Archive for the 'Tories' Category


The Conservatives must again make the case for private enterprise, profit, choice and competition

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

1929 Conservative poster

The risk is an unwitting drift into a new left-of-centre consensus

Some revolutions are begun by small steps; others are revealed by them. Of itself, Chris Grayling’s announcement this week that the government was bringing the East Coast Mainline back into public ownership, was nothing unusual. It is, after all, the third time in the 20 years of the privatised era that the East Coast franchise has failed. Furthermore, for the government, the return to state-run operations is a purely pragmatic consequence of there not being another operator ready to take over, and of not wanting to hand an extension to a company which has already failed to deliver. So far, so logical.

What’s not a natural consequence of the Virgin-Stagecoach failure is the decision to change the delivery model from franchising to a partnership. That represents not just a substantial change in transport policy but a retreat from the principle that a competitive private sector – where such a market is possible – is the best means of assuring service delivery. Once a partnership is in place, it is likely to be there for the long run, without the need to worry about retendering for the franchise.

I have to say, I’m sceptical about such a model. Public-private partnerships don’t have a happy history. At least with franchising, the companies take on both the risk and the potential rewards. Too often with things like PFI contracts, the state ends up with a very poor deal.

That, however, is not the point politically. What was perhaps most significant was how quietly the change was made; how little defence there was of the previous system – and, consequently, how easily the whole system could be transformed. After all, once you have an organisation running the infrastructure as well as the trains, you’re well on the way to breaking up the system within which even quasi-competition can take place. Labour – with its commitment to return the railways (and, indeed, a good deal else) to full public ownership and operation – must be laughing.

And this is where the quiet revolution is occurring. The era of retreating state control has been over for at least a decade: the financial crisis not only brought some banks directly into partial or full state ownership but also undermined faith in the entire capitalist system. Ever since, advocates of a well-regulated market economy have been on the defensive. In Britain, that took a little time to work through: Labour was initially still wary of advocating what might be seen as post-war socialism, despite its instincts. Not now. Corbyn and McDonnell have never been shy of state ownership and are no doubt exultant at both the government’s change of tack and the polling on the issue.

An article in the New Statesman this week quoted a Populus poll from last year which showed that more than three-quarters of the public backed state ownership of water, electricity, gas and railways. That’s no doubt partially a consequence of some obvious problems in each of those markets.

Water, for one, doesn’t even really have a market and the argument for a private monopoly as against a public one is marginal and relies on the profit motive driving medium-term efficiency, and on private companies not being as subject to political whims as a state-run would be. Both arguments are contestable.

However, even if you can make a case that regulation can provide either a direct or indirect market for each of the services, the problem goes deeper and is that of a growing scepticism of profit as the legitimate return of successful enterprise – again, perhaps driven by a sense of injustice against cases where directors have paid themselves large sums out of businesses that have then gone bust – Carillion providing a prime recent example. Those cases might be high-profile but they’re not representative.

What all this amounts to is an assault, not even by stealth, on the post-1979 (and in particular, post-1987) economic settlement; one which the Conservatives are not meeting. Unless they do so, they will lose the philosophical argument by default. It shouldn’t be difficult but perhaps that consensus’ ascendency has lulled the party’s leadership into a sense of complacency. Or perhaps they just don’t particularly do philosophical argument, even when in government and doing so is setting the foundations for the policies being implemented.

Unless they do, though, they’ll find public support weak and susceptible to the sort of collapse seen at the last general election, when Corbyn’s simple solutions and slogans sound sufficiently attractive to win voters.

To prevent that, ministers need to make a sustained effort to explain why markets – when regulated effectively, a key caveat – tend to produce more choice and innovation, and better service. Those who remember the nationalised industries may well remember the kind of customer service that went with them. But fewer and fewer do remember those days, thirty years and more ago now. The Conservatives cannot assume that the public buy into their preferred model (to the extent that it still is), nor that they adequately understand all the steps that link from the policy to the customer outcome. They have four years to turn that round.

David Herdson


If punters are right we could have passed peak Jacob Rees-Mogg

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Ever since the local elections last week there has been talk of moving on from “Peak Corbyn”. Maybe? But what about “Peak Rees-Mogg?

If punters are correct and the betting movements are indicative there is less certainty about they he will succeed Mrs May as next prime minister.

The chart above shows the last 5 months of market moves on the Betfair Theresa May successor as prime minister market. As can be seen Rees-Mogg has been the favourite for several months but now that has started to decline and he is level pegging with Jeremy Corbyn.

I’ve never been one of the “betting markets being the best predictor” school. What I think they do is give an indication of sentiment that is out there and how those who risk their money on predicting political outcomes are using their cash.

The first thing that Rees-Mogg needs is for Mrs May to step down and the fact that we have not seen any no confidence move in the Prime Minister since she lost the party its majority suggests that this might not be as easy as many think. Firstly 48 CON MPs have to send in formal letters asking for such a vote and then, perhaps, more than half of the 300+ of them have to actually fill in their ballot papers ticking the no confidence box.

Then Mr. Rees-Mogg would have to succeed in the leadership vote amongst MPs to be one of the final two whose names go to a members’ ballot. A problem here is that he has never been a minister.

Mike Smithson


Building the barricade. How the Conservatives are minimising their chances of picking up former Remain voters

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

What are government policies for? If you were to ask the average member of the public, they would probably tell you that they were to set the best way possible for running the country on the particular topic at hand.

Of course, that hasn’t always or even usually been the main point of government policies. In most countries in most eras, government policies have mostly been designed to benefit the interests of an elite. Kings rarely thought about the impact of their policies on the peasantry. Dictatorships design policies to ensure their control of the reins of power. The masses might get a few crumbs thrown from the table in order to keep them quiet.

The change came gradually in Britain and many would argue that the process is far from complete. But for decades politicians of all stripes have put their proposed policies to the British public on the basis that they were for the common good. “For the many not the few”. “Forward together”. Acting in the public interest has become almost synonymous with what the public thinks governments should be trying to do.

All of which makes the government’s approach to Brexit striking. The government is pursuing Brexit as something whose merits are incapable of being debated: vox populi, vox dei. This much has been implicit for 18 months and you can argue that the referendum result requires it, that the public has determined that this is in the public interest. It begs the question, however, about the form of Brexit that should be sought. It is on this particular rock that the government is foundering.

Because Brexit by itself isn’t a policy but an absence of a policy. Britain is not to remain part of the EU – fine. But what positively is it going to do? To decide this requires the weighing of trade-offs between the economic impact of different policies, the ability to control immigration, the ability for Britain to make its own laws and so on. For that weighing process to be carried out effectively, the government needs to understand the consequences.

What we learned this week is that the government has no interest in formulating a Brexit policy in the public interest. Its private economic impact assessments were leaked to the press; awkwardly, they showed Britain worse off on all scenarios. They showed differential economic harm depending on the ultimate relationship reached with the EU, with the closer the links, the less harm.

Two government ministers reacted very differently. Steve Baker from the despatch box told Parliament that all government economic forecasts were always wrong and claimed that there was a plot to undermine Britain’s exit from the EU. On a separate occasion at the despatch box, egged on by Jacob Rees-Mogg, he spread fears that it was all a civil service plot to ensure Britain remained in the Customs Union.

Phillip Lee, by contrast, said on Twitter: “The next phase of Brexit has to be all about the evidence. We can’t just dismiss this and move on. If there is evidence to the contrary, we need to see and consider that too… It’s time for evidence, not dogma, to show the way. We must act for our country’s best interests, not ideology & populism, or history will judge us harshly.” Mr Baker’s assault on inconvenient evidence and aspersions on the integrity of the civil service have passed without challenge from his superiors. The government disciplined Mr Lee. Dogma, not evidence, will show the way.

It’s one thing to doubt whether the impact assessment correctly weighed the different elements that go together to make an economic forecast. It’s another thing entirely to treat all economic forecasts as toilet paper. A confident government would simply have acknowledged the assessment, paid tribute to the professionalism of the civil service, noted that the matter could be and was viewed differently by others, that the economics were not the only consideration and that the government was weighing all of the evidence in the round in forming its policy.

It’s a telling story about a wretched government. Many commentators have noted that the economic impact assessments will change no one’s minds. They’re right. No one is going to change their view of the merits of the idea of Brexit either way on the basis of a prediction of a difference in 5% of GDP over 10 years. Those who want to believe will believe, those who don’t want to believe, won’t.

That misses, however, a very different effect. At some point in the future – probably the next election – the Conservatives are going to want to present themselves as a party who governs in the public interest. When Brexit is in the rear view mirror, the Conservatives cannot count on keeping their Leave coalition together. Many voters might pocket that and move on to the next priority, and there is no assurance that the Conservatives will be the party that is best placed to address that. So the Conservatives will need to find a way of bringing former Remain supporters on board. But the Conservatives are making it as hard as possible for many former Remain voters even to consider them.

Throughout the Brexit process, the Conservatives have been building a barricade between themselves and Remain voters. The denigration of “citizens of nowhere”, the use of EU citizens as bargaining counters, the complicity with the language of the tabloids when they attacked the judiciary as enemies of the people and Remain supporters as saboteurs – the Conservatives have gone out of their way to alienate a set of voters who they evidently but unaccountably regard as eminently dispensable.

By drawing up Brexit policy based on dogma rather than evidence, the Conservatives are building their barricade against Remain voters ever higher. Why should Remain voters ever trust the Conservatives with their vote when they have shown such complete disregard for the public interest on the most important policy decision of the age? Why should any voters trust any prediction from the Conservatives (whether that their policies will result in national prosperity or that Labour’s policies will result in national disaster) when they have shown themselves to be contemptuous of predictions?

The Conservatives were inevitably going to take ownership of Brexit when the referendum result came in. There was nothing inevitable about them putting on the mantle of conspiracy theorists denying evidence and blindly following dogma in pursuit of faith-based policy-making. It’s an open question which is going to prove more damaging in the long term.

Alastair Meeks


R.I.P. The Conservative Party 1834-2018 if the Brexiteer dream is realised

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

It’s either a/the customs union or remaining Prime Minister Mrs May.

Until Mrs May voluntarily stands down or is forced out we’re going to be subjected to stories like this. What is interesting is that it is the more fundamentalist Brexiteers that are revolting.

I suspect Mrs May will propose a much more pragmatic deal than these Brexiteers are prepared to accept, so taking the evens that Ladbrokes are offering a vote of confidence on Mrs May being triggered in 2018 might be attractive.

If Mrs May does agree to a customs union deal with the EU then The Sunday Times article says Liam Fox is prepared to resign, Paddy Power are offering 10/1 on the disgraced former Defence Secretary having to resign again.

But I suspect this is all posturing, if the Brexiteers had the numbers, they would have already made their move against the Prime Minister,  The Sunday Times say

Under the “Three Brexiteers” plan, senior jobs would be found for Priti Patel, the former cabinet minister, and Dominic Raab, the housing minister overlooked for promotion by May in her January reshuffle.

The plotters fear that a failure to pre-agree a plan would lead to a “free for all” in which up to seven Brexiteers would fight it out to take on home secretary Amber Rudd, defence secretary Gavin Williamson and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the other frontrunners.

Penny Mordaunt, the new international development secretary and Brexiteer, has told colleagues that she has had “leadership training”.

Johnson’s allies believe he would have to win support from non-Eurosceptics to secure the leadership and have encouraged him to make overtures to Rudd, with a view to making her Britain’s first female chancellor.

Let us assume the Brexiteer dream is realised, I suspect they won’t have the votes in The Commons to pass any Brexit related and non Brexit related legislation with such a dream team.

That’s before we consider the point  just how unpopular the three Brexiteer government would be. That the government would be fronted by some of the most loathed and hated politicians in the country, with major roles earmarked for the architect of Universal Credit, a minister who recently had to resign in disgrace, and a backbench MP who can be characterised as having pre-Plantagenet conservative views.

When the Tory Party starts obsessing about the EU, it often resembles a monkey house with only laxatives for food, Jeremy Corbyn might as well start measuring the curtains for Number 10 if the Tory Brexiteer dream is realised.




Mrs May’s weird plot to make Gavin Williamson her successor is likely to fail

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Mrs May is annoying far too many people in the party & that will cause her and her preferred successor problems in the future

Trying to understand Mrs May’s recent reshuffle has been a challenge, but over the weekend a few people suggested it was all part of a weird plot to make Gavin Williamson Tory leader, Iain Martin says

Theresa May’s reshuffle was rubbish for a reason it seems. In the days that followed this week’s half-hearted reconstruction of the government, MPs, ministers and aides tried to make sense of what the Prime Minister and her closest supporters thought they were doing when they kept changes to a minimum. An astonishing picture is emerging as various factions across the Tory parliamentary party compare notes.

Contrary to expectation, the party’s “young talents” – such as Rory Stewart and Dominic Raab – were deliberately not fast-tracked into the cabinet. Others were sidelined, stalled or given “hospital pass” postings. Why? So that they would not have any cabinet experience this year, deliberately handicapping them if they want to run for the leadership later this year or next.

The Mayite candidate when that contest eventually comes thus has a head start and is already in the cabinet. That is the defence secretary Gavin Williamson so vigorously promoted as the future of a grittier “Nottingham not Notting Hill” Conservatism, by Nick Timothy, May’s former chief of staff. Timothy still has a great influence on May, who has long relied on his political skills.

What is in it for May? A cabinet minister says that if her supporters prevail then she gets to stay a good bit longer than anticipated beyond 2019, supposedly redeeming her  legacy and earning a better place in history. Or if she falls early, via an emergency, Williamson is well-placed and those other youngsters outside the cabinet are left at a disadvantage. That cabinet minister thinks there will be hell to pay as more MPs realise what is going on, but we’ll see.

The Sunday Times has one minister saying ‘Damian Hinds was promoted to the post of education secretary because “he is Gavin Barwell’s best mate”. Barwell is May’s chief of staff.’  Another ‘minister who had been expecting a promotion told friends he had complained to the chief whip and was told: “Sorry, there are other agendas at work here.”’

So we have a lot of annoyed and frustrated Tory MPs and ministers, it appears that Mrs May’s government is more of chumocracy than David Cameron’s government ever was and that will lead to retribution for Mrs May and the likes of Williamson & Hinds. The Sunday Times also speculates these actions might lead to a leadership challenge against Mrs May.

If Mrs May stays for at least another two years we probably will see at least one more reshuffle, probably in the aftermath of the UK leaving the EU in March 2019. If she attempts another reshuffle like this one, she should be facing a leadership contest, you simply cannot annoy your MPs and ministers like this all in the attempt to game the next leadership race.

In the next Tory leadership contest both Gavin Williamson and Damian Hinds could be recipients of a backlash from Tory MPs for Mrs May’s actions. In the next PM/Tory leader markets I’ve been laying Gavin Williamson for quite some time, this week’s events seem to confirm the wisdom of that, his very rapid (over)promotion to Defence Secretary is seen as even more of a mistake by the week.


P.S. – Earlier on this week Michael Gove said the next Tory leadership contest final two could be between Williamson & Hinds, the interesting aspect of this is that both are Remainers. Anyone who sees the next Tory leadership contest exclusively through the prism of Remain vs Leave or think being a Remainer will be a disadvantage are making a mistake. The next Tory leadership contest will be viewed through the prism of who is best placed to win the next general election.


Toby Young quits so helping TMay by taking the attention away from her bungled reshuffle

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

You can’t plead youthful indiscretion for things in your late 40s

It was inevitable, I suppose, after all the weekend hiatus that Toby Young was not going to be able to survive in his new role on the board of the new University regulator.

It is an OK defence to plead youthful indiscretion for things that you did in your youth. But Mr Young was in his late 40s when his more offensive tweets were published.

As well as the misogyny and homophobia that they contained the ones that I think we’re most damaging were his caustic observations about working class students at Oxford*.

The danger for the government now is that ministers were apparently not ready to do anything about them but it has been left to Young himself to quit.

I don’t think that this morning’s news is the end of the matter. This will be used by CON opponents in the same way that the the Bullingdon club connection was used against Cameron and others.

*Correction. It has been pointed out Young’s observations on working class students had been made in an article he’d written 30 years ago and had been highlighted by the Tweet furore.

Mike Smithson


New academic research shows the wide differences between CON members and those who join other parties

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Tory membership is older and more male biased

Well over half of CON members want hanging restored


CON members want a tough line on immigration post-Brexit

A new and comprehensive academic from Queen Mary, University of Lonodn, shows very sharp differences between CON members and those who belong to LAB/LD/SNP.

This probably gives us a clearer idea of the make-up and views of CON party members – those who are likely to make the final choice for TMay’s successor when she steps down as CON leader. The charts above are just a selection. The full report can be found here

Over 4117 members of the four parties in the study were surveyed a couple of weeks after the 2017 general election, 1734 of whom were also surveyed just after the 2015 general election. The publication is from the ESRC-funded Party Members Project, which is a collaboration between Queen Mary University of London and The University of Sussex. The researchers are Professor Tim Bale (Queen Mary), Professor Paul Webb (University of Sussex), and Dr Monica Poletti (Queen Mary).

Mike Smithson


Theresa May is set to conduct a major reshuffle in January, but will she end up causing even more problems for herself?

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Five more malcontents on the backbenches might be a mistake.

Both The Sunday Times and The Sun on Sunday have stories about Mrs May planning to conduct an extensive reshuffle in January.

This is quite a bold move by Mrs May, in December she effectively fired her oldest friend in politics, in January she’s on course to fire her campaign manager from her leadership campaign, although Lord Adonis may have saved Grayling from the chop.

Speaking about that leadership contest, she’s might be axing Andrea Leadsom which again maybe a mistake.

With the forthcoming Brexit votes and the precarious majority thanks to the DUP Mrs May has, adding five further malcontents onto the backbenches could imperil those votes even before we consider the problems that Craig Oliver has identified. Mrs Leadsom might see this as casus belli to launch a leadership challenge.

Another troublesome member might be Boris Johnson, The Sunday Times say

Chancellor Philip Hammond is safe in his post, but senior May aides want to persuade Boris Johnson to take a souped-up Brexit delivery job, probably based in the business department, after a turbulent time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Johnson’s allies say he would regard that as a demotion and would fight it.

May was warned by her former chief whip, Gavin Williamson, not to hold a reshuffle before the local elections in May.

But Julian Smith, the new chief whip, has sided with Gavin Barwell, May’s chief of staff, to convince the prime minister that party management will be more difficult if she does not beef up her top team and promote younger MPs.

For those betting  on Jeremy Hunt as Theresa May’s successor there’s good news.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is tipped to take over the Cabinet Office role vacated when May’s closest cabinet ally Damian Green was forced out before Christmas, but the prime minister is not expected to give Hunt the title of first secretary of state.

One ally said: “Jeremy is a peacemaker and a negotiator, and that’s what’s needed to deal with the rest of the cabinet and the devolved administrations.”

But the stories do have a bit of a contradiction, The Sunday Times say Greg Clark is going to get sacked, whilst The Sun on Sunday says Greg Clark is tipped for a big promotion.

Of those tipped to join the cabinet are Brandon Lewis, Damian Hinds, and Dominic Raab, I’d be delighted with the latter’s promotion, having backed him to be Theresa May’s successor.