Interview: Sunak. “I genuinely think saddling our children with debts that we didn’t have the courage to deal with ourselves isn’t right.”

28 Jul

Rishi Sunak readily admits he is behind in the race to become the next Prime Minister: “I think it’s pretty clear I’m the underdog [laughter].”

But he also reckons that while he hasn’t “taken the easy road”, he is standing up for “commonsense Thatcherism”, a position which is more “moral”, “conservative” and realistic than the unfunded tax cuts commended by his opponents.

Sunak has been accused, by Liz Truss supporters such as Kwasi Kwarteng, of conducting “a screeching U-turn” by coming out for a VAT cut on energy bills.

In this interview, Sunak rejects that accusation, and retorts that “a screeching U-turn on lots of policies that were in the 2019 manifesto”  would “be tricky to implement”.

He says he has not engaged in the “Dutch auction of tax cuts” in which other candidates indulged, and has found that “actually wherever I’m going I’m getting a very positive reception and winning people round”.

In Sunak’s view, the Conservative Party should in future leadership contests negotiate on behalf of all the candidates with the broadcasters, in order to make sure that in televised debates “our party is not doing things that essentially write Labour’s next leaflets for them”.

This interview was conducted yesterday afternoon at Sawston Hall, in the village of Sawston, south of Cambridge, where Sunak was about to address a meeting of around a hundred Conservative Party members.

ConHome: “Tom Tugendhat revealed a private conversation to attack you in an earlier debate. Kemi Badenoch revealed a private Treasury discussion to do the same.

“Penny Mordaunt tweeted that either you or Liz Truss would ‘murder’ the Conservative Party. Truss’s spokesman has said you’re ‘not fit for office’, and you’ve attacked Truss for offering ‘socialism’.

“Hasn’t the only winner from this blue-on-blue contest so far been Keir Starmer, and given this level of vitriol why do any of you deserve to win?”

Sunak: “Well just to be clear, I’ve actually tried to be very positive throughout the campaign. From the get-go there was a lot coming my way, as you can probably remember, and I didn’t really respond to any of that. I’ve still not responded to any of it.

“The quote you’re referring to was not about her personally. I said something for nothing economics isn’t conservative, it’s socialism. That’s what I said. That was not about a person, that was about a policy.

“So I’ve been very clear about that, and I haven’t talked about any private conversations, and I haven’t talked about the many things that happened in government while I was there, very deliberately, because as I said in the debates we’re one Conservative team and one Conservative family.”

ConHome: “But you’re more Conservative than she is? – you have a proper profound belief in the morality of sound money and all that.”

Sunak: “I do, that is important to me, no it does matter to me, as everyone can see in this leadership election. I haven’t taken the easy road and I’ve wanted to make the argument that that should matter.

“And as a Conservative it’s something that I believe really deeply. And we’re now getting attacked by the Labour Party, Keir Starmer just the other day again was able to attack Conservatives for what in his words was peddling the fantasy economics of unfunded promises.

“Those were his words. He also used the expression ‘magic money tree’ to describe what he was hearing. I think we need to ask ourselves as Conservatives if the Labour Party is in a position where they’re able to attack us for that, think forward to an election, and what historically has been one of the strongest dividing lines between us – I don’t think that’s a very politically good place for us to be.

“I also don’t think it’s a sensible economic place for us to be and I don’t think it’s a particularly moral place for us to be because I genuinely think saddling our children with debts that we didn’t have the courage to deal with ourselves isn’t right.”

ConHome: “So how does this U-turn on the VAT cut fit in with that? Doesn’t that undermine your sound money message?”

Sunak: “No, because there’s a big difference between things that by their nature are deliberately temporary, and designed to deal with a particular problem at a moment in time, and things that are structural.

“So what you’re hearing is structural changes to the tax system that are permanent. What we’ve heard from others is I think at the last total £40 billion plus of permanent unfunded tax cuts, tax cuts funded by borrowing.

“That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. What I’m suggesting is a response to deal with an immediate crisis in here and now.

“And I’ve always been clear that as we knew exactly what energy bills would be, we would refine the support we put in place if that was required.”

ConHome: “On that, do  you worry about unfunded tax cuts primarily from an inflation perspective or because you just don’t like borrowing to make tax cuts?”

Sunak: “Both. I think both are wrong. You’ve had all these people from Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, whether it’s Peter Lilley or Michael Howard or Norman Lamont or William Hague, because I believed what I was doing was commonsense Thatcherism.

“And I’m delighted and pleased that lots of people who were familiar with and lived through some of those arguments have supported that point of view, that you do need to get a grip of inflation first, before embarking on the things that I want to bring, which is a radical reform of our economy to drive growth primarily through innovation and investment.

“And she understood that, that’s what I think is important, and I think it would be very dangerous. And it’s not just me who said that, as I pointed out the other day when Liz Truss was asked if she could name a single economist who supported her plan. She named someone…”

ConHome: “Patrick Minford.”

Sunak: “Patrick Minford, who went on to say that to accommodate these things interest rates would have to rise, he used the number seven per cent, that’s not come from me, it’s come from the person she invoked in support of her position.

“And seven per cent interest rates would mean a typical mortgage would go up by about £6,000. That’s what that costs and I don’t think that is a good thing, I think that would be very damaging for millions of families up and down the country.

“That’s the inflationary argument, but there is also a moral thing.”

ConHome: “Seven per cent interest rates might not be good for millions of families with mortgages, but for those of us trying to get on the housing ladder, they might be slightly helpful in that respect.”

Sunak: “I don’t think it would. Seven per cent would be a big problem for you to get your first mortgage.”

ConHome: “It was more thinking of people having to default on them. But it’s not a particularly nice subject.”

Sunak: “I don’t think we want lots of defaults. Neither do I want people getting on the housing ladder having to deal with seven per cent interest rates.”

ConHome: “Did you say to Liz Truss after the ITV debate, ‘Why are we doing this?’ and if so, why didn’t you ask yourself the question before it rather than afterwards?”

Sunak: “The point I’ve made to the party is that when all this is said and done, someone, the party ideally, should take a step back and figure out what the right process is for having TV debates as part of a leadership contest.”

ConHome: “And what should they conclude about that?”

Sunak: “I think there might be an argument for the party negotiating on behalf of all candidates together with the broadcasters. That might be a sensible thing if the party sets the rules of the contest in general.

“Because there’s two competing things we’re trying to balance. One is a genuine need for scrutiny of candidates, and that is entirely reasonable and fair, because ultimately this person is going to become Prime Minister.

“But that need for scrutiny needs to be balanced with need as well to make sure that our party is not doing things that essentially write Labour’s next leaflets for them.”

ConHome: “You can get into a terrible auction.”

Sunak: “That’s why I can imagine the party on behalf of everybody figures out what the right mix of TV debates or interviews is, and when they should be, and can do that on behalf of all candidates.

“That’s something they should look at certainly. I think we’ve now had more TV debates probably in this election than in most general elections probably.”

ConHome: “If the two candidates are locked in a mutual spiral of who can cut the most taxes, or who can be the most fiscally conservative, or indeed who can be the more Thatcherite, then we’re actually missing the conversation the party should be having.”

Sunak: “I don’t mind a debate about policies and ideas, that’s entirely reasonable. My view is that embarking on a spree of excessive borrowing to fund tax cuts right now would not be the right thing for the economy or indeed the conservative thing to do.

“I’m going to deliver tax cuts, but I’m going to do it in a responsible way after we’ve gripped inflation, and I’m going to cut the taxes which actually I care most about, which are the taxes on people’s hard work, which is why I’ve already put in place an income tax cut in this Parliament, and I’d like to go further.

“But also cut the taxes on business that actually make a difference to growth and productivity, not just what sounds good. Now all my business experience, all my career, all the time as Chancellor, has led me to the conclusion that focussing solely on the headline rate of corporation tax is simply wrong.

“It has not led to an increase in business investment in this country, and if you want to see high growth, higher productivity, better jobs with higher wages, then we need businesses to invest more in capital, in innovation and R&D. I want to cut the taxes on those things, because our tax regime on those things is spectacularly ungenerous compared to lots of other countries.”

ConHome: “Do you feel this argument is getting through, or do you think you’re the underdog at the moment?”

Sunak: “I think it’s pretty clear I’m the underdog [laughter]. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But I’m happy to make the argument. I passionately believe in it.

“And I’m not engaging in a Dutch auction of tax cuts. I’ve decided not to. You saw earlier on when there were lots of people in this contest, there was a weekend where there was an escalating auction of tax cuts. I didn’t participate in that.

“It doesn’t make my life any easier, but I’m going to keep going round the country, and I’m going to keep talking to people, and actually wherever I’m going I’m getting a very positive reception and winning people round.”

ConHome: “Various Permanent Secretaries, at the Department for Education, the Ministry of Defence etcetera, have tweeted and emailed about the importance of Black Lives Matter.

“To many party members these emails and tweets are evidence that after 12 years of Conservative government Whitehall, along with the broader British Establishment, leans Left, and ministers seem powerless to do anything about it.

“Do you agree? Is there a culture war, and should the Conservative Party be fighting it?”

Sunak: “I’m incredibly proud of this country’s history, its traditions and its values. As a Conservative, I think it’s our responsibility, indeed our duty, to robustly defend those values, and that’s what I would do as Prime Minister.

“I’m not interested in people rewriting our history. I’m not interested in people to now say what I believe to be relatively commonsense, mainstream opinions and values should be marginalised, or in some cases labelled as racist or homophobic. That’s just not right and we should be prepared to call that out.

“I put out a video a day or two ago about my plan to tackle illegal migration, and I went out of my way to say it is not racist to say we should have controlled borders.

“I’m living proof that this is an incredibly tolerant, diverse country , and we shouldn’t be shy about defending that, and celebrating it, quite frankly.”

ConHome: “On the refugee cap, how would you get that through Parliament, when the Lords would resist it and it wasn’t in the manifesto so you can’t use the Parliament Act to drive it through.”

Sunak: “Well I think there’s a lot the new Prime Minister can try and do, but my strong point of view is we should have no option off the table in tackling this problem.

“We left the EU so we have parliamentary sovereignty, it’s not unreasonable if Parliament is having a sense of this is an acceptable and affordable level of people we can welcome to this country who are fleeing difficult situations.

“Of course we’re a compassionate country but there’s a limit to what we can do.”

ConHome: “How constrained do you feel by the 2019 manifesto?”

Sunak: “I think we have to recognise we’re actually relatively close to a general election, and that’s one thing that should be on all our members’ minds.

“All the conservative values that we cherish, all the policies that we cherish, will come to naught if we lose that next election.

“So who’s best placed to win that election? I believe I offer our party the best chance of winning what will be a historic fifth general election victory which hasn’t been done before.

“Given we’re all this way through Parliament I think a screeching U-turn on lots of policies that were in the 2019 manifesto is going to be tricky to implement.

“What the Government should focus on is now the things that we know are most pressing in people’s minds and grip them.

“So for me that’s the NHS waiting lists, which are a hugely challenging issue for millions of families. Tackling illegal migration. And making sure we realise the benefits of Brexit.

“The thing that will dominate all of those is the economy.”

ConHome: “Do you understand why some party members think that someone who held an American Green Card isn’t really settled here and can’t be Prime Minister?”

Sunak: “I lived and worked in America for a while and that’s why I had a Green Card, so I had the status there. And I happened to have it after I got back and gave it up when I was busy dealing with the pandemic, and as soon as it became relevant I gave it up immediately.

“So I love this country to my core. It’s why I’m sitting here, right, because this country welcomed my family as immigrants. They chose Great Britain because it was a very special place.

“I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to this country for everything it’s done for me and my family and I want to be Prime Minister to try to provide those same opportunities for everyone else, that’s what I’m about.”

ConHome: “How are you going to build us some houses?”

Sunak: “I set out a few ideas at your hustings. We need to do far more brownfield remediation…”

ConHome: “Will you repeal the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act?”

Sunak: “I don’t think I can commit to that here and now [laughter]. Brownfield remediation…”

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Book review: Murray tries and fails to stir up panic about a “war on the West”

27 May

The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason  by Douglas Murray

This author makes, in his introduction, a number of preposterous claims. Here is his opening paragraph:

“In recent years it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West. This is not like earlier wars, where armies clash and victors are declared. It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.”

How can Douglas Murray suggest that this “war”, as he terms it, has only “in recent years” become apparent?

At pretty much any time one cares to name in recent centuries, conservatives have feared that tradition is in danger both from barbarian invaders, and from reformers within the gates who wish to sweep away all we have built, and erect a glittering new edifice in which their reign of virtue can begin.

The French Revolutionaries promised this. Various varieties of Communist promised it. In the 1960s, rebellious students and satirists set out to subvert every traditional source of authority.

In order to justify his hysterical tone, Murray goes in search of enemies who today pose a mortal threat. By page four he has found the Communist Party of China, and complains:

“almost nobody speaks of China with an iota of the rage and disgust poured out daily against the West from inside the West.”

That is true, and this reviewer would not wish for one moment to downplay the horrors perpetrated by China. But the same double standard was applied by many in the West to the Soviet Union.

The problem is not new, and working out what to do about it, or how to contain it, is the work of decades, perhaps of centuries.

But Murray’s fiercest argument is with those inside the West who wish to debilitate the West. In 2017, he recalls, he brought out The Strange Death of Europe, in which (as he says in the volume under review) he asked why the Europeans have allowed mass migration, “and why they were expected to abolish themselves in order to survive”.

According to Murray, only Western countries “were told constantly that in order to have any legitimacy at all…they should swiftly and fundamentally alter their demographic makeup”.

That is a gross over-simplification. In pretty much every Western country, there have been big arguments about immigration. In Australia, the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, pretty much anywhere one cares to name, politicians have come to realise they will only possess legitimacy if they avert unrestricted immigration.

Africans are at this moment suffering in abominable camps in Libya because the European Union has devised ways to stop them crossing the Mediterranean.

A further paradox, untouched on by Murray, is that many British politicians of immigrant descent – one thinks of such figures as Kwasi Kwarteng, Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel and Kemi Badenoch – express conservative opinions with wonderful gusto.

If Enoch Powell were still alive, he would perhaps concede that the British nation and British political tradition have proved more adaptable, and durable, than he had feared.

Where does Brexit fit in Murray’s narrative of a war on the West? He ignores that question and is instead indignant that “we have been pushed into racial hyper-awareness”:

“In recent years, I have come to think of racial issues in the West as being like a pendulum that has swung past the point of correction and into overcorrection.”

He continues:

“Racism is not the sole lens through which our societies can be understood, and yet it is increasingly the only lens used. Everything in the past is seen as racist, and so everything in the past is tainted.”

Is this really true, or is the pendulum already swinging back against such a simplistic reading of history? On one of my regular walks I pass a house, on a leafy slope on the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath, in the window of which for some months I was faintly irritated to see a hand-written sign which said “SILENCE IS VIOLENCE”.

The sign has now been taken down. I accept that this does not amount to conclusive proof that the moral panic which swept at hurricane force across Britain as well as America after the murder of George Floyd has blown itself out.

But things have died down a bit. No more statues have been thrown into Bristol harbour. Churchill still stands in Parliament Square, his plinth at present unsullied by accusations that he was a racist.

On page 126 of his book, Murray alludes to a Policy Exchange pamphlet in which Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes rebutted the slurs cast at Churchill in February 2021 during a panel discussion at Churchill College, Cambridge.

So the pendulum does still swing, and contentions which for a short time have held sway are exposed to criticism, and cease to be quite so fashionable. It turns out to be possible to disapprove in the strongest terms of racism, without supposing it offers a complete interpretation of the past.

Gebreyohanes has just become Director of Restore Trust, an organisation set up, as she explained in a piece for The Times, to return the National Trust to its founding values and objectives.

Murray is in grave need of opponents, and inclined to magnify their importance. Many of those he finds are in the United States. He digs up Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, both of whom used to be more influential than they are now, and various other figures who may or may not become influential.

Karl Marx is dug up too, and we are reminded of some of that thinker’s today unacceptable views on race. Murray remarks ruefully that although the bust of Marx in Highgate Cemetery has from time to time been daubed in red paint, there have been “no online petitions or crowd efforts to pull it down and kick it into a nearby river”.

There is actually no river nearby, and to kick this colossal bust anywhere would be a difficult task, liable to end in many stubbed toes.

Marx, however, suffers what is in some ways a greater humiliation. He is ridiculed, or treated as a mere curiosity. If one does not wish to pay to enter the cemetery, one can see him through the railings on the southern edge of Waterlow Park, at a distance which reduces the bust to an acceptable size.

That is how the British public has long been inclined to deal with intellectuals who take themselves too seriously: it peers through the railings and laughs at them.

It seldom occurs to Murray that the best way to deal with fashionable absurdities is to laugh at them, and to trust to the good sense and conservatism of the wider public. Edmund Burke (absent from this book) put the point with genius in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”

Murray has flattered the loud and troublesome insects of the hour by writing a whole book about them.

Since this ill-titled volume went to press, Vladimir Putin has ordered the invasion of Ukraine. There the true war on the West is being waged. The Ukrainians’ fight for freedom reminds us how trivial most of the pseudo-war recounted in this book really is.

Our Cabinet League Table. Wallace top again, Patel up, Johnson down – and Sunak in the red

25 Apr
  • This is Ben Wallace’s third table-topping month (with 85 points his rating has barely moved), and a pattern is beginning to form below him – as Liz Truss, Nadhim Zahawi and Anne-Marie Trevelyan come in variously at second, third and fourth (with scores in the mid to low sixties).  Both the first of those and now the second are being written up as potential leadership candidates.
  • Priti Patel was bottom of the table last month on -17 points, having languished at the lower end of it for some time – not least because of the small boats issue.  The Government now has a policy to deal with it, and her rating consequently jumps to 31 points, near the middle of the table.
  • Boris Johnson was in the same zone last month, having been in negative ratings for the previous three, and is now back down again – third from bottom.  Ukraine will have pushed him up last month; partygate will have pulled him down this. But the driver of his low scores is that the Government is too left-wing, at least in the view of many activists.
  • Rishi Sunak plunged last month to third from bottom in the wake of the Spring Statement (on plus eight points).  He drops to last place this month, coming in at minus five points, in the wake of the furore about his wife’s tax affairs and former non-dom status.  It is perhaps surprising that his fall isn’t larger; it may even be that the worst is behind him – in this table at least.

The best energy strategy possible – in the absence of fracking and onshore wind.

8 Apr

Yesterday brought us the long-heralded arrival of the Government’s new ‘Energy Security Strategy’. With the crisis in Ukraine demonstrating how relying upon Russian oil and gas might not be the best option from a geopolitical perspective, this strategy promises to end decades of ducking the big decisions on the UK’s energy needs. Did it deliver?

The proposals are certainly ambitious. The Government aims for 24 GW of Britain’s power to come from nuclear fission by 2050, delivered by eight new large reactors and several smaller ones. Since Britain is on track to have only one nuclear power station by 2035, this is a rather large change of tack. The strategy also calls for 50 GW of offshore wind by 2035 – more than the UK’s current average electricity consumption.

Alongside these headline proposals is also mentioned new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and a push to expand the number of solar farms. All in all, it is certainly the most forward-thinking approach to energy in living memory. But since it took a major land war in Europe to shake ministers out of the torpor that usually surrounds energy policy, this is not saying much.

There are a few very obvious issues with the policy, the biggest being that it does not address the primary current political problem with energy: household bills. Launching your big new energy strategy with the confirmation that bills may not fall for five years was hardly the best look for Kwasi Kwarteng. These measures are good comfort to the consumers of 2050, not 2022.

Due to Treasury penny-pinching, there is nothing in the strategy on insulation. Some have touted insulation as the fastest way to reduce demand for energy by plugging Britain’s heat-leaky homes. Households could save up to £500 a year, according to reports. But the Treasury balked at the £200 million cost for a scheme designed to help the lowest paid insulate their homes, so any strategy to reduce household demand appears a non-starter.

Indeed, this strategy focuses entirely on supply at the expense of demand, and, in that context, looks at only those forms of supply which are least likely to set off Tory backbenchers. When the Prime Minister’s Chief Whip is the man who bounced his predecessor but one into opposing onshore wind farm construction, it is hardly surprising that Johnson’s energy strategy prioritises offshore turbines.

Onshore wind does get a mention, but it is a far cry the potential push for mass liberalisation of planning rules that Kwarteng and Michael Gove were reportedly pushing for in Cabinet two weeks ago. Instead, the Government only says it will be aiming to develop partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who want new wind infrastructure for guaranteed lower bills.

This idea of bribing local communities with lower bills in return for new energy infrastructure is one Craig Mackinlay highlighted on this site earlier this week. But he did so in the context of fracking. For those for whom the f-word is the solution to our energy needs, this strategy is not a shale of a time. Fracking does not get a mention, although Kwarteng did announce a review into it earlier this week.

That onshore wind and fracking do not feature in this strategy is unsurprising. Again, this is an energy policy driven not only by the obvious necessity of securing our energy supplies in a dangerous geopolitical environment, but also of securing the Prime Minister’s own position in an oft-dangerous domestic political environment for him personally.

So turbines are pushed into the sea, deadlines are pushed into the future, and the centre piece of the strategy becomes a big announcement on nuclear – the likes of which, as Peter Franklin has shown, have been made by many previous governments. This strategy is not so much for facing the future, as for facing down backbench revolts. A depressing prospect for a government with an 80-seat majority.

It also suggests that ministers have missed out on a subtle shift in the political mood. In the same way that Russia’s invasion has forced the Government to confront an energy security issue it would much rather duck, voters appear to have grasped that surging bills require hard choices over supply. That’s if they want to see costs come down any time before I’m middle-aged.

Robert Colville has highlighted how polling suggests that onshore wind is more popular than often thought. A poll from Savanta ComRes has shown that more voters support an expansion of fracking than do not. A strategy that pushed further with Mackinlay’s idea of winning around local communities to both these two approaches could have achieved something much more radical.

But, alas. Even if Number 10 was in a mood to be radical at the moment, the Treasury is unwilling to stump up the cash for it to be so. So whilst the ‘Energy Security Strategy’ may be a worthy attempt to tackle a long-neglected topic in a way that addresses pressing needs within a hostile political climate, its bold ambitions are not backed by bold actions.

And with voters worrying about tripling bills, this will not enough to spare the Government the political pain this cost-of-living crisis will inevitably bring. It may have kept a few backbenchers and ministers happy, but it is not the answer to Britain’s current energy needs.

Henry Hill: Kwarteng is wrong to rule out ‘imposing’ nuclear power stations in Scotland

7 Apr

“It is a devolved affair, that is up to people in Edinburgh to decide what their nuclear policy is.”

Thus spake Kwasi Kwarteng when asked whether Scotland would play its proper part in the Government’s proposals for a new generation of British nuclear power stations. Instead, all eight will be built in England and Wales.

Assuming they get built at all, of course. Because the Business Secretary’s reluctance to build in the face of local opposition is not merely owed to the unfortunate state of devolution.

Challenged on Radio 4 about other aspects of the energy strategy, such as wind farms, he offered the following:

“So unlike other countries, we can’t simply impose infrastructure on people if they don’t want it and that’s a really important democratic principle.”

Except it isn’t. The ability of a (democratically-elected!) central government to impose decisions reflects the facts that many things of great benefit to the nation impose local costs; if you give local communities a veto, vital infrastructure doesn’t get built and we’re all poorer for it.

In this case, Scotland will benefit as much as the rest of the UK from greater British energy security. It should therefore play its full part in delivering it, including through the construction of nuclear plants.

Unfortunately, the Government and its predecessors have instead given the SNP free rein to indulge their unscientific antipathy to one of the best sources of clean energy we have – and likely free-ride on the British solution being delivered elsewhere. Energy should not be devolved.

At least it hasn’t given them a veto on North Sea oil and gas production, which is set for a boost.

Tories fielding highest-ever number of candidates in Wales, but fighting just half of seats

Today Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, announced today that the Party will be contesting more seats than ever before at next month’s local election.

According to the BBC, there will be 669 Tories on the ballot paper in May. Yet whilst an improvement, this still means that overall the Party is contesting just over 54 per cent of the available seats, versus 49 per cent in 2017.

The overall figures also contain very wide regional variation. According to figures seen by ConservativeHome, the Conservatives a fielding a full slate in just six of the 22 local authorities; they are contesting fewer than 20 per cent of available seats in another six.

Local sources say that it is often simply difficult to find sufficient candidates when every seat is being contested at once. But there are also more obvious challenges. In Flintshire, where the Tories are fighting only 20 per cent of available seats, they think it would have been very different without the scandals surrounding Rob Roberts, the MP for Delyn, and the hairs-breadth miss of Alyn and Deeside in 2019.

Scottish Tories back trans conversion therapy ban

Douglas Ross and Boris Johnson have enjoyed something of a rapprochement in recent weeks. Having previously sent a letter to Sir Graham Brady, the Scottish Tory leader now believes the Prime Minister should remain in post even in the event that he is fined over ‘partygate’.

But that doesn’t mean the party in Scotland isn’t looking for opportunities to put some clear blue water between the two, and this week they announced that they will not follow Johnson’s u-turn on conversion therapy in trans cases.

The Scotsman reports the party’s gender reform spokesperson as saying:

“As our manifesto for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election made clear, we are in favour of a ban on the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy.

“We continue to support a ban on conversion therapy, including trans conversion therapy, and we will vote for that ban if the legislation comes through the Scottish Parliament.”

The Government has backed off the ban in trans cases because of concerns that it would hinder professionals from properly probing cases where children claim to have gender dysphoria but may not.

Our Cabinet League Table. Sunak plunges to third from bottom.

4 Apr
  • Last September, I reported that Dominic Raab had plummeted third from top in July to fourth from bottom in our Cabinet League Table.  Today, he is back to sixth from top, having worked his way out of the relegation zone.
  • I write this to offer comfort to enthusiasts for Rishi Sunak, who was eleventh last month, but now finds himself plunged to third from bottom, in the wake of a Spring Statement with which the majority of our panel is dissatisfied.
  • Having managed the table for a long time, I know that what goes down can come up again – and vice-versa.  Our respondents are very knowing, and many use the table as a form of running commentary rather than a means of permanent judgement.
  • At the top, the changes are very marginal, with Steve Barclay’s fall of nine points from 64 to 55, and drop from second to fifth, being the largest movement in the top ten – and it’s not a very large one in the great scheme of events.
  • At the bottom, Priti Patel falls into negative ratings after a month’s bad headlines over Ukrainian refugees.  The Home Office is so permanently troubled that it’s hard to see her moving up towards the comfort of mid-table in the near future.
  • Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is out of negative ratings, where he had been for three months running, and into the middle of the table.  This is at once an impressive recovery from where he was and a lacklustre rating given his position as Prime Minister.
  • Johnson will undoubtedly have gained from his handling of the Ukraine, which received an overwhelming thumbs up from our panel.  Ninety-three per cent took a positive view of it and 58 per cent a negative one of Sunak’s Spring Statement.