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Neil O’Brien: Policies for a new Britain – in which the central point for new Tory MPs is moors on Sheffield’s edge

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

The rain fell. As the weeks of the campaign went by, bright orange Halloween pumpkins rotted on doorsteps, while Christmas decorations gradually went up. Across the country floods came and receded. The short days got even shorter.

A man in a beautiful big Georgian house with a very large Apple Mac in the window told me that we had ruined the country. A man in a bungalow on an estate told me that he’d voted Labour his whole life, but this time he would be voting Conservative.

Leaflets went soggy in the drizzle. Towns and villages turned on their Christmas lights. More rain fell, and then, at the end of it all, there was a flood tide of a different kind. A blue tide, sweeping across the country, particularly in the midlands and north.

That flood has washed away old familiar landmarks. The Beast of Bolsover is gone. Jo Swinson is gone. Jeremy Corbyn is going. The “People’s Vote” campaign has shut down in the light of… how people voted. “Workington Man”, much discussed at the start of the campaign, really did turn Conservative, and sent Mark Jenkinson to Parliament.
Laura Piddock, who’d vowed never to be friends with a Conservative, was replaced by one: Richard Holden.

The Conservative Party has been profoundly changed by the election. Since 1997 we’ve gone from having from three per cent to 34 per cent of seats in the North East. From 13 per cent to 43 per cent of seats in the North West. From 13 per cent to 48 per cent in Yorkshire. From nought per cent to 35 per cent of seats in Wales. And from 24 per cent to 75 per cent of seats in the West Midlands.

Our new intake are 30 per cent of the parliamentary party. And their seats are different. In 2001, we had just no seats in the 30 per cent most deprived constituencies in England. In 2010, we had 24. Now it is 49 of those seats. In 2001, we had just 14 seats in the most deprived half of England. Now we have 116.

Look at the change another way. Average out where in English Conservative MPs elected in 2017 represented, and the centre point was down in the Speaker’s leafy Buckingham constituency. Average out the newly elected Conservative MPs in England in 2019, and the central point is out on the wild and windy moors on the edge of Sheffield.  It would take you a long time, but you can now walk almost the whole length of the Pennine Way without leaving a Conservative constituency.

The Prime Minister also has the chance now to go on an epic trek: one to change the face of British politics forever.
It goes without saying that we need to keep our promises on GBD (Getting Brexit Done) and the NHS. But we can’t let Whitehall just KBO with business-as-usual.

I don’t think we will. The signs of last week’s earthquake have been there for some time, and people like Dominic Cummings have the most been attuned to them. Even some of the 2019 strategy has been road-tested before. Under Cummings in 2001, the no euro campaign ran “Never Mind the Euro, what about our hospitals?” flyposters, riffing on famous the Sex Pistols album cover.

In the James Frayne/Dom Cummings led-campaign against the North East Assembly in 2004, the campaign had a strong anti-politics-as-usual slant, with ads condemning the cost of the proposed “talking shop” for ordinary people.
But now we have a majority, how to respond to the dissatisfaction that’s been growing for so long?

Once we get Brexit done, we should be conspicuous in the use of our new freedoms. We could axe the hated tampon tax or cut VAT on fuel. We can improve animal welfare, banning live exports and puppy smuggling. We could end the absurd practice of paying child benefits to children living overseas. We could help small business, reviewing legislation that curtails lending like the CRD IV and Solvency 2. We could replace bureaucratic EU regional development funding with something better, and end the environmental waste of the CAP and Common Fisheries Policies.

Things like the review of sentencing and end of early release are key to showing the county is under new management.

But the question I am most interested in personally is whether we can have a bold enough economic policy that people in the newly gained Conservative seats can see the difference in five years’ time.

Let’s be clear: many of the places we’ve gained have suffered economic decline for many decades. There is a good economic case for levelling up: there are no major countries that are richer per head than Britain and have a more geographically unbalanced economy. More balanced growth is stronger. But to get it, we need to mobilise in an unprecedented way.

I’d suggest four ways to level up.

First, rebalance the government’s most growth-enhancing spending. Spending which most spurs growth is too concentrated on places that are already successful. We should rebalance spending on innovation, transport, housing and culture to lift the performance of poorer areas. Government should rethink the focus on current demand levels and current strengths which creates a vicious circle for less wealthy areas.

Second, we should recognise that Britain has de-industrialised more than any other G20 country since 1990; that the UK’s tax system is currently uniquely hostile to manufacturing and other types of capital-intensive businesses; and that this has a particularly negative effect on lagging parts of the country which are more reliant on manufacturing.

Despite its small share of overall GDP, manufacturing makes an outsize contribution to productivity growth and compared to professional services is more likely to happen outside city centres.

While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40-50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West. More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions, but currently EU rules limit the places in which we can offer such allowances. Let’s use our new freedom.

Third, lets recognise the centrality of private sector investment in growth. Moving public sector jobs around doesn’t cut it. We need private inward investment. That means souping up DIT and making sure we are using every weapon including tax breaks to attract higher end private sector jobs to poorer places.

The highlight of the Conservative manifesto for me was the pledge to invest a stonking £3.2 billion a year in R&D by the end of the Parliament. But unless we spend differently, it won’t benefit lagging areas.

So, fourth, we have to shift the balance of government R&D: from mainly in universities to more happening in firms. From fundamental research, to more applied (like in China and the Asian economies). And from half the core budget being spent in three cities, (London, Cambridge and Oxford) to a distribution more in line with the geographically balanced spending of the private sector.

And more. We should learn from the Connell Review and the way the US uses ringfenced budgets for innovative procurement to put rocket boosters under small tech firms. We should build up innovate UK and make it easier to get SMART grants too.

Obviously, there are a zillion other things: sorting out the over-expansion of low-value university arts courses and under-investment in apprenticeships. Building on funding to fix run down town centres… there’s masses to do.
But above all, somewhere in Whitehall there has to be a strong central point to make all this happen “by any means necessary”.

We start with a huge river of goodwill from this election. Now we need to channel it to get the wheels turning again for places that feel left-behind.

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Rachel Wolf: I co-wrote this Conservative manifesto. And so can say that its focus was on neither the rich nor the poor.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Labour has responded to this election with arrogance. The Conservatives, with humility. This is, given the result, extraordinary – and is a reminder of why we won.

Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes won’t accept that people disliked him and thought that his programme was  undeliverable. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has made clear that those who have – for the first time – voted Conservative must now be convinced they made the right decision.

This is clearly correct. There is no deep bond between the Conservatives and these voters. One must be forged.

I spent the election campaign co-writing the manifesto (a major team effort). The programme focuses on the needs and priorities of the new Conservative voter.

This is a greater mental and policy shift than many realise. In my experience, with well over a decade doing policy work for the party and government, we Conservatives too often slip into thinking of the world in terms of wealthy and poor. In that world, the job of a compassionate One Nation Conservative is to provide help and support for people in dire need. Often, it presupposes they have chaotic and desperate lives.

This is a useless picture of the nation. The vast majority of people are not poor or wealthy. They are competent, good parents. They want criminals to be punished. They work and contribute to society – financially and in other ways. They rely wholly on the state for daily services and if things go wrong, but most of the time they cope. They are – to use the phrase that my husband and another ConservativeHome columnist James Frayne coined – Just About Managing. (Remember that?)

These are our new voters. And there are three areas that we had in mind and wove through the manifesto which are particularly crucial if they are to trust us again.

The first is fairness. More specifically, a system that recognizes effort and reward, but also bad luck and real need. For example, the manifesto promised what David Cameron tried and failed to achieve in his EU negotiation: to require migrants to contribute for several years before being able to claim benefits.

It promised to give local people discounted homes, and to build local infrastructure such as schools before people move into new developments.

It promised a much clearer link between crime and punishment, while also focusing on rehabilitation for those that are willing to work for it.

This is all about recognising the contract between people and the state: we expect everyone who can to contribute, we will look after those who need help, and we will punish those who break the rules. A huge proportion of our new voters think that contract is broken – on welfare, on immigration, on crime, on housing. The Conservative government must show it is restored.

The second area is public services. In five years, people need to find it easier to get a GP appointment, think A&E and social care is better not worse, and not believe that their schools are struggling with budgets. This was a huge focus of the manifesto. It requires looking at the entire system of delivery – recruitment, retention, incentives, performance: an enormously complex task to deliver simple but vital results.

The third area is place. There has been far more conversation on this topic than on either of the other two, and I’m not going to rehash the communitarian, or the ‘somewhere/anywhere’ debate.

But there is a reason why this manifesto had a massive focus on towns, on buses and local transport and reversing Beeching cuts, and also on all the civic and cultural infrastructure that makes a town worth living in. There is a reason that the increases in the science and R&D budget is focused not only on high risk new ideas but on regional growth. We should expect a lot more infrastructure spending in this area in the coming years.

These are all big challenges – and crucial to their delivery are two other great reforms.

Constitutional affairs: how do we make elections fair, how do we balance parliament, the executive, and the judiciary. How do we ensure that decisions are made in the optimal way?

Government itself: what does the civil service need to look like to deliver? Who gets recruited, how are they trained, how are they rewarded and held accountable?

The manifesto pledges sounded deliberately simple. Delivering on them is achievable, but unquestionably a five year project. We now have the chance, for the first time in more than 20 years to demonstrate what a majority government is capable of, and in that process help the people that Labour has left behind.

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Louise Goldsmith: Crying “Nimby” is not enough – sometimes local concerns are valid

Cllr Louise Goldsmith is the former Leader of West Sussex County Council

Amidst all the manifestos, promises of spending, new beginnings, changes and getting Brexit done, there is one glaring omission which impacts on all of us, the areas where we live, the environment, climate change and physical well-being and that is Planning.

It is surprising because if you talk to most people across the country, wherever they are, people will have something to say about planning and overall they are not happy. The truth of the matter is the current planning system is not delivering, pays scant regard to the environment, a sense of place and climate change – what is worse it is deeply divisive. Neighbourhood Plans have been a good idea to engage the communities, however, they do not have any real weight in planning law, as seen in recent Court Cases. This is a real shame as so much work goes into Neighbourhood Plans by Parish Councillors and members of the public  to produce the plan. But in reality, a Neighbourhood Plan can be easily disregarded which only goes to breed further cynicism in a public who are at worryingly high levels of scepticism.

In 2004 Structure Plans were abolished as they were seen as too slow in delivering development, and in part that may be true but they did provide a broader more strategic view which linked into infrastructure, planning was undoubtedly better for these Structure plans. The Regional Spatial Strategies which followed were short-lived and disbanded in 2010 leaving us with a fragmented system, based on local plans, centrally controlled and driven by housing numbers with guidance in the National Planning Framework. Bodies such as the Environment Agency are statutory consultees with no teeth or right of veto, their policies are not written in the National Planning Framework – at a time of climate change with more occurrences of flooding this is deeply worrying.

Houses need to be built and there is a big demand for more social housing too, most people get that, but the imposition of housing numbers with little or no reference to ‘the place’ means many objections – often with very good cause, are dismissed as nimbyism and generally ignored. Sadly many MPs prefer to keep away from planning issues, often paying lip service only, being all too difficult, controversial and time-consuming.

In the Chichester District there is a particular issue, a large amount of land to the north of the city is in the South Downs National Park, which means housing has to be allocated in the South of the District but that has Chichester Harbour an area of outstanding natural beauty a RAMSAR and a triple SSI site as well as Pagham Harbour which is also a RAMSAR site and Medmerry  (an EU designated compensatory site). This makes it one of the most significant and important coastal plains in the UK for wildlife/habitat and as a buffer zone for coastal squeeze. Much of the remaining available land will be susceptible to rising sea levels in the coming years. Other land to the south of the District is required to grow a range of salad crops and is a thriving, important business sector for the area.

The limited land available is causing a squeeze on available sites and has the very real potential to irrevocably damage Chichester Harbour’s very delicate eco-structure which is already under threat as well as Pagham and Medmerry.

There is a belief that in building more houses the housing market will rebalance the house prices, already very high in the Chichester district and out of reach for many young people, will fall. But building more houses in an area where available land is a scarce commodity will not reduce values but increase them. In this scenario, if house prices eventually fall it will be because the houses and area have been degraded.

In the meantime, the promise of more land releases for development has pushed ‘hope values’ sky-high, whilst there is no effective mechanism to capture the benefit of a public policy for the benefit of public infrastructure whether it be ‘green’, transport, education, public space, or other benefits.

Chichester is not alone, other areas, particular historic towns and cities also have other issues relevant to the place but the individual cases being put are neither being heard, accepted or even understood.

More than ever the Government needs to commit immediately to completely overhaul the planning system, decentralise and devolve where communities are trusted and empowered. Ensure there is a greater emphasis, by direction, on local authority building and running social houses for those who are unable to get on the housing ladder.

Encourage higher density together with good thoughtful design based on the wellbeing of the residents, there are some good examples in the Nordic Countries to follow.

Attractive tax incentives to build on brownfield site. All homes built to the highest bream standards and the surrounding environment is enhanced to ensure the delicate ecosystems have a chance to recover from the current downward spiral to extinction.

So many people, town planners, architects are of a similar view – if we all lobby together – we may be able to achieve the change that is desperately needed by communities across the land. Politicians are asking the public to trust them – they, in turn, should trust the communities and listen to the many who are saying the planning system is broken and needs to be fixed now.

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

David Davis: How to keep the new working class voters we won last Thursday – and win even more

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Conservative victory last Thursday was not just a landslide win: it marked the beginning of the transformation of our political landscape and our country.

The new MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, won a mining constituency never previously held by the Conservatives . As a former NHS worker he is, like many of his new colleagues, anything but a toff, and signals a coming transformation in the complexion of the Party both in Parliament and the country.  A number of the new 109 MPs are Tory working class heroes.

The question on everybody’s mind, from the Prime Minister to the newest arrival, is: “now that we have won them can we hang on to them?”   If we are any good at our job, the answer to that question should be a resounding “yes”.  Many Labour MPs – not just the left-wing apologists for Jeremy Corbyn -are consoling themselves that these Labour constituencies will return to type at the next election.

But they should look at Scotland, where the SNP swept aside a previously dominant Labour Party riddled with complacency and corruption – and it still has not come back.   The same could happen in England and Wales if they are not careful.

It was clear on the doorstep during these last six weeks that the electoral base of the Conservative Party has changed dramatically. Our voters are more working class and more urban. They are more provincial and less metropolitan.  They have a no-nonsense common-sense, and are certainly not politically correct. They have a quiet unassuming patriotism – proud of their country but respectful of foreigners.  They are careful with money, and know it has to be earned.   They want tougher policing but also have a strong sense of justice.  They depend more on public services, and are the first to get hurt when these fail.  Many of them would be classified as “working poor” and dependent on welfare payments, although they themselves may not see it that way.

So what should we do in order more fully to win their trust? Obviously we should deliver on our manifesto: get Brexit done, and provide more money for the health service, for education, for the police, and for more infrastructure – not least new broadband.   But this is nowhere near enough.   A manifesto should be a lower limit on delivery, not an upper limit on aspiration.

This should be no surprise. The Thatcher manifesto of 1979 was fairly slim. It certainly did not detail the actions of most radical and eventually most successful government of the twentieth century.

What Thatcher achieved was a revolution in expectations: about our country, about ourselves, about what was possible.  We have to do the same.

And our target should be unlimited.   We should be planning to prove to our new base that we care about improving their lives, but we should also be targeting the votes of younger people, too.   There should be no no-go areas for the new Conservatives.   Fortunately, the necessary policies are similar, and they require Boris Johnson’s hallmark characteristic – boldness.

There should be a revolution in expectations in public service provision, from health care to education. This is about imagination more than money. There are massive technological opportunities opening up, from genetics to big data to diagnostic technology, and we should be enabling the NHS to make better use of it.

On the education front, the international comparisons have not shown much progress since the turn of the century, despite the best efforts of successive Education Secretaries,  Other countries from China to Belgium have seized on new technology to completely reengineer the classroom. We should be doing the same.

And we should now work to further social mobility.   None of my doorstep conversationalists mentioned this phrase, but many talked about the opportunities (or lack of) for themselves and their children, which is the same thing.   We used to be a world leader in social mobility; now we are at the back of the class.   Every government since Thatcher has paid lip service to the problem, but none has done anything about it.   Indeed, they have made it worse.

Take for example the disastrous university tuition fees and loans system introduced by Tony Blair and made worse by David Cameron.   It has delivered poor educational outcomes, high costs, enormous debt burdens and widespread disappointment, as well as distorting the national accounts.

The heaviest burden of this failure falls on young people from the poorest areas. The Augar Report gave strong hints about how to fix it, even though its terms of reference forbade it from providing an answer.   The new policy aim should be simple.  Allow children of all backgrounds a worthwhile education to get good enough qualifications to start a decent career without crushing lifetime loans. It should be an early priority of this government.  It would be the single most targeted way of helping a generation that deserves our support.

One of Thatcher’s great contributions to social mobility was to encourage home ownership: 65 per cent of young people either owned or were buying their own homes then.  Today, that number is 25 per cent.   The reason is simple.   We are just not building enough homes.  In the last 15 years the population has grown by just shy of seven million people.

We have built nowhere near enough houses to cope with that.   The current incremental strategy is not up to the job, and we need to adopt a wholesale programme of garden towns and villages around the country, and a new process to drive much of the planning gain to reducing house prices and improving housing and service quality.   We should also look very closely at reform of the Housing Association sector, to deliver more homes for both rent and sale.   We were once a proud homeowning democracy, and a return to that would not be a bad aim for a modern Conservative Party.

This would be just a start.   But it has to be paid for.   This has always been the Conservative Party’s trump card: the ability to run the economy and deliver the funding for good public services.   Brexit opens up the possibility of a new economic renaissance, which the Prime Minister believes in, and is capable of seizing with both hands.

But we will need to rediscover the Lawson lessons: that simpler, lower taxes deliver more growth, more jobs, more wealth, and eventually more tax revenue.   Our tax system is now littered with irrational anomalies – most recently demonstrated by senior doctors refusing to do extra work because they were effectively being taxed at 100 per cent as a result of covert Treasury pension taxes.

It is time we swept much of this structure away, and liberated people to gain from their own efforts without excessive state burdens.   It should also not be too hard for us to do it in a way that helps the North as well as the South.  And this does not just apply at the top: the working poor face similar anomalies under the tax credit system.

Which brings us back to the ‘new’ Conservative working classes.   We should not imagine that an appeal to them is a novel gambit bu the Conservative Party.* The most successful political organisation in the world for two centuries has been just that because for most of that time it has relied on the working class for at least half of its vote.

From Disraeli’s reforming government to Shaftesbury’s great social and industrial chang, to Lord Derby’s legalisation of trades unions, we have a long and deep commitment to caring about the welfare of the working classes.   If this were not true, one of Johnson’s old Etonian predecessors as Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, would never have won the impoverished North Eastern constituency of Stockton – and held it throughout the great depression.   And of course in modern times Margaret Thatcher inspired Essex man and held many seats in the North – not least Darlington, which we won back last week.

So we have been here before. Blue collar Conservatism has a proven track record – one we should resurrect.  In this new political battle, the greatest tension will not be left versus right or even fiscal and monetary doves versus economic hawks.   It will be a battle between creativity and convention.   I have always thought that the Prime Minister subscribes to Nelson’s maxi  that “Boldness is the safest course,” so I suspect that this will be a battle that he will relish.   If he does, these will not be the last seats we win in the Midlands Wales and the North.

A few years ago I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme which showed that the Conservative Party has been heavily dependent on working class votes for most of its 200 year lifespan.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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What would a Conservative victory on Thursday mean for local government?

The Conservative message, that completing Brexit will allow us to move on and focus on other matters, has resonated with those I have spoken to on the doorstep. But some have been disappointed that the Conservative Manifesto has been cautious over what that will mean (beyond a milder and more plausible spending spree than proposed by Labour). The point has often been made that the “take back control” spirit of 2016 applies to more than Brexit. If so, then surely it would include greater individual freedom and local communities having greater autonomy. “Take back control,” should not merely mean being bossed around by the man in Whitehall rather than the man in Brussels. What would be the implications for local government if the Conservatives win the General Election?

The Conservative Manifesto says:

“Local government is the bedrock of our democracy. We are proud that Conservative councils have led the way in helping keep council taxes low, providing value for money and supporting local communities.

We will ensure that councils continue to deliver essential local services – which is why they received a substantial funding increase in the most recent Spending Round. Local people will continue to have the final say on council tax, being able to veto excessive rises. This does not prevent councils raising more – but it does ensure that they will need to have solid and convincing reasons for doing so.

We remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. Our ambition is for full devolution across England, building on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny. We will publish an English Devolution White Paper setting out our plans next year.

Through our City and Growth Deals we have already delivered more than £9 billion of funding across England, and almost £3 billion to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Through bodies like the Northern Powerhouse, Western Gateway and Midlands Engine we will drive greater levels of foreign investment into the UK, promoting our towns, cities and counties around the world. As part of our plans for full devolution we will also invite proposals from local areas for similar growth bodies across the rest of England, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

This is an agenda which shows that the days of Whitehall knows best are over. We will give towns, cities and communities of all sizes across the UK real power and real investment to drive the growth of the future and unleash their full potential.”

As a former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is an instinctive localist. Of course, big public sector infrastructure projects will inevitably tend to go vastly over budget and be eye-wateringly poor value for money. But some kind of regional say on capital spending might provide some kind of check on the vanity.

So far as current spending is concerned, it is worth noting that “austerity” has been illusory for central government spending overall, but genuine for local authorities. Councils have responded well to the challenge by reforming the way they operate and actually achieving higher satisfaction rates for local services. So far as “the final say on council tax” is concerned, the question is, at what point this will kick in. If councils are allowed to get away with increases above inflation it is a pretty weak protection.

On housing supply, the Manifesto grasps the need to woo the Nimbys rather than confront them. It says:

“Crucially, however, we need to make sure homes are built in a way that makes sense for the people already living in the area and for the families moving in.”

How is it to be done? By adopting the agenda of Create Streets. Or as the Manifesto puts it:

“Beautiful, high-quality homes. We will ask every community to decide on its own design standards for new development, allowing residents a greater say on the style and design of development in their area, with local councils encouraged to build more beautiful architecture.”

Regular readers will know I regard the key to making new housing popular is to break with the brutalist past and embrace a beautiful future of neo-classicism. It is to Theresa May’s credit that work on this agenda by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission is now “oven ready”. The champions of ugliness will be the establishment forces – the planners and architects. They think they know best. The allies of beauty are the people. If people are given the power to choose they will choose beauty.

So far as boosting the chance of home ownership for those in social housing is concerned, what is needed is a right to shared ownership. This should include an initial offer of a free ten per cent stake, in return for taking on responsibility for minor repairs. But the Manifesto is rather feeble and just says:

“We will reform shared ownership, making it fairer and more transparent. We will simplify shared ownership products by setting a single standard for all housing associations, thereby ending the confusion and disparity between different schemes.”

There is also a pathetic comment that “we will evaluate new pilot areas” for the right to buy for housing association tenants. That is a retreat from the full right to buy promised to them in the 2015 Manifesto which still hasn’t been delivered.

The other crucial area is to release more surplus public sector land for housing development. This is not mentioned.

Still, it is better to over-deliver than to break promises.

The quiet revolution of independent state schools (with academies as well as free schools) would continue under the Conservatives. This is the most obvious area of retreat for municipal empires. The great unknown is social care. The plan is to “build a cross-party consensus to bring forward an answer that solves the problem, commands the widest possible support, and stands the test of time. That consensus will consider a range of options…” Will that include taking the role from councils and giving it to the NHS? That would be my guess.

The upshot could be that councils have more money and power in some areas (such as transport and basic local services) but have a diminished role when it comes to schools and social care.

Politically, the most important challenge is to stop the blockage when it comes to supplying more attractive new homes. Should the Conservatives be lucky enough to win on Thursday, it should not be treated as a chance to relax on this imperative. It should be treated as a final chance.



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James Cleverly: We need one last push, with your help, to deliver Brexit, stop Corbyn – and win

James Cleverly is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Braintree.

On Thursday, voters will go to the polls in an election unlike any I have seen before. The stakes are high. The choice is stark. And we have just five days to secure the result we need.  Nine seats stand between us and the majority that would allow us to get things done. To deliver Brexit, bring the country back together and move forward.

All 635 Conservative candidates will back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – that’s the deal, by the way, that we were told he’d never get. We will re-introduce the Withdrawal Agreement by Christmas and leave the EU in January.

Just think what we could achieve then. We’d be able to refocus the efforts and energy of Government and Parliament on the ambitious agenda the Prime Minister presented in our manifesto. On levelling up education funding, helping families onto the housing ladder, supporting local businesses and boosting the number of nurses in our NHS.

A vote for any other party is a vote to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten, leading a chaotic, Remain alliance propped up by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. His promise to respect the referendum result in tatters. His flimsy commitment to the Union predictably abandoned at the first sniff of power. 2020 squandered to two divisive referendums.

Voting Conservative is the only way to end the paralysis that has characterised the last three and a half years and restore faith in the democratic system we all live by. Voters told us what they wanted in 2016. It’s a shocking indictment of contemporary politics that we are the only major party prepared to deliver it.

But the threat of Corbyn goes beyond the damage he would do to public faith in democracy. It goes beyond, even, the economic damage he would inflict on hardworking families and vital public services. Corbyn would fail in Government’s primary responsibility – which is to keep its people safe.

Whereas Labour’s post war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, saw NATO as embodying the ‘spiritual union’ of the west, Corbyn has said the peacekeeping alliance should be scrapped. No matter that over the last 70 years it has halted Soviet aggression and helped to prevent a third world war.

He would undermine our armed forced, disempower the police and inflict irreversible damage on our closest security alliances. Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has turned its back on the party’s traditional support, mutating into something which an ever-rising number of former Labour MPs feel compelled to urge the British public to vote against. As Ivan Lewis put it last week, it’s not the Labour party of our parents or grandparents. And it’s led by a man entirely unfit to be Prime Minister.

Since becoming Party Chairman, I’ve visited candidates and spoken to constituents up and down the country. The fear people feel at the prospect of a Corbyn premiership is palpable. And we have five days to make sure that doesn’t happen.

We didn’t want this election, but we do need it. And we need to win it. We can’t do that without you.

General elections require a special kind of commitment from members and activists. General elections in deepest winter event more so. I’ve seen first-hand the dedication of our associations and supporters over the past five weeks, but as we enter the final five days we need one last push.

In 2017, 51 MPs were returned with majorities of less than a thousand. That’s 51 results potentially determined by an extra hour on the doorstep, an extra evening delivering or telephone canvassing. In a tight election, these ‘extras‘ makes all the difference. We need just nine more seats to get Brexit done and move our country forward.

So here’s my ask to you. I need you to find the time for just a couple more hours leafletting and on polling day to work with our candidates. Whatever you can give our candidates across the country. When we work together, the Conservative Party can deliver incredible results. Just look at the famous victories of 2015 or 1979.  Those victories were not just delivered by our Party’s leaders or manifestos.

They were delivered by you, our members. Taking the argument to the doorsteps of the UK and making the case for a Conservative majority government. I don’t want any of us on Friday thinking, ‘what more could I have done?’ as we look down the barrel of years more in-fighting, dithering and delay.

Like our candidates, I will be pounding the pavements. Like our councillors, I will be wearing my knuckles out knocking on doors. Like our association chairmen, I will be making sure that come December 13th we have the majority we need to take our country forward.  I hope you will join me.

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WATCH: Labour will create an economic crisis if they win the election, warns Javid

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Garvan Walshe: How the majority needed to deliver Brexit will thwart the reform needed to make a success of it

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

If the polls are right, and the electorate indeed returns a Conservative majority in a week’s time, we can expect the Withdrawal Agreement to be passed, and the UK to leave the EU in short order.

The Prime Minister has promised not to take up the option of extending the transition period provided. Let’s allow ourselves a moment of optimism, and suppose that the majority is large enough to enable him to carry what agreement he can make by the end of 2020 – thus avoiding a repetition of the paralysis caused by Parliament refusing to accept leaving without a deal while simultaneously refusing to accept any kind of deal that could be agreed by both the UK government and the EU.

Britain will then have left the EU, along the lines expressed in the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, with a free trade deal that sets goods tariffs at zero. To conclude such a deal, the EU will require the UK to accept what it calls “level-playing field” provisions on state aid, environmental policy and labour market regulation.

Though the Spartans might balk at this, it does not, in fact, amount to a significant price. Agreement on state aid is actually a bonus: it will stop future Labour governments subsidising failing industries. The Government, after all, intends to continue Britain’s leading role in efforts to combat climate change. Nor is it signalling any intention of deregulating the labour market. Its record in office, from the introduction of real-time information, to automatic pension enrolment and increasing the minimum wage, has been to increase the burden borne by employers, not to reduce it. A Conservative majority that depends on keeping seats in Bolsover and Ashfield is not going to have room for Thatcher-style economic reform.

Nonetheless, the type of Brexit entailed by the Withdrawal Agreement will produce significant economic disruption (and if it did not, what would be the point?), and with it the opportunity for economic reform that would allow Britain to make the best fist of its post-Brexit circumstances.

The kind of trade agreement envisioned by the Withdrawal Agreement has a number of implications for trade policy. Trade agreements themselves don’t generally move trade volumes that much. More important is leaving the Customs Union, which will take Britain out of pan-European manufacturing supply chains, because the need to complete customs formalities as a good goes back and forth from Britain to the EU (and Northern Ireland) will make a lot of that trade unviable.

Such manufacturing that survives will have to make do with a local supply chain, and assemble products from their components in the UK rather than optimise for cost and quality: in other words, British goods will become more expensive, and will be able to make use of a smaller range of components. So it will makes sense to specialise in high value products, from Aerospace to Scotch Whisky, in which British-made goods will still be competitive.

If there is an upside to the gloomy economic models that predict sharp drops in manufacturing output from a hard Brexit of the type planned, it is that the City of London escapes relatively unscathed. Though some activity will move to the EU, most can still be profitably carried out in London. This will have implications for regional distribution: to deal with manufacturing troubles, London will have to subsidise the rest of the country, particularly those manufacturing heartlands with newly-minted Tory MPs.

An island that spurns advantageous trading arrangements with its nearest trading partners, and so reduces the attractiveness of trading with Europe vis a vis the rest of the world, should specialise in goods and services where distance is a less important factor, and transport costs a smaller proportion of the price. Much of this will need to take place by air, and accordingly it follows that the UK should increase its airport capacity. It didn’t build a runway in London during the 40 years it was inside the EU, even though air travel has increased dramatically. It won’t be able to afford to waste the next 40 as well.

Semi-skilled physical and white collar work has been becoming a thing of the past over those last 40 years, too. As technology advances, this will continue. Routine clerical and manual work will be further automated, and the opportunities for people without an education to earn a living will be concentrated on those where human interaction, which forseeable AI technology is not capable of reproducing accurately, is at a premium. Demand for semi-skilled labour in areas like tourism and social care will however stay strong.

Long-term education and skills policy needs to adapt accordingly: as well as developing mathematical skills, softer aptitudes and verbal skills – the premium the best British private schools provide — will need to be developed in more of the population. Just the thing perhaps for a Clacissist Prime Minister with a way with words.

Until that transition to a high skill economy can be made (and it’s something Britain has had difficulty doing, which is why it has had to import so much high skill labour from the rest of the EU), something will need to be done to occupy the people who aren’t ready for it. A silver lining might be in dealing with climate change. Though decarbonising the power sector is a matter of high tech engineering, improving energy efficiency is essentially a construction industry task. That, plus housebuilding, where a major labour shortage is expected as a previous generation of construction workers reaches retirement age, could provide some of the necessary labour demand. The question, as always, is: how it is to be paid for?

Brexit will require a transition to a high tech, high skill, green and low manufacturing economy. In many ways, Britain is already some of the way there, but its current mood of nostalgia for an obsolete manufacturing life will have to be replaced by determination to transform the economy. It remains to be seen whether this be done with a majority based on Northern, post-industrial Britain.

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Hundreds of “tenants’ halls” sit empty on council estates. They could be rebuilt to provide new homes.

Many of the larger council estates in London include a building sometimes called a “tenants’ hall”. This is a community centre specifically intended for the benefit of the residents on the estate. While owned by the local authority, the idea is that it should be run by the local Tenants’ and Residents’ Association for the estate. Some are heavily used – indeed they are pulsating hubs of the Big Society. They might be a useful source of revenue from taking bookings – from martial arts classes or nursery schools, for instance. Those funds can then be used to enhance the local environment.

The problem is that many others are used very little – or not at all. When I was a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham I asked about the ones owned in our borough. The response I got was that of the 23 such buildings, over the previous year, six had no record of bookings. Most of the rest had very few. Only two were in heavy use.

Typically these tenants’ halls are substantial buildings. Furthermore, they are often single storey. So they could be replaced by small blocks of flats – perhaps a dozen new homes. As the land is already owned by the Council, there could be a significant capital receipt if the housing was for private sale. Or there could be a mix of social and private housing with the scheme being self-financing.

I have used Freedom of Information requests to find out the situation in other London boroughs.

  • Camden told me they had 74 tenants’ halls of which 54 are used at least once a week.
  • Lambeth has 43 of which 39 are used “regularly”.
  • Greenwich has eight of which six are used at least once a week.
  • Haringey has tenants’ halls, two are derelict, four are used at least once a week.
  • Ealing has ten tenants’ halls.
  • Southwark has 97. The Council has no record of how many are used.
  • Hounslow has 28, of which 21 are in use.
  • Kensington and Chelsea has 16, of which ten are used at least once a week.
  • Newham has 15 of which “most” are in use.
  • Lewisham has 19.
  • Brent has 34.

The mentality of some housing officers is to shrug. They just think of these buildings as being the responsibility of the tenants’ associations. That is unacceptable. Some of these buildings are derelict eyesores with the windows boarded up. In some estates, there is no active tenants’ associations. Even if there is, they are often not able to take on the responsibility of letting out buildings. There should be proper asset management by local authorities for buildings they own. For a start, a proper record should be kept of how much tenants’ halls are used. Then there should be some kind of legal trigger mechanism to ensure that those that are unused, or under-used, are redeveloped for housing. It could be, for instance, those being used less than ten hours a week. Some of the proceeds from the sale could be used to clear any backlog of capital works due to be carried out on the estate. Estate residents could also be given priority for new social housing. For instance, those in overcrowded conditions could be first in line for larger new properties.

This is a modest proposal. But it an example of how councils could be doing more to increase the housing supply out of resources already available to them. Lack of funding is not an excuse.

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