If you back CANZUK, you should also support the D10 – an alliance of democracies

28 Aug

If by CANZUK you mean new trade deals, four of the five eyes, and stronger cultural links with some of what Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”, we’re all for it.

If by CANZUK you mean free movement, a NATO-type defence union and a single Joe Chamberlain-style economic bloc, our advice is to lie down until the feeling goes away.

The subject is topical because Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader in Canada, sees CANZUK as “a top priority”.  His version is somewhere between the two sketched above.

The first would sit comfortably with another idea whose time has come – the D10, about which James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society wrote recently on this site, and which Boris Johnson’s Downing Street is rather keen on.  Expect it to feature in the Defence and Security Review.

Where NATO is a hard power alliance, the orientation of which is still to confront Russia by military means if necessary, the D10 would be a soft power one, aimed at countering the influence of China.

“You might say that, we couldn’t comment,” a Government insider told ConHome, adding that “the idea is being picked up by a broad listenership, which includes Canada and Australia.”

“There’s some interest in Bidenland.  And for the medium-sized powers, there’s security in numbers.  The idea’s in the ether, but it could materialise.”

The UK chairs the G7 next year, so the stage is set for the idea to get a push then, after the Defence and Security Review sets the scene.

So: who would be in the D10?  CANZUK enthusiasts should note that three of the four potential members would be in it: Canada, Australia and the UK.  New Zealand leans towards a different foreign policy orientation.

Then turn to the G7, of which the UK and Canada are already members.  Add Australia and South Korea to the United States, Japan, and the three EU country members – France, Germany and Italy – and you have a total of nine.

Finally, there’s India.  That’s ten major democracies with different military orientations and economies – but shared democratic values.

One could seek to draw other countries in – such as Spain, for example.  But what is being looked for here is a group big enough to work, but not so big as to be unwieldy.

During the Cold War, America and western Europe tended to speak with one voice.  Post-war progress, wealth and stability was built on this alliance – expressed in its security dimension by NATO.

That organisation is still adjusting to the collapse of communism – with two members, Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads, and others, such as Turkey and Hungary, moving closer to Russia.

Which imperils NATO’s integrity – but even were it functioning seamlessly, the organisation isn’t shaped to deal with China, not only because of where it sits but because of what it does.

A soft power D10 wouldn’t be a rival to a military alliance.  It would differ in purpose to the G20, which contains not just China but Russia too, plus the entire EU.  It would take in most of CANZUK, as noted.

At a time when China is expanding its interests through the Belt and Road Initiative, the D10 would offer a counterweight, in terms of investment, capacity-building, aid and the promotion of democratic values.

It could also begin to speak with a common voice at the United Nations, and there would be an obvious crossover with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the UK is keen to join, as our columnist Stephen Booth has reported.

Downsides?  The EU countries are not on the same page as America on China – or, to strike a very topical note, on Iran, over which Britain is sticking with the EU position rather than moving towards the American one, having voted recently the former at the UN.

Doubtless part of the diplomatic thinking is the calcuation that Donald Trump may not be in place after November – which may be wrong.

Elsewhere, Narendra Modi is taking India in a different direction from its secular heritage. And it is hard to see how this alliance could conjure up a quick alternative provider to Huawei.

But if you believe that the great post-war alliance between America and western Europe was of value, you will smile on a new means of creating a modern version for a different purpose.

Iain Dale: Davey is the new LibDem leader. But only 57 per cent of his party’s members could be bothered to vote

28 Aug

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

So we now have two party leaders who we have to call Sir. (Can it really be long before we all have to imagine the words, ‘Arise, Sir Ian Blackford’?)

After an interminable leadership campaign, the Liberal Democrats announced yesterday that Ed Davey has been elected their new leader, walloping Layla Moran by 43,000 votes to only 25,000.

It’s interesting to note that while 88 per cent of Conservative members voted in the 2019 leadership contest, only 57 per cent of LibDems could be bothered to vote for either Davey or Moran. Make of that what you will. I wonder how much is down to the constant ‘wokery’ they both invoked, especially on Trans issues.

– – – – – – – – – –

It was announced this week that both Sally Collier, the Chief Executive of Ofqual, and Jonathan Slater, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, are leaving their posts. Given the exams fiasco, this is to be welcomed, and the moves are an acknowledgement that those who presided over it have had to take the consequences of the crass incompetence displayed by both their departments.

But hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. If officials are despatched in such a summary manner, should not the same apply to their political masters too?

It is reported (but not confirmed) that Gavin Williamson offered his resignation to the Prime Minister, but that it was refused. Nick Gibb says he thought seriously about resigning but concluded that it would be the wrong thing to do.

I like both of them, and it pains me to say it, especially in this forum, but they must know they are dead men walking. Presumably they are only still in their jobs because of the importance of what is to happen next week, when pupils go back to school.

Once that is over (whether it goes smoothly or not) the best thing would be for them to be replaced PDQ, rather than wait for an expected January reshuffle. It’s not fair on the Education Department to have two lame duck ministers presiding over it for another four or five months.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Government’s policy on facemasks in schools has not, shall we say, exactly been as clear as it might have been, but can we get one thing straight? An adjustment of policy is not a U-turn.

This media obsession with them is getting out of hand. When scientific, medical and WHO advice seems to be changing almost weekly on the issue of facemasks, can it be any surprise that the Government’s position changes too?

Yes, Nicola Sturgeon made her announcement a few days before the Westminster government did, but the London media seems to forget that Scottish schools returned ten days ago. If the phrase U-turn is to be used to characterise a reversal of government policy, let’s use it when it really is a proper reverse ferret. This is not one of those occasions.

– – – – – – – – – –

This evening, I’m appearing on Radio 4’s Any Questions which, let’s face it, is a funny think to do when you’re supposed to be on holiday.

I only found out recently that the bulk of listeners to the show listen to the Saturday lunchtime repeat rather than on a Friday evening. It’s a show in which there’s a tremendous opportunity to make a complete arse of yourself. I’ve been on it about a dozen times before and so far I don’t think I have, but there’s always a first time.

You genuinely don’t know the questions in advance, but have to be a bit of a dunce if you can’t predict at least three of the subject areas. However, this week it’s a little more challenging given there haven’t been any really dominant news stories.

– – – – – – – – – –

In related news, my own version of Any Questions is returning to the LBC airwaves on Wednesday 9 September. Cross Question also features four panellists, but they take questions/calls from LBC listeners and we also live stream it on video.

It’s a little less formal than Any Questions, although Chris Mason has introduced much more informality since he took over the presenting reins from Jonathan Dimbleby. We had to pause Cross Question in March, since we couldn’t have four guests in the studio. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to have two guests in the studio and two on giant video screens. Hopefully, it will work!

Terry Barnes: Abbott’s trade appointment is a masterstoke

28 Aug

Terry Barnes advised Tony Abbott when he was a Cabinet minister in John Howard’s government.

Whatever one thinks of the reported appointment by Boris Johnson of former Tony Abbott as a Co-President of the Board of Trade with Liz Truss, it is certainly one in the eye for the diminishing band of diehard Remainers.

Abbott’s putative role was greeted with disbelief and even derision among Australia’s left-leaning media elite who have little love for him, just has he has no love for them. Their reaction has been echoed by the likes of Emily Thornberry, who has not hesitated to give the former Australian Prime Minister a very undiplomatic and uncharitable, even vicious, character assessment in slamming the appointment.

Certainly, the Prime Minister has caught everyone by surprise by bringing Abbott, as a former “colonial”, into the heart of Whitehall. Perhaps it was one of Dominic Cummings’s wheezes to put the wind up the mandarins and the British trade establishment.

One person who will be very satisfied with a co-presidency of the Board of Trade – however archaic and anachronistic the Board itself is today – is Abbott himself.

A great student and devotee of British history, and especially of Winston Churchill, Abbott will be well-aware that he is following in the footsteps of one who he regards as one of the greatest figures in all history, whose presidency of the Board under Asquith was his first Cabinet post. He will also surely derive some pleasure from another previous holder of the political office being the very Viscount Sydney after whom his home city is named.

But beyond the historical parallels, and the strangeness at first glance of Abbott’s appointment, there is much to suggest that he is the right man for the job.

It is often forgotten that Abbott was not only a Rhodes scholar but is also British-born, at a time when Australian citizens were also deemed British subjects, and there was free movement and residency rights in both directions.

He retained his dual British citizenship until he stood for the Australian parliament in late 1993. Both it, and the heritage that he has always felt that his birth conferred on him, has made him more passionate about Britain, and more determined that she regains what he sees as her rightful standing in the world, than many resident Britons. He desperately wants Britain to succeed in once again venturing independently from the EU into the world of international trade free just as Australia, after decades of growing pains, eventually did the same from her mother country.

Then of course there’s Brexit. Abbott was already out of office in Australia by the time of the 2016 referendum, but from the very outset he was a passionate and influential supporter of Brexit. Anyone who has read his pro-Brexit writings will know that Abbott is full-blooded for Brexit and very, very bullish about Britain’s prospects of negotiating, just for starters, strong, effective and highly lucrative trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union. Indeed, if Abbott takes up this role, the appointment will be a strong signal from Number 10 that the highest priority for bilateral trade agreements is what was once called the Old Commonwealth.

And it is not as though Abbott has no reliable form in trade negotiations. Far from it. On his watch as Prime Minister, Australia cut world-leading trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea, moving swiftly to close them where the previous Labor government had dithered.

Even with Australia’s relations with China going through a very rough patch – this week, a senior Chinese diplomat patronisingly told the Canberra press gallery that the relationship is like a bad marriage where only one partner, Australia, is to blame – the deals that Abbott signed are working, and have opened wide new markets for Australian exporters and investors across the board.

So when Abbott talks about trade deals, he knows full well of what he speaks, and can supply insights derived from experience, and an international contact book, to help substitute for the expertise and confidence about going it alone that has atrophied in Britain since she joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.

Lastly, Abbott is not part of the British, Remain-grieving, establishment. As a former Prime Minister in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, he understands how Whitehall’s machinery of government works, but he is alien to the culture of the Whitehall mandarinate. His will be a voice in the circles of government unequivocally for making Brexit not only work, but for it being a spectacular success. Like his compatriot, Lynton Crosby, Abbott will derive his greatest satisfaction from his role by proving his naysayers wrong, and delivering for all of Britain trade outcomes that will boost not only the United Kingdom’s prosperity, but its prestige at home and abroad.

On hearing of the reported appointment, the “Abbott-haters” in Australia have not hesitated to accuse him of defecting to the opposition and undermining Australia’s best interests. Looked at superficially, that is understandable but, in reality, the appointment is the opposite. Australia, and other countries with whom Britain is looking to secure trade deals, will benefit greatly if their British trade and investment grow the economic pie for both countries. Lending the expertise of Australia’s former Prime Minister to her former colonial power is an indication of a mature bilateral relationship, not a subservient or dysfunctional one.

A Canadian, Mark Carney, was appointed Governor of the Bank of England by David Cameron and George Osborne, partly to bring fresh perspectives and ideas into Threadneedle Street and the City. While his success was mixed, not least because of his opposition to Brexit, turning to Carney sent a message that not all financial and monetary policy wisdom resides in Whitehall and the Square Mile.

The same logic applies to Abbott and international trade. However his role may finally be defined, Johnson appointing Abbott to a far more than symbolic role at the Board of Trade, supporting him and Truss as they strive to fully implement Brexit in the face of a sullen if not outright hostile European Union and a Coronavirus-blighted world, may prove to be a post-Brexit masterstroke.

Peter Craske: Community pride in Bexley is stronger than ever

28 Aug

Cllr Peter Craske is the Cabinet Member for Places on Bexley Council.

This has been a hard time for everyone, but in Bexley one of the most positive things has been seeing our community come together, even more than we usually do. In the first week of lockdown, our volunteer bureau asked for help, and within a few days over 600 residents signed up.

I was one of them, and I spent two months as part of a group of people delivering hot food to vulnerable residents across the Borough.

For those residents, living alone but used to seeing lots of friends or family regularly, or just being able to say hello to their neighbours, this has been a very difficult time, suddenly faced with being on their own all the time.

Our daily visits became of huge importance for them, someone to talk to for one thing, but also it gave them comfort that, even if no-one else could drop food or goods over, they would get a hot meal everyday. If they needed anything, whether that was essential supplies or medicines collected, we could report that back to the central hub and it would be dropped round. That Hub was also supported by another group of volunteers as well as brilliant Council staff who played a key role in getting essential supplies and food to those who needed it.

For a Conservative borough, like Bexley, community spirit has always been the bedrock of what makes our borough tick, and every day thousands of people volunteer in all sorts of ways, from running charities to organising Scout or Brownie packs. It is just that this crisis has really brought this to the forefront, and we have lots of new volunteers helping out.

One example has been the reaction to the frankly upsetting amounts of litter that has been dropped in parks, even though there are plenty of bins to use. It has been an issue across the country of course – think of the scenes at Bournemouth Beach – but here, while a few people moaned about it on social media while, of course, never actually doing anything to help, we’ve set up a new Parks Volunteer Service, and in the first week of it being launched, 130 residents signed up, to help pick up litter.

They were astonished at the sheer volumes of litter a small minority of people were dropping and even though our parks have plenty of bins and we doubled the number of crews emptying them and picking up litter from the ground, they could see that despite our commitment it was proving an immense challenge – and they wanted to help.

This is both fantastic and unsurprising.

When we set up our Community Litter Picking scheme three years ago, we were unsure how it would go, but we now have over 350 people taking part and making a difference.

Pride in our Borough and standing together as a community has always been a fundamental part of what makes Bexley such a great place, and one of the reasons why 75 per cent of residents recommend it to others as a place to live.

Naturally not everyone agrees with this. Bexley’s Labour Councillors, fresh from a fourth landslide defeat, and who believe it is the role of the state to do everything all the time, opposed the creation of these types of schemes. At a recent Council meeting, one Labour councillor actually condemned volunteering projects like this as a “cheapskate charter.”

But, as with everything else they do, Labour’s sneering attitude remains firmly in the minority.

The real spirit of our Borough, which is encapsulated in our “Do it For Bexley” message, is seen by everyone who rolls up their sleeves, getting on with life, making the community better for everyone.

Asda’s support helps get new volunteers into food banks

27 Aug

Asda have been helping get new volunteers into food banks during the coronavirus pandemic by supporting the Trussell Trust with a digital volunteer system that connects volunteers to nearby food banks that need their support.

Volunteers are the bedrock of all the things food banks do – without volunteers, food banks wouldn’t be able to collect donations, ensure people who need support can get help, or campaign for long-term change to prevent people needing food banks in the future.

But when coronavirus struck, many food bank volunteers who were over 70 or had a health condition, needed to stay at home in line with government guidance. At exactly the same time, food banks were busier than ever before – with more and more people needing emergency support as the impact of the crisis hit how much money people had for essentials.

Food banks were also making big changes to the way they worked to ensure people could get support safely – for some this meant doing deliveries, and for others it meant making sure social distancing could be followed in their centres. Facing these challenges, food banks needed their volunteer teams.

Asda’s support meant the Trussell Trust could launch a digital volunteer system that connects people who want to volunteer with nearby food banks needing their support.

At Brent Foodbank, this meant not only could they link up with nearby people eager to give their time – but they could also organise who was volunteering and when really quickly and easily through the system, saving valuable hours during a period when the food bank was busier than ever before.

Brent Foodbank Project Manager Claudia Wallace explains the difference it makes:

“It’s been really exciting getting to see the volunteer system up and running.  It’s easy to log in and move around the site.  It’s been great seeing our rota come together and we’re looking forward to getting our recruitment into the system as well. This will be a real time saver!”

The post Asda’s support helps get new volunteers into food banks appeared first on The Trussell Trust.

John Halsall: The Government must urgently think again on its new housing plan

27 Aug

John Halsall is the leader of Wokingham Borough Council.

The Cummings affair, Robert Jenrick, Coronavirus, Scotland, and school results have hugely dented us Tories. We will do badly in May unless the Government quickly learns from its mistakes.

Its contempt for local government is profound. Meaningless virtue signalling, such as “expecting new development to be beautiful” and “giving communities and neighbourhoods an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area”, hides the reality that the MHCLG is proposing to give pretty much all control to developers to carpet-bag the nation.

The shambles of the top-down A Level algorithm stemmed from the fact that, despite the beauty of the formula, the consequent result was wrong. The new standard method for housing numbers and changes to the planning system suffer from the same flaw.

Its hypothesis is to over-provide on the housing target of 300,000 per annum by giving a mandatory requirement on Local Authorities of 337,000, because “not all homes that are planned are built” and “the new standard method is designed to provide enough land to account for the drop-off rate between permissions and completions”.

By using statistical growth, it puts homes where there is development, not where they are needed as the manifesto promised. This penalises those local authorities which have played by the rules, have had local plans and plan-led development. Those who have had no plan and have had little development in the main have been allocated little new requirement.

The adjustment for affordability will never do what it intends. It is schoolroom economics, naïve to the point of stupidity. Why would homes be offered at a lesser margin when the build rate can be reduced, and homes can be eked out to match demand at higher prices? This factor takes no account of local circumstances, for example where homeowners’ earnings take place in another area – common in commuting.

The manifesto promised levelling up and investment in the North, but the algorithm puts most homes in the South East:

“Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has set out an agenda for levelling up every part of the UK – not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made. In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’ and that all growth must inevitably start in London. Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.”

MHCLG has been sneaky and exercised a sleight of hand. Two planning consultations were launched at the same time in early August knowing that there would be holidays, A levels, GCSEs and quarantines. The first one – the smoke screen, “Planning for the Future” (ending on 29th October) – contains aspirations unconnected to the proposals within it, which are generating some debate and notoriety. It is a green paper looking forward to primary and secondary legislation some time during this parliament.

The “Changes to the current planning system” running alongside it has an end date is October 1. This has the meat. No debate! No appeal! It only needs ministerial approval, implementable by a simple decision on his behalf. This paper changes the standard method, allows for fifty homes to be built without affordable housing, extends the permission in principle consent regime and has first time homes discounts. It does all of these within the existing planning system.

So, what are the consequences? Most local authorities have skyrocketed increases in housing requirements immediately (though there is limited provision for delay if local plans are in second-stage consultation). On October 2, any developer or landowner can present an application. On refusal, in most cases an appeal can be won, as there will not be a five-year land supply. The developer does not need to build homes, but can just accumulate permissions; the local authority will be sanctioned for not having fulfilled the quota.

When will Government understand that “local authorities do not build homes; developers do”? There are a million homes in England for which planning permission has been granted but not built. This, at 300,000 per annum, is over three years requirement. This, along with the 187,000 per annum already in adopted local plans, would give more than eight years supply at 300,000 per annum. MHCLG needs to concentrate on what powers it will give local authorities to enforce developers to fulfil their responsibilities.

So please, before this becomes yet another algorithm shambles, rip up this white pape,r and reform the planning system in accordance with the manifesto:

  • Homes built where they are needed not determined by a one size fits all formula
  • Development to be led by plans set by local authorities with their residents
  • Developers forced to build the houses they have planning permission for
  • Removal of developers’ ability to avoid obligation through viability
  • Develop contributions to build all infrastructure needed at an early stage of development
  • Locally set percentage of affordable homes
  • Changes to the planning system to require primary legislation
  • Scrap the five-year land supply

There is no easy short-term fix; once countryside or communities are lost, they are lost forever.

Henry Hill: SNP abandon ‘economic case for independence’ as GERS reveals that they don’t have one

27 Aug

Scottish Government abandons ‘economic case for independence’

Kate Forbes, the SNP Finance Secretary, has announced that the Scottish Government have abandoned plans to publish an annual ‘economic case for independence’, the Herald reports.

She claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic was the reason for abandoning the proposal (whilst of course insisting that it simultaneously demonstrated why Scotland should be independent).

However, it may also have something to do with the publication of the annual ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland’ (GERS) figures, which show that the ‘Union dividend’ Scots enjoy from being part of the UK is now almost £2,000 per person. According to the report, £15.1 billion more spent on public services in Scotland than was raised in taxation – an increase of more than £2 billion on last year’s deficit, and one which adds up to 8.6 per cent of Scottish GDP.

This has led to warnings from economic experts that separation from the rest of the UK could (indeed, probably would) require a deep austerity programme to bring Scottish expenditure in line with revenues, especially in the event that the Nationalists tried to stick with Sterling and didn’t have recourse to their own central bank.

Unionists such as Jim Gallagher and Murdo Fraser have also not been shy about pointing out the difficulties this poses for the SNP:

“It is important to stress that the great bulk of the fiscal transfer is represented by higher per capita public spending in Scotland, not by lower tax revenues. So even if the Scottish economy performed in line with the UK average, and the tax take here was equivalent, there would still be a fiscal transfer required of over £1,600 for every person. This gives the lie to the Nationalist response to Gers, which is that, with independence, the Scottish economy could grow more rapidly”.

Yet the key question has to be: will this matter? To date the Scottish Government’s poll ratings – and as a result, signalled support for independence – appears almost entirely impervious to awkward questions about its actual performance.

Just this week Jeane Freeman, their Health Secretary, announced that she was going to stand down from Holyrood at next year’s election in the face of mounting pressure over claims that the Scottish Government pushed health boards to send elderly patients to care homes at the start of the pandemic. According to the Press & Journal: “The transfer of elderly, untested patients from hospital has been linked to the high number of Scottish care home deaths.”

Elsewhere we read about how Scottish ministers handed £30 million of public money to a ferry company on the brink of collapse, and that MSPs are having to fight to get hold of important documents related to the inquiry into the Alex Salmond scandal. Yet despite this, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP continue to poll well.

There are at least signs that the Unionists are starting to take the work of taking down the Nationalists more seriously. Douglas Ross, echoing Ruth Davidson, has now said that pro-UK campaigners made a mistake by demobilising in 2014, when they ought to have pressed their advantage. As a result, the separatists were given space to remobilise and (thanks to the cowardly and counter-productive Vow) seize control of the narrative once again. The Courier reports him as now promising “an unrelenting war on the SNP”.

Meanwhile Michael Gove, who is heading up the Government’s work on the Union, has started openly asking questions about things such as what the franchise should be in a hypothetical second referendum – much to the displeasure of the other side.

Op-eds:

  • The preservation of the Union must be a major priority of Government – Norman Tebbit, Conservative Progress
  • You can’t fight for the Union on the SNP’s terms – Stephen Daisley, Site
  • Welsh Conservatives should call ourselves Conservatives and Unionists on the ballot paper – Siôn Davies, Blue Beyond
  • Scottish Labour’s plight also hurts the cause of the Union – Sebastian Payne, FT

Newslinks for Thursday 27th August 2020

27 Aug

Coronavirus victims ‘will be paid to go into quarantine’

“Coronavirus sufferers and their contacts will be paid to quarantine themselves amid signs that increasing numbers are refusing to self-isolate because of financial worries. People on low incomes who test positive for Covid-19 will be paid £132 for their 10-day isolation period, while people who have come into contact with them will receive £182 for 14 days of isolation. The scheme will, for now, only apply to people living in areas with local lockdown restrictions, and will be trialled in the North West before an expected rollout to other high-risk areas. The announcement comes ahead of a meeting on Thursday to decide whether more areas of the country will be put into lockdown after Birmingham was placed on the Government’s watch list.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Scheme targeted towards those on lower salaries – Daily Mail

More:

  • NHS data shows 15m on ‘hidden waiting list’ – The Times

>Yesterday: Frederick Shepherd in Comment: The Covid-19 mental health crisis has arrived, and the Government must act

Downing Street ‘forces out top schools mandarin’ after exams fiasco

“Boris Johnson has been accused of throwing the Department for Education’s most senior civil servant “under a bus” after ousting him amid the exams fiasco and the change of mind on masks in schools. Jonathan Slater was told yesterday to leave his post by Monday as the prime minister said there was a need for “fresh leadership” at the department. Sally Collier quit as head of Ofqual, the exams regulator, on Tuesday. Mr Slater, who had been due to step down next May, is expected to receive a six-figure payoff. Susan Acland-Hood, who became an interim second permanent secretary at the weekend, has been moved into his role temporarily. A government source said that the decision to remove Mr Slater was taken last month. Mr Johnson “sees education as the key to unlocking equal opportunity”, the source said. “He concluded a while ago that he was not confident in Slater.”” – The Times

  • Top DfE official’s exit ‘proof that ministerial accountability is dead’ – The Guardian
  • Johnson pins the blame on ‘mutant’ exam algorithm – The Times

More:

  • Prime Minister tells kids biggest threat they face is being out of school – The Sun
  • ‘Supreme trolling from the school librarian’ – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • The unsackable class who truly govern us – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
  • A flaw in the government’s plan for masks in schools: children – Katherine Birbalsingh, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Darren Grimes’ column: Out of office but in power. How the Left keeps losing elections, yet gets its way nonetheless.

Senior Tories ‘express anger’ over Johnson policy U-turns…

“Senior members of Boris Johnson’s government have expressed their concern at the recent string of policy U-turns, questioning the prime minister’s approach, the make-up of the cabinet and the civil service’s ability to handle the pandemic. The government has changed course 12 times in major policy areas since coronavirus hit in March. The latest reversal came on Tuesday evening when education secretary Gavin Williamson announced that face masks would be mandatory in communal parts of English schools in areas under stricter lockdown. A dozen senior Tories have privately told the Financial Times about their growing disquiet, with one cabinet minister expressing unhappiness with both the substance and form of the latest announcement on face coverings.” – FT

  • MPs have told ministers to ‘get a grip’ – The Sun
  • Johnson stands firm on ‘sensible’ face masks decision in schools despite fury – Daily Express

Editorial:

  • A hasty decision, but the right one – The Times

…as Conservative critics force ministers to review planning formula

“Ministers are reviewing an algorithm at the centre of planning reforms after a backlash from Tory MPs. Under the changes to planning laws, local discretion over the rate of housebuilding will be removed and central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, between local councils that will be required to designate enough land to meet the target. Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, has suggested that outside London much of the new housing will be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and the shires, rather than in town centres. The Spectator reported that the algorithm, which is under consultation, was likely to be changed. “At the top of the housing ministry there is an acceptance that a more refined formula is needed,” it said.” – The Times

  • Sunak and archbishop ‘drawn into Yorkshire dales housing row’ – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Ian Lewis in Local Government: Housing associations lack transparency. They should face more competition.

Scotland’s Union dividend rises to £2,000 per person

“The “dividend” Scotland receives for being part of the United Kingdom has increased to almost £2,000 per person, according to official figures that unionists said crippled the economic case for independence. The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures show that £15.1 billion more was spent on public services north of the border than was raised in taxes last year. The public spending deficit is £2 billion higher than the previous year and represents 8.6 per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product (GDP). Scottish Conservatives described the figures as a “hammer blow to the SNP” and its case for independence. Those figures do not reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic because they cover the financial year to April 5. The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI), the economic research unit, said the effects of the virus would more than double the deficit.” – The Times

  • Unionists boosted as Scotland’s notional fiscal deficit widens – FT
  • Tory MPs urge Johnson not to keep following Scotland’s lead – Daily Mail

Analysis:

  • Can Scottish independence backers win economic argument? – FT

Anti-submarine warships ‘could be cut down to single figures’

“Anti-submarine warships could be cut down to single figures following the Integrated Defence and Security Review, naval sources have warned, in an act that has been deemed a “national embarrassment” for a maritime nation. The Telegraph understands that the UK’s existing fleet of frigates could be reduced from 13 to just eight ahead of the highly anticipated review, as replacing them with newer models has proven costly. “The UK could fall into single number frigrates,” a naval source warned. “We could have less than 10 warships because new build stuff is in the firing line.” The Ministry of Defence has currently requested three Type 26 frigates and five of the Type 31s – in order to replace the aging Type 23s (which have been functioning since the early 1990s and are likely to retire by 2025).” – Daily Telegraph

Proms decision a ghastly error, says former BBC chairman

“The BBC has made a “ghastly mistake” in its handling of the Last Night of the Proms row, according to Lord Grade of Yarmouth, its former chairman. The Conservative peer condemned the decision that Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory would be performed without lyrics at the concert on September 12 after concerns were raised about links with colonialism. He told Today on BBC Radio 4: “This is a ghastly mistake which shows how out of touch they are with their audience. I would defend the BBC’s right to make decisions free of political influence but it is clearly a mistake, it’s just idiotic.” The BBC announced the decision on Monday after The Sunday Times reported on an internal debate about the songs.” – The Times

  • Proms conductor hits back as BBC bosses are blamed for silencing Rule, Britannia! – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Household tax could replace TV licence fee, suggests Lord Hall – The Times
  • Former news boss compares top of the corporation to the comedy show W1A – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • The BBC’s Proms posturing suggests a corporation with a death wish – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph
  • A lesson in how to end the culture wars – David Aaronovitch, The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: These BBC Bourbons who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing risk precipitating their own downfall

Germany scraps plans for Brexit talks at EU ambassadors summit

“Germany has scrapped plans to discuss Brexit at a high-level diplomatic meeting next week because there has not been “any tangible progress” in talks, the Guardian has learned, as Brussels laments a “completely wasted” summer. EU officials now believe the UK government is prepared to risk a no-deal exit when the transition period comes to an end on 31 December, and will try to pin the blame on Brussels if talks fail. The German government, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU council, had intended to discuss Brexit during a meeting of EU ambassadors on 2 September but has now dropped the issue. “Since there hasn’t been any tangible progress in EU-UK negotiations, the Brexit item was taken off the agenda,” an EU diplomat said.” – The Guardian

  • Brexiteer sends Johnson ‘urgent warning’ over EU fishing plan – Daily Express

Liberal Democrats set to elect fourth leader in five years

“The Liberal Democrats will elect their fourth leader in five years on Thursday as the party continues to try to rebuild itself after a series of crushing general election defeats and poor poll ratings. The result is due to be announced at midday on Thursday, with senior party sources suggesting it had been an extremely close race. The coronavirus pandemic meant the acting leader and former energy secretary, Ed Davey, and the party’s education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, were forced to conduct the campaign almost entirely online. This is Davey’s second attempt to take on the leadership of the party after he lost to Jo Swinson in her landslide victory last summer. Just six months later, she resigned after losing her seat at the 2019 general election following a highly personalised campaign in which she claimed she could be prime minister.” – The Guardian

  • Moran ‘said 11-year-olds should be allowed to vote’ – The Sun

Allister Heath: Can the Government rescue London from this nightmarish Corbynite death spiral?

“With London facing its most severe crisis since the Eighties, Johnson is going to have to start being a lot more hands-on with his beloved city again if he wants to save it. The Blairite devolution settlement of 2000, as in Scotland, has failed disastrously: London’s finances are bankrupt, and the city is about to shift even further to the cultural Left. Until now, London, like other great metropoles, had defied the logic of the internet revolution. Digitisation detaches economic activity from geography, place and physical structures, and has done so in every industry it has engulfed: we no longer need to go to a physical bank, a physical shop or buy a physical DVD. There was, until now, a glaring exception to this trend towards “the death of distance”: the office carried on almost entirely unaffected.” – Daily Telegraph

  •  Sunak may yet have to revisit his furlough plan – Alex Brummer, Daily Mail

Pence warns voters: ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America’

“Mike Pence has launched an all-out attack on the man hoping to stop Donald Trump getting re-elected, warning voters: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” The US vice president named Mr Biden 21 times in his Republican convention speech, casting the Democratic presidential nominee as out of step with American values. In the wide-ranging critique Mr Pence took swipes at everything from Mr Biden’s foreign policy record, stance of anti-racism protests, economic agenda and immigration policies. Many of the comments centred on the claim that Mr Biden would promote a “socialist” agenda if he won the White House – a key part of the Republican attempt to paint him as unelectable. “Joe Biden would set America on a path of socialism and decline,” Mr Pence said, claiming the Democrat would be “nothing more than a Trojan horse for a radical Left” if he reached office.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Vigilante killer revealed – Daily Mail
  • Trump sends National Guard into Kenosha violence – The Times

Comment:

  • Are angry mobs increasing Trump’s election chances? – David Charter, The Times
  • A woman diner is tormented by BLM mob for refusing to raise her fist – Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: Trump is so cunning he has chosen, in Pence, a dull, loyal, evangelical running mate

>Yesterday: Ben Roback in International: What the Republican and Democratic conventions tell us about the state of the race

News in Brief:

  • A new blow to Scottish independence – but will the English care? – Dr David Jeffery, CapX
  • From school face masks to how to pay for Covid, Tory MPs are getting nervous – Graham Stewart, The Critic
  • Given my time again, I wouldn’t choose journalism – Sarah Ditum, UnHerd
  • How progressive misogyny works – Suzanne Moore, The Spectator
  • Russia has opposition to Putin, but it’s anything but liberal – Gabriel Gavin, Reaction

Trump is so cunning he has chosen, in Pence, a dull, loyal, evangelical running mate

27 Aug

Mike Pence. This name makes few hearts beat faster. Attempts by the Democrats to use Pence, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, as a stick with which to beat Donald Trump were not a success in 2016, and this year have been pretty much abandoned.

Kamala Harris, recently chosen as the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, has attracted more attention, in part because Joe Biden is 77, so might not see out a presidential term.

But Trump is 74 and looks less healthy than Biden, or indeed than Ronald Reagan, who at the start of his second term was 73.

If, as some commentators predict, Trump manages in November to defy the polls and win a second term, he may not survive to the end of it.

So Pence, who would then become President, ought to be of considerable interest. But he isn’t, and in that respect he is in accordance with the American tradition.

Running mates are chosen for their electoral value, their appeal to some group of voters, not because they possess the qualities needed to take over in a crisis. Pence’s speeches, including his address last night at the Republican Convention in praise of Trump’s handling of the economy, do not excite people.

They communicate instead a worthy, God-fearing, embattled decency: a calm determination to uphold the armed forces, the right to life, the right to bear arms, “the thin blue line…we’re not going to defund the police”, manufacturing jobs, the lowest rate of unemployment for women in 65 years, an America which “remains America” rather than giving in to “socialism and decline”.

Such rhetoric may be scorned by clever liberals, but millions of Americans still want to believe theirs is the kind of country described by Pence.

Although Trump at the end of February made Pence head of the federal coronavirus task force, the Vice-President has remained almost comically self-effacing in that role, and has never criticised the President for driving a coach and horses through the administration’s attempts to bring the pandemic under control.

Generally speaking, a dull performer tends to be preferred in the vice-presidential role, who will not overshadow the presidential candidate, who has himself usually been chosen by his party not because of his outstanding gifts as a statesman, but because he has the best chance of winning the election and rewarding his supporters with the fruits of office.

Pence is an evangelical, implacably opposed to abortion and to gay rights. This loyal and respectable figure, married to the same woman since 1985, in 2016 performed the invaluable role of reassuring the quarter of American adults who describe themselves as evangelicals that Trump, despite his scandalous private life, could be trusted to champion their beliefs.

The liberal mind recoils at such low calculations. It wants to see democracy as a noble contest between brilliant, high-minded figures, so ignores or downplays the many presidents who could by no stretch of the imagination be described as brilliant or high-minded.

John Nance Garner, the Texan who served as Vice-President for two terms under Franklin D. Roosevelt, is supposed to have warned Lyndon B. Johnson, who in 1960 was wondering whether to accept the invitation to become John F. Kennedy’s running mate, that the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

In a more respectable moment, Garner explained that “there cannot be a great vice president. A great man may occupy the office, but there is no way for him to become a great vice president because the office in itself is almost wholly unimportant.”

Except that eight American presidents have died in office, whereupon the vice-president has suddenly become very important. Jared Cohen says in his recent study, Accidental Presidents, that those eight figures “are all part of a history of presidential succession which has been frivolous and has left the country exposed to Constitutional crisis or vulnerable to luck and chance”.

He adds that “the matter of succession has been trivialised by voters, candidates and lawmakers”.

Stern words. But since so many of the elected presidents were ropy, or at least went through desperately ropy patches, it seems a bit unfair to single out the selection of the eight vice-presidents who succeeded to the highest office for criticism.

Two of those eight, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, became great presidents: about the same proportion as among those holders of the office who first entered the White House by winning a presidential election.

The American Constitution is remarkable not because it has ensured the election of an unending stream of world historical figures, but because it has survived the election, down to the present incumbent, of so many presidents who fall far below the level of events.

Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump is published by Square Peg (£10.99).

Garvan Walshe: Tensions are rising between two NATO members – Greece and Turkey. Britain is well placed to broker a solution.

27 Aug

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.  He runs TRD Policy.

If you’re a political obsessive who’s been unable to tear yourself away from the news on holiday, and if the endless Covid coverage hasn’t sapped your will to read, you may have chanced upon some alarming headlines, reporting Greek and Turkish ships colliding, France sending warships to the Eastern Mediterranean, and even the United Arab Emirates, fresh from its rapprochement with Israel, hinting it would base fighter jets in Crete.

An August geopolitical crisis is, after all, what 2020 has been missing – but seeking to resolve it also presents a rare opportunity for the UK to rebuild its diplomatic capital.

Greek newspapers have taken on jingoistic hue, and are calling for foreign powers to intervene against Turkey, with the French deployment presented as a response to Athens’s appeal. To complete the nineteenth century-flavoured picture, Ankara has drawn support from Berlin, with the lumbering US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, playing Bismarck to the uninterested Kaiser in the White House.

This crisis brings together four elements, overlooked by a distracted United States, and an EU paralyised by its two inveterately anti-Turkish members (Greece and Cyprus): the treaty of Lausanne, signed 99 years ago as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated; the evolution of the international law of the sea, which has made that treaty even more favourable to Greece than was thought at the time; the Libyan civil war, soon to reach its tenth year after the overthrow of Gaddafi, and the discovery of new gas reserves.

Signed as part of the post-World War I reordering of the world, the Treaty of Lausanne set limits to the expansionism of modern Greece, which had been accumulating territory at the Ottoman Empire’s expense since its independence in the 1820s, and involved a then-fashionable population exchange between 1.3 million Greek-speaking Orthodox people living in and around Smyrna (Izmir) and 400,000 Muslims from Greece.

If Greece lamented the loss of Smyrna, granted ot them by the Treaty of Sevres only a year earlier, to the new Turkish Republic, Turkey was stuck with accepting permanent Greek control of islands a mile or two off its own coast.

Yet, at a time when states only enforced territorial limits at three miles, and freedom of navigation was allowed on the high seas, this was a price that could be paid. But the development of international practice to include a 12-nautical mile limit would severely impede Turkish freedom of navigation out of the Dardanelles.

Turkey and Greece, naturally, have different interpretations of whether the islands in the Aegean are capable of generating their own territorial limits (islands can, in principle; but if they form part of a country’s share of the continental shelf, then they do not extend it any further). International law is ambigious, and the ICJ has declined to resolve the matter.

Matters were further complicated by the introduction of “Exclusive Economic Zones” (which featured, incidentally in the Falklands War), whereby states can assert the right to regulate economic activity within 200 miles of their coastlines.

EEZs are reasonable when states share an ocean littoral, like the US and Canada, but are hard to demarcate for narrow seas like the Mediterranean. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does a fat lot of good here, stating only that the conflict should be resolved on the “basis of equity and in the light of all relevant circumstances.”

This was how things stood before the Arab Spring, but the Libyan civil war, in which Turkey and Italy back the internationally recognised government, while Egypt, France and Russia backed rebels led by General Haftar – and the discovery of large gas reserves at a point in the Eastern Mediterranean some 400 miles wide.

Taking advantage of its alliance with Tripoli, Turkey conjured up an EEZ between itself and Libya, giving itself access to gas near Crete. Greece then responded by manufacturing its own EEZ with Egypt, to deny Turkey access to the same waters.

American neglect is to blame for the absurdity of two NATO members returning to nineteenth century-style diplomatic rivalry. A fully engaged United States would not have allowed the situation to deteriorate this far. It would have understood that the discovery of gas in contested waters would spur a scramble for it, and therefore a mechanism for sharing the spoils to avoid conflict would have to be set up.

Only Washington has the clout to bring such a process to a successful conclusion, but this is an area in which Brexit has enhanced Britain’s diplomatic position. No longer an EU member, the UK is now in a position to act as an honest broker between Greece, Turkey and the other interested regional powers, and begin to forge a mechanism to regulate gas exploration in this increasingly volatile region. What better initiative for a part-Turkish Prime Minister whose father has a house in Greece?