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Westlake Legal Group > John McDonnell MP

Mark Harper: If the Conservative Party is not the party of sound money, then what on earth are we for?

Mark Harper is a former Chief Whip, and is MP for the Forest of Dean.

Recently, I made my first ‘appearance’ on BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers, where they said that the only interesting thing about me was being a Chartered Accountant.  Now, this may not make me Box Office – but at least I know how to balance the books.

As the Conservative leadership race has gone on, both candidates have increased the amount of taxpayers’ money they have spent. Between them, adding up estimates by the independent and respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the two remaining candidates have already clocked up tax and spending promises of around £51 billion per year.

The recent BBC documentary series on Margaret Thatcher reminded me of a fundamental truth that she talked about at the 1983 Conservative Party Conference: ‘If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay—that “someone else” is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money’.

And that truth is one of the reasons why I’m a Conservative. If the Conservative Party is not the Party of sound money, then what on earth are we for?

What do I mean by sound money?  There are two effective checks on state spending: it’s Government committing to live within its means, and ensuring people keep more of their own money.

In other words, reducing debt as a share of the economy, and reducing the tax burden.

Living within your means is clearly something that Labour doesn’t believe in – you only have to look at their policies. Take John McDonnell’s plan to nationalise the water industry in England for instance; according to the Social Market Foundation, that could cost as much as £90 billion and add five per cent to the national debt.  Lots of cost with no benefit to consumers or citizens.

When we came to power in 2010, taking over from Labour, the Government was borrowing £1 in every £4 we spent.  The budget deficit was just under ten per cent of the size of the economy, at £150 billion a year.  We had to make difficult decisions to get the public finances back under control and Labour opposed us every step of the way.

Despite Labour’s opposition, we have reduced the cash deficit to £42.9 billion—down by over 70 per cent —and the deficit as a proportion of the size of the economy is down by 75 per cent to 2.4 per cent.

We should remember, and stick to, our 2015 and 2017 Manifesto commitments to reduce national debt as a share of GDP.

The tax burden is at a 50 year high.  That’s not a comfortable place for a Conservative Government to be. As Conservatives, we want to reduce the tax burden over time to allow hard working people to keep more of their own money. Recent polling by the Onward think tank showed that the majority of people, both young and old, want to keep more of the money they earn.

We do not help people with the cost of living by putting their taxes up. Our focus should be on reducing taxes for lower and middle income earners. We should always remember that the purpose of taxes is only to raise what is necessary to pay for public services and things which only the state can do, such as defence and security.

As Conservatives, we should also recognise that there is a difference between rates of tax and how much revenue is raised from them.  Conservative chancellors from Nigel Lawson to George Osborne have recognised that cutting tax rates, reducing allowances and simplifying the tax system can lead to collecting more tax revenue. Lawson did this with income tax, Osborne with corporation tax.

There are always many pressures on public spending. We need to invest in social care, our schools and colleges, policing and the NHS.  One of the biggest challenges facing the new Prime Minister will be their approach to public spending and the need to set priorities.

A good policy to follow would be to go back to the pre-financial crash Conservative policy to share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts, spending increases and reducing debt. Each year we should look at the growth and tax forecasts made independently by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), and the pressures on public services to reach a balanced approach.

These decisions need to be taken in a careful, thoughtful way using methods which already exist like a Comprehensive Spending Review and the annual Budget. The Government has already announced a Comprehensive Spending Review which will set out spending plans for the next few years, until just beyond the next General Election. It’s going to require some very tough decisions, to be made by the new Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It is perfectly reasonable for leadership candidates to set out their preferred direction of travel in specific areas of tax and spending, but the scale of those commitments should be determined by the new Prime Minister and Cabinet in a proper, balanced process.

The new Conservative Leader and Prime Minister has three tasks – deliver Brexit, govern as a Conservative, and beat Labour at the next general election. Key to defeating the Labour Party will be to win the argument on the economy. And winning the argument on the economy means winning the argument for lower taxes, for sensible levels of public spending (which involves making tough choices) and for reducing the burden of national debt.

As this leadership race comes to an end, we should not lose sight of the real finishing line – the next general election. We need to ensure that we finish this leadership contest in a better position to win it.

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Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – We must ensure that no-one is left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stanley Baldwin said the Conservative Party stood for “real England” – a Party defined by voluntary organisations and Christian patriotism, little platoons and big national causes.

His Conservative Party of the 1920s faced an upstart opposition in a Labour Party that had usurped the Liberals to become the second party of British politics. Outlining the growing threat from Labour, Baldwin described them as being for a nation of class divisions and over-mighty trade unions.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has come full circle and is once again challenging the success and legitimacy of our free-market economy.

A century on from Baldwin, and despite being the natural party of government, our Party has often struggled to break out from its vote base of shire counties and market towns. It’s over 30 years since we won a majority of over 21 at a general election.

But there are signs of change. Our electoral success in recent years has been driven by securing more votes in Labour’s industrial heartlands. Dudley, Mansfield, Copeland and Teesside have all elected Conservatives in recent years, whilst the West Midlands and Tees Valley have elected Conservative Mayors on a region-wide basis.

This Conservative momentum in areas once dominated by trade unions and the Old Left shows that our message of hope, personal freedom and low taxation can re-define our path to a majority.

Yet our progress in these Labour heartlands is not concrete and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A pro-Leave electorate that has trusted another party for so long will be looking to the Conservatives to not only deliver Brexit, but ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution either. As I said in yesterday’s article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR].

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had a strong leader with a firm ideology. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. Through deregulation and an unwavering belief in the free market, the City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. From the stuttering, strike-crippled, state-dominated closed market that Thatcher inherited, the foundations were laid for rapid economic growth and the business-friendly, pro-innovation environment we enjoy today.

Our next Leader will also find themselves at an inflection point. They will have to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as artificial intelligence, big data and automation change our economy and society beyond recognition – and ensure that every community and region benefits from the wealth that it creates. Whilst Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain’s economy for the better is undeniable, there are mining and industrial communities who felt they were left behind as other parts of the country raced ahead. To win a majority at future elections, today’s Conservatives need to attract working class and northern votes, so we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to achieve for our next leader.

That’s the reason why, whilst we still have an opportunity to shape the 4IR, our policies must be focussed on creating an Opportunity Society centred around social mobility powered by lifelong learning, high-quality education and skills training for everyone at every stage of their lives. Our Opportunity Society must be more than just a short-term policy objective. It has to be an integral part of the future of capitalism and a key part of Conservatism 4.0.

As robots slowly replace human workers, many on the radical-left are arguing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a minimum wage paid by the Government to every citizen regardless of their productive capacity. Every single country that has trialled UBI – from Kenya to Finland – has found it expensive and ineffective. Research by the International Labour Office has estimated that average costs would be equivalent to 20-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. In Britain, this would be more than double the annual budget of the NHS, yet John McDonell says a Corbyn-led Labour Govnement would trial it. These are just two of the reasons why we Conservatives should reject UBI as the solution to growing automation in the 4IR.

The truth is work has always paid, and work for humans will always exist. Work drives our economy, multiplies and makes the world richer. It takes people out of poverty and gives them purpose, and this will continue to be the case in the 4IR. In fact, many more new jobs are likely to be created than are lost to robots because the technology of the 4IR will drive economic growth, which in turn will create new and more interesting jobs, especially in new tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, precision medicines and AI-powered creative industries.

Not enough is made of our job creation miracle since 2010, which has seen our economy put on three million new jobs. As we enjoy the lowest unemployment rates since the 1970s, we need to re-emphasise the value of work and the benefits to be derived from a good job. A UBI would be defeatist, signifying that humans had ceased to be useful in a world of machines, and be the antithesis of social mobility – there would be no need to work hard to move upwards on the income and living standards scale if we are all paid to stay at the same level. A UBI would also stall our economy through either crippling debt on the public purse or new taxes imposed on innovation. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Robot Tax would simply mean a left behind country – a nation that fails to attract foreign investment and which becomes known for its anti-innovation approach to technology.

Instead, true devolution must be at the heart of delivering an Opportunity Society and making sure no community or individual is left behind. Our next Prime Minister must invest in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine so regional economic growth is put in the hands of regional leaders. The benefits of the 4IR, from new start-ups to overseas investment, must be enjoyed beyond the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. As Juergen Maier who led the Government’s Made Smarter Review, argued, it’s about creating an “innovation climate” in regions such as the North.

We cannot expect the heavy industries of the past to return, but instead our focus should be on ensuring the new technologies of the future are exploited in every area of the country to create new jobs and rising skills levels in every community. The Liverpool City Region understand this, and have already taken the initiative. They have launched LCR 4.0, an ambitious plan to support manufacturing and advanced engineering organisations in the region by funding practical support to transform businesses through digital innovation. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive. Conservatism 4.0 should support more initiatives like this.

Moving towards a system of local business rates retention will also encourage further investment in skills and business support from local authorities as they reap the rewards of encouraging local growth. There should also be more scope for local taxation and decentralisation as a central tenet of Conservatism 4.0 to empower local areas to evaluate their workforces and set-up true long-term strategies for delivering local economic growth, building on the work of existing Local Enterprise Partnerships and new Local Industrial Strategies.

Conservatism has always evolved and must do so again as we enter a new technological age by putting social mobility and reginal devolution centre stage. They are the two key building blocks to ensuring that every community and region can benefit from technology-driven economic growth. While Thatcherism delivered for the Third Industrial Revolution, we need a new brand of Conservatism to build an Opportunity Society for the Fourth. My final article in this series, published tomorrow, will set out the four principles that should guide us as we re-calibrate Conservatism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This article is the second in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

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Iain Dale: Why shouldn’t the Conservatives welcome back the Kippers?

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

The fire in Notre Dame on Monday was a tragedy in so many ways – but one which unusually didn’t involve any loss of life. In a slightly twisted way, it’s probably an event which will work to the political benefit of Emmanuel Macron.

His popularity ratings are at an all-time low. Just 27 per cent of the French people approve of the job he is doing. They think he’s getting increasingly regal – not unknown for a French President (think Chirac, Mitterand) – and they have no confidence in his economic reforms. They see the havoc wrought by the Gilets Jaunes each weekend for the last six months, and realise that their President not only in large part caused these protests but also has no idea how to quell them.

Politicians are often judged by how they react to national tragedies and disasters. They present a real opportunity to either fall flat on your face if you strike the wrong tone, or capture the mood of the nation if you get it right.

Macron lost little time in visiting the scene. I suspect his presence wasn’t exactly welcomed by the ‘Pompiers’ who were still trying to douse the fire, but he would have been damned if he hadn’t turned up promptly…and was no doubt damned anyway for turning up with what some saw as indecent haste.

It will be interesting to see whether the Gilets Jaunes decide to cancel their protests in Paris and around the country this weekend. If they do, it could provide some much-needed respite for the beleaguered President.

– – – – – – – – – – –

One consequence of the fact that Britain will now have to take part in the European elections is that Nigel Farage can’t present his LBC show for the next seven weeks.  Under OfCom rules, candidates are not allowed to present radio or TV shows during the campaign. So bang go my weekends – as I’ll be covering for him on Sunday mornings, while Eddie Mair will cover his weekday 6-7pm hour.

Last Sunday, I had Anna Soubry in the studio for an hour doing a 30 minute interview and then taking calls for another 30 minutes. She was in typical robust formm but was rather skewered by the final caller who asked her if it was true that one of her reasons for wanting to remain in the EU was because she wanted to reform it from the inside. Yes, she said. That was certainly the case.

The caller then said: “Well why haven’t you applied the same principle to remaining in the Conservative Party, Anna?” All I could think of was why hadn’t I thought of asking her that question! And that’s why phone-ins are the perfect example of the concept of “Wisdom of Crowds”. #BackInMyBox

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According to Guido Fawkes, the number of Conservative Party members has increased by 30,000 in recent months to 150,000. Some fear that is proof that there is “entryism” from people who have only joined because they want a vote in the coming leadership election.

If many of these people are ex-UKIPers, can they really be described as ‘entryists’, given that they were almost certainly Conservative supporters before they defected to UKIP. Surely the party should be embracing them with open arms and welcoming them home?

– – – – – – – – – – –

The Conservative leadership contest is well and truly underway – though, for all we know, it could last for the rest of the year. This week, Sajid Javid has made an impact with his speech on crime.

The more personal part of his speech, where he claimed he could easily have been drawn into a life of crime, really hit home with a lot of people. Some say that he lacks the emotional intelligence to be a political leader, but this speech did a lot to address that. Expect him to do much more to show his personality and character over the coming weeks.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Wednesday, it was announced that I’m doing a show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It’s called Iain Dale – All Talk… and I’ll be doing ‘In Conversation’ style interviews with all sorts of people from the world of politics and the media.

My guests will include: Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan, Kirsty Wark, Christiane Amanpour, Sayeeda Warsi, Sarah Smith, Johnny Mercer, Heidi Allen, Layla Moran, Alan Johnson, Fi Glover, Sarah Smith, Jacqui Smith, Louise Casey, Jess Phillips and John McDonnell. It will runs from 31 July-11 August at 4pm each afternoon at the Gilded Balloon. Tickets are available from the Gilded Balloon website.

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