With less than two years to go before the next election it’s around now that the party starts creating policy groups to think up vote winning wheezes for the next manifesto. Let me suggest one which could help retain several Tory marginal in south Essex and north Kent. It’s a simple one, really. Abolish tolls on the Dartford crossing and remove the toll booths and barriers. Congestion would disappear overnight and local commuters would save money. It would cost a piffling amount of money which could easily be absorbed into the roads budget. This week Transport Minister made the welcome announcement that he is consulting on a new, third crossing, but that wouldn’t be built for another ten years. Long suffering motorists were promised that the tolls would disappear once the bridge was paid for. That happened in 2004, so what happened? Well, the Labour government said it was no longer a toll, it became a congestion charge, thus conveniently ignoring the fact that were it not for the toll barriers, there wouldn’t be any congestion. So if I were Gary Johnson, Mark Reckless, Jackie Doyle-Price, Stephen Metcalfe, Adam Holloway or Tracey Crouch I know what I’d be doing now…
I regard Gerald Howarth as a mate. He’s a distinguished parliamentarian and great company. But when he talks about gay issues the pink mist descends. It’s as if he is having an out of body experience. I hesitate to use the description ‘swivel eyed’ fear of any journalist listening. And so it was on Monday that he warned us that if the “aggressive homosexual community” had its way on marriage law reform it would “be a stepping stone to something even further.” It was a pity he didn’t spell out just what he meant by that. Presumably he thinks it could lead to us forceful gayers demanding the right to sleep with three year olds, or that we should be able to marry our grandfathers, or something even more ridiculous. Actually Gerald, all people want is the same chance that you had. To marry the person you love. And as for the concept of “aggressive homosexuals” I can imagine pink badges already being manufactured, simply festooned with the word ‘boo’. I think I can safely say that the only aggressive demand to be made by the gay community is for the Eurovision Song Contest to be made monthly, rather than annual. It’s not much to ask, is it?
I much enjoy Michael Fabricant’s tweets. They are often hilarious. When he started tweeting I remarked to a friend that it seemed to me his tweets had one aim in mind and that was to be invited on Have I Got News For You. It seems I was right. This week, for lack of anything better to do, I caught up with his appearance a couple of weeks ago on the programme. It was a car crash. Humour never works when you appear to be trying too hard. At times I wanted to hide behind the sofa, it was so cringeworthy. A few years ago I got invited onto the Irish version of HIGFY in Dublin. Imagine it, a British Tory on an Irish comedy programme. It was never going to work, was it? I soon discovered that I wasn’t quite as funny as I thought I was and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I suspect Fab went through a similar epiphany on HIGFY.
Just how does Boris do it? This week we discovered that he had fathered another child out of wedlock. It caused barely a ripple in the press. Even the Daily Mail relegated it to page 5. Is this a post Leveson effect or simply another example of the Mayor of London proving that he can get away with things no other politician could?
Theresa May did a most odd thing when responding to the Woolwich terror attack. She tried to pretend she was being interviewed, but clearly wasn’t. She was looking at someone who was clearly pretending to be a mute interviewer, and she then gave a series of answers to questions which hadn’t actually been asked. It looked very odd indeed. Don’t do it again, Theresa. Either do it straight to camera, or allow yourself to be interviewed. Elementary PR advice.
Reform, renegotiate, Brexit. A great question of our time that goes to the heart of our place on the world stage.
I’m talking of course about the Eurovision song contest.
Fraser Nelson fired the first salvo last week:
“For the past 10 years, the Eurovision Song Contest has provided a musical metaphor for Britain’s relationship with the European Union. We submit an appalling entry, chosen because we assume the continentals like trash. They don’t, and tend to give us nul points. We then assume we are victims of discrimination, that Eurovision is an exercise in continental intrigues that we wouldn’t want to win anyway.”
Since 1959, the UK has entered Eurovision every year. More than half a century later, we have just five victories to show for our efforts. Since 1999, we have managed only two top ten finishes. Our last two entries had a combined age of 137.
Greg Clark is Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Tunbridge Wells. Follow Greg on Twitter.
What could be more conservative than the principle and practice of insurance? Long before the advent of the welfare state, people were banding together to protect themselves against catastrophe and to make long-term provision for the future. In fact, many of the core public services we value so much today – like the fire service and the old age pension – have origins in the insurance industry. As for the private sector, businesses and markets would not be able to function without the ability to share and manage risk.
In fact, modern life would be unimaginable without insurance. Perhaps, its very ubiquity in our lives is why we tend to take the insurance industry for granted. But we shouldn’t – and certainly not in Britain where the industry itself is of huge importance to our economy.
Insurance companies employ almost 300,000 people in this country, they contribute over £10 billion in taxes to the Exchequer and they administer investments amounting to more than a quarter of the UK’s total net worth.
Despite these facts, when most people think about the financial services sector, the first thing that usually comes to mind is banking. Certainly, various issues surrounding the banks tend to dominate my in-tray as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. This is not, of course, for the happiest of reasons – and it is quite right that we should, as a Government, have attached such a high priority to restoring the stability and reputations of Britain’s banking system. And yet this is all more reason why we should celebrate our insurance industry, which continues to be an industry in which Britain has a global reputation.
Of course, sure and steadfast does not have to equal dull and boring. In fact, London is establishing itself as the world capital of the insurance industry. In the last year, Aon – one of the largest insurance brokers on the planet – has relocated its global headquarters from Chicago; while AIG – another insurance giant – has moved its European headquarters from Paris.
And this isn’t just good news for London, but also for the country as a whole. From Edinburgh to York to Norwich, insurance companies are of great importance to regional and local economies. This, I know, is true for my own constituency of Tunbridge Wells, where AXA PPP is the largest private sector employer.
Insurance, therefore, is a national success story – one, which I believe, to be of profound relevance to the wider economy. On the one hand, we have succeeded in this field as a free-trading, international economy that is open to people, investment and ideas from around the world; while, on the other, a tradition of fair play and high standards has built-up high levels trust in our public and private institutions.
In recent years and in other parts of the financial services sector, we saw the second half this very British combination compromised by actions that, at the time, were justified with appeals to the first half – as if dynamism could be traded-off against integrity. In fact, there is no trade-off, no balance to be struck. The dynamism and integrity of our financial institution are mutually dependent. The less we have of one, the less we will have of the other. Without integrity, dynamism degenerates into corruption; and without dynamism, integrity crumbles into officiousness.
In the emerging economies of the developing world, new opportunities are arising. As millions of people escape absolute poverty and gain access to mobile communications technology, the global demand for financial services will grow at an unprecedented rate. Insurance will be one of the most important of these services, granting individuals and businesses a level of financial security and confidence that they’ve never had before.
Britain’s insurance industry is ideally placed to play a leading role in this global revolution – and in doing so, it will have the full backing of the British Government.
Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.I’m as much a fan of variety as the next columnist, but it seems that UKIP just can’t keep itself out of the news. This week the focus has been on Nigel Farage’s close shave with a mob from “Radical Indepence” in Edinburgh and the ensuing back-and-forth between Farage and Scotland’s very one ‘Nat One’, Alex Salmond.
There seem to be two broad schools of thought on this. The first, expressed quite nicely here by Allan Massie, is that Farage is really a bit of a big girls blouse for being so upset that his meeting was challenged in a hearty and rumbustious fashion in the best traditions of British politics. The second is more in line with Farage’s own view that there is a nastily fascistic undercurrent to having political meetings broken up by force and something very distasteful by the indulgent treatment the Scottish media has given his aggressors.
Personally, I was most entertained by the Daily Mash’s cutting analysis. But unlike whoever came up with the headline ‘Nigel Farage’s Edinburgh humiliation’, I don’t really see how being mobbed in this fashion actually reflects badly on Farage or UKIP. I experienced much the same thing on a pettier scale when I was an active, elected Conservative in a very left-wing students union. Sometimes your meetings get stormed, sometimes somebody throws at punch at you on election night – it is your response to such attacks, rather than the attacks themselves, that reflect on your character.
In that light, Farage could have done perhaps with even thicker skin. Hanging up on a hostile interviewer and allowing the words “pretty ugly nation” to be attributable to him, without the relevant context, were both missteps. Yet despite that the most important thing is that it doesn’t appear to have done anything to stem Farage’s desire to establish his party in Scottish politics, which is what his opponents actually wanted.
Beyond that, the incident does highlight the interesting point of whether or not the nastier side of Scottish nationalism is going to grow more active – and attract more attention – in the build-up to the referendum. The mainland Celtic nationalisms have all managed to acquire a level of metropolitan respectability largely denied their English and British counterparts, an undoubted factor in their relative success. Part of this is that, the actions of a few Welsh-language ultras aside, there’s not really much of a ‘direct action’ wing to these fundamentally constitutional movements. The dark side of Scottish nationalism, embodied in the ‘cybernats’, lurks in the comments threads of news articles and largely passes the public by.
Will that remain the case if crowds brandishing ‘Yes’ slogans start making the headlines for harassing opponents? Chasing Nigel Farage out of a pub has been easy enough for the First Minister and the SNP to laugh off, but I feel that Salmond would have been better served by playing the statesman and defending freedom of speech, unpalatable as it might have been in the short run to have any kind words for a man so utterly opposed to his separatist vision as Farage,
In condemning the behaviour of UKIP's harassers Salmond could look magnanimous and statesmanlike, as well as putting some clear blue water between the mainstream separatist campaign and the fringe elements of Scottish nationalism. You're not in a good place when George Galloway is taking the higher road.
Better Together London ought to be just the start
One of the complicating factors for any unionist campaign is striking the right balance between a focus on it being a question for the country in question (which it undoubtedly is), and deploying one of the undoubted strengths of the Union: that people from all four home nations support one another.
To my mind, it has never made sense for unionists to fall into the nationalist trap that insists that only people from Scotland should campaign in or contribute to the campaign to keep the UK together. Scots should certainly be the voters, that much is beyond question, but to cut Scottish unionists off from the assistance of Welsh, English and Northern Irish people is to concede vital ground and play on the separatists’ turf. After all it is they who maintain that such people have no business in Scottish affairs – a unionist cannot credibly hold that view.
With that in mind, it was a most welcome discovery to found out about the launch of Better Together London. It’s heartening to see the unionist campaign reaching out to other parts of the United Kingdom, reminding people that whilst Scots are the voters in 2014 the continued existence of the UK is a battle in which every Briton has a stake.
Yet although this is a good first step, there remain a few key questions about the nature and extent of Better Together’s new outreach strategy. First, there is the simple question of extent. It is easy to see how London, being as it is at the centre of the British media world, might make a tempting, high-profile exception to what Better Together intend to be an entirely Scottish-focused campaign.
Thus BT London could be viewed not as the first part of an attempt to marshal the peoples of England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the pro-union cause, but as an outpost that allows BT to maintain a profile with Westminster and the London media. This would be a great shame, and I hope that in the run up to 2014 we’ll see Better Together branches set up in other cities across the UK.
The other question is whether or not BT London (and any other branches that might get set up) is aimed at the British as a whole or merely at ‘expatriate’ Scots. The tone struck by the BT London event seems to suggest the latter. The initial justification that “London contains thousands of Scots” made sense but a recent update on the page asked people to invite “any Scottish friends you have in London”.
Again, that’s fine in and of itself but I’ve taken the liberty of inviting friends from all over the UK who might be in London and want to demonstrate their support for the unionist cause and probably contribute, if the means are made available. I hope that we non-Scottish partisans in the unionist cause are made to feel welcome and exploited to the fullest in the battle to come. We’ll find out on June 5.
A trades union declares for the Union
In April, I lamented the apparent decline of the staunch opposition of Scottish trades unionists to Scottish nationalism, and linked to an article explaining how a belief that a separate Scotland will be left-wing forever, combined perhaps with a decline in the number of true-believers in the fundamentally internationalist doctrine of socialism, was leading Scottish trades unions into the separatist camp.
Well, at least one has bucked this unhappy trend: the Scottish wing of ASLEF, the train drivers union, has unanimously voted to oppose independence. They even overcame their suspicions about cooperating with the Conservatives and officially affiliate to the Better Together campaign. May it be the first of many.
This election is the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another. Instead of it being a two horse race between the usual political dynasties who have dominated the landscape of Pakistani politics for decades (the Pakistan People’s Party, PPP and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, PML-N), a third contender, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf or Movement for Justice (PTI) entered the playing field.
This has been called the bloodiest election in Pakistan’s history with over 150 people killed yet in spite of the violence, large political rallies were held in most cities with the exception of Karachi. On election day itself voter turnout was high at approximately 60% which was : unprecedented given the threats of violence; it was inspiring to see the determination and passion of so many people of different classes come out to vote, many travelling miles, many first time voters, both young and old and a huge number of women queuing for hours in the heat in order to cast their ballot.
Although the system of “Baradri” voting (along clan lines where entire communities vote en bloc) and so-called feudal democracy still holds sway, there was far greater awareness of the choice of candidates and more discussion and critical appraisal of policies rather than just personalities.
Back in 2009 I published Nigel Farage’s autobiography. Not a single bookshop chain would stock it. Booksellers have always been of a leftish persuasion and they proved impossible to shift. In late 2011 we published an updated version, called Flying Free, which contained three added chapters, including the full story of his plan crash on election day. He had also regained the leadership of UKIP, but Waterstone’s still weren’t interested. Of all the books I have published, this book has sold the highest per centage on Amazon, largely because bookshops wouldn’t stock it. However, out of the blue last week Waterstone’s have placed a large order and you should now find the book in most of their stores. Even they can now see very clearly which way the wind is blowing. I emailed Nigel to tell him the good news and he replied by saying: “Thank you for the good news. You are now represented by a UKIP councillor.” Which indeed, I am. I will leave it to your imagination to guess which one of the three members of the Dale household helped bring that about.
Unfortunately I missed the party of the week, held in David Davis’s office. I was too busy not winning a Sony Radio Award. The bash was imaginatively titled “the Return of the Prodigal Daughter Party”, and it was to welcome Nadine Dorries back into the fold. Quite unbelievably, people in Number 10 tried their best to ensure a non-attendance from the 2010 intake by making veiled threats like “remember there’s a reshuffle coming up” and the like. They even called a meeting of backbenchers in Number 10 to try to scupper the attendance. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of David Davis’s book and embrace sinners that repent. I well remember the day in October 2005 when Nadine, who had been one of David’s proposers in the first round, came down to his office to tell him face to face she was supporting Cameron in the second round. At least she had the courage to do it to his face, unlike one of her female contemporaries who decided to announce it on the World at One. I remember ringing her and saying it might have been nice to tell David himself before she went on the media. “Oh, really?” she said, it clearly never having crossed her mind. She quickly sent a handwritten note down. I threw it in the bin.
Talking of the “Prodical Daughter”, as she shall henceforth be known, it is very interesting to compare her fortunes over suggesting Tory MPs stand on a joint ticket at the next election, to that of the rising star Nicholas Boles. In his book Which Way's Up he suggested that at the next election Tory MPs should, in some circumstances stand on a join Conservative/LibDem ticket. Nadine has now suggested that they should stand on a Conservative/UKIP ticket. Nick Boles was promoted, while the usual Tory sources treat Nadine with derision. It is perfectly easy to argue a political case against what Nadine is suggesting (something I have to say I don’t agree with any more than I agreed with Nick Boles), but what is not acceptable is this idea that anything Nadine says or suggests should be dismissed as something coming from a dippy woman.
By Andrew Gimson. Follow Andrew on Twitter.
To distil the genius of Edmund Burke is an almost impossible task. The problem is that as soon as one begins to quote from his works, in an attempt to convey the penetrating felicities and profound political insights which they contain, one feels the need to quote more.
As Hazlitt said in an essay published in 1807, only ten years after Burke’s death, ‘there is no single speech which can convey a satisfactory idea of his powers of mind: to do him justice, it would be necessary to quote all his works; the only specimen of Burke is, all that he wrote.’
But in Jesse Norman, elected in 2010 as the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire and a regular contributor to ConservativeHome, we possess the best modern guide to one of the greatest writers on politics there has ever been. Norman solves the quotation problem by quoting very little. He is astonishingly abstinent.
Greg Clark is Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Tunbridge Wells. Follow Greg on Twitter.
Three weeks ago I wrote about Labour’s refusal to say whether they would borrow beyond the Government’s plans or not. As I said, this is an extremely basic question about economic policy – and the Official Opposition really ought to have an answer to it.
Sure enough, a few days later, Ed Miliband had a farcical interview with Martha Kearney on the World at One, during which he claimed – when tackled on the issue of Labour’s proposed VAT cut – that cutting government revenue would not require the government to borrow more. The next morning, on ITV’s Daybreak, he had to execute a volte face and admit that Labour planned “a temporary rise in borrowing”. But far from clarifying the issue, this latest twist begs a host of further questions.
Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.
Britons against Britain!
This is an odd one. In the Scotsman a chap called Tony Banks stakes out the view that, far from being a nationalist, it is his belief in Britain and his British identity that is making him vote for independence!
That works about as well as you’d think. Essentially, the argument is that the withdrawal Scotland’s three-score deputation of left-wing MPs will be the catalyst that shifts the rUK away from a “London-centric” economy, diminishes the political power of the South East, and turns us wayward South British back onto the righteous path of social democracy. No evidence is proffered to support this rather mystifying conclusion.
Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party. Follow Garvan on Twitter
Chinese diplomats appear uniformly excellent. Polished, fluent, articulate, urbane, seemingly immersed in the culture of the countries to which they are posted, in this field at least, Beijing appears to have found the best its 1.3 billion people can provide. They need all the skill they can muster to defend the clumsy foreign policy their masters in the Communist Party insist on executing.Last week the Telegraph reported that David Cameron's rift with China could cost UK billions. Infrastructure investment, it explained, was at risk, because he had defended democracy, met the Dalai Lama, and, no doubt, because he had bamboozled them into granting the Security Council’s imprimatur for intervention to depose Gaddafi. Nice HS2 line you’ve got planned. Shame if you couldn’t raise the money to build it.
To this it’s possible to reply: nice hoard of excess savings you have there, are you really sure it’s such a good idea to sink it into pieces of paper with pictures of dead American presidents on one side and the all-seeing-eye of God on the other?
China needs projects in which to invest its savings. Notwithstanding Dieter Helm’s alarm about the reliability of the UK infrastructure financing environment (PDF), British infrastructure can still be a useful alternative to the currency of the country whose aircraft carriers the Chinese navy is building enormous missiles to defend against.
There are deals to be done, but we’ll only get the best for Britain if we treat them as commercial transactions, and avoid the ancient autocrats’ ruse that trades advantageous terms for longer-term dependence. This has an old and inglorious history from the pensions James I paid to pliant parliamentarians; the vast subsidy Louis XIV provided his grandson, to the web of corruption in Mubarak’s egypt so masterfully chronicled by Alaa al Aswany and Gazprom’s quest to build a pipeline that would allow it to isolate Poland without cutting off Germany. China’s attempt to play David Cameron off against François Hollande is merely another example of foreign policy as bastard feudalism.
The Prime Minister is viscerally attached to strong Britain. Little is more wounding to him than evidence of his, or his country’s weakness, whether the source is a foreign country, or a British judge ruling against the extradition of Abu Qatada. Those who accuse him of lacking principle should understand that he was acting true to character in standing up to Beijing’s bluster.
Three years in office have taught him that Britain, a medium-sized power, can only do so as part of an alliance of like-minded democracies. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are proving extraordinarily unreliable allies in Syria, funding and arming extremists. Dictatorships lack the institutions to force their governments to observe treaties. Alliances with them are only stable when the regimes are significantly weaker than us. Britain’s no longer powerful enough to enforce those alliances on its own. In the United States this week he and Barack Obama have discussed the transatlantic free trade pact: think of it as a commercial counterpart to NATO that will strengthen the West’s economy and bring its markets closer together.
This is not a call to resist the rise of the BRICS. Quite the contrary. We need to convince emerging democracies, in particular, Brazil and India, that their security is best protected by an alliance of free nations. Institutions like these, not going cap-in-hand to Beijing, provide the soundest guarantee of our security and prosperity. Perhaps David Cameron might like to encourage Barack Obama to make a bipartisan gesture and revive John McCain’s plan for a “League of Democracies.”