Archive for the 'Tories' Category


Tomorrow night’s C4 Boris documentary looks set to add to Tory tensions over Theresa

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Tomorrow night at 10 PM a documentary on Boris Johnson by Gary Gibbon is due to be screened on Channel 4 and judging by some of the extracts so far released it looks set to unsettle CON delegates in Manchester.

This is the start of an article on the programme by Gibbon in The I.

“Several months before the general election, Boris Johnson returned to the Foreign Office after a meeting with Theresa May, flanked by her powerful joint Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. It was clear to him who was in control – and it wasn’t the Prime Minister. “That’s modern slavery right there,” he told a colleague.

More recently, he’s told allies that the disastrous general election result has left the Prime Minister a shell of her former self. Her mighty aides have been dispatched and the failed snap election hangs over every meeting. Her body language, he has told allies, is shrunken..”

Another extract provides an interesting insight into TMay’s pre-June 8th 2017 managerial style.

“At one National Security Council meeting before the election, one of her Joint Chiefs of Staff had criticised Johnson’s contribution to the meeting. The Prime Minister, closing the meeting, said the policy line was clear and everyone, including Johnson, must follow it. There were echoes of the ritual humiliations Margaret Thatcher meted out to Geoffrey Howe…”

My guess is that leadership speculation will be on the same level or even higher than in 2003 when IDS got the longest conference standing ovation ever less than four weeks before fellow MPs booted him out. The big difference with May of course is that the latter has been tested in an election at which the Tories lost their majority.

Mike Smithson


With the CON conference starting David Herdson says what’s wanted is vision

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

‘Getting on with the job’ simply isn’t good enough

“I have a dream”, said Martin Luther King, in one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century. It was a dream he wanted to share and did share, and it was – and is – remembered not just for the eloquence of that initial delivery but for the righteousness and simplicity of the vision.

In doing so, he did what every great political leader does: inspires and reinforces confidence among his or her followers that their cause is worth devoting time, effort, money and possibly even personal safety towards because doing so will achieve a better and more hopeful world. They stand as a beacon of their movement, representative in word and deed of the shared vision that campaigners, converts and old hands alike, believe in.

Not every leader can match the eloquence of a King but that’s beside the point. What every leader can do, and should do, is set the mission, define the values and engender confidence in the journey. There are many reasons for the collapse in the Tory lead this Spring: the defensive Tory campaign set against Labour’s open engagement, the unpopular policies, and the failure of the Tories’ negative campaign all played their part. Behind that was the lack of a driving philosophy to unite and inspire activists and voters.

‘Keeping Corbyn out’ was tactically valid but nothing more; ‘getting on with the job’ – the effective mantra since the poll is almost a conscious disengagement from political engagement.

Indeed, Theresa May is currently showing all the political public leadership of an Accounts Executive making a presentation on the next quarter’s efficiency initiatives. The numbers might add up, the reasoning might be valid but frankly who cares? Who’s listening?

She presented a good case in point this week, when she gave a speech widely reported as strongly defending the free market (that language alone is significant: ‘defending’, not ‘promoting’). However, it received little coverage, not because it was a bad speech or because it was wrongly argued but because it didn’t tie into a higher driving philosophy – and also, frankly, because it was boring.

The sad thing is that when she came into Number Ten, she did lay out what might easily have become the defining tenets of Mayism, which were more or less classical One Nation Conservatism. In particular, she cited the addressing of inequality of opportunity for those from less advantaged households and communities.

There could easily have developed from that the themes of Aspiration, Opportunity and Fairness running through the government’s policies like the proverbial stick of Blackpool rock. Instead, the manifesto that the Tories cobbled together not only failed to pick up on those themes but appeared to actively punish those who’d aspired and taken their opportunities in life, when they were unlucky enough to need the state in later life: hardly fair.

Since the election, such domestic concerns haven’t even had a look in. While it’s understandable that Brexit dominates the government’s thinking, there should still be enough ministers left over to deliver a coherent set of policies that implement a vision of Conservatism in action attractive enough to persuade people to vote for the party on its own merits and not just because Corbyn isn’t trusted.

That, then, is the task before the Conservatives this next week. It will not be an easy one, with Brexit determining one media narrative and cabinet jostling producing another. But that is all the more reason to demonstrate leadership, define that vision, grab the agenda, inspire activists and persuadable voters, and put squabbling ministers in their place. The problem is that often when we wake up, it’s so hard to remember the dream we just had.

David Herdson


Tory membership reported to have dropped by 40k since GE17 and might now be below the LDs

Friday, September 29th, 2017

A report tonight by the former political journalist of the year, David Henke, says there’s been a huge reduction in Tory members since GE2017 and that the total is down to 100k. In an interview John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy is quoted as saying “the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000” a figure that is well below the 149,500 used by the party in 2013.

“The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day. They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

Stafford says that the membership in in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.

This compares sharply with the 500k+ members that LAB has and the 100k+ that the LDs have now achieved following the big decline in the coalition years,

A particular problem was the rushed nature of the last election which was called, as TMay has admitted, without any preparation. This meant that in seats where candidates hadn’t been selected contenders, in many case, were imposed on local parties. What’s the point of being a member if you are prevented from having a say in candidate selection.

This will all be discussed at a fringe meeting in Manchester on Monday.

Mike Smithson


New YouGov CON members poll finds fewer than a third wanting TMay to carry on till the General Election

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

And Boris back as top choice of members


Looking at conference rhetoric – the politics of fear and the politics of hope

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

A guest slot by CycleFree

It has become a truism that political campaigns based on fear are doomed to fail. Positive visions, hope and excitement are what we want, apparently. And there is some evidence to support this: Corbyn’s genuinely inspiring campaigning for what he has said and believed these last four (five?) decades, the increasingly desperate Remain campaign and, of course, May’s abysmal GE campaign, which wholly failed to explain why Corbyn’s choices and what they say about his character, judgment and, therefore, how he would govern would affect voters and in ways which resonated with them.

But is this entirely true? Labour’s campaigns have always stoked fears that the NHS will be destroyed if the Tories are in power. Leave’s campaign last year was based in very large part on fear of foreigners, specifically fear of Turks and young male migrants/refugees from unsavoury parts of the world. Corbyn would likely never have won as many middle class/middle aged voters as he did were it not for the latter’s fear that the Tories would take their homes and savings in old age if they fell ill, a fear skilfully exploited by Labour with the “dementia tax label. In both the latter cases, the campaign which won (the referendum or argument) was the one which best exploited people’s fears as well as presenting an appealing vision of a better way (No University Fees! Keep Your Home! Freedom from the EU!) however unachievable, superficial or lacking in detail that vision may have been or, in the case of Brexit, is now being shown as being.

And so to this week’s Labour conference. Forget the now inevitable argument about whether Labour is tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks (it isn’t and it won’t). Forget the ignorant insults aimed at a 96 year old man and his grandson (take a bow Emma Dent-Coad, MP for Kensington. That’s just what your Grenfell Towers constituents elected you for). Forget Shami making a fool of herself yet again suggesting laws one doesn’t like can be ignored. After all she is only following an earlier Baroness and Attorney-General who thought laws were only for others. Forget even Corbyn’s speech: undoubtedly well received in the hall and elsewhere.

No. The most significant thing said this week was McDonnell’s statement that the next Labour government would not be a traditional” Labour one. We would be well advised to take this statement seriously. Traditionally, Labour governments have all sought to reassure as well as be radical: reassure voters that the economy would be safe, if more fairly run, that taxes would only be on the rich, that public services would be nurtured and valued, reassure business that Labour would invest, reassure the markets that Labour would be a sensible custodian of the nation’s finances.

McDonnell’s and Corbyn’s primary aim is not to reassure, other than as a tactic. It is to change very radically Britain’s economic and political settlement. And the “run on the pound” and “war gaming” remarks are not an error. They are an indication that they intend seeing their measures through and taking whatever steps may be necessary to do so. The fact that these may be unprecedented or harmful or have unintended consequences or hurt those who have voted for them may count for little or nothing. So what might these measures be if, say, money starts flowing out of Britain the day after McDonnell gets made Chancellor? Capital controls? Temporary bank closures? Limits on how much people are allowed to take out? A tax on all savings held in banks in the UK above a certain limit? Conversion of savings into bonds or shares? Seizure of savings above a certain limit?

Alarmist? Improbable? Why? All these things happened to ordinary people in Cyprus a mere 5 years ago. Sure they happened as part of a bank bailout and were blessed by the EU and there were special circumstances: the fact that so much Russian and other “dirty” money was in Cyprus made it easier for some to justify. Still, if it happened there, it could happen here and justifications would be easy for Labour to construct. No-one loves the rich or the markets or bankers, especially if they are seen as obstructing an elected government. For the past 30 years or so, the assumption everywhere has been that you can’t or shouldn’t even try to buck the markets. But bucking the markets is exactly what Corbyn and McDonnell want to do. The Tories would do well not to underestimate both the breadth of Corbyn and McDonnell’s vision nor their determination.

If those opposed to this want to make the case for why it will be harmful, they need to start some war gaming of their own. They need to explain how such measures will affect ordinary voters now, not by reference to the 1970’s: not “the markets won’t wear it” or “remember Callaghan and the IMF” but “you won’t be able to pay for that foreign holiday or buy stuff from Amazon in Luxembourg” or 20% of the money Mum had put by for her care has been taken or “the money saved/to be given to us as a deposit for a home will be in shares you won’t be able to sell for years” or “Dad has to pay a wealth tax on his house out of his pension and can’t”. They need to start demolishing, forensically, item by item, those Labour proposals which won’t work – and only those – and they need to start making the case now.

Fear of losing what you have is a powerful motivator, as the reaction to the dementia tax showed. Fear of being made worse off is equally powerful, as the reaction to university fees and interest rates on the loans also showed. It is a key part of any effective campaign. It is not the only one, of course. It won’t necessarily win on its own. So we will have to wait and see for the Tory Conference whether the Tories are capable of attacking Labour intelligently or only each other and, more critically, whether they have any positive story to tell the country.



The war without end

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Picture: Not the last Tory PM to have their premiership destroyed by Europe

Can Mrs May’s speech today accomplish what every Tory PM has failed to achieve in the last 40 years and finally unite the Tory party over Europe?

I was born a few months before Margaret Thatcher became PM, which will make me forty next year, in that time frame every Tory Prime Minister has had their premiership either ended or destroyed by European Community/Union affairs, and it seems Theresa May could soon join that list, though if there were any justice her premiership should be ended because of her poor general election campaign.

The Tory battle on the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe often resembles the Western Front during World War One, a long bloody attritional battle, little progress with needlessly high casualties, last year’s referendum felt like it was the turning point equivalent of The Second Battle of Marne. Yet it almost feels like the referendum was more like The First Battle of The Somme.

This isn’t Remain v Leave all over again, but the type of Brexit we want. Many Leavers are divided over the type of Brexit they want, rendering it ironic that many Tory leavers said that a Leave victory was the only way to unite the Tory party. If we get a truly bad Brexit deal (aka no deal) for the Tory party the first day post Brexit politically could be as bloody as the first day at Somme was for the British Empire and her army, think Black Wednesday with knobs on.

Over 170 years ago the Tories were torn asunder over free trade and tariffs, that helped contribute to them not winning a majority for nearly 30 years, it isn’t hard to envisage they are headed for a repeat. If Mrs May fails to heal the Tory divisions over the EU with this speech, then she shouldn’t be judged too harshly, it was beyond the abilities of much more talented and majority winning Prime Ministers like Margaret Thatcher, Sir John Major, and David Cameron.



The DUP deal has cost a lot more than £2bn: it’s blown apart the Tories’ economic case

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Austerity is dead – but what can replace it?

YouGov published the results of an innovative survey on Thursday, where it found that the British public seemed more willing to pay a Brexit bill of £25bn (where 29% said they would find that acceptable), than one of £10bn (backed by 18%).

Good news for Monsieur Barnier? Not exactly. The survey was designed to assess the effect of the options presented on the answers elicited, with the sample split into two groups. The first was asked whether they would find a Brexit bill of £5bn, £10bn and £20bn acceptable (note that these were independent questions, not options to one question); the second group had the same questions but with £25bn, £50bn and £75bn.

The most striking feature of the answers was the similarity in profile: the larger numbers did depress the scores a little but the respondents still clustered to the lowest amount in not too dissimilar numbers – and as mentioned above, the lowest amount for the second group received a good deal more support than the middle amount in the first, despite being considerably more.

The conclusions to take from this are firstly, that large parts of the public don’t really understand big numbers and what they mean in real terms; and secondly, and consequently, that what is an acceptable amount to pay will be determined by the political argument, not the financial or legal one.

That matters for Brexit but the lessons from the survey are more widely applicable and the government this week has opened up a whole new field on which they can be applied.

Public sector pay restraint could never last indefinitely. Seven years of mostly below-inflation pay rises / freezes has not only had a negative impact on morale but has tested the limits of the employment markets in terms of retention and recruitment. At some point, that limit was going to be reached (though not yet – there are more teachers and nurses in Britain today than in 2010, for example; to the extent that there’s a recruitment problem, it’s one about the rate of expansion, not the fact of it).

However, by breaching its own dam and offering the police and prison staff increases of more than 1%, the government has entirely predictably and understandably set off a chain reaction of other public sector staff demanding their own above-cap rises. The NHS unions were first off the mark, demanding a 3.9% rise, plus an additional £800 on top.

This leaves the government with several considerable problems. The first and most obvious is to explain why some jobs deserve bigger increases than others, when those others include perennially popular services such as nurses, where an Ashcroft poll found that the public would back nurses striking over pay. Again, the public are probably not actually answering the question asked (as to do so properly, people would need to know how much the various roles pay, and I suspect most don’t), but as far as the politics are concerned, that doesn’t really matter.

There’s also the matter of the money. Opening the door to higher pay settlements will undoubtedly bring a bigger bill. In theory, the police and prison service are supposed to find the extra pay from their existing budgets but in reality this could very well prove impossible without running the kind of risks that governments shouldn’t. The overall public sector wage bill is about £180bn a year so to settle at 3%, in line with CPI would jack up the pay bill by about £3.6bn a year. If the demands of the health unions were applied across the board, it’d add close to £10bn in one go – and all this at a time when the deficit is widening again. (Some of the pay would come back in direct or indirect taxes and through stimulated economic activity, but by no means all of it).

Unfortunately for Theresa May, as YouGov proved, the public does arguments, not numbers. And the argument for austerity died the day that she magically found £2bn to seal a deal with the DUP (£1bn a year for two years). No matter that in the context of the government finances, £1bn is close to loose change, to most people it sounds like A Lot Of Money (which, in reality, it is). More importantly though, the £25bn or whatever for Brexit and a £60bn deficit are also A Lot Of Money; there is practically no difference in the immediate political impact of agreeing deals with these sums.

Instead, the public will buy into a plausible narrative. Austerity was justified for so long in the public mind because of the Liam Byrne letter: there was no money left, and even Labour admitted it. That, however, no longer stands. There must be money around because the Tories found some for the DUP, and have found more for the police, mustn’t there? Besides, seven years should long enough to sort it out, shouldn’t it? Well, ‘not really’ and ‘only if you work harder than the UK did’, in reality. But in the short term, perception trumps reality.

For the Tories, this is more than a short term problem of restless unions. Theresa May’s whole election messaging was based on the government being strong and stable. For reasons best known to herself, the economy – which has been strong and stable and which continues to generate record employment – barely featured. All the same, the strategy was justified by the results. But having now undermined the strategy without giving a good explanation for the chance in policy, will the public continue to give the credit for the results?

There will be many repercussions down the line that arise from May’s decision to do a deal with the DUP – or, more specifically, to do the deal she did. For all the focus on Brexit right now, losing control of the economic narrative will matter more.

David Herdson


How Kim Jong-un makes Sir Michael Fallon Prime Minister

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing, we once again could see a new Prime Minister.

I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on affairs on the Korean peninsula, my knowledge is pretty much based on the excellent book by Sir Max Hastings on The Korean War and what I have learned from the media. But if matters do escalate for a full blown (nuclear) war there then we will be seeing a lot more of Sir Michael Fallon as he will try to reassure the country in his role as Defence Secretary.

I’ve always liked Sir Michael Fallon he’s usually a very strong campaigner, as in the video above he’s not afraid to attack his opponents, as evidenced by his deeply personal (and effective) attack on Ed Miliband. Whilst he might not have been as impressive during this year’s campaign, that can be explained down to the narcissistic campaign Mrs May ran, which saw cabinet ministers sidelined, and when they were given airtime left to defend badly thought out policies and attacks.

Right now it Mrs May is only Prime Minister because the party isn’t impressed by her potential successors, if he has a ‘good war’ he might be seen as the logical choice. After all during both world wars and in the run up to the war to liberate Kuwait, the Prime Minister of this country was replaced.

Often in Tory leadership contests the unexpected outsider wins the contest, the likes of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron were 50/1 and more to be the next Tory leader only months before they became leader. Several bookmakers have Sir Michael at 50/1 to be next Tory leader, I’ve availed myself of such odds.