Firstly, sorry for the lack of blogging of late. It’s been a difficult few months but also very hectic with performing in a play, starting a new job and (still) trying to buy a house. We’ll get there eventually.
But I’m also back in the political sense or put another way: I’ve come home. Yes, after being disillusioned by our illustrious leader of the Conservative Party and the painful partnership with the yellow peril for five long years, it’s time to frankly accept that voting for any other party than the Conservatives is, as Iain Duncan-Smith puts it in the Daily Telegraph today, like writing Britain’s ‘suicide note’.
David Cameron might not be a Tory in the Margaret Thatcher sense but then she was not really a Tory either – she was a Thatcherite, clearly. But she was the leader of the Conservative Party, a broad church but with core beliefs in the individual, free markets and removing the dead hand of the state from people’s lives. Conservatism is also about tradition and rejecting rapid change – it is sadly these values David Cameron has ditched in a failed bid to win over the Guardianistas and the BBC. But that will not stop me voting Conservative on Thursday and I’d like to explain why.
There is one thing the Conservatives still know how to do: build a strong economy. Some forget very easily where we were in 2010 after Gordon Brown had spent so much on tax credits and welfare creating his client state utopia where working was an option not an obligation. When the financial tsunami hit our shores in the form of a failed financial regulatory system in the US and here in the UK, the country almost toppled in to the abyss. Thank goodness for an election and the defeat of Labour.
Despite this financial armageddon landing in our towns, streets and homes, David Cameron was still unable to win an election because of his misguided attempt to make the electorate like the Conservative Party rather than respect it. But nevertheless he had enough seats to form a Coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats – a partnership he clearly liked – and with that the Conservative Party could get the UK back on her feet.
The economy is not the system we had in the 1980s which helped so many babyboomers become wealthy in their retirement – capitalism does need reform – but today we have the healthiest economy in the whole of Continental Europe. This is not an accident – it is as a result of policies by Chancellor George Osborne and his team to cut the deficit, to encourage more businesses to start-up and existing ones to flourish, which in turn has created 2 million new jobs in the private sector in the last five years.
Let me be straight: Ed Miliband ideologically does not like capitalism. His Labour Party believes in higher welfare payments for the work shy; they want a large public sector; they do not like private enterprise and given a chance will make life tougher for them to do business. Millions of people rely on the economic model we have in this country; it is far from perfect but it is the envy of Europe. Labour in cahoots with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond of the SNP would tear it apart to implement their socialist dream.
We can’t let that happen. The nightmare does not have to come true if you join me in voting Conservative on Thursday.
Newly elected UKIP MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell (l), with his party leader, Nigel Farage
UKIP have been dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” by none other than our illustrious leader and prime minister, David Cameron.
Well, that tactic of insulting your electorate is now consigned to the dustbin of campaign tactics at Conservative HQ. Now the creepy line is “go to bed with Farage, wake up with Miliband”. But that doesn’t seem to be working either and someone is clearly not doing their job well in Tory high command.
Last night, former Tory Douglas Carswell romped to victory in Clacton-on-Sea with a thumping majority of 12,404 with almost 60% of the vote on a 50% turnout. Mr Carswell resigned as a Conservative MP in August and stood as the UKIP candidate in the subsequent by-election yesterday. I heard throughout the campaign from the editor of BBC Look East through to the more eccentric Tory activists that the Conservatives were going to win in Clacton. Well, anyone who has visited Clacton over the last few weeks, as I have, could tell you UKIP were storming home to victory, energised not just by an anti-politics sentiment amongst the voters but, of course, Douglas Carswell’s personal vote as well. Shock, horror, but a right-wing Tory MP was actually quite popular in his constituency!
Although the Clacton result broke all by-election records, the real fright of the night for the established parties was the other by-election in Heywood and Middleton – caused by the death of the sitting Labour MP Jim Dobbin – when a recount was ordered as the result between Labour and UKIP was so close. In the end, Labour only just pipped UKIP to the post with a majority of 617, down from almost 6000 when Labour held the seat at the 2010 General Election – a 17.65% swing from Labour to UKIP. Nigel Farage had not campaigned in the seat as his canvassers were telling him it was lost.
Next stop on the by-election campaign trail is Rochester and Strood where former Conservative Mark Reckless defected to UKIP on the eve of the Tory Conference earlier this month. The date for the poll is yet to be announced.
It’s a go: Boris will become a Conservative MP again in May 2015
The Prime Minister is on holiday (in Portugal again, wearing his holiday uniform of navy shirt and brown loafers) so Boris thought it would be a good time to announce his intention to stand for Parliament at the General Election next May.
In typical Boris buffoonery style, he announced during his Europe speech at Bloomberg this morning he would be trying to get selected and elected to the Mother of all Parliaments next year. He made it out as if he might not even find a seat. In reality, Boris will be selected for a very safe seat and will be elected to Westminster with a stonking majority.
Word is, submarine Osborne is stirring below the water…
Four main party leaders in UK General Election 2015
As promised, here’s my analysis of last night’s Weber Shandwick organised debate on the 2015 General Election, which contained in-person analysis from Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge.
The event was well attended with people from across the economic sectors and pressure groups, such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The debate was chaired by one of the bigwigs from Weber Shandwick with a panel made up of the polling firm ComRes, Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, Priti Patel for the Tories, Natascha Engel representing Labour and Tim Aker, UKIP’s head of policy, and Sophy Ridge from Sky News.
ComRes kicked off the discussion with a presentation on the latest polling figures. This was very interesting stuff with a number of figures jumping out to form a startling yet still very unclear view of the election result come May next year. I was reminded the Tories actually did quite well in 2010, gaining 94 seats but with 36.1% of the vote – but still unable to win a majority. ComRes repeated their claim that 38% of the electorate who will vote in the European Elections will place their cross in the UKIP box. This would mean UKIP come first in the UK European Parliamentary Elections, triggering the “political earthquake” UKIP leader Nigel Farage has talked often about.
But, when it comes to the General Election, UKIP loses a quarter of this vote. Labour and the Tories will only see 5% of their European election vote switch next year. This gives fuel to Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps’ argument that UKIP voters in the European elections will come back to the Tory fold in time for the General Election. Well, less than a quarter will (once you strip out those who switch back to voting Labour or Lib Dem), which is better than nothing but not enough to risk splitting the Conservative vote. Labour also only need a swing of 2% to them to win an outright majority. As Priti Patel admitted later, her “party has a challenge on its hands”.
For the Lib Dems – they are sunk this year and next year having lost three quarters of their vote since 2010. Bye then.
“It’s the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist once famously said, still resonates today. And ComRes polling on how people feel about the economy does not look good for David Cameron and George Osborne: 51% say they do not see any improvement in their economic fortunes since 2010. Labour’s campaign on the “cost of living” is a shrewd move and it will pay dividends in May 2015.
When the debate switched to the politicians on the panel, we heard some interesting views from all three MPs. Priti Patel kicked off and she immediately proved once again why she has been dubbed the darling of the Right. To the extent Tim Aker later on (whilst Priti Patel was briefly away voting in the House of Commons) quipped he couldn’t speak for Priti but she certainly could speak for him! Mrs Patel lovebombed UKIP saying her party should not be attacking Nigel Farage’s party. The Witham MP also said the Conservative Party’s activist base was at its lowest it has ever been and the party in Government had alienated its members. It’s as if she was rehearsing her leadership speech for Party Conference in October 2015. She certainly ticked the right boxes for me.
Labour’s Natascha Engel was a perfectly nice lady but she really is a bit of a wet blanket. She didn’t say a lot about her party or their policies but did find time to say she doesn’t like asking electors for their voting intention on the doorstep. How on earth did she get elected?
It was then Tom Brake’s turn to say how wonderful the Lib Dems were in Government and that they were the ones who had done all the good things – £10,000 tax allowance was theirs of course – and the Tories had insisted on all the nasty things. Oh and it was the Liberal Democrats who had secured 1.5 Million apprenticeships too. When questioned on why they were therefore doing so badly in the polls, Mr Brake said he found that concentrating on local issues in his constituency helped keep his base on side. Well that may be so in his seat but it won’t save his wider party from oblivion at the General Election.
And then UKIP’s head of policy – and fellow Essex resident (two on the same panel indeed along with Priti Patel) – Tim Aker launched his rhetoric. Straight off the bat he announced the “Lib Dems are history” (fair point) and that despite David Cameron’s promise to control immigration it was in fact back up to “Blair standards”. He even insisted that he HAD to wear his UKIP rosette whilst canvassing in his Thurrock prospective seat so he didn’t get verbally attacked! Strangely (or maybe not) Priti Patel was nodding along to Aker’s rhetorical beat. Mr Aker rounded off his commentary with “People are fed up of the three main Westminster parties. We are the alternative”.
Questions from the audience were then welcomed. Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, asked a question which summed up how difficult it was to predict the General Election result when he said “What use is a national poll going to be in the General Election?” ComRes’ head of political polling, Tom Mludzinski, said in reply it was too early to predict the result but they were currently drilling down even further by polling in the 40 most marginal seats. I wouldn’t be surprised if my former stomping ground, Ipswich, was one of those marginal seats being polled.
Wrapping up the evening, Sophy Ridge provided her analysis and admitted she had been to a UKIP rally recently – for work purposes only of course, she cringed. Miss Ridge homed in on a point Priti Patel made earlier when she voiced deep concern about the direction the Scottish Referendum was taking and there was a serious risk of a Yes vote. As this was a polite gathering, no one pointed out that David Cameron may have made a stupid error in allowing Salmond his vote on independence. Sophy Ridge did point out there was a chance of some strange results whereby incumbent MPs go against their party’s swing and display “limpet-like” quality in hanging on to their seats. There’s hope for Ben Gummer yet! Finally, she identified three “curve balls”: the result of the Scottish Referendum could change everything; UKIP victory at the European Elections and how David Cameron reacts to this – does he take his party to the Right allowing Labour to occupy the centre ground?; the anti-establishment mood in the country: this is what Salmond and Farage have latched on to. Miss Ridge recounted her attendance at the UKIP rally where Mr Farage talked about Europe, immigration etc but it was when he urged the audience to give two fingers to the Westminster establishment he got the biggest cheer of the night.
Interesting indeed and even if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t waste my money – despite us only having one year to go.
This time next year will be the eve of the General Election in the United Kingdom, when we voters will pass our verdict on the Coalition Government led by David Cameron of the Conservatives and his Deputy Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.
Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge
Tonight I will be at a special debate in Westminster hosted by PR firm Weber Shandwick. All four main parties will represented on the panel with Priti Patel MP taking part the Tories, Natascha Engel MP for Labour, Tom Brake MP of the Lib Dems and Tim Aker, as Head of Policy for UKIP. Weber Shandwick have also teamed up with polling company ComRes, who during the evening will take a scientific look at what could be the outcome of the General Election poll in May 2015. Sky News’ political correspondent Sophy Ridge will conclude the discussion with her own analysis of how the political parties will fare once they face the judgement of the electorate.
Even if you can’t make tonight’s debate, you can follow and engage in the conversation online on Twitter using the hashtag #oneyeartogo.
I was always a bit wary of über-Tories or Cameroons saying in response to Labour’s “cost of living” rhetoric that, ah, wages will soon outstrip inflation and that will shoot Miliband’s fox! As if we’ll all going to feel like millionaires as soon as that happens.
Well, today it has happened. Using CPI, which I find dodgy as it doesn’t taken into account housing costs (why on Earth not?), the Office for National Statistics calculated earlier this month inflation was 1.6% in the year to March. RPI (which does include housing) was at 2.5%. Today, figures were released showing wages in the three months to February grew at 1.7% .
Putting aside the lack of direct comparisons between the figures the ONS is bandying about, yes wages are now outstripping one level of inflation. But do you feel like that is the case? Do you feel you have more in your pocket after bills and paying for things like, err, food. Nope, me neither. And there is a good reason for this. Wages are no where near the level they were before the crash in 2008 and the Great Recession started. As respected Sky News Economics Editor, Ed Conway, says, wages are now around 8% lower than they were in 2008. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (an independent public finances watchdog set up by the Coalition Government in 2010) predicts wages won’t actually get back to pre-2008 levels until 2018 – FOUR years away.
Which, as always in politics, means the cost of living is not a black and white issue. The same über-Tories go around saying Cameron will win in the 2015 Election if he has asks the question: “Do you feel better off now than in 2010?”. Well, based on the OBR prediction, the answer will be “No”. Perhaps, Ed Miliband’s “cost of living” rhetoric has some gas left in the tank yet.
Time to go: Cabinet minister leaves the House of Commons after her 32-second apology on Thursday for fiddling her expenses
The word which launched itself out of the radio when I heard the news of Cabinet minister Maria Miller’s apology to the House of Commons on Thursday was “attitude”. From that, read sheer arrogance, thinly-veiled threats by Mrs Miller to the Standards Commissioner and by her special advisor to journalists reporting on the investigation, and rank intransigence.
For the word “attitude” to be deliberately used in the Standards Committee’s written judgement – considered a very strong and somewhat “impolite” word by the Westminster elite – demonstrates just how pompous and arrogant Culture Secretary Maria Miller must be to deal with. No wonder David Cameron likes her so much.
But back to the facts of Maria Miller’s expenses claims. Parliament’s independent standards commissioner, a post created after the expenses scandal rocked Westminster in 2009, Kathryn Hudson, found the Culture Secretary had incorrectly designated an expensive property in south-west London as her ‘second home’ and then over-claimed £45,000 for mortgage payments at the taxpayer’s expense. Mrs Miller was in fact housing her parents in the ‘second home’ and from all accounts was spending more nights herself in the property than her designated ‘main home’ in her Basingstoke constituency. Parliamentary rules specifically state using taxpayer’s money to pay for the housing of relatives is strictly forbidden. Frankly, Maria Miller was committing fraud, a crime which some MPs have been sent to prison for.
Mrs Hudson’s report then had to pass to a committee of MPs – the Standards Committee – who decided to water down the findings and declared the Culture Secretary only needed to pay back £5,800 to the taxpayer and apologise for her “attitude” towards the inquiry. It had taken Kathryn Hudson’s team 14 months to unravel Mrs Miller’s £90,000 expenses claim, whilst being obstructed by the Culture Secretary at every turn, but only 32-seconds for the Cabinet minister to issue her reply to the findings.
During her apology (read from the backbenchers in the House of Commons despite Maria Miller being a front bench Cabinet secretary – one of those parliamentary quirks I guess!) she was flanked by the Chief Whip, Sir George Young, and her predecessor at the Culture, Media and Sport department, Jeremy Hunt, who had galloped from the front bench to assume his loyal position. Loyalty to the prime minister that is.
You see you don’t get this sort of senior support whilst being forced to “apologise to the House” (i.e. to the country) unless the big man in Number 10 wants the offender to stick around. Maria Miller is only one of three ministers in David Cameron’s cabinet and he has a bit of a reputation for being anti-woman, according to private polling and of course egged on by a smirking Ed Miliband. It really wouldn’t do for one of his female standard bearers to be given the chop.
Today, the Tories had their Spring Conference – in central London again, thus ensuring ordinary Conservatives were kept away by sheer expense (no pun intended) – and the Cameroon Tories were out in force saying to the 24-hour news channels how “wooonderful” Maria Miller is and how her constituents “just love her”. If you look closely as the Cameroons were being interviewed you can see David Cameron dart into the venue behind them. Job done.
Back in the real-world and real Tory shires, the verdict is somewhat more to the point. Tonight a Survation poll has found 82% of Conservative voters say Maria Miller should resign from cabinet and 66% say she should resign as an MP. Interestingly, 73% of the public as a whole say the apology Mrs Miller gave to the House of Commons was not enough.
David Cameron has yet again gone against his own members (and the public) in favour of a select elite who now run the Conservative Party. Perhaps he will pay attention to Survation’s voting intention figures which see the Conservatives slump to 29 points with UKIP – after Nigel Farage sunk Clegg on Wednesday – up 4 points to 20%.
Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team outside Number 11 Downing Street before he delivered his fifth Budget today
First up, I’m sorry for not blogging for over three weeks. I have recently had a big change in my life as I moved away from Ipswich, where I had lived and worked (in business and politics) for nearly thirteen years, to Chelmsford in Essex. It was sad to leave Ipswich but it was time for a change and since stepping down from active politics as a local councillor and Tory activist the opportunity was there to open a new chapter in my life.
But (unfortunately for some I am sure!) you won’t stop hearing from me in the electronic world as I will continue blogging on politics, mainly nationally and internationally until, perhaps, I feel the need to comment on the shenanigans of local politicians in the county town city of Essex.
So here goes with another post..
George Osborne has today announced his fifth budget for UK plc, with key headlines for me being the increase in the income tax threshold to £10,500 (delayed until next year) and the big one: increasing the ISA allowance (in either cash or shares) to £15,000 from July this year. This is great news for everyone (as all are entitled to earn up to £10,500 without paying income tax) and savers, who have suffered far too long since the banks and the Labour Party wrecked the economy in 2008.
It was interesting to see two MPs who I personally know – and have campaigned for – standing on the doorstep of Number 11 next to George Osborne at the customary photo op when the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds up the red box before driving off to the Commons to deliver his budget. Both Nicky Morgan (Con, Loughborough), who is Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Rob Wilson (Con, Reading East), who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, were in Downing Street with Mr Osborne for the group shot of the Chancellor’s team before he took centre stage.
We had the announcement at the front-end of the income tax system on the personal allowance but Mr Osborne also told us the higher rate tax threshold will rise from £41,450 to £41,865 next month and by a further 1% to £42,285 next year. Not a lot but it will help the 1.4 million (since 2010 alone) who are, frankly, on modest incomes (especially if they are the only breadwinner) but have been dragged into the 40% bracket. Let’s not forget the LOWERING of the 40% threshold was a deliberate Coalition Government policy since 2010 to pay for the increase in the personal income tax allowance. So all in all higher rate taxpayers are still losing out – some (in fact most) will say “so what?”, as the majority do not earn enough to pay 40%, but I remind you hundreds of thousands earn just over the threshold and their increase in salary due to a promotion is then swallowed up by HM Treasury – hardly fair.
I’m no where near about to retire and won’t be able to afford to do for many decades thanks to the out-of-control housing market and Gordon Brown’s raid on pensions back in 1997 when he removed the tax relief available to pension funds. But I am pleased George Osborne has started to recognise the huge problems being stored up for those on defined contribution pensions, which, if they have a pension at all, nearly everyone in the median working age group (i.e. my Generation) has rather than the gold-plated salary pension schemes (also known as defined benefit) my parents’ generation enjoy. I won’t begin to try and understand the detail (not yet anyway) but the Chancellor has removed tax restrictions, meaning defined contribution pension holders won’t need to buy an annuity if they do not wish to, and the taxable part of pension pot taken as cash on retirement is to be charged at normal income tax rate, down from 55%.
Straight after the budget, Sky News went to Wakefield to interview two local businessmen (and yes, they were men!). Both interviewees were positive about the chancellor’s announcement with the key word “confidence” being used. Most ordinary workers are yet to feel the benefits of the economic fixes the Conservative-led Government is putting in place to rectify the monumental mess the Labour Party, of which Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were very senior members, left the country in 2010. But I sense a warming amongst the electorate towards the Conservatives when it comes to the economy, which will be THE most important aspect of the General Election in 2015. “It’s the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton said.
However, David Cameron’s Conservatives have an uphill struggle if they are to actually win a general election for the first time since 1992! The constituency boundaries are skewered in Labour’s favour, thanks to the cry-baby antics of the Liberal Democrats when they weren’t given Lords Reform (something not mandatory in the Coalition Agreement although boundary changes were if Nick Clegg’s party got their referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which they did) and the general feel in the country that the Tories are still the party of the rich, which Labour leader Ed Miliband focused on again today during his budget response in the House of Commons. The surge of UKIP, to be boosted further when they may indeed win the European Elections in May, will also be a major factor on whether Mr Miliband takes the keys to 10 Downing Street or not. The yellow peril for all their puffed out chests in government (despite losing seats in the 2010 election), are an irrelevance.
Well, well, the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, has today “made it known” to the Daily Telegraph he now doesn’t want to enter into a second Coalition Government should the Tories fail to secure a majority in next year’s General Election and will commit to this in the Conservative Party manifesto for 2015.
I’m delighted Mr Cameron should say this. I never wanted the Conservatives to enter into a Coalition in the first place back in 2010. It was a grubby deal done for the sole purpose of David Cameron being able to tick off “been Prime Minister” on his to-do list – and, of course, so smirky Nick Clegg could slip into power via the back door. The Lib Dem leader actually LOST seats in the 2010 General Election but Mr Clegg still ended up as Deputy Prime Minister.
But I wouldn’t trust David Cameron. His views blow like the wind, just like a certain Mr Bliar’s did. Whatever the focus groups want, Mr Cameron will slot straight in behind. It seems the general public don’t like Coalition Governments much, with a poll by Ipsos MORI last month showing that 65 per cent of voters believe that a second hung parliament would be bad for Britain. This is hardly surprising as our entire political system, endorsed by the Great British electorate over centuries, is deliberately geared so we don’t end up with coalitions, like our European cousins are so fond of. The reason we ended up in this blue-yellow mish mash in Westminster is because the electorate still hadn’t fully warmed to the Conservative Party – borne out by the fact the Labour Party had imploded and still David Cameron wasn’t able to win a majority.
This is a shrewd move by the Prime Minister. He knows many of his Tory backbenchers hate having to share a bed with the yellow peril and thousands of his party members and activists are demotivated by the ease at which David Cameron brokered a deal with Nick Clegg. By painting a stark choice between either a Conservative Government or a Labour Government at the 2015 election, this may well help persuade Tories who have defected to UKIP over the last couple of years to come back to the fold to ensure Ed Miliband doesn’t end up with the keys to 10 Downing Street.
Not all so-called Conservatives were demotivated by their party forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Apart from the obvious examples on the Tory frontbench like Michael Gove and George Osborne, many from the voluntary party were strong advocates of David Cameron’s decision to form a Coalition Government. I found this deeply suspicious and it helped me understand the difference between a true-blue Tory and those just along for the power-trip. But I expect these Coalition apparatchiks will, just like the change in direction of the wind, soon be flag wavers against forming Coalition Governments. The problem for them this time is we now know who they are.
Since I joined the Conservative Party in 2003, my goal has been for the Tories to form a majority Government. We lost a fourth general election in a row in 2010 (the Coalition apparatchiks said we won – what planet are they on?). I really hope the Conservative Party wins a majority in 2015.