The terrible truth about Banks and Cadwalladr. They need each other.

13 Jun

Paul Goodman writes: Arron Banks, the former UKIP donor, has lost his libel case against Carole Cadwalladr, the Observer journalist.  The definitive article on the relationship between these best of enemies was written by Mark Wallace on ConservativeHome.

Mark wrote in the wake of a Cadwalladr interview with Banks for the Observer.  The piece was called “Arron Banks and The Observer have a shared interest in making Brexit all about him.” Here it is below.

Consider the following paragraph:

‘Though Nigel Farage is the face of Brexit, Arron Banks is the man who made it possible. He bought Brexit. Or at least paid for it. Until 2014 he was an unknown Bristol businessman. Now he’s the biggest political donor in British political history. The most powerful. He put more money into funding the Leave campaign than anyone else – more than £7m. He donated his office space, his computer equipment, his senior staff. He’s the co-founder of Leave.EU, the so-called “provisional wing” of the Leave campaign.’

Sounds impressive. Indeed, it’s meant to – Carole Cadwalladr was interviewing Banks for The Observer, and had every interest in talking up the towering importance of her interviewee. Unfortunately, while she carefully selected her facts and wording, the account doesn’t quite match reality.

Sounds impressive. Indeed, it’s meant to – Carole Cadwalladr was interviewing Banks for The Observer, and had every interest in talking up the towering importance of her interviewee. Unfortunately, while she carefully selected her facts and wording, the account doesn’t quite match reality.

Banks spent several million pounds on Leave.EU, the campaign that he set up in the hope of leading the push for Brexit. The amounts involved aren’t entirely clear – sometimes people assume the totals cited by Leave.EU to all have come from him alone, when in fact the campaign also received £3.2 million from Peter Hargreaves and various other donations. If the £7 million figure is accurate, then Banks would indeed have been the biggest individual donor in the multiplicity of pro-Leave groups. But it still wouldn’t be the case that he was “funding the Leave campaign” – he was funding his personal Leave campaign, not the actual, official Leave campaign. Indeed, a decent portion of his time and effort was spent attacking the real campaign, Vote Leave.

That blurring of Leave.EU with “the Leave campaign” isn’t the only somewhat misleading claim in Cadwalladr’s gushing introduction. Is Banks really “the man who made [Brexit] possible”? Is it true to say “he bought Brexit”? No.

For a start, the very reason Banks was so keen to secure designation of Leave.EU as the official Leave campaign was that the official campaign had massively higher spending limits than other registered participants – ten times higher, at £7 million, compared to £700,000. He was not allowed, during the campaign itself, to spend anywhere near as much as he would have liked – making “buying Brexit” rather difficult to do.

To leap to these conclusions, Cadwalladr appears to have totted up the amounts of money and concluded that spending a lot equals victory. But that, too, is untrue. If it was the case, then Remain would have won – overall, pro-EU campaigners spent £19,070,566 to Leave campaigners’ £13,436,241, and the Government spent an additional £9 million on promoting EU membership. It’s self-evidently not the case that how much you spend matters more than how you spend it. And Leave.EU’s work left plenty to be desired: the repeated but abortive attempts to organise a strange pop concert, teaming up with George Galloway, putting out graphics joking about rape, targeting adverts at National Front supporters, and so on.

At the same time, Vote Leave deployed more people and more material on the ground, set the national debate in the media, and led all but one of the televised referendum debates. Even more importantly, it was using these channels to deliver messages that actually worked to convince people to support leaving the EU, communicating the effective triple offer of taking back control of our laws, our money and our borders, while Leave.EU clumsily tried to link the Orlando terrorist attack to the referendum.

At its best, Leave.EU worked to increase turnout among already convinced Leave supporters. At its worst, it blundered about, saying things which made its base feel good but confirming the darkest fears about Leave in the minds of undecided voters. Neither equates to making Brexit happen. Had Leave.EU been the officially designated campaign, it would likely have lost the referendum – and even from its more limited platform as a registered participant it came close, at times, to costing us the chance to escape the EU.

Given that it’s meant to be the job of newspapers to inform their readers, one would be entitled to wonder why Cadwalladr presents a version of events which do not match reality. As I’ve already mentioned, The Observer is understandably interested in hyping up its interviewee – “he spent a lot of money, but not very effectively” would be a less exciting introduction. But it also has a political interest in establishing an alliance of convenience with Banks.

Both the multi-millionaire Leave supporter and the Remain-backing newspaper want Brexit to be all about Banks.

He wants this because it fulfils his desire to make the establishment “know who I am”, a wish stirred when William Hague dismissed news of his donation to UKIP in 2014, and to give some weight to his attempts to found a new political movement to “clear out” Westminster.

The Observer wants this because Banks embodies all of what it would like Brexit to represent – namely, a British version of Trumpism –  but also because his habit of implying he managed to secure victory by pushing “the boundary of everything, right to the edge” plays into its wishful thinking that the Leave vote was somehow unfairly achieved and therefore doesn’t really count, as Tim Mongtomerie has noted.

adwalladr’s previous interview with Andy Wigmore, Banks’s sidekick, has already generated an attempt by those who want the Leave vote overturned to spark a new Electoral Commission investigation into campaign spending (in response, Leave.EU denies any wrongdoing).

If this odd couple succeed in promoting their preferred narrative, then Banks gets to claim he made Brexit happen, and The Observer gets to imply that Brexit is, at its heart, illegitimate. Both appear happy to make that bargain, but everybody else should see it for what it is and reject it.

The post The terrible truth about Banks and Cadwalladr. They need each other. first appeared on Conservative Home.

Anthony Browne: It’s the economy, stupid. Or should that be: it’s higher growth, stupid?

30 May

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire, the Chair of the Conservative backbench Treasury Committee and a member of the Treasury Select Committee.

“It’s the economy, stupid!”: the phrase at the heart of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 election campaign in America may have become a political cliché. But like many clichés, its use lingers on because it contains a fundamental truth. 

These are words the Conservative Party needs to remember as we plan for the next two years and the looming general election. A clear, concerted focus on growth and the economy would not just be good for the country, but good politically. It would help to relieve many of the problems the country has – or make it easier for the Government to sort them – and it would also help the Conservative Party hold together its new political coalition of red wall and blue wall. 

When I stepped down as the Observer’s economics correspondent in 1999, it was in part because economics had become too predictable to be newsworthy, with growth and inflation steady.

There is no risk of that now. We have had unparalleled battering from many directions. The global financial crisis, the pandemic, and now the massive surge in global energy and commodity prices that has left the economy seriously wounded.  

Even in this age of fury, most fairminded voters think the Government has dealt with these shocks admirably. Rishi Sunak’s £400 billion support package during the pandemic drew international praise, with economists who appeared in front of us on the Treasury Select Committee falling over themselves to applaud it.

Last week’s support package for families facing the cost-of-living crisis won praise from a wide range of campaign groups who normally condemn the Government. But we are still left with the national debt and taxes at their highest since the aftermath of the Second World War – a risky economic position to be in, and a politically uncomfortable one for a party that claims to believe in low taxes.  

The surprise for most economists, though, is how, given all the battering, the economy is not in worse shape than it is. We had predictions of unemployment rocketing up to 1980s levels – but it is now at record lows, with more jobs than jobless people for the first time ever. Unlike the 1980s, we retain many fundamental economic strengths. 

But still the economy is very precarious. Stagflation looms. Quantitative easing is being unwound. The massive national debt makes us vulnerable to rate rises. The ageing population will steadily build up pressure to increase public spending.

The solution is growth. Higher economic growth – and higher productivity – leads to higher incomes, relieving the cost of living crisis. It would increase tax revenues and reduce welfare payments, improving the national finances, and give the Government flexibility to bring in much needed reforms. On average, one person going from joblessness to job improves the Government’s finances by £6,000 a year. 

The western world has had sluggish economic growth for 15 years, and driving it up should now be the defining mission of this Government. It needs the policies to deliver it, and it needs to communicate it.  The Chancellor set out the mission in his recent Mais lecture, where he laid out the strategy to deliver growth based on “a new culture of enterprise”.

His focus was on what he summarised as Capital, People, Ideas” – encouraging investment, increasing skills and trainingand promoting research and development. His central thesis is that the key to drive up growth is to increase business investment, where the UK lags most of the OECD.

That is why he introduced the temporary “super deduction” tax relief on it, and is now consulting on what to succeed it with, to be announced in the Autumn budget. The 1922 Treasury Backbench Committee, which I chair, is currently gathering evidence from politicians, think tanks and business groups, on which reforms could help to promote growth.

There are many other Government policies that help to do so – from agreeing free trade deals, to investing in infrastructure such as new railways (the newly opened Elizabeth Line in London is an inspiration), introducing freeports, and dramatically increasing research and development funding.

The recent Queen’s speech was full of legislation that will help growth, from removing the ban on gene editing (important for businesses in my constituency) and removing red tape on trade documents to modernising business rates and making financial services regulation more competitive.

But clearly there is much more that can be done. As the editor of this site pointed out in Conservative Home last week, there are many sensible recommendations from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform that have not yet been implemented. We should use tax breaks to encourage regional development not just public spending. 

Going for growth also needs a mindset change across Government. As one Cabinet Minister put it to me recently, the Treasury has never been interested in growth, just in collecting taxes. Many sensible tax reforms are undermined because the Treasury doesn’t fully assess their impact on longer-term economic activity – just on what first order impacts they would have on government receipts. All policies should be assessed across every Government department on what impact they would have on growth, and those that are beneficial should be prioritised. 

The Government also needs to turn this into compelling narrative that everyone can buy intoDavid Cameron and George Osborne repeated their “Long Term Economic Plan” so often they got ridiculed, but it won them the surprise 2015 outright election victory.

We now need a similar clear plan. Cabinet ministers should mention it in every speech. Every MP should know instantly when asked in TV interviews what the key mission of the Government is: growth. Every civil servant working on a policy should know what the overarching priority is. The whole country should know that is what the mission is.

The Prime Minister is instinctively pro-business, but business clearly needs to be persuaded. The Government needs to ramp up the case for free enterprise and business, and to push back against more statism being the answer to every problem. We need to turn our rhetoric about being the party of low taxes into reality. The public will not believe us if we say we want low taxes when they are at their highest since the Second World War. With the budget deficit shrinking fast, the Government can soon start cutting taxes; a faster growing economy will make it easier to cut them further.  

Having a clear mission on growth is also good politics. In its bid for the middle ground, the Labour Party is trying to position itself as the party of low taxes and of business, but that puts the political frontline on our natural territory.  Just as Conservatives can’t win a bidding war on spending, Labour can’t win a bidding war on growth. Labour can’t stop thinking about how to cut the pie, rather than making it bigger.

Growth can also bridge across the new political coalition. Many other policies that might appeal to Red Wall voters – such as the Rwanda asylum policy, dialling down on net zero or stoking culture wars – risk alienating more liberal Conservative voters in the south.

But a clear mission to promote growth, help business, and cut taxes while balancing the budget appeals to both wings of the party, and can unite it rather than divide it. Being economically liberal and fiscally responsible is the clear political middle groundWhen it comes to what the Conservative mission should be until the election – it’s the economy, stupid! 

Iain Dale: Cummings is behaving like a woman or man scorned. But you can’t dismiss all that he says.

28 May

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

Thousands of people died needlessly. That’s the main allegation Dominic Cummings made in his seven hours of evidence to the health and science select committees.

But boy oh boy did he go further than that. So far Downing Street has remained relatively calm and rejected most of what Cummings has said, as indeed did Matt Hancock in the Commons yesterday morning. Many people may think Cummings is behaving like a woman or man scorned, and they’d probably be right.

But you can’t dismiss all that he says and wave it away as the ranting of a bitter former employee. There can surely be no doubt that there are serious questions for many people to answer, not least the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and former Cabinet Secretary.

The picture Cummings painted was one of chaos at the centre of government. He said neither he nor the PM were qualified to do their respective jobs and it was a miracle they were both in Downing Street.

I do have a question though. Given Cummings was regarded as Deputy Prime Minister by most people – the most influential man in Number 10, the man with the ear of the Prime Minister, how credible is his “nothing to do with me guv” line?

He was there. He was present. Boris Johnson relied on him, yet he maintains that his warnings were ignored. Yes, he did admit failures on his own part, he apologised again for his visit to Barnard Castle, but the vitriol poured on Hancock in particular had to be seen to be believed. He accused him of lying to the Cabinet, lying to parliament and said he and Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, had tried to persuade the PM to sack his health secretary.

Do I think this is all very damaging to the Government? Yes I do. Do I think it damages Johnson? Yes I do. Do I think it will have any effect on his or his party’s opinion poll ratings? I’m not sure I do. Does the Cummings evidence mean we’re more informed about what happened over care homes, PPE, and lockdowns? Yes, it does. And it also argues for the inquiry to start maybe earlier than is currently intended.

Sometimes these set piece evidence sessions get a huge build up in advance and then on the day it’s a bit of a let-down. Not on Wednesday. This was the most extraordinary select committee evidence session I have witnessed in 40 years of watching them. And that’s saying something.

– – – – – – – – –

How times change. Twelve months ago most journalists and commentators were labelling Cummings a complete liar over his trip to Barnard Castle. They were calling on Johnson to sack him. Now they are hanging on Cummings’ every word, as if his truth is the gospel truth. And it’s clear why. Because they see his evidence to the select committee as a way to initiate the process of bringing down a Prime Minister.

Now it may well be that history will record yesterday as the day which marked the beginning of the end for Johnson, but I doubt it. My suspicion is that when the next batch of opinion polls are published, the Teflon reputation which the PM enjoys won’t have been dented too much, if at all.

I may be wrong, but that’s how it feels to me. Why do I think this? Well, I call it the LBC listener test. When Britain is angry about something, people tend to call into LBC in their droves to get it off their chests.

That didn’t really happen on Wednesday night. Apart from the usual suspects, who phone in every day no matter what we are talking about, the phone lines didn’t really hum. Yes, we had quite enough callers to fill the show, and then some, but were my colleagues in the gallery rushed off their feet? No. They were on the night of Barnard Castle, though…

Having said that, Gaby Hinsliff of The Observer Tweeted yesterday that she’d got the builders in and when they arrived, they were talking about Cummings. She didn’t say whether it was in a good way, or whether they were saying how dare he attack Johnson!

– – – – – – – – –

One thing is sure – that any reshuffle is unlikely to come before the summer recess. If anything, Hancock’s position has been shored up after Wednesday’s events. Even if he is moved, it would have to be to an equivalently ranked position, like education, for example.

If there is a reshuffle it will surely either be held in late July or early September. There were rumours last week that the reshuffle was to be held this Wednesday to deflect attention away from the Cummings evidence. I can’t really believe that was ever a serious suggestion, because it would have undoubtedly backfired. It would have deserved to.

– – – – – – – – –

I first met David Amess back in the mid 1980s when I was working in Parliament and he had just been elected as MP for Basildon in the 1983 landslide. It was a different time. A couple of weeks ago I spent an hour talking to him about his life and career in politics. I think ConHome readers will enjoy it.