Our survey finds emphatic support for Israel among Conservative activists

31 Aug

Support for India and Pakistan in Britain is aligned with national background.  Backing for Israel and Palestine, if our survey is right, is dividing by party support.

Labour has vocal and articulate pro-Israel supporters, but its members as a whole are decidedly pro-Palestinian (and, to an alarming degree, anti-semitic – but that’s another story).

We’ve never polled our members’ panel on Israel before, but the returns from our last survey leave little doubt where they stand.

Almost two in three reserve the right to criticise Israel when necessary – or rather for the Government to do so – but see it as an ally and part of the western liberal family of democracies, with interests usually aligned with ours.

And one in four go further in their support – agreeing that Israel’s interests and our own are aligned, full stop.  That’s a substantial minority.

By contrast, only one in ten believe that the country’s commitment to democracy and justice is questionable, that our interests and its own are not usually aligned, and that we must be able to criticise Israel’s when necessary.

And only one in a hundred believe that our interests and Israel’s aren’t aligned at all.  These are small minorities of the whole – tiny, in the last case.

It may be that a survey question aimed at measuring our panel’s view on the Israel-Palestine dispute would throw up a result that would muddy these clear waters.

But for the moment we have what we have: a more pro-Israel take from Party members than, in our experience, from Tory MPs, though probably not by all that much.

You will make your own judgement about whether it’s a good thing, more broadly, for backing for these causes to be so starkly distributed between the two main parties.  We are doubtful.

Howard Flight: From rising demand for out of town housing, to increases in savings, the Covid trends to look out for.

31 Aug

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I expect the UK to emerge from this Covid-related economic and health shakeup with permanent major changes of behaviour. These should in turn impact on the values and relative prices of goods and services.

The first most obvious area is housing, house prices and where you live. The discovery with modern communication and technology that people can work at least three days a week from home without their output suffering looks set to release a large “working from home” revolution, particularly in London and the home counties.

As a friend recently commented to me, it is a pleasure to be living most of the time in the country; it adds two hours a day to his free time and £500 per month (effectively tax free) to his disposable income.

This implies, longer term, upward price pressure on out of town housing and downward relative pressure on city centre properties. Also surely the correct economic policy for the rail operators would be to reduce fares to encourage greater usage of the network?

This economic crisis has already unleashed a significant increase in the savings rate – in the home counties plus £2,000 pa per person and rising. The main reason looks to be fear of unemployment, but there is also, clearly, a risk of interest costs rising substantially at some stage in the not too distant future.

A relatively permanent increase in the savings rate implies bad news for the service sector. Higher savings are likely to be made across the young, middle aged and older sections of the community where the latter is helping to finance the young.

Savings should logically be the largest amongst the middle aged part of the population. We are likely to see the young as the key inventors; the middle aged as the investors, and the older part of the population financing the young and predominately financing new investment.

A trend which is not yet apparent is the relative performance of Greater London versus the “Rest”. House price and interest rate developments leave London relatively less affluent and the rest of the country better off.

An apparent trend is a greater interest in education by both the young and their parents – particularly amongst the rising immigrant community who have been performing extremely well academically. This should be good for the economy.

The Conservative Government has had a rough time, at least half of this, their own fault. As the General Election witnessed, and I believe is still the case, the electorate is not interested in Communism. What it wants, particularly, is what is perceived as “fairness”.

Fairness is not just financial fairness. As the Government’s education blunders have witnessed, young students, their parents, teachers and many Conservative members of Parliament have been driven by the wish to see fairness as amongst the young effected.

As Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has commented, fairness is the main case for free trade. After joining the EU, we fell behind our allies in terms of trade; now we have the chance to change this.

We are in a series of negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to strike new, fair free trade agreements and lower tariffs for our exporters. Talks with all four are progressing well. Round Four of the US negotiations starts soon.

From Japan we have consensus on the major elements of a deal that will go beyond the agreement the EU has with the country. We aim to have agreement in principal by the end of August. Round two of talks with Australia start in mid September and the second round of discussions with New Zealand start a month later.

These deals are an important step towards accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement which will hitch Britain to one of the fastest growing parts of the world.

CPTPP reduces tariffs on 95 per cent of goods between members and also sets high standards in areas like digital trade and data. Membership will help put Britain at the centre of a network of free trade agreements where parties treat each other fairly, play by the rules, and help make us a hub for businesses trading with the rest of the world.

Newslinks for Monday 31st August 2020

31 Aug

Tax increases will put the brakes on recovery, business leaders warn Sunak

“Senior Tories and business chiefs have told Rishi Sunak that putting up taxes on businesses and pensions to pay huge coronavirus costs could damage the economy. The chancellor wants to use the autumn budget to start repairing public finances after he said last month that the government had spent almost £190 billion fighting the virus and limiting the economic fallout of the lockdown. Mr Sunak has identified the pension triple lock, which guarantees annual rises of whichever is the highest of wage growth, price inflation or 2.5 per cent, as one target but faces opposition from Boris Johnson.” – The Times

  • Chancellor “will face revolt” if he presses ahead, says one Cabinet minister – Daily Mail
  • Sunak urged to extend Eat Out to Help Out scheme by targeting city centre restaurants…. – Daily Telegraph
  • … as he’s “set to axe foreign aid” to help UK’s Covid-19 bill in November budget – The Sun
  • Day of spending reckoning nears as Britain’s debt level soars – Daily Telegraph
  • Tax rises: how much more will I have to pay and what can I do to minimise the pain? – Daily Telegraph

Nick Timothy: From tax rises to the culture wars, the Tories must heed their voters

“In the midst of a public health crisis, and facing the possibility of a new wave of infections; during an unprecedented recession, and confronting the reality of rising unemployment; and four months before Britain’s relationship with the European Union changes forever, nine Conservative MPs demanded last week that the Government urgently change course. They were not writing about the pandemic, the economy or Brexit, but the Gender Recognition Act, which sets out how individuals may legally change their gender. If the Government does not liberalise the law, they said, the Conservatives will face a “new Section 28 moment”, comparing the maintenance of the status quo on changing gender to the notorious legislation, passed in 1988, that prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.” – Daily Telegraph


Coronavirus 1) Office staff are reluctant to return to work

“The drive by ministers to get people back to work appeared to be stalling yesterday as figures revealed that most managers and professionals are choosing to work from home. Steve Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said that he was “keen to get people back in the office”, adding: “We think that’s best for the economy, to get back to normal as part of our recovery.” A survey by the AA found, however, that 40 per cent of people who normally drove to work were working from home all or part of the time. This rose to 54 per among senior or middle managers and professionals.” – The Times

  • Civil servants are told to stay working from home over second spike fears – Daily Telegraph
  • More than half of senior managers are still working from home – Daily Mail
  • China emerging as winner in vaccine race – Daily Telegraph
  • Refusal to wear a face mask linked to sociopathy – The Times

Coronavirus 2) Schools reopening: teachers put on alert for rowdy behaviour

“Schools have been warned to expect unruly and disruptive behaviour as pupils go back to school for the first time in nearly six months. In guidance issued to schools on how to manage the return to classrooms, the government admits that many young people will struggle to adjust to routine and discipline after being at home all spring and summer. The Department for Education said in the document: “It is likely that adverse experiences or lack of routines of regular attendance and classroom discipline may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in increased incidence of poor behaviour.”” – The Times

  • Labour calls for 2021 exams to be pushed back – FT
  • Head teachers to block their pupils’ return to the classroom – Daily Telegraph
  • Pupils could be sent home for “joke coughing” – Daily Mail
  • Universities “risk being generators” of a second wave – The Times

Coronavirus 3) Second wave of coronavirus this winter could kill 85,000 people

“A leaked government report says that 85,000 excess deaths in a second wave of the coronavirus is a “reasonable worst-case scenario”. The potential for tens of thousands of further deaths was laid out in a report prepared for the Sage scientific advisory group late last month. The document, which was first obtained by Newsnight, set out a “scenario, not a prediction” in which schools were reopened but other lockdown restrictions were reimposed for several months from November. The model suggested that between July and next March there would be 81,000 excess deaths in England and Wales, with a further 2,600 in Scotland and 1,900 in Northern Ireland.” – The Times

  • UK records 1,715 cases in largest weekend figure since mid-May – The Guardian
  • Police crack down on thousands attending illegal raves – The Times
  • Corbyn’s brother gets £10,000 fine for organising London rally – Daily Mail
  • Portugal may return to Coronavirus quarantine list – The Times

Coronavirus 4) Rollout of UK’s antibody tests awaiting regulatory approval

“The government has stalled the wider rollout of antibody tests, causing companies to voice frustration at being kept out of what was sold as an inclusive and “world-beating” diagnostics market. Once heralded by Boris Johnson as a “game-changer” in efforts to lift lockdown measures in the UK, the number of antibody tests being issued by the government has fallen to its lowest level since the beginning of the crisis, from over 40,000 a day in June to 5,000 a day over the past month.  Despite earlier claims that tens of thousands of antibody tests would be rolled out to care home residents and patients, and later millions to the wider public, antibody tests are currently still only being offered to frontline medical staff.” – FT

  • UK spending on Coronavirus consultants tops £100m – FT

Fight Tory MPs over planning reform, Johnson is urged

“Boris Johnson must “face down his party” over controversial planning reforms to build more homes, even if it means some element of sacrifice, a cabinet minister has said. The government is facing a backlash from Conservative MPs over the plans, which would lead to the construction of more than 300,000 homes a year. The number being built in London could treble to 93,532 a year. Tory MPs say the plans could destroy the character of their suburban constituencies by leading to the construction of large tower blocks to fulfil the targets. Mr Johnson is being urged by members of his top team to face down opposition from MPs and push ahead with the proposals.” – The Times

MPs will be made to take anti-racist training at work

“The House of Commons is piloting unconscious bias training for MPs and has set up a group to tackle racism in parliament after staff raised concerns about discrimination. Senior members of the Commons Executive Board, including John Benger, the clerk of the House, have expressed solidarity with staff from ethnic minority backgrounds and pledged to make improvements. Mr Benger is chairing a cross-parliamentary group established in response to the Black Lives Matter movement to help to tackle discrimination and reduce inequality in the Commons.” – The Times

  • Hundreds join march to protest against systemic racism in the UK – The Guardian

Patel “comes under fire” as deportations go to their lowest level ever

“Deportations have plummeted to their lowest level on record, putting Priti Patel under renewed pressure to toughen up the immigration laws. Figures show that the number of illegal immigrants, visa overstayers and foreign criminals leaving the UK fell by an astonishing 34 per cent last year. The figures were quietly released last week and could fall even further after it emerged Home Office lawyers are discreetly dropping challenges to dozens of asylum and immigration cases before they are even heard by judges. There are now fresh calls for the Home Secretary to clamp down on the record number of migrants making the treacherous trip across the Channel.” – Daily Mail

Johnson advisers split on TikTok’s move to London

“Downing Street is split over whether to formally encourage the Chinese owned social media app TikTok to move its headquarters to the UK. The Times has been told that Sir Edward Lister, one of the prime minister’s most senior aides, is keen to encourage the company to move to London. However, other advisers to Boris Johnson, including Munira Mirza, his policy chief, are said to want him to refrain from commenting. “Eddie wants to roll out the red carpet for TikTok and for Boris to say something, but others in Number 10 are worried about how it will look,” a government source said. “It’s very sensitive.” The video sharing platform was the most downloaded app globally in the first quarter of this year.” – The Times

New BBC chief warned to replace licence fee in funding battle

“The new BBC director-general will be told to come up with a replacement for the licence fee after decriminalisation of non-payment was described as a “done deal”. Tim Davie faces a three-pronged attack on the licence fee from the government when he takes up his job this week, senior sources said. Ministers are expected to announce within weeks that people who fail to pay the licence fee will face civil penalties rather than criminal prosecution from 2022. There are also moves to “level the playing field” by awarding broadcasting licences to commercial rivals. The media regulator Ofcom has already granted a licence to a new channel named GB News promising coverage “distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents”..” – Daily Telegraph

Government gives pupils sex advice on the roll of a dice

“Schools are being encouraged to teach children as young as 13 about intimate sexual acts using a dice game. The government has funded a tool kit written by the Proud Trust, an LGBT charity, which includes dice featuring words such as “anus”, “vulva”, “penis” and “hands and fingers”. Children are encouraged to throw the dice twice and talk about the sexual acts that can happen using the two body parts. The toolkits can be used by schools to help to meet statutory requirements to teach relationships and sex education (RSE) classes as part of reforms introduced for the coming academic year.” – The Times

Brexit chief fears being tied to EU by subsidy details

“Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator has privately voiced fears that the UK may be tied to European subsidies policy through the back door. Talks between David Frost and Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart, this week will try to rescue the negotiations amid growing pessimism in European capitals. Mr Frost will tell Mr Barnier that the prime minister is ready to pull the plug on talks unless the EU drops a demand that Britain commit itself to a specific subsidy policy. After the EU dropped demands for Britain to be fully aligned on competition rules, policed by judges in Luxembourg, Mr Frost fears that any specifics will in effect tie Britain to EU rules.” – The Times

News in brief:

Our survey. Johnson’s approval ratings for managing Covid-19 slip fall below 50 per cent

31 Aug

In March of this year, 92 per cent of ConservativeHome panel members said that they believed that Boris Johnson was dealing with Covid-19 well.

His rating then slipped to 84 per cent in April; to 72 per cent in June, to 59 per cent in July – and now to 48 per cent.

What’s driving this fall to a satisfaction rate of lower than half?  Dissatisfaction with policy mess-ups, such as Coronavirus App?  Bewilderment at changing social distancing rules?  The schools results fiasco?  Maybe the most simple explanation of all – voter fatigue?

Your guess is as good as ours.  At 46 per cent, the overall Government satisfaction rate is little different.

It follows 92 per cent, 82 per cent and 71 per cent.  Rishi Sunak’s positive rating is 82 per cent – the same in effect as his 81 per cent last month.

Richard Holden: The Government must hold firm and stay on course as the Commons returns this week

31 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Baa, Edmundbyers, Co Durham

In Edmundbyers they came en masse – well, en masse for a small village. It was the 30th or so stop out of 50 on my constituency summer surgery tour of the communities of North West Durham. Fifteen or so constituents were gathered, questions and comments at the ready, on village green.

As at other stops, some came to raise specific local issues. Some came to mention national policy. Many just came to meet their MP; put a face to the name, or to get the measure of someone they sometimes see on local telly or in the paper, who they elected last year. And, of course, many constituents just wanted to get a couple of things off their chest.

The interactions reminded me of visiting The Grey Horse, Consett for my “ask the candidate” session back in November. That “ask the candidate” was an interesting event because I came under very heavy questioning from the start.

What I learnt from the interrogation I got then, aside from a couple of Labour activists who’d been sent along, was that the toughness wasn’t really directed at me; I was just the person stood there who was taking years of pent up frustration. A deep frustration that came from years of resentment, not with me or even the Conservative Party, but with politics generally; at not having had any opportunity to speak to and question their elected representatives, or those seeking election, before.

This was rammed home time and again on my summer tour and, perhaps more tellingly still, when I attended a parish council meeting and was informed by those present, including by a Parish Councillor who’d been on for the best part of half a century, that no previous MP had ever reached out them, let alone attended one of their council meetings.

In many of the villages I visited in the last fortnight people said things like “I’ve never seen or heard of my councillor, never mind my MP in my village before.” Speaking to so many people in my constituency over the summer has reminded me of the deep sense of detachment many have felt from those they elected to represent them over many years, but also the impact an active local MP or councillor can make to people’s feeling of dislocation.

That initial reaction, as I found at The Grey Horse, is just that – a reaction. It’s the first thing that happens when presented with someone who you’re then able to ask a question of. What it isn’t is a response to you or a guide in any way to how people might vote or how they necessarily really feel.

I learnt several weeks after my grilling at The Grey Horse that people had been impressed by my clarity, honesty and the fact that I’d turned up in a heavily Labour part of my constituency without a massive entourage; that I had stood my ground and given as good, if not better, than I’d got. In fact, a good number of those present had their vote tipped in my direction on the strength of that session when compared with the other candidates they saw.

As MPs leave their constituencies at the end of the summer recess and head back to Parliament, it will serve us well to remember the difference between the initial reaction and the response, especially to those who seek to discern what the public want from polling them.

There is frustration out there at everything relating to the global Coronavirus pandemic. There is an acknowledgment that the support the Government has provided to the economy has been substantial and will need to be paid for. There is still, rightly, a lot of fear out there about the virus, but also a desire that we don’t let it unnecessarily continue to impinge on our lives more than is necessary.

The next few months in politics in the run up to Christmas and though the new year are going to be challenging. There are major issues on the table. Our future relationship with the EU negotiations, which are likely to go down to the wire. There are also multiple complex international trade negotiations with Japan, the US, Australia and others.

There’ll be a very difficult budget for our Chancellor. And a Fisheries Bill that’ll set out our post-EU fishing regime as well as other contentious legislation. These will all be set in the context of the ongoing impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic on jobs and the economy.

Internationally, the situation with China and Russia is increasingly charged. The United States faces what is set to be a potentially both bruising and close Presidential election. Even normally calm Japan, an increasingly crucial international partner and ally, is in the midst of a change, following the departure of their respected Prime Minister.

As all these things play-out, we Conservatives must not get distracted too by the initial reaction because things will be choppy. We’re in a political battle for the long-term future of our country. What’s important is the leadership we show as we look to where we want the country to be in the years ahead. In early 2016, who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now? In fact, at the general election eight months ago who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now?

What we’re crafting together in Parliament is a response to the question at the next general election: “who do you want to be governing the country for the next four or five years?” to the people in The Grey Horse in Consett and on the village green at Edmundbyers. There are many staging posts as we slowly make our way there, and through the first anniversary of the general election.

In the tumult of the next few months, the adage that a week is a long time in politics will be seen again to be all too true, but we’ve got to hold firm to delivering a very clear response to the only question that matters – one that will be answered way down the line in the ballot box.

Paul Maynard: Here’s why I believe as an ex-Minister that a hard rain may indeed be coming for the civil service

31 Aug

Paul Maynard was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport from July 2019 to February 2020. He is MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys.

When an early morning call from Number 10 is scheduled on reshuffle day, then the writing is on the wall. The only question is where you want to be when you are asked to “step aside” from Government. Clearly not my Commons office – like the rest of the estate, mobile reception is at best intermittent.

I sat Portcullis House, but then thought better of being dumped in front of passing colleagues, so I strolled down the Embankment a little to receive the inevitable. The Prime Minister was friendly and had perfected the art of the rueful rejection. No-one will ever describe it as pleasant – unless they had pre-planned their departure.

Rather than head straight back to Parliament, I strolled across Waterloo Bridge in dismal drizzle. Never has the location felt so far removed from the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset. I certainly wasn’t in paradise, and rather hoped that the only sunset wasn’t that of my political career. From that bridge, I could gaze upon the Whitehall skyline as if it were some hermetic village, peopled by a priestly caste who floated high above my constituents’ supposedly more mundane concerns, and start mulling over my conclusions about how government does and doesn’t work.

More time in my Commons office then lockdown gave me an opportunity – and how we ex-Ministers seek them – to reflect on whether I felt I had achieved much in office, and whether the machinery of government is best equipped to help ministers do what they both wish and need to do to achieve their lofty ambitions.

Indeed, I felt I had achieved, though others may disagree with the footling nature of my supposed achievements. HS2 anyone? I looked back fondly on my promotion of the “sunflower” lanyard across the transport sector as part of the Inclusive Transport review I oversaw when first a transport minister.

That was until I read Michael Gove’s recent and insightful lecture to the Ditchley Foundation – “inclusive lanyards” came in for a bit of stick as a poor substitute for achieving radical change. The sight of so many such lanyards in supermarkets now has given me pause for thought also.

Gove made so many points which did resonate with me though. Not the least was the need for greater specialism by both ministers and civil servants. As the Major Rail Projects Minister, I literally begged to be sent on some course that might enable me to do a better job of holding delivery bodies to account – yet it was always “just around the corner” until the axe fell.

Excellent officials populated all my three differing ministerial stints, yet many seemed to be in perpetual motion as they moved from role to role, barely staying long enough to finish a project they started. There were exceptions – and they were all the more effective for it.

Ministers are often advised to pick three things to achieve within their average 18 month tenure, but even that degree of longevity seems optimistic these days – so fast is the hamster wheel of ministerial life. You realise things are dysfunctional when you find that you know more about an issue than the officials briefing you, or when you seem to be scheduling farewell drinks for someone in your private office every couple of months.

Individual civil servants are sincere, capable and enthusiastic. I was one of those ministers who knew we were just hot air without people to turn our vision into reality. They are easy targets for ministers lacking that subtle art of both listening and hearing.

However, I remember with enthusiasm that, in opposition, think tanks were a steady stream of innovative policy ideas. In particular, I recall Oliver Letwin’s pamphlet on the conveyor belt to crime – but the conveyor belt of fresh ideas seems to have gradually slowed down.

Within Downing Street, we need to reach out and ensure the hothouse of talent can be harnessed better. We have started to shy away from difficult complexity in addressing our policy challenges on the occasions we do decide to try and deal with them.

But for too long, whichever party may be in government, as a nation we have failed on some of the grand challenges. As a party, we have great ideas and insights, but they fail to see the light of day when they come to be put into practice.

I know ministers are often frustrated that they don’t feel they get the guidance they need as to what the centre wants. Involvement only seems to come when something goes wrong. In Canada, on appointment, ministers receive a “mandate letter” setting out what they are expected to achieve by the Prime Minister. Such a move would be both radical and positive, I believe, in this country. In addition, Canadian ministers don’t have to locate themselves in a departmental silo. The team of officials is built around their briefs – relatively narrow briefs which change as political priorities wax and wane.

So we need to try much, much harder to burst the departmental silos. Whilst some ministers sit across government departments, and the Cabinet Office has at times acted as an enforcer of key themes, on some of the really big thematic underpinnings of policy, Whitehall has not been able to effectively co-ordinate.

Ministerial committees are flabby, too full of a mix of posturing and defensiveness, as ministers defend the turf or score points off colleagues rather than collaborate to achieve. They always struck me as akin to the “boardroom” section of The Apprentice. It isn’t enough just to have someone in your private office picking up the phone to a distant department a small part of whose remit you hold the brief for, if only in theory. Build the structure around the minister’s mission.

That’s why I think we should appoint a pair of cross-government thematic ministers based in Cabinet Office, with the right to attend cabinet, focusing on social justice, infrastructure or inter-generational solidarity – as a test-bed for a new way of structuring Whitehall.

Is the answer to relocate Civil Service decision-making, as some suggest? If it is a case of aping the BBC and transplanting the denizens of Barnes to equally affluent Bowdon, modish Hackney to already-gentrified Hale, then the answer is no. Was the sole reason it was mooted sending the Lords to York was because senior civil servants had found some highly desirable Victorian villas they could afford in Harrogate?

If it is locating, not just processing, PIP claims to Blackpool (hundreds are already here), but those who come up with the processes and financial provisions within which those decisions have to be made, then yes. It needs to be more than a sop to the newly-won constituencies. Indeed, we’d be happy to host the Lords in Blackpool’s magnificent Winter Gardens ballroom where so many of them once strutted their stuff at party conferences.

History is littered with temporary bursts of enthusiasm for reforming the machinery of government or replanting clumps of civil servants in stonier ground. Often this is because it is seen to be an end in itself, rather than measured by whether the fundamental outputs change. Maybe this time will be different – the very scale of the challenge we now face with Covid will force through some radical innovation.

My knowledge of the Wade-Giles romanization methodology for Mandarin doesn’t allow me to confirm whether the Chinese characters for “crisis” and “opportunity” are in fact one and the same, as one endlessly-repeated ‘fact’ that is trotted out states. But even if they aren’t, it has to be how we approach the coming years.

The machinery of state has shown itself to lack the bandwidth and agility required to deliver complexity at pace. A hard rain may indeed be coming, if only because there is no alternative. Far worse, perhaps, would be the ‘spits and spots’ of precipitation beloved of BBC forecasters. Do it properly or not at all.

Securing the Majority? 1) Equalising boundaries

31 Aug

After the 2019 election, we suggested five ways that Boris Johnson could help to secure the Party’s electoral position as part of our Majority series. This was the first. Eight months on, how are they doing?

– – –

Securing The Majority? 1) Equalising boundaries

Before the Covid-19 crisis swept all before it, the Government had started to make progress on boundary reform. Specifically, it had announced its intention to scrap the legal requirement for it to cut the number of constituencies to 600.

This was first floated by David Cameron as a way to ‘cut the cost of politics’ in response to the expenses scandal, but was making the whole thing a very difficult sell to MPs, who didn’t want to end up caught in a game of musical chairs ahead of the next election. There is also an argument that MPs will have more to do once all the powers ceded to the European Union have been repatriated.

What impact this will have on the ’tilt’ of the new battlefield isn’t clear. As we noted previously, some projections suggested a stronger Tory win on the proposed new boundaries. But with so many seats in the ‘Blue Wall’ held by first-term incumbents, the churn created by a major review could wipe out the typical new-MP electoral dividend and undermine the defence in 2023 or 2024.

Conversely, some analysts have suggested that the new electoral geography created by the collapse of the ‘Red Wall’ reduces the partisan advantage for the Conservatives of equalising constituency sizes (which remains a manifesto commitment), as they now hold many of the under-sized seats which used to give Labour an advantage.

Either way, with a strong overall majority and a full parliamentary term ahead of them, the Government ought to have no excuse not to finally get this long-delayed review over the line. The relevant Bill receives its Lords committee stage on September 8.

Judy Terry: Banks must be part of the high street revival

31 Aug

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

With High Streets under ever-increasing pressure, for customers to lose personal access to their banks, with their professional advice and services, as well as cash machines, will be the death knell for many businesses, especially those largely reliant on cash transactions in smaller towns.

Not everyone banks online; according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 7.5 per cent of people have never even used the internet. Almost daily, we are alerted to the potential for fraud, so security is a priority. Everyone is vulnerable, however careful and technologically literate they are.

Having access to a human being to discuss issues, whether a loan, mortgage, or to maximise the return on any savings, is a huge benefit. It is not the same doing it online without assurance of ‘best value’! Being able to speak to someone in person builds trust – and loyalty, sharing information about suspected fraud, is essential, yet customers trying to make contact by phone can potentially wait for up to an hour, or even longer, before getting a response. Report online or use the App, we’re told, or give up! If you try to visit your bank branch, expect to queue for ever, or find it shut. This is not good enough.

Despite the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) working with banks to ‘prioritise customers and their needs’, the pandemic is threatening a further 274 bank closures across the country, whilst also reducing opening times, leaving customers unable to pay in cheques (yes, they are still used for some transactions), pay bills, or withdraw cash. Even mobile units, introduced after previous closures, have disappeared.

Post Offices have already left hundreds of High Streets, causing considerable inconvenience to local residents, not least those attempting to return goods bought online, wanting assistance renewing a passport, paying road fund tax, or using banking services.

Losing banks and post offices is not just an inconvenience, but means thousands of people having to travel to other locations to access services, especially in rural areas where broadband is not just slow, but sometimes inaccessible or intermittent.

So, isn’t it time for banks, building societies, and post offices, to agree a simple plan, working in partnership to restore accessible customer service to meet community need? There is no reason, surely, why the finance sector couldn’t share premises. It could be an opportunity to use some of the commercial properties which local councils have acquired as ‘investments’ in recent years and now remain empty. Alternatively, rationalise how public buildings, which often have large empty reception areas, and even libraries, are used, making them more user-friendly and efficient for broader communities.

A simple business plan could target specific locations, identified in consultation with local authorities and business organisations; with each partner allocated sites and contributing a set annual amount to a central fund to cover staff and accommodation costs.

Department stores are suffering from a decline in footfall, so bringing banks and post offices into vacant space would be a huge advantage, alongside estate agents, hairdressers and nail bars, smartening up these tired institutions, crammed with everything from cosmetics and clothing to kitchenware and furniture, without giving any thought how to attract buyers. Instead of opening 9.00-5.30, add some flexibility (opening and closing later a couple of days a week) with special events, launching new products, and even introducing wine bars, rather than the tatty coffee bars which are currently commonplace.

Retail is in a rut because it failed to respond to the online challenge, pursuing the same boring model for generations, blinkered to demands for something different and more exciting. In the 1960s it was fashion designers like Mary Quant, and interior design gurus like Terence Conran who revolutionised the shopping experience, making it exciting after the post-war decline; we need similar creativity to deliver a revival today. Local authorities and Business Improvement Districts (BID) could work with landlords to utilise prominent but redundant retail units, showcasing new talent, with competitions to select the best ideas and products.

The UK has some of the most innovative people, developing world-beating technology for gaming and film production; their knowledge and skills could be put to use in the High Street, with space to attract custom, including children playing online games, and even helping the less technically inclined to build their confidence, making it fun.

BIDs could also encourage young musical and theatrical talent to put on shows in public spaces for a couple of hours each month, welcoming people to stay longer into the evening after work. Introducing monthly Art markets for paintings, photography, pottery etc.. promoting the creative industries, would also be popular, drawing people in for a new experience, meeting others who share their enjoyment.

Such change means that people will want to return to live in town centres, with tree-lined pedestrian areas filled with plant boxes allowing them to give up their cars to walk or cycle, helping the environment. It will also encourage those at risk of losing their jobs in the current crisis and choosing self-employment, to set up their own businesses, utilising their unique skills. They are key to building the next generation’s success.

So, banks must be part of the town centre revival, having a physical presence. If they don’t participate, they will regret it because they will not only lose customers but miss major future investment opportunities! Rivals will be waiting in the wings to grab them.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Children’s Commissioner for England – and more

31 Aug

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

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Joint Nature Conservation Committee – Chair

“Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Framework Document provides the legal, administrative and financial framework within which the Joint Committee operates and the specific functions of the Committee and the Chair. As Chair you will be responsible to the Defra Secretary of State for the leadership, direction and effectiveness of JNCC in line with strategies and plans agreed with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. You will be the primary contact with Ministers for the Committee. You will provide visible leadership and vision for JNCC, setting strategic and operational direction, ensuring good governance and, together with the Joint Committee, holding the executive to account.”

Time: 2.5 days per week.

Remuneration: £40,059 per annum.

Closes: 03 September

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Environmental Standards Scotland – Chair/Members

“Environmental Standards Scotland will be established, initially, on a non-statutory basis from January 2021.  It will transition to a statutory, independent body over the course of 2021. The Board will initially comprise of the Chair and two other members.  Once Environmental Standards Scotland becomes established as a statutory organisation, further board appointments are expected. Members of the Board of Environmental Standards Scotland will shape how the Board performs its role, including by exercising judgement on what information to monitor; selecting environmental concerns for initial review and for detailed investigation; resolving these through agreement with public authorities, where possible; and, highlighting any significant issues to Ministers.”

Time: 8-10 days per month initially, ~4 per month thereafter.

Remuneration: £300/£200 per diem.

Closes: 03 September

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British Film Institute (BFI) – Chair

“This role is therefore an extraordinary opportunity for an individual who is passionate about the success of the BFI and the wider British film/screen industry, and who has a track record of board leadership, to support the next chapter of British film and the continued success of the screen sectors. The selected Board Chair will be expected to work alongside the recently appointed CEO in shaping and delivering an emerging vision for the sectors’ recovery from Covid-19, and long-term success thereafter. To do so, the selected Board Chair must have achieved leadership stature in the film industry, business, a major charitable or cultural  institution, or government.”

Time: Up to two days per month.

Remuneration: Expenses.

Closes: 05 September

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National Lottery Community Fund – Chair of the Board

“The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is seeking to appoint an outstanding individual to be Chair of the National Lottery Community Fund. Applications are welcomed from underrepresented groups to ensure the National Lottery Community Fund reflects the diverse society it serves. The Fund is currently supporting communities across the UK to adjust to and recover from the coronavirus crisis. It is also a time when the Fund has gone through a period of investment and development, making it well placed to deliver our ambitious plans to achieve the Fund’s purpose: supporting people and communities thrive. The Fund has many of the building blocks in place to add even greater value to civil society and public life. Our contribution is as varied as it is vital.”

Time: Up to two days per week.

Remuneration: £40,000 per annum plus expenses.

Closes: 07 September

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Charity Commission – Board Member

“The Charity Commission has a clear purpose: to ensure charity can thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society. To help us meet that purpose, fulfil our proud commitment to represent the public interest in charity, and meet the challenges we face, in the autumn of 2018 the Board set an ambitious five-year strategic plan… The Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, wishes to appoint a Board member to the Charity Commission for England and Wales. A vacancy for a Non-Executive Director will be created when one member completes their term in October 2020. This is a senior role requiring someone with the necessary experience and non-executive skills to support the Chair in providing strategic leadership and oversight of the Charity Commission. ”

Time: Approx. 24 days per year.

Remuneration: £350 per diem plus expenses.

Closes: 13 September

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Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate – Chief Inspector

“Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service is supported by an inspectorate: Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI). The inspectorate provides independently assessed evidence about the operation, efficiency, and effectiveness of the public prosecutors (the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)). The purpose of this is to provide the evidence needed to allow the public prosecutors to be held to account and to improve, thereby strengthening the public’s trust in the prosecution process. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and the inspectorate may inspect other prosecuting authorities by invitation.”

Time: Full time.

Remuneration: £125,000 per annum.

Closes: 14 September

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Home Office – Forensic Science Regulator

“The Forensic Science Regulator ensures that the provision of forensic science services across the criminal justice system is subject to an appropriate regime of scientific quality standards. They are responsible for: identifying the requirement for new or improved quality standards; leading on the development of new standards; and where necessary, providing advice and guidance so that providers of forensic science services can demonstrate compliance with common standards. The successful candidate will ideally have a substantial background in operating at a senior level in a relevant field, encompassing at least one of the following: leadership in a forensic, or related, scientific discipline; the development and application of quality standards in a scientific or technical environment; the regulatory process involving scientific standards; or the criminal justice system.”

Time: 3-4 days per week.

Remuneration: £96,000 per annum FTE.

Closes: 14 September

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Department for Education – Children’s Commissioner for England

“The Commissioner operates as a corporation sole, sponsored by the Department for Education and is appointed by the Secretary of State for Education. The Commissioner’s primary function is promoting and protecting the rights of children in England. The legislative basis for the office of Children’s Commissioner is in Part 1 and Schedule 1 of the Children Act 2004. This establishes the independence of the office and the six year tenure of the post holder. The legislation relating to the Children’s Commissioner is permissive, allowing significant flexibility for the Commissioner to determine how best to carry out his or her primary function of promoting and protecting children’s rights. The Commissioner is not an Ombudsman and, in general, cannot conduct investigations into the case of an individual child.”

Time: Full time.

Remuneration: £120-130,000 per annum.

Closes: 18 September

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Innovate UK – Chair

We are seeking an inspirational leader with extensive business experience, international standing and a proven track record to lead Innovate UK as its Executive Chair. The central priority of Innovate UK, under a new Executive Chair, will be to transition from a grant funding body to an agency focused on transforming the UK’s innovation capacity and capability, taking full advantage of its considerable growth in budget. The new Executive Chair will be expected to actively strengthen the organisation’s position within key markets, providing impactful thought leadership to the UK’s innovation system. As the pivotal funding body for business R&D, especially for start-ups and SMEs across the country, the Executive Chair will be expected to develop and implement system wide strategies for investment that promote the UK as a global leader in R&D and technologies of the future.”

Time: Full time, ‘other arrangements considered’.

Remuneration: £180,000 per annum base, up to £37,500 performance-related.

Closes: 28 September

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Police Advisory Board for England and Wales – Chair

“The PABEW was established as a non-departmental public body under section 46 of the Police Act 1964, now section 63 of the Police Act 1996. Under the remit of the Board, sits the Police Pensions Scheme Advisory Board and the Discipline Sub-Committee.  In addition to this, the Chair has responsibility of chairing the Police Consultative Forum (PCF), a voluntary forum for employer and staff representative bodies that sits outside the statutory functions of the PABEW. We are seeking a new Chair to lead the organisation forward in a time of considerable change for policing. The Government has committed to considerable investment in the police workforce over the coming three years as part of the Police Uplift Programme which will increase officer numbers by 20,000, the biggest police recruitment drive in decades.”

Time: Approx. 21 days per annum.

Remuneration: £437 per diem, plus expenses.

Closes: 28 September

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Advisory Committee on Business Appointments – Members

“ACOBA provides independent advice on applications submitted under the Business Appointment Rules from former ministers, senior civil servants and other Crown servants. In doing so it advises on the conditions that should apply to new appointments or employment after individuals have left Crown service. It plays a vital role in ensuring that the Business Appointment Rules are implemented fairly, sensibly and transparently… Members will: play a full and active part in ACOBA’s work, engaging in the collective consideration of applications (usually by email); taking account of the relevant factors and information; and challenge where necessary the information or recommendations presented; support the wider aims of the Chair in relation to policy and procedure; attend and contribute to between 3 and 5 ACOBA meetings per year (in London or virtually), and occasional attendance at casework related meetings arranged where necessary; ensure the confidentiality of individual applications and associated discussions, whilst operating within the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Data Protection Act 2018; [and] agree an Annual Report.”

Time: 1-2 days per month.

Remuneration: £3,000 per annum, plus expenses.

Closes: 09 October

Jude D’Alesio: The Budget must be centred on young people

30 Aug

Jude D’Alesio, aged 19, is one of the youngest school governors in Britain, and is a Law student at the University of Bristol.

When I listen to my grandparents complain relentlessly about the lockdown, I cannot help but feel slightly frustrated. Frustrated, because I have sacrificed a term at university to go into lockdown to save them from this virus!

The government’s imposition of a lockdown in the UK was aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, principally the elderly. There is no doubt that this was the correct decision, and Prof Neil Ferguson stated that lockdown should have been imposed earlier.

Over 95 per cent of coronavirus deaths have occurred in those older than 60, and 50 per cent of all deaths have occurred in those over 80 according to the WHO. It is only right, therefore, that we seek to protect the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society, from the disease, and the country is certainly united in this goal.

It is undeniable, however, that lockdown has taken a significant toll on the younger generation, of which I am a part. In higher education, lectures have gone digital, and some teaching missed altogether. This especially disadvantages final year students, many of whom will be embarking on their careers with significant gaps in their knowledge, particularly critical in professions like medicine.

There is also the immense damage caused to secondary and further education by the lockdown. At least a whole term of work missed will prove acute in those at crucial points in their education, namely GCSE’s and A levels.

Being robbed of the chance to outperform your predicted grades after months of hard work will deny many the chance to attend the best universities. This can only be negative, as we want our younger generations to receive the best education possible to enable them to pursue their ambitions.

Families with the lowest incomes will be hit hardest by the effects of distance learning; not being able to effectively participate in online classes due to a lack of technology will inevitably create skills gaps among the poorest in our society.

For all these reasons, the next Budget should be focused on, and most beneficial for, young people: their education, their skills, their opportunities.

In many ways, the pandemic has breathed fresh unity into our country as we are united in fighting the virus. It seems fair, therefore, that everyone should in some way bear the cost of the current recession. However, as the lockdown came at the cost of young people, there are undoubtedly changes benefiting young people which can be implemented in the next Budget.

Scrapping the triple lock is a great start. The triple lock, implemented by the Cameron government, increases pensions in accordance with the Retail Price Index, average earnings or 2.5per cent, whichever proves highest. This could enable savings of £8bn a year, according to a leaked Treasury document.

The current main rate of corporation tax, sitting at 19 per cent, has been stagnant since 2017. Such desperate times surely call for a cut in the rate, in line with the government’s aim to make us more competitive post-Brexit. Additionally, the government’s plan to merge the Foreign Office with DFID, whether the correct decision or not, will undoubtedly produce savings.

The proceeds of growth, merely the beginning of a range of reforms, should be reinvested heavily in young people’s education and opportunities to redress the balance caused by coronavirus. This must include the £1bn ‘catch-up’ plan to enable school children to bridge the gap left by lost teaching. However, amounting to only £80 per student (IFS), further funding once coronavirus passes should be on the cards.

This is, of course, only a starting point, and many more steps must be taken to alleviate the portentous educational, financial and social burdens which have overwhelmed my generation. But, there have been clear losers during this pandemic and the next Budget should recognise as such.