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The Double Significance Of Boles’s Speech

Last Updated: Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Nick Boles is the most exposed Minister in Government, thanks to his brief – and, it must be added, his character.  He is tasked with banging the drum for building more houses, now that a new national framework for planning has been settled.  Right-of-centre newspapers assail him; the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, defending the interests of their readers, have targeted him – writing, for example, about his own living arrangements.  Conservative MPs assault him, verbally at least; in the Commons, they line up – defending the interests of their constituents – to criticise Government policy.  He cuts a lonely figure in the Communities Department, which for all Eric Pickles’s sallies against some local authorities is highly sensitive to councillors’ opinions.  Originally and occasionally a favourite in Downing Street and the Treasury, his promotion to the Cabinet before the next election looks less likely than it did.

Most Ministers would respond to such difficulties by grinding away at work and keeping their heads down.  This isn’t Boles’s way: he is as freethinking and outspoken as his background as a former think tank director suggests (he was the original head of Policy Exchange).  His call earlier this week for his party to, in effect, set up another one – he suggested reviving the National Liberals – must therefore be seen as the fruit of political as well as personal frustration.  Very simply, the Planning Minister signalled in public, as clearly as he possibly could, what most senior Tories concede in private – namely, that they are most unlikely to win the 2015 election outright, and may be able at best only to form a minority government or second coalition.  The most important question arising from his intervention, in practical terms, is whether or not other Ministers will follow suit if, by this time next year, the polls haven’t moved.

For all the noises off from disgruntled and rebellious backbenchers, Ministers have to date remained loyal to their leader.  Their reasons for doing so are not merely related to duty: they grasp that if they don’t hang together, they will hang separately.  But if in a year’s time, six months or so out from the next election, Labour look likely to form the next Government, that united front may begin to crack.  The media will begin to pay very close attention to the words and deeds of possible future Conservative leadership contenders who sit in Cabinet: George Osborne, Theresa May, Michael Gove.  In particular, they will watch what Boris Johnson does: time will be running out for him to decide whether or not he wants to return to the Commons in 2015, and any decision to do so will be read as a putative leadership bid.  The significance of the Boles speech wasn’t only that it said what many other Tories are thinking.  It was also whether he is the first falling stone in a coming avalanche.

By Paul Goodman



Lord Ashcroft: If the Tories are returning to comfort polling, that’s a bad sign “Even if they did, it sounds unlikely that you could transform a double-digit deficit to a two-point lead simply by naming the MP. Which makes one wonder about other aspects of the poll. Which seats was it conducted in? What was the sample size? How was it weighted? How were the questions worded? With most polls, including mine, all this information is published. Where it is not, it is worth taking any reported results with more than a pinch of salt…There is nothing wrong with trying to cheer up the troops. But the correct response to bad poll numbers is to learn from them and change them, not to try and rebut them. Boosting morale is one thing; being in denial is another thing altogether.” Read more:

Stephan Shakespeare and Tiffany Washburn: Marketing lessons from Obama’s ‘Cave’ “To have a truly modern campaign, you need a technical infrastructure (the data and the data-scientists) and a delivery infrastructure (local contact networks to deliver the messages personally), and neither of the main parties actually has that. So Labour are also playing at make-believe Obama-style, while sticking to the methods they know best. There is only one UK party that can do micro, and even they employ the traditional – one might even say ‘artisanal’ – model: the LibDems, who have spent years knocking on the same doors and know their targets inside out, and who have honed the art of getting the most out of sparse resources. It is they, and not the Tories or Labour, who might do better than expected.” Read more:

Paul Goodman: The courage of Nick Boles
“His critics will say that he shouldn’t be rocking boats or backing Boris, and that he is behaving more like the think-tank head that he was than the Minster that he is.  Others will write off his speech as a throw of the dice by a man under siege. A better response is to look at it not just in detail, but in the round.  Fundamentally, he is making a big, brave argument – that, to get back in the winning game, changing message and even image will not be enough.  With a vote distribution that disproportionately helps Labour, the Party’s strategic aim must be to change the electoral battleground.  Boles’s means is National Liberals.  Cameron’s was to reduce the size of seats.  Mine is Justice for England.  Until or unless the problem is solved, we look disturbingly like the natural party of opposition.” Read more:

Sir Andrew Green: Romania and Bulgaria – what can be done?
“It looks, therefore, as though the government are stuck between the rock of EU legislation and the hard place of public opinion, which is increasingly exasperated by the failure of the political class to get a grip of immigration. It is not clear how many migrants will arrive in time to affect the immigration statistics in the period before the general election but there will certainly be two, perhaps three, full years of statistics before the EU referendum promised for 2017. If they reveal another huge inflow, and if the renegotiation has borne little fruit the tension between restoring control of our borders and continued membership of the EU will become a critical issue.   The political implications of such an outcome would be very extensive.” Read more:

Mark Wallace: Rachel Reeves is the first victim of Labour’s strategic chaos “It fits Reeves’ approach of making herself look tough, too – a few weeks ago she defended the concept that those who refuse work or help should be at risk of losing their payments. Only a few hours after the Telegraph published today’s story, though, she is, er, backtracking from the headline….In short, it’s a car crash. An abortive attempt to sound tough has now become bogged down in retractions, corrections and – oddly – a half-denial of Labour’s existing policy. This isn’t a sign of incompetence, or foolishness on the part of Reeves. It’s a symptom of that strategic sickness we diagnosed back in September. Order plus counter-order equals disorder. Rachel Reeves is perhaps its first victim, the unfortunate rope in a tug of war between Labour’s competing priorities, but she won’t be its last.” Read more:

By Paul Goodman

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