Conservatives have lost their way in the Europe debate

James Willby

The debate on Europe within the Conservative Party is going from bad to worse. Beginning with the Business Secretary comparing current Conservative rhetoric to the speeches of Enoch Powell, to the revelation that the Prime Ministers rhetoric is causing enormous disquiet amongst our colleagues in the European parliament, with the leader of the Polish delegation telling David Cameron that unless his rhetoric on EU migration changes, it will be very difficult for them to continue working with us. Rather than seeking allies for EU reform, we’re giving a wonderful performance in the art of losing friends and alienating everyone we come into contact with. But it goes further than that. Something seems to have gone wrong at the heart of this party of ours.

In defense of my argument I’d like to offer you two substantive pieces of evidence: the EU referendum bill and the atrocious rhetoric that was directed at Bulgarian and Romanian migrants.

At the time the referendum bill was announced, I remarked to a MP that I was against it. We’d already said we’d hold a referendum in 2017 if elected, so why legislate for it now? When pressed, he explained that in the light of the Lisbon Treaty, there needed to be some form of gesture to show people we were serious about giving them a vote on Europe.  While it is of course true that one cannot vote on a treaty that has been signed, the ghost of David Cameron’s “cast iron guarantee” continues to haunt party strategists. The idea behind supporting the Wharton referendum bill, I was told, was to show we meant business and win back disaffected support. It seemed a sensible way forward. However, the threats to use the Parliament Act to force the bill into law show, in my opinion, the unpalatable truth behind the campaign to “Let Britain Decide”.

This isn’t about letting anyone have his or her say. The Wharton referendum bill is nothing less than a grubby political trap, designed to ensnare a future Labour government whilst trampling on what was – hitherto – a key principle of our democratic system: that governments may not bind the hand of their successor and that none should attempt to do so. It is not in the British national interest, but in the perceived electoral interest of the Conservative party. By putting the bill into law now, the party is attempting to booby-trap the first two years of a Miliband premiership, either forcing him to hold a referendum he opposes or cry foul when he repeals the bill. It is grossly transparent, full of short-termism, and wrong.

It is this same toxic mix that has led to the some of most disheartening debates on EU migration that I can remember, culminating in the parliamentary debate on Bulgaria and Romania. It was not pleasant. We were, we were told, importing a crime wave from Bulgaria and Romania. Some MPs even went as far as pledging to man the desks at Stanstead airport on the 1st January, allowing them to interrogate new arrivals from these countries. It is hysteria of a type that would make Joseph McCarthy proud. If Dominic Grieve can be forced to apologize for suggesting corruption is endemic to the Pakistani community, how can it be right for MPs to make such comments about Bulgarians and Romanians?

The Bulgarians and Romanians I know personally are hard-working decent people, but understandably aggrieved at the way they are being castigated by our party. And so to them, on behalf of the quiet, sensible majority, I’d like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you are being so odiously used by members of my party. I’m sorry that the fear of UKIP has made the supporters of European enlargement turn their back on the principles they once defended. The Bulgarian President is entirely right to say this debate risks damaging the UK’s image as a tolerant and open nation. As the Economist has already stated, you are very welcome here. I hope many of you will come and lend your talents to our country and that our party will finally see the opportunity you represent. You see, if the Conservative party really wanted to prevent a victory UKIP in 2014, it could simply ask for your vote. Rather than telling you what a problem you are, we should tell you we appreciate your service to this nation and invite you to join us on the path of EU reform.

This fact – that EU migrants have the same voting rights as UK nationals – has been completely absent from our internal debate. Were we to mobilize them effectively in our favour, UKIP’s hope of winning the European elections would be dashed. As to its likelihood I’m not hopeful, but who knows?

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The top five take-aways from 2013

Ryan Gray

Below are five things to consider when evaluating 2013.

1. The gender pay gap is almost solved.

The findings are here. And what they show is disparities in gender pay are becoming non-existent.

According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), this figure ‘shows median gender pay differences by age group based on full-time hourly earnings (excluding overtime). The gender pay gap is relatively small in age groups up to, and including, the 30-39 age group (with the exception of the 16-17 age group)’. The fact that those aged 18 to 39 are more or less equal is encouraging and shows the positive impact of legislation. While there are differences in pay after 40, there are multiple reasons why – e.g. older age groups would not have felt the full impact of changes and would have been impacted by discrimination before the changes. Nevertheless, as those in the younger sections become older, there equality will become evident in future statistics, making the pay differences in older sections shrink to the levels seen between 18 and 39 as time goes on.

2. Britain’s economy is predicted to become the largest one in Europe by 2030.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has declared Britain the second best performing economy in the western world. Its research states that by 2030, Britain will overtake Germany and become the largest economy in Europe despite having a smaller population.

3. Plan A is working.

Following on from (2), austerity is working! Despite Labour’s claims of Plan A failing, think-tanks like the CEBR hail Britain’s austerity programme and others are quick to heap praise on the country’s optimistic growth figures for the coming year. It’s not only in Britain, however, where austerity is a success; thanks to the work of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ireland has left the so-called ‘Troika’.

4. Plan B is failing.

Whereas Plan A is working, Plan B is not! When France decided to try a different approach to recovery from Britain’s, many applauded on the Left; but now the French economy is one the worst performing economies in the Western world. The French leader, President Francois Hollande, is deeply unpopular and richer members of the country are leaving. While Britain and Ireland’s future look positive entering 2014, Plan B has left France’s prospects looking very uncertain.

5. Britain’s youth are more right-wing than older generations.

Earlier this year, the polling company Ipsos MORI began to publish 17 years’ worth of polling results, spread across four generations, starting with those born in 1945 or before and ending with ‘Generation Y’. The latter (all adults aged under 31) reject left-wing notions of higher taxes and hand outs and are far more embracing of free market economics – breaking the stereotype that young people are left wing. It is important to note, however, while Generation Y are economically more right-wing than previous generations, they are socially more liberal than any before them also. With young people displaying libertarian trends, the political landscape of Britain will be increasingly more centre-right in hue.

Overall, 2013 was a good year for the Conservative Party, but if we want to stay in power after the next election, we must have an even better 2014.  As the economy continues to grow, the Party must address the unpredictability of its own support.

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"Mission accomplished" in Afghanistan? For the Tory Party, yes.

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Aaron Ellis

On Monday, the Prime Minister declared that Britain had accomplished its mission in Afghanistan. A “basic level of security” had been achieved there meaning our troops could come home with their “heads held high”. Mr. Cameron has a weakness for hyperbolae (e.g. GCHQ searching for online paedophiles is comparable to the Enigma code-breakers…) and he was criticised for making such a sanguine statement. The conflict is far from “mission accomplished” – though as far as the Tories are concerned, it has served its purpose.

Afghanistan is more important to David Cameron than most people, he included, probably realise. It is the source of his contradictory foreign policy and it was crucial to the rehabilitation of our Party as a responsible alternative government to Labour.

In his handling of foreign policy, Mr. Cameron is torn between idealism and realism – and Afghanistan is the source of these conflicting impulses. He believes that al-Qa’ida used the country as a base because it was a failed state and it was a failed state because the West abandoned it after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. For him, it “is a great example of a country that if we walk away from and if we ignore and if we forget about, the problems will come visited back on our doorstep.” Had the West somehow ended the civil war and helped it with development assistance, then ‘just think what might have been avoided.’ This conviction lay behind the interventions in Libya and Mali. When justifying Mali, the Prime Minister argued that if Britain did not “make the world safe all over the place”, then the threat from militant Islamists would only grow and “we will face it” eventually. Yet this limitless interventionism jars with his efforts to portray himself as a prudent realist.

We are running a global race for power and influence, according to Mr. Cameron, necessitating a strategic foreign policy which focuses on our national interests. “If our influence is under challenge,” as William Hague believes it is, then we must “make the most, systematically and strategically, of our great national assets.” This is especially true when it comes to the military. Whereas Labour “made too many commitments without the resources to back them up”, the Conservatives would be more discriminating. Afghanistan is the perfect example. In 2006, Tony Blair authorised troops to go into Helmand in insufficient numbers for the goals he had set them. Just a few years later when Gordon Brown wanted to send in more, Tory support was conditional on a “tightly defined” strategy “backed up by extra equipment”. In Mr. Cameron’s view, we simply can’t afford anymore these wars to build perfect societies in inhospitable places. “Every battle we fight” must help Britain “rise” amidst the decline and fall of other Great Powers.

Underpinning this contradictory foreign policy is the way he thinks about globalisation; it justifies both his idealism and realism. For almost two decades now, many in the West have been in thrall to an idea which I call ‘the internationalisation of the national interest’. It is the belief that the world has become so interconnected that crises in developing countries threaten our own security and therefore we must resolve them pre-emptively. Mr. Blair once argued that if governments are ultimately concerned about protecting their own people, as realists argue, then “the new frontiers for our security are global”. The Tory leadership buys into this idealistic worldview, but it also believes that globalisation has created the global race, which demands a realist response. Mr. Hague once tried to square the circle: “We should never be ashamed of saying we will promote our own national interest,” for it “is no narrow agenda”.

Even though the Prime Minister thinks about international crises like Libya and Mali in Blairite terms, as Leader of the Opposition he often attacked Labour for its allegedly idealistic and astrategic foreign policy. These criticisms, especially those about Afghanistan, helped rehabilitate the Conservatives as a party of government.

By supporting the war in principle but attacking Labour’s handling of it, David Cameron could portray himself as a responsible and “hard-headed” statesman, dispelling fears that he was not up to the job of running the country. Since the mid-1990s, the Tories had been dogged by a widespread belief that they were too irresponsible to hold office. Britain is in an era of ‘valence’ politics, it is argued: voters value ‘competence and credibility over commitment to a cause or class’ according to Tim Bale. It was essential, therefore, for Mr. Cameron to portray the Party as ‘a proficient alternative administration’. When it came to Labour and Afghanistan, he used a tactic that has always worked well for us in the past: claiming our opponents were too weak or incompetent to be trusted with the serious business of war. This tactic was an important part of the long campaign to force out Gordon Brown.

It is strange to think now just how tough an adversary Mr. Brown was, especially when you examine the popular image of him as ‘substantial’ in the context of the Tories’ perception problem. Labour capitalised on this with the ‘Not flash, just Gordon’ advertisement campaign. His popularity proved short-lived, as we all know, but the financial crash could have been for him ‘what 9/11 was to Blair.’ These crises engaged their respective skills, ‘fitted into [their] worldview, and saw [them] acting in a bold and confident fashion’, writes the politics scholar Stephen Dyson. And just as the War on Terror strengthened the image of Mr. Blair as a responsible guardian of Britain’s safety, Mr. Brown’s handling of the crash had the same potential. If he was to be forced out of office, the Tory leadership would have to play on an alternative perception of him – an incompetent leader whose actions were motivated by concerns that had nothing to do with the national interest.

The Conservative critique of Afghanistan reinforced this perception. Labour had insufficiently ‘realist’ aims (“creat[ing] Switzerland in the Hindu Kush”) and they lacked the commitment needed to fight, denying the military the resources it needed to win. In July 2009, Mr. Brown was thrown off guard when the then Chief of the Defence Staff claimed that more helicopters in the country would save lives. Mr. Cameron took advantage of the subsequent uproar, arguing Labour “have got to realise we are fighting a war”. It was not simply about money, but “about commitment. About rolling up your sleeves and realising we need more of what we’ve got actually on the frontline.” By focusing on these arguments the Tory leadership maintained their overall support for the campaign, while also playing on both popular mistrust of Blairite interventionism and a belief that the worsening military situation was entirely Mr. Brown’s fault. “We always support our troops, but we have not shied from criticising the Government’s conduct of the war,” William Hague once explained, “when we have felt we must speak out.”

Of course, the critique was only partially true; some of it downright misleading. Mr. Brown framed the campaign in the same ‘realist’ terms used by Mr. Cameron: “We are in Afghanistan as a result of a hard-headed assessment of the terrorist threat facing Britain”, he once stated. Success would be achieved by “enabling the Afghans to take over from international forces; and to continue the essential work of denying [their] territory as a base for terrorists.” Yet he had lost perhaps the most important asset of any politician, the right to be heard, as the Conservatives had already managed to portray themselves as the party of the national interest.

The historian Hew Strachan has argued that the Tory leadership were ‘reluctant to join the dots’ between the public’s support for the military and ‘the lack of [it] for the missions’, but withdrawing from Afghanistan may not have led to a landslide. They had to not only win votes, but also appear to be responsible. Michael Howard revoked the Party’s support for Iraq, one of the most unpopular wars in Britain’s history, but it was seen as opportunistic and irresponsible. However, the problem that David Cameron and William Hague created for themselves when they inherited Afghanistan was maintaining their “hard-headed” rhetoric at the same time as pulling out the troops.

Mr. Cameron’s announcement, just a month after becoming Prime Minister, that we would be out by 2015 caused a disparity between his words and his actions. Those fighting were “defending our freedom and our way of life as surely and as bravely as any soldiers” in our history. Britain could not abandon the Afghans as we had to save them “from a return to the brutality of the Taliban, who handed the entire country to Al Qaeda [sic] as a base for logistics and training”. If they came back, then “the terrorist training camps [would] come back”, which would mean “more terrorists, more bombs and more slaughter on our streets.” The rhetoric suggests Afghanistan is a war of necessity, but the deadline implies it is a war of choice. As Tory backbencher John Baron once pointed out to the Foreign Secretary: If we want to “deny al-Qaeda a base from which to operate and pose a threat to [our] streets”, then “surely we should stay there until we have achieved that objective”?

When he was pressed on whether or not British combat troops would be out by 2015 regardless of the conditions on the ground, Mr. Hague emphasised: “I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about this: we will be fulfilling the Prime Minister’s commitment.” Given that ‘the war will be lost’, according to one study, if the development of the Afghan National Security Forces is rushed ‘beyond what is possible’, the deadline contradicts Mr. Cameron’s claim that we would only leave once the job was done. The situation today is far from “mission accomplished”.

As far as the Tory leadership is concerned, Afghanistan has served its purpose: the Conservatives can now demonstrate their fitness for office by actually governing. Yet its continuing influence on David Cameron’s foreign policy has the potential to undermine his hard-won image as a prudent, responsible, strategically-minded statesman.

If the clamour for intervention in Syria continues, as well as for action in any other country that descends into civil war, the Prime Minister will be increasingly torn between his limitless doctrine of preventative action and his ‘realist’ ambitions for British foreign policy. One of these will have to be sacrificed eventually or the Party will make the choice for him – as happened when MPs rejected his call for airstrikes against Syria. Like his old Labour adversaries, he may come to be seen as a weak leader frittering away Britain’s scare military resources in idealistic wars-of-choice. 

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Let’s be honest, quitting the EU would harm our foreign policy

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Aaron Ellis

Speaking at Chatham House the other day, Senator Marco Rubio declared that it ought to be up to Britain to decide its relationship with the European Union regardless of transatlantic considerations. “[Y]our American partners should respect whatever decision you make. Our alliance, our partnership, and our affection for your nation will continue regardless of the road you choose.” The reaction of many ‘Europhobes’ highlighted again why I would probably vote for us to stay in the EU if the referendum was held today – the better-off-out position exists in a foreign policy vacuum.

Typically, whenever Europhobes stray outside the national sovereignty vs. supranational governance debate into the wider world, it is to try to outflank the Europhiles. For example, the claim that the Commonwealth can be an alternative trading bloc is an attempt to undermine the economic case for staying in the EU. Yet the hysterical reaction to critical comments made by U.S. officials, amongst many others, shows just how isolated they are from foreign affairs.

Many seized on the words of Mr. Rubio, contrasting them with those of Obama officials. When Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary for European affairs, said that he wanted to see “a strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union”, it was part of a pattern of ‘bullying’ according to Tim Stanley. John Redwood wrote that the United States wanted us to be ‘subservient’ to Brussels, betraying the values that underpin their hard-won republic. Nile Gardiner, who advised the Romney campaign, claimed that this would never have happened had his candidate won the White House last year – even arguing that ‘Britain’s policy on Europe is none of President Obama’s business.’ If increasing tension between close U.S. allies is none of Mr. Obama’s business, then, by implication, he shouldn’t involve himself in the Falklands dispute – a regular bugbear of Mr. Gardiner’s…

Rather than simply a restatement of a position that the United States has held for decades, all this is a further manifestation of the visceral hatred that Mr. Obama supposedly feels for our country.

Yet had Tim and others looked more closely, they would have seen that both Gordon and Rubio more or less said the same thing. Like the former, the senator emphasised that he wanted a strong EU, which he sees as both “a stabilizing force on the continent” and “an effective [American] partner on key international issues”. Like Mr. Rubio, Mr. Gordon emphasised that Britain’s relationship with Brussels was ultimately a matter for us to decide. He is a Democrat, of course, whereas the senator is a Republican, which for some on the right makes a world of difference.  

Europhobes’ hysterical reaction to the foreign policy implications of withdrawal makes me reluctant to buy into the Better Off Out campaign. They have no real alternative for the influence that Britain currently enjoys due to its dominance of the European External Action Service (EAS).

Our diplomats were instrumental in drafting the 2010 declaration that made the Service subservient to the foreign policies of the Member States – effectively, the foreign policies of Britain and France. As of last year, six of the most senior positions in the EAS are held by British diplomats on temporary secondment. Given our large foreign policy apparatus and expertise in a wide range of international issues, Britain is best placed to occupy the one-third of EAS positions that are reserved for the officials of Member States and use them to push the EU in directions we want it to go.

This will be important to Mr. Rubio should he become either President or Vice-President after 2016. EAS currently controls the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which tries to bring those on the continent’s periphery into the EU’s orbit – like Ukraine. In his speech, the senator argued that both Brussels and Washington needed to “ensure that those on Europe’s periphery who still desire to join the Western community of democracies retain the option if they meet the entry requirements.” Yet if it was not for Britain, the union might not be as large as it is today, and a Christie-Rubio administration would want us to stay in it in order to continue pushing back Russian influence.

In his speech, Mr. Rubio also emphasised the importance of NATO and yet without Britain to keep the EU committed to the Alliance, then it might, as David Cameron once warned, just “fade away.” With Britain gone, there would be renewed effort on a specifically EU security arrangement, which would duplicate the work of NATO and dissipate the energies of both organisations. In my mind’s eye, I can see a very serious-looking Vice-President Rubio standing next to Deputy Prime Minister Ed Davey, telling the assembled journalists that Britain in the EU was vital to American interests.

Leaving the European Union would negatively affect our foreign policy, but rather than offering any alternatives or explaining why taking this hit to our influence is a necessary price for our freedom, the better-off-outers act like Scottish nationalists and attack anyone who criticises them. They attack not only namby-pamby Europhiles, but also the likes of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Radoslaw Sikorski – neither of whom are Britain-hating, probably Kenyan socialists.

The greatest historian of our Party, Lord Blake, once wrote that a characteristic feature of successful Tory governments is ‘a “patriotic” foreign policy…judiciously tempered by liberal internationalism.’ Perhaps trying to emulate our Republican cousins, some Conservatives have spurned international institutions like the EU and the UN; seeing them as threats to be countered, not tools to be used. Rather than emulating the Austrian statesman Metternich – reforming the EU from the inside, as Mr. Sikorski argues – they would rather we left it entirely. That is a reasonable position for them to take, but if Europhobes are going to push for our withdrawal then they need to man up and smarten up on foreign affairs.

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The Conservative Party ought to be proud of the Wharton Bill

Gareth Milner

In years to come people may ask where you were on Friday the 29th of November 2013. Regardless of where you were, I can tell you what one man was up to: James Wharton MP was at the end of the trying, troublesome and often tiring journey of a Private Members bill through the House of Commons.

Several people within the Westminster bubble had a genuine belief that the EU referendum bill would not make it this far. Yet things are still not as certain as they could be, the bill still needs to make it through the House of Lords.

The completion of this bill’s journey through the Commons brings two important questions to my mind. How did Conservative whips keep the rank and file in check? Does the leader of the opposition require an Elizabethan collar? It’s exactly what they give dogs to stop them from licking wounds. You can only imagine how many sore wounds someone has after sitting on the fence for so long. If you looked at the results of the various votes on the EU referendum bill, you will clearly see there hasn’t been much of an opposition at all.

There has of course been various questions which have permeated debate surrounding this issue, one of which was the timing of the referendum. This issue included the aborted amendment brought by Adam Afriyie, along with several calls from UKIP – who, whilst riding high in the polls, still don’t even have a foldable camp chair at the table.

Such discussions however, leave somewhat of a confused thought in my mind and I honestly can’t tell what annoys UKIP more. Are UKIP more annoyed that the referendum is planned to take place in 2017 instead of 2014, or is it that the House of Commons has passed a bill to give the people a referendum. Such a referendum that as things stand, UKIP can ask for, though they have not the power to bring into effect. Is it sour grapes, or are UKIP concerned that after a referendum it may appear somewhat meaningless having “independence” in their name?

The very fact that the EU Referendum Bill found its genesis in the Private Members Bill ballot, is what makes current events so very special. All too often politicians are perceived to cause pain and anguish by the very act of playing game theory with politics. In this case had it not been for James Wharton, Conservative whips and the Prime Minister bringing his game face to the table, this might never have happened.

My position on the EU is not for complete withdrawal, nor do I think that leaving things as they are is an ideal solution either. I would like to see some reform before anything happens in terms of a referendum, hence my personal preference for 2017. Yet putting my personal views to one side, there is agreement within different parts of the Conservative Party on a certain aspect. This agreement concerns the very fact that we are the single party driving forward, striving to give the people a referendum to choose the future of their country.

I am by no means a psychologist or any kind of expert who can safely assess what is going through the mind of the Labour Party and its MPs. I can however take a leaf out of their guide book on economics, namely the act of making SWAGs (serious wide a***d guesses). Taking the evidence I have and allowing my neurons to fire with the speed of a thousand gazelles laced on caffeine, what I saw of the opposition side of the debate leaves me with three simple words; FILIBUSTER, FILIBUSTER, FILIBUSTER. If Labour MPs were so against this bill, why were there not more votes against it?

The reason there wasn’t more Labour votes is because even they are sensible enough to not vote against a bill which is offering a referendum to the people. This smacks of nothing less than desperation. Despite the risks involved, no matter what you may think of the Conservative leadership, I believe they need to be applauded. The “Europe” question is something which in recent years, regularly and consistently reloads the party “blame thrower”. The blame thrower does nothing more than burn each and every one of us, allowing the media and the opposition to circle like vultures. Regardless of your views on the referendum, many people within the UK want it and the party leadership and the whips have worked hard to bring the bill this far.

Of course the journey of the EU Referendum Bill is not yet complete, it may very well suffer further acts of blustery filibustering at the hands of Lords within the upper chamber. However, the House of Commons is the democratically elected chamber of the people. If this bill is gutted in the Lords, I’d be worried if members of the public were not anxious or concerned. Especially when a system they once thought was democratic, had stolen away the chance of a referendum. Both the pro and anti EU lobby will have to prepare for what to do should the result of a referendum not go their way, though I only hope we can draw a line under it once and for all.

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A housing boom could lose the Conservatives as many votes as it wins

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Luke Major

Britain’s rural landscape is under attack in the name of economic growth – despite David Cameron’s promise to lead the “greenest government ever.” The Prime Minister believes that the key to recovery is to build our way out of recession as was the case in the 1930s. But how much of our glorious greenery will we have sacrificed before we are satisfied with the rate of growth?

One significant cause of the threat to rural Britain is the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Put forward in March 2012, with a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development, it makes it extremely difficult to carry out the mandate of preserving the rural nature of the area in which rurally based Conservative Councillors are elected.

Not only does the nature of the NPPF suggest worrying implications for our idyllic landscape, but it also makes our Council look ‘spineless and inept’ as we were referred to in my first parish meeting two days after I was elected. We can no longer take the rural vote for granted. In my by-election back in May 2013, nearly all of the spoiled ballots I was shown had some reference to the lack of a UKIP candidate standing. Another more recent by-election in my area saw an extremely narrow victory for a Conservative where a UKIP member had stood against him. In most areas of my district, we nearly always see a huge victory against the sum total of Labour, Lib Dem and the Green’s vote combined.

I would not dispute that the vast majority of Britain’s countryside (over 90%) remains untouched, but it is where the development is taking place that is harming the Tory vote. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), over one thousand hectares of green belt land (an area of open land around a settlement on which building is restricted) have been lost each year since 1997, covered in over 45,000 houses, spanning an area that roughly equates to a city the size of Bath. This is happening right on the doorstep of a great number of people who very often elect local Conservative Councillors for the purpose of preventing it. Is it any wonder that 13% of the almost exclusively Conservative Countryside Alliance now intends to vote UKIP in 2015?

The most frustrating aspect of the housing vs. environment issue is that plenty could be done to accommodate Britain’s growing population that would offend very few. Another CPRE report has identified derelict brownfield sites available for building approximately 1.5 million new homes. This would be on top of the 300,000 empty houses in the UK unoccupied for months, as well as the vast amount of land that our nation’s major house builders have permission to build on that could accommodate another 280,000 homes. Somewhat surprisingly, this report came after the last Labour government smashed targets to increase brownfield development by 60% before 2008, eight years ahead of schedule. Furthermore, back in 2011, local authorities identified an estimated 63,750ha of Brownfield land in England, up 2.6% from 62,130ha in previous year. Half of this land was derelict or vacant, with the other half in use, but with potential for redevelopment.

Clearly then there is a case for more ambitious targets in regions across the UK which could be encouraged through corporation tax relief for housing developers. The Conservative Party could even re-consider the Lib-Dems controversial Land Tax which would deter Greenfield development. Many commentators have pointed out that one of the main barriers to brownfield development is the uncertainties around cost, particularly during negotiations surrounding the clean-up operations of the areas on which they are to build, so the government U-turn to abolish Land Remediation Relief is welcome.

Eric Pickles’ recent announcement to grant more power to local councils could not have come soon enough. By making it more difficult to build on green belts, developers will naturally gravitate towards brownfield growth and focus on smaller urban properties that are more realistically priced for the people who need housing most.

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Why it might not be so grim Up North for the Conservatives

Gareth Milner

Depending on who you question, there could be any number of reasons as to why the Conservatives are perceived to perform poorly in the north of England. Answers may range from historical issues concerning mining communities, to the belief that we are nothing more than posh toffs who don’t know how much a pint of milk costs.

If you look at information provided by the Electoral Commission, it seems that as of the 2010 general election not all is grim up north. In North West and North East England, constituency results show that significant numbers of Conservative voters exist.

In this case ‘significant’ means 1.32 million Conservative votes to Labour’s 1.8 million (not forgetting of course the Liberal Democrats at 988,000). When considering only the votes of the largest parties, the share breaks down as Lab 44%, Con 32% and Lib Dems 24%.

If a week is a long time in politics, a whole year must be an eternity. The five years between elections in 2010 and 2015 will see the political landscape change significantly. Even if things remain broadly familiar on the surface, those subtle nuances will almost certainly cause headaches amongst campaign managers from every party. The image of the Conservative Party as nasty/posh continues to endure. It is this very image of the Party that causes the biggest issues.

Polling has suggested that a larger percentage of people support the removal of the spare room subsidy than would have been suspected. It also suggests that there is reasonable support for the overall cap on benefits as well. So if the image problem was solved, would an increasing presence of small “c” conservatism (yes, even in the north of England) become an asset to the Conservative Party?

The party is in a Catch-22 situation: it will remain consistently hard to appeal in the north if high calibre individuals have nowhere to be successful. Even if the hierarchy of the Conservative Party suddenly turned entirely northern and working class, it would make little difference. The Party could be as northern and as supportive of the working class as it wanted, but the electorate want more than that. What good is a high profile northerner if they’re not amongst the north? Something the Party needs to work on.

Hope is not lost. Perhaps the most effective weapon will be one of time. The onus shouldn’t be purely on that of the Party, it needs to be the very northern folk who have to push hard. If it becomes too much of a top down exercise, people will refuse to see it as organic and will neither trust nor accept it. The key change will be when “Task Force Tory” stops operating as an insurgency against the overwhelming forces of the Labour party in the north.

Whilst widely dismissed as a bit of a waffler, Russell Brand did at least have a point in terms of people wanting a revolution. Change for the sake of change is not good, but mixing things up every now and again can’t harm things, it keeps us all on our toes. In the areas of the North where Labour are strong, it’s not just the political party that is a concern.

Wherever Labour is strong, you’re sure to find the unions not too far behind. In some cases you might even say that the unions lead the way. Some see the combination of Labour and trade unions as very dangerous, especially when both have for so long had excellent political freedom of movement in the north. Some people may even welcome challenges to this ingrained political nepotism.

Activity to increase support in the north, needs to be more about appealing to the mind and not the heart of a person. The 1.32 million Conservative voters in the north would certainly appreciate a greater focus, though certainly not as some form of pity case. No matter how big a number 1.32 million is, it isn’t anywhere near as big as it could be.

It’s not completely grim up north for the Conservatives, but the solution is not a quick fix. Rush and it will fail. Any increase in membership and success in the north, mustn’t be whisked away to help the heartlands, it would need to be reinvested back in the north. Thing’s won’t be easy, but who likes doing things because they’re easy? Many enjoy doing things because they’re worthwhile.

CCHQ must find a new online home for the deleted speeches; they’re invaluable

Aaron Ellis

Several years ago I started working on an article about Afghanistan and the Conservatives, only the research ballooned to such an extent that what was supposed to be a relatively short piece turned into a fifteen-thousand-word Masters dissertation. A sizeable chunk of this research is made up of quotes from speeches by senior Tory figures over the past eight years. This material has proven invaluable when writing about the Prime Minister’s interventions in Libya and Syria, as I have been able to use his own words to illustrate the contradictions in his foreign policy. So when I learnt that the Party had deleted ten years’ worth of speeches and press statements from its website, my immediate reaction was: “Is this my fault…?”

Journalists made sarcastic remarks about Mr. Cameron’s commitment to transparent government – in speeches that were no longer publicly available. A Labour MP took the prize for perhaps the most sanctimonious response: “[I]t will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises”. What these “broken promises” are, I don’t know; I can’t think of anything on the scale of Nick Clegg and tuition fees. Perhaps it is one of those clichés that politicians use regardless of whether or not they are wide of the mark; I would’ve thought that from Labour’s perspective, the Prime Minister has been consistently heartless…

The reason why all this material was deleted is probably mundane: the site may only have so much space and whoever runs it probably thought that few people would want to read the conference speeches of Iain Duncan Smith. A Party spokesman said as much: “These changes allow people to quickly and easily access the most important information we provide – how we are clearing up Labour’s economic mess, taking the difficult decisions and standing up for hardworking people”. As vital as it is to furnish people with the information proving these clichés, I think the decision was an unfortunate one.

Whenever someone asks to contribute to this blog, I emphasise to them that they must engage with whatever the Leadership has said about the issue they are writing about, as I do with foreign policy. That way, their articles are relevant to the Tory debate. But now that ten years’ worth of speeches and press statements have essentially disappeared from the public space, it will be much harder for them to do so. More seriously, it will be harder not only for me to check if this or that senior figure really did say whatever an author claims, but also harder for the Party to rebut their opponents if they lie about us. If Labour simply made up quotes by senior Conservatives, then the Party wouldn’t be able to furnish journalists with a link to show they’re lying.

If there truly isn’t room for all this material, then I think CCHQ ought to find a new online home for it. Perhaps the Conservative Research Department should get its own website and it can be accessed there, as well as a wealth of other material. After all, it would be an odd Tory Party that didn’t conserve its own history.

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