Conservative Diary

The Conservative Right

30 Aug 2012 08:28:14

Cameroon commentators start attacking the Tory "Right". Are they speaking for Numbers 10 and 11?

By Tim Montgomerie
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As the Government's problems mount I note that some of the commentators most supportive of the Cameron project have been penning defences of the Coalition's economic policies in general and of the Chancellor in particular. Matthew Parris did so on Saturday. In yesterday's London Evening Standard Matt d'Ancona said Tory calls for a "growth strategy" were "more often ritual than rational". In yesterday's Times (£) Danny Finkelstein criticised "the Right" for a lack of discipline - a theme that Rob Leitch addresses today, on our own pages. Two days ago the FT's Janan Ganesh rode to Osborne's defence, attacking the Right for failing to give Mr Osborne more support.

In the fisk below I look at Janan's article and what I think are dangerous criticisms of the Conservative Right (or Conservative Mainstream MPs as I'd prefer to call them). What worries me most is not what commentators say. What I worry about is that Numbers 10 and 11 may share the views that are appearing in the columns of d'Ancona, Finkelstein and Ganesh. Do they really think they've done enough on growth? My own qualified defence of George Osborne's position is based on the view that he has been battling unsuccessfully for more growth measures, albeit belatedly. I'm also concerned that rather than asking themselves some very hard questions about their mismanagement of what is admittedly a difficult-to-manage party, the Tory leadership is blaming their critics for not showing more unquestioning loyalty. The language of some Tory MPs towards the leadership has been unnecessarily violent but (1) a record of appointing mates to Number 10 and the Cabinet, (2) of punishing any kind of critic and (3) running an unorthodox and ultimately unsuccessful election campaign is not the best way you earn loyalty.

Continue reading "Cameroon commentators start attacking the Tory "Right". Are they speaking for Numbers 10 and 11?" »

7 Aug 2012 07:46:54

David Cameron's leadership is now at risk

By Paul Goodman
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Imagine a civil partnership of which one member suddenly announced to the world: "My partner has refused to cook me any food.  So I am refusing to give him any sex.  But don't worry for a moment: we must now restore balance to our relationship, allowing us to draw a line under these events and get on with our civil partnership."  Such a proclamation would scarcely persuade friends of the happy couple that the arrangement had much of a future.

I apologise in advance if the comparison is in any way offensive, but this is roughly what Nick Clegg seemed to say yesterday when he declared that since some Conservative backbenchers didn't support Lords reform he will now require all Liberal Democrat frontbenchers to oppose the boundary review.

Continue reading "David Cameron's leadership is now at risk" »

15 Jul 2012 19:06:19

The Lib Dems may only contribute a sixth of the Coalition's MPs but they account for 100% of the Government's majority

By Tim Montgomerie
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Fox Liam Politics ShowLiam Fox gave an interview to today's Sunday Telegraph in which he implied that the Liberal Democrats should be more modest in their expectations and Cameron should be more ambitious with his. "They have to remember," said the former Defence Secretary, "that they are a sixth of the Coalition, not half the Coalition". Over on Coffee House Fraser Nelson's message is similar. Underneath a picture of Mr Clegg that presents the Deputy PM as less than scary, Fraser writes:

"The Lib Dems have just 8% of the seats in parliament and about 10% of the current popular support. Cameron ought to remember this when deciding the balance of power within government."

A Conservative Cabinet minister has telephoned me this afternoon to strike back at this assertiveness and to do so in forthright terms. "The Lib Dems may only have one-sixth of the MPs," they said, "but without them we have no majority... They own 100% of the majority. And they've taken at least 50% of the political pain of the last two years. For at least two more years their problems are our problems or the government dies. Liam was a lambkin when he sat around the Cabinet table, rarely challenging the Lib Dems. Now, off the frontbench, he's found his foxy voice again. He knew when he was in the tent that progress could only happen by negotiation and his advocacy of confrontationalism now is not winning him friends among the grown-ups." Ouch.

Continue reading "The Lib Dems may only contribute a sixth of the Coalition's MPs but they account for 100% of the Government's majority" »

27 May 2012 08:59:59

As Cameron allows a free vote on gay marriage, 45% of Tory MPs say it's the top issue constituents write to them about

By Matthew Barrett
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GayweddingThis morning's Sunday Telegraph reports the findings of a poll of MPs of all parties, which suggests that many Members of Parliament are receiving a significant amount of correspondance from constituents on the topic of gay marriage.

The poll, conducted by ComRes for the Coalition for Marriage campaign, shows that 34% of MPs cited gay marriage as one of the main concerns raised with them by voters, ahead of welfare reform (23%), NHS reforms (19%), pensions (13%), fuel prices (13%), unemployment and jobs (8%) and the Budget (8%). Of those constituents writing to MPs, the overwhelmingly majority are against - on average, three in four voters are either opposed to the measure (19%) or strongly opposed (55%), according to MPs’ assessments. Only 16% of constituents are seen to support the plans.

Opposition to gay marriage is reported by all three main parties. However, Conservative MPs get the most correspondence on the issue - 45% of Tory MPs say gay marriage is the biggest issue with their constituents, while 30% of Lib Dems and 23% of Labour MPs say the same.

The poll is interesting, because it gives us some idea of how Tory MPs are being lobbied ahead of a vote on the issue. Earlier this week, Number 10 gave the signal that a vote on gay marriage would be a free vote - as matters of conscience are, by convention - having previously implied the vote could be whipped. Although there is no indication of David Cameron drawing back on his plans to legislate for gay marriage, this poll does indicate that many MPs will feel the pressure from constituents to disagree with the Government. 

Continue reading "As Cameron allows a free vote on gay marriage, 45% of Tory MPs say it's the top issue constituents write to them about" »

23 May 2012 14:34:24

Mischief-making Nigel Farage opens door to joint Tory-UKIP candidates

By Tim Montgomerie
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Forget austerity. Forget Leveson. Forget the NHS reforms. Forget the welfare and school reforms. The biggest landscape-changing political event of the parliament so far has been the formation of the Coalition.

The first impact was immediate. Approximately two million left-leaning supporters of the Liberal Democrats walked into the arms of Labour. Some will return home but most won't ever embrace Clegg's party again - for fear they'll put the Tories in power again. Labour gained 4% to 5% in the opinions polls as soon as Cameron and Clegg shook hands - gaining more in five days than the Tories achieved in thirteen years of opposition. Ed Miliband leads a party that isn't 10% short of what it needs to win but only a few percentage points shy of being the largest party. He may be an inadequate leader in important respects but he doesn't need to have Tony Blair-sized political qualities to get the keys to Number 10. This week there are interesting signs that he's finally adopting the sun-rather-than-wind approach to the Lib Dems. Perhaps the younger Mr Miliband has a pact with Simon Hughes in mind given this week's much publicised wooing of the more reddish-coloured half of the yellow party?

Broken right copy
The second impact has been more of a slow motion car crash than a big bang event. It's the splintering of the Right. Most Tories didn't want Cameron to form a coalition. In large numbers they urged him to go for a minority government (before they knew the result... and afterwards). Perhaps, instinctively, they understood that a coalition government would struggle to deliver the kind of economic policies that Britain needed and also the kind of more popular policies that the mainstream of the nation craved. Slowly but surely, as the months have passed, our party's supporters in the press and in the public have peeled off. The most dangerous manifestation of this has been the rise of UKIP. UKIP doesn't need to get 10% to cause us damage. A 5% or 6% vote share will be enough to stop us winning many of the marginal seats that are necessary for a Conservative majority.

We need game-changing events over the next three years to change the great fact that the Cameron-Clegg Coalition has united the Left and divided the Right.

Continue reading "Mischief-making Nigel Farage opens door to joint Tory-UKIP candidates" »

17 May 2012 08:06:26

The reasonable Right as well as the 301 Group won yesterday's 1922 elections

By Tim Montgomerie
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Paul Goodman has already blogged some astute observations about the results of last night's 1922 elections. I also agree with The Spectator's James Forsyth that the high turnout (93.8%) means that the new '22 is very representative of the parliamentary party.

Most newspapers are interpreting the result as a big victory for the 301 Group and its slate of candidates but it would be wrong to see that real victory as a victory for uber-modernisers. The 301 Group's slate was actually quite limited in its ambition. It didn't, for example, seek to oust Graham Brady, John Whittingdale, Charles Walker or Brian Binley (who were all re-elected unopposed). It sought to produce a rebalancing of the committee and I think it succeeded. It certainly hasn't produced a patsy committee. As Douglas Carswell tweeted last night, "11 of 18 Tory MPs on 1922 committee voted for In / Out EU referendum" in last year's rebellion of the 81. The 301 Group failed in their bid to oust Bernard Jenkin, partly because he is very popular with colleagues and more significantly Nick de Bois defeated Charlie Elphicke as candidate for one of the two Secretaryship posts.

The biggest losers from last night were, I suggest, the more old-fashioned Right-wingers. Chris Chope, for example, last the Secretaryship vote and Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone were voted off the backbench business committee.

Nonetheless a good number of candidates that I would describe as on the modern Right of the party did prosper. They included Steve Baker, Nick de Bois, Robert Halfon, Priti Patel and Heather Wheeler.



For me one of the most important developments in the Conservative Party isn't the tussle for supremacy between loyalist and critical backbenchers but the emergence of a Right that is more in tune with the age. Distinguishing features of this group include...

  1. A breadth of concerns (fuel tax and the NHS as well as Europe and immigration);
  2. They aren't anti-government/ anti-state contrarians;
  3. A tone that is in tune with our times. They hold very orthodox Tory views but are less shouty, speaking persuasively. They win people as well as arguments;
  4. They don't rush to College Green with their concerns about the Tory leadership but are more publicly loyal;
  5. They are fascinated with campaigning as much as policy. Many of the modern Right have had to fight long and hard to get into parliament. They are as interested in pavement politics as much as in manifesto politics. Rob Halfon's campaigning sub-committee of the '22 is one illustration of this.

9.30am: Graham Brady has attacked the unpleasant and factional electioneering before yesterday's voting.

16 May 2012 20:52:06

It's a change of generation at the '22

By Paul Goodman
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Some quick points about this evening's '22 result:

  • The elections were a clean sweep for the 301 Group - almost.  Of the nine 301 slate candidates for the executive listed on this site yesterday evening, only one wasn't elected (Adam Holloway).  It was pretty much a clean sweep.
  • But personal popularity counted above all.  For the two Secretary posts, the 301 took one and the No Turning Back (NTB)/Cornerstone ticket the other - Karen Bradley and Nick de Bois respectively.  Christopher Chope, the other candidate on the NTB ticket, uses the Commons chamber in an old-fashioned way, raising points of order that others don't and opposing business that others would let pass, and this hasn't endeared him to the 2010 intake.  Charlie Elphicke, the other candidate on the 301 slate, was left marooned by the personal popularity of Mr de Bois.
  • The results don't break comfortably down into party left or right.  The 301 was a mixed ticket. I would not myself place George Eustice, say, left-of-party centre.  Priti Patel, and out-and-ought right-winger, was on both slates.  Douglas Carswell points out that 11 of the 18 members of the new '22 voted for an EU referendum last year - against the Whip.
  • Glasses will be raised this evening to the winners in Downing Street and the Treasury...  Friends of both have spent much of the day strenuously denying that either interfered in these elections in any way whatsoever.  I am not altogether persuaded.  But there can be no doubt that David Cameron and George Osborne won't be displeased to see the back of those that their friends style "the wreckers".  Mr Cameron failed to abolish the '22 at the start of the Parliament.  Now he will have one more to his taste - although, as Mr Carswell reminds us, the new committee won't be patsies or pushovers.
  • ...But the losers will brood.  Some of those who weren't re-elected - or elected at all - may feel that they now have nothing to lose in criticising the Government very strongly indeed.  Their critics would say that they do so anyway.  It's worth noting that both Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, high-register rebels, weren't re-elected to the backbench business committee.
  • Above all, these elections mark a generational shift within the Parliamentary Party - which offers both gains and risks.  Of those MPs elected today, only one - Bernard Jenkin - didn't enter Parliament in 2010.  The new '22 will be eager, enthusiastic, reforming, full of ideas.  It will also be inexperienced - and doubtless sometimes find itself re-inventing the wheel.  It would be dangerous for a gulf to open up between the pre-2010 and post-2010 generations of Tory MPs.  Graham Brady, John Whittingdale and Brian Binley - more experienced MPs and senior '22 MPs all - have work on their hands.

15 May 2012 07:34:20

The man who will decide tomorrow's backbench elections

By Paul Goodman
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This Wednesday's 1922 elections will be a multi-dimensional contest: left v right, younger MPs v older ones, critics v loyalists, Golden Dawn v Pink Sunset (plus some independents, just to complete the confusion).  A slate organised by the 301 group, as Tim has previously reported, will run against a slate that isn't.  We are hearing the views of many people from both tickets and none about the Government and the '22 itself - and will hear even more during the next few days - but we haven't heard so far from the man who will decide the contest.

Enter my old friend, J.Alfred Prufrock MP.  Prufrock represents an urban seat with a rural hinterland in the West Midlands, which he won by the unreassuring margin of some 3000 votes.  He has two children at local schools (having promised before the 2010 election to educate them there), a wife who works in the constituency office (she can cope with constituents, just; she can't cope with MERLIN at all), a home ten minutes drive from it, and a flat in Vauxhaull with a leaky ceiling about which he is in permanent correspondence with IPSA.

Continue reading "The man who will decide tomorrow's backbench elections" »

9 May 2012 07:51:02

A spoonful of (Conservative) sugar helps the (austerity) medicine go down

By Tim Montgomerie
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6a00d83451b31c69e201676640ae57970b-250wiI hope readers have enjoyed reading The Alternative Queen's Speech over the last 48 hours. It certainly produced a surge in traffic to ConservativeHome. The Sun certainly enjoyed it. They took many of the Speech's biggest ideas and tested them against the 'real' Queen's Speech in their daily YouGov poll. It found that the Alternative Speech was more popular than the Government's. Seven of the ten most popular ideas came from the list of bills we have been publishing on ConservativeHome and only three of the most popular are Bills being proposed by the Coalition. The least popular Bills were also from the Coalition. Scroll down this page on The Sun website for more.

There are ideas in today's Queen's Speech that do win a lot of support from the public. Action against drug driving is supported by 81% of voters, for example. By 74% to 13% voters agree that the Coalition's Bill to give shareholders more power to control executive pay should be included in the Queen's Speech. By 59% to 25% there's also big support for the Coalition's new plan for a regulator that will stop supermarkets 'ripping-off' small firms. The last two measures prove that the public mood remains hostile to 'big business'.

Continue reading "A spoonful of (Conservative) sugar helps the (austerity) medicine go down" »

7 May 2012 08:25:55

The Alternative Queen's Speech offers popular, pro-poor and broadly-based legislation

By Tim Montgomerie
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What would the Queen's Speech have looked like if a majority Conservative government had been elected two years ago? That's the question we attempt to answer in the Alternative Queen's Speech that ConservativeHome publishes today.

It will, no doubt, be presented by some commentators as a Right-wing agenda - or as a "lurch to the Right". By Right many people mean extreme, or mean-spirited or narrow. In today's Guardian I explain why - what I prefer to call Majority Conservatism - is none of these things.

  • Majority Conservatism is popular. Big majorities of the British people want tougher control of immigration, a referendum on Europe, lower taxes on fuel and income, more conditionality in welfare and less community punishment of repeat and serious offenders.
  • Majority Conservatism is pro-poor. In The Guardian I write: "Polly Toynbee has herself acknowledged that it's the working class who have suffered most from uncontrolled immigration. I would argue that Europe has also been bad for those on the lowest incomes. The EU's common agricultural policy has inflated the average family's grocery bill and its energy regime has made it more expensive for pensioners to heat their homes." Within this Alternative Queen's Speech there will be a number of measures that aim to bring more competition to education, water supply, banking and energy because choice and transparency are the two tools that most empower the little guy against big business.
  • Majority Conservatism is balanced and broad. This is the bit where I repeat that we need to walk and chew gum at the same time. A majority party won't just talk about Europe, tax, crime, immigration, defence and welfare. It will also be committed to healthcare, family life, education, social enterprise and so on. It's full spectrum or full orchestra conservatism. Boris Johnson is the example of this. He is the Heineken Tory because he's both a traditional Tory but comfortable at using government when necessary and also at ease with modern Britain and hopeful about its future.

The Alternative Queen's Speech has no single author or group of authors. I'm grateful to MPs like David Davis and John Redwood for contributing individual ideas to it. You may have heard David on yesterday's The World This Weekend talking about it and John was on this morning's Today programme. There is also this preview in the Daily Mail. We will be publishing its fifteen component bills, one-at-a-time, on our Comment pages today and tomorrow. You can read them via this link.