Farage’s contract

It’s chaos at Reform HQ but that’s how they like it…

Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich presents his Contract with America in in front of a huge map of the USA.
A man with a contract

For an insurgency polling in double digits and threatening to disassemble the most successful political party in history, Reform UK is a pretty shabby outfit. Neither a high-gloss, updated 20th Century dinosaur like Le Pen’s National Rally, nor a dark, ideological machine like Alternative for Germany, nor even a big-money hostile take-over of an establishment party like Trump’s operation. But maybe we shouldn’t expect a slick operation here, maybe it’s not very British to expect a challenger from the far right to be anything other than scrappy and a bit lairy.

The man in the photo with all the American flags is Newt Gingrich – not a British politician, of course, but pugnacious Speaker of the US House of Representatives during the 1994 Congressional mid-terms, a veteran conservative political operator who wrote the Republican party’s programme for that election, an enormously influential document that many credit as the beginning of the populist turn, the epic shift in American politics that ultimately produced you know who.


Darren Selkus, army veteran and business owner, is Hertsmere’s Gingrich. Read about him on the Reform web site.


Gingrich’s document was no mere manifesto, no mere platform. It was a contract. A Contract with America. The idea was that instead of promoting a dry programme of dry legislation to be fought out vote by arduous vote through the congressional system once in power, the party would lay out an ambitious reworking of the system itself. Gingrich was a political visionary who saw an opportunity to put the Republican party back at the heart of things. In this he wasn’t so much a proto-Trump as Trump’s inverse – he wanted to shift the power in American politics back from the presidency to a radicalised congress.

His contract was more than the usual shopping list of policies carefully weighted for viability; it was a series of linked measures that would, together, overturn decades of post-war liberal orthodoxy – economic, social, diplomatic, everything. It begins with eight pledges – reforms to the congressional system aimed at cementing a conservative model of governance indefinitely. It’s a fascinating document, not least because it self-consciously marked the end of folksy, optimistic, forward-looking Reagan conservatism and the beginning of the darker variety the whole world is now familiar with – George W Bush’s messianic militarism, Trump’s ‘American carnage‘.

Britain’s Gingrich?

Gingrich was working as an insurgent inside one of the two governing parties, of course. He’d been an operator since the 1960s. Trump began as an outsider but entered the Republican party and hollowed it out brutally. It’s his party now. Farage has not yet achieved a position inside the Tory Party but he’s been influencing the shape and direction of the party pretty directly for twenty years now. He’s a kind of parasitic shadow leader, directing the mighty, 300 year-old Conservative Party, pint in hand, from the saloon bar. It’s only a few years since Farage looked like he was finished. Boris Johnson had cannily replaced him as populist folk hero, Brexit was finally done and the man himself seemed to be more interested in the goldmine on the other side of the Atlantic. But his influence endures. And we suspect he’s not finished with the Tory party yet, whether he’s elected in Clacton or not.

The Gingrich contract must have come to mind for many on Monday when Nigel Farage launched Reform’s ‘Contract With You‘. This contract isn’t quite as ambitious – and it’s likely to be a lot less influential (we suspect it was written in a bit of a hurry – count the typos).

Reform’s document steers clear of grand claims. It’s essentially a pretty focused list of policies designed as a response to a probable Labour government. Farage is positioning his party as the effective opposition in the coming Parliament. His assumption is that the Tories, no matter how many seats they finally win, will be so diminished, so intellectually exhausted that they’ll have little to offer while the party is laboriously rebuilt. That Reform, even from a base of a handful of seats, will dominate on the critical issues. And they might be right (they’ll need to win a few seats, though).

Beginning on the very first page we’re into a sequence of commitments that are carefully weighted to offer a challenge to the likely governing party without being in any way deliverable. Finding £50 Billion of savings in the civil service, a sum equal to the whole defence budget, seems implausible to say the least, for instance. Taking back £35 Billion per year from the commercial banks without causing mini-budget levels of market chaos likewise.

Pledges pledges pledges

You will find the obligatory numbered pledges at the beginning, though – obviously an indispensable element of any contemporary manifesto. These numbered pledges, for some reason, all begin with a kind of John Lennon flourish: 1) Imagine Smart Immigration, Not Mass Immigration; 2) Imagine No More Small Boats in the Channel; 3) Imagine No NHS Waiting Lists; 4) Imagine Good Wages for a Hard Day’s Work; 5) Imagine Affordable, Stable Energy Bills.

In this rather boring package, the only place where the language soars a little is in the final policy section, headed ‘Reform is needed to defend and promote British culture, identity and values’ (intriguing use of the passive voice there). This is where we find the more inflammatory bits – the obligatory mention of sharia law (not a single mention in the whole document of Farage’s favourite ‘Judeo-Christian values‘ though), anti-woke legislation, de-banking, dumping equalities legislation and so on. But it’s striking how unambitious this all is. Farage and Reform here are not reaching for a consitutional remaking of Great Britain or for the destruction of the liberal institutions of the post-war settlement. In fact all we get are some rather managerial proposals about running the NHS more efficiently and a predictable kicking for the old enemy – the BBC.

SAVINGS PLEDGES
Policy Area Annualised Savings Over 5 Year
Electoral Term Amount in £ billions
Immigration Savings £5
Employer Immigration Tax £4
Energy Savings - tax subsidies & scrap Net
Zero £30
Benefit Saving - 1 million plus back to work £15
Transport & Utilities Savings £5
Slash wasteful Government spending
Save £5 in 100 incl govt depts. quangos,
commissions £50
Stop bank interest on QE reserves £35
Cut foreign aid by 50% £6
Sub-Total Potential Savings = £150 billion pa = Almost £3,000 per Adul
Comedy cost savings

In the financial section Reform turns out to be as obsessed with the zero-sum tax-and-spend calculations as the major parties. And this is interesting, not least because it’s not very revolutionary. Only a very cautious insurrectionary party would be so interested in retaining tight control over expenditure after the revolution. Of course it’s possible that this very cautious package is meant to answer fears about Farage as a potential Mussolini, seeking election so that he can cancel elections and rule forever, but we’re ready to bet that this is it. We’ve reached the limit of Reform’s intellectual and ideological ambition.

The table of savings at the end reads like the kind of Dragon’s Den forecast that would make Deborah Meaden weep – various conveniently round numbers totted up in a table so that party spokesmen can claim it’s ‘fully-costed’. Evaluating this lot would cause the entire staff of the OBR to faint in unison.

So why a contract?

Back in the nineties, the Contract With America wasn’t quite the ideological bulldozer Gingrich hoped it would be – it was essentially cut to ribbons in congress – by hostile conservatives from within his own party as well as by Clinton’s Democrats – reduced to a pretty thin set of compromised measures, most of which failed to pass. Gingrich went from sole proprietor of a congressional earthquake to “who?” in a few years. But his aggression, his unwavering rejection of the bi-partisan conventions of congress and his disrespect for his party’s elders have all influenced American politics to the present day.

Nigel Farage raises a glass of wine in a BBC green room in May 2017. He's gurning characteristically.
Another man with a contract

So, back to the UK general election of 2024. Why would a party leader want to attach this ‘contract’ idea to his policy programme?

It stands out from the crowd. The contract language quite cleverly opens up some distance from the other parties’ documents. It’s the only set of promises in play that’s not a manifesto, not a dreary document like all the other dreary documents. At his launch, Farage said: “today is not a manifesto launch. If I say to you ‘manifesto’, your immediate word-association is ‘lie’…”

Contracts are for consumers. The idea of a contract is actually a pretty good expression of our relationship with contemporary politics. Electors in the third decade of the 21st Century are not expected to engage with politics – as activists or organised workers or even as enthusiastic private citizens. We’re expected only to consume politics, to rate its quality via occasional elections and sometimes to switch brands, in the same way we switch gas providers or mobile phones. Meanwhile, political movements are over, replaced by narrowly-focused campaign groups. Incidentally, this explains why we feel so disempowered and disconnected from politics, why so many people say “they’re all the same…” – the politicians like it that way.

Businesses love contracts. Reform UK is a business. It’s the image they’re looking for. Tice and Farage and Habib have enthusiastically embraced the ‘start-up’ idea. Journos and critics noticed ages ago that Reform UK is not a conventionally incorporated political party. Columnists and social media geniuses thought the revelation that the party is just an ordinary limited company would be an absolutely killer gotcha. “Look, it’s not a political party, it’s a scam!” Of course it made no difference at all. Nobody cares. Limited companies are famously easy to set up in Britain. It costs £50 and takes less than 24 hours. The fact that the simplest and most robust organisational form for this new force in British politics was actually an off-the-shelf company really does suit the project. A disruptive, entrepreneurial enterprise like Reform probably ought to be a business and not a fusty old not-for-profit.

Chaos suits Reform

Reform UK wasn’t ready for the election when Sunak announced it but that’s fine – it’s a start-up – the rag-tag Reform team mobilised resources with the ‘fuck you’ energy of a tech entrepeneur. ‘Move fast and break things’ could almost be their slogan. Hiring and then quickly firing candidates as they’re exposed as racists and lunatics is all part of the energy of an insurgent party. When opponents get excited about the chaos inside the Reform operation they’re profoundly missing the point. That’s how they like it – and, let’s face it, voters seem to like it too.

What’s in this contract?

Next time we’ll look at the content of Reform UK Ltd’s ‘Contract With You‘ and possibly at the policies of their unlikely collaborators, the SDP


Hertsmere General Election preview, part four

The Conservative Party

Two men carry a lectern out into Downing Street for a speech by the Prime Minister
Lot of lectern action lately

This is it. The big one. The last of our four guides to the parties standing in Hertsmere at the next general election, whenever that is. We’ve done the fringe parties, the Liberals and Labour so now it’s time to tackle the incumbents, the 800-pound gorillas of Hertsmere politics, the Conservative Party, winners in Hertsmere since the constituency was created, for the 1983 general election – the ‘Falklands election’. The Tories have never even come close to losing here, not even in 1997, when Labour won the largest number of Parliamentary seats in history and squeezed the margin in Hertsmere to six percent.

Four Conservative politicians behind a desk at a press conference, microphones in front of them. Left to right: Margaret Thatcher, Cecil Parkinson, Francis Pym and Michael Heseltine
Cecil Parkinson (next to Thatcher), once MP for Herstmere and – in a competive field – probably the biggest heel in Conservative Party history

The history of the Tories in Hertsmere is essentially the history of the contituency so you’ll want to read our electoral history of Hertsmere, which covers the whole period since 1983 and its three MPs – including the ignominious departure of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite Cecil Parkinson in 1983 and of his successor James Clappison, dumped by the party for fast-track SPAD Oliver Dowden in 2015.

You might think that Hertsmere is one of those home counties contituencies that’s been approximately Tory since the battle of Hastings, or the end of the ice age. And you wouldn’t be wrong. A single county-wide constituency was first created over seven hundred years ago, in 1294, and it persisted until 1885. The Hertfordshire constituency returned – for most of that period – three MPs (the principal towns in the county also returned their own MPs). Before the franchise was expanded in the late 19th Century the electorate was tiny – In 1868, about 9,000 men in Hertfordshire (landowners and later the ‘ten-pound men‘) could vote. The first time they got a chance to vote for a candidate identified as a Tory was in 1727. He was a Jacobite noble called Charles Caesar, who was also Treasurer of the Navy. Between then and the seat’s final abolition in 1885 Tories dominated, with the occasional blip of Whig control. Between then and 1983 Radlett has bounced around between the constituencies of Watford, South West Hertfordshire and South Hertfordshire.

The odds

In a sea of disastrous polling data from the Sunak period, we’ve seen only one projection that suggests the Tories could lose in Hertsmere – and it’s a doozy. It’s the February 2023 MRP poll from the highly-reliable polling company Electoral Calculus. It gives Labour 509 seats and the Conservative Party 45. In this scenario the Tories aren’t even the official opposition. LOL.

February 2023 MRP poll from Electoral Calculus, showing the following data in a table:
Party	Number of Seats
at GE 2019	Predicted
Number of Seats	Predicted
Change
CON	365	45	?320
LAB	203	509	306
SNP	48	50	2
LIB	11	23	12
Plaid	4	4	0
Green	1	1	0
Reform	0	0	0
Total	632	632	0
Ouch

We know that even the slightly less extreme polling that’s been done since then has been causing panic bordering on hysteria in corridors and bars and meeting rooms in the SW1 area. Such an enormous swing is obviously unlikely and the most recent MRP polling gives Dowden a 1997-sized lead here in Hertsmere. That would bring Labour’s candidate Josh Tapper to within 3,000 votes of Oliver Dowden. We’ve noted before that Tapper must be praying the Gogglebox factor can get him a bit closer.

Chart showing vote share for the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency for the main parties in the period from 1983 to 2019
Vote shares in Hertsmere since 1983, showing swings to Labour in 1997 and 2017

Crown, church and land

They don’t call the Conservative Party the most successful political party in the world for nothing. This 300 year-old institution, which began life in the ferment after the English Civil War, is so wired into the constitution of middle England – especially rural and landowning England – that it seems almost to be part of the landscape.

The party’s various re-inventions, especially in the period since the industrial revolution, have seen it identified with business (which had previously been the domain of the Whigs), with the urban middle class and, much more recently, with working class voters, for whom the Tories came to stand for ambition, home ownership and the prospect of a better life for their children.

The fact that this last electoral coalition – the one assembled by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s that has seen the party running the country for 32 of the last 45 years – seems finally to be collapsing, in the wake of 15 years of flat wages, growing inequality and diminishing expectations – would, for any ordinary party, presumably mean the end. For the Tories it almost certainly means another re-invention – the Conservative Party is evidently indestructible and will still be with us on the other side of whatever apocalypse awaits us. Like cockroaches and the plague.

Our present Prime Minister – according to a polling firm one of the least popular party leaders in history – has made several increasingly desperate attempts at his own re-invention in the last year or two and, in his most recent effort, is trying to position his party as the ‘national security party’ or the party of geopolitical dread. It’s too early to say whether this relaunch will stick, of course, although the bookies aren’t convinced. At Radlett Wire we have a simple rule of thumb: when the Prime Minister puts a lectern outside Number 10 and makes a speech about nuclear annihilation it’s probably not his country’s security he’s worried about but his own.

The candidate

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

We remain, as we have essentially since his election in 2015, deeply impressed by Oliver Dowden. He’s an intriguing figure. Not charismatic, not possessed of any apparent vision or of a distinctive political identity, nor even of deep roots in the Tory party. He is, in his party’s terms, an outsider, but his tenacity and his political instincts have kept him in or near the action since his first election – through one of the most turbulent periods in his party’s (and the Parliament’s) history. He’s a pragmatist – entering politics via David Cameron’s upbeat, socially-liberal, modernising regime, when CCHQ was like the marketing department of a Plc – and he had no difficulty subsquently lodging himself in the government of each successor Prime Minister. Only Liz Truss could find no use for him.

As we said in an earlier post here, when the s**t hits the fan he’s always ready:

For a second-tier politician, Dowden’s always been pretty close to the action (once a Number 10 staffer, always a Number 10 staffer). He was first to endorse Johnson to replace Theresa May but also first to resign as Johnson’s final crisis began. Joining #TeamRishi was another low-key masterstroke for our operator, although his return to the front bench was delayed by that weird 49-day Liz Truss thing, during which Dowden was very much on the outside…

From How does Hertsmere vote? Radlett Wire, updated 19 January 2024
An official photograph of Oliver Dowden MP with a British Army captain's hat crudely photoshopped onto his head
Captain Dowden of the Winter of Discontent Taskforce

We’ve sometimes called Dowden a bagman here. We don’t mean this disdainfully. The bagman is vital to a successful political party. Some politicians are far too grand for this kind of thing but Dowden is always quite happy, as the moment requires, to get his hands dirty, to dispose of a body, to endorse even the silliest talking points – privet hedges, woke roadsigns, hoarding stolen artefactsscolding Netflix and calling for Gary Lineker‘s dismissal on the regular. He’ll step up in defense of the indefensible on the Sunday morning programmes without complaint and he’ll take on the emptiest, gestural nonsense with gusto. For a while during the wave of industrial unrest of 2022 and 2023 he was put in charge of Rishi Sunak’s ‘Winter of Discontent taskforce’. We amused ourselves here trying to find any further trace of activity from the taskforce. None materialised. It was never more than an announcement – the kind of entirely hollow politics you need a strong stomach to pursue with enthusiasm. Dowden has a strong stomach.

Classic teflon

Oliver Dowden is as close to clean hands as you’ll get in the contemporary Conservative party, so-far unblemished by scandal. And even when he really ought to have got into trouble he’s somehow squeaked through, untouched. It was Dowden who appointed Boris Johnson’s friend and loan-arranger to be Chair of the BBC. Dowden who was in charge of propriety and ethics when the party was accused of covering up a rape. He’s never been close to the big money but he was one of ten Tory MPs who took paid jobs with party donors during 2022 and for some reason accepted a payment from the hedge fund that bankrolled Liz Truss’s experiment with credibility too.

Local hero

Dowden comes from up the road and went to a school a lot of Hertsmere kids attend. He knows the area and has been a diligent constituency representative. In our experience, he (almost always) answers letters from constituents (your mileage may vary). He’s never, as far as we know, phoned an elderly constituent in the middle of the night asking for money to give to ‘bad people’ and we’re pretty sure he doesn’t own a property portfolio. He’s always ready to make a speech about a car park next to a bin. For all this, as his constituents, we should be grateful.

There will be constituents who question his absolute committment to local concerns, though. The rail freight terminal on the old Radlett aerodrome land is one of those giant projects that will always present a problem for a government minister. He very much wants to be identified with the electors who are going to have an enormous warehouse blocking out their view or a busy new access road keeping them awake.

An aerial visualisation of the Radlett rail freight terminal planned for the old aerodrome land

It’s a delicate business, though. Dowden has felt able to participate in the dispute but has reserved his full-throated criticism for the actions of the local authority, Hertfordshire County Council in this case, who say they were obliged to sell the land for the development. It’s always much easier for an MP to criticise the council than to criticise his own government or a major business that may well be a party donor.

We feel for Dowden on this. He doesn’t want to be seen too vocally opposing a development that will bring work to the area at a time when everyone’s fulminating about the sclerotic planning system. The sheer scale of the development and its likely impact on the households affected makes it hard to ignore for a local MP, though.

He’s ready

Screenshot of a tweet from Oliver Dowden MP. Two photos of Dowden with local Conservative Party members. Text reads: Delighted to have been readopted as the Conservative candidate for Hertsmere this evening!

Dowden has been reselected by his local party (they do this sort of thing informally in the Conservative Party) but, as far as we know, he hasn’t actually lodged his nomination papers with the local authority so there’s still a slim chance he’ll run for the hills. We doubt it, though.

As a government minister he’ll evidently be able to draw on significant resources from his party during his campaign but Hertsmere is such a safe seat that it’s unlikely we’ll see many of the top brass here during the campaign. If he’s lucky he’ll be able to call on his friends at South Hertfordshire Business Club again, though. This is a club with no web site, no staff, no premises, no accounts and, apparently, no members (looks like it might share an address with the St Albans Conservative Association, though). According to the Electoral Commission the club gave £82,741.09 to Dowden’s office between 2017 and 2022, making use of a loophole that allows ‘unincorporated associations’ to give up to £25,000 per year to a political party or campaign without saying where the money comes from. Dowden’s not the only MP using this method of accessing anonymous money. There are a number of these secretive organisations, with names like The Portcullis Club and the Magna Carta Club (that one’s given £150,000 to Michael Gove since 2009). Interestingly, they seem to exist only to give money to Conservative politicians and campaigns. Details of the Dowden donations in this spreadsheet.


  • Dowden suffers from a very contemporary political problem. He’s from a nominally working-class background but he speaks and acts quite posh. The same problem afflicts Keir Starmer. But the iron rule is that neither will ever, no matter how much they protest, be accepted as working class. They both really ought to give up trying.
  • Oliver Dowden has had a few goes at the despatch box depping for the boss lately. We can’t say we’ve ever managed to get through a whole session. It’s too much. Watching him labour awkwardly through his scripted jokes is far too painful, like the nasty bit in a nature documentary about seals and killer whales.
  • It turns out that the dreadful Cecil Parkinson affair has not yet, over forty years on, been forgotten. A new documentary is in the works.
  • Here’s our big spreadsheet with all the Hertsmere election results going back to 1983 – the only place you’ll find all this information in one place (and we recently added Hertfordshire PCC results going back to 2012 for extra excitement).
  • We group together all our Oliver Dowden posts with the #DowdenLog tag and you can subscribe to these posts in an RSS reader if that’s your thing.
  • You can keep up with what Oliver Dowden does in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou and you can set up an email alert there too, should you be sad enough.
  • We’re on Twitter/X and Facebook and you can follow this blog in the fediverse. Search for @blog@radlettwire.co.uk in your fediverse client (e.g. Mastodon)

How to keep tabs on your MP

Right at the base of our democracy is the idea of representation. We send our MPs to Westminster to vote on our behalf. How they vote is our business.

Of course, once they get to Westminster they usually become ridiculous figures – and they quite soon join one of the two available categories. They’re either pompous, wounded egomaniacs or grasping, bitter kleptomaniacs. This seems harsh but there are really hardly any exceptions. The number of MPs who make it through even their first term without some kind of psychic damage is tiny. Our electoral system favours dweebs and maniacs. The system shrugs off the normies – they’re gone after their first term – back to accountancy or running a charity with a disease in its name. These are the sane ones.

Anyway, here at Radlett Wire we’ve been keeping an eye on our MP – The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE, MP for Hertsmere – since he was elected in May 2015, displacing his predecessor James Clappison in one of those cold-blooded political assassinations the Tory Party is uniquely good at. It’s not clear yet to which category Dowden belongs. It sometimes takes decades for this to become obvious. We’ll keep you informed. Here’s how we keep up with him.

Oliver Dowden acceptance speech 2017. Photo from Hertsmere democracy team.
Oliver Dowden addresses the crowds after winning in 2017 by a majority of 16,951

Start here. Veteran social enterprise They Work For You maintains the best database of your MP’s voting record as well as a useful summary of their position on the most important issues. Over the years, the site has quietly become an integral part of the British electoral machine. MPs who initially resented it because it makes emailing your MP too easy have now adjusted to the flow of communications and take it for granted. You can sign up to get an email alert every time your MP does something interesting in Parliament.

Scene inside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Chaotic cables and piping under a low ceiling. A sign reads: No access unauthorised Respiratory equipment and overalls must be worn
Asbestos, rotting cables, leaking pipes.

Go to the source. Parliament may be falling down but its digital systems are a genuine wonder – and a model for Parliaments and assemblies around the world. It’s easy to call up your MP’s speeches in the house, questions for the Prime Minister, contributions to select committees, the works. You can also watch Parliamentary debates live while in session, debates in Westminster Hall and there’s an archive of video from committee sessions going back to 2007.

Set up a Google alert. The absolute backbone of lazy Internet research. There must be a billion live alerts running worldwide. Search for what you’re interested in, turn it into an email alert, set the frequency and level of detail. Simple. Our daily alert for ‘Oliver Dowden‘ is vital to this blog and regularly produces unexpected gems. For instance, Dowden, in his role as a senior Cabinet Office Minister, is responsible for enforcing the rules on foreign investments in UK businesses. The system was set up to impede the Chinese takeover of swathes of British industry – mainly because this is a big policy priority for our American allies. It’s a total mess, of course, and entirely ineffective, so Dowden is now planning an embarrassing u-turn but we’d have known nothing about any of it without our trusty Google alert.

An official photograph of Oliver Dowden MP with a British Army captain's hat crudely photoshopped onto his head
Captain Dowden

Pay attention to what they say. Dowden’s web site is pretty good. You can sign up for his ‘end of term report’ and read his columns for various local freesheets. None of this is very interesting, of course – in fact it’s almost the definition of paralysingly boring – but it’ll give you a sense of your MP’s priorities.

Socia media remains vital. Politicians are still active on X (formerly known as Twitter) and on Facebook. Some of the more adventurous have built audiences on Instagram and TikTok (do you remember Matt Hancock’s smartphone app, inventively called ‘Matt Hancock’, dating from back when he was just a figure of fun, before he became a Shakespearean farce?). You’ll often find politicians publishing statements, resignation letters and endorsements on social media without publishing them anywhere else. The platforms have become a proxy for a press office and the nearest we’ve got to an archive. During the Pincher affair we recorded over 70 resignation letters published on Twitter alone.

Subscribe. Most web sites still offer their content in a vintage format that many consider to be the last non-evil thing on the Internet. It’s called RSS and it allows to you add a feed to a simple reader app on your mobile or your computer and automatically get updates whenever new content is added. We’ve got one here at Radlett Wire and we’ve even got a niche feed for our MP. Add one or both to your RSS reader for ultimate convenience. RSS is still used extensively by journalists and researchers. It’s kind of a trade secret. Don’t tell anyone.


  • Our favourite RSS reader, now that Google Reader has gone, is a Mac app called Reeder. There are plenty of others – for all platforms.

Shall we fire this thing up again?

There’s an election coming. We can feel the electricity in the air.

A three-quarter-length portrait, taken in the light from a window in a long room at Windsor Castle in 2023 by photographer Hugo Burn and shows His Majesty King Charles III wearing the Royal Navy uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet and official medals and decorations. He leans on a small table, his sailor's cap and white gloves on the table.
This is not Oliver Dowden, it’s the King in a sailor’s uniform. That’ll be £8 Million.

We haven’t posted here for seven months. We took a break and meanwhile, you may have noticed, the world got even more dark and weird. But Rishi Sunak says his ‘working assumption’ is that we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year so the politics is about to get a bit more interesting (and then there’s the polling). Maybe it’s time to start blogging again.

So what’s our MP actually been up to?

In the intervening period, Oliver Dowden, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Rishi Sunak after Dominic Raab resigned in April of last year (there was another bullying scandal. We know, it’s really hard to keep up). Dowden remains Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office and has continued to excel as a bagman, flitting from studio to studio, mopping up after everyone from Peter Bone to Boris Johnson to Suella Braverman (remember her?) to Michel Mone to the boss himself and picking up salient issues as they hit the inbox – strikes, Artificial Intelligence (for designing bioweapons and for getting rid of surplus civil servants) and Chinese takeovers of UK businesses, for instance. He’s got bit parts in the Covid Inquiry and in the Post Office scandal, of course (we could include definitely not covering up for a rapist in the Conservative Party, asking Netflix to tell everyone The Crown is made-up, casually snubbing the Greek Prime Minister and more-or-less constantly complaining about Gary Lineker but honestly this list is getting a bit long).

We don’t want to be too dismissive. Dowden did collide with a few big issues along the way – he addressed the UN about Ukraine, spoke for the government on the Gaza protests and called a Cobra meeting about the terror threat. The fact that Oliver Dowden actually ran the country for a few days during the Summer holidays may or may not fill you with dread.

Untouched by scandal

None of this is what you’d call inspiring is it? But this constant focus on the political nitty-gritty and selflessly stepping up to defend the indefensible when asked to has obviously served Dowden well. No detectable scandal (that 25 grand payment barely gets him into the top 50 MPs), no public shaming, he’s not been asked to leave via the back door of Number 10 once yet. Classic teflon.

The boss is back

A departure for the ages

It must be, er, bewildering (Upsetting? Galling?) for Oliver Dowden to see his first political boss David Cameron, who departed the scene like a thief in the night (humming) in 2016, actually re-entering government via the back door, though. In a just world Dowden would have eclipsed his sensei by now but, tragically, he finds himself down the table from the old Etonian again. It must be maddening, especially as Cameron didn’t even have to go to the trouble of getting elected this time – he just strolled into the House of Lords and picked up his ermine (and his £104,360 per year salary).

Perfectly normal

Head-and-shoulders portrait photograph of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev in an ornate frame. He's wearing a black suit, white shirt and dark blue tie. He sits against a flag and emblem of Azerbaijan

So, let’s get to that portrait of the King. Oliver Dowden has chosen a photograph of Charles III wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, with the many medals and insignia he has earned in that role, taken in one of his castles. It’s A3-sized and comes in an oak frame1. If you represent a ‘public authority’ you can get one for nothing (you just have to send an email). What you’re required to do with it is not specified – although we assume you’re supposed to hang it on the wall in the lobby, like they do in Azerbaijan. The cost to tax-payers is expected to be £8 Million. And we’re all going to carry on acting like this is a perfectly normal thing for the government of a democracy to do in 2024.

YouGov MRP poll - chart with text that reads: Labour would win 120-seat majority if election were held tomorrow. Median seat count estimates in latest YouGov MRP, based on modelled responses from 14,110 British adults. Chart shows 385 seats for Labour and 202 seats for Conservative.
For a Tory MP this is what gets you updating your LinkedIn in January 2024

In our next post we’ll look at the recent polling, including last week’s allegedly hyper-accurate MRP poll, commissioned by Lord David Frost and paid for by a shadowy group calling itself The Conservative Britain Alliance (the Electoral Commission wants to know who they are), that’s put the fear of God into Tory MPs and triggered this week’s frenzied (and highly entertaining) festival of recrimination and panic in the corridors and meeting rooms of the House of Commons and CCHQ.


  1. Some people have raised concerns about the little camera at the top of the picture frame. We’re pretty sure you can just put a bit of tape or a Post-It Note over it, although we’re not sure if that’s actually allowed. ↩︎
  • As a Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Dowden remains responsible for the government’s 22-person propriety and ethics team – he’s this guy‘s boss. It’s still not clear what they actually do.
  • We’re urged to recognise Lord Cameron’s selfless devotion to duty. He’s promised not to collect his daily £342 House of Lords attendance allowance while collecting his £104,360 per year ministerial salary, for instance, and he’s had to give up the enormous sums he’s been earning as a consultant and adviser in the private sector. In every year since he resigned he’s claimed the allowance for former Prime Ministers – the Public Duty Costs Allowance (PDCA) – which runs to a maximum of £115,000 per year and it’s not known if he’ll continue to claim it now that he’s a minister. Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office hasn’t finished investigating the affairs of his former employer Greensill Capital, where Cameron’s salary was £720,000 per year (he was also given shares in the company and sold them just before it went bust for £3.3M)
  • At Radlett Wire we’re convinced that there’s some value in keeping an eye on the conduct of a local MP – especially in a constituency like ours that’s been dominated by one party since its creation forty years ago. It’s one of the worthwhile things that local blogs all over the country still do. We’ve grouped all the Dowden posts together with the tag #DowdenLog. You can use an RSS reader to subscribe to the blog or just to our gripping Oliver Dowden updates. If you follow Radlett Wire on Twitter/X, on Facebook and now in the Fediverse (search for @blog on Mastodon or your favourite ActivtyPub service) we’ll also share every Dowden post there.

Dowden steps up

For the Deputy Prime Minister, our MP, it’s time to become part of the story.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

You’re a successful politician, you’ve played the game, moved with the populist times, you’ve gone to America and come back an anti-woke crusader. You’ve picked your allies carefully. More to the point, you’ve measured out your support for the big beasts cleverly and you’ve not really put a foot wrong. In a cabinet stuffed with chancers and bullies and weirdos you’re practically a saint. But you’re stuck in the second tier and the clock is ticking. What to do?

Oliver Dowden’s come a long way from speech-writer and trouble-shooter in David Cameron’s office while his party was in opposition. He’s developed a reputation for political savvy and good timing. He’s moved around the fringes of power, taking up various important bagman roles and he’s never disgraced himself. But there’s less than a year to go before the most likely date for the next general election and Dowden must get a move on if he’s to make an impact before he’s back on the opposition benches and kissing babies at the fair.

He’s clocking up valuable hours at the despatch box and cultivating an implausible new ‘working class’ image (although he must realise that if it’s not possible for the leader of the Labour Party, it definitely won’t work for him).

So it’s easy enough to understand why he’s decided now’s the time to pick sides in the war of succession between Johnson and Sunak. Johnson’s allies are briefing that Dowden is the source of the leaked diary entries that kicked off the latest chapter of Johnson’s unconscionable persecution. They’re calling Dowden a ‘compliant tool of the blob‘. It’s game on.

And if you’re going to step into history, to become more than a footnote in the big monographs that will be written about the period you need to act. Dowden’s fervent hope is that taking his opposition to the Johnson faction up a gear and cementing himself more firmly to Project Sunak, he’ll secure a bigger job and a more important role, closer to the elemental core of Britain’s crown-constitutional weirdness, when the wheel turns and the Tories are re-instated, as they surely will be, to their natural leadership position in the fullness of time.

When you’re 20 points behind in the polls…

Second jobs, woke nonsense, stolen artworks, a taskforce that’s done literally nothing – what your MP’s been up to since the new year

Photograph of an empty meeting room with a flipchart and a large boardroom table
An empty meeting room like the one in which Oliver Dowden hasn’t been holding his strikes taskforce meetings

Follow the money. Oliver Dowden features in this big Sky News exposé of payments to MPs, from which we learn that our legislators have taken £17.1 million from second jobs in this parliament and that almost 90% of it went to Tories. We already knew about Dowden’s extra income but it was interesting to learn that his twenty-five grand* barely gets him into the top 35% of all MPs – although, according to Byline Times, Dowden is also one of ten MPs – all Tories, of course – who have taken jobs with party donors in the last year.

It’s all culture wars all the time. Have you noticed that whenever things get bad for this Conservative government – strikes, small boats, sexual predators in the police, flatlining economy – they seem to develop a heightened interest in university radicals and unisex toilets? This time the Scottish Parliament has provided a handy opportunity for Sunak’s government to win some culture wars points. Oliver Dowden has a role here – he’s been asked by the Prime Minister to appoint an ‘Anti-Woke Czar’ to clamp down on political correctness in universities. Expect much more of this in coming weeks. It’s all they’ve got.

The strikes taskforce is apparently on strike. In December Dowden was appointed head of the government’s Winter of Discontent taskforce. There were a couple of TV appearances but since then it looks like he hasn’t actually done anything. We’ve continued to research this and we still can’t find any meetings, new policies, announcements or action of any kind, in fact (if you’ve spotted any activity from the taskforce do let us know in a comment. We’ll update this post). Our MP has also been out defending the government’s proposed new anti-strike legislation while the rest of us wonder how threatening nurses with the sack can possibly help resolve the deepest crisis in our public services in decades.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

Clinging to the loot. Oliver Dowden opposes the return of stolen artworks – Benin bronzes, Acropolis friezes and so on – appearing on the telly, making it all part of his anti-woke campaign, writing stern letters to the museums and so on. Meanwhile, the museums are just getting on with it, finding clever ways around the government’s rules and sending artworks home anyway. There’s even been progress in the gnarliest of disagreements – the one between the Greeks and the British Museum. The new Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan, has returned to the matter, and is also insisting that artworks must not be returned. This one is going to run and run.


* To clarify, as we reported here, some of Oliver Dowden’s money in this parliament has come from Caxton Associates, the Mayfair hedge fund known to have made money from shorting the pound and for bankrolling Liz Truss’s short-lived assault on rationality last year. Some has come from the slightly less notorious South Hertfordshire Business Club – a club with no web site, no staff, no premises, no accounts and, apparently, no members (looks like it shares an address with the St Albans Conservative Association). According to the Electoral Commission, though, the club has given £82,741.09 to Hertsmere Tories since 2017. Details in this spreadsheet. And more here about the very careful timing of Dowden’s second jobs.

How does Hertsmere vote?

Our constituency has only ever had three MPs: a Thatcher ally removed after he turned out to be quite possibly the greatest heel in Tory history (in a competitive field); a diligent but unremarkable backbencher, ejected to make room for a SPAD on the fast-track; and the SPAD himself

Chart showing election results in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019. Full data at a link below the chart.
Voting in the Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency from 1983 to 2019 (full data)

This post was updated on 19 January 2024 and includes data from a 15 January YouGov opinion poll.

The chart shows 36 years of Hertsmere General Election voting, from the Thatcher high water mark of 1983 (the biggest landslide since Labour’s 1945 win) to 2019’s big result for Johnson, via that other high water mark – Blair’s even bigger 1997 landslide.

The Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency has only existed since 1983. Before it there was a constituency called South Hertfordshire that itself only lasted for three general elections. Cecil Parkinson was Hertsmere’s first MP. He had entered Parliament in the 1970 general election that brought the Conservatives under Edward Heath to power. Parkinson became a close ally of Margaret Thatcher and joined her cabinet in 1979. He moved to the new Hertsmere constituency for the 1983 election (the ‘Falklands election’), when he also ran the successful Conservative election campaign. He resigned later that year, after a particularly grim scandal and, although he had returned to the cabinet in the meantime, stepped down again on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation and left the Commons in 1992 (ennobled, of course), to be replaced in Hertsmere by James Clappison, who went on to be a popular and hard-working constituency representative – always a backbencher – for five Parliamentary terms.

Clappison was summarily dumped by his party – one of those brutal ejections that the Conservatives are fond of, for the 2015 election. History records that Hertsmere very nearly became home to one Boris Johnson. In the event, though, Johnson was installed in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and we got David Cameron adviser Oliver Dowden instead. Local boy Dowden is also a hard-working constituency MP, visible in the area and always ready to support local causes. He’s had an interesting few years, first promoted to a junior ministerial role by Theresa May. His period as Culture Secretary under Boris Johnson took in the pandemic and a pandemic bail-out for theatres and art galleries. Moved to the holding position of Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party he took up the Culture Wars with a vigour that some found surprising. In that period he famously endorsed privet hedges and took up arms against unisex toilets and woke road signs.

Boris Johnson and Oliver Dowden jumping
Johnson and Dowden jumping

For a second-tier politician, Dowden’s always been pretty close to the action (once a Number 10 staffer, always a Number 10 staffer). He was first to endorse Johnson to replace Theresa May but also first to resign as Johnson’s final crisis began. Joining #TeamRishi was another low-key masterstroke for our operator, although his return to the front bench was delayed by that weird 49-day Liz Truss thing, during which Dowden was very much on the outside (we learn that he was partying with at a hotel in Leicester Square the night before Kwasi Kwarteng’s dismissal. Schadenfreude, much?). Ultimately, of course, Sunak was choppered in by the membership and Dowden’s (quite short) period in the wilderness was over. There was some speculation at the time that he wouldn’t stand at the next general election, which can take place no later than 28 January 2025. At this writing (19 January 2024) he has not declared his candidacy but it seems likely he’ll stand.


So, back to the elections. What all the results in our chart have in common, of course, is the winner. Hertsmere has been a comfortably Conservative seat for its whole history. Even the Blair revolution, in which Labour took 418 Parliamentary seats, the largest number ever held by a UK party, couldn’t (quite) touch that and, since then, although Corbyn narrowed the gap a bit in that surprising 2017 result, the Tories are now further ahead in Hertsmere than they’ve ever been.

In some ways, the Liberals’ trajectory in the constituency since 1983 is the grimmest of all – essentially a steady fall from a quarter of the vote – and second place ahead of Labour – to less than half that and a poor third place. Among the also-rans, you can see the collapse of the far-right parties as their platforms have been absorbed by the ever-adaptable Tories.

This chart shows the Conservatives’ winning majority in Hertsmere, over the 36-year period. You can see just how close things got in 1997. It’s also interesting to note how long it’s taken the party to recover from that enormous electoral shock – essentially a whole political generation.

Chart showing the Conservative candidate's winning majority in parliamentary elections in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019
Full data

And this chart shows turnout over the same period, a pretty steady picture that puts Hertsmere a little above the 2019 average for the UK – although roughly in line with other constituencies with a similar, older-than-average, age profile.

Chart showing turnout in parliamentary elections in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019. Full data is in a spreadsheet linked below this graphic.
Full data

To keep the top chart simple, we’ve left out the minor parties – the levitating transcendentalists from the Natural Law Party (please watch their amazing 1994 European Parliamentary election broadcast); James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, whose programme looked pretty kooky at the time but now looks like a model of sanity; the Independent Communist candidate whose vote exceeded 2% back in 19831; Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the BNP, whose Daniel Seabrook ran once in 2010 before being rendered entirely irrelevant by UKIP.

On 15 January 2024, polling company YouGov published a big national opinion poll – commissioned by the Daily Telegraph and using the gold-standard MRP technique which involves a much bigger sample than ordinary polls and clever demographic weighting. The result induced visible terror in Tory MPs and a frenzy of recrimination in the corridors and meeting rooms. For Hertsmere the projected result is dramatic but leaves Dowden in his seat:

Chart showing election results in the Hertsmere constituency between 1983 and 2019 plus data from a January 2024 YouGov opinion poll. Full data available in a spreadsheet linked below this graphic.
Full data

In fact, if this actually happened, the Conservative margin in Hertsmere would still be slightly larger than it was in the 1997 Labour landslide. The Reform Party, aiming to stand everywhere, polls 10% in the YouGov estimate, which is interesting but, in Hertsmere, not material to the result.

The raw data, including the smaller-party numbers not shown above, is in this spreadsheet, with the graphs, in case you’re interested, you weirdos.


  1. It took us a minute to figure out that it’s actually quite unlikely that there were 1,000 Communists in Hertsmere in 1983 and much more likely that the fact that the candidate’s surname, like the winner’s, was Parkinson, contributed to his surprising vote share. ↩︎

Battle commences

A new-build housing estate in the countryside

Liz Truss’s first Prime Ministers’ Questions passed without Oliver Dowden’s presence but our MP’s definitely been pitch-rolling* for the big green belt fight

Hertsmere stays blue but only just

The Tory Party’s own Anti-Growth Coalition smells blood. Parliament is back after a long conference season break, extended by the Queen’s funeral. Labour is now an average of 30 points ahead of the Tories in national opinion polls. If there was a general election tomorrow Labour’s parliamentary majority would be over 300. Dowden would hang on to his seat but his majority in Hertsmere would be smaller even than the historic low of the 1997 Blair landslide. The weakness of the government brought about by the Chancellor’s catastrophic mini-budget hasn’t just empowered the opposition, though, it’s boosted critics inside the governing party too.

Tory backbenchers may mobilise against cuts in benefits that they can see will be disastrous, or they might decide that the NI increase that was going to fund social care must be reinstated. Let’s face it, though, what’s really got them going is the prospect of winning concessions on proposed planning reforms from the embattled front bench. The 2019 manifesto pledge to build 300,000 new homes per year – so far undelivered of course – looks like it’s about to be scrapped so the anti-growth Tories might record that as victory number one in the coming war.

It won’t be the first time Tories from the shires and the home counties have derailed planning reforms. Economic growth will always be secondary to protection of the green belt in these constituencies. Almost everyone – and especially the economically liberal end of the think tank spectrum – recognises that Britain’s bizarre and sclerotic planning regime is holding back vital infrastructure investment and improvements to the housing stock. For Tory MPs, though, this remains the ultimate third rail issue.

It seems that Tory backbenchers are also teaming up with Labour MPs in constituencies threatened with the prospect of fracking. If your response to the government’s announcement that fracking would restart was “it’ll never happen” give yourself a pat on the back.

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

Oliver Dowden is out of ministerial office and, for the time being, out of favour. He continues to use his time out in the cold to restore his bond with Hertsmere constituents in time for the general election. He’s defending the green belt on Twitter and insisting on local consent to planning decisions. He’s firing off written questions to ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (the planning ministry). So far they’ve all been about planning and the green belt. We shared the first three in an earlier post. His most recent questions are:

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether he will take steps to protect the Green Belt in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Question from Oliver Dowden, 10 October 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what the Government’s policy is on the calculation of new housing targets in local authorities which are predominately made up of Green Belt land.

Question from Oliver Dowden, 10 October 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what steps the Government is taking to address local housing projections which are based on out-of-date numbers.

Question from Oliver Dowden, 10 October 2022

The minister assigned these questions, Parliamentary Under Secretary Lee Rowley, responds with a holding position:

Existing Government policy is to help make home ownership affordable for more people and to help more people rent their own home. To do that, we will need to deliver more homes. The standard method for assessing local housing need is used by councils to inform the preparation of their local plans and, as part of the local plan process, Councils are responsible for determining the best approach to development in their areas, including taking into consideration important matters such as Green Belt.

The previous Government undertook a review of the standard method formula in 2020 and, after carefully considering consultation responses, they retained the existing formula providing stability and certainty for planning and for local communities. As with all policies, we are monitoring the standard method, particularly as the impact of changes to the way we live and work and levelling up become clear.

Written answer from Lee Rowley, 10 October 2022

National planning frameworks, local plans, rules about affordable housing, a tapestry of historic green belt protections – this is a complicated business and dry as dust (we practically nodded off typing this) but there can’t be a better-informed group than these home counties MPs. They’re planning ninjas, with hundreds of years of opposing major projects and reform to the rules between them. We can only sympathise with Mr Rowley, whose inbox, we feel certain, is going to be pinging constantly as these questions pour in. A quick search of They Work For You suggests that many Tory MPs have kicked off the new session with detailed questions about planning. They’re going to be a tough crowd and the action returns to the floor of the house soon. Meanwhile the markets remain unimpressed, mortgage rates are now rising faster than during the financial crisis and the Winter looms.

* If you’ve been listening to the increasingly desperate defences of the Truss-Kwarteng mini-catastrophe from various leadership proxies you’ll have heard the phrase ‘rolling the pitch’ or ‘pitch-rolling’, as in “…the suspension of politics in the mourning period left no time to ‘roll the pitch’ and warn investors of his plan.” We think this awkward (but obviously very Tory) phrase was first applied to politics by David Cameron. Here’s an example from 2014.

Oliver Dowden is the Anti-Growth Coalition

He swerved his party’s conference and he’s getting ready for a battle with Truss over planning and the green belt

We’re not insiders here at Radlett Wire, just observers. We can’t tell you what’s going on in our MP’s head, we can just tell you what he’s up to, what he’s saying in public, how he votes.

So we have no idea what Oliver Dowden was thinking during the last ten days of chaos in the financial markets, surging bond yields and mounting anxiety about the highest mortgage interest rates in 14 years. We do know that he was completely silent, on all platforms for over a week.

We also know that Dowden was on and that Rishi Sunak’s position on Truss-Kwarteng’s voodoo economics is well known. The former Chancellor even essentially predicted the present chaos. We also know that Dowden is not in Birmingham for his party’s conference (only loyalists attended, and even those who did sloped off early). Gordon Rayner in The Telegraph speculates that Dowden’s disilllusionment might even cause him to stand down at the next election (and the party might decide to replace him with a more compliant candidate anyway, of course, as they did when Dowden himself was helicoptered in to replace the hapless James Clappison).

Britain is still in shock. We all knew that Liz Truss and her Chancellor were prepared to ‘challenge economic orthodoxy’ but no one expected the arbitrary, unhinged intensity of that Friday morning in Parliament and the spiralling chaos of the following hours and days, the Bank of England’s emergency action, the withdrawal of thousands of mortgage products, the despair of young borrowers. The damage to Tory Party prospects might well be terminal.

Ouch. This poll of polls does not look good (New Statesman, October 2022)

Opinion polls are showing vast, 1997-style leads for Labour, the kind of leads only overcome by an incumbent once in electoral history – by Margaret Thatcher, as it happens – although she needed to win a war in the South Atlantic to achieve that. Kwasi Kwarteng, in a YouGov poll, has pulled off the extraordinary feat of going straight from being ‘mostly unknown’ to ‘mostly disliked’ with no honeymoon period at all, even among Conservative voters. Danny Finkelstein, Tory peer and realist, says in The Times that Tories must brace for a rout worse than 1997. Another insider, Tim Montgomerie, founder of the influential Conservative Home web site, told BBC radio that Truss will have to go or the party will face a choice of being ‘a joke or dead‘ by Christmas.

Kwarteng’s moment in the sun, one for which he seemed oddly unprepared (or was that just us?), the ‘mini-budget‘ that made Britain a laughing stock, lays out an economic programme that teeters, like an upside-down jelly pyramid of stupid, on a single chart – long discredited – which asserts that cutting tax rates can increase tax revenues by promoting investment (it’s called the Laffer Curve, this chart, and even Laffer says it doesn’t mean what they think it does). Kwarteng’s announcement will be remembered for one of the worst outcomes for a Chancellor since they executed Thomas Browne for treason in 1460.

So what has Oliver Dowden been doing with the time he might have spent walking the corridors and hotel bars in Birmingham? He’s been preparing (cue training montage, like the one in Kung Fu Panda or in Rocky IV). Search Parliament’s feeds and you’ll find he’s been working on his game for the planning debate for when Parliament returns, firing off a sequence of barbed questions about planning and the protection of the green belt, the Tory Kryptonite.

On 28 September he submitted this written question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what the Government’s policy is on the ability for the Planning Inspectorate to override planning decisions made by local councils.

and this one

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, what steps the Government will take to ensure local authorities can put in place Local Plans which ensure the protection of local green spaces.

another another

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether the Government will take steps to prevent overdevelopment of Green Belt land in its future planning reforms.

(Click the links above for the minister’s predictably anodyne answers)

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

Oliver Dowden’s doing something that Tory MPs in the green and suburban bits of Britain will all be doing right now – he’s getting ready for the big fight over planning, a fight that will set heartland Tories like him against newer ‘red wall’ MPs and against the market headbangers in the cabinet. A key aspect of the Truss government’s ‘growth plan‘ (still pretty thin, if truth be told) is a loosening of planning law and an opening up of the green belt for development. The darkly hollow phrase ‘with community consent’, which either renders the government’s plans for an explosion in new development meaningless or suggests a very special definition of ‘consent’, really doesn’t make the plan seem any more deliverable. This is going to be one of the major battles inside the Conservative party in the new Parliamentary session. Our MP, formerly Minister for Privet Hedges, remember, is going to be on the front line.

Spare a thought for the left-behind

A composite image of Conservative MP Oliver Dowden, wearing a surgical mask and floating against a virtual reality background
Oliver Dowden floating in some kind of dimensionless alternate reality

Honestly, you have to feel for our MP. Almost the definition of ‘left behind’. The man whose early resignation threw the switch for the final Johnson meltdown and one of the first to come out for Rishi in the leadership contest, he’s been silent on all platforms since before the ‘mini-budget’. The mini-budget that seems to have confirmed everything he and #TeamRishi said would happen if Truss won.

He and the other non-headbangers in the Parliamentary party must be grinding their teeth as Britain turns awkwardly, like a burning airship in a black and white film, and descends into a whole new economic category. Borrowing costs for the UK government are now higher than for the ‘PIIGS’, the nations stricken by the European debt crisis ten years ago. Larry Summers, former United States Treasury Secretary, calls this new category ‘submerging’, which you’ve got to admit is funny, but also captures the dark truth of Britain’s rapidly shifting status.

Historians tell us that Britain’s decline as an economic and geopolitical power can in part be attributed to the fact that the country was the first to industrialise, the first to marry capitalism with the modern nation-state. To simplify, with capitalism it’s first-in, first-out. Truss and Kwarteng seem to be almost desperate to confirm the theory, to accelerate Britain’s passage from economic Premier League titan to shabby Championship has-been.

So the question, for a Remainer Tory of the old school (or at least a school fairly closely associated with the old school) like Oliver Dowden, concerned with the ancient verities of fiscal probity and economic competence, is when to move, when to put your head above the parapet.

The risks are obviously enormous – if he goes public with criticism of the Truss-Kwarteng supply-side suicide-pact and, by some chance, the regime scrapes through and is still in office in the New Year, Dowden’s one-way ticket to outer darkness will be confirmed. But if he goes early, sets out his stall cleverly and Truss-Kwarteng are driven into retreat (or even out of office) he could be well-placed for a senior role in the clean-up team.


In an office at BBC Broadcasting House, left to right, Cllr Morris Bright, Leader of Hertsmere Borough Council, Oliver Dowden MP, Tim Davie, Director-General of the BBC - photo from Oliver Dowden's web site
A pointless meeting

In the meantime, Dowden does have some things to be getting on with. The former Culture Secretary managed to get a pointless meeting with BBC boss Tim Davie about the proposed sale of BBC Elstree. According to his website, Dowden and the Hertsmere Councillor he took with him have secured a committment from the BBC to continue making Eastenders at the studio. As far as we know, the BBC’s plan has always been to sell the studio and lease back the Eastenders set. The BBC’s commercial arm has also just signed a lease for the use of other studios at the site. There was never any threat to take the soap elsewhere so the ‘commitment’ is essentially meaningless. Classic Dowden.

In party news, the antisemitism row in the Hertsmere Conservative party rumbles on, although we still don’t pretend to understand it. A councillor who was reprimanded has resigned from the party. Dowden’s role in the mess relates to the fact that he was Party Co-Chairman when the rules were retro-actively changed to allow the five members involved to appeal their reprimands.