Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Birmingham Conference Diary - George Osborne's speech in full

"Gathered here in this hall are the representatives of Britain’s great Party of Progress.

The Party of enterprise and discovery, of liberty and the law, of the wide open seas and global free trade.

And we meet to lay out our case before the nation and to ask it to choose the future not the past.

In Broad Street, just around the corner from this conference, stands the statue of the Golden Boys.

The three great British pioneers: Matthew Boulton, William Murdoch, and James Watt,

are studying intently their plans for the new steam engine.

It’s an image that captures a golden age for our country, when the spirit of invention was alive and the marriage of business and science made everything possible.

A time when we faced the future with confidence, and weren’t afraid of the big answers to the big questions.

I want us to be that Britain.

Let’s raise the ambition of the nation so that everyone has the chance to succeed.

I believe it is perfectly possible for Britain to be the most prosperous major country on earth. The most prosperous, the most dynamic, the most creative.

But only if we, in our generation, provide the big answers to the big questions.

Only if we choose the future not the past.

For anyone who doubts this is possible, just think about what we’ve done together these last four years.

Four years ago, our economy was in crisis, our country was on the floor.

But we did what we Britons do best when we’re being counted out.

We picked ourselves up, we sorted ourselves out and got back in the fight.

We set out our long term economic plan and worked through it.

And then two years ago in this very hall - when the clamour of our opponents was loudest and they insisted we should abandon that plan - we held our nerve and recommitted ourselves to the course we had set.

Today I can report this to you: Britain is the fastest growing, most job creating, most deficit reducing of any major advanced economy on earth.

Britain, we did this together.

We made a choice to leave behind a past of spending beyond our means, a past of borrowing from our children.

We chose the future not the past.

We’ve come this far.

 * The deficit falling.

 * Investment rising.

 * Record numbers of new firms.

 * Business growth faster in the north than anywhere else.

 * Long term unemployment down.

 * Youth unemployment down.

 * The fastest fall in unemployment on record.

 * Almost 2 million new jobs. Our long term economic plan is working.

These are the statistics. Behind each number is a person – in fact millions of people – who because of what we’ve done together now have a job.

Who because of what we’ve done together now run their own business.

Who because of what we’ve done together are providing for themselves and their families.

And everyone in this hall should be proud of that.

But let me tell you: I don’t stand here marvelling at how much we have done;

On the contrary I’m humbled by how much more we have to do.

The debts that need reducing.

The small businesses that need supporting.

The jobless who need employing.

The infrastructure that needs building.

The better future for Britain that needs securing.

We here resolve: we will finish the job we have started.

We know that beyond the confines of all these party conferences, Britain still faces huge economic risks.

At home, though we’ve brought it down, there remains a large budget deficit and our national debt is dangerously high.

Abroad, our biggest markets in the Eurozone are not growing.

Anyone who thinks Britain can ease up should look across the Channel – look to the countries who thought they were out of crisis, eased up and so now risk returning to crisis.

And then there is the wider world beyond.

The borders with Russia are aflame;

A terrible virus is sweeping through West Africa;

And we’re engaged in a generational struggle against barbaric Islamist extremism.

Our armed forces are once again risking their lives to protect our freedom. Let us together salute their courage.

Any and all of these events have an impact, not just on our national security but on our economic security.

These are big questions – but they’re not the only ones we face.

We are also living through an economic upheaval as big as the Industrial Revolution – every single day new technologies, and new companies, and new economies are fundamentally shaking up the established way of doing things.

It’s extraordinarily exciting, and we as Conservatives applaud the power it places in the hands of citizens.

It’s never been easier for thousands to start their own business in Britain, and reach the whole world.

But a single app can appear overnight and disrupt an entire industry.

It can be exciting – yes – but unsettling too.

For this technology brings intense competition that spells rapid decline for any sector, or any country, that fails to keep up.

These are big questions that require big answers.

And it is our job to provide them – and the next Conservative Government will.

That is what this party has always done – apply our values and ideas to the challenges of the age and march this country towards progress, and that is what we will do again.

Labour can’t do that.

Did you see that speech last week?

Ed Miliband made a pitch for office that was so forgettable that he forgot it himself.

But I have to tell you, in all seriousness, that forgetting to talk about the deficit is not just some hapless mistake of an accident prone politician.

It is completely and totally a disqualification for the high office he seeks.

The economy may mean nothing to Labour – but it means everything to the people of Britain.

It means our security, and whether we pay our bills and provide for our families – and have rewarding jobs and enjoy decent retirements.

And you know what?

There is a fashionable claim made these days – a claim that the link between the prosperity of the national economy, and the prosperity of the people who live in that economy has been broken.

I want to take that head on because it is a dangerous fallacy.

Ask the millions of people who lost their jobs, whose incomes were cut, whose aspirations were destroyed by the Great Recession;

Ask them whether they think the link between their lives and the life of the economy is broken – and they will tell you from bitter experience that it is not.

Ask the people who have bought a home because we have created the conditions for builders to build, and they will say: yes, it’s the economy that builds houses.

And ask the millions each day who rely on our NHS too.

Last week you heard promises that were built on sand.

Let’s be clear.

You cannot have a properly funded National Health Service unless you have a properly run economy.

Put another way: it’s only because we were willing to take difficult decisions on spending in other departments that we are able to increase the NHS budget every year of this Parliament.

So don’t let anyone in this Party concede the NHS to Labour.

They would ruin our NHS.

The real party of the NHS is in this hall today.
The idea that you can raise living standards or fund the brilliant NHS we want, or provide for our national security without a plan to fix the economy is a nonsense.

It’s the economy that creates jobs.

It’s the economy that pays for hospitals.

It’s the economy that puts food on the table.

And we’re the only Party in Britain with a plan to fix the economy.

That is the leadership we have offered the country these five years in office – and that is the leadership we should offer for the next five years.

True leadership.

Leadership that is working.

The leadership offered by our Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Leadership means making choices.

And Britain faces some big choices.

Choices about whether we’re going to live within our means, or let rising debts threaten our economy again.

Choices about whether we’re going to win business and investment, or drive it away.

Choices about whether we’re going to tackle youth unemployment, and poor standards in our schools, or let down a generation.

Choices about building the infrastructure our future economy needs, or letting it decay.

Choices about whether we are going to trust hardworking taxpayers to make their own decisions about their lives and their communities, or take control away from them.

The past or the future

That is the choice Britain faces.

And we in this hall have no doubts. We will choose the future.

We face some immediate choices about protecting Britain’s hard-won economic stability

Earlier this morning we heard from Paul Bunyan.

He gave us a powerful testimony of what economic security looks like in real life, and what happens when you lose it.

He knows because seven years ago he was working in a branch of Northern Rock in Newcastle.

He watched the queues of people desperate to withdraw their savings before the bank collapsed.

He saw Britain on the brink and he says we must never go back. And so do we.

Economic security is at the core of what we Conservatives offer.

The security of knowing that our banks are safe - so the next Conservative Government will ring-fence high street branches from the riskier city trading floors.

The security of making sure our housing market doesn’t bring down our financial system.

So I am giving the Bank of England extra powers to curb property booms and stop mortgages being given to people who cannot afford to repay them.

We also need the security of knowing that Britain can pay its way.

The budget deficit is approaching half what it was when we came to office, but it is still far too high.

So we will see through our plan to eliminate it.

And then to ensure our country is never in this position again, we must run surpluses in the good years.

And when I say surpluses, I mean the government raising more than it spends.

Labour claim they will balance the books. But independent experts tell you the truth: their plans would mean they would borrow £28 billion more each year.

Running an overall surplus is the only sure way of getting our dangerously high national debt down.

Let the message go out from this conference:

After what they put this country through.

We will fix the roof when the sun is shining.

And that presents me with a choice – indeed, it presents all politicians with a choice.

We can either pretend to the British people before the election that this can be done with hardly any cuts. That’s what we saw last week.

Or we can level with people now, and tell them the kind of difficult decisions that are still required to fix the economy.

I’ve done this job for almost five years.

And I can tell you, it’s only because we’ve levelled with people that we’ve been able to bring them with us on the journey our country has had to take.

Here are the facts.

The latest Treasury estimate is that eliminating the deficit requires a further £25 billion of permanent public expenditure savings or new taxes.

And I tell you in all candour, that the option of taxing your way out of a deficit no longer exists, if it ever did.

In a modern global economy where people can move their investment from one country to another at the touch of a button – and companies can relocate jobs overnight – the economics of high taxation are the economics of the past.

And we choose the future.

The problem for a modern country like Britain is not that it taxes too little – it is that it spends too much.

The proposals Labour present to the country for higher taxes on income, taxes on business, taxes on savings, on investments, on finance, on pensions, homes and on jobs, would be an economic disaster for every person in the United Kingdom.

And by the way, when Scotland is rightly given greater control over its taxes, I suspect the people of Scotland will choose to put them down not up.

Let me be clear: we will honour in full our commitments to Scotland.

And we are also absolutely clear that, as Scots get more control over their taxes, it is right that Northern Ireland, Wales and England should get more control over their taxes and their laws too.

Now I’m not going to pretend that finding £25 billion of spending savings will be easy; but nor is it impossible.

We have already found £100 billion of savings in this Parliament, so we have the track record to show it can be done if you have discipline and grip.

In every election I have fought, Conservatives have argued you can have better public services without borrowing and spending more.

That it’s about making government more efficient and effective.

And Labour have argued you cannot.

I believe that the record of this Government has settled this argument for good.

Labour were wrong.

And we were right.

Theresa May has reduced the Home Office budget by almost 20%, but crime is down.

Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have cut the Education Department bureaucracy in half, but school standards are up.

And please join me in thanking our outstanding Conservative Treasury team who are helping achieve this:

David Gauke

Andrea Leadsom

Priti Patel

Paul Deighton

And my brilliant PPS Rob Halfon.

So, to eliminate the deficit and finish the job, we will reduce Whitehall spending by at least the same rate for the first two years of the next Parliament as we have done through this Parliament.

That will save at least £13 billion.

We will go on restraining public sector pay.

And there will have to be less welfare spending too.

Welfare makes up a third of the entire government budget.

We are going to live in a country where the elderly have dignity in retirement and the vulnerable and people with disabilities are protected.

But we can’t afford to live in one where we spend £100 billion on welfare payments for people of working age.

£100 billion.

When we have such debts?

Even with the reforming decisions that Iain Duncan Smith and I have taken, benefits have risen more than earnings since Labour’s Great Recession.

That is not sustainable for any nation.

And it’s not fair either.

So I can tell you this today.

Working age benefits in Britain will have to be frozen for two years.

This is the choice Britain needs to take to protect our economic stability and to secure a better future.

The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than the wages of the taxpayers who are paying for them.

For we will provide a welfare system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too.

This freeze in working age benefits saves the country over £3bn. It is a serious contribution to reducing the deficit.

Pensioner benefits and disability benefits will be excluded.

And to those in work I say this: where is the sense in taxing you more, only for you to be given some of your own money back in welfare.

The best way to support peoples’ incomes is to make sure those out of work get a job and those in work pay less tax.

That is why I am the Chancellor in Budget after Budget who is increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,500, meaning working people on low and middle incomes keep up to £800 more of their hard earned money.

It’s why we have cut taxes for savers, for homeowners, for small businesses, the self-employed, cut taxes for everyone who pays their council tax or fills up their car.

And that is why we have cut jobs taxes and increased work incentives, and as a result there are almost two million more in work. That is the choice we have made.

The good news is youth unemployment has fallen sharply.

The sad news is there are still too many young people who have fallen into a culture of welfare dependency and a life on the dole.

It’s a scar on our society. It’s a tragic waste of human talent. And we can end it in the next Parliament.

So let this Party of Progress make another choice.

Let’s abolish long term youth unemployment altogether.

So here’s how we’ll do it.

We’ll replace Job Seekers Allowance.

Reform housing benefit.

And take the benefit cap we’ve introduced down to £23,000 – because families out of work should not get more than the average family in work.

And all of these savings will be used to fund three million new Apprenticeships.

Three million more chances for a better life.

So we help our citizens get jobs instead of more immigration from abroad.

We have a choice between paying our young people for a life on the dole, or giving them the keys to a life of opportunity.

Be in no doubt which side this party is on: we choose their future.

So this country must pay its debts, drive down its deficit, pull down its taxes, and pull up its young people.

And it must be the place where business invests and businesses thrive.

It’s not by accident that more than two million private sector jobs have been created under this Government.

It is the deliberate policy of this government to support job creators.

And yet for the first time in my adult life we have a Labour Party that is positively anti-business.

It came through in every sentence Ed Miliband remembered – the bit we wished he’d forgotten.

By the General Election we will have delivered on the promise I made to you in my first speech as Chancellor, here in Birmingham.

Britain will have the lowest, most competitive business taxes of any large country in the world.

Unbelievably, Labour want to reverse this.

This is their policy: to be firm against firms. Their business to be against business.

As if they’d forgotten that people work in businesses and their wages come from firms.

We instead are proud to be the Party of firms and of businesses and of peoples’ incomes and peoples’ jobs and peoples’ livelihoods.

For when we choose to be on the side of enterprise we are choosing to be on the side of the British people.

This Party of Progress is the Party of free markets and of fair markets too.

How dare the Labour Party attempt to give lessons on fairness.

Hang on a minute.

Who’s the Party restoring the real value of the minimum wage?

Who is the Party tackling abuse of zero hours contracts?

Who is the Party capping pay day loans?

Not 13 years of Labour

They were too busy capping each other.

It is us, the Conservative Party, who understand markets must be fair if they are to be free.

And it is this pro-business Conservative Chancellor who says to some of the biggest technology companies in the world, this today:

You are welcome here in Britain with open arms.

You have the advantages of:

Our skilled population to work for you;

Broadband connections to deliver your services;

And our NHS to keep your employees healthy.

Advantages that have to be paid for.

So while we offer some of the lowest business taxes in the world, we expect those taxes to be paid - not avoided.

Some technology companies go to extraordinary lengths to pay little or no tax here.

If you abuse our tax system, you abuse the trust of the British people.

And my message to those companies is clear:

We will put a stop to it.

Low taxes, but low taxes that are paid.

Part of our effort to reduce our deficit.

For our choice is that we are all in this together.

It was this government that started the global work on changing international tax rules.

This autumn we will lead the world in implementing those changes here in Britain.

The future for Britain is to be a low tax country where people play by the rules.

The future for Britain is to be a pro-business country.

And we also have to build for that future.

Big decisions on infrastructure have always been controversial and always will be.

The railways were bitterly opposed in the nineteenth century.

The motorways were opposed in the twentieth century.

Let’s face it, even today this country has spent forty years failing to take a decision about building a new runway in the South East of England.

There are always one hundred reasons to stick with the past, but we need to choose the future.

We should ask ourselves what the Golden Boys in that statue outside would have done.

What choice would those Great Britons have made?

Would they have said, our trains may be packed, our roads congested, our transport system can’t cope, but we won’t build any more roads or new railways?

No they would not.

Would they have said, yes we mined for coal deep underground, and explored for oil beneath our seas, but we should leave the extraordinary shale gas reserves untouched beneath our feet?

No they would not.

Would they have said that the country that built the first civil nuclear power station should not build any more?

No they would not.

Would they have said its ok if our children can’t afford houses so long as we have them?

No they would not.

And would the Golden Boys who were part of an age of enlightenment that discovered the vaccine for smallpox have said:

We’re not going to have any research into those genetic medicines and crops that will save countless lives in the future?

No they would not.

We must choose the future.

We will tap the shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables, and guarantee our energy for the future.

We will build the high speed rail, decide where to put a runway and support the next generation with starter homes in a permanent Help to Buy.

We must learn from the past, not be the past.

Decide or decline.

That is the choice.

We must choose the future.

And this future can’t just be about prosperity for one corner of our country.

I grew up in London, and I am full of wonder at the way it has become a global capital, attracting the young, the talented and the ambitious from across the world.

That is a huge strength for the whole of Britain.

But I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.

It is not healthy for our country or our economy.

The answer is not to pull down and hold back our greatest global asset – that would be crazy.

The answer is to build up the rest of our country.

To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.

To connect up the South West.

And to put the Midlands at the centre of our great manufacturing revival.

People know that the disparities between different parts of our country have grown up over many decades under Governments of all colours.

Let’s treat people as adults and not pretend we can reverse something like this overnight.

But equally, let’s not give up and say it can’t be done.

Look what Michael Heseltine achieved in the docks of Liverpool and London.

This Party of Progress knows what it takes to create flourishing economies.

Successful businesses.

Modern high speed transport.

Big science investments.

Top universities, and the strong leadership that comes with powerful elected mayors.

Those are the ingredients of a Northern Powerhouse.

That is how we deliver prosperity and security for families across the nation.

And it is one of my driving missions to do everything I can to build it.

Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.

There is one final choice we should make.

A choice this Party of progress always makes.

And that is to trust people with their own money.

That’s why in my Budget this year I applied that philosophy with far-reaching new freedoms in the way people can access their pensions.

These freedoms are based on the simple idea that people know better how to spend their own money than governments do.

This Party that gave people the right to buy their own home – is the Party that is now giving people ownership of their own pension too.

But I want to go further.

There are still rules that say you can’t pass on to the next generation any of your pension pot when you die, without paying a punitive 55% of it in tax.

I could choose to cut this tax rate.

Instead, I choose to abolish it altogether.

People who have worked and saved all their lives will be able to pass on their hard-earned pensions to their families tax free.

Effective from today.

The children and grandchildren and others who benefit will get the same tax treatment on this income as on any other, but only when they choose to draw it down.

Freedom for people’s pensions. A pension tax abolished. Passing on your pension tax free.

Not a promise for the next Conservative government – but put in place and delivered by Conservatives in Government now.

We are eight months away from one of the most important general elections in a generation.

We can face it with confidence.

For we go to the people as the Party of Progress.

For five years Britain has pursued a clear economic policy when all over Europe there has been crisis and uncertainty.

Britain has been the Lantern in the Storm.

Now we seek a new mandate as the Party of jobs and security and a strong Prime Minister – against the party offering higher taxes, more debt and Ed Miliband.

We are going to offer political resolve and economic competence.

A confident future for Britain as the most prosperous country in the world.

And we are going say to the British people:

Choose jobs

Choose enterprise

Choose security

Choose prosperity

Choose investment

Choose fairness

Choose freedom

Choose David Cameron

Choose the Conservatives

Choose the future.

Conference Diary - Osborne, Callaghan, and rejecting the economics of the past

James Callaghan has not gone down in history as a great Prime Minister, but he did get one thing absolutely right, and he showed considerable bravery in telling the Labour conference why they should abandon the economics of the past.

Nearly forty years ago, when both I and George Osborne were still at school - in his case Primary school - Jim Callaghan told the Labour conference

"For too long, perhaps ever since the war, we postponed facing up to fundamental choices and fundamental changes in our society and in our economy. That is what I mean when I say we have been living on borrowed time. For too long this country - all of us, yes, this Conference too - has been ready to settle for borrowing money abroad to maintain our standards of life, instead of grappling with the fundamental problems of British industry."

"We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment."

"That is the history of the last 20 years. Each time we did this the twin evils of unemployment and inflation have hit hardest those least able to stand them. Not those with the strongest bargaining power, no, it has not hit those. It has hit the poor, the old and the sick."

With those words Callaghan renounced the politics of inflation as the politics of the past. I wish what he said about borrowing had been as well remembered as what he said about the politics of inflation - Britain would be in a far better state today if Gordon Brown had remembered the first paragraph quoted above as well as he took on board what Callaghan said about inflation.

Callaghan's words were the last nail in the coffin, not of all the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, but certainly of a disastrous brand of economic thought among some of Keynes' acolytes who had persuaded themselves and many governments that 5% plus inflation was acceptable.

Yesterday George Osborne deliberately echoed that speech from 38 years ago when, after acknowledging that Britain's deficit is still far too high, he dismissed the economics of high taxation in the same way Callaghan demolished the economics of double digit inflation, saying

"I tell you in all candour, that the option of taxing your way out of a deficit no longer exists, if it ever did.

"In a modern global economy where people can move their investment from one country to another at the touch of a button – and companies can relocate jobs overnight – the economics of high taxation are the economics of the past.

"We choose the future."

Conference quote for Tuesday 30th September

"David Haines was a tireless humanitarian worker who helped Muslims….not just in Syria….but in Bosnia, South Sudan and Libya. Two weeks ago, he was murdered by terrorists, simply for being British. His murder followed the equally barbaric killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American journalists who were reporting to the world the plight of the Syrian people.

"The terrorists who murdered David Haines like to call themselves the Islamic State. But I will tell you the truth: They are not Islamic. And they are not a state. Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran. What they believe has no resemblance whatsoever to the beliefs of more than a billion Muslims all over the world. And, like all the other Islamist terrorist organisations, they have caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent Muslim civilians."


(later)

"The extremists believe in a clash of civilisations - a fundamental incompatibility between Islamic and Western values, an inevitable divide between “them and us”. They demand a caliphate, or a new Islamic state, governed by a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law. They utterly reject British and Western values, including democracy, the rule of law, and equality between citizens, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. They believe that it is impossible to be a good Muslim and a good British citizen. And they dismiss anybody who disagrees with them - including other Muslims - as non-believers.

"This hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam itself. And it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain and around the world.


The Quran says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.”

It says: “let there be no compulsion in religion.”

So let the message go out from this hall that the extremists will never succeed in dividing us. Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies. Let us stand side by side with the British Muslims who are coming together and saying 'not in my name'."

(Theresa May, Home Secretary, speech to conference this morning)  

Birmingham conference diary - There's only one Boris Johnson ...

I had to watch BoJo's speech, and indeed Theresa May's which preceded it, on the huge TV screen in Hall One because the main Symphony Hall at the Birmingham ICC was packed.

Theresa May made a lot of important points which I will probably come back to.

What can one say about Boris other than that he is always great value?

To paraphrase what was said by the PPC who introduced him, I wish you could bottle whatever it is about his exuberance and humour which makes him so entertaining to listen to - combined, it has to be said, with an ability to dress up what is usually sound common sense in convincing language and give some of it to all the rest of us in the party.

Birmingham conference diary - from evening to morning

For any reading this who has never been to a major party conference - these are massive events in which at least as much happens on the "Fringe" e.g. side events as in the main conference hall.

There are events from first thing in the morning to late at night and anyone who is interested even in one or two subjects affecting human beings, never mind a wider range than that, will usually find far more events they would like to attend than you could possibly fit in.

So for example last night there was a reception organised by Conservative MEPs, at which the leader of the UK delegation of Conservative MEPs, Syed Kamall, who is also leader of the "ECR" (European Conservatives and Reformists) group in the parliament, made a plug for the ECR meeting at 7.45 am this morning. He jokingly suggested that people attending both didn't need to go to bed in between.

In fact I was one of the people who did attend both, and will probably fit in a post at some time this week about some of the things said there. Judging by the fact that not too many people were falling asleep early this morning I suspect most of those who made it to the ECR meeting had made sure to get some sleep at a reasonable hour!

The soon to be ennobled Martin Callanan, Syed's predecessor as chairman of the ECR, was certainly wide awake this morning. He made some interesting comments about the new European Commission.

Martin said that he had wholeheartedly agreed with David Cameron in opposing the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the new EU Commission President, but when Mr Juncker produced his nominations for Commissioner portfolios, Martin's opinion of him went up, not least because he obviously has a sense of humour.- his appointments included a French socialist to take responsibility for budget discipline, and a Spaniard who owns a fleet of racing cars and more than one oil company to deal with Energy and Climate Change - thereby infuriating the Green hardliners. Almost as angry would be those lefties who want to impose penal regulations and taxation to cripple the City of London with the proposed appointment of Lord Hill to oversee Financial Services regulation.

My main problem updating this blog has been finding time to write up some of the interesting things I have heard - I still have not covered the best bits of George Osborne's speech yesterday or Francis Maude's speech about the massive cuts which have been made in the cost of the civil service, or a wonderful session with a group of people who overcame tremendous handicaps to set up their own businesses, or one of the most moving, powerful and authentic statements of British patriotism I have ever heard, from IDS.

But I will be writing all these up, although some of the things which are happening at conference may have to wait to be put on the blog when I get home.

Now off to hear Teresa May and Boris Johnson ...

William Hague on the 2015 election campaign and Team 2015

William Hague writes ...




It was 37 years ago that I first stood on stage at Conference.

And over those four decades I have watched this Party, the Conservative Party, rescue our country from debt-fuelled Labour governments not once, but twice. I've seen us give millions of people the chance to own their own homes and help small businesses to thrive.

In the last four years alone, we have capped benefits and brought net immigration down from its peak under Labour. We've cut income tax for over 25 million people, created nearly two million apprenticeships, helped 1.8 million more people into work, cut the European budget for the first time in history, and given Britain the fastest growth of any leading Western nation.

The coming election is therefore a choice: between more of this good progress or a lurch back to the days when Gordon Brown not only ran out of everybody else's money, but Ed Balls and Ed Miliband actually advised him on how to do it.

You can play your part - and help secure a better future for Britain - by joining Team2015, our volunteer network, today.

The next election is also a straight choice between a referendum on Europe with the Conservatives or no say on Europe with Labour.

A Labour government doesn't just mean higher taxes and more debt than future generations can repay - it also means the people of this country would never get their say on Europe.

So in the coming months, I will be going all around the country, fighting for our excellent MPs and candidates and meeting every voter I can to help secure a Conservative majority at the next election - and help secure a better future for Britain.

Will you join me?

Yes, I'd like to join Team2015 Not today, but I will donate

Thank you,

 
William Hague

Quote of the day 30th September 2014

"Whatever the problem, and solution which involves taxpayers funding more politicians is definitely not the answer."

(Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Conference speech yesterday)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Birmingham Conference Diary - George Osborne on Pensions

There was so much in the chancellor's speech this morning that it justified more than one post,  so this is the second of three.

Probably the worst of Gordon Brown's many disastrous mistakes was the £6 billion a year raid on pension funds. This was the biggest reason why, as even the more intelligent Labour politicians such as Frank Field MP recognise, having inherited one of the strongest pensions positions in Europe Labour reduced Britain to having one of the worst.

I would love to see that £6 billion raid on pensions reversed, but when you need to cut spending or raise taxes by a net £25 billion a year - that's the official Treasury view of the structural deficit - scrapping a £6 billion a year tax is not easy to do.

But we do need to find clever ways to increase incentives for people to invest in pensions. Giving people more control over their own pensions was an excellent start. Dramatically scaling back or scrapping the tax clawback on leaving your heirs the remains of your pension pot when you die,  which the chancellor has done with effect from today, is particularly clever because the benefit it will give to savers may be much larger than the cost to the exchequer.

It is very rare that a chancellor can create wealth at the stroke of a pen by introducing a measure which benefits the public more than it loses the government in revenue, but if it shifts behaviour as I believe this will, you can do it.

The loss in tax paid to the exchequer will be, at worst, the difference between the amount raised by the current rate of tax on the pension pots currently being left, and what would be brought in by the greatly reduced rate with the same level of inherited pension pots.

But if the increased incentive to invest in your pension - in the form of a reduced risk that more than half will be grabbed by the taxman rather than going to your heirs - leads people to be more confident about this form of saving, and means more money invested in pension funds, the benefit to those heirs will be the difference in tax on a much larger volume of money.

Not such good news, perhaps for firms who sell annuities and may have to come up with a more competitive deal. Great news for those saving for their pensions - and their heirs - because that too means they have a better deal on offer.

Conference quote for Monday 29th September

"I used to hear the phrase 'you need to work hard to get a good job.'

Why did I never hear the phrase 'You need to work hard so that you can CREATE good jobs.' ?"

(Jamie Dodd, a 22-year old entrepreneur who addressed the Conference, referring to the fact that few of his generation will spend all their working lives employed by one organisation, and most are expected to find a good proportion of their working lives in some form of self-employment.)

Birmingham Conference Diary - Osborne reiterates support for Nuclear Power

During a powerful and wide-ranging speech today (of which more later) the Chancellor George Osborne gave a whole series of examples of how the people who built our modern Britain would have made the brave decisions which chose the future over the past.

One of the things he singled out was the need for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

He also spoke about the need, without reducing the engine of growth which is London, to build more growth in the rest of the country, and build a "Northern Powerhouse" connecting our great Northern cities.

WCH Meeting this evening

There is a public meeting this evening (Monday 29th September), at 7pm at Whitehaven Rugby League Ground, to discuss services at West Cumberland Hospital.

The public meeting was organised by mother Siobhan Gearing who started a Facebook campaign to support services at the hospital.

Guest speakers will include local politicians and former West Cumberland hospital consultant Mahesh Dhebar. There will also be representatives from North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The campaign website page is WCHcommittee@groups.facebook.com and questions can be emailed to wchcquestions@gmail.com01

As I am currently away at Conservative conference in Birmingham (the conference was planned for this date years ago, and I booked to attend well before this meeting was called) I will sadly not be able to attend but I hope there is a good turnout which shows community support for our local hospital.

Quote of the day 29th September 2014

“A hangover is the wrath of grapes.”

( Dorothy Parker )

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Conference quote for Sunday 28th September

"There's no such thing as government money.

"The only money that government has is the money it takes from the taxpayer."

(Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives)

I had to hastily scrabble for pen and paper to get this one down and may not have the words absolutely right, but this was certainly the sense of what Ruth said - interrupted half way through by thunderous clapping, because she didn't need to finish the line before the audience realised what she was saying and warmly applauded.)

Birmingham Conference Diary - Sunday afternoon

The first afternoon of this year's Conservative Conference rapidly took on something of the characteristic of a rally. Having given a fairly robust performance to a private Conservative audience earlier in the morning, party chairman Grant Shapps gave a rousing performance to open the conference proper. Mostly knockabout stuff, but with a strong list of achievements.

He also made the first announcement of the conference - after listing some of the things which make Birmingham a great British city, he announced that the Conservatives have signed a deal to come back here in 2016, 2018, and 2020.

For anyone who thinks that the way a party manages its' own affairs may give a clue to how it may manage those of the country, he pointed out that the Conservatives were in a position to sign such a deal because the party is now debt-free.

Let's hope this is an indicator that the Conservatives may succeed in moving Britain closer to being debt-free - it certainly seems reasonable to argue that a party which can balance its' own books has a better chance of balancing those of the nation.

This was followed by a session on the United Kingdom which amounted to a celebration of the Union, closing with an excellent speech by the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson.

The public part of the afternoon (there is a private question and answer session with the Party Chairmen shortly) concluded with a speech from William Hague which redefined the word "barnstorming."

It is not too often that the Chancellor of the Exchequer acts as someone's warm-up man, but this was an extraordinary occasion from the moment it was announced that the chancellor would be introducing the next speaker and we all wondered if we had heard correctly.

It was billed as William Hague's last speech from the rostrum at a Conservative conference: I'm not 100% sure that will prove accurate as we never know what the future may bring, but it will be his last as an MP and minister as he is stepping down at the election.

And what a speech!

William is one of the half a dozen best orators, and the best Conservative orator, of my generation, indeed of my lifetime, bearing comparison with Tony Benn or Tony Blair. And this speech was one of his best.

He segued smoothly  between celebrating the achievements of successive Conservative governments over the past forty years to filleting successive Labour leaderships over that period in general, and the current Labour leadership in particular.

I don't know how any short extracts which made it onto the TV will have gone down outside the conference hall - probably without much impact, I suspect. The impact in the hall was very different and the atmosphere electric. What this afternoon certainly achieved was to sooth any nerves which may have been tense after the events of the last few days and ensure that people here will be focussed over the next few days on which needs to be done for the country and on what the party needs to do to win the forthcoming election. 

Birmingham conference diary - Sunday morning

Travelled down to Telford yesterday evening and came into Birmingham this morning.

As is always the case for a major party conference, a significant proportion of the City centre cordoned off. The hotels will have done very will out of the conference, some other traders less so  - last time I looked there was a net commercial benefit to cities of hosting a big conference but there can be some inconvenience involved. Hope we don't cause too much for Birmingham this time.

There are more than 5,000 representatives attending the conference this time, all at their own expense, which I understand is a record.

The Sunday morning is the "National Conservative Convention" which basically is mostly the constituency chairmen with some Area and Regional officers added. "Ordinary party members" which now includes me are also entitled to attend but not speak or vote.

I was a member of the Convention until nine days ago, when I stood down as Cumbria chairman on finishing my three  years: came anyway to listen.

Speeches from David Cameron and Grant Shapps at the convention, both on excellent form.

Whatever the press reports - and I have often found that the conference in the hall and the one reported in the media are amazingly different - I think this is going to be a good and positive conference.

Must run to catch Grant Shapps' official opening of the conference ...

Quote of the day Sunday 28th September 2014

“Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.”
  
( Robertson Davies )

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Quote of the day Saturday 27th September 2014

"Under any government, we face up to a further five years of austerity in public sector spending".
"The first five years have been challenging but the second five years are likely to prove even harder for three reasons:"

"Firstly, the easier savings have already been made.

"Secondly, we are likely to be doing it against a background of a growing economy and greater competition for good staff.

"Thirdly, the sense of urgency that underpinned the first savings programme will be reduced.

"In reality, the task is not yet complete. But this will be hard to explain to those in the public sector, including our own staff, who are looking for some relief."


(Sir Bob Kerslake, outgoing head of the UK civil service, speaking at the "Institute for Government" think tank this week.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

The least worst option

There are times when there is no good option and you have to pick between a choice of bad ones.

That was the situation facing MPs today.

There were all sorts of good reasons why MPs might have been reluctant to commit British military forces to Iraq so soon after we had finally managed to get them out of the country.

There are even more good reasons not to let the so-called "Islamic State" establish itself.

Even Al Qaeda has condemned the crimes committed by this organisation. Muslims in Britain and the world over have appealed to them to release their hostages and stop their murderous actions. They do not listen.

Once the Nazis were established in control of Germany there was no way to remove them short of a military campaign, and until they were removed they were a threat to the entire world.

ISIL are not identical to the Nazis, but their utter contempt for human life, their disregard for any morality other than their own perversion of Islam, and their tactics of rule by terror are very similar. The longer they are given to consolidate their control of large areas of Iraq and Syria the harder they will be to dislodge and the more innocent people they will hurt.

Using Western air power to reduce the military capabilities of ISIL as part of a coalition in which Islamic countries and local forces are also involved is not a perfect solution but it is probably the least worst option available to us.

Quote of the day 26th September 2014

"If we had a responsible opposition, then instead of a shadow chancellor who pays lip service to the idea of cutting the deficit and then proposes £20 billion of extra spending, and a leader of the opposition who forgets to mention the deficit at all, we would have an opposition leader and shadow chancellor who put forward ideas for cutting the deficit which could survive ten seconds of serious scrutiny.

"If we had a responsible opposition, then instead of constantly attacking businesses they would be encouraging the government to help employers provide more jobs and earn more money for Britain.

"If we had a responsible opposition, then instead of constantly promising to spend more they would be calling on the government to further reduce what is still an unsustainable level of public borrowing."

"If there had been any doubt, this week's Labour conference demonstrated that Britain does not have a responsible opposition."

(Chris Whiteside)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Forgetting the Deficit

Labour leader Ed Miliband's aides have admitted that he "forgot" to mention the passages on Britain's deficit which he had intended to include in the speech, lasting slightly over an bour, which he delivered from memory at Labour Party conference.

Sometimes, as with the bacon butty incident or William Hague's baseball cap, political leaders get an extraordinary amount of flak over something incredibly trivial.

Sometimes however, they get flak over things which are more important than they might at first appear, and IMHO the failure to mention the deficit is one of those times.

Talk of deficits sounds dry and boring to many people and the measures required to live within our means are never popular. But the trouble is, the conseqences of ignoring a deficit of the size the British government still has - never mind the even larger one the last Labour government left behind - are disastrous. The problem can be expressed in seven words:

YOU CAN'T SPEND MONEY YOU HAVEN'T GOT.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is an attempt to put into very simple language that you can only spend money that you have either already earned, or borrowed against the security of assets you already have and income you expect to earn. And if you borrow too much the eventual consequences are likely to be painful.

If you or I had an income of £30,000 a year, and kept spending £40,000 a year and failing to do anything about it, sooner or later we would end up in serious trouble.

That's exactly the position, with the numbers  many times larger, in which Labour left the public finances. The present government has cut that deficit significantly, but it is still terrifyingly large - way too large to be sustainable.

Governments have more room for manouver than an individual householder but it is not limitless. The consequence of years of huge deficits is that even at today's very low interest rates the government is spending twice as much paying interests on its' debts as the entire defence budget.

On present spending projections and if as is expected those interest rates start to go up a bit in the next three years, the government will be spending as much paying interest on its' debt as on Education and Law and Order put together.

Let me put tat another way

By 2017-18, interest payments will cost the government £71.3 billion.

That is more than the current annual budgets of the Home Office and the Department for Education, which between them spend around £65 billion a year.


(Read here for more detail.)

So when you wonder why more of the taxes you pay are not translating into more teachers, more doctors, more nurses, and more bobbies on the beat, a big part of the answer is that the money is required to pay the interest on the money Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, and Ed Miliband borrowed when they were in government.

Some of the opposition parties - Labour, UKIP, and the rest - occasionally point that the deficit is still far too large. But none of them has dared come up with a concrete proposal which would cut the deficit by as much as 1% (Mr Balls' proposals fell well short of that even before he started dashing around like a demented Santa Claus and offering £20 billion of sweeties in the form of extra spending.)

So if Ed Miliband "forget" to mention the deficit, that says something worrying about his priorities. The deficit is a huge problem which has the capacity to derail everything that the next government, whoever wins the election, might want to do.

Speaking for an hour without notes is very difficult and it can appear to be a very impressive trick - but at the end of the day, that's all it is: a parlour trick.

If you can't speak for an hour with no or minimal notes without forgetting to mention essential issues, you would be far better advised to stick to the autocue.

A Freudian slip from the Labour Conference ...

Hat tip to Jim King for drawing my attention to this clip on Youtube

Quote of the day 25th September 2014

"We are convinced that ISIL is a direct threat to Britain, and we have a comprehensive strategy to defeat them. We have been asked by the Iraqi government for assistance against them – which is why Parliament is being recalled so that Britain can take part in international air strikes against ISIL in Iraq.

"What we are doing is legal, right and does not involve British combat troops on the ground. As ever with our country, when we are threatened in this way we should not turn away from what needs to be done.

"We are confident that we will get this through Parliament on an all-party basis – it is right our country to be united at this time. Parliament will be voting on taking part in international action against ISIL in Iraq – if there was a question of taking part in action in Syria that would require a separate Parliamentary vote and debate."

(David Cameron on the decision to recall Parliament to discuss and vote on whether Britain should join air strikes against "Islamic State" targets in Iraq as requested by the Iraqi government.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Balls by name ...

I've already blogged about the frightening fact that the speech by Ed Balls this week was coldly received by Labour conference because they didn't like the fact he signalled some faint awareness of the need to cut the deficit. In other words they didn't like the one thing he said that was right.

But it is only fair to point out that Mr Ball's commitment to sound money, though enough to annoy the unions and upset Labour conference, was paper thin.

While outlining over £20 billion of spending promises, he only explained how Labour would raise £1.9 billion worth of revenue. On this speech alone, Labour have an £18.5 billion black hole in their spending plans.

But it gets worse for Labour

1)  Rachel Reeves admitted that the only way to get ‘debt falling’ is ‘to have a surplus on overall spending’ – but that’s not Labour’s position, it’s the Conservative position.

2)  Just this week the IFS found that Labour actually want to borrow £28 billion extra.

3)  Ed Balls was forced on Monday morning to admit that Labour’s cap on child benefit would only last one year and only save £120 million – despite claiming on Sunday night that it would last for two years and save £400 million.

4). The Centre for Policy Studies has released a report this week warning Labour’s planned tax rises will put up to 375,000 jobs at risk – a serious threat to Britain’s future and hardworking taxpayers’ financial security.


For all their bluster, it’s clear Ed Balls and Labour don’t have a serious plan to cut the deficit. They still refuse to admit they spent too much.

They have opposed every decision the coalition government has taken to cut the deficit in this Parliament.

It’s clear that Labour haven’t changed – they would take our country backwards. All Labour offers Britain is more wasteful spending, higher taxes and more debt than our children could ever hope to repay.

Quote of the day 24th September 2014

"If any undecided voter was waiting to be convinced Ed M is PM in waiting, not very sure that was the speech that would do it..."

(The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg on Twitter yesterday)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pot calling the kettle black award of the century

The sheer effrontery of the Labour party when it comes to making attacks on people for things they do themselves never ceases to amaze me.

Don't just take my word for it. Earlier this year I would have said that the leading contender for a "Pot calling the kettle black" award in this decader was a speech by Ed Miliband which was described by former Labour activist Dan Hodges as follows:

"Ed Miliband's attack on political cynicism is the most cynical thing I've seen in years."

It's worth a read of Dan's piece "here" which is a brilliant piece of political dissection, but as a contender for any "pot calling the kettle black" award that speech was upstaged today by Andy Burnham.

Yes, that's the same Andy Burnham who was the last Labour secretary of state for Health and is currently Labour's shadow secretary of state for health'

The same Andy  Burnham who greatly increased the role of private clinics and providers in the NHS, using Cumbria as one of the testing grounds, along broadly the same lines that the Andrew Lansley Health bill wrote into law - except that as passed it had rather greater safeguards."

The same Andy Burnham who earlier in this parliament suggested it was "irresponsible" of the Coalition government not to make the NHS bear a share of the cuts which had to be imposed on public spending when the coalition inherited a spending position of four pounds going out for every three coming in in taxes.

Yes, Andy Burnham effectively said it was "irresponsible" of the government not to cut the NHS.

But today the man who five years ago was privatising the NHS and four years ago said the present government was spending too much on the NHS, is now saying that the law which put the privatisation which he himself introduced on a proper legal framework should be repealed, and that a Labour government would spend more on the NHS.

(Mind you, that has to be put in context. Miliband promised to spend £2.5 billion more on the NHS over ten years. The present government has spent £12 billion more on the NHS in less than five.)

Apparently Mr Burnham is hoping nobody has a long enough memory to remember his record.

I would like to think that many NHS workers, and many of the rest of the British people, have a longer memory than Andy Burnham hopes.

Lord Ashcroft on the lessons from Scotland.

Lord Ashcroft has an interesting comment about results of his poll on the Indyref and the lessons for GE2015, called Victory for Project Reasonable Caution - But lets not learn the wrong lessons.

His polling found that the most important reason for the 'No' vote was that

the risks of becoming independent looked too great when it came to things like the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices”.

"Nearly half (47%) of No voters said this was their biggest consideration.

"This was echoed in the more specific issues people said had played a part in their vote. The pound was the single most important of these, mentioned by more than half (57%) of all No voters. Nearly four in ten (37%) were concerned about pensions, and 36% cited the NHS (as did more than half of those who voted Yes)."

Polling also showed that the Union was saved by older voters. He goes on:

"As soon as I published the poll on Friday my Twitter timeline filled with indignant nationalists claiming vindication for their view that the result amounted to a victory for “Project Fear”: the campaign of humbug, scaremongering and outright lies supposedly perpetrated by the establishment and the right wing media (which apparently now includes the BBC: welcome, by the way) that successfully bamboozled the credulous."

There was also a disturbingly large number of comments to the effect that old people “who will be dead soon” – such nice people, the nationalists, don’t you find? – had trampled on the hopes of the young by selfishly voting against independence (though presumably, if young people had succeeded in abolishing the country their grandparents had known and loved, that would have been just fine)...


"A political movement never flourishes by blaming its defeats on the media, or by deploring the motives or gullibility of the electorate."

"Blaming opponents for spreading “fear” about your programme is also unlikely to get you very far. It might be more accurate to describe the No campaign as Project Reasonable Caution or Project Sensible Scepticism, but even so, fear serves a useful evolutionary purpose. I would not leap into shark infested waters, or invest in a company with a hazy business plan, and nor had I been eligible would I have voted for Scotland to become an independent country with no idea what currency it would use. Doubt was a big part of many people’s decisions but the doubts were not unfounded."


After considering the relative merits of positive and negative campaigning he concludes

"But to focus on Labour’s flaws without answering people’s qualms about the Conservatives would be fruitless. A large part of the reason for the incomplete victory in 2010 was that the Tories spent too long telling people that Gordon Brown was not a very good Prime Minister (something which they had largely noticed for themselves) instead of addressing their reservations about the Conservative Party and whose side it was on."

"Each side in the referendum campaign has a lesson for the Conservatives. From the No side we see the value of understanding potential voters’ real concerns and campaigning accordingly. From the Yes side we see what happens when the questions in voters’ minds remain unanswered."


You can read the full article here.

Quote of the day 23rd September 2014

"Ed Miliband clearly has no idea what he thinks the United Kingdom should actually look like."

(Dan Hodges, Telegraph blogs, the day after the Scottish referendum result)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Labour loses the plot

What does it say about the Labour party when Ed Balls' speech today showed too much knowledge of the real world to go down well with them?

I will have some more things to say tomorrow about the things which were wrong with Ed Ball's speech to Labour Party conference, but the worst thing about it is how it was unpopular with delegates for being too realistic. Whike I do not agree with everything in the blog post from Dan Hodges today, in which he argued that

"The size of the financial black hole is incomprehensible so Labour has opted not to comprehend it."

Dan does make some very telling points.

The present government inherited a totally unsustainable deficit, spending four pounds for every three coming in, a national debt on track to double to 1.2 trillion pounds and on which the interest was greater than the entire education budget.

After four years of so-called "austerity" which have certainly not been easy for people (though that has been mainly due to the economic slowdown the current administrationh inherited,) the deficit has been reduced by a third, which represents significant progress but is not nearly enough if we don't want our children and grandchildren to have to pay intolerable amounts of interest on a huge national debt.

As Hodges points out Balls nodded to the scale of the problem, and told the Labour party conference that if they win the next election they will inherit a deficit of £75 Billion.

Dan goes on:

"Just think about that figure for a moment: £75 billion. The Labour Party, if it were to win the next election, would have to close a gap the gap between what the nation earns and what it spends by £75 billion. “We will balance the books”, Ed Balls claimed. Well, to do that, he will have to bring into balance books that are £75,000,000,000 in the red.

He can’t do it. Ed Miliband can’t do it. No Labour Party politician can do it.

Before listening to his speech I caught Ed Balls' interview this morning on Sky. He was asked how much the various policies that Labour had announced to date would cut the deficit. After a bit of toing and froing, he conceded a figure of around £400 million. Or, to put it another way, 0.53 per cent of the total deficit Labour will be faced with if it comes to power. "


But even to get to this totally inadequate sum -

"To get to that position Ed Balls has had to risk his political career. He has fallen foul of the unions, who have branded him a “horseman of the austerity apocalypse” and agitated for his removal. He has fallen foul of his leader, who has been reluctant to sign up to any form of austerity at all. "And he hasn’t so much as faintly caressed an atom against the surface of the fiscal problems that Labour would inherit.
"

" ... you only had to stand in the hall and listen to the reaction to the second half of his speech. The pledge of “tough fiscal rules” was greeted with near silence. So was the statement “we will not make promises we cannot keep and cannot afford”. The commitment “we will stop paying the winter fuel allowance” was met with even stonier silence, until he added “to the richest five per cent of pensioners”. The announcement that Labour “will cap structural social security spending” saw him openly jeered.


Thirty years ago a prominent Conservative commented that "only in the Labour party could Denis Healey be considered the last defender of sanity."

It was true of the Labour chancellor then and it is true of Labour's shadow chancellor now.
I have a horrible fear that Dan is right that Labour is by its' very nature completely unable to cope with a financial situation such as the one that the country currently faces but cannot go along with his final conclusion that this is in some ways a good thing.

I hope and believe that the electorate will have the sense not to elect them, but would have more confidence did I not know that there are millions of people, most of whom are decent human beings in every respect other than their mindless tribal loyalty to the Labour party, who would still vote Labour if the party started machine-gunning nurses and organising the slaughter of the firstborn. The other problem is that, even if Labour lose, the fear of handing Labour the keys to Downing Street could easily inhibit whoever does form the next government from taking the tough measures the country needs.

Quote of the day 22nd September 2014

"It is actually pretty remarkable that a state can say 'We are not going to compel part of what has been our country but perhaps didn't want to remain part of our country, we are not going to compel them to do so. We are going to allow the democratic process.'

"To do that, you have to be a country that has enormous confidence in its own democratic institutions."

(Sir Stephen Wall, a former British Ambassador)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remembering Arnheim

This weekend we have been remembering operation Market Garden, which took place seventy years ago.

Two people I knew very well, both of whom died of old age in this decade, were serving in the 1st Airborne division at the time. My uncle Ron missed the battle because he was not well enough to jump: he lost a lot of friends there.

A close friend, the late Geoffrey Brown, took part in the battle of Arnheim as a soldier in the 1st Airlanding Light Artillery (known to him and others at the time as "Sheriff Thompson's regiment.)

I have noticed from the pageview stats that the Obit post I put up when Geoffrey died three years ago has been one of the most read posts on this blog over the past few days.

I presume this may be because the post included a story Geoffrey used to tell of his time at Cambridge.

A tutor was describing the Battle of Arnheim and made a number of statements which Geoffrey did not consider to give a true picture of the battle, so he challenged him.

"It wasn't like that, it was like this" he said when describing the conversation some years later.

"What's your basis for that view?" asked the teacher

"I was bloody there!" replied Geoffrey.

A lot of brave men, Brits and Poles at Arnheim and Americans at Eindhoven and Nijmegen, jumped into enemy territory or were landed by gliders seventy years ago as part of the effort to liberate Europe from fascism. All too many of them gave their lives fighting against German forces, particularly against the superior fire power of two Waffen SS Panzer divisions that had moved into Arnheim shortly before the first parachute drop and were soon reinforced to outnumber the allied forces by three to one. The bravery of those men must not be forgotten.

Manufacturing an unnecessary argument

When the Prime Minister responded to the Scottish referendum result, he said that we should not look at a fair constitutional settlement for all four parts of the United Kingdon.

He was right to do so.

However, the promises made to the Scottish people must be hunoured.

These two views are not imcompatible, and those people who are starting to suggest there might be a danger that the promises made during the referendum might not be honoured are jumping the gun.

Downing Street sources told the BBC's political correspondent Ross Hawkins that although Mr Cameron had said that devolution over the whole UK should be discussed on the same timetable as that for Scotland, implementation of the promises made to Scotland would not be held up by progress on devolution for the rest of the UK: 10 sources made clear that "the one is not conditional upon the other".

David Cameron wants to give the peoples of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and, yes, England more control of their own affairs without breaking up the British family of nations and it is surely right that we look at the picture of the UK as a whole in doing so. Don't lets forget that DC had a fundamentally sound reason for not making "Devo-max" part of the Scottish referendum and it was this.

The decision on whether Scotland left the UK had to be a matter for the people of Scotland. The decision on what level of devolution exists within the UK has to be a decision for the whole of the UK.

A Scot who does not support devolution pointed out to me this morning with a great deal of justice that people like him feel totally marginalised by what has just happened - there was no way to vote for the status quo even if you lived in Scotland, and no way for anyone else to express any view at all about what kind of UK we want. That is a genuine problem.

The fact remains that all three UK party leaders made a set of solemn promises, they had good reasons to make those promises, and they have to honoured if the political system is to retain any credibility. I believe they will be.

We can, and should discuss how the new structure for the whole of the UK will work at the same time as we discuss how to implement the promises made to Scotland without making good faith on the implementation of those promises conditional on reaching agreement on how to provide similar reform in England.

One of the other things my Scottish friend said to me this morning is that we all ought to calm down and proceed on the basis of sober reflection. I think that is very good advice indeed.

Quote of the day 21st September 2014

These quotes about the USA from a speech in Iowa were made about the USA this week but IMHO they also have some relevance to Britain:

"We are less sexist, racist, and homophobic than we've ever been"

... but ...

"We don't want to be around anyone who disagrees with us"

(Former US President Bill Clinton)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The cashless society?

Yesterday's edition of "The Economist" had an interesting article, which you can read online in full at

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21618886-abolishing-notes-and-coins-would-bring-huge-economic-benefits-leaving-dead

and which argues for the complete abolition of notes and coins as forms of money.

At first this idea will seem to be completely off-the-wall, but some of the ideas in it are actually very powerful.

Once apon a time currencies were supported by the value of the metal in the coins. The first paper money was backed by a promise to exchange it for precious metal. Even today, a five pound note contains in small writing the following commitment from the Bank of England

"I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds."

I read in one of my economics textbooks as a student that if you try to take them up on it you'll be issued with another five pound note. But it originally meant you would be issued with five pounds' weight of sterling silver. It  is still just about within living memory that in the 20's Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, put Britain on the "gold Standard" for the last time, linking our currency to precious metals.

These days most money consists of bank deposits, and accounts of one kind or another without physical form. This is not necessarily a problem if they are managed responsibly, though it certainly can be if they are not or if people lose confidence in financial institutions.

At the end of the day, currencies only work because people have confidence that they will be able to exchange them for something they value. I have heard this described as a "confidence trick" and it could equally be described as herd behaviour - any type of money has value because, and only because, people believe it has.

Throughout history the biggest threat to that confidence has been dishonesty or foolishness on behalf of those in power - debasing the coinage in the case of old currencies based on precious metal coins, failing to have sufficient assets to support the liabilities of the banks and of the government in more recent times.

From time to time someone proposes making the currency stronger by linking it to something tangible like gold or silver. Churchill was the last minister in the UK to actually attempt it.

When I was a student I had a fantasy of linking the currency to something more suitable to the modern economy - and I was in favour of using a fixed unit of energy, probably the Kilowatt Hour.

By the time I graduated and collected my degrees in economics, I understood that in the real world there are all sorts of issues with that, but if we ever had a fundamental collapse of confidence in the world's currencies, we would have to restore it either by goiong back to Gold, or do something like my KiloWatt Hour idea.

"The Economist" makes a remarkably strong argument that much of the strength of demand for cash, apart from the fact that it is sometimes convenient, is people who don't want governments to know what they are doing.

And do you know what? Where the people concerned are not fraudsters, bank robbers, thieves, paedophiles or drug-runners, I rather like the idea of them being able to use their own money in ways the government cannot track. The state is far too powerful already without knowing how we spend every penny we earn.

"The Economist" also weakened their argument in my eyes by suggesting that the abolition of cash would make it easier to allow interest rates to go negative.

No thank you - negative real interest rates have already done far too much damage. We need a culture which encourages and rewards sensible financial planning including steady saving for retirement, and anything which made negative nominal rates more practical is a thoroughly bad idea.


One interesting thing is this. Most honest people can go through their lives without ever seeing a high value banknote such as a five-hundred Euro note. I seem to recall that I have seen a few such notes once or twice, but have never used them myself. But they are very useful for criminals.  They argue that

"There are €295 billion ($382 billion) of €500 notes in circulation. Yet most Europeans have never seen one: criminals hog them, as they are so useful for moving ill-gotten gains around. (€1m-worth of €500 bills weighs just 2.2kg.)"

They conclude the article by suggesting as a compromise that higher denomination notes, from about £500 or €500 upwards, should be phsed out, saying

"That would allow small transactions to be kept completely private, while making life much trickier for all but the pettiest of criminals."

At face value (sorry!) there does seem to be a strong case for that proposal.

Quote of the day 20th September 2014

“Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.”
 
( Stephen Hawking )

Friday, September 19, 2014

Congratulations and good luck to Kevin

This evening I completed my term as Chairman of the Conservative party's Cumbria area, and handed over to Kevin Beaty.

It has been a privilege to be chairman of Cumbria Conservatives over three very eventful years.

Best wishes and congratulations to Kevin and his team: thanks to everyone who helped me during my term. Now on to challenges anew ...

Cycling safety

And now for something completely different ...

I had an experience on the A66 this afternoon which brought home to me the need for cycle lanes on dual carriageway roads and for cyclists to wear high visibility clothing or helmets.

I was fully alert, was not speeding (I was driving a few mph below the 70mph limit on the relevant dual carriageway section of road), and visibility was generally pretty good. I was in the left hand lane of the Westbound carriageway, and a car was overtaking me in the right hand lane.

It may have been a factor that I was driving west, with bright late afternoon sunshine coming from West-South-West, and a line of trees on the South side of the A66 was casting a shadow on the left hand side of the road, in which a cyclist was riding.

At the moment I spotted the cyclist he was about 100 yards ahead of me. I had two of three seconds to check the position of the overtaking car, and move safely to the right hand side of my lane, before I passed the cyclist.

If I had been speeding, or if the cyclist had not been wearing the bright yellow safety helmet which enabled me to spot him when I did, there could easily have been a very nasty accident.

It certainly brought home to me that we need to think more about cycling safety - I think that road, and many others, is in dire need of a cycle lane.

Moving forward

My final post on the Indyref - though I think there will be a lot more to come on the new constitutional settlement.

The great majority of campaigners on both sides put their case in a positive, constructive, and democratic way. The 85% turnout which resulted, and the fact that so many people got involved, were fantastic things.

I thought a really good point was made on the BBC website. They noted that many countries, particularly some of those which don't exactly have strong democratic traditions, were astonished that Britain let Scotland hold this vote, and more astonished when they realised that there was a possibility that it would produce a "Yes" and that that decision would have been respected. Then they added:

'While many countries may have found it incomprehensible that Westminster agreed to let the Scots hold this vote, another former British Ambassador, Sir Stephen Wall, points out that it does show British democracy is alive and well.'

"It is actually pretty remarkable that a state can say 'We are not going to compel part of what has been our country but perhaps didn't want to remain part of our country, we are not going to compel them to do so. We are going to allow the democratic process.'

"To do that, you have to be a country that has enormous confidence in its own democratic institutions."

It is a shame that some people on both sides resported to abuse and bully-boy tactics. Just to give two examples, it was wrong for "Yes" trolls to be nasty about J.K.Rowling and wrong for "No" trolls to be nasty about Andy Murray. Both were entirely entitled to express their views. Neither is a traitor to Scotland or the UK for doing so.

I hope we can keep the positive energy which came out of the campaign going ande move forward in a spirit of reconciliation while putting the nastiness behind us.

DC on the Indyref result and the future of the UK:

Prime Minister David Cameron writes:

"The people of Scotland have spoken. It is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together.

"Like millions of other people, I'm delighted. It would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end.

"And that sentiment was shared by people not just across our country, but also around the world - because of what we've achieved together in the past and what we can do together in the future.

"So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward.

"We have a chance - a great opportunity - to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better.

"Political leaders on all sides must work together to advance the interests of people in Scotland, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Because it is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of the United Kingdom.

"I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England.

"We have heard the voice of Scotland - and now the millions of voices of England must not go ignored.

"So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues - and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.

"This referendum has caught the imagination of people across the whole of our United Kingdom.

"Now we must look forward, and turn this into the moment when everyone - whichever way they voted - comes together to build a better, brighter future for our entire United Kingdom.

"And I want to know what you think - so please leave a message on my Facebook page and tell me your views on these crucial matters.

Yours,

David Cameron"

Facebook.com/DavidCameronOfficial

That referendum result in full:

The final result:

No 2,001,926

Yes 1,617,989

Phew!

I doubt if there will ever have been a result which will leave not just David Cameron and also Ed Miliband, but also Jean-Claude Junker and Barak Obama, as very relieved men, as the SCottish referendum result.

At the time of writing this I have not heard the final figures as one counting area was still outstanding but it is clear that Scots have voted, on an extremely high turnout of around 85%, to stay within the United Kingdom. The vote was around 55% to 45% - clear enough to put the issue to bed for a generation.

Now the issues which made 45% of Scots want to leave - and which were clearly of concern to many of the majority who voted to stay - must be addressed.

The promises made to Scotland during the campaign must be kept.

The greater self-government promised to Scotland must now be given to all four of the nations of the UK. Preferably without creating another layer of politicians.

It's not going to be easy or simple, and the timetable laid out is going to be challenging. But with good will and reconciliation - something very much needed this morning - it can be done.

Quote of the day 19th September 2014

"The people of Scotland have spoken, and it is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together."

(David Cameron)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Latest Employment Figures

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen below one million for the first time since 2008 – with unemployment seeing its biggest fall on record.

Yesterday’s strong jobs numbers show our long-term economic plan is working, building a stronger, healthier economy, where fewer people are relying on benefits and more have the security of work.

To make this happen the Conservative-led coalition government has been backing businesses with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes to create more jobs as part of our plan, while driving a programme of welfare reform. And it’s clear from these figures that it’s working, with the number of people claiming JSA below one million for the first time since 2008, and near record levels of employment.

There is still more to do. We know that families are still feeling the effects of Labour’s Great Recession and we want to make sure living standards go up for the long-term. But the only way to do this is to keep moving towards our target of full employment. The biggest risk to families’ economic security would be abandoning the plan which is getting us there.


Key statistics

· Employment: 30.6 million (up 74,000 this quarter and up 1.8 million since the election).

· Employment rate: 73.0 per cent (up 0.1 points this quarter and up 2.7 points since the election).

· Unemployment: 2.02 million (down 146,000 this quarter and down 475,000 since the election).

· Unemployment rate: 6.2 per cent (down 0.4 points this quarter and down 1.8 points since the election).

· Claimant count: 966,500 in August (down 37,200 on July and down 528,300 since the election).

· Total weekly pay: in July 2014 this was up by 0.7 per cent over the year.

Decision Day

After all the years of argument and campaigning, today is the day that Scotland votes on whether to remain in the British family of nations.

Whatever the result, let us hope that after all the disagreements of the past few weeks, from tomorrow we can all accept the result and work together for a prosperous and successful common future.

Quote of the day 18th September 2014

“The true champions of a nation's freedom are those who reject the limitations of stereotypes and affirm the rich diversity of human nature to be found.”

(Vasily Grossman)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland and Europe continued

It isn't just Scotland and the rest of the UK who will have a lot of challenges as a result of tomorrow's Scottish Independence referendum, whichever way it goes.

Brussels is, if anything, even more alarmed than London, though most of them have the sense to realise that the best thing they could do is keep quiet. But there is a very interesting article here on the ITV News website.

I wrote that most of them are keeping quiet and trying to appear neutral but as the article reports, the Spaniards are not: the Spanish PM described Scottish Independence yesterday as

“a torpedo aimed at the European spirit”.

Yesterday his Europe minister spoke of a delay of at least five years before Scottish readmission, and even then only on the proviso that Edinburgh commit to joining the Euro, joining Schengen and losing its share of the UK budget rebate.

And these are not empty threats, because Spain (like each of the 28 members) has an absolute right of veto over the admission of any new member. The reason Spain is seriously upset about the Scottish Referendum is the impact on Catalonia.

On Friday the Catalan Government in Barcelona is to pass a law authorising a non-binding referendum (referred to as a a ‘public consultation’) on separation from Spain, scheduled for November 9.

The timing is no accident.

Just five days ago 1.8 million people were on the streets of Barcelona demanding to be given the same opportunity as Scotland to decide their future.

And it's not just Spain. On the very day that Scotland votes, Flemish separatists are to rally on the streets of Brussels demanding the break-up of Belgium.

If Scotland votes "Yes" tomorrow I will deeply regret it but we must respect their decision and work to make the separation as harmless as possible. I don't believe that the remainder of the UK should try to make things more difficult for Scotland - though that does not mean we should agree to things which are not in Scottish or UK interests, such as sharing the pound without a common fiscal policy.

But there will be ramifications all over Europe. And it won't just be with the rest of the UK that an independent Scotland would have some very difficult negotiations to conduct.