Ryan Bourne: A British overspill from America’s result. Why the debate on the right over economics will now intensify.

11 Nov

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

Donald Trump loyalists might not yet admit it, but their man was defeated handily in the U.S. Presidential election. A post-mortem will soon be undertaken within the Republican party, and with it a debate that has been bubbling since his primary victory in 2016 on both sides of the Atlantic: what economics should conservatives champion?

Ideally, that debate would be about what policies actually work to improve our lives or liberties. But winning elections is politicians’ raison d’être. So it’s little surprise that those representing major strands of Republican economic thought have conflicting economic narratives of the results already as to what is electorally desirable, a division made somewhat easier by the fact that “Trumpism” blended free-market policies with protectionism and interventionism, in turn offering something for everyone.

Free-market Republicans’ story goes like this: tax cuts and deregulation delivered by a Republican Senate and Presidency delivered robust pre-pandemic economic growth, low unemployment, and rising household incomes. So strong was that economy before Covid-19, that even after a deep pandemic-induced recession, 56 percent of surveyed voters nationwide said their family was still better off financially after four years of The Donald in the White House. Tellingly, Trump led Joe Biden in every battleground state on who voters trusted most to “manage” the economy.

Combine that evidence with the party’s unexpected electoral resilience in the Senate, and huge pick up of Cuban-American and Mexican-America votes in Florida and Texas, and it’s easy to conclude, as former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, that more free-market Republican economic policies are not unpopular.

In fact, polls suggest voters baulked at the socialist ideas aired in the Democratic primary, and were wary of even Joe Biden’s quite ambitious progressive agenda, particularly on decarbonisation. What lost Trump the election was, in this view, not his domestic economic policies then, but his personal conduct, handling of Covid-19, and, possibly, even downsides of his trade wars, the most obvious consequences of which were government welfare for Americans farmers and manufacturers struggling with inflated input costs.

The “national conservative” counter-blast provided by, for example, Samuel Hammond in the Guardian, says the exact opposite. The last two elections supposedly show the party’s future is to reach into working-class communities of all ethnicities. This opportunity, in part, came about from Trump’s willingness to challenge traditional Republican views on free trade and industrial policy, giving him a hearing with voters suffering the effects of market-led deindustrialisation. The party should build on that to become a true “workers’ party” by embracing a more interventionist abour market and manufacturing agenda, according to the Missouri and Florida senators, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio.

This interpretation even posits that Republicans may have failed to win the Presidency because they did not sufficiently embrace the “good government can do” (to use a Theresa May phrase.) Hammond postulates, for example, that Biden was able to pick up white working-class votes in the Rust Belt by going further on nationalistic “Buy American” agendas and tax incentives for re-shoring manufacturing jobs than Republicans would ever opt for. A more serious policy agenda and a compassionate Republican frontman could therefore build a whole new electoral coalition on this type of platform that Trump opened the door to, if only the Republicans could move on from Reaganism and their commitment to free market ideas.

Now, on the facts, I (perhaps unsurprisingly) find the first narrative more compelling. Exit polling shows that, contra the national conservative view, Republican support still skewed towards those on higher incomes, not lower. If preferences for a more interventionist agenda, as opposed to, say, the culture war or Donald Trump’s personality, are the dominant explanation of vote patterns, it’s difficult to square that with Republican Senate candidates, most of whom are more free market on economics than Trump, outperforming the current President. Of course, in reality voters don’t vote according to policy preferences, so a monocausal link between economics and electoral outcomes is dodgy ground on both sides.

But at heart here is a debate that we’ve heard plenty of in the UK: how far does the political realignment we are seeing necessitate a change in conservatives’ economic ideas? The new “national conservatives” in the U.S. and modern “One Nation” Tories in the UK, such as Nick Timothy, want to throw-off any libertarian influence  with the latter even thinking the 2017 Tory manifesto an appropriate place to caricature the “libertarian right,” as if voters would read that document and take that signal as a cue to shift their vote.

Two things have frustrated me about these intra-conservative debates to date. The first is that the anti-market conservatives appear to just assume that the left is correct and that economic policy is class-based: that policies that are pro-the interests of the working class must necessarily be more interventionist than conservatives have previously considered acceptable.

I’ve written before about why that is not true and how market-led policies could deliver pro-poor outcomes. The U.S. results also show that the assumption is a sham in electoral terms: working class minorities in the south were frightened of Democratic industrial strategies when it meant cheap energy was set to be sacrificed and vast new regulation of a structurally sound labour market were proposed.

But my second frustration is deeper. Thus far thinkers such as Timothy and others in the U.S. have written extensively on why conservatives should move on from free market ideas in the abstract. They document social and economic phenomena that have moved in the wrong direction in the past three to four decades, and then link these to the Thatcher-Reagan revolutions and supposed commitments to “market fundamentalism”.

Yet anyone who has followed conservative policy closely since the 1990s would find it laughable to frame recent offerings as being influenced by an unabashed commitment to libertarian ideas. So this narrative is best understood as rolling the pitch for an even more interventionist conservative economics.

What we have had far less off yet is the specifics: what, exactly, do those such as Timothy want from policy instead of what we see today? National conservative thinkers have hid behind the shield of big picture views of what is electorally desirable to win in the Rust Belt or the Red Wall as a substitute for outlining what actually should be done, and providing evidence for why those proposals would in fact work where previous dalliances with industrial planning have failed.

One consequence of this messy Presidential election outcome and its failure to clearly repudiate Trumpism is that those debates will now be crucial in determining the future direction of the Republican party. And stateside narratives have a tendency to be imported into UK politics too.

Ryan Bourne: A British overspill from America’s result. Why the debate on the right over economics will now intensify.

11 Nov

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

Donald Trump loyalists might not yet admit it, but their man was defeated handily in the U.S. Presidential election. A post-mortem will soon be undertaken within the Republican party, and with it a debate that has been bubbling since his primary victory in 2016 on both sides of the Atlantic: what economics should conservatives champion?

Ideally, that debate would be about what policies actually work to improve our lives or liberties. But winning elections is politicians’ raison d’être. So it’s little surprise that those representing major strands of Republican economic thought have conflicting economic narratives of the results already as to what is electorally desirable, a division made somewhat easier by the fact that “Trumpism” blended free-market policies with protectionism and interventionism, in turn offering something for everyone.

Free-market Republicans’ story goes like this: tax cuts and deregulation delivered by a Republican Senate and Presidency delivered robust pre-pandemic economic growth, low unemployment, and rising household incomes. So strong was that economy before Covid-19, that even after a deep pandemic-induced recession, 56 percent of surveyed voters nationwide said their family was still better off financially after four years of The Donald in the White House. Tellingly, Trump led Joe Biden in every battleground state on who voters trusted most to “manage” the economy.

Combine that evidence with the party’s unexpected electoral resilience in the Senate, and huge pick up of Cuban-American and Mexican-America votes in Florida and Texas, and it’s easy to conclude, as former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, that more free-market Republican economic policies are not unpopular.

In fact, polls suggest voters baulked at the socialist ideas aired in the Democratic primary, and were wary of even Joe Biden’s quite ambitious progressive agenda, particularly on decarbonisation. What lost Trump the election was, in this view, not his domestic economic policies then, but his personal conduct, handling of Covid-19, and, possibly, even downsides of his trade wars, the most obvious consequences of which were government welfare for Americans farmers and manufacturers struggling with inflated input costs.

The “national conservative” counter-blast provided by, for example, Samuel Hammond in the Guardian, says the exact opposite. The last two elections supposedly show the party’s future is to reach into working-class communities of all ethnicities. This opportunity, in part, came about from Trump’s willingness to challenge traditional Republican views on free trade and industrial policy, giving him a hearing with voters suffering the effects of market-led deindustrialisation. The party should build on that to become a true “workers’ party” by embracing a more interventionist abour market and manufacturing agenda, according to the Missouri and Florida senators, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio.

This interpretation even posits that Republicans may have failed to win the Presidency because they did not sufficiently embrace the “good government can do” (to use a Theresa May phrase.) Hammond postulates, for example, that Biden was able to pick up white working-class votes in the Rust Belt by going further on nationalistic “Buy American” agendas and tax incentives for re-shoring manufacturing jobs than Republicans would ever opt for. A more serious policy agenda and a compassionate Republican frontman could therefore build a whole new electoral coalition on this type of platform that Trump opened the door to, if only the Republicans could move on from Reaganism and their commitment to free market ideas.

Now, on the facts, I (perhaps unsurprisingly) find the first narrative more compelling. Exit polling shows that, contra the national conservative view, Republican support still skewed towards those on higher incomes, not lower. If preferences for a more interventionist agenda, as opposed to, say, the culture war or Donald Trump’s personality, are the dominant explanation of vote patterns, it’s difficult to square that with Republican Senate candidates, most of whom are more free market on economics than Trump, outperforming the current President. Of course, in reality voters don’t vote according to policy preferences, so a monocausal link between economics and electoral outcomes is dodgy ground on both sides.

But at heart here is a debate that we’ve heard plenty of in the UK: how far does the political realignment we are seeing necessitate a change in conservatives’ economic ideas? The new “national conservatives” in the U.S. and modern “One Nation” Tories in the UK, such as Nick Timothy, want to throw-off any libertarian influence  with the latter even thinking the 2017 Tory manifesto an appropriate place to caricature the “libertarian right,” as if voters would read that document and take that signal as a cue to shift their vote.

Two things have frustrated me about these intra-conservative debates to date. The first is that the anti-market conservatives appear to just assume that the left is correct and that economic policy is class-based: that policies that are pro-the interests of the working class must necessarily be more interventionist than conservatives have previously considered acceptable.

I’ve written before about why that is not true and how market-led policies could deliver pro-poor outcomes. The U.S. results also show that the assumption is a sham in electoral terms: working class minorities in the south were frightened of Democratic industrial strategies when it meant cheap energy was set to be sacrificed and vast new regulation of a structurally sound labour market were proposed.

But my second frustration is deeper. Thus far thinkers such as Timothy and others in the U.S. have written extensively on why conservatives should move on from free market ideas in the abstract. They document social and economic phenomena that have moved in the wrong direction in the past three to four decades, and then link these to the Thatcher-Reagan revolutions and supposed commitments to “market fundamentalism”.

Yet anyone who has followed conservative policy closely since the 1990s would find it laughable to frame recent offerings as being influenced by an unabashed commitment to libertarian ideas. So this narrative is best understood as rolling the pitch for an even more interventionist conservative economics.

What we have had far less off yet is the specifics: what, exactly, do those such as Timothy want from policy instead of what we see today? National conservative thinkers have hid behind the shield of big picture views of what is electorally desirable to win in the Rust Belt or the Red Wall as a substitute for outlining what actually should be done, and providing evidence for why those proposals would in fact work where previous dalliances with industrial planning have failed.

One consequence of this messy Presidential election outcome and its failure to clearly repudiate Trumpism is that those debates will now be crucial in determining the future direction of the Republican party. And stateside narratives have a tendency to be imported into UK politics too.

Iain Dale: Trump is displaying all the signs of believing his own lies. And he is undermining democracy itself.

6 Nov

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

As I write this column on Thursday lunchtime, we still do not know for sure who will be inaugurated in Washington on Wednesday 20 January next year.  As Sky’s Mark Austin said earlier this week, the Americans will never be able to take the micky out of us for cricket – a game that can go on for days without a result.

It looks more than likely that Joe Biden will be the next President, which didn’t seem to be the case when I finished presenting LBC’s marathon seven-hour overnight election show.

At that point, it seemed clear that Donald Trump would be staying in the White House. He was ahead in most of the crucial swing states. But when I woke up after three hours’ sleep on Wednesday morning, the situation was beginning to change.

By the end of Wednesday, Biden had pulled ahead in both the popular national vote. Michigan became the American equivalent of Nuneaton or Basildon.

When he saw which way the wind was blowing, Donald Trump did what he does best: disrupt. He went on TV to say that there was widespread vote fraud in the states that he now appeared to be losing, and that all vote counting there should stop. However, the counts should continue in all the states where he was ahead. Brazen.

Rudi Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer – a man who has lost all of his previously respected reputation – made public pronouncements in which he speculated on whether the Democratic National Committee was behind multiple voting, and even went so far as to ponder whether Joe Biden himself may have voted 5,000 times. He demeaned himself – and not for the first time.

All candidates are entitled to challenge a count if they genuinely fear there has been foul play. In this country that rarely, if ever, happens. It has to be said that in the US it has happened rather too often.  But if you accuse your rivals of interfering in the electoral process, you need to have some evidence for your accusation.

This is dangerous talk from Trump, since it completely undermines any trust in the democratic process. It is now easy to imagine a situation in which Biden scores a higher number of electoral college votes than Trump did in 2016 – and yet the President still doesn’t accept the result. There will also be protests, and maybe even violent riots, which seek to keep Trump in the White House.

Being a disrupter is not necessarily a 100 per cent bad thing. But being a president who cannot accept a basic tenet of democracy – i.e. the acceptance of electoral loss – is not a good look. The trouble is that Trump displays all the signs of being someone who comes to believe his own lies.

The fact, however, that he has won five million more votes than he did in 2016 does tell us something important. We cannot write him off as an aberration. Trump caught a political wave in 2016 – one of dissatisfaction with politics in general and Washington in particular. If it hadn’t been him it would have been someone else.

The Tea Party’s rise in the 1990s and early 2000s was the first sign that something was changing, but the Washington elites chose to ignore it. It’s a bit like the Labour Party telling the electorate here that they keep getting it wrong, and what they really want is something that the elites in Islington tell them they should want. The electorate resile against this, and do the very opposite.

On Wednesday morning, I was watching the BBC’s election coverage and heard one of its journalist saying that to appeal to working class voters amounts to “economic populism”. It’s that kind of elitist arrogance that turns people off the so-called mainstream media – and plays into the hands of Trump.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rishi Sunak seemed to catch Labour off balance yesterday, when he announced that the furlough scheme is to be extended until the end of March. This will provide a lot of reassurance to a lot of people who previously must have feared they would lose their jobs entirely.

It is a legitimate criticism that this announcement came very late in the day, and too late for many thousands of people who had already been laid off – but better late than never.

There is still not enough support of the self-employed, and those who operate limited companies. After eight months, this is simply not good enough. To say “it’s all too difficult” just does not wash. These are, as Margaret Thatcher, might have said “our people” – and they deserve better treatment than they have so far had from a Conservative government.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Tuesday I achieved a lifetime ambition – to interview Sir Cliff Richard.

I have a very short list of people I would like to interview before it’s too late, and he was top of it. I spent an hour with him via Zoom, and it was all I hoped it would be.

I told him I wanted it to be a conversation rather than an interview, and that’s how it turned out. I didn’t want it to be an hour where he would just come out with well-worn anecdotes and lines, and I didn’t want to just ask the usual questions he gets asked in interviews.

The fact that I had an hour meant that it really could be a proper conversation. He talked openly about his religious faith, the sex abuse allegations that he had to endure, what he really thinks of the BBC and why he’s fallen out of love with Britain. And of course we talked about his music career.

Even if you’re not his biggest fan, I think you’ll enjoy the interview, which you can hear on my Iain Dale All Talk podcast.

Garvan Walshe: How to shape UK foreign policy for the Biden administration

5 Nov

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

As I write, it is almost certain that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. He leads in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and could yet overtake Donald Trump in Georgia.

Without Georgia, his electoral college margin would match Trump’s against Hillary Clinton’s (and hang-on margins as thin in key midwestern states). Counting in Pennsylvania will take a little longer, but postal votes appear to be sufficiently in his favour to allow him to narrowly carry the state. Recounts and litigation may slow down a final result, but it’s hard to see how Trump can overturn this lead. Bush v Gore in 2000 this is not.

However, elections for the Senate aren’t however going so well for Biden. Republicans will probably retain their majority, and therefore be able to block his domestic legislative agenda. Stymied at home, Biden, once a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will have far more freedom in foreign affairs.

But he will have his work cut out.

Trump gutted the State Department, failing to appoint the political staff to which he was entitled, and doing nothing to prevent an exodus of career foreign service officers. Biden will have to put it back together.

The new President will also have to show how he can deliver for the Midwest that so narrowly put him in the White House. So though he’ll keep the United States in the WTO, he can be expected to lead an extremely tough trade policy.

This clashes with his other main policy goal – to repair relationships with America’s democratic allies and rebuild the international system. Expect strong gestures of support for NATO and South Korea, both neglected by Trump, and a restoration of good relations with the EU. Like Trump, he’ll want its members to spend more on defence; whether his more conciliatory approach will meet with more success is another matter.

Nevertheless, a Biden administration will remove the main source of instability in international affairs that has bedevilled the UK’s attempt to find a foreign policy role after Brexit, and given any attempt to give definition to “Global Britain” an air of unreality. After all, how can a medium-sized power contribute to a rules based international order when the existing superpower seems determined to destroy it, and the emerging one, in Beijing, to bend it to its own imperial ends?

The return to stability gives the UK the chance to define its national interests outside the EU. While a substantive trade deal with the US is likely to be extremely difficult, contributing to the defence of the Baltic and Eastern Europe (particularly in maritime and air theatres where the UK still has relevant capacity), support for America’s return to the Paris Climate Change Accords, and even sparking a renewed effort to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, are all ways the UK can work with the US and European partners to contribute to international stability.

Britain can also act alongside the US, the other Five Eyes powers, Japan, and major European nations including France and Germany to craft a strategy to counter Chinese expansionism. It will, unfortunately, also need to continue cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism, which has not receded as a threat, as the recent attacks in France and Austria have shown.

If Biden does indeed win, Britain will find a familiar foreign policy world that it can work in. Though it is hard to see how the UK can be a global full-spectrum military power without spending far more on defence than is currently contemplated, and direct involvement in EU defence structures is out of the question, it can slot into a space as a “Bigger Sweden”: an independent-minded, respected, capable, and effective part of the international system. Britain is a nuclear power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council (not to mention a key supplier of defence equipment), and leading participant in the multilateral efforts in support of international peace and security that a Biden administration would like to promote.

If this is is not the most romantic vision available, it is at least commensurate with the resources the UK is willing to deploy. If the White House would be delighted by a large and sustained increase in UK defence and security expenditure, that is hardly something that can realistically be sold to furloughed voters closer to home.

A medium-sized power like the UK depends on international structures to exercise power on the world stage. Biden would restore them, and it should be our duty to be present at their recreation.

Albie Amankona: It’s time for a Conservative approach to anti-racism

30 Oct

Albie Amankona is co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (CARFE).

As we mark the end of Black History Month in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests, it has become clear that the wrong types of arguments for racial equality in the UK have been getting too much attention.

As a black Conservative activist, I was proud to hear so many of our MPs passionately share their commitment to racial equality in the historic Parliamentary debate on education and BAME history.

Notably, Steve Baker, who announced his position as Chairman of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (CARFE), co-founded by myself and Siobhan Aarons. Together, we are building a Conservative approach to anti-racism; so far over 20 MPs and dozens of activists from all wings of the party and across the country have pledged their support, including Jeremy Hunt, Tim Loughton, and Robert Halfon.

Most fair-minded people agree with the statement that black lives matter, but disagree with the ideology of the organisation Black Lives Matter. They will agree that racism is not an issue of left and right, but an issue of right and wrong.

So why has it become so divisive? Few who garner media attention are making pragmatic, fact-based and effective arguments for racial equality. It’s time to build a Conservative approach to anti-racism which acknowledges injustices, but is based on the principles of patriotism, liberty, individual responsibility, the rule of law, equality of opportunity and growth-based prosperity. 

What many commentators miss is that the “all white people are racist”, Critical Race Theory inspired, anti-free speech, anti-police, anti-British type of anti-racism is never going to win the hearts and minds of the British people.

It is in no-one’s interest for 87 per cent of the population to feel guilty simply for being alive and for 13 per cent of the population to feel that the other 87 per cent unconsciously hate them simply because of the colour of their skin. But it is a fact that for many people, racism is a sad reality of life.

Proof of this includes the fact that 50 per cent of young offenders incarcerated are BAME, 40 per cent of the UK’s poorest households are black households, the risk of death in childbirth for black mothers is five times that of white mums and black people of working age are twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. 

Now is the time to redress the balance, redraw the boundaries of the debate and articulate a new approach. Conservatives have always been champions of justice and we must double-down on fighting inequality through classical liberal principles. The alternative is a diluted version of Labour’s “white-apologist” approach which serves no-one but the metropolitan liberal elite debating at dinner parties, posting black squares on Instagram and denouncing Churchill.

As the only serious party which supports the principle of free speech, ours has the most power to lead a rational debate on race; Labour has made its mind up. In its eyes, Britain is a bigoted country, which has done more harm than good in the world. The party fights against American food imports, but accepts without question the wholesale adoption of American theories on race. It perceives BAME voters to have no personal responsibility and of needing infinite government hand-outs and safe-spaces.

None of this is true and frankly, the findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into the Labour Party proves that its approach to anti-racism is far from perfect.

As Conservatives we must seize the opportunity to lead this debate, to ask those uncomfortable questions, find those difficult answers and implement effective solutions which will have a meaningful impact on Britain’s minority citizens.

We are the party for all and were elected to serve all, so this endeavour could not be more Conservative. We are calling on all Conservative activists and parliamentarians to join ussign our pledge and support our campaign.

Together, we can build our own common-sense approach to anti-racism and a country that all of our children, whatever their hue, will be proud to call home.

Lord Ashcroft: “If Trump loses…he can run again.” My American election focus groups in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

30 Oct

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information on Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroft.com.

The final week of our virtual pre-election focus group tour of America’s swing states takes us to Pennsylvania, which swung narrowly to Donald Trump four years ago, having backed Democrats for president in every election since 1988, and Arizona, which has voted for the Republican in all but one election since 1948, but is now high on Joe Biden’s list of targets.

With only days to go, we found some 2016 Trump supporters torn over how to cast their vote:

“I was a little concerned that Biden’s not sure what he’s going to do with fossil fuel. And I’m concerned on Trump’s side with the healthcare system, but I like the economics, but maybe Biden has a better plan for disability people like me. So right now I’m stuck.”

“Trump has no response plan for the virus, nothing’s going on. But I don’t think Biden really has a plan for this either.”

“In 2016 I was willing to give him a chance because of what he could do for the economy and the fact that this was something different, he wasn’t just another politician. It’s not so easy now.”

“Trump lies a lot and Biden’s kind of not all there.”

One frequent complaint was familiar from the last election four years ago.

“I can’t believe in a country of 340 million people we can’t get better candidates. At the start of the election it seemed like this was the year it wasn’t going to be between two old white guys. And here we are at the election and we’re voting for one of two old white guys.”

The story about Hunter Biden’s allegedly incriminating emails continued to register with voters (though not all: “I’ve seen a picture of him with a meth pipe in his mouth, but that’s about it”).

Those leaning towards Biden were not swayed:

“I think it’s made up. I don’t see how people can be so worried about Biden’s son when Trump’s kids are full of nepotism.

Others were more inclined to believe the story was true and important but doubted it would make much difference at this stage in the campaign.

“I think it’s a big deal, but the snowball is rolling a bit too fast to stop it now. About 50 million people have already voted.”

“I grew up respecting people like Reagan. Now it’s like watching The Jerry Springer Show.”

For 2016 voters who had drifted away from the president, two themes recurred. One was the manner in which he had gone about the job.

“I love that it’s America first, that we are starting to become energy independent, that he’s making our country strong again. But he’s making us look weak by not handling this pandemic right, by acting like a child in these debates.”

“I was very embarrassed about the debates, especially the first one. I grew up respecting people like Reagan, and my family listened when it was the debates or the state of the union or something the president said. Now it’s like watching The Jerry Springer Show.”

“We voted for change. We thought he was going to come in and buck the political system and not play this left versus right game that we’re seeing now.”

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. We knew we weren’t getting a professional with him, but he’s taken unprofessionalism to an entirely new level.”

“He thought he knew better than people who spent their entire lives studying this stuff. And he was wrong about that.”

Some of these likely defectors would have been more willing to overlook these failings, as they did in 2016, had it not been for Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

“The first three years, I could easily say the good outweighed the bad because the economy was getting better. It’s the lack of response to this pandemic. It’s him contracting the virus himself and still downplaying it.”

“The things he was doing for trade and unemployment were really good. He didn’t do so well on the pandemic and listening to experts. He thought he knew better than people who spent their entire lives studying this stuff. And he was wrong about that.”

“He dropped the ball big time, not only playing it down, but making fun and making racial jokes about where it came from. If you lost someone during the pandemic it just show remorse. It’s not appropriate when you’re the leader of the country.”

Some thought Trump’s experience of Covid was not what it seemed:

“I don’t even think he had it.” Why would he fake it? “Attention! Maybe he was like, ‘I’ll just fake it and pretend I got over it in a day or two and look, it’s not that bad.”

“At the debate, he just faded out at the end like he wanted to go to bed.”

Not that anyone was particularly enthused by the idea of President Joe Biden, including those who were intending to vote for him. As we have seen throughout the campaign, many worried that he might not be up to the job, physically and mentally:

“I’ve dealt with a lot of dementia in my family, and you see Biden is getting older, just starting to mentally lose it. How’s he going to be in two years, three years, four years?”

“He was saying he wants his vice president to be willing to be president. It’s alarming that he’s basically conceding that if he wins, he’s not going to be in office for long enough to do anything.”

Some thought this had been in evidence at the final TV debate of the campaign:

“If there’s no teleprompter, that poor guy can’t finish that thought.”

“At the debate, he just faded out at the end like he wanted to go to bed.”

“Pelosi has already reminded us of the Twenty Fifth Amendment so she can remove his ass and Kamala will be president.”

There were also continuing concerns that Biden would be a vehicle for much more radical left-wing elements within the Democratic party:

“I think Joe wants to be a moderate. But he has to agree with people who are so far left that he says one thing and really means another. That’s what keeps me back from choosing him.”

“In the primaries, the people he was saying ‘their ideas are crazy’ he’s now saying ‘oh yeah, I’ll do that’.

“He’s the path of least resistance for the far left. He’ll do what they say. Pelosi has already reminded us of the Twenty Fifth Amendment so she can remove his ass and Kamala will be president.”

For some, the Democrat nominee simply met what they regarded as the minimum level of decency and dignity necessary in a president, unlike the incumbent:

“Biden is offering some respect and some dignity to the office, and an office that we can say we want our kids to be president, and Donald Trump is not.”

“I don’t like having a racist in office. It doesn’t matter how many good things you’ve done. If you can’t denounce white supremacy and groups like that, I can’t vote for you.”

“We’re going to have the same problems, but maybe we’ll handle them a little different. Once he mocked that reporter, it doesn’t matter what you do after that. He did the military, he did the Muslims, I’m a Mexican and he said we were rapists and criminals.”

“Over the last four years I’ve come to love him.”

A few previous Trump supporters had fewer qualms about voting for him now than they did in 2016.

“It’s a slam dunk. I didn’t know a lot about him then, but over the last four years I’ve come to love him.”

Most traditional Republican voters we spoke to were sticking with him for policy reasons:

“He’s trying to make it easier for business to accomplish what they want to accomplish.”

“One of the coolest things is he wants to do school vouchers, so instead of being assigned to a certain public school you get to choose.”

“Closing the southern border was huge. We were being overrun, literally. There were caravans.”

“His reduction in taxes, restructuring trade deals.”

“Look at the peace deals he’s brokered in the Middle East, Israel being recognised. Which gets zero press, by the way, zero.”

“At previous elections I’ve felt that if my guy doesn’t win, things are still going to be OK. This isn’t one of those elections.”

Fear of a radical change of direction under a Democrat administration also played an important part:

“We’re going to save the world and give everybody free education and free healthcare and equal income. It’s just irrational.”

“The anarchy that went on for 100 days on the streets of many cities, the blatant support for organisations that want to basically pillage and burn if they don’t get their way. That’s probably the biggest influencer for me.”

“I watched the entire Democratic convention and they didn’t denounce the violence once, not one single time.”

“It could be our way of life that’s at stake. It’s not just a few Democratic ideas, it’s upheaval of the whole system. The Green New Deal, he wants to get rid of oil. It doesn’t make sense, its just something that sounds good when a bunch of Berkeley students are arguing.”

“You’re either supporting the police or you’re supporting Black Lives Matter.”

“At previous elections I’ve felt that if my guy doesn’t win, things are still going to be OK. This isn’t one of those elections. I feel like there’s significant change ahead of us if Biden gets in.”

“It’s kind of mind-blowing, that population out there that supports craziness.”

In Pennsylvania, African American voters who had not turned out in 2016 usually said they did not think Hillary Clinton had deserved their vote, or that they had simply not expected her to need it:

“If Bernie had been on the ballot I would have voted for Bernie, but I didn’t vote for Hillary because I didn’t think she was good enough. If I’d known the margin of victory in this state was so small, I definitely would have stopped being so stubborn and just stood in line and voted. Hindsight is 20/20.”

“I thought she had it in the bank. I didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance in hell. Big mistake. Definitely won’t happen this time around.”

“I guess I overestimated the citizens of the United States of America. I didn’t think with his lack of experience and the fact that he was grossly underqualified and, quite frankly, a criminal, that there was enough of the population that would actually elect him to office.”

“He says what he’s going to do, and all that craziness that he’s doing, he said he was going to do it. And the scary thing is there were enough people who were just as crazy that voted for him. It’s kind of mind-blowing, that population out there that supports craziness.”

This was not to say the Democrats had necessarily learned their lessons from four years ago:

“I don’t think they learned much of anything. The only thing they learned is to offer the bare minimum and say ‘we’re better than Trump’, which is obvious, but at the same time, there’s no real solution in place. Once they get to power, they’re going to follow their own agenda. How much of that agenda is really going to be about the people and how much is going to be about their self-centred leaders?”

“She’s a token, in my opinion.”

Nor were they particularly enamoured of Kamala Harris:

“I don’t think she’s black. She’s like a token, in my opinion;” “She’s half Indian. Indian-Jamaican.”

“He figured if he can get a black woman behind him, that will bring in the black vote and we’ll also bring in a lot of women.”

“She didn’t do anything in California to get black men out of jail.”

At the same time, efforts by the Trump administration to reform the criminal justice system and reduce sentences for drug offences were given short shrift:

“It’s overpopulation. That’s the real reason. It’s not because he wants to, it’s because the prisons are overcrowded and a lot of that is because of drug charges.”

“What I’d like to see with the justice system is to treat minorities fairly, and that’s the problem. We’re not treated fairly.”

“Kanye and 50 Cent are just as crazy as he is.”

What did these voters make of recent polls that showing Trump could be on course to win a bigger share of the African American vote than he did four years ago?

“Maybe they’re African Americans with a lot of money, because Trump is about the upper crust and it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. So I could see African Americans that are well off supporting Trump.”

“They probably share his opinions that there should be an upper class and a lower class and they stay in their places.”

How about Kanye West’s Republican leanings and the rapper 50 Cent apparently endorsing Trump?

“They get the tax breaks. They only care about themselves and their pocketbooks.”

“They’re just as crazy as he is.”

Latino voters in Arizona who had also sat out 2016 were slightly more complimentary about the Democrats’ efforts to woo them:

“I think they’re not taking the Latino vote and the youth vote for granted like they have in the past.”

“I have heard commercials in Spanish that Biden approves and they let another person do the commercial in Spanish. Not like ‘oh, I’m trying my Spanish just for you.’ I like that because it’s not faking it. I like that they’re actually reaching out in our language.”

“All of this inclusiveness and unity. What they’re really saying is that nobody else has to change their mindset but me.”

Asked what Biden would do as president, many of his likely voters said things like “unite us”, “bring us closer together” or “bring peace and unity”.

Others on both sides doubted it would be as straightforward as that:

“It doesn’t matter who the president is, you can’t tell everyone to get along or make a law that says everybody gets along. You have to model good behaviour and hope for the best.”

“I’m a middle-aged white conservative Christian male. All of this inclusiveness and unity, and what they’re really saying is that nobody else has to change their mindset but me. We can change the laws, we can change who can go to the bathroom in what room and who can play what sport, but my opinion is not worth anything.”

“The tolerant left is only tolerant if you agree with their opinion. If you voted for Trump then you’re an enemy.”

“I hope it’s rainbows and birds and everything, but Biden is not going to cure racism. We already know we’re surrounded by it. All these people voted for Trump, and we’re living among them.”

“My dad’s first language is Spanish and he’s voting for Trump, as he did last time. And I’m like, ‘he wouldn’t even let you in his house! He doesn’t want you!’ It’s delusional to think, we’re brown, we’re not racist. There’s a lot of racism, it’s not pretty. And Mexicans don’t like Puerto Ricans, Puerto Ricans don’t like Cubans, Cubans don’t like… And the more divided we are, the harder it is to fight back.”

“The silver lining is that if Trump loses, he can run again!”

As in previous weeks, voters on both sides expected a very tight race, with both Trump and Biden supporters often pessimistic about their candidate’s prospects. If it is Biden who is inaugurated on 20 January, what will Donald Trump do next?

“Who cares? He’ll start another business and run it into the ground and walk away scot free;”

“I thought he was already retired and doing nothing;”

“He’s going to go to prison;”

“He’ll try to make money off doing a TV show because he needs the limelight. He’ll need it more if he loses than he does now.”

For a few, hope sprang eternal:

“They keep saying he’s going to run again in 2024. I wouldn’t put it past him. The silver lining is that if he does lose this election, he can run again.”

Lord Ashcroft: “If you’re voting for Trump, you keep your mouth shut.” My American election focus groups in Georgia and Ohio.

23 Oct

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information on Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroft.com.

This week, our virtual tour of America takes us to Georgia, widely seen as a toss-up this year, despite having voted for the Republican in every presidential election since 1992, and Ohio, the quintessential swing state which has backed the losing candidate only once since 1944.

As if often the case with political news, the Hunter Biden email scandal – the claim that Joe Biden’s son was involved in corruption involving a Ukrainian energy company – seemed to have gained a great deal of attention without moving any votes.

“The more they shut those stories down on social media, the more likely I am to believe that there’s truth to it.”

Some thought there might be something in the story, including some who were leaning towards Biden, but they were unfazed:

“There’s a little bit of influence-peddling going on, it would appear, but not much compared to his competitor.”

“Politics are just a little messy, you know. Everybody’s a little messy.”

For Republicans, the bigger issue was that Twitter and Facebook had taken steps to prevent the story being shared:

“It’s starting to feel like China. The more they shut those stories down on social media, the more likely I am to believe that there’s truth to it.”

The reluctance of mainstream media channels to cover the story also appeared to provide a classic example of their bias.

“If Donald Trump can be cross-examined about his taxes, about when he take his coffee, then Joe Biden can be asked about what is going on with Hunter and whether or not the family’s getting kickbacks from foreign countries.”

“If this story were about Trump it would be absolutely non-stop. You couldn’t get away from it, it would be everywhere;” “The media is stirring the pot in one direction only.”

“If this story were about Trump it would be absolutely non-stop.”

By the same token, Trump’s tax returns, revealed four weeks ago to considerable fanfare by the New York Times, were also fading from memory, having moved few if any voters.

The story that he had paid only $750 in federal income tax in 2016, and nothing at all in 10 of the previous 15 years came as no surprise to his opponents, who either believed either that he had fiddled the figures or that he was a less successful entrepreneur than he claimed.

His supporters either cheered him on or didn’t care.

“Part of the reason I’m a Republican is because we pay too much in taxes, and because there are so many loopholes. I want simpler taxes. So if Donald Trump is using loopholes, that is Exhibit A as to why we need to overhaul our tax situation, and the Democrats are not going to do it.”

“He doesn’t take a salary. Let’s just move on to issues that actually matter.”

Republican-inclined voters we spoke to in the suburbs of Cleveland and Atlanta – often described as being queasy about Trump’s presidency – were largely resolute in their support, however disagreeable some of them found him:

“He’s like a great surgeon who is very arrogant and has a terrible bedside manner, but he’s the one you want to do your surgery.”

“I’m trying in this election to think long term instead of short term. I definitely do not enjoy Trump’s personality, but I definitely align with more of his policies, with the worldview that I carry.”

“People are imperfect. I don’t think Trump is the answer to all our problems. I just think he’s the unlikely messenger for us right now.”

As in previous weeks, we heard that the direction of policy outweighed Trump’s personal shortcomings:

“One of the high points was the reform of the justice system to end mass incarceration, the First Step Act. I’ve never heard anyone give him props for that. Anyone who thinks Trump hates anyone who it not a white American male is clearly not thinking about this.”

“There was a peace treaty in the Middle East, but none of that gets reported in the news because they look for the negative to talk about.”

“The economy has been gangbusters. In January and February I was doing overtime like crazy.”

“They would take him to a doctor and say ‘he’s deemed incompetent. Here’s our new president’.”

This was especially true in comparison to what they feared from a Biden (or Harris) administration.

“I am petrified of socialised medicine. I’ve worked with Canadians and even though they had government healthcare, they also paid for private healthcare because socialised healthcare sucked.”

“The Democrats are on the side of ‘you want to be this way, no problem. You want to be that way, no problem. Your seven-year-old feels they are meant to be green, go dye them green and you need to accept that because that’s them expressing themselves’”

“There are two issues – the Supreme Court, and I see a lot of problems with socialism. The Democratic Party is moving way too far left.”

“The Biden now is not the same as the Biden of five years ago or even a year ago. He’s referred to himself as running for the US Senate. After the election they would take him to a doctor and give him a test and say ‘oh, he’s deemed incompetent. Here’s our new president’.”

Even so, not all Trump voters would enjoy the experience of turning out for him again.

“I will basically have to force myself into doing it like I did in 2016 and then go and cry in my car afterwards. I did.”

A few had shed their qualms, however:

“Last time I had a pit in my stomach because I didn’t want Trump but I definitely didn’t want Hillary, so I voted and did the walk of shame, and I was like, what did I do? This time, absolutely 100 per cent. I’m good with it. I’m happy.

“I would lose half my business if I came out with my political views. That’s how bad it is.”

Nor would they necessarily tell anyone what they were doing – something that made them wonder if the polls were picking up the true level of support for the president.

If you’re well educated and in certain circles, if you’re voting for Trump, you keep your mouth shut.”

“I’m afraid I would lose half my business if I came out with my political views. That’s how bad it is.”

“Being a gay Republican is even more of a lynch mob, especially in Georgia. There is a preconception that I’m gay so I’m automatically a Democrat, but I can’t say anything because hell hath no fury if I do that. And I drive a pickup, so I’m automatically a redneck racist. So I got the best of both worlds!”

“One of my neighbours said a lot of Trump supporters are leaners. I was like, leaners? What do you mean, they’re on the fence? He goes, no, they lean in and quietly say ‘yeah, I’m voting for Trump’, but they’re not going to publicly say it;”

“I’ve heard people say that pollsters have asked them, and they flat out lied.”

In Georgia, we spoke to African American voters who had not turned out for Hillary Clinton in 2016, either because they did not think they needed to or because they did not think she deserved their support.

“She was a horrible senator and secretary of state. The Clintons, back when Bill was in office, incarcerated more black people than anybody. So you know, a lot of people weren’t really feeling the Clintons because of those types of things.”

“We just didn’t think he was going to win.”

This time most were resolved to get out and vote.

“The stakes are high right now because we don’t know, it’s just up in the air.”

“The difference between then and now is we have experience. I think we’re woken up. Now we see what could happen and what could possibly happen in the future.”

“It’s traumatic to think that Trump could potentially be president again. But in reality, he may very well be re-elected, because his followers are going to come out and vote. So we have to not make the same mistake.”

“You have a president stand there and say to the white supremacists, ‘stand by’. Not ‘I’m not OK with it, it’s incorrect’, but ‘stand by’. What does that mean?”

They were particularly exercised by the attitude they believed Trump had on race relations.

“You have a president stand there and say to the white supremacists, ‘stand by’. Not ‘I’m not OK with it, it’s incorrect’, but ‘stand by’. What does that mean?”

“He never once expressed his disdain for the actions of the white supremacy groups and the fact that people are bowling people over with their cars. Instead of being presidential about it, he’s saying there are good people on both sides!”

“His whole campaign started with him being divisive over immigration policy, and it’s only escalated. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even surprising anymore;”

“We need a leader who is going to speak to us or at least directly at us, and not speak about us to other people, if that makes sense.”

“I don’t understand why we are so beholden to the Democratic party. They haven’t done anything for the people we are talking about.”

Even so, there was not a great deal of enthusiasm in the group for Biden or Kamala Harris, or for the Democrats more generally.

“Is Biden the best candidate? No, I’m not going to sit here and say he’s the best choice. But the other option is just insanity;”

“I don’t think the Democrats have learned their lesson simply because they’ve got a weak candidate. I like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but they’re weak;”

“We have to understand that both parties are the same. There’s no difference. Bernie Sanders was surging in the polls and had the popular vote among African Americans, then Biden sneaks in at the last minute and doesn’t really have much to offer. There’s no agenda for black people;”

“Biden is like a lot of these presidents who kind of fake that they’re not racists, but I would rather vote for that than someone who’s out and proud that they’re racists;”

“Kamala is more of the same. As attorney general of California she locked up more black people than any Republican attorney general. There’s no black agenda for the Democrats. I don’t understand why we are so beholden to the Democratic party. They haven’t done anything for the people we are talking about.”

“I completely agree that there should be parties out there that speak for us. But right now, I just feel like we’re in a hole and need to get out of it.”

How did they feel about Joe Biden “taking a knee” in support of Black Lives Matter?

“It’s a game at the end of the day. Sure, it does show some solidarity with us because obviously the Trump administration is completely against it. But do I believe that when Joe or even, heck, Nancy Pelosi got down on one knee that it was a heartfelt message? No.”

“People are hard pressed to understand what Trump will do for the next four years. He just wants to be in office.”

For voters leaning either way, both campaigns’ messages focused on their opponents, with policy largely absent from the debate:

“One of Biden’s main pitches is that Trump is mean. ‘Nobody likes him, so come on over to our side. You don’t want another mean guy for four years, do you?’”

“Trump is saying a vote for Biden is a vote for the extreme left, and Biden is saying a vote for me is just a return to normalcy and some sense of stability and calm.”

“I think people are hard pressed to understand what Trump will do in the next four years. He just wants to be in office. I think a large part of his success is that he doesn’t really stand for anything other than himself.”

“People say ‘I’m going to vote for peace’. And I think to myself, be careful, because if you’re willing to hand over the nation to very progressive, socialist ideas, you might get peace, but you’re going to lose the America that you know.”

While people on both sides yearned for an end to the division and rancour of recent years, many – again on both sides – had their doubts that a Biden presidency would produce such an outcome

“It’s like they’re going to wave a magic wand and fix everything that’s wrong now. If Jesus came back and was the president, I’m not sure he himself could do it.’

“We’ve had conflict well before this, with Trayvon Martin, and that was all with Obama. So just because we have a new president doesn’t mean the conflict is going to end.”

“Why are people saying Trump is the one dividing the country? The people that are in conflict are in conflict because of their belief systems and what they think is important. There are paid agitators like Antifa, and it’s in their best interests to keep everything in chaos to accomplish whatever the heck their agenda is.”

“I know a lot of women especially who just say, ‘I want peace, I’m going to vote for peace’. And I think to myself, be careful, because if you’re willing to hand over the nation to very progressive, socialist ideas, you might get peace, but you’re going to lose America, the America that you know. And you won’t have peace for long, if at all.”

Many in all our groups felt the election was going to be close, often echoing Biden’s observation that the race was neck and neck. Whatever the outcome, there was a widespread expectation that things would get messy.

“If Trump wins it will embolden the extremists to go even further to the extreme. And if Biden wins, the pitchforks are going to come out and you’re going to have mass riots. It’s going to be one of the two.”

Naturally enough, each side thought the other would be the one to cause the trouble.

For Biden-leaners, Trump supporters are “more cult-like. Look at QAnon. That is a fanatical, whacked-out idea. And there are so many people who believe Trump is their saviour.”

“Didn’t they just arrest people trying to kidnap the Michigan governor? We don’t see that happening on the other side.”

But for Republicans, “Picketing the streets, protests, all the things going on right now, I don’t see us doing that.”

“They’re burning down buildings in Seattle and Portland and places like that.”

“I don’t remember rioting in the street when Obama was elected.”

Most were philosophical.

“God’s will is going to be done. He has been Lord over lots of different governmental systems;”

“If Biden wins, if Trump wins, the next day I’m going to wake up, take care of my baby boy, have breakfast with my husband, and the world will continue to go around.

Robert Halfon: We should be pro-private enterprise, anti-mega corporates. How have we allowed these to plunder the taxpayer again and again?

21 Oct

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Lessons from New Zealand

The re-election of Jacinda Ardern, winning an overall majority and so overcoming New Zealand’s complex proportional representation system, shows that, even in the age of centre-right populism, there is a route back for social democracy.

It could be that alongside her emotional intelligence, which she displays in abundance, in this new Covid era, what voters yearn for is competence and security. A feeling of safety first.  With both her handling of the terrorist atrocity in 2019, and her extraordinary success in dealing with the virus, is it any surprise that voters have given this remarkable politician the thumbs up?

No doubt our own Labour Party will be trying to pull off the same trick here, as will many other centre-left parties around the world. Conservatives should be doing everything possible to learn from her victory and thus forestalling the same thing happening over here.

If Joe Biden wins the US Election in two weeks time, it could just signal that the pendulum is swinging leftwards once more. If Trump gets an unexpected victory, then perhaps Ardern’s result will be seen as a swim against the tide.

The Corporatist State

I am as pro-genuine private enterprise as most Conservatives. But I don’t understand why our governments never get to grips with the mega-corporatist state.

How it is that we have allowed, time and time again, big corporations to plunder the taxpayer – whether it be through failed procurements, or permitting ginormous consultancies to charge £7,000 a day for their services in terms of track and trace.

Why is it that a noble £85 million laptop computer procurement programme for disadvantaged pupils, announced by the Department for Education in the height of lockdown, took months to deliver – by the time many children were already back to school? A school in my Harlow constituency told me they had only received the laptops recently, whilst others had arrived without the relevant logins et al. Would a better option not be to just give schools vouchers, after negotiating a good deal with Currys and Asda etc, and allow the teachers to purchase the computers themselves?

Of course, I appreciate this is a national emergency, which perhaps makes these vast sums going to consultancies more understandable. But, somehow, it seems pretty grim that the businesses profiting most from Covid-19 are these mega-corps consultancies.

Moreover, it is not as if these issues started in the pandemic.  It has gone on for some time, and books have been written about the monies these consultants make and the failed procurement schemes that lay in their wake,

The left, naturally, describe all this as ‘vulture capitalism’ – but this is as far removed from genuine capitalism as it is possible to be. Capitalism is about the free exchange of goods and services and fair competition.  The corporatist state is neither. Some of these companies are so big and intertwined with government departments that they become indistinguishable from the government departments themselves.

In the reform of Whitehall that Number 10 is currently planning, perhaps the wisest maxim might be “small is beautiful”.

Taking back control of VAT

Whether we leave with or without a deal by the end of the year, one of the key arguments for Brexit was that we took back control over our taxes.

Indeed in May 2016, during the EU Referendum campaign, both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove said that energy bills would be lower because EU rules meant that Britain could not take VAT off those bills. In The Sun, they wrote:

“The least wealthy are hit particularly hard. The poorest households spend three times more of their income on household energy bills than the richest households spend. As long as we are in the EU, we are not allowed to cut this tax.”

Both were absolutely right. Now we need to live up to that pledge by reducing the five per cent VAT rate for energy bills, and cutting the cost of living for millions. The Brexit dividend must mean cuts to the cost of living.

In a question to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on this last October, I asked:

“In Harlow, we have already seen the NHS Brexit dividend, with a brand new hospital. The people of Harlow will feel that those who vote against this excellent deal really just want to stop Brexit completely. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, once we do the deal and leave the EU, we will gain control of our tax rates and be able to reduce VAT and energy bills for our hard-working constituents?”

The Prime Minister replied:

“Yes. Not only will we be able to reduce VAT in the UK, but we will be able to do it in Northern Ireland as well.”