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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Cameron MP"

Ben Obese-Jecty: Has the Coronavirus crisis now set the conditions for the Big Society?

Ben Obese-Jecty is the Deputy Chairman (Political) for Hornsey and Wood Green Conservative Association and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

Nearly ten years ago a newly elected Prime Minister stood at a lectern at Liverpool Hope University and delivered his vision for Britain. David Cameron’s Big Society speech outlined a framework proposing a redistribution of power from Westminster to the man and woman on the street.

Now, a tumultuous few months have all but torn up many of the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledges. A bold new strategy will be required in order to get the country back on its feet. But to what extent have conditions been created to facilitate the original Big Society agenda, and are they applicable to post-Coronavirus Britain?

The first strand of the Big Society’s framework spoke of the need to “foster and support a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action”. This selflessness and commitment to contribution is the key tenet upon which any interpretation of the Big Society is dependent. Without willing large-scale participation, the platform to create the other strands of the framework would founder.

In his 2009 Hugo Young lecture, Cameron argued that “the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism”. With austerity measures having halted that state growth, emerging civic responsibility has naturally filled the gap where required – indirectly setting the conditions for it to grow organically, rather than by edict.

The current crisis has given rise to a new-found willingness to embrace these behaviours, underwritten by the mass engagement required to make them viable. Through a blend of cultural influences and necessity, attitudes within our society have changed markedly since 2010, but in recent times the sense of social cohesion across the country has arguably never been greater; from support for foodbanks to neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and the 750,000 NHS volunteers, the spirit of social action is currently highly evident. We have rarely seen such collective selflessness from the public and must seize the opportunity to ensure that it endures beyond the current crisis.

The second strand outlined the need for public service reform via “new providers like charities, social enterprises and private companies so we get more innovation, diversity and responsiveness to public need”.

Critics have argued that this appeared to be little more than an attempt to reduce Government expenditure under the auspices of civic responsibility; austerity by stealth mitigating any shortfall in resources. But as we look to how our post-Coronavirus environment may take shape, the role of new providers and the incentivisation of third-party providers will be key to encouraging the enterprise that needed in those areas where state support is not available.

The short-term application of big state has been championed by the left as vindication, Jeremy Corbyn going as far as to assert that he had “won the argument”, but a short-term response to an unprecedented situation, particularly one that is unsustainable, does not represent a strategic solution.

With the prospect of a decade of unwieldy state intervention, and the OBR predicting a rise in unemployment to a high of nine per cent, the Government will be keen to ensure that such a top-down approach is in place for only as long as is necessary.

Opportunities to devolve power will be vital in ensuring that tailored solutions are implemented for specific regions. Lord Heseltine’s proposal that metro mayors should be given a greater say over how best to rejuvenate their local regions is an example of where potentially innovative approaches may lie.

Though the response will initially see unprecedented levels of Government expenditure, an inevitable need to rebalance the books will follow. While the Government will be forced to employ a more holistic solution than a simple return to austerity, the incentivisation and invigoration of new organisations sitting on the periphery of the established framework could be a shrewd and practical response in reducing the burden upon local government.

A collegiate approach would be an effective way of identifying expertise to better target the areas requiring attention, as well as providing much needed stimulus to potential growth areas.

The third strand of the Big Society was community empowerment, centred upon communities feeling that “if they club together and get involved, they can shape the world around them”. As with the change in attitudes that has encouraged individual social action, the ability to empower groups at a local level may be significant in not only achieving innovative and democratic solutions, but also the required buy-in to maintain any mass engagement from the wider population.

As a Conservative government we should be embracing the personal responsibility shown by groups and communities eager to make a difference. Empowering community groups from the bottom-up and addressing the impact felt by any structural or regional inequalities facilitates what Cameron believed is the state “directly agitating for, catalysing and galvanising social renewal”.

By encouraging community activists and social entrepreneurs we can help them create the local enterprises vital to address those key areas where a reduced state has failed to identify a local need or is ill-equipped to service it.

This empowerment will not organically appear should the state retrench, as it must, in the strategic response to the crisis, but as the Government seeks to identify those areas where a difference can be made, the opportunity to harness the current groundswell of engagement should not be squandered.

The Government will need to ensure that when funding is made available in order to support efforts to reinvigorate areas in need, such groups are included as stakeholders within the discussion.

The expectation that the Big Society could thrive as some form of autarkic concept was undone by the prioritisation of fiscal conservatism; denied the investment it would need to establish momentum. The next decade will likely be hard, characterised by the complex balance of paying for the measures imposed to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus whilst attempting to deliver a manifesto partially rendered moot by the economic devastation of a global pandemic.

A key facet of the concept was the need to inculcate a spirit of civic participation amongst the population at large. It is significant that the current crisis has imbued people with the grass-roots motivation that would otherwise have been difficult to achieve.

Through both the cultural changes of the last decade and exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis, many have experienced a change to their milieu. For the next decade there will be a need for us all to take better care of one another, both with regards to our health and our social fabric. The conditions might now be right to revisit the concept of the Big Society.

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

Profile: Rishi Sunak, rising star of the Johnson project

Rishi Sunak is the new holder of British politics’ most unenviable post, the next Prime Minister. The role has been played over the years by many talented figures, almost none of whom has actually made it to Number Ten.

But with the ascension of Boris Johnson – a man written off by a larger number of serious commentators than any politician now living – a vacancy has arisen, and the as yet almost totally unknown Sunak has been chosen to fill it. As George Parker reported a few days ago in The Financial Times:

“Some Tory MPs are convinced the steep upward ascent of Mr Sunak’s political career puts him on a course to one day become prime minister. He declined to be interviewed for this article.”

We see Sunak struggling, as anyone of sense would, against elevation to the lonely, envy-inducing, failure-presaging role of the next PM, in which one finds oneself haunted in the small hours by the ghost of Rab Butler, who explains what it was that so unexpectedly allowed Harold Macmillan and then Alec Home to overtake him in the final furlong of the race.

And yet we are witnessing a Sunak boom, in which he rises at astonishing speed to become one of the key figures in the Johnson administration, charged with making a success of reviving the neglected towns of northern England which have just voted Conservative for the first time. As Parker reported,

“Rishi Sunak, the Treasury chief secretary who stood in for Boris Johnson in television debates during the general election campaign, is being tipped by senior Tories to run a new economic super-ministry after a big cabinet reshuffle due in February. Conservatives close to the prime minister said Mr Sunak’s performance during the election put him in line for promotion to a full cabinet portfolio in the reshuffle. ‘Rishi is a superstar, he keeps to the line and proved himself to be a calm, able debater,’ said one Tory official, adding he would be a ‘perfect fit’ for the economic super-ministry being considered by Mr Johnson. The prime minister is expected to create a beefed-up business ministry — absorbing the international trade department — with a remit to attract inward investment and ‘level up’ Britain’s economy by targeting help at poorer areas including parts of the midlands and northern England.”

Not everyone was impressed by Sunak’s performances in the seven-way election debates in which he represented the Conservatives, with Rowena Mason writing in The Guardian after the ITV debate:

“Cheesy and wooden, Sunak did not make any major slip-ups but he struggled to cut through and his lines all sounded precooked. However, the Conservatives are likely to be relieved that he got through the two hours without incident while delivering the key campaign messages.”

Sunak is not a star debater, but possesses several other qualities which fit him for a starring role in the Johnson government. He is extremely bright, extremely energetic and extremely proud to be British.

The Prime Minister possesses those qualities himself, esteems them in his colleagues, and delights to promote people such as Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma and Sunak himself who demonstrate that Conservative values, including hard work, patriotism, bettering oneself by getting a good education and helping others to do the same, are every bit as appealing to people of immigrant descent as to anyone else.

A generation ago, such ministers would almost certainly have joined the Labour Party. Now it is the Conservatives, thanks especially to the widening of the parliamentary party under David Cameron’s leadership, who have given them the chance to shine.

Sunak’s grandparents were born in the Punjab and arrived from East Africa in England in the 1960s. His father worked as a GP in Southampton and his mother ran a pharmacy, with young Rishi, born in 1980, keeping the books for her.

He took the scholarship exams for Winchester College, did not win a full scholarship, but his parents decided they would send him there anyway.

In a recent conversation with Nick Robinson, he said his family believe “education is everything”. In an even more recent podcast recorded by two pupils at a school in Richmond, in his North Yorkshire constituency, he said when they began by asking him where he had been to school, and what type of school it was:

“So I was very fortunate to go to this amazing school called Winchester College, and it’s in Hampshire, and it’s a very old boarding school but an absolutely marvellous place.”

Few people in public life speak with such enthusiasm about their schooldays, especially if they are lucky enough to have gone to Eton or Winchester, and to have enjoyed the experience. Sunak sounds more genuine than the many members of the Establishment who go through life trying to deny or downplay the privileges they have enjoyed.

The pupils proceeded to ask what his favourite subjects were, and he told them:

“economics, absolutely my major academic love, I love economics, I still read lots of economics.”

He has other enthusiasms too, for the Saints (Southampton Football Club, where his childhood hero was Matt Le Tissier), cricket (he had the decency not to make the First Eleven at Winchester, but was Senior Commoner Prefect, or head boy), Roald Dahl’s volumes of autobiography (Boy and Going Solo), the Star Wars films (he knew the answers to all five questions about them put by Nick Robinson) and Coca-Cola (“I’m a total Coke addict, Coca-Cola addict to be totally clear, I have seven fillings to show for it”).

Politicians often make a mess of these simple questions: one thinks of Gordon Brown’s love of the Arctic Monkeys or Theresa May running through fields of wheat. Sunak displays an almost disconcerting lack of the inhibitions which avert straight answers.

He went to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he took a First in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, after which he travelled on a Fulbright scholarship to Stanford University, where he did an MBA and met a fellow student, Akshata Murphy, whom in 2009 he married. They have two daughters.

Sunak is better known in India than in Britain because his wife is the daughter of N.R.Narayana Murthy, billionaire co-founder of Infosys, a tremendously successful IT company.

Since graduating from Stanford, Sunak has worked in California, India and Britain, first for Goldman Sachs and later for various investment firms which he helped to set up, and as a director of the Murthy family company.

In October 2014 Sunak won selection as William Hague’s successor in the safe Conservative seat of Richmond, and was duly elected in 2015 as the MP for this overwhelmingly white part of Yorkshire. In his maiden speech, he used a joke he has often told in order to describe how he had fitted in there:

“Wandering through an auction market, I was introduced to a farmer as ‘the new William Hague’. He looked at me, quizzically, then said, ‘Ah yes, Haguey! Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a better tan.’ [Laughter.] “

In an interview with the Indian paper The Business Standard, conducted at the House of Commons soon after his election, he explained:

“British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu.”

He also said of the family into which he married, “I think I have swung them to a pro-British outlook on life,” so although they had done a lot of business in the United States, they had shifted to “a very pro-UK approach”.

Sunak noted, in some work he did for Policy Exchange, the shared willingness of this country’s otherwise very diverse ethnic minorities to identify themselves as British:

“Perhaps fittingly, one of the few common traits amongst minorities is their shared sense of ‘British-ness’.  Almost all ethnic minorities have a much stronger commitment to the notion of ‘British-ness’ than their white peers and feel it is an important part of their identity. In contrast, the white population prefers to identify itself with the individual home countries and ‘being British’ appears to be much less important to them.”

He himself finds it entirely natural to express his pride in being British, and his belief, as he put in in his maiden speech, “in a compassionate Britain that provides opportunity and values freedom”.

Not long after entering Parliament, he had to decide which side he would back in the EU referendum. He told Nick Robinson he came to the question “with an open mind”, was not ideological about it but “went through it analytically…I looked through the numbers”.

He decided to back Leave, in part because “having the flexibility and the nimbleness to adapt” to a rapidly changing world “would be of enormous value to us”.

So Sunak is at one and the same time profoundly British and profoundly global in outlook. In 2016, he supported Michael Gove’s unsuccessful bid for the Tory leadership.

In January 2018, Theresa May made him a junior minister in the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, where Sajid Javid was Secretary of State.

A year and a half later, Sunak had to decide who to support in the Tory leadership race, and together with two other junior ministers, Oliver Dowden and Robert Jenrick, questioned Johnson for an hour at Jenrick’s house in Westminster.

The three of them proceeded to write an article for The Times Red Box which appeared on 5th June 2019 under the headline: “The Tories are in deep trouble. Only Boris Johnson can save us”.

This endorsement came at a valuable moment for Johnson, for it helped show him as a unifying figure who was pulling away from his rivals. He was hailed by the trio as a “proven winner” who can “inspire the country and revitalise our party”.

After Johnson had won, he made Sunak Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jenrick Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Dowden Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.

Sunak’s promotion into the Cabinet, though a striking achievement for an MP who had only entered Parliament in 2015, has not yet provoked the envy and mockery which come the way of someone like Matt Hancock.

The modesty of Sunak’s demeanour, the fact that he is “not in the least swanky or ostentatious” as one colleague puts it, his friendliness and undeniable intellectual ability have helped to deflect criticism.

Sunak has won golden opinions at the Treasury. Officials find “he gets it”, and explaining some difficult question to him can be a good way to make progress towards ministerial approval.

Javid is regarded, by contrast, as a weak Chancellor presiding over a weakened department, which has become incapable of standing up to Number Ten.

So conditions are perhaps more propitious than usual for setting up a rival economics department, a project which in the past the Treasury has managed to strangle pretty much at birth.

And maybe Sunak has the qualities needed to run such a department. Johnson certainly seems to think so, and often turns to him first for advice on economic questions, about which the Prime Minister cannot be said to know very much.

Sunak has spoken with delight of the “delivery, outcomes-focussed” approach taken at the daily meetings of the committee charged with preparing for a no deal Brexit, on which he himself served.

It reminded him of the “can-do, problem-solving” mentality found in the private sector. And those are qualities the Prime Minister now wants to see applied to the regeneration of neglected towns, along with such dynamism-promoting innovations as free ports, for which Sunak expressed enthusiasm in a CPS paper published in 2016.

So Sunak is ready to play a key role in trying to realise the Johnson project. Whether he might one day have a project of his own, it is much too early to say, but for him to return in a couple of years to the Treasury as Chancellor would be a natural and already widely expected progression.

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

Profile: Rishi Sunak, rising star of the Johnson project

Rishi Sunak is the new holder of British politics’ most unenviable post, the next Prime Minister. The role has been played over the years by many talented figures, almost none of whom has actually made it to Number Ten.

But with the ascension of Boris Johnson – a man written off by a larger number of serious commentators than any politician now living – a vacancy has arisen, and the as yet almost totally unknown Sunak has been chosen to fill it. As George Parker reported a few days ago in The Financial Times:

“Some Tory MPs are convinced the steep upward ascent of Mr Sunak’s political career puts him on a course to one day become prime minister. He declined to be interviewed for this article.”

We see Sunak struggling, as anyone of sense would, against elevation to the lonely, envy-inducing, failure-presaging role of the next PM, in which one finds oneself haunted in the small hours by the ghost of Rab Butler, who explains what it was that so unexpectedly allowed Harold Macmillan and then Alec Home to overtake him in the final furlong of the race.

And yet we are witnessing a Sunak boom, in which he rises at astonishing speed to become one of the key figures in the Johnson administration, charged with making a success of reviving the neglected towns of northern England which have just voted Conservative for the first time. As Parker reported,

“Rishi Sunak, the Treasury chief secretary who stood in for Boris Johnson in television debates during the general election campaign, is being tipped by senior Tories to run a new economic super-ministry after a big cabinet reshuffle due in February. Conservatives close to the prime minister said Mr Sunak’s performance during the election put him in line for promotion to a full cabinet portfolio in the reshuffle. ‘Rishi is a superstar, he keeps to the line and proved himself to be a calm, able debater,’ said one Tory official, adding he would be a ‘perfect fit’ for the economic super-ministry being considered by Mr Johnson. The prime minister is expected to create a beefed-up business ministry — absorbing the international trade department — with a remit to attract inward investment and ‘level up’ Britain’s economy by targeting help at poorer areas including parts of the midlands and northern England.”

Not everyone was impressed by Sunak’s performances in the seven-way election debates in which he represented the Conservatives, with Rowena Mason writing in The Guardian after the ITV debate:

“Cheesy and wooden, Sunak did not make any major slip-ups but he struggled to cut through and his lines all sounded precooked. However, the Conservatives are likely to be relieved that he got through the two hours without incident while delivering the key campaign messages.”

Sunak is not a star debater, but possesses several other qualities which fit him for a starring role in the Johnson government. He is extremely bright, extremely energetic and extremely proud to be British.

The Prime Minister possesses those qualities himself, esteems them in his colleagues, and delights to promote people such as Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma and Sunak himself who demonstrate that Conservative values, including hard work, patriotism, bettering oneself by getting a good education and helping others to do the same, are every bit as appealing to people of immigrant descent as to anyone else.

A generation ago, such ministers would almost certainly have joined the Labour Party. Now it is the Conservatives, thanks especially to the widening of the parliamentary party under David Cameron’s leadership, who have given them the chance to shine.

Sunak’s grandparents were born in the Punjab and arrived from East Africa in England in the 1960s. His father worked as a GP in Southampton and his mother ran a pharmacy, with young Rishi, born in 1980, keeping the books for her.

He took the scholarship exams for Winchester College, did not win a full scholarship, but his parents decided they would send him there anyway.

In a recent conversation with Nick Robinson, he said his family believe “education is everything”. In an even more recent podcast recorded by two pupils at a school in Richmond, in his North Yorkshire constituency, he said when they began by asking him where he had been to school, and what type of school it was:

“So I was very fortunate to go to this amazing school called Winchester College, and it’s in Hampshire, and it’s a very old boarding school but an absolutely marvellous place.”

Few people in public life speak with such enthusiasm about their schooldays, especially if they are lucky enough to have gone to Eton or Winchester, and to have enjoyed the experience. Sunak sounds more genuine than the many members of the Establishment who go through life trying to deny or downplay the privileges they have enjoyed.

The pupils proceeded to ask what his favourite subjects were, and he told them:

“economics, absolutely my major academic love, I love economics, I still read lots of economics.”

He has other enthusiasms too, for the Saints (Southampton Football Club, where his childhood hero was Matt Le Tissier), cricket (he had the decency not to make the First Eleven at Winchester, but was Senior Commoner Prefect, or head boy), Roald Dahl’s volumes of autobiography (Boy and Going Solo), the Star Wars films (he knew the answers to all five questions about them put by Nick Robinson) and Coca-Cola (“I’m a total Coke addict, Coca-Cola addict to be totally clear, I have seven fillings to show for it”).

Politicians often make a mess of these simple questions: one thinks of Gordon Brown’s love of the Arctic Monkeys or Theresa May running through fields of wheat. Sunak displays an almost disconcerting lack of the inhibitions which avert straight answers.

He went to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he took a First in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, after which he travelled on a Fulbright scholarship to Stanford University, where he did an MBA and met a fellow student, Akshata Murphy, whom in 2009 he married. They have two daughters.

Sunak is better known in India than in Britain because his wife is the daughter of N.R.Narayana Murthy, billionaire co-founder of Infosys, a tremendously successful IT company.

Since graduating from Stanford, Sunak has worked in California, India and Britain, first for Goldman Sachs and later for various investment firms which he helped to set up, and as a director of the Murthy family company.

In October 2014 Sunak won selection as William Hague’s successor in the safe Conservative seat of Richmond, and was duly elected in 2015 as the MP for this overwhelmingly white part of Yorkshire. In his maiden speech, he used a joke he has often told in order to describe how he had fitted in there:

“Wandering through an auction market, I was introduced to a farmer as ‘the new William Hague’. He looked at me, quizzically, then said, ‘Ah yes, Haguey! Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a better tan.’ [Laughter.] “

In an interview with the Indian paper The Business Standard, conducted at the House of Commons soon after his election, he explained:

“British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu.”

He also said of the family into which he married, “I think I have swung them to a pro-British outlook on life,” so although they had done a lot of business in the United States, they had shifted to “a very pro-UK approach”.

Sunak noted, in some work he did for Policy Exchange, the shared willingness of this country’s otherwise very diverse ethnic minorities to identify themselves as British:

“Perhaps fittingly, one of the few common traits amongst minorities is their shared sense of ‘British-ness’.  Almost all ethnic minorities have a much stronger commitment to the notion of ‘British-ness’ than their white peers and feel it is an important part of their identity. In contrast, the white population prefers to identify itself with the individual home countries and ‘being British’ appears to be much less important to them.”

He himself finds it entirely natural to express his pride in being British, and his belief, as he put in in his maiden speech, “in a compassionate Britain that provides opportunity and values freedom”.

Not long after entering Parliament, he had to decide which side he would back in the EU referendum. He told Nick Robinson he came to the question “with an open mind”, was not ideological about it but “went through it analytically…I looked through the numbers”.

He decided to back Leave, in part because “having the flexibility and the nimbleness to adapt” to a rapidly changing world “would be of enormous value to us”.

So Sunak is at one and the same time profoundly British and profoundly global in outlook. In 2016, he supported Michael Gove’s unsuccessful bid for the Tory leadership.

In January 2018, Theresa May made him a junior minister in the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, where Sajid Javid was Secretary of State.

A year and a half later, Sunak had to decide who to support in the Tory leadership race, and together with two other junior ministers, Oliver Dowden and Robert Jenrick, questioned Johnson for an hour at Jenrick’s house in Westminster.

The three of them proceeded to write an article for The Times Red Box which appeared on 5th June 2019 under the headline: “The Tories are in deep trouble. Only Boris Johnson can save us”.

This endorsement came at a valuable moment for Johnson, for it helped show him as a unifying figure who was pulling away from his rivals. He was hailed by the trio as a “proven winner” who can “inspire the country and revitalise our party”.

After Johnson had won, he made Sunak Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jenrick Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Dowden Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.

Sunak’s promotion into the Cabinet, though a striking achievement for an MP who had only entered Parliament in 2015, has not yet provoked the envy and mockery which come the way of someone like Matt Hancock.

The modesty of Sunak’s demeanour, the fact that he is “not in the least swanky or ostentatious” as one colleague puts it, his friendliness and undeniable intellectual ability have helped to deflect criticism.

Sunak has won golden opinions at the Treasury. Officials find “he gets it”, and explaining some difficult question to him can be a good way to make progress towards ministerial approval.

Javid is regarded, by contrast, as a weak Chancellor presiding over a weakened department, which has become incapable of standing up to Number Ten.

So conditions are perhaps more propitious than usual for setting up a rival economics department, a project which in the past the Treasury has managed to strangle pretty much at birth.

And maybe Sunak has the qualities needed to run such a department. Johnson certainly seems to think so, and often turns to him first for advice on economic questions, about which the Prime Minister cannot be said to know very much.

Sunak has spoken with delight of the “delivery, outcomes-focussed” approach taken at the daily meetings of the committee charged with preparing for a no deal Brexit, on which he himself served.

It reminded him of the “can-do, problem-solving” mentality found in the private sector. And those are qualities the Prime Minister now wants to see applied to the regeneration of neglected towns, along with such dynamism-promoting innovations as free ports, for which Sunak expressed enthusiasm in a CPS paper published in 2016.

So Sunak is ready to play a key role in trying to realise the Johnson project. Whether he might one day have a project of his own, it is much too early to say, but for him to return in a couple of years to the Treasury as Chancellor would be a natural and already widely expected progression.

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

We are due to have fewer MPs. The number of councillors should also be cut.

The Conservative Manifesto for this month’s General Election stated:

“We will ensure we have updated and equal Parliamentary boundaries, making sure that every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy.”

It is long overdue. Over a decade ago, a speech was given by David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, concerned with “fixing our broken politics.” He said:

“Today, we’ve got far too many MPs in Westminster. More people sit in the House of Commons than in any other comparable elected chamber in the world. This is neither cost-effective nor politically effective: just more people finding more interfering ways to spend more of your money. I think we can do a better job with fewer MPs: we can, to coin a phrase, deliver more for less. So at the election we will include proposals in our manifesto to ask the Boundary Commission to reduce the House of Commons, initially by 10 per cent. And while they’re at it, to get rid of the unfair distortions in the system today, so that every constituency is the same size in each of the nations of the UK.”

The Boundary Commission has “oven ready” proposals to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Now that the Conservatives have a clear majority in the House of Commons, they can finally become reality in time for the next General Election.

But what about “fixing” our local politics? I have previously argued that multi-member Wards should be abolished. Accountability is also improved if there are unitary arrangements for local authorities. That has been a significant trend for several years. This year it is happening in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. Last year it took place in Dorset. Earlier it was undertaken in Cornwall, Wiltshire, and Bedfordshire. In the future, Cumbria, Hampshire, Suffolk, Oxfordshire, and Lincolnshire may well follow.

When there ceases to be a district and a county layer, the total number of councillors is reduced. But even when it is not prompted by such reorganisation it can still be achieved. This is because every couple of decades the Local Government Boundary Commission pitches up to review ward boundaries.

Sometimes the Commission might be called in after a deliberate decision to reduce the number of councillors. In Birmingham, it decided to reduce the number of councillors from 120 to 101. But the number of wards increased. Previously the 120 councillors were spread with three each across 40 wards. Now there are 37 single-member wards and 32 two-member wards. This is a change in the right direction.

Rotherham has “all-out” elections this year. The number of councillors goes down from 63 to 59, while the number of wards goes up from 21 to 25.

Both Birmingham and Rotherham had particular problems with dysfunctional local governance. The changes proposed are more modest than I would like. But even if the cut in councillor numbers was sharper and each ward had a single representative, this would not be a “magic bullet” – it’s simply that it would help residents to “take back control” of how their money is spent and what is done in their name.

Cornwall is an example of where a significant reduction in the number of councillors has been agreed. At present, there are 123. It is to fall to 87. Each ward (or “division” as they are called in Cornwall) will have one councillor.

What about London? Ward boundaries are changing in time for the next borough council elections in 2022.

Brent will have 57 councillors, six fewer than there are now. The number of wards goes up by one to 22.

Bromley will have 58 councillors, down two, but still have 22 wards (though with different boundaries).

Barnet is due to still have 63 councillors but have four more wards.

Enfield will see the number of councillors stay level at 63 but the number of wards increase by five to 26.

Haringey’s tally of councillors will still be 57 but the number of wards increase by two to 21.

Harrow’s total number of councillors goes down by eight to 55. The number of Wards goes up one to 22.

So far, for Havering, it has been agreed to keep the total number of councillors at 54, but it has not yet been decided how many wards they will be spread across. Similarly in Kingston, where so far it has been agreed to keep the number of councillors at 48. Also in Sutton, due to hold steady with 54 councillors.

Hillingdon sees the biggest fall. It is due to go down to 53 councillors, 12 fewer than at present. It will go down to 21 wards, one less than currently.

Lewisham will still have 54 councillors. They will cover 19 wards, one more than at present.

Merton will have 57 councillors, down three. It will still have 20 wards.

Richmond will still have 54 councillors in 18 wards.

Waltham Forest will continue to have 60 councillors. But they will cover 22 wards, two more than currently.

Wandsworth will have 58 councillors, down two. It will have 22 wards, up two.

Westminster will have 54 councillors, down six. The number of wards will go down by two to 18.

But some places are going in the opposite direction. Camden will have an extra councillor. Ealing is also up one. Hounslow is up by two. Hammersmith and Fulham goes up by four. Islington goes up by three. Newham’s tally will rise by six.

All those councils where the number has gone up are Labour councils. They have asked for more councillors and the Commission has complied. Do the Council Taxpayers of Camden, Ealing, Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington and Newham really feel that they need more councillors? Do they feel that the inevitable extra spending on councillor allowances is a priority?

My own Council of Hammersmith and Fulham justified its plea by claiming “a desktop work study exercise to quantify the average weekly time and activity of councillors” had been undertaken which “clearly demonstrates that a minimum of 20 hours per week is the current average workload of our backbench councillors.” That claim is fantasy. The casework undertaken by them averages below one item a week. Most casework comes in by email and involves forwarding it the relevant official for a response. Sometimes a meeting or a phone call will also be involved but mostly not.

Wandsworth Council makes this realistic comment in their submission:

“When the last boundary review was undertaken, the system for casework predominately consisted of receiving post, sending letters and conducting paperbased research. That pattern is now almost non-existent. Email is not only more efficient, but allows residents’ issues to be forwarded with a couple of clarifying lines, and responses to be forwarded or copied back. This is far quicker and simpler, while the volume of unprompted casework has not increased. When undertaking research, information that was previously difficult to obtain can be found online in seconds. Councillors’ access to email and systems has also improved significantly in the last year, with iPads provided to each member and online portals accessible from any computer. The iPads have simplified surgeries, allowing emails to be written and sent on the spot. Council and committee 5 documents are provided via a dedicated iPad app, helping to reduce paper at committees and removing postage issues.”

It’s true that there are also lots of meetings to attend. The Commission’s general guidance is that it would fret if the total number of councillors fell below 30 lest it was “too small to discharge its statutory functions.” It is a fair point. But are all those committees really necessary? Should the “statutory functions” be curtailed. For example, the adoption and fostering panels fail to provide any practical value. All they do is add cost and delay to the process. Then we have the “scrutiny” committees. The reality is that the system relies on patronage to avert scrutiny. This is due to a council leader handing over “special responsibility” allowances to chair the committees. It involves thousands of pounds a time for a committee that only gathers a few times a year. To suggest that these arrangements are such a treasured prize that councillor numbers must be kept up is absurd.

The overall trend towards a reduction in numbers is welcome. But there is a lack of coherence. There can be politically motivated special pleading by individual local authorities – which the Commission then finds it convenient to give in to.

I propose that for future reviews, Parliament should require the Local Government Boundary Commission to ensure that no councillor represents fewer than 5,000 electors. That would imply a cut in total councillor numbers of about half. It should also ensure that each ward (or “division”) should have just one councillor to represent it. That would save money (although councillor allowances should be abolished which would make that concern otiose). But more important is that it would invigorate our local democracy. It would be more intelligible. We would know who to blame. Who to throw out. It would give greater meaning to council elections – which most people usually don’t bother to vote in. Let us resolve that, in 2020, our democratic renewal will extend beyond Brexit.

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

The Conservative Manifesto includes a promise to back adoption. Will it be delivered on?

David Cameron was a highly effective Prime Minister. Despite the obvious constraints of being in coalition with the Lib Dems for most of his time in office, those were radical years. We have great benefits from his legacy of bold reform. But one area of complete failure was to reduce the number of children in care by increasing the rate of adoption. This was not due to any indifference from Cameron. He spoke passionately. Michael Gove, as Education Secretary, had responsibility for the issue – for whom it was personal.

During Theresa May’s premiership, we saw the failure continue. She set out to tackle “burning injustices”. But this was a spectacular example that got missed.

Under Labour, in March 2010, there were 64,000 children in care – of “Looked After Children”. The Conservatives at the time regarded that as scandalously high. Quite right. But now the scandal is even worse with the total having risen to 75,000.

In political terms, the direct impact is limited. When canvassing on the doorstep, it is not a “hot button” topic. Nor is it for the media – apart from when individual tragedies come to light.

The social work establishment is hostile to adoption and so make no complaint about the figures. Ministers who wish to be “friends of the sector” find it prudent to let matters drift. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party is on the same ideological wavelength. It would be pretty hard to qualify as a social worker without writing essays in line with a Corbynista world view.

Yet taking a broader view, reducing the number of children in care should be a political priority. A quarter of prisoners spent their childhoods in care. That equates to children in care being 50 times more likely to end up in prison when they grow up than other children. Boosting adoption is the most effective policy for fighting crime.

Opportunities have also been missed to improve the outcomes for children in care. The number offered the chance to attend boarding school is pathetically small. If children are in care, it is better for them (and much cheaper for the taxpayer) to be placed with foster carers rather than institutional children’s homes, where this is possible. Yet the number placed in children’s homes has not been kept to a minimum – as evidenced by the significant proportion of such children in mainstream education and thus for whom foster placements would clearly be viable.

What about preventing children needing to go into care in the first place? This brings in much wider subjects – housing, education, welfare, crime. Here the Troubled Families programme has made an important contribution.

Is there any hope of future improvement? The Conservative Manifesto says:

“Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children – adoption where possible or foster parents recruited by the local authority. We will review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need.

“A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives.”

That is fine so far as it goes. But to get tangible progress, robust legal changes will be needed to establish a presumption in favour of adoption for children in care. Relying on the goodwill of social workers – seeking to persuade them or to give them more money – has proven ineffective. The challenge can be met with determination and courage. Bland and worthy platitudes will just mean thousands more lives will be ruined as the expensive conveyor belt from care system to prison keeps cranking along.

 

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

Cameron’s Blairite apologia shows that he did not understand Eurosceptic passion

For the Record by David Cameron

This memoir is both too short and too long. The author tells us too little about himself. The one exception to this rule is the chapter called Our Darling Ivan, about the life and death of David and Samantha Cameron’s eldest child.

It is the best chapter in the book, ending with words written by Wordsworth when his own son died, which are inscribed on Ivan’s grave at Chadlington, in Oxfordshire:

“I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me – yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it.”

No one can read this account, already excerpted in The Sunday Times, without feeling moved. One of the ways in which Cameron coped with unbearable sadness was by talking and now writing about it.

Rather characteristically, he takes the chance to pass on several pieces of admirably practical advice about how to navigate the National Health Service, something most of us have to do at one time or another as the champion of someone who is in no condition to find his or her own way.

No author is obliged to invade his own privacy, but on most other aspects of his family Cameron is frustratingly brief and reticent. His mother’s first cousin Ferdinand Mount, who was head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, relates in his memoir Cold Cream, published in 2008 – the funniest account anyone has written of what it was like to work for her – that one day, while deep in the appalling task of rewriting her party conference speech, he was annoyed to be told his “nephew” was there to see him.

This turned out to be the young David Cameron, who wished to interview him for the school magazine and had rung the office himself to make an appointment after Mount had given a noncommittal but generally rather discouraging reply when contacted by Cameron’s mother. As Mount writes,

“Here he was, my cousin rather than nephew then just sixteen, looking pink and perky, not yet the size he grew to but abounding in self-confidence. He instantly put me at my ease and his genial chutzpah dissolved my ill-humour in a trice…

“It is his audacity – or cheek, to use a homelier word – that has done the trick. It took cheek out of the common run to stand for the leadership of the party after only four years in Parliament, but it took even more to set about transforming the party the moment he won…

“The chutzpah that has propelled Cousin Dave to such startling heights undoubtedly comes from his stalwart and irrepressible father Ian on whom no flies rest…”

David Cameron devotes a couple of pages to his father, a remarkable man who had been “born with a pretty odd deformity”, legs far shorter than they should have been, but who rose, like his father and grandfather before him, to become senior partner at the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, and who imparted to his four children various rules, some of which expressed an admirably practical morality: “If you’re not sure what to do, just do the right thing.”

Other maxims are described by his son as “obscure”:

“Never sleep with a virgin.” “Don’t get married till you’re 26.” “Never eat baked beans for breakfast.” “Always travel in a suit.”

Cameron the politician succeeded in part because he was heir to a tradition of behaviour. But although he describes his family with affection, he does not convey, or even try to convey, very much of what it was really like.

He has said in the past that when he thinks of home, he thinks of church. His parents lived in an old rectory and attended the church next door, indeed were church wardens and so forth.

We read nothing here of this Anglican upbringing, which seems to me to have contributed in a vital way to Cameron’s ability to strike a moral note, without sounding repellently dogmatic or pious.

Perhaps he thought his religion too hard to explain, however natural the practice of it may be, or perhaps he reckoned we would be more interested in his politics.

But where do the politics come from? In the best biographies, the reader begins to see how a character was formed, what made it original or eccentric – the kind of thing that can be glimpsed in Ian Cameron’s maxims.

Here we are fobbed off with banalities:

“How are the biggest decisions made? They are usually rooted in convictions and beliefs. They tend to be contemplated for a long time, but are often expedited by circumstances. They are frequently influenced by other people’s views, and events that have taken place over many years.

“One of the biggest decisions I would ever take – to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union and then hold a referendum on our membership – was an example of all those things.”

That is how chapter 29, entitled “Bloomberg”, begins. Such evasive management-speak makes the book longer than it should be, and warns us we are never going to get to the heart of the matter.

In January 2013 Cameron delivered the speech at Bloomberg in which he promised to hold an EU referendum by the middle of the next Parliament. He remarks here that “The speech was tricky to land with so many audiences.”

And he gives us an extract from one of the tapes he recorded every month or so with the Times journalist Danny Finkelstein, in which the Prime Minister confided that it was safer to hold a referendum than to hold out against one: “The risks of playing with fire are now safer than watching the fire burn.”

He is pleased by the way The Times comments on the speech: “Mr Cameron has not caused a problem, but elucidated one.”

All this is fine, but we are not even told who wrote that Times leader: was it Finkelstein?

A friend of mine, a German journalist, who heard the Bloomberg speech happened to be sitting directly behind the German ambassador, at whom Cameron looked repeatedly while delivering it.

There is very little of that kind of thing in the book. For most of the time, the author gives us no sense that he is taking us into his confidence. He is instead fobbing us off with a plausible, lucid, official version of how he tried to keep Britain inside the EU, by renegotiating the terms of our membership and then obtaining popular consent for the new deal:

“The strategy failed. I failed. And that strategy has had some serious consequences for the UK and Europe. But it all flowed from an attempt to do the right thing.”

That is a very Blairite apologia. Cameron acted in good faith. He was, however, dependent on the Germans if he was going to get a meaningful renegotiation.

And one of the things he needed them to do in 2014 was to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, “a European integrationist to the core”, as President of the European Commission, a figure who would have a key influence on Britain’s ability to change the terms of membership.

At first, there seems some hope that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will block Juncker.  The last chance comes in June 2014 when Cameron, Merkel and the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, visit the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who for the benefit of the cameras takes them out in a rowing boat.

Now, unusually, Cameron gives us a small amount of detail:

“The four of us sat up after dinner, drinking red wine, this time until 2 a.m. I was tired, but didn’t dare leave in case they cooked something up without me. We were waiting for those magical words from Merkel – ‘It’s all right, we’ll block this guy together.’ She got close, but they never came.

“By the next morning her team had got to her, and she said she was going to have to vote for Juncker.’

Even by Cameron’s account, the chances of Merkel doing what he wants seem remote. She had already warned him, at a meeting a week earlier at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels when they “sat up drinking until about 1.30 a.m.”, that “I think I’m going to have to let you down”. Even her own mother has rung her “to tell her to vote for Juncker”.

By page 655 of this 703-page book, Cameron’s own colleagues are having to decide which side to back in the referendum campaign, and he is finding it surprisingly difficult to persuade Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others to stay with him:

“Perhaps that is one of the biggest pitfalls in politics. Thinking that others, particularly those you know well, think like you. Often they don’t. In the weeks to come I would repeatedly be surprised by MPs, friends, local party members and councillors who I had never heard express the view that we should leave the EU waxing lyrical about how it was their passion. I don’t mean to say that they were all opportunists, more that I had given them the chance to think about the issue afresh, and they had decided to take that position…

“The latent Leaver gene in the Tory Party was more dominant than I had foreseen.”

On the evidence of this book, Cameron spent little time talking to Conservatives who disagreed with him about Europe. Many of them are omitted altogether from this account, or mentioned only fleetingly.

It was understandable that Cameron should ask his MPs to stop banging on about Europe, to the exclusion of other subjects which mattered more to most voters.

But this suppression of the subject led him grievously to underestimate the vitality of the Eurosceptic tradition. He became lost in the politics of endless negotiation with the Liberal Democrats and the EU.

He was so good at this, and the country was in many ways so well run by the coalition which he, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Ed Llewellyn and others conducted from 2010, that in 2015 he won an overall majority for the Conservatives, the first time the party had managed that since 1992.

This was a major achievement, and one which would probably have proved beyond any of the other contenders for the leadership in 2005, when with the audacity identified by Mount, but seldom visible in this unexciting book, Cameron came through the field and won.

As a moderniser he inspired confidence in part because he was from such a traditional background. Many people liked that.

And he was a professional: his early training in the Conservative Research Department, about which he says nothing of interest here, had given him a precocious mastery of the techniques of government, and a coterie of able colleagues who could help him to wield power.

But what was power for? Here the Cameroon trumpet gave an uncertain sound, and still does. As a manual of technique, and of how to find a way through various tricky problems, this book is of considerable value.

It also, however, shows a man oblivious to the strong emotions which would be awoken by the referendum, and unable, when the time came, to make more than a prudential case for his side of the argument.

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

Cameron’s Blairite apologia shows that he did not understand Eurosceptic passion

For the Record by David Cameron

This memoir is both too short and too long. The author tells us too little about himself. The one exception to this rule is the chapter called Our Darling Ivan, about the life and death of David and Samantha Cameron’s eldest child.

It is the best chapter in the book, ending with words written by Wordsworth when his own son died, which are inscribed on Ivan’s grave at Chadlington, in Oxfordshire:

“I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me – yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it.”

No one can read this account, already excerpted in The Sunday Times, without feeling moved. One of the ways in which Cameron coped with unbearable sadness was by talking and now writing about it.

Rather characteristically, he takes the chance to pass on several pieces of admirably practical advice about how to navigate the National Health Service, something most of us have to do at one time or another as the champion of someone who is in no condition to find his or her own way.

No author is obliged to invade his own privacy, but on most other aspects of his family Cameron is frustratingly brief and reticent. His mother’s first cousin Ferdinand Mount, who was head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, relates in his memoir Cold Cream, published in 2008 – the funniest account anyone has written of what it was like to work for her – that one day, while deep in the appalling task of rewriting her party conference speech, he was annoyed to be told his “nephew” was there to see him.

This turned out to be the young David Cameron, who wished to interview him for the school magazine and had rung the office himself to make an appointment after Mount had given a noncommittal but generally rather discouraging reply when contacted by Cameron’s mother. As Mount writes,

“Here he was, my cousin rather than nephew then just sixteen, looking pink and perky, not yet the size he grew to but abounding in self-confidence. He instantly put me at my ease and his genial chutzpah dissolved my ill-humour in a trice…

“It is his audacity – or cheek, to use a homelier word – that has done the trick. It took cheek out of the common run to stand for the leadership of the party after only four years in Parliament, but it took even more to set about transforming the party the moment he won…

“The chutzpah that has propelled Cousin Dave to such startling heights undoubtedly comes from his stalwart and irrepressible father Ian on whom no flies rest…”

David Cameron devotes a couple of pages to his father, a remarkable man who had been “born with a pretty odd deformity”, legs far shorter than they should have been, but who rose, like his father and grandfather before him, to become senior partner at the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, and who imparted to his four children various rules, some of which expressed an admirably practical morality: “If you’re not sure what to do, just do the right thing.”

Other maxims are described by his son as “obscure”:

“Never sleep with a virgin.” “Don’t get married till you’re 26.” “Never eat baked beans for breakfast.” “Always travel in a suit.”

Cameron the politician succeeded in part because he was heir to a tradition of behaviour. But although he describes his family with affection, he does not convey, or even try to convey, very much of what it was really like.

He has said in the past that when he thinks of home, he thinks of church. His parents lived in an old rectory and attended the church next door, indeed were church wardens and so forth.

We read nothing here of this Anglican upbringing, which seems to me to have contributed in a vital way to Cameron’s ability to strike a moral note, without sounding repellently dogmatic or pious.

Perhaps he thought his religion too hard to explain, however natural the practice of it may be, or perhaps he reckoned we would be more interested in his politics.

But where do the politics come from? In the best biographies, the reader begins to see how a character was formed, what made it original or eccentric – the kind of thing that can be glimpsed in Ian Cameron’s maxims.

Here we are fobbed off with banalities:

“How are the biggest decisions made? They are usually rooted in convictions and beliefs. They tend to be contemplated for a long time, but are often expedited by circumstances. They are frequently influenced by other people’s views, and events that have taken place over many years.

“One of the biggest decisions I would ever take – to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union and then hold a referendum on our membership – was an example of all those things.”

That is how chapter 29, entitled “Bloomberg”, begins. Such evasive management-speak makes the book longer than it should be, and warns us we are never going to get to the heart of the matter.

In January 2013 Cameron delivered the speech at Bloomberg in which he promised to hold an EU referendum by the middle of the next Parliament. He remarks here that “The speech was tricky to land with so many audiences.”

And he gives us an extract from one of the tapes he recorded every month or so with the Times journalist Danny Finkelstein, in which the Prime Minister confided that it was safer to hold a referendum than to hold out against one: “The risks of playing with fire are now safer than watching the fire burn.”

He is pleased by the way The Times comments on the speech: “Mr Cameron has not caused a problem, but elucidated one.”

All this is fine, but we are not even told who wrote that Times leader: was it Finkelstein?

A friend of mine, a German journalist, who heard the Bloomberg speech happened to be sitting directly behind the German ambassador, at whom Cameron looked repeatedly while delivering it.

There is very little of that kind of thing in the book. For most of the time, the author gives us no sense that he is taking us into his confidence. He is instead fobbing us off with a plausible, lucid, official version of how he tried to keep Britain inside the EU, by renegotiating the terms of our membership and then obtaining popular consent for the new deal:

“The strategy failed. I failed. And that strategy has had some serious consequences for the UK and Europe. But it all flowed from an attempt to do the right thing.”

That is a very Blairite apologia. Cameron acted in good faith. He was, however, dependent on the Germans if he was going to get a meaningful renegotiation.

And one of the things he needed them to do in 2014 was to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, “a European integrationist to the core”, as President of the European Commission, a figure who would have a key influence on Britain’s ability to change the terms of membership.

At first, there seems some hope that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will block Juncker.  The last chance comes in June 2014 when Cameron, Merkel and the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, visit the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who for the benefit of the cameras takes them out in a rowing boat.

Now, unusually, Cameron gives us a small amount of detail:

“The four of us sat up after dinner, drinking red wine, this time until 2 a.m. I was tired, but didn’t dare leave in case they cooked something up without me. We were waiting for those magical words from Merkel – ‘It’s all right, we’ll block this guy together.’ She got close, but they never came.

“By the next morning her team had got to her, and she said she was going to have to vote for Juncker.’

Even by Cameron’s account, the chances of Merkel doing what he wants seem remote. She had already warned him, at a meeting a week earlier at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels when they “sat up drinking until about 1.30 a.m.”, that “I think I’m going to have to let you down”. Even her own mother has rung her “to tell her to vote for Juncker”.

By page 655 of this 703-page book, Cameron’s own colleagues are having to decide which side to back in the referendum campaign, and he is finding it surprisingly difficult to persuade Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others to stay with him:

“Perhaps that is one of the biggest pitfalls in politics. Thinking that others, particularly those you know well, think like you. Often they don’t. In the weeks to come I would repeatedly be surprised by MPs, friends, local party members and councillors who I had never heard express the view that we should leave the EU waxing lyrical about how it was their passion. I don’t mean to say that they were all opportunists, more that I had given them the chance to think about the issue afresh, and they had decided to take that position…

“The latent Leaver gene in the Tory Party was more dominant than I had foreseen.”

On the evidence of this book, Cameron spent little time talking to Conservatives who disagreed with him about Europe. Many of them are omitted altogether from this account, or mentioned only fleetingly.

It was understandable that Cameron should ask his MPs to stop banging on about Europe, to the exclusion of other subjects which mattered more to most voters.

But this suppression of the subject led him grievously to underestimate the vitality of the Eurosceptic tradition. He became lost in the politics of endless negotiation with the Liberal Democrats and the EU.

He was so good at this, and the country was in many ways so well run by the coalition which he, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Ed Llewellyn and others conducted from 2010, that in 2015 he won an overall majority for the Conservatives, the first time the party had managed that since 1992.

This was a major achievement, and one which would probably have proved beyond any of the other contenders for the leadership in 2005, when with the audacity identified by Mount, but seldom visible in this unexciting book, Cameron came through the field and won.

As a moderniser he inspired confidence in part because he was from such a traditional background. Many people liked that.

And he was a professional: his early training in the Conservative Research Department, about which he says nothing of interest here, had given him a precocious mastery of the techniques of government, and a coterie of able colleagues who could help him to wield power.

But what was power for? Here the Cameroon trumpet gave an uncertain sound, and still does. As a manual of technique, and of how to find a way through various tricky problems, this book is of considerable value.

It also, however, shows a man oblivious to the strong emotions which would be awoken by the referendum, and unable, when the time came, to make more than a prudential case for his side of the argument.

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

Ryan Bourne: To help grow prosperity, let’s focus on people and not places – such as towns

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Stian Westlake describes it as the “Strange Death of Tory Economic Thinking”. Conservatives have ceased telling an economic story about why they should govern, and how. Sure, there’s still the odd infrastructure announcement, or tax change. But, since Theresa May became leader, the governing party has shirked articulating a grand economic narrative for its actions.

This is striking and problematic. From Macmillan to Thatcherism to deficit reduction, the party’s success has coincided with having clear economic agendas, gaining credibility for taking tough decisions in delivering a shared goal. But, arguably, deficit reduction masked a secular decline in interest in economics. David Cameron and George Osborne, remember, wanted to move on to social and environmental issues until the financial crisis and its aftermath slapped them in the face.

Now, with the deficit down, economics is in the back seat. Fiscal events are low key and economic advisors back room. To the extent the dismal science is discussed, it’s as a means to other ends, or a genuflect to “Karaoke Thatcherism.”

In short, I think Westlake is right: the Tories do not have an economic story and, post-Brexit, it would be desirable if they did. So we should thank both him and Sam Bowman (formerly of the Adam Smith Institute), who have attempted to fill the vacuum. In a rich and interesting new paper, the pair set out to diagnose our key economic ailments and develop a Conservative-friendly narrative and policy platform to ameliorate them, even suggesting reform of the Right’s institutions and think-tanks in pursuit of the goals.

Such an effort deserves to be taken seriously, though not everyone will agree with their starting premises. It is assumed, for example, that Conservatives believe in markets and want to maintain fiscal discipline, which bridles against recent musings from Onward or thinkers such as David Skelton.

But, again, the key economic problem they identify is incontrovertible: poor economic growth. Weak productivity improvements since the crash have been both politically and economically toxic, lowering wages, investment returns, and necessitating more austerity to get the public finances in structural order. And the nature of modern innovation, arising from clusters and intangible assets, means that growth that is experienced isn’t always broadly shared.

Their agenda’s aim then is to achieve both concurrently: maximize the potential of the economy by taking policy steps on planning, tax policy, infrastructure, and devolution, to increase investment levels, allow successful cities and towns to grow, and to connect “left behind” places to local growth spots through good infrastructure. None of their ideas are crazy. Indeed, I would support the vast majority of them.

And yet, something bothered me about their narrative. In line with the current zeitgeist, they too discuss “places” and their potential, as if towns and cities are autonomous beings. My fear is this focus – shared by those who want to regenerate “left behind” areas – creates unrealistic expectations about what policies can achieve in a way that undermines a pro-market agenda. Importantly, it warps what we should really care about: “left behind” people, not left behind places.

A people-centred narrative recognises that just as firms fail in the face of changing consumer demands and global trends, so high streets, towns, cities, and even regions will shrink too. As Tim Leunig once said, coastal
and river cities that developed and thrived in a heavy manufacturing, maritime nineteenth century world might not be best placed to flourish in a service sector era of air and rail.

A true pro-market policy agenda would admit -and that’s ok. Or at least, it should be, provided we understand that raising growth and sharing prosperity requires adaptation, not regeneration. That means removing barriers for people either to move to new opportunities or have control to adapt their situations to ever-changing circumstances. This might sound Tebbit-like (“get on your bike”), but really it’s just saying policy must work with market signals, not against them.

Today though, interventions actively work in a sort of one-two-three punch against inclusive growth and adjustment. First, we constrain the growth of flourishing cities. Tight land use planning laws around London, Oxford, and Cambridge contribute to very high rents and house prices, and prevent these places benefiting from growing to obtain thicker agglomeration effects.

This contributes to the “left behind” scandal, but not in the way people imagine. When rents and house prices are higher in London and the South East and we subsidse home ownership or council housing elsewhere, it’s low productivity workers from poor regions that find it most difficult to move given housing cost differentials. As a result, they get locked into poorer cities and towns that would otherwise shrink further. That’s why Burnley, Hull and Stoke are the most egalitarian cities in the country, whereas prosperous London, Cambridge and Oxford are the most unequal, even as inequality between regions has intensified.

Having restricted people’s mobility through bad housing policy, we then impose one-size-fits-all solutions and subsidies which dampen market signals further. National minimum wages, fiscal transfers, national pay bargaining, and more, might be designed to alleviate hardship, but they deter poorer regions from attracting new businesses and industries by trading on their market cost advantages. Then, to top that off, we compound the problem further by centralising tax and spending powers, preventing localities from prioritising their spending and revenue streams to their own economic needs.

Now, as it happens, Bowman and Westlake’s policy agenda is perfectly compatible with assisting  “people” rather than “places,” precisely because it’s market-based. They advocate planning liberalisation, a flexible right to buy, and stamp duty, all of which would improve labour mobility. They prioritise infrastructure spending based on benefit-cost ratios, making investments more profitable with sensible tax changes, and devolving more transport power to regions and localities. All, again, will help facilitate areas adapting to changed economic conditions, rather than reviving Labour’s failed top-down regeneration attempts.

But pitching this as a city and town agenda still risks creating the false impression that the net gains from “creative destruction” nevertheless can be achieved without the destruction, and that all places can thrive in the right policy environment.

One can understand why they framed it in this way. Their aim is to persuade the party and its MPs of their platform. Anti-market commentators would call them fatalistic and “abandoning” places if they acknowledged the downside, as if facilitating more free choice amounts to design.

Successful past Tory economic narratives, though, willingly acknowledged hard truths. Deficit reduction entailed tough choices to curb spending. Thatcherism entailed making the case for letting inefficient industries fail. If a new Tory vision is serious about raising productivity growth and spreading opportunity for people, it will have to confront the inevitable market-based adaptation for some places.

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The curse of Cameron

Somewhere in a parallel universe, David Cameron has lost the 2015 election. Resisting a referendum on Britain’s EU membership has cost the Conservatives their coalition majority in the Commons. Ed Miliband is Prime Minister.

In another of those universes, Cameron has won that election, and the EU referendum too. But that last victory, by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, has settled nothing. UKIP is rampant. Tory MPs are clamouring for a re-run. The Government is marooned. Cameron is under leadership challenge pressure. His most likely successor is his recently-appointed deputy, who was appointed to appease eurosceptic Party opinion: Michael Gove.

In another, Cameron fends off a challenge, but is winkled out a year later. In another still, he is forced out, and Gove begins to prepare for a referendum. In another, he hangs on – only to be beaten by John McDonnell, Labour’s new leader, in 2020.

As we time-travel back to our world, where we will find Cameron’s memoirs waiting for us, it is worth mulling the moral of these visits – namely, that Europe lays Conservative Prime Ministers low in the end. Like death, it is a matter of when, not whether. John Major, Margaret Thatcher: both perished. For Cameron, it was simply a matter of how Europe would get him. Choose your poison. Take your pick. Cameron’s was a referendum.

This is not to say that his decision to hold one was wrong. Yes, he could perhaps have faced down UKIP. Yes, he could maybe have resisted Conservative MPs without sparking a leadership ballot. And, yes, there was no overwhelming public pressure for a poll.

But referendums are now a well-established constitutional device. Cameron had won two already – on electoral reform and Scottish independence. That surprise 2015 election win may have convinced him that he could defy political gravity, and soar to victory fourth time lucky. Instead, he crashed and burned. The vote to Leave defined his legacy and bred these memoirs. Everything else is secondary.

So Cameron should not be judged harshly for providing a third plebiscite that would doubtless have come sooner or later – even if his prime motive was party management. Leavers can’t complain about him providing the referendum that we clamoured for.

Nor should they or anyone else criticise his resignation. He was damned if he went – for putting “his trotters up”, as Danny Dyer put it – and would have been damned if he didn’t, for attempting to cling to office in the face of the greatest electoral rebuff in British electoral history. No, the reason for public resentment, from Remainers and Leavers alike, lies less in the fact of the referendum than in its framing. Cameron failed in his duty to prepare for the result.

This is usually said in the context of governmental readiness for Brexit. But the truth runs deeper, and is ultimately political – bound up with the oddity that distinguished this referendum from its predecessors: that the Government wanted a No vote.

For this reason, Cameron brokered no institutional means of interpreting the result. EEA or No Deal? Or a bespoke deal instead? The Remain campaign, focused on Project Fear, and its Leave rival, fixed on taking back control, mutually failed to spot the problem. So, frankly, did this site. But unlike Cameron, we weren’t charged with governing the country. He trusted to his luck, and lost. And the unravelling parcel was passed to Theresa May.

It would be presumptuous to judge Cameron’s memoir before reading it (not that this will stop some from so doing, this very weekend). But one point leaps out from the extracts. The author has “left the truth at home” – some of it, anyway.

The phrase is one that he applies to Gove, but it could also be applied to his own account. He says he is sorry for the result of the referendum, but not for deciding to hold it. That last claim surely cannot be true. It is impossible to believe that Cameron would have pushed the referendum had he known in advance that it would pull him down. After all, he was the quintessential pragmatic power politician – consistent in tone, attitude and character.

So while he can tell the truth – that he feels that he failed, say, or that he misses office – he cannot bring himself to tell the whole truth. It would be too humiliating. It would leave him no legacy at all, save one that many have already forgotten.

Which is that he was rather a good Prime Minister – salvaging the economy, reforming public services, appointing radical Ministers: Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, May herself. His general election record as a Tory post-war leader was bettered only by Margaret Thatcher’s. But Europe swamped his boat and sunk him. Those parallel universes are just that – unreachable, unrealisable. And perhaps there is more to the title of these memoirs than one sees at first glance.

When a politician makes a statement “for the record” it is usually not so much true or false as a work of art. He is saying what he wants to say rather than what he really thinks – or maybe what he really should say. This is Cameron’s first shot at re-entry.

But the attempt comes too early. Brexit is unresolved. Memories are raw. Voters are not yet ready to lend Cameron their ears and give him a hearing. If they ever will be. One suspects that he knows it. How much better he would have done, in reputational terms, to hold his counsel, stay schtum – and publish later. After all, he is still scarcely 50.

Being a decent sort, he has held off for a time – not wanting to tread on May’s kitten heels while she was Prime Minister. But going to print was necessary sooner rather than later. So here he is, knocking on a door that is shut, and may never open again.

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Fifteen years after I started writing about Johnson, one might almost think his time has come

In the summer of 2004, when I began writing a life of Boris Johnson, reputable judges predicted he would be the next Prime Minister. It was 12 years since the Conservatives had won a general election, and ten years since Tony Blair became Labour leader.

Four Conservative leaders – John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard – had failed to inflict lasting damage on Blair.

Perhaps it was time to send for Johnson, who possessed the curious attribute, for a scholar of Eton and Balliol, of being a celebrity. As Michael Gove suggested, in a defence of Johnson published in October 2004:

“Boris himself seems to recognise, whether intuitively or through observation, that celebrity now plays the role in politics that possession of an aristocratic name or a distinguished war record used to perform. It gives you a right to be heard. Celebrity allows you into people’s lives and homes, where they give you permission to share your views, in a way that others are denied.”

The celebrity living a life above the rules, appealing to our fantasies of effortless success, is a vulgar figure. But it seemed to me that there was more to Johnson than that, a curious amalgam of humanity, selfishness, toughness, vulnerability, loyalty, unreliability, flexibility, stubbornness, energy, laziness, wit, recklessness, ambition, linguistic invention and the ability to transform the atmosphere on entering a dull shopping centre.

He entered the Commons in 2001, has never devoted as much time as he should have done to becoming a skilful parliamentarian, and in the summer of 2004 was somehow managing, in defiance of prudent advice, and of assurances he had given, to edit The Spectator while playing a shadow ministerial role.

I had known him, though not particularly well, since 1987, and I thought, regardless of whether predictions of a brilliant future were fulfilled, he would make an enjoyable subject for a biography.

When I told him of my idea, he laughed for a long time before saying: “Such is my colossal vanity that I have no intention of trying to forbid you.”

But very soon he began to get cold feet, and after a few months he attempted to discover how large my advance was, and to buy me out of writing the book.

“If it’s a piss-take that’s OK,” he said at an early stage, but went on: “Anything that purported to tell the truth really would be intolerable.”

I contended that on the contrary, politicians almost always get into trouble, not for telling the truth, but for trying to conceal it. Painful episodes in his past would lose their power to hurt him once they were known, and it would be much less dangerous to deal with this stuff now than when he became Prime Minister.

In late 2004, Johnson suffered a number of setbacks – the forced apology to the people of Liverpool, the “inverted pyramid of piffle” affair, his sacking by Michael Howard from the Opposition front bench – so severe they would have driven a less resilient figure out of politics.

I am confident he never for one moment considered retiring from the fray and prostituting his talents as a vacuous, over-paid television presenter.

But in 2005, when Howard stepped down after leading the party to its third defeat in a row, there was clearly no possibility of Johnson becoming a Conservative leadership contender. He instead backed David Cameron, who came through and won.

The first edition of my book appeared in 2006, and made no difference to anything. Johnson wrote in the copies people asked him to sign “it’s all rubbish” and other messages which amused the recipients.

The new leader, who almost until taking office had been much less well known than Johnson, proceeded to keep him at a distance. In the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle of July 2007, Cameron promoted Gove, who had only entered Parliament in 2005, to the key role of shadowing Ed Balls, whom Gordon Brown had promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools.

Johnson was left in the post he already had as Shadow Spokesman on Higher Education. It had become clear that as long as Cameron was leader, Johnson was not going to get anywhere at Westminster.

So after much agonising, he took the risk of becoming the Conservative candidate who in 2008 would take on Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, at this point reckoned to be pretty much invincible.

After several months during which, at Lynton Crosby’s urging, Johnson told no jokes, he defeated Livingstone and entered City Hall. In 2012, he beat Livingstone again, and in 2015, not long before the end of his second term as mayor, he re-entered the Commons at the general election in which Cameron gained – to the commentariat’s surprise – an overall majority.

Cameron had promised that if he won, he would hold an EU referendum. Here was another decision for Johnson. Could he bear to become a subordinate cog in the Cameron-Osborne machine?

He could not. After more agonising – for he possesses a well-hidden streak of prudence – he became the most prominent figure in the Leave campaign, to which Gove had lent a degree of intellectual respectability.

The commentariat believed Remain would win, but turned out not to know its own country as well as it thought it did. On 23rd June 2016 Johnson led Leave to victory.

Cameron, after nearly 11 years as party leader, at once resigned, and for a few days Johnson was the favourite to succeed him. But at 9.02 a.m. on the Thursday after the referendum, Gove sent an email to journalists which said:

“I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership.”

Johnson withdrew from the race, and Theresa May, who looked the only grown-up left, became Prime Minister. She proceeded to make Johnson Foreign Secretary. These convulsions I describe in the most recent edition of my book.

But she never used Johnson, or brought him properly into her team. Successful Prime Ministers have usually travelled to major international events with the Foreign Secretary they appointed.

That was not May’s way. She created a new Brexit Department, supposedly to deal with the great issue arising out of the referendum, but that too played little part.

In a manner that recalled Tony Blair, Anthony Eden and Neville Chamberlain at their least successful, she set out to run foreign policy from Number Ten.

Johnson won poor reviews as Foreign Secretary, and not much better after his resignation in July 2018 in protest at the Chequers plan for Brexit. The commentariat reckoned he was probably out of it.

As so often, it was wrong. Johnson has run a more professional campaign than on previous occasions, while his rivals could not decide which of them would run against him, and have instead run against each other.

I confess to feelings of bemusement, even incredulity, at this turn of events. People ask me “when is your new edition out?”, but for the next few weeks, it would seem both rash and impertinent to assume Johnson will definitely become the next occupant of Number Ten.

Conservative members will vote as they wish. So far as I know, nothing I have ever written or said about Johnson has changed a single mind. All I may occasionally have done is provide some of the evidence, both for and against, needed to support a view already arrived at instinctively.

For Johnson dramatises the temperamental divide which runs through our history and our nation

“between the Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive).”

Having just glanced at1066 And All That in order to check the quotation, I cannot resist quoting the next paragraph, with italics as in the original:

“Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and sombre garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.”

A sort of Civil War rages now. Johnson the Cavalier brings out the puritanical instincts which lie buried in such otherwise genial figures as Matthew Parris, Max Hastings, Simon Heffer and Bruce Anderson.

They simply cannot bear his style of politics, consider him incapable of learning from the mistakes and misjudgments he has made, and condemn him in unmeasured terms. There can be no modern Conservative who has been denounced by a larger number of well-known pundits.

A considerable number of MPs of all parties have similar feelings about him. They stiffen when you mention him. But others in increasing numbers think Johnson is now needed, and that he has developed the qualities needed to run a brilliant team.

It is all rather bewildering. Never have a received a greater number of requests for interviews about Johnson, and to appear on various programmes along with his other, admirably unimpressed biographer, Sonia Purnell. The Americans, the Germans and the Japanese all want to know more about him.

And the more he annoys the Establishment, the better he appears to do. One might almost think his time has come.

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