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Friday, September 30, 2022

Tories to double down on attacks on the poor

As if Liz Truss and her shambolic Chancellor had not taken enough flack for an uncosted budget that handed out cash to the rich at the expense of everybody else, and which plunged the economy into chaos, the Times reports that the Prime Minister has said that she will not change course and will push ahead with government savings to pay for her £45 billion stimulus package.

The paper says that Ministers are drawing up plans for real-terms benefits cuts, saving £5 billion by increasing them in line with earnings, rather than with inflation.

In her interviews today, Truss acknowledged “difficult times for people” but insisted she would not be diverted from her plans. She “wouldn’t apologise”, she said, for cutting taxes on the rich, arguing that she had taken “difficult decisions” and adding: “I’m prepared to do that as prime minister because what’s important to me is that we get our economy moving.”

However, she also insisted that her government was “fiscally responsible”’ and would “bring debt down over time”.

Government departments have been told to find more savings, and Truss insisted this could be done while protecting the NHS, infrastructure and police, adding: “Our priority is frontline public services.”

She sought to attribute economic problems to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but YouGov found that only 17 per cent of voters think Putin is most to blame and 40 per cent blame the government’s economic policies.

This is kamikaze politics, penalising the poorest elements of our society so as to enrich further the billionaires who back her party. How much longer can Tory MPs tolerate her presence in Number 10?

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Missing the point on MP's second jobs

The Mirror reports that plans to crack down on MPs’ second jobs have finally been backed by the government almost a year after the Owen Paterson scandal, but loopholes are set to be left open in a move branded “very odd” by a standards watchdog.

The paper says that Ministers accepted a recommendation that MPs should be banned from giving paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy, but they refused to back the Standards Committee’s plea for a lobbying ban to be written into MPs’ contracts:

The committee had sought views on whether restrictions should be placed on MPs' outside earnings in a review of the MPs' Code of Conduct last year.

It followed the outcry over the disclosures that Tory Owen Paterson broke the ban on paid lobbying by MPs.

Meanwhile Conservative backbencher Sir Geoffrey Cox earned more than £900,000 last year from his work as a lawyer.

In a response, published on Tuesday, the Government gave its backing to a proposed ban on MPs working as parliamentary advisers or consultants.

"The Government firmly believes that an MP's primary job is and must be to serve their constituents and represent their interests in Parliament," the response says.

"Members have a duty to their constituents and any outside work should be within reasonable limits, in order for an MP's parliamentary duties to take priority."

The Government was more lukewarm on a proposal that would see MPs who take on outside work required to have a written contract which explicitly states that their duties cannot include lobbying ministers or officials or providing advice on how to influence Parliament.

Citing "reservations" about "whether it is appropriate to regulate the terms of employment contracts between individual MPs and outside employer", the Government said it did not agree with such a call.

The overall committee proposals should come before the Commons "as soon as possible", the Government concluded.

The problem with this approach of course is that it still allows room for abuse of the system, and therefore it undermines confidence in the integrity of MPs. Surely, the government must rethink this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The IMF again

Those of us who are old enough will remember the 1970s when the IMF was asked to provide a huge loan to rescue the country from a balance of payments crisis, an intervention that wrecked the Labour Government's reputation for economic competence and helped pave the way for a Thatcher victory in 1979.

The conditions on which that money was lent to the UK included the sort of austerity measures later introduced by the Cameron Government in an effort to get borrowing under control. It sealed the reputation of the IMF as a right wing facing organisation, whose remedies for emerging countries are closer to Milton Friedman than John Maynard Keynes. Umder the circumstances one would expect them to back Truss's trickle down solution to Britain's economic woes rather than oppose them.

Unfortunately for Truss that is not the case. The Guardian reports that the International Monetary Fund has launched a stinging attack on the UK’s tax-cutting plans and called on Liz Truss’s government to reconsider them to prevent stoking inequality:

In rare public criticism of a leading global economy, the Washington-based fund said Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget risked undermining the efforts of the Bank of England to tackle rampant inflation amid the cost of living emergency.

It said a statement planned by Kwarteng for 23 November presented an “opportunity for the UK government to consider ways to provide support that is more targeted and reevaluate the tax measures, especially those that benefit high income earners”.

The rebuke comes amid a growing international backlash over the chancellor’s £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, with the intervention from the IMF swiftly followed by sharp criticism from the credit rating agency Moody’s late on Tuesday. The US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, also said the US was “monitoring developments very closely” in the UK.

As one of the most influential adjudicators in global financial markets, which rates the creditworthiness of governments and corporations on behalf of large investors, Moody’s said the UK’s “large unfunded tax cuts are credit negative”.

“A sustained confidence shock arising from market concerns over the credibility of the government’s fiscal strategy that resulted in structurally higher funding costs could more permanently weaken the UK’s debt affordability.”

The intervention from the IMF is rare given the influence of the UK in the global economy, and as one of the organisation’s largest shareholders.

Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary, said such a warning shot from the IMF would be more usual for an emerging market economy than a country like Britain. He told the BBC’s Newsnight: “It is early days and things could change and economics is not an exact science, but I would certainly say that this has the look right now of a number of unforced errors.”

The paper adds that the IMF has consistently warned countries to avoid universal bailouts in response to the energy price shock. It has argued that only the poorest households should be protected from higher energy bills and the extra costs from rising inflation to limit the impact on public borrowing.

If the IMF are critical of this government's right wing policies then we know we are in trouble.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Labour takes one step forward, two steps back

For those of us who can see some hope of a more radical and longer term agenda emerging from this week's Labour conference with the vote in favour of a proportional voting system for UK General Elections, there are also familiar signs that we being led up the garden path.

Tbe Independent reports that Labour members voted in favour of three electoral reform motions, including to replace first-past-the-post with a form of proportional representation at general elections. They did not appear to specify what system they prefer though and local government was omitted from the resolution.

However, despite signs that the Labour Party at large is beginning to recognise that electing right wing Conservative governments on a minority of the vote is not in the best interests of the country, their leadership remains stuck in the old way of thinking.

The paper reports that at the weekend Sir Keir Starmer declared that electoral reform was “not a priority for me”, suggesting that if he were to become Prime Minister he would not implement the resolution.

When the majority are effectively disenfranchised by a voting system that denies them a voice and the opposition party is not prepared to do anything about that, it is little wonder that more authoritarian and right wing views are starting to prevail in this country,

Monday, September 26, 2022

An economic catastrophe

The immediate aftermath of Friday's financial statement led to the valid criticism that this Tory government is looking after the super-rich at the expense of the poor, a verdict shared by most people. 

The fact is that when all the changes are taken into account, including the freezing of personal allowances, only those earning more than £150,000 will be better off as a result of the Chancellor's policies, the rest of us are financial losers.

It is astonishing, though not surprising, that a Tory government, elected on a promise of levelling up, would be so brazen in the way they have gone about this. This is a government that is now clearly on the side of the rich at the expense of the poorest in our society.

The chancellor's problem is that his own fiscal policies are making things worse, both for the country, for ordinary people and even for the measures he has put in place to try and help with the cost of living crisis.

Because the chancellor has refused to levy a windfall tax to keep fuel bills low and is instead, relying on massive unsupported borrowing, the markets have lost all confidence in his ability to manage the economy.

As a result the pound has hit an all time low, leading to a massive hike in the cost of exports. As the oil and gas we import is paid for in dollars, this has caused an 11p a iitre hike in the cost of petrol, and it has also added to the cost of the gas and electricity that will heat our homes this winter.

That means that if the chancellor is going to maintain his cap on the price of energy, he will need to borrow more to pay off the big energy companies, which will further undermine the confidence of the markets.

Talk of further tax cuts will just add fuel to this fire, when what the chancellor needs to do is to impose taxes on windfall profits and the wealthy to prop up his borrowing and steady the market.

Kwasi Kwarteng has only been in office a few days, but already he is heading for an economic catastrophe of his own making.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Breaking barriers - but not in a good way

The Times reports that Liz Truss's unconventional approach to basic economics is matched by the rather bizarre way of organising her office.

It is appropriate for Prime Ministers to have a Chief of Staff and special advisors, but normally these people are paid for by the state and are on the government payroll. That ensures they are accountable for their behaviour, have no conflicts of interest and only have the one boss. This barrier of impartiality and accountability is an important part of government.

The Times though, reveals that this prime minister’s chief of staff is being paid through his lobbying company in a highly unusual arrangement that could allow him to pay less tax:

Mark Fullbrook insists he is not being paid through his company for tax reasons and has obtained no tax benefit from the arrangement. However, he is refusing to explain the agreement that lets him direct government strategy without being directly employed by the government.

Previous holders of the role have been treated like any other special adviser (Spad), appointed on a temporary civil service contract and paid a salary that is made public. Fullbrook is instead a contractor and will receive any payment through Fullbrook Strategies, a private lobbying company he created in April but which he says has suspended commercial activities.

One Whitehall source said it was “unheard of” for a No 10 official of his seniority to be employed in this way although Fullbrook disputed this. It is unclear what the implications of the arrangement are from a financial and transparency perspective.

Between April and June, according to the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, Fullbrook’s company contacted the government on behalf of clients including the Libyan House of Representatives, which is opposed by the West and the UN, an energy provider and a PPE firm linked to a fundamentalist Christian sect.

It announced it had “suspended” its commercial activities earlier this month after Fullbrook was appointed by Liz Truss to be her top aide.

However he is continuing to use it as a vehicle to receive his publicly funded salary. The equivalent post under Boris Johnson carried a salary of £140,000.

The arrangement will lead to questions days after No 10 scrapped the so-called IR35 reforms of previous Conservative governments that were designed to stop people paying themselves via a company to avoid tax.

As the paper points out, Fullbrook is already facing questions after they revealed he had been interviewed by FBI agents in connection with an alleged criminal conspiracy to bribe a US politician and influence the outcome of an election in Puerto Rico. 

He has since signed an agreement with US law enforcement and is co-operating as a witness. It is understood that he is not under investigation. He denies any knowledge of the bribe and in a statement says he is “confident” he behaved within the law at all times.

Nevertheless, the arrangement Truss has with him inevitably raises questions about his status in government and whether the arrangement he has in place is a proper one for the Prime Minister's office.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Norwich City question

The Guardian reports on some very interesting expenditure charged to Foreign Office credit cards at the same time that Liz Truss was Foreign Secretary. 

They say that officials are facing questions about spending on credit cards, including £1,841 at Norwich City football club online, and £10,000 at Fortnum and Mason:

Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, wrote to the Foreign Office questioning why spending was up by 45% on its government procurement cards between September 2021 to July 2022.

She asked Gillian Keegan, a senior minister, to give more details about the spending on a range of items, including luxury restaurants and premium home decor brands such as White Company, Ercol furniture and Osborne and Little, a supplier of fabric and wallpaper.

The Foreign Office declined to provide explanations to Thornberry saying it would cost too much money, so the shadow attorney general went public with a letter to Keegan. Data on the FCDO’s spending shows thousands spent on high-end restaurants, such as the Cinnamon Club, the Corinthia hotel, Stanley’s in Chelsea and the Kennington Tandoori, a famous haunt of politicians.

Thornberry also queried more than £900 to Calm Over Chaos, which appears to supply adult colouring books, and £1,850 to Soul Sanctuary, which may be a wellness app. There were two payments of more than £4,000 in total to a barber company called Finishing Touches, although it is understood this relates to general maintenance rather than beauty.

Thornberry told Keegan it was difficult to understand the amounts spent on “high-end private catering; wellness and beauty treatments; extensive supplies from UK wineries; large amounts of home furnishing; and even £1,841 at the Norwich City club shop”.

Norwich City football club is a team supported by Truss. In 2018, as chief secretary to the Treasury, she gave a football shirt from Norwich City to a US official in Cleveland, Ohio in an attempt to encourage an American football club to relocate to the UK.

Obviously, more details are needed, not least how Norwich City Football Club got involved in British foreign policy.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Now, Truss channels Trump

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into international politics, the Prime Minister of then UK is revealed as a Trumpista. Flee for your lives.

Certainly, one of the most crass, hamfisted and insensitive things Trunp did in foreign relations was to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. It may have pleased Israel and the US Jewish lobby, but it did nothing for peace in the Middle East, in fact it undermined the USA's credibility with many Arab nations.

Now, according to the Guardian, Truss is set to follow suit.

The paper says that in a meeting on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York, the prime minister told Israel’s caretaker leader, Yair Lapid, about a “review of the current location” of the building:

The status of Jerusalem, which Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, is one of the most sensitive issues in the long-running conflict.

East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has been considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law since the six-day war in 1967.

Like the vast majority of the international community, the UK’s position until this point has been that the divided city should host consulates, rather than embassies, until a final peace agreement is reached.

Trump’s 2018 fulfilment of an election campaign promise to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital prompted international condemnation, and led to protests and clashes in which Israeli forces killed dozens of Palestinians. The then UK prime minister Theresa May criticised the move at the time.

On Thursday, the Israeli prime minister tweeted his thanks to Truss for what he described as “positively considering” the move. “We will continue to strengthen the partnership between the countries,” he said.

UK forign policy in the MIddle East is hardly covered in glory, Liz Truss apparently plans to take things to new depths.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Jacob Rees-Mogg channels Cnut

King Canute (or Cnut in its correct spelling) fanously demonstrated his piety, proving to his fawning subjects that he was no better than any other man, by demonstrating that no matter how hard he might try, he could not control the elements and turn back the sea.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, it seems, is aiming to prove Cnut wrong by single-handedly changing the geography of the United Kingdom.

The Independent reports that the new Business Secretary is set to allow higher levels of seismic activity at shale gas drilling sites as part of its plan to lift the ban on fracking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested:

Despite concerns about earthquakes, the business secretary said the current limit of 0.5 on the Richter scale was “too low”.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Wednesday evening, Mr Rees-Mogg indicated that the government would review the current permitted levels of seismic activity at fracking sites.

“The seismic limits will be reviewed to see a proportionate level. 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is only noticeable with sophisticated machinery, it is quite right that fracking would not take place – that level is too low,” he said.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who will set out plans to end the fracking ban on Thursday, said: “I can’t confirm a new level, because that is being looked at.”

The paper adds that a leaked British Geological Survey review into the safety of fracking acknowledged that forecasting for drilling-induced earthquakes “remains a scientific challenge”. It reportedly states that there is little evidence that progress has been made in reducing and predicting the risk of earthquakes from fracking.

Quite how Rees-Mogg is going to limit seismic activity therefore remains a mystery. Maybe he is the new Cnut, but without the reality check, and certainly without the former king's humility.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Another Brexit bombshell

There have been so many false dawns, lies and broken promises that it almost feels indecent to mention yet another failure from the Brexit camp, and yet we must if only to keep track of the huge confidence trick that has been played on the UK public to enrich a few billionaires who did not want to be subject to EU regulation in the way they move their money about.

I am sure many can remember the claim about how easy it would be to do a trade deal with the EU and yet here we are six years after the vote, three years after the final exit, still with no deal, businesses drowning in red tape, exports to the EU plummeting, the pound struggling to keep its head above water, and our relations with the EU on a war footing over the UK's insistence on breaking an agreement we entered voluntarily because of Northern Ireland, and which was heralded as a triumph by the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Since the vote there have been a number of inconsequential trade deals that came nowhere near compensating for our exit from the largest free trade area in the world, and in the case of Australia actually damaged our own farming industry. All of these deals were available to us while a member of the EU. But the biggest trade deal of all, the one being heralded by Brexiteers as easily within our grasp, continues to allude us.

As the newspaper headline from just before the 2019 General Election, reproduced above, illustrates, this has not stopped Brexiteers seeking to mislead us as to progress, even claiming that the deal with the USA was a certainty. And now the truth has come out, we were being misled all along.

The Guardian reports on the admittance by our new Prime Minister, Liz Truss that Britain may not strike a free trade deal with the US for years to come.

The paper says that this is the first time the government has conceded there is virtually no chance of getting agreement on an early bilateral trade deal with the US, Britain’s biggest trading partner, despite it being coveted by Brexit supporters as one of the major potential benefits of leaving the EU.

So what were the benefits of leaving the EU? Can anybody tell us?

Friday, September 16, 2022

Be positive, be precise, and don't use Oxford commas

The new Health Secretary has got off to a flying start with a memo that gives the impression that she is all style and no substance. 

As the Guardian reports, a memo from Thérèse Coffey to staff at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), urged officials to “be positive” in their missives to their political boss, who is also Liz Truss’s deputy prime minister, to avoid jargon when communicating with her, and not to use Oxford commas:

Health officials told the Financial Times, which first reported on the memo, that they found it “super patronising”, both in terms of framing communications in positive ways, and avoiding the Oxford comma.

Department sources confirmed the existence of the document, published on the DHSC’s intranet, saying this was not uncommon when new ministers arrived. However, they claimed it was prepared without Coffey’s knowledge, with one saying there had possibly been “a bit of over eagerness” in the content.

Coffey has previously taken to social media to deride the Oxford comma, the grammatically contentious practice in which a comma is sometimes used to separate the penultimate and last words in a list of terms, in 2015 calling it “one of my pet hates”.

According to the FT, the document, titled: New secretary of state ways of working preferences, asked staff to “be precise” and also “be positive – if we have done something good, let us say so and avoid double negatives”.

A person described as having “knowledge of the mood at the UKHSA” told the paper the email was seen as “super patronising “, adding: “It does make you consider if you’re in the right place when a new minister comes in with this.”

One senior public health official said staff view the advice on Oxford commas as “extremely patronising”.

Personally, I am neutral about the Oxford comma, and I have had to reign in my disapproval of contractions since I started to write novels. I am though obsessive about the correct use of apostrophes. However, if I were Health Secretary, I am sure I would find more important things to do than lecture staff on the use of grammar.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Tories ensure cost of living crisis does not hit rich bankers

There is nothing like looking after your own, and when it comes to the Tories they have had decades of experience of doing just that. It should come as no surpries therefore, to see that, while the rest of us are struggling with runaway inflation and unfeasibly high energy costs, one of the first acts of the new Prime Minister and her Chancellor of the Exchequer is to scrap the cap on bankers' bonuses that was imposed in the middle of the 2008 financial crash.

The Guardian reports that Kwasi Kwarteng wants to abolish rules imposed after the 2008 financial crash that capped bonuses at twice an employee’s salary. It is part of what he calls “Big Bang 2.0” – a post-Brexit deregulation drive to make the City more competitive:

Andrew Sentance, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee during and after the financial crisis, said it was a “very bad” time to consider increasing banker’s bonuses.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Sentance said: “It sends a rather confused signal when people are being squeezed in terms of the cost of living and the government is trying to encourage pay restraint in the public sector.”

He added: “To appear to allow bankers to have bigger bonuses at the same time, doesn’t look very well timed. There may be some longer-term arguments for pursuing this policy, but I think the timing would be very bad if they did it now.”

Prof Susan Michie, the director of the Centre for Behaviour Change and a scientific adviser to the government, tweeted: “0.3% of the British electorate voted for Truss as PM. Worth remembering when evaluating her Cabinet’s policies eg the trailed scrapping of anti-obesity measures and lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses (which is already 2x their salaries) whilst asking others for wage restraint.”

Lionel Barber, the former editor of the Financial Times, tweeted that the move would be “politically toxic”.

is giving more money to the rich and to hell with everybody else going to be the abiding theme of the new Truss administration? At least they have now confirmed that this was the whole rationale behind Brexit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

A toothless Parliament?

The Mirror reports that despite a mini-Budget next week, skyrocketing inflation hits and key unanswered questions on energy bills, the Commons could sit for just five 'normal' days between July 22 and October 17.

The paper says that Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng will hold a mini-Budget next week, most likely on Thursday. It will confirm some of the tax cuts - including corporation tax and National Insurance - that the new PM promised in her leadership campaign.

Crucially, it will also give the first details of how an energy bills bailout will be funded - with Ms Truss planning to slap the cost on the national debt. But Parliament is due to break up again next Thursday night for a three-week party conference recess, which it’s understood No 10 has no plans to cancel.

Effectively, this will give the government a huge scrutiny-free period at a time of personal crisis for millions of families. Welcome to taking back control.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Not in my name

Sunday's Observer reported on the disturbing case of two protesters who expressed republican sentiments and who were aubsequently rrested at events proclaiming the accession to the throne of King Charles III.

The paper says that a man was arrested for shouting, “Who elected him?” when the proclamation was read out in Oxford, while in Edinburgh, a woman holding a sign saying, “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy” was arrested moments before the reading of the proclamation.

In today's Guardian, civil liberties campaigners and others were reported as expressing alarm about the response of police to anti-monarchy protesters after a number of incidents, the latest of which included the arrest of a man in Edinburgh for apparently heckling Prince Andrew.

The advocacy group Liberty said that new powers recently given to the police to curtail protest, and how they were being enforced by officers, were a cause for deep concern, this is particularly so given an incident involving a barrister and climate activist who held up a blank piece of paper in Parliament Square. He said he had been threatened with arrest by a police officer under the Public Order Act:

“He confirmed that if I wrote, ‘Not My King’ on it, he would arrest me under the Public Order Act because someone might be offended,” the lawyer, Paul Powlesland, said on Twitter.

“A period of quiet mourning for the Queen is fine, but using that period to cement Charles’ accession as King and cracking down on any dissent to the accession as disrespectful is outrageous.”

Powlesland told the Guardian on Monday night that he had had quite a long discussion with the police who had stopped him, who were from Norfolk’s force. “I speak in a certain way, was dressed in a certain way and understood the law, but someone else might have been in a different situation,” he said.

“Normally, you can get into trouble for shouting, but if you have something written that is super-factual and which is not abusive, then you would normally think that you are protected. It’s pure free speech.”

“I think the idea that he could arrest me and that there could be a conviction under the Public Order Act was ludicrous, but interventions like that are having a chilling effect,” Powlesland added. “I didn’t hold up the sign in the end because I have to work tomorrow and could not afford to be detained. A lot of other people might simply be chilled into not protesting.”

The Guardian published an article yesterday in which they set out the current law on protest. It is clear that officers intervening by arresting dissenters do not fully understand what can and cannot be done, but if that is the case then they have been empowered to do so by the latest legislation:

In England and Wales the law was made stricter by the PCSC Act. The bill that preceded the act was criticised by civil liberties campaigners, parliament’s human rights committee, charities, academics, and two former home secretaries for being oppressive. While some concessions were made in the House of Lords following criticism, it was eventually passed. The most controversial elements with respect to protest were the widening of the police’s ability to place conditions on protests, including if they think they are too noisy.

The new act has been criticised for weakening the right to protest, and while it was not cited by the police in the above instances, Hill said that Thames Valley police initially said he had been arrested under the PCSC Act, before releasing a statement saying he was detained under the Public Order Act.

The government is now seeking to give police in England and Wales more powers to curb peaceful but disruptive protests though the public order bill, which has also been criticised.

I am not endorsing the protests against the monarchy at these events. A family and a nation is grieving and we need to respect this, but heavy handed interventions by the police are disturbing and are beginning to threaten the freedoms on which our democracy is built. 

Recent Tory legislation is just reinforcing the feeling that we are drifting towards a police state, and these actions by the police underline that, something that has to be stopped in its tracks.

P.S. the Guardian also points out that the Treason Felony Act 1848 is still be in effect, which means, technically, anyone calling for the abolition of the monarchy could be convicted of a criminal offence punishable by life imprisonment. In reality, it has not been deployed in a prosecution since 1879, and given that a YouGov poll earlier this year found that 22% of people in the UK support abolishing the monarchy, they say that is probably good news for the beleaguered prison system.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Politicising the civil servant

As any student of 'Yes, Prime Minister' will know, it is the civil servants who run this country, and it is the politicians who are tolerated and manipulated. 

In fact, although it made good comedy, that is very much a politician's view. The civil service in my experience is largely neutral, though conservative with a small 'c', and will work hard to deliver what their political masters and mistresses require.

It does not help of course if, instead of working with the existing civil servants for a bit to see how things go, an incoming Prime Minister makes it one of her first orders of business to defenestrate one of the most senior and experienced mandarins.

The Guardian reports on the view of Robin Butler, a former cabinet secretary, that Liz Truss’s decision to sack the Treasury’s top official on her first day in office was “very unusual and very regrettable”.

Butler – who served under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair – said the decision to remove Sir Tom Scholar as permanent secretary at the Treasury would have implications on how well the the department would handle the economic crisis:

“If there was ever a time we needed experience and continuity, which is what the civil service provides, it is now. We have a new sovereign, we have a new prime minister and we really need the cement that can hold this system together,” Lord Butler told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

“I think the politicians are beginning to forget the constitution. The civil service is Her Majesty’s civil service. A government wouldn’t come in and on the first day sack the head of Her Majesty’s defence forces, the chief of the defence staff.”

Butler said he was concerned about the politicisation of senior civil service roles. “I think they are behaving improperly towards the civil service. It will weaken them but it will also corrupt our system because one of those great advantages of having an independent, loyal civil service will be compromised.”

Before becoming prime minister, Truss railed repeatedly against what she called “Treasury orthodoxy”, notably the predictions that her plan to make large and unfunded cut taxes could increase inflation.

Scholar had played a leading role in dealing with the 2008 banking crisis and had worked closely with Gordon Brown and David Cameron before taking the top Treasury job in 2016. It is understood he was told he would be going on Tuesday after Kwasi Kwarteng was appointed chancellor under Truss.

Scholar said Kwarteng had decided it was time for “new leadership”. He wished the department “all the best for the times ahead”, adding he would be “cheering on from the sidelines”.

Scholar’s predecessor Nick Macpherson called him “the best civil servant of his generation”, adding: “Sacking him makes no sense. His experience would have been invaluable in the coming months as government policy places massive upward pressure on the cost of funding. As Gordon Brown used to say: ‘They’re not thinking’”.

Changing the person in charge of the Treasury will not make Truss's policies any more economically literate.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

A major miscalculation?

The i newspaper reports that Prime Minister Liz Truss is to join King Charles as he leads “services of reflection” for his late mother in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the coming days after the Queen’s death.

Her spokesperson says: “The Prime Minister believes it is important to be present for what will be a significant moment of national mourning around the United Kingdom.” The fact that the world's media will also be there, I suppose, had nothing to do with this decision.

Truss already has a reputation as a 'glory-seeker', spending much of her time as Foreign Secretary posting photographs of herself 'on tour' or imitating Margaret Thatcher atop a heavy tank, but this latest stunt just feels like a step too far.

The danger of course is that she will sour the new King's engagement with ordinary people. It is difficult to see, for example, how the trio will avoid vocal protests in Scotland, where a previous visit by Boris Johnson saw him leaving by the back way to avoid the mob. If Charles and Camilla were not accompanied by such a divisive political figure, their visit would likely pass off without much difficulty.

The other issue is in the likely politicisation of the monarchy during an emotional transition. The new King is meant to be a neutral head of state and arbitrator when things go wrong. To be so closely associated with an unelected, and controversial serving Prime Minister this early in his reign will do the monarchy no good at all.

Charles may not have much choice in accepting Truss's presence on his tour, but he should object vociferously and do everything he can to veto it.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Not going far enough

In many ways, the sad death of the Queen, has deflected much of the scrutiny of Liz Trusses' package of measures to alleviate the cost of living crisis, so it is useful to go back a few days to this article in the Guardian, in which British companies broadly welcomed the six-month support scheme announced by government, which would enable some to get through the winter, but are concerned at how little detail was given on how it would work, while several business owners say they were concerned by the limited timescale of the help on offer.

The paper quotes fish and chip shop owner, Andrew Crook who was left disappointed by the government’s energy support announcement. He tells them that there was “no comfort there at all” for businesses:

“There was no detail, and to be honest it didn’t go far enough,” the fish and chip shop owner said. “This was their opportunity to take the pressure off small business and in my opinion they haven’t.”

“It takes the pressure off for six months, but only six months,” added Crook, who runs Skippers of Euxton, a chippy near Chorley in Lancashire, and who speaks for the industry as the president of the National Federation of Fish Friers.

He said his members were “aggrieved” and did not think the support would cover their rising energy costs: “I can’t even tell you some of the messages I was sent while [the parliamentary debate] was going on.

“I’ve been speaking daily with people who are losing their business and who don’t know if they’ll have a business at Christmas.”

Will Beckett, co-founder and chief executive of international steakhouse chain Hawksmoor, welcomed the intervention for small businesses but said it was vital that the hospitality industry be deemed a vulnerable sector entitled to ongoing support after the initial six months.

Steve West was frustrated by the lack of detail in the support announcement. “There weren’t really any answers for us – the jury is still out,” said the owner of The Pudding Compartment, a bakery firm based in Flintshire, north-east Wales. “But I welcome what’s happening for households as it affects my employees.”

The company, which employs 25 people, makes sweet treats such as brownies, cookies and muffins, which are sold in coffee shops and canteens. While West said he was “lucky” to have two years left on his energy contract, quotes he has received recently mean he has had to put plans to expand his premises and his workforce on ice. “My energy broker told me if I was renewing my rate today it would be nine times higher than what I pay.”

Meanwhile, James Tear, the chief executive of The Solpro Group, an engineering and manufacturing business that specialises in precious metal alloys, was also conceerned at the lack of detail. He said: “The majority of us are higher energy users,” Tear said. “We wait with bated breath to hear what the definition of vulnerable [sector] is.”

No doubt debate on this package will resume in a few weeks.

Friday, September 09, 2022



Thursday, September 08, 2022

Fracking hell

As we wait for the long overdue statement on how the UK Government plans to tackle the cost of living crisis, one proposed meausre stands out, the reintroduction of fracking. Now nobody is disputing the need to find alternative sources of energy but this proposal falls down on several levels.

As the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng said months ago when he was business secretary in the previous government, fracking will “take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas can be produced for the market and will certainly have no effect on prices in the near term”. It is not a short-term fix.

What it does do, assuming that it can be got to work on a sufficient scale, is extend the reliance on gas, when we should be developing other long-term sources of energy, such as tidal, solar, wind and even nuclear.

We also need to be looking to meet climate change targets, not go backwards. Fracking extracts a greenhouse gas; it adds to global warming at a time when we want to cool things down. It is also environmentally damaging, polluting huge amounts of water at a time when rainfall levels are in decline and droughts are going to become more common.

But the key phrase in the Minister's statement is when he says that “community consent” would “lie at the heart of our energy policy”. 

Previous attempts at fracking led to minor earthquakes in Lancashire, the equipment used is very intrusive and concerns about the process in communities is very high. 

The more I think about this announcement, the more it seems like a PR exercise to make us think the government is doing something, when they know that the chance of it actually happening is very slim.

So, let's put the press releases to one side for a change and start developing realistic alternatives to gas, that will help keep the price down in the long term and reduce our dependence on foreign powers.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Missteps in No. 10 Downing Street

As Liz Truss settles down in 10 Downing Street and starts to put her ministers in place, a number of trends have already emerged. Chief amongst these is that there is no place for supporters of Rishi Sunak. The new Prime Minister does not appear to be interested in healing rifts caused by the leadrship election. But the Sunakistas are not the only people she has upset.

The Guardian reports that the wife of former minister Johnny Mercer has called Liz Truss an “imbecile” in an outburst on Twitter after her husband’s sacking:

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer said the cabinet system “stinks” and “treats people appallingly” after her husband was removed as veterans affairs minister by the new prime minister.

Mercer, the MP for Plymouth Moor View, had appeared angry about Truss’s move, saying he was “disappointed” but accepted that the PM is “entitled to reward her supporters”.

He also suggested he could quit the Commons, saying: “I have to accept that I will never possess the qualities required for enduring success in politics as it stands, and to be fair to my wonderful family I must consider my future.”

His wife went further, tweeting a picture mocking Truss as the character Beaker from The Muppets television show and giving an account of her husband’s exit discussions.

Cornelius-Mercer tweeted: “He asked her ‘why would you do this, who is going to be better at this role than me, which of your mates gets the job, you promised a meritocracy?’

“PM – I can’t answer that Johnny.

“This system stinks and treats people appallingly. Best person I know sacked by an imbecile @trussliz.”

Meanwhile, the standout appointment so far has to be Jacob Rees-Mogg to Business Secretary, overseeing the UK’s energy and climate strategy in Liz Truss’s cabinet and the drive for net zero emissions, even though he has long been dismissive of the looming catastrophe of global warming.

As the Independent reports, in 2013 he said that “climate alarmism” was responsible for high energy prices and blamed EU regulations for the reason that coal-fired power stations were being shut down and for the slow pace of shale gas exploration:

He described the green movement as “doomsayers” and said the solution to the government’s energy woes was the free market and that it should ditch the “the environmentalist obsession”.

In a 2014 interview with Chat Politics he said humans should adapt to climate change rather than mitigate it and that he would “like my constituents to have cheap energy rather more than I would like them to have windmills”.

In the same year he was referred to the Parliament’s standards watchdog for speaking in debates in the House of Commons in support of the tobacco, mining and oil and gas industries without declaring that was a founder of a firm with financial interests in those sectors.

Nice one, Liz.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Storm clouds and no silver lining

Securing a smaller proportion of the vote amongst Tory Party members than Iain Duncan Smith is not a great start to a UK premiership but it is something that Liz Truss is going to have to deal with. However, as the Independent points out, she has very little time to turn things around.

The paper says that storm clouds are gathering over her premiership, as polls suggest voters are disappointed by her arrival in 10 Downing Street and have scant faith in her ability to resolve the cost of living crisis:

A former minister told The Independent they would “regret” joining an administration that would be “a replay of Boris 2019”.

Mr Sunak, who is not expected to feature in the new government, urged his supporters to “now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times”.

And MPs who backed his bid made it clear there would be no immediate revolt against the new PM, indicating they would give her a chance to make good on her “twin-track” approach of holding down energy bills in the short term while boosting supplies for the future.

An aide to the new Tory leader said she now accepted that a “sticking plaster” was needed immediately, but was insistent that the bailout approach “can’t continue ad infinitum”.

Her plan is still to be finalised, but it is thought it might involve loans to companies, to be paid back over many years as wholesale prices fall. It will be unveiled within seven days and possibly as early as Thursday, while Mr Kwarteng will set out wider plans for tax cuts in an emergency budget before parliament breaks for conference season on 23 September.

Kevin Hollinrake – who previously warned that Ms Truss’s focus on tax cuts rather than handouts would put low-income families “on the streets” – told The Independent that the new PM would not be given “a free pass” by Tory backbenchers.

“We’ve got a Conservative prime minister chosen by Conservative members – the default position is to support the prime minister,” he said. “Everyone knows if we are divided it is manna from heaven for the opposition.”

But he added: “On the backbenches your job is to scrutinise the government. We are not going to give her a free pass. We will be scrutinising her. We can’t have a situation where the people benefiting most from tax cuts are the rich and those hit hardest by energy prices are the poor.”

It is not just Tory MPs who are sceptical:

A YouGov survey of 2,500 voters found that half (50 per cent) – including a third (33 per cent) of 2019 Tory voters – were disappointed at her selection. Just one in seven (14 per cent) said they believed she would be a better PM than Mr Johnson and one in five (19 per cent) said they had confidence in her to tackle the cost of living.

A separate poll by Savanta ComRes found that just 18 per cent believed she could unite the country, against half (51 per cent) who thought she could not. Only 18 per cent had a favourable view of the new PM, just 10 per cent thought her party was united and 60 per cent said she should call an election by the end of the year.

Is Truss up to the challenge? We will see.

Monday, September 05, 2022

The real Prime Mnister


We might be expecting to see Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak installed as the next Prime Minister-elect this afternoon, but some people have other ideas.

The Guardian reports that twitter users were delighted to see billboards across London announcing that Larry the cat, No 10’s “chief mouser”, has thrown his collar into the ring to become the country’s next prime minister.

The paper says that a tweet from Larry’s Twitter account with a picture of the billboard, featuring the cat in a union flag tie below his slogan, quickly accrued more than 14,000 likes on Saturday:

“Dream come true,” it was captioned, along with the hashtags Larry4Leader and YesWeCat.

Users were quick to spot the billboards that have popped up in Hackney, Peckham and on Shepherd’s Bush roundabout.

“Obv would vote for Larry as leader outta the three,” Rebecca Rose, 32, said, sharing a photo of Larry next to Sunak and Truss.

Above their faces it says: “If you had the chance, who would you vote for?”

Rose later tweeted about being handed a Larry4Leader leaflet and wrote: “Now been handed this en route to work and I’ve got no choice but to Stan … Hackney central is really working overtime in support of Larry the cat here.”

Many also posted pictures of their own cats in response to Larry, as a show of support.

“We need clarity on all of your ‘paw’licies,” another wrote.

The team in charge of the campaign, Don’t Panic, partnered with Build Hollywood to organise the billboards.

They specified what Larry stands for, including “responsible hiss-cal policy” and “no lying in No 10 unless it’s on a comfy cushion”.

Go Larry!

Sunday, September 04, 2022

The failure of 'levelling-up'

In the Guardian there is yet more evidence that the so-called 'levelling-up' agenda promoted by Boris Johnson, is just more political hot air designed to disguise the self-interested distribution of public money.

I wrote on Thursday, how the Tories deliberately misled people in Wales over the way that Prosperity funding would be distributed, with the result that more money has gone to Tory held seats at the expense of more deprived areas. Now the Guardian reveals that Tory-voting south-east of England, the most affluent region in Britain outside London, last year received almost twice as much money as the north-east from the government’s levelling up fund aimed at boosting deprived areas.

They say projects in the south-east benefited from £9.2m from the fund in the year to 31 March 2022. By comparison, the north-east only received £4.9m, despite being the poorest region in Britain by disposable household income:

The £4.8bn fund is under scrutiny over its failure to date to deliver to some of the poorest areas of the country. There are also questions over the criteria for allocating money after the former chancellor, Rishi Sunak, told an audience that he changed funding formulas to divert money from “deprived urban areas”.

Ministers want the multi-billion pound fund to provide a cash boost to some of the poorest areas of the UK, but the new figures obtained under freedom of information laws reveal that just £107.4m of funds were delivered in the year to 31 March 2022.

Jack Shaw, a researcher into local government who obtained the new figures, said: “With less than 3% of the levelling up fund having been spent in its first year, the rhetoric of levelling up hasn’t matched the reality.

“The government needs to be clear about why that is the case and why [the north-east] despite the focus on correcting regional imbalances, has received less than 5% of the fund’s spending to date.”

Initially, it was hoped that £600m would be delivered in 2021/22 by the fund. The figure was revised downwards to £200m, but not even that target has been hit.

It doesn't help of course that the methodology for allocating awards does not use deprivation levels to rank areas for priority funding, and that some of the poorest communities have so far missed out in levelling up awards. Anybody would think the government was not sincere in wanting to help these areas.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Spending public money to get Boris Johnson off the hook

As if it was not bad enough that Boris Johnson flouted his own lockdown rules, that the Metropolitan police failed to investigate properly and let him off the hook, and that Johnson then misled Parliament about his activities, it turns out that the concerted Tory campaign to overturn a Parliamentary inquiry into the Prime Minister's conduct has been given a huge assist with £130,000 of taxpayer's money.

The Guardian reports that Johnson has been accused of trying to “intimidate and bully” an inquiry into claims he misled MPs over Downing Street parties, after No 10 took the highly unusual step of commissioning a senior QC to scrutinise the legal basis for the process at a public cost of almost £130,000.

The paper says that crossbench peer David Pannick has argued that the Commons committee on privileges and standards was “proposing to adopt an unfair procedure” in examining allegations that Johnson falsely told the Commons he knew nothing about lockdown-breaking gatherings:

Pannick said Johnson should be permitted a lawyer and any sanction on him for inadvertently misleading MPs “would be likely to have a chilling effect on ministerial comments in the house”.

But the 22-page document prompted puzzlement from legal and constitutional experts, who said Pannick was assessing a parliamentary process as if it was a judicial one. Downing Street has declined to release the “instructions to counsel”, which set out the basis for a barrister’s opinion.

While ministers routinely seek legal advice, Johnson will face any consequences from the inquiry as a backbench MP. His successor as prime minister, expected to be Liz Truss, will take over on Tuesday, with voting in the Tory leadership campaign having ended on Friday afternoon.

However, Downing Street argues that the inquiry relates to his conduct as prime minister and thus has wider consequences for government.

Government sources confirmed the contract to Pannick, via a firm of solicitors, is one totalling £129,700 for four months of “legal services” beginning in August, published on Friday.

In a highly choreographed process seemingly intended to discredit the inquiry before it begins in the coming weeks, Pannick’s findings were briefed to a handful of friendly newspapers on Thursday night, which ran stories describing the opinion as “devastating”.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who stepped back from leading the investigation over previous criticism of Johnson, said it appeared to be “an attempt to intimidate and bully the committee”.
Pannick, Bryant added, “does not acknowledge that the motion from the House of Commons setting up the inquiry does not refer to ‘knowingly misleading the house’ at all. It simply says, ‘misleading the house’. Second, he doesn’t seem to understand that lots of standards processes have changed over the last 20 years.

“We now have a process for ministers to formally correct the record when they have made an inadvertent error. Boris Johnson has not done that in relation to this. But ministers used this process 200 times this year.

“So the question of how culpable Boris Johnson is depends on several things, one of which might be whether he knowingly lied. One might be whether he was really careless about the truth. One might be whether he ever bothered to correct the record properly. All of those are in the mix.”

This Tory government has demonstrated a cavalier attitude to the use of public money, whether it is on giving PPE contracts to their friends at a cost of billions of pounds, or wasting it on vanity project such as the proposed bridge/tunnel between Scotland and Northen Ireland. It is no surprise therefore that they are now throwing taxpayer's cash at defending Johnson.

If only they would spend the money on helping people through the cost of living crisis instead.

Friday, September 02, 2022

An unbridgeable gulf

They said it was teething problems, that the Whitehall civil servants and ministers would come around to the reality of devolution and adapt accordingly. They couldn't have been more wrong.

In the early days of devolution, with the exception of the Home Office, by-and-large Whitehall made an effort to work with the devolved bodies. However, as administrations changed and more powers were handed over to the nations, things started to get a little more sticky.

Now, the Guardian reports that the UK government’s dealings with the devolved nations has been described by former ministers as “demoralising”, “depressing” and devoid of understanding of issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

They record the combined view of nine former ministers in governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, who have spoken out about their tussles and frustrations with Westminster in interviews with the Institute for Government:

Michael Russell, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs, described how ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland used to complain about interference by one senior Conservative minister who would be “charming to your face” but would “then go out and brief savagely” against them.

Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for health, complained that the UK government “simply don’t understand [devolution] and they have paid no attention to it”.

Certain powers including matters relating to the economy, health and justice have been devolved to the three nations since 1998, but the Scottish National party’s desire for another independence referendum in Scotland and the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland remain significant fault lines in the union.

The potential appointment of Lord Frost, known for his pugnacious approach, as head of the Cabinet Office raises the prospect of more bruising battles to come.

Michael Russell, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs, said tensions between London and the devolved nations had got worse during Boris Johnson’s reign.

“I think the difference between the May and Johnson administrations is that there was a recognition under [Theresa] May, no matter how limited and grudging, of the legitimate interests of the devolved governments and their rights, whereas there was nothing but contempt for devolution from the Johnson government, expressed at every level even by the territorial secretaries of state,” he said.

Freeman, twice a minister in Holyrood, said the lack of interest in devolved government was not confined to the Conservative party.

“It was my experience with Labour as well – [the UK government] do not understand devolution … and they have paid no attention to it.”

Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said working with the UK government was “demoralising, depressing” and “wasteful of my time”, while Stephen Farry, Alliance party MP for North Down and former Stormont employment minister, complained that devolved government in Belfast was like a “transactional clearing house” with Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party carving up the agenda.

“There wasn’t really much sense of ‘here’s a vision of where we want to take Northern Ireland’,” he told the IfG.

The DUP is boycotting Stormont over Brexit but Farry says when he was in devolved government 10 years ago, there was “almost collegiality” between the party and its arch rival, Sinn Féin.

Alun Davies, the former agriculture minister and Welsh Labour member of the Senedd in Wales, complained that the recently departed secretary of state for Wales, Simon Hart, had turned into a “monster” not just attacking the decisions of the devolved government but the “fact we exist” with “ludicrous” comments.

“I disagree, fundamentally, with what the UK government says and does … but I don’t attack their right to exist,” he said.

Claire Sugden, an independent unionist and former Northern Ireland justice minister, spoke of the importance of showing respect to political opponents.

“It’s not that individual I’m working with, it’s the office in which they were mandated and in most cases that’s thousands of people. So when I disrespect that individual, I’m disrespecting the people they represent,” she said.

This attitude is evident in yesterday's story that a Conservative ex-UK Government minister has admitted that the Welsh public were deliberately misled about how replacement money for former EU funds would be spent in Wales. With Boris Johnson, he effectively by-passed the Welsh Government and imposed his own funding formula based on population rather than need, with the result that a lot of UK Prosperity Fund money will now go to Tory seats at the expense of more deprived areas.

If the new Prime Minister continues this trend then there are going to be some major clashes between governments in the future.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Tories deliberately misled the people of Wales

It shouldn't really be a surprise, but Wales on line reports that a Conservative ex-UK Government minister has admitted that the Welsh public were deliberately misled about how replacement money for former EU funds would be spent in Wales.

The site says that former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns admitted in an interview for a new book, that the Conservative Government never intended for decisions on the spending of the replacement EU cash to remain in Wales:

As part of their 2019 general election campaign the Conservatives promised that Wales would receive "not a penny less" as a result of Brexit. Many people took this to mean that the Welsh Government would have a role in allocating this money (as they have done for 22 years as part of the EU). However, the UK Government has recently confirmed that it will allocate these funds directly through its new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF).

This has been an incredibly controversial issue in Wales with many arguing that not keeping the decision making in Wales is a row back on a manifesto pledge. Though the Conservatives can rightly argue that the cash is still coming to Wales, Mr Cairns has admitted that they knew they were being deceptive.

Speaking in the book, Independent Nation, Mr Cairns said: "Boris was on board. When he came down to a hustings debate [before the 2019 election], we were briefing him and I said: ‘You will get the question, about European aid, [and] in the manifesto we have got to make the commitment that there won’t be a penny less.’ To quote, Boris said to me: ‘We want to control that, don’t we?’ and I said: ‘Yes, but you can’t say that… because it will really spark a political debate in Wales, because we haven’t yet explained the commitment that you get the same money but it will be localised to a greater degree than the centralised approach that you get for the Welsh government.’ I said to the Prime Minister: ‘The answer you’ve got to give’ – and he stuck to it absolutely – ‘is that we’ll be using good Conservative principles on how it should be spent.’ And if you look back to the quotes, that’s exactly what he said in his answer. You know, not once did we deny it, but we hadn’t laid the ground to explain."

Mr Cairns added with a laugh: ‘I’ve been very candid here’.

The comments demonstrate that the Conservative party knew full well what the reaction would be if people in Wales knew that the plan was for former EU funds to be allocated by Westminster as opposed to the Welsh Government (which had been central to deciding how European money would be spent since 1999).

He knew that the assumption would be, when they promised ‘not a penny less’, was that this money would be going to the devolved administrations, and he didn’t want people to know this was not the UK government’s intention. The reaction of Boris Johnson is also telling. ‘We want to control that, don’t we?’ he said.

Mr Cairns argued that the UK government having the money was in fact a way to ensure localisation. To use his words: ‘It will be localised to a greater degree than the centralised approach that you get for the Welsh government.’ But in his book, Will Hayward argues: "He had no idea how the Welsh Government planned to use this money, because the Welsh Government didn’t know themselves. He had no conversation, no engagement, no respect for devolution. It was the assumption that ‘Westminster knows best’, and what makes it all the worse is that they knew there would be push back, so they used sleight of hand and word play to avoid fronting up to their own plans and to try to gain in Welsh votes."

In fact being less than open about the way the money is to be administered was not the only sleight of hand on the part of the Tories during that campaign. Their promise that Wales would receive 'not a penny less' has turned out to be misleading as well.

The new funding formula for the prosperity fund has resulted in a reduction of £35 per head for every person in the South West Wales region. The money has been diverted to communities in mid Wales. This will mean communities in Swansea and the South West Wales region will lose £4.2m this year and £21m over the next 5 years.

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