My Regular Update - 24 June 2019

The dominant national political news is of course the leadership race for the next Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.  I have not kept my views hidden and have supported Boris Johnson throughout the five rounds of voting that took him to the final.

What is significant is that he achieved more than 50% of the votes of Conservative MPs in rounds four and five. While his positive and unequivocal views on Brexit, that 31st October 2019 must be the day of departure no matter what was a key factor for me, he found appeal across the Conservative Party amongst leavers and remainers. In poll after poll across a spectrum of normal voters, he also shines out as the candidate most likely to encourage people back to voting Conservative and securing a future Conservative government.

He is an obvious choice, and given his positive record over the eight years that he served as London Mayor on cutting crime, delivering affordable housing and keeping tax low, and in a City that has to be considered a tough place for any Conservative candidate, he has an enviable record.

My work on the leaving the EU Select Committee continues. As I’ve written previously, the divisions across the Committee, both political and conceptual makes this a tough committee to serve upon. I achieved some national coverage last week for daring to debunk ‘project fear’; this time raised by the pharmaceutical and chemicals industries. If the fear is to be believed, the normal folk of the USA, Australia, Singapore or Israel would be dying of shortages. Of course, they are not. Why – because if you have money to spend, and companies wanting to take the money, i.e. the very basis of commerce, local or international, then the transaction will proceed. Are we really to believe that the EU, whose citizens similarly need pharmaceuticals and chemicals made uniquely in the UK, will, for political purposes and bureaucratic intransigence, prevent the free interchange of trade? I don’t believe it either.

I was delighted to be part of the launch of new ‘Loop’ buses to serve Thanet. The new British built buses operated by Stagecoach are Euro VI compliant (this means the cleanest possible standard for diesel engines), and offer wi-fi and USB charging. This is a commitment to a successful operation and to Thanet and I look forward to using them over the years to come.

I did my periodical appearance for BBC South East Sunday politics last weekend. It is strange how some agenda items keep making an appearance. This week was the attempted denigration once more of our hugely popular and successful grammar school system across Kent by both Labour and the Green Party. I see them as a source of pride, are drivers of social mobility, aspiration and excellence and long may the system and general improvements to education continue.

It was an extreme worry to note the failures of East Kent Housing regarding annual Gas Safety Checks, with hundreds found to be overdue across Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone districts. EKH is a joint venture across these authorities which manages the day to day management and administration functions across the housing stock owned by these local authorities. I have had concerns about this organisation for many years. I receive numerous complaints, occupying a measurable amount of my office time relating to EKH. Time for a debate as to its future. I’m all for geographically adjacent local authorities pooling resources and working together, but this cross-working structure clearly isn’t working. Is managing 17,000 properties simply too big?  Would it be better to be split up and brought back to local management? Does it need a breath of new life with a new direction? Whatever happens, it has to be considered currently to be a failing organisation.

My Regular Update - 10 June 2019

The Conservative leadership election now takes centre stage across the media and for good reason; Conservative MPs will not just be taking a key role in selecting the leader of a political Party, but will be responsible for whittling down to two whom is to be presented to the Party membership for their final selection as the next Prime Minister. This all sounds very dramatic, but it must be remembered that there is no constitutional position of Prime Minister, we don’t (thankfully) have a Presidential system in the UK, but obviously extensive levers of power are in the hands of the winning candidate, and our perceptions, enhanced by the media, is that the PM ‘is’ the government and the face of any candidate standing for the Party melts behind the perceptions and standing of the PM.

I have not declared who I will be supporting, and as I write we do not yet know which of them will have sufficient support to formally enter the race with the threshold of eight supporters being reached. We’re hearing about the private lives and back stories of the candidates: all very interesting as the media attempts to diminish the process to some sort of soap opera.

There is a mixed field representing the broad church of the modern Conservative Party with their positions on Brexit not surprisingly looming large. We are starting to hear of their ideas across other policy issues – tax being one. We do need to ask ourselves serious questions and simplistic ones: what do we expect of government?; is it the role of government to meddle endlessly into our lives?; what is the right amount of taxation and spending to hit the ‘sweet spot’ of not too much tax to discourage work and investment, but sufficient to pay for public services that we want and need? This is the essence of Conservatism. You will not be surprised to hear from me that I want a smaller and more efficient State which allows freedom and business to flourish. Every penny of public expenditure be it local or national has to be taken from the productive economy and salaries in tax or is borrowed, and over the last twelve years too much has been borrowed. There is no ‘magic money tree’ and borrowing today will need to be paid back probably by generations as yet unborn into the future.

The candidates’ positions on Brexit are important to me. Some are recommending more of the same as if the European Commission will suddenly bend to their will when over the past three years intransigence has been the predominant feature. Others are being more realistic that the new departure date of 31st October 2019 must be the final one, new deal or no deal. I couldn’t agree more. We have stretched the patience of the electorate to breaking point and Parliament has not delivered. Trust in politics, always low, has reached a new nadir. The European Parliamentary elections and the recent by-election in Peterborough showed all too clearly that significant numbers of the electorate will look elsewhere outside of the normal parties and may continue to do so. Peterborough showed that the beneficiary of the rise of the Brexit Party will be Corbyn’s Labour. Local Labour voters may rejoice as to the stupidity of the centre-right for splitting their own votes, but for the majority in South Thanet, those who vote Conservative, we are in a dangerous place. A new leader must re-vitalise our message, come up with sound policies for the age and deliver Brexit. It really is that simple.

My regular update - 27 May 2019

What a week, but the events that unfolded were unsurprising. The announcement of the resignation of Theresa May as Prime Minister was not a surprise. There was every chance that the rules of the 1922 Committee would have been changed to allow for a further vote of confidence/no-confidence in her by the full Parliamentary Party and/or the potential for the Party Leader to face Constituency Chairmen from across the country on the 15th June for an extraordinary general meeting with no-confidence on the agenda. These would have been unpleasant and unnecessary events; unedifying and undignified. The option she has chosen is the right one; she has shown fortitude and a toughness under hugely difficult circumstances and we owe her a huge debt for her stoicism. Yet another Conservative PM falls because of our EU membership and fudged approaches to it but she must be the last: we need to deliver a proper Brexit, recognised by the country as such and approach the future with a smile as we enjoy the freedoms of returning to the global stage as a significant and respected player.

We now have a full summer of the Conservative Party under the spotlight as the twists and turns of our internal leadership election take centre-stage. Positions on Brexit will be key and will be a primary issue for me in making my selection. I wanted to leave, deal or no-deal on 29th March. We simply must do exactly that on the new date of 31st October. No ifs, no buts, no compromises and I’ll be looking for a similarly tough stance from my preferred candidate. The first phase is in the hands of Conservative MPs as we whittle down the hopefuls through rounds of voting to the last two who will face the members of the Party for their final selection. The 1922 Committee of the Conservative Party, effectively the ‘club’ for backbench MPs (i.e. those who are not in the government) comes to the fore at this time.

Similarly unsurprising were the results of European Parliamentary elections, being a ballot no-one wanted, few respect and should never have been necessary. A huge win for the newly formed Brexit Party which to all intents had become the new glitzier and unsullied rebrand of UKIP. The alignment of planets for such a tide of support could not have been better timed. We have singularly failed in Westminster to agree a Brexit plan and I’m guilty of that as I could not, and would not support the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement, as it would soon have been recognised as Brexit in Name Only (BRINO) as the reality of high alignment of rules, the inevitable Customs Union stopping independent trade deals, the hated ‘Backstop’ and the continued involvement of the EU in many aspects of our lives came into focus – probably just before a 2022 general election. We Conservatives were perceived as the architects of this, and the reason why we hadn’t left on 29th March as promised. We deserved an electoral kicking and we got it. Turnout for these elections are always poor at about 30 odd percent; as ever many stayed at home. Contrast that with General Elections at 70 odd percent, but the message was clear – the direction (or lack of it) that Westminster is perceived to be taking is simply not good enough. Whilst Conservative results were dreadful (I’m pleased that Dan Hannan, our MEP for 20 years was returned), the results for Labour were similarly bad. A mid-term election, with an unpopular PM, with an even more unpopular message should be fertile ground for the main opposition Party. It was not as voters were left clueless as to what Labour really want – have they become a remain Party after reneging on their promise to respect the referendum; do they want a new Customs Union; do they want a second referendum? Best ask them because I haven’t a clue. They rightly suffered as a result.

Finally, some good news – I am pleased to announce that my wife and I had our first baby – a little girl, Olivia, on election day. Both doing well.

My regular update - 13 May 2019

A fairly bland couple of weeks in Parliament since my last article. We have had no votes on anything, and just the usual Ministerial questions and time-filling debates on little that is going to make much difference to us in East Kent. A frustrating time.

In the background, talks are apparently ongoing with Labour to try to achieve some type of agreement on a Brexit deal that may command a majority in the House of Commons. I’d hugely recommend the fly on the wall documentary ‘Brexit: Behind closed doors’ available on BBC channel 4 on catch-up TV. Fascinating, and shockingly revealing confirming what I’ve been saying for years – the EU has no desire for a good deal, merely a punishment for daring to implement a democratic decision. Time to walk away with a managed no-deal. It is now the only logical solution.

Given that Labour’s demands are likely to entail a Customs Union with the EU or something similar under a different name, and a second referendum, it seems to me, if agreement is reached, which seems unlikely, to be a sure fire way of encouraging even more Conservative MPs to stand firm against anything that offers Brexit in name only, referred to as BRINO. We await developments, and you can be sure I’ll be reporting back to you with my analysis and comments.

Whichever way I might try to spin it, the national local election results were poor for the Conservatives and similarly uninspiring for Labour as well. In Thanet, which had its own oddities of the UKIP effect in 2015, leading to their short-term control of the Council, the Blue vote held up with some resilience, with 3 additional Councillors elected for the South Thanet wards. We missed out on a couple more by single figure votes. I always enjoy electoral analysis, and I calculated that 43 votes differently cast (or encouraged out) across just three wards would have given Councillor Bob Bayford overall control of the Council. Turnout was appreciably lower than usual, and there was an obvious ‘none of the above’ vote, meaning Green Councillors elected for the first time locally and also a substantial vote for Independent candidates, including the ‘Thanet Independents’. This effect was seen nationally with the election of non-aligned candidates in many places. There is no easy interpretation, but the trust in the main parties has been diminished over Brexit shenanigans and promises not delivered. I hope the new Council will work constructively for the good of our area, and put ‘yah-boo’ politics aside to deliver good outcomes.

I am hugely encouraged by the state of the economy: growth continues, unemployment reduces and optimism is there. I had an interesting meeting with a new local business group that would like to facilitate micro-investment in new local start-ups, perhaps following a business angel formula. Start-up investment is always difficult to move a business idea into action due to inherent risks. I’m here to help.