministers like Philip Hammond and holding strategic conversations with others - but she is loyal to David Cameron.

Loyalty is actually one of Theresa May's best qualities. She is loyal to the women MPs, in particular, that she has done so much to promote and nurture. She has loyally served all four recent Tory leaders - Hague, IDS, Howard and now David Cameron. All leaders have found her to be a dependable, competent and disciplined colleague. When he directed Tory communications Andy Coulson always wanted Theresa May on the TV. For him she was an unflappable, reassuring and grown up face for Conservatism. It's true that she doesn't excite many people - either on TV or in personal dealings - but she's the safest of safe pair of hands.

Continue reading "Theresa May defines her Conservatism" »

7 Mar 2013 08:18:11

Cameron and a united Conservative Party can still do well at the next election

By Tim Montgomerie
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This morning's Times (£) reports that the No Turning Back Group of Tory MPs recently met and discussed the prospect of finding a way of bringing the Coalition to an end and some members even raised the possibility of unseating David Cameron. The Times' story comes at a time when there is frenzied speculation about Theresa May's ambitions. The Mail pours a little cold water on the idea that she might be a near time challenger for the Tory leadership but it also presents "Britain's Mrs Merkel" (© ConHome) as the "Stop Boris" candidate at some point after the next election. In The Telegraph yesterday Benedict Brogan even suggested that Mrs May and Philip Hammond were mounting some sort of joint operation. He talked of Mrs May as a future leader with Mr Hammond as her Chancellor. That suggestion followed Paul Goodman's blog in which he talked about Hammond, May and Grayling all positioning for the leadership race to come.

Continue reading "Cameron and a united Conservative Party can still do well at the next election" »

2 Mar 2013 22:04:57

Cameron adopts ConservativeHome's And Theory of Conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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Last Wednesday I announced that I was moving to The Times. For its eight year life ConHome has been championing what we've called the And theory of Conservatism. For example...

"(a) A commitment to actively support healthy, traditional marriages and fair pension and inheritance arrangements for gay adults… (b) A bigger budget for the armed forces and an end to the sale of arms to despotic regimes… (c) Faster, longer imprisonment of repeat offenders and more care for the vulnerable children of prisoners... (d) A willingness to confront the Islamic roots of global terrorism and more opportunities for mainstream British Muslims to set up state-funded schools..."

In tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph David Cameron writes:

"We are the only party simultaneously committed to proper investment in the NHS and bringing down immigration. We are the only party simultaneously asserting Britain’s interests in Europe and seriously investing in a better education for poorer children. It's not about being left-wing or right-wing - it's about being where the British people are.  And where the British people rightly are on all these issues is where the Conservative Party is too."

Exactly. Not Left-wing or Right-wing Conservatism. Not centre ground, lowest common denominator Conservatism but common ground, ambitious Conservatism. Or, as I argued in my musical essay for the Today programme, full orchestral Conservatism.

Continue reading "Cameron adopts ConservativeHome's And Theory of Conservatism" »

1 Mar 2013 08:30:09

Cameron's Conservatism is too small, too narrow, too unambitious, too unbalanced, too inconsistent

By Tim Montgomerie
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Cameron boxing Farage 2


We have the usual simplistic debate taking place on Twitter and on the blogosphere this morning. Some read yesterday's disappointing Eastleigh result as proof that you can't win if you move to the Right. Others see the UKIP surge as proof that Cameron has to abandon what they describe as touchy-feely conservatism and reject EU membership (Nile Gardiner) or form an "alliance" with UKIP (Dan Hannan).

It's certainly true we had a candidate in Maria Hutchings who had 'Ukippy' views on Europe, immigration and gay marriage. The Tory literature in the campaign was certainly old school in its messaging (my report here). Additional ammo for the 'move-to-the-centre' crowd is the very real moves that Cameron has made in recent months - notably on an In/Out referendum - to shore up his Right flank. People like Lord Ashcroft who've said that you can't beat UKIP by focusing on Europe will feel somewhat vindicated. UKIP is more of a protest party than a party pursuing a rational agenda. Its election literature in Eastleigh promised tax cuts for "everyone" as well as control of immigration and the restoration of student grants and better pensions.

Continue reading "Cameron's Conservatism is too small, too narrow, too unambitious, too unbalanced, too inconsistent" »

27 Jan 2013 09:00:20

Despite what you read in the Sunday newspapers, Cameron's leadership is not in danger

By Tim Montgomerie
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Some spectacularly ill-timed press speculation this morning about David Cameron's future as Tory leader. Both the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times (for the second week in a row) are puffing up the idea that David Cameron's leadership is in danger. They do so on the morning when Labour's lead has fallen below 10% in four Sunday newspaper opinion polls. You could say five if you count the ICM poll for last week's Guardian. If any leadership should be in trouble it should be Ed Miliband's. For reasons I won't repeat this morning, Labour has significant structural advantages but (i) Ed Miliband's personal unpopularity and (ii) his failure to detoxify his party's spendthrift image mean his party is failing to capitalise on the Coalition's not insignificant weaknesses.


The Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times (£) are suggesting that backbench Tory MP Adam Afriyie is lining up a campaign to challenge for the Tory leadership - most likely after the next election but possibly beforehand. Mr Afriyie - inevitably dubbed the "Tory Obama" - is said to have an eight strong parliamentary campaign team, which includes Cities of London and Westminster MP Mark Field. One hundred Tory MPs are reported to have been contacted to elicit whether they would back an Afriyie candidacy.

Continue reading "Despite what you read in the Sunday newspapers, Cameron's leadership is not in danger" »