“24 hours is a very long time in politics and this week will feel like an eternity”

Me to Dotty McLeod on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this morning. Above – a screengrab from the spoof ad from Juice Media in Australia on the shambles that was Boris Johnson’s administration. Watch the video here. Are things even worse now?!?!

It’s never straight forward to try and give a non-party-political assessment of the political and economic catastrophe happening at the moment but that was the challenge I was given at 8am this morning.

Have a listen here from 2hrs10mins in.

I’ll leave you to be the judge of how well I managed. The opinion polls make for grim reading for ministers.

Some of you may remember people complaining about Sir Keir Starmer struggling in the polls in the face of Boris Johnson and later on Liz Truss – wondering whether there would be a leadership contest. Part of it was from the frustration of wanting the Labour leader to lay into his opponents in ministerial office much more firmly than he had been. I was one of them. In the face of what we had all been through, we wanted to some real passion – and also far fewer avoidable self-inflicted errors. Don’t think the problems for the Labour leader have gone away – they haven’t. As the friction over candidate selection is indicating.

A change of tactic – amplifying the Conservatives’ own mistakes in their own words.

I cannot recall an election campaign like it – one where video and audio of statements by senior politicians have been used against them by their political opponents. The video and audio is far more powerful than the printed word on a leaflet, or even the quotation repeated back by an opponent.

Above – where a political party can simply invite the public to press ‘play’ and come to their own conclusion. No party political hard-sell is needed when a party in government is like this.

“What is the point of the Conservative Party – in particular this one, in Government?”

Russell Howard asked the same question – and this was last week which feels like ages ago.

This is a question put by Joxley Writes – who describes himself as right-of-centre.

“The problem is that they no longer understands why or to what end they wield such power. Those on the left would be shocked by how apolitical most of the Conservative Party is. There is no theory in conservative politics. I suspect no more than a handful of Tory MPs have ever read Burke or Hayek, unless they cropped up on a PPE reading list.”

He goes on to state:

“Many MPs come to parliament without any real belief than a view that “good things are good, and we should do more of them, and bad things are bad”. I’ve met less than half a dozen mainstream Tories who could be classed as ideologues.”

Joxley Writes

What’s even more striking about the above given events of the past week, is that he wrote the above back in August 2022. Since then, the ideology that has driven Brexit, turbo-charged by the Tufton Street chaps, has been absolutely rinsed by the global financial markets in full view of the whole world. So much so that even the BBC – which has spent years uncritically giving a platform to representatives of organisations based there, felt compelled to run a more critical article on them here. More interestingly, Conservative MPs have been even more strident in their criticism of that wing of their party.

Above – the Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP (Cons – Harlow)

The scale of the financial catastrophe is made all the more sobering by the comment from the new Chancellor to Channel 4 News.

“It’s very frightening for people and you’ve got nothing reassuring to say.” Krishnan Guru-Murthy to the Chancellor of the Exchequer

“I don’t think I do… that’s a fair comment.” Chancellor Jeremy Hunt MP in response

Channel 4 News 17 Oct 2022
“Is this the end for neo-liberal economics in the same way the fall of the Berlin Wall was the end for communist economics?”

That’s a very good question – one for the academics to debate. The reason why this interests me is because when I first started studying economics in the mid-1990s, the curriculum and the teachers were very clear that ‘command economy economics’ had failed, and that neo-liberal economics was the only game in town. During my year out (as I called it then) between A-levels and university, I spend just under a year working in a back office for a major bank that had a regional branch in Cambridge. It was in international trade. I saw the good, bad, and ugly of working in finance. It wasn’t a glorious job – it was data inputting. But I learnt the essentials of how finance oiled the wheels of international trade, and how goods got from one part of the world to the UK, and money heading in the other direction. I also got a glimpse of the sorts of good that were being imported – because we could not release documents for importers to collect the goods until they had paid for them. That meant I got to see all of the packing lists – wondering who would want to buy half the stuff being imported, more than a few container-loads could only be described as ‘junk’ and are probably decomposing very slowly in some landfill somewhere.

Anecdotally the mood of the country seems to have turned.

The best analogy of what has happened was that of the impact of higher interest rates caused by the now-scrapped tax cuts for rich people compared with higher insurance premiums after a car crash. Just because the policy has been scrapped does not mean the damage can be undone. It cannot. Rhondda MP Chris Bryant summarises the list here.

Many of the things that Mr Bryant lists will have – and are already having a cumulative impact on consumer spending – it is falling. In economics at a national/macro level, all of these are massive hits to aggregate demand. Combine that with rising food prices – of which we’ll inevitably see more because of the climate emergency, means we run the risk of stagflation – a stagnating economy combined with rising inflation. This is made even worse by rising energy costs – which hit both supply (costs of production) and demand (people have to spend more on energy bills so have less disposable income). Combine that with the re-run of the bankers’ bonuses, excessive corporate pay – especially with the privatised utilities in the face of polluted rivers, and the Conservatives face a bleak future unless somehow they can turn things around.

Wipeout in the local elections 2023?

There are a huge number of district councils across England that have these looming in May – so just over seven months time. Which could be interesting.

Above – from WikiP – local elections 2023. The district council elections (purple) are particularly interesting because these are Conservative heartlands. A number of the unitary councils – especially the ones over larger geographical areas have only recently been established. The district councils in rural areas are normally solid Tory-voting councils – such as East Cambridgeshire and Fenland District. However, East Cambridgeshire is almost certain to turf out the Conservatives if local residents have been hit hard financially by the national economic crisis. Electoral history tells us that. The same has happened with Labour in some of their safe seats when the party has been at its most divided whether in opposition or in government.

The proposed Cambridge Congestion Charge – will this complicate things?

The consultation documents for the Greater Cambridge Partnerships Cambridge Access proposals are now up.

Transforming the bus network: From as early as mid-2023, we’re proposing to transform the bus network through more services to more locations, with cheaper fares set at £1/£2.

Creating a Sustainable Travel Zone: We are proposing the introduction of a Sustainable Travel Zone in the form of a road user charge on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council. Vehicles would be charged for driving within the Zone between 7am and 7pm on weekdays, and money raised would fund improvements to the bus network and other sustainable travel schemes. The Zone would be fully operational in 2027/28 but only once the first bus improvements are introduced.”

Greater Cambridge Partnership Consultation – Making Connections 2022

Let’s face it, the Sustainable Travel Zone is a congestion charging area. Rather than having a rush hour congestion charge, it looks like a 12 hour daytime charge on week days. The proposals have polarised the city and surrounding towns and villages. Understandably so.

Those in favour of the Sustainable Travel Zone

All of the above have joined together to form The Cambridgeshire Travel Alliance.

Those against the Sustainable Travel Zone

“What’s your view on the congestion charge?”

My view? In principle I favour it. What I have issues with is the sequencing of what needs to be put in place in terms of infrastructure and working systems for employees before such a charge is brought in.

Therefore I cannot see a congestion charge/road user fee/ call it what you want, being successful in reducing traffic and pollution without the following:

  • A comprehensive network of segregated cycleways and footpaths involving the re-designation of existing roads in Cambridge that are not just focused on commuting, but linking communities and services too
  • A light rail network that has a limited tunnel section below Cambridge’s city centre – and one that can be extended to form light rail loops that can link towns and villages to each other. (Scroll to the end here to see a Greater Peterborough & Fenland example)
  • Out-of-town freight exchanges to enable small packets to be delivered for their last mile by cycle/e-couriers on micro-transport. i.e. not vans and lorries
  • Park-and-Light-rail stops at Motorway and dual carriageway junctions with coach driver facilities combined with a ban on tourist coaches and tourist traffic – with free/reduced fees for coach drivers bringing in more than a given number of visitors. (Say 20). This would have the function of a ‘tourist tax’.
  • Comprehensive programmes of community training on cycling and using e-bikes
  • And finally… ….an overhaul of local government in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – ideally as part of a nationwide overhaul for England.
“You could be around for a very long time for the last of those points!”

It’s in the “too difficult pile” with no one touching it since the Poll Tax debacle. I have digitised a number of archived documents from decades gone by from the 1960s & 1970s for anyone interested. These include:

If you are in a political party, you may want to refer the links of these to your party’s policy makers at their HQ. Because quite simply Cambridge and Cambridgeshire have been flailing around within the existing systems and structures of local government and it has been found wanting time and time and time again.

If, after the next generation we don’t get real and substantial devolution, we’ll be stuck with government from Whitehall. Having been one of the civil service administrators both in regional and in central government, I can tell you now that trying to manage and oversee so many different parts of England from an office in London is no fun for anyone. You get huge diseconomies of scale and so many blockages in decision-making. Far better to devolve the budgets and powers to a local government tier that has been properly invested in (especially in the skills of councillors and officers, and in civic society in understanding how local democracy and local public services function) and let them get on with it.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

%d bloggers like this: