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Westlake Legal Group > International development

Lord Ashcroft: An open letter to Alok Sharma, the new International Development Secretary

Dear Alok,

Congratulations on your richly deserved elevation to the Cabinet. The job of International Development Secretary is always a challenge for a Conservative politician, given our desire for fiscal responsibility and understandable scepticism among Party members over the sanity of fixing aid spending as a proportion of national income rather than determined by need. The struggle must be especially acute for someone who was trained in accountancy.

As you have no doubt already discovered, the Department for International Development seems to see itself as closer to the charity sector that it funds so lavishly than to the rest of Whitehall, which can only look with envy at the department’s constantly-rising budgets. Even as Tory prime ministers oversaw the imposition of austerity policies in Britain, Dfid’s budget doubled in a decade to more than £14 billion. Little wonder there is such public concern, since this is more than we spend on our hard-pressed police forces in England and Wales as they grapple with issues such as gang violence, knife crime and cyber-theft.

Although pleased for you personally, I am disappointed the Prime Minister did not do as he suggested earlier this year by folding Dfid back into the Foreign Office to maximise the potential of Global Britain. ‘We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO,’ Boris Johnson told the Financial Times. ‘The present system is leading to inevitable waste as money is shoved out of the door in order to meet the 0.7 per cent target.’

This apparent shift matches that of some of your predecessors, whose prior scepticism mysteriously disappeared on taking on taking on the job. With his experience working in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Rory Stewart had even admitted the public was being duped by politicians claiming they could create jobs in poor parts of the planet and impose stability on fragile states. He pointed to some astonishing sums being frittered away such as £4.5 billion spent in Malawi over half a century – yet it ended up poorer.

India provides another example. Though we no longer give aid directly to its government, Britain still spends tens of millions of pounds of aid money in the country, despite its economy being forecast to overtake our own as the fifth biggest in the world. India has both a thriving space programme and its own aid agency giving large sums to poorer nations. These alone are valid reasons to question if it still needs our charity, even if you ignore that nation’s constant struggle against corruption. And a leaked memo from Nirumpama Rao, a former foreign minister, once pointed out the damage caused by the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID.’ The drip-drip of such depressing imagery of developing countries as basket cases desperate for Western aid also causes fury in Africa.

I am glad you have already managed to visit Uganda to highlight the fight against Ebola. Few critics, not even sceptics such as myself, would begrudge aid going on the vital struggle to defeat this cruel disease when almost 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding areas have already lost their lives. But nor should we avoid the facts. One reason the last outbreak in West Africa took off so tragically was the failure to control and monitor aid spending, resulting in weakened local health sectors. A British parliamentary inquiry found the European Union gave £19 million in the year before the devastating outbreak to Liberia’s health ministry, but only £2.5 million reached its destination. No wonder academics have used this country as a case study in aid’s failure to stabilise fragile states. Western donations also poured into Sierra Leone, despite systemic corruption in the health services that failed to thwart the ravage of Ebola when it struck with such appalling force.

You have highlighted the difficulties of delivering life-saving Ebola treatment in a conflict zone. So perhaps you should ask why we keep pumping money into despotic states run by leaders with bloodstained hands such as Rwanda, the cause of so much misery in the region, and Uganda, which was even found to have been inflating refugee numbers in its most recent aid scandal last year.

If we believe in the concept of Global Britain, as I do, then surely we should stand as a beacon of democratic values in a dark world. Instead Dfid ignores the wisdom of development experts who point out that these massive aid flows can achieve the opposite of their aims by undermining the evolution of democracy, especially when showered on societies under the thumb of repressive regimes. Other critics say it fosters conflict and corruption. I know there is so much cash swilling around this sector it is hard to find untainted experts, but might I suggest you listen hard to those without a personal stake in the aid boom rather than those consultants and charity chiefs who make their living from the aid industry?

Unlike many commentators, I believe this to be an exciting time as Britain strikes out boldly to reassert our independence as a nation. Disruption can be a creative process, as I have seen often in the business world, and Westminster definitely needs to be shaken up. This makes it an ideal time to look again at the sheer lunacy of having a fixed aid target that is swelling each year despite the decline in poverty around the world and number of urgently pressing domestic issues.

I know many Tories who want to help those in desperate humanitarian need, but few who think this target is the right way to go about it. Some fear that the mega-charities, which failed to stop gross abuse by staff, will claim the ‘nasty party’ is back if the Conservatives dare to ditch their precious aid target. But if you want to help the world’s poorest people while setting Britain on a brave new course for the future, please turn off those golden taps and change course, so our success in this field is measured by the good we achieve, not just by how much we spend. It is both right, popular and smart – a rare mix in politics.

Yours sincerely,


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Patrick Spencer: Some advice for the new Conservative leader. Stick to these three ideas to boost productivity.

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The Conservative leadership contest has proved to be the battle of ideas that the party wants, needs and should probably have had back in 2016. Yes, Brexit has dominated the discussion, but in amongst chat of proroguing, No Deals and backstops, we have heard interesting ideas about, for example, tax reform, a national citizens’ service and early years support for young mothers. During the Parliamentary stage of the contest, the Centre for Social Justice hosted the Social Justice Caucus of Tory MPs, holding their own hustings event for the Conservative leadership, and the candidates didn’t disappoint.

The litany of new ideas stem from the fact that most of the candidates felt it is time to reshape the Government’s fiscal strategy. The last nine years have been defined by successive Coalition and Conservative government’s support for fiscal rebalancing. David Cameron and George Osborne successfully formed governments after two general elections on a platform of fiscal prudence.

However, the political landscape has changed. Younger voters who weren’t around to vote in 2010 now make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Years of austerity, job growth and a much healthier national balance sheet has meant that ‘austerity’ is increasingly unpopular.  Combine this with the perceived economic harm that a No Deal Brexit may cause, and the case for loosening austerity is compelling.

In this vein, Boris Johnson has argued for lower taxes on higher earners as well as increased spending on education. Esther McVey wanted to cut the International Aid budget and spend savings on the police and education. Dominic Raab called to raise the National Insurance Threshold and cut the basic rate of income tax. Michael Gove hoped to reform VAT so that it becomes a Sales Tax. And Sajid Javid said he would slow the rate of debt reduction, which would free up £25 billion for new spending commitments.

Even outside of the leadership circle, Tory MPs and right-of-centre think tanks are advocating for a new spending strategy.  Neil O’Brien has coined the ‘O’Brien Rule’, which allows for budget deficits as long as debt as a percentage of GDP is falling. This sentiment was echoed by Philip Hammond, who called on every leadership candidate to commit to keeping the deficit under two per cent of GDP as long as the national debt was falling.

Considering the appetite to do something, the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister should be warned that spending for spending’s sake is not a good idea. If the decision is taken therefore to loosen the fiscal taps, it should be carefully targeted so that this increases growth and more importantly, productivity.

The Centre for Social Justice released a report in 2017 that highlighted a clear policy agenda that used tax and spend policies to boost productivity across the UK. It is roundly recognised that the productivity conundrum in the UK has not been the result of any one issue but, rather, is a confluence of factors that have taken hold of our economic and social machine.

First and foremost, British companies do not invest and innovate enough. Compared to other countries we have lower levels of capital investment, lower uptake of new-generation technologies such as robotics, and entrepreneurs sell out too early. Britain has a proud history of innovation and technology, and yes we do have several world beating unicorn companies, but in recent years we have lost ground in the innovation stakes to the US, Germany and the Asian economies.

The CSJ recommended a raft of policies that could help reverse this, starting with a ramp up in public funds available for research and development. Public cash for R+D has a crowding in (as opposed to crowding out) effect. We also called (counter-intuitively) for the scrapping of Entrepreneurs Tax Relief. It is expensive and does little to help real entrepreneurs, and only acts as a tax loophole for asset strippers (this policy has recently been advocated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation). We also called for simplification of the tax system. Look at the Annual Investment Allowance, for instance, that was decreased by 75 per cent in 2012, increased by a factor of 10 in 2013, doubled in 2015, only for it to then be almost cut in half in 2016.

Second, the CSJ called for a radical increase in support for vocational education in the UK. While businesses needed some help to innovate and compete, the labour market needs support in terms of skills and competencies. Recommendations included a new spending commitment for FE colleges and more support for adult learners who are in low skilled work. The Augar Review called for the Government to make £1 billion available for colleges, a good start but realistically the Government will have to go much further in the future. here is an example of where public money can make a big difference in public policy.

Last, if the next Prime Minister wants to support productivity growth, they can look at rebalancing growth outside of London across Britain’s regions. London is home to less than a quarter of the UK’s population but contributes to 37 per cent of our economic output. It attracts a disproportionate number of high skilled and high paying jobs. Public spending on infrastructure in London dwarfs that spent in the North and Midlands. Reversing this trend will of course take a generation, but by boosting transport spending on inter-city transport (most obviously Northern Rail), tax breaks for companies that set up in struggling cities such as Doncaster, Wigan or Bradford, as well as more money for towns and cities to spend on green spaces and cultural assets (such as museums, public art, restaurants and bars) that attract young people.

These three productivity-generating policy areas will allow any Government to loosen the fiscal taps without bankrupting the country. When the next Prime Minister appoints his Chancellor, he or she would be well advised to stick to the basics of cutting taxes, spending more on education and rebalancing growth outside of London.

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

Iain Mansfield: Brexit by October 31. Stop using the Left’s language. And stand for skilled workers. Essentials for our next Prime Minister

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

Our next Prime Minister will take office at the most challenging time since the 1970s. Not only is there Brexit – an issue of fundamental national importance, that has destroyed the last two Prime Ministers and poses an existential challenge to the future of the Conservative Party – but the old political assumptions are changing. Across the West, traditional voter coalitions are shifting, as citizens reject centrist compromises. Flatlining productivity, unaffordable houses and millions of voters feeling abandoned, either culturally or economically, are just some of the challenges they will face.

Many of those who voted for David Cameron in 2010 are lost to the party, alienated by Brexit. In Britain today, age and education level are better predictors of a person’s vote than class. To win a general election, our next Prime Minister must forge a new coalition of voters that unites the traditional Tory shires with the left-behind Leave voters in the Midlands and North. Even more importantly, they must deliver authentic right-wing policies that address the causes of ordinary working people’s dissatisfaction. People want change and, if the Conservative Party does not deliver it, they are likely to seek answers in the flawed blandishments of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism.

In that context, there are three essentials that our next Prime Minister must prioritise for the good of the people, the nation and the party:

  • Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed.
  • Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left.
  • Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes.

Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed

Not only is delivering on the outcome of the referendum a democratic imperative, it is vital for the continued existence of the party. Recent polling shows that, if we have not left the EU, the Conservatives are likely to suffer devastating losses in a general election; these figures could be even worse if large numbers of members, councillors or even entire associations defect to the Brexit Party. Many members have held on over the last few months purely out of hope that the next Prime Minister would deliver where May failed: another betrayal in October would see these members permanently lost.

Leaving with a deal is preferable, if some changes to the backstop can be agreed and Parliament will pass it. If not, as I have argued previously on this site, we have nothing to fear from No Deal. Preparations for such should be put into top gear on the first day in office. The Prime Minister must make clear that they will under no circumstances ask for an extension; and that they are, if needed, prepared to systematically veto any measure put forward by the EU on regular business if the UK is for some reason kept in. While every effort should be made to secure a deal, if it cannot be reached, Parliament must be faced with the simple choice of permitting a WTO exit or voting no confidence in the Prime Minister – a gamble, admittedly, but one that is preferable to another disastrous extension.

Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left

In recent years too many Conservative politicians have allowed our opponents to define the playing field. We cannot beat the socialists by adopting the language and assumptions of socialism. Our next Prime Minister must stop feeding the narrative of identity, grievance and division, with its assumption that an individual’s potential is defined by their characteristics, that so-called ‘burning injustices’ are solely the responsibility of the state to address, and that the government always no best.

Changing the narrative will be a long endeavour. The systematic appointment of those with conservative values into key ministerially appointed positions; an authentically right-wing approach to policy making in Whitehall; and the withdrawal of state funding from the network of organisations that maintain the left’s grip on the policy narrative are essential. But over and above this, the Prime Minister must be willing to personally stand up and champion individual liberties and freedoms; to condemn progressive authoritarianism and to be visibly proud of Britain, our culture and the rich global heritage of our citizens.

Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes

Young, metropolitan graduates may once have been natural Conservatives, but no longer. There is little hope of reversing this in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Instead of squandering our effort here, our new Prime Minister should instead make the party the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes, particularly in the midlands and north.

Such voters have a natural affinity to the traditional conservative values of low tax and individual liberty, but also greatly value and rely day-to-day onn strong public services. This places the Conservatives in a difficult position after a decade of austerity: Labour made hay campaigning on cuts to police numbers and falls in per pupil spending in 2017. But how to fund significant increases in core services without raising taxes or alienating core Conservative voters, such as via the disastrous proposals on social care in the 2017 manifesto?

To find the funding the next Prime Minister must be bold enough to slay the progressive sacred cows that soak up billions annually in public funding. Three immediately spring to mind:

With the additional £15 billion plus a year, the Prime Minister could at a stroke increase police funding by 25 per cent (£3 billion), boost school funding per pupil by 20 per cent (£8 billion) and increase spending on social care by 20 per cent (£4 billion). And then split the proceeds of further growth between public services and tax cuts.

As well as this, we should champion the interests of the high street, enterprise and small businesses and oppose crony corporatism. Multinational companies that make use of aggressive tax avoidance, abuse their market position or actively work against UK sovereignty should not enjoy government grants, procurement or time in No. 10. Fundamentally, our next Prime Minister should spend more time listening to the Federation of Small Businesses and less time listening to the CBI.


As members, we have two candidates set before us. Both are able politicians and tested leaders who represent the best the Parliamentary party has to offer. As we assess who should be not just our next leader, but our Prime Minister, we should do so against their ability to deliver these vital elements.

Both have committed to delivering Brexit by October 31 – but which one has the ability, the genuine will and the courage to do so by any means necessary? Both are true-blue Conservatives – but which one will truly champion our values, taking the battle to our adversaries with the eloquence and conviction of a Thatcher or a Churchill? Both recognise the importance of reaching out to new voters – but which one can devise and push through the policies needed to unite the Tory shires with the Leave voters of the north? Consider carefully and cast your vote.

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

Clark Vasey: Only Johnson can deliver Blue Collar Conservatism

Clark Vasey is the founder of Blue Collar Conservatism and was the Conservative Candidate for Workington in 2017

Since we first set up Blue Collar Conservatism in 2012, I have worked with Esther McVey to encourage the Conservatives to focus on the working class voters who have been taken for granted by Labour. They have been consistently let down by that party, and have been turning to the Conservatives in greater numbers than any other group. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of posh metropolitan socialism followed by the Leave victory in the EU referendum, we were well placed to achieve an historic realignment.  But in 2017 with a Brexit message diluted by unpopular policies we lost ground.

With our failure to deliver Brexit, what was once an opportunity now poses an existential threat to the party. Rather than winning over working class voters we now risk losing them hand over fist to the Brexit Party, as both the European elections and the Peterborough by-election demonstrate.

If we are still in the EU come 1 November, we risk irreparably breaching trust with these voters and offering Corbyn a route to power. Yet if we can deliver a proper Brexit at the end of October, thereby depriving Nigel Farage of his narrative of betrayal, then the potential of connecting with these voters remains. Corbyn does not speak for working- class people and, with Tom Watson determined to turn Labour into a party for metropolitan remainers, Labour are dropping any pretence of speaking for its traditional communities.

This is why Esther relaunched Blue Collar Conservatism earlier this year. Once we have delivered Brexit, we must build an agenda for working people by focusing on the issues which matter most to them. Being on the side of the people who need us most is not only the right thing to do, but is the only way in which we can win a majority. And it is only with that majority that we can keep out the most destructive socialist government in our history, and transform our country with the opportunities which will follow leaving the EU.

I was proud to support Esther in a campaign which put Blue Collar Conservatism on the agenda of this leadership contest. When the dust has settled, people will look back and see that she presented the most coherent and costed campaign in this contest.

This was possible because we applied three simple principles of Blue Collar Conservatism – 1) that resources should be focused on things which really matter to people, 2) that we must always ensure people are able to keep more of their own money and 3) that we must use Conservative policies to grow the economy to enable us to do 1 and 2.

You do not win working class voters by dipping into Ed Miliband’s bag of tricks. We need a Conservative agenda which delivers the things which really matter, not watered-down Labour policies.

This is what Esther did with her calls for more spending on police and schools funded by taking the DfID budget back to 2010 levels. This why Esther talked about public sector pay and fantastic initiatives such as a new Police Covenant. This was about genuinely shifting the dial on these issues which cause us huge pain in constituencies across the country. It was also about challenging orthodoxies within the party such as the 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, which would have an important symbolic effect of showing we are listening, and are not just focused on Westminster priorities.

Over the coming weeks and months Blue Collar Conservatism will continue to make the case that the party must win over the support of working people, particularly in the Midlands and the North. Esther’s Blue Collar Conversations pub tour is making its way around the country talking to people who would not normally engage with Conservatives. This is helping us build up a body of ideas which our voters and potential voters actually want. But the most important challenge for us now is that the new leader recognises the importance of this agenda for our party and our country. This is why it was so welcome that Boris Johnson endorsed Esther’s Blue Collar agenda.

When it comes to shaping a popular agenda incorporating Blue Collar Conservatism there is only one remaining candidate in the contest, and that is Johnson. This is not about an individual’s background, but their ability to connect with people and present radical Conservative policies which will make a positive difference to them.

However, first we must deliver Brexit. If we are not out of the EU by 31 October we will never be given a hearing on what comes after, no matter how positive. Johnson is the only candidate who can restore trust on Brexit and deliver Blue Collar policies which will secure a Conservative majority and keep Corbyn out of Downing Street.

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

Stephen Crabb and Desmond Swayne: The next Prime Minister must uphold Britain’s commitment to overseas aid

Stephen Crabb is Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire. Sir Desmond Swayne is Member of Parliament for New Forest West.

Politics is shaped by stories, and the only tale in town right now is about Britain’s place in the world. Different visions for our future are jostling for attention in the Conservative leadership contest, each presenting itself as the one for members, and eventually the country, to back.

Whichever version triumphs, it must include Britain’s role as a force for good. Through our work with others, we shape the world around us, promoting the British values we hold dear – compassion, pragmatism, and determination. As Conservative MPs, we believe this is what our country stands for.

Our global leadership is reflected in our commitment to addressing global problems such as disease, corruption, injustice, climate change, and extreme poverty, as well as swift responses to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies. We’re often willing to do what others can’t or won’t.

These achievements are, in large part, based on our resolve in the fight against extreme poverty. Namely having the preeminent development agency, The Department for International Development (DFID), and our commitment to delivering 0.7 per cent of national income in aid.

So, it is with concern that in selecting a new leader of our Party, and Prime Minister, we have encountered arguments that risk our global standing in this area.
From out-and-out calls to slash the aid budget, to vague proposals about reducing Whitehall Departments to create ‘supercharged’ ones – implicitly, with DFID on the chopping block – the tools we use to fight extreme poverty are under threat.

Scrapping either of these would be unwise. Such steps would not only be harmful to people in poverty, but would hurt people in Britain as well. It would represent a retreat from global challenges – disease, instability, terrorism – that we have long been at the vanguard of tackling. This risks our hard-earned diplomatic currency with partners on the world stage, right at the moment we are renewing these relationships globally.

This ‘global public good’ is firmly in our national interest. Making the world a healthier and safer place is just the start. Fighting modern slavery, tackling the scourge of FGM, or improving the conditions of those vulnerable to extremism are not just great achievements, they’re hard evidence of how what we do is in our interest as well. It is not for us to step down from these challenges, but for others to step up to our level against them.

Any leader worth their salt must see how this is not just about charity. Beyond the simple truth that tackling these challenges benefits us, our legacy of helping-others-help-themselves is a shrewd investment in Britain’s global future.

It builds trust and fosters good diplomacy. It nurtures opportunities and potential in every corner of the earth. We are building the capacity of future trading partners and military allies. We are exporting our democratic institutions, in turn strengthening our own. We are spreading our values of trust, reliability, and determination.

Our global influence has a lot to do with maintaining the tools in our ‘international armoury’. The UK is known for demanding higher standards and more impact from our partners in multilateral organisations, such as the OECD Development Assistance Committee, which sets international aid rules. This ability to punch above our weight diplomatically comes from having the right architecture in government. World-class armed forces, Rolls-Royce diplomacy, and the preeminent development agency. This trinity should be protected from short-term political whims.

This is not to claim that aid can’t, or shouldn’t, do better. Every penny of UK aid spent should meet the highest standards of poverty focus, effectiveness, and transparency. When it does not cut the mustard, it not only fails the people it is intended for, it lets the British taxpayer down as well.

One idea could be to require DFID to sign off on all aid being spent. Another would be to accelerate progress on the Aid Transparency Index, which all departments have pledged to achieve ‘good’ or above by 2020. We applaud efforts to take a tough line on aid, but we should improve standards in the right way – one that builds, not diminishes, our reputation.

Our next Prime Minister must tell the positive story of our contribution to building a better world. They will have the chance when we host the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) next year, and the G7 summit in 2021.

These will require the substance behind it, and jeopardising this by slashing aid or closing DFID is not the answer. Arguably, our contribution to fighting the injustice of extreme poverty is Britain’s greatest export. Whoever triumphs in the Conservative leadership election cannot risk this.

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Bob Seely: Saving Britain billions. Ideas for the contenders in this leadership contest.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

Throughout this coming week, the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership launch their campaigns in earnest.

Whoever wins faces a massive challenge. Not only do we have to deliver Brexit – and until we do Britons won’t listen to us on anything else – but we also need to introduce a raft of domestic and foreign policies to renew us in office.

We badly need new ideas and new projects , some of which will need new cash. We also need to cut taxes. To help with the coming battle for ideas, and to support Liz Truss’ work on the spending review, here below are ideas to save between £50-100 billion. That figure doesn’t include the £39bn from a nodeal Brexit.

– – –

First, some basic facts. Government spending made up 38.5 per cent of GDP in 2017-2018. Departmental budgets set by spending review (DEL) amounted to £358.4 billion in 2017-2018, but the total departmental expenditure, including spending which is difficult to predict, manage or forecast (AME) was £812.9 billion in 2017-2018. Of that, £734.9bn was spent on services.

So where could we save money?

High speed rail

First, scrap the planned High Speed Rail link – HS2 – and save £50-100 billion. HS2 initially cost £33.4 billion, then rose to £42.6 billionIt is now costed at £56 billion. One government-commissioned estimate suggests it could total a breath-taking £403 million per mile. The Institute of Economic Affairs estimates the real cost to be £80 billion, and even that may be too little.

Terry Morgan, former chair of HS2 Ltd, told the Lords “everybody has their own guesstimate” of cost and “nobody knows, actually, the number”. Doug Thornton, HS2’s former Land and Property Director, has said the valuation of properties along the route was “enormously wrong”The National Audit Office found that the estimated net cost to acquire land and property for Phase One was £1,120 million in 2012 (2011 prices) ,but £4,316 million was budgeted at the 2015 spending review (2015 prices). Every honest review has considered it bad return for the taxpayer. The Lords’ respected Economic Affairs Committee has suggested delaying HS2. Let’s bite the bullet and bin this white elephant.

As with all the ideas here, the money could be better used by giving it back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, or supporting local and regional infrastructure projects to counter London’s domination of infrastructure spending, or to right the injustice faced by female pensioners – the so-called WASPI women. Alternatively, the next Conservative Government could pledge to ensure fibretopremises broadband nationwide to deliver near unlimited broadband speeds.

The farce of HS2 highlights a wider issue; UK public projects cost much more than in other countries – construction cost per mile of HS2 maybe as much as nine times that of its French equivalentMegaprojects run over-budget and over-time – time after time.

Cost overruns for the Channel Tunnel were 80 percent and for the National Health Service IT System up to 700 percent. The Scottish Parliament was estimated to cost between £10 and £40 million. It cost £414 million and was delivered three years late. An excellent study by the Taxpayers Alliance found that 57 per cent of over 300 public schemes overran by an average of 33.7 per centAnother study in 2009 found total net overrun on 240 projects was more than £19 billion. Even by Government standards, these are eye-watering sums. Running public projects to time and budget would allow us to slash taxes and still leave billions for education, policing or defence.

Overseas aid

Second, reallocate the 0.7 percent legally defined amount that the UK needs to spend on overseas aid. Many traditional Labour and Conservative voters alike are losing faith with this figure.

Why? Because we now spend more on overseas aid than we do on policing. To keep public support for overseas aid, which is important, and to integrate our overseas policy, we need to change the definition of aid to give us more flexibility in how we spend, as I outlined in a Henry Jackson Society study six months ago.

We should continue and even increase the basic lifesaving and humanitarian development aid that we are rightly proud of. But there are other elements of the £14.5 billion aid bill that we can re-allocate to provide much-needed support to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office(FCO), Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for International Trade (DIT). The DfID money should fund:

  • The BBC World Service TV and Radio, tasking it with becoming the global broadcaster of integrity to counter the propaganda output of authoritarian states such as Russia and China.
  • Minstry of Defence peacekeeping operation.
  • Some of the Department of International Trade’s work, especially where that trade represents a moral as well as economic good, such as providing new and greener technologies for developing nations.

Whilst the above doesn’t offer money back to the Treasury, ieffectively gives a spending boost of £85 million to the FCO, £269 million to our Armed Forces and tens of millions to our trade missionswithout having to raise taxes or borrowing. In addition, £254 million for the World Service that comes from the licence fee can be returned to taxpayers or reinvested in the service.

Health and social care

Third, integrate health and social care with local government. This has a potential for big efficiency savings, allowing money to frontline services rather than bureaucracy.

Attempts to make this idea work so far have floundered. The Better Care Fund was intended to save £511 million for departments and partners in the first year. It failedNevertheless, the idea is a valid, one and the council in my constituency of the Isle of Wight is hoping to win Government support to set up a pilot scheme.

In an increasingly complex world integration, be it in overseasspending, or public servicesintegration is key to efficiency and delivery. Artificial Intelligence, tele-medicine and better use of big data will support this, especially in more isolated communities such as the Island.

Cut corporation tax

Fourth, cut tax to raise more in revenue. The principle is a sound one – we cut top rate tax in the 1980s and dramatically increased the tax take.

Slash rates of corporation tax to 12.5 per cent.  Britain has been willing to give the fiscal firepower to “pull every lever we’ve got” a no-deal BrexitDown from 28 per cent in 2008, Corporation tax will soon be set at 17 per cent, the lowest in the G20 – yet receipts have never been higher at £56.2 billion. Lower corporation tax would increase the demand for labour, which in turn raises wages and increases consumption.

Winter fuel payments

Fitth, there are more difficult areas to cover. For example means test winter fuel payments would not be popular but could save £2 billion a year. Despite being estimated to cost £1,967 million in 2018/19, these were described by the Work and Pensions Committee (114.) as a “blunt instrument” which “gives a cash payment to many households do not need it”.

According to the Social Market Foundation, pensioners, who are by far the wealthiest age group in society, “are likely to save rather than spend the value of the windfall. It asked: “Why should older, wealthier pensioners receive more money than poorer, younger ones?”

An estimate for 2012-13 stated if payments were only made to those in receipt of pension credit, expenditure would only be £600 million in 2012-13 (to nearest £100 million). Surely it is better to spend the money on increasing the basic state pension, or increasing the amount that poorer pensioners receive, than giving it to those need is less.

Street and motorway lighting

Next, there are smaller but no less valuable schemes that we could champion. For example, do we need to keep streetlighting on overnight in rural areasThere’s no link between having lights off or dimmed and an increase in crime. Do motorways lights have to be on throughout the night? On the Isle of Wightwe can vary our lighting from a central point. That has the potential to save tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.

Roadside verges

Next, why don’t we cut roadside verges less. They represent a natural habitat for wildlife, but often the way they are cut today during flowering season kills wildflowers and replaces them with thick grass which need more cutting. There are parts of verges, in roundabouts, on curves, which will need very regular cutting, but if we adopted verge cutting to encourage wildflowers and pollinators such as bees, we would beautify roadsides AND save moneyDorset saved £93,000 by ‘greening’ their verge cutting, and Monmouthshire County Council estimates it has saved £35,000 annually from reducing verge mowing. For councils’ up and down the country, every little helps, especially if it has an environmental and quality of life benefit.

Legalising cannabis

Sixth, there are other potential tax streams which have not been examined. Should we examine legalising cannabis, for example, especially weaker strains of it, not only to raise tax but also for reasons linked to mental health and crime reduction.

Colorado, with a population of under six million, raised $247 million in 2017 alone from marijuana tax. One of the most comprehensive studies into legalisation estimates that between £397 million and £871 millio, could be raised annually. A US-style system here could generate up to £2.26 billion a year from tax and fees.

n addition, there is money saved. The Taxpayers Alliance estimates that by legalising cannabis, the UK could save at least £891.7 million a year in reduced spending by police, prisons, courts and the NHS through pain relief treatments. Do we need a Royal Commission on this subject? Should we be treating cannabis, especially in mild form, as yet another sin tax, like smoking and alcohol?

Doing things better

Seventh, we need to do simple things better. There are more prosaic aspects of best practice, such as procurement.

Procurement amounts to around one third of public spending in the UK. In 2016/2017, the UK public sector spent an estimated £355 billion with external suppliers. Efficiencies, such as buying common goods and services on behalf of the whole government, saved £255 million through the Crown Commercial Service and £879 million through specialist commercial expertise.

We need a systematic method of driving procurement best practise across all of Government, from paperclips to tanks, and supporting new, smaller entrants into a market dominated by bigger players who too often bid, take their cut and sub-contract.

Finally, by leaving the EU we will have more power over procurement, buying locally as far as free markets allow. Some organisations believe that EU regulation costs the UK as much as £33.3 billion per year, potentially moreBy taking a common sense attitude to regulation post Brexit, we could save Britain billions.

– – –

These ideas are just a start. Ensuring a Conservative Government after the next General Election requires two things. First, we must deliver on Brexit, second, we need to produce ideas and policies that renew in office.

This is a contribution to the debate. Let’s see what the candidates offer in the week ahead. I wish them well.

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Profile: The unusual Rory Stewart, self-declared contender for the Tory leadership

Rory Stewart enjoys walking with a calm and purposeful air into danger. While other ministers keep their heads down, he has been out and about on the airwaves, defending Theresa May’s Brexit deal as one to which all moderate, sensible people should assent.

And while other contenders for the Conservative leadership keep up the threadbare pretence they are not competing for it, he told Katy Balls of The Spectator, and has repeated since, that he would like to be Prime Minister, and reckons he has what it takes.

His promotion a week ago to the Cabinet as International Development Secretary suddenly makes him look a more plausible candidate. He has fewer enemies than his longer established rivals, which in Tory leadership contests can be a decisive factor, as Michael Heseltine will tell you.

But few people at this level are entirely without enemies, and his career so far as a departmental minister, which began four years ago, will now come under scrutiny, in a way that was not possible when this exotic figure, who in his life before politics had a number of unusual adventures, was first profiled for ConHome in 2015.

Andrew Mitchell, who served as DFID Secretary under David Cameron, told ConHome:

“I think he will be a very good DFID Secretary. He already has significant development experience outside the political system as well as within it, and will bring some new and updated ideas to the way Britain makes its contribution to solving some of the big international problems that beset us.”

But others who observed Stewart when he was Minister of State at DFID from 2016-18 report that some of the senior officials there “literally hated him”.

One former colleague predicted that his appointment as DFID Secretary will be “a disaster” and “could well lead to the death of thousands of the world’s poorest people”.

Stewart is accused of “not listening to advice”, “saying things that weren’t realistic”, “going with ideas he’s just made up on the back of a napkin”, and horrifying the civil servants who were sitting beside him as he spoke.

This capacity for challenging the departmental orthodoxy, and refusing to accept what his officials say, could be a great strength or a mortal weakness. He is committed to thinking things out for himself, and tenacious in defence of what he thinks are the right ideas.

Almost everyone agrees that Stewart is tremendously articulate and engaging, and has “very good big ideas”. Some add that he is not at home in large organisations, though they often remark in the same breath that he has excellent manners.

In The Places in Between, his acclaimed account of the walk he made across Afghanistan in 2002, Stewart is scathing about the post-conflict experts who set out to solve that country’s problems without any knowledge of the people they purport to be rescuing.

In an impassioned outburst on pages 293-4, consigned to a footnote because it is polemical rather than descriptive, he writes:

“Critics have accused this new breed of administrators of neo-colonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a 19th-century colonial officer. Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single nation…

“Post-conflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism. Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility. Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organisation long enough to be adequately assessed. The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neo-colonialists have no such performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation and oppression.”

Many readers will cheer these sentiments, and will reckon they help to explain why international intervention so often fails even in its own terms.

But oddly enough, Stewart is himself open to the charge of not staying put long enough to be adequately assessed.

From January 2018 to May 2019 he served as Minister of State for Prisons. In August 2018 a BBC interviewer asked him, in an incredulous tone, if he would resign, if in a year’s time he had failed to reduce the level of drugs and violence in ten prisons which had just been targetted by the Government, with a million pounds to be spent in each of them on new measures.

Stewart replied, after a fleeting pause: “Yep, I will quit…I will resign if I don’t succeed.”

No one can just now know whether in August 2019 he would have had to resign as Prisons Minister, for he no longer occupies that post, and can no longer urge the vigorous implementation of the measures he set in train.

A prison reformer told ConHome it is impossible to know what will happen in the ten prisons, but remarked that turning round a prison usually takes longer than a year.

Mark Fairhurst, Chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said:

“Rory Stewart has been given a get out of jail free card.

“The pledges [Stewart] made and the way he engaged with us and listened to us were positive, but the question is what happens now?

“This is the problem. You forge a good working relationship with these ministers, and you start to make progress, because certainly the things he’s implemented are things that we’ve been calling for years. But then all of a sudden, just as you’re moving forward, they get replaced or promoted.”

Stewart himself said in the Commons on 23rd April that “the figures are looking reasonably positive”, and indicated that he hoped to survive in his post after August. He has not, incidentally, been replaced yet. Whoever takes the job will be asked whether he or she will promise to resign.

Jonathan Aitken, who knows the prison system from the inside and has served for the last year as chaplain at Pentonville Prison, reckons that “as a prison minister, Stewart has been a considerable success, but part of that is just sheer luck”, because the spending needed to increase the number of prison officers from dangerously low levels had already been approved, and staffing levels have dramatically improved over the last year, though there has not yet been a corresponding drop in violence.

Aitken said that at Leeds, one of the ten prisons targetted by Stewart, the extra million pounds is having a good effect, for example by putting in better windows to replace those through which drugs were being smuggled, and installing an X-ray body scanner to search for drugs.

In Aitken’s view, “As a dark horse bet [in the leadership race] Stewart is quite interesting. He’s cut from a different cloth. He’s got a most unusual mind. They’re all going to be looking for someone who can unite the party a bit.”

Although his pledge to resign will not now be put to the test, it did attract a lot of attention to what he was trying to do. His approach is different to that of the standard career politician who seeks to avoid anything which might be regarded as new or alarming.

More conventional spirits doubt it can be good politics for Stewart to advertise his leadership aspirations so openly.

But a considerable number of people at Westminster said yesterday that although this was “naive”, it was also “charming”. There is something refreshing about a man who ignores the usual hypocrisies.

Not since Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1963 has an expert on foreign affairs, who knows next to nothing about economics, become Conservative leader. The precedent is not encouraging for Stewart, who seems more cut out to become Foreign Secretary than Prime Minister.

Stewart admits that having voted Remain in the EU Referendum is a drawback for him, and this aspect of him renders him intolerable to those who think the next leader simply must be a Leaver. He offers himself as a centrist who would implement Brexit while striving to maintain close economic ties with the EU, and to retain the support of the four million Remain voters who also voted Conservative:

“If the Conservative Party make the mistake of trying to out-do Nigel Farage, which I am sure we won’t, but it is something that a few of my colleagues are talking about, then we would lose those four million Remain votes.

“We’d lose young people, we’d lose Scotland, we’d lose London and we’d lose a lot of the most energetic parts of this country.

“We’ve got to be a broad party…”

Could Stewart speak, for example, to Leave voters in the Midlands? The only answer to that question at the moment is that nobody knows for sure, but it seems a bit unlikely.

Stewart loves traditional institutions such as the monarchy (he acted as tutor to Princes William and Harry) and the armed forces, but also displays a boldness and an independence of mind which were perhaps more often found in the Victorian period than they are now.

When Margaret Thatcher fell, the relatively obscure John Major swept to victory as the stop Heseltine candidate.

When Theresa May falls, it is not yet clear (at least to the present writer) who will be the Stop Boris Johnson candidate. Timing can be almost everything in such contests, and Stewart has reached the Cabinet just as the race is starting.

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James Frayne: What polling does and doesn’t tell us about voters and the environment

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Conservative Party politicians are prone to temporary policy cause obsessions. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen them obsess briefly about, amongst other issues: free schools, the gender pay gap, social media, childcare, foreign aid and housing. (To list them like this is not to dismiss their relevance).

The enthusiasm which they responded to Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK, their timidity in the face of Extinction Rebellion’s direct action, and their unwillingness, as Natascha Engel described in her resignation as Shale Commissioner, to seriously promote Shale Gas extraction in England, strongly suggests they’re about to become obsessed with policy development on climate change. If so, what does this mean for the Party electorally? What do the polls say about the environment as an issue?

Let’s look at how seriously people take the issue overall.

YouGov’s most recent headline tracker of the public’s top issues puts the environment reasonably low down the list, behind leaving the EU, crime, health, the economy and immigration, but above housing, education, welfare and defence. While it’s still something of a niche issue overall, many will be surprised that it is even this high and, crucially, the issue has risen slowly but consistently over the last couple of years.

A poll for “Stop Climate Chaos” in Scotland also suggested, in a not-perfect exercise, that many people have become more concerned about climate change in recent times. So it’s an issue that’s on the up. (Incidentally, only a tiny number of people had heard, in early March, about “The Green New Deal”, inspired by US environmental activists. Also, incidentally, British adults put “pollution, the environment and climate change” much lower down their list of priorities than adults in other European countries).

But, predictably, the headline numbers mask huge differences of opinion based on politics, class and age. Hanbury Strategy’s recent poll for Onward showed that 18-24 year olds put the environment third in their list of policy priorities, behind Britain leaving the EU and health; on the other hand, over 65s put the environment near the bottom of their list, just above transport and defence. The poll also showed that Conservative voters were much less likely to name the environment as a major issue.

In a separate question in the same report, voters were asked if they would prefer that society or Government focused either on economic growth or prioritising the environment. This question forces too stark a choice in people’s minds, but the gaps between groups’ answers are interesting. Overall, voters narrowly said, by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, economic growth. However, 18-24 year olds chose the environment by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, while over 65s chose the economy by 64 per cent to 36 per cent.

Conservatives chose the economy by a significant margin, while Labour voters chose the environment by a similarly clear margin. (Another incidental finding, which builds this age point out further: a YouGov poll showed that a fifth of the population believe “the threat of climate change is over-exaggerated”. While nine per cent of 18-24 year olds agree with this statement, 32 pe cent of over 55’s agree).

That such differences between ages exist will not come as a surprise to anyone, but we should be wary, on the existing evidence, of either claiming that young people are obsessed about the environment, or that older people are dismissive of it – and careful about recommending very clear actions for campaign strategy.

After all, we haven’t yet seen young people’s commitment to tackling climate change through regulation tested by an economic downturn. After the financial crisis, Ipsos-Mori’s tracker showed that public interest in the environment tailed away significantly (although to be fair, I can’t find a breakdown of younger voters’ attitudes), in much the same way we’re seeing the reputation of “big business” rebound in the aftermath of the EU referendum as voters’ minds are focused on the prospect of large employers leaving Britain. Would things change in the same way if jobs were threatened now? It’s hard to say – but some Conservatives are making a huge leap of faith that young voters have fully embraced green activism.

As for older voters, the evidence suggests that older voters might draw a distinction between different types of environmental issues – taking climate change less seriously than what you might call “the local physical environment”. For example, almost all over 65s say they would support “a law to significantly reduce plastic waste and pollution within 25 years” – a higher figure than 18-24 year olds. And a similarly high number of older people say they view tackling litter as more of a priority than they used to.

My strong impression is also that older voters are also more likely to volunteer that they are concerned about issues surrounding food safety and animal welfare and protecting areas of natural beauty – although this is an impression borne of many years moderating focus groups rather than on any hard data. In a sense, this is the environmentalism that Michael Gove has been pushing from Defra.

What does all this mean? Honestly, I don’t think there’s even nearly enough research data out there to make serious conclusions as to how the electorate will react to the Conservatives embracing the green agenda more seriously. Far more needs to be done. Most will likely support Gove’s Defra reforms. While it is certainly reasonable to suggest that younger voters care more about climate change, there are clearly dangers in jumping into this debate by accepting the terms set out by green activists – who essentially argue that we can only protect the environment by slowing growth and insisting on massive personal austerity. Such a move will irritate the bulk of electorate and likely a massive chunk of younger voters too.

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