Our survey: members split evenly over whether to deselect Cabinet rebels

They are much less divided over whether to do the same to the Brexiteer rebels against the Withdrawal Agreement: definitely not.

With talk rising of a general election, the thorny issue of deselection arises. Could the Party plausibly contest a Brexit election with all of its current MPs as candidates? Would victory in such circumstances resolve anything?

To test the waters, our survey asked the panel their views on deselection in two circumstances: Conservative MPs who voted against the Government’s revised Brexit deal; and ministers who threatened to vote against Government policy on a no-deal exit without resigning.

For the former group, the result was as overwhelmingly negative as we might expect: 83 per cent of respondents opposed deselecting the scores of rebels on the second meaningful vote, against just 12 per cent who supported such a move.

On the second question, however, it was pretty much an even split: 46 vs 44 per cent each way. Given the leanings of our panellists, this means that a substantial share of party members who support Brexit nonetheless don’t support taking such decisive action against those who are, in one view, threatening to prevent it.

As this survey was taken before Wednesday’s extraordinary abstentions by Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, and David Mundell the number favouring action might now be higher. Deselection is also a big step when a much less controversial one – sacking them – remains on the table.

Nonetheless, it suggests that maintaining the unity of the Tory Party remains a top priority for much of the grassroots.

 

Iain Dale: Rudd, Clark, Gauke. After all their bluster about resigning, abstaining ministers took the cowardly way out

Plus: The Chief Whip’s swift transformation from Francis Urquhart to Mr Bean. And: why I can’t bring myself to vote Tory in the local elections.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Where to start. I write this before the Article 50 extension votes have taken place on Thursday, but let’s face it, the main damage as already been done.

The only conclusion one can draw from the sorry events of this week is that the Prime Minister’s reputation has been further damaged, her government has been damaged below the waterline, the prospects of Brexit ever happening have been severely damaged, the reputation of the 14 government ministers who so courageously abstained against a three-line whip has been damaged, and the whole concept of collective responsibility and accountability has perhaps irreparably been damaged.

That’s a whole lot of damage.

– – – – – – – – –

Let’s start with the four Cabinet Ministers, eight junior ministers and two PPSs who failed to obey a three-line whip and abstained on the No Deal amended motion.

They deserve to be named. They are Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Mundell, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Tobias Ellwood, Robert Buckland, Alistair Burt, Margot James, Anne Milton, Claire Perry, Vicky Ford and Bim Afolami.

Two others, Sarah Newton and Paul Masterton, voted against the three-line whip. At least they had the honour and courage to resign, unlike their abstaining colleagues.

had to laugh when I heard Greg Clark on Peston trying to make out he and his 13 colleagues had done something courageous. No. Abstaining is never an act of courage. Actually voting against a three-line whip and then resigning – that’s an act of political courage or honour.

Some weeks ago, we were told 40 ministers would resign if they were whipped to vote for a No Deal Brexit. A couple of weeks ago we were told a dozen would do so. In the event only one did. These ministers have all the courage of a an Italian tank commander with one forward gear and four reverse gears.

As Iain Duncan Smith has pointed out, why would any MP take a three-line whip seriously any longer? The traditional system of whipping is now dead. It’s now effectively a free for all.

Julian Smith, the chief whip, has been completely undermined by whoever it was in Number 10 who let it be known that no abstaining minister would lose their jobs. He must surely now be considering his position, too.

Because no-one will now ever again be able to believe any threat he issues. He’s gone from Francis Urquhart to Mr Bean in the space of a few hours. It’s not his fault, but that’s the reality he now faces. And all thanks to those brilliant political strategists in Number 10. If it wasn’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh.

– – – – – – – – –

A former Tory MP of my acquaintance texts to say he can’t possibly vote Conservative in the local elections on 2nd May. A lot of people will be feeling like that.

I won’t be doing so either, although that’s less to do with the hapless state of the Government, and more to do with the incompetence of my local Tory council in Tunbridge Wells, which, to coin a phrased used by Boris Johnson this week, is “spaffing” £92 million up the wall by building a totally unwanted and unneeded civic centre in one of the town’s most scenic parks.

I’ll be voting for the group of local protesters who are putting up candidates in every ward to fight it. Or at least, I hope they are. If I didn’t do the job I do, I’d stand myself.

– – – – – – – – –

It defies belief that Theresa May will now bring her Meaningful Vote back for a third try next week. It ought to be dead as a dodo. But of course, it’s straight from the Olly Robbins playbook. Back on 12th February he was overheard saying: “…Got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March… Extension is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one…”.

And so it has come to pass. Project Fear triumphs. On Newsnight on Tuesday, Emily Maitlis asked me: “So when did it all go wrong for Theresa May?” My two co-panellists gave two very earnest answers. When my turn came, I replied: “When she started listening to Olly Robbins rather than David Davis.” Many a true word spoken in jest…

– – – – – – – – –

Tonight, I’m appearing on Any Questions on Radio 4. It’s about the tenth time I’ve been on the show and it’s one of those programmes I never say no to, mainly because I enjoy doing it and it enjoys a unique place in the listening public’s affections.

I must admit when I heard it entailed going all the way to Carlisle I did slightly hesitate. Not that I have got anything against Carlisle, but it means I won’t get home until 3 or 4am. It will be the last time I share an Any Questions platform with Jonathan Dimbleby, who is retiring from presenting the show in June. He’s an absolute pro and presents the show brilliantly.

I’m on with Therese Coffey, Layla Moran and Andy McDonald. I suspect that the questions will be dominated by Brexit, but the Spring Statement and Bloody Sunday will surely come up too. But there are always one or two questions which are impossible to anticipate. That’s when you show your metal. I wonder who will succeed Jonathan as the show’s presenter. Maybe I should apply… 😊

WATCH: Grayling crashes Cabinet rebels’ photo opportunity

The Transport Secretary appeared to loiter enthusiastically, preventing Gauke, Rudd and Clark getting the shot they might have wanted.

Collective responsibility, May-style. Defy the Whip – and you won’t be fired.

Though there may have been extenuating circumstances – namely, contradictory instructions from Number Ten and the Whips respectively.

We are about to break one of this site’s golden rules – namely, never to list MPs who abstain on a Government motion.

The reason for this is that absention doesn’t automatically equal defying the whip.  The MP concerned could be abroad.  He or she could be ill.  He could be on urgent family business.

None the less, there must be a reasonable presumption that, if a pro-Remain or Soft Brexit Minister didn’t vote with the Government in the final vote this evening, he was breaking the Whip.  The following names are being listed:

  • David Gauke, Justice Secretary.
  • Greg Clark, Business Secretary.
  • David Mundell, Scotland Secretary.
  • Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary.
  • Claire Perry, Business Minister, entitled to attend Cabinet.
  • Robert Buckland, Solicitor-General.
  • Alistair Burt, Foreign Office Minister.
  • Tobias Ellwood, Defence Minister.
  • Stephen Hammond, Health Minister.
  • Richard Harrington, Business Minister.
  • Margot James, Business Minister.
  • Ann Milton, Education Minister.

Now, it may well be that there are extenuating circumstances.  First, it wasn’t expected that the Government’s motion would be amended. Before it was passed, the whip for the Government’s motion was for a free vote.

Next, it is being claimed that a senior MP, or Downing Street aide, or both, indicated to some of the Ministers concerned that they would be able to abstain on the motion still – despite the amendment, originally tabled by Caroline Spelman, having been passed.

The long and short of it is that it isn’t clear as we write which of the above, bar Mundell, acted knowingly in defiance of a three-line whip.  And the waters will doubtless be muddied sufficiently so that we never know.

Sarah Newton, a Work and Pensions Minister, and Paul Masterton, a PPS, are reported to have voted against the whip, and resigned.

8.30am Update March 14: It is being reported that Bim Afolami, Vicky Ford, Peter Heaton-Jones, Simon Hoare and Victoria Prentis, all PPS’s, also abstained, together with Nigel Huddleston, a Party Vice-Chair.

The 66 Tories who voted against ‘Malthouse Two”

Several Ministers helped to see off the Government’s best hope of avoiding a full-on crisis in the Party – and perhaps of saving Brexit too.

This morning, our editor identified the Green Amendment – so-called ‘Malthouse II’, or ‘Amendment F’ – as the Government’s best hope saving the Conservative Party, if not Brexit itself.

Backed by Conservative and DUP MPs, the motion (which we detailed here) sought to ease the path towards a no-deal exit by giving businesses more information and brokering so-called ‘standstill’ arrangements with the EU.

However the Government did not whip in support of the motion, and on a free vote – and with the usual power of the whip and payroll already disintegrating – several high-profile members of the Cabinet helped to see it convincingly defeated.

  • Richard Bacon
  • Guto Bebb
  • Nick Boles
  • Jack Brereton
  • Steve Brine
  • Alistair Burt
  • James Cartlidge
  • Alex Chalk
  • Jo Churchill
  • Greg Clark

 

  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Stephen Crabb
  • Tracey Crouch
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • Jackie Doyle-Price
  • Mark Field
  • Vicky Ford
  • Kevin Foster
  • Roger Gale
  • David Gauke

 

  • Nick Gibb
  • Bill Grant
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Andrew Griffiths
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Luke Hall
  • Richard Harrington
  • Oliver Heald
  • Peter Heaton-Jones

 

  • Simon Hoare
  • Philip Hollobone
  • John Howell
  • Nigel Huddleston
  • Margot James
  • Marcus Jones
  • Phillip Lee
  • Oliver Letwin
  • David Lidington
  • Alan Mak

 

  • Paul Masterton
  • Johnny Mercer
  • Huw Merriman
  • Anne Milton
  • Damien Moore
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • David Morris
  • James Morris
  • Robert Neill
  • Andrew Percy

 

  • Claire Perry
  • Victoria Prentis
  • Mark Pritchard
  • Douglas Ross
  • Amber Rudd
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Chloe Smith
  • Nicholas Soames
  • Caroline Spelman
  • Rory Stewart

 

  • Gary Streeter
  • Kelly Tolhurst
  • Ed Vaizey
  • Matt Warman
  • Giles Watling
  • Mike Wood

The amendment that could save the Conservative Party today. And even, just possibly, Brexit itself.

A functioning Government would whip for Malthouse Two – the plan backed by Steve Baker, Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Simon Hart and others.

An amendment has been tabled to today’s ambiguous No Deal motion.  It puts four main proposals.  First, that the Government publish its Day One Tariff Schedules for No Deal.  Second, that to allow businesses time to prepare for the operation of any tariffs, it seeks a brief Article 50 extension to May 22.  Third, that there should be a “set of mutual standstill agreements” between the UK and EU until December 2021, during which “the UK would pay an agreed sum equivalent to its net EU contributions and satisfy its other public international law obligations”.  Fourth, that the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK should be unilaterally guaranteed.  This is Malthouse Two.

It offers something to almost everyone – in the Conservative Party, at least.  For harder Brexiteers, it offers No Deal as a last resort.  For softer ones, no “cliff-edge”.  For many of both, a generous move on EU citizens.   For all, a country that honours its obligations.

It is the product of the most creative current alliance in the Parliamentary Party.  It contains MPs who voted Remain, such as our columnist Nicky Morgan and Damian Green; others who voted Leave, such as Steve Baker, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg.  Simon Hart (pictured), co-chair of the loyalist Brexit Delivery Group, is a signatory to the amendment.  So, significantly, is Nigel Dodds: that presumably squares the DUP.  At a time when Tories are losing their heads, this group are keeping theirs.

By voting for the amendment today, assuming the Speaker selects and calls it, Theresa May and her Ministers could back a plan without incurrring legitimate criticism for breaking manifesto commitments – of the kind that Graham Brady was properly making yesterday evening.

Were the Government functioning properly, it would whip for this amendment.  But since the Prime Minister has bowed to blackmail from a cabal of Cabinet Remain-leaning fanatics – Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark – by promising a free vote on the Government motion, it is hard to see how this could happen.  Still, Julian Smith will surely see the point of a move that can bring Conservatives together.  Readers will understand that we don’t exaggerate in writing that the amendment may be a last chance to do so.

So if it’s all so easy, I hear you ask, what’s the problem?  It is that the EU is publicly rejecting a managed No Deal – although, of course, it has announced plans for one already.  No Deal is by definition a grey area.  Malthouse Two seeks simply to make it greyer.

“We’re hoping that the EU sees sense,” one of the plan’s pushers told this site yesterday evening.  We understand why Malthouse Two is a very long shot indeed.  But the alternatives are deep winter: more resignations, leadership chaos, the likely defeat of May’s Deal third time round, Oliver Letwin taking control of the Commons, a possible election, a formal Tory split, and a Marxist Government which sees Venezuela as a role model.

It would be easy this morning to “accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive”.  We resist the temptation.  Amidst the darkness, there is a glimpse of light.

Dinah Glover: Party members’ message to May. Amend the backstop – or drop your deal.

As the motion that was passed by the National Convention says, Conservative MPs need to honour their manifesto pledges.

Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association.

Two weeks ago, a motion that I presented to the Party’s National Convention meeting passed with overwhelming support and since then, thanks to ConservativeHome’s encouragement, Associations around the country have been tabling the motion at their AGMs.  It said that we must honour the EU referendum result – otherwise democracy will be damaged for a generation. But what does that mean? It means that we have to become a sovereign nation again: not a nation in a semi-detached relationship with the EU, joined to it, but with no control over whatever emanates from its institutions.

The EU has, by using the Irish border as a negotiating, political and emotional tool, caught us in what has become known as the backstop. If we enter it, there will currently be no guaranteed exit without the acquiescence of the EU – and, after all, why would it easily let us out of the backstop since it would put us where they want us, namely in that semi-detached condition.
We would still be adhering to EU rules but now with no say, unable to do meaningful trade deals with the rest of the world – and thus losing one of the most obvious advantages of leaving the EU. Not only would this settlement be a lesson to the other countries who might want to leave the EU in the future, but it might well leave asking to rejoin the EU, down the line, on terms surely less advantageous terms than those we currently have.

This is why it is crucial that our negotiating team agree either a legally binding termination point to the backstop or the right to a unilateral exit. Without one of these, the Commons surely cannot pass the Withdrawal Agreement without huge risk for our country.  For once it is enshrined in legislation, it will become an international treaty – and there will be no going back.

MPs in our Party who support taking No Deal off the table are helping to ensure that the EU will not agree to our requests regarding the backstop. I’m afraid that the three ‘kamikaze” Cabinet Ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark, all of whom have demanded a Commons vote to rule out No Dea,l are partly responsible for the lack of progress we read Geoffrey Cox has made in Brussels.

For the British people to believe that we are delivering Brexit, they have to see that we are en route to making a clean break with the EU. This will not mean only that we will no longer elect MEPs.  It will also mean that our future relationship will be based on a trade deal.  That might lead to regulation in some areas aligning, but the arrangement will be a mutually symbiotic trading relationship, not Britain being part of a political project, either as a fully paid up member, as we are now, or as a semi-detached member – paying but not voting, which we may well be on track to becoming.

As the motion that was passed by the National Convention says, Conservative MPs need to honour their manifesto pledges, both of 2015 (namely, that the referendum result be implemented) and of 2017 (namely, that we will leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market.

If the legally binding exit route from the backstop cannot be achieved, then MPs should support leaving on March 29th without the Withdrawal Agreement. We need to be clear: a delay will not deliver a change of mind in the EU.  At best, it would delay Brexit; at worst, an it would provide opportunities to thwart it.

New measures to support disabled people. Rudd’s speech on reform – full text.

“So I will be reviewing our goal to get one million more disabled people in work by 2027. We can do more, and I want to set a new and more ambitious goal.”

“I am delighted to be with you and I’d like to thank Scope for graciously hosting us here today.

I remember watching the 2012 Paralympics here in this Olympic Park. We watched outstanding athletes achieve extraordinary ambitions. One broadcaster dubbed them ‘The Superhumans’ but we have to keep this in perspective – their achievement was ‘superhuman’ but these disabled athletes have very human needs, requirements, aspirations, goals, successes and failures – like all disabled people, like all people without disabilities, like all of us.

Equality is something we should never take for granted. Whether or not you’re a Paralympian, you want to be able to get into your local shop, your work or your home. And it’s important that we’re not just talking about equality for people with physical disabilities, but consider the full range of what disability can mean. This includes people with learning difficulties, and those whose mental health can hold them back; people whose disability may be unseen and lifelong, or those whose challenges and needs fluctuate. All of us, whatever age or need want an equal chance to live a life of opportunity and fulfilment. We intend to support disabled people in all phases of their life so that the pursuit of equality is a shared goal. Everyday Equality is one of Scope’s enduring strategies and I commend them for it.

Scope has a long history of advocacy and support for disabled people. It was founded by 3 parents and a social worker with a specific practical objective: education for their children in order to improve their life chances. This objective has evolved and expanded over the years, changing in response to what disabled people have told them. Scope is well known for holding governments to account, and for speaking frankly when they don’t agree, and they don’t think we go far enough.

So it is particularly apt that I am here today to talk about some practical initiatives that will improve the quality of life for all disabled people in Britain.

Scope was founded – I discovered – in 1952 – the year my parents were married.

Like many people, my sensitivity to the variety of barriers faced by disabled people was not well developed until I was confronted by them in my own life.

My father became blind in 1981. For 36 years his blindness was a normal part of my family’s life.

Of my life.

I reflected on my father’s lack of sight, and how it affected his life and the lives of those who loved him, as I considered my role now in supporting disabled people in Britain.

This government intends to change the landscape for disabled people: to level the terrain and smooth their path.

The Department for Work and Pensions holds many of the levers to enable disabled people to achieve their potential, and lead positive, fulfilling lives.

The benefits system should be the ally of disabled people. It should support them, and ensure that the assistance the government provides arrives in the right place for those who need it most. People with disabilities and health conditions have enough challenges in life; dealing with my department shouldn’t be one of them. So my ambition is to significantly improve how DWP supports disabled people and those with health conditions.

Across the DWP, there is already huge commitment to helping disabled people navigate the obstacles they face. It is obvious to me that my colleagues in jobcentres and policy teams in Whitehall are in their jobs because they want to help people – and they do enormous good every day.

But equally, I know that it doesn’t always seem that way to claimants. Some disabled people have said to me that they feel as though they are put on trial for seeking the state’s support.

Now nobody in DWP wants that.

So we need to do more to close the gap between our intentions and your experiences.

Before I go any further, I want to thank the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton, for all of her work. Sarah is committed to improving the lives of disabled people, and is a powerful advocate both within DWP and across government.

Under her guidance, and that of her predecessors, positive change and improvement is already underway.

We’ve stopped requiring the reassessment of those with the most severe and lifelong conditions, who already receive Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit. Those who’ve been awarded the highest level of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), whose needs are unlikely to decrease, now receive an ongoing award – with only a light touch review a decade later. This change recognises that people with the greatest health difficulties should be acknowledged as such, and treated in a way which respects their circumstances.

We are now trialling the video recording of PIP assessments. It is hoped this measure will make assessments more transparent for all concerned.

We can and must go further. We have already committed to reforming the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and are continuing to collaborate with external stakeholders on this.

But I am aware there is more we need to do.

Of particular concern are the cases referred to tribunal following both PIP and WCA decisions. For example, between July and September 2018, 72 per cent of PIP appeals heard found in favour of the claimant. Now that number is too high. We should do more to gather the evidence we need to make the right decision earlier, so that fewer claimants have to seek redress through tribunal. I will be looking at this matter over the coming months.

And today, I am delighted to announce an imminent change:

We will no longer regularly review the PIP awards for claimants who have reached State Pension age, unless they tell us that their needs have changed.

This applies common sense and mutual understanding to a situation where needs are unlikely to change. This positive change will apply to the 270,000 PIP claimants currently over State Pension age; a group which will increase over time as more PIP claims are made.

Looking forward, we have plans to smooth the application and assessment process.

First, we are creating an integrated service for PIP and Work Capability Assessments from 2021.

To enable this we are developing a single digital system, built to reflect the needs of our customers.

We are joining-up our processes in order to work with customers as individuals, document the numerous interactions they may have with the department, and simplify their journey to getting the support that they are entitled to. This is not just about those customers who apply for more than one benefit; it is about improving the service for everyone who requires a health assessment to receive benefits.

This will reduce the need for people to give us information multiple times, and reduce the number of face-to-face assessments that they attend.

We hope that by developing our own digital platform, a greater range of assessment providers will compete to help us deliver this important service in the future.

Secondly, we will test the feasibility of using a single assessment to determine eligibility for PIP, and ESA-Universal Credit.

Building on the integrated service, we want to simplify claimants’ participation in these processes even further. We have listened to the concerns of those who feel they are being asked for the same information at face-to-face assessments for different benefits. We will therefore explore how a single assessment could improve the experience of those who apply for PIP and ESA-Universal Credit at the same time.

And third, I want to build a strong relationship, based on trust and mutual understanding, between work coaches and claimants awaiting an assessment on Universal Credit. I am committed to ensuring that jobcentres deliver personalised, compassionate and positive support for people with disabilities and health conditions. An important part of this has been the 10,000 work coaches we’ve already trained to support claimants with mental health conditions.

Now I accept that conditionality is a much debated part of the benefits system. Last month, in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the department agreed to carry out a small test; work coaches will start from a point of no conditionality with a claimant awaiting a Work Capability Assessment, and scale-up where appropriate, focusing on what claimants can do. This contrasts with the current approach, which starts at full conditionality and then tailors down accordingly. My ministerial colleague, Alok Sharma, is taking this forward.

But there is more to do, beyond the benefits system – if we are to help people with disabilities achieve their potential. Employment is central to that goal.

Employment of disabled people has risen by 930,000 between 2013 and 2018. But we don’t want to sit back and think the work is done; far too many disabled people are missing the opportunity to develop their talents and connect with the world of work.

So I will be reviewing our goal to get one million more disabled people in work by 2027. We can do more, and I want to set a new and more ambitious goal.

We want to remove barriers and create more opportunities. We want to enable people to achieve their goals.

If the government is to set higher ambitions for disabled people’s employment, integration and inclusion, we need to do more to prevent disabled people and those with health conditions falling out of work in the first place. Currently 300,000 disabled people leave work each year.

We know that it’s possible to reduce the drop-out rate through better occupational health, workplace adjustments, and HR practices that support people to continue working to their capability. The benefits are clear: for individuals, businesses’ productivity and our economy.

Prevention is better than cure. But when someone is too ill to work, the system that awaits them should provide the support they need without writing them off. I have been working with the Secretary of State for Health to look at how we can improve Statutory Sick Pay and Occupational Health, to enable employers to provide comprehensive, holistic support to their employees.

We will shortly consult on reform of Statutory Sick Pay and improving access to occupational health. We want to encourage and support employers to play their part in this agenda.

Plenty has been done – in signing-up employers to Disability Confident, and facilitating the record number of Access to Work grants that were approved last year – but there’s still more to do.

None of us can achieve change alone. To tackle the injustices that disabled people face requires cross-government collaboration, and a far more joined-up approach. Sarah and I are committed to this approach. We know it is the most effective way to deliver for disabled people.

We want to change and improve the way we engage with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, and the charities that support disabled people.

We will achieve more by taking you with us than by ploughing on alone, well-meaning but self-guided. Therefore, I will commission a new piece of research to better understand claimants’ experiences of the benefits system, and how to meet their needs.

This research will complement the report that Scope published last week – which provides an important reminder of the extra costs faced by disabled people. Together, these will inform future policy-making to better reflect the needs of disabled claimants.

Today’s announcements are a good start, but they are by no means the end.

It is our ambition to go further: to listen harder and to reform effectively. We need to deliver policies, strategies and structures that are co-produced with disabled people – ones that improve the quality of life, the life choices, and the life chances of disabled people.

I was close to my father. He meant everything to me. I want to believe I felt his anxiety, the struggles his blindness brought, every stumble, indignity and frailty. These weren’t intellectual exercises for me. They were visceral. I never pitied him. I empathised and I supported. He told me what he needed. He told me how I could help him and he guided me.

As I look around this room I am certain that all of us want to deliver a fairer Britain. I want you to guide us, help us, and work together with us to provide the opportunities and support that disabled people expect and deserve.”

Thawing the benefits freeze

There is a strong case for altering the balance of welfare spending between working people and those retired.

The benefits freeze has at least three striking features.  First, there is timing. The best time to introduce it, in retrospect, would have been 2010, not 2014 – in other words, at the start of the Coalition’s term, when voters were relatively likely to give a fair wind to measures that would help to reduce the rate of public spending, such as the pay freeze.

Second, there is an oddity that has nothing to do with the Government and everything to do with Jeremy Corbyn.  It is not often grasped that he didn’t propose to lift it in his election manifesto two years ago.  Yes, Labour proposed to scrap benefit sanctions and the spare room subsidy.  But there was no promise to end the freeze.

Finally – and as with wage freezes – it’s easy in, not easy out.  The freeze was originally introduced for two years in 2014.  It was then doubled to four years in 2015.  Privately, Amber Rudd wants rid of the freeze and, publicly, says that it won’t be renewed in 2020.  But one never knows: in the now unlikely event of a No Deal Brexit, there may be additional need for public spending restraint.  Philip Hammond will make much of that when the Budget comes.

The deficit is now only 1.8 per cent of GDP – Osborne slowly ground it down during his terms as Chancellor – and, for all the Chancellor’s denials, ending it altogether is being pushed off into the never-never.  The question is that follows is whether Hammond should look to lift the cap early as the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommends.

Elsewhere on this site today, Mark Wallace writes about pressures on public spending over policing and crime.  That’s a reminder, were it needed, that there should never be a let-up on control.  But the long-term, relatively unaddressed challenge is in relation to health and pensions, which together consume roughly a third of public spending.

The point about the benefits freeze is that it covered payments for people of working age – including part of the employment and support allowance and, eventually, Universal Credit.  Iain Duncan Smith believed that the squeeze on working people had become disproportionate to that on retired people.  It was not the immediate cause of his resignation, but it was a factor.

This is not a good time for Rudd to be making a policy pitch, at least in terms of gathering party support, because her flouting of collective responsibility over Brexit sours her pushing of any other policy elsewhere.  However, it doesn’t follow that she is wrong in this case.  There is a strong case for altering the balance of welfare spending between working people and those retired.

Leadsom climbs to the top spot in our Cabinet League Table

Javid almost doubles his rating after his decisive handling of Begum. Meanwhile Rudd, Gauke and Clark all fall. And Grayling plumbs new depths.

It’s that time again – the monthly Cabinet League Table. Who’s up and who’s down?

  • Leadsom leaps to the top spot. This must be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of the League Table. In November, after the Prime Minister’s deal was released, Andrea Leadsom was down in 21st place, with a net rating of -16.3. At the end of December, she put on 50 points, helped by a battle with the ever-unpopular John Bercow, and was up to fifth place, with a net rating of +34.2. In our January survey she had climbed further, up to third place with a net rating of +43. This month she caps that by gaining a further 11.6 points to seize the top spot in the table, with a rating of +54.6. Iain Dale wrote last week about ‘the quiet rise of Andrea Leadsom’, and it certainly seems that her decision to stay in the Cabinet rather than resign has paid off, so far.
  • A great month for Javid. The Home Secretary might have reasonably expected a positive result this month, after his firm stance against Shamima Begum returning to the UK secured the backing of more than three quarters of party member respondents to our survey. He has more than recovered the ground he lost in January, and almost doubles his rating to a very healthy +49.8, rising from eighth to second place.
  • Truss’s rating climbs steadily. November: +15.8. December: +28.5. January: +35. And now February: +39.9. That is a very positive trend for any minister in these rankings, particularly in turbulent times, and her pronouncements on the ‘Corbyn-lite’ nature of Downing Street’s thinking is unlikely to hurt.
  • The Cabinet overall is still in a bad place. Fifteen ministers have ratings in negative territory, having failed to recover from the unpopularity of first Chequers and then the deal itself. The whole Cabinet’s net rating, which stood at almost +1000 a year ago now bumps along at -1.2, essentially a neutral score. That is a miserable verdict from a Party’s grassroots on its top Government team. As we’ve seen above, it’s not all just neutral – some people are doing well, and others badly, but there’s an increasing polarisation. The average rating of the top ten continues to rise while the average of the bottom ten continues to fall.
  • A rough month for anti-No-Dealers Gauke, Rudd and Clark. The three Cabinet ministers who forced the Prime Minister to change tack by pledging publicly to oppose No Deal at all costs recently have all suffered for doing so. David Gauke’s rating falls from -23.8 to -36.6. Amber Rudd’s declines from -35.9 to -48.3. Greg Clark sees his rating fall from -31.8 to -40.8. Having given in to them, the Prime Minister’s rating also slips, down to -40.8.
  • Grayling plumbs new depths. If the ministers above feel bad about their numbers, they can always console themselves that they aren’t Chris Grayling. The Transport Secretary has been jostling with Philip Hammond for the bottom spot in the table for some time now, but opens up a commanding lead as the most poorly rated member of the Cabinet, right down on -60.1. It’s one of the worst scores this League Table has ever recorded.
  • All eyes on Cox. Geoffrey Cox, having risen to prominence (in real life and in the League Table) since the Conservative Party Conference now finds himself taking centre stage in the latter phases of Brexit. He has consolidated his rating at a health +44.7 this month, but with all eyes on him in the coming weeks he has everything to play for. No pressure.