Adrian Lee: How we could all learn from William F. Buckley Jnr

31 Jul

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Fifty-three years ago, on Saturday 3 August 1968, at the start of one of the most closely fought American Presidential campaigns in post-war history, two men with impeccable manners and matching mid-Atlantic accents entered the ABC outside broadcast studio above the Republican Convention arena in Miami Beach, Florida, for the first in a series of debates from the two great nominating conventions.

In the Left corner was Democrat-supporting Gore Vidal, novelist, snob, raconteur and public wit. Whilst over on the Right, was the equally erudite Republican William F. Buckley Jnr. Each night they would exchange not only their contrasting political opinions, but also increasingly bitter sardonic barbs and put-downs.

The viewers loved it and the ratings grew. It culminated on 28 August at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, with tensions riding high and Police tear gas seeping into the hall from the Vietnam War protesting “Yippy” riots outside, with the two men almost coming to blows.

Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” for supporting the Police action, with Buckley responding, “Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the face and you’ll stay plastered.” The exchange went down in political history, but there was a lot more to Buckley than this brief loss of temper.

William F. Buckley Jnr was born in New York City on 24 November 1925, the sixth child of a Texas-born, Irish Catholic, oil baron. Whilst the family officially resided in Sharon, Connecticut, Bill spent much of his childhood in Mexico, where his father’s oil business was based.

Buckley first came to public attention in 1951 with the publication of ‘God and Man’ at Yale, which exposed the university (and his own alma mater) as a bastion of Left-Liberal dogma. The book examined the academic course materials used and the political bias expressed in classes by individual tutors.

Buckley argued that Yale was undermining student’s faith in Christianity, and promoting economic collectivism. Keynesian and socialist theory were taught as fact, and the opposing arguments were ignored. When teaching vacancies occurred, academics appointed those of the same opinion. To counter this, Buckley urged alumni on the university’s controlling board to exert their influence over academic appointments and enforce a broader curriculum.

The Left’s reaction to the publication of God and Man at Yale was one of outrage. McGeorge Bundy, academic and future National Security Advisor to both JFK and LBJ, called Buckley a “violent, twisted and ignorant young man”, and questioned both the “honesty of his method” and the “measure of his intelligence”. Another academic, Frank Ashburn, even suggested that Buckley should wear KKK rather than graduate robes.

Buckley would later remark of the intellectual elite: “I am obliged to confess that I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

William Buckley had an evangelical zeal to re-launch conservatism as a viable philosophy in America. He believed that a new, younger, broad-based movement needed to be created, uniting traditionalists, libertarians and anti-communists. In 1955, he launched a Conservative fortnightly periodical, the ‘National Review’. In its first editorial, entitled ‘Our Mission Statement’, on 19 November 1955, Buckley wrote:

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urges it so.”

It is hard to over-estimate the political impact and importance of National Review. Buckley, as Editor-in-Chief from its inception until 1990, brought together contributors from all strands of Conservative opinion. Over time, National Review developed its own blend of conservatism based on the free market, the rule of law and opposition to the spread of Soviet Communism.

Buckley concluded the decade with the publication of the polemic ‘Up from Liberalism’ in 1959. Of all of his works, this slim volume, containing a sharp critique of Liberal prejudices, probably has the greatest resonance today. Over 60 years ago Buckley wrote:

“I think it is fair to conclude that American Liberals are reluctant to co-exist with anyone on the Right…when a conservative speaks up demandingly, he runs the greatest risk of triggering the Liberal mania; and before you know it, the ideologist of open-mindedness and tolerance is hurtling towards you, lance cocked.”

During the 1960’s Buckley worked at a ferocious pace on new projects. In 1960, he formed the conservative youth movement, Young Americans for Freedom. In 1962, Buckley started writing a twice weekly syndicated column entitled ‘On the Right’, which appeared in 320 newspapers across the USA. In 1964, he was one of the principal drivers behind Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination.

In 1965, following the selection of John Lindsay, a bizarrely Left-wing Republican Party candidate supported by the New York Liberal Party, in the contest for the New York Mayoralty, Buckley joined the tiny New York State Conservative Party and stood as their candidate. This would be the only occasion that he would run for public office, and his campaign trail experiences would later be shared in his next book, ‘The Unmaking of the Mayor’.

He started the campaign with a humorous quip that almost backfired. When asked at a press conference what would be the first thing that he would do if elected Mayor, Buckley remarked “demand a recount”.

At that time, the New York electorate were treated by mainstream politicians as members of competing voting blocks. It was common practice to play off one ethnic or religious community against the other. Buckley was the first candidate to reject this approach and to treat voters as individuals:

“I will not go to Irish centres and go dancing. I will not go to Jewish centres and eat blintzes, nor will I go to Italian centres and pretend to speak Italian.”

Buckley stood on a manifesto of unbridled conservatism in a liberal metropolis at the height of the 1960s. He fought for zero tolerance of crime, low taxes, curbs on welfare, workfare for the long-term unemployed and the rehabilitation of drug addicts in residential hospitals.

His opponents at first tried to ignore him, and then attempted to smear him. However, Buckley’s humour shone through, and he finished in a highly respectable third place. The significance of the 1965 campaign is the amount of publicity he garnered for conservative opinions across the country.

A few months later, in 1966, PBS gave him his own weekly TV interview show, ‘Firing Line’. This programme was destined to be broadcast for 33 years, and the guests read like a lexicon of conservatives. Many episodes can now be viewed for free on the internet and British readers may find the interviews with Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell of particular interest.

Buckley’s peak of political influence came with the election of his friend, Ronald Reagan, to the Presidency. His final book, ‘The Reagan I Knew’, provides a touching insight into the relationship that he and his wife Pat had with both Ron and Nancy. The couples spent weekends and holidays together, and maintained a humorous written correspondence for over thirty years.

When Reagan became President, Buckley joked that he was not interested in a government appointment apart from as US Ambassador to Afghanistan, then under Soviet occupation and without American representation. Subsequent letters from Reagan to Buckley would always be addressed to “His Excellency”, and addressed to “The Bunker, Kabul”.

William F. Buckley Jnr, journalist, broadcaster, candidate, political organiser and author of over 50 books, died aged 82 in 2008. For over half a century he championed conservatism in the American media, and helped develop the movement’s organisational skills. We could all learn from his legacy

Adrian Lee: Happy birthday Thomas Sowell – the last great conservative thinker of the 20th century

30 Jun

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

The sad passing last year of Sir Roger Scruton highlighted the apparent lack of conservative thinkers waiting to inherit his mantle. For many, this is a direct result of the academic establishment promoting only those of uniform socialist opinions and one could be forgiven for believing that conservative intellectuals had become an extinct species.

Thankfully, there are still some bearers of the flame, notably Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts. However, if one were to ask members of the politically-informed public the question “who is the greatest living conservative thinker today?”, many would be surprised to learn that one of the main claimants of that distinction was one Thomas Sowell, a black American born into poverty 91 years ago today.

The breadth of Sowell’s work is formidable. The author of over 50 books, he has examined subjects as diverse as economics, racial inequality, cultural history, intellectualism, Marxism, housing, school provision and late-developing children. For the past 40 years, Sowell has been one of principle critics of so-called “affirmative action” policies, believing that such as an approach hinders the advancement of minorities.

Thomas Sowell was born on June 30 1930 in rural North Carolina, in a home with no electricity or running water. Sowell’s father died before he was born and his mother, who worked as a maid and later remarried, died in childbirth when Thomas was still an infant. The orphaned Sowell was adopted by a great aunt living in Charlotte, North Carolina, who raised him as her own son.

The world that Thomas was born into was both poor and harsh for black people, with the institutionalised “Jim Crow” segregation system restricting the ambitions of those wishing to advance themselves. Nobody in his family had gone beyond seventh grade at school. Thomas’s adopted parents realised this and moved the family to New York City when he was eight years old.

Henceforth, Sowell lived in Harlem. Like many of his contemporaries, he dropped out of school at the age of 16 without any academic qualifications, was described by a local magistrate as “a wayward minor” and eventually became the resident of a Bronx shelter for homeless boys, where he slept with a knife under his pillow for protection.

Sowell moved from job to job. For a time, he was a Western Union Messenger, then a labourer in a machine shop, where Sowell recalls that the foreman lent him money to buy food. A friend took him to a public library for the first time, which Sowell would later describe as “…a turning point in my life, for then I developed the habit of reading books.” He went on to purchase a set of encyclopaedias for the princely sum of $1.17 and discovered Karl Marx. For most of his twenties, Sowell remained a convinced Marxist. He later explained “The ideas seemed to explain so much and explain it in a way to which my grim experience made me very receptive.”

Reflecting on his hard origins, Sowell was to comment many decades later: “It gave me a lasting respect for the common sense of ordinary people, a factor routinely ignored by the intellectuals among whom I would later make my career. This was a blind spot in much of their social analysis which I did not have to contend with.”

It seems that another great turning point in Sowell’s life came with the Korean War, where he was to serve in the U.S. Marines. After demobilisation, he was determined not to return to his previous life. While working in a civil service job in Washington D.C., Sowell attended night classes at a traditionally black college, Howard University.

From Howard, he was destined to win a scholarship to Harvard University, where he was awarded a BA in economics. The following year Sowell attained his MA from Columbia University and in 1968 received a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago. At Chicago, Sowell studied under such classical liberal luminaries as George Stigler, Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek. It is tempting to attribute his conversion from Marxism to these intellectually formidable influences, but Sowell has always maintained that his rejection of socialism came from practical experience.

During one university summer holiday, he took a job in the Department of Labour researching minimum wage laws. Sowell states that he came to realise that the decisions taken by those charged with serving the public were often guided by their own set of incentives and interests. He lost his faith in the ability of the state to effect change and gradually turned to believing in the power of the individual as the most potent facilitator of progress and reform in society.

Sowell supported the Civil Rights legislation of the 60s, but soon became suspicious of the motives of certain black leaders and the direction that the movement was taking. He disagreed with what he perceived as “…an obsessive fixation with racism at the expense of more practical, developmental concerns.” He rejected the concept of reverse discrimination in support of black students and believed that such moves were counter-productive to black achievement.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sowell held several academically prestigious positions at Brandeis University, Amherst College, Cornell University (Assistant Professor) and U.C.L.A (Professor). However, by 1980, he was ready to set aside teaching and devote the rest of his life to research. Since that time, Sowell has been Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Thomas Sowell has always possessed a genuine curiosity about human society and argues that we should see people as they are and not as utopians think that they ought to be. In his study Knowledge and Decisions (1980), Sowell built on Hayek’s work on the uses and dissemination of human knowledge. He argued that all humans are members of overlapping institutions, such as families, churches, schools and work-places, and it is these units that coordinate the knowledge and experience of previous generations. Therefore, the knowledge required to make decisions for an entire society cannot be harnessed by any solitary individual or government department.

In A Conflict of Visions (1987), Sowell assessed the reasons why most people in western societies fall into one of two distinct political camps. He argues that this separation comes down to different human visions: the constrained and the unconstrained. The constrained vision accepts tragedy as an unavoidable part of society and seeks to make the best of things, while the unconstrained vision sees human tragedy as evidence that someone is to blame and society is capable of being fixed in order to return humans to their “natural state of goodness”.

Arguably, Sowell’s greatest achievement is the trilogy Race and Culture (1995), Migrations and Cultures (1996) and Conquests and Cultures (1998). He spent over a decade travelling the world to discover why there existed huge disparities in wealth between different nations and civilisations. He found that there were many examples of persecuted minority groups around the world who start in poverty and go onto achieve great success. Sowell found that the determining factors in a group’s advancement are skills, work habits, attitudes, norms and values inherited from a cultural past. These he calls the group’s “human capital”.

Sowell’s work started with economics but has since moved into the realms of philosophy and history. Throughout his career he has stayed faithful to a belief that all political propositions should be based upon meticulous research and firm empirical evidence. At the remarkable age of 91, he is still writing and examining new areas of human experience. Happy birthday Professor Sowell, the last great conservative thinker of the 20th century.

Adrian Lee: Nord Stream 2. How Russia could turn off half Germany’s gas supply – and so threaten our collective security.

21 Jun

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Some political issues – such as Climate Change, female circumcision and African debt relief – become truly internationalised over the passage of time. Gatherings of world leaders see these subjects set high on the agenda for discussion and the press released closing statements at such events are dominated by worthy platitudes calling for greater global action.

By contrast, other matters with the potential to change the world order draw far less attention. One issue that has largely failed to focus the comment of the media pack is the imminent opening of the Nord Steam 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

On the Friday 11th June – ironically, the very day that the G7 leaders arrived in Cornwall – commissioning works to fill the pipeline with gas began. Whilst many have vaguely heard of the controversy, few realise the possible impact of Nord Stream 2 upon the defence of the United Kingdom.

Nord Steam 2 starts at Vyborg in Russia, threads its way through the Baltic Sea, passing Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and terminates in Griefswald, Germany.

Few would dispute that the project represents a triumph of modern engineering. Like its already operational predecessor, Nord Stream 1, this underwater marvel has the capacity to pump approximately 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year from Russia directly into Germany.

Even before the fuel starts pumping down the new line, Germany has already attained the status of the world’s largest user of natural gas, 94 per cent of which has to be imported, and 40 per cent of that total is supplied by Putin’s Russia.

Dependency upon this particular source is likely to increase significantly in the near future, as the so-called “Energiewende” policy announced in 2010 has already terminated most of Germany’s nuclear power, with the remaining six reactors scheduled to be phased out by 2022. When this plan was first trumpeted, the German government was confident that “renewables” would make up for the loss of nuclear power, but alas this has yet to transpire and consequently the wheels of German industry are more dependent on natural gas than ever before. No wonder then that Germany has some of the highest energy prices in the world and that the average German consumer has to pay double the cost of the equally average American.

Nord Stream 2 AG is owned by Gazprom, a Russian state-owned company, and its CEO is one Matthias Warnig, a former intelligence officer in the East German Stasi. The main source of the natural gas for the pipeline can be found in the Yuzhno-Russhoye field, located in Krasnoselkupsky, Tyumen Oblast. When one realises that oil and gas are responsible for more than 60 per cent of Russia’s exports and provide over 30% of the country’s GDP, you can understand why the Kremlin is so enthusiastic about this project. Russia certainly intends to make a lot of money out of wealthy Germany and is therefore not planning to suspend supplies, but should she feel the need to do so in the future, she faces no legal obstacle, as Russia is not a signatory to the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty, that provided safeguards to supply.

Why should Britain be concerned about this Russo-German oil deal? Well, mainly because of the military dimension. Sweden and Poland have voiced grave concerns about the Russian Navy using Nord Stream 2’s presence as a pretence for increased military intelligence gathering and intensified patrolling in the Baltic Sea. However, there is a much greater reason for worry.

NATO has been the cornerstone of the West’s defence for seven decades and, until the end of 1991, the main strategic opponent of NATO was the USSR. Following the collapse of Soviet Communism, the organisation changed its emphasis to the broad founding principle of collective security. In other words, an attack on one member is an attack on all – hence the participation of European NATO members in the Afghanistan theatre after 9/11.

The Russian war with Georgia in 2008, the protracted conflict over the Ukraine since 2014 and the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war refocused NATO’s attention on the increasing threat from the east. The 2016 NATO Summit, held in Warsaw, set the conditions for the establishment of an enhanced “Forward Presence” in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to strengthen the line against Russian forces.

There are currently 900 British military personnel in these states, along with allies from France and Denmark. There can be no doubt that Putin’s Russia is today the main threat to NATO on the European continent.

Since the inception of NATO, the involvement of Germany (originally West Germany) has been pivotal. Prior to 1989, Germany formed the frontline and prospective battlefield in any conflict, contributed an effective military force and provided a permanent base for US and British forces.

During recent decades ,it is arguable that Germany’s attention has turned towards the costly projects of re-building the old GDR territories and pushing for a federal Europe but, geographically, the country provides a vital link with the eastern NATO members in terms of supply. An effective NATO without wholehearted German participation remains unthinkable.

Unfortunately, Germany’s armed forces are currently in a pretty parlous state. Despite the pressure from the Trump Administration, Germany is yet to come close to contributing the two per cent of GDP agreed by all NATO countries in 2006. She only spent 1.2 per cent of GDP in 2019.

No surprise, then, that Germany’s arsenal is so decrepit. The main battle tank, the Leopard 2, entered service in 1979 and, of the 183 that the German state possesses, only 101 are estimated to be operational.

In 2014, it was reported that a significant number of German military aircraft were “unserviceable”. In terms of assault aircraft, Germany possesses 60 aging Tornados and 141 Eurofighters. However, it has been claimed that only half of these are airworthy, and one estimate states that just 12 of the Tornados are currently operational. Recently, Germany has ordered another 38 Eurofighters, but they are hardly likely to make the Russians quake in their flying boots.

By contrast, since 2012, Russian ground forces have received more than 15,500 pieces of weapons systems and equipment, twelve missile regiments have been rearmed with Yars ICBM’s and 10 missile brigades with Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems.

Overall, Russian has a million active-duty personnel in its armed forces, 2,300 modern battle tanks, 1,200 new helicopters and assault planes, 50 state of the art surface ships, 28 submarines and a 100 shiny new satellites for communication, command and control. Vladimir Putin spends 4.3 per cent of GDP on the Russian armed forces – in part thanks to the healthy financial contribution made by his trading partner Germany.

Under the circumstances, we are surely entitled to ask whether Germany’s commitment to NATO is likely to remain as wholehearted in the era of Nord Stream 2. Is Germany really going to go out on a limb for, say, the Baltic States and Poland when, at the turn of a tap Russia could cut off over half of her energy supply? Or is Germany gradually going to slide down the road to a slightly more neutralist position in the years ahead – to paraphrase William Hague “In NATO, but not run by NATO.”

One thing is for certain: in the absence of an effective backup plan for energy supply to Germany in the event of conflict with Russia, Angela Merkel’s government has handed Putin the ability to paralyse her country, and potentially the whole of western defence.

Adrian Lee: Delays, filth,Traveller’s Fare, Savile, Gary Glitter – and a failed service. Beware of Ministers re-inventing British Rail.

7 Jun

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

With the recent Transport Secretary’s announcement of the creation of a state-run entity called “Great British Railways”, my mind was cast back to the time of railway privatisation. In 1993, I was one of the four National Vice-Chairmen of the Young Conservatives. One evening we met the newly-ennobled Lord Tebbit for an informal drink in a House of Lords to update him on the current health of the Young Conservatives.

Whilst he was perfectly polite, he was nonetheless pre-occupied with the detail of the Railways Bill then passing through Parliament. He was deeply concerned, believing the Bill to be so poorly drafted that it could only lead to long-term chaos, and would ultimately discredit privatisation in principle.

The legislation facilitated the break-up of British Rail into 100 companies, with contracts having to be approved by two separate quangos, the Office of Rail and Road and the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising. With the greatest reluctance, Tebbit stated that he would have to vote for this flawed Bill – because he thought that it was essential to harness private capital and management skills, and end the disaster of the nationalised British Rail.

British Rail was indeed a disaster. In its 49 year existence, all taxpayers (many of whom never used trains) were forced to pay the entire cost of the network. Because no private investment was allowed, it was continually susceptible to spending cuts. The entrepreneurial spirit associated with the pre-war privately-owned railways was replaced by disinterested state bureaucracy.

After 1948, the railways were seen as a “public service” rather than a business, and so customer service deteriorated rapidly. Railway employees had their jobs guaranteed, so they had no reason to inconvenience themselves for the mere commuter. Timetables bore little resemblance to reality, and thousands of trains were late or cancelled every year. Most of the rolling stock was ancient, Waiting Rooms on stations were filthy (frequently vandalised and stinking of urine). And the food served in Traveller’s Fare buffets, particularly the notorious British Rail sandwich, became a national joke on variety shows and sitcoms.

No wonder that British Rail never reached profitability: by 1961, it was losing £300,000 a day. A year later, British Railways recorded an annual loss of £104 million (£2.24 billion in 2019 terms). All of this occurred despite the fact that closures of railway lines started in the late 1940s, and already 3,000 miles of track had been left abandoned.

With public money metaphorically seeping through gaps between the railway sleepers, the Macmillan government had ordered a major organisational shake-up. A new structure was put in place and the first Chairman of the new British Railways Board, Richard Beeching, was appointed.

Beeching thought that he had the solution: even deeper cuts and closures. Being a nationalised industry, and so traditionally unconcerned with such commercial concerns as ticket sales and customer demand, no data existed to show which lines were profitable or essential.

A major traffic census therefore had to be undertaken, but Beeching didn’t waste time carrying it out methodically – and so the entire fate of the railway network came down to a survey that took place over the course of one week during April 1961. Stories abound of researchers turning up at empty railway stations in the mid-morning and marking them off for closure, whilst being oblivious to the fact that the same stations were heavily used in peak hours. The resulting report, The Reshaping of British Railways, was published in 1963 and recommended the closure of a third of all passenger services.

Not all of the suggested cuts were implemented – some were reprieved by dodgy political lobbying in marginal constituencies. However, conversely, many essential services bit the dust, leaving several major towns without rail transport. The whole effort was both rushed and ham-fisted. Labour, in Opposition until 1964, opposed Beeching’s Report, but implemented it in full when they returned to power. The cuts made a saving of around £30 million a year, but overall loses continued to run at over £100 million.

By the 1970s, British Rail was as much controlled by the trades unions as by the civil service. Whenever a modernisation was suggested, it had to be thrashed out first with belligerent union bosses for fear of strike action. The unions loved the nationalised system as it was so much easier holding politicians to ransom than private employers. When commuters cannot get to work for lack of trains, they usually blame the body running the railways. When the state owns the railway, the government is always to blame. Politicians hate unpopularity and, on this basis, pay rises are granted frequently. This continues to be the case for the one major British railway that was never privatised: the London Underground. Few will forget the late Bob Crow in a hurry.

In the final years leading up to privatisation, British Rail turned to public relations to paper over the cracks. First, they employed Jimmy Saville as their salesman heralding “The Age of the Train”. Then, after they dropped Saville when sexual rumours first started circulating, they turned to Gary Glitter to promote the Young Person’s Railcard. The last notable advertising slogan of British Rail was the almost desperate “We’re getting there”.

Privatisation led to the rejuvenation of Britain’s railway network. New rolling stock provided greater passenger comfort and safety, as well as faster services. There is now a better choice in food outlets in stations. Cancellations and delays have been slashed, and journey numbers have risen from 761 million in 1995 to 1.75 billion in 2019.

According to the rail regulator, 59 per cent of current service delays result from the actions of Network Rail, the section that continues to be nationalised, not the private contractors.  Lew Adams, the former General Secretary of ASLEF who went to work for Virgin Rail Group after privatisation, said in 2004: “All the time it was in the public sector, all we got was cuts, cuts, cuts. And today there are more members in the trades union, more train drivers and more trains running. The reality is that it worked, we’ve protected jobs and we got more jobs.”

So what went wrong? Under the 1993 Act, private companies lacked the competitive freedom enjoyed by businesses in other sectors. The state retained control over the tracks and stations, dictated timetables, maintained fare levels and prevented competition between different contractors on the same lines.

Unlike other countries such as Japan, British train operators were forced to operate with one arm tied behind their backs by the government. In 2009, a group called the “Campaign to Bring Back British Rail” was established, and the myth was promoted that British train fare levels were significantly higher than on the continent. The Left seized upon this – believing that the railways gave them the best opportunity to reverse a major privatisation. Sadly, very few Conservatives or right-leaning think tanks fought back against this campaign with the facts.

We have yet to hear the full details of the government’s proposals for the railways, but one thing should be clear from past experience: nationalisation does not work. For over forty years, Conservatives struggled trying to manage Labour’s statist model of operation. It was not ideology that drove the Major Government to railway privatisation, but common sense. It is imperative that we don’t stray accidentally back down the same intellectual cul-de-sac of thinking that government can run business.

Adrian Lee: Rent to Buy could allow the Government to revive the dream of a property-owning democracy

28 May

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence. He served as a London Borough Councillor for 20 years and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. Between 1994 and 1995 he served as Chairman of the National Young Conservatives.

Whilst we await the publication of the forthcoming White Paper, the Government’s “Levelling Up” agenda is currently focused on increasing state expenditure on a range of public services and urban infrastructure, establishing a series of freeports and promoting adult re-training. All very costly, but potentially highly worthy.

However, nothing much there to grab the imagination of the voters and turbocharge their drive to the polls. Likewise, the impact of “the offer” could be even less if underlying economic circumstances conspire to reduce the levels of intended expenditure.

I believe that the Conservatives need to take a more radical step. Since the era of “Villa Conservatism” under Lord Salisbury, Conservatives have realised that there exists a correlation between the ownership of property (and the realistic ambition of owning property in the foreseeable future) and voting for our Party.

The Conservatives alone are indelibly associated the policy of wider-spread home ownership. The Labour Party traditionally favours collectivism to enforce economic equality. The Liberals had no ideological objection to private property, but in practice they did little to encourage the spread of home ownership amongst the working classes. In the early Twentieth Century.

Later, the Liberals were obsessed with outbidding the infant Labour Party, and after the Second World War they supported the mixed economy consensus and restricted their idealism to dreams of a federal Europe.

In contrast, the Conservatives proudly attached themselves to the housing construction boom of the inter-war years that resulted in ‘Metroland’ and the building of millions of still enduring semi-detached homes. By the 1959, they were showing the archetypal nuclear family sitting around the family dining table beneath the slogan “Life’s Better with the Conservatives”. The message of both comfort and aspiration was transparent.

The Conservative identification with home ownership reached its peak with Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy legislation in the 1980s. Since then, with the notable exception of a few discounts and subsidies, the Conservatives have left general housing provision to the market whilst supporting housing associations in the public sector.

A combination of internal population growth, paucity of development land, large-scale immigration, and enforcement of strict planning controls has resulted in insufficient homes being constructed. Unsurprisingly, demand outstripping supply has led to an astronomical increase in prices over the past three decades, often to the point where the average double-incomed middle-class family can no longer contemplate home ownership without parental assistance.

Failure to recognise the extent of this problem led to the near catastrophic blunder in the 2017 Conservative election manifesto of linking payment of social care bills to the sale of existing family homes.

Many middle-class children, fast approaching middle-age, are left banking on their inheritance as their only guarantee of property ownership. In effect, the message that the Conservatives inadvertently sent out was that, with salaries relatively stagnant, henceforth property ownership was only for the wealthy and many of those raised in privately-owned homes would just have to get used to living in rented accommodation for the foreseeable future.

Instead of raising themselves up higher, this generation were faced with sliding down the social scale. This often was a particularly bitter pill to swallow as the younger members of the family were often better educated than their forebear,  and had been reared on their parent’s belief that hard work and qualifications would secure their future prosperity.

No wonder then that the Conservatives have increasingly lost support amongst graduates in the 30-40 age bracket. We often attribute this phenomenon to their indoctrination by socialist academics in student years, but it is arguably just as dependent on the decline in property-ownership, with all the insecurities that this brings with the approach of old age. Many now possess the education of the middle class, but none of the means to support their desired lifestyle.

If future prospects of home ownership are daunting for the middle-class, they are far worse for the working class. Here the notion of property ownership is little more than a fantasy. The private rented sector is increasingly expensive due to over-regulation and the only alternative held out by Labour is a lifetime on a council estate. Council and Housing Association homes provide immediate security, but, in practice, the quality of life is always dependent on the housing allocation policies of the local authority.

Into this already problematic situation one has to factor the impact of continuing population growth and immigration. Last year the Government issued an invitation to British passport holders in Hong Kong to come to live in the UK. This was a noble gesture, but with a maximum entry of up to three million people it is obvious that it could have a massive impact on home ownership.

I believe that the Government can turn this situation around and make the resulting policy the flagship of “Levelling Up”. Conservatives must oversee the construction of millions of attractive, high-quality family homes, and be prepared to heavily subsidise this programme. The drab municipal uniformity of the consensus years has to be replaced by innovative design and physical individualism of each new home. Prince Charles’s Poundbury should provide inspiration.

However, this is not a plea for the government to construct more state-controlled houses. These homes are not intended to be operated as “social housing” in perpetuity.

The Party must adopt an ambitious Rent to Buy policy. The state will assist with the cost of construction and overseeing of the project, but the people who move into these properties do so with the intention of purchasing them by paying a higher level of rent over a 30-year period. Conservatives can both relieve overcrowding and extend home ownership simultaneously, without the beneficiaries being burdened by the prohibitive cost of deposits and the banks having to issue unstable mortgages. A successful Rent to Buy scheme holds out the prospect of a tangible material improvement in the lives of people throughout England.

When a councillor, I used to discuss this concept with colleagues, but, ironically, it was the Liberal Democrats who first officially adopted the policy in 2017. Foolishly, they never developed or sold the concept and instead defaulted to plugging their European obsession to the point of electoral destruction.

However, the Liberal Democrat policy was, in my opinion, rather too cautious. They envisaged that it would only be open to those who were already able to attain a conventional mortgage and stated that it was not intended as a replacement for social housing. Conservatives have to go further. If we want to live in a society where the majority own their own home, we need to be prepared to give every assistance to working families to do so. That will be costly, but it is infinitely preferable to blustering into a massive emergency programme of council house building, which could be the consequence of continued inaction.

Rent to Buy provides a route out of dependency and towards a future private ownership. There is no doubt that a huge amount of research will have to be done into the potential benefits and pitfalls of such an ambitious scheme, but this process must start now and the final policy must be settled and adopted before the next general election.

The constituents of Hartlepool showed recently that they were fed up with Labour’s socialist offer and were looking for an alternative Conservative proposal to improve their lives. Rent to Buy might just be the jewel in the crown of Boris’s agenda and the signature policy for which he will be known by future generations.

Adrian Lee: A visit to Romford shows how the Conservatives can campaign effectively

17 May

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence. He served as a London Borough Councillor for 20 years and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. Between 1994 and 1995 he served as Chairman of the National Young Conservatives.

On the eve of the London Mayoral and London Assembly elections, I spent the day campaigning. There is nothing very unusual about that, after all I have been helping on Conservative campaigns for decades. An old friend called Dinah (who just happened to be the local area Chairman) asked if I could lend a hand. However, this time there was something very different about the Constituency Association I visited and the style of organisation that the locals have crafted.

The moment I stepped into the Association office, it became apparent that the atmosphere was different. The first thing that struck me was the central direction of the campaign. Led by the redoubtable Sue, the organisers were working to a strict timetable and had worked out the specifics of what needed to be achieved. There was a great camaraderie here. It was also noticeable that this building was cleaner than most local Conservative premises, with the rooms attractively tiled, painted, and refitted. It gave the instant impression of a more professional working environment. Sue showed me the newly renovated MP’s office and commented on the importance of putting on a good face for visiting constituents at surgeries. Clearly, this Association raised enough funds to cover the costs of maintenance.

A quick perusal of the tables in the main committee room revealed that the literature for door-to-door delivery, despite this being a pan-London election, had been skilfully tailored to each ward. Not only were the leaflets promoting the Mayoral and GLA candidate, but also featured high-quality photographs and contact details of the sitting ward councillors. What was the point of this? Simple, the London Borough council elections take place in 12 months time; the Councillors need to be kept in the public eye; and promoting the ward councillors is not going to distract from the current contest. A closer inspection revealed the leaflets focused on highly localised issues of concern to constituents. Rather than indulging in Labour-bashing, the literature emphasised the dedicated service offered to the community by the Conservatives.

I was then whisked over by car to join the local Member of Parliament and his canvass team working the streets. My driver was a 22-year-old politics graduate called Ben who had worked previously as a Research Assistant to a GLA Member. The first thing that struck me about Ben was his enthusiasm and zeal. This was not just someone who was conscripted reluctantly to help for the day. He was enjoying himself. He was articulate, subtle, and fluent in political discussion and reminded me of my own youth in the 1980s when Young Conservatives and Conservative Students saw themselves as evangelists for Conservatism.

Ben explained that all of the homes in the constituency had already been leafleted on multiple occasions during the campaign and the delivery teams were continuing with this process right up to polling day. Locally, the Conservatives have built an extensive network of deliverers across all of the wards in the constituency. Many of these helpers are not fully paid-up members of the Party, but they are kept in touch all year around and are invited to Association functions. Most importantly, both the local councillors and the MP personally visit the deliverers regularly. Ben told me that the Association continues campaigning between election times with ward newsletters being continuously produced. This local team have adopted an approach akin to the Liberal Democrats in their prime. With the delivery networks firmly in place and the literature flowing through all the letterboxes in constituency, the rest of the Association can concentrate on everything from canvassing to social media.

I stepped out of Ben’s car to be greeted by the MP and his canvass team at around 2pm. Given the fact that this was a weekday, it was quite surprising to me that there were eight volunteers in the group. I was told that whilst the members of the group rotated, they always kept to this number. The team started their work in the morning and continued through to the evening.

The first innovative thing that I noted was that they were not using the old-fashioned methods of canvassing. For a start, the team were less concerned with obtaining thousands of pledges and more interested in meeting and speaking to people. After years of doing this job, they have created their own best-practice rules and have come to realise that having 40,000 pledges (as preached by CCHQ) is not always the best use of their time and resources. Firstly, all of the gathered pledges would have to be input into a database, taking hundreds of precious campaign hours and, secondly, it dawned upon them that it would be impossible to knock-up this number on polling day. So, instead, the locals adopt a more personal conversational approach with constituents. You may think that this would take longer, but in practice they get through the work quicker and it enables them to cover the entire constituency a couple of times during a typical election campaign.

The impact of the new method is immediately apparent. The politeness and enthusiasm that I found on the doorstep was surprising. Many of the voters knew the MP on a first name basis, having met him on numerous occasions over the years, and the councillors were greeted in a similar fashion. On the day that I attended, the feeling on the doorstep was very good for the Conservatives. Even some of the people who told me that they intended to vote Labour stated that they respected the local Conservatives and liked some of their local personalities.

The canvass team represented a cross-section of modern society. Recruitment is not a problem for the Conservatives in this constituency. I first spoke to Christine, a middle-aged Conservative councillor, and a retired gentleman who had been a former Mayor in a neighbouring Borough. However, there was also Ellie, a recent Oxford PPE graduate and Scott, another young graduate, who worked as assistant to the MP. Far from being “pale, male and stale”, the team later was joined by Ekin, a young man born in Istanbul, and two sitting female Asian Councillors. Later, back at the Association office, I met Michael an Afro-Caribbean Conservative Councillor and former Mayor of the Borough. However, I got the impression that all of these folk had been drawn together out of a very strong bond to the core Conservative principles of the free market, the constitution, and, above all, patriotism. Their strong political convictions spurred them on to greater endeavours.

Unfortunately, I had to leave this merry band at around 7.30pm that evening. But the next day they would increase the Conservative majority in their London Assembly constituency from 1,400 to 15,000. This is actually not so surprising when you consider that the MP for this once Labour-held seat obtained over 64 per cent of the vote in the 2019 General Election. So, you may be asking, where is this extraordinary constituency Conservative Association? The answer is Romford and their Member of Parliament is Andrew Rosindell.

For years the Party has dismissed Rosindell and his Romford Conservative Association as both slightly eccentric and atypical. They sometimes smirk at the style of his grassroots campaigns without bothering to notice that the structural substance could be successfully replicated in hundreds of other constituencies throughout the country. He has tailored a bespoke organisation that dominates the political landscape. Ask yourself, wouldn’t we have better served if we deployed at least some of these organisational methods in the marginal constituencies of South Wales?

When the General Election comes, the Conservatives will be campaigning for an unprecedented fifth consecutive term in government. Our success will depend on holding onto marginal constituencies in working-class communities. It is imperative that CCHQ does not just take the outcome for granted and run a generic, centralised, sterile campaign. Neither should they impose the outdated methods of the 1950s on the constituencies, such as four leaflets per campaign and the rest of the time spent on register-bound individual canvassing. Now is the time for re-building the grassroots structures. It is also time for them to put their pride in their pocket and to recruit Rosindell to the cause.

Adrian Lee: Erhard’s economic miracle has lessons for Britain and Germany today

16 Jan

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence. He served as a London Borough Councillor for 20 years and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. Between 1994 and 1995, he served as Chairman of the National Young Conservatives.

On Tuesday 30 June 2020, amidst fear of economic collapse in the wake of the lockdown, the Prime Minister made a speech evoking the memory of Franklin Roosevelt and signalling his own willingness for government to intervene in the economy and launch their own “New Deal” to stimulate growth.

The message from Boris Johnson was that desperate times required drastic measures. Fair enough, but maybe we should consider the example of Germany in the immediate post-war years before we leap into a Keynesian spending spree?

At the end of the Second World War the German economic structure lay in ruins. It is hard today to contemplate the physical destruction caused by ground fighting, aerial bombing, population displacement, genocide, and Nazi demolitions of vital infrastructure. Millions of people had seen their homes destroyed and malnutrition and disease were starting to spread throughout the country.

Yet within a decade the newly created Federal Republic of Germany had started to enjoy a prosperity that would last until the present. One person was principally responsible for this turnaround: Ludwig Erhard.

Erhard was born on 4 February 1897 in the town of Furth, adjacent to Nuremberg. His father, originally of peasant stock, owned a small clothing shop which he had started himself in 1888 and had married the daughter of a glassblower. At the age of three, Erhard suffered an infantile paralysis that left him with a deformity of the right foot that led him to having to wear orthopaedic shoes for the rest of his life. He was at best a mediocre primary school pupil and when it came to him moving on to secondary education he was sent to a vocational school.

By attending this school, he was automatically excluded from going on to university, as vocational schools did not offer the Arbitur certificate required to enter higher education. Therefore, faced with few other options, in 1913 Erhard embarked on an apprenticeship at a textile firm in Nuremberg.

Despite having doubts about the Great War, he volunteered for military service in 1916 and became a gun-aimer in the 22nd Royal Bavarian Artillery Regiment. Unfortunately, his military career came to a sudden end on 28th, September 1918 at Ypres when he was struck by fragments of an Allied shell. He stayed in hospital until the Spring of 1919 and endured seven operations on his left arm and leg which resulted in the arm being shortened and his left leg permanently weakened.

Returning home to Furth in 1919, few would have laid odds on the success of this plump, disabled man with few qualifications. However his life was about to take a significant turn. Fed up working in his father’s shop, Erhard signed up for a course in business administration at a local college and all at once, found his vocation with the study of economics.

He received his diploma in March 1922 and was eager to undertake postgraduate studies, but once again there was a snag. The local college did not have the right to award formal degrees, so it took considerable lobbying by his tutor to have his star student accepted by the University of Frankfurt. In Erhard’s case an exception was made, and he was awarded his Masters degree in 1924. For the next decade Erhard worked as a researcher for a trade association in Nuremberg whilst studying for his Phd.

By the time that he had completed his doctoral thesis Hitler had come to power and, as Phd holders were allowed to take up academic posts, a precondition for graduation was membership of the Nazi Party. Erhard had no intention of joining the Nazis and so withdrew his thesis from consideration. Remarkably, throughout the period of the Third Reich, Erhard managed to keep his distance from the regime and continued working for bodies like the Consumer Research Company and his own Institute for Industrial Research.

Erhard believed that the key to Germany’s economic success lay in the re-direction of industry into the production of consumer goods. What he proposed was a significant break with Germany’s past, which until 1945 relied mainly on the heavy industries of iron, coal, steel, and chemical production. Erhard rejected fashionable criticism of materialism and argued that the purpose of economic activity was the satisfaction of consumer desires:

“Our economy serves the consumer, he alone is the standard and judge of economic activity”, as he put it. Economic goods helped to free people from mundane tasks so that they could pursue more lofty aims.

Erhard rejected Keynesian solutions and declared that currency stability should be accepted as a basic human right. He favoured balanced budgets and argued that only if tax revenues were available should the state spend money.

Another priority for Erhard was home ownership: “Property makes you free”, he declared in 1961. However, he wanted property to be attained through saving and not by receiving it as a grant from the state. In time, Erhard envisaged a society with wide share ownership in order to entrench acceptance of the free market. He rejected the concept of distributive justice as a society “…where everyone has his hand in the pocket of everyone else.”

In 1945 Erhard was swimming against the tide of economic thought. Britain had just elected the Attlee Government, committed to nationalisation, and the United States was still in thrall to the New Deal.

In Germany, the revived Social Democrats (SPD) had plans to collectivise the whole economy and institute a system of state planning. Their leader, Kurt Schumacher, spoke openly of the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist state. The opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) fell under the influence of a group of Christian socialists who lobbied the party to “curb capitalism” and to end the “traditional bourgeois society”. Indeed, as late as February 1947, Konrad Adenauer’s Ahlen Programme for the CDU stated: “The capitalist economic system does not correspond to the state and social needs of the German people.”

Erhard’s success seems to stem from the support that he received from US General Lucius D Clay, Head of the Office of Military Government in the American. occupation zone. Legend has it that Erhard turned up at their offices on the second day of American occupation to offer his services. Clay appointed him Minister of Economics of Bavaria and later Chairman of the Special Office for Money in Credit.

Throughout this period Erhard suffered immense political turbulence, which was not helped by his refusal to join any political party. The SPD opposed his policies on ideological grounds, whilst the Allies were still debating the merits of de-industrialising Germany. At one point, Erhard had to literally beg the Americans not to liquidate and dismantle BMW. However, he laboured on, putting the region back into working order and re-focusing industry on production of consumer goods, and on 2 March 1948 Erhard was elected Director of Administration for Economics for the whole western Allied zone. In this position he persuaded the Allies to implement currency reform by introducing the Deutschmark and allowing an end to rationing of consumer goods.

Eventually, with his policies starting to bear fruit, the CDU adopted Erhard’s policy of the “Social Market Economy”.

Erhard argued that the Social Market Economy differed from traditional laissez-faire in as much as it required a strong central state to act as umpire to prevent cartels and ensure the endurance of competitive markets. When questioned by Friedrich Hayek about the inclusion of the word “social”, Erhard explained:

“I hope you don’t misunderstand me when I speak of a social market economy. I mean that the market as such is social, not that it needs to be made social… The freer the economy, the more social it is.”

He would serve as German Minister of Economics for a total of 14 years and went on to serve as second Chancellor of the Federal Republic. In that time, he would argue with his adopted party, the CDU, on many issues, notably the European Community. Erhard was suspicious of creating European institutions, which he believed would lead to more planning and bureaucratic interference. He feared that a single economic or fiscal policy for Europe would inevitably fail and opposed tariffs against non-Community members.

Erhard died in 1977 and, therefore, sadly did not live to witness the 1980s, the era when his views gained wider acceptance under the Anglo-American alliance of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Yet we should remember how he harnessed the free market to lay the foundations of post-War Germany’s enduring economic strength, and his methods should be re-examined by Conservatives unconvinced by the long-term benefits of Keynesianism.