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Westlake Legal Group > Columnists

Iain Dale: The next BBC Chairman. Andrew Neil, anyone? Robbie Gibb? Michael Portillo?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

It was announced on Wednesday that the award-winning Victoria Derbyshire Show is to be axed by the BBC. Given that the Corporation’s public service remit is to “inform, educate and entertain”, this is a difficult decision to understand.

Its campaigning journalism on important social issues has won the show a raft of industry awards. The decision is reportedly being made on cost grounds, influenced by the fact that it only had 250,000 viewers – hardly surprising given it was on BBC2 and the News Channel.

The writing has been on the wall since the show was cut from two hours to one not that long ago. On the same day, it was also revealed that Brexitcast will broadcast its last edition next Thursday. This kind of makes sense given that we’re not definitely leaving the EU the following day.

The TV version will continue, though, and be rebranded rather awkwardly as Politicscast. And next Wednesday, the BBC’s Head of News, Fran Unsworth, will reveal her plan for the future of the whole of BBC News. Since the News and Current Affairs department has had to find £80 million of cuts, it could be brutal.

Radio 4 is bracing itself, with The World at One reportedly a big target for the cost-cutters. Expect the headlines to be about their online offering and a proliferation of podcasts. This is yet another area where the BBC hopes to dominate its competitors – just as it has tried to do in magazine publishing and radio.

The BBC delights in behaving in an anti-competitive way. Rumour is that tit is about to spend millions on launching music stations to rival Hearts 80s, Absolute 90s and Smooth. The natural question which follows is this: if the corporation continues to try to compete in areas serviced quite well by the commercial sector, how can it bleat about not having enough money to run their core public service remit stations?

All this is happening only days after Tony Hall announced he will be stepping down as Director General in the summer. Some think the timing is to allow the BBC chairman, David Clementi, to choose his successor before he too is replaced when his contract comes up next year. His successor might pick someone more ‘risky’ and ‘uncomfortable’ for the BBC – given that he or she will be chosen by Downing Street.

The corporation is facing huge challenges. Tony Hall may have had some successes in his time at the BBC, but planning for the next ten years is not one of them. He has indulged in the usual BBC bleating about the sanctity of the licence fee, without apparently realising that the broadcasting world has moved on.

We’re all used to paying for our TV by subscription now. If he had been innovative and brave, Hall would have already developed a well worked-out plan which would involve asking BBC viewers and listeners to subscribe to particular channels in the same way that so many of us subscribe to Sky, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The problem he has is that the licence fee costs each household the best part of £13 per month – way above the monthly subscription for rival services, with the exception of Sky. Would the government be prepared to cover, say, one third of the BBC’s three million pound budget if this was just to cover true public service broadcasting?

But even here, one uncovers a big problem. BBC Radio costs around £700 million to produce. You can’t really separate it out, and it covers a multitude of genres. There’s little doubt that Radio 1 and Radio 2 could be funded by advertising, given their popularity, but Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live and BBC Local Radio are surely what public service broadcasting is all about.

In addition, there is only so much advertising or sponsorship revenue to be had. Distort the market too much, and it would affect the ability of the commercial radio providers like Global, Bauer and Wireless to maintain their current level of service provision.

All eyes will now be on who the BBC board chooses to succeed Hall. The Guardian published a list of the top five female candidates, as if it was to be taken as read that the successful candidate must be a woman.

I couldn’t give a monkey’s arse whether Hall’s successor has a vagina or two low hanging testicles. Surely the criteria has to be that he or she is capable of doing the job and has the ideas to maintain the BBC as a successful broadcaster at an incredibly challenging time in its history.

The next Director General has to be a transformational one – the broadcasting equivalent of Michael Gove, someone who is willing to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. It needs to be someone who can be both inspirational for existing BBC staff, but also able to get a grip on a lumbering bureaucracy.

James Purnell, who used to be Culture Secretary under Gordon Brown, is someone who clearly has ambitions for the job. And understandably so. He is head of BBC Radio, education and the man behind the less than well-beloved BBC Sounds.

He has some radical ideas, but one suspects he will get the job over Dominic Cummings’ twitching corpse. If he is chosen, expect the mother of all battles between the BBC and Johnson’s government. It would guarantee that the appointment of the next BBC Chairman would be something well worth ordering the popcorn in for.

Andrew Neil? Sir Robbie Gibb? Michael Portillo? Oh, what larks.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Johnson to spearhead pro-Union strategy with more visits to Scotland

Prime Minister plans more and longer visits north of the border

“Scots are set to see a lot more of Boris Johnson in 2020 as the Prime Minister seeks to strengthen the Union and up the UK Government’s involvement in Scotland”, according to the Herald.

Apparently Boris Johnson is planning on holding more Cabinet meetings north of the border, as well as making more visits and overnight stays, as part of his new and self-appointed role as Minister for the Union. According to one source that spoke to the paper, strengthening the United Kingdom will be one of the Government’s main domestic missions after January 31.

The regular visits serve two purposes. First, it is apparently hoped that Scots will warm to the Prime Minister if they see more of him, rather than merely the version of him that filters down through a broadly hostile political and media class.

Second, they aim to make Scotland appear a normal part of the prime-ministerial beat, rather than gifting the SNP the optics of such jaunts looking like official visits from a foreign potentate or remote “governor general”.

This will apparently fit into a broader effort to deliver a much more joined-up “constitutional strategy” for the Union than has previously been the case, combating a ‘silo mentality’ which has seen individual Whitehall departments operating in isolation. It will apparently also involve the British Government backing (and branding) more things such as infrastructure projects so that the tangible benefits of the Union are more apparent on the ground.

Hopefully this close material engagement will be matched by equally vigorous intellectual engagement with the state of the Union. As I wrote for The Critic this week, Johnson needs to wrest the thought-leadership of unionism away from the die-hard devolutionaries lest he end up defaulting to their non-solutions when the crunch comes, as David Cameron did.

One such figure is Gordon Brown, who popped up this week to insist that the key to keeping Scotland in the UK is yet more constitutional concessions to nationalist premises and the establishment of an elected senate.

Spotlight on Stormont’s lack of opposition

The Northern Ireland Assembly is back, alas. The various local parties might have almost immediately accused Julian Smith of essentially tricking them into returning (the demands for even more money were almost immediate) but too late, they’re committed for now.

With the initial will-they-won’t-theys disposed of, we now know that all five of the Province’s main parties – the pro-UK Demoratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, the nationalist Sinn Fein and SDLP, and non-aligned Alliance – have taken up ministerial posts in the new Executive.

Yet this means that there will only be a grand total of five MLAs outside the governing coalition: two Greens, one apiece for the Traditional Unionist Voice and People Before Profit (both of which backed Leave, incidentally) and Claire Sugden, an Independent Unionist.

Owen Polley has written in the News Letter about how much easier it will be for ministers to circle the wagons now that the UUP and SDLP are inside the tent, even as Sinn Fein and the DUP are already facing charges of returning to the two-party ‘carve up’ that prevailed prior to the Assembly’s collapse. Meanwhile The Journal offers a different perspective, quoting academics who defend Stormont’s lack of formal oppisition.

It looks as if the best that can be hoped for, for now, is that increased Treasury vigilance over how public money is spent in Ulster – especially as Arlene Foster braces for the official findings on the “cash-for-ash” scandal – can offset the lack of domestic scrutiny.

But with the Northern Irish Office obviously committed to not taking responsibility for the Province, it is not obvious that the Government will have the leverage necessary to drive change through risk-averse, pork-barrelling local leaders.

In other news, the European Union has threatened to impose sanctions if Boris Johnson doesn’t enforce the internal border he has signed up to between Northern Ireland and the mainland, and Stormont’s finance minister is apparently not pursuing a cut in corporation tax.

Scottish Conservatives offers SNP a budget deal

Ever since losing their majority in the 2016 Holyrood elections, the Scottish Nationalists have passed their budgets with the assistance of their separatist allies, the Greens.

This has had the effect of dragging their economic policy somewhat leftwards, and so this year the Scottish Conservatives have drawn up an alternative. Murdo Fraser, the Tories’ shadow finance secretary, is talking up a return to something like the working arrangement that existed between the SNP and the Conservatives during the former’s first period of minority government after taking office in 2007.

In exchange for sparing Scotland various “madcap” Green proposals, the Tories would instead press to keep Scottish taxes harmonised with those in the rest of the UK, as well as a review of business rates. You can read Fraser’s case here.

However it may well be that the Greens end up rowing in behind the SNP regardless – they have previously been criticised for putting separatism before their own environmental agenda when push comes to shove.

In other news, Michelle Ballantyne has confirmed that she is “fighting to win” in the Tory leadership race, despite having initially entered it to prevent a coronation.

This week in the SNP

It’s been another fairly torrid week for the Nationalists. First, Nicola Sturgeon has bowed to MSPs’ demands for a full review into the Scottish education system.

Then an SNP MSP is under fire for refusing to represent constituents who oppose independence, whilst a former Nationalist minister has publicly argued that the First Minister could claim victory even in an unauthorised ‘wildcat’ referendum, arguing that the “political reality” would be independence even if the poll had been boycotted by unionists.

And there’s been a touch of sub-Stalinist history-editing over at the party’s official website, whose ‘History’ page no longer makes any reference whatsoever to Alex Salmond, the man who took them into government in Edinburgh, secured the 2014 referendum, and led the ‘Yes’ campaign. As good a sign as any of how the Nationalist leadership think his upcoming trial will go.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Rachel Wolf: My top tip for Labour leadership candidates – parties can’t win everywhere, and shouldn’t try

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

The last manifesto was focused squarely on issues that mattered to the new Conservative voter: immigration, crime, public services, infrastructure (I refuse to say ‘levelling up’, which is classic Whitehall speak). Its clarity – including on Brexit – inevitably meant some voters turned away. But far more were attracted to a party that was willing to stand for something.

Labour tried not to choose, and it lost. Not just because of the Corbyn, but because Corbyn’s character led to vacillation.

Now Labour leadership candidates face the same dilemma. Their potential electorate is divided. Do they want to reclaim their heartlands?  Or do they want to represent urban, younger, Remain-voting and generally graduate voters? There’s no shame in either decision – young people in cities need representation, too. Indeed, Conservative strategists have long agonised about not persuading more of them to vote Tory.

But what Labour can’t do, right now, is persuade both. Recently, it has looked as though Lisa Nandy is the only Labour candidate to both understand this and to want to steer the party back to its core vote. Moderates who have despaired at the toxic, institutionally anti-semitic mess they represent are focusing their attention and their hopes on her.

I think their analysis is wrong. Yes, Nandy has gone one step further than many: she knows that simply having a Northern accent and a semi-plausible back story is not enough to persuade intelligent, competent, former Labour voters to choose her.

She is willing to talk about the issues that matter to former Labour voters, including immigration and welfare. Her work with the Centre for Towns shows she understands the importance of those who live in towns across England – a huge focus in the last Conservative manifesto for good reason.

But her substance is in the opposite direction to her rhetoric. Her defence of Brexit voters is accompanied by a spirited defence of free movement. Her attack on Labour’s welfare position for being too ‘paternalistic’ is accompanied by a belief that people do not want ‘draconian’ welfare rules and that we should – by implication – radically increase the scale of benefits.

This is the worst of both worlds. Substance that alienates traditional Labour voters, and rhetoric that alienates new ones. This isn’t respecting Leave voters, it’s patronising them – and it’s certainly not going to appeal to the vast Remain-voting Labour Party membership whose votes Nandy needs if she wants to lead the Party.

Starmer is unlikely to appeal to former Labour voters. But he is more likely to appeal, properly, to someone than Nandy after she has been tested over five years on her policy positions.

It might sound odd for the co-author of the Conservative manifesto to give the Labour Party advice, but I mean it. A good Opposition makes Government better – and as a Jew, I’m praying that the Corbynites go for good.

To govern is to choose. The same is true for those who oppose the government. Until Nandy and the other candidates face up to this, they will remain in the wilderness.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: The perils awaiting Conservatives who seek to reduce inequality

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Inequalities of wealth and income in the U.K. are bad and the Conservatives should embrace left-wing policies to reduce them. So concludes Tim Pitt, a former adviser to Savid Javid and Philip Hammond, writing for the Social Market Foundation.

As with most Tory egalitarian calls, Thatcherites are his boogeymen. One Nation Conservatives have always cared about inequalities threatening our political and social fabric, he says, but were “drowned out” by economic liberals from the 1980s onwards. Now, Pitt considers the authoritative evidence in: inequality hinders social mobility, impairs long-term economic growth, and undermines political stability. The growth-chasing, equal opportunity-declaring Thatcherites were thus wrong on their own terms. It is time to Make Economic Conservatism One Nation Again.

Much (besides this potted history) perturbed me in Pitt’s essay: the constant conflation of income and wealth inequality, the very partial reading of empirical literatures, and the shifting yardsticks to judge whether inequality is “too high”. On income, for example, OECD comparisons are used, showing the UK at the high end; for wealth inequality, no cross-country comparisons are forthcoming (hint: the UK has unspectacular levels of wealth inequality internationally, with a Gini coefficient lower than in Germany, Sweden or Denmark).

But Pitt ignores the fundamental disagreement most economic liberals have with him about how to think about an income or wealth distribution. He talks about these as if they are themselves independent variables, that can both be easily manipulated and which then determine other economic outcomes. Like Angus Deaton, the Nobel prize winning economist, I think this gets the story about inequality, and what it means, back-to-front.

When we talk of “inequality,” what we are really describing is a snapshot, summary statistic of the distribution of wealth or income across the economy. This is itself shaped by millions of past and present trades, investment, business, and education decisions, inheritances, policies, demographic trends and more. “Inequality,” then, “is not so much a cause of economic, political, and social processes, as a consequence,” as Deaton explains.

Three implications follow from this pretty uncontroversial observation. First, that inequality cannot be denounced “good” or “bad” per se, without assessing what has caused it. Second, that “solutions” to inequality are not created equal. Some might unpick bad causes, such as ill-gotten gains from cronyism; others might deter activity enriching us all. Third, saying “reducing inequality” is central to your economic platform, causes be damned, shows a willingness to trade-off other economic goals, whether reducing poverty, raising growth, or more.

Take a cross-country example. According to Credit Suisse, Sweden, the U.S. and Russia all have near-identical levels of wealth inequality (Gini coefficients of 86.5, 85.2, and 87.5, respectively). This shows that wealth inequality is a useless metric for any reasonable conception of economic health. But thinking through the causes is illuminating.

In Sweden, high wealth inequality is driven in part by a hugely expansive welfare state. Generous government entitlements mean the middle-classes have much less relative need and means (due to high taxes) to save and build up private assets. That government entitlements are non-heritable (relatively more of the poor’s wealth being tied up in them) also tends to widen measured private wealth inequality further. So though a big welfare state might reduce income inequality, it tends to increase private wealth inequality.

In the U.S., high levels of wealth inequality are instead driven significantly by income inequality, in turn arising from a globalised economy. Top entrepreneurs, sports stars, and CEOs often lead “winners take all” markets, earning high incomes and building up assets.  Yes, this is not the whole story. There’s cronyism and lack of competition in some markets too. But it should go without saying that this is a far less significant driver than in Russia, where wealth inequality often reflects corruption (indeed, very high wealth inequality is common in crony-capitalist economies).

By not analysing what drives inequality (in the UK or elsewhere), you therefore risk making big policy mistakes in reducing it. Does Pitt really think wealth inequality in Sweden is as worrisome as Russia, and necessitates similar responses? Surely not. Blanket denouncements (inequality bad, equality good) make one susceptible both to ignoring obvious follow-up questions and to wishful thinking about solutions.

If income and wealth inequality are “too high,” as Pitt claims, then what are the right levels? If reducing inequality would, in his utopia, be a central aim of government, then how would he weigh its pursuit against other goals? He calls for more redistribution, for example. But what if this widened wealth inequality while lowering income inequality?

Consider another pertinent example. A government social insurance system for social care would widen wealth inequality, by protecting the assets of wealthier social care users with much higher life expectancies. Would Pitt reject this policy given this consequence? Or would other considerations dominate?

To avoid such tough questions, egalitarians tend to reach for bad cross-country studies suggesting that reducing inequality is “win-win.” One OECD paper claiming that lower inequality is “good for growth” is central to Pitt’s particular case.

Now, there are big problems with this degree of aggregation and ignoring within-country stories. China has become much more unequal as it has liberalised, but this has clearly been good, on net. In other countries, rising cronyism has seen both growth-sapping while widening inequality. Generalizing across countries in terms of implications for policy is therefore very dangerous.

Delve deep into the underlying OECD paper and you see already how confusion can reign. Yes, this paper finds inequality and growth negatively statistically associated. But the results make clear this is about inequality between the poorest and the middle-classes. The paper explicitly says: “no evidence is found that those with high incomes pulling away from the rest of the population harms growth.” Yet Pitt’s policy prescriptions are highly focused on taxing the rich more.

One Nation Tory-types likewise reach for economic explanations for Brexit and Donald Trump, buying into the idea this “rise of populism” is caused by inequality breeding political instability. But is Britain really less stable today than during the 1970s industrial strife, when inequality was lower? That’s subjective. But we are certainly happier today. Again, such sweeping statements about equality’s benefits are pretty dangerous as a guide. Historically, mass mobilisation war, communism, state failure and plague have been necessary to cause big reductions in economic inequality. This hardly seems likely to improve political stability.

In all then, Pitt’s arguments for a new Tory egalitarianism are unconvincing. Evidence that inequality is a key driver of slow growth or political dysfunction here is weak. And in failing to analyse inequality as the end result of complex economic forces, his proposed policy agenda seems muddled, at best, and highly risky at worst.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Daniel Hannan: I wave farewell to the EU in my last column for this site as an MEP

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author, and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

This is it: the last column I’ll write for ConservativeHome as an MEP. We were supposed to leave the EU at the end of March 2019. Then at the end of June. Then at the end of October. Now, at last, it is happening. In nine days’ time, we’ll be out.

What an extraordinary three years. “If this were played upon a stage now,” says the poet, “I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” The rise in the Conservative Party’s vote from 8.8 per cent at the European election in May (our worst ever result) to 43.6 per cent less than eight months later has no precedent. If anyone foresaw the turbulence, the vertiginous swings, the sudden reversals that followed the Brexit vote, they kept very quiet.

I certainly didn’t. Several things that happened after 2016 caught me completely off-guard. The first was the radicalisation of many Remainers. Euro-federalism had never really been a thing in Britain. To be sure, there were plenty of people who thought we should stay in the EU, but their reasoning had a pragmatic, faute-de-mieux quality. The usual argument for staying in was along the lines of “Yes, the EU may be expensive, remote, meddlesome and all the rest of it, but we’re in now, and pulling out would be disruptive”. The number of people who felt a visceral loyalty to Brussels, who responded emotionally to the 12-star flag, who identified as European, was tiny – until the referendum.

When people see the same issue leading the news day after day, though, they begin to take sides. As time passes, the side they have taken starts to become a part of their identity. In due course, they polarise, taking up harder and harder positions, more from tribal instinct than from changed circumstances.

It happened on both sides – partly during the campaign, but mainly after it. Leavers who had argued for years for “a common market not a common government” were suddenly arguing that a common market was “not Brexit”. Reluctant Remainers became passionate Europeans: the blue-and-gold flag, largely unseen in the UK before the campaign, began to flap at rallies. The handful of us who tried to argue for an EFTA-style compromise were shot down by both sides.

The radicalisation of the Remainers was the more striking. Until 2016, most of the loons had been on my side. I used to wince, during the 1990s, when Eurosceptic meetings were attended by angry, shouty people dressed as John Bull. After 2016, though, there was a polar switch. All of a sudden, the angry, shouty people were standing outside Parliament in blue-and-gold berets.

The second thing I failed to foresee was Theresa May’s charmless and inert premiership. In the immediate aftermath of the result, the almost universal assumption was that the Government would be led by someone who had voted Leave. Had that happened, I suspect the tone would have been very different. There would have been no sulkiness about recognising the rights of EU nationals in the UK. There would, I am pretty sure, have been a swift but soft Brexit, reflecting the narrowness of the vote.

But the new Prime Minister had no room for manoeuvre. Having voted Remain, she had to prove her credentials. She therefore overcompensated, digging in on relatively trivial issues – the timeframe, for example – while conceding on important ones, such as trade policy. Again and again, she insisted on making the whole negotiation about border control – sacrificing even sovereignty to that end. By the final days of her premiership, she was so desperate to get her deal through the Commons that she was conceding a second referendum.

My third miscalculation was failing to see how well Corbyn would do in the 2017 general election. It never occurred to me that the country would vote for a Marxist who sided against Britain in every quarrel.

It is worth asking what happened. After all, the disqualifications that counted against Jezza in 2019 were on display in 2017: his support for Hamas and the IRA, his anti-patriotism, his links with anti-Semites, his unaffordable spending pledges. Why didn’t he lose in the same way? Two reasons: first, he fought the 2017 election promising to respect the referendum result; second, he was against Theresa May.

Which brings me to my fourth mistake. I assumed that, after that election defeat, the Prime Minister would stand down. Had she done so, she would have left with her party’s thanks ringing in her ears. But, incredibly, she refused to budge. We were thus stuck with an anti-Brexit majority in parliament, an incapable Prime Minister and an EU that couldn’t believe its luck.

While all this was going on, the norms and precedents that sustained our system of government began to break down. Completely outré ideas – that referendums don’t count unless an absolute majority of eligible voters back something, that Russian agents had tipped the result, that previous promises to respect the verdict were void – began to be voiced, not just by online nutters, but by Labour MPs, columnists, academics and peers. When the Speaker of the Commons disregarded his officials to rule in a flagrantly partisan way, a large minority the country cheered. By the time May finally stepped down, I was concerned about the future of our parliamentary democracy.

How long ago all that seems now. Boris Johnson revived his party’s fortunes, won a stunning victory and restored normal government, The Brexit Bill has been passed, the Stormont assembly is back up and running and an ambitious democratic programme is being put before MPs.

Six months ago, just before Johnson was elected, I called in this slot for the democratisation of our administrative state, and suggested putting Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings in charge.

That is now happening. When I think that it might have happened in 2016, and that we might have been spared the anguish of the intervening 43 months, I almost want to weep.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Frayne: Ten errors that Conservatives must avoid making about the new working class voters who backed them last month

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Because few Conservative strategists supported the Party’s working class provincial pivot, there’s a dearth of decent advice on “what next”, and a great deal of bad advice. Listening to conversations in Westminster in recent days, I fear that a number of misconceptions will drive bad decision-making. Here’s a brief summary.

  • Thinking working class people want to be “like them”.The Conservatives’ obsession with social mobility is admirable, but the way in which many Conservative MPs talk about it winds people up. It sounds like they’re saying ordinary people have crap lives and could “do so much better” (maybe their kids could even live in Surrey if only they’d give them more self-confidence and get them volunteering). Most people are basically happy with their lot and want to stay living in their local communities with their families.
  • Assuming they’ve taken on new troops for a culture war. While it’s true most of the working class voters that came over to the Conservatives are small-c conservatives, they aren’t potential activists in a culture war. They’re mostly totally unbothered by social change. They’re opposed to the metropolitan excesses of the Corbyn left and will react to those excesses when exposed to them, but they don’t want the Government to lead them into a cultural conflict. I suspect this will change within a decade as the British left continues its journey to the campuses of the US, but that’s not where they are now.
  • Mistaking concern about immigration for an obsession with it. There’s no denying that working class voters are partly driven by concerns about immigration. But they are, for the most part, largely worried about border control, which they want established by leaving the EU. Queasy Conservative politicians should relax. New voters don’t want politicians to “talk tough”, nor do they want some great focus on illegal immigration. They just want border control and an intelligent and discerning system that determines who should receive visas.
  • Thinking the working class are all poor. Most new working class voters – and basically all lower middle class voters – aren’t in poverty, don’t live in terrible estates and don’t have “troubled families”. Posh Tories have a terrible tendency to want to “help” poor provincial people to escape from their hell holes; as such, they focus massively on the urban poor and largely forget about the vast swathes of people that just get by. Emphatically, that’s not to say the Government shouldn’t worry about those in poverty, but the mass of “ordinary voters” have different concerns.
  • Backing off welfare reform. Thinking specifically about policy, one of the biggest mistakes I can see emerging is backing off welfare reform – driven by misplaced fear such reform will be hitting their new voters. Wrong. Those most pumped up for welfare reform are those that live cheek by jowl with those on welfare – who go mad their neighbours wrongly claim while they get up at the crack of dawn to get to work every day. The Conservatives bottled welfare reform during the election campaign – fair enough – but should return to it in this Parliament.
  • Hostility to big business. Many Conservatives have been persuaded working class people are hostile to big business. This is a fiction; as I’ve written here before, working class people understand big businesses provide jobs and wages and need to be supported (polling I did for the Taxpayers Alliance showed that working class people were much more supportive of business tax cuts than middle class voters, for example).
  • Accepting the false choice between tax cuts and better services. For most of the last two decades, Conservatives have accepted the idea working class voters are happy to pay higher taxes to “ensure” better services. It was never this simple, but more and more working class voters are becoming exasperated with higher taxes while waiting times for GP appointments lengthen, and while crime rises. The Government’s recent announcement on cutting waste was met with predictable derision, but the public have completely bought the idea that waste – particularly in the NHS – is endemic. They’re ready to hear a more nuanced message on tax.
  • Thinking everyone wants to do all their shopping on the high street. The Conservatives are right to worry about how to improve town centres, but too many think they all want the traditional high street defended or rebuilt. It’s not this simple. People like the convenience of massive supermarkets and internet shopping, and they despair at the inconvenience of high street shopping and the minimal range of good available at high prices. People want vibrant town centres where they can spend time; they don’t want to return to the 1980s where they do all their shopping there.
  • Forgetting that public transport is just viable for vast numbers of people. It’s reasonable to try to improve public transport across provincial England. More people would get the bus and train to work if they could. But people in Westminster still forget that vast numbers of people not only don’t live near a train station, but they also don’t live near a bus stop. How many people in London would change their commute if it even meant adding 30 minutes a day to their travel time? Why on earth would people outside London make decisions that were going to add an hour?
  • Thinking about a place called “The North”. When Nick Timothy was Chief of Staff to Theresa May, he articulated an approach which was heavily influenced by the West Midlands. This was useful because it made Southern Conservatives think in a more nuanced way about provincial England – he talked of somewhere where unemployment was low, where many businesses were growing, and where people were natural Conservatives. Now the Conservatives have won so much of working class Northern England, there’s been a shift back towards lumping basically anywhere north of Bedford into “the North” and a corresponding loss of nuance about provincial life. The party risks thinking about cloth caps and whippets again.

 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stephen Booth: We’re about to take back control – but what do we want to do with it?

Stephen Booth is Acting Director of Open Europe.

The UK is leaving the EU in two weeks’ time but, as Mark Wallace noted recently on this site, “much of the Government’s policy for life after EU membership is as yet unpublished and unknown.” What we probably can say we know is that this Government will prioritise the ability to diverge from EU rules in the future over securing the best possible EU market access after the transition period ends in January 2021. In other words, its priority will be to “take back control”.

As I have argued in previous columns, the UK-EU trade negotiations over the next 11 months will be important and the specific details will matter for individual sectors and firms. Nevertheless, whatever the exact form our new trade relationship with the EU takes, it will mean greater freedom for the UK to set its own course on matters of trade, regulation and immigration. The question is what the UK should do with this independence.

The Prime Minister yesterday outlined the broad shape of the UK’s new immigration regime. “By putting people before passports, we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be,” he said. Immigration is arguably the policy area in which it will be easiest to reach a new post-Brexit consensus. There is already evidence to suggest that the prospect of the Government regaining the ability to fully control who can legally work and live in the UK is changing attitudes. According to YouGov, prior to the 2016 referendum “Immigration and Asylum” ranked above “Health”, “Crime”, “Environment” and the “Economy” as the issue voters thought the most important facing the country. It has now completely slipped down the public’s list of priorities.

Theoretically, EU membership did not prevent the UK from attracting the brightest and the best from the rest of the world, but the political reality was that an almost unlimited supply of labour from Europe meant that policy towards the rest of the world became too restrictive. Many UK industries will still be reliant on lower-skilled labour and future governments may differ in their view on the appropriate scale of immigration, and how much of this to leave to the market. But the UK will have far greater flexibility to tailor policy to prefer higher skills, which, all things being equal, is likely to be more economically productive.

Withdrawal from the EU provides a necessity and an opportunity to illustrate that the UK is “open for business”. While some EU regulation has liberalised trade across the single market, the UK must now consider how it might alter existing EU rules it has inherited, diverge from EU rules in the future, and also ensure domestic legislation is geared towards maximising the UK’s competitive position.

Financial services are one of the UK’s natural strengths and a crucial part of the economy, contributing seven per cent of economic output and 23 per cent of UK service exports. There are several examples of financial regulations the UK would have approached differently independently of the EU. For instance, the EU’s Solvency II rules for insurance firms do not adequately reflect a UK market where insurers tend to play a bigger role in providing long-term savings, such as annuities, than in many other EU countries. UK regulators have resorted to cumbersome “workarounds”, but instead the Government should prioritise reforming the rules to allow the sector to more effectively channel funds towards long-term investment, such as the infrastructure projects beloved of the new administration.

The bankers’ bonus cap is another example of how EU policymaking can go awry. The cap was introduced under the EU’s implementation of the global Basel III banking rules on capital requirements. The UK opposed the cap but not for the laissez-faire reasons often assumed. The UK was actually leading the calls to enable national regulators to impose tougher capital requirements on their banks, against resistance from France and Germany, which feared that higher capital thresholds might expose their banks’ fragility in the wake of the eurozone crisis. The result was a fudge, which the European Parliament felt compelled to adorn with the bonus cap. Ultimately, the cap did little to curb the problem it sought to solve: ending excessive remuneration and incentives to take risk. Meanwhile, rival financial hubs, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and New York, do not have a cap on bonuses; the rule therefore acts as a drag on UK competitiveness.

An independent trade policy represents a different challenge and opportunity. It is unlikely that, in and of themselves, new trade deals will radically transform UK GDP in the short-term. However, Brexit or no Brexit, it is vital that the UK diversifies its economic relationships away from Europe. It was Angela Merkel who pointed out that Europe had only seven per cent of the global population and produced only 25 per cent of global GDP, but that it accounted for almost 50 per cent of global social expenditure. We know that the first two figures are only bound to fall, due to demographics, and reducing the third will be incredibly difficult for European politicians already fearful of a populist wave. The UK will lose the EU’s mass but will gain flexibility with new and old trade partners. It must ensure that it uses its new-found suppleness in order to give itself a head start on positioning itself for the global economy of the future.

Ultimately, what I am describing are examples of the choices the UK can make as a self-governing national democracy. I suspect that the increased scrutiny, accountability and responsibility that flows from this change of circumstances will be the greatest benefit of Brexit, although this is of course unquantifiable.

With greater freedom and independence comes opportunity but also greater risks. Elections will be higher stakes, as any government with a majority can steer the country on a radically different course, for good or bad. But no longer can the EU be blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the nation’s ills. We will all be forced to up our game.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Holden: There’s no time like a Monday afternoon for a Maiden Speech

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

No one tells you – but it’s one of the strangest things that’s hit me as a new MP. You spend a lot of time in Parliament, but you actually would always rather be on the ground, listening to and chatting with your constituents.

Despite working constantly over Christmas, sorting out urgent constituency matters (such as the closure of a foundry), holding a number of surgeries, hosting visits from ministers, visiting local businesses and groups, dealing with urgent correspondence, and arranging meetings and discussions in Westminster on behalf of my patch, I constantly have a real feeling of guilt at not being in my constituency enough.

This is despite spending three or four days a week there – and I know most new MPs feel the same. When you’re on either the East Coast Mainline or the A1(M), you feel utterly impotent as your precious minutes are devoured by the endless travel time – although at least the train does allow you to catch up on the scores if not hundreds of emails that arrive daily.

Even when you know you can do a lot for your constituents in Westminster, there is an instinctive desire to want to be around the people who sent you there. This is perhaps strongest for new MPs: I know that I feel I want to thank individually the people who have given me the opportunity to serve them in Parliament

There are a host of challenges you face as a new MP. Despite being able to do something for most of the people who come to you for help, there is, occasionally, that person who is coming to you as their last hope – you are their ‘Hail Mary’ – but MPs possess neither a slush fund nor a hotline to the almighty – and truth be told, those who come to you know that too.

The other challenge many new MPs face is Westminster itself and the practicalities. I’m quite lucky in a few areas, not least that I know Westminster a bit. Some new MPs will have never rented a commercial property, or hired staff, or lived in two places at once and the experience can be daunting.

There are two things that make being an MP fundamentally different from being just another commentator on politics, and these are the ability to both vote and speak in Parliament. It’s from those two things that the power to help your constituency really flows. Those two things give you access at all levels. They give you an ability to convene people, and if you’re shrewd, the ability to work with other MPs, organisations and individuals to help change not only the lives of your constituents but the lives of people across the country for the better.

As a new MP, speaking in the House for the first time is an extremely important moment and the first national point where you get to set out what you will do for the next five years to improve you constituents’ lives.

Your maiden speech is unique because it is you, alone, up there for several minutes. The new MP, uninterrupted (because no one can interrupt you during it) speaking in “The Chamber”.

You get to speak about your constituency and the people you represent and put them front and centre in Parliament. So, for a moment, you pause chasing down the local CCG to ensure that they’re properly consulting on plans for local NHS services or arranging meetings with ministers to talk about how you get better transport links to Consett. And you introduce your constituency and yourself to Parliament.

For your maiden speech, the “accepted” boundaries of precedence and convention are clear:

  • Non-controversial
  • Praise your predecessor/s – even if you think they’re numpties
  • Five to ten mins – the more concise the better
  • Make sure you’re in the chamber for a couple of the speeches preceding yours and after as well as the opening speeches and the closing speeches from both front benches
  • And that’s about it.

I’m looking forward to helping put some local and national issues on the table later today. How we deliver more good, well paid, jobs locally and enable businesses to thrive; bus services in Weardale, Tow Law and the rural villages; protecting and in the longer-term providing newer NHS facilities in the constituency; improving transport infrastructure in and around Consett, Shotley Bridge, Burnopfield and Leadgate; revitalising the town centres of Willington, Crook and Consett and protecting our rural and farming communities.

And I’ll be briefly mentioning the national issues or campaigns that I hope to be deeply involved in, from getting affordable bus travel to college for 16-18 year olds nationwide, to cracking down on online gambling companies that exploit the vulnerable, to ensuring first rate technical and vocational education is available to all.

There have already been some great speeches this session. Some very funny, some more serious. But what I’ve learnt about a maiden speech is that everything about it reflects the person giving it – from the debate they choose to give it in to the jokes they make, a maiden speech gives you an insight into the MP, how they see themselves and what they plan to do for their constituents and for the country. Dehenna Davison’s, Rob Roberts’s, Mark Fletcher’s and Alicia Kearns’s are but a few of the excellent ones I’ve been lucky enough to see, all showed this – very different, but all very good and reflecting very well on them.

Much like those of my colleagues who have already delivered theirs and those who are yet to find the right moment, like every maiden speech, mine this afternoon will provide a real window into the political soul of North West Durham and the new Member of Parliament who will deliver for them.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Holden: There’s no time like a Monday afternoon for a Maiden Speech

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

No one tells you – but it’s one of the strangest things that’s hit me as a new MP. You spend a lot of time in Parliament, but you actually would always rather be on the ground, listening to and chatting with your constituents.

Despite working constantly over Christmas, sorting out urgent constituency matters (such as the closure of a foundry), holding a number of surgeries, hosting visits from ministers, visiting local businesses and groups, dealing with urgent correspondence, and arranging meetings and discussions in Westminster on behalf of my patch, I constantly have a real feeling of guilt at not being in my constituency enough.

This is despite spending three or four days a week there – and I know most new MPs feel the same. When you’re on either the East Coast Mainline or the A1(M), you feel utterly impotent as your precious minutes are devoured by the endless travel time – although at least the train does allow you to catch up on the scores if not hundreds of emails that arrive daily.

Even when you know you can do a lot for your constituents in Westminster, there is an instinctive desire to want to be around the people who sent you there. This is perhaps strongest for new MPs: I know that I feel I want to thank individually the people who have given me the opportunity to serve them in Parliament

There are a host of challenges you face as a new MP. Despite being able to do something for most of the people who come to you for help, there is, occasionally, that person who is coming to you as their last hope – you are their ‘Hail Mary’ – but MPs possess neither a slush fund nor a hotline to the almighty – and truth be told, those who come to you know that too.

The other challenge many new MPs face is Westminster itself and the practicalities. I’m quite lucky in a few areas, not least that I know Westminster a bit. Some new MPs will have never rented a commercial property, or hired staff, or lived in two places at once and the experience can be daunting.

There are two things that make being an MP fundamentally different from being just another commentator on politics, and these are the ability to both vote and speak in Parliament. It’s from those two things that the power to help your constituency really flows. Those two things give you access at all levels. They give you an ability to convene people, and if you’re shrewd, the ability to work with other MPs, organisations and individuals to help change not only the lives of your constituents but the lives of people across the country for the better.

As a new MP, speaking in the House for the first time is an extremely important moment and the first national point where you get to set out what you will do for the next five years to improve you constituents’ lives.

Your maiden speech is unique because it is you, alone, up there for several minutes. The new MP, uninterrupted (because no one can interrupt you during it) speaking in “The Chamber”.

You get to speak about your constituency and the people you represent and put them front and centre in Parliament. So, for a moment, you pause chasing down the local CCG to ensure that they’re properly consulting on plans for local NHS services or arranging meetings with ministers to talk about how you get better transport links to Consett. And you introduce your constituency and yourself to Parliament.

For your maiden speech, the “accepted” boundaries of precedence and convention are clear:

  • Non-controversial
  • Praise your predecessor/s – even if you think they’re numpties
  • Five to ten mins – the more concise the better
  • Make sure you’re in the chamber for a couple of the speeches preceding yours and after as well as the opening speeches and the closing speeches from both front benches
  • And that’s about it.

I’m looking forward to helping put some local and national issues on the table later today. How we deliver more good, well paid, jobs locally and enable businesses to thrive; bus services in Weardale, Tow Law and the rural villages; protecting and in the longer-term providing newer NHS facilities in the constituency; improving transport infrastructure in and around Consett, Shotley Bridge, Burnopfield and Leadgate; revitalising the town centres of Willington, Crook and Consett and protecting our rural and farming communities.

And I’ll be briefly mentioning the national issues or campaigns that I hope to be deeply involved in, from getting affordable bus travel to college for 16-18 year olds nationwide, to cracking down on online gambling companies that exploit the vulnerable, to ensuring first rate technical and vocational education is available to all.

There have already been some great speeches this session. Some very funny, some more serious. But what I’ve learnt about a maiden speech is that everything about it reflects the person giving it – from the debate they choose to give it in to the jokes they make, a maiden speech gives you an insight into the MP, how they see themselves and what they plan to do for their constituents and for the country. Dehenna Davison’s, Rob Roberts’s, Mark Fletcher’s and Alicia Kearns’s are but a few of the excellent ones I’ve been lucky enough to see, all showed this – very different, but all very good and reflecting very well on them.

Much like those of my colleagues who have already delivered theirs and those who are yet to find the right moment, like every maiden speech, mine this afternoon will provide a real window into the political soul of North West Durham and the new Member of Parliament who will deliver for them.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Gauke: As a non-Tory at the last election, my worry is that this Government won’t be Conservative enough

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

The Government’s objective for the first 50 days of this Parliament is easily identified – passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and leaving the EU. In many senses, the nature of the next Government will only become clear once we move beyond that, but we are getting some indications as to where it is going.

It may not come as a total surprise to you that I have one or two concerns. After all, I had the Conservative whip withdrawn, I resigned my party membership, stood as an Independent and argued that the country should not return a Tory majority. And my concerns? That this Government might not be Conservative enough.

The Prime Minister described himself as ‘a Brexity Hezza’. However oxymoronic that phrase may be, it is an interesting insight.

Michael Heseltine is a great man. He served with great distinction in a number of Cabinet roles and his commitment to ensuring that the entire country can prosper is something that the Government is right to try to emulate.

I also owe him a particular debt – he kindly endorsed me in the general election and spoke on my behalf. At the age of 86, he remains one of the best public speakers in the country. When he speaks, people should listen. (I would argue that a few more people listening to him in South West Hertfordshire in December would have been particularly desirable.)

But just as the views and actions of Margaret Thatcher have often been over-simplified and misunderstood, claiming the mantle of ‘Hezza’ does not justify the abandonment of all Conservative orthodoxy.

Let us take four characteristics that ran through the approaches of the Governments in which Thatcher and Heseltine served. In each case, there is at least a doubt that Johnson Government will observe the same approach.

First, fiscal conservatism. Thatcher’s Government placed greater emphasis on reducing borrowing than cutting taxes or increasing spending. The tax burden rose in the years after 1979 and public spending was tightly controlled.

The current Government’s commitment is, as yet, less clear. Sajid Javid won an important battle to ensure that there were fiscal rules within the manifesto, but there were also plenty of spending and tax commitments. Given the expensive demographic pressures on the public finances that the country faces, plus the significant short term risks for the economy because of Brexit, a fiscally prudent Budget on March 11 would be sensible. It doesn’t look inevitable.

Second, as well as ensuring that we only spend what we can afford, we should also spend it wisely. The taxpayer is entitled to expect that a Conservative government, in particular, extracts good value for money. That should mean focusing on outputs not inputs and, where there are areas of significant increases in public spending, these should be matched by significant public sector reforms.  During the campaign, we heard more about extra spending or extra people but, in delivering on those pledges, it is essential that additional resources are deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible. We need to hear more about this.

As for changing the rules on infrastructure expenditure so that more is spent in the north of England, there is a good case for it. But those rules shouldn’t be replaced by a free-for-all whereby multi-billion projects are determined on the basis of ministerial whim. Rigour and the need for value-for-money must remain at the heart of all these decisions.

Third, be wary of supporting uneconomic businesses. Of course, there was a divergence between the Thatcher and Heseltine approaches to intervening in the economy but let us not forget that it was Heseltine who was prepared to close loss-making pits.

As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I am uneasy about the bail-out of Flybe. Yes, it is not unheard of for a business to be given ‘time-to-pay’ their tax liabilities and, yes, regional connectivity is a legitimate policy objective. But every time a private business is bailed out by the taxpayer, the pressure grows the next time there is a potential insolvency. There is a case to be made for an interventionist industrial policy, even if that means ‘picking winners’ but the political imperative is very often on government to ‘pick losers’ – in other words, preserve loss-making ‘zombie’ businesses.

This issue may become particularly acute as the year goes on. Even if we get a deal with the EU, the Government clearly wants the ability to diverge from the EU, and there is no more talk of ‘frictionless trade’ with the EU – merely ‘zero tariffs and zero quotas’, which is a very different thing. This will mean that those businesses with complex supply chains face very considerable problems. It would be naïve to assume that this won’t threaten the viability of many businesses.

And, by the way, the risk of a WTO Brexit at the end of 2020 is, in my view, significantly under-priced. I will return to that issue in greater detail in future.

I mention this not just to antagonise those ConservativeHome readers who continue to question why I am allowed to write on this website. It is to make the point that there could be quite a lot of businesses for whom the adjustment to our glorious post-Brexit future will be painful. Some of them won’t be able to make it, not without some taxpayer support. Some of them might be able to make it but quite fancy a piece of the action if the Government is in the habit of providing financial support.

Of course, they will all say it is temporary and as long as the Government is sufficiently far-sighted, there will be no need to lay-off thousands of workers located in newly marginal seats. Nice little Conservative constituency you’ve got there, Prime Minister, we wouldn’t want anything nasty to happen here, would we?

So for the sake of the taxpayer, the Government should tread warily in bailing out businesses. The more you do it, the harder it is to stop. And the pressures in the next year or so may be immense.

There is a fourth attribute common to both Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine – a belief in free trade. As with every major Conservative figure for generations, they recognised that removing trade barriers is of enormous benefit to businesses who are able to export and consumers who can better access imports. The increased competition brought by reducing trade barriers helps economies become more efficient and drives up productivity. We saw this in the 1980s when the consequences of membership of the Common Market played through and inefficient UK companies were driven out of business by European competitors, and efficient UK businesses were able to expand because of access to European markets.

Evidently, this country is about to go in the opposite direction. Departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union will inevitably result in increased trade barriers with the EU. Regulatory divergence will increase those barriers yet further. Pretending that this can be fully compensated for by entering into trade deals with other countries is, sadly, delusional.

Margaret Thatcher once said that the facts of life are conservative. I might no longer be a member of the Conservative Party, but I think this is broadly right. The public finances have to be sustainable. Taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely. By and large, the market and not government should determine which businesses survive. Free trade is a driver for prosperity.

The Conservative Party has changed. It is a change that has enabled it to win a large majority. But the economic facts of life remain the same. I hope the Government will remember that.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com