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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Gateshead"

Iain Dale: If you’re coming to a hustings I’m chairing, draft an original question – and I’ll try to call you.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

I’ve just finished reading ConservativeHome’s highly informative and entertaining interview with Boris Johnson. Put together with some of the other interviews he’s done this week, and you start to get the impression that the BoJo MoJo is returning.

I’ve always thought with big personalities like Johnson that things only start to wrong when their handlers try to muzzle them. He is like a big, loveable bear. Try to restrain him, and he becomes all sad and morose.

But give him the opportunity to show what he can do, and he will entertain the crowds and reap the rewards. The simple message is that sometimes you just have to let Boris be Boris, and accept the risks that come with that in terms of messaging.

In the ConHome interview, he reveals that he will expect every cabinet member to sign up to leaving the EU on  October 31st, come what may. It’s not quite the promise Esther McVey made in her short-lived leadership campaign, where she said she wouldn’t have any Remainers at all in her initial cabinet, but it’s quite something to reveal at this stage.

In theory, this might rule out Jeremy Hunt remaining in the cabinet. David Gauke has already said he wouldn’t serve, and it’s highly doubtful whether Amber Rudd or David Lidington could sign up for that. It’s clear that the composition of the next Cabinet will be very different to the current one.

– – – – – – – – – –

Some of you will have been at the Birmingham hustings last Saturday. It proved to be quite an event.

Given the story that dominated the news that day, I had no option but to ask Johnson about it, when it came to the 15 minute interview stage of the proceedings. I had planned my first question, but not what happened afterwards. I believed he might address the so-called elephant in the room during his speech, which I thought would have been the ideal way to deal with it. But that didn’t happen.

Without going into all the details of the exchange, I would genuinely have only spent a minute or two on it had he given any semblance of an answer. It was his prerogative not to, of course – and that’s the option he chose to take.

At the third time of asking some in the audience started booing me, while some others were apparently shouting to him to “answer the question”. My first reaction when I heard the booing was to burst out laughing – but I didn’t. Frankly I had expected some sort of reaction like that, but I was only doing my job.

To CCHQ’s credit, no one tried to influence any of my questioning to either candidate. I totally get that if you’re supporting a candidate you want to protect them and their reputation by any means possible. I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything other than do my job – even though clearly some people thought I was grandstanding.

I didn’t look at Twitter until much later that evening, and it was quite something. A lot of people thought I shouldn’t have even asked one question, let alone five. Well, it’s a point of view I suppose, but we don’t live in a country where journalists are shackled from asking any question they like.

Just think of the fallout – not just for me, but for the party, or indeed Johnson himself – if I hadn’t asked a single question and just talked about Brexit or whatever other subject. It would have been written up as being something that might happen in North Korea. Move along, nothing to see here.

I would have rightly been seen as a complete patsy. No one would have emerged well from it. I totally get that Johnson himself, and his entire campaign team were probably pretty displeased by it, but a few days later, in the cold light of day, I’d be disappointed if they didn’t accept that I did the right thing.

– – – – – – – – – –

Today. I’ll be chairing the hustings in Exeter, then tomorrow it’s Carlisle and Manchester, followed on Tuesday by Belfast – and, next Friday, Gateshead and then next Saturday in Nottingham.

I had thought it would be great to spend so much time with the future Prime Minister of this country.  But I suspect whoever wins will be sick of the sight or me and the sound of my voice by the time we get to the last of the 16 hustings in London on July 17.

The challenge for me is to try to keep things fresh and not cover the same old, same old territory in each hustings. In a sense, I’m relying on the audience to do that, by coming up with some original questions.

I thought both candidates were very revealing when I asked them in Birmingham: “What’s the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced, and what did you learn from it?” We need more questions like that, rather than the hoary old chestnuts of “Will you definitely promise one hundred per cent to leave on October 31st?” or “Will you cancel HS2?” Been there, done that.

So that’s your challenge. If you’re coming to one of the other hustings, please do submit the most original question you can think of. No one from CCHQ interferes in the question selection process – so if it’s a corker, and I think it will elicit interesting answers, I’ll try to call you.

– – – – – – – – –

One other aspect of this week has fascinated me and it’s that people seem to think they know which candidate I favour. Some think it’s clear I support Johnson, others think it’s clear that I support Hunt.

Truth is – I don’t have a vote, and in all honesty I am genuinely undecided who I would vote for. I totally get Johnson’s argument that we must come out on October 31st, and the consequences for the Conservative Party and democracy would be catastrophic if we don’t.

But then again, Hunt’s argument that he’s best placed to negotiate a deal with the EU is also compelling. The truth is that, since I am uncharacteristically on the fence, I’m actually in a good position to give a voice to the ‘undecideds’ in these hustings.

The difference is that they have to come to a conclusion and put their X in a box. I do not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neva Sadikoglu-Novaky and Jonathan Werran: Brexit gives the chance to have full fiscal devolution. Let’s take it.

Neva Sadikoglu-Novaky is visiting fellow at Localis and Jonathan Werran is the chief executive of Localis.

There are two strong arguments for why Brexit is an opportunity to pursue fiscal devolution.

Firstly, regardless of how everyone voted in the referendum, the post-Brexit reality will be one in which we will have to decide if we continue down the path of localities being kept dependent on leftist redistribution policies or if we pursue the Conservative philosophy of empowering them fiscally.

Secondly, it is worth noting that it would be a betrayal of those who voted to leave the EU, were controls and responsibilities vested in Brussels to be simply transferred wholesale to the remote Whitehall empire. A centralist command and control system that stifles the promise of fiscal and economic devolution is by no means what voters understood by taking back control.

So radical and purposeful localism should be the default operating system for the post-Brexit political economy. From a perspective of national renewal, it really comes down to a matter of choice how we passport regulations, controls and economic development monies from the centre to our localities.

Our local government is currently hugely dependent on fiscal redistribution – local businesses and individuals pay taxes that are collected nationally with a small percentage then being sent off to Brussels. This money is then redistributed back from Brussels and Whitehall to our localities with much bureaucracy along the way. Our government is bringing in the Shared Prosperity Fund to replace the EU’s structural and investment funds that targeted regional development but the redistributed regional handouts from this new Fund are not to be sniffed at. Given the UK’s status as a net contributor to EU coffers, it would be fitting, as Kwasi Kwarteng has argued, for this to be a baseline from which we could offer a generous Brexit dividend. It would be fitting, but not sufficient.

We need to rethink not just how we devolve and decide on matters that support place prosperity, but also how we finance local projects. This means liberating our areas from the dead hand of a decision-denying Treasury and the fiscal straitjacket of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

We don’t need to rehearse the international statistics that the UK among is the most centralised among all developed nations. Ministers are keen to point out that local government now accounts for more than a quarter of total public spending, but this is still lower than the OECD average. Most importantly, local government raises less than five per cent of total tax revenue – mainly from those tried and trusted regular sources, council tax and business rates.

Council Tax remains ossified to property bands set by Chris Patten. While we are partying like it’s 1992, the leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Nickie Aiken can only lament a top charge of £1,500 per annum on Hyde Park properties worth a cool £100 million. Meanwhile, in Leave-voting stronghold Gateshead in the north east, where the median salary of a resident is a full £21,272 less than in Westminster, Council Tax is more than double that in the Conservative flagship borough for a top-band property.

Business rate retention is a positive step towards decentralisation. However, it is far from enough to meet the twin pressures of rising demand and fewer resources. As part of a suite of local tax-raising powers, business rates could be a key fiscal policy lever for councils, but in isolation and with councils otherwise constrained, the policy is of little overall effect.

We need to be bolder in our vision for local government finance and strive for tax competition. Why shouldn’t our cities in the north, for example, who are finding it hard to attract businesses and subject to a brain drain, not be able to levy taxes for businesses and households so as to give themselves a competitive edge? If we did allow for such tax competition, we might finally start seeing more balanced growth. From among the 30 OECD countries with comparable data, we have the sixth highest regional economic disparities and between 2000 and 2016, we experienced the fourth largest increase in disparities.

Through fiscal competition, we could truly have a Northern Powerhouse and give our Northern cities a fairer chance at competing with the likes of London and the south east. The appeal of Ireland – an EU English speaking country offering low taxes – may even be curbed through English local tax incentives that would stand at stark contrast to the EU’s efforts to harmonise taxation policy among the EU member countries.

Naturally, a baseline and an upper limit for such taxes would need to be agreed. In Germany, the base rates of taxes which the regional government can levy are agreed between the regional and federal government. German regions have taxes that they levy and keep like vehicle tax, lottery tax, inheritance tax, real estate purchase tax and beer tax. There are others that they share with their federal government like the personal income tax, corporate income tax and value added tax and part of this shared tax is then redistributed to support the poorer regions. We could pursue a similar model that would allow for some level of continued redistribution, while giving the space for tax competition to work its charm.

Socialists will warn against tax competition saying it could lead to a race to the bottom, but Conservatives should look much more warmly to a system that could help achieve a race towards lower taxation.

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