What should an election be about?

The government wants an election because it wants to end the impasse of this Parliament. It rightly sees that it is kept in office but not allowed to govern. There is no alternative government on offer in this Parliament that would have a majority to govern. The election should be about who is best suited to form that government.

Elections are the ultimate democratic act. The government may wish to define the debate its way. The Leader of the Opposition may wish to define it in a different way. In practice it will be defined as a result of a jostle of forces and voices trying to shift or dominate the agenda of the debate.

On this occasion it may well be that there is some shared interest between Conservative and Labour over what they want to talk about. Both want to pose the same choice of a majority government led by one or other of the main parties of the outgoing Parliament. Both will look beyond Brexit to issues of tax and spend, their approach to public service quality and reform, nationalisation and privatisation. There will be a genuine choice between a more socialist government than has been on offer for many years, and a Conservative government.

The Lib Dems and SNP will wish to make it an argument about Brexit, peddling their view that the public got it wrong in 2016. They will advance various ways of overturning or cancelling the Brexit vote and will seek to bring the conversation back to this single question that has consumed the last two Parliaments.

What do you want the election to be about , as it your election too?

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My speech during the debate on an Early Parliamentary General Election, 28 October 2019

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This Parliament is once again misjudging the mood of the public. We were elected here to do serious things on behalf of our public. Conservative and Labour MPs alike were elected to see Brexit through. Three years and four months later, there is no sign of that. Instead, we have this discordant, argumentative Parliament that will do nothing. It will not throw the Government out of office and it will not allow the Government to govern. We owe it to the British people either to allow our Government to govern or to let the British people decide on a better group of MPs who can form a Government and do positive things for our country.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Every constituency in my region voted at the 2016 referendum by a huge margin to leave the European Union. At that time, lots of my constituents, in some of the most deprived communities of this country, told me that they did not trust this Parliament to deliver it. They said, “We won’t get it. They’ll never let us leave.” The five Conservatives out of the 10 MPs in my region might have voted to deliver Brexit, but is not the truth of it that the Labour MPs across my region, bar one or two examples, are never going to vote to leave the European Union, sadly proving right my constituents who said, “They’ll never let us leave”?

John Redwood: My hon. Friend is right, but it is now about more than Brexit. It is about confidence in our parliamentary system to deliver orderly government that can do things for the people or to allow the public to decide who should be a better Government, because the House has no confidence in the Government.

This Parliament needs to put through a Budget quite soon. Our economy needs a boost, and we need to know whether we can have the tax cuts as well as the spending increases, but I suspect that the Government fear bringing a Budget to the House because they think there will be no co-operation as they do not have a majority and this Parliament will not allow a majority to be formed.

This Government have recently brought a Queen’s Speech to the House. It contains a number of good measures that I do not think were ideological or Conservative provocations to socialists and those of a more left-wing nature. They were chosen to build some consensus and address the issues that worry people. But again, I think the Government rightly fear that any one of those measures, if introduced, would probably meet with resistance and a lack of co-operation, in exactly the way that we have been experiencing with all these other measures.

But above all, this House needs to think what message it is sending to all our partners, friends and allies—countries around the world; the businesses that our businesses do business with; all those contacts we have around the globe. They see this country as a great beacon of democracy—a country of great experience in the art of democratic government; a country that has often led the world in putting forward and fighting for those freedoms and showing how they can improve the lives of those governed by them. But instead we are sending a message that we do not know what we are doing and can never agree about anything—that all we can do is have endless rows in this place, for the entertainment of people here perhaps, but to the denigration of our country and the undermining of its position.

How can a Government conduct international negotiations when everything they propose is undermined or voted against by the Opposition, because we do not have a majority? Above all, how can we get to the point where this House decides that it is good legislation to say that the Prime Minister has to break his promises—where it has turned the demand that he break his promises into something that this House calls an Act of Parliament? No wonder we look ridiculous. No wonder we cannot resolve Brexit. No wonder we cannot have a Budget to promote our economy. No wonder we cannot govern with aplomb in the interests of the British people.

The Prime Minister is right that if this House cannot do better, it must dissolve and ask the people to choose a better Parliament. Either we need to be a better Parliament or they need to choose a better Parliament as soon as possible.

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“Let them take the bus” says Green enthusiast

In recent discussions I have been having about the costs and timetable for getting to zero net carbon dioxide as various governments now want, I have been asking about who will be paying for the electric vehicles and the heat pumps it will take.

Millions of people in the UK on below average incomes will need to replace their cars and vans with electric versions. They will be expected to replace old gas and oil boilers with  heat pumps and new boilers or with all electric systems. How easy will it be for them to afford the new machines and systems?

One person responded to my query by saying  buses and trains will all go electric thanks to taxpayer and public sector financed investment. People can then take the bus and dispense with the car they said. Many people do not live in cities with frequent bus services.

They seem to have in mind a them and us world, where the better off will still be able to afford the new vehicles and the all electric systems, whilst many others will in their view no longer have personal transport. Let them take the  bus, is a paraphrase of their position.

This is a poor answer at best, as surely the many should have access to higher living standards and greater convenience. It is  no answer to the needs of the small business person who needs a van to get to each appointment, taking the tools and spares needed for the assignment. Everyone from plumber to builder, from delivery business to mobile service provider needs personal transport tailored to their work. Many families need a car to get food back from the shops and to take the children to school as well as to get themselves to work.

For those places wanting zero net carbon as they call it by 2030 it will be soon that people need to spend the money on completely transforming their domestic heating, and to start thinking about new vehicles for the end of the next decade. We are talking about a colossal joint investment, where those just managing on current incomes will find it difficult to find the cash  for potentially large expenditures.

I also  see there is consumer resistance to some of these changes even where there is no direct additional cost involved. The electricity companies are urging   people to allow works in their  homes to change over meters. People with busy lives find it difficult to book out a day to supervise the work, and many are apprehensive about works in their home when the current system works just fine. The absence of any perceived personal benefit from the new meters has put lots of  people off. Some circulate rumours the firms strenuously deny that there is some ulterior motive on future  tariff and supply interruption that the new meters might bring. Indeed part of the case for these meters is that in future there could be variable tariffs with higher charges at certain times of day, with more control over energy supply by the utility. It will need a stronger case as to the benefits to get more people to allow these installations,.

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Anyone for an election?

It is unlikely this Parliament is about to vote to dissolve itself and hold an election. The massed ranks of the Opposition parties, usually so keen for an election, are shy about meeting electors on the doorstep and giving them the chance of change. The SNP and Lib Dem offer is tactical and linked to trying to stop Brexit. They are busy lobbying the EU to keep us in The EU  for longer as a precondition for any election.

Labour after months of demands for a poll now say they wish to take so called No deal off the agenda first. They now say that could take them to December 2020 to be sure of that. They might as well say they do not want an election before the Thames freezes over. Given their strong belief in Global warming they should feel safe for a few years with that pledge.

Boris Johnson told the rallies and meetings before he became Leader that he did not want an early election. He assumed he could deliver Brexit on 31 October.

Now he is desperate for one, given the impasse in Parliament and the way his majority has disappeared.

A General election could break the logjam in this rotten Parliament if electors are in decisive mood. Were  the vote to splinter too much with four or five parties in contention, we could end up with another hung Parliament which could perpetuate the block over Brexit and the difficulty in forming a government with a majority that can do things..

One of the most common messages I currently receive is Cromwell’s speech when dissolving the Long Parliament. This much purged Parliament wished to perpetuate itself after the death of the King and the advent of the Commonwealth. Presumably my correspondents  think they see similarities to today.

There are however very important differences. Cromwell arrived with 40 soldiers to close the Parliament down, using the force of the New Model Army against Parliament. He did not plan a new Parliament, but planned a personal autocracy as he became Lord Protector.

What we want instead is an election to try to change the personnel of Parliament. The gap between what this Parliament wants about Brexit and want voters want is too great. Worse still, many MPs were elected to see Brexit through only to go back on their word  and do everything in their power to delay or prevent Brexit.

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Brilliant England

The England rugby team achieved a great victory against the All Blacks. I wish them every success for the final.

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Withdrawal Treaty 2 versus just leaving

My long held view is I want to leave the EU as soon as possible without signing a Withdrawal Treaty. We should offer a free trade agreement to avoid the need for tariffs if the EU would agree to talks after we leave.

Opinion polling shows that just leaving is more popular than accepting Withdrawal Treaty 2. That commands just 19% support. It is more popular than Withdrawal Treaty 1. Withdrawal Treaty 2 is clearly an improvement on 1.  Polls also show a majority of those who want to just leave would rather sign Withdrawal Treaty 2 than remain or delay further if they cannot achieve their first preference thanks to this Remain oriented Parliament.

It is difficult to fathom why so few MPs make the public case for just leaving when it is a more popular option than the policies they advocate and when it is so obviously in the national interest. This dithering and delaying Parliament is creating continuing business uncertainty. It is talking us down. It is making us an international joke. Much of the governing establishment tells us by word or deed they think we should be governed by the EU and cannot manage to govern ourselves.

I thought Ministers, Shadow Ministers and MPs were employed to speak up for the UK, to create a realistic confidence in ourselves and our future. Instead many assist the EU in their negotiations, take their side in disputes when the government does speak up for us, and seem to take pleasure in any bad news as proof the public made the wrong decision.

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Prosperity not austerity

On Thursday I set out the opportunity we have to set a new fiscal framework or economic policy once we are free of EU Treaty requirements. They have made us run our economy with the twin aims of cutting the government deficit and cutting state debt as a percentage of GDP. Labour, the Coalition and Conservatives in government since 2008 have accepted these imperatives and set the debt and deficit targets as required.

I recommend that the purpose of economic policy is changed to

The promotion of higher living standards through the growth in real incomes for all

The target should be

Government policy should aim to achieve over the next ten years a rise of one fifth in average individual spending power. Average net incomes should rise by one fifth plus the amount of inflation as measured by the CPI(H) index

The government should also continue to be prudent with public finances. It should adopt a Balanced budget rule. This should say

The government will ensure it collects enough revenue to pay for all current spending. It may apply a symmetric cyclical stabiliser, running a surplus during good growth and a deficit during a bad recession.

The government may borrow for public capital expenditure purposes. Each project approved must meet an appropriate test to establish it will make a decent economic return or to establish its importance to the provision of an approved list of public services free at the point of use.

This new fiscal framework would allow us to reduce the tax burden today to boost real incomes and promote more growth as a result

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The costs of greening

Scottish Power have this week published a partial costing of how much the UK will need to spend in order to achieve the government’s stated target of zero net carbon dioxide from human sources by 2050.

Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens wish to accelerate this timetable. Glasgow plans to reach net zero as soon as 2030, and Liverpool by 2040, so these cities with a few others need to speed up their plans to convert current activities to hit their targets.

Councils and local bus companies can press on with replacing diesel and hybrid buses with electric vehicles. The state owned railway can carry on its expensive electrification schemes to switch more trains to all electric. The government can push the electricity industry harder to switch over to all renewables or carbon free generation. All of these come with a substantial public sector as well as private sector cost.

In two of the largest areas, cars and homes, individuals and families will need to meet most of the cost. The Scottish Power report tells us they think we will need 25 million electric charging points for electric cars to complete the transition. The Scottish government plans to phase out all diesel and petrol cars by 2032, with the UK government doing the same by 2040 where there is no quicker devolved government timetable. Their estimate of charger costs is £45bn, with additional costs to expand electricity output to meet the much enhanced demand. Individuals will have the investment costs of the vehicles to contend with.

The charger points will be partly financed by the private sector. I assume individuals will be responsible for the costs of chargers at home. Energy companies may put charger points into present filling stations or other suitable properties. Supermarkets and other companies and institutions may make public provision. Doubtless there will also be a taxpayer expense for various public sector charging points.

The Report says that 22 million homes will need to switch their current heating systems largely based on gas to electric powered heat pumps. This could cost £192 billion. Much of this cost will presumably fall on the consumer. I trust there would be financial help for those on low incomes as new boiler and heating systems with heat pumps are very expensive items if and when this becomes compulsory.

The UK has announced there will be no new gas boiler heating systems installed after 2025. There will be a substantial cost early in the next decade to retrain many heating engineers into the new technology.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on all this, and in particular to know who wishes to be an early adopter of the new domestic heating systems recommended.

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A new economic policy?

It’s time to hear from the government a new economic policy. As we leave the EU we should abandon an economic policy based on the twin requirements of EU policy, the reduction of the running deficit of government and the reduction of state debt as percentage of GDP.

I know when I have mentioned in the past the importance of the Maastricht debt and deficit controls to UK policy some have written in to deny this. Let me remind you of the extent of the EU requirements on the UK since 2008.

The UK was under EU budget control from 2008 when Decision 2008/713 stated the UK was running an excessive deficit and had to take action to reduce it. The deficit worsened thanks to the great recession, so they reinforced the requirement. They required us to make spending cuts and tax rises worth 1.75% of GDP a year  (£38.5bn a year at current values) from 2010/11 to 2014/15. In 2015 they reviewed the position and renewed the requirement to cut spending or raise taxes as they remained concerned about the level of state debt to GDP. They set specific reducing deficit targets of 4.1% of GDP for 2015-165 and 2.7% of GDP for 2016/17. The UK government always filed the relevant figures and submitted to the discipline imposed, as it is required to do by Treaty .

In 2017 they decided the UK had complied and lifted the excessive deficit plan after a nine year programme of cuts. They however said “As from 2017-18 the UK is subject to the preventive arm of the Stability and Growth Pact and should progress towards the minimum medium term objective at an appropriate pace…and comply with the debt criteria in accordance with Article 2(1a) of Regulation EC No 1467/97.” (i.e. the aim of economic policy had to be to get state borrowing down to 60% of GDP from around 87% over the medium term).

As we come out of the EU this ceases to apply. The UK needs a new fiscal framework which helps us promote growth, jobs and higher real incomes. We need a purpose and guides to economic policy based on these good outcomes for people, not a policy based on getting state debt down as a percentage of GDP.

Of course there needs to be a prudent control on extra debt incurred. There is nothing unstable or unaffordable about current levels of state debt, especially taking in to account around one quarter of the state debt is owned by the Bank of England which in turn is owned by the state!

A sensible rule could be that additional  state borrowing should not exceed the levels of public sector investment. The government will ensure the current account of the government is in surplus or balance. On 2020-21 figures from the last Red Book this gives the state the opportunity to borrow 3% of GDP, the forecast level of investment, which would allow a sensible fiscal expansion. Tax cuts of around £10bn on top of the spending increases announced should  be possible. There could be a recession override allowing fiscal stabilisers i.e. a bigger deficit  to apply were there to be a nasty downturn at some time in the future. I am not currently forecasting a Uk recession

references

European Council Decision 2008/713/EC

2009/409/EC Council decision

2015/1098 Council decision

14852/17 Council decision

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My speech during the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, 22 October 2019

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This Parliament is letting the public down. Three years and four months ago, I and 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. We voted to take back control of our laws, our ​borders and our money, and we are still waiting for that to happen. We were told by the then Prime Minister that he would send a letter announcing our decision immediately after the result, and under the treaty we expected to be out after two years with or without agreement by the European Union.

Instead, we find ourselves today having yet another debate after so many groundhog days in this place, with the same people rehearsing the same arguments, as around half the Members of the House of Commons—we will find out whether it is more than half—are still trying to stop any kind of Brexit, and are forcing those of us who believe in Brexit to dilute what we are trying to do and delaying our enjoying the fruits of our Brexit vision.

Let us look at the agreement, because it is far from ideal from the point of view of a leave voter. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has today reassured us that we will completely take back control of our fish, and that we will decide how that amazing resource is nurtured, looked after and used by our country. That is very welcome. I also accept that the documents show that we will not have to go into battle with our troops on a vote that we have lost, and that we are not about to be sucked into losing the sovereign control of our Government and Parliament over our foreign and defence policy.

But we are still in trouble with the powers of the European Court of Justice over our laws. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) for contributing to the Bill, because there is now a sovereignty clause, and I hope it works; it is a definite improvement. However, I am extremely worried by the situation in Northern Ireland.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that Unionists believe that our sovereignty has been removed by this agreement, and that being a Unionist in Northern Ireland is very different from being a Unionist in the rest of the United Kingdom, including the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency? Does he not feel that Unionists have been duped and deceived in how this agreement has been brought forward?

John Redwood: I do not like the provisions on Northern Ireland for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have set out. I want the whole country to leave, and Northern Ireland to be a full part of the United Kingdom under the same arrangements. If there are any different arrangements, I certainly want a consent mechanism that is acceptable to the representatives from the Democratic Unionist party and the people they represent.

I am also extremely worried about the money in this set of proposals. We never talk about the money, and so many MPs seem to think that giving billions away to the European Union is just fine. Taking back control of our money was central to the campaign. Indeed, it was very contentious, because people argued about exactly how much it was. I do not think it has been properly quantified. The liabilities are potentially large and long lasting, and there is no attempt in the agreement or the Bill to control them.

Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Could my right hon. Friend give us his best estimate of what he thinks the bill will be?

John Redwood: Well, we are told £39 billion, but I think that is a very low estimate; I think it will be considerably more than that and will stretch many years ​into the future under some of the headings that we are providing for. My worry is that the EU will be the main driver in deciding what the bill is because there is not a satisfactory dispute resolution procedure. That means that the EU could levy the bill, saying that it is European law and that it knows best what we should be paying. We have to be extremely careful.

If the Bill does make any progress tonight—that is not looking very likely from some of the things people are saying—I hope that there will be considerable concentration in Committee on whether there are mechanisms for having better discipline over the money, because we voted to take back control of the money. I want some of that money for hospitals, schools and other public facilities in my constituency, and I hope that many other Members of Parliament take the same view. It would be very galling indeed if we found that we were technically out of the European Union but were still paying it a great deal of money.

I approach this agreement in a spirit of disappointment, but I think the Prime Minister was deeply damaged and undermined by the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, which greatly reduced the bargaining leverage of the United Kingdom Government, and I think people recognise that. It is strange that that legislation, which might as well be renamed the “breaking the Prime Minister’s promises” Act, is permissible because surely we either have confidence in our Government and in the Prime Minister to be able to keep his word, or we do not have confidence in our Government collectively, in which case we can get a different Government. This Prime Minister has said that he will take us out on 31 October. There is a lot of support for that in the country, and I hope that we can find a way to make it take place. The Prime Minister has said that we would preferably leave with a deal, but that if we cannot get a decent deal we will leave without a so-called deal.

I think the language is totally misleading. There is no such thing as a no-deal Brexit. There is either leaving and signing a withdrawal agreement or leaving and not signing a withdrawal agreement. Were we to leave not signing a withdrawal agreement, there is an aviation agreement and a Government purchasing agreement, there are haulage and customs arrangements, and there is a general agreement on facilitation of trade through the WTO, so we would have a managed WTO exit, which I think would work extremely well.

I want to spend that money in Britain to promote growth and a stronger economy. I want the free trade agreements that I think we might be able to generate with the rest of the world. If we just left, the EU would want to negotiate a free trade agreement with us, but all the time it thinks it has a chance of our not leaving it is not going to offer anything or be positive about that, because it thinks it might, from its point of view, do something better.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

    Promoted by David Edmonds on behalf of John Redwood both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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