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Westlake Legal Group > Margaret Thatcher

David Gauke: As a non-Tory at the last election, my worry is that this Government won’t be Conservative enough

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

The Government’s objective for the first 50 days of this Parliament is easily identified – passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and leaving the EU. In many senses, the nature of the next Government will only become clear once we move beyond that, but we are getting some indications as to where it is going.

It may not come as a total surprise to you that I have one or two concerns. After all, I had the Conservative whip withdrawn, I resigned my party membership, stood as an Independent and argued that the country should not return a Tory majority. And my concerns? That this Government might not be Conservative enough.

The Prime Minister described himself as ‘a Brexity Hezza’. However oxymoronic that phrase may be, it is an interesting insight.

Michael Heseltine is a great man. He served with great distinction in a number of Cabinet roles and his commitment to ensuring that the entire country can prosper is something that the Government is right to try to emulate.

I also owe him a particular debt – he kindly endorsed me in the general election and spoke on my behalf. At the age of 86, he remains one of the best public speakers in the country. When he speaks, people should listen. (I would argue that a few more people listening to him in South West Hertfordshire in December would have been particularly desirable.)

But just as the views and actions of Margaret Thatcher have often been over-simplified and misunderstood, claiming the mantle of ‘Hezza’ does not justify the abandonment of all Conservative orthodoxy.

Let us take four characteristics that ran through the approaches of the Governments in which Thatcher and Heseltine served. In each case, there is at least a doubt that Johnson Government will observe the same approach.

First, fiscal conservatism. Thatcher’s Government placed greater emphasis on reducing borrowing than cutting taxes or increasing spending. The tax burden rose in the years after 1979 and public spending was tightly controlled.

The current Government’s commitment is, as yet, less clear. Sajid Javid won an important battle to ensure that there were fiscal rules within the manifesto, but there were also plenty of spending and tax commitments. Given the expensive demographic pressures on the public finances that the country faces, plus the significant short term risks for the economy because of Brexit, a fiscally prudent Budget on March 11 would be sensible. It doesn’t look inevitable.

Second, as well as ensuring that we only spend what we can afford, we should also spend it wisely. The taxpayer is entitled to expect that a Conservative government, in particular, extracts good value for money. That should mean focusing on outputs not inputs and, where there are areas of significant increases in public spending, these should be matched by significant public sector reforms.  During the campaign, we heard more about extra spending or extra people but, in delivering on those pledges, it is essential that additional resources are deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible. We need to hear more about this.

As for changing the rules on infrastructure expenditure so that more is spent in the north of England, there is a good case for it. But those rules shouldn’t be replaced by a free-for-all whereby multi-billion projects are determined on the basis of ministerial whim. Rigour and the need for value-for-money must remain at the heart of all these decisions.

Third, be wary of supporting uneconomic businesses. Of course, there was a divergence between the Thatcher and Heseltine approaches to intervening in the economy but let us not forget that it was Heseltine who was prepared to close loss-making pits.

As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I am uneasy about the bail-out of Flybe. Yes, it is not unheard of for a business to be given ‘time-to-pay’ their tax liabilities and, yes, regional connectivity is a legitimate policy objective. But every time a private business is bailed out by the taxpayer, the pressure grows the next time there is a potential insolvency. There is a case to be made for an interventionist industrial policy, even if that means ‘picking winners’ but the political imperative is very often on government to ‘pick losers’ – in other words, preserve loss-making ‘zombie’ businesses.

This issue may become particularly acute as the year goes on. Even if we get a deal with the EU, the Government clearly wants the ability to diverge from the EU, and there is no more talk of ‘frictionless trade’ with the EU – merely ‘zero tariffs and zero quotas’, which is a very different thing. This will mean that those businesses with complex supply chains face very considerable problems. It would be naïve to assume that this won’t threaten the viability of many businesses.

And, by the way, the risk of a WTO Brexit at the end of 2020 is, in my view, significantly under-priced. I will return to that issue in greater detail in future.

I mention this not just to antagonise those ConservativeHome readers who continue to question why I am allowed to write on this website. It is to make the point that there could be quite a lot of businesses for whom the adjustment to our glorious post-Brexit future will be painful. Some of them won’t be able to make it, not without some taxpayer support. Some of them might be able to make it but quite fancy a piece of the action if the Government is in the habit of providing financial support.

Of course, they will all say it is temporary and as long as the Government is sufficiently far-sighted, there will be no need to lay-off thousands of workers located in newly marginal seats. Nice little Conservative constituency you’ve got there, Prime Minister, we wouldn’t want anything nasty to happen here, would we?

So for the sake of the taxpayer, the Government should tread warily in bailing out businesses. The more you do it, the harder it is to stop. And the pressures in the next year or so may be immense.

There is a fourth attribute common to both Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine – a belief in free trade. As with every major Conservative figure for generations, they recognised that removing trade barriers is of enormous benefit to businesses who are able to export and consumers who can better access imports. The increased competition brought by reducing trade barriers helps economies become more efficient and drives up productivity. We saw this in the 1980s when the consequences of membership of the Common Market played through and inefficient UK companies were driven out of business by European competitors, and efficient UK businesses were able to expand because of access to European markets.

Evidently, this country is about to go in the opposite direction. Departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union will inevitably result in increased trade barriers with the EU. Regulatory divergence will increase those barriers yet further. Pretending that this can be fully compensated for by entering into trade deals with other countries is, sadly, delusional.

Margaret Thatcher once said that the facts of life are conservative. I might no longer be a member of the Conservative Party, but I think this is broadly right. The public finances have to be sustainable. Taxpayers’ money should be spent wisely. By and large, the market and not government should determine which businesses survive. Free trade is a driver for prosperity.

The Conservative Party has changed. It is a change that has enabled it to win a large majority. But the economic facts of life remain the same. I hope the Government will remember that.

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

Scruton and the Conservatives. “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country.”

A popular image of a philosopher is a solitary man in an ivory tower hunched up in the pose of Rodin’s thinker.  Were it true, Roger Scruton would not have been a philosopher – titan polymath that he was: academic, barrister, rider to hounds, farmer, novelist, composer of operas, pianist, wine critic, and much else…including, of course, philosopher.  And journalist.

For Scruton had an activist temperament, of which we offer two examples, drawn from our own experience.  The first involves this site.  In 2013, he set up a new section within it called “Thinker’s Corner“.  The aim was to provide a platform for Tory intellectuals and an opportunity for new writers.  It failed comprehensively.  This was as much the fault of the Editor as that of Scruton, if not much more so.

The second was a reworking of an older idea.   Scruton was one of the original founders of the Conservative Philosophy Group, one of the symptoms of the Thatcher revival of the 1970s and 1980s.  He revived is more recently.  If his aim was to recreate that ethos, he did not succeed.  It was not well attended by Tory MPs.  One might conclude that Scruton was ineffective as an actor rather than a thinker.  This would be mistaken.

For his energy got results in what was Czechoslovakia, where he set up an underground university to offer education from those expelled from the state system – and more broadly to teach them in the western tradition.  Thirty years on from the Velvet Revolution, he was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour.  This work was heroic.

ConservativeHome wrote that Scruton deserved a peerage (though we also said later that “doubtless he would not accept one unless it were hereditary”).  We were delighted when he was knighted, describing the honour as “a knighthood for the movement”.  This was an attempt to capture his sense of commitment.  Which brings us to the Conservative Party and Scruton himself.

He never quite gave up on it – treating it with the derisive affection that one reserves for some impossibly errant relative.  Like this site, he was supportive of it while also remaining independent, recognising that for all its faults the only practicable vehicle for the realisation of conservative ideas is the Conservative Party.  His interest was not reciprocated.

This leads us to ask why it has engaged so little, over so many years, in the small but lively domestic network of Conservative intellectuals.  Margaret Thatcher was the exception that proves the rule.  It is impossible to imagine John Major turning up to one of the meetings of the original Conservative Philosophy Group.  We can only think of one Tory leader who would have done so with enthusiasm: Iain Duncan Smith.

One answer to the question is that the Conservatives remain, over 40 years on from the Thatcher experiment, “the Stupid Party” at heart – suspicious of ideas and those familiar with them.  (Even when those concerned are reacting against bad ones, which was part of what Scruton did.)  Those intellectuals with whom it comes to terms must be functioning politicians, such as David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Jesse Norman, Chris Skidmore and Danny Kruger.

Another is that to the Cameron leadership – the most successful electorally since Thatcher’s, at least until Boris Johnson came along – Scruton was an embarrassment, with his commitment to fox hunting, opposition to multiculturalism as Editor of the Salisbury Review, hostility to same-sex marriage (later rescinded) and general dispostion to take ideas seriously.

That knighthood took a very long time to come.  At least two Cabinet Ministers claim credit for it, and it may be worth adding that Michael Gove has said that Green Philosophy, Scruton’s magnificently balanced book about ecology and the environment, helped to inspire his work at Defra.  He is a bit of an exception to the rule that we are writing about.

At any rate, Scruton had come in from the cold by the time of his knighthood – having been appointed to an advisory post on housing.  The Cameron Government had come round to recognising his value.  Our readers will be familiar with what happened next.  Scruton was fired as Chairman of the Government’s “Building Better, Building Beautiful” Commission after a New Statesman interview before eventually being reinstated.

We thought that he had shown a lack of comradely discipline by giving the interview at all (though noting from the start that his words had been twisted).  The Commission has published an interim report.  Its final one will be part of Scruton’s legacy.  Its purpose is “to tackle the challenge of poor-quality design and build of homes and places, across the country and help ensure as we build for the future, we do so with popular consent”.

ConservativeHome looks forward to the publication of the final report.  And to the Johnson leadership engaging more actively with Tory intellectuals than its predecessors have done.  Whether it will do so or not is open to question.  Johnson has an interest in ideas – consider The Dream of Rome – but dislikes being bound by them: he sees politics as a practical business.  Dominic Cummings has ideas of his own.

We close by looking back on that list of names we suggested for peerages in 2015: Eamonn Butler, Paul Johnson, Ruth Lea and Charles Moore, as well as Scruton himself.  Others whose talents might be utilised by this new Government include: Noel Malcolm, Sheila Lawlor, Michael Clarke, Philippa Stroud, Niall Ferguson, Patrick Minford, Andrew Roberts, David Goodhart, Richard Ekins.

There is also a fledgling network of Conservative academics – the furthering of which has been slowed by the recent chaos at the top of the Party.  Scruton would have approved.  He would also have known that it wasn’t the Tory Party alone that under-recognised what he had to offer.  It is safe to say that his views been less blue, and less colourfully expressed, his academic career would have been more successful.

Then again, there was a part of Scruton that seemed to relish confrontation.  His fighting spirit was very like his father’s – a lifelong socialist of a very English kind still remembered, in High Wycombe where Scruton himself was raised, for helping to save the Rye, a park near the centre of the town, from development during the 1960s.  Jack Scruton was agent for a petition of protest presented to a joint committee of the Commons and Lords.

Roger Scruton himself, though a practising Anglican, may not have been a Christian – not throughout his adult life as Conservative, at any rate.  But he would ruefully have recognised the force of the verse: “a prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” – even if that prophet dies, as in his case, not without honours.  We mourn his passing.

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

Our Survey. Johnson – doing very well. But way to go before he levels with…you know who

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-26-at-17.51.47 Our Survey. Johnson – doing very well. But way to go before he levels with…you know who ToryDiary Margaret Thatcher Highlights ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brexit Boris Johnson MP   It was always likely to end this way.  But we wanted to be absolutely sure.

Six per cent of the panel believe that Boris Johnson, in leading the UK out of the EU, has thereby already exceeded the achievements of Margaret Thatcher.

That’s the same percentage of those who either refuse to rate him at all (two per cent) or who are dismissive of his smashing election victory (four per cent).

A full 88 per cent, almost nine in ten, believe that Johnson’s done very well to date…but has way to go before he can be judged to be Margaret Thatcher’s equal.

Very sensible of them too.

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

The limits of support for One Nation. Our Survey.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-26-at-14.07.27 The limits of support for One Nation. Our Survey. ToryDiary Stanley Baldwin One Nation Conservatism Margaret Thatcher Lord Lexden Jeremy Hunt MP Highlights Boris Johnson MP Benjamin Disraeli

To Baldwin [pictured right], it was what Disraeli almost said, but didn’t.  Alastair Lexden records that it was later reinvented, post-war, as a product of Angus Maude’s “powerful political mind”: the state should “provide a minimum standard, above which people should be free to rise.”  During the 1980s, it became a code for anti-Thatcherism and Keynesian economics.

More recently, it has served as one for pro-EU and social liberal sentiment.  Now Boris Johnson is reinventing it all over again as a way of describing his midlands-and-northern focused, infrastucture-friendly, pro-NHS, migration-suspicious, tough on crime and interventionist “boosterism”.

But whichever version you prefer, Party activists are a bit wary of it – at least if our survey, which presented four options on the subject, is to be believed.

Only two per cent, a tiny sliver of the whole, are unambiguously opposed to it.  Add those who think that there is very little to be said to it, and one still registers under a tenth of the whole.

About a third are clearly supportive of it, and of government intervention in the economy.  That’s about the same proportion as voted for Jeremy Hunt in this year’s leadership election.  Both seem to us good snapshots of the strength of the centre-left of the Party.  A further three in five believe that there’s a lot to be said for a One Nation pitch.

But they also are distrustful of interventionist politics, and nervous of this government straying too far from Conservative principles.  So if the figures are sliced and diced another way, they show that some seven on ten members, a clear majority, view One Nation with emotions ranging from suspicion to hostility.

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

The Politics of And. Growing the Majority 2) Further education and higher education

The phrase is Tim Montgomerie’s.  He used to deploy it roughly as follows.  Yes, politics means making choices.  But they doesn’t always have to be either/or.  The Conservatives can have immigration control and international development.  Green growth and more fracking.  Same-sex marriage and transferable tax allowances.

The new majority Tory Government won’t necessarily smile on these examples.  But it will want to follow the principle.  To this end, ConservativeHome is reviving The Politics Of And.  In one series, we will examine Securing the Majority.  In another, Growing the Majority.  Boris Johnson will want to do both.

– – –

It is a leitmotif of this series that there are actions which the new Government will want to take which are good for their own sake. But which will also have the side-effect of helping to secure or grow the majority.

One of these is developing its policy on higher and further education.  For us, there are three main issues.

First, a sense that the balance between the two isn’t right.  As Alison Wolf put it on this site, “public spending per student is more than six times as high in universities as it is in the nation’s colleges. This imbalance looks even harder to justify in the light of regional inequalities.”

Second, there is what is usually and inaccurately labelled a free speech problem in Universities.  Free speech is not precisely the issue.  Rather, it is ensuring that higher education is a “safe space”, to borrow the jargon, for students with conservative, libertarian, centre-right or even liberal views: that they are made to feel no more or less welcome on campus than anyone else.  The issue is already live in relation to Jewish students.

Finally, there is the Conservative Party’s own internal housekeeping.  There has been no organised push among academics of any note since Leon Brittan undertook one for Margaret Thatcher during the late 1970s.  That should change.

The Tory manifesto is coy about higher education, pledging to “consider carefully” the “thoughtful recommendations of the Augur Review. Wolf was a member of the August Panel and her piece for us is still a must-read.  “Today’s young people are effectively offered a single choice. A full degree, now – or nothing,” she wrote. “Overall, Augar’s recommendations are designed to reverse this idiocy.”

She wants “more money for the neediest – cash to get further education back on its feet, to invigorate technical education, to allow adults to retrain and progress, and to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students”.  Nick Timothy wanted to close some universities.  Our columnist Neil O’Brien suggests reducing “access to courses that deliver low economic value in terms of graduate earnings premia”.

On free speech and all that, there is new guidance for Universities, produced in the wake of a free speech summit.  The question is whether it takes full account of the problem that we are trying to describe.  When Sam Gyimah was Universities Minister, he warned as follows: “Let’s say you happen to be quite right-wing, but your lecturer disagrees with your politics. You can suddenly become quite conscious about expressing your views because they mark your essays and grade you.”

We would be very nervous were we a conservative student at a University taught by a lecturer who, say, is prone to mouth off about “the Tories” on social media.  These will say that they have a right to free speech.  We say that they have a pastoral responsibility to all their students.

On the final point about Conservative academics, there is a fledgling network.  It was originally set up when David Cameron was Prime Minister; went into abeyance under Theresa May, but is still very much around.  Downing Street should take an interest in it.

Boris Johnson will need higher and further education Ministers who are across these issues – and who are capable, as Gyimah was in his Tory days, of touring the Universities (in this instance to make the case for conservatism); working with Tory academics; ensuring the free speech guidance is adhered to; responding to Augur.

We hope that Number Ten resists the temptation to take higher education policy out of the Education Department again, though we’re not confident on this point. Chris Skidmore has been in and out of the Universities Minister brief, which Jesse Norman or O’Brien himself could also do.

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

Dean Godson: What Johnson should do now in this Government’s first hundred days

Dean Godson is Director of Policy Exchange.

How does a newly re-ascendant Conservative Government maintain the momentum of the greatest electoral success since Margaret Thatcher’s triumph over Michael Foot in 1983?

This is the question posed and answered in a new Policy Exchange briefing paper, The First Hundred Days – published today with a foreword by John Howard, the former Australian Prime Minister. Howard is of course a great friend to the United Kingdom and a leading light in the broad “Conservative international”; he is always willing to offer solidarity and counsel to the global centre-right. He greatly admires Boris Johnson, and this is reciprocated.

His words are of particular interest since this is the golden era of the Australian way in UK politics – witness the leading roles of Lynton Crosby and Isaac Levido in successive Conservative election campaigns. Few, if any, American political consultants have enjoyed comparable influence in British elections.

Early on in the Conservative leadership race this summer, Crosby addressed Policy Exchange to invoke the example of the great Robert Menzies, the Australian Liberal Prime Minister whose leadership spanned the 1930s and 1960s – and who spoke of “the forgotten people”. If ever there was an election for the forgotten man and woman in Britain, this was surely it.

But how to make the bond between Johnson’s Conservatives and the “forgotten people” permanent? How to forge this into a governing programme?

In his foreword, Howard praises Johnson’s leadership skills and notes that he connected to wide sections of the British public by giving people hope during the election campaign. He also urges him to “seize the moment” – to take advantage of his new power in Parliament to implement the ideas and promises contained in the Conservative manifesto. Prime Ministers who don’t move fast to take advantage of electoral triumphs regret it, he notes.

The First Hundred Days offers a roadmap for how to do just that – across our four key research themes of Prosperity, Place, People and Patriotism. It reflects the content of the winning manifesto and builds on the theme of a new national consensus, as there seems to be on getting Brexit done among other issues.

There are some simple things that need doing. We need a date for a Budget. Local authorities in devolved countries cannot set their budgets until devolved governments have set theirs; devolved governments cannot set their budget until the UK Government has done so.

There are bigger themes too. Drawing on the research paper of last summer, Modernising the United Kingdom – a landmark in think tank terms – we urge the Government to publish its English Devolution White Paper and bring forward its National Infrastructure Strategy, focusing on cross-border projects as well as connectivity within the four nations of the Union. It is clear that levelling up the United Kingdom, so that London does not leave the regions behind, will involve – as Howard puts it – “stepping forward with the right investment in transport and other infrastructure where needed… but stepping back so that decisions are not always imposed from the top by central government”.

There are opportunities in housing and planning policy too – not just to overcome Nimbyism by building beautiful homes and places, but to provide some public sector workers, such as police officers and nurses, with affordable key worker housing. As a chapter on housing, outlines, the Government should announce that the next Affordable Homes programme will allocate more capital grant funding to schemes that provide a significant proportion of submarket rental homes for local key workers.

Science, as the Prime Minister made clear in his early speeches on the steps of Downing Street and in Manchester, will be a priority for this Government. We outline how a Defence Advanced Researcy Projects Agency-style agency, for high-risk, high-payoff research – at arms-length from ministers – can be created in shadow form within months at UK Research and Innovation, with funding from April next year, while a Bill creates the genuine Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The chapters on the constitution explain that the Government will need to do more than simply repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in order to restore constitutional norms in Parliament. A new Bill will have to show that it is clear that the Prime Minister (subject to the Sovereign’s approval) is to have the ultimate responsibility to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission must be set up quickly as well. But it should not mean delaying, for example, the amending of the Human Rights Act to protect UK forces from a sustained and illegitimate legal assault in the form of lawfare.

There are more fronts that can be opened within the first hundred days. There is a chance for the greenest budget ever, by announcing seed funding for three new British battery gigafactories, to accelerate conversion from fossil-fuelled vehicles to electric vehicles. The Government could protect academic freedom and free speech on campuses, with a Bill to establish beyond doubt in law that academic freedom means that opinions and speakers considered unwelcome by a small number of students cannot simply be banned or no-platformed. With an eye to 1st February, when we should have left the EU, the Government could also start negotiations to enter into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (an idea supported explicitly by Howard).

The good news is that, although the Tories have a parliamentary majority comparable to 1983 or 1987, they have in Number 10 Downing Street a sharper team of policy experts than Margaret Thatcher did. Whether or not there are calls for a new Department of the Prime Minister – as there were in the early 1980s – it is clear that this policy operation will be central to this Government’s reforming agenda. It has its work cut out for the next 100 days but the stunning election result gives it a strong mandate for its mission of modernisation and consensus-building.

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David Davis: How to keep the new working class voters we won last Thursday – and win even more

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Conservative victory last Thursday was not just a landslide win: it marked the beginning of the transformation of our political landscape and our country.

The new MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, won a mining constituency never previously held by the Conservatives . As a former NHS worker he is, like many of his new colleagues, anything but a toff, and signals a coming transformation in the complexion of the Party both in Parliament and the country.  A number of the new 109 MPs are Tory working class heroes.

The question on everybody’s mind, from the Prime Minister to the newest arrival, is: “now that we have won them can we hang on to them?”   If we are any good at our job, the answer to that question should be a resounding “yes”.  Many Labour MPs – not just the left-wing apologists for Jeremy Corbyn -are consoling themselves that these Labour constituencies will return to type at the next election.

But they should look at Scotland, where the SNP swept aside a previously dominant Labour Party riddled with complacency and corruption – and it still has not come back.   The same could happen in England and Wales if they are not careful.

It was clear on the doorstep during these last six weeks that the electoral base of the Conservative Party has changed dramatically. Our voters are more working class and more urban. They are more provincial and less metropolitan.  They have a no-nonsense common-sense, and are certainly not politically correct. They have a quiet unassuming patriotism – proud of their country but respectful of foreigners.  They are careful with money, and know it has to be earned.   They want tougher policing but also have a strong sense of justice.  They depend more on public services, and are the first to get hurt when these fail.  Many of them would be classified as “working poor” and dependent on welfare payments, although they themselves may not see it that way.

So what should we do in order more fully to win their trust? Obviously we should deliver on our manifesto: get Brexit done, and provide more money for the health service, for education, for the police, and for more infrastructure – not least new broadband.   But this is nowhere near enough.   A manifesto should be a lower limit on delivery, not an upper limit on aspiration.

This should be no surprise. The Thatcher manifesto of 1979 was fairly slim. It certainly did not detail the actions of most radical and eventually most successful government of the twentieth century.

What Thatcher achieved was a revolution in expectations: about our country, about ourselves, about what was possible.  We have to do the same.

And our target should be unlimited.   We should be planning to prove to our new base that we care about improving their lives, but we should also be targeting the votes of younger people, too.   There should be no no-go areas for the new Conservatives.   Fortunately, the necessary policies are similar, and they require Boris Johnson’s hallmark characteristic – boldness.

There should be a revolution in expectations in public service provision, from health care to education. This is about imagination more than money. There are massive technological opportunities opening up, from genetics to big data to diagnostic technology, and we should be enabling the NHS to make better use of it.

On the education front, the international comparisons have not shown much progress since the turn of the century, despite the best efforts of successive Education Secretaries,  Other countries from China to Belgium have seized on new technology to completely reengineer the classroom. We should be doing the same.

And we should now work to further social mobility.   None of my doorstep conversationalists mentioned this phrase, but many talked about the opportunities (or lack of) for themselves and their children, which is the same thing.   We used to be a world leader in social mobility; now we are at the back of the class.   Every government since Thatcher has paid lip service to the problem, but none has done anything about it.   Indeed, they have made it worse.

Take for example the disastrous university tuition fees and loans system introduced by Tony Blair and made worse by David Cameron.   It has delivered poor educational outcomes, high costs, enormous debt burdens and widespread disappointment, as well as distorting the national accounts.

The heaviest burden of this failure falls on young people from the poorest areas. The Augar Report gave strong hints about how to fix it, even though its terms of reference forbade it from providing an answer.   The new policy aim should be simple.  Allow children of all backgrounds a worthwhile education to get good enough qualifications to start a decent career without crushing lifetime loans. It should be an early priority of this government.  It would be the single most targeted way of helping a generation that deserves our support.

One of Thatcher’s great contributions to social mobility was to encourage home ownership: 65 per cent of young people either owned or were buying their own homes then.  Today, that number is 25 per cent.   The reason is simple.   We are just not building enough homes.  In the last 15 years the population has grown by just shy of seven million people.

We have built nowhere near enough houses to cope with that.   The current incremental strategy is not up to the job, and we need to adopt a wholesale programme of garden towns and villages around the country, and a new process to drive much of the planning gain to reducing house prices and improving housing and service quality.   We should also look very closely at reform of the Housing Association sector, to deliver more homes for both rent and sale.   We were once a proud homeowning democracy, and a return to that would not be a bad aim for a modern Conservative Party.

This would be just a start.   But it has to be paid for.   This has always been the Conservative Party’s trump card: the ability to run the economy and deliver the funding for good public services.   Brexit opens up the possibility of a new economic renaissance, which the Prime Minister believes in, and is capable of seizing with both hands.

But we will need to rediscover the Lawson lessons: that simpler, lower taxes deliver more growth, more jobs, more wealth, and eventually more tax revenue.   Our tax system is now littered with irrational anomalies – most recently demonstrated by senior doctors refusing to do extra work because they were effectively being taxed at 100 per cent as a result of covert Treasury pension taxes.

It is time we swept much of this structure away, and liberated people to gain from their own efforts without excessive state burdens.   It should also not be too hard for us to do it in a way that helps the North as well as the South.  And this does not just apply at the top: the working poor face similar anomalies under the tax credit system.

Which brings us back to the ‘new’ Conservative working classes.   We should not imagine that an appeal to them is a novel gambit bu the Conservative Party.* The most successful political organisation in the world for two centuries has been just that because for most of that time it has relied on the working class for at least half of its vote.

From Disraeli’s reforming government to Shaftesbury’s great social and industrial chang, to Lord Derby’s legalisation of trades unions, we have a long and deep commitment to caring about the welfare of the working classes.   If this were not true, one of Johnson’s old Etonian predecessors as Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, would never have won the impoverished North Eastern constituency of Stockton – and held it throughout the great depression.   And of course in modern times Margaret Thatcher inspired Essex man and held many seats in the North – not least Darlington, which we won back last week.

So we have been here before. Blue collar Conservatism has a proven track record – one we should resurrect.  In this new political battle, the greatest tension will not be left versus right or even fiscal and monetary doves versus economic hawks.   It will be a battle between creativity and convention.   I have always thought that the Prime Minister subscribes to Nelson’s maxi  that “Boldness is the safest course,” so I suspect that this will be a battle that he will relish.   If he does, these will not be the last seats we win in the Midlands Wales and the North.

A few years ago I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme which showed that the Conservative Party has been heavily dependent on working class votes for most of its 200 year lifespan.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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“Johnson put out his right hand softly and drew the sword out as gently as from a scabbard”.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-13-at-20.41.46 “Johnson put out his right hand softly and drew the sword out as gently as from a scabbard”. ToryDiary Tony Blair Tim Montgomerie Stanley Johnson Spectator Rory Stewart Philip Hammond! NHS Munira Mirza Michael Howard Margaret Thatcher Lord Kerr London Liverpool Highlights Have I Got News For You Europe EU Dominic Cummings Danny Kruger Conservative history British history Brexit Andrew Neil Amber Rudd 2019 General Election

Earlier this week, I told the tale of how ConservativeHome liked Boris Johnson’s Party Conference speech of 2017; offered him a fringe platform at that of 2018, and backed him for Tory leader last summer – because we believed that he was the candidate most likely to win a snap general election for the Conservatives.

I went on to describe how he restored the Tories from 20 per cent in the polls, and the disaster of last summer’s European elections, to 40 per cent or so in less than six months – despite multiple Commons defeats, the Supreme Court judgement, the Letwin vote, the Benn Act, a biased Speaker and the revolt of the twenty-one.

Our editorial ended by quoting T.H.White’s The Sword in the Stone, whichtells the story of how Wart, a.k.a. King Arthur, is unable to free the sword at first attempt. As he heaves and sweats, his childhood tutors, companions, and friends become mysteriously present.”

“For the next four days, Johnson is the Wart, the Once and Future King, of this electoral struggle. “Put your back into it,” says one friend to Wart. “What about those forearms?” asks another. “Keep a steady effort,” says a third, “and you will have it yet.” “Come along,” says the last, “for all we humble friends of yours are here waiting to cheer.”

The next line in the story is: “He put out his right hand softly and drew it out as gently as from a scabbard”.

Johnson has been told all his life that he won’t be able to draw the sword from the stone.  Andrew Gimson’s biography of the Prime Minister quotes a letter from Martin Hammond, who taught Johnson at Eton, and has been described by the latter as “really influential”, to his father, Stanley Johnson.

“Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility…I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation that binds everyone else.”

This is an early demonstration of the Johnson Derangement Syndrome that I once described as having driven me “nuts”,  and which has put pay to Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart, Amber Rudd and a very large number of more conventional people.

Johnson has been told that he could not dream up quotes and survive as a working journalist; be both Spectator editor and a Conservative candidate; be taken seriously as a politician and appear on Have I Got News for You; irritate Michael Howard and survive on the Tory front bench…

…anger the people of Liverpool; win the London Mayoralty; win the London Mayoralty again; be on the winning side of an EU referendum if he backed Leave; contest the Conservative leadership election a second time; survive his turbulent period as Foreign Secretary; win as a front-runner in that leadership contest…

…survive the Supreme Court judgement; endure in the Commons 40 or so seats short of a majority; win a no confidence vote; get a deal with the EU; maintain campaigning discipline; not be brought down by the Leeds Infirmary row; evade Andrew Neil; vanish into a cupboard – or gain a majority, let alone a landslide.

That he has somehow done all those things is a tribute to his strange genius. An even greater one is that he had the humility, last autumn, to bring order to his Downing Street operation by sending for Dominic Cummings, Munira Mirza, Danny Kruger, Tim Montgomerie and the most committed Number Ten team in modern times.

I wrote yesterday that Johnson has at last laid to rest the legend that no Conservative leader other than Margaret Thatcher could again win with a big majority.  His near-landslide may also mark an even greater achievement, putting Thursday’s election into the same basket as that of 1979, 1997 or 1945.

Thatcher and Tony Blair were part of the long continuum of Prime Ministers who, however different they may have been, governed on the assumption that Britain must be part of the EU (one that the former only began to bridle at towards the end of her long period in government).

These were the years of the rule of the EU Ascendancy – summed up for us by Lord Kerr, a former Ambassador to the EU, who told the Lords last year that Britain would “come to heel in the end, probably quite quickly”, and be absorbed back into the European project which the British people voted to escape in 2016.

Johnson’s big win marks the end of that Ascendancy and the beginning of a new era: that of Britain as a sovereign nation – whose government will honour the instruction given to us in the country’s greatest-ever democratic exercise.  This will be good for the country, Parliament, politicians, the Conservaties and Johnson himself.

Trials and tribulations lie ahead: the next phase of the Brexit negotiations; Scotland; squaring the Tory majority with its new electoral territory; making sense of conflicting needs and demands.  But there is reason to hope that Johnson, so often scorned as a liar, will begin to restore trust in politics, simply by delivering the referendum result.

Some of us have waited a long time to see a working Conservative Government with an emphatic Commons majority.  Not since the second Thatcher landslide, the third Thatcher term, of 1987 has the country seen one in action – over 30 years ago.  Then, I was 27.  Now I am 60.

“Well, Wart,” said Merlyn.  “How nice you look in your crown…in future it will be your glorious doom to take up the burden and to enjoy the nobility of your proper title: so now I shall crave the privilege of being the very first of your subjects to address you with it – as my dear liege lord, King Arthur.”

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Andrew Gimson’s election sketch: Johnson plays his greatest joke on the Corbynistas

When Boris Johnson won election in 2001 as Member for Henley, he urged people to “go back home and prepare for breakfast”.

This morning he ended his speech in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre with the words: “Let’s get Brexit done, but first my friends let’s get breakfast done too.”

For the Prime Minister is a traditionalist, loyal to every joke he has ever cracked; though at the same time he is a moderniser, constantly seeking to improve on the jokes he has told before.

And today he has played perhaps his greatest joke of all. For as we arrived in the hall where he was to speak, we were greeted with signs announcing “The People’s Government”.

Such placards are unwelcome to anyone of a conservative disposition, for they smack of totalitarianism.

But how much more of an insult they are to the Corbynistas, who imagined they were the ones who would be forming The People’s Government.

In their hands, the term would have become an excuse for oppressing anyone who dared stand in their way. They are incandescent with rage to find their slogan stolen from them by a man who, to their incomprehension, turns out to be closer to the people than they are.

Johnson has proved himself more popular than the Corbynistas. This Tory Democrat has shown, like Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Randolph Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher before him, that he knows how to express a patriotism which distresses intellectuals, but delights the wider public.

Like his illustrious predecessors, Johnson has formed a potent alliance with the working class, which sees that its interests are better defended by the Conservative Party than by a bunch of grumpy middle-class socialists.

The Prime Minister is such a difficult opponent because he uses jokes to tell the truth. When his opponents allow themselves to become enraged by his seeming frivolity, they make the error of underestimating the potency of his message.

When Johnson was elected Mayor of London in 2008, he promised in his acceptance speech to “work flat out” to gain the trust of those who had voted against him, and also of those “whose pencil hovered for an instant” above the ballot paper before deciding to back him.

Today he declared that he realises those Labour voters who backed the Conservatives for the first time in this election “may only have lent us your vote”, and he promised never to take their support for granted.

So amid the jokes, a note of humility could be detected, and also a wonderful rapport with his audience. Here is a Tory democrat who with sublime impertinence has stolen the socialists’ clothes.

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