My take on the EU is that a renegotiation push is unlikely to result in many powers being returned to Britain, and that leaving the Union would bring short-term economic pain but medium-term gain. This is why I would vote to leave the EU were a referendum to take place now - thus taking the same view as Michael Gove - and expect to in the event of David Cameron being Prime Minister after 2015 and the promised EU referendum taking place (since, as I say, he is unlikely to gain what would in effect be a opt-out from the EU's political structure).
This view is put in an infinitely more distinguished and authoritative form by Nigel Lawson in today's Times (£). Unfortunately, the piece is locked up behind the paper's paywall, so you can't read it online. But the thrust of the former Chancellor's argument is clear enough. The EU changed "after the coming into being of the European monetary union and the creation of the eurozone"; it is now the political and economic union that its creators envisaged; renegotiation won't amount to very much, and so, since political union wouldn't suit Britain, we should leave.
By Paul Goodman
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To the Carlton Club yesterday evening...for a Taxpayers' Alliance's dinner to celebrate the 1988 budget, the silver anniversary of which takes place this year. That's the one in which Nigel Lawson, the then Chancellor, cut corporation tax from 27p to 25p, raised personal allowances by twice the rate of inflation, cut the basic rate of tax from 27p to 25p and - in the best-known measure of all - the top rate from 60p to 40p.
The dinner can thus be seen as a call to George Osborne to follow this example (though the Chancellor has made his own cut in the top rate, and is following the example of another well-known Thatcher budget - that of 1981, in which Lawson's predecessor, Geoffrey Howe, cut the growth in spending and raised taxes). Lawson himself was present, and addressed the dinner. So what did he say? He told those present that:
By Matthew Barrett
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Since details of the reshuffle have emerged, Tory MPs, especially on the right of the party, have been reacting positively to David Cameron's appointments.
"I am on the whole very pleased with what has been done. There's another purpose why you need reshuffles. There is always a need to curb public spending and ministers become attached to their departmental budgets and therefore the Treasury needs to have new ministers who will look at their departmental budgets with fresh eyes and find ways of further savings and that is particularly necessary at the present time."
He had specific praise for Owen Paterson's promotion:
"I am very pleased to see in this reshuffle the promotion of Owen Paterson. Owen Paterson is little known to the British public because he has been Northern Ireland Secretary, so he is well known there, but really little known elsewhere. He is in fact one of the most able and promising young men or women around the Cabinet and therefore his promotion to Environment is extremely welcome….he is a man of reason and sense."
"I think the reaction from the backbenches is that this reshuffle is quite a lot more extensive than we actually predicted. So it is far more radical. But at the end of the day, these reshuffles are of great interest for those of us in the Westminster bubble and the media out there, but I think the people, your viewers, are really interested in policy, not necessarily personality, and it’s about reinvigorating the Government and pushing those policies forward to deliver economic growth that’s going to get the country out of recession."
By Tim Montgomerie
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The Coalition may get its welfare bill passed but it may do so at a cost to its relations with the House of Lords.
The Upper House repeatedly amended the welfare bill - sometimes by large majorities. Labour, crossbench and Lib Dem rebels defeated, for example, the benefits cap but there were also a significant Tory rebellion - led by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay - against reforms to the Child Support Agency.
The Coalition is attempting to prevail by asserting what is known as "financial privilege". This gives the Commons "sole rights" in respect of financial legislation that applies indivisibly to public expenditure and to the raising of revenue to meet that expenditure (PDF background here).
"It cannot be denied that we are in extremely difficult financial times, and that the government has no choice but to take measures to address the situation. Tackling the unsustainable rise in spending on benefits and tax credits, as part of the government’s overall deficit reduction strategy, is undeniably important."
By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday saw the first day of a two-day debate in the House of Lords on the Government's recently published proposals for introducing a predominantly elected second chamber.
Over 100 peers are due to speak in the debate over the two days and yesterday a number of senior Tories - including many former Cabinet ministers - contributed to the discussion with more than note of scepticism.
Here's a flavour of the debate...
Lord St John of Fawsley
"The beginning of wisdom is to leave well alone. What on earth is this House doing spending two precious days debating an issue that has no interest outside the Westminster village and for which there is no demand in this country at a time when we are facing a domestic crisis of major proportions? We have problems with the health service-the mind boggles at how we are going to get through that-and a world economic crisis. What kind of a world are we living in when we give priority to this subject which, however interesting to the few, is of no major importance?"
Lord Lawson of Blaby
"Understandably, most people of ability are disinclined to enter the overexposed hurly-burly of electoral politics. Some of us have been sufficiently mad to do so, but there is a limited supply of such mad men and women. The best of those few who are prepared to take the plunge will rightly seek to enter the House of Commons, where political power overwhelmingly resides, at least in principle, on whose support the Government of the day depend and from whose Benches high government offices are filled. There may also be some men and women of ability who, recognising the importance that the institutions of the European Union now play in our national life, may be attracted to membership of the European Parliament. In Scotland and Wales, the devolved Assemblies offer another possibility of a worthwhile and high-profile role. Even local government in England provides a greater opportunity to influence real events on the ground than does membership of the second Chamber at Westminster. That is the reality.
Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson took part in yesterday's question time in the Lords on the Cancun climate change summit.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: "My Lords, I join my noble friend in his satisfaction with an outcome that binds no country to anything at all. In that event, however, does he not agree that the position of the United Kingdom, which, alone in the world, has bound itself legally to a massive decarbonisation agreement at huge cost and by a specific date, is utterly incomprehensible, not to say quixotic?"
Lord Marland, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change: "As I think the noble Baroness said, there are a few cynics in the House, although they might claim to be realists. I believe that the fundamental Conservative principle is that we put the taxpayer first, as the noble Lord so excellently did when I worshipped him as the great reforming Chancellor. However, he also knows that Britain is a great country because it has shown leadership, and this is what we are doing; we are putting Britain at the forefront of this by showing leadership."
Conservative peers shone during questions on the economy yesterday. They sparred with Lord Myners, who was made Financial Services Secretary in October 2008. To his credit, he has a varied CV - having been a teacher, journalist, business leader, banker and academic.
The Earl of Caithness put an elegant boot into the Government:
"My Lords, given the complete mess that the Treasury made of last year’s forecasts—it expected a budget deficit of 2 per cent of GDP when it is more likely to be 10 per cent, and expected economic growth of at least 2.5 per cent when in fact it is likely to be minus 3.5 per cent—would the Minister agree with the OECD that half of our problems were structural and related to government policy and nothing to do with the worldwide recession? What are the Government going to do about that?
Lord Myners: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give a detailed analysis of the situation in the world and domestic economies when he makes his Budget presentation tomorrow. We are in the midst of a truly extraordinary global recession. For the first time in 60 years, the IMF has forecast a net reduction in added value for global economic activity. This problem is not confined to one country; it is a global problem. That is why the Prime Minister, in his chairmanship of the G20, led a global solution."
Former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby (above right) did the same:
"My Lords, will the Minister explain to simple-minded folk like me how it is that when the British economy was expanding, at a time when the whole world economy was expanding, that was entirely to do with the success of the British Government; but now that the British economy is contracting rather faster than most of the world in a contracting world economy, it is nothing to do with us but is entirely to do with the world?
Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, knows that I am new to the world of politics, so it is perhaps harder for me to find an easy answer to that question than it would be for many others who have come to this House from the other place. But let us look at the facts. Over the 10 years to 1996, GDP per capita in the UK was the lowest in the G7. Over the following 10 years, it was the second highest in the G7. Since 1997, which was an important year, as no doubt the noble Lord remembers, UK real GDP per capita has increased by more than any other G7 economy. That was a tribute to the masterful management of the economy by my right honourable friend who was the Chancellor in those days, who is now our Prime Minister."
There were some noteworthy questions in the House of Lords yesterday.
If Lord Tebbit gets the memos from modernisers at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, I'm not sure he reads them:
"Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her legislation and her policies will do anything to rectify the gross imbalance of the sexes in the Crown Prosecution Service, where twice as many women as men are employed? What will she do about that to help these poor men who are being discriminated against?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an interesting point. In many professions and sections of our society, women do some jobs and men do others. It is part of the culture, but it is also part of our education; women and men do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. Therefore, we need more men to know about the opportunities in the Crown Prosecution and more women to know about opportunities in science."
(Barnoness Royall is Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords.)
Baroness Morris of Bolton (Shadow Minister for Women and Health) asked a question that will cause fewer palpitations:
"My Lords, one area where the pay gap is most stark is the City, usually because of bonuses. Given that the Government are now a substantial shareholder in a number of banks, how will they ensure that there is fair play in those institutions?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is yet another interesting point. The Government of course have some responsibility here, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is conducting a series of inquiries in sectors where inequality is clear, including in the financial sector. We look forward to hearing the results of those inquiries."