Hello Grayness, My Old Friend…

Louis Reynolds

The recent rumours of Philip Hammond’s leadership ambitions have brought renewed (and perhaps unfamiliar) attention to the Secretary of State for Defence and his accomplishments since his appointment in October 2011. Yet Hammond’s tenure is a difficult one to judge, not least because of the fact that to him more than any other minister an enduring political truth applies:

Ministers are not omnipotent.

The final Minister of Defence and first Secretary of State for Defence, Peter Thorneycroft, not only played a major role in the most significant post-war reorganisation of Britain’s defence apparatus, but also contributed heavily to the development of the nuclear policy of the United Kingdom and NATO as a wider whole. Yet while Thorneycroft was an intelligent and ambitious man, his tenure in charge of British defence policy was shaped largely by forces outside of his control. Unforgiving economic necessity brought forth the Mountbatten-Thorneycroft reforms, seismic developments in the global political landscape drove the hasty advancement of British nuclear policy and acute political embarrassment forced through the establishment of the UK Polaris programme.

The myth of the Minister as the master of a department’s destiny obscures the more nuanced truth. Events, expediency, context and any number of other unseen forces conspire to steal direction away from Ministerial agency.  As was the case with the dramatic tenure of Peter Thorneycroft, so it is with the perhaps equally historical if less vivid stewardship of Philip Hammond.

Hammond was perhaps created for the role he currently performs; a fiscal golem to carry out the unforgiving cuts that political necessity has forced upon the Ministry of Defence. A competent, prudent administrator, it is fair to say that before Liam Fox’s fall from grace Hammond had been characterised by quiet efficiency. Andrew Grimson recently opined, with regards to the rumours of Hammond’s leadership ambitions, that it would be far easier to see Hammond as an able Chancellor than a Prime Minister. Certainly Hammond has not captured the hearts of the people, being apparently easily confused with Julian Assange in the eyes of the general public.

But what can be expected? Hammond’s job has been to downsize the MOD significantly, and the scale and grim nature of the task drains both popular-political capital and attention from other endeavours. Moreover Hammond, despite recent and much misunderstood protest, is guided (or dragged along) by the weighty hand of the Chancellor, and perhaps more importantly the internal dynamics of the Coalition. All the significant facets of recent military reform have been shaped almost wholly by fiscal requirement. Surely no one can seriously contend that Future Force 2020, under which not-yet-fully-existent TA soldiers will perform critical front-line duties to make up for a dearth of full-time professionals, does anything but critically undermine British capability to save a few billion in the short term?

If Hammond is necessarily more a Chief Financial Officer than a visionary Minister, he performs admirably in that function. His planned reforms to the defence procurement system are long-overdue and bold, while the cuts already undertaken have been managed well and applied intelligently. The foundations laid by Liam Fox can be regarded as critical to the overall process of bringing martial law to Britain’s belligerent defence ledgers, but it was Hammond who in 2012 presided over the first balanced MOD budget in a decade.

The context of Hammond’s career as Secretary of State for Defence has been the Government’s policy of drastic reductions in state spending, and the accompanying reality has been the ring-fencing of large sections of the overall budget, as well as the spirited defence of Welfare by the Liberal Democrats. Controversial cuts to Defence have been the result, and financial pressures have, in the eyes of the Coalition, trumped military requirements. In such a situation expediency requires a loyal, competent, financially astute and trustworthy manager to preside over a difficult department. All the better that such a man, with an awkward and potentially volatile brief, be rather grey.

In other Governments and in other decades, he might have been unsuitable. When Philip Hammond was first appointed as Secretary of State for Defence, Aaron Ellis criticised the decision in these pages and suggested a number of alternative candidates, many of whom would have represented excellent choices if the role had been that of a conventional Secretary of State rather than that which Hammond has fulfilled.

Hammond, more than the distracting and sometimes awkward Thorneycroft, was truly built to meet the needs of his government and of the realities that have confronted him. Hammond has so far played a very straight role from a position of much less power and influence than is often assumed. Serious rebellion against the further MOD cuts was never a realistic prospect, and Hammond took on the task specifically in order to enforce them. Whether the policies that he has so ably carried out are in themselves in the interests of the United Kingdom is a wholly different matter.

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Macmillan Lecture 2013: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On Reforming’

 MACMILLAN LECTURE 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On Reforming 

By Rt Hon Damian Green MP

The previous occasion I delivered the Macmillan Lecture was in 2005, just after a disastrous election result for the Conservative Party which saw us make little progress even though Tony Blair’s Government was visibly crumbling.

“Why aren’t we thinking what they’re thinking” was the rather gloomy title, prompted by the thought that the lack of progress made it much more difficult to obtain an overall majority in the subsequent election—a sadly prescient point. One thought I was keen to make then is equally true in the very different world of today; that if the Conservative Party does not like modern Britain it is unlikely that modern Britain will warm to the Conservative Party.

Of course there is much that needs to be changed, and much that is changing because of this Government. As I say in the title of this lecture, we must carry on reforming.  But we should not let the long recovery from recession, or individual horrible incidents such as the Woolwich killing, leave us gloomy or grumpy as a country. It is less than twelve months since the world admired the best Olympics of the modern age. They admired not just our national organisational skills but the character, warmth and openness of the British people. We should not just keep calm, we should cheer up.

I should move from the national to the party.  The same injunction applies.  

Perhaps this is the appropriate moment to fulfil the duty of all who deliver this lecture to quote Harold Macmillan; “It is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government neither to flap nor to falter.” Admirable advice which is both timeless and timely.  For centre-right politicians there are significant reasons to be both calm and cheerful , the most notable of which is the public’s reaction to the financial crisis and subsequent recession. It was the fond hope of those on the left, perhaps particularly those who grew up at the feet of Marxist philosophers, that this would be seen as a crisis of capitalism. The people would throw off the shackles of false consciousness and realise that free markets had failed, and that state spending, borrowing and control was the route out of recession.

Fortunately the British people have more sense than that, and tend to prefer the analysis that state spending and borrowing was precisely the route into recession. There is no spin in this analysis. Successive poll findings have shown  that even when Labour is enjoying a significant lead the Conservative team is markedly ahead on managing the economy. This is true even over the past few weeks, where calmness has not been the prevailing emotion.

The most recent Ipsos Mori poll showed a 14 percent lead for David Cameron on managing the economy. Truly, if it still is the economy, stupid, that sets the political tone we are winning the most important argument.  British Keynesianism failed in the 1970s, and enough people know that to ensure that its modern enthusiasts have little credibility. The world has not gone left since the crisis. Where right wing Governments have been ejected, as in France, the left-wing alternative is already in trouble. The economic facts of life are still Tory.

So keep calm. But also carry on reforming, and more particularly carry on reforming in a Tory way. There is gathering strength to the argument that the reforms we are seeing to, for example, immigration, welfare and education address exactly the issues that people want Government to concentrate on.

These key reforms have three significant features. The first is that they are as important to the success of the Government as the central economic policy. The second is that all of them are dependent on Conservative ideas and energy to drive them through. The third is that they are precisely on the Common Ground originally identified by Keith Joseph as the proper target for successful Government, rather than the centre ground.

So as well as winning the central economic argument we are reforming in the areas where the country needs changing, and we are doing so in a Conservative direction. This message cannot be sent too often or too loudly, particularly to traditional Conservative supporters. They want lower immigration, an end to abuse of the welfare state, and higher standards in schools. Conservative Ministers, drawing on Conservative principles and our Manifesto promises, are delivering this.  

On immigration, the latest figures show that net migration is down by more than a third since June 2010, and is now at its lowest level for a decade. At the same time as seeing this dramatic decline in overall numbers, which is the main requirement, we have continued to support economic growth by welcoming the brightest and best to the UK. Higher numbers of skilled worker visas were issued over the last year, as were university student visas. So we have lower immigration, and more selective immigration: both good Conservative policies.

On welfare, we have introduced the biggest welfare to work programme the UK has ever seen to get people back to work.  We also believe it must always pay to work – which is why we have capped benefits so that no one can get more on benefits than the average person earns in work. We want to help people escape poverty, not trap them in it. This reform is squarely in the tradition of  which Harold Macmillan would have approved.

The same is true with our education policy. We are making sure that every parent has the choice of a good local state school for their child, teachers have the powers they need to keep discipline in the classroom and the exam system is rigorous, respected and on a par with the world’s best.

We have a programme to improve the quality of teaching, including scholarships to attract the best graduates, higher literacy and numeracy requirements for trainee teachers and a network of ‘Teaching Schools’ across the country.  79 Free Schools and more than 2,000 new Academies have been delivered already. Many of them are in areas where most people have not been able, up to now, to gain access to an excellent education for their children. We are restoring discipline to the classroom with new search powers for teachers, an end to the ‘no-touch’ rule, and higher fines for truancy.

All of these essential reforms have been delivered by Conservatives working in a Coalition Government.

Which brings me to a theme which is particularly important for the Tory Reform Group, and all moderate Conservatives.  There may be areas of policy where we agree with Liberal Democrats, but we are not the same.  We believe in change and modernisation , and we recognise that what modernisation means changes over time, but we are first of all Conservatives. We have principles which are not shared even by the most orange of the Orange Bookers. We also do not regard ourselves in any way morally deficient compared to Liberal Democrats.

I get on very well with many of my LibDem Ministerial colleagues, but I am entitled to challenge their thesis that this Government can only be kept compassionate by their presence. There is a long and honourable tradition of decent Conservatives who want to help those who need help, and Macmillan himself was of course a prime example at all stages of his political career.

Macmillan  was alive to the difference. As he put it; “As usual the Liberals offer a mixture of sound and original ideas. Unfortunately none of the sound ideas is original and none of the original ideas is sound.”  We do have practical differences, as I discovered on a regular basis when I was Immigration Minister.

There are similar debates about key issues such as childcare. All of these debates can be, and are, resolved within Government, as they would be whether it was a Coalition or a one-party administration. But they illustrate that the moderate Conservative tradition is a vital part of any Conservative mix, and is distinctive from the instincts and habits that the LibDems bring to politics.

This distinction is key for those who worry that in the Coalition the tail is wagging the dog. We are reforming and we are reforming in a Conservative direction. Every Conservative policy is about promoting opportunity and social mobility.  We know that  making Britain succeed globally and allowing people to achieve their aspirations are the two keys to a successful society. Economic growth and individual growth need to go hand in hand. This is the basis for economic and social policy under this Government and I cannot understand why any Conservative, whichever tradition they adhere to, would object in principle to this approach.

There will always be disagreements about tactics and day-to-day priorities but these must not be allowed to divide the right, when the only beneficiaries will be the left. All  of us who campaigned so hard and so successfully to preserve a first-past-the-post electoral system must accept the consequences. Under first-past-the post a serious party that aspires to Government has to be a broad coalition.  This in turn requires a degree of self-discipline and capacity to compromise. If we Conservatives forget that, our opponents will be the beneficiaries.

This means that the tone of the discourse between Conservatives is important. If we sound as though we dislike each other, others will draw the obvious conclusion. I love Twitter, but its general tone should not be a guide to how Conservatives address each other. Disagreement on an issue, however emotive, does not mean treachery, or not being a proper Conservative. Politics is a team game, and mutual loyalty is vital for a successful team.

The biggest and longest-running cause of Conservative discord is Europe. Every Conservative should have a high regard for the lessons of history, and the party’s history on this issue since the 1990s is terrible. The effect of this has been, ironically and yet predictably, that Britain’s fate in Europe has been in the hands of those who have no sympathy at all for the Eurosceptic viewpoint. Surely we are all able to learn this lesson of history and not repeat it.

I am not just lecturing others. We must all learn lessons. For years pro-Europeans opposed the idea of a referendum. But the strategy of negotiating a new settlement, and then putting that to British people, is clearly the right one for current times. Most British people want it to happen. So much has changed since the 1975 vote that it is time to put the argument again. I hope and expect that the outcome of this process will be to renegotiate, reform, and revalidate Britain’s place in Europe. The Prime Minister has made clear that this plan will be central to Conservative policy up to and beyond the next election. It is time for the whole party to get behind it. And it is possible for those who hold the whole range of views on Europe to do so.

For those of us sympathetic to the European argument this is an opportunity to make our case, and the Prime Minister’s case, that a properly reformed EU will be hugely to Britain’s advantage. For too long only a few lonely voices in the Conservative Party have made the case that we are better off in. Those of us who hold that view cannot wait for the few weeks before a Referendum to argue our corner.  There is a hard-headed Conservative case for Britain’s membership of the EU, for all its imperfections, and it needs to be heard.

The core of the argument is economic. All sectors of industry agree that we are better off in. Let’s start with manufacturing. Five out of every six cars made in this country are exported, and 700,000 jobs depend on the industry.  How many of those firms would invest long-term in Britain outside the EU? No wonder Ford’s European Chief Executive, Stephen Oddell, has said that “Leaving a trading partner where 50% of your exports go… would be devastating for the UK economy.”  

Then there is the City, often seen as the part of the economy most hampered by EU rules. Goldman Sachs are unlikely to be sentimental about the economic effects of leaving, and they have concluded that departure would be a loss/loss scenario, in which the loss would be greater for the UK than the EU.  In particular they argue that “The UK’s ability to conduct business in financial services across the European Union is likely to be severely compromised by a departure from the EU.”

Then there is the argument that we should concentrate on the fast-growing economies in Asia and South America rather than sclerotic old Europe.  I have never understood how you make it easier to export to China by making it more difficult to export to Germany, and indeed the German example is surely one to follow. Last year Germany exported $804bn worth of goods to Europe, and another $519bn to the rest of the world. They are complementary markets, not alternatives.

Finally there is the argument that our businesses have to obey all these petty rules that hinder them. Does anyone imagine that the rules would be less onerous, or indeed less of a hindrance to British business, if they were made without any input from Britain? Since Britain will need to trade with Europe, we would be putting an added burden on our business, not removing one. And we would have to pay a large fee for access to the Single Market, as Norway does. The idea that we can remove all the irritations, but retain all the benefits, is not worthy even of the saloon bar.

Of course there is need for reform, not just for Britain’s sake but for Europe’s. We need a Transatlantic Free Trade deal. We need a single market in a number of new areas, including digital services. Above all, we need a reform deal which will deliver benefits to every country in the EU, so that others will be as keen as we are on reform.  This will show how beneficial it can be when Britain plays a leading role in Europe.

This European reform will be consistent with all the other hard-headed, unsentimental, pragmatic, Conservative reforms which the Government has embarked on. It will fit in with a wider modernising agenda which is nothing to do with party image and everything to do with making Britain (and Europe) fit to compete in the modern world. All these reforms, taken together, will change Britain for the better. So the job of all Conservatives at this point is neither to flap nor falter, but to get on with the job of persuading people that Conservative principles in action give all British people the chance to succeed. We should be proud of our record so far, and we know there is much more to come. We have an important job to do. We should devote all our energy and time to doing it. 

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

image

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 Conservative Party must connect with ordinary working people

Francis Davis 2.00 pm

Recently, in the Conservative Party, there have been a slew of speeches, pamphlets and exhortations arguing to extend the ‘modernising’ project if the party is to stay in power.  Yet among the least noticed developments in Conservative circles , but the most clocked among Labour’s team, was a break from the vitriol of ‘strivers’ versus ‘shirkers’ as Greg Clark set out to advance the cause of ‘ordinary people’ . In one fell swoop the Treasury and regional Cities Minister seemed to have framed a paradigm which may lay the seeds of a response to ‘one nation’ Labour and its patriotic cast of mind.

Worklessness, Clark argued, was complex and not just a sign of sloth.  More to the point plenty of families want to work hard, keep their kids safe, have a holiday and cover off their pension. To do that they will work conscientiously but still long for ‘a life’. You can get the picture: ‘ordinary’ families want to minimise economic insecurity but this does not mean they all want to give their every moment over to chasing the dreams of a ‘Dragon’s Den’, or the exhaustion of a life underpinned by breathtaking overtime.  A practical family car will do them rather a Merc; a fortnight in a hotel in the Canaries rather than a month in a holiday home in France; access to good doctors for when their gran’ is ill; the support of a flexible welfare system when an Uncle is laid off by that local company where until his redundancy consultation came he thought what he did really mattered to his boss.  The ‘ordinary’ do some volunteering and an increasing number are carers. Moreover, one could infer, ‘ordinary’ people think that politicians who have only worked in the City, think tanks or London, and never in the public sector or a small firm, are ‘weird’.  And such voters will play a defining role in the general election’s English marginal seats.

The trouble for the current Conservative party is that it is the least prepared of the major parties to reach out to this crucial core of the largest part of the United Kingdom. Whilst ‘modernisation’ has produced many pamphlets, its narratives are still dominated by two clusters of reflection rooted in geographical cultures that unconvincingly reflect English aspirations. These are the ‘Glasgow’ modernisers with their centralising instincts, and social conservatism, and the ‘Notting Hill’ modernisers with their metropolitan and commodifying ethics.  The result is that the experience of ‘the ordinary’ gets mis-translated into the less compassionate, more marketising, more moralising, more white models of the ‘modernisers to date’, who in turn think they are cleverly ready for modernisation 2.0. Consequently, the urge to institutional renewal and local community revival on the part of the English Conservative party in the country is all but exhausted.

 For example, Conservative HQ’s ‘mutuals’ unit arrived then closed as quickly as a passing storm. Its outreach to black and ethnic minority families has never taken off. There is no lively network of Conservatives in the public sector, or nurses, or mums.  It does not celebrate its Northern councillors as national champions outside the Local Government Association nor require those in the South to spend time out of their own areas.  And the party seems to think that the odd week in Bosnia or Bangladesh for its candidates passes as civic credibility when ‘ordinary’ voters have to fit in school governorships, neighbours’ needs, and supporting children’s soccer teams around everything else.

By contrast Miliband’s Labour has been running pilots which give its canvassers a brief to have doorstep conversations rather than merely voter registration drives.  In some seats it has signed up a thousand new allies by linking parents concerned about teenage drinking and supermarket pricing. It is turning its local staff into ‘community organisers’ to reach out to every walk of life and then targeting the training of committed activists to complement such new approaches. This and its engagement with ethnic minorities is measured by the moment rather than by luck. While Blair once transformed his constituency party in Sedgefield, Ed Miliband is seeking to go further by listening nationally from the bottom up.

If there is to be a revived Conservative modernisation then it needs to be equally zealous and break into English pathways of life for which ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Notting Hill’ are ill suited as guides.  It will need to learn more on Honda’s shop floor in Swindon and from those defending river habitats in Cumbria than fixed assumptions from elsewhere. It will need to know the people in Birmingham Central Mosque, the Dean of Liverpool’s Cathedral, the parents of Chester rich and poor and middle managers in Newcastle better than Surrey and Oxfordshire.  And for its advisors and civil servants, it will reach for the universities of Warwick and Southampton, Durham and Bristol, Nottingham and Leeds as much as London, Oxford and Cambridge. It should have the confidence to point to public innovations where mainland Europeans do better than ourselves. Above all it will need the skills to ‘hear’ that ordinary people are suspicious of all the political houses because ordinary people are focused on building up their own house in which they and their families can have enough, be safe, and enjoy the odd piece of luck.  Not a castle, not a penthouse, not an excuse not to work but an ‘ordinary’ English life with all the shocks that employers, ill health, family pressures, thinking that London is like England, and bureaucrats can put in its path.

Greg Clark has found the language from which a new English Conservative modernisation might emerge. Others must now take up that baton rather than stridently restate much that may have been misunderstood and misapplied.  After all, a party at ease with the ‘one nation’ label at a time of social complexity, and serious about modernising around the life of the whole country rather than itself, ought rightly to be proud of ‘the ordinary’.

Francis Davis is a Fellow at Res Publica and Visiting Fellow in Civic Innovation at Portsmouth University Business School.

Autumn Statement 2012: A lot of Balls and a bleak midwinter?

Nik Darlington 2.57pm

I was on BBC Radio Scotland earlier talking about the Autumn Statement and just before I was due on air with the Daily Record's political correspondent, the weather report told tales of snow drifts, icy condition and road closures - painting a generally bleak midwinter picture.

In isolation, that report could’ve been about the British economy. Those heady summer days of Olympian achievement and a return to growth seem ever-more distant. This is the backdrop to what the Chancellor had to say to Parliament today, and the inclement economic weather should never be forgotten.

Indeed, Mr Osborne is set to break his own fiscal rules. Yet Gordon Brown also did that, but in the boom years - a symptom of the budgetary misbehaviour that characterised the Treasury under the feckless oversight of Mr Brown and Ed Balls.

The former Prime Minister might have lost a stick insect, but his former lieutenant was not grieving. Cheeks puce and puffed out, he berated, bewailed, gloated and tore into the man who’s office he might have had if only Alistair Darling were a lesser man.

When Ed Balls is good, presentationally at least, he is very, very good. Yet George Osborne is rarely better than when sparring with his opposite number (one gets the impression they enjoy it). I’m as unconvinced about the ‘blame Labour for all the economy’s ills’ line as I was at the time of the 2011 Budget, however Mr Osborne continues to play the card strongly, persistently and - judging by the looks on the faces of Eds Miliband & Balls - effectively. How well it plays with the public is another matter.

Former Tory whip Michael Fabricant relayed to the Chancellor the instantaneous thumbs-up from the bond markets, stating “it is the markets that matter”. Apt, to the point and certainly good news - though what voters think cannot be taken lightly either. I know what someone as acutely political as Mr Osborne will be thinking about first thing he wakes up in the morning.

Conservative MPs will be pleased with the scrapping once again of a 3p rise in fuel duty. Harlow’s MP Rob Halfon has led backbenchers on a spirited and tireless campaign against the duty, though one has to question how much gas is left in that tank. Can fuel duty rises be fought forever?

The lower threshold for income tax continues its rise towards £10,000, as expected. The personal allowance shall be £9,440 come next April.

Also to be welcomed is the further cut in corporation tax to 21 per cent. Let us not forget that it was as high as 28 per cent when the Coalition took office. Businesses can invest a greater proportion of their profits into the likes of expansion and employment. This is very good news.

The hit on working-age benefits will not play well, of course. Shrieks of unfairness can already be heard around the tenured ranks of social policy think tanks, the opposition and the like. And indeed it doesn’t look good. However, there is also the moral argument that at a time when wages are struggling to keep up with inflation, if rising at all, should welfare handouts continue to outpace? It’s a tough call, but I think it is the right one. It shall save nearly £4 billion. We can slice and dice this, that and t’other bits of public expenditure but until welfare payments are properly addressed, that ruddy old deficit shan’t budge much.

Those are my two-pennies’ worth. Plenty of ink shall be spilt and trees felled elsewhere in pursuit of explaining today’s Autumn Statement. I shall just finish with a brief thought on shale gas. I’ve had my concerns in the past about fracking for shale gas. I’m still not convinced of the safety record but I’m open to being so; and if it is the energy panacea some claim it to be, then by all means it should be pursued. Though not at any environmental cost.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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.

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.”

Tory Modernisation Needs A New Chapter

Samuel Kasumu 12.04pm

Following the recent reshuffle, many people could be forgiven for believing that the Conservative party has taken a step backwards in regards to becoming a more reflective of Great Britain.

Not only was the only ethnic minority Cabinet member, Baroness Warsi, moved on, but there was a feeling among many commentators that the party has also failed to make progress in extending opportunities to more women. Opponents of ageism also had a cause for concern as the elder statesmen were forced to retire… before they actually wanted to retire. It all paints a bleak picture for Tory modernisers.

So where do we go from here? To put it simply, we have to start winning through delivering strong and fair policy during these very tough times. We must be more affective in conveying ideas and must accept that we have neglected certain communities for far too long.

Conservatives today must start to speak up for the things that are so important to the groups that struggle to contemplate ever voting blue. We all already know that women, ethnic minorities, those with a faith, and many within inner city areas, are among the least likely to vote Conservative. Many people have analysed the reasons behind this, such as Lord Ashcroft, who published Degrees of Separation earlier this year.

But the time has come to stop debating among ourselves and start engaging with these communities before it is too late. There is nothing worse than a politician turning up a few weeks before an election having been out of site since the one five years before.

For single parents, we need to demonstrate that it is not our priority to make their lives more difficult via the long list of welfare reforms. The Universal Credit has to be better sold to those that are scared of being unable to work while bringing up a family on their own. More needs to be channelled into dealing with marriage breakdown and absent fathers must be forced to take responsibility for their children.

We must also better communicate the need for education reforms to parents across the country. We spend more than £80 billion on education but are globally ranked between 20th and 30th for English, Maths, and Science.

For ethnic minority communities, we need to end the so called war on immigration and admit that whether we like it or not our world is becoming increasingly global. Yes, borders must be tightened; but that is already happening so let’s advance the conversation and stop using cheap rhetoric to appeal to the so-called “core vote”.

This is the same “core” that was unable to deliver a majority in 2010, so perhaps it is time to start appealing to the rest of the country. The Labour party introduced the points-based system, which means non-EU migrants can only come to Britain if they are appropriately and highly skilled.

We all know that the real elephant in the room is currently uncontrollable migration from EU member states, and frankly until that is dealt with current immigration policy can be seen to be pure and simply insufficient and borderline racist. More needs to be made of the ‘transitory measures’ available to the Government.

The list could go on and on in regards to how we can develop and better communicate policies to various communities in order to demonstrate we are the correct party to choose.

In my new book, Winning the Race, launched this Thursday, I tell my story of how I joined the Conservative party as a twenty-year old, working class black male. I have never regretted the decision and can see the potential for the Tories to become the party of choice for so many people like me that are entrepreneurial and value the role of communities, family, and individual responsibility.

As Britain continues to evolve and faces an increasingly competitive global economic environment, there will be an increasingly important need for a strong government with a clear strategy for the future. One Nation Conservatism is far from an expired way of thinking. The TRG and everything it stands for must remain at the forefront of where we need to be to win a majority. For its philosophy of combining compassion with efficiency represents a way of governance that is both fair and firm, with universal appeal.

Follow Samuel on Twitter @samuelkasumu