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Westlake Legal Group > Think Tanks

Robert Palmer: Johnson needs to walk the walk on rebalancing tax to win the ‘Red Wall’ for good

Robert Palmer is Executive Director of Tax Justice UK.

The tremors that accompanied the resignation of Sajid Javid exposed a fault line underpinning the Government’s new electoral coalition of leafy shire seats and so-called ‘Red Wall’ constituencies in the Midlands and North of England.

Rumours splashed across the papers in the run up to the reshuffle included plans to cut pensions’ tax relief for higher earners, changes to capital gains tax, and a new mansion tax. All of this was briefed as on the cards to help fund increased public spending to “level up” previously forgotten parts of the country.

Such policies might be anathema to traditional Conservative voters in places such as Maidenhead and Sevenoaks. But what do people in the former Red Wall areas think?

In the wake of the election my organisation, Tax Justice UK, decided to see what voters thought about politics, government promises on spending, and how best to fund these. Along with the research company Survation, and with the support of the University of Sheffield, we carried out seven focus groups. We spoke to people in the new Conservative seats of Blyth Valley, Bury, and Wrexham, and as part of the project we also went to Long Eaton, London, and Reading.

Somewhat predictably, Brexit dominated people’s decision-making. But we also got a real sense that the Prime Minister was right to describe many of his new supporters as lending him their votes. One new Conservative voter in Blyth Valley told us: “I felt terrible the next day, did I do the right thing?”

But there was also no love lost for the Labour leader, with one person in Wrexham saying “I struggled between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn … I don’t particularly like either of them but there was no way I was voting for Corbyn … Boris Johnson is just the best of a bad bunch”.

Voters in Blyth and Wrexham told us that they felt abandoned by politicians from all sides. One person in Blyth said: “Public services are falling apart on a massive scale. Austerity has shafted the North East”. Across all the areas we visited, we heard a consistent message that people expected to see improved public services. No one called for tax cuts.

As part of our research we explored different ways in which the Government could fund extra spending. In particular we were curious to hear voters views on taxing wealth. The current tax system relies heavily on taxes on income and consumption. A number of Conservative thinkers have argued that the government should rebalance this towards taxing wealth more.

Will Tanner, now head of the influential think tank Onward and originator of “Workington man”, has written that taxes should be low on labour but higher on “unproductive parts of the economy, such as property”. Tim Pitt, a former senior Treasury advisor, recently argued that the Conservatives need to tackle inequality and should look at higher taxes on wealth to help do this.

Since the reshuffle the mansion tax seems to be off the agenda but Rishi Sunak, the new Chancellor, is reportedly still looking at other forms of tax on wealth.

This chimes with a promise in the Conservative manifesto to “redesign the tax system so that it boosts growth, wages and investment and limits arbitrary tax advantages for the wealthiest in society”. We asked people their views on this statement, initially not telling them where it was from. The language was seen as positive. Participants were surprised when we told them it was a Conservative commitment, but they hoped to see it happen.

As part of the focus groups we also tested specific proposals for how to tax wealth more.

The people we spoke to supported the idea of bringing capital gains tax into line with income tax rates, a policy last introduced by Nigel Lawson in 1988. Last year we carried out a poll with YouGov and found that 66 per cent of Conservative voters agreed that income from wealth should be taxed at least at the same level as income from work. As one participant in Blyth put it, “Why should someone who is working hard to stay on the breadline, why should they pay more tax than someone who makes all that money from shares”.

We also tested reducing pension tax relief for higher earners and adding a few extra bands to council tax. Both proposals received more qualified support. The voters we spoke to wanted to see more action to tackle tax avoidance.

However, blanket calls for much higher taxes on wealth went down badly. Most people supported the idea that the wealthy had by and large earned it.

Our research shows that the Prime Minister needs to deliver for his new voters if he wants to keep their votes. People expect to see more investment in local services. And they’re prepared to see some increases in taxes on wealth to help pay for it.

You can read the full report here.

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

Claudia Martinez: Politicians like to boast about new hospitals but primary care should be the priority

Claudia Martinez is the Research Manager of Reform

Politicians are like magpies, they covet shiny things. That’s why high-speed rail trumps fixing local roads. It’s also why billions are promised for brand new hospitals, while almost a third of GP surgeries can be found in portacabins, former office units, and converted terrace houses. But not all that glitters is gold. If the Prime Minister is serious about transforming people’s lives, he should focus on fixing the basics.

Boris Johnson has a particular fascination with grand-scale infrastructure projects, born of his time as the Mayor of London. None of us were surprised when, from day one of the General Election campaign, he made it clear that “levelling up” would require a UK “infrastructure revolution”. The words “building” and “infrastructure” appear a combined total of 46 times in the Conservative election manifesto, and £80 billion has been pledged for infrastructure investment in new roads, rail schemes, and schools.

The NHS is receiving the same treatment. One of the Prime Minister’s big pre-election giveaways was a £1.8 billion capital injection for the NHS. Some of that money was meant to support staff to do their jobs better and invest in technical medical equipment, but the lion’s share was focused on upgrading hospital buildings. And hot on the heels of that announcement came the much-touted promise to build 40 brand new hospitals over the next decade (in fact the money has only been allocated for six).

If we’re to have a modern health service then this investment is essential. But while this new cash is long overdue, the Prime Minister’s grand NHS infrastructure plan has a fatal flaw: it has almost entirely bypassed primary care. Shockingly, a mere six per cent of the total capital investment committed for the NHS estate has been earmarked for the part of the health service that should be reducing our reliance on the acute end. Much of the primary care estate hasn’t been upgraded for 35 years, and half of GP surgeries are considered to be unfit for purpose and unable to cope with demand.

It may not provide the ribbon-cutting photo-op, but the truth is that fixing primary care would do far more to serve patients than sinking yet more cash into hospitals. Take A&E, for example. The NHS has long been grappling with the challenge of rising A&E attendances, unacceptably long waiting times, and a shortage of hospital beds forcing patients to wait on trolleys in corridors. Not only has the number of people presenting to A&E skyrocketed, but one in six patients are now waiting more than four hours to be seen by a professional or to get admitted to hospital.

Yet instead of focusing on how to reduce demand, with each monthly release of damning A&E statistics we wring our hands and insist that more money is needed to meet that demand. This is bonkers. Consider just one fact: over a third of patients who attend A&E do so for non-urgent, minor injuries.

What that means is that one in three people do not, in fact, need the sort of care that A&E should provide, but would be better treated in their communities, for instance via their GP. And as well as freeing up much needed A&E capacity for serious cases, caring for someone in a primary care setting costs a fraction of what it costs in hospital.

The problem is that patients end up flocking to A&E because they see no alternative. Their GP surgery is closed and there are no out-of-hours services in their local area; or they simply can’t get a doctor’s appointment; or their local surgery lacks basic diagnostic equipment, such as X-rays.

This is why the Prime Minister’s failure to commit serious investment into primary care is so short-sighted. Investing in upgrading primary and community care services would make an outsize difference. In 2019, just ten per cent of people thought they could get a GP appointment on a Saturday, two per cent thought they could on a Sunday.

Equipping primary care to undertake basic diagnostic and surgical procedures would also drastically reduce pressure on our hospitals, allowing doctors in A&E to actually focus on those who require long-term and specialist care.

But that means investment in the boring basics – you can’t co-locate services in a portacabin, or perform basic surgery in a space the size of a terrace house. Nor can you expect an efficient, modern health service without fixing primary care’s ‘digital plumbing’ – GPs currently spend 17 minutes every morning just logging into a computer. And many can’t share key patient information with other professionals because systems simply don’t talk to each other.

It may not be headline-grabbing, but over 90 per cent of patient interactions take place within primary care and one of the biggest NHS gripes is people’s inability to get a GP appointment. Greater investment into these services would go a long way in ‘levelling up’ everyone’s experience of the NHS. That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also politically expedient.

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

Edward Faulks: The Supreme Court’s prorogation judgement unbalanced our constitution. The Commons should make a correction.

Lord Faulks is a former Minister of State at the Justice Department.

The Brexit conversation may have moved onto the next stage. But the fallout from the Supreme Court’s judgment on prorogation in 2019 has left our constitution in a state of disarray.

The Conservative Party Manifesto and the Queen’s Speech make clear that the Government is serious about examining the changing constitution and restoring its balance if need be. The Supreme Court’s judgment and its wider implications are likely to be relevant to this exercise.

Distinguished legal commentators have taken different views about the Court’s decision to quash the September 2019 prorogation. Some have hailed the judgment as an historic vindication of parliamentary democracy against a rapacious, unbound executive, whereas others have decried it as an improper extension of judicial power into the heart of politics.

And some have split the difference, or at least changed their minds. Jonathan Sumption, remarkably, argued before the Supreme Court judgment that intervention would be legally improper and yet welcomed the “revolutionary” judgment that followed, apparently on the grounds that the Government was made up of fanatics (or had been acting like fanatics) and deserved a good kicking.

Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project has been in the vanguard of the debate, publishing a series of incisive short comments for and against the judgment, convening a high-level discussion (with Lord Sumption amongst others, which John Bald wrote about on this site) about the judgment and its implications, and contributing to the inquiry by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, an inquiry cut short by the general election. (One hopes that the Committee, under the leadership of its new Chair, William Wragg, will choose to revive and complete the inquiry.)

Policy Exchange also published two substantial papers taking the Supreme Court’s reasoning to task, one by Martin Loughlin of the LSE and the other by John Finnis of Oxford University. And in a new paper published by Policy Exchange today, Professor Finnis has produced what to my mind is the final word on the subject.

Why does it all matter? After all, when the Supreme Court ruled that the purported prorogation was unlawful, Parliament returned for a short period during which not very much, if anything, was achieved. And then we had a general election.

But the result of the ruling is that principled limits on the justiciability of the prerogative power to prorogue, including limits firmly imposed by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, have been set aside.

In other words, judges can now decide whether they are satisfied with the reasons (if any) the Government provides for its decision to prorogue Parliament. For many lawyers and commentators, this is an assertion of judicial power that cannot be justified by constitutional law or principle. That was also the view of the distinguished judges of the Divisional Court whose judgement was reversed by the Supreme Court without engagement with their reasoning. The decision to prorogue Parliament, however questionable it might have been, was the exercise of a clear prerogative power, the merits of which are the stuff of politics not law.

So the novelty of the Supreme Court’s judgment should not be overlooked. In his masterful new paper, which complements and completes his earlier critique, Professor Finnis explains with care just how far the Supreme Court’s judgment distorts the law of our constitution. One implication of his analysis is that the Attorney General had good reason to maintain, in the face of heated criticism in the Commons and elsewhere, that his advice that prorogation was lawful had been correct.

In the common law, how a judgment is received by lawyers often determines its relevance to the future of the law. This is doubly so in relation to a judgment that has provoked such strikingly different reactions on the part of legal commentators. Professor Finnis makes clear just how badly the Supreme Court mishandled the law of our constitution which it was duty-bound to apply and thus the damage it has done to the integrity of the UK’s political constitution. Unless his analysis can be answered, which I very much doubt, lawyers and judges should look back on the Supreme Court’s ruling as an historic mistake, a needless constitutional panic.

Unless and until the judgment is reversed by the Supreme Court or Parliament, it exposes decisions about prorogation – and by analogy decisions to seek a dissolution of Parliament or to form a government – to challenge in the courts. This may be good news for lawyers, and for those who want a second bite at the political cherry, but it constitutes a significant, unjustified constitutional shift.

What can the Government do? It can hope that the decision will simply be a one-off, and that later courts will decline to follow the judgment further. That might prove to be wishful thinking. Or it can invite Parliament to legislate to settle authoritatively the non-justiciability of the prerogative power to prorogue Parliament and perhaps also to impose further limits on the scope of that power. While they are at it, Parliament might want to legislate to protect other, related prerogative powers.

Legislation of this kind may be the only way to limit the courts’ incursion into political territory. It will almost certainly be misrepresented as some kind of “revenge” attack on the courts. Indeed, this charge has been made in anticipation of possible reform. Parliament has a constitutional responsibility to consider restoring the long-settled law of our constitution, including Article Nine of the Bill of Rights 1689, and if or when it chooses to act it will not be exacting revenge on the Supreme Court.

Indeed, it is more than a little odd to denounce legislation that would vindicate the powerful judgment of the Divisional Court – made up of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Queen’s Bench Division – as a populist attack on the rule of law.

Repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (a manifesto commitment) may provide an opportunity to act. (In another recent Policy Exchange paper, Stephen Laws explores further the opportunity repeal and replacement of the 2011 Act provides in this regard.)

Alternatively, the Government may choose to wait until it has the views of the Commission on the Constitution, Rights & Democracy, the remit of which appears certain to include an examination of the relationship between the legislature, the executive and the courts. For members of the commission, as for Parliamentarians in both Houses, Professor Finnis’s analysis of the Supreme Court’s missteps should be required reading.

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

Jack Airey: If we want younger people to share in Britain’s prosperity, the planning system must be turned on its head

Jack Airey is Head of Housing at Policy Exchange

Clement Attlee’s post-1945 Government is rightly held aloft as one with unparalleled achievements. Radical policies like free universal healthcare and the creation of a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state have not only stood the test of time, but become more relevant as our economy and society have changed.

There is, however, one glaring exception to this rule: the planning system established via the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 that more or less continues in the same form today. The reforms handed the state ultimate power over urban growth and new development. Although it has regularly been tinkered with in the past few decades, the fundamental principles of the planning system are the same as when it was established in the forties as part of a government programme to establish a command-and-control economy.

One of these principles is that property owners are not allowed to develop their land unless they are given a specific license by the local authority. This gives the state quasi-ownership of all property. The right to build is granted on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of local authority members and officers according to their interpretation of state guidance. There are no fixed rules for gaining the right to build, which amplifies uncertainty at every stage of the planning process.

Another principle that continues to be fundamental to the planning system is that the state both can and should know how many and what type of homes and jobs will be needed and direct where they should go. Local authorities are required to micro-manage land markets and set a use for every plot of land in their borough depending on what administrators think will be ‘needed’ over the next two decades. Land uses unpopular with local voters (e.g. land for new homes) are tightly rationed which artificially inflates their value, often to obscene amounts.

As Policy Exchange argues in its new report published today, neither of these principles are remotely suitable to the country’s twenty-first century liberalised economy and society. They assume that local planning departments have a crystal ball to predict how the wants of people and businesses will change over the next few decades. Yet, this is a preposterous idea. Like most of us, planners entirely failed to foresee the impact of internet shopping on the high street, or of digital technology on the need for office space.

The overwhelming effect of our planning system has been to restrict development where it has been needed and wanted – both the construction of new buildings and the conversion of existing buildings to new uses. Given the extent of political control in the planning system (councillors control local planning frameworks as well as individual planning decisions), this should not be a surprise. What local politician is going to stand for office on a platform of promising more development, when voters in local elections are predominantly homeowners who, polling shows, are most likely to oppose new building?

Excessive planning restrictions impose very real costs on those least able to afford them. When renters pass over half their monthly income to their landlord, they should blame a planning system that protects existing property wealth at the expense of people who work hard and get on in life. Similarly, when start-ups and entrepreneurs cannot find anywhere to set up shop that is affordable and close enough to clients and customers, they should blame a planning system that protects incumbent businesses at the expense of those who have better ideas and are more productive.

Even if some see these factors as tolerable implications of a restrictive planning system, one thing that should concern us all is how generally bad we have been at managing urban growth and development. Ever since the state took full control of what land use goes where, the process by which places naturally change has been wholly disrupted. Traditional street patterns have been replaced by entirely new urban patterns like cul-de-sacs. Local authorities have decided where growth should go, and will often choose the most politically convenient location rather than the most suitable. Take, for instance, the housing estates being built next to motorways – is this where we want children to grow up?

The exorbitant cost of acquiring land with planning permission – whose value is made artificially high by state rationing – also means that builders have to skimp on quality design and construction for their development to remain profitable.

Wholly reforming the way land use and development have been regulated for the last seven decades will not be easy. But if we want a more beautiful environment and for younger people to share in the prosperity of this country and believe in the possibilities of capitalism, the planning system needs to be turned on its head.

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

Matt Kilcoyne: We can save our high streets by slashing the red tape holding them back

Matt Kilcoyne is Head Of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.

Westminster is obsessed with the High Street. For many, they’re the embodiment of the soul of the community. Their faded glory, following the rise of out-of-town complexes and now online shopping, strikes a symbolic blow to their local community.

While it would be neither possible nor desirable to shut down the supermarkets or close off the internet, we can do something to return life to where we live.

Little-known red tape contained in the National Planning Policy Framework has prevented high streets, and retail more broadly, from adapting to the modern age. To fix the problem of shop closures and loss of community life in our town centres, we need to totally rethink town planning. 

For years in my hometown of Wrexham – which thanks to the newly elected Sarah Atherton is a proud Conservative seat now – I would wander down the high street, witnessing shops shutting down. I watched as people no longer make the drive into town, and instead just nip into the supermarket complexes on the outskirts.

The Council acted as if they could create an atmosphere with public art and pot plants, but in reality there just weren’t the people there to sustain the shops down the old shopping streets. Truth is, the town centre just isn’t where people work anymore, and it’s been decades since they lived there. 

Governments of all stripes have failed to grasp the problem. Think about heading to the high street for your average Brit: driving through traffic, finding a place to park, walking to the shop, looking for what you want, dealing with other customers and the weather, and sometimes getting cash out because they don’t accept card.

If you’re buying online, you don’t have to do any of those. It’s often cheaper too because of the economies of scale offered by online services, the lack of rent they have to pay without physical stores, and the fact they don’t have to send goods back and forth to their shops before getting them to you. 

Time after time, politicians of all stripes at all levels have thrown good money after bad at pet projects at local levels promising to boost footfall. This has been coupled with renewed demands for business rate reform, which would largely benefit landlords rather than retailers. There have also been calls to tax online businesses, forgetting that this is just increasing people’s cost of living.

 Central government demands grand plans from the local level that have to last decades. While companies and shops react in real time to millions of purchases by customers, councils react to diktat from above and electoral cycles that don’t easily match up. Plans are based on evidence gathered around a year or two before publication, and local authorities are in constant political flux with a third of the council being reelected on three out of every four years.

A ten-year plan is liable to be at odds with the policy direction of a new administration within a year or two of its adoption, or sometimes even before its adoption. That’s before you even think about the impact of national elections – and you have to, because we have a one-size-fits-all national planning framework that actually ends up suiting next to no-one.

A lack of central control can actually be a good thing when it comes to local planning. I know, that seems utterly counter-intuitive and I know it’ll irk a few councillor readers – but I’m sorry, it is true and we’ve done the research.

The Adam Smith Institute’s latest paper, ‘High Street Heist’, authored by town planner Thomas Walker, looks at best practice at home and abroad. In the UK, Walker analyses high street planning in Milton Keynes, Stone, and Aylesbury. All three are Conservative seats but only one, Aylesbury, has got it right. To keep the other two long-term, Tories will need to learn the lessons from the latter.

 Aylesbury has been creative with the definition of a town centre after its local plan for 2013-2033 was rejected in 2014 (it remains un-adopted).

What has followed is the adoption of a strategy to maximise the space available for commercial development. Shops are allowed throughout the town, rather than being arbitrarily restricted to a single high street. It has also meant that shops, cafes, recreational spaces, and community hubs can all set up around houses as they spring up, so organic communities are again being created where people live and work. Retail is supported not through subsidy, but because it’s what consumers want and where they want it.

Make it easier to have people living above and on our streets, to change commercial buildings to office space and back again too, and we’ll have a vibrant economy that meets the demands we place on it as consumers and citizens.

If this model was rolled out across the country we could break the yolk of big landlords and make ourselves a nation of cafe owners and shopkeepers, running businesses that people actually want to visit.

 “Whose streets?”, the socialists ask on their unending marches. “Our streets” should be the reply. Owned by the many millions of us. Vibrant and alive, rather than left to decay. It’s time to remove the red tape that’s strangling Britain’s high streets and hand them back to this nation of shopkeepers.

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

Claire Coutinho: The booming FinTech sector can help those on low incomes

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

The UK’s FinTech sector is booming. Investment into UK FinTech – new technology to improve financial services – is at record highs, accounting for over a third of all investment into the sector in Europe. Last year, London had more people working in FinTech and a greater number of venture-capital investment deals than any other city in the world. Companies like Monzo, Revolut and Starling are some of the great financial success stories of the post-2008 era.

Amidst this surge in technology, a new Policy Exchange report suggests, there is an opportunity to address a long-standing undercurrent working against Britain’s lowest earners – and to develop a financial services market which works for the traditionally underserved.

This is no small problem. There are an estimated 10 million people, largely on low incomes, who are under-served by their bank. This has led to a chronic poverty premium with a higher overall cost of banking and poor-quality insurance and savings products for people on the lowest incomes.

Lack of access to affordable credit has driven people towards high-cost short-term loans. For our lowest income households, a broken washing machine can quickly spiral into an endless cycle of crushing debt.

And although successive governments have made progress in tackling the systemic drivers of problem debt, more needs to be done for people on low incomes. Low income customers are not well served, in part because they tend to be loss-making under the traditional banking model.

But unburdened by the legacy costs of older banking providers, FinTech providers can and do see low-income consumers as sought after, valuable customers. This gives them the ability and incentive to provide more accessible, more tailored and cheaper services.

Policy Exchange’s report, Fintech for all, sets out a series of ambitious solutions to help encourage the development of FinTech services and products for people on low incomes. For example, the Government could look to open up the “Help to Save” scheme to FinTech providers. This saving scheme allows certain people entitled to Working Tax Credit or receiving Universal Credit to get a bonus of 50p for every £1 they save over four years.

Allowing FinTech firms to participate could allow customers to benefit from innovative saving tools, such as “rounding up” their everyday transactions and putting the difference in a savings account. Other tools include using AI to predict future financial commitments and the optimum amount for low income customers to save each month.

Another of its ideas is for the Government to fund Universal Credit Banking Vouchers. Banks could reclaim vouchers funded by the largest providers of personal current accounts if low income customers banked with them. This could inject sorely needed competition for low income customers into the banking market, increasing the incentive for our best FinTech innovators to develop new products designed especially for them.

The good news is there is some countrywide support in the Conservative Party for fresh thinking in this area. Gareth Davies, MP for Grantham and Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham are two fellow newly elected Tory MPs who also contributed to this report. Many more of our new and older intake are passionate about effecting real change in left-behind communities. They too should consider carefully the opportunities presented by our thriving FinTech sector.

After all, an inclusive banking system would allow those on low incomes to fully share in the advances in banking services as they continue to develop. From access to affordable credit, bespoke budgeting tools, savings and insurance products, a new wave of FinTech offerings could transform the way we approach Financial Inclusion in the UK and ultimately lead to low income individuals getting the banking services they want and need.

The UK FinTech industry presents an exciting growth opportunity for our economy to push new boundaries in technology and to allow access to good quality financial services for all. We must support these changemakers if we are truly to unleash Britain’s potential at home and on the world stage.

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

John O’Connell: Why supporters of low taxes should be optimistic about this Government

John O’Connell is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA).

Given the new government’s plans to spend more money, with interventions to rebalance the economy, many free market purists or fiscal hawks may feel that the conversation has shifted leftward – that perhaps Jeremy Corbyn has left some sort of legacy, even in electoral evisceration.

But things have clearly shifted back to the centre-right. Judging the national mood is not all about tax and spend – it’s just as much about culture and patriotism; law and order; enterprise and trade. Even on fiscal policy, when the Conservative manifesto was released it contained great policies like the cut to national insurance, with a view to align it to income tax over time, which the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has argued for since 2012.

It’s perhaps naive to assume that the BBC, Sky News and Channel 4 will re-diversify the voices on their news shows. The lack of self-reflection for many years means broadcasters still don’t appreciate that believing it’s wrong to let violent criminals off the hook with a short sentence doesn’t make you extreme – it makes you in touch with public opinion. Or that refusing to toe the Twitter line on social issues shouldn’t deprive you a platform.

That’s not to say there should be a purge of lefties from broadcast shows, of course. We all want a proper debate. But it would be nice if producers now realised, with Corbyn and his team packing their bags, that declaring oneself ‘literally’ a communist ought to indicate a position outside the realms of reasonable debate on the airwaves.

We may not be the only game in town, but tax and spend is what the TPA does. Our position is, quite reasonably, that we believe in a pro-enterprise country with lower, simpler taxes funding better public services. Since we were established in 2004, we have campaigned for radical reforms to Whitehall, such as advocating scrapping entire departments in our 2015 Spending Plan.

So while the assumption is that there will be a full shift leftward on economics,I’m not so sure that is the full picture.

After all, while there are indeed promises to spend more on schools, the police and the NHS, there are plans afoot to radically shake up Whitehall. Just look at the reported reviews into defence procurement – that has the potential to save taxpayers a fortune. Current practices lock in inefficiency and costs spiral, so change is long overdue. The machinery of government itself may yet be re-organised too, with departments merged and functions streamlined. Early signs are that this will be more than the usual rearrangement of some deckchairs and the ordering of new letterhead. Saving taxpayers’ money should run alongside delivering better services.

Infrastructure spending is set to increase, with the manifesto setting out a maximum of £100 billion over the next five years. If done in the right way, capital expenditure is more growth-enhancing than current expenditure. It’s no secret that the TPA believes that HS2 should be consigned to the scrapheap – so we instead ran the Great British Transport Competition to find alternative projects on which to spend the money. All of them were less glamorous but would, as a whole, do vastly more than HS2 to increase productivity. Crucially, many of the projects were in areas of the country that have felt ignored for too long.

Promisingly, there is also talk of further devolution of tax and spend powers. Decentralised spending is well known to be linked to faster growth and improved productivity. After all, what are the chances that all local politicians in Yorkshire and the West Midlands would have spontaneously chosen to spend their own budgets on a high speed link to London, rather than improving links within their own counties, for example?

Spending on research and development can have similarly decent results for growth, if done well – another mooted priority for Number 10. Then, to take advantage of all of that, better education and skills training will be needed.

Let’s assume that all works as planned and economic growth is delivered – what then? I’m not convinced that Boris and his team would simply continue to ramp up spending for its own sake. I wrote during the campaign that TPA polling showed that working-class voters don’t want to be mollycoddled: they are more aspirational than middle-class voters, believing that corporation tax cuts are good for jobs and realising that firms can simply up sticks and move if they punished by the taxman.

The election result itself seems to have cheered markets so if it follows that we see an economic boom – mini or otherwise – there will room to deliver tax cuts for those delivered the Conservatives their majority. These cuts may be focused on those on lower incomes, such as the increase in national insurance widely touted for the first budget, but those who believe in lower taxes should be confident that this argument has been heard loud and clear.

Final note of cheer – we know that Boris does not like the nanny state. He might have banned drinking on the Tube, but there was never any suggestion that it was done for the drinkers’ ‘own good’. Rather, the intention was to tackle anti-social behaviour of drinkers. Regardless of the merits of the policy, that’s an important distinction.

That, therefore, can be good news for taxes. Left-wing campaigners – aided and abetted by paternalist Conservatives – have had a good deal of success in using the tax system as a means to implement their whims and punish the Working Class. The fewer taxes, the better; the more personal responsibility and individual choice, the better. Just as people don’t like to be lectured and patronised about Brexit and identity politics, they don’t like to be told what to eat, drink or do in their leisure time by high falutin academics.

And a final note of caution: Labour, campaigning on a Marxist manifesto, still got one in three votes. So it’s important that the Centre Right continues to engage in respectful debate on pages like these – and, hopefully, on the airwaves – to ensure we see off hardline socialism for good. We can show that Britain is ‘literally’ not Communist.

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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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Jack Airey: The next Government should revitalise Key Worker Housing

Jack Airey is Head of Housing at Policy Exchange.

For a long time, it was common for certain public sector workers to be provided a home as part of their job. Housing support used to be included in salary packages of Metropolitan Police officers, for example, either as free or subsidised accommodation or a paid housing allowance. Firefighters, teachers and nurses have also been eligible for subsidised housing schemes.

Support with finding a home allowed people whose job necessitated them to be close to the community they serve to do just that. The outgoing Labour Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, has spoken of how “When working as a firefighter in the 1970s, I was provided a home… [It] allowed me to get on with serving the public rather than worrying about next month’s rent.”

Although many of these homes have been sold off over recent decades, the extreme costs of buying or renting a home in some parts of the country in relation to public sector wages means that it is time to look again at how vital local workers can be supported with housing.

Many of the most valued and important front-line public sector workers are simply struggling to live in or near the community they serve. Instead, vital local public servants like police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters have to commute from further and further away. This is a danger to local public services, making it more difficult to recruit and retain staff at the same time as impacting service delivery.

The NHS is a case in point. Recruitment and retention challenges are causing a high rate of vacancies for a range of roles which means that NHS trusts are using more short-term agency staff – at significant taxpayer expense. Staff health and well-being is also a major concern. Nurses, for instance, report that long shift work is a burden on their health and causing tiredness that puts their lives at risk if driving home after work.

The cost of housing compounds these issues in places where it is most unaffordable. Healthcare workers are competing for the same homes as private sector workers who are often better paid. It should come as no surprise, then, that four in ten nurses plan to leave London because of high housing costs.

The Metropolitan Police Service is similarly challenged by the cost of housing. Up until recently, the Met had a policy of recruiting new constables that had lived in London for a minimum of three years within the last six. This was because the police needs a workforce that understands and reflects the communities it serves. Past recruits who did not come from London were much more likely to transfer to another force outside the capital after a few years, lured by cheaper housing and family links. The Met’s residency criteria have now been relaxed, largely because they could not attract enough Londoners to apply. Again, the cost of housing is a deterrent to people choosing to work in a vital public service.

There are some public sector workers, of course, that require no housing support at all, either because they earn enough money or because they live in a place where the cost of housing is affordable relative to public sector wages. However, for the many vital local public sector workers who are struggling to pay next month’s rent or save enough to buy a home anytime soon, a helping hand would go a long way. The next government should commit to helping them as part of their housing agenda.

A report published today by Policy Exchange, the think tank I work for, outlines some of the steps the Government can take to support nurses, police officers and other vital public sector workers like firefighters and teachers in the housing market. We argue for the Key Worker Housing policy (first introduced by the Blair Government but later dropped during the Coalition era) to be revitalised.

This initiative allowed certain public sector workers – those who met ‘Key Worker’ eligibility criteria – to access affordable homes. It included demand-side measures, like equity loans, and supply-side measures, like funding for new Key Worker homes built for intermediate rental and for discounted ownership.

The Blair Government’s Key Worker Housing scheme had its flaws. Eligibility criteria for Key Worker Housing, for example, sprawled wider than necessary. A more narrow focus is needed in the criteria on workers from the local area who genuinely are a necessary part of the community infrastructure. The guiding principles of the Key Worker Housing programme, however, offer the next government a platform to support front-line public sector workers whose job requires them to live close to their workplace the chance to do so. A mix of new measures is then required involving local authorities and housing associations.

Reforms are firstly needed to increase the stock of Key Worker homes. Future capital funding programmes for Affordable Housing should be directed more towards the building of Key Worker homes. Public sector landowners like the NHS should also be encouraged to partner with housing associations that can build and manage affordable homes reserved for local Key Workers on their surplus land and property.

Local authorities and housing associations in areas where high housing costs are causing the most acute staffing challenges for front-line public services should, secondly, give greater priority to local Key Workers when allocating social housing. This will provide Key Workers a more immediate opportunity to access an affordable home.

Lastly, the Government should announce a Met Police Key Worker Housing Deal. This would be an important part of the Met’s recruitment drive, especially if the proposed 5,000 new officers are to come from London. To this end, London’s Affordable Homes Funding Programme should be topped up by £70 million to help finance the building of 2,500 affordable Key Worker homes specifically reserved for Met officers. Ministers should also consider extending the Forces Help to Buy scheme – this is a more generous version of the standard Help to Buy scheme – to help Met officers buy a home in London.

Both candidates hoping to lead the country after December’s election talk a lot about boosting public services and supporting vital public sector workers. Revitalising Key Worker Housing would show that they mean it.

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David Shiels: Here’s how the Government should meet the challenges of No Deal

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

The Government has made its move. Having submitted its proposal on an alternative to the backstop this week, London must now wait and see if progress towards a Brexit deal can be made on time for a 31 October exit.

There is clearly a high risk of failure. Notwithstanding the high likelihood of a Brexit delay, a No Deal Brexit remains the default outcome unless Parliament agrees to a deal or revokes Article 50.

In a new report, published today, Open Europe has looked into the potential consequences of No Deal and offered proposals on how the UK should respond. The report, written by my colleague Dominic Walsh, argues that a No Deal Brexit poses challenges for the UK but suggests that the Government can take steps to address them. As the report’s title puts it, a No Deal exit would be Manageable but Material.

The political consequences of No Deal are difficult to predict. Much would depend on how the country arrives at No Deal and whether it happens after an election. A Government with a majority would be in a much better position to make necessary decisions, but British politics would remain unstable and could become more so.

Some of our proposals stress the need for the Government to effectively communicate No Deal issues. Part of this is ensuring businesses are fully prepared, but individuals also need to be reassured that disruption to their daily lives will be kept to a minimum. Where the Government has already taken action to mitigate risks, it should say so.

We don’t know for certain how the EU would respond to No Deal in the event, but our assessment takes the EU at its word that ‘No Deal means No Deal’, with no standstill transition period and no series of mini-deals. The only circumstances in which zero-tariff arrangements could apply require the EU’s consent, and will come at a price. All the same, some of the most important mitigation measures for No Deal – for example, to ensure flights can continue – have already been put in place.

A top priority for the Government is to provide greater certainty for EU nationals living in the UK and their employers. The Prime Minister has acknowledged this as one of the most important points of any Brexit scenario.

The Government should push for a bilateral deal with the EU on citizens’ rights and address the well-documented issues with the EU settlement scheme. Freedom of movement should be ended gradually, and replaced with a controlled but liberal immigration policy that allows employers access to international talent. Reducing or scrapping the £30,000 salary cap for skilled migrants, for example, would send a strong signal.

There is understandable concern about what happens at the border in the event of a No Deal Brexit. There are ways that the Government can alleviate pressure on British ports, particularly the Dover-Calais route, by ensuring that import and export processes are as smooth as possible. In particular, outbound trucks without the correct paperwork must be kept away from sensitive ports. Because of the integrated nature of modern supply chains and the closed loop system at Dover-Calais, a queue on the way out could quickly create one on the way in.

The Government should pre-clear consignments at regional centres away from ports, divert non-compliant freight to lower volume ports, and could even consider sending empty trucks across the Channel so that they can return with imported goods.

What happens at the UK’s land border with Ireland is more politically sensitive, especially as the Irish Government will be obliged to take steps to protect its place in the Single Market. In the immediate aftermath of No Deal, the UK Government should stand by its unilateral commitment not to impose new checks and controls. However, while this is better than the alternatives, it is not a long-term solution. Any view that Irish-imposed controls on exports from NI are “not our problem” is misplaced; checks in the South will hit jobs and livelihoods in the North.

The impact of No Deal on the wider economy will be uneven, and will vary according to sector and region. The UK cannot prevent the EU from imposing third country tariffs and checks on UK exports, and those sectors which face high tariffs and certain heavily-regulated sectors will be adversely affected by No Deal. By contrast, the UK has much greater control over trade in the other direction, and it is welcome that the Government is largely avoiding the imposition of burdensome tariff and regulatory checks on imports from the EU.

There has been speculation about the UK signing a trade deal with the USA to offset disruption to trade with the EU, but these expectations will have to be tempered. In reality, the UK is going to have to be realistic about what is possible to achieve – and getting a deal ratified in Washington, let alone London, may be difficult for as long as there are concerns about the Irish border. In the end, the UK needs to have a mature debate about its long-term trade policy objectives, but this may not be possible in the political climate immediately after a No Deal exit.

That said, the Government should continue to pursue continuity agreements for existing EU free trade agreements where possible. It will also have to provide businesses with greater clarity on what the UK’s tariff regime will look like beyond the next twelve months.

Whether with or without a deal, Brexit will be very difficult to reverse and any form of exit at least answers the question: are we leaving? A No Deal exit could have the effect of resetting the negotiations with the EU so that both parties find their way back to the negotiating table. But the EU may expect the UK to make commitments it cannot accept, such as a return to the backstop. A new negotiation may only happen after some time. It would be prudent for the Government to prepare for the steps that may be necessary in this scenario.

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