Insane? But it’s what these Tories are about

12:17 am - August 14th 2008

by Adam Bienkov    

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David Cameron yesterday called the latest report from Policy Exchange ‘insane’. As well he might. But for the modern Conservative Party, the only thing insane, was to say this stuff out loud.

Because for the think tank, the ranks of which make up a large chunk of the new Tory establishment, these views are nothing out of the ordinary.

The report which basically suggests that government should concentrate most of its investment on London, Oxford, and Cambridge and shove off the rest of the country, has been unsurprisingly rejected by the Tory leader.

But as the Conservatives move towards removing powers from Scottish MPs, and removing investment from Labour supporting boroughs in London, it is precisely this kind of thinking that is coming to the fore.

In London, where ex-Policy Exchange director Anthony Browne now directs Tory policy, Boris Johnson is already pursuing a divide and desert strategy.

The strategy where the poorest are deprived of funding (most notably in the scrapping of half-price fares for people on income support) while left-wing events and organisations are deprived of investment is the logical conclusion of the ‘donut strategy’ pursued during the elections.

In fact the report which envisages a land of endless (Tory) suburbs rolling out before a deserted hinterland is donut-politics writ large. The North has failed. The North is Labour. Come on people, head to the donut rim

Of course none of this is made explicit. On the face of it, this is still a one-nation unionist party. But in deeds rather than words, the Tories continue to support their base and turn their face to the rest.

And while Labour continue to appease the unappeasable Right while frustrating those on the left, the Tories will ride to power with overwhelming support from those people the party was born to serve.

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About the author
Adam Bienkov is a regular contributor and also blogs at Tory Troll, Guardian CIF, and New Statesman
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Crime ,Local Government ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Tim Leunig is a leading Liberal Democrat – as listed in Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats. He also wrote a paper with Ed Davey.

Not sure he would be impressed with being called a Tory.

And Andrew Gilligan is a ‘lefty’ apparently. It certainly is a big tent they have over there.

Seems more like the Tories are going to ride to power with the overwealming support of those that Labour have failed.

Thank you to Richmond Raver for pointing out how stupid this post is. Policy Exchange works with external authors all the time, and the fact that the Conservatives have been impressed with a lot of Policy Exchange’s work over the past few years does not mean that they are joined at the hip.

Honestly, do your research properly next time.

5. Bootyboomboom

I agree that the report is insane. But why the swearing Adam? Does ConservativeHome think it ok to have the words ‘f*** off’ posted on it’s articles? After all, Liberal Conspiracy is supposed to be the left-wing equivalent. I hardly the think that Labour people have the right to get so het up considering that the most radical government since Cromwell’s has just been running the country for the past decade. They really ought to just sit down embarrasedly and quietly review their opinions on everything.

Ironic but unsurprising that this was written by one of the “real” journalists on this site who claims to specialise in right-wing politics. A blogger would probably have at least googled the name 🙂

“Seems more like the Tories are going to ride to power with the overwealming support of those that Labour have failed.”

WTF? It’s absolutely clear from the Mayoral results that in all areas that could plausibly be described as containing “those that Labour have failed”, Boris lost.

To those who think Policy Exchange isn’t a Tory think-tank – yeah, and Sinn Fein was a legitimate political organisation without links to terrorists.

“most radical government since Cromwell’s” – err, what?

Seriously, how far to the right of Genghis Khan do you have to be to believe this government was anything other than an ideological continuation of John Major’s, just with less corruption at first, a more appealing leader at first, and slightly higher taxes?

Sorry booty I thought I had edited out the swearing. Sunny, can you change it to ‘shove off’ please.

LFAT: On the staff –

Anthony Browne – Director of Policy for Boris Johnson and ex PE Director
Nick Boles – Transition chief for Boris and ex PE director
Munira Mirza – Chief cultural advisor for Boris and contributor to PE
Kate Hoey – Sports advisor for Boris and contributor for policy exchange

On the reports

Million Vote Mandate – A blueprint Boris’s administration
Replacing the Routemaster – the blueprint for Boris’s campaign

and the Trustees:

Charles Moore: chair of the board of trustees. He is a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Spectator columnist.

Rachel Whetstone: former-Conservative leader Michael Howard’s chief of staff while he led the party. She is Godmother to David Cameron’s son Ivan.

Theodore Agnew: donated £50,000 to Conservative Central Office in February.
Richard Briance: deputy chairman of Hawkpoint Partners, a leading city corporate finance advisory firm and has donated £11,900 to the Conservatives since 2002.

Richard Ehrman: special adviser to the Employment Department in the 1980s and was chief leader writer at the Telegraph in the 1990s.

Not joined at the hip at all then.

“I hardly the think that Labour people have the right to get so het up considering that the most radical government since Cromwell’s has just been running the country for the past decade.”

New Labour could be rightfully called many things but “radical”? Get thee to a dictionary.

A tory notherner is like turkey voting fro tahnks giving day. Well done tories your secret plans have been revealed you want to kill the north. Hague and former home affairs secretery EE (or is that his bra size0 should defect to labour.

12. Rob Knight

The report makes a few broadly good points though. As a Northerner, born in the North and still living and working there (how many other frothing commenters thus far can say that?), I recognise a lot of the picture being painted in the report. The regional development agencies have failed to achieve their purported aims. The scale of waste and misapplication of funds is huge and whilst we’re all very grateful for the effort, few people (particularly in high-tech sectors like my own) regard the RDAs as the way forward.

The worst part of the RDA system is that it encourages grant-seeking rather than genuine innovation. When you start a business up, there is a legion of ‘advisors’ waiting to help you, each waiting to get their forms signed at the end of a consultation so that they can prove how much they’ve helped to ‘develop businesses’. Have they helped? Rarely. Would business owners pay for their service? Absolutely not! The effect of regeneration can often be quite stifling on the very creative industries that it’s meant to promote. These are not just my views but the views of plenty of people within the industries affected. The report makes numerous good points in saying that this funding isn’t working, and there needs to be a re-think, particularly to devolve control to a democratic level as opposed to a bureaucratic level. What’s wrong with this?

On the point of people moving south, well… the solution to that is simple: invest in education. Not just more technical colleges, but building some genuine world-class facilities in the North. Expecting to replicate Oxford or Cambridge in Blackburn or Hull is of course a silly idea, but the major universities of the North could do more to generate the human capital necessary for high-tech industrial growth. This requires a relentless focus on quality rather than quantity. What’s great about silicon valley isn’t the number of techies in one place, it’s the fact that they’re the smartest group of techies in the world. If this doesn’t happen, if the critical mass needed to sustain high-tech hubs isn’t reached, you can hardly blame people for following the money (and it’s not just the money – some of us just want to work doing something interesting) and going south.

Expecting to replicate Oxford or Cambridge in Blackburn or Hull is of course a silly idea, but the major universities of the North could do more to generate the human capital necessary for high-tech industrial growth.

It’s a lovely idea…if is wasn’t for all the research money heading down south:

Scientists from the universities of Liverpool and Manchester and the Daresbury laboratory have spent the past seven or so years designing a new photon facility that would allow researchers for the first time to see how molecules interact. The facility, named the Fourth Generation Light Source (4GLS), could have shed light on questions as diverse as how drugs work in the body and how to improve the performance of engines. Dr George Neil, a physicist at the Jefferson lab in the US, described the project as “exciting, forward-looking and ahead of its time”.

But in October last year, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which funds physics and large research facilities in the UK, decided to cancel the project. Then, early this year, it announced it was to launch a new project to design a light source facility led by a scientist from Imperial College London. It also said it will set up a virtual institute for photon science, made up of five researchers from Oxford University, Imperial College and University College London. Where the new light source facility will be based has yet to be decided but it is unlikely to be near Manchester.

“WTF? It’s absolutely clear from the Mayoral results that in all areas that could plausibly be described as containing “those that Labour have failed”, Boris lost.”

Moreover, those areas which can seriously be considered to have a serious violent crime problem Boris lost (Lambeth, Enfield, Newham…).

Rob’s right, education is vital, and neither party is exactly inspiring here, Labour with its overly-target orientated exam-to-death structure and the Tories with their loony fringe of academia-hating morlocks who think universities are an ideological battleground against the mythical ogres of the Left. Mind you, the North’s not exactly short of good universities (I went to one) and the best seem be in the best performing cities already.

However, the main point against PX here is a complete lack of understanding of how the world works – postwar UK policy is littered with examples of governments Doing Something Bold Somewhere and cocking it up. Concreting over Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire begins to look a bit stupid when, as a wild guess, Kent becomes a massive growth area due to fast rail links to London, Lille, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt…

This point isn’t entirely irrelevant – Oxford and Cambridge are both on branch lines from London (albeit well served by commuter trains). Sunderland and Bradford are both off the mainline map a bit. On the other hand, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle enjoy excellent frequent fast electric services to the capital. Coincidence? There are a stack of places who think that sort of thing matters, and it’s a damn sight easier than relocating 3m people. After all, PX are advocating that because you can’t do anything about the geography of the north, you should alter the geography of the south. That’s nonsensical.

The best any government can offer is flexibility and a willingness to realise its own limitations. Labour offered neither, a PX-influenced Conservative Party isn’t going to either on this evidence.

15. Rob Knight

On the other hand, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle enjoy excellent frequent fast electric services to the capital

Unless it’s a day with a ‘y’ in it and the whole thing happens to be closed or delayed!

That is rubbnish the poor areas vote for the areas that will help the poor the rich areas vote for parties that help the rich.

Oh, fuck off – train services between London and Leeds / Manchester / Newcastle are reliable, and only Jeremy Clarkson and his acolytes claim otherwise. In general, the UK railway system is good – the only problem is it’s full-to-capacity.

18. Rob Knight

17: No, you fuck off. I very much doubt that you’ve made more North-South train journeys in the last year than I have. I’ve been caught out by all manner of service disruptions – this very weekend is much the same; it’s not possible to get from Manchester to London in anything under than 3 1/2 hours, with the best options being to go via Leeds or Doncaster. Not only is taking the train more expensive than driving, it’s also slower. I’m not saying that the whole thing is irreprably fucked, but it’s a long way from being perfect or even particularly good.

Last time I took the train up north (to Manchester) it was substantially quicker than driving. However, my opinion I freely admit is completely worthless, since anecdotal evidence usually is.

Much better, then, to look at the official punctuality figures, which show a steady rise in punctuality for several years now. In point of fact, the London-Manchester route in particular is seriously bothering airlines due at least partly to being far more reliable than air travel (which is rubbish, although doesn’t get the same publicity).

It’s also highly misleading to conclude from the experience when there *isn’t actually a rail service running* that the service isn’t particularly good. It’s reasonable to conclude that it isn’t particularly good at the weekends, and I suspect John would agree.

During the week, of course, London-Manchester rail times are about 2h 15, and if you can beat that in a car you’re the Stig, and I claim my five pounds. That’s an average speed of somewhere over 90 mph.

Finally, if your best option is to go via Leeds and Doncaster, that rather suggests the East Coast is, er, working, so getting to Leeds is about comparable to Manchester and Newcastle is about another 80 miles for a smidgen under three hours by rail. Again, I don’t think either are quicker by car without excessive speeding. On the other hand, Sunderland and Bradford are both nearly an hour further, and thus correspondingly less accessible.

Tom’s response being a slightly longer and more temperate version of my original.

Yes, the line to Manchester is still slow at the weekend, until the new timetable comes in at the end of this year. Luckily, tickets at the weekend are less expensive, making it cheaper than driving (£62 return / 15p per mile) even if you can’t get really cheap advance ones.

(also, the AA reckons 3h40 driving time each way)

“I hardly the think that Labour people have the right to get so het up considering that the most radical government since Cromwell’s has just been running the country for the past decade. ”

This is a joke, right?

If not, then you are an idiot who knows nothing about politics.

I think he must be using the term “radical” in the pejorative sense. As in “it’s radical so it must be bad, and vice versa”.

24. Rob Knight

Tom: point taken. When it’s working at full speed it’s pretty good. And perhaps my experience has been tainted by having been caught in both of the year’s two major engineering work screwups (New Year and Easter; New Year involved taking a train, then a bus, then ultimately 5 of us being put in a black cab from Birmingham to Liverpool, arriving at about 3am if I remember correctly, after the connecting train from Brum simply failed to appear). I’m not criticising the rail system because I think that the whole notion of rail travel is a waste of time, but rather because I’d like to see it further improved. Many European countries have rail networks that put ours to shame.

This is still a large part of the reason why new industries are clustered around the South-East, and a better transport infrastructure would go a long way to addressing the problems that the report mentions.

The South East already get’s huge extra subsidy from many govt dept’s that are never taken into effect when they quote the numbers spent on the regions across the country. Take the Ministry of Defence for a start. Where has the home of the British Army been for the last 50 odd years? Aldershot. And Sand Hurst for the Officer Class. Where is the home of The Royal Navy? Portsmouth. Where are the majority of major RAF bases? South east of England. Never mind all the jobs going at The Ministry of Defence. Then you have the vast majority of private firms who make all the kit. Most of them are in the South of the country.

Agriculture is another industry heavily subsidised, and many of these large Land Owners live in the South. Duke of Westminster for example.

This north/south argument is so laughable that it is exposed in the subtext of the PX paper, but the fact that the tories are deaf to the underlying truth is why they prove so divisive.

Tim Leunig defends himself as an independent academic and has done an amazing job to provoke debate with this discussion paper, so it would be a little more helpful to address the issues he raises.

The motor of economic development is proximity to markets.

So because many people are attached to a model of centrifugal market forces there is a common assumption that our capitalist model collects wealth and power close to London.

My feeling is that Leunig is actually making a case for an alternative model of decentralised development based on creating new markets, by enabling him to provoke attacks on the old-fashioned model of conservative capitalism by the association of PX to the neo-conservative tories.

Anyone who thinks there is a flat progression of wealth and power southwards would be shocked by the levels of real poverty that exists across the south. The appearance of relative inequality between the north and south hides the real deprivation in places like Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Swindon, Reading, Slough and Watford. Equally the rise of the BNP in Essex and Kent among working class sections of society shows how Labour is failing them in its model of development. And I don’t think I need to mention how London suffers, considering there is a map to look at above.

I find Prescott’s defence of Labour orthodoxy cynical in the extreme considering he is the principle agent who promoted the Thames Gateway scheme.

It shouldn’t be amazing that the prejudices of both left and right-wing are so easily exposed by smart liberal politics, but it is.

A blogger would probably have at least googled the name 🙂

This point is rather irrelevant. Its obvious to anyone that PE only publish stuff that agrees with their line of thinking and ideology. Can’t imagine them publishing anything otherwise, so the point isn’t whether a Libdem MP was involved. The point is how quickly and in what disguise this will become Cameron policy.

Rob you have made a good point about the RDAs. In fact there is a large class civil servants and advisers who do nothing to create innovative companies but just take money from the government. The problem is that economic development is undertaken by district, county and metropolitan councils, RDAs and Whitehall, whose employees mostly have no technical training , R and D and/or industrial experience .
Applying for European grants can be so complicated one needs to attend courses in order to learn how to complete the aplication forms. Even applying for funds from RDAs can be so complicated and the questions asked by the civil servants so absurd ,that one might as well raise the money by undertaking some bar work.

One aspect that needs to be addressed is the decline in scientific and technical education.

Top grades in maths and science A levels are largely being obtained by those attending public, grammar schools and a few comprehensives which are largely outside the North and particularly the industrial areas. Historically, northern grammar schools produced most of our top scientists and engineers. Has the creation of comprehensive education destroyed the production of World class scientists and engineers from the North and therefore hampered it’s industrial development? How many pupils from northern comprehensives in industrial areas are reading sciences or engineering at Russell Group universities today ,compared to the 1960s? In the 1960s most of the industrial companies such as ICI were run by grammar school boys.
If we want pupils to read engineering or science at Russell Group Universities and in particular at Oxbridge, UCl, Imperial, from comprensives in the industrial north, are the teachers good enough? In order to for a pupil to enter the top universities they will need at least 3 A Levels at grade A. How many comprehensives in the industrial north have teachers of Maths, Physics, Chemistry , Biology and Geography/Geology with degrees in these subjects from top universities and preferably with higher degrees
How may Nobel Prizes have been won by Northern universities in the first and last 20 years of the twentieth century?

When it came to engineering,many left school at 14 or 16 and started their training with an employer. The problem is that we no longer have polytechnics which offer degree level education in the evenings. Therefore a craftsman in their mid twenties with financial responsibilities may not be able to spend three years studying at university. Often the best engineers were those who had first completed an apprenticeship and then through evening study, attained Chartered Status of their engineering institution. .

Has the ending of grammar schools and polytechnics geared to scientific and engineering education through evening study ,made a major contribution to the decline in social mobility?

The problem with Labour is that they are happy discussing quantity, not quality. If one looks at the Industrial Revolution in the UK it was largely due to the activities probably of not more than 50 people over a period of 150 years. How many people have been responsible for the major developments in computers and the internet? How does one quantify innovation? As they say a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

“Where are the majority of major RAF bases? South east of England”

Yer what? Lots along the A1 (Wittering, Cottesmore, Leeming, Coningsby) lots in the Midlands and places like Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, quite a few in Scotland. The one place you don’t tend to find them is the actual south-east, although a lot of the non-flying centres are here, close to, well, the MOD and the politicians. The Eurofighter, of course, is built in Lancashire and flown out of Lincolnshire. If it could speak it would definitely have flat vowels.

This is all a result of the threat to the UK shifting round from France to Germany to Eastern Europe until it’s basically just the Russians popping over the top of Norway and down the North Sea. Obviously you’d want your planes in Scotland and the East Coast for that, rather than Tunbridge Wells.

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