To restore Tory fortunes, Cameron’s modernisation of the Party needs completing, not retrenching

Harry Fraser

David Cameron should remember the principles that got him in to Number 10 in response to the growing discontent from the Right.

In 2005 shortly after becoming party leader, he declared that he would not be a ‘prisoner of an ideological past’, and in the run up to the 2010 election defined himself as a ‘one nation, relatively liberal Conservative’. To stand the best chance of achieving a Conservative majority at the next general election, Mr. Cameron must reaffirm these testimonies and broaden his appeal further rather than turn his back on modernisation.

Recently there has been a marked growth in discontent towards the Prime Minister, and most notable is the grievances from the Right rather than the Left. The rise of UKIP and their populist message has frustrated the established political parties and has prompted calls for the Conservatives to assert more ‘traditional’ conservative values and reflect this with policies of that nature. A debate regarding the Party’s future is becoming more evident, a battle between ‘Swivel Eyed Loons and The Cameroons’, if you will.

In response to the growth of electoral support for UKIP the Tories’ right-wing, anti-Cameron sentiment has currently culminated with the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’, a number of proposals from various backbench MPs that they describe as a “genuine attempt” to show what policies a future Conservative government could deliver. Most notable of the 42 bills proposed were calls for a referendum on the Same Sex Marriage bill, abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change, renaming the late August Bank Holiday Margaret Thatcher Day and reintroducing National Service. All of these policies you wouldn’t be surprised to find between the covers of a would-be UKIP manifesto.

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin identify that UKIP’s recent converts are much more likely to be low-income, financially insecure, and working class. The party is widely seen as to the right of the Conservatives – but that is not how UKIP voters view themselves. Whereas 60% of Tory voters place themselves to the right-of-centre, the figure for UKIP supporters is only 46%. Also interestingly 25% of Tories say they are in the centre, or even left-of-centre, the figure for UKIP voters is higher at 36%. (See here). This suggests it is more a protest thought process behind voting for UKIP rather than being ideologically drawn to the party.

Whilst it has enjoyed some gains recently this appears to be more of a blip than what is set to be a long-term trend. UKIP’s time in the limelight has led to just as much ridicule as acclaim and their support has already begun to dwindle.

Come 2015 the electorate will not be voting in protest as many did so in the May local elections, they will be voting for the party they believe is most competent at running the country. UKIP’s populist pick n’ mix manifesto will come under greater scrutiny between now and then, and Farage’s party have a long way to go before mounting any serious challenge of the political establishment.

That does not mean the reasons why people turned to UKIP should be ignored, however; nor should the fact that UKIP have a higher proportion of supporters from lower incomes than the other two parties. Cameron appears to be in a Catch-22 situation: He cannot afford to turn to the socially conservative right, which left his party in the wilderness for 13 years, yet he also can’t ignore the fact that increasingly he is seen as out of touch with the views of everyday people. When the public were asked, ‘Do you think that David Cameron understands people like yourself?’, the overwhelming response was a resounding ‘no’.

There is thus a belief that to restore Conservative fortunes and appeal to those that have jilted us for UKIP means reverting to more socially conservative, right-wing policies evident within the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’. The zealous ideological pursuit of social conservatism conflicts with the notion that the Party is the party of pragmatism. Cameron’s modernisation of the Party has been more beneficial than damaging; we have seen a 100% rise in support from younger people since he became leader and it would be wise not to stifle trends such as these. Instead of pandering to divisive politics of the past, Cameron should stand firm by his One Nation principles that he committed himself to pre-2010 in order to offer real benefits to working people.

“One Nation Conservatism” is the idea that the country is strongest and most stable when united and when social antagonisms are kept under control with relatively centrist, pragmatic politics. The debates of the 2015 election will be centred on the economy and facing the realities of government has meant that the pursuit of Thatcherite economics has replaced the compassionate conservatism Cameron promoted before 2010.

The electorate are not screaming en-masse for more Thatcherite economics in light of hard economic times. In 2009 when launching The Big Society, Cameron warned of the dangers regarding a “simplistic retrenchment of the state which assumes that better alternatives to state action will just spring to life.” As the economy shows signs of recovery Cameron should spend the next two years reassuring the public the Conservatives are not ‘enemies of the state’ but are the real One Nation Party that can represent all.

Our problem is not that the Conservatives aren’t ‘right-wing’ enough, it’s that people still don’t believe they care. David Skelton provides a useful conclusion. He notes how Cameron has rescued his party from the scrapheap once, but his modernisation is still a job half done. The move away from divisive social policies of the past is half of Conservative modernisation, but until the party does more to connect with ordinary working people, Cameron’s mission will remain unfinished business.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

Is being green worth its weight in gold? Or will moral credit leave you bankrupt?

Sara Benwell 11.03am

Ethical investment is seriously hot right now. Last week was National Ethical Investment Week, the week where everyone is encouraged to put their money in funds that will save the world, or will at least not outright harm it.

There’s a broad range of ethical investments: from those focusing on being environmental, sustainable or just generally socially responsible, to those simply avoiding funds that might be considered ethically dodgy, such as weapons, alcohol, pornography or gambling.

The Government has been pushing social investing over the last two years, supporting 'impact investing', and launching Big Society Capital, an initiative designed to take an estimated £400 million from dormant bank accounts to help develop the social investment market. It is also launching the world’s first Green Investment Bank to provide financing for low carbon investment projects (see Alex’s previous coverage of it here).

It’s not just the Government. There is strong evidence of increasing consumer demand for greener investments. In fact Triodos, a bank specialising in ethical investments, has seen a 78 per cent increase in people wanting to open savings accounts. It has also doubled the money coming into its accounts each year. Furthermore, according to Eurosif, the Brussels-based European Sustainable Investment Forum, the amount of money in the UK invested in a “sustainable and responsible” manner has reached an estimated £275 billion.

The obvious reasons behind these funds are morality-based, but an investment needs to make money too or it’s just a waste of time. Yet can ethical investments offer real returns?

They are somewhat subjective, insofar as they depend on what any particular individual considers to be morally important, and the process is far from straightforward, but that doesn’t mean there’s not money to be made. Ethical investments, bank accounts, pensions and mortgages are now available to most consumers.

However, renewable energy has been a disaster for ethical investors recently, with wind and solar power systems companies being among the worst-performing stocks in the last few years.

For instance, the Guardian reported that Vestas, the Danish wind turbine maker, had cost investors almost 95 per cent of their money. The article also reported that the BlackRock New Energy Investment Trust has fallen 49.9 per cent since 2007. Furthermore, negative screening of so-called ‘sin funds’ mean that investment products are less diversified and there is less recourse to defensive funds, which can lead to volatility. These are just some amongst a multitude of examples, illustrating why many people are wary when it comes to ‘being ethical’ with money.

Nonetheless, there is some evidence that it’s possible to be ethical and still taking care of your money.

One theory is that companies on the right side of the ethics debate are less likely to fall out with regulators, end up in expensive court battles or face strikes or boycotts of their products from consumers. All of these can impact reputation and even share price, so ethical companies should look like good long term prospects.

This is illustrated in the pensions industry, where an increasing number of funds are declaring support for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), an institutional investor initiative for ethical investment. The number signed up has jumped by over a quarter in the last two years.

Furthermore, there are those out there who believe a carbon-based economy is unsustainable, for obvious reasons. This too suggests that forward looking ethical investments are likely to do well in the long term.

Another thing to consider is as public opinion shifts, and we care more and more about everything from whether our eggs are free range to whether we invest ethically, it seems likely that the value of companies who can prove to stakeholders that they have sustainable values will rise.

It is important that the Government continues to support ethical investments, and it is encouraging that the public is beginning to demand how their money is made and at whose expense.

However, there must be further support and ambition from both the Government and the financial services industry if ethical investment can be sustainable. Meanwhile the Coalition should be wary about throwing money behind schemes that may leave people worse off, especially in a financial crisis. It’s all well and good being “ethical” but it will backfire if it costs people their pensions.

There are ethical funds that perform well, so perhaps the government should think about putting its money towards education, so that people are equipped with the knowledge to do the right thing – whilst also putting the pennies away for the future.

Follow Sara on Twitter @sarabenwell

Is David Cameron jumping the Tory electoral gun on welfare reform?

David Cowan 10.16am

Occasionally, among the static noise of 24-hour news, there comes a speech that matters. Yesterday’s by David Cameron, on welfare reform, was one of them.

The Government has already made good progress towards a better welfare state with the Universal Credit, Work Programme and the £26,000 benefits cap. But we now know that the Prime Minister and Conservative ministers have only just begun.

David Cameron is hitting back against the “entitlement culture”, which has gravely undermined a sense of “collective responsibility” that used to be so strong. It is at the heart of the ‘big society’ project to rejuvenate civil society. It is also absolutely spot on. If the state constantly intervenes in our lives instead of allowing us to live as individuals and communities, taking responsibility for our own actions, then it creates a client state of automatons.

There is already a ‘welfare gap’ between those who choose not to work and those who work and save for their family’s future. This is not because everyone on benefits is workshy but because of the perverse incentives produced by an overcomplicated system which simply isn’t working.

David Cameron is entering a potentially transformative phase in his premiership. This is not the end of ‘compassionate conservatism’, rather it is a reaffirmation of it. Instead of the lazy assumption that poverty is a problem solved by income redistribution, we are offered a more nuanced understanding. Mr Cameron highlighted the real causes of poverty, such as drug addiction, family breakdown, poor education and debt. Most importantly, he articulated the most effective solution to the problem:

"Compassion isn’t measured out in benefit cheques - it’s in the chances you give people…the chance to get a job, to get on, to get that sense of achievement that only comes from doing a hard day’s work for a proper day’s pay.

That’s what our reforms are all about. Transforming lives. Helping people walk taller.”

Elsewhere in the speech, the ‘Wisconsin model’ established during President Clinton’s administration in the US offered some inspiration: it proposes a two-year time limit on benefits, and for people receiving benefits to carry out full-time community work.

Mr Cameron also spoke about how couples on benefits were having children they obviously could not afford without state support. He proposed that income support should be stopped and additional child benefit limited for families with more than three children. Tougher measures on housing were also mooted, such as lowering the housing benefit cap further and stopping it completely for under-25s.

Deeper cuts to welfare budgets should not come as a surprise. George Osborne has already announced, in last year’s Autumn Statement, two more years of cuts and, in his Budget speech this year, the need for £10 billion of further savings from welfare by 2016 (to be outlined in the next Spending Review).

Political considerations are crucial. Downing Street’s director of strategy, Andrew Cooper, is largely responsible for the policy - his polling research showing that the benefit cap was among the Government’s more popular policies. It can prove how welfare reform is a ‘wedge issue’ on which both the Lib Dems and Labour are viewed as out of touch with the ‘striving classes’. Tougher welfare reform has now become the centrepiece of Conservative differentiation.

David Cameron has crafted a long-term vision for welfare reform that extends beyond this Parliament and establishes the groundwork for the Conservative party’s general election campaign in 2015. Undoubtedly his thinking his correct and needed but it should be some cause for concern that the coalition partners are distancing themselves to such an extent three years out from that election. The coalition needs a renewed unifying mission that goes beyond deficit reduction. A new Coalition Agreement, formulated by people such as David Laws, is what is needed now, not ‘differentiation’.

Mr Cameron’s speech is precisely what the Conservatives need to help them win in 2015. But it may have come a bit too early.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

TRG policy supper with Chris White MP

Chris White MP 7.16am

This evening I will be speaking at a Tory Reform Group policy supper in Westminster.

After seeing my Private Member’s Bill – the Public Services (Social Value) Act – pass into law earlier this year, I have been keen to make clear that this has to be part of a wider effort to promote civil society organisations and social enterprise.

If the Act is to be successfully implemented, then organisations on the ground need to feel empowered, to ensure it is used by local authorities and other public bodies.

In order to build a coalition behind the Act and behind using social value in general, we need to ensure that there is support in place and I believe that the Government has the opportunity to put that wider support within this Parliament.

I hope to discuss with TRG members about this, the role the Conservative party can play in articulating that vision and what role social enterprise and civil society has within that.

You can book tickets here

Chris White was elected as the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington at the 2010 General Election.

'Without the new, there would never be any old'

Craig Barrett 6.01am

Sitting watching the Queen’s Speech last week, I was reminded of how much better Britain does pomp and ceremony than other countries. European militia look faintly ridiculous in comparison.

And on 4th May, I felt hugely privileged to attend the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony that goes back some nine hundred years. Every year, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is responsible for assessing newly minted coins, to ensure they conform to required standards in terms of size and quality of metal. Present is an expert panel of assayers and the Queen’s Remembrancer (the senior Master of the Queen’s Bench), certifying above all that the Master of the Mint has not been shaving gold or silver from the nation’s coinage.

The Master of the Mint, George Osborne, was indeed there this year, so restoring a relationship broken between 1997 and 2010 by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. We are, of course, more than aware of Mr Brown’s attitude towards our nation’s gold reserves.

After assessing the coinage, the Verdict of the Pyx is delivered. Safe to say, it passed the test. We then repaired to luncheon to hear an address from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Among non-disclosable political comments, Mr Osborne chose to highlight the fact that the Royal Mint provides currency to more than sixty countries around the world - a true export success to boot.

I was accompanying the inimitable Catherine Bott, herself the guest of the Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Hector Miller. Unlike many Livery Companies, the majority of the Goldsmiths actually practise in their field, so we were in the presence of true craftsmen. At the new Goldsmiths Centre in Clerkenwell, you can see for yourself.

Funded partly by a bequest in 1514 when Agas Harding, a widow of a Goldsmith, left the Company a small amount of land in Holborn, the Company decided some years ago to put it to good use and create something to assist nascent craftsmen. Workshops are available at competitive rents, as well as extensive facilities for teaching. What impressed me most was that the focus is not simply on passing on techniques but also what we might call “life lessons”. There are classes on managing accounts and business planning - vital skills for the self-employed that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Goldsmiths have a long history of involvement in education. Goldsmiths College is the most obvious example, but the Company was also closely involved in the founding of Imperial College. This could be a kernel of the ‘big society’ - independent of the state, they have created a unique learning space for craftsmen and the public.

Catherine commented that she rather likes antique jewellery, to which I responded, “without the new, there would never be any old”.

What is marvellous about the new Goldsmiths Centre is the way in which the old has been able, hopefully, to continue to create the new. I urge you to pay it a visit.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

A One Nation defence of the Church of England

David Cowan 6.01am

At the beginning of Holy Week this year, David Cameron made another foray into religious affairs. It was a rare glimpse of that elusive aspect of the Prime Minister’s character - his Christian faith.

Mr Cameron’s most significant defence of Christianity to date was during the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (see Jack’s and Daniel’s comments). He claimed:

"Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today."

It is Christianity’s conceptualisation of the nation that is at the heart of Mr Cameron’s moral code. This is evident in his vision for a ‘Big Society’, where responsibility, duty and community are most valued. And of course the institution that upholds the Christian faith and defends these values is the Church of England.

The local church is often at the heart of our communities. It provides spiritual support as well as voluntary assistance to charities, social enterprises and, importantly, schools.

The Church of England currently educates one million children in 4,800 schools, making it the biggest single provider of education in this country. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has reaffirmed the Conservative party’s commitment to supporting faith schools by urging the Church to run more academies.

Throughout the Conservative party’s long history, the defence of the established Church has been second nature. Christian morality has been a significant guide for many One Nation Conservatives, including Harold Macmillan, who said:

"If you don’t believe in God, all you have to believe in is decency. Decency is very good. Better decent than indecent. But I don’t think it’s enough."

A Christian ‘fightback’ should be supported by One Nation Conservatives within the context of greater toleration. We live in a pluralistic society. Other cultures must be respected. Yet Christians have become somehow exempted from the toleration afforded to others and fair game for discrimination by aggressive secularists.

Wearing a cross at work, holding town hall prayers (see Jack’s comments on these pages), Norwich County Council’s banning of a local church from a community centre.

It is appalling that this victimisation of ordinary Christians is happening at the same time that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is allowed to stay in this country, be embraced by Labour’s London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, and defend suicide bombing, wife beating and the violent persecution of Jews and homosexuals.

Discrimination against Christians has also been a defining feature of the debate about same-sex marriage, in which opponents are brazenly dismissed as homophobes. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, for instance, is opposed to gay marriage but supports civil partnerships and has certainly not expressed hatred towards homosexuals.

It also says a lot about the current state of the debate that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is forced to ban “gay cure” adverts from the capital’s red buses, while Christians offended by gay rights charity Stonewall’s campaign are denounced as bigots.

How can we possibly have a grown-up debate about an important subject such as same-sex marriage if senseless demonisation is allowed to trump rational discussion?

Whatever side you take, there is a principle at stake here. Toleration has to incorporate toleration of those people who we disagree with or believe to hold intolerant views. It is time for toleration in Britain to live up to Voltaire’s famous and apocryphal quotation: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Regrettably, Mr Cameron’s attempts to tackle aggressive secularism have been undermined by George Osborne’s recent blunders over the so-called 'charity tax' and 'heritage tax'.

The Government is launching a formal consultation on charity tax relief and will hopefully heed the advice given by Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, on BBC’s Newsnight recently.

But we have yet to see if the Government will reverse its decision to slap a VAT bill of £20 billion on the 12,500 listed church buildings. There is already an e-petition with a growing number of signatures demanding that the VAT zero rate on alterations to listed buildings be revived.

This hit to charitable giving and listed buildings threatens irreparable and unnecessary harm to churches such as Wakefield Cathedral. Many churches stand as bastions of beauty and monuments to tradition. Several have stood since Norman times. It would be a crime against our common heritage to allow these tax policies to continue.

Once upon a time it could be said, with some truth, that the Church of England was ‘the Tory party at prayer’. David Cameron and other One Nation Conservatives should have the courage of their convictions to defend and praise the established Church’s role in the spiritual life of the nation and the wellbeing of communities; to fight for full religious toleration; and to conserve our precious buildings.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

The return of the Big Society is a positive sign for positive politics

Nik Darlington 11.12am

The Big Society has had its detractors, to put not too fine a point on it. Some have critiqued it intelligently; most have demonstrated laziness and inverted snobbery, led by a metropolitan elite to whom truly non-dependent communities are an alien concept.

Few champion the Big Society as strongly as those most involved in what it represents; and few individuals are so passionately weighed in behind it as the Tory MP for Penrith and the Borders, Rory Stewart.

In March last year, Rory wrote on these pages about how the ideas underpinning the Big Society - such as independence, communitarian spirit, responsibility, hard work - are transforming his patch of Cumbria, in areas such as affordable housing and super-fast broadband.

"The constant force behind all this - quite independent of government policy - is found in the communities themselves. It is they - not individuals, or businesses, or government, or even the voluntary sector (although these things are themselves important) - which constitute the Big Society. And these communities are defined by curiosity, ambition and a stubborn determination to succeed."

Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the £600 million Big Society Capital fund, partly financed by money from dormant bank accounts, partly by Britain’s biggest banks, and aimed at boosting social enterprise. It is a theme we have covered heavily here at Egremont, particularly by Alexander Pannett here, here and, with me, here.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

"Big Society Capital is going to encourage charities and social enterprise to prove their business models - and then replicate them… [then] seek investment for expansion into the wider region and into the country.

This is a self-sustaining, independent market that’s going to help build the Big Society.”

As far as Mr Cameron’s pet project goes, the sun has got its hat on, and the Big Society’s got its capital letters back. It is a positive sign for positive politics.

And Rory Stewart builds on the ideas he introduced last year in an opinion piece for the Telegraph this morning, describing the “trench warfare” that has built the Big Society in Cumbria. It is a heart-warming read, and here are some choice extracts:

"The problem I found, when I became an MP in 2010, was not that communities did not work - they had always been working. It was that they were being prevented from doing much more. I found this in a dozen things, which might seem small from London, but which were key to rural lives: in communications, energy, housing, tourism (our largest earner), and broadband, which can hold the key to the success of rural health, education, and thousands of small businesses.

"We finally solved our problems when, instead of going completely independent, we made government and business work with our communities.

"None of this was easy… But we’ve succeeded - and not just in showing how the fastest broadband in Europe can go to the most remote valleys in Britain.

"The Big Society is not a fund, or a law - it’s an attitude, a way for government, firms and charities to use communities’ energy. It’s not something you can show on a PowerPoint presentation. But if you want to see how it works, come to Cumbria."

Nick Clegg attempts to steal the TRG’s clothes

Alexander Pannett 8.31am

On Saturday a beleaguered Nick Clegg faced down his mutinous party at their Spring conference and attempted to re-define what set the Liberal Democrats apart from other political parties.

His speech gave an indication of the tactics he would use at the general election in 2015 as he seeks to win back the trust of the electorate.

It is interesting then, that he chose to steal TRG lexicon by declaring his party to be the true One Nation party in the UK.  This is a rather devious strategy to steal the centre ground from the more moderate wing of the conservative party, as represented by the TRG, intended to force David Cameron to the right of British politics and into the political wilderness.

The One Nation tag now appears to be the golden fleece of British politics.  First David Cameron “de-toxified” the conservative brand by embracing one nation “compassionate conservatism”. Then Ed Miliband talked about the need for “one nation banking” and now Nick Clegg has dragged his tired Lib-demonauts to claim the elusive one nation prize.

The effort is understandable. Much as Clausewitz would have counselled, he or she who takes the centre of British politics will win elections.  One nation conservatism strives for a market economy with social justice and supports equality, diversity and civil liberties.  It is precisely the political mantra that reflects the centre ground. This is why Tony Blair claimed the one nation mantle was “drapped around their shoulders” and promptly proceeded to win three successive elections for Labour.

Clegg might hope to consider himself a “One Nation” politician. Others such as Danny Alexander, Orange Book Liberals, and the new Liberal Reform Group may do too. Many Lib Dems, however, do not fit the description, and probably do not want to fit the description (much like the Labour party under Blair too).

Lib Dems should be proud of many of their policies for the poorest, such as the Pupil Premium or increasing the lowest tax threshold, which Tories have rightly adopted in this coalition. But any party with such prejudice and antipathy towards wealth cannot hope to be “One Nation”.

As Lord Walker declared, One Nation is about helping those most in need and combining compassion with efficiency. Many Lib Dems can do compassion. Few want to sign up to the efficiency of the properly functioning free market. Nick Clegg’s proposed 50 per cent. capital gains tax in his general election manifesto was rightly derided by the Economist as “anti-business”. This is on top of other anti-capitalist rhetoric that has emanated from Lib Dem circles in recent years.

Even Blair’s New Labour, which as noted above tried to be “One Nation”, did not spend its time denigrating a section of the population, though the Countryside Alliance may have cause to disagree.

Only the Tories are self-confident enough in their approach to put up candidates in every corner of the nation. In the recent 2011 local elections, the Lib Dems only put up candidates in 59 per cent. of seats.  How can Lib Dems be the One Nation party if they don’t even attempt to represent all parts of the country?

It is the Tories who have truly attempted to promote policies that deliver a one nation mixture of market forces and social justice.  The Big Society, free schools, reform of retail banking and the localism agenda are all examples of making the markets work for society rather than society working for the markets.

One Nation is a good sound bite for Nick Clegg, as it was for Tony Blair, as it was just before the election for David Cameron. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and David Cameron is the only one properly to look, sound and act like a One Nation Conservative.

Follow Alex on Twitter @alpannett