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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

– – – – – – – – – –

Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

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The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

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On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

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Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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

Henry Hill: Wallace rejects amnesty for Ulster veterans, but wants inquiries restrained

Wallace rejects amnesty for soldiers but wants inquiries curbed

This week Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, revealed that he is opposed to offering an amnesty to members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Whilst arguing that they should receive “the very best legal advice and support”, the former Security Minister is reportedly concerned that any amnesty would also need to be extended to paramilitaries and terrorists. According to the Times, he said:

“We must make sure we don’t let off the hook the murderers that are still out there and need to be hunted down and convicted of the killings that they took part in.”

This will be controversial due to the previous scandal over so-called ‘comfort letters’, which were issued by the Blair Government and are widely viewed to have given a de facto amnesty to IRA terrorists. They came to light after collapsing the trial of John Downey, who was being prosecuted over his role in the Hyde Park bombing.

However, Wallace did offer ex-servicemen some hope. The Daily Mail reports that he doesn’t want any new investigations to proceed unless actual new evidence emerges against individual soldiers. He also stated that he did not intend to allow the history books to be ‘rewritten’, and that the Armed Forces should be proud of what they achieved in Ulster.

This is addressed directly at the concerns of many unionists, who worry that the historical inquiries process is unfairly targeting the Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary and thus bolstering a republican narrative of the Troubles.

Labour’s civil war on the Union deepens

Last week, I wrote about how John McDonnell had opened a rift in the Labour Party over their stance on a second Scottish independence referendum.

In what looked like a fairly shameless bid to woo the SNP, the Shadow Chancellor announced that a Corbyn-led government would not stand in the way of a second referendum.

This sparked huge controversy because McDonnell appeared to be unilaterally re-writing Labour policy on the issue – and cutting Scottish Labour off at the knees to boot.

Although he initially doubled down on his remarks, this week opened with Labour officially ruling out entering into any formal alliance with the Nationalists to oust the Tories, instead committing to governing as a minority government in such circumstances.

If true, this suggests a remarkable amount of strategic incoherence. Such an announcement is unlikely to undo the damage McDonnell has likely done to Labour’s standing with its unionist voters, whilst ruling out an alliance appears to rule out any potential dividend from his actions. Of course, it does invite us to speculate as to what constitutes a ‘formal alliance’…

Meanwhile the Scottish party has condemned the national leadership, and Labour MSPs have vowed to ignore the Shadow Chancellor’s new policy – although left-wing allies of McDonnell hit back at ‘kamikaze unionists’ in a leak to a separatist site. The surprise departure of Brian Roy, the General Secretary of Scottish Labour, added to the turmoil.

On the Tory front, David Mundell has cropped up to suggest that it would be very difficult for the Government to resist legislating for a second referendum in the event that separatist parties won a majority at the 2021 Scottish election. (He is mistaken.) Meanwhile a poll found that only two fifths of Scottish voters think another referendum should be granted in the next five years.

Salmond paid half a million by the Scottish Government

It is often suggested that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP pursue independence so vociferously in part to distract from the hash they are making of governing Scotland. This week provides yet another raft of embarrassing headlines which lend weight to that suspicion.

First, and most shockingly, it emerged that the Scottish Government has paid out almost half a million pounds to Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, over its mishandling of its official inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him. This money was to cover his legal costs after he mounted a successful legal challenge on the matter.

That case is separate to the criminal case against the former SNP leader, who is charged with two attempted rapes, nine sexual assaults and two indecent assaults. He denies all wrongdoing, but the case remains a time bomb ticking under the Scottish Government – Sturgeon was Salmond’s protege, and it was her administration that presided over the botched inquiry into his conduct.

If that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week we learn that once again the Nationalists’ university fees policy has seen Scottish pupils missing out on places offered to applicants from elsewhere in the United Kingdom; the SNP Health Secretary has announced that an embattled £150 million hospital may not be open by the end of 2020, following concerns about the construction process and reviews of its safety; and a pro-Nationalist business magnate is furious that the Scottish Government may be about to nationalise a shipyard he rescued.

This week in commentary

There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary on Union-related issues this week, so rather than scatter them throughout the rest of the column I’ve collated them here.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner suggests that Brexit has made Scottish independence more difficult (only two years after ConHome considered that point proven, but still). Rather than be bullish about the implications of this he chooses to finish on a maudlin note, but that’s unionism for you.

From his new vantage point at the Atlantic, the excellent Tom McTague (formerly of Politico) sets out why Brexiteers are right to be deeply concerned about the Irish backstop. The analysis isn’t perfect, but it’s a rare sympathetic take on the pro-UK position.

In the Scotsman, Brian Monteith – now a Brexit Party MEP – suggests that Ruth Davidson’s decisions have imperilled the UK, whilst Paul Hutcheon writes in the Herald that the biggest threat to the Union is Scottish Labour’s collapse.

Finally, Iain Martin has decided that the way to save the UK is radical constitutional reform including devolution to England, a senate, and the rest. As is traditional for advocates of this position, he appears to just assume it will work, and makes no attempt to explain why identical assumptions about the last two decades of the devolution project have all come to nothing. Sigh.

News in Brief:

  • Varadkar ‘opposed to direct rule’ as he prepares to meet Johnson – iNews
  • Controversial cybernat blogger to launch new separatist party – The Times
  • Lib Dems and Greens to join anti-Brexit alliance with Plaid – The Spectator
  • SDLP sparks row after querying Union Flags on Tesco fruit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Scottish Court to hear ‘fast-tracked’ legal challenge to Brexit – FT
  • Ex-Plaid leader criticised over comments on carrying knives – The Sun
  • RBS ‘will move to England’ in the event of independence – The Scotsman

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

Andy Street: Making connections to change our region

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

When the Prime Minister gave his first speech at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum on July 27, he spoke of the “basic ingredients of success for the UK”.

He spoke about culture, liveability, responsibility in power and accountability – but the subject that resonated most with the experiences of the West Midlands was his belief in the power of connections.

He said: “Inspiration and innovation, cross fertilisation between people, literally and figuratively, cannot take place unless people can bump into each other, compete, collaborate, invent and innovate.”

The West Midlands provides a case study for the UK in how connectivity can transform an area by linking its communities, its geography, its businesses and its people. In the UK’s most diverse region, this commitment to connection is a key part of the new Urban Conservatism we are building here, which is winning support.

In a region spread across the seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, connectedness has been vital in building a sense of unity. Most obviously, huge investment in our transport network is allowing our communities to physically meet.

But as the Prime Minister said, connectedness isn’t just about tramlines and buses, it’s about encouraging the sharing of ideas to drive growth – and it’s as old as the hills.

Successful city states – going back to the Italian Renaissance and beyond – flourish by bringing people together to drive social and economic progress through greater understanding and innovation. The lesson of history is that places that unite different cultures to distil their ideas and harness their ambition are successful, be it 18th century London or 20th century New York.

Here, that ambition means connecting an increasing number of economic hotspots. From the cluster around the NEC known as ‘UK Central’ to the massive Phoenix 10 brownfield reclamation scheme in the Black Country, the resurgent economy in the West Midlands is creating jobs that require connectivity. Investment in public transport is building an arterial network taking people – and their ideas– into these centres of opportunity.

But the real lesson of the West Midlands story is how we are learning to connect people, not places. The Mayor’s Community Weekend, for example, brought tens of thousands of people together over 165 events through a partnership between the West Midlands Combined Authority and the National Lottery Community Fund. A hundred workplaces joined in with the Mayor’s Giving Day, encouraging charity in all forms. My Faith Action Plan brings together different faiths. We are even connecting the generations through my Cricket Cup at Edgbaston on September 8, which will see grandparents and grandchildren take the field together.

In such a diverse place, these soft social initiatives solidify to bind the connections we make, simply by getting involved. The alternative to connectedness is isolation, which breeds intolerance. It’s critical to stand against intolerance of any kind, whether it’s racial, religious or the kind of schools protest against equality teaching we have seen in Birmingham.

We are also making great strides in closing divisions in our communities to improve social mobility. In 2007, 20% of our young people left school with no qualifications, a figure that has been brought down to 11% through retraining in areas like digital and construction, and growth in modern apprenticeships.

That’s being helped by a unique feature in the West Midlands – the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Scheme, which allows us to spend the unused apprenticeship levy paid by big firms more sensibly. Closing skills gaps like this is another way that we promote connectedness across and within our communities.

Connectivity in a more literal sense can be achieved through technology. I was encouraged by the PM’s commitment in his candidacy to speed up the roll-out of Fibre Broadband across the country. This kind of quick expansion is vital if we are to ensure that no areas are left disconnected from digital opportunities through under-investment.

However, with 5G coming first to our region, we aren’t prepared to wait for connections to spark innovation. Just a few weeks ago a ground-breaking trial here hinted at what can be achieved with 5G, when we linked local ambulances to doctors in A&E in real-time. The same technological connectivity is driving our automotive sector in its ambition to become the UK capital of driverless vehicles.

Sitting as we do at the heart of England, the West Midlands is positioned to benefit from the Prime Minister’s ambition to better connect the nation and rebalance the economy. As the PM said, “We need to literally and spiritually unite Britain, and that means boosting growth and bringing our regions together.”

To me, there is no greater instrument for this ambition than HS2 – the single piece of investment that will unlock millions of pounds of transport and housing infrastructure our region desperately needs.

Sites like the new tram line from East Birmingham to Solihull are indelibly linked to HS2. We have a target to ensure local people are never more than 45 minutes from a HS2 station, and schemes such as reopening closed railway lines and the impressive Sutton Coldfield Gateway have been meticulously planned around this major investment by the Government to sew our country together. Without it we are definitely poorer.

Connections need to be international too. As Michael Heseltine pointed out in this report ‘Empowering English Cities’, which was commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority, the underperformance of our major cities on the world stage is a critical problem that must be solved if we are to balance our economy.

However, this does not mean adopting an adversarial position to competing city regions like Rotterdam, Lyon, Frankfurt, Milan, Chicago and Sapporo, it means ensuring that we have the global connections to take in the best ideas and turn them to our own advantage.

This crucible of cultures concept is the very purpose of the civic university, and you will not find a better example than Chamberlain’s University of Birmingham – which is why our universities must, post-Brexit, continue to welcome International students. They literally connect us to the world and the ideas developing beyond our shores.

Travel opportunities are also important in nurturing our global position. Birmingham Airport has its sights set beyond the Brexit horizon with continued growth in passenger numbers. Work is due to start on its T18 project – named because it will create a terminal that can handle 18 million passengers a year, a rise of nearly 40% on the previous record, achieved in 2017.

HS2 makes this project even more important, as the airport will only be 38 minutes away from Euston, much quicker to get to from North London than both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Finally, I consider my own role as Mayor of the West Midlands to be one of connectivity. Overseeing a region where Labour control the majority of local authorities has meant that my job has often been about providing the glue that holds us all together, encouraging teamwork. In the UK’s youngest, most diverse area, this Urban Conservative approach is paying dividends politically as we attempt to make more of our constituent authorities Conservative.

This kind of inclusive Conservative leadership is where the party must be – and we are looking to Prime Minister Johnson, as the former Mayor of Britain’s mega city, to understand this and follow it through in Government. The Prime Minister will know what a Conservative Mayor in an urban region can achieve through physically connecting people – whether it’s through social connections, transport connections or digital connections – and I hope he will be considering how we can replicate this across the country.

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

Henry Hill: McDonnell reminds us wherein lies the real threat to the Union

Writing in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, Tom Harris makes the point that the hard left, from which hail both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, has “always been prepared to sacrifice the Union for power”.

This much was obvious before the Shadow Chancellor split his party in two this week over the question of whether or not the Opposition would offer the Scottish National Party a second referendum on independence in exchange for parliamentary support in the House of Commons. Getting Corbyn to sing from the right hymn sheet on the Union has always looked like an uphill struggle for his Scottish comrades.

But McDonnell has gone much further, and much more explicitly, than his boss. Indeed, as Jonathan Freedland points out, he’s gone further than he conceivably needed to. When faced with a backlash, he doubled down.

Why might this be? Well, for starters its worth remembering that Harris might be mistaken when he says that the left is prepared to ‘sacrifice’ the Union. They are very often instinctively hostile to it, regarding it as an imperialist construct. Some, such as George Galloway, do draw a vehement distinction between Irish nationalism and Scottish, but that isn’t a universal position.

The second factor is that the Shadow Chancellor might have cast a cold eye over Labour’s fortunes in Scotland and concluded that they are unlikely to make a significant contribution to the likelihood of a (Corbyn-led) Labour Government. Wooing the SNP, with their dozens of MPs, might look like a better bet – and folding on a second independence referendum is one of the biggest carrots he could offer them.

‘Corbyn-led’ is important. With Jo Swinson today declaring that the Liberal Democrats won’t help put the Labour leader into Number Ten, his only route there – absent a smashing general election victory, which seems unlikely – lies through the Nationalists.

But this strategy, if such it is, contains an inherent contradiction. If Labour’s best, or perhaps only, route to power lies through the support of a substantial number of Scottish MPs of one hue or another, Scottish independence logically implies handing the Right a substantial advantage in the rest of the UK.

A few possibilities suggest themselves: McDonnell hasn’t entirely thought this through; he thinks a second referendum would be won by the unionists; or he plans in some fashion to entrench Labour’s position south of the border in the process of delivering the referendum.

But there is a fourth option. Just as David Cameron offered an EU referendum on the assumption that the Lib Dems would block it, so too might the Shadow Chancellor be dangling an independence one in front of the SNP in anticipation that he wouldn’t, in the end, be able to deliver it – due this time not to formal coalition negotiations, but a backbench revolt.

Make no mistake, this is another acid test for Labour MPs. On Europe, they have made much noise about fidelity to their Party’s official stance, rather than their leader’s more ambiguous position. There is nothing to prevent them doing the same here.

Hundreds of Members of Parliament standing in solidarity with their Scottish comrades and indicating their refusal to collaborate with McDonnell’s bid to trade the United Kingdom for separatist support would be a powerful moment… if they choose to take that stand. Will Labour MPs stand by their leadership, or their Scottish fellows and their country?

In the meantime, his calculation about Scottish Labour’s weakness, and response to it, may become self-fulfilling. At a time when Ruth Davidson is caught in an awkward strategic position over Brexit and Boris Johnson, she has now been handed a powerful card. Consolidating the pro-Union vote is what delivered her victories in 2016 and 2017, and McDonnell has just sent Labour’s remaining voters – who lean unionist – a very good reason to give the Tories another look.

This row is also a useful reminder that, for all the excitement over a single margin-of-error poll lead for independence, the much more concrete threat to the Union comes from those forces – Labour and Remain – prepared to actively collaborate with the separatists and pander to nationalist sentiment in order to try to wield the supposed fragility of the Union to their advantage.

News in Brief:

  • Sturgeon accused of ‘complacency’ as exam passes fall – Daily Telegraph
  • Northern Irish Office loses key advisor at the wrong moment – News Letter
  • How the Left lost Wales – UnHerd
  • Scottish Tories attack SNP over prisoner voting – Daily Telegraph
  • Anger over removal of Queen’s portrait from Stormont – The Times

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

Iain Dale: There are good ministers left behind by the Government’s drastic shuffle

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

The reshuffle is finally complete. Looking through the final line-up of ministers in each department it’s clear that this really wasn’t just a reshuffle, it was a clearing of the decks. The number of non-Boris supporters left in government is minimal, although the balance of Remainers versus Leavers is still uncomfortable for some. Some of the decisions, though, are quite baffling.

Why on earth would anyone think it a good idea to move Robin Walker from the Brexit department to be a minister in both the Scottish and Northern Irish offices? Why wasn’t keen Boris supporter and superb media performer Nadhim Zahawi promoted to Minister of State? He goes out to bat in the media where angels fear to tread, and whenever I see him I greet him by saying: “Ah, it’s the Minister for Sticky Wickets.” There are plenty more strange appointments and injustices I could mention.

Looking through all the different departments, I’d say the strongest ministerial line-ups are at Business, Education and the Home Office. There is strength in depth in all three departments.

There are a few names in the ministerial list, where you look at them and scratch your head in bewilderment. I’ll spare their blushes here…

– – – – – – – – – –

Two junior appointments caught the eye and, in a way, they reflect what I said about the Prime Minister recently – that he’ll be a shit or bust prime minister – either brilliant or utterly useless. The appointment of Zac Goldsmith as an Environment Minister and Nadine Dorries to the Department of Health will, in retrospect, be seen as inspired or whatever the opposite of inspired is. Both have the ability to really shine, but many will suspect they won’t have the self-discipline to curb their natural rebellious natures. We’ll soon see. Nadine has mental health under her policy remit. She has the personality to really make a difference here. I remember another junior minister hailing from Liverpool who was sent to the Department of Health in the late 1980s. We all remember what happened to Edwina Currie, but we forget the fact that until her resignation she had been doing a brilliant job in promoting public health.

– – – – – – – – – –

Some of the stories I have heard about the way the government was formed are hair-raising indeed. There were stand-up rows in Number Ten with ministers who had assumed they were going to be promoted to a higher rank than they were offered. Flounces were had. Tanties were experienced. I could name names, but apart from satisfying readers’ prurience I’m not sure what purpose it would serve.

One of the interesting things about this government will be to see how CCHQ operates. As I understand it, the new co-chairman Ben Elliott is in control of things day to day and is effectively the replacement for Sir Mick Davies, who departed last week as chief executive. James Cleverly will take on a much more front-facing role and become the Minister for the Today Programme. In some ways this is the more traditional role for the chairman. Going back to the 1980s and 1990s the chairman would effectively be the lightning rod for the Prime Minister. Being a co-chairman, though, is never quite the same as being Chairman on your own. I understand James wasn’t consulted about having a co-chairman and I do wonder how this relationship will pan out.

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I’m writing this in my rather inglorious student digs in Edinburgh, where I’m spending the next ten days hosting my ‘Iain Dale – All Talk’ show at the Fringe. Yesterday was the first day of previews and I hosted two shows featuring three ex Conservative Party Chairmen: Sayeeda Warsi, followed by Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis. If James Cleverly is reading this, he now knows what lies in store for him! Both shows went well, with, I think, the right mix of light and shade. It was just a relief to get the first day done with. This evening I’ve got new Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. It’ll be interesting to see how on message Johnny Mercer can stay. I do hope ministerial office doesn’t ruin his natural enthusiasm and sense of mischief. As regards Len McCluskey, one thing I do want to know is this. A friend of mine was in his office recently and noticed he has two chess sets on display. One I can understand, but two? It’s a bit like Boris writing two articles on Brexit before deciding which way to jump. Sort of.

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As you read this, I might face an enormous logistical challenge. If the Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, their new leader Jo Swinson will naturally want to visit to reflect in the glory. However, she’s due to be with me in Edinburgh at 6pm. I do hope the Lib Dem ops team are on form, otherwise I’ll be having a conversation with myself.

If you’re in Edinburgh between now and 11 August do pop along to see my show. The full guest line-up can be found here.

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

Henry Hill: Tories hope that ‘Boris bounce’ will save them in Brecon and Radnorshire

Welsh voters go to the polls in Brecon and Radnorshire by-election

Boris Johnson faces his first electoral test as Prime Minister today as Welsh voters head to the polls in a by-election which could cut his razor-thin Commons majority even further.

Despite speculation that he might avoid visiting Brecon and Radnorshire, where the incumbent Chris Davies is expected to lose after being successfully recalled over his expenses, the Daily Telegraph reveals that the Prime Minister committed to campaigning there within minutes of winning the Tory leadership.

Moreover, despite the candidate himself being accused of ducking hustings, word on the ground is that the Conservatives might have done better than expected.

Liberal Democrats are reportedly concerned that the sheer size of the rural seat has prevented them applying their usual ‘pavement-pounding’ tactics to full effect, and the party’s failure to manage expectations has elevated the contest to ‘must-win’ territory. Tories have also been given hope by the ‘Boris bounce’, a polling boost which has put them ahead of Labour in Wales’ Westminster voting intention as the Opposition record their lowest-ever result.

In fact, Labour appear to be being squeezed from both directions, losing poll position to the Conservatives at Westminster and to Plaid Cymru, the nationalists, at the Assembly. Mark Drakeford, Labour’s small-n nationalist First Minister, has responded to the latter by desperately trying to drum up the threat of independence.

Apart from illustrating once again the absurdity of claiming that devolution has weakened the separatists and strengthened the UK, the sharp divergence between these two Welsh polls also highlights a point I previously raised in my analysis of the Welsh Tories’ struggles at the Assembly: lots of pro-UK, pro-Tory voters don’t turn out for devolved elections. Leaning into this devocrats’ playground, which is the inclination of the current Assembly leadership, risks leaving space for a more committedly unionist party to start eating their vote.

But as we know, devocrat narratives exist independently of evidence or experience. Thus, two years after I asked whether Remainers would ever admit that Brexit was clearly proving much better for the Union than they had allowed, we have the Guardian’s Martin Kettle asking if Johnson might not end up being the handmaid of, of all things, Welsh independence. Spoiler: no.

Johnson vows not to be neutral on the Union as he woos the DUP

Wales wasn’t the only part of the UK to feature in the Prime Minister’s whistle-stop tour this week. He also visited Scotland (of which more below) and Northern Ireland.

His efforts in Ulster appear to break down into a few broad categories. First, the inevitable exercise in trying to get Stormont back on its feet. Second, providing another opportunity to square off against Leo Varadkar over the question of the backstop. Third, nurturing his relationship with the Government’s Democratic Unionist allies.

Devolution isn’t coming back anytime soon, and nobody seems to have squandered many column inches suggesting otherwise. At the very least, Sinn Fein have no reason to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly until Westminster has imposed liberalising moves on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Johnson’s tough line with Dublin hasn’t changed – and Owen Polley has mounted a strong case for it on CapX this week – but it has led to a fresh confrontation with Sinn Fein after the republicans demanded a referendum on Northern Ireland’s accession to the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They also warned the Prime Minister not to be the DUP’s ‘gofer’, picking up earlier criticisms about the close working relationship between the two parties.

In response, the Prime Minister hit back by insisting that he would never be neutral on the Union – echoing David Cameron’s language on the subject – and he denied being complacent about the peace process.

He also held a private meeting with senior DUP figures, including Arlene Foster, their leader, Nigel Dodds, who heads up their Westminster group, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, their Commons chief whip. The former First Minister insisted that the terms of the two parties’ cooperation were not discussed, although as I wrote yesterday they will surely be renegotiated sooner rather than later.

If so, the DUP should press the Prime Minister on his commitment to protect ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland. This week Julian Smith, Johnson’s uninspiring choice of Northern Irish Secretary, refused to endorse his leader’s promises on the question. Has he gone native already, at a Government ministry already accused of ‘pandering to republicans’?

Johnson and Davidson call a truce in the face of separatists within and without

Not to be left out, Scotland also witnessed its first visit of Johnson’s premiership. Here his mission was not only to face down Nicola Sturgeon but also to try and mend relations with Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories, who are reportedly furious after his decision to dismiss David Mundell from the Cabinet.

He hit a bad note on both fronts by ignoring his Scottish leader’s warning not to attend on the First Minister at her official residence, Bute House. This gave nationalist activists the opportunity to stage a protest and boo Johnson for the cameras, an act immediately (and inevitably) interpreted by pro-Remain commentators as a spontaneous and organic event.

Nonetheless, media reports suggest that the two Tories have managed to put together a “fragile truce”. Davidson is striking a tough line against a no-deal Brexit but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, as she isn’t in Cabinet she isn’t required to support it. Furthermore Adam Tomkins, an MSP and close ally of Davidson, has taken to Twitter to set out that the Scottish Conservatives nonetheless agree that we must leave the EU in October. ‘Pursuing’ a no-deal exit is not the same as ‘preparing’ for one.

Meanwhile, Murdo Fraser and Andy Maciver have got their 2011 band back together and once again started pushing to split the Scottish Conservatives away from the UK party. This comes off the back of several articles by Stephen Daisley in which Tory sources – almost certainly MSPs – suggest that the Holyrood (and presumably local government) divisions of the Party could split off. Coincidentally, that is also Fraser and Maciver’s new proposal.

This has the air of a solution in search of a problem – it was supposed to be the only path to a centre-right revival in Scotland until Ruth Davidson delivered one by doing precisely the opposite -but the new plan is at least less damaging to the Union than the 2011 proposal, which involved taking the MPs with it and which I made the case against on CapX this week. However, the idea that ‘federalism’ will save the UK getting another airing this week – in the Daily Telegraph, of all places.

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

Andy Street: What the West Midlands wants from the new Government

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

In the few days since he entered Downing Street, British politics has been re-energised by Boris Johnson. From his speech on the steps of Number 10 last Wednesday to his appearances in Parliament and across the country during the following days, the Prime Minister’s words have brought a sense of optimism that engages people.

And that optimism is being built upon an emerging ambitious agenda for our country. Here in the West Midlands we need to seize and shape the energy of the new Government to support our plan to deliver the renewal of our region.

By working together we can unleash the potential of our people to achieve future success. My top ten ambitions for this Government are:

1. Policing: We all know that crime, violence and anti-social behaviour have ruined too many lives here. So, I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers, and was pleased that he chose to come here, to the West Midlands, to reinforce that commitment. Our communities want to feel safe and live crime free – this is the first test of Government. These extra officers will go a long way to making that happen. In May, our region will elect a new Police and Crime Commissioner. We need our first Conservative PCC to ensure the Government’s commitment is backed by a local drive to put more resources onto the frontline.

2. Infrastructure: Here we know that improvements in transport infrastructure help spread access to opportunity, as well as encouraging inward investment into isolated communities. For us, that already means re-opening train stations that have been dormant since Beeching, expanding our Metro network and identifying strategic road investment. That’s all good, but there is now the prospect of a game-changing investment in our public transport infrastructure. The Prime Minister talks of doing for city regions what he did for London – that’s music to our ears!

HS2 plays a central role in this too – not as a competitor for investment but as a driver of it. A recommitment to it, possibly alongside the Leeds to Manchester high speed line is essential to raise our productivity, ignite our regions and keep us competitive on the world stage.

3. Community revival: In tandem with infrastructure, the economic face of our forgotten communities – their town centres and high streets – are also key to revival. The Prime Minister’s £3.6billion pledge to revitalise 100 towns and cities across the UK chimes with the concerted approach we have taken to help high streets across the West Midlands’ seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

However, these ‘forgotten towns’ also suffer from skills gaps. Impressive pilot schemes to better equip people for working life, from apprentice funding to digital retraining, need to now be delivered on a greater scale. We must ensure our young people can’t fall through the gaps in the system, as all the evidence suggests that the opportunities 16 to 17-year olds are offered determine the rest of their lives. The ‘Forgotten Towns’ fund should be for them too.

4. Education: The new Government’s intention to ‘level up’ educational funding across the nation will help give more of our young people opportunities. I know this pledge will be particularly welcome in Solihull, where this issue is acutely felt.

5. Health: the commitment to our NHS is vital, building on that of the previous Government – and that means getting key projects like the new Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Sandwell completed. It also means exploiting technology to prevent disease and as the country’s 5G tested we stand ready to lead that charge.

6. Housing: Meeting the UK’s housing needs provides a massive challenge, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s call for more investment to improve quality of life and drive growth. We are already showing strong growth in house building, and we lead the nation on reclaiming derelict brownfield sites.

However, more must be done to encourage developers to include more affordable housing. Of the 14,500 homes built in the West Midlands last year, only 18 per cent fell into the affordable bracket. Regions like ours need an Affordable Housing Deal to address this – possibly on the GLA model.

Of course, measures to tackle the problem of homelessness go hand-in-hand with this issue. It is now clear that freezing housing benefits since 2016 has contributed to homelessness in the West Midlands. There should an increase in the local housing allowance element of Universal Credit, to stop people falling behind on their payments and being evicted. Losing a private tenancy as a result of getting into arrears is the most common reason to become homeless.

7.  Equality: With such a diverse population, inclusivity is one of the central themes of the Urban Conservatism we are creating in the West Midlands. Serving every community is vital – whether geographic or demographic – which is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to championing equalities.

8. Innovation: Securing the industries and jobs of the future is also critical. I have been heartened by the new Prime Minister’s clear belief in the power of technology to create real opportunity and it was great to see him identify battery development as an example. As the age of electric motoring dawns, the automotive sector can transform both our economic and environmental future. So, we must back JLR, the new National Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry and reclaim the title of ‘Motor City’ for the electric era. Key to this is our aim to open a Gigafactory in the West Midlands, to manufacture the batteries needed to power next generation vehicles.

The West Midlands was the first region in the UK to draw up a Local Industrial Strategy, setting out a roadmap for growth over the coming decades. At its heart lies clean growth, a key part of responding to the Climate Change crisis. The Industrial Strategy is perhaps the real legacy of Theresa May’s Government and must be built upon.

9. Brexit: We must honour the decision of the British people on Brexit and back the new Government’s efforts to secure a better deal for our nation and region, as the evidence is clear that a No Deal would be damaging to our manufacturing and exporting region.

10. Devolution: Finally, if we are serious about supercharging our regions and rebalancing the economy, the principles raised in Michael Heseltine’s recent Empowering English Cities report must be addressed. Our regions need a single pot of funding, where we can decide on our own priorities. The West Midlands should also be able to retain some of the taxation raised here to build a more sustainable local economy.

The new Government faces many challenges, but our new Prime Minister has spoken to the issues that matter to us here in the West Midlands. I look forward to us locally playing our part in delivering on them.

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

Howard Flight: Some guiding principles for Javid as he designs his tax policy

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Sensible people believe that a high taxed economy is bad and a low taxed economy good. The classic case study of this was Cowperthwaite, as Financial Secretary in Hong Kong, who brought employment and prosperity to two million refugees, leaving Hong Kong with a GDP per capita significantly larger than that of the UK.

Secondly, wise taxation needs Laffer Curve guidance and appraisal. The concept here is of a rate of taxation which will optimise tax revenues: tax is not so high as to put people off spending, but high enough to optimise Income Tax. The taxation of cigarettes is an interesting case study here. Tax revenues from smoking would be substantially larger if tax rates were reduced, but this would mean more people smoking more cigarettes. This is a straight forward illustration of where tax policy can, rightly, be other than commercially based in specific circumstances.

It is self-evident that tax policies which are expensive to organise and to collect the tax are a bad thing – half the tax revenues can be lost in expensive collection. Higher rather than lower taxation of consumables normally makes sense as citizens have the choice of what and whether or not to consume most items. This is an argument for high rates of tax on luxury goods, mostly consumed by the rich.

I would steer away from tax policies supposed to lead to a particular economic result. There have been two tax policies in the last decade which have not achieved their alleged economic goals but have caused problems for citizens.

First is the huge increase in Stamp Duty on residential properties in the London area and particularly more expensive properties, regarding which I have written previously. As a result, the market has virtually dried up. Stamp Duty revenues have been much less than forecast. The professed objective was to make available more houses for the owner occupier market by reducing the Buy-to-Let market’s attractions for investors by installing higher taxation and higher Stamp Duty on Buy-to-Let. The relevant Treasury officials seem to have missed the point that the Buy-to-Let market and the owner occupier market are very much two separated markets; the relative pieces of property sit in one or the other market and rarely move from one to the other.

The second area in need of dynamic reform is Inheritance Tax.

All the surveys show that citizens of all walks of life dislike IHT and would like to get rid of it. When George Osborne announced at the 2007 Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham that he would raise the IHT threshold to £1 million (a policy which he never implemented in Government) this was very popular nationally. People see IHT as a form of theft or double taxation – taxing people on their savings on death, when they have already paid tax on the income from which the savings have been accumulated. The rate of 40 per cent, and the start threshold of £325,000, are penal.

There has been a global trend to get rid of IHT. Over the last 18 years, 14 OECD countries have removed the tax, including Sweden and Norway. Even India has abolished IHT, and the starting rate in the US is $12 million.

The UK’s penal IHT taxation combined with the tighter rules on domicile have led to a growing number of wealthy individuals leaving the UK, so reducing the overall UK tax take from wealthy non-doms substantially – a self-defeating piece of tax legislation.

IHT is a regressive tax, mostly avoidable by the more wealthy. Both politically and economically it would better be replaced by more progressive taxation. The removal of IHT would also encourage successful entrepreneurs to settle in the UK.

Fewer than five per cent of estates pay IHT: it raises around £4.5 billion per annum – 0.75 per cent of total, gross tax. Also, the net tax take is much lower owing to the high cost of collection of IHT. HMRC should be focussed on collecting larger amounts from richer and less costly tax streams. Getting rid of IHT would also offer the opportunity of getting rid of distorted investment behaviour for IHT reasons – particularly affecting land, these would become no longer necessary.

I am also horrified to learn that the Government has been cooperating with HMRC to reintroduce ‘Crown Preference’ – including VAT, PAYE and Employee NICS as priorities over debts owed by floating charges and unsecured creditors, in the event of business failures. Such plans pose a serious risk to UK business rescues and business lending.

In looking for replacement tax revenues the key ‘starter’ characteristics should be that the taxes are relatively cheap to collect. This makes VAT attractive territory: certainly, some of the areas enjoying reduced rate VAT (five per cent) could be brought into line at 20 per cent. VAT could be increased on luxury goods e.g. cars and jewellery. Post-Brexit we should no longer be constrained by pan-EU agreements on VAT rates and VAT applications. Some replacement of tax from income ought also to be automatic – e.g. the abolition of IHT is likely to result in many more people coming to live in the UK, in turn paying significant amounts of tax on their consumption of luxury goods and services.

Let us hope the new Prime Minister will seize the opportunity to get rid of IHT speedily which would be a correct economic and popular measure.

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Iain Dale: This Cabinet is the most right-of-centre in modern times. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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

A reshuffle in which Penny Mordaunt is sacked and Priti Patel is given one of the top three jobs was always going to provoke negative comment. Patel has many talents.  But for her to re-enter the cabinet into one of the great offices of state after such a short time is eyebrow-raising to say the least.

It used to be the case that anyone who resigned ministerial office, or was sacked from it due to an impropriety would be expected to face the voters before being reincarnated into ministerial office. That was certainly the convention operated by previous Conservative Prime Ministers.

Having said that, it is truly a sign of the times when two British Asians now occupy two of the three great offices of state. There are now four British Asians in the cabinet now and two black/mixed race members. Ethnic minorities comprise around 13 per cent of the UK populations, but 18 per cent of the ministers sitting around the cabinet table. That’s real progress.

Rather more disappointingly, there are only six female members of the cabinet, yet women comprise 51 per cent of the population. Work to do.

This is without doubt the most right-of-centre Cabinet in modern times – and for the avoidance of doubt, I see nothing wrong with that at all. It is a cabinet designed with one aim in mind – to get us out of the EU by October 31.

But the view that this is a total Leave Cabinet is for the birds. By my reckoning, 13 of the people sitting around the cabinet table voted Leave and 20 voted Remain. Clearly many of those have pivoted towards Leave since, and have all had to sign up to the possibility of leaving with no deal if necessary. And quite right too.

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As you read this, there are only 97 days until October 31. Few people can see the pathway to leaving the EU without a deal. There are a few signs that Dublin is experiencing a squeaky bum, and may be willing to urge their EU colleagues to shift their position on the Backstop, albeit only marginally.

If we do leave with a deal, surely it would have to be alongside a slightly tweaked version of the Withdrawal Agreement. The question is: would a few tweaks be enough to get it through the Commons?

It seems difficult to imagine any document which would attract the support of both the Gaukeward Squad and the ERG. It may well be that this has been factored in by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They will go through the motions – but that’s about it.

If the EU refuses to negotiate, they’re not going to lose too much sleep. Any such refusal will be seen by the public as typically unreasonable, and if it leads to us leaving under No Deal, the EU will be blamed, rather than the new Government.

One factor few are considering is that the EU 27 may become so enraged by what they will see as Johnson’s unreasonable stance that they themselves may decide that offering to extend Article 50 beyond October 31 is one step too far. It’s entirely possible that Emmanuel Macron may well decide to veto an extension, as he apparently nearly did in April.

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Tim Shipman must be licking his lips. He has become the country’s official chronicler of the whole Brexit process. His first two books have been best-selling corkers. I can hardly wait to read his account of the events of the last few days.

Forming a Cabinet is one of the trickiest things that a new Prime Minister has to get to grips with. Predicting who will be in or out of a new cabinet is one of the exercises that political journalists and commentators try to carry out – with mixed success.

Strangely they (we) are rarely held to account for our predictions, despite them being available for all to go back to. For myself, I predicted 18 of the May Cabinet would be out – I got it wrong by one. There were 17. I was the first to predict (in my Sunday Telegraph column) that Priti Patel would become Home Secretary and that Grant Shapps would become Transport Secretary.

I also reckoned that Jacob Rees-Mogg would join the Cabinet, although I got the job wrong. In retrospect, I should have worked out that Leader of the House would be a good fit for this devoted House of Commons man. Apart from that, I completely failed to see the removal of Penny Mordaunt, but then again, so did everyone else. I could go on…

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I have now written two long read profiles and interviews of politicians for the Sunday Times magazine. I profiled Gavin Williamson in December, and Penny Mordaunt last Sunday. Well, we know what happened next. I wouldn’t blame Ben Wallace if he declined to cooperate with any similar article I might be intending to write!

Of course, now that we have a new Prime Minister the betting markets are already turning their minds to who might be the next one. I asked David Williams from the Rank Organisation who was heading that market and was somewhat surprised when he told me it was Rory Stewart.

Given there were 17 sackings or resignations, we can expect some pretty tough jostling position over the next few months as to who would be the King or Queen over the water in the event of Johnson self-combusting. There are quite a few contenders.

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Henry Hill: What Johnson’s reshuffle means for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson has kicked off his premiership with one of the most brutal reshuffles in modern political history. But amidst all the bloodshed, what does it mean for the ‘Territorial Offices’: Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland?

Of the three Secretaries of State for the devolved nations, Alun Cairns is the only one to continue to serve in the new administration. On the face of it this looks like quite a feat, given that he campaigned to Remain in 2016 – but as we point out elsewhere this morning, one’s stance on Brexit is less important at the minute than one’s stance on Johnson.

Cairns staying in post means that he can continue to counter the efforts of Mark Drakeford, the small-n nationalist First Minister of Wales, to use Brexit to try and wring more constitutional concessions out of London. In particular there is a fight brewing over Johnson’s plans to replace EU grants with a Westminster-operated ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, which devocrats fear will increase the role of the British Government in devolved nations.

During the leadership election, Cairns called on whoever won to set up a dedicated Downing Street team focused on protecting the Union. Let’s hope his new boss heeds that advice.

At the Northern Irish Office, meanwhile, Johnson’s decision is surprising and, if we’re honest, disappointing. Whilst he has cleared the extraordinarily low bar set by Jeremy Hunt, who proposed to keep the disastrous Karen Bradley in post, Julian Smith is not the man I would have chosen to send to this crucial ministry at this particular hour.

Whilst there is an argument to be made that Smith will have important first-hand experience dealing with the Democratic Unionists due to his service as Chief Whip, there is little evidence that his relationship with them is particularly good. As Sam McBride points out, this is the third pro-Remain Ulster Secretary in a row, and Smith has clashed with the DUP over the backstop. He is scarcely the man to take the fight to those spinning for Dublin in the British, Irish, and European press.

This is especially disappointing because earlier reports suggested that the position was hotly contested, with the Sun reporting that “one of the most hotly fought spats is over who will get the Cabinet job of Northern Ireland Secretary.” Gavin Williamson, who negotiated the original Conservative/DUP pact in 2017, was said to be contending with Conor Burns, who would be the first-ever Northern Irish-born Roman Catholic to serve in the role.

Instead, the position seems once again to have been used as somewhere to place a minister you need to put in the Cabinet – and a role for the former Chief Whip must probably always be found – but for whatever reason don’t want to give something with a higher profile. We must hope that, should Johnson win an autumn election, he takes the opportunity to appoint someone else.

Finally, Scotland. The decision to dismiss David Mundell is an interesting one, because the former Scottish Secretary was a close ally of Ruth Davidson and the decision has reportedly strained relations (yet further…) between the new Prime Minister and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Of course, there is definitely a case for a fresh face at the Scottish Office. Notwithstanding any criticism of Mundell’s tenure, and he does have his critics, it is a simple fact that he has served in the post for nine years – and for seven of them he was the Party’s only Scottish MP. A happy consequence of the 2017 breakthrough is that Johnson now has a much broader pool to draw on when it comes to staffing the Scottish Office.

There is also the fact that Mundell was one of those Secretaries of State who defied the whip on Brexit issues under Theresa May. If Johnson is looking to assert his authority, cracking down on such conduct was almost inevitable.

Although he has a lower profile than some other members of the 2017 intake, Jack is a well-respected and long-serving figure in the Scottish Conservatives. He also holds his borders seat – once the only Tory seat in Scotland from 2001 to 2005 – with a relatively healthy majority of over 5,600 votes. Perhaps most importantly, he voted Leave in 2016.

With Stephen Daisley reporting that certain anonymous “allies of Ruth Davidson” are once again talking up the prospect of splitting off the Scottish Tories – a scheme the woman herself has always rejected in no uncertain terms – Jack’s appointment once again highlights the tensions between their Westminster caucus and the Conservative leadership in Edinburgh. Given that this Government owes its existence to the Scottish Conservatives’ revival, Johnson and his allies must treat them with respect and take their concerns seriously.

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