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Westlake Legal Group > George Osborne

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

‘We probably didn’t cut enough’ may be the most important revelation from Cameron’s book

Understandably, most of the headlines about David Cameron’s new book have been dominated by other angles – be it his views on the EU referendum, on Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, or, thanks to the Guardian, the question of whether ‘privilege’ dulls the pain of loss – but it strikes me that when the current news agenda has subsided, some of the most lasting elements of the book are likely to be his reflections on public spending and austerity.

Here’s the crucial passage (with my emphasis):

‘Looking back over our first few months at the helm of Britain’s economy in 2010, what do I think? Did we cut too much?

My assessment now is that we probably didn’t cut enough. We could have done more, even more quickly, as smaller countries like Ireland had done successfully, to get Britain back in the black and then get the economy moving.

Those who were opposed to austerity were going to be opposed — and pretty hysterically — to whatever we did. Given all the hype and hostility, and yes, sometimes hatred, we might as well have ripped the plaster off with more cuts early on. We were taking the flak for them anyway. We should have taken advantage of the window of public support for cuts when it was open.’

It’s 2019, so the immediate reaction from various people has been to fire up the Outrage Bus about the very idea, which incidentally rather demonstrates his point about hysterical opposition regardless of the facts of an argument.

But ignore the ranters and consider the implications of Cameron’s conclusion. This was a live and controversial debate throughout his time as Leader of the Opposition, and well into the Coalition years. As Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance between 2007 and 2010 I saw some of it first-hand.

Remember that despite the retrospective demonisation he has since been subjected to, Cameron was never desperate to reduce public spending. He didn’t see it as inherently wise or responsible to balance the books – or, at least, not sufficiently so to make it a priority.

In his 2019 account of events he writes that:

‘It doesn’t require a degree in economics to appreciate that if you keep spending faster than the economy grows, and faster than tax revenue grows, eventually you will be in trouble. Which Britain had been doing…’

but back in the first few years of his leadership he did not seem to appreciate this truth.

In 2007, George Osborne committed the Conservatives to matching Labour’s spending plans, whatever they might be, in Government. That could never have happened without Cameron’s consent, and the thinking was quite clear: they saw fiscal discipline as a reputational risk, and were keen to square it away by reusing the tactic Blair used a decade earlier to square away concerns about Labour’s fiscal irresponsibility. To reiterated: they felt that pledging to mimic Gordon Brown’s approach to fiscal policy was safer electorally than espousing the more traditional conservative view that Cameron now says was obvious.

If you doubt that, consider that it took until the second half of November 2008 before the Conservative leadership was finally willing to abandon that pledge. Then, Cameron argued that

‘The world has moved on. People are not fools… after 11 years of waste and broken promises from Labour, [voters] can see that spending more and more alone does not guarantee that things get better.’

What had ‘moved on’ most fundamentally was the start of the financial crisis, of course. By the time Cameron and Osborne changed policy, banks had started collapsing, the economy had been shrinking for months, and the crisis was well underway. Just as they had ignored the urgings of fiscal conservatives before pledging to match Labour’s spending plans, so they had resisted the growing pressure to abandon the pledge. They did so in the end, but it took months before the inherent truth of a conservative position became obvious to the point of being irresistible.

After that battle came a new disagreement about the scale and pace of fiscal restraint if and when the Conservatives got into power. Given the context above, it isn’t hard to imagine that there was still heavy reluctance to be radical in the scale or the pace of spending reductions. And yet there was a strong case to do so – in September 2009 the Institute of Directors and the TaxPayers’ Alliance produced a report proposing savings of £50 billion and explicitly arguing that the UK ought to follow the example of Canada in achieving a ‘rapid and durable fiscal consolidation’.

The political argument was precisely that which Cameron now espouses: that it is harder to go slow than to go quickly on such measures. Just as the original spending policy appeared to assume that voters and conditions would not change between 1997 and 2010, Cameron’s recognition in 2008 that ‘the world has moved on’ seemed to neglect the possibility that people might start to change their minds yet again once an austerity programme had been underway for some years.

He is correct now that there was a ‘window of public support for cuts’ that was not inevitably going to stay open forever. But there were voices telling him this at the time; they just weren’t listened to. It reflects well on him that he is willing and able to recognise – on this topic, at least – that error. (It’s notable, by the way, that George Osborne does not seem to have done so.)

The change in the former Prime Minister’s opinion has consequences today, beyond some people now having the right to say ‘I told you so’.

For a start, it’s a simple reminder that fundamental fiscal conservative principles exist for a reason, and are wise to follow. Imagine the political impact had Cameron already been arguing before the financial crisis that Brown was living beyond his means, rather than promising to do the same.

More specifically, it’s a lesson in the practical politics of doing what voters often call on the Conservatives to do: take the tough decisions after Labour mess things up. Such permission is powerful, but it can also be temporary. Fail to recognise that there is a ticking clock, and you risk failing to deliver on the mission you have been given.

Finally, it throws into relief the fact that there currently isn’t much discussion of fiscal policy in any direction on the centre right. What is the current fiscal policy, and what are the alternatives? Stian Westlake and Sam Bowman’s recent pamphlet on ‘Reviving Economic Thinking on the Right‘ is a rare example of people engaging in the necessary thought and debate which is required to answer those questions, but more should follow their lead and get stuck in. That’s the best way to avoid repeating the errors of a decade ago.

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

The plan to force a second referendum, and the prospect of party realignment

Oliver Letwin’s intervention in favour of a second referendum may turn out to be of real political significance.  To understand why, let’s start by returning to Boris Johnson’s options, assuming that he isn’t able to agree a deal with the EU before October 31.

They are, first, to extend, which would mean breaking his word.  Second, not to apply for an extension, which would mean breaking the law.  Third, to resign.  It may be that there is a fourth option unclear at present – for example, a legal appeal against some defect in the Benn Bill.  But at any rate, such appear to be the Prime Minister’s choices, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision next week on progogation, and other action in the courts.

ConservativeHome concluded earlier this week that, faced with these choices, Johnson might do best to resign.  We added that this anti-No Deal Commons might then tolerate Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister for as long as it took him to apply for the extension.  After which he would be no confidenced, and a general election would take place.

We added that there was a danger such a scheme might work too well.  In other words, that Corbyn might be kept in place by MPs as Prime Minister for months, not weeks.  Or that it might not work at all, because he would be unacceptable to the Commons, which would insist on putting someone else into Number Ten.

The Letwin intervention has further complicated these already mind-bending possibilites.  It should be viewed alongside Tom Watson’s almost identical proposal as a kind of pincer movement on Johnson, intended or unintended.  Both now support a referendum before an election.  Which suggests the following.

To date, the so-called rebel alliance has been unable to resolve a simple question about extension, namely: “what is it for?”  The referendum plan answers it by breathing new life into a familiar proposal.  “It is for allowing the Commons the chance to put Brexit back to the people,” comes the response.

Now there is still a majority, as far as can be seen, in the Commons against another public vote.  Motions supporting a second referendum have twice failed, though not by all that much: one fell short by 13 votes second time round, back in April; another by 27, the week before.

So there would almost certainly be a further struggle in Parliament over a second plebiscite.  But one can see how, were Johnson still Prime Minister in the event of extension, his premiership would slowly be bled to death while MPs debated a second referendum and other plans – with his Government still unable to obtain a majority for an election.

And were not still Prime Minister? At this point, further complexities kick in.

As we say, the Commons would be unlikely to settle on a second referendum quickly, if at all.  Were it to do so, a Bill to enact it would take time.  David Cameron’s original EU referendum bill took over six months to pass through Parliament, gaining first reading in May 2015 and royal assent in December of that year.

While it is possible to imagine MPs putting Corbyn into Number Ten briefly to agree an extension, before pitching him out again to ensure an election, it is very hard to picture them doing so for several months.  For even if a second referendum bill passed through Parliament faster than the first did, its passage would surely take many weeks.

It is here that the Letwin/Watson plan begins to run into problems.  One can see why most Labour MPs, perhaps the SNP and some of the minor parties would support a Corbyn-led, John McDonnell-driven government that would hold office for several months.

But Jo Swinson presumably would not, since propping up the Labour leader would run the risk of legitimising him among her party’s target voters.  Nor, it appears, would Letwin, and most of the 21 Tory dissidents who so recently lost the whip.

Instead, the rebel alliance would cast around for an alternative Prime Minister.  Let us call this person Ken Clarke.  Or Hillary Benn.  Or Letwin himself.  Or even Watson.  One can see that how such a premiership would suit all of these, and those who think like them.

For a Clarke premiership lasting several months, with all the above in place in Cabinet, would raise the prospect of realignment.  If they could all work together so smoothly, after all, wouldn’t the old party allegiances look a bit out of date?  Why should not this “moderate centre” coalesce permanently, and isolate “the extremes?”

Nick Boles would come on board.  So would Anna Soubry.  Philip Hammond would already be in place.  The Speaker would provide procedural aid.  This new force of “progressives”, cheered on inter alia by George Osborne’s Evening Standard, would begin to work as an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, who would already be well represented in this new coalition.  But you will already have spotted the red fly in this pinkish ointment.

For if we can work all this out, so can Jeremy Corbyn.  He would fight with as much of the Labour Party as he can command to stifle such a centrist infant at birth.  And would work in strange alliance with someone who has a mutual interest in doing so too: Boris Johnson, or whoever was Conservative leader at this point in time.  Seumas Milne, meet your new best friend: Dominic Cummings.

We apologise for burdening our readers with yet more speculation, all of which could be rendered out of date tomorrow by some new twist in the tale.  But the current floating of electoral reform – as by Amber Rudd in her recent speech which we carry today – isn’t coming from nowhere.

Behind the scenes, conversations are being had; possibilities are being broached; understandings half-reached.  Perhaps Johnson will get his deal after all.  Or the EU suddenly veto extension, and put us all out of our uncertainty.  In the meantime, though, watch Letwin, the man with a claim to the title of: our Real Prime Minister.

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

Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. Today’s spending review from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

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

Ryan Bourne: In America, public spending conservatism is being lost. It could happen in Britain.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Austerity is over. Theresa May told us so after the 2017 election, and again at the Conservative Party Conference last year. Philip Hammond tried restraining her from a blitz of high-profile spending announcements. Yet Team Johnson has now picked up the baton anyway. Today’s spending review from Sajid Javid will reportedly confirm significant money injections for schools, hospitals and the police. The Prime Minister said Monday it will be “the most ambitious spending round for more than a decade.”

Restraining government spending was always said to be a temporary deficit repair tool, of course. Those “tough choices,” added to net tax hikes, have helped bring down the budget deficit to just 1.3 per cent of GDP, from a gargantuan 9.9 per cent in 2010. Once near-balance, a spending squeeze was never envisaged to continue year after year. Despite Nick Timothy’s fear of libertarians under the bed, no recent Conservative leader has been ideologically committed to shrink the size and scope of government. Absent “thinking the unthinkable,” one eventually must release the spending grip given voter demands for high-quality services.

And yet…the zeal with which the Tories have turned heel on their spending narrative is surprising. Whatever one’s view on the efficacy or composition of “cuts”, they were central to the party’s offer through 2016, including the 2015 election win. Balancing the books was said to be about unburdening the next generation from dumping more debt on top of the iceberg associated with an ageing population. Any intergenerational justice message has now gone the way of the Titanic.

For the Government is not promising gradual targeted spending increases in these areas – a natural uplift from a reset baseline after years of restraint. No, proposed hikes in education funding would virtually reverse any real schools’ spending cuts over the past decade. May’s extra money for the NHS is a big step-change too. The spending review is celebrated as the “biggest, most generous spending review since the height of Tony Blair’s New Labour,” no less – a far cry from denouncing that era’s profligacy. In one swoop, the Treasury has undercut its long-held opposition to raising borrowing and junked the idea that public service reform trumps showering public services with money.

Javid attempts to thread the needle by arguing that more spending is still consistent with keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio on a shallow downward path. That maybe true. But a stated goal of policy was always to balance the books overall, even if George Osborne and David Cameron continually pushed back the deadline. A former Treasury fiscal policy director now says that borrowing will in fact start rising again, and soon be above two per cent of GDP. Manageable, yes – but a clear change in direction.

The public discourse effects of this reversal should worry fiscal conservatives. Cameron and Osborne’s consistent messaging helped entrench two crucial contours in discussions about government spending. First, that there was no free lunch (every Labour proposal for years was met with the question “how will you pay for it?”) Second, that what you did with the money (the organisation of public services) was as important as spending levels. After years of Tony Blair’s money throwing, the public were receptive to such apparently grown-up thinking. Now, both those claims-cum-restraints that ensnared Labour have been removed.

If large, real increases in education funding are synonymous with better schools, as Tories imply, Labour can coherently ask “why did you cut real funding beforehand?” Such corrective spending hikes look an admission of a past mistake. Doubly so if funded through borrowing that was previously considered intolerable.

Couching this as “an end to austerity” brings similar peril. These particular decisions don’t imply “we are going to return to affordable spending increases consistent with a low deficit.” If large spending hikes for education are seen as reversing austerity, then obvious questions arise: what about local authority funding? Prisons? Criminal justice? Have these not suffered more from the pain you admit was damaging?

Of course, Brexit is the important context here. It is sucking oxygen from normal economic debates – one reason why the logjam needs to be broken. A slowing economy, induced in part by uncertainty, means an obsessive near-term public finance focus is probably unwise. The very process of extrication requires budget flexibility, not least because the underlying public finances could look very different when future trade relations crystallise.

But all this would be a case for relaxing or suspending fiscal targets through the choppy Brexit seas, not bold new announcements.

No, it’s difficult not to conclude there’s not something bigger happening here. Much of the party has embraced a simplistic “left behind” narrative of the Brexit vote – that it was a cry for investment in public services. They are egged on by former government advisors, armed with polling, who see an opportunity to steer the party towards a “bigger government” vision for the party they’ve always spoiled for.

Academic evidence in fact shows new Brexit voters affiliating with the Tories quickly adopt traditional Tory views on other issues. There’s no need to pander. Yet when you see John Redwood railing against austerity, you realise how strong this view about the changing party voter base has set.

Whether Johnson shares that interpretation is less clear. Perhaps he sees funding boosts now in three major non-Brexit policy areas as short-term deck clearing before an election. Polling strength from these “good news stories” might even firm up pressure on the EU and rebel MPs on his central task. If it helps finally deliver Brexit, many of us will accept fiscal jam tomorrow.

I want to believe this, but the noises aren’t encouraging. And living in the US, where Republicans have gone from a Tea Party anti-spending force to delivering unprecedented deficits for peacetime, in just a decade, I’ve observed just how easily spending conservatism is lost.

Here, it started with big spending increases on priorities too. Republicans cut taxes, yes, but huge cash increases for defence were delivered, greased by money for some Democrat priorities. Once that dam opened though, the money poured. July’s budget deal threw off the last vestiges of spending caps delivered by the Tea Party Congress. Promises of Republican spending restraint in Donald Trump’s potential second term ring as hollow as claims he’s using tariffs as a path to freer trade.

Here’s the worrying consequence. As US conservatives have learned to love deficits, or at least use them, the left’s spending demands have only gotten more extreme. With constraints stripped away, Democratic Presidential candidates feel liberated to propose mammoth programmes and spending hikes – the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, universal childcare and more. When asked how the country can afford this, they point out to the red ink spilled for Republican priorities. There is no answer.

UK Conservatives are far from the Republican point of no return on spending, as yet. But the mood music has changed dramatically. America shows that when conservatives abandon spending constraint, they legitimise the left’s spending wild demands, to taxpayers’ detriment.

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

David Gauke: Why I believe that Parliament must stop a No Deal Brexit this week

David Gauke is a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and is MP for South West Hertfordshire.

Following Nicky Morgan’s return to the Cabinet, the Editor of this website (and my esteemed former colleague in George Osborne’s Shadow Treasury team) asked if I would like to be a regular columnist. My role, as I understood it, would be to demonstrate that all strands of Conservative Party thinking was represented on this site and, in doing so, I should therefore stir it up a bit. I gladly accepted.

It hasn’t passed my notice that my views are not entirely in harmony with the majority of ConservativeHome readers when it comes to Brexit. And, given that this article is being published at the beginning of one of the most contentious and important weeks in the Brexit saga – and I have found myself somewhat in the thick of it – this is not likely to be a gentle introduction.

Before turning to the events of the week ahead, I should say a little about the evolution of my thinking. Like most Conservatives of my generation, I came to political age in the era of Margaret Thatcher. I admired her determination to transform the British economy, her willingness to take on vested interests, her belief in the free market, free trade, sound public finances, low inflation and the need for a pro-business tax and regulatory environment.

I also shared her instincts on Europe. I was opposed to our membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, feared that the Delors European Commission was trying to reverse her supply-side reforms and always believed that the UK should stay outside the single currency. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, I feared that, in the end, we would have a choice as to whether to become part of a United States of Europe or leave the EU altogether. If it came down to that choice, I would be a Leaver.

When I entered Parliament in 2005, I joined a small group of Eurosceptics who chipped in a contribution from their Parliamentary Staffing Allowances to pay for a researcher to ensure we were ever vigilant against the advance in Euro-federalism. I even had a spell as Treasurer of this organisation, called – accurately enough – the European Research Group.

It would be fair to say that the ERG and I drifted in different directions over the years. I came to the view that the UK could be part of the EU without being destined to be part of an EU superstate.

I also came to accept that it is only possible to bring down trade barriers on the basis of co-operation with other countries. There is a trade-off between regulatory autonomy and the openness of markets and I am a free trader.
By the time we got to the 2016 referendum, I was firmly in the Remain side. Not a starry-eyed, Ode to Joy-singing Europhile, still concerned about EU overreach but, nonetheless, a believer that, on balance, our interests were best served by continued EU membership.

I was on the losing side. Having provided a referendum, we had a duty to implement it. Failure to do so would ensure our politics would be scarred by the politics of betrayal.

The only responsible way to do so was with a deal, ensuring that we entered into a deep and special partnership and that we would have a smooth and orderly departure from the EU. But the problem with this is that leaving the EU was always going to be complex. It was never possible to maintain exactly the same benefits of EU membership whilst walking away from the institutions and the rules. Leaving in the abstract was one thing; the specifics of leaving – where detailed trade-offs have to be made – is another.

The Leave campaign made big promises in terms of our independence from EU institutions. It also reassured the public as to the minimal impact on businesses and sectors trading with the EU. The problem is that it is impossible to deliver on both sets of promises at the same time.

Theresa May tried and, in my view, got a good deal – a compromise that struck a pragmatic balance. But, as measured by the absolutist hopes of some Brexiteers, it fell short of delivering the dreamed for ‘independence’. Any deal will. But the cost of failing to reach a deal – in terms of our prosperity, security and the integrity of the UK – is far too high.

Leaving with a deal remains much the best outcome. But, given that Parliament has three times rejected a deal, this is not going to be easy. The Prime Minister clearly wants a deal but he has set out one big red line – the replacement of the Northern Irish backstop.

Will the EU change their position? The purpose of the backstop is to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is an important and legitimate objective, and it is unrealistic to think they will abandon the backstop unless there is an alternative that works.

The Prime Minister has accepted that it is for the UK to propose a workable replacement to the backstop. To succeed, it must have the confidence of the people and businesses on both sides of the Irish border. If we engage positively in that endeavour, the EU has always said they would work constructively with us. But if we fail to come up with credible plans, threats of a no deal departure (which will obviously impact the UK more than the EU) will not force the EU to abandon its long-held position.

Assuming a deal is reached (and that is a very big assumption), the deal then needs to get through Parliament. It may well face opposition from a significant number of Conservative MPs who want wider changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. The more my colleagues say they want wider changes, the more remote it appears any kind of deal could be delivered.

Even with the numbers, there is the question of time. The European Council is on 17 October and the Queens Speech debates will conclude on 22 October. Is anyone seriously suggesting that a Withdrawal Agreement Bill can be concluded in nine days? All stages in both the Commons and the Lords in just over a week? Those of us who served in the previous Cabinet will recall that those responsible for managing House business would advise us that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would take two to three months to complete.

The conclusion is clear. If the Prime Minister is sincere that we leave on 31 October ‘do or die’ (and I believe he is sincere) the overwhelming likelihood is that, unless Parliament intervenes this week, we will leave without a deal. Some may welcome that. But for those of us who believe that this would be a tragic mistake, Parliament will have to step in.

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

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.

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