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Tory Spring Conference 2011

Last Updated: Monday, March 7th, 2011

I decided to wait until today to write the Weekly Intelligence Letter so that I could reflect on the Tory Spring Conference. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. It was a largely forgettable event. Even ministers didn’t stay for the Prime Minister’s concluding speech. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was the only Cabinet minister I could spot who had stayed to hear David Cameron’s vow to fight the “enemies of enterprise”. There were plenty of empty seats in the hall, providing further confirmation of a grassroots party that is not in the best of health.

Nonetheless it was notable that Cameron did choose enterprise as his big theme. The Coalition has been stung by suggestions it doesn’t have a growth agenda and Saturday’s announcements of ten Enterprise Zones, costing £100m over four years was a curtain-raiser for George Osborne’s second Budget – now being billed as the Growth Budget – just 16 days away. That Budget, rather than Cameron’s war on anti-business public servants, will be the time to judge whether the enterprise agenda has legs (or whether it’s HSBC that has legs).

But, in the interests of this newsletter living up to its name, I’ll offer three headline observations:

(1)  The party is preparing the membership for the deep unpopularity to come. At least twice in his speech George Osborne talked about the long, hard road ahead. Sayeeda Warsi warned of defeats in May’s elections. One Cabinet minister told me that the next three years would be as bad as any post-war government had experienced but adversity would keep the two parties together and although there would be defeats, defections and endless doom-mongery the party had a chance if it fixed the deficit and growth returned.

(2)  The Tories have realised that they face a massive battle to avoid defeat in the AV referendum. Two weeks ago, I’m told, Downing St flicked a switch and the money has finally started flowing to the No2AV campaign. The Tory leadership – following intense lobbying –realised that Tory MPs will be VERY unhappy if the electoral system that has served them so well, for so long, is replaced. That Downing Street needed to be kicked into life on this subject is another sign that the PM is not getting (or listening to) the right message from the whips or his PPS. The Lib Dems will, of course, hate it if AV isn’t delivered and Cameron will be under enormous pressure to deliver an elected Lords to Clegg. I’m still of the view that Tory MPs will allow an elected Lords or AV but not both… but that Clegg needs one of them.

(3)  George Osborne’s centrality to the government and his growing reputation in the party was confirmed. I wrote on Saturday about the extent to which the Chancellor is winning new friends ( http://j.mp/gxAnCu ). One thing I didn’t say was the extent to which he has more reliable defenders in the commentariat than Cameron himself; notably with Matthew d’Ancona, Ben Brogan, Danny Finkelstein and James Forsyth.

Tim Montgomerie

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

 

CAMERON’S BATTLE PLAN: “By doing so much the public isn’t noticing the popular things that the Coalition is doing. The new Downing Street operation plans to put more effort into promoting things like the relinking of the basic state pension to average earnings. The Coalition is also ready to dramatise its reforms by picking fights with some enemies. Cameron will today talk about “the enemies of enterprise” and style himself as an opponent of the bureaucracy in his own government. The Coalition will seek to capture some moral high ground by arguing that it’s morally right to cut welfare dependency, control immigration and reduce the huge perks gap between private sector workers and public sector union members.” More via http://j.mp/ep1LGq

CCHQ MUST DESTROY LABOUR’S BRAND: “I regret we did not produce an authoritative Domesday Book, analysing Labour’s record on the economy, education and national infrastructure. I wonder if there’s still time? One year ofter becoming PM, Cameron could give a British equivalent of the State of the Union presentation – examining where we are in terms of national competitiveness and in social provision and where we need to be. Implicitly – perhaps explicitly – it will spell out the Labour legacy.” More via http://j.mp/fnRvKN

WOLF REPORT ON VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: “Michael Gove has shifted his gaze today to the report by Alison Wolf into vocational education.  He’s accepted four of her “brilliant and groundbreaking” recommendations, as follows (1) To allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified school teachers. (2) To clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools. (3) To allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14-19-year-olds. (4) To allow established high-quality vocational qualifications that have not been accredited to be offered in schools and colleges in September 2011.” More via http://j.mp/eaR0pB

CAMERON MOVING FASTER THAN THATCHER: “Mr Fallon, the Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party (and in reality David Cameron’s most senior parliamentary advisor outside of the Cabinet) argues that Cameron is moving “further and faster” than Margaret Thatcher… It’s a bold piece and unlikely to appeal to the Liberal Democrats who won’t like any idea that they are helping to complete Thatcherism… What is says to me is that Fallon and Downing Street understand the growing unhappiness on the Tory benches. This article is a message to them and all the more fascinating for that.” More via http://j.mp/hGH4lc

 Interesting parliamentary debate on importance of transparency for better government: http://j.mp/hjkWqS

And on ConHome’s Comment pages Matt Sinclair asked: Have we wound up with the worst possible resolution of the BSkyB-News Corp deal? More via http://j.mp/he1WMs

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