David Skelton: The new snobbery. How football fans and Brexit voters were demonised as racists.

22 Jul

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

It seems an age ago now but ,for a brief moment, England’s glorious European Championship run brought the country together in support of our footballing heroes. Almost until the penalty shootout that guaranteed at least 56 years of hurt, the country seemed united and optimistic. This tremendous multi-racial squad, bursting with pride about their country and the honour of representing it, represented the hopes and dreams of the whole country.

It didn’t last of course. As soon as the last penalty was missed, the footballers who had shown the guts to take a penalty for their country in the unflinching all or nothing spotlight of a shootout were subject to vile racial abuse from a few morons.  Harry Kane was right to suggest that the contemptible idiots who abused our heroic players aren’t really England fans.

The abuse from a small minority was a reminder that, as Sunder Katwala emphasised in an excellent article, the UK has made great progress on race, but still has more to do. The fortnight that has passed since the final has given us time to reflect on how to build on the optimism of the cup run, but also to tackle the issues that arose in the aftermath (including the fact that much of the abuse has been shown to come from abroad).

We should look to build on the sense of unity and national pride that we saw during the tournament to build a renewed sense of national solidarity. This means that the identity obsession of today’s Left, as well as the snobbery that has again reared its head in the past week and a half, should be eschewed in favour of a focus on removing barriers, tackling prejudice and focusing on what united us.

The end of the tournament and the return of the sneering

The social snobbery of the progressive left, which had been on hold throughout the tournament was also evident again in the early part of last week. Although clear that the vile abuse came from a small, vile minority, too many modern snobs seemed determined to paint all working class football fans with the same brush.

The Twitter account of Have I Got News For Youjoked” that “amid calls to ban racist football fans from grounds indefinitely, clubs argue that they’d struggle to survive with attendances of 12.” This is the kind of satire that is downright offensive. Multi-racial estates around the country have been covered in the England flag, and the black members of this England team are absolute heroes to most working class football fans.

As satire it was grim, but it was a reminder of the attitude of too many parts of progressive Britain. The tweet was a neat distillation of the snobbery and sneering that has become all too common in the past few years. After the Brexit referendum, the assumption that working class Brexit voters were bigoted or racist became commonplace in politice, progressive society. An example of this offensive narrative was a prominent Corbynista commentator talking about a ”toxic narrative of nativism and xenophobia” in Red Wall constituencies.

The sneering attitude that caricatures working class football fans as bigoted and racist has become commonplace in too much culture and comedy, including the News Quiz and Daily Mash, which have a habit of punching down. The writer of Dead Ringers even said that comedy writers regard condservatism and patriotism as “distasteful” and the comedy writers in London “should be a little more careful about seeing England as “backward and nationalistic… or racist.”  Creating an enhanced feeling of national solidarity is important, but that isn’t going to happen if a progressive elite continues to unfairly caricature large sections of society.

Building a multi-racial working class conservatism

We need to build a multi-racial working-class conservatism that takes the lead in tackling discrimination and racism and also prioritises in removing the barriers that prevent people advancing, whether they’re based on race or class. It should look to build on the progress that has been made and should reject the narrative of a dystopia that parts of the modern left seem determined to paint.

As Trevor Phillips points out, the UK has more ethnic minority politicians in senior government positions than the rest of the EU put together, and cross-European polling shows that prejudiced attitudes are much less common in the UK than in many other European countries.

The kind of vile racism that was once commonplace in British football grounds, and remains so in places like Spain or Italy, is thankfully seldom heard in the stands today.  We should be proud of the advances we have made as a society, but always conscious that there is more to do.

We must be prepared to take on prejudice head on, which is why the Prime Minister was right to announce that anyone convicted of racist abuse should not be welcome in any football ground. A multi-racial conservatism also means that we should not be questioning the motives of black footballers or dictating what kind of stand they decide to make.

As Danny Finkelstein argued, the idea that Raheem Stirling and Marcus Rashford  “taking the knee” was somehow associated with Marxism or defunding the police is patently absurd. When black players take steps to highlight the racist abuse they have been facing, the players should have our full-throated solidarity and support.

Conservatives should be quick to disregard the excesses of “wokeness” and identity politics. Phrases like “white privilege” and “white fragility” are deeply unhelpful, and the identity politics of the left seems more concerned with highlighting virtue and emphasising what divides us than seeking genuine solutions to important problems.

Endless debates about statues might create media opportunities for previously obscure academics but they won’t improve the opportunities for ethnic minority Brits. Equally, a continual chipping away at British history is not going to help build a strong and cohesive sense of national unity. The UK shouldn’t import the highly polarising rhetoric about race from the US, which is both divisive and unsuitable for our very different circumstances.

Instead, we should focus on an approach that shows zero tolerance for prejudice and also has a real focus on tackling the issues that harm the life experience for too many ethnic minority people in this country.  Addressing issues such the high levels of unemployment facing Britons from a black and Bangladeshi background will be important, as will taking on board the concerns that black Britons continue to have with elements of the criminal justice system and continuing health inequalities.

Black people are also more likely to work in low-paid, insecure work, meaning that steps we need to take to boost pay and improve dignity in the workplace will tackle barriers that impact based on both race and class.

The success of the England football team and the way in which they managed, for a brief period, to make the country both positive and united should give us inspiration. As conservatives, we shouldn’t pay heed to the divisiveness of identity politics, but nor should we indulge in the shrillness of US-style culture war rhetoric.

We should continue building a multi-racial, working class conservatism that has zero tolerance for prejudice, looks to remove barriers that still face  and builds a strong sense of national unity and solidarity. Whereas the Left seems determined to pull apart the ties that bind us, we should be doing all in our power to strengthen those ties.

David Skelton: Yes, social mobility is important. But jobs in the professions aren’t the only ones that matter.

4 May

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

My old school, near Consett in County Durham, overlooked the site of the former steelworks. When I attended the school during the early 1990s, life still seemed to be overshadowed by the closure of ‘the works’, which had thrown thousands of people out of work. The 1970s buildings and temporary prefabs have gone now, with the school demolished and moved to a shiny new building near the town centre. I often think of the school, though, when I consider the complexity of the debate about social mobility.

So many of my hugely talented schoolmates weren’t able to fulfil their potential at a time when the school only averaged 12 per cent of pupils achieving five or more “good GCSEs”. Those who did want to pursue professional careers had no choice other than to go “up and out”, maybe to Newcastle and often to London.

Plenty of people also didn’t want to leave their friends, family and roots behind, despite the lack of economic opportunity in the town and the gradual depreciation of alternatives to academic education. The school also reminds me that when education reform works well it can be transformative, with the school moving from “failing” to being a model of school improvement.

Social mobility is a complicated issue and can’t be approached in a myopic way. Improving social mobility is essential for a fairer society in which we allow everyone to make the most of their potential. But social reform should have more than one string to its bow, which is why levelling up and creating quality jobs for everyone is so crucial.

It’s essential to improve access to the professions for people from all backgrounds, but it’s also crucial to ensure that the debate about social mobility doesn’t become one of escape for a few with only one route to a fulfilling career, but one of dignified, high quality, fulfilling jobs for everyone.

Social mobility – still a closed shop?

In reality, not enough structural change has been achieved and many professions remain closed shops. Analysis of various top professions, such as banks and accountancy firms shows that seven per cent of the population continues to be massively over-represented, with 35 per cent of recent recruits in finance and 60 per cent of financial leaders coming from a private school background.

The AHRC have declared an “arts emergency” because of the lack of working class representation in cultural industries. The Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission found that about 40 per cent of what they described as the elite attended fee-paying schools, including 44 per cent of top newspaper columnists and two thirds of senior judges. Those from better off backgrounds are still 80 per cent more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from working class backgrounds.

Education reform has brought about notable improvement, but there is still much more to be done. The gap between disadvantaged 16 year olds and other pupils is over 20 per cent, and a much higher proportion of schools deemed inadequate or needing improvement by Ofsted are located in the most deprived areas.

Whereas some 45 per cent of 18 year olds now attend university, that figure falls to 29 per cent for those on free school meals and to only five per cent for the top third of universities. For white, working class boys, the figures are even more shaming, with only 13 per cent  going on to university. There’s even a class gap for those young people from working class backgrounds who make it into professional occupations, earning 17 per cent less than those from more privileged backgrounds.

Opening up the professions should undoubtedly continue to be a key goal of social progress. And the responsibility there lies with government, universities and employers. It’s for government to continue pushing ahead with education reform, but also ensuring that this is relentlessly focused on the most deprived areas. This should also include measures to make sure that the best teachers are incentivised to teach in those areas that have been most left behind.

Universities and employers also have an important role to play, which means making sure that the ubiquitous topic of diversity doesn’t ignore socio-economic class. Vogueish, but flawed, concepts like “white privilege” shouldn’t stand in the way of business and academia redoubling their efforts to increase representation of those from poorer backgrounds. Many “entry” jobs now require degrees in a way that wasn’t the case a number of decades ago and professional services firms should also consider how to expand apprenticeship programmes and increase the number of entry routes not requiring a degree.

Escape or empowerment? Remembering those left behind

It seemed for a while that social mobility was the only big idea of some social reformers, but taken in isolation it only represents half of the trick. Social mobility is insufficient if it means that the talented few should be able to leave their home towns and join the managerial elite, with scant attention being given to those left behind. A shallow approach to social mobility, which portrays professional careers as the only means of economic achievement and advancement, risks fuelling a sense of snobbery towards those who haven’t achieved this success and resentment amongst those struggling to make ends meet.

In many ways, it was this myopic approach that created the lingering resentment and anger that led to Brexit. As philosopher, Michael Sandel argued in his excellent The Tyranny of Merit, an obsession with helping a few to rise, combined with a meritocratic ideal that argues success is self-earned and failure self-inflicted, has created a sense of hubris at the top and humiliation at the bottom.

This is why Levelling Up is as important a project as improving social mobility, and the two should work together. It should not be taken as a given that someone who wants to succeed in the professions should have to leave their home town – social mobility should not always equate to geographic mobility.

Building strong, dynamic local economies is an important part of ensuring that social mobility does not equate to a brain drain. The ‘Levelling Up’ fund is an important starting point for this and government should also provide the tools to local people and local authorities to help them achieve an economic transformation. Major professional services firms should consider whether they can geographically diversify.

As well as creating the opportunity for the growth of professional jobs around the country, considering Levelling Up alongside social mobility also means that there should be a rethink about what “success’ equates to in a modern economy. The post-Blair route of higher education leading on to a professional job is of limited utility to many young people, some of whom have found the promised “graduate dividend” to be elusive. Considering how we can have a technical stream that has equal esteem to an academic stream could work in tandem with a push towards innovation and manufacturing to create a high-skilled, high-wage, high-productivity economy that is much more regionally balanced.

A multi-dimensional approach to social mobility

Social mobility is important. But social mobility alone is not enough.  Opening up the professions to people from disadvantaged backgrounds should be only one part of a broader remaking of the economy. This should include ensuring that people in all jobs are treated with dignity and respect and the elevation of technical education and apprenticeships, so that there are multiple, equally valid routes to economic mobility. Levelling up, enhancing social mobility and promoting a reindustrialisation of the economy can, taken together, create an economy that allows everyone to flourish

David Skelton: Why we should properly celebrate Saint George’s Day

23 Apr

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

Every St George’s Day, I have a bit of a ritual, which goes beyond the celebratory pint. I try to read Orwell’s ‘Lion and the Unicorn’, possibly one of the finest essays in the English language and almost certainly the finest essay ever written about England.

For Orwell, Englishness was a profoundly positive force and something to be celebrated. He argued that, “there is something distinctive and recognisable about English civilisation… it has a flavour of its own… it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past… And above all, it is your civilisation, it is you… The suet puddings and the red pillar boxes have entered into your soul.”

His Englishness was very much of the left. The essay is, after all, subtitled “Socialism and the English Genius”, but he was very much aware that elements of the left were deeply hostile to Englishness and deeply antagonistic to patriotism.

For him, the English intelligentsia represented an “island of dissident thought”, with England being the “only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” In some left-wing circles, there was “a duty to snigger at every English institution”, bemoaning the fact that throughout “the critical years” many left-wingers “were chipping away at English morale”, trying to “spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist… but always anti-British.”

That brings me to another annual St George’s Day ritual. Each year, without fail, various elements of the smug left-wing Twitterati remind us that “St George wasn’t actually English” and expect this information to act as a blinding revelation. Other elements of left wing social media either snigger at any mention of St George’s Day or seem appalled at any kind of patriotism.

We’ve all seen the Twitter accounts that treat the English or the British flag as something to be ashamed about and complain about “flag waving” and “jingoism”. These are often the same people who merrily waved Palestinian flags at the Labour Party conference and have European, Palestinian (and almost every flag other than their own) festooned across their Twitter account. They’re often sensitive souls too. One, with the inevitable EU flag on their social media profile, complained that Morrison’s use of the Union Flag on their porridge was “unpleasant and intimidating.”

The problem for Sir Keir Starmer is that such hostility to Englishness and patriotism isn’t just a fringe element in the modern left. In many ways it is the modern left. Despite the good work of the likes of Jon Cruddas and John Denham, a snobbery that looks down on working class patriotism has become the norm.

Little wonder that so many patriotic former Labour heartlands fell to the Conservatives in 2019. As Maurice Glasman argued, Labour became out of touch “with its history, traditions and the communities that cherished and created it. So out of touch that it couldn’t see the rejection coming.”

The new snobs of the left are completely wrong when they argue that Englishness and St George’s Day are somehow divisive. The truth is that Englishness is very much an inclusive identity, and that many of the recent events that brought us together as a country were based around Englishness. Who could forget the incredible feeling throughout the country when Gareth Southgate’s multi-racial England team made it to the World Cup semi finals in 2018? The only people who weren’t surfing the wave of patriotism seemed to be the Guardian columnists who were seemingly happy to support anyone but England.

Polls show that people from every background see Englishness as an inclusive and unifying concept. A poll for British Future showed that 61 per cent of people think that the St George’s flag should be flown more often and  a majority of ethic minority voters think St George’s Day parties should be held; 54 per cent of voters believe that paying more attention to Englishness would unite communities.  Nor is celebrating Englishness something that should detract from our precious union: 70 per cent of people in England regard themselves as both British and English.

The vast majority of people see England, its complex history and traditions with a sense of real pride. Centuries of freedom, expressed through our Parliament, is a central part of this pride. Today also marks Shakespeare’s birthday and it’s a reminder of the power of the English language, from the Authorised Version through to Byron and Blake. It has helped to define a culture that has made such a profound difference to the world. A uniquely English use of language is still very clear in the lyrics of people like Alex Turner, Ray Davies, Joe Strummer and Pete Doherty.

There’s so much to celebrate in English music, architecture and culture, which has spread English identity globally; and more locally, in the English pub, English humour, the beauty of the English countryside, and the great games of football and cricket.

Celebrating Englishness is something that will help to strengthen a sense of community. We have all seen local communities come together during lockdown and we should do what we can to maintain these new bonds.

Strengthening community is, of course, a key goal of the Government and Danny Kruger set out a number of sensible proposals in his excellent Levelling Up Our Communities report. Many of the ‘Red Wall’ towns that drove Brexit are also towns that have seen community facilities and “social infrastructure” damaged by deindustrialisation, austerity and economic decline.  Marking important occasions, like St George’s Day, isn’t going to revive community spirit single-handedly (that needs genuine empowerment of local people and renewal of local facilities), but it will be a step in helping restore community spirit.

Community will not be strengthened by an identity-obsessed left or by economically reductionist libertarians. As conservatives, we instinctively understand the importance of place, community and continuity and doing more to mark St George’s Day will strengthen all three. We should make a much bigger deal of St George’s Day and make it a day for everyone to share our pride in England and Englishness. Why not make St George’s Day a bank holiday in England as St Andrew’s Day is in Scotland or St Patrick’s Day in Northern Ireland?

As James Frayne argued on these pages a few months ago, bringing back local events is an important way of restoring local pride and a sense of community and the revival of St George’s Day events in 2022 and beyond would be a great way of bringing communities together.

When he was Mayor of London, Boris Johnson was right to push back against the lunacy of London spending millions on St Patrick’s Day parades but doing nothing for St George’s Day. He introduced free events and celebrations so that the day was no longer ignored in London and correctly argued that “St George’s Day is a time to celebrate the best of everything English.”

Just as London started to celebrate St George’s Day properly when Boris was Mayor, hopefully from next year onwards the rest of England can be encouraged to mark the day as well. This year, we can mark the occasion in a beer garden, in a socially distanced way. Next year, when the nightmare of Covid is behind us, hopefully people in villages, towns and cities around England will be able to come together to celebrate our Englishness and raise a glass to St George.

David Skelton: The Government must not forget that it was working class voters who delivered the 2019 majority

17 Nov

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

Last December, people who wouldn’t even have considered voting for us ten, or even five, years ago put their cross in the Tory box for the first time ever. Constituencies that had been Labour since their formation voted Conservative with remarkable swings. These voters had long been forgotten by the newly gentrified left and, in the aftermath of the referendum, had often become the butt of sneering and snobbery.

Working class voters, who had seen their economic and political priorities ignored by politicians of all parties for decades, saw that their concerns were being at long last listened to. They entrusted us with their votes, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes warily, in the hope not only that their Brexit vote would be implemented at last, but also that, as a government, we would prioritise improving their lives and their communities. We should take that trust that was placed in us very seriously indeed.

A working-class Tory agenda is economically and politically the right direction to take

We should reflect on this trust that was placed in us and the basic political maths as we ponder the excellent question posed by Rachel Wolf on these pages on Saturday. In a nutshell, this question was whether we use the present “reset” to focus on the working class voters who delivered the 2019 majority or shift priorities towards the more affluent in a revival of a politics aimed at middle class metropolitans. For political, economic and moral reasons, the only correct path is to retain our focus on the working class voters who backed us in such numbers last year.

Politically, this new electoral coalition delivered the biggest Conservative majority in over thirty years. Only an electoral coalition centred on winning working class constituencies enabled us to do this and only this coalition would enable us to win another big majority in four years time. So-called “DE” voters backed Labour over the Tories for the first time and we had a 15 per cent lead over Labour amongst “C2” voters.

This allowed us to make some remarkable gains, from my home town of Consett to Andy Burnham’s old seat in Leigh – both symbolic of a “Labourism” that isn’t coming back. Electoral coalitions can’t be turned on and off like a light switch and we must continue the present focus. Maintaining this focus on these working class voters is the only realistic route towards a lasting Conservative majority and an enduring realignment.

We remain the custodians of the trust that was placed in us and we must repay it by delivering the substantial, positive and lasting change that we promised. This kind of change – boosting long-forgotten parts of our imbalanced economy – would also make our economy more productive and the country as a whole more prosperous. When parts of the country are held back from fulfilling their economic potential, that is a problem that impacts everybody. We must redouble our efforts to level up and genuinely create One Nation.

A One-Nation agenda of improved town centres, rising real wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure

In Little Platoons, published last year, I set out how an ambitious agenda of reform could transform long-forgotten towns, through infrastructure spending, transformation of town centres and a policy of reindustrialisation. We have made great strides so far but we now need to go even further and even faster, particularly as both the health and economic impact of Covid-19 risks impacting working class communities in the North more than prosperous communities in the South.

As James Frayne suggested last week, one of the key priorities should be making sure that town centres start to look and feel better over the next few years. Rather than being pockmarked with empty shops, bookies and discount shops, high streets must become symbols of community pride. Town centres should become community hubs – places for people to shop, businesses to set up (rather than in distant out of town business parks) and for families and young people to meet up and come together. Revived town centres should leave as lasting an impression of local and civic pride as the likes of Birmingham City Hall and the majestic Grey Street in Newcastle.

Just as people should see a difference in their town centres by the end of Boris’s first full term in office, they should also see a difference to their pay packets and their local economy. Despite the Covid associated economic hit, there must be a focus on creating economic revival in “Red Wall” areas.

As I made clear here a few weeks ago, our impending freedom from EU regulation will give us greater scope to use industrial strategy to help revive post industrial towns and promote a policy of reindustrialisation, including being leaders in green industry.

This should include aiming to shift the type of jobs that predominate in these towns from low-paid, insecure work to making them a central part of a high-skills, high-productivity, high-wage, tech-driven economy. We should enable local leaders to do whatever it takes, including through the tax system, to encourage industrial investment in their areas.

Part of the case I made in Little Platoons is that a direct government lever for revival is by relocating great swathes of the Civil Service to the North and the Midlands. An impressive report by the Northern Policy Foundation, published this week, shows that such an agenda would put “rocket boosters” under levelling-up and allow local areas to benefit from the agglomeration effect of relocating key arms of government.

We should also be stepping up investment in infrastructure programmes, to ensure that towns as well as cities have world class road, rail and digital infrastructure. We should consider how light rail can make a difference to people in “Red Wall” towns and also mustn’t forget about the importance of high quality, reliable and inexpensive bus services to local people. When even the deficit hawks at the IMF are arguing that now is the time to invest in infrastructure, we should be prepared to show audacity and imagination with big infrastructure projects for the North.

A relentless focus on making change happen

We must have a relentless focus on making this change happen. Levelling up should go through everything we do. Every day, ministers should ask themselves how their decisions are improving the lives of working people and to advance the levelling up agenda. And we should manage and track the levelling up agenda against these key metrics of improved town centres, rising wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure.

This is a One Nation government and levelling up is a definitively One Nation policy. As Damian Green argued as part of this series on Monday, building one nation is a conservative, not a libertarian, project. That means we should be prepared to use the power of the state to tackle regional economic inequalities (the GDP per head in the City of London is 19 times that in County Durham) and restore hope and economic vibrancy to long forgotten places.

We must make it our defining mission to repay the trust that working class voters placed in us and ensure that their lives are better and their towns are better places in which to live. If we do so, the realignment will be a lasting one. Now, more than ever, we must double down on levelling up.

David Skelton: Brexit can unleash a new era of reindustrialisation. But only if we are free from state aid laws.

17 Sep

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

Brexit provides the UK with an opportunity to build a new, high-skill, high-productivity economy. A bold agenda of reindustrialisation can revive regional economies and see the levelling-up agenda made flesh. But we can only make the most of these opportunities if we aren’t unnecessarily restricted by the EU’s state aid laws. As a sovereign nation, we should be free to follow an industrial policy that is best for Britain. We mustn’t have the ability of the British state to support innovation to be hidebound by the EU’s strict state aid rules.

There were many reasons that we voted to leave the EU. The ability to set our own laws and have them made by people who were elected and could be held accountable was a crucial part of the decision to Leave. A clear message was delivered in the referendum from long forgotten “post-industrial” towns across the country that we needed to tackle regional inequality. The EU’s apparent insistence on maintaining state aid rules after Brexit would ride roughshod over the first and make tackling regional inequality much more difficult to achieve.

I’ve long taken the view that the restrictive state aid rules imposed by the EU were one of the major obstacles to us achieving a new economic settlement that benefits the whole of the UK. The pursuit of a level playing field for the EU meant that the parts of the country that I talked about in Little Platoons, which were heavily impacted by deindustrialisation, became stuck in an economic cycle of low innovation, low skilled, low wage work.

This was bad for post-industrial parts of the country, but also bad for the economy as a whole, with the UK’s low productivity problem being particularly pronounced in those parts of the country that had seen economic decline for decades. The recycling of UK taxpayers cash (a reminder that we were a net contributor to the EU budget for decades) through much trumpeted structural funding was no substitute for the fact that state aid rules bound our hands and prevented us from a more ambitious strategy to reverse decades of decline.

Now we have left the EU, it’s essential that the EU isn’t able to bind our hands again as we look to shift the economic paradigm to that of a high-skills, high-productivity, high-wage, tech-driven economy. Freedom from EU state aid rules represents an important opportunity for us to deliver that altered economic settlement and to pursue a bold strategy that focuses on a high-tech reindustrialisation of our economy. This should emphasise the importance of manufacturing (including green industry) in reframing our economy.

Crucially, manufacturing is generally higher skill, more productive and more export driven than other sectors. Whereas manufacturing accounts for less than eight per cent of the jobs in the UK, it accounts for around two thirds of our R & D investment – the kind of investment that is crucial to future growth and prosperity. This R & D emphasis also underlines the importance of manufacturing creating what Shih and Pisano have described as the “industrial commons” – skills and knowledge networks and clusters that drive innovation further.

An industrial strategy free from the constraints of state-aid policy means that we can support the businesses and sectors that are at the forefront of the new industrial revolution and also use the power of government to create innovation hubs in the regions, along with government-supported and business-backed centres of industrial excellence. A new industrial policy, free from state-aid restrictions, could aim to deliver high innovation industrial hubs in regions where the transformative power of a government accelerated industrial commons could have an enormously positive impact.

Any discussion about the positive impact of industrial policy and the importance of a state-aid regime that supports it is normally accompanied with the construction of straw-men or, more accurately, straw “lame-ducks” and the argument that any industrial policy will inevitably go down the route of Britain in the 1970s.

This is an ideological worldview that regards the bailing out of British Leyland as trumping any international experience in the decades since.  However, what that international experience has shown is that by far the biggest risk for the UK lies in us not pursuing an intelligent industrial strategy.

International experience shows that state aid and industrial strategy can not only help to turn around lagging regions but also place countries at the forefront of emerging technologies. And successful international experience illustrates that an ambitious industrial strategy shouldn’t be about “bucking the market”, but, instead working with the market and using market signals to maximise the impact of government investment.

In many parts of Asia, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, industrial strategy has used market feedback to develop a sectoral industrial strategy that has seen living standards and productivity surge. In all cases, the feedback mechanism of the market has allowed governments to identify sectors for future growth and provide government investment that has allowed these countries to be leaders in key sectors.

The mid-century United States, seen wrongly as a laissez-faire bastion, also provides an example of gains that can be made when business and government work together. The hero of that story is Vannevar Bush, who saw the importance of the government strongly investing in and incubating innovation and helping to transfer ideas from the initial invention to the marketplace.

His importance has been summed up recently in the excellent work of Safi Bahcall. Bush understood that innovation and invention is key to future growth and prosperity, but also that early innovation is fragile and risky. Without government support, such innovation might well perish, but government support, through the likes of the National Science Foundation and DARPA allowed innovation to be nurtured at a crucial stage and resulted in a stream of inventions that transformed the economy.

Such a model, in which government nurtures innovation at the most important stage and invests in those companies at the cutting edge of key emerging technologies could be transformational for the UK economy, which already has a world-leading research base but often lacks the ability (or often means due to distorted or inefficient funding models) to maximise the commercialisation of innovation.

Government is in a position to support innovation at the most fragile stage of the innovation process in a way that the market simply cannot. An effective industrial strategy could maximise the UK’s strengths and use the directional sway of government to promote long-term growth outside of the South East. Such an ambitious policy would not, however, be fully possible under the stricture of EU state aid rules.

Brexit represents a remarkable opportunity for an economic renaissance in the UK. We no longer have to have ambition or imagination restricted by the EU’s state aid rules.

This renaissance could place the UK at the vanguard of the most industries and technologies over the coming decades. It could also bring about a lasting and meaningful transformation of parts of the country that have long been characterised by economic decline. This requires a sensible and strategic role for government, based on an independent economic policy that isn’t limited by the narrowly restrictive nature of EU state aid limits.

David Skelton: Snobbery against the white working-class is all too common among the “progressive” Left

25 Jun

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

A new snobbery has taken hold within elements of the liberal-Left. This new snobbery is all too often proudly on display across social media and the target of this new snobbery is always the white working-class.

As the Left becomes increasingly middle class, both in their electorate and in their representatives, they have become increasingly detached from those working-class voters that the Labour movement was established to represent.

This means that a sneering attitude towards working-class voters is too often accepted among elements of what Michael Lind described as a “managerialist elite” on the Left, at the same time as those white working-class voters remain economically, culturally and, in many ways, politically, marginalised. 

You don’t have to look hard to find examples of the new snobbery. Only last week, parts of social media were alight with self-congratulation about a new work of modern art that had appeared in Bristol. The sculpture was of an overweight man, wearing a string vest. On the wheelie bin itself were the words “spoiler: St George was Turkish.” It was a clear display of neo-snobbery, accompanied by the smug condescension that overflows from Twitter every St George’s Day.

Only a few days earlier, a media producer rightly criticised the behaviour of some far-right thugs in Parliament Square only to also suggest that they looked like they had been “born in a Wetherspoons” – that would be the Wetherspoons that has 900 pubs and employs almost 40,000 people.

The infamous cover of The New European that had the “Jolly Fisherman” mascot of Skegness flipping the “V-sign” while wearing a jumped carrying the slogan “Go Away” is another example of the new snobbery, as were the sneering comments about the lengthy queues outside some Primark stores earlier last week.

In too many cases, the white working-class are ridiculed, stereotyped and portrayed as somewhere between bigoted and racist. Such crude prejudice and stereotyping would be rightly unacceptable for any other group and they should be utterly unacceptable about the white working-class as well.

These attitudes crossed into the mainstream after the Brexit referendum, in which working-class voters propelled the vote to Leave after decades of being economically marginalised and politically ignored. Too many Remainers refused to accept that working-class voters had voted Leave because they had thought through the arguments and had come to their decision logically.

Instead, many middle-class Remain supporters resorted to downright snobbery to explain the fact that working-class voters had overwhelmingly voted to Leave. This attitude was, of course, compounded when many of these voters voted Conservative for the first time, partially in response to condescending overtures from the Left that a second referendum would give them a second chance to give the “right answer”.

Dismissal of working-class voters has been compounded with the rise of what John Gray describes as “woke militants”. Rather than rightly focus on existing injustices faced by the BAME community, such as in criminal justice and economic inequality, the fringe of the “woke” movement is driven by a near Maoist belief that British history is a long trail of unblemished negativity.

Part of this is a belief in “white privilege” – that comes from their division of society into oppressed and oppressor groups, with white working-class males falling firmly into the oppressor category. The idea that the men, like my Grandad, who died young with black lung disease after decades working down the pit were somehow beneficiaries of white privilege is clearly a nonsense.

The idea that those workers the Labour Party was set up to represent were actually beneficiaries of “white privilege” is clearly folly and the fact that some Labour politicians talk about such a concept shows how far Labour has drifted from many working-class voters.

The white working-class became politically, economically and culturally marginalised at just the time when the impact of ignoring or mocking their concerns had become clear. They became squeezed between an economic liberalism that shook up patterns of secure employment and a cultural liberalism that belittled the worldview and marginalised the concerns of many working-class people.

Working-class voters bore the brunt of the economic decline that followed deindustrialisation, with proud and dignified work being replaced with low skilled, often insecure work. The same voters were among the hardest hit by the decade long-wage stagnation that followed the banking crash. Health and social problems continue to be a major issue, with male life expectancy in the most deprived areas being almost a decade lower than in the least deprived areas.

White, working-class boys are the lowest performing demographic group at GCSE level and research has shown that this educational divide becomes entrenched from the age of five.

The same group are also amongst the least represented at university. Indeed, research earlier this year found that more than half of universities had less than five per cent of students from white working-class backgrounds, despite this demographic being the largest proportion of the population.

Bold steps will be needed to tackle these economic, social and educational divides. Focusing education reform on those areas most in need will be one part of this, as will ensuring that this reform also includes a boost to early years education and an ambitious programme of dual-track vocational education.

Education reform must be accompanied with the revival of “post-industrial” towns and cities so that social mobility doesn’t become synonymous with escape for the few and stagnation for the rest. An ambitious programme of industrial renewal could help both revive many towns and make our economy more resilient.

The snobbery about the white working-class is an unacceptable underbelly of much of today’s “progressive” Left. By voting Conservative in record numbers last December, these voters in the “Red Wall” and beyond showed that the sneering attitude from much of the Left hadn’t gone unnoticed.

It’s now incumbent on the Government to ensure that this trust is repaid and living standards are dramatically improved for working-class voters.