- Rishi Sunak’s favourability rating is down from 81.5 per cent to 81.1 per cent – in other words, by so infinitesimal a margin as to make no difference. In other polls, his soaring rating would be driven by the subsidies that the Treasury is paying out. In this one, his resistance to lockdowns will be a significant contributor to his popularity.
- Boris Johnson was marginally in negative territory last month (-10 per cent) and marginally in positive terroritory this month (13 per cent). We can think of no reason why, given the panel’s decision to mark him down, the late September finding should have been in the red and the October one in the black (or vice-versa had it been case).
- Matt Hancock slides a bit further into the minus ratings, Gavin Williamson a bit back towards the plus ones. Liz Truss is up a little and Priti Patel by more, having had a sticky summer over the channel crossings. All in all, it’s much of a muchness – with Douglas Ross down by about 25 points, now that his Party Conference coverage has faded.
- These ratings were taken at the end of last week, before the Prime Minister’s emergency press conference on Saturday. We suspect that it would have lowered his rating and that of the Cabinet; you may disagree; perhaps we will hold a snap survey later this week to find out…
With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted.
Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.
The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.
The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions.
Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:
- Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
- Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
- Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
- The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)
Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.
Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:
- Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
- Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)
Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:
- Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
- Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
- Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.
There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:
- Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
- Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
- Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
- Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).
Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.
- Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
- Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
- Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
- George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.
Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.
Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
Remember the days when London’s transport network led the world? It wasn’t that long ago. Look back to before Sadiq Khan and you see what we used to be capable of. When Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London, we signed off Crossrail 1. We started planning Crossrail 2. We got Boris bikes. We rolled the Overground out to more areas than ever. And we had a congestion charge that raised money without being extreme.
How times have changed. Now we’ve got a Mayor who spent four years managing Transport for London so inefficiently that he had to be bailed out by the government. He let TfL debt rise to a historic £13 billion. He hiked the congestion charge to £15 and extended it to seven days a week. He came into office with Crossrail on time and on budget, but managed to delay it and increase its cost. And he has allowed countless bridges to close, turning journeys across the river into Homeric odysseys, as our former Mayor might have said. These days the only way our transport system leads the world is in headlines about how London’s bridges are falling down.
It’s incredibly disappointing. Forget about the rest of the world — our transport system is what makes this city possible. It’s how businesses get around but it’s also how we see family and friends. That’s why I believe Londoners have the right to an efficient transport system. And I believe it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to deliver it. So I can’t understand why Sadiq Khan has let our transport network fall into its current state.
I don’t buy the narrative that failure is inevitable. After all, it’s not like we’ve seen these transport failures in other parts of the country. Far from it. Conservative mayors like Andy Street and Ben Houchen are setting a great example for London, something our Mayor should take note of.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, is pioneering a Metro system and opening new stations in Coventry and Wolverhampton. Ben Houchen, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, saved the local airport from closure and helped bring new investment into the region. They are doing exactly what Conservative mayors always do: working with business and government to deliver improvements in people’s lives.
Recently, Greg Hands and I had to take some of Khan’s job description into our own hands. When Hammersmith Bridge was closed yet again, Khan refused to take responsibility yet again. But the consequences were too great for us to ignore. Residents faced three-hour bus rides just to get across the river. Emergency services struggled to respond to call-outs. Businesses were reporting that trade was down between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.
So together, Greg and I asked the government to intervene and take over Hammersmith Bridge. And we are hugely grateful that the government listened. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, bailed out Sadiq Khan by taking over the bridge and funding the repairs.
But even though Grant Shapps did the right thing, it should never have come to this. As the Mayor of London, I’ll make it my priority to get TfL’s finances back in order. I’ll cut waste, end inflated executive pay, and provide the leadership TfL needs. That way, Londoners will have a transport network fit for a global city — and we can start to lead the world once again.
- In our first post-general election survey, no fewer than 18 Cabinet members had a satisfaction rating above 50 per cent. Now, only six do.
- Of those six, Liz Truss is a fraction higher than she was (61.7 per cent to 61.3 per cent), Dominic Raab up an insignificant point (66 per cent to 67 per cent), and Rishi Sunak up to the top of the table (79 per cent to 83 per cent).
- Jacob Rees-Mogg has risen by only two points, from 48 per cent to 50 per cent, but was then tenth from bottom. Now he is sixth from top. The difference between his change in score and change in place says everything you need to know about how Cabinet ratings, generally, have fallen.
- None more so than Boris Johnson. In that post-election table, he was top on 93 per cent. Now he is eighth from bottom on 25 per cent. That’s a drop from sixth from top on 57 per cent last month – a fall of almost half into the bottom third of the table.
- Robert Jenrick is still in negative territory, and Amanda Milling now joins him. Gavin Williamson may take comfort from the fact that his expected fall into negative territory isn’t record-breaking. In April last year, Theresa May reached -74 per cent.
- The members’ panel has good record as a guide to activist voting in leadership elections, so we’ve no doubt that this month’s survey is picking up unease about the Government’s competence, consistency and sense of direction.
Cllr Meirion Jenkins is the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources on Birmingham City Council.
One good thing that politicians might say about Covid, is that it will provide an excuse for so many failures that have little to do with Covid, or were destined to fail long before the virus appeared. And so it is with the Labour council in Birmingham. With the Birmingham Commonwealth Games now less than two years away, audit committee had classified the athletes’ village as a ‘red risk’. The athletes’ village is the only part of the games that is wholly within the control of Labour and, like most things that Labour’s Birmingham administration handles, it’s another shambles.
The village has now been cancelled. Goodness knows how much this will cost the taxpayers in Birmingham through unrecoverable sunk costs. According to the last business case, which increased the costs by £92 million, £226 million had already been spent by the end of March 2020 on this project. The council chose to fund the village itself with no central government intervention, using a complex finance arrangement and with a view to making a turn on the property development. It was just last December that Labour mysteriously rushed through the purchase of a National Express bus depot, refusing to allow scrutiny or call in of the decision on the grounds that it was urgent, despite paying eight times the budgeted price (£16 million) for the land.
Strangely, this ‘vital’ piece of land was not planned to be needed until the Games and, even then, was only to be used as a depot. It’s now not at all clear whether it will be needed at all. When the Games were taken on at short notice, the Conservative group suggested that the use of student accommodation would represent a lower risk and lower cost option, but the Labour leadership preferred the ‘legacy’ of the athletes’ village. This has now proved to be a disastrous decision and it will probably be student accommodation that meets a large part of the requirement.
The running of the council and lack of democratic accountability is as troubling as ever in Birmingham. Full council and the elected members have now reached the point of being an irrelevance. At the last council meeting (Teams of course), we found ourselves debating a proposal to spend £7,000 on joining a special interest group, whilst the real decisions involving millions of pounds are taken secretly behind closed doors with no scrutiny allowed. Lip service is paid to councillors but we are effectively prevented from doing the job that our residents elected us to do.
We have reached the stage where Labour cabinet members have said in full council “we don’t know what else the officers are hiding from us”. After the meeting when this comment was made and in a separate matter, it emerged that Birmingham had made a decision to pay £1,000 incentives to care homes to take patients regardless of their unknown Covid status. This decision was made as an ‘emergency decision’ and therefore outside of the usual scrutiny process. Senior members of the cabinet are also privately expressing frustration about lack of access to information and lack of consultation on important decisions. Rows break out in audit committee over the Labour administration’s continuing insistence on keeping audit committee in the dark.
I’m also not sure what I find the most remarkable: is it that the Leader of the council is not included in the group of officers that run the council, insofar as the exercise of emergency powers is concerned, or the fact that the Leader is happy to accept this situation? The emergency powers were designed to allow the council to take urgent actions and intended to last just hours or a few days at most. Four months on, we still don’t have the democratically elected leader of the council directly involved in the decisions deriving from the exercise of emergency powers.
I regret that many Labour members (with some notable exceptions) seem content with and motivated only by the status they associate with being a city councillor, but care little for the fact that the role is being diminished to the point of irrelevance. Attempts by me and my colleagues to persuade them to do the right thing and protect the role of the councillor fall on deaf ears. Whilst online meetings can be useful when there is no alternative in a crisis, they are in no way a substitute for proper meetings. Despite this, there is resistance from the Labour administration to re-convening even hybrid meetings, let alone a proper return to full accountability.
Labour Birmingham remains a fully paid up member of the anti-car club. Even when John Lewis decided to close their flagship store in the Bull Ring and we saw press reports about how the city-centre driving tax might have influenced this ( Clean air zone blamed for closure ), Labour stuck dogmatically to their plans to tax hard working motorists for bringing cars into the city. To whatever extent the plan influenced the closure, it is hard to deny that anti-business / anti-car policies will discourage investment. If the city centre is harder and less convenient to access, then this is bound to discourage shoppers and business people from visiting.
Labour seized on the Covid crisis to attempt to introduce a 20mph speed limit as a default throughout Birmingham. Fortunately, they couldn’t do this without the approval of the Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and their request was turned down. I wrote to him to object to Labour’s plans. Ironically, new reports show that one of the areas with worst congestion (and which is densely populated) is Birmingham’s ring road (e.g. Dartmouth Circus ). If Labour are successful in implementing their new tax under the justification of clean air, then they will be moving extra cars and pollution to some of the areas where air pollution is already worst.
Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Parliament has broken up for the summer, and there’s a bit of an end of term feeling around Westminster at the moment.
So what better time to look at how politicians are performing? Here’s Part One of my School Report on the Cabinet – what a great way to make a few new enemies…
Boris Johnson – Prime Minister
A tumultuous first year in power. It was supposed to be all about the bright new post-Brexit era, but everything was turned upside down by Coronavirus, and Johnson himself being hospitalised. Delegation is a great thing, and he did it very well as Mayor of London. Being Prime Minister is much more complicated. Number Ten is too centralised, and Cabinet Ministers need to be given their head if they are to prove themselves. I’m not alone in thinking Johnson hasn’t totally got over his near death experience, but the old Boris is showing signs of returning. There is a degree of Parliamentary unrest, but if he can get his domestic agenda back on track MPs will rally round. In short, did well in the winter term, but needs to concentrate more and give a lead to the class.
Rishi Sunak – Chancellor of the Exchequer
It’s easy to be popular when you’re dishing out the sweeties, and Sunak hasn’t put too many feet wrong since he because Chancellor in February. His business rescue package and furlough programme were effective, albeit with a few teething problems. Yet he has utterly failed to help the so-called ‘excluded three million’ – the self employed and company directors. These are natural Conservative voters, and they won’t forget how they have been ignored. Tipped to be the next Head Boy, but he mustn’t rest on his laurels. If he manages to revive the economy in double quick time, he will be unassailable. But then again, so was a previous Chancellor…
Dominic Raab – Foreign Secretary
A difficult start to the job, but has increasingly grown into it, and has started to display a more humble side to his character. When the Prime Minister was in hospital, he deputised in a very non-showy way, which drew praise from many of the Cabinet. His response to the problems in Hong Kong and China portray a Foreign Secretary who has begun to lose any sense of imposter syndrome.
Priti Patel – Home Secretary
Endured a difficult start to the job, and has suffered from some appalling misogynistic prejudice, and some racism too, not least from deluded Labour MPs. She’s come across as a gritty fighter, and knows how to find the party’s G spot. She suffers from being unable to project her bubbly, funny persona in the media. If she can conquer that, and increase her public visibility, she will become indispensable to the boss, who reportedly blows hot and cold about her.
Michael Gove – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
One of the government’s few transformational gamechangers, Gove’s job is to coordinate the Government’s Brexit and Coronavirus responses. No pressure, then. In recent weeks, he’s become more of a behind the scenes operator rather than front of house, and there are lingering suspicions that he’s tolerated rather than embraced by his line boss. But Johnson should remember, that if Gove is successful, the government in general will be successful.
Gavin Williamson – Secretary of State for Education
He was desperate to get back into the cabinet, but seemed an odd choice for this job. It’s one he’s never appeared comfortable in, and his media appearances have sometimes been a tad uncertain. Needs to get his head down and come to terms that this post is one of the best in government, and onein you can make real change and have a real impact.
Alok Sharma – Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Sharma’s niceness is an asset, but his promotion into one of the most important jobs in British politics is seen by many as not having worked. He’s very loyal to the Prime Minister and that loyalty has been repaid in spades but, given the economic recovery should be driven and encouraged by his department, he needs to be far clearer about what his industrial strategy is. Needs to do his homework on his media performances, which can often be sleep inducing.
Ben Wallace – Secretary of State for Defence
A long time Johnson ally, Wallace was tipped by many for the sack in the last reshuffle but was given a reprieve. Defence has largely been out of the headlines over the last year, but that’s about to change. Will Wallace seriously tolerate yet further cuts in the British Army, as is rumoured?
Matt Hancock – Secretary of State for Health & Social Care
Hancock has become one of the most well-known faces in government, largely due to Coronavirus. On top of the detail, tiggerish in his enthusiasm, his colleagues have come to respect him more than they perhaps ever thought they would. His frustration with the Health Service establishment has become plain for all to see.
Brandon Lewis – Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Given he’s one of the government’s most trusted performers, his appointment in the apparent backwater of the Northern Ireland Office came as a surprise to many. He inherited a tricky job given the popularity in the Province of his predecessor. He’s tasked with keeping the parties talking and implementing the Northern Ireland protocol. So far so good. He’s also been used more than might be expected doing the morning media rounds.
Amanda Milling – Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party
The post of Party Chairman used to rank number 5 in the hierarchy. Now it seems to be an afterthought. James Cleverly was neutered in the role, and Amanda Milling is largely anonymous. She has little public profile and most party members wouldn’t recognise her. Without upsetting the boss, she needs to up her profile and do it quickly.
Grant Shapps – Secretary of State for Transport
One of the surprise successes of the Cabinet. It’s the job he wanted, and he’s shown a sure-footed grasp of the different Transport policy nettles. In the Coronavirus press conferences he was by far the most confident and human performers. He’s also got the ability to say ‘I don’t know’ without losing face.
Conservative MP Twitter power rankings: the top 50
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.
Amongst the social media giants, Twitter is the primary battleground for political discourse. It’s also one of the key avenues by which MPs convey their message, and has near-universal uptake by members in the current House of Commons.
The effectiveness with which Twitter is utilised varies considerably between MPs, but it is difficult to compare like-for-like. How does one take into account the differences between, for instance, a freshman MP and a veteran Cabinet member? Length of service in Parliament and ministerial rank give a considerable advantage when building a following.
In this article, I have compiled a power ranking of MPs in the current Parliament, with the top 50 shown in the chart above. The MP’s follower count was adjusted by factoring in their previous experience, to better reflect the strength of their following and their success at engagement on the platform.
Being Twitter-savvy is about more than just a high follower count: any Secretary of State can achieve this just by virtue of the media exposure their office brings. Building a Twitter following based on thoughtful commentary and authentic engagement requires skill ,and can be achieved by members across all Parliamentary intakes and ranks of Government.
Though the top 10 is still dominated by MPs holding senior ministerial offices, the composition of the list beyond it is far more variable. A number of prominent backbenchers are in the top 20, and four members from the 2019 intake make the top 50, beating longer-serving and higher-ranked colleagues.
I hope that this list serves as recognition of the skill and contribution by Conservative members to public debate and engagement, beyond ministerial duties which so often dominate any mention in the media.
Building a model of Twitter power rankings
Success is judged by number of followers, with higher follower counts indicating greater influence on Twitter. The follower count was adjusted using three key parameters:
- The number of years since an MP was first elected to Parliament.
- The number of years the MP’s Twitter account has been active.
- Their highest rank within Government achieved since 2010.
Higher values for each of these would be expected to contribute to a higher follower count. I built a model using the open-source Scikit-Learn package, and fitted it to data from the current Parliament.
The model was then used to predict how many followers a given MP might expect to have based on these three factors. The steps taken to produce a final “Twitter power score” were thus as follows:
- Using these three factors, multiple linear regression was used to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers an MP might have.
- Their true follower count was divided by the expected follower count to produce a single number which represented the MP’s performance at building a following.
- Finally, a logarithm was taken of this ratio to make the number more manageable and to produce a final Twitter power score.
The final step of taking a logarithm means it is easier to compare between MPs without those who have very high follower counts (such as Boris Johnson) making the data difficult to compare, but it does not affect the order of the ranking.
Compiling the data
Having decided which factors to correct the model for, I collected the required information. All three factors were easy to find reliable sources for. The Twitter page for each MP displays the date the account was created, and the Parliamentary website provides the date of their first election to Parliament and previous government posts.
Members who are newly returned to the backbenches following governmental duties (such as Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt) are scored at their highest government rank since 2010 to recognise this. I was able to find the Twitter accounts and required information for 319 Conservative MPs who were included in this ranking.
To build a model based on this data required incorporating the highest government rank numerically. To do this, I assigned scores according to their rank. These grades recognised their relative seniority and media exposure associated with the office, with higher scores assigned to more senior positions:
- Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State, Speakers, Leaders of the House and Chief Whips are scored 3.
- Ministers of State, Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chief Whips are scored 1.
Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and Whips are scored 0.5.
- Backbenchers score 0.
When assigning these values, I considered the typical sizes of follower counts of MPs in each category. When comparing Secretaries of States to Ministers of State, the median follower count is around twice the size, but the mean follower count is around eight times the size, as a handful of very large follower count skews the results upwards.
Deciding on weightings requires a (somewhat arbitrary) decision as to which measures to use when comparing between groups, and the scores I decided on were ultimately chosen as a compromise across these different measures, which produced stable results when used in the model.
It is also worth explaining why Prime Ministers are grouped with Secretaries of State, despite the far higher media exposure and seniority of their post. When deciding on the respective weighting for different levels of government post, a sufficiently large pool of MPs was needed to produce a meaningful comparison. The only data points for comparison of Prime Ministers are Boris Johnson and Theresa May, so it is difficult to give them their own weighting without it being either unreliable or arbitrary.
While grouping them with Secretaries of State and other senior positions might be perceived as giving them an unfair advantage in the weighting, I felt it justified given these challenges in determining the “fair” weight to assign them. With this done, I had three parameters for each MP on which to build a model to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers.
Calculating the number of expected Twitter followers
I built a model to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers using the Scikit-Learn, a popular machine learning package in the Python programming language. The model used multiple linear regression to fit the input parameters to the known follower count.
The input data was prepared by removing extreme high outliers in the data which skewed the fit toward high numbers and away from the vast majority of MPs before fitting. Once fitted, an “expected value” of Twitter followers could be calculated for each MP, based on the year of their first election to parliament, the number of years on Twitter and their highest government rank since 2010.
Including more parameters increases the ability of the model to describe the difference between MPs’ follower counts (the variability). By increasing the number of input variables included in the model, more of the variability is captured:
- One variable captures between 20.3 per cent and 36.1 per cent of the variability.
- Two variables capture between 39.1 per cent and 43.1 per cent of the variability.
- All three variables capture 48.7 per cent of the variability.
These three variables are therefore responsible for almost half of the variation between MPs in their follower counts. The remainder of the variability is likely due to a range of factors which the model does not include, of which the MP’s Twitter-savviness is of particular interest to us. I discuss these factors further below.
Limitations in the model
There are multiple other parameters which could be included in future iterations which I did not include in this model. In particular:
- Membership or Chairmanship of Select Committees.
- Previous election to a council, assembly, devolved legislature or the European Parliament.
- Membership of the Privy Council.
- Government positions prior to 2010.
- Prominent positions within the Conservative Party, such as the 1922 Committee or European Research Group.
- Twitter-savviness and effectiveness of their comms team.
Another limitation was not accounting for the perceived relative importance of various governmental departments: a Great Office of State or Prime Minister is scored the same as any other Secretary of State. The difficulties involved in ranking governmental departments were beyond this first model. The length of service in a given government post was also not considered.
Finally, the choice of model to fit the data may not be the optimal choice. Multiple linear regression assumes, per the name, that the distribution is linear. But the large outliers might be better described by a power law or Pareto distribution, or the non-linearities of a neural network.
During next week, ConservativeHome will produce profiles of six individual MPs who have performed notably well in the power rankings, and who reflect the contributions brought by members beyond their ministerial duties, if they have any.