Diary

ConHome Diary: Fish, Leaks and the Art of Chief Whippery

23 Mar 2018 at 12:57

I don’t know the new government chief whip Julian Smith, but if reports from a meeting held this week by him for Scottish Conservative MPs and others on fishing rights, he’s going to have his work cut out if he is to maintain party disciple over the 21 month Brexit transition period. I don’t remember a private meeting like this ever having leaked before, but he is reported to have wondered aloud why the MPs there were so concerned given “fishermen don’t vote Labour”. If he really does think that, let alone be willing to articulate it, it is nothing short of a disgrace. No group of voters should ever be considered beyond the reach of the Conservative Party. In addition, as chief whip it is his job to show he understands the concerns of his flock, even if he disagrees with the point they are trying to get across. The more worrying aspect of this encounter, though, is that one of the MPs present felt it was OK to leak details of what was said. It’s unprecedented for an MP to leak details of meetings with a chief whip in this manner. But it also indicates a lack of control on the part of the whips’ office. A grip needs to be got, and quickly.
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In terms of the substance of the issue anyone will sympathise with the fishing industry. They had been led to believe that they would be free from the shackles of the Common Fisheries Policy on 29 March 2019, and now it won’t happen until 1 January 2021. Their main beef is that in the next two quota rounds, Britain won’t have a seat at the negotiating table. You can see why they would be concerned, but on the other hand, having a British seat there hasn’t made an awful lot of difference for the last 45 years, has it? Michael Gove’s only defence is that they should have their eye on the main prize, and that it’s not too long to wait until we can totally take back control. Up to a point. Does anyone seriously think that we won’t negotiate away some access to European fisherman as part of the free trade deal?
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So the Pound is now 1.15 against the euro, its highest level since the referendum, and 1.42 against the dollar. It’s been creeping up in recent months, which partly accounts for the significant drop in inflation in February. Brexiteers need to remind people of this, given that Remainers are still peddling the narrative that the Pound is still 20% lower than it was in June 2016. Fact: in mid June 2016 the Pound was around 1.26 against the euro. Currently 1.15 against the euro, it’s down around 8%. Against the dollar it was 1.44 in mid June 2016 so it’s recovered virtually all its ground. These are inconvenient facts to Remainers, but that’s what they are: FACTS.
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When I read that the new British blue passports are to made by a French company it was a real #facepalm moment. Apparently in the tendering process ministers, under EU law, aren’t allowed to know the identity of the bidders and when they sift through the three bid documents any identifying information has to be blanked out. There were three bids, one from the current British suppliers, one from Germany, and the winning French one. Ministers will protest that their hands are bound. You have to ask what the point of being a politician is nowadays if they are not allowed to choose a British company to make British passports. Still, all that will change on 1 January 2021. It will, wont it? Won’t it? Or will part of the price of a free trade deal be maintaining EU procurement rules? It had better bloody not.
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I really do fear for the future of the British high street. Every week we hear of a chain of shops going out of business or reporting poor results. This week it was the turn of Moss Bros. I don’t know how typical I am of shoppers, but I buy virtually everything I need online nowadays. I’ve even started buying shoes and suits online having found two brilliant suppliers whose customer service is outstanding. Coogan London and Empire Outlets, since you ask – and no I’m not being paid or given freebies to promote them. I can’t remember the last time I went into my bank. I do all my banking online. My partner tends to do the supermarket shopping (thank God), but on the rare occasions I run out of toiletries, I will order them in bulk online. If a 55 year old like me is doing this, then you can bet that a very high percentage of teenagers and people in their twenties are doing exactly the same. In general, people will always make rational economic choices, and if they get a good service at a cheaper price, they will continue to shop online. Amazon led the way in this regard, and continue to do so. The trouble is, they have created a virtual online monopoly in terms of bookselling, and they’re now trying to do the same in other retail sectors. The reason for their success is that they are almost 100% reliable and offer products cheaper than you can get them elsewhere. It’s a winning combination. However, their trading terms with suppliers leave virtually no room for negotiation, and in the end, if they push too far on purchase price they may find they end up killing the geese that have laid their golden eggs.

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