Will Tanner: Devolution. Conservatives should embrace England’s mayoral moment.

24 Jun

Will Tanner is Director of Onward and a former Deputy Head of Policy in Number 10 Downing Street.

Conservatives have always had an uneasy relationship with devolution. Philosophically, decentralisation sits well within the conservative tradition of empowering people and places to make their own decisions, and restricting the centralising tendencies of the state.

We might naturally think of Burke’s little platoons, de Tocqueville’s foundations of American democracy, or Disraeli’s social reforms.

But at the sharp end of politics it is Conservatives that had to confront some of the worst abuses of decentralised control in the past, from Militant’s municipal control of Liverpool in the 1970s to Scottish separatism today.

And it is Conservative councils, particularly in the party’s rural heartlands, that have been most resistant to the imposition of powerful new mayors with a direct mandate to replace existing county and district councils.

It is tempting, on the basis of this recent history, to see the worst in plans to devolve power and control to a new cadre of city and county mayors.

Some fear the creation of more Sadiq Khans: figures who at times use their positions more as a rabble-rousing soap box than a mandate for delivery. Others ask why a Conservative Government would deliberately cede control of Britain’s biggest cities to local electorates that increasingly vote Labour.

And even those more supportive of decentralisation urge caution on grounds that England’s mayors are still relatively new and untested.

These objections are understandable, but they are not particularly convincing. The truth is that devolving power to more and stronger mayors is not just philosophically within the conservative tradition, but also economically and politically sensible for the Conservatives to pursue.

It offers an opportunity for a Government beset by challenges on other fronts to “give back control” to the places that most need levelling up, address the UK’s great economic weakness – poor regional governance – and should boost the Conservative vote too.

There are three reasons why conservatives should embrace a new mayoral moment. The first is the overbearing power of Whitehall in British politics. Conservatives rail against the ratio of tax to GDP but just as pernicious is the share of tax raised and spent centrally versus locally.

Just five per cent of tax revenue is raised locally in the UK, a third of the level in France and a sixth of that in Germany. Of that revenue, only a quarter is spent locally, compared to half in the US and three quarters in Canada.

And it’s getting worse: between 1995 and 2017, the share of public spending controlled below central government fell, from 26 per cent to 23 per cent, despite rising almost everywhere else in the OECD.

Even in London, which has enjoyed increasing levels of autonomy since the mayoralty was established in 2000, only eight per cent of revenue spending is currently controlled by the mayor. In other areas, this is far lower: in the West Midlands, just 0.4 per cent of the revenue budget is controlled by Andy Street; 84 per cent is controlled by national government.

And while Sadiq Khan’s control of Transport for London and affordable housing funding means that 43 per ccent of capital spending in London is controlled locally, in other regions this is far lower: just 26 per cent in the North West and 28 per cent in the West Midlands.

This centralisation is not just a block on local democracy – depriving local places of self-determination and control – it is a block on overall growth, too. Painstaking evidence collated by academics like Professor Philip McCann shows that countries with a layer of regional or “meso” government tend to grow both faster and more equally.

This is because local areas act as both local laboratories – trialling new policies to attract investment, support jobs and upskill workers – and competitors – forcing local leaders to be more ambitious and learn from what works.

The second reason is that, despite being new, mayors are not untested. In fact, in the short time they have been in place in England many have demonstrated the virtues of the mayoral model.

In the last few years, dilapidated regional bus, tram and train systems have started to be reinvigorated. In the West Midlands, Andy Street has streamlined the skill system to drive up apprenticeship numbers and quality. While Ben Houchen has overseen the doubling of Foreign Direct Investment into Tees Valley from almost £5 billion to almost £10 billion between 2016-19.

Conservatives can rail against the fact that some of these schemes were delivered by Labour mayors. But the reality is many of these services were neglected by national administrations of different colours over the last few decades.

And at a moment when central government is being pulled in multiple directions, from Ukraine to the cost of living and inflation, mayors offer a vehicle for getting things done. If devolution is the price of delivery, then so be it.

Third, mayors offer a route for the Conservatives to win. In every area outside London, mayoral turnout has risen steadily over time and name recognition is high. Six in ten Mancunians can correctly name Andy Burnham and four in ten Teessiders can name Ben Houchen as their respective mayors, compared to the one in ten voters who can name their council leader.

And, because people know their mayors, when they do good things voters are more likely to vote for their party.

Take the Red Wall seat of Hartlepool. Between 2012 and 2018, Conservative performance in Hartlepool almost exactly tracked nearby South Tyneside. But after Ben Houchen’s election in 2017, the Tory vote share in Hartlepool has started to tick up. In 2021, it was four points higher than South Tyneside, and by 2022 it was a massive 18 points higher.

This is not simply because the Hartlepool electorate contains more latent conservatism than nearby areas: Hartlepool is demographically similar to Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead, so the Red Wall realignment should have played out evenly in all of them.

This suggests a “Houchen effect” that has boosted the reputation of the party in the area – and points to the possibility of Conservatives using mayoral delivery to increase their political popularity across the Red Wall.

In future, the Conservative beachhead established at the last election may well be built upon by Mayors in North Yorkshire, Hull and East Riding, Cumbria, and the East Midlands. And in the event of a future Labour government, these may be the Conservative outriders that give people confidence to vote Tory again.

So mayors have demonstrated their potential. But they have done it with one hand tied behind their backs.

Whitehall’s funding streams are so complex, and so tightly held, that the Levelling Up Department alone has 16 distinct funding pots that local areas can bid into, including one to fund public toilets. Mayors have very limited ability to raise local revenue for local priorities, and few direct incentives to grow the local economy to support local investment and infrastructure.

In the Levelling Up White Paper, Michael Gove rightly set out ambitious plans to expand the mayoral devolution model to every area of England that wants it – and many counties and city regions are currently negotiating deals. This is a good start.

But we should go further – by giving mayors a single funding settlement similar to those negotiated with Whitehall departments and devolving 1p in every £1 of local income tax revenue – equivalent to £6 billion a year – to fund new responsibilities over local trains, skills and energy systems.

In return for more power, mayors should submit to additional accountability, from strengthened mayoral scrutiny panels, select committee questioning and greater local tax raising. This would strengthen local democracy, while also extending its reach.

In the last five years, Whitehall has taken back control of power and money from Brussels. It is time to give back control to Britain’s historic cities and counties.

The post Will Tanner: Devolution. Conservatives should embrace England’s mayoral moment. first appeared on Conservative Home.

The saga of London’s ugly bus shelters and EU procurement rules

24 Jun

If I ever drift into dismay at the direction (or lack of direction) of Government policy, I find listening to the Moggcast on this site a great tonic. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s presence in the Cabinet means all is not lost. He combines clear Conservative principles with the tenacity and ability to see them applied as policy. An important example of his work as the Cabinet Office Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency is the dramatic streamlining of the procurement rules inherited from the EU. Over £300 billion of public spending goes on procurement each year so the importance of obtaining value for money is significant. The Procurement Bill has had its Second Reading the House of Lords.

Lord True set out its aims:

“The current regimes for awarding public contracts are too restrictive, with too much red tape for buyers and suppliers alike, which results in attention being focused on the wrong activities rather than on value for money. There are currently over 350 different procurement regulations spread over a number of different regimes for different types of procurement, including defence and security. We have removed the duplication and overlap in the current four regimes to create one rulebook which everyone can use. The Bill will also enable the creation of a digital platform for suppliers to register their details once for use in any bids, while a central online transparency platform will allow suppliers to see all opportunities in one place.”

From a local government perspective, Lord Moylan gave some fascinating insights into the flawed nature of the current arrangements and suggested the rules should be streamlined further. The criminal law already deals with corruption. His experience of local government was that officials could, in any case, find ways of getting round the procedures to have the client they wanted:

“I know of one public procurement project, for services, which allocated 40 per cent of the points to what was called ‘project compatibility’. When I said, ‘What does that mean?’, they said, ‘It means that we can choose whoever it is we want to work with, because they will be compatible with us.’ “

Moylan gave another example of a proposed “new, iconic bus shelter for London.” He had proposed this as the bus shelters in London are “absolutely appalling.” 

“Peter Hendy, who was then commissioner of Transport for London, was good enough to agree that something should be done. I was representing London Councils at the time, so we set up jointly a process in which we invited architects to submit proposals for this wonderful thing. TfL officers ran it as a procurement process. A large number of wonderful designs were put to us – 20 appeared – some of which were so extravagant that they could never have been used. A design panel was put in place to make the architectural judgments, only for us to discover at the end of the presentations that we were not allowed to take design into account because the TfL officers had used the branch of the procurement process that you would use if you were buying a piece of air-conditioning plant. So it was to be judged entirely on the specification of whether it kept the rain out and things such as that. The entire purpose of the exercise was defeated through a misapplication of the procurement process, and we all agreed, exhausted by that point, that basically we would abandon it and come back to it. But we never did, so London still has a wide variability and a high level of ugliness in its bus shelters.”

It is not only London that has bus shelters which, though they might be functional, are dreary and soulless. How can community pride be engendered when our towns and cities are disfigured by such structures? That is not inevitable – the Victorians never put up with it.

I appreciate that TfL could have managed the procurement process better. It might have transpired that even if they had done so, their “design panel” might have chosen something awful. But this sorry saga does show that a cumbersome procurement process might not just mean a higher financial cost. It lends itself to a box-ticking conformity that blocks innovation and means that officialdom is content if a process is correctly followed – no matter how drab or expensive the outcome. Rees-Mogg is to be commended for easing the restrictions. That will be a start. But the greater challenge, for local authorities and the rest of the public sector, will be to change the culture.

The post The saga of London’s ugly bus shelters and EU procurement rules first appeared on Conservative Home.

Steve Coffey: Gove must go further in tackling regional imbalances

23 Jun

Steve Coffey is Chair of Homes for the North.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is at the heart of the legislative programme announced in the recent Queen’s speech. It has now started its long passage through Parliament with its second reading already complete.

The Bill is designed to weave together the threads of two White Papers – this January’s Levelling Up White Paper and the Planning White Paper published in summer 2020. But in attempting to do so, it may be that some inherent contradictions have been exposed which will be difficult to reconcile.

The Bill starts by enshrining in law the Levelling Up ‘Missions’ set out in the White Paper. The Government is being brave in committing itself (and its successors) to delivering the ambitious objectives it set out back in January, establishing reporting and monitoring arrangements that, whilst not exactly guaranteeing their delivery, should at least ensure a high degree of transparency and accountability. In theory this will require future Government policies and spending plans to be seen through the lens of levelling up. So far so good.

But reading on to part 4 of the Bill which introduces the Infrastructure Levy, we quickly come across a showpiece policy – one of the few to survive intact from the Planning White Paper – which seems highly unlikely to support the delivery of those very Missions. Here’s the problem.

Whilst the clauses relating to the Infrastructure Levy are largely enabling – putting the Secretary of State in a position to lay detailed regulations – there is enough detail on the face of the Bill to draw some early conclusions. The proposed levy will secure developer contributions for the provision of key infrastructure and affordable housing by applying a locally determined tax on developments, based on development value.

Indeed, an added safeguard is put in place which will require Local Authorities (in setting the level of the levy) to generate enough income to provide at least as many affordable homes as the developer contribution regime it replaces – which is just as well as the current system delivers around half of the nation’s affordable homes! So there are two immediate ‘levelling up issues’ here.

Firstly, without doing the sums, it stands to reason that there will be a geographical imbalance in the level of the levy generated in different parts of the country, with higher value areas (largely in London and the South East) generating the highest levels of funding to provide vital infrastructure, in exactly the same way as is currently the case. Under the current system, over 50% of pre-pandemic developer contributions were generated in London and the South East, contrasting with 15% across the whole of the North.

There is little reason to believe this won’t be replicated, at least until the country has been levelled up – a vicious circle. A lot has been written about the ‘Matthew effect’, the concept that “for to everyone who has, will more be given”. Or putting it another way, those parts of the country least in need of levelling up, get the lion’s share of the dosh!

Secondly, whilst there is at least the assurance that the new levy will have to be set at a level which will deliver the same amount (or more) of affordable housing as provided under the regime it replaces (good nationally), in applying this test locally, all it will do is guarantee that past patterns of geographical provision are replicated.

Forgive me, but I thought levelling up was about turning these on their head, so that the gap between economic growth (and the housing offer needed to support it) begins to narrow rather than widen. And the Levelling Up White Paper itself seems to agree, saying “we will also scrap the 80/20 funding rule that focused investment in Greater London, and instead invest in more homes in the North and Midlands to relieve pressure on the South East”. But this isn’t going to help.

So what is the solution? At Homes for the North we have commenced a piece of work which will explore this issue and look for some practical changes that can be made as the legislation and associated regulations pass through Parliament. Should local authorities be compelled to identify the level of housing (and affordable housing) needed to support their levelling up ambitions and enshrine them in their local plans? Does there need to be a mechanism to redistribute at least some of the income generated through the levy? Or should Homes England be required to distribute their own funding to help local authorities meet their levelling up ambitions, taking account of the uneven impact of the levy?

We don’t yet have the answers, but surely these are the legitimate questions we should all be asking.

The post Steve Coffey: Gove must go further in tackling regional imbalances first appeared on Conservative Home.

Henry Hill: Jack says SNP have ‘no mandate’ for another independence referendum

23 Jun

Last week, I wrote about how Nicola Sturgeon has ended up trapped between her activists and a disobliging electorate on the question of independence.

She needs to maintain the illusion that the next big push is just around the corner to keep her increasingly restive troops in line and avoid the political conversation moving on to her government’s woeful record.

One big question was what the First Minister planned to do in the event that Westminster stuck to its guns and refused to authorise a legal vote.

This week, Alistair Jack confirmed this week that this is how the Government is going to play it when he insisted that the Scottish National Party have “no mandate” for another referendum and that public appetite for a vote is “relatively low”.

According to the Daily Mail, the word is that Sturgeon may thus try to conduct a ‘consultative’ referendum. The argument would be that because this would not have any binding effect, it could be conducted under the authority of the Scottish Parliament.

But there are several problems with this. For starters, it may still be open to legal challenge, and pro-UK donors have already indicated their preparedness to fund a challenge in the Scottish courts.

Then there’s the more obvious question of participation. There is no reason for unionists to take part in an unofficial poll run on a franchise and question entirely set by the SNP, nor perhaps for unionist-run councils to cooperate in conducting it. The whole thing would be legally and internationally meaningless.

And then you get to the final question, the one the whole exercise is supposed to postpone: what then? What does the SNP do when it holds its unofficial referendum and Westminster, rightly, refuses to budge?

If you’re Sturgeon, perhaps that’s the point you step aside, with a parting salvo at the perfidy of the British State. But it isn’t obvious the broader separatist movement would emerge in better shape than it went in. Its hard core would be angrier, and swing voters more alienated.

All of which is to say: hold the line, Jack!

Parliament honours fallen Unionist on the centenary of his assassination

Yesterday marked 100 years since Sir Henry Wilson, the Unionist MP for North Down and a former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was gunned down outside his London home by two IRA gunmen.

I was very proud to join the Speaker, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Ian Paisley Jr, and other parliamentarians and guests for the unveiling of a shield honouring his memory in the House of Commons, which I have been campaigning for.

These shields are the standard tribute to Members of Parliament slain in post since the start of the First World War. Until yesterday, the most recent was for Jo Cox; the next will commemorate Sir David Amess.

As I noted a couple of years ago, four memorialise men who were murdered by the IRA or the INLA during their decades-long campaign of terror: Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, and Ian Gow were directly assassinated, whilst Sir Anthony Berry was killed by the Brighton Bomb.

The post Henry Hill: Jack says SNP have ‘no mandate’ for another independence referendum first appeared on Conservative Home.

There is a dangerous gap between the rhetoric and reality of the Bill of Rights

23 Jun

Last year, I highlighted three ways in which the ‘big bang’ strategy behind passing a new ‘British Bill of Rights’ could backfire on the Conservatives.

First, there was the risk it simply wouldn’t deliver what the Government’s supporters were hoping for; second, that it might empower the most activist sort of judge to freelance more, not less; third, that the Tories would now own human rights law in the minds of sceptical voters.

Yesterday, Dominic Raab published the version of the Bill that he will be taking forward. It is in somewhat better shape than those December reports suggested. It is still not obviously the best approach for the sort of overhaul he wants to effect.

The politics

In fairness, the Justice Secretary has set himself a very difficult task. How do you overhaul human rights law without withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and fully repatriating our body of law?

Despite the rumblings from parts of the Government after the recent Rwanda ruling, withdrawing from the ECHR is not something which could be quickly or easily done even if there was a consensus around doing it, which there is not.

The Bill of Rights, on the other hand, is something behind which there seems to be a relatively broad Conservative coalition, and it can probably be delivered by the next election.

Moreover, since December the scope of the Bill has been pared back in an important way. At one point there were plans to allow judges to look at rulings from other common law jurisdictions, such as Canada, when making rulings.

This would potentially have given judges more scope for creating a distinctly British scheme of rights, at least inasmuch as it extended beyond the scheme of the ECHR. But it would do that by empowering the more activist sort of judge, and had the danger of being a massive own goal.

Happily, this idea has not made it into the final bill, largely removing one of the three dangers I highlighted in December.

But this means there is now significant tension between the reality of what the Ministry of Justice is attempting, which is largely a set of technical adjustments to the existing human rights regime, and the grand promise implicit in a ‘bill of rights’.

The result is a Bill which is much longer than it needed to be, and many of which’s clauses are underpowered or functionally inoperative – phrases such as “give great weight to” are not nearly specific enough to reliably guide judicial behaviour.

The good in the Bill

In its current form, the Bill of Rights Bill does make some useful changes. For example, Clause 3(3)(a) restricts the courts’ ability to gold-plate Strasbourg rights:

“A court determining a question which has arisen in connection with a Convention right— (a) may not adopt an interpretation of the right that expands the protection conferred by the right unless the court has no reasonable doubt that the European Court of Human Rights would adopt that interpretation if the case were before it;”

Then there is the repeal of Section 19 of the Human Rights Act, which governs the need for the Government to produce ‘certificates of compatibility’ affirming their confidence that a Bill conforms to the Convention rights.

The new regime will lower that pre-legislative barrier, making it more likely that Parliament might (as it already has the power to do, e.g. prisoner voting) pass laws which deviate from the will of Strasbourg.

In other areas, it attempts to do something worthwhile, but in a way which might backfire on the Government.

Most obviously, the Bill will prevent the courts from amending legislation they rule to be incompatible with it, as they currently can under the Human Rights Act. Instead, they can merely make a declaration of incompatibility and send it back to Parliament to make a positive decision about what the law ought to be.

This is an important democratic principle and addresses a problematic aspect of the current order, which was originally only meant to apply to old legislation which preceded the HRA but has started to creep beyond that.

However, critics of the Bill worry that this provision might do more harm than good in practice.

The bad of the Bill

Why? Because at present, complainants have to have exhausted avenues for a ‘domestic remedy’ before taking their case to Strasbourg, and the European Court of Human Rights is relatively reluctant to simply overrule a domestic court if they think it has interpreted the Convention rights fairly.

But if British courts can’t actually overturn whatever the problematic law is in a given case, the fear is that they will not actually be deemed capable of offering a ‘domestic remedy’, allowing people to skip them altogether and take their case straight to Strasbourg, which would then rule without a British judgment as a frame of reference.

(Of course, in theory Parliament could simply withstand the resulting declarations of incompatibility, has it has on prisoner voting. But based on past experience, where it has done this precisely once, it is very unlikely this drum beat of adverse judgments would do anything other than drive changes in law.)

Nor is this the only area where the Bill seems to be trying to deliver the benefits of quitting the ECHR without actually doing so. The operations of the Armed Forces overseas is another example.

Whilst it is true that the Convention never originally applied to military operations – the Strasbourg court simply granted itself that extraterritorial power – there is no getting around the fact that it now does apply to them unless the court changes its mind.

So whilst Section 14, governing the Armed Forces, is one of the effectively drafted parts of the legislation, it is likely storing up trouble for the future.

Why this Bill?

The Government could probably have compiled the effective parts of the Bill of Rights into a much shorter bill of amendments to the HRA. This could have delivered most of the practical benefits whilst avoiding many of the pitfalls.

It would also have meant that the broad scheme of human rights law, and any attendant discontents, would have continued to stem from the Human Rights Act, which is widely understood to be a Labour creation, rather than legislation passed by a Conservative government.

Such a series of granular reforms would have been less eye-catching, and might perhaps have been less saleable at the next election. But the risk of making a high-profile move such as this is that if it doesn’t deliver on public expectations, it doesn’t leave the Government anywhere to hide.

The post There is a dangerous gap between the rhetoric and reality of the Bill of Rights first appeared on Conservative Home.

Newslinks for Thursday 23rd June 2022

23 Jun

Strikes 1) Teacher strike would be unforgivable, says Zahawi

“A teachers’ strike would be “unforgivable” in the wake of Covid, the Education Secretary has said, as officials draw up plans for an army of supply teachers to keep schools open. Nadhim Zahawi said young people had already suffered “more disruption than any generation that’s gone before them” after the UK’s largest teaching union threatened to ballot for a strike. On Thursday, the Government will reveal plans to change the law to allow businesses to use skilled agency workers to cover striking staff to minimise disruption.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Kwarteng to unveil legislation ending ban on agency staff breaking strikes – Daily Mail


  • Unions pile pressure on bosses after seven per cent pay deal – The Times
  • Fresh wave of rail strikes looms in two weeks as talks fail – Daily Telegraph
  • Lord Chief Justice wants striking barristers to face misconduct charges – The Times


  • Robots are coming for trade union dinosaurs – Iain Martin, The Times
  • Johnson needs to show some of Thatcher’s steel – David Mellor, Daily Mail


Strikes 2) Starmer heads for clash with unions over pay increases

“Sir Keir Starmer has opened the door to supporting below-inflation pay rises for public sector workers, threatening a fresh clash with trade unions. A series of public sector unions, including teachers, doctors and nurses, have demanded pay rises that meet or exceed inflation amid signs that the rail strikes could spread. The Labour leader’s spokesman said he was likely to endorse whatever rates were suggested by the public sector pay review bodies. Eight bodies recommend to the government each year what the levels of pay in their areas should be.” – The Times

  • Labour leader flinches at sacking rebel MPs who joined pickets – Daily Telegraph


  • Harman says Labour’s next leader should be a woman – The Guardian

>Today: ToryDiary: Why wage-price spirals fuel inflation – and neither the Keynesians nor the Monetarists are completely right

>Yesterday: Left Watch: Starmer struggles to pin Johnson down on the strikes because we have no idea what Labour would do

Rich pensioners should give back state payout increase if they don’t need it, says Coffey

“Rich pensioners should return a £1,000 state pension hike if they don’t need it, a minister said today amid a row over plans to up the payment while telling workers to cool pay rise demands. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defended plans to spend billions on a double-digit boost for retirees next year after the Treasury vowed to reinstate its ‘triple lock’ pledge. The bumper rise could amount to nearly £1,000 a year extra at the same time that ministers are insisting that public sector workers like train staff, teachers and nurses temper their requests, to cool rampant inflation.” – Daily Mail

  • Sunak defends plan to give pensioners bigger pay rise than workers – The Sun
  • Triple lock hikes may push millions into HMRC trap – Daily Express

Britain will tear up ‘perverse’ Euro laws in new Bill of Rights, says Justice Secretary

“Britain will tear up “perverse” Euro laws that have been entrenched into UK courts in a new Bill of Rights, Dominic Raab says today. The Deputy PM will “curb abuses” by making sure judges apply common sense in their rulings — and so the Supreme Court can overrule the European Court of Human Rights. Writing in The Sun, Mr Raab reveals under existing laws judges blocked the deportation of a Zimbabwean man jailed for child cruelty against his two-year-old stepson — because he had a “right to family life”.” – The Sun

  • Criminals to spend longer in jail as Bill of Rights ‘puts public safety first’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Bill of Rights ‘will cost taxpayer more’ – The Times

Dominic Raab: Ripping up the edicts of European human rights judges will make us freer and our streets safer

“So, our Bill of Rights will clarify the remit of Strasbourg and ensure our courts have the final say. That is just one of the reforms in our UK Bill of Rights, published today, to replace Labour’s Human Rights Act. We have two fundamental aims. First, we will strengthen traditional UK rights such as freedom of speech — under attack, from expanding privacy law to stifling political correctness — and recognise the importance of jury trials in the UK. This better reflects our tradition of liberty in this country. Second, we will curb abuses of the system and reinject a healthy dose of common sense.” – The Sun

  • This draconian plan is a rights removal bill – Sacha Deshmukh, The Guardian

>Yesterday: Christopher Bellamy QC in Comment: The Bill of Rights, introduced today, builds on the long tradition of British justice

Tory strategists braced for double defeats in by-elections

“The Conservatives are braced to lose two parliamentary by-elections, according to senior party strategists, in moves that could prompt a renewed backlash against Boris Johnson. Voters will head to the polls on Thursday in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, in by-elections prompted by the resignations of Tory MPs. It will be a chance for people to give a verdict on the prime minister’s conduct in the partygate scandal… This month Johnson survived a bruising no-confidence vote by Conservative MPs, when 41 per cent of the parliamentary party refused to back him.” – FT

  • Lib Dem-Labour ‘pact’ could give parties a massive boost – Daily Telegraph
  • Government ‘at risk of losing its electoral footing’, warns Curtice – The Times

Rees-Mogg unveils Brexit ‘dashboard’ to count down the end of EU laws

“Jacob Rees-Mogg has unveiled a new website so that Britons can “count down” the scrapping of the more than 2,000 EU laws still in force. The Brexit Opportunities minister said he hopes the “dashboard” will prompt further suggestions from the public on which rules to axe. But he admitted the site, which is heavy on jargon, could prove difficult for ordinary people to understand and may need improving. “I accept that not everybody is going to have the time or inclination to do this but I think it helps show the scale” of retained EU law, he said.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Eurosceptic Tories warn Boris Johnson must cut taxes – The Sun

Johnson prepares to defend plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda…

“Boris Johnson is preparing to defend the UK government’s contentious policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda when the prime minister meets Prince Charles in Kigali at a Commonwealth summit. The heir to the throne will represent Queen Elizabeth at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that officially opens on Friday and is being attended by most of the leaders of the organisation’s 54 member countries. The UK has agreed to pay Rwanda £120mn to take asylum seekers for resettlement, in an attempt to deter them from coming to Britain by crossing the English Channel in small boats.” – FT

  • Prime Minister and Prince of Wales head to showdown summit – The Sun


  • How ‘vice-signalling’ swallowed electoral politics – FT

>Today: Garvan Walshe’s column: Ditch the culture war to win. Lessons from the Spanish right’s victory in Andalucía.

…and ‘fails to deny’ that Carrie was considered for Foreign Office and royal jobs

“Boris Johnson has not denied claims that his wife, Carrie, had been considered for senior roles in the Government and Royal household, as he was mocked by Sir Keir Starmer over wanting to appoint her. Urged by Chris Elmore, a Labour MP, to “be honest” with the House of Commons and say if he ever considered appointing Ms Johnson to one of the posts, the Prime Minister did not give a straight answer… It comes amid a week of half-denials by the Prime Minister and Downing Street, following reports of numerous jobs to which he is said to have tried to appoint Mrs Johnson.” – Daily Telegraph

  • He brands Starmer ‘worse than Corbyn’ at PMQs – The Sun

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: PMQs sketch: On the whole, modern politicians have no solutions

Government ‘could unveil increase in defence spending as soon as next week’

“Boris Johnson could unveil an increase in defence spending as soon as next week, The Sun can reveal. Government sources believe the PM will use next week’s NATO summit to pledge a hike in the Ministry of Defence’s budget that has been hammered by inflation and the war in Ukraine. The Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has repeatedly warned the UK’s promise to spend 2.5 per cent of output on defence at risk of being missed by the middle of the decade. He has written to No10 and the Treasury to directly warn the crucial NATO commitment will be missed by 2025 without a major cash injection.” – The Sun

Sunak to meet oil and gas bosses in ‘windfall tax charm offensive’

“Rishi Sunak will embark on a charm offensive with the oil and gas industry during a visit to Aberdeen on Thursday as he attempts to heal the rift caused by his windfall tax. The chancellor will meet executives from the sector in the Granite City, the home of the British oil industry, days after draft legislation for the Energy Profits Levy (EPL) was published. Sunak last month unveiled the levy, which he hopes will raise £5bn by increasing taxes on the profits of oil and gas producers in the North Sea to fund support for households struggling with the cost of living crisis.” – The Guardian

  • Rising interest costs hit UK public finances – FT

>Yesterday: Daniel Hannan’s column: Investors are working out the Government has no plan for the British economy

News in Brief:

  • Johnson’s New Labour critics launder their legacy in Northern Ireland – Henry Hill, UnHerd
  • Britain’s young people are triple-locked out – Sam Ashworth-Hayes, CapX
  • Putin’s billions: have sanctions backfired? – Kate Andrews, The Spectator
  • Generations of politicians have ducked this country’s chronic problems – Henry Hill, The Critic

The post Newslinks for Thursday 23rd June 2022 first appeared on Conservative Home.

Why wage-price spirals fuel inflation – and neither the Keynesians nor the Monetarists are completely right

23 Jun

The Prime Minister has raised the spectre of a wage-price spiral as a way of justifying the Government’s opposition to wage increases for strikers. For Conservatives of a certain vintage, it is a helpful bogeyman: nobody wants a return to 1970s-style wage and prices controls negotiated between the Government and the unions, especially if it involves haggling with Mick Lynch.

Nevertheless, the waving of the wage-price spiral bloody shirt has received criticism from economists, and deserves further analysis.

A wage-price spiral refers to rising prices leading workers to demand higher pay, which pushes prices up further, and which pushes workers into asking for further higher pay. In a tight labour market with stagnant growth like ours, that can ensure that expectations of inflation become baked in for the foreseeable future.

It was the pressure of avoiding such an outcome that pressed the Heath, Wilson, and Callaghan governments into various wage and price agreements with the unions – all of which eventually collapsed, as inflation spiralled upwards and the ‘Winter of Discontent’ swung into view.

The Government would obviously like to avoid such an outcome – especially as it would antagonise Thatcherite backbenchers. But not everyone agrees giving in to wage demand would make our inflation problem worse.

On the one hand, you have the left-wing view, expostulated by such figures as the tax writer, Richard Murphy. On Twitter this week, he pinned inflation on “failing to plan for the reopening from Covid, profiteering by energy companies…war, sanctions, genuine food shortages” and those three greatest targets of leftie ire: Brexit, climate change, and bankers.

Since Murphy suggests inflation is not tied to wage increases, he argues it is safe for the Government to pay those currently striking more. Such an argument has long been a useful get-out clause for those on the left. It allowed the governments of Wilson and Callaghan to square soaring inflation with signing off on ever-growing pay settlements to the trade unions.

Yet pinning inflation solely on an imbalance between supply and demand does not square perfectly with what caused inflation in the 1970s – or today. To explain why, I need to deploy a word familiar to anyone else who saw the era of strikes and Kate Bush the first time around: monetarism, the theory of economics that prioritises the role of governments in controlling the amount of money in circulation when analysing the roots of inflation.

For example, governments across the western world faced a similar situation as today following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. As Tim Congdon, the leading monetarist, has highlighted, the UK saw consumer price increase of 9.2 per cent in 1973, 16 per cent in 1974, and 24.2 per cent in 1975.

But, as Congdon has also indicated, whilst West Germany faced the same inflationary pressures as Britain from oil price rises, it only saw consumer price rises of seven per cent, seven per cent, and 5.9 per cent for each respective year.

Why? Because of the monetarist’s titular fascination: differences in monetary policy, and the rate of increase of the money supply.

In West Germany, economists terrified of a repeat of Weimar-style hyperinflation, clung to the view that inflation was a product of the rate of growth in the money supply. By contrast, the overwhelming Keynesian consensus in Britain believed that inflation was a product of short-term fluctuations in the relationship between supply and demand, to be managed by spending cuts or increases and kept in check by wage and price controls.

The economic Gotterdammerung of the late 1970s put that theory temporarily to bed, and the triumph of the monetarists has been the cause of one of the relatively low inflation rates we have seen for the last 40 years.

Murphy suggested in his post that this was disproved by the lack of a surge in inflation following the introduction of quantitative easing from 2009 onwards. Doing so neglects the sharp uptick in asset prices since then – not included in many inflation calculations – and the simple fact that, in the first year of the pandemic, the Bank of England increased the money supply by more than in all the previous eleven years put together.

Moreover, as Mervyn King, the former Bank of England governor, has highlighted, post-2009 QE went into propping up government finances, whilst the £500 billion or so spent in the last two years has gone directly to the wider economy via furlough schemes and other measures.

Consequently, whilst the velocity of money in the UK – the reflection of the desired holdings of money against incomes – was stable in the 2010s, it collapsed from 2020 onwards as Covid plunged the economy into crisis. All this monetary expansion has now fed through as inflation.

Nonetheless, this does not mean Murphy is wholly wrong to highlight the impact of supply issues and price rises. As with the 1970s, where differing monetary policies combined with universal price increases to produce differing inflation rates between countries, so have different levels of largesse with the money supply produced different inflation rates today.

American inflation has been faster and higher than European and Japanese inflation, as so was its money growth – an estimated 26 per cent from June 2020 to June 2021. So Murphy, one would hope, is knocked into a cocked hat: the origins of our current inflation lie in post-Covid supply-demand shocks twinned with excessive monetary expansion.

The most ardent monetarist and the Murphy might agree on one thing: that wage rises are not the source of the inflation we see. In that sense, they are right: inflation was increasing before the wage rises we saw last year.

But average pay was up by more than 10 per cent between February 2020 and February this year. The demands of Lynch et al reflects a situation in which private sector pay increases have been running as roughly double that of the public sector for the last two years – and catching that up would not be without pain, or consequences.

With the rate of unionisation in the public sector five times that of that in the private sector, it is the taxpayer who will be on the hook for any settlements granted nurses, teachers, or other potential strikers, as Karl Williams of the Centre for Policy Studies pointed out on this site yesterday.

Paying for these would require more spending – and that would likely mean more borrowing. That is something the Treasury would very much like to avoid – especially as it would constitute monetary expansion. So whilst inflation, to credit Milton Friedman, might always and everywhere be a monetary phenomenon, it can have political origins.

But more importantly, pay rises today will bake in the expectation of pay rises tomorrow if inflation continues. The Murphys – and Andrew Baileys – of this world would tell you that inflation will trend downwards as post-Covid supply-demand problems are resolved.

But with the huge expansion of the money supply in the last two years and ongoing high energy and food prices, that seems more unlikely by the day. Inflation will be around for a while yet – and will become more persistent if workers form a habit of chasing inflation with big wage demands.

To prevent this, the Government must hold firm in the face of union disruption. It should also aim to support President Biden’s effort to get Saudi Arabia to pump more oil.

It should also take a long, hard look at the amount it is spending: can it justify paying for the triple lock as it urges restraint on workers, and whilst growth remains anaemic?  A full spectrum response is required to prevent inflation from gaining a permanent hold – like the economic cancer that it is.

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Garvan Walshe: Ditch the culture war to win. Lessons from the Spanish right’s victory in Andalucía.

23 Jun

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. 

Ejected from government by the current machiavellian parliamentary manoeuvring of Pedro Sanchez, the Prime Minister, Spain’s conservative Partido Popular (PP), embarked on an experiment.

For the first time since democracy was restored to Spain, the party made a bet that the country had shifted decisively to the right. The young new leader, Pablo Casado, promised  conservatism “without complexes.” Its record was mixed, and he was replaced in April by the Galician regional president, Alberto Nuñez Feijó, who has taken the party back to the centre. 

If the PP’s performance at the last regional election in Andalucía in 2018 showed the potential of Casado’s hard-right strategy, and its anti-lockdown success in Madrid, under Isabel Díaz Ayuso (often labeled ‘Madrid’s Thatcher’) was its apogee, Feijóo’s decisive victory last Sunday in the latest regional election exposed its eclipse.

The PP’s varied fate contains lessons about the circumstances under which a culture war strategy is likely to work, and when it’s likely to backfire that should concentrate minds in Downing Street.

Casado’s conservatism without complexes made much of the unity of Spain (against Catalan separatists) worries about immigration through North Africa, and the refulgent Marxism of Sanchez’s coalition partners Podemos (the party is so left-wing that its members held a vote on whether its leader and his partner could keep a house that they had bought with their own money). 

It weathered the challenge posed by the liberal Ciudadanos party, which copied Casado’s move to the right, thereby losing the left-leaning half of its voter base, but at the same time legitimised Vox.

Vox, a sort of Spanish Ukip, took Casado’s culture war further, attacking Spain’s burgeoning feminist movement, staging protests in defence of bullfighting and bigging-up nostalgia for Spain’s long vanished Latin American empire. 

Vox’s performance began to cause alarm inside the PP.  By March, it had closed to within two points of the PP’s 22 per cent. Casado having legitimised hardline views, voters had started to abandon him for the ‘real thing’. Sanchez’s PSOE, the main party of the left, had begun to open up a lead again. Conservatism without complexes was turning into Conservatism without votes. 

At the same time, the Catalan conflict had begun to cool down. The fact that Sanchez’ government had to make deals with more moderate Catalan nationalists didn’t inspire the outrage it once had. Podemos, which has once threatened to seize leadership of the left from PSOE, had fallen back to the ten per cent that has been usual for the Spanish far left. Though Spain has a proportional electoral system, parties that poll less than about 12% are heavily penalised. The threat from the extreme left has receded. 

In Galicia, and in defiance of his national leader,  Feijóo stuck firmly to the centre. That he delivered successive election victories was enough for him to replace Casado in April.

But Galicia had always been an unusual place home to moderates like the former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and even, relative to the politics of the time, Manuel Fraga. Fraga was Franco’s Ambassador to the UK, and led the moderates of the old dictatorship into democratic politics. 

The PPs victory in Andalucía, traditionally a left-leaning region, that showed that moderate, even boring, conservatism, focused on sound economic management could attract enough converts from the left to win even in its traditional stronghold. 

Where Casado’s culture war had alarmed them, Feijóo’s centrism reassured them. But what is especially interesting is that Feijóo’s move to the centre caused the Vox vote to collapse. Even voters who preferred the “real” right-wing populism to its imitation preferred centrist conservatism to both. 

Absent a strong hard-left bogeyman, and amid worsening economic circumstances, Vox’s culture war appeared an irrelevance. Jobs in modern industry, not in ‘tauromachy’  (as bullfighting is known by the pretentious), were at the top of voters’ minds.

As inflation rises in the UK, the Conservatives would be wise to heed Andalucía’s example. Voters want the government to focus on reducing the cost of living, keeping a lid on the wage-price spiral, and, because of the war, national security.

They are instead being treated to performative bills on the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Human Rights Act that might satisfy the party’s own ‘Vox’ wing, but will bog the government down in parliamentary guerrilla war voters don’t care about. Right now, its overriding domestic policy tasks should be to put a lid on inflation and draw the sting from a wave of strikes that appears to enjoy broad popular support. 

The lesson from Andalucía is not (as much as I might like it to be) that a culture war cannot deliver victory for the right. Indeed, it had some purchase, even in this left-leaning region of Spain, but that victory goes to the side that is relatively less extreme.

Like Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn left the Conservatives with plenty of space to engage in a grown-up form of student politics.  But in the middle of a European war and with inflation reaching double digits, it is an indulgence neither the party nor the country can afford. 

The post Garvan Walshe: Ditch the culture war to win. Lessons from the Spanish right’s victory in Andalucía. first appeared on Conservative Home.

Liam Fox: The momentous implications of the Down Syndrome Act for the civil service

23 Jun

Dr Liam Fox is a former Defence and International Trade Secretary, and is MP for North Somerset.

Politics at its very best is the about delivering real change. It is one of the great privileges of elected office that we can campaign for causes that really matter to us, or deliver for those whose voices may not otherwise be heard. That is why the Down Syndrome Act is one of my proudest achievements in my 30 years as an MP.

When I was born, the life expectancy of people with Down syndrome was 13 years. By the time I was a junior doctor, it was 30. Today, it is 58, meaning this will be the first generation of people with Down syndrome who will outlive their parents.

As a result, there was an urgent need to put provisions in place to deal with long-term care. If we didn’t, predictable human tragedies – such as the placing of people with Down syndrome into inappropriate care facilities – would have occurred. There is now time to make the appropriate arrangements ensuring dignity and independence for those with Down syndrome and relieving the worry of parents who go to sleep and wake up with the constant anxiety of, “What will happen when we are not here?

Then there was a need to deal with other issues that people with Down syndrome face, such as education and special needs, and complex medical issues. For too long, parents had been firefighting simultaneously on too many fronts – on healthcare and education, as well as social care, struggling to achieve the required services for their child.

My own personal experiences (the boy next door when I was growing up had Down syndrome), my work as a family doctor and my experiences over three decades as an MP convinced me that these changes were needed. The fact that the Bill passed unanimously through the Commons suggests that other MPs had similar experiences, one of the great justifications for our current electoral system.

The Down Syndrome Act, now it has received Royal Assent and become law, will work to resolve all these problems in ways already mentioned. I understand Ministers in the Department for Health will announce details of the public consultation soon. and I urge everyone with interests in this area to fully participate in that consultation.

But the Act creates precedents which are enormously important beyond Down syndrome itself.

First, the fact that the guidance currently being created must be laid before Parliament means that the relevant select committees can scrutinise progress of implementation in their respective areas.

This was a hugely important concession made by the Government in Committee. In practice, it means that the provision of services for those with Down syndrome will come under proper and permanent parliamentary scrutiny. While those unfamiliar with parliamentary procedures may not understand the significance of this, it is a major change in the relationship between the exercise of ministerial power (guidance) and parliamentary accountability.

It was decided that this was necessary as a result of Para 1(2) of the Act which states that “Relevant authorities must have due regard to the guidance in the exercise of their relevant functions.” This was interpreted as Ministerial “instruction” rather than simple “guidance”, and so required direct parliamentary oversight.

Given that the government had spent months fighting off similar concessions on the Health and Social Care Bill, there were a number of those on the Bill Committee who wondered why the government decided to set a precedent here. It was, however, the right thing to do.

The second, and arguably more important, change effected by the legislation does not actually appear on the face of the Bill itself. Again, those unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure may not immediately grasp its significance. Some of the Down syndrome charities themselves seem to have fallen into this category.

In the case of Pepper v Hart (1993), the House of Lords in its judicial capacity decided that clear statements made in Parliament concerning the purpose of legislation in the course of enactment may be used by the court as a guide to the interpretation of ambiguous statutory provisions. Put in plain English, the measures on the face of the Bill therefore need to be taken along with the commitments made by the Minister at committee.

The key commitment made at the Committee stage of the Down Syndrome Bill by the Minister, Gillian Keegan, was:

“I commit that the Secretary of State will ensure through statutory guidance that the integrated care boards will have a named lead for overseeing the implementation of the guidance issued under the Bill. That named lead will ensure that Down syndrome statutory guidance is implemented and considered throughout the commissioning decisions of an integrated care board. That will play an important role in ensuring that there is accountability for improvements at the local level and that the intentions behind the Bill are fully raised across Government.”

This is a profound change and one which I have wanted to see for a long time. It begins what I hope will be a process of “de-anonymisation” of the civil service.

For now, Down Syndrome is the only condition where there will be an identified individual responsible for provision at the ICB level. It is likely that other groups, representing other clinical conditions, will want to replicate it. I specifically wanted this change as part of a process of dramatically increasing the accountability of those responsible for the provision of health care.

Those whose job it is to implement policy and make things happen on the ground will now be visible to those who require the services. No longer will parents write to a health board with just the hope that someone picks it up. They will now know who is responsible, who to write to, and who should be replaced if they don’t get the public service application they are entitled to.

I hope this will be rolled out to more and more clinical groups covering ever greater numbers of conditions and patients. It should also be mirrored across the delivery of government to ensure that those who have paid from their taxes for the provision of public services will benefit from accountability and transparency in their delivery.

Conservatives should embrace this quiet revolution of empowerment. It could, with imagination, give us a gently radical agenda as we move towards the next election.

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Grant MacMaster: Parking charges – not partygate – is the reason the Conservatives lost in Havering

23 Jun

Grant MacMaster is a Young Conservative in Romford, having recently graduated from university. He grew up in Havering and has run in the local elections. He studied politics and economics, and was the first in his family to go to university.

Having faced the biggest defeat in Havering for eight years, the Conservatives remain the largest party on the council. However, the Havering Residents Association (HRA) just sold out the borough to the far-left socialists of the local Labour Party for a coalition agreement.

During May’s local elections, I ran as an independent candidate in my local ward, which is Havering’s most deprived ward on the council estate of Harold Hill. Growing up here, I felt my connection with local people could forge a better future for them, representing their interests at the Town Hall as opposed to Labour’s usual message of ‘vote for us then go away’.

I’m 21 years old and I’ve just finished my degree, being the first of my family to go to university. My peers and I see socialism and the far-left first hand everyday: it isn’t pretty. It’s rotting our schools, universities, and educational establishments, united under one common goal, a distain for sensible, pragmatic politics. Now it has come to the formerly safe Conservative borough I call home.

Having lost in my ward to the Labour Party, I have realised the vehicle for change in Havering isn’t independent or Resident Association councillors, it’s the local Conservative Party.

Some ask ‘How do you come to this conclusion?’ Here’s how.

Having done a great deal of door-knocking across Havering, I can safely say that Boris Johnson and partygate came up just a handful of times. What came up much more was the Conservative Leader of the Council’s (now opposition leader) handling of rising local parking costs (which were reversed, eventually) and increasing his cabinet by 2 members. Yes, its insanity.

But for all local people’s faults of focusing on an issue so small as parking charges increasing by a pound, it spoke to the heart of how the HRA and Labour won – they sold that the Conservatives cared more about themselves than helping locals.

We need to change this, sowing the seeds of a better Conservative Group on the council, fit to govern again.

How? Our message needs to go back to basics. Take it from me, I first voted aged 18 at the 2019 General Election. What attracted me to vote Conservatives most was the message of “Getting Brexit Done” – investing in our schools, hospitals and police.

Let’s re-ignite the same fire in the bellies of local people, that the Conservative Party is the vehicle to get us to better times and a better place.

This means truly lower taxes, instead of increasing taxes at the same time as increasing the Council Cabinet. It means providing high-quality performance-measured services, instead of focusing on building new leisure centre’s which Havering does not need. We need to be scrutinising the Labour Group’s control of Havering’s mayoralty and Cabinet position for Housing also.

This package should be rooted in the best traditions of our local communities and how we can improve them. This doesn’t mean flying the Union Jack every now and then. It means upholding the values of our country and exhibiting them at the Town Hall and beyond.

Havering’s founding motto is ‘liberty’, derived from our days as a Royal Liberty from 1465 to 1892. The HRA and Labour will stop at nothing to demean our communities, our local heritage, and our country. We must be the reminder to them that decency, tolerance and our individual liberty must always be protected.

Whilst they offer Labour councillors housing posts on the cabinet, they attack the very tradition that residents want cherished. We should shamelessly contest their plans to filibuster housing and planning decisions, resulting in increases in multi-story sites across the borough, increasing pressure on local services, and taking more of our green space.

The message on housing from local people is clear: we want affordable homes, but not sky-scraper sites. The HRA/Labour coalition will increase multi-story buildings; we must offer the credible alternative of being pragmatic with our space, and attract the right investment in our towns. Build quality homes which act as a gateway to future home ownership.

The pathway to winning also cites the organic society we live in as a key component to our policy programme. Life isn’t always fair, but we can work to provide opportunity for local people.

Opportunities do not appear out of thin air; they have to be carefully planned out and costed. Over the next four years, we need to find a role for everyone in our community, from those who create jobs to the way local roads are paved, using our pitch as a type of functionalism of local people.

A local off licence owner recently impressed upon me, ‘the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers are just as important as the Lawyers, the Doctors and the entrepreneurs’. He is right. A Conservative party that recognises this, is on the side of the middle of our communities. We need them to win, otherwise they’ll sway to the HRA and Labour coalition out of confusion from our message.

We must work out a programme that engages local people, inspires new voters to support the Conservatives as I did in 2019, whilst keeping our core supporters onboard. This is do-able. It was Edmund Burke that said a ‘state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation’.

I’m a Conservative now more than ever because our beliefs and values are under attack from an administration willing to sell out decency to the far-left. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

It’s time to change locally, returning to our fundamental values – for the revival of the Conservatives in Havering.

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