Why Tory Policies Will Not Raise Economic Growth – and the alternatives that would

Liz Truss hopes to raise economic growth through a combination of tax cuts and further deregulation.

The UK is already one of the most lightly regulated high income countries in the world, both in product and labour markets (Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 20 September).

Tax cuts can have a positive effect on economic growth, but probably not in the middle of a crisis where public services are collapsing and borrowing and debt are already at high levels. Moreover, the UK is not a high tax economy:- the corporate tax rate rise that the Government has decided not to implement would still have left our rate below that of most wealthy countries, while income tax and social security contributions as a share of wages are lower than every major high income economy apart from the USA (OECD, Taxing Wages, 2022). Taxation of the wealthy is arguably too low and not in need of further reduction. The rich can avoid taxation by borrowing to fund their spending, declaring low incomes while avoiding capital taxes by just letting the wealth pile up.

The specific measures so far outlined by the Government will not raise the growth rate. Ironically, the policies that would raise it have all moved in the wrong direction under this Government.

Numerous studies find that macro-economic instability, with high and unpredictable inflation, has a strong negative impact on growth. Wang et al in a cross country study find an impact of 0.5% per annum(NBER Working Paper 16390, September 2010). Any positive effect of the tax cuts has been more than offset by the negative impact on living standards of higher interest rates and a depreciating exchange rate. The Government have created precisely the conditions of uncertainty and chaos that drive investment away.

According to a 2014 IMF discussion note by Ostry et al, economic inequality also has a negative impact on economic growth. Despite the UK already being the most unequal major developed economy apart from the USA, Truss has introduced measures designed to raise inequality further. Far from making the poor better off through trickle down, this will have the double negative impact of both reducing the future size of the cake, and reducing the share going to those most in need.

The largest and arguably most studied pro growth policy is trade openness. Lower tariffs and easier transactions are found in the same cross country study by Wang et al to add about 0.65% per annum to the growth rate. In the UK, since BREXIT we have of course been going in the opposite direction, making all trade transactions both costlier and more difficult.

Another major driver of economic growth is investment in human capital- education and training. This is another area where we are going backwards. After 12 years of austerity schools were already in crisis, while exclusion from EU wide research programmes is damaging our higher education. A health sector in crisis not only has major impact on welfare, it also has negative impact on economic growth as Ill health reduces productivity. The fiscal consequences of the tax giveaway to the rich will make things very much worse. Government spending will be even more severely squeezed by the increased cost of servicing Government debt and the even higher inflation caused by the collapse of sterling.

There is a credible way out of this mess. Cancel the tax cuts. Focus support during the cost of living crisis on those who need it, and use windfall taxes to part fund it. There is a case for providing support where possible to incomes rather than fuel prices, allowing increased fuel prices to encourage investment in fuel efficiency and alternative sources.Government needs to get behind a major program of investment in energy efficiency including household insulation. More generally, Government needs to rebuild public services and the value of public sector wages.

In order to convince the markets that the Government is on a path towards fiscal sustainability, and can afford the spending that is needed, a realistic pro growth strategy is required . It needs a fully articulated fiscal framework that avoids taking reckless risks with macroeconomic stability . A significant part of the growth agenda should be a closer relationship with the EU, reversing the damage from extreme BREXIT.

Truss of course will do none of this. The longer she remains , the wider and deeper the suffering caused, and the more difficult the task facing the next Government.

Kamikaze Economics

Truss is crashing the economy, taking us with her. Only the Government and their rich mates have parachutes: they can make money in a crisis . Maybe Truss knows the 2024 election is lost, and is ensuring that Labour inherits such a mess that they appear to fail, enabling the Tories to return to power in 2029. The only other plausible hypothesis is that Truss and her colleagues really are as thick and ignorant as they appear.

Do tax cuts increase economic growth?

I didn’t want to clutter my post on PM Truss’s economics with detailed references but in case anyone is interested:-

A paper ‘Do corporate tax cuts boost economic growth?’ in the August 2022 European Economic Review by Sebastian Gechert and Philip Heinberger found no evidence that they did. Instead they found evidence of a publication bias, with positive results more likely to be published. The authors point out the complexity of the relationship and therefore the lack of surprise that it is difficult to find a straightforward causal relationship. In the UK context, my view is that it is very unlikely that cutting our rate will have anything but a negative impact: our corporate tax rate is not high compared to other countries, and cutting it in the midst of a full blown fiscal crisis is unlikely to boost investment or growth.

The evidence on personal tax is even clearer, as David Hope of LSE argues in a December 2020 paper: ‘Keeping tax low for the rich does not boost the economy.’

Trussconomics

Liz Truss says she wants to overturn Treasury orthodoxy on economics- but where on earth did she find anyone who thinks her alternative prescription makes sense?

We have high inflation- higher than other countries similarly affected by energy prices. Living standards are falling further and faster than at any time in living memory.

We have a high level of Government borrowing, adding to a public debt that is already at historically high levels relative to GDP.

We have a large balance of payments deficit, and declining exchange rate.

Financing these deficits has been relatively cheap but that is changing, with higher interest rates and a declining exchange rate both raising the cost of Government borrowing.

After 12 years of austerity there is a massive backlog of public expenditure costs that will have to be addressed. Almost every area of public spending is in crisis, before even considering the intense pressure to begin to restore the value of public sector pay.

All this follows a prolonged period of slow growth and declining real wages since the conservatives took over in 2010.

Her solution to this perfect storm of economic problems is to cut taxes and cut public spending.

In normal times, there is no reason to believe that this would increase economic growth. In a situation where the Government already faces high inflation and large fiscal and balance of payments deficits, it will have the opposite effect. Irresponsible economic management will drive investment down even further.

There is a narrow path out of the problems. It requires higher taxes on the better off ( preferably on wealth which largely escapes tax), support targeting those on low incomes, and a rebuilding of public services including local Government. It requires serious policies to rebuild economic growth- including a closer economic relationship with Europe. It doesn’t require the Government to throw more fuel on the fire through unnecessary tax cuts for those who don’t need them.

It beggars belief that she was employed as an economist.

The Cost-of-Living Crisis: How could Government help, and how could it pay for it?

How can Government help?

Rapidly rising prices are causing real hardship in the UK- especially for the poorest. Fully compensating everyone for the cut in their real living standards would cost £50bn and is neither feasible nor affordable. A more manageable goal would be to maintain the value of welfare payments by making timely adjustments to reflect increases in the cost of living. This would cost roughly £12bn. It would not only maintain the incomes of those wholly dependent on benefits, it would also support the incomes of many workers who have their income topped up by universal credit[1].

How can help be paid for?

Government can find the money to pay for more help to those in need by borrowing more, cutting spending in other areas of Government, or increasing taxes.

A fourth option is to raise economic growth – increasing the size of the cake available to be divided. Labour have rightly made the point that our difficulties are in part due to low economic growth, part of which is self-inflicted by conservative economic policies. Policies to raise economic growth will not provide a solution to how we finance emergency spending this year, but they are the key to how higher spending can be sustainably funded into the medium to long term.  An additional 1% of GDP would generate about £9bn per year in additional tax revenues, as well as reducing expenditure by taking more people out of the welfare bracket. A good place to start looking for a growth bonus would be by improving our economic relationship with Europe: the OBR report says explicitly that the impact of the hard BREXIT remains a significant brake on growth. Rejoining may be off the table, but there remains scope for short term benefits by moving closer to the single market.

Increased Borrowing: unwise at present?

Turning to the three options for financing extra spending in the short term, increased Government borrowing appears unwise at present. Debt interest on Government debt is forecast by the OBR to increase by £30bn in the current financial year, more than double the cost of inflation proofing all welfare payments, and has reached £83bn, equal to 7.6% of Government revenue. The OBR expect this to be a temporary blip, but that depends on the current inflationary episode being quickly controlled and any period of significantly higher interest rates being short lived. Both assumptions already look optimistic.

Spending in other areas needs to be increased -not cut

There is also no scope to finance increased welfare spending by cutting Government spending in other areas. After a decade of austerity, many areas of Government spending were already desperately underfunded before the COVID crisis. The most recent OBR report argues that an additional £5bn is required to make up for the impact of cost increases on other areas of public expenditure.

Taxes are high by UK standardsbut not compared to other countries

That leaves increased taxation as the only realistic option for financing increased spending to help households cope with rising prices. This is difficult for both major political parties. The Conservatives already face backbench grumbles at the increasing tax burden, and Labour remain anxious to avoid being labelled as the party of high taxes and spending. But is the hysteria of the tabloid press about high taxes justified?

Taxes are forecast by the OBR to reach 36% of GDP by F2026-27. This is high by UK historical standards, but not by international standards. The institute for fiscal studies, an organisation deeply opposed to irresponsible tax and spending policies, describes such a tax rate as ‘middling’ compared to other wealthy countries in the OECD and EU. The tax: GDP rate is mainly increasing because of sluggish GDP growth for the next few years, held back in large part by the self-inflicted wounds of BREXIT. An exceptional increase in taxes to help us get through a major international crisis would not be unreasonable, and the tax: GDP rate will fall back as economic growth recovers. An extra £17bn of tax financed spending would be equivalent to just 0.7% of GDP. It would still leave our tax: GDP ratio in the middling range, especially as other countries face similar fiscal pressures, and will also be likely to respond with similar measures.

How should extra tax be raised?

Labour has proposed funding additional support to households via a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies. This is a reasonable idea, but it would only raise £2bn – a fraction of what is needed.

Several major reviews have argued that the UK tax system gives excessively favourable treatment to taxation of business and of capital gains, relative to income from employment. The difficulty of taxing capital gains is perhaps the major anomaly. Capital gains tax raises less than £15bn per annum in the UK. The wealthy increasingly fund their expenditure by borrowing against the value of their assets. Borrowing is not income and therefore escapes income tax, while capital taxes are only incurred if assets are sold at a profit. This ability of the rich to avoid tax is both manifestly unfair, and economically inefficient.

Reforming the tax system along the lines recommended by the Mirlees[2] report should be a longer-term aim. However, to help meet the costs of the COVID pandemic[3], The Wealth Tax Commission developed detailed proposals for a one-off wealth tax on individuals that could quickly raise significant sums from those best able to pay. As just one example, the Commission estimate that a tax of 5% of wealth levied only on individuals with assets in excess of £10 million would raise £43bn. Because it is a one-off tax, it avoids many of the complications and potential tax avoidance that come from having to assess gains and losses each year. It seems well suited to dealing with a national emergency in a way that ensures that those best able to pay bear the biggest burden. An individual with assets of £10million would not face significant hardship in paying £50,000 especially if, as proposed, the payments are spread over 5 years.

Conclusion: Help those who need help, by modestly raising taxes on those who can afford to pay

 In conclusion, the Government could afford to finance full inflation proofing of welfare payments, plus other compensation schemes, by raising more tax, with the burden focused on those best able to pay.

One attractive idea would be to implement the proposal for a one-off wealth tax. This is not the only way of raising the relatively modest additional funds required, and the conclusion that spending more is feasible does not depend on the introduction of a wealth tax. The current Government of very wealthy individuals is unlikely to implement such a tax -but opposition parties might want to take note.


[1] Based on data in the Office for Budget Responsibility Economic and Fiscal Outlook, March 2022.

[2] Tax by Design, James Mirlees et al, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2011; and other more recent studies by Stuart Adam, Helen Miller and others available at ifs.org.uk

[3] Wealth Tax Commission, A wealth tax for the UK: Frequently Asked Questions, Arun Advani, Emma Chamberlain and Andy Summers, LSE, 2020

‘I don’t do politics’

If you don’t do politics, politicians will do nothing for you.

Nearly three quarters of over 65-year-olds vote: pensions are protected from inflation and pensioners were left better off by the 2021 budget.

Less than half of 18–24-year-olds vote: despite the higher minimum wage, most were left worse off by the 2021 budget, with no action to address concerns regarding housing, insecure employment, access to quality education and the problem of student debt.

‘I don’t do politics.’

If you don’t do politics, politics may do for you.

In 2010-2017, Tory cuts in health and social care spending were associated with 140,000 additional deaths in England[i].


[i] Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England:a time trend analysis, BMJ open, 2017.  Cause and effect can’t be proved – but cuts in health and social care spending are the most plausible hypothesis.

Why are the Conservatives ahead in the polls?

Boris Johnson heads a Government of staggeringly incompetent liars. Their mistakes over the management of the pandemic have resulted in one of the highest death rates in any developed economy, whilst they have wasted eye-watering sums of money on failed contracts that have been awarded without competition to their friends and allies. How is it comprehensible that they can be ahead of a Labour opposition of sane, sober, competent and level-headed pragmatists?

The biggest dividing line in UK voting behaviour is between young and old. According to YouGov polling, Labour took 55% of the votes of 18–24-year-olds but the share shrinks continually as age increases. Labour took a larger share of the vote than the conservatives in all groups under 40, while the Conservatives took a larger share in each group over 40, with the lead increasing with age. Education is another dividing line, with the conservatives taking 58% of the votes of those educated to GCSE level or below, but a little less than 30% of those educated to degree level, where labour took 43% and other left-of-centre parties nearly all of the rest. The big expansion of higher education in recent years means that younger people are also better educated on average, so the two effects are not independent of each other.

Social class is no longer a predictor of voting intentions, with the conservatives ahead in both ABC1 white collar occupations and C2DE blue collar jobs. However, although people no longer vote according to class as determined by occupation, those with wealth remain far more likely to vote conservative. As one indicator, the conservatives lead labour on voting intentions among owner occupiers, but lag far behind among those in rented accommodation[1]. This is also likely to be in large part a reflection of the age divide.

Recent surveys of voter intentions show that electors view COVID 19 as by far the most important issue that will determine their vote if an election were held tomorrow. Allowing for higher turnout among older voters, roughly half of all conservative voters in the 2019 general election were over 60, the age group that accounts for over 90% of COVID 19 deaths. It might seem that miss-management of an epidemic that overwhelmingly kills the old should be bad for the future electoral prospects of the conservatives, who draw so much of their support from this group. There are two reasons why the health impact of the pandemic is not the main influence on voter intentions: –

  1. Though devastating for those affected, only a relatively small proportion of the population has been directly affected by the COVID 19 related death or serious ill-health of someone to whom they were close. A death toll of 145,000 or so, if we take all of those cases where COVID 19 was mentioned on the death certificate, represents only 0.22% of the population. It compares to a normal annual death toll of about 600,000. Some of those who died were in the last stage of life and would have died from other causes – excess deaths have turned negative in recent weeks, reflecting the fact that a significant proportion of those who died with COVID 19 had their lives shortened by months rather than years. Adding in those who have experienced symptoms for 5 weeks or more raises the share of the population who have experienced serious health consequences from the pandemic to about 1.5% of the population. Those most at risk have now been vaccinated, so fear for the future is also much diminished.
  2. For most of us, the most significant impact of the epidemic has been on livelihoods and lifestyles. Here, as I will show, the population in general, and conservative voters in particular, have fared far better than they might have expected.

According to the Bank of England, about 20% of households reported experiencing financial difficulty due to COVID 19, but experience is very variable[2]. About 28% of households experienced some reduction in income as a result of the pandemic, while 65% had no change and 8% actually saw their incomes rise.

Although nearly three quarters of households experienced no reduction in income, 57% reduced their spending, partly due to lockdown preventing spending on holidays and recreation, and partly a precautionary response. As a consequence, total household savings have increased by about 8% since the start of the pandemic.

Among retirees and high and middle-income households, a clear majority increased their savings. Incomes and wealth typically rise with age and experience, and thus we can conclude that the group in the population from whom the conservatives draw the majority of their votes have actually improved their wealth during the pandemic. This is confirmed by very recent data from a March 2021 YouGov poll. This found that 74% of those who voted conservative in the 2019 election increased or maintained their savings during the pandemic, compared to 62% of labour voters, with the median increase of £5000 by conservative voters compared to £3000 by those who voted labour[3].

Among those who are employed but on low incomes, the Bank of England found that there is not much change in income or expenditure, with similar proportions of households increasing or reducing savings. Only among the group of unemployed and furloughed workers is there clear evidence of a majority of households drawing down their savings in order to maintain their spending. Even among furloughed workers, only 35% reported reducing their savings.

In summary, the picture that emerges is one in which the conservative Government has been able to protect the majority of the population from the economic consequences of the pandemic. Partly because of the sharp reduction in household expenditure, Government has been able to massively increase Government spending without having to raise taxes and without causing inflation: see my previous blog post for a slightly more technical discussion of how this is possible. The consequence is that most (but by no means all) of the population feel better off than they expected to at this stage in the pandemic. They may be aware that some aspects of the pandemic have been very poorly managed, but they are more influenced by two things the Government has seemed to get right from their perspective:- rolling out immunisation, and protecting their incomes.

Those who have suffered most from the pandemic are less likely to be conservative voters.

The young have had their education and career prospects blighted and their social life severely disrupted.

Those working in the public sector in health, education, and social care in particular have had a horrible and stressful year. There is no data on their voting habits, but anecdotal evidence and a consideration of self-interest suggests that the conservatives are unlikely to have a lead in this group.

A significantly higher proportion of BAME households reported themselves as struggling financially at the onset of the pandemic, and the major study undertaken of the impact on ethnic minority households confirmed that they have been disproportionately affected[4]. This will have little impact on the conservative vote because BAM|E households are overwhelmingly labour supporting. For example, a November 2020 poll by Number Cruncher Politics found 61% support for Labour among non-white voters compared to just 14% for the conservatives[5]. This result is something of an outlier, but all polls give Labour a substantial lead among non-white voters, though differences in turn-out reduce the impact at the polls:- only 39% of BAME respondents in the same poll said they were ‘very likely’ to vote in a general election compared to 61% of white respondents[6].

Of course, elderly conservative voters have children and grandchildren, they are the heaviest users of health and social care, and are presumably no less compassionate than the rest of the population. It would be unwise to assume that they do not care about what happens to the young or to the low paid health and care workers who look after their nearest and dearest. Nevertheless, their perception of how well the pandemic is being handled will be dominated by the success of the vaccination campaign, and by the fact that their personal finances have largely escaped unscathed. Even the low income red wall voters have fared far better than might have been expected.

I am not sure whether the interventions to combat COVID 19 were deliberately skewed towards conservative political advantage, or whether this was just an unintended consequence that reflects the fact that economic shocks almost always bear most heavily on the most vulnerable. When the 5th March 2021 edition of a conservative newspaper like the Financial Times says that the bias towards Tory seats in the ‘Levelling Up Fund is ‘pretty blatant’, it seems like a question that is worth asking.


[1] Ncpolitics, op cit

[2] How has Covid-19 affected the finances of UK households? | Bank of England

[3] Savings during COVID, Survey Report (yougov.com)

[4] ONS, C|oronavirus and ethnicity: a summary of what we know, 14 D|ecember 2020

[5] Ncpolitics.uk, ITV C|ovid-19 poll, November 2020

[6]

How does Labour get elected – and what does it do then?

Introduction

Our Government in the United Kingdom has been taken over by reckless and incompetent right-wing fanatics who achieved power by telling lies, and who are implementing policies that are disastrous for the majority of the population. This note offers an explanation for how this came about in a democracy, some thoughts on how we might win our country back, and some suggestions on how we can make it more likely that future Governments will be truthful, honest, reasonably competent, and less dangerously extreme.

How did extremist liars take over our Government?

For most of the period that the House of Commons has existed, the vote has been limited to those with wealth or property. The fear of the rich and powerful has always been that universal suffrage would result in the poor majority of the population voting to redistribute wealth and income from the haves to the have nots. Representative Democracy based on universal adult suffrage is still a new form of Government, less than 100 years old in the UK.

The Labour landslide after the second world war did bring to power a Government committed to creating a more equal society. It achieved an enormous amount in terms of social welfare, but the economy was slow to revive. It was followed by a thirty-year period when Governments of both political parties favoured a mixed system. Both parties accepted the role of private capital in generating economic growth, and they also accepted the case for Government to provide an effective social safety net, and to use the tax and benefit system to support greater equality of opportunity. Labour favoured a bigger role for the state and a bigger share for the working class, while the conservatives were more sympathetic to the private sector and the owners of capital, but the difference was one of emphasis. Democracy worked well because there was little disagreement about fundamental objectives, the political debate concentrating instead on the means to achieve them and on which party was better able to manage the economy.

The shift to the right that began in 1979 and has accelerated since the conservatives returned to power in 2010 has seen a complete breakdown of the post-war consensus. Surprisingly, the Conservatives were able to gather support for a right-wing agenda that does not at first sight appear to be favourable to the interests of the majority of the population.

The initial victory of the conservatives in 1979 was in large part a reaction to the winter of discontent, when a series of strikes by public sector trade unions caused major disruption to people’s lives. Labour efforts to limit the power of the trade unions had been rejected by the party, and the Conservatives were elected because they were perceived as better able to address the issue. The severe monetarist policies that they implemented resulted in a deep recession, high unemployment, and the loss of much of the manufacturing sector – destroying the power of the trade unions as a by-product of the loss of jobs in manufacturing and mining where most of the trade unionists were employed. These policies ought to have resulted in defeat at the next election in 1983, but the conservatives were returned to power on the back of victory in the Falkland Islands and opposition to a labour party that had responded to the rightwards lurch of the conservatives by itself going to the radical left – the 1983 Labour manifesto was described by Gerald Kauffman, one of its own MPs, as ‘the longest suicide note in history’.

The loss of manufacturing jobs not only weakened the trade unions, it also severed the close linkage between the working class and the labour party. Renewed growth was concentrated in the South, in service sectors that were not unionised, and where those who were employed did not necessarily see themselves as working class, and did not naturally identify with the Labour party. The aspirations of this rapidly expanding class were cleverly exploited with a series of measures to give them a direct financial stake in the conservative Government – notably the sale of the public housing stock and the sale of shares in privatised companies, both at attractive prices. The electorate was grateful for the bribes and voted Tory, ignoring the problems of housing shortages, rising inequality, and private sector monopolies being created for the next generation.

Labour learnt the lesson of 1983. In a mirror image of the Conservatives response of moving to the left after the 1945 Labour landslide, Labour eventually ended the period of Conservative dominance by moving to the right. It was able to return to power in 1997 and hold it until 2010. Although the economy performed well, and they achieved a lot in addressing poverty in the UK, the policies pursued by the Labour Government were in many respects further to the right of the spectrum than those pursued by Tory Governments prior to Thatcher.

Until 2016, the electoral system worked after a fashion. Governments of both parties respected constitutional conventions, they submitted to Parliamentary scrutiny, were generally honest and truthful. The major exception is the lies told by the Blair Government to justify the Iraq war, but the eventual exposure of the dishonesty of the case made to Parliament did irretrievable damage to the reputation of Mr Blair and the Government that he led.

The 2016 BREXIT vote and the three general elections that followed have witnesses a new and far more damaging lack of respect for truth, for constitutional convention, or even for basic honesty[1]. The conservatives have demonstrated that it is possible for a Government to fail on every one of the aspects of performance that we used to think determined election results, and yet still be returned to power.

Part of the explanation of how this has been possible is the deliberate circulation of lies and misleading information. The media have reported the statements of leading politicians on both sides of the argument, but have proved unable or unwilling to challenge statements that are often misleading, and sometimes blatantly untrue. It is worth unpacking a little why our media has been so reluctant to point out the lies.

Television remains the most used platform for news, and the most trusted of the major sources, with 77% of adults over 16 still using it for news and with the BBC still dominant, followed by ITV. It is followed by the internet, which is used by 65% of adults for news, and is the most used source by 16-24-year olds. Some 47% of adults use newspapers and newspaper web sites[2].

The fragmentation of news sources makes it easier to target biased, false or misleading content to specific target groups in ways that are difficult to challenge, because it is only seen by those who are more likely to believe it

The continuing consumption of TV news, and specifically BBC news, by more than half of the population may appear reassuring. However, the BBC, still the largest single provider of news, has been increasingly timid and unwilling to hold Government to account. In a world where news sources have fragmented, the BBC recognises that it is harder to sustain the argument for a compulsory licence fee, and appears to have one eye on not appearing to be biased against the paymasters. In an attempt to appear unbiased, the BBC have given minimal attention to analysis of BREXIT. They have reported the claims of BREXIT advocates and of remainers without facts or meaningful quantification, so that a casual consumer of their news coverage would be unaware of the overwhelming weight of expert analysis confirming that BREXIT will make us poorer and lead to massive disruption and loss of jobs. Only now, when it is too late to have any impact, has the BBC begun to analyse some of the consequences.

The nature of news coverage has also changed. The most read ‘newspapers’ carry less political analysis and more celebrity gossip. With one or two exceptions, they are right wing, reflecting the views of their wealthy owners. The 24- hour news coverage endlessly repeats a few headline items, but lacks detailed analysis. News picked up via the internet is targeted to the interests of the consumer, and mostly assumes a short attention span. Users are unlikely to encounter views they disagree with or subjects they are not interested in.

Engagement in politics has drastically reduced, raising the risk that our political parties will more easily fall into the hands of extremists and those who provide the funding. Conservative party membership has fallen from a peak of 2.8 million in the 1950s to less than 200,000[3]. The membership is older, more socially conservative, and more reactionary than those who vote for the party. A smaller and more centralised party is also more vulnerable to being influenced by the wealthy donors on whom it depends for finance.[4] The donors presumably expect some return in personal favours or policies favourable to themselves.

BREXIT is a surprising policy for the Conservatives, who were traditionally the party of business. The explanation may lie in the increased dependence on donations from wealthy individuals rather than major corporations. Wealthy individuals may be more concerned to protect their personal wealth from EU legislation to control tax havens or from threats to tax wealth directly. They are less concerned with protecting manufacturing enterprises, because they can always shift their money elsewhere. Our PM’s notorious comment ‘fuck business’ perhaps reflects the new reality that those with money can shift it at will, and need have no loyalty to specific companies, still less to specific plants established in a particular country. It is ironic, and perhaps highly cynical, that the wealthy backers of BREXIT have little real interest in UK sovereignty or the UK ‘taking back control of it’s borders.’ Their wealth is definitely under their control, it is held and managed globally and shifted across borders at will with no loyalty to any particular jurisdiction or particular company. It doesn’t damage their interests if cars are manufactured in Germany instead of the UK, but they do care that they can continue to shelter their wealth in tax havens.

The victory of the extreme BREXIT faction was also facilitated by the nature of our first past the post system of Government. In 2019, the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in the house with just 45% of the votes cast, and just 30% of the electorate. For half of the electorate, voting makes little difference because only one party has a realistic chance of winning in their constituency. It is actually even worse than that, because the candidate is selected by the party, which ensures that there is little diversity. A conservative supporter who would like to vote for a moderate is likely to find that the candidate in his constituency is a right wing BREXIT supporting fanatic.

A well-resourced party can win a general election by focusing on the electors in a limited number of marginal seats. It can target its messages using social media in ways that make misinformation hard to challenge. It can target election promises on messages appealing to that group. If the campaign is supported by the wealthy and by the media barons, it can outspend its rivals, and ensure that the message is reinforced by a predominantly right-wing media more than willing to distort facts in order to support the conservatives while smearing the opposition.

To summarise, the two-party system worked well when Labour represented the working class, while the conservatives were the party of business. Both had an interest in economic growth and prosperity, seen as good for both wages and profits. The liberalisation of capital markets from the 1980s has broken this commonality of interest. The owners of capital are still the backers of the conservative party, but they are no longer closely linked to specific locations or businesses. They maximise their wealth by moving their money across borders and between companies, and no longer have interests in common with a workforce tied to a specific job or location. Despite this divergence of interests, the wealthy and radical right-wing extremists have been able to dominate our electoral system. This is possible because the population as a whole is not well informed or actively engaged, and is therefore vulnerable to a well-resourced campaign based on endless repetition of simple half-truths and deliberate misinformation.

How can Labour win back the Government?

Age is now the biggest dividing line in UK politics, with the old predominantly voting conservative or BREXIT party, while the young predominantly vote for left of centre parties[5]. Young people want a Government that is less socially conservative, and more committed to addressing the issues around climate change, poverty, inequality and inadequate social services. History should therefore be on the side of change, as the weight of the current generation of the very old in the electorate gradually declines. One problem is that a lower percentage of young people vote or have much knowledge or engagement with the political process. Less than half of 18-24-year olds voted in the 2019 general election, compared to nearly three quarters of over 65s[6].

A more general point is that many of the electorate have felt ignored and let down by the political system. They feel that all politicians are the same, only in it for themselves. Experience since 2010 has taught them that the Government does nothing to solve their problems. Few remember the very real progress in reducing poverty and inequality under labour in 1997-2010, even fewer know about the leading role that labour played in mitigating the global financial crisis, and instead blamed Labour and voted them out in 2010.

The negative attitudes of the electorate towards politicians in general and Labour in particular are not based on any sophisticated understanding or knowledge of the causes of their problems. Ignorance leaves the electorate very vulnerable to the arguments of populists. If you start with the assumption that your vote makes little difference anyway, it is very tempting to give populists with simple solutions a try: perhaps it really is all the fault of the EU, or the Chinese, or immigrants, or benefit scroungers, or whatever scapegoat the Government and the right-wing press are touting this week as the cause of all our troubles.

We have learned to our cost that a Government willing to blame foreigners and immigrants, willing to tell lies about its own policies and those of the opposition, and able to find a few juicy bribes for potential voters can get itself elected. Even more remarkably, it turns out that The Who were wrong and the electorate will get fooled again – change the leader, and pretend it is an entirely new Government.

When the Government goes to the extreme right, it is tempting for the opposition Labour party to settle in the stodgy middle ground. The new Labour leadership at the time of writing in January 2021 have finally captured a small lead over the Tories in recent polls of voting intentions, and are arguing that this is evidence that the middle ground is where they will gain a victory at the polls. I am not convinced that this is the case. The conservative Government has presided over a decade of severe austerity, has negotiated a thin BREXIT deal that is predicted to shrink the economy by 4%, and has presided over total chaos and confusion in its response to the Coronavirus. Add to this a succession of scandalous contracts going at high cost to Tory party chums who had no relevant experience and who charged exorbitant prices and still failed to deliver. With that record, Labour should be trouncing the conservatives with a lead in the high teens. The fact that they are not suggests that the electorate remain uninspired by a leadership that is perceived to offer little that is new. Indeed, with Labour votes concentrated in urban areas, and with Scotland lost to the nationalists, the current lead is too small to even make Labour the largest party.

I would suggest that four key elements are essential to a successful Labour election strategy: –

  1. Work with Allies: The parties of the centre and moderate left will need an electoral pact. The disastrous experience of coalition should not be repeated, but it is essential to minimise the number of seats won by conservative candidates. Other progressive parties should stand down in favour of the candidate with the best chance of defeating the conservative. To secure such a pact, Labour may need to be relatively generous in ceding to minor parties some seats that might be winnable. The bigger picture should be the focus.
  2. Communicate effectively: relentlessly focus on just three or four messages, but also have a strategy to deal with a hostile media. In 2019, the leadership was not active, agile and articulate enough in refuting the lies. It will be essential to re-establish a rebuttal unit, to instantly correct lies or mis-information and get the corrections out on every available platform. It would not be wise to get into bed with media magnates to the extent that Tony Blair did, but it would make sense to invest in improving relations with the media as far as that is possible without compromising on policy.
  3. Attack: The conservative record has been truly appalling. Lies, waste, corruption, incompetence, every target missed, promising everything, delivering nothing, apart from an extreme BREXIT that will severely damage the country for a generation or more. Labour have been too hesitant in defending their own record in Government and far too restrained in attacking the record of the conservatives.
  4. Organise: Build on the mass movement of younger supporters created under Jeremy Corbyn, making smart use of new media. The trick will be to focus on a policy agenda that is both inspiring to the members, and perceived as credible and attractive by the broader electorate.

Without getting into policy detail, I would suggest that the three or four key messages that Labour should focus on are:

  1. Genuinely take back control –a fair distribution of expenditure, managed by local Government with restored powers, and an end to the scandal of public services delivered through dodgy deals with private sector spiv companies.
  2. Invest in a green revival to achieve zero carbon.
  3. Things are better under Labour –the statistics show that the Labour record in managing the economy, providing public services, and reducing poverty has been consistently superior to the conservatives, and Labour needs to own that proud record rather than seeming embarrassed by it.
  4. The BREXITERS lied to you: Restore our trading relationships and end the chaos that a very thin BREXIT has caused.

In 2024, an incoming Government is certain to inherit a collapsed economy, with high unemployment, massive poverty and inequality, dilapidated and under-funded public services, inadequate infrastructure in dire need of rehabilitation, and a much depleted and impoverished private sector, shrunk by COVID and by BREXIT, with those businesses that have not relocated facing higher costs of doing business. It will face a very high public debt as a share of GDP, an on-going public sector deficit, a much smaller tax base, and a more difficult environment for funding the deficit, with higher interest rates and probably further deterioration in the HMG credit rating. It will face a hostile media, intensified pressure to break the union of the United Kingdom, and international relationships in urgent need of repair.

In order to win the election and not take the blame, the campaign needs to hammer home the cause of all of these problems. They are mainly the result of stupid policy decisions, and were avoidable. There is no need to be afraid of ‘project fear.’ Labour should own it. The remainers were right to be fearful of the consequences of BREXIT, and those who told us not to be fearful were lying.

It is unfortunate that Keir Starmer voted for the Tory BREXIT deal, and has said that Labour must accept it, and that it may not even mention the issue in future election materials. It seems like a major error to offer this unnecessary support just at the point when polls suggest that a majority of the electorate now think BREXIT was a mistake, a majority that is likely to increase when the full consequences hit home. If things go as badly as seems inevitable with this crisis prone and incompetent Government, the Conservatives will be very quick to share the blame, pointing out that both parties supported the deal. I accept that it is not realistic to argue for re-joining in the short term, but a far closer relationship, perhaps including membership of the single market, is something that should be discussed.

Labour should also be honest and transparent about the public finances. Labour is simply not believed when it makes expenditure promises while saying most people will not face higher taxes. Labour may as well make a virtue of promising to dig the country out of the mess left by the Tories. Arguments to make are: –

  1. We intend over time to raise taxes as a share of national income to levels similar to successful European countries like Germany.
  2. The burden will fall more heavily on those best able to pay it, particularly through wealth taxes, but we will not pretend that the necessary repair to public finances can be accomplished without some increased taxation of those on middle and higher incomes.
  3. Public expenditure will be repaired as quickly as our limited resources permit. Highest priority will be given to repairing the damage that has been done to local Government services, with increased revenue raising powers, linked to a comprehensive deal to redistribute public sector revenues in favour of poorer parts of the country, with less central control of how money is spent.
  4. A health service funded from general taxation and free at point of delivery will continue to be a cornerstone of Labour policy, and will be properly funded -with steady progress towards spending the same share of national income on it as those of our European neighbours with highly effective health systems.
  5. Education continues to be a high priority, but with less focus on private sector providers, and a reduced burden of testing and inspection. As and when resources permit, we will relieve students from the anxiety of student debts that raise little revenue, but that systematically discourage participation by the most disadvantaged students. The priority will be education for life – not the soulless production of employment fodder.

How do we stop it happening again?

This final section discusses how we can build our democracy to be more representative, honest, and accountable.

Build a more representative democracy

A two party, first past the post system can work where there is a high degree of consensus about fundamental values, and broad participation by the population, including party membership that reflects the make-up of society. None of these conditions are met in the UK. There are fundamental fissures on every major issue: – relations with Europe and the rest of the world, how to deal with climate change, the role of the state versus the free market, the extent of decentralisation of power, and even whether Scotland should leave the Union.

If a Labour Government gains power with an absolute majority it will be tempting to conclude that the system does not need to be reformed: – politicians tend to think that any system that elected them can’t have much wrong with it. However, electoral reform is essential if we are to protect the country from once again falling victim to a Government of extreme zealots. In 2016 it was BREXIT bigots intent on severing ties with Europe at any cost, but it would be equally unfortunate to find ourselves with a Government of Maoist revolutionaries, or intolerant religious bigots. The point is that parties with a small membership are vulnerable to being taken over by extremists. In a two-party system, this means that a Government can end up with a majority in Parliament, even though the majority of the electorate do not share its views.

The best protection against this happening again is to introduce a form of proportional representation. A specific version of PR was rejected in a referendum in 2011, partly because the specific option was complex and hard to understand, and the two major UK parties did not support it. Next time, it should be presented as a protection against extremism, it should be a priority in the manifesto, and the details should be worked out in Parliament and not subject to a yes/no referendum.

The aim would be to ensure that, as far as possible, every vote is of equal value. If 10% of the population vote for the green party, then that is the proportion of MPs that they should have in Parliament.

Three main objections are commonly raised to PR: –

  1. It may result in weak and unstable coalition Governments. A more positive way of expressing the same thought is that a coalition Government will need to seek policy positions that are genuinely acceptable to representatives who reflect the views of the majority of the voting population. This may mean that action on significant issues might take longer to be agreed, but it should be more sustainable and less likely to be abruptly reversed because future Governments will also need to reflect the majority view, making abrupt changes in direction less likely.
  2. Minority parties may exact a high price for their support, while extreme and dangerous views may find themselves reflected in Parliament. With a larger number of parties, the scope for any one party to acquire excess influence as a price for supporting a coalition is arguably less than under first past the post, where Theresa May was left with no option but to pay a hefty bribe to the DUP in order to sustain her Government. Representation of extreme views in the national parliament can be genuinely upsetting, but the constitution should be able to keep behaviour within the confines of legality and decency. Giving a legitimate outlet for views that most people find abhorrent might reduce the pressures for non-parliamentary violence, and provides an opportunity for them to be challenged.
  3. PR breaks the link between individual MPs and their geographically based constituency, something that many of them greatly value. The first point to make is that the need for MPs to take up the cases of individuals within their constituency reflects the weakness of local Government, which has been allowed to atrophy under successive Governments. Local issues facing individuals or households should be dealt with by local Government representatives, who will be able to do so if given more devolved power and resources. The second point is that, when it comes to national issues, there is little point writing to a local MP who represents the party you did not vote for. If your point is not in line with existing party policy, you will get a stock response and no action. Moreover, most MPs will only respond to letters from their constituents, which means that those of us not represented by an MP of our choosing have no effective route for raising our concerns. Any form of PR would reduce this problem. Much larger, multiple member constituencies elected on PR would retain links to a geographical area, while giving everyone within that area access to at least one member who broadly represents their views and priorities.

It is true that some countries that use PR have suffered from short lived Governments that have been unable to address their problems. It is equally true that others, notably in Northern Europe, have enjoyed stable and effective Government for decades. What is undeniable is that UK Government over the last decade has represented the worst of all worlds – unrepresentative, divisive, and hopelessly inept, making a series of disastrous decisions, and then executing them with startling inefficiency and a degree of cronyism that reflects appalling Governance and gives the appearance of corruption.

Rebuild Local Government

Many of the worst disasters that have beset us are caused by the long -term erosion of local Government under both parties, but especially under austerity since the conservatives returned to power in 2010. Over centralisation of functions that would be better performed locally has been at the heart of repeated disasters, with track and trace merely the most visible. The steepest cuts have fallen on local authorities, while their freedom of action has been eroded by a culture of micro management. Local Government is impeded by centralised setting of targets, severe restrictions on the ability of local Government to allocate funds based on local priorities, and the ability to plan services compromised by introducing private providers in education and health, leading to considerable waste and inefficiency. Dealing with inequality and alienation from politics requires a much stronger role for local Government, with central Government ensuring a fair distribution of revenue based on need, with extra support for those authorities least able to raise local revenue. This is critical to winning back the ‘red wall’ constituencies lost to the conservatives in 2019.

Strengthen engagement in politics

There is a strong case for education of both children and adults in the tools they need to make sense of politics and to identify lies, distortions and exaggeration. All citizens need at least a basic understanding of how central and local Government operates, and at least basic understanding of statistics.

Improving Governance

The most depressing aspect of our declining Governance has been the willingness of HMG to tell lies, including telling lies in Parliament. Until quite recently, a Member found to have deliberately lied would be expected to resign from office and usually from his seat, as Minister of War John Profumo did in the 1960s.

Standards have slipped so far that the Johnson Government lies continually, in all forums including Parliament, and faces no sanctions or comeback for doing so.

 It is difficult to over-emphasise how catastrophic it is for a society when the word of the Government cannot be trusted. It wrecks treaties and alliances, it makes fair elections impossible, it undermines law and order, and creates a cynical and despairing society in which nobody can be believed.

In a world where we can’t rely on our Right Honourable Members of Parliament to be either Right or Honourable, we need some statutory protection against deliberate lying in Parliament. How best to achieve this needs study, but a possible approach might involve establishment of an independent body responsible for checking the veracity of statements made in Parliament. It would need to have a budget set independently from the Government of the day, and access to professional staff with relevant skills.

To be relevant, the fact checkers would need to issue their findings on the truthfulness of statements within days, if not hours. This would involve no more than a quick and simple check of statements that can be definitively determined to be either true, false, or needing qualification to avoid misleading. The fact checkers themselves could be accountable to a select committee of Parliament, to whom they would make regular reports on their work.

The point of the exercise is not just to catch Government out in a lie, but to provide an incentive for changed behaviour. If possible, it would be great to have a statutory requirement that a Minister found to have deliberately lied to Parliament is required to resign, and is barred from holding public office.

Restore a strong, permanent, apolitical civil service

When I joined the civil service in the mid-1970s, special advisers were unknown. Before each election, the permanent civil servants in each Department would scan the party manifestos, and set out in briefing papers how the commitments in the manifesto could best be delivered. We would implement what our political masters decreed, but we would provide impartial analysis of the consequences of each policy option, and might point out better approaches to achieve the same ends. In my experience, Ministers did not interfere in decisions on civil service postings or promotions.

The model began to change under Thatcher. Special advisers were brought in, initially with a role limited to political advice, but the distinction was never clear cut, and they increasingly encroached on the permanent civil service role of fleshing out the practicalities of how political priorities could be realised in practice. More and more functions that had been undertaken by the civil service were either privatised or hived off to ‘next steps agencies’, semi-commercial bodies intended to operate under market disciplines. More and more roles were filled by people brought in from the private sector on contract, usually on far higher salaries. Many of them were brought in explicitly to implement a particular political vision of how an area of Government should operate, and they wanted to surround themselves with others who shared that vision, not with cautious civil servants who would tediously point out the pitfalls. The character of the civil service began to change. The ambitious recognised that true believers were more likely to be the high flyers. A period in the civil service was increasingly seen as a stepping stone to well paid work outside. The key to success within the civil service began to depend on being ‘one of us’ rather than a boring Sir Humphrey.

A more open civil service brought challenges to the independence and impartiality of civil servants. Those moving back and forth from private sector roles inevitably came with baggage. They had worked for firms with an interest in Government contracts, and would expect to return there when their contract ended. They had close relationships and investment interests that were potentially compromising. Attempts to avoid the appearance of bias were only partially successful, because those charged with implementing the rules would themselves wish to return to the private sector at some point, and were therefore inclined to be sympathetic.

If we charitably assume that the current chaos in Government is due to incompetence rather than graft, it suggests a need to return to a system where all salaried Government jobs require competitive recruitment. The main exception to this has been the proliferation of political appointments. There is a strong argument for requiring a competitive recruitment process for appointments to all posts that draw a tax-payer funded salary. If Ministers wish to appoint special advisers to fulfil political roles, they should be paid for from party funds, not by the taxpayer, and they should not have any role in the management of public funds. This is not only important for ensuring that posts are filled by competent officials with relevant experience, it will also be essential if equality of opportunity is to be extended to all groups within the population.

Ideally, it would be good to prohibit civil servants (or anyone who draws a public sector salary, including Ministers and SPADs) from working in any capacity related to an area of the economy where they had a decision-making role for a minimum period long enough to avoid the risk of corrupt influence, I would suggest 2 years. To be feasible, this might require better salaries to be paid – something that would be politically contentious.

Ensuring Probity

One of the most depressing aspects of current Governance in the UK has been the proliferation of high value contracts being let without competitive tendering to companies completely lacking in relevant experience. If this were happening in a developing country, nobody would be in any doubt that corrupt motives lay behind such bizarre decisions. The remedy is the same in both cases. We need procurement guidelines to be agreed and enforced by statute, with waivers from normal tendering processes only agreed in exceptional, defined circumstances, and able to be challenged in the courts. This needs careful design to avoid vexatious court cases being brought by every firm that loses a tender, but there does need to be some process to prevent the current chaos.

It is difficult to understand quite how public procurement became so dysfunctional. Procedures to ensure competition in procurement have long been in place. The Permanent Secretary in each Government Department has remedies he can take if asked to sign off on inappropriate expenditure, the most extreme being to write a formal letter to the PAC. Reports by the PAC can draw attention to wasteful or potentially illegal expenditure. For whatever reason, these remedies have not succeeded in restraining the behaviour of a Government that has a large majority and is indifferent to conventions or criticism. If convention no longer works, it may be necessary to make it much easier to prosecute Ministers for wasteful, negligent and corrupt expenditure of public funds. 

Ensuring Government is not for sale

An equally dangerous source of undue influence on policy is the dependence of both political parties on large donations from businesses, trade unions, and individual wealthy donors.  The large donations are clearly not provided out of public-spirited charity. They are given in the expectation that a future Government will return the favour by ensuring a policy environment that is favourable to the interests of the donor. This limits the appetite for taxing the wealthy, or insisting on green measures that inconvenience carbon-emitting businesses, or that threaten the jobs of union members.

There has long been a debate about replacing the current ad hoc funding of political parties with a system funded from taxation. This has not been pursued because it would be politically unpopular, and because of difficult issues surrounding how best to allocate any funds. These questions are not insurmountable – funding could be shared on the basis of the share of the vote, or individuals could be asked to nominate the party they would like to receive their contribution, perhaps when filling in their annual tax or benefit form. Irrespective of whether state funding of political parties is introduced, there is a very strong case for imposing a low annual maximum ceiling on the contribution that any individual, firm, trade union or other organisation can make to a political party. This needs to be set so low that no individual or organisation acquires significant leverage as a result of its contribution. Suitable safeguards will be needed to prevent donors disguising the size of their contribution by paying it via multiple agents acting on their behalf.

The implication is that party funding would drop, and would be more dependent on developing a broader membership base and more diverse funding. Both would arguably be good for our democracy.

Reform the Media

The ‘post truth’ society has been led by the media, dominated by rich oligarchs able to push out lies and distortions through multiple platforms without significant consequences. The related problem is that messages that are false or misleading can be sent exclusively to target groups that might be swayed by them, without being seen by those who would be able to correct or challenge what is being said.

BBC journalism, still the source from which 60% of the population obtain their news has sunk to abysmal levels. This may be partly due to a new vulnerability to political pressure. With the fragmentation of media, the BBC knows that it can’t rely on independent financing via the licence fee forever. Accused of bias against the Government, it has felt unable to subject Government plans to rigorous analysis. It has been reduced to reading press releases and conducting far too many vox pop interviews that provide neither information nor insight. Throughout the BREXIT debate, the BBC has been a fact free zone, quoting both sides of the debate as if they had equal worth, conducting no analysis of its own, and failing to ask the hard questions.

The future income of the BBC needs to be secured and insulated from Government control, perhaps with a long- term deal on the licence fee. The BBC charter may need some amendment. It should have an explicit remit to hold the Government of the day to account for the accuracy of their claims, and an explicit responsibility to give space to independent analysis and views. This ought not to need saying, but clearly does. If they would like to be reminded how to do current affairs, they should take a close look at how Al Jazeera English operates. They should also have an explicit remit to uphold the constitution and the institutions of democracy, and to draw attention to any threats to them.

Turning to other media, it is clear that media oligarchs have acquired an unhealthy dominance over news outlets. In addition to the direct consumption of their output, it is shared and re-tweeted multiple times on other platforms in ways that are hard to control. Even if most people are getting their news via their mobile phones, the ultimate source of a lot of what they are watching is from more conventional TV or newspaper on-line sources.

There is a strong case for imposing a lower limit on the audience share owned by any one provider on any communication channel. If they have more than the agreed maximum share, one approach could be to require the excess to be leased to other providers, perhaps overseen by an independent body.

There should be higher fines and more effective redress for knowingly broadcasting falsehoods.  Corrections should be required to be broadcast at the same time and with the same prominence as the original falsehood. If the BBC were to reform itself to be a credible news organisation, the fines could be paid to the BBC for the explicit purpose of generating the content to correct the original error, for broadcasting on the offending channel as well as on the BBC.

Conclusions

The UK is in a dangerous place. It has a reckless and extreme Government that does not represent either the wishes or the interests of the bulk of the population, and that is doing severe damage to our economy, our society, and our international reputation.

Changing the Government, and ensuring that Parliament does not again fall into the hands of rogues and scoundrels, requires progressive parties to work together to win the next election, and to then reform the electoral system with the introduction of a form of PR. The behaviour of the current Government confirms that MPs can no longer be relied on to be truthful and honest, while the news media are too fragmented and biased to hold them to account. We therefore need to bring in some statutory protections to discourage the circulation of deliberate falsehoods, both lying in Parliament, and the circulation of lies and misrepresentation through other media.

Genuinely levelling up the more disadvantaged areas of the country requires local Government to be re-built. Resources for local Government need to be significantly increased, with a formula to channel more funds to those areas least able to raise revenue locally, and with expenditure priorities set locally rather than by national targets. This provides a more meaningful form of ‘taking back control’ than the empty promises made concerning BREXIT.

Finally, we need to encourage the population to re-engage with politics, with a particular focus on education. Our citizens need reminding that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


[1] According to First Draft News, 88% of Tory advertisements during the 2019 campaign featured ‘questionable’ claims.

[2] Ofcom, News Consumption in the UK:2020

[3] Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen |Crone, Funding political parties in Great Britain: A Pathway to Reform, Democratic Audit 2010.

[4] 48 people on the Sunday Times ‘rich list’ donated more than £200,000 in 2019 to political parties, 43 of them to the conservatives. The London Economic 23rd December 2020. Donations and legacies accounted for 60% of conservative party income in 2005-09, double the proportion of labour income Wilks-Heeg and Crone, op cit.

[5] You Gov analysis of 2019 election results

[6] IPSOS MORI polling research.

‘No deal’ is entirely Johnson’s fault

Boris will undoubtedly blaim ‘EU intransigence’, but no trading bloc or nation could possibly have agreed to Johnson’s demands – and this has been blindingly obvious from the outset.

The reason for defining common standards for health, safety, animal welfare, environmental issues, and for limiting Government subsidies is to ensure that domestic manufacturers are not undercut by cheap imports that are produced by methods that are unethical or that involve unfair competitive practices. The common standards help to keep out goods produced by environmentally damaging methods or with starvation level wages or that involve animal cruelty or that are judged to pose a risk to health or safety. If the UK chooses to apply different standards on any of these issues then it cant be given free access to the EU trade area. It is not just that anything we produce ourselves may not meet EU regulations and standards, it is that producers elsewhere in the globe will want to channel their exports via the UK as a way to access the EU market.

The EU have said, very fairly, that we can continue having unimpeded access to the EU market as long as we adhere to the same rules and standards as members of that market. If we diverge from those rules and standards, they reserve the right to impose tariffs or other penalties to prevent us from flogging stuff in the EU that actual members of the EU would not be permitted to sell. This is entirely reasonable, and indeed essential if the single market is not to be fatally undermined.

The stupidity of the HMG approach is that diverging from EU standards will not only risk barring our producers from the EU single market, it may also bar us from every other market. At present, our goods are accepted around the world because they conform to EU standards that the local authorities find acceptable as set out in trade agreements with the EU. As we are no longer party to those trade agreements, our future access to every market depends on persuading other trading partners to accept British standards that currently have no accreditation and no track record.