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The limits of the LibDems

The main electoral impact of the Liberal Democrats in modern times has been to help deny the Conservatives a working Commons majority.  They have done so regardless of whether the latter have been in government or opposition.

In 1974, the Conservatives were in government, the Liberal vote surged, Edward Heath failed to win a majority and Jeremy Thorpe refused to enter a coalition with him.  In 2010, the Tories were in opposition, the LibDem vote rose slightly, David Cameron failed to gain a majority – and Nick Clegg took his party into coalition.

It is significant that sweeping LibDem gains haven’t tended to harm Labour.  In 1997, the party gained 25 seats, taking its total to 34.  In the same election, Tony Blair won a landslide.  He and Paddy Ashdown had crushed the Conservatives in a pincer movement.

The tumultuous effects of Brexit have resuscitated the LibDems and are reviving their prospects.  Coalition nearly killed them, at least at Westminster.  But the EU referendum has given them a new lease of life.  Once again, it is most evident in areas which otherwise return Conservative MPs or councils.

Out of their 14 MPs in England and Wales, all those elected as Liberal Democrats in 2017 had the Tories in second place.  In the local elections last spring, all their councils gained were in yellow/blue areas.  Their revival tends to be concentrated in areas in which they flourished between roughly the late Thatcher and late Cameron eras.

This is the context in which to viewed their latest shift on Brexit, the opportunities it is bringing them, and the defections it is gaining them.  The shift to revocation takes place in the context of their competiton with Labour.  The more red votes the party can squeeze in blue/yellow marginals, the more seats it is likely to win.

So as Labour gradually commits itself more explicitly to Remain, to be delivered through the medium of a second referendum, the more the LibDems must try to outflank it.  Junking the referendum and going straight for revocation is the obvious means of doing so.

The ploy carries risks for Jo Swinson’s party.  Revocation may play well in South-West London or university-type seats.  But it is hard to see how it will be a plus in Brexity South West of England.  Swinson seems to be going for broke in the Remain heartlands of 2016: the capital itself and what might loosely be called the greater South East.  Plus Scotland.

In her perfect world, the Liberal Democrats will sweep up London seats in which they have not been previously competitive.  Hence Chuka Umanna’s flight from Streatham towards the Cities of London and Westminster.  She may also be hoping to have a crack at Labour in some of its north London constituencies.  The prospect is agitating pro-EU Labour MPs such as Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry to push harder for Remain.

It is tempting to write off the Revocation policy.  After all, Swinson can only implement it herself with the Commons majority that she won’t win.  That clip of a prosperous-looking LibDem audience whooping it up for Guy Verhofstadt’s imperalist ravings won’t impress Revocation-sceptic centrist voters.

But the shift will have an effect on the conversation at Westminster.  Were Swinson to win that mythical majority, Revocation would be one thing: she would have won the right to implement it, fair and square.  But the policy will be quite another if Brexit doesn’t take place on October 31, and MPs begin to drift in its direction without a mandate.

That would be to flick a V-sign not only at 17 million Leave voters but the entire EU referendum result – with consequences for the stability of our already shaken politics that are potentially shattering.  Revocation in that context would be the real extremism, not No Deal, for which at least there is a mandate if necessary.

Swinson’s gambit may blow up.  It could just be that LiDem support in blue/red marginals collapses, handing the Conservatives new seats in the Midlands and North, and that these outnumber LibDem gains in the blue/yellow marginals.  Or that the Luciana Berger and Angela Smith defections to the party are the start of something bigger

Four-way politics in England and Wales complicates all these calculations, as does its equivalent north of the border: Swinson herself could lose her seat to the SNP, which took it from her 2015, before she won it back two years later.  Which reminds us that there will be more to any forthcoming general election than Brexit.

This should lead us to look at the LibDems in the round, as their conference continues today.  Coalition sobered them up, at least for a while, and provided some good Ministers: Steve Webb’s work with Iain Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions stands out.

But most of the stars of that era have either left the Commons or are leaving: Clegg, Webb, David Laws, Vince Cable.  Their successors look less impressive.  And the Tory defectors, Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah, may not be in the Commons for much longer (and nor may the Labour ones, come to think of it.)

The LibDems have a core problem that they cannot shake off.  In local government, they may well revive further.  In the European elections, they can build on their second place won this year. In Scotland, they could conceivably govern as part of some rainbow coalition.  That is also possible in Wales, where they are currently weak.  Westminster is a different proposition.

For a lesson of the Cameron years is that first past the post sets the party up for punishment if it goes into coalition.  Doing so tends to have the effect of depressing smaller parties in any event, as Paddy Ashdown used to point out, regardless of the electoral system in question. But first past the post intensifies the effect.

Were the LibDems to go into coalition with the Conservatives again, their lefter-leaning voters would desert them.  The reverse would be true were they to go into coalition with Labour.  (The Lib/Lab pact scarcely helped the Liberals in 1979.)  In any event, a lot of LibDem support comes from protest voters.  In 2015, many of these decamped to UKIP, in defiance of any ideological consistency.

This suggests that the most durable option for the LibDems in any future hung Parliament would be confidence and supply.  It is almost impossible to imagine Swinson going into coalition with Jerermy Corbyn or Boris Johnson in any case.

No Ministerial cars; no red boxes.  No more posts as Deputy Prime Minister, or LibDem Ministers shaping government policy.  It is a grim fate for any ambitious politician to accept, but the LibDem mentality is different to that of Labour, as well as us Conservatives.  They are used to marginality, being squeezed – and the joys of irresponsible opposition. Brexit has changed much for them, but less than one might think.

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

Tony Devenish: Having a Prime Minister who understands how local government works is hugely welcome

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

Even his fiercest detractors could hardly deny that the first few weeks of Boris Johnson’s premiership has sent a much-needed jolt of energy through British politics. It is almost as though a blonde hurricane has swept through Downing Street, with a new-look cabinet, a robust approach to the Brexit negotiations, and radical policies on infrastructure, policing, and education all in a month’s work for our new premier.

Johnson’s fresh leadership style, combined with these new announcements, and the ongoing Brexit psychodrama means that the news agenda has rapidly reached full capacity. There is little room for anything else, especially “unsexy” issues like local government. When was the last time you saw a story about the Government’s approach to our local councils elevated to the top of the news headlines?

The noise of the 24-hour news cycle has so far distracted from the fact that the new Government could quietly become a great reforming administration when it comes to local government – not least because is crammed full of highly capable individuals who are well regarded amongst council leaders.

First, the main man himself. For more than a decade Johnson has been a politician with a global reach, so it is easy to forget that for eight years he ran a regional authority. Listen to Johnson for any length of time and it becomes clear that his time as Mayor of London has had a profound impact on his politics. Having someone as Prime Minister who understands how local government works and appreciates the challenges faced by local authorities should be warmly welcomed by councillors and members of devolved authorities like me and even Johnson’s successor as Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

No Prime Minister is an island and each premier will rely heavily on their Downing Street team. In Johnson’s case, Sir Eddie Lister, his Chief of Staff, will provide much of the strategic direction within Number 10. Few people are more respected than Sir Eddie in local government circles, after all, he was Johnson’s right-hand man at City Hall and the successful leader of the legendary Wandsworth Council from 1992 to 2011. Sir Eddie has lived and breathed housing issues having been Chairman of Homes England – the Government’s “housing accelerator” – where he presided over a jump in housing supply (housing supply increased from 124,000 in 2012/13 to 222,000 in 2017/18). There can be little doubt that Sir Eddie will be a friend to local government.

Along with Robert Jenrick – the new Secretary of State for Local Government and the first ever cabinet minister born in the 1980s – we have a first-rate local government team at the very top of the tree. They are well placed to put in place a series of changes which could make our local authorities work better for real people.

Here are just a few modest suggestions for the new Government which could make a big difference:


Getting more homes built will undeniably at the top of the Government’s to-do list – especially in London and the South East.

Finally getting to grips with public sector land banking should be an absolute priority for MHCLG. For too long, swathes of publicly owned land has simply sat vacant while people have been crying out for affordable new homes. The Government needs to scrap the bureaucratic hurdles to dealing with land banking and force public bodies to shift this land to either housing associations or the private sector for development within a time line.

Rumours that the Prime Minister is planning to drastically raise the threshold for paying stamp duty are very encouraging. Along with expanding housing supply, this move would be a game changer for aspiring homeowners – especially in London – who simply cannot afford the costs of buying a home of their own. This, in turn, should incentivise developers to build more affordable homes and keep rents from increasing.

Public sector efficiency

With many public sector leaders on a larger salary than the Prime Minister, our public authorities should be consistently and unfailingly offering excellent value for money. Unfortunately in many cases this simply isn’t happening, but a few changes could have a transformative impact on the efficiency of the public sector. For example, public sector bodies should be encouraged to drop the assumption that eliminating fixed term contracts and shifting all staff onto permanent contacts (which include a gold-plated pension) is always the prudent thing to do.

Increasing efficiency doesn’t have to come off the back of yet another big local government re-structure. Frankly, authorities have had enough of re-organisation mania and it’s time to allow local leaders the space they need to get the best out of their teams. A longer-term funding package would be welcome so that authorities have the ability to plan ahead in a more effective way.

Social care

Reforming our social care system has stalled as a result of Brexit, but this doesn’t change the fact that this issue desperately needs addressing. If Westminster doesn’t have the capacity, let local government lead on this issue. There is no reason why first-class local leaders like West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, with their first-hand experience of the social care system, shouldn’t lead on the forthcoming Green Paper. This would also help to win over cross-party support

Conservatives instinctively believe in pushing power downwards and outwards to Edmund Burke’s “little platoons”. This Government now has a golden opportunity to spread this enthusiasm, and get people talking about the importance of local government delivery again.

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

Kevin Hollinrake and Rosalind Beck: Rent controls would hit London hardest

Kevin Hollinrake is MP for Thirsk and Malton. Dr Rosalind Beck is a doctor of Criminology and a Conservative Party member in South Wales.

Most people assume when you have a shortage of a product, the answer is to create more of it. Currently, in the context of the UK housing shortage, however, this is not seen as the answer; instead, the thrust of policy is to play musical chairs with what already exists.

This is seen, for example, in policies to force the transfer of houses from one tenure (private and social rented housing) to another (owner-occupation), via punitive taxation and regulatory measures in the private rented sector (PRS) and by Right to Buy in the social sector. This does nothing to alleviate the original problem – a shortage of housing.

What’s worse, as pointed out in a recent report by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Radomir Tylecote, some of the ‘solutions’ in turn create new problems, for which further solutions must be found.

Theresa May’s sudden decision to scrap Section 21 notices in the private rented sector (PRS) is a case in point. If this knee-jerk decision goes ahead it will mean tenants gain indefinite tenancies; this is because landlords won’t be able to serve a notice on them unless they breach specified conditions of their contracts, which would have to be proved in a court of law. Scrapping Section 21 would be disastrous for the PRS and we are hoping that this will not be pursued by the new administration.

Of course, no sooner did Theresa May make this announcement, than George Monbiot, amongst others on the left, predictably called for the next ‘solution’ to the problems this will create:

“The government’s promise to repeal section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, which enables owners of property to evict tenants without good reason, will achieve little if it does not come with a cap on rent rises: otherwise landlords can engineer de facto evictions by hiking the price.”

And so the clamour for rent controls began, notably with Sadiq Khan demanding powers to introduce them in London. He has made this his flagship policy, despite having no idea how it would work and what the impact would be.  Sadiq Khan’s team don’t know if leftie rent controls will help Londoner.

Although it is in the Labour Manifesto to introduce them nationwide, the more immediate threat is in London, so we will focus on that here.

The special case of London.

In recent years, it has often been stated that rents are soaring everywhere in the UK. This is false as rents have generally tracked inflation and in London rent rises are already well below inflation, increasing by just 0.9 per cent in the year to June compared to CPI standing at two per cent.

This is therefore a curious time to demand rent controls, as it could mean increases being capped at, for example, 2.5 per cent.  This could result in 2.5 per cent becoming a target and rents rising more than they would have otherwise done.

To support the policy of rent controls, emotive arguments are often deployed, especially about the experience of renters in London. One hears how expensive rents prevent them from saving so they can later buy a home of their own.

This is of course regrettable, but there are two sides to every coin and two sets of circumstances to look at; those of the recipient of the housing and those of the provider of it. Without the willingness of the latter, there would be no rented housing. However, in a currently febrile atmosphere, with hardly anyone willing to speak up for private landlords, their perspective is, rather stupidly, rarely considered.  Taking no account of landlords in this, is not only bad for them; it is extremely damaging also to the interests of tenants.

An analysis of the situation demonstrates that rent controls would in fact devastate the PRS in London, where the proportion of private rentals is higher than anywhere else in the country, at around 40 per cent of all housing.

To illustrate this, one only has to compare, for example, Bermondsey, in London, with Mountain Ash in the South Wales valleys.

In South Wales many two-bed houses can be bought for under £65,000 and be rented out for under £100 per week. This rent amounts to a gross yield of 7.4 per cent.

In contrast, a similar two-bed home costing £500,000 in Bermondsey would typically be able to command a rent of £1,550 pm. The gross yield here would be 3.7 per cent.

As one landlord explained to us:

“Some London tenants might think their rent should be capped or reduced to some arbitrary figure set by Government, so that they can manage without worrying. But on a £500,000 house, the landlord is likely to have put down a deposit of £100,000  from their own savings. They will only do that if they can get some return on their money. Does the Government and the tenant think that a previously unknown-to-them private individual – that is, a landlord –  is going to reduce their charges so that they make nothing or even a loss?  What landlord would agree to do this? How would this subsidising be sustainable over the long-term?”

Because £1,550 pm rent seems a lot to most people, Khan and others misrepresent this as though London landlords are committing some heinous crime in seeking a modest gross return of not much more than 3%.When other costs, including mortgage payments and maintenance, are taken into account the figure is more likely to be around one per cent, if that.

Somebody needs to explain business, yields, returns and commercial decisions to Khan, as he clearly does not understand the small margins involved in the PRS.

In a situation where yields are already so tenuous, if caps are put on what landlords can charge, many will make nothing on their investment. The new tax levy, known as Section 24, has already pushed many landlords into a loss. Caps would push this further and many landlords would be forced to sell up.

There are further complications. Rent controls would also be likely, for example, to mean that a time comes when rents no longer meet lenders’ requirements – which have become more stringent because of Government legislation – and the landlord may not be able to re-mortgage when their mortgage term come to an end.  In such circumstances, landlords will have to sell up, evicting the tenants in the process.

As Richard Lambert of the National Landlords Association has said:

“Sadiq Khan… needs to tell us why rent control won’t reduce the number of private rental homes available to Londoners, as it did before, and as it has done everywhere else it has been introduced.”

Some people might welcome this, thinking that first time buyers can buy the sold houses. They need a reality check; such homes are way out of most first-time buyers’ league and have been for decades. Indeed, it is only because landlords have been willing to let out such homes for a small gain (capital appreciation may also occur, but is not guaranteed), that any tenants can afford to live in these areas. This has been critical in supporting the London economy, but the contribution of private landlords has not only not been recognised; it has been derided as though they have done something wrong.

In addition, were caps to be introduced, not only would current landlords bale out, but this would lead to a complete halt on further investment. One need only look to Barcelona, where the Mayor, Ada Colau recently legislated to force developers to include a 30 per cent social homes quota in all new developments of a certain size. Colau boasted that this would lead to 300 new affordable homes in the city each year. Instead, as the quotas make new development unviable, building has collapsed in the city; developers have simply taken their investment elsewhere.

Similarly, who is going to choose to build homes to rent in London, when rent caps are in place, meaning scant, if any return on their shareholders’ investments? Why would they not just go elsewhere?

It is thus rather galling that this issue comes up time and time again with no-one learning from the international and historical experience of rent controls.

The lessons are:

  • Rent caps kill investment.
  • Rent caps lead to a contraction in supply
  • Rent caps lead to a lowering of quality in private rented housing.
  • Rent caps are not a solution to a problem.
  • Rent caps create new problems.


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

Johnson’s critics are confronted by the dreadful possibility that he will make a success of Brexit

It is dawning on Boris Johnson’s critics that they may have underestimated him. Until recently, many of them were content to think, or at least assume, “Boris Johnson disagrees with me, therefore he must be stupid.”

There are innumerable variants of this argument. A favourite version runs, “Boris Johnson wrote articles for and against EU membership, therefore he must be an opportunist.”

Often the holders of such views are people of some education. Richard J. Evans, until 2014 Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, states in a piece published yesterday in Prospect that “Conservatives know Johnson is lazy, chaotic and superficial”.

Do Conservatives know this? I have often quoted Charles Moore’s description of Johnson as “a lazy workaholic”, but that is not the same thing.

Moore coined that expression in The Spectator in April 2012, near the end of Johnson’s successful campaign for re-election as Mayor of London. The whole paragraph is worth quoting, for it gives a better insight than Evans has yet acquired into Johnson’s conservatism:

“Like everyone, especially his old friends and colleagues, I can think of unkind things to say about Boris Johnson. He is a lazy workaholic — too busy doing things to do them thoroughly. He can be exasperating. But as the mayoral election campaign reaches its climax, I must dispute the central current criticism of Boris — that he does not really stand for anything. He may not have yards of clear policies, but his essential message is important and genuine. He believes in freedom, and has a strong preference for letting people get on with their lives without official molestation. He is equally genuine in seeing his voters as Londoners, rather than blacks, whites, Muslims, gays etc. In all this he remains the opposite of Ken Livingstone, who sees politics wholly in terms of groups who can be made his clients with public money and then enlisted for his relentless assault on this country’s liberty, identity and tradition. It is actually more important now that Boris should win than it was four years ago.”

But what of the claim by Evans that Johnson is “chaotic”? At the start of his mayoralty in 2008, things certainly were rather chaotic: he did not have competent people lined up for the key jobs at City Hall.

It appears to me he has learned from that mistake, and from the disorganisation of his abortive leadership bid in 2016. This year’s leadership campaign was professional, and he had competent people lined up for the key jobs in Downing Street.

Mujtaba Rahman reported at the start of this week on Twitter that “it seems the PM did manage to impress his German & French counterparts last week”, and quoted a “senior official” who said of Johnson:

“In terms of substance, it is clear he has dived into the issue far more than people think. The Boris that visited us was serious; the Prime Minister of a big country with a political problem he needs to resolve, well briefed, talking like a statesman.”

Nick Gutteridge, a Brussels reporter, endorsed this view, also on Twitter:

“PM Johnson has made a (some would say surprisingly) positive impression on the EU side in early contacts. There is some relief in Brussels and capitals to be working with a real political operator compared to Theresa May.”

When Johnson was Foreign Secretary, the press searched with energy for gaffes, and found some. The then Prime Minister gave him little responsibility, which meant gaffes were pretty much all that could be hoped for.

The buck now stops with Johnson. He bears a heavy responsibility, and it seems to suit him. Interviewers ask me sometimes (as one of his biographers) whether he will succeed.

The answer is that I do not know, so I tend to reply that he has been underestimated by his critics. His chances are better than their scornful verdicts would lead one to think.

A hysterical note enters their denunciations – see Stephen Fry, Hugh Grant, Philip Pullman et al on Twitter after the prorogation story broke – because they are trying to suppress their own growing doubts. The Prime Minister has not lived down to their estimate of him.

They are confronted by the dreadful possibility that Johnson will make a success of Brexit.

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

McDonald’s just opened a restaurant with almost no workers. Guess how

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You may be seeing a change at your local McDonald’s in the near future, whether you’re ready for it or not. The fast-food giant is planning to roll out a new “format” for its stores in select locations. The major change is that there will no tables or seating inside the restaurant. Known as “McDonald’s to Go,” all orders are for takeout only. Oh, and there’s one more big change… you won’t have to interact with those pesky and fallible human beings anymore. All ordering is done using a kiosk. One of the reporters at Insider visited the first of these outlets, recently opened in London, and reported what they saw.

The fast food chain is reportedly opening a fleet of new restaurants that aim to feed its customers faster by exclusively serving takeout.

The new fleet has been dubbed McDonald’s first new restaurant format since it introduced the drive-thru in the 1970s. Inside the restaurant, orders are placed on touchscreens, and there are no tables, chairs, or decor. The menu is also stripped down to the chain’s staple items like Big Macs, McNuggets, and fries.

I ventured to the first McDonald’s of its kind, located on Fleet Street in the heart of London, to see what it was like.

The company claims that the purpose of this new format is to allow people to get their food and be back on their way more quickly and efficiently. But the reviewer reported that the total time to get your food and leave really wasn’t any quicker than a normal drive-through experience or picking up take-out orders at the usual counters.

Also, the pictures and the description provided make the store sound rather depressing. The floors and some of the walls are gray. The customer area is small and uninviting. It all sounds like a deliberately planned environment designed to encourage people to pick up their meal and get out as quickly as possible. And with no place to sit down, it will probably work.

The one feature that definitely works are the kiosks. The menu has been stripped down to the basic, most popular items like cheeseburgers, Big Macs, fries and chicken nuggets. There are pictures as well as text, making ordering easy for the less tech-savvy. You can only pay with plastic… no cash option is provided. The kiosk prints your receipt with your order number and you go to a counter and wait for your number to come up.

So why are they really doing this? Because in many places, automation technology is cheaper than human beings. This is particularly true in the United States where minimum wage hikes are becoming the law of the land all over. Why pay someone with a high school diploma a “living wage” to do unskilled labor when a kiosk will do it 24/7 while getting no benefits, never getting sick and never asking for a raise? We’ve known this was coming for a long time, but the Fight for 15 movement simply accelerated it. As soon as labor costs shot past the amortized cost of installing automated facilities like this, people were going to lose their jobs.

For now, there are still humans in the back, cooking the food and loading the orders into bags. But as soon as the price comes down on Flippy the hamburger robot, they’ll probably be on the way out as well.

The post McDonald’s just opened a restaurant with almost no workers. Guess how appeared first on Hot Air.

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So we’ve had NHS, policing and immigration plans from Johnson. Stand ready for a schools spending pledge.

So Boris Johnson has pledged 10,000 new police officers, as well as a raft of tougher-sounding anti-crime policies, an Australian-style points-based immigration system (not to mention the relaxion of migration rules for scientists), and £1.8 billion for the NHS.  It isn’t hard to see where he will go next, and soon.

The remaining element of Dominic Cummings’s favourite set of policies – tax cuts for lower-paid workers – may have to wait for a publicity push, because these would need legislation, and the Government has no working majority.  Though the Prime Minister could try them on the Commons anyway, daring Labour to vote them down, as part of an Emergency Budget in October (if there is one).

What is likely to come sooner is a Government commitment to spend at least £5,000 on every secondary school pupil.  ConservativeHome understands that this announcement is written into this summer’s campaigning grid.  But we need no special briefing to work this out for ourselves in any event – and nor does anyone else.  For why peer into the crystal of Downing Street announcements when one can read the book: i.e: Johnson’s Daily Telegraph columns?

For it was in one of these, back during the Conservative leadership election, that he pledged “significantly to improve the level of per pupil funding so that thousands of schools get much more per pupil – and to protect that funding in real terms”.  The £5000 figure was briefed out separarely.  This promise was one of the two main big ticket spending items of his campaign, the other being that undertaking to raise police spending.

“It is simply not sustainable that funding per pupil should be £6800 in parts of London and £4200 in some other parts of the country,” the former Mayor of the capital wrote.  Just as the NHS spending announcement was framed by a visit to hospitals in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, expect any school spending news to be projected by a trip to schools in Leave-voting provincial England: all part of the push to squeeze the Brexit Party.

If that column is any guide, don’t be surprised to see a maths, science and IT element too – which would also be very Cummings – as well as a stress on “giving real parity of esteem to vocational training and apprenticeships”.  There is evidence that these are popular all-round, but especially among older voters.  Gavin Williamson is bound to have a supporting role, just as Priti Patel has had with the weekend’s law and order initiatives, but Johnson will lead.

Like his other spending promises, Johnson’s school pledge may not be deliverable in the event of a No Deal Brexit, and there are inevitably questions anyway about timescale anyway.  But if you want to know what more will be in his campaigning package, look no further.

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Why the “It’s Easier to Murder People With a Gun” Argument Doesn’t Work

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My colleague, Kira Davis, reported on a story earlier today about a stabbing spree that occurred in California, killing four people and injuring two. If a gun was a weapon of choice here, this would classify as a mass shooting, but due to it being a knife, it won’t get a quarter of the attention.

I’m going to cut straight to the point here and address the argument that usually arises when this point is made.

“Brandon, a gun will make it way easier to kill people than a knife. More people would have died if the killer had a gun,” is usually the comeback I get after noting that a killer will kill whether he has a gun or not.

And they’re not wrong. Guns make it far easier to kill people than using knives.

When it comes to these stories, though, there’s a complete disregard for how guns play a part in the lives of the law-abiding. When we see a complete absence of firearms in a society, we see that the violent suddenly have an advantage. To see this, we need only look to London.

The United Kingdom has oppressive restrictions on firearms to the point where they might as well be completely banned. They did this in order to make the populace safer, but the exact opposite happened. London’s knife crime skyrocketed with the best use of self-defense now out of reach.

It skyrocketed so high that last year, London’s murder rate surpassed New York, with knives being the favored weapon. As a result, the U.K. has tried to launch cringe-worthy campaigns to dissuade knife crime and even asked private citizens to give up their knives, including “knife bins” where you can dispose of your cutlery. In one case, at least, these knife bins ended up being a gift to violent criminals.

All of this is, of course, assinine, as it just encourages the law-abiding to further make themselves vulnerable to violent criminals. London has since seen a year on year 50 percent rise in knife crime. Regardless, you have U.K. authorities patting themselves on the back and proudly promoting the fact that they confiscated honing rods and pliers, which aren’t even knives but are being considered weapons.

It’s easier to kill more people with a gun, but people with guns are far less brave about using them if they’re unsure who else has a gun in the vicinity. This is why those who tend to commit mass murder do so in places that are “gun-free zones” or areas where there’s less likely to be a gun to threaten them in return.

With knives, the aggressor is going to have the advantage. He’s already prone to violence while most peaceful people aren’t. In a knife fight, the bad guy may very well win here. It’s hard to miss with a knife too. Knife fights aren’t like anything you see in the movies with people looking for openings for jabs and slashes. It’s quick, brutal, chaotic, and painful.

A gun, however, changes things a bit. Missing, especially in the heat of the moment, is more likely, especially if the target is moving. With a gun, you’re not relying on strength and brutality. It requires finesse and a measure of calm. You’re trying to put a small chunk of metal into a distant target. Speed is still a great asset, but chaotic speed won’t work here. It has to include precision and discipline.

Villains in this situation are on a more even playing field with their would-be victims. Even if they do get the jump on a couple of people and shoot them, a person wielding a gun nearby may be all it takes to stop them without having to risk his person in a physical confrontation like you would a knife fight.

This is especially great for women. In fact, earlier I wrote a story about a clearly trained 14-year-old girl who defended her home with a gun from burglars. If all she had was a knife, it’s far more likely that she would have been overpowered, and possibly suffered great harm as a result.

According to CDC studies, people utilize guns for the defense about as much if not far more often than they do offensively. Guns aren’t only great to use when you’re getting shot at, they tend to stop violence from happening in the first place. The threat of a firearm is far more worrisome than someone physically confronting you. Dealing death at a distance puts far less stress on the defender than having to risk it all in a physical confrontation.

London is proof positive of this. Violent criminals utilize knives so much that they out-murder the most populated city in America that doesn’t have the restrictions the U.K. does when it comes to firearms.

Does a gun make it easier to kill more people quickly? Yes. It also stops killers from killing quickly too, and that goes undiscussed. Guns are so effective at stopping killers that in their absence, killers kill more. Mass shootings are terrible and horrific in the sudden loss of life, but compared to the overall murder rate that happens without guns, I vote to keep the firearms around.

The post Why the “It’s Easier to Murder People With a Gun” Argument Doesn’t Work appeared first on RedState.

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Lord Ashcroft: Will voters still give Johnson the benefit of the doubt? We’re about to find out.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

Six years ago, I published some research entirely dedicated to the Boris Johnson phenomenon. The title of the report – Are You Serious? – encapsulated two things: the reaction of Johnson-sceptics to the idea that he might rise to an office greater than the London Mayoralty, and the question many voters, intrigued but not altogether convinced by this unusual adornment to public life, were asking of Johnson himself.

We know the answer to the second question, if it was ever in doubt: yes, deadly. His pursuit of the top job has been skilful and relentless. His apparently playful approach to life masks a fierce determination, which voters can sense. If the achievement of his ambition were not itself proof enough, his ruthless remaking of the Government around his central policy of a Halloween Brexit puts to rest any doubt about the seriousness of his intent.

Strangely, the first question – can this possibly be happening? – is alive and well among elements of the commentating class, as well as some of his adversaries. Here there are echoes of the reaction not just of the EU referendum result and the election of Donald Trump – which stemmed from an inability to understand why a reasonable person could vote for either – but more distantly to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Despite their opponents’ continued belief that they were too hapless, dim or otherwise unqualified for public office, both were re-elected – partly because of their critics’ inevitable tendency to underestimate someone whose rise to power seemed to them some sort of cosmic mistake. If this is how Johnson’s elevation appears to those who already want to see the back of him, that can only work to his advantage.

Despite coming down on the side of Jeremy Hunt in the leadership election, I wrote a few weeks ago on this site that I did not fear disaster in the event of a Johnson victory. Both are proper Tories, committed to honouring the referendum result, personally engaging and with good ideas. The first hours of his administration have confirmed that. Though I wonder about some of his appointments – the loss of Penny Mordaunt is particularly regrettable – the sense of direction is unmistakeable and refreshing.

His speech on entering Downing Street was ambitious and wide-ranging, and more specific in some of its ideas than many would have expected. And while the cynics increasingly equate optimism with delusion, tone matters, and the cheerful sense of belief he exudes is already a welcome contrast from the last three glum years. Most important of all, he is making it clear that he intends to do everything he can to deliver on his promise, at a time when so many are exasperated with parliament’s inability or refusal to carry out the country’s wishes.

But this is only day three. When the smoke clears from the initial burst of shock and awe, the tiresome reality will come back into focus – the precarious parliamentary maths and the so far unwavering stance of the European Union. There is also the fact that sooner or later, voters are going to pass judgment on their new Prime Minister – their third in 37 months.

Here is it instructive to look at what people actually said about him in my 2013 study. A majority of voters thought of him as “different from most politicians, and in a good way”, while the next most popular view was that he was “not really a politician at all”. While he was famous for speaking his mind (“He says it how it is. In a very posh voice,” as one of our focus group participants put it), most were at a loss to say where he stood on any particular issue, including Europe.

And though obviously a Tory, he seemed somewhat detached from the party and had his own appeal. Though people thought he was a good Mayor of London, many thought the role was about being an ambassador for the city rather than carrying any executive authority (“do we want someone on zipwires making decisions about the NHS and education and going to war?” Johnson as Prime Minister “would be excellent until it all went tits up.”) Offered a range of potential descriptions for him, people were most likely to choose “likeable” and “a people person”; they were least likely to say he was “on my side” or “a safe pair of hands.”

As it happened, he did not have to alleviate these concerns (which still persist, along with others, as my research during the leadership contest confirmed) before reaching Number Ten. But he will have to do so if he wants to stay there. Though he remains unlike any other politician, he and the Conservative Party, and the Conservative Government, are no longer mere nodding acquaintances. Despite his declaration that EU migrants in Britain can stay and his appointment of the most diverse Cabinet ever, he seems unlikely to re-emerge as the cuddly cosmopolitan of a kind who could persuade socially liberal London to give him the biggest personal mandate in British politics.

When it comes to executive ability, people will make their judgments as they see him in action – just as they will as to whether he is on their side, especially if they put something other than Brexit at the top of their priority list. Retrieving those voters tempted by the Brexit Party is crucial – but neither can the Tories afford to lose those at the other end of their voting coalition.

One more thing leaps out at me from my six year-old study. Despite the regular mishaps, outrages and minor scandals that seemed to punctuate his career, people often went out of their way to put a generous interpretation on them. I observed that “Boris is given the benefit of the doubt to an extent that other politicians can only dream of”. We’re about to find out how true that still is.

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James Frayne: The new Prime Minister won’t triumph on Leave votes alone. Here’s how he can win some Remain supporters over.

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

It’s not impossible that the Conservatives will need to fight both a general election and a referendum in the next year. It was therefore vital that the Party picked a candidate with a record of successful campaigning – and who believes in the Brexit cause. Jeremy Hunt ran a decent campaign and deserves a serious job, but Party members have chosen the right candidate.

While I’ve been making the case for Boris Johnson’s appointment on these pages for two years, his arrival in Number Ten complicates the Conservatives’ electoral strategy – and the Party must be considering how best to adapt it. They should be exploring full, Clinton-style triangulation.

I stress “explore” because the truth is, we don’t have a clue about where public opinion is at the moment. It would be an understatement to say the polls are a mess. We only know a few things: that the public remains completely divided on Brexit; that the broad Conservative base (activists plus regular voters) has fractured since the Government missed its own self-imposed Brexit deadlines; that there is a risk this broad base will remain fractured if the Government doesn’t deliver Brexit “on time” (although this timetable is probably more flexible than people have said), and that, until recently, the Party has been polling strongly amongst working class and lower middle class Leave voters in the Midlands and North – more so than amongst Remain voters in large cities and across the South.

Everything else is clouded in doubt. As Johnson arrives with his Eurosceptic reputation, we don’t know, for example, if the Southern and urban Remainers who have reluctantly stuck with the Conservatives will now peel off in great numbers to the Lib Dems; we don’t know if Johnson’s record will be enough to keep Midlands and Northern working class and lower middle class Leavers onside, or whether they will be watching the antics of Hammond, Gauke etc and now proclaim “they’re all the same”; we don’t know if there are particular, non-Brexit policies that will appeal to these Remainers or Leavers, and we don’t know if middle class Labour voters are getting sick of the failure of Labour to deal with anti-semitism within the Party ranks. We don’t know any of this and it is hard to say when we will. Not, presumably, until Christmas when Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for a while (itself an assumption).

But while there is great uncertainty, the Conservatives cannot just sit patiently on the sidelines and watch the action unfold before coming to a decision on their broad governing and campaigning strategy. They have to deliver Brexit  – but they also have to prepare and execute a programme that is going to be good for the country and, yes, let’s be realistic, for their own electoral prospects.

So what should they do? With the polls so messed up, all anyone can do at this point is to sketch out a governing and campaigning hypothesis on the basis of careful thought – and put it to the test.

For five years at least,  I have been advocating a strategy that focuses hard on working class and lower middle class voters in provincial England. I emphatically would not junk this approach; these voters will likely form the basis of the Conservatives broad base for the foreseeable future.

However, for positive and negative reasons, under Boris Johnson, this needs adapting. Positively speaking, these working class and lower middle class voters are, assuming that the Conservatives deliver Brexit (or are seen to die trying), temperamentally more positive towards Johnson than Theresa May.

And not just on Brexit; Johnson instinctively understands the importance of the NHS and schools, he understands public concerns about rising crime, he is unembarrassed about being English or about English history (something that has not been sufficiently explored) and he doesn’t obsess about political correctness. These voters aren’t “locked down” – far from it – but Johnson starts in a good place with them. More needs to be done to keep this voters onside, and I will be setting out some ideas on how in the coming weeks.

Negatively speaking, there’s no denying that Johnson starts in a terrible place with Remain voters full stop – and particularly those from urban, liberal-minded, middle class backgrounds. These are the people that associate – wrongly, but there we are – the Brexit cause with racism and intolerance. He is in a more difficult place than May with these voters, and it would be a disaster for the Party if vast numbers of them peeled away. Johnson needs a high-impact, high-visibility, immediate strategy for these voters – showing that he is the same person that ran London in an inclusive, centrist way.

Which brings us back to Clinton’s triangulating strategy of the mid-1990s. Back in those days, Clinton created a campaigning and governing strategy designed to appeal both to partisan Democrats and to floating voters that leaned Republican. Early Blair did the same, and this is what Johnson’s team should be considering. The Conservatives should deliver Brexit whatever happens, develop a longer-term strategy to turn the Midlands and the North blue, but also launch an assault for liberal-minded Remainers.

What might this entail? The Government is going to have to look again at increasing NHS spending – given the side of that bus, further NHS spending (with reform) is going to be hard to walk away from. It should look to develop a suite of environmental policies that incentivise good behaviour and that wrestle the issue away from the very hard left. The Government should also launch, along the lines of the GREAT campaign, a global PR campaign to encourage the best qualified workers to move to a modern, tolerant, post-Brexit Britain. And the Government should look at making it easier for new parents, at a time when they’re financially stretched, to secure loans for childcare. There will be many other alternatives, but you get the point.

The Conservatives must continue their transition towards becoming the provincial workers party, but the creative energy in the short-term should be directed South.

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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.

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