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End-August Situation Report

Last Updated: Friday, August 27th, 2010

The Coalition is now 100 days and one week old. Are we any further to knowing how long it will last? Opinion polling of the public doesn’t expect it to last more than two years. I’m increasingly hopeful that it will last longer than that. Central to my hope is the Clegg-Cameron relationship. Although there are tensions between Cleggites and Cameronites inside Downing Street, reports of the good personal chemistry between the two principals appears to be accurate. The Osborne-Cameron relationship used to decide almost everything that happened inside the Tory party (and it still matters) but the Cameron-Clegg alliance now counts enormously too. But it’s about more than personal chemistry. The Coalition is bringing out Clegg’s Orange Bookery*.

Clegg’s article in this week’s FT (http://is.gd/eGOSz) could easily have been written by a reforming Conservative. Its emphasis on reform in education could have come from the pen of Michael Gove. His welfare reform message would have delighted Iain Duncan Smith (the two men are strongly ‘in sync’ on encouraging Cameron and Osborne to take a risk and go for a big simplification of the benefits system). Clegg wants to make this Coalition project work but he doesn’t want to leave government with the reputation as the man who helped the Tories cut. He wants to leave with enough people thinking that he was the Deputy Prime Minister who forced the Tories to reform.

This doesn’t mean that Clegg isn’t coming under enormous pressure from his party to extract more and more concessions from the Tories. Montgomerie’s Law of the Coalition is that it heads Leftwards or breaks down. Also in response to this week’s IFS analysis (questioning the impact of the Budget on poorer families), Clegg said that the Coalition shouldn’t be judged until it had presented all of its Budgets. The pressure on Osborne to deliver wealthy-bashing tax rises and goodies for the low-paid are going to be enormous. Then, of course, there’s the issue of Trident, stopping the Tories from supporting marriage and diluting immigration policy.

The big test for the Coalition comes with the election of Labour leader. Cameron has never faced a credible and determined leader of the Labour party. Blair was in serious decline by the time Cameron became inherited the Tory crown and apart from that brief honeymoon period in 2007 Brown was never popular. Conservative Campaign HQ (CCHQ), like the bookmakers, is sure that David Miliband will be Labour leader. They hope that the former Foreign Secretary’s geekiness will mean he’ll struggle to connect with voters but there’ll be no complacency. Labour are just 5% behind the Tories and that’s before the cuts have bitten. CCHQ expect a 5% to 10% Labour lead by Christmas. Miliband’s strength will be in his positioning. He has rejected the equality agenda of his younger and more left-wing brother – an agenda certain to frighten the already stretched middle classes. In an article for this week’s Times Miliband Snr put himself on the middle ground. He promised to cut the deficit but not by as much as the Conservatives. He promised to put up taxes on banks in order to fund tax cuts for manufacturers (confirming the growth, growth, growth mantra of Labour politicians). And he signaled, most interestingly, that he would keep Labour’s tough approach to crime. If Ed Balls (who has taken to opposition like a duck to water) is Shadow Home Secretary (bashing Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s prisons policy), Yvette Cooper is Shadow Chancellor and Ed Miliband is kept away from the domestic agenda at foreign affairs (where the Left will love his multilateral and very green internationalism) Labour will look like a formidable team.

The autumn is going to be interesting. Big event one is the Labour leadership outcome. Big event two is Osborne’s announcement of where exactly his axe will fall.

* The Orange Book was written a few years back by senior LibDems including Nick Clegg (before he became leader) and set out a vision for the party that was heavily reformist. It recommended an end to the EU Common agricultural Policy, for example, Post Office privatisation and scrapping of what was then the Department of Trade and Industry.

Tim Montgomerie

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Downing Street ready to revisit Cameron’s pledge to wealthier pensioners in order to fund welfare reform

The Daily Mail and Times are among the newspapers to confirm last week’s story that Downing Street has decided to revisit David Cameron’s election time pledge to protect all pensioner benefits such as the Winter Fuel Allowance… It is a clear signal that welfare reform is becoming likelier by the day… It could become a major political controversy given the pledges on pensioner benefits Cameron made during the election campaign. http://tinyurl.com/39t7dzn

The Coalition cannot win on ‘fairness’ if the Left sets the terms of the debate

The Treasury should critique the IFS analysis but we won’t win the overall fairness debate if we allow ourselves to be defined by the extent to which we redistribute from the rich to the poor. Conservatives should protect the income and public services of low income households but that should not be our definition of a good life. http://tinyurl.com/38dp5hv

Universities should have quotas for poorer students with great potential, urges Willetts

Monday’s Telegraph reported that Higher Education Minister David Willetts wants universities to set aside a specific number of places for applicants from poorer backgrounds and to allocate those places on the basis of potential rather than academic attainment. In opposition the Conservatives publicly worried at growing educational inequality and Mr Willetts fears that without some sort of quota system the problem will only grow. http://tinyurl.com/36sfon3

Eric Pickles writes about his mission to reduce “street clutter”

Imagine if your home was covered in signs that alerted you to every possible risk. ‘Proceed with caution – stairs’ or ‘Danger – door ahead’. It’s obviously absurd. But that’s exactly what we see in streets across the country. Pointless placards with banal instructions. Redundant railings just begging to be jumped over. Bossy bollards which seem designed to annoy rather than assist. These are an insult to people’s intelligence and a blight on the landscape which is ruining the character of our villages, towns and cities. I’m sure that taxpayers would much rather their money was being spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down rather than on signs to point out the blatantly obvious. http://tinyurl.com/2uwm9ta

How the Conservatives can avoid trouble when it comes to fundraising

There’s a Catch-22 about politicians and money, as follows. If they’re dependent on private money, they’re leeching off vested interests; if they’re dependent on public money, they’re sponging off the taxpayer… There’s a way to escape the Catch 22. Yes, parties and politicians should be paid for by private rather than public money. But the alternatives for the Conservative Party aren’t corruption or closure. Like the state, it could do more for less. A great wave of transparency is washing through central and local government, churning up details of spending on items worth more than £500. There’s a strong case for that wave to crash also over and through CCHQ, and for the Party to present more detailed accounts to its members… It should also raise more money from more people. http://tinyurl.com/2w8wdey

Coalition will cut drug substitutes bill in radical plan to encourage freedom from addiction

Drug treatment providers will be incentivised to get addicts off drugs and drug substitutes altogether. The overall aim is to get 200,000 people drug-free. The prevailing policy under previous governments was to minimise the harm to the person and society of an addiction but not to end that addiction… “We are looking to have greater emphasis on recovery rather than simply on treatment itself,” Home Office Minister James Brokenshire told The Times. http://tinyurl.com/34l6kyf

Downing Street reviews security arrangements after Afghanistan incident

The Daily Telegraph reported in June that the Prime Minister’s helicopter, en route to an army base during his visit to Afghanistan, aborted its visit mid-flight after British intelligence unearthed a Taliban assassination plot: there was an operation to shoot down “the Big Commander”. The Times, which carried an earlier report about David Cameron’s domestic security, returned to the Afghanistan story on Friday morning, claiming that “Downing Street has been asked to review its security arrangements”… It’s interesting that since Cameron’s visit a Liam Fox tour was accompanied by the kind of reporting ban that some in the security services seem to be recommending. http://tinyurl.com/39vud5b

Tory Backbencher wants IPSA investigated by the Standards and Privileges Committee for breach of parliamentary privilege

Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, believes that by the way it is handling expenses claims, IPSA is effectively stopping MPs from being able to discharge their duties and, as such, could be in breach of parliamentary privilege. He has given notice that he wants the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee to investigate this charge and is seeking the backing of colleagues for a technical motion that would allow for this to happen when the Commons returns from the summer recess. http://tinyurl.com/39fegfu

Jonathan Isaby

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