Matt Kilcoyne: Streamlined lawmaking would make the UK a richer, safer, fairer and better place to work and live

9 Apr

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

We’re now over a year into the pandemic radically shifting the creation of legislation, from a long-winded process studded with Parliamentary scrutiny and debate to laws affecting so many now so often made on the fly.

Frankly if any Member of either House tells you that they know what each of 600 sets of regulations (plus primary legislation and 1014 Statutory Instruments (SIs) used to amend past legislation) does and how it has updated laws previously in place, including that of the 1833 St Helena Act, then they’re having you on. No one could understand or advise on what has happened in whole to the laws our Parliament makes, amends, and repeals.

Now a lot of the SIs that went on in Parliament, last year especially, were to do with converting the EU’s acquis into British law. These SIs were put in place to ensure the promise of Britain starting independence from a position of non-divergence was kept;

This past year could be seen as an exposé of what’s been happening more generally with our legal system for decades: Parliament dictated to by foreign bodies, impacted by devolved ones, and bypassed by executive order. No one could tell you what has occurred across all our laws and the tens of thousands of pages of additions. Yet ignorance of that law is no excuse, and it can cost dearly to not know.

Our Common Law system, uncatalogued laws with no search function, and the lack of understanding about case law specifics and Parliamentary reasoning all add to the cost of compliance for firms. In turn that adds up to lost innovation and productivity, lower wages, and fewer life chances. All told the cost of regulation was estimated by the National Audit Office to be over £100bn in 2017, and a large chunk is just checking you’re on the right side of the law.

But wait, wasn’t one of the reasons that we left the EU that we could look again at all the little laws and silly additions to our statute and start to rid us of these meddlesome interventions? Didn’t Boris Johnson in 2019 order a bonfire of red tape?

Well, yes and no. Johnson’s bonfire is as mal-quoted as his “f**k business” exclamation. The latter was a broadside at corporates pretending to speak for the whole market when they actually speak only and rightly in the interests of themselves and their shareholders.

Likewise, the ‘bonfire’ was actually an explicit attempt at introducing mercantilist procurement practices rather than having non-discrimination of bids by nationality – the vast majority of which have actually now been kept in place via the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

However there are some signs of life in the government’s plans for deregulation. Or as they’d rather call them, plans for better regulation.

Before alighting to lead preparations for COP, Alok Sharma set up a series of consultations and reforms across industries and sectors. Kwasi Kwarteng’s brush with the unions and the FT over an employment rights review put paid to any labour market shake-up, but all the rest continue.

Some of these were supposed to be of higher stakes than others — we’d all assumed the consultation on a new subsidy regime was bigger than the reform of audit, at least until a former Prime Minister’s relations to a certain financial services company started hitting the headlines.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has oversight of the vast bulk of Covid legislation because of the sunset clauses backbenchers forced the Cabinet to put in place on the emergency powers. I think it’s reasonable to trust the Leader of the House’s desire to return ancient liberties to modern Britons and so I suspect some simplification will be coming our way purely by the ticking of the clock.

The real big potential, though, is thought to be with Rishi Sunak’s Better Regulation Cabinet Committee, which has oversight across all departments and involves the likes of Kwarteng, Lord Frost, and Michael Gove all in one place.

Quite what is within scope is less certain than what isn’t. Anything ringfenced by the manifesto or which could go viral on social, such as environmental standards or labour standards, is out. But technically everything else is in, including how and what and when to diverge whole sectors from Europe, when to sandbox as the UK did successfully with fintech, and even the form and role of lawmaking at Westminster.

The Adam Smith Institute’s latest paper, Ignorantia Legis, tries to give the Chancellor some neat new ideas to ensure we get better laws, rather than just more of them.

The first thing is to stop the direction of travel towards more laws as a matter of course. A lot of this stems from process-driven regulation. This year the full cost of that way of thinking was laid bare with the precautionary principle and the vaccine in Europe. Expedited experiments where there is a clear cost-benefit case to do so would allow circumvention of onerous process-driven regulation, replacing it with clear result-driven approaches.

Higher risk, and higher personal responsibility and in ordinary times assigned liabilities, but with higher rewards. Moonshots if you will.

From moonshots to sunsets, so much of regulation is designed to stop the possibility of the very worst outcome happening. Often this is done where the potential for such an outcome is not known at first but becomes known over time. There are plenty of laws already on the statute relating to harming others, duplicating them time and again when new issues arise is unnecessary and often duplicates legislation.

To combat this, MPs should make more frequent use of sunset clauses when passing penalties and regulations, so that they can be routinely revisited and then set aside if and when the harms or moral panic they were designed to address have either been dealt with or failed to materialise.

Ministers will not win the war on wasteful legislation if they start looking for individual wins or headlines. They should instead commit to reducing lines of rules, pages of books, and issues contained within Acts. Doing so will cut the.bill the Government imposes to British businesses and each of us as citizens. That will make the UK a richer, safer, fairer and better place to work and live.

One, two, three – and now Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the fourth time

4 Apr

The table now seems to be in set pattern established soon after Britian’s vaccination success became apparent.

The same Ministers remain at its top and the same too at its bottom.  Consider the case of Kwasi Kwarteng, up a place this month at fourth: his score, 64.7, is exactly the same as it was then.

There are a mix of small score and table movements up and down, but none of them worth expending many words about – though we pause for the Ministers at the very top and bottom of the table.

At the top, there is Liz Truss, on her fourth table-topping month – and a record high of 89 per cent.

That’s a reflection, in a minor key, of her decisive handling of the Equalities brief and, in a major one, of the rapid succession of trade deals: most of them rollovers, true – but accomplished more speedily than some anticipated.

At the bottom, there is Gavin Williamson – on minus 27 per cent.

That’s a dreadful rating, but less so than the -43 per cent he scored last month, or this – 36 per cent and -48 per cent during the previous ones.

Our reading is that his early and emphatic support for free speech during the Batley Mohammed cartoons row, which we haven’t heard the last of, accounts for his improvement.

Sam Hall: The Government must secure tougher emission-reduction commitments at this year’s COP26. Here’s how.

28 Jan

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network.

It is hard to overstate the centrality of COP26 to UK domestic and foreign policy this year. It will be the most significant international summit of 2021 and the most important set of climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Having failed to plan properly for a global pandemic, the world still has time to mitigate this potentially much greater threat to our security and prosperity. At COP26, the UK has an opportunity to direct and shape this critical global effort, and in the process strengthen its own national mission towards net zero and post-Covid economic recovery.

The political context for COP26 is, on the whole, favourable. The Biden administration has made climate action a priority for American diplomacy. Last year, a slew of major economies followed the UK in setting net-zero targets, including Japan, China, South Korea, and the EU. But economics, rather than politics, are increasingly driving climate action. The costs of clean technologies, particularly solar, wind, and batteries, continue to fall, thanks to innovation, scale, and competition, and good green jobs are being created along the way.

That being said, there are a number of tricky challenges that Alok Sharma, President of COP26, must navigate. Despite new climate commitments from China and others, some big emitters, such as India and Russia, are still reluctant to up their game. And the finance flowing towards clean energy and nature-based solutions is still well short of what’s needed, undermining political support for climate action among developing countries whose fiscal resources have been badly depleted by Covid.

The Government’s primary goal at COP26 must be to secure tougher emission-reduction commitments from nation states. In Paris five years ago, countries agreed a set of climate goals: to limit the global temperature rise to well below two degrees, and to pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees. But the national pledges that countries made towards achieving those global goals were, and remain, insufficient. Despite lots of recent progress, we’re still on track for more than three degrees of warming by the end of the century, according to the UN.

To deliver the Paris Agreement goals, new national commitments must include both short-term targets, which are important for limiting the cumulative emissions that drive the greenhouse effect, as well as long-term net-zero targets, which are needed if countries are to stop contributing to climate change altogether. They must include concrete plans that deliver those targets while also creating green jobs and clean growth. Developed countries must also follow the UK in honouring their commitment to allocate an annual total of $100 billion for climate finance for developing countries.

Alongside targets and plans, the Government should champion some sector-specific campaigns – such as the phase-out of coal power stations or combustion engines, or the transition towards more sustainable agriculture. Thanks to successive Conservative governments, the UK has strong commitments in all these areas. COP26 is an opportunity to bolster support for these important international coalitions.

The most effective solutions to climate change are market-based. They harness competition and private capital to keep down costs for consumers, while avoiding the need to adopt economically damaging left-wing policy solutions. The Government should use COP26 to enable three of them in particular.

First, the Government should accelerate the growing momentum behind border carbon adjustments (BCAs). BCAs are carbon charges levied on carbon-intensive imports, and carbon charge rebates for exports. This policy – recently advocated on this site by Jerome Mayhew MP – is already being considered by the EU and the US. If implemented carefully, BCAs could unlock the use of higher carbon prices to enable market-based decarbonisation, without harming the competitiveness of UK businesses exposed to international trade.

Some countries regard BCAs as protectionist, but with careful design, this doesn’t need to be the case. With a transparent process for measuring carbon intensity, and by ensuring imports and domestically-produced goods face the same carbon price, the risk of a legal challenge at the WTO can be kept low. The UK should try to shape the international BCA debate, and build a supportive coalition at COP26.

Second, the Government should finalise an agreement on the rules governing carbon markets. Carbon markets enable countries to buy carbon credits from emission-reduction projects overseas and include them in their national carbon accounts. Carbon markets let countries find the most cost-effective pathway to net zero, and provide much-needed private funds for nature-based solutions.

Five years on, this element of the Paris Agreement (known as “article six”) remains highly contentious and is still unresolved. In previous iterations of carbon markets, carbon credits were of dubious quality, were sometimes double-counted by appearing in two different carbon accounts, and diverted investment from crucial domestic emission reduction projects. Using some of the findings from Mark Carney’s new taskforce on voluntary carbon markets, the Government could forge an international consensus behind scientifically rigorous, environmentally-ambitious carbon markets ahead of COP26.

Third, there needs to be much greater focus on the role of the private sector. The Government should urge as many companies as possible to commit to net zero, set a scientifically robust deadline for reaching it, and publish a comprehensive and credible action plan. As happens currently with nation states, we should ask these private sector actors to report against their commitments, and to review their targets every five years with a view to ratcheting ambition. Broadening the scope of the Paris Agreement framework to include the private sector would be a really significant legacy of COP26, and would encourage more businesses to take the lead on climate action.

Finally, the Government must engage its conservative counterparts elsewhere in the world on climate change, and extend the climate discussion to encompass more voices from the right of the political spectrum. Almost a quarter of global emissions comes from countries with centre-right governments. We won’t solve climate change without the support of conservatives, yet too much of the international climate movement remains dominated by the left.

This lack of conservative voices is in large part a result of the historic but shrinking climate scepticism on the right. It must now be rectified. The Government should focus on making the economic case for climate action to its overseas partners, highlighting the UK’s world-leading record on clean growth. The UK enjoys broad cross-party support for climate action – among all sections of the public as well as elected politicians. Thankfully, climate change is not a front in the culture war. We should try to export that model around the world.

This is an exciting year for climate policy in the UK. COP26 will be the culmination of the UK’s recent climate leadership, and a chance to internationalise our clean growth-focused approach. It could also pave the way for a more market-based approach to net zero. It might prove to be one of Boris Johnson’s most significant legacies.

The short sharp shuffle. Sharma takes on COP26 full-time. Kwarteng steps up a rung to become Business Secretary.

8 Jan

The end of transition was a calendar fixture and ought, in the event of a trade agreement, to have offered Boris Johnson the chance to refresh the Government – since a deal would both boost his standing with Conservative MPs and bring calmer political waters.

But then an event took place last winter that was very much not a calendar fixture: the first major pandemic in a century.  It would consequently have looked and been frivolous to have a major reshuffle now, and so lash those waters up again at a moment when the Prime Minister needs all Ministerial hands on deck.

The same logic applies to the next natural break in the political calendar: the February half-term recess.  Hospitalisations will have risen and may not be falling by then.

Then there is Easter in early April.  But Covid considerations apart, local elections are due in May.  Why hold a big reshuffle before then rather than after?

And if they are postponed until June, why not wait until September for a shuffle, before the Conservative Party Conference (for there will be one in some form), rather than send MPs off for the summer recess in the wake of a self-made squall – since reshuffles inevitably bring more pain than gain?

The shape of events since the outbreak of a new strain of Covid has thus suggested putting off the shuffle until early autumn.  Furthermore, no Cabinet Minister will then reasonably be able to complain if sacked or moved, having been in place for the best part of 18 months.  However, there was a snag.

Namely, what to do about COP26, due to take place in Glasgow this November?  To cut a long story short, it will need an agreement to be a political success for the Prime Minister, and is set to be his second major diplomatic setpiece of the year – the first being the UK’s G7 presidency and the consequent summit, usually held during the summer.

That requires a lot of legwork.  And the Minister in charge of the COP26 negotiation, Alok Sharma, wore two hats – his other being that of Business Secretary.

So the Prime Minister has gone for a short sharp solution – announced on a Friday evening, a legendary graveyard news slot, in which Governments make announcements that they wish to gain limited publicity.

No big shuffle.  No return to the Cabinet yet for Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was removed when her DfID job was abolished recently, but reportedly promised a return.  She is back in the department as Energy Minister, which will surely be a disappointment.  And there is no comeback for Sajid Javid, whose name was in the frame for the BEIS job.  Instead, Johnson has opted for a minimalist, orderly solution.

Sharma stays in Cabinet, and goes full-time for the COP26 role.  And Kwasi Kwarteng, already a Minister of State in the Business department, moves one slot up to replace him as Secretary of State.  By our count, the Cabinet was one under its maximum count of 22, so Sharma stays a full member.

Kwarteng is a big, personable, right-wing historian, who once wrote a lively column for the Prime Minister’s alma mater – the Daily Telegraph.  He was a co-author of the Free Enterprise Group’s bracing study Britannia Unchained.

So he is bound to see the trade deal as a further loosening of the bonds.  The Government’s friends will say that he ups the Cabinet’s number of ethnic minority members to five.  Its enemies will reply that it raises the number of Old Etonians to two.

Sharma is not at all a front-of-house Cabinet showman, being inclined to block the bowling and risk nothing outside off stump, but he is a diligent, toiling Minister.  More to the point, he is a loyalist: a Johnson voter in the 2019 leadership election, playing Jeremy Hunt during campaign practice debates.  Kwarteng is another loyalist – though he broke ranks to lay into “misfit and weirdo” Andrew Sabinsky.

The term was Dominic Cummings’, not Kwarteng’s: readers will remember the former Chief Adviser seeking to recruit some to the civil service.  Kwarteng departed from the Government line to accuse Sabinsky of racism. But Cummings has left the building…

We take this mini-shuffle as a sign that a bigger one is now unlikely to come until the autumn.  This is not a strong Cabinet, but the Prime Minister is sticking with it, at least for the moment.

Dependability, a lack of fuss, predictability – and taking the drama out of event.  These are not qualities most people associate with Johnson but, when it comes to Government shuffles, they are becoming trademarks: oh, plus loyalty, of course.  Though the treatment of Trevelyan hangs over these moves like a questionmark.

The biggest decision has already been taken. We have left the EU. So let’s treat whatever comes next as an opportunity.

14 Dec

The EU is right.  If in future it changes its social laws and we don’t change ours; and if then it slaps tariffs on our exports, and raises non-tariff barriers too, this in no way lessens our sovereignty.  We do what we like.  The EU does what it likes.  Brexit is uncompromised.

Having cleared that up, on to present obscurities.  The texts of a possible treaty, which some claim is “95 per cent done”, haven’t been made public.

So few outside the negotiating room, and certainly neither this site nor its readers, are able to pronounce authoritatively on exactly who or what is preventing agreement – assuming that disagreement is real, a supposition we’re inclined to make – or why.  Or whether a deal will have been agreed by December 31, the real deadline.

Nonetheless, the general contours of the difference between the two sides of the table in this negotiation seem clear enough.

As far as can be seen, both accept a level playing field based on “non-regression” – in other words, that neither party should lower the social standard, as it were, that existed within both the UK and the EU on the day that Brexit took place.

But what happens if either side in future wish to raise that standard?  The EU wants “dynamic alignment”.  The UK does not.  And they disagree on whether the non-binding Political Declaration includes commitments to it.

The EU reportedly wanted arbitration in the event of either the UK or the EU raising its social standard in future.  It seems that the UK resisted this particular arbitration proposal, though other reports suggest that the Government is not opposed to arbitration per se – and indeed that a potential solution may now be taking shape.

At any rate, it is agreed that the EU then went further – proposing that it be entitled to respond unilaterally if it raised its own standard and the UK didn’t follow.  It is this change in approach that plunged the talks into their recent crisis, which has not been resolved as we write.

Did Emmanuel Macron raise the stakes, mindful of his own domestic elections – and convinced that the UK would crack under pressure?  Was Angela Merkel actually the key mover?

Was it the Government’s declared intention to break international law that made the difference, inflaming EU fears of the unpredictability and waywardness of Boris Johnson?  (And if so, why – given that the EU itself is, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has pointed out, a “serial abuser of international law”?)

Such are the most convincing explanations we have of how we got where we are on the crucial issue of a level playing field – leaving the other main ones: state aid and fishing policy.

Fear on both sides is clearly a key factor.  The EU sees itself as offering the UK unique quota-free, tariff free access to its Single Market, and worries that we will get the best of both worlds – privileged access and lower standards.

As Catherine Barnard pointed out on this site last week, this reflects a curious lack of confidence in the coherence and power of the Single Market.

Meanwhile, the UK would say in response that such an arrangement suits the EU just fine, since it runs a trade surplus with us, and is offering nothing on services.  And that the EU seems set on using its economic muscle to pressure us into becoming an imperial outpost rather than Global Britain.

This, by the way, suggests a point that runs in the opposite direction to Barnard’s.  If the UK is confident in its own trading future, why not simply take the hit from any EU reprisal measures, and use our new freedoms as we think fit?

Our answer is that the Government should not, repeat not, settle for accepting a proposal that is manifestly unfair – in other words, one that would give the EU the right first to change its social laws and then, were we not to follow suit, to decide for itself both the width, speed and depth of retaliatory measures.

Such would be the classic bad deal – and, as Theresa May’s original formulation rightly has it, No Deal is better than a bad deal. But we don’t suggest for a moment that the consequences would be an easy ride.

In the long-term, what shapes a country’s economic future is its tax system, its spending control, its regulatory framework, the quality of its workforce, its education system, its capacity for innovation, its openness to investment, its relationship between labour and capital – and so on.  Not tariff and non-tariff barriers.

In the short-term, we are not so sanguine about the consequences of disentangling the UK, in the event of No Deal, from an EU with which it has been merged for the best part of 50 years.

In other words, No Deal would present the likelihood of short-term pain (the interplay with Covid; shortages; lower investment; scraps over fishing; damaged co-operation on crime and terrorism) against that of long-term gain, if we get our economic framework right.

Nonetheless, No Deal also has the potential to cut both ways, as John Redwood suggests on this site this morning.  For example, a fall in the pound could more than make up for the effect of tariffs.

Much will depend, if it happens, on how agile Rishi Sunak and Alok Sharma are response.  Meanwhile, No Deal would hit our EU neighbours hard, too.  In particular, it would be a political and diplomatic defeat for Ireland, in the wake of its win in the Withdrawal Agreement over the land border.

In the first few days after No Deal, the Cabinet would rally round the Prime Minister; so would Conservative MPs; so, beyond a doubt, would ConHome’s panel of Party members.

The EU and, in particular, France would be blamed by the Tory press and many voters.  The effects wouldn’t simply spill over into fishing and the North Sea.  Potentially, they would menace the security co-operation of the only two substantial military powers in western Europe.

We are less sure of what would happen in week eleven than week one.  We would put money on the response of Tory members hardening, together with that of some Conservative MPs.

However, we wouldn’t slap down a bet on all the Cabinet behaving in the same way.  The institutional interests of the Treasury and BEIS are against No Deal.  Michael Gove will be exposed if it happens, as the Cabinet Minister responsible for the UK’s response.

Our sense it that there would soon be stories of splits between Cabinet “hawks” and “doves”.  And Tory MPs, many of unfamiliar with normal Parliamentary proceedings and unprepared for unpopular decisions – how would they respond?

That would ultimately depend on their constituents, the British people – and the clash between what David Goodhart has called the Anywheres, gainers from globalisation who identify with similar gainers abroad, and the Somewheres, who are less mobile, more rooted and have a stronger sense of national identity.

One point is certain. We have decided to quit the EU twice over.  First in the 2016 referendum.  Then in the election of almost a year ago.

So in the event of No Deal, there will be no going back.  No political party or movement of any significance is suggesting rejoining the EU (which would now take place on less favourable terms than before.)  Which means that the best way of dealing with No Deal, if it has to happen, is to treat it less as a problem than as an opportunity.

Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the first time

4 Dec
  • Whatever happens to Liz Truss at the next reshuffle, whenever it happens, she will go into it as one of the small number of Cabinet members past and present who have topped our Members’ Panel League Table.  The International Trade post sends its occupant out to bat for Britain and away from domestic political turmoil.  The freedom-orientated and ever-combative Truss is making the most it.
  • The key to her achieving pole position is not so much her tiny ratings rate (from 73 per cent to 75 per cent, but Rishi Sunak’s own small fall (from 81 to 75 per cent).  There may be some nervousness at the margins from respondents about future tax rises.
  • Ben Wallace is up from ninth on 40 per cent to third on 66 per cent.  That undoubtedly reflects his success in winning a multi-year defence settlement at a time when other departments have only a single-year one – with enough money to at least get by.  And the former soldier seems a better fit in his department than some other Cabinet ministers.
  • Michael Gove is down from fourth on 54 points to fifteenth on 30 points. That will be a consequence of his support for tough anti-Covid restrictions.
  • The Priti Patel bullying claims – our reading of Sir Alex Allen’s report into them is that it concluded she should resign because she may have broken the code unintentionally – have made next to no difference to her rating, which has dropped by a marginal three points.
  • And Boris Johnson?  He is down by eight points and hovers just below the relegation zone.  Matt Hancock evaded it this month by a sliver.

Andy Street: 15 years on, we can finally heal the scars of MG Rover’s collapse

1 Dec

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

The battle to protect our economy from Coronavirus has brought comparisons with previous downturns, re-examining past recessions and reminding us of the impact felt when major industrial players have collapsed.

The levels of borrowing outlined last week by Rishi Sunak are testament to the unprecedented efforts being made by Government to draw on past experiences and protect jobs as we face a new kind of recession.

Here in the West Midlands, there remain acres upon acres of former industrial land which remind us of previous slumps. With government backing, we are now reclaiming these eyesores to provide new homes and job opportunities.

And as we face this latest challenge, I am hopeful that we will finally heal one of the biggest, and most painful, of these scars. Longbridge, in Birmingham, offers an opportunity to use this economic crisis to erase the results of an infamous economic shockwave.

Completing the regeneration of Longbridge would be a powerful example of Conservative policy actively “levelling up” the economy. For 15 years, local people have waited to see this site fully reclaimed. Let’s show them that after three years under a Conservative mayor, and with a new Conservative MP in place, we are ready to deliver it.

For anyone whose roots are in the West Midlands, car making holds a special place in our hearts. As someone brought up in Northfield, just up the road from the famous Longbridge car plant, I am also very conscious of the past of our car industry. Home of “the Austin”, Longbridge at its 1960s zenith was one of the world’s biggest car factories, employing tens of thousands of people producing ground-breaking vehicles like the Mini.

Then, of course, came the painful decline through the disastrous British Leyland years and beyond. The causes of that decline are still the cause of much debate, but no-one can argue about the individual and collective pain that each job loss brought.

This culminated 15 years ago in the collapse of MG Rover, with the loss of the remaining 6,000 jobs. It remains one of the darkest days in the history of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Psychologically, the closure dented the confidence of a region with a proud automotive pedigree. Economically, MG Rover’s collapse impacted on the thousands of people who worked for the firm and the massive supply chain that supported it.

Physically, when MG Rover shut its gates for the last time it left behind a vast industrial site that reminded us of the closure.

Since then, much of the site has been redeveloped. Developer St Modwen has shown real ambition and vision, effectively building a new town centre on part of site, which also boasts a fantastic college. Aquapak, a firm at the cutting edge of recycled polymers, recently welcomed Alok Sharma to their premises on the new business park there.

The old MG Rover site is being reshaped by a sustainable mix of businesses and housing redevelopment, including state-of-the-art senior living. Yet every time I pass Longbridge, I look across to the parts that remain empty and think about what it once meant for local jobs.

Now I’m determined to complete the regeneration of Longbridge, reclaiming a site that once represented one of our region’s most established industries, by applying one of our newest.

In the last year I have been joined by fellow Brummie Gary Sambrook, the Conservative MP for the area, in this ambition. He has been working with developer St. Modwen to get MG Rover’s “West Works” site redeveloped, and once again generating opportunity for local people.

Together we are promoting Longbridge’s strong business case to be a critical site for Government support through the Urban Transformation Fund. That’s why I submitted Longbridge to Government as one of our region’s top funding bids and it is why Sambrook passionately pitched it to the Chancellor last week in the Commons debate on the Spending Review.

To put it simply, this derelict site – which has been levelled for years – could provide a quite profound and tangible example of “levelling up” in action, and illustrate the West Midlands ability to bounce back from adversity.

That ability is also reflected in the land reclamation technology being pioneered here, which up until the pandemic hit, was cleaning up derelict eyesores like Longbridge and helping us build new homes at record numbers, through our “brownfield first” policy.

The exciting investment in the National Brownfield Institute at Wolverhampton will cement our position as a national leader in remediation and construction technology.

It is fitting that this example of West Midlands 21st Century innovation can be put to use to “level up” Longbridge, given its links to our industrial heritage.

Of course, there is another reason why the fate of the remaining Longbridge site would resonate so much now. The automotive industry is facing huge challenges. The sector is going through a revolution, illustrated by the Government’s ambitious decision to stop the production of petrol and diesel cars in 2030.

Longbridge stood as a reminder of what happens when we fail to invest in our automotive sector. The promise of £500 million in the Spending Review, to back electric battery technology and production shows the resolve not let this happen again. That’s why the Gigafactory that is so critical to our automotive future must be built in the West Midlands.

Longbridge may, sadly, never produce another car – but the site can produce quality new jobs for local people. With a new Gigafactory, we can recharge the automotive industry 15 years after MG Rover’s collapse.

By backing the regeneration of Longbridge, while investing in the West Midland’s automotive future, the Government can not only accelerate its ambitions to “level up” the economy – it can also drive home a profound message about our ability as a nation to bounce back.

Our Cabinet League Table: Sunak is still top, and Johnson is back in positive territory – just

2 Nov
  • Rishi Sunak’s favourability rating is down from 81.5 per cent to 81.1 per cent – in other words, by so infinitesimal a margin as to make no difference.  In other polls, his soaring rating would be driven by the subsidies that the Treasury is paying out.  In this one, his resistance to lockdowns will be a significant contributor to his popularity.
  • Boris Johnson was marginally in negative territory last month (-10 per cent) and marginally in positive terroritory this month (13 per cent).  We can think of no reason why, given the panel’s decision to mark him down, the late September finding should have been in the red and the October one in the black (or vice-versa had it been case).
  • Matt Hancock slides a bit further into the minus ratings, Gavin Williamson a bit back towards the plus ones.  Liz Truss is up a little and Priti Patel by more, having had a sticky summer over the channel crossings.  All in all, it’s much of a muchness – with Douglas Ross down by about 25 points, now that his Party Conference coverage has faded.
  • These ratings were taken at the end of last week, before the Prime Minister’s emergency press conference on Saturday.  We suspect that it would have lowered his rating and that of the Cabinet; you may disagree; perhaps we will hold a snap survey later this week to find out…

Three actions that Ministers must take if we’re to live without fear. Or else they and we will be lost.

15 Oct

If ConservativeHome is writing about the Coronavirus, we know where to look for Government information.  A mass of guidance and information is available.

But if, on the other hand, we want to find out the number of operations postponed since the original lockdown was announced on March 24; or that of cancer deaths; or that of those brought about by heart disease; or the harm wrought by rising mental health problems, or domestic abuse, or lost schooling, the Government has not compiled the relevant information and statistics for publication in a way that makes these easily available to find and read.

We are better off if we wish to report the number of job losses.  But these are not issued together by the Government with, say, the rise in child and poverty since late March.  There is no one-stop-shop source of official information about the damage to the economy since then – to livelihoods as well as to lives.  As well, as we say, about those other harms to lives.

Now it is true that not all cancer deaths since March 24, say, can fairly be blamed on the long shutdown.  But it isn’t beyond the wit of man to work out the number of deaths since then compared to those of a comparable six month period in a usual year.

It is also the case that some of any figures published would be contestable.  But that’s also true of official Coronavirus estimates.  For example, the task of working out the number of deaths in England has been has been complicated by two major changes in the way they have been calculated (in April and August).

There is an urgent point to this dry analysis.  Today, Boris Johnson is trapped in a pincer movement between Labour, which is arguing for a short national lockdown, and his own party, which inclines to fewer restrictions faster.  He will try to find a compromise – by tightening the conditions in the most repressive of the Government’s new three tiers, and extending these.  That would enable him to toughen up while avoiding an England-wide shutdown.

So the Prime Minister is set gradually to be dragged by Keir Starmer towards that circuit-breaker lockdown in all but name.  And once in it, there will be no quick way out, since the test and trace system isn’t working well enough to quell the rise in cases that would follow the end of the shutdown.  So that wouldn’t happen at all, or at least only do in a curtailed form.  We would be in semi-lockdown semi-permanently – which seems to be SAGE’s real aim.

All in all, we are all being manoeuvered into an annual cycle of near-total winter lockdowns and partially-eased summer ones, until or unless a vaccine is widely available, herd immunity is achieved or the virus abates.

This would risk bankrupting the country.  National debt hit a record £2 trillion in September.  It has reached 100.5 per cent of GDP, the highest level in 60 years.  We cannot be sure that Britain would be able to borrow for the duration at the present rock-bottom rates to grow its way out of trouble.  Even if it could, there is no guarantee that enough growth would come to stave off medium-term spending cuts and tax rises.

These would intensify the damage that this crisis is inflicting on lives as well as livelihoods – the rising toll in cancer deaths and educational harm and mental health problems which we refer to above, and so much more, including more poverty and deprivation.

Which takes us back to those figures.  There is fierce dispute about whether voters are really as supportive of harsher lockdowns as the polls suggest.  But Johnson can scarcely be blamed for not wanting to sail against the prevailing political weather.

In order to steer his way out of it, he will have to change it: changing the weather, after all, is what the best politicians do. In short, the Government must try to widen and deepen the national conversation about the Coronavirus.  That will take a bit of time.

It entails drawing voters’ attention to the wider social and economic damage that living semi-permanently in lockdown would do. Some of the information that would help to do this is already out there.  As Raghib Ali has pointed out on this site, the Department of Health’s own health cost-benefit analysis shows that to date “in the long-term, the health impacts of the two month lockdown and lockdown-induced recession are greater than those of the direct Covid-19 deaths”.

But Government sources tell ConservativeHome that the Department of Health has been resistant to getting all the healthcare-related facts and figures together in one place.  That’s perhaps not surprising given its focus on the virus.  It’s more surprising that the Treasury hasn’t done a parallel exercise on the economy.

Ultimately, it’s up to Downing Street to make the case, backed up by more information and strategic messaging, against more national lockdowns, with the damage to lives and livelihoods that this would bring.  But the key player in forcing it to change is Rishi Sunak.

If we are truly to live with the virus and “live without fear”, as the Chancellor put it in the Commons recently, we must prepare to shift, in the absence of a track and trace plan that works, to a less restrictive and more voluntarist policy – one based on the balance of risk between the harm that Covid-19 does and the harm that shutdowns do.

And an indispensable part of any push for change is shifting public opinion to support it.  This site has been calling since the spring for the Government to publish its estimate of non-Coronavirus healthcare costs to date; of the costs of lockdown to the economy to date, and of the total cost and total saving of the lockdown (which can be calculated by assigning a value, as government does elsewhere, to each human life in Britain).

Sunak, together with Ministers in other economic departments, such as Alok Sharma at BEIS, needs to push for three actions:

  •  A regular Treasury report that calculates the economic cost of the lockdown.  That’s within his own gift, as it were, and the work could start today.
  • A rolling Department of Health assessment of the human cost of the shutdown.  That will be harder to get.  The Chancellor will need the Prime Minister’s support to extract it.
  • The creation of an economic counterweight to SAGE that considers livelihoods as well as lives, thus ensuring broader advice to the Prime Minister.

Finally, Ministers can’t act as the sole pathfinders for policy.  Intrinsic to Margaret Thatcher’s success during the 1980s was the work of think-tanks and Conservative MPs in preparing the way for change.

There are a mass of Tory backbench groups and wider pressure organisations.  The One Nation Caucus comes to mind for us at once, because Damian Green, its Chair, wrote a perceptive piece for this site yesterday about the choices that the Government now faces.  Perhaps it or the No Turning Back Group – to pick a Parliamentary group a bit different in outlook – could produce a report.

Some of the think tanks are already working in this field.  The Resolution Foundation has done an intergenerational audit.  (See also David Willetts’ recent ConHome piece.)  Policy Exchange has probed the Government’s NHS tracing app.  (Benjamin Barnard wrote about its findings for us here.)  The Institute of Economic Affairs has examined the NHS’ shortcomings; the Centre for Policy Studies has led the way in probing economic costs.

But more work will be needed if public opinion is to move.  In the meantime, Sunak must continue to lead the way.

All of ConservativeHome’s 2020 fringe event videos in one place

8 Oct

Whether you’d like to rewatch an event, catch up on one that you missed, or share them with friends and family, here is the full collection of videos of our 2020 ConservativeHome fringe events.

Having brought you over 70 speakers, including no fewer than six members of Cabinet and a former Chancellor, in 18 events over three days – making for over 22 hours of top-flight political insight and debate – we hope you enjoy the show.

Saturday 3rd October

9am-10.30am

In Conversation with Steve Barclay MP

Held in partnership with Heathrow.

11am-12.30pm

The role of responsible business in preventing offending and reoffending

Held in partnership with FTSE 100 Landsec.

1pm-2.30pm

How to ensure low-income families with children get through the crisis

Held in partnership with Save the Children.

3pm-4.30pm

Supporting UK economic recovery: how can the financial and related professional services industry accelerate the return to growth?

Held in partnership with TheCityUK.

5pm-6.30pm

Firing up the engines of the economy – the key to future trade resilience

Held in partnership with Port of Dover.

 

Sunday 4th October

9am-10.30am

Setting the standard: exporting our values

Held in partnership with National Farmers Union (NFU).

11am-12.30pm

Back in business: what can modern universities do to support Britain’s recovery?

Held in partnership with MillionPlus and Hepi.

1.30pm-2.45pm

Unleashing Great British Enterprise: delivering on digital to drive a productivity revolution

Held in partnership with Atos.

3pm-4.30pm

Protecting a Generation: UK Leadership in the Global Education Emergency

Held in partnership with Save the Children.

5pm-6.30pm

Turbocharging the UK’s transition to electric vehicles

Held in partnership with Uber.

 

7pm-8.30pm

Medical Cannabis and the UK: Becoming a global leader

Held in partnership with The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis.

Monday 5th October

7.30am-8.45am

In Conversation with Sajid Javid MP

Held in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe.

11am-12.30pm

A digital strategy for a digital society

Held in partnership with Atos.

1pm-2.30pm

Social care and beyond: delivering for older voters in the ‘Red Wall’

Held in partnership with Age UK.

3.30pm-4.30pm

A new generation of good jobs to secure an economic recovery for all of us

Held in partnership with JRF.

5pm-6.30pm

In conversation with Ben Wallace MP, Secretary of State for Defence

Held in partnership with Raytheon.

7pm-8.30pm

The Business Conversation with Alok Sharma MP: How to make small business the centre of a post-Covid UK

Held in partnership with FSB.

Tuesday 6th October

7pm-8pm

The Moggcast – Live

Sponsored by Thorncliffe.

The ConservativeHome 2020 Conference Programme is kindly sponsored by TheCityUK.