Conservative Diary

The Shoestring manifesto

6 Sep 2009 12:57:30

Compassionate conservatism is getting stronger and deeper by the day

This is the fifth part of ConservativeHome's Mission Week. The final part - on defence and foreign policy - will come tomorrow. We have already highlighted (1) Patriotic renewal, (2) Key themes for David Cameron's Party Conference speech, (3) Representing the grassroots and (4) Championing new media.

For me the most important theme of David Cameron's leadership has been his determination to make our party a true party of social justice. If we are not in public life to help every member of our society we should not be in public life at all.

Our party has a great tradition of social reform but we have sometimes hid our light under a bushel and allowed Labour to claim a monopoly of the moral high ground. That is stupid politics. Many voters deserted us in 1997 because - although they, personally, had profited from the Thatcher-Major years - they felt too many people were being left behind. A winning conservatism, as Iain Duncan Smith says, will convince voters that we will be good for them but also their neighbour. The prize if we succeed is the complete realignment of British politics.

Ten themes seem important as we build a compassionate conservatism:

CommitmentCompassion Basic reassurance: David Cameron has made it clear that the NHS will remain free-at-the-point-of-use. Conservatives are also prominent defenders of the basic state pension and David Willetts was ahead of Labour in saying that it needed to be reconnected to the rise in average earnings. Michael Gove has underlined his commitment to poorer families by suggesting higher funding for schools in very disadvantaged communities. As James Forsyth has noted, David Cameron has made social conservatism fashionable again by (among other things) respecting same-sex relationships.

GOVE MICHAEL NW Education reform. Michael Gove's Swedish supply-side revolution is likely to be the most radical idea in the next Conservative manifesto. Alongside reforms that would allow schools to choose to use different methods of examination system and to set teachers' pay and conditions it will cause big clashes with the teachers' unions. The one hole in the policy is the prohibition on new schools being able to make profits. There is speculation that this might change.  My own view is that start-up schools that combine a real vision for teaching of British history with a strong disciplinary code will be particularly popular with parents.

Prison and welfare reform. While at Justice Nick Herbert set out some very interesting ideas on how to reduce reoffending. They included payment of prison governors by results. Jonathan Aitken in a report for the CSJ has recommended a range of measures to tackle the drug problem in prisons and to encourage more volunteer mentoring of prisoners.  Theresa May and Lord Freud are now developing the tough requirements to seek work that were first announced by Chris Grayling.  

The Shoestring manifesto for the poor. We all know that money is going to be tight for the next Conservative government but a chapter of ConservativeHome's Shoestring Manifesto was dedicated to policies that would help the poor and can be implemented immediately, with little or no cost.  Those ideas included financial literacy education; action against loan sharks; divorce law reform; enactment of a Right-to-Move for council house tenants; a massive simplification of the system which delivers care to parents of disabled children; and protections for faith-based welfare groups to receive fair funding.

Support for marriage and the family. There are opponents of David Cameron's commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system but the vast majority of Tory members and the next generation of Conservative MPs are supportive (and rightly so). It would be very wrong to see Tory family policy only in terms of the marriage commitment. Probably more important is the commitment to invest in relationship education and to abolish the worsening couple penalty in the benefits system.

Continue reading "Compassionate conservatism is getting stronger and deeper by the day " »

1 Sep 2009 08:59:11

Draft #1 of a speech for David Cameron to give at the Party Conference

Throughout this week, 31st August to 6th September, ConservativeHome is reaffirming some of our core themes. We started yesterday with our hope that the next Conservative government will act to renew a sense of British history and pride. Jeremy Hunt MP explores that theme today - examining sport's contribution to national identity.

Today in a very draft set of suggestions for the speech that David Cameron will give in a month's time - at the Manchester Party Conference - I've put together other topics that are regular concerns of this blog. It is not a 'wordsmithed' speech but underlines the themes we hope the Tory leader might address.


GratitudeToActivistsI want to start by thanking every person in this hall and members of the Conservative Party listening or watching at home for all you do. Most of you do not get paid. Supporting the Conservative Party actually costs a lot of you a lot of money. You do it because you believe that the country you love can be better. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. No Conservative MP would be elected if it wasn’t for you. I promise that I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget that it is a privilege to be the leader of this great party.

MPexpenses QUICKLY INTO> In recent times some MPs did forget their privileged position. They were a minority but they brought disgrace to every politician. Saying sorry is not going to be enough to put things right. So let me offer some concrete steps that will start us on the long, hard road back to the point where the British people might begin to respect their Parliament again:

  • Every MP will publish their expenses online so that every voter can see how their taxes are used.
  • We don’t need as many politicians and that is why I’ll cut the number of MPs by 10%.
  • I’ll cut ministers’ pay by 10% and I’ll cut the number of ministers by 20%. We now have more ministers than when the British Empire stretched all around the world [CHECK FACT].
  • [NEW POLICY] Most ministers will lose their government car. It is time for politicians to share in the sacrifices being made by every family in the land.
  • [NEW POLICY] And like every person in a normal job, MPs who do wrong must be sackable. Conservatives will introduce the right for constituents to replace MPs that misbehave even when it’s not election time.
  • We’ll cut quango pay. We’ll scrap regional assemblies. Councils who want to make big increases in council tax will have to ask voters for permission. It’s time for voters to have more power over politicians.

ScaleOfDifficulties Another step forward for democracy will come from a little more honesty from politicians. So let me say this to every person in this country who is thinking of voting Conservative. The party of the red flag has left Britain in the red again. Deep, deep red.

Continue reading "Draft #1 of a speech for David Cameron to give at the Party Conference" »

3 Aug 2009 16:08:58

Terrible advice from The Guardian's Julian Glover

Exclusivity I can't think of a way of writing this politely so I'll just write it directly: Julian Glover's article about the Conservative Party in this morning's Guardian is flawed from start to finish.

Four of his arguments and my four responses:

  1. "There is a tension inside conservatism between the old party and the new one. The new is focused on the future and has insulated itself consciously from the failures of the old – indeed, won public support by insulting the old. It is young, steady-nerved, ambitious and deliberately dismissive of what came before." As parties change there are always tensions but JG doesn't define the tensions accurately. It's much more complex and interesting than he presents. In many ways Cameron is a very traditional Conservative. As Ridley Grove's correspondent notes today, Cameron is a Unionist, a Eurosceptic and a social conservative. One of Cameron's greatest strengths is that he is comfortable with all the conservative traditions but is a temperamental moderate. He doesn't over-emphasise any of them. The Right has its caveman elements but the Right is much more interesting than is usually suggested. IDS, for example, was the champion of social justice before any of Cameron's circle. John Redwood writes intelligently about the environment. Peter Lilley writes intelligently about global poverty. David Davis is Parliament's number one civil libertarian. Does this make them new or old? To ask the question is to show how silly it is. It's also completely wrong for JG to write that Cameron has won public support by "insulting the old". During the grammar schools row Cameron became confrontational but that was a near disaster. He has since avoided any of the 'blood-on-the-carpet' modernisation favoured by Michael Portillo.
  2. "He could spend time schmoozing the tearooms and asking people in for drinks; a few would be flattered. But he cannot increase the number of real jobs on offer, and in real jobs he wants real allies. Those allies come from the future, the majority of Tory MPs likely to have been elected for the first time at the coming election." Mr Cameron would be wrong to take this advice. Cameron has no party management problems so long as he's 24% ahead in target seats. There will be problems in government when very difficult decisions are being made on the public finances. JG is also wrong to assume the new intake will be automatically and universally grateful to Cameron.  For reasons that The Economist understands and I set out here the new intake are independent-minded and will need to stay close to their Conservative Associations. Cameron, like all sensible party leaders, will wisely "schmooze" his colleagues.
  3. "A current fashion among Tories is to call on Cameron to promote the old-timers, to give his team strength now that office looks near. He is wise to be cautious: Ken Clarke always stood apart from the worst parts of the old Tory party, which is why he makes a plausible member of the new one. But bringing back the old guard only makes sense to people who do not think that, underneath, the party had to change." Nonsense. This is a caricature of the old guard. Davis, Lilley and Young, in particular, are all agents of change and would all be very capable ministers. Cutting himself off from the talent on his backbench is one sure way of repeating the biggest failure of the Blair years; a failure to manage Whitehall.
  4. "On 2 October, Ireland votes for a second time in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Barely 48 hours later, Conservatives gather for their autumn conference... This could be a real and caustic mess, with Euro divisions cutting across new and old Tories. Cameron's response should define his leadership. Does he follow the deeply Eurosceptic heart some say beats inside him? Or does he place ideological obsessions to one side to deal with the pressing issues of government?... Cameron may have to face up to his party this autumn. He will have to tell it that tolerating Lisbon is the price it must to pay for power... There will be a temptation to give in to primeval Tory instincts. The lesson of the Cameron leadership so far is that that is always, but always, the wrong thing to do." JG's choice of "primeval" is the giveaway word.  As much as he may not like it, most Britons are Eurosceptic and pejoratively dismissing them as "primeval" does not advance understanding in any way.  Cameron does, of course, have to be careful with the issue of Europe. It is an issue that still has the power to cause explosive divisions but Cameron has an opportunity to modernise Euroscepticism. So much of Europe is out-of-date. The Fisheries Policy is bad for the environment, the Common Agricultural Policy is bad for the developing world, the annual failure to audit the EU accounts is just plain indefensible.  When Cameron is suffering politically because of tough spending decisions he does not need a war with his base vote by sticking two fingers up at them on Europe.  Euroscepticism will be part of his 'Shoestring manifesto' of cost-free initiatives to keep the country happy while there is no money to spend.

Tim Montgomerie

1 Aug 2009 08:57:30

Twenty more suggestions for The Shoestring manifesto

Over the last week I've been proposing cost-free policies that a Tory Government should introduce as part of a 'Shoestring Manifesto' (for the environment, social justice, fairness in the media, democratic renewal and patriotism).  In the ConHome monthly survey I asked readers for their own ideas and without necessarily approving of them I publish twenty of them below:

6a00d83451b31c69e20115714b0716970c-250wi(1) Abolish the right to apply for retrospective planning permission. This would stop travellers planting themselves in a field on Saturday morning, applying for retrospective permission to be there on Monday. Local Authorities wouldn't have to face the ire of their electorate when they decline to go to judicial review of an inspector's decision to overturn the planning committee's refusal of permission.

(2) Amend the smoking ban, to cater for choice, and respect property rights in relation thereto.

(3) Remove the ban on fox hunting.

(4) National Flags flown from Town Halls.

(5) Repeal 24 hour drinking the moment 3 out of every A & E admissions between midnight and 5 am are alcohol related.

(6) Impose a ban on hospital staff wearing their uniforms in public to reduce hospital infections.

(7) Abolish one existing law or regulation for every new law or regulation introduced.

(8) ALL lighting for advertising purposes only should be switched off at midnight.

(9) Reform the curriculum to make history compulsory for 14-16 year olds, with an emphasis on British political, social cultural and constitutional history since 1500. Do this and all the nonsense talk about what it is to be British will vanish within a few years.

(10) Reinforce the notion that the Englishman's home is his castle... Anybody entering without invitation should lose all rights - including risk of harm from the householder.

Continue reading "Twenty more suggestions for The Shoestring manifesto" »

31 Jul 2009 08:51:05

Shoestring manifesto (5): Practical environmentalism

In the fifth (and, for the moment, final) part of ConservativeHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we look at ways of improving the natural environment.  In the first four parts we examined action on patriotism and history, improving our democracy, fairness in media and social justice.

6a00d83451b31c69e20115714b0716970c-250wi The environment has been a signature issue for David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party. But how will his blue-green message translate into an agenda for government? Even if you leave the issue of climate change to one side, there are strong security and competitiveness grounds for renewing Britain’s ageing energy infrastructure. Obviously, this comes with a big price tag and, just as obviously, Labour didn’t mend this particular roof when the sun was shining. Unless we’re OK with the lights going out, failing to secure the necessary investment is not an option. Constructing a policy framework capable of minimising the cost to the consumer is an enormous task and somewhat beyond the scope of this shoestring manifesto, but that still leaves a number of areas where a Conservative could make an immediate cost-free impact on the environmental agenda.

Radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy:  We must press for immediate and radical reform of those twin environmental disaster zones – the CAP and the CFP. In fact, British control over both these areas should be repatriated and, where necessary, appropriate cross-border agreements negotiated on a regional basis.  My fear is that this would be over Ken Clarke's dead body.  When he joined Cameron's frontbench he signed up to existing European policy and no further scepticism.

Energy efficiency: The number one priority for energy policy should be energy efficiency improvements, which not only have the potential to pay for themselves and actually save money – but also address social priorities like job creation and tackling fuel poverty. The Party has already announced a widely acclaimed nationwide loan scheme for household efficiency improvements that would be paid back through energy bills from the energy savings thus made.*

Ending Whitehall's green hypocrisy: Ministers should practice what they preach on energy efficiency by sorting out their ministerial headquarters. It is little short of disgraceful that the Government estate is so energy inefficient and that the building that houses the Department of Energy and Climate Change has the lowest possible efficiency rating! If a Conservative Government wants to stop wasting taxpayers’ money, it should stop wasting energy for a start.*

Continue reading "Shoestring manifesto (5): Practical environmentalism" »

30 Jul 2009 09:01:45

Shoestring manifesto (4): Immediate progress on social justice

So far in ConHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we have examined ways of celebrating Britain, improving our democracy and creating a fairer media environment.  In today's fourth chapter of this cost-free manifesto we examine immediate steps that will deliver more social justice.

David Cameron will probably keep reorganisation of Whitehall to a minimum but he might create one new department to focus on social justice.  A hot tip to lead this would be Iain Duncan Smith although it's just as likely he will chair a powerful Social Justice Select Committee as proposed by Peter Luff MP on these pages.  In today's Spectator James Forsyth notes speculation that Oliver Letwin might become Energy & Climate Change Secretary in government and that portfolio's current holder, Greg Clark, would get the Social Justice role.  Either IDS or Greg Clark would be convincing choices given their long-held interest in poverty-fighting policies.

6a00d83451b31c69e2011572447780970b-250wiMost of the big action on social justice will remain in the existing departments (charitable tax relief in Treasury for example... education reform with Michael Gove... prisons reform at Justice... eliminating the couple penalty in the benefit system at DWP and so on) but the 'DfSJ' could focus on delivering some of the compassionate pledges that require no or little extra money.  Here are some:

  • A £50m fund for relationship and fatherhood education and a £25m fund for financial education of 14 year-olds (to be fully financed by getting more National Lottery money to good causes).
  • Divorce law reform that would see a cooling off period introduced before couples could separate.
  • A right for looked after children to sue failing local authorities as proposed by Ryan Robson.
  • The Austrian system of special needs assessment so that families with disabled children get the help they need from one quick source.*
  • Longer-term contracts for voluntary and community organisations so they can plan with confidence.
  • New guarantees for faith-based groups to receive fair access to funding from all public grant making agencies.
  • A new Unfair Competition Test that will limit governments expanding into fields already served by voluntary groups.
  • The establishment of 'Community Growth Trusts' so that small poverty-fighting groups can earn recognition from the state if they pass progressive thresholds.  A group that, for example, spends a grant well could receive a loan guarantee facility and then a right to apply to run an under-used public sector asset and then to run a local health centre and so on.
  • Encouragement of councils to establish charitable partnership funds of the kind Boris Johnson has established in London.
  • Enactment of the Right-to-Move (as proposed by Policy Exchange and accepted by Grant Shapps) for social housing tenants.*
  • A progressive switch of treatments from ineffective drug substitution programmes (eg methadone) to full rehabilitation programmes so that people become genuinely drug-free.  Scottish Conservatives have pioneered this in their budget negotiations.*
  • The establishment of a nationwide prisoner mentoring scheme as proposed by Jonathan Aitken.
  • New rights to protect the very poorest from loan sharks.

Tim Montgomerie

* Denotes existing Tory commitments. Most are recommendations from the Centre for Social Justice or my own.

29 Jul 2009 08:56:02

Shoestring manifesto (3): Fair public funding of the media

The Shoestring Manifesto is all about worthwhile, cost-free projects for a Conservative government in the 'age of austerity'.  On Monday we looked at transforming appreciation of Britain and its history.  Yesterday we proposed ideas to improve our democracy.  Today we look at delivering greater fairness in public subsidy of the media.

6a00d83451b31c69e20115714b0716970c-250wi Two media entities in the UK receive more public subsidy than any other: the BBC and The Guardian.  The BBC most of all, of course, through the licence fee.  The Guardian also receives significant public subsidy via the huge public sector jobs supplements that it carries.  The ideological bias of The Guardian is self-proclaimed.  The biases of the BBC are hotly disputed but I direct readers to here, here and here for background reading.  Even without accepting that the BBC and Guardian come from left-liberal ideological perspectives there is a strong case for ensuring greater fairness in the flow of public money to the media.  The Shoestring manifesto recommends two policies:

  • That the BBC is forced to share (initially) 2% of its licence fee with new start-up broadcasters.  There would be little benefit in the licence fee going to Channel 4 but Peter Whitte has set out the kind of 'adversarial' form of broadcasting (more 'Moral Maze' than 'Woman's Hour') that top-slicing should fund.  Top-slicing was favoured by the Tory leadership and is now supported by the Labour government but David Cameron has apparently cooled towards the policy.  That is a real shame.  A 2% top-slicing would be the beginning of a transformation of the way public service broadcasting is seen in this country.  The BBC would no longer monopolise the licence fee and its funding of high quality journalism.
  • All public sector job adverts should be put online.  George Osborne has already mooted this idea but I don't think it has yet become a commitment.  It is difficult to defend one newspaper receiving such a large share of government advertising and in the age of austerity we shouldn't be funding expensive newspaper advertising at all when the same advertising could be posted on a government website for next to nothing.

Within the media section of The Shoestring Manifesto there also should be much stricter regulation of the BBC's expansionary tendencies.  Always wanting to occupy new areas it threatens media starts ups and, consequently, journalistic diversity.

Tim Montgomerie

28 Jul 2009 08:43:45

Shoestring manifesto (2): A healthier democracy

In yesterday's first instalment of ConHome's 'Shoestring Manifesto' we proposed that the next Conservative government aim to radically improve the teaching of British history, to designate a national day and to ensure better care for our military as part of a commitment to patriotic renewal.  Today we look at ideas to improve our democracy.

6a00d83451b31c69e201157239ff36970b-250wi The Conservative Party has already proposed a number of measures that would enhance our democracy:

  • An equalisation of the size of parliamentary constituencies.  We called this 'Fair Seats' in January 2008.
  • Fewer MPs.  David Cameron has proposed a 10% reduction (but why not 20%?).
  • Automatic referenda for councils that want to impose large increases in council tax.
  • Automatic referenda for any attempts to transfer more powers from Britain to Brussels.
  • Elected Police Chiefs.
  • More elected City Mayors.  These are the Whitehall ministers of the future.  Too few current ministers have executive experience.
  • A reduction in the number of unaccountable quangoes.
  • An end to 'double-jobbing'.
  • Some form of 'English Votes for English Laws'.
  • Abolition of the £10,000pa Communications Allowance that favours incumbent MPs over challengers.

Here are a few other commitments that the Conservatives should promise:

  • Shorter parliamentary recesses (although not necessarily more parliamentary days overall).
  • A power to recall MPs, mayors and other elected officials who lose the confidence of voters between elections.
  • Fixed-term parliaments to stop Prime Ministers fiddling with election dates.
  • A 5% to 10% annual reduction in taxpayers' funding of political parties until it is completely eliminated.  Only when parties can no longer rely on the taxpayer will they be forced to go and raise their money from real voters.  At the same time there should be a low cap on the amount of money that parties can raise from any one individual so that funding is genuinely democratic.
  • Meaningful readoption procedures for sitting MPs so that people selected for a 'safe seat' don't think they have a job for life.  This is more of a party matter than a parliamentary matter.  During the next parliament it may be unnecessary because the reduction in the number of MPs will necessitate readoptions across the country because of boundary changes.  
  • Fully democratic internal party selections.
  • US-style election debates between the party leaders.
  • New powers for Select Committees in the Commons to oversee departmental budgets including the power to veto specific items.  This idea comes from The Plan by Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan.
What are readers' thoughts?

Tim Montgomerie

27 Jul 2009 07:05:24

Shoestring manifesto (1): Let us transform appreciation of Britain and its history

It is increasingly obvious that the next Conservative government will have to make drastic cuts in public spending.  Rebalancing the books will be the task of David Cameron's hoped for premiership.  It may be that this exercise of national salvation will be enough to ensure re-election but it will also be important for a Conservative government to deliver other results for voters.  Over the next few days ConHome will be suggesting contents for 'A Shoestring Manifesto' - a manifesto that contains important policy changes that won't cost a penny.  We start with ideas on patriotism.

GoverningOnAShoestringBudge I've already trailed ideas on patriotism (and David Cameron has responded) but it's important enough to be repeated!  It's difficult to love your country if you know little about it and far too many Britons know very, very little about their country (click here).  The next Conservative manifesto shouldn't have patriotism as a theme for the footnotes but as a big idea.

  1. We should commit to transform the teaching of history in Britain's schools.  Frank Field MP has kindly agreed to write for ConservativeHome on this mission during August in a sign that this could be a cross-party endeavour.
  2. In transforming the nation's understanding of history we should enlist our public service broadcaster, the BBC.  The BBC's considerable skills could be used to produce high quality Sunday night dramas on the lives of the nation's great historical figures, including Wilberforce, Disraeli, Cadbury, Brunel and Adam Smith.  Donata Huggins has already blogged on this.
  3. We should consider a National Day.  America has 4th July.  France has Bastille Day.  Iraq recently had National Sovereignty Day.  Donata considered options earlier in the month.  David T Breaker has suggested Churchill Day.
  4. We should continue to celebrate British sport.  Jeremy Hunt MP will be addressing his commitment to British sport once he returns from his honeymoon.
  5. A final suggestion from me would be a thorough renewal of the nation's covenant with our armed forces.  David Cameron and Liam Fox have already given a lot of thought to this.

Chris Grayling MP, Shadow Home Secretary, will be addressing ConHome at the Manchester Party Conference on the subject of patriotism.  We will record his remarks so non-attendees can watch what he has to say.

Tim Montgomerie

Email me if you have thoughts for The Shoestring Manifesto.