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Westlake Legal Group > George Osborne

Reshuffle 3) Chris White: It isn’t just Ministers who get fired. A third of SpAds are set to lose their jobs.

Chris White is Managing Director of Newington Communications. He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

This reshuffle was the first opportunity for the Prime Minister to shape the Ministerial team that he wants in Government.  These new ministers, from the Cabinet down will be crucial in delivering the ‘levelling-up’ agenda – from pushing legislation through Parliament, to communicating the Government’s plan on the airwaves.

Evolution

It has been interesting to watch the reshuffle evolve during the weeks after the election.

Initially, it was about machinery of government changes – there was to be a new super-department where Business would be folded in with Trade, with Energy and Climate Change splitting off, and International Development combined with the Foreign Office.  Of these, only a mild version of the last has materialised, with four DfID Ministers double-hatting with the FCO.

Why the change? It’s difficult to say, but the Prime Minister is most powerful when he uses his patronage. Cutting the number of Cabinet positions, and departments, loses seats at the table. Combining departments also distracts from delivery – when Energ and Climate Change was folded into the Business Department back in 2016, it took several months for civil servants to stop working in separate buildings and work out the reporting structure, seriously affecting efficiency.

Performance…and loyalty

Despite attempts to stop leaks, this administration is just as prone to them as those which have come before it. There have been briefings from the centre, and counter-briefings from Ministers and advisers, each trying to set the agenda and highlight those who have been performing, or not.

How you measure performance is an art form rather than a science. The Whips will assess the performance of MPs and Ministers in the Chamber, get feedback from constituencies and colleagues, and feed this into the centre.

Those close to the Prime Minister will then assess this information, and place their own judgements on this.  Whilst he ultimately makes the decision, the Chief Whip and a number of senior advisers all have their input.

But it is not just ministerial performance, or perhaps competence, that’s an issue. Take Julian Smith, who only weeks ago got the Northern Ireland Assembly restarted in what was a surprise to all, and who has received tributes from across the political spectrum in Belfast and in Dublin.

Arguably, this performance should have saved him, but it was his perceived disloyalty that confirmed his demise. Smith purportedly threated to resign over Brexit in the autumn of last year, and this is a sin that has not been forgiven.

Others have been loyal, but not necessarily particularly competent at their job, and it’s clearly been the view that it’s time to put some new faces around the table in an attempt to inject some dynamism into these first, crucial months of the new Government.

The Conservatives have a once in a generation opportunity to solidify support in constituencies that only 15 years ago had Labour majorities well north of 10,000: this time cannot be wasted.

Who’s in control?

One of the surprises of the day was the unplanned (or planned?) sacking of the Chancellor. Ordered to fire his six special advisors, Sajid Javid honourably refused, instead falling on his sword.

Prime Ministers have long suffered challenging relationships with the occupants of No.11, with honourable exceptions such as David Cameron and George Osborne. Javid certainly had his run-ins with Dominic Cummings and others in Number 10, holding the traditionally tighter Treasury line on public spending, while Number Ten now wants to loosen the purse strings.

Ultimately, though, this is about control, and Number 10 wants much greater control over the levers of Government. There will now be a joint special adviser unit between it and Number 11 overseeing economic policy – arguably a good idea which should overcome the traditional tensions, especially when the new Chancellor and the Prime Minister trust each other.

Other advisors have also found themselves in the firing line – Peter Cardwell, the Justice Secretary’s media SpAd has been sacked, even though Robert Buckland stayed. Last week, Cummings jokingly told the Friday SpAds meeting that he would ‘see half of you next week’. This week we see advisers being removed from post, a third of them losing their jobs, and Number Ten tightening its grip.

Control can be seized, but can it be sustained? Government produces huge quantities of paperwork, Bills and advice. Number Ten simply cannot be everywhere at once, however much it tries. Too tight a grip removes initiative and the ability for departmental ministers to get on with the job, with everything having to go through the centre, which then becomes a log-jam.  Such a setup is not sustainable in the long-run.

Continuity

Reshuffles happen to provide a sense of renewal, to bring in new talent and boot out the underperforming. Yet they have their downsides as well. There will be some bruised personalities on the backbenches who will need careful managing by the whips over the next few months, and I hear Mark Spencer is already on the job.

One final point worth mentioning is regarding continuity. Sometimes, it works well – George Eustice has been a DEFRA Minister for nearly seven years on and off, and is now promoted to Secretary of State. He knows his brief inside out, and will be effective from day one.

Yet with the sacking of Esther McVey, there have now been ten Housing Ministers in ten years. Equally with Julian Smith going, there have now been four Northern Ireland Secretaries in five years.

We’ve yet to see what happens in the junior ranks, but there must be a greater balance between Ministers becoming effective through time served and understanding the brief, and the need to bring in new talent.

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

Reshuffle 3) Chris White: It isn’t just Ministers who get fired. A third of SpAds are set to lose their jobs.

Chris White is Managing Director of Newington Communications. He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

This reshuffle was the first opportunity for the Prime Minister to shape the Ministerial team that he wants in Government.  These new ministers, from the Cabinet down will be crucial in delivering the ‘levelling-up’ agenda – from pushing legislation through Parliament, to communicating the Government’s plan on the airwaves.

Evolution

It has been interesting to watch the reshuffle evolve during the weeks after the election.

Initially, it was about machinery of government changes – there was to be a new super-department where Business would be folded in with Trade, with Energy and Climate Change splitting off, and International Development combined with the Foreign Office.  Of these, only a mild version of the last has materialised, with four DfID Ministers double-hatting with the FCO.

Why the change? It’s difficult to say, but the Prime Minister is most powerful when he uses his patronage. Cutting the number of Cabinet positions, and departments, loses seats at the table. Combining departments also distracts from delivery – when Energ and Climate Change was folded into the Business Department back in 2016, it took several months for civil servants to stop working in separate buildings and work out the reporting structure, seriously affecting efficiency.

Performance…and loyalty

Despite attempts to stop leaks, this administration is just as prone to them as those which have come before it. There have been briefings from the centre, and counter-briefings from Ministers and advisers, each trying to set the agenda and highlight those who have been performing, or not.

How you measure performance is an art form rather than a science. The Whips will assess the performance of MPs and Ministers in the Chamber, get feedback from constituencies and colleagues, and feed this into the centre.

Those close to the Prime Minister will then assess this information, and place their own judgements on this.  Whilst he ultimately makes the decision, the Chief Whip and a number of senior advisers all have their input.

But it is not just ministerial performance, or perhaps competence, that’s an issue. Take Julian Smith, who only weeks ago got the Northern Ireland Assembly restarted in what was a surprise to all, and who has received tributes from across the political spectrum in Belfast and in Dublin.

Arguably, this performance should have saved him, but it was his perceived disloyalty that confirmed his demise. Smith purportedly threated to resign over Brexit in the autumn of last year, and this is a sin that has not been forgiven.

Others have been loyal, but not necessarily particularly competent at their job, and it’s clearly been the view that it’s time to put some new faces around the table in an attempt to inject some dynamism into these first, crucial months of the new Government.

The Conservatives have a once in a generation opportunity to solidify support in constituencies that only 15 years ago had Labour majorities well north of 10,000: this time cannot be wasted.

Who’s in control?

One of the surprises of the day was the unplanned (or planned?) sacking of the Chancellor. Ordered to fire his six special advisors, Sajid Javid honourably refused, instead falling on his sword.

Prime Ministers have long suffered challenging relationships with the occupants of No.11, with honourable exceptions such as David Cameron and George Osborne. Javid certainly had his run-ins with Dominic Cummings and others in Number 10, holding the traditionally tighter Treasury line on public spending, while Number Ten now wants to loosen the purse strings.

Ultimately, though, this is about control, and Number 10 wants much greater control over the levers of Government. There will now be a joint special adviser unit between it and Number 11 overseeing economic policy – arguably a good idea which should overcome the traditional tensions, especially when the new Chancellor and the Prime Minister trust each other.

Other advisors have also found themselves in the firing line – Peter Cardwell, the Justice Secretary’s media SpAd has been sacked, even though Robert Buckland stayed. Last week, Cummings jokingly told the Friday SpAds meeting that he would ‘see half of you next week’. This week we see advisers being removed from post, a third of them losing their jobs, and Number Ten tightening its grip.

Control can be seized, but can it be sustained? Government produces huge quantities of paperwork, Bills and advice. Number Ten simply cannot be everywhere at once, however much it tries. Too tight a grip removes initiative and the ability for departmental ministers to get on with the job, with everything having to go through the centre, which then becomes a log-jam.  Such a setup is not sustainable in the long-run.

Continuity

Reshuffles happen to provide a sense of renewal, to bring in new talent and boot out the underperforming. Yet they have their downsides as well. There will be some bruised personalities on the backbenches who will need careful managing by the whips over the next few months, and I hear Mark Spencer is already on the job.

One final point worth mentioning is regarding continuity. Sometimes, it works well – George Eustice has been a DEFRA Minister for nearly seven years on and off, and is now promoted to Secretary of State. He knows his brief inside out, and will be effective from day one.

Yet with the sacking of Esther McVey, there have now been ten Housing Ministers in ten years. Equally with Julian Smith going, there have now been four Northern Ireland Secretaries in five years.

We’ve yet to see what happens in the junior ranks, but there must be a greater balance between Ministers becoming effective through time served and understanding the brief, and the need to bring in new talent.

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

Tom McPhail: Successive governments have dodged tough choices on pension tax reform for too long

Tom McPhail is head of policy at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Not for the first time, the prospect of an impending budget has prompted an outbreak of speculation around the possibility of pension tax reform. This is not to say the speculation is unfounded: this is the first time in around 15 years a government has the opportunity and the means to undertake meaningful reform of what has become a bloated and inefficient system, riddled with inconsistencies and inefficiency. The Chancellor should announce in the Budget a consultation to review the options available and then press on with reform as quickly as possible.

Many of the myriad problems with the system are the result of previous governments’ unwillingness to make tough choices. I’ve set out here a brief summary of the reasons why change is needed, why I think now is the moment to do it, and what the options for reform might look like.

The Conservative Party manifesto had already identified two specific problems which need addressing; the Tapered Annual Allowance, which has been landing high-paid workers, including key high-paid public sector employees such as doctors with punitive tax bills; and the net pay tax relief administration system adopted by some employers, which results in lower paid employees missing out altogether on their free government-funded tax relief top up to their pension.

The Pensions Policy Institute estimates that around 64 per cent of pension tax relief is enjoyed by the 17 per cent of the population paying higher or top rate income tax. It is hard to regard this as socially equitable; to give the least support to the most needy individuals and to give the most support to the wealthiest few.

This approach only makes sense when viewed through the logic of deferred taxation, whereby tax relief is granted now to avoiding taxing money paid into a pension until the ultimate withdrawal of that money in retirement, when income tax is then levied on the withdrawals.

When viewed as an incentive to save, though, tax relief clearly makes no sense to most people. Research by the pension scheme B&CE in 2015 showed that of people actually in a pension, 74 per cent either didn’t know how tax relief worked or weren’t even aware it existed. The Government is spending tens of billions of pounds a year (roughly £30 billion to £50 billion, depending on how you want to measure it), on a scheme which is largely unappreciated by the population.

Other problems are mounting up. The Lifetime Allowance, the cap applied to limit the overall amount that can be saved in a pension without extra tax charges kicking in, now acts as a penalty on those who have saved prudently or invested wisely. It cannot be right to penalise savers just because their investments have performed well.

Conversely, on death, pension funds pass on largely tax free, thereby creating a gaping hole through which tax revenues can leak.

Retirement saving among the self-employed is alarmingly low, with just 31 per cent currently actively saving in a pension.

The Money Purchase Annual Allowance cuts the maximum amount you can pay into your pension, from £40,000 a year down to just £4,000, once you choose to draw income from your pension. This would be fine if everyone stopped work in their 60s and stayed retired.

But they don’t; in fact the concept of ‘retirement’ is becoming redundant. Increasing numbers of people pass through a transitional process of tapping into their pension savings in their 50s, whilst managing an ebb and flow transition into retirement and not becoming fully economically inactive until their 70s. Currently this happens largely by choice, increasingly in the future it will be by necessity.

Into this muddled environment has arrived a Conservative government with a very different agenda from the one that reviewed pension taxation in 2015. Then, the review initiated by George Osborne ran aground on the rocks of opposition from the right-wing press and from a pensions industry that couldn’t see beyond its short-term interests.

Now, the world is very different. Auto-enrolment has transformed retirement saving, bringing ten million new savers into the fold and their employers are on the hook to pay for it, whether they want to or not. The 2015 Pension Freedoms which revolutionised the choices available for retirement income withdrawal also now demand people make more decisions. The challenge is no longer about getting people into pensions, it is about persuading them to engage with their savings and to save more.

Meanwhile, we have a Conservative government with a very different focus compared to the past. It recognises the need to address the interests of voters in those ‘Red Wall’ seats in the Midlands and North. Voters who in the main are not higher earners, who aren’t much interested in the principles of deferred taxation but who would know a good deal if it was presented to them. The challenge is to craft a good deal out of the existing system.

Unfortunately, you can’t touch pensions policy without upsetting someone. Any redistribution will mean losers as well as winners. Given the real winners today are the high earners (but not the very high earners, who have largely given up already and left the field), and members of final salary schemes, this is where opposition is likely to come from.

Employers are also likely to find themselves being asked to pay a little more; whilst employer pension contributions are still very generous in pockets of the economy, largely a legacy of the final salary system, for most of the ten million new joiners in the auto-enrolment system, employer contributions are around the statutory minimum of three per cent of pay.

So what changes could we see? To simply scrap higher rate tax relief would be an act of fiscal hooliganism; it would punish the high earners and severely undermine such self-employed retirement saving as does still exist, whilst doing nothing for lower earners. Subtler options include moving away from tax relief altogether, either in favour of a flat rate top up, or a combination of more generous employer contributions, combined with higher Treasury top-ups applied selectively. We think it is possible to create a new system where, in effect, every £1 paid into a pension by an individual would be doubled, either by their employer, or by the government.

Other aspects of the system potentially up for grabs include: imposing Employer’s National Insurance on their contributions, worth over £11 billion a year; introducing a death tax on pension funds; scrapping tax relief on workplace employee pension contributions (after all, why give tax relief if employers are doubling your money anyway?); or reducing the tax free lump sum at retirement, which would seriously undermine confidence in the system for the future.

Given the complexity of the system, the first step should be to open a consultation for review.

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

Interview: Lamont describes how the belief that Britain should leave the EU entered the Tory mainstream

A quarter of a century ago Norman Lamont became the first senior Conservative to warn that Britain might one day be obliged to choose, quite reasonably, to leave the European Union.

In this interview, conducted on Monday, Lord Lamont recalls how until then, the idea of withdrawing from the EU “had been akin to believing that the Earth was flat”.

And he describes how, while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1990-93, he came to realise, from talks with his opposite numbers in other European capitals, that they were determined to create a political and not just an economic union: “I realised I had been deceiving myself.”

Lamont therefore went on to warn, in a speech delivered on 11th October 1994 to a fringe meeting organised by the Selsdon Group at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth:

“We deceive the British people . . . if we claim that we are winning the argument . . . the 11 other members want a European Union that is a European state.”

The Times reported that the former Chancellor had “shattered” the Tory truce on Europe, and had taken aim at the Prime Minister, John Major, who earlier that year had described the idea of leaving the EU as “unthinkable”. As Lamont told the fringe meeting,

“It has recently been said that the option of leaving the Community was ‘unthinkable’. I believe this attitude is rather simplistic.”

Lamont here relates that in 1994, he was acting on his own: “I was very much on my own after Black Wednesday,” 16th September 1992, when the pound was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and the economic credibility of the Major government was destroyed.

Indeed, after Lamont spoke, “one of the people who attacked me was Bill Cash”, for Tory Eurosceptics were at this point careful not to call for British withdrawal.

Lamont defends David Cameron for calling the EU referendum – “I think he gets a very unfair press” – and attributes the vote for Leave to the realisation of older voters “that basically the country had been lied to” when it was assured that the EU was a purely economic venture.

The former Chancellor is delighted that Britain is out of European political union, is content to leave Boris Johnson to negotiate the details of Britain’s future trading arrangements, but calls on the Prime Minister to remain wedded to free-market economics: “I didn’t much like the helping hand that was extended to Flybe…I don’t want Boris the big spender to undo the good that George Osborne did.”

ConHome: “What happened in 1994? You’d first raised the idea of leaving the EU at a meeting earlier that year of the Conservative Philosophy Group, at Jonathan Aitken’s house in Lord North Street.”

Lamont: “Yes, I do remember Jimmy Goldsmith was there, and Zac was there. I know Rodney Leach was there, together with Jessica Douglas-Home.”

ConHome: “And what impelled you to take that line?”

Lamont: “Well I began to think about Europe when I was Chancellor. I mean I did think about it obviously before, but my doubts really grew – I often recount my very first meeting with one of my opposite numbers in Europe in New York in 1990, with a man called Pierre Bérégovoy who subsequently became Prime Minister of France.

“He was a Frenchman, but here he was in New York, telling me that we were inevitably going to have a United States of Europe.

“Now I of course spent a lot of my time as Chancellor negotiating our opt-out on the Maastricht Treaty from the single currency. But it was that experience that put me over the line, because I’d always worried whether Europe was political rather than just economic, but good friends of mine like Kenneth Clarke would say, ‘It’s all rhetoric – they don’t mean it.’

“And when I came face to face with this, I was shocked. I realised I had been deceiving myself.

“And OK, we had I think a perfectly sensible and rational policy of having a series of opt-outs, opt-out from the single currency, opt-out from the Social Chapter, opt-out from Schengen.

“But the question was, can you really just go on and can you guarantee that these opt-outs won’t be eroded, will Labour reverse them, could we be driven further down the road towards – I mean I try to avoid using the phrase ‘federal Europe’ – but a political Europe.

“And what I said in my speech at the party conference was that we had a choice. We could have opt-outs, or we could withdraw.

“But I also said, which I had come to believe, that I felt the economic advantages of the so-called Single Market were vastly overstated. To this day, I am still influenced by the fact that Switzerland, not a member of the European Union, is more integrated with the European economy than we are.

“And I note how the United States sells more to the Single Market and increases its share of the Single Market faster than we have, despite not being a member.

“And I can’t see, and couldn’t see then increasingly, why we had to be members in order to benefit. One can say that a single regulatory area is a public good, and take advantage of it, while being an outsider.”

ConHome: “Who did you discuss this with at the time? And in particular, which Conservatives, possibly of an older generation, influenced your thinking? Or were you really working it out for yourself? You must have tried to talk it through with various people.”

Lamont: “At that stage I was very much on my own [laughter]. I was very much on my own after Black Wednesday.”

ConHome: “Yes, you weren’t at the centre of a great band.”

Lamont: “Well there was all the speculation about the leadership. No, I was working on my own. I had a very good PA called Rupert Darwall, Rupert and I worked closely.

“But other than that, it was quite interesting, when I made that speech at the party conference, one of the people who attacked me was Bill Cash.”

ConHome: “Why?”

Lamont: “Because I’d advocated leaving, and they were very careful not to advocate leaving. They were in favour of renegotiation. Well, you know, renegotiation was an option which I myself acknowledged.

“I didn’t say we should leave. What I said was we may have in the future to choose.

“And I was also saying it was not impossible to thrive economically outside the European Union, which I did believe and I profoundly believe now.”

ConHome: “So Eurosceptics of an earlier generation like Derek Walker-Smith or Enoch Powell were not a particular influence on you?”

Lamont: “Enoch was, definitely. How could he not be? I knew him. Funnily enough, I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons in favour of joining the EEC.

“In 1972, I got in in a by-election, and I had an Anti-Common Market candidate I had to defeat in the by-election, and in my maiden speech I actually rather playfully quoted Enoch.

“Enoch once made a speech, which I heard, in favour of EEC membership, at Cambridge when I was an undergraduate. I referred to this, just as a joke really, and Enoch was very nice about it. Afterwards he congratulated me on the speech and so on, blah, blah, blah.

“So I voted that way, but I did have doubts on the political side which came from two sources. One, I followed what Enoch said, and he saw very clearly that Europe was going in a political direction, political union. And yet the evidence wasn’t all that clear.

“But I began to have doubts about it for two reasons. I remember shortly after I had become a member of the House of Commons, Ted Heath came back from a summit and announced that we were signing up to the Werner Plan for monetary union.

“I was absolutely shocked by this, but I think the Werner Plan envisaged it happening over 20 years or something, and although I was shocked, again, people said ‘well, nothing will happen, blah blah blah’.

“And then the second thing was, I had a constituent called Mrs Horsfield, who used to write to me all the time about this, and she cottoned on the Werner Plan, and then she cottoned on to majority voting with the Single Market.”

ConHome: “That’s really encouraging, that a persistent constituent could have that effect.”

Lamont: “She lived at Liverpool Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, but I don’t know if she’s still alive. Charlotte Horsfield I remember was her name.

“But the catalyst was just the experience of being Chancellor, and the way they refused to believe me when I said, ‘We won’t join the single currency.’

“I just could not understand that.”

ConHome: “You mean all your European opposite numbers?”

Lamont: “Yes, they were all, ‘Norman you say this, but…’. I remember in particular there was a Greek finance minister, the head of the Greek central bank, he just could not believe, he said, ‘You’ll show solidarity with Greece when the moment comes.’”

ConHome: “So what happened after you’d said at the party conference in 1994 that leaving the EU was an option?”

Lamont: “Well nothing happened. But what Matthew d’Ancona says [in his account in The Guardian of ‘how a fringe idea took hold of the Tory party’] is that it made the issue of leaving intellectually respectable, simply because I’d been Chancellor.

“Whereas it had been akin to believing that the Earth was flat.

“I remember I chose my words very carefully. I remember I said I can see no unambiguous advantage in our membership. I was saying well, you know, there may be a bit of argument that it mildly increased exports, I personally don’t believe this.”

ConHome: “What are your relations now with David Cameron?”

Lamont: “Oh, very good.”

ConHome: “And how do you think as party leader he handled the whole European issue?”

Lamont: “Well I think he gets a very unfair press. I don’t think he had any alternative but to call the referendum.

“And when people say it was the internal politics, the party management of the Conservative Party, you know, I think Balfour once said the first duty of a Prime Minister is to remain in office.

“The object of a party leader must be to retain power and get power, and there is no way he would have won the election with an out and out majority if he hadn’t gone for the referendum.

“And worse than that, I think the Conservative Party was haemorrhaging support, people tend to diminish it, but the European elections spoke for themselves, the two MPs who defected, there would have been others, I don’t think it was a tenable position.

“So I think people who criticise Cameron for that are quite wrong. Where possibly they could have a point is that I think he could have been tougher with Mrs Merkel in the actual negotiation on freedom of movement of labour.”

ConHome: “What do you make of the period after the referendum, when Parliament tried not to do what it had said it would do?”

Lamont: “It’s something I’d rather forget. It was terrible, and it was a terrible advertisement for Britain as well. But fortunately, because of the spectacular election result, that’s all been dramatically stood on its head, and the dysfunctional Britain is now an island of stability.

“The referendum really went the way it did, unexpectedly to most commentators, because older people, by which I mean people of my age and more [Lamont is 77], voted very strongly for Leave.

“Why did they do that? I think it was above all about independence and sovereignty. My generation remembered, even if they were not very political, how Europe was sold to the British people as an economic venture, which would not lead to political union.

“As everybody knows, the 1975 White Paper said there’d be no question of monetary union. And they could see that basically the country had been lied to.

“When people talk about the lying on the referendum campaign and the lying allegedly about the amount of money we paid, it was nothing like the lie of not addressing the question of Europe being a political union.

“And I think the mistake that the Remain side made was thinking that people were going to be moved by silly claims that after 15 years we were going to be five per cent worse off than otherwise we would have been. I mean who the hell knows over 15 years?

“I think you had a combination of older voters and Labour, if I can use the phrase, working-class voters who had old-fashioned values about identity and sovereignty, and thank God for them, salt of the earth.”

ConHome: “What should Boris Johnson do now?”

Lamont: “On Europe, I’m happy to leave it to him. As far as I’m concerned, we’re out of political union and I’ll leave it to him to make the judgements on the precise type of trade agreement that we have.

“More generally, I read all this stuff that he’s more Reagan than Thatcher, more Heseltine than Thatcher.

“All I would say is that in this new world in which we’re going to live, Boris I’m sure is a liberal Conservative, but I hope he will also see that in a world where we are on our own, I think it’s very important that we remain very anchored in a free-market philosophy.

“I didn’t much like the helping hand that was extended to Flybe.

“Of course low interest rates mean you can have more infrastructure, although nobody can guarantee that interest rates will be low forever, and I would say just don’t go wild.

“I don’t want Boris the big spender to undo the good that George Osborne did, and I think George Osborne does deserve credit for the very, very difficult situation to get the deficit down in the way that he did.

“What worried me about Flybe is how you are perceived matters enormously in fostering confidence. If Britain’s going to attract inward investment, it must show it’s going to be hard-headed about the type of economic policy it follows. I think it’s very important.”

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

Daniel Rossall-Valentine: How to reform and improve the Apprenticeship Levy

Daniel Rossall-Valentine is Head of Campaign for This is Engineering at the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Deputy Chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Association. He writes in a personal capacity.

Apprenticeships can aid social mobility by providing young people from all backgrounds with an opportunity to “earn and learn”, building a career with a long term future.

I’ve been fortunate for the last three years to work with an organisation that has unparalleled access to business and educational leaders so have been in the front seat as the apprenticeship levy has been implemented. The scheme is far from a failure, but it does need urgent tweaks if it is to win the confidence of employers and fulfil its potential.

The Apprenticeship Levy was announced by George Osborne in his July 2015 budget. It came into effect in  2017. The former Chancellor set an ambitious target of starting three million apprenticeships by 2020.

The levy is payable by all employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million through PAYE at a rate of 0.5 per cent of their full pay bill. Each employer sets up an individual apprenticeship account that holds all levy payments and that an employer can use to pay for apprenticeship training.

Money paid into an apprenticeship account remains available to that employer for 24 months from the date of payment. Any amount that remains unclaimed after that period will expire and is then available to cover the cost of apprenticeship training at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have not paid the Levy.

The Levy was, and is, a bold attempt to encourage employers to train and progress staff, and a brave effort to tackle some of the UK’s greatest cultural problems; our belief that education primarily takes place in classrooms, our excessive faith in “credentials” and our concomitant under-estimation of on-the-job experience and training.

However, despite its noble intent, the Levy remains a rather clunky system which was created following rushed implementation with insufficient problem analysis, design, testing or adaptation. Whitehall unfortunately defaulted to its long-standing preferences for finding “one best way” and for creating a single top-down template lacking in flexibility.

The Levy has received a good deal of criticism, little of which has so far been accepted by the Government. One exception relates to levy-sharing. Levy-paying firms could only share 10 per cent of their levy with other businesses but from April 2019 firms have been able to share up to 25 per cent with other businesses in their supply chain.

The design errors can be categorised under three headings:

Optimistic forecasting

  • The Government under-estimated the cost of higher-level apprenticeships, and thus the percentage of money that would be claimed back by levy-payers. This has left insufficient money in the digital fund for smaller organisations to claim.

Some aspects of the system are too rigid

  • The system stipulates that to qualify as an apprenticeship at least 20% of the time of the apprentice should be spent away from the workplace.

The claim-back system is too inflexible

  • Organisations are required to spend money set aside within two years or lose it. This often does not give organisations enough time to organise apprenticeship programmes, especially where the firms cannot identify good quality local training providers.

Some aspects of the system are too loose

  • Curiously, there is no mandatory requirement for qualifications within the new apprenticeship standard. Without qualifications being part of apprenticeships, it is hard to see how they can ultimately lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs.
  • With little regulation of apprenticeship quality, it is too easy for levy paying employers to recoup their payments by rebadging existing training schemes as apprenticeships. Even more concerning, existing staff can simply be designated as apprentices without the creation of any additional job opportunities.

Many large organisations which run excellent training schemes, internships, traineeships and work placements have resigned themselves to simply paying the charge, because their schemes are not compliant with the rules of the levy.
Other organisations have failed to find suitable training schemes in their localities, and so would like to collaborate with other employers to create suitable training, but the Levy only allows them to use 25 per cent of the funds for joint ventures.

Several essential reforms are required urgently.

  • The three million apprenticeships target should be abandoned and new rolling targets set which focus on the number of apprenticeship completions rather than apprenticeship starts. Industry specific targets should also be set for industries which are central to the industrial strategy and national productivity.
  • Increase the funding for the scheme by extending the levy to all large firms operating in the UK. The levy is currently only charged on payroll taxes. This means that large companies that spend less than £3 million on direct staff in the UK escape the levy. If firm size were measured by UK sales rather than payroll cost, the free-rider problem would be removed and the funding significantly improved.
  • A more flexible approach to on-the-job training, moving away from the stipulation that 20 per cent of the training should take place off the job, This four days on site, one day off-site pattern works in some industries but not in others. For instance, this pattern is a common way for accountants to train, but works less well in retail, where learning may all take place on site. This inflexible pattern is also tough for small employers, who may need to reschedule training at short notice due to staff absence or other business needs. No single pattern of work-based learning will satisfy all job types. The new system should allow employers to design bespoke training patterns that fit business requirements and hours of operation.
  • A more robust definition of what an apprenticeship actually is. Lack of definition has resulted in massive definitional stretching with some academics with PhDs being labelled as apprentices, and the apprenticeship badge also being applied to regular management training and routine clerical work. We risk the term “apprenticeship” being rapidly diluted and degraded if definitions and standards are not attached to it.
  • Increase the element of the pot which can be used by firms to collaborate on training. Many parts of the UK have real shortages of training provision and so organisations should be able to use at least half of their levy pots to work with other players to create centres of excellence for training.

The apprenticeship levy has the potential to rapidly deliver the apprentices that the economy needs and produce a highly skilled, productive workforce. But it has become very clear that this has not yet happened, and the levy is not working to its potential. The Levy’s design faults are serious, but not insurmountable. The government needs to listen to its critical friends and produce fast reform of this scheme to help Britain compete and to ensure that our young people get the training and jobs that they need and deserve.

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As 2020 begins, we look back on ten years in which Tories first led the movement for austerity…and then against it

This decade is only nine years old.  When it ends there will be many different ways of assessing it.  But one aspect is already clear to those who follow British politics.

This has been a decade dominated domestically by the Tory Party.  First, it rode the first big wave – namely “austerity”, the attempt to restore the status quo pre-the financial crash.  Then, just as that wave exhausted itself, it leaped to board the second one: “anti-austerity”.  Labour never got a look in.

Let us explain – with a hat-tip, and more, to Larry Elliott of the Guardian.

The 2010 election was a debate about which party would best restore the status quo ante – that’s to say, the political and economic model founded by Margaret Thatcher and reinforced by Tony Blair.  This was based on London, finance, services, the South, high migration (at least under Blair), a strong pound, relatively cheap foreign labour, law, traditional media and rising house prices.

The voters were not quite willing to entrust the task to David Cameron.  So he formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  As Chancellor, George Osborne then got on top of the worst of Labour’s debt and deficit, and salvaged the economy – though it remained a high immigration, low productivity, southern-based model.

In 2015, the middle of the decade, the Liberal Democrats were punished for entering the coalition, and the Conservatives reaped the political gain of restoring the Thatcher/Blair model to near normality.  Their vote inched up to 37 per cent; Ed Miliband failed to persuade the people that he would deliver a convincing alternative, and the LibDem implosion delivered Cameron a small overall majority.

So the first half of the decade had produced a pro-austerity Tory majority. Cameron then had little alternative but to deliver the referendum he had promised on Britain’s EU referendum.  This had nightmare consequences for him.

Ultimately, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests, the referendum decision was about self-government.  But there was a lot more to it than that.  Those who did well out of the system tended to vote Remain.  Which is why London and much of its hinterland plumped to stay.  (Scotland and Northern Ireland were special cases.)

Most of provincial England, however, didn’t feel it was gaining from the Thatcher / Blair settlement – from the trend to services, finance, the capital and especially high migration.  Lord Ashcroft’s research confirms that the last was the second big factor at play in delivering the referendum result.  When push came to shove, the voters, faced with a binary choice shorn of party politics, voted against the status quo.

And so it was that the cause of Remain, fronted by Cameron and George Osborne, lost out to that of Leave, led by…Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.  The referendum became a blue-on-blue conflict.  Jeremy Corbyn’s position was ambigious and Labour made little impact.

Out went Cameron and in came…Theresa May, after Gove and Johnson fell out.  For a while, she looked like the perfect solution to the Brexit conundrum: a former Remainer who would deliver Leave, and grasped the difference between the Somewheres, with their rooted attachment to place and nation, and the Nowheres, with their lack of commitment to either.

Then came the disaster of the 2017 election.  May over-reached by seeking a mandate both for Brexit and reform.  This reminded non-Conservative Leave voters that the Tories were the party of austerity – a cause that the latter had formally given up on arguing for anyway.

May lost her majority, scraped back into government…and saw her administration vanish into a dispute between Conservatives who ultimately were prepared to leave the EU without a deal and those who would not.  Boris Johnson resigned over Chequers, in the wake of David Davis, and became the de facto leader of the former.

Once again, the main political action was blue-on-blue, with Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve in one corner, and Johnson and the Spartans in another.  The Party lost 42 Ministers to Brexit, including Steve Baker, Sam Gyimah, Dominic Raab, Jo Johnson, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart.  Labour took no clear position – and was sidelined again.

The rest is recent history.  May was deposed, Johnson entered the consequent leadership election as front-runner, and defied precedent by winning.  After a long series of defeats he then pulled off a near-landslide election victory, in which the Tories became Britain’s working-class party – a transformation that their 2017 wins in Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and Walsall North, inter alia, presaged.

Some will acknowledge these developments while disliking our description of them.  What is “austerity” anyway, they will ask? – pointing out that public spending has risen year on year since 2010. (We add that most departmental spending was reduced during that period.)

In any event, Osborne was accused of easing up on deficit reduction many times: read this Andrew Gimson article, from 2014, and find a list of examples.  The former Chancellor again took a path of least resistance in 2015, when he found £27 billion going spare down the back of the public expenditure sofa.

But you may insist that Osborne and austerity are synonymous.  In which case, we refer you to Philip Hammond’s post-EU referendum autumn statement, in which he junked his predecessor’s fiscal rules.  The new Chancellor promised instead to balance the budget “as soon as is practicable”.  If John McDonnell had said so instead, there would have been a riot (at least in the Tory press).

This takes us to a core point about austerity: one can claim it never happened; or try to define it out of existence; but the word does describe a broad consensus for slowing the growth in public spending that preceded the Coalition.  (Labour also pledged in 2010 to reduce the deficit, but to do so more slowly.)

In one sense, it is clearly outrageous for the Conservatives, having led the charge for public spending retrenchment, the Thatcher/Blair economic model and EU membership, to turn turtle and now push for still higher spending, regional growth and Brexit.

But that’s politics for you.  Labour, torn between pro-Brexit majorities in most of its provincial seats and anti-Brexit passion in its north London fastnesses, was never able to take a clear position one way or the other.  And its Blair/Brown era support for globalisation, and Miliband/Corbyn era unwillingness to renounce relatively high migration, did for it among a big swathe of the white working class.

So will Johnson now be able to finish what he is seeking to begin: the transformation of the Conservatives into a more regional, less London-centric, pro-manufacturing, lower migration, weaker pound, and more-slowly-rising-house-prices party?  ConservativeHome will let you into a secret. We have absolutely no idea.

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May deserves better than this dull, lazy, superficial account of her prime ministership

May At 10 by Anthony Seldon

Men get lazy, and substitute quantity of work for quality. So said Benjamin Jowett, a great Victorian scholar, and here is a book which demonstrates the truth of that dictum.

Arthur Seldon is a man of prodigious industry. He has written or edited more than 40 books while serving as a headmaster and a vice-chancellor.

According to his acknowledgements in the volume under review, he started work on it in February 2019, along with his “principal researcher and associate author Raymond Newell”, who is “among the most impressive 21-year-olds I have ever met”.

They have produced, in six months, 650 pages of text, based on 175 interviews with people who worked for Theresa May in Downing Street, and with others who saw much of her as she went about her official duties.

Heavy reliance is placed on the mandarin class, and on special advisers. The book is dedicated

“To Jeremy Heywood, Lord Heywood of Whitehall (1961-2018), and to the civil service he led, the finest in the world.”

To make that claim with authority, one would need a considerable knowledge of other civil services. But at least it places on record the author’s admiration for our civil service.

One looks in vain for any indication of what Heywood was like as a person. Here he is the masterful operator who as Cabinet Secretary, the post he occupied from 2012 until shortly before his death in November 2018, kept the show on the road after the debacle of the 2017 general election.

Rather more seriously, one looks in vain for any indication, beyond what we already know about her, of what Theresa May is like as a person. For she has not spoken to Seldon, and nor has her husband. According to Seldon,

“Wisdom was not much in evidence in her premiership… The figure who came closest to supplying it for her was her remarkable husband Philip, who played the part as perfectly as any PM’s spouse in history.”

Another extravagant compliment, but one finishes the book knowing as little about this self-effacing figure as one did at the start.

Seldon describes his book as “the view from the PM’s study”. For most of the time it might more accurately be described as the view from Seldon’s study. He has produced, in his Introduction, what reads as a devastating school report on May as Prime Minister:

“Had it not been for Brexit, she might well have become a reasonably good, if unspectacular, Prime Minister…

“She understood little about government, including the powers and limitations of her office, how to make Cabinet government and the civil service work for her, and how to advocate and persuade. These skills were not optional extras for the task in hand. Her six years at the Home Office were not a good preparation for her, most especially because she imported wholesale her same inward-looking philosophy into Downing Street. 

“More serious than either deficiency, she knew precious little about British and European history or about how the EU worked…

“The EU regarded her as a serious and meticulous politician with whom they could do business. The biggest single indictment of Theresa May is that she blew all that goodwill and respect, and within 12 months had become a figure of contempt across the political spectrum. We will never know if she might have got a more consensual Brexit through in 2016-17. The point is, she never tried…

“Her lodestar was not the UK as a whole but Maidenhead, middle-class, conservative, white and inward-looking…

“The general election [of 2017] saw the emperor’s clothes fall away… The campaign revealed her as indecisive, defensive and petulant…”

Not a flattering verdict, and we have only reached the fifth page of Seldon’s introduction, which is the best part of the book. How is he going to fill the next 650 pages?

Almost at once, he ventures the claim that this was “a historic premiership”. But he concedes that the “most difficult challenges specifically for a contemporary historian are that we do not know how events turn out”.

It is too soon to know what history will have to say about this Prime Minister. Apart from anything else, we have yet to see whether her successor, Boris Johnson, will make a success of things. According to Seldon, writing on page 634 but citing no source,

“May thought Johnson morally unfit to be Prime Minister. She was in anguish about having the job taken from her, and distraught that it would be him to follow.’

One can see that by demonstrating the limitations of her style of politics, May created an appetite, both among Conservative MPs and in the wider public, for a more adventurous approach. But until we know whether Johnson’s boldness ends in triumph or disaster, or some mixture of the two, it is difficult to place her restraint in any kind of perspective.

Seldon peppers his text with portentous references to history: “Friday 9th June was a day on which British history pivoted”, “Williamson was aware of history on his shoulder”, “The Cabinet meeting at 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday 2nd April…ranks as one of the five most historic in May’s premiership”, “Even her harshest critic recognised that they were witnessing history”.

We shall see what, if anything, history has to say about that.

The author acknowledges a grave problem, when it comes to the writing of this history, which is that he “lacks the benefit of documents”. He doesn’t have more than a tiny fraction of the records which will reveal what people thought at the time, which should include diaries, letters, emails and texts, as well as official papers with prime ministerial annotations.

Nor does he make much use of what appeared at the time in the newspapers. This needs, admittedly, to be used with care, but at least it is written without the benefit of hindsight, and possesses, at its best, a wonderful immediacy. Seldon thanks 16 journalists by name for their “fantastic reporting”, but draws scantily or not at all on the work of those who were most critical of May and Heywood.

All he does have are people’s oral recollections of what happened in the fairly recent past, and in particular the somewhat sanitised recollections of the official class, with its sense that anything too personal or indiscreet would be in dubious taste.

But six months is too short a time in which to collect this material, digest it and construct from it a readable narrative. The author resorts to lists: “this chapter looks at the seven key Brexit decisions she took before the general election in June 2017”, or a hundred pages later, “six reasons” why the election went wrong, of which the sixth is headlined “a catalogue of errors”, so isn’t just one reason.

This kind of writing is an insult to the reader, who is expected to do the work of selection and comprehension the author should have done. If he had devoted more time to it, he could have written a shorter and more valuable book.

We are told that May “scorned the public school entitlement of her Conservative contemporaries, epitomised by David Cameron (Eton) and George Osborne (St Paul’s School), both of whom attended the elitist and macho Bullingdon Club at Oxford”.

This is Seldon on auto-pilot, careless about finding the right word, reckoning any old substitute will do. There is no need to get hung up on the Bullingdon Club, but if one is going to mention it, one should at least say Cameron and Osborne were “elected” to it, not that they “attended” it – the sort of strange term that belongs in a police statement.

Seldon enjoys a relationship of trust with the civil service, but betrays no sign of understanding the Conservative Party. Jacob Rees-Mogg is described as “uncompromising”, in disregard of the various compromises he has made. And here is a ludicrous passage about Steve Baker:

“His [Baker’s] chance encounters that day might have tipped British political history. On such flutters of a butterfly’s wings do great events turn.”

Although one sees what is meant, it is impossible to accept an image in which Baker is required to play the part of a butterfly. A gadfly or a terrier would be nearer the mark.

In another passage, the author writes: “He didn’t consult any of the big beasts, not even Michael Fallon.” Again, the misused term indicates a cloth ear.

This thick book, written in a tone of amiable self-satisfaction by an author who has already subjected several other prime ministers to the same dreary treatment, amounts to a large quarry of materials which range in quality from useable to dross. I liked this account by an unnamed “attendee”, presumably an official, at the “formal meeting” convened in Theresa May’s study at 9 a.m. on the day after the general election went wrong.

“The chiefs” referred to here are Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her joint chiefs of staff, who take the blame for the debacle and have no option but to resign:

“There was a gaping hole around the table where the chiefs and the other political advisers used to sit. The Prime Minister was exhausted, falling asleep in front of us. It was awful to watch. I had never seen her that way. Her eyes kept closing in front of us, then she’d jolt herself awake. Jeremy Heywood was very much in the lead, thinking all about stability and how a stable government could be formed.”

A good book will one day be written about May, but it will not be dashed off in a few months. She deserves better than this dull, lazy, superficial effort.

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Skelton on One Nation, and how Tories must take the lead in reviving towns which have been left to rot

Little Platoons: How a Revived One Nation Can Empower England’s Forgotten Towns and Redraw the Political Map by David Skelton

The rhetorical star of this book is Benjamin Disraeli. He did not invent the term “One Nation” – that distinction belongs, as Lord Lexden never tires of reminding us, to Stanley Baldwin.

But Disraeli is by far the most enjoyable and inspiring Tory for One Nation Conservatives to quote, and Skelton uses him very well. He reminds us that Disraeli rebuked the Whigs, after the Great Reform Act, for trying to establish “a utopia composed purely of wealth and toil”, based on a “spirit of rapacious covetousness”.

The Conservatives are today widely thought to be actuated by a “spirit of rapacious covetousness”, and to care only about the rich. The injustice of this claim does not make it any less damaging.

And the claim is in any case not totally unjust. Parts of the kingdom have been left behind, excluded from the prosperity enjoyed by the rest.

Labour is at least as to blame as the Conservatives for this sin of omission. That is one reason why Labour support in Scotland collapsed: for many decades it had taken its impoverished heartlands for granted.

And it is why Labour is now vulnerable in its English heartlands too.

Disraeli understood the alliance the Tories could make with the newly enfranchised working class. Skelton contends, convincingly, that the Tories can now connect with the patriotic working class which for decades has felt disenfranchised, but which in the 2016 referendum seized the chance to make its presence felt.

In his opening paragraph, Skelton reminds us that “of the 42 former coalfield areas, some 41…voted for Brexit”. He himself is from Consett, in the north-west corner of County Durham, which felt shut out from from politics since the closure in 1980 of the great steelworks on which for over a century the town’s fortunes had rested, and where men were proud to work:

“The steelworks was home to world-leading engineers, metallurgists and chemists and dozens of different types of craftsmen who passed these skills on to apprentices.”

One of Skelton’s grandfathers was a foreman fitter in the works, the other was a miner, or pitman as they preferred to be known, in the Durham and Northumberland coalfields.

There was immense local pride in the Consett works, and local control until nationalisation, which meant decisions about the future were taken hundreds of miles away, and essential investment in modernisation took second place to the need for public spending cuts.

A year after the closure of the works, a third of the men in Consett were unemployed. Low-paid, insecure jobs, for those who could get them, and low-quality training programmes whose chief purpose was to keep others off the dole, did not restore the dignity of labour to these craftsmen, but became a daily humiliation.

Nor did either of the main political parties have much to offer. Labour, a party created by the trade unions, ceased to take much interest in the fate of the working class once the power of those unions had been broken.

The unions could bring the country to a grinding halt: not an ideal state of affairs, but one which gave the working class, or its leaders, undeniable clout.

Here was a ladder of advancement for gifted trade union organisers who could get a political education, gain selection as Labour MPs and rise into the Cabinet. That stream of recruitment has pretty much dried up, and the party finds itself in the hands of an urban middle class which feels a greater affinity with Brussels, Berlin and Paris than with Consett.

Skelton’s chief purpose in this book is to trace the One Nation tradition in Conservative politics, and to argue that it needs to be rediscovered. He does it very well: again and again, one wonders if he has thought of, say, Iain Macleod, and up an apposite quotation pops.

Harold Macmillan is the hero of this account:

“He was probably the last Prime Minister with a genuine belief in ‘Toryism’ and the real importance of balancing economic efficiency with social justice. He had a burning desire that we must never again become ‘two nations’ and was convinced that government and private enterprise had an important role to play, together, in preventing that from happening. He believed in modernising industry and the country, but without the managerial indifference of Heathism or the retreat into liberal economic determinism. His One Nation was a profound belief in the common good and the fundamental national unity that makes us stronger.”

Under Margaret Thatcher, Macmillan’s spirit of pragmatic intellectual compromise started to sound a bit wet. Some of her Government’s successes – the Nissan works outside Sunderland, the start on regenerating Liverpool and the London docks – would not have happened without the state playing a leading role, but this was not the story she and her admirers told.

The Conservatives were gripped, in Skelton’s phrase, by “myopic economic liberalism”, the illusion that if only the Government got out of the way, recovery would occur of its own accord.

In Consett, this was not the case. It was a steel town which now produced no steel, and could not pull itself up by its bootstraps. Its most able and enterprising young people left: they went off to university and never came back.

Forty years on, Skelton reports, Consett is in large part a dormitory town for people who work in Newcastle or Durham:

“In contrast to the beauty of its surroundings, its town centre is still pockmarked by a collection of charity shops, bargain stores (including Consett’s enormous ‘Barry’s Bargain Store’, which has taken over the whole of the old indoor market), travel agents and bookmakers.”

Our country contains hundreds of towns like Consett. Often the handsome old buildings bear witness to former pride and prosperity, eclipsed in recent decades by demeaning and self-perpetuating shoddiness.

Few people with energy or talent want to settle here, or shop here, or set up new businesses. For about half a century many of these town centres have been left to rot, however prosperous and pretty the surrounding villages may be.

Skelton remarks that policy makers in London pride themselves on the regeneration of a dozen cities. He quotes with approval Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, who says

“this consensus that began under New Labour, and was embraced by George Osborne, sees cities as engines of economic growth with surrounding towns at best anchored to them and pulled along in their prosperous wake. This is a model that has neither provided nor defended the things that matter most in our towns: thriving local high streets, shared community institutions like libraries, post offices and community pubs, good public transport, work that gives dignity and meaning, green open spaces and time with families.”

Any Tory who wants to understand how a revived One Nation tradition can help to revive our towns should read Skelton’s book.

In a recent piece for ConHome, he itemised some of measures, including world-class infrastructure, the creation of “prosperity hubs” and a vocational education revolution, needed to transform our forgotten towns. This list, enlarged upon in the final chapter of the book, will not make every Tory heart beat faster.

There is, however, a Conservative with a remarkable command of language, and declared One Nation sympathies, who can take forward the revival of these neglected towns with a brio worthy of Disraeli and Macmillan.

Boris Johnson has recently been at pains to emphasise that we will remain a European nation: rhetoric with which he wishes to reassure Remainers that he does not intend to lead a retreat into barbarous isolation.

But in the forthcoming general election campaign, he will doubtless also seek to persuade working-class patriots who voted Leave, and who feel an intense love of country, that the regeneration of this nation must extend to its unloved towns.

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Andrew Gimson’s Conference sketch: No riot in Manchester, Rees-Mogg and Gauke applauded

Westlake Legal Group unnamed Andrew Gimson’s Conference sketch: No riot in Manchester, Rees-Mogg and Gauke applauded ToryDiary The Moggcast Paula Sherriff MP Paul Goodman Lord Ashcroft Jo Swinson Jacob Rees-Mogg MP House of Lords George Osborne Dominic Cummings David Gauke MP Daniel Hannan MEP Constitution and democracy Anand Menon

There was no riot. David Gauke was not torn limb from limb by infuriated Eurosceptics when he appeared this morning in the ConHome tent.

The wreckage of the ConHome marquee does not now lie in a bedraggled heap outside the Midland Hotel, with fire officers picking through the sodden canvas to see if they can find any more survivors, or at least gather up what pitiful personal effects can be rescued – a signed copy of an early pamphlet by Daniel Hannan, blamed unjustly for setting the trouble off; a column by Boris Johnson which included some remarks in questionable taste, triggering a national debate which raged for several days; even a monocle which a dodgy antique dealer will by next week be advertising as having been worn by Jacob Rees-Mogg himself.

No, Conservatives do not riot. They do not, at least, riot during the party conference. Shouting, drinking too much and staying up far too late are as bad as it gets.

And neither Rees-Mogg nor Gauke, both of whom took questions, in succession rather than together, in the ConHome tent, is an incendiarist.

Rees-Mogg used humour, including self-mockery, to carry people with him. He was, admittedly, before his home crowd, recording an episode of the Moggcast, his  ConHome podcast.

Paul Goodman pointed to a recent headline in The Mail on Sunday, above an extract from Michael Ashcroft’s biography Jacob’s Ladder, which described Rees-Mogg as “The World’s Most Unlikely Sex Symbol”.

Rees-Mogg agreed that this “doesn’t sound like me at all”. He also mentioned his own recent book,The Victorians, a work not received with universal enthusiasm, and said he believed it could still be found in some bookshops, “perhaps second-hand”.

He urged his listeners to imagine what was like to be a Remainer, with “30 days to hold on to the thing you most love”.

This accounts for their “fanaticism”, and their “very strong” rearguard action: “They will throw any bit of mud at Boris Johnson they can find.”

The House of Lords has treated the British people, who voted Leave, with disdain: “The Duke of Omnium could not be more condescending to his lowliest tenant.”

The Moggcast will be published on this site, so need not be quoted extensively here. He ranged with playful seriousness over the whole scene, defending freedom of speech, expounding the principles of the British Constitution, declining to comment on the Supreme Court judgement – “too raw” – and expressing an amused sympathy for the Liberal Democrats, caught between the desire to stop Brexit, and the knowledge that if they go into coalition with the Labour Party they will be destroyed.

On the great question of whether to readmit the 21 Conservative MPs, including Gauke, from whom the whip has been withdrawn, Rees-Mogg said he ‘always believes in politics in being as generous as you can possibly be’, but ‘you cannot have a situation where people are trying to put Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the order paper’.

When George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would “uncork the Gauke” whenever the Commons was infuriated by some measure, and lo, by some indefinable mixture of sympathetic understanding and studied dullness, Gauke would restore tranquillity.

Gauke did the same in the ConHome tent, though he was not dull. There was standing room only when he entered, punctual to the minute, to take questions from Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe, joint hosts of the meeting.

The identity of Gauke, and of his conservatism, came under scrutiny. He said he had entered Parliament as a Eurosceptic: “I’m not someone who whistles the Ode to Joy in the shower and I don’t look good wearing a beret.”

He observed in a pained tone that the report in The Mail on Sunday that Downing Street is investigating “foreign collusion” by Remainer MPs “leaves a nasty taste in the mouth”.

In Gauke’s view, “we’ve got to find a way of lowering the temperature in the debate. We shouldn’t impugn everybody’s motives all the time.”

He added that “the chances of getting Paula Sherriff” – the Opposition MP whom Boris Johnson recently accused of “humbug” – “to defy a three-line whip to get Boris Johnson out of a hole are not high.”

By giving an “implausible and inaccurate” justification for proroguing Parliament, Johnson had provoked the system to “bite back”.

Instead of trying to harden divisions, Johnson should “change the strategy, change the strategist” – i.e. sack Dominic Cummings.

But Gauke added that although he does know Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, “reasonably well, I am not a Liberal Democrat”.

Nobody shouted “Yes you are!” The temperature in the tent was by now appreciably lower than when he entered it, and it would be surprising if anyone in the audience doubted his sincerity.

Let other parties tear themselves apart if they wish to. The Conservatives don’t want at this fraught juncture to fight each other, a point the Prime Minister may understand better than some of his critics do. The eerie atmosphere at this conference is the calm in a party which still hopes to come back together.

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Cameron’s Blairite apologia shows that he did not understand Eurosceptic passion

For the Record by David Cameron

This memoir is both too short and too long. The author tells us too little about himself. The one exception to this rule is the chapter called Our Darling Ivan, about the life and death of David and Samantha Cameron’s eldest child.

It is the best chapter in the book, ending with words written by Wordsworth when his own son died, which are inscribed on Ivan’s grave at Chadlington, in Oxfordshire:

“I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me – yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it.”

No one can read this account, already excerpted in The Sunday Times, without feeling moved. One of the ways in which Cameron coped with unbearable sadness was by talking and now writing about it.

Rather characteristically, he takes the chance to pass on several pieces of admirably practical advice about how to navigate the National Health Service, something most of us have to do at one time or another as the champion of someone who is in no condition to find his or her own way.

No author is obliged to invade his own privacy, but on most other aspects of his family Cameron is frustratingly brief and reticent. His mother’s first cousin Ferdinand Mount, who was head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, relates in his memoir Cold Cream, published in 2008 – the funniest account anyone has written of what it was like to work for her – that one day, while deep in the appalling task of rewriting her party conference speech, he was annoyed to be told his “nephew” was there to see him.

This turned out to be the young David Cameron, who wished to interview him for the school magazine and had rung the office himself to make an appointment after Mount had given a noncommittal but generally rather discouraging reply when contacted by Cameron’s mother. As Mount writes,

“Here he was, my cousin rather than nephew then just sixteen, looking pink and perky, not yet the size he grew to but abounding in self-confidence. He instantly put me at my ease and his genial chutzpah dissolved my ill-humour in a trice…

“It is his audacity – or cheek, to use a homelier word – that has done the trick. It took cheek out of the common run to stand for the leadership of the party after only four years in Parliament, but it took even more to set about transforming the party the moment he won…

“The chutzpah that has propelled Cousin Dave to such startling heights undoubtedly comes from his stalwart and irrepressible father Ian on whom no flies rest…”

David Cameron devotes a couple of pages to his father, a remarkable man who had been “born with a pretty odd deformity”, legs far shorter than they should have been, but who rose, like his father and grandfather before him, to become senior partner at the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, and who imparted to his four children various rules, some of which expressed an admirably practical morality: “If you’re not sure what to do, just do the right thing.”

Other maxims are described by his son as “obscure”:

“Never sleep with a virgin.” “Don’t get married till you’re 26.” “Never eat baked beans for breakfast.” “Always travel in a suit.”

Cameron the politician succeeded in part because he was heir to a tradition of behaviour. But although he describes his family with affection, he does not convey, or even try to convey, very much of what it was really like.

He has said in the past that when he thinks of home, he thinks of church. His parents lived in an old rectory and attended the church next door, indeed were church wardens and so forth.

We read nothing here of this Anglican upbringing, which seems to me to have contributed in a vital way to Cameron’s ability to strike a moral note, without sounding repellently dogmatic or pious.

Perhaps he thought his religion too hard to explain, however natural the practice of it may be, or perhaps he reckoned we would be more interested in his politics.

But where do the politics come from? In the best biographies, the reader begins to see how a character was formed, what made it original or eccentric – the kind of thing that can be glimpsed in Ian Cameron’s maxims.

Here we are fobbed off with banalities:

“How are the biggest decisions made? They are usually rooted in convictions and beliefs. They tend to be contemplated for a long time, but are often expedited by circumstances. They are frequently influenced by other people’s views, and events that have taken place over many years.

“One of the biggest decisions I would ever take – to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union and then hold a referendum on our membership – was an example of all those things.”

That is how chapter 29, entitled “Bloomberg”, begins. Such evasive management-speak makes the book longer than it should be, and warns us we are never going to get to the heart of the matter.

In January 2013 Cameron delivered the speech at Bloomberg in which he promised to hold an EU referendum by the middle of the next Parliament. He remarks here that “The speech was tricky to land with so many audiences.”

And he gives us an extract from one of the tapes he recorded every month or so with the Times journalist Danny Finkelstein, in which the Prime Minister confided that it was safer to hold a referendum than to hold out against one: “The risks of playing with fire are now safer than watching the fire burn.”

He is pleased by the way The Times comments on the speech: “Mr Cameron has not caused a problem, but elucidated one.”

All this is fine, but we are not even told who wrote that Times leader: was it Finkelstein?

A friend of mine, a German journalist, who heard the Bloomberg speech happened to be sitting directly behind the German ambassador, at whom Cameron looked repeatedly while delivering it.

There is very little of that kind of thing in the book. For most of the time, the author gives us no sense that he is taking us into his confidence. He is instead fobbing us off with a plausible, lucid, official version of how he tried to keep Britain inside the EU, by renegotiating the terms of our membership and then obtaining popular consent for the new deal:

“The strategy failed. I failed. And that strategy has had some serious consequences for the UK and Europe. But it all flowed from an attempt to do the right thing.”

That is a very Blairite apologia. Cameron acted in good faith. He was, however, dependent on the Germans if he was going to get a meaningful renegotiation.

And one of the things he needed them to do in 2014 was to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, “a European integrationist to the core”, as President of the European Commission, a figure who would have a key influence on Britain’s ability to change the terms of membership.

At first, there seems some hope that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will block Juncker.  The last chance comes in June 2014 when Cameron, Merkel and the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, visit the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who for the benefit of the cameras takes them out in a rowing boat.

Now, unusually, Cameron gives us a small amount of detail:

“The four of us sat up after dinner, drinking red wine, this time until 2 a.m. I was tired, but didn’t dare leave in case they cooked something up without me. We were waiting for those magical words from Merkel – ‘It’s all right, we’ll block this guy together.’ She got close, but they never came.

“By the next morning her team had got to her, and she said she was going to have to vote for Juncker.’

Even by Cameron’s account, the chances of Merkel doing what he wants seem remote. She had already warned him, at a meeting a week earlier at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels when they “sat up drinking until about 1.30 a.m.”, that “I think I’m going to have to let you down”. Even her own mother has rung her “to tell her to vote for Juncker”.

By page 655 of this 703-page book, Cameron’s own colleagues are having to decide which side to back in the referendum campaign, and he is finding it surprisingly difficult to persuade Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others to stay with him:

“Perhaps that is one of the biggest pitfalls in politics. Thinking that others, particularly those you know well, think like you. Often they don’t. In the weeks to come I would repeatedly be surprised by MPs, friends, local party members and councillors who I had never heard express the view that we should leave the EU waxing lyrical about how it was their passion. I don’t mean to say that they were all opportunists, more that I had given them the chance to think about the issue afresh, and they had decided to take that position…

“The latent Leaver gene in the Tory Party was more dominant than I had foreseen.”

On the evidence of this book, Cameron spent little time talking to Conservatives who disagreed with him about Europe. Many of them are omitted altogether from this account, or mentioned only fleetingly.

It was understandable that Cameron should ask his MPs to stop banging on about Europe, to the exclusion of other subjects which mattered more to most voters.

But this suppression of the subject led him grievously to underestimate the vitality of the Eurosceptic tradition. He became lost in the politics of endless negotiation with the Liberal Democrats and the EU.

He was so good at this, and the country was in many ways so well run by the coalition which he, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Ed Llewellyn and others conducted from 2010, that in 2015 he won an overall majority for the Conservatives, the first time the party had managed that since 1992.

This was a major achievement, and one which would probably have proved beyond any of the other contenders for the leadership in 2005, when with the audacity identified by Mount, but seldom visible in this unexciting book, Cameron came through the field and won.

As a moderniser he inspired confidence in part because he was from such a traditional background. Many people liked that.

And he was a professional: his early training in the Conservative Research Department, about which he says nothing of interest here, had given him a precocious mastery of the techniques of government, and a coterie of able colleagues who could help him to wield power.

But what was power for? Here the Cameroon trumpet gave an uncertain sound, and still does. As a manual of technique, and of how to find a way through various tricky problems, this book is of considerable value.

It also, however, shows a man oblivious to the strong emotions which would be awoken by the referendum, and unable, when the time came, to make more than a prudential case for his side of the argument.

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