A leaked document in today’s Guardian revealed what Conservative Central Office has said to all its Parliamentary candidates on how to avoid giving pledges to people during the election campaign.
It covers a wide variety of issues including Brexit, the NHS, trade deals, Voter ID, private schools, rivers, climate change and shooting. But a special section has been devoted to the Waspi campaign showing that MPs are acutely aware of the demands of 3.8 million who are waiting up to six years for a pension.
The section reproduced below includes a template letter to be sent to anybody inquiring what the Conservative candidate’s views are on paying women. So you needn’t bother writing as this will be the reply. It is more about future pensions – claiming that by 2030 pensioners will be £550 a year better off under the Conservatives. It also contains a 20 year old attack line on Labour reminding people that Gordon Brown once raised pensions by only 75p a week in 2000.
Rather extraordinarily there is one pledge all candidates can sign – that is supporting any rural sport especially shooting. Here candidates are free to support any pledges. This is almost Trumpian in its advice – put guns before pensioners.
The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.
They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.
The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.
So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.
However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.
The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.
The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.
When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.
The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.
Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.
Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.
And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.
The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.
The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).
What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.
Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.
We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.
The performance of UKIP in the polls has been pretty disastrous for some time now. But if the party dies this weekend which other party is going to benefit from its demise.
After losing their only MP at the general election the party performed very badly at local level and is continuing to do so. And ironically Britain’s departure from the European Union will destroy its biggest base which is in Brussels. So by 2019 when we leave it is possible that UKIP will have completely disappeared from the political scene. It is very much a case of don’t get what you wish for.
But the destruction of UKIP at the moment appears to be more of a problem for Labour than the Tories. It is a considerable dilemma for Jeremy Corbyn on how he handles Brexit and suggests he, as well as Theresa May, is caught between a rock and a hard place over this issue.
Younger Labour Party voters – particularly in London and the South – are very strongly pro Remain – welcoming the diverse nature of the UK and enjoying the reality of visa free travel across most of Europe.
But Labour voters outside this group – in the North, Midlands, East Anglia and parts of Kent- are pro Brexit. And furthermore the former UKIP voters are obviously keen for Britain to leave.
So for Labour to get back these working class voters it has to be seen to be both supporting Brexit and sympathising with Remain at the same time. It also means the party – which has had success particularly at the last election – has highlighted domestic issues like the NHS, education, transport, housing and student loans rather than Brexit.
Labour’s dilemma is shown up in a scattering of local council by-elections across the country this month. Of course one should not put too much score on local election results – because of low polls and because simply that they are local.
But one trend has emerged where UKIP had a previous strong showing.in local areas and either doesn’t stand or puts up a candidate who is trashed by the electorate.
What appears to be happening is that both Labour and the Tories are gaining votes – but the Tories are getting the lion’s share. This means that either Labour cannot win the seat or as in Bolton last night – they lose a seat to the Tories.
The results in Thanet in Kent – a former UKIP stronghold where they got control of the council – is a case in point. It has seen the Tory and Labour vote go up – but has allowed the Tories to retain their seats with a bigger majority. Roughly two in three former UKIP voters seem to have switched to the Tories compared with one in three supporting Labour.
In Bolton where on a nearly 30 per cent poll – the Tories took a seat off Labour – the result again showed both the Tories and Labour gaining votes – but the Tory share of the vote went up 16.7 per cent to take a seat in a safe Labour Parliamentary constituency. Again UKIP had polled very well in the ward in the past.
Similarly in Newport Pagnell, a council seat on Milton Keynes council where UKIP had got a big share of the vote last time – the Tory share jumped over 15 per cent – while Labour jumped just under 12 per cent. UKIP got nearly a quarter of the votes last time but didn’t stand.
These actual votes may explain the closeness in the polls between Labour and the Tories – the Tory vote is simply being buoyed up by former Kippers. It may also explain why William Hague, the former Tory leader, would like to see UKIP wound up as the best chance for the party to stay in power.
It is also quite clever of Boris Johnson to raise the issue that the NHS would get even more money after we leave the EU – it is aimed at those people keeping faith with Brexit believing the country will enter a Shangri La once we are out.
I personally don’t believe a word of it – but to my mind it does suggest to me that Labour should not take the next election for granted. They have to continue to work on these voters by offering a much fairer society. But it also leaves them with a very delicate balancing act over Brexit.
Safeguarding UK green interests?The five new trustees of the Green Purposes Company – James Curran,Trevor Hutchings, Tushita Ranchan,Robin (Lord) Teverson and Peter Young. Pic Credit: Green Purposes Company
The present government has two song sheets. One is that Britain must big up everything we do to become a ” world leader ” after Brexit. The second is that we must do everything we can to cut the deficit – whether it is fresh benefit cuts or selling off anything the government owns as fast as possible..
The two came into conflict recently with the sale of the Green Investment Bank – and the deficit cutters won. The story of the sale of the Green Investment Bank is told in a recent report by the National Audit Office. Unfortunately the detail did not lead to much coverage in mainstream media which is why I am writing about it now. I have written a news story for Tribunemagazine.
The deal which has allowed the sale to go ahead to Australian private equity bankers Macquarie for £1.6 billion is at the lower end of the its worth and without waiting for returns from big wind farm projects which are still under construction with public money.The NAO said this could have netted another £63m. This is the same company, by the way, that owns Thames Water, responsible for some of the worst pollution in the River Thames and also locally on the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal (see an earlier blog).
The companies behind the sale did very well. The business department paid out a £1.1m success fee to Bank of America Merrill Lynch and a retainer of nearly £300,000 for completing the sale – part of a bill for £4.5m to sell the bank.
Macquarie picked up the bill for another £5m success fee paid to UBS by the Green Investment Bank itself to handle the sale.
The Department appointed Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to act as its legal adviser for the sale. HSF’s fee increased from £1 million to £2.36 million owing to the extended period required to complete the sale, the need for advice on restructuring GIB, the retained assets, the special share arrangements and judicial review which failed to challenge the sale.
Altogether Macquarie paid over £10m of the state bank’s fees to get their hands on the state bank. But what did they get in return?
An article in the This is Money website gives us a clue. It shows the government removed the restriction that the Green Investment Bank should only concentrate on the UK so Macquarie could make money worldwide and ignore the UK if it wanted. Greg Clark, the business secretary, personally signed this concession.
Macquarie of course denies this pointing out that it had invested £38m in a West Yorkshire waste from energy from waste project and insisting it will be a big player in the UK and Europe.
But events since the take over suggest otherwise – and there is no guarantee either that it will continue to focus only on green energy. Greg Clark let the bank get away with a non binding public statement to finance green projects for the next three years and the setting up of a trust – the Green Purposes Company -which could shame the new owners if they fail to keep to their pledge.
The evidence of backsliding comes from the trustees. In theory they have powers to prevent changes to GIB’s green purposes, but this does not extend to control of, or input to, investment decisions.
The five trustees are independently appointed and seem to be sound environmental figures. They include James Curran, former chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and Lord Teverson, a former Liberal Democrat energy spokesman.But they are not paid to monitor such a big private equity company and a check on the website of the Green Purposes Company does not give much comfort either.
It reveals the first project is in Sweden – with a 300 million Euro investment in what will be Europe’s largest onshore wind farm joint with the US listed company GE which is in financial trouble in the United States.
The second is in a £30m investment in solar power in India – admittedly with a UK solar park company, Lightsource, partly owned by BP. The company is concentrating on green power in the Middle East, Asia and Europe as part of its partnership with BP.
And the third investment will be a 136 million Euro energy from waste scheme in Dublin, jointly run by a New Jersey incineration company, Covanta.
So far the new bank has invested £38m in the UK and over £400m (partly with GE) abroad.
The NAO conclude in their report the future direction of GIB’s investment focus and its relationship with the trustees remain untested. From the first four projects it seems quite clear that the UK will be on the sidelines. The 436 million Euro investments will be great news for Donald Trump’s ” America First ” policy but not such great news for Theresa May.
As the Labour conferences is just about to start one of the greatest achievements of Jeremy Corbyn has been to revitalise political activism in Britain.
According to a report in the House of Commons library active membership of political parties fell to its lowest ever recorded proportion of the population – at 0.8 per cent – in 2013. It was virtually teetering on near extinction. It had also veered to the right – with UKIP going from now nowhere to 74,000 members.Labour in 2013 was also at a low before Corbyn won the leadership of 190,000 members.
So dire was the membership of political parties that political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in a comment is free article in The Guardian could joke that as many people had declared their religion in the census as a Jedi knight than belonged to each of the main two political parties.
After Corbyn’s leadership victory in the autumn of 2015 membership of the Labour Party had soared to 388,000. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June. And on the eve of the party conference now stands at 569,500.
To do him credit the other person who revitalised an ailing party was Tim Farron. Fuelled by their Remain stance the Liberal Democrat party moved from 61,000 members in December 2015 to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year. though this is dwarfed by Labour.
Between the two of them they have increased membership of political parties to 1.7 per cent of the population – still small – but more than double the numbers in 2013.
The biggest losers are UKIP who have seem their active membership collapse in lone with their poor election performances. Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.
Slightly surprising has been the demise of the Greens – though they seem to have started to turn this around.Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.
Membership of the Scottish Nats has also stopped growing with it flatlining at around 118,000.
The real mystery is the Tories. They say their membership is 149,000. But this figure has never been updated since 2013 as no political party is obliged to publish its membership numbers in its annual report. Their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.
Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.
It has recently come out that the average age of Tory members is 72 which suggests that while there have been enormous increases in Left and Centre parties – the Tories could well be in terminal decline and turning literally into the party of the living dead!
May’s billet doux campaign to her supporters Pic credit:BBC
CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE>COM
One of the more amusing things about this election is that Conservative Central Office appear to have registered me as a Tory supporter, How this has happened I do not know but as a result nearly every day I receive a Dear David billet-doux from Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Patrick McLoughlin telling me what line to take against Jeremy Corbyn.
They were especially active when Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were facing separate Paxman interviews – with five lines to take – emphasising Corbyn’s support for the IRA .
But in the last week it is clear that the Tories have gone back to basics and even after the Manchester terrorist attack – are now trying to get a big majority on Theresa May’s stance over Brexit.
As this letter shows:
I’m excited about the future.
If we make a success of Brexit, there are great opportunities ahead.
My plan for Brexit will return control to Britain – and help us shape a brighter, fairer future for our country.
But David, I need every Conservative supporter to get behind my plan to make Brexit work.
Theresa May Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party
If you click on the link you will find three choices – join a phone bank, go to Conservative Central Office ( you get a special rousing address from Boris if you do) or make the calls under Tory guidance from your own home. Fascinating to know how many people have received calls in the last few days – and whether this appeal has been launched because the Tories have not had enough support from members to do the work despite overflowing with cash donations.
On polling day Theresa has asked me to have a plan on how I am going to vote – suggesting I might go with the family, friends and neighbours to stop Jeremy Corbyn Diane Abbott and John McDonnell going into government.
And then forward this email on to every Conservative supporter you know, so they can make a plan to vote too.
Thank you for your support,
Theresa May Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party
What this does show is that even on polling day – who goes out to vote will be absolutely crucial to the result – and the Tories are planning to monitor their supporters to make sure they have voted. Interesting times.
This is the extract from the Tory manifesto relating to plans to axe the £200 a year payment to all pensioners and the £300 a year payment to those over 75 . The plan is stolen from the Labour manifesto of 2015 and was originally proposed by Ed Balls to “save £100m “.
we will target help where it is needed most.So we will look at Winter Fuel Payments, the largest benefit paid to pensioners, in this context. The benefit is paid regardless of need, giving money to wealthier pensioners when working people on lower incomes do not get similar support.
So we will means test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty.
Fine words but very difficult to implement. Why?
Four years ago I investigated how Labour could implement the same policy – and found it unfair and unworkable. This is what I said:
“As a punter and pensioner who pays higher rate tax because my freelance earnings top up my pension I expected to be one of the people targeted by Ed Balls. In fact it will have zilch effect, a load of old Balls if you like.
Let me explain why. The fuel allowance is currently paid to individual pensioners with a cap of £200 per household. So for a start I only receive £100 of fuel benefit. The other £100 goes to my wife, also a pensioner, who is a standard rate taxpayer. So his planned saving will be halved anyway in my case.
But it is actually worse than that. My wife became a pensioner before me and was entitled to the full household fuel allowance in her own right. So when I was on The Guardian, ( then on just over £80,000 a year) our household was receiving then a £200 fuel subsidy for a short time. What will happen under the Balls changes is that my wife will get back the full benefit of £200 – so we will still continue to receive exactly the same subsidy.
I suspect I am not alone. I know of many people around me in the shires, where in traditional families of that generation the main earner is the male who will pay high rates of tax. His spouse who brought up the children, and did part-time work instead, would be a standard rate taxpayer. These wealthy households will continue to get the subsidy.
Ed Balls in more serious mode
Now Ed Balls could get round this by imposing a household cap equivalent to the income level set by the higher rate of tax. But if he does this he will run into fresh problems.”
I chased this up with the Inland Revenue.
They confirmed four years ago that they do not collate figures showing how many households have higher rate and standard rate taxpayers who are currently eligible for winter fuel payments. They do not need to collect the information as taxpayers are assessed individually. So they don’t know the breakdown. The only figures they have are the number of higher rate taxpayers who are pensioners. I doubt anything has changed.
Theresa May:Leader of the Tory party. Pic credit:BBC
So how are the Tories going to do this. They could scrap the present system and go back to the old fashioned 1950s style tax system- where the man had to fill in the form for the household. But that would be deeply regressive, anti feminist and take no account of modern relationships where couples may not even be married or have a gay partnership.
They could limit payments only to those claiming pensioner credit – removing all other pensioners- but that would hit the JAMS – just about managing pensioners with a huge hole in their income and be deeply unpopular.
Or they could say every person has to fill in a means test form – which means even if it was done on line – have to employ more staff at a huge cost just when they want to axe more civil servants.
It ain’t going to work and will be deeply unpopular and be full of anomolies. In other words Theresa May has just created another Balls-up.