Conservative Diary


20 May 2013 08:25:26

Getting to Know U-KIP 1) Who are UKIP?

UKIP_mag 3By Mark Wallace
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This week, ConservativeHome's "Getting to Know U-KIP" series explores the reality of the party hitting the headlines - who they are, how they work and what they believe. Today's piece is an introduction to UKIPpers, and asks what motivates them, why they do what they do, and what implications that has for British - and particularly Conservative - politics.

In June 2004, buoyed by the high profile declaration of support by Robert Kilroy-Silk, UKIP reached 26,000 members. It was a heady moment for the party - and one that would not last. Within months, the tangerine TV man had stormed out and the new recruits were melting away.

Last Tuesday, UKIP broke that 26,000 record for the first time. They are booming at grassroots level, as well as in the polls. They now have two targets - to reach 30,000 members by the time their party conference begins in September, and to hang onto the new recruits this time.

But who are the UKIPpers? We know what senior Conservatives think of them - from Michael Howard's "cranks and gadflies" and David Cameron's infamous "fruitcakes and closet racists" to Ken Clarke's disastrous "clowns" comment on the eve of the local elections. And yet despite the abuse, they are still on the march - for clowns they are very serious, and they have proved unusually long lived for supposed gadflies.

Understanding them matters - without an insight into their motivations, their history and their views then Conservatives have no way to come up with an informed response. Whether you want to defeat UKIP, ally with them or bring them into the Tory fold, you stand no chance of success if you don't know them.

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18 May 2013 21:25:03

UKIP surges to a record 20% in an opinion poll as Cameron languishes

By Andrew Gimson
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UKIP has reached its highest level ever in an opinion poll: 20% in the Opinium/Observer poll. A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror has UKIP on 19%, while ICM in the Sunday Telegraph puts the party on 15%.

The three established parties are all in the doldrums. Taking the three polls in the same order as I have used for UKIP, Labour is at 37%, 35% and 32%; the Conservatives at 27%, 29% and 29%; while the Lib Dems find themselves on 7%, 8% and 16%.

This is a bad time for the Tories to be preoccupied by the question of whether someone in the high command has referred to the party's footsoldiers as "swivel-eyed loons". Nor can Labour feel happy to be recording such modest leads over the Conservatives as 10%, 6% and a mere 3%.

Continue reading "UKIP surges to a record 20% in an opinion poll as Cameron languishes" »

17 May 2013 07:50:24

When it comes to Europe 17% of voters think Cameron is driven by beliefs but 64% think he's driven by tactical calculations

Tim Montgomerie
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There's an interesting YouGov poll in today's Times (£). We know what most voters think of Europe. They want it changed back to something more like a free trade area. We know what voters think of a referendum. They want to have one. But do voters think the politicians are genuine about the European and referenda policies that they hold? YouGov asked voters whether they thought politicians were holding their European policy positions because "they feel strongly about the issue" or "mainly because they are making a tactical calculation about what to say". The results are telling...

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  • 55% of voters thought Nigel Farage was genuine and only 22% thought he was tactical.
  • 43% thought people like Ken Clarke took the position they did because of strongly held views and only 32% thought they did so for tactical reasons.
  • But when it came to David Cameron only 17% thought he felt strongly about the issue and 64% thought his European position was simply a tactical calculation.
  • Ed Miliband's numbers were slightly better than Cameron's but not much. 20% thought the Labour leader felt strongly about the issue but 52% thought he was largely motivated by tactical considerations.

Continue reading "When it comes to Europe 17% of voters think Cameron is driven by beliefs but 64% think he's driven by tactical calculations" »

15 May 2013 07:00:26

Replace Grant Shapps with a Chairman who can cheer the troops

By Andrew Gimson
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What is the point of Grant Shapps? If the Chairman of the Conservative Party can do nothing else, he ought at least to be able to put fresh heart into the Tory faithful. Yet in the eight months he has been Chairman (or technically speaking, Co-Chairman with Lord Feldman, who runs the business side of the party), I cannot find a single instance of Shapps managing to do this.

It is possible he will grow into the role: possible too that he has won golden opinions of which I have not heard. But it is also possible that Shapps has been given an extraordinarily difficult job, is never going to work out how to do it, and should be replaced by someone better able to cheer the Tory troops in the two years which remain before the next election.

On Saturday 9 March, Shapps addressed the ConHome Victory 2015 Conference, which was attended by a large number of Tory activists. He was by common consent the least interesting speaker of the day. He had nothing to say, and said it badly.

There was no sense of connection between the Chairman and his audience: no feeling that party members were being taken into his confidence and having their spirits raised by being offered a glimpse of the route which together they will tread to the sunlit uplands.

Shapps spoke instead of his success as a local campaigner. “How did I win?” he asked. “I got out there and knocked on doors.”  This was an insult. Pretty much everyone in the room had knocked on doors. Shapps had somehow managed to suggest, no doubt unintentionally, that if only everyone worked as hard as he did, all would be well: the corollary being that if things went wrong, it would be the poor bloody infantry’s fault.

Anyone can have an off day. I decided to canvas opinion within the party. But the first person I consulted was a shire Tory who was still fuming over something Shapps had said in January, during a discussion on Radio Four about local councillors’ allowances.

Shapps said councillors should not be paid more: an entirely defensible point of view. But the Chairman proceeded to argue that councillors are volunteers, so if they were to get paid, you would have to starting paying volunteers in every walk of life, such as “scout leaders”.

Anyone but Shapps would have seen it was unwise to compare counsellors, who are elected and look after large sums of public money, with scout leaders, no matter how highly one may think of the latter.

The shire Tory happened himself to be a local councillor, and said: “This was an object lesson in how to alienate people who work hard for you. It was stupid, crass and means he’s not a pin-up among the councillor fraternity. He just gave the impression that they [the Tory high command] don’t really want to listen. They just want to tell people what hoops to jump through. They don’t want to hear what it’s like in the front line. The view from the shires is that basically people in the metropolitan elite aren’t really interested in what’s going on elsewhere.”

Shapps finds himself dismissed as a member of the elite even though he is not metropolitan. He was born in Watford, and went to Watford Grammar School and Manchester Polytechnic before setting up a printing firm. Part of his attraction, from the point of view of the Tory leadership, must be that he is not yet another Old Etonian who went on to read PPE, or indeed anything else, at Oxford. He sounds classless, and worked with great persistence to get himself elected for Welwyn Hatfield, where he lost to the sitting Labour MP by 1,196 votes in 2001 but won by 5,946 votes in 2005 and 17,423 votes in 2010.

On arriving at Westminster, he was quick to prove his value. As one close observer puts it: “He was very, very effective in Opposition – a good attack dog who put out press releases attacking Labour all the time. As shadow housing minister he backed localism. He came out of the expenses scandal very well. He was also one of the first MPs to have his own online forum and to go on Twitter. Nothing seemed to be too small for him.”

In 2010, Shapps became Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, and Quentin Letts, of the Daily Mail, even suggested he might be a future Tory leader. Many people began to think Shapps might make a good party chairman, but in retrospect it can be seen that to give him such a prominent role before he had developed an independent political persona was perhaps unwise. The energy and humility needed to deal with small things may or may not be accompanied by an ability to see the big picture, but in Shapps’s case appear not to be.

After Margaret Thatcher died, Andrew Neil asked Shapps: “Are you a Thatcherite?” The Chairman replied: “I think I probably am.”

Neil also asked: “Are you Chairman of a Thatcherite party?” Shapps replied: “We’re a Thatcher party, but we’re also a John Major party.”

Such feeble responses do not make Tory viewers feel proud that this man is their party Chairman. A Tory lady remarked of him: “It’s not even as if Grant appeals to young people.”

In confirmation of this, a young Tory activist who is currently employed by a think tank said of Shapps: “He’s very pro-active, to the point of being annoying. Obviously he attends every event, and works very hard, but there’s no flair to it and I don’t know what his core principles are. He doesn’t inspire me. I do think he’s been over-promoted.”

A senior Tory backbencher described Shapps as “able, extremely nice, but extraordinarily inexperienced for his present role”. Tory chairmen since the Second World War have included Lord Woolton, Lord Hailsham, Rab Butler, Iain Macleod, Lord Carrington, Willie Whitelaw, Peter Thorneycroft, Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit and Chris Patten. The best chairmen have already been considerable figures when they were appointed.

Another long-serving Tory backbencher was less charitable: “We don’t want Muppets being the voice of the Tory Party, and that’s what we’ve got with Grant Yapps.”

This backbencher insisted, rather unkindly, that Shapps was becoming known as Yapps because of a tendency to yap, and added that “he called himself Michael Green for several years, for reasons no one entirely understands”.

In September 2012, soon after he became Chairman, it emerged that on HowToCorp, an online marketing company Shapps set up, he had indeed called himself Michael Green.

That curious detail is, it seems to me, irrelevant to the question of whether Shapps is capable of encouraging the Tory troops to get out and trounce their opponents. But the fact is that after an eight-month trial it looks most unlikely he is.

Any fair-minded observer would agree that inspiring the Tory footsoldiers is just now more difficult and more necessary than ever, given the shrinking size of the party, and the rise of UKIP. But that is why the Prime Minister should think again, and should appoint someone to the role who is already a big political figure. To leave Shapps there for the next two years would be to insult a party which already feels it has been insulted enough.

10 May 2013 07:36:15

Tories should be proud to argue about Europe: the Germans wish their politicians had done so

Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 07.33.59
By Andrew Gimson

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How excellent that the Conservative Party is arguing with itself, or with its leader, about Europe. This debate is often reported as if it were a problem, which in the short term it may well be. For David Cameron, it must in some ways be inconvenient that he has been unable to shut this discussion down. 

But in any but the short term, it must be a good thing that the argument is taking place. For we need to work out whether we wish to remain a self-governing nation, or whether it would be more prudent, profitable and satisfying to merge our fortunes in a larger European entity, just as the fortunes of Massachusetts are merged in the United States of America.

To pose this question is to incur the scorn of sophisticated metropolitan figures. Nationhood strikes them as a primitive idea. They would rather veil it in misty assertions about the need to decide the most important questions at the European level.

Which is why UKIP is doing so well. Its concept of nationhood may not be the last word in sophistication, but at least that party is asking the right question. It recognises that the right to run our own affairs is in the end decisive.

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6 May 2013 15:28:55

Boris Johnson can take on Nigel Farage

By Andrew Gimson
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Boris Johnson today reminds us that there is nowhere more beautiful than England in May. In his Telegraph column he describes, in the manner of a latter-day Jerome K. Jerome, a bicycle ride from London to Oxfordshire. It is a delightful Bank Holiday read.

And it has the other great advantage of keeping him off the political topic of the moment, which is how to deal with UKIP. Tories cannot help wondering which future leader might be able to reunite them with Conservative activists who have joined Nigel Farage’s party, and voters who support it.

Who, as it were, is the Farage of the Conservative party? Does it happen to possess a well-known man or woman who refuses to play the cautious game of the PPE graduates who lead the two main parties? Is there somewhere a Tory untainted by dreary political correctness, who is prepared to take risks and tell jokes? For in order to see off Farage, a person is required who sounds trenchant, independent-minded, staunchly Conservative, yet capable of appealing far beyond the ranks of signed-up Conservatives, not least because he or she has the ability to cheer people up, and appears to be fun to have a drink with.

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6 May 2013 07:28:47

A third of Conservative Party members want an electoral pact with UKIP in 2015

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at 18.14.03
By Paul Goodman

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They divide a third, a third, and a third in our latest survey, issued last Friday morning, about whether to treat UKIP as a friend or enemy when the general election comes in 2015.

The question was

  • 34% believe that the party should form a pact with UKIP for the poll.
  • 33% believe that it shouldn't.
  • And 33% want to wait and see.

Asked if they believed that such a pact will be formed for 2015, 10% of Tory member respondents said Yes, 53% said No and 37% said that the leadership will wait and see.

Understandably, the leadership's position is that there should be no pact with UKIP (or anyone else). So only a third of members are lined up behind it.

To write that this evidence suggests that there's a big gap between Downing Street's views and those of Party members would be an understatment.

Daniel Hannan has long urged a pact. So recently has Michael Fabricant. I'm opposed to one, though I've suggested a new "safe space" in which both parties' activists could meet.

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.

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" »

3 May 2013 06:37:03

For Cameron's critics to condemn the Coalition shows a lack of mental balance

By Andrew Gimson
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David Cameron is a much better Prime Minister than his critics are prepared to admit. He is denounced with a ferocity that precludes debate. Hence the difficulty in knowing how to deal with UKIP. To observe that Cameron has strengths as well as weaknesses is seen by its supporters as a provocation, and produces ever more vehement denunciations. His critics have become determined to believe the worst of him. 

I do not wish to imply that our politicians should be spared criticism. If people want to abuse Cameron, they have every right to do so. One way in which we can stop our politicians from becoming over-mighty is by insulting them. 

And Cameron can himself be provocative. His decision to go ahead with gay marriage infuriated many traditional Conservatives, some of whom assure me they will never vote Conservative again. At Westminster, a Tory backbencher told me this week that he and his colleagues could not stomach the “sneer of cold command” which he felt was all they ever got from Cameron, and from George Osborne too. 

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29 Apr 2013 12:15:22

Ken Clarke is right to abuse UKIP...and Boris Johnson is right to woo it

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 12.11.59
By Andrew Gimson

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Ken Clarke appeared on television yesterday morning in a beige roll-neck jersey of what I can only call magnificent unfashionableness. The garment proclaimed, without need for words, an Englishman’s ancient and inviolable right to wear whatever he feels comfortable in on Sunday morning, regardless of how dowdy it may look to metropolitan trendies, and regardless of whether he happens to be going on television.

Mr Clarke has another ancient English characteristic. He enjoys being rude about people. In his Sunday morning interview with Dermot Murnaghan of Sky News, he was rude about UKIP. I find it frustrating to read only the most abusive snippets from this kind of attack, which is all one gets in news reports where the journalist is having to cover a lot of ground. So here are two of the exchanges quoted at greater length, taken from the transcript prepared for Sky News.

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