Viscount Trenchard: Why Japan’s new Prime Minister is good news for the UK

24 Oct

Viscount Trenchard is a Conservative peer and Vice Chairman of the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group

Last month, Yoshihide Suga replaced Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Suga was Abe’s right hand man as Chief Cabinet Secretary, a political figure unfamiliar to many internationally, and as such regarded as a ‘continuity’ Prime Minister.

If true, this is good news for Britain, since under Abe, Anglo-Japanese relations improved steadily. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Britain’s first post-Brexit trade deal was struck with Japan. As a new Policy Exchange report by Alessio Patalano shows, Abe’s political legacy has set the ideal conditions for our two countries to work more closely together on matters ranging from trade to defence.

I remember my first meeting with Abe, in 1989, at what we might call a ‘society wedding’ in Fukuoka, Japan, at which he had to sit next to me for some four hours. At the time he was secretary to his father, Shintaro Abe, a former Foreign Minister. I had no premonition at the time of the huge contribution that he would make to the standing of Japan in international organisations, such as the G7 and G20. In this achievement, and in strengthening the role of the Prime Minister’s office, Abe was greatly assisted by Suga –someone who is free of dynastic and factional affiliations.

This is why I think it would be a mistake to consider Suga as simply a continuity or caretaker Prime Minister. Suga is a man of relatively modest origins with strong determination. In Japan, he is known for his work ethic. He frequently chairs meetings at weekends and has a robust fitness routine – 200 sit-ups and a 40-minute walk every day. He is well-respected by all at the Japanese Cabinet Office and is likely to use the coming months to strengthen his leadership of the party. It is no coincidence, for example, that Taro Kono, a rising star in Japan with prior experience as Foreign and Defence Minister, was nominated as the new Administrative Reform Minister.

What does a Suga administration mean for Britain? During Abe’s tenure, the two governments established a direct hotline, and learned to share information and compare notes on critical international issues. Today, Kono maintains strong ties in the British political landscape, although Toshimitsu Motegi, the Foreign Minister, is also an important figure, given his experience in negotiating the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

Suga knows that in Britain, Japan has a very important partner in trade, in promoting the rule of law, and in supporting international stability, and is regarded as a key partner in the country’s increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.

This is why a Suga cabinet is a genuine opportunity for Britain. In a post-Brexit landscape, the UK should take advantage of the recent bilateral deal and proactively pursue joining the CPTPP. Joining this vast free trade area at a time in which its modus operandi is still being developed will allow the UK to contribute to shape – together with Japan and other key actors – its potential. As the United States may review its current position on the agreement in the future, a timely British application would reap early benefits in terms of influence.

Similarly, the British Government should make it a priority to reach out to Japan to engage in a detailed conversation about the future of the Horizon nuclear power project – especially in light of recent concerns about the involvement of the Chinese state-backed CGN in Britain’s nuclear sector. The ‘levelling-up’ agenda of the British government led by Boris Johnson will appeal to Suga, a self-made man from Akita Prefecture in the north of Japan.

On matters of foreign and security policy, the Suga administration offers no less of an opportunity for Britain. Japan has been leading together with our closest security partners, notably the United States and the Australia, the conversation about why we are now living through an Indo-Pacific century. The management of ocean resources and environmental stability, of critical sea-lanes linking Europe to Northeast Asia, all give this region a maritime core that plays to Britain’s traditional role as custodian of the international maritime order. A partnership with Japan should be pursued with the understanding that the development of future capabilities will benefit from growing interoperability and integration.

This would not be a first, rather a rediscovery. The Japanese fleet that vanquished the Russian Baltic Fleet in 1905 was built – by and large – in Britain. Today, whether in the context of solid support ships, or next generation fighters, Britain and Japan stand to gain from working together in developing the ideas, actions, and tools of security.

By the same token, Britain represents a unique partner for a Suga administration that wishes to build upon the Abe legacy. On immediate priorities for the Japanese Government, London remains an important reference in the challenge of hosting the Olympic Games, and Britain continues to be a leading player both in the race to obtain a viable Covid-19 vaccine and in science and technology more broadly. But in trade and defence too there are many areas where both countries should continue to learn from each other and work together.

Newslinks for Saturday 24th October 2020

24 Oct

Downing Street and SAGE clash over Christmas…

“People may be able to celebrate Christmas “as a family” this year, Downing Street has insisted, as a Sage scientist claimed this was “wishful thinking”. There are growing warning that the festive season could be at risk unless there is some form of mini-lockdown, whether it be a circuit breaker or firebreak. However this afternoon a Number 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas. “As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.” Earlier today Sage scientist Professor John Edmunds said “radical action” would be needed for that to happen.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Revolt brewing against lockdown rules – Daily Mail
  • Only one in ten stay at home for two weeks when told to self-isolate – The Sun
  • Street urges Government to be ‘straightforward’ in tier 3 talks – The Guardian
  • Fury at Sturgeon for ‘manufacturing grievances’ – Daily Mail


  • We’re no nation of lockdown lovers – James Johnson, Daily Mail
  • Johnson is learning that in politics you cannot simply ‘follow the science’ – David Runciman, The Guardian

>Today: David Gauke’s column: With a position so exposed, how did Burnham get away with it?

…as coronavirus ‘makes Tories pause on levelling up’

“According to Mr Sunak’s allies he remains committed to the “signature” manifesto commitments, a formulation that leaves the obvious question of which pledges do not bear that imprimatur. No 10 and No 11 deny any link between the decision to scrap the three-year spending round and to make the new furlough scheme more generous. One said that it was “110 per cent untrue” that Mr Sunak had only moved under pressure from Mr Johnson. Mr Johnson’s allies admit the timing of the package made the government look “disjointed” given it came 48 hours after the prime minister had denied £5 million more to satisfy Mr Burnham. They point out, however, that apart from Greater Manchester, talks with local leaders over Tier 3 and Tier 2 measures were going well. Covid’s geography makes for awkward politics for a prime minister committed to “levelling up” but only in the short term.” – The Times

  • Government fears working from home is hitting UK economy hard – Daily Telegraph
  • Red wall residents don’t regret voting blue, but patience is wearing thin – The Times
  • Self-employed fear unaffordable tax bills – FT
  • Experts voice shock that Sunak ‘doesn’t know how much his latest huge coronavirus bailout will cost’ – Daily Mail
  • Why Boris Johnson is running out of time to deliver on Tory spending pledges – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Should the Treasury underwrite Drakeford’s assault on the Welsh economy?

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Our lives are still on hold

New immigration rules abandon May’s targets

“Net migration targets have been abandoned by the Government as it ditches the £35,800 salary cap for migrants to be allowed to settle in the UK. The new rules for Boris Johnson’s points-based immigration system demolish the last vestiges of Theresa May’s attempts to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. Skilled migrants will no longer be required to earn £35,800 to be able to settle in the UK but the cap will instead be lowered to £25,600 under the rules, which were quietly slipped out on Thursday and take effect on December 1. Unskilled migrants on salaries of just £20,480 but with enough points to be allowed into the UK to plug gaps in jobs where there is a shortage of workers, will also be entitled to settle in Britain after six years  and become citizens. Under the current system, migrant workers have had to leave the UK after six years unless they earned £35,800 a year, a rule introduced in 2011 by Mrs May to reduce net migration when she was Home Secretary.” – Daily Telegraph

Johnson ‘is bluffing’ over ease of no-deal Brexit, says France

“A French minister has dismissed Boris Johnson’s claim that Britain can “more than live with” a no-deal Brexit if trade, security and fishing talks with the European Union fail. Clément Beaune, the French Europe minister who is a close associate of President Macron, poured scorn on the prime minister’s upbeat assessment that Britain could prosper without an EU deal. “If the British thought they could live with ‘the freedom’ of no deal outside of the EU — if it was so easy and so comfortable — they would have already left without a deal,” he told French BFM television on Thursday. Mr Macron last week rallied other European leaders to issue an ultimatum that a trade, security and fishing deal would be possible only if Britain conceded to EU demands. As a result Mr Johnson cancelled trade talks and said that if it came to a no-deal scenario of trade tariffs “we can more than live with it”. He said: “I think we can prosper mightily under those circumstances.”” – The Times

  • UK trade deal with Japan unlocked Brexit talks, EU sources say – Daily Telegraph
  • Brussels offers UK less on financial services than Japan – FT
  • UK presses for use of faster passport gates at EU airports post-Brexit – The Guardian

Charles Moore: Johnson must avoid a Brexit deal which looks like success on the day but brings failure later

“Despite all the fretting about fish, comes the hopeful message: “We’re close.” As close, indeed, as social distancing permits. Our chief negotiator, Lord Frost, spent Thursday and yesterday in talks with M Barnier in the basement of the Department for Business. This was itself a good sign. Britain’s terse statement that there was nothing more to talk about had brought the EU back to the table. It acknowledged, as it had not before, that this is a discussion between equal entities. Given the long, sad history, however, one must ask: “Are the British public being manipulated by a government which is in reality ready to trade major long-term issues of principle for short-term presentational wins?” Old hands will remember the brilliantly spun “Game, set and match to Major”, which fanfared Maastricht in 1991. Yet Maastricht was the treaty from which the Tory party has never fully recovered, and from which the longing to leave was reborn.” – Daily Telegraph

Tory councils ‘turn against Johnson’ in battle for free school meals

“Boris Johnson was under pressure to back down in his fight with the footballer Marcus Rashford as Tory councils joined a nationwide revolt against his refusal to fund free school meals at half-term. The Conservatives’ most powerful regional leader, Andy Street, criticised Downing Street’s response to the issue as the Manchester United player’s campaign gathered momentum. Rashford’s petition on child food poverty, which includes a call for funding free meals for eligible pupils during school holidays, was approaching half a million names last night. His Twitter account was also flooded with messages from businesses and people offering help, including taxi firms offering free rides to food banks and a bridal boutique making up packed lunches. The government provided food vouchers in the Easter holidays and, under pressure from Rashford, during the summer break. Mr Johnson insists that the return of schools in September should have ended the extension of free school meals in the holidays and says there are better ways to help those in the most need.” – The Times

  • Bradley is hit by backlash for suggesting free school meals cash went to ‘crack dens and brothels’ – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Emily Carver in Comment: Under this Government, the state is rolling forward. But to be Conservative, it must roll it back.

UK targets Putin allies with covert attacks

“Britain has launched a series of covert attacks on Russian leaders and their interests, the former cabinet secretary has revealed. Lord Sedwill said that clandestine operations had been mounted to punish President Putin and his senior allies and signalled that this included deploying Britain’s newly declared offensive cyber-capability. The “series of discreet measures” were used to “impose a price greater than one they might have expected”, he said in an interview with Times Radio. It is the first time a senior British figure had confirmed such tactics. The disclosure marks an escalation in British action against a resurgent Russia. Britain and its allies increased their public pressure on the Kremlin over its international transgressions in recent weeks. Lord Sedwill, who was also national security adviser until he stepped down last month, refused to disclose the exact nature of the attacks, “because they are covert”.” – The Times

  • ‘We always hit back hard. Russia paid a high price for Salisbury poisonings’ – Interview, The Times

Over 100 Tory MPs demand Starmer takes action over Rayner’s ‘scum’ remark

“More than 100 Tory MPs have written to Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer demanding he take action over Angela Rayner’s incendiary comments in the House of Commons. They said dozens of MPs have been threatened, had graffiti daubed in their constituencies or were abused online after Deputy Leader Angela Rayner called Chris Clarkson “scum” during a debate this week. Senior Tories are calling on a public apology from Sir Keir and the promise of stronger action against Ms Rayner if she uses “unparliamentary” language again. After the row, the phrase “Tory Scum” trended on twitter, and MP’s offices were targeted with abusive phone calls. Tory MP Shaun Bailey’s mother received abuse with a member of the public copying the language of Rayner over the telephone. Minister Chloe Smith has been targeted locally with graffiti calling her Tory Scum.” – The Sun

  • Smirking ministers don’t care what we think – Matthew Parris, The Times

National Trust could face inquiry into its ‘purpose’

“The National Trust could face an official investigation by the charity regulator for straying from its “clear, simple purpose” to preserve historic buildings and treasures. Speaking to The Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast (which you can listen to on the audio player above), Baroness Stowell of Beeston, who chairs the Charity Commission, said it was “important” that the National Trust did not “lose sight” of what members expected, adding that it was right that it was facing questions. The commission is examining whether the Trust has breached its charitable objects. Regulators approached it earlier this month after members of the public complained about its controversial review into links between its properties and the British empire and slavery. That could lead to a formal investigation in the coming weeks, with the questioning of the Trust’s recent conduct by the regulator extremely embarrassing for a charity with 5.6 million members.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • The conservative case for extending free school meals – Rob Halfon MP, The Spectator
  • A ‘third way’ can break the Brexit governance impasse – Pieter Cleppe and MJ Clifton, CapX
  • Is France’s secularism worth dying for? – John Lichfield, UnHerd
  • Why the “Decade of Health” campaign has left the UK feeling cold – Laura Dodsworth, The Critic

Should the Treasury underwrite Drakeford’s assault on the Welsh economy?

24 Oct

One of the many unpleasant features of the latest breakdown in the ‘four-nation’ approach to combating Covid-19 is that the nation’s various governments have all taken the opportunity to flex their authoritarian streaks.

Setting aside the top-level debate about the efficacy of Tier Three, or a national ‘circuit-breaker’, politicians in London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff have all invoked the crisis to justify some bizarre restrictions.

In England, the Government imposed a 10pm curfew (without modelling the impact) in order to ‘send a message’, with the result that thousands of people all ended up piling out of the pubs – and into the supermarkets and onto public transport – at the same time. North of the border, meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s own lockdown includes a ban on the indoor sale of alcohol.

Yet none of this reaches the absurd heights we are now witnessing in Wales, where Mark Drakeford has decided not only to force all ‘non-essential’ businesses to close, but to prohibit the sale of ‘non-essential’ items in essential shops.

Cue bizarre pictures of supermarket staff wrapping shelves to ensure the public can’t get their hands on such trivialities as new bedding (as winter draws in), as retailers try their best to navigate the new rules.

This bizarre move isn’t even nominally about controlling the virus. The First Minister has apparently claimed that it is necessary in order to create ‘a level playing field’ between big supermarkets and smaller shops. It is an ideologically-motivated thumb on the economic scales – not a public health measure. That Welsh shoppers will simply switch to online shopping (some permanently) seems not to have occurred to him.

As such, it will only sharpen the debate around who is going to pick up the tab for one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Typically of the devolution ‘settlement’, the Welsh Government has the authority to shut down its economy but can’t pay for it, and the Treasury is rightly resistant to getting bounced into spending commitments over which it has no control.

The perception that Scottish and Welsh devocrats are enthusiasts for lockdown because they can tap into ‘English’ money is a potentially dangerous one both for the Government and the Union as it is. If that grows into a broader perception of subsidy not just for more generous welfare spending but actively terrible economic policy, it could grow more toxic still.

Some devocrats want the power to borrow, although unless you think Westminster would ever not bail out devolved administration that’s simply more of the same by a different way. Others have suggested that Scotland and Wales should be forced to pay for additional lockdown measures from their own taxation. A third option would be to make Treasury economic support conditional, and revive the UK Government’s legitimate role in the governance of the whole country. No British cash without British strings.

David Gauke: With a position so exposed, how did Burnham get away with it?

24 Oct

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Who would have believed that we would see a mainstream, liberal MP turned city mayor taking a bold political risk, build an unlikely coalition of support and win a public relations battle by articulating the resentment of those who feel victims of an out of touch London establishment?

Boris Johnson has had a difficult couple of weeks, but I hope he has enjoyed the irony of being on the wrong side of Andy Burnham’s somewhat populist revolt.

The extended row with the Mayor of Greater Manchester has put the Government on the back foot, looking mean-spirited and out of touch, whilst Burnham has come across as a heroic ‘King of the North’ – personable, passionate and articulate, he has successfully presented himself as a doughty defender of hard-pressed Mancunians.

He has had a political triumph – although the coherence of his position does not withstand a great deal of scrutiny. As Paul Goodman has pointed out, Burnham’s language, attacking an approach that ‘might not work’, was designed to appeal to those who thought that the new restrictions did not go far enough, as well as the likes of Sir Graham Brady, who want to adopt a very different strategy.

Even though he has made the valid point that lockdowns cause mental health problems, it does not seem likely that Burnham is a lockdown sceptic himself.

In May, he expressed the view that lockdown restrictions were being relaxed too quickly, appropriate for the position in London but not for Manchester.

More recently, he has expressed support for Keir Starmer’s call for a tighter, national lockdown. It is safe to assume that he believes the mainstream and, to my mind, rather commonsensical view that if you reduce the number of social interactions people have, there will be less chance for the virus to spread.

If that is the case, and given his criticism that the Tier Two restrictions which have been in place in Manchester since August have not stopped the spread of the virus, it is remarkable that he spent ten days resisting the imposition of tougher and more effective restrictions in Greater Manchester, where infection rates were high and, in eight out of ten boroughs, rising.

No doubt his supporters will make the argument that he was not opposing tougher restrictions – just tougher restrictions on the cheap.

But again, one can question whether his position was coherent. It is true to say that the level of support in Tier Three – the focus of his complaints – is not as generous as was available under the original lockdown.

But the real issue for many businesses was not the support available under Tier Two for those businesses forced to close, but the absence of support for businesses in Tier Two, where restrictions meant that hospitality businesses could stay open, but with little prospect of many customers. This was the real problem with Government support, until the Chancellor’s announcement on Thursday.

So a not unfair description of Burnham’s position was that Tier Two was ineffective in preventing the spread of the virus and involved inadequate support for businesses, but that he was determined to keep Greater Manchester within it.

There is also some confusion about his view on whether lockdown restrictions should be determined on a local or national basis.

He has argued that decisions should be made by those close to the ground but, back in the spring, he was opposed to London exiting lockdown before Manchester, because people there would object to seeing Londoners in pubs when they were still banned from going for a pint – suggesting that he favours national uniformity.

Given that he was also opposed to the national exit from lockdown because it did not reflect conditions in Manchester, he presumably favours a national policy based on conditions in Manchester – which is all very well but somewhat hard to justify to the rest of the country.

That he was able to turn such a position into a political triumph is a testament to clumsy handling on the part of the Government (appearing to withdraw the £60 million that had been offered) as well as Burnham’s political skills. He has tapped into northern distrust of the south, articulating the view that the interests of Manchester are treated as a lower priority to those of London.

In doing this, he is taking a leaf from the SNP in Scotland. The politics of national and regional resentment and grievance, the argument that ‘the system’ is designed to support the prosperous South East at the expense of the rest, is one that finds a ready audience in many parts of the UK.

‘If it wasn’t for a distant government in Westminster, taking our resources, we would be doing alright’ is the message of Scottish Nationalists, as well as regional mayors.

In purely fiscal terms this is, of course, nonsense. Contrary to the received wisdom of many parts of the UK, resources are massively redistributed from London and the Greater South East to the rest of the United Kingdom. In the last year for which numbers are available, 2019, London, the South East and the East of England had fiscal surpluses of £39 billion, £22 billion and £4 billion respectively which only partially offset fiscal deficits in the rest of the UK, including a deficit of £20 billion in the North West and £15 billion in Scotland.

This is not an argument that the Government is likely to be making any time soon. After all, the Conservative majority at the last election was heavily dependent upon the narrative that the Government was going to ‘level up’ the country, correcting the perceived London-centric nature of our economy and politics.

Tapping into anger at metropolitan elites proved very helpful to Boris Johnson in both the EU referendum and the 2019 general election; this week, that anger was turned against him as he was made to look like a representative of the establishment, not the insurgency.

The idea of localised restrictions has not been discredited, however painful local negotiations have been. This is the logical approach to a virus where the level of infection varies enormously. But the Government has been slow to recognise that localised restrictions will result in resentment if the level of support is seen as parsimonious. And arguments about fiscal discipline will not persuade those new, Red Wall Conservative voters who delivered the Prime Minister his majority.

The bitterness of the row between the Government and the Greater Manchester Mayor, as well as the continued surge in support for the SNP, has been dispiriting.

At best, it reveals that, as we enter a long winter with rising case numbers and deaths and restrictions on our everyday lives, we are becoming more fractious and distrustful of the Government. At worst, it reveals that the whole cohesion of the United Kingdom is starting to disintegrate – not just amongst the nations of the UK but between the regions of England.

If the approach that Burnham has taken is seen to be the exemplar of how regional politicians should operate, and if the Government cannot nullify those regional grievances, our politics will become yet more bitter and divisive. Ultimately, pitting one region against another would make us ungovernable.

Graham Gudgin: It must take a real majority of the right electorate to break up our Union

23 Oct

Dr Graham Gudgin is currently Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Business Research (CBR) at the University of Cambridge and visiting Professor at the University of Ulster.

There is no internationally agreed principle for the maintenance or breakup of states, even within Europe. Czechs and Slovaks are rightly proud that their ‘velvet divorce’ break-up of the former Czechoslovakia in 1992 was achieved peaceably, but their experience is not typical.

At the other extreme, Catalan separatists are locked up and there seems to be no legal way of achieving independence for Catalonia. For all its liberal principles, and its previous encouragement of a ‘Europe of the Regions’, the EU exhibits de facto support for the integrity of existing states like Spain. It also opposes regional secession in Ukraine even when secession is locally popular – but supported the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The UK approach arguably makes secession too easy, but could be revised to make it pragmatic and morally supportable. British regions are free to secede as long as a majority of the local population agrees. This principle was followed in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and is also built into the Belfast Agreement, which mandates the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to hold a border poll if evidence suggests majority support for Irish unity. As in Scotland, a majority of 50 per cent plus one vote is sufficient to detach the area from the UK.

In these respects, British governments have been remarkably insouciant about the break-up of one of the world’s most long-established and successful democracies. There has been only a perfunctory national debate on the value of the Union, leaving the field wide open for successionists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Few in the UK would follow the Spanish government’s hard line on regional secession, but equally our own light-touch approach risks losing the Union through the votes of a minority of the Scottish population.

The willingness of the UK establishment to permit a break-up of the Union is surprising. England Scotland, Wales, and Ireland formed a unified kingdom in 1603 and since then forged the world’s most astonishingly successful union, pioneering modern democracy and capitalism before spreading both across the globe. It is a union willing to spend billions to maintain uniform social standards, spending for instance as much to maintain public services in Northern Ireland as it did in its controversial contributions to the EU.

The ONS calculates that living standards in Scotland and Northern Ireland are above the UK average once housing costs are taken into account, and only a little below those in South East England. The willingness of British taxpayers to finance uniform living standards is greatly under-appreciated. It is buried in the Barnett Formula for distributing public expenditure and this should be replaced by a much more transparent ‘UK cohesion fund’.

Loss of empire, followed by membership of the EU, loosened the sinews of national cohesion. The temporary largesse of North Sea oil allowed the SNP to rise in popularity in the 1970s under the slogan ‘Its Scotland’s Oil’. The SNP has successfully built on Scotland’s distinctive geography and history to undermine the many British bonds of language, institutions, and a shared 300-year history.

John Lloyd has argued that ‘the SNP’s standard enshrines an ideal, [a] promise of a fuller civic life, a pledge – in a nation once famously pious, now shorn of faith – of a more meaningful existence’. This appeal may be wide, but for many is unlikely to be deep. That support for Scottish independence is wafer-thin has been pointed out by George Kerevan, a recent SNP Assembly member and past deputy editor of the Scotsman.

Within this context the SNP has played its hand extremely well under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, even as oil revenue drips away and Scottish voters are offered the prospect of voting to give control back to the EU including pressure to join the unpopular Euro currency area.

If the SNP do well in next May’s Scottish Parliament election,  the clamour for a second referendum may become irresistible. Such a referendum could be won by the SNP and if so a successful 300-year union could be broken up – on the vote of a minority of Scots and with great consequences for the rest of UK, who would have no say.

The 2014 referendum was organised under rules almost designed to maximise the independence vote, and the pro-union campaign was conducted largely on the same ‘project-fear’ basis that failed so dismally for the Government in the Brexit referendum. This lackadaisical approach cannot be risked again. Any future referendum must be taken much more seriously, with voting rules designed to reflect the seriousness of the issue

A decision of such historical importance not only for Scotland, but also for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, must be taken on the soundest basis possible avoiding the weaknesses of 2014. If the 2014 rules were reused, the electorate would include non-UK citizens living in Scotland and exclude Scottish-born UK citizens living outside Scotland. The latter would be eligible for Scottish citizenship in an independent Scotland but excluded for the decision on independence. The 2014  rules could mean that Scottish independence could be gained with a 51 per cent majority on a 70 per cent voter turnout, i.e. with the votes of only 35 per cent of the Scottish electorate.

A liberal and democratic Britain has not, and would not, deny an independence referendum to a Scotland determined to have such a vote. It can and should insist that such an important and probably irreversible decision can only be taken by a majority of Scots. Only Scottish-born UK citizens should vote, and all such citizens should be eligible including the expats. To ensure that most Scots want independence, a yes vote should depend on a majority of the electorate and not just on a majority of those voting

This is close to the rules used in the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum when devolution was supported by a majority of voters but failed to pass because less than 40 per cent of the electorate voted yes. Such a hurdle would probably prove impossible for the SNP.

Having become accustomed to a low bar for independence referendums the Nationalists would of course cry foul. SNP politicians could persuade some Scots that the referendum was rigged, but the logic and morality of such arrangements would be clear and easy to defend both in the UK and abroad. SNP objections would also call attention to the narrowness of the support for independence. The SNP’s strength has been its moderation and adherence to democracy and the rule of law, and it would be difficult for it to oppose British law by attempting to run its own referendum.

This then would be the British way of deciding the rules of secession. It would be more liberal and democratic than Spain and also more democratic than in Czechoslovakia, where no referendum was held and where public opinion opposed a breakup. It would also not repeat the lax approach of 2014.

The new principle would be that a region can vote to leave but must demonstrate that a majority of its people favoured secession. Not only would this help to preserve the Union, but it would set the world an example.

Festus Akinbusoye: What serving as a Special Constable taught me about 21st-century policing

23 Oct

Festus Akinbusoye is the Conservative candidate for Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner election.

After working over 200 frontline hours in two months as a Special Constable, and almost 200 hours of training, I am stepping aside from this eye-opening role to now focus my attention on campaigning for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Bedfordshire at the May 2021 election.

Though I applied to become a volunteer Police Officer long before I knew the incumbent was not going to be seeking re-election, having the opportunity to get stuck in and working alongside our truly remarkable police officers has revealed things I could not have known otherwise. The training was intense, the pass/fail assessments were more intense, and the actual job of working as a police officer was beyond intense.

Nonetheless, I would highly recommend this to anyone who genuinely cares about making a positive impact on the lives of others, protecting the most vulnerable and being at the forefront of fighting crime.

Policing is not for the faint-hearted, and the challenges of safeguarding our communities in the 21st Century is something many do not fully appreciate. So, when I read of uninformed people using the pejorative ‘ACAB’ epithet or talk about ‘defunding the police’, I wince, having had the experience of the last few months.

The truth is, we do not need to defund the police. We do, however, need to defund the serious organised crime gangs who prey on our young and most vulnerable. We need to defund the organisations who aim to sow seeds of discord and anarchy within our communities. We need to defund groups and ideologies that exist purely to terrorise us. Instead of defunding the police, we need to re-fund the police so that they have the tools, resources and backing to do their job.

For when it’s all said and done, and speaking from first-hand experience after being on the frontline dealing with mind-boggling crimes, the police are often the first and last line of defending those things which we all value the most – our life and liberty.

Of course, I see more clearly now than ever the reasons why accountability, constant learning, and effective oversight are essential. With any power must come commensurate accountability for the exercise of such powers. No group or body should possess powers as do our law enforcement officers without there being a transparent and effective check on those powers. This is good for policing and the policed.

With that caveat, I can attest to only seeing officers demonstrate impeccable empathy towards victims of the most awful domestic abuse incidents, or exceptional duty of care for someone who was under arrest for causing bodily harm to another while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. On other occasions, I saw officers show kindness in dealing with parents whose loved one had gone missing or was having a mental health episode. All these were done, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.

Invariably, I and the officers I worked alongside filled roles of medical practitioners, parents, social workers, arbitrators (very often) and on occasions, road sweepers. Far removed from what you might see on TV, policing in the 21st Century is not primarily about blue-lighting it or foot chases after gun-toting criminals. Much of policing is trying to deal with mental health, alcohol/drugs related cases, domestic incidents, missing persons, and concern for welfare. Also contrary to what some might have us believe, I suspect most officers do not spend much of their shifts doing Stop and Search. Instead, they’re being called to cases such as the ones above.

But this is not getting easier, and is why we must have a more joined-up, multi-agency approach to policing. It is also another reason why a greater focus on prevention and addressing reoffending is so crucial.

It is my view that there may never be enough police officers around to adequately deal with the societal impact of drugs and alcohol abuse, or weaknesses in the core pillars of society such as family and parenting. There aren’t enough prison spaces to address these issues, so we must simply do better at preventing those at risk of sliding off the rails from doing so, while supporting those who are off the rails to get back on track. There is no other viable option.

This is why I hope the Home Office will continue to fund programmes like the very successful Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit we have established in Bedfordshire.

I am very heartened to see the level of investment now being returned to frontline policing by this Conservative Government. More officers are coming through, and it has been my pleasure to work alongside some of these over the last few months. However, retention remains a cause for concern and a review of the police funding formula is needed to ensure that our police forces are able to deliver 21st-century policing to our communities.

Our police officers are ordinary men and women, who are being asked to do extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances – with great success. We should salute each and everyone one of them. I certainly do.

Newslinks for Friday 23rd October 2020

23 Oct

Sunak reveals tier two rescue package…

“It was only on Tuesday afternoon that Boris Johnson refused to meet Andy Burnham’s demands for an extra £5 million to help Manchester through weeks of punishing tier three restrictions. So it was hardly surprising that the Labour mayor was on Thursday struggling to contain his disbelief, as the Chancellor Rishi Sunak rode to the rescue with a multi-billion pound rescue package to help firms through the winter months. Just 48 hours after talks between the Prime Minister and Greater Manchester collapsed, Mr Sunak rose to the dispatch box to unveil a fresh cash injection for those struggling to stay afloat under tier one and tier two restrictions. Worth an estimated £13bn over six months, Mr Sunak’s package included a revamped wage support scheme to help firms cling onto more workers part-time, as well as a new round of funding for the self-employed.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor steps up efforts to avert mass unemployment – FT
  • £2bn lost to criminals in furlough cash fraud – The Times
  • Treasury provides extra £13bn to keep businesses alive – Daily Telegraph
  • Up to £12bn to keep loss-making trains and buses running – The Times


…as ‘power mad’ Welsh First Minister orders supermarkets to sell only ‘essential goods’…

“Welsh supermarkets have been ordered to only sell ‘essential goods’ to customers during the country’s 17-day lockdown. First Minister Mark Drakeford will tell stores they are unable to sell items such as clothes to shoppers, and to prioritise other products deemed to be more important. It means a likely return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people’s shopping trollies. Many retailers will be forced to shut during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown, when it begins on Friday at 6pm, but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open. Despite there being just hours before it comes into effect, the Welsh Government was unable to provide clarity tonight on what is defined as ‘essential’ nor how enforcement of the rules would look.” – Daily Mail

  • Drakeford has exposed Johnson’s lack of leadership – Nathan Yeowell, The Times

>Today: James Evans in Local Government: Welsh Conservatives need candidates who aren’t the “usual suspects” – we need genuine diversity

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Conservatives explore plans to buy off SNP with… yet more powers

…and Johnson admits test and trace system ‘needs to improve’

“Boris Johnson said England’s coronavirus test and trace system had to improve after it recorded its worst weekly performance since its launch in May, with testing turnround times soaring and the proportion of contacts of infected people reached falling to a record low. With the programme coming under increasing strain as infections rise, figures released by the government on Thursday for the week ending October 14 showed only a third of people received results from in-person tests the next day, down from two-thirds the week before. Only 15 per cent received their results within 24 hours, compared to 32.8 per cent the week before. Four-fifths of those who were transferred to the system were reached by contact tracers, up from 77 per cent the week before. But under 60 per cent of their identified contacts were reached, down from 63 per cent the week before and a new low for the programme.” – FT

  • Prime Minister criticises trace efforts amid warnings of 90,000 coronavirus cases a day… – The Times
  • …but he says tiers system is working to reduce the R rate – The Sun
  • Councils will get powers to shut pubs that break Covid rules – Daily Telegraph


  • Nightingale hospital reopens in Manchester – The Times
  • Home Office rejects easing of health recruitment rules – FT

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: The way the BBC and Sky News behave, you’d think we are the only country in the world with a second wave


Ministers to move north as part of civil service shake-up

“Ministers will be told to leave London and work in the “great northern cities” in one of the biggest shake-ups of the civil service ever attempted, Boris Johnson said. The prime minister pledged to move entire departments from Whitehall outside the capital to fulfil his pledge to “level up” the country. Under the plans about a quarter of the 92,000 civil servants who work in the capital would move to the regions by the end of the decade. The Treasury has announced plans to create an “economic campus” in the north and other departments, such as Work and Pensions and the Home Office, could also move. Speaking to northern business leaders, Mr Johnson said: “We will move departments of state, ministers, private offices and all, to great northern cities and regions that represent the future of this country.” … This year’s annual civil service headcount showed that about a fifth of civil servants work in London. There are 92,000 civil servants in the capital, with 56,000 in the northwest and 46,000 in Scotland.” – The Times

  • Government accused of being London-centric with Covid support – The Guardian


  • Civil service head ‘ever watchful’ of potential purge – FT

>Yesterday: Paul Howell in Comment: CCHQ North will only work if party members feel real ownership of it

Trade 1) Barnier says UK and EU have ‘huge common responsibility’ to avoid no deal

“Michel Barnier said Britain and the EU had a “a huge common responsibility” to avoid a no deal Brexit as he arrived in London for the first day of rebooted trade talks on Thursday. Number 10 warned that “significant gaps” remained between the two sides over fishing, “level playing field guarantees” and enforcement, and said it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”. EU diplomats in Brussels predicted that fishing would be the easiest of the three outstanding issues to solve in the intensive daily negotiations that will continue through the weekend and in Brussels next week. “I think it’s very important to be back at the table. Every day counts,” said Mr Barnier, who wore a blue facemask with an EU motif as he arrived. The EU has an end of October deal deadline, which could stretch to the first week of November.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Business experts plead with officials to protect UK’s powerhouse financial services industry – Daily Mail
  • Macron fisheries plot fails as fisherman concedes ‘we will not break law’ – Daily Express

Trade 2) Truss seals first big post-Brexit trade deal with Japan

“The UK has completed its first large post-Brexit trade deal after signing an agreement with Japan that will take effect from January 1. Liz Truss, the UK’s international trade secretary, signed the agreement with Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese foreign minister, in Tokyo on Friday. The pact, negotiated in just a few months over the summer, is seen by the UK government an important demonstration of its ability to reach new trade deals outside the EU. The new deal largely replicates the existing EU-Japan deal, but has an extra chapter on digital trade and lacks the quotas for agricultural exports such as cheese that Brussels wrested from Tokyo during years of talks. Instead, the deal allows the UK to use any agricultural quotas left over by the EU. British officials are confident there will be enough space in the quotas to maintain and increase the UK’s food exports to Japan.” – FT

  • She says trade deals can help ‘turbocharge’ the economy and create ‘Singapore-on-Tyne’ – Daily Telegraph

Morgan and Osborne ‘turn down chance to head BBC’

“Nicky Morgan and George Osborne have both ruled themselves out of the BBC chairmanship, leaving the way clear for Richard Sharp. The former investment banker at Goldman Sachs who now advises Rishi Sunak was revealed as a leading contender by The Times yesterday. His path to the powerful role has been smoothed by the decisions of Baroness Morgan of Cotes and Mr Osborne not to apply. The former culture secretary formally told Downing Street and the department for culture, media and sport last week that she did not want to enter the race. Mr Osborne, the former chancellor, has also decided not to put his name forward for the role. BBC figures were reluctant to express a public opinion on Mr Sharp yesterday, insisting the decision was one for government. However, sources said the former banker’s frontrunner status was unlikely to provoke David Dimbleby to run as a “protect the BBC” candidate…” – The Times

  • Sunak’s ex-Goldman Sachs boss emerges as next possible BBC chair – The Guardian


  • Davie wants programme makers to monitor ethnicity and disability of on-screen contributors – Daily Mail

>Today: Emily Carver in Comment: Under this Government, the state is rolling forward. But to be Conservative, it must roll it back.

Tory MP says his mum was called ‘scum’ after Rayner used the slur in Parliament

“A Tory MP has claimed his mum and staff were called “scum” after Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner used the slur in Parliament. Shaun Bailey condemned the abuse and told MPs it started after the incident which saw his party colleague Chris Clarkson insulted by Rayner. Mr Clarkson said the insult was hurled at him after he insinuated that members of the shadow front bench believe the Covid-19 pandemic is a “good crisis” to exploit… Mr Bailey asked Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg for a debate on the standards of conduct in the chamber, adding: “The language we use impacts people beyond us.” He suggested Ms Rayner should appear before MPs to apologise to them and “perhaps to my mum as well”.” – The Sun

>Yesterday: MPs Etc.: Conservative MPs made a strong case against Labour’s free school meal plans in the Commons yesterday

Sajid Javid: Britain would be better off with Biden

“Trump has pursued a foreign policy that’s as alienating as it is unpredictable. Despite this, some in the UK fear what Trump losing the election could mean for our national interest. Biden’s opposition to Brexit has sparked concerns that if he wins the presidency it could sour the Special Relationship – and with it our prospects of a trade deal. These challenges are overstated. Britain’s relationship with the US is bigger than our respective leaders, and a Biden administration would quickly realise that Boris isn’t the British Trump some claim him to be. When it comes to policy, Biden will find he has more in common with the Johnson government than Trump ever did. He may not single us out for unique treatment, but in reality neither did Trump. In fact, when it comes to trade, foreign affairs, and moral leadership we might find Biden to be a far more dependable ally.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson has a way to build bridges – James Forsyth, The Times

>Today: Lord Ashcroft in International: “If you’re voting for Trump, you keep your mouth shut.” My American election focus groups in Georgia and Ohio.

News in Brief:

  • Trump’s Nato-bashing exposes the hollow myth of US ‘imperialism’ – Oliver Kamm, CapX
  • Scottish devolution has been tested to destruction – Stephen Daisley, The Spectator
  • What if Hunt had won? – James Kirkup, UnHerd
  • The left-wing bias of Wikipedia – Shuichi Tezuka and Linda Ashtear, The Critic
  • How Transport for London came to the brink of collapse – Mutaz Ahmed, Reaction

Our lives are still on hold

23 Oct

That was Rishi Sunak’s second major Commons statement in a month, and nearly his tenth in less than a year, since he delivered his first Budget mid-March.

By now, another politician might well have exhausted both voters and his party’s patience, but the Chancellor has been buttressed, first, by his fluency, authority and grasp; second, by the extraordinary context of the pandemic and, finally, by the fact that there was no practicable alternative, as the economy bled when hit by the virus earlier this year, but to rush for a blood tranfusion – in other words, higher spending.

There is a difference between the measures he introduced before Parliament broke for the summer, and those he has annnounced since it returned.  Earlier this year, he was casting around for a response programme, improvising as he went along.  (Remember the concessions in March to pressure from the self-employed.)  Yesterday, he largely tweaked measures already announced in September.

So it is that the Job Support Scheme will be made more generous for employers, and self-employed income support will cover 40 per cent rather than 20 per cent of people’s incomes.  There is a new grants scheme for businesses impacted by the Tier Two restrictions.

It will be asked why the Chancellor didn’t announce that last intervention earlier this week – thus perhaps saving the Government its troubles with Andy Burnham.  Some of Greater Manchester’s Conservative MPs will quietly be taking that view.

However, it isn’t clear that the Greater Manchester Mayor would have been satisfied, and it may be that Ministers were determined not to allow Burnham’s grandstanding to pay off.  The Government line is that Manchester shouldn’t get more favourable treatment than other cities.

Sunak will be accused of dragging his feet elsewhere, too – of not seeing, for example, that the original Job Support Scheme measure would risk low take-up.  Firms were being asked to pay 55 per cent of wages to staff who under the terms of the scheme could work for only 33 per cent of their previous hours.

Two-thirds of wages will now be covered.  You can see the change either as a sign that the Chancellor now has a framework flexible enough to change quickly, or that Sunak should indeed have anticipated rising Coronavirus cases, further lockdowns and restictions – and more damage to the economy.

Perhaps the Downing Street tendency – the hope that something will turn up – has spread to the Treasury.  Sometimes, the stress from government is on a vaccine coming soon.  Previously, it was that track and trace would deliver.  Recently, it is that new mass tests will work.

It may be that Sunak has been expecting more wins, in the debates at the top of the Government over Covid-19 policy, than he has managed to pull off.  And relied on Boris Johnson, who tends to veer about “like a shopping trolley” (the Prime Minister’s own words), to come down less on the side of restriction.

At any rate, the Chancellor did his best yesterday to push that internal discussion along. “The Prime Minister was right to outline a balanced approach to tackling coronavirus,” he said, “taking the difficult decisions to save lives and keep the R rate down, while doing everything in our power to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people.”

It was prudent of him to borrow Johnson’s name for his push for a policy approach more attuned to what’s usually called “the economy” – i.e: jobs, wages and living standards.  But it’s worth remembering that it’s not yet a month since he told the Commons that “our lives can no longer be put on hold”.

However, they are essentially on hold, and too many aren’t “living without fear” (to quote another of his lines).  If that’s to change, the Government will need collectively to try to change the tone of the Covid conversation – to consider the wider consequences of both the virus and restrictions for healthcare and the economy.

This site has called for a regular Treasury report on economic costs, a rolling Department of Health assessment of healthcare costs, and the creation of an economic counterweight to SAGE that considers livelihoods as well as lives, thus ensuring broader advice to the Prime Minister.  We have not been alone.

And yesterday, Mel Stride, the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, pointed out in the Commons that the Government’s Chief Economic Adviser, Clare Lombardelli, has been tasked with assessing an analysis of the economic impact of shutdowns.  He suggested that she or another “similar economic expert should join the epidemiologists for No. 10 Covid press briefings”.

The Chancellor played that idea with a very dead bat, but Stride will want to keep pushing over Lombardelli’s analysis.  The committee itself is already been probing the effects of the virus and public policy on the economy – taking evidence as recently as Wednesday for its inquiry into them.  We look forward to its findings.


Iain Dale: The way the BBC and Sky News behave, you’d think we are the only country in the world with a second wave

23 Oct

It’s been another difficult week for the Prime Minister, who has come under attack from Labour both for the failure to come to an agreement with Andy Burnham, or to cave in to demands for kids to get free school meals in the next few school holidays.

Sometimes in politics it is right to say so far – but no further. Bottom lines are important in conducting negotiations.

However, in the case of the money offered to Greater Manchester it is a little difficult to understand how the two sides could fall out over a trifling £5 million.

On free school meals, it would cost £157 million to provide them during the autumn half term, Christmas, February half term and Easter holidays to those children already due to receive them.

Given the U-turn that Marcus Rashford forced in the summer, I do wonder whether this has been worth the political and reputational fallout. “Tories rip food from starving children’s mouths” is the narrative that’s already developing, and however ridiculous that is, sometimes it’s just not worth the political fight.

The Government is right to point out that circumstances are different now and schools are open. But it cuts little ice. The Labour Party is promoting the narrative that the Tories are happy to pay £7,000 a day to failing test and trace consultants, and £12 billion to fund the failing test and trace system, yet quibble over a few million to feed hungry children. You can just see the election videos now…

Mark my words, there will now be a further ratcheting of demands, and what I mean by that is that there will now be a campaign to permanently provide free school meals in school holidays, Covid or no Covid. To do that would cost £350 million a year.

A small price to pay to protect our children’s health, the campaigners will say. But it would be yet another way of the state taking over parental responsibilities. Where does the role of the parent end and that of the state begin? This is an argument which is going to gain a lot of traction in the next few years.

Since the state will inevitably take on a much bigger role in promoting an economic revival that it would normally do, it is yet further proof that all politics is cyclical. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, the big state v small state argument was one of the big political debates of the day. Fifty years later, I suspect it will dominate the 2020s.

– – – – – – – – – –

The way the BBC and Sky News behave, you’d think Britain was the only country in the world experiencing a second wave.

It’s happening virtually everywhere to one degree or another. Belgium and France seem to be experiencing the worst of it, with Spain and the Netherlands also having massive problems.

Even in Germany, local restrictions are being introduced all over the country. France’s track and trace system has more or less totally collapsed.

Does our insular looking media ever tell you any of this? You get a bit of coverage in The Times, and that’s about it.

It is absolutely the case that catastrophic errors have been made in this country over the last eight months, and I do not seek to hide from that.

All I am saying is that many other countries have faced similar issues and made the same mistakes. It’s not to defend the wrong decisions that have been made, but we rarely get any nuance or context.

The British people know that those in charge are having to make very difficult decisions day after day, and they have sympathy with that. All they ask if for a bit of honesty when things go wrong, and that politicians hold their hands up.

That’s where the Government’s comms strategy has been failing. People appreciate honesty, not obfuscation. Boris should take more of a lead from how Macron has handled failure and learn from it.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve made more progress in reading Tom Bower’s new biography of Boris Johnson. Having expected a complete hatchet job, I’m finding that it’s nothing of the sort.

Yes, there’s a lot about Johnson’s weaknesses, but Bower has done a fine job in writing a book which provides real insight into the Prime Minister’s life and character.

His final two chapters on the Coronavirus crisis are incredibly powerful, and go totally against the conventional wisdom that the politicians have been a shambles, and the scientists and civil service have been on the side of the angels.

He doesn’t just assert that there have been major failings on the part of the latter – he provides the evidence. This book is well worth £20 of anyone’s money.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow at 5.25pm I’m appearing on Pointless Celebrities with Jacqui Smith as my partner in crime.

Honestly, the woman is taking over the BBC Saturday night schedule, what with her Strictly Come Dancing antics and everything.

Our Pointless episode was recorded back in January. and I was beginning to despair that it would ever be shown. We were up against Michael Fabricant and Martin Bell, Ayesha Hazarika and John Pienaar, and Camilla Tominey and Rachel Johnson.

I’ve never done a game show before, and if I’m honest, I’m not sure I wholly enjoyed the experience. I don’t mind doing things out of my comfort zone, but these sorts of shows present a huge opportunity to make a complete fool of yourself.

I didn’t – at least I don’t think I did – but there’s a tremendous pressure to say something hilariously funny or incisive. I’m not wholly sure I stepped up to the plate. Hopefully everyone will be too distracted by my red suit…

– – – – – – – – – –

“Did the hon. Lady just call me scum?”

Yes, apparently she did. That was the question Chris Clarkson, a Conservative MP, asked Angela Rayner.

The deputy speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing was furious with her and told her off in no uncertain terms – although bizarrely she didn’t make her apologise.

Sky News, however, clipped the episode up without even including Dame Eleanor’s comments and made out that it was a matter of dispute as to whether Rayner had actually said it.  It’s exactly the sort of editing which encourages distrust of the so-called Mainstream Media.

Anyway, I suspect that quote is going to hang in the air for a long time. Several people suggested I should commission a mug with it on for my online shop. So I have. And it’s proved surprisingly popular among male purchasers… Should you wish to join them, buy it here.