Friday, October 27, 2006

Another cheap headline as 'Denham calls for tougher sentences for unemployed'.

Buy the book!!!

Anything for a cheap headline.
Here is one from The Guardian;
'Denham calls for tougher sentences for unemployed.'
Read the story at
or alternatively;
Leaving aside the fact that his proposals are contrary to the principle of equality before the law and that they are unworkable anyway, no one is likely to take his proposal seriously. Why?
Because it was as recently as March that the Home Affairs Committee that Denham chairs considered the issue of sentencing with regard to robbery. Mr Denham chose then not to mention that he felt that the unemployed should suffer longer sentences than their employed counterparts.
Denham has consistently called for more people to be kept out of prison by a greater use of community punishments but perhaps he ought to address the real issues; the scandal of prisoners being locked up for 20 hour days plus, the endemic use of illegal drugs within prisons, the woefully inadequate education and rehabilitation opportunities for prisoners and the endemic over-crowding. As Michael Howard said, 'Prison works' ...but only if we let it.

Southampton - Bleak City?...and today's White Paper on local government


Picture copyright The Daily Echo.

"Dramatic cuts in jobs and services and tax rises are on the cards as city chiefs try to plug a £5.8 million hole in Southampton’s £265 million annual budget", so say The Southern Daily Echo, Southampton's (fairly dire) local newspaper. Read the article at

and the details of the savings at

Actually there are are no cuts proposed as such as yet. The government has yet to reveal what its settlement will be for next year. but the Council Officer's attempts to identify savings make interesting reading. Personally I think there are far bigger savings to be made among some of their own pet projects.
Today the government also published the long-awaited White Paper on Local Government (it was expected in June but when Ruth Kelly got Prescott's job she was apparently unimpressed with his brand of 'regionalism' and ordered much of it to be re-worked). Plough through the spin at
if you have the inclination.
Because there is a government review of local government finance at the moment, the paper is actually something of a damp squib- the new package offers nothing to help those people struggling to pay sky high council tax bills and it provides no comfort for people worrying about how to pay care home fees. It certainly does nothing to give local people a real say in housing developments, over-development and other planning concerns.
I am not sure the paper does much for democracy either.
Labour's apparent conversion to localism is at best dubious unless and until Labour ministers ditch their plans for regional assemblies. Under the White Paper plans, councils in England will get new powers to introduce bylaws with fixed penalty fines without requiring the approval of Whitehall and Parliament (why?) ; there will be more directly-elected mayors (despite being far from popular in many cities where they have been adopted); while police chiefs and local health and education bosses will find themselves facing greater scrutiny from the public (but still not be directly elected) . My guess is that should he become PM, Gordon Brown will move Ruth Kelly and have another go at local government reform. For example, it is well known that Blair favours elected mayors, Brown does not.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

PMQs are still a laugh!

Who says no-one enjoys PMQs these days?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mark MacGregor- a 'destructive force' or one of the 'most talented' within the Conservative Party ?

Mark MacGregor pictured with Michael Howard and friends on the campaign trail in Thanet South in 2005.
Picture courtsey of

Described as both a 'destructive force' in Conservative Party Politics and 'one of the most talented people ever employed by the Conservative Party', Mark MacGregor is a man that generates strong emotions. As far as possible, I have kept my rather subjective views out of the article that I am writing below (it is a draft only at the moment and would be grateful for any comments, anecdotes or corrections) but doubtless readers will have their own opinions...I shall amend the post below as and when I have finished writing about Mr MacGregor's career.

Mark MacGregor is a former Conservative Party Chief Executive under Iain Duncan Smith, and was the Conservative Candidate for Thanet South in the 2005 UK general election. He failed by only 664 votes to defeat the sitting Labour Party member, Stephen Ladyman, and would probably have won had the UK Independence Party not gained more than 2000 votes with their relatively high-profile candidate Nigel Farage.
MacGregor also contested the seat in 2001. On that occassion Stephen Ladyman polled 18002 votes for Labour (45.7%) while Mark Macgregor got 16,210 for the Conservatives (41.1%).
Prior to that he contested the ultra-safe seat of West Ham for the Tories in 1997. Labour's Tony Banks got 24,531 votes (72.9%), McGregor 5,037 (15.0).
He was Francis Maude's campaign manager in the 1992 General Election. Maude was to lose his marginal North Warwickshire seat, despite winning more votes than at the election before.
MacGregor was elected Chairman of the National Association of Conservative Graduates, 1989-90.
In October 2002, while Chief Executive of the Tory Party, Mark MacGregor, accepted undisclosed libel damages and a public apology at the High Court over allegations in Punch magazine, including a claim that he once wore a T-shirt bearing the words "Hang Nelson Mandela". Mr Justice Eady was told that Mr MacGregor had never been chairman or a member of the Young Monday Club and had never supported forced or voluntary repatriation of immigrants, as falsely claimed by the magazine.
MacGregor was replaced by the former MP, Barry Legg, as Chief Exec of Central Office. Central Office was quoted as saying that Mr MacGregor's departure was "long-planned and by mutual consent". He wanted to become a parliamentary candidate and could not do so while Chief Executive, but he had reportedly clashed with Mr Duncan Smith both over policy and organisational issues as well as the vexed issue of Mr Duncan-Smith's wife working for her husband. This led to an investigation into the conduct of IDS by the House of Commons Committee of Standards and Privilages
Central Office claims were undermined the following day when Michael Portillo MP (a contender should IDS have fallen on his sword), raised fresh doubts about Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the Conservatives saying he was deeply disappointed by the replacement of Mark MacGregor. Portillo told The Daily Telegraph: "Mark MacGregor and Rick Nye (then Conservative Policy Director) are two of the most talented people that the party has ever employed and their achievements will be badly missed."
MacGregor was educated at Emanuel School in London and Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. He was previously the National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, where he was associated with the libertarian faction. There was some damage during the 1985 FCS conference at Loughborough, leading to press reports of a "riot". At that conference many of the libertarian faction were elected officers. It had later been admitted that the reports were as a result of an "astute spinning operation" by 'Wet' delegates and that the bill presented for damage was actually less than £20. however, after hearing of the media reports of these incidents, then Party chairman John Gummer immediately suspended the FCS's £30,000 annual grant. Mark MacGregor said in response to Gummer's actions:
"Unfortunately, many of our supporters will see this as a move against the leaders they have elected. Our supporters are from working-class backgrounds, and the party establishment seems to feel that we don't quite fit in."
Professor Peter Havard-Williams of Loughborough University wrote a letter to The Times to disclaim many of the press reports and Gummer's actions:
"Sir, As warden of the neighbouring hall of residence I heard little of the Conservative Students, unlike many other non-student conferences. There was no rampaging around halls of residence and the damage done was largely, if not solely, in one block. The damage itself was not more than that done by many other conferences and was not excessive."
It seems that some wet Conservatives actually did a great job of getting the story into the media; one then Conservative who was associated with getting the story into the public domain was Nick Robinson who went onto become the BBC's political correspondant.The FCS was finally disbanded by Tory Chairman Norman Tebbit (who suceeded Gummer in 1986). The final straw was a copy of the FCS magazine which branded former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan a war criminal (!) for agreeing to the deportation of Cossacks back to Stalin's Soviet Union. Tebbit was forced to get a court order to halt the magazine's distribution.
Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit subsequently accused MacGregor of being a "destructive force". The former cabinet minister said Mark MacGregor, 44, was not a good influence on the Conservative party and that he wouldn't go out and campaign for him in the 2005 general election. The peer recalled how he had "the most terrible troubles" with the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), which was causing "grave damage" to the Conservative cause within universities. "I had to act then and suspend the whole of the FCS and start again and that was primarily in my judgement because of the leadership which Mr MacGregor was giving to the FCS at that time.I didn't throw him out of the Conservative Party, but I made sure that he would have no more part in its policies in universities," he told the BBC radio 'Today' programme. Lord Tebbit also called in 2002 for Mr McGregor to be sacked as the party's chief executive under Iain Duncan Smith.In a dispute which pitted Tory traditionalists against modernisers, Lord Tebbit criticised Mr MacGregor as one of the "spotty youths" who were trying to make the Tories more socially inclusive. Lord Tebbit said: "I think that he's a destructive force, in my view, within the Conservative Party. I don't think he was a good chief executive... I think that he was not a good influence in Central Office - that's my judgement."
Although not currently a board member, Mark MacGregor has been an active member of the Thatcherite 'Conservative Way Forward' group.Robbie Gibb, another CWF stalwart, one-time Chief of Staff for Francis Maude and brother of fellow CWF man Nick Gibb MP was best man at McGregor's wedding. The two are near neighbours in Pimlico and have been friends since MacGregor was chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students and Gibb a leader of the Conservative Students in the mid-Eighties.
MacGregor was behind the decision to install extra phone lines in a house in Lord North Street in 1995, as a possible campaign HQ for Portillo when it appeared John Major was on the point of being ousted by the Right.
He also ran the Conservative Mayoral campaign to elect Steve Norris as Mayor of London in 2004 - Norris eventually came a close second to Ken Livingstone.
In 2006, he supported David Handley in his bid for the leadership of the National Farmers Union.
In January 2006 the Conservatives launched a secret inquiry into the so-called 'Betsygate' affair and Mr MacGregor's role in it. The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the party had been re-investigating the saga surrounding payments made by the former leader, Iain Duncan Smith, to his wife, Betsy, for secretarial work in 2003. The private report wasn't published but MacGregor was cleared of any wrongdoing. This view is not shared by Mr Duncan Smith, who blames him his downfall and threatened to resign the party whip if MacGregor or Vanessa Gearson were ever again able to stand as Tory candidates. With the enquiry apparently showing no evidence against them, members of the Right-wing Cornerstone group, fiercely loyal to Mr Duncan Smith, are now gearing up to seek to prevent them being re-adopted as parliamentary candidates. Brendan Carlin of The Daily Telegraph published an article saying they suspect Francis Maude, (currently party chairman), of wanting to rehabilitate the two figures as part of Mr Cameron's wider drive for young, talented would-be MPs.
By the begining of 2006, MacGregor was quite a controversial figure within the Conservative Party. Conservative Central Office received a series of complaints about him. Lord Tebbit – who intervened in the last election campaign against MacGregor - complained about MM’s factionalism whilst he was part of the Federation of Conservative Students. The Opposition Chief Whip, according to an impeccable source inside CCHQ, noted that a significant number of MPs would be unhappy if he was selected. Iain Duncan Smith complained of the ways in which MacGregor was involved in the unfounded allegations against his wife. Perhaps wisely, given the inevitable subjectivity of some of the allegations, Central Office did not intervene (at least directly). Although he was not on the 'a-list' of candidates, he was allowed to be considered to fight the seat by dint of being a local candidate.
However,on the 17th October 2006, it was announced by the local party that Laura Sandys had been selected to fight Thanet South (apparently by a majority of two-to-one) in preference to MacGregor who had wished to contest the seat again.

Mr Oaten is telling porkies again...

One should take disgraced MP Mark Oaten’s claims that he ‘Never wanted to become leader’ with a large pinch of salt. (Echo report 18 October)
As Mr. Kennedy's leadership crisis deepened late last year, it was Oaten who sent an e-mail to Lib-Dem activists outlining his achievements as Home Affairs spokesman, which was seen as "pressing the green button" on his own bid for the top.
The former Southampton Echo reporter Greg Hurst reveals in his recent book Charles Kennedy; A Tragic Flaw that Oaten was professing public loyalty to Charles Kennedy while privately undermining his position.
Subsequently it came to light that Oaten in fact had a leadership campaign team ready, was preparing a regional tour, had asked staff to obtain directories of local Lib-Dem officers and candidates, and had approached potential donors.
Perhaps Mr. Oaten thinks we have short memories? It is always difficult to prove a negative but Oaten's actions at the time certainly didn't seem to show he didn't want to be leader.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lord Hurd visits Southampton.

Above, Lord Hurd prepares to give his speech at the Blue Keys Hotel in Freemantle and below pictured siting on stage as he takes questions at the Nuffield theatre.

I have just spent an exhilarating day some of it preparing for and some of it in the company of the Rt. Hon. Lord Hurd of Westwell, better known as Douglas Hurd.
Lord Hurd had agreed to speak at a commercial presentation ‘An audience with Douglas Hurd’ at the Nuffield Theatre in the evening and after a few beers with my friend Jeremy Moulton, we agreed to write to him on the off chance that he might be able to speak at a political event in the afternoon. Being a true gent as well as a party man to the core (his father and grandfather had both been MPs and so incidentally is his son Nick Hurd); he very kindly agreed to do so. He arriving on train from London where he had been on business and (after tea and chocolate cake!) he spoke for thirty minutes and took another thirty minutes of questions from Conservative Party activists. He then went to the Nuffield theatre where he spoke for another forty five minutes and took forty five minutes of questions, stopping only to do a fifteen minute book signing session during the interval. -Remarkable stamina for a man of 76.
He has certainly had an amazing career- political secretary to Edward Heath, both in opposition and in government, Northern Ireland Secretary, Home Secretary, followed by Foreign Secretary. He spoke a great deal of the three premiers he had worked for and I got the impression that although he said he found their behaviour at times ‘maddening’, that he had a huge regard and affection for them all.
Lord Hurd told of his satisfaction when the pundits and polls were confounded, largely by Heaths efforts, who went on to win the 1970 general election. Confirming Heaths famous dislike of small talk, Hurd recalled how as a very junior researcher he sat in on some social function at the back of the room. In front of him Heath was sandwiched between two senior Tory ladies but was not speaking to them at all. Hurd passed a note urging Heath to speak to them- Heath returned one saying that he already had!
He talked also of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘feminine switch’ and how not only how she could be charming and very effeminate when the occasion demanded it but also how other astute operators could use it to their advantage such as a Spanish diplomat who charmed her with his complements. Interestingly he said that he did not think it a mistake that she went to France during the first round of the 1990 leadership contest rather than the tea room tour and he noted that she ‘did her duty to her country first’ which goes against the conventional wisdom. She was also capable of remarkable acts of personal kindness such as when she met some of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.
He described Major as the best and most skillful Chairman he had ever encountered in meetings and a remarkably skilful reader of body-language. It was his obsession with the media was to be a flaw that consumed much time and energy. Hurd quietly spoke to the Civil Servant who used to place the ‘racing edition’ (lunchtime) of The Evening Standard on the desk outside the cabinet room. Once it had been removed, the business of government at least went on, if not smoothly.
Hurd was predictably damning of Blair’s foreign policy, especially in Iraq, his sofa style of government and the real problems of military over-stretch. He came across as an atlantacist but very realistic about the limits of the ‘special relationship’ and perhaps unsurprisingly was also pro-European arguing that in areas such as energy policy we should work more closely with our European partners. He respected Straw (who gave him a lift this-morning in his ministerial car) and Reid (who he said had started to be quite a good Defence Secretary before he was moved in a pointless reshuffle) but unsurprisingly was less impressed with Beckett (I won’t comment on her other than to say where is she?) and thought that Blair had made a mistake having his last reshuffle and indeed abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor in one previously.
Lord Hurd came across as an admirer of David Cameron who (as his successor but one after the disastrous Shaun Woodward), sits as the MP in his old seat, particularly when it came to engaging more people, especially young people in politics. He also appeared to agree with Cameron’s stratergy of developing policy slowly and using the policy review committees although he did not say so directly.
All in all Douglas Hurd came across as fascinating, charming, lucid and highly intelligent man. Anyone who went to either of the events today cannot have failed to have been impressed by his performance and although Lord Hurd is far too modest a man to recognise it, that is a formidable achievement.

Incidentally, Lord Hurd returns to Southampton to deliver the annual 'Wellington Lecture' at the Turner Sims Concert Hall on the 29th November. The lecture is admissable by ticket only but they may be obtained by applying via

Saturday, October 14, 2006

May not be 100% effective!

I thought the above picture from Beau Bo D'Or's website was quite amusing. his pages at are well worth a visit!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I believe art has to take responsibility but it should not give up being art!

image credit: Victor Pasmore (1908-1998), Rectangular Motif:Red and Mustard, 1950, oil on canvas, c/r. The Artist's Estate, courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, 2005. On display in Soton at public expense. Do you like it?

The German expressionist painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer said, "I believe art has to take responsibility but it should not give up being art."

I doubt he ever met the Lib-Dems who run Southampton City Council!!!!

The Southampton City Art Gallery has a Permanent Collection of over 3,500 works of international reputation. The Collection, which spans six centuries from the Renaissance to the present day, has been 'Designated' by the Government as having special national significance. How astounding then that the collection is not insured. If it wasn't fot the work of Councillor Jeremy Moulton this information would not even be in the public domain. Read about it at

So we have over 3500 works, with a value of over £130million (yes thats more that the total education budget for one year), a tiny fraction of which are on display and they are uninsured. The reason apparently is that the Council says it can't afford to do so. The trouble is this isn't true; it is just a matter of priorities. For example, the Lib-Dem in charge, Steve Sollitt has just agreed to spend an extra £250,000.0 on additional design costs for a new art centre in Guild Hall Square (on the old Tyrell and Green site). Just to be clear, the £250k isn't what the Council is paying for the project. This is simply the latest over-spend!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Winter reading!

Traditionally, the conference season is the usual time that the majority of political books are published, especially political biographies and autobiographies. The reasons for this are not particularly difficult to fathom; they can add to the excitement (or conflict!) of conference, delegates and reporters tend to buy them in no small number while they are there and so the book launches tend to be reported in the media as well as making a few quid and the books are then in the shops in good time for Christmas.
This year was a bit thin on new books but there are still a few gems out there...
I'll write a few reviews when I have time... I have to admit that I have not read the Profumo and Johnson books yet- I am ploughing through Lord Renton's book on the role of the Chief Whip!

Dirty politics, Dirty times - My fight with Wapping and New Labour
by Michael Ashcroft
ISBN: 1904734154, 400 pages, paperback, published by Politicos Updated edition 2006.

I Want to Make a Difference - But I Don't Like Politics
by John Redwood
ISBN: 1842751824, 224 pages, hardback, published by Politicos 2006.

Thatcher and Sons - A Revolution in Three Acts
by Sir Simon Jenkins
ISBN: 0713995955, 384 pages, hardback, published by Allen Lane 2006.

The Unfulfilled Prime Minister - Tony Blair's Quest for a Legacy
by Peter Riddell

ISBN: 1842751689, 256 pages, paperback, published by Politicos 2nd edition 2006.

BorisThe Rise of Boris Johnson
by Andrew Gimson

ISBN: 0743275845, 304 pages, hardback, published by Simon & Schuster 2006.

Bringing the House Down - A Family Memoir
by David Profumo

ISBN: 0719566088, 352 pages, hardback, published by John Murray 2006.

A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900
by Andrew Roberts

Charles Kennedy - A Tragic Flaw
by Greg Hurst
ISBN: 184275176X, 352 pages, hardback, published by Politicos 2006.

Blogging from Bournemouth9- Conference roundup!

I think that most people that read my posts have guessed that I found the Tory Party conference great fun this year but that is really missing the point- did it succeed in its objectives as far as the party leadership were concerned? - what did Conservative delegates make of it, did armchair activists enjoy it and how was the Party perceived by the media and most importantly I guess, by floating voters?
Well leaving aside the disgraceful fiasco over conference passes being issued late,
the conference seemed to be generally well run this year. I have never been one to sit in the conference hall but have preferred the fringe and yes the bar but there were some interesting speakers from the main hall this year as well as the usual shadow cabinet portfolio holders.- John McCain, Monbiot, Clarissa Dickson-Wright, Mark Malloch Brown,Roger North and Eric Schmidt are good examples.
The debate with Parris and Johnson was quite amusing too!
I thought Osborne's set piece speech was well delivered and The Sun liked it too,,31-2006450763,,00.html after the fringe fiasco.
Cameron's main speech was certainly newsworthy and while he was attacked for being vague and policy-lite, it seemed to work in the hall and the country- even if The Sun didn't like it!,,31-2006460260,,00.html
There has been much written about Cameron's commitment to marriage and civic partnerships in his speech but really it is not surprising- some of the conference delegates may be a little aged but in probability the majority are far more tolerant than the media coverage might suggest and as to the NHS- well most of the delegates use it so the reality is that both in the hall and in the country, he was pushing at an open door.
I suspect the main aim of the conference was to improve the popularity of the Party in the Country. If that was the case, the leadership certainly succeeded. The Sunday's Telegraph poll must have given the top brass real heart with the Tories have regaining a clear six per cent lead over Labour after the party's conference in Bournemouth last week.
The web-Cameron video blog worked well too - the intro I thought was brilliant, it actually had me laughing as he spoke intermittently to his child and the camera and I thought it worked if the aim was to show he is an amiable articulate guy.
However it is not all sweetness and light (or even Sunshine!) Over the next 12 months his team will have to start fleshing out policy while keeping the party united and inevitably that will mean upsetting a few people...
A good summary of the conference and the implications of it can be read at

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Blowing my own Trumpet department!

'Clown with Trumpet' by Warren Dennis.
copyright Carlton Gallery at Creekside.
A neighbour of my parents who was a professional artist used to paint in a very similar style.
Always nice to be recognised!
PragueTory drew my attention that Assistant Editor of The Times jouno Mary Ann Sieghart gives me a mention at
while Iain Dale's blog has a posting on me at
I like and admire both Sieghart and Dale's work (although I often smile when I think of Private Eye's lampooning of MAS as Mary Ann Bighead - boastful of her two children Brainella (3) and Intelligencia (7), her high standard of living, her travels to developing countries where she patronises the locals and the fact that she can speak so many languages (including Swahili, Tagalog and 13th Century Mongolian!).
It is good to see my blog has a readership outside Southampton.

Blogging from Bournemouth8- Time (again) at the bar!

1929 and all that...

As I watched David Cameron’s opening speech last Sunday on the TV in an faded hotel bar in Bournemouth (readers will recall how I was locked out of conference,
I reflected that there are few original ideas, let alone original speeches, in politics.
When Mr Cameron said,
"I am optimistic about human nature. That's why I will trust people to do the right thing. Labour are pessimists. They think that without their guidance, people will do the wrong thing. That's why they want to regulate and control. So let us show clearly which side we are on. Let optimism beat pessimism.
Let sunshine win the day.",
I thought it sounded a little familiar. I admit that it took me a few minutes flicking through Stuart Ball and Anthony Seldon’s book “The Conservative Century”.
Then it all became clear…
History repeats itself indeed.
I wonder what Tory Historian ( makes of it all?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blogging from Bournemouth7- the Doctor calls!

Drinks with the Doctor?

I was having a few drinks with Prague Tory and we happened across Peter Ainsworth MP. With his expansive hand gestures, theatrical presence, Timelord haircut and dapper suits, we agreed that should he enter into the world of acting, he would be ideal as the next Doctor Who!
This post should probably be a cue for UKIP and all the rest to tell me that yes the Conservatives are on a different planet, not human etc., etc...!

Blogging from Bournmouth6- after diner, smell the coffee!

Lord Ashcroft makes a point at the Conservative Way Forward lecturn.
One thing that has changed since I have been going to conference is there has been a huge decline in the number of set piece formal dinners. At one time every faction in the Tory Party used to hold one during conference week. Allsorts from The Monday Club and the Selsdon Group on the right through to the centre-right Bow Group and TRG used to hold a formal evening meal. Now it is just Conservative Way Forward (CWF) who keep the tradition going.
This years guest speaker was Lord Michael Ashcroft. The dinner was a sell out with guests including Angela Watkinson MP, Andrew Rosindell MP, Greg Hands MP , most of the new Conservative Future team, and blogger Iain Dale. A sprinkling of A-List candidates such as Steve Brine and Conor Burns (who gave the vote of thanks with his customery wit and style) were also in attendence. With the predictable rubber chicken, it felt just like old times.
A hate figure for the left, Ashcroft believes he was smeared at attacked by New Labour and jounalists from The Times with the aim of unseating him as treasurer of the Conservative Party. In his 322 page book 'Dirty Politics, Dirty Times', (avalible to purchase in both h/b and paperback at
he sets out his stall and I think writes persuasively on how he had to endure a succession of what were really unjustified attacks and how he went on to clear his name. The amazing thing is that if they had concentrated on his off-shore tax status and his huge donations to the party with the (debatable) influence that it bought him, rather than resorting to lies and even criminal activity, they may have had more success in damaging him. Ashcroft certainly emerges as a resilient and driven man who responded to the smears with what Amanda Platell described as 'gutsy determination'. Lesser individuals would have packed it all in- after all his tenure was unrenumerated, (in fact it cost him a great deal of money) and no doubt at times, extremely stressfull.
Lord Ashcroft spoke almost exclusively of the work he had undertaken that was published as 'Smell the Coffee; A wake-up call for the Conservative Party'. this was a study of public opinion and a review of the Conservative Party's campaign for the 2005 general election and similar work that he had undertaken since.
(Buy it at
For those that don't want to buy it, a summary can be read at Lord Ashcroft's website
The speech itself was facinating. As he delivered it I wondered why on earth we had not ever tried to discover how the Conservatives were percieved by the general public in a scientific way before. After all, Philip Gould has been doing the same thing for Tony Blair for years. Uniquely for a political dinner, Ashcroft offered his analysis of what the British people thought of the Conservative Party, what political parties needed to poll to win a general election and how political parties needed to be percieved in order to win.
Unusually and refreshingly, he declined to speak on policy matters at all, concentrating almost exclusively on his research. I asked Lord Ashcroft what would be likely if the political parties were to fight the next general election on the same figures as their polls and his research was showing now. his answer was clear and illuninating; a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest single party.
Having a reputation as something of an outsider, both in politics and business, I wondered prior to the dinner if lord Ashcroft would come across as a little cold and remote. In fact he was charming and engaging. He took questions, posed for photographs and signed books for people that had bought them along both before and after the event and appeared to enjoy it as much as much of his audience.
Being very much part of the Thatcherite right, I wonder how many members of CWF in that room agreed with his summary that
'More than anything else we must make sure we understand Britain asd it is
today, and how Britain sees us. Until we do we will just continue talking to
It will be interesting to see how C.W.F. positions itself over the next year and wheather Lord Ashcroft's presentation influences those members that were present.
All in all, a most enjoyable and thought provoking speech, a great credit to the organisers.

Blogging from Bournemouth5- freebies at the FSB!

Alan Duncan at the FSB reception

The Federation of Small Business reception is well known to conference hacks as one of the better receptions in terms of freebies and this year was no exception. The wine is always better and the canapes don't look like they were prepared three or four days before.
Alan Duncan shadow Secretary for Trade, Industry and Energy spoke well if briefly. He pushed all the right buttons among his audience although for small businesses one could argue it wasn't difficult to guess what they wanted to hear; less regulation, better training and education, stable and low interest rates and so on. Given his portfolio responsibilities, I was surprised he did not mention utility bills as rising energy costs has been a real concern this year.
Theresa Villers, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury spoke for longer and was a little more high brow. She came across as very thoughtful and serious and even spoke about tax causing Duncan to rock back and forth on his heels alarmingly! I have no doubt that should Cameron form the next government, she will be in the cabinet.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blogging from Bournemouth4- Lessons from history for Dave!

The historian Andrew Roberts addresses the fringe and David Trimble who was in the audience at the same event.
I went to one of the most enjoyable fringe events I have ever been to last night. The historian Andrew Roberts, who I like and admire gave a lecture entitled ‘Advice to Dave from great Tory Leaders of the Past’. Andrew was on good form and made some serious points on how Cameron might develop policy and manage his party in the run up to the next general election. I asked a question on Ireland; prefacing it by saying I had seen David Trimble in the room at the beginning of the evening. Andrew replied that Mr Trimble was still there and he had not walked out. I got a good laugh when I said that I thought walking out was a well established convention in British politics!
Andrew has a new book out ‘The History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900’, an update of Churchill’s seminal work. It can be purchased at his web site
or alternatively, signed copies can be purchased from the Westminster Books stand at the conference.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogging from Bournemouth3- 'Compassionate Conservatism' and a chance meeting!

Tim Montgomerie, editor of and a noted 'Compassionate Conservative' addresses a point at the fringe meeting above and Dr Alan Drew pictured
below, editor of pictured at the same event.

If an 'Audience with George Osborne' was easygoing political knockabout, the next Policy Exchange event was a little more intellectually challenging but was none the worse for that.
The event was chaired by Jesse Norman who has recently co-authored a booklet entitled ‘Compassionate Conservatism- what it is and why we need it’ with the improbably named Janan Ganesh. Modestly, I thought, Jesse didn’t reveal to the audience that he has just been added to the latest trench of a-list candidates. The speakers were Tim Montgomerie (probably best known as editor of but a serious policy researcher in his own right) and Oliver Letwin MP.

I have long thought that Letwin would make a brilliant progressive Home Secretary and I asked a question noting how little we were talking about crime and the scourge of drugs as a party at the moment. Pointing out that crime was a regressive force that hit the poorest in society disproportionately, both speakers took up the subject keenly and this was followed up by a number of delegates, especially the leader of a council in the East of England that had implemented some of Letwin’s earlier proposals.
At this point a delegate behind me gave me his card- it was Dr Alan Drew, editor of the website who also runs the excellent
I had been reading his work last week having followed the link from Prague Tory and was delighted when Alan introduced me to the guy who it turned out was none other than PragueTory himself!
They were both really bright, engaging guys (you don’t need me to say that, visit their sites!) and I promised to write an article on crime for Alan’s site.
All in all, a very enjoyable evening!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blogging from Bournemouth2- on the fringe!

George Osborne pictured (by me!) at the fringe this-evening

Locked out of the main event- what to do?- have a drink and go to some of the events on the fringe of course!
First up was 'An audience with George Osborne MP', the Shadow Chancellor.
Osborne came across as a charming, quite amusing and engaging character with a rather more mixed upbringing than he has been portrayed and yes, a very decent guy too. But my goodness he seems young (2 years older than me!), maybe even at times even lacking gravitas and very cautious. He made the point towards the end of the meeting that there were many many competing pressures on the public purse and that he would not be drawn on them any more than on the issue of tax-cuting. All worthy stuff but how long will he be able to sustain that line? One line he did manage to sustain was on the issue of drugs- he certainly wasn’t going to be drawn on if he had ever used dope.
Osborne couldn't really hide his dislike of Brown, jokingly calling him 'semi-autistic' at one point, saying that he 'needs to be loved by Labour 'and saying that Brown had put the 'phone down on him. Sky News picked up on it as what they said was part of a coherted effort to attack Brown, adding some of the remarks were in questionable taste and punch and judy politics but I must say I couldn't see that- they were joking asides rather than strong personal attacks and the journalist Mary-Ann Sieghart who was interviewing gave as good as she got.
Economic stability was a theme that he returned to repeatedly- he is determined to be a fiscally responsible Chancellor and as the seventh shadow-Chancellor to face Brown, he will have a vital role to play if the Tories are to win the next general election. I did wonder if the youthful Mr Osbourne is yet ready for the challenge.

Blogging from Bournemouth1 - Conference chaos!

Francis Maude pictured in the conference center delivering his speech
(earlier in the day before I spoke to him about conference passes!).

These days I am beginning to feel at bit of a veteran when I attend the Conservative Party conference- I went to the first 15 years ago. Over that time I have seen attendances fluctuate considerably and the trade exhibitors contract to almost nothing (1997/98/99) and upwards again (last year, this year apparently!). The reason I write this is that I still (at the END of day one), have not received my conference pass. This despite having paid £200 and having now submitted two applications as CCO Conferences Ltd claim to have lost the first one! For the official line read
The Conference office are blaming the Police, the police say they have processed the applications. Iain writes at
and Guido at
I happened to be leaving Bournemouth at 10.30 this evening with Gavin Dick when I bumped into Francis Maude in the car park of the Pavilions. He appeared genuinely sympathetic and told me that he had been told that the police would clear their backlog this-evening and that the Party would have all but the ‘problematic’ passes processed by the morning.
We shall see…
My guess is that conference numbers are partly up due to new members but also because of a huge increase in the numbers of corporate exhibitors and visitors. The bad news is that most of them will be going down Monday morning- I predict chaos. I reckon they have got over 1000 still to do. I hope I’m wrong as some of my friends spent four hours queuing today- not something I think I could do- oh yes and they still haven’t got a pass!!!