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.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Half of British adults financially at risk

As the wealth divide in Britain deepens, half of all adults in the UK are financially vulnerable, with a growing wealth gap between young and old. Millions are having to resort from friends and family to make ends meet. This is not the view of a left-wing think tank, but of the Financial Conduct Authority.

Financial Lives is the FCA’s largest tracking survey of consumers and their use of financial services, drawing on responses from just under 13,000 UK consumers aged 18 and over. The aim of the survey is to provide the FCA with unique insights into people’s experiences of retail financial products and services. The findings will help the FCA meet its objectives.

The survey collects information about the financial products consumers use and their attitudes to managing their money. It covers their experiences of using financial products and services, as well as their experiences of dealing with the firms that provide them.  The report tells the financial story for six different age groups to show key themes at each life stage, from those 18-24 to those 65 and over.

50 per cent of UK adults (25.6 million) display one or more characteristics that signal their potential vulnerability – they may be at increased risk of harm, or would suffer disproportionately if harm occurred. Potential vulnerability does not mean all people with these characteristics will suffer harm. For all age groups the proportions showing characteristics of vulnerability are around the national average of 50 per cent, except that for those 75 and over the proportions showing vulnerable characteristics are higher:  69 per cent for the 75s and over, and 77 per cent for the 85s and over.

The highest proportion (77 per cent) of those with these characteristics are among the unbanked, and among the unemployed who are looking for work. Women account for the larger number of those with these characteristics, compared with men (46 per cent or 11.7 million), as 53 per cent of UK women (or 13.9 million) are potentially vulnerable.

Looking at the survey results from an age group perspective, the data reveal some interesting characteristics of UK consumers:

  • Single parents aged 18-34 are 3 times as likely to use high-cost loans: 17 per cent compared to the UK average of 6 per cent.
  • The FCA describe 13 per cent of 25-34 year olds as being in difficulty, because they have missed paying domestic bills or meeting credit commitments in 3 or more of the last 6 months.
  • Just 35 per cent of those aged 45-54 have given a great deal of thought as to how they will manage in retirement. Those aged 65 and over are least likely to check if an internet site is secure before giving their bank or credit card details.

There have been rumours circulating about possible measures to be taken in the Budget by the Chancellor to offset the intergenerational divide. The very generous tax reliefs on pensions for contributors of pensionable age could be curtailed. Stamp duty might be eliminated for younger purchasers of cheaper properties. However, arguably these measures are tinkering at the edges.

You can read more about the report here: Financial Lives

Friday, 13 October 2017

Are economic fundamentals strong?

The Chancellor's article in The Times on Wednesday has attracted criticism from Brexiteers, some of whom have argued that he should be sacked (his remarks before the Commons Treasury committee seem to have caused particular offence). I am more interested in his claim that 'the fundamentals of economy are strong'.

We have now had a decade of weak productivity growth which constrains possibilities for increases in real wages. Initially, this could be blamed on labour hoarding after the GFC or impairments in the banking system, but these arguments no longer apply. Indeed, the Office for Budget Responsibility is likely to cut its predictions for productivity growth, posing challenges for the Chancellor's budget judgment: Forecast Evaluation Report

Even economists cannot agree about why productivity performance is so poor. One explanation has been weak business investment since the GFC. Low interest rates have meant that there has been a limited 'shake out' effect of weaker companies, so one does not see the kind of 'batting average' effect on productivity one saw during the Thatcher years.

It may also be the case that it can be more challenging to secure productivity gains in a service oriented economy, although I appreciate that that is a more contentious claim.

It could also be argued that downward pressure on wages and an emphasis on labour flexibility has reinforced low productivity ways of working and attracted relatively unskilled migrant workers. However, it may not be possible to substitute capital for labour in many of the activities they undertake. What is clear is that the answer to the productivity problem is not to be found in further tinkering with the labour market.

If one wants further evidence, the IMF has singled out the UK as a 'notable exception' to an improving global economic outlook, arguing that the negative effects of Brexit are beginning to show. In its twice yearly Economic Outlook, the IMF reduced its UK long-term growth outlook from 1.9 per cent to 1.7 per cent (the long-term trend is in the region of two per cent).

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Rodney Bickerstaffe

At the beginning of PMQs today Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to trade union leader Rodney Bickerstaffe. The prime minister had difficulty in composing an appropriate reply. Indeed, she kept stumbling over her words in at least the early part of PMQs.

I knew Rodney Bickerstaffe through his involvement in the Modern Records Centre of the University of Warwick. Indeed, he was a honorary graduate of the University, although there is no tribute to him on the University website.

Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute today his role in securing the minimum wage, and rightly so. Rodney was well to my left, but we agreed on one thing: the continuing importance of manufacturing industry and the need for that to be reflected in the collections of the MRC which was originally set up primarily to house the records of employers' associations and trade unions (as well as the Crossman diaries).

I well remember his pleasure when we examined together some material we had purchased relating to Victor Grayson, the pioneer Labour MP for Colne Valley who disappeared in circumstances never fully explained. The papers concerned one of his biographers, Reg Groves.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Why markets are broken

The market economy is not functioning as it should because of a lack of competition, according to a report from the Social Market Foundation which styles itself as 'the voice of the radical centre': Lack of competition

The research finds that all too often, the markets that matter most to consumers are concentrated in the hands of a small number of large companies. That’s bad for customers and bad for the wider economy: where companies don’t have to fight hard to win and keep their customers, they face less pressure to reduce prices and to increase quality, to invest and to innovate. In other words, concentrated markets are often uncompetitive. The research also identifies a link between higher levels of market concentration and lower levels of customer service and trust in markets.

It is argued that the UK’s economic status quo is at a critical juncture. Faith in a largely “free market” settlement is increasingly in doubt, as household incomes are squeezed and many fail to see economic growth translating into an improvement in their day-to-day lives.

It is stated that in this environment, it is more important than ever that consumer markets work well and deliver good outcomes for households. If they don’t, markets risk being replaced with state ownership as the electorate loses faith in private enterprise.

Scott Corfe, the SMF's chief economist and author of the study said: 'Consumers and the economy are getting a bad deal because free markets are not free enough. Big companies in sectors such as broadband, mobile telephony and personal banking do not face enough competition. As a result they can charge more and invest less.'

Reports by the Competition and Markets Authority last year found that lack of competition between retail banks costs customers the equivalent of £116 a year each and an investigation into the energy industry found that consumers in Britain were paying £1.7bn a year too much for energy. However, critics said that the changes recommended by the CMA amounted to little more than tinkering and did not address the fundamental problems.

The collapse of Monarch means that there will be less competition for domestic and European flights, pushing up prices and forcing more travellers to rely on Ryanair who treat their customers with contempt.

In principle, vigorous competition policies should be the antidote to excessive concentration, they are certainly the remedy favoured by economists. However, enforcing such policies in practice often leads to legal challenges by big companies which take years to resolve. The EU competition commissioner is doing her best to challenge big hi tech companies in particular, but this will not help the UK in the long run.

I was once asked by an economist colleague why John Major's government had taken no effective action on competition policy. I pointed out that the CBI was back in favour and was lobbying on the issue. Admittedly, the policies were eventually put into effect by New Labour.

However, the problems remain. Too many big businesses treat customers with contempt. Companies do not fear losing their customers and have become lazy fat cats on their profits, basking in the sunshine. Regulation has been inadequate (some think there should be one super regulator rather than sector specific ones). The impression is given that markets benefit the few rather than the many.

Marxists would, of course, say that this represents an inevitable drift towards monopoly capitalism. But a weaker and less supine government might be able to do something effective to tackle the issue.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The murky world of political lobbying

I take a look at this for the Speri blog, arguing that more transparency and tighter regulation is needed; Lobbying

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Voicegate

I can feel sympathy for the prime minister, I have had far less important speeches interrupted by a frog in the throat. She may well have been affected by fatigue (26 interviews yesterday) and we have to remember that she is diabetic. However, pity or sympathy is not necessarily what she needs.

The difficulty is that I (and I think others) started to focus on whether she would get to the end of the speech rather than its substantive content. Her opponents were able to start tweeting remarks about 'weak and wobbly'. It didn't help her to get across her theme about reviving 'the British dream', arguing that the left does not have a monopoly on compassion.

The interruption by a prankster/protester (I have seen two names on social media) with a P45 signed by 'Boris Johnson' actually helped her after a rather flat period in her speech with little applause, she was able to turn it to her advantage. She suggested that Jeremy Corbyn should get a P45. The fact that the comedian was able to get so close for so long does raise issues about security.

She also made good use of the provision of a throat pastille by the Chancellor, saying that you do get something for free from him. Amber Rudd (who interviewed well on Radio 5 earlier) had to encourage Boris Johnson to get up for a standing ovation.

What is more significant is a contradiction in the heart of the speech: defending free markets, but then (correctly) identifying so many markets that are broken. Putting a cap on energy prices is a policy that Ed Miliband advocated.

In terms of the broken housing market, one has to ask how it was broken in the first place. Perhaps Mrs Thatcher should have not have sold off so much social housing, although admittedly it was a popular policy.

She said that house builders should 'do their duty' and build the houses, but presumably they are responding to market signals in a market economy.

She started well by getting her apology for the election campaign early, admitting that it was too scripted and too presidential and saying 'I hold my hands up.'

On Brexit, she said that the Government would prepare for every eventuality, suggesting that the 'no deal' option is still on the table.

The fact that the 'f' fell off the slogan behind the platform reinforced the impression of disarray. The activists rallied round her, but they looked rather grim faced. This conference has not revived spirits in the party.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Standing ovation for Bozza

Boris Johnson recalled the challenges he faced as London mayor in his conference speech

Boris Johnson got a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today. How it will resonate outside the hall is another matter, but in a sense it is the people inside the hall that matter for they and their fellow activists could elect him as prime minister in a future contest.

I am no fan of Boris Johnson, but it was a clever and often (as one would expect) funny speech. He was even able to turn errors in reading his script into jokes. He could not be accused of disloyalty, pledging himself to every syllable of Theresa May's Florence speech, but still managed to carve out a distinctive position. He engaged in a lot of Jeremy Corbyn bashing, but it was his criticisms of his successor as London mayor, Sadiq Khan, that went down best in the hall.

He piled into the mood of pessimism, singling out the Financial Times (and by implication The Economist). His distinctive Brexit narrative centred around the role in the world that a global Britain could play, although in my view that involved some exaggeration of Britain's importance and the extent to which the UK is liked internationally.

His message was that Britain should 'seize the opportunities' of Brexit. No doubt he will seize any opportunity that presents itself of becoming prime minister for ambition is never far below the surface. There is nothing wrong with ambition, provided it is ambition to achieve things beyond personal advancement.

The Tory membership crisis

Tim Bale discusses the Tory membership crisis: ageing, not very representative of the population and not very active. They can't mobilise the troops on the ground in the way that a reinvigorated Labour Party can: Membership crisis

Whether his prescriptions for making things better would help is open to question, not that I could come up with any better ideas. In particular, it is difficult to appeal to younger voters when the market economy is not delivering for them. There is one of those sea changes in the political mood taking place that Jim Callaghan identified in 1979.

Jeremy Corbyn was right to suggest last week that the centre point in the political spectrum is not fixed and can be shifted. Margaret Thatcher tried to shift it to the right, with limited success given that voters had an attachment to the welfare state and in particular to the NHS. She was helped as much by an opposition in disarray as anything else.

What the Conservatives are good at is clinging on to office when the odds are against them. However, they are so divided and Brexit is in such a muddle that even that is open to doubt.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Lobbying: the dark side of politics?

The panel at the CAGE event in Brussels

Last week I gave a presentation on 'Lobbying: the Dark Side of Politics' at the University of Warwick's EU in office in Brussels on behalf of CAGE (Centre for Analysis of Global Economy). My presentation drew on my forthcoming 'Pocket Politics' book for Manchester University Press on the topic.

I started by pointing out that the freedom to associate is at the heart of liberal democracy and the existence of a large number of associations is a sign of a healthy civil society. Autocracies either prohibit such associations or they live a perilous existence.

Lobbies can help to avoid poorly designed policies by giving decision-makers perspectives and information they would not otherwise have, and this is particularly helpful for implementation.

However, it is important to retain a balance, although as someone said in discussion the difficult question is what that balance should be?

One thing that has to be guarded against is big business dominance, although some in discussion thought that the real risk of dominance these days was from hi tech businesses such as Amazon and Google which were almost beyond control, despite the efforts of the EU competition commissioner.

Smaller businesses are an important source of innovation and employment. One discussant argued that they were well organised in Brussels today. However, I discussed the difficulties that the emerging biocontrols industry had faced because of its lack of knowledge and resources compared with established large synthetic chemicals companies.

The need for a pluralistic political balance is one justification for regulation, but it also helps to protect the reputation of the industry. In this connection I discussed the recent Bell Pottinger affair, although that offered an example of successful self-regulation.

In many ways the EU was ahead of the curve in regulating lobbying, although there were still deficiencies. In discussion it was pointed out that there was little regulation of lobbying the Council and the whole 'trilogue' process between Commission, Council and Parliament was opaque.

In order to restore balance, the EU funds NGOs to the tune of €1.2bn in 2015, although much of this was for the delivery of development aid.

Considerable upheaval had been caused earlier in the year by the initiative of Markus Pieper (an EPP MEP from Germany) to reject funding for NGOs that oppose the 'strategic, commercial and social security objectives' of the EU. It was opposed by the Greens and the Social Democrats. The report was shelved and there is to be a special review by the Court of Auditors.

A commentator from the audience wanted to make a distinction between sectoral groups and advocacy groups. However, I think that the categorisation of the former as 'bad' and the latter as 'good' is an over simplification.

The general issues that needed to be borne in mind were:

  • The legitimacy of the EU as a democratic polity
  • Citizen engagement and confidence in the institutions
  • The need for a balanced range of perspectives
  • The reputation of lobbying

Citizens reject 'no deal' option

An interesting exercise by the Constitution Unit of UCL in deliberative democracy on post-Brexit options with a cross-section of citizens saw them reject the 'no deal' option just as politicians are reviving it. Their preference was to decouple from the EU with a bespoke deal, but failing that they preferred the UK to remain in the single market.

Full report here: Citizens assembly

Friday, 22 September 2017

The devil is in the detail

That was the impression I was left with after Mrs May's Brexit speech in Florence, and we didn't get much detail beyond what was leaked beforehand, although the questions from journalists did tease out one or two points.

Despite the prime minister's insistence that Britain was able to carve out a new relationship with the EU that did not have to draw on existing models, I got the impression that she was trying to steer a middle course between the Europhiles and Europhobes in her own party. She rejected both the EEA and Canadian free trade treaty models as unsuitable for both the UK and EU. In particular, she noted that the Canadian model made insufficient provision for mutual market access, so her 'bespoke' model may be close to the 'Norwegian' end of the spectrum, even if she rejects the idea of such a spectrum.

The beginning and end of the speech was largely rhetorical, so the key part was in the middle. A comprehensive security treaty with the EU including justice and home affairs issues does offer the EU an incentive for agreement.

It was also made clear that the UK would make payments during what she envisages as a two year implementation or transition period, shorter than the three years that business and Europhiles want, but longer than the six months the likes of Boris Johnson think would be sufficient. A figure was not mentioned, although £18m (around €20m depending of the exchange rate) has been leaked. This provides a basis for negotiation, although it does not take into account the €9bn/€10bn of pension commitments.

I was a bit surprised to hear that there had been 'concrete progress' in the negotiations: in so far as there has been, it is in relation to relatively minor matters. The 14 position papers issued by the UK Government have been largely judged to be unsatisfactory by the EU.

The rights of EU citizens already in the UK would be protected by the UK courts who would be able to take into account ECJ judgments.

She correctly said that regulatory issues are going to be crucial. But what does this mean in practice: for example, will we still follow EU guidance on allowable active ingredients in pesticides? She also envisaged that a disputes settlement mechanism would be necessary, but what form this (presumably quasi-judicial) body would take was not specified.

She said that the UK's 'fundamentals' were good, but I would not say that of our productivity problems or of real wages (which in part are held back by poor productivity).

Journalists' questions

These provided a little more illumination, although what was not answered was often significant.

Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC drew an admission that 'no deal is better than a bad deal' still remained a premise of UK policy. This could end up with what in effect amounted to a partial economic blockade of the UK simply by using the pinch point of the Channel ports.

The prime minister did not answer a question about whether we would remain in the EEA in the implementation/transition period.

Asked if we had got a single concession from the EU in the negotiations, she said we had got several, but did not specify one.

Asked by the FT if we would abide by new EU rules and regulations passed in the transition phase, she said that would be a matter for negotiation.

Now we have to wait for the reaction of the EU and member states. It is a step forward if Britain can work out what it wants from the negotiations, at least in general terms, but it takes two to tango.

One of the oddities of the event was that it did not place in the beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella as advertised, but in a disused police training academy nearby. It also occurred to me that Clement Attlee could have done the whole speech in Italian, indeed he did deliver a political speech in Italy in the country's language.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The customs cliff edge

Introducing customs declarations after Brexit could cost traders £4 billion according to this report from the Institute for Government: Implementing Brexit: Customs

The authors say that while most people recognise the customs 'cliff edge' in the UK, not enough attention is paid to a similar cliff edge on the other side of the English Channel. Unless Calais, Dunkirk, Rotterdam and other European ports are also ready for Brexit, British exporters will face significant disruption to their supply chains. Preparation on both sides is particularly vital in the case of the Irish land border.

My preference would be to remain in the customs union or at least have a customs agreement with the EU, but the Government seems to be veering in the direction of a harder Brexit.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Jo Swinson and the vacant centre

I am not a Liberal Democrat, but I have a lot of time for Jo Swinson for the work she did on under discussed issues like body image. She has given an interesting interview to The Guardian: Harder to offer simple solutions

Given that the Labour Party is consolidating its lurch to the left, and a weakened Conservative Party often seems to be held hostage by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, one would think that there was a ready made space in the centre for Liberal Democrats to occupy. After all, the data would suggest that there are plenty of voters in the centre of the political spectrum.

I think that they are still suffering from being in coalition with the Conservatives. At the time I thought it was the right decision as they had to show that they could be a party of government as well as a party of opposition. Swinson herself admits that she learnt a lot from being a minister, in particular the fact that there are no simple solutions to many issues and many dangers from unintended consequences.

Swinson also tackles the issue of whether it was her gender that stopped her standing as leader. Again I think it was the right decision to give 'national treasure' Sir Vince a chance to display his silky skills away from the ballroom floor. But Swinson could well be leader before the next election.

The experience so far with the Democratic Unionists suggests that one can get a lot out of a confidence and supply agreement while still maintain autonomy. But then the Democratic Unionists have demands that relate to a very specific territory and require a cash pay off. What the Liberal Democrats wanted would have been somewhat more elevated.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Who represents business?

Dethroned guru: some reports suggest that he has lost the beard.

Dave Cameron's government tended to have an over cosy relationship with big business. When Theresa May came into office, it was apparent that she wanted to distance herself from big business as part of her appeal to the just about managing, although many suspect it was eminence grise Nick Timothy who was really behind this stance.

In any event the May Government's relationship with business has subsequently blown hot and cold. Business (by and large) wasn't happy about Brexit in the first place, but has been even less unhappy since then about the uncertainty that has been created (secret deals for Japanese car manufacturers aside).

The CBI has had an up and down relationship with governments. It was at the peak of its persuasive power in the tripartite structures used by both Conservative and Labour governments in the 1970s. Mrs Thatcher regarded them as corporatism incarnate and preferred to talk to the more ideologically sound Institute of Directors. They were rehabilitated under John Major and were seen as on message by Tony Blair who wanted to make New Labour 'the natural party of business'.

Now it has kicked off again. It started when Downing Street tried to get companies to voice their support for the Government's exit strategy which they were understandably reluctant to do. The stance taken on immigration has upset some companies.

Further offence has been caused by the failure to invite leading business lobby groups to a meeting at Chevening, the country residence available to Brexiteer ministers. The CBI, the Institute of Directors and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce have all been excluded. Senior business people are expected to attend, but there is some suspicion in business circles that it is a public relations exercise to show that Government is 'listening' to business.

I think there is a possible alternative explanation. When I was involved in the Organization of Business Interests project in the 1980s, the German leadership (Wolfgang Streeck) were preoccupied with the German associative state model which they saw as the norm. I had an uphill struggle to persuade them that in the US and the UK, a company state model tended to prevail with direct interactions between big companies and government being the norm. I also pointed out that big companies were forming government relations divisions to make their operations more sophisticated.

One interpretation of what is going on is that the Government is simply adhering to the British company state model and dealing direct with companies.

BTW, the FT had a very interesting article on the role of Vereine in producing a particular political culture in Germany recently: Clubby Germans

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Brexit divorce bill

The 'divorce' bill for the UK leaving the EU is proving a difficult and controversial subject. Leavers are using it to revive the narrative of 'no deal better than a bad deal' which has not been heard at all since the election. Those who advocate leaving on WTO terms should realise that it would allow a partial economic blockade of the UK.

Those who think that EU countries are motivated by the desire to maintain their exports to the UK should remember that their first priority is the integrity of the internal market. German firms want to maintain access to cheap production in the Czech Republic and Hungary.

There is no depoliticised formula which can resolve this problem. It is a highly political matter. The EU is faced with a net eight per cent hole in its budget and wishes to fill as much of it as possible. The UK wants to minimise its commitment. Indeed, poll evidence suggests that voters would find even €30 billion too much whereas the EU is (unrealistically) demanding €100bn.

These figures seem very high, but voters often forget that total public spending in 2018 is forecast to be £814 billion. Even if the euro was at parity to the pound, a €30 billion bill would be just 3.8 per cent of total spending. That is still a large amount, but it would be spread over three years at least. Reports in the Sunday Times that Britain would be prepared to pay €7bn to €17bn over three years, i.e., a maximum of around €50bn, have been denied.

I am not an expert on the EU budget. Robert Ackrill of Nottingham Trent Universityis and he has written an excellent summary of the subject which I commissioned and will appear in a future edition of Political Quarterly (advance publication is likely online).

There are some bills that the UK will have to meet. If it failed to make pension payments for UK citizens who have worked for the EU, they could sue the UK Government in the British courts (bill $9.6bn). I do not think that the EU can demand reste a liquidier, payment for all future projects decided while the UK was still a member (€36.2bn). It has a better legal case in 2019 and 2020 payments, mostly to farmers (€27.6bn).

There has to be a negotiation and a compromise, but this has to start by the UK making an offer. As the Financial Times said in a recent editorial, the UK Government has so far handled the negotiations 'shambolically'. It added, 'The British government has shown itself to be too much at the mercy of internal strife between its ministers to produce a coherent and detailed plan for Brexit.'

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The day before yesterday

Yesterday the BBC Parliament channel re-ran the coverage of the 1997 general election campaign. I am not enough of an anorak to watch all of it, which would have been a marathon. However, I watched a considerable amount and the cat got some extra lap time.

There was such great hope and so many comparisons to 1945. Although the positive achievements of New Labour are often under estimated, and always overshadowed by the Iraq war, most analysts would argue that the 1945 Labour Government made more of a difference. Having said that, Chipping Norton historians like Dominic Sandbrook argue that we underestimate the extent to which the foundations of the welfare state were laid in the inter-war period.

I think that a very perceptive comment was made by David Dimbleby on the lines of it's one thing to win an election, another to govern. The civil service would have to be bludgeoned into submission and Tony Blair always complained of his difficulties with them, although in part that was an alibi. However, as Dimbleby noted, there is a world of difference between deciding what to say and deciding what to do.

It took a long time for results to come through, but local election votes had to be counted as well. Conservative spokesmen (they were all men) were stonewalling, no doubt under instructions from Central Office on a line to take, saying that exit polls had a bad record and only the real votes counted. Nevertheless, Paxo asked Michael Portillo 'Are you ready to drink hemlock yet?'

In many ways, it was the quirky events that caught my attention. I do remember how acerbic the declaration at Putney was. There were a number of fringe candidates, one of whom got seven votes, while the 'Sportsman Alliance. Anyone But Mellor' got into double figures.

Unsubstantiated allegations had been made that Mellor had performed the rites of Venus with a young lady while wearing a Chelsea shirt. However, both the successful Labour candidate and Sir 'Jams' Goldsmith were on their third marriages. Moreover, all the three leading candidates were millionaires.

'Jams', who didn't do any better than Referendum candidates elsewhere, interrupted Mellor's speech with hand clapping and shouts of 'Out! Out! Out!' Mellor responded in his television interview by urging Jams to return to Mexico at the earliest opportunity and said 'Up your hacienda, Jimmy.'

The event of the night was the defeat of Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo which arguably changed the future of the Conservative Party and British politics. Portillo was grinning broadly in his post defeat interview, no doubt contemplating the British railway journeys which would transform him from a right-wing Mr Nasty into a national treasure. However, he soon got into a spat with Paxman.

It was interesting to hear Kensington & Chelsea described as 'the safest Conservative seat in the country' but with a majority of only 9,000.

Barbara Follett was then a key Labour figure with a great future supposedly in front of her. Perhaps it was a sign that her and her husband could not open the champagne, de rigeur for champagne socialists, on election night. She held minor government posts and then got caught up in the election expenses scandal.

Ben Bradshaw, standing in Exeter, was rather oddly described (by the standards of twenty years later) as the first 'openly homosexual candidate'. He defeated his Conservative opponent who stood on a strident anti-gay and family values platform.

The backcloth to the declaration at Torbay was declared to be like a scene from South Pacific by Dimbleby, but before the Liberal Democrat win by 12 votes could be announced we switched to Harrogate. A grim faced Norman Lamont had been defeated after parachuting into the constituency by the Liberal Democrat leader of the local council. I met someone once who was a nurse in the hospital in Lerwick where his father was consultant and she said that he was a 'nasty little boy'.

Then Martin Bell won in his white suit in Hatton, a reluctant victor. His daughter Melissa, a Warwick politics student, was in the background. The subsequent career of Neil Hamilton shows there can be life after political death. He is now a member of the Welsh National Assembly for UKIP. Many of the victors that night have disappeared into obscurity.

Finally, a word about the varying style of the returning officers. One result was read out by the High Sheriff who would not give the party labels. Some insisted on repeating the numbers in the style of 'Miss Moneypenny, Transvestite Party, ninety four, 94.' The really threatening one was a fierce looking but relatively young bearded returning office in Galloway. There was some noise in the hall, mild by the standards of Putney, and he asked an aide 'to attend to' the offender.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A political history footnote in a sleepy Cotswolds town

Yesterday I went to Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire. It's a very pleasant but rather sleepy small town on the edge of the Cotswolds with a traditional tea room.

One of my sons-in-law comes from the nearby village of Whichford. This is the sort of village where people live for generations and still engage in traditional country pursuits. When I was with my in-laws for a barbecue not so long ago the death of the squire was a big topic of conversation.

However, it is also home to the Whichford Pottery which is located in a beautiful remote valley: Whichford Pottery . Its terracotta products are very popular in Japan and coach loads of Japanese tourists turn up there to see the production process and buy the wares.

My son-in-law's sister (who works at the pottery) gave me a voucher for a tour of Sheldon's wine cellars in Shipston. It was an interesting tour with a good wine tasting and they were selling some excellent wines at an excellent discount.

However, in an early part of the tour the guide told us that in the late 1980s the cellars had hosted one of the first negotiating meetings between the UK Government, the British military and the IRA whose representatives were flown into nearby Brize Norton.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Reliving Labour's landslide

Political junkies are reminded that the coverage of the 1997 general election is being shown on the BBC Parliament Channel from 9 a.m. on Monday 4th September. I won't attempt to watch it all, but I will dip in and out.

I voted 'None of the Above' in 1997, although the party I voted for only got off the ground in one sense by practising yogic flying. I didn't trust Tony Blair and I think that subsequent events showed that I was right.

I was also suspicious of New Labour's attitude towards the public sector which is not to say that there was no case for reform. Some of the data suggests that New Labour actually moved to the right of the median voter which is where I would locate myself.

Again I think my suspicions were justified. One New Labour aide told a friend who was a primary school head that the public sector had had too easy a time for too long. Another was working in No.10 and went in to see TB with a plan for reform of part of the public sector. Tony was sitting there with his yellow legal pub and said 'Yes! Let's screw them!'

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

I visit Brexit Central

The pier at Walton-on-the-Naze is the second longest in England. It has traditional rides and amusements.

The Clacton constituency is the only one to have returned a UKIP MP in a general election. The Tendring local authority area voted 74 per cent Brexit in the referendum. The largest party on Frinton and Walton local council is the Tendring First party: they also obtained a respectable vote in the county council elections. They originated in a split among local Conservatives, but are concerned about domination by the county council in Chelmsford: Tendring First

I used to know Essex fairly well as I went to secondary school in Chelmsford. However, this was my first visit to the area since I collected fossils from the cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze during an October half term holiday in 1963. Walton, by the way, is the driest spot in England and if the evaporation rate was higher, the countryside would be desert. As it is, it presents farmers with challenges.

On the end of Walton Pier

It is no longer possible to take a miniature train to end of Walton Pier, but we walked out there where we met a very friendly fisherman from Chelmsford. Indeed, I have to say that everyone we encountered was very friendly. I am, of course, a white elderly male so the assumption would be that I am on the same page. I don't have an Estuary accent, though. By the way the old Essex rural dialect seems to have finally disappeared. (For a treatment of this subject, see the book by my old school friend Richard Thomas which actually sold quite well despite its current price on Amazon: Larn Yarsel)

We had dinner on Saturday evening in Frinton which is not quite as genteel and exclusive as it used to be (no longer any beach inspectors enforcing public decency), but still has some amazing houses from the Edwardian period and the 1930s. The big tower blocks facing the Greensward do spoil the overall effect. The lines of beach huts are still there, but some of them have recently been vandalised. Radio Caroline is no longer offshore, but I was able to buy a book about it at the Walton Carnival fete after I had managed to rouse the two stallholders from their slumbers.

The tables were rather close and one could not help but overhear a conversation between two elderly gentlemen (with their partners) about 'going outside'. It turned out this did not mean that their disagreement was going to be settled in a manly fashion, but it was a euphemism for Brexit.

On our way home on Monday we went to a factory outlet on the outskirts of Clacton. I went into the M & S outlet to buy clothes that would cost me two to three times as much in Leamington. The three other family members went to a shop where they were told that everyone on the site was exceptionally friendly with the exception of the M & S staff who were 'stuck up' and thought themselves 'a cut above everyone else'.

Quite how the people of Tendring will react to the possible consequences of the Labour U-turn on Brexit remains to be seen. It was interesting that when the BBC sought reactions to the Government's leaked migration paper they went to Clacton.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Where's Boris?

Boris was last reported to be in Australia and Private Eye had a brilliant spoof about what he was doing down under (I would reproduce it but it is their copyright).

For someone who has a reputation for being out on manoeuvres, he is keeping very quiet. I gave my take on the situation to Bloomberg Politics: Where's Boris?

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Public sector pay and the end of austerity

Two ministers, Michael Fallon and Chris Grayling, indicated yesterday that the Government might consider reviewing the cap on public sector pay. However, once the Treasury got wind of these remarks, the story got knocked on the head. Matching the rate of inflation in public sector pay would cost over £4 billion a year at a time when there is still a big budget deficit.

This came after a report from the British Social Attitudes Survey suggests that popular support for higher taxes and spending is stronger than it has been for a decade. There was particularly strong support for more spending on health and education. The survey was conducted in the second half of last year before the general election.

One needs to ask whether respondents realised they might have to pay higher taxes themselves. As the head of the Institute of Fiscal Studies pointed out yesterday, austerity could not be ended just by imposing higher taxes on businesses and rich individuals.

The Government will undoubtedly continue to consider the issue of public sector pay between now and the Budget. It may be that any increase would be targeted on particular groups such as nurses.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Grant Jordan

I was sorry to hear of the passing of Grant Jordan, a leading analyst of pressure groups. An fitting tribute from Professor Paul Cairney: Grant Jordan

The designated adult?

Philip Hammond is suddenly the flavour of the weekend as a possible successor to Theresa May. First, The Economist Bagehot column ran a favourable portrayal under the title 'The Designated Adult' and today the Sunday Times is running with a story that he could be an 'interim' prime minister for two years with David Davis as deputy prime minister.

Bagheot argues that 'spreadsheet Phil' is a 'serious man for serious times'. No one doubts that he is serious: he reminds me of an old style bank manager who tells you can't have a loan for your business. Bagehot admits that he is 'emotionally buttoned up', but argues that he is a smarter version of Mrs May. Is this what is needed?

One British politics expert makes a good point when he tweeted, 'He has the same dull qualities as John Major. This could be a benefit in interesting times.'

The underlying problem is that the Conservatives don't have a suitable successor. Bozza, or at least his people, gave offence by going out 'on manoeuvres' immediately after the election. Admittedly, if he reached the last two, the activists would probably vote him in.

David Davis is a strong Brexiteer and has been a contrarian over the years. Amber Rudd would have a chance if she didn't have a wafer thin majority. People are then reduced to looking at the likes of Priti Patel!

What may happen is that Theresa May stays longer than anticipated. The plan is to have a long recess with Parliament not meeting again until October which would rule out the election then that so many believe in.

Friday, 9 June 2017

An unexpected result

I hadn't expected Labour to gain Warwick and Leamington. Indeed, it was the only Labour gain in the West Midlands where the Conservatives gained two seats.

There are over 5,000 students in the constituency and no doubt they played a part in the outcome. The constituency voted 'Remain' in the referendum and although outgoing MP Chris White was a remainer, it would seem that many of those who voted remain chose Labour as happened elsewhere.

What is clear is that the constituency is not a typical Midlands one. BBC West Midlands political correspondent Patrick Burns suggested that it is more like a North London constituency with a metropolitan, cosmopolitan outlook.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

British general elections since 1931

Political Quarterly has produced a special virtual archive issue featuring articles on general elections since 1931. The first article is one written by Sidney Webb in 1932. The articles are free to read for a month: General elections

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Labour's moderate pitch

I have now received the Labour and Liberal Democrat election leaflets for Warwick and Leamington. The cover photo of the Labour manifesto is initially a little puzzling as it contains a picture of two men, but it is not clear which of them is the candidate. However, turning over the page it is apparent that one is a 'local folding bike inventor.' Perhaps the subtle message here is that Jeremy Corbyn should get on his bike.

For there is no picture of Jezza or mention of his name. The overall message is that the candidate, county councillor Matt Western, is a moderate. He is pictured with a local business owner (a greengrocer) and reference is made to his 24 years of management experience with Peugeot. The candidate also makes it clear that he doesn't support Brexit in a constituency that voted Remain.

Nick Solman's leaflet emphasises the dangers of 'extreme hard Brexit'. There is a prominent photo of unimpressive leader Tim Farron. The candidate himself is photographed in front of the Pump Rooms and Warwick Castle.

Warwick and Leamington is a constituency that should have some potential for the Lib Dems, but they have never come close to realising it. For the Lib Dems more generally, only 7 per cent of the electorate voted Remain and select Brexit as their most important issue.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

YouGov's shock poll

A poll from YouGov published today based on constituency by constituency estimates suggests that there could be a hung Parliament.

Yet Stephen Fisher of Oxford University predicts a Conservative majority of 100. A ICM poll released yesterday records a 12 per cent Conservative lead and implies a majority of 76. The spread betting company IG Index suggests a Conservative majority of 106.

It should be noted that YouGov themselves make the caveat that 'it would only take a slight fall in Labour share and a slight increase in the Conservatives' to result in Mrs. May returning to No.10 with a healthy majority.'

It is also stated that 'The model is based on the fact that people with similar characteristics tend to vote similarly - but not identically - regardless of where they live.' This strikes me as a big assumption given that these characteristics are a less good guide to voting behaviour than in the past. It is also admitted that the model 'does not account for specific local factors that may shape the vote in some seats.' This strikes me as important in this election, e.g., popular Labour incumbents.

All the polls face the problem of estimating turnout. For example, 18-24 year olds overwhelmingly back Labour, but will they turn out and vote?

It is well worth looking at the latest report from the Polling Observatory, although they point out that current forecasts could mean anything between a Conservative landslide and the Tories scraping home. One point they make is that Labour may pile up votes in its safe seats, while losing ground in marginal: Polling Observatory

Friday, 26 May 2017

Emphasis on the local

I now have the election address of Chris White, seeking re-election as Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington. The main emphasis is on what he has achieved locally, which is reasonable enough given that he has been an energetic and conscientious MP. He pledges, 'I remain as determined as I was when I was first elected to address local issues, building on the experience I have gained.'

There is a certain amount about his select committee work and other issues he has pursued in Parliament. Referring to his service on the International Development Select Committee, he states that he is a 'strong advocate for 0.7% of GNI protected for aid funding', not something that every candidate would emphasise.

Theresa May is only mentioned in relation to the fact that he served as her PPS when she was in the Home Office. 'Conservatives' appears in small print, certainly smaller than the various references to 'Chris White'.

What is completely absent is any reference to Brexit. Chris White was a remainer, but then had to follow the party line. However, we are left with no idea how he would react to a hard Brexit and what he thinks about 'no deal is better than a bad deal.'

One hint of dissent is that 'I understand concerns about school funding and will be campaigning for more support.'

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

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Public services could be pushed to breaking point

The Institute for Government has published a report on the performance of public services in the period of austerity since 2010: Performance tracker

The report finds that the 2010 spending review was largely successful in terms of its objectives. My interpretation would be that there were efficiency gains to be made in public services which did not substantially affect their quality.

However, it is a different story since 2015. Performance is being adversely affected and some services could be pushed to breaking point. In the case of prisons, they are already beyond that point.

The report warns, 'In the upcoming Budget, the Chancellor cannot simply choose to ‘tough it out’, eschewing any reference to how the Government will deal with the mounting pressures in public services, as he did in the 2016 Autumn Statement, when his only announcement was emergency funding for prisons. The Government risks being bounced from crisis to crisis, unable to get a grip on the situation. Without action, within the next two years it could face a disastrous combination of failing public services and breached spending controls against a background of deeply contentious Brexit negotiations.'

Friday, 10 February 2017

Shift in electorate not good news for Labour

We are all familiar with arguments that the old left-right divide is being replaced by one between those in favour of/benefitting from globalisation and those who have lost out from it. It is reflected in tensions within the Labour Party between the metropolitan faction from Remain voting constituencies and those MPs from the north representing Brexit voting areas.

A paper in the British Journal of Political Science by Will Jennings and others using data from the British Social Attitudes Survey from 1985 to 2012 found that British young people are more right-wing and authoritarian in their views than previous generations. Although they are more socially liberal on matters of equality and women's rights, they are also more consumerist and individualistic on issues such as the welfare state.

The generation that grew up in the period of Conservative rule starting with Margaret Thatcher hold more right-wing views than their predecessors. But 'Blair's babes', who came of age while Tony Blair and New Labour were in power, are even further to the right of the political spectrum. New Labour essentially reinforced Thatcherite policy values, reproducing them and making them more embedded.

There has been a clear rise in negative attitudes towards the benefits system, the unemployed, benefit recipients and the welfare system. Younger people also take a harder line on previous generations, despite crime levels having fallen.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Brexit challenge for civil service

Britain's civil service will struggle with the workload of Brexit after a 19 per cent reduction in its staff since 2010, with some of the most severe cuts hitting the departments with the biggest Brexit challenges, e.g., Defra with a one third cut in its staff since 2010 despite its heavy EU related responsibilities. This is the central argument of the latest Whitehall Monitor from the Institute for Government: Brexit challenge

The report says that the decision to create a separate Department for Exiting the European Union was unnecessary and it would have been less disruptive to plan Brexit policy out of the well-established Cabinet Office. However, it should be remembered that this was a politically driven decision to create a high profile role for David Davis.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Remembering Tony King

Taking an interest in someone's work because they have passed away is a shamefaced admission to have to make. However, I had been meaning to read Anthony King's Who Governs Britain? for some time, but the past year has been one of the most eventful in my life. My copy arrived today.

Tony did speak to me about the chapter on interests and was kind enough to cite my 2000 book on pressure groups as the recommended further reading on the subject. Indeed, my central memory of Tony was of an urbane Canadian who was always polite and pleasant to me. His reassuring, unflustered voice was a hallmark of election night broadcasts and contrasted with the more manic style of Bob Mackenzie with the swingometer. even (Sir) David Butler could get into a lather when the Silly Party started to outpace the Sensible Party.

His recent book on Blunders of British Government with Ivor Crewe was widely read and well received. A friend of mine who is a historian by training said it was on of the few books written by a political scientist he ever thought worth reading. Perhaps, however, it did not fully answer the criticism made in The Times obituary that he had never written a major, single authored work. It is unfortunate that he never turned his doctoral thesis on the 1906 general election into a book, which was promised from time to time, as it might have countered that criticism.

Nevertheless, what he had to say in the 1970s about government overload was a message that should stay with us today. There is a tendency for the reach of governments to extend their grasp and they should focus on those things which they can do better than anyone else (not much, some would say).

Tony was very interested in the British decline debate and invited me to talk about this at Essex way back. How long ago it was is shown by the fact that I had to ask people in the audience to refrain from smoking as I had a sore throat!

One of my children subsequently took the first year course he assiduously taught on the UK. For an essay with a decline focus, I gave her a couple of pieces of work in progress which she duly quoted. As I recall, the mark awarded was 62.

,

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Henry VIII powers: their uses and criticisms

Popular commentary focuses on his marital adventures, but Henry VIII casts a long constitutional shadow today

Given the likelihood of the Government using 'Henry VIII powers' under the Statute of Proclamations in relation to the so-called 'Great Repeal Bill', it is useful to look at the full briefing provided by the House of Commons Library in Chapter 5 of this report on how these powers might be used and criticisms of their use: Henry VIII powers

Once again it is the unelected House of Lords that intends to give the Government a hard time over the use of these powers, although the Government has indicated that if they cause too much trouble it will revive proposals to curb their ability to block statutory instruments.

For some the use of powers devised by Henry VIII in one of his more absolutist moments is profoundly undemocratic. Others see the survival of such powers as a means of facilitating effective executive government in times of difficulty.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Gove on the warpath against experts again

Yesterday I went to see my surgeon for a sign off meeting after my recent successful knee replacement operation. We discussed the operation for the other knee, but it occurred to me afterwards that I could have saved myself a lot of money. I was conscious during the operation and it involved a lot of sawing and hammering. Why not get a carpenter in to do the second op?

In his latest column for The Times Michael Gove takes it upon himself to write the speech the prime minister should give on Brexit next week. His basic premise is that 'All our policies from now on must reflect the common sense of the majority, not the preoccupations of the privileged.' Moreover, 'The public [52%] have told us what they want. We must get on with leaving the EU. Completely. In months not years.'

Apparently this will be possible if we ignore the attempts of experts to make things more complex than they really are. Above all, we don't need to hire more people with PPE degrees. (I admit that I am particularly guilty here having taught on such a degree until recently and serving as the external examiner for another one).

Gove doubts that 'negotiating a new trade deal is fiendishly difficult, will take ten years and require men of great experience to see things through.' Has Gove ever read the text of a trade deal or a US trade act? Has he followed the negotiations on the Uruguay Round or those on the Doha Round that didn't even come to a conclusion? Why did it take so long to agree a trade pact between the EU and Canada that is still not operational?

He also argues that doing a deal with the EU on trade would be easy because we have tariff free trade at the moment. He overlooks the fact that the most complex issues surround non-tariff trade barriers. See this helpful guide from the Institute for Government: Non-tariff trade barriers

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator has the lead story in this week's issue, 'The End of Experts': The End of Experts His a more measured piece with a narrower target, economists and political scientists, whom he accuses of a failure to predict. He does, of course, have a point because of the so-called 'Oedipus effect': making a social science prediction can affect the outcome.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Tristram Hunt quits

Labour MP Tristram Hunt has quit as a Labour MP to become director of the V & A: Resignation

So yet another able moderate Labour MP quits. A democracy needs a properly functioning opposition which looks like a credible alternative government. We don't have it.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Could Henry VIII help us with a train crash Brexit?

It now looks as if the choice for the UK is between a hard Brexit that takes us outside the single market and probably the customs union and a train crash Brexit in which the negotiations break down and we exit the EU without an agreement. The Government thinks it will be possible to negotiate a series of trade agreements with the EU, but the mood in Brussels has hardened in recent months.

How could the Government deal with the problems produced by a train crash Brexit? Step forward, Henry VIII. In 1539, in one of his more absolutist moods, he issued the Statute of Proclamations which allowed him to govern by royal decree. The so-called Henry VIII clauses are still in place and occasionally used, conferring extensive powers on the executive: Henry VIII clauses

The kite that is being flown is this: the Government would be given powers to replicate functions carried out by EU bodies without further parliamentary scrutiny. This would mean a big increase in quangos. And would a 'sovereign' Parliament allow the executive to assume so much authority? It could be a very disorderly Brexit.