Welcome to the Policies on Loan section. The New Party's policies are proving so popular that the other parties are already buying into them. It is a pity that they cannot figure things out for themselves but no matter, there are plenty more where these came from!
One of our long-standing proposals for improving traffic flow has apparently been stolen by the Highways Agency. We have long argued that large trucks should be barred from the overtaking lane on certain dual carriageways at peak periods. Alas, the Highways Agency proposal for a pilot scheme on part of the M42 may have picked the wrong target. Having just undertaken a programme of works around junction 10 to increase capacity, it seems odd to follow this up by restricting HGVs to just one lane in precisely that area at this moment. We will be asking questions of the Highways Agency on this point. It is also not yet clear whether the pilot scheme will only apply to peak hours, as our proposal allows. The Highways Agency is said still to be consulting about the plan so perhaps we will forward them our transport proposals in order to make sure they get it right.
For more details of how to get Britain moving again, see our proposals on Transport.
Business rates - we are agreed!
Unlike corporation tax, business rates affect almost every business in the country and are payable whether a business is profitable or not. Business rates were once frequently used as an easy source of revenue by local authorities who did not wish to put up the more politically sensitive domestic rates. This problem was partly resolved through the introduction of the Uniform Business Rate (UBR), but business rates are still an enormous burden on some businesses. They particularly work against businesses requiring large-scale plant, such as many manufacturing businesses. For these reasons we have always advocated reducing and then phasing out business rates. It is good to see that the Conservative finance and local government spokesman in Scotland, Brian Monteith, now supports this view. A study by Professor Sir Donald MacKay has suggested that business rates could be phased out over eight years by implementing a consistent reduction of the poundage by 6p in the pound every year. So, we are agreed. Full marks to Mr Monteith!
Howard’s European Teaser
Everyone knows that the Conservatives have had a few problems over their policy on the European Union, but we thought that we knew the official policy as stated in Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Prague Declaration’ as recently as 10th July last year: that supranational decision-making (he meant the Commission) should give way to intergovernmental decision-making (that’s the Council of Ministers, with the retention of national vetoes); that a referendum should be held on the EU Constitution; and that the UK should not adopt the Euro. A Conservative government would wield the national veto like a black ball at the Garrick Club. So far, so good.
But along came Michael Howard on 12th February this year to announce a new Conservative policy. Henceforth the Conservatives would adopt a more imaginative, flexible role. Why not, he asked, let different states in the EU co-operate on certain issues without the need for uniformity? After all, we have opt-outs on the Euro and the Schengen Agreement, so the principle is already in place. Mr Howard called his flexible new Europe a ‘made-to-measure’ Europe.
This was a nice surprise for us, since it sounded very much like the flexible new ‘multi-track’ Europe that we had been advocating. We had been working on this proposal for some time. In fact, we first posted the outline policy on our website last July, at exactly the time IDS was unveiling his commendable vision, and then gave a fuller version on 6th November. Our published policy document The New Policies (24th December) gave further details, and we issued a ‘Question & Answer’ paper on the subject on 7th January. How good it was to see, therefore, that within five weeks of our definitive Q&A paper, the Conservative leadership was thinking along the same lines. So should we all pack our bags and join the Conservatives? Er, not quite.
You see, even if the European issue were the only problem with the Tories, Mr Howard’s proposals do not yet address the question of how we deal with the regulations, policies and expenditure programmes that have already been passed. The national veto does not help us to get rid of the Common Agricultural Policy, and Mr Howard has not yet said how he would do it. Nor have the Conservatives committed themselves to passing a law making the UK parliament and courts supreme over EU ‘law’. We will no doubt have to post our paper to Mr Howard in order to fill him in on the details.
The Forsyth Saga
We recently noticed a remarkable coincidence. Our March 2003 manifesto for Scotland proposed that “MPs and MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) should no longer be separate. MSPs will sit for two days a week at Westminster with other UK MPs, and two days in the Scottish Parliament." We have since developed this proposal further, but were surprised to see it crop up in an unexpected place. Lord Forsyth, the Conservative former Cabinet minister, suggested in the House of Lords on 2nd December 2003 the following: “As the Scottish Parliament sits only one and a half days a week on average, why cannot we get rid of all 129 [MSPs] altogether? Why cannot we have Scottish MPs [at Westminster] sitting in the Scottish Parliament on Mondays and Tuesdays?" Conservative MP James Gray also suggested in the House of Commons that MPs representing Scottish constituencies should divide their time between Westminster and Edinburgh, thus merging the roles of MPs and MSPs – the very solution that the New Party has advocated. Naturally we welcome the Tories endorsing our proposals and would hope for support too from Labour. Alas, Labour MP and former union hack Phil Woolas, the Deputy Leader of the Commons, has rebuffed the suggestion - understandably, perhaps, since the Labour party is so keen to protect its burgeoning power base in Scotland.