By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Justine Greening is getting a lot of public advice at the moment. After seven years in which Tory aid policy has been shaped by Andrew Mitchell - five years in opposition, two years in government - there's a sense that the new Development Secretary might embark upon a new direction. Lord Ashcroft certainly hopes so. In an open letter published on these pages on Monday he argued that aid wasn't just expensive at a time of austerity but often counter-productive.
A second open letter arrives on Miss Greening's doormat today. This time from Sir Tony Baldry MP.
Sir Tony argues that Britain can be very proud of its world leading status in hitting the UN's target of giving 0.7% of GDP to the poorest people in the world. "It," Mr Baldry writes, "has helped reduce the number of children who die before their fifth birthday by 4 million since 1990 and the number of people receiving HIV medication has also increased tenfold as a result of aid assistance."
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
A variety of reactions are pasted in this blog. The names of those calling for some change of message, priority or operational changes are emboldened. We have also included the contributions of MPs who have not advocated substantial changes.
5.45pm A little round-up of what Tory MPs have said during the day:
David Ruffley MP advocated radical economic measures - and a withdrawal from the Coalition if Lib Dems won't back them:
"I think now with the position now where there was a Coalition Agreement two years ago but quite a few senior colleagues think that was then, this is now. We didn't think two years ago that the economy would still be flat on its back and everything now has to be directed towards getting the British economy going. And yes it does mean looking at tax again but also, a freer labour market, the hiring and firing proposals to make sure that young people aren't turned away from jobs because of the very onerous social employment protection legislation in this country, so we should say to the Liberals on things like that which they are blocking, 'Listen we are in a real hole now. We need some radical economic polices put in place and you go with it and if you don't, we how would you like a general election?'"
Peter Bone MP urged the Government to drop any "wishy-washy" policies in the Queen's Speech:
"You can see what happens when there is a Conservative Government, because there was a Conservative Government run in London by Boris and he got re-elected. He put forward Conservative policies and he got re-elected and he bucked the national trend, and that really should be a message for the Coalition. Be more conservative and be less liberal wishy-washy and I think that’s what the voters would like to see in the Queen’s speech.”
By Joseph Willits
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After Justine Greening's announcement giving the go-ahead for a high speed rail network, High Speed 2 (HS2), 37 Conservative MPs were able to question the Transport Secretary within 60 minutes.
The exchanges demonstrated the opposition of those MPs whose constituencies are directly affected by high speed rail. However their reservations were outweighed by praise for the scheme from MPs namely in the North and the Midlands - and some in the South East who claimed that their seats have benefitted from HS1.
Fervent critic of high speed rail, Andrea Leadson MP (South Northamptonshire), questioned the project's costs in yesterday's debate. Leadsom praised the Transport Secretary's patience in listening to her concerns many times, but spoke of "communities blighted by this high-speed rail line". She continued:
"How sure is she that the actual costs in their entirety will be kept to the amounts we have been talking about, and how realistic is it for Britain to afford this project at this very difficult time economically?".
The country "cannot afford not to do this" replied Greening, who cited High Speed 1 as an example of being both on time, and on budget. Once Crossrail had been completed, the cost to the taxpayer would begin, Greening said.
Another MP whose constituency will be touched by high-speed rail, Steve Baker MP (Wycombe), welcomed that "additional protections for the Chilterns will reduce costs", but asked whether Greening would "consider tunnelling the entire width of the Chilterns?". At £1.2 billion, although considered, was "unaffordable", replied Greening.
Drawing examples from both France and Spain, St Albans MP Anne Main raised concerns "that the north might not get the projected benefit and that instead it might be London that grows". Both Lyon and Seville were "caused expense" rather than growth as Paris and Madrid benefitted, she said.
Greening responded by reiterating the backing for the project, and that the cities of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield all believe "this project is vital." Rehman Chishti MP (Gillingham) reminded the House that "real concern was expressed prior to the introduction of High Speed 1 in Kent". This has now led to "real economic regeneration and growth in the south-east and Kent", he continued. Another Kent MP, Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe) echoed Chishti's sentiment with the hope that Kent will further benefit from connections north.
MPs from the North and the Midlands were most vocal in their support for the project. Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew spoke of the need to "rebalance the economy" nationwide, and allow the North "to become more attractive for business to invest in". The "solution", he said, was HS2. Martin Vickers MP (Cleethorpes), who has many constituents working at the Tata Steel plant in Scunthorpe, welcomed the announcement of HS2 as a boost to industry. He asked for "categorical assurance that everything possible will be done to ensure that the procurement procedures favour British-based companies". His sentiment was echoed by Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley) who concluded that the decision would "be even more popular in Derbyshire if the trains are built at Bombardier".
Some MPs in the Midlands did seem to be slightly cautious about the region's positioning, leading to a lesser service and coverage by HS2. Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy spoke of businesses in north Staffordshire requiring stops between Birmingham and Manchester (of which Stafford would be one). This "stop is essential to the development of the regional economy", Lefroy said, and asked Greening to "confirm that it is still under serious consideration". Rugby MP Mark Pawsey's concern was slightly different in that the town's good service to London could be jeopardised by high speed rail. He hoped that even with high speed rail, "the legacy line will retain the speed and frequency of their existing rail links".
You can watch the debate on the BBC's Democracy Live.
By Jonathan Isaby
The first of yesterday's opposition day debates in the Commons saw a Labour motion demanding a reversal in January's VAT rise with respect to road fuel and asking where the fuel duty stabiliser was - all in the name of the "hard pressed motorist".
The hypocrisy of Labour's position, given its record in government, was not lost on Conservative MPs, who proceeded to harry Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was opening the debate.
Here is a selection of their interventions and her non-replies to their points:
Greg Knight: Will the hon. Lady help the House? Over the past 13 years, in every aspect of Government policy, the Labour Government were deliberately and decisively anti-motorist. Does the motion before the House today represent a seismic shift in policy, or is it, as we suspect, a transient spat of opportunism?
Ms Eagle: I am rather sorry that I gave way so early in my remarks to that kind of comment. I do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s caricature of our policies for motorists. Perhaps he has been reading too much of the Daily Express.
Robert Halfon: I find the Labour motion astonishing, because over the past few years the hon. Lady’s party crucified Harlow’s motorists by putting up fuel duty by 6% a year and increasing it more than 12 times—and it was going to introduce another tax.
Ms Eagle: I will come to the details of the motion later. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do us the honour of staying in the Chamber and listening to that.
Charlie Elphicke: To clear up the addling of some minds in the House regarding the history of this matter, will she confirm that in 1997 duty was 36.86p and today it is 57.19p?
Ms Eagle: One has to remember that the price of petrol at the election was £1.20 a litre, at a time when the Conservatives were promising to cut 10p off the price of a litre because petrol prices were too high. It is now £1.32 a litre.
Brandon Lewis: Will she confirm that, despite what has been said, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is right: there were 12 fuel duty rises under the Labour Government, and six more were set to come into force before they left office and would have done in the next few years?
Ms Eagle: As I said, we had six years when we did not even increase the price of fuel by inflation, so there were real-terms price falls. The number of increases in all sorts of duties tends to expand the more one is in government.
Andrew Bridgen: The Labour party’s apparent Damascene conversion on fuel taxes will amaze and intrigue the bulk of the electorate. Will the hon. Lady confirm whether she supported the crafty action of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who effectively excluded fuel from a VAT reduction in 2008 by raising duty, and then put the VAT on fuel back up to 17.5% in January 2010?
Ms Eagle: One minute Government Members say that we have no plan to deal with the deficit, and the next minute they complain that we had a plan that would have raised money. They really do try to have it both ways and are not remotely coherent.
"The previous Government increased fuel duty four times in their last 16 months in office... They left many tax bombshells, but perhaps that pre-planned tax increase was the tax road mine. There was a pre-planned additional per pence increase on fuel and a pre-planned year-on-year RPI increase—the so-called escalator. Ironically and utterly bizarrely, we are today debating a Labour motion that goes against the policy introduced by the previous Labour Government.
"Listening to the Opposition is stunning. The outgoing Chief Secretary’s message to the incoming Government was that there was no money left. Worse than that, the previous Government had pre-planned increases, which were due to come in now... The bottom line is that it is outrageous for the Labour party to cry crocodile tears about tax increases that it had planned—it is disingenuous in the extreme, and shows that it has no credibility and no leadership on the issues that matter to people, such as motoring, which we are debating today. The audacity of the motion is stunning."
Justine Greening, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, used an SNP debate on fuel duty to spell out the Coalition's related thinking yesterday:
The level of deficit and debt that we have been left as a country costs the British taxpayer £120 million every single day: "To put that in the context of a 1p a litre rise in fuel duty, which is worth £500 million, the British taxpayer will pay as much in debt interest over the course of four or five days as they will pay in fuel duty, if fuel duty is subject to a 1p a litre rise. That demonstrates two things, the first of which is the importance of tackling the deficit. Clearly, this country cannot continue to pay this expense of £120 million a day and it has to be tackled, because we are spending more on servicing our debt than on transport. The challenge for this country is that if we do not get this £500 million of real money from fuel duty, it has to come from somewhere else. The Government have made it clear that they want to try to protect key spending, for example, on the NHS-the Labour party did not want to do that-and schools."
Fuel duty's disproportionate impact on rural voters: "The Government understand the challenges faced by people in rural areas in relation to fuel costs, which those of us in city and urban areas perhaps do not face. I know that those people cannot easily shop around nearby petrol stations to get the best deal in the way that other people can. I understand the arguments about the lack of public transport as an alternative and that the car is often the most realistic mode of transport. That is precisely way we are working towards getting a derogation so that we can get on with putting in place pilots to look at how a rural fuel rebate would work."
The Fair Fuel Stabiliser: "In opposition and in government, we have always recognised the impact on motorists of the unstable oil price, which feeds through to pump prices. In setting up a stabiliser, we need to ensure that it works as intended, so the first step was to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to look at how oil prices feed into the economy and affect public finances. We have commissioned that work, as the hon. Lady will know, and now need to take on board its outcomes before looking at how it feeds into policy making. It would not be right to pre-empt the Budget."
In terms of bringing relief to motorists, George Osborne's announcement, this morning, of an £800m extra tax on banks gives him some more wiggle room for next month's budget.
By Tim Montgomerie
Yesterday I highlighted an attempt, led by Douglas Carswell, to reduce Britain's contribution to the EU.
The following Tory MPs voted for his amendment*:
Congratulations to all 37. The whips mounted a massive operation to minimise the rebellion and urged support for an amendment put down by Bill Cash which, more meekly, "call[ed] on the Government to reject European Parliament proposals to increase the budget". That later was passed.
The following Tory MPs did not vote for the Carswell amendment despite signing it:
Some might have bowed to the whips' pressure but that won't be the explanation for all. Philip Davies and Richard Shepherd, to name just two, are serial rebels and may simply have had prior, immovable engagements.
The overall debate was a festival of Euroscepticism with particularly strong contributions from younger, newer Tory MPs. One got the sense that the baton of opposition to the European superstate was passing to a new generation. Priti Patel, in particular, was on great form. Here is one extract from her contribution:
"When the Lisbon treaty was passed, we heard claim after claim that it would make the EU decision-making process more efficient and democratic. How can it have led to more efficiency, when the EU budget is due to increase by 5.8% in payment appropriations? Even the Opposition, with their astonishing record on spending and waste, would struggle to justify an annual increase in spending on that scale. I very much doubt that, in the current economic climate, any Department calling for such an increase in its budget would be given any consideration.
The Government's position is to keep cash levels at the same rate as last year, but, at a time when most domestic Departments are looking to make efficiencies and cuts ranging from 25% to 40%, why is the EU not being pushed further? With a total budget exceeding €130 billion, it is not unreasonable for the Government and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, in her negotiations, to pursue the Commission and other member states to make deeper cuts in order to bring down the cost of the EU and to protect the British taxpayer.
My constituents in Witham and the majority of the British public now understand that the Government are dealing with spending, and that spending must come down. As decisions affecting my constituents are taken, however, they will be furious to see that, although they cannot have their new school buildings or road improvements for now, more and more of their hard-earned money is being handed over to Europe."
Credit also to Justine Greening, Treasury minister. She was robust in her statements to the House and was later compared to Margaret Thatcher by John Redwood:
"The last time we had a good battling female Minister who stood up for Britain she was armed only with a handbag, yet with that one piece of equipment she came back with the biggest rebate we ever got: the rebate the Labour party stupidly gave away, and the rebate we need back. That rebate would give us twice as much money as the amount the Government are hoping to save from the cut in child benefit. We know the Minister has the right equipment. She assures me that she has an excellent handbag, so we wish her every success in putting that argument."
Highlights from Ms Greening's contribution:
* Five non-Tories also supported the amendment.
Late last night there was a remarkably busy chamber for an hour-long debate which began at 10.18pm in order to nominate six members (five Labour MPs and Independent Conservative, Andrew Pelling) to a new London Regional Select Committee.
The Conservatives are opposed to the existence of the committee in principle and have therefore not nominated MPs to be members of it. After all, with a devolved London Mayor and Assembly in place, and with other departmental select committees already scrutinising issues of relevance to the capital (such as the Underground, the Olympics etc) it is hard to see what meaningful purpose such a committee can possibly have.
Rather than allow the setting up of this talking shop on the nod, the Tories opted to oppose the motion and a debate (some might say filibuster) ensued for a whole hour, which saw contributions from Tory MPs from across the nation and regular interventions from the Speaker to keep them to the strict terms of the debate. It was a piece of parliamentary theatre which can be read in Hansard here or even better viewed in its entirety via the BBC Democracy Live website.
Speaking from the Conservative front bench, Justine Greening summarised the opposition to the new committee thus:
"The Select Committee will be in place for the term of this Parliament. It could only be a matter of days, hopefully, but it is more likely to be just a matter of months before this Parliament finishes. Even this Prime Minister will have to call an election eventually. There is simply no time for a Select Committee, even if a full set of members is nominated to serve on it, to conduct any meaningful inquiries... The reality is that this will be another talking shop that costs taxpayers more money at the time that they can least afford it."
After an hour the Government Chief Whip was able to move a closure motion, after which the vote on the main motion saw Labour MPs ensure the committee was formed, by 212 votes to 124.
Yesterday the House of Commons hosted Treasury Questions.
Justine Greening, MP for Putney and a Shadow Treasury Minister, asked about loans to small businesses:
"For the 1,500 people losing their jobs and the 60 small businesses going bust every single day, the Government are not tackling the recession. The Government’s small business loan guarantee scheme will not even be up and running until mid-January and even then it will not cover 99 per cent. of loans to companies. Does not the Minister agree that that is too little, too late, that he should get on with our national loan guarantee scheme and that Britain is facing the deepest recession of any G7 country because we have the most incompetent, ineffective Government?
Mr. Timms: The hon. Lady should have a word with some of her colleagues on her Front Bench. I agree with her that it is right for the Government to address these problems, but that contrasts with the policies of those on her Front Bench, which are the policies of do nothing. Those were the policies that we saw in the catastrophic recessions under the last Conservative Government and they are being repeated by Conservative Front Benchers now. The policies that we are putting in place are directly addressing precisely the challenges that small businesses are facing, and that is why such an ambitious and effective package was set out at the time of the pre-Budget report."
They're making every effort to get that "do nothing" line to stick.
North West Norfolk MP and Shadow Minister for Justice Henry Bellingham tabled a question about the balance of payments:
"The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The pre-Budget report forecast the current account deficit of the UK balance of payments to narrow in the second half of 2008 and in 2009, with net trade forecast to add three quarters of a percentage point to gross domestic product growth next year.
Mr. Bellingham: Is that not an incredibly complacent reply? Is the Financial Secretary not ashamed that having inherited a trade surplus in 1997, our deficit last year was the worst since records began—when William of Orange was on the throne? Is it not a disgrace that the trade deficit in manufactured goods has grown from £7 billion in 1997 to a staggering £59 billion last year? Why do the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor never talk about the balance of trade? Is it any wonder that the pound is falling so sharply?
Mr. Timms: I remind the hon. Gentleman that there have actually been quite a few occasions in the past when the current account deficit was higher than it is now. To give him one example, it was 3.8 per cent. in the third quarter of 2007, but it was 4.9 per cent. in 1989 and it is more than 5 per cent. now in the United States. Our strategy is to ensure strong competition in every UK market by promoting openness to free trade, minimising product market regulation and ensuring that there are world-class competition authorities. That is the strategy we are pursuing and we will do so successfully."
Justine Greening MP, Shadow Treasury minister, led unsuccessful Tory efforts to scrap Labour's hike in Vehicle Excise Duty. Her contributions to yesterday's Commons debate - summarised below - will soon be appearing in campaign literature across Britain...
The scale of the tax increase: There is no doubt that the proposed increase in vehicle excise duty will lead to a massive tax rise. The Treasury has admitted that its take from graduated VED will increase by more than 100 per cent. over the next few years. Figures released by the Treasury to me reveal that the take from graduated VED will increase from £1.9 billion in 2006 to £4.4 billion in 2010. I repeat: green taxes have to be offset by decreases in taxes elsewhere, precisely to ensure that families are not overburdened by tax at this time of economic hardship.
This is not a green tax: "I use the term “green taxes” loosely when describing the vehicle excise duty changes announced by the Government. One would hope that a tax increase of several billions of pounds would lead to some impressive vehicle emissions savings, but that is not the case. The argument that the changes will help the environment is simply not true. The Government have admitted that minimal emissions savings will result from the changes to vehicle excise duty rates. According to the figure that I have been given by Ministers, they expect annual emissions from motor vehicles to reduce by 160,000 tonnes a year by 2020. That is a fraction of 1 per cent. of total transport CO2 emissions, which were 120 million tonnes back in 2006, just one year."
This retrospective tax will be more impactful than the 10p fiasco: "The result of this change will be more dramatic for taxpayers than the result of the 10p tax rate fiasco. About 1.2 million drivers will experience a tax rise of either £220 or £245, which they could not possibly have foreseen when they bought their cars up to seven years ago. A further 1.1 million will see retrospective increases of up to £100, and possibly more, between 2008 and 2010. That will mean that twice as many people will be worse off by twice as much money as we were talking about yesterday in relation to the 10p tax rate fiasco."
Low income families will be hurt most: "Those who will be affected by the proposals are people with older cars, people with family cars and people on low incomes who simply cannot afford to upgrade to a less polluting car. What kind of policy creates a situation in which the owner of a new Porsche will face a smaller tax increase than a family with an older family car? It is clear that we need to revisit this decision... From statements made by Ministers, and from the minuscule amount of data that I have received in answer to parliamentary questions, I understand that about 1.3 million people earning less than £15,000 a year will be hit by above-inflation increases in vehicle excise duty. Some of them will face rises of £245 a year. That is a week’s take-home pay that the Government are going to take out of their pockets through this proposal. We believe that up to 750,000 of them will face increases that are triple the rate of inflation. It is completely unacceptable that these changes to vehicle excise duty should have a greater impact on those on the lowest incomes."
A tax that can't be avoided: "People up and down the country are, frankly, furious about being confronted with a tax rise that they have no way of avoiding. They will face it not just for one year; they will be locked into it for several years. As my right hon. Friend [John Redwood] said, many people will be unable to afford to buy a new car because the value of their current car will have plummeted as a result of these tax changes."