Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Has modernisation failed?

Good morning. Nick Boles has lobbed some grenades at the Tory leadership, with his admission that "a significant number of people will not even contemplate voting Conservative". The arch-moderniser says that the Conservatives should be "shouting from the rooftops" about liberal policies like gay marriage. There was even the intriguing suggestion that the old National Liberal party (last seen in 1968 when it formally merged with the Tories) should be revived - a way of getting young and socially liberal voters to support the Tories without quite admitting it.
What to make of Mr Boles's intervention? It is a brutally honest analysis of the failures of the modernisation process in which Mr Boles was intimately involved. As I argued yesterday, perhaps "the question underlying politics at the moment is not, in fact, why Labour is doing so well, but why the Conservatives are doing so badly?" Many may disagree with Mr Boles's answers. but at least he is asking the right questions. We are witnessing something odd in British politics - Ukip, a party whose platform is by any measure to the Right of the Conservatives, are winning the support of many who would never vote Tory, especially in the North. There is an element of the anti-politics vote in this, certainly, but this also reflects deep problems with the Tory brand. Many will rightly point out that gay marriage damaged Tory membership more than any single policy in the party's history; Mr Boles's argument is that, on issues like gay marriage, "Having taken the pain, not to be proud of them is completely pointless." In the immediate future, the most significant aspect of Mr Boles's speech may be that it marks increased efforts from Tories to "peel off" Right-leaning Lib Dems, led by Jeremy Browne. Mr Browne has said that he will not join the Conservative Party, but he would seem a very natural fit in a National Liberal party. As for David Cameron, he may not appreciate the timing of Mr Boles's intervention, which could give Ed Miliband some much-needed relief at PMQs, where he will have to contend with the increasingly buoyant economic picture and questions about Labour's links with Paul Flowers.
The OECD is the latest respectable outfit to say things are going gangbusters, which adds to the sense of Tory optimism. It certainly encourages a perverse feeling of unexpected wealth among some politicians. Every hint that things may be better than expected gets them dreaming. It may turn out for example that borrowing will be £20billion less than predicted. That would still leave the deficit at £100bn, but some politicians might think that they have a £20bn windfall to play with. Nick Clegg is imagining extra taxes to pay for new giveaways, while George Osborne is considering a raid on wealthy foreign (or foreign-based) property investors. The overarching impression is of politicians who are happy to see taxes rises. Our leader today says "enough" and tells the Chancellor he should rule out any further tax rises. Allister Heath goes further: without tax cuts, the Totries are stuffed. And today's Adams cartoon makes the point in a Monty Python way. As things get better, so ministers start to think of sharing the proceeds of growth, when they should be thinking of eliminating the deficit, and nothing else.
Labour is considering proposals by the IPPR to scrap benefits for under 25s. They would receive a youth allowance of £56.80 a week - the same level as the Job Seekers' Allowance - and Under-25s would be banned from claiming additional benefits including Employment Support Allowance and Income Support. Those who laughed when Rachel Reeves pledged to out-tough the Tories on welfare may have to think again. Mary Riddellwrites in her column that "If Labour is to prove, as it must, that it can break the cycle of dependency, the best starting point is a generation whose annual benefits bill of £2.5 billion is merely a down-payment on what it will ultimately cost the taxpayer."
There's a tricky vote on the Defence Reform Bill today, in which plans to reorganise the army by expanding the Army Reserve to offset cuts in troop numbers will be debated. Conservative MP John Baron has tabled an amendment that would delay the plans until their impact is further discussed. Philip Hammond is certainly not impressed with the Tory rebels. "If passed, the proposal would cause great damage to our Reserve Forces. It would send a message to the men and women serving in our Reserves that their service and commitment is not valued; and it would inevitably put off those considering joining", the Defence Secretary writes.
The Mail splashes with the question: "How much did Labour know about disgraced Co-op chief?" The facts are deeply embarrassing for Labour: the party knew two years ago that Paul Flowers had been forced to resign as one of the party’s city councillors after gay porn was found on his computer, but the Co-op was not told. Mr Flowers enjoyed invites to Downing Street during Labour's time in office, including at a reception hosted by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. The Times also sticks the knife in, reporting that the Co-op approved more than £1 million of fresh lending to the Labour Party within weeks of Ed Miliband meeting Paul Flowers.
There's a row over the civil service played out in the letter pages of The Times today. Francis Maude rebutes The Times' claims yesterday about the politicisation of Whitehall: "Our plans to allow ministers to establish extended offices were agreed by the leadership of the Civil Service. The Civil Service Commission has put in place new rules on appointments into these offices and to protect Civil Service impartiality. Any new appointments, other than special advisers, will be subject to the same rigorous requirements for political impartiality as other civil servants." Meanwhile, Vernon Bogdanor says that "an influx of more political appointees would not be in the public interest." The Mail sticks the boot in, writing in its leader that "It’s not as if there is any evidence that having more political advisers – Nick Clegg has 19 – makes for better government" and "The greatest danger of all is that ministers will turn their departments into finishing schools for prospective MPs plucked straight from university."
Good news for Dave. One of his most trusted advisers, Gabby Bertin, has returned to Number 10 after a year on maternity leave, just as the Coalition is having a rift over plans to share parental leave. Gabby has been appointed as Cameron’s director of external relations and will manage Downing Street’s links with business, charities and pressure groups. She's moved away from her old role as the PM's press secretary, where Richard Kay reports that she clashed with Craig Oliver.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

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In the Telegraph 

Mary Riddell - Labour must step in to rescue a generation of doomed youth
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Daniel Finkelstein in The Times - A new generation of politicians is coming

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0930 LONDON: Bank bosses questioned by MPs on Royal Mail privatisation.
0930 LONDON: Chris Grayling at Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill committee.
0930: Edward Timpson at Education Select Committee on child protection.
1000 LONDON: Mayor of London Boris Johnson to be questioned on cycle safety by London Assembly Members.
1415 LONDON: Serco, G4S, Capita and Atos at Public Accounts Committee.

1800 LONDON: Speech by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to Policy Exchange.