Tuesday 31 July 2007

A further lurch to the right is not the path to Government

Edward Leigh MP has argued that in order to beat Labour at the next election, Conservatives should return to traditional Tory issues of "immigration, low taxes and Europe".

Highlighting Gordon Brown’s current lead in the opinion polls (no doubt buoyed by recent by-election success, albeit in two ultra-safe seats), Leigh writes in the current edition of Parliamentary Monitor magazine that it is now “a good time to take stock”, also commenting that "liberalism doesn't win elections”.

Whilst having some sympathy with much of what Leigh argues in favour of (low taxation and deregulation, consumer choice in education, health and pensions, the family as the foundation of society), this is precisely the same “one more heave” approach that has put the Tories to the sword in the past three General Elections.

We stood on a primarily immigration-focused platform in 2005, and lost – and for some of us, who were canvassing around Liverpool and attempting to explain to second- and third-generation Irish immigrants why the Conservatives apparently ‘didn’t want our kind’, the experience was not a positive one. We campaigned on an anti-European platform in 2001, and were beaten out of sight, Labour dismissing us a bunch of reactionary cranks.

While the issues mentioned by Leigh are important ones, all of which it would be folly not to hold positions on, we need to prove to the electorate that we have learned something from our decade in Opposition, that we really have listened, and that our policies reflect the views of the majority of British people. A further lurch to the right is not the path to Government. And contrary to the musings of the Daily Mail, David Cameron has had more than his share of successes also, most notably with the local election results last year.

Edward Leigh is correct in his assertion that Conservatives currently need to take stock, to review the progress we have made in the past two years, and to see where we could do better. Publication of the findings of the policy reviews, followed by a rigorous debate on their proposals at the most anticipated Conservative party conference in years, will go a long way in demonstrating to the country that the Conservative Party is serious about forming the next Government.

This is now the time for Conservatives to hold our nerve, and continue to focus on the real issues that are important to real people. Broon and the Dim Lebs can be beaten, but as friend and maybe-neighbour Hunter and Shooter says, careless talk costs votes!

Monday 30 July 2007

Rob Wilson promoted to Shadow Higher Education Minister

Following Boris Johnson's departure from the Shadow Cabinet (and possibly the Commons altogether) to focus on his Mayoral campaign, the Conservatives moved fast to promote Rob Wilson to the post of Shadow Higher Education Minister.

This is clearly a shrewd move on the part of David Cameron, by taking advantage of Wilson's first-class knowledge and clear interest in education policy, to complement Michael "SuperBrain" Gove in the Cabinet post of Children, Schools and Families.

As someone who has had the pleasure of working alongside Rob at both party and professional level and never finding him any less than totally committed to improving the lot of those he represents, I'd like to congratulate Rob on a well-deserved appointment and look forward eagerly to his first despatch box performance.

Thursday 5 July 2007

Labour announce candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green

Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party have recently announced that their candidate at the next General Election will be Karen Jennings, spokeswoman on health issues for the trade union Unison.

The modest Ms Jennings explained the decision by saying: “They needed a political heavyweight and an experienced campaigner, and fingers pointed at me. It got me thinking I might be the right person”.
Noting Ms Jennings’ failure to guarantee that she would necessarily put the needs or views of her constituents before that of her union, it appears that HWG Labour has moved startlingly leftward, particularly given the nature of the constituency’s previous Labour incumbent, Nu-Lab wet Barbara Roache, who was voted out at the last election.

It does make you wonder however why the local Association needed to look as far afield as Streatham to parachute in a candidate who is whispered to be totally unacceptable to almost half the local party. Then again, maybe no surprise at all given the stories of party infighting amongst HWG Labour members currently making the rounds…

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Gordon Brown's PMQs

PMQs this afternoon provided an interesting insight into Gordon Brown’s character. Stumbling over his over his words and looking increasingly haggard and desperate, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a PM fighting for his political life than a leader fresh from unanimous election (speaking of which, it’s been a long time since Ming has looked more impressive than another party leader). Cameron put the PM under pressure again and again to justify the disgraceful two-year delay in banning extremist hate groups.

Brown just doesn’t have Blair’s levels of confidence, humour and charisma – all vital ingredients to survive in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Prime Ministers Questions.

Perhaps Gordon should start wearing one of those “WWTD” bracelets to keep him in the right frame of mind in such situations.

“What Would Tony Do?”

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Front bench reshuffles

So, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given the key job of Schools, Children and Families to his most trusted lieutenant Ed Balls; David Cameron has entrusted the same role to intellectual heavyweight Michael Gove; whereas Sir Menzies Campbell has appointed David Laws to the role.

This could be interesting…

Johnson confirmed as new Health Secretary

So the smoke form the guns has cleared, Gordon Brown has announced his first Cabinet as Prime Minister, and none other than Alan Johnson has been confirmed in the post of Secretary of State for Health.

It appears that there are three primary reasons as to Johnson was given this post: firstly with a good record from his time as Education Secretary, and previously at the Department of Trade and Industry, he has a reputation for being a ‘safe pair of hands’, which will clearly be essential in a brief commonly acknowledged to be one of the most difficult in Government. Secondly, he has built a reputation for charm and skilled negotiation, both of which will prove essential in motivating a health service still bristling from the Government's reform agenda: doctors over the new training system and nurses over the staging of their pay award. But perhaps most crucially of all, exactly because the Department of Health is such a difficult brief, the former Chancellor will hope that the challenge is so great that Alan Johnson will not have the time, opportunity or political credibility to create waves within Government, still less generate the momentum towards a prospective leadership challenge. Not only is he known for being a Blairite (Johnson was the one notable front-bench Cabinet Minister to offer public support to Blair following the failed coup prompted by the resignations of Tom Watson and six other Government members), he was even tipped to challenge Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party following Blair's departure.

The benefit of this appointment to Gordon Brown therefore is two-fold: if Johnson manages to successfully trim hospital waiting lists, implement existing proposals and placate the frustrations of health workers, Brown can enter into an election period with a strong record on health provision in comparison to his predecessor. Given the emphasis that David Cameron has placed upon the NHS, this would rob the Conservatives of a major election theme, and could prove crucial in securing Brown his coveted second term as Prime Minister. If on the other hand Johnson fails to reinvigorate the Department of Health, Brown can safely eliminate a major potential rival – or at least demote him in the security of a damaged reputation. For this reason alone it is unsurprising that Johnson was handed such a potential poisoned chalice (it was initially speculated that he would be offered the equally troubling Home Office brief), and it will remain to be seen how well he can work with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.