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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

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


 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


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

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

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

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:
  • Iain Duncan Smith is Tory members’ favourite Cabinet minister (for now at least)

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