Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The night of the blunt knives

It has been variously characterised as the night of the blunt knives or the night of the long plastic knives, but Theresa May's reshuffle was another presentational disaster, emphasising once again the limits of her authority.

The problems started with Chris Grayling being named as party chairman (he apparently was in the frame) only for this to be corrected some time later. Jeremy Hunt was then able to resist being moved from Health and ended up with an expanded portfolio. An attempt to shift Justine Greening to Work and Pensions ended up with her leaving the government.

If anything demonstrates the limits of Mrs May's authority, it is the grinning visage of Andrea Leadsom on Twitter this morning celebrating her continuation in office as Leader of the House. Her departure was widely anticipated, but although Mrs May is said to have a low opinion of her, she remained in place.

Apparently Downing Street cat Larry has been rebranded as Minister for Rodent Control. One thing is clear: Mrs May isn't in control. But this does not mean she is in any real danger, as there is no clear successor.

Not surprisingly, George Osborne's Evening Standard is critical, praising her for the hat trick of the worst manifesto, the worst conference speech and the worst reshuffle: Prime minister's essential weakness

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A victim of the liberal establishment?

Toby Young's friends like to characterise him as a victim of the liberal establishment, but this article makes a well-argued case against his appointment: Office for Students

The appointment could be construed as deliberately provocative.

Boris Johnson has come out in support of Young denouncing the 'ridiculous outcry' and praising his 'caustic wit'.

However, Conservatives are divided on the issue. Margot James, the minister for small business, has commented: 'It is a mistake for him to belittle sexist comments by labelling them as "politically incorrect", a term frequently used to dismiss unacceptable comments about, and behaviour towards, women.'

The Evening Standard, edited by George Osborne (admittedly no friend of the May Government) commented that Mr Young 'appears to have an obsession with commenting on the anatomy of women in the public eye.'

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Arise Sir John Curtice

It has been described as one of the most popular awards in this year's New Year Honours List, the knighthood for Strathclyde professor and elections analyst John Curtice.

I first met John when he was a postgraduate at Nuffield and we had some interesting conversations about Cornish politics (which is where he comes from). Over the years I have always found him a most amiable and courteous individual, ready to listen to my relatively amateurish views on elections. In particular it was always pleasant to encounter him at APSA congresses in the British Politics Group.

He did well to stick to his guns with his surprise forecast in this year's general election, but the methodology of the exit poll has been refined over the years. However, it needed a calm inner confidence to keep to his prediction in the face of doubting politicians.

John devotes some of his spare time to his allotment, a very worthy hobby.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Hezza kicks up a storm

Lord Heseltine has caused a storm by suggesting that a Labour Government under Jeremy Corbyn could be preferable to Brexit. The essence of his argument is that a Labour Government would cause short-term damage which could be rectified while Brexit would cause long-term damage and could not be rectified: Big beast

The usual suspects have called for the Conservative whip to be withdrawn from Lord Heseltine, but Theresa May probably has the good sense not to give this story legs by sanctioning a former deputy prime minister.

A representative of the Bow Group interviewed on Sky last night began to squirm when it was pointed out that he had advocated Conservative voters voting UKIP in some constituencies in the general election.

Of course, one of the paradoxes is that Jeremy Corbyn is suspected of being a covert Brexiteer. Labour has a different position on Brexit for every day of the week, but it has never said that it would reverse it, well aware of the damage that would cause among its core voters.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Jack Hayward

I am very sorry to hear of the death of Jack Hayward, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Hull. He was a distinguished member of the profession who act as a mentor to me when I was a young lecturer.

Jack was known as a specialist on French politics, but he also contributed to the study of government-industry relations. He was a key figure in the 'Oxford coup' which saw him installed as chair of the Political Studies Association, initiating the PSA's modernisation and leading it to becoming the highly professional and effective force it is today.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Hammond's budget dilemmas

One light was on in No.11 Downing Street in the early hours. Was Phil Hammond putting some finishing touches to his budget?

Phil Hammond is caught between a rock and a hard place, both politically and economically. Politically the Brexiteers in the Cabinet and the party want to get rid of him as the influential remoaner in chief. Whatever kind of budget he produces, it won't call off the hounds.

Economically, he has little room for manoeuvre. He has to produce a Budget that will reboot the Conservative Party but remains fiscally circumspect. With an underlying productivity problem and poor medium-term growth forecasts, that would be a challenge for anyone.

'Spreadsheet' Phil is not the most charismatic politician by a long way. Asked to describe himself with a single word recently he said 'fiscal'. Very commendable, but hardly likely to set the world alight. Despite the usual leaks which means that these days most of the Budget is known in outline before it is delivered, he has been criticised for not personally setting out his stall in the run up to his speech.

Normally the first Budget of a new Parliament would set the narrative for the governing party. An attempt will be made to make housing a central theme as the Conservative Party seeks to claw back the votes of millennials. However, what is likely to be offered is a series of worthy incremental measures rather than a grand strategy that will signal a new direction.

So it looks like a Budget that might be economically sensible, but a political failure whatever it offers.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Call for industrial strategy

SPERI at the University of Sheffield and the University of Manchester have published the final report of their Industrial Strategy Commission: Executive Summary.

It argues that the UK’s people, places and businesses will only achieve their potential if there is a complete overhaul of how the government views industrial strategy. The Commission calls for industrial strategy to be rethought as a broad and non-partisan commitment to strategic management of the economy. The new strategy should be a long-term plan with a positive vision for the UK. It should provide Universal Basic Infrastructure for all citizens, have a strong focus on place, and ensure health and education are included.