Quote of the Day:
“Vote: the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.”
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
So, it has finally happened, there actually has been a political earthquake that all of us geeky political analysts can focus on rather than just whimsically predict.
Many of you have been asking where our insightful analysis has been in recent weeks (okay, two of you but that is at least plural). Quite frankly, we – particularly me – have been a little unclear about what to say other than predicting the end of the world, which, quite frankly, is getting repetitive and deeply unhelpful. So we decided to wait until we had something to say therefore, long-awaited by at least two of you, here it is. Apologies, it is lengthy but still only covers about 10% of what has happened recently.
“Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word”
Charles De Gaulle
At approximately 4am on 24th June, the world as we knew it changed. A once in a lifetime decision was made with ramifications which we cannot yet begin to comprehend. In one fell swoop the most successful peace project of all time was undone. After all, above and beyond economics, this is what the EU has always been about.
Instantly, the FTSE collapsed, exchange rates fell below inner earth and, worst hit, were property companies. All of the major housebuilders saw their values plummet and, within a fortnight, a host of property funds were frozen to prevent decimation.
We won’t really see the impact of this until MIPIM 2017 when it will be obvious by the quality of the champagne (or perhaps prosecco) and the weight of the invitation cards which get sent out, that we will really know how bad it is.
On a serious note, we are all preparing for recession, whilst hoping that Brexit doesn’t really mean Brexit and generally feeling embarrassed facing the outside world. Unless you voted to leave, in which case you are feeling excited about the prospect of a whole new series of trade agreements and 15% corporation tax rates.
Regardless, the economy is in a different position to 2007. Where we expect a dip, few people are predicting the catastrophic collapse of consumer and business confidence which we experienced then. What we are likely to see is a slowing of activity at least until the implications of Brexit becomes clear – and hopefully some certainty on a new deal with key trade partners is progressed.
On the transaction side, activity had already slowed in the run up to the referendum and is not about to pick up in the short term. Inevitably, this means that development and planning processes are likely to slow in the coming months.
So far, so straightforward. But, how does all of this marry with the fact that we have a new government?
“It was revealed in a government survey published today that the Prime Minister is doing the work of two men, Laurel and Hardy.”
So, for a while it looked like we could end up with Loathsome Leadsome as PM (I’m just repeating what a friend said). Whilst she is a marginally less terrifying prospect than Donald Trump as President it would have been another signal that the UK has finally lost its mind.
So, instead, we have Theresa May, sensible vicar’s daughter Theresa May. So sensible we were all looking forward to some beige governance. Her first move was to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Whilst most of us had to read that a few times to make sure it was real, it still didn’t make sense. One theory is that, whilst making notes next to various MPs names, Theresa wrote ‘F. Off’ next to BoJo and some hapless civil servant misinterpreted it.
Whilst many or us are horrified that, at a time when we need to show the world we are serious about our perception globally, we appoint someone who makes Jeremy Clarkson look politically correct, this could actually be part of a wider intention of PM May’s to allow the Brexiteers to be forced to come to the very public conclusion that Brexit is undeliverable. Johnson is joined by Liam Fox and David Davis to bring about Brexit in a way which is positive for the UK. Watch this space…
However, we must not forget that, aside from Brexit, the show must go on. And that means transport, housing, infrastructure, business, health and education (not climate change as apparently that doesn’t exist any more). Housing has already been declared as a priority – which was obvious when it was the last Secretary of State position to be filled.
Theresa May also made it clear from the beginning that she was going to pursue an agenda of social justice and a country which works for working people. Except for Junior Doctors, who she stuck a massive two fingers up to by re-appointing Jeremy Hunt. Although troll of the day went to Louise Mensche who called Green Party activist, Jonathan Barley a ‘scumbag’ and ‘loathsome tit’ for celebrating the alleged demise of Mr Hunt from his position. This would be par for the course if it weren’t for the fact that Mr Bartley was in hospital with his son waiting for a repeatedly delayed operation.
Some faces we have grown to manage to look at without automatically wanting to punch them have been booted out. Goodbye to Michael Gove who has presumably gone to whatever role his wife has applied for him .Goodbye also to George Osborne who, I can only assume, has headed up to Royal Troon in case he needs to stand in for his doppelganger Bubba Watson at any point.
So who is leading the charge on the domestic front and what do we think of them – obviously when I say ‘we’, I mean ‘me’ so this is a 100% subjective view.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer – Philip Hammond
The much needed safe pair of hands who the City likes and who hasn’t, so far, sent the economy even further below absolute zero. Hammond is a steady political operator, relatively uncontroversial and likely to seek a middle of the road approach to the finances of the country. Just a couple of issues so far – one, he insulted Scotland instantly by casting aspersions on their apparent independent ability to join the EU. Two, he has declared that he won’t be pursuing an austerity agenda. Now, we are assuming that George Osborne didn’t leave him a note saying that there was no money left, but I think we are all working on the basis that there is no money so if we aren’t looking at austerity, what are we actually looking at?
Hammond has steered clear of recommitting to George Osborne’s proclamation that Corporation Tax will be slashed to 15% or lower. Presumably he wants to review the books before promising things he cannot deliver.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – Sajid Javid
Previously SoS for BIS, Javid is a Minister with a strong business background. He is a pro-growth, pro-devolution, pro-deregulation individual who has previously declared his desire to see more housing growth and to push local authorities into progressing plans and increasing build rates. Except obviously in his own constituency where 2,000 homes which were proposed were clearly totally inappropriate.
In his immediate in-tray – other than a backlog of public inquiry decisions – is the forthcoming legislation on Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure. Whether and how this is taken forward will be a key insight into his likely approach. It may be that he is less accommodating of Neighbourhood Plans than his predecessor.
More pressing for the industry is what happens to some of the existing legislation – what of starter homes, the rigid approach to PDR and some of the other, Cameron/Osborne legislation. Don’t be surprised if some of these are quietly dropped, or simply not pursued.
Javid will be keen to show not just that he is focused on delivery, but that the government can deliver regardless of the impact of Brexit. Clearly, this is less to do with government and more to do with investor confidence but the stance of the government will clearly have an impact on this.
Secretary of State for Transport – Chris Grayling
One of Theresa May’s leading campaign hands, Chris Grayling was rewarded with a Secretary of State position. Although, given that he now has to deal with the decision on airport capacity (which presumably the government will take soon if they genuinely want to position the UK as serious about global trade). He also has to deal with HS2, not to mention Southern Rail and a lot of educated, vocal and angry commuters (at least one of whom will be reading this after her starring role bringing down the Southern Rail team on local tv).
Grayling has form in the transport department, having been Shadow Transport Secretary in opposition. He is known as something of an attack dog and good at delivering on an agenda.
Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – Greg Clark
After a few years at the helm of DCLG, Greg Clark has been moved to a new department which combines energy with business and adds industry – the first government to pay attention to industry for quite some time.
Clark is a strong appointment in this role and it continues his joint position overseeing cities and the devolution agenda.
One to watch here will be the evolution of industrial strategy, whether this actually has a formal role or is intermingled into policy overall – essentially, is government going to genuinely focus on industry or simply pay lip service?
Currently the opposition is too busy fighting with itself to bother fighting the Tories. Labour party branch meetings have been banned and members are currently trying to work out how to prevent either Jeremy Corbyn/Angela Eagle from standing (delete name as appropriate).
Now Corbyn has another headache, namely, how to fill new Shadow Cabinet posts when he doesn’t have enough people to fill the position as they were. Ultimately, it is too farcical to even waste energy on. However, it is a shame that, in a time when the country desperately needs an effective opposition, the so-called opposition is too busy reliving 1983 to bother to get involved.
No political analysis – however sardonic – can avoid paying attention to the anomie which seems to be seeping insidiously through our economic, political and cultural fabric. From the murder of Jo Cox, to the single biggest ISIS-led massacre in Iraq, to the hideous events in Nice earlier this week. We are experiencing a new social cleavage where raging against the establishment has spilt over into sinister forms of political action.
Now more than ever we need statesmen and women, not simply politicians.