Blog - Archive
10th June 2019
“Tack to the right to get selected……..”
Hearing Boris Johnson espousing One Nation Conservatism in one breath and No Deal - Hard Brexit in the next, some of the quotes about the colourful and ultimately calamitous United States President Richard Nixon quickly spring to mind. On occasion Nixon was derided as a “political weathervane” and a “dedicated phony”. Radio show host Clarence Manion dismissed him as: “.. an unpredictable, supremely self-interested trimmer .. has never been anything else”. Harsh words, but understandable in the context of a man whose campaigns for office were allegedly driven by a principle of “tack to the right to get selected, tack to the left to get elected”.
Just as Nixon needed to court and convince the Republican right to secure the Presidential nomination, so Boris Johnson knows that he has to win the hearts, and votes, of the Conservative Party membership to become Prime Minister. He cannot allow himself to be outflanked by the Euro-sceptic flag carrier Dominic Raab, and he must at all times be conscious that lurking in the wings is the keeper of the Hard Brexit flame, Steve Baker, who has made clear his willingness to join the race if the apparent No Deal frontrunner at any stage appears to be shying away from the current October 31st finishing post.
The natural champions of what many might see as a more considered and rational approach, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Environment counterpart Michael Gove, have both learned the hard way in the last few days that any attempt to try and compromise on the Halloween exit date, is, judging by Conservative membership social media posts and commentary, the political kiss of death. Boris knows that to win the ballot of his Party’s membership, he has to be the more Euro-sceptic candidate of the final two. That is where he is positioning himself.
It is easy for the uninformed, and in some cases downright lazy, commentariat to dismiss the Conservative Party’s maybe 150,000 members as “pale, male and stale”. It is an unfair generalisation, but in terms of age and demographic profile not entirely without substance. It ignores the profile achieved by the LGBT lobby within the Party – just look at how many Conservative MPs are today openly gay. And it ignores the number of non-Caucasian MPs and members the Party now has. Conservative women have long since ceased to be cake bakers and tombola ticket sellers. This is the Party that has given us two female Prime Ministers and a host of women in senior Cabinet roles. Of the current leadership candidates, three came from ethnic minority backgrounds, two are women, and yes Mr Corbyn, one is proudly from a family of Jewish refugees. So, the stereotypical dismissal of the Conservative Party membership is idle, and wrong.
But all the evidence points to the fact that amongst that membership, the importance of Euroscepticism is more deeply engrained than ever before. Irrefutable evidence also tells us that the country was, and continues to be, split from top to bottom on Brexit. Differing electoral systems and varying methods of statistical presentation can effectively tell the story anyway the reader wants to read it. But little has changed since the referendum three years ago. There is no convincing evidence to suggest that a second referendum would produce anything other than a very similar result to the first one. Just that it would divide the country even further.
Next week Conservative MPs start eliminating the initial contenders. As of today, there are only six with any serious chance, perhaps only four. The process of narrowing the field to two at the moment looks like a race to the Euro-sceptic bottom. There is every chance that history will show that our next Prime Minister was selected (not elected) by a simple binary choice made by the perhaps 75,000 Tory Party members who back the winner, and whose sole determining factor was “who will stick to a pledge to have us out by the 31st October come what may?”
Convincing those members that you are the one who will honour that pledge requires some very emphatic commitments. Boris’s recent campaign launch video shows him making just those promises. He did so again in his speech to the One Nation group earlier this week. If that is the demonstrable basis on which he wins the ballot of Conservative Party members, he will then be in a position where he can’t row back without being branded a liar and a fraud, selected on a series of cynically false promises. That scenario would have Mr Farage eyeing the door to No 10.
With a Parliament still overwhelmingly dominated by MPs who either quietly wish to Remain, or who slightly more loudly maintain that a better deal can be secured, or the conversation extended, we live in interesting times.
For business, for the country, and for those who advise clients on likely political outcomes, times have indeed never been more interesting, or more challenging.
There is a plethora of views – but anyone who proclaims certainty, frankly, hasn’t got a clue!
31st May 2019
Elections over – for now! Well, apart from for PM! Now what happens next?
The European election results throw up a myriad of fascinating psephological discussion topics, but the hard facts are straightforward. Brexit did as expected. Conservative and Labour did disastrously. The more unforeseen beneficiaries were Lib Dems and Greens.
Professor Sir John Curtice from Strathclyde University, one of the UK’s most pre-eminent political commentators, has summarised it succinctly as follows:
“The results of these Euro Elections 2019 are 'a draw' between remain & leave, which shows just how polarised the public is over Brexit. Efforts to find a compromise solution have not worked - we are a divided country”
The Conservative collapse was already “discounted in the market”, and the fact that Theresa May had already signalled her resignation somewhat drew the sting. This in turn has increased the scrutiny of Jeremy Corbyn’s position and he is now under pressure to more clearly define what Labour’s Euro policy is, particularly in terms of a possible confirmatory vote, which seems to be a posh term for a second referendum. His Deputy Tom Watson, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry are already making noises in the media, and of course the fact that the Labour Leadership is so London-centric means they are even more acutely aware of how badly the Party did there. It is quite extraordinary that there is no Labour MEP in Scotland.
There will now be huge pressure to resolve the situation. The Conservatives will be desperate to have the UK out of the EU by the 31st October and it will be the over-arching issue of interest in their leadership contest. But even that is now more confused – the Leavers will point to the Brexit party success as a mandate to leave come what may, whilst the more centrist will cite the combined vote for Remain inclined parties as evidence that there must be some form of deal. In essence – apart from the allegiances of the MEPs boarding Eurostar at the end of June, nothing has changed from what we already knew. We have a Leave electorate and a Remain Parliament. Both will claim justification from these results.
Even the most die-hard Conservative Euro-sceptic is not going to be able to avoid the evidence that there is still a substantial Remain body across the country – how will they seek to unite the country? Some will call for a General Election, but it is hard to see how either main Party could want one until the Brexit issue is resolved. How could Rory Stewart run on the same manifesto as Boris Johnson if he refuses to sit in his Cabinet? And what would Corbyn say to the British people about that second referendum question? An early election with the issue unresolved could be suicide for both major Parties.
It is interesting to see the impact of the d’Hondt system of PR. Had the contest been on a single member Westminster constituency first past the post system, the outcome would have been an overwhelming Brexit victory, despite them achieving less than one third of the national popular vote. Could an early General Election give us Prime Minister Farage?
The full result is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/crjeqkdevwvt/the-uks-european-elections-2019
The paralysis of zombie Government will continue for now, with all the downsides that brings for those just trying to get on with life and plan for the future. We will most likely have a new Prime Minister sooner than anticipated – maybe by the end of July? The timetable is due to be agreed next week. How he or she will then square this circle remains to be seen. They will appoint a completely new Cabinet – including almost certainly a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. And the changes will trickle all the way down to junior Ministerial level in every Department. Select Committee Chairs may also change.
Next year’s big contest is London, and Mayor Sadiq Khan may well be concerned. In the strongest Remain voting region of the UK, the Lib Dems came out on top. Jeremy Corbyn & Emily Thornberry can’t be too comfortable knowing that their home Borough of Islington voted Lib Dem. If the Labour Party position on Brexit is not resolved by May 2020, Sadiq could have a previously unexpected fight to stay in power at City Hall. But how do Green and Lib Dem get it together so as not to split their vote?
Never has effective political analysis, understanding and engagement been more important. The imminent change of national leadership will most certainly be revisited again in less than three years’ time. And quite possibly a lot sooner!
24th May 2019
Less speed and less certainty – the political tsunami ahead is bad news for developers
The election results of May 2nd have thrown many Councils into turmoil, with disparate groupings elected on a variety of wild promises suddenly finding themselves not just elected but, in many cases being part of coalitions and groupings grasping the reins of leadership. How long some of these coalitions will last is another matter.
The tsunami will reach its peak early next week as the results of the Euro election become evident, and with Mr Farage’s landslide already discounted in the market, we now know that we can look forward to an imminent running of one of Britain’s most historic races – the Conservative Party Leadership Stakes. Builders, developers and planners should not turn a blind eye to this. For many with applications in the pipeline or pending, the political confusion of the next three months or so will threaten those essential buzz words every investor focuses on – speed and certainty.
Speed of determination will certainly be an issue. In many parts of the country councils are struggling to form new administrations, authoritiess are still devoid of leadership and the committee structure that forms the working framework of the local council remains unpopulated. Officers work may be grinding on in the background, but it will be devoid of strategic direction in many cases, or indeed pursuing a course that in itself was the very reason why the previous elected council was sacked by the electorate. It wasn’t purely about Brexit. New Councillors across the land were elected on populist pledges to “oppose this’, “reject that”, “tear up proposals to build” or “take the plans back to the drawing board”. At least one council is already postponing committee meetings because the newly, and unexpectedly, elected members can’t attend the meetings where decisions should be being made due to work and other commitments.
Certainty goes straight out the window as well. Again, look no further than the election pledges of the new Councillor teams. Housing allocation numbers will, we are told, be challenged, strategy plans re-visited and government decisions questioned. And statutory determination periods look set to become even more of a moving target than they have ever been. Uncertainty will be exacerbated by ongoing changes of personnel as this brave new world unwinds. Alliances will change, members and leaders will resign and there will be an inevitable churn of senior officers as differences emerge and frustrations boil over. And that’s just at a local level.
Westminster will shortly be approaching a frenzy of political horse trading as the competing leadership hopefuls build their campaign teams, buy off potential supporters and opponents with rash pledges, and of course quietly make promises of jobs in Government should they become Prime Minister. It is no secret for example that the current Secretary of State responsible, James Brokenshire, is very much a Theresa May protégé and favourite. Maybe not quite the reference to have on your CV this summer? And if he goes, what then happens to Housing Minister Kit Malthouse? And so the cascade of change trickles down.
One thing is for sure. When the political maelstrom settles down, a lot will have changed. And of course, a lot won’t! Threats will have become opportunities for some, and for others opportunities will suddenly be threatened. Never will serious political intelligence and understanding be more important – and that’s before we get to the 7th May 2020, when yes, the electoral roulette wheel will spin yet again. Will it be red next time, or blue, or yellow, or green? One thing it won’t be is certain!
20th May 2019
Shall I do history, or politics …….?
Manchester is home to one of the most enduringly significant events in British political history. The infamous Peterloo Massacre saw the 15th Hussars charge a crowd of some 80,000 people who had gathered to hear Orator Henry Hunt and to press for parliamentary representation. Hideous though the events were, the outcome was the Great Reform Act, the Corn Laws, and ultimately votes for women.
In Manchester this week, leaders from many of the UK’s independent schools will be coming together against a backdrop which although not quite so tempestuous, still sees some pretty serious storm clouds blowing across the political landscape. 200 years on from Peterloo, sophisticated political antennae are more important than ever in the world of independent schools and education. That is why Facultas Associates will be with you.
We are looking forward to the ISBA Conference, and to meeting the business leaders of independent education: bursars, business managers, heads, and the many enterprises that support Britain’s great independent schools.
There is much to talk about, particularly politically. And not just who will be Prime Minister or Education Secretary.
The radical shake-up of so many councils in the local elections at the beginning of this month brings uncertainty in not just their strategic direction, but also in the fundamental organisation and structure of local government. This is a great opportunity for those who are well advised and can be nimble in dialogue with their local authority. But it is also a strategic threat to well laid plans which may now be subject to costly delay or even outright rejection.
For more and more schools, modernising and future proofing their estate has become a vital part of not only their offer to parents, but also the enduring financial well-being of the institution as a whole. Facultas Associates can add real value for schools that need to be in close dialogue with their local councils.
Taking stock of the new political landscape and undertaking a political audit of the council post May is essential to helping your school set out a narrative that earns the support and respect of its local community.
Getting it right will attract the support of key stakeholders and decision makers including councillors and MPs. Get them on your side and the next planning application will be smoother, and less likely to be subject to the cost, risk and inconvenience of getting stuck in the proverbial mud.
Our Information Desk is in the Exhibition Hall alongside AGBIS, Aviva, and the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, so hot foot it over to us for a chat.
In the meantime, you can read a little more about the challenges schools may face in the planning process, and our approach in helping you meet those challenges, in our article of the BSA’s summer magazine.
17th May 2019
Running out of road, last chance saloon doors slamming shut…
...call it what you will, we are approaching the endgame for the Prime Minister
The political maelstrom that will overwhelm both the Conservative and Labour parties next Thursday is already heavily “discounted in the market”. No serious pundit contends that the result of the European elections, which will become known late on the Sunday night following, will be anything other than cataclysmic for both main parties. It will be more so for the Tories – they are the party of Government and therefore have most to lose, and it is their core vote that will “leech away” fastest to Nigel Farage’s rampant Brexit Party. But the impact of the Brexit brigade will also hit Labour hard in their traditionally safe heartlands – watch out for results in places like Hartlepool, Sunderland and South and West Yorkshire. Farage is an absolute past master at maximising the “you’ve been cheated” feeling. He knows exactly what he is doing. Stand by for a European Parliament containing people like John Longbottom, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, Ann Widdecombe and Richard Tice - it’s going to happen. That’s a given. The only question is what comes next?
This week’s manoeuvrings make it clear that the Prime Minister is going to have one last shot at getting a Withdrawal Deal through when Parliament returns from the Whitsun Recess on the 4th June. She might even wait until after the Peterborough by-election on the 6th. It can be argued that the greater the “shock and awe” of the results, the more likely her malcontent troops might be to step into line.
Quite what the Deal will look like by then we don’t know. The post-Euro election tsunami might just elicit a sea change amongst MPs who realise that if they want anything other than a No-Deal exit, then they have to support something that can command a Parliamentary majority. Will she have folded to Labour on a Custom’s Union compromise – and if she has will it just alienate more of her own troops in Parliament? If Parliament tried to revoke Article 50, would it trigger a General Election or maybe some kind of constitutional crisis? What we do know right now is that there is no sign of a shift within DUP ranks – nor any movement amongst the “Spartans” – the hard-core Tory euro sceptics who seem oblivious to what happened to their historical namesakes. They all ended up dead!
But by indicating that there will be a fourth Withdrawal Deal vote early in June the Prime Minister is possibly displaying a degree of cunning that she has to date found remarkably elusive. She is effectively ignoring the forthcoming tsunami, because she knows it is going to happen. What she is going to do is confront immediately post-election the shell-shocked troops of both her own and Mr Corbyn’s armies with a stark contrast – back this deal or it will be no-deal. The country will have made it clear again they are determined to leave. And she is also staving off the question from her backbench1922 Committee officers, namely: “What is the timeline for your departure Prime Minister?” Her answer appears to be: “I’m going to meet Sir Graham (Brady – their Chairman), after the second reading of the Withdrawal Deal”. One can almost hear “until the twelfth of never” playing in the background.
It is now impossible to believe events aren’t about to move quickly. The only question is when? Today’s best guess seems to be the week beginning the 10th June. And how will the exit work? The very latest assessment seems to suggest a relatively organised contest over the summer months with the new Leader being “crowned” at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester at the end of September. Hats are already landing in the ring. The next challenge may be to reduce the field from a dozen plus to just two. Apparently, the “men in grey suits” have now decreed that there must be a proper contest – no last-minute withdrawals or elections by acclimation. So, the Tory rank and file will have the final say.
And when this is all over, and we finally have a new Prime Minister, what will their policies be? One day, surely, there must be life after Brexit. Until then, to use a couple more clichés – “Watch this space” and “Hang on tight” – it could be a bumpy ride!
8th May 2019
Building character – The Boarding Schools Association conference
This week Facultas Associates is taking part in the annual BSA Conference for Heads in London. This is a really well-connected conference with Heads, Governors, Bursars and key staff from boarding schools both in the Independent and State sectors. So a great place to share ideas and to find out what is going on in some of the best schools in the land.
The conference theme is “Building Character” which is absolutely what boarding schools are all about. As chairman of governors of a boarding prep school I see in so many pupils the development of life-skills beyond the restrictions of the academic classroom. Building a pupil’s character in the modern boarding school environment will prepare pupils ably for a world that we can hardly imagine. A world of AI, of individual resilience, of economic and environmental challenges, and of courage.
But building character also requires a great built environment with the physical resources that enable the delivery of a great all-round education. Independent education is increasingly a global marketplace, and great schools cannot afford to rest on their laurels. We have been having some great conversations here about the challenges that the political system puts on so many schools. One of those uncertainties is the impact that the recent local elections and wider political uncertainty have on the planning process.
Schools need to be aware of the changing impact of our politics across England, Scotland and Wales on a local and national level. That’s where Facultas Associates can add real value, in helping to set out a school’s narrative that earns the support and respect of its local community. Doing so will attract the support of key stakeholders and decision makers including elected representatives. Get them on your side and the next planning application will be smoother, and less likely to be subject to the cost, risk and inconvenience of delay.
Our article in the Boarding Schools Association summer magazine (link below) sets out a little more of the challenge and our approach to it. Getting this right really does help a school to Build Character.
Click Here to read The Facultas Article from the Boarding School Magazine
7th May 2019
Now the dust has settled - what last week’s election results mean in reality
As politicians and commentators continue to interpret the outcome of the recent council elections as “sending a message” on Brexit, the local impact of these results is in danger of being overlooked.
With losses for both the Conservatives and Labour, and substantial gains by smaller parties and independents, the political landscape in dozens of local authorities has shifted significantly. With all of these councils having responsibility for local decision-making on planning, we can begin to assess how those seeking planning consent for development proposals may be affected by the outcome of these elections.
In theory, nothing has changed. Planning applications will still be assessed against national and local planning policies, and officers will continue to make recommendations to committees of councillors. So far, so good. But these councillors have changed, and so will the decisions they reach.
Although planning is a quasi-judicial function, and each scheme must be assessed on its own merits, it is impossible to escape the reality that the councillors populating a local planning committee have a fair degree of discretion in choosing how to interpret and apply the relevant policies. Whilst officers recommend; councillors decide, and this is where we must look carefully at those who have been elected.
A planning committee is proportionality matched to the overall political make-up of the council (or where an area committee exists, the political distribution of seats within its jurisdiction). Even where there has not been a change in overall political control, the rise and fall in the respective strength of different political parties and groups will affect the overall distribution of seats. A overwhelming majority of Conservative or Labour councillors may have been replaced by a much more finely balanced distribution, or instead with an eclectic mix of Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents.
So, what particular conclusions can be draw from the recent results? Quite simply, we will see – at least initially – more unpredictable decisions at a local level, as new councillors seek to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, and may be minded to strongly oppose development schemes which they consider to be unacceptable.
The latter is particularly likely to be the case with independent councillors who may have been elected on specific pledges to oppose certain forms of development, which has become an increasing trend over recent years. Such bold commitments to voters have the potential to take priority over any advice from officers about what is or is not policy compliant. There is also the risk that other councillors could shift to become more cautious about supporting high profile development schemes if their new, more populist colleagues are leading the charge against.
This is not supposed to sound as despondent as it perhaps does. There are certainly fresh challenges and greater unknowns (for now), but a carefully crafted approach which seeks to pro-actively address potential concerns (and head them off at an early stage) can often prove to be beneficial.
It is essential that those wishing to pursue development proposals – such as new school facilities – look at how they now adjust their strategies, post-election, to maximise the prospect of securing majority committee decisions in favour of consent. Concerns can be addressed, and benefits can be explained. But to secure success, applicants must look properly at a more diversified political landscape at a local level – and understand how to respond to it. That is what Facultas does – the politics of planning.
18th November 2019
UK General Election: public schools, private schools, free schools and academies – they’re all in Corbyn’s sights
The antipathy felt by the Labour left towards the private education sector is well documented, and never fettered by the fact that many of their leading lights (Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Keir Starmer, Seumas Milne) have themselves benefitted from it, or even more staggeringly (Diane Abbott, Shami Chakrabarti) taken advantage of it for their own children. But if reports coming out of Labour HQ in advance of their manifesto publication are to be believed, the animus will now extend to both free schools and academies which will, along with all educational establishments, be brought back under council control.
No-one should be too surprised. Alarming as this may appear to those in the relevant sectors of the educational world, the re-centralisation of all sorts of services now seems to lie at the heart of Labour’s approach to Government. That this re-centralisation now extends beyond the world of private schools and into the non-fee-paying independent sector is hardly surprising given the apparent appetite for a return to unadulterated Socialism.
“Education is free. Freedom of education shall be enjoyed under the
condition fixed by law and under the supreme control of the state.”
The debate about the re-nationalisation of the railways has been gathering pace for many years. Enthusiasm for eliminating private suppliers to the NHS is totemic to many of those on the left. And this week we have been treated to the possibility that the nation’s entire broadband provision may become part of the role of Government. But the idea that local academies and free schools should once again be run from City or County Hall really does smack of a step back in time. Let us be quite clear, there will be many on the hard left of local politics who absolutely relish the return to all-powerful Local Education Authorities. The mantra is simple; the bigger the army, the more powerful the General. Couple that with a desire amongst many to use education as a political lever and a political tool and the scenario quickly takes shape.
Governors, teachers and parents within the private school environment have always known of the threats, sometimes implicit, sometimes less so, to their future. VAT on fees and the removal of charitable status have been rattling about in the hills for decades. In recent months the stakes have risen, with ideas of asset confiscation and compulsory closure being openly mooted. That this sort of threat is now extended into the non-fee-paying sector shows beyond doubt exactly what the direction of travel under Mr Corbyn and his colleagues looks like.
And it also means that the world of education, right across the board, must form part of the electoral battleground. Here at Facultas we advise schools of all sorts, public, private and academies on how to make the most of their assets in terms of the offer to parents and the success of their pupils. Under a Labour Government it appears that choice in education will die. One size will, or perhaps won’t, fit all. Karl Marx would certainly approve:
“The education of all children, from the moment that they can
get along without a mother's care, shall be in state institutions.”