Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Conservatives

Minimum Alcohol Pricing – Today’s Headline-Chasing Silver Bullet

This morning I thought of a superb policy idea. Something that will eliminate speeding and deaths on the road. It will save the NHS billions and mean that the police can stop ‘doing traffic’ and go out and chase ‘real criminals’ … and it’s stunningly simple:

Introduce a minimum price for petrol and diesel.

I mean, the stuff’s so cheap at the moment, I really don’t know why anyone hasn’t thought of it before. Perhaps, if that’s too radical, they could slap a load of tax on fuel – that would probably work as well….

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Cameron Loses the Hilton Rudder

Steve Hilton, Downing Street’s policy ‘guru’ has left, fed up with the Whitehall machine and Europe to spend more time with his family.

The direction that Steve Hilton took the Conservative Party in was not to everyone’s taste, but at least he gave it one. Despite the capitulation to watermelon greenery, detoxification in principle was necessary, and Hilton’s euro-scepticism was credited, in part, as being a factor in Cameron’s quasi-veto back in December.

A couple of weeks ago, a conference of Conservative MPs heard from Andrew Cooper, the former pollster who is now at the heart of Number 10. His increasingly influential position is in contrast to Hilton’s; while all governments should have regard to public feeling, an increasingly prominent feature of the government in recent months has been an apparent heightened sensitivity to the headlines. Whether it’s the over-reaction to the Council prayer’s decision (which only served to open new divisions in the party) or the woolly response to the Heston bonus story, the pollsters influence on government business has been trumping whatever coherent policy direction that existed before – and that direction was pretty weak, diluted as it inevitably was y the politics of coalition and Cameron’s own antipathy to “-isms”.

Alas, with Hilton now taking his ball home with him the party’s rudder, erratic though it could seem sometimes, has finally disappeared. A government reacting to headlines and polls seems to have more in common with the last years of John Major’s. One could suggest New Labour as another comparator, but at least they had some grip on the media, rather than the other way around.

There is one consolation with this situation though – before now, Cameron’s government has been haunted not by the ghost of Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, but by Ted Heath’s – and that has nothing to do with Europe, rather the numbers of u-turns and compromises that destroy any confidence in the ability to govern.

Cameron is unlikely to be asking the electorate the question, without knowing the answer, ‘who governs Britain’. He’ll know the answer from the polls, we’ll know the answer is the polls.

How To Get The Right & Bob Crow on the Same Side #EU #PeoplesPledge

Tomorrow’s vote will change nothing and we will not get a referendum on our EU membership this side of 2016.

Well, that was stating the blinking obvious I admit; it’s a non-binding vote even if enough MPs had the principles and minerals to vote for it. The debate is significant though, as it will be the first time that there will be a serious debate on the principle of a referendum on our membership of the EU which will draw in the PM and Foreign Secretary.

It will also be a useful albeit small step on the road to a referendum and, hopefully, our exit from the EU (or, as Europhile referendum supporters like Keith Vaz would put it, ‘settle the issue once and for all’ in the hope of staying in). We will be able to name names and see just how sound our MPs are.

It will also enable us to carry out that exercise on MPs on both sides of the house. One refreshing aspect of yesterday’s ‘People’s Pledge’ event was the genuine cross party involvement (by which I don’t mean another session of UKIP vs. Tory back-biting) and for a rightie like me it was particularly enlightening to hear the case put from a left-wing perspective alongside those of my own political persuasion. Indeed, I didn’t stay for the Conservative panel’s session; if I wanted to hear right-wingers banging on about Europe I could just talk to myself go to a Bruges Group meeting.

It takes some doing to get the likes of the RMT (one of the anti-EU unions) and Dan Hannan to agree, but the arrogance of Cameron and Miliband have achieved it. Ed Miliband might be siding with David Cameron in calling the pro-referendum campaigners ‘barking’, but he should remember that Britain is a nation of dog lovers. His own party membership’s views on a referendum are close to the Conservatives with over half supporting it.

Frankly the news I found most disconcerting in recent months was not Cameron’s three line whip on tomorrow’s vote (sadly I was unsurprised by such Heathite behaviour), but Ed Miliband’s ruling out a referendum being in the next Labour manifesto – I suspect that, given Cameron’s self-survival instinct, such a pledge could tip the balance and force the Conservatives to match Ed’s bid or risk serious in-fighting 1992-style. Of course, given that Labour’s half-baked promise ‘to increase tuition fees but just not by as much as those nasty Tories’ was openly admitted to be unlikely to survive until 2015, there may still be some cause for hope.

For once only I shall say, “more power to Bob Crow’s elbow!”

How the Council Tax Freeze Could Become to a Quick Thaw

Among the (intentional) headline-grabbers at last week’s Conservative Party Conference was the underwhelming news of the council tax freeze being extended for a second year; news that had been known to local councillors and council officers for some months already.

Puddle

Council tax freeze ... and for next year?

However, it now seems that all was not quite what it seemed, and that the announcement is indeed a surprise to local government, and not in a good way.

The nasty surprise was tucked away, as they so often are, in the smallprint, in the notes at the bottom of the Treasury’s media release.

If an authority sets its basic amount of council tax (i.e. its Band D council tax) in 2012-13 at a level which is no more than its basic amount of council tax in 2011-12, it will receive a one-off grant equivalent to a 2.5 per cent increase.

Did you spot it? “One-off grant” – words so inoccuous they passed by deadline-watching journos.

“So what?”, you may ask. It means, quite simply, that the residents of any council taking advantage of the extra money to freeze their council tax could be facing a stinging double hike in the tax in 2013. Let me explain….

This current year’s freeze was funded by money that was given as an increase in the annual (recurring) grant to councils. This makes sense, since council tax is a recurring annual revenue stream. It would be like someone saying they’ll protect you from next year’s increase in your fuel bills by paying you an ongoing regular annual income equivalent to the increase in next year’s costs.

Now suppose someone made that same promise, but to do it they would give you a pile of cash equal to the extra costs next year, but that was it. For that next year, all would be well. The following year, though, you would still face not only the higher prices from the year just gone (which had been offset by that pile of cash), but also the following year’s increase. While you have been protected from the increase in year one, you now face a double whammy because the gift only lasted for that one year. All that it has done is put off the inevitable, so now you have to pay for both increases at the same time.

And so it has turned out to be with the money for the second year’s council tax freeze. Like this year, it will be paid to councils bringing their budgeted increases to 2.5% or less, but if they want to avoid the ‘bounce-back’ in council tax next year, they actually will have to cut their budgets to a 0% increase anyway, before getting the grant.

As a proponent of low taxation, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. However, Osborne and Pickles are playing the same media game as Labour by suggesting that the freeze has been extended for another year when, in fact, all that is being offered to councils is a reward grant for keeping the tax down, by their own devices, for a second year running.

Perhaps more damning, it is the sort of faux-localism which was so beloved of Labour, complete with the moral blackmail of raising the public’s expectations.

I’ve nothing against tax cuts – one form of fiscal stimulus that actually works – put please, Eric Pickles, call a spade a spade; it’s what northerners are meant to be renowned for isn’t it?

Conference Goes To The Dogs

By way of a belated and brief conference round-up I must suggest that the Award for Speaking Truth Unto Lobbyists must go to James Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, telling the RSPCA fringe that dog licences would not be the answer to abuses such as dog fighting – and he is right.

Introducing a licensing system to help police illegal activity relies on those conducting the illegal activities going out of their way to … errm … comply with the law. More often, therefore, it is the law-abiding who inadvertently fall foul of the rules who are caught first, not the real targets – something that James Paice pointed out.

Nevertheless, despite pinning his colours to the mast just after the preceding RSPCA speaker had elicited a cheer for stating the Society’s support for the licences, he made it out without too much trauma, which is more than might be said for anyone who wolfed* down the vegetable curry too quick – that was a recipe to sort out the men from the boys.

* See what I did there?

Red Ed and William Hague: A Genuine Question

William Hague, MP

Hague: Been there, done that?

As I know very little about internal Labour Party politics (except what I pick up from the media, whose knowledge in many cases is of about the same level), I have a genuine question.

Paul Waugh apparently heard an Ed Balls supporter saying of Red Ed “He’s pretty rubbish..But at least we got one over those Blairite b*******”.

Now bearing in mind that the string of Conservative leadership contests from 1997-2004 were essentially ‘Stop Ken Clarke‘ affairs – and for ‘Ken Clarke’ read ‘Blairite’ in the Labour context – how much is there in common between Ed Miliband‘s rise to prominence and William Hague‘s?

Consider:

  • Both were completely unknown to the general, non-political, public
  • Both came in after bruising electoral defeats for their parties
  • Both have the job of addressing, and maybe fixing, some aspects of their parties’ internal machinery, and
  • Both face a certain degree of play-ground standard ridicule (though I do believe that ‘Red Ed’ is a perfectly valid epithet given the trade unionist influence over his election).

Red Ed’s election may herald a lurch to the Left for Labour, just as Hague, IDS and Howard were seen to anchor the Conservatives on the Right (simplistic summaries I know, but I think that was the wider perception, accurate or not).

Just a thought.

Fearing the Worst – Giving Polly a Good Fisking

Polly Toynbee speaks at the October 2005 Labou...

Polly Toynbee, with her mouth in gear

Polly Toynbee was churning out incoherent ramblings again last week. Unlike mine, though, she gets paid for hers. As Guido suggests, perhaps she’s got financial worries on her mind, like so many in the real world beyond the Grauniad offices. (Was it coincidence that this came out hours after her husband was told he’d be out of a job?)

Where Cameron and Osborne have been most successful is in frightening people … However, fear can be useful politically. Cameron’s government has skilfully created a hate campaign directed at the public sector. The release by Eric Pickles this week of all the spending data from his department and its quangos was admirable openness – but mainly a crafty assault on everything spent by public servants. Anecdotes work. People are easily persuaded that the handful of civil servants paid more than the prime minister are typical and that Indian head massages are the norm.

Yes, Polly, anecdotes can be powerful things, which must explain why, having piously cited David Cameron’s efforts, you serve up this:

… the public sector can be lax, but where is a comparison with lavish corporate hospitality at Wimbledon, Twickenham or the grand prix all paid for from peoples’ pension funds? A public employees’ £539 group awayday to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is less than the champagne bill for a public company’s beano at the races.

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So What Is A “Social Mobility Czar”?

Does he sell electric buggies until he upsets some lefties and gets taken down to a basement and shot?

Fortunately, as far as I can see, the “Czar” (or should I say “Tsar”) label is an invention of parts the media; Alan Milburn is to be an unpaid adviser to the coalition.

For the record, I’ve nothing against a wish to enhance social mobility and it would be rather cynical of me to suggest that his appointment, far from upsetting lefties, may have the effect of appeasing the left of the Lib Dems.

Now let’s see what he comes up with.

They’re All Tories Now

Right then, cards on the table: I would rather we had done a supply and confidence deal. I’d rather we’d had a Commons majority, of course, but I’m not in charge, so we’re stuck with it and will have to deal with it.

Now that the details of the agreement between my party and the LibDems are emerging, it is becoming clear that we could well be in day two of the long slow death of the Lib Dems as we know them. Those that will be sitting with the Conservatives in the cabinet room are  by and large the Orange Bookers on the right of the party, who tend to align themselves (I think, albeit it in the vague and flexible way that we’ve come to expect) with the classically liberal/libertarian tendency.

We will see a stop to ID cards and, as Harry Phibbs points out, genuine moves towards localism seem inevitable – and this local councillor is quite happy with that, though I will wait to see if the LibDem “fair votes” push reaches as far as the Town Halls before adding a third cheer to that.

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Well, Here We Are. Now What?

It’s odd to be watching the first Conservative Prime Minister to take office after a Labour incumbent since 1979. It’s even odder not to know what the programme of the new government is going to be – such is the fallout of the horse-trading that follows a hung parliament.

Anyway, I’m appreciating the moment, and giving it all a “woo” if not adding a “hoo” just yet and am celebrating with a nice cup of tea.

Newly Appointed Prime Minister David Cameron and HM The Queen