Newslinks for Wednesday 21st November 2018

May heads to Brussels to try to finalise political declaration “Theresa May will meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday… Read more »

May heads to Brussels to try to finalise political declaration

“Theresa May will meet Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday to try to finalise the political declaration covering future UK-European Union relations after attempts by hard Brexiters to remove her ended in humiliation. The prime minister meets the European commission president in the late afternoon in her strongest position since the first part of the Brexit deal was published last week after Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Tory rebels, conceded that it might take time to call a no-confidence vote. No 10 said it was not prepared to forecast when the final part of the Brexit deal would emerge, although Brussels insiders expect a draft to start circulating on Thursday among a restricted group of officials after the one-on-one meeting.” – Guardian

Comment:

  • How come France and Spain can renegotiate? – Asa Bennett, Daily Telegraph
  • History is repeating itself – Ben Wright, The Times

Editorial:

She tells cabinet that technology could solve the border issue after listening to Brexiteers

“Theresa May has told the cabinet that the country could still avoid a controversial Irish backstop after Brexit. The prime minister said she was open to exploring a technological solution to the Irish border issue because the wording of the draft deal held open this possibility. A technological plan proposed by Brexiteers would negate the need for a UK-wide customs arrangement, the present backstop proposal for avoiding a hard border. Mrs May promised Leave figures including Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson that she would consider their proposals in a meeting on Monday.” – The Times

  • The idea is back on the table – FT

>Today: David Shiels in Comment: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rees-Mogg, like Mainwaring, speaks of struggling to corral the Dad’s Army troops

“Jacob Rees-Mogg has likened Tory Brexiteers to ‘Dad’s Army’ over the way they have struggled to submit enough letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister. So far 25 Tory MPs have publicly said they have submitted letters of no confidence in Theresa May – far short of the necessary 48 letters to trigger a vote of no confidence. Asked if there were a “Dad’s Army” feel to all this, Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I’ve always admired Captain Mainwaring.” Capt Mainwaring is a fictional bank manager and Home Guard platoon commander portrayed by the late Arthur Lowe in the BBC television sitcom Dad’s Army. According to Wikipedia Mainwaring is “a pompous, blustering figure…” – Daily Telegraph

  • He calls on his colleagues to seize their chance to remove May – Guardian
  • They tell her to hold back money – Daily Express 
  • What next for the Brexiteers? – Daily Telegraph
  • Could they sue Brady? – The Sun
  • They “turn on each other” amidst failure to oust May – The Times
  • McVey’s angry messages – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: “…need to be able to count”

Finkelstein: All this letters stuff is so tiresome. The ERG is clueless. And can’t count

“Has there ever been anything more tiresome than all that stuff about the letters? For months they have been saying that almost 48 members of parliament have sent a letter to the chairman of the 1922 committee requesting a vote of confidence in Theresa May. The threshold was about to be reached. One day they would claim to have 44; next weekend they would say the number had risen to, erm, 40. It’s now obvious they have never been anywhere near these figures. We all feel pretty clueless about what will happen with Brexit, but it seems some are more clueless than others.” – The Times

  • They don’t have the 48 – John Crace, Guardian
  • They’re “heroically untrendy” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

Raab: We need to stand up to the EU bullies. And show that we can walk away

“Last week, I resigned as Brexit Secretary because I could not in good conscience support the proposed deal between the UK and the EU. There is still time to stand up to the bullying tactics from Brussels. But we must change course, or the flame of optimism and opportunity that sparked Brexit will be snuffed out. When I accepted the post in July, I knew we would need to compromise, as we strived to marry principle with pragmatism. I wanted to help deliver a good deal with our EU partners, while grasping the opportunities of Brexit – to take back control of our money, laws and borders, and champion free trade abroad.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Brexit has already hit business – Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian
  • The BBC is biased – Peter Lilley, The Sun

>Yesterday: Peter Lilley in Comment: Fears about leaving the Customs Union are a mix of imaginary and exaggerated

DUP continues protest by abstaining on Finance Bill again

“DUP MPs have heaped further pressure on Theresa May by once again refusing to back the government in a series of votes on the Budget. For the second day in a row, the party abstained from voting on amendments to the Finance Bill, in protest at the prime minister’s draft Brexit withdrawal deal. DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the move was intended to spell out to the PM the “consequences of not honouring her promises to Northern Ireland”. The move throws into doubt Mrs May’s ability to maintain her governing majority in parliament.” – Belfast News Letter

  • The party told its MPs to ignore pact with Conservatives – Daily Telegraph
  • It will vote against the deal – FT

Sturgeon shows interest in Boles’ “soft” Brexit

“The SNP should work with Conservative MPs to secure a soft Brexit deal that can get through the Commons, Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday. The Scottish first minister indicated that she was actively interested in a plan being drawn up by Nick Boles, a former Tory minister who has been holding discussions with MPs from all parties. His proposal would keep the UK in the single market and customs union possibly indefinitely if Mrs May’s blueprint fails to win the necessary support in the Commons next month. The plan would retain almost all of Mrs May’s deal but would keep the UK inside existing structures, which Mr Boles hopes would make it easy to negotiate.” – The Times

Will the CJEU say Article 50 can be overturned?

“This is the question the UK Government does not want answered and has been spending vast amounts of public money trying to block. … Next week, despite the best efforts of the government’s top lawyers, their legal challenge will finally reach Europe’s highest court. … The case was raised in Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session, earlier this year and the request to take it to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was initially denied after the government argued it was a “hypothetical” and “academic” question. However, this decision was later overturned by Scotland’s top judges.The Government has since tried to appeal this decision twice, with the most recent application rejected by the UK Supreme Court on Tuesday.” – Herald

Mordaunt to announce new focus on championing women in low-paid jobs

“Middle-class women’s issues such as the gender pay gap and corporate glass ceiling are to be downgraded by the government in favour of championing those in low-paid, low-status roles. Women in poorly paid jobs, with limited qualifications or who care for elderly relatives or disabled children will become the priority in Whitehall in a shift of policy to be announced today. Instead of focusing on professional women returning to work, attention will switch to those who work as carers, cleaners and in customer service roles. Ethnic minority groups such as Bangladeshi women will be targeted because their employment rate is three times lower than that of white women.” – The Times

Comment:

  • In politics, there’s some way to go on all this – Nicky Morgan, The Times

Burnham says Javid wants Home Counties to take more asylum seekers

“The Home Secretary has paved the way for hundreds more asylum seekers to be housed in the Home Counties, it was claimed yesterday. Sajid Javid’s move comes after councils across the north of England threatened to pull out of the current so-called ‘dispersal programme’. The Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester – Andy Burnham – yesterday revealed that Mr Javid has told him he wants to see more areas which currently take no refugees stepping up to the plate. In a letter, the Home Secretary promised a “reduction in the proportion of dispersal” to authorities who already take large numbers. And he vowed a “commensurate increase” in those who take lower numbers or none at all.” – The Sun

Hunt meets Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter

“Jeremy Hunt has met the four-year-old daughter of jailed British mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as he continues his push to free her. The Foreign Secretary spent time with little Gabriella in Tehran during his visit to Iran. He brought the youngster a touching gift from his own daughter – who is also four years old. Nazanin’s family praised Mr Hunt for working to try and secure her release from prison after two and a half years. The minister lobbied Iranian ministers to pardon Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed on spurious charges of spying. The 39-year-old mum, a dual citizen of Iran and the UK, has been separated from Gabriella since she was locked up in April 2016.” – The Sun

More from the Commons

  • Gauke says ex-prisoners could take place of cheap EU labour – Daily Mail
  • Cooper and Tugendhat speak out against Russian candidate for Interpol job – Daily Telegraph
  • Rudd gets a response from Alston – Guardian
  • Onasanya blames her brother – The Times 

News in Brief

  • China and trust – Hilton Root, CapX
  • They didn’t jump the queue – Pauline Bock, New Statesman
  • What went wrong with the letters? – Steerpike, Spectator
  • On Pelosi – Amy Davidson Sorkin, New Yorker

‘Bolstered’ Theresa May does the ‘Brexit scramble’

Also making headlines: More fuel for anti-Macron protests and Spain’s phantom threat to the Brexit deal.

United Kingdom

British media sensed a change in Theresa May’s fortunes — at least for now.

— The BBC website said both the EU and U.K. were making a “Brexit scramble” to finalize a deal before Sunday’s special summit, with Prime Minister Theresa May heading to Brussels to meet with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

The Times said voters were “rallying behind May,” after she face a “sustained coup attempt for almost a week.” The Guardian said she had been “bolstered” by the failure of the revolt but now “the race is on” to secure a Brexit deal with the EU.

— Research in the Guardian showed the growing rise of populist parties across Europe.

The Telegraph said more British troops would be deployed to Ukraine to defend “freedom and democracy.”

Germany

German media watched yet more drama unfolding in the White House.

Tagesschau focused on news that Ivanka Trump used her personal email for White House business. The website said the situation was “delicate” for President Donald Trump after his criticism of his rival Hillary Clinton over her email scandal.

Der Spiegel said there was “chaos” in Baden-Württemberg’s SPD after the resignation of party leader Leni Breymaier.

— In an op-ed in Die Zeit, Jakob Simmank said “Brexit can make you ill,” citing research that showed the Brexit vote had an adverse effect on U.K. citizens’ mental health. “Do we care too little about the health consequences of political campaigns?” he asked.

France

French media focused on a particularly difficult patch for President Emmanuel Macron.

FranceInfo reported on Macron’s refusal to change course after the so-called Yellow Jacket movement blockaded roads in France to protest a fuel tax rise. “We are a country that rears up because we don’t like change imposed on us,” Macron had said.

Le Parisien reported that the Paris prosecutor had opened an investigation into the provenance of €144,000 of donations to Macron’s La République en Marche in 2017.

Ouest France led with the Yellow Jacket protests, which the paper described as “a thorn in the government’s side” that is “threatening” Macron’s presidency.

Libération said Trump had reaffirmed his alliance with the Saudi Kingdom, despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October.

Spain

Papers in Spain focused on tussles with the EU, some big, others perhaps exaggerated.

El País said Brussels was not fully satisfied with the Spanish budget, and will tell the government it “puts fiscal stability at risk.”

El Mundo said the EU was playing down Spain’s threat about voting down the Brexit deal over Gibraltar. “There is no change of plan and nobody thinks the summit or the approval of the agreement is at risk,” the paper said.

— Less than two weeks before an election in Andalusia, RTVE said the PSOE’s incumbent Susan Díaz was aiming for a majority, after it took her over 80 days to form government after the last elections in 2015. “It’s a campaign where no one wants to marry anyone,” the state broadcaster said.

My Solution for Party HQ Issues – Let ALDC run it

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party. All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent […]

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party.

All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent is or the rates are on that building, but I know that it is situated in one of the most expensive areas for real estate in the whole of the UK. I also know that London is the most expensive place for employers in the UK. As you might have guessed my solution to the Party’s finances is to move most of our HQ out of London.

Of, course, some elements of Party HQ need to remain within the Westminster Village. I am sure that we need to keep The President’s and Chief Executive’s office; the press office and research inside or close to the Whitehall bubble. However, for the rest, they could be run from anywhere. Conferences; membership; IT support; campaigns; compliance; finance etc. can be delivered for the Party from anywhere in the UK. Rents would be half (at most) of what is paid in the central London area. Employment would either be cheaper or in relative terms, we could pay our staff more.

This may seem treacherous thinking, but it is not new in our Party. Local Government and publications etc. used to be run from Party HQ, but they have been ‘farmed out’ for more than 25 years. If we are looking at other Parties Labour devolved a lot of their staff to the North East almost 20 years ago.

So, am I suggesting that Liverpool would be the best place for the move? Well, I’d like to, but I have to confess that I think the operation should move to Manchester. Why Manchester? Because, it is where ALDC works from to support councillors campaigning for local governments seats and that is, almost always, the precursor to parliamentary success.

To be more adventurous why not let ALDC run those functions? I do not doubt that ALDC is the most effective part of the Party’s machinery. They get their appeal out to members effectively; run their membership function excellently, and I could well imagine some savings in them running the systems for all these things. There would be a closer liaison between ALDC campaign support staff and the Party allowing even better joined-up services and support to our campaigners who mainly don’t differentiate between parliamentary and local campaigning.

The other advantage is that this would put our policies into action. We are committed devolutionists concerning policy. Wouldn’t it be nice to put our efforts where our mouth is? I believe that our Country would be better run if we broke the power or Whitehall and Westminster. I think that would be true of our Party as well.

There is definitely an air in the Party of metropolitan elitism. Much of this comes from the fact that there is a substantial contingent on the committees of the Party who live within an hour’s journey to central London. That won’t change. Regrettably, London is still the best place for people from all over the Country to meet up. However, our HQ staff mainly coming from outside the bubble would even up the balance a little.

Just some thoughts from someone who has never been considered part of the metropolitan elite (I hope!)

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

“…need to be able to count”

Don’t presume anything about a Commons vote on May’s deal. Especially a second vote. If she’s still in place after a first one goes down…

Here is the current state of parties in the Commons:

– – –

Conservative: 315

Labour: 257

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Sinn Féin: 7

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Speaker: 1

Total: 650

– – –

Subtract Sinn Fein and the Speaker, and one has the following:

Conservative: 315

Labour: 257

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Total: 642

– – –

And here is the Sun on Sunday‘s estimate from last weekend of “actual numbers that vote”.

Conservative: 312

Labour: 253

Scottish National Party: 35

Liberal Democrat: 12

Democratic Unionist Party: 10

Independent: 8

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green Party: 1

Total: 635

– – –

So Theresa May needs the support of 318 MPs to win a meaningful vote on her proposed Brexit deal.  The paper gave two estimates of how such a vote might go, reportedly as calculated by Government whips.

FOR         AGAINST

Conservative:                            262            50

Labour:                                          –           253

Scottish National Party:                 –             35

Liberal Democrat:                          –             12

Democratic Unionist Party:          10              –

Independent:                                 3               5

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               4

Green Party:                                 –                1

Total:                                         275           360

Government loses by 85

The basis on which those whips put the DUP in the Government’s column and divide the independents as they do is unknown.

– – –

Here is a second calculation published by the paper.

FOR          AGAINST

Conservative:                            263             50

Labour:                                        35           218

Scottish National Party:                 –               –

Liberal Democrat:                          –             12

Democratic Unionist Party:            –             10

Independent:                                 5               3

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               4

Green Party:                                 –                1

Total:                                         302           298

Government wins by 4.

Again, the basis on which whips allocate 35 Labour votes to the Government’s column, calculate the SNP as abstaining and divide the independents up as they do is unknown.

– – –

Now let’s try a calculation of our own:

FOR           AGAINST

Conservative:                            281             31

Labour:                                        10           243

Scottish National Party:                 –               –

Liberal Democrat:                          –               –

Democratic Unionist Party:            –             10

Independent:                                 2               6

Plaid Cymru:                                  –               –

Green Party:                                 –                –

Total:                                         293           290

Government wins by 3

– – –

We have imagined in the scenario above that the Government wrings the three changes out of the EU floated yesterday by our columnist, Henry Newman of Open Europle.

  • A “lock” for the Northern Ireland executive and assembly without which there can be no new regulatory barriers between the province and Great Britain.
  • An explicit bar on the levying of tariffs on goods moving from the UK to Northern Ireland or the EU.
  • A fudge on the backstop.

And have gone on to imagine that the DUP still vote against the Government, but that the whips are able to squeeze the backbench Brexiteer-plus Remainer rebellion to 31, and that the smaller minority parties abstain.

All this is in the scenario of a second meaningful vote, against a background of a market and business ramp in the wake of the Commons rejecting a first meaningful vote, and Labour swinging further towards a second referendum.

For ease of calculation, we have assumed no absentions.  This surely won’t happen in real life.  Some MPs will look for a third way rather than dividing for and against.

Now there are many objections to our scenario.  On the one hand, the Brexiteer total of about 29 in our 31 looks low, as does the Remainer total of three.  It is not immediately apparent why the Liberal Democrats and the SNP would abstain if Labour voted against.

On the other, the DUP may yet be lured into absention, even if imagining it voting with the Government is a leap too far at present.  And in the event of a crisis in the markets, more Labour MPs might move into the Government’s column, especially the anti-Corbyn ones.

Of course, there may be no second vote at all.  By the time it is due, Graham Brady may finally have received 48 letters, and Theresa May could have had to resign the Conservative leadership, with goodness knows what following.

The point we are making is that although the numbers look very grim for the Government, a meaningful vote is still the best part of a month away, and it is impossible to be sure what will happen, especially in the event of any second vote.

So Lynden Johnson’s rule applies: that the first rule of politics is that its ‘practitioners need to be able to count’.  We apologise if we have failed this test ourselves.  The possibilities are none the less mutable.

David Shiels: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rather than going over the heads of the Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

It is not a happy time for the relationship between the Conservative Party and the DUP. The latter’s decision to abstain on a number of amendments to the Finance Bill and to vote for one Labour amendment on Monday was intended to send a ‘political message’ to the Government. The DUP has stopped short of formally withdrawing from the Confidence and Supply arrangement, but has arguably broken it. The party’s MPs make no secret of their desire to see a change in the Government’s direction – hence the declaration that the agreement is between parties, rather than between leaders. At a time when many Conservative MPs are in a rebellious mood, DUP MPs may feel that they have some leeway in terms of their commitments under that agreement anyway.

While the DUP’s opposition to the existing Withdrawal Agreement at Westminster is steadfast, the party is coming under increasing criticism for its attitude towards Brexit in Northern Ireland. Business leaders there have taken the almost unprecedented step of coming out against the party on a major policy issue, indicating their support for the Withdrawal Agreement. Importantly, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has also come out in support of the Agreement, whereas it had stopped short of taking a Remain position during the referendum in 2016. This is particularly significant, given the perception that many Unionist farmers privately supported Brexit.

After many months of saying as little as possible about specific arrangements for Northern Ireland, the Government also seems to have found its voice. Karen Bradley’s speech in Belfast on Monday – her first major intervention on Brexit – was a robust defence of the Agreement, and a signal that the Government is prepared to bypass the DUP and appeal directly to public opinion. If anything, the DUP is likely to harden its opposition to the Agreement in the coming weeks, but there is a growing sense that the party has been caught on the back foot over the issue. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, has accused the DUP of being ‘asleep at the wheel’, and has suggested that the party has ‘failed in their primary duty to protect the integrity of the Union and its people.’

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have put forward a convincing case in favour of special treatment for the region. Although Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats at Westminster, the party has claimed that they are standing up for their constituents where it matters – in Dublin and in Brussels. The Government’s preparedness to breach the DUP’s ‘red lines’ over the backstop helps Sinn Fein to make their point, which is that Northern Ireland’s MPs have little influence anyway.

At the same time, there are many other voices in academia, the media and business who argue that the DUP has been inconsistent in its opposition to special treatment for Northern Ireland – pointing to different rules on abortion, same sex marriage and a range of other issues. The argument that ‘Northern Ireland is different anyway’ is persuasive. By seeking to make any GB-NI checks as unobtrusive as possible, the EU has persuaded many that it has gone some way to meeting Unionist concerns. The view that the backstop offers Northern Ireland the ‘best of both worlds’ is widely held and, according to reported comments by the Prime Minister, the EU is concerned that the arrangements would give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage.

The Irish Government also insists that it is not seeking to open up the question of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom – even though Unionists believe the backstop threatens to undermine Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain within the United Kingdom. The latter’s objections to the backstop also revolve around the democratic and constitutional implications of Northern Ireland potentially being subject to EU rules in the longer-term, without the ability to amend or refuse them. This point has been hard to get across to audiences in Great Britain and there is a feeling that the party had taken for granted that its objections to the backstop would be understood.

There remains, of course, a possibility that the DUP’s opposition will see off the backstop, either now by helping to defeat the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament or at a later date, during the negotiations on the future relationship. Although the party is unhappy with things as they stand, its persistence has at least ensured that some of the more objectionable aspects of the EU’s February proposal have been removed. There may yet be some way that the Government can secure further assurances for Northern Ireland, either in terms of beefed-up commitments to find a technological solution for the border, or by securing a role for the Northern Ireland Assembly as a democratic lock on the backstop. For the DUP, there remains the ‘nuclear option’ of triggering a confidence vote in the Government, or coming as near as they can to doing so in order to persuade Conservative MPs to change their leader.

It may be that the DUP will be proven right in the end – that influence at Westminster does matter and that Unionist objections to the backstop cannot be overridden. At the same time, it seems unlikely that Theresa May or any other Prime Minister could secure any fundamental changes to the backstop. Rather than going over the heads of the DUP and the other Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns and bring them along as far as possible. This is necessary not just to deliver the Agreement through Parliament, but also because any deal that is seen as a defeat for Unionism will make it harder to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. At this stage, too, DUP MPs need to think about what sort of arrangements they can live with, rather than re-opening the whole negotiation. They have grounds for complaint against the backstop as it stands, which remains objectionable from a Unionist point of view. But the alternative of No Deal would be extremely hard to defend in Northern Ireland, given the short-term consequences of such an outcome.

Robert Halfon: Why are white working class boys underachieving in our schools?

Rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

The educational prospects of white disadvantaged boys make for uncomfortable reading, and the first chapter begins in the early years. Some can barely string a sentence together by the time they start primary school. The proportion of Year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard of phonic decoding is 13 per cent lower than it is for black disadvantaged boys, and 23 per cent lower than it is for Asian disadvantaged girls.

As they continue to stumble through the rest of their education, any outline of promise diminishes further still. At GCSE level, all disadvantaged ethnic groups outperform their disadvantaged white peers. For example, the average Attainment 8 score per pupil is just 29.5 for white boys eligible for free school meals, compared to 40.5 for Asian disadvantaged males.

Life chances become bleaker at the point of higher education. Disadvantaged white pupils are 40 per cent less likely to go to higher education than disadvantaged black peers and disadvantaged Asian students are twice as likely to attend the most selective institutions than disadvantaged white students.

There are many reasons for the underachievement of disadvantaged white boys. Some people like to talk about a lack of aspiration. I disagree. It is not that white disadvantaged boys themselves do not want to succeed. Who doesn’t want to prosper in life? Ask any young man, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and I am sure that they have an idea, even if they do not have the confidence to voice it aloud. In fact, studies show that aspiration is unfailingly high in all social groups.

So rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on. White disadvantaged boys cannot even play the game that is the competitive jobs market, whilst their wealthier peers win every time. They do not have access to the same know-how, extracurricular opportunities and social networks to build soft skills and boost their prospects in the jobs market.

One way to level the playing field is to provide comprehensive careers advice and meaningful work experience. At the moment, we are way off the mark. Around one in five schools do not even meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks – international markers of sound careers advice. Careers advice must be transformed into careers and skills advice; a one-stop-shop – a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for Further Education and Apprenticeships.

It is also important to understand what is driving disengagement with education. Disadvantaged white communities do not always make the link between educational success and getting a good job.

Professor Green, an award-winning rapper (and an unlikely reference I’ll admit), explored the lives of six young white men from deprived backgrounds in his documentary, Working Class White Men. Among those interviewed was 18-year-old Lewis Croney. Despite having defied his odds to secure a place to study Maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, Croney explained that he still faced scepticism from home, saying: “I’ve had people asking me why I’m going to Cambridge, why am I putting myself through three years or more of higher education when I could go straight into a job,” said Croney. Once this perception is embedded, it undermines educational performance.

One need only look at London to see how investment in good schooling can be transformative. Previously riddled with underperforming schools, our capital now proudly boasts an education landscape that is turning around many disadvantaged children’s’ lives. White boys in London who are eligible for free school meals perform better than those in other parts of the country.

There are so many things that can be done to stem underperformance for white disadvantaged children. But to do so, we need a proper, focused government strategy and it should start with the early years.

From a very young age, white working-class children have poor educational outcomes. Good quality childcare can help enormously. Children who attend high-quality settings for two to three years are almost eight months ahead of children who attend none. But, many families struggle with the cost of childcare. How can we justify giving major concessions, in the form of 30 hours of free childcare to 3-4-year-olds and tax-free childcare, to couples earning as much as £200,000 a year? We should reduce the current thresholds for 30 hours/tax-free childcare and redirect funding to help disadvantaged parents.

All schools in disadvantaged areas should be good. But good schools need good teachers and schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract good, experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Instead, more experienced teachers tend to gravitate towards less disadvantaged schools.

£72 million is spent on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having. How about using this money on things that are proven to improve failing schools, like great teachers and great training?

Finally, it is crucial that all educational routes – not just the traditional academic ones – are top notch. All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, well-oiled part of the educational machinery that exists. In Switzerland, for example, around 70 per cent of students undertake apprenticeships.

When done well, apprenticeships change lives – they allow people to grow their skills, increasing employability and earning potential. Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them. The Government should incentivise their growth and they could do this by drawing down on the Apprenticeships Levy.

However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships. Both the existence of apprenticeships and their value should be hard-wired into careers advice.

So a fairer distribution of funding to boost access to quality early years provision; spending money more wisely to bring great quality teaching to all schools; revolutionising careers support and putting rocket boosters on technical learning – these should be the core pillars of government strategy.

The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences. People must have a good education to climb the ladder of opportunity, and it is well within our collective ability to make sure this happens.

Stephen Greenhalgh: The truth about the water cannon

Boris Johnson ordered them, at the request of the police. There was no indication from the Home Office that a licence would be refused.

Stephen Greenhalgh was the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and has also served as Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

This week we heard that the three water cannon bought by Boris Johnson in 2014 were sold for scrap, raising a paltry £11,000 for the Mayor’s 72 youth projects to tackle the root causes of violent crime. Mayor Sadiq Khan wasted no time in lambasting Boris Johnson for an “appalling botched deal” and for wasting taxpayers’ money on another vanity project. I want to set the record straight. Helpfully, the documentation relating to this Mayoral decision is still on the City Hall website.

Johnson’s decision to purchase the water cannon was to support the Commissioner’s desire to prevent disorder on the streets. Johnson agreed to support the call by the Metropolitan Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and the College of Policing to purchase water cannon to help enhance their response to riots or other serious and exceptional public disorder. A briefing from Chief Constable Shaw sets out the operational requirement for water cannon as a national public order asset.

The deal to purchase the water cannon was a carefully planned interim solution rather than an “appalling botched deal”. The September 2013 letter from Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, made clear that the Policing Minister, Damian Green, agreed that an interim solution could be considered which would look at the viability of hiring or purchasing second-hand water cannon as two years on from 2011 riots the police still did not have this tactic available to them. The letter also outlined that ACPO would seek funding for the purchase of three water cannon for deployment within the UK, as a national asset, but based within the Metropolitan Police area. The letter outlined that if the Home Office refused to fund, the Commissioner would probably approach me (as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime) with a capital bid.

In his 6th January 2014 letter to Theresa May, then Home Secretary, Johnson set out that he would make funds in February available to the Met for purchasing the interim water cannon solution as a national asset subject to a public engagement process “for the most economical interim solution that allows the Commissioner to meet his desire to prevent disorder on the streets.” Boris also secured a commitment from the Commissioner that these water cannon would not be routinely deployed but would be “rarely seen and rarely used”.

The response from May on 23rd January gave absolutely no indication that the Home Secretary was minded not to grant a licence for the use of water cannon. In fact, she noted that both the Commissioner and Chief Constable David Shaw, national policing lead for conflict management, advised her “that there are circumstances in which water cannon – alongside other public order tactics – may be of use in the future.” The response goes on to state: “Like you, I am keen to ensure that forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets.”

I think that it is fair to say that Johnson, as Mayor, was candid and upfront with May about his intentions and had no prior indication at all that she would refuse to licence the water cannon.

The interim solution to purchase these water cannon provided great value for money to the taxpayer. The cost of the latest models deployed in countries throughout Europe was around €900,000 each (€2.7million for three) back in 2013 as set out in Rowley’s letter. They are built to order with a lead-in time of around two years, including the procurement process. The decision to purchase the second-hand water cannon for £75,000 and refurbish them for a total of around £250,000 so that the police could fill the gap in their public order toolkit sooner represented exceptional value for money. The remaining costs relate to annual storage and maintenance. In contrast,  Khan’s decision to sell them for scrap represents the worst kind of gesture politics and is a botched deal if ever I saw one.

There continues to be broad public support in London for the use of water cannon in limited circumstances. Polling after the 2011 riots showed that the majority of the public were supportive of the police being able to use water cannon in the event of extreme violence and widespread destruction of property. Boris only approved the purchase after extensive consultation and a further survey. This was the largest and most detailed poll of Londoners ever undertaken on this issue and found that every ethnic group was favourable to the use of water cannon, as was every age group across all areas of the capital. Over two thirds of respondents (68 per cent) were supportive of the use of water cannon in limited circumstances. In addition, over half of the respondents (52 per cent) expressed that they would have greater confidence in the Met Police’s ability to respond to serious public disorder if water cannon were available. In fact, more than a third of Londoners thought that the police already had water cannon.

The use of water cannon does not represent a restriction of the right to protest. Water cannon are tools for responding to serious public disorder and are not for policing protests. Since the riots of 2011, the police have identified on a number of occasions that there is a gap in their current response to serious outbreaks of extreme or violent public disorder which, they think, water cannon would be a useful tool to fill. The strict criteria for use would only be in those situations where there is a significant risk of widespread destruction of property or the loss of life. Water cannon is neither a toy for the cops to bring out as a show of strength nor a tool to deploy at normal protest or public events. The Met polices over 1,500 public order events every year, with the vast majority passing off peacefully. However, if and when legitimate protest is hijacked and turns into violent disorder, the public rightly expect the police to have the necessary tools to restore order and safeguard life.

Water cannon are not about an escalation of force. They are civilian vehicles, rather than armoured military machines. They are less harmful than a metal baton at close range, far less dangerous then firing baton rounds, and more discriminating than horses charging into a crowd of people – all tactics that the police can lawfully use now.

The use of water cannon would not undermine confidence in the police. Clearly the improper use of police powers can undermine public confidence, but it is the absence of a proper police response that does the most damage. When the police lose the streets, they lose the confidence of the public. Londoners’ confidence in the Met plummeted by 11 points after the 2011 riots. And those who indulge in violence and wanton criminality – such as those who attacked Millbank Tower in 2010 – undermine the majority exercising their lawful right to peaceful protest.

Finally, we should contrast the Mayoral record of Johnson and Khan on policing and crime. Ensuring the public safety of Londoners is the first duty of the Mayor. Under Boris the murder rate fell by 50 per cent, knife crime dropped by a third and victim-based neighbourhood crime dropped by nearly 20%. We had to make tough choices in putting Bobbies before buildings so that we could keep police officer numbers at around 32,000. Today murder and violent crime in London is at a 10 year high and knife crime are at an all-time high with police officer numbers in London at a 20 year low. This Mayor prefers to waste the £250 million profit that we made on the sale of the old New Scotland Yard on buying the Empress State Building – an ageing 1960s tower block that the Met already occupied.

All this buck passing, virtue signalling, and gesture politics by Khan does nothing to keep London safe.

Theresa May’s weakness is her greatest strength

Received Wisdom tells us the UK prime minister should be long gone — but she clings on, weaker than ever.

LONDON — With British politics currently resembling the storm scene in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” – a heath beset by “thought-executing fires” and “oak-cleaving thunderbolts” — you might imagine the woman at the center of it all must be strong.

In straightforward terms of her physical and mental stamina, that is true. Theresa May is proving resilient. How many of us could match her calmness?

Anyone enduring a crisis at work or home must look at May’s cud-chewing implacability and think, like Rob Reiner’s mom in “When Harry Met Sally,” “I’ll have what she’s having.”

But in parliamentary terms, May is puny. In the general election she called last year, she blew the Conservatives’ slender majority and had to resort to a pact with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to assemble a working majority.

Was all this a torpedo to her midships? You might instinctively think so. Yet the very frailty of her parliamentary position is why she has — until now — been so securely glued in place at 10 Downing Street. Her foes yearn to barge her out of the way but the devilish parliamentary arithmetic has made this difficult. Shifting May is going to be like moving a ticking bomb.

If her withdrawal agreement passes, the Tory MPs will strike as fast as a cobra.

It started in the summer of 2016, just after Britain voted to leave the EU. David Cameron quit at breakfast time the day after the referendum and there was panic. Sterling was diving like a hungry cormorant. Amid this weakness, Received Wisdom put it about that Home Secretary May, dull but dependable, would be the right successor for Cameron because she is a “safe pair of hands.”

The Conservatives started to organize a leadership election to give party members a choice between two candidates, May and Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom might well have won, had the rank-and-file cast their votes. But in the frenzy of those days, one thing after another happened and May was the only person left standing. She benefited from an inertia born of neck-clutching abdabs.

For a while she was imperious. Our old friend Received Wisdom again put it about that she should call a snap general election because she would thrash the opposition led by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. It did not turn out that way. The election resulted in a hung parliament. In those hours immediately after the election result, some wondered if the Conservatives would get rid of May. They did not, apparently because they felt — again — that the national crisis was too intense and that any jockeying for the Tory leadership would look vulgar and irresponsible.

The parliamentary Conservative Party is not an excessively united outfit. Pro-EU Tories wanted May to tilt more toward a “soft Brexit” and they pushed their case quite hard. But in June this year, on a tense day in the Commons, those MPs stepped back from rebellion because they sensed May was in such a delicate position, they could topple her.

May shakes hands with Director General of the CBI Carolyn Fairbairn | Leon Neal/Getty Image

Since then, her parliamentary position has become only dicier because she has upset the Democratic Unionists with the draft Withdrawal Agreement she published last week. The Ulster men and women claim the agreement weakens the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and on Monday night they refused to vote with the government on a finance measure in the Commons. May’s government won by just five votes. If you tried to run your car tires on that little air, you would be stopped by the police and given a ticket.

Amid all this, May faces a threat from a caucus of firmly pro-Brexit Tory MPs who have written letters calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the party. They need 48 letters to trigger that vote. There are probably, with ease, more than 48 Tory MPs who think she is utterly useless and who would rather be led in the next general election by Minnie Mouse than by vote-shredder Theresa. So why have they not submitted the necessary no-confidence letters? Because they sense that the slightest wrong move could bring down the whole caboodle. If that results in a Labour government led by quasi-Marxist Corbyn, the Conservatives would never forgive themselves.

When your child is learning to ride a bicycle and it starts to wobble, do you rush to grab the handlebars? Doing so can send your little darling flying. Not doing so might equally result in grazed knees and wailing tears. But sometimes, doing nothing is the better answer because the child somehow manages to regain stability.

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs are in this bind. If those 48 letters go in, and they get to hold a party vote of confidence in May, she might well win it because the same group-fear of crisis could prevail. If she wins such a party confidence vote, she could not be challenged again for a year. And that might mean she is leading them (to slaughter) at a possible early election. See how weakness is such an asset?

It might make more sense — the Brexiteers say to themselves — to at least let May put her widely criticized Withdrawal Agreement to the Commons for a parliamentary vote. Received Wisdom says she has no hope of winning that vote. Received Wisdom? Gulp.

If she loses that parliamentary vote, she might well feel obliged to quit or to try again. If she wins that parliamentary vote, she would be stronger. And that, by the paradoxical logic of these tangled things, is when she would be vulnerable. Because if her Withdrawal Agreement passes, the Tory MPs will strike as fast as a cobra.

Quentin Letts writes for the Daily Mail.

Pedro Sánchez sets sights on Brussels

As the UK is leaving and Italy is ruled by populists, the Spanish PM tells POLITICO that his country can step up to the plate.

MADRID — Pedro Sánchez sees an opening in Brussels — and he intends for Spain to fill it.

Less than six months after taking power, the Socialist prime minister is leading in national polls and looking to raise his international profile, in part by claiming a stronger role for his country on the European stage, alongside Germany and France.

With the U.K. leaving the EU, Italy’s populist government in a standoff with Brussels over budget rules, Poland’s in a dispute over rule of law, and migration still the central policy fight among EU members, there’s a place at the EU top table up for grabs.

“Spain has to claim its role,” Sánchez told POLITICO during an interview at Moncloa Palace, the government headquarters.

“I declare myself a militant pro-European,” he said, sitting on a white leather chair beneath a painting by Joan Miró. “I believe that the challenge facing the EU is to write a new social contract that we are not going to be able to build or write at the level of the member states, and we have to do it at a joint level, at the level of the EU. And in that sense, with the misfortune of Brexit, with the anti-Europeanism that Italy, the Italian government, is showing right now, I believe that … the axis that should be articulated is that of Berlin, Paris, Madrid — to which I would also add Lisbon.”

Catalonia remains Sánchez’s Achilles heel, both at the national and the international level.

Sánchez’s push at the European stage contrasts with his fragility at home, where he heads a government with the smallest parliamentary backing in Spain’s democratic history — casting doubt over his ability to achieve anything meaningful in Brussels. While Sánchez’s international approach could help burnish his credentials as a statesman, he’s never won a general election (although most observers predict he will try to do so next year).

Sánchez is under fire from the conservative Popular Party and the liberal Ciudadanos while relying on difficult, ad-hoc agreements with the far-left Podemos and regional parties from the Basque country and Catalonia to get anything done in Congress. Adding to his problems at home are the many U-turns and apparently ill-conceived initiatives that his Cabinet has been forced to rectify since June.

Sánchez has, however, demonstrated that he knows how to capitalize where his influence is potentially greatest. He put himself at the forefront of the immigration debate in June by accepting refugees when other countries refused. And he has spoken out against Brexit — telling POLITICO he would favor a second referendum — undeterred by the inevitable critical comparisons to Madrid’s handling of Catalan separatists.

Dialogue and disputes

Catalonia remains Sánchez’s Achilles’ heel, both at the national and the international level.

The Spanish leader has adopted a softer approach than his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy on the rebellious region. He advocates dialogue and greater autonomy as a way out of the conflict. He has also left the door open to granting pardons to the 18 Catalan leaders who will face trial before the Supreme Court for last year’s secession push — which saw an illegal referendum and declaration of independence. They could be sentenced to decades in prison.

“I can’t pronounce myself on the eventual use of that instrument,” Sánchez said. “But I say one thing: Pardons exist because they’re a constitutional mechanism.”

Earlier this year, Sánchez seized on a corruption case involving former officials from the PP to call a no-confidence vote against Rajoy — the first time a sitting Spanish leader has been toppled from power by parliament. Secessionist lawmakers backed that motion of no confidence and the Socialist leader has relied on their support to pass some bills in the parliament. The government has also called on them to back the national budget proposal for 2019, something they’ve vowed not to do.

Catalonia’s new pro-independence Cabinet led by Quim Torra has so far refrained from openly defying the law, but Torra maintains an aggressive rhetoric against the Spanish state, which he describes as driven by an “insatiable spirit of revenge.”

Elsa Artadi, the Catalan government spokesperson and a regional minister, said there is no difference between the Rajoy and Sánchez administrations regarding Catalonia, citing ongoing “repression” against pro-independence leaders. “The only difference is that the words were more amiable in the first months [of Sánchez’s mandate]. But there has been no change regarding the deeds.”

While Catalan secessionists can’t bring Sánchez’s government down, they can make life difficult for him in Congress — for instance, derailing the PM’s plans for a fresh budget with increased social spending. Also, given Spaniards’ views on the issue — more than half back the jailing of Catalan officials and 49 percent advocate reimposing direct rule on the region, according to a recent survey by La Vanguardia — the crisis could affect the Socialist leader’s electoral prospects if he is seen as too soft on the separatists.

Catalan regional President Quim Torra | Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images

The opposition sees fertile ground in Sánchez’s softer approach and the separatists’ confrontational tone. The PP and Ciudadanos advocate reimposing direct rule and are waging a fierce campaign against the Socialist leader, whom they accuse of kneeling before the separatists.

They also accuse the prime minister of using his seat at La Moncloa to wage a long, costly electoral campaign and portray him as someone who’s willing to retain power –and its privileges— at any cost.

“Sánchez has decided to break with constitutional-minded parties and turn populists and nationalists into his allies,” said Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. “He’s opted for the [British Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn way … while Ciudadanos is in convergence with [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s liberal democrats.”

Sánchez quickly made clear that leading a minority government would not hold him back.

However, Sánchez accuses the PP and Ciudadanos of moving toward the far right. He said he’s “really worried” about Vox — a far-right party which has never won a seat in parliament, but is rising in polls — because “parties like the PP and Ciudadanos are assimilating the far-right strategy and rhetoric.”

Grégory Claeys, a researcher for Bruegel, a think tank, said Madrid may have felt the negative effects of the Catalan crisis on the European stage at the peak of the independence push last year, but no more. “Now it’s barely discussed in Brussels and I don’t think it plays any major role,” he said.

Style overhaul

At times it was not clear if Rajoy, Spanish prime minister for more than six years, felt held back in Brussels more by the country’s economic crisis and the controversy in Catalonia or by what rivals portrayed as his disinterest in European affairs, his lack of English and evident discomfort in front of the international press.

What is clear is that Sánchez feels no such constraints. He has lived in New York, earned a degree in politics and economics from the Free University in Brussels, worked as an assistant in the European Parliament, and served as adviser to the United Nations high representative in Bosnia.

Where other insurgent leaders might have kept their focus on home affairs after pulling off the no-confidence vote against Rajoy, Sánchez quickly made clear that leading a minority government would not hold him back. Days after taking office in June, Sánchez announced that Spain would accept more than 600 migrants who were stranded aboard the rescue ship Aquarius, after Malta and Italy refused to accept them.

It immediately won Sánchez plaudits in Brussels.

Several migrants celebrate next to a Spanish policeman in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Africa, after they managed to jump the border fence | Reduan/EFE via EPA

Sánchez has also benefitted from adopting what might be viewed as the political equivalent of the tiki-taka strategy that turned Spain’s football teams into the world’s best. Unlike Macron, who rushed onto the European stage with a bold agenda, only to be quickly swatted down by fellow leaders, Sánchez has spread the field and picked his moments.

Italy’s budget standoff with Brussels provides such a moment — for Sánchez to side with Brussels and push back against Italy’s Matteo Salvini and others criticizing the EU by noting that the budget rules being enforced by the European Commission are rules that Italy itself helped draw up.

“What you cannot do is question the Stability and Growth Pact [the EU’s fiscal rules]. I know that the EC is being enormously flexible, but also clear about the need to comply with the rules. In the end, these rules were not imposed on Italy or Spain. We have given them to each other … We must therefore comply with them.”

Sánchez — virtually overnight — has become the most prominent social democratic politician in Europe.

Sánchez also criticized Austria, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, for refusing to sign the U.N. global compact on migration — the first international, non-binding treaty on migration. “It seems to me a mistake,” he said, adding: “I believe that the EU must move forward and unfortunately no steps are being taken in terms of migration policy.”

As a champion of stronger cooperation on migration, reform of the eurozone with greater integration on monetary policy, and other center-left policies that have fallen out of favor in many countries across Europe, Sánchez — virtually overnight — has become the most prominent social democratic politician in Europe, ahead of Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa and Sweden’s Stefan Löfven (who’s now running the country in caretaker mode).

Asked if he feels the responsibility of such leadership, Sánchez replied: “No doubt about it.”

As for the decline of the center left across Europe, Sánchez said: “We must never stop believing. Social democracy is more alive than ever in Europe despite the fact that the number of social democratic governments has fallen.”

Brexit mistake

Just as Sánchez has not rushed in on many issues, he has not overplayed his hand on Brexit — an issue on which Spain has much at stake.

In the interview with POLITICO, which took place the week before the draft divorce deal between the U.K. and the EU was unveiled, Sánchez warned that no good would come from Brexit.

He also advised his British counterpart Theresa May to call a second Brexit referendum “in the future,” so that the U.K. could return to the European club “in another way.”

He’s already raised the voice against the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the U.K. Madrid wants to have an explicit legal guarantee that the agreement on the future relationship won’t be applied to Gibraltar unless Madrid allows that to happen.

Sánchez and British Prime Minister Theresa May | Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

“As of today, if there are no changes with respect to Gibraltar, Spain will vote no to the agreement on Brexit,” Sánchez said at an event in Madrid Tuesday.

The Spanish leader said he will put on the table the issue of “shared sovereignty” over Gibraltar during the negotiations on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.

“Shared sovereignty is something we need to talk about, as is the issue of the airport [the joint use of which was dropped from the first stage of negotiations],” Sánchez said, adding that he expects these “sensitive issues” could be dealt with “in a bilateral negotiation” between the U.K. and Spain during the transition period.

The idea of shared rule was discussed in the early 2000s — and overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Gibraltar in a referendum in 2002.

It’s the sort of historical issue that Sánchez would clearly relish tackling, but that will probably have to wait until he wins a national election — if he wins a national election. Polls suggest that he would, and Sánchez seems to be eyeing 2019 as the year to put his popularity to test. But in the interview, he wouldn’t commit.

Asked if he knew when he planned to call an election, Sánchez laughed and said: “I have an idea.”