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Robert Halfon: Let licence fee payers vote for the BBC’s next Director-General.

More Ronseal please

It may or may not be a good thing if parts of the Treasury move to the North, or the House of Lords to York – and whether this will address regional imbalances and decision-making geared to the South East.

But, one thing I do know: this is not what the public stop me on the streets of Harlow to talk about, or what the general election was about. Most people don’t care whether the Treasury is in Tyneside or Timbuktu.

What might really make a difference to how voters (new and old) regard us, is if our party has a simple but strong narrative as to our values and the policies that accompany them. How are Conservatives going to address the cost of living? What are we doing to help those who struggle? Will Tories mend those parts of society and community that are broken? What will the Government do for skills and apprenticeships?

I have always liked the Ronseal advert for it’s brilliant catchphrase, “it does what it says on the tin”. At the election, with the slogan, “Get Brexit Done”, we did exactly what we said on the tin. But, I just wish we, Conservatives, could be tinmen all the time. Yet, too often, we are talking about things that are esoteric and display little empathy and understanding of ordinary day-to-day anxieties of normal folk.

The same goes for misfits and weirdos. Sure, have a few super-intellectuals examining complicated things that my brain grade will find hard to understand.

However, I find that the best way to work out how to change ‘the system’ is to talk to those who have a direct role in what is going wrong. Such as the parent who waits over a year to get the right EHCP for their special needs child; the small shopkeeper strangled with red tape and unfair business rates; the would-be nursing degree-apprentice who can’t find the opportunities to get that qualification; the single parent living in ghetto-like permitted development housing; the self-employed white van owner, hit by ever-increasing motorist costs and the rage of the environmentalists.

Just imagine if these kinds of people were advisers to Number 10 and rotated on a regular basis. Not only would the experts find out what is wrong, but probably some decent solutions, too.

Political loans

Since the EU referendum, petrol and diesel costs have risen by around 15 to 20p per litre.  This price has not just impacted on motorists but businesses, food prices, bus fares and much more besides – all because of the increasing costs of transportation.

If the Treasury really want to flash multiple V-signs at the millions of blue-collar voters who lent us their vote, then putting up fuel duty – a totemic tax which is already amongst the highest in Europe and accounts for over 60 per cent of our fuel costs – would be a sure way of going about it.

Those countrymen and women who supported us this time round, might decide to make it the shortest political loan in history.

Let the people decide on the future of the BBC

In 2011, I brought through a Private Bill to the Commons to democratise the BBC. In short, the legislation would have allowed the licence fee payer (LFP) to take back control. Each LFP would be able to vote online for the Board and Director-General/Chair of the BBC, on the annual report and major spending decisions.

We are told that the BBC is “ours”, yet we have no say in how it is run or funded. In reality, this is all determined by ‘the Great and the Good’.

Soon, a new BBC Director-General will be chosen. Why should LFPs not have a say as to who is the best candidate and have a genuine choice of different, prospective director-generals to vote for? Of course, you could have a requirement that the candidates have a strong broadcasting background and no history of political activism – but at least LFPs would be able to decide on different visions as to the future of the BBC.

I think the time has come to bring back this Bill so that LFPs can determine the funding model of the BBC:   keep things as they are, a voluntary subscription service, or just allow the BBC to have commercials as a self-funding service, like Channel Four.

When I proposed this in the past, I was literally told that LFPs would not understand the BBC and the complexities of voting. Yet the public vote for a new Government – a far bigger decision – every few years.

Letting licence fee payers have their say would take the sting out of a centrally-imposed decision about the BBC. We should trust the people. What’s the worst that could happen?

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

Andy Street: My West Midlands shopping list for the Chancellor’s first Budget

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

As Mayor of the West Midlands, I have learnt that the ability to work hand-in-glove with Government is critical to being able to deliver on the issues that really matter for the region.

Without Government support, we would not have been able to generate new jobs, create a better transport network, and build the thousands of new homes needed by our population.

And let’s be frank, one of the most important relationships is that with the Treasury – they, after all, hold the purse strings.

Devolution of power gave the regions the ability to make key decisions locally, but a close relationship with the Treasury is vital to get the funding to enact those plans. A huge part of any Metro Mayor’s job is banging the drum in Whitehall to win that investment.

I have been pleased to previously work with Phillip Hammond and Sajid Javid, both of whom are proven friends of the West Midlands. Since I became Mayor, we have brought in £2.3 billion of new Government money, prising it out of the Treasury. The results of that spending are reflected all around us in the West Midlands, not only in the new infrastructure and transport projects, but in the strong economic growth we have seen.

Now we get to work with the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who was widely tipped as a rising star of Government. On Saturday he demonstrated an early commitment to the West Midlands by coming to the region to meet with me and the business team.

I took from that meeting that he has a clear passion for the Government’s commitment to “levelling up“ the regions and an understanding that it has to be followed up with serious cash. For my part, I was keen to stress that “unleashing our potential” is all about investing in opportunities here, and we will deliver for UK plc.

This budget may also illustrate for the first time that Whitehall is willing to change investment guidelines that have benefited the South East for decades, to the detriment of the rest of the UK. Known as the ‘Green Book’, these Whitehall rules are said to impose a bias on investment towards London, by pumping public cash to areas where productivity and prosperity are already higher.

After years of talk about rebalancing the economy, the time has come for us to rethink these rules. The voters who backed us expect to see the UK economy levelled up. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is.

For the West Midlands, that means a shopping list for the Budget on March 11th that will allow us to build on the successes working with Government has already achieved. First of all, we must continue our mission to create a world-class transport system across the conurbation, to tackle congestion, improve air quality, and attract jobs and businesses.

Work on Metro extensions is already underway in Birmingham and Dudley. We need to step up the pace and secure support for the next phase – through East Birmingham and out to Birmingham airport. By building this tram line, we will be able to create a corridor of prosperity giving people better access to the jobs and opportunities being generated by our growing economy, and attracting investment into communities who have been isolated by a lack of connectivity.

Sticking with transport, we are already leading the way in reversing the Beeching cuts to the nation’s railways. Proposals to re-open stations in South Birmingham and Walsall have already reached the planning permission stage.

Now we need the funding to go full steam ahead to open more new stations and boost public transport in communities that haven’t had a station for over 50 years. This spending would provide tangible evidence of levelling up in action, improving the lives of residents, boosting civic pride, and delivering footfall to high streets.

These old railway lines also need reopening to support our new housing and regeneration sites across Birmingham, Country and the Black Country. Our ‘Brownfield First’ housing policy is delivering thousands of new homes on once derelict sites, while helping to protect the Green Belt. We have a proven ability to deliver much-needed homes quickly, with a surge in house-building of 40% in just two years. Of the 17,000 houses built last year, three quarters were on brownfield sites.

The good news is we still have an abundance of old derelict areas that can be decontaminated ready for new homes – and a pipeline of developers keen to start construction. We want to see the investment released to continue the ground-breaking work of Brownfield First.

Finally, as the West Midlands continues preparations for the Commonwealth Games in 2022, we want to invest in a programme that ensures the event brings new businesses and lasting jobs to the region. The Games offer an incredible opportunity to showcase our region to the world, and we are determined to take full advantage of the international interest they will generate. That work will start this year, at the Dubai World Expo.

Before, during, and after the Games, we have planned trade and investment shows, activities to attract businesses, and promotional activity to extend tourism to the wider Midlands region, but these currently have no funding in the Commonwealth Games budget.

Backing this ambition to creating an economic legacy after the Games would provide a tangible, social example of levelling-up beyond infrastructure investment.

I am looking forward to a budget on March 11th that continues to demonstrate that we have a Government, and a Mayor, determined to work together for our region, as we have done for the last three years.

We have a proven track record of using Government money to deliver jobs, transport, and housing, in innovative ways. We have shown that we have the ideas and the methods to level-up the country. By continuing to back us with real investment, the Government will send a vote of confidence in the power of local decision-making.

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

Philip Booth: The planning system can be liberalised in a conservative way

Philip Booth is Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.

The fact that Britain is in the grip of a housing crisis will not be news to anyone. But small-c conservatives often struggle to reconcile their values with the need for liberalisation in the planning system. Can the two co-exist?

The reasons to tackle the housing crisis are numerous and simple.

Housebuilding and the resulting lower prices will make it easier for people to move to areas with higher paying jobs and businesses will benefit from lower property prices, increasing productivity.

The housing benefit bill – footed of course by taxpayers – will reduce substantially.

Homelessness increasingly results from an inability of people to afford rents. Until a few years ago, the vast majority of homelessness resulted from complex combinations of mental ill health, family breakdown, and substance abuse: this is no longer the case.

Politically, surely the Conservative Party cannot expect young people to support capitalism if they have no capital. Home ownership amongst 25-34 year olds has more than halved in the last two decades: for one of those two decades, we have had a Conservative-led government.

It is important for one red herring in this debate to be killed off instantly. It is often argued that more housebuilding will not solve the problem because the new houses will not be “affordable”. The fact that new houses tend not to be “affordable” to new buyers is a symptom of the problem we face and not a cause. If you imagine restricting beer production to such a level that the price was £7 a pint, loosening those restrictions might reduce the price to £6.90 a pint. The new pints would not be affordable to the less well-off. We would need to loosen restrictions to such a point that prices fell much further before beer would become affordable to all. We need to loosen restrictions on housebuilding so that houses become affordable again.

But therein lies the problem for some traditional voters. Whilst the uplift in land values from building new houses on agricultural land is enormous, new houses come with costs for existing homeowners in the form of infrastructure provided by local authorities, higher demand for GPs and schools and, crucially, the loss of environmental amenities.

Liam Halligan has proposed addressing these problems by sharing the uplift in land value from granting planning permission between the local authority and the owner of the land. The cost of this would ultimately be borne by the landowner and not the builder. This would give local authorities an incentive to grant planning permission. However, this system would not create any particular incentive to provide the things that local people wanted and may simply provide a revenue stream for local bureaucracies.

Such a policy would be an improvement on the status quo, but there is an alternative approach which is both more conservative in the traditional sense and more free-market orientated.

Why not allow developers to negotiate with communities at very local level to provide compensation directly to the community? This would set in place a constructive dynamic. If the houses are beautiful, the local representatives would demand less compensation. A whole range of possibilities could find their way into the negotiations: roads could be improved; in some areas of the country railways could be restored; environmental improvements could be made; and there could, indeed, be cash compensation for those most directly affected. Negotiations could be with villages, parishes or town councils or local housing developments.

It might be asked whether the local residents would not just gobble up all the planning gain which would effectively taking away the value of the land from the person who owns it. This won’t happen. Only 1.4 per cent of Britain is built on, so developers would have options. They could weigh up the cost of development, including the costs demanded by local residents, with the profits from development in different locations. We would get better development and also development where there were the fewest objections.

This approach might well lead to a new focus on promoting desirable environmental outcomes. Developers could, for example, offer to create nature reserves protected by trust funds and green pathways for nature as part of the compensation package. Even a badly designed housing development is better for nature than most farmland. A major study conducted by Dr. Ken Williams of Sheffield University nine years ago found that a typical garden contains thousands of worms, invertebrates, spiders, and around 250 different varieties of plants. By contrast, farms often contain just one plant (wheat, corn or maize) pollinated by the wind. Recent research on hedgehog proliferation undertaken by Nottingham Trent and Reading Universities suggests that gardens in urban areas are becoming increasingly important as the rural environment becomes more ecologically sterile.

The downside of this approach is that it might be more complex than Halligan’s proposal. It might work better on paper than in practice. In that case, why not give it a go? Test it out. We could ask a couple of counties, such as Surrey and Sussex, to try out the approach over five years and see what the results were.

This approach involves genuine localisation and constructive negotiated engagement between localities and developers. It should be complemented by other localisation measures. In particular, we should radically decentralise the tax base. Currently, the addition of more local people brings costs without revenues. Related to this we should shift the burden of property tax from taxes on transactions to taxes on property users and residents (without increasing the overall tax burden) with these revenue streams being set by and belonging to local government.

This would take us closer to tax systems that exist in most other countries. Together with the other moves described here, that might help move us from the position of being an international outlier when it comes to house prices.

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

Neil O’Brien: How the Conservatives can do better with younger voters. And remain a compassionate party.

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

We need to be tough on Corbynism, and tough on the causes of Corbynism. After crushing Labour last year, it might be tempting to rest on our laurels. But we need to act now to keep the extreme left locked out of Number 10 in the long term. This piece is about two ways we can do that.

First, doing better among young people. Second, making sure we remain trusted as a compassionate party.

Both are about uniting the country post Brexit. Let’s start with younger people.

In the last election, Boris Johnson raised our share of the vote across the board.

But we made bigger gains among older people than young. Despite the improvement compared to 2017, last year we still got just 19 per cent of the vote among 18 to 24 year olds, while Labour got 62 per cent. Contrast that with 1979 and 1983 when got 42 per cent of the vote among 18-24 year olds. That was nearly the same share we got among the over 55s those years (47 per cent).

It is true that younger people are always more left-wing. But the gap in voting behaviour between young and old became way bigger in 2017 than it had been before, and that massive gap was still there in 2019.

While today’s younger voters are likely to become more conservative as they get older, we are starting from a much lower base. So if we don’t fix those cracks in the foundations, we risk our 2019 triumph crumbling away over time.

There are multiple factors causing young people to shift left, including: the larger proportion of younger voters who are not white (20 per cent among under 34s, compared to five per cent of those over 60); the liberalising effects of the expansion of Higher Education (three per cent going to uni during the 1950s, and 50 per cent now); and housing costs going up (from 10 per cent of renters’ income during the 1970s to a third now, while twice as many are renting). Other factors include tuition fees; the Financial Crash; Brexit, and the rise of social liberalism.

What’s clear is that we need to make some big changes to do better among younger voters. That means for starters, that the forthcoming spending review has to have something to offer them. Our new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is one of the smartest people I have met. But if we don’t want debt to grow relative to the economy, he inherits no room to go on a spending spree.

So where can he find the money to help young people?

One asset is the remaining stock of local authority housing. Transferring it to not-for-profit housing associations would allow them to borrow against rents, unlocking £27 billion for housing. That would let us build a huge amount of housing for younger working people who don’t get council housing. It could include cheap rented accommodation to build up a deposit, and homes for discounted sale.

Another place to look is our universities. We now know that there’s a large group of young people for whom going  won’t be worth it financially, either for them or the taxpayer.

That’s true for between a fifth and a quarter of those who currently go. Frankly, many are being mis-sold a degree.

For example, the average creative arts graduate isn’t earning enough even ten years after leaving university to pay back any of their loan. We are doing young people no favours by loading them up with debts in return for such degrees.

They also cost the taxpayer a large amount in written-off loans. Clamping down on low value courses could save enough money to either cut the cost of going to university in half, or free up money to invest in top flight technical education and higher apprenticeships. That would also help “Level up” places where more young people go down technical routes.

The other part of combatting the causes of Corbynism is making sure we tackle the big social challenges.

I’ve spent a long time arguing for a focus on people who are not at the bottom, but are “just about managing”. But reasonable, middle of the road people will only keep voting for us if they feel we have a plan to deal with people who are, well, “not managing at all”: people in poverty.

People want to know we are doing the right thing. And people who are just about managing are also the most directly exposed to social breakdown. That means going further to tackle things like rough sleeping. It has gone up since 2010. And that is only partly because we have funded more outreach services and so identified more rough sleepers.

It is true that there are a larger number of EU nationals sleeping rough. And it was deeply unhelpful that EU law banned efforts to return rough sleepers to their home countries. When I did outreach work with street homeless, I met people who wanted to get home after things in London had not worked out.

But there are also large numbers of British people sleeping rough – and shamefully, six per cent of them are formerly of our own armed forces.

In my time working with rough sleepers, I met many who couldn’t face going into a shelter because they’d had a bad experience in one. That’s why the pilots of “Housing First” are important. In Housing First, people are housed first and then have their problems worked on. The Rough Sleeping Initiative also seems to be working in areas where it is operating. But we now need to put rocket boosters under both these schemes.

Take another challenge: food banks. They exist in pretty much every country in Europe, even the richest. France has “Restos du Couer” while Germany has “Tafel” (Food Tables).

How can we drive down the number of people in Britain who need to use them? The main network of food banks, the Trussell Trust, suggests reducing delays at the start of Universal Credit claims so people don’t struggle while waiting for their benefits.

Currently claimants can opt to get an advance loan to reduce the wait for money. We could make this the default, though such loans can still lead to problems paying back the money later. Alternatively, we could make UC payments work more like the old system: with an upfront payment, paid every two weeks, and the housing benefit element direct to landlords as standard.

There would be a cost to upfront payments: as much as £1-2 billion nationally. So we should experiment by trying it in some areas, and seeing what difference it makes to foodbank use and other social problems. If it works, we should do it nationally.

More broadly, the new government should set out a clear new framework for tackling poverty: an approach that tackles the underlying causes, with clear goals to drive down rough sleeping, drive up school standards, drive down worklessness and so on.

Our Prime Minister studied the classics, and will recall how triumphant Roman generals would have an Auriga on hand to remind them that “you too are mortal”, and generally keep them down to earth. He has produced a historic triumph in the general election. Now is the time, when he is strong, to secure the long term future of the party. The time to put his compassionate instincts into action, and build a united country.

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

Interview. Bailey says “we’re going to reopen all of the police stations that Khan has closed.

Sadiq Khan is a worried man and can be beaten in the London Mayoral election in May 2020. So says Shaun Bailey, selected as the Conservative candidate as long ago as September 2018, but still generally regarded as the underdog.

In this interview, Bailey cheerfully admits he is indeed the underdog: “There’s no doubt about that.”

But he contends that Khan’s record, particularly on crime but also on transport and housing, is “so terrible it’s allowed us an opportunity.”

Bailey announces he will reopen all 38 police stations in London which have closed their doors to the public since Khan was elected Mayor in 2016.

He insists Khan squandered his long honeymoon as Mayor, and has at last been forced to admit that crime is the number one issue for Londoners.

The entry of Rory Stewart, once a Conservative MP and minister, into the race as an Independent does not appear to perturb Bailey, who counts on being able to mobilise large numbers of Conservative activists.

When ConHome pointed out that in parts of London Tories are thin on the ground, he replied: “Yes. But the entirety of London is where Rory’s thin on the ground.”

Bailey opposes the third runway at Heathrow, wants to set up Housing for London to build many more houses, but declined to promise to  rebuild the Euston Arch, of which he had not heard.

He said that if elected Mayor, he will regard it as his “moral duty” to stand up for London against Boris Johnson, just as Johnson used to stand up for London against David Cameron.

The interview was conducted in the Union Theatre Cafe, beneath a railway arch in Southwark, and ends with Bailey’s account of how Gandhi helped to make him a Christian.

ConHome: “You’re looking perky.”

Bailey: “I suppose I’m in a perky mood because on Saturday we had what for us was a big moment of getting all the senior activists to come in and see what we have planned next.

“And you know it’s like throwing a party, you never know if anyone’s going to turn up. Well they came in their droves, they were super-constructive and really helpful, really behind the plan we’ve got going forward.

“And for all the glitz and glamour of politics, you know, can you get on ConHome, are you in The Standard…”

ConHome: “I don’t think ConHome is part of the glitz and glamour of politics. It has many solid qualities, but I think glitz…”

Bailey: “But ultimately it comes down to the activist base, and are they on your side. And Saturday was a massive demonstration that they are.

“The way I was selected was definitely the activists – to see they’re still on my side more than a year afterwards is nice, it’s gratifying, there’s a warm, cuddly feeling there.”

ConHome: “It’s a real marathon, isn’t it.”

Bailey: “I’ve had a bigger marathon than most, because they decided to select so early. But the marathon content of this has been Brexit, then Conservative leadership, then general election.”

ConHome: “So people haven’t really been focussing on the mayoral election. Also Sadiq Khan, he hasn’t somehow been commanding headlines himself.”

Bailey: “He had a very long honeymoon period, and I don’t think he used that to the best. So what he did, he pumped his profile, we all know who he is, but he didn’t deliver on anything.

“And I think people now are really beginning to hold that against him. He can’t reannounce things, because people are starting to scrutinise.”

ConHome: “But you’re still the underdog, aren’t you.”

Bailey: “There’s no doubt about that.”

ConHome: “Labour with 49 parliamentary seats in London and the Tories with 21. Losing Putney to Labour at the general election in December – obviously I’m not blaming that on you [laughter], but the conventional wisdom is that London is a Labour city and you don’t really have much of a chance.”

Bailey: “Two things I’d say about it. Let’s be clear, I’m the underdog…”

At this point a waitress asked us what we would like. Bailey ordered a cup of tea and an almond croissant.

Bailey: “So there’s no doubt, we are the underdog. But the point is, his record is so terrible it’s allowed us an opportunity. And people say London’s a Labour city, but Boris did it twice.

“If you look at Brexit, more people in London voted Leave than voted for Sadiq Khan.

“And I have a few advantages. I’ve never told anybody off for their opinion on Brexit. Your opinion is your opinion. He’s a great one for telling people off for that.

“And ultimately there’s a fight on now, and he senses that. He’s worried about it, and it’s made for a change in his behaviour. My team and myself accurately identified what most Londoners are speaking about, and that’s crime, and housing and transport.

“And more importantly we identified what they want to talk about in any of those given arenas. So we’ve been able to assault him quite clearly.

“He had an attitude of ‘Well, of course I’ll win’, and we’ve make him worry about that.”

ConHome: “How can you tell he’s worried?”

Bailey: “For instance, he’s very hard been trumpeting it’s only a two-horse race. Whereas beforehand, he wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.”

ConHome: “It was a one-horse race.”

Bailey: “Exactly. He’s worried, and I sit in front of him regularly because I’m an Assembly Member, and he’s constantly now talking about crime, because we put it on the agenda.

“And if you remember, when he went and saw the Home Secretary, it wasn’t even on the agenda there, he didn’t even pick it up with the Home Secretary.

“He put out a survey for Londoners about what they were concerned about, and crime wasn’t even on there.”

ConHome: “Is crime your number one message?”

Bailey: “Crime is London’s number one message. From Kingston to Kilburn, Hendon to Harrow, everybody’s talking about crime, so that’s why I started to speak about it.

“We had to drag the Mayor onto this playing field that most Londoners are disappointed about.”

ConHome: “You’ve got an announcement about police stations?”

Bailey: “We’re going to reopen all of the police stations Sadiq Khan has closed. There’s no need for him to close them. There’s the money to keep them open.

“We’re in the farcical position that most of the 38 stations he’s closed to the public are still operational, but if you’ve been mugged you can’t walk in to one of them and report it.”

ConHome: “Has he saved a lot of money by shutting these front desks?”

Bailey: “No. He’s messed up City Hall’s finances so every penny for him now counts. He’s effectively saved in the region of eight million pounds.

“HIs defence has been that there was a 22 per cent reduction in reporting to police. But of course there was, because crime was going down.

“Since he’s come in, crime has gone up 40 per cent, and nobody has anywhere to report. That’s why we’re doing it.”

ConHome: “The rise in knife crime is a shameful thing. You wonder what the hell has gone wrong. What’s your answer to that?”

Bailey: “We’re going to take the tough and tender approach. So the tough end is a record number of police with money we already have in City Hall. Buying the infra-red technology so we can do stop and search on a much larger scale than we already do it.

“Backing the police politically, so they know that if they’re doing the right thing, it’s sometimes tough, I’ll back them as Mayor. I want to go back to higher police visibility.

“On the tender end, we’ll do things like a second chance fund. If you look at about a third of the people who’ve been involved in knife crime in London, it’s their second, third or fourth offence, they’ve been in and out, it’s a revolving door.

“I want to use that moment as a teachable moment, to get them into employment, into training etcetera. There’s lots of organisations that’ll do that across London. We need to fund them. so I’ll take some of the adult education budget and make a second chance fund, as long as they haven’t been involved in very serious offences.

“Often people talk to you about youth work, but I’m not up for table tennis and biscuits. I want the kind of youth work that develops young people, that gives them skills they can use in the work place.

“I’ve dealt with some of the toughest cases possible. Anything from young men who are homeless, who are in gangs, who deal drugs, down to children who just misbehave a little bit in class.”

ConHome: “You went through a period as a Cameroon moderniser, but not in this campaign?”

Bailey: “This level of government is much more practical. This is about what you can do. As Mayor of London you have £18.5 billion you can do things with.”

ConHome: “Did Sadiq Khan make a terrible mistake with Transport for London, creating a hole in its budget by cutting fares?”

Bailey: “One hundred per cent. You look at Crossrail, for instance. Crossrail is over two billion pounds over budget. And his response has been to blame the Government when he knows that TfL wholly own the project.

“He made that hole in the budget, what that meant was lay-offs, and a large part of the TfL staff that got laid off were the very people who were looking at Crossrail and whether it was going to work out.

“Ask anybody who lives on the Metropolitan Line, anybody who lives on the Bakerloo Line, the supposed extensions to the DLR, the Central Line – no new trains, all because he made a massive hole in the budget.”

ConHome: “And that was by his original fare cuts, was it?”

Bailey: “By his fare cuts, by his poor running of the whole situation.”

ConHome: “What effect does Rory Stewart’s candidacy have? Is it a two-horse race or is it a three-horse race?”

Bailey: “I remember very early on, people said, ‘Are you worried about Rory?’ Not particularly, because there’s two major things I have. The party structure, and most importantly, volunteers. I can go to a rainy night in Harrow and be accompanied by 30 volunteers.”

ConHome: “There are some bits of London though where the Tories are very thin on the ground.”

Bailey: “Yes. But the entirety of London is where Rory’s thin on the ground. Where the voluntary party have really shown they’ve got stamina is the bits of the ground where we’re thin, they’ve sent people over from where we’re strong.”

ConHome: “What about Heathrow? Are you pro or anti?”

Bailey: “I’m anti. In 2007 I believe I met with the then chief executive of Heathrow along with Greg Hands, and I was very new, and afterwards I turned to Greg and I said, ‘I know I’m new at this, but it sounds to me as if he wants £10 billion to grow his business.’

“And Greg said, ‘I think you may be right.’ I’ve always thought it was a poor idea. I think we need a different solution.”

ConHome: “Could Boris Island rise from the dead?”

Bailey: “I haven’t given that the great amount of thought it would need. But let’s just say Boris Island is on the correct side of the city.”

ConHome: “One of the things Boris Johnson did from time to time as Mayor was to defy the central Conservative Government and show he was on the side of Londoners. Now Johnson is the person you’ll have to defy in order to stick up for London.”

Bailey: “Would I stick up for London? Anybody who knows me knows I’m independent, if I’ve got something to say I’ll say it, and being the Mayor of London gives you the right, the platform, the need and the moral duty to do that.”

ConHome: “I remember Johnson as Mayor appearing on television with David Cameron and turning to him and saying, ‘You will be supporting Crossrail, won’t you?’

“Will you be playing the same trick on him? Crossrail 2, now.”

Bailey: “Yes.”

ConHome: “He might avoid public appearances with you.”

Bailey: “He might have to. Crossrail 2 is vital.”

ConHome: “What about housing? It’s so expensive that many people with children are having to move out of London.”

Bailey: “Housing in London’s been broken for probably 40 years. We’ve added two million people to our number and only 200,000 homes.

“We need a new system. So what I’m going to do is start Housing for London, in much the way that TfL does transport. It will be a City-Hall-backed, centralised developer whose sole goal is to develop the appropriate housing in appropriate numbers across London.”

ConHome: “Are we going to get some proper houses with gardens?”

Bailey: “Yes. The last time we built serious housing in this country publicly was under Harold Macmillan. This is roughly the same thing.”

ConHome: “A lot of what Macmillan built was of rather poor quality.”

Bailey: “He didn’t have modern building regs, did he. I have modern building regs that I have to comply with.”

ConHome: “The late Gavin Stamp, distinguished architectural historian, could not forgive Macmillan for knocking down the Euston Arch, an act of grotesque vandalism.

“Can we have the Euston Arch back? Personally I will definitely vote for you if you promise me the Euston Arch back.”

Bailey: “I don’t know what the Euston Arch is, I’ll have to find out.”

ConHome: “It looked like a temple, and was knocked down at Euston in December 1961, despite tremendous protests by conservationists. You’ve got to go for beauty as well as…”

Bailey: “One of the things when you grow up on estates as I have, you quickly realise the built environment is important, and the beauty of the environment means the people around it will own it. It cuts crime, it cuts vandalism as well.”

ConHome: “How important is your Christian faith to you?”

Bailey: “I’m a card carrier. For me it’s my community as well as church. One of the things conceptually that I enjoy most about this country is the right to free worship.

“You can worship who you like. I live next door to a guy from Afghanistan. My neighbour across the road is from south India. We all come together, we all celebrate each other’s festivals.

“My daughter and son particularly like Diwali because he likes fireworks in the street.

“For me it’s just part of who I am. I became a Christian about 16 years ago, as an adult, it was something I investigated.”

ConHome: “Did you have a conversion experience?”

Bailey: “No. I’ve always tried to spend my time helping people, and one of the people I admire most in history is Gandhi, and it’s interesting to hear a Hindu man speak about Jesus, and it made me think maybe I should reinvestigate, because my family are Jamaican, they’re definitely Christians.

“If a Hindu man could speak about our God in that generous way, maybe it was time I had a look.”

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

WATCH: Street demands more transport investment for West Midlands and help developing brownfield sites

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 

Reshuffle 2) Iain Dale: It’s a scandal that Housing is now on its tenth Minister in ten years.

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

It seems that the estimable Editor of this fine organ was the only one to foresee the departure of Sajid Javid as chancellor. That’s why he’s on the big bucks. Clearly, Boris Johnson and his team thought that Sajid Javid would cave – just as all the other Ministers did who have been threatened with losing their special advisors.

This is one of those occasions where it’s entirely possible to see both sides of the argument. If I had been Javid, I’d like to think I’d have done the same thing.

But on the other hand, and from Number Ten’s point of view, they want to avoid the Prime Minister-Chancellor rows that have bedevilled various administrations over the years.

We remember the TeeBeeGeeBees of the Tony Blair government. Some of us recall how Margaret Thatcher’s government was partially destroyed by the breakdown between her and her chancellor, Nigel Lawson, over the role of Sir Alan Walters.  And we remember the fallout between Theresa May and her advisers and Philip Hammond and his.

So I get it. I really do. But of course the writeups in all the papers this morning are no doubt all about how Dominic Cummings has triumphed over Javid and his supposed ally, Carrie Symonds.

The pundits will be using phrases like “Classic Dom”. Iain Martin from Reaction commented in a tweet yesterday afternoon that, in the latest piece of reshuffle news, “Boris Johnson has accepted the role of deputy prime minister”. Lols.

The new Number 10 /Treasury liaison unit needs to be staffed very carefully, mindful of the fact that the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, cannot be allowed to be portrayed as a supplicant. I hope it’s headed up by Eddie Lister. He’s a natural conciliator.

– – – – – – – – – –

The success of this cabinet will depend in large part on which ministers can pull alongside Michael Gove – and earn the description of being ‘transformational’. They all have the opportunity to do it, but which are most likely to succeed?

I have very high hopes of Alok Sharma, the new Business Secretary. He comes into the department with very little baggage and the full backing of the Prime Minister.

Brandon Lewis in Northern Ireland has a huge opportunity to build on Julian Smith’s legacy. Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Lewis is a natural coalition builder, and I suspect Northern Ireland will take to him in a way that it hasn’t with some others.

Grant Shapps is building a very positive reputation at Transport and the fate of the Government will depend in some part on his ability to juggle the various transport priorities.

George Eustice at DEFRA has a huge opportunity to make a big impact, but needs to look to Gove as his example. He transformed that department.

But it is Therese Coffey and Matt Hancock, survivors of the shuffle, who have the biggest opportunities to be transformational – Coffey in the field of universal credit and Hancock on social care. I wish them all luck.

– – – – – – – – – –

Reshuffles are a time when old scores can be settled, not just by the Prime Minister of the day, but also by his advisers and by other ministers. Some sackings appear at first sight utterly incomprehensible, but dig a little deeper and there’s always a reason.

Take the case of Nus Ghani, a Transport Minister until yesterday, She was one of the few Jeremy Hunt supporters to survive the cull in when Boris Johnson appointed his first government in July. It could be that she crept under the wire and no one had spotted her support for Hunt.

Unlikely, though. So was her dismissal because she was an incompetent minister? My friends in the Transport sector thought she was rather good in dealing with them in the maritime and aviation sectors. It is possible, I suppose, that a senior Minister put the black spot on her (and indeed on another Transport junior minister, George Freeman).

All in all, it seems very odd to sack a young, BAME minister who has done nothing obviously wrong. But that’s politics, I suppose.

– – – – – – – – – –

With the departure of Esther McVey, we are now on our tenth housing minister in ten years. I’m sorry to see her leave government, but the appointment was never going to work.

For someone who had been a full Cabinet member to later be appointed as number two to the Cabinet’s youngest minister was always going to be a tough ask. Housing is one of the most important jobs in government, and merits a full cabinet position on its own.

Chris Pincher, the new Housing Minister, must stay in the post for the rest of this Parliament. It’s the only way that a housing strategy can be implemented properly.

– – – – – – – – – –

Can you imagine any politician other than Rory Stewart getting away with using a campaign hashtag #comekipwithme?

He’s asking Londoners to let him sleep overnight in their homes. That way, he says, he can really find out what they think. He’s done it before. During his 21 month trek across Afghanistan, he stayed with 500 different families.

Apparently, more than 500 people have offered to put him up for the night and chew his ear. I interviewed him about it on Tuesday, when he recounted his visit to Lorraine in Newham last week. He sat up there late into the night, sitting on the floor in his pyjamas chatting away. Woah. Not weird at all…

The London mayoral campaign hasn’t really sprung into life yet, possibly because everyone believes that Sadiq Khan will romp to victory. Given Labour’s travails at the moment, this ought not to be the case, and you can bet your bottom dollar his campaign will hardly mention Labour.

At least, that’s if his campaign team have any sense. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate shows no sign of making any breakthrough whatsoever, and with Stewart’s intervention it’s difficult to see how he can win.

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 

Tony Devenish: We need more weirdos and misfits in local government too

Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.

As the Prime Minister has rightly recognised, the Conservative Party needs to change its priorities and approach in order to deliver for our new and unique voter base.

It is also clear that the way government is run will change, with Dominic Cummings’ typically idiosyncratic call for “assorted misfits and weirdos” to work in the heart of government suggesting that the civil service could transform dramatically. This is welcome, but Cummings need not stop at the civil service. I would never dream of labelling my colleagues in local government as misfits or indeed weirdos, but there is no doubt that the lower levels of government could be used more effectively to help the Prime Minister deliver his exciting domestic agenda.

Here are just three examples of how local government could make a real difference:

Recruiting 20,000 extra police officers

I have been a local councillor for 14 years and a London Assembly Member for four, and throughout this time, law and order issues have dominated my postbag. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, are entirely right to recognise that we need to step-up policing across the country and deliver this change quickly.

However, police numbers alone aren’t enough; these officers need to be deployed in the right way. Politicians and even senior police officers are often too slow to recognise what many of my residents see very clearly: that visible policing is immensely important and having bobbies on the beat really does deter crime. Police technology certainly has a role in detecting crime hotspots, but local councillors know their patches better than anyone. Officers and councillors already work together, but we need to strengthen this link, ensure that local councillors play an elevated role in expanding neighbourhood policing, and, crucially, help to get police officers working in the right areas.

Local government can also help the police service to recruit and retain special constables. It is no secret that specials have somewhat withered on the vine recently, which is deeply regrettable at a time when they could be used to step up policing in preparation for the arrival of new officers. The Government really needs to look at recruiting a much higher number of specials and, crucially, ensure that they are used in a way which improves retention (the days of specials just being used to control crowds at football matches should be left in the past). Again, local councillors should be utilised to not only get specials working in the right areas, but also help to find local opportunities to up-skill them in order to incentivise them to stay.

Building more homes

Conservative governments over the past ten years have made huge strides forward when it comes to house building, with building numbers doubling since Labour’s Great Recession. But we need to go much further, and good, innovative local government will be absolutely key to getting more homes built.

Take the Greater London Authority (GLA) as an example. There is enormous potential to get more homes built on public sector land – potential which Mayor Sadiq Khan has entirely failed to realise. 57 percent of disposable NHS land is in the capital, but there is just one NHS-GLA project underway with a tiny number of starts on this land. On Met Police land, no new homes were started in the 2018/19 financial year, and just 9 in 2017/18. Transport for London (TfL) has a property portfolio that is 16 times the size of Hyde Park, and the Mayor rightly had an ambitious target to build 10,000 on this land by 2021, yet in the first three years of his mayoralty he started just 322 units.

In order to spread home ownership, the Government must give local government the support and freedom it needs to get spades in the ground and remain unafraid to use all of the tools at its disposal to spur lethargic local administrations like Sadiq Khan’s GLA into action.

Social care

My own mother turns 90 next month (Happy Birthday Mum!), so I really do personally feel how important sorting out our social care system is. It would be impossible to put forward a comprehensive solution in an 850-word article, but I would just urge the Government to ensure that local councils are closely involved with the development of a new social care model. After all, local councils are on the front line when it comes to social care, and really do understand the issues at hand better than anyone.

As Conservatives, we fundamentally believe in local government and have a great track record of pushing power downwards and outwards. As our party leads the country into an exciting new era, local government needs to play a key role in meeting the challenges of the 2020s.

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