The Conservative Party Conference programme – and which ministers are up and down

30 Sep

With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted. 

Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.

The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.

The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions. 

Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:

  • Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
  • Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
  • Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
  • The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)

Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.

Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:

  • Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
  • Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)

Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:

  • Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
  • Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
  • Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.

There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:

  • Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
  • Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
  • Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).

Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.

These include:

  • Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
  • Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
  • Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
  • George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.

It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.

Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.

Ben Roback: Whoever won yesterday’s travesty of a presidential debate in America, it certainly wasn’t the voters

30 Sep

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Did you stay up to watch last night’s presidential debate? It’s impossible: you can’t have done, because no presidential debate took place last night. Shouting took place. Arguing happened. Insults were thrown. Accusations were levelled.

Chris Wallace, the moderator, was hardly a rose between two thorns. He did very little moderating. In many ways, he was given an impossible task – it looked at times like he was trying to nail jelly to the wall. Short of a remote control fitted with a mute button, there was no silencin either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

The president likes to describe CNN as a poster child of the “fake news media” when its pejorative coverage shines a bad light on him. But neither Republicans nor Democrats will be pleased to see the verdict of Jake Tapper, that channel’s Chief Washington Correspondent: “That was a hot mess. Inside a dumpster fire. Inside a train wreck. That was the worst debate I have ever seen. It wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.” Revere, fear or abhor CNN, it was hard to disagree with Tapper’s conclusion.

The President entered the stage in Ohio on the back foot. Were voters heading to the polls tomorrow, the outlook points to something of a blue wave. Joe Biden leads in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, with at least five more – Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Georgia and North Carolina – toss-ups.

In June, this column pondered whether the terms of the debate for the election might change drastically by November. At the time, we were deeply entrenched in police relations and race riots. We are now focussed on race again, but amidst the unexpected curveballs of the President’s leaked tax returns, a vacant Supreme Court seat, and with it the future of Roe vs. Wade.

This most unpredictable of elections is not going to become any more stable any time soon. The 2020 election dynamic could be upended at any moment. and the only guarantee is uncertainty.

And so to the debate.

Anyone expecting a serious discussion about the future of America will have gone to bed both tired and disappointed. That seems, at best, curious and, at worst, deeply disappointing, given the tipping point at which the country finds itself. The President who is inaugurated on Wednesday 20 January 2021 (we expect) faces a long and growing list of domestic and international challenges.

First, a country at increasing odds with itself over race relations. The heart of America beats faster as tensions deepen between communities.

It seemed genuinely staggering that in a presidential debate, one candidate – the incumbent no less – had to be asked “are you willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups?” Consider that for a moment.

The President’s answer rightly caused consternation and concern for anyone who thinks that the fallout from the election outcome could spill over onto the streets of an increasingly armed America. “Proud boys, stand back and stand by.”  The Fighting Anti-Semitism and Hate organisation describes the Proud Boys as representing “an unconventional strain of right-wing extremism. The Biden campaign’s response was swift.

Second, healing the wounds of Covid-19 and averting further health and economic crises. The President surprised many by declaring himself pro-mask, and even pulling one from his blazer pocket. It was a shrewd move that kneecapped Biden, who’d accused him of doubting the science.

But, in true Trump fashion, it was swiftly followed by doubts over the recommendations of Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Diseases Control. The Trump tactic? Shock and awe. Chaos and confusion.

Third, accepting the outcome of the election. America is not a country of coups. The peaceful transfer of power is enis enshrined in the core of American society.

For now. Because the President has made a habit of casting doubt over the veracity of the election process and outcome, should it produce anything other than a handsome Trump victory. During last night’s debate, he again floated the notion that the result might need to be decided by the Supreme Court. Hence the GOP drive to jam Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination through with haste. The 2020 election seems destined for the courts – so we could be looking well into 2021 before we get a definitive result.

Can anyone have really ‘won’ a debate that took place in this way ?  It feels wrong to decipher a ‘winner’ from last night’s events. It  was certainly not the watching voters. More than three-quarters of those who saw it felt the tone was negative (83 per cent) with over two-thirds (69 per cebt) annoyed by it (CBS/YouGov).

The President sought to bully and dominate like he did – rightly or wrongly, but ultimately so successfully in 2016. The Biden campaign, scarred by the affect it had on Hillary Clinton, pursued a different approach.

Trump spent most of the debate looking at Biden and cutting him off wherever possible. At times, Biden fought fire with fire, but his goal was clearly to try to appear the adult in the room.

At times, this approach seemed overly passive. So Biden rarely looked at the President and mostly addressed the moderator or spoke down the camera, seeking to engage the American people directly.

After over an hour of cross-talk that bordered on two angry relatives shouting at each other across the dining room table, it is a wonder any of the American public were still watching. It makes for an unedifying prospect as one looks ahead to the two remaining debates on 15 and 22 October.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: The Speaker is furious and the Prime Minister refuses to put his arms round Starmer

30 Sep

There was an ominous note in the Speaker’s voice as he delivered a short statement before PMQs. Sir Lindsay Hoyle was clear and self-controlled, but sounded as if he was almost choking with anger.

He is furious with the Government for evading proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Coronavirus regulations, and condemned its resort to secondary legislation as “totally unsatisfactory” and showing “total disregard for the House”.

So although he was unable to accept the Brady amendment, the Commons clerks having warned him that this could lead to “lack of clarity” about what the law actually is, he does expect “the Government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory”.

Sir Lindsay indicated that if remedial action is not taken, he will make the Government’s life hell, by giving “very sympathetic consideration” to applications for Urgent Questions and Emergency Debates. This did not sound like an empty threat.

Boris Johnson came on. His attitude was rather different. He seized the first chance he could find to accuse Sir Keir Starmer of trying “to snipe from the sidelines”.

Now is the time, the Prime Minister declared, “for the nation to come together”. He repeated several times that “if we all pull together” we can surmount the crisis.

“We’re going to continue to put our arms round the people of this country,” he said – a creepy phrase which he has used on numerous occasions, and repeated more than once today.

But he is not going to put his arms round Sir Keir. He instead wishes to indicate that Sir Keir is unreliable, and is detracting from the national togetherness which is required.

Johnson sounds as if he does not believe in the idea of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. He talks as if any criticism is disloyal. This is not the way to retain the confidence of the House of Commons.

In particular, it is not the way to retain the confidence of Conservatives such as Sir Graham Brady, a parliamentarian of longer and deeper experience than himself.

The Prime Minister is capable of magnanimity, and if only he displayed this quality more often in the House, would store up less trouble for himself.

Johnson should not try to abolish the distinction between academic and technical education

30 Sep

The Prime Minister’s announcement of what the papers are calling a ‘radical shake-up’ of higher and further education marks a return to the spotlight for the subject.

Having been one of the central reform programmes of the Coalition, education has slipped down the agenda under David Cameron’s successors. We noted at the time that the issue had ‘lost momentum’ under Theresa May, and in December it received just a single page in the Conservative Manifesto.

The spur for this latest tranche of reforms is the prospect of lots of people needing to re-skill as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic. As the Telegraph reports: “a new “lifetime skills guarantee” offers a fully-funded college course to people over 18 in England without an A-level or equivalent.”

Boris Johnson also intends to make student loans more flexible, to allow people to space out their studies if they choose to do so, promised the right to four years’ of loans, and pledged to make it as easy to get loans for further education as higher education. All of these pledges will be underwritten by a a £2.5bn boost to England’s National Skills Fund, which was already announced.

All of these aims are laudable enough. But can they be delivered? Several newspapers have noted this morning that this is a task to which previous governments, with much less on their plates, have previously addressed themselves with little success. One journalist I spoke to recently said interest in FE is so low that a single article on the subject was getting him invitations to panels and conferences for almost a year.

Ministers have already made some moves to try and combat negative perceptions of technical education. Perhaps most significantly, this month saw the launch of the new T Levels, a set of post-GCSE courses which aim to replace the current alphabet soup of vocational qualifications with a more coherent and intelligible certificate with clear pathways to employment. (These got no mention in the 2019 Manifesto).

We might also expect to see future proposals based on the Augar Review, which proposed some popular headline measures such as cutting tuition fees alongside reforms to make sure more of the overall student loan book is repaid and – this will appeal to ministers – increase the Government’s “very limited control over the substantial taxpayer investment in higher education.”

However, one part of the Prime Minister’s statement is somewhat concerning:

“But if we are going to reform our post-18 education, we must go much further. We’ve got to end the pointless, nonsensical gulf that has been fixed for generations – more than 100 years – between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education. It’s absurd to talk about skills in this limited way… So now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE.”

Bridging the gap in prestige and investment between higher and further education is a worthwhile – indeed, essential – political project. But trying to obfuscate the fact that they are different things is not. It was the pursuit of this short-cut to parity of esteem that led to polytechnics rebranding as ‘universities’, which helped create the bloated sector that ministers and students alike are struggling with today.

Public attitudes towards academic and technical education won’t change in response to a centrally-mandated rebranding, any more than they did last time. The rush to badge everything a ‘university’, like the campaign for comprehensive schools before it, did not bridge the gulf between good and bad institutions – it just made it harder for some people (but seldom employers or middle-class parents) to distinguish between the two.

If the Prime Minister really wants to be the man who finally wins technical education a place in the nation’s heart, he must prepare for the long and difficult task of changing public attitudes towards it as a distinct discipline, on its own terms. Trying to borrow the feathers of academic learning will not work.

Julian Brazier: The future of the Army – and why Haldane’s approach remains the best.

30 Sep

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

Much of the public discussion around the Integrated Review of security and defence is focused on one issue – the size of the Army. Here on ConHome, Allan Mallinson recently asked a critical question: What is the Army for? It’s a good question – for too long we have been shaping our forces around “defence planning assumptions”, despite the fact that many of our wars and campaigns have been wholly unexpected; the First World War, the Falklands War and 9/11’s triggering of the Afghan campaign are examples. While the purpose of the Royal Navy and RAF are obvious, with Russian incursions into our air space and territorial waters and Chinese threats to our shipping routes, the Army is more like an insurance policy: there for when you need it.

Richard Haldane was the last minister to ask the fundamental question. Field Marshal Haig – not a man known for humility – wrote in 1918, six years after Haldane’s tenure ended:

‘… the greatest Secretary for War England has ever had. In grateful remembrance of [Haldane’s] successful efforts in organising the Military forces for War on the Continent…’

Haldane believed that Britain, with her commitment to a strong Navy, could never afford a peacetime Regular Army large enough to be sustainable in a major war. So, first, he honed a highly professional regular expeditionary force as a gallant vanguard. Then, he brought together the various reserve elements which Field Marshal Wolseley had built up (and drawn on in the Boer War) into a Territorial Force twice the size of the Regular Army. This ‘Second Line’ would be a vehicle to mobilise the nation.

That Second Line delivered surprisingly fast. Sir John French, our first commander in France, commented that:

‘“Without the assistance which the Territorials afforded between October 1914 and June 1915, it would have been impossible to hold the line in France and Belgium.”

Haldane’s vision extended further. Alongside the Territorial Force, he developed OTCs and cadet forces in universities, schools and communities, all positioning the Army closer to the wider public. Hitherto, cultural isolation had encouraged notoriously little public support for soldiers. Unlike the Navy, with a merchant marine (then) visible in ports in most of our great cities, the Army badly needed citizen advocates.

In the Second World War, Territorial units fought in every theatre. Some of our most innovative leaders, from Bill Slim (Birmingham OTC) to David Stirling (pre-war Guards reservist), came through “Haldane” routes rather than regular officer training.

Today this is the model across the English-speaking world. The National Guard and USAR – America’s twin volunteer reserve forces – together number the same as her Active Army. The Canadians and Australians also have a higher proportion of volunteer reserve units in their armies than we do. In autumn 2002, one fifth of our forces in Iraq and one eighth in Afghanistan were – simultaneously – from our small reserves. The Americans used much larger proportions.

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Army was well over a million – today it is under 250,000, but Russia can still mobilise an enormous army. One Russian soldier captured by the Ukrainians was a tractor driver from Siberia in his day job.

The Regular Army needs high professional standards (which it has), good quality training (currently hampered by Covid), modern equipment including digitisation (far more to do), decent conditions of service (housing is the Achilles’ heel) and a command structure able to operate at levels above its actual strength. We have just two divisions, but we need to think and plan for corps and armies, in war. They won’t, mostly, be regulars.

Some say what is needed is technology rather than mass, but digitisation is far ahead in the civilian world. It is no accident that Defence’s best cyber defence unit – as measured in the top US competition – is an Army Reserve unit. More broadly, mass will continue to be critical in the messy business of land warfare. The concrete urban sprawl which covers so many of the world’s trouble spots can suck up brigades to the acre, as recently seen in Mosul. Our present structure, 80,000 regulars and 30,000 reservists, is small.

The good news is that the Army has made progress in integrating reserves. A philosophy of backfilling regular units, rather than using formed bodies which build leaders and comradeship, had wrecked the Territorial Army by 2010. The smallest ever reserve officer intake to Sandhurst dwindled to just seven cadets. Last summer all 100-odd places were filled, with more turned away.

Capability is rebuilding too. Reserve battalions have started covering the Cyprus UN commitment again, a reserve light recce squadron is currently patrolling the Russian border in Estonia and, nationwide, reserves have been visible manning Covid testing stations.

At a time when some are questioning our ability to operate armour affordably and at scale, the one reserve armoured regiment, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry has progressed from backfilling individual crew members for regular regiments to exercising regularly at squadron level. The Army Reserve remains exceedingly small, as a basis for regeneration, but the direction of travel is right.

The other two services have a long way to go. Unlike the Americans and Israelis, the RAF still discards its expensively trained pilots (£13 million for a fast jet) when they finish full-time service. Fixed wing transport apart, it has no flying reserves. The opportunity to run-on Tornados in reserve formations was lost. There is hope, however, as the RAF Board have appointed their first reservist – with a successful military and civilian career – to join them.

The picture in the Naval Service is mixed. The Navy has a highly cost-effective Reserve Flying Branch – manned by ex-regulars. In contrast, the Royal Marines Reserves are expensive (e.g. regular Lieutenant Colonels commanding company-sized reserve units), unscalable because they have almost no young officers – instead being run by a generous scale of costly regular permanent staff – and are now hamstrung by slashed training budgets.

One development would have Haldane turning in his grave. The property and advocacy for the reserves and the management of the cadet forces are handled by an independent set of regional institutions called Reserve Forces and Cadet Associations (County Associations, when Haldane established them). These attract high grade people onto their councils who serve unpaid; one regional chairman, for example, is both former chief executive of a major power company and a former reserve major general, another owns his own 500-person business. The small, locally embedded, staffs they employ are far more efficient than the wretched organisations who ‘manage’ MoD’s estate.

In a fit of institutional hysteria, MoD is seeking to turn these RFCAs into a conventional quango – the first shots were fired against this in an excellent House of Lords debate. This idea should die.

That great historian and Territorial officer, Richard Holmes, used to say that anyone who designs reserves around defence planning assumptions has forgotten what a reserve is for. We need to extend that view to the Army as a whole, and Haldane’s approach remains the best: a high quality regular leading edge, with reserves providing both depth and integration with the nation as a whole.

Newslinks for Wednesday 30th September 2020

30 Sep

Johnson apologises ‘for not understanding new rules in North East’…

“Boris Johnson has admitted that the patchwork of local coronavirus restrictions is confusing after apologising for misunderstanding rules he imposed on the northeast last night. The prime minister said he “misspoke” when botching an explanation of regional rules that came into force at midnight. The government has been criticised by local leaders about the “chaotic” way the restrictions have been imposed. They appear to undermine the national “rule of six” that was introduced to simplify matters. That confusion was highlighted when a minister admitted that she did not know the rules… Two million people in the northeast will be banned from meeting people in pubs and restaurants from today, unless they live with them. There is already a ban on socialising in people’s homes.” – The Times

  • He apologises for ‘rule of six’ gaffe – FT
  • Labour critics slam Boris’s ‘gross incompetence’ – Daily Mail
  • Prime Minister to give joint press conference with Whitty and Vallance – The Sun
  • Whitehall ‘infantilised’ by reliance on consultants, minister claims – The Guardian

More:

  • More than 500,000 people in North Wales banned from leaving their local area – Daily Mail
  • £569m spent on ventilators but most sit in warehouses – Daily Telegraph
  • Record rate of infection puts Britain on red alert – The Times
  • Ministers agree last-minute bailout for National League – The Sun
  • Just 1,800 out of 110,000 occupied beds are taken up by Covid-19 patients – Daily Mail

Testing:

  • Testing in care homes getting ‘worse not better’ as delays leave elderly at risk – Daily Telegraph
  • Ex-Sainsbury’s boss to take over as Test and Trace chief – The Times

Editorial:

  • How can anyone be blamed for not following the Covid restrictions if Johnson doesn’t understand them? – The Sun

>Today: Ryan Bourne’s column: It’s time to admit that Eat Out to Help Out was a mistake – because it boosted the resurgence of the virus

>Yesterday:

…as he announces ‘radical shakeup’ of adult education as Covid-19 forces career changes…

“Boris Johnson has promised Britons the right to four years of loans for higher education, declaring that “huge numbers” will need to change their jobs because of Covid-19. In a speech at a further education college in Exeter, Mr Johnson announced the Government would end the “bogus distinction” between further and higher education in expanding the ability to get student loans. Minister intend to make higher education loans more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, while a new “lifetime skills guarantee” offers a fully-funded college course to people over 18 in England without an A-level or equivalent. The Government will pay for the policy under an £2.5bn boost to England’s National Skills Fund, which has already been announced and will come into effect next April.” – Daily Telegraph

  • University leaders call for next year’s A-levels to be axed – The Times
  • Students will be able to go home for Christmas – The Sun
  • Williamson launches ‘into a passionate rant against snowflake universities’ – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Enemies of capitalism have no place in school – Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
  • Next year’s A levels should be cancelled – David Eastwood and Chris Husbands, The Times

Editorial:

  • A welcome boost to adult education in England – FT
  • Johnson is right to target Britain’s woeful track record in technical education – The Times

>Today: Dean Russell MP in Comment: Levelling up isn’t just geographical; it’s about age too

…and his confusion over coronavirus rules ‘quickens Tory revolt’

“Conservative rebels were on the brink of winning their fight for votes on Covid restrictions on Tuesday night after Boris Johnson was forced to apologise for not knowing the rules himself. The Prime Minister issued a public correction after he wrongly claimed people in the North-East could mix with other households in a pub. Rebel MPs – including the head of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives and several former Cabinet ministers – said the gaffe had “strengthened the argument” for greater parliamentary scrutiny of new rules as Mr Johnson’s confusion had proved that new legislation had been rushed and was impossible to follow. Police chiefs said ministers’ inability to explain the rules made it “all the more difficult” to enforce lockdowns and justify fines.” – Daily Telegraph

  • More than 80 Tory MPs prepared to rebel over Coronavirus Act renewal – The Guardian
  • Baker warns the rules could change every 24 hours – Daily Express
  • Rules confusion reflected the palpable sense of chaos at Number 10 – Daily Telegraph
  • Tory council leader condemns ‘unacceptable’ Covid restrictions – The Guardian
  • Hospitality trade bodies demand 10pm Covid curfew be reviewed every three weeks – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Liverpool mayor backs 9pm supermarket alcohol curfew… – The Times
  • …as it could become first city to impose two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown – Daily Telegraph
  • Plans for further English devolution shelved until next year – FT

>Today: ToryDiary: A Conservative leader can afford to take on his left or his right – but not the 1922 Committee’s Executive

>Yesterday:

Jeremy King: Of all the mangled messages Boris Johnson has dished up, his curfew is the most poisonous

“I am beside myself with frustration at the latest measure: imposing a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry. Pubs and restaurants that have been helping to keep people safe with stringent hygiene and social distancing measures must eject everyone on to the streets at the stroke of 10pm. Last Friday and Saturday, soon after 10pm, I walked through Soho in Central London and the area was like an illegal rave, with thousands of people mingling noisily. It was mayhem. Many were simply partying in the street. Others were trying to get away, cramming cheek-by-jowl into Ubers and black cabs, or milling around, waiting for the Tube and buses to be less jammed. It would be ridiculously naive to suppose they were all going home to bed. Across London, people were heading to illegal house parties, where there would be no precautions against the spread of Covid-19.” – Daily Mail

  • Johnson helped sow the discord that’s making it hard for him to govern – Rafael Behr, Daily Mail
  • Whatever happened to the man who loathed the Nanny State? – Ross Clark, Daily Mail
  • Sorry Hancock, here’s why I won’t be downloading your app – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph

Patel ‘asked Home Office to explore sending asylum seekers to island in the south Atlantic’

“Priti Patel ordered officials to explore building an asylum processing centre on a remote volcanic island in the south Atlantic – more than 4,000 miles from the UK, it has been reported. Home Office officials were instructed to look into the feasibility of transferring asylum seekers arriving in the UK to a centre on Ascension Island, a British overseas territory, according to the Financial Times. Another option said to have been considered was to construct an asylum centre on St Helena, another island in the group where Napoleon was exiled after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The Foreign Office was consulted on the proposals, according to the paper, and provided an assessment on the practicalities of shipping migrants to such remote locations.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Home Secretary ‘should throw open borders’ as ‘Britain so short of brickies and welders’, experts say – The Sun
  • Care homes jobs should be on post-Brexit ‘shortage’ list – FT

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The Conservatives should watch for a rival to their right

UK and Canada impose sanctions against Lukashenko

“Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarus president, and other high-profile regime figures. The sanctions are due to come into force from Tuesday and include a travel ban and asset freeze. It is the first time the UK has targeted a national leader with its own sanctions. Belarus has been besieged with mass protests since August following the contentious sixth election win of Mr Lukashenko, who claimed to have won 80 per cent of the vote in an election widely decried as rigged. The UK move comes as an EU effort to impose its own Belarus countermeasures is held up by Cyprus’s lone refusal to give the go-ahead, unless the bloc also imposes sanctions on Turkey.” – FT

Brexit 1) May ‘stays away’ as Johnson’s Brexit blueprint passes through House of Commons

“Theresa May is understood to have abstained from voting as Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill passed in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening. Former Prime Minister Theresa May is understood to have abstained on the third reading of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Internal Market Bill. The UK Internal Market Bill, which ministers acknowledged risks breaking international law, was approved by 340 votes to 256 on Tuesday evening and now passes to the House of Lords for debate. The Government has insisted the bill will protect the integrity of the UK if a future trade agreement cannot be reached with the EU. The legislation would give ministers the power to breach the divorce deal with the European Union, despite threats of legal action from the EU and resistance from some MPs… The UK’s five living former Prime Ministers, Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May had openly spoken out against the bill.” – Daily Express

  • Internal Market Bill passed by Commons despite Tory concerns – The Guardian

Brexit 2) EU states ‘urge France to drop hardline Brexit fishing demands’

“France is under mounting pressure from other European states who want to let Michel Barnier drop the EU’s hardline fishing demands. Paris has infuriated fellow capitals by standing firm on its insistence the bloc must secure status quo terms. The row erupted after a meeting of EU envoys this week, with representatives from non-coastal states warning Brussels is being “too strict”. They’re ready to accept we’ll take back control of our waters, and want to use a £4.6bn emergency fund to compensate European fishermen. One EU diplomat said: “We know our position is totally unrealistic, but so is the British one. We need to get to the point where there’s a more mature dialogue. It’s not that complicated.” Another added: “The EU will have to soften its position. We should not just limit ourselves to the interests of a few states.”” – The Sun

  • Barnier lifts hopes of Brexit deal amid new ‘buzz’ in talks – Daily Express
  • Brussels ‘have proposed intensive secret trade negotiations’ – The Sun
  • EU rebuffs new UK proposals on state subsidies – The Guardian

More:

  • UK intelligence data ‘would be deleted’ in event of no-deal Brexit – The Guardian
  • Merkel’s ‘good behaviour’ clause sparks fury as £670bn Covid fund delayed – Daily Express

Tory MPs back ‘buying British’ at Blue Collar Conservatives event

“Tory MP Paul Howell has insisted he would pay a premium to buy British products after an Express.co.uk poll found an overwhelming majority also would. Paul Howell explained supporting British business is part of the bigger plan to create jobs in the UK. While Dehenna Davison MP added that politicians should promote British goods more. During the second day of the Blue Collar Conservatism conference, Mr Howell said: “It always feels good to support your local environment whether that’s your local town, your county or a parliamentary seat. “I think paying a small premium that is creating jobs in our part of the world is absolutely a good thing to do.” Ms Davison added: “There’s an amazing sense of community in the North East that I don’t think anywhere else in the country has.”” – Daily Express

>Today: Interviews: “Petrolhead” Milling denies that Elliott is really in charge at CCHQ, and says that she’s visited all 48 Red Wall seats

Fifteen Bloody Sunday veterans face no charges, review confirms

“Northern Irish prosecutors have upheld a decision not to charge 15 British Army veterans over the events of Bloody Sunday. A review of the initial conclusion by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), announced in March last year, came to the same verdict yesterday. Families of some of the victims had asked for it to be looked at again. Only one veteran, Soldier F, is facing prosecution over deaths that resulted from the Parachute Regiment opening fire on demonstrators in Londonderry on January 30, 1972. In total, 13 people were killed and 15 were wounded. Last year the PPS concluded that the admissible evidence did not provide a reasonable prospect of conviction against 18 other suspects, including two suspected former members of the Official IRA. Of the 16 veterans not being charged, one has died.” – The Times

Trump and Joe Biden trade personal attacks in chaotic debate

“President Trump launched a series of personal attacks on Joe Biden and aggressively cut across his rival time and again, as Americans were left aghast at the most rancorous and chaotic TV debate in US election history. A querulous Mr Trump, 74, refused to condemn white supremacists — telling the Proud Boys far-right group to “stand back and stand by” — repeatedly ignored pleas from the moderator to stop interrupting Mr Biden and left America with a chilling warning about the election: “This will not end well.” Mr Biden, 77, lost his cool a few times in the face of a barrage of jibes from the president, at one point telling him; “will you shut up man”. He hurled back several insults, calling Mr Trump “racist”, a “fool”, a “liar” and “totally irresponsible” over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.” – The Times

  • Internet explodes with memes as despairing viewers watch ugly contest – Daily Mail
  • President criticised for telling white supremacist group Proud Boys to ‘stand by’ – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Trump is a force of nature on the debate stage and his scared and tired rival was blown away – Rosa Prince, Daily Telegraph
  • Five takeaways from the first Trump-Biden debate – Edward Luce and Rana Faroohar, FT

Salmond inquiry chair claims SNP ‘obstruction’ has halted probe

“Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of treating the official inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair “with contempt” after its chairwoman announced that SNP and Scottish Government “obstruction” had succeeded in stopping its investigation. In an extraordinary statement, the convenor of the cross-party Holyrood committee examining the botched civil service probe into sexual harassment allegations said MSPs were “completely frustrated” at a refusal to provide key documents and testimony which meant they were unable to get to the truth. Linda Fabiani said she was awaiting further evidence from Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, who is yet to respond to a series of questions from the committee. She said the inquiry “simply cannot proceed at this stage”, with requests for information from Scottish Government civil servants and Mr Salmond himself also outstanding. MSPs have now abandoned plans to call new witnesses to give evidence next week.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • No, the Government’s moves to put more conservatives in public life is not authoritarian – Henry Hill, CapX
  • Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is one fight too many for Putin – Gabriel Gavin, Reaction
  • Trump’s debate clash with Biden was a national embarrassment – Daniel DePetris, The Spectator
  • Has Covid become less dangerous? – Tom Chivers, UnHerd
  • The University: The idea and how to destroy it – David Starkey, The Critic

A Conservative leader can afford to take on his left or his right – but not the 1922 Committee’s Executive

30 Sep

It may be that Lindsay Hoyle calls Graham Brady’s amendment during today’s debate on the Coronavirus Act.  If he does, the Government will make concessions; if he doesn’t, it will doubtless make some, but fewer than otherwise – because it will be under less pressure to do so in the absence of a vote.

Either way, the 1922 Committee Chairman will step out of the headlines and into the shadows, at least for a while but, before he does so, it’s worth reflecting on how ominous it is to see internal opposition to the Government being led by a ’22 Chairman.

The five who preceded Brady were: Michael Spicer, Archie Hamilton, Marcus Fox, Cranley Oslow and Edward Du Cann.  The last stands out as having had ambitions of his own – he was tipped at one point to succeed Edward Heath as Party leader – but otherwise the names have a certain flavour.

None habitually stepped forward into the public spotlight, and most were quietly supportive of the Conservative leader of the day, seeing this as part of their function.  It would be wrong to say that Brady is unsupportive of Boris Johnson, but a change in the relationship between the leadership and the ’22 has gradually been taking place.

Brady’s is the world of colleagues, consultations, courtesy, the Party Board, understatement, experience, due process and long, slow marination in the culture of the Party over many years.

The Prime Minister has been a feature of public life for a long time too, first entering the Commons almost 20 years ago.  But he is a very different animal.

His is the world of Have I Got News For You, writing books, the Spectator, leaving Parliament altogether for a period and the Daily Telegraph, not necessarily in that order. He was a celebrity before entering the Commons – which is rare among MPs, though certainly not unique.

Unlike many fellow Conservative MPs, he didn’t come up through the ranks, as a local activist or councillor.  (“Almost half of the Class of 2019 had fought at least one general election before, and almost as many had served as councillors or mayors,” Henry Hill writes in his study of the new intake.

This would matter less were Johnson a “House of Commons man”, as the saying goes.  As a performer at the Despatch Box, he has learned much and is now strong, though uneven – and sometimes very powerful, as so often before last year’s general election.

None the less, the platform, where he can orate to a crowd from a podium, not the Chamber, where he must convere with other MPs as equals, is where he’s most at home.  He was never at ease speaking from the backbenches.

He will also now be across the names and backgrounds of lots of his colleagues, but though gregarious he is also a loner – not remotely a Gavin Williamson, say, when it comes to knowing who they are, and keeping abreast of what they’re up to.

Furthermore, he’s not a details man either – as yesterday’s cock-up over the lockdown rules in the North-East reminds us.  This doesn’t mean he can’t master them: indeed, Ministers report that he will sometimes phone them and probe them, pushing and prodding away at a problem until he feels he’s got to the heart of it.

But you get the picture.  On the one hand, you have something like a club.  On the other, someone who’s never quite been part of it.

Tension between Tory leaders and backbenchers is as old as the hills, or older.  That Johnson is at odds with some of them, given the challenge of a pandemic, is in some ways not remotely surprising.

Nor is he the first leader with whom Brady and the ’22 has had a tense relationship.  The Coalition was a testing time for Conservative MPs, because they were sharing government with another party.  So the back-and-forth between Brady and David Cameron was sometimes strained.

That the early Cameron period followed the Tony Blair playbook with the leadership prepared, if not actually eager, to pick fights with its own core supporters didn’t exactly help – especially once the transition had been made from oppostion to government.

It may be significant that the biggest and most internally fractious of those confrontations, in opposition, was over grammar schools.  Brady resigned from Camerons’ front bench in consequence.  So the trail of events that has led to today’s debate is a long one.

The essence of it was summed up by Charles Walker, one of the ’22’s Vice-Chairmen, during a recent Commons debate on the UK Internal Market Bill.  “If you keep whacking a dog, don’t be surprised when it bites you back,” he said.

Walker has become over a bit of a shop steward for Tory MPs, representing their interests and concerns to the leadership.  He doesn’t speak for all of them, but for some of the more experienced ones, especially, his words will have struck a chord.

Many of them are sensitive to the gradual decline in the status that came with serving as an MP until fairly recently – see in passing the expenses scandal; media pressure on families; the fall in party membership figures over time; the rise of Twitter and Facebook; the squeeze on outside interests and faster Conservative MP turnover in safer seats.

That last has been high among Tory women MPs compared to their proportion of the whole; meanwhile, there is an undercurrent of complaint among some male Tory MPs of their promotion chances being lessened by the determination of successive leaderships to appoint more women Ministers.

A Conservative Prime Minister can take on his Party’s left or his right from time to time.  But he can’t take on a coalition of both at the same time – especially when it’s backed by the ’22, or senior ex-Ministers in numbers, or both.  We close with two examples.

First, Huawei.  The 38 Tory MPs who rebelled over its 5G role during the Telecommunications Bill included: Damian Green, Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, Liam Fox, Owen Paterson, Tom Tugendhat and Bob Neil.  That’s five former Cabinet Ministers and two senior Select Committee chairmen.  (Plus Brady, by the way.)

That’s also a spread of opinion which spans the Parliamentary Party.  Next, there’s the Brady amendment itself. Green, Duncan Smith, Tugendhat and Neil have signed it too, as have other backbenchers ranging, in terms of Party opinion, from John Redwood to Richard Fuller; from Esther McVey to George Freeman.

As David Gauke wrote last Saturday, the Prime Minister could find himself at odds with his right, as the weeks pass, on both the Coronavirus and Brexit.  But the biggest management challenge to him doesn’t spring from Government policy, but from Parliamentary culture – and dogs that no longer bark only, but bite too.

Interview: “Petrolhead” Milling denies that Elliott is really in charge at CCHQ, and says that she’s visited all 48 Red Wall seats

30 Sep

Amanda Milling’s “greatest love” is Formula 1 and she is making sure the Conservative machine is ready for next year’s election races: “I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.”

As Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party she announces “the biggest conference ever”, starting on Saturday, and has been “on the road constantly for the last three months”, visiting all 48 of the Red or, as they are now sometimes called, Blue Wall seats won off other parties at the general election.

Milling denies in this interview that Ben Elliot, her Co-Chairman, runs the show at CCHQ, just as Andrew Feldman did for David Cameron.

She does not deny that since the general election victory in December, CCHQ has got rid of some campaign managers: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers round the country.”

Her role, she explains, is not to represent the party on the airwaves, but to maintain close contact with activists: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base.”

The interview was conducted on Monday afternoon in her office at CCHQ, which is adorned by pictures of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

ConHome: “What do you think the virtual party conference will be like, and what do you hope to achieve from it?”

Milling: “Well I’m thoroughly looking forward to the virtual conference which starts on Saturday. It’s going to be the biggest conference ever, given the number of registrations.

“Obviously I’m disappointed we’re not in Birmingham, but we are where we are. You do find yourself attracting people who would normally not come to conference, by virtue of being able to dial in from your home.”

ConHome: “It is very expensive, in time as well as money, to go to conference.”

Milling: “Yes, in terms of normal conference, if you think about actually going along to Birmingham or Manchester, the hotel, it can be quite a big commitment.

“But I’m delighted we’ve got this virtual conference this year to be able to pour more people in, and hopefully it’ll give them appetite to join us at future conferences both in the spring and in the autumn.”

ConHome: “Will they be able to answer back, or to applaud?”

Milling: “It’s going to be very interactive. A virtual conference does give us the opportunity to have that chat function. People can pose their questions.

“I think that’s quite an important part of this. Because otherwise I think there’s a bit of a danger that it’s permanently just ‘transmit’ – it’s much better to have that interaction – the ability to ask colleagues questions.

“And I’m very pleased that ConHome are having the fringe events too.”

ConHome: “We are, in massive number. Just so you can help us plan, how many set-piece speeches will there be?”

Milling: “We’ve got set-piece speeches from the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, but other Cabinet ministers will be having their slots as well.”

ConHome: “Let me ask you about your function, and do this by looking back for a moment. We’ve had a number of dual chairs, we’ve had Saatchi and Fox, then we got to Feldman and Shapps, and Feldman chaired the Board, and Feldman really was David Cameron’s man, he was in effect the real Party Chairman.

“I’m going to put this to you absolutely straight. There’s a view that Ben Elliot chairs the Board, Ben Elliot is a long-time supporter of Boris, as you are, and Ben’s the real Party Chairman.

“And that with no local elections this year it’s been very hard to see what you’re up to, or some people would say, brutally, why you’re there.”

Milling: “It’s very much a Co-Chairman role, and very much teamwork, with both of us working together. Inevitably we take on different roles and responsibilities.

“Your point about campaigning. Whilst we did have the pause, the postponement of elections earlier in the year, we still have to work towards those elections next May.

“During the summer since we had the easing of lockdown one of the things that’s been really important is setting out guidance for our activists in terms of how they can campaign in a Covid-secure way ahead of those elections next year.”

ConHome: “Tell us about your year. What have you been doing with no local elections? How did you fill in and prepare for next year’s?”

Milling: “Let’s be honest, when I was appointed Co-Chairman back in February I was there ready to get out campaigning and get out also to those seats which are the Blue Wall seats.

“They are Blue Wall seats not Red Wall seats now. Lockdown made that somewhat more difficult. But during lockdown I did a lot of work engaging with the membership via our various new virtual platforms, Zoom and Teams.

“in fact the day was filled morning to evening engaging with our activists. Actually you can get to see more activists in many ways using technology because you’re cutting out the travel time.

“But then after the lockdown was eased I started on what my original mission had been which is to get out and visit these Blue Wall seats.

“And at the weekend I did my last visit which meant I’d visited every single seat that we gained in December. I’ve been on the road constantly for the last three months.”

ConHome: “You actually visited physically?”

Milling: “Physically every single one.”

ConHome: “Could you remind me how many that is?”

Milling: “It is 48.”

ConHome: “And how many times in the year have you been put up on the Today programme or Newsnight?”

Milling: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base, our members, and talk about my vision for the party.”

ConHome: “Will the local elections definitely go ahead next year?”

Milling: “Yes, there is a lot of work going on in the Cabinet Office to make sure that those local elections go ahead.”

ConHome: “This is a bumper crop of local elections. What have we got? We’ve got London…”

Milling: “We’ve got the county council elections, PCC elections, mayoral elections from 2020 and also 2021, we’ve got elections in Wales and elections in Scotland. So you’re right, this is an absolutely bumper year.”

ConHome: “And everywhere you’ve got a third of the council being elected.”

Milling: “And you’ve got some by-elections. This is why this conference is a really great opportunity to galvanise the troops, enthuse the troops in terms of campaigning.

“I think back to about June time, I would go round the House of Commons, I would literally have colleagues going ‘When can we go out campaigning?’ I was actually hearing that from the grassroots as well.

“And it’s been great to see people getting back on the campaign trail, having rested their legs over lockdown.”

ConHome: “Do you think these elections will be seen as a referendum on the Government?”

Milling: “These elections are our opportunity to really demonstrate Conservatives delivering at a local level. These are local elections, but on a very large scale, given that they are two years’ worth.”

ConHome: “How has it come about that the opposition to the way the fight against Covid was conducted is actually now being led by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee?”

Milling: “Throughout this, we as a Government had to respond to an unprecedented situation with measures to protect jobs, businesses and also lives.”

ConHome: “But how come you seem to have lost the confidence, up to a point, if I read his piece in The Telegraph on Saturday rightly, of the Chairman of the ’22?”

Milling: “So what this debate is about at the moment is the time spent in Parliament discussing it. Today [Monday], as an example, we are having a debate on Coronavirus and the various measures, and a staggering 80 people are in that debate. And there will be further debates and votes going forward.”

ConHome: “But some of them are hopping up and down because today they say we’ve had another set of regulations sprung on us without any notice, saying you can’t dance in a pub and you can’t sing in a pub.”

Milling: “What the Government’s having to do is respond to what is a very fast-moving situation, but at the same time giving colleagues the opportunity to debate that, as is being demonstrated this evening.”

ConHome: “Do you feel there’s been a movement among the colleagues towards a more Swedish-type solution?”

Milling: “Colleagues are as I say debating this today and the Government are responding to the science and the research to ultimately save lives, and that’s the most important thing.”

ConHome: “If this Brady amendment is debated on Wednesday, by then we would expect the Government to have made some move to accommodate it?”

Milling: “We will be having the vote on the Rule of Six next week.”

ConHome: “Though not amendable.”

Milling: “The days of me being in the Whips Office in terms of what’s amendable are over, you seem to forget.”

ConHome: “What do you do in your spare time? Though by the sound of it you don’t have all that much of it just at the moment.”

Milling: “Well my greatest love, and I do try to carve out the time for this, is watching Formula 1.”

ConHome: “Gosh!”

Milling: “So I am a petrolhead.”

ConHome: “From what age were you a petrolhead?”

Milling: “From childhood. I was brought up around cars.”

ConHome: “Who are the greatest racing drivers in your lifetime? Lewis Hamilton’s a bit dull, isn’t he? I mean obviously very good at it.”

Milling: “He’s very, very good at it. He had a bit of a tough day in the office yesterday. Eddie Irvine I always thought was quite an interesting character, because he really took the challenge to Schumacher at the time if I recall rightly.

“So I love Formula 1. So you can imagine my Sunday evenings are most definitely carved out for watching the highlights.

“It’s nice downtime. It would be nicer to actually go to one, but obviously at the moment that’s more difficult. Going to Silverstone is a great, great experience.”

ConHome: “You were brought up around cars?”

Milling: “My father had some vintage cars. There’s a photo if I recall correctly of me at about two in a kind of jump suit with a spanner in hand, although I’m not sure I’d be very good at servicing cars.

“Although on the matter of servicing cars, in terms of this particular role at the moment, I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.

“You haven’t maybe been able to do these things over the last few years, because we’ve just been so focussed on elections.”

ConHome: “So you’re tuning the engine.”

Milling: “We’re tuning the engine. Curiously, lockdown enabled us to do that to a greater extent.”

ConHome: “What sort of things?”

Milling: “One of the things is the candidates’ process, so an end-to-end review of that, from identifying talent to assessing talent and then supporting and nurturing talent.

“We did the Welsh review. We’ve recently appointed a team member to be the campaign manager for Northern Ireland.”

ConHome: “In the past there’s been a lot of criticism of losing highly knowledgeable campaign managers after a general election, and then the machine not in fact being in proper working order, for example in 2017.”

Milling: “So what we’ve been doing over the last few months, particularly ahead of next year’s elections, is making sure that our team are in the right places.

“But also over time our main focus is on getting the organisation fit for not just next year but 2024.”

ConHome: “The organisation was very scanty in many of the 48 seats which were won in December. What are you doing to build up some troops, some boots on the ground, for next time?”

Milling: “There’s a big piece of work we’ve been undertaking looking at these Blue Wall seats. Lee Rowley, who’s the Deputy Chairman, has been sitting down with all these colleagues to really get under the skin of what have they got, what have they not got, what their priorities are, what we need to do to build a membership and activists in these different areas.

“We’re going to be having a working group to make that more action-focussed.”

ConHome: “You just said you’ll be getting the campaign managers to the right places. Is that fewer people to the right places?”

Milling: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers around the country. But I think the main point for me as well is making sure that those campaign managers that we’ve got are focussed in the right places, particularly ahead of next year, which you know is a challenge, given the number of elections that we’ve got.”

ConHome: “When you went round the Red Wall or Blue Wall seats, how many of them don’t have a Conservative councillor?”

Milling: “It’s a big of a mixed bag. I think the key here is about building on having a Conservative MP. From being out on the ground, when I’ve met with businesses and residents, they’re really chuffed to have a Conservative MP who’s really there acting on their behalf, a voice in Parliament for them.”

ConHome: “How many of them actually have activists, never mind local councillors? How many of them have had to put together a team outside the traditional association structure?”

Milling: “My seat back in 2015 was a marginal seat and you have to build it up over time to have that broader activist base.”

ConHome: “Previous Chairmen have actually declared the membership figures. I don’t think you’ve got any plans to do that, have you?”

Milling: “No. I’m not going to be declaring the membership figures.”

ConHome: “Why not?”

Milling: “There’s a number of things on this. Number one which is actually membership’s just part of the Conservative family in many ways. It’s also about activists as well.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is actually people putting their cross by the Conservatives at an election.

“But what I would say is that membership is up from this time last year.”

ConHome: “Is there any other organisation – the National Trust or whatever – name me another that doesn’t declare their membership.”

Milling: “Look, I’m not going to declare the membership numbers. But as I say, it is up from last year.”