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...?