Conservative Diary

The Coalition

6 Jun 2013 08:26:15

Two in five Tory members back the Communications Data Bill - and a third oppose it

May Theresa Home Office
By Paul Goodman

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It would be an exaggeration to write that every Conservative born into the world alive is either a Little Authoritarian or a Little Libertarian.  But how much of one?  The result of our last monthly survey question about the Communications Data Bill (a.k.a the Snooper's Charter) may point towards an answer.

  • 43 per cent of respondents agreed that "the Tory leadership should do all it can to enact the Communications Data Bill, even against the wishes of the Liberal Democrats".
  • 34 per cent took the view that "the Communications Data Bill is an invasion of privacy and should not be made law."
  • And 22 per cent believed that the Conservative leadership "should compromise with the Liberal Democrats to produce a version of the Bill that both sides can broadly agree with".

That last fifth of Tory respondents is quite a big slice of the whole, and is a reminder that all Conservatives don't come down on one side of the fence or the other.  Since compromise with our Coalition partner isn't always a popular option with party members, the figure indicates that a significant percentage of them find it hard to make their minds up about the bill.

However, the remaining three-quarters or so seem to have made their minds up.  And I think the results point towards a general truth - namely, that regardless of whether one agrees with them or not, libertarians make a lot of noise in proportion to their number.

Perhaps the Woolwich horror has had an impact on the figures.  However, the proportions certainly wouldn't justify any claim that Conservative members are lined up to support the bill: compromise is perhaps where the Home Office is heading in any event.  Over 700 Tory members responded to the survey - as did over 1400 readers in total.

29 May 2013 17:49:19

Philip Hammond's spending review rebellion may be more loyal than it looks

By Mark Wallace
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John_LilburneWhen Freeborn John Lilburne, the Leveller, appeared before the Star Chamber in 1637, he refused to do as they asked. He would not take the oath or answer questions, and as a result he was fined £500, whipped, humiliated in a pillory and thrown in jail.

Given that history, it is not hard to see why George Osborne has chosen to refound the Star Chamber to deal with those in the Cabinet who are refusing to sign up to the cuts needed for his spending review. A number of ministers must be hoping the pillory, at least, has been decommissioned since Lilburne's day.

The psychology is simple. Instead of being pelted by the London mob, any modern day John Lilburnes who won't play along are set to face humiliation in front of their peers. Eric Pickles, Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin will be sat alongside the Chancellor flinging the metaphorical rotten turnips.

But the politics is rather more complex than it appears.

Continue reading "Philip Hammond's spending review rebellion may be more loyal than it looks" »

27 May 2013 08:03:04

Plots and whispers

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-27 at 08.15.47Now here's a dog that didn't bark in the night-time. Or rather, an MP who spoke in the day-time. David Ruffley, a senior Conservative member of the Treasury Select Committee, went on television yesterday.  What did he talk about?  The fragile signs of renewed growth in the economy? The fastest rise in house prices for six years?  The current condition of Indonesian long bonds?  No: the Bury St Edmonds MP mused aloud about what the political landscape might look like after next year's European elections. He said -

"I think next May’s euro elections might put pressure on [Cameron] to go harder because there is a lot of speculation in and around Downing Street, so I am led to believe, that UKIP might come first.  Now if that happens next May there’ll be 12 months before the election and some of our colleagues in marginal seats might get a bit windy. I don’t think UKIP are going to win seats but they could split the Conservative vote if they are very strong and let Labour through in those marginal seats. But I think David Cameron has got 12 months to show that his strategy works."

The conventional wisdom is that the maximum point of danger for Cameron's leadership was this month's local elections.  But Ruffley's intervention confirms that some backbench dissidents believe that replacing Cameron with a new leader before UKIP tops the poll next year would be cack-handed timing: better to act immediately after that - and let this new leader sprint for the electoral finishing line the following spring.  A senior rebel has put exactly the same argument to me during the past week.

Odd that a Tory MP popped up to make the point yesterday, isn't it, over a quiet Bank Holiday weekend?  Almost as if someone, somewhere, wanted to serve notice of intent.  "I smell a device." "And I have 't in my nose too."

22 May 2013 06:57:24

Three ways for Cameron to get back on the front foot - and stay there

By Paul Goodman
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Cameron heart tshirt 2Here are three measures that, if implemented -

  • Will help to quell the charge that the Party is being led by a "Chumocracy" unrepresentative of its MPs and members.
  • Will stop David Cameron being ambushed by Conservative backbenchers on EU policy, as he was by John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.
  • Will thus prevent these two problems from inter-acting with each other to suggest that the Party is divided.  (If a perception of division persists, victory in 2015 will certainly be impossible.)

They are as follows:

  • The Prime Minister should create an Inner Cabinet - to build collective Party leadership and kill the Downing Street chumocracy charge As I've previously explained, the Cabinet is too big: 32 people are entitled to attend it.  And the Quad, at only two people, is too small (besides, two of its members are Liberal Democrats - giving the junior Coalition partner equal representation at the top, a cause of Tory resentment).  The Prime Minister needs a Conservative Inner Cabinet which meets weekly to shape policy and make decisions.  Attendance should be formal and collegiate, with the following membership: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman.  Obviously, the right people are needed to fill those posts - but that's a matter for another day.  What matters is that membership of the Inner Cabinet should be strictly related to Ministerial and Party function, and that it should consist of senior politicians only.
  • The standing, morale and effectiveness of the Whips Office should be raised by it becoming a vehicle for promotion - not sacking.  The natural complement to an Inner Cabinet - and thus proper collective leadership - is a Whips Office with real authority.  That able MPs such as Dominic Raab, Ben Wallace and Rob Wilson turned posts in it down at the last resuffle, as was reportedly the case, is a sign that something is wrong.  Perhaps there was a connection with the fact that several Whips simply left the office at the same time: James Duddridge, Brooks Newmark, Shailesh Vara, Bill Wiggin.  There are always special circumstances, but the status of the Whips Office was not raised by so many of its members failing to move on to Ministerial posts.  Cameron will also need a new Chief Whip, since Sir George Young - loyal trooper that he is - only returned to the Cabinet to help the Prime Minister out.  Again, who his replacement should be is a matter for another day.  Enough for today to point out that improving the standing and effectiveness of the Whips Office must be a priority.
  • The Prime Minister can't cure his EU problem until he grips it.  As a wise old hand put it to me, Cameron mistook his EU referendum speech for a process.  He hoped by offering his Party an In-Out referendum to halt internal Party debate on Europe - at least for a while.  The gambit failed.  And it won't succeed while his stance on the repatriation of powers is unresolved.  The lesson of last week is that if the Prime Minister hopes that the Government's review of EU competences and the Party's own manifesto formation will quiet discussion of renegotiation policy within his Party until 2014, he is mistaken.  Two courses of action are open to him.  The first is to make it clear that he favours a minimal repatriation of power after 2015 - social and employment policy plus protection for the City, perhaps.  The second is to put Conservative policy-making on renegotiation in the hands of his Party - the 1922 Committee, the Conservative Policy Forum, and so on - and accept that what would emerge would be, most likely, "Common Market or Out".

Having been in the Commons for the best part of ten years, I appreciate that logic isn't everything in politics: sometimes, even often, there's a role for fudge.  But a lesson of so much that's happened to Cameron on EU policy - from the dropping of the Lisbon referendum commitment in opposition to the EU referendum revolt last week - is that by consistently seeking to put off making decisions on the EU issue, the Prime Minister has merely stored up trouble for himself later.

Continue reading "Three ways for Cameron to get back on the front foot - and stay there" »

21 May 2013 08:05:25

The same-sex marriage bill. Bad when it started. Just as bad now. It should be opposed today.

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 07.43.19No political party should alter a bedrock institution without the following conditions applying - especially if it is the Conservative Party.  A sizeable campaign to change that institution should be in place: in other words, there should be real evidence of public pressure.  The Party should then discuss and debate the matter internally.  If the Party then decides on change, if should say so unambiguously in its general election manifesto.  If it doesn't win the election, but enters into Coalition, any commitment to effect that change should be written into the consequent Coalition Agreement.  Ideally, any bill enacting the change should be preceded by a Green Paper in which any  problematic consequences of the bill could be aired, and solutions thereby sought.  Such solutions could then be written into the bill, or tacked on to it by amendments.  Finally, the bill should be subject to a geniunely free vote.

Not a single one of these conditions apply to the same-sex marriage bill, on which MPs will vote this evening.

No campaign for same-sex marriage preceded the bill.  (Although Stonewall has consistently favoured same-sex marriage, it didn't launch a big campaign for it - at least partly because it thought the Government wouldn't concede it.)  There was no discussion within the Conservative Party, especially at local level.  There was no manifesto commitment.  There was no Coalition Agreement undertaking.  There was no Green Paper.  There have been no significant amendments - other than Labour's on equal civil partnerships.  And there has been no free vote, at least at when it comes to members of the Executive: it has been made very clear to Ministers which lobby the Prime Minister wants them to go into.  For these reasons alone, Tory backbenchers should vote against the bill at Third Reading this evening.  The way in which it has been introduced and championed has broken every rule of good government and party management.

The Loongate row is still reverberating in the Party, especially at local Association level.  The key point about it is that too many Conservatives, from the Cabinet table to the grassroots, believe that the controversial words are what is thought and said of them in Downing Street. No measure has done more to buttress that impression than the same-sex marriage bill - which has been imposed on the Party with such absolutism, and which is the cause of such a bitter culture war.  Many older people especially see the measure as a deliberate assault on their values: the bill might thus almost have been designed as a recruiting-sergeant for UKIP.  For this reason alone, Tory MPs should vote against the bill this evening in good heart.  They will certainly grasp that Ministers haven't a clue what the courts will do when they get to work on Equality Act challenges, and that the bill is consequently a threat to religious freedom.

20 May 2013 09:47:53

A precondition for victory is unity – but unity requires boldness and generosity from Cameron

Tim Montgomerie
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Even now, despite the economic difficulties, the Tories are still preferred to Labour on questions of economic competence. That's before any economic recovery.

More people blame the last Labour government for the deficit than blame the Coalition.

Cameron beats Ed Miliband on nearly every measure of what it takes to be Prime Minister.

Ed Miliband is not seen as a PM-in-waiting. His ratings have hardly improved since he was first elected Labour leader.

On welfare and immigration Labour is still out of touch with voters - not least in its own heartland constituencies.

Whether in London against Boris or in Scotland against Alex Salmond, Labour is struggling to win the big match ups.

Labour is refusing to give the people a referendum on Europe.


Reasons like those listed above should give Tory members hope. The next election is far from lost. It's not going to be easy for reasons that ConHome has warned about for a long time... but victory is possible. A precondition, however, is party unity and in today's Times (£) I set out two ways of achieving unity.

Continue reading "A precondition for victory is unity – but unity requires boldness and generosity from Cameron" »

15 May 2013 23:22:38

Cameron's been likened to Major. More votes like this one, and the comparison will be with Lord North.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 22.15.01
By Paul Goodman

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Parliament means Party, and Party means Whips. In other words, MPs must always form themselves into political parties, which in turn will require whipping, if the executive is to work in our system of Parliamentary government.  It follows that Prime Ministers have both a selfless and a selfish reason for taking special care of their whips.  If they don't, coherent government becomes impossible (the selfless reason) and their own position becomes endangered (the selfish one).  And since it has never been harder to be a Whip - given the transformation of MPs into constituency champions, and their consequent rebelliousness - David Cameron must zealously care for their condition and morale.

The Prime Minister's EU referendum bill gambit was rushed out to quell the threat of a large number of Conservative MPs voting for John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech.  Over 100 did - so the manoevre failed. That's roughly half of all Tory backbenchers.  Blame must therefore lie either with the Whips, for failing to minimise the rebellion, or with Cameron himself, for failing to tell them to do so.  The guidance consistent with both minimising the rebellion and good party management would have been to offer one of those free votes that aren't really free votes at all.  Both Ministers and backbenchers would have been encouraged by the Whips to abstain, to drive down the number of Tory MPs supporting the Baron amendment.

Continue reading "Cameron's been likened to Major. More votes like this one, and the comparison will be with Lord North." »

15 May 2013 14:14:26

Nick Clegg enjoys standing in for David Cameron and denouncing Labour

By Andrew Gimson
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Is the Nick Clegg who promised a referendum at the time of the Lisbon Treaty "an impostor or Snip20130508_1 just a hypocrite"? This was the contemptuous choice offered by Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough) as Clegg stood in for David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions.

Leigh was one of several Tory MPs who enjoyed referring to the leaflet in which Clegg pledged himself to a referendum. Vince Cable, believed by some to be intending to supplant Clegg as Lib Dem leader before the next election, grinned as the awkward question was put. Danny Alexander, a loyal Cleggite, looked hot with embarrassment.

But Clegg himself did not look in the slightest bit embarrassed. He confirmed that the man in the leaflet was himself, and declared that the Lib Dem position remains that "we should have a referendum on Europe when the rules change".

Whether or not that is a true summary of the Lib Dem position, Clegg managed to sound as if he thought it was true. He looked like a man who was greatly
enjoying the chance to clear his name.

Continue reading "Nick Clegg enjoys standing in for David Cameron and denouncing Labour" »

14 May 2013 07:40:03

A failure of leadership that leaves Cameron as a latter-day John Major

By Paul Goodman
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Cameron_as_MajorNEWDavid Cameron has promised an In-Out referendum on the EU in the next Parliament.  Why, then, do some of his backbenchers want a mandate referendum now, and still more of them want to write the In-Out referendum into law?  There is no simple answer, but a number of different factors have come together.  One is the passion that the EU has excited within the Conservative Party since Bruges.  Another is fear of UKIP.  Still another is the belief, common among Tory MPs, that Cameron is very unlikely to lead a majority Conservative Government after 2015.  But, above all perhaps, there is, at worst, a distrust of the Prime Minister over Europe and, at best, the conviction among Tory MPs that on the issue he will follow rather than lead.

Cameron's gambit yesterday evening was crafted to ward off accusations of followership after a day in which party debate over the Baron/Bone amendment to the Queen's Speech, and over the EU itself, threatened to run out of control.  The device of a Private Member's Bill is the best he can do to regain the initiative - since Nick Clegg will not concede a Government Bill, even on a free vote, and there is nothing the Prime Minister can do to master him, short of breaking up the Coalition altogether.  Such a Bill is unlikely to deliver the goods, since such measures are vulnerable to being talked out. Ed Miliband's main aim will be to obscure his party's own differences on the EU, and to out-manoevre Cameron when MPs vote in the Commons - in alliance, probably, with the Liberal Democrats.

Continue reading "A failure of leadership that leaves Cameron as a latter-day John Major" »

12 May 2013 11:29:21

Gove blames Lib Dem leadership plot for Clegg's U-turn on childcare

By Tim Montgomerie
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Michael Gove spoke for nearly every Tory minister on the Marr show earlier. Growing frustration at the way the Lib Dems agree to a policy before abandoning it boiled to the surface and the Education Secretary made a planned and pointed attack on the way Mr Clegg is constantly looking over his shoulder at a rebellious Liberal Democrat party.

What Gove said is recorded on the BBC website:

""Nick Clegg only questioned plans to allow nursery staff to look after more children to shore up his position as Lib Dem leader, Michael Gove has said. The Conservative education secretary said Mr Clegg had to "show a bit of leg" to his party but actually backed the scheme for nurseries and childminders in England. Mr Gove suggested Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott was behind a plot to "destabilise" Mr Clegg and install his ally Vince Cable as party leader."

Gove has suffered from Lib Dem roadblockery himself but it's not the roadblockery that most annoys Tories. It's the U-turnery. It's not just Liz Truss who has been the victim of seeing an agreed policy on childcare torpedoed. Theresa May has suffered on the Data and Communications Bill. Gove has suffered from it on education reforms. Most infamously the whole Conservative Party suffered from it on boundaries reform. The Lib Dems back a policy or initiative in a Cabinet committee or in the Quad or even in the Coalition Agreement and then U-turn; mainly because of unhappiness within their own party.

Continue reading "Gove blames Lib Dem leadership plot for Clegg's U-turn on childcare" »