Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

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Last Updated: Friday, September 2nd, 2011

No Conservative MP released a book to coincide with last year’s party conference.  This year, no fewer than three, containing contributions from more than ten MPs in total, are due to be published before or during it.  It’s worth looking briefly at what they are and why they matter – because they do, both at the level of ideas and of hard political reality.

First out of the trap has been Matthew Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi’s “Masters of Nothing: The Crash and how it will happen again unless we understand human nature”, which is already advertised on Amazon.  The book has already won some carefully planned pre-publicity.  The Daily Telegraph reported recently that it will disclose how “having the wrong kind of biscuit served with his tea drove disgraced banker Sir Fred Goodwin to threaten catering staff with disciplinary action”.  The authors are both high-flying members of the new intake of Conservative MPs – Hancock was Osborne’s Chief of Staff before the election – and its purpose is more serious: to describe how “human behaviour…led us to construct a bubble nobody suspected was dangerous, and “to offer policy makers practical advice on preventing another crisis”.

The second book to have been named to date is the provisionally-titled “After The Coalition”, co-written by a band of five new intake MPs – Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss.  Kwarteng and Skidmore are historians by training, Truss an economist with a strong interest in public service reform, Raab a foreign and home affairs expert who has already made his mark in the Commons as a serious thinker and writer, and Patel a blunt voice from the party’s right.  This is enough talent to cover most of the political waterfront, and the book will show a strong interest in the conditions that create wealth creation, enterprise and opportunity.

I must declare an interest in the third book, for which I’ve written an article.  It is being edited by David Davis, who remains a leading champion of the party’s right.  It will certainly cover the waterfront, since the work is a collection of essays by over ten authors.  It is bound to be written up as a manifesto from the party’s right, and this won’t be an unfair take.  Davis and John Redwood, another very senior figure on the party’s right who’s contributed to the book, will be keen to point out that it doesn’t simply contain the ideas of the older Tory generation: new MPs such as Steve Baker and Therese Coffey have written papers for it.

So much for what the books are.  Now for why they matter.  There are three main reasons why an MP writes a book, or contributes to one.  (They aren’t mutually exclusive).

First, because he wants to express a view that he feels strongly about.  Steve Baker, my successor in the Wycombe Parliamentary seat, is a classic example of the genre.  His essay in the David Davis-edited book is about transport.  Baker is a member of the Transport Select Committee and has strong, coherent, free market views on the subject.

Second, because he wants, as it were, to catch the eye of the selectors.  Baker has shown no interest to date in trying to climb the Ministerial ladder, but I can’t imagine any other new intake MP I’ve named refusing a Government post.  To show Downing Street and the Whips Office that you can think creatively and operate politically at the same time is to claim preference for advancement in the next reshuffle. The contributors to the first two books all fall into this category.

Third, because he wants to make trouble for the Party, sometimes precisely because he’s been passed over for preferment.  None of the new intake MPs that I’ve cited are out to cause difficulty.  But that’s partly because there’s been no reshuffle to date, and hence no disappointment: no frustration at being passed over, no envy at others being promoted who you think aren’t up to the job, no jealousy because friends have a Ministerial car and red box, and you don’t.

David Cameron believes correctly that reshuffles cause more pain than gain.  But he won’t be able to avoid one by the end of next year – probably a major one, probably in the spring.  The number of posts he will be able to give to members of the new intake will be restricted.  Some older Ministers will be retained.  Some members of previous intakes – such as the 25-plus former Shadow Ministers who aren’t now real Ministers – must be rewarded if they’re not to start rocking the boat.  Above all, Cameron’s freedom of movement is more restricted than that of any recent Prime Minister: the Coalition deal necessitates the appointment of a score or so of Liberal Democrat Commons Ministers.

By next spring, too, relations between the two parties are likely to be no more relaxed than they are now.  Recent weeks have seen policy disagreements between the two parties (as well sometimes as within them) over tax policy, human rights, the NHS and how to respond to the riots.  These three conference season books spell double trouble for Downing Street.  They demonstrate the ambition of young MPs who, a year ago, were content to bide their time, are now willing to take some risks, and could potentially turn awkward if their ambitions are thwarted.  They also show a rising impatience, among Conservative MPs from all intakes, with the compromises of coalition.  After all, the title “After the Coalition” indicates, in its compressed way, impatience with the arrangement – and a longing for the Conservative Government with a Conservative majority that Cameron failed to achieve in 2010.

Paul Goodman




Paul Goodman: If the choice is tax rises or defence cuts, we should opt for the latter:
The hard truth is that waging big wars in distant countries is a luxury we can no longer afford.  I accept that our international development budget – a relative minnow – needs British military back-up.  I want us to stay a member of the nuclear club.  I acknowledge that we shouldn’t aim only to defend these islands: we have a special interest, for example, in the Falklands.  But if the choice comes down to tax rises or defence cuts, we should opt for the latter, and be looking to scale back the defence budget further. Read More:

Rachel Wolf: Free schools mark the end of the era when politicians and bureaucrats decide your children’s education:
“It has been an inspiration working with these schools over the last year and helping them turn their plans into reality…24 schools will not change the world, but it is a start, and you do have to start somewhere. By the end of this Parliament there could be hundreds of schools – providing government continues to push through reform. Most importantly, if you are desperately unhappy with your school, and with the chances your children are being given, there is now an alternative. And all schools will have to raise their game because they know that all parents, not just the rich, have options.” Read More:

Andrew Lilico: Osborne is getting it right… economically:
“For now, Osborne is getting most things right. He has placed himself in a position in which, if it comes to it, he should be able to avoid bailing out the banks further. He is cutting spending a little slower than will ultimately be necessary, but having set out the plans and won the initial debate is enough for now. Monetary policy has some weaknesses – which Osborne may live to regret – but there is so little widespread comprehension of what those weaknesses really are that I shall forgive him that for now…The public services output reform agenda is crippled by political unwillingness to take on producer lobbies in the health sector, and a quasi-religious attachment to mantras of the 1940s, but Osborne is hardly the first chancellor to face that issue.” Read More:

Thomas Byrne: The idea that David Cameron is right wing is a joke to most Tories. The voters aren’t laughing:
“In Conservative circles it may seem to be the case that Cameron is beelining to the centre while the rest of the party rightly rebel. However, this hasn’t been how the public have seen our leader. Polling in January proved that in the eyes of the public, Cameron was seen as being more right wing than the rest of the party. This is worrying…David Cameron and the Tories are still seen as being too right wing. This is something that we all seem to forget. We are doing the right thing, but without continuing the decontamination of the Tory brand, we can look forward to the wilderness we faced because of the failures of presentation of the Thatcher and Major years.” Read More:

Tim Montgomerie: Tory members now oppose HiSpeed rail, want David Davis back at the top table and think Cameron was right on Libya:
“The latest ConHome survey of Tory members is featured prominently in this morning’s Sunday Telegraph. Here are a few highlights: The big picture: 64% think the Coalition is still “overall” a good thing for the nation. That’s down from 75% but still a clear majority. Libya: 65% think Cameron did the right thing in intervening in Libya but oppose any British role in a peacekeeping force and oppose any intervention in Syria. The countryside: Opinion among grassroots members has now moved against hi-speed rail with 56% now opposed. There’s also suspicion about liberalising the planning laws to introduce a presumption in favour of development. 52% oppose this liberalisation with 45% in favour. Climate change: In a league table of priorities for the Coalition fighting climate change is members’ lowest priority.” Read More:

Robert Thomas: The scrutiny of Royal accounts should be sensitive and sympathetic:
“Indeed, it is among the central tenets of Monarchy not to be transparent, but to be, at least, translucent; a little mysterious; a fraction out of reach – to be, to use another word, special. This is a point which needs very little elucidation, since it is borne out so often and so clearly at every Royal visit, every State occasion, and every wedding. Few invitations are more coveted in the national consciousness than one to a Palace garden party, and no symbols of success more prized than the honours bestowed by the Sovereign.” Read More:

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