Race and disparities. A report so commonsensical but consensus-challenging that we’re surprised it was allowed to happen.

31 Mar

“The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress”: such was the headline we wrote for Sunder Katwala’s post-poll piece on this site in 2019. The sum of his article was that Tory hopes of a breakthrough among Indian and Chinese-origin voters had not been realised.

The party had made “only modest progress” with them, mirrored by “a modest decline” elsewere – from 24 per cent of the ethnic minority whole to 20 per cent. His piece opened with a stark sentence: “not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative.”

Henry Hill’s study of the new Tory intake in the Commons painted a similar picture: “at under five per cent of the new intake, the share or black or minority MPs in the Class of 2019 is lower than 2017 or 2015, and the share elected for safe seats is a third of what it was two years ago”.

One response to that last figure might be: don’t look at the share, look at the number – which shows that 22 such MPs were elected in 2019 compared to 19 in 2017.  That figure could be a starting-point for how the Conservatives might do better come the next election than “next to no progress”.

In short words, aim for evolutionary rather than radical change.  Dig in at local level, deploying pavement politics to win council seats in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minority voters.  Find new candidates from among them.  Make progress in Mayoral contests. Build up to challenging for the local Commons seat.

Take up and campaign on causes that matter to such voters: sickle cell disease, among people of an African or Caribbean origin; religious burial among those with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Stress values: family, work and education.

Above all, take the Party’s approach to climate change as a model: just as it doesn’t dispute the challenge of global warming (far from it), don’t quarrel with that of institutional racism: the doctrine that institutions can be judged guilty of it even if individuals within them may not be – especially given the new context of Black Lives Matter.

And alhough while no individual within an institution may be racist, his actions can be recorded as such if they are “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.  That’s the legacy of William Macpherson’s culture-shaping report in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Whatever may be said for or against such a softly-softly approach, some of the new generation of Conservative ethnic minority MPs strain against it – most notably Kemi Badenoch, whose Commons speech against critical race theory last year made waves.

And just as there is a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, so there is a new one of ethnic minority intellectuals, academics, writers, educationalists and police – in terms of approach if not always of age.  One of them is Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

Others include some of the commissioners of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, such as Tony Sewell, its chair.  Or, elsewhere, business people, like Trevor Phillips, who has contributed to this site.  Or doctors such as Raghib Ali, another contributor, and an adviser to the Government on Covid and disparities.

Raghib’s thinking foreshadows that of this latest report, published yesterday.  “Racism still blights too many lives today,” he wrote for ConservativeHome last year, and the Commission takes up where he left off.  The first of its 24 recommendations is: “challenge racist and discriminatory actions”.

Others include “teaching an inclusive curriculum”; “investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities”; “create police workforces that represent the communities they serve” and “increase legitimacy and accountability of stop and search through body-worn video”.

So far, so conventional – and none the worse for it.  But just as Raghib went further, acknowedging ethnic disparities but dismissing systemic racism, so this report goes further, too, as it comes to similar conclusions.  The picture it presents is one of a slow, attritional but persistent advance.

Above all, it dismisses the view of ethnic minorities as always disadvantaged compared to the white majority – to be bundled together under the acronym BAME: a homogeneous lump in which the African-origin and Chinese-origin experience, say, are treated as much the same.

Here is an extract from the report which gives the flavour: “education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience. The Commission notes that the average GCSE Attainment 8 score for Indian, Bangladeshi and Black African pupils were above the White British average”.

No wonder, in the context of its findings as a whole, that the Commission joins the list of those who find that BAME label conceals more than it reveals: British Future, of which Sunder is the Director, says that “it is better to use words, rather than acronyms”.  The Centre for Social Justice wants the term dropped.

But it goes almost without saying that opposing racism, and suggesting ways of combatting it, won’t be enough for those whose commissions, jobs, sincures and votes are founded on the doctrine of social regress, rather than social progress; on victimhood rather than agency; and on institutional racism rather than persistent racism.

There is a Victimhood Blob just as there is an Education Blob, and it fears that where new thinking goes today, the electorate will go tomorrow.  No wonder the attack on the commissioners is already turning, in some quarters, personal and unscrupulous.  The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.

We wonder whether their assessment is correct.  It may be that this report marks a historic turning-point in race relations in Britain, with the Tory-voting white plurality is especially receptive.  Or it may be that the structural racism narrative is too well entrenched, too dug in after 25 years, to be shifted by a single Government.

Without the commitment of Mirza herself (already a target of Far Left unreason), we doubt if the report would have been commissioned.  Boris Johnson’s technique is to wait for Woke to over-reach, as in the case of the Churchill statue assault, before committing himself, rather than strike questingly into its intellectual territory.

Perhaps the best way of looking at the report is to shake oneself free of these political, tactical considerations, and simply ask: is the Commission right – for example, in saying that unconscious bias training should be scrapped?  In its view that all ethnic minorities don’t move forward at the same pace?

In essence, the report argues that the three biggest determinants of life chances are family, education and work.  This seems to us to be so unrebuttable as, ultimately, to be certain to win through.  Which doesn’t mean that the report is perfect: we are not sure that it has got to the heart of the problems for black people in relation to crime and justice.

Nor does it follow that because a report has analysed a problem accurately, the Government will act appropriately.  British governments are notorious for being among the most indiiferent to families in Europe, with the noxious consequences that Miriam Cates described on ConservativeHome earlier this week.

Perhaps the “review to…take action to address the underlying issues facing families” recommended in the report will turn the tide.  At the level of words, perhaps with deeds to come, this is the most consensus-challenging, bold and implication-rich Government initiative to date.  We can’t help being surprised that it was allowed to happen at all.

Austen Morgan: Is Buckland letting the judges set the pace on reform?

31 Mar

Dr Austen Morgan is a barrister at 33 Bedford Row chambers and was one of the UUP’s lead negotiators for the Belfast Agreement.

On March 18 2021, something unusual happened in Whitehall. It involved Lord Faulks QC, a former Conservative minister; Robert Buckland QC MP, the Lord Chancellor; and the Ministry of Justice (in the former Home Office building) on Petty France.

That day, the Lord Chancellor published The Independent Review of Administrative Law (195 pages), which had been chaired remotely by Lord Faulks. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice responded with Judicial Review Reform (56 pages), sending its own additional proposals – especially ouster clauses (excluding the courts) and remedies – out to consultation (with the public to respond by April 29 2021).

Normally, governments cherry pick recommendations made by committees, and take their time. Here, the Government had to fatten up Lord Faulks’s meagre offerings before expiry. What on earth was going on?

Think back to November 2019 – before Covid-19 and the depletion of the nation’s finances – to the Conservatives’ manifesto. There, Boris Johnson had promised a constitution, democracy and rights commission. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive.

Rights went back to David Cameron in 2006, and his idea (on which I advised) of a UK bill of rights. Democracy was a reference to the 2016 Brexit referendum. And constitution was a new idea, trailed first by Geoffrey Cox QC MP as attorney general, the day after Miller Two in the Supreme Court (September 25 2019) – the prorogation of parliament case which the Government lost badly.

On Christmas eve, I began what became my lockdown book, now provisionally entitled Writing the UK Constitution: a contested project. It is basically a workbook for such a commission, an unprecedented promise in our political history. The contest is between traditional common lawyers, who believe the constitution exists (in their minds), and modernisers including myself, who believe the UK needs to get itself a written constitution. I therefore am an advocate of joined-up constitutional reform, though I accept there can be short- , medium- and long-term goals over two parliaments.

At some point (after Cox was replaced in February 2020), the Government quietly abandoned the idea of a constitution, democracy and rights commission. This was revealed by Paul Goodman in ConservativeHome on July 23 2020. Buckland confirmed as much to a select committee on December 8 2020.

On July 31 2020, the Faulks commission had been announced. Reform of judicial review – through which the courts supervise the legality of executive actions – was a totemic Conservative issue. The Lord Chancellor, however, appointed mainly professional lawyers. There is the explanation for no statutory codification of judicial review, into which safeguards could be built.

If Miller Two was judiciary one, executive nil, the Faulks report (pending the further consultation), makes the score now judiciary two, executive nil.

On December 1 2020, this time the Cabinet Office – there being a job share on the constitution by Buckland and Michael Gove – announced the forthcoming repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. A draft bill included the non-justiciability of prerogative powers concerning parliament. The Government agreed to pre-legislative scrutiny, including by the House of Lords, where sits the informal lawyers’ and judges’ party on the cross benches. Could this be judiciary three, executive nil?

On December 7 2020, the Ministry of Justice (again) announced a review of the Human Rights Act 1998, another totemic Conservative issue. The chair was to be Sir Peter Gross, a retired court of appeal judge. The members of the review include academic lawyers. One hopes for an agreed UK bill of rights, but it could end up in coming months as: judiciary four, executive nil.

Speaking last week to a university audience, Buckland made a diplomatic stab at articulating the Government’s strategy: “it falls to me to propose reforms which, as far as possible, avoid drawing judges into the political realm and forcing them to adjudicate on moral and philosophical issues.” But what Lord Chancellor, if the judges – led by Baroness Hale – upset the so-called constitutional balance, as they arguably did in Miller Two?

Whitehall has a track record on constitutional reform in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, which should have been a warning from history for the current government in its early months.

The first Blair government (1997-2001) did enact: human rights; expulsion of hereditary peers; and devolution (which has turned out very different). Constitutional reform – it is rarely observed – was then replaced with public-sector reform led by number 10. The sacking of Lord Irvine of Lairg QC in 2003 led to the misnamed Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which gave us judicial appointments commissions to be stuffed with quangocrats.

Gordon Brown was – and is – more serious about constitutional reform, but Whitehall balkanized his ambitions in the form of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 – a sectional project of Labour women ministers – was never a proper constitutional project concerning the state.

The coalition of 2010-15 divided over electoral reform and delayed boundary changes, and House of Lords reform (a project which has been staggering since 1918).

I hope, if there is life after recent deaths, that Johnson will return to the commission idea, and work towards the next general election in 2024.

My perspective is not, honestly, particular reforms: presidential (through the monarchy) and prime ministerial powers; a federal UK to save the union; separate legislatures; proportional representation.

My big idea is an expert report for ministers in this parliament, inspired by an Irish document of 1996. The objective would be a written constitution, to be enacted by parliament in the first instance. There are arguments against such an idea, especially the slogan flexibility versus rigidity.

The commission would comprise legal and non-legal constitutionalists. And they would provide reasons for and against particular provisions, and how practical ideas could work one with another. Advisers advise, ministers decide, and the people or peoples – after 2016 – should vote decisively on the rules of the state.

Jeremy Quin: The Government’s defence investment ensures a modern, persistent and effective approach to future threats

31 Mar

Jeremy Quin is the MP for Horsham and Minister for Defence Procurement.

It has been an important two weeks for the UK’s foreign, defence and security policy. The Prime Minister set out through the Integrated Review the most significant reappraisal of UK foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, including a commitment to sustaining our strategic advantage through science and technology.

Last week’s Defence in a Competitive Age backs this up, signalling the biggest shift in defence policy in a generation. The Government’s vital investment in defence, amounting to an extra £24 billion over four years from today’s levels, ensures we will equip our Armed Forces to be modern, persistent and effective in deterring the threats of the future.

The following day through DSIS (the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy) we announced further reforms to ensure that this investment supports not just the Armed Forces, to which we owe so much, but invests in those who support them. The £85 billion we are investing in defence equipment and support over the next four years will drive not only the success of our Armed Forces but opportunity, capability and prosperity throughout the UK. 

Our defence sector is already world-renowned. Directly and indirectly it employs more than 200,000 across the UK. It is the world’s second largest global exporter of defence goods and services, helping support our allies and partners overseas. It generates valuable skills and technology, and is one of the many binding forces of our successful Union. Frigates are made in Scotland, satellites in Belfast, our next generation Ajax armoured vehicles in Wales and fighter aircraft in the north of England.

But we must do more to unlock the vast potential of this sector and drive the research, the skills and investment that will enhance prosperity, keep us secure and help us thrive as a science superpower.

To do so we have ended the policy of “global competition by default’ to better deliver our strategic goals. Of course competition has an important role to play, as will international collaboration. There will also be occasions when, to meet critical needs, purchases will be made from our friends and allies.

However we will be adopting a nuanced and sophisticated approach to procurement with a focus on on-shore capabilities and asking key questions. What more can we secure from this investment? How will this contribute to our science superpower status, level up the whole UK and deliver on skills, capability and export success? We will continue to welcome companies based overseas who are prepared to invest in maintaining the industrial capability we need onshore.

In the future you can expect greater integration between government, industry and academia. Our approach to combat air shows what this can achieve. A £2 billion investment, leveraging further industrial contributions, driving world-leading research and capabilities – and creating 2,500 apprenticeships – will deliver the future of combat air

We are investing £6.6 billion into R&D to support next-generation capabilities, from space satellites and automation to artificial intelligence and novel weapons. A clear signal to our industrial partners.

We will be more focussed on exports. For the first time in a generation we are working with our close friends in Australia and Canada on highly sophisticated UK warships. Our multipurpose Type 31 frigate has been designed with export in mind. We are determined to spark a renaissance in British shipbuilding, underpinned by UK orders but focussed on the huge export potential in maritime. Similar export opportunities across the waterfront of defence.

Lastly, DSIS will make procurement more agile, pulling through technology fast to the frontline. By driving improvements inside MOD and reforming our approach to suppliers, we will shift the dial. We are introducing “social value” to our procurements and will be doing more to help our imaginative SMEs – the lifeblood of defence – to continue their record of securing more of our defence spend.

So DSIS will make a huge difference to our country. It will ensure our people continue to have the right kit. It will contribute to the advanced skills and capabilities our nation requires as a science superpower. And it will fire up the engines of prosperity in every corner of our United Kingdom.

The Armed Forces always deliver for our country. DSIS will ensure that our investment not only secures our peace and security; its benefits will also be felt in our industrial heartlands, building greater prosperity in every part of the Union.

Newslinks for Wednesday 31st March 2021

31 Mar

Diverse UK hailed over narrowing of race gap

“Britain is a model on race for other countries, with children from ethnic minorities outperforming their white peers at school, a landmark government review has concluded. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, formed last July after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, said that Britain had become a more open society and that racial inequalities had narrowed in education and employment. Its report, published today, states that the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”. Education is “the most emphatic success story”, it says, pointing out that pupils from Indian, Bangladeshi and black African backgrounds in England scored better on average across eight GCSEs than white British children.” – The Times

Sturgeon clashes with opposition on independence and Covid in Scottish leaders’ debate

“Coronavirus and the prospect of a second independence referendum dominated exchanges in the first TV leaders’ debate of the Holyrood election campaign. SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took on her rivals in the BBC Scotland clash which took place just days into the campaign. But with just the five parties who currently have MSPs in Holyrood taking part, there was no place for former first minister Alex Salmond, who recently made a dramatic return to politics as the leader of the new Alba Party. As Scotland looks to move on from the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Sturgeon promised to be an “experienced hand at the wheel” with her SNP party bringing forward “bold policies to drive our recovery”. But she insisted that when the crisis has passed, people should have a “choice on independence”. The SNP wants that vote to take place in the first half of Scottish Parliament’s five-year term. But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisted: “We can’t have a recovery and a referendum.”” – Edinburgh Live

>Today:

Nigel Farage: For all their tartan, neither Sturgeon nor Salmond truly wants to achieve Scottish self-determination

As Alex Salmond returns to the political fray with his own custom-made Alba Party, inevitable comparisons have been drawn between his latest political enterprise and my decision in 2019 to launch the Brexit Party. I like to think I have little in common with Mr Salmond personally. But there are more fundamental differences between us, too. The fact is that from the moment the UK Independence Party was launched in 1993, my crusade was for our nation to be sovereign once again. What got me out of bed every morning was the desire to help make Britain truly free. Salmond, and his successor as SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, have a very different vision for what they misleadingly call an “independent” Scotland. – Daily Telegraph

More comment:

Politicians criticised as Met’s policing of Everard vigil cleared

“Scotland Yard was exonerated yesterday over its policing of the Sarah Everard vigil by an independent report that rounded on politicians who criticised the force. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services condemned the “chorus” of public figures who attacked the Met after the arrest of female protesters in Clapham Common, south London. The watchdog said that the Met’s response to the vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, 33, who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a police officer, was justified given the coronavirus risk and “malign actions” by abusive and aggressive protesters. It criticised “leading voices in positions of some responsibility” who called for the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick as commissioner of the Met despite having “very limited understanding of what had happened”.” – The Times

Welby backs free speech in Batley Grammar School Prophet cartoon row

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has defended the right to free speech after a teacher was suspended for allegedly showing his class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. Parents of children at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire protested for several days last week after children said they had been shown the cartoon during a religious studies lesson. Gary Kibble, the head teacher, apologised over the use of the “inappropriate” image, which is thought to have been taken from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The teacher, who has faced threats, has been suspended pending a full investigation. His family say that he is in hiding and is in fear for his life.” – The Times

Ofsted chief asked for greater powers to check for abuse in private schools

“The chief inspector of schools in England asked for greater powers to monitor independent schools over “potential safeguarding issues”, but was ignored by ministers, the Guardian can reveal. Despite concerns raised by Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, the body was later stripped of its role in overseeing the inspections of private schools now engulfed by a wave of sexual assault allegations. Documents seen by the Guardian show Spielman complained to the Department for Education in 2018 and 2019 that her organisation was unable to monitor the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), to which the DfE delegates inspections of elite private schools such as Westminster and Dulwich College.” – The Guardian

Comment:

>Today:

Coronavirus 1) Don’t ‘blow it’, Hancock warns, as temperatures threaten March record

“The Health Secretary has warned Britons not to “blow it” ahead of what could be the UK’s hottest March day on record. Met Office forecaster Alex Burkhill said it was a “possibility” that Wednesday’s temperatures could surpass the March record of 25.6C (78F), set in 1968 at Mepal in Cambridgeshire. It comes as the mercury peaked at 24.5C (76.1F) at Kew Gardens in west London on Tuesday – the hottest March day in 53 years. People have been making the most of sunny conditions across England after Monday’s easing of coronavirus rules which means groups of up to six, or two households, are now able to socialise in parks and gardens while outdoor sports facilities can reopen.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Half of Britons have antibodies against Covid, says ONS – The Times

Comment:

>Today:

Coronavirus 2) Oxford jab pioneer warns Britain still lacks the capacity to make its own vaccines without outside help – as country faces EU supply squeeze

“Britain faces a lack of vaccine manufacturing bases which could hamper research into coronavirus and other diseases, an expert has warned. Professor Adrian Hill, director of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, says the development of jabs is being held back because the country is ‘very weak’ when it comes to the manufacturing side of vaccines. His warnings come as Britain faces challenges over the supply of vaccines from overseas factories, with India ordering a temporary stop to the export of the AstraZeneca vaccine, meaning supplies to the UK will likely fall during April. Threats of export bans in Europe have also emerged amid a row over difficulties meeting delivery demands for the EU.” – Daily Mail

  • Two-thirds of global disease experts believe coronavirus variants will make vaccines ineffective within one year – Daily Mail
  • About half of people in UK now have antibodies against coronavirus – The Guardian
  • Merkel and Macron in talks to use Russia’s Sputnik Covid vaccine – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) Covid vaccine success can open up world to travel, ministers told

“Summer holidays should be permitted to more than 130 countries because of the success of Britain’s vaccination programme, ministers have been told. Research submitted to a government task force today said that the risks of travel would be significantly reduced by the high inoculation rate combined with a basic testing programme. The study said that it should even be possible to visit countries with higher coronavirus infection levels than last summer without “increasing the risk of putting pressure on the NHS” when people return. This includes most of Europe, the Caribbean, north Africa and the United States. The conclusions, in a study commissioned by Manchester Airports Group, will add to the pressure on the government to reopen international travel from mid-May, the target date set out in the prime minister’s “road map” out of lockdown.” – The Times

  • Tourism industry begs for September bank holiday boost after Covid pandemic – The Times

Coronavirus 4) World leaders question WHO Covid origins report

“Britain, the United States and a dozen other countries have voiced concerns over an initial World Health Organisation report into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and urged China to provide “full access” to future investigations. The head of the WHO itself also criticised China’s sharing of data from the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan in December 2019, and added that the highly politicised four-week WHO investigation was not “extensive enough”. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a deeper inquiry into the possibility that the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese laboratory, despite his chief investigator saying that there was no evidence it had done so.” – The Times

Comment:

  • What a surprise… world health ‘experts’ have let China off the hook over Covid (so what hope for the world to avoid a future pandemic?) – Daily Mail
  • We need new alliances to replace failing global institutions, Con Coughlin – Daily Telegraph

Laurence Fox describes London as ‘cathedral of wokery’ as he launches mayoral campaign

“Laurence Fox has launched his London mayoral campaign by describing the capital as the “cathedral of wokery” and promising to “unlock” the city”. The actor and “anti-woke” campaigner, 42, this morning unveiled his campaign battle bus emblazoned with the words “Free London” and a picture of a gagged Winston Churchill statue. Arriving on the bus in Westminster, Mr Fox said: “I am not a politician. I never wanted to be a politician.” He said that he is a single father and then joked that he “used” to be an actor. He is standing for the Reclaim party, which he founded last year to “fight the culture wars”. His campaign will be completely funded by a donation from ex-Tory political donor Jeremy Hosking, according to reports.” – Evening Standard

Comment:

Skripals ‘targeted five years before novichok attack’

“A coroner will investigate the role of the Russian state in the Salisbury novichok poisoning after being told that operatives scoped out their targets up to five years before the attack. Lady Hallett widened the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, a mother of three who was exposed to the nerve agent in a perfume bottle, to include an investigation into the source of the poison and Russian responsibility. The inquest will also examine the activities of two Russian intelligence officers accused of carrying out the original poisoning of Sergei Skripal, 69, a former double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, 37. The Skripals fell seriously ill but survived the attack in March 2018.” – The Times

Cameron lobbied Mohammed bin Salman despite Khashoggi murder claim

“David Cameron went on a desert camping trip to lobby Mohammed bin Salman only months after the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Cameron was invited on the trip in his role as a paid adviser and lobbyist for the billionaire Australian financier Lex Greensill, whose company Greensill Capital collapsed this month. At the time of the trip early last year a United Nations report had already found “credible links” between the crown prince and the murder of Khashoggi in October 2018. The United States has since formally announced that bin Salman approved the killing. Details of the trip emerged as Labour said that it had been handed a business card dating from Greensill’s time working as an adviser in the Cabinet Office, suggesting that he worked directly with Cameron while he was prime minister.” – The Times

News in brief:

Profile: Danny Kruger, defender of Christian conservatism and traditional ideas of virtue

31 Mar

Who now dares to talk about the virtues? Danny Kruger, MP since December 2019 for Devizes, is one of the few parliamentarians who ventures to do so.

In his latest declaration, jointly launched with Miriam Cates, who in 2019 took Penistone and Stocksbridge from Labour, Kruger begins by denouncing the facile assumption that we are all born good:

“What is the job of society? There is a modern delusion that we are born pure, and then corrupted by an unfair world. But surely the plain truth is that we are born greedy, narcissistic and violent. That’s why laissez-faire doesn’t work any more than big government. Left entirely to ourselves, individuals will exploit, slack off, rent-seek, and cheat.”

So we need to be educated:

“The job of society is to teach us to temper these impulses and to train us in a different set of habits. What habits are these? The old times called them the virtues: the practices that human beings are uniquely good at, like courage, temperance, fortitude, creativity, compassion and shrewdness. The virtues make us happy and great, and make life better for everyone else.”

Kruger calls for “a New Social Covenant”, under which “the family, the community and the nation” become our “schools of virtue”, and goes on to enunciate 12 propositions, including:

“The state should safeguard the customs of the country.”

“We need a new ‘economics of place’ instead of the failed doctrine of economic mobility.”

“Marriage is a public institution and essential to society.”

He proceeds to defend these propositions in a reasonable and erudite tone, for he has been working on this for a long time. Kruger was the author of David Cameron’s “Hug a Hoodie” speech, delivered in July 2006 to the Centre for Social Justice.

Cameron had become Leader of the Opposition in December 2005, and needed to show that after three general election defeats, the Conservatives were at last undertaking the fundamental changes that were required.

In April 2006 Cameron signalled the modernisation of environment policy by going to Norway to hug a husky, and three months later he proclaimed, at the Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, his commitment to understanding rather than condemning young people who wore hoodies, an item of clothing which had recently been banned, with Tony Blair’s approval, by the Bluewater Shopping Centre.

Not everyone was impressed by this exercise in compassionate conservatism. According to Kruger, reminiscing in The Spectator in June 2008:

“The day of Boris’s election [as Mayor of London on 1st May 2008] was also the day I stopped work as David Cameron’s speechwriter to go full-time at the charity my wife and I founded two years ago to work with prisoners and ex-offenders. My main claim to distinction in my old job was drafting the speech in which David said something capable of the construction (though not the words, not the words themselves) that the public should all get out there and hug hoodies.

“This speech has gone down in Tory lore as a terrible blunder, but I am still rather proud of it. The nub of it was, that while we should certainly punish people who cross the line into criminality, on this side of the line we need ‘to show a lot more love’.

“Love is a neglected crime-fighting device. But the need for it is powerfully proved in Felicity de Zulueta’s important book From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. She argues that violence and hatred are not motive forces of their own: they are the terrible expression of wrecked relationships, of thwarted love.

“Men and women seem to have a yearning for agency, for the ability to affect things. As de Zulueta puts it, the sense of helplessness is ‘a state tantamount to annihilation’; we will do anything to avoid it. Hence self-harm, and what youth workers call ‘self-sabotage’ — the apparently wilful screwing-up of opportunities, the no-show, the walking-away at the moment before achievement. People who feel incapable, feel the need to prove it: failure, at least, is something they can author.”

One sees that for Kruger, all this really matters. Cameron spoke about it as if he too cared deeply about it. But somehow the Big Society, as this strand in his programme became known (Steve Hilton is credited with inventing the name), never quite achieved lift-off.

There are, after all, serious difficulties in proclaiming a manifesto derived from Christian teaching. Fewer and fewer voters regard themselves as Christians.

Nor does any politician with half an ear for public sensitivities wish to adopt a holier-than-thou tone of voice. Piety would be insufferable. The present Prime Minister makes every effort, in his daily proclamations about the pandemic, to avoid sounding preachy.

And the Big Society, with its support for voluntary work in support of civil society, seemed to lack ideological content. Surely a socialist could believe as devoutly in it as a Conservative? Kruger himself suggested as much in an essay which appeared on ConservativeHome in October 2014, lamenting the dropping by Cameron of the idea:

“The Big Society elevated the national conversation to something approaching a moral discourse: what sort of society do we want? What are our own responsibilities, what are others’? What is the condition of my community, and what can we do about it?

“If these weren’t two ridiculous words for a Conservative leader to adopt I would have advised David Cameron to call himself a ‘new socialist’. Old socialism was about using the power of the state to advance the interests and wellbeing of the working class. New socialism is about using the power of society to protect minorities, defend and promote local communities, and create opportunities.”

Essay question for aspiring Conservative candidates: “Is Boris Johnson a new socialist? Discuss.”

Kruger is not a socialist. He is a politician with the moral courage to think for himself.

This he inherits from his father, Rayne Kruger, who rather than do the conventional thing, liked to back his own judgment, as the admirable and admiring obituary of him in The Times made clear.

The elder Kruger, who was born in South Africa and moved while still a young man to London, married first an actress 16 years older than himself – in Pygmalion she had played Eliza to his Professor Higgins – and secondly a young South African woman who had arrived in London intending to make her way as a Cordon Bleu cook.

She was called Prue Leith, and their son, Danny, was born in October 1975, three days after they married. She has since achieved fame and fortune as a restaurateur, with her husband running the business side of things; and is now yet better known as a presenter of The Great British Bake Off.

A friend says of Danny:

“He’s more like his mother than he thinks he is. She just gets stuff done by energy and determination. He’s turning out like that.”

He was educated at Eton, read history at Edinburgh, at Oxford wrote a doctorate about Edmund Burke, and was more inclined to lie in the bath thinking great thoughts than to do the washing up.

He was liberated from this perhaps rather stuffy, old-fashioned mode of life by falling in love with his future wife, Emma, a teacher. She was an evangelical Christian and prayed that he would be converted, which he was. For a time they lived on a council estate. They have three children.

Kruger became the guy who would do the washing up, and in 2005 (after early stints as director of studies at the Centre for Policy Studies, Conservative policy adviser, and chief leader writer on The Daily Telegraph) he and Emma set up Only Connect, a prison charity which they ran for ten years, and which concentrates on helping offenders not to reoffend.

Also in 2005, Kruger was obliged to stand down as the Conservative candidate in Sedgefield (Tony Blair’s old seat) after The Guardian reported that he had declared: “We plan to introduce a period of creative destruction in the public services.”

He is a good friend of Dominic Cummings, and backed Vote Leave.

In the summer of 2019, Cummings brought Kruger to Downing Street as Johnson’s Political Secretary, charged with maintaining relations with Tory backbenchers during the exceptionally turbulent months when the new Prime Minister was striving to get Brexit through.

When I met Kruger in the Palace of Westminster on one night of high drama, he seemed in his imperturbable way to be enjoying himself.

In November 2019, Kruger won selection for the safe Conservative seat of Devizes, after CCHQ had intervened to cut the short list from six to only three candidates.

At the end of his maiden speech, delivered on 29 January 2020, he returned to the Christian roots of our politics:

“I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.

“Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.

“I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture.”

On the morning of Saturday 23rd May, just after the story had broken of the visit during the first lockdown to County Durham by Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, Kruger leapt to their defence on Twitter:

“Dom and Mary’s journey was necessary and therefore within rules. What’s also necessary is not attacking a man and his family for decisions taken at a time of great stress and worry, the fear of death and concern for a child. This isn’t a story for the normal political shitkickery.”

In the days that followed, Kruger stuck to his guns, telling other newly elected MPs:

“No 10 won’t budge, so calling for DC to go is basically declaring no confidence in PM.”

To make this stand amid such a storm of protest showed fortitude. One of the advantages of believing in a moral tradition is that it may render one less liable to be swept hither and thither by one moral panic after another. Here is Kruger speaking a few days ago in a debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

“Our culture historically taught men that they had a duty to honour and protect women. It is a difficult thing to say, because it may appear that I want to turn back the clock to a time when men chivalrously protected the weaker sex, but of course, as I have said, that is not how it always was in the old days, and even if it had been, we do not accept the idea that women need protection by men; they just need men to behave themselves. So let me say emphatically that I do not want to turn back the clock; however, we do need to face the fact that our modern culture has not delivered all the progress it was supposed to. I wonder whether that is because our modern culture has a problem with telling people how to behave—it has a problem with society having a moral framework at all.”

Many voters, not all of them Conservative, will agree with that. Kruger’s arguments are sometimes described as communitarian, but that pallid label does not convey the force of the challenge he poses to an intellectual establishment which supposes it can dispense with traditional ideas of virtue.

The Greensill saga must not become a pretext for reducing ministers’ access to outside expertise

31 Mar

The regulator’s decision to clear David Cameron of having broken the rules around lobbying – ‘on a technicality’, as one newspaper put it – will doubtless have come as a great relief to the man himself.

But his actions could still cast a long shadow over the Government’s efforts to shake-up the Civil Service and introduce fresh thinking into Whitehall (assuming that this agenda has survived the departure of its architect, Dominic Cummings).

For whilst the narrow issue examined by the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists was his personally contacting ministers to try and drum up financial support for Greensill Capital, the much bigger one – explored at length in the Sunday Times – is the manner in which Lex Greensill was given such extraordinary access to policy-making.

Bringing in an outside expert to advise on policy isn’t unusual. What is remarkable is that Greensill was brought in, and allocated a team of civil servants, without anybody clarifying what his formal role actually was or who he was accountable too.

Worse, it seems he was actually ‘advising’ – it might be better to say ‘advocating for’ – policies from which he stood to gain financially if adopted. Specifically, he wanted to introduce private ‘supply chain finance’ to public sector supply chains. This is a solution to late payments that sees a bank pay the value of invoices up front, for a fee, and then accept repayment once the actual client has paid.

When the Government decided to adopt his scheme for paying pharmacists, the contract was initially won by CitiBank (which Greensill had left weeks before) before being taken over by… Greensill Capital, which went on to provide £1.2 billion in loans. Greensill himself ranged across other departments, including the Ministry of Defence, trying to drum up more business. If the Sunday Times is right, this was all without being able to demonstrate that this ‘solution’ was actually needed.

But we should perhaps be a little cautious to take that at face value. The paper’s reporting seems to draw heavily on Civil Service sources, and it isn’t difficult to imagine that some of these might not be disinterested assessors of private-sector intrusions into their remit. Nor to imagine that the Greensill saga, combined with Cummings’ exit, might see a fresh effort to dissuade ministers from putting their faith in ‘weirdos and misfits’.

That would be a mistake. The Civil Service is for obvious structural reasons largely immune to the pressures that drive innovation in commerce and industry. Schumpeter’s gale scarcely stirs the still air of Whitehall, and even the boldest attempt to simulate it (the dissolution of DfID) has apparently largely seen hold International Development hands stage a reverse-takeover of the Foreign Office.

Ministers need to be able to draw on outside thinking to support them when they need to take on institutional attitudes. Which makes it very important that when they do, they do it properly.

Daniel Hannan: I hate everything about the lockdown. But most of all, how much we like being bossed around.

31 Mar

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

I hate everything about the lockdown. I hate the confiscation of liberty, and the ease with which it is surrendered. I hate the damage to children’s education. I hate the prying and the prissiness and the pettiness. I hate the way university students have missed out on what should be the best time of their lives. I hate the tone in which police officers address people going about their lawful business.

I hate the way the goalposts keep moving: flatten the curve; no – wait for a vaccine; no – keep the pressure off the NHS; no – stop new variants. I hate the cataclysmic impact on small businesses, and the indifference of large parts of the public. I hate the debt we are racking up. I hate the protectionism and the authoritarianism. I hate hearing words like “hoarder” and “profiteer” – words we used to associate with extremist ideologies. I hate the loneliness that I see weighing on my elderly neighbours. I hate the profusion of pettifogging laws.

But d’you know what I hate the most? I hate what it has revealed about us. It turns out that we quite like being bossed around – at least, a lot of us do. Given the excuse of a collective threat, we revel in crackdowns and prohibitions.

I am not talking about the contingent acceptance of some restrictions. Almost everyone can see that an infectious disease requires proportionate limitations on normal activity. Infecting other people is what economists call an “externality”, a cost borne by someone else.

No, I am talking about the equanimity, even the enthusiasm, with which some have taken to house arrest. “I loved lockdown”, declared a secret card returned to an enterprising London printer who is inviting people to send her their most intimate lockdown confidences on anonymous postcards. I reckon most of us have heard that sentiment, whispered furtively. Many of the printer’s postcards tell the same story: “a lot of people not wanting to unlock,” as she puts it.

King’s College London and Ipsos Mori found last week that 54 per cent of us will miss some aspects of the lockdown. Think about that for a moment. We’re not talking about things that we are free to do at any time. Obviously lots of us find staying at home more pleasant than commuting. Lots of us have enjoyed walks more than usual. Lots of us like seeing more of our children. But the essence of the lockdown is not that it allows us to rebalance our lives; it is that it mobilises the full force of the law to compel us.

We could always choose to forego a foreign holiday in return for working shorter hours. The idea that we need to be coerced into doing so – and have all our neighbours similarly coerced – is a terrifyingly illiberal one. So is the idea that we should be paid to stay at home – with money that someone or other is presumably supposed to find down the line.

I always knew that libertarianism was a minority creed. For most people, safety trumps freedom every time. Even so, it is distressing to see the near-universal demand for the smack of firm government. Take, to pluck an almost random example, the prohibition on leaving the country. Governments have every right to impose whatever conditions they want on people seeking to enter their territory, including quarantine. But leaving? Isn’t that for the receiving country to decide?

Yet that ban, like all the others, was cheered through with barely any debate. Politicians can see which way the wind is blowing: 93 per cent of people backed the first lockdown, 85 per cent the current one, and every easing of restrictions has been unpopular in the polls. There are honourable exceptions, but few MPs or commentators want to take what they know would be an utterly pointless stand. Even the PM, whose dislike of nannying has until now been his ruling principle, seems to have decided that there is no purpose in placing himself in the path of an authoritarian electorate.

This is not a column about the efficacy of lockdown measures. I happen to think that they are disproportionate. It has for some reason become fashionable to mock Sweden, but that country has suffered fewer excess deaths than most of Europe. Then again, there are good and sincere people who take a different view. The question of how much suffering we should inflict in exchange for a given number of lives is never going to have a simple answer.

No, this is a column about what ConservativeHome has called “the freedom gap” – the way in which a country that used to define itself as individualist, eccentric and undeferential now leads the world in its unhesitating acceptance of controls. An alien visitor, judging only from the texture of daily life, would assume that Britain in early 2021 was a far more repressive state than Russia or China.

The editor of this site recently speculated that the elevation of security over liberty might reflect the feminisation of politics. Jonathan Haidt would put it down to the vogue for “safetyism” – the idea that people should be at all costs be protected from unpleasant experiences rather than learning from (and being hardened through) them.

Let me proffer a gloomier explanation. Safetyism is a natural instinct. Throughout almost all human civilisation, people have accepted various forms of hierarchy and tyranny in the name of security. The liberal interlude through which we have lived is exceptional. We may be witnessing its end.

John Bald: Yes, Jess Phillips. Ministers indeed dropped the ball on sexual violence. Under Labour.

31 Mar

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Jess Phillips, the Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, said this week that Ministers have “dropped the ball” on sexual violence in schools, and that the government has “not taken seriously this issue for too long”

She picked the wrong government. The decline started in 2005, when Labour slashed Ofsted’s capacity to inspect schools properly, forced the retirement of the excellent Michael Tomlinson, and imposed its place-man, David Bell, who had famously attended Tony Blair’s victory celebrations in Downing Street and later became Permanent Secretary to the Education Department.

Bell’s changes threw away over a hundred years of experience of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools (HMI), replacing them with the New Labour Dogma of “Every Child Matters,” in which achievement, one-half of five categories, counted for only ten per cent of the judgement on a school. Indeed, Labour went further, by giving a new examinations agency, Ofqual, authority equal to that of HMI, even though it lacked the educational knowledge that underpinned the inspectorate. This error continues to haunt us.

One casualty of these “reforms” was a confidential questionnaire for pupils, given out and collected by inspectors. Pupils’ responses often indicated that more than half felt that the school was poorly disciplined, and that nothing was being done about it – an embarrassment to the government.

Its acolytes in Ofsted responded by abolishing the questionnaire and so cutting off the evidence at source. Nothing new here: Labour’s response to the Bullock Report into falling reading standards  was to abolish the test (NS6) that had identified the problem. We have not had a standardised national test since.

Inspectors under Sir Michael – the only professional inspector to be appointed to the post of HMCI – had time to talk to pupils, and to follow up indications that things might not be as they seemed. This was not always welcomed. In my tim as an inspector, one of my teams found a pattern of systematic abuse of women teachers by male pupils, including an incident in which one was sprayed with hair lacquer by a pupil after she pleaded with him not to, since she was allergic to it.

The mentor for newly qualified teachers told us that he always came to an interview with box of tissues, and a female inspector, who was also a magistrate, collated this evidence to support our judgement that behaviour was unsatisfactory.

The governors responded with fury, complaining to Ofsted (their complaint was rejected) and sacking their newly-appointed headteacher, who had immediately understood the situation, and shared the view of the inspectors. I was astonished that even female governors were prepared to go along with this, but they did.

The problem is still with us. While writing this article, I had a social media communication from a teacher who had tried to stop a group of boys from taunting a girl and calling her a slag, because she had gone out with a pupil from another year group. They laughed at her.

Her point – that she could not fight a culture of ignorance and abuse on her own – was correct. One teacher can be a rock, but the tide will flow round it. In Michael Wilshaw’s schools, or those that have picked up his torch, such behaviour would have drawn an immediate and lengthy detention at the very least, and so would not have happened.  (Sir Michael was a head teacher before becoming Chief Inspector of Schools during the Coalition years.)

Too many headteachers, however, refuse to use the powers that Conservative Ministers have given them, and so have allowed the problem to fester. Those who stand against it face abuse from parents who think their children are entitled to behave poorly, and even to assault staff. Some, such as Barry Smith, have the courage to face up to it, at whatever personal cost. Most go with the flow, which only goes in one direction.

It is neither reasonable nor possible for Ofsted to cleanse these Augean stables. Amanda Spielman, who is showing herself a worthy successor to Michael Tomlinson, is carefully rebuilding the quality and reputation of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.

She is not afraid to give the government bad news, and the quality and incisiveness of reports is improving. What she and her colleagues can’t do is investigate every aspect of a large school with a handful of inspectors over a couple of days. Efficiency is one thing, inadequate provision another.

The Government has been too slow to correct Labour’s errors, and has actually worsened the situation by not inspecting supposedly outstanding schools – the teacher I referred to above teaches in one.

“Every headteacher captain of their own ship,” has its appeal, but alongside Captain Hardy were some, like Kirby and Wade, who would not fight their ship, and then there are the likes of Captains Bligh and Pigot.

A realistic response to the present scandal might be to require each headteacher to prepare a report to their governors and publish it. Parents could then see whether matters had been properly investigated, and whether appropriate action was being taken, and only complain to Ofsted if they were not satisfied. The Government could then rectify the situation by giving Spielman and her colleagues the time and resources they need to do their job properly once again.

Matt Kilcoyne: Vaccine certification is an idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market

31 Mar

Matt Kilcoyne is Head Of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.

Since vaccines started being approved by British regulators at the very end of last year, the country has undergone a psychological transformation unlike any in my lifetime.

From fear of an unending cycle of lockdowns and limited freedoms came news from one Kate Bingham. Her work gave purpose to the privations that were coming, helped all of us that kept faith that there would be end to this disease by human ingenuity and within time to mean our actions to save lives, avoid economic scarring and adaption to a non-normal economic situation that would then have to be readjusted to soon after at even further cost too.

Given the mortality rates we’ve seen across the world and even here with extensive curtailment of our ancient liberties, it is reasonable to say the number of lives Bingham has saved alone will number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands and given greater evidence to the rightness of the choice to retain the jobs held in stasis by Bank of England furlough scheme.

These people and jobs saved through her tight and spread-bet pre-purchase agreements and the use of Britain’s comparative advantage in legal agreements, trade credit and other forward payment mechanism, and experience dealing with and preparing for rogue states that shut down exports or expropriate private property mean I fully back calls for Bingham to be elevated to a Duchess should it please Her Majesty.

The change in the psyche and morale of the British people her decisions enabled means that Cabinet can take positive decisions of true gravitas in a time of true national and international crisis. This requires careful and assured action. It might require prompt, wide impacting, and sensitive personal and national topics.

It could, let’s say for the sake of argument, include things like vaccination certificates for Covid. The idea hits all the right buttons to rile everyone in such divergent ways that they’ll talk past one another and fail to see the issues that are being discussed, why, and what is actually being proposed.

The first thing to say is that you personally have a right to full knowledge of medical data and records that are kept on you, assuming you are of appropriate age and sound mind. The governments within the UK have a near monopoly of service provision for healthcare save for all the private GPs that actually have a local duty of care to you to hold and maintain your personal records. They also can, via their contracts of supply and commissioning of care of other services with the NHS and associated parts, pass data onto third parties with your consent.

The lack of a series of principles over the free use of data between consenting individuals and third parties, and the lack of direction even by government towards the suitability or otherwise, never mind the likely legal consequences of using the data of vaccine take up to determine suitability of access to new or existing roles.

In the space provided by a lack of determination in good time, trade associations burned by huge restrictions announced against their members’ interests and often provided with evidence after the event with the scope and scale of restrictions decided by committees rather than parliament in the primary role.

All action must now and in future, and should’ve been the case throughout the pandemic, be based upon scientifically testable hypotheses, all the reasoning deduced and relied upon and all assumptions set out.

It is telling of a lack of trust between governed and government that pubs do not trust the word of a party that prides itself as being one of business to promote policies as we get back to the business of living that would enable them as far as possible now they’ve jabbed enough arms to reduce risk of reinfection and mortality.

Laws from now should be freedom-oriented to remind Tory voters that actively value the ability to enjoy the things that make life worth living they will be able to enjoy them. Around 20 per cent of publicans say they want to access punters and staff for proof of vaccines to ensure their, their staff and all of their families’ health.

The Government’s role here is to ensure that individuals have access to the ability to consent to their records being displayed by an accredited source (whether just their GP signing and by word of their bond confirming, or a company that facilitates access that across multiple GPs in a usable format for other firms without contravening data protection rules).

We know well the issue of mission creep with ID cards a totemic Tory issue after the defeat of Tony Blair’s flagship policy and David Davis’ whole career centred around civil liberties. But this is a facilitation not a coercion or anything mandated. Even if Blair is a principle agent of the campaign to promote their use — and I share concerns about the number of meetings he has had with serious ministers and civil servants on the topic given a the financial gain any company could get from providing either national or international accreditation of such valuable information on behalf of an individual. And elsewhere yellow fever and rabies certificates are in use regularly when crossing borders. Nigeria could teach us a thing or two about digital storage and transfer of said data and forgeries still emerging.

Government can signal intent on rejection of mandate by declaring it will not check status upon leaving the country or ahead of access to existing NHS services. The areas where people will encounter officialdom most keenly.

Liberalism demands freedoms to associate and self organise, and Conservativism demands the liberties of the individual by upheld by institutions acting in their care. Vaccine certification is actually a simple idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market. Let’s let them, and keep an eye on vested interests with cosy relationships benefiting friends for sure. But let’s enable anything that let’s us live our lives again.