By seizing the Crimea, Russia has threatened the international community

Aaron Ellis

As the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine escalated over the weekend, many in the West showed an embarrassing lack of character. Seemingly contemptuous of its international obligations, a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council seized the territory of another country, justifying its actions on the same grounds as Hitler when he demanded the Sudetenland. Rather than appreciate the potential awfulness of the crisis and summon up their courage, however, Westerners reacted to it parochially and with snark.

“It’s Europe’s problem, let them sort it out,” declared many Americans, “we don’t have any interests there”, whereas various Western Europeans commented that, “We cannot be dragged into a war because of Russophobes in the East.” Those on the right of the political spectrum in both Britain and the United States blamed the supposedly ‘weak’ President Obama. Sajid Javid, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, claimed that there is ‘a direct link’ between Ed Miliband’s opposition to intervening in Syria last summer and Moscow’s actions now, making the Labour leader unfit to be Prime Minister. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Who gives a shit about all this? Russia is invading Ukraine.

The Allies fought a world war for, and built an international system on the principle that states must not be allowed to forcibly redraw their borders – no matter how much the people in the annexed territories ‘like’ their occupiers. We enshrined it in the UN Charter: ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity…of any state’. The system that was created by the Allies (Russia amongst them) was designed to help countries find “the surer ways of preserving peace”, as Margaret Thatcher once said, ways enabling “the peoples of each sovereign state to lead their lives as they choose within established borders.”

When President Putin seized the Crimea, Ukraine became a vital interest of Britain, the United States, the European Union, and indeed anyone else interested in maintaining world peace. Mr. Putin’s actions struck at the foundation of a global order that has, in his own words, ‘underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.’ We simply cannot allow the challenge to go unpunished.

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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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Conservative orthodoxy on picking business ‘winners’ must change

James Willby

I’ve often listened incredulously to otherwise sensible Conservatives opposing the idea that Government should pick winners. The topic seems to cause consternation in many right-leaning circles. “Invest public money in companies? Pick winners? What is this: Cuba?!” they cry. What would you prefer, I ask them. That we pick losers? Cue more consternation and a reiteration of the fact its taxpayers’ money being invested. How is that in any way different to what a pension fund or banks does, I enquire. Why are you happy with commercial entities investing your money for a return, but not elected representatives using it to produce growth and jobs?

Needless to say its not a particularly well received notion – akin to being pro-EU – but as a rather brave Conservative confided to me recently, the words “industrial strategy” should not be a taboo for someone on the right.

If our aim is to get Britain back on its feet, it is utterly nonsensical to write-off a potential avenue of endeavor. Forget being economic Meatloafs – protesting how we’d do anything for growth, but we won’t do that – lets be fiscal Roy Orbisons and give business the Big O it deserves: anything it wants, anything it needs, it gets it, and sometimes that means doing what up until now has been utter heresy for many in the Conservative rank and file. It’s time to become proactive about identifying the industries of the future and giving them a leg-up, or more succinctly, pick some winners.

And yet unbeknownst to the party at large, that is exactly what the leadership has been doing.

In 2009 at the annual CBI conference, George Osborne was heard to lament the fact that the then Labour government had not conducted a single trade mission to sell British goods overseas. Since taking office in 2010, this has been completely reversed. Take the Prime Minister’s trade mission to China last week. In addition to ministers, ambassadors, and civil servants on the trip, there were a host of men and women from across British business. Yes, there were the Jaguar Land Rovers and the Rolls Royce’s, but there were also SMEs from across the UK. From food manufacturers to retailers, they encompassed an incredibly diverse range of fields. They were there because they showcase the best of British – being innovative, creative and dynamic. And they were there because they recognized the opportunity they were being afforded.

Do you think these SMEs could ever have secured access to China, the world’s largest economy, without the help of Her Majesty’s Government? No local business conference or trade show could possibly give them the opportunity that trip afforded. If that isn’t “picking winners”, I don’t what is. Further afield, we’ve seen the State investing in graphene, “quantum technology” (don’t laugh), giving tax breaks to video games and creating an office of unconventional gas to help monetise shale. These are all examples of the State seeing the growth potential in a technology and wisely choosing to invest.

So we do pick winners, we should pick winners and it’s about time we had the guts to say so. As GK Chesterton observed, “I did try to found a little heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.” Amen to that.

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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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Europe is the ‘elephant in the room’ in our energy debate

Luke Major

Energy has dominated politics for the last few months and the Prime Minister hopes to counter Ed Miliband’s price freeze pledge by rolling back the green levies that contribute to rising bills. Both offers have very little credibility, in my opinion, for a reason that few of our politicians want to talk about. The bottom line is that when it comes to energy prices, both Party leaders’ hands are tried – somewhat willingly – by our links to the European Union.

Although energy policy remains under Member States’ control, the EU’s commitment to becoming the world’s leader in economic decarbonisation exerts pressure on Britain. For example, Mr. Miliband’s 2008 Climate Change Act commits our government to reducing the country’s carbon emissions to at least 80% lower than 1990s-levels by 2050 and can be seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the EU’s decarbonisation mission. These legally binding targets are being pursued at an astronomical cost to British taxpayer, cutting off our access to cheap energy by closing down coal-fired power stations and focusing on using heavily subsidised renewable energy instead. Such radical changes were never going to come cheap.

These legally binding targets, which all the major parties agreed with at the time, have caused energy prices to soar for homeowners and businesses alike – pushing more and more people into ‘fuel poverty’. Depressingly, it has been estimated that electricity prices have increased by 17% in the last four years and could rise another 41% by 2040 as further measures within the Climate Change Act come into effect. This reflects well neither on Labour nor the Tories – both of which, despite the posturing, do not seem to be able to do much about it. A cynical person might think that Mr. Miliband has sought to lay the blame at energy companies (whose profits per year average at a quite normal 5-6%) to deflect attention away from his own role in inflating prices. He may also think Mr. Cameron is seeking to distinguish himself from the green-friendly Liberal Democrats to make himself a more viable option to UKIP voters who share Nigel Farage’s scepticism about man-made climate change.

However pressing you might think it is that we continue with decarbonisation, the needs of those who are already struggling with fuel bills will not be met with cheap gimmicks, especially if energy bills do indeed continue to rise. There is a reasonable political and moral case on top of the economic one, for the Prime Minister to include a more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards energy policy in any future re-structuring of our relationship with Europe. As already stated, although energy is under Member States’ control, our international reputation depends on us being on song with the EU’s carbon reduction plan – otherwise we could simply ignore all these targets as the enforcement mechanisms barely hold up to scrutiny.

With regards to specifics, the European Commission has stated that it wants to see the shale gas market regulated to the point where it doesn’t pose any significant environmental risk. This is another way of saying that fracking should be made less economically viable and, thus, more expensive when it reaches the consumer. The ‘better off out’ contingent of the Tories would no doubt be wondering why any potential damage to UK landscape should be the concern of the EU (evidence suggests potential damage has been grossly exaggerated), especially when shale gas development could potentially benefit an EU gas market that is being undermined by the shale gas boom in the USA that is flooding our own continent with unwanted cheap coal.

There is also the more complex issue of nuclear power. The EU has state aid rules in place that constrict the degree to which the British government can guarantee financial security to the private companies taking on the risk of building nuclear plants. Once again, the already lengthy and costly process of diversifying and spreading the burden of our energy needs hits those paying the bills in the end.

David Cameron will most definitely be aware of the EU’s impact on our ability to control energy prices, but I fear he has chosen to ignore this up until now because of his previous backing of the Climate Change Act, his husky hugging, and his pledge to lead “the greenest government ever”. He will now face accusations of fraudulent behaviour and political opportunism from his opponents, but if businesses and ordinary people have more money in their pockets as a result of a slowing down of economic de-carbonisation, then it will be worth it.

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'One Nation Labour' is an oxymoron

Jonathan Waddell

Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different time zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws … The Rich and the Poor.

Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil (The Two Nations)

Ed Miliband’s 2012 speech was an interesting one to say the least, and it goes without saying that for many members of the Conservative party such as myself, every time he said the words “One Nation”, a little piece of me died inside. Not just because he so obviously and admittedly stole the term from the Conservatives, not least because he greatly misunderstood the concept but largely because the concept of One Nation, is actually entirely incompatible with his and his parties politics. However, he has managed to continue the front of One Nation Labour on past the 2013 conference and will continue into 2014.

Please now draw your attention to the quote above from Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, a book written with the intention of outlining the great problems of working class Britain and the divide between the rich and the poor at the time. This quote is one of the best to outline exactly what he aimed to achieve in his political career and his writing, he explains that not only are the rich and the poor two different types of people, but they have no understanding of each other, no sympathy to each others ideals or lives but perhaps most importantly, no connection to each other. It’s with this that I must stress, there is no vitriol in this statement or message, nor is there malice to the rich or the poor, and for very good reason.

The ideals and purpose of One Nation, is to bring these two nations together, to find that missing connection and make two nations become One Nation. Just look at recent statements by Sir John Major let alone his entire career and compare them to statements Ed Miliband has been making his entire career. The fact of the matter is that while the focus for One Nation Tories is Social Mobility and making the poor richer, the focus of Ed Miliband is to make the rich poorer, to punish ambition and tax success. Social Mobility, in the eyes of One Nation Tories, is the link between the rich and the poor. Opportunity is what it takes to make the Two Nations become One.

Miliband and the Labour party want to attack the well off. Not just those who have inherited wealth but those who have worked for everything they have. That’s not One Nation, that’s class warfare. How does that encourage Social Mobility? How does that encourage someone to work hard, do better, achieve more if once you have achieved more than you ever thought you could, the government take half of your earnings? The simple answer is that it doesn’t, which is why a leftist like Miliband can simply not be a man of One Nation, nor can any leftist party like the Labour party be a party of One Nation. One Nation Labour is an oxymoron. Anyone who wants to persecute any part of society is not someone who subscribes to One Nation, how can they? They don’t see One Nation, they see multiple nations and instead of joining them together, they wish to simply eliminate one of them. Each to their own, but I know I do not want to live in a society that is that way inclined.

Today’s two nations are in fact not as clear as they were back when Disraeli made his observations in Sybil, where it was the middle class factory owners against the working class factory workers. Today we see a society that has wages that spread from the lowest possible to the highest imaginable and everything in between. If we use traditional terms like Working and Middle class, then the difference between them is as little as a Penny on your average wage.

Of course, we also have people who live desperately on the welfare state to get by, and these are now the desperate people in our society who need help. Labour and Miliband think that throwing money at it is the best thing for them, and of course, money will do them well in the short run; it will pay their rent and put food on their table - but what does it do for them in the long run? The reality is that nothing will help them better than opportunity, education, work and social mobility. Ed Miliband’s ‘socialism’ is nothing more than social welfarism, and as much as welfare helps people in the short term, it does little to help anyone in the long run. Today’s two nations is that of people on welfare with little or no way to get into work and young professionals in private sector jobs and working their way up their career ladders. If we wish to see One Nation, we must wish to help those who on welfare make their way onto a path of financial security and social mobility.

If Labour wish to be “the party of the working class” they can have it, because we all know they can’t be the party of One Nation, the party of One Nation has to be a party that encourages hard work, ambition, self-determination and your own path to prosperity, certainly not a party that preaches class-warfare and wants to punish success and ambition. A One Nation party is a party of all classes and backgrounds, not just singling out one and attacking another.

This post was originally posed on the site of Conservative Future Scotland North.

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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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