"Regular testing should replace isolation."
Conservative MP @DamianGreen thinks allowing Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to work from Downing Street "is quite sensible" and could help to "accelerate" the pilot scheme.#Phillips: https://t.co/FOweo3lxzQ pic.twitter.com/QeOZaTnjR0
— Trevor Phillips on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) July 18, 2021
Damian Green MP is Chair of the One Nation Caucus.
Although the pandemic took away some of the Budget Day rituals (and I think next year it would be wise to go back to the usual picture outside No 11 rather than this year’s weird staircase ensemble), 2021 has observed some of the usual Budget rhythms. The day itself belongs to the Chancellor, the following day opposition politicians and sceptical journalists pick holes, and then the world moves on, or the Budget falls apart.
By Friday the world was already moving on, so the Chancellor has triumphantly passed the first and most important political test.
What is interesting is the route he chose to navigate while maintaining an incredibly difficult balancing act. He had to keep protecting jobs and companies for the last knockings of the lockdown, while giving a strong platform for recovery and, most difficult of all, showing responsibility towards the public finances.
The elegant way in which Rishi Sunak picked his way through these various obstacles is instructive in what it tells us about his approach, and more widely the Government’s approach, to its central economic task. The combination of necessary increases in public spending in the short term, the skewing of this support to traditionally disadvantaged areas, and the acceptance of tax rises over the longer term to pay for it, showed an admirable practicality.
It also showed an instinct that I am happy to recognise as a modern expression of One Nation Conservatism.
No Conservative wants taxes to rise, but in the real world there are times when borrowing that extra £50billion is not responsible and cutting public spending would be irresponsible. This is one of those times. Interest rates will not stay low forever, so free borrowing is not infinitely available. Equally, the private sector will not recover everywhere unless it receives some targeted stimulus, whether applied to individual business sectors or specific areas of the country.
I observe that much of the criticism has come from the sternest right-wing commentators who believe that in any circumstances we should put tax cuts first and that any deviation from this path will cut long-term growth. Would that this were true. If every tax cut in every circumstance led to higher growth, and therefore a better economy to underpin great public services, then no Government would ever have to take an unpopular decision.
In the real world entrepreneurial spirits will flourish when the surrounding landscape, both fiscal and physical, is friendly. For the UK in 2021 increasing productivity in those parts of the country which have been left behind for too long is the only route to levelling up. This in turn requires a mix of public spending (which needs to be paid for) and Tory business boosters like freeports.
One Nation Conservatives think the market needs to be augmented and underpinned by state action but want to use the power of the market to spread wealth and opportunity. This budget hits that sweet spot.
This is one reason why Labour has been so feeble in its response. Sir Kier Starmer’s problems stem from his faulty analysis of where this Government sits on the ideological spectrum. For all that he has the virtue of not being Jeremy Corbyn, he has drunk the Labour Kool-Aid that tells him this is a hard-right, hard-faced Tory Government aching to destroy the public services in this country. This is demonstrable hogwash, especially after this Budget.
Labour’s loudest point is to complain that some towns with Conservative MPs are benefitting. Since 14 of these towns had Labour MPs before the last election, all this shows is that disadvantaged areas have despaired of the Labour Party. As long as Labour persists in this line of attack, it will fail to gain any traction. Oh well.
While a successful Budget is of course principally a victory for the Chancellor, it also tells us something significant about the Prime Minister. For years he has insisted that he is a One Nation Conservative. Perhaps people will now start to believe him.
He was of course an unusual Brexit supporter in that his social and economic beliefs were always much more in the centre of the political spectrum than many of his followers on that march. For those on the left who like to demonise all Brexit supporters, it is not possible to be a socially liberal economic interventionist in favour of grands projets, and to have supported Brexit. Boris Johnson is a living refutation of their world view, so it’s not surprising they are reduced to frothing fury by his successes.
The last Prime Minister to seize the centre ground and reduce the opposition to this kind of impotent anger was Tony Blair in his early years. In so many ways he and Johson have little in common. But remember that Blair also tried to claim the One Nation mantle for New Labour. The lesson from this Budget is that it is now firmly retaken by a Conservative Government.
- Ahmad Khan, Imran
- Amess, David
- Blackman, Bob
- Blunt, Crispin
- Bridgen, Andrew
- Crouch, Tracey
- Davis, David
- Djanogly, Jonathan
- Duncan Smith, Iain
- Ellwood, Tobias
- Francois, Mark
- Ghani, Nusrat
- Gillan, Cheryl
- Gray, James
- Green, Damian
- Hart, Sally-Anne (pictured)
- Hoare, Simon
- Hollobone, Philip
- Jenkin, Bernard
- Latham, Pauline
- Lewer, Andrew
- Lewis, Julian
- Loughton, Tim
- Mackinlay, Craig
- Nokes, Caroline
- Richards, Nicola
- Rossindell, Andrew
- Seely, Bob
- Tugendhat, Tom
- Wakeford, Christian
- Walker, Charles
- Warburton, David
- Wragg, William
Today’s genocide amendment had no relation whatsoever to recent votes on Covid – or other major rebellions that this site has been chronicling.
But there is considerable overlap between the rebels on those lists and on this one. And even newcomers to our records such as Sally-Ann Hart and Nicola Richards have voted against the Government previously (though rarely).
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the amendment, lists of those defying the whips now have a certain predictability.
David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.
Last December, people who wouldn’t even have considered voting for us ten, or even five, years ago put their cross in the Tory box for the first time ever. Constituencies that had been Labour since their formation voted Conservative with remarkable swings. These voters had long been forgotten by the newly gentrified left and, in the aftermath of the referendum, had often become the butt of sneering and snobbery.
Working class voters, who had seen their economic and political priorities ignored by politicians of all parties for decades, saw that their concerns were being at long last listened to. They entrusted us with their votes, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes warily, in the hope not only that their Brexit vote would be implemented at last, but also that, as a government, we would prioritise improving their lives and their communities. We should take that trust that was placed in us very seriously indeed.
A working-class Tory agenda is economically and politically the right direction to take
We should reflect on this trust that was placed in us and the basic political maths as we ponder the excellent question posed by Rachel Wolf on these pages on Saturday. In a nutshell, this question was whether we use the present “reset” to focus on the working class voters who delivered the 2019 majority or shift priorities towards the more affluent in a revival of a politics aimed at middle class metropolitans. For political, economic and moral reasons, the only correct path is to retain our focus on the working class voters who backed us in such numbers last year.
Politically, this new electoral coalition delivered the biggest Conservative majority in over thirty years. Only an electoral coalition centred on winning working class constituencies enabled us to do this and only this coalition would enable us to win another big majority in four years time. So-called “DE” voters backed Labour over the Tories for the first time and we had a 15 per cent lead over Labour amongst “C2” voters.
This allowed us to make some remarkable gains, from my home town of Consett to Andy Burnham’s old seat in Leigh – both symbolic of a “Labourism” that isn’t coming back. Electoral coalitions can’t be turned on and off like a light switch and we must continue the present focus. Maintaining this focus on these working class voters is the only realistic route towards a lasting Conservative majority and an enduring realignment.
We remain the custodians of the trust that was placed in us and we must repay it by delivering the substantial, positive and lasting change that we promised. This kind of change – boosting long-forgotten parts of our imbalanced economy – would also make our economy more productive and the country as a whole more prosperous. When parts of the country are held back from fulfilling their economic potential, that is a problem that impacts everybody. We must redouble our efforts to level up and genuinely create One Nation.
A One-Nation agenda of improved town centres, rising real wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure
In Little Platoons, published last year, I set out how an ambitious agenda of reform could transform long-forgotten towns, through infrastructure spending, transformation of town centres and a policy of reindustrialisation. We have made great strides so far but we now need to go even further and even faster, particularly as both the health and economic impact of Covid-19 risks impacting working class communities in the North more than prosperous communities in the South.
As James Frayne suggested last week, one of the key priorities should be making sure that town centres start to look and feel better over the next few years. Rather than being pockmarked with empty shops, bookies and discount shops, high streets must become symbols of community pride. Town centres should become community hubs – places for people to shop, businesses to set up (rather than in distant out of town business parks) and for families and young people to meet up and come together. Revived town centres should leave as lasting an impression of local and civic pride as the likes of Birmingham City Hall and the majestic Grey Street in Newcastle.
Just as people should see a difference in their town centres by the end of Boris’s first full term in office, they should also see a difference to their pay packets and their local economy. Despite the Covid associated economic hit, there must be a focus on creating economic revival in “Red Wall” areas.
As I made clear here a few weeks ago, our impending freedom from EU regulation will give us greater scope to use industrial strategy to help revive post industrial towns and promote a policy of reindustrialisation, including being leaders in green industry.
This should include aiming to shift the type of jobs that predominate in these towns from low-paid, insecure work to making them a central part of a high-skills, high-productivity, high-wage, tech-driven economy. We should enable local leaders to do whatever it takes, including through the tax system, to encourage industrial investment in their areas.
Part of the case I made in Little Platoons is that a direct government lever for revival is by relocating great swathes of the Civil Service to the North and the Midlands. An impressive report by the Northern Policy Foundation, published this week, shows that such an agenda would put “rocket boosters” under levelling-up and allow local areas to benefit from the agglomeration effect of relocating key arms of government.
We should also be stepping up investment in infrastructure programmes, to ensure that towns as well as cities have world class road, rail and digital infrastructure. We should consider how light rail can make a difference to people in “Red Wall” towns and also mustn’t forget about the importance of high quality, reliable and inexpensive bus services to local people. When even the deficit hawks at the IMF are arguing that now is the time to invest in infrastructure, we should be prepared to show audacity and imagination with big infrastructure projects for the North.
A relentless focus on making change happen
We must have a relentless focus on making this change happen. Levelling up should go through everything we do. Every day, ministers should ask themselves how their decisions are improving the lives of working people and to advance the levelling up agenda. And we should manage and track the levelling up agenda against these key metrics of improved town centres, rising wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure.
This is a One Nation government and levelling up is a definitively One Nation policy. As Damian Green argued as part of this series on Monday, building one nation is a conservative, not a libertarian, project. That means we should be prepared to use the power of the state to tackle regional economic inequalities (the GDP per head in the City of London is 19 times that in County Durham) and restore hope and economic vibrancy to long forgotten places.
We must make it our defining mission to repay the trust that working class voters placed in us and ensure that their lives are better and their towns are better places in which to live. If we do so, the realignment will be a lasting one. Now, more than ever, we must double down on levelling up.
Damian Green is Chair of the One Nation Caucus, a former First Secretary of State and is MP for Ashford.
As we approach the depressing depths of the Covid winter, let’s cheer ourselves up about one of the other big global challenges. It’s been a good couple of months for global action on climate change as some of the biggest emitting countries set net zero targets.
China started off the chain with a surprise commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2060. In the last few weeks, EU governments agreed to make their 2050 net zero target legally binding, while Japan and South Korea committed to a 2050 net zero deadline. And finally it looks possible that the US will also join the net zero club.
Heading into next year’s UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow, the British presidency has momentum, which it must now capitalise on.
In the past month, the UK has also made good progress on its domestic climate policies, with a new £2bn Green Homes Grant for households to insulate homes and a commitment to quadruple the UK’s offshore wind capacity. In his upcoming net zero speech later this month, the Prime Minister should show his commitment to climate leadership once again.
In particular he should announce two policy ideas from the One Nation Caucus’ ‘Building Back Greener’ paper, including an earlier 2030 phase-out date for new petrol and diesel car sales and a multi-year home retrofit scheme. Insulating Britain’s homes better than we do is profoundly unglamorous but amazingly effective.
A strong domestic record matters because it gives the UK credibility on the world stage when we try to persuade others to clean up their act. Crucially, we can provide an attractive example that other countries want to follow, by showing that ambitious emissions reductions can go hand in hand with economic growth. This is especially important at the moment as countries decide how to kickstart their economies after the Covid lockdowns.
There is one audience in particular where the UK’s record on clean growth can really resonate around the world: among conservatives. In many countries, conservatives have historically eschewed leadership on climate change. Sometimes they’ve been sceptical of the science of man-made climate change, or they’ve rejected what are perceived to be left-wing solutions. Sometimes they’ve been ignored or overlooked by the climate movement, who have often preferred to speak about climate in language that appeals more to the left.
Whatever the cause, the net result has been that climate is perceived as a left-wing issue. Yet this really shouldn’t be the case. There is no more conservative idea than intergenerational responsibility, and no more important application than climate change. The alleged trade-off between climate action and economic growth – if it ever existed – has been comprehensively shattered by the dramatic reductions in the costs of clean technologies and the proliferation of jobs in the booming clean energy industry.
We also shouldn’t forget that the first significant international climate change speech by a major global leader was delivered by a conservative – Margaret Thatcher – 31 years ago this month.
Conservatives are essential to solving climate change because they are in power across the world right now. They control the public investment, regulation, and taxation policies of many national economies, and so they have to be part of the solution. Some conservatives, like Norway’s or Germany’s, are already doing fantastic work on tackling climate change, and we should make common cause with them. Others such as the US and Australia have made some progress in recent years, particularly at state level, but still have a way to go.
Conservative Environment Network (CEN) research has revealed that a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from countries with conservative governments. On top of this, even where conservatives don’t control the national government, they form a sizable share of electorates, they sit in large numbers in legislatures, and they run many municipal and state governments. We can’t ignore this third of global emissions, any less than we can ignore the significant proportion of the global electorate with conservative values who need to be brought with us on climate change.
Conservatives in the UK now have to join up with our counterparts overseas. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy a cross-party consensus on the need to tackle climate change since well before the Climate Change Act was passed nearly unanimously in 2008. During the past ten years of Conservative Governments we’ve enjoyed the fastest decarbonisation rate of any G20 economy and have established the world’s largest offshore wind sector. We now need to share these conservative success stories with our political allies, and embolden them to lead on climate change in their countries too.
I am delighted to be working alongside colleagues in CEN to reach out to conservative legislators in the US, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, and elsewhere to build a global centre-right alliance in favour of action on climate change that supports economic growth and job creation. I look forward to their international launch event on 9th November with the Alok Sharma, the COP President.
International climate leadership is the perfect role for global Britain in the 2020s, and the year-long countdown to the Glasgow summit has got off to a terrific start. With the UK at the forefront, I hope to see conservatives leading this next decade of decarbonisation.
If ConservativeHome is writing about the Coronavirus, we know where to look for Government information. A mass of guidance and information is available.
But if, on the other hand, we want to find out the number of operations postponed since the original lockdown was announced on March 24; or that of cancer deaths; or that of those brought about by heart disease; or the harm wrought by rising mental health problems, or domestic abuse, or lost schooling, the Government has not compiled the relevant information and statistics for publication in a way that makes these easily available to find and read.
We are better off if we wish to report the number of job losses. But these are not issued together by the Government with, say, the rise in child and poverty since late March. There is no one-stop-shop source of official information about the damage to the economy since then – to livelihoods as well as to lives. As well, as we say, about those other harms to lives.
Now it is true that not all cancer deaths since March 24, say, can fairly be blamed on the long shutdown. But it isn’t beyond the wit of man to work out the number of deaths since then compared to those of a comparable six month period in a usual year.
It is also the case that some of any figures published would be contestable. But that’s also true of official Coronavirus estimates. For example, the task of working out the number of deaths in England has been has been complicated by two major changes in the way they have been calculated (in April and August).
There is an urgent point to this dry analysis. Today, Boris Johnson is trapped in a pincer movement between Labour, which is arguing for a short national lockdown, and his own party, which inclines to fewer restrictions faster. He will try to find a compromise – by tightening the conditions in the most repressive of the Government’s new three tiers, and extending these. That would enable him to toughen up while avoiding an England-wide shutdown.
So the Prime Minister is set gradually to be dragged by Keir Starmer towards that circuit-breaker lockdown in all but name. And once in it, there will be no quick way out, since the test and trace system isn’t working well enough to quell the rise in cases that would follow the end of the shutdown. So that wouldn’t happen at all, or at least only do in a curtailed form. We would be in semi-lockdown semi-permanently – which seems to be SAGE’s real aim.
All in all, we are all being manoeuvered into an annual cycle of near-total winter lockdowns and partially-eased summer ones, until or unless a vaccine is widely available, herd immunity is achieved or the virus abates.
This would risk bankrupting the country. National debt hit a record £2 trillion in September. It has reached 100.5 per cent of GDP, the highest level in 60 years. We cannot be sure that Britain would be able to borrow for the duration at the present rock-bottom rates to grow its way out of trouble. Even if it could, there is no guarantee that enough growth would come to stave off medium-term spending cuts and tax rises.
These would intensify the damage that this crisis is inflicting on lives as well as livelihoods – the rising toll in cancer deaths and educational harm and mental health problems which we refer to above, and so much more, including more poverty and deprivation.
Which takes us back to those figures. There is fierce dispute about whether voters are really as supportive of harsher lockdowns as the polls suggest. But Johnson can scarcely be blamed for not wanting to sail against the prevailing political weather.
In order to steer his way out of it, he will have to change it: changing the weather, after all, is what the best politicians do. In short, the Government must try to widen and deepen the national conversation about the Coronavirus. That will take a bit of time.
It entails drawing voters’ attention to the wider social and economic damage that living semi-permanently in lockdown would do. Some of the information that would help to do this is already out there. As Raghib Ali has pointed out on this site, the Department of Health’s own health cost-benefit analysis shows that to date “in the long-term, the health impacts of the two month lockdown and lockdown-induced recession are greater than those of the direct Covid-19 deaths”.
But Government sources tell ConservativeHome that the Department of Health has been resistant to getting all the healthcare-related facts and figures together in one place. That’s perhaps not surprising given its focus on the virus. It’s more surprising that the Treasury hasn’t done a parallel exercise on the economy.
Ultimately, it’s up to Downing Street to make the case, backed up by more information and strategic messaging, against more national lockdowns, with the damage to lives and livelihoods that this would bring. But the key player in forcing it to change is Rishi Sunak.
If we are truly to live with the virus and “live without fear”, as the Chancellor put it in the Commons recently, we must prepare to shift, in the absence of a track and trace plan that works, to a less restrictive and more voluntarist policy – one based on the balance of risk between the harm that Covid-19 does and the harm that shutdowns do.
And an indispensable part of any push for change is shifting public opinion to support it. This site has been calling since the spring for the Government to publish its estimate of non-Coronavirus healthcare costs to date; of the costs of lockdown to the economy to date, and of the total cost and total saving of the lockdown (which can be calculated by assigning a value, as government does elsewhere, to each human life in Britain).
Sunak, together with Ministers in other economic departments, such as Alok Sharma at BEIS, needs to push for three actions:
- A regular Treasury report that calculates the economic cost of the lockdown. That’s within his own gift, as it were, and the work could start today.
- A rolling Department of Health assessment of the human cost of the shutdown. That will be harder to get. The Chancellor will need the Prime Minister’s support to extract it.
- The creation of an economic counterweight to SAGE that considers livelihoods as well as lives, thus ensuring broader advice to the Prime Minister.
Finally, Ministers can’t act as the sole pathfinders for policy. Intrinsic to Margaret Thatcher’s success during the 1980s was the work of think-tanks and Conservative MPs in preparing the way for change.
There are a mass of Tory backbench groups and wider pressure organisations. The One Nation Caucus comes to mind for us at once, because Damian Green, its Chair, wrote a perceptive piece for this site yesterday about the choices that the Government now faces. Perhaps it or the No Turning Back Group – to pick a Parliamentary group a bit different in outlook – could produce a report.
Some of the think tanks are already working in this field. The Resolution Foundation has done an intergenerational audit. (See also David Willetts’ recent ConHome piece.) Policy Exchange has probed the Government’s NHS tracing app. (Benjamin Barnard wrote about its findings for us here.) The Institute of Economic Affairs has examined the NHS’ shortcomings; the Centre for Policy Studies has led the way in probing economic costs.
But more work will be needed if public opinion is to move. In the meantime, Sunak must continue to lead the way.
“This is not levelling up. It is concreting out,” Bob Seely wrote yesterday morning on this site about the Government’s White Paper on planning reform, and his Commons debate on the subject later in the day.
His article criticised the algorithm that sets out how many houses are needed in which places – which was originally brought to public notice by our columnist Neil O’Brien.
Would Seely’s colleagues agree with him? Here are some snap extracts from speeches by Conservative backbenchers who spoke yesterday.
- Theresa May: “We need to reform the planning system….But we will not do that by removing local democracy, cutting the number of affordable homes that are built and building over rural areas. Yet that is exactly what these reforms will lead to.”
- Philip Hollobone: “The Government are being sent a clear message by Back Benchers today that they have got this wrong and they need to think again.”
- Jason McCartney: “I have huge concerns about the supposed new housing formula or algorithm. I think we have all had enough of algorithms this year.”
- Neil O’Brien: “Ministers should fundamentally rethink this formula so that it actually hits the target. Yes, we should build more houses, but we should do it in the right places.”
- Chris Grayling: “I regret to say that, even as a loyal supporter of the Government, I cannot support this policy in its current form.”
- Jeremy Hunt: “In short, I am concerned that these proposals do not recognise serious risks…The Government must think again.”
- Damian Green: “This will not be levelling-up; it will be levelling over green fields with concrete.”
- Damian Hinds: “I encourage [the Minister] and the Government to think again about some of these important matters.”
- Caroline Nokes: “The Housing Minister and I were first elected in 2010 on a manifesto that committed to no more top-down housing targets, and this algorithm looks suspiciously like a top-down target.”
- Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: “The real flaw in the White Paper is that all it does is concentrate building in the south-east and central south of England”.
- Clare Coutino: “I seriously worry about centrally designed housing numbers which do not take into account a local area’s capacity to deliver.”
- Luke Evans: “I am also concerned that the formula does not take into account infrastructure, as has been mentioned, or future plans for generations.”
- Karen Bradley: “How can it be the case that the Government are now considering any form of central target, because that is exactly what the algorithm looks like?”
- Laurence Robertson: “As things stand, I think that the housing numbers will take precedence. That is wrong and it goes against what we stand for as a party.”
- Crispin Blunt: “The presentation that the Government have made is potentially catastrophic for delivering the wider objectives of Government policy.”
- Harriet Baldwin: “Let us move away from the Gordon Brown approach and the top-down imposition of Stalinist housing targets.”
- Gareth Bacon: “I urge the Government to heed the words of hon. Members in this debate and to revisit the proposals.”
- Kieran Mullen: “Why are we going down a route that is likely to cause upset and tear up some local decision making when we could tackle the issue through that existing route?”
- Laura Trott: The White Paper…says that the green belt will be protected, and that is right, but we see no evidence that this is being taken into account in the algorithm.”
That’s 19 backbenchers critical of important aspects of the proposals.
Furthermore, Scott Mann referred diplomatically to “some challenges within the White Paper”; Gareth Johnson said “it is essential that we bring local authorities with us in proposing these targets”; William Wragg wants to ” abandon the notion that planning is something that is done to communities”, and Richard Fuller, while saying that the Government “is on to something”, also said the targets for his local area are unmanageable.
Only James Grundy spoke from the Tory benches without any criticism of the plans.
No wonder that Andy Slaughter, from the Labour benches, gleefully pointed out that “there are 55 Conservative Back Benchers hoping to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker”.
Chris Pincher, the Housing Minister, pointed out that the proposals are out for consultation, and reiterated (as in his recent ConservativeHome article) that “over the past two months my Department has actively engaged with the sector and is listening to feedback. Many right hon. and hon. Members will know that I too have been listening and discussing carefully”.
In short, he was distancing himself and the Government from the algorithm numbers. But we think it worth grabbing some highlights from yesterday’s speeches because, on this showing, opposition on the Tory benches is not confined to the algorithm. Ministers will find a central feature of their plans, top-down housing targets for local authorities, very difficult to get through the Commons, at least as presently constituted.
- Today, there is a general debate on Covid-19. That will give the Government’s backbench critics who want a Sweden-style approach a chance to make their case. It will be well worth watching to see how many put it; how strongly; and how many Tory backbenchers make the counter-case for lockdowns, which polling suggests have strong public support.
- Tomorrow comes the remaining stages of the UK Internal Market Bill – and so also the revolt against it headed by Theresa May. The Government’s concession of an eventual Commons vote on any safeguarding measures that might be argued to break international law, in the event of No Deal on trade, has won round such discontented MPs as Geoffrey Cox, Damian Green and Bob Neil. We will see tomorrow evening how many others vote against the Government or more likely abstain on Third Reading.
- Wednesday sees the second reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No.2) Bill. The main bone of contention is likely to be the permission it would grant for two-storey extensions to homes and tower blocks to go ahead without planning permission. That’s unlikely to provoke a mass backbench revolt. But the debate will be worth watching to see how many backbenchers pile in to criticise the coming planning reforms that will bring about more housebuilding in shire Tory seats.
- Finally, there is the renewal of the Coronavirus Act’s temporary provisions – and the Brady amendment seeking more Parliamentary control. It’s not clear as we write whether or not the Speaker will select it for debate. The Government appears to be holding back any concessions, in case it isn’t chosen after all.
Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to defend what’s happened over the last week or ten days with exam results.
Clustershambles doesn’t really cover it. And the trouble is that it has affected a huge number of people, not just the students and teachers concerned, but their parents and grandparents too.
Add them up, and we’re talking several million people, I imagine. Like the Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle trip, it’s had cut-through.
The latest YouGov poll, out on Wednesday should a four point dip in the Tory ratings to 40 per cent. While that is still a two point lead, it’s not difficult to imagine that next week Labour could be ahead for the first time in, well, many years.
Optimists might point out that we are three and a half years away from a general election and that time is a great healer. Maybe, but once a Government gets a reputation for crass incompetence it is very difficult to shake off.
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It was reported by The Independent (yes, it still exists online) that Gavin Williamson offered his resignation on Monday, but that it was rejected by the Prime Minister. Only they know the truth of this, but it certainly hasn’t been denied by the beleaguered Education Secretary.
If he did indeed do the honourable thing, all credit to him. But surely if you resign, you, er, resign. It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to have said (if he in fact did), well, you got us into this, you get us out, but in the end once a politician loses the confidence of his or her client groups, it’s very difficult to get things back on an even keel.
Your Cabinet colleagues look at you as a dead man walking. Your enemies can’t wait until your inevitable denouement, and your “friends” melt away at the first whiff of grapeshot. If you’re going to survive, you don’t have long to plan how to do it. In Williamson’s case, he has until Christmas, given that I am led to understand that the reshuffle is now planned for January.
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The trouble with this Cabinet is that it has a distinctly second-rate feel about it. How many of them would make it into a Thatcher or Major cabinet. Very few, I would venture to suggest.
I interviewed Alastair Campbell on Wednesday (it will be on the Iain Dale All Talk podcast next Wednesday), and he reckoned that most of the current crew wouldn’t have even made it to Minister of State in Mrs T’s day.
Do it yourself. Go through the whole cabinet, and think how many of them would make your own fantasy cabinet. I just did so and came up with a total of five. Lamentable.
But it gets worse. Look down the list of Ministers of State – the ministers who would normally be next in line for the cabinet. I count five that are cabinet material. This is a dire state of affairs.
But it gets even worse. Normally you have a range of former ministers who you could think about bringing back to add a bit of weight and gravitas. Trouble is, most of them left Parliament at the last election. Looking at the greybeards on the Tory benches with cabinet experience you have Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, John Redwood, Maria Miller, Greg Clark, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Cheryl Gillan, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Mark Harper, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, Esther McVey, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers.
Now, how many of those could realistically be restored to cabinet status to bring something extra in terms of political weight, gravitas or character? I’ll leave that to your impeccable judgement.
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So far this year, I haven’t taken any holiday at all. However, next week I’m on holiday in Norfolk – apart from the fact that I’ll be writing this column, doing several podcasts and appearing on Any Questions.
I realised last week that I’ve lost the art of doing nothing. If I’m watching TV, I’ve got my laptop open and I will be flicking through Twitter or something.
Next week, I’m going to try to do some reading, and I mean reading for pleasure – not reading something because I have to for my job. Talking of which I have just done an hour-long interview for my Iain Dale Book Club podcast with Danny Finkelstein. He’s just published a book of his collected columns. What a truly fascinating man he is. The podcast will be released on Friday 4 September.