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…

£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…

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… 

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?

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…

CPS Refresh Sees Leadership Change

Tim Knox, one of the nicest guys in Westminster, is moving on from the think-tank founded by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph, the Centre for Policy Studies:

“After over 20 years at the CPS, it is time to seek new challenges and opportunities. I am so grateful to the many colleagues, authors, supporters and board members of the CPS whose efforts on my behalf have been extraordinary.”

Robert Colvile, formerly of The Telegraph who took over the CPS backed CapX (after a brief stint at Buzzfeed), is coming in as acting director. He wants to make the case for free markets to a new generation…

Policy Exchange Pinch SpAd to Head Relaunch

Guido hears Gavin Williamson’s SpAd Rupert Oldham-Reid is departing to become Policy Exchange’s new director of research and strategy. PX is relaunching its domestic policy work after spending the last couple of years focusing on extremism, counter-terrorism and foreign policy. Oldham-Reid has been with the Chief Whip for the past year, before which he was a wonk at the Charity Commission and Centre for Social Justice. There is obviously a policy vacuum on the centre-right at the moment, it has often been said that Theresa May doesn’t have a think tank and the ideas currently exciting voters are coming from the left. Polling today revealing widespread public support for mass nationalisation shows the work that needs to be done. PX is talking up its relationship with Theresa May, whether she is bold enough to embrace new vote-winning policies is another question…

Wonks: Prioritise HS3 Over HS2

George Osborne is advocating a new high speed rail line (dubbed ‘HS3’) for the North of England, running from Liverpool to Hull. But it’s much more than another pressure tactic designed to trouble Number 10. The plan itself has some merit…

Everyone agrees infrastructure investment is badly needed if the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ regeneration is to succeed. At the high end, estimates for HS3 construction reach £7 billion, but this pales in comparison to the spiralling costs of HS2, projected at £56 billion (a figure which experience shows underestimates the likely final costs). The comparative benefits of HS3 are significant. The line would slash freight transport on crucial industrial routes by between as much as four and seven hours, and would cut a journey from Leeds to Manchester to just 30 minutes; HS2 saves time but not as much. Wonks at the Institute for Public Policy Research found that HS3 would boost economic growth and should be prioritised over HS2. Seems like they should build HS3 first…

Wonks Pan Mayism: Job Losses, Higher Inflation, Living Beyond Our Means

Red Theresa’s manifesto means job losses, higher inflation and Britain living beyond its means for a quarter of a century, say the experts:

Institute of Economic Affairs:It’s concerning that we may be seeing the advent of a Conservative Party which fails to understand that economic and social problems are more likely to be eased by free market solutions than by increased state intervention, however well-intentioned… An increased burden of regulation and further government interference in price and wage setting will raise costs, undermine competition and reduce labour market flexibility, resulting in job losses and higher inflation. The delayed timetable for eliminating the budget deficit suggests that the Conservatives’ commitment to fiscal discipline is continuing to weaken.”

Centre For Policy Studies: “According to the Conservative Party’s fiscal target reported in the press today, the UK is set to reach a budget surplus by 2025-26. This will mean that the UK has lived beyond its means for a quarter of a century… this fiscal target is disappointing. It should be seen as a ‘worst case’ scenario. The next government must aim to achieve a budget surplus at an earlier date.”

Confederation of British Industry: “The Conservative manifesto has an Achilles heel – in a global race for talent and innovation UK firms risk being left in the starting blocks because of a blunt approach to immigration.”

Institute of Directors: “Businesses will worry that interventions will disrupt the normal flow of commerce… interventions in the labour market must be handled delicately, with trade-offs for businesses. Any new employment regulations must be consulted on in depth to ensure that they do not have unintended consequences. The manifesto states that the Party does not believe in ‘untrammelled free markets’, but they must also recognise that governments have limitations.”

Privately Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers know it, too…

May’s Energy Price Controls Savaged By Experts and Her Own Cabinet

Theresa May’s interventionist energy price cap has whacked share prices this morning: Centrica is trading at the lowest level for 15 months. The wonk world is savaging the policy:

Adam Smith Institute: “Freezing energy prices was a very bad idea when Ed Miliband proposed it. Yet two years after the electorate rejected it Theresa May is putting forward the same idea and rebranding it a ‘cap’. The facts on the ground haven’t changed, yet just like workers on boards and the living wage, Red Ed’s Zombie Policies are on the march.”

Institute of Economic Affairs:Introducing a cap on household energy prices would be a clumsy and counterproductive government intervention that could have an adverse effect on the energy market. A cap would likely backfire with companies finding some way around them: either by pushing prices higher now in anticipation of the cap or by increasing their lower prices to offset the cap at the top”

Centre for Policy Studies: “The claim that an energy price cap will save households £100 a year is by no means a guarantee. In fact, an intervention of this kind could be detrimental to competition in the market, meaning that this reform could end up doing more harm than good.”

Taxpayers’ Alliance: “Crude diktats such as this suggest that the government simply doesn’t understand the consequences of these ill-thought-out policies.”

Social Market Foundation: “Energy companies will inevitably recoup the costs of this cap elsewhere, which may mean higher prices for people who have shopped around and switched tariff to get themselves a better deal.”

CBI: “A major market intervention, such as a price cap, could lead to unintended consequences, for example dampening consumers’ desire to find the best deal on the market and hitting investor confidence.”

Market analysts RBC Europe: “This decision by May is clearly as much a political as it is an economic one. This intervention could create a worse deal for customers on average.”

Here were members of Theresa May’s Cabinet attacking Ed Miliband’s price cap in 2015:

Michael Fallon: “We have not seen intervention in industry on a scale like this since the 1970s when they tried to control the price of bread.”

Boris Johnson: “Miliband says he will imitate the catastrophic policies of the emperor Diocletian, by imposing a price freeze on energy bills for the 20 months succeeding the election.”

Don’t buy the Tory spin, this is the same sort of market intervention that caused the Tories to claim PM Miliband would lead Britain into a Venezuelan dystopia… 

New Free Schools Raise Local House Prices

The Centre for Policy Studies has a new report out today about How to Overcome Selection by House Price which deals with the issue raised nearly 20 years ago by the then Labour Education Minister Andrew Adonis: “Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price”. Good state schools are in middle-class areas with high house prices.

Which is why Michael Gove was determined to put free schools, which on average have higher standards, in the most deprived areas. Free schools are deliberately ten times more likely to be in poorer areas.

This has had an interesting side-effect according to a New Schools Network report: the average house price rise since 2011 in areas where a free school has opened is 73% more than in areas where there are no free schools. Guido suggests that highlighting this point might help overcome opposition to free schools more than any arguments about standards and social mobility…

Wonks Slam Hammond’s White Van Man Bashing Budget

Philip Hammond’s brutal Budget attack on Britain’s army of hardworking self-employed is going down like a cup of cold sick in the wonk world.

Centre for Policy Studies:

“Changes around national insurance and the tax-free dividend allowance will have an impact on UK competitiveness.”

Institute of Economic Affairs:

“It is right that the self-employed and employed should pay similar National Insurance Contributions – the Government should not set tax rates that artificially favour one form of employment over another. However, it would have been better to level the playing field by cutting NICs for the employed rather than raising those for self-employed. NICs are a tax on jobs and wages and reducing their burden would help many lower-income households.”

Taxpayers’ Alliance:

This should be done by cutting rates rather than hiking taxes on entrepreneurs.”

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed:

“If you are one of the hardworking self-employed people who face a significant increase on your tax bill, you might feel that the Chancellor has it in for you. When you look at the additional support offered for business rates it appears as if the Chancellor is supporting SMEs by hitting entrepreneurs and the smallest of businesses.

“Adding in the reduction in Dividend Tax allowance, whether you work as a sole trader or through limited company you will be facing higher bills. The Chancellor shouldn’t forget that growth in self-employment has driven our labour market in recent years and punitive rises in tax will make many people have second thoughts about striking out on their own.”

Centre for Economics and Business Research:

“People who work for themselves and who set up and run companies should be encouraged. Instead the Chancellor has singled this group out for a £1,425m tax hike on the misleading ground that they pay less tax, ignoring the risks they take. Disdain to this group is a typical Treasury attitude. Many of the self employed are IT consultants and are especially critical to the economy.”

Institute of Directors:

“The ‘nothing to see here’ approach adopted by the Chancellor will only fly for so long. The Chancellor’s jokes may have been funnier than anybody expected, but it’ll be business leaders’ resilience that’ll be needed to ensure we’re still smiling in November.”

And just wait until you see tomorrow’s papers…

CPS Corporation Tax Report Reveals Labour Black Hole

This morning’s Centre for Policy Studies report will be worth noting when Corbyn responds to the Budget later. Their new research out today finds that reducing corporation tax from 28% to 20% has helped increase growth and profitability leading to a rise in receipts by 28% since 2011.[…] Read the rest

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Quote of the Day

Dominic Cummings tells Damian Collins:

“You talk of ‘contempt of Parliament’. You seem unaware that most of the country feels contempt for Parliament and this contempt is growing.”

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