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Westlake Legal Group > Margaret Thatcher

Chris Philp: Cut Stamp Duty – and unleash a new Home Ownership Revolution

Chris Philp is has served as PPS in the Treasury and MHCLG, and on the Treasury Select Committee. He is MP for Croydon South.

One of the signal achievements of the Thatcher Government was the home ownership revolution. Millions of people were able to buy their own home for the first time – through right-to-buy and a more dynamic housing market generally. Sadly, much of that good work has been undone in the years since.

Home ownership rates have fallen from a high of 71 per cent in 2005 down to 63 per cent today. The falls are especially acute amongst those in their 20s and 30s, where home ownership rates have almost halved since the early 1990s. No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote Conservative.

Home ownership is an inherently beneficial thing. Those who own their own home enjoy secure tenure and lower housing costs than those renting. Over the long term, it is financially better to own rather than rent – even if house prices do not rise faster than inflation. And owning a property gives people a real sense of a place they can call home. It is no surprise, then, that 86 per cent of the public aspire to own their homes. Given only 63 per cent actually do, around a quarter of our fellow citizens wish to own their own home but do not. We should help them.

Stamp duty is a major barrier to buying a home. It is a cash cost that cannot be mortgage-funded. Given that up-front cash costs are the biggest impediment to buying, this is serious. Stamp duty acts as a barrier for buyers of all kinds, which means housing stock is not freed up by downsizers and there are negative effects on labour mobility.

It should be a legitimate – and popular – objective of public policy to help prospective home buyers. In the last ten years, owner occupiers have been crowded out by financial investors and second home buyers, often from overseas, who have superior financial firepower. They currently make up around a quarter of all residential sales, and even more of new build sales. The Government has already recognised this by abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers purchasing properties under £300,000 and cut it by £5,000 for those buying at under £500,000.

We need to do more. As I and Guy Miscampbell set out in a new report for Onward, the Government should:

  • Abolish stamp duty entirely for all purchases of a main home under £500,000.
  • Halve current rates of stamp duty for purchases of a main home over £500,000.

This would abolish stamp duty for nine out of ten owner-occupiers and save a family buying an average priced London home £13,000, or half of a five per cent deposit. The cost of this policy is £3.3 billion. But it would help more people buy their first home, and make moving house – for a new job, to downsize or to upsize – much easier. For the most expensive properties, where stamp duty is currently charged at a marginal rate of 12 per cent, it is likely that transaction volumes are being suppressed. Halving stamp duty for those properties should result in a positive Laffer effect, due to an increase in transaction levels.

But any new policy should be fiscally responsible. To fund the £3.3 per year billion cost, I propose a number of smaller tax changes, where there is broad public support for taxation and a clear case for action:

  • Introduce a one per cent annual tax on the value of homes left empty for more than 6 months in a year, raising £645 million.
  • Increase the current three per cent stamp duty surcharge on second homes and investment properties to 5 per cent, raising £790 million.
  • Introduce a further three per cent stamp duty surcharge of non-UK resident buyers of residential property, raising £540 million.
  • Introduce an extra higher band of council tax at a £1,700 per year council tax premium for the 0.4 per cent most expensive properties, raising £173 million.
  • End all council tax reliefs for vacant and second home property, raising £75 million.
  • Create a new eight per cent (up from five per cent) stamp duty band for the portion of commercial property purchases over £1 million, raising £682 million.
  • Levy stamp duty on residential properties transferred by selling the company that owns them via transparent ownership rules (which would also help combat money laundering), raising £175 million.
    Double the Annual Taxation on Enveloped Dwellings, raising £140 million.

These measures taken together will help first time buyers, down sizers, upsizers and people moving home to help their job. It will tax overseas investors (usually from the far east) who are treating UK homes as a financial asset and crowding out first time buyers with their superior financial firepower.

Tilting the playing field back towards UK-resident first time buyers and owner-occupiers is the right thig to do. The new Government should use the coming autumn budget to do exactly that.

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

Martin Parsons: The new Prime Minister should implement Hunt’s review on persecuted Christians

Dr Martin Parsons has a PhD in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and has been involved in supporting persecuted Christians since the 1990s, including while living in Afghanistan as an aid worker under the Taliban. He previously wrote an annual survey of Christian persecution for ConservativeHome.

“This is not about special pleading for Christians: rather it’s about ensuring that Christians in the global south have a fair deal, and a fair share of the UK’s attention and concern. So in that sense it is an equality issue. If one minority is on the receiving end of 80 per cent of religiously motivated discrimination it is simply not just that they should receive so little attention.”

(From the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for Persecuted Christians.)

Spot on, some may say. However, the most important thing about the bishops’s review, which Jeremy Hunt set up just after Christmas, is not what it actually says about persecuted Christians – which isn’t new, anyway. It’s what it says about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Go back to the 1990s, and the review observes that the Foreign Office was actively engaged in advocacy on behalf of persecuted Christians in such countries as Pakistan. That date, incidentally, is significant as, by then, communism, which had been the main ideological driver of Christian persecution around the world, had collapsed. However, Islamism was already on the rise in countries such as Pakistan, which by 1990 had already introduced the main aspects of its blasphemy laws.

However, the review found that today Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), particularly for Christians has, with a few fine exceptions, largely dropped off the radar of most UK embassies and High Commissions overseas. No-one can make the excuse that there is now less persecution – far from it, as some of us were warning long before jihadists such as Islamic State were able to control large parts of Syria and Iraq where they executed, enslaved and religiously cleansed Christians and other minorities.

Well before then, the rising tide of Christian persecution was being carried out both by state actors in forms such as the spread of sharia enforcement and by non-state actors in ways which ranged from communal violence, following spurious blasphemy allegations in countries such as Pakistan, to the terror attacks on churches in northern Nigeria. But somehow the Foreign Office became distracted with a myriad of other issues.

The independent review headed by the Bishop of Truro discovered that, during the last five years, 63 per cent of UK diplomatic missions overseas had never implemented the ‘FoRB toolkit’ – the FCO’s primary means of assessing the status of Freedom of Religion or Belief in their host country. Indeed, six UK missions admitted they had never even heard of the toolkit.

The review did find some embassies, such as those in Islamabad (Pakistan) and Jakarta (Indonesia) which actually had an embassy official with specific responsibility for freedom of religion issues. But, even there, this was a part-time role for a single officer with a “huge number” of other responsibilities. In short, there is no overarching FCO strategy on the importance of freedom of religion in UK diplomacy.

To be fair, the Foreign Office went through something of a rough period when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, often being side-lined in foreign policy-making by Number Ten which led to a downgrading of the importance of detailed country knowledge and even such traditional forms of diplomatic training such as language acquisition.

However, when William Hague became Foreign Secretary in 2010 he began a process of reversing that decline. The whole area of freedom of religion was particularly championed by Baroness Anelay when she was Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The independent review praises the appointment of Lord Ahmad, her successor at the FCO as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to promote religious freedom, noting that this has brought a renewed awareness of the importance of FoRB at the Foreign Office.

It also specifically praises Lord Ahmad for his contact with embassies around the world, which led, among other things, to the reopening of a number of churches which had been closed by the Algerian government. So what is needed is not so much a new direction as continuing that journey, so that the Foreign Office once again does what we used to lead the world in doing.

The independent review makes 22 specific recommendations, some of the most important of which are:

  • The UK should again become a global leader in championing freedom of religion or belief.
  • Advocacy for victims of religious persecution should be a regular and normative part of the work of UK diplomatic missions, which should also be providing data on the status of FoRB in their country back to the Foreign Office in London.
  • The FCO should undertake detailed research to better understand the ‘huge increase’ in discriminatory acts against Christians around the world and give that phenomena a specific name (in his speech welcoming the review Jeremy Hunt termed it ‘Christophobia’).
  • The post of ‘Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief’ should be made permanent and should be supported by a Director-General level champion to lead the FCO’s FoRB team. This is an excellent recommendation. There is an urgent need to ‘beef up’ to tiny FoRB unit at the FCO so that it can provide detailed analysis of emerging global trends in the persecution of Christians and other minorities. However, that will require not simply a senior diplomat, but an adviser with specialist expertise in FoRB to head up that unit and fully support the endeavours of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in spreading FoRB around the world.
  • There should be a specific ‘John Bunyan’ stream of funding, promoting FoRB within the Magna Carta Fund, which the present Government launched in 2016 to promote democracy and human rights across the world.
  • Training in religious literacy and FoRB should be mandatory for all FCO staff.
  • A full cabinet discussion of ForB issues – including the need for departments ‘to recognise religious affiliation as a key vulnerability marker for members of religious minorities’ i.e. recognise that Christians and Yazidis etc. are targeted by jihadist groups precisely because of their faith. That is spot on. The failure of UNHCR’s vulnerability criteria to include anything which would directly encompass victims of the sort of religious cleansing we have witnessed in the Middle East is the primary reason why so few Syrian Christians and other religious minorities have been resettled under the governments’ Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.
  • ‘All of these foreign policy recommendations to the Foreign Secretary should be reviewed independently in three years’ time’ to ensure they have been implemented.

Of course, the real risk of all this is that the report gets praised – but is then quietly filed away. What needs to happen is a change of Foreign Office culture – and that these recommendations be institutionalised. Since freedom of religion largely developed in this country, and spread from here across the world, this is an area in which we really should be taking the lead. A good start would be for the Foreign Secretary to institute an annual report to Parliament on how UK foreign policy is helping spread FoRB. That would require all embassies and high commissions to report on it annually.

Our new Prime Minister has a whole host of incredibly urgent and important priorities to get through. However, it’s worth recollecting that so too did Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – and she achieved most of them. But, it is sobering reflect that she concluded her autobiography The Path to Power by saying her greatest achievement as Prime Minister was bringing freedom of religion to the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe. That’s a genuine legacy.

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

John Penrose: The conventional wisdom about this leadership election is wrong. Hunt’s spending plans are neither unaffordable nor irresponsible.

John Penrose is MP for Weston-super-Mare and a Northern Ireland Office Minister.

If you listen to the sober-sided, serious economists at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, or to the Chancellor Philip Hammond himself, you’d think the Conservative leadership election is a horrible bidding war of doolally spending promises from Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. Has the party of sound money lost its soul? Betrayed its heritage? Are Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman spinning in their graves as leadership contenders try to out-Corbyn each other with unaffordable spending promises?

Well no, not really. I can’t speak for Boris Johnson but, as someone who’s been involved in a lot of Jeremy Hunt’s policy development work, that’s not what we’re doing at all.

Let’s start with the charge that, if it was right to introduce austerity in 2010, we should do the same for Brexit in 2019. Otherwise we aren’t being consistent.

But the problem in 2019 isn’t the same as 2010. Brexit isn’t the banking crisis, thank goodness. And if the problem is different, the answers should be too.

By 2010, Gordon Brown was trying to keep the economy going with huge increases in public spending, paid for with ballooning debt. Something like one pound in every four the Government spent had to be borrowed, to be repaid by taxpayers later. If we’d carried on like that, pretty soon the country’s credit card would have been snipped up and the bailiffs would have been knocking at the door. So we simply had to throttle back, to stop spending money we hadn’t got.

But today is different. Public spending isn’t ballooning and borrowing is under control. We’re living within our means, and there’s even headroom for a bit more spending if we’re careful. We’ve come a long way, and it hasn’t been easy. You can understand why Hammond doesn’t want the next Prime Minister to blow it.

What are today’s problems, if they’re different from 2010? The biggest is that some – although certainly not all – firms are putting off growth-creating investments until after the Brexit fog has cleared. And that no-one knows whether our trade with the EU will be easy or awful once we’ve left.

So it makes sense to spend a bit of money to promote economic growth. Post-Brexit Britain needs a stronger, more dynamic, more energetic, turbocharged economy, so we’re prepared for the challenges of life outside the EU. And Jeremy Hunt’s plans to cut corporation tax to 12 and a half per cent, increase investment allowances and exempt small high street firms from business rates would do exactly that. They would spark economic renewal and investment in UKplc, making us more resilient in economic shocks and recessions, and more productive and efficient so we can grow faster too.

In other words, it’s OK to use different answers in 2019 than in 2010. But what about the charge that we’re making the same mistake as Brown, by spending and borrowing unaffordably?

Hunt is on pretty firm ground here, because he agrees we’ve got to keep the national debt falling relative to the size of our economy. That means borrowing can’t balloon, and we’ll always be able to repay our debts. And his business career helps here too, because his plans to turbocharge post-Brexit Britain’s economy would mean we’d be investing to grow. They’re sensible investments in our economic future, not pale copies of unworkable, hard-left Corbynomic plans.

Nor is he expecting to do everything at once. We’d need to raise defence spending progressively over five years, for example, to allow time to plan. Otherwise you’d simply waste money on the wrong things.

The same goes for fixing illiteracy. That will take ten years, building on the huge progress over the last decade that has seen more pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools than ever before.

And some of the plans would only be temporary, too. The pledge to help farmers adjust to a post-Brexit world has to be a hard-headed, short term plan to help re-equip machinery, buildings and breeding for new global markets, for example. Not a woolly, open-ended subsidy.

The plans have got to be about changing things, so we’re ready for a new world. Not expensively preserving the way they were before we voted to leave. Transformation and preparation, not status quo. But, for Hunt’s proposals at least, they are sound, practical, affordable ideas. And, most important of all, they’re thoroughly Conservative too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

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

Damian Flanagan: What drives the Conservatives’ underlying problems? For answers, ponder our exile from the cities of the north.

So why am I even writing about this secretive group of no-hopers? Because they happen to be called “The Conservative Party” – and it currently runs the country. Also, I happen to be one of them, having recently taken over the running of the newly reformed Manchester, Withington Constituency Conservative Association.

The position of the Conservative Party not just in Manchester, but in cities across the North of England is so dire that it is probably beyond the imaginings of people in the rest of the country and certainly seems to be a blind spot for Conservative Campaign Headquarters. There hasn’t been a single Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for over 25 years, and until two years ago, the council was a hundred per cent Labour, with no opposition whatsoever – leading to zero scrutiny of any Council policies.

In the recent local elections,t he Conservatives sunk to a new low in Manchester, attracting just 6.5 per cent of the vote, half that achieved by both the Greens and Liberal Democrats, and barely 1/9th of the 58.8 per cent achieved by Labour.

The opposition to Labour in Manchester now consists of three Liberal Democrat councillors (who recently complained that the council was too “right wing”). There is also not a single Conservative councillor on the councils in Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle…

So why should people elsewhere care about this? If Northerners like Labour so much, shouldn’t they just be allowed to get on with it?

You could argue that the local elections were an aberration and that people were venting their frustration with the Brexit stalemate in Westminster, that two unrelated issues – local government and national government – were being conflated.

Yet the crisis over Brexit and the full-scale retreat of the Conservative Party from many cities in the north of England are profoundly connected.

Think back to the last time that the Conservative Party enjoyed thumping majorities of over 100 in the House of Commons and was able to act decisively. You have to go back to Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s, a time when the Conservatives still had MPs in urban constituencies in places like Manchester, had a considerable group of representatives on the council there and could appeal to voters in northern cities.

Since being rooted out of those northern cities in the 1990s, the best the Conservatives have been able to hope for are slim majorities in general elections, leaving them highly vulnerable to party divisions over Europe.

Having the vision and doggedness to produce policies that re-engage with the inhabitants of places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Tyneside and Newcastle has seemingly not been in the mindset of anyone in the Conservative Party. That needs to change urgently.

The fact is that the Conservatives have for over 22 years been incapable of ruling without the support first of the Liberal Democrats and now of the Democratic Unionists. Parliament has been paralysed, Brexit frustrated and finally the Conservatives went begging to Labour for agreement with their policies. All these things are intimately connected to the fact that there has not been a Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for 25 years.

Imagine, though, that the Conservatives were to declare their determination to win back these “lost” Northern cities, starting by setting up a permament office in Manchester and sending some of their best people to find out what exactly is going on and to find a solution to the ingrained antipathy to Conservatives. Supposing we were to make it a marquee policy that we will not, as Conservatives, accept the age-old, north-south wealth divide – why should we? There is no reason whatsover why the north should be poor.

Let’s commit ourselves as Conservatives to those neglected northern cities by taking radical measures: offering tax incentives for companies to set up there and moving government departments north – the relocation of sections of the BBC to Salford and the creation of Media City there has been transformational in the economy of that area.

Let’s commit ourselves to the end of failing, inner city northern state schools which trap many children in a cycle of ignorance and poverty for life, and demand that minimal standards are met instead, and that we will closely monitor and put in targetted resources to these areas until that happens.

Imagine if people in the North began to think of the Conservatives not as the “Nasty Party” only concerned with their own interests and support base in the south, but rather as the visionaries who lifted them, once and for all, out of relative poverty and offered unprecedented opportunities, rediscovering the entrepeneurial drive and world-beating heritage of these post-industrial cities.

In Manchester, the populace are constantly told, over and over, that the source of all problems are “Tory cuts”. It is a matter of almost existential, religious belief.

The local governments of such cities as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle – cities which once led the world as centres of invention and industry – tend to focus on a culture of welfare. There is little sense that a spirit of enterprise, self-reliance and sense of public good is required to guarantee a prosperous future: it’s this compassionate and engaged Conservative vision that the North needs to rediscover.

As Conservatives, we need to support and nurture such a vision. But we are not going to manage it as a London-centric organisation that just views the cities of the north as largely unwinnable provincial backwaters.

The Conservative revolution that needs to begin in cities across the North should also transform the Conservatives nationally. The Conservatives cannot be merely a party of the South and the countryside: it must strongly engage with the interests and concerns of England’s northern cities.

Many people think the great irresolvable fault line in British politics lies between Britain and the EU or else on the border of the Irish Republic. But delve further into what exactly is causing the underlying weakness and reliance on coalitions in Conservative governments, and you will see that it is the long Conservative exile from the cities of the North which is a chief cause of what is stopping the UK advancing forward with decisiveness and unity as a nation.

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

Andrew Gimson’s leadership sketch: Black arts, FSBs and as they come to the last it’s still neck and neck

The arrival of the Sajid Javid campaign in the Committee Corridor created a momentary stir. They were led by Robert Halfon, riding on a Roller Scoot which for this purpose became a Roman chariot rather than a mobility scooter.

They paused in the corridor for a team photo. Simon Hoare, sitting just outside Committee Room 14 with a Sajid Javid badge, shouted “Hang on! Hang on! I’ve missed every single photo!” and ran down the corridor in order to join the group, which included the candidate himself, Victoria Atkins and Chris Philp.

Mark Garnier, sitting on the other side of the corridor and working for the Jeremy Hunt campaign, called out, “I’ve got his phone!” – i.e. Hoare’s phone.

The Javid and Hunt campaigns traded jokes all morning across the corridor, Hoare quoting the late Bob Monkhouse’s great line: “When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now, are they?”

Javid’s people may not be laughing now they have been knocked out. But they and their candidate gave every impression of having enjoyed the ride.

It would, however, be wrong to suggest this contest has been fought in a spirit of unwearying amity. It has also prompted colleagues to say faintly disobliging things about each other.

“I’m one of Jeremy’s greatest fans,” as one MP remarked. “I’d say there are only three things wrong with him. One is that he’s the Establishment candidate, the second is that he’s Theresa May in trousers, and the third is that he still looks like the head boy at Charterhouse.”

“Morning, Andrew,” a Johnson supporter said. “Second reprint looming?” – it being supposed, rather woundingly, that this column might deviate from the stony path of unflinching impartiality simply because its author long ago wrote a life of Johnson.

The tranquil figure of A.J.Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, Conservative leader until 1911 and a senior Cabinet minister almost until his death in 1930, gazed down from the wall.

When Frank Harris said to him over lunch, “The fact is, Mr Balfour, all the faults of the age come from Christianity and journalism,” Balfour replied with a childlike air: “Christianity, of course…but why journalism?”

The journalists in the corridor were determined to discover what “black arts” were being employed to fix the race for second place. The politicians tended to suggest with an innocent air that no conspiracies were afoot.

Sir Alan Duncan brought a historical perspective to this question. He remarked to ConHome that this is his seventh leadership contest, and recalled that in the first two – the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and the challenge to John Major in 1995 – Tristan Garel-Jones referred to MPs who fell away from the cause of those leaders as “the f***pig scumbags”, colloquially known as “the FSBs”.

Michael Gove, we discovered at one o’clock, is now two votes ahead of Jeremy Hunt. The race for second place is neck and neck.

Which of them will face Johnson in the final? One of his supporters expressed the clear choice now facing Conservative MPs: “If they want a gentlemanly contest they’ll be inclined to go for Jeremy. If they want something a bit more kinetic they’ll go for Michael.”

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Hunt interview: “I’m clearly second-placed now to Boris, and ready to argue that we have better choices as a country than he is offering.”

Jeremy Hunt lives in the wonderful house in Carlton Gardens where Boris Johnson used to live.

He sets out in this interview, carried out beneath portraits of Castlereagh and other great predecessors which adorn the Foreign Secretary’s official residence, why his approach to Brexit is better than Johnson’s, and accuses his rival of being “really defeatist” for implying “that we’re going to have to leave the EU without a deal”.

The interview took place on Friday morning, the day after Hunt came second in the first round of voting, and shortly before Johnson, the front-runner, agreed to participate in some of the television debates, though not in the first one, to be held on Sunday.

When asked about Sajid Javid’s attack on the old school tie, Hunt, who went to Charterhouse, joked that he would not criticise Johnson for going to Eton.

But Hunt added: “In Britain, we unfortunately still have the remnants of a class system, which I absolutely detest with every bone in my body.”

At the end of the interview, he quotes some good advice about the leadership race given to him by his seven-year-old daughter.

ConHome: “Are you the underdog in this contest?”

Hunt: “Absolutely, the underdog. I’m the anti-Establishment candidate who comes from the heart of the Establishment.”

ConHome: “Did either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor vote for you yesterday?”

Hunt: “I’ve no idea.”

ConHome: “You don’t know?”

Hunt: “I absolutely don’t know.”

ConHome: “Have you canvassed them?”

Hunt: “I welcome all votes. Each and every vote that I can get is most welcome.”

ConHome: “You’ve not saying you haven’t canvassed them, but you don’t know how they voted.”

Hunt [laughter]: “All votes are welcome!”

ConHome: “What do you want to say about the debates?”

Hunt: “We have got to have a proper contest with proper scrutiny. Lots of people feel that is what did not happen in 2016. I’m going to make sure this is not the 2016 leadership election.

“It is the 2005 leadership election where the underdog came from the outside, came second in the first round of MPs’ ballots, but then when you had the proper scrutiny, people started thinking about who they wanted to be the leader, David Cameron came through.

“So we’ve got to absolutely make sure that we have that scrutiny, and we cannot do that if the front runner hides away. We have got to have proper media questioning, proper involvement in all the debates. This is to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is a big, big job, and we just need Boris to be a little bit more brave.”

ConHome: “You’re saying to him, ‘Come over here if you’re hard enough.’”

Hunt: “I’m saying, ‘Subject yourself to the scrutiny that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is going to be facing every single day inside Number Ten. Because if you’re up to this job now you’ll certainly be up to the job of taking part in some TV debates ahead of going in there.”

ConHome: “At one point it was said that you were unwilling to debate if Johnson wouldn’t debate.”

Hunt: “Well I do think that all the candidates should take part in these debates. I’ve always said that I’m delighted to do it. I will do it whatever. But yes, I wanted to try and do something that would encourage Boris to take part, and that’s what I’m calling on him to do today.”

ConHome: “On Thursday morning you tweeted, ‘Woke up this morning and felt a bit like the morning of my wedding’. Does today feel like the day after your wedding?”

Hunt: “Well I had a wonderful wedding. It was actually in the mountains of south-west China. So I felt nothing but elation and joy the morning after my wedding.

“And I’m very excited this morning. You know, lots of speculation that some of the other candidates who are running extremely professional and well-organised campaigns were going to overtake me, but they didn’t.

“And I’m clearly second-placed now to Boris, and ready to make the argument that we have better choices as a country than Boris is now offering us.”

ConHome: “On our figures, yesterday morning we had 74 people undeclared, roughly. Johnson took 30, you took seven, on our figures. You must have been a bit disappointed.”

Hunt: “In these campaigns, anyone who knows the way Westminster works knows there is always a front-runner bandwagon effect. And so I’m not at all surprised if people make the calculation that Boris is most likely to win that they flock behind him.

“That doesn’t mean they really think he would be the best Prime Minister. And that doesn’t mean they think he’s offering this country the best choices it could have.

“And he’s not. And I am.

“I’ve always said I’m willing to embrace no deal if that’s the only way to leave the European Union. But his hard stop of the 31st October means that we would effectively be committing to a no deal Brexit, or a general election if Parliament managed to stop it.

“And I think if we have a Prime Minister who is a negotiator we can get a better deal which changes or removes the backstop and allows us to leave the EU without the risks to businesses and the risks to the Union that a no deal Brexit could involve.”

ConHome: “Do you think you’re reasonably placed if some of the candidates lower down the order drop out?”

Hunt: “I’ve got lots of supporters who are lending their support to other candidates in the first round and have said to me that when their person gets knocked out they will come in behind me.

“But the argument I’m making is it’s not just that my vision of how we leave the EU gives us better options than Boris, but I’ve also got the experience that means I can deliver that. I mean I’ve been in government now, in the Cabinet for nine years.

“I’ve negotiated extremely complex deals, whether it was more funding for the NHS, the junior doctors’ dispute, the BBC licence fee. But I’m an entrepreneur by background. I did negotiation every day of my life before I came into politics.

“In my bones, I don’t think this is going to be easy, but in my bones, there is a deal there. And I want to get that deal for the country because I think that would be way better if we possibly can. In extremis, I’d leave without a deal, of course. We have to deliver the referendum result.

“We’re not at that point yet, and I think it’s really defeatist to say that we’re going to have to leave the EU without a deal, which is effectively what Boris is saying.”

ConHome: “You would serve under Boris?”

Hunt: “I would serve under Boris and I hope he would serve under me.”

ConHome: “Sajid Javid has made a lot of his state education. You would be the first Old Carthusian Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool, who held office from 1812-1827 and ran a big team including Wellington [gestures at the picture of Wellington on the wall].

“Is there too much class war in today’s Conservative Party?”

Hunt: “I am not going to criticise Boris for going to a posher public school than me [laughter]. You know, that is the politics of envy gone completely mad, and I’m just not going to go there at all.”

ConHome: “Javid was doing a lot of anti-old-school- tie stuff, which to me at least sounded a bit old-fashioned.”

Hunt: “In Britain, we unfortunately still have the remnants of a class system, which I absolutely detest with every bone in my body. But we are a country where everyone has a background of some sort, but what British people are interested in is what you’re going to do as Prime Minister.

“I think if anyone looks at my background they’ll see I’m someone who started a business from scratch, without any capital. I’ve faced massive challenges in my life, I was the longest serving Health Secretary, hardly the easiest job in government.

“They want to know, are you up for all the challenges, all the battles any Prime Minister has. And I think my background speaks for itself.”

ConHome: “Coming out of the traps fighting, aren’t you.”

Hunt: “Because I think that our country deserves better choices that it’s be offered by Boris Johnson at the moment, and I’m going to make that argument to the very end.”

ConHome: “Just on the Brexit policy and all that, you said in The Daily Telegraph on 27th May, ‘With the current deal, I cannot see a way forward.’

“So we want to be clear what you’re going to do with the negotiation. Is the whole deal dead? Are you dropping the Withdrawal Agreement, or are you trying to build on it?”

Hunt: “With the backstop as it is, the Withdrawal Agreement is dead. I believe that if you could remove the elements of the current deal that mean we could be trapped in the Customs Union indefinitely, it may still be possible to get a parliamentary majority for that Withdrawal Agreement.

“Certainly I think it would have been earlier this year. But to do that you’re going to have to rebuild the Conservative/DUP coalition, which is badly frayed, and that’s why I would have the DUP, the Scottish Tories, Welsh Tories, the ERG, in my negotiating team.

“So that we only put forward proposals that Brussels knows the British Government can deliver through Parliament.”

ConHome: “And you’re prepared to extend if necessary? That’s what you were saying earlier. You can’t treat this as a hard deadline.”

Hunt: “Any extension is highly undesirable. But it is impossible to know what situation you may be in on 31st October.

“A wise Prime Minister will make choices on the basis of the situation as it is then. We don’t know for example what Parliament might have done with the law around no deal.

“We don’t know who the new people taking over the European Commission are.

“If we got to 31st October and there was no prospect of a good deal that could get through Parliament, then I would consider no deal if Parliament had kept it on the table at that point.

“But I’m not going to get drawn about the choice I would make on that date when I don’t actually know what the real choices are. I don’t think any wise Prime Minister would do that.”

ConHome: “You did think aloud, actually it got you into a bit of hot water, about what would happen if the Conservative Party faced an election and hadn’t delivered Brexit – you used the word ‘disastrous’.”

Hunt: “Suicide.”

ConHome: “Does that mean, you’re the leader, for whatever reason things go wrong and you can’t get what you want through the Commons, are you therefore, in that situation, doomed to lead a campaign that’s going to lose?”

Hunt: “Look, the one choice I will not make, and this is my absolute commitment, is that I will not lead the party into a general election or provoke a general election until we’ve delivered Brexit.

“We cannot go back for another mandate from the British people until we deliver what we promised we’d do in the last mandate. So that’s what I was talking about in terms of political suicide.

“And my concern about the hard deadline is if Parliament then blocked it, it’s not as likely thankfully after last week but it’s still not impossible, and there’s always the no confidence motion route, you could then be in a situation where the only way you overcame a difficult Parliament was to force an election, and I think that would be catastrophic.

“Because if you look at what happened with the Peterborough by-election, we were squeezed by the Brexit Party on the Right and the Lib Dems on the Left. Labour comes through the middle.”

ConHome: “The question isn’t whether you’d choose one or provoke one, which would obviously be a crazy thing to do. It’s could you win one if it’s forced on you.”

Hunt: “You say I wouldn’t choose one or provoke one, but the candidates who said they will leave on 31st October come what May are choosing one if the Parliament blocks it.

“Because in order to honour that promise, they would have to take measures to overturn what Parliament is trying to do.

“That’s why I’m saying it’s a dangerous thing to do to have that hard deadline. It might be the only way you can keep that promise is to get a general election in order to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

“If I was forced into an election, well I don’t want to go there, that’s not what I want, but I think someone who had tried hard to get a deal would be far more likely to get the votes of 48 per cent of the country who voted Remain than someone who hadn’t tried.

“And if you look at the polling I saw yesterday that said I am best placed to get votes from both Remainers and Leavers, because Leavers know I am absolutely committed to leaving, but Remainers know I am absolutely committed to do so in a way that is positive.”

ConHome: “Do you now regret that in your party conference speech you compared the European Union to the Soviet Union?”

Hunt: “The point I was making in that speech is one that I stand behind, which is that the EU was set up as a club of free countries to stand together in the face of Soviet totalitarianism and to maintain freedom and democracy in Europe.

“And therefore it is not appropriate for the EU to act in a way that makes it impossible for someone to leave a club of free nations. That was the point I was making, and I do think the EU needs to behave in a fair way in these negotiations.

“And I believe that if we give them the right Prime Minister, who is prepared to engage with them, but also negotiate with the toughness and the determination that we need, I think we can get a deal that is right for the UK and allows us to leave.”

ConHome: “So does the EU need a sort of Gorbachev figure?”

Hunt: “Well I think that if you talk to European leaders, they do understand that Britain is one of the oldest democracies in Europe, and we have to respect what the people have decided.

“And it has to be a deal that allows us the parliamentary sovereignty that we voted for, including leaving the Customs Union. So I think they do understand that.

“I think they have sincere worries about the Northern Irish border. And so given that we’re clearly not going to be able to address those through the backstop, we have to find another way of doing it.

“And I happen to think the technology-led solutions are the right ones. But if they’re going to be the right way forward, then we’ll need to find a way of dealing with the issues that happen when people disagree about what technology’s capable of doing.”

ConHome: “Can they be done quickly?”

Hunt: “I believe they can be. The EU believes they can’t be. So that’s why we need to find a mechanism to arbitrate when there’s a disagreement.”

ConHome: “Because the Steve Baker/ERG position seems to be that you don’t need new technology at the moment to make alternative arrangements work.”

Hunt: “Yes, and I think their arguments are very compelling on that. But, you know, if you’re going to sign an agreement where there is a disagreement about something as fundamental as whether the technology can work, you need a mechanism to resolve that disagreement.”

ConHome: “Just on that Soviet Union point, no doubt some of this is anti-Hunt propaganda, but what is put around is ‘oh well, we can’t have Jeremy because he’s already blotted his copybook with the EU by comparing it to the Soviet Union, and Tusk got very cross and the Poles were infuriated, so he didn’t really understand the complexities of the issue and all that.’

“What do you say to that?”

Hunt: “I think it’s a curious argument to make when my rival is Boris. But look, the argument I was making is that if the EU is reasonable we will be reasonable, and we will find a way to leave the EU which means we can remain good neighbours and the best of friends.

“And I think that’s what people in this country want. If you leave without a deal, which in extremis I would do, but only in extremis, you are making it likely we will have very difficult relations with our neighbours for generations to come, and, you know, I don’t think that should be our first choice.”

ConHome: “For the party, one of the choices near the heart of this leadership election is this. The Prime Minister is on record as having said a hundred times we leave on 29th March. We didn’t leave.

“She then said we should leave in June. We didn’t leave in June. She said having European elections would be unacceptable. They happened.

“Now throughout this you and the other people at the top of the Cabinet, you’ve done your duty and served on, because that’s what you do, you’re serious people and serious ministers.

“But some people would say the danger is you’ve now been tarnished by association with what happened. And with the Brexit Party rampaging around we need something new.

“And people are just going to look at Jeremy Hunt or some of the other candidates and say, ‘It’s more of the same’.”

Hunt: “You don’t solve a problem by walking away from it. And I have many profound disagreements with Theresa May.

“Over the course of the Brexit negotiations, I did not want to settle when we had the backstop in place.

“I didn’t think that it would get through Parliament and I was unhappy with some of its provisions.

“But in the end the choice people are going to be making is who is going to do the right thing for the country and give us the best possible choices.

“And with respect to the Brexit Party, Lynton’s own polling, which let’s be clear has been produced for furthering the interests of one particular candidate, says that the majority of Brexit Party voters will not come back to us, even if Boris is leader.

“The only way we deal with the Brexit Party is to Brexit.

“So the question is who the person who is most likely to get us a Brexit that allows the country to move on.”

ConHome: “When the Prime Minister sought at one point to move you from Health, you stayed on for a bit, and it’s said you drew a comparison with an admiral or a captain in charge of a ship who didn’t think it was right to go.

“People don’t ask you very much about your background. Did you pick up this sense of duty from your father? What did you learn from having an admiral for a father?”

Hunt: “Well, my dad did have a very big influence on me, he’s not with us any more, I think everyone’s father has a big influence on them.

“In my dad’s case he had a tremendous sense of duty, but he always believed in basic human decency. He always believed that people, even if they get to the very top of the tree, should show decency to everyone around them.

“So in a probably rather imperfect way that is something I try to follow.”

ConHome: “When did you decide to go into politics? You were politically active at Oxford, weren’t you, before you then went abroad.”

Hunt: “I got very interested in politics at Oxford. I was hugely inspired by Margaret Thatcher, who was at the height of her powers between 1985 and 1988.

“And I got active with the Oxford University Conservative Association. But actually what she inspired me to do was start my business.”

ConHome: “Had you contested a seat before you contested the one you won?”

Hunt: “No, and I was rather horrified when I was selected for South West Surrey, because I didn’t for a moment think they’d choose me. It was a highly marginal seat and I really put my name forward for interview practice, because I had no experience of politics apart from university politics.

“Then to my shock they chose me, and I suddenly had the battle of my life, with a very dug-in Lib Dem candidate, who’d been doing nothing but politics his whole life, and had reduced the Conservative majority to just 861 votes.”

ConHome: “Although your head was not above the parapet, you were a decapitation seat in 2005.”

Hunt: “We were the number three Lib Dem target in the country. It was a time when the Lib Dems were very strong and were doing very very well. They had posters all over the constituency saying ‘861 to go’.

“I have an amazing team of people in South West Surrey but I know what it’s like to knock on every single door.”

ConHome: “There have been so many policy pledges flying around in this campaign it’s been quite difficult to keep up with them. You’ve been quite limited, haven’t you.

“You’ve made the point about corporation tax. What else have you pushed?”

Hunt: “To make a success of Brexit we have to turbo-charge the economy. In a decade’s time the verdict of history will be that Brexit was a success if our growth outpaced our European neighbours, and Brexit is a failure if it doesn’t.

“You look at America, which has GDP growth double ours at the moment, through some very smart business tax cuts that Trump introduced, and I think you’ve got to do something at the point of Brexit that shows the world that we are absolutely determined to become the most pro-business, pro-enterprise, fastest growing high-tech economy in Europe.

“And so the big symbolic thing that I would do would be to cut corporation tax to Irish levels, 12.5 per cent, which is one of the very lowest in Europe and even in the world.

“I would also look at capital allowances and cut business rates. These are not populist tax cuts. These are to send a message to the world that we are going to land an economic jumbo jet on the doorstep of Europe at the point of Brexit.

“My second big pledge is that we also need to send a signal to the world that Britain is out there, we are reaffirming our global vocation, and so I’ve said we will increase defence spending to beyond two per cent of GDP.

“The two other areas where I’ve made pledges are education, where our national blind spot is the 50 per cent of school leavers who don’t go to university.

“And then the final one is, as a party, our strategic priority has to be young people. I think the single thing that jars most with young people is the interest rate on tuition fees. I cannot explain on the doorstep why someone should be paying six per cent interest rate. It’s just not fair and I think we need to address that.”

ConHome: “It’s not a very long list compared to some of the other candidates.”

Hunt: “No, it’s a simple list, and I’ll tell you why. Because I think I’ve learned in government you have to have a very short list of things that you’re actually going to change.”

ConHome: “What’s Mrs Hunt making of all this?”

Hunt: “Mrs Hunt is the first to admit that when we got married she knew nothing at all about British politics. I was actually an MP when we met, but she didn’t even know what that meant.

“So she has been on a learning curve. But she is the most competitive, driven person I know. She is absolutely determined for me to succeed.

“And she’s an absolutely incredible person. For me, the benefit of having a foreign wife is they sometimes have a sensible sense of perspective about the madness of British politics.

“My daughter said to me this morning – by the way this is a seven-year-old girl – I’ve got some advice for you daddy: ‘Don’t criticise your rivals. Copy their best ideas.’

“That’s not bad for a seven-year-old.”

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George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

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

Nick Hargrave: How Johnson became Prime Minister, cut a Brexit deal, won an election – and triumphed. For a bit.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

The least becoming habit of the columnist is to be ironclad in one’s convictions. When we do this, we tend to make fools of ourselves.

In recent years there have been many examples of unravelled truisms from the political class. We were told that the Coalition wouldn’t last six months. That Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have any shot of power. That the status-quo always won in referenda. That Theresa May was an unassailable leader.

These assumptions had rational evidence behind them.

But politics is not science. There are structural trends that drive the tide. Being a successful politician has a human layer on top though: a melting pot of charisma, cunning, coincidence, calculation, opportunities taken and moments missed by others.

The latest example of conventional wisdom in this leadership election is that a Boris Johnson premiership is doomed to end in disaster. He faces the same immovable headwinds at home and abroad as May when it comes to getting a Brexit deal over the line – and his failure to rule out No Deal means he will eventually end up succumbing to a chaotic general election before Brexit is implemented. Either that, or he will end up delaying like his predecessor and pay the price.

The logic behind this thesis is compelling. Indeed, I think it is overwhelmingly likely. Not least because the path of a second referendum as a device to Leave – rather than a device to Remain – has been so categorically ruled out.

But we are foolish – and letting our world view colour our thinking – if we do not recognise that there is still a small chance of a successful escape by Johnson and his Teflon qualities.

The account that follows is necessarily abridged. I doubt his team have planned so far ahead and there are a thousand points where the chain breaks down.

But none of it is impossible and, if there is a common thread, it is the self-interest of MPs in avoiding an election at all costs before Brexit, the fact that the DUP and the hardest Brexiteer Tories are not actually aligned on strategic goals – coupled with the capacity of a gambler to surprise.

The choice that Conservative MPs must make is if they can foresee a better political outcome with a statesman rather than a gambler. If they can, then they should vote for the statesman. If they can’t then a five per cent bet is better than a zero per cent bet. Consider at all points what you are gambling with – and remember that there is no perfect ending in any scenario.

1. Johnson is elected Leader of the Conservative Party and becomes Prime Minister in late July.

He speaks behind a desk in Downing Street setting out his intentions. He does not want to leave without a deal and says that renewed energy and respect can find a solution to the backstop. Plans will be escalated for no-deal in case the talks are unsuccessful, but no one wants that outcome. His team keep the press occupied with 48 hours of unifying Cabinet appointments.

2. Moderate Conservative MPs bottle it

The EU say that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for negotiation, they are open to constructive dialogue – but  they too are ready for ‘no deal’ as a sensible precaution. . Labour table a vote of confidence. Nervous Conservative MPs on the brink of voting against the Government meet Johnson privately and are asked to wait until September. The Prime Minister gives a tour-de-force opening the debate in the Commons and gets the benefit of the doubt.

3. The ball gets rolling on legislation and then August happens

The current Withdrawal Agreement Bill is put down on gov.uk in draft form with a steer that the backstop provisions will be amended once a settlement is reached with the European Union. ERG and DUP figures this time give him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone agrees to go on holiday for August because the sun-lounger is more attractive than the stump. Other stories dominate the news.

4. September comes and the Commons returns to paralysis

It’s back to school for a drama filled but unproductive month. MPs panic and predict impending doom – but the fear of the apocalypse election again prevents them from exercising the ultimate sanction. Cooper Letwin Mark 2 passes with the help of the Speaker but a new, pliable Attorney General issues advice that the legislative cannot bind the executive in this way.

5. Johnson gives a rousing speech to the Conservative faithful in Manchester at the beginning of October.

The Prime Minister breaks the habit of a lifetime and engages with his speech early. The delivery surprises by its statesmanlike qualities. He invokes the spirit of Thatcher and Churchill and implores the nation to hold its nerve. He once again plays down the chance of no-deal but he needs it in his back-pocket. As was the case for May’s speech last year, the hall goes away uplifted and wanting to believe. A daily catalogue of parliamentary drama takes place over the next ten days with the same results as before.

6. The EU Council of 17-18 October dawns

The markets go haywire across Europe as analysts predict whether the gambler is bluffing. This drives behaviour. With a fortnight until exit day – and the European Commission a lame duck entity until November – a meeting in the margins of the Berlaymont takes place between Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Johnson and Leo Varadkar. Convention of unanimity is broken and the original proposal of a Northern Ireland only backstop is re-floated. It is heavily sugar-coated by words on a Stormont Lock and the Belfast Agreement where Northern Ireland will never diverge from the rest of the UK without further democratic consent in a restored assembly. Non-legally binding words are issued about the Super-Canada Plus Plus Plus deal that the EU stands ready to get on and discuss with Johnson with every effort made to find new technology.

Johnson thinks about the union differently to Theresa May. With one eye on a post-Brexit election, where he will be less reliant on the DUP, he gambles on gut to go for it without consulting civil servants.

7. The DUP go apoplectic– but tired politicians make deals

Sammy Wilson cuts off his eyelids. But with the door open to a Johnson-led Canada deal it becomes clear that the DUP pact with the ERG is no longer 100 per cent aligned. The backstop is also popular among Northern Irish businesses. Billions to the province are pledged. A frank and long meeting takes place with the Chief Whip where the Stormont Lock is emphasised, and it is agreed that the DUP will abstain rather than vote against the Government in the vote of confidence that will surely follow; the alternative being a Prime Minister Corbyn who avowedly wants a united Ireland. The DUP numbers matter less anyway on the day of the debate, because of the abstentions of self-interested Change UK offshoots for whom an election would be existential.

8. The Withdrawal Agreement legislation is passed with a short technical extension of days

No one quite knows how it came together in the end. But a combination of weariness, momentum in the media, fear of the alternative by Conservative MPs, peerages for elderly northern Labour MPs in Leave constituencies and a slew of abstentions gets the legislation over the line.

9. A triumphant Prime Minister Johnson basks in strong approval ratings and then goes for a general election

He uses the next few months to trail a crowd-pleasing, austerity busting agenda to appeal to both sides of the Brexit values divide – and then goes for a general election in spring 2020 seeking a mandate to unite the country

He wins a modest 15 seat majority after a professional campaign by his long-standing consultants but with Remain-minded younger voters still culturally alienated. A win is a win though.

10. But the honeymoon period doesn’t last long

Twenty-four hours later the ERG submits a letter of demands on priorities for Canada -style trade deal and the reality of the trade-offs begin to dawn. Johnson begins the path to be the fifth Conservative Prime Minister to be consumed by the vexatious issue of our relationship with the European Union.

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