McLoughlin v McCaffrey

Tory chairman Patrick McLoughlin not happy with Sky’s Darren McCaffrey asking questions about the Tory election fraud, grabbing his phone in a vain attempt to prevent him filming. McLoughlin is usually pretty amiable, tensions must be high in CCHQ…

How Mackinlay Gained Financial Advantage Over Farage

The Electoral Commission report is conservative in its conclusions on Tory overspending in South Thanet. The Commission say they “cannot determine precisely” whether Craig Mackinlay breached his spending limit because of the party’s failure to keep records. Look closely however and is clear that Mackinlay breached his limit. 

Mackinlay reported short campaign expenses of £14,837.77. His short campaign limit was £15,016.38, meaning he was £178.61 below the spending threshold. The Electoral Commission says Mackinlay did not declare expenses for his South Thanet team to stay at the Royal Harbour hotel in the short campaign between 20 April and 7 May 2015. Given Mackinlay was just £178.61 away from busting his limit, this alone puts him over. And that’s before going anywhere near the pro-rata salary costs of CCHQ officials being added to the bill.

More generally, the Electoral Commission concludes:

“the inclusion in the Party return of what in the Commission’s view should have been reported as candidate spending meant that there was a realistic prospect that this enabled its candidates to gain a financial advantage over opponents”

Apply this specifically to South Thanet, and it is clear that because Mackinlay breached his spending limit he “gained a financial advantage” over Nigel Farage. UKIP will say, with some justification, that this is grounds to re-run the Thanet election…

Hammond Battered By All Sides

As the Tories reel from this morning’s Electoral Commission report, the Chancellor is fighting to salvage his reputation. We are not at the stage where Philip Hammond is about to lose his job, but figures across the Tory party and government are wondering how he can recover from yesterday’s humiliation. He is getting it from all sides this morning:

  • The Telegraph says May told Hammond “I don’t care how bad it is for you”, they report he is now “on probation”
  • The Times says Theresa May’s aides “strong-armed” him into the u-turn and “punished him” for briefing against them last week, Number 10 told him the NI rise was a bad idea “but Philip wouldn’t listen”
  • The Spectator says Hammond’s credibility is “in tatters”, that he has “endangered wider credibility”, and accuses him of a “staggering lack of basic political competence”
  • The Sun says he has been forced to “grovel” to its readers
  • Peston says he wouldn’t bet on Hammond still being Chancellor beyond the summer
  • William Hill slashed the odds on him going before the election, first to 7/2, then to 5/2

Publicly Tory MPs are saying Hammond’s ability to admit he was wrong and change his mind shows he is the right man to be Chancellor. In reality it was not his choice – May made the decision – and it was not even her choice, Tory backbenchers have proved the government is so weak that just a handful of rebels can hold them to ransom. Backbenchers are emboldened, Downing Street is chastened. If May were to call an early election of course all these problems would go away…

Tories Fined £70,000 | Treasurer Faces Charges | Thanet Could Be Re-Run

The Electoral Commission report into Tory election spending is out. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Tories fined £70,000
  • £104,765 missing from 2015 election return
  • Another £118,124 not reported or reported incorrectly
  • A further 81 payments to the value of £52,924 missing
  • Registered Tory treasurer and former Tory party CEO, now CFO, Simon Day committed three contraventions under section 41 and two offences under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA
  • Day committed an offence in relation to spending in South Thanet in 2015
  • Tories overspent in Newark, Rochester & Strood and Clacton by-elections in 2014

The Tories admit fault: “This is the first time the Conservative Party has been fined for a reporting error. We regret that and will continue to keep our internal processes under review to ensure this does not happen again”. This means that Labour, LibDems and the Tories have all had maximum fines for breaching electoral laws in 2015.

Guido’s take is that the Tories will probably get away with just fines for the by-election over-spends in Clacton, Rochester & Strood and Newark. South Thanet however looks likely to be re-run. Eighth time lucky for Nige?

Hammond: Laura K First to Say NI Rise Broke Manifesto Pledge

Philip Hammond tells Alex Salmond the first person outside the chamber to say he had broken the Tory manifesto pledge on National Insurance was the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. An extraordinary statement – and one which Hammond is defending by arguing disingenuously that the NI didn’t breach the manifesto. Did Downing Street really not realise this would be an issue? Friends of George Osborne say they immediately knew it would be a breach of manifesto when they saw this Times story on a possible NICs rise back on 1 March. Hammond leaving himself open to complete ridicule…

Hammond U-Turns on National Insurance Rise

Philip Hammond has u-turned on his Budget National Insurance rise, telling MPs that it was against the spirit of the Tory manifesto. He confirms there will be no NI rise this parliament. The letter:

A sign of how weak the government is that it is forced to u-turn on its Budget after complaints from a few MPs, and also what a disastrous error it was to forget the Tory manifesto. Wow…

Davis Dismisses Major’s Claim That No Deal is Worst Outcome

Speaking to the Brexit select committee this morning, David Davis has dismissed John Major’s claim that no deal is the worst possible outcome. He made clear the government’s position is that no deal is “not as good an outcome as a free trade, friction-free, open agreement”, though insisted it would not mean a hard border with Ireland and offered this sensible assessment of a WTO Brexit:

It’s not as frightening as some people think but it’s not as simple as some people think. In the event that we don’t get [a deal] we will have a fairly extensive contingency plan which is already underway. And we will have, whatever happens, a sharply improved access to the rest of the world off the back of a large number of free trade agreements which will be coming into effect shortly after we leave… [No deal] is by no means the worst possible outcome. By no means.”

As Guido reported on Monday, this is the argument senior Leavers want the government to make a bit more forcefully. You can’t go into a negotiation if you aren’t prepared to walk away. 

Sir Keir Starmer, the Guardian et al are jumping on Davis saying no economic assessment of a WTO Brexit has yet been carried out. This is a bit of a red herring, they have repeatedly said planning is underway and Davis says they will have an assessment in a year’s time.

Mackinlay Interviewed Under Caution

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay was interviewed by police under caution for six hours last week over his election expenses in South Thanet, the Sun and Telegraph are reporting tonight. Kent Police are meeting with the CPS on Tuesday 21 March to discuss a possible prosecution. Here we go…

Tory MP Recovering From Coma Makes Brexit Vote

Tory MP Mike Wood was in a coma on life support for the second reading of the Brexit bill and still in intensive care for the third reading, after surviving a septic shock. Today he makes it to parliament in a wheelchair to vote. Get well soon, Mike. Puts migraines into perspective.

Hammond Invites Colleagues to Reconciliation Drinkies

After days of vicious negative briefings against him from Number 10, and 19 Tory MPs publicly opposing his Budget, Philip Hammond is looking to heal wounds. This afternoon the Chancellor invited MPs to a reconciliation drinks party at his Commons office, where he will no doubt be reassuring colleagues over his National Insurance rise. (Or ditching it.) Note the date, March 27, is one of the rumoured dates Article 50 could be triggered. Guido has the invitation:

Subject: Chancellor Drinks Reception – Monday 27 March

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to invite you to drinks with the Chancellor, on Monday 27th March, 18.30 – 19.30. The event will take place in the Chancellor’s Commons Office, Room 21c Ministerial Corridor.

Please let me know if you are able to attend.

Very best

John Glen MP
PPS to Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP

Assume Theresa May’s aides are NFI…

Senior Leavers: No.10 Must Prepare Public For WTO Brexit

Senior Leave figures want the government to do much more to publicly prepare the public for a Brexit on WTO terms. Theresa May’s speech in January arguing that “no deal is better than a bad deal” pleased Tory Leavers, but they fear not enough has been done by Downing Street to prevent continuity Remainers seizing the narrative and convincing the public that WTO terms would be a disaster. This is why over the weekend Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox all came out and made encouraging noises about the possibility of no deal. 

There are three reasons why Leavers want Number 10 to do more to make the WTO case. First, the chances of a Brexit along WTO lines are much higher than the government publicly admits. While the official line is that no deal is “unlikely“, behind the scenes senior figures in Number 10 have said they put the probability at around 30%. Most Leavers think this figure is optimistic. Another government source tells Guido they believe the likelihood of a WTO Brexit is 50-50.

Second, demonstrating that WTO terms are acceptable is vital for the negotiation. If Brussels believes Britain thinks WTO rules are a disaster, the threat to walk away is not credible. Going into the negotiation without being happy to accept WTO terms is obviously the worst possible negotiating hand. A Whitehall source says: “People are being told that WTO rules would be the end of the world. We need to explain to them why it isn’t”.

Third, Leavers want to learn the lesson from Cameron’s failure to make any contingency planning for Brexit. This is seen by the government as Cameron’s worst betrayal – Leavers are determined not to repeat the mistake. This means proper preparations for a WTO Brexit, both in terms of contingency planning in Whitehall and preparing the public for that outcome. Matt Ridley’s piece in today’s Times is the sort of narrative Number 10 should be pursuing…

Two New Top Government Hires

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policy chief Mike Hatchett has defected to the government’s Department for Exiting the European Union. Yep, a senior Corbyn aide has just joined the Tory government apparatus…

Corbyn signed up Hatchett less than a year ago, now he will work for David Davis. A former Treasury mandarin, Hatchett brought a modicum of respectability and considerable experience to Corbyn’s team. Politico report:

“Asked about Hatchett’s departure, a spokesman for the Labour leader declined to comment. However Corbyn’s allies, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the accusation that Hatchett had become disillusioned.”

Meanwhile Number 10 has hired Mike Crowhurst as their new Education adviser. Crowhurst was formerly a history teacher in Birmingham and recently a director of Downing Street’s chief of staff Nick Timothy’s old organisation the New Schools Newtork, May tightening her control on new Number 10 hires…

Number 10 Blaming Number 11, Number 11 Blaming Number 10

Treasury sources tell Newsnight’s Nick Watt that “Number 10 just wants to spend money” and that “some of the senior political advisers around the Prime Minister have anti-Tory ideas about raising taxes”. They say Hammond had to fight against May and claim she wanted to raise Capital Gains Tax and NICs for higher-rate taxpayers. Meanwhile there is pushback from Number 10 in the Times, which quotes a source saying of Team Hammond: “They just forgot the manifesto”. Trouble…

Tories Lead By 19 Points

A shambolic Budget attacking strivers, a major Tory rebellion on the cards and sniping between Number 10 and Number 11… and yet the complete non-existence of any opposition from Labour means the Tories extend their lead with YouGov to 19 points. Nineteen. On course for the big 20…

What Did Cameron Say to Fallon?

Great spot by Chris Ship – what is Cameron saying to Michael Fallon at the Iraq service yesterday? Certainly looks like the words “breaking a manifesto promise” and “stupid thing to do”. Fallon nods along. Lip-readers get in touch…

Sarah Vine’s “RAGE” at NIC Rise “Clobbering” Women

The view from one half of the Gove household: Sarah Vine expresses “RAGE” at the impact of Hammond’s NI hike on self-employed women. Don’t underestimate the private anger in Tory circles as Number 10 insists there will be no u-turn…

Hammond Faces Tory Tax Revolt

Philip Hammond faces a Tory revolt over his broken National Insurance promise. The government has a working majority of 17 and Guido counts 19 Tory MPs who have already publicly opposed the policy. Many more are privately furious that they have been made to look like promise breakers by the Chancellor. Below are just those who have gone public so far…

Anne-Marie Trevelyan:

“It goes against every principle of Conservative understanding of business. We understand that taking risks is what stimulates growth. It impacts people who are putting themselves at risk, their houses on the line, to create new growth. It’s the wrong way round and sends a very poor message.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg:

“The biggest issue is national insurance contributions… I would be cautious about this change, and I urge the Government to look at the whole question of the relationship between national insurance and income tax in the round.”

Tom Tugendhat:

“I urge a rethink. We should be encouraging the self-employed, start-ups and people who are taking risks and carrying those risks themselves. We should recognise that through support, yes, but we should do so particularly through taxation.”

Andrew Murrison:

“It is very important to ensure that we do not disadvantage self-employed people. The Conservative Party always has been and, I hope, always will be the party that supports white van man and—may I say on this particular day?—white van woman… I hope very much that we will have some reassurance from Treasury Ministers that plumbers, electricians, plasterers and people of that sort will not be disadvantaged”

Nigel Mills:

“Clearly, a tax rise that discourages any kind of activity is not attractive, especially when our economy is quite reliant on self-employment… that rise will be unwelcome news to people who are probably struggling and not getting all the rights to which they are entitled”

John Redwood:

“We need to ensure that it is as easy as possible to get into self-employment, and that it is as worthwhile as possible when people are successful. I always think it is a good idea to try to confine taxes, and certainly tax rises, to things that we do not approve of very much… We should not go out of our way to tax work, enterprise and success. I know we have to do some of that, because we need a lot of revenue for the range of public services we offer, but our taxes on those things are quite high enough.”

Stephen McPartland:

“We are taxing those families who have taken on the risk of setting up their own small business, many of which employ apprentices and are the backbone of our economy.”

Bob Neill:

“I understand that there are distortions when people are self-employed, but I think this should be kept under review.”

Martin Vickers:

“I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the action the Chancellor has taken because self-employed people are a great asset to the local and the national economy. You have also got to consider that they sometimes don’t qualify for other benefits. Clearly, the view of the Treasury is that there was an anomaly which needed to be rectified. But, as we all know, you resolve one anomaly and another often appears somewhere else.”

Anna Soubry:

“This could be 1st u turn …. this will not be popular & many will argue it’s unfair”

Dominic Raab:

“I don’t like this bit much… we have to look at this in the round to make sure we are not hurting entrepreneurial classes… we need to square this with not just the letter but the spirit of the commitment.”

Iain Duncan Smith:

“I would like to see this kept under review… We all saw what happened to President Bush senior, “read my lips”, so some of us were slightly concerned at the time about making pledges that lock you in.”

Bob Blackman:

“There is a concern that this will hit home shortly before we ask people for their votes in the next general election.”

Guto Bebb:

“I believe we should apologise. I will apologise to every voter in Wales that read the Conservative manifesto in the 2015 election.”

Matthew Offord:

“It is right that the self-employed and employed should pay similar National Insurance Contributions but the self-employed are different from employees – they are the risk takers and entrepreneurs that spearhead growth and productivity in our economy and do not have the same protections as employees. Since the financial crisis in 2008, the growth in self-employment has driven our labour market and rises in NI will make many people have second thoughts about striking out on their own. People who work for themselves and who set up and run companies should be encouraged. Instead, the Chancellor has singled them out for a £1,425m tax hike on the misleading premise that they pay less tax than their peers, completely ignoring the risks they take and the lack of security in their employment.”

Anne Marie Morris:

“The changes to National Insurance defy belief! What did the chancellor think he was doing? Increasing the rate of “Class 4” contribution from 9 per cent to 11 per cent over two years! At least he kept his word and abolished “Class 2″ contributions which was unfair, not well understood and not related to income or profit. But while Class 4 contributions are profit related and therefore “fairer”, this was I suspect not the reason for the change but a post-decision marketing strap line.  It has all the hallmarks of the “pasty tax” own goal.”

Andrew Bridgen:

“I’m surprised that the Chancellor chose to raise national insurance for the self-employed. It’s going to bring in only £135million over the rest of this Parliament and some people might consider it a breach of a manifesto pledge. I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Karl McCartney also tells Guido he opposes the rise.

Nigel Evans:

“May right to pause on self employed N I rise-precision engineering needed not bulldozer to tackle those only going self employed as tax ruse”

Will the NICs rise survive or is a u-turn coming?

May Takes Hammer to Four Tory Manifesto Promises

Theresa May and Philip Hammond are breaking four key 2015 manifesto promises:

Pledge: No rise in National Insurance contributions.

May / Hammond: National Insurance rise for self-employed.

Broken.

Pledge: Eliminate the deficit and start running a surplus in 2018-19.

May / Hammond: Deficit due to be eliminated in 2025/26.

Broken.

Pledge: Annual net migration in the tens of thousands.

May / Hammond: Immigration at 273,000, no prospect of this being kept.

Broken.

Pledge: Introduce a British Bill of Rights.

May / Hammond: Shelved until after Brexit.

Broken.

Some hard-of-understanding Remainers think the 2015 single market commitment should be included in this list. Obviously – though some FT / New Statesman types are clearly struggling to grasp this simple fact – the referendum provides a democratic justification and imperative for this. Nonetheless, Theresa May and Philip Hammond are breaking four major manifesto commitments…

Minister: We Should Apologise

Looks like a u-turn is coming. Tory minister Guto Bebb says the government should apologise to voters for yesterday’s Budget:

“I believe we should apologise. I will apologise to every voter in Wales that read the Conservative manifesto in the 2015 election.”

Will the policy still stand by tonight? Quite something for the Chancellor’s own ministers to be calling for him to apologise 24 hours after a Budget. Here are the full list of public rebels.

Tory Commissioned Polling Showed Keeping Promises Key Desire of Voters

Theresa May’s spokesman has spent the morning awkwardly dodging questions about whether she believes politicians should keep their promises. The PM and Chancellor have forgotten the key lesson delivered to them by David Cameron after the 2015 election. In the days after the Tory victory, Cameron convened two meetings, one with the Cabinet and one with Tory MPs in Portcullis House.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Via the FT’s Jim Pickard: Seumas Milne’s idea for Labour election catchphrase:

“The Tories are the real extremists.”

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