Jonathan Werran: Ministers should not be afraid to let councils sharpen their commercial edge

17 Jun

Jonathan Werran is Chief Executive of Localis.

If timing is everything, there’s never a good time to talk about local government finances.

In the spring it is ousted to its rightful place in the fiscal pecking order below health, defence and education – with a bone or two thrown into pothole relief. Summer’s a washout.

When we are back to school in autumn, the room for attention is drowned out by party conferences (aside, memorably from George Osborne’s reclamation of the political thunder in 2015 through business rates liberation). Come winter, once the autumn statement is picked dry of mellow fruitfulness, it’s the annual pre-Christmas wait and chase until the very last moment for the local government financial settlement to fall down the chimney hours before Santa arrives.

And it’s not surprising the attention economy for council finances is so paltry. The problems are better rehearsed than the cast of the Mousetrap and the proposed solutions, in lieu of the sort of fiscal devolution that could cut the Goridan knot of today’s complex and broken arrangements, merely pile the Mount Pelion of complexity upon the Mount Ossa of impossibility.

That said, we need to talk about the ‘c’ word – commercialism. In taking back control of their financial destiny, one lever at hand for our councils is the ability to generate revenue independently and, in that time-honoured Tudor phrase, ‘live of their own’.

There has been a long and proud tradition of this from the annals. King John, admittedly in the words of AA Milne not a ‘good man’, had the rebuilding of London Bridge financed from money raised by land rented for grazing sheep.

Zooming up a few centuries, Joseph Chamberlain’s ‘gas and water’ municipalism brought commercial muscle to deliver a dramatic transformation in the people of Birmingham’s living conditions. Chamberlain’s municipal reforms saw the purchase of private gas concerns and use of their consolidated profits to then buy out and improve the city’s water supply.

Indeed, when he was Coalition growth guru, the opening to Lord Heseltine’s No Stone Unturned report featured a charming portrait of Chamberlain, to which were appended the following words:

“Unless I can secure for the nation results similar to those which have followed the adoption of my policy in Birmingham… it will have been a sorry exchange to give up the town council for the cabinet.”

Would a contemporary Chamberlain or ‘Brexity Hezza’ find that – in Jeffrey Bernard’s phrase – today no good deed goes unpunished?

In recent years of course, with negative examples that can’t be safely hidden from view, some instances of council commercial activity has gone seriously awry. There’s a short litany of examples to wheel out for the occasion: Nottingham City Council and Robin Hood Energy and of most recent spectacular note; or Croydon Council and ‘Brick for Brick’ debacle which ultimately led to special measures.

It is fair to say that commercialism in the local government context has become, by dint of media exposure, a dirty word – an activity to be handled with the utmost of care, like a financial Chernobyl.

However, there is a Conservative case for not throwing baby out with the bathwater and continuing this golden thread of self-sustaining self-government. Well-managed and with risks accounted for, commercial activity has the potential to deliver more responsive and innovative services to residents.

This isn’t an agenda for casino investment, putting local taxpayers money into speculative out of town shopping centres or amenities. Such behaviour is now precluded, and on balance rightly so.

But there is a case for investing in place and for unlocking, by dint of working with the private sector, the kind of innovation local government is always thirsting for and which has the potential to accelerate how highly valued local services, for young and old, are delivered.

A poster boy for this is Cllr Peter Fleming’s Sevenoaks District Council in Kent, which through strong and savvy leadership has leveraged investment in place to put the council on the road to self-sufficiency amid continued service improvement.

So in defence of well-managed council entrepreneurialism, Localis and Human Engine have today issued a research paper, The Commercial Edge – renewing the case for the local investment state’, in which we argued that, when carried out professionally and with risks properly-managed, this agenda an unlock immense latent place potential and deliver many clear benefits to galvanise economic and social recovery.

In reframing the debate on local government commercialism, councils are advised to apply five common themes of commercial maturity around strategy and alignment; supply; demand, market intelligence and organisational culture.

The report also sets out a suite of recommendations to inform future commercial decisions aimed at local government leaders, town hall scrutiny members and central government partners.

The comments below will make for interesting reading. Accidents will happen and mistakes will always be made. Any failure at local level – whether of commerce or child protection – invariably results in the entire sector being branded unfit to exercise its functions and a fresh round of central inspection and intervention, a blizzard of wholesale blame and condemnation which never applies to the NHS’s institutional lapses.

Renewing the agenda will also rightly require a fresh approach to local scrutiny and governance. And this has to be a case of metrics as much as optics. The immense rewards of capturing greater public and social value should be measured to encourage best practice across local government.

What is at stake here is that if the consensus is that all risk is off the table, we risk further infantilising local government to the old begging bowl act and strangle a long-tradition and strong spirit of municipal entrepreneurialism – one that is capable of adapting to present needs and circumstances.

We have a choice. Either forego this and let untold financial, economic and social value evaporate into thin air. Or support our council leaders to create public value – to bring into being from their commitment, commercial nous and acumen, valued local services and amenities that are useful, profitable and of great worth and even beauty.

Henry Hill: If Wales is last to unlock, will Welsh business pay the price for our disjointed approach to Covid-19?

17 Jun

One of the more interesting subplots of the pandemic, for the sort of people who enjoy this column, has been the way it has exposed the extent to which the British Government has abdicated power under devolution and the difficulties this creates when trying to rise to common challenges.

That is not to say that one part of the country has covered itself in glory at the expense of the others. Drakeford indulged devocrat instincts at the start of the pandemic, delaying things like volunteer coordination and emergency food deliveries for the sake of not opting in to English systems, but then delivered a gold-star vaccine rollout. Sturgeon’s handling of the crisis was praised but her ministers oversaw a scandalous release of Covid patients into care homes full of vulnerable people.

For his part, the Prime Minister has repeatedly been too slow to impose lockdowns or shut the borders, but delegated responsibility for vaccine procurement to the hyper-competent Kate Bingham and thus helped secure a world-class rollout for Britain.

But despite haphazard attempts to stay on the same page, the four governments have repeatedly fallen out of alignment on Covid restrictions, creating tangible legal barriers inside the UK and giving some nationalists in Wales and Scotland an opportunity to indulge in ugly anti-English prejudice.

On unlocking, however, there might be some coincidental unity. Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that the Scottish Government will delay its own easing of coronavirus restrictions, which the Guardian reports means that “the next significant easing could coincide with England”. Or it could be much later: the First Minister has had to deny suggestions the rules could remain in place until September after Scotland’s national clinical director warned of a delay of up to ten weeks.

In Wales, meanwhile, Mark Drakeford has shown no such reticence in taking an extremely cautious approach. According to Wales Online: “the refusal of the Welsh Government to set out any kind of final target date for all restrictions being lifted has caused a different kind of frustration” – namely the danger of falling out of sync with the Treasury’s timetable for winding down economic support.

Furlough is due to start paying out a smaller share of employees’ wages in July, and then to fall again in August and September. This presents a serious worry to nightclubs and other businesses in Wales, which don’t know if they’ll be able to reopen. (If Scotland’s unlocking date does end up tracking England’s, this might explain why.)

This danger really highlights the real-world consequences of the disjointed state of the constitution. Having lockdown regimes set independently of the financial support which makes them viable risks punishing businesses and individuals, especially sectors such as the night economy which have few champions in Westminster or Cardiff Bay. But it would equally be ridiculous to allow the Welsh Government to simply vote itself as much British cash as it wanted without having to answer to the British Government, and thus the British taxpayer.

Michael Gove’s move to scrap English Votes for English Laws is reportedly about making “the House of Commons and Westminster institutions work for every part of the UK”. But part and parcel of that is making sure that Parliament can work in every part of the UK. If meeting a crisis requires the might of the British Treasury, our response should be coordinated by the British state.

Bim Afolami: The Government’s Net Gain initiative will be transformative – but its implementation must be sped up

17 Jun

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

Preserving what is good about our country so we can safely pass it on to future generations is at the heart of Conservatism. It is something that – as Tory MPs – we should all care about. Whether “Leaver” or “Remainer”, North or South, rural or urban, all of us share a common duty to conserve those vital parts of our shared heritage which make Britain great.

Our natural environment – our hedgerows, woods, moors and heaths – is one key element of this shared heritage. Indeed, the preservation of our country as a green and pleasant land is something we can unite around. Lady Thatcher recognised this with her pioneering work on the environment which culminated in the Environmental Protection Act, but this Government has continued this tradition.

From our commitment to Net Zero; to the Prime Minister’s undoubted personal enthusiasm for green projects; to the Government’s 10-point green plan that will transform our economy and will result in the creation of 250,000 new jobs, there can be no doubt in the public’s mind about the Government’s determination to ensure that we “build back greener”, and I believe this mission statement can bring the Party together as we look to deliver on our manifesto over the rest of this Parliament.

The Environment Bill (currently going through the House of Lords) is a worthy next step in the Conservative march towards establishing ourselves as the champions of the environment. It is a truly momentous piece of legislation and contains a number of brilliant policies.

One of those initiatives is “Net Gain”, a world-leading initiative that will ensure that various types of property are developed in such a way that the biodiversity value of the site (i.e. the sum total of habitats currently there) increases at the end of the build. According to the Government’s studies, this will save 9,644 ha of habitat per year, and will create an additional 5,428 ha.

Net Gain has a long history. For years it has been called for by academics and campaigners. The version of the policy set out in the Bill itself has been in development for nearly a decade, and was announced by Michael Gove over two years ago. The eyes of the world are on us as we become the first major economy to take such an ambitious step. Get it right, and countries around the world will start emulating what we’re doing – with major gains for the whole planet. It is very exciting that it is finally about to see the light of day – as long as we don’t allow some in Whitehall to delay this crucial initiative.

Buried away in the response to the response to a recent consultation is a proposal from the Government for a two year “stand still” transition period. In other words, we are about to voluntarily delay this policy. This puts at risk the destruction of 19,288 ha of habitat – that’s over 30,000 football fields. Without a considered rethink, we risk turning a flagship policy we have been developing for 10 years into something that looks like backsliding.

Let me be clear – as often with major policy changes, there are sensible reasons for a transition period. There are various things that have to be prepped – local authorities will need additional resources; there are strong arguments for brownfield sites to be exempt for at least two years; and we need to make sure that small developers can easily access the tools they need to comply with the new rules. But all of these points are arguments for a two year phasing in of the policy, not a two year stand still.

To meet the (rightly) lofty ambitions set by the Prime Minister, the Government should be bold and set out a better plan for the Net Gain transition period. They should announce a phase-in with the details described above, so we can start restoring our environment from next year after the Bill gets Royal Assent.

And they should set out a plan for rolling out the new technologies that small developers can use to comply with these new requirements (an obvious thing for the Government and Natural England to do is to set up an accreditation scheme that reviews and approves these new technical solutions to ease the transition).

If parts of the policy aren’t ready by the time the Bill gets Royal Assent (such as the purchasing of offsite plots and biodiversity credits) then those bits of the policy can be held back. But let’s try and do as much as we can as fast as we can – we shouldn’t stop the whole policy just because one or two bits need a little extra time.

Property developers, both large and small, have rightly welcomed Net Gain. The industry is ready, and we should be too. It is time the Government shows the sort of ambition the Environment Secretary recently championed and that we have committed to in the G7 2030 Nature Compact.

Instead of committing to a course that results in the destruction of 30,000 football fields worth of habitat, let’s announce that we are going to save 30,000 football fields. That would be a worthy next step in the Government’s path, and would turn a potential own goal into a bright, ambitious win which the Party can get behind.

Newslinks for Thursday 17th June 2021

17 Jun

Sixty MPs, including 49 Tory rebels, vote against extending lockdown to July 19

“MPs have approved the extension of coronavirus restrictions in England until July 19 – but 49 Tories rebelled amid demands that Boris Johnson must not ‘shift the goalposts’ and delay Freedom Day yet again. The Prime Minister was spared a defeat as Labour backed plans for a four-week delay to the end of lockdown measures, with MPs voting 461 to 60, a majority of 401, to approve regulations delaying the easing of the measures. There were 49 Tory rebels voting against the bill, including Conservative heavyweights David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Esther McVey. Five no votes came from the Democratic Unionist Party, and six from Labour. For now, limits on numbers for sports events, theatres and cinemas will remain in place, nightclubs will stay shuttered and people will be asked to continue working from home where possible.” – Daily Mail

  • Backbenchers attacked the government for prolonging the restrictions – The Times
  • Size of the rebellion is likely to unnerve ministers – Daily Telegraph
  • Freedom Day will not be delayed beyond July 19 and face mask laws will be scrapped, Hancock tells MPs – The Sun
  • Sturgeon suggests delay in Scottish Covid lockdown easing – The Guardian

>Today: MPs Etc.: The 49 Conservative MPs who voted against the Coronavirus Regulations

>Yesterday: Emily Carver’s column: Many scoffed at the claim it will be hard to regain our freedoms. Yet Ministers show no sign of handing them back.

Return of holidays abroad for people who are fully vaccinated

“Summer holidays abroad will be opened up for vaccinated Britons under plans being considered by the Government, The Telegraph understands. Officials are drawing up proposals that could allow people who have had both Covid jabs to avoid having to quarantine on their return from amber list countries, although they will still have to be tested. The change would effectively turn amber countries green for the vaccinated, opening up the possibility of quarantine-free travel to most major holiday destinations in Europe and the US. The proposals to ease the restrictions for vaccinated people are said to be at an early stage. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, who has fought for tough border restrictions, is said to be “open” to the change.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Ryanair to sue Government over border policy – FT

More:

  • Ministers to be advised against mass Covid vaccination of children – The Times
  • Covid jabs to be made compulsory for care home staff in England – FT

>Yesterday:

‘Hopeless’ Health Secretary to be cleared in lying row

“Matt Hancock is set to be exonerated over claims that he lied to the prime minister, despite new disclosures from Dominic Cummings showing that Boris Johnson regarded his health secretary as “hopeless”. Johnson’s former chief adviser published images yesterday of text messages sent by the prime minister showing dissatisfaction with the health secretary’s handling of the pandemic. They also revealed that Johnson considered stripping Hancock of responsibility for procuring PPE supplies for the NHS and giving the job to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister. Cummings has hinted that the messages are the start of a prolonged campaign to damage the government, saying he has “further evidence” that he will make “freely available to the public” to “force the system to face reality and change”.” – The Times

  • Cummings embarrasses Johnson by revealing text tirade… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and says he will release anothe batch of revelations about Hancock – Daily Mail

More:

  • Johnson ‘compared being PM to pulling a jumbo jet down a runway every day’ – The Sun
  • He could step down as Prime Minister in four years, it was claimed – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Cummings has lived, or at least blogged, in vain

Robert Shrimsley: Why today’s Johnson is the biggest risk to his future self

“The Conservatives, like many major parties, are a coalition. There are splits between authoritarians and libertarians, interventionists and Thatcherites, nativists and globalists.  Yet perhaps the most consequential fissure is the gulf between the prime minister’s lofty visions and his short-term gambits to escape a pressing problem or please a target audience. Or to put it another way, the split between Today Johnson and Future Johnson. This faultline has been obvious in the current row with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, which Boris Johnson signed but does not wish to enforce. Much of this comes down to temperament.” – FT

  • Is this the best Cummings can do? – Chris Smyth, The Times

Sunak ‘ducks pledge to raise pensions in line with wages’

“Rishi Sunak repeatedly refused to confirm that state pensions would rise as quickly as wages this year, but insisted that the so-called triple lock was “still government policy”. With pay expected to increase by as much as 8pc as battered earnings recover from the Covid crisis, the triple lock rule would commit the Government to increasing pensions by the same amount, adding £5bn to the national deficit. The uprating would happen even though pensions did not fall alongside wages last year. The Chancellor claimed he could not pre-empt a decision on pensions and insisted that forecasts of a surge were “speculation”. He said the final decision would be taken as part of a statutory review in autumn.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor ‘squirms’ as he’s grilled by on GB News about ‘eye-watering’ spending, green projects that will cost ‘trillions’ – Daily Mail
  • He backs pension triple lock but insists: I’m conservative with money – The Times

More:

  • Treasury lands £1bn windfall as companies repay furlough cash – FT
  • Bosses won’t be able to force workers back to office after July 19 – The Sun
  • Move is likely to spark a backlash amid fears it could damage productivity – Daily Mail
  • More than half of Brits say they can’t afford pricy heat pumps to replace boilers – The Sun
  • Treasury to extend ban on commercial evictions until March 2022 – FT
  • Industry-funded Chewing Gum Taskforce will be unveiled this summer – The Sun

Comment:

  • These plans for ‘work from home for ever’ will drag UK back to the 1970s – Digby Jones, Daily Mail
  • Will the real Sunak please stand up – Iain Martin, The Times

GB News boycott ‘attacks our free media’, Culture Secretary warns big brands

“Big brands must not ‘succumb to pressure groups’ by pulling adverts from GB News, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned last night. He defended the UK’s ‘free and diverse media’ after major companies withdrew commercials following pressure from Left-wing campaigners. The firms have been branded ‘gutless’ by critics after appearing to pander to woke groups who want to boycott the channel. GB News, which launched on Sunday night, is aiming to provide an alternative to Left-leaning broadcast news rivals like the BBC… Last Tory MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told the Mail: ‘This is the worst type of cancel culture.'” – Daily Mail

>Today:

UK asks EU to suspend Northern Ireland sausage ban

“The UK has asked the EU to suspend an imminent ban on the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland to give both sides “breathing space” to negotiate an agreement on the Brexit protocol and avert a trade war. Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, was speaking days after Boris Johnson warned he would do “whatever it takes” to protect Northern Ireland’s position as part of the UK. From the end of this month, a grace period on an EU prohibition on the sale of chilled meats from Great Britain in Northern Ireland shops is due to expire as part of the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to prevent the restoration of a hard border on the island of Ireland. Frost confirmed the UK had proposed an arrangement with the EU in which most of the controversial border checks on meat and dairy products would be abolished but admitted the proposal has had “very little traction” from Brussels.” – The Guardian

  • Varadkar accused of stoking tensions with ‘united Ireland’ comments – Daily Telegraph
  • Sinn Féin designates deputy first minister to avert Stormont crisis – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Ministers need to rediscover the meaning of the word Britain – Henry Hill, Times Red Box

>Yesterday:

Truss closes in on New Zealand trade deal

“Liz Truss will hold talks with New Zealand negotiators on Thursday as she seeks to pave the way for a trade deal with the country in a matter of weeks. The Trade Secretary’s Kiwi counterpart, Damien O’Connor, flew to Britain on Wednesday and the pair had dinner, ahead of direct talks due to be held in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office. It is the first time they have met in person. A deal with New Zealand is seen as a clear next step after Britain and Australia announced the outline of an agreement on Tuesday. The tie-up with Wellington is expected to follow similar broad strokes to the Australian deal – prising open the country for UK goods and services, but opening up British markets to exports sent by New Zealand farmers.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Ed Jones in Comment: A Five Eyes partner and a bulwark to China. Our relationship with Australia is about even more than trade.

Starmer missed open goal at PMQs, say his own backbenchers

“Sir Keir Starmer was accused of missing an open goal by his MPs after he failed to press the prime minister over Dominic Cummings’s latest claims. The Labour leader faced Boris Johnson at the dispatch box half an hour after the prime minister’s former adviser published his excoriating blog post. However, Starmer chose to focus on the government’s borders policy instead. In WhatsApp messages from March and April last year, revealed by Cummings, Johnson described Matt Hancock, the health secretary, as “totally f***ing hopeless”. The prime minister also referred to the failure to procure enough PPE as a disaster. Several Labour MPs who asked why Starmer did not mention the messages were told that it was because they were published 23 minutes before prime minister’s questions began.” – The Times

  • Labour picks ‘Stronger Together’ slogan used by Hillary Clinton to rebrand – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Labour needs more than leaflets to rebuild trust in Batley and Spen – Zesha Saleem, Times Red Box
  • Whether or not Labour wins the by-election, the party is in deep trouble – Owen Jones, The Guardian

Liberal Democrats hope HS2 will derail Tories in Chesham and Amersham by-election

“When voters in Chesham and Amersham go to the polls today, deep beneath their feet an HS2 boring machine called Florence will be tunnelling its way through the Chilterns. The high-speed rail line will run under the Buckinghamshire seat, where a by-election is taking place after Dame Cheryl Gillan, the constituency’s Conservative MP, died in April aged 68. Gillan represented Chesham and Amersham for 29 years and at the 2019 election held on with a majority of 16,223. The constituency was created 47 years ago and has had only Tory MPs. The Liberal Democrats, however, are hoping to win by exploiting opposition to HS2. The party’s internal polling, seen by The Times, suggests that the Tory lead has been narrowing, with the Lib Dems expecting 41 per cent of the vote compared with their 45 per cent.” – The Times

News in Brief:

  • The Government should help private schools to help themselves – Henry Hill, CapX
  • Why Remain lost – Fintan O’Toole, UnHerd
  • The new leviathan: the big state is back – James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • 20 years since Dr Richard Taylor won in the Wyre Forest – Harry Taylor, The Critic

GB News. Will anti-cancel culture campaigns emerge to cancel the cancel culture campaigns – or try to?

17 Jun

In an appalling but unsurprising state of affairs, Stop Funding Hate (SFH) has set about trying to cancel GB News. I say unsurprising because, long before the first show aired, SFH had been campaigning – although no one could have predicted how quickly it would make gains.

Helped along by other Twitter activists, SFH’s prime tactic involves pressuring advertisers to stop funding channels (“funding hate”, as its Enlightened Keyboard Warriors see it) and unfortunately it is rather a successful one. So far, companies including Ovo Energy, Octopus Energy, the Open University and Kopparberg have paused spending with GB News, and others have since followed.

Several organisations claimed that they didn’t know they had been advertising in the first place (don’t you just hate when you accidentally advertise?!). Others took a more moralistic position. IKEA, for instance, said it had safeguards “from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values”, and OVO Energy, while pausing its spending, Tweeted it believes in a “kinder world” and wants to “promote inclusion and diversity”. Just not diversity of thought, it seems…

In withdrawing their advertising, these organisations are not only hurting themselves (GB News has brought in ratings higher than Sky and the BBC, after all), but entrenching a dangerous culture that has gripped the West – whereby bullying and cancelling people/things now masquerades as social justice. This illiberal liberalism should have been put to bed long ago, but political and corporate cowardice has seen it exacerbate.

How do we stop it, though? That’s the tricky question, as Twitter activists have proven incredibly organised and capable of achieving their goals. The mainstream (because this isn’t just a right-wing phenomenon), on the other hand, sometimes seems at a loss as to how to respond, perhaps hoping these worrying trends will go away.

One thing that was encouraging about the GB News debacle was that people were more vocal than ever before in their disapproval of events. This is certainly part of the answer: companies need reminding that their consumer base goes wider than Twitter activists – and that they can inadvertently insult customers when they suggest shows, which many of them watch, are at odds with “humanistic values”.

Going forward, organisations need to strategise much better for Twitter storms. I have previously joked (ironically, on Twitter) that they could do with an “Ignore Twitter” department, but it’s not actually that far away from the truth – as what was so surprising about GB News was how unprepared companies were when they were targetted. Did they not realise that this would happen? Too often social media teams get spooked by Twitter – with no real sense of how well it reflects the real world.

Perhaps it’s time that the customer geared up, too. Occasionally I have wondered if we need to start our own campaign – a “Cancel the Cancellers” movement, for instance – to keep track of corporations that engage in cancel culture, but the danger is becoming as illiberal as the problem one is trying to counter. Personally I now simply keep a mental note of companies whose antics haven’t exactly enamoured me, such as The Body Shop, which piled in on JK Rowling. I’m just one person, but one person can quickly add up. It was notable that an advert on “toxic masculinity” by Gillette coincided with P&G’s $8 billion non-cash writedown.

In the future I suspect that some of the answer to cancel culture will be more organisations, such as the Free Speech Union and Counterweight, the latter of which offers “information, advice and support with dealing with Critical Social Justice (CSJ) ideology”, to deal with corporate politics, attacks on free speech and otherwise. What some of these unions have woken up to is that you actually have to be fairly proactive in fighting the perpetually “offended”, who are pretty organised.

In the meantime it seems to me that “people power”, as Emily Carver has recently written for ConservativeHome, will have the most sizeable impact on how organisations act. It was interesting to see the positive reaction to the Co-op, which was one of the few companies to stand by its decision to advertise with GB News, on social media. But this wasn’t completely out of the blue, as it had previously tried to stop funding with The Spectator, which did not end particularly well (read more here). That Co-op now takes such a brave stand suggests there’s truth to the expression “go woke, go broke”. It doesn’t hurt anyone to remember that only the customer can cancel in the end.

The 49 Conservative MPs who voted against the Coronavirus Regulations

17 Jun
  • Adam Afriyie
  • Siobhan Baillie
  • Harriet Baldwin
  • Bob Blackman
  • Crispin Blunt

 

  • Peter Bone
  • Karen Bradley
  • Graham Brady
  • Andrew Bridgen
  • Steve Brine

 

  • Miriam Cates
  • Christopher Chope
  • Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
  • Elliot Colburn
  • Philip Davies

 

  • David Davis
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • Richard Drax
  • Ian Duncan Smith
  • Mark Francois

 

  • Marcus Fysh
  • Chris Grayling
  • Chris Green
  • Mark Harper
  • Philip Hollobone

 

  • David Jones
  • Pauline Latham
  • Andrew Lewer
  • Chris Loder
  • Jonathan Lord

 

  • Tim Loughton
  • Craig Mackinlay
  • Karl McCartney
  • Stephen McPartland
  • Esther McVey

 

  • Huw Merriman
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • Mark Pawsey
  • John Redwood
  • Andrew Rossindell

 

  • Greg Smith
  • Henry Smith
  • Julian Sturdy
  • Desmond Swayne
  • Robert Syms

 

  • Craig Tracey
  • Charles Walker
  • David Warburton
  • William Wragg

Plus two tellers: Steve Baker and Jackie Doyle-Price.

That’s the biggest Covid rebellion since December 2, when 53 Tory backbenchers opposed the tiering plan. The number of those who would vote against a further extension would almost certainly rise.

This was undoubtedly a good result for those Conservative MPs who want a complete end to lockdown – including those in government who voted with the whip.

    Nigel Biggar and Doug Stokes: Woke – and its consequences. As power shifts from the West, who will carry the torch for freedom?

    17 Jun

    Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford. Doug Stokes is Professor of International Security at the University of Exeter. Their latest policy paper, How ‘progressive’ anti-imperialism threatens the United Kingdom, was recently published by the Council on Geostrategy.

    Across the UK, cultural institutions are dominated by a ‘woke’ deconstructive secular theology imported from the US. This new secular religion emphasises the historically malign nature of British statecraft.

    The decolonisation narrative about British history has much in common with states hostile to the UK’s national security interests. From China’s growing global ambition, Russia’s military revisionism or the continuing threat from radical Islamist insurgencies, these states and social forces draw on a similar historical narrative rooted in the sense of grievance due to the alleged malign agency of the West. By deconstructing the Anglo-American-led order, British culture, and its institutions, redemption will be achieved, and the UK will finally be cleansed of historical sin.

    The self-claimed ‘progressive’ nature of those calling up this narrative – whether to advance the cause of racial justice or righting historical wrongs in the name of instantiating a more equal and fairer world order – is at odds with recent geopolitical developments. Although it is Western-created, the international order, knitted together by a range of global institutions, has provided the context for worldwide economic growth and shifts in economic power to East Asia.

    In many ways, these developments help explain the rise of the West’s ‘culture wars’. Globalisation is a buzzword that masks the profound structural change of the Anglophone political economies, whereby the balance of power between workers and capital shifted radically in the latter’s favour. The ‘offshoring’ of manufacturing by major multinational corporations saw the rapid decline of industrial jobs in the West and traditional communities reliant on them. Accompanying this decline in manufacturing was the rise of new professional-managerial classes, where politics became insulated from popular pressures and instead became shifts between technocratic elites.

    The ‘old’ left transformed from a politics of redistribution rooted in a materialist analysis of political economy to a new moralistic coalition, with emphasis placed on identity and a politics of grievance to help corral new electoral alliances in the context of deindustrialisation. On the right, a similar tension has grown between neoliberal free-marketeers happy to allow the market to rein in the process of ‘creative destruction’ versus more traditional conservatives, whose more traditional communitarian values are based around patriotism and the primacy of the nation.

    These changes in the macro-economy and shifts in the international distribution of economic power have profoundly shifted political alliances in British politics that cross-cut traditional party lines. A new moral order, predicated around borders versus borderlessness, or what David Goodhart has called the ‘somewheres’ and the ‘anywheres’, has come to define British politics.

    The ‘anywheres’ champion a deconstructive ‘progressivism’, which seeks to promote high-status ideas around openness, inclusion and diversity. In reality, these alleged progressive ideas act to reinscribe moral authority into elite cultural and political institutions by their assumption of the responsibility for minority upliftment and technocratic problem-solving, while abandoning responsibility for the ‘somewheres’, portrayed as backward, reactionary and beyond the pale.

    This politics of national repudiation was deeply inscribed in the Brexit wars of the last five years. Less a rational cost-versus-benefit analysis, and more akin to a theological battle, the reality was that the faith in a flat borderless world always rested on a highly contingent post-1945 settlement that has been the anomaly and not the norm in human history. Rather than the EU, the post-war European peace of the last 70y years has been sustained by US and UK security guarantees in NATO and the temporary resolution of Germany’s natural continental hegemony through the constitutionalisation of its power within a pan-European superstructure.

    Through this lens, the impulse of Brexit can be interpreted as a return to the primacy of national sovereignty in an increasingly post-liberal world order where geopolitics and great power competition are making a rapid comeback. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that the global economy will revert to a bipolar world that, from a trade perspective, will appear something like the Cold War stand-off between the Soviet Union’s Council for Mutual Economic Assistance trading bloc and the US-led Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) trading area, with developing countries siding with one or the other as they see fit.

    What would this mean for the UK? If the world divides into competing regional trading blocs – arguably the more likely outcome – Britain would doubtless join the US bloc for economic and national security reasons. So too would the EU, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Life would not be comfortable. Competition for secure sources of supplies would be fierce.

    The situation within the US trading bloc might resemble the nineteenth-century world, where states competed through formal and informal colonisation or their ‘national champion’ companies for access to supplies. Except, in the twenty-first century, competition would be through overseas direct investment rather than formal colonisation. In a post-pandemic world, with likely deep fissures within the liberal economic order: the ‘national interest’ would be policymakers’ guiding light rather than the moral compass.

    If we accept that one of the prerequisites for the rise of these anti-Western states and movements is a degree of confidence and civilisational ‘mojo’, what does the West now offer to counter these highly illiberal, often authoritarian and in some cases actively genocidal states and social forces? What is the social glue that holds free and open countries together with a common purpose to defend their shared institutional order, upon which their rights and freedoms – all highly fragile and historically contingent – now rest?

    Surely the desire among so-called progressives to undermine the West’s dominance, to reduce its power, to deconstruct its narratives, challenge its philosophy and overthrow its institutional order is an impulse that, ironically, was underpinned by a more confident and assured Western hegemony?

    The West’s long post-1945 boom, which helped fund the welfare state and universities throughout Western Europe, provided the post-1968 generation of left-wing intellectuals – the ideological architects of today’s social justice movements – with a false sense of security. They could call for revolution in the expectation that, if their dreams of social upheaval ever materialised, a more benign West would emerge.

    However, in the present context of rising illiberal ‘civilisational-states’, already shovelling millions of souls into ‘re-education’ camps, we should ask a simple question. As the world reverts to the historical norm of great power competition and power shifts away from the West, one of the most progressive civilisational constructs in human history – what will emerge to replace it; who or what will carry the torch for human freedom and progress? Our tired cultural elites, certain of their moral mission to decolonise the UK and repudiate its history and institutions, should be very careful what they wish for; the stakes are very high indeed.