Short analysis of where the three front runners stand

One of the factors that makes the flow of supporters in this leadership contest so unpredictable is that none of the leading candidates fit into neat boxes. 

From Politico:

Mordaunt is progressive on social issues but is also a Brexiteer who refused to endorse Theresa May’s Chequers plan.

Truss models herself on Margaret Thatcher, has long been an unapologetic advocate for tax cuts in Cabinet and is a foreign policy hawk — but used to be a prominent Remain campaigner.

Sunak is in some ways the continuity candidate — having been the second-most-powerful person in government for over two years — but is despised by those around Johnson. And while he’s reluctant to bow to pressure on tax cuts, those who know him say his instincts are most aligned with the Tory right, which is now trying to stop him from winning.

Liz isn’t fizzing – Tory press turns on PM4PM

Desperate scramble to reunite the Tory right – though “right” is a relative term as it becomes pretty clear the Tories are swinging to the right in this contest in any event.

The snap poll of 876 Conservative Party members (by Yougov on Wednesday), who will decide between the final two candidates to replace Boris Johnson, showed Penny Mordaunt ahead on 27%. Second place was Kemi Badenoch on 15%, followed by Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on 13% 

In the event that Ms Mordaunt does not make the final round, Ms Truss would beat Mr Sunak by 67% to 28%.

Looks like Simon Jupp is backing a loser! – Owl

From the BBC’s review of the news headlines:

Many of today’s papers are leading on scrutiny being directed at Conservative leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt by supporters of her rival Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

“Knives out for Penny!” says the Daily Express – after Ms Mordaunt again performed well in the latest round of the leadership race. The paper says there’s now a “determined bid” among Ms Mordaunt’s critics to “wreck” her hopes of becoming prime minister.

There’s ample evidence of this in the Daily Mail, which sports the headline, “Mordaunt under the Microscope”. It also devotes 10 pages to the contest and describes in detail the claims her enemies have made about her.

The paper raises questions about her attitude to women and transgender issues, the free press and her Royal Navy credentials – as well as suggesting that she was a “part-time minister”.

She is also condemned by Lord Frost, a prominent backer of Liz Truss, who writes in The Telegraph that a government led by her could not succeed.

The Guardian thinks the contest is becoming “increasingly acrimonious” and that rival Tory camps are aiming their fire at Ms Mordaunt.

The i believes her rivals fear her popularity among the grassroots – who will choose the winner from the final two candidates. The paper carried out polling suggesting the public prefer her to Liz Truss and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak – even though she remains relatively obscure among voters.

The Mail’s sketch-writer, Henry Deedes, believes Ms Truss gave a true-blue message during her campaign launch on Thursday – but her presentation remains a work in progress. Her “joints could do with a squirt of oil,” he says.

The Financial Times notes the foreign secretary mistimed her entrance at the event and failed to remember the way out – symbolising a campaign struggling to find its bearings.

Macer Hall, the political editor of the Daily Express, believes the party’s low-tax, free-marketeer wing is paying the price for disunity and there is now a desperate scramble to reunite the right.

The Times’ editorial welcomes the upcoming TV debates, saying the candidates need to be subjected to forensic scrutiny to establish which of them is genuinely up to the job.

SWW slammed with rock bottom rating due to eco concerns

South West Water is now the joint worst performing company among England’s nine water and sewerage firms.

Maybe its bosses should spend less time writing “greening” reports for “the Great South West” and concentrate on the day job.

Owl has previously expressed a number of concerns about the leading role played in “the Great South West” project by the Pennon Group

William Telford

South West Water has been given a rock bottom one-star rating for its environmental performance with the Environment Agency calling for its boss to face prison if there is a serious pollution incident. The Exeter-headquartered company, which supplies Plymouth, is now the joint worst performing company among England’s nine water and sewerage firms.

South West Water (SWW) and Southern Water received just a one-star rating in the Environment Agency’s (EA) four-star rating system. SWW, part of the Pennon Group Plc, lost the two-star rating it had held since 2016. It has never been higher than a two-star company.

Susan Davy, SWW chief executive, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the downgrading and vowed to make improvements and take the firm to four-star status. She said: “This is not where we want to be. I want to reassure our customers that the investments and changes we are already making across our network are delivering real results, including a one-third reduction in pollution incidents last year to the lowest number in 10 years.

“One pollution is one too many, and that’s why we are committed to bringing this down further year on year by strengthening our round-the-clock response, increasing resourcing levels by 25%, and investing £330m over the next three years in our wastewater network. However, we know there is significant progress still to make.”

The EA said the environmental performance of the water providers in 2021 was “the worst we have seen for years” and called for courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents – and for prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the worst spills’.

The EA also wants company directors to be struck off after illegal environmental damage so they can’t get promotions and move on with their careers. The agency said fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than what a chief executive is paid.

Most companies’ performance declined, the new report said. Four companies – Anglian, Thames, Wessex and Yorkshire Water – were rated only two stars, which means they require significant improvement. The agency’s annual environmental performance report found serious pollution incidents increased to 62 in 2021, the highest total since 2013, with eight of the most serious category one incidents, compared with three in 2020.

Ms Davy said: “EPA assessment criteria are rightly becoming more stringent and customer expectations are increasing, reflecting the need for us to go further and faster in protecting and enhancing the UK’s natural environment. We remain committed to becoming a four-star EPA-rated company by the end of 2024.

“At the same time, we continue to take action on wider environmental issues that matter most to our customers, including on areas that are not included in the EPA assessment such as storm overflows and coastal bathing water quality. Earlier this year, we achieved 100% coastal bathing water quality for the first time across the South West’s 860 miles of coastline. In April, we launched WaterFit, our new plan for healthy rivers and seas, which will see South West Water dramatically reduce its use of storm overflows, maintain our excellent bathing water quality standards all year round, and remove our impact on river water quality by 2030.

“Since becoming CEO nearly two years ago, delivering our plans to protect our natural environment has been a key priority for me. South West Water is fully committed to playing its part in protecting and enhancing our rivers and seas now and in the future.”

In June water regulator Ofwat launched an investigation into SWW after becoming concerned about the way a sewage treatment works is operated. The company was added to a growing list of water suppliers to come under the microscope as the watchdog probes how wastewater companies manage their treatment works.

With tax cuts pledges galore, the Tories are out of touch with economic reality

Imagine for a second that it was Labour rather than the Tories choosing the next prime minister. Consider what the response would be if the hopefuls said it would be no problem to find an extra £30bn to tackle poverty or an additional £40bn for the NHS, and vied with each other to come up with the most ambitious spending pledges.

Larry Elliott, Guardian’s economics editor 

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the response from the Conservatives and the Conservative-supporting papers would be. At the very least, there would be questions asked about how the plans would be financed. More likely there would be warnings of a run on the pound and imminent economic meltdown. The headlines would read something like: “Loony left plans to bankrupt Britain”.

Funnily enough, a different view is taken of the deep and immediate tax cuts now being promised by almost all those bidding to replace Boris Johnson. To those egging on the candidates, these are not reckless fiscal incontinence that will give the City the jitters. They do not represent voodoo economics, in which tax cuts pay for themselves. If you think the Tories in the summer of 2022 are in a similar place to where Labour was in the 2019 general election campaign, you could not be more wrong. As far as the right is concerned, tax cuts are the only way to grow the economy and make Britain great again.

This is wrong on many levels, but let’s begin with the idea that there is something wildly dangerous about the level of taxes in the UK. International comparisons produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development show that last year tax revenues as a share of national income across its rich-country members stood at 32.9%. The figure for the UK was 32.8%.

To be sure, the UK’s tax take is rising and is on course to be the highest since Clement Attlee was prime minister, but this is to cover two developments: a pandemic and upward pressures on spending caused by an ageing population. The baby boomers are getting on a bit, and this has implications for spending.

A quick glance at the OECD international tax table shows the range of options. Countries that have generous welfare states are high-tax. Countries that have rudimentary welfare states can be low-tax. No countries have Swedish levels of public spending and US levels of tax.

There are those on the right who know this and are honest enough to spell out that the logic of lower taxes is a smaller state, with people expected to contribute more to their own welfare, whether through payments for healthcare or less generous state pensions.

The rank outsider Kemi Badenoch is really the only one of the candidates for Johnson’s job prepared to argue that trade-offs between tax and spending might need to be made. Even Rishi Sunak, who has billed himself as the fiscally prudent choice, says tax cuts are a matter of when not if.

To the extent that there is an economic strategy, it is that cutting taxes will pay for themselves because they will lead to faster growth and higher revenues for the Treasury. This, supposedly, is what worked for Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but it is simply untrue.

Cuts in income tax made by the incoming Thatcher government in 1979 were offset by higher VAT. Taxes were raised when the economy was deep in recession in 1981. It was only after several years of growth and a marked improvement in the public finances that income tax rates were cut. Until 1988, the top rate of income tax was 60%.

The idea that personal tax cuts are a magic bullet that will give the economy its mojo back and solve the cost of living crisis also represents a serious misdiagnosis. Britain has serious economic problems, but they are mostly long-term and structural rather than short-term and fixable through an injection of consumer spending power.

The reason inflation is heading for 10% and the trade deficit is ballooning is that supply is failing to keep up with demand, and the only way to deal with that is to address the UK’s chronic deficiencies in skills, investment and infrastructure. Tony Danker, the director-general of the CBI, is quite right when he says personal tax cuts would only make inflation worse, and that if there are to be any they should be designed to boost investment and be part of an overall growth plan. Lower taxes would almost certainly lead to the Bank of England becoming more aggressive with interest-rate increases.

There are, of course, other ways of spending more while taxing less. One option would be to borrow more – something that could just about be done while sticking to the government’s own rules, but which leaves little wriggle room should the economy continue to struggle.

Another option would be to print more money. According to the advocates of modern monetary theory (MMT), governments that issue their own currency do not need to rely on taxes or borrowing to cover their spending because they can print all they need up until the point when inflation becomes a problem.

It is reasonable to assume that in the current circumstances, with inflation already standing at 9.1%, none of the wannabe prime ministers is going to come out in favour of MMT. That, though, means they need to come up with a coherent explanation of why tax cuts are needed and how they would be paid for. So far there has been plenty of magical thinking and not much else.

Seaton beach trials disabled access ahead of possible roll-out across East Devon

Wheelchair users and disabled people can now easily access Seaton beach thanks to a purpose-built path across the pebbles.

Becca Gliddon 

The pilot project launched this week with the installation of an 85-metre platform made of specially-designed plastic and aluminium fitted on the beach.

The aim of the new path is to give greater access to those who find navigating the pebbles a problem.

The track could be extended in both directions if the pilot project proves a hit.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) said the path was already in use – saying the track had enabled a Seaton resident to access the beach for the first time in a decade.

The track was installed after a group of disabled and physically impaired people lobbied EDDC and Seaton Town Council (STC).

EDDC Councillor Geoff Jung said he hoped the track scheme could be rolled out across other East Devon beaches ‘as soon as possible’.

Councillor Amrik Singh, Seaton mayor, said: “Seaton Town Council appointed Nicky Dack as its ‘Disability Champion’ to assist the town council  in making small adjustments around the town to make it more accessible for all.

“The beach matting is a great addition to the beach and complements the town’s wide accessible promenade and upcoming free summer beach school for local children, with one-to-one sessions available to accommodate all needs. Seaton is the town where everyone is welcome.”

Dan Ledger, EDDC and STC Councillor, said: “It’s great to see this pilot programme come forward.

“From Nicky’s original idea to the reaffirmation of its need from the public consultation and then partnership working from all three levels of local authority to make it happen.

“It really is a story of success and working together to deliver for tangible changes for the public.

“Hopefully, the scheme is a great success and work can then begin on gaining funding for a further extension.”

The project came was made possible thanks to joint funding from EDDC, STC and Councillor Marcus Hartnell’s Devon County Council locality budget.

If the pilot proves successful EDDC plans to seek extra cash to extend the length of the path in both directions.

The Tuff Trac path is being closely monitored to ensure it is set up in the most effective way, EDDC said.

Marcus Hartnell, Seaton deputy mayor EDDC Councillor, said: “I’m really pleased to support this project with my locality budget.

“Making our beach more accessible will mean that many more people can enjoy spending time during the summer with friends and family and not feel excluded.

“I’d like to thank our local disability champion Nicky Dack who suggested this idea to councillors last year and I very much look forward to working with her and others to deliver more initiatives like this that will make Seaton more accessible.”

Jack Rowland, ward Councillor, said: “Having been involved in the initial meeting with Nicky Dack and other residents and listening to their concerns I’m really pleased to see this track matting installed.

“This is evidence of all three levels of local government, at town, district and county, working together to research, cost and finance this initiative and all credit to the EDDC beach safety officer Pete Blyth and the team behind him for bringing this to fruition.”