Conservative Diary

The Coalition

9 May 2013 08:24:13

Clegg's treatment of Elizabeth Truss's childcare plans throws a harsh light on the Coalition's future

By Paul Goodman
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Roy Jenkins used to argue that the Conservatives dominated British politics during the last century - and mustn't be allowed to do so in this one.  He went on to maintain that the two parties of the left - the Liberal Democrats and Labour, as he saw it - should work together to keep the Tories out of office.  When the voters returned a hung Parliament in 2010, David Cameron could have opted for a minority government.  Instead, he chose coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  I suspected at the time that part of his aim was to do a Jenkins in reverse: to ensure that his party and Nick Clegg's worked together to keep Labour out of office, and in doing so begin to rebuild his own party's Parliamentary dominance.

Working together, though, means coherence.  And a problem even since the Cameron-Clegg rose garden love-in, brutally accentuated by the referendum defeat of AV, is that the blue and yellow teams are not natural partners.  On economic matters, they have come closer together since the rise of the Orange Bookers.  But on social and constitutional ones - the gut issues that move hearts as well as minds - their instincts and dispositions are different.  When it comes to welfare, crime, immigration, Europe, the Lords, and the voting system, the two parties march to the beat of different drums.  On these issues and most others, the most natural partner for Nick Clegg's party is Labour.

Continue reading "Clegg's treatment of Elizabeth Truss's childcare plans throws a harsh light on the Coalition's future" »

8 May 2013 18:57:40

Under one in seven party members want the Coalition to continue into 2015

Libdem bird vs TORY
By Paul Goodman

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And almost a third want it to end as soon as possible - some 30%, according to the latest ConservativeHome survey.

17.5% want it to end in 2014.  I'm interested to see that 37% want it to "stop shortly before the 2015 general election so the parties can set out their different plans".

That's my own view - although I think that David Cameron can prepare the way by loosening the Coalition from October 2014 onwards.

Just under 1850 people responded to the survey, of whom over 800 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

6 May 2013 11:41:51

Almost half of Tory members believe Cameron will be Prime Minister after the next election

Cameron superhero 2
By Paul Goodman

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According to the latest ConservativeHome survey -

  • 24% of believe that there will be a minority Conservative Government.
  • 15% believe that there will be a Conservative majority.
  • And 7% believe that there will be a second Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Add those figures up, and they suggest that Party members are more confident that David Cameron will return to Downing Street after 2015 than might have been imagined.

It's interesting to set them beside one of our survey's other main findings - that a third of Tory members want an electoral pact with UKIP for the 2015 general election.

  • Conservative members are divided on whether the Coalition is good for the country. 47% say it is.  47% say it isn't.
  • But they aren't divided at all over whether it's good for the Party.  They tend to think it isn't - by 71% to 23%.

Just under 1850 people responded to the survey, of whom over 800 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.

5 May 2013 08:56:13

Redwood wants an EU poll bill. So does Baron. Both raise the question: how long should the Coalition last?

By Paul Goodman
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Camerons's choice copy
John Redwood writes on this site today to advocate a mandate referendum on the EU in this Parliament - a move that would require an Act to make it happen.  John Baron continues to lead the campaign for a separate Act in this Parliament, which would write the In/Out referendum to which David Cameron is committed into legislation.  I will write about the arguments for and against both ideas in due course, but will for today limit myself to the implications which they have for the maintenance of the Coalition.

It might be that the Commons would vote for one of the two measures, or even both, because enough Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs would support them: it is arguable that Ed Miliband would not oppose the Baron initiative, in particular.  But let's presume that Nick Clegg lines up against both bills (a reasonable presumption).  In such circumstances, could Cameron whip Conservative MPs to go into one lobby if Liberal Democrat MPs were going into the other?

The question of whether the Prime Minister supports Redwood's or Baron's proposal (or both) thus turns out also to be a question about the future of the Coalition.  Readers must decide for themselves whether it could work effectively were the two Parliamentary parties directed into different lobbies by their respective whips - and whether the Coalition is worth preserving.  It's worth noting that the Coalition Agreement doesn't insist that the two parties vote together in all circumstances - for example, over tax breaks for marriage - and that the Liberal Democrats helped to enshrine it when they failed to support Jeremy Hunt.

My own answer is that the Coalition is worth preserving, and that while EU referendum bills might not bring it down, they would certainly strain it severely.  This raises a further question: if the Coalition is worth preserving, how long should it last for? Again, readers must give decide for themselves, but my answer is that since it will effectively be inoperable for its final six months - or as good as - Cameron could loosen the whipping arrangements during that period.

It would probably be too late for a mandate referendum by then (mind you, I suppose one could be held on general election day itself), though there would certainly be time to enshrine the In/Out referendum in law.  I would certainly like to see a series of initiatives from the backbenches, which Tory Ministers would support from the dispatch box - and, more often than not, in the lobbies.  In that last six months, backbenchers could propose a tougher immigration cap, a tighter benefits cap, a British Bill of Rights, English votes for English laws - and so on.  The alternative for David Cameron, at that stage, will be Parliamentary paralysis.

4 May 2013 07:46:54

How the Conservatives and UKIP can kiss and make up

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 06.41.39The next general election will not be concentrated in the counties, but it will decide the government.  For this reason, voters will return to the two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour, one of which must lead in forming an administration, if not win outright.  Turnout will rise, UKIP's share of the vote will fall, and the best course that David Cameron can take, in the meanwhile, is to hold his nerve, build on his recent conference speeches, and promote a strong, mainstream, sensible programme, for government and for the future.  In short, no single, silver bullet will slay the Farage werewolf.

Such a programme would be a conservatism for Bolton West, as I've put it: reducing net immigration, tackling welfare dependency, holding fuel and electricity bills down, showing leadership at home by bringing the deficit down further, boosting job security and helping to keep mortgage rates low.  All this is the conventional wisdom, and it's true as far as it goes.  I started to look at UKIP and what drives its vote relatively early, and noted that EU policy is not the main factor: immigration and crime are bigger factors.  Above all, UKIP's support is driven not so much by ideas as by anger - by the urge to put two fingers up to the entire political class.

Continue reading "How the Conservatives and UKIP can kiss and make up" »

26 Apr 2013 06:15:33

A view from Downing Street

Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 23.38.09
By Paul Goodman

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I'm in a position to offer this morning to offer an insight into current thinking in Number 10.  Tim Montgomerie touched on its current charm offensive yesterday, of which the Jo Johnson appointment was a part.  I'm not going to comment on this thinking - though I will certainly return to the subject soon - but relay it as straightforwardly as I can.

  • Number 10 claims that it's in a better place with Conservative MPs.  First, it cites the appointment of Jo Johnson and the new policy board.  (And there are clearly more changes in Downing Street to come.)  Second, it says that the introduction of political Cabinets before Cabinet has given the Conservative operation a more political focus.  Third, it stresses the degree of contact between David Cameron and Tory backbenchers - regular gatherings of the Parliamentary Party (sometimes chaired by Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and sometimes chaired by George Young the Chief Whip); repeated meetings with Ministers of State and with Under-Secretaries - every six weeks or so in the case of the latter, I was told; the Prime Minister's weekly trip to the members dining room after each PMQ session.  "No Conservative leader," I was told, "has done more to make himself available to Conservative MPs".

Continue reading "A view from Downing Street" »

5 Apr 2013 07:04:54

How Cameron could end the Coalition

Screen shot 2013-04-05 at 06.25.38
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.

3 Apr 2013 07:45:11

Cameron should end the Coalition in September 2014

Cameron & Clegg laughing
By Paul Goodman

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David Cameron gave Conservative MPs "a very strong indication" at the recent Parliamentary Party meeting that he wants to introduce legislation before 2015 for his planned EU referendum after the next election.  Or so the Spectator's Isabel Hardman reported recently.  But the Prime Minister knows as well as anyone that Nick Clegg wouldn't support such a move: it would simply be vetoed.  So what on earth was he doing playing up to his Euro-sceptic MPs?  Was one of his weaknesses on display - namely, his tendency to duck short-term trouble, whatever the medium-term cost ?  Or were the Spectator's sources mistaken?  Did they mis-read or exaggerate?

Perhaps. That's been known to happen - and often, too.  But I believe that Isabel knows what she's about, and that there's another explanation for Cameron's nods and hints.  Both he and Nick Clegg - and most MPs in the parties they lead - want the Coalition to continue.  They recognise that if they don't hang together they will hang separately, and that a snap election, forced amidst strife and chaos, would benefit neither of their parties.  (Yes, yes: I appreciate that there's a Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  But it might not be sufficient to prolong this Parliament until 2015, were the Coalition to break down.)

Continue reading "Cameron should end the Coalition in September 2014" »

20 Mar 2013 08:09:40

What's the Chancellor's policy towards one-earner families?

By Tim Montgomerie
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It's hard to find much welcome for the Chancellor's new £1,200 childcare giveaway in any of today's newspapers. Left-leaning pundits complain that the allowance that benefits families earning up to £299,999.99p is a poor use of limited funds when many low income families are struggling to make ends meet. Right-leaning commentators worry that it is a measure that complicates rather than simplifies the tax system. Social conservatives see the subsidy as another snub to those parents who choose to stay at home to raise their children.

I admit to being something of a traditionalist on these matters. I believe that children and communities benefit a great deal from having a parent at home in formative years but I also respect the fact that some parents cannot afford to stay at home or are quite simply happier mixing work and parenting. What isn't right is a tax system that heavily subsidies one lifestyle choice at the cost of another. There are two words for that: social engineering. Throughout the OECD we have a tax and benefits system that penalises one earner couples. We need a much simpler tax system that doesn't cajole parents out of the home environment and into the workplace or we need forms of transferable tax allowance that compensate for the heavy taxation of one-earners. Parents should be able to make their own choices about whether to spend more time in the workplace or at home with their kids (or to undertake other caring responsibilities). Those choices are deeply personal and shouldn't be subject to manipulation by the state.

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18 Mar 2013 07:06:44

The budget. A chance to boost capital spending, cut NICs & freeze fuel duty. And tear a strip off the LibDems

By Paul Goodman
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Cameron & Clegg laughing

Hats off to the Liberal Democrats.  They are showing us the way.  We have six times as many MPs as they do, experience of government that they don't, and poll ratings three times higher than theirs.  But while David Cameron has moved from one message to another, and his party's noises off have sometimes drowned out those he's sent, Nick Clegg has stuck to his script, and the LibDems has amplified it repeatedly and consistently.  Furthermore, Vince Cable and Tim Farron's spicy attacks on their coalition partner, far from harming him, has actually helped him.

Continue reading "The budget. A chance to boost capital spending, cut NICs & freeze fuel duty. And tear a strip off the LibDems" »