Keir Starmer, No Head for (Brexit) Business?

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I am sure the 10s, if not 100s of 1,000s of those going out of business in the United Kingdom this year, because of Covid and, sotto voce, Brexit, share Starmer’s sentiment.

I am not so sure, as I have blogged previously, that those getting into difficulties, if not going out of business, because of Brexit are as enamoured of Starmer’s lack of concern for the growing socio-economic problems that Brexit is causing.

Starmer and Labour, more generally, continue to display an attitude bordering on callous indifference about the impact of Brexit on our society and economy whilst claiming they want to win over the support of the business community.

For the uninformed, like whoever wrote that Tweet for Starmer, the UK is made up of three nations, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and nine English regions.

I am assuming, for sake of argument, that Starmer is speaking of 1,200,000 new business start ups across the UK over the lifetime of a Parliament.

To put that into context, the Federation of Small Business has estimated that 200,000 small businesses will cease trading in 2021.

That is 200,000 actual businesses, employing flesh and blood people and paying tax into the UK Treasury whilst producing goods and services rather than 1,200,000 may bes, dreamt up by a Special Adviser.

Politicians are simple folk. They like targets like that set out in the Tweet.

Now for the reality.

You do not need to go out of your way to encourage people to start up a business, they do that perfectly well themselves, wrongly in a lot of cases.

It is arguably unethical, if not immoral to encourage folk, especially young people to set up in business. The attrition rate, the incidence of business failure, is astronomically high. A figure of at least 60% was quoted to me on Twitter a few months ago.

Labour’s New Deal for Young People in 1998 had no self employment option. You might make your way into self employment via the Employment Option, but it was not encouraged. Tony Blair was lobbied by the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, Fairbridge Young Enterprise and others so a Self Employment Option became formally part of the Employment Option.

A NDYP slogan was “There is no fifth option!” so the Self Employment Option became essentially 1A.

The routeway into it and the option itself were designed to deter applicants. Gordon Brown’s ethics won out on that occasion.

Too many new start ups fail and young people, in particular, should not be casually exposed to the consequences of failure, both psychological and material.

About fifteen or so years ago, Birmingham City Council paid a consultant to assess the return on the money they spent on helping businesses in the city. The consultant concluded that they got a bigger bang for their pound working with existing businesses, helping them expand and grow, than in encouraging new business start ups. Crucially, the jobs created by existing businesses were more likely to be sustainable than those generated by new enterprises.

I once heard Sir John Harvey Jones argue at a business event that only middle aged folk should consider starting up a business, ideally once they had paid off their mortgage, seen their children through university, learnt a little of life and similar.

It struck me as sound advice from the original Troubleshooter.

I would like to return to Starmer’s target and discuss the three year marker.

New business start ups tend to go through three phases:

Year One – We do not expect to make a profit.

Year Two – We hope to break even.

Year Three – If we do not make a profit by the end of this year, we are shutting up shop.

Most promoters of new business start up schemes understandably cite the Year One figures when promoting their initiatives.

Starmer’s 1,200,000 business start ups might at the end of their Year Threes turn into 480,000 business surviving into Year Four. However, we should not forget that the full impact of Boris Johnson’s Hard Brexit, that Starmer freely endorsed, has yet to be felt.

Let me make clear, I am not arguing against business support for those thinking of going self employed or setting up small businesses. However, I am counselling against a repeat of a Thatcherite policy of going out of one’s way to encourage start ups, coupled with providing, in too many cases, poor advice about the hardships of going into business for oneself.

The Thatcher era’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme paid successful applicants £40.00 per week for a maximum of 52 consecutive weeks. A formal review of the policy revealed that in East London, for example, folk were setting up window cleaning businesses and using the subsidy to undercut existing self employed window cleaners, putting some of them out of business. Of course, at the end of the 52 weeks the newbies had to up their charges, only to find themselves undercut by the newer window cleaners on EAS and so the cycle went on. The scheme was eventually scrapped.

I recall Esther McVey a few years ago as Minister for Work and Pensions waxing lyrical about a new version of the EAS.

What is it with the current crop of Tories and their nostalgic affection for proven failed schemes like the Work Programme (a thinly disguised take on Employment Zones), Freeports and Enterprise Zones?

Any way, it is not unusual for the self employed to earn less working for themselves than they might working for someone else.

Arguably being employed is less stressful than being the captain of your own enterprise, however humble it may be.

Starmer has Tweeted and spoken about wanting to create high (sic) skilled jobs. How he proposes to do that as businesses are losing contracts; moving operations and jobs abroad; laying off staff in the UK … remains a mystery.

But then as Starmer told The Guardian on the night before he whipped Labour MPs to back Johnson’s Hard, sorry, Slim Brexit deal, he did not expect Brexit to be an issue at the next General Election and he intended to focus in 2021 on the economy and the NHS.

The latest trade figures for 2021 show the UK’s export trade contracting due to Brexit.

The NHS currently has 100,000 unfilled vacancies.

In 2019, 5% of all those employed in the NHS were EU citizens.

In the West Midlands that figure rose to 10%.

Labour policy remains to not seek any major renegotiation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and certainly not to seek a return to the Single Market which would involve a resumption of Freedom of Movement.

Heaven knows where Starmer’s head is at, but until he accepts the reality of Brexit, Labour will never have a credible economic policy and definitely no chance of successfully wooing at least some of the business community to its side.

Urging folk who have gone out of business to start up new enterprises is down right unfeeling.

If Starmer is in need of suggestions as to how to proceed, ideas forged, in fact, in the business experience of Brexit then he need look no further than the UK Trade and Business Commission.

Starmer will need more than a Union Jack, his Letter to the Anglicans and a definition of family, requiring a detailed footnote …

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The Starmerites having been saying for a while that Labour need not rush into developing policy.

The General Election being years away, some thought even December 2024 being a possibility despite the Fixed Term Parliament Act setting it as the first Thursday in May 2024.

It did not enter their minds, as it had those of many others, that Johnson had the Parliamentary numbers to amend or repeal the Act and the inclination to do so.

The Act is to be repealed and there is now talk of a 2023 General Election.

Blair used his speech to Labour’s National Conference in October 1996, widely reported across all media, to set out the party’s stall for the upcoming General Election.

Starmer has less than eighteen months in which to prepare to copy Blair at Labour’s 2022 National Conference.

There is a view prevailing on social media that that is where elections are now won and lost.

I hesitate to read across from Biden’s campaign, but even as the pandemic raged, they took the decision to dial down the air war and dial up the ground war. You cannot campaign door to door with catchy graphics, flags and glib slogans.

The digital divide still exists, the older one is the more likely one is to vote and the less likely to be active online, let alone on social media.

Odds on the middle class/income earners are more active online and on social media.

We thought here in Birmingham that we had won back a once solid Labour council seat in 2016, based on the votes cast on polling day and then the postal ballots were brought out and counted. The Tories had worked, face to face, the local care homes.

They had won over enough older voters to make it a safe seat.

And we are none of us getting any younger in a society with an ageing population, ageing workforce and, disturbingly in the context of the red tape Brexit is piling on firms, an ageing business class.

You need substance on which to campaign and that is not to be found in Labour’s 2019 General Election Manifesto, if you are campaigning amongst the voters Labour claims to want to win back and the business community Starmer is desperate to woo.

Incidentally, not being complacent was very much part of Labour’s winning 1997 formula.

Levelling up has now been very much levelled down to attracting inward investment to places like Teesside in a time of Brexit.

Unintentionally, I am sure, Johnson has copied an element from Starmer’s New Year’s message for 2021, in having the Queen say, “My government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom.”

Unconvincing nonsense. The very substance of a 1990s style Corporate Mission Statement.

I seriously advise against assuming that the concerns of property owners across the UK, especially in the English South, Midlands and North are necessarily dissimilar.

According to someone writing in The Spectator a while back, the proles and plebs who live Oop North and own their own homes will not be concerned about new developments threatening the value of their homes and their aesthetic enjoyment of them, because, well, they are Northerners.

I gather there are Tory Ministers who share that view. Clearly, folk Oop North would only store their winter supply of coal in a conservatory or perhaps turn it into a pigeon loft?

As the Prince of Darkness, sorry, Lord Mandelson observed recently, scandal will start to crumble Johnson’s support, sleaze will get voters turning to Labour and asking, ok, what is your pitch?

Starmer will need more than a Union Jack, his Letter to the Anglicans and a definition of family, requiring a detailed footnote, with which to respond.

There’s one liberal mug born every minute. Thank goodness, says Boris Johnson …

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I had an interesting conversation the other day on Twitter with someone making a point about his concern over climate change.

I have long been of the opinion that to get the mass of voters behind tackling climate change, it is best not to talk about climate change. Many of the measures to address climate change are free standing, they are worth doing in themselves, even if Man Made Global Warming were not happening.

What is not to like about placing promoting energy efficiency at the heart of one’s energy, environmental and building policy, if it will create jobs and cut energy bills? Some of the jobs created may even be good, if your ideal is a job in a manufacturing firm on the shop floor.

Very much President’s Biden’s centrist approach.

That clearly appalled the chap with whom I was conversing. The moral argument needed making. I chose not to point out that his chances of winning that case were unlikely and that, even if he did persuade the sceptical of the existence of climate change it did not follow that they would necessarily support measures to actually tackle it.

Intriguingly, he felt that Labour under Starmer, captured by centrists naturally, was downplaying the issue whereas Johnson, who cannot think Green without blurting out bunny hugger and other such twaddle on the record in front of the world, was the real Green New Deal.

Setting aside the serious manner in which Labour started to tackle the issue when last in office, the sled dog hugger Prime Minister scrapped Labour’s plans for ever tighter building regulations that would by 2016 or thereabouts have required all new builds to be zero carbon in terms of emissions.

Has Johnson spoken of reversing that decision and more importantly, given that much of our housing stock for many decades to come has already been built the serious need to retrofit properties to make them more energy efficient?

If he has, I missed it.

The flim flam man is very adept at persuading chaps like my interlocutor on Twitter that he is one of them.

Johnson persuaded enough (middle class?) liberal voters in London to vote for him, twice (!), to make him their Mayor. You would have thought the evidence of his first term in office would have proven that Johnson’s rhetoric that had first won them over was mostly hot air.

Con artists, the world over, will tell you that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true. And the victims of cults and swindlers have a tendency to be brighter than the norm. It is also said that one may not diddle the honest.

Johnson in 2016 persuaded around 600,000 similar voters to that London mob to vote for Brexit and just get Leave over the line. Had they voted the other way then it would have been a dead heat.

Cummings is adamant that had Farage been front and centre of the Leave Campaign then those 600,000 votes would not have been won. Arguably, Farage would have not just repelled those voters, but put even more off voting Leave, too.

And had Corbyn, who has a lot more in common with Johnson than some clearly believe, openly voted for Leave …

Farage is not as gifted as Johnson in the art of the long game. I cannot imagine estate agents ever coming out against Johnson in the way they did against Farage in Thanet at the 2015 General Election.

Farage as your MP, the realtors warned, will negatively impact on the value of your property.

Johnson’s capacity to make the idealistic believe in him is quite a skill, especially when the reality, as is proved by his time as Mayor of London, is quite the opposite of the promise.

Of course, Johnson is not a liberal, in any sense, as is evidenced by the content of his various columns in The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator and The Times over around two decades.

But who mostly reads them? Johnson pitched his product adroitly to their relatively small readerships. Few who might take umbrage over Johnson’s unpleasant opinions are aware of them. I would hazard a guess that many of those semi-mythical Red Wall voters would find some of them hard to stomach.

Tom Newton Dunn is convinced by a chat he had with a rude mechanical Oop North, during the 2019 General Election Campaign, that Johnson’s lay ’em and leave ’em approach to relationships with the opposite sex is a vote winner amongst the Red Wall.

51% of the electorate are female. And, odds on, most are not enthralled by Johnson’s caddish behaviour.

It is noticeable that it is certain male journalists who not only find little of which to disapprove about Johnson’s personal life, but clearly rather envy it. And, as is quite often the case in such matters amongst columnists, they believe that they are a representative sub set of the opinion of the wider population.

Radicals and progressives should note that when Johnson’s opinions on Hillsborough became widely known it hurt his brand with those whom it is now claimed he has a special connection.

Johnson is vulnerable. The personal is the political, but dull, worthy dogs like Starmer prefer not to descend to highlighting the damaging, personal foibles of their opponents. Did he never as a lawyer use a witness’s character against them, if in doing so it would work in the favour of his client?

I imagine many a voter nodding in agreement when Cameron at PMQs upbraided Corbyn for looking scruffy.

Johnson offers such moments all the time, but Starmer as is his wont, as he has proven frequently since becoming Labour leader, prefers to watch the ball sail by.

He lacks the killer instinct.

George Canning, a Liberal Tory Prime Minister and a passionate supporter of de-colonisation (admittedly of the colonies of other nations, but we all have to start somewhere) …

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George Canning (1770 to 1827) is one of those what might have beens of British political history. He became Prime Minister on 12th April 1827 and died on 8th August 1827. By the time Canning was appointed Prime Minister, he was already in poor health and his tenure as Prime Minister was the shortest in the history of the United Kingdom at 119 days.

A Liberal Tory, a man who applied himself unstintingly to his work; a gentleman of whom it was said he could not hold a tea party without first devising a stratagem for the holding of it and a loving father, who cared deeply for his disabled daughter.

Canning “called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old”. He engaged in three decker diplomacy.

It was good for the growth of liberal democracy and for British trade. It was one in the eye for a Spain that had slipped back into its reactionary bad habits, but clearly not too much of a one for our oldest ally, Portugal, that it strained relations to breaking point.

President’s Monroe Doctrine, set out in December 1823, warned European nations that the USA would not tolerate further colonisation or puppet monarchs in the Western Hemisphere.

Without Canning’s active deployment of the Royal Navy to enforce it, the doctrine would have been a dead letter.

The Royal Navy’s physical presence in the Atlantic helped the former colonies of Spain and Portugal consolidate their independence.

In 2021, Johnson clearly dreams of being piped aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Singapore Harbour.

As ever, style over substance.

Canning not only understood the respective values of the iron fist and the velvet glove, but how to combine them effectively to deliver practical, ideological and humanitarian benefits and not solely in the interest of his country.

Trade somewhat as diplomacy by other means.

For too many Brexiteers, trade or more accurately the negation of it is becoming war by other means.

With the prospect of every new trade treaty being a rerun of Dunkirk.

When two articles go to war, a point is all that you can score …

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Boris Johnson wrote two reasoned articles on Brexit, one for and the other against, in early 2016, but only offered up the one for publication.

Within minutes of telling David Cameron they would wipe the floor with Leave, Johnson came out publicly for Leave.

A certain Boris Johnson, back in 2013, wrote in Churchillian style that, Mr Speaker, “If we left the EU … we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

Having got Brexit done, if you believe Brexit to be an event not a process, Johnson is not now turning his attention to addressing those over a century or more old fundamental flaws in our society and economy. In the 1900s, concern was being expressed about businessmen spending too much time on the golf course and not enough time at their desks.

You would think someone who might give master classes in sloth and who is addicted to easy gratification would appreciate how many millions in the UK are employed in the leisure and tourism industry?

Missing from Johnson’s wise words of 2013 is any reference to matters like judicial review or voter fraud.

Johnson wrote the two articles, one on Leave and the other on Remain to determine which campaign would best prove the one to propel him into Number Ten. I agree that to be evidence of a reasoned approach on his part albeit one steeped in self interest.

It is classic Johnson that having narrowly won the day for Leave that he then quit the field.

Leave never expected to win so had no plan as to what to do next. We have been paying the price for that lack of foresight ever since and look to be doing so for the foreseeable future.

I recently finished reading Robert Kee’s book, 1939: The World We Left Behind. He intentionally wrote the book in the context of the year with little or no reference to the events of succeeding years. This passage stands out:

“The quality of bright morning, in which anything, even something rather hopeful, might develop, disappeared from the face of the year (The London Evening Standard had run an optimistic leader as late as 10 March headed “Bright Morning”). Those who believed in a policy of appeasement, to be backed almost as an afterthought by preparation for its failure, now confronted the awkward reality that the afterthought was likely to be the most important part of their policy. Those who had so confidently attacked appeasement, maintaining that it could only lead to a disastrous outmanœuvring of the democracies, now found themselves faced by the disaster of their own prediction; and suddenly in this situation it was less comforting to have been proved right than it had been to maintain that they would be.”

History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes …

“Up to the Ides of March and Hitler’s occupation of Prague it had seemed that British public opinion was very marginally in favour of “appeasement” as Chamberlain had then been pursuing it. Not only did the opinion polls show him consistently commanding about fifty per cent of the British public’s support as Prime Minister, but a British Institute of Public Opinion poll published on the very day Hitler occupied Prague showed those who were actively opposed to appeasement as a distinct minority. Only twenty-four per cent thought that it was “bringing war near by whetting the appetites of the dictators”. But the poll also revealed some blurring of concept as to what appeasement actually was. It was positively approved of by twenty-eight per cent as “a policy which would ultimately lead to enduring peace”; but forty-six per cent thought it would “keep us out of war until we had time to rearm”.”

There is a desire in 2021 to rejoin the EU, but it is a minority one. There are signs of a growing wish to narrow the divide in practical terms between the UK and the EU.

“In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia, when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned against its own lethargy of the past seven years. Thereupon the people picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting.”

Thus wrote George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn in 1941.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of Appeasement in the late 1930s, it was way more popular than Leave was, even on the day of the referendum in 2016, I cannot recall anyone from that time who was on the electoral roll in 1939 and subsequently interviewed, outing themselves not just as an ardent Appeaser, but also an unrepentant one, too.

I suspect we will never come close to that with regards to Brexit, but there are growing signs of more people saying that Johnson’s self serving Brexit is not the one for which he urged them to vote.

Will the real Boris Johnson Mr Speaker, please, stand up?

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I am sure Boris Johnson will say in response to questions about the incidence of voter fraud or the need to put judges in their place, as he has done over the cost of a roll of wallpaper, that these are not really issues that matter to the voters. They want us to focus on their priorities, the People’s priorities.

What really matters to them from today’s Queen’s Speech, he will assert, is policy like his headlining skills revolution.

Because the voters love policies that on careful scrutiny turn out to be all fur coat and no knickers? Johnson’s stock in trade, in fact, as savvy London voters of the last decade or so will attest.

The scheme providing loans for adults wanting to retrain, announced to the media this morning seems to be a poorer version of a scheme the Government has just scrapped, Professional and Career Development Loans. It had had its uses, fairly limited in my experience, and had been around for about 30 years.

If the new scheme is only usable in the context of purchasing higher-level education and training at university or college then it is not as flexible as the PCDLs as they might also have been used to purchase courses provided by other public sector providers as well as companies in the private and voluntary and community sectors.

Politicians have an unfortunate habit of defaulting to universities and colleges when there is a wider range of provision from which to choose than just the two sectors and some of it is of better quality.

Still, if you are a semi-mythical Red or Blue Wall voter, who likes the idea of pegging back the judiciary then you are probably not well informed about the patchwork quilt of post 18 training and education that exists beyond where you took your C&G or passed your degree.

If the new scheme, like PCDLs, is administered through private sector banks then they will want good evidence that undertaking the course will improve your earnings potential and ability to repay the loan.

They will not just give you one on the off chance you may repay it. We do need to keep a tight grip on the public finances, eh, Rishi?

Under the old scheme now being wound down, “The government pays the interest while you study and for 1 month after you leave your course. After this time, you start repaying the loan and interest.”

And that included people on benefit, who, if they declined to pay might have a regular amount deducted, under Social Security legislation, at source.

The BBC tells us, breathlessly, that, “Businesses and trainers will be encouraged to target “local needs in sectors including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing”.”

Are businesses to be encouraged to have their employees take out loans for training from which, they, their existing employers will benefit?

However, a bank is not going to give you a loan for a course that does not make you more employable in the context of the labour market at the time you make your application for funding.

See me after the lesson for information on the jobs market in your locale.

I wonder, given potential capacity issues in the Further Education sector (with which I am more familiar than the Higher Education sector, except in the case of Turner v Birmingham Law Society over administrative recruitment in law firms), if this is not a sneaky way of reducing the FE sector’s reliance on central government funding by transferring the funding of course places from the taxpayer to the student?

At the beginning of 2020, Sajid Javid gave an interview to the FT, mostly about Brexit, but he did at one point wax lyrical about tarting up some FE Colleges, Oop North. When asked if that would mean more courses, too. He said no. The Government did not want to commit to long term increases in revenue expenditure.

Soapy Sunak, the conman hidden in plain sight, has taken up the same position. In fact, he has now cast himself in the role of a cheeseparing 19th century Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He wants to balance the books.

Dicken’s Fat Boy from Pickwick Papers only wanted to make your flesh creep.

Will the new loan scheme extend to funding for more tutors, because unless there are regularly spare places going begging on existing courses there will be of necessity a cap on the number of loans?

No course place?

Computer says, no loan.

The last thing the country needs, incidentally, is a scheme that might encourage employers in all sectors of our economy to spend less of their own money on ongoing training for their own staff and new recruits.

A certain Boris Johnson, back in 2013, wrote in Churchillian style that, Mr Speaker, “If we left the EU … we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

Johnson’s skills revolution is not in any way a credible response to those challenges.

You would think someone who might give master classes in sloth and who is addicted to easy gratification would appreciate how many millions in the UK are employed in the leisure and tourism industry?

Missing from Johnson’s wise words of 2013, describing as they do century old or more fundamental flaws in our society and economy, is any reference to matters like judicial review or voter fraud.

Measures on such matters may, quite rightly, not be, in Johnson’s opinion, the People’s priorities, despite being included in today’s Queen’s Speech, in the same way that he felt leaving the EU was not a priority or an answer to any serious problem facing our country in 2013.

Would the real Boris Johnson Mr Speaker, please, stand up?