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Westlake Legal Group > George Osborne

May’s premiership. How a loner leader met an isolated end.

Few politicians are introverts – let alone senior ones; let alone Prime Ministers.  But such is the disposition of Theresa May – or at least, if not precisely an introvert, she is unusually at ease with silence, as a mass of accounts of dealing with her can verify.  This sense of solitude, modulated by a happy marriage, almost defines her.  Who can pin down what has shaped it?  But part of the answer must surely lies in her upbringing as an only child, with a clergyman father driven by an persistent sense of public service.

But despite this clear-cut character, there have been not so much one, but three Theresa Mays, as far as her political career has been concerned.  The first was a cautious moderniser: an industrious, capable woman on the Conservative benches at a time when these were rarer than they are now.  Given the lack of competition, and her own clear sense of duty, she rose fast – becoming the Tory Chairman who warned Party members that theirs was seen as “the Nasty Party”.

The second May saw her find an adviser and gain a department.  The former was Nick Timothy, whose Conservative profile was unusual and distinctive – left-leaning on the economy, right-looking on social policy (when it comes to immigration control, anyway).  The latter was the Home Office, whose culture of command, wariness and control reinforced her own instincts and tendencies.  She began to make leadership pitches, the first to a conference held by this site, with a distinctly interventionist flavour.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, she become literally the last woman standing, after the withdrawal from a 2016 leadership contest of Andrea Leadsom.  To many Party members, she looked more than capable of resolving its post-plebiscite tensions.  She had been a Remainer, but had deliberately distanched herself from George Osborne’s “Project Fear”.  Her Home Office record was mixed, but she had fought the former Chancellor, and others, over migration control.  She seemed to offer grown-up government after a decade or so of Blair-light spin.

This site was enthusastic about the possibilities a May premiership offered and, at first, our optimism was more than justified, as she announced a Brexit commitment to take Britain out of the EU’s insitutions altogether – the most natural way of intepreting the referendum result.  Then came the 2017 election gamble and Timothy’s manifesto over-reach.  May’s majority vanished. So did Timothy.  Enter her third and final manifestion.  During it, the social conservatism, such as it was, seemed to vanish, leaving a Government leaning left both socially and econimally.

The Conservative Party is still picking up the pieces, as this leadership election has demonstrated – dispossessed as the party is of the economic thinking that ran through Thatcherism all the way to “austerity”.  But it was on EU policy that May Mark Three – in so many ways a reversion to type – became most manifest.  In retrospect, it is evident that she was hostile to No Deal; even at the time, it was clear that she was incapable or unwilling of seeing Brexit as an opportunity rather than a problem; and the Timothy-era clarity of purpose was replaced by the splitting of differences.

May’s supporters claim that she had no choice but to do so, given the depth of division within the Party over alignment and diversion, and deal or no deal (if necessary).  There is force in the argument, but also strength in the counter-case – principally, that her Government treated Ireland with a chacteristically English complacency; failed to spot the constitutional and political traps in the original backstop, and would have stood a good chance, had it not folded early on the proposal and fought instead for a compromise, of getting a deal through Parliament.

Instead, May gradually ceded ground to the point where she lost the trust of both sides of her Parliamentay Party simultaneously – on transition migration, transition extension, a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, even on the Customs Union, at least as far as the revised, all-UK backstop was concerned.  And as the referendum receded over time, the Remain-sympathetic Commons grew bolder – with the Grieve-Cooper-Letwin push for indicative votes and extension.  The more centralised her decision-making became, the less control over events she actually had.

Perhaps we all eventually turn into caricatures of ourselves.  As time went on, she certainly appeared to.  That childhood-learned sense of duty seemed to narrow to a resolve to cling on in office; the commitment to others, learned early in thse country vicarages, to a conviction that the country needed her.  The game was clearly up by mid-March, when MPs crushed the Withdrawal Agreement for the second time and a vote on extension was announced.   The Conservatives’ poll ratings began to fold that week.  These have not reached 40 per cent since.

If you promise over 100 times that Britain will leave the EU on March 29, and it doesn’t; then say that you are not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June, but do; announce that it would be “unacceptable” for European elections to take place, but they happen; and if you denounce Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to the country, but then seek to work with him over Brexit, you will poison the well not only for yourself, but also for your party.  Conservative MPs opted for Boris Johnson for simple, sole reason that they think he has the best chance of cleansing the waters.

May joined the Conservative Party as a teenager.  She married it, so to speak: Philip May was also a young Conservative activist, and could well have become an MP himself.  There is a terrible irony in this long-time Party member, a former Tory councillor who is “one of us”, having presided over an attempt to work with a hard-left Marxist.  You may say that she had no choice, given what the “Spartans” did to her deal, third time round.  And that she could not have ultimately have prevented extension, at least if her government was not to fall.

To which the response must be: if that last claim is true – and we suspect it is – she should have quit mid-March, telling the voters that, since the Commons was thwarting her Brexit promises, she would go.  Yet she hung on – though doing so didn’t save her in the end, as was evident at the time.  Perhaps the best explanation is that she really was set on staying in Downing Street longer than Gordon Brown.  Or, more straightforwardly, that it is a rare Prime Minister who leaves voluntarily – only Harold Wilson in modern times, and he was ill.

Having been so enthusiastic about May during the Timothy era, we would like something to salvage from the wreckage.  There are floating chunks of woodwork – the small business rates cut; parental bereavement leave; the push against modern slavery.  But the loss of even a small majority left her Ministers all at sea.  And the centrepiece of May’s legacy bid is an emissions commitment that won her pleasing headlines, but leaves her successors a delivery headache.  The loner has ended all but isolated, and maybe the key to the second is in the first.

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

Luke Tryl: The next Prime Minister must complete the education revolution

Lule Tryl is Director of the New Schools Network. He is a former Director of Strategy at Ofsted, and former Special Adviser.

While his forthcoming book will, no doubt, try and set the record straight, David Cameron must by now be resigned to the fact that he will largely be remembered for Brexit. More charitable types will cite the introduction of equal marriage, the commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP to foreign aid, or his work tackling the budget deficit, but when it comes to Cameron’s legacy, most will likely miss the most important area of reform during his administration – education.

True, the Coalition Government’s education reforms are more closely associated with Michael Gove than David Cameron, and it’s undoubtedly true that both the policy innovation and determination to drive through reform came from Gove, Nick Gibb and Nicky Morgan’s leadership at the Department for Education (DfE). But the simple fact is, they were given the license to operate because they had a Prime Minister who, having been a Shadow Education Secretary himself, was a passionate believer in the cause of improving education.

I remember a meeting in 2015 as Nicky Morgan’s Special Adviser during the spending review negotiations in which George Osborne, then Chancellor, remarked “I don’t know whether it makes you lucky or unlucky, but education spending is one of the areas the Prime Minister will take most interest in”. It was a level of interest I saw throughout my time at the DfE. Fundamentally, Cameron, perhaps conscious of his own life advantages, recognised that there was no point in trumpeting the traditional Conservative mantra of meritocracy while we had a school system that simply didn’t offer equality of opportunity.

That is exactly what the reforms introduced by his Government did. On the standards side, changes to the curriculum ensured that all children, not just the privileged few, are exposed to the best that had been thought and said, new gold-standard qualifications genuinely prepare young people for work and further study, and grade inflation has been stopped; on the structures side, turbo-charging the academies programme has given more head teachers the freedom to run their schools in the way they know best and to support other schools. Arguably, most radical of all was the free schools programme which gave teachers, parents and employers who weren’t happy with their local schools the chance to demand something different for their community and open a new school.

Those reforms have worked. We now have 1.9 million more children in Good or Outstanding schools compared to 2010, more children are on course to become better readers thanks to the phonics check, and more will have mastered the 3Rs by the end of primary school. Across the country, free schools have brought in innovative practice, are the top performing schools at GCSE and A-Level, and are 50 per cent more likely to be rated Outstanding by Ofsted than other schools.

Unfortunately, as with so much domestic policy, Brexit sapped the momentum from education reform. This was compounded by the Government’s disastrous attempt to promote grammar schools, which undermined the central premise of earlier reforms – that every child should receive a rigorous academic education up until age 16 – while the surprising impact of school cuts campaigners on the 2017 election has meant that the debate has since been dominated by arguments around funding and workload rather than standards.

But the cause of education reform has never seemed more urgent. Most of us recognise that while much of it was about the EU, the Brexit vote was also about something else: communities that felt left behind, pushing back against a rigged system. A system where because of poor schools and lack of opportunity, parents no longer believe that their children will have better lives than they do. The Sutton Trust’s latest report confirmed what many already assumed – the top echelons of society continue to be dominated by those who were privately educated. And of course, while it is no fault of their own, the fact that both candidates to be the next leader of the Conservative Party were educated at elite public schools is not the greatest advertisement of the Party’s commitment to meritocracy.

That is why the charity I run, the New Schools Network, is urging the two leadership candidates to put education policy back at the heart of their Government.

Both candidates have committed to increasing school funding, and the case for extra resources for our schools is undeniable. But money alone isn’t enough. Simply throwing more investment at schools will not raise standards in and of itself.  The next Prime Minister also needs to complete the reform programme.  That means restoring the incentives for good schools to become academies so that they can share their expertise with underperforming ones. It means reaffirming the commitment to 100 new free schools a year, focused on the areas that need them most, and cutting down the bureaucracy that is stifling the next wave of innovative schools coming through. It means investing in alternative provision free schools for excluded kids, because every child deserves a chance to get their education back on track and to be kept safe from the risk of grooming and gangs.

The Government’s record on education since 2010 is one they can be proud of, but there is still much to do. The Prime Minister who gave a rallying cry against burning injustices may be on her way out of Downing Street, but the biggest injustice of all – the uneven distribution of educational opportunity – remains. Whether it’s Hunt or Johnson, the next Prime Minister should make it their number one priority that when their time comes to leave Downing Street, their legacy has been to finally tackle it.

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

Mark Harper: If the Conservative Party is not the party of sound money, then what on earth are we for?

Mark Harper is a former Chief Whip, and is MP for the Forest of Dean.

Recently, I made my first ‘appearance’ on BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers, where they said that the only interesting thing about me was being a Chartered Accountant.  Now, this may not make me Box Office – but at least I know how to balance the books.

As the Conservative leadership race has gone on, both candidates have increased the amount of taxpayers’ money they have spent. Between them, adding up estimates by the independent and respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the two remaining candidates have already clocked up tax and spending promises of around £51 billion per year.

The recent BBC documentary series on Margaret Thatcher reminded me of a fundamental truth that she talked about at the 1983 Conservative Party Conference: ‘If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay—that “someone else” is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money’.

And that truth is one of the reasons why I’m a Conservative. If the Conservative Party is not the Party of sound money, then what on earth are we for?

What do I mean by sound money?  There are two effective checks on state spending: it’s Government committing to live within its means, and ensuring people keep more of their own money.

In other words, reducing debt as a share of the economy, and reducing the tax burden.

Living within your means is clearly something that Labour doesn’t believe in – you only have to look at their policies. Take John McDonnell’s plan to nationalise the water industry in England for instance; according to the Social Market Foundation, that could cost as much as £90 billion and add five per cent to the national debt.  Lots of cost with no benefit to consumers or citizens.

When we came to power in 2010, taking over from Labour, the Government was borrowing £1 in every £4 we spent.  The budget deficit was just under ten per cent of the size of the economy, at £150 billion a year.  We had to make difficult decisions to get the public finances back under control and Labour opposed us every step of the way.

Despite Labour’s opposition, we have reduced the cash deficit to £42.9 billion—down by over 70 per cent —and the deficit as a proportion of the size of the economy is down by 75 per cent to 2.4 per cent.

We should remember, and stick to, our 2015 and 2017 Manifesto commitments to reduce national debt as a share of GDP.

The tax burden is at a 50 year high.  That’s not a comfortable place for a Conservative Government to be. As Conservatives, we want to reduce the tax burden over time to allow hard working people to keep more of their own money. Recent polling by the Onward think tank showed that the majority of people, both young and old, want to keep more of the money they earn.

We do not help people with the cost of living by putting their taxes up. Our focus should be on reducing taxes for lower and middle income earners. We should always remember that the purpose of taxes is only to raise what is necessary to pay for public services and things which only the state can do, such as defence and security.

As Conservatives, we should also recognise that there is a difference between rates of tax and how much revenue is raised from them.  Conservative chancellors from Nigel Lawson to George Osborne have recognised that cutting tax rates, reducing allowances and simplifying the tax system can lead to collecting more tax revenue. Lawson did this with income tax, Osborne with corporation tax.

There are always many pressures on public spending. We need to invest in social care, our schools and colleges, policing and the NHS.  One of the biggest challenges facing the new Prime Minister will be their approach to public spending and the need to set priorities.

A good policy to follow would be to go back to the pre-financial crash Conservative policy to share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts, spending increases and reducing debt. Each year we should look at the growth and tax forecasts made independently by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), and the pressures on public services to reach a balanced approach.

These decisions need to be taken in a careful, thoughtful way using methods which already exist like a Comprehensive Spending Review and the annual Budget. The Government has already announced a Comprehensive Spending Review which will set out spending plans for the next few years, until just beyond the next General Election. It’s going to require some very tough decisions, to be made by the new Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It is perfectly reasonable for leadership candidates to set out their preferred direction of travel in specific areas of tax and spending, but the scale of those commitments should be determined by the new Prime Minister and Cabinet in a proper, balanced process.

The new Conservative Leader and Prime Minister has three tasks – deliver Brexit, govern as a Conservative, and beat Labour at the next general election. Key to defeating the Labour Party will be to win the argument on the economy. And winning the argument on the economy means winning the argument for lower taxes, for sensible levels of public spending (which involves making tough choices) and for reducing the burden of national debt.

As this leadership race comes to an end, we should not lose sight of the real finishing line – the next general election. We need to ensure that we finish this leadership contest in a better position to win it.

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

Interview. Johnson says that every member of his Cabinet must sign up to Britain leaving the EU on 31st October – deal or no deal

If Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, he will expect every member of the Cabinet to agree with his policy of leaving the EU on 31st October, deal or no deal.

He argues in this interview that there is only a “very, very, very small possibility” of no deal actually happening, but he says that ministers “would have to be reconciled” to that possibility.

Johnson maintains that since the failure to leave on 29th March, “we’re in a different political world”, where the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats are “feeding like puffballs on the decay of trust in politics”.

This means “the parliamentary mood has changed” and the Commons will not vote for another extension. He considers the latter eventuality so improbable that he declines to say what he would do if it came to pass.

But he certainly does not wish to call a general election.

Johnson insists he has “a very good relationship with Ruth Davidson”, and that getting Brexit through on 31st October will strengthen the Union, as the SNP will find it very difficult to campaign for Scotland to rejoin the EU.

Asked whether he had agreed to Sajid Javid’s call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, Johnson said he had discussed this with Javid and “what we’ve committed to is a general investigation into all types of prejudice and discrimination including anti-semitism”.

When reminded that he used to refer to Iain Duncan Smith, who has just become chairman of his leadership campaign, as “Iain Dunkin’ Donuts”, Johnson replied:

“Did I? I think I can say that to his face and I think he would be all right. Iain is a friend. The thing I admire about Iain is he has done a fantastic amount to take the Tories on to the agenda of social justice.”

Johnson denied his campaign team is a Boys’ Club, dominated by men, and pointed to the number of women who worked for him at City Hall.

He added that “one of the things I learned from City Hall is the vital necessity of arriving with a well thought through plan, having things ready to go”.

And he said that as PM he would be “the hireling of the people” and would have no time to complete his book on Shakespeare.

ConHome: “Brexit and all that, do or die. It must be the case, must it not, that every member of your Cabinet, when you appoint them, must be committed to leaving on 31st October, deal or no deal.”

Johnson: “Yes, that will be the policy of the Government.”

ConHome: “This means an awful lot of people will be automatically excluded – Greg Clark or David Gauke or Amber Rudd – all these people who abstained rather than have no deal, they can’t sit in your Cabinet if you’re committed to leaving on 31st October.”

Johnson: “Well, I don’t believe we will get a no deal outcome. I think that people who are determined like me to leave on terms other than no deal, which I am…”

ConHome: “But they’ve got to be committed to do it if you can’t…”

Johnson: “I want obviously to have a broad range of talent in my Government, the Government that I will lead, but clearly people must be reconciled to the very, very, very small possibility, and I stress it will be a very, very small possibility, that we would have to leave on those terms.

“I don’t think it will happen but they would have to be reconciled to it.”

ConHome: “One of the reasons why we are where we are now is that you can’t have an extension if the Prime Minister doesn’t sign up to it.

“So Theresa May has twice requested an extension because she thought correctly that the Commons would vote for one.

“What are you going to do if the Commons votes for another extension?”

Johnson: “Well, um, obviously I just think we’re in a different political world to 29th March and I think the Prime Minister’s decision to seek two extensions has done a great deal of damage to the Conservative Party and also to trust in politics.

“I think that people expected us to leave. The fact that we missed two deadlines has led to the growth, the puffball-like growth both of the Brexit Party, but also of the Liberal Democrats.

“And they are feeding saprophytically, like puffballs, on the decay in trust in politics. That’s where they’re getting their strength from.

“And they will continue to thrive until we get it done. And if we fail again, if we kick the can down the road on 31st October, if we continue to delay, if we treat this as a fake deadline, just yet another rigmarole, then I think the voters will be very frustrated indeed.

“And I think that our party, the Conservative Party, which I fought for for a very long time across this country, I think that we will not easily recover.

“So getting back to your point about Cabinet colleagues and the spirit of the party, where we all are, actually I think people understand that.

“And I think they also understand, intellectually, that you have to keep no deal on the table. Not only keep no deal on the table but you have to prepare for it actively and with confidence.

“And it’s very striking in the last couple of week, perhaps even the last couple of days, to hear some outbreaks of common sense.”

ConHome: “I think what you’re saying is if they vote for extension you will not go and seek an extension, because we must leave on 31st October.”

Johnson: “I’m not quite saying that. What I’m saying is that the parliamentary mood has changed and continues to change, and I think that actually, listening carefully to colleagues, and I will, and I’ll try to understand exactly where everybody is, and you know I will make myself totally available and try to work very, very hard to get this thing through – that’s been why I’ve been so pleased to get the numbers I did [in the parliamentary phase of the leadership election] – I think people can see the existential threat that we face.

“Here’s the choice that colleagues face. It’s a sensible Brexit deal that protracts the existing arrangements, that allows us to get on and deliver on the mandate of the people, that allows us to build a new partnership with our friends across the Channel, that allows us as Tories once again to build strong bilateral relationships with France, with Germany, to be pro-European, that allows us to get on and defeat Jeremy Corbyn when the election comes, that allows us to put out a fantastic agenda of modern conservatism.

“On the other hand, there’s voting it down, and then enraging the electorate.”

ConHome: “You’re basically saying the context has changed.”

Johnson: “Yes.”

ConHome: “And MPs won’t ask for an extension. I’m asking what you’ll do if they do.”

Johnson: “That is exactly what I’m saying. I think it has changed and continues to change. Several important things have changed in addition to the context.”

ConHome: “But if the Commons do ask for an extension, you are committed to leaving on 31st October. That’s an absolute.”

Johnson: “Well I am certainly committed to leaving on the 31st. I absolutely am. But I think it very, very unlikely that Parliament will want to kick the can down the road again.

“And my objective in this contest is to make it absolutely clear that kicking the can means kicking the bucket.

“When I hear from other candidates, actually there is only one other candidate left, when I hear from the other side that somehow 31st October has become again, you know, it’s turning into a mirage, we’re going to arrive at the oasis and find it’s not there, and that suddenly it’s been put off till the Greek Kalends, to next year.

“I really think there is no objective reason at all why we should not leave on 31st October.”

ConHome: “But are you ready if the Commons doesn’t do that, and does vote for an extension, and you don’t leave on 31st October, are you ready to face a general election?”

Johnson: “Well, it will be certainly not my intention or desire to have a general election, and in fact I want the exact opposite. Nor do I think is it the desire of MPs on either side of the House to have a general election.

“The public has been consulted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017. They don’t want to be pushed out to the polls again. They don’t want to be asked to vote again.

“And they’re quite right. What they want is for us to get it done and what they expect is for us to get it done on 31st October.

“And what they don’t want is more pointless can-kicking. They want a decision, and they want action.

“And that’s the only way, I’m afraid, to spike the guns of both the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats who are prospering mightily as a result of the indecision of the main parties, particularly our party.”

ConHome: “Do you accept that your candidacy is a problem for the Conservatives in Scotland, and therefore for the Union of Scotland and England?”

Johnson: “Well I’m delighted to have strong support from excellent Scottish MPs. I have a very good relationship with Ruth Davidson indeed…”

ConHome: “She was against you some months ago.”

Johnson: “Well, actually we have a very good relationship.”

ConHome: “I think you had Ross Thomson at the start.”

Johnson: “We have several Scottish colleagues now who are openly backing me. I’m very proud of that.

“And I would just make one point about the Union. I think the Union will be greatly strengthened by getting Brexit done in a sensible way.

“And if I were thinking in Scotland about who I want to govern the country, my country, Scotland, and if I were looking at the Government of the United Kingdom, and it totally failed to deliver on this essential request from the British people, and it couldn’t even do that, I would think well why am I being governed from London.

“On the other hand, once we get Brexit done, there’ll be lots of things we can do to cement and strengthen the Union, to champion the Union between England and Scotland, and the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union with Wales.

“There are all sorts of ways in which we can show the value of the awesome foursome and take it forward.

“And interestingly, there are things we will have to do legally to underpin the internal market of the UK as we come out of the EU.

“And final point, do you really think that the Scots Nats, once we leave, are going to have a song to sing about leaving the UK and joining the EU?

“And joining the euro, joining the Schengen area, submitting Scotland to EU rules, losing control of fish in Scotland to the EU? Really? Absolutely not.

“This thing, far from damaging the Union, Brexit is going to make life very, very difficult for the SNP indeed. I think it will take away a lot of their arguments, and it will greatly cement and strengthen the Union.”

ConHome: “The Boris Johnson tax cuts programme. Just to clear up the business about the 40 per cent threshold. Is that the first thing you want to do, or are there other things you want to do with it?”

Johnson: “There will be a package of fiscal measures, most of which will be directed at helping people on low incomes, including lifting thresholds for National Insurance and so on.”

ConHome: “Are you waving farewell to what’s known as ‘austerity’? You’ve got this spending programme, education, infrastructure, broadband, and you’ve got this tax cuts programme.

“What’s going to happen to spending control?”

Johnson: “Don’t forget the Chancellor’s revenues exceeded his expenditure in February alone by 14.5 billion. There is money there. Of course we’ll spend it sensibly.

“I never like the word ‘austerity’, but I think both George and Phil Hammond have done great work in exercising restraint, in reducing both the deficit and debt, very, very important.

“But I think most people you talk to today think there is room for some spending, particularly on education, where I want to level up.”

ConHome: “Will you be able to carry on writing books? Harold Macmillan claimed to read novels in the garden at Number Ten.”

Johnson: “He took a Trollope to bed, didn’t he?”

ConHome: “When are you going to bring this playwright, Shakespeare, before a wider public?”

Johnson: “This unjustly neglected author.”

ConHome: “What proportion of that book have you actually written?”

Johnson: “The truth is I’ve written a terrifyingly large quantity of stuff, but it’s one of those projects that continues to grow in ambition as it goes on.

“But I want to stress that if I succeed in this job I will be the hireling of the people, and I will be working flat-out on their behalf.”

ConHome: “Why has Iain Duncan Smith been brought in as campaign chairman now?”

Johnson: “Iain is a long-standing friend and supporter. I’m a fan of Iain.”

Paul Goodman for ConHome: “This is the man who you and I used to refer to in our light-hearted way when we were Members of Parliament together as Iain Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Johnson: “Did we? [laughter]

“I don’t think that showed particular disrespect for the great man. I think I can say that to his face and I think he would be all right.

“Iain is a friend. The thing I admire about Iain is he has done a fantastic amount to take the Tories on to the agenda of social justice, and campaigning for the interests of the poor and the needy in society.

“He gets all that. His heart is very much in the right place. He has a great understanding of the Conservative Party grassroots, and he enacted some pretty difficult reforms of welfare when he was in charge of that area, and he also is a guy who understands the intricacies of the EU issue.

“So he’s well-placed to chair the second phase of the campaign as we go out now to the members.”

ConHome: “Have you deliberately gone up a gear? There was all the stuff over the weekend and before that, Boris Johnson won’t do any debates.

“You’re doing the hustings, you’re doing this interview, you did Laura Kuenssberg.”

Johnson: “I love campaigning.”

ConHome: “You won’t do the Sky debate.”

Johnson: “I had to do the Conservative Friends of Israel dinner apart from anything else, which was a long-standing engagement, which I wasn’t going to blow out.”

ConHome: “The cry is that Boris will go out and debate, but he’s not going to go out and debate until after about 8th July, when most of the members have voted.”

Johnson: “We’re doing all sorts of debates and hustings, and I’m very, very keen to use whatever contacts I have with the media, whatever debates I’m doing, to get across what I want to do, which is come out on 31st October, get the thing done, unite the country and beat Corbyn.

“Every opportunity I have to say that is good.”

ConHome: “Given that you’re quite likely to win, how much planning for Downing Street are you doing?”

Johnson: “Obviously it’s very, very important at this stage not to appear in any way to be taking things for granted. But one of the things I learned from City Hall is the vital necessity of arriving with a well thought through plan, having things ready to go.”

ConHome: “Have you canvassed the present Prime Minister for her support?”

Johnson: “I haven’t. I did talk to her today and yesterday about another matter. She didn’t volunteer it.”

ConHome: “You were too shy. You missed a trick.”

Johnson: “There was a slight pause in the conversation where perhaps she could have said.”

ConHome: “Had she wished.”

Johnson: “You never know. You never know. I don’t rule it out.”

ConHome: “Is your campaign team open to the criticism that it’s a Boys’ Club? And that Downing Street also, were you to get there, would be a Boys’ Club?”

Johnson: “Not at all. On the contrary. Look at my administration in City Hall, which you may recall, which was basically a feminocracy of one kind or another. We had about half and half.”

ConHome: “The claim is that at your morning meetings it’s all men.”

Johnson: “There are lots of female MPs supporting my campaign. I don’t go to these morning meetings myself, but we have lots of women working, look at the campaign team, go downstairs and you’ll see Charlotte and Ellie, and virtually everybody is a woman on the campaign team.”

ConHome: “In that BBC debate, when Sajid Javid called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, everyone said yes. Did you agree?”

Johnson: “Well I took it up with Saj afterwards, and he said that actually, if I understand it correctly, what we’ve committed to is a general investigation into all types of prejudice and discrimination including anti-semitism.”

ConHome: “An independent one?”

Johnson: “Yup. Thanks so much, Ellie. Thank you very much. [She has brought him a mug of tea.] So yes, we’ll have to study exactly what Saj has in mind, but it sounded like a sensible idea when he mentioned it.”

ConHome: “In 1998, you wrote a tremendously trenchant piece defending Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky business, making the argument that all politicians are entitled to a private life and it’s none of the voters’ business. Is this still your line?”

Johnson: “Yes, yes. The reason I give for it happens to be true, which is that it is quite difficult to say things without dragging people in who are not political figures.

“All it does is divert people’s attention. It frustrates voters actually. They genuinely want to hear how I’m going to take the UK out of the EU.”

ConHome: “Have you found it hurtful to lose some of the popularity you had before the EU referendum? People who used to smile indulgently at the thought of you, some of them started to hate you.”

Johnson: “Well the great lesson of politics is that when you’re unpopular, it’s not something you should take personally, because what they’re taking against is what they think you stand for.

“The flip side of it of course is that when you’re loved, and when you’re popular, that is equally transitory and I’m afraid probably equally superficial.

“These are slight illusions, popularity and unpopularity.”

ConHome: “What’s your reaction to being called a coward by Jeremy Hunt?”

Johnson: “The eleventh commandment of Ronald Reagan, thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative.”

ConHome: “And that’s the end of that? You don’t feel compelled to challenge him to a nude mud-wrestling contest? To have it out mano a mano?”

Johnson: “I would defeat anybody in such a contest, were I obliged to do so, but that’s not how I propose to win this. This is about coming out of the EU on 31st October. It’s about uniting our country. It’s about re-energising Conservatives with an exciting vision for our party and our country.”

ConHome: “Would you serve under Jeremy Hunt if he won?”

Johnson: “It’s always a great honour to serve in a government of any kind. I only resigned on principle over Chequers with a huge sense of regret.”

ConHome: “And you’d offer him a job?”

Johnson: “One thing I’m not doing is promising jobs to anybody at the moment, and I think that would be wrong. But I would stress that Jeremy is one of many, many talented colleagues that we have at the moment.

“I don’t think the Conservative Party in my memory has had quite so many brilliant people in Parliament. There really are a lot now.”

ConHome: “As you set out to reunite the country, what are you going to do on this question of Heathrow? Can we take it you won’t be lying down under the bulldozers?”

Johnson: “Well I think the bulldozers are a long way off. I will follow with great interest the current court cases, because it is still the case that the promoters of the third runway have a long way to go before they can satisfy the legal requirements they must meet both on noise pollution and air quality. And there are many people in west London who would say the same.”

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

George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

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

Rachel Wolf: Not much changes when councils change hands. And voters know it.

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

Soon, each prospective councillor across the country will know if they have persuaded voters to choose them as their representative. In the somewhat confusing patchwork of our local government, most but not all of the unitary councils are completely up for grabs, most but not all of the metropolitan boroughs are contesting one third of their seats, and a large number of district councils are also fighting it out.

I hope that hard working Conservative councillors and candidates are able to convince voters that – regardless of their view on national issues – they deserve to be elected. But what exactly are they being elected to?

Just before I left the Conservative Party to set up my education charity, the New Schools Network, in 2009, I was given one of the overnight shifts for local council elections. It was a fun night because we kept winning things. My job was to send out briefings to MPs, press people and others so they could play the expectations management game – ‘this is not only great, it’s much better than we could have possibly hoped for’ – that often seems the main purpose of any local elections.

But at no point did the conversation focus on what might change as a result of these victories. I wonder if that is because for most of us the answer is ‘not very much’.

Councillors can, of course, make a difference locally. But it’s also the case, as it has been for some time, that they can make much less of a difference than most of their Western counterparts – in Europe, in the US, or in Canada (where 50 per cent of revenue is raised locally compared with five per cent in the UK).

Their powers over crime, transport, education, and – crucially – the funding for those services – remain in most cases extremely limited. I spent some time working in New York for Joel Klein – Bloomberg’s famous schools chief who was able to control and reform all of New York’s schools (and did so very successfully). This is vastly more power and leverage than the London Mayor.

When the Conservative Party came into power in 2010 it promised to change this. It began one section of its manifesto with language that could have been written today (with Brexit exchanged for the MPs’ expenses scandal):

‘The events of recent months have revealed the size of the fissures in our political system. Millions of people in this country are at best detached from democracy, at worst angry and disillusioned. This endangers our ability to work together to solve our common problems. Just putting this down to the shocking revelations of the expenses scandal would be a great mistake. MPs’ expenses might have been the trigger for the public’s anger, but this political crisis is driven by a deeper sense of frustration – that people have too little control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.’

The Big Society agenda – which has since been dropped down a large hole – was supposed to be accompanied by elected mayors in 12 cities, and an increasingly vibrant local media (I’m not sure how we planned to achieve that).

Of course, every opposition is localist and every government is centralist. But it did look for some time as though the localism agenda was gaining momentum, particularly after George Osborne became a late convert (some would argue he starved local authorities of too many funds to be able to use any additional powers sensibly, others that the constraints have forced ingenuity and innovation in local government that was much needed).

The devolution process has always been a bit all over the place – perhaps suiting the already higgledy-piggledy nature of local government (and I do not have the space in this column to go through every new layer including LEPs and local industrial strategies). Bespoke deals based on individuals as much as areas were put in place with different powers and money attached to them.

In general, the responsibility has been less than the hype – Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, who is a deeply impressive Conservative, still has vastly less power than Birmingham council, which in turn has vastly less power than central government. The PCCs do not actually control the police– their lack of real power is possibly reflected in the tiny percentage of the electorate that can be bothered to vote for them. The money that Whitehall has supposedly devolved – such as adult education budgets – are slow to arrive and extremely small compared to the rest of education spending.

It also seems as if even recent progress has stalled. While the new mayor of North of Tyne is due to be elected today, experts I talked to see no new metro mayors anywhere on the Government’s depleted domestic policy agenda.

This is, presumably, yet another casualty of Brexit and also a reflection of the fact that our Prime Minister and Chancellor are more instinctively authoritarian than their predecessors. Whitehall never likes relinquishing control, and nor does this Prime Minister.

Does it matter? It’s obviously not as simple as ‘give people local control, and their dissatisfaction will disappear’. Trump’s election in the US and protests in France – both far more devolved countries – make clear that there’s no easy inverse correlation between devolution and populism. Nor do more powerful local governments necessarily perform better; poor policy and underwhelming administration are not the preserve of Whitehall.

But there is good evidence that devolved public services do a better job than big centralised ones. That doesn’t have to be to local authorities – schools have been substantially devolved below the local authority level and are performing increasingly well.

We also do a disservice to very talented administrators and politicians outside London and the South East who could – if allowed – make a substantial difference to their areas.

Finally, we miss the opportunity to discover what is effective by allowing areas to try policies. The charter school programme in America has improved consistently by seeing where different states have got it right and wrong – and those experiments in turn made it much easier for us to design good school reform here in the UK.

I wish Conservative candidates campaigning for these elections the best of luck. I also hope that in future they inherit a position that gives them the power to do more for their constituents.

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