John Redwood's Diary
Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today's issues and tomorrow's problems. Promoted by John Redwood 152 Grosvenor Road SW1V 3JL

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Interest rates

The Bank of England is independent when it comes to forecasting inflation and the economy. It has the sole right to fix the Base rate, the crucial short term interest rate that affects the returns of savers and the costs of borrowers,

All the time I was an MP I respected their Base rate power and did not advise on changes. I was critical of their forecasts of inflation when they were obviously wrong.

Now I can write and speak as I like about interest rates. The European Central Bank and the US Fed made similar mistakes to the Bank of England delivering inflations several times target level in 2022. The Japanese, Swiss and Chinese Central Banks did not make the same mistakes and their inflation  stayed low, showing the inflation was not the result of lockdowns and the Ukraine war.

Over the last year the ECB has followed a better policy to correct past mistakes than the Bank of England. This week they rightly cut interest rates recognising sluggish growth and tight money and credit. The Bank of England should do the same.

The Bank will probably hold rates claiming it should not move them in an election period. That implies it suspends its own independence. The Bank needs to be seen to be independent on rates. Otherwise not cutting them now will be seen as pro Labour and cutting them now seen as pro Conservative . I think most people do believe the Bank is the independent setter of rates and I have not seen any Conservative government pressures on the Bank over rates.

The U.K. economy has been badly slowed by the Bank’s very tough money policy 2023-4. Inflation will come down as a result. The Bank should cut,especially given its obstinate refusal to change its very damaging policy of over the top bond sales.

What do people want their candidates and MPs to do?

Some contributors here love running down politicians, pointing out their mistakes and inadequacies. Today you can lodge your papers to run yourself if you know how to do it better.

Many people are searching the perfect party or the faultless candidate. Realists  accept the task of the voter is to choose from a range of candidates and parties who are fallible, or fall short of our ideal. Our democracy offers plenty of opportunity to lobby, criticise, brief and engage with those who get elected.

Opinion polls tell us of the current dislike of the Conservatives by an important bloc of former Conservative voters. I can understand their frustration at the long COVID lockdown, the Bank’s inflationary money printing, the disruption of energy markets by war in Ukraine and the big expansion of the state to micro manage our lives and the economy as a result. It has meant taxes too high, state services losing productivity and quality, and too much borrowing.

What I also remember was Labour, SNP and Lib Dem wanting longer lockdowns, more handouts, and higher taxes. They wanted an economic policy driven by the Bank of England and the OBR who turned to austerity policies after their big inflationary mistake.

Labour and Lib Dem are short on detail on how to pay  for their plans for expanding the NHS and social care. They are agreed on keeping the austerity framework of current economic policy. Neither talk about how they would get productivity back to 2019 levels in public services, let alone get on with raising it. Without an answer to this crucial question they could not deliver their improved services. They would spend and tax more with little to show for it.

D day

Imagine the fear and the adrenaline rush  for those young men in 1944  as the landing craft beached and opened them to German fire for the first time. There  were many who had to brave the privations and dangers of the soldiers life as the largest amphibious landing was underway against Germany’s brutal fortress Europe. We owe them all so much, that for 79 years now many European peoples have been able to live in democracies freed from Nazi tyranny and mass murder.

The US and U.K. had to bring together a huge army, massive supplies, and a large seaborne force to ferry  them. The airforces had to control the skies, drop troops behind enemy  lines and bomb enemy defences. There were innovations including floating harbours, a pipeline under the ocean, adaptations of fighting vehicles to tackle mine strewn beaches. There  was superior Intelligence and carefully placed disinformation to allow some surprise.

It should serve as a reminder that we need to keep strong defences and use diplomacy backed by lethal force to deter and prevent evil triumphing again in the way it did in 1940 s Europe. It is a worry that war stalks Europe again in Ukraine, with continuing tensions in countries near Russia’s borders and in the Balkans. The foundations of NATO emerged from the Allied victory in 1945. With the emergence of a modern Italy and Germany pledged to democracy and Western values they too came to join the Alliance.

NATO was tested by the Cold War against the USSR. The Alliance allowed Russia to dominate countries like Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland that wished to revolt against Soviet rule, whilst preventing and deterring any further expansion of the USSR westwards. The tensions over Russian  missiles going to Cuba with US  missiles inTurkey brought war close, narrowly avoided by diplomatic exchanges.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gorbachev reforms gave us the opportunity of a new and improved relationship between a Russia shedding reluctant USSR member states and a NATO with no territorial claims of its own. Unfortunately in recent years the opportunity has slipped away, with a mutual suspicion bringing back a new kind of Cold War. Mr Putin’s wish to recreate a wider Russian zone of influence has spread to invasion creating challenges for NATO.

1944 can remind us that the resolve  of the democracies, slow to rouse, can bring victory over tyrannies. It should make both sides to the current tensions and both combatants in the Ukraine war want to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

 

So both main parties now want lower migration

I helped persuade the Sunak government to take action to cut legal migration last year. This January they took some steps to do so.

Now I read Labour too want to bring it down. They decline to tell us how or by how much. Meanwhile they have announced policies for an amnesty for illegal migrants already here and have stated their wish to set up more legal routes for people to use. That sounds like more migrants. The Lib  Dems are always identifying groups and individuals who should be welcomed that current law restricts.

Some, along with many pro left wing broadcasters now rightly point out that Conservatives have promised lower migration but ended up with much higher. This is a major mistake by recent governments. All the time we were in the EU the open birders of the Treaty  swelled numbers in ways government could not control. In the last four years University expansion, the invasion of Ukraine response, the Chinese changes to Hong Kong and the pressures from business to fill more vacancies from abroad have conspired to create a large migration surge.

Those of us who advised against were ignored. Over the last year we have won the arguments against importing more people to take low paid jobs, and against expansion of the University world putting quantity before quality. I do think Conservative Ministers have learned this lesson. They have also been genuine in wanting to stop illegal migration,  but undermined in the courts showing more legal changes are needed.  I do not think Labour are convinced we need much lower migration. They just want to win an election.

Net zero changes needed

The U.K. needs to go further than adopting a more realistic rhetoric about getting to net zero. It needs to keep recent policy changes and add additional ones

1 Policies to keep

It needs to extract more U.K. oil and gas in place of more LNG and oil imports

It needs to keep the delay to the ban on sales of new diesel and petrol cars

It needs to keep the delay on penalising new gas boilers for home heating

These could all be changed back if we have a change of government.

2. It needs to ditch the following policies

The tax on car manufacturers selling too many petrol and diesel cars

The grants to farmers to stop growing food

The high extra taxes on Domestic oil and gas production which makes us more import dependent

Further investment in electricity inter-connectors to an energy short Europe

3. Things it needs to do to keep the lights on

Commission more gas fired power stations as back up for unreliable renewables

Speed up order process for new smaller sized nuclear power stations

Control migration more successfully to limit demand growth

 

 

This election needs an honest conversation about net zero

The ideas of Labour, Greens and Lib Dems offering us a future abundance of cheap renewable electricity is a dangerous deceit.
We lack the guard capacity to shift more to electrical operation and to handle more renewable generation from far off and unreliable wind turbines. It is an absurd lie that the U.K. can generate all its electricity from zero carbon sources by 2030. On a bad day wind and solar are under 10% and gas above 50%.We are becoming hopelessly import dependent.

Adding more onshore and offshore wind farms requires a breakthrough with some chosen methods of storage, with huge investment in batteries and or hydrogen to retain the surplus wind power when there is a lot of wind. What happens if there is a longish period with little wind, particularly on cold high pressure days in winter?

Many voters are appalled at the contradictions and nonsenses in some net zero thinking. Why not go for net zero immigration as every person has a carbon footprint? Why import LNG with greater CO 2 output than using our own gas down a pipe? How does closing a steel works in the U.K. to save carbon help if you import the steel from somewhere else that allows the carbon?

The net zero brigade does not know where all the huge sums will come from to close down all our gas power stations, build  wind farms, treble or quadruple the grid and switch all industry over to renewable electricity, introduce hydrogen at scale and cover land with battery farms.

It will require subsidy and taxpayer support as it has so far. Renewable power is only cheap if you ignore the costs of back up and skew tax and subsidy their way.

The election and migration

The Conservative government since 2019 has let in too many people, mainly by granting visas for legal entry. The Labour, SNP and Lib Dem opposition has vigorously opposed some measures to clamp down on illegal migrants,  leaving our borders poorly policed against small boat people trafficking. Labour says they will control this better by setting up a unified Channel Border Force under a  Commander which is exactly what the government  has already done with limited success.

The main Opposition parties want an amnesty for all already here and want us to take more people coming by new safe routes with visa grant when they come. They have backed the U.K. government’s grant of large numbers of visas to people from Hong Kong and Ukraine given the special circumstances there.

If the next government is serious about cutting the housing shortage, tackling high rents and long NHS waiting lists it has to start with a major reduction in total largely legal migration. No wonder we are short of homes and doctors when we are inviting in an extra 750,000 people a year with more than a million of new arrivals. Where the new arrivals are people without wealth and needing a low paid job the strains on public spending and core public services are obvious.

The Conservatives launched a new policy this year to cut migration by 300,000. That is a start which no other party is offering. It is not enough yet to  tackle the large increase in demand for public services, homes and utility provision that recent numbers  generate. The TUC should be on the side of far fewer  visas to do low paid jobs here. We need to move to a higher productivity economy where machine power and computers take more of the strain.

MPs and money

Quite a lot of MP s get into trouble over money.

A few extreme individuals turn out to be thieves or fraudsters. Submitting false invoices to be paid or cheating people or the state out of money is common theft and will end in tears.

Many others are brought into dispute by their use and abuse within the rules. There are some areas to watch for those of you concerned to see value for money from your representative.

Does the MP undertake a lot of travel directly charged to expenses? Does the MP undertake many paid for and sponsored trips abroad?

An MP can claim travel expenses between the constituency and Westminster on the basis that the MP works in two locations. A company usually reimburses a staff member for travel to another branch or office. MPs can also claim for necessary trips beyond their constituency for research and Parliamentary approved purposes. There are numerous MP groups who take sponsor money to pay for meals, events and travel. MPs can push the rules a bit far about claims. They can overdo the sponsored events. Some sponsored trips become notorious for the conduct of MPs on them.

Anything an MP does for the party has to be paid for out of party funds. Some MPs want to spend heavily on leaflets and events for political purposes. They need to raise money from donors and need to report that. Some donors can become a difficulty for the MP. Care needs to be taken to avoid conflicts of interest.

The public is very critical of expenses. Most of the expenses are legitimate costs that do not reward the MP. Each MP needs an office, office equipment, broadband, headed notepaper and staff. In most people’s work ¬†this is supplied by the employer who just pays ¬†the bills. No one thinks they need to add office costs to an executive’s salary when working out the pay package.

What is worth probing is the total cost as a measure of efficiency and value for money. I ran my MP office with just two staff who did a great job following up casework and responding promptly to constituents. I did all my own research and writing as I needed to know what I said and why I said it. Many MPs hire staff to write speeches, social media comments and press statements. That can lead to inconsistency and confusion if staff change or more than one might produce something.It also produced much higher office costs than I charged.

The burdens of office and the problems of straight talking

MPs are often accused of pulling their punches or not telling the truth. In practice an MP is always speaking as an MP and may anytime be picked up for what he or she has said, even if it were a private observation born of frustration, anger or whatever. When you talk you need to bear in mind the views of your constituents , the view of the government, and the views of your party. If the government, party and constituents all hold broadly the same view it is easy and you are lucky. Where they differ, you need to tread a careful path understanding how each will criticise you. You must of course exercise your own judgement and provide a lead, but it must be a lead informed by your view of the greater  good. Sticking with the party line can leave you looking stupid or forced to do a U turn. Listen to the difficulties for Labour interviewees over the Diane Abbott saga. How to answer if you want to be loyal but do not know whether she is out or in?

My best advice to a new MP is your word needs to be a strong reliable currency. Repeat too many twists, turns and U turns you are given to say and soon your word is debased. Those who put you in a hole may not rescue you.

I always felt very responsible as an MP even though I was usually having to defend or criticise others for doing and saying things I would not have said. It was a rare event to be given a straight interview on my own views. The interview particularly if  from the BBC usually plunged  into getting you to condemn a fellow Conservative for a foolish statement or deed. Often the BBC just wanted you to play a role in their script and frequently cancelled when they realised your  view was not the one they wanted. I increasingly responded by saying they should interview the out of line speaker,  not me if that was their main interest.

I did feel bad about the way various public services let people down, and did work hard behind the scenes with my staff to remedy. Whilst I had clear views and opinions of my own, often the task was to distil the best or the consensus amongst my constituents to frame a response. It is frustrating to have to repeat public sector promises of better conduct and improved service, when you have heard them before and doubt whether this time will be different. You do not want to condemn the many public staff that do a good job and mean well, but you do need to speak out for improvement when well paid senior public sector managers fail to deliver a good service.I often used the formula that the service has said/ promised, adding I would try to get them to deliver if necessary.

Talking straight is a difficult balance. Not having a view and principles leads to weak and contradictory speech which is bad. Just having a strong view of your own means you do not represent many of your constituents much of the time and places you in regular dispute those you need to work with.  The skill lies in backing the right causes and campaigns, and in dealing fairly with constituents of all persuasions. It also lies in finding ways to express problems and propose their resolution that wins over more people than it upsets. Politics may indeed be the art of the possible, but that should not  become an excuse to settle for the mediocre or bad.

What is it like being an MP?

Today I cease to be an MP. I can now tell you more of what it is like, free of criticism that what I say is to put a favourable spin on how I undertook the tasks.As we embark on choosing new MPs we should discuss what we want them to do and how they should behave.

I never saw it as a job but an important part of my life. You are an MP 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It is not a 9-5 office job with holidays  as some seem to think it should be.

You are on call all the time. You dread one of those calls that there has been a big fire, or train crash or other disaster because you want nothing to go wrong. If one occurs, as I remember only too vividly, you need to be present but must  not get in the way of the emergency services. You need to brief and be briefed so the people coming to help know the local circumstances and you grasp their expertise and way of handling the crisis. You may be able to call up additional resources or to offer comfort to those affected.

You are the complaints department for anything to do with public services. People annoyed with government do not readily distinguish between Council, central government or independent quango and see the MP as the person to sort it out. During my weekly walkabouts and drives  I went  to see for myself. Resolving problems with local services and national services supplied locally was an important part of the task and you need to see the impact they are having locally. The email and post bag is a good guide to when things go wrong,  but  personal visits also reveal additional issues more directly.

You are part of the chain gang with the King’s Representatives and Mayors to be present at important events and ceremonies. Annually we meet to mourn the lives lost by armed forces personnel. We meet to¬† commemorate¬† national anniversaries. Communities and individuals do like recognition and public thanks.

You need to be a self starter with an enquiring mind. The whips and your party leadership  will give you an agenda and ask you to back their judgement, but you need to read and see for yourself and where necessary disagree. You need to be vigilant for anything about to happen that may do harm to your constituents, and lobby, speak out or ask questions to head it off. Where need arises you should run a campaign to get support for something you and your constituents need to be changed. Your party has no monopoly of wisdom and no immunity from error. You need numbers of MPs to support a good cause as well as good arguments to get action.

There are 650 different ways of being an MP. There is no one single   right way but there are some wrong ways. I have been amazed at how many MPs have lost office through ill judged comments, bad behaviour, and criminal activity. Do not become an MP if you want to take drugs, get drunk or bad mouth people.  I have been dismayed when the occasional MP is laid low by false allegations.

There is said to be some disagreement over whether an MP should be more  like the people they represent or whether their behaviour should be better and more discrete. I always found it was good to seek to understand the point of  view of whoever you were dealing with, and to be courteous in reply even when you were being provoked or abused. As I regularly explained, I would represent everyone where they had a case or cause, whatever their view. That did not mean however I could agree with everyone.  I had views of what was best, set out in an election prospectus.  Constituents disagree a lot with each other so there is rarely a unified constituency view. An MP does need to provide a lead and provide a consistent general view of where we are aiming to go, whilst making sure the minority view can be put to  authority  and answered by them.

A large volume of email correspondence takes the form of special campaigns organised by lobby groups. These are usually minority views and some are the worst kind of special pleading. Increasingly they relate to policy and attitudes in foreign countries where a UK MP’s writ does not run. An MP ¬†should engage but remember that they are not usually the majority view. It is also important to remind correspondents that the view of an individual UK MP is unlikely to change the action of a foreign government. The UK government may have some power of influence but will use it only where it will not make things worse and is a justified attempted interference in another country’s affairs.