Interview: Truss. “The number one problem in this country, which everyone is feeling in their pockets, is a lack of economic growth.”

29 Jul

“I don’t believe in regrets,” Liz Truss says. She does not repine at the blue on blue attacks during the leadership debates, and wants instead to concentrate in the two years until the general election on “really delivering what we promised in the 2019 manifesto”.

Truss gives an unrepentant defence of her tax plans and her determination to go for growth, and proposes changing the Bank of England’s mandate. She says she would be “very happy to have Rishi as part of my team”.

Since the start of the leadership campaign, she added, she has “taken Twitter off my phone, and I’m living in bliss, just focussed on Conservative Party members”.

According to Truss,

“People voted Conservative not because they wanted some Labour policies. They changed their vote from Labour to the Conservatives because they wanted things to be different.”

In this interview – which was held yesterday morning, in the new CCHQ in Leeds – she outlines how she wants things to be different, but first touches on the sudden end to the Talk TV election debate earlier this week.

ConHome: “Have you given the inside story of that Kate McCann fainting fit in full?”

Truss: “You know, she just, she fainted, I was busy talking about Russia/Ukraine, I didn’t know what had happened, I was just completely shocked. I’m very pleased that she’s better now.”

ConHome: “Did you actually tend her yourself, did you bend over her?”

Truss: “I went to try and help her, and then some people arrived with some medical equipment. The whole set-up was that there was an audience, but they were in a different studio, so I think a lot of people didn’t realise what had actually happened.”

ConHome: “During this week’s BBC debate, the Political Editor of The Times tweeted, “A spokesman for Liz Truss claims that Rishi Sunak is not fit for office: ‘Rishi Sunak has tonight proven he is not fit for office. His aggressive mansplaining and shouty private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and is a gift to Labour’.

“Is Sunak fit for office? If not, why? And if so, why the tweet?”

Truss: “Rishi is someone who, you know, is a very effective minister. I would be very pleased to have Rishi as part of my team, depending on how things work out, and I’m not in any way complacent.

“There’s still a lot of this campaign to go. What we’ve seen in this leadership contest is really talented people come forward, you know, Kemi, Penny, Suella, and what the future needs to be, we need to bring the party together, we need to have the best of the Conservative Party and people who are people that deliver and can drive forward our country, and that’s my focus.”

ConHome: “So this tweet didn’t convey your views.”

Truss: “I don’t know anything about this tweet. I have to say that since this election campaign has started I’ve taken Twitter off my phone, and I’m living in bliss, just focussed on Conservative Party members, travelling round the country talking to members, and my positive message which is about turbo-charging our economy, unleashing the potential of Britain, keeping taxes low, being pro-business, that’s what my campaign is about.”

ConHome: “But does someone tweet on your behalf? Sometimes on Twitter you have to be quite spontaneous and quick.”

Truss: “I know, but we’re here in Leeds today for the hustings, and I’m just being totally focussed on talking to our members, because that’s what this is, this is the party members’ decision.

“And there’s all kinds of people on Twitter who’ve got absolutely nothing to do with the Conservative Party. So actually the majority of them perhaps are not of our way of thinking.”

ConHome: “We focus on the tweets, though, because it captures perhaps the slightly self-destructive – in party terms – nature of some of the debate so far.

“Because we’ve also seen those debates where hackles have been raised and accusations of mansplaining have later been levelled.

“Do you regret taking part in any of those debates? Do you think they’re distracting from you actually going to hustings and speaking to party members?”

Truss: “I don’t believe in regrets.”

ConHome: “Je ne regrette rien. To quote your favourite singer, you just want to shake it off, do you?”

Truss: “Well absolutely, Taylor had it right. But look, this leadership election happened very, very quickly. And in fact I was in Indonesia when the PM took the decision to step down and when I arrived back in the United Kingdom frankly a lot of the die had been cast on the format of this leadership election.

“And it is what it is. I think we’ve now had the opportunity to debate, people have seen there is a serious economic divide between me and Rishi.

“We’ve had that out in a series of debates. So whatever the other stuff, I think people understand my position on taxation, my position on economic growth, being pro-active on those post-Brexit freedoms to unleash the potential of our economy.

“And the debate has highlighted that fundamental difference. But now I am focussed on working, talking to party members, putting across a broader range of policies.

“And I don’t think the debates are the best format. I think the hustings that we’re having are a better format to have that discussion.”

ConHome: “On economic policy, you’ve also mentioned in the last week that you think the mandate of the Bank of England should be changed. How would you change the mandate? How high do you think interest rates should be?”

Truss: “We should look again at the Bank of England’s mandate. It was set in 1997 in completely different times, and one of the issues round controlling inflation is around monetary policy, and that’s not just about interest rates, it’s also about quantitative easing that is taking place.

“And I want to look at the best practice of central banks around the world, look at which banks have been best at controlling inflation, and revisit the mandate.

“I haven’t made any decisions and the Chancellor hasn’t made any decisions about exactly how that mandate would change.

“But I think it’s important that we review our monetary policy and the monetary policy settings and the mandate of the Bank of England, and make sure it is delivering for the times we’re in now.

“And of course inflation is a major concern for people. It has pushed up people’s bills, it’s one of the reasons I want to make sure we are taking as little in tax from people as possible, because of those inflationary pressures that they’re facing.”

ConHome: “The route traditionally to lower taxes is reducing spending. You have proposed a spending review. Do you have any idea of what areas you would want to cut in order to finance tax cuts, or do you think this is not necessarily something you have to do in order to cut taxes?”

Truss: “First of all, some of the tax points I’m making are about not raising taxes. So the current proposal is that we raise corporation tax to be the same level as France.

“And I think that will put off investors from investing in Britain, in fact there’s some evidence that that is already happening, and it will mean in the long term we get less revenue in.

“So as has been pointed out by many, if you raise taxes too high, it’s counterproductive, you get less revenues in.

“The tax reduction I’m proposing on National Insurance, which is reversing the decision that broke our manifesto commitment, and holding tax low on corporation tax, as well as having a temporary moratorium on the Green Levy, those are affordable within our existing budgets.

“And we will still be able to start paying down the National Debt in three years.

“But what I will do is take the tough supply-side decisions in order to really get the economy going, so low-tax investment zones, sorting out Solvency II and MIFID, sorting out the trade unions, putting that legislation through on essential services…”

ConHome: “Building more houses?”

Truss: “Well I’ll come to that in a minute. But so that we get the economy going, which is important to avoid a recession.

“The number one problem in this country, which everyone is feeling in their pockets, is a lack of economic growth. We’re currently projected to have a recession, we need to avoid that, we need to get growth going, and we need to keep taxes low.

“Now on the Spending Review, I did want to answer that question, I don’t want to cut public spending. So I support the extra money that we’re putting into social care, for example.

“What I want to do is reform the public sector over the long term, so it’s more efficient. So for example we have many people who are currently economically inactive. We need to improve the incentives to help get those people into work.

“But that takes time. So what I will do is lay out a ten-year plan for public service reform, and a ten-year plan to change Britain’s economic growth rate.

“We should be growing on average at 2.5 per cent. And happiness is a faster-growing private sector than public sector. That’s what we need to achieve.

“What is a mistake is putting up taxes now that will hamper growth. You cannot tax your way to growth. Do you want me to answer on housing?”

ConHome: “Yes. Housing is very important, especially for young people who see no hope of ever getting a place of their own.”

Truss: “Absolutely, but the way we have gone about it, and I say this not just recently, but the previous Labour Government as well, top-down Whitehall-set housing targets do not work.

“They create huge fear across the country, and they haven’t actually delivered the housing that we need.

“So what I favour, I’m talking about these low-tax investment zones which will also have a simpler planning system attached to them, more incentives at a local level to build houses, but that also are connected to businesses, a modern Bournville if you like, and infrastructure.

“We need to think differently, and we also need different approaches in different parts of the country. What’s good in Cornwall is not necessarily good in London. In London I support more building up of houses, allowing people to extend their houses upwards, using brownfield sites.

“In places like Cornwall, having more homes where people working in local industry can live and they’re attached to each other, like Bournville.

“What we have at the moment is a very antiquated, antediluvian planning system.”

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

Truss: “What I would do is use the Levelling Up Bill to put in these low-tax investment zones and to do what we can to improve the system.

“But the system does need long-term reform.”

ConHome: “So the Town and Country Planning Act wouldn’t apply in these zones?”

Truss: “Well there would be new zoning rules. But these zones, they would be locally driven, they would only be there if it was supported by the local Members of Parliament, the local council, that’s important.

“I was a councillor in Greenwich and I sat on a planning committee and it is hours of my life I will never get back. The whole system where you make all these decisions and then you get overruled by the inspectorate in Bristol doesn’t work, and we do need to change that.

“A lot of the things I’m talking about need long-term reform, but my absolute objective is in the two years until the general election really delivering what we promised in the 2019 manifesto, getting the economy growing, reducing taxes, to help people to get into work, help companies start up.

“I want us to be on the side of the self-employed, the small businesses, the people who get out of bed every day to get into work, and who do the right thing. That’s what I want to focus on.

“There are longer-term reforms needed in government, longer-term reforms needed to help the economy grow, but the immediate focus has to be on unleashing that potential and driving growth.”

ConHome: “We interviewed Rishi Sunak yesterday and he was citing without actually naming Patrick Minford and saying with your tax plans interest rates would go up to seven per cent, that’s what Minford has said.

“We wondered whether with interest rates at seven per cent perhaps there’d be a housing crash.”

Truss: “Frankly this is just scaremongering. Inflation is projected to come down next year. And the Bank of England is independent, it makes decisions about interest rates completely independently of government.”

ConHome: “Should it have raised interest rates sooner?”

Truss: “Well, as I’ve said, I want to review the mandate.”

ConHome: “And that won’t impair their independence, reviewing the mandate?”

Truss: “No.”

ConHome: “They might start to feel a bit nervous.”

Truss: “Well are we really saying that the mandate Gordon Brown set in 1997 is fixed in stone forever? I mean that seems an extraordinary claim.

“It’s always been the case that the Bank of England operate within the mandate set by the Chancellor. And what I’m saying is that should be reviewed.

“But the tax plans I put forward, first of all not raising corporation tax is not inflationary, in fact it should have a positive effect on bringing down inflation because we’re increasing supply in the economy, so there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest any of my plans would affect inflation.”

ConHome: “This contest is obviously affected by the early release of ballot papers, which has incentivised you to make pledges early, and then of course the question is whether the pledges are deliverable.

“And an obvious example is your commitment to lifting the ban on new grammar schools. There’s not much more than two years left. How could you get this through the Lords? It wasn’t in the manifesto so you can’t say the Parliament Act covers this as a manifesto commitment.”

Truss: “Well I’m a huge supporter of grammar schools. I went to school not too far from here, at Roundhay School in Leeds which was a comprehensive.”

ConHome: “Was it a former grammar school?”

Truss: “It was a former grammar school and it became a comprehensive school. My two daughters now attend a grammar school, and I want people around the country to have the choice that we have to be able to send our daughters to a grammar school.

“And I also want to see more free schools opened, so for example the Michaela School in Brent I think is a fantastic example of a school which completely counters the soft bigotry of low expectations and expects high standards of everybody.

“And for me it’s about parents and children having the choice of that range of good schools. And the more good schools we have the more choice people have.”

ConHome: “What are you going to be able to do about this, supposing you become Prime Minister, between now and the next general election?”

Truss: “Well I will make the case to the country that this is the right thing to do, and I will encourage the Lords to support the will of the democratically elected House of Commons.”

ConHome: “Do you feel constrained by the 2019 manifesto? Are there things that you were elected on in 2019 that you would not necessarily agree with, that you would rather scrap and embark on a more Trussite agenda if you had the chance?”

Truss: “I think it’s a very good manifesto. We need to deliver it. And what people are going to judge us on at the next general election is have we delivered.

“This is why it’s so important for me not to raise National Insurance when we didn’t have to, because we had a specific manifesto commitment not to do so.

“It also why it’s important to level up the country, get spades in the ground, show the economy is growing, because that is the big promise we made in 2019, that things were going to be different.

“People voted Conservative not because they wanted some Labour policies. They changed their vote from Labour to the Conservatives because they wanted things to be different.

“They want to see more enterprise in their area, more opportunities, more good schools, better transport. Those are all the things that we promised. That is why people voted Conservative and that is what we need to deliver.”

ConHome: “At what point then did you realise it was a mistake to have voted Remain in 2016?”

Truss: “Well pretty much after the public voted to leave. First of all, the public have voted that, I said on the day I’m putting my shoulder to the wheel to deliver this.

“And pretty much immediately frankly I saw the huge opportunities, and none of the portents of doom came to fruition.

“I want to get all of the existing EU law off the statute books by the end of 2023.”

ConHome: “Thirty-two per cent of Tory MPs backed you in the last ballot. Boris Johnson was just over half. Iain Duncan Smith was 33 per cent. What kind of basis is this for leading the party in Parliament?”

Truss: “In terms of my parliamentary supporters I’ve got supporters from right across the Conservative Party. And I would want to run a Government of the most talented people wherever they’re from in the country, whichever part of the Conservative Party they’re in.

“And I would unite people around the delivery of our 2019 manifesto, and the promise of unleashing Britain’s opportunities. I’m a positive, optimistic person, I believe our best days are ahead…”

ConHome groaned at the use of the cliché.

Truss: “I do! I hate this declinist stuff. There’s too much talking the country down, saying ‘you can’t do this’, saying ‘if we do this it will all be a disaster’. That’s why I’m in politics.”

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Lessons from Badenoch for Sunak and Truss. The winner will be the candidate most eager to change Britain into a more conservative country.

23 Jul

Is this really the fourth term of Conservative Government? After all, the first term, lasting five years, was a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The second saw a small majority for David Cameron, and ended within little more than twelve months.

The third saw Theresa May lose that majority, and fall within three years. The fourth will see Boris Johnson enter and exit within roughly the same timeframe.

All that within twelve years: Brexit and Covid have compressed the ordinary political cycle. Four Tory terms of four years each would have run to 2026,16 years in all.  Four of five years each would have taken us to 2030.

That would be two years longer than the Margaret Thatcher-John Major continuum of 18 consecutive governing years.  Instead, those four terms will be squeezed into 14 years maximum. Which could have consequences for the psychology of this contest.

Conservative members may approach it asking which candidate would best deal with the crises of our day: cost of living, Ukraine war, the threat to the Union, the skewed distribution of housing and capital between the generations.

Or they may ask themselves which candidate is more likely to win the next general election for the Conservatives. Some will doubtless do both. But others will view the contest in the light of the recent past, not the immediate future.

They will pose themselves the question I posed earlier, but with a focus on the delivery of change. We are twelve years into Conservative government, they will ask themselves, so why isn’t this a more conservative country?

For the longer the Tories are in opposition, the more members want them back in government. That’s why they took a punt on David Cameron in 2005, despite him being the more left-leaning of the two finalists.

But the longer the party is in government, the more those activists ask: what’s the point?  Why hold office at all if we don’t shift the dial?

In one sense, the question is unfair.  The BorisJohnson/Dominic Cummings duo delivered Brexit – the biggest governing change in Britain since the Thatcher years, and with even bigger governing implications.

Cameron gave us the referendum that made it possible. His government drove down the structural deficit.  Michael Gove conjured up the academies and free schools programme. Iain Duncan Smith installed Universal Credit.

But though the Tory actors on stage have come and gone, and played their parts as best they could, many Tory activists will cast a cold eye on what they see as the same old scenery, stage staff, and script.

The Militant Tendency spoke of the commanding heights of the economy. Who controls the commanding heights of our culture, and what shapes so many of the thoughts and crafts so many of the words that our political actors deliver?

I’ve space only to delve into one aspect of the answer, and so select a consistent element of the script under all of the UK’s main parties: the official doctrines of equality, inclusion and diversity.

Parliament, the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces, the quangocracy – all must become more diverse, inclusive and equal, we are told.  And in a multi-racial and multicultural country there will always be a lot of truth in the claim.

But not the whole of it. Which equality? Before the law? Of opportunity?  Of outcome? What diversity – of ethnicity alone? Of class? Of thought? And who are the lest included, and from what?

These are not questions that bother the average voter. But Conservative members, not ordinary punters, will choose their next Party leader, and thus the next Prime Minister. And the consequences of those official doctrines preoccupy many of them.

During the Thatcher years, Party members wanted economic change. Obviously, they will now be concerned with the threat to their living standards, and the row between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss over how to tackle it will help to swing their votes.

But my sense is that the change they most want now is not so much economic as cultural – or rather both, since the two are interconnected. After all, equality of outcome requires mass state intervention. That intervention requires high taxes.

So does what many Tories see as the diversity and inclusion industry, and the burdens it places on smaller businesses that bigger ones can bear. Though for some of them, the cultural costs of woke are even higher.

Defund the police, and order breaks down.  Rubbish your history in education, and your sense of self-confidence breaks collapses.  Neglect out-of-favour groups – such as the white working class – and there can be no true social cohesion.

Most Party members may not know who Munira Mirza is, or have read the Sewell Report‘s demolition of the claim that all ethnic minorities are disadvantaged compared to the majority, or mastered Raghib Ali’s research into how disparities really work.

But they get the point intuitively. I cite the push for diversity almost at ransom – as an example of how, to many Tory members, the actors on stage may change but the script remains the same, because those who write it aren’t removed at election time.

You may think that this view of theirs is hysterical, and that these Conservatives have matters out of proportion; or point out that they are disproportinately old, male and white compared to the rest of the population.

But they are not racists or reactionaries: were they so, the Conservatives would not have produced such a diverse spread of leadership candidates in this poll: Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman, plus Sunak and Truss themselves.

Which takes us to another of those candidates, Kemi Badenoch.  The reason why her campaign got halfway round the Tory world while the other candidates were getting their boots on is that she caught the desire of so many Conservative activists for change.

I suspect the winner of this contest will be the candidate who best captures the Badenochian vibe – and convinces Conservative activists that they will make Britain a more conservative country if elected.

If our survey and YouGov’s polls are right, that is a bigger challenge for Sunak.  The danger for him is that his tax battle with Truss becomes an economic Stalingrad into which he is sucked into with mounting losses.

Perhaps it is too late for him, after those tax rises, his resignation and the Green Card row, to refigure himself in members’ eyes as the Sunak of furlough, before the bills came in – back into the winning guy they’d happily have as a son-in-law.

For crafting a conservative alternative to the official doctrine, exposing the bad faith actors who try to delegitimise it, and persuading civil society to run with it takes time.

It’s one thing to have a Prime Minister’s Office geared up, say, to stopping civil servants using Black Lives Matter hashtags; it would be another to change the Equalities Commission into an Opportunities Commission.

Truss has made a start in this arena as Minister for Women and Equalities, but no more.  Sunak has been focused on the economy, and we have little sense of what he thinks.

Winning elections is a good thing and governing well is even better.  But the key to this election may well be that Conservative members plump for the most conservative candidate.

Is that so hard to understand?  The ballot opens in fewer than ten days. Both candidates are running out of time.  Especially the former Chancellor, if those polls are right.

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A membership vote in late July risks rushing this contest to an end before activists have had a chance to probe the candidates

15 Jul

My assessment of the next stage of the Conservative leadership election on this site yesterday was roughly as follows.  Suella Braverman was the most likely candidate to be eliminated.  Tom Tugendhat would begin to run out of potential votes to pick up.

There was a pathway to the final round for Kemi Badenoch, but it was very narrow indeed.  That open to Liz Truss was a bit wider, and would require her elbowing aside Rishi Sunak or, more likely, Penny Mordaunt.

The logic of events was therefore that Truss’s campaign would target the relatively unknown Mordaunt, who as the candidate most perceived to have momentum would find herself under fire – not only from Truss’s campaign but from Sunak’s, and from most of the Conservative Party’s establishment network of MPs, donors, advisers, SpAds, and (sometimes) journalists. “The most reasonable expectation now is of a Sunak-Mordaunt or Sunak-Truss final round,” I wrote.

I add this morning without pretence of modesty that all this has duly come to pass.  The weekend will see Tugendhat continue to publicise his credentials, with the expectation of a Cabinet seat when the contest ends.

Badenoch will just KBO, as Churchill put it.  Truss, meanwhile, will target Badenoch’s present and especially Braverman’s past support – portraying herself as the best remaining hope for the centre-right of the Party.

Mordaunt’s most likely gambit is to say as little as possible, and hope that her presence as a fresh face carries her into the final.  She is leading a kind of peasants’ revolt against the Party’s elites.  To MPs and activists alike, her key message is: I’m one of you.  Many Conservative MPs feel bruised by the Boris Johnson experience, believe that the Cabinet failed to stand up to him until it was almost too late, and think that their talents have been overlooked.  Mordaunt promises them a new start.

Sunak remains the front-runner among Tory MPs, and is experiencing the minuses as well as the pluses of that perilous position.  His main opponents are many of those who detest the Government’s tax rises and some of those who support Johnson.

The scenario I sketched yesterday morning of MPs voting for one candidate (Sunak) and Party members another (Mordaunt) remains plausible – together with the baleful prospect of the latter arriving in Downing Street as Prime Minister, come September, short of people either willing to serve her, or who are loyal to her, or both.

The leitmotif of this contest has been that it is proceeding at pace and we know less about many of the candidates than we might. That is perhaps inevitable during the Parliamentary stage.  It isn’t during the longer membership stage, which will run from late this month until early September.  But the election may nonetheless be all over before it has chance to get going.

The key is the date set for the opening of the poll, since a substantial slice of them vote immediately.  If the default option is to vote electronically, as I’m told will be the case, that proportion will rise further.  The Party Board apparently agreed last week that members should be able to vote in late July.

The case for this timetable is that many people go on holiday in August, and that there may not be a rush of early returns, since members are likely know less about the final two candidates this time round than they did in 2019.

However, the polls suggest that the members have a view.  YouGov showed Truss beating Sunak by 59 per cent to 35 per cent.  Our survey’s figures were 51 per cent and 34 per cent respectively.

YouGov showed Mordaunt defeating Sunak by 67 per cent to 28 per cent.  Our figures were 58 per cent to 31 per cent.  Our survey came at the start of the week and YouGov’s at the end, and I suspect that the latter picked up the trend to Mordaunt evident last week.

Lord Frost’s blistering attack on her yesterday may or may not slow her progress.  And the wide margins shown by both YouGov and this site in Sunak-Mordaunt and Sunak-Truss head-to-heads may or may not be replicated in future polling.

But whether they are or not, a late July date for the opening of the poll risks making any hustings held later than early August an empty show – since many of those present will already have voted.

Furthermore, members will then have less of a chance than they might to put Sunak, Mordaunt, Truss or whoever under the magnifying glass.  The winner of this election will become Prime Minister.  There is a cost of living crisis and a war in eastern Europe.  The future of the Union is under threat.

Given the scale of the challenges that the candidates will face, proper scrutiny of their outlook, record and plans is imperative.  The date at which polls open in this election should be moved to mid-August.

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Andrew Gimson’s leadership sketch: Sunak strives, as frontrunner, to be both genial and uncommunicative

14 Jul

The women got 223 votes, the men 133. It was nevertheless a woman, Suella Braverman, who was eliminated from the second round of the Great Tory Handicap, known also as the Conservative Leadership Race.

“There is very strong support for the female candidates,” a Lancashire MP said of the party members in his constituency. Since he himself was supporting one of the men, we set some store by this.

“It’s like learning the periodic table,” the Lancashireman went on, as he strove to identify the most obscure MPs flowing into Committee Room 14, where the ballot was being held, and to tick them off on his list.

Which Conservative MP, we wondered, might be Argon, the inert gas discovered in 1894 by Lord Rayleigh and Sir William Ramsay? And who were the other inert gasses? – Krypton, Xenon, Radon, Oganesson, Helium and Neon, in case, like me, you abandoned your scientific studies at an all too early age.

But this attempt to devise a rigorous classification of the parliamentary party was broken by the Lancashireman, who said “some obscure backbencher” was making his way down the Committee Corridor towards us.

A joke! For the obscure backbencher was Rishi Sunak, who was trying to master that odd mixture of geniality and determination not to say anything which is the characteristic of the front runner.

“Are you all right, James?” Sunak asked as he almost bumped into a Tory MP going the other way.

“I’m an incurable romantic,” another MP said, without revealing to what or whom he is attached.

An atmosphere of almost hysterical light-headedness prevailed in the corridor. So much was at stake, and there was so little one could do to affect the outcome, not that this prevented the canvassers for the various campaigns from having a go.

Generally speaking, on these occasions, the worse a campaign is doing, the more visible it feels it has to become.

Here was Jeremy Hunt, already knocked out of the race, beaming at us with the utmost benevolence, as if to show his high spirits had not been in the slightest bit affected.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same,” as the poet said.

And here was a Boris Johnson loyalist, remarking, astutely, that only people who are angry feel sufficiently motivated to write to their MPs.

So although an MP can tell from the postbag whether some constituents are angry, it is more difficult to detect those who are still contented with the Prime Minister, and do not wish to see him torn down by a vengeful mob.

It can happen that some person in authority is never so popular as after he or she has retired, or been sacked, and some new person is struggling, even more inadequately, to fill the vacant post.

When Sir Graham Brady read out the results in his best schoolmasterly tone, it was still pretty much impossible to say who will end up at the top of the class when this strange examination is over.

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Andrew Gimson’s Tory leadership sketch: Mordaunt makes the weather as Brady gives us the marks

13 Jul

Sir Graham Brady entered, his manner that of the headmaster of an upstanding provincial grammar school which upholds traditional teaching methods and gives its pupils an education second to none.

He read out the marks in alphabetical order. Sunak came top with 88. There is every chance he will win a scholarship at one of our leading universities, just so long as he is not tempted across the Atlantic by a munificent offer from some famous American hall of learning.

Bottom of the class were Hunt, with 18, and Zahawi, on 25. They will not be permitted to go through to the next round.

How harsh these traditional methods are, and how dramatic. They produce winners and losers, and do so in the full glare of publicity.

Committee Room 14, where Sir Graham spoke, is a lofty and magnificent chamber overlooking the River Thames, its dark green walls adorned with splendid history paintings, hundreds of MPs crowding in at the last moment to hear the result.

And what an egalitarian occasion it was. Famous MPs rubbed shoulders with unknown ones, everyone had one vote, and the mighty could easily find themselves humiliated

“Heseltine didn’t do very well,” a sketchwriter remarked – a reference to the famous contest of 1990, when Michael Heseltine mortally wounded Margaret Thatcher but was himself defeated by John Major, who became, for Thatcherites maddened by grief, the instrument of their revenge.

“A dark day for Charterhouse,” someone else said. Hunt was head boy of Charterhouse, and had failed to enthuse his fellow MPs.

The actual voting took place earlier in the afternoon in Committee Room 10, behind a fine statue of Joe Chamberlain gazing through his monocle.

Chamberlain, in Winston Churchill’s words, “was the one who made the weather”, but like Heseltine, never became Prime Minister.

Who now makes the weather? Just at the moment, Penny Mordaunt. With 67 votes, she achieved a commanding second place, which means the supporters of the other candidates all want to stop her.

“She’s the mermaid on the front of the Titanic,” one MP remarked. He would not say who he was supporting, but evidently not Penny, as she is generally known.

“She appeals to the failures,” someone else said. This could be a winning strategy: the parliamentary Conservative Party contains hundreds of people who think of themselves as failures.

Between the top and bottom of the class lay Truss on 50, Badenoch 40, Tugendhat 37 and Braverman 32. Someone assured me that Braverman is the most Tory candidate, but just now that does not look like a winning attribute.

The post Andrew Gimson’s Tory leadership sketch: Mordaunt makes the weather as Brady gives us the marks appeared first on Conservative Home.

Next Tory Leader run-offs. Fourth: Suella Braverman

12 Jul

Run-off scores –

Suella Braverman: 30 per cent.

Kemi Badenoch: 48 per cent.

Don’t know: 22 per cent

(947 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 37 per cent.

Penny Mordaunt: 50 per cent.

Don’t know: 13 per cent.

(941 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 40 per cent. (Truss wins by 381 votes to 376.)

Liz Truss: 40 per cent.

Don’t know: 20 per cent.

(942 votes cast.)

Suella Braverman: 47 per cent.

Nadhim Zahawi: 34 per cent.

Don’t know: 19 per cent.

(940 votes cast.)

Suella Braverman: 49 per cent

Sajid Javid: 37 per cent.

Don’t know: 14 per cent.

(940 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 51 per cent.

Rishi Sunak: 37 per cent.

Don’t know: 13 per cent.

(942 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 53 per cent.

Tom Tugendhat: 33 per cent.

Don’t know: 14 per cent.

(938 votes cast.)

Suella Braverman: 55 per cent

Priti Patel: 19 per cent

Don’t know: 16 per cent

(938 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 56 per cent.

Grant Shapps: 24 per cent.

Don’t know: 19 per cent.

(941 votes cast)

Suella Braverman: 58 per cent.

Jeremy Hunt: 29 per cent.

Don’t know: 13 per cent.

(940 votes cast)

This result suggests that the Attorney General and former Spartan could flourish in the event of making the final round.

The post Next Tory Leader run-offs. Fourth: Suella Braverman appeared first on Conservative Home.

David Gauke: Rwanda and the ECHR, the Protocol and law, steel and the WTO. All show that sovereignty isn’t absolute.

20 Jun

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the 2019 general election.

The curious thing about being in Ministerial office is how much power other people have. There is something you want to do – or something you want to stop – and despite your supposedly exalted position it turns out that not everything is under your control. It can be annoying.

The most contentious element of this phenomenon in recent times has, of course, been membership of the European Union. This meant that a large number of policy options that Ministers might want to pursue were no longer available. It did not matter who voters elected, the Government was not permitted, for example, to scrap VAT on domestic fuel. This, it was argued, is undemocratic and therefore we should take back control and leave the EU. It was an argument that many found persuasive in the 2016 referendum.

One point that has been highlighted in recent days is that membership of the European Union is not the only constraint on the policies that the UK government can pursue. In the past week, we have had controversies over compliance with the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol, the European Convention on Human Rights and the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

In each case, the Government finds itself in the position of wanting to do something but is constrained by international obligations. It does not want border checks in the Irish Sea but such checks are imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol. It wants to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda but may only do so in accordance with the provisions on the European Convention on Human Rights. And it wants to maintain tariffs on Chinese steel but may only do so in accordance with WTO rules.

The Government has a problem with each case and with each case it is taking a different approach. With the Northern Ireland Protocol it is trying to argue that there is a legal justification for unilaterally changing the terms of the agreement (its arguments are widely seen as hopeless, but let us not dwell on that here). In other words, it is looking to change the obligations placed on it. On the ECHR, it is going through the legal process arguing that it is complying with existing law. And, from what we know about Lord Geidt’s resignation as the Prime Minister’s Ethics Adviser, the Government appears to be considering openly breaching WTO rules.

If the Government were fully to embrace the logic of ‘take back control’ it would simply pursue the policy it wanted and damn the consequences. If the UK Government with the confidence of the House of Commons wants to remove border checks, deport asylum seekers and subsidise domestic steel, why should it not?

At this point, we collide with reality. An absolutist approach to sovereignty comes at a very high cost.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to resolve a problem that ultimately allowed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement to be concluded. This gives the UK and the EU tariff-free and quota-free access to each other’s markets. Some of us think this deal is inadequate but it is still of value. Jettison the Protocol, and we risk losing tariff-free and quota free access to EU markets.

The ECHR is less transactional in its nature, but was driven forward by the UK during the 1950s as a means of protecting individual rights at a time when Europe’s future as a liberal democracy was far from assured. It has helped secure liberal values, exerted pressure on authoritarian regimes and, more recently, played a crucial role in agreeing a framework to Northern Ireland that has ensured peace.

As for the WTO, its rules based system has enabled free trade to thrive in recent decades which has contributed to our own prosperity and lifted millions out of poverty across the globe. Protectionism is a bad policy but it can be popular. As my old friend, Daniel Hannan, points out, tariffs on Chinese steel polls well but results in higher prices for UK consumers. We have an expert Trade Remedies Authority that has looked at this, and advised that the tariffs should be scrapped, which we should follow. (There are times when policy based on evidence and expertise is preferable to adhering to the whims on public opinion, as Daniel most definitely did not put it.)

Not only would the UK be faced with immediate problems of retaliation and enforcement if were to step away from our international obligations but we would also be influencing the international environment for the worse. Other countries might follow suit, contributing to a breakdown in cooperation and trade. This is not in the interests of the UK or the world as a whole.

This is an argument that really should not be terribly contentious. Of course, we can have a debate about whether – in a specific case – the costs of restricting the actions we can take are justified by the associated benefits from the agreement we can reach with others but this should be a debate about trade-offs not absolutes. The challenge here is that this may not be possible in a post-Brexit world.

We are already hearing the argument being made – including, for example, by Suella Braverman, the Attorney General – that people who voted for Brexit will find it very hard to understand that the Government is not able to implement a policy it wants on immigration because it has been overruled by a European Court. There is increasing talk that the Conservatives might fight the next general election on a pledge to take the UK out of the ECHR, to ‘complete Brexit’ and fully take back control.

I have no doubt that is exactly how many Brexit voters will feel, just as many will feel that the UK Government should be able to subsidise UK steelworks and determine for itself how Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade should work. Maybe those are the voters the Conservative Party wishes to focus upon – I suspect they may be – but it would be a disastrous course of action.

To deliver good and effective government, it is necessary to accept that certain constraints apply, that sometimes sovereignty has to be compromised in return for international cooperation. Decisions in this area lie along a spectrum; this is not about absolutism.

This argument is, however, very hard to make if you have spent the last few years suggesting that any such restrictions on Ministers’ discretion as a consequence of our relationship with the EU constitutes an affront to democracy. Unless Ministers get a bit more grown-up in their rhetoric, they are going to set expectations at a level they cannot – and should not – meet.

The post David Gauke: Rwanda and the ECHR, the Protocol and law, steel and the WTO. All show that sovereignty isn’t absolute. first appeared on Conservative Home.

Interview: Frost on Johnson’s future, tax cuts, admiring Cummings, Net Zero – and the abuse he has faced as he mulls his political future

14 Jun

If anything stops Lord Frost from carrying on in politics, it will be the “shocking” degree of personal hostility he has encountered, which he describes, unbidden, at the end of this interview:

“The degree of aggression, hostility on social media and beyond, has been quite striking to me. I’ve had people spit at me in the street, push me, shout at me on trains, this sort of thing.

“So I’m now a bit edgy about any kind of public interaction. That has been a real surprise and disappointment to me.”

He observes that because he became a minister without having first been an MP, he had not become accustomed to some of the rigours of life in the public eye.

Frost resigned as a minister in December last year, in protest at the Government’s “direction of travel”, but is now considering seeking election to the Commons, in order to press Boris Johnson and his team to adopt more Conservative policies, including tax cuts:

“The trouble is in many ways the damage is done in the sense that we’ve now shown to the world we’re willing to raise taxes. You can’t put that genie back into the bottle, other than through a recantation: ‘We got this wrong, it was the wrong thing to do, we’re a low-tax Conservative Party.'”

In this interview he describes how, while serving as a career diplomat, he became a Eurosceptic, and how later he became a “big admirer” of Dominic Cummings.

He deplores the restrictions on freedom of expression during the lockdowns of recent years, and opposes the target of reaching Net Zero by 2050:

“I think we’re going at it too fast with technology that can’t yet do the job, and the risk is that we end up with rationing and demand management rather than achieving the goal.”

But he began by discussing the Northern Ireland Protocol. This interview was conducted at teatime yesterday afternoon, before the Government had published its Bill, but Frost explained the principles which should inform policy, and why it was right in the first place to sign the Protocol, and is right now to insist on changes.

ConHome: “You tweeted this morning: ‘Many are asking for my view of today’s NI Protocol Bill…The Govt is right to act but must get the detail right.’

“You say in between those quotes that you need to read and study it. You won’t have been able to do that yet, but what would getting the details wrong look like, and what are the dangers inherent in the Bill?”

Frost: “We know there’s been a back and forth over the past week internally between groups with different views on this subject, and I suppose what might be a risk would be if they found compromises that tried to keep everybody happy, tried to find middle ways that don’t complete the logic of the direction that’s established.

“Are you going to take the [European] Court out completely, or is there going to be some residual role? Is dual regulation done in a simple way, or in a complicated way?”

ConHome: “You mean they mustn’t muddle it in such a way that all the people who think it isn’t being done properly are on their back, and all the people who complain about breaking international law are on their back, all at the same time? They’ve got to make up their mind what they’re doing?”

Frost: “Yeah, I think that’s fair. This is going to cause a lot of alarms and excursions, obviously. If we’re going to go through this we need to make sure we deliver the result that’s worth having at the end of it.”

ConHome: “What do you think of the objection that this is clearly in breach of international law, the Attorney General is there because she’s a Spartan, they’ve dragged in the Treasury devil but he’s not allowed to pronounce on the legality of the proceedings…”

Frost: “So who knows what’s happened internally on all of that. I think the Attorney General, she’s the legal adviser to the Government and what she says goes, and there’s always debate around things, but I think that is decisive.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the summary of the legal position is when it’s published. It sounds as if the Attorney is convinced there’s an international law support for this course of action.”

ConHome: “Is there not a case for publishing the whole legal advice?”

Frost: “Well it’s not normally done. I don’t think it’s necessary as long as you make clear what the Attorney’s view is.”

ConHome: “One view is that the main problem for the Government is that the Bill won’t persuade the DUP to go back into government in Northern Ireland before it is passed.

“If it doesn’t achieve this end, it will simply help create further ill-will for nothing, won’t it?”

Frost: “Every course of action on the Protocol now has some risk that it won’t bring along somebody, that it won’t bring along one group or another, somebody won’t like it.

“In the end you’ve got to act and invite everybody else to react to that action. So I hope the DUP do what’s necessary and begin to come back in to the Executive after this is tabled, if it is what we think.

“But if they don’t it doesn’t make it any less valid that we should be acting as we are.”

ConHome: “Does anyone ever change their mind about the Protocol? Such a high percentage of the debate is just experts, or supposed experts, repeating their previous positions.”

Frost: “It’s such a complicated and delicately balanced document in the first place that it’s capable of accommodating various interpretations.

“I thought it was carefully balanced, I thought it would last longer than it did, I thought the EU would run it in a more sensitive way than they have done.

“So the fact that they haven’t means I’ve changed my view slightly.

“But the text itself says what is says. It was a response to events.

“And those who say ‘I wish we’d not signed this’ or ‘You shouldn’t have signed it’ have got to face up to the reality at the time.

“It’s very easy for commentators to say ‘I wish it hadn’t been like this’. But they have to say what would they have done faced with the choice of signing an improved but still imperfect Protocol, and getting Brexit to happen, or endless prolongation of the constitutional war and possibly Brexit never happening.

“Those were the actual choices, and to pretend there was some other way through is just trying to have it all ways.”

ConHome: “The objection then becomes that having signed it, you’re in no position now to try to drive a coach and horses through the very vehicle that you signed in this Bill.”

Frost: “I mean I wish it didn’t have to be like this, is the simple answer. It wouldn’t have taken much to run it in a more sensitive way. It is of course not being fully implemented even now. It can only work because of the grace periods and so on.

“I wish it had been possible to do it differently but it isn’t.”

ConHome: “At the other end there are people who say, ‘We could deal rationally with Michael Gove. Indeed we reached a settlement with Michael Gove. But we found David Frost to be a complete monster, who stuck obdurately to a UK position and is responsible for some of this trouble.”

Frost: “So I think what’s happened since I left sort of disproves that. There are two answers to that question. One we came in, I came in in 2019-20 after three years in which the UK had not been saying clearly what it wanted and had been making a terrible hash of the negotiations.

“There was a need to be clear and a need to be forceful in what we said if we were going to get anything to happen.

“Second, this year Liz Truss initially started with a completely different approach and there was a month or so when everyone said this brutish, nationalist Frost has disappeared and we’ve now got somebody who can work.

“And where are we? We’re in exactly the same position. How negotiators are to each other is only a minor element in it. The question is what is the national interest involved.

“There hasn’t been any movement on the national interest involved and that’s why we are where we are.”

ConHome: “When did you become a Brexiteer? One looks at your C.V., Foreign Office, Ambassador to Denmark, you had this key strategy role in the Foreign Office. This is not a C.V. that’s automatically associated with support for Brexit.

“So when did it happen? Did you have to keep it quiet?”

Frost: “I regarded myself as a Eurosceptic pretty soon after I went to Brussels in the Nineties. I went to Brussels with quite conventional opinions and they changed through seeing the way it worked, to be honest.

“And this was the Major Government era and all the drama of that. I think I began to think leaving might be necessary, because one forgets now leaving was really quite a far-out opinion until quite late in this process, I began thinking it might be necessary around the time I left the civil service, around then, 2013.

“I think many of us, it was only when the renegotiation failed, indeed was never seriously tried in the first place, that it seemed like OK there’s no real option left other than leave now.

“It was probably known that my opinions were, within the Foreign Office, quite sceptic. There are people like Charles Grant for example who will say that ‘I never realised he was a Eurosceptic, he never seemed to show any sign of it when I met him’.

“Well good, I was supposed to be representing the Government, that was the job. It doesn’t mean one can’t have internal convictions on things.”

ConHome: “When you did the Scotch Whisky Association job [Frost was Chief Executive 2014-16] your line in the referendum was pro-Remain. Presumably that came with the job?”

Frost: “Again, I represented the views of the members on that. Actually, I was on the Council of Open Europe at the time, and Dom Cummings, who I didn’t know, did a bit of a hit job on me in May during the referendum campaign.

“So if you look on Guido round about that time you will find some of my internal emailing leaked to him, which shows that my private opinion was different.

“That was actually quite awkward for me at the time.”

ConHome: “Is Cummings a loss to the Government, or had the position become completely impossible?”

Frost: “I think he is a loss. I’m a big admirer of Dom. I haven’t agreed with him on everything, in particular on aspects of lockdown, Covid policy, we’ve had a different view, but I think his focus and ability to look through the day to day noise, focus on the goal, work out what’s important to it, what isn’t, you know that’s quite a rare skill in government, and it’s even rarer to be given a chance to act on it.

“So I think you need somebody like that, you need people who are able to do that. Otherwise you become overwhelmed by the day-to-day noise.”

ConHome: “Do they have that in the team now?”

Frost: “Well I don’t know the current team as well as I know the predecessor. It’s not obvious from events that they have that at the moment. But if they haven’t, they ought to try to get it.”

ConHome: “Are you enjoying being a columnist? You can say whatever you like, you’re not constrained by collective responsibility. Do you enjoy it?”

Frost: “I do quite. I might get a bit weary of saying, at some point, and want to do doing again. Who knows? But at the moment I’m enjoying it.”

ConHome: “You have become a kind of right-wing poster boy. You’re writing in favour of a small state, lower taxes, you’re sceptical about lockdowns, sceptical about Net Zero, you want less regulation.

“To the members, this is a dream, and you do recognise what’s going on. There’s a lot of conversation about ‘If only they’d do what Lord Frost tells them to do, and if only Lord Frost were there to do it’.”

Frost: “Yeah, I mean it’s been a bit of a surprise to me to be honest. I’ve been a party member, off and on, for some time, obviously you can’t do much more when you’re in government, but you’re allowed to have convictions about things.

“What I say now I just regard as normal conservatism. You know, let’s get the state back down to the size it was when Gordon Brown was in power, that’s good.

“That doesn’t make you in favour of a night watchman state. It just makes you in favour of trying to shrink it when you can.

“I think lockdowns were extremely damaging and liberated some extremely worrying forces and currents of opinion that we need to do our best to put back in their box.”

ConHome: “Which are what?”

Frost: “The authoritarian state. Vaccine passports and wherever that may lead. Some of the constraints on the free expression of opinion that happened from time to time during lockdown.”

ConHome: “Anything in particular?”

Frost: “The most obvious thing is where did all this start, was it a lab leak or not, the ability to debate that. I thought it was also suggestive they took quite some time before they acknowledged the vaccines don’t prevent transmission, they only prevent symptoms.

“There was a kind of month or two where that was obvious but it was not acknowledged in official statements, and then became too obvious not to.

“I think one of the most worrying things was the inability to look objectively at the evidence, weigh it up, come to reasoned conclusions. There was much too much doubling down on ‘we did this so we must stick to doing it, even if the evidence points in a different direction’.”

ConHome: “You said last month, ‘I don’t think the Lords is a particularly brilliant place to do real politics from. I think you need to be in the Commons to do real politics, that’s obvious…if in future the opportunity comes up and the party wants me to do it, obviously I would be ready to stand down from the seat and do proper politics again.’

“Do you want to be in the House of Commons?”

Frost: “It was a new thing to me. I left out of concern about the direction of travel and the plan B. I hadn’t really intended to continue political life in a different way.

“But then there’s been this speculation about would I do it. What you’ve just quoted says what I think. The House of Lords is a great institution and I don’t want to undermine Conservative colleagues who do a good job and are very necessary to getting the business through.

“But the fact is it’s an unelected house. You can’t take controversial positions in it, you can’t easily advocate cases, and in the end you can’t and shouldn’t I think really block and change things in the Lords.

“If you aspire to shape opinion and make things happen I think it’s right that you should be in the Commons. Whether I want and will do that I’ll see.”

ConHome: “To be clear, you’re mulling the possibility.”

Frost: “Yes, I think that’s fair.”

ConHome: “The obvious critique of all this is look, here’s Lord Frost, he was quite a senior minister, which means you’ve got to knuckle down and accept things you don’t like, on Net Zero, Covid, the direction of tax and spend and all that.

“And if Lord Frost didn’t want to do that within the Cabinet, in the Lords, why would he be any good at doing it collectively with colleagues in the Commons?”

Frost: “Well I think it’s a fair question. Obviously there are quite a lot of Tory colleagues in the Commons who have the same opinions as me on quite a lot of things, and that’s not a contradiction for them.

“What we need to do is get the Government onto an agenda that more Conservatives feel they can support.”

ConHome: “Do you think that Rishi Sunak has succumbed to the institutional grip of the Treasury and isn’t bold enough about income tax cuts?”

Frost: “Well I don’t know about him personally, and I’m always a bit cautious – lots of people attributed to me thought processes and beliefs that weren’t in fact the case.

“But obviously I think that the economic situation requires loosening of fiscal policy and tightening of monetary policy, and I think that means personal tax cuts, not rises. If we could reverse out what we’ve done that would be a start.

“I do think the Treasury orthodoxy is very strong, and I wouldn’t like to say he’s been captured by it, I don’t think that’s fair, but I do think the Treasury Finance Ministry view of the world is all about getting in money, it isn’t about structural reform to increase the productive capacity of the economy.

“The trouble is in many ways the damage is done in the sense that we’ve now shown to the world we’re willing to raise taxes. You can’t put that genie back into the bottle, other than through a recantation, ‘We got this wrong, it was the wrong thing to do, we’re a low-tax Conservative Party.’

“And that should be the direction of travel. I’m not sure how likely that is, mind you.”

ConHome: “On Net Zero, what’s your view? That the target is too severe?”

Frost: “I think the way I would look at it is not to get into ‘Is it the right target?’ or ‘Is global warming scientifically justified?’ or whatever. From the political point of view, my view is that with the technology we’ve got I don’t see how we deliver the target by 2050 unless we are rescued by fusion power or some massive advance in battery power.

“But at the moment those things don’t seem likely. And I don’t see how we are going to decarbonise the grid by 2035. I don’t see how the technologies exist.

“And everybody is ignoring the fact that the intermittency of renewables (a) is a problem in itself (b) imposes huge costs elsewhere on the grid by the way of backup and inefficiency.

“I think we need more focus on security. We need a more realistic focus on the speed of the transition. I think we’re going at it too fast with technology that can’t yet do the job, and the risk is that we end up with rationing and demand management rather than achieving the goal.”

ConHome: “Lots of our readers will think all that is simple common sense, and will therefore ask, ‘What did other people say in government when you put this view to them?'”

Frost: “One other consequence before I answer the question. Net Zero affects huge parts of the economy, not just in energy prices but in systems, the way it works.

“And if you want serious post-Brexit reform that produces greater efficiency, lower costs, simpler ways of doing things, the existence of the Net Zero target is a big inhibition on that.

“You’re essentially saying large parts of the economy are off-limits for the purposes of reform.

“So that’s the context that I used to have those discussions in. Without going into detail, I think many people would acknowledge that.

“I think people reasonably point out Net Zero was in the manifesto, it was something that was campaigned on, it was one of the pledges, it should be taken seriously.

“I don’t want to speak for others. But many people have a degree of uncertainty and unease about it that is not always dealt with.”

ConHome: “What were your feelings at 9 p.m. last Monday when you heard that 148 Conservative MPs had voted against the Prime Minister?”

Frost: “Well, I was happy the PM had survived, I wasn’t that surprised to be honest the vote against was so high, reading the runes.

“I think the Prime Minister, I’ve said it, I think he’s a remarkable guy, he’s done a lot for this country, he deserves a chance to deliver and to continue with the agenda, so I’m glad he’s survived from that point of view.

“But I do think he’s got to deliver the agenda. That’s the question mark now. And I’ve worked as closely with him as anyone over the last five years, and I feel for him, the agonies of this very, very difficult politics.

“But equally, we’ve got a majority of 80, we must do something with this majority of 80 to keep improving the country.

“Can I say one other thing I meant to say, just about coming into politics?

“Most people become ministers and do controversial things in politics after they’ve been an MP. For me it all came suddenly out of the blue, and having to get used to the public exposure suddenly, without any kind of prep, has been quite shocking in some ways to me.

“The degree of aggression, hostility on social media and beyond, has been quite striking to me. I’ve had people spit at me in the street, push me, shout at me on trains, this sort of thing.

“So I’m now a bit edgy about any kind of public interaction. That has been a real surprise and disappointment to me.

“I mean it shows the passions that have been unleashed.”

ConHome: “Is it one of these things that you might rationally have anticipated, but you can’t emotionally until it actually happens? The reason you might rationally have anticipated it is you were Boris Johnson’s special adviser, so you’ll have seen the antipathy, hatred and venom that he was the target of. But until it happens to you, you can’t quite believe it’s happening.”

Frost: “Exactly, exactly. And I think if you’ve had time to get used to the idea it’s one thing. All of a sudden to find it there has been shocking.

“I mean I’m not saying I should be protected from hostile comment on social media. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely don’t think that. There are plenty of block and mute tools. I certainly don’t think we need an Online Harms Bill to protect me from comment.

“But the degree of personal hostility, and sometimes as I say face to face, has been striking. If anything stops me carrying on it’s more likely to be that and the knock-on than anything else. Which is a pity, really.”

The post Interview: Frost on Johnson’s future, tax cuts, admiring Cummings, Net Zero – and the abuse he has faced as he mulls his political future first appeared on Conservative Home.