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Next Tory Plot to embarass Cameron is already taking shape

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Next Tory Plot to embarass Cameron is already taking shape Empty Next Tory Plot to embarass Cameron is already taking shape

Post  Panda on Wed 19 Feb - 6:54

Benedict Brogan
Benedict Brogan is the Daily Telegraph's Deputy Editor. His blog brings you news, gossip, analysis, occasional insight into politics, and more. You can email him at benedict.brogan@telegraph.co.uk. Sign up to Brogan's Briefing, Westminster's must-read morning email, by clicking here.

FEBRUARY 18TH, 2014 18:01
The next Tory plot to embarrass David Cameron on Europe is already taking shape

Even now, the PM has to watch his back

It's recess week, not a lot is happening, so it seems a good time to reflect on what might crop up between now and the summer. Yesterday I reported a bit of mischief about the reshuffle. We've also heard a lot about the European elections and how they might turn out. David Cameron, meanwhile, is focused on the floods. He spent today in the office, but is due to visit more soggy areas tomorrow. His colleagues, many of them, are on the slopes or the beach, for half-term. Wherever they are, though, you can bet that a number of them will be thinking about how to stuff Dave in the Commons.
The fact that much of the country is under water, and coping with the aftermath of an economic meltdown, hasn't stopped a number of Conservative MPs from plotting their next attempt to humiliate the Prime Minister. Some of them, notably from the Cornerstone and No Turning Back groups, met last week to examine the state of play on Europe. They are preoccupied with identifying the next opportunity to organise a Commons rebellion that will make Mr Cameron sweat a bit. And they think they have found their chance.
Last year Britain opted out of 130 or so EU justice and home affairs measures, including the European arrest warrant. The finesse, if it can be called such, was that Britain would then opt back into about 30 of the measures, including, Tories complain, the European arrest warrant. Now, the Government has been telling MPs, in terms, that there will be no need for a division, that it's all a technicality. It turns out, however, that it ain't so, and the House will have to divide on it. Dominic Raab, I suspect, knows heaps more about this than most of us, and will have spotted the opportunity. Certainly, a small number of MPs who can fairly be said to be past masters in the art of tormenting Dave have spotted the chance and are even now making their dispositions. Imagine, they say, the head of steam that could develop on the backbenches after a difficult European elections result if the Government presses them to agree handing powers back to Brussels.
Ministers, I am further told, have spotted the problem. And so the date being pencilled in for a Commons vote is at the very end of the session on the eve of the Commons rising for the summer recess on July 22. They hope that by then, with everyone packed for their holidays and somnolent from too many parties, they can slip it through. Assuming, that is, nobody notices. Mr Cameron, I suspect, knows too well that he can never do enough to buy off the irreconcilables.
Tags: David Cameron, dominic raab, eu, europe, opt-outs, rebellion, Tories

FEBRUARY 18TH, 2014 8:45
Can Nick Clegg get noticed without throwing a tantrum?

From my Morning Briefing email: subscribe here
Nick Clegg is going to have to try a lot harder to impress Ed Miliband. The Labour leader is playing hard to get, and has replied to Mr Clegg's overtures with a smack in the chops. "Ed: I won't do back room deal with Lib Dems" says the Mirror. Mr Miliband said yesterday his focus was on securing a majority, and he advised Mr Clegg to worry about his own party. The Sun has "Exposed – Labour plot to KO Clegg" on page one, which details how the NEC is putting resources into taking Sheffield Hallam. The Times comes at it another way, reporting that the Lib Dems are jettisoning any policies that could get in the way of a coalition deal with either parties, as they work to re-establish "equidistance". The Times has laid into Mr Clegg in a leader under the headline "Clegg's Dangerous Shift", which declares: "He should be careful. By moving closer to Labour he risks the worst of all worlds: losing support in rural strongholds in southern England. This would compound the risks he already faces in urban, northern and Scottish seats because of his alliance with the Conservatives". Meanwhile, the Mail revives its favourite political character – "The Madame Fifi of British politics is at it again!", "hitching his skirt coquettishly at Mr Miliband…truly there is no more pathetic figure in politics than a coquette of easy virtue whom nobody wants to view".
Mr Clegg is on single digits in the polls. He has to find a way to remind voters of his party's existence at a time when the Prime Minister dominates the headlines by wading about in his wellies for the cameras. Fans of Robert Caro's epic study of Lyndon Johnson will tell you that the most important skill in politics is numeracy. Come the election, the Lib Dems expect to be the deal-makers, with either party. But to get there they need to hold their nerve and their vote. Mr Clegg is desperate to secure his share of the credit for the work of the Coalition, specifically on the economy. His point is that the recovery is the result not of George Osborne's solitary genius, but of the combined work of Mr Osborne and Danny Alexander. He fears, understandably, that the Tories are out to grab all the credit for the government's achievements even though it was a shared effort. His problem? As the headlines show, equidistance may be a pragmatic response but it looks too opportunistic. Mr Clegg also knows that in standing up for himself he risks sounding churlish, reluctant, grumpy: if the work of the Coalition is so impressive, why act as if it's all terrible. His gamble in May 2010 was that he would eventually get credit for doing the grown-up thing of setting aside political necessity in the national interest. But how to get noticed without throwing a tantrum?
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FEBRUARY 17TH, 2014 21:14
The Archbishop’s attack may be a blessing in disguise for the PM
Archbishop Vincent Nichols. (Photo: David Rose)
Archbishop Vincent Nichols. (Photo: David Rose)

Mr Cameron now has an opportunity to show that fairness is at the heart of welfare reform
At the very least, Vincent Nichols has earned himself a coffee with David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith, possibly both together. There might even be biscuits. The Prime Minister and the Work and Pensions Secretary are anxious to put the leader of the country’s four million Roman Catholics straight on a few things, after he attacked the effects of their welfare reforms as “a disgrace”.
When I interviewed the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster – as he will become on Saturday when the Pope hands him his red hat – he made a point of admitting that a briefing from ministers on the “complexities” of what the Government is trying to do might come in handy. Something tells me he won’t have long to wait.
His intervention in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph was a classic in the tradition of the turbulent priest criticising a government, particularly a Conservative-led one, from the Left. Cardinal-designate Nichols may be from Liverpool, but he does not need to be a Scouser to be steeped in the Catholic Church’s social teaching. When he says his job is to “speak very plainly for those who otherwise don’t have a voice”, he is fulfilling a vocation Pope Francis has put at the centre of his pontificate. Our conversation was signposted by repeat references to the plight of the poor and the attitudes of politicians, business and the rest of us towards those who – in his word – are destitute.
Looking back through the transcript, his economic analysis could have been written for Ed Miliband, or even Nick Clegg, if they weren’t both enthusiastic atheists: companies should exist for more than just profit; bankers made terrible mistakes that led to the crash; the recovery is uneven, with some people missing out; society must confront the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor; the spread of food banks is troubling; “there shouldn’t be people living with nothing, in destitution, in a country which is as prosperous as this”. He had the decency at least to point out he is neither an economist nor a financier.
Ministers have not quaked in reply. Their answers have been framed “with the greatest of respect”, which suggests there isn’t much respect at all for what Cardinal-designate Nichols has to say. They challenge him on the facts. When he says the safety net has been destroyed, they point out the billions spent on support, in work and out, that particularly favours families with children. When he claims that the administration of benefits can leave applicants “with nothing” for 10 days at a time, they look puzzled and wonder which bit of the system he hasn’t quite understood. They also feel able to ignore him because all their polls tell them that what the Government is trying to do on welfare, from the £26,000 cap on benefits to the stricter conditions on what should be paid out, is hugely popular with the voters.
Their central response to the Nichols critique, though, is a basic one about economics. It can be summarised as follows: the state is still spending more than £100 billion a year above what it earns, the national debt has climbed to £1.2 trillion and will be more before there’s a chance of paying it down, and the only option is to cut government spending by substantial amounts. Whatever the arguments to be had about the implementation, it remains an incontrovertible fact that we have lived beyond our means and must now settle the bill. In fairness to Archbishop Nichols, he may not be an economist, but he understands the point: “There is no doubt,” he told me, “that the financial situation we faced needed measures to cut back expenditure.”
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His reply is that we are a wealthy nation, in which the rich keep getting richer, and we should therefore be intolerant of any sign of poverty. The Government argues the opposite: as a nation we are bust, and must spend less; reforms are needed precisely because we have tolerated the poverty of welfare dependency for too long. One says that we are wealthy enough; the other that we are poorer than we realise.
A few days after I met Archbishop Nichols I found myself in a Job Centre in Hammersmith discussing with members of its counter staff the implementation of Universal Credit, the maligned but so-far unstoppable super-reform of benefits that is supposed to make work pay more than welfare. I should point out that the visit was organised by Iain Duncan Smith’s office, it is one of the smallest pilot projects for the introduction of the new system, and west London in an incipient economic boom shouldn’t be troubling the welfare state overmuch.
Yet even this controlled glimpse of a titanic project that is supposed to be struggling was eye-opening. Job Centres as banks or airport lounges – all carpets, sleek furniture and computer desks – are not new. What stood out instead was the humanising of a system in which claimants and staff engage with a striking degree of equality. The benefits officials I met spoke of their relief at moving to a system that left more to personal initiative, discretion and judgment. The “Claimant Commitment”, the contract at the centre of each claim and which the claimant helps draft, can be as specific as requiring them to watch a programme on tips for applying for work, or getting the computer repaired (it’s worth noting that up to 90 per cent of claimants have home access to the internet – not quite the destitution Archbishop Nichols summons to mind). I saw no signs of the hatchet-faced administrators obsessed with the bottom line that he imagined.
Universal Credit is one of the three pillars of the Cameron project, alongside deficit reduction and schools reform. It is being rolled out painstakingly slowly, even more slowly than was initially intended as IT snags and senior personnel issues took their toll. The idea quite deliberately is to avoid the big bang – and resulting multi-billion disasters – of tax credits and the Child Support Agency. The Prime Minister sees his pillars as the main elements of a wider re-casting of the economy and the central relationships between citizens and state. He wishes the Cardinal-designate would see it too rather than resorting to the old saws of the Left about fostering dependence and despising wealth.
Except that, in speaking up for those he called to defend, Archbishop Nichols is highlighting the most difficult political challenge Mr Cameron faces as he hones his pitch to the electorate for a second term. His argument that Britain is wealthy enough to afford spending more is an enticing one, in particular at a time of rising expectations for the economy. The Labour leader and Mr Clegg have demonstrated that there is political advantage to be found in playing to popular anger about bankers and the rich to argue that Britain would be so much better if those who have most could be made to pay more.
Set against that, Mr Cameron’s argument that we are broke, and that the rich pay enough, sounds somehow unconvincing. That is to over-simplify his case of course. But, as the collective response to the floods demonstrates, we admire self-sufficiency and demand responsibility, yet our instincts as a nation are always generous. When Church leaders speak for their teachings and put the poorest first, Mr Cameron’s challenge is not only to counter the criticisms. He must also come up with a convincing story that will make sense of his reforms and dispel the illusion that our wealth is unlimited and his programme is somehow unfair.
More by Benedict Brogan
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Tags: Archbishop Vincent Nichols, David Cameron, universal credit, welfare

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2014 12:40
William Hague to Nato: the David Cameron reshuffle plan the Tories are betting on
William Hague
William Hague: Nato-bound? (Photo: AP)

Westminster is as certain as it is possible to be that David Cameron will reshuffle his Cabinet this summer, which means the period between the European elections on May 22 and the rising of the Commons for the long recess on July 22. Less than a year from the 2015 election seems a good time to refresh the team and put in place the faces that will represent the Tory party to the voters. The Prime Minister needs to promote women, reward talent, trim some deadwood and give his administration a sense of momentum. But how?
The top layer of posts is ring-fenced against tampering, we are told. Mr Cameron won't get rid of George Osborne, William Hague, Theresa May, Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt. His room for manoeuvre is therefore considerably limited. He is said to have in mind a list of mid-ranking Cabinet ministers who could reasonably be paid off for a variety of reasons (Kenneth Clarke, Sir George Young, David Willetts, Francis Maude, Maria Miller) and who could then be replaced by his favourites for promotion (Sajid Javid, Esther McVey, Matthew Hancock). But it's hardly headline-making news if he does. Whatever No10 thinks of Mrs Miller (not a lot, apparently), Mr Cameron knows he has a problem with women and must make progress on raising the number in government to a third. He can hardly afford to get rid of any.
How then does he break the logjam without firing anyone, and achieve more than a minor tinkering? There is a scenario that allows him to do just that, which seemed full of possibility when it was sketched out for me. As some sharp colleagues have already spotted, Nato needs to find itself a new secretary-general. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is timed out, and will say farewell at the Nato summit in September (which, helpfully for this conceit, will be held in Cardiff). Some have suggested that Liam Fox, Nato's man in Parliament, is the ideal choice: ex-Defence Secretary, Atlanticist to his core, has worked hard to build bridges with No10 following his self-ejection.
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But here's another name coming up the inside: William Hague. Unfairly or not, there seems to be an expectation that he won't serve beyond 2015. Some suggest that as Foreign Secretary, with an impressive track record in relationship-building and a consistent record as an Atlanticist himself, the Nato secretary-generalship would be an elegant transition from front-line politics to a second career as global statesman. It could be easily described as an elevation. It would be a mutually beneficial arrangement between Mr Cameron and Mr Hague which gave the Tory leader a solution to a problem while securing a red carpet out of government for Mr Hague.
There are obvious obstacles. Mr Hague may hate the idea. Mr Cameron may not want to lose a robust voice of the northern Right when he confronts Ukip and tries to win voters outside his southern comfort zone. No10 is terrified of by-elections, although if Richmond with a majority of 23,000+ isn't safe enough then the Tories are in big trouble. Other Nato members may prefer someone else, although the UK last held the post when Lord Robertson served – it should be Dave's for the asking.
With Mr Hague gone, just think of the possibilities. Theresa May could be rewarded for her steely grip on the Home Office with the Foreign Office, which from No10's point of view would have the added advantage of keeping her abroad in the run-up to the election that will decide Dave's future. Eric Pickles, who has re-built bridges with No10 after the flood thing, could be an ideal plain-speaking Home Secretary, though more likely it would go to Michael Gove (just imagine!). Would Mr Hancock get the education brief (just imagine again!)? Or Liz Truss? The scenario may be too fanciful, but it's being talked about and bet on, and it certainly seems to offer Mr Cameron an elegant way of creating the vacancy at the top that allows him to give a reshuffle some impact.
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Tags: David Cameron, general election 2015, liam fox, Nato, reshuffle, Theresa May, William Hague

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2014 8:46
Would Nick Clegg really do a deal with Ed Miliband?

From my Morning Briefing email: subscribe here
Would Nick Clegg really do a deal with Ed Miliband? His musings in a radio documentary to be broadcast tonight are taken as a spot of deliberate flirtation. He claims to have noticed that Labour is showing interest in power sharing, and says the Lib Dems in Coalition with Labour would "not break the bank". The Tories, by contrast, have turned more ideological since entering government, and he urges them to "rediscover a talent for actually talking to mainstream voters about mainstream concerns." His intervention has been reported across the papers, on the front in the case of the Guardian, Indy and Times – "Clegg raises prospect of Lib Dem deal", "Clegg hints at Lib/Lab pact", "Labour is moving in our direction, says Clegg" – and has got air time on Today. It's a distinct shift in position. Mr Clegg has mused about a rapprochement with Labour before but this is more explicit. In the past he and his colleagues have been critical of Labour's economic record, pointing out the party has never shown remorse for it mistakes, and still cannot be trusted with the economy. This time the criticism is tempered. Mr Clegg's attack on the Tories, specifically his point that the experience of government has somehow changed them, is telling. If they are different, are they therefore no longer suitable partners for the Lib Dems?
Should we believe any of it? The mistake, I suggest, is to treat this three-way relationship as just that, a relationship, with Nick Clegg as a bit of a slapper enraging the boyfriend by flirting with the geek at the bar. Far better to see it as what it is, a calculated manoeuvre to keep options open after polling day next year. Tories too often delude themselves into thinking that it is inconceivable that Mr Clegg might do a deal with Mr Miliband. They point to the bad blood between the parties, Labour's pathological loathing of power-sharing, and the dire consequences reputationally for a party that flips from right to left to stay in power. But that's precisely the point: Mr Clegg has been consistent and clear for some time that his objective is to maintain the Lib Dems in power with whichever party will cut a deal. He considers that his responsibility is to keep the Lib Dems in play, and in a position to bring their moderating influence (his terms) to bear on whichever of the major parties is in power. Tories should see it for what it is, cold-eyed positioning. Come the day after polling day, all bets are off and all past remarks are erased. Mr Clegg will do a deal, with Labour. Or with the Tories. That's his point.
There's another thought worth retaining from this. Mr Clegg's willingness to praise Labour and attack the Tories speaks to another issue confronting the Conservatives, which was underscored by last week's by-election. As those Tory MPs who fear the party is doomed will keep telling you, David Cameron is presiding over the fracturing of the Right and the uniting of the Left. What will trouble Downing Street and CCHQ as they ponder what to do about Nigel Farage, is yet more evidence the parties of the Left are reaching out for each other.
More by Benedict Brogan:
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FEBRUARY 13TH, 2014 9:23
Will Labour become another victim of the floods?

From my Morning Briefing email: subscribe here
In government, the floods are gradually becoming institutionalised. A special Cabinet committee has been set up, the various actors of the state have been mobilised, and David Cameron has cleared his diary to deal with the crisis. The overall numbers of people affected may be relatively small, but the potential for damage to the Government and the Tories remains considerable.
There are three areas of risk emerging. First, Mr Cameron's reputation for calm competence could be destroyed. He has identified himself with the response to the storms by letting everyone see he is in charge. But the headlines talk of chaos, in particular in what ministers have been saying. Mr Cameron's "money no object" pledge was qualified by Patrick McLoughlin's "no blank cheque" point. According to the Times Sir George Young has issued a note to backbenchers clarifying what the Government means. Did Mr Cameron intend to offer the Government as insurer of last resort for every damp sofa? Undoubtedly not, but that may be what voters hold him accountable for.
The second danger is the impact on the economy. Richard Holt of Capital Economics predicts a £15 billion hit. Mark Carney last night predicted "disruption to economic activity". George Osborne is counting on the recovery to carry the Tories to victory, and will be anxious at the prospect of GDP being dented by months of storms and floods.
Then there is the third, wider danger to the Government and particularly the Tories. If the floods and their consequences are going to be with us for weeks – that is certainly Number 10's expectation – then the Government will be unable to get any other issues up in lights. National misery will become the dominant theme. The longer it lasts, the grumpier voters will get. The Government can use its resources to mitigate effects – mobilising the military, managing sandbag distribution – but it can't control the weather. It risks finding itself subliminally blamed for something over which it has no power. There is, that said, a political silver lining. If the floods carry risks for Mr Cameron, they are terrible for Labour. An ongoing national emergency puts the Prime Minister in the spotlight – and sidelines Ed Miliband. For the time being, the Labour leader is excluded from the story. His only opportunities for intervening will require criticising the Government, which is difficult to pull off without sounding shrill and ill-judged. With elections a few months away, Mr Cameron will be privately delighted that Labour could end up another victim of the floods.
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FEBRUARY 11TH, 2014 17:31
Nigel Farage should worry every time a Tory predicts Ukip will come first in May

Photo: Getty

How are the UK Independence Party managing expectations? Today's ICM poll in the Guardian prompts in public the question the Tories have been asking in private for some weeks. Conservative MPs, largely through panic, have been predicting that Ukip will walk the European elections and come first. They reckon voters are so cross about Europe, immigration and everything that they will vote for the party that offers the best prospect of kicking David Cameron and his government in the backside. And that's Ukip. Meanwhile Tory high command have, quite deliberately, been predicting a disaster on May 22 and an outright victory for Nigel Farage since last spring. The effect has been to create a burden of expectation that is going to cause Ukip a headache unless it moves to correct it sharpish.
The ICM poll is striking because it puts Ukip in third place on 20 per cent, behind Labour on 35 per cent and the Tories on 25 per cent. Even if you set it aside as a rogue, the run of polls on Euro-election voting intentions* show Ukip consistently in second place (only once in first place, in May last year). Make no mistake, pushing the Tories into second place will be a great achievement. But it won't be anywhere near as exciting as topping the poll. And the fact is the Ukip share price has been talked up so high that failure to come first will look like a defeat. Certainly the Tories are delighted that so much is expected of Mr Farage. They want us to expect even more, regardless of what the polls say. They will keep assuring us that the Ukip surge is remorseless and cannot be stopped. Imagine how disappointed they will be if after all that Ukip comes just second. Or even third. And as a result no one notices how the Conservatives have done.
Speaking of expectations, has anyone yet set the bar for the vote share Mr Cameron has to achieve to avoid a leadership crisis?
*Courtesy of UKPollingReport
Tags: David Cameron, European elections 2014, Euros 2014, Nigel Farage, Tories, UKIP

FEBRUARY 11TH, 2014 9:00
UK floods: Eric Pickles gets it in the neck from David Cameron

Photo: Getty

The floods are the only political story that matters now. They will dominate ministerial activity for weeks. David Cameron spent the night in the south west and will be out and about to show that he is in charge. The Cabinet has been postposed to Thursday to allow him to visit the affected areas. And if you want a few lines to describe the politics of the floods, look no further than the final paragraph of Quentin Letts' sketch on "Ooncle Eric, desperate to make a big splash". His (unflattering) account of the Top Chum's appearance in the Commons yesterday concludes: "From what one hears, George Osborne and David Cameron would not grieve unduly if Mr Pickles floated away down the Bristol Channel, never again to be seen. Come back soon, Owen Paterson." That in a nutshell captures where we are.
Dave is not best pleased with the way the Communities Secretary piled in to the Environment Agency and Chris Smith at the weekend. The Prime Minister wants to rein him in. When Mr Paterson, flat on his back with a detached retina, was reported criticising his colleague yesterday morning, we were told that it was no more than a rogue, unauthorised briefing by the Defra secretary's special adviser. Yeah, right. Mr Paterson was delivering a deliberate message, and the consequences can be seen woven through the papers. Mr Pickles is getting it in the neck.
So what's happened? Here's what I reckon. Having previously worked well with the Environment Agency and applauded much of its work, the Government saw the way the floods story was flowing and decided quite deliberately to land the blame on the guy at the top (interesting, by the way, that ministers are happy to pin executive responsibility on the part-time chairman and not on the full time chief executive – good luck with recruiting future volunteers to run NDPBs: does Dave think his Tory chums won't have noticed how risky these gigs suddenly look?) It was crude politics, a classic bit of displacement activity. Give the media someone to demonise. Mr Pickles, drafted in to mind the flood response in Mr Paterson's absence, took his cue from the top. There was no support from No10 for Lord Smith, which made it clear enough, at least until the weekend: it was open season on the Labour luvvie from Islington. Yesterday Lord Smith fought back, and how. He didn't fight his way to the top of Labour politics by being a pushover (you try being Health Secretary with Gordon Brown at the Treasury). At which point – I think – Downing Street began to worry that it had gone too far. Big Eric was brought to heel. Of course, it is also the case that Mr Cameron and the Chancellor aren't wild about Eric. He isn't biddable, on planning or local government or any of the issues that he knows a bit about. He's not one of the gilded Eton and Oxbridge types the leadership prefers, and they punish him for it. But that's not about flood crisis management; it's about the state of politics at the top of the party, and that's a whole different story.
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Tags: David Cameron, Eric Pickles, floods, Lord Smith

FEBRUARY 10TH, 2014 21:15
Scottish independence: There are two men who could help Mr Cameron save Britain

The Prime Minister is wrong to think Scots won’t rally to his cause – with a bit of help

Recently, a thoughtful reader sent me a receipt. It was issued to her father a hundred years ago this month. It’s for a worsted suit (£3 16s) and some trousers, made for him by his tailor in Glasgow. The paper is yellowed and a bit faded, but the penny red stamp is bright and the copperplate “with thanks” above the confident signature is clear.
The tailor – or Clothier and Outfitter, to give him his preferred description – was my great-grandfather, who had escaped the grinding poverty of Donegal to open a successful shop on the north side of George Square, a thimble’s throw from City Chambers, that temple to muscular Scots imperialism.
Denis Brogan had four sons who became teachers, academics and journalists. They also became Conservatives and Unionists, clear in their minds that they were citizens of a United Kingdom with a vocation of greatness on the world stage. They never bought in to the republicanism of the country their father left behind, or to an insular view of Scotland as the limit of their ambitions. The prospect of Scotland voting to strike off on its own would have filled them with despair.
I offer this somewhat self-serving prologue – and the fact that I was myself born in Glasgow – to buy my way into a debate that too often appears closed to those without a claim, however distant, to some sort of Scottishness. Even David Cameron, in his speech on the Union last week, had to make a point of recalling his clan membership, and its apposite motto “let us unite”, to justify having a view on the future of the Union. The argument, then and now, can appear fenced off by a legitimacy test that questions the right of anyone who isn’t a Scot to take part.
That, at least, is the excuse often given by outsiders who justify their own timidity by whingeing about how prickly the Scots can be. Yet Mr Cameron rightly argued that anyone fortunate enough to be a citizen of the United Kingdom should have a view on what happens on September 18, even if they don’t have a vote. He urged us all to express our belief in the Union by voicing our fondness for Scotland. Love, not necessity, is the tie that binds.
The Prime Minister, English with a tartan tinge, has an honourable record as a consistent and committed supporter of the Union, if not as an active one. In Opposition, he resisted the temptation to embrace Scottish independence in order to guarantee Tory majorities in perpetuity in a rump UK. He also stood firm against those of his colleagues who wanted to make Scotland pay a price for devolution by scrapping the subsidies that guarantee it a higher per-capita share of public spending. Mr Cameron spoke up for a generosity of spirit, and in recognition of the remoteness and social deprivation of large parts of Scotland which have long justified its financial advantage.
Since coming to power, however, he has appeared reluctant to use the permission that comes with his office to address Scotland about its future. Instead, he has joked about the damage he might cause by the simple act of speaking: about the fact it is impossible for a southern English Tory toff to open his mouth without making a Scot hate or despise him.
This is not a new phenomenon. When I worked in Glasgow during the final years of Mrs Thatcher, Labour fended off the threat of the Scottish National Party with a desperate form of dog-whistle nationalism that made sure the word “English” appeared in everyone’s mind every time they said “Tory”. More recently, the SNP has – understandably – played up the idea that any English intervention, in particular a Tory one, is in some way patronising, designed to tell the Scots their business.
Nothing illustrates better how dishonest the debate over the Union has become than this view that the opinions of some British citizens are not only illegitimate but harmful. So with seven months to go to the referendum itself, it is time to call the bluff of those who would close the debate to those without a vote.
Mr Cameron, in particular, should follow the advice he gave in his own speech, to become more involved. Yes, he will shortly hold a session of the Cabinet in Aberdeen, to show that the work of the Government concerns every part of the Union. But when I ask No 10 if we might expect to see a lot more of him in Scotland between now and polling day, the answer is strangely equivocal. There is no intention of accepting Alex Salmond’s challenge to a debate between the two men, but nor is there any evidence that Mr Cameron intends to put himself in the front line of the battle ahead. He hopes the polls are right and that Scotland will vote to stay in the Union – but he also hopes, it seems, that others will do the heavy lifting.
In that regard, he is wrong. Scotland is not a no-go area for the Prime Minister. To treat it otherwise is to insult its citizens, who better than anyone understand the seriousness of what’s at stake – not just for themselves, but for the fellow citizens of the Union some wish to leave.
Alistair Darling has always cautioned that it is not who participates in the debate that can harm the cause of the Union, but how. Taking part is one thing, but tone is all. That is true – but the who matters, too. And there are significant figures in British politics whose contribution would make sense of Mr Cameron’s call to arms.
I would suggest two in particular. John Major’s refusal to countenance Labour’s devolution settlement in 1997 sealed the Tory wipeout that left them without a single MP in Scotland. Yet the effort he put into demonstrating his commitment to the Union, when political logic told him it was of no value to him or his party, remains one of his proudest legacies, and gives him far more appeal north of the border than his better-bred successors. In particular, in 1992, he went against the advice of Conservative Central Office – which wanted him to concentrate on the basics of tax – and chose to make the Union his battleground. Four days before polling day, at a rally at Wembley stadium, he issued his now prophetic warning: “The United Kingdom is in danger. Wake up, my fellow countrymen – wake up now before it is too late.” Mr Cameron should recruit Sir John to the cause, and ensure that his voice is heard again.
The other actor who has so far only made a fleeting appearance on the stage is the Labour politician who played arguably the key role in turning Scotland against the Tories a generation ago. Since his defeat in 2010, Gordon Brown has excused himself from the political fray – an absence that can too easily be interpreted as a form of political cowardice.
In his homeland, his reputation is not as tarnished as it is in England. Indeed, his record as a tribal champion of Scotland and an enemy of the Tories gives him a unique position to speak positively of the Union. Last month he broke his silence to praise the financial dividends it brings to Scotland, but he must do more. As a voice that once helped to deepen the divide with England, Mr Brown will reach parts of Scotland that the Unionist case currently doesn’t.
One doesn’t need a tartan tailor’s receipt to have a view on the value of the Union and the imperative of keeping Scotland within it. Mr Cameron has stepped in just in time. Others must follow his lead. From now until September 18, this debate is for all of us.

Tags: David Cameron, gordon brown, John Major, Scotland, scottish independence, Union

FEBRUARY 8TH, 2014 9:16
Tim Yeo: David Cameron should ignore the euro-obsessives and stand up to Ukip

Tim Yeo has a message for his fellow Conservatives: don't let Ukip call the tune. I've interviewed him this morning (you can read it in full here): his reflections after his de-selection are a call to arms to those who have so far remained silent in the face of the campaign to drag David Cameron to the right in an attempt to see off Nigel Farage. He isn't rude about the grassroots, but he argues that the party's shrinking membership has left it vulnerable to activists with "extreme" views.
On the other hand he is biting about some of his fellow MPs. He says David Cameron is experiencing the difficulties John Major did at the hands of a bunch of euro-obsessives who "are more concerned about that than the Conservative party staying in power". He doesn't quite name Bernard Jenkin, but you know who he has in mind when he says: "We've got these obsessives like the people who organise this letter-writing to the Prime Minister on negotiation."
His main target though is Ukip. “If we allow Ukip and our fear of Ukip to be what drives our policy that will lead us undoubtedly to defeat … I believe the right way to deal with Ukip is to become more like the traditional Conservative Party with a broad appeal to the Right and the centre.”
Mr Yeo's career, and his ejection from his seat, mean that for many he is not a credible figure to discuss the reasons for the party's lack of success or voter disenchantment with politics. He has always been outspoken however on the need for the Tories to campaign from the pragmatic centre. Mr Cameron has been buffeted by the irreconcilables in his parliamentary party who want to do him in, and those who won't stand up to them. By urging his colleagues to put aside their fear of Ukip and stand up for a broad, centrist Conservative tradition, will Mr Yeo prompt others to speak out too?

Tags: Conservatives, David Cameron, eu, europe, extremists, irreconcilables, Nigel Farage, Tim Yeo, UKIP
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