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So much happened in the UK this week that it is hard to find the time and the space to write about it all.

Conservative leadership contest

Liz Truss’s campaign continues to motor ahead, gaining powerful MPs’ backing.

On Wednesday, August 3, a new Conservative Home poll appeared, its results matching those of polling companies, e.g. YouGov. Liz is 32 points ahead:

Conservative Home‘s Paul Goodman analysed his site’s results and YouGov’s (emphases mine):

Granted, neither can be proved right or wrong: as our proprietor has it, a poll is a snapshot, not a prediction. If our survey is correct, all that follows is that Truss would win the contest, were it held now, by 32 points among those who have declared their hand.

However, if we and YouGov are right it is very hard to see how Sunak recovers in the month or so between the opening and closing of the poll. For even if during that time he won over that 16 per of undecideds and others, Truss would still beat him by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

In short, if our survey is correct he would have to add to that 16 per cent of don’t knows and others some nine per cent of Truss’s supporters – i.e: persuade them to switch.

This seems most unlikely if YouGov’s question about certainty of intention is taken into account. For it finds that 83 per cent of Truss voters and 70 per cent of Sunak voters have made their minds up.

What odds would you give on Sunak winning over all those don’t knows and others (from our survey), and then adding to that pile over half of Truss’s soft support (using YouGov’s figure)? I would say that they are very long indeed

Those interested in events slightly further back will recall that Boris Johnson beat Jeremy Hunt by 66 per cent to 34 per cent during the leadership election of 2019.  That’s exactly the same margin as the Truss-Sunak forced choice I spell out above from our new survey.

One way of looking at Conservative leadership election as matters stand might be to forget the thrills and spills, hype and blunders – such as Truss’s yesterday over regional public sector pay.

And stick instead to the simple thought that the Tory membership divides right-of-party-centre to left-of-party-centre by about two to one and so, all other things being equal, the leadership candidate perceived to be right-wing than the other will win by a margin about two to one.

Finally, Opinium promises a Conservative members poll next week, and it has tended recently to find better results for Sunak than ours or YouGovs.

The YouGov poll from August 3 showed that Britons believe Truss is better than Sunak on the main issues:

Liz gained another supporter in former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who was also Boris Johnson’s first Chancellor from the summer of 2019 through to February 2020, at which point Rishi Sunak took over.

Sunak worked for Javid when the latter was Chancellor. Javid mentored his younger MP friend:

However, the dynamic changed when Chancellor Sunak locked horns with Health Secretary Javid during the pandemic in 2021.

The Times explains:

… those who know both men say there are more prescient personal and political reasons behind Javid’s decision [to back Truss].

They say that tensions emerged after Javid was brought back into the government as health secretary. Sunak regarded the NHS as a bottomless drain on resources and was exasperated by what he saw as Javid’s failure to spearhead fundamental reform of the health service.

Javid for his part was frustrated with the highhanded manner in which the Treasury dealt with the Department of Health and its refusal to countenance the type of spending he believed was necessary to tackle treatment backlogs coming out of the pandemic. He felt that Sunak had not shown the loyalty that he had when the power dynamics were reversed.

There are now significant policy differences as well. When Javid threw his hat in for the leadership he set out a tax-cutting agenda broadly similar to that proposed by Truss. He proposed cutting national insurance and reversing the planned corporation tax rise while Sunak stuck to his policies as chancellor.

One ally said Javid sincerely believes that only by kick-starting growth through tax cuts can public services be properly funded. They said it would have been “odd” if Javid had backed Sunak, given their different and genuinely held views on how to deal with Britain’s economic uncertainties.

This is what Javid had to say about Truss in his article for The Times:

“I fought for strong fiscal rules in our last manifesto,” he wrote. “But the circumstances we are in require a new approach. Over the long term, we are more likely to be fiscally sustainable by improving trend growth.

“Only by getting growth back to pre-financial crisis levels can we hope to support the high-quality public services people rightly expect.”

In a direct attack on Sunak, he said: “Some claim that tax cuts can only come once we have growth. I believe the exact opposite — tax cuts are a prerequisite for growth. Tax cuts now are essential. There are no risk-free options in government. However, in my view, not cutting taxes carries an even greater risk.”

He added: “With only two years before the next election, there has been a temptation to just ‘get the barnacles off the boat’ and avoid any short-term political pain for long-term national gain.

“We must reject that. As a nation we are sleepwalking into a big-state, high-tax, low-growth, social democratic style model which risks us becoming a middle-income economy by the 2030s with the loss of global influence and power” …

A senior Truss campaign source described Javid’s endorsement as the “big one for us”.

They added: “The bigger beasts of the party are uniting behind Liz because they believe in her vision for the economy. We can’t have the Treasury orthodoxy and tired status quo. They believe she will turn things around in time for the next election by getting on and delivering quickly in No10.”

On Wednesday, August 3, Truss and Sunak canvassed separately in Wales before meeting up for a televised hustings in Cardiff later in the day.

A Conservative Welsh Senedd (Senate) member, James Evans, changed his mind about Sunak and decided to support Truss instead. He got a lot of flak in response to his tweet:

Truss’s former party, the Liberal Democrats, criticised her for taking a helicopter around Wales to get to the various Conservative associations there. Pictured is the Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey:

Guido Fawkes points out that the Lib Dems are suffering an attack of sour grapes — and hypocrisy (red emphases his):

Rishi’s been known to use them, so why should Liz be confined to the rail network…

i News were the ones to reveal Liz’s chartering this afternoon, juxtaposing the decision against her backing of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The LibDems were only too happy to butt in, providing a quote for the copy that it “makes a complete mockery of her promises on Net Zero. It’s clear that she is not serious on climate change.” This quote came from Vera Hobhouse rather than Sir Ed Davey himself, who surely wouldn’t mind the coverage…

Guido’s sure Sir Ed’s decision not to provide the comment has little to do with the fact that, in 2013 as Energy Secretary, he hitched a ride in the helicopter of EDF boss Henri Proglio, after handing him a nuclear deal at double the going rate for electricity. The decision raised objections from Friends of the Earth at the time, who said it “confirms how close the Big Six energy firms are to our decision-makers.”  A source close to Liz Truss calls the political attack “the usual sanctimonious hypocrisy from the LibDems”. Sir Ed may need to refuel his own spin machine…

While in Wales, Truss took the opportunity to have a go at First Minister Mark Drakeford (Labour), calling him:

the low energy version of Jeremy Corbyn.

Bullseye!

John McTernan, who advised Tony Blair between 2005 and 2007, wrote in UnHerd why Labour should be afraid of Truss.

I’ve seen John McTernan on GB News and he knows whereof he speaks.

He explains Truss’s strengths:

One of her overlooked strengths is that she has been on a political journey. Changing your mind is often thought of as a weakness in politicians, whereas in reality an unchanging commitment to ideology is one of their most eccentric habits. In normal life, we change our minds frequently and without fuss. As economist Paul Samuelson said, in a line so good it is often attributed to Keynes: “Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?” In itself, changing their mind humanises a politician — a particular asset in a time of popular revolt against out-of-touch elites.

But, more than that, making a political journey shows character. Three of the most significant politicians of the Blair era — John Reid, Alan Milburn, and David Blunkett — were great New Labour reformers who had started on the hard Left. Their politics had been tempered and strengthened by their journey. Liz Truss was brought up on the Left and attended anti-nuclear peace camps with her mother. She then became a Liberal Democrat activist, famously demanding an end to the monarchy to Paddy Ashdown’s discomfort. And when a Tory Cabinet minister she backed Remain not Leave, though she is now a passionate Brexiteer. Those surprised that Tory party members overwhelmingly see a former Remainer as the best defender of Brexit need to remember their New Testament: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” The redemption narrative is one of our most powerful stories: she who once was blind, but now can see.

The fact Liz Truss has been on a political journey also makes her a powerful communicator. Some of the most persuasive arguments in politics are based on empathy rather than angry disagreement. Liz Truss knows why voters find progressive policies attractive, which can strengthen the persuasive power of her arguments for people to change their views. And her speaking style is clear and simple. The listener readily understands what she thinks and believes. Her opponents who too readily dismiss her as simplistic are missing the point. Politics is not a mathematical equation — a ten-point plan won’t beat a five-point plan 10-5. The messages and policies that win are those that connect with the heart as much as the head.

The Truss agenda is straightforward. The educational system is failing kids. Grammar schools would identify and help some bright working-class and minority children. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting wallets and purses. A tax cut would give money back to the public. Energy prices are spiking. Pausing the green levy would reduce prices. Now, there are good arguments against each of these policies, but they are superficially strong one-liners. It takes time to explain how grammar schools distort the education of the vast majority of pupils who don’t get into them, or to make the case that there is a danger that tax cuts lead to more inflation. The arguments against Liz Truss’s policies are strong but they need to be explained. And, as the old political saying goes, “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

… One of the best jokes in the US TV show Veep comes when Selina Myers uses the slogan “continuity with change” for her Presidential campaign. It works because it is bizarrely true — and it is true because that is what most voters want. They’re not revolutionaries, they’re realists.

The Truss offer is continuity with the spirit of Johnson and Brexit while meeting the demands of the voters who were, and are, angry with the status quo. That anger has been the fuel of politics since the Global Financial Crisis — it was there in Brexit, in the Scottish independence referendum, in the rise of Corbyn, and in Boris Johnson’s 2019 landslide. The fact that such competing and conflicting political forces can harness that same anger signals that there is an underlying volatility in British politics that can be channelled in different directions by strong and intelligent leadership.

It is in leadership that Labour must contest most convincingly. Liz Truss will likely be undone by events. The cost-of-living crisis is of such a scale that it is hard to see any of her policies — or any of Rishi Sunak’s — that will be more than a drop in the ocean. To win, Keir Starmer must learn from New Labour [Tony Blair’s government]. Attack the new Prime Minister and her government, but don’t nit-pick. The critique must be based on a vision of hope and a positive project that positions Labour once more as the “political wing of the British people”. Otherwise, Keir Starmer risks being just one more man, in a long line of men, who have underestimated Liz Truss at their peril. After all, there are no accidental Prime Ministers, and like the rest, Truss has guile, will and talent.

Guido Fawkes adds another point:

… Truss will be the Tories’ third female PM to Labour’s big fat nought …

Exactly. And Conservatives didn’t need to have all-women shortlists, either, unlike Labour.

For Conservative Party member Toby Young, General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, Truss’s strength lies in opposing another lockdown, which she said ‘No’ to on Monday night in Exeter:

Also in Exeter, on Monday, Truss said that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) was an ‘attention seeker’ who should be ignored. Again, I’m pretty sure Truss meant that with regard to appeals for a second independence referendum.

The Telegraph‘s Alan Cochrane, who lives in Scotland, said that some would sincerely welcome those words: ‘Amen to that! Liz Truss finally puts the boot into Nicola Sturgeon’:

It is easy to sympathise with Liz Truss’s presumably exasperated and outspoken statement that the best way to deal with Nicola Sturgeon was to ignore her

After watching, listening and responding to this ambitious politician for more than 20 years, ignoring her is something I’d rather have been doing than countering every one of her largely lame-brained arguments for breaking up Britain.

Furthermore, the First Minister is every bit the “attention seeker” that the Foreign Secretary portrays her as – most especially when she dons her “Mother of Scotland” role and seeks to insist that she, and only she, speaks for the whole of Scotland. 

The truth, of course, is that she speaks only for her party and government, neither of which commands an overwhelming majority of Scottish opinion

while Ms Truss is being assailed for her choice of words by the Nationalists and those faint hearts who seek a peaceful political life, there will be more than a few who will shout “Amen to that!” when she talks of Ms Sturgeon’s perpetual attention seeking.

Furthermore, a great deal more candour from Westminster in its dealings with the SNP is long overdue. Far too long. Successive UK administrations have bent over backwards not to be seen as provoking the cause of independence when the truth is that it is already on a life support system, with a fast declining appeal to the Scottish people.

The fact is that Ms Truss knows that she cannot just ignore the devolved Scottish Government and its leader. But she is to be commended for putting the boot in. It’s about time someone did.

While Truss and Sunak were in Wales, Iain Duncan Smith MP was north of the border in Scotland.

He was at an event for Scottish Conservatives in Stirling, in Scotland’s central belt.

The Times has the story:

The former work and pensions secretary backtracked on comments made by Truss that Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, should be “ignored” as he criticised the UK government’s approach towards the Union.

“I don’t want to ignore her,” he said. “What I want to do is to let the world know just exactly why Scotland is suffering so much under this incompetent regime at Holyrood. The truth is, it is a disaster: everything from health, the police, the railways — they can’t even build ships sometimes on time and on budget.”

He’s not exaggerating. It’s the raw truth.

The MP wants the next PM to have greater powers of scrutiny over the way Scotland’s SNP government is run. They get billions from taxpayers in the Barnett Formula and waste it. No one, not even Scots, has any idea where the money goes.

He said:

I am desperate for greater powers for scrutiny. It is only scrutiny that unearths all this nonsense and … that the weaker scrutiny up here has allowed the Nationalists to get away with it. So I am going to take that straight back and talk to her about it and see what we could do.

Not surprisingly, the SNP were furious and, as usual, blamed Westminster:

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP deputy leader at Westminster, said: “This is an utterly ridiculous suggestion, showing that even the Tories are out of ideas for how to fix the broken Westminster system. It is not the SNP’s job to explain why Westminster control is increasingly making life more difficult for the people of Scotland — even if the Tories are out of excuses.

“The job of SNP MPs in Westminster is to stand up for Scotland against a UK government choosing to ignore our interests at every turn. That is what they will continue to do.”

Duncan Smith justified his desire for scrutiny saying that SNP MPs are part of the Scottish government, too:

Duncan Smith said: “We need to turn the tables on them and start saying, ‘Well, can we have a period of question time for you lot to talk about what you are doing in Scotland as the devolved administration?’

“And start examining some of this stuff because they’re not just SNP protesters down in parliament, they are actually part of the government up here.”

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak told the audience in Cardiff that Truss was wrong about her public sector pay reform and tried to scare Welsh Conservatives into thinking that Truss was going to cut the pay of every single public sector worker in Wales:

However, Sunak got himself into a bit of hot water when he ‘misspoke’ on wind turbines at the event:

On Thursday, August 4, Guido reported:

Rishi’s team has said he “misspoke” during the hustings last night when it appeared he’d u-turned on his opposition to new onshore wind. At the Wales’ husting, Sunak was asked “will you be bold enough to scrap the embargo on onshore wind in England?”, replying “So, yes, in a nutshell.” This appeared totally contradictory to one of his previous policy announcements:

Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore,

Team Liz immediately leapt on his words as sign of yet another u-turn from Rishi, alleging it was his eleventh campaign u-turn.

This morning Team Rishi, asked to justify his words, bluntly replied “he misspoke”. Much like Britain under Rishi’s actual wind energy policy, he’s losing fans rapidly…

Sunak is also being economical with the truth when he says that he personally came up with the idea of British freeports, which were first mooted in an early Margaret Thatcher manifesto for the Conservatives:

However, Rishi managed to get two notable endorsements, one from former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard and Nigel Lawson, who was Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher. He is also Nigella Lawson’s father.

Guido has more:

    • Finally got an endorsement from Nigel Lawson himself, who writes in The Telegraph that Rishi is “the only candidate who understands Thatcherite economics” …
    • Michael Howard opened for Rishi at Wales’ Tory husting last night, saying he can provide the leadership needed “not only in this country, but across the wider western world”

Lawson must have felt obliged to endorse Sunak, given that the latter has a photo of him in his office.

Sunak was over the moon about Lawson’s Telegraph article:

Boris looms large

Prime Minister Boris Johnson still looms large in the psyche of British voters.

Normally, we are all too happy when a Prime Minister stands down. When Margaret Thatcher’s MPs booted her out, we breathed a sigh of relief. We’d had enough of Tony Blair when he left No. 10 to Gordon Brown. We didn’t care too much about David Cameron’s resignation, although we did think he was petty-minded for resigning the morning after the Brexit referendum result. And we were only too happy for Theresa May to go, although we did feel sorry for her as she cried at the Downing Street podium.

However, Boris is a different kettle of fish.

The August 3 YouGov poll showed that a) most Conservative Party members thought their MPs made a mistake in getting him to resign as Party leader and b) he would make a better PM than either Truss or Sunak:

In response to the aforementioned Welsh Senedd member’s tweet, someone responded with this:

Incredibly, as ballots are currently being posted to Conservative Party members, Alex Story, the leader of the Bring Back Boris campaign, still thinks there is time to add Boris’s name to the list of candidates.

He spoke to Nigel Farage on Wednesday, August 3:

He said that 14,000 members of the public wrote to Conservative Party headquarters after Boris stood down as leader.

He added that most Boris supporters knew he was economical with the truth, but they felt that his ouster was forced.

Nigel Farage countered by saying that 40% of Conservative voters wanted Boris to leave. Furthermore, he could no longer command the support of his MPs.

Story responded by saying that Boris will be like ‘Lazarus [rising] from the dead … something romantic and quirky’.

That’s one way of putting it, I suppose.

It is highly unlikely that Boris’s name will be on the ballot, butone cannot fault Story and Lord Cruddas for trying on the public’s behalf.

More news next week.

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