Iain Dale: Rudd, Clark, Gauke. After all their bluster about resigning, abstaining ministers took the cowardly way out

Plus: The Chief Whip’s swift transformation from Francis Urquhart to Mr Bean. And: why I can’t bring myself to vote Tory in the local elections.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Where to start. I write this before the Article 50 extension votes have taken place on Thursday, but let’s face it, the main damage as already been done.

The only conclusion one can draw from the sorry events of this week is that the Prime Minister’s reputation has been further damaged, her government has been damaged below the waterline, the prospects of Brexit ever happening have been severely damaged, the reputation of the 14 government ministers who so courageously abstained against a three-line whip has been damaged, and the whole concept of collective responsibility and accountability has perhaps irreparably been damaged.

That’s a whole lot of damage.

– – – – – – – – –

Let’s start with the four Cabinet Ministers, eight junior ministers and two PPSs who failed to obey a three-line whip and abstained on the No Deal amended motion.

They deserve to be named. They are Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Mundell, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Tobias Ellwood, Robert Buckland, Alistair Burt, Margot James, Anne Milton, Claire Perry, Vicky Ford and Bim Afolami.

Two others, Sarah Newton and Paul Masterton, voted against the three-line whip. At least they had the honour and courage to resign, unlike their abstaining colleagues.

had to laugh when I heard Greg Clark on Peston trying to make out he and his 13 colleagues had done something courageous. No. Abstaining is never an act of courage. Actually voting against a three-line whip and then resigning – that’s an act of political courage or honour.

Some weeks ago, we were told 40 ministers would resign if they were whipped to vote for a No Deal Brexit. A couple of weeks ago we were told a dozen would do so. In the event only one did. These ministers have all the courage of a an Italian tank commander with one forward gear and four reverse gears.

As Iain Duncan Smith has pointed out, why would any MP take a three-line whip seriously any longer? The traditional system of whipping is now dead. It’s now effectively a free for all.

Julian Smith, the chief whip, has been completely undermined by whoever it was in Number 10 who let it be known that no abstaining minister would lose their jobs. He must surely now be considering his position, too.

Because no-one will now ever again be able to believe any threat he issues. He’s gone from Francis Urquhart to Mr Bean in the space of a few hours. It’s not his fault, but that’s the reality he now faces. And all thanks to those brilliant political strategists in Number 10. If it wasn’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh.

– – – – – – – – –

A former Tory MP of my acquaintance texts to say he can’t possibly vote Conservative in the local elections on 2nd May. A lot of people will be feeling like that.

I won’t be doing so either, although that’s less to do with the hapless state of the Government, and more to do with the incompetence of my local Tory council in Tunbridge Wells, which, to coin a phrased used by Boris Johnson this week, is “spaffing” £92 million up the wall by building a totally unwanted and unneeded civic centre in one of the town’s most scenic parks.

I’ll be voting for the group of local protesters who are putting up candidates in every ward to fight it. Or at least, I hope they are. If I didn’t do the job I do, I’d stand myself.

– – – – – – – – –

It defies belief that Theresa May will now bring her Meaningful Vote back for a third try next week. It ought to be dead as a dodo. But of course, it’s straight from the Olly Robbins playbook. Back on 12th February he was overheard saying: “…Got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March… Extension is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one…”.

And so it has come to pass. Project Fear triumphs. On Newsnight on Tuesday, Emily Maitlis asked me: “So when did it all go wrong for Theresa May?” My two co-panellists gave two very earnest answers. When my turn came, I replied: “When she started listening to Olly Robbins rather than David Davis.” Many a true word spoken in jest…

– – – – – – – – –

Tonight, I’m appearing on Any Questions on Radio 4. It’s about the tenth time I’ve been on the show and it’s one of those programmes I never say no to, mainly because I enjoy doing it and it enjoys a unique place in the listening public’s affections.

I must admit when I heard it entailed going all the way to Carlisle I did slightly hesitate. Not that I have got anything against Carlisle, but it means I won’t get home until 3 or 4am. It will be the last time I share an Any Questions platform with Jonathan Dimbleby, who is retiring from presenting the show in June. He’s an absolute pro and presents the show brilliantly.

I’m on with Therese Coffey, Layla Moran and Andy McDonald. I suspect that the questions will be dominated by Brexit, but the Spring Statement and Bloody Sunday will surely come up too. But there are always one or two questions which are impossible to anticipate. That’s when you show your metal. I wonder who will succeed Jonathan as the show’s presenter. Maybe I should apply… 😊

The amendment that could save the Conservative Party today. And even, just possibly, Brexit itself.

A functioning Government would whip for Malthouse Two – the plan backed by Steve Baker, Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Simon Hart and others.

An amendment has been tabled to today’s ambiguous No Deal motion.  It puts four main proposals.  First, that the Government publish its Day One Tariff Schedules for No Deal.  Second, that to allow businesses time to prepare for the operation of any tariffs, it seeks a brief Article 50 extension to May 22.  Third, that there should be a “set of mutual standstill agreements” between the UK and EU until December 2021, during which “the UK would pay an agreed sum equivalent to its net EU contributions and satisfy its other public international law obligations”.  Fourth, that the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK should be unilaterally guaranteed.  This is Malthouse Two.

It offers something to almost everyone – in the Conservative Party, at least.  For harder Brexiteers, it offers No Deal as a last resort.  For softer ones, no “cliff-edge”.  For many of both, a generous move on EU citizens.   For all, a country that honours its obligations.

It is the product of the most creative current alliance in the Parliamentary Party.  It contains MPs who voted Remain, such as our columnist Nicky Morgan and Damian Green; others who voted Leave, such as Steve Baker, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg.  Simon Hart (pictured), co-chair of the loyalist Brexit Delivery Group, is a signatory to the amendment.  So, significantly, is Nigel Dodds: that presumably squares the DUP.  At a time when Tories are losing their heads, this group are keeping theirs.

By voting for the amendment today, assuming the Speaker selects and calls it, Theresa May and her Ministers could back a plan without incurrring legitimate criticism for breaking manifesto commitments – of the kind that Graham Brady was properly making yesterday evening.

Were the Government functioning properly, it would whip for this amendment.  But since the Prime Minister has bowed to blackmail from a cabal of Cabinet Remain-leaning fanatics – Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark – by promising a free vote on the Government motion, it is hard to see how this could happen.  Still, Julian Smith will surely see the point of a move that can bring Conservatives together.  Readers will understand that we don’t exaggerate in writing that the amendment may be a last chance to do so.

So if it’s all so easy, I hear you ask, what’s the problem?  It is that the EU is publicly rejecting a managed No Deal – although, of course, it has announced plans for one already.  No Deal is by definition a grey area.  Malthouse Two seeks simply to make it greyer.

“We’re hoping that the EU sees sense,” one of the plan’s pushers told this site yesterday evening.  We understand why Malthouse Two is a very long shot indeed.  But the alternatives are deep winter: more resignations, leadership chaos, the likely defeat of May’s Deal third time round, Oliver Letwin taking control of the Commons, a possible election, a formal Tory split, and a Marxist Government which sees Venezuela as a role model.

It would be easy this morning to “accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive”.  We resist the temptation.  Amidst the darkness, there is a glimpse of light.

The 75 Conservative MPs who opposed the Prime Minister’s deal

Mostly ERG-aligned Leavers – but roughly ten former Remainers, a core of whom now back a second referendum.

The ERG has roughly 80 supporters.  Despite some defections around the edges, this looks at first glance like a pretty unified ERG vote – since some of the 39 Conservative “defectors” are not associated with the group.

But please note that at least eleven of the rebels were Remainers, not Leavers: Guto Bebb, Damian Collins, Charlie Elphicke, Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Jo Johnson, Phillip Lee, Grant Shapps and Shailesh Vara.  Bebb, Collins, Greening, Grieve, Gyimah and Johnson Lee are Second Referendum supporters.

We have used Mark Harper’s photo for this piece because the former Chief Whip is an important centre-right bellweather.  He set out his reasoning earlier today.

  • Adam Afriyie
  • Lucy Allan
  • Richard Bacon
  • Steve Baker
  • John Baron
  • Guto Bebb
  • Crispin Blunt
  • Peter Bone
  • Suella Braverman
  • Andrew Bridgen

 

  • Conor Burns
  • William Cash
  • Rehman Chishti
  • Christopher Chope
  • Simon Clarke
  • Damian Collins
  • Robert Courts
  • Richard Drax
  • James Duddridge
  • Iain Duncan Smith

 

  • Charlie Elphicke
  • Michael Fabricant
  • Sir Michael Fallon
  • Mark Francois
  • Marcus Fysh
  • James Gray
  • Chris Green
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah

 

  • Mark Harper
  • Gordon Henderson
  • Philip Hollobone
  • Adam Holloway
  • Eddie Hughes
  • Ranil Jayawardena
  • Bernard Jenkin
  • Andrea Jenkyns
  • Boris Johnson
  • Gareth Johnson

 

  • Jo Johnson
  • David Jones
  • Daniel Kawczynski
  • Pauline Latham
  • Phillip Lee
  • Andrew Lewer
  • Julian Lewis
  • Ian Liddell-Grainger
  • Julia Lopez
  • Jonathan Lord

 

  • Craig Mackinlay
  • Anne Main
  • Esther McVey
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • Sheryll Murray
  • Priti Patel
  • Owen Paterson
  • Tom Pursglove
  • Dominic Raab
  • John Redwood

 

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg
  • Laurence Robertson
  • Andrew Rosindell
  • Lee Rowley
  • Grant Shapps
  • Henry Smith
  • Royston Smith
  • Bob Stewart
  • Ross Thomson
  • Michael Tomlinson

 

  • Craig Tracey
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan
  • Shailesh Vara
  • Theresa Villiers
  • John Whittingdale

– – –

 

Nick de Bois: The evidence and expertise exists to drive down knife crime – we need the political will to use it

Theresa May co-authored a report in 2012 which identified key lessons from a notable success story. Seven years later, why has so little been done?

Nick de Bois is the former MP for Enfield North. He was a member of the Government’s Serious Crime Task Force until his appointment as Chief of Staff to Dominic Raab at DExEU. He is the author of Confessions of a Recovering MP.

Until yesterday, it appeared that there was only one person who believed that reducing police numbers had no link to increasing knife crime. That Number 10 rowed back on the suggestion was no surprise after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner corrected the Prime Minister on LBC on Monday morning. Cressida Dick said there was “some link” between violent crime on the streets and police numbers.

In fact, whilst Downing Street would be able to legitimately point to falling crime in general alongside falling police numbers, the fact remains more people are carrying knives, more people are prosecuted for carrying knives, and, tragically, more people are dying from knives. To protest that police numbers have no “direct bearing” on increase in knife crime assaults and deaths is for the public, at best, stubbornly optimistic, and at worst irresponsible. I think personally it is a huge distraction to what should be talked about and what action should be taken.

First and crucially, the Government must address why, after introducing mandatory jail terms for conviction of carrying a knife on a second offence, only 63 per cent of such offenders are receiving immediate custodial offences. The law is clear – and I should know, having helped steer it through Parliament along with David Burrowes in 2014 with considerable cross-party support. In fact, there is a strong case that we should now increase the minimum term from the six months parliament approved to at least one year.

However, I have never argued that tougher sentencing for carrying knives is a solution to knife crime on its own. Across the country we have pockets of excellence where, sometimes on a large scale but more often on a small scale, both the state and the third sector have shown how we can reduce knife crime by a more holistic approach . Not only do their efforts save lives, they turn around the lives of those who may otherwise choose a life of gangs, of violence and of crime. In short, the Government has at its disposal not just the evidence but the means to halt this appalling scourge of knife crime across the UK.

In Strathclyde, for example, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was set up to stop the tide of knife crime which saw Glasgow become for a time Europe’s murder capital. From its start in 2005, the new unit introduced a radical approach to tackling the problem. Its key message was that stabbings (and gang-related stabbings in particular) were not just a matter for the police but a wider public health issue.

In 2005 there were 137 homicides in Scotland – 40 cases alone in Glasgow, double the national rate. By 2016/17 that number had more than halved. That success is put down to working closely with partners in the NHS, education, social work and, crucially, with family intervention, recognising the toxic environment many youngsters are growing up in. Finally, the program stressed the importance of positive role models and its implementation projects have been evidence-based and informed by statistics.

What’s extraordinary, though, is that as far back as 2012 Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May pointed to this programme as a way forward in their joint Government report in response to the the riots. That seven years later we have not nationally embraced this, and indeed other effective locally-developed interventions, is frankly reprehensible.

Strathclyde rightly attracts considerable attention, not least because of the scale of the intervention which shows local government at its (unusual) best. Meanwhile, the third sector across the UK is quietly getting on with delivering early intervention programs on often a smaller and far less well-funded scale. Their emphasis is on prevention, and we can learn so much from many of these organisations regardless of scale.

The Government is now making money available to support proven organisations where intervention initiatives work, and this is to be applauded. But money aside, there is much more we can harness from such organisations as the Ben Kinsella Trust, the Godwin Lawson Foundation and others which, often born from personal tragedies, have accumulated huge intellectual capital on what works and what does not. Government can and should harness this life-changing, indeed life-saving, experience and roll it out across the country, not just where there is already a problem, but where we can prevent future violence.

The political leadership parents are crying out for, and the opportunities so many youngsters will welcome to escape an existence few of us can really recognise or appreciate, must be supported by a clearly defined commitment from the Government. Warm words and promises of money will not be enough. We need a national action plan, backed up by an executive organisation that will both scope and implement proven solutions on the ground, and have authority to both advocate and drive the changes that have been shown to work.

Out of the recent tragic murders in Manchester and London let us at least hope they have sparked the impetus to drive a permanent change for the better.

Thawing the benefits freeze

There is a strong case for altering the balance of welfare spending between working people and those retired.

The benefits freeze has at least three striking features.  First, there is timing. The best time to introduce it, in retrospect, would have been 2010, not 2014 – in other words, at the start of the Coalition’s term, when voters were relatively likely to give a fair wind to measures that would help to reduce the rate of public spending, such as the pay freeze.

Second, there is an oddity that has nothing to do with the Government and everything to do with Jeremy Corbyn.  It is not often grasped that he didn’t propose to lift it in his election manifesto two years ago.  Yes, Labour proposed to scrap benefit sanctions and the spare room subsidy.  But there was no promise to end the freeze.

Finally – and as with wage freezes – it’s easy in, not easy out.  The freeze was originally introduced for two years in 2014.  It was then doubled to four years in 2015.  Privately, Amber Rudd wants rid of the freeze and, publicly, says that it won’t be renewed in 2020.  But one never knows: in the now unlikely event of a No Deal Brexit, there may be additional need for public spending restraint.  Philip Hammond will make much of that when the Budget comes.

The deficit is now only 1.8 per cent of GDP – Osborne slowly ground it down during his terms as Chancellor – and, for all the Chancellor’s denials, ending it altogether is being pushed off into the never-never.  The question is that follows is whether Hammond should look to lift the cap early as the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommends.

Elsewhere on this site today, Mark Wallace writes about pressures on public spending over policing and crime.  That’s a reminder, were it needed, that there should never be a let-up on control.  But the long-term, relatively unaddressed challenge is in relation to health and pensions, which together consume roughly a third of public spending.

The point about the benefits freeze is that it covered payments for people of working age – including part of the employment and support allowance and, eventually, Universal Credit.  Iain Duncan Smith believed that the squeeze on working people had become disproportionate to that on retired people.  It was not the immediate cause of his resignation, but it was a factor.

This is not a good time for Rudd to be making a policy pitch, at least in terms of gathering party support, because her flouting of collective responsibility over Brexit sours her pushing of any other policy elsewhere.  However, it doesn’t follow that she is wrong in this case.  There is a strong case for altering the balance of welfare spending between working people and those retired.

WATCH: Duncan Smith on TIG – “The door should be open, I hope they’ll come back”

He points out that there appears to be far from complete agreement amongst the defectors about why they have left or what they stand for.

Immigration policy must be made for everyone – not just for bigger business

Javid is right to bury the “tens of thousands” target – but he needs to set out a clear pathway to lower migration.

The relationship between a Prime Minister and a Home Secretary is different from that between a Prime Minister and, say, a Communities Secretary.  To put it plainly, Theresa May can ultimately impose a view on James Brokenshire, as she could on Sajid Javid when he held the post.  As could David Cameron on Greg Clark, Gordon Brown on John Denham, Tony Blair on David Miliband – and so on.

But Prime Ministers have less room for manoeuvre with the holders of the great offices of state.  Certainly, they have the power ultimately to reshuffle or sack them.  None the less, David Cameron treated May with circumspection – as Tony Blair did Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

Only when Prime Ministers are exceptionally strong or weak does the power balance of the relationship swing one way or the other.  May herself offers examples both ways.  May Mark One, before the 2017 general election, was in a strong position despite commanding only a small majority, and was of course a former Home Secretary herself.

She thus dominated Amber Rudd.  May Mark Two, after the disaster of June 2017 and the loss of that majority, was suddenly in a weak one.  And she needed Javid after Rudd’s resignation over the Windrush fiasco – or felt she needed him, at any rate, which in practice yields much the same consequences.

Furthermore, Cabinet discipline has now broken down completely.  Some Ministers now brief journalists before meetings about what they will say about Brexit rather than simply leak details afterwards.  One experienced hand describes Cabinet as a “political Mogadishu” – with rogue Ministers, imaginarily clad in shades and ammo belts, firing rounds off into the air in the manner of Black Hawk Down.

This is the context in which to view Javid’s breaks for new ground on matters as diverse as Windrush, cannabis oil, police funding – and immigration.  He has torn up the “tens of thousands” net target.  Downing Street keeps up a rearguard action, but it has lost the battle: the target is not in Javid’s White Paper (though it was in the Conservative Manifesto).

We are unlikely to know what will fully emerge from that paper for quite some time.  Ministers’ disagreements about key policy decisions will stretch, in the event of a deal, into the transition period during the years ahead: for example, we are unlikely to know about salary thresholds for migrants until 2020.

If the background to those clashes is declining public concern about migration, the essence of them concerns business – or, rather, bigger business.  On the one hand, some Ministers, especially those in the economic departments, want a business-driven policy based on the economic model prevalent since Labour took the lid off the previous system of immigration control.

Philip Hammond and Greg Clark are both in that camp, reflecting the institutional interests of their department.  On the other hand, there is a weakened Prime Minister, whose instincts were shaped by her Home Office experience.  She is being forced to retreat – apologising for a reference to EU immigrants “jumping the queue” when she might formerly have toughed it out.

Where does Javid stand?  A lot is read either way into his background as the son of a migrant from Pakistan – rather speculatively in our view – but it might make more sense to look at his life story in the round.  He was a high-achieving banker and that working experience reinforced his belief that the capitalist system works (for all its faults and flaws).

The Home Secretary has learned the tricks of the political trade very fast, but the broad outline of the White Paper suggests that his approach leans towards that of the bigger business lobbies.  Some of the decisions look sensible.  If there is to be no cap on high-skilled migration from outside the EU, it makes no sense to have one on migration from it, in the event of a Brexit deal.

Similarly, it might make sense to extend the Youth Mobility Scheme in place for some countries to the EU27 on a reciprocal basis.  But the fundamental question is how high-skilled work is to be defined.  Graduate level is one thing. A level is another, as is NVQ.  And, as we say, the salary threshold level is still being debated.

Opening up a route for unskilled workers from “low risk” countries looks more questionable – and an attempt to get round the way in which immigration figures are compiled.  So do proposals to drop requirements on employers to advertise jobs in Britain before recruiting from overseas.

Javid is reported to want to cut EU migration levels by 80 per cent, but it is unclear how this will happen, given the indecision about salary levels.  The bottom line is that while public attitudes “have softened in recent years”…”British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”, according to the Migration Observatory.

Polling by Lord Ashcroft found that this view was the second-biggest driver of the EU referendum vote.  The belief that the UK will now “take back control” appears to be driving the softening of attitudes we describe.  Furthermore, EU net migration has fallen since 2016 – though claims by Remainer diehards of a “Brexodus” are unfounded: more EU citizens are still entering the UK than leaving.

Meanwhile, non-EU migration is running at the highest level for 14 years.  There is thus no reason to be sure that the pendulum of public opinion, having swung one way, may not swing another.  Javid is right to ditch the net target: it has never made sense to have a policy half-based on a factor one can’t control – outflow.

But the essence of a post-Brexit migration policy should be roughly that set out by Iain Duncan Smith on this site in the aftermath of the referendum: work permits, a cap, and arrangements whereby “people allowed in to work should have to have a record of contributions over a period of time before being able to claim support from the state”.

The UK economic model since at least the New Labour years has been based on London-centred growth, financial services, higher migration and downward pressure on wages.  If the referendum result outside the capital was a vote against anything, it was a vote against that.

In short, immigration policy isn’t just the business of business.  It’s the business of everyone.  Weaning firms off the immigration settlement it’s been used to since the mid-2000s will take time, and depend to some degree on the short-term needs of the Brexit economy.  But the long-term trajectory should be clear – lower inflows.  Javid must show a clear pathway to them.

A snap election and a Tory nightmare. Losing seats in London without gaining them elsewhere.

The point here is the electoral trade-off between what could plausibly happen in the capital and the provinces – with Corbyn entering Downing Street in consequence.

Someone senior at CCHQ really doesn’t want a general election any time soon.  He or she has told the Sun that the Conservatives would lose a snap poll “because they are woefully underprepared to fight one”.  Other highlights from the story: “secret party projections instead put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, at the helm of a rainbow coalition government including the SNP and the Lib Dems”; CCHQ’s database “is badly out of date” and “the Tories currently don’t even have an opinion polling firm under contract”.

All this helps to flesh out answers to some of the questions we asked last weekend about how Downing Street, CCHQ and the Party more widely would cope with a sudden election.  Some of them were about the manifesto – such as what on earth it would say about Brexit policy, and whether both Leavers and Remainers would revolt.  Others were about the machine, and were at least as pressing.  The Party has got used to outsourcing its general election campaigns.  Who would run one now were a poll to happen?  Lynton Crosby is reported to be advising Boris Johnson.  In any event, he is implicated in the 2017 bungled campaign.  Furthermore, there’s no evidence that – in the absence of up to date data – he would grasp at such a poisoned chalice in any event.

The Sun also cites “analysis by centre-right think tank Onward”: “of the 317 seats that the Tories won in 2017, 40 are held by a margin of five per cent or smaller – and Labour hold second place in 35 of them”.  Will Tanner, its Director, is quoted, but it may be worth noting that a member of the think-tank’s advisory board is one of the few Conservative strategists who emerged from the last election with his reputation enhanced.  James Kanagasooriam sits on it.  He helped to mastermind the Tory advance in Scotland.

Let’s try to bring some of the figures that Tanner quotes to life.  Here are the Conservative-held seats in Greater London together with their majorities:

  • Hornchurch and Upminster: 17,723
  • Old Bexley and Sidcup: 15,466
  • Beckenham: 15,087
  • Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner: 13,980
  • Romford: 13,778
  • Sutton and Cheam: 12,698
  • Croydon South: 11,406
  • Bromley and Chiselhurst: 9,590
  • Bexleyheath and Crayford: 9,078
  • Chelsea and Fulham: 8,188
  • Wimbledon: 5,622
  • Uxbridge and Ruislip South: 5,034

  • Cities of London and Westminster: 3,148
  • Chingford and Wood Green: 2,438
  • Harrow East: 1,757
  • Finchley and Golders Green: 1,657
  • Putney: 1,554
  • Hendon: 1,072
  • Chipping Barnet: 353
  • Richmond Park: 45

Now what follows must be heavily qualified – not least by recognising, at the start, that those who write political commentary tend to live in or near London, which can distort their perspective on Britain as whole.

Here are some other cautionary notes.  Were there to be a Liberal Democrat revival in parts of Greater London, it would be likely to depress Labour’s vote more than the Conservatives’.  Local factors matter: so, for example, the Jewish vote in parts of north-west London make the Party’s prospects in Finchley & Golders Green, Hendon and Chipping Barnet a bit better than they look on paper.  And some of the MPs who hold Greater Londom seats are strong constituency campaigners.

None the less, let us as a rough starting-point count any seat in this list with a majority of less than 5000 as a marginal.  Were Labour (plus the Liberal Democrats in one case) to take them all, the Party would lose the following from a new Parliament: Zac Goldsmith, Theresa Villiers, Matthew Offord, Justine Greening, Mike Freer, Bob Blackman, Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Field.  Stephen Hammond and Boris Johnson would be on the cusp.

Essentially, the Party could be left with one constituency in inner London – Chelsea and Fulham – and a string of seats in outer London that sometimes identify more with the counties that border them than the capital.

This takes us to the crunch.  Obviously, not all of Greater London is Remain Central.  Some boroughs voted to Leave the EU in 2016: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon.  Others’ backing for Remain was not emphatic: so in Newham, for example, Remain took 53 per cent of the vote.

None the less, London bucked the national trend and voted Remain – scooping more than 70 per cent of the poll in some areas.  And Labour’s policy is now creeping Remainwards – towards extending Article 50, for example.  This is likely to act as a minus to the party in much of provincial Britain but as a plus most of London.

You will point out that a snap general election might not be swung by Brexit at all: after all, the last one wasn’t.  But the capital has been trending to Labour in any event.  In 2015, its share of the vote in the capital increased by 7.1 per cent points compared with 2010. This was the largest increase in Labour’s share of the vote in any nation or region of the UK.

In short, it’s plausible to imagine, in the event of a snap poll, Brexit not helping the Conservatives much in provincial Britain, but it harming them to a significant degree in London.  Nationally, it would shed lots of former Remain voters without gaining many new Leave ones.  Kanagasooriam is certainly alive to the possibility.

Which is why, in the ideal world that doesn’t exist, the Party is best off getting past March 29, presuming no extension; electing a new leader to set a firm direction for trade talks (or wider negotiations in the event of No Deal), and building a truly national appeal during the run-up to 2022.  Whoever gave the Sun its story seems to be thinking in the same way.

David Burrowes: It’s time to really make work pay for low-income families

Cripplingly high effective marginal tax rates, and other imbalances, are skewing the tax system against the things we care about.

David Burrowes is the former MP for Enfield Southgate and Executive Director of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, which is supported by over 60 MPs.

Political attention is no doubt elsewhere this week, but sadly for eight years of a Conservative-led Government family life has been largely ignored in the tax system. So much so, in fact, that low income families are being trapped in poverty.

This may come as a surprise, given a core tenet of Conservative policy during these years has been to make work pay. Since we got back into power in 2010, there has been a jobs creation miracle: there are now more jobs than ever before, and unemployment is at record low levels. Of course that has benefited families and now record numbers of children live in households who work.

But this is only one side of the coin. It’s no good creating thousands of new jobs if people don’t then feel the benefit of more money at the end of the month.

This issue of making work pay for low-income families prompted me to chair a panel of MPs – Fiona Bruce, Heidi Allen, and Chris Green – who conducted an inquiry in November and led to our report being published this week.

We found that work simply does not pay for many families in the bottom half of the income distribution. The UK’s unusually high effective marginal tax rates (EMTR) have stripped families of the incentive to work more hours or get a better paid job. EMTR is the amount of money someone loses from every additional pound they would earn above their current salary in tax, national insurance and lost benefits.

The UK is an outlier – it treats low-income families in the tax system worse than any other country in the developed world. The EMTR rate for a one-earner married couple with two children on 75 per cent average wage is the highest of all OECD countries and more than twice as high as the EU (22) average. If all these other countries can avoid the same astonishingly high EMTRs we have here, then clearly the problem is avoidable.

Research by the Tax and the Family shows that the EMTR for a single-earner family on £21,000 with three children, paying income tax and national insurance and entitled to tax credits, housing, and council tax benefit, is an eye-watering 96 per cent. This means for every extra £1 they earn, they keep only 4p. Under Universal Credit, this figure will fall slightly, but it will still likely be an 80 per cent rate.

All family types suffer under this current situation. It doesn’t matter whether you are a single parent, single-earner couple, or a dual-earner couple. One in three of all in-work families are likely to be facing high EMTRs. But it’s not just the very low paid who are affected. For example, a single income family with three children paying rent of £157 a week has in 2018/19 an EMTR of 96 per cent. This does not drop to 32 per cent until your income reaches £40,776 and where housing costs are greater, the 96 per cent rate reaches even higher. This means it is almost impossible for some families to escape poverty.

It was striking that during the inquiry, both Tax and the Family and the Iain Duncan Smith made mention of the fact that Lord Lawson, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced a system of independent taxation, has gone on record to state that the option of joint taxation was implicit in his original proposals for independent taxation and was his preferred choice.

The case for tax reform to give more support for families is being made from across our Conservative political family. Last November the Centre for Policy Studies, in its report ‘Make Work Pay’, acknowledged that “the British tax system is, by international standards, rather ungenerous towards families”. The CPS report concludes that transferable allowances “recognise the fact that what matters most to people is often the family finances – not just their personal situation. From a moral standpoint, it seems right that the tax system should acknowledge this in some way”.

Earlier this month 21 Conservative MPs, who straddle the economic and social left and right of the Party, united to support an amendment to the Finance Bill, calling on the Chancellor to conduct a review to consider how family responsibility can be better recognised in the tax system and the high EMTRs mitigated. The Speaker chose not to select this amendment so, undeterred, a debate on the issue has been secured in Parliament today.

So we find ourselves in a situation which, for Conservatives, is completely contradictory. First, our eye-wateringly high EMTRs are anti-aspirational. We don’t recognise family responsibilities, which means families in poverty pay thousands in income tax but then have to be supported by inflated benefits, with our cripplingly high EMTRs kicking in when these benefits are withdrawn. This completely suffocates aspiration.

Secondly, it is illogical and philosophically incoherent. We celebrate families and the fact that the family is the bedrock of society, but we almost entirely ignore families in the tax system (apart from a token married couples allowance). At the moment, we tax families as if they are individuals even while we sustain a benefits system which views members of the family as a family. We send out a curious message in the tax system that if you are dependent on the State we recognise family responsibility, but if you are in work we don’t.

Thirdly, it is anti-choice. The best systems of independent taxation allow couples the choice of whether they want to be taxed independently or jointly. In the UK, families simply do not have that choice. The state has in effect decided that independence is the ultimate priority and this has been decided to the detriment of family life.

Fourthly, this arrangement is judgemental. It means that any family where the second earner is either not in work or earning less than their personal allowance will end up financially penalised for this arrangement. As IDS said during the inquiry, we are judgemental about couples who choose for only one spouse to work. To some extent, we are telling stay-at-home parents not to bother and to make grandparents or other carers provide the childcare.

It is clear the current status quo is unsustainable. If the Government are serious about making work pay then it must get real about what is happening in low income families, which means engaging with the issue of our absurdly high EMTRs. Rather than making it easy for families to aspire to increase their incomes, UK fiscal arrangements are effectively suffocating social mobility and trapping families in poverty.

The Conservative Party is at it’s best when it is a party of social mobility, social justice and the family. Unless the Government allocates family responsibility more equally between the benefits system and tax system in order to bring our effective marginal rates down, it will have fallen short.

Not yet angry – but patriotic and bewildered. Fear of betrayal is the dominant emotion at the Leave Means Leave rally

Farage urged everyone to prepare for a second referendum, and concluded: “Next time, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy.”

An orderly queue formed last night outside Methodist Central Hall for the Leave Means Leave rally. As we entered we were handed small Union Jacks to wave during speeches by Kate Hoey, Rocco Forte, Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Martin, Nigel Farage and Esther McVey.

The Labour people who gave out Union Jacks to the crowd which applauded Tony Blair’s entry into Downing Street in 1997 were onto something. Here is a delightful way to demonstrate patriotism.

But last night’s crowd, about 2,000 strong, rather than celebrating victory, were anxiously hoping to avert defeat.

The mood of these Brexit supporters has not yet turned angry. It is one of bewildered patriotism. For although they won the referendum, they now question whether they can trust the very politicians to whom they decided to return power.

As the man sitting next to me put it:

“I just don’t think it’s right that we have to concede a second referendum. People had a choice. They voted as they did. I think it’s right for the country to leave the EU, personally.”

He is 45 years old, has a job in insurance, and had never attended such a rally before. His tone was modest, almost apologetic, yet conveyed a sense of incredulity at the outrageous injustice which may be about to be perpetrated.

All six speakers wrestled with the paradox of a Parliament most of whose members yearn to avert Brexit, even though it gives more power to Parliament. Hoey, a Labour MP since 1989, warned that “the great betrayal has begun” and is now “moving apace”.

Richard Tice, the clean-cut Englishman, somehow reminiscent of an American evangelist, who runs Leave Means Leave and introduced the speakers, insisted “we can begin to smell” the betrayal. He urged people to chant “Let’s go WTO”.

Forte, who spoke as a businessman, said “I have not known such defeatism…by the ruling class…since the Seventies” [applause]. He described the elite’s lack of belief in the British people as  “almost treasonable”.

A heckler interrupted at this point by shouting very loudly. He was quite near to me, but I could not make out what he was saying. Forte, being somewhat inexperienced as a public speaker, fell silent, and members of the crowd started shouting “Out, out, out”.

Tice poured oil on troubled waters by saying, “We respect the right of free speech and we urge them to do the same”, for apparently there was more than one protester. The heckler near to me was ushered from the hall and someone shouted after him “At least you can leave”, which produced rueful laughter.

Duncan Smith started with some jokes, including the funny story he told when interviewed by ConservativeHome in 2013, and went on to talk of “this enormous Establishment plot” to tell us “we are a miserable little nation” and “a hopeless little island”.

He added that Parliament “doesn’t represent the British people any more”. But he and the minority of MPs who think like him “will not rest” until Britain is “fully free once again”.

Tim Martin, founder and Chairman of the Wetherspoon pub chain, bore as he came on stage a fleeting but disconcerting resemblance to the satirist Craig Brown.

Martin’s main message was “don’t believe Project Fear”. He recalled that car manufacturers said “they’d all f*ck off to the continent” if Britain didn’t join the euro.

And he reported that “if you really want to annoy people”, you should “try going into a pub in Sunderland” and asking people there if it was true they “didn’t understand” what they were voting for in the referendum.

This produced laughter of the usual good-natured yet rueful kind.

Farage received the most enthusiastic welcome of anyone: a standing ovation before he had said a word.

He walked to and fro across the front of the stage, his amplified voice painfully loud as he warned that “we tonight here in Westminster are in the heart of enemy territory”, for “our political class” never respected the referendum result “from day one”.

Theresa May’s deal with the EU “looked more like a surrender document” [applause], and was the culmination of “50 years of lies from the British Establishment”.

He fears the whole referendum battle will have to be fought all over again, urged everyone to prepare for it, and concluded: “Next time, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy.”

One could not help suspecting that as in the first referendum campaign, Farage being nasty could have an off-putting effect on those voters who do not already agree with him.

McVey delivered an apologia for her time in government: “We thought we could trust our MPs.” On realising last November that the Prime Minister’s deal failed to honour the referendum result, she resigned.

And that was that. The event lasted two hours, felt decorous and respectable, and can be watched on Youtube. The audience was almost entirely white, but mixed by age and sex. It wanted to feel reassured that Brexit is going to turn out fine, but none of the six speakers could set at rest the fear that Parliament is about to refuse to do what the people have voted for.

The drawback of upholding an old-fashioned belief in parliamentary sovereignty turns out to be that a majority of MPs would much rather we had remained in the EU.