Conservative Diary

Tory Manifesto 2015

12 Jul 2013 10:13:44

Osborne's tax pledge heralds a class war, 2015 General Election

TaxbombBy Harry Phibbs
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There will be lots of issues at the next election - the Government's record on the economy, welfare reform and public services, the presidential contest between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the EU in/out referendum (especially if Labour is not offering one.)

However, we can now see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, will offer the electorate a clear pledge that a Conservative Government would not put up tax.

Naturally Mr Osborne will be quizzed about this. Probably it will be made clear this means no overall increase in tax - some might go up, but only if offset by other tax cuts.

There is also the complication that we are talking about tax revenue rather than tax rates. Mr Osborne's pitch is that enough spending cuts have been identified to gradually restore a balanced budget - that no extra tax will be required. This should still allow cuts in tax rates where this would allow increases in tax revenue. In opposition, Mr Osborne was dismissive of the Laffer Curve - either through scepticism or because he thought putting forward the Conservatives as tax cutters was misguided politically.

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17 Apr 2013 06:15:34

Margaret Thatcher's legacy should be a Conservatism For Bolton West

By Paul Goodman
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Majority StepsThe Conservative Party is itself in poor health as it gathers to bury Margaret Thatcher.  It hasn't won an election in over 20 years.  The effects of vote distribution and out-of-date boundaries conspire against it breaking the habit next time.  It has lost Scotland altogether, and is the third party in much of the urban north.  It won 16% of the ethnic minority vote in 2010: by 2050, ethnic minority members will make up one in five of the total.  It has a serious political competitor on the right, UKIP, for the first time in living memory.

Labour's rout on welfare earlier this month, and its squabbles over leadership and policy last week, have cheered up some Tory MPs - unduly so, all considered.  A doctor's diagnosis of their party's condition would find serious illness, perhaps terminal decline.  And the structural obstacles to a Conservative majority would remain even were this not a Government of which the whole is much less than the sum of the parts.  So what can the Conservatives learn from the most potent election-winner in their history - the woman who they will honour today?

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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.)

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2 Apr 2013 09:22:52

Ministers can't just carry on attacking the ECHR. They must pledge to take Britain out of it.

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 09.20.45
By Paul Goodman

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I suspect that Chris Grayling would like Britain to leave the ECHR.  I have no evidence whatsoever for this guess, but it's consistent with the carefully-chosen words he used on the matter when I interviewed him for this site last year.  This morning, he writes in the Daily Mail about the court and the convention.  He says: "I think we have given up far too much of our own sovereignty. We have given up too many of our own democratic rights. We need to reverse the changes...I would bring forward reforms in this Parliament and not the next. But we don’t have the votes to bring that business to the House and then deliver it."

The Justice Secretary is right to remind readers that the Conservatives can't simply pass whatever measures they like through the Commons.  (Some of them seem to have difficulty in grasping the point.)  But the problem his piece points to is obvious: what are the reforms that he would bring forward?  We don't know - and the longer we don't know, the more the words of Ministers who hint at radical measures are likely to be compared to those of King Lear: "I will do such things, -/ What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be./The terrors of the earth."

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29 Mar 2013 16:33:31

The next manifesto should include "new ideas" from the past

Tory manifesto 2005By Harry Phibbs
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It is true the Lib Dems often act as a drag on this Government. Yet the Government has still been surprisingly radical in the scale of its reform programme. We are just over the half way point of this Parliament and so we can expect still more to be achieved. However, already consideration is being given to the Conservative Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Such people as the Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and the Treasury Special Advisor Neil O'Brien are understood to be already on the case.

The Conservative Policy Forum has been revived, with their proposals going direct to Mr Letwin, who is their Chairman. Given the prohibitive cost of attending the Party Conference, this opportunity to give the Party grassroots a fair hearing is all the more important.

We also have more Tory MPs who are interested in policy than ever before and there are more think tanks producing policies consistent with Conservative philosophy.  The ambition, of course, is that the Manifesto will form a programme that will be enacted by the first Conservative Government for a generation.

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29 Mar 2013 15:26:55

The next manifesto. The '22s policy committees start work. But where do they fit in?

By Paul Goodman
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The intention had always been that, at some point mid-Parliament, these committees would "go live" - in other words, start receiving submissions about what should be in the next manifesto.  Next, those committees will consider what they've received.  And finally, they will draw up manifesto recommendations, which will be presented to Oliver Letwin (or someone else, if Letwin's not in charge of the manifesto at that point).  There are five of these backbench policy committees, and the subject areas they cover are divided up as follows:

The Economy: John Redwood.

Home Affairs and the Constitution: Eleanor Laing.

Public Services: Steve Baker.

Foreign Affairs: Edward Leigh.

The Environment and Local Government: Neil Parish.

Tim Montgomerie recommended the '22 raise money and fund its own policy unit.  Senior figures on the committee felt that to so would be like creating a party within a party, and thus didn't.  However you feel about the matter, it highlights the unusual nature of the next manifesto process.  Because the party is in coalition, it can't rely on the Downing Street policy unit (which in any event is largely staffed by civil servants: a mistake).  The '22 groups will thus be short of staff to back up their work, which helps to explain why some are talking to think-tanks.

I gather that the Centre for Policy Studies and Civitas are among those showing an interest, and that some of the '22 groups have begun talking to senior party members about drawing on the views and talents of the voluntary party.  This raises the question of how the groups will dovetail with the Conservative Policy Forum, which is already doing its own policy work on the next manifesto.    ConservativeHome work on its own Strong and Compassionate manifesto project continues.