Iain Dale: Starmer’s grip on Labour is already loosening. Defeat in Hartlepool would be a disaster for him.

9 Apr

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

I suppose we should beware of polls in by-elections, but Conservatives in Hartlepool will have been buoyed by a Panelbase poll showing a seven-point Conservative lead.

Only three times in history has a governing party won a seat from an opposition party in a by-election. Trudi Harrison was the last to do it when she won Copeland from Labour a few years ago.

A Tory win here could have huge consequences for Keir Starmer. There’s always been a suspicion in Labour circles that he isn’t the man to breach the Red Wall and win seats back in the north and the midlands. If Labour was to lose Hartlepool, which in many senses is emblematic of Labour’s issues, his critics will feel vindicated.

Although he has a nominal majority on Labour’s National Executive Committee, his grip is loosening. Take what has happened in Liverpool. Starmer and his chief of staff Jenny Chapman wanted Jacqui Smith to chair the investigation into the Liverpool Labour Party. The NEC thought she was too factionally on the right (translation: Blairite) and vetoed it, giving the job instead to former MP David Hanson.

Strong Labour leaders get their own way. The fact that Starmer didn’t, shows a political weakness which hasn’t been evident up until recently. This really is a space to watch.

– – – – – – – – –

On Wednesday I went into London by train for the first time since the middle of December. Over the last five weeks I’ve been driving in, but I was left with no choice but to go by train because of the closure of the M25.

It was interesting to note that in the immortal words of Theresa May, nothing has changed. There are if anything fewer cars parked in the car park at Tonbridge station, and I was more or less alone on the train. SouthEastern have also cut trains from the schedule, meaning that if I travel home by train after my LBC show, I don’t arrive home until 11.30pm.

If I drive, I get home by 11pm. So guess what, I’ll be continuing to drive in.

– – – – – – – – –

I’m sure most of you have been reading the Daily Mail serialisation of Alan Duncan’s diaries. Many of you will have got the impression that the whole book is just one giant bitching session, with insults to his colleagues littering every page.

I am interviewing him tonight (or last night, if you’re reading this on Friday) for an hour, so I have been reading the whole manuscript over the last 24 hours. I’m 200 pages in and I can tell you that the serialisation is a grossly unfair representation of the book. It’s much more thoughtful and nuanced than the Daily Mail would have you believe.

I suspect the serial will have put many loyalist Conservatives off buying it at all. That would be wrong. It covers the four years from 2016-20 and is of course dominated by Brexit. However, it’s Alan’s insights into the role of a foreign office minister which I think provide many of the highlights of the book. I won’t give away the details here, but safe to say I am enjoying it immensely.

Of course, the first thing I did was look in the index to see if I got a mention. I did. Two. I rather gingerly turned to the pages in question and was relieved I had been spared a monstering. The second mention was a rather amusing text exchange we had after I had published a diary entry of mine from 2002 where I related something I observed during a lunch with Alan. Basically, he was eyeing up the waiters. But you’ll have to buy the book to find out more… 😊.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve written a full tribute to CheryI Gillan on my website, and Paul Goodman wrote a terrific tribute to her on ConHome too, but I wanted to just say a brief word in this column as well.

I first met Cheryl in the mid 1980s when she interviewed me to be a member of the Bow Group, back in the days when it was highly respected. They didn’t accept any old rif-raff! Then after she was elected we met occasionally, but it was in 2005 that our friendship blossomed.

Cheryl was on David Davis’s Shadow Home Affairs team and a key supporter of his in the leadership contest. She was what one call a real trooper. There were a few big egos in that team and she would delight in puncturing them. She was happy to accept any task for the team no matter how menial. I was David’s chief of staff and she would pop down to my office with increasing regularity to check how it was all going and ask what she could do to help.

As time went on, and I was enjoying the job less and less, she became my mother confessor. If it hadn’t been for her I might not have lasted the course.

She was born in Llandaff, Cardiff and remained intensely proud of her Welsh heritage. She may have had a quintessentially English voice, but how honoured she was when David Cameron asked her to be Secretary of State for Wales after the 2010 election. She rolled up her sleeves and was instrumental in backing Matt Lane, the then Director of the Conservative Party in Wales, in his plans to revive Tory fortunes there. And boy were they successful.

She didn’t have an easy time in the job at first, with the Welsh media and the Labour Party revelling in pointing out that she represented an English constituency. But she won people round with the warmth of her character and personality, and her intrinsic sense of duty and calm perseverance.

So it was with a great deal of upset that she learned in 2012 that she was being sacked, in favour of her junior minister, David Jones. She was devastated. It had been a job she had loved.

I last saw Cheryl over dinner in the Members’ Dining Room in the House of Commons in the autumn of 2019, six months or so after her husband Jack had died. During the meal various Conservative and Labour MPs came over to pay court to Cheryl. She was liked and respected across the House. We had a right old gossip, but in a nice way. She didn’t like the cruel side of political gossip, but loved to be in the know on who was on the way up or down and who was misbehaving.

Cheryl was a very important figure in encouraging more women to stand as MPs and I’ve lost count of the number of female MPs who I have seen on Twitter say how important she was in giving them advice and guidance when they were first elected.

She really is going to be missed by so many of us. A truly great lady, who deserves all the kind words that have been said about her this week.

Matt Kilcoyne: Vaccine certification is an idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market

31 Mar

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

Since vaccines started being approved by British regulators at the very end of last year, the country has undergone a psychological transformation unlike any in my lifetime.

From fear of an unending cycle of lockdowns and limited freedoms came news from one Kate Bingham. Her work gave purpose to the privations that were coming, helped all of us that kept faith that there would be end to this disease by human ingenuity and within time to mean our actions to save lives, avoid economic scarring and adaption to a non-normal economic situation that would then have to be readjusted to soon after at even further cost too.

Given the mortality rates we’ve seen across the world and even here with extensive curtailment of our ancient liberties, it is reasonable to say the number of lives Bingham has saved alone will number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands and given greater evidence to the rightness of the choice to retain the jobs held in stasis by Bank of England furlough scheme.

These people and jobs saved through her tight and spread-bet pre-purchase agreements and the use of Britain’s comparative advantage in legal agreements, trade credit and other forward payment mechanism, and experience dealing with and preparing for rogue states that shut down exports or expropriate private property mean I fully back calls for Bingham to be elevated to a Duchess should it please Her Majesty.

The change in the psyche and morale of the British people her decisions enabled means that Cabinet can take positive decisions of true gravitas in a time of true national and international crisis. This requires careful and assured action. It might require prompt, wide impacting, and sensitive personal and national topics.

It could, let’s say for the sake of argument, include things like vaccination certificates for Covid. The idea hits all the right buttons to rile everyone in such divergent ways that they’ll talk past one another and fail to see the issues that are being discussed, why, and what is actually being proposed.

The first thing to say is that you personally have a right to full knowledge of medical data and records that are kept on you, assuming you are of appropriate age and sound mind. The governments within the UK have a near monopoly of service provision for healthcare save for all the private GPs that actually have a local duty of care to you to hold and maintain your personal records. They also can, via their contracts of supply and commissioning of care of other services with the NHS and associated parts, pass data onto third parties with your consent.

The lack of a series of principles over the free use of data between consenting individuals and third parties, and the lack of direction even by government towards the suitability or otherwise, never mind the likely legal consequences of using the data of vaccine take up to determine suitability of access to new or existing roles.

In the space provided by a lack of determination in good time, trade associations burned by huge restrictions announced against their members’ interests and often provided with evidence after the event with the scope and scale of restrictions decided by committees rather than parliament in the primary role.

All action must now and in future, and should’ve been the case throughout the pandemic, be based upon scientifically testable hypotheses, all the reasoning deduced and relied upon and all assumptions set out.

It is telling of a lack of trust between governed and government that pubs do not trust the word of a party that prides itself as being one of business to promote policies as we get back to the business of living that would enable them as far as possible now they’ve jabbed enough arms to reduce risk of reinfection and mortality.

Laws from now should be freedom-oriented to remind Tory voters that actively value the ability to enjoy the things that make life worth living they will be able to enjoy them. Around 20 per cent of publicans say they want to access punters and staff for proof of vaccines to ensure their, their staff and all of their families’ health.

The Government’s role here is to ensure that individuals have access to the ability to consent to their records being displayed by an accredited source (whether just their GP signing and by word of their bond confirming, or a company that facilitates access that across multiple GPs in a usable format for other firms without contravening data protection rules).

We know well the issue of mission creep with ID cards a totemic Tory issue after the defeat of Tony Blair’s flagship policy and David Davis’ whole career centred around civil liberties. But this is a facilitation not a coercion or anything mandated. Even if Blair is a principle agent of the campaign to promote their use — and I share concerns about the number of meetings he has had with serious ministers and civil servants on the topic given a the financial gain any company could get from providing either national or international accreditation of such valuable information on behalf of an individual. And elsewhere yellow fever and rabies certificates are in use regularly when crossing borders. Nigeria could teach us a thing or two about digital storage and transfer of said data and forgeries still emerging.

Government can signal intent on rejection of mandate by declaring it will not check status upon leaving the country or ahead of access to existing NHS services. The areas where people will encounter officialdom most keenly.

Liberalism demands freedoms to associate and self organise, and Conservativism demands the liberties of the individual by upheld by institutions acting in their care. Vaccine certification is actually a simple idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market. Let’s let them, and keep an eye on vested interests with cosy relationships benefiting friends for sure. But let’s enable anything that let’s us live our lives again.

Andrew Rosindell: How close we came to waking up in the backstop

8 Jan

Andrew Rosindell is the MP for Romford.

How close we came to waking up on January 1 trapped in the backstop. That misery would have been quickly overtaken by the new national lockdown announced on Monday night. But this would in no way have diminished in the longer-term the ramifications of being trapped in a customs union with no way out.

To the true Brexiteers, the sensible outcome to the Brexit process was always a Canada-style free trade agreement which took back control of our laws, money, borders and waters, while still allowing both the UK and the EU to trade together as equal partners on mutually-beneficial terms.

Unfortunately the EU spent the next few years in a desperate and arrogant attempt to punish our nation for the Brexit vote. It tried to trap our nation in a customs union, demanded tens of billions in exit fees, demanded a continuing role for its courts in UK affairs and made blood-curdling threats of economic punishment.

In a way it showed self-awareness. Because it is only with threats and traps – much in the fashion of the Chinese Communist regime (with whom the EU is now engaging in a nauseating romance) – does EU membership become preferable to the freedom of being a sovereign, independent nation.

All told, the EU generally appeared aghast at the affirmations by the British people of their democratic right to decide their future. To me this demonstrated that the only way out was a completely clean break: to walk away, for good if necessary.

It is why I and my Spartan colleagues voted on three separate occasions against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. If we hadn’t held out against the pleas of our colleagues, from both the Remain and Brexit wings of the party, then we would have woken up on New Year’s Day trapped in the backstop. What should have been a moment of restored sovereignty would simply be a new future paralysed by the EU’s protectionist trading bloc.

The Prime Minister voted for that deal, at the third attempt. I believe he feared for Brexit if the deal wasn’t passed. Fortunately for him, the Spartans gave Brexit a chance. And once Boris was at the reigns he was always ready to walk away. He realised no deal really is better than a bad deal.

With this strategy he was able to bring before the House of Commons an agreement which facilitates free trade with zero quotas and tariffs, without the UK being part of the Single Market or Customs Union and with no control over us by the European Court of Justice.

It will give us the freedom to chart our own course. It will mean the establishment of freeports and new enterprise zones to turbocharge the regions. It means we can change our VAT policy, for example on home insulation products as my friend and colleague John Redwood has noted.

It means we can revitalise nationally important industries with targeted support, such as shipbuilding. It means we can sign free trade deals with our closest friends and allies in the Commonwealth, and improve economic ties with some of the fastest growing economies.

Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has already negotiated trade deals with 61 countries, including one deal, the UK-Japan FTA which goes beyond the existing EU-Japan agreement, particularly on data and digital matters. The backstop would have precluded much of this.

The new agreement with the EU is not perfect. There are flaws in the deal. The transition period for fisheries is too long, the Northern Ireland protocol threatens to divide our country and I am nervous of the separate deal on Gibraltar, given Spain’s record.

Finally, I was disappointed that our British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies did not seem to be fully included. I also share David Davis’s comments on this website, where he highlights how far ahead of the EU we are in many areas of regulation, particularly animal welfare, but also on energy and labour law. Any arbitration panel which rules on deviations from the “level playing field” must recognise that there is no “level playing field” at present. It is the EU undercutting the UK in many ways.

There are problems, then. However, I and my colleagues have come to the conclusion that this is still a good agreement: it restores our sovereignty, avoids temporary disruption of ‘no deal’ and avoids the acrimony which would define UK-EU relations going forward if no agreement had been reached.

There is nothing in the agreement which compromises our sovereignty in the manner of the backstop. Yet where there are flaws, there are fights still to be had. I have demonstrated that I am ready for these battles, as have my fellow Spartans.

For now, let’s celebrate the restoration of sovereignty to these islands and move onto the next challenge: getting the country vaccinated, lifting these Covid-19 restrictions, and revving up the UK economy for a new, better, more prosperous and, I hope, a more united decade.

Robert Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 5) Steve Baker

3 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 14 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Steve Baker

A prominent Eurosceptic in a seat which narrowly voted to remain, Baker’s majority has fallen during recent elections. From a high of 28.9 per cent in 2015, it dropped to 7.7 per cent in 2019. But the verve with which he has pursued his cause has not eased, and he completed his second tenure as chairman of the European Research Group in February.

Baker previously held a junior ministerial position in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) but resigned shortly after David Davis stepped down as Secretary of State.

During the Conservative leadership contest he briefly considered running and received some positive press, but ultimately threw his weight behind Boris Johnson. When offered the opportunity to return to DExEU as part of the Johnson government, he turned it down.

The backbenches suit him well, and he has used his prominent position to drive support for Johnson’s deal. An influential voice and well respected, Baker is highly principled, putting his beliefs ahead of short-term career opportunism. But his singular mission has failed to win over many of his constituents. He also needs to find a way to stay relevant as we move to the lengthy process of renegotiating our place in the world.

He balances his tweets between popular sentiment and nuanced discussions. He’ll certainly have plenty to discuss in the coming years, but it is uncertain whether he and other prominent Eurosceptic backbenchers will continue to wield the same clout. But given our unprecedented opportunity to reshape our role on the global stage, there will be plenty of time to craft a positive, unifying message.