Friday, 12 May 2017

Male only choice in Warwick & Leamington

As in the 2015 general election, I will be following the local constituency battle in Warwick & Leamington. This could be the last contest in Sir Anthony Eden's old seat, as proposed boundary changes would put the two towns which are contiguous into different constituencies, much to the annoyance of locals. (Warwickshire is to lose one seat).

The seat was held by Labour from 1997 to 2010. At the last election the Conservatives received 47.9 per cent of the vote, up 5.1 per cent. Labour held almost steady at 34.9 per cent and the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed to 5 per cent with UKIP picking up a little over 8 per cent.

Jeremy Corbyn visited the constituency during the week and a Labour tweet referred to it as 'Royal Leamington Spa'. He attracted a crowd of around 500, but many of them were students.

Retiring Conservative MP Chris White is standing again. In one of the few West Midlands constituencies to vote for 'Remain' in the referendum, he was a remainer. He is regarded as an energetic local MP.

Mick Western, a recently re-elected county councillor in Leamington, is the Labour candidate. Jonathan Chilvers, who holds a county council side on the south side of Leamington, is the Green candidate. Nick Soloman, a relative political novice, is standing for the Liberal Democrats. Former Warwick mayor Bob Dhillon is standing for UKIP to give Brexiteers an alternative to Chris White.

Voters will thus have to choose from an all male list.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

SNP local elections victory looks less secure

Leading elections expert takes a close look at the SNP's performance in the local elections and says that it looks less secure when you examine it closely: Starts to crack when you look closely

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Major premiership

Yesterday I attended a book launch at Liverpool University's impressive London premises for a book on the Major premiership to which I contributed. Contributors were invited to make presentations.

A view that emerged was that John Major was more successful than he appeared at the time, also a theme in the book. For example, he did much of the heavy lifting on Northern Ireland, although Tony Blair took much of the credit.

Professor Lord Norton pointed out that he was actually the third longest serving continuous prime minister of the last hundred years (the 2017 date excludes Asquith).

One view was that it takes a good jockey to ride a difficult horse, but perhaps there had been too much emphasis on the horse in terms of the political context at the time.

Major was first elected in 1979 and hence never served in opposition. He had no opportunity to prepare to be prime minister and to think through what he wanted to do. He fell into the pragmatic category of Conservative prime ministers. His lack of principle and philosophy was to some extent his undoing. However, he did have deep Conservative instincts as well as being pragmatic.

One speaker drew a comparison with Theresa May, asking what does she believe in? The electorate seem to compare her with Mrs Thatcher.

He has been one of the most successful post Prime Ministers, making rare and judicious interventions with good timing. Of course, in a way that is faint praise. It is rather like saying Jimmy Carter was a better post president than he was president.

His long autobiography was one of the best written by a prime minister since Churchill and was characterised by his dry wit.

The book concludes, 'In history, Major is not a towering figure like Attlee or Thatcher, but nor is he a failure like Balfour or Eden, nor a footnote in the party's evolution like Bonar Law or Douglas Hume.'

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Millwall fans to contest general election

Millwall fans are planning to nominate a candidate in one of the Lewisham constituencies in the general election: Protest candidate

They fell out with the local Labour controlled council and mayor after an attempt to use a compulsory purchase order to acquire some of the club's land.

72-year old local resident Willow Winston is to stand in Lewisham East, the leafier part of the borough: Everyone hates us, we don't care

Thursday, 16 March 2017

'Spreadsheet' Phil is weakened but safe

The relationship between the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer is the most crucial one in British government, but it hasn't been studied very systematically, although I attempted a typology in my Economic Policy in Britain.

'Spreadsheet' Phil Hammond has suffered a blow to his reputation after he was forced to withdraw his increase in national insurance charges for the self-employed. The expressions of studied neutrality on those around him as he made his statement yesterday told their own story.

The line from Downing Street is that the Chancellor was warned beforehand about the political risks of the increase, but felt he had to go ahead to meet new spending demanded by the prime minister. Indeed, the Treasury line is that the prime minister and her aides are too keen to spend additional money, although something had to be done to provide additional funding for social care. Quite how the £2 billion hole in what was a fiscally balanced budget is going to be repaired remains to be seen. The Government has boxed itself in by its manifesto pledge not to increase income tax, VAT or national insurance, the main means of raising revenue.

In the longer run, something is going to have to be done about the erosion of the tax base by the growing numbers of self-employed, some a by-product of the digital economy, but many of them attracted by the tax benefits which include allowances not available to the employed. Employers also benefit from not having to pay NICs. However, it would have been surely better to wait for the results of the review being conducted by Matthew Taylor which will also look at the narrower range of benefits received by the self-employed. Certainly, Phil Hammond did not display much political awareness.

In the longer run, there is a need to look at the rationale of separating national insurance and income tax. National insurance is another form of income tax, but one not applied to particular groups such as the elderly. Whether any party would be prepared to tackle this particular hot potato is open to question.

What is the immediate political fallout from this U-turn? It shows that the Government is vulnerable to determined resistance by small groups of backbenchers, given its slim majority. School funding formulas will be the next target. It also showed once again that Jeremy Corbyn is unable to take advantage of government errors.

The SNP economy spokesman suggested that relations between No. 10 and No. 11 could revert to the days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That will not happen because Phil Hammond has no ambitions to be prime minister. He is a Derek Heathcoat-Amory rather than a Gordon Brown. From Theresa May's point of view, it suits her to have a weakened chancellor beholden to her so his job is safe for now.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Too much policy reinvention?

A new report from the Institute for Government argues that there has been too much policy reinvention in British government, leading to waste and lost policy effectiveness. Three areas which have certainly suffered from constantly changing policies are examined in detail: further education, regional governance and industrial strategy: All change?

What one can do about it is another question, given the susceptibility of governing parties to fads and fashions and the incentives for ministers to build a reputation as policy innovators, even if the policies are reheated.

One suggestion made by the report is that the institutional memory of departments needs to be improved, but current personnel policies militate against this. One might also heretically that the days of paper files provided more prompts about what had been tried in the past.

Monday, 13 March 2017

How to be an effective minister

Based on interviews with former ministers including Ken Clarke and Alistair Darling, this report for the Institute for Government looks at what it takes to be an effective minister and whether they have sufficient preparation for their roles: Ministers Reflect