Conservative Diary


31 Aug 2013 10:30:03

Downing Street's Corporal Jones moment?

By Paul Goodman
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I asked yesterday whether David Cameron or the Whips bore the main responsibility for this week's party management disaster over Syria.  A day later, the answer is evident.  Downing Street presumed, not unreasonably, that Ed Miliband would deliver a Labour abstention on the vote.  The Whips - also not unreasonably - took their cue from Number 10, made the same presumption, and told some Conservative MPs that they didn't need to return.  One was no less senior a person than the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.  In essence, the Prime Minister was prepared to hold a vote on missile strikes despite opposition to the move from a third or more of Tory MPs.  This is party mismanagement on an epic scale.

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30 Aug 2013 11:11:14

An inner Cabinet. More status for Whips. Changes in his circle - and at the Foreign Office. What Cameron should do next.

Cam ear fingers 2

By Paul Goodman
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  • Yesterday evening's vote makes no real difference to anything.  The economy will continue to grow, David Cameron will recover his position, Britain's non-intervention in Syria will be a mere blip in the continuing special relationship with America, our world standing won't be affected, the Commons will continue to assert itself - and the Westminster Village will calm down.
  • Yesterday evening's vote marks a sea-change in our foreign policy and a shattering of the Special Relationship - as well as a wounding blow to Cameron's authority, a shot in the arm for his previously demoralised Tory opponents, and a wiping-out of the ascendancy over Labour that Downing Street has achieved over the summer.  Britain cuts a diminished international figure on the world stage.

In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate.  What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.

Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April.  But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.

  • Cameron needs to share authority with his most senior colleagues in an Inner Cabinet, and consult its Conservative members more often.  I know from talking to some of the latter that they don't expect Cabinet to be a debating society.  None the less, they are fed up with being cut out of decision-making when they feel their views and advice would help the Prime Minister.  The Inner Cabinet should be based on what office its members hold, not on their personal relations with the Cameron, and should consist of the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman who sits in the Commons.
  • The status of the Whips Office should be raised.  Sir George Young was brought back as Chief Whip after Andrew Mitchell's resignation, and brought a sense of calm and courtesy to its workings.  It would be unfair to blame the Whips for the decision by Cameron to try to impose his view on Syria on an unhappy Parliamentary Party.  And it would be a mistake to try to re-impose military-style whipping on the independent-minded generation of MPs elected in 2010.  Furthermore, the best changes in the world won't improve the Whips if Downing Street doesn't listen to them.  Tony Blair moved them out of Number 12. They should be moved back to the heart of the Downing Street complex.
  • Cameron's inner circle should widen.  None the less, Number 10 would benefit from having a Chief Whip and Leader of the House more independent of the Prime Minister, and thus in a better position to "speak truth to power".  No Cabinet reshuffle is expected, and this isn't the time for it.  But in due course one of the 2010 intake is required in a senior position in the Whips Office, and the next Chief Whip needs to be a listener and an organiser.  Greg Hands or Nicky Morgan could act as Deputy.  David Lidington, Mark Harper or Oliver Heald are good candidates to be Chief Whip.  Eric Pickles is as independent-minded as Cabinet members get, and as Leader of the House would give Cameron plain and shrewd advice.
  • The Foreign Office doesn't reflect the views and mood of the Parliamentary Party This should change.  I've been concerned for some time that the gap between its view of EU policy and that of the Party is too wide: the balance of competences review has so far proved the point.  It also doesn't reflect the shift towards giving the national interest a higher priority that has been taking place in the Parliamentary Party since Iraq.  Mark Francois is a former Shadow Europe Minister, very much a Euro-sceptic and a senior Minister at Defence, where he will have a grasp of what our armed forces now can and can't do. He should be moved across to King Charles Street before the election.

29 Nov 2012 11:07:56

It has never been harder to be a Whip

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-11-29 at 10.15.35Peter Oborne begins his Daily Telegraph column today with the story of how Alastair Goodlad, the former Conservative Chief Whip, once reproved him for wearing brown shoes.  What is it about Tory MPs of a certain disposition and footwear?  One once glided up to the late Julian Critchley, disapprovingly murmured "You're wearing suede shoes", and stalked off, presumably clad in his own black ones.

The theme of Peter's column is that the Government Whips Office has been run down by successive Prime Ministers, and that by continuing to do so David Cameron has made a rod for his own back.  This is right, and Peter illustrates the point by describing how the Whips move from Number 12 Downing Street has mirrored their own downgrading.  But though his arrow thwacks the red bit of the target, I think it just misses the gold.

This is because the Whips are the victim of wider political and cultural change - in two specific ways.  First, less patronage is available to them.  The chairmen and members of Select Committees are now elected rather than appointed.  It is true that the Prime Minister is re-inventing the political knighthood, and that the collapse of Lords reform opens up the prospect of more peerages, but patronage has taken a hit, and Downing Street has come late to using what it has.

Second, the way in which MPs see themselves is changing.  Not so long ago, in the age of safe seats and bigger majorities, they tended simply to follow the whip: rebellions were far lower 25 or so years ago.  Today, they are far more responsive to their constituents.  (This is already the most rebellious Parliament since the war.)  This is for the better, but it has a downside.  Rising local expectations are changing MPs into social workers - all part of the emergence of the political class, a phrase which Peter himself invented and popularised.

19 Oct 2012 20:07:35

Tory MPs give warm welcome to breaking news that Sir George Young will be new Chief Whip

By Tim Montgomerie
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Young George & Cameron

Sir George Young is the new Chief Whip. Here are a few reactions gathered from Twitter:

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19 Oct 2012 18:33:22

Resignation letter of Andrew Mitchell and Prime Minister's reply

By Tim Montgomerie
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Andrew Mitchell has resigned.

Here is the exchange of letters between Mr Mitchell and the Prime Minister.

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14 Oct 2012 19:59:36

Why shouldn't Eric Pickles be the next Home Secretary?

By Paul Goodman
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In today's Mail on Sunday James Forsyth wonders if Eric Pickles could be the next Chief Whip. For last Wednesday's ConHome Party Conference newspaper Paul Goodman argued that Mr Pickles was under-rated and under-valued. This essay is republished below.


Who is the most successful Cabinet Minister?  Polls of party members by ConservativeHome give a twin answer: Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove.  But this is unfair to a Tory colleague who comes in a little below them and gets a lot less publicity - outside his own brief, at least.  Let us consider the case for their colleague, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

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12 Oct 2012 08:38:48

Andrew Mitchell faces increasing hostility from five directions

By Peter Hoskin
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A quick foray into this morning’s papers makes one thing clear: Andrew Mitchell is under as much pressure as ever over his rant at a policeman on Downing Street. In fact, he now faces questions — or outright opposition — from at least five directions:

i) The media. The Daily Telegraph today joins the Sun in calling for Mr Mitchell to resign.

ii) The Cabinet. Ministers openly discussed Mr Mitchell’s future during the party conference. Indeed, IDS joked about the prospect of him being sent to Rwanda, as Fraser Nelson recounts this morning.

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24 Sep 2012 10:57:44

Snobbery, not poshness, is toxic to the Tory brand

By Harry Phibbs
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Let's face it.  The reported comments of the Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, are excruciating. The four letter word that matters is "pleb".  The other reported comment: "best you learn your f***ing place" is along the same lines. It will be seen by a chunk of the electorate, as the mask slipping; the true mentality of Conservatives coming out. The arrogance of power. A belief in being born to rule. A desire to go into politics in order to swank and swagger around. To lord it over ordinary folk.

So this is not a random incident of misconduct.  It plays to a political narrative. There is a problem, and as Conservatives we should be clear about what the problem is, and what it isn't.

Apparently Mr Mitchell is rich.  Good for him.  He went to a public school - and he can hardly be blamed for that.  Evidently he was exasperated at petty jobsworth restrictions - an experience many of us have had.  Unfortunately though, we are left with a suspicion that Mr Mitchell doesn't really mind if the rest of us have to put up with this kind of thing - but he shouldn't have to.  Because of who he is.  In some mysterious way, he is "above" other people.  

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24 Sep 2012 08:22:44

Full text of Andrew Mitchell's to-camera apology

By Tim Montgomerie
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Mitchell Apology

The Chief Whip has just given a statement to reporters in Whitehall. It was his first appearance in front of the cameras since the story of his encounter with Downing Street police officers:

"Well I want first of all to reiterate the apology I made last week in Downing Street. It had been the end of a long and frustrating day. Not that that is any excuse at all for what happened. I didn't show the police the amount of respect I should have done. We should all respect the police they do an incredibly difficult job. I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there. I am very clear about what I said, and what I didn't say, and I want to make it absolutely clear I did not say the words attributed to me. I am now going to go and get on with my work."

Transcribed by ITV News.

We note the latest developments in the Andrew Mitchell story within today's newslinks.

22 Sep 2012 08:18:43

Andrew Mitchell may be a bruiser but let's not forget that the Police Federation has an agenda

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday David Cameron went to Manchester to pay tribute to the two women police officers murdered in the line of duty (here's a video). He was as statesmanlike as in his recent Commons statement about police corruption at the time of the Hillsborough tragedy. Today the Chairman of the Police Federation criticises David Cameron for using "hollow words". Because, says Mr Tully, the PM has made "a vitriolic attack on police pay and conditions and pensions" he apparently has no authority to pay tribute to PC Nicola Hughes and PC Fiona Bone. Here's the BBC report. I can only wonder what Mr Tully would have said if the PM had failed to pay any tribute to his fallen colleagues? Sometimes a politician just can't win.

We know that tempers in the Police Federation are running high. Not so long ago they heckled Theresa May when she told them that police officers would have to bear their share of the age of austerity. At the time The Sun called the Federation "rude". The Telegraph called it "militant". The Express called it a "pantomime". The quotes are collected here. Mr Tully's latest behaviour only confirms the growing sense that the Police Federation is led by people of little judgment.

The row over the Manchester police deaths coincides with the argument over what Andrew Mitchell said or didn't say to the police officers who prevented him cycling out of the Downing Street gate, something he is normally permitted to do. It's clear that Mr Mitchell didn't treat the officers with full respect. He's admitted that himself and has apologised publicly and personally. The row is damaging to the Conservative Party, being used by Labour to reinforce the idea of a condescending, Toffish Tory leadership.

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