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Westlake Legal Group > Jeremy Hunt MP

May’s statement about the Government’s plans now. What she said and what she meant.

“Mr Speaker, the House has spoken and the Government will listen.”

And I am not resigning – though another Prime Minister in my position would.  The deal on which I gambled has just been rejected by the Commons by the biggest margin in modern times.  Conservative MPs voted against it in the biggest rebellion in modern times.  Some 63 per cent of Tory backbenchers went into the lobbies to oppose it.

However, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act offers me some protection.  Furthermore, a leadership challenge now can’t be launched against me until December.  In any event, here is no agreement within my Party on a successor.  It would be irresponsible to foist a leadership election on it, with March 29 looming, and there is no obvious alternative Prime Minister.

“It is clear that the House does not support this deal.  But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.  Nothing about how – or even if – it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”

In other words, it will soon become clear that the Commons can’t settle on an alternative to my deal, after all.  The same MPs who rejected it this evening will be forced to swallow it – with, God willing, some real change on the backstop – when this becomes clear.  The deal is also a known quantity with the EU, which the alternatives aren’t.

Better mention the referendum, too.  Honouring its result is still the default position of most of the Parliamentary Party.  I must keep Sajid and Jeremy and Steve and Penny and Andrea and Chris onside.  Best to say nothing about an extension to Article 50, though.  With any luck, that can still be avoided.

“People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible.  Those whose jobs rely on our trade with the EU need that clarity.  So with your permission Mr Speaker I would like to set out briefly how the Government intends to proceed.”

That’s a nod of the head to all those tiresome people who drone on about EU citizens – don’t they see that the priority is to get immigration down to the tens of thousands? – plus the CBI and the car manufacturers.  Anyway, I must keep David and Phil and Greg and Amber and David onside.”

“First, we need to confirm whether this Government still enjoys the confidence of the House.  I believe that it does, but given the scale and importance of tonight’s vote it is right that others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so.  I can therefore confirm that if the Official Opposition table a confidence motion this evening in the form required by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Government will make time to debate that motion tomorrow.  And if, as happened before Christmas, the Official Opposition decline to do so, we will – on this occasion – consider making time tomorrow to debate any motion in the form required from the other opposition parties, should they put one forward.”

That’s you pre-empted, Corbyn.  Mind you, once he’s lost his no confidence vote he’ll come under even more pressure to support a second referendum.  And whether he folds or not, he hasn’t got much alternative but soon to call for an extension to Article 50, in order to carry out his imaginary Labour Government’s imaginary “Labour renegotiation”.

That will be tricky for him, because calling for an extension will look like backsliding on Brexit.  We must nail him on that.  Hmm, hang on a minute.  I might need an extension too – to get my deal through, or else…and I must keep very quiet about this…to try to stave off No Deal chaos.  Best not to push him too hard.  Anyway, while there isn’t a majority in the Commons for revocation, there might be for extension.

“Second, if the House confirms its confidence in this Government I will then hold meetings with my colleagues, our Confidence & Supply partner the DUP and senior Parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House.  The Government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress, we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House.”

This is the trickiest bit of all.  I need Yvette and her gang to come round to my deal.  That suggests flirting with a Norway-type solution and Customs Union membership.  Which would please David and Phil and Greg and Amber and David.  But I also need Jacob and his lot.  That implies no Customs Union and a Canada-flavoured deal.  Which would please Sajid and Jeremy and Steve and Penny and Andrea and Chris.

Better to keep talking and listening and listening and talking until they all concede the obvious: that there’s no alternative to my deal – the only offer that’s “genuinely negotiable”.  I won’t win Yvette and Hillary and the rest round by next week, but the seeds will have been sown.  So I must be very nice to them…but not so nice as to upset Brandon and Graham and the ’22.”

Third, if these meetings yield such ideas, the Government will then explore them with the European Union.

Fat chance!

“Mr Speaker I want to end by offering two reassurances.”

“The first is to those who fear that the Government’s strategy is to run down the clock to 29th March.  That is not our strategy.”

Yes, it is. But –

“I have always believed that the best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal and have devoted much of the last two years negotiating such a deal.”

That’s the point: the deal, the deal, the deal. Nothing has changed.

“As you confirmed Mr Speaker, the amendment to the business motion tabled last week by my Right Honourable and Learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is not legally binding, but the Government respects the will of the House.  We will therefore make a statement about the way forward and table an amendable motion by Monday.”

Let Dominic table his Second Referendum Bill.  Let Nick try to get the Commons to settle on Norway Plus.  And let the Speaker bend over backwards to help them, which he will do.  Let them have their indicative votes and new Bills – which I probably can’t stop now, anyway.  It’s one thing to table a Bill but quite another to get it through the House.

So let’s table a motion next week that dresses up my deal with a bit of new language, sit back – and enjoy the show.  Sure, I can see how the House might, just might, settle on some Norway option before the end of March.  But accepting it would risk splitting the Party in two.  And it wouldn’t sort immigration.  Which will force MPs back to my deal…

“The second reassurance is to the British people, who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum two and a half years ago.  I became Prime Minister immediately after that referendum.  I believe it is my duty to deliver on their instruction and I intend to do so.”

Better mention the referendum again. Kill off any speculation that I’m backing off the result.

“Mr Speaker every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancour. The Government has heard what the House has said tonight, but I ask Members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the Government to do just that.”

Except, of course, it won’t be resolved.  When my deal passes, we’ll have the trade negotiation to sort.  The Political Declaration to flesh out.  Getting the deal and a Bill to enact the Withdrawal Agreement is only the start.  Years more of Brexit lie ahead!

And to get the best out of them, the country will need leadership. Knowledge of the process.  Experience.  A settled hand on the tiller.  When I promised the ’22 I’d quit before the next election I meant it, of course.  But perhaps some things can change, after all…

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

Jeremy Hunt: This deal is a compromise, but it honours the referendum result – and it must pass

Jeremy Hunt is Member of Parliament for South West Surrey, and Foreign Secretary.

For once the cliché is justified: today really is an historic day. The House of Commons is about to vote on an agreement that would change our national destiny and take Britain out of the European Union in just 73 days.

It took a remarkable sequence of events to get us to the verge of leaving the EU after 46 years. There was a referendum that most experts predicted would deliver a victory for Remain. There was an election that left us without a majority. Even so, we now have a 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated and concluded with 27 countries. It has compromises but not even the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics would doubt her dogged determination that has got us to this point.

But it is clear the opponents of Brexit are not giving up. On the face of it, all the cards are stacked against them. At the 2017 election both the two main parties pledged to leave the EU. They are up against a Government and a Prime Minister committed to delivering on this. And most importantly of all, those who want Brexit stopped are up against the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, more than for any other cause or party in British history. Like many who campaigned to remain in the EU, that for me is the single biggest reason we must honour the mandate: as one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world it would be a devastating blow both to our national cohesion and our global reputation if the political class succeeded in unpicking what the people had told it to do.

It is of course perfectly principled to take a different view. But the effect of changing the parliamentary rules to prevent No Deal would – whether intended or not – also allow Parliament to stop Brexit altogether. Because you cannot just change the rules of Parliament on one specific issue: once the precedent has been set they can be changed on any issue.

This kind of asymmetric tactic to delaying or stopping Brexit would be significant for two other reasons: firstly because the most likely outcome would not be a decisive shift to a different kind of Brexit, rather a move to constitutional stalemate and Brexit paralysis. Businesses up and down the country desperate to plan would instead be condemned to months more uncertainty. But secondly – and much more profoundly – it would directly pit the will of Parliament against the will of the people.

We have never had a written constitution and that has given us admirable flexibility to move fast at crucial moments. But it has always depended on restraint from parliamentarians, recognising that our role is not to impose our will on the people but to remain faithful to our democratic mandate. After a referendum in which all major political parties promised to honour the result, failing to do so would lead to a potentially irreparable breach of trust.

So why vote for this deal? It has compromises and elements that make many people – myself included – frankly uncomfortable. Yet it does contain much that Leave voters were demanding: sovereign control over immigration, leaving the CAP and the CFP, no large annual membership fees, and only the most limited role for the European Court of Justice. At the same time, it protects businesses and jobs that depend on trade with the EU in the way any responsible government would obviously seek to do. And with skilful negotiation, an independent trade policy will be something we can achieve.

The risk is that by opposing it in the hope of something better, we end up with the worst possible outcome: no Brexit at all.

Why is that? Because those seeking to reverse the Brexit decision have a simple three part plan: defeat the Government in the meaningful vote; then use the deadlock to extend Article 50 and push for a second referendum. It is not scaremongering to point this out: the first part may happen tonight and then with the amendment planned by Dominic Grieve for later in the week Parliament could require the Government to adopt the second.

If Brexit were then to be reversed in a second referendum, how would we look the 52 per cent who supported Brexit in 2016 – and went on to vote Conservative in the 2017 General Election – in the face? They trusted us to deliver Brexit – and we would have failed.

I have many colleagues and friends whom I respect enormously who have taken an honourable decision to accept that risk, but I cannot. This is our moment to deliver on what the British people asked us to do and we should seize it.

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

As the ‘meaningful vote’ approaches, apply buckets of salt to all Government news

The healthy follower of political news is an autocondimentor, taking everything with at least a sprinkling of salt. That habit ought to intensify as controversial votes grow near – and some of this weekend’s headlines require not just fistfuls but barrels of the stuff.

The game underway is the latter stages of an ongoing attempt to bounce opponents of the Prime Minister’s proposed EU deal into supporting it. The particular focus, as displayed by Jeremy Hunt yesterday, is on trying to persuade Leavers that the alternative to the deal is no Brexit rather than No Deal.

If the dubious quality of the arguments being mounted is an indicator of the Government’s desperation, then the Whips appear very worried indeed.

Take for example the exclusive revelation, helpfully presented by George Osborne’s Evening Standard, that:

‘Brexit looks increasingly likely to be delayed beyond the scheduled exit of March 29, Cabinet ministers today revealed to the Standard. A backlog of at least six essential Bills that must be passed before Britain leaves the European Union has left ministers convinced the timetable will be extended…A senior minister said: “The legislative timetable is now very very tight indeed. Certainly, if there was defeat on Tuesday and it took some time before it got resolved, it’s hard to see how we can get all the legislation through by March 29.”’

In other words, trust us to negotiate and implement a bad deal, or our failure to competently manage the legislation will prevent Brexit. Not a very enticing or inspiring message in itself, but also a rather bogus one.

As our very own Henry Hill laid out on Wednesday, the Government’s legislative planning has been careful and detailed, precisely in order to restrict the risk of necessary laws not being in place in time for Brexit Day.

This isn’t the weirdest outcome of the politics of Brexit, but it is odd to see Ministers talking down their own ability to manage Government business, all in order to try to encourage MPs to place more faith in the capacity of the same Government to negotiate and deliver the Withdrawal Agreement. “Trust us, or we will cock it all up” is quite the slogan.

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

This rotting Cabinet

If Theresa May loses the Commons vote on her deal next week, she will make a statement to the House about her response plans.  Note the way that last sentence is written.

It doesn’t say: “the Government’s plans” or “the Cabinet’s plans” (which are, in effect, the same).  This is because the latter collectively – and as far as can be discerned its members individually – don’t know what these might be.  She could announce her resignation.  She could throw the Government’s weight behind No Deal.  Or No Brexit.  Or an extension to Article 50, rather than revocation – perhaps with a second referendum in mind, perhaps not.  Or the Norway or Canada-type deals that she has rejected.  Or some other variant that no-one has anticipated.  Or say that her deal has clearly failed, and that she is now the servant of the Commons, paving her way for indicative votes.

Or, most likely of all, play for time, say that she will re-open her conversations with Brussels to seek real movement on the Northern Ireland backstop.  The logic of her present position is to do exactly that: the closer to March 29 she gets, the more pressure will come to bear on the EU to make concessions, real or token, and on MPs to back her deal, for fear of the No Deal or No Brexit to which different groups of them are opposed.  This is the logic of her game of chicken.

Some of those other options are more likely than others, and some can be ruled out altogether. Openly throwing her weight behind No Deal would risk a small number of Remain-orientated Conservative MPs voting with Jeremy Corbyn in the a confidence vote.  Backing No Brexit would divide the Conservative Party to the point where it might split altogether.  This takes us back to where we started – the role of the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister will not go to the Commons with plans without discussing them with the Cabinet first: that would clearly be a risk too far.  But it is striking that, less than a week out from the “meaningful vote”, its members have no idea what these might be.  It is possible that May doesn’t know herself.  But if she does, she is not the sort of person to take her colleagues into her confidence, especially under current circumstances.  One Cabinet Minister wearily told ConservativeHome late last year that “the problem with Theresa is that doesn’t trust anyone”.  Until the last general election, her inner circle consisted of three people: Nick Timothy, Fiona Hill – and Philip May.  Only one of them survives.

The conventional wisdom is: big majority, strong Prime Minister, weak Cabinet; small majority, weak Prime Minister, strong Cabinet.  In some senses, it holds true.  Consider an example from this morning.  On the one hand, Greg Clark is preparing his department for No Deal.  On the other, he today urges Parliament to “move quickly and act responsibly to establish what will, and will not, command support. Parliament can establish that it wants a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out”.  In short, he is urging MPs to seek to block No Deal if May’s deal falls – thereby urging them to oppose an outcome which he is tasked to prepare for.  This is not the Government position.

In one sense, Clark should resign.  In another, one can’t really blame him for not doing so.  After all, Cabinet disciple has broken down altogether, with its members openly briefly journalists about what they plan to say in its meetings, and reporting back about what happens afterwards.  Why should the Business Secretary quit while others stay?  One senior member of the lobby told ConservativeHome yesterday that this is the leakiest Cabinet in his experience – not, he added, that any journalists should complain about it.  “It’s a political Mogadishu out there,” he said, presumably thinking back to Black Hawk Down, “with Cabinet members firing off their machine guns from the back of trucks”.

None the less, there is reason to argue that what we are actually seeing is: small majority, weak Prime Minister, weak Cabinet.  The ultimate weapon of an unhappy Cabinet member is the threat of resignation.  But May has survived the loss of four Cabinet members in scarcely more than six months: David Davis, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey.  The last discovered the hard way that the Prime Minister controls the agenda and minutes of Cabinet meetings, and that there are no votes.

Those Leavers who didn’t resign over the deal have been forced to swallow the logic of their decision.  The Michael Gove who joked in Cabinet this week about anti-deal Conservative MPs was recently such a person himself – turning down the Brexit Secretary post rather than propound the Prime Minister’s position.  At Cabinet level, passive acceptance of a view must ultimately morph into active propagandising for it.

Short of resignation, there is always the more politicianly option of working with Cabinet colleagues to shift the Prime Minister’s position.  But this takes us to the heart of the matter.  There is no Cabinet consensus about what to do if the deal goes down.  Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and the surviving referendum Leavers lean towards No Deal in extremis.  Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Clark and others are setting themselves against No Deal completely.  Furthermore, May, though scarred by last month’s confidence ballot, survived it.  She cannot be formally challenged as Party leader until the end of this year.  In a way, then, she now draws power from her Cabinet’s divisions and indecision.  In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen.

The European Union complains that the Government doesn’t know where it wants to end up.  Closely aligned to the EU or more distant?  Norway or Canada?  It is absolutely right.

Cabinet members are united on one point, however.  All now hope that May’s deal passes Parliament, if not next week, then later.  And, collectively, they will carry on hoping – as authority drains away from them to Dominic Grieve, Steve Baker, and the Opposition, among whose numbers we of naturally include the Speaker.  This Cabinet is firewood.

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

Profile: Singapore, the city state mistakenly held out by Eurosceptics as an example for Britain to follow

Why can’t a woman be more like a man? When Rex Harrison, playing Professor Higgins, makes that demand in My Fair Lady, the audience laughs because, in his arrogance, he does not realise how absurd he sounds.

Why can’t Britain be more like Singapore? When Jeremy Hunt, playing the role of Foreign Secretary, made that suggestion a few days ago in a speech delivered in Singapore, no one laughed.

For the idea has been floated by many Conservatives, to whom Hunt is suspected of sucking up in order to position himself as a future leader. And the answer, as an irate Leaver put it this week, is that “we’re bloody well not like Singapore”.

Singapore is a city state whose territory occupies about 280 square miles. The United Kingdom is about 94,000 square miles in extent.

The population of Singapore is about 5.6 million, of whom 39 per cent are foreigners. The UK’s population is about 66 million, or roughly 12 times that.

And although Singapore has held general elections ever since 1959, these have invariably been won by the People’s Action Party (PAP), which currently holds 81 of the 89 seats in the Parliament of Singapore. Over that period, the UK saw changes of the main ruling party in 1964, 1970, 1974, 1979, 1997 and 2010.

During those 59 years, Singapore has had three prime ministers and Britain has had eleven. Continuity of leadership has certain advantages. It has helped Singapore achieve the long-term approach to infrastructure investment which Hunt holds up as a model for Britain.

The PAP was the creation of Lee Kuan Yew, a remarkable man, who served as Prime Minister for 31 years and 178 days, and remained powerful for another two decades. The nearest approach to that record in British history is Sir Robert Walpole, conventionally regarded as our first Prime Minister, who served for 20 years and 314 days in 1721-42.

Lee was born in Singapore in 1923, when it was a British colony, and lived through the crushing defeat of British forces in 1942 at the hands of the Japanese. After the war, he came to Britain to study at the LSE, felt overwhelmed by London and managed to transfer to Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, where in his law finals he took a starred first, ahead of two future professors of law.

He went home to practice as a barrister, changed his name from Harry Lee to the more Chinese Lee Kuan Yew, entered politics and supported Singapore’s independence in 1963 as part of Malaysia. For he accepted the conventional wisdom that this small territory, dependent on its larger neighbour even for drinking water, was incapable of surviving as an independent state.

In 1965 Lee wept, and was full of anguish, when after riots between Malays and Chinese, Malaysia expelled Singapore, reckoning its Chinese population, which is predominant, was simply too difficult to absorb.

Singapore was small, poor and vulnerable, but had a deep-water harbour and occupied a wonderful position at the tip of the Malaysian peninsular on the Malacca Straits, connecting the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, for which reason Stamford Raffles had in January 1819 founded a trading station there for the British East India Company.

So although Singapore is commonly described as being “without natural resources”, thanks to its position on one of the world’s great shipping lanes it enjoys an enormous competitive advantage, of which Lee proceeded to make skilful use, by creating the other conditions needed to develop the container port, build a successful airline and attract numerous international corporations, including banks, oil traders and refiners, ship repairers, and electrical and biomedical manufacturers.

The spirit in which he ruled is best conveyed in his own words:

“Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society.”

“If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you… Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.”

“You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”

No British Prime Minister who talked like that would survive five minutes. But Lee’s authoritarian rule was widely admired, for he provided the homes, medicine, jobs and schools which Singaporeans wanted.

And in due course he passed on the baton to his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, who studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, where in 1974 he was Senior Wrangler, has served as Prime Minister since 2004, and could eventually be succeeded by a member of the next generation of the family.

The country they have led for so long has a reputation for being safe, clean, prosperous and uncorrupt. Troublemakers, including democracy campaigners, are not welcome. Just after Hunt’s visit, a civil rights activist was convicted for holding an illegal assembly which had been joined via Skype by a democracy campaigner in Hong Kong, 1600 miles away.

Andrew Wood recently pointed out on ConHome some of the reasons for treating the received idea of Singapore with caution:

“Singapore often gets quoted in the debate over Brexit – but usually of a fantasy version of Singapore: a low tax, low regulation mirage. The reality is that Singapore is not especially low tax, nor is it unregulated. Its corporation tax rate is 17 per cent; we will achieve the same rate in 2020. Other tax rates are lower, but mainly because its welfare state works very differently to our own, with residents and businesses required to save into a Central Provident Fund (equivalent to 35 per cent of a worker’s salaries), and it spends almost twice as much on defence as a percentage of GDP as we do. As for regulation, in some areas it is more nanny state then we are. But it is certainly true it is a more business-friendly environment then the UK.”

Conservatives ought to know without being told that one cannot just take a glance round the world, see which culture one likes the look of, and graft it onto one’s own. About 74 per cent of Singapore’s citizens are Chinese, 13 per cent are Malay and nine per cent are Indian.

It is in many ways an admirable city state, but quite different in its culture and traditions to the United Kingdom. To think we can just “become like Singapore” and our problems will be solved is culpably naive.

Even Singapore had to work extremely hard for half a century in order to become Singapore, and its sense of nationhood has very shallow historical roots compared to ours.

“But what about the schools?” you may exclaim. Singapore’s schools do indeed achieve excellent results in international league tables. They also make extensive use of the cane, a remedy for anti-social behaviour in which Lee Kuan Yew maintained an invincible belief.

If we set out, in a spirit of mindless imitation, to copy Singapore’s educational methods, it is quite possible we shall end up with the dullest elements of their system, rather as we did when we tried in the 1980s to copy the then fashionable example of Japan, and reached the unfortunate conclusion that intensive testing held the key.

An odd dispute from time to time makes its way into the public prints. It is about what to do with the bungalow, known as 38 Oxley Road, in which Lee Kuan Yew lived, and in which in the 1950s some of the founding meetings of the PAP were held.

He wanted the bungalow in due course to be demolished, but his descendants have fallen out over this question.

This rift within the Lee family may be of no real significance, but is what commonly happens in dynasties. Britain has, incidentally, had only two examples of father and son becoming Prime Minister: the Pitts and the Grevilles.

The burden of a hereditary succession is nowadays born instead by our constitutional monarchy. Might this prove, in a century or two’s time, an example which Singapore could follow?

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

Rob Wilson: Unless we ask the hard questions, this new plan for the NHS will suffer the same fate as all the others

Rob Wilson is a former Minister for Civil Society, and was MP for Reading East from 2005–2017.

An extra £20 billion annually for the NHS should gain the Government some positive headlines amid all its difficulties. Jeremy Hunt comprehensively won his hard fought tussle with the Treasury for a significant uplift in health spending on the basis that it would be accompanied by significant efficiency and productivity gains. Hunt was right to secure extra spending, as the service had reached an impasse where without it the service could not move on; the pressures on NHS front-line services were simply unsustainable.

Unfortunately, Government has been here before – in fact, very regularly. Extra spending accompanied by reform has been a mantra for a number of governments. Most recently with Gordon Brown bringing in private sector companies, and then the 2014 five-year plan. The reality of politics means these plans are never held to account properly or seen through. Hunt has moved on, leaving Matt Hancock to pick up on ten years of huge spending accompanied by a plan undoubtedly written by civil servants and the leadership of the NHS.

Nobody should be surprised that Simon Stevens has outmanoeuvred the politicians again. He delivered very few of his 2014 five-year plan productivity promises, and this plan won’t deliver the efficiency and productivity gains the NHS needs for its long term success. Disappointingly, Stevens is part of the Brown-era legacy that sees spending level (‘investment’, as Brown called it as Chancellor) as a political measure of NHS success rather than patient outcomes.

Anyone who has heard Stevens speak publicly will be impressed by his knowledge of the NHS but concerned by his complacency – particularly his belief that the NHS is already one of the most efficient health services in the world. If you take that view, there is only limited scope for improvement apart from via extra money. That is a significant problem for an experienced Secretary of State, let alone a new one.

If we are brutally honest, the ten-year review doesn’t ask searching questions. The most fundamental is this: is the NHS the best way to run our healthcare to get the best outcomes for patients? Or even: should all the increase in spending come from general taxation (and presumably further borrowing)? Are there lessons we should learn or adapt from other systems, for example where insurance policies are used or co-payments? At the moment the self-pay health market is growing because people with savings are not prepared to wait in the ever longer queues that ration care.

These are big questions, but surely essential ones before huge additional lumps of taxpayers’ money is invested into an inefficient, highly centralised regime. Of course answering them would require a level of honest self-assessment of the current system that no NHS leader would welcome.

Sadly, there is considerable evidence of NHS performance failure, as highlighted by the Kings Fund and others, where the UK ranks well down the international list of avoidable deaths. Despite all the money ploughed into the NHS, the service is paying a little under £2 billion a year in compensation for clinical mistakes. I remember only too well, as Jeremy Hunt’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, that he regularly received reports of major mistakes in hospitals such as cutting off the wrong, healthy, limb. It underpinned his desire to improve standards and quality of healthcare.

To be fair and provide balance, it is also true that within our NHS system there are fantastic examples of world class treatments, breakthroughs, amazing facilities and inspiring doctors and nurses. Even within a poorly performing hospital you can find examples of exceptional and outstanding services or staff. It is a remarkable and frustrating system of the excellent often sitting alongside the awful. It should be acknowledged that the NHS has made some improvements, but they are hard won and slow.

Clearly extra money put into any system will make some difference, even if it is simply relieving existing pressure. But this ten-year plan, with its huge influx of resources, should be able to make a significant difference if delivered effectively, and if it acknowledges that the answer to the NHS’s issues is not simply about putting in more and more taxpayers’ money. For example, Hancock is certainly on to something with his focus on using new technology and its ability to deliver better services and outcomes. Of course the NHS is littered with failed computer projects, but the Secretary of State needs to make technology advances his personal focus. The NHS should not be a place of decades-old technology, such as fax machines and pagers.

Hancock will not be able to push forward on all fronts, so choosing his battles carefully will be the wise thing to do. He will face considerable system inertia and resistance to change. It will quickly become apparent that there are no levers at the centre he can easily pull to get the change he wants. He will gradually be worn down, as his predecessors were, by the bureaucracy, lack of influence, and vested interests that exist everywhere in the system. Additionally, any vision that exists in the ten-year plan will be worn aware by political events until once again, in a few years, more money is again the only solution.

The Lansley changes have meant that substantial reform of the NHS is largely off the political agenda. NHS chiefs are well aware of this and are able to use their considerable knowledge of the system to block or weigh down anything of substance that they do not like. Yet they are at all times helpful, even supportive, of ministers with advice, but avoiding where possible transparency and accountability. Ministers are therefore left to tinker or focus on making a limited impact.

So the ten-year plan will get the NHS by for a few years but do not expect it to deliver much in the way of change, reform, or expected efficiency or productivity gains. Eventually, as health takes a bigger and bigger chunk out of the nation’s wealth without its services or efficiency markedly improving, a political party will get a significant electoral mandate for reform and to allow the hard questions on health service to be asked and answered.

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

Tim Bale: Johnson and Rees-Mogg are still in with a shout in the race to succeed May

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron, and co-runs the ESRC Party Members Project (PMP), which aims to study party membership in the six largest British parties.

In order to stay in office, the Prime Minister had to promise her party that she would be gone before the next election.  But there’s little agreement among Conservative members – and even less agreement among Conservative voters – as to who should replace her.

The ESRC-funded Party Members Project, run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, surveyed 1215 Conservative Party members between 17th and 22nd December, and a total of 1675 voters between 18-19 December, including 473 individuals who were intending to vote Conservative. The fieldwork was conducted by YouGov.

Respondents were asked the following question: Theresa May has said she will stand down as Conservative Party leader before the next scheduled general election in 2022.  Who would you most like to see replace her as Conservative Leader?  Neither group was presented with a pre-determined list of candidates but was instead asked to write in a name, and they were of course free to say that they didn’t know or weren’t sure, et cetera.

The table below gives the results, leaving out all those names that received only a handful or so of mentions – a group of people which included some relatively high-profile figures who are sometimes mentioned as potential candidates: Esther McVey is one example, since her name was suggested by only four Tory members (out of the 1162 who answered the leadership question) and no Tory voters. The table also contains a column allowing comparison with the results published by ConservativeHome on 31 December 2018, although their survey, unlike ours, gives respondents a list of names to choose from.

Tory Voters

(per cent)

Tory Members

(per cent)

ConHome

(per cent)

Boris Johnson 15 20 27
Jacob Rees-Mogg 7 15 4
Don’t Know 38 12 N/A
David Davis 4 8 7
Sajid Javid 2 8 13
Dominic Raab 3 7 12
Jeremy Hunt 2 6 9
Amber Rudd 4 5 5
Michael Gove 2 4 3
Penny Mordaunt 0 1 4

 

The results of the survey provide an insight into why Theresa May survived the confidence vote she was subjected to by some of her MPs just before Christmas. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to who might replace her – and that very uncertainty is bound to have worked to the PM’s advantage.

Clearly, Johnson and Rees-Mogg, both of them Brexiteers with high name-recognition, currently have the edge over other potential candidates to succeed May. Indeed, all the other candidates are beaten by ‘Don’t know’, even among Tory members. That said, when it comes to Tory voters, the same is true even of Johnson and Rees-Mogg.

Importantly, neither Johnson nor Rees-Mogg is so far ahead of the rest of the field as to be impossible to catch.  In any case, both are likely to find it hard to make it through the parliamentary round of voting that, according to the party’s rules, narrows the field to two candidates before grassroots members are given the final say.

Also striking is the dominance of men over women: at the moment it looks unlikely that the Conservatives will replace their second female leader with a third. Amber Rudd is almost certainly too much of a Remainer for a membership dominated not just by Brexiteers but by hard Brexiteers. Meanwhile Penny Mordaunt (mentioned by just 14 out of 1162 Tory members and by no Tory voters) clearly still has an awful lot to do.

The same looks to be true, however, of the three or four men likely to throw their hats into the ring – Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, and Jeremy Hunt, whose recent trip to Singapore has been widely interpreted as part of his ongoing leadership bid. And Michael Gove is not so far behind as to make a second crack at the top job a complete fool’s errand, in spite of the mess he made of the last leadership contest.

Perhaps the bookies are right in marking Gove at 10/1. This isn’t far off the 9/1 you’d get if you put your money on Hunt and the 8/1 you’d get on Raab, but still some way off the 6/1 offered for Johnson and, interestingly, Javid – who, like Hunt, many claim has been very much ‘on manoeuvres’ recently.

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Testing our survey against the latest polling of Party members. New evidence on Next Tory Leader.

Today’s Observer contains a brief summary of more polling of Conservative Party members for the ESCR Party Members Project.  It is squeezed into a larger story on Labour and Brexit, and the paper’s account doesn’t come with a table and full details.  None the less, it provides another opportunity to test Conservative Home’s monthly survey against a properly weighted opinion poll.  Mark Wallace looked at other recent evidence from the Project late last week.

Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis are “top of the party’s grassroots list” as preferred candidates to replace Theresa May, the Observer reports.  It says that Johnson “topped the poll” with 20 per cent, that Rees-Mogg “trailed in second on 15 per cent” and that  Davis “scored 8 per cent”.  We therefore presume that he came third.  Twelve per cent “said they did not know who should be the next leader”.  The paper adds that “Sajid Javid was the only figure who originally backed staying in the EU, among the top five names in the members’ wishlist”.

So if the Observer‘s summary is correct, the ESCR Project’s top five are –

  • Johnson – 20 per cent.
  • Rees-Mogg – 15 per cent.
  • Davis – 8 per cent.
  • Javid or a Conservative MP who backed Leave in the EU referendum.
  • Javid or a Conservative MP who backed Leave in the EU referendum.

And the top five candidates in our last Next Tory Leader survey were –

  • Johnson – 27 per cent.
  • Javid – 13 per cent.
  • Dominic Raab – 12 per cent.
  • Jeremy Hunt – 9 per cent.
  • Davis – 7 per cent.

As we write, we don’t know how many names, if any, the ESCR put to their sample of Party members – or which ones.  We currently offer no fewer than 19 names, all of whom have been spoken of as potential leadership candidates  None have asked us to remove them from the survey.  Without knowing more, it is impossible to draw precise conclusions, and the findings referred to in the Observer aren’t covered, as we write, in the latest relevant blog on the Project’s site.

None the less, a few points are obvious.  First, three of the ESCR’s top five overlap with three of our top five: Johnson, Davis, and Javid.  Jeremy Hunt was in our top five; if the Observer is correct, he isn’t in the ESCR’s.  Jacob-Rees Mogg is in the ESCR’s top five; he wasn’t in ours (he was seventh).  It is sometimes claimed that the ConHome panel is more Eurosceptic than Party membership as a whole.  That may be correct – but as matters stand this ESCR result actually finds the reverse, though it is of course only a single piece of evidence.

The ESCR Project is run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University.  Its last blog on its latest polling of Party members says that it surveyed 1215 ordinary Conservative Party members.  YouGov conducted the polling.  More when we have it.

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The first department to need boosting post-March. The Treasury? Business? Transport? No: Northern Ireland.

Liz Truss wants to merge three smaller departments into a bigger one in the wake of the spending review.  Business, Culture and Transport would be folded into a new Ministry of Infrastructure.  B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S lives!

More prosaically, there is a danger, in weighing up the idea – the Chief Secretary believes bold measures are needed to raise productivity – of confusing three different though linked aims.

The first is saving taxpayers’ money through more efficient administration.  Amalgamating departments can help to achieve this end.  But it is always possible to find savings within the present set-up.  For example, Jeremy Hunt cut staff costs in one of those departments, Culture, by the best part of half, during his term as Secretary of State under the Coalition.

The second is restructuring departments to deliver political priorities.  Again, this shouldn’t be Mission Impossible.  However, it can go wrong.  The classic example is Harold Wilson’s Department of Economic Affairs, a “department of long-term go” created to balance the Treasury, the “department of short-term stop”.  Led by George Brown, it fought the Treasury.  The Treasury fought back, under Jim Callaghan.  Short-term stop is still with us and long-term go left very quickly.

The third is signalling priorities through ministerial appointments.  Consider the department at the head of the Chief Secretary’s list, Business.  Gordon Brown galvanised it by sending in a big hitter, Peter Mandelson.  David Cameron responded by appointing another as his shadow – Ken Clarke.

In that particular case, structural changes were made.  (Mandelson’s new department gained responsibility for universities.)  But these aren’t always desirable or even necessary.  By way of illustration, we offer a post-March 29 example.

If Theresa May’s deal eventually passes the Commons, Great Britain and Northern Ireland will have different regulatory regimes, assuming the backstop eventually kicks on.  Some argue that the two parts of the UK will potentially have different customs arrangements too.  This aspect of the deal has knock-on implications for Scotland, and therefore the Union, as a whole.

In the event of No Deal, it is possible that support for Irish unity and/or Scottish independence will grow faster than would otherwise be the case.  There is no way of knowing.  But Unionists should be alive to the possibility.  Relations with Ireland would certainly be tested in these circumstances, with an obvious read-across for Northern Ireland.  Whatever happens, we have paid for neglecting them.

In short, the latter will need a senior Tory player as Secretary of State when the next Cabinet reshuffle comes.  That person will need to know the Irish political scene, be on civil terms with the DUP and have a feel for how the island ticks.

Our suggestion is David Lidington.  He won’t be top of the DUP’s Christmas card list, but the party knows him well from his time as David Cameron’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and vice-versa.  As a former Europe Minister he is familiar with the Irish side of the political equation: indeed, he has already been operating, in effect, as Theresa May’s emissary to Dublin.

Meanwhile, it follows that his replacement in the Cabinet Office would be tasked, as Lidington now is, with establishing how the whole UK can best work post-March 29.  In the event of No Deal, the challenge will be obvious – testing the UK Governance Group, presently charged with constitutional matters, to its limits.  In the event of No Brexit, it will be more subtle, but still present.

Our reflex is to send for Michael Gove when new thinking and action are required.  Perhaps we yield to it too readily.  And in any event, he can’t be everywhere.  Who else fits the bill?  Required: energy, brains, eloquence, seriousness and a passionate attachment to the Union.  These qualities are not in long supply.

The bold solution would be to send for a rising politician who has all five.

Rory Stewart is a Scot representing an English borders seat who is across the independence issue, having campaigned against it fervently in 2015.  He would not, repeat not, be Scottish or Welsh Secretary – any more than Lidington is now.  But a feel for what happens north of the border in particular would come in very useful.

These changes could be made without any structural change at all.  Or else DexEU could be folded into a new Department of Constitutional Affairs, with Stewart in charge, Chloe Smith staying on as the junior Minister, and perhaps a Scottish MP coming in too.

In which case, Steve Barclay could run the Cabinet Office.  Or Oliver Letwin return to do so.  Or Dominic Raab, if you prefer.  What’s that, you ask? B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S?  Well, it’s a long story.  Our theme today is shorter: mind “our precious Union”, post-March 29.

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Hunt seizes the top spot in our Cabinet League Table, but overall ratings continue to struggle

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2018-12-30-at-23.56.40 Hunt seizes the top spot in our Cabinet League Table, but overall ratings continue to struggle ToryDiary Theresa May MP Sajid Javid MP Philip Hammond MP John Bercow MP Jeremy Hunt MP Geoffrey Cox MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Andrea Leadsom MP

The above chart shows our final Cabinet League Table of 2018. Given that last month saw the worst ever approval ratings in the history of this question on ConservativeHome’s Party members survey, it is unsurprising that this month’s picture is still pretty grim.

In total, 14 members of the Cabinet have net negative ratings – only two of last month’s record tally of 16 have managed to escape minus figures.

Andrea Leadsom, presumably on the back of her remarkable question to the Speaker over allegations of sexism, leaps from -16.3 to +34.2, a dramatic change of fortunes that I suspect illustrates how deeply many Conservative members dislike John Bercow as much as anything else.

The second Cabinet minister who escaped from the reputational dungeon in the course of the last few weeks is Liam Fox, who registers a rise from -11.8 in our November survey to +7.7 this month. That will no doubt be welcome news for the International Trade Secretary, but it’s somewhat cold comfort when you consider that in January’s survey he was in fourth place with a mighty +60.6.

At the top of the table, Jeremy Hunt sees his rating improve from +41.7 to +60.6, and leapfrogs Geoffrey Cox to seize the top spot. The Foreign Secretary has certainly been active, and has evidently been impressing the grassroots with his performance. Further announcements since the survey closed – of a review of policy on the oppression of Christians, and of his proposals for post-Brexit economic reform – are unlikely to have hurt him, either.

Jumping from fifth place to third is Penny Mordaunt, who almost doubles her rating from +19.2 to +37.9. Reports that she is campaigning within Cabinet for a Managed No Deal will have aided her in regaining some of the points which she lost when the Prime Minister’s proposed deal was published.

And that’s really what this month’s story is about – for those in positive territory, at least. Some ministers in the upper third are managing to recover lost ground faster than others, while several of those in the bottom third are continuing to sink.

Chris Grayling loses another 11.4 points – on the back of the drone farce – to overtake the Chancellor at the very bottom of the table. Hammond manages to slip another 1.3. Theresa May is essentially bobbing level at -41.6 from last month’s -42.

Meanwhile, the Chief Whip has lost 13.5 points, falling to -34.4, I’d suggest due in no small part to reports he had been talking to Labour MPs to secure opposition votes for the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan. David Gauke, too, continues to suffer further damage by association with the proposed deal, losing 19.2 points to plumb -25.5, following high profile comments criticising No Deal proponents in Cabinet for selling “unicorns”, which he pledged to “slay”.

While last month’s Cabinet League Table was pretty dire all round, this month’s is a more complex picture. Some are clearly recovering better and faster from the harm done to them by May’s deal than others – and the table overall is diverging. The top ten ministers saw their combined score rise from +206.1 to +339, while the bottom ten saw their combined score fall from -302.7 to -351.2.

Overall, that means the Cabinet as a whole benefited from a small rise in its total rating, from -140.5 to -16. However, that still makes this the second time ever that our survey has delivered an overall negative approval rating for the Cabinet. Putting this month in the context of the last year is quite stark:

Westlake Legal Group League-Table-Totals-2018 Hunt seizes the top spot in our Cabinet League Table, but overall ratings continue to struggle ToryDiary Theresa May MP Sajid Javid MP Philip Hammond MP John Bercow MP Jeremy Hunt MP Geoffrey Cox MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Andrea Leadsom MP   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com