Elizabeth Rigby

It is impossible to describe how enormously distressed I am by this situation and I am certainly too ill to attend the House of Lords today.

In the interests of my party and all concerned, I will now release a statement that I have prepared:

In 2009, I was the subject of a smear campaign in relation to House of Lords allowances. The timing of this campaign was clearly chosen as it was in the middle of major election campaigns, for which I was then responsible. I warned Nick Clegg how I considered that the party might be damaged in those elections as a result of those allegations. I said that I would bring forward my planned resignation as the Liberal Democrats Chief Executive on health grounds. I had not intended resigning until after helping Nick and the party through the 2010 General Election campaign. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

There may have been 180 MPs at the Conservative party’s away day at Chipping Norton’s Crowne Plaza but even the most mischievous of them were in lockdown over the event, instructed by the pugnacious Lynton Crosby not to reveal anything about the polling information or campaigning tips discussed at the heavily guarded event on Thursday.

The attendees were not even allowed to talk about their smart casual dress; the pasta and Caesar salad lunch; the game of football on the lawn. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Most of the political class have spent the past few days watching a Vince Cable and Nick Clegg battle for position at the Lib Dem conference. But when they return to Westminster tomorrow they will find another fight underway over who becomes deputy speaker of the House of Commons.

The post, vacated by Nigel Evans after he was charged with a series of alleged sex offences
against last week, must be filled by a fellow Tory. Those poised to throw their hats in the ring include Brian Binley, a right-winger and leading light in the 1922 backbench committee; Sir Roger Gale, a grandee who has spent three decades on the benches as MP for Thanet North; and Eleanor Laing, Downing Street’s preferred choice. (Also Nadine Dorries is said to be interested.) Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Just to pour a bit more controversy over the Conservative Renewal conference (where Tim Loughton made his comments about Sarah Teather) Robert McLean, the chair of the Windsor Conservative Association, was also forced to put out a curious statement. In this he disavowed comments from George Bathhurst, Windsor councillor and a organiser of the conference.

Robert McLean, Chairman of the Windsor Conservative Association, said:

Windsor Conservative Association (‘WCA’) wishes to make clear that it wholly dissociates itself from recent comments made by George Bathurst in relation to the Conservative Renewal conference that do not reflect the views of WCA nor our member of parliament.

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Elizabeth Rigby

Tim Loughton on Saturday made an astonishing attack on Sarah Teather, accusing the former families minister of not “really believing in family” as he remarked that she “certainly didn’t produce one of her own”.

Mr Loughton, who worked with Ms Teather in the education department before they both lost their jobs in last year’s reshuffle, made the remarks in a debate on promoting the family at the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor.

He told the audience that Ms Teather, who has announced she is stepping down as a MP in the next election, was a “huge disappointment” in office.

“The person who was actually in charge of family policy amongst the ministerial team at the DfE was Sarah Teather. Which was a bit difficult because she doesn’t really believe in family. She certainly didn’t produce one of her own. So it became a bit of a family-free zone. I think that is a huge disappointment,” he said.

One Lib Dem minister on Monday described his remarks as “shocking”.

Mr Loughton made the remark as he was discussing the problems he had promoting marriage and family within coalition government, clearly annoyed at the Lib Dems opposition to marriage tax breaks — a policy that his party has finally got the government to back in return for getting the gay marriage bill through parliament.

His remarks in a session on “marriage and the family –how do we hold onto the family, in Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

A couple of weeks back, George Osborne made an appeal to some of his more rebellious colleagues at a Cornerstone Group dinner not to muck up the finance bill with bothersome amendments on introducing a transferable tax allowance for married couples.

The chancellor promised his colleagues that the policy, which allows a stay-at-home wife or husband to pass some of their personal allowance to their working spouse, would be introduced before the 2015 election. But he asked his colleagues to let him control the timing of the policy rather than taking it on themselves to try to force his hand.

But Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister who tried in vain to scupper the gay marriage bill, doesn’t want to wait any longer. Today he tabled amendments to

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Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron threw the ground troops a tasty little campaigning morsel on Tuesday with news that prisoners would not be getting any perks - Sky TV, state-of-the-art gyms – on the inside as the Tories sought to prove they were no soft touch party.

It was a helpful dog whistle for Tory activists campaigning ahead of the county council elections. But privately, the Conservative leadership is bracing itself for big losses. Ukip is gaining momentum and could well give Cameron a bloody nose on Thursday.

The party is instead trying to look beyond this electoral test to the big one in 2015. The process started in earnest back in January with the arrival of the pugnacious Lynton Crosby as election chief. Last week it was given another push as Jo Johnson was brought in with a handful of backbenchers to work in No 10′s policy unit. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Nigel Farage signs a book of condolence for Margaret Thatcher

Nigel Farage signs a book of condolence for Margaret Thatcher

Tories will not be thinking much about next month’s local elections as they gather in parliament to partake in collective mourning over the death of Margaret Thatcher.

The danger for David Cameron is that the wave of nostalgia for her will only serve to divide his party even more, when he needs it the least. As Lynton Crosby remarks, divided parties don’t win elections. And the infighting within the Tories over the past year is doing little more than help push their supporters into the arms of Ukip.

Cameron’s initial fightback against the rise of Nigel Farage’s party came in January with the promise of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European UnionRead more

Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were this morning falling over themselves to claim the credit for helping “hard working families” with news of a new voucher scheme that could be worth up to £1,200 per child.

After weeks of wrangling, the coalition was finally ready to press the button on a tax-free childcare scheme to replace the current “employer supported childcare” system. The new scheme will eventually reach up to 2.5m families – compared with the 450,000 who access the current voucher system – and include the self-employed. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Theresa MayTwitter was awash with “TM4PM” frenzy over the weekend after Theresa May delivered a speech to the ConservativeHome 2015 Victory conference that carried the undertones of a leadership bid.

The home secretary used the gathering of Conservative activists to sketch out her vision of Conservatism, just in case David Cameron’s one doesn’t wash with voters in 2015. She went far beyond her remit as she floated the idea of profit-making schools and a comprehensive industrial strategy.

Tim Montgomerie, ConHome’s founder and editor who has just been appointed the Times’s comment editor, was quick to calm the hype. He pointed out that May had agreed to speak at the event last November, quashing any talk of a post-Eastleigh leadership push. He also said May was loyal to Cameron and that her loyalty was one of her best qualities. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

A few weeks ago over a long lunch, a senior Tory warned that Cameron was going to end up cornered over press reform after Lord Puttnam rather unhelpfully decided to add Leveson-friendly amendments into the defamation bill.

The person said the amendment to introduce a cheap arbitration service between newspapers and the public meant that Leveson could end up being “put into law through the back door”. He added:

It is going to cause Cameron a huge problem when the bill comes back to the Commons.

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Elizabeth Rigby

Fraser Nelson writes an interesting column in the Telegraph today arguing that David Cameron has returned to Downing Street a changed man in 2013 with a renewed desire to make “Cameronism” mean something. But Nelson also notes that the Tory leader’s big vision all too often gets lost in policy u-turns and conflicting messages.

It is a trait that is increasingly vexing his backbenchers, fed up of defending contradictory messages emanating from the centre with their local associations. This week those rumblings rose to the surface when his parliamentary party used a meeting on the 2015 election strategy to let off steam about his very public backing of gay marriageRead more

Elizabeth Rigby

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson was given short shrift from the prime minister today when she asked David Cameron whether the following statement was true:

The problem is policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either

The prime minister told the MP for Washington and Sunderland West to celebrate the fact Nissan is building a new car in Britain rather that focusing on “whatever nonsense” she had read out.

That “nonsense” actually came from his own benches in the form of the rebellious and outspoken Nadine Dorries – she made the comments to my colleague Kiran Stacey this week when asked to discuss child benefit. Hers is not a lone voice: Mark Pritchard, MP for the Wrekin, also made similar remarks to the FT about the prime minister a few days ago. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

At the start of the week, there seemed to be a general consensus among politicians that Stephen Hester was right to turn down his £1m RBS bonus but the treatment of Sir Fred Goodwin has sparked unease even among the political class, unsettled that due process has been cast aside to make a populist point.

If that is how the politicians are feeling, imagine how his de-robing has gone down within business circles. The hounding of Hester and demonisation of the former RBS chief has unnerved other chief executives of big FTSE companies, frustrated about the anti-business vernacular emerging from government as well as the opposition benches.

One FTSE chief executive said government’s handling of Goodwin had been akin to a “political drive-by shooting” and played to the gallery. Another said that this sort of “personalised, totemic targeting” was vindictive and would serve only to make business leaders withdraw from public life. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Nick Clegg yesterday made a very public display of engagement with business over Europe as the deputy prime minister convened a business breakfast with Business For New Europe, a pro-single market group. Mr Clegg, flanked by Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne David Laws, wanted to get the message across that he had dusted himself down and was ready to begin work on rebuilding relations on the continent after a bruising week for Britain.

But beyond the photo shoot and crafted media message lines, was a second, more exclusive meeting between Mr Clegg and the director-generals of key lobby groups. This meeting wasn’t briefed out but was apparently a quite detailed debate about tactics going forward.

“We pooled intelligence and talked about how big inward investors want

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Elizabeth Rigby

Mark Field, the Tory MP for the City and Westminster, and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, make an unlikely pairing. But both men yesterday came out and attacked the government’s sale of Northern Rock to Virgin Money, asking whether it was the right time to strike such a deal against the backdrop of choppy markets.

Both wondered whether George Osborne might have extracted more than the £747m on completion of the sale — total proceeds could rise to just over £1bn over five years — had he waited a little longer. Both men also asked whether the government had fully explored the idea of the bank being turned into a mutual.

(Meanwhile Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott has put down some parliamentary questions asking if the Treasury have made it a condition of the deal that full British tax must be paid on all profits of Northern Rock and all dividends and capital gains received by the consortium.)

Others were more realistic on Thursday, with Lord Myners, the former Labour City minister, telling the Financial Times that his was a “very good price” to have achieved in Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

Parliament’s long summer recess should be consigned to history and a November half-term break introduced permanently, as MPs on the procedure committee try to make life as an MP a little more family-friendly.

After months on consultation, the backbench committee which counts Jacob Rees-Mogg as a member has recommended that MPs cut short summer recess and instead add a half-term break to their calenders in  November or go for a more radical shake-up where Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

After painful months of matchmaking UKTI have officially announced which ministers will be paired with whom as the trade promotion body looks to inject a litle more commerical prowess into Whitehall.

The scheme pairs top exporters and inward investors with key ministers to make sure that special companies are well looked after. So far six ministers – spread between business, energy and media departments – have been appointed abassadorial roles with 38 companies between them. Jeremy Hunt is getting Microsoft, Google and Facebook, while Vince Cable with look after manufacturer Tata and the oil giants.

The scheme is designed to give key companies a “seamless ‘one-stop’ service in their dealings with Whitehall. It would well be worth an audit in a few months time to see if Lord Green’s scheme lives up to the billing. Expect more ministers and companies to get involved in the coming months as Lord Green extends the scheme.

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Elizabeth Rigby

David Cameron really is trying to push this female friendly line.

On the eve of his ‘Women in Business’ event at Downing Street, and less than 48 hours after his announcement that he is going to make forced marriages illegal, the prime minister is now pushing plans to change rules on royal succession. Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

I wrote a piece today on Labour’s attempts to exploit the Tories’ failure to connect with women voters. The piece highlights the coalition’s failure to help low-paid women cope with childcare as a major issue for the working mother. But during my research, another issue was brought up by Tory women: David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance.

It may be the Tory leader’s totemic ‘family’ policy but it is exactly the sort of scheme that chimes well with his old-style grassroots but does little to endear the party to the plight of the working couples.

Under the scheme as it was outlined before the election, a married couple only benefits if one person stays at home since the policy is based on one member of the couple being able to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner to reduce the ‘family tax bill’. Eligible couples where the main earner has an annual income of between £7,300 and £42,000 will be £150 better off. Read more