Here’s the latest in our
"http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/?tag=Another+Voice">Another Voice series of posts, which give prominence to viewpoints outside the normal Coffee House fold. This time it’s
the IPPR’s Associate Director, Will Straw, with his five-point take on the fringe events of Tory conference, and the lessons that might be learned from them:
1. The Tories know that winning a working majority in 2015 is no easy task. The most popular fringe event according to Fringelist.com was ConservativeHome’s event on
‘How the Conservatives can win the next election.’ Reflecting his remarks from the panel, YouGov’s Stephan
Shakespeare wrote yesterday that,
“today’s electoral maths makes an overall a majority a mountain to climb”.
Even if the boundary changes pass, the Tories will need to pick up seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems to govern alone. The elections in May showed them falling back in Lancashire and the
Midlands, after their gains at the 2010 general election, while they recorded their "http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/8503333/Annabel-Goldie-resigns-after-Tory-election-disaster.html">worst ever result in Scotland. In London, despite Boris’s lead over
Ken, Labour is ahead of the Tories by 61-39 in a head-to-head. And the Tories are already at near saturation
in the South, with Labour holding just 10 seats outside London.
The options open to them are an aggressive attempt to wipe out the Lib Dems in the South West, or to pick off seats from Labour in places where they haven’t been organised for years, like
Wales and the Northeast. But this is no easy task either. YouGov "http://www.ippr.org/press-releases/111/7999/new-poll-shows-labour-has-biggest-pool-of-potential-voters-but-electoral-mountain-still-to-climb">polling for the IPPR shows that 44 per cent
of voters in the Midlands and Wales, 49 per cent in the North and 57 per cent in Scotland would never vote for them.
2. The right-wing of the party think their agenda is the route back to power. The fringe was dominated by discussions on the Human Rights Act and Europe, with some of the
grassroots’ hobby horses being supported by top rank Tories. Theresa May’s “cat flap” showed how playing to the gallery can backfire badly. But she wasn’t the
first. Eleanor Laing MP told a Liberty fringe that she was “very angry” with Nick Clegg for saying the HRA was
here to stay. At IPPR’s own fringe yesterday evening, Bernard Jenkin attempted to link the growth crisis back to over-regulation from Europe. Even Boris Johnson joined the chorus saying that
a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was “not a bad
The Daily Express’ chief political commentator, Patrick O’Flynn, told a packed TaxPayers’ Alliance event that a European referendum would be a vote winner, citing a "http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/yg-archives-pol-st-results-3009-011011.pdfhttp:/uk.reuters.com/article/2011/10/04/uk-britain-conservatives-europe-idUKTRE7930KG20111004">YouGov
poll for his paper which showed that over half of all voters want a less integrated EU or complete withdrawal. Bernard Jenkin explained that euroscepticism was particularly rife in the
southwest making it a potential Conservative vote winner in many Tory-Lib Dem marginals.
3. The leadership disagree and are engaging in detoxification Mk II. At IPPR’s dinner on Monday night, Coffee House’s own Pete Hoskin suggested that the Tory leadership were
increasingly “trampling on Labour’s ground,” concentrating on issues such as poverty and disadvantage. There is a sense that their attempt to detoxify by focusing on metropolitan
matterss such as climate change and international development failed to convert voters to their cause (hence George Osborne’s climb down on Britain’s climate commitments). And, instead,
a programme focusing on jobs, welfare reform and education is the way to begin winning over Labour and Lib Dem voters.
This was evident in David Cameron’s speech. Sure, there were a couple of sops to the right, with the recommitment to recognise marriage in the tax system, a reference to clamping down on
“the criminals who use the Human Rights Act to try and stay in the country”, and several digs at European regulations. But he didn’t go anywhere near the calls for an EU
referendum and left the dismissal of this argument to his outriders. Nick Bolestold a fringe event that he would only
engage with the issue when it became one of the top five issues of concern to people. Brandon Lewis MP echoed the point at IPPR’s own fringe. Meanwhile, Ben Page from Ipsos-MORI explained
that Europe was one of the least important issues for British voters concerning well under 10 per cent of voters.
4. Growth was the main question of the week and the answer was distinctly left-wing. Although George Osborne is stuck in the Plan A straightjacket of his own making, his advisors
have been imaginative in thinking of ways to stimulate the economy. Credit easing, which has prompted much discussion this week, is — according to Investors "http://%20http://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/2011/10/04/comment/chris-dillow/credit-easing-some-drawbacks-oNH2WmD9126a2THzKIdfON/index.html">Chronicle’s Chris Dillow — a policy
taken straight from the 1960s playbook of Harold Wilson. While the details are yet to be fleshed out they are likely to follow the "http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2011/speech517.pdf">advice of Adam Posen, the most “doveish” of Monetary Policy Committee members. Critically, the new
borrowing will be off-balance-sheet so it doesn’t score against the Government’s fiscal targets.
As Anatole Kaletsky pointed out in yesterday’s Times, Osborne went on to say, “I’ve never believed the Government should just stand on the sidelines, that it has no role in
fostering enterprise and creating jobs. I will intervene when the market doesn’t work, and set it free when it does.” Osborne put his money where his mouth is by announcing that the
Government would pay up to £470 million towards the
cost of the Mersey Gateway project (although none of this is new cash). Earlier this year, Boris Johnson secured a £600m bond
issue to fund the Crossrail project. With credit easing likely to prove an innovative way to stimulate the economy without undermining Osborne’s deficit reduction plan, could a state
investment bank of the kind recommended by Robert Skidelsky and "http://www.ippr.org/publications/55/1826/going-for-growth">Gerry Holtham be on the cards?
Osborne also gave a clear message to his right flank by ruling out tax cuts paid for through borrowing. Unless they can find the revenue elsewhere there will be no cuts to the 50p rate, national
insurance or corporation tax. No doubt Osborne’s autumn statement will be peppered with other forms of red meat including the confirmation of reductions to employment protection and other
deregulatory measures with spurious growth potential but he and his advisors are coming to realise that an economy that is now smaller than it was nine months ago needs stimulus. The disappointment
for everyone should be that everything they’ve proposed is medium term at best.
5. BoJo was the star of the show. Putting aside the spat between Ken Clarke and Theresa May over the Human Rights Act, or "http://www.politicshome.com/uk/story/20959/pm_we_can_turn_this_ship_around.html">Cameron’s u-turn on consumers paying down their credit card debts, the Tory conference has hardly been
newsworthy. This is actually how the leadership would like it with their main message that they are showing “leadership” in difficult times. Although ticking lots of boxes,
Cameron’s speech was pretty low key while Osborne’s was grave on the state of the economy.
Into this vacuum has stepped the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson. He has been titillating audiences with his turn of phrase (“not a snowballs chance in Hades of running for Parliament”)
while continuing to distance himself from the Tory leadership – this week on an EU referendum and police cuts. All this has angered the Daily Mail so much that their leader today says
“It’s hard to imagine a less funny joke” than him becoming Prime Minister. But with Johnson installed as the "http://sports.ladbrokes.com/en-gb/Politics/Next-Conservative-Party-LeaderPolitics/Next-Conservative-Party-Leader-t110000587">4/1 favourite to be the next Tory leader, the speculation will
continue for some time.