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Westlake Legal Group > Think Tanks

Richard Ekins: Why the Supreme Court should overturn last week’s ruling on prorogation

Professor Richard Ekins is Head of the Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project and Professor of Law at the University of Oxford.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear argument about whether it should declare unlawful the Government’s advice to Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament, and whether, in consequence, to declare to be null and of no effect the prorogation that followed on 10th September.

This is an important question, the answer to which turns on the nature of our constitution. I examine it in a Policy Exchange paper published today, Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Politics of Prorogation, and conclude that the Supreme Court should uphold the judgment of the Divisional Court, which rightly recognised that the prerogative power to prorogue is not subject to judicial control.

It should reverse the judgment of the Inner House of the Court of Session, which wrongly asserted a jurisdiction to control the exercise of the power on the grounds that the Government acted for an improper purpose. If the Supreme Court was to hold that the advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, it should nonetheless recognise that it has no authority to quash the prorogation of Parliament that has already taken place. This was a proceeding in Parliament and of Parliament which courts cannot lawfully question.

The prerogative power to prorogue Parliament is exercised by Her Majesty on the advice of the Government, which is accountable to the House of Commons. The power to prorogue is an important feature of the Westminster constitution, in the UK and in other related systems, and enables the Government to control the timing and length of parliamentary sessions, a power which it is free to use to manage parliamentary business.

The Government is responsible to the Commons, and eventually to the electorate, for its use of this power. It is open to political criticism if it is seen to misuse the power, but unless and until confidence is withdrawn it is entitled to use it. The only circumstances in which it might be open to Her Majesty to refuse a prorogation would be where prorogation was sought to remain in office after a vote of no confidence had been lost.

The Westminster constitution is framed by constitutional convention and practice. The law recognises a sharp distinction between convention and law, and forbids courts from adjudicating disputes about the former, as the Supreme Court itself recognised clearly in Miller (No 1) (the legal challenge brought by Gina Miller with the support of Sir John Major).

Judicial control of the prerogative to prorogue is not justified or required by the fundamental rule (or principle) of parliamentary sovereignty. Proroguing Parliament in no way flouts parliamentary sovereignty. Parliamentary sovereignty is not set aside during a prorogation any more than it is after a dissolution. It is wrong to think that this prorogation bypasses Parliament or turns the constitution on its head.

The House of Commons had an opportunity to withdraw confidence before prorogation and did not act. If the constitution has been turned on its head in recent weeks, it is not by virtue of this prorogation but by the procuring of legislation to force the Government to depart from its central policy and to apply for an Article 50 extension, and by the refusal of the House of Commons to withdraw confidence in the Government or to permit an early election to be held.

The Court of Session reasoned that the Government acted for an ‘improper purpose’, seeking to “stymie” Parliament. However, the courts are not free, as a matter of our law, to apply the ordinary grounds of judicial review, including the rule that one cannot act for an ‘improper purpose’, to the prerogative power to prorogue or to advise about how the prerogative should be exercised.

The courts are not well-placed to decide what is or is not a proper purpose for prorogation. The Court of Session wrongly took upon itself to decide that the Government illegitimately sought to avoid scrutiny rather than legitimately sought to manage parliamentary business and to improve the UK’s negotiating position in relation to the EU. The question of how the power to prorogue Parliament should or should not be used is a political question over which the courts have no jurisdiction.

The Court of Session in effect wrongly departed from the legal rule that courts should not enforce, or invite argument about, constitutional practice and convention. The Government was free to decide to prorogue Parliament, and it is rightly answerable to the House of Commons and to the electorate for this decision. It should not be answerable to the courts for this action.

The Court of Session’s judgment wrongly interferes in a proceeding of Parliament, first by declaring unlawful advice about how the prerogative was to be exercised and second by declaring that the prorogation that followed was null and of no effect.

The Bill of Rights 1689 forbids judicial interference in parliamentary proceedings – and prorogation is a proceeding of Parliament, which brings to an end one session of Parliament and makes provision for the next to begin. The Supreme Court should reverse the Court of Session and uphold the Divisional Court, thereby helping to arrest a worrying trend of judicialising political questions and parliamentary processes.

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

Will Nicolle: Be ambitious in the fight against air pollution

Will Nicolle is a researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of its latest report, ‘Emission impossible?

Since the first Clean Air Act 1956, introduced by a Conservative Government, the UK has enjoyed considerably cleaner air. But stronger evidence has emerged in recent years about the detrimental impact of air pollution to human health, the economy and the environment. Consequently, there is growing public and political pressure for tougher action to reduce levels of air pollution in the UK.

In Bright Blue’s new report, Emission impossible?, we found that a clear majority (71 per cent) of UK adults reported that they were concerned about the impact of air pollution on the health of themselves and others. And a clear majority (69 per cent) of adults agree that the Government should reduce air pollution below current levels.

Air pollution is damaging for our health in a myriad of ways. The air pollutants Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM) have been linked to higher incidences of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as higher incidences of dementia and depression. There are also costs to the environment – through, for example, nitrogen deposition affecting ecosystem dynamics – and the economy, through high concentrations of pollutants increasing the prevalence of sick days.

The UK currently meets all its legal limits and targets on air pollution, except for annual and hourly legal limits on the concentration of NO2. The UK is split into 43 zones for reporting purposes on the concentrations of different air pollutants. In 2010, 40 of these zones were reported as in breach of our legal limits on the concentration of NO2. Based on the most recent data, the UK still breaches its legal limits for NO2 in 37 of these reporting areas. And the transport sector is the largest source of NO2.

As we leave the EU, the UK Government needs new, ambitious legal limits, legal responsibilities and transport policies on air pollution. This country should aspire to be a global leader on yet another environmental issue, and strive to become the country with the cleanest air in urban areas in the developed world.

First, the Government should commit to adopting the ambitious World Health Organisation’s guideline limits on four air pollutants: PM, NO2, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3). Currently, the UK’s legal limits and targets for different air pollutants are EU-derived. Recently, DEFRA stated they believed the WHO’s recommended PM2.5 limit was “technically feasible”, but further analysis was needed as to its economic and practical feasibility. We recommend the Government adopts all the WHO guideline limits for different air pollutants as soon as possible, but only after a feasibility study.

In the future, the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), or even a new Committee on Clean Air, should have the responsibility to recommend future legal limits and targets for different air pollutants to parliament after conducting appropriate feasibility studies. This will be similar to the role of the independent and influential Committee on Climate Change in advising the UK Government on greenhouse gas emission targets, so that the setting of air pollutant limits and targets will be properly evidenced and scrutinised.

Second, to achieve these stricter limits, those who have the power to reduce air pollution should have clearer legal responsibilities. At the moment, local authorities are obliged to monitor, review and if appropriate take action in relation to the air pollution within their boundaries. But local authorities do not have a clear legal responsibility to reduce air pollution below legal limits. Equally, other public authorities that control some sources of air pollution do not face legal obligations to reduce air pollution levels to below legal limits in areas where they have authority.

We recommend that all local authorities have a legal requirement placed on them to achieve compliance with legal air pollutant limits in their geographic area of responsibility. We also recommend that relevant public bodies should have a new legal duty placed on them to contribute to achieving compliance with legal air pollution limits within their geographic area of responsibility.

Finally, bolder transport policies will be needed if the UK is to meet these new ambitious limits, especially for the air pollutant NO2.

Recently, it was forecast that Electric Vehicles will only be 75 per cent of new vehicle sales by 2040 based on current incentives – falling short of the Government’s target of phasing out fossil fuel car purchases by 2040. The expensive upfront costs of Electric Vehicles are a major barrier, so we recommend therefore that VAT should be scrapped on the purchase of all categories of Electric Vehicles in the UK.

Generally, arguments for the lowering of speed limits to 20mph in urban areas are framed in terms of public safety, but there is now also a solid evidence base to be made for it lowering air pollution from vehicles. We recommend that the default national speed limit on all ‘restricted roads’ in urban areas in England and Wales be lowered from 30mph to 20mph.

In the City of New York in the US, there is a system in place to allow citizens to report commercial trucks and buses that are idling for longer than the legal three minutes – or for longer than one minute if outside schools – through taking photographs and videos and filling out an online form run by the City of New York government. Citizens who report polluters get a 25 per cent share of the income from the fine imposed.

So, alongside new powers to enable local authority traffic officers to instantly apply fines for stationary idling, which the government is considering, we recommend local authorities with a charging Clean Air Zone should be required to introduce such citizen-based reporting of stationary idling. If a fine is imposed, citizens could receive a portion of the fine, with the remainder going to the local authority to be spent on other local air pollution abatement policies. We further recommend the government consult on expanding this citizen-based reporting system from the City of New York to passenger vehicles.

The UK’s departure from the EU means that there is an opportunity to raise air pollution standards in the UK. Post-Brexit Britain should introduce ambitious limits and policies to be a global leader on clean air.

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

Richard Ekins: What the most recent nominations mean for the future of the Supreme Court

Professor Richard Ekins is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, and Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project.

While all eyes have been on the formation of the new Government, some other important appointments have been made and are at risk of being overlooked.

From January through June next year, three new Justices will join the Supreme Court.  Two are serving Lord Justices of Appeal; the third, unusually, is a distinguished academic lawyer (with considerable part-time judicial experience).

All three are men, and so with Lady Hale’s retirement on 10 January, the number of women on the Court will drop from three (of twelve) to two. Lord Reed has been appointed President of the Supreme Court and will replace Lady Hale in this important role, with effect from 11 January.

Lord Reed’s appointment is no surprise: he is an experienced and very able judge. He has served on the Supreme Court since February 2012 and as Deputy President since June 2018. Only three of the current Justices have served for longer, two of whom, Lady Hale and Lord Wilson, retire early next year. The third, Lord Kerr, will continue in office until February 2023 (retiring at age 75, which was the retirement age when he was first appointed a judge).

Lord Reed will remain in office until September 2026 (retiring at age 70, which is now the mandatory retirement age).  He is thus likely to be the longest serving President the Supreme Court has yet had. This is a significant appointment.

It is also an excellent appointment. Lord Reed is a careful, impressive judge, keenly aware of his responsibility to do justice according to law and, conversely, to avoid the temptation to subvert law in an attempt to do justice. In a series of important judgments, Lord Reed has acted on a traditional understanding of the judicial function, recognising the limits of judicial power and hewing close to settled law, rather than taking himself to be free to remake it in the course of adjudication.

In Bank Mellat, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the Treasury’s use of counter-terrorism powers to freeze the assets of an Iranian bank in order to hinder the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran. The majority, led by Lord Sumption, quashed the order as an irrational and disproportionate interference with the bank’s convention right to enjoyment of its possessions.

Lord Reed, in dissent, took a more restrained view of the Court’s competence, especially in this domain, to conclude that government action was irrational and disproportionate, and thus unlawful.

In Tigere, he joined Lord Sumption in a fierce dissent from the majority’s decision to go beyond Strasbourg – that is, to require more of UK authorities than the European Court of Human Rights would require – and effectively to introduce into UK law a novel right to taxpayer support for tertiary education for non-citizens. In Nicklinson, he strongly resisted those of his colleagues who were intent on cajoling Parliament to change the law on assisted suicide. (The next round of litigation is about to begin.)

And in June last year, he was, to his credit, in a minority of the Supreme Court that refused to depart from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and to denounce Northern Ireland’s abortion law as incompatible with human rights law.

Lord Reed’s unwillingness to go beyond Strasbourg is a principled limitation on the authority of UK courts, a limitation which is required by the scheme of the Human Rights Act. It makes for a striking contrast with Lady Hale, who has always seemed willing to go beyond Strasbourg.

In Miller, the Article 50 litigation, Lord Reed was one of three of eleven judges in dissent. His dissenting judgment was masterful, navigating the questions of statutory interpretation and constitutional practice with painstaking care. Likewise, in the recent judgment of Privacy International, Lord Reed dissented from the majority’s misinterpretation, in my view, of the ouster clause protecting the jurisdiction of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

More importantly, he also rejected dicta by three judges – Lord Carnwath, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr – to the effect that parliamentary sovereignty is not fundamental and that in a future case it would be lawful for courts openly to defy Parliament and to quash a crystal clear ouster clause.

Lord Reed’s refusal to countenance judicial challenge to parliamentary sovereignty is good news. Less happily, in Evans v Attorney General, he joined Lord Neuberger’s judgment, misinterpreting the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and effectively quashing the ministerial override for which it made provision. Lord Reed seems to have wrongly taken the override to be an unconstitutional transgression on the jurisdiction of the courts. But even if this analysis had been sound, it would still have been wrong for the court to foist a clearly unintended meaning on the Act.

In another important case, UNISON, Lord Reed led a unanimous court in quashing the Lord Chancellor’s decision to raise tribunal fees. Lord Reed reasoned that the level at which the fees had been set limited access to justice and thus lay outside the power Parliament had conferred. This case has been widely hailed as a victory for the rule of law (contrast Evans).

But the problem, as Sir Stephen Laws has argued, is that the judgment is grounded on an implausible inference about Parliament’s intention and involves the courts in second-guessing policy choices, the merits of which should be for the minister, for which he or she is accountable to Parliament.

While I do not agree with all his judgments, and think in some types of case he may be more likely to go wrong, I welcome Lord Reed’s appointment as President of the Supreme Court, and admire his judicial record and philosophy. The future for the rule of law turns in part on how willing Justices of the Supreme Court – including the three incoming Justices – are to expand their jurisdiction, to challenge the authority of Parliament and to undercut the freedom that government otherwise has within legal bounds to make policy and to act for the common good.

Lord Reed’s appointment to succeed Lady Hale seems to me to be good news for the rule of law, reducing the risk that the Supreme Court will abuse its mighty jurisdiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Harper: Most people think it is right to reduce migration. We need a Sustainable Immigration Plan.

Mark Harper is a former Chief Whip, and is MP for the Forest of Dean.  He was Immigration Minister from 2012 to 2014.

One very clear message that the electorate continues to send to politicians is the importance of having a sensible migration policy that controls the levels of immigration into our country.  The topic featured prominently during yesterday evening’s leadership election debate between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson.

The Conservative Party has spent nine years and three general elections pledging to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands, yet last year it stood at 253,000 a year. It is clear that some new thinking is required to make our migration policy more effective, and this involves moving beyond our current net migration target.

What was a powerful statement of intent in 2010 now stands as a visible statement of a target that we have never managed to hit. Back then, we reassured ourselves that the last time we were in government, in the 1990s, net migration averaged fewer than 50,000 and never exceeded 100,000 a year.

It was Labour, not the Conservatives, who oversaw a four-fold leap in net migration during their 13 year stint in government, helped along by Tony Blair’s unilateral decision to relinquish free movement controls in 2004. Moreover, because EU net inflows were minimal, a full 88 per cent of net migration was under direct government control.  Net migration in the tens of thousands was deliverable, but the target was not the way to achieve it.

Despite being maligned as too tough by the Left, the target has proved weak. It sits above different migration routes and therefore gives no indication of the government’s priorities between different skills, industries or types of migration. It has no teeth with Whitehall departments, allowing the merry-go-round of departmental and business special pleading to continue with no consideration of the trade-offs.

As a result, net migration adds a city the size of Newcastle upon Tyne to the population each year. If you add up cumulative net migration since 2010, a total of 1.4 million more people have come to the UK compared to if we had hit our net migration target every year. It is hardly surprising that a majority of every age group, ethnicity and both Remain and Leave voters support reducing immigration and three quarters of people think reducing immigration to the tens of thousands is the right thing to do.

That is why I support new proposals this morning from the thinktank Onward to replace the target with a long-term Sustainable Immigration Plan – published by the Home Office every year and presented to Parliament. This would force the Government to set out its own plans and forecasts for immigration, across different routes, skills and nationalities and make the trade-offs that are inherent in immigration policy.

But this plan needs teeth. That is why we should go one step further and create a new independent Office for Migration Responsibility – along the lines of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility – to enable Ministers to be held to account on the impact of their own immigration policies. This body would provide the information needed to enable Parliament to hold Ministers’ feet to the fire on their promises on immigration and bring an end to unattainable targets.

We must restore public confidence in immigration policy by not only setting out a well-structured and actionable plan to make sure politicians have the ability to decide which – and how many – people come into the country every year, but by being truly accountable for delivering on it.

For far too long the public have thought, and quite rightly too, that our politicians do not have their hands on the wheel when it comes to immigration policy. This has to change, and as we leave the EU we will regain the ability to shape a migration policy that can control immigration from wherever in the world it comes. I hope that our next Prime Minister – whoever that may be – will welcome this report and embrace these proposals into their government’s agenda.

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

Natalie Elphicke: It’s time to break free from the long shadow of the financial crisis

Natalie Elphicke OBE is the Chief Executive of The Housing & Finance Institute.

A decade on from the financial crisis we are still feeling the effects. Growth is too low, our economy still too unbalanced and too often different groups in our society are set against each other in arguing over the slices of a cake that simply hasn’t been growing fast enough. It’s time to break free from the long shadow of the financial crisis. The next Government must seize the opportunities to rebuild the enterprise economy and to forge an aspiration nation.

More than a decade ago the financial world as we knew it went into free-fall. Never in recent decades have the global financial markets been more fragile; have so many individual livelihoods and prosperity hung on a thread. I was working in housing finance at the time, as one of the City’s foremost structured finance lawyers for my specialist area; working on complex transactions amounting to many billions of pounds; managing business-to-business relationships with some of our country’s most important banks.

As the financial crash hit it affected every type of finance: credit lines for small business, development finance, mortgage lending, trade finance, project finance and even government debt itself. That translated into housing market instability, business failures and a scarcity of finance that simply hadn’t been seen since before the ‘big bang’ of the 1980s. Trust in the financial system itself was in jeopardy as people scrambled to remove cash from banks and building societies.

It was truly a global crisis, the financial equivalent of multiple meteor strikes. The impact of the financial crash was severe. It has also been long lasting. The decisions taken in the immediacy of the financial crisis continue to impact on our political environment today, more than a decade on. This is true particularly around access to housing choices, mortgages, savings and passive wealth creation that had become as everyday an expectation as free access to the National Health Service. The continuing impact is also felt in a lack of confidence in the very institutions on which we rely –political as well as financial.

The financial crash in technical terms is extraordinarily complex. However, it is also pretty simple. The international economic dependency on cheaper and cheaper finance had created its very own ‘Ponzi’ scheme: a lending magic roundabout where everyone chased the bottom of the barrel while laying off the worst of their lending decisions on to ‘other people’. Not quite realising that the ‘other people’, when the music stopped, were actually each other and themselves. Under-priced riskier finance had been passed and split from one institution to another and back again. It had contaminated the whole money pool.

The political responses and interventions to the financial crash were extraordinarily complex. Yet they too were also pretty simple: the central banks and political leaders of the main financial centres around the world worked together to intervene to stop the dam breaking. They prevented the very worst that should have been the natural economic consequence: a recession that could have been more severe than the 1930s’ American depression. A seismic global recession that could have reversed the economic gains of decades. That could have put Western industrialised countries back into the dark ages on productivity and growth.

Fortunately, these interventions were successful. Plans forged over pizza, the boardroom and in the offices of the central banks from countries all over the world stabilised the financial system. Deals done, crises seen off and yet more crises averted. Panic managed, institutions restructured, nationalised, bought and sold. Keep calm and carry on.

Yet this action has a financial tail, in other words a cost and consequence that continues beyond the crisis. It has a political tail as well, a political cost and consequence that continues to this day. Shortly after the financial crash a young colleague of mine said at least she would be able to afford a house now, with repossessions expected to spike and house prices projected to fall. That didn’t happen. Several years later she bought a partly owned (shared ownership) property on a new estate. House prices had continued to rise, but her wages and savings didn’t keep pace.

That is the legacy problem that politicians face today. In shoring up the dam, those who had something to lose, mainly didn’t lose. At least nowhere near the numbers or the scale that was expected. While those who didn’t have the same extent of financial assets to lose, primarily the poorer and younger generations, lost their opportunity to gain in the way that immediately preceding generations had been able to. The generation before them was able to build up a stock of wealth, whereas too often this generation has built up a stock of debt.

The decision to maintain the status quo, to plug the dam, wasn’t altruistic. The scale of the projected failure could have all but overwhelmed the country’s housing and social systems. Reviews of previous housing crises demonstrated the social and economic futility and destruction in the system of mass repossession, house price collapse and re-homing/ re-jobbing/ re-schooling. But bad debt is like a poison; it needs to work its way out, to wash through the financial system. The long journey over the last decade has been one intended to purge the system, but to do so through a slower and softer landing rather than a sharp and catastrophic one.

However, the cycle of economic shocks has also traditionally brought economic rejuvenation. Avoiding the worst of the shock has meant that the economic rejuvenation has been more muted than might otherwise have been the case. That is a problem that we are still today grappling with, where large parts of our economy remain subject to economic drift.

It is by no means certain that any economy will naturally revert to significant economic growth. Other major G7 economies, such as Japan, have faced long term ‘flatlining’, little or no growth that has persisted over many years. The UK is not quite Japan. Yet it hasn’t seen the energy or the dynamic growth that is necessary to fight in post-war or post-shock years. Neither has it seen the big political decisions to unequivocally support growth and prosperity for all.

That is the big political challenge of today. What we call the ‘inter-generational’ crisis in other times would be recognised as the equivalent of the post Second World War years or 1970s poor years. But unless we experience a 1980s-style period of dynamic growth, the country will simply continue to argue about how to divide the cake. Pitting free TV licences against free access to university; quarrelling over whether to subsidise home ownership or social rent, when we need both; rationing our help to those in need, when we should be a land of more and plenty. What is needed is a Government unashamedly committed to growth and economic expansion in the post-Brexit era.

The new Prime Minister needs to dream a dream for all of us, and then put in place the political measures to make it a reality. The re-birth of the enterprise economy and the aspiration nation. To commit to growth, prosperity and opportunity for all.

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

The liberal think tank trying to break up Big Tech

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Politico published an interesting story today about a think tank called the Open Markets Institute. The group only has about a dozen employees but it has connections to some of the leading candidates for president on the Democratic side, especially Elizabeth Warren who has been a fan of the group since 2016. The basic complaint being pushed is that Big Tech, i.e. Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., need to be broken up the way that Standard Oil was broken up a century ago. And the reason, at least the one that seems to be on everyone’s mind, is the election of President Trump:

Open Markets believes the major online companies need government intervention, including in some cases breaking them apart the way Standard Oil was split more than a century ago. And it’s seizing the political moment created by Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory, which has put the tech industry on the defensive over everything from Russian disinformation to data privacy.

“When Trump won, it turned out that Google and Facebook were not magicians,” said Matt Stoller, an Open Markets fellow and former staffer on the Senate Budget Committee under ranking member Sanders (I-Vt.). “They were just marketers, and that was a massive hit to the prestige of ‘Big Tech.’”

One of the group’s big wins was the pushback against Amazon’s new headquarters in New York:

Ron Kim, a Democratic member of the New York state Assembly, credits Open Markets with helping him articulate arguments against Amazon as he helped lead pushback against the company’s planned second-headquarters expansion into Queens’ Long Island City neighborhood. “I ended up learning and growing tremendously as a lawmaker, because they have been doing this a lot longer than I have,” Kim told POLITICO.

Amazon abandoned its New York City plans in February, saying that “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us.”

The group offers one-on-one briefings but also seems to specialize in hyperbolic public statements of its own, such as describing a $5 billion fine of Facebook as a “parking-ticket-level penalty for destroying democracy.”

Given the progressive leanings of Google, Facebook, and other Big Tech companies, it’s hard to get too worked up about them being broken up into smaller entities. On the other hand, reading the Politico story you get the impression that OMI has been one of the forces driving the Big Tech companies to the left in the past two years. As the resistance seized on Facebook ads and Twitter memes for spoiling the outcome of the 2016 election, there was a partisan push to make these companies pay a price for failing to stop Trump. Under that external pressure, Big Tech has been bending over backward to comply with the wishes of progressive activists who want to silence conservative voices online. Given who supports OMI, I’m not sure that a completely accidental byproduct of their efforts. Breaking up Big Tech may be the long-term goal, but in the short term they are giving the left greater control of what is deemed acceptable in the online space.

The post The liberal think tank trying to break up Big Tech appeared first on Hot Air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope our book will help light the way.

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

Neil O’Brien: How our new leader should use our fiscal firepower to promote Conservative values

Neil O’Brien is MP for Market Harborough and is a board member of Onward.

One of the first big decisions for our next leader will be how to play the Spending Review.

There are some massive decisions to make just weeks after the new Prime Minister arrives, and these choices should be at the heart of the current leadership election. The first is about how fast to reduce debt.

After nine years of difficult decisions, Government debt is forecast to fall from 83 per cent to 73 per cent GDP over the next five years. That means scope to cut tax and increase spending in a prudent way in the near term, while keeping debt as a share of GDP falling.

How should we use this fiscal firepower we’ve built up?  We should use it to promote Conservative values. The Spending Review should fund good public services. It should back business, but in a way that helps poor areas. It should help support family life, and help those on low incomes to earn more, and keep more of what they earn.

Let’s start with public services first.

Conservatives must be the party of law and order. We now have room to increase police numbers and fulfil pledges we made in opposition about increasing prison sentences. That requires investing in more prison places. But because the police and prison budgets are relatively small (£14 and £4 billion respectively, out of total spending of £840 billion), it wouldn’t cost much to invest in fighting crime.

School spending is at a record high, but pupil numbers are growing fast. After accounting for inflation, school funding per student is eight per cent below its peak in 2015.  We should take real spending per pupil back to its peak and keep it there. That would cost about £4.6bn extra a year by 2022-23. It would be a good investment, and shut down the scare stories put about by the hard left.

The second big thing we need to do is to get the economy moving.

We should learn from Ireland.  Between 1990 and 2017 Ireland grew its Gross National Income per capita from 25 per cent below the UK level to 45 per cent above it.

How did they overtake us? Relative to the size of its economy, Ireland attracted four times more inward investment than the UK.  Those new factories and offices have transformed productivity, putting rocket boosters under Irish wages. Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax, just 12.5%, has been a magnet for investment.

Since 2010 we’ve cut the UK Corporation Tax rate from 28 per cent to 19 per cent, and it’s scheduled to fall to 17 per cent in 2020. We should finish the job, and cut it to the Irish rate, showing that Britain is open for business.

But it would be no good having an economy that’s only strong in some areas, or for some people.

A report I have out today for the think tank Onward, Firing On All Cylinders, presents clear evidence that more balanced economies are richer overall. There are no large countries which have a more regionally imbalanced economy than the UK, and are also richer than the UK.

It’s not hard to understand why. In an unbalanced economy resources like land and infrastructure are overloaded in some places, but underused elsewhere. Because people (particularly lower skilled workers) don’t simply leave their homes in the face of local economic problems, having greater distances between unemployed workers and job opportunities creates problems, and high unemployment can lock in patterns of worklessness.

Politicians often talk about rebalancing the economy (particularly since the referendum) but policies to do so have often failed.
Labour’s approach didn’t work. Rather than moving a few back-office jobs in the public sector to poor areas, it’s the private sector we need to grow.

We should learn from the way that Margaret Thatcher used investment tax breaks to lure Nissan to invest in Sunderland, transforming not just wages locally, but a whole moribund industry.

My report finds Britain’s tax treatment of investment is the least generous of any G20 country, helping explain why investment and productivity in Britain are so much lower than competitors.

Fixed investment in Britain has been lower than the OECD average in every year but one since 1960, while rising countries like South Korea have nine times more robots per manufacturing worker than the UK, making them much more competitive.

But there’s a double whammy from a tax system hostile to investment: it’s particularly bad for poorer regions, because they are more reliant on manufacturing, which requires twice as much capital investment per worker as the rest of the economy. My report shows how Britain’s unusual tax system helps explain why Britain has de-industrialised more than any other G20 country since 1990, hitting poorer areas hardest.

While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40-50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West.

As numerous business groups have argued, we should cut tax on investment. Plus we should go even further in cutting it in poorer regions, to attract inward investment there.

We should give the Department of International Trade a new mandate to drive inward investment to poorer places and also rebalance the government’s most growth-enhancing spending. At present the types of government spending with the greatest potential to spur growth are too concentrated on areas that are already successful.

Finally, the Spending Review must make sure working people feel the benefits of growth in their own pockets.

With the Income Tax Personal Allowance now at £12,500, compared to a National Insurance threshold around £8,600, raising the threshold for National Insurance would help more poor households than raising the Personal Allowance.

Families with children are twice as likely to be poor, because there are more mouths to feed, so helping working families with children on low incomes should be a high priority.

Until the 1970s we used to recognise children in the tax system, recognising that having children reduces your ability to pay tax.  It’s time to start doing so again, because Conservatives should support family life as well as hard work.

We should raise the National Insurance Primary Threshold to £13,000 for people with children. That would increase post-tax income by up to £1,100 for a two-earner couple.

And we shouldn’t stop there. Our other great tool to help low income workers is Universal Credit. We should cut tax further for the poorest working families by turning UC into “UC Plus”. That means dramatically increasing UC Work Allowances and creating a separate Work Allowance for second earners, meaning people keep more of what they earn.

UC Plus would increase incomes for working households by up to a further £4,300 for those who benefit most.

We should put the poorest at the front of the queue for tax cuts because we can see from our previous reforms that cutting tax for the lowest paid creates a double win: it increases incomes directly, but also encourages work and increases employment.

I believe strong economies are built on broad foundations: more geographically balanced economies are stronger overall; and economies where all groups see the benefits of growth have higher employment. In short, a strong economy is one that is firing on all cylinders.

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John O’Connell: There are so many better ways of spending £50 billion than on HS2. Here are some of them.

John O’Connell is Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

On Monday April 22nd, Matthew Bishop and his mum Gerry started walking from their home in Leamington Spa to London Euston. Their goal was to walk along the entire length of the proposed HS2 Phase 1 route, highlighting the sheer destruction to the environment and the damage to local businesses and communities being uprooted to pave way for a new train which, when completed – behind schedule and above budget – will save commuters 20 minutes from Birmingham to London.

They walked around 100 miles over 16 days and along the route they met families forced out of their homes, local business facing uncertainty about the future and saw acres of felled trees in ancient woodland areas. All of this destruction to save 20 minutes on a not-as-high-speed-as-it-was-supposed-to-be train.

Our team welcomed Matthew and Gerry back to London when they arrived, and marched with them from Mornington Crescent to London Euston. At the TaxPayers’ Alliance, we’ve been campaigning for this wasteful and destructive project to be scrapped for years.

Time and time again, we’ve called on Ministers to reconsider this £100 billion vanity project. Unless we follow Corbyn’s mantra of magic money tree economics, we have to accept that the Government has a limited budget, and must prioritise the things that are most important. Families in Britain are struggling under the highest tax burden in 50 years, and they want to know that the money they give to government is going to be spent on the things that matter to them, like the NHS and policing. Of course infrastructure projects can be of huge benefit for the economy and for taxpayers, but HS2 comes at the cost of other more important ventures.

Last year, we hit a brick wall. Despite years of campaigning, and support from various MPs and interest groups, HS2 was carrying on regardless. Some of the project’s biggest opponents had left, or were poised to leave, Cabinet. Only MPs with constituencies affected by the route were still standing firm. Despite the efforts of many active groups, like TPA and Stop HS2, campaigners seemed worn down by the negativity. Frankly, the campaign against HS2 felt like it had run out of steam.

But there was also a huge opportunity. With the recurring warnings of spiralling costs, environmental damage and management blunders, the positive vision for HS2 was wearing thin. Taxpayers were demanding more for their money. With a few notable exceptions, few argued the case for HS2 – they simply said we had to get it finished. But what if there was a positive and popular alternative?

Others had already spotted this change, including Bob Seely on this site, so the TPA seized on the opportunity. That’s why we set up the Great British Transport Competition. With the early help and excellent guidance of Craig Tracey, we established that – even on official figures – scrapping HS2 would free up around £50 billion of transport infrastructure funding (even minus all the costs we couldn’t claw back). Recruiting a heavyweight judging panel, including qualified accountants, engineers, surveyors and transport industry experts, we set up a process for taking in and assessing ideas from members of the public. Anyone could submit. The criteria was clear. Costs and timeframes would be second guessed by the judges. Any type of transport project was fair game. As long as it was doable, it was eligible. In September last year, we opened the Great British Transport Competition for entries.

Nothing better sums up the problem with HS2 than the amazing response we received. The alternatives ranged from airfields to supertrams, roads to rail, bicycles to bridges. Many of the proposals for new ideas were interesting, exciting, ambitious and world-leading. Most of them were outside London, across the South West and the Northern cities. They didn’t cost much, but boasted eye-wateringly good cost-benefit ratios. Some were as simple as reopening old lines. Others were as complicated as hyperloop. There was clearly huge demand for doing more, and being bolder and better, with that £50 billion.

With the full results being published, and which are being presented today by David Davis, politicians have two choices. They can carry on regardless, ignore the evidence that HS2 is failing and wait until a coalition of Conservative leadership contenders and Labour MPs from the North kill the project. Or they can pick up the mantle of these credible winning projects which benefit constituencies across the UK – and perhaps get some credit from voters for doing so.

The pendulum is swinging against HS2. The optimistic, bold and popular case no longer lies with an expensive white elephant catering for rich London commuters. The next Conservative leader will have to wholeheartedly oppose HS2 if they want to win. The next Prime Minister will have to offer something to voters in marginal seats outside London. With the tax burden already at a near 50 year high, they’d struggle to raise yet more money to do it. We hope that our Great British Transport Competition gives them the answer.

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