Sunday, November 26, 2006


P0litical philosophy must have skipped a few beats since I studied it at university.

The latest initiative from the Conservatives is the latest in a line of increasingly bizarre headline grabbing stunts. Personal debt is a serious issue - why is bluffing a piece of pop culture going to be a sensible solution to it?

This is hardly Thatcherism, and as the embracing of Polly Toynbee showed it's not even Blairism. Whilst I appreciate an image makeover is overdue for the Tories, surely the goal should be to paint the Tories as a government in waiting, rather than accusing the great British public of being wankers-in-disguise?

Talking of personal debt - the latest proposals for governing party finances have hit some turbulence. Labour's ridiculous ideas for giving yet more taxpayers money to themselves have rightly been ridiculed. But imagine my horror when this piece of rubbish turned up on ConHome.

Michael Ashcroft proposed that perhaps private individuals might be allowed to spend their money how they see fit, (a preferred option to Cameron's artificial £50k limits in return for more govt. spending). Tim Montgomery was soon on the ball, declaring that
'both the Ashcroft and Cameron prescriptions risk separating political parties
from the concerns of individual voters. If parties can get their money
from big business or big government they won't be forced to return to retail
politics and grassroots funding.'

Retail politics? The concerns of individual voters? How exactly will that pay for multi-million pound election campaigns?

The current rules for engaging voters do not allow for a true engagement with individual voters - hence the explosion in the blogosphere which helps fill the gap left by the regulation of party communication (no TV ads etc.). Whilst Cameron's latest stunts may have disorientated commentators, surely a grassroots organisation should appreciate that restricting individual freedom is a fundamentally un-Conservative idea.

Let people, organisations and businesses donate as much as they want of their own money. If the voters don't like it, or suspect that foul play is involved they can vote with their feet.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanks Ranil!!!!

Trying to get away from all things CF flavoured has been an uphill struggle, people still write to me asking to get things done, or for advice - and there has been a surprising amount of argy bargy on the forums. However, with the new job starting on Monday I'm trying extra hard to break free of the day-to-day stuff,

Two things have dragged me back.

1) This post by Caroline Hunt - a more balanced account on the good the bad and the ugly with CF so far this year.

2) A gift from an old friend

CF's latest project is the Blue Sky Foundation. A terrific effort by Ranil Jayawardena to get young people involved in policy. This is spot on stuff and a good move towards providing a legacy for CF. Whilst it pre-dates his election, the work (basically a subtle version of YBF with a policy research element added on) is ideal for someone looking to entrench some professionalism into the organisation. Well done Ranil!

Why's it a gift? Well as soon as I saw the website I thought of this, a post that I wrote whilst serving on the blog last year which I emailed to Ranil to say thanks. Blue Skies thinking was an idea used by Matthew Parris to illustrate the idea of thinking beyond the here and now. For the Conservatives this was ending the introspection and 'black sky thinking' that clouded their judgement (a precursor to the rise of Cameron), for CF this was trying to break the unhelpful cycle of mediocrity caused by short term thinking- now Ranil is putting his own spin on the idea, a fantastic effort. Best of luck!

Monday, November 13, 2006

1989 all over again

The Bank of England’s decision to raise the rate of interest to 5% came as no surprise to the City after the well trailed itchiness of the monetary-policy committee last October.

Inflation, at 2.4% is still running a little too hot for the Bank’s taste and in a bid to bring it below the magic 2% mark, raising the price of money was probably a well calculated risk. After all, consumers show little sign of curbing their enthusiasm after the recent wobble in consumer spending gave way to a resurgence which will be good news to retailers ahead of the Christmas rush.

Underpinning this confidence to flash the cash is the extraordinary rise and rise of the property market. The capital especially is seeing the worst excesses as record city bonuses set well-funded buyers against one another in a bid to secure the house of their dreams.

Well-to-do areas are especially valued as bankers square off against wealthy foreigners (exempted from paying tax on income earned outside the UK). Kensington and Chelsea, for example, proves that its effect over inflation extends beyond the A-list, averaging out at a hefty 11% a year and the ‘extraordinary’ market (properties over £8.5m) reaching highs unseen in over two decades. (These same buyers are increasingly purchasing buy-to-let properties as an investment, paradoxically flattening the rental market and making life easier for those too poor to buy in the first place.)

The trend is accelerating with the capital’s overall rate now standing at 9%. A potential boon for the Tory prospects of holding key marginals, as even a modest pad in Hammersmith and Fulham, or Battersea, regularly tops £650,000 attracting aspirational young professionals, a group beginning to rail against Labour’s high-taxing/free-spending tendencies.

However, the sting is in the tail. The house price pornography that delights the property owning middle-classes and feeds their economy-supporting spending habits, has made the UK dangerously reliant on consumers continuing to feel sufficiently flush to keep on spending. (The ‘wobble’ mentioned at the start of this piece halved consumer spending to 1.4% from 3.5% two years ago and that in a property market that was flattening gradually.)

As government spending slows and the US economy begins to weaken, the reliance on a continued property boom may become intolerable. Already the property market is seeing the excesses that made it notorious in the late-eighties (gazumping and other dirty tricks are showing a remarkably strong resurgence). If house price inflation continues to rocket an incoming Conservative government may be just in time to feel the full effects of a house price crash and economy in recession, with little room to manoeuvre thanks to a current account deficit courtesy of Mr Brown.

1989 saw a house price crash that flattened the market for a decade, will 2009 be 1989 for the Conservatives all over again?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Something for the weekend

Am leaving the GLA today after two years trying to shift Ken Livingstone one press release at a time.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gays and Geeks: free speech rules again!

Whilst looking at the diary for next week I see another event with King's College is coming up, which reminded me that I had been at one last week where a young reporter from the Sunday Times was being guided about the room by Darth Clarke.

I had hoped to see another story about 'aren't young tories cool' , "their membership is over 15000 you know!" and "there is a real resurgence of Conservatism on campus". After all, since 2003, all the major papers have run through this standard story.

In my year it started "Nick Vaughan is a terribly nice chap...", and for whatever weird editorial reason The Guardian, The Independent and others cued up to lavish praise on CF for being hip and trendy which was quite a compliment at the time.

So, imagine my surprise when web searching for the story to see that an entire evenings schmoozing had resulted in this,

"Conservative Future, which wants a smaller state, lower taxes and a cure for spots, reports a membership boom in the north of England, where new recruits have apparently been attracted by bluff, plain-speaking man-of-the-people Boris t’Pfeffel Johnson. Being a young Tory had previously been a heroic struggle. Mark Clarke, the CF chairman, says his mother was slightly taken aback. “Oh God!” she gasped. “It would have been easier if you’d said you were gay.”

I must admit, on the night, I wondered at the wisdom of some of Mark's comments in front of a journalist. Sometimes there is a time and a place for the slightly more risque comments, and going further by dredging up the geeky, Tory-boy stereotype from way back when was probably offensive even to the quite forgiving uni crowd.

Still, there's no such thing as bad press. Right?