Richard Holden and James Wild: Ministers must bring gambling regulation into the 21st Century

2 Jul

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham. James Wild is MP for North West Norfolk. Both were elected in the 2019 General Election and are members of the Public Accounts Committee.

A day at the races. A night out at the dogs or the bingo. A flutter on the Grand National at the bookies.

Most common of all, checking that pink ticket you got from the corner shop and maybe, just maybe you’ll become a multi-millionaire – and if not at least you are helping support good causes.

For most people, our interaction with the gambling industry is part of destination or event-based gambling. We only do it when it’s part of a social activity or its based on a specific event at a specific time – like the Friday night Euromillions draw.

But, behind the façade of a flutter, Labour’s mass liberalisation of gambling in the 2005 Gambling Act transformed the industry into something else. The Act opened-up “casinos in the High Street” with the £100-a-spin Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, four per bookies office, that took years to be reigned back down to a £2 stake (as part of the consultation the Gambling Commission recommended the stake be lowered to £30 or less), and opened the door to online casino gambling.

At the same time the Gambling Commission, which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report at the weekend is largely about, was formed.

During the passage of the 2005 Act those opposed to gambling harm became side-tracked in a totemic focus on the wrong target – the possibility of so called ‘Super-Casino’ – an easily understood enemy.  But Parliamentarians didn’t focus on the much more dangerous parts of the Act, which allowed FOBTs on every high street and casinos on every mobile phone. Opponents went for the wrong target: a destination casino has more benefits and fewer downsides than what was allowed by the rest of the Gambling Act.

More money is now staked online that in all the physical bookies, casinos, and on-course bookmakers combined. The gambling industry has adapted much faster than almost any other business to the changing world. With net income (staked monies minus winnings) of £11.3 billion in the UK, it’s big business.

Together, we led the questioning of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Commission as part of the hearing into gambling harm being held by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to which we were both elected as newbie MPs. As we dug around this matter, with constituency cases that had helped focus our minds on specific issues, what we found shocked us.

There are 395,000 problem gamblers in the UK. The effects can be devastating: damaging mental health, causing family break-ups, and even contributing to suicide. As MPs we’ve heard personal accounts of the impact of problem gambling on constituents and their families. A problem gambler will likely cause problems for their immediate family, extended family, and friendship group as debts accumulate, money is borrowed, and promises broken.

It shouldn’t be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.  We can have sensible regulations that reflect the reality of modern gambling and that protect the vulnerable.

But the Gambling Commission isn’t doing that job effectively or efficiently. It is behind the curve. Too slow to deal with FOBTS or making sure people could withdraw funds from online accounts. Too slow on gambling on credit. It doesn’t measure the impact of the action it takes and has no target to cut levels of problem gambling.

Too often the industry, with public, media and political pressure ends up leading on so-called ‘responsible gambling’ measures before the regulator has even got out of bed.

Some of this is down to how the Commission is funded.  Bizarrely, it gets less funding if there are fewer but larger gambling companies – and we’ve seen massive mergers recently. So the Commission gets £19m a year to regulate a sector clearing the thick end of 1,000 times that in gross profit. We’ve got analogue regulation for an industry that’s undergone a digital revolution.

PAC recommended several key steps, the most important of which is to get the review of the Gambling Act, promised in the Conservative Party manifesto, underway as soon as possible.

Online fixed-odds betting urgently needs reviewing too – controls need to be at least as clear as those in betting shops. Loot boxes, gambling advertising on children’s computer games, 16- and 17-year-olds being able to gamble hundreds a week via a loophole for lotteries, unlimited roulette available in the isolation of your bedroom but no-where else… all raise questions.

The Gambling Commission needs to prove, and sharpish, that it’s up to the job. It needs proper research into problem gambling, targets to reduce it, and to measure the effects of the actions it does take. All we really know at present is that since the regulator was formed, public confidence that gambling is fair has fallen from about 50 per cent to around a third of the population.

Finally, individuals must be able to get redress through the regulatory regime when companies fail to meet social responsibility obligations. A proper Ombudsman for gambling is required. The fact that the most vulnerable only really have legal recourse (not much use if you’ve got no money) is absurd.

The deck is stacked against problem gamblers and in favour of the gambling companies, many of which have clearly used the lockdown to further cash in on coronavirus. It’s time for sensible, conservative action to protect the vulnerable and allow the majority a safe flutter.

Richard Holden and James Wild: Ministers must bring gambling regulation into the 21st Century

2 Jul

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham. James Wild is MP for North West Norfolk. Both were elected in the 2019 General Election and are members of the Public Accounts Committee.

A day at the races. A night out at the dogs or the bingo. A flutter on the Grand National at the bookies.

Most common of all, checking that pink ticket you got from the corner shop and maybe, just maybe you’ll become a multi-millionaire – and if not at least you are helping support good causes.

For most people, our interaction with the gambling industry is part of destination or event-based gambling. We only do it when it’s part of a social activity or its based on a specific event at a specific time – like the Friday night Euromillions draw.

But, behind the façade of a flutter, Labour’s mass liberalisation of gambling in the 2005 Gambling Act transformed the industry into something else. The Act opened-up “casinos in the High Street” with the £100-a-spin Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, four per bookies office, that took years to be reigned back down to a £2 stake (as part of the consultation the Gambling Commission recommended the stake be lowered to £30 or less), and opened the door to online casino gambling.

At the same time the Gambling Commission, which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report at the weekend is largely about, was formed.

During the passage of the 2005 Act those opposed to gambling harm became side-tracked in a totemic focus on the wrong target – the possibility of so called ‘Super-Casino’ – an easily understood enemy.  But Parliamentarians didn’t focus on the much more dangerous parts of the Act, which allowed FOBTs on every high street and casinos on every mobile phone. Opponents went for the wrong target: a destination casino has more benefits and fewer downsides than what was allowed by the rest of the Gambling Act.

More money is now staked online that in all the physical bookies, casinos, and on-course bookmakers combined. The gambling industry has adapted much faster than almost any other business to the changing world. With net income (staked monies minus winnings) of £11.3 billion in the UK, it’s big business.

Together, we led the questioning of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Commission as part of the hearing into gambling harm being held by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to which we were both elected as newbie MPs. As we dug around this matter, with constituency cases that had helped focus our minds on specific issues, what we found shocked us.

There are 395,000 problem gamblers in the UK. The effects can be devastating: damaging mental health, causing family break-ups, and even contributing to suicide. As MPs we’ve heard personal accounts of the impact of problem gambling on constituents and their families. A problem gambler will likely cause problems for their immediate family, extended family, and friendship group as debts accumulate, money is borrowed, and promises broken.

It shouldn’t be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.  We can have sensible regulations that reflect the reality of modern gambling and that protect the vulnerable.

But the Gambling Commission isn’t doing that job effectively or efficiently. It is behind the curve. Too slow to deal with FOBTS or making sure people could withdraw funds from online accounts. Too slow on gambling on credit. It doesn’t measure the impact of the action it takes and has no target to cut levels of problem gambling.

Too often the industry, with public, media and political pressure ends up leading on so-called ‘responsible gambling’ measures before the regulator has even got out of bed.

Some of this is down to how the Commission is funded.  Bizarrely, it gets less funding if there are fewer but larger gambling companies – and we’ve seen massive mergers recently. So the Commission gets £19m a year to regulate a sector clearing the thick end of 1,000 times that in gross profit. We’ve got analogue regulation for an industry that’s undergone a digital revolution.

PAC recommended several key steps, the most important of which is to get the review of the Gambling Act, promised in the Conservative Party manifesto, underway as soon as possible.

Online fixed-odds betting urgently needs reviewing too – controls need to be at least as clear as those in betting shops. Loot boxes, gambling advertising on children’s computer games, 16- and 17-year-olds being able to gamble hundreds a week via a loophole for lotteries, unlimited roulette available in the isolation of your bedroom but no-where else… all raise questions.

The Gambling Commission needs to prove, and sharpish, that it’s up to the job. It needs proper research into problem gambling, targets to reduce it, and to measure the effects of the actions it does take. All we really know at present is that since the regulator was formed, public confidence that gambling is fair has fallen from about 50 per cent to around a third of the population.

Finally, individuals must be able to get redress through the regulatory regime when companies fail to meet social responsibility obligations. A proper Ombudsman for gambling is required. The fact that the most vulnerable only really have legal recourse (not much use if you’ve got no money) is absurd.

The deck is stacked against problem gamblers and in favour of the gambling companies, many of which have clearly used the lockdown to further cash in on coronavirus. It’s time for sensible, conservative action to protect the vulnerable and allow the majority a safe flutter.

Henry Hill: Johnson prepares to take a more ‘robust’ line on the Union… but muzzles devosceptics

2 Jul

Fight for the Union: Government mulls ‘devolution revolution’… but tries to muzzle Tory critics

Earlier this week, the Times reported that ministers are considering setting up new, UK-wide economic and security bodies as part of a bid to enhance the standing of the British Government in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This move could finally mark an end to the previous practice of feebly handing over reserved powers to the devolved institutions, even when this risked great damage to the Union, in the name of the “spirit of devolution”.

Apparently, “Tory ministers are preparing to be more “robust” with their SNP counterparts in taking responsibility for macroeconomic and security issues”, and ideas will be brought forward by a new Union Policy Implementation Committee, supported by a Downing Street-based ‘Union Unit’.

This may be some comfort to the Scottish Conservatives, many of whom are deeply concerned that the Prime Minister doesn’t grasp the scale of the danger posed to the Union by the next Holyrood elections. (Of course, holding a referendum is one thing ministers could be ‘more robust’ about.)

It also comes in the same week as Boris Johnson’s high-profile clash with Nicola Sturgeon over the latter’s threat to start quarantining visitors from England. Following the ugly politics we have already seen from the Welsh Government, this highlights once again the real damage the ‘Four Nations’ approach to the Union, so thoughtlessly endorsed by minister after minister, is doing to the integrity of our country.

But there are apparently limits to the boldness of this approach. This week Guido Fawkes reported that the whips have been cracking down on Conservative MPs who want to break ranks and criticise devolution. This is further proof that the divisions we revealed in May are not going away, and will continue to exacerbate the coalition-building dilemma faced by the Welsh Tories.

For their part, the ruling devophiles amongst the Cardiff Bay leadership are reportedly doubling-down on their efforts to excise wrongthink on this question: apparently expressing devosceptic views is enough to get even already approved candidates summoned back for re-assessment.

But silencing such critics will only slow (even further) the Government’s painfully slow awakening to the dangers of the current constitutional situation. We must hope that, like the Eurosceptics before them, it will not be long until some true believers slough off the whip on this particular question.

Elsewhere this week Joanna Cherry MP, an ally of Alex Salmond and prominent figure on the SNP’s ‘fundamentalist’ wing, called on the Nationalists to be prepared to make a bid for independence without a referendum.

Plaid Cymru launches investigation after Senedd candidate accused of antisemitism

The Welsh Nationalists have launched an investigation after a prominent Jewish organisation called for one of their candidates to be permanently barred from the Party over an antisemitic tweet.

According to Wales Online, high-profile Plaid activist Sahar Al-Faifi tweeted the same claim about Israel training US police officers which ended up seeing Rebecca Long-Bailey sacked from the Labour front bench.

This is not the first time this has happened: Al-Faifi was previously suspended from Plaid over a series of antisemitic social media posts published in 2014, but was since reinstated. Apparently the Nationalists would not confirm whether or not she remains a candidate.

DUP call for O’Neill to ‘step aside’ over funeral attendance

The Democratic Unionist Party are calling on Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Deputy First Minister, to step aside to allow a police investigation into a republican funeral held earlier this week.

O’Neill, who has repeatedly urged the public to maintain social distancing and obey other public health guidelines, flagrantly breached them at the funeral of Bobby Storey, an IRA terrorist and senior Sinn Fein official.

Now the DUP are saying that it will be difficult for Arlene Foster, the First Minister, to appear alongside O’Neill at the Executive’s coronavirus press conferences. For her part, the Sinn Fein leader says that she is “satisfied” that her actions were within public health advice.

Anglesey constituency protected from ‘radical’ boundary shake-up

ITV reports that the Government has committed to protecting the boundaries of Ynys Môn, the parliamentary constituency which corresponds to the Isle of Anglesey, ahead of “the most radical shake-up of Welsh parliamentary seats in more than a century”.

Under the proposals, Wales’ seats will be brought into line with England’s in terms of size. As a result, the Principality’s representation in the House of Commons will be cut by almost a quarter, from 40 to about 32. This is part of a broader push to equalise constituencies across the UK.

Anglesey will now join four other island-based exceptions to the new rule: Orkney & Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) in Scotland, and two seats on the Isle of Wight. The move may help the Conservatives, who won the seat at the last election, as the adjoining area of mainland Wales is slim pickings for the party.

Alan Mak: A new tech scrappage scheme will boost productivity

2 Jul

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, governments around the world including those of Japan, Germany and the US responded to calls to help struggling car manufacturers by introducing popular scrappage schemes. After new car registrations declined by 30 per cent in the UK in the first quarter of 2009, the schemes saw demand bounce back, while dirty, polluting old cars were consigned to the scrapheap.

Now there is media speculation about a new car scrappage scheme – drivers will be given up to £6,000 to swap their petrol or diesel cars for electric ones – designed to provide a shot in the arm for the UK electric car manufacturing sector in the wake of Coronavirus.

Yet focus should also be given to how the Government could launch a similar scheme to help factories and businesses investing in the latest technology. We must use this period of recovery to press the fast-forward button on helping our businesses to improve their performance by adopting new technologies quickly, accelerating processes that would have otherwise taken many years into a much shorter period.

Just as the Government ushered a brand-new fleet of cars onto our roads a decade ago, a new scrappage scheme should be introduced for old and obsolete IT, tech and machinery. By particularly focusing on the adoption of robotics, it would achieve the dual ambitions of boosting productivity, and giving our businesses the cutting edge in international markets post-Brexit.

More British firms need to follow in the footsteps of innovators such as Ocado, who have created one of the most advanced automated warehouses in the world. Ocado’s newest fulfilment centre uses automation to pick 200 items per hour of labour time using its hive system – far outstripping traditional supermarket competitors.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, for British manufacturers and suppliers to keep up with international competitors, they must upgrade the machinery and software that is powering the workplace.

Yet automation and the adoption of new technology is an area where the UK needs to improve if we are to boost the nation’s productivity and economic growth after Coronavirus. Research published by the International Federation of Robotics shows that the UK has a robot density of 71 units per 10,000 employees – below the world average of 74 units – ranking us 22nd globally. Europe’s most automated country, Germany, has more than 300 units per 10,000 employees.

Whilst the critics will always fear job losses from automation, as we recover from Coronavirus, we can create high-wage employment through robotics. I’ve visited factories, such as Harwin’s manufacturing site near my own constituency of Havant, that have successful re-trained factory workers as high-skilled robot operators. We must rebut trade union leaders and others holding back change and hindering the adoption of new technology.

Just as a car scrappage scheme was brought in to safeguard the car manufacturing industry and protect demand in its vast supply chain, a tech scrappage scheme also has the potential to boost the fast-growing UK tech and robotics sector. Businesses that could benefit include Tharsus, the Blyth-based robotics company that supplies Ocado’s automated warehouse, which is now one of Europe’s fastest growing technology firms.

While individual businesses know the products that are right for them, a tech scrappage scheme can and should promote world class British engineering and high-end manufacturing by creating more demand.

Every UK business could benefit from upgrading technology and IT, but key to the success of the car scrappage scheme was incentivising people into the new car market by making them more affordable. To be eligible, the car had to be at least ten years old and many of those taking part in the scheme would never before have bought a new car. The same must be implemented for a tech scrappage scheme. The Government needs to target the least productive SMEs that have never before invested substantially into the latest robotics, software, automation or information technology.

Research published last year based on a survey of 2000 business owners showed that 46 per cent of small business owners believe technology is more important to their business than people. Just as we incentivised car owners into the market, a new scrappage scheme will give SMEs the confidence to make the tech upgrades their businesses need.

There would be environmental gains too. Just as polluting cars were taken off the road through scrappage, businesses would have the opportunity to replace diesel-fuelled machinery with cleaner and more energy efficient alternatives.

As our country bounces back from Coronavirus, and the focus shifts from health emergency to economic recovery, the Government must continue to focus on not only supporting businesses in the short term but arming our businesses to be ready for the long term impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Our economic recovery must be both green and digital – a scrappage scheme for IT, tech and machinery achieves both goals.

This is the third in a three-part series on how to boost our economy after Coronavirus.

Alex Story: The Government needs to end the State’s fixation on race

2 Jul

Alex Story is Head of Business Development at a City broker working with Hedge Funds and other financial institutions. He stood for parliament in 2005, 2010 and 2015.

“We are the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe” said Lawrence Fox, an actor, on BBC’s Question Time back in January 2020, in response to Rachel Boyle, a lecturer at Edge Hill University, who accused Britain of being racist.

The lecturer then attacked him for being a “white privileged man”. His riposte: she was being racist for judging him by his colour. The audience cheered.

Who is right?

Over the last decade, two large scale surveys were conducted to find out which countries in the world were the most and the least racially tolerant.

In 2013, the Washington Post published a survey to shed light on racial attitudes across the world. The data was then used to produce a world map to give a sense of the issue. The question asked was whether locals would like having people of other races as neighbours. Answers saying “no” were assumed to have some form of racial basis.

The research showed the following: Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia were more tolerant than anywhere else. India and Jordan were the least. The survey showed that racial tolerance in China was low. 

A few years later, in 2015, Insider Monkey, an economic and trading organisation, combined data from the World Values Survey covering the years 2010-2014 with the findings published by the Washington Post. The aim was to rank the top 25 most racist countries in the world. It asked whether respondents had seen or experienced racism. Overall, 85,000 people in 61 countries took part in the survey. The data was gathered over a two year period.

Again the top slot went to India, this time followed by the Lebanon and Bahrain. Nigeria came in 12th, Pakistan 17th. Japan just squeezed in at 25th. Only two European countries made it onto the list: Russia (21st) and Cyprus (23rd). With the usual caveats when it comes to surveys, the findings backed the claims of Fox. “Britain is one of the most racially tolerant countries on the planet”, the survey noted.

Whilst these rankings provide some data to gauge attitudes on race on the world stage, we need to delve a little into mind-sets within the UK. And for this, luckily, there is no need to wait for a new “cross-governmental commission on race and ethnic disparities” as announced recently by Boris and team. Data on race disparities in the UK exist aplenty.

For instance, only four short years ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its “Healing a Divided Britain” findings in which it showed that of all the ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, poor white working class boys “suffer higher rates of exclusion from school and achieve the lowest academic results, making them less likely to enter higher education and therefore more likely to end up in lower-paid, insecure jobs.”

On the same metrics, young white working class girls came second to last. And in Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford, Manchester and currently Wakefield, poor white girls do doubly badly as they are seen, as Jack Straw once said, as “easy meat” by grooming gangs – to use a fashionable euphemism.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission couldn’t explain the reason behind these numbers. The authors speculated that it may have something to do with  culture and location, not, however, family breakdown, the usual port of call when researching social breakdown.

Be that as is may, around 85 per cent of the population in the United Kingdom is white and nearly half of the population is working class. With a population of around 65 million, and around 29 per cent under 24, over five million poor white boys and girls are either on the road to failure or have already failed. In short, there are thirty three times, or 3300 percent, more poor, young white failures than black ones.

Their plight is an open secret. Few seem to care. No statues were vandalised in their name. Their flag, however, has been burned and oftentimes desecrated. The only thing they still have is the vote, whatever that might mean.

Two things stand out: Firstly, the United Kingdom is, as Fox said, on the face of it, one of the most tolerant countries in the world; Secondly, the country has a young army of failed poor white boys and girls, who are left metaphorically to drown in a sea of official indifference.

Giving the facts, for neutral observers, the stunning thing over the last fortnight was the alacrity with which our leaders accepted the narrative and violence, both cultural and physical, of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But wait.  Could it be that both Fox and Boyle, the lecturer from Edge Hill University, are right, but mean completely different things?

When Fox said that “we are the most tolerant, lovely country”, he was, and is, of course right.  According to the data published by the Washington Post, over 95 per cent of the people in the UK tend to judge, in the manner of Martin Luther King, a person by the content of their character rather than by the colour of their skin. They are, in other words, colour blind. To them racism is alien, which is why they are so sensitive to being tarred with the indelible “racist” brush.

However, Boyle is also right when she calls the country racist. In her case, though, she, perhaps unwittingly, means the British State. Every official document demands racial data from anyone who wishes to fill them in; policies are increasingly focused on quotas based on a person’s “identity”; finally, as Boyle intimated, in the UK today, it is preferred if one opines on behalf of another only if one shares that person’s racial make-up and/or other proclivities.

The fact is that over the last two decades, the British State has beavered away at creating what looks and smells like a caste system.

It has done so surreptitiously. At the bottom of the social scale, the untouchables as it were, are the millions of poor, white working class boys and girls with little hope of escape; at the top, the Brahmin caste is represented by the likes of Steve Bell from the Guardian, who produced what the newspaper considered to be a “cartoon”, depicting Priti Patel, the Home Secretary as a fat Indian cow. That higher caste can seemingly vent their racist views without fear of retribution because they are, by their own opaque standards, “morally” right (and politically Left).

The bottom line is that the British State is weaving a complex, apartheid-style mosaic of identities based on skin colour, sex and religion, with each caste vying for space at the top of this multifaceted and narrowing peak, moving a step closer one day and slipping one or two the next, depending on events, whims and fashion.

The conclusion must be, as Fox implied, that those who fixate on race are themselves racist. Very much, it would seem, like official Britain.

Rob Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 4) Tom Tugendhat

2 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 13 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Tom Tugendhat

A former lieutenant colonel in the Army with ten years’ service, Tugendhat entered Parliament in 2015 in the safe seat of Tonbridge and Malling. Since then the seat has become even darker blue, last year reaching a majority of 47.3 per cent.

Since arriving, his focus has been on committee work. In just over two years, he became the youngest ever chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. His approach is a long game, focused on areas which will increasingly dominate conversation in the decades to come: diplomatic tensions with the US; violations of international law by Russia; the uncertain future of multilateral organisations.

He has butted heads with Boris Johnson enough times that a ministerial career seems unlikely in the immediate future. He was critical of Parliament’s prorogation before the 2019 general election, wrote a scathing judgement of Johnson’s “suicide bomber” jibe at Theresa May, questioned the former Foreign Secretary’s approach to diplomacy and backed Michael Gove during the Conservative leadership election.

His position has given him the freedom to speak openly and with authority where those holding government portfolios must tread lightly. He can align his stances with popular discontent, particularly with regards to China.

In areas such as Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure, Beijing’s role during the early Covid-19 outbreak, the citizenship status of British Nationals Overseas and historic human rights violations he has been outspoken. And he isn’t compromised by the diplomatic considerations of a government anxious to make friends outside of the EU.

Newslinks for Thursday 2nd July 2020

2 Jul

Britain opens its doors to 3m Hong Kong migrants

“Millions of Hongkongers will be offered five-year visas and a path to British citizenship after the government stepped in to protect residents of its former colony against a draconian Chinese security law. The new law gives Beijing powers to crack down on dissent with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for a range of crimes, in effect outlawing public protest. Boris Johnson described it as a “clear and serious breach” of China’s treaty with Britain and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which serves as its constitution. The prime minister said that in response Britain would improve its previous offer to Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) passports.” – The Times

  • Foreign Secretary says UK has ‘got a specific historic responsibility’ and there ‘won’t be any quota’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Prime Minister who pledged to end EU free movement outlines route to UK for almost 3m in ex-colony – FT
  • China vows to stop UK granting Hongkongers residency – The Guardian

More:

  • Tugendhat: Beijing’s law threatens Hong Kong students at our universities – The Times
  • Raab hits out at HSBC as first arrests made under Hong Kong security law – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson condemns new law as breach of handover pact – FT

Malcolm Rifkind: Best hope of protecting Hong Kong lies in showing President Xi that he still needs it

“Its people will continue to have far greater freedom of movement; they will have a choice of candidates in local elections; they will have, unlike mainland Chinese, uncensored access to the internet. On all but “national security” issues, their courts will remain largely free of political interference and their judges will remain independent. But even this will only be for the time being. Beijing does not want a collapse of business confidence in Hong Kong. Nor does it want a mass exodus of the territory’s brightest and best people who have made it such a vibrant society. That would be a humiliation for the Chinese Communist Party. It is this consideration that gives the people of Hong Kong and the many governments around the world that support them some leverage in trying to influence Chinese policy.” – Daily Telegraph

  • The EU must end its appeasement of Chinese interests – Mark Kwan, The Times

Editorial:

  • Britain must welcome eligible Hong Kong citizens – The Sun
  • The West needs to unite to combat Chinese expansionism – The Times

Prime Minister attacks Sturgeon’s ‘astonishing and shameful’ English quarantine warning

“Boris Johnson has lambasted Nicola Sturgeon over her “absolutely astonishing and shameful” warning she will consider introducing quarantine for English visitors to Scotland if there is a surge in cases south of the Border. The Prime Minister told the Commons that there had been “no discussions” with the Scottish Government on the matter and questioned if it was even possible. He said there was “no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.” His official spokesman later clarified that he was making the point there was no “border infrastructure.” His criticism echoed an earlier attack by Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, who said Ms Sturgeon had “encouraged reckless talk” with her “divisive” quarantine idea.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Westminster and Holyrood in emergency talks over latter’s ‘bid to thwart ‘air bridge’ plan’ – Daily Mail

More:

  • Sturgeon crisis: Scotland faces eye-watering 50 per cent rise in council tax – Daily Express

Jenrick’s flats reform ‘gifts huge windfall to investors’

“Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has given a “multibillion-pound” planning windfall to freehold investors including those in a fund run by David Cameron’s brother-in-law. Under reforms, owners of residential tower blocks will be allowed to extend their developments upwards by two storeys without planning permission from the start of next month. One of the biggest beneficiaries is a fund run by William Waldorf Astor IV, Samantha Cameron’s half-brother, which contains hundreds of residential freeholds. Other potential beneficiaries include Vincent Tchenguiz, the property tycoon, as well as anonymous and offshore investors.” – The Times

  • Johnson begs bosses to hold off on more layoffs – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • The paltry £5bn pledged bears no comparison to Roosevelt’s programme – Miatta Fahnbulleh, The Guardian
  • The pound has been a ball-and-chain on successive UK governments – Philip Stephens, FT

Ministers ‘set to drop non-jury trials plans’ after backlash…

“The Government is set to ditch proposals to abandon juries in some trials to reduce the backlog of cases after an outcry from the legal profession and Tory MPs, The Telegraph understands. Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, first raised the idea of replacing juries with a judge and two magistrates in “either way” crown court trials, where they are on the borderline to be heard by magistrates.It was one of four measures to tackle the “unprecedented” challenge of maintaining social distancing in court rooms to combat coronavirus and reducing a backlog of crown court cases that has grown from 37,500 to more than 40,000 during the pandemic.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Supreme Court accused of encouraging ‘divorce tourism’ – FT
  • Government urged to ‘nationalise policing’ – The Times

…and ‘reject £6,000 scrappage scheme for toxic vehicles’

“A scrappage scheme for petrol and diesel cars appears to have been ruled out by the government despite concerns over levels of toxic emissions. Ministers said that there were no plans to hand motorists £6,000 to trade in the most polluting vehicles in favour of an electric model. The Department for Transport added that it was already investing about £2.5 billion on the transition to zero-emission cars. Two years ago ministers had discounted a scrappage scheme because it would be far too costly and potentially open to abuse. Rachel Maclean, the transport minister, reiterated the government’s commitment to phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 “or sooner”.” – The Times

  • Calls for green bank mount amid UK recovery plans – FT

Ministers will unveil plan to get all children back in education in September ‘come what may’

“Whole year groups at secondary school will form ‘bubbles’ in a massive effort to get all children back in education from September, it was revealed today. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is unveiling plans for a full return from the beginning of the academic year, with staggered start times and strict classroom rules to minimise the risks of spreading the virus. Every school in England will reopen ‘come what may’ in September – with sources insisting even if the R rate surges other parts of society will be closed down first to facilitate the move. Parents will face fines if they do not fall into line and send their children. However, schools will be forced to to shut their doors again if just two pupils test positive for coronavirus. ” – Daily Mail

  • Universities are ‘taking advantage’ of teens with Mickey Mouse courses, says Donelan – The Sun

Air bridges ‘shelved’ as holidaymakers cleared for take-off to 75 countries

“Individual air bridges will be effectively abandoned by the Government, as it emerged that as many as 75 countries will be on the first quarantine exemption list for British holidaymakers. The list, to be published on Thursday or Friday, will lift the Foreign Office ban on non-essential travel to nearly all EU destinations, the British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, and Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. All 75 have been judged sufficiently low risk destinations for holidaymakers based on the prevalence of Covid-19, that their infection rate is in decline and that their data on the state of the disease can be trusted.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Travel industry bosses demand more answers – Daily Mail

Davis blasts ‘over-controlling’ Public Health England for getting ‘every single task’ wrong

“Top MP David Davis has blasted Public Health England as “over controlling” and claimed it got “very single task” wrong during the pandemic. His scathing blast comes as it was suggested that the Government body could be ditched – with senior figures said to be unhappy about their response to the crisis. It came after the Prime Minister attacked the response to the virus yesterday as “sluggish” – with sources suggesting PHE were to blame… Public Health England – an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care – are responsible for the nation’s testing regime, and were widely blamed for having to give up track and trace in the early days of the pandemic, once the number of cases grew.” – The Sun

  • Johnson challenged at PMQs over Covid-19 test data – The Guardian

More:

  • PHE says ‘no explanatory outbreaks’ across Leicester, which is back in lockdown – Daily Mail
  • Leicester and Merthyr Tydfil top table for UK-wide Covid infections – FT
  • Coronavirus infections tumble after lockdown relaxed – Daily Telegraph

Starmer wins change in Labour NEC election rules

“Keir Starmer has faced down objections from Labour leftwingers to secure a change in the way members of the party’s ruling national executive committee are elected. At an explosive meeting on Tuesday, Starmer was also confronted directly about a BBC Breakfast interview in which he described Black Lives Matter as a “moment”, and dismissed calls to “defund the police” as “nonsense”, the Guardian understands. The national executive committee (NEC) agreed by 19 votes to 12 to introduce a single transferable vote (STV) system for its CLP (constituency Labour parties) section, which represents grassroots members. The change is a relatively modest one, but it underlined the speed at which Starmer has seized control of the levers of Labour party machinery.” – The Guardian

  • Sir Keir cautiously makes his mark on Labour – FT
  • Long-Bailey ‘finally’ deletes tweet that got her sacked – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Labour leader should finish off his far-left fringe – David Aaronovitch, The Times

Britain and Brussels ‘turn on each other’ for prolonging City’s uncertainty

“Britain and Brussels have each accused the other of holding up a decision on the City of London’s ability to do business in EU markets from next year, prolonging the financial services’ state of uncertainty about the future. Both parties had agreed to complete assessments of the other’s regulatory regimes for financial services by Tuesday 30 June, with the expectation that they would deemed “equivalent”, allowing business to continue in the new year. With the deadline for an equivalence decision likely to be missed, the financial sectors on both sides have been left in the dark about the future terms of business, and the European commission and the UK government have blamed each other for the delay.” – The Guardian

  • Johnson blames EU for missing crucial trade talks deadline – Daily Express

News in Brief:

  • Without firing a shot, China has killed Hong Kong – Ron Shine, CapX
  • Return of the dragon – Richard Cockett, The Critic
  • The state has failed the Covid stress test – James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • FDR and the failed concept of the New Deal – Gerard Warner, Reaction
  • Who’s to blame for such anguished activism? – Mary Harrington, UnHerd

Wanted: an international solution to the plight of the Hong Kongers

2 Jul

China’s new security law is as vague as it is alarming – indeed, that it is the second arises from it being the first – as well as a shameless breach of the Joint Declaration.  So we understand that the Government’s guarantee of a pathway to citizenship for about 3.5 million of Hong Kong’s citizens is designed not so much as a door as a lever.

Its main purpose is clearly to put counter-pressure on Beijing: to send a message that China will not be able with one hand to grip Hong Kong’s wealth, and with the other strangle its freedoms – at least, not without paying the penalty of losing some of those who create that prosperity in the first place.

In any event, a pathway is not a destination, and the details of Boris Johnson’s proposed scheme have not yet been set out.  And it is very unlikely that 350,000 Hong Kongers would all turn up at Britain’s airports in the same year, or indeed at all, if the plan comes to fruition.  Many would be likely to prefer other destinations, such as Taiwan.

That said, we are puzzled by the dog that isn’t barking in the night – with the exception of a recent growl on this site from Andrew Green of MigrationWatch, who described the Government’s offer as an “extraordinarily ill-conceived policy that could cost it the next election”.

His point was that when all the qualifications about pathways, details and probabilities are stripped away, a fact remains: namely, that Boris Johnson is dangling an offer of British citizenship before three million people, complete with its implications for housing, healthcare, schools, roads, rail, welfare and so on.

Now it may be that public opinion on immigration has somehow shifted significantly post-Brexit.  Or that the long enthusiasm of some on the Right for opening up Britain to Hong Kongers, a passion that reaches back to the row over a citizenship extention in Margaret Thatcher’s time, has rubbed off on the population more widely.

Perhaps the prospect of a mass of hard-working, family-orientated new arrivals, transferring their talents to Britain and raising our tax receipts in the process, is welcome to the mass of hard-working, family-orientated Red Wallers who leant the Prime Minister their votes last December.

It certainly appears not to bother part of the elites – namely, our own survey panel of Conservative members, unusual in having a party commitment and thus among the relatively engaged.  Eighty-five per cent of them backed the Government’s plan when polled recently.

A YouGov poll finds “a substantial rise in public support” for the expansion of rights to British National Overseas Passport Holders.  But the firm also finds “a fall in public awareness on the issue”, and wonders whether “it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic has distracted the public’s attention”.

The Migration Observatory says that public attitudes towards immigration have softened in recent years, but still notes nonetheless that last year “around 39 per cent thought that the level of immigration should stay about the same, while 44 per cent said they would like immigration to be reduced”.

And any recent softening takes place against a hard background: the rise in popular concern about immigration that helped to fuel Nigel Farage and dynamite David Cameron – immigration being the second-most salient issue in the 2016 EU referendum, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling.

Our take is that the more the Government’s offer is likely to be realised, the faster resistance to it among voters is likely to grow.  Certainly, any influx of workers from Hong Kong must be offset by a reduction in those offered elsewhere.  That is where Johnson’s policy, or that of a successor government, is likely to go, in such an event.

America and China will be rivals for dominance whether Donald Trump is re-elected or not.  It is true that Britain has a responsibility for the Hong Kongers, but it is international as well as national in scope.  Downing Street is reportedly mulling whether or not to push a D10 of democracies to complement the G7.

An early test of the viability of the idea would be for the Prime Minister to champion a multi-national response to China’s aggression – an opening of doors to people from Hong Kong across the democratic world as well as in Britain.  The proposal should nestle in David Frost’s in-tray.

Garvan Walshe: To win re-election, Poland’s President Duda is counting on the homophobic, sexist Konfederacja party

2 Jul

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Incumbent Polish president Andrzej Duda found out on Sunday that populist indignation is all very well when you’re running against an unpopular government, but much less when the demands for change are directed against you.

After a cock-up in which emergency legislation to hold an all-postal ballot was defeated in the Senate and then scotched by the ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) coalition partners, the first round of Poland’s presidential elections proved much closer than had seemed likely had the Coronavirus not caused their postponement.

The delay gave the opposition KO (Civic Coalition) a much needed chance to swap out the underperforming Malgorzata Kidawa-Bionska for Rafal Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The substitution proved effective, denying Duda a victory on the first round against a divided field of anti-PiS candidates. (Duda got 43 per cent of the vote, and Trzaskowki 30 per cent).

Turnout was high in recognition of the stakes produced by Law and Justice’s divisive political style: the campaign was marred, the mild-mannered Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights noted, by Duda’s “inflammatory” and “homophobic” language. His messages were parroted by state TV: “the public broadcaster became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

It came after five years of constitutional vandalism by PiS that even extended to keeping judgements of the constitutional court that struck down PiS legislation, secret. Because Poland’s president can veto legislation, a victory for Trzaskowski would decisively shift the balance of power in Poland. At present the opposition only controls the Senate, which can only delay laws for 30 days.

The luck of the political calendar (parliamentary terms are four years long, but presidential terms last five) had given PiS control of both houses of the Polish parliament, and the presidency in 2015, when their support was at a high point, and their opposition tired and divided.

Though they campaigned as moderates focused on social distribution, they governed as radicals, engaging in all-out war with the judiciary, politicising public broadcasting, clearing out senior ranks of the civil service and armed forces, attempting to ban abortion, and showing considerable tolerance to Poland’s ultra-nationalist paramilitary fringe.

This shook up the opposition, causing rival parties Civic Platform (PO) and Nowoczesna to form an alliance, which fielded Trzaskowski as its presidential candidate, as well as inspiring Szymon Holownia, an independent conservative, to run (and win 14 per cent of the vote).

Another mayor, the openly gay Robert Biedron, sought to revive the left, and while he did well enough in last year’s parliamentary elections faded in the presidential contest. This leaves the second-round result on a knife edge.

It is likely that most of Biedron’s and Holownia’s voters together, with those for the agrarian Wladyslaw Kosinak-Kamysz, will swing behind Trzaskowski, giving him another five per cent, and bringing his vote up to between 45 and 48 per cent of the total, and possibly an edge over Duda.

Duda however seems close to his ceiling. His 43.5 per cent of the vote is essentially unchanged of his party’s 43.6 per cent share at last year’s parliamentary election, and desperate attempts to drive up turnout among his base, which included awarding a fire engine to villages with high turnout (PiS is strongest in the countryside), don’t seem to have worked.

The only available vote bank is the seven per cent of supporters of Krysztof Bosak, the candidate for the anti-semitic, pro-Russian, economically libertarian and deeply misogynistic Konfederacja party. The electoral impact of this love-child of Von Ribbentrop, Molotov and Jordan Peterson is less clear than its designation as “far right” would indicate.

One might think they would naturally support Duda’s against the evils of “LGBT ideology”. Yet they differ radically from PiS on economic policy, favouring high-tech free markets over redistribution to rural communities, and consider PiS’s pro-Catholicism at best naive. Demographically, they are young and educated, more in line with Trszaskowski’s generation than Duda’s, and unlikely to be inspired by Duda’s message of continuity.

Duda has to hope that his homophobia can bring them over without alienating some of his more centrist backers. Trzaskowski had sought to woo them by making references to economic freedom. Bosak himself has endorsed neither candidate and it is not unlikely quite a few of his more cynical voters will sit the second round out. The final result may depend on whether they’re more scared of gay men or the tax man.

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.