The new Tory party is the most Thatcherite yet

Thatcher, not Cameron, is the guiding spirit behind the new Tories

Jonathan Isaby has a piece in today's Times looking at the new crop of Conservative candidates. Here is the crucial passage:

As for their politics, the new intake will for the most part be "Thatcher's Children", rather than "Cameron's Children". Yes, some have joined the party since he won the leadership in 2005, but far more came of age politically during the 1980s.

Isaby is right; the next Tory parliamentary party is likely to be the most Thatcherite in history. It will be stridently Eurosceptic, aggressively pro-market and hawkish on foreign policy. As I reported earlier this week, it will also be deeply reluctant to tackle climate change.

For much of the 1980s, the cabinet at least contained One-Nation Tories (the so-called wets) such as Francis Pym, James Prior and Peter Walker. But Kenneth Clarke is now the only genuine representative of this tradition left on the Tory front bench.

The party will be far more socially liberal than it was under Thatcher -- the return of Section 28, or anything like it, is now unthinkable -- but in most other respects it will be no less right-wing.

And with David Cameron likely to win a small Commons majority of roughly 30, we can expect his backbenchers to exercise significant influence on his government.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.