March 19, 2017

Government in a mess

Political commentators on the right have taken to criticising cabinet ministers. They call on Theresa May to replace them, implicitly exempting her from their criticism.

For Peter Oborne "Mrs May is showing firm, principled leadership as Britain heads towards Brexit" but "Home Secretary Amber Rudd hasn’t made an impact". Er ... this is exactly what Theresa May did as Home Secretary for years, not make an impact. It worked for her, and it's probably what she wants of Amber Rudd.

For, as Adam Boulton says, some Tories see her as resembling Gordon Brown: "paranoid, bullying, over-reliant on unaccountable advisers but ultimately indecisive and cautious".

Hammond is clearly damaged goods. May doesn't favour a smaller state; indeed she is a fan of extra wheezes, which cost money, yet can't nerve herself to slay big white elephants like Hinckley Point, HS2, or overseas aid. So Hammond will have to find ways to raise taxes which Her Majesty's opposition on the Evening Standard or the Tory backbenches will permit.

Tim Shipman reports that
Downing Street has told senior ministers that any reshuffle later this year is likely to target only middle-ranking and junior ministers, leaving Hammond safe for now.
A stunning misjudgement with Liz Truss in the cabinet. But if Hammond were to be replaced? Allister Heath puts forward Sajid Javid (who fumbled both Tata Steel and business rates) and Michael Fallon (who fiddled over IHAT and has been rightly described as chief press officer for his department). If that's the best they can do, the Tories really are in trouble. And so is the country.

At least Peter Oborne can point to talented backbenchers.

Michael Gove should be DPM with responsibility for domestic policy, giving Mrs May more time for Brexit and Scotland and the money. The problem? Their talents exceed those of gray May, and she knows it.

Boulton and Oborne suggest May should go to the country. If she does, her policy on a second Scottish referendum should be that Scots should first see the outcome of Brexit. Then, if they are unhappy, they could have a second and final referendum if there is majority support there for it. English politicians in their bubble should stop emoting about this "precious, precious union". The Scots should decide.

May has no need to position herself so that a decision by Scotland to leave would be seen as a defeat for her.

It is the policy of the SNP to make Scotland poorer. If that is what Scots want, that is their choice, and we can take back control the £9 billion a year we bung them, to use in the English NHS instead. £170m a week on the side of a battlebus would make a powerful photo opportunity.

If Arron Banks doesn't want to do it, crowd-funding would probably be easy.

March 15, 2017

"All Out War"

All Out War is a remarkable book. It's famously remarkable for its speed, appearing some twelve weeks after the EU referendum. It's remarkable for its style. Shipman is always smooth and lucid. I was involved in the campaign, but I actually found the book exciting. And it's also remarkable that the publishers didn't give this detailed account an index.

Shipman himself emerges (rightly or wrongly) as having a mild, almost kindly temperament, though that does mean he is not always steely-eyed.

The title is almost brilliant. It doesn't quite work: by Shipman's own account, Cameron pulled some punches because he didn't want to risk splitting the Conservative party. But most participants did go at it hammer and tongs.

Shipman would not claim that this is the full story of the referendum campaign. It is an absorbing, revealing, detailed account of what happened at the centre of politics. That focus isn't surprising. The people behind the scenes at the centre were the keenest to get their story out; overwhelmingly they were the people who talked to him. And continue to. Shipman amusedly says they contact him saying he's omitted some allegedly crucial meeting or other in which they played an allegedly crucial role.

Maybe there are slightly too many of those meetings in the book already. The narrative is generally tight and pacy, without being superficial, but sags slightly when some of the backroom meetings are detailed. The reader feels he could have done without some of them. Doubtless people at some of those meetings felt the same.

To historians, it doesn't matter how the people they criticise react. The historian moves on. But journalists want to keep their lines of communication open, and Shipman draws back from some deserved criticisms.

Thus Osborne is praised for fighting a referendum he didn't want as an act of friendship to Cameron. Shipman doesn't remind us just how dishonest Osborne's conduct was. He played dirty. In his case it really was All Out War, and honesty and morality were irrelevant. The saving grace was that Osborne was so cack-handed.

Similarly, Cummings is praised as the man who singlehandedly drove Vote Leave to success. Shipman accepts that Cummings was difficult to work with, but Cummings' contribution was actually more problematic. "Vote Leave, Take Control" was simple and brilliant, but (here I disagree with Shipman) Cummings' £350m was a huge blunder. The figure was quickly and easily shown to be untrue. It seemed that in every media interview every Leave politician was probed on the number, undermining the Leave campaign's credibility. This was particularly frustrating because a more realistic figure of (say) £120m would have had just the same shock value, without the disadvantage of being obviously false.

As it was, it was discouraging to be walking miles putting leaflets through doors which prominently featured the big and well publicised £350m lie. Cummings' appearance before the Treasury Select Committee was a cringingly awful disaster (Matthew Elliott's was little better). Vote Leave's campaigning was disorganised. They changed the structure of their website during the campaign, and presumably ran short of money, as this campaigner had to scramble round to other sources for publicity materials when Vote Leave couldn't supply them.

Shipman suggests more than once that the opinion polls may have been unreliable. He can be forgiven for not exploring this, as his book is primarily a narrative account, but for someone who was there the suggestion is fascinating. The published polls were moving in Leave's favour when Jo Cox was murdered, and it was to Cameron's advantage to suspend campaigning for as long as he could get away with, in the hope of braking that momentum.

At the start of negotiations with the EU it looked likely that we would Remain. Cameron must have expected that outcome, MPs showed that they overwhelmingly favoured it. Shipman is right that misjudgements and luck led to Remain's failure, and he catalogues them well. It was a series of narrow squeaks for Leave. The renegotiation was, very obviously, no good (probably Cameron airily told Merkel it would be fine). Gove and Johnson campaigned prominently for Brexit, giving Leave credibility and wide appeal. Vote Leave narrowly won the designation - a campaign headed by Farage would only have captured the diehards.

What did Vote Leave achieve? They facilitated victory by making Leave a respectable point of view and - importantly - non-party. The strategy was good, but much of the tactics was awful.

If Shipman had tried to explore this, his book might have taken twice as long to write and been hopelessly unwieldy. As it is, he has scoped the book well.

The MP Steve Baker praises this book in his Amazon review. Steve Baker does come out of the book very well! - but his praise is more than good manners.

All Out War will be definitive.


March 14, 2017

Abolish the green levies

Government-imposed green eco levies add some £130 a year to energy bills, The Mail suggests.

Saving the "just managing" £130 would help them. And it could pay for a chunk of the increase in Class 4 NICs.

In any case carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. The revered "scientific consensus" has been wrong. Global temperatures have risen far less than the "scientific consensus" predicted. And no one has proved that the small rise is man made.

Government should stop taking our money for no good reason. Give us back our £130.

Let Scotland have its referendum

On the day of Parliament's historic vote that Article 50 could be triggered, the BBC led their 10pm News on the whining Scotswoman making indefinite noises about another referendum on Scottish independence.

We all know it would be economically disastrous for Scotland. Maybe the aim is to extract more autonomy and much needed English money in order to keep Scotland in the union. Or maybe the SNP fears losing its Holyrood majority at the next election, so it's now or never - even though most Scots tell pollsters they don't want another independence referendum any time soon.

Call the SNP's bluff. Give the pauper province its referendum. English politicians shouldn't put their necks on the line; they'll only be criticised during the referendum and afterwards, whatever the result.

And they certainly shouldn't throw more English money at Scotland.

For a change in this referendum, let's have a bus advertising a big number - the money England will save if Scotland leaves. It will get lots of media coverage and it won't cost Arron Banks much.

There is a net transfer of around £9 billion a year from the rest of the UK to Scotland. An independent Scotland would have to increase taxes or cut spending by more than £1,000 per person.

English politicians should give the pauper province its referendum and stand aside.

March 07, 2017

What does government get right?

It was that arrogant referendum liar Osborne who decided to postpone business rate revaluation. Now, for some reason, the government has decided to go ahead with it. Not, they say, to increase the tax take. No, siree. It's because business rates based on an updated revaluation would be fairer.

This is at a time when appeals against the previous revaluation are still outstanding. Most appeals by the government's own departments (yes, you read that right) appear to have been dealt with. But other appeals are still outstanding - about 250,000 of them.

So what a great idea to have a fresh revaluation now.

The government accepts that some businesses' rates will rise. And of course they will protest, and if that doesn't work they will appeal. Cue an even longer backlog.

I know, says the government, we'll offer those businesses transitional relief. Given that these changes are supposedly revenue neutral, where is the transitional fund money to come from? I know, says the government, we'll bring in the rate reductions for other businesses more slowly, and smooth the transition that way.

Cue protests from those set to gain from lower rates. For they had already been told what their lower rates would be. Doubtless they were happy. Now, not so much.

The idiot government seems to have managed to upset everyone involved in the process.

*****

And don't get me started on smart meters. Turns out they're not so smart. Ministers encourage us to shop around for our gas and electricity, and change suppliers to get cheaper power. So far, so sensible. Encourage competition.

But if you change supplier, your smart meter can't communicate with your new provider. Yes, that's right. Government is forcing us to pay for smart meters (through our energy bills, of course, hoping we won't notice). But the not-very-smart meters can't cope with another, perfectly sensible, government policy - a policy, moreover, which government won't abandon.

So government is forcing us to finance smart meters which aren't fit for purpose. And they know that.

Can things get worse for not-so-smart meters? Indeed they can. Over the past few days, papers have pictured smart meters showing consumption - daily consumption - of £19,000 and more. Irony alert: it turns out that some makes of smart meters are confused by the current patterns from ... energy saving lightbulbs!

So that's two reasons why the smart meters we are forced to subsidise for aren't fit for purpose.

A rational government would abandon the programme at once ("suspend" it), stop the subsidies, and only consider reintroducing it when the technology is definitively fit for purpose.

Could be a long wait for the technology. Could be a long wait for government to get sensible. Meanwhile, government continues to tax every household to little purpose.

*****

So what does government get right? And if it is so useless at implementation, should it not be doing a lot less?

Maybe - and this is a huge leap - only doing what the tax base can afford...?

February 24, 2017

After the by-elections

It's a funny old political world. Of course the two by-elections didn't change views of Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he remains a puzzle. How can someone who has been an MP for so many years be so ineffectual, bumbling and useless?

Okay he was never remotely able enough for even the most junior ministerial office, but as a full-time backbencher he was in a position to watch the most effective political operators of his day, and learn from them. But he seems to have learned precisely nothing. A Labour MP who left his front bench (and there are plenty of them) claimed Corbyn is vain. That is to overrate him. He's just thick. Even thicker than Harriet Harman. That's quite something.

Ann Widdecombe spent last night on This Week exhorting Theresa May to be radical in tackling big domestic issues, and not get caught up in Brexit and neglect them, though her radicalism seemed to consist of a call for some grand conversation about the NHS leading to an agreed solution for its problems. Disappointingly vacuous. Michael Portillo suggested that the only Conservative who could drive a genuine reform agenda was Michael Gove, which certainly seems right.

The only way towards a broad reform agenda would be to appoint Mr Gove as Deputy Prime Minister with an oversight of domestic issues. But Mrs May and her staff of control freaks probably couldn't live with that.

In any case, why should Gray May take the risk? Fiddling ineffectually - her style, as she showed at the Home Office - has brought her a 16 point lead over Labour. Politically, then, why would she implement bold policies aimed at actually tackling problems? Governing boldly is beyond her, but her timidity and lack of imagination are working for her politically.

And so to UKIP. Nuttall had an awful campaign, and has rightly been described on Twitter as "soiled goods". He has rightly been jeered at. He should not stand again in any constituency any time soon.

UKIP's problem is that politically Mrs May has shot their Brexit fox. Leave voters aren't going to vote UKIP out of a sense of gratitude.

UKIP will have to earn votes. That will come through good local people with strong local knowledge advocating a well known set of national policies. Ben Kelly argues that UKIP will fade away into irrelevance, and he may be right.

Given the mess that Corbyn is creating in Labour, time seems to be on UKIP's side. They need to create a set of clear, substantial policies which they can repeat over and over again, at national and at local level. Their candidates need to be not some underpowered carpetbagger, but people with strong local knowledge.

Again and again Stoke voters asked what Nuttall would do for Stoke, and indeed what he knew of Stoke. The answer was not very much.

In itself the Stoke seat is no great loss. Boundary changes are due to reduce the three Stoke seats to two, so the winner may have little political future.

Behind the scenes, maybe the thinkers in UKIP will see the Stoke result as a blessing, since it has shown everyone how useless Nuttall is as a candidate at an early stage. His role now must be to encourage his central policymakers, and nurture any promising local candidates he can find. This collegiate approach is something he should be good at, certainly better than his egomaniac predecessor, who never saw any limelight he didn't want all to himself.

We need an effective Opposition. Can Labour turn itself round? Maybe by splitting - it has some able politicians on its backbenches, even if some of them are sanctimonious moralists. Or will Labour's disintegration continue? If so, can UKIP mend its ways and start to become a wee bit professional? Unlike Ben Kelly, I wouldn't rule it out. But I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

February 23, 2017

Oh no, so called child refugees again

So the tedious, sanctimonious whingeing about "child refugees" has started again in the Commons.

Who believes that unaccompanied children managed to trudge across Europe in numbers?

Never mind that refugees are supposed to claim sanctuary in the first safe country they reach.

Never mind that these refugees are claiming sanctuary in a country they haven't even reached.

And never mind that some of the "children" in the first group looked distinctly grown up. Indeed, their appearance proved so embarrassing for the government that they erected barriers to stop us, the taxpayers from seeing who was being admitted - without any age checks - which, it was said, would have been intrusive.

And never mind that the local authorities to whose care they are consigned are chronically short of funds for social care of our own citizens.

Sanctimonious Labour MPs like Little Miss Prim Yvette Cooper call for more money to be spent on this highly dubious project (where is it to come from?), which will encourage more people to chance their luck.

These MPs are spendthrift do-gooders with no sense of priorities. They came into public life to lecture us about their superior virtue, and to take away our money to spend in dubious ways that they snootily consider worthy.

February 18, 2017

Trump's truths about Europe

EU bigwigs are circling the wagons in response to arrows from America. But the Europeans' response is risible.

In a speech which Mike Pence had to sit through - it's not all fun being Trump's Vice President - Merkel implicitly accepted Trump's charge that Germany benefits from a euro which is valued lower than the D-Mark would be. But it's not our fault, she says, as she washes her hands. Not at all. Berlin has no power to address this "problem" because monetary policy is set by the independent European Central Bank (ECB).

What a shame. How sad.

And what do you know, the ECB tailors its policy to the euro economies that are weaker than Germany's (i.e. practically all of them). No mention of the size of that persistent German trade surplus, of course, which is illegal under eurozone rules but which the eurozone oddly never addresses. Meanwhile, Germany's eurozone companions continue to suffer. They could leave at any time, but it isn't even like an open prison - they checked themselves in in the first place. It's more like a decaying but ruinously expensive hotel, with a splendid, luxury wing reserved for just one guest.

America is also reminding Europe of the commitment it made to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The UK probably doesn't reach this any more, and it's not as if Fallon is a doughty champion of the armed forces (or indeed of anything).

The EU response to America is that foreign aid should be counted as part of defence spending because it stabilises the world. Yes, they are really saying that.

So we can help to neutralise threats from Russia or North Korea by giving aid to Africa to help them combat fictitious runaway global warming? Is this really the best that EU bigwigs can come up with?

Defence is defence. On this, and on the euro exchange rate, Trump has only said what analysts have been saying for years, but politicians have been too timid to admit. Much safer for them to say nothing, cross their fingers, and hope nothing spectacularly bad happens on their watch.

On these two issues the Trump regime is right. And the eurocrats are hunkering down, hoping reality will pass and they can go back to life in La La Land.

February 17, 2017

The dishonesty of Tony Blair

Blair has lost his magnetism, he is past his sell  by date. Anyone who follows politics even slightly knows he has been enriching himself giving advice to bloodthirsty dictators. But he still thinks we will follow him to his promised land of the EU.
How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused. We do not argue for Britain in Europe because we are citizens of nowhere. We argue for it precisely because we are proud citizens of our country who believe that in the 21st Century, we should maintain our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market right on our doorstep; not in diminution of our national interest, but in satisfaction of it.
With utter cynicism Blair redefines the Brexit question. If we stayed in the EU, we would not have a partnership with the political union, we would be part of it. Indeed, it is only by leaving that political union that we can, if we wish, then have a partnership.

Similarly, you cannot have a partnership with a market that you are part of. If you are outside the organisation, then you can choose to have a partnership with it ... whatever that weasel phrase means. Or not.

And he arbitrarily claims that the immigration most people are worried about is the immigration from the outside the EU. He has no evidence for this at all, but then he makes the circular argument that "Brexit doesn't affect the immigration people most care about".

So Blair has chosen to take a stand against the democratic verdict of the referendum, alongside the discredited Nick Clegg and that political colossus Tim Farron.

Iain Duncan Smith dismissively says, "I suppose he learnt this disregard for democracy over the last few years from the friends he was advising in Kazakhstan".

Well, quite. Leavers should be happy to have the dishonest Blair opposing us.

February 16, 2017

Time to stop all Green spending

What do we make of this?
For sure no one knows where the graph will go next.

But does it justify increasing people's energy bills by a third? Where is the global warming which our foreign aid budget is supposedly helping poorer countries to avoid?

What measures does this justify in policy terms?

Bear in mind that Scientific Consensus forecasts have all been wrong. They have all run too hot. So we can't use them as a basis for policymaking. That would be irrational.

More importantly, these elite policies with no basis in scientific observations are costing ordinary voters significant sums of money, year in and year out. And for what?

For no benefit at all.

Time to stop all Green spending.