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The next three months will be the most important of David Cameron’s political career to date

Last Updated: Friday, February 25th, 2011

Four out of six of David Cameron’s immediate predecessors as Conservative Party leader faced leadership challenges – Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Iain Duncan Smith.  It’s true that Major’s was self-induced (he resigned in order to allow the chance for a challenge), but these contests prove how turbulent Conservative MPs can be.

In three out of four of those instances, the poll was connected with the forthcoming general election: Thatcher, Major and Duncan Smith were seen as risking defeat for the Party.  (Heath had already lost an election when he was ousted.)  So it’s worth asking how Tory MPs will react if they not only think that the Party’s likely to lose the next election, but believe that it will never win another again.

The referendum on the alternative vote takes place in early May.  The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Prime Minister.  If Britain votes no, the spotlight will fall on the Liberal Democrats.  The main policy prize that they won by going into coalition with the Conservatives was the chance of changing the country’s voting system.  Sharing the responsibilities of government has already hit Nick Clegg’s party very hard in the polls.   A “No” vote would dismay many Liberal Democrat MPs and Party members.

By contrast, it would cheer Tory MPs, and give Cameron a bit of a political fillip.  His supporters will see such a result as proof that going into coalition was a political master-stroke.  They’ll tell anyone who cares to listen that the Prime Minister was right to spurn minority government and right again to form the coalition – which has given stability to the deficit reduction programme without, in the end, conceding a change to Britain’s voting system.

It’s possible though unlikely that Cameron will be challenged for the leadership of his Party next autumn if AV goes through: he has, after all, no obvious successor or rival.  But many Conservative MPs will rage if Britain’s electoral system changes – arguing that the Prime Minister failed to win the election, conceded and lost the AV referendum, and risks leaving John Major as the last Tory Prime Minister to lead a Conservative Government.  That this last charge is unprovable won’t stop it being made.  Conservative MPs who fight close elections with Liberal Democrats will be particularly nervous – fearing Labour transfers to their opponents in the first general election held under AV.  The stability of the Government will be rocked.

All this helps to explain why the next three months will be the most important of David Cameron’s political career to date.

Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

National Citizen Service will teach our teenagers about social responsibility and help bring Britain back together: “So whenever anyone asks me what I mean by the Big Society, I point to NCS. This programme involves government, charities, businesses and volunteers coming together to transform the lives of our young people. I’m not old enough to have done National Service, but I remember the transformative effect that it had – bringing people from different backgrounds together towards a common purpose. I am just as ambitious for NCS – I want it to be a rite of passage programme that will bring Britain back together.” – Francis Maude MP.  Read more: http://is.gd/6YpxyM

The Case Against China:“Corruption remains one of the most tangible and hated symptoms of communist rule. Over the last ten years, China has languished between 3.2 and 3.6 on Transparency International’s corruption rankings (1 the grubbiest, 10 the cleanest), while cack-handed attempts to gag transparency, like censoring Google, exact both an economic and political price. China has choices. It can continue to sprint ahead economically. It can keep a lid on social tensions. It can maintain authoritarian rule. But, it can’t do all three. Two years ago, President Hu Jintao said of the Communist Party: ‘centralism and unity are the guarantee of its strength’. In reality, those internal contradictions are the seeds of its own decay.” – Dominic Raab MP.  Read more: http://is.gd/IJs40Y

The LSE and dictatorships: “Furthermore, in 2007, the LSE Global Governance department received £5.7m from the Kuwait Foundation. Half of the members of the LSE’s Kuwait programme advisory committee are Kuwait Foundation employees. And these are just some of the examples that the university actually makes public.  Universities are increasingly going to cash-rich Middle Eastern dictators to make up for funding shortfalls. In return, these dictatorships get legitimacy; its representatives are placed on university management committees; and there is evidence of the money influencing the kind of events a university puts on and the research it does. Unfortunately, the LSE’s acceptance of cash from the Gaddafi’s of this world is not an isolated incident.” – Robin Simcox. Read more: http://is.gd/XSwoKL

The limits of localism: “Now, I’m not suggesting that central government should impose new housing on local areas, or that left-wing parents shouldn’t be able to set up free schools, or that private companies shouldn’t deliver public services.  I travel on the same train as Cannon, though I get off before the end of the line.  Indeed, I’m not proposing solutions at all.  I am, rather, pointing out that government means choices – “to govern is to choose”.  For example, Ministers can try to prioritise both growth and localism at once.  But they must recognise that the one can conflict with the other, at least in the short term.” – Paul Goodman.  Read more: http://is.gd/U9Gq9U

Pensioners should suffer their share of the cuts: “Over the coming months, the IEA will be releasing studies suggesting how the CSR could have been rather more comprehensive. We start today with the focus on the elderly – Sharing the burden – How the older generation should suffer its share of the cuts. We propose sweeping away a series of benefits that have no real economic justification – winter-fuel allowance (which, contrary to comments I received when I wrote about this for Coffee House last month, has nothing to do with the purchase of winter fuel); free bus travel (which increases local authority control of the bus industry); and free television licences. We also propose a rapid increase in pension age to 66 (with female retirement age increasing one year faster than would otherwise have been the case) and the removal of the “triple lock” on pensions which will see them rising by the higher of earnings, prices and 2.5%.” – Philip Booth.  Read more: http://is.gd/qkleQF

The new 10 Downing Street: “The changes are designed to help the Prime Minister achieve three main goals:

•          Force Whitehall to focus on the Coalition’s agenda. An analysis of papers sent to Downing Street and the Cabinet Office has revealed that just 40% are directly related to the Coalition’s programme. Roughly 30% come from the Whitehall bureaucracy and another 30% from the EU.

•          Communication of big themes that no single Whitehall department owns. The Downing Street press team will take charge of pushing cross-cutting themes including the Big Society, the family and, in particular, public service reform. There will also be a bigger capacity to help individual departments when big issues like forestry privatisation and tuition fees blow up.

•          An ability to rise above the day-to-day and achieve a longer-term strategic clarity. Andrew Cooper, the new Director of Political Strategy, will be responsible for ensuring the PM hits long-term political goals.” – Tim Montgomerie.  Read more: http://is.gd/S3mu4U

Nine MPs and ex-PPCs appointed as spokesmen for the Tory campaign against AV: ConHome can exclusively reveal this morning that the Conservative Party is announcing seven MPs and two unsuccessful candidates at last year’s general election as spokesmen for the party’s campaign against the Alternative Vote. They can be expected to play a leading role during the forthcoming referendum in highlighting the message of why people should vote against changing our electoral system both in the media and in debates taking place up and down the country.” – Jonathan Isaby.  Read More: http://is.gd/SNZ2mr

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