Water, water everywhere, but not enough to water the plants?


Water management is a Cinderella subject for Manifesto writers that should in 2015 come to the political ball. We both have too much of it at time of flood, and too little of it in times of drought. There is nothing new about this. All my lifetime we have alternated between difficult floods in winter  and water rationing in hot summers. Some say this is going to get worse. That’s even more reason for us to get better at preventing these extremes of outcome.

Fortunately solving the one can help solve the other. If we had more areas of ground where we could capture and hold water during times of flood, we could have more reservoir capacity for times of shortage. The water industry is reluctant to build more reservoir capacity to avoid shortages in rare hot years. It takes this view partly because it always has in mind very large units, and partly because the regulatory system makes financing such projects difficult.

Maybe we need a series of smaller projects attached to rivers which are flood prone, capable of taking water in in wet periods and putting it into the water system at times of shortage. Some of this could be part of the new housing projects around the country, as housebuilding adds to the risk of flash flooding as more of the land that absorbs water naturally is put under tarmac and concrete. Over to you, Environment Agency.

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Can more trains take the strain?


Some critics of the imbalances in our UK economy between London and the rest point out that London does better in public spending per head that some other less prosperous parts of the country. They also point out London does well in attracting large capital projects like Crossrail. Why don’t other parts of the country have the same?

It is not true to say that high public spending  per head is the cause of London’s prosperity. The second most prosperous UK region is the South-east, with much  lower public spending per head and no major projects. Higher levels of per capita income are mainly driven by high private sector employment levels, high levels of education and training in the workforce, a high concentration of high value added activities in the private sector. The South-east economy does well despite the absence of sufficient investment in  rail and road capacity, with full up commuter trains and regularly congested roads.

London has attracted substantial transport investment in recent years because it has the most congested systems of anywhere in the country. As the London  economy draws in more people and generates more income and wealth, so there is much more travel demand. The antiquated street system cannot possibly meet the needs for individual road travel, so large numbers  need to go by tube or train or bus. London has critical mass for public transport, and needs more of it as the economy grows.

I am all for spending money on major transport projects elsewhere, where the demand justifies it. If other cities are short of rail and road capacity they should be given financial help to meet the needs. It is unlikely to cause the growth they are seeking, but is a necessity when the growth occurs. Few places enjoy anything like the intensity of pressure on public transport that London creates, which is why many places need better road connectivity.


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The paradox of democracy in the UK


Let me return like a moth to the flame to the question of UKIP. I get plenty of criticism on this site for fighting the good fight against the use and extension  of EU power on the simple ground that I do not join UKIP, who happen to agree with some of my views. I will try again to explain why I and other like minded Conservative MPs will continue to battle for the restoration of UK democracy as Conservatives.

Some UKIP supporters claim to value UK democracy, but they refuse to recognise or accept its results. They have this odd idea that there is a natural UKIP majority of all voters out there just waiting to take us out of the EU, when the reality of election after election is different.

The main reason I do not support  UKIP is I do not believe it can deliver its fundamental promise of taking us out of the EU. The second reason is I do think we need to negotiate a new relationship with the EU which preserves our trade and other matters like shipping, aviation and pipelines rights. UKIP never talks about what kind of relationship it would want with the EU on exit and how it  would achieve this. The third reason is we have to take the majority – preferably a large majority – of the British people with us as we change this relationship.

Over 20 years of trying UKIP has not won a single Parliamentary seat. Its best chances came at Eastleigh and Newark in this Parliament, when UKIP support was at its highest in polls. It won neither. All the polls show it will not win a single seat in 2015. There would need to be a seismic shift in the polls in its favour, taking it to a higher level of support in a General Election than it managed in a European election. No commentator or independent observer think that likely. The reluctance of UKIP to select high profile candidates for possible target seats for 2015 and get them working also implies UKIP themselves do not expect to win anything.

Democratic politics is about the day to day work of looking after a constituency, listening to your voters, and representing all, including those you disagree with. It is about trying to win the big public debates, to move opinion in the direction you think will do most good for your fellow countrymen and women. I think principles do matter in politics, but those of us who have certain democratic principles have to understand that we only have the right or the opportunity to implement them when enough of the public agree and will vote for them. Compromise and toleration are also important parts of democracy. They do not mean all who practice these democratic traits  are traitors or liars as some UKIP supporters constantly assert.


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What roads policy would you like?


Starting today I am producing a series of pieces which invites bloggers to send in  their ideas on what should be on offer in a Manifesto for May 2015 in various areas.

Let us begin with roads. The Labour years saw little roadbuilding, followed by substantial further cuts in capital as their response to the financial crisis at the end of their period in government. The Coalition lived with most of those cuts for the first half of this Parliament, but is now relaxing the controls on capital expenditure.

As more than 85% of our travel needs are met by road vehicles, a growing economy clearly needs more roadspace. Some wish to see their town or village bypassed, as heavy traffic still thunders through some settlements. Some wish to see more capacity on the main motorways and trunk roads, as the core network is under considerable stress at busy times of day. Some wish to see improvement in local roads, as they find blocked junctions and bottlenecks on crucial parts of the local network when taking children to school or trying to get to work or home or to the shops.

As a minimum I suggest we need a continuous south coast highway to dual carriageway standard from Kent to Southampton. We need more capacity to Felixstowe and the east coast, on the M3 and M4 westwards, on the M25, on the M2 and the M1. We need a fully dualled A303 to the west country, more capacity across the Pennines, an improved A1 (M) all the way to the Scottish border, and better links between the major northern cities.

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Who governs England?


Assuming Scotland votes to stay in our union this September, we will find devolution back on the agenda soon afterwards. All three main parties have promised more powers for Scotland. All three will I am sure wish to honour that pledge.

This time it will not be possible to duck the issue of who governs England?  It will be too unfair for Westminster to carry on as if nothing had happened with respect to the government of England, whilst the rest of the UK led by Scotland gets yet more powers for self government in their own Parliament and Assemblies. The SNP agrees with me about this. The SNP does not think their MPs at Westminster should settle matters for England that are settled for Scotland in the Scottish parliament.

I write again about this because recently I was invited onto a 5 Live  discussion to tackle the issue of England. My fellow disputants were Jim Murphy for Labour and Menzies Campbell for the Lib Dems. The other two are both Westminster MPs sitting for Scottish seats. Their approach was simply unacceptable to England.

It is true they did preface their remarks by saying this was primarily a matter for England. They could say no less, as they and the whole political establishment have always said Scottish devolution and independence is entirely a matter for Scotland. However, they both went on to accept there will be an English devolution problem, and expressed the view that this could be handled by more devolution of power to regional government or local government in England.

No, No, No. I had to force my way back into the conversation to remind them I was the only one representing England. I spoke for England, and said my country was fed up with attempts from outside to balkanise and split it up. The last Labour government  attempted this, and were strongly rebuffed in their own heartland of the North-east where the public said they did not want regional government. If Scotland is going to have control over some of its own taxes, so will England expect no less. We will not need the help of Mr Murphy or Sir Menzies Campbell to impose taxes on England when Scotland is doing her own.

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Taxing oil and gas


UK consumers pay dearly for their fuel, mainly thanks to the very high rates of tax on petrol and diesel, and substantial tax on domestic fuels through company tax and VAT  as well.  In the debate on Scotland’s future the issue of oil and gas tax revenue is more narrowly focused on Petroleum Revenue Tax, a tax on production, and on corporation tax on the producing companies. So what has been happening to this?

The trend of tax revenues on production from the North Sea has bee downwards for sometime. This is another area where the Treasury has been too optimistic in recent years.  In June 2010 the Treasury forecast £1.8bn of Petroleum Revenue Tax in 2013-13, and £1.7bn in 2013-14.

Instead they received £1.7bn in 2012-13 and £1.1 bn in 2013-14. Current forecasts are for much lower figures from here than the 2010 estimates.

On June 2010 the Budget forecast £8.7bn of offshore corporation tax revenue in 2012-13 in total, and £8.9bn in 2013-14. Instead the Treasury collected just £4.4 bn in 2013-13, and £3.6bn in 2013-14, or 60% less than the 2010 forecast.

As the oil province declines, so the tax take will reduce substantially. The government is having to offer more tax offsets and lower rates to encourage more marginal production, whilst total volumes decline. Once again past forecasts have been far too rosy about higher tax rates and definitions, forcing not only lower estimates but also a change of policy to a less penal regime.

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Scotland, the Union and the UK economy


I am often asked how bad would a Scottish exit be for the UK economy?

I reply by stating that I would like Scotland to stay in the union. It is important it is their choice, and even more important that they then unite behind the democratic decision they are about to make, whichever way it goes. I still expect Scotland to vote to stay in.

The facts are straightforward. Scotland has 8.3% of the UK population. At current rates of economic growth it would take three years to replace the lost Scottish output. At current rates of inward migration it would take  a generation to replace the lost numbers of people,  but as the aim is to bring the rate down more it would take a  couple of generations. I am not recommending that we have to seek to replace the lost people, merely trying to give a sense of relative size.

Scotland receives 9.3% of total UK spending. Whilst the Scottish government and the UK Treasury disagree about some of the detail, they say that Scotland receives somewhere between 122% and 116% of the public spending per head of the rest of the UK.

Scotland contributes 7.3% of the Income Tax revenue of the UK, 2% lower than her share of the public spending. Other taxes are variable, from the 14.1% of total UK spirits duty the Scots pay, down to  5% of Stamp Duty.

The SNP point out that Scotland contributes the lion’s share of production and company taxes on oil and gas output. As we have seen , these tax revenues are now in decline, reducing the Scottish total tax contribution.

One of the big arguments is over how quickly this will decline. If it does so with no obvious replacement, then Scotland in the UK will need to draw more money from the rest of the UK to make up the shortfall.

The English case to keep Scotland in  the Union is based on history, politics and sentiment. It is not an economic necessity from England’s point of view.


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The Malaysian airliner


The sudden deaths of the passengers on the airliner over the Ukraine has come as a dreadful shock. If it was mass murder we need to know who did it and why. The families of those who have lost loved ones have our deepest sympathy.

The first requirement is for the establishment of an authoritative and independent enquiry to see if the airliner was shot down as most assume and if so how it was shot down and by whom. If not we need to know why it crashed.

This is a dangerous situation which will only be made worse if states comment and act on rumour or suspicion before we know the truth of what happened.

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What can we expect from our new EU Commissioner candidate?



Lord Hill has to run the gauntlet of the European Parliament endorsement hearing. They will want him to be loyal to the Treaties Conservatives have opposed, loyal to a federally inclined Commission which we oppose, and keen on the project of ever closer union which the UK cannot accept. He will doubtless use language to get through his test which will upset Eurosceptics.

As Commissioner he will lead a split life. One part of him will have to judge, decide and discuss policy and actions from a federal viewpoint, carrying out the wishes of the majority  in the EU. The other part will have to remember that the UK wants none of this remorseless drive to greater union and has different interests and a different viewpoint. It’s becoming an impossible job, as the UK slips away from the EU in mood and rhetoric.

He has to help the UK government  secure him a decent job within the Commission. I think there is too much emphasis on this issue. Many of the EU Commission jobs are important because the EU now has so much power. The UK Commissioner is only going to be able to do one of them. Within reason it does not matter that much which it is.

Thereafter, what matters is how strongly and well our Commissioner represents the UK case. Whilst under the theory of the EU he has to swear an oath for the great good of the EU and co-operate with the federal drive of the institutions, in practice he will be judged at home by how well he defends the UK’s interest and  prepares for the UK renegotiation. He is unlikely single handedly to turn the rest of the EU round to the UK’s view that it should be a trading arrangement and not much else. Instead he should concentrate on getting a new relationship for the Euro permanent outs as the greater Euro zone presses on to political union.

Of course, were Labour to win the Election rather than  the Conservatives, his brief from the UK would change. I think whoever governs the UK  after 2015 will be forced to seek a new relationship, but Labour will not offer a referendum so they have taken away the UK’s main negotiating card that any new relationship has to pass a public test of acceptability.

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What a farce the EU makes of our laws


This week Parliament has tried to sort out a serious legislative mess of the EU’s making. This is no way to run a serious country.  The European Court of Justice recently struck down a European Directive on Data Retention. This Directive, agreed to by the last Labour government, had been faithfully transposed into UK law. The ECJ left us not knowing what the law now is, as the UK’s enactment of EU law can itself now be challenged.

All three main parties rushed to agree a new Westminster law which they hope will now be compatible with EU law as redefined by the Court. There is, of course, no way of being sure it will do this. All the time the European Court is at war with the EU legislature we will live with an uncertain law. In addition, as the Home Secretary confirmed to me, the EU itself may have a go at new legislation, which would then require the UK to start all over again with its implementing legislation.

Civil liberty campaigners think the new law goes too far in allowing the authorities access to records of people’s phone calls and messages. The government  and Opposition point out the UK put more safeguards in our implementation of the EU law than they need do. The latest attempt to implement adds additional safeguards and requires new legislation in two years time, along with a major review.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the judgements made about how much we need to authorise to keep us safe, surely more people can agree this is not  the right way to legislate in a democracy. Parliament should decide these matters, not the EU and the ECJ. Parliamentary law could then be more consistent, and not subject to sudden reversal by a court, which just serves to undermine the law and make enforcement difficult if not impossible.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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