Ruth and Gove Blast ‘Dour, Joyless, Pessimistic, Unhappy, Authoritarian’ Tories

Some choice quotes from the keynote speakers at the launch of the Osbornite / Mayite / centrist think tank Onward last night. Ruth Davidson left the sweaty Churchill Room in parliament in no doubt as to who she was talking about here:

“Sometimes as Tories we just look a bit dour. We look a bit joyless, to be fair. A bit authoritarian, sometimes. We don’t get to win if we start hectoring the people that we need to vote for us… We’ve got to learn to be a bit more joyful… It’s not just what you say but it’s what you can show people… when you do it with a smile, they actually get behind you.”

Bet that went down well in Number 10.

Her attack on Labour was punchy too:

“If you look at Jeremy Corbyn, actually I feel sad. I feel sad at how far a once important, integral, sensible, solid party has fallen. And I then look at John McDonnell, and the shock troops, and the troll factories, and the conspiracy theories and their envy and their fake news and their Skwawkbox and their Canary and the rest of it, and I think that this Labour Party has about the same amount of moral authority as Sepp Blatter putting a fiver on Russia getting the World Cup. I genuinely think to myself, when I look at the Nationalists or the Corbynistas, what I see is a movement that works in its own way to break up our country. That’s what they want. They want to tear it apart.”

A woke Michael Gove said of Ruth: “In the future when think tanks ask, ‘Can we get the pregnant lesbian to speak?’, they will ask: ‘Which pregnant lesbian?’”. Less woke Gove made two comparisons between himself and Ruth, first as Ike and Tina Turner, the second between Sonny and Cher. Perhaps might have thought that through.

His musical call for the Tories to pursue a Fleetwood Mac / Pharrell Williams strategy was more successful: ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’ and ‘Happy’ would certainly be a change of tone. Gove echoed Ruth in calling for optimism, though his call could have easily applied to Remainers as well:

“Sometimes in the past the Tories have been pessimistic and unhappy, uncomfortable that we seem to be living in the 21st century, when the 1950s would be far more attractive, and what a pity that the 19th century isn’t an option. Indeed when I heard today that Club 18-30 was at last closing, I thought that must be a group of Conservative modernisers looking forward to that year as some glorious future to which they can aspire.”

The evening was also notable for Neil O’Brien’s Macron style speech, which several in the audience saw as the beginnings of a leadership bid. The theme of the night certainly that the Tories should be more bold, interesting, positive and happy than what is currently on offer…

Under 25s More Likely to Say State Taxes and Spends Too Much

Here’s an interesting corrective to the idea that under-25s are all raving lefty Corbynistas. The CPS has a major new report out tomorrow called ‘New Blue: Ideas for a New Generation’ – it takes an in-depth look at the future policy base the Tories could put forward to address their generational problem. It makes for encouraging reading…

Unsurprisingly the report finds younger voters are considerably more likely to vote Jezza – but only 22% say they’ll ‘definitely’ vote for Corbyn. Much less than the media narrative would have you believe…

There are also encouraging signs that young voters are not all big state freedom haters: the majority of 18-24 year olds believe the government taxes too much and spends too much on services. So do the majority of 25-39 year-olds and 25-49 year-olds…

The polling was commissioned by the CPS to go alongside their report (which does not outline CPS policies but provides a platform for new ideas and debate within the Conservative Party). Some sexy ideas on offer from the Tories’ new intake include contributions from Bim Afolami on reforming the planning system without making new laws, Paul Masterton on better use of private pensions and Alan Mak on a paper-free digital revolution in the NHS.

Robert Colvile’s conclusion is that young voters aren’t ideological socialists – they just want more money in their pocket and better services like everyone else. Yet the Tories lack retail policies to connect with these desires…

£10,000 Bribe For 25 Year-Olds Would Cost £8 Billion Per Year

The Resolution Foundation’s call for millennials to be given a £10,000 handout from the state on their 25th birthday has to be one of the daftest ideas from wonk land in a while. The Institute of Economic Affairs tell Guido that, while the number of people turning 25 will vary each year, on average it’s around 800,000 people a year. That means the policy will cost an estimated £8 billion a year. Which is roughly equal to the total annual income tax paid by one million average earners…

The IEA’s Kate Andrews is right:

“Why should the salary of a 40 year old person, earning the minimum wage, be redistributed to top-up a 25 year old, earning double or triple the average national income? There is nothing progressive about cash transfers that are based on age. This proposal stands in opposition to the fundamental principle of welfare safety nets: that resources are redistributed to those who are most in need.”

Not to mention the fact that a £10,000 handout doesn’t pay off a 25 year-old’s tuition fees or get them on the housing ladder, let alone address any of the reasons why the Resolution Foundation thinks they need the money in the first place. Bonkers.

Bastani Not Going to IPPR

Last week Red Roar reported that Corbynista firebrand Aaron Bastani had been offered a job at the IPPR think tank. The potential move caused consternation and horror in moderate Labour circles, as well as much mockery of the once influential New Labour wonk shop on Twitter, and, Guido hears, protests from the IPPR boardroom. Guido can now reveal that any plans the IPPR had to hire Bastani have alas fallen through. In a phone call just now, Bastani declined multiple opportunities to deny that the IPPR had withdrawn their offer to him. IPPR sources say he now won’t be coming on board. Following the dissolution of his company, presumably this means jobless Aaron is free to spend more time making his videos

“Dangerously Left-Wing” Hayek Hatchet Job

Angela Eagle and Imran Ahmed’s new book The New Serfdom“, a 400-page hatchet job on the great liberal thinker Friedrich Hayek, is being lauded with praise in Labour circles, most effusively from Nick Cohen. Guido must come to Hayek’s defence in the face of their rewriting of history.

The New Serfdom is a reminder that, even as the relatively moderate challenger to Corbyn, Eagle is still a liberty-hating socialist who opposes free markets and fundamentally values the state over the freedom of the individual. Even Ed Miliband’s office warned that Ahmed was “dangerously left-wing” when he became a Shadow Cabinet adviser. Their book condemns the “veneration of markets”, the “infiltration of marketisation” into the public sector, capitalism’s promotion of competition, the “toxic culture” of admiring those who succeed, and calls for a Labour government to create an “empowered state… pursuing a reinvigorated democratic socialism”. It wants to sweep back Thatcher’s trade union reforms, regulate the food and drink industry to the hilt and put taxes through the roof. It offers a depressing view of Britain today, talking the country down as “divided and resentful”, dismisses capitalist liberal democracy as a “con”, calls Hayek a “liar” with “extreme views” who inspired Thatcher and her “successor” Trump, and claims Brexit is evidence of “the extreme right on the march”. According to the respected academic Chris Hanretty, Eagle’s Wallasley seat voted 53% to Leave…

The history of the last century comprehensively proved correct Hayek’s central assertion that socialism morphs into totalitarianism. He was proved right when the Keynesian post-war consensus collapsed and Thatcher used his ideas – “this is what we believe” – to turn the economy around. The New Serfdom is an unashamedly socialist critique of the last forty years of British political life, and so is as dangerous and wrong as you would expect. The key question for Eagle and Ahmed: if they truly believe in their socialist vision for Britain, why did they try to stop Corbyn becoming Prime Minister?

Adam Spliff Institute Celebrates 420

Today, April 20, is ‘Weed Day‘. A day celebrated by stoners around the world. The neo-liberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute is staying true to its libertarian ideals by taking a leaf out of Peter Hitchens’ mocking term for them and embracing the charge that they are the “Adam Spliff Institute”. Now we know how they think the unthinkable. It is a sunny day, why not head out after work this evening into your garden and celebrate the day in a haze of mind altering smoke…

Onward to PX2

Invitations are going out this week for the launch party of Onward, the new Tory think tank promising to come up with ‘retail’ policies to win back under-45 voters. Onward was the brainchild of Tory MP and former Osborne SpAd and Policy Exchange director Neil O’Brien, with Nick Faith, the former PX comms chief who now runs WPI Strategy with Sean Worth. So is it just Policy Exchange Mark II?

Onward’s main aim seems to be to bring the Cameroon and May brands of Tory party politics together. Last summer O’Brien and Faith organised a dinner at the home of Tory donor David Meller (don’t mention the President’s Club), who hosted Nick Timothy and JoJo Penn from May’s inner circle, top Cameroon Nick Boles (a former PX director) and a number of younger ambitious MPs. Onward’s director will be former May adviser Will Tanner, its chair is Osborne confidant Danny Finkelstein (former PX chairman), and its board members include former Cameron advisers Kate Rock and Kate Fall, ex-Osborne aide Eleanor Wolfson, and Craig Elder, who co-ran Cameron’s digital campaigns in 2015 and the referendum. Their main financial backer is Martyn Rose, who ran Cameron’s National Citizens Service.

The plan is to create a party-oriented think tank for MPs rather than wonks, which combines Timothy’s statist agenda with the more liberal politics of the Cameroons, and has both Remainers and Brexiters on board. They have signed up MPs from the left and centre-right of the party, from Ruth Davidson and Tom Tugendhat to Michael Gove and Kemi Badenoch. It will have some external authors but most of the reports will be written by MPs.

The danger for Onward is it goes down the road of expensive, interventionist, big-state policies which mean higher taxes, more spending and more borrowing – social democracy with a blue-wash. A May-Osborne fusion could mean more cumbersome policies like the energy price cap, HS2 and ever-creeping vice taxes. Guido also fears the instinctively more liberal, small-state, low tax MPs may fail to resist the temptation to drift leftwards as they seek wider support ahead of the next leadership contest. Number 10’s hopeless lack of a domestic agenda means the Tories are crying out for post-Brexit polices, or, perish the thought, policies that could actually be implemented while Brexit is taking place. They won’t beat Corbyn with lite versions of his policies…

Stella v Kate Andrews on Gender Pay

This Sky debate between Stella Creasy and the IEA’s Kate Andrews, and the ensuing Twitter spat, is quite something. Kate noted that conflating equal pay with the gender pay gap is problematic, and criticised the attempt to piggyback on the #MeToo campaign. Stella did not take it well, wrongly demanding Kate apologise for “misquoting” the ONS:

Kate responded, proving her own claims and debunking Stella’s:

With no meaningful comeback, Stella instead blocked Kate, going on to tweet that she had been “brainwashed” and, bizarrely, that Kate had mocked her disability (she hadn’t). As anyone who has ever interacted with Stella on Twitter knows, she really doesn’t like being proved wrong…

Wonk Watch: Ex-No.10 Aides Form New CPS Team

Wonk world transfer news: the think tank founded by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph, the Centre for Policy Studies, has unveiled a new team and policy programme this afternoon:

  • Alex Morton: ex-No.10 policy unit and Policy Exchange, he will oversee the new policy programme
  • Rachel Wolf: also former No.10 and founder of the New Schools Network, commissioned to work on welfare with her firm Public First
  • Rosie Lyburn: former SamCam aide is head of development
  • Tom Clougherty: ex-ASI and Cato, will be head of tax
  • Graham Edwards: Telereal Trillium property boss will lead work on housing
  • Emma Barr: joins from CCHQ press office as the new head of comms
  • Declan Pang: former IEA, now head of external engagement
  • John Ashmore is joining CapX from PoliticsHome as deputy editor

The plan is to make the case for free markets, ownership and control of people’s lives to a new generation…

Tories Show Signs of Life at Freer Launch

Liz Truss labelled Labour “humourless po-faced hat-wearing socialists” who would threaten freedom of speech as she launched the new Tory think tank Freer at the Conrad hotel last night. In a wide-ranging speech in which she told the story of rebelling against her socialist family as a child, Truss called for a “Tory revolution” led in industrial towns and port cities by a new generation of “Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom-fighters” she dubbed “Tories with attitude”. At a time when the government is dominated by the anti-libertarian, anti-free market, statist dogma of Theresa May and Nick Timothy, this was refreshing to hear. It certainly won’t do Liz any harm with the Tory grassroots…

The Freer bash exceeded expectations – MPs present seemed genuinely buoyed to see some actual signs of life in the Tory party. It piqued the interest of senior ministers including Michael Gove and Dom Raab and Brexit brain Shanker Singham. And unlike some other Tory “initiatives“, this appears to be a real thing that will back up the chat – Freer have committed eight MPs from the 2017 intake to publishing a paper a month for the next eight months. Pro-freedom domestic policies have been shunned by this government so it is encouraging that a new generation, the likes of Lee Rowley, Luke Graham, Rachel Maclean and Kemi Badenoch, make the case for individualism and a smaller state. Even if “Tories with attitude” comes with a slightly unfortunate abbreviation…

Shanker Shocker as Legatum’s Brexit Team Transfers to IEA

Shanker Singham has resigned from the Legatum Institute as Director of Economic Policy and is taking his three-strong team with him from Mayfair to Westminster to join the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). This is the wonk-land equivalent of Manchester City signing Manchester United’s top strikers…

Guido sources say Shanker resigned on Wednesday and the board of the IEA agreed to take him and his team pretty swiftly. The IEA is creating a new International Trade and Competition Unit for Shanker’s team, bringing with him lawyer Victoria Hewson; economist Catherine McBride; and research analyst Dr Radomir Tylecote. The three – who have a wealth of experience from the legal, technology, business and think tank worlds – will take up their roles later this month. Shanker’s team are widely recognised as the top Brexit wonks outside government.

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood tells Guido:

“I have huge admiration for the work Shanker and his team have done at the Legatum Institute. Under Philippa Stroud’s leadership, Legatum have gone from strength to strength, becoming thought leaders in crucial policy areas of which trade is only one. I look forward to continuing our strong relationship with them, and to Shanker and his team continuing their work at the IEA.”

Shanker Singham says: “We look forward to being a resource to all who need us in the trade, competition and regulatory policy space.” It is fair to say that the philanthropists who back Legatum were extremely uncomfortable with the critical political attention that the polarising Brexit work was bringing them and that this was distracting from their greater philanthropic endeavours on other issues.  At the IEA Shanker will be at liberty to engage with the Westminster debate and key players more directly…

IEA’s Kate Andrews Schools Alan Johnson and Anna Soubry on Swiss Health System

As Alan Johnson and Anna Soubry blindly defended the NHS despite being confronted with dire statistics on its health outcomes, Kate Andrews of the Institute of Economic Affairs made a compelling case for reform on This Week. Soubs and Johnson showing politicians see the NHS as a religion as they treated Kate’s sensible suggestions as heresy… 

McDonnell Accuses “Right-Wing” SMF of Making Up £90bn Water Nationalisation Cost

Remember when John McDonnell claimed that nationalising the water industry wouldn’t cost taxpayers a penny? Well, wonks at the Social Market Foundation disagree. Drawing on data from academic studies, Ofwat, the London Stock Exchange and the annual accounts of water companies, the SMF have found that nationalising the water industry’s assets would initially cost £90 billion, more than the current education budget and a 5% increase in government debt levels, plus another £100 billion over the next 25 years to meet their investment requirements. Acquiring them for less than the market price would cost more in the long term as investors flee fearing further nationalisations. Guido enjoyed McDonnell’s tetchy response to the report, accusing the centrist SMF of being “right-wing”, implying they fiddled the figures at the behest of the water industry and taking a pop at its director James Kirkup:

“This is a report by a right-wing think tank, led by the former political editor of the Telegraph, and commissioned on behalf of the water industry. Labour has been clear that as established by legal precedent it will be parliament that decides the price to compensate shareholders. With returns significantly higher than bond yields the taxpayer will be better off following the return of water to public ownership.”

Who you gonna believe?

Jeremy Heywood Openly Endorses Civil Service’s Political Campaigning

Over the last few days some of the supposedly ‘great and the good’ have been clasping their pearls and theatrically reaching for the smelling salts at the suggestion that civil servants might have some groupthink going on, and that the Treasury in particular might be politically suspect when it comes to forecasting. Former heads of the civil service Andrew Turnbull and Gus O’Donnell came over like pantomime dames at the impilication, comparing Brexiteers to Hitler and snake oil salesman.

What are the views of the most recent ex-head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake? Strangely he was silent this weekend, fortunately we have the benefit of being able to read his 44 page independent review published last year Rethinking the Treasury. It was produced by another heavyweight panel of ‘the great and the good’ – and it was scathing…

The theme of the report is that the Treasury tells Chancellors what they want to hear, suffering from an arrogant inward looking “groupthink“, tailoring forecasts and analysis accordingly. In a wide-ranging criticism of the Treasury’s macroeconomic forecasting, Kerslake notes that “The creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility reflected a conscious decision to outsource Treasury responsibility for forecasting…”. He warned of “the specific need to re-establish the department’s credibility in terms of the impartiality of its advice and hence the importance of its economic expertise in designing Brexit.” Something Brexiters in government don’t believe has happened.

Jeremy Heywood of course pretends the civil service is impartial and departmental research is objective analysis. He is pictured above at the Civil Service Awards, held after the Scottish Referendum, presenting his Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Award to the Treasury’s Scotland Analysis Programme Team. At the time of the referendum their analysis was bitterly contested by the SNP as politicised and heavily slanted. Something the civil service denied haughtily at the time in much the same way it is doing today with its Brexit forecasts. 

Celebrating after receiving the award team members spoke to Civil Service World Magazine. Mario Pisani, perhaps a little too in vino veritas said:

 “… we’re part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised makes me feel just incredibly proud.” 

Shannon Cochrane said:

“… it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult and you’re very close to the line of what is appropriate…”

Civil Service World is the trade press for civil servants, who are not famed for being candid in public. Very revealing – Heywood signalling that if you do get too close to, or even cross, the line in supporting his policy goals, he will be very pleased….

Charles Grant DID Say Treasury Pushing Government Towards Softer Brexit

The big row today is over whether the Centre for European Reform’s Charles Grant did or didn’t tell Steve Baker that the Treasury was deliberately trying to change Brexit policy and keep us in the customs union. Baker says he did. Grant says in a statement:

“I did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all non-customs union options were bad, with the intention to influence policy.”

Fair enough. But it turns out Grant did say the Treasury was trying to influence policy by forcing the government into a softer Brexit. Publicly, in July:

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform… revealed the existence of an unpublished Treasury analysis showing that the costs of leaving without a customs union deal far outweigh any benefits from future overseas trade deals.

“The coalition of forces pushing for a softer Brexit is considerable,” Grant said. “The Treasury, long an advocate of retaining close economic ties to the EU, is newly emboldened.”

Does anyone really think the Treasury doesn’t want a softer Brexit?

Mandelson’s Policy Network Being Wound Down

Policy Network, the organisation presided over by Peter Mandelson that he once claimed was “part of the alternative to Government”, is being wound down according to Chairman Lord Riddle. Policy Network received core funding from billionaire Lord Sainsbury and he is withdrawing funding from centrist Labour organisations. Progress similarly has had some post-Sainsbury difficulties.

The organisation’s Chairman Lord Riddle admits in a qualification to the accounts that

The company’s main donor has indicated that the year ending 31 December 2017 will be the final period that funding will be available. He has indicated that at the end of this period he is prepared to fund any reasonable costs associated with down scaling the company, including the cost of redundancies and the early settlement of property and other leases.

The ability of the company to continue as a going concern is dependent upon this final tranche of funding being secured. The Directors are currently assessing whether the company can continue on a scaled down basis without the support of the main funder and are confident that they will be able to do so. As a result the accounts have been prepared on a going concern basis.

Policy Network won’t be missed much. One Blairite tells Guido that they didn’t really do much beyond “What next for social democracy” events and pamphlets. A spokesman however claims they are “very confident that, working with partners and new supporters, its work will go on, taking forward the important agenda that Lord Sainsbury has so generously supported for so long.”  Policy Network was a Blairite’s redoubt, something that is no longer necessary now Blair has his own eponymous think-tank… 

The Sun’s Corbynista Columnist

Consider this left-wing nonsense:

“The Government should be prepared to redistribute more through the tax system: from the wealthy to working families with modest incomes. They should be prepared to increase taxes on accumulated wealth so they can cut taxes on income. They could raise more money through inheritance tax.”

In a country where the top-marginal rate of tax is 60%* is the pressing policy challenge a lack of redistribution and too low rates of taxation? After managing to keep a mere 40% of your justly earned income this wonk wants to increase the tax burden on your savings. If you then want to pass on your savings to your children he wants to tax the cash all over again…

Which left-wing Corbynista policy wonk is responsible for this nonsense? Nick Timothy, author of that Conservative Party manifesto and Theresa May’s former right-hand man for policy, proposed this in The Sun this morning. How he thinks social mobility will be increased by taxing people more heavily is not clear. Margaret Thatcher correctly identified that many of her opponents would “rather have the poor poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.”  Levelling down is the worst form of social mobility…

*According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance a salary of £110,000 will, including employers’ NI, see you on a marginal rate of 66.6%.

BBC Hypes Gloomy Brexit Report By EU-Funded Think Tank

The second main story on BBC News all day has been a report by an American think tank warning that “nearly all” the possible outcomes of Brexit will see the UK worse off than staying in the EU. Of course the Rand Corporation, which published the report, is funded by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Union Research Executive Agency. Not that the Beeb thought to mention that…

Guido has read the Rand report so you don’t have to. It is filled with flaws and biases – for example it says the Brexit bill will be up to €75 billion (fact check: it’s between £35-39 billion). The report looks at many types of supposed models for Brexit, but it bizarrely doesn’t assess the outcome of the UK signing trade deals with multiple countries, one of the main reasons for leaving: “We did not explore the… model in which the UK would complete FTAs with numerous countries”. This is the government’s plan, why is it not included in the study?

Then there is the model Rand say they have used to determine their figures – it is the same as the infamous Treasury model that wrongly predicted a calamitous aftermath of a Leave vote. Debunked…

The report admits that “research for this study was completed as of 15 September 2017”. Eh? Quite a lot has happened since September – not least talks moving onto phase 2 when just a few months ago Remainers said they were doomed. Maybe if the study was up to date they’d have got the Brexit bill right…

And remember how the Beeb noted that “nearly all” of the outcomes were dire? What their coverage didn’t mention today is Rand’s finding that if the UK agrees FTAs with both the EU and the US we would see double the amount of GDP growth than any one of the so-called soft Brexit scenarios. Odd that this finding was missing from the BBC’s own coverage…

UPDATE: And the Rand report finds almost no difference in terms of GDP impact between the EEA minus or CETA plus models.

No Deal Brexit + Slashing Tariffs = Reduced Prices

The top line of this morning’s Resolution Foundation report is that lower income households would be stung in the event of a No Deal Brexit should we revert to WTO tariffs. This is a false premise: in a No Deal scenario it is far more likely that the government would unilaterally cut or decline to impose tariffs. Ministers have repeatedly privately said they would propose a policy of unilateral tariff reduction – or even unilateral free trade with tariffs set at zero – in the event of No Deal. The Resolution Foundation looked at this scenario too and found that in a No Deal Brexit where the UK slashed tariffs household spending would be reduced by £130 a year. Look at all those cheaper prices above…

Of course this finding is nowhere to be found in the headlines of the Remainstream media, despite being the far more likely outcome in the event of No Deal. There you have it from a centrist think tank: No Deal means cheaper prices. Brexit is about breaking free into global markets, not putting up protectionist barriers to trade…

Freedom-Hating Obesity Charity: Ban Sugar

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum is addicted to banning. He wants to ban chocolate bars containing more than 250 calories, because he has decided that is a “quite sufficient snack for anybody“. A typical Mars bar contains 260 calories.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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