If you’re in Eastleigh and you’re reading this, do something worthwhile and VOTE HUTCHINGS today

Craig Barrett 11.02am

Another Thursday, another by-election. Following the resignation in disgrace of Chris Huhne, voters are today going to the polls in a constituency that has been a tightly fought battleground between the Tories and the Lib Dems since the previous by-election, in 1994. A Lib Dem majority of fewer than 4,000 votes belies a seat where the Lib Dems have a very active party machine and hold all of the local council seats.

Needless to say, all parties in contention have thrown everything at it.  UKIP’s sole spokesman, Nigel Farage, declined to stand again in the seat which he fought in 1994, presumably thinking that he couldn’t win and to fail to win once again would be a humiliation too far.

The Labour party has John O’Farrell, former joke-writer for Gordon Brown, who has been roundly criticised for his comments lamenting the fact that the IRA failed to murder Lady Thatcher in Brighton in 1984.

The Lib Dems have selected a local councillor, Mike Thornton, who, in best Liberal Democrat tradition, has voted in favour of housing developments which his leaflets suggests he opposes.

Our candidate, Maria Hutchings, is a working mother with four kids, a genuine local campaigner whose campaign has been masterminded by the energetic, relentless, indomitable Michael Fabricant, whose endless stream of tweeted photographs shows the entire Parliamentary party (and their cousins and their aunts, not to mention their dogs) has visited the constituency to ensure that Maria’s message of being a local campaigner who can be trusted has been strongly made to every voter. I haven’t been down myself but my reading of her message is that she has sound Conservative views and will be a hard-worker for her constituents. The race appears to be too close to call.

My suspicion is that the biggest winner out of all of this will be SouthWest Trains.  Nevertheless, if you’re in Eastleigh and you are reading this, do something worthwhile today: VOTE HUTCHINGS.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Why would the Tories form a pact with a party that’s largely B-rate, erratic and berserk?

Craig Barrett 3.59pm

This whole hoo-hah over an electoral pact with UKIP is a pile of old nonsense. The Conservative party does not need a pact with them; it needs to tackle them head on and dispose of them (like our other opponents).

First of all, UKIP has zero MPs and thus zero influence.  In order to make any jot of difference to this country’s relationship with the EU, they would need to defeat all three hundred or so of our MPs and cobble together the rest from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party.  We can conclude safely enough that this is not going to happen. One of David Cameron’s failings is in taking a line to the electorate and sticking to it, but this is one he must be clear on: UKIP is a wasted protest vote that will make no dent on the electoral map.

Secondly, there is no sensible evidence whatsoever that shows UKIP takes more votes from the Tories than it does from other political parties.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again: UKIP is a home for the disaffected.  It is a franchise organisation of people in search of somewhere to go because their views no longer fit in the mainstream. That or they’ve been de-selected.  If their activists didn’t have UKIP, they’d soon find somewhere else from where to campaign.

Thirdly, UKIP is a vanity organisation with merely one recognisable face – when have you seen anyone else represent UKIP on Question Time?  So much for their current claim to be the third party. Its leader and former Tory activist, Nigel Farage, is clever and charismatic but ultimately powerless. Moreover, he is lazy, preferring to make blue-moon grandstanding speeches attacking Herman van Rompuy than turn up to work on a regular basis.  He has one of the worst attendance records of any MEP.

Fourthly, a pact with UKIP would be a golden gift to our opponents because it permits them to paint the Conservative party as irascibly right-wing.  The Liberal Democrats might be utterly wrong about Europe but that shall not stop them representing their Europhilia as “standing up for Britain in Europe”, and our alliance with UKIP as a coalition of the frothing mad.

What’s more, has anyone ever bothered to read UKIP’s policies (or those that exist)? They are ludicrous, with even more fantastical views on fiscal power than the Labour party.

Britain would be better off out of the EU because it is an enormous black hole for our cash, propping up increasingly inefficient foreign countries and a bureaucracy that revels in excess (Chateau Angelus for a summit meeting, anyone?).  Yet we are where we are.  In Europe, for the moment at least.

Elections are won from the centre ground, not on the fringes, but that should not stop Mr Cameron from adopting a sensible yet firm European policy and above all getting the very best deal for Britain. That is largely his goal and was certainly the write up he has received following last week’s EU budget negotiations.  Evidently, the very best hope of a good deal from Europe is to re-elect a Conservative government.  If UKIP were serious about our position in Europe, that is what they would campaign for.

Voting for UKIP, on the other hand, can only ensure the election of pro-EU MPs.  What is allowing UKIP to gain an apparent foothold in the country at large is not their people, performance or policies, which are largely B-rate, erratic and berserk; it is a perception that the Conservative party is drifting without a coherent European policy.

Fix that and there’s no need even to entertain something so abhorrent as an electoral pact with UKIP.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Brian Monteith’s ‘speech that Ruth won’t make’ is worth a wry read for Scottish Tories

Nik Darlington 9.53am

Ruth Davidson has been leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party for twelve months, and she is marking it today with a speech.

We have aired differing views about Ms Davidson on these pages. Prior to the leadership election, Craig Barrett wrote a compelling case for her candidacy. Yet I have harboured doubts for some time about her effectiveness in post. A refusal to countenance greater devolution in Scotland weakens her position in the great independence / separation debate; she is also missing an opportunity to craft an appealingly distinctive Tory message.

Moreover, even the early arguments in her favour tended to focus on who she wasn’t (Murdo Fraser) and who was supporting her.

The Scotsman's Brian Monteith has a playful piece in the paper this morning, about “the speech that Ruth won’t make”. The nub of it is devolution, and more of it. Worth reading in full, but here’s an extract:

…until we are honest with ourselves and identify what we are doing wrong, we shall never be able to move forward and be taken in trust by the Scottish public.

So tonight I wish to say a few home truths, not just to you here but to the Scottish people outside.

…we have allowed ourselves to be defined as anti-Scottish. Not because we are, but because it suits them to cast us as outside of society, to de-normalise voting Conservative.

Since becoming leader, I have challenged David Cameron on issues, like supporting a Heathrow third runway, when it has been in Scotland’s interests to do so.  But that is not enough, for we - the oldest political party in Scotland - are still defined as an English party. For us to advance, that must end… We must change and we should recognise in the spirit of Disraeli that to make devolution work requires us to recast Great Britain.

We must, therefore, recognise that the devolution settlement needs a new federal Britain where Scotland stands proudly within the British family. We can reduce the number of politicians, we can reduce the amount of government - call it Devo Simple or Devo Federal - but we must become the advocate of positive change rather than the beleaguered rearguard against inevitable defeat.

Only then, for us, can things get better.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Ned Kelly Tax should stay in France

Alexander Pannett 1.07pm

It appears we may need to get the red carpet out for our new business guests from France earlier than we thought we would.

Francois Hollande has this week implemented the Financial Transactions Tax, commonly known as the Robin Hood tax. This is a 0.2 per cent levy on share trading in France. The Gallic plan is for the tax to become implemented Europe-wide, which would disconcertingly hit the City of London, Europe’s largest financial centre, more heavily than anywhere else.

Craig Barrett wrote the following about the perils of the tax in August last year.

“A Tobin Tax seems to me to be much the same. It’s not even particularly pretty. It is referred to as a “Robin Hood tax” in the mistaken belief that it takes from the rich and gives to the poor, missing the point that Hood was simply returning the proceeds of over-taxation to the tax-payers rather than acting as some species of socialist redistributor.

The compelling results of a study made by the Adam Smith Institute demonstrate that a tax on all trades from one currency into another simply wouldn’t work. For Britain, it could be disastrous. Some 20 per cent of the UK’s GDP is generated in the City of London, whose generated wealth is already subject to taxation. Foreign exchange trading in the UK accounts for 36.7 per cent of the world total. If we were to adopt a Tobin Tax, that proportion would surely fall - the revenue gained from further punishing the financial sector would come nowhere near to replacing the revenue lost as a result of the inevitable flight of financial institutions to other jurisdictions.And that’s because for a Tobin Tax to work, it has to be universal.”

I also had this to say about the tax back in November last year:

“A Tobin tax would not have prevented such extreme short selling as the temporary bans did and would have hampered market reactions to flawed economic models. It would not have prevented the credit crunch nor would it have alleviated the consequences of the financial crisis.

Worse, the tax would have a disastrous effect on London’s position as the world’s pre-eminent financial center. The City competes in a global market and the tax would result in the cost of trading being higher than competitor financial centers in Asia, North America and the Middle East. Investors and financial institutions would move their business away to cheaper jurisdictions, which is why the tax has not received any support outside Europe for it to be implemented by other major financial centres.”

I would also point out that the UK ‘s decades old stamp duty reserve tax of 0.5 per cent. on share transfers has not prevented the worst excesses of the City. It did not prevent the recent LIBOR scandal or the Credit Crunch. Therefore the argument that a further tax of 0.2 per cent. on financial transactions would be a panacea to the current financial malaise rings hollow.

The tax probably should not even be known as the Robin Hood tax. After all, Robin Hood’s main objection was that the hard working parts of the population were disproportionately paying for the luxurious pursuits of the more leisurely inclined. Throw in some green tights and some dodgy American accents and you are pretty much there.

Quite the opposite to the French tax, which should be more accurately called the Ned Kelly tax, as it steals from hard working types and the perpetrator wears a giant steel helmet, blinding him to the real world and allowing him to ignore all criticism…….. 

For more on this subject, see Craig Barrett’s article from August: ‘The Robin Hood Tax is a soundbite tax worth ignoring’.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

House of Lords reform is a risible Lib Dem distraction from getting proper things done

Craig Barrett 10.16am

I wrote last week about how Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have correctly gauged the public mood on bankers and are setting the running on the way in which banks should be investigated.

The Labour party’s amnesia about its past behaviour appears to be contagious, at least as far as the public at large is concerned. That party’s poll ratings continue to soar, yet just one senior figure seems to be trying to take the fight to them.

George Osborne should be commended for his valiant attempts to paint Ed Balls as the villain of this piece, even if it now seems doomed to failure. On Sunday morning, Andrew Marr allowed Mr Balls virtually free rein to give a party political broadcast; more worryingly, Marr’s tendency to savage in the manner of a dead sheep allowed Balls to become almost credible. Perhaps he has digested the results of those opinion polls about why the public dislike him. Not even Mr Balls is financially illiterate enough to fail to understand the logistical nightmare but his simple idea of keeping one’s account number when shifting banks is a neat little soundbite. Gone is the man of “neo-classical endogenous growth theory”, and all credit to him for that. It is vote-winning stuff. But again, George Osborne aside, nobody seems willing to take Labour on..

There exists a worrying complacency in the Government. This is most evident in the unedifying spectacle of House of Lords reform.  After their failure to convince the population at large of the benefits of PR, the Lib Dems seem hell-bent on saving something from the wreckage of their failed flagship policy. Worse, they are attempting to blackmail their Tory colleagues by putting at risk the proper equalisation of parliamentary constituencies.

We are being told to dispose of a system which, despite many obvious faults, has proven time and again to work both in terms of its expertise but also its ability to restrain over-enthusiastic governments. All manner of articles are written about the amazing diversity of background and experience in the Lords but it is surely worth pointing out once again that at a time when there is a general complaint about lack of life-experience in our politicians, surely it is folly to remove from the political system those whose unique position means that their experience is the widest? From the academics to the businessmen, from the disability campaigners to the charity workers, from the “luvvies” to the (yes, indeed) retired politicians and civil servants - the House of Lords is a diversity co-ordinator’s dream.

Yet MPs are being asked to replace them with a majority of seasoned party workers, paid less than their lower house counterparts but elected for longer terms. Never mind that parts of our country already have up to eight layers of elected officials, the Lib Dems seem determined to create more.

Sadly, it is very obvious to all concerned that they are acting less out of a genuine desire to make lasting, sensible change but rather out of a determined self-interest to get PR by the back door. Alan Clark described the Lib Dems as “over-promoted local councillors” – if they get their way on Lords reform, that is what our historic House of Lords shall become.

Back to the economy and banking, the further danger is that at a time of genuine concern about the state of our country, to spend time on a policy that the Prime Minister has categorised “third term” risks perpetuating this image that the Tory party is out of touch with people’s desires.  It is a gift to Labour. I urge all Conservative MPs to do all they can to block this Bill.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Gordon Brown and the Labour party are the unashamed architects of this banking balls-up

Craig Barrett 10.08am

It comes as no surprise to me that Ed Miliband is calling for a full public inquiry into what has been going on at Barclays regarding LIBOR.  In the absence of any contrition for the devastating effect that his Labour party’s policies had on the British economy, and in the apparent absence of any serious policy for economic recovery, Mr Miliband and Mr Balls seem to think that a public flaying of hate-figures is the only way to get back to power.

Conveniently, they forget that the phone hacking scandal, for example, actually occurred under their watch; worse still, the Barclays / LIBOR issue arose under a regulatory model of which they were the architects.

The danger is, however, that they are onto something. With nothing but bad news about the economy, there is a pervasive and wider belief that the public seem intent on baying for the blood of anyone who can be deemed culpable of anything.  With journalists, this isn’t the case. Most people, assuming that such things as phone hacking have gone on for years anyway, are uninterested in Murdoch et al, the story being kept alive only by the non-Murdoch press and the increasingly blinkered BBC.

With bankers, on the other hand, the public are very interested. Logic goes out of the window and the Labour party has been able to manipulate matters to the extent that bankers are now deemed up there with paedophiles and sheep rapists in terms of human evil.

The fact is that 99 per cent of bankers aren’t evil and the remaining 1 per cent are probably, at worst, misguided.

Most bankers are simply getting on with their jobs. One-tenth of tax revenues come from banks, while bankers’ bonuses, because of the different rates of corporation tax and income tax, are actually a more efficient way of getting money into the hands of the government.

Yet we see that Stephen Hester has foregone his bonus this year, thanks to an IT glitch for which he cannot have been responsible, but which undoubtedly the Labour party would have demanded regardless. Despite having written his contract, those Labour party figures who remain are conveniently forgetting that an agreement was signed – just how much do they think Mr Hester should be paid? If you want a loss-making business turned around, it’s going to cost more to hire the best.

And now that Bob Diamond has resigned - one suspects for reasons of peace and quiet rather than any admission of guilt or otherwise - it does seem that the Labour party shall not stop until they have hounded out every competent manager in Britain.

This aside, calls for a banking inquiry show that the Labour party is driving the agenda and this Government is on the back foot.  An inquiry will only keep open the wounds and, given that the public associates the City with the Conservative party, will do us no favours at all. It’s doubtful whether it would even get to the bottom of the LIBOR scandal. The inquiry that is to be headed by the fiercely independent chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, must focus on the dramatic failings of the FSA and the tripartite regulatory system that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls created, because it is entirely clear to me that this is the root of the troubles.

When these issues were debated by the House of Commons in 1997, it was obvious to the Tory benches that Gordon Brown’s regime was not going to keep the City in check.  The new Chancellor’s motivations were less about regulation and more about his obsession with inflicting iconoclastic changes on fully functioning extant systems that he viewed as brimming with enemies.  Mr Brown hated the City and hated the Bank of England, so he sought to transfer powers to a new quango of his choosing.  A couple of choice lines from Peter Lilley, then Shadow Chancellor:

“We know that funding policy is an intrinsic part of monetary policy, and the Bill will leave the Bank as a one-club golfer without even a putter left in the bag. How will the Treasury, the Bank and the new board co-operate to handle monetary policy? If they need to get together, why is it necessary to separate them in the first place?

“The coverage of the FSA will be huge: its objectives will be many, and potentially in conflict with one another. The range of its activities will be so diverse that no one person in it will understand them all. Its structure will be as complex as those of the organisations that it replaces, if not more so.”

Like so much of what Mr Brown ‘achieved’, it was borne of the clunking hatred that drives him and his desire to complicate matters to such an extent that the Government becomes all powerful, even if it itself does not itself comprehend its own role.

The FSA, or ‘Fundamentally Supine Authority’ as Private Eye rightly called it, was destined to be a disaster - something foreseen by the Conservative party. The separation of roles was a creation of Gordon Brown’s loathing of an establishment that he perceived as Tory-leaning. The Labour party’s role in the LIBOR scandal becomes all too clear when you realise that it was their system of regulation that failed. It is that which should be the focus of an inquiry, not simply a digging around the files at Barclays bank.

The Labour party cannot be allowed to claim that this is somehow the Tories’ fault. For once, I am prepared to let Gordon Brown have the last words, after a fashion, from two Mansion House speeches, in 2007 and 2004:

I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London … I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created.”

In Budget after Budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers.”

As ever, re-reading his utterances, I find myself wondering what planet the man was on.

Follow Craig on Twitter at @mrsteeduk

'Without the new, there would never be any old'

Craig Barrett 6.01am

Sitting watching the Queen’s Speech last week, I was reminded of how much better Britain does pomp and ceremony than other countries. European militia look faintly ridiculous in comparison.

And on 4th May, I felt hugely privileged to attend the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony that goes back some nine hundred years. Every year, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is responsible for assessing newly minted coins, to ensure they conform to required standards in terms of size and quality of metal. Present is an expert panel of assayers and the Queen’s Remembrancer (the senior Master of the Queen’s Bench), certifying above all that the Master of the Mint has not been shaving gold or silver from the nation’s coinage.

The Master of the Mint, George Osborne, was indeed there this year, so restoring a relationship broken between 1997 and 2010 by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. We are, of course, more than aware of Mr Brown’s attitude towards our nation’s gold reserves.

After assessing the coinage, the Verdict of the Pyx is delivered. Safe to say, it passed the test. We then repaired to luncheon to hear an address from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Among non-disclosable political comments, Mr Osborne chose to highlight the fact that the Royal Mint provides currency to more than sixty countries around the world - a true export success to boot.

I was accompanying the inimitable Catherine Bott, herself the guest of the Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Hector Miller. Unlike many Livery Companies, the majority of the Goldsmiths actually practise in their field, so we were in the presence of true craftsmen. At the new Goldsmiths Centre in Clerkenwell, you can see for yourself.

Funded partly by a bequest in 1514 when Agas Harding, a widow of a Goldsmith, left the Company a small amount of land in Holborn, the Company decided some years ago to put it to good use and create something to assist nascent craftsmen. Workshops are available at competitive rents, as well as extensive facilities for teaching. What impressed me most was that the focus is not simply on passing on techniques but also what we might call “life lessons”. There are classes on managing accounts and business planning - vital skills for the self-employed that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Goldsmiths have a long history of involvement in education. Goldsmiths College is the most obvious example, but the Company was also closely involved in the founding of Imperial College. This could be a kernel of the ‘big society’ - independent of the state, they have created a unique learning space for craftsmen and the public.

Catherine commented that she rather likes antique jewellery, to which I responded, “without the new, there would never be any old”.

What is marvellous about the new Goldsmiths Centre is the way in which the old has been able, hopefully, to continue to create the new. I urge you to pay it a visit.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

It is simple: we cannot allow the offensive and malicious Ken Livingstone back into City Hall

Craig Barrett 11.39am

Polls polls polls! "Boris lead narrows!" "Ken less popular than his party!" "Boris more popular than Tories!" "Only 12% of people believe that Ken is honest!"

While opinion polling has become much more sophisticated, anyone who watched the 1992 general election coverage on Easter Monday would know that only one poll matters: when you enter your booth and wield your pencil (unless you live in Tower Hamlets, of course).

With just one week to go until the election for London’s mayor, the current polling serves only to allow campaigners to twist and spin to whatever advantage possible and to remind people (like me) that we should be doing more to help.

I feel a bit sorry in some ways for the London Labour party. They have had a candidate forced on them who seems to owe no loyalty to them barring the right to campaign under their banner and deploy their activists for his own ends.

Had Labour picked someone else, Mr Livingstone, who believes the mayoralty his divine right, would have run as an independent candidate as he did in 2000.

Mr Livingstone’s campaign is a goulash of undeliverable policies, bold but inaccurate pronouncements about his Tory opponent, and craft attempts to shift the media’s focus away from his own activities. It is not so much that Mr Livingstone is a stranger to the truth, it is more that lying and smoke-screens come easier to him.

To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that he has no power to restore the EMA, or that the TfL ‘cash mountain’ is intended for investment rather than fare giveaways. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that the only experience he has to validate his comments on Boris Johnson’s tax affairs comes from his own hypocritical tax avoidance. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that what spews from his mouth is offensive to one group of Londoners or another.

Mr Livingstone has given us no compelling reasons to vote for him; no policies on which any Londoner can be certain of his delivering. His crony-aplenty, wasteful record in City Hall speaks for itself.

Contrast that figure with Boris Johnson, who has actually delivered on his promises - whether policing, sustainable housing, tax freezes and others - and whose plans are both costed and practical.

But above all else, consider two vital points. First, I am not old enough to remember Mr Livingstone’s reign as leader of the Greater London Council but I know enough to understand it for what it was: a publicly funded one man crusade of self-justification, with money poured down the drain to embarrass Mrs Thatcher’s government or to challenge its actions in the courts.

The Mayor of London must speak for the city with an independent voice, but they must also be able to co-operate with central government to ensure the best for the city. For at least the first three years of the next mayor’s tenure there will be a Conservative politician in 10 Downing Street and while Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron may not be close personally, they do at least have a mutual understanding and interest.

Boris Johnson is a doughty fighter who has regularly exercised his inherent independence to seek the best for London. Mr Livingstone’s egomania and pathological hatred of the Tories will mean that were he to be elected next week, it would be the start of at least three years of pitched battles on meaningless fronts, all paid for by London’s rate payers.

Second, and perhaps most important, Mr Livingstone’s public utterances over the past few months demonstrate the type of man he is.

Whether suggesting that a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham ought to “burn in hell…and…flesh be flayed for demons for all eternity”; whether suggesting that gay bankers in the Middle East could be mutilated; whether suggesting that London’s Jewish population is too rich to vote Labour; or whether simply another cheap insult at a critic, Mr Livingstone appears oblivious to the effect of his own words.

It is not good enough for the Labour party to say “Ken is just being Ken”, or words to that effect. Mr Livingstone is no Jed Bartlet, and the fact that many in the Labour party are doing their best to distance themselves from their own candidate shows the whole strategy is a farce.

In a few months, the eyes of the world will be on London and other cities around the country as Britain hosts the Olympic & Paralympic Games. Boris Johnson may be gaffe-prone but unlike Mr Livingstone his gaffes are rarely offensive and certainly not malicious. We in this great and historic capital city cannot afford to have as our mayor a man who appears to set his stall deliberately to offend others.

For this reason, above all others, I urge you to back Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk