How to thaw the frosty relationship between the political class and the public

Iain Martin 11.07am

Like all other political anoraks, I spent my Easter Monday gluttonously indulging in chocolate and BBC Parliament’s re-run of the 1992 general election night.
As someone whose political memory began in 1997, it shocked me both how much and how little has changed in politics.
Recession, the break-up of the union, rising home repossessions and rising levels of unemployment are once again the key issues of the day. The challenges we face are not new challenges but challenges we have faced at many points in our history and the solutions we as a ‘politcial class’ propose are rather uninspiringly similar to those used in the past.
As a party which is so dominated by historians, it is hardly surprising that the best solutions we have are nods to the past, such as deregulation, the right to buy your council house and enterprise zones (which Nik covered last August); nor should this be taken as a bad thing.
It is a good thing that the polarised debates of the past around socialism and capitalism are no longer. Yes, we still have the political cycle and the natural oscillation between the ‘left’ and the ’right’ - change is fundamental and forever will be. It is both heartening and shameful that our politics has converged to a point where the cliff-edge for families to receive child benefit is one of the main talking points.
While avoiding the needless and misinformed romanticising of 1950s Britain as a close-knit society, intrinsically egalitarian and altruistic, it is striking how more than ever what matters most to people is the ability to consume, to have some luxuries, to afford a second holiday.
As a society we recognise the challenges we face, we all have friends, acquaintances or family members who have suffered from the recession; we can see how young people are struggling to find work, we want the government to act. This Government has acted by raising the personal tax allowance, by lowering corporation tax, through welfare reform.
The Government must do more to protect the most vulnerable and get the lowest paid back into work, yet it knows to go too much further would mean greater restraints on spending or increasing the burden on higher earners.
Society has been well briefed by politicians of all sides on the need for ‘austerity’, yet when austerity bites society is, in some quarters, rejecting it. This hypocrisy is regrettable, though understandable given the political climate we are living in.
Arguably the biggest challenge facing this Government is the disconnection between the people who run the country and the people who live in it. It is by no means a problem caused by this Government but one which it much address if it is to achieve its goals.
 
In 1992, Britain opted for John Major - a leader who they trusted, who understood them, who was a safe pair of hands at a time when Britain required someone to drag this country out of a recession.
Britain rejected the triumphalist, flashy, arrogant pseudo-socialist Neil Kinnock in favour of a firm hand on the tiller. The highest turnout ever seen in a general election demonstrated the nation’s trust in a man who represented Britain’s psyche at that time better than any of the alternatives.
We, as a party, won votes in all parts of the country and astonishingly acheived a better swing in Scotland than anywhere else in the country. The ‘one-nation’ tradition was preserved.
Eighteen years later we have a deeply divided nation with life expectancy, average earnings and unemployment so wildly heterogenous across our nation. This, sadly, is reflected in the political geography which now exists and the obvious north/south divide which has emerged in recent years. Much of this must be attributed to the cynical, unsustainable, politically motivated, short-sighted policies of the previous Labour government who ‘solved’ unemployment through public sector job creation in the north.
Political disengagement is often measured by the strength of the ‘other’ parties and in a recent poll UKIP acheived 11 per cent support, enough to put anyone off their dinner.
It would be easy to dismiss UKIP as a temporary sponge for the disaffected (and Prof Tim Bale did so persuasively for the Spectator yesterday).
But to dismiss UKIP entirely would be a grave folly. Since 1992, we have lived through internal bickering on matters European, cash for questions, cash for honors, cash for access, an expenses scandal, broken promises and unpopular ’liberal’ interventionism. Westminster has shrunk into a self-absorbed, self-obsessed and at times self-loathing bubble fuelled by the tribal and vindictive media. It is no surprise that the public as a whole are more sceptical of politicians than ever.
 
In the cities and towns of Britain there are millions whose lives are barely touched by the actions of politicians. They ask themselves: ultimately who can make a difference to my local area, to my local schools and communities? They just want clean, safe streets and opportunities for their children.
The Government’s solution to this is truly exciting. The Localism Act, wholesale reform to the schools system and, most notably, directly elected mayors in our towns and cities.
We now have an irreversible cult of celebrity which pervades urban Britain. Many friends in my hometown of Whitley Bay idolise the likes of Alan Shearer and Cheryl Cole but could not name their MP (Labour’s deputy chief whip Alan Campbell, for what it’s worth) or their local councillors.
Directly elected mayors are a way of bridging the gap between Westminster and the public. Naturally, Whitehall is disinclined to cede power. But this could be a genuinely transformative move towards a more one-nation form of government.
 
It must be allied to lasting political reform. The Government must seriously look at reform of the trade union movement and funding of political parties, of course, and it will no doubt do this.
What it must not ignore, however, is the selection and subsequent election of MPs. The death of political party membership can be taken as a surefire sign of dissatisfaction and disengagement with the political system. To dismiss the decline in party membership as an irrelevance would be to miss one of the fundamental problems in modern British politics: the lack of charisma, the lack of inspiration, the lack of energy from our political elite.
Time after time, we see our politicians on the television in suits looking as though they are funeral-bound, morosely defending or attacking the government of the day’s position like puppets.
Where are the characters? Those who can motivate through speech and action the voters to engage in debate? They have disapperared in part due to the media’s obsession with gaffes, thus influencing leaders into promoting bland but safe candidates, but in part due to the decline in local political activism and membership.
The typical local party selection meeting is attended by a very small number of members who rarely represent the demographic of their constituencies. It is staggering that in many cases someone who might represent 70,000 constituents can be selected by less than a hundred local party members. Or in the Labour party’s case, a den of union fixers.
Each party has a responsibility to broaden their outreach. The open primaries which were trialled by the Conservative party at the last election were an excellent start. They encouraged people as Dr Sarah Wollaston, who had not even considered a role in politics, to stand for election.
To introduce open primaries across the country would require both financial investment (opening the possibility of state funding) and political investment, it would certainly be a radical reform requiring an immense amount of political will. It is decisions like this that can define governments as genuinely radical, that can be quietly transformational. To simply trust that the ‘lost generation’ will naturally return to the fold would be to ignore a fundamental problem and to miss a rare opportunity to make a lasting difference.

Egremont blogger the toast of the Spectator Coffee House

Nik Darlington 6.06am

Fresh from his 42nd place finish in the Total Politics conservative blogger awards, our very own David Cowan has landed himself another prize from The Spectator's Coffee House blog.

A bottle of Pol Roger is now David’s after winning over Spectator editor Fraser Nelson with his superlative description of George Osborne’s economic strategy.

And as I promised all Egremont bloggers, if they won I would double the prize with another bottle of Sir Winston Churchill’s bubbly of choice. David will be kicking the festive season off early!

Here is David’s winning entry again for those who missed it:

George Osborne is a man with a plan. He is also a Conservative Chancellor in a Coalition government at a time of financial turmoil not seen since the 1930s. However, he is also a shrewd political operator who managed to use his inheritance tax pledge to call Gordon Brown’s bluff in 2007 and opposed Alastair Darling’s NIC increase in order to give the Conservatives some momentum in 2010. George Osborne has managed to construct a growth strategy which accommodates the Liberal Democrats, includes political electioneering for a Conservative majority in 2015 and will hopefully rebuild the British economy.

The absolute bedrock of his growth strategy is to keep long-term interest rates low. That is why he is trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 in a way which is fiscally responsible, i.e. through public spending cuts and modest tax increases. Keeping interest rates down will ensure that people can still borrow at German style costs whilst the country has a Greek style debt, and so the markets will maintain their confidence in Britain as a safe haven.

Dovetailing with his efforts to keep long-term interest rates low George Osborne has been trying to get credit flowing back into the British economy. The Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing and holding the bank rate at 0.5% represent a large part of this. However, George Osborne has also managed to contribute by pulling off the major Project Merlin deal with the banks in order to get them lending again.

However, it is not just the deficit which George Osborne has inherited from Labour. After 13 years of Labour misrule Britain has fallen to 22nd in the world ranking [business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article7132864.ece] of most competitive countries. The Chancellor is now on a crusade to put Britain back at the front of the pack. This has led to serious efforts at supply side reforms which include cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the OECD, introducing the zero-rating of business rates in 21 new enterprise zones andsimplifying the longest tax code in the civilised world. The Coalition has also introduced a new ‘Employer’s Charter’ as part of a Whitehall review of employment legislation, the ‘one in, one out’ rule is in place, small businesses are being exempted from domestic regulations for the next three years, and our antiquated planning system is being radically reformed.

Another part of this crusade to create a new ‘enterprise culture’ is to regenerate Britain’s ailing infrastructure and maintain the capital investment which will help sustain small businesses and create jobs. Obvious examples include High Speed Rail 2, Crossrail, and the extension of the broadband network, all of which will help to integrate all of Britain’s regions into a more balanced economy. Human capital is also being nurtured by the 500,000 new apprenticeships, new vocational training centres, more schools and greater science development.

George Osborne’s growth strategy is also ensuring that it is the least well-off who have more money in their pockets and that the rich pay their fair share during this ‘age of austerity’. That is why the personal allowance is being increased, council tax is being frozen again and fuel duty was cut, while the 50p tax rate is staying, capital gains tax was increased and new taxes have been slapped onto big banks and oil companies. As for the controversial VAT increase, it is a necessary measure which will raise more revenue, at a minimal cost to the economy, for paying back the debt and protecting the schools budget and real terms increase in NHS spending.

George Osborne’s strategy for growth is a clear and coherent set of policies based on the need to encourage a new competitive ‘enterprise culture’ by providing low long-term interest rates and cheap credit, a vibrant national infrastructure, lower business taxes and less red tape. However, the Liberal Democrats have placed serious restraints on the options available to him, but if he successfully manages to deliver a healthy economic recovery in 2015 then he will be able to grant the generous tax cuts which many are calling out for now and gain all the credit in the process. This is a pragmatic and solidly fiscal conservative strategy which will pay off if George Osborne stays the course amidst the current financial storm and if he is very very lucky.

George Osborne’s strategy is to show that Britain is open for business

Matthew Robertson 6.04am

This is the second in a series of Egremont contributors’ entries to Fraser Nelson’s Coffee House competition, with a prize of a bottle of Pol Roger for the best explanation of George Osborne’s growth strategy.

A man checked into a hotel for the first time in his life, and goes up to his room.
Five minutes later he called the reception desk and said: “You’ve given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?”
The desk clerk said, “Sir, that’s absurd. Have you looked for the door?”
The man said, “Well, there’s one door that leads to the bathroom. There’s a second door that goes into the closet. And there’s a door I haven’t tried, but it has a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it.”

This is the dilemma facing the Chancellor at this crossroad for the UK economy: regardless of which door he opens he is still in the same room of a stagnant economy.

Open door #1 and rebalance the economy between public and private sectors which will involve cuts affecting people’s everyday lives; open door #2 and cut taxes to keep the City of London competitive and risk creating another bubble; or open door #3 and ease up on the austerity measures which could disturb the financial markets.

Of course all of these are not mutually exclusive of each other - the answer lies somewhere between the bathroom and the exit via the closet door. Despite consistently iterating that the number one priority of the Government is to reduce the deficit, the Chancellor has long acknowledged that a growth strategy is of essential importance as well.

The fundamental thinking of Osborne’s growth strategy is credit. Businesses need credit to invest and grow, which in turn means more hiring leading to greater employment and increased confidence. The reason the Chancellor always returns to the deficit when asked about growth is confidence. Confidence is what makes businesses invest and individuals spend and this is the integral building block of growth.

Running a tight fiscal policy with low interest rates has allowed the terms of trade for our businesses to improve substantially with the rest of the world. This had to be the starting point for growth.

Moving on from that position, the Government has announced numerous measures to help businesses develop and grow.  The Regional Growth Fund is a £1.4 billion fund operating over three years to galvanise private sector-led employment and economic growth. The aim of this is to secure an economy that is more balanced between private and public sector, as well as harmonise growth across different regions of the UK.

Another policy to enable growth is prioritising investment in infrastructure, which has been demonstrated by the increase in capital spending of £2.3 billion in the 2010 Spending Review, and investing over £30 billion in transport projects.

All of this has already happened and could not have happened without the bedrock of a stable fiscal position. These policies are examples of an underlying strategy from the Chancellor to create jobs in the economy whilst preserving the key ingredient: Confidence.

So where will this confidence come from and how do we find the door for the exit without disturbing low interest rates and a sound fiscal position?

There is no easy answer to this question but the Chancellor has a strategy and has attempted to answer it.

Firstly, he has introduced new Enterprise Zones to stimulate private sector led investment. Through the tax system he has incentivised investment by extending the capital allowances short life asset regime for plant and machinery from four years to eight years and provided £180 million for up to 50,000 additional apprenticeship places.

These are confidence measures targeting areas, business and individuals. Critics will say these measures do not go far enough but every one of these policies boost confidence in the real economy without hindering the financial markets. The Chancellor’s strategy is not risk free or easy but is an attempt to steer the UK economy out of the hotel room he was given with as little disturbance as possible.

The strategy is plain and simple: stop the negativity, get up and show the world that the UK is open for business and use the fiscal position we have to build a better and more balanced economy. If only we could find the keys.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @FlatFootTory

George Osborne is a Man with a Plan

David Cowan 6.00am

Last Wednesday, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, offered the prize of a bottle of Pol Roger to the person who could best explain George Osborne’s growth strategy. Herein David Cowan’s contribution. If David wins, he’ll get a second bottle of Sir Winston’s favourite bubbly from us at Egremont. Good luck!

George Osborne is a man with a plan. He is also a Conservative Chancellor in a coalition government at a time of financial turmoil not seen since the 1930s.

However, he is also a shrewd political operator, who managed to use his Inheritance Tax pledge to call Gordon Brown’s bluff in 2007 and opposed Alistair Darling’s NIC increase in order to give the Conservatives some momentum in 2010. George Osborne has managed to construct a growth strategy which accommodates the Liberal Democrats, includes political electioneering for a Conservative majority in 2015 and will hopefully rebuild the British economy.

The absolute bedrock of his growth strategy is to keep long-term interest rates low. That is why he is trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 in a way which is fiscally responsible, i.e. through public spending cuts and modest tax increases. Keeping interest rates down will ensure that people can still borrow at German style costs while the country has a Greek style debt, and so the markets will maintain their confidence in Britain as a safe haven.

Dovetailing with his efforts to keep long-term interest rates low George Osborne has been trying to get credit flowing back into the British economy. The Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing (QE) and holding the bank rate at 0.5 per cent represent a large part of this. However, George Osborne has also managed to contribute by pulling off the major Project Merlin deal with the banks in order to get them lending again.

However, it is not just the deficit which George Osborne has inherited from Labour. After 13 years of Labour misrule Britain has fallen to 22nd in the world ranking of the most competitive countries. The Chancellor is now on a crusade to put Britain back at the front of the pack.

This has led to serious efforts at supply side reforms which include cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the OECD, introducing the zero-rating of business rates in 21 new enterprise zones and simplifying the longest tax code in the civilised world. The coalition government has also introduced a new ‘Employer’s Charter’ as part of a Whitehall review of employment legislation, the ‘one in, one out’ rule is in place, small businesses are being exempted from domestic regulations for the next three years, and our antiquated planning system is being radically reformed.

Another part of this crusade to create a new ‘enterprise culture’ is to regenerate Britain’s ailing infrastructure and maintain the capital investment which will help sustain small businesses and create jobs. Obvious examples include High Speed Rail 2, Crossrail, and the extension of the broadband network, all of which will help to integrate all of Britain’s regions into a more balanced economy. Human capital is also being nurtured by the 500,000 new apprenticeships, new vocational training centres, more schools and greater science development.

George Osborne’s growth strategy is also ensuring that it is the least well-off who have more money in their pockets and that the rich pay their fair share during this ‘age of austerity’. That is why the personal allowance is being increased, Council Tax is being frozen again and fuel duty was cut, while the 50p tax rate is staying, capital gains tax was increased and new taxes have been slapped onto big banks and oil companies. As for the controversial VAT increase, it is a necessary measure which will raise more revenue, at a minimal cost to the economy, for paying back the debt and protecting the schools budget and real terms increase in NHS spending.

George Osborne’s strategy for growth is a clear and coherent set of policies based on the need to encourage a new competitive ‘enterprise culture’ by providing low long-term interest rates and cheap credit, a vibrant national infrastructure, lower business taxes and less red tape.

The Liberal Democrats have placed serious restraints on the options available to him, but if he successfully manages to deliver a healthy economic recovery in 2015 then he will be able to grant the generous tax cuts which many are calling out for now and gain all the credit in the process. This is a pragmatic and solidly fiscal conservative strategy which will pay off if George Osborne stays the course amid the current financial storm.

And if he is very very lucky.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

Renovation Zones could do for skills and social activity what Enterprise Zones promise for economic activity

Paul Marsden 11.29am

The devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes. Keep people busy with productive work and activities and their is less chance of crime and general listlessness.

The term “tradecraft” is usually understood to mean a skill acquired in illegal activity. We should turn it on its head and apply it to productive activities. Unlike other community programmes, ‘Trade Craft’ would be mandatory for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. It would also be linked to benefits.

A policy called ‘Tough Learn’ would be worth 30 per cent of current benefits - a taper relief system that avoids removing benefits entirely, and similar to what the coalition government is proposing in its welfare reforms.

It is important not only to provide short-term activities but rather to design projects relevant to long-term community needs. For example, the community centre is run-down and in need of a replacement or a refurbishment, so local people would be hired to achieve these goals. Priority funding could be derived from National Lottery and local government funds and people would work under the supervision and coaching of qualified tradesmen. Training will be linked to real work that benefits the community. In the process, people could gain qualifications in short amounts of time, and then go on to complete further qualifications. Instead of a year or two years of traditional vocational training, people will be ‘upskilling’ in the space of a few months.

Another idea is to provide enthusiastic and entrepreneurial types with a box of tools to help them set up their business, such as registering it, simple guidance on business plans, basic accounting and other business activities - with no cost to that individual. Failure will be expected but we should accept this and keep encouraging people. Not everyone will become the next Richard Branson but that is not the point.

The first time a young person sells their product or service and receives payment in return will inspire them to put in more hours of hard graft and succeed. It gives them self-confidence and belief in an honest living.

Like other policies discussed in previous posts, these Renovation Zone initiatives could easily link up with the Government’s existing policy of Enterprise Zones. The latter are a good step forward for reviving economic activity. Add in the impact of Renovation Zones and you can revive social activity too.

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Renovation Zones could breathe life back into Britain’s troubled communities

Paul Marsden 11.25am

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation.

'Problem' estates in towns and cities are not the only places in Britain that are poor, disadvantaged, rundown and crippled by crime.

But they are the right place to start if this country is seriously to tackle the problem of an ingrained ‘underclass’.

Some people recoil from any kind of finger pointing. They chart complex causes and overwhelm us with the alleged impossibility of the task in front of us. Some demand great swathes of public money to spend on grand projects. Some will seek to spreak the blame across society and target bankers, MPs and the media. Equally, some will point out the unfairness inherent in stop-and-search tactics towards minority populations. Some people urge longer prison sentences and the removal of benefits and housing from looters and rioters. Some urge building youth clubs with pool tables. Some call for corporal punishment.

Instead of hyperventilating about causes and consequences and the same old policy prescriptions, we need quick, decisive, smart intervention to make a difference.

Renovation Zones (RZs) should be created and piloted in areas with the highest levels of unemployment, criminality and deprivation. There is no perfect prescription, so these RZs will need to adapt and evolve. These are the values that must underpin the RZs:

  1. To instil lifelong learning throughout the community.
  2. To keep working age people in work.
  3. To keep young people busy with productive activities and new skills.
  4. To organise projects to look after vulnerable people.
  5. To reudce community carbon emissions and enhance the local environment of landscape, property and streets.
  6. To instil pride and belonging in the local community, British values, history and traditions.

Local communities must discover their own leaders and find their own solutions. With all due respect to hard-working councillors, police officers and social workers, top down control won’t work. Responsibility must be owned and practised by the community itself. A cultural shift is required.

What matters must be what works. There is no national solution underpinning the idea of Renovation Zones. Here are just a few ideas about how they can function to be a positive driver of change.

  • Social Media: Publicise and recognise good work through social media outlets. Empower teams of ‘Street Leaders’ using Twitter or instant messaging services to communicate events and projects, seek new ideas and discover proven methods.
  • Loyalty schemes: These could be sponsored by local businesses. Loyalty schemes can be created cost effectively using QR codes or barcodes rather than physical loyalty cards. Codes could be held on smartphones and allow the collecting of loyalty points for attending events such as parenting classes or renovation projects. These points could be traded for discounts in local shops.
  • Micro-learning: Renovation Zones could be a locus of flexible and innovative learning for people turned off by traditional methods. Short courses and projects should be recognised with certificates and diplomas, according to a national standard.  It is preferable for a young person to attend one day or a few hours of learning, for instance creating a website, which can go towards larger qualifications, rather than setting the bar too high and achieving nothing at all.

Given the economic climate, the RZs cannot incur much additional funding. They must be a cost neutral venture. It has to be recognised that throwing more money at problems is not a panacea and misses the point that real change only occurs when people want it to.

The creation and management of RZs would be the task of ‘Street Leaders’. They could work solo, in partnership with other Street Leaders or alongside local authorities. It would be up to them to establish the best solutions, decide timescales and set budgets.

It is an ambitious idea but if Britain is to repair its Two Nations then ambition is what is required. As a starting point, RZs could be rolled out in the shadow of an existing Government policy: Enterprise Zones.

The possible synergies are beneficial and varied. A new comunity centre could be developed in a disused shop thanks to the quick bypassing of red tape. A Micro-Enterprise Project might secure money to fit super-fast broadband services to permit free Wi-Fi for a local street. Generous tax breaks might permit local building companies to take on young trainees and apprentices, who would assist in building the new community centre. This centre’s address could be used as a registered address for young entrepeneurs starting new businesses. It even could become a local business centre, fostering enterprise and offering training and development.

The opportunities are endless. All that is needed is the courage to try.

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Joining the Jungle VIP: Government announces eleven new Enterprise Zones

Nik Darlington 0.01am

A higher than expected hike in inflation. Miserable job statistics coming out of the North. Frustratingly low growth figures. Julian Glover is right to sound a note of optimistic caution - the world really is not as bad as it seems. Notwithstanding financial contagion, famine and collapsing morals, humanity is stonkingly well off, historically speaking.

Yet for British business, it really is still a bit of a jungle out there. Survival of the fittest is de rigeur on the High Street, and at the best of times it is invigorating - at the worst of times, maybe these times, it is terminal and inhibiting.

Who is a good person to count on in a jungle? Tarzan. As the Economist noted in March, today’s political leaders - including David Cameron, George Osborne, even Tory card bearing Nick Clegg -  came of age in the 1980s. Enterprise Zones were a genuine success story, the 70,000 Canary Wharf workers today being a living testament to that. So it is no wonder that they have returned to what they know best. TRG patron, Lord Heseltine, was the Minister who brought them in. He remains one of the Conservative party’s most able communicators and has close links to Number 10.

The Government has already announced Enterprise Zones for Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, the West of England, Tees Valley, the North-East, the Black Country, Derby, Nottingham and London’s Royal Docks.

Later today, Ministers will announce a further eleven new zones (see below), which aim to help create over 30,000 new jobs by 2015 and attract hundreds of new start-ups through simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and more than £150 million of tax breaks. Local authorities will also be able to keep revenues of business rates from within their zones.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, is expected to say that the country needs more “balanced growth”, with less reliance on the City of London.

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, will place great emphasis on local solutions to growth: “This Government’s job is to foster local enterprise and create the conditions for businesses to thrive in.”

The Chancellor’s original announcement in March was welcomed positively on the whole. However, two think tanks - the Work Foundation and the Centre for Cities - dismissed the enterprise zones of the 1980s as having been misleading and ineffective. The Government contends that things will be different this time because the new zones will focus, as the BBC reported, on areas with potential rather than those in decline.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP whose Harlow constituency is amongst the new zones, certainly agrees.

"Our town has an excellent reputation for industry. In fact, we are one of the most entrepreneurial towns in England, as our rate of new start-up businesses is well above average."

Mr Halfon played a significant personal part in winning the prize for Harlow, lobbying the Government and fighting a sustained publicity campaign since being elected at the third attempt last year.

But above all, says Mr Halfon, this decision is “a vote of confidence in Harlow” and thanks to “the combined efforts of local businesses, residents, Harlow Council, and hard-working councillors, without whom this would not have happened.” As part of an aggregated new zone comprising areas in Kent, Essex and East Sussex, Harlow will be able to retain the revenue from future business rate increases for the next 25 years.

These are bold ambitions and, as the Spectator's David Blackburn notes, “timely” in the context of worsening economic malaise here and elsewhere. Letting local authorities keep their business rates is a good idea, but this sort of devolution of tax policy must now be extended more widely.

Nevertheless, the Government’s expectation of tens of thousands of new jobs looks optimistic, considering the convincing evidence that Enterprise Zones, however successful at attracting investment, also mostly attract existing jobs from elsewhere. Moreover, relying on “simplified planning rules” is genuinely worrying, considering how ill-advised and potentially damaging is the Government’s new planning policy framework.

Of course, the long march to growth is exactly that, a long march. It is not the sprint that the ‘plan B’ advocates in the Labour party and the press like to imagine. It took this country several decades to achieve [sic] an economy as imbalanced as this one, and it will take more than one term of the coalition to rebalance it.

The Enterprise Zones will be rubbished by many as a hackneyed old idea that had its time and whose greatest success - London’s Docklands - only helped to suck even more wealth and talent southwards. But they are long-term measures, with a time-span of as much as 25 years. The Prime Minister who eventually benefits (one hopes) from these policies is probably still at university, forming their thoughts and ideas about the world.

Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Cameron and Osborne say that they aren’t repeating Tarzan’s task, but they’re humming a very similar sort of tune.

The full list of new Enterprise Zones - or the Jungle V.I.P., if you will:

  • Rotherwas Enterprise Zone - in Hereford led by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone - led by the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Newquay Aerohub Zone – led by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Alconbury Airfield Zone - near Huntingdon, led by theGreater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Enterprise Zone – led by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Daresbury Science and Innovation Zone - in North Warrington,led by Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnerships

  • Humber Waterside Enterprise Zone - in Kingston upon Hull, led by Humber Local Enterprise Partnership

  • Discovery Park in Sandwich and West Essex Enterprise Zone in Harlow– led by the Kent, Essex and East Sussex local enterprise partnership

  • Science Vale Enterprise Zone – led by the Oxfordshire local enterprise partnership

  • MIRA Technology Park in Hinckley – led by the Leicester and Leicestershire local enterprise partnership

  • The Solent Enterprise Zone at Daedalus Airfield in Gosport – led by the Solent local enterprise partnership

 

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

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