Archive for the 'Tories' Category


A minority government by another name

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Con Majority

Alastair Meeks asks how could David Cameron deal with a party within a party?

David Cameron has had a cabal of fierce critics on the Conservative backbenches conspiring against him almost since the moment he became party leader.  In the new Parliament, the cabal has re-emerged and, emboldened by a small Conservative majority in the House of Commons, has periodically pounced to undermine their leadership’s plans on tax credit cuts, Sunday trading and benefit cuts, among other things.  The referendum campaign has brought a new focus to long standing tensions within the Conservative party, with Conservative MPs on either side attacking their fellow Conservatives with gusto.  The bonds of loyalty at a party level are being weakened in some cases and in some cases on the Leave side those bonds are in danger of being replaced with bonds to a much narrower grouping.

A party within a party has not yet formed but the danger is real.  The Conservative majority is currently 12.  A rightwing para-party within the Conservatives would command far more than this number.  If it formed, we would effectively have a minority government with supply and confidence support from a para-party that would dearly love to oust the current Conservative leadership.

Does this matter?  After all, the Conservatives have nearly 100 more seats than Labour.  Well yes it does.  Look at the make-up of the House of Commons:

Cons 331 (including Speaker)

Lab 232*

SNP 56*

Lib Dems 8


Sinn Fein 4

Plaid Cymru 3



Greens 1


Independent 1

*Includes MPs who have had the whip suspended

Let’s say that 30 Conservative MPs formed a para-party.  What are David Cameron’s options for ensuring that they cannot hold him to ransom?  The answer is: not very good.  The rest of Parliament is unusually uniformly lined up against him.  So finding new allies would be very tough going.

Labour of course are the Conservatives’ real enemy.  But Labour find themselves in competitive opposition with the SNP, who are anxious to show Scots that they are more effective at confronting the Tories.  There is not the slightest chance of David Cameron getting help from that quarter.

In a different way, the Lib Dems are also in competitive opposition with Labour.  They are anxious to show, post-coalition, as much distance from the Conservatives as possible.  Co-operation would be on the most limited of bases and on very specific topics.  Anyway, there are only eight of them.

Of the smaller parties, Sinn Fein don’t turn up, Plaid Cymru and the Greens are like-minded with the SNP and the SDLP is like-minded with Labour.  Lady Sylvia Hermon is independent but much more pro-Labour than pro-Conservative.  David Cameron can forget about help from any of them.

The UUP are a more hopeful prospect for support.  The Conservatives have a Nobel Prize winner in their ranks in the House of Lords – David Trimble, who hopped across from the UUP in 2007.  So David Cameron can hope for help there.  But they have only 2 MPs.

That leaves the DUP and UKIP.  UKIP’s MP, Douglas Carswell, is really an independent clad in purple, but his dislike of David Cameron is evidently intense, judging from his twitter feed.  The DUP come from the same ideological stream as the putative para-party – opposition to gay marriage, socially conservative, keen on populist spending for their client base.  They are far more likely to ally with the para-party than David Cameron’s Conservatives.

We don’t need to get into precise numbers to see that if the Conservative rightwing para-party commanded 30 or so Conservative MPs, David Cameron would be beholden to them on the current Parliamentary groupings.  They could wield a lot of power.

Is there anything that he could do to break a para-party’s grip over him?  Candidly, even the remoter options don’t look good.  His best remaining option to marginalise their influence is to hope for the Labour party also to splinter.  If he were able to make a generous and open offer to Blairite MPs, offering them substantial concessions on policy, he might hope for their support.  But the experience of the Lib Dems is very fresh in all politicians’ minds and the Blairites, even if they were minded to break with the rest of Labour, would need more than that.  Unless they were themselves hard-pressed, I’d expect them to be looking for a no-compete agreement at the next election so that they did not find themselves devoured by their erstwhile allies in the same way as Nick Clegg’s troops.

We’re starting to get into the realms of political novels now.  And that’s my point.  Coming back from flights of fancy, if the Conservative party fractures into smaller blocks, David Cameron will face agonising problems of party management.  He’s always been poor at that and he is unlikely to start getting better once he’s alienated large numbers of his MPs over the referendum campaign.  So his best practical option is to stop the blocks forming in the first place.  That may be easier said than done.  His retirement announcement may after all have been very well-timed.

Alastair Meeks


The perceptions on the Tories and Labour

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

YouGov have published some polling, conducted within the last week on which groups the voters identify the Tory Party and the Labour Party with. The findings aren’t that surprising. The Tories are perceived to be really close to the rich, businessmen/The City, and voters in the south. Whilst Labour are seen as being really close to trade unions, the working class, and benefit claimants.

The most interesting finding from this polling was that the Tories are seen as being not close to older people, and that Labour have better net rating with how close they are to older people. Now whilst not every older person is a pensioner, you can make a strong case that the segment of society that the governments of David Cameron have looked after the most is older voters, particularly pensioners. Recently the work and pensions select committee announced that they would investigate claims that baby boomers get more out of the state than they put in while younger generations lose out.

I suspect the reason for this particular polling finding is that Labour is seen as being close to benefit claimants, as they have been for a while, and older people such as pensioners because as recipients of the state pension are seen as benefit claimants, whilst with the benefit cap, the Tories are seen as no friends of benefit claimants.

This shows that once again in politics sometimes perceptions matter more than the facts, especially when you consider that a month ago, Iain Duncan Smith resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions ‘because he was frustrated that Downing Street and the Treasury refused to consider controversial cuts to universal pensioner benefits…Friends of the former work and pensions secretary said he was fed up of being asked “again and again” for cuts to working age benefits and those for disabled people, while the money spent on older voters remained untouched.’



Gove pushes Boris out off the top slot in ConHome’s latest next CON leader survey

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

ConHome Gove poll

Was the Mayor’s Brexit move a mistake?

The big political betting story this lunch time is that Boris Johnson has been pushed out of the top slot in the Conservativehome survey of leader preferences by Michael Gove.

Boris is, of course the long-standing betting favourite to succeed David Cameron but he’s been having a bit of a rough time during the BREXIT campaign.

    The mayor’s flippant and seemingly arrogant approach at a recent Commons Treasury select committee session was widely criticised and there was the brutal attack on him in the Times by ex-CON MP, Matthew Parris.

This led to speculation amongst Tory MPs that Boris wouldn’t even make the final two when they ballot to choose the short list that will go to the membership.

He’s still favourite but that could change.

Michael Gove is widely regarded as having a good referendum campaign. He made his position clear right at the start and is managing to maintain a good relationship with both sides.

Mike Smithson


Nicky Morgan’s academy plan could boost her leadership hopes – or kill them stone dead

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Nicky Morgan MP

Donald Brind on the Ed Sec’s big gamble

Nicky Morgan reckons she has what it takes to be Tory leader. She put her name on the board last October and followed it up with a declaration in February that it would be “a big mistake if Tory members were offered a choice between “two white men”, when David Cameron steps down.

Her dream is in desperate need of a boost. In last month’s Conservative Home survey of leadership contenders she narrowly avoided being the back-marker. The Education Secretary registered just 2% — one better than her hapless colleague, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Ms Morgan clearly hopes her big project — the plan to force all England’s state schools to convert to academies, being funded directly from Whitehall rather through local councils – will appeal to the Tory grassroots. If it does she could emerge as a serious contender when the dust has settled after the EU referendum. It’s just as likely that it will kill her hopes stone dead.

Although she told members of the NASUWT at their conference that there was “no reverse gear”  there is every chance she will be forced into a humiliating retreat by Tory rebels in the Commons or by the House of Lords. In the Upper House the government does not, of course, have a majority and since the measure wasn’t in the Tory election manifesto there will be little to inhibit Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers from filleting the measure

Key issues are likely to be the scrapping of the role of parent governors, the transfer of land in what is essentially a privatisation process – and the price tag – put at more than a billion pounds by Labour’s Shadow secretary Lucy Powell.

Tory councillors in heartland counties are angry too, according to the Guardian. One Cabinet member is said to have called the plan “bonkers”.

In the latest and what could be the most serious move Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbenchers 1922 committee, signalsthat the threat of a rebellion is real. He said the plan risked the creation of “new and distant bureaucracies” rather than delivering greater freedom and autonomy for schools. He also said they could have the unwelcome effect of removing parents from governing bodies and reducing accountability.

If she’s not worried about that Ms Morgan might like to look at the government’s recent defeats and retreats, gleefully chronicled by the activists website Labour List. The most notable were on Sunday Trading and the Trade Union Bill, where the Lords have delayed the introduction of the legislation and have recommended that the opt-in provision for political funds applies only to new members. That would ease the likely damage to Labour funds.

Reverse gear or not the Education Secretary faces a rough ride. Perhaps she should have smelt a rat – the academies plan was, of course, announced by Chancellor George Osborne as part of his “megashambles” March Budget.

Donald Brind


The disintegrating establishment

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016


In 2010, Britain was being wrestled over by two parties competing to portray themselves to the public as the natural party of government.  In his first conference speech, David Cameron returned repeatedly to the theme of “substance”.  He told his party:

“Real substance is about taking time to think things through, not trotting out easy answers that people might want to hear.  It’s about sticking to your guns.  It’s about character, judgement, and consistency.  It’s about policy, yes.  But it’s about getting it right for the long term.”

Two years later, Gordon Brown regained initiative telling his own party at their conference that it was no time for a novice.  Both parties were appealing to the voters’ innate caution, to the importance of politicians as steady, moderate and above all competent.

British politics has changed completely.  The establishment is under attack as never before, from insurgents on the left and right simultaneously.  

The Labour party has been taken over by a faction that has demonstrated no interest in appealing to competence or caution.  In his opening conference speech, Jeremy Corbyn made a virtue of not wanting to impose leadership lines at all times and of expecting real debate not message discipline at all times, of wishing to carry on being an individual activist.  He has been true to his word on all counts.  Blairites are as appalled by the style as by the substance of what he says.

Meanwhile, the insurgent right is currently consumed by the referendum on EU membership.  Without even a pretence of coherence, they campaign on running away from the complexities of multilateral engagement, variously on immigration, regulation, security concerns or whatever else flits across their minds (how leaving the EU is actually going to help on any of these fronts remains largely unexplored).  Their figureheads, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, campaign on charisma rather than competence.

With the Labour right in longterm internal exile and the Lib Dems obliterated, the sole repository of the flame of good administration at present is the current Cabinet.  Can they withstand the onslaught of the crazies?  You would think that offering competence in government as a USP would be a great vote-winner but everyone else seems to be having too much fun being irresponsible to make adult behaviour look enjoyable.

The wise commentators tell us that the public will be sensible in the votes that really matter.  Perhaps.  But isn’t democracy about giving the public a choice?  If in the foreseeable future there is space for only one responsible party, that doesn’t give much ideological choice for those who value good government.

And sooner or later, a solitary party of good administration will be defeated (probably by its own complacency, lack of direction or flatfootedness).  By default, if there is only one such party, the new government will not be anywhere near as interested in good administration.  It will be about then that the public would find out the virtues of dull competence.

Alastair Meeks


Boris Johnson is having a deeply unimpressive referendum campaign so far

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

If he wants to be leader, he needs to improve sharply in the next three months just to make the final two of the next Tory leadership contest.

Look at the above video from Boris Johnson’s appearance at the Treasury Select Committee earlier on this week, where his past comments/hyperbole on the EU came back to haunt him. Then there’s that tweet showing his inconsistency. Unfortunately for Boris these are the norms, not the exceptions. When he recently appeared on The Andrew Marr Show and was so unimpressive, Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun wrote of that appearance that it “may have damaged both Brexit and [Boris Johnson’s] dream of becoming our next Prime Minister.” People like Michael Gove have made a more articulate case for leaving the EU than Boris has so far.

The next general election campaign will echo the lines of the last campaign, Tory competence versus Labour chaos. That message won’t work if the Tory leader is seen as a buffoon or not as a credible Prime Minister. Despite recent appearances the Tory Party really does want to win the next general election, it would be wrong to view the next Tory leadership contest solely through the prism of only the EU referendum. The members have already said their two main criteria when choosing the next leader will be 1) Who will be the most competent PM and 2) Who has the best chance of winning in 2020. This represents good news for Theresa May, who in my opinion is value at  11/1 to be next Prime Minister, as she radiates competency.

As Matthew Parris noted in The Times yesterday (££), Boris Johnson in the past called Labour’s repeal of Section 28 “appalling”, who joked about “tank-topped bum-boys.” These sort of comments will come back and haunt Boris, whilst undoing the Tory detoxification project. Compare and contrast with Theresa May’s ‘Nasty Party’ comments, only one of those will be helped by their respective past comments, and it isn’t Boris. With Mike pointing out how the polls have a history of overestimating Boris, you can see the appeal of Boris waning with MPs further. On past performance Boris Johnson won’t survive the white heat of a Tory leadership contest.

Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and George Osborne all became MPs in June 2001, the performance so far by Boris Johnson in this referendum campaign has reminded us why Cameron and Osborne became Tory leader and Shadow Chancellor respectively within a little over four years of becoming MPs, whilst Boris Johnson was wasting away on the backbenches. History has shown, this far out it is profitable to lay the favourite for the Tory leadership, Boris is not showing any evidence why punters should break that habit. Simply not being Boris Johnson might be enough to win the Tory leadership.


PS – The Treasury select committee member Wes Streeting was deeply impressive during the questioning of Boris Johnson, coupled with his recent joke at George Osborne’s expense “Recalling a deeply, deeply unfortunate and certainly not amusing mix-up in which Barack Obama kept calling Osborne ‘Geoffrey’, Streeting had a Rainbow gag up his sleeve: “There’s probably a risk when President Obama visits next month he’ll think you’ve changed your name from Geoffrey to Bungle.”” Wes Streeting is worth backing at 66/1 for next Labour leader with Ladbrokes, I like him a lot.


Alastair Meeks: How the Eurosceptics are destroying the Conservative party

Monday, March 21st, 2016


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By that definition, the Eurosceptic right of the Conservative party is insane.

It’s not as if we haven’t been here before.  In the mid-1990s, a cell of dissident Conservative MPs contrived to make government with a small majority a living hell for their nominal party superiors, challenging the government on a succession of grievances (real and imagined) relating to Britain’s membership of the EU.  By the end of that government, the Conservative party looked bereft of purpose, direction and values.  It suffered its worst defeat in the era of universal suffrage.

The Conservatives spent the years from 1997 to 2005 obsessing about the EU, much to the voters’ bafflement.  In 2001 William Hague declared that we had 24 hours to save the pound.  The voters shrugged, ignored his warnings and gave Labour pretty much the same majority that they got in 1997. (Sterling has had a sufficiently long afterlife from the Conservative diagnosis that it was in intensive care to find itself the centre of an entirely different political dispute with the SNP, suggesting that not all wild Eurosceptic scare stories have a secure basis in reality).

Undeterred by the lack of traction this electoral strategy yielded with the voters, the Conservatives decided to replace William Hague not with a Cabinet minister of 30 years’ experience but with a complete non-entity whose views were sounder on the subject of the EU.  Astonishingly, the general public were not won over by this strategy.  The Conservatives replaced him with an eminence grise with Eurosceptic views who found out at the 2005 election that the public still weren’t thinking what the Conservatives were thinking.

After that defeat, the Conservatives regrouped.  They chose as leader a man who recognised that they needed to stop banging on about Europe and start talking about things that the public actually cared about.  They returned to power at the next election.  Correlation is not causation, of course.  But still.

The Conservatives won the election outright last year, having made a manifesto promise to hold a referendum on EU membership.  You can be reasonably sure right now that David Cameron currently wishes that he hadn’t been obliged to honour it.  Far from receiving the thanks of those who had passionately campaigned for it, they are now outraged that he holds a different opinion from them and is voicing it.

We have already seen the development once again of a party within a party.  Whenever there is a rebellion to be had, names such as David Davis, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Bernard Jenkin and Philip Hollobone are usually in the mix. Quicker than anyone else, the alienated right grasped that the Conservatives’ majority of 12 gives them a chokehold over difficult decisions.  Like their predecessors the Maastricht rebels, they are using it to embarrass the party leadership on populist topics even when they go to the heart of the governmental process of setting a budget.  Their ingratitude is astonishing.

Whatever Iain Duncan Smith’s motivations for resigning from the Cabinet and attacking the foundation statements of the government (others are more charitable to his motives than I am), it is hard to credit that he would have resigned at this point if George Osborne and he had been on the same side in the referendum.

We are told by anonymous Leaver Conservative MPs that a challenge to David Cameron’s leadership after the referendum result is a certainty, whichever side wins.  To any outsider to the party, this is baffling.  David Cameron is by far the most considerable politician in any party, is one that the public respect and is able to reach out beyond his party to voters who would not automatically see themselves as Conservatives.  He has honoured his commitment to offer a referendum and to allow Conservative MPs up to and including Cabinet minister rank to campaign on either side.  None of his mooted replacements has a fraction of the authority or ecumenical reach that he has.  He is in any case planning to stand down in due course. Far from conspiring to knife him, they should be begging him to stay.

If, of course, implementing Conservative party policy is what motivates them.  But it isn’t.  One of the original Maastricht rebels from the 1990s, Nick Budgen, described their state of mind then: “It would be my general feeling that the transference of power to Europe was so important a matter as to require a vote against any organisation and any party that wished to transfer that power.”  Sound familiar?  Except the Eurosceptics have vastly upgraded their ambitions. We are fast reaching the point where some Conservative MPs will only accept a leader who is a Leaver, regardless of the result of the referendum.

To achieve their long term aim of leaving the EU, these MPs are willing to trash their own party’s record and to render it ungovernable.  They calculate that they can scorch the earth, get their own man or woman in as leader and then convert the party into UKIP-MAX.  They ignore only three things:

  • It’s very questionable whether the balance of the Parliamentary party sees this as the same priority that they do.
  • It’s still more questionable whether the voting public will collude in this ambition to institutionalise Brexit as the paramount priority of the party of government; the Conservatives may well be facing opponents far more difficult to demonise than Jeremy Corbyn.
  • A guerrilla minority of wet Conservative MPs could undermine a Leaver Conservative government just as effectively as the hardline Leaver Conservatives are undermining this government.

In pressing their ambition to make the Conservatives the party of Leave at all costs, the hardline Leavers risk making the Conservative party ungovernable even if they succeed.  As in the mid-1990s, the Conservative party already risk again looking bereft of purpose, direction and values.  It would be insane to expect a different result.  Bet accordingly.

Alastair Meeks


Corbynus interruptus would destroy Tory hubris about 2020 immediately

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Just look at the above tweets, coupled with various ministers at the DWP arguing publicly over how good/bad IDS was. In normal circumstances the way the Tory party is currently acting over the  EU and IDS’s attack on the government not helping the poor, and the cherry on the parfait, allies of Cameron welcoming a leadership challenge, you wouldn’t want to put a single penny on them winning the 2020 general election, yet they are still the overwhelming favourites to win in 2020.

Why is that? Two words, Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who campaigned for the Tories at the last general election I know how badly Ed Miliband went down with the voters in marginal seats. I can confidently predict Jeremy Corbyn will go down even worse with these voters, and will make Ed Miliband look like Tony Blair in terms of electoral success.

Now if Labour were to replace Corbyn with say former Army Major Dan Jarvis, all those attacks about Labour being a bunch of terrorist sympathisers and a risk to national security would be rendered impotent, with IDS providing the attack lines for Labour to say the Tories effectively are kicking the poor and only concerned with looking after Tory voters, Labour would have a very good chance at winning the 2020 election, especially if the Tory reputation for economic competence is damaged by then.

If Labour don’t replace Corbyn before the 2020 general election I suspect future historians will be amazed at their failure to do so, the 2020 general election is Labour’s for the taking if they were led by a decent, popular leader without the flaws of Corbyn. Right now the 2020 general election is shaping up to be the resistible force meets the moveable object.