Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

This site is currently down for maintenance and should be back soon.

The Big Four Developments of this Week

Last Updated: Friday, December 10th, 2010

Occasionally when my fingers have hovered over the keyboard for these Intelligence Letters I have struggled to think of anything dramatic that has happened. This week I’m struggling to cover all of the dramatic occurrences. I’ll focus on the most important four.
First and most obvious was yesterday’s tuition fees vote. In an age when every event is overwritten I’m inclined to believe that yesterday’s event (almost) can’t be overwritten. I, personally, support the Coalition’s policy on fees but in one single act Nick Clegg has trashed his party’s claim to represent a different, more honest kind of politics. Those ninety minutes when he arrived on the national stage in the first election debate are a political age ago. Many commentators conclude that the Deputy PM has ended up supporting the best policy that will provide a long-term, sustainable funding base for higher education. That may be true but Clegg’s u-turn was still an extraordinary act of political risk. My colleague Paul Goodman thinks that the Lib Dems have at least got their most difficult vote out of the way, only six months into a five year parliament. That might be true but the idea of Nick Clegg as dishonest will stick in the public imagination unless he finds something very big to shift it. Cameron will certainly attempt to give him more concessions and Clegg will need them to placate the Lib Dems’ new Shop Steward, Tim Farron MP; the increasingly assertive, recently-elected president of the party. Behind-the-scenes, Michael Gove’s plan to introduce direct funding of schools was vetoed by Lib Dems. So if welfare reform deserves to be on the plus side of any ledger of the Lib Dem contribution to this government, diluting education reform has to be on the negative side.

Second were signs of festering unhappiness in the right-wing press and among the parliamentary Conservative Party. The right-wing press – Telegraph, Mail, Express and, most significantly, The Sun – are unhappy at Ken Clarke’s prisons policy. The Sun partly endorsed the Conservatives because of Cameron’s strong stance on knife crime and ‘broken Britain’. Its front page splash on Wednesday, against the policy, rocked Downing Street and 24 hours later Ken Clarke had been forced into a partial u-turn, restoring certain minimum prison sentences. The Coalition’s prisons policy is still very much on the wrong side of public opinion, however. 74% told Ipsos MORI that more prisons should be built, 24% said fewer. Only 13% support shorter sentences. 79% do not. Downing Street, particularly in the form of its Communications Director, Andy Coulson has been trying to toughen the Justice team’s policy. When the Tory Justice team was led by Dominic Grieve, in opposition, Coulson tended to succeed. It’s not so easy now. Ken Clarke is, in this one respect, like IDS. He’ll walk if he can’t pursue his preferred policy agenda. He doesn’t have the thirst for higher office of most of his colleagues. His CV is full enough, thank you very much. If I had to predict the most likely Tory resignation it would therefore be Mr Hush Puppies. The other Tory trouble is mounting MPs’ anger at IPSA, the new, post-expenses scandal agency that pays their fees. Some MPs have been owed five figures sums by the bureaucratic agency and they are wanting Cameron to shake it. More via http://j.mp/hbFKeh.

My third issue of the week is the growing expectation that the March 2011 Budget will be a “Budget for Growth”. I read this fact in the News of the World and its true! The rest of the story – the idea that the nationalised banks will be sold for £45bn – has been pooh-poohed by my contacts. They blame an over-enthusiastic backbench Tory for the briefing. The idea of going-for-growth was confirmed however. If the first phase of George Osborne’s tenure at the Treasury was deficit-focused the second part will be competition-focused. Next week I’ll be announcing a date for a pre-Budget ConservativeIntelligence conference on competitiveness.

Issue four is family policy. A report by the Centre for Social Justice earlier this week looked at how trends in family breakdown were getting worse. The PM delivered a speech on family policy this afternoon and, frankly, it’s thin stuff. Certainly nothing in there that is proportionate to the challenge. When I asked one leading pro-family Tory campaigner about the PM’s speech they said it looked like it was written by an “invertebrate”. Some would argue that government cannot mend families. Cameron doesn’t agree and points to the cost to the taxpayer of breakdown. This might be another case of the yellow half of the coalition stopping Cameron doing more.

Tim Montgomerie

HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

 A quarter of financial institutions consider quitting Britain: “Businesses and individuals are not looking to relocate to emerging markets. Instead the alternative locations they prefer are Switzerland and the Crown Dependencies – 59% for both – or Ireland, at 45%. 24% of those planning to relocate will do so within the year, rising to 54% within two years. Individuals planning to leave often cited high living costs and poor quality of life as the two biggest factors.” More via http://j.mp/exnhfW

 

Democratisation of planning: “Decentralisation minister Greg Clark previews the new power for neighbourhoods to take control of planning in their area. They will be able to decide the boundaries of their locality and then by local referenda choose a code for local building. Once this code was established residents would have freedom to add extra storeys to their homes or conservatories, loft conversions, front driveways and wind turbines.” More via http://j.mp/fdPrL1

The importance of investing in higher education: “The government of China, for one, has now decided that the ‘next phase of its economic development’ is for it to become a hub of superior knowledge and education in its region. It is beginning to apply the same top-down vigour which it traditionally applies to building highways, dams, and bridges, to higher education. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of Chinese students going to university did not double or treble, it quintupled. And China is investing in an unprecedented way.” More from Azeem Ibrahim via http://j.mp/eMgCrM

Unlike John Major, most Tory members don’t want the Coalition to carry on after 2015: “The latest ConservativeHome poll of Tory members finds 79% of members wanting the Tories to govern on our own after the next election. Only 16% want to follow the John Major route. These are not unhappy, grumpy, anti-Cameron Tories. 75% approve of the Coalition today (20% do not). 87% approve of David Cameron’s performance (11% do not). These members are just against the Coalition going on and on. I suspect most Liberal Democrat members feel the same.” More via http://j.mp/hxKBaD

And in brief:

  • Sajid Javid MP, a former merchant banker, is emerging as one the party’s most important voices on financial policy. See here: http://j.mp/eGVzjF
  • Iain Duncan Smith is Tory members’ favourite Cabinet minister (for now at least) http://j.mp/hZfdJ2

From the Conservative Intelligence member's site

Miliband’s Threat To Outside Earnings May Drive Tory Mps Over The Edge

Conservative MPs are capable of a wide range of emotions, encompassing the normal human set and then a few extras thrown in. Pride, injured pride, confidence, optimism, crushing depression, panic, fury, resentment, contentment, ambition, resignation, triumph and a host of others are within their repertoire. Even at the best of times, a healthy parliamentary party […]

Cameron Woos Mrs Rochester

“There’s no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.” So wrote David Cameron in a letter sent this week to every voter in Rochester and Strood, where the next UKIP-engineered by-election is to take place towards the end of November.  At the end of it, he made the point again […]

To Respond To Defeat In Clacton, The Tories Will Need A Tougher Immigration Policy

Everyone expected the UKIP candidate, Douglas Carswell, to win in Clacton, but few people thought he would win by the enormous margin of 12,404 votes. An exceptionally rude kick has been administered to David Cameron. It is not much consolation for the Conservatives that a scarcely less rude kick has been administered to Ed Miliband […]

The Tories Leave Birmingham With A New-Found Confidence

No-one knew quite what to expect when the Conservative family gathered in Birmingham on Sunday. Mark Reckless had just delivered the second UKIP defection blow in as many months, and Brooks Newmark’s indiscretions were causing embarrassment (though less existential questions for the party). If anything, observers might have expected a depressed conference mood. Instead, though, […]

21 People To Watch As Next Week’s Conservative Conference Looms

1. Those two MP defectors to UKIP – if, of course, they exist at all.  If so, they will presumably turn up on Saturday evening.  If they don’t, the media will treat this as a further sign that the Party isn’t grown-up, since it talked but didn’t deliver.   2. George Osborne. The Conservative election […]

Will Cameron Go Fast And Slow On Devolution All-Around?

The Prime Minister announced this morning that more devolution for Scotland and reform elsewhere – specifically, action on English votes for English laws – will take place “in tandem” and “at the same pace”.  Draft legislation will be “published by January”. His statement opens up two possible outcomes. The first is that he pushes for […]

Whatever The Result, The Scottish Referendum Has Killed Blair’s Devolution Settlement

The Scottish referendum result is up in the air – polls swing from No to Yes and back again, all within the margin of error. The rush from Westminster to Scotland, not only of the party leaders but of scores of Labour MPs, demonstrates how seriously the prospect of a Yes result is being taken. […]

Two Conservative Scenarios If Scotland Votes Yes

Scenario One: David Cameron does not resign as Prime Minister (or as Conservative leader).  Nor does any member of the Cabinet other than Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary.  The Coalition hangs together.  The Conservative Parliamentary Party rallies round its leader. UKIP’s attempt to provoke an English nationalist backlash comes to nothing.  Perhaps unexpectedly, […]

Cameron’s Ability To Neutralise Opponents Is Brilliantly Illustrated By His Handling Of The New Surveillance Law

David Cameron will always do what the Establishment considers to be prudent.  The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, sprung upon the Cabinet on Thursday morning, is a case in point. Cameron has been told by the security services that these powers are needed. He has therefore set out to square Nick Clegg and Ed […]

Why Critical Headlines About Donor Dinners Raise A Smile In Downing Street

In politics, as with so many things, it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. The personalities, the catchphrases, the emotional and cultural baggage carried by politicians and parties all compete for our attention. They’re important, of course, but they’re only one part of the political process. The showbiz elements often distract people from […]