.@SophyRidgeSky: Are you comfortable with how David Cameron acted?
George Eustice says he believes the former PM "meticulously followed the rules" and points out he has admitted himself he should have acted differently in texting the chancellor.#Ridge: https://t.co/jC2xzcMCbv pic.twitter.com/u7mYq1DOfX
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) April 18, 2021
On March 18 2021, something unusual happened in Whitehall. It involved Lord Faulks QC, a former Conservative minister; Robert Buckland QC MP, the Lord Chancellor; and the Ministry of Justice (in the former Home Office building) on Petty France.
That day, the Lord Chancellor published The Independent Review of Administrative Law (195 pages), which had been chaired remotely by Lord Faulks. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice responded with Judicial Review Reform (56 pages), sending its own additional proposals – especially ouster clauses (excluding the courts) and remedies – out to consultation (with the public to respond by April 29 2021).
Normally, governments cherry pick recommendations made by committees, and take their time. Here, the Government had to fatten up Lord Faulks’s meagre offerings before expiry. What on earth was going on?
Think back to November 2019 – before Covid-19 and the depletion of the nation’s finances – to the Conservatives’ manifesto. There, Boris Johnson had promised a constitution, democracy and rights commission. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive.
Rights went back to David Cameron in 2006, and his idea (on which I advised) of a UK bill of rights. Democracy was a reference to the 2016 Brexit referendum. And constitution was a new idea, trailed first by Geoffrey Cox QC MP as attorney general, the day after Miller Two in the Supreme Court (September 25 2019) – the prorogation of parliament case which the Government lost badly.
On Christmas eve, I began what became my lockdown book, now provisionally entitled Writing the UK Constitution: a contested project. It is basically a workbook for such a commission, an unprecedented promise in our political history. The contest is between traditional common lawyers, who believe the constitution exists (in their minds), and modernisers including myself, who believe the UK needs to get itself a written constitution. I therefore am an advocate of joined-up constitutional reform, though I accept there can be short- , medium- and long-term goals over two parliaments.
At some point (after Cox was replaced in February 2020), the Government quietly abandoned the idea of a constitution, democracy and rights commission. This was revealed by Paul Goodman in ConservativeHome on July 23 2020. Buckland confirmed as much to a select committee on December 8 2020.
On July 31 2020, the Faulks commission had been announced. Reform of judicial review – through which the courts supervise the legality of executive actions – was a totemic Conservative issue. The Lord Chancellor, however, appointed mainly professional lawyers. There is the explanation for no statutory codification of judicial review, into which safeguards could be built.
If Miller Two was judiciary one, executive nil, the Faulks report (pending the further consultation), makes the score now judiciary two, executive nil.
On December 1 2020, this time the Cabinet Office – there being a job share on the constitution by Buckland and Michael Gove – announced the forthcoming repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. A draft bill included the non-justiciability of prerogative powers concerning parliament. The Government agreed to pre-legislative scrutiny, including by the House of Lords, where sits the informal lawyers’ and judges’ party on the cross benches. Could this be judiciary three, executive nil?
On December 7 2020, the Ministry of Justice (again) announced a review of the Human Rights Act 1998, another totemic Conservative issue. The chair was to be Sir Peter Gross, a retired court of appeal judge. The members of the review include academic lawyers. One hopes for an agreed UK bill of rights, but it could end up in coming months as: judiciary four, executive nil.
Speaking last week to a university audience, Buckland made a diplomatic stab at articulating the Government’s strategy: “it falls to me to propose reforms which, as far as possible, avoid drawing judges into the political realm and forcing them to adjudicate on moral and philosophical issues.” But what Lord Chancellor, if the judges – led by Baroness Hale – upset the so-called constitutional balance, as they arguably did in Miller Two?
Whitehall has a track record on constitutional reform in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, which should have been a warning from history for the current government in its early months.
The first Blair government (1997-2001) did enact: human rights; expulsion of hereditary peers; and devolution (which has turned out very different). Constitutional reform – it is rarely observed – was then replaced with public-sector reform led by number 10. The sacking of Lord Irvine of Lairg QC in 2003 led to the misnamed Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which gave us judicial appointments commissions to be stuffed with quangocrats.
Gordon Brown was – and is – more serious about constitutional reform, but Whitehall balkanized his ambitions in the form of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 – a sectional project of Labour women ministers – was never a proper constitutional project concerning the state.
The coalition of 2010-15 divided over electoral reform and delayed boundary changes, and House of Lords reform (a project which has been staggering since 1918).
I hope, if there is life after recent deaths, that Johnson will return to the commission idea, and work towards the next general election in 2024.
My perspective is not, honestly, particular reforms: presidential (through the monarchy) and prime ministerial powers; a federal UK to save the union; separate legislatures; proportional representation.
My big idea is an expert report for ministers in this parliament, inspired by an Irish document of 1996. The objective would be a written constitution, to be enacted by parliament in the first instance. There are arguments against such an idea, especially the slogan flexibility versus rigidity.
The commission would comprise legal and non-legal constitutionalists. And they would provide reasons for and against particular provisions, and how practical ideas could work one with another. Advisers advise, ministers decide, and the people or peoples – after 2016 – should vote decisively on the rules of the state.
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.
Is Keir Starmer doing that badly?
I don’t want to rain on the parade of opinion poll Tory leads of anything from four to 13 per cent. Of course, it is far better to be in this position than trailing behind and our standing will be especially important in the run-up to local elections.
However, it is worth noting that Labour is still 24 points above its position after the 2019 General Election. It is also hard enough for any opposition party to get a look in, let alone in a national pandemic.
I remember well the Cameron opposition years, particularly when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair in 2007.
At the time, especially over the summer months, Labour rocketed ahead in public opinion. It looked like Labour’s fourth consecutive election victory was in the offing. Yet, by October of that year, thanks to an astonishing performance by George Osborne on slashing inheritance tax, David Cameron’s Conference speech, Brown’s poorly timed trip to see troops in Iraq and his botched scrapping of an early election, Conservatives level pegged and even leapfrogged Labour in the opinion polls.
I won’t ever forget going to the 2007 Conservative Party Conference as Harlow’s parliamentary candidate (by then, standing for a third time), thinking that it was all over – and I would not be elected to Westminster. A few days later, all had changed, and Brown put off the election until 2010. The rest is history. It was for me.
I was driving around one of Harlow’s many roundabouts when I first heard that Brown had cancelled the election. It was announced on the post-conference Saturday lunchtime news on Radio 4. I literally stopped my car, as I was utterly amazed. I thought to myself, “Well Rob, you might get elected after all”.
I mention these things – not to be, as the Prime Minister might say, a “gloomster” – but only to remind fellow Conservatives that politics changes, literally, overnight.
Yes, the Labour Leader is often “Captain Hindsight” and he doesn’t always see the wood from the trees because of his love for forensics. But, it is not easy for opposition leaders to cut through. To his credit, Starmer is reforming the Labour Party by stealth, slowly weeding out the far-left and trying to rid his party of antisemitism.
Of course, the crucial test will come in policy, and whether the Labour Party will be counter-intuitive on public spending. Of that, there is little sign. It appears that there is no lobby group or vested interest they will not try and court in order to score the political equivalent of a quick clickbait “high” in the media and the internet. At some point, Her Majesty’s Opposition will have to take tough decisions if they want to be respected by the public and be a party of Government.
Nevertheless, Conservatives must never be complacent. The public mood can change pretty quickly. Labour party grassroots and council strength remains high. They have a long time to reform themselves and undo the damage of the Corbyn years.
Explaining public spending decisions
It is not always easy to set out the tough decisions on public spending to constituents, especially when they regard emotive issues seen to address social injustice. But, once we have worked out what our political spending priorities are, this is something all Conservatives are going to have to do.
Due to the pandemic, Government finances and our general economic situation are pretty bleak. The Government is spending more than £400 billion just to keep people and businesses afloat. Our country faces a debt bill of over £2 trillion pounds. Laid out in cash, this is enough money to fill Wembley Stadium. The interest on the debt currently sits at £49 billion pounds a year (money which could otherwise be spent on public services or cutting the cost of living – like taxes – for small business and lower earners).
The hard truth of it is that every decision the Government takes on spending increases, whether it is wages or other spending (e.g. on welfare or public services), means that either we will either have to raise taxes – quite possibly income tax – or borrow more. If we keep borrowing, we will simply have more debt and interest to pay. Borrowing will also mean that we will not have any funds available if there is a further economic shock (as we saw in 2008), or even another pandemic.
The Government does not take these decisions to be unpopular and it may sometimes get things wrong. But choices are being made under the difficult economic and financial circumstances our country currently finds itself in.
The other issue is that millions of workers have lost their jobs or their incomes. The Government has to make certain that spending decisions do not increase the burden for workers through higher taxes. Whichever way we look, there are no simple answers.
It is easy for the political opposition parties to campaign for more funding and win themselves short-term popularity because they do not share any of the responsibility for the difficult spending decisions that the Government has to make.
Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Most budgets are curate’s eggs. Good in parts. This one was no different.
Politically, it was a triumph for Brand Rishi. It was well delivered. His post-Budget press conference was slick and smooth. He comes across as a transparently nice and competent individual. That’s because he is.
But was it a budget with a narrative? Was it a “reset” budget? Was it a transformational budget? No, it was not.
It is possible to argue that it couldn’t be anything else than be a budget for the short term, given we have no idea where we will be this time next year, but even if you accept that argument, it disappointed on a number of levels.
The super-deduction measure was innovative and will have a massive event on investment over the next two years. And then it ends. It’s too short term, and should have surely been tapered.
Did corporation tax really need to be increased in one go by six per cent in two years’ time? Wouldn’t a gradual approach have been better, even if you accept it needed to rise. Which I do not.
It’s a tax rise which will inevitably make this country less likely to attract the levels of foreign inward investment in the long term. You can’t argue one day that lowering business taxes is a good thing and makes us more competitive, and then argue that by putting up corporation tax by a quarter still means that we are just as competitive.
Leaving the EU certainly gave some companies pause for thought about locating here, or increasing their presence here. We are lucky that most decided to go ahead anyway, but we do not need to give any company an excuse not to do so.
We may still have the fifth lowest rate of corporation tax among G20 countries, and yes, as Sunak argues, our rate will still be lower than in American, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.
But I’m afraid that argument cuts little ice in a world where the last thing the British government needs to do is do anything to put off businesses considering building a presence here.
Having said all that, two snap opinion polls show that the public approve the Budget with only 11 or 12 per cent disapproving. So from a political point of view, it was job done for the Chancellor. But I still wonder whether a bit more long term, “reset” thinking was needed and that both Sunak and the Government might come to regret that it was largely absent.
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If the pandemic hadn’t happened, surely this Budget would have been all about the post Brexit economy. Brexit wasn’t mentioned directly once in the Chancellor’s speech, although towards the end we heard a few oblique references.
What we needed was a pathway to the future, not just over the next couple of years, but over the next couple of decades. We needed a vision.
Businesspeople needed to be reassured about the future of our trading patterns, not just with the rest of the world, but with the EU. Too many businesses seem to be finding that the so-called “free trade agreement” with the EU is nothing of the sort. The inevitable bureaucratic teething problems in trading with EU countries are still there, two months on.
OK, there are no queues at Dover, but the attitude of (particularly, but not exclusively) of French customs officials leaves something to be desired. I hear time and time again reports that countries deal perfectly happily and efficiently with the US, China or even Russia, yet find it that deliveries to European customers are being returned to them by couriers with no explanation and on multiple occasions. They feel powerless to do anything about it.
And don’t get me started on the Northern Ireland protocol, whose only effect so far as I can see has been to effectively annexe Northern Ireland to the EU. Just as Martin Selmayr threatened.
The EU has no interest in Northern Ireland’s future prosperity. It just sees it as a mechanism to exert its power. It is a constitutional outrage that British companies are not free to trade without restriction to all parts of the sovereign United Kingdom. The checks that are now being demanded by the EU are so disproportionate as to be totally unreasonable. The British government bent over backwards to make a compromise to meet EU concerns that the Single Market could be compromised, but its goodwill has been exploited at every turn.
At some point this has to stop, and the unilateral extension of the grace period is the inevitable consequence of EU inflexibility. It is not, as the Irish government unhelpfully says, a breach of international law. What it is, is a sign that Britain’s patience with the EU on this issue is about to expire.
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I’ve been watching a new documentary on how Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election called The Accidental President.
It’s made by the British film maker James Fletcher, who is now based in New York. Fletcher will be familiar to many for his work filming David Cameron for the WebCameron project back in the day.
It’s a fascinating account of Trump’s rise to the presidency. There was no narration, no voiceover, just 90 minutes of original campaign footage together with lots of testimony from political commentators, eye witnesses and vox pops.
The most powerful moment was when commentators were asked to name Trump’s campaign slogan. They all trotted out “Make America Great Again”. They were then asked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan. None of them could recall it, bar one, who recalled it was “Stronger Together”. He then followed it up with “whatever that means”.
If proof were needed that political slogans can be all powerful, then we now have it.
Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire and a former Europe Editor of the Times.
When I worked for Boris Johnson during his first term as Mayor of London, I led on devolving powers to City Hall, and went through it with Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s policy honcho. One idea was to devolve VAT to London, copying regional sales taxes in North America. “We can’t. It is against EU rules. Not sure why,” said Letwin.
With our agreement with the EU, arguably the biggest change is not individual policy areas, but the sense of empowerment. Throughout government, naysayers and those suffering excessive status-quo bias have been able to stop any initiative saying: “you can’t. It is against EU rules.”
Sometimes – like the abolition of the tampon tax and banning live animal exports – it was a correct interpretation of EU law. But often it was just a general prohibition. It would end the matter, because no one really understood the EU rules, they were too difficult to challenge, and basically impossible to change. It bred throughout the UK government machinery an intellectual dependency on the EU that led to a pervasive “can’t do” attitude.
But from January 1, no longer will anyone be able to say: “you can’t – EU rules”. We have jumped from the passenger seat to the pilot seat. Can’t do becomes can do. So – what should we do?
Eighteen months ago, at the depth of our Brexit political paralysis, ConservativeHome asked me to write a series of 10 articles highlighting potential “Policy Gains from Brexit” – things we might want to do and would be able to do once we had left the EU. So how are we doing?
On most of the issues, we are making great headway. Across much of government, the new empowerment has led to a renaissance of democracy and policy making. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs used to be a body for transposing EU rules, with a bureaucracy that had gone native.
But under Michael Gove, Liz Truss and George Eustice, civil servants have transformed from passive recipients to enlightened creators, giving the department a buzz of excitement.
The Agriculture Bill – the first time we have had an agricultural policy for over 40 years – scraps the dysfunctional Common Agricultural Policy, and replaces it with environmental subsidies (it was a pleasure to do my maiden speech on it).
The Environment Bill (which I sat on the Bill Committee of) doesn’t just replace EU environmental law, but enhances it and tailors it for the UK, much to the delight of green groups.
The Fisheries Bill gives us our own, more sustainable, fisheries policy (subject to quotas agreed with the EU).
The Government is consulting on banning the export of live animals for slaughter, which the impotent Labour government was unable to do when it wanted to.
We now have a Department for International Trade, with our own trade negotiators, giving us a trade policy for the first time in forty years, and pumping out our own trade agreements. Agriculture and environment groups have been enthusiastically debating how we protect standards in our trade policy, something nobody discussed before because we had no power to deliver it.
The Treasury is reviewing the whole framework of financial services regulation, with the aim of setting out an ambitious financial services strategy. Previous strategies for financial services (which I played my part in, as chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association) were rather optimistic exercises – the UK government didn’t have the power to do very much. Almost all our financial services regulation we have inherited from the EU, but we need to ensure it is proportionate, and supports innovation and competition, as well as international competitiveness and high standards.
The Treasury has scrapped the hated tax on tampons, which EU rules had prevented George Osborne from doing. The popular duty free from EU countries is coming back after a 20 year absence – with the ferries from Holyhead to Dublin offering it from Friday. The Government is launching freeports to boost trade and regeneration of more deprived parts of the UK. The Home Office has scrapped the much-hated freedom of movement, and replaced it with a global immigration policy making sure we can get the talent that our economy needs.
But now that we have this empowerment, what else could we do now we have left the EU? Here are some other possibilities:
- Reform public procurement (under the OJEU rules), to make it fit for purpose and give small businesses more opportunities.
- Promote competition among retail banks by reforming EU inherited capital rules.
- Remove VAT on housing insulation and other environmental products, and reform the biofuels regime.
- Transform our waste and recycling regime, so it is not an exercise in hitting EU targets.
- Reform the EU’s second company directive to reduce pointless red tape for public companies.
- Reform the General Data Protection Regulation to protect privacy while reducing burdens on small charities and businesses.
- Reform Solvency II so our insurance companies can compete globally.
- Promote collaboration programmes with the Commonwealth, rather than just the EU.
It has been obscured by the dramas around Brexit and Covid, but the policy arena is the most exciting it has been for a generation. Say goodbye to can’t do. Say hello to the new “can do” Britain.
James Blagden is a researcher at Onward.
The day after last December’s election, the Prime Minister thanked those who “lent” their support to the Conservative Party. People who had never voted Conservative before, in places that had never returned anything other than a Labour MP, gave Boris Johnson their vote. But how many ‘”lent” votes were there, who are these temporary Tories, and can they be persuaded to stay?
The commentary this time last year was not about lent votes but “tactical voting” – the idea that voters would tactically coordinate and switch their votes to block a specific party. Remain United, People’s Vote and Best for Britain all attempted to persuade campaigners to align behind Remain parties and built websites to help them decide who to vote for.
But most of the evidence suggests that this kind of tactical voting – voting to block a particular candidate – simply didn’t happen. Labour suffered a historic collapse and the Liberal Democrats defied expectations in the wrong direction.
In fact, while many did lend their votes to non-ideal parties, this was contractual not merely tactical. In 2019, reluctant votes for the Conservatives were not just votes against challenger parties, but votes in return for a specific outcome.
In No Turning Back, Onward’s major analysis of the post-2019 electorate, we find that one in five Conservative voters supported the party despite it not being their ideal choice. Why? Mostly to “get Brexit done”. A majority (56 per cent) of these “Contract Conservatives” said they were voting to deliver Brexit, compared to 34 per cent of other Tory voters.
Contract Conservatives were more likely to have backed Leaving the European Union in 2016 (87 per cent) compared to other Conservative voters (74 per cent). In a sign of their antipathy to Jeremy Corbyn, they were also three times as likely as other Conservatives to say that they were voting to stop a party they disliked from winning.
But their political allegiances are febrile and there is reason to believe this group are not yet secured. 64 per cent said that they would ideally support the Brexit Party – and 34 per cent had voted UKIP in either 2015 or 2017.
Nor were Contract Conservatives too enthusiastic about the Conservative Party itself: only a quarter (25 per cent) voted for the party because they thought the Conservatives offered the best policies or had the leader who would be the best Prime Minister – compared to 57 per cent of the rest of the Conservative coalition.
But irrespective of their motivations, the Conservatives’ new voters have remarkably similar values to those already loyal to conservatism. In fact, they almost exactly overlap with other Conservative voters across both the economic and social dimensions. Both groups want politicians to be tough on crime and immigration and to invest in and support communities and local economies.
They are not particularly small-state or free-market: a majority support tax rises to pay for the NHS and boost public spending. They want a Government that regulates more rather than less and pushes businesses to do more to retrain workers in this country rather than bring in labour from abroad.
In the areas that they differ, these voters are dragging the party left on economics and right on culture – away from the coalition that David Cameron built. Contract Conservatives are more in favour of cutting the foreign aid budget than other Tory voters and more likely to think that immigration has made the country worse overall.
They are slightly more egalitarian and less meritocratic: 70 per cent think there are always opportunities in this country if you’re willing to work hard, compared to 83 per cent of other Conservatives. Both groups strongly believe that, as a society, we should encourage people to take more responsibility for themselves, but Contract Conservatives are less likely to think that unemployment benefits are too high (63 per cent, compared to 70 per cent of other conservatives).
The electoral impact of this cannot be overstated. This group of contract voters is roughly equal to 3.2 million people. Without these electors, the Conservative national vote share would have been 33 per cent in 2019, rather than 45 per cent, and their majority would have halved from 80 to 42.
Because millions of people voted Tory despite the Conservatives not being their ideal choice, the Party managed to net an extra 19 seats. These include Blyth Valley, Sedgefield (Tony Blair’s old seat), Great Grimsby and Wakefield. Overall, contract voting was decisive enough to alter the result in 63 constituencies – many in the Conservatives’ favour and with the largest swings in constituencies that had the highest support for Leaving the EU. In Bassetlaw and Great Grimsby around seven in 10 people voted for Brexit. Contract voting boosted the Conservatives by an extra 15 per cent in both of these places.
But this exposes the vulnerability of the 2019 Conservative coalition. If, in four years’ time, these contract voters feel let down or the Government has failed to deliver for them, then many of the iconic Conservative gains could fall back to Labour. The margin is very thin. As little as a 4.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour would be enough to generate a hung Parliament in 2024.
Given the link between the 2016 referendum result and the 2019 Conservative landslide, it is essential that the Government gets Brexit done. But that begs the question: What will replace Brexit as the central motivation for Contract Conservatives to keep voting Tory? If Brexit is resolved, why vote Conservative?
The Spending Review last week demonstrated that the Chancellor sees public services investment and levelling up as the two key policies that can fill the gap. He is right to focus his firepower there. Ultimately voters wanted to “get Brexit done” in order to invest in the NHS or boost regional growth, not just to leave the EU.
The challenge for the next three years is to show them that the Government has a plan for doing so after we leave. The Government’s increased NHS investment and new National Infrastructure Bank – something Onward called for – are important downpayments on that message.
The critical point is that the Conservatives cannot assume that the majority is safe. In fact, the softness of the vote and the changing nature of the electorate means it looks superficially large and could easily be lost. This means that the party has no option but to deliver on its promises, to level up left-behind places, and in doing so consolidate a new coalition that can endure. There must be no turning back.
Jude D’Alesio, aged 19, is one of the youngest school governors in Britain, and is a Law student at the University of Bristol.
When I listen to my grandparents complain relentlessly about the lockdown, I cannot help but feel slightly frustrated. Frustrated, because I have sacrificed a term at university to go into lockdown to save them from this virus!
The government’s imposition of a lockdown in the UK was aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, principally the elderly. There is no doubt that this was the correct decision, and Prof Neil Ferguson stated that lockdown should have been imposed earlier.
Over 95 per cent of coronavirus deaths have occurred in those older than 60, and 50 per cent of all deaths have occurred in those over 80 according to the WHO. It is only right, therefore, that we seek to protect the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society, from the disease, and the country is certainly united in this goal.
It is undeniable, however, that lockdown has taken a significant toll on the younger generation, of which I am a part. In higher education, lectures have gone digital, and some teaching missed altogether. This especially disadvantages final year students, many of whom will be embarking on their careers with significant gaps in their knowledge, particularly critical in professions like medicine.
There is also the immense damage caused to secondary and further education by the lockdown. At least a whole term of work missed will prove acute in those at crucial points in their education, namely GCSE’s and A levels.
Being robbed of the chance to outperform your predicted grades after months of hard work will deny many the chance to attend the best universities. This can only be negative, as we want our younger generations to receive the best education possible to enable them to pursue their ambitions.
Families with the lowest incomes will be hit hardest by the effects of distance learning; not being able to effectively participate in online classes due to a lack of technology will inevitably create skills gaps among the poorest in our society.
For all these reasons, the next Budget should be focused on, and most beneficial for, young people: their education, their skills, their opportunities.
In many ways, the pandemic has breathed fresh unity into our country as we are united in fighting the virus. It seems fair, therefore, that everyone should in some way bear the cost of the current recession. However, as the lockdown came at the cost of young people, there are undoubtedly changes benefiting young people which can be implemented in the next Budget.
Scrapping the triple lock is a great start. The triple lock, implemented by the Cameron government, increases pensions in accordance with the Retail Price Index, average earnings or 2.5per cent, whichever proves highest. This could enable savings of £8bn a year, according to a leaked Treasury document.
The current main rate of corporation tax, sitting at 19 per cent, has been stagnant since 2017. Such desperate times surely call for a cut in the rate, in line with the government’s aim to make us more competitive post-Brexit. Additionally, the government’s plan to merge the Foreign Office with DFID, whether the correct decision or not, will undoubtedly produce savings.
The proceeds of growth, merely the beginning of a range of reforms, should be reinvested heavily in young people’s education and opportunities to redress the balance caused by coronavirus. This must include the £1bn ‘catch-up’ plan to enable school children to bridge the gap left by lost teaching. However, amounting to only £80 per student (IFS), further funding once coronavirus passes should be on the cards.
This is, of course, only a starting point, and many more steps must be taken to alleviate the portentous educational, financial and social burdens which have overwhelmed my generation. But, there have been clear losers during this pandemic and the next Budget should recognise as such.
Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association.
Listening to a dedicated and well tuned-in Party activist the other day, I was struck by something he said. Despite his activity, he had barely heard of the National Convention and its officers, let alone what they did. It is highly probable that many of you reading this now would be in the same position. That, to me, signals a problem.
So what is happening? The National Convention is made up of all the association chairmen and other area, regional and CWO officers across the country. Every year they get to elect a chairman, president and three vice presidents. These people sit on the Party board and can have a significant impact on the Party. But still barely half of the electorate participates in the election. This is local association chairmen remember, not disinterested voters. So why is this?
In my view this is down to a fundamental disconnect between the officers and the voluntary Party. Tom Spiller (former president) provided a very powerful insight recently when he said that it did not really know what it is for. We need to be clear about what the National Convention represents and that is why I am standing.
Politics for me has always been about democracy from the grassroots up. It is so important we empower our members so they are enthused to help us build a better future for our local communities. It was, after all, the idea behind David Cameron’s Big Society.
I am standing on a platform calling for empowerment, transparency, accountability and democracy. Not for its own sake, but because this allows greater engagement by all and will deliver a political offering that is even more attractive to the public. Look at what was delivered last December when we were in tune with people. The breakthrough in the Red Wall seats was because we were in touch with what voters wanted. We connected.
The Party needs to provide more engagement for its members. When it does it succeeds. We saw this in action last year when we had an unusual opportunity for the members to choose the next Prime Minister of the UK. The Party managed a fantastic nationwide leadership contest with packed out hustings held around the country. That was a credit to Andrew Sharpe and CCHQ. It was thanks to the two excellent candidates that we had an intelligent and respectful debate that really engaged the members and opened up genuine discussion. This demonstrates what can be achieved when the members are involved. I wonder why we can’t do similar for the National Convention? With this in mind I will host a zoom Q&A for those interested.
I want to serve on the board of the National Convention because I believe in this Party; it runs through my very veins. We have so many talented activists and I am not sure we always use them to their best advantage. I believe every process should be measured in terms of whether it is empowering, accountable, democratic and transparent for members and associations.
Certain processes do need to change and be improved. We should have consultation periods from the ground up through associations to seek their ideas. Ultimately the board has to decide – we can’t function by committee, but we need to be open to ideas.
There are several CCHQ committees that need to be opened up to have a two-way conversation. I would like to see members of these committees reporting to the regions. Why not have the regions voting for their own representatives on these committees, which would mean there is a ready made communication channel?
I do not want to fix what is not broken and I know the team under Sharpe’s leadership have been making improvements where they can but much more needs to be done. If we fail to make this change then that disconnect will impact on our ability to deliver for our new and old voters. That is why I want to play my part to ensure that does not happen. So if you have a vote, please use it and please vote for me.
Michael Dugher is CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). This is a sponsored post by the BGC.
Regular readers of ConservativeHome may be surprised, even aghast, to see a former Labour MP, Shadow Secretary of State and adviser to Gordon Brown, writing in this forum. Corbynites, or the dregs of what is left of that calamitous project, will be less surprised, but certainly some of my former comrades on the Labour benches might raise an eyebrow too. But these are not normal times.
The Covid pandemic represents an unprecedented challenge for governments across the world. The human cost has been staggering, tragic and truly heartbreaking, with more than 18 million infected and 700,000 deaths worldwide.
The financial cost is still being calculated, but will likely have a bearing on the world’s economies for years to come.
To give the Government credit, its initial response to the economic challenges posed by Covid-19 was sure footed. The rescue package – from the furlough scheme to business rates support – was commensurate to the scale of the challenge. Not since the creation of the welfare state have we seen such an interventionist government – and a Conservative one at that. As I say, these are not normal times.
More recently, though, the Government has made a series of missteps that have begun to raise concerns in business circles like the one I represent now.
The latest example was the decision last week, announced at the last minute by the Prime Minister, to delay the piloting of certain live sport with attendances, plus reopening of some indoor entertainment venues such as casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks that were due to open on August 1.
As someone who has worked at the heart of government, I know all too well that governing is a delicate balancing act, not least during a global pandemic that none of us have ever experienced. But there are certain core principles that should always inform government action – clarity and consistency. Both are in short supply.
Messages like “go on holiday”, “get back to work” and “eat out” have tangoed clumsily with parallel appeals to “avoid unnecessary travel”, “stay at home” and even “lose weight”.
The u-turn on casinos reopening is the latest example. The decision was all the more perplexing given that they had gone to extraordinary lengths and invested millions of pounds to ensure their venues were Covid-secure, with strict social distancing measures, hygiene protocols and sophisticated track and trace systems in place at venues across England.
The Government’s most senior health officials gave just over 100 casinos the green light, long after bingo halls and amusement arcades, never mind restaurants and 47,000 pubs, after their visit to a casino in London. The decision to reopen was announced by the Prime Minister on July 17.
The sense of relief was palpable across the industry. Staff, fearful of redundancy, were looking forward to returning to work for the first time in over four months and managers readied to give their businesses a go, even in the toughest of circumstances. Then, less than 12 hours before they were due to open their doors, England’s casinos were told they must remain shuttered in order to keep the virus under control.
We fully understand the Government’s determination to control the “R” infection rate, which is rising in parts of England. But public health officials and the Government’s scientific advisers have already confirmed that casinos pose what they described as a “negligible” risk to health, given their substantial investment in Covid safety protocols, and their relatively small number. What happened to “following the scientific advice?”
And a reminder again: there are 110 casinos in England, compared to 47,600 pubs. There are nearly nine times as many Wetherspoons alone as there are casinos.
In recent weeks, we have seen localised Covid spikes in parts of the North West of England and before that in Leicester. The right response was a localised lockdown, not a national shutdown. If there is a spike in Greater Manchester, why is it ok for pubs and restaurants to remain open in Greater Manchester but a casino in Bristol, where levels of Covid are low, must close?
In his July 17 statement, the Prime Minister ruled out the need for such a blanket national lockdown. Instead, the Government would control outbreaks of the virus through “targeted, local action.” By denying casinos the right to reopen, not for the first time, the Government is at odds with its own policy.
This illogical and inconsistent ruling will have a damaging – perhaps permanent – impact on casinos and the thousands of staff they employ. It couldn’t come at a worse time for an industry that is grappling with mounting and unsustainable costs.
A sector that contributes £140 million to the tourist economy and £300 million in taxes now stands on a cliff edge because of the Government’s decision to taper furlough payments and force employers to pay National Insurance and pension contributions, even though they remain closed. Some businesses may not survive. Around 6,000 workers – half of all casino industry jobs in England – are facing the dole.
While ministers are rightly focused on the health of the nation, no government can lose sight of the health economy. Remember when David Cameron and George Osborne used to say “a strong NHS depends on a strong economy?” The R infection rate has to be balanced against the two other Rs – recovery versus recession.
The consequences of getting this wrong are being felt in businesses across the country – stuck in a Covid no man’s land, forced to remain shuttered while bearing the everyday costs of business. What’s worse, it’s costing the Treasury around £5 million a week to keep casinos closed and their workers at home, when they could be raking in £5 million in much needed tax revenues.
Earlier this week, the decision to keep casinos closed was criticised by both Ed Miliband in the Guardian and Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. I know these are not normal times, but seemingly uniting Miliband and Littlejohn in one common purpose is taking things too far.
Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.
There is a certain irony in Mahatma Gandhi being the dominant face of India’s currency. There was talk from the moment of independence of Gandhi replacing the image of the king on the money of the new Republic, though it took some decades for that plan to come to fruition.
A special commemorative 100 rupee note was produced as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, but it was only during this era of India’s post-liberalisation boom after 1996 that the austere home-spun Mahatma became routinely the image and watermark of modern India’s new high-security banknotes. It is still only Gandhi who appears on Indian banknotes, reflecting both his role as the spiritual father of the nation, and the lack of consensus whenever additional figures have been proposed.
Now Gandhi may be set to achieve an unusual double, following reports that the Royal Mint proposes to feature him on British currency too. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is supporting a call to recognise ethnic minority contributions in those celebrated on our currency.
Sunak wrote to the Royal Mint that “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom. For generations, ethnic minority groups have fought and died for this country we have built together; taught our children, nursed the sick, cared for the elderly; and through their enterprising spirit have started some of our most exciting and dynamic businesses, creating jobs and driving growth”, in requesting that they bring forward proposals to reflect this on coinage.
The Chancellor’s intervention was a response to the “We Built Britain Too” campaign, coordinated by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi and Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, of which I am a supporter. The campaign had hoped to persuade the Bank of England to feature the first ethnic minority Briton on a banknote.
Despite broad cross-partisan political support across right, left and centre, the Bank of England took a perfunctory and dismissive response to the campaign. The Bank’s remit includes “recognising the diversity of British society” in its choices, but it has considered this primarily through the lens of balancing artists and writers with engineers and scientists.
It seems entirely possible that we will have reached the post-cash society before Britain’s ethnic diversity enters onto the Bank of England’s radar. The support of the Chancellor and the Royal Mint will make a crucial difference to this happening on coins first.
It is not quite the case that no ethnic minority face has ever featured on British coinage. For example, the first black British army officer Walter Tull featured on a special £5 coin, part of a limited edition first world war centenary set in sterling silver and 22 carat gold, for the First World War Centenary.
But no ethnic minority Briton has featured on legal tender, or on the notes or coins that any of us might spend at the shops. The campaign is not proposing any specific individual – wanting to see a process of public engagement and debate – but suggestions including Noor Inayat Khan, Mary Seacole and black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, the first black British voter in the 1774 general election, have been suggested.
Gandhi does not quite fit the bill for the campaign’s aim of recognising ethnic minority Britons. Though he did not live almost of his eight decades of life as among the king’s subjects, though the central mission of his life was that this should cease to be the case. He saw India become independent, and the trauma of Partition, but was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu supporter of the far right RSS within six months.
To the British public, Gandhi is a famous name, one of the great figures who shaped the 20th century and of very few names that would mean at least something to most people. Standing alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as British leaders are a handful of international figures: Hitler and Stalin as the villains of the last century, while Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are cast as its secular saints. No other figure from the end of Empire – including Nehru in India, or any other figure from Ireland, Asia or Africa – has any similar level of public recognition.
So Gandhi’s iconic image is claimed for many causes. An image of integrity, to contrast with the politicians of our time; an image of simplicity and sustainability, perhaps now to be seized by environmentalists; an image of activism, “to be the change you want to be in the world” used for myriad causes.
A simplistic deification of Gandhi risks losing the complexity of the man and his times. He was a pacifist, who helped Britain to recruit Indians in the First World War as a strategy to earn Dominion status, and whose philosophy could drive the British from India but lacked answers to address the menace of Hitler and the Holocaust in WWII.
His arguments with Nehru over India’s post-Independence path illustrates how part of Gandhi’s appeal as an icon in the West can reflect a problematic romanticisation of Indian poverty. Gandhi was a crusader against caste and for India’s untouchables, and developed his strategies in campaigning for Indian rights in South Africa, but held dismissive prejudices against the black Africans, as his leading biographer Ramachandra Guha has set out. “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology”, as Patrick French wrote in his review of Guha’s Gandhi before India.
So Gandhi too has been challenged by anti-racist campaigners. We should recognise that there are no flawless heroes. The school curriculum should interrogate every controversy, so that we understand them, warts and all. Yet we can not set standards for the recognition of past achievements that not even Churchill or Gladstone, Gandhi or Mandela can attain, or we would surely have no statues at all.
That Gandhi’s statue now stands in Parliament Square – joining the statesmen of previous ages, along with the suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett – is modern Britain’s way of acknowledging the justice of Gandhi’s and India’s cause. It places his campaign against British rule as part of the story of British democracy, whose traditions and arguments were used by Indian Nationalists to tell the British that it was time to go.
The statue was welcomed across the British party spectrum, though it was David Cameron and Sajid Javid who unveiled it. The proposal to feature Gandhi on coinage may also be considered an important gesture of Global Britain’s commitments to the Commonwealth – and the warmth of its bilateral relationship with a rising India today – but this is a different, parallel proposition to the case to recognise British ethnic minority contributions.
This timely change would be one simple response to the growing appetite to deepen the public understanding of the history of race in Britain, and how that has shaped the country that we are today. Most people don’t want that to turn into a culture war over the history of our country. If the focus is almost entirely on who might be removed, we risk neglecting to ask contributions we want to recognise better.
This constructive campaign to reflect significant ethnic minority contributions to British history on national symbols, like coins, symbolises how our generation can contribute to broadening Britain’s national story in an inclusive way. Zaidi says her hope is that “it helps build cohesion, inspires young people and unites us as a nation that we all have an equal stake and contribution in society.
Having as open as possible a process of public debate about the potential candidates would maximise the educational value of this positive, symbolic change.