Only by calming down shall EU rebels get what they want, or have any colleagues left to share it

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Nik Darlington 9.54am

Yesterday on these pages, Giles questioned whether the Tory party truly wants to resist the UKIP surge, or whether the Tory party in fact embraced it. This morning on ConHome, Paul Goodman questions whether Tory MPs even want to win the next election.

For some “lunatics”, to paraphrase Mr Soames commenting yesterday, this is not wide of the mark. The MP for Ketting, Philip Hollobone (majority 9,094), is insisting on parliamentary time to debate a referendum bill and "if it ends the coalition, so be it".

That would, in all likelihood, end the Tory party’s tenure in office. It would not, in all likelihood, end Mr Hollobone’s tenure in the House of Commons.

There are however many hard-working, bright colleagues who would be sacrificed at the alter of Mr Hollobone’s (and others’) capricious whim.

To recap, John Baron (Basildon & Billericay: majority 12,398) posited a motion criticising the Queen’s Speech for not including an EU Referendum Bill. Coalition with the Liberal Democrats precludes this, however David Cameron has since announced the independent publication of a draft bill that is presumed will be taken on by the first name out of the hat for private members bills.

Mr Baron and supporters - including Peter Bone (Wellingborough: majority 11,787) and the reinstated Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire: majority 15,152) - have extracted this significant concession. Yet they press on. And on. Today’s Times (£) cartoon puts this best.

Has the Prime Minister handled this badly? Of course he has. Should a doomed stand be made against the muddled, undemocratic ranks of the Labour party, the Lib Dems, Greens and the rest? Yes, it should.

Europe is a salient issue for voters and the British people deserve a say on EU membership, pending the Prime Minister’s negotiations. For what it is worth, looking at the status quo, on balance I would vote to stay in; but it would be a close call.

It would not take much to convince me otherwise. The ‘out’ lobby has a war chest of momentum, funding and evidence. The ‘in’ lobby does not. In fact, I fear supporters of EU membership have at worst largely forgotten why they support it, and at best are relying on out-dated evidence.

Nevertheless, Europe is not the most salient issue for voters. It does not even come close. The crucial consideration in this sordid episode is that the Conservative party is being poisoned by myopia, desperation, and fears the wrong enemy.

Lance the boil. Have the debate about a referendum bill. Expose opposing parties. Be done with it.

Demonstrate to voters what this Conservative-led Government has achieved in the realms of welfare reform, schools and immigration; ram home the paucity of Labour’s alternative; press on with vital reforms to healthcare; and continue the hard but necessary work of rebuilding Britain’s economy.

Only by doing so shall the Conservative party have a hope of winning in 2015. Only be doing so shall there be a chance for an EU referendum. And only by doing so shall those MPs in safe seats who yearn for that referendum, have any colleagues left to ensure it.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The growing threat of drug resistant bacteria

Alexander Pannett 12.15pm

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has published an annual report that has made headlines by claiming that the rise in drug resistant infections is comparable to the threats of global warming and terrorism. She has called for the threat to be listed on the government’s National Register of Civil Emergencies.

The report highlights that, while a new infectious disease has been discovered nearly every year over the past 30 years, there have been very few new antibiotics developed to counter-act diseases that are evolving and becoming resistant to existing drugs.

This means that routine operations could soon cause infections that may prove fatal. Modern advances in health could be reversed as hospitals again resemble the mortality-stricken abattoirs of Victorian times.

We are already seeing this crisis unfolding throughout hospitals in the UK. The MRSA superbug made headlines with its prevalence amongst hospitals and resistance to antibiotics. MRSA has since been tackled by improved hygiene procedures at hospitals. But its presence heralds the threat of the worse that will come unless urgent action is taken now by world health authorities.

In evidence to the science select committee in late January, Professor Davies told MPs that the supply of new antibiotics had collapsed, and that the market model for delivering new antibiotics was broken.

New drugs are potentially a useful solution against resistance, but the drugs are often not available. Drug companies are not interested in developing a drug that, with widespread use, could be obsolete long before it has turned a profit; or a drug that is so effective that it is reserved as a final solution. New antibiotics that are developed are slight variations of existing drugs. Some classes of bacteria are not getting any new antibiotics at all.

An additional problem is that bacteria evolve at such a rate that any new antibiotic that is developed has only a short window in which it will work. In fact our very use of antibiotics encourages the development of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria may be rare, but rare mutations benefit the most when drugs kill off their competitors. Tests on mice with malaria have shown that the susceptible strains of bacteria win out over the resistant strains in the absence of antibiotics. However, after treatment the resistant strains re-develop at a faster rate and in greater numbers. The boost was biggest for mutant bacteria that were rare to begin with.

This, combined with the knowledge that governments are actively attempting to keep antibiotic prescriptions to a minimum, disincentivises pharmaceutical companies from investing in new drugs.

One answer is to develop new business models to encourage the development of new antibiotic drugs. Regulations can also be relaxed to allow pharmaceuticals to rush out antibiotics after targeted sample tests rather than the more lengthy current testing requirements.

However, for now the most immediate answer to alleviate the impending crisis is to restrict the use of antibiotics to only the most pressing of needs. The course of antibiotic treatment should be re-evaluated to limit the use of antibiotics to shorter durations where possible and eliminate antibiotic use where it is not necessary, such as viral infections and use in livestock. Better hygiene methods should also be used to prevent infections.

The growing resistance to antibiotics is a timely reminder that we must constantly review the tools we use to maintain a healthy society. Each of us has an obligation as members of a community to ensure that the advances we have made are bequeathed to future generations. The medical progress that has made life-saving operations a common feature of modern societies is a vital social imperative we must not surrender.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

Self-defeating ritual of ever-higher beer duty must end

Nik Darlington 11.11am

Beer duty has bilged by more than 40 per cent in the past four years, which means when you buy that satisfying pint of ale in your local pub, around 190ml belongs to the taxman.

Meanwhile, more than 5,800 pubs have shut up shop since 2008 at a rate of eighteen per week. Quite frankly, it’s miserable, the sort of news to drive even the most abstemious to drink.

MPs, pub and brewing industry groups and campaigners have made a number of attempts in the past to quash the beer duty escalator, including a successful debate in the House of Commons last November, but to no avail. The Chancellor plans to go ahead with a further increase in next month’s Budget.

Another increase in beer duty would compound the folly of minimum unit pricing and put ever-more pricing pressure on pubs. There’s a semi-plausible argument from some publicans that MUP could chip away at some of the supermarkets’ competitiveness and send punters back through their doors. Yet any gains from that are surely offset by the pain in everyone’s pockets of a dearer pint.

There is a certain silver lining. Politicians have always tinkered with booze taxes, and we can be pleased that Mr Osborne doesn’t wish to follow the lead of his Liberal predecessor Sir William Vernon Harcourt, who in 1895 tried to balance the budget on the back of beer duty alone.

In that November debate, economic secretary to the Treasury, Sajid Javid, hinted that beer duty was simply too lucrative to freeze or reduce, garnering £35 million this year and £70 million the next. Furthermore, it’s Labour’s tax. True, but it would not be the first time this Government had reversed a fiscal act of the previous government.

One gets the feeling that there’s a moralistic streak at play, similar to that driving the MUP policy. I have no truck with being slightly moralistic about alcohol, which is as dangerous a substance as any if in the wrong hands, in the wrong volumes, at the wrong time.

Yet that is why further inflating the price of proper beer in pubs is so self-defeating. Surely it is reasonable to encourage the survival of pubs as focal points of the community, and relatively safe, secure and well-monitored drinking environments. You don’t have a publican withdrawing that second bottle of Buckfast as you slouch on your sofa on Wednesday morning.

So to finish up, register your support with the Mash Beer Tax launched today and request the Chancellor calls time on ever-higher beer prices in pubs.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Mid Staffs: Whither 38 Degrees?

Nik Darlington 3.16pm

In September 2011, I cavilled about the “rise of the clickocracy”, that multi-headed hydra of modern political ‘engagement’. The internet has spawned several campaigning movements, 38 Degrees being pre-eminent, who exist to put the democratic process within reach of a mere click. Click, click, clickety click - and the job is done. Your voice is heard.

The well-funded 38 Degrees made its name by opposing the Coalition’s healthcare reforms. There were just “24 hours to save the NHS”, we were told. Millions of emails made their way to MPs’ inboxes. All, of course, to no avail, but the point was made, not least by that moronic Mirror headstone.

The Health & Social Care Act has of course not killed the NHS. Yet the revelations within the Francis Report threaten to kill public trust in an institution that Nigel Lawson called “the closest thing the English have to a religion”.

Paul Abbott, sometimes of this parish, has a good little piece over at ConHome today, asking what campaigners such as 38 Degrees think about the grotesque conditions at Mid Staffordshire and allegedly sundry other hospitals around the country.

"Now that the Mid Staffs report has been published and debated in Parliament, it makes difficult and upsetting reading - wherever you fall on the political spectrum. Thousands died. The truth was covered up. Problems were endemic and not just because of a few rogue individuals. But, where is the 38 Degrees campaign for NHS reform? Where is the e-petition on their website, saying, “24 hours to save the NHS”? In the past, they have moved quickly to jump on a topical news agenda. So why not now, on their central issue of defending the National Health Service?

38 Degrees will have no credibility on NHS reform in the future, if they don’t step up to the plate now. I’ve met the CEO of 38 Degrees - David Babbs - a few times, and like him. He’s a nice guy, and seems sincere in his intentions. He has told me more than once that he’s not a front for the Labour Party, and I believe him.

But why the silence on Mid Staffs, David? What’s going on?”


Now we shouldn’t expect the likes of 38 Degrees to take a stance on everything (heaven help us all if they did). Though it would be interesting to know what an organisation so vehemently against structural tinkering thinks about endemic cultural and managerial misanthropy.

As Paul suggests, where is the deluge of emails under the subject of “adopt the Francis Report recommendations in full”, or similar?

Typically, big and successful public campaigns rely on catchy, straightforward messages. The nuanced and complex truth cannot compete. Under such conditions do governments often flounder; and organisations like 38 Degrees, conversely, thrive.

Except the entire debate about Andrew Lansley’s NHS Bill was mired in nuance and complexity. 38 Degrees took on the Government with a simple (sometimes just absurd) message, but it still required people to grasp with elaborate change.

The Mid Staffs scandal is, in comparison, really rather straightforward (if frightfully hard to fix overnight). It is simply made for someone like 38 Degrees to take advantage of and put to the people and their clicking mice. Isn’t it?

No obstacle to Tories’ supporting more devolution after Scottish independence referendum is won

Andrew Morrison 10.48am

There are many things to be encouraged by in Ruth Davidson’s leadership so far. It is fair to say that Ruth is seen as a moderate, especially due to her pragmatic positions on social issues such as same-sex marriage and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

The first stance is a recognition of a majority view and the fact Conservatives should not waste political capital on taking unpopular stands on social issues that are of no consequence to the truly pressing issues in our society, such as slowing social mobility, growing inequality between the best and worst performing state schools, and an increasingly inefficient Scottish NHS while life expectancy in some pockets of Glasgow is as bad as third-world nations.

The second stance is necessary in order to try and curtail Scotland’s disproportionately high alcohol consumption. A dogmatic approach against all forms of state intervention is not actually helpful if we are to achieve Conservative objectives such as reducing the number of problem households and cutting anti-social crime.

As for the pledged ‘line in the sand’ on devolution, this was offered during the leadership election and was designed to counteract fellow contender Murdo Fraser’s pledge to form a new pro-devolution centre-right party.

The Unionist camp will win the independence referendum, and win it by a clear enough margin to kill the issue dead for a generation. The campaign headed by the cross party Better Together group and the Scottish Tories’ Friends of the Union are designed to attract non-party political folk to our cause and are focusing the minds of all activists and elected politicians.

Ruth’s big challenge shall be the reversal of the ‘line in the sand’ position, to recognise that post-referendum a significant number of Scots shall sympathise with that point of view, especially as the mechanisms for administrating the tax-generating powers bestowed by the last Scotland Act are implemented and the public are made fully aware of the changes taking place.

For nearly everyone in the Union, the elephant in the room is the funding arrangement. The Barnett Formula. As a Conservative, I believe an organisation charged with the responsibility of representing the people also has the responsibility to show it is spending the people’s money sensibly.

My biggest criticism of the Scottish Parliament – one shared by others in the United Kingdom – is that the policies implemented by the Scottish Government have no impact on the tax revenue received by them because it is supported by the UK Treasury.

There is no incentive to rejuvenate Scotland’s under-performing economy because it will not translate into a direct boost in tax revenue. The Economist once compared MSPs to ‘teenagers living on an allowance’ – and like teenagers, that usually leads to discussion on whether they earn their keep sufficiently or not.

Tory reformists believe in reforming public services, welfare and the tax system in order to achieve a fairer, safer, more prosperous and coherent society. This reforming instinct extends to reform of the constitutional settlement that exists between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It naturally follows that moderate Conservatives would not blindly rule out any further devolution of powers.

I believe Ruth Davidson is a moderate, reforming Tory and will accordingly construct a compromise on greater fiscal autonomy and further devolution but only after the independence campaign is soundly defeated.

After doing so, the centre-right in Scotland can realise it’s full potential by talking about how one raises the taxes which are spent on public services, and consequently get Scottish political discourse on to discussing what we get out of public services such as housing, education and health rather than merely what we put into them.

Andrew Morrison is a member of TRG Scotland, serves as the current Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party West of Scotland Regional Council, and stood for election recently at the Local Authority elections in May 2012. Andrew previously stood for the Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Pollok, being ranked number three on the Glasgow regional list.

Hezza’s magnificent mixed bag and other riveting news

Nik Darlington 10.03am

It is “thought-provoking” and “bursting with ideas”, even “good ideas”, so say Downing Street and the Treasury. There shall be a response in the Autumn Statement, so we’re told. Of course there will, Georgie; and I think last night’s EU budget rebellion was a fine old ruse too.

Lord Heseltine’s independent growth and competitiveness review has garnered a mixed bag of reactions among Westminster’s chattering class. Sky News calls it a “radical plan for growth”. The FT calls it a “radical overhaul”. The Independent describes at as a “highly critical report” that will “just provide succour to the Government’s critics”. The Guardian, always able to locate the grey lining, says it has the look of “a pamphlet produced by an enthusiastic amateur” and full of “reheats of discarded Labour policies”. It is, so one of their journalists writes, “destined for the long grass”.

Granted, the cartoon front-cover does give it the air of something released by one of those kill-joy, bumbling, tenured right-wing think tanks. Though behind the cover there are rich seams of thought and policy. The Times (£) lauds Lord Heseltine’s “ambition and action”, his “elixir of urgency”, particularly on aviation capacity, which does indeed need to be resolved more quickly, albeit not at Heathrow in my view; that newspaper also calls the review “an important step in flushing out a broad narrative for Britain’s future”.

Even ConservativeHome, setting aside their own ideological scruples, found a few bits of the review they liked.

Whatever you deem Lord Heseltine’s review to be (and many cuds have been chewed in the past 24 hours), consider it mainly as this: a classic ruse to create a space within which Downing Street and the Treasury can operate. By daring Tarzan to reach for the stars, George Osborne may hit the moon. This much is obvious.

Elsewhere, it has been a busy couple of days for politicians from this stable. The Sun reports Alistair Burt, foreign office minister, warning of the “real threat” of a nuclear dirty bomb being deployed against Britain. This at a time when concerns are resurfacing about Iran.

The abortion row shows no sign of abating as new health minister Anna Soubry signals no intention of changing laws or guidelines on abortion counselling. The Daily Mail is not amused, nor, for her two pennies worth’, is Nadine Dorries.

On Tuesday, new energy minister John Hayes unilaterally opposed the Government’s wind farms policy. The Telegraph's Peter Oborne writes today that he has “never come across anything quite like it in 20 years reporting politics”. Embarrassing, amateur, or just plain odd: call it what you will, Mr Hayes’ hysterics may have pleased some people, but it sends out a stupidly senseless hodge-podge of mixed messages to investors. This is the scenario spelled out by Mr Hayes’ predecessor, Charles Hendry, as reported today by the Times (£). A group of twenty Tory MPs has quite rightly written to the Prime Minister to complain.

And to finish, a little note of welcome and good luck to new Tory group, Blue Collar Conservatism.

Chaired by the MP for Carlisle, John Stevenson, and led by a broad-based advisory group consisting of Esther McVey (Wirral West), David Nuttall (Bury North), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Philip Davies (Shipley) and Matthew Offord (Hendon), Blue Collar Conservatism aims to foster debate and generate ideas to ensure that blue collar voters remain at the heart of the Conservative party’s agenda.

The new group draws on the support of sixty-three Tory MPs, including the Chief Whip, Sir George Young; the new secretary of the 1922 Committee, Robert Buckland; and others including Damien Green, Laura Sandys and Robin Walker.

If the Conservative party is and always has been a coalition of parties itself, then Blue Collar Conservatism is an admirable cross-party initiative and I wish it well.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

'Winning with the Coalition': full text of Stephen Dorrell's speech to the TRG

Nik Darlington 7.19am

Full text of the Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP’s speech to the Tory Reform Group in Parliament yesterday evening.

WINNING WITH THE COALITION

The TRG has always had a soft spot for Disraeli. His most ardent admirer couldn’t describe Disraeli as an unbending man of principle. (He had a more obvious – though often no less flexible – competitor for that accolade). But he was a supreme practitioner of the art of politics – and he can lay a better claim than anyone else to be the founder of the modern Conservative Party.

One Nation

Indeed so attractive is Disraeli’s combination of humanity and purpose that Ed Miliband is the second Labour leader in 20 years to attempt to cloak himself in Disraeli’s clothes. Like Tony Blair before him, Miliband is attracted to the slogan “One Nation” but, also like Blair, he faces the problem that his party cannot reconcile Disraeli’s aspiration with its own inherited prejudices.

Does Miliband celebrate success, or does he envy it? Does he embrace excellence and challenge others to emulate it, or does he regard it as evidence of injustice? Does he want to empower the innovators, the people who get there first, or does he prefer to preserve the appearance of equality by moving at the pace of the slowest?

In short does he believe that human progress is powered by disruptive individuals who challenge the societies in which they live, or does he believe that progress is a collective endeavour?

Disraelians have clear answers to these questions. They draw on the traditions of Burke, Pitt, Canning and, ironically, Peel. They know that successful societies evolve and that inherited institutions provide continuity and stability; but they also know that they must be constantly changing in response to new challenges and that it is the interests of every citizen to ensure that individuals are responsible for their own actions and, critically, encouraged to test out new ideas.

As David Cameron puts it – “There is such a thing as society; it’s just not the same thing as the state”. When Ed Miliband can repeat those words to his party conference and receive a standing ovation he will have earned the right to speak of One Nation.

England does not love coalitions

But it isn’t that aspect of Disraeli’s legacy on which I want to focus this evening. Instead I want to address directly his famous dictum that “England does not love coalitions”. This observation is often quoted to challenge the present government – and to suggest that it is somehow abnormal for politicians with different personal and intellectual roots to work together to create a stable government.

Such people misunderstand both the historical context of Disraeli’s remark and, more importantly, the conclusions which he and his successors drew from it.

It is ironic to reflect that until Disraeli lost office to Gladstone in 1868, his only experience of stable single party government was the government of Robert Peel which he worked so hard to destroy during his first parliament as an MP.

Seen in this context, his observation about coalitions was less an observation on the normal state of mid-nineteenth century politics, and more a statement of a problem which is faced by all leaders in an open political system.

If a government is to achieve results which endure, it has to give itself the political space to achieve substantial change. It needs authority – what the Romans called auctoritas – and that cannot be achieved if the survival of the government itself is always subject to negotiation in the shifting sands of parliamentary politics.

It was his experience of those shifting sands in the 1850’s which encouraged Disraeli to build the foundations of the modern Conservative Party in order to provide himself with a stable Parliamentary majority – and with it the political authority he needed to carry through the social reforms for which his government of the 1870’s is remembered.

He understood that his generation would never form a stable Parliamentary majority solely on the basis of its traditional support from the landed interest. He therefore challenged his party to reach out beyond its comfort zone and win support in the fast growing cities of Victorian England.

He repeatedly declared it to be his central purpose to “improve the condition of the people” – and he went on to organize and mobilize them to give him the authority to deliver on that pledge.

Salisbury and Chamberlain

Furthermore, and perhaps even more surprisingly to his party, Disraeli’s successor, Lord Salisbury, a representative of the landed interest if ever there was one, continued Disraeli’s work by attracting into the Conservative Party the Chamberlain Liberals – who became the foundation of the “Birmingham” tradition which played such an important role in the Conservative Party during the first half of the twentieth century.

There are, therefore two key lessons for us in the story of Conservative politics in the second half of the nineteenth century.

First, the whole point of the Party organization which Disraeli created was to reach out beyond the party’s core constituency and create a basis of support for Conservative politics among people who would never previously have thought of themselves as Conservatives.

Second, Salisbury’s alliance with Chamberlain introduced into Conservative politics the radical, non-conformist spirit of Birmingham which ensured that the new party organization was able to express the ideas and aspirations of the new voters whose support it was seeking.

Cameron and Clegg

The fact that Disraeli adopted the name Conservative for his new organization was part of his political art. He would have understood the absurdity of Blairite rhetoric about Britain as a “young country” – and he would undoubtedly have been memorably sarcastic about it – but he also understood something which is ultimately more important.

If a political party is to secure sufficient authority to allow a government to govern it has to reach beyond its comfort zone. It must challenge itself to broaden its appeal. It must learn to articulate the ambitions and aspirations not just of its established supporters, but of those whose support it seeks.

Disraeli was not interested in creating an instrument for the complacent defence of self interest; he sought to maintain the trust of the traditionalists while reaching beyond them to embrace a changing world.

Our challenge is, as it always is, to do exactly the same.

That is why David Cameron was so right to lead the Conservative Party into coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, and why the record and programme of the Coalition Government are so deserving of the support of all Conservatives.

It is worth reminding ourselves about the choice that Cameron faced.

He could have relied on the ideological certainties of the comfort zone. He led the largest party in Parliament so he could have formed a minority government drawn from a single party which had been supported by 36% of the electorate and set out to deal with the most serious economic recession since the 1930’s on the basis that every important vote in the House of Commons would have required him to negotiate a new coalition of support.

It would have been to re-create, almost precisely, the circumstances which led Disraeli to make his remark about coalitions – it was made at the end of the budget debate in 1852, just before a critical vote which brought the government down as a result of a parliamentary deal on the opposition benches.

The alternative course was to learn from the experience of Disraeli, Salisbury and Chamberlain. They demonstrated the importance of looking beyond parliamentary deals and creating a stable government based on a parliamentary majority which reflects popular support.

The Coalition Agreement of 2010 has provided the basis for a government which has a parliamentary majority of 78, drawn from parties which were supported by 59% of the electorate.

Coalition succeeding and retaining public support

Sceptics argued at the time that the Coalition Agreement would not hold and that the government’s authority would prove to be illusory. They said that ministers would be unable to work together. They were wrong about that. They said that the Government’s parliamentary majority would prove to be unstable. They were wrong about that. They said that party members would not support the Coalition. They were wrong about that too.

In fact the Coalition has so far confounded the sceptics on virtually every count. They expected it to be a weak government which was unable to confront the key issues facing our country. In the event it is proving to be an effective government which is carrying through necessary but uncomfortable changes across the full range of government activity – and retaining remarkable levels of public support as it does so.

Mid term opinion polls can usually be relied upon to produce lurid headlines for governing parties – and voter support for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has certainly fallen since the General Election. It is however worth noting that despite these mid-term doldrums, Labour has been unable to establish even a minimal lead in public opinion over the combined votes of the coalition parties.

Voters are well aware that our country faces major issues and they would rightly be unforgiving if they felt that their government was absorbed by the machinations of parliamentary politics. In fact, while they don’t like everything it does, they see a government which has secured and is using the political authority necessary to address the challenges we face.

Economic change

From the day it was formed, the most urgent challenge facing the Coalition has been the need to restructure our economy to allow us to compete successfully in the global market place. Meeting that challenge requires the Coalition to address two issues, both of which are work in progress.

First, it was essential from the beginning, and remains essential today, that the government has a credible plan to bring its own budget under control.

You don’t have to believe that the banking crisis was “made in Downing Street” (which it wasn’t) to recognize that the scale of our government deficit was the result of decisions made there – by, among others, Ed Balls and Ed Milliband. Despite their protestations of political virginity, the two Eds were in it up to their elbows. They spent when they should have saved; they ran deficits when they should have run surpluses.

The result was that the Coalition inherited a structural deficit in our public finances which qualified us for life membership of Club Med and threatened Britain with a crisis of confidence in financial markets.

The fact that Britain has retained its triple A rating and, more importantly, is able to borrow at roughly German interest rates despite running a government deficit comparable with Greece, is due to the fact that the Coalition has demonstrated that it is willing to take the steps necessary to put our public finances back on to a sustainable basis.

The broad basis of its support is key to its political success. Some elements in the Coalition would have preferred sharper spending reductions (for example on overseas aid spending, or possibly on health); others would have attached a lower priority to holding down the tax burden. But none of them would have been able to carry their policy either in the House of Commons or, more importantly, with the public because they did not command sufficient public support.

The Coalition exists because none of its members believe, like the two Eds, that the solution to excessive debt is more borrowing. The electorate took a decisive step away from that approach in 2010, and the Coalition has agreed a deficit reduction programme which commands the confidence of the financial markets in part because its broad political base enhances its credibility.

The two Eds continue to argue that we need to borrow more – indeed it is an interesting intellectual speculation to wonder in what circumstances they would acknowledge the need to borrow less – but the fact of the Coalition has made it impossible for them to win that argument.

Growth

But economic policy is not just about deficit reduction. When governments borrow too much they undermine the stability of an open economy which destroys the opportunity for growth. Having established a credible programme of deficit reduction, the Coalition has also recognized the need to ensure that the engine of growth is reignited.

Growth is not created in Whitehall. It is the result of businesses meeting demand for goods and services at prices which consumers can afford to pay. It is a process of continuous product, service and process enhancement driven by new insights about a changing world.

Furthermore it takes place in markets which are always changing, and where the pace of change is quickening all the time. Continuing technical advances, instant communications and the continuing process of globalization, represent unprecedented forces for economic change which are generating new growth opportunities, in particular in emerging economies, which, in turn lead to new challenges and opportunities for western economies.

For virtually every business this combination of circumstances creates a demand for radical change. The challenge for our society is to ensure that our political and social structures reflect the sense of urgency which this relentless process demands.

That is why the Coalition has introduced a wide range of measures to target investment funds at priority areas and reduce regulations which restrict the ability of businesses to respond to the demands of their customers. It is also why the House of Commons will tomorrow be considering further changes to the planning system to reduce its ability to constrain economic development.

Once again the Coalition is able to draw strength from the breadth of its base. Economic change is uncomfortable; it impacts on the daily lives of every one of us. It requires us to surrender the familiar and trust in our ability to conquer the unknown. It requires us to unlearn the old lesson about “holding on to nurse, for fear of finding something worse”.

That is why it is important to engage people in the process – to demonstrate that growth is not motivated by a desire to pour more concrete on green field sites in order to pay higher bonuses to bankers. Growth provides the means to deliver environmental objectives, housing improvements, as well as improved job prospects and improved public services. But growth can only happen if businesses are able to change in response to the demands of their customers.

Establish a Growth Commission

An idea was suggested to me recently which I believe the government should consider as a way of further reinforcing electoral and political support for this process of economic change. It is based on the experience of Sweden in the 1990’s, when they faced some familiar economic challenges – unsustainable public finances coupled with an uncompetitive private sector.

The Swedes established an Advisory Commission, independent of government, which performed the dual function of challenging government to make changes which were necessary to allow their economy function more effectively and – by making the case for such changes in public from outside the political world – help the government win public and political support to carry them through.

It is not unlike the system of independent advice, publicly given, which John Major’s government established after Black Wednesday to improve the quality of policy making on interest rates in the days when they were determined in Whitehall. No-one argues for a return to “political money”, but the Swedish precedent provides an interesting option for maintaining, and further reinforcing, the Coalition’s core commitment to build a more open and competitive economy.

Reforming public services

No political priority is more sensitive than the requirement that all public services, and in particular health and education, must deliver equitable access to services which meet high quality standards as well as high standards of efficiency.

This sensitivity arises because we are all involved both as funders through our taxes and as actual or potential service users. If the whole community feels itself to be affected by decisions taken about these services, it is inevitable that the  politicians will also take an interest in those decisions – indeed the politicians would be taken to task by voters if they did not.

For example the changes which are currently faced by health and care providers are as fundamental as the changes faced by any global trading business. Our hospital sites may now look relatively modern following the substantial investment of recent years, but the system in which they work is fundamentally ill-suited to the times. In healthcare, as in every other sector, consumer demands and developing technologies are driving a ferocious pace of change.

But the changes which are required – which will lead to a smaller hospital service and much greater emphasis on community-based services – will challenge public perceptions; people will be asked to transfer their trust from visible structures to largely invisible systems, which experience has so far taught them are often unreliable. They will be inclined to believe that service levels are being reduced – although all the evidence actually points to significant improvements in outcomes if the system is refocused towards early intervention and prevention.

Health and Wellbeing Boards will have the ability to prepare the way for these changes by looking beyond the silos created by history and re-imagining a care system built around the needs of the patient. Their roots in local communities will strengthen their ability to carry through radical change, but it is also – once again – the breadth of the political base of the Coalition which offers the opportunity to carry through fundamental change.

Public services need to be open to disruptive new ideas. Closed systems are too easily convinced of their own excellence; mediocrity goes unrecognized and shiboleths go unchallenged. We need to encourage challenge in a system which instinctively distrusts newcomers.

But if we are to maintain public confidence during this process we need to demonstrate both nationally and locally that changes are being implemented in order to improve the quality of service delivered – not simply to save money. It is a task to which the Coalition is singularly well-suited.

Europe

The final issue on which I want to touch this evening is another which, contrary to general perception, I believe the Coalition is well placed to address.

Most observers will tell you that they have been pleasantly surprised that Coalition minsters have been able to agree policies on deficit reduction, student fees, planning and civil nuclear power, to name but a few, but they go on to say that “they’ll never agree on Europe”.

In other words, we have been wrong every time so far, but we are right this time.

In fact the Coalition parties have a broad measure of agreement about Europe.

No-one favours joining the Euro; nor does anyone favour joining the economic union which it is increasingly clear that our continental partners intend to create.

Those are decisions made, but the debate in Britain continues to muse about the likelihood of the failure of the Euro and the “threat” of a developing superstate.

The real issues we need to face are quite different.

The developing economic union is our largest overseas market. It would be odd if it were not – it is the largest market in the world and it is on our doorstep.

It is sometimes argued that we run a trade deficit with the economic union and that it therefore has more at stake in its relationship with us than we do with it.

That is vainglorious nonsense on two counts. Firstly we are a significantly smaller share of their total trade than they are of ours; secondly, and much more importantly, it ignores completely the biggest shared economic interest of all between Britain and the economic union which lies in the City of London.

London is quite simply the world’s premier financial market. It is hugely in the interests of both Britain and our partners that Europe as a whole is able to benefit from the opportunities that London’s pre-eminence creates.

Financial services may not be the fashionable theme of the moment, but sometimes in life it helps to be uncool.

London’s financial services sector is part of our national competitive advantage. We should nurture it and promote it – and we should understand that to allow it to be separated from its natural economic hinterland is simply absurd.

Absurd from the UK point of view – but equally absurd from the point of view of an economic union which badly needs access to all the capital resources and trading opportunities it can create.

In other words I believe the European argument has changed fundamentally over the last decade. Our partners have decided to create an economic union and we have chosen not to be part of it. It is a decision made. On both sides. Job done.

It will be for our grandchildren to decide whether we were right; they will write the history, not us. Our job is to make our decision work.

And that is where the role of the Coalition is so important.

Different parts of the Coalition will express this analysis in different language, but there is a shared understanding of the importance of the endeavour. Just as the broad basis of the Coalition helps it to win authority to tackle difficult issues of economic and social change, so I believe it can be the ability of the Coalition to reach beyond the comfort zone of a single party which creates the opportunity achieve a real change for the better in our relationship with the rest of Europe.

Conclusion

And so we are back to Disraeli.

He built the Conservative Party as a permanent coalition between the landed interest and the Victorian cities. His coalition was further broadened when Chamberlain made Birmingham a Conservative slogan.

That coalition held office for two thirds of the twentieth century, but towards the end of the century it ignored Disraeli’s challenge and retreated into its comfort zone.

In 2010, David Cameron challenged both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to leave their comfort zones and face the realities of office in a Coalition that has the right to speak for the majority its compatriots.
In doing so the Coalition has demonstrated both its ability and its willingness to face issues which other governments have regarded as too hot to handle.

The Coalition Agreement is David Cameron’s answer to Disraeli’s challenge.

The issue for the future is simple.

The Coalition Agreement comes to an end.

Disraeli’s challenge does not.


ENDS

Tory ex-minister Stephen Dorrell tells sceptics that the Coalition remains uniquely placed to face Britain’s challenges

Nik Darlington 9.59am

This evening in Parliament, Stephen Dorrell, chairman of the Health Select Committee and TRG patron, will give a speech billed as a robust case for the Coalition.

Mr Dorrell will invoke the memory of Benjamin Disraeli, the great nineteenth century Tory prime minister and novelist, as he argues that the Coalition is treading a similar ‘One Nation’ path. Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation Labour’, on the other hand, which we covered on these pages, cannot achieve the same breadth. Moreover, he isn’t the first Labour party leader to try.

“So attractive is Disraeli’s combination of humanity and purpose that Ed Miliband is the second Labour leader in 20 years to attempt to cloak himself in Disraeli’s clothes. Like Tony Blair before him, Miliband is attracted to the slogan “One Nation” but, also like Blair, he faces the problem that his party cannot reconcile Disraeli’s aspiration with its own inherited prejudices.

“As David Cameron puts it – “There is such a thing as society; it’s just not the same thing as the state”. When Ed Miliband can repeat those words to his party conference and receive a standing ovation he will have earned the right to speak of One Nation”.

Mr Dorrell will remind Tories that Disraeli had a vision for a broad-based Conservative party, not narrowly defined nor narrowly represented.

“Disraeli was not interested in creating an instrument for the complacent defence of self interest; he sought to maintain the trust of the traditionalists while reaching beyond them to embrace a changing world.

“Our challenge is, as it always is, to do exactly the same. That is why David Cameron was so right to lead the Conservative Party into coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, and why the record and programme of the Coalition Government are so deserving of the support of all Conservatives.”

It is on economic policy that the Coalition is strongest and most pertinent. The economy is the reason for its creation and will be the benchmark of its success.

“The Coalition exists because none of its members believe, like the two Eds, that the solution to excessive debt is more borrowing. The electorate took a decisive step away from that approach in 2010, and the Coalition has agreed a deficit reduction programme which commands the confidence of the financial markets in part because its broad political base enhances its credibility.

“The two Eds continue to argue that we need to borrow more ….  but the fact of the Coalition has made it impossible for them to win that argument”.

The Coalition also offers a prime opportunity for radical and broad public services reform of the sort that one party alone might struggle to achieve. Tony Blair struggled to enact necessary public sector reforms at a time of boom; it is something of a miracle that the Coalition is managing to reform the likes of health, welfare, education and justice (including the police) at a time of bust and recovery.

“Public services need to be open to disruptive new ideas. Closed systems are too easily convinced of their own excellence; mediocrity goes unrecognised and shibboleths go unchallenged. We need to encourage challenge in a system which instinctively distrusts newcomers.

“But if we are to maintain public confidence during this process we need to demonstrate both nationally and locally that changes are being implemented in order to improve the quality of service delivered – not simply to save money. It is a task to which the Coalition is singularly well-suited”.

Moreover, contrary to general perception and media speculation, Europe is a subject that the Coalition is uniquely “well placed to address” - a passage that ConservativeHome not-very-shockingly omitted from their own preview of the speech.

“In other words I believe the European argument has changed fundamentally over the last decade. Our partners have decided to create an economic union and we have chosen not to be part of it. It is a decision made. On both sides. Job done.

“It will be for our grandchildren to decide whether we were right; they will write the history, not us. Our job is to make our decision work.

“And that is where the role of the Coalition is so important”.

Stephen Dorrell will conclude by saying that the Coalition between David Cameron’s Conservative party and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats has managed to tackle tough political issues that other governments ducked, fudged or got wrong. What is more, the spirit in which the Coalition was formed should outlive it.

“[Disraeli] built the Conservative Party as a permanent coalition between the landed interest and the Victorian cities. His coalition was further broadened when Chamberlain made Birmingham a Conservative slogan.

“That coalition held office for two thirds of the twentieth century, but towards the end of the century it ignored Disraeli’s challenge and retreated into its comfort zone.

“In 2010, David Cameron challenged both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to leave their comfort zones and face the realities of office in a Coalition that has the right to speak for the majority its compatriots. In doing so the Coalition has demonstrated both its ability and its willingness to face issues which other governments have regarded as too hot to handle.

“The Coalition Agreement is David Cameron’s answer to Disraeli’s challenge.  The issue for the future is simple.  The Coalition Agreement comes to an end. Disraeli’s challenge does not.”

Previewing the speech, Tim Crockford, chairman of the Tory Reform Group, had this to say:

“In the days after the 2010 election, the TRG was the first Conservative group to call for a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. As a Party, we must continue to support the Coalition as it carries out these essential reforms.

"The Coalition with the Liberal Democrats has evolved into a stable government enabling it to carry out its One Nation programme. David Cameron has moved the Conservative Party out of its comfort zone. Our One Nation values hold wide public appeal. We must continue to occupy the centre ground of British politics: that is where we win elections.”