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25 November, 2010

The Helping Hand of Thatcherite Peers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 11:19 pm

David Cameron must be wondering whether his Thatcherite peers, or putative peers, are really worth the bother.  Last week Lord Young caused embarrassment in the way he appeared to suggest that, at this time of austerity, we’ve never had it so good.  Now,  the soon-to-be-Lord Howard Flight has echoed that old Josephian error of condemning the breeding habits of the lower classes (the FT has a measured judgement on his remarks here).  Flight, of course, has form on inappropriate comments – it was an earlier one on the level of possible budget cuts that forced former leader Michael Howard, no shrinking violet himself, to remove him from the parliamentary candidates list.

There is no end of right-wing commentators rushing to endorse Mr. Flight’s comments (take the Telegraph’s Ed West for example).  There was no end of right-wing commentators rushing to endorse Lord Young last week.  It is possible that the views they have each indelicately expressed have intellectual merit, although this is a very arguable point in each case.  What is inexcusable is their inability to recognise how their comments can be reported and interpreted for the nation’s 24 hour news dialogue, and by definition their apparent belief that they do not need to offer David Cameron their judgement in weighing their public comments carefully and responsibly.

The furore surrounding the views of Lord Young and Mr. Flight reminds us how the Thatcherites used to almost delight in alienating majority opinion in the country.  It may well also be leading David Cameron, who has done so much to de-toxify the Tory brand, to wonder whether reaching out a conciliatory hand to the unreconstructed right is really worth the effort.

Education, Education, Education

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 12:36 am

A final post for today, if only out of guilt that on the two linked domestic issues dominating the day’s news – the student protests and Michael Gove’s White Paper – I really should have something to say!  Well, I’m conscious of how difficult the student fee issue is for prospective students, but I fear I have little sympathy with their protests.  Too many sixth formers on a jolly and too few acknowledgements that privileged university education simply isn’t economically viable in an age of cuts.  Quoting Paxman to the not very articulate kids on Newsnight – “Why should the dinner lady’s taxes pay for your unviersity education?”

As for Gove, no-one doubts he is one of the thinking engines of the present government, and his White Paper, packed with bright ideas, requires a little more in depth reading than I’ve been able to give it so far.  I like the idea of dealing with an over modular exam system; I’m in favour of placing traditional academic subjects at the heart of the curriculum, not least because it benefits the poorer classes for whom a school education is IT, unlike the middles who can benefit from books, culture, education and pushiness at home.  Some of the ideas seem a bit gimmicky – armed forces personnel are good at discipline in the non-conscripted armed forces, but may not be quite so good when confronted with grumpy, conscripted and unwilling teenagers in a classroom.  And some of the headline stuff is a little misleading – headmasters can have more power to exclude pupils, but only if they can also provide the funding for the excluded pupils’ continuing education.  That is a severely limited freedom.

But the big picture is reforming the system, and what Gove has suggested merits, and will generate, much comment and analysis over the next few days and weeks.  He could well add himself to that pantheon of Conservative Education Secretaries, which includes Butler, Baker and Clarke, who have seriously reformed the state system in a way that dictates all subsequent change.

Finally, have a look at Fraser Nelson’s list of things students didn’t protest about in the past 13 years – quite illuminating.

24 November, 2010

Palin’s World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 10:53 pm

With the two Koreas engaged in their most serious dispute since the Korean War itself, it’s good to know that the US President knows his South from his North.  Don’t rest too easy though. The Tea Party favourite for the Republican nomination in 2012, the one and only Sarah Palin, has just revealed her own unique perspective on the situation, as she announces that we must stand by “our North Korean allies”.  The full account, and a recording from the Fox radio show she was commenting for, is here [link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan’s excellent Daily Dish blog].

The Tin-Eared Tory Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 10:12 pm

Bagehot’s Economist blog is always worth checking out, along with his weekly column.  Here he explains why George Osborne needed to contribute to the Irish bail-out, and puts paid to the argument that all that’s needed is for the Irish to leave the euro.  It’s a little more complicated than that, you won’t be surprised to learn.

A European Flurry

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 5:25 pm

First of all, congratulations to Martin Callanan MEP on his election as the new leader of the Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament.  He’s the most Euro-sceptic leader they’ve had, but he is a decent and shrewd individual who may just make something of the new job.  He is also one of the few Conservative representatives of any elected form to hail from the North East, which area he used to represent in the Young Conservative movement where he was a luminary of the right, but always an amenable one!

As the MEPs give their support to an avowed sceptic (Martin Callanan won over 50% of their votes on the first ballot in a three-way race), Simon Heffer’s bemoaning of the neglect of the right wing in David Cameron’s Tory party clearly couldn’t be more timely.  Using the agreement to contribute to the Irish bailout as his hook, Mr. Heffer sounds his familiar tune about the wretched liberalness of a Cameron led party.  Suggesting that the regicide committed against Margaret Thatcher in 1990 has yet to be fully avenged, he suggests David Cameron is engaged in an all out war with the Tory right:

I sense that Mr Cameron would actually rather like a fight with these people. In his desire to make a permanent coalition with the Lib Dems and marginalise the Thatcherite/Powellite Right for all time, this [Europe] could be the ideal issue for him on which to make a stand. He has displayed his visceral contempt for their way of thinking in the last few days in his callous and offensive treatment of Lord Young, who, when he stopped being useful to Mr Cameron, was removed with all the ceremony of a 17th-century quack slicing off a wart. How much longer is the disfranchised Right of the Tory party going to endure such humiliations and contempt before it remembers that it, too, has a mandate?

I’d love to know what sort of mandate he thinks the Right of the Tory Party actually has, and why he considers David Cameron, the man who endorsed his MEPs leaving the embrace of the main centre-right grouping within the European Parliament because it was too ‘federalist’, to be a Europhile desperate to demolish the sceptics.  It is worth remembering that after the failed efforts of three discernibly right-wing leaders to bring the Conservatives back into government, it took a modernising centrist to perform that task.  As for mandates, whatever else the British people want, they haven’t yet endorsed a right-wing brand of Conservatism!

23 November, 2010

Did AV Deliver a Worthless Leader?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 12:25 am

Conservative Home is having fun at the expense of the new Labour leader.  In the job for just eight weeks, and now back after his paternity leave, Tim Montgomerie has managed to unearth quite a bit of evidence to suggest he may be floundering.  He needs to make his presence felt, opine some.  He should work out his differences with his shadow cabinet colleagues, say others.  And he certainly needs to reassure his own backbenchers that he’s up to the job.  Electoral change supporters must be hoping that no-one remembers that Ed Miliband was delivered to Labour by an Alternative Vote system that managed to bypass his brother David, who topped the poll on the first count.  Oh, dear.  Churchill’s dismissal of AV seems to be ringing all too true – that it delivers the most worthless votes for the most worthless candidate.  Let’s hope for his sake that Miliband Minor doesn’t become the poster boy for the ‘No’ campaign!

22 November, 2010

The Tory Right and Our General Election Chances

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 1:19 am

Alex Singleton on the Telegraph site wonders whether the Tory right could cost David Cameron the next election.  I did do a double take when I saw the headline, wondering whether the Telegraph really were employing a journalist who was openly suggesting that right-wing politics might prove too off-putting for the electorate, but it turns out that wasn’t quite what Singleton was arguing.  In common with a lot of the disgruntled Thatcherite faction of the party, he wonders whether the ideologically committed Thatcherite activists will go out and canvas for a Cameron government that continues to turn its back on their wishes.  Actually, although Singleton suggests a whole host of issues, he really only discusses one – Europe of course (although grammar schools get a walk on mention).  He raises the canard of disgruntled Euro-sceptic Tories jogging along to UKIP, and cites the 106 vote majority of pro-EU Tory MP Matthew Offord in Hendon as an example of where UKIP might just remove Tory seats.  Hmmm.  It’s not a wholly convincing case to be honest.  UKIP were working flat out to remove pro-EU Tories at the last election, and the chances are that if they couldn’t do it last time, there is little to suggest they will succeed next time, especially if the Coalition has a good following wind behind it.  The Tory Euro-sceptics for whom Europe is the key issue have already defected to UKIP; the remainder will stay with the Tory Party because they are interested in power and believe that they can recapture the leadership for a more Euro-sceptic candidate next time (not that Cameron’s Euro-pragmatism indicates any sort of newly discovered pro-EU position in any case).  Some UKIP defectors may even move back if the party looks like winning a second term. Priti Patel, now an MP, was a national organiser of the now defunct Euro-sceptic Referendum Party, which sought to oust Tory MPs (and succeeded, in the case of David Mellor), yet in the afterglow of their failure she like many others quickly gravitated back into the Tories, believing it provided choicer pickings. 

Singleton has sounded the alarm, in the way that Conservative Home regularly does, as a way of trying to push the government into a more right-leaning direction.  The real problem for the Tories, however, is provided in Singleton’s conclusion.  He asks “If [Cameron] carries on ignoring their [Thatcherite] brand of Conservatism, can he really expect to secure enough MPs to give him a second term?”, inducing the suggestion that only a move right will assure David Cameron of enough party support to win next time.  But the real dilemma is in turning the question around – if David Cameron does decide to reach more clearly into his membership’s Thatcherite heartland, can he really expect the swing voters who lent him their vote in 2010, in the belief that he had decontaminated the Tory brand, to do so again in 2015?

21 November, 2010

Who’s Tim Farron?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 12:53 pm

He’s the Liberal Democrat president, obviously.  And naturally, he’s not interested in the leadership. Today.  But he is a critic of Clegg from the left, and as Andy Mayer on the Liberal Vision blog points out, it could be his job to start leading the ‘loyal’, left-wing opposition within the Liberal Democrats:

Tim Farron is likely to spend the next two to four years as President planning the Leadership bid that he is crystal clear he does not want. This will involve walking a tight-rope between constructive opposition and sabotage. He will become one of Ed Miliband’s sternest critics whilst agreeing with almost everything he says. He will be effusive in his praise of Nick Clegg whilst disagreeing with almost every decision he takes. He may occasionally stick-up for the Leadership at Conference to show willing whilst privately supporting attempts to get anti-government motions passed via caucuses like the SLF. He and Nick are real friends, but they are both also ambitious politicians.

The win for the left is not in this Parliament and internal elections, it is if and when Tim gets his shot at the big job.

Never mind the old dinosaur of Simon Hughes – keep watching Farron. 

Oh, and Mayer’s cutting summing up of would-be radical Evan Harris’ agenda is worth republishing too:

Evan’s vision of a party obsessed with increasing spending, state control through councils, and endless redistribution schemes “distinctive, radical, and progressive” is far from assured.

Kim Il Gove Shouldn’t Worry About Decentralisation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 12:28 pm

Michael Gove received the barb from Andrew Marr that he was trying to be a Kim Il Gove, centralising decisions about education as much as possible.  A particular blow for Gove given that his education reforms are, at least rhetorically, about decentralising control of education.  But Mr. Gove shouldn’t defend himself too strongly from the charge of centralising some decisions.  After all, his attitude to modules (he wants rid of them), spelling and grammar (better please) and history (er – chronological history anyone?)  all probably represent genuinely popular approaches that wouldn’t necessarily be introduced by the teaching profession. I’m a teacher (of history actually – we begin in 1066 and move on from there) and I love it, but I also know that there are as many approaches to education as there are teachers in schools, and a little bit of top-down order is no bad thing.  The National Curriculum – a Thatcher/Baker triumph, let’s not be mealy mouthed about it – did more to pull secondary education up by the bootstraps than any number of valiant initiatives from individual teachers.  And few would argue with the necessity of primary school literacy and numeracy hours – imposed from above.  Teachers can be brilliant, creative and inspiring practitioners in the classroom, but it doesn’t mean they should have control over the whole curriculum.  Good schools can provide extra-curricular enrichment opportunities for teachers’ pet loves – I thoroughly enjoyed delivering a sixth form general studies course on the glories of the English language’s finest comic writer, P.G.Wodehouse, who you won’t find on any literature exam canon.  But they also need to ensure their students are moving forward along a national, commonly agreed curriculum to give their students the best chance of competing in the world outside.  Exams, too, need to be rigorous and genuinely competitive, something the modular system increasingly dissipates.

So Mr. Gove shouldn’t worry about Andrew Marr’s North Korean jibe.  He should worry about the reaction to his school sports announcement – either another case of a very poorly managed policy announcement, or else a genuinely bad decision.  We should be careful before leaping to the latter conclusion – sports is a contentious issue in education, and the School Sports partnership that is no longer being ring-fenced by Gove achieved many things, but may not be the best way of ensuring that schools develop their own competitive sports ethos.  As with any national body, there is an element of bureaucracy hidebounding its progress.  But Gove does need to be cleverer with his public relations (alas), and his defence of his ideas.  He may be as centralising as a North Korean dictator, but he hasn’t yet managed that gentleman’s level of news management.

And finally, since we’re on education, what about other ideas.  Such as Latin returning to schools, and the general re-introduction of the grammar school system (which, when suggested by Simon Heffer on ‘Any Questions’ this week received strong applause – admittedly from an audience gathered in a grammar school for the programme!).

7 November, 2010

The Coalition Should Have The Courage To Stand As One In Oldham

Phil Woolas has brought shame on himself and significant embarrassment to the new Labour leader with his forced removal from parliament.  His desire to smear his Liberal Democrat opponent in the last general election, and to use the lethal issue of immigration in such a careless way, has resulted in his barring from parliament and the need for a new by-election in Oldham East, where he beat his Liberal opponent by just 103 votes in the last election.  That is Labour’s problem. The Coalition’s problem is – or should be – how to approach the by-election itself.

With voices such as those of Francis Maude and Nick Boles already holding out the thought of maintaining the coalition beyond a single parliament, it is not too fanciful to consider standing a single candidate in the Oldham East by-election.  First of all, the Tories do not have a good chance in this seat on their own.  On current polling evidence, neither do the Liberal Democrats, despite their near miss in May.   Second, it is foolish to deny that the two parties currently pursue a single governmental agenda, and are keen to defend and protect that.  This will not be a by-election, where both parties may once again be seeking their different mandates to govern.  This is a by-election, a comment on the existing government and, indeed, the opposition party whose demeaned candidate has caused it.  All of this points to the need for the coalition to have a united front and to agree a single – almost certainly Lib Dem in this instance – candidate for this seat.  It was disappointing to hear William Hague on the Andrew Marr show throw his support behind a separate Conservative candidate, in a move that could only result in an easy win for Labour.  Oldham East represents an electoral chance for the Coalition which they should seize.  They may live in unpopular times, and even a single Coalition candidate might struggle to win this seat, despite the shame of Mr. Woolas.  This shouldn’t stop them, however, from having the courage of their current unity and standing as one before the electors of Oldham East.  Let us hope wiser counsels than Mr. Hague’s now prevail.

5 November, 2010

Has the Civil War on Europe Really Ended?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 1:22 am

Peter Oborne in the Telegraph has declared the end of the Tory Party’s civil war on Europe, with these ringing words:

Last weekend, David Cameron opened the way for a sharp increase in our budget contributions to Brussels, while giving the green light for a new treaty to save the eurozone. On Monday, he announced a new era of defence co-operation with France. The Prime Minister has developed an easy, relaxed and mature relationship with both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel. Until very recently indeed, there would have been uproar had a Tory leader countenanced any of this. Last week, there was scarcely any reaction on Conservative benches. The spectre of Europe, which has engulfed the Tories since the assassination of Margaret Thatcher exactly 20 years ago, may have been laid to rest.

Alas, a day after his confident prediction of the end of one of the Tories’ most fratricidal concerns, along comes the Spectator’s James Forsyth to remind us, in blog and in the main magazine, of how Euro-sceptic the Conservative Party parliamentarians remain.  I just hope Oborne is more correct with his other great revelation, that the Coalition looks set to stand as one of the great revolutionary British governments, to stand comparison alongside Asquith, Attlee and Thatcher.  That sounds a lot more credible.  And hopeful.

UPDATE – 7 Nov: Oh dear.  Peter Oborne’s own newspaper, the Telegraph, reports a gathering revolt amongst Tory MPs over revisions to the Lisbon Treaty.  They still want a referendum, and I don’t think that issue is ever going to go away.

[Editors Note: Incidentally, a little European corrective here.  The TRG has often been considered an obviously pro-European outfit.  However, TRG has never had position on the EU and we’re certainly home to a good number of euro-agnostics and sceptics!]

3 November, 2010

Prisoners and the Vote

Filed under: Conservative Party policies, Media Comment — Timothy Barnes @ 5:16 pm

I am afraid I have joined the infamous “Disgusted of Tunbridge Well” club.

The idea of prisoners getting the vote is absurd. In theory, it can be denied on the rational grounds that their vote could sway Parliamentary decisions on justice in appropriate ways.

But the argument for giving it back to them seems to be based on an idea of Human Rights that cannot be denied. Is deprivation of liberty not a curb on such rights? Of course it is, and rightly so, for the protection of other possible victims, as punishment and to offer a chance to amend their behaviour.

Depriving them of the vote should go with that.

The only benefit of this absurd decision seems to be the hilarous clip of TV shown below, courtesy of the BBC. I rarely sympathise with Andrew Neill when he is on the sharp end, but this segment underlines the pathetic nature of the case and the decision.

One Nation Tories Should Mourn the Passing of the 111th Congress

Filed under: Uncategorized — Giles Marshall @ 12:17 pm

At Conservative Home yesterday, Tim Montgomerie noted the dearth of Conservative Obamacons, on the eve of an expected Democratic rout in the American mid-terms. As a Tory rightist, frequently concerned at the centrist drift of the government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, he is no doubt rather pleased about this, just as he will be pleased at the republican seizure of the House of Representatives this morning. As One Nation Tories, we should be mourning the arrival of a Republican House leadership determined to undo the work of one of the most activist Congresses of recent years.

The witches’ brew of Republicanism and Tea Partyism offers up such a lethal cocktail of xenophobia, state minimalism, fear, religious fundamentalism and rampant, crush the poor libertarianism that it should inspire nothing but horror amongst all decent, modernising One Nation Tories. The idea that anyone in the Tory Party should feel an allegiance with Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell should be anathema. They should recognise instead that Obama and the Democrats have forged ahead over the past two years with an extraordinary legislative programme that, but for its conservative timidity, would bear proud comparison with the aims of One Nation Tories.

The health care bill could put the number of insured Americans over 95% – impressive and praiseworthy, even if still short of the 100% achieved by an NHS which David Cameron rightly placed at the heart of his campaign. The regulation of out of control capital markets fits well with David Cameron’s own calls before the election in Britain for more effective regulation. Which of us, after all, would argue with the need for a systemic regulator, such as is envisaged by Obama’s financial regulation bill? As for the stimulus, it may seem to be radically different to the Coalition’s austerity budget, but in George Osborne’s ring-fencing of education costs, his rescuing of defence contracts, and his careful focusing of the cuts that were made, he achieved a measurable triumph on behalf of the Coalition in balancing the need for continued fiscal stimulus with the aim of reducing the worst excesses of the budget deficit. What it clearly wasn’t was the Friedmanite slashing beloved of the Republicans and the Tory right, a result that should have relieved us all.

The Republicans operate to the right of a political centre of gravity that is already considerably rightwards of our own. The addition of the Tea Party, for all the honeyed words of Dan Hannan in his eloquent calls for a ‘repatriation’ of the Tea Party revolution, sends elements of them even further into a stratosphere that is thoroughly alien to European centrists. As the Republicans re-take the House of Representatives, One Nation Tories should be weeping with the Democrats, and then working flat out to defend their own remarkable coalition from the ravages of libertarian pillaging that have caught out their friends amongst the Obamaites.

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