This isn’t the first time in recent years that the police have probed Downing Street

25 Jan

In another dramatic day for the Government, the Metropolitan police has said it will be investigating the allegations around Downing Street and Whitehall parties. Cressida Dick explained that the force had launched a criminal investigation, following information coming in from the Cabinet Office.

Clearly this is an extraordinary event, as evidenced by the media, many of whom point out how “damaging” and “extraordinary” this is for the Prime Minister, already under huge pressure as a result of the rest of “partygate”. Speaking of the update, Angela Rayner, Deputy Labour Leader, said: “With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth can he think he can stay on as prime minister?”

Even for something so drastic, it is interesting to note that this is not the first time the police have investigated Downing Street, having previously looked into the-cash-for-honours scandal under the last Labour Government. To give a brief summary of events: this debacle began in 2006 when Angus MacNeil, of the SNP, complained that four wealthy businessmen had been nominated for peerages by Tony Blair, after they had lent the Labour Party £5 million.

Although the peerages were blocked by the House of Lords appointments commission, it wasn’t long before the police launched an investigation into whether laws banning the sale of honours had been broken. A total of 136 people were interviewed. Blair himself was questioned by the police, albeit not under caution (for which he would have probably had to resign) and instead as a “witness”. Labour’s chief fundraiser was arrested twice on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. More on the timeline of events here.

Eventually the police, which compiled a 216-page report on the cash-for-honours scandal for the Crown Prosecution Service, said it had insufficient evidence to bring charges against anyone. But people have pointed out just how destabilising it was for Blair’s government. Perhaps Iain Dale put it best today, when he tweeted: “When it happened to Blair, his government was thrown off course by it. It’s a terrible indictment of the whole No 10 operation.”

Blair, of course, stepped down the following year. Who knows what Johnson’s fate will be through the next few weeks, but it looks like deja vu in one sense.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Two Puritans condemn Christmas parties

1 Dec

“Was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on December the 18th?” Only a Puritan Leader of the Opposition could begin PMQs with such a question.

Sir Keir Starmer attempted to sound as unpuritannical as he could, but his principles were clear. Pleasure must invariably yield to duty, Christmas parties must be sacrificed so the letter of the law can be upheld, rules are not made to be broken.

Boris Johnson replied that “all guidance” – a more flexible concept than rules – “was followed completely”, and urged Sir Keir to do the same with “his own Christmas party which he’s advertised for December the 15th, but to which, unaccountably, he’s failed to invite the Deputy Leader.”

As the Prime Minister said this, he jabbed his finger at Angela Rayner, sitting on the Opposition front bench, and could not avoid laughing at his own joke.

“Nice try but that won’t work,” Sir Keir replied, attempting once more to sound like a relaxed Puritan. He has become rather good at doing so: as his allies observe with pride, he is “demonstrating increased spontaneity”.

But soon he was in earnest again, accusing Johnson of having “one rule for them, another for everyone else”.

What the Puritan never understands is that “everyone else” might enjoy going to Christmas parties – a form of festivity which is usually more enjoyable for junior staff than for those at the top of the hierarchy.

Lord Macaulay said in his History of England, “The Puritan hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”

The Leader of the Opposition is in danger of seeming to oppose Christmas parties not just because they might be against the rules, but because they might give pleasure to people.

Johnson accused Sir Keir of drivelling on irrelevantly and wanting to take the country back into lockdown.

Ian Blackford, for the SNP, declared in his most sententious manner that it was “deeply regrettable” to have “to spend so much time discussing the Prime Minister’s misconduct”, and accused him of hosting “a packed party in Downing Street”.

So we saw two Puritans coming out against Christmas parties. Outside Westminster Hall, a baffled party of Chinese tourists noticed Oliver Cromwell giving a nod of approval.

Sir Ed Davey, for the Liberal Democrats, advocated paying more money to farmers, a cause connected to the Lib Dems’ hopes of victory in the forthcoming North Shropshire by-election.

Jude D’Alesio: Labour’s proposal to ban unpaid internships would reduce opportunities for the young

18 Nov

Jude D’Alesio is a 20-year old councillor, serving on Long Ashton Parish Council in North Somerset, and a Law student at the University of Bristol.

I am one of those rare oxymorons: a young Conservative. Sadly, we seem to be few and far between nowadays. But there are plenty of reasons why I will not pander to the majority of my peers. I could bore you with the well-rehearsed arguments about low taxes, responsible fiscal management, and equality of opportunity. But Labour’s new ‘Employment Rights’ Green Paper seems to encapsulate my feelings nicely.

This document was announced recently by none other than Angela Rayner, and amid the many vacuous statements was this promise:

“Labour will ban unpaid internships except when they are part of an education or training course.”

Frankly, this infuriates me. I am currently a Law student due to embark on a legal career after university and I can confidently say that I would not be in this position were it not for unpaid internships.

This is yet another misguided policy, recycled from the Corbyn era, which is detrimental to undergraduate students, particularly those seeking to gain valuable, and in most cases necessary, experience before entering the workforce.

Firstly, it is unclear if there is even a prevalence of unpaid internships. The Progressive Policy Think Tank estimates that only 20 per cent of internships are unpaid. Moreover, a survey by the organisation Prospects found that only ten per cent of respondents prioritised payment as the most important decision-making factor when choosing an internship.

If youngsters themselves do not perceive there to be a problem, then why is Labour proposing this measure, wasting valuable government time and public money in doing so?

Secondly, the obvious impact of forcing firms to offer paid work experience will be a reduction in the number of internships supplied to students. 60 per cent of interns are hired in organisations with fewer than 24 employees according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, so Labour’s plan may not affect the number of internships at large multinationals but it would certainly be a death knell for work experience at small businesses who would struggle to afford Labour’s £10 minimum wage (another policy advocated in their green paper). Jeremy Corbyn even recently called for a £15 minimum wage, but we’ll save that argument for another day.

Ironically, this might have a good chance of achieving Labour’s goal of maximising employment rights, as erecting barriers to internships will eliminate the employment opportunities altogether.

The issue is that they have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of an internship: from my experience, the days of photocopying and making coffee in a seedy office are over. Rather, I found that firms will go out of their way to find work from which interns can learn the most.

In other words, this was an opportunity to learn as opposed to slaving away at any other job. When I wanted to earn an extra buck, I worked as a waiter or a care assistant where I could at least earn minimum wage. Schools don’t pay their pupils to come and learn in the classroom, so why should businesses be forced to pay the interns who have come to learn practical skills on the job?

I’m no businessman, but I highly doubt that company directors are sitting around a table saying: “Let’s be malicious and not pay our interns”, followed by evil laughter. Rather, they probably say: “Well, we would love to pay our interns but times are hard and we cannot do so. But, we would hate to not offer the experience, so let’s say that whoever wants to work for free can do so.”

Finally, the statement in the Green Paper has as much clarity as Keir Starmer’s COVID response. For example, what counts as an ‘internship’? Are we talking a week’s work experience, or 12 weeks during a summer holiday? Must it be full-time or part-time?

This may seem trivial but it’s crucial: I once happily worked a summer job to save enough money to do a short internship, an option I prefer far more than not doing an internship at all. However, with longer three-month internships I cannot say that I have even seen these advertised as unpaid, and if they were, then a PR nightmare probably deters business from making them unpaid anyway.

Ultimately, this policy seeks to achieve ‘equality’ by pulling others down. The image of a company potentially being sued for providing learning opportunities for young people sickens me, and Labour should realise that not all under-25s are diehard trade unionists.

While such rhetoric from Starmer rhetoric will shore up support from trade unions, his employment policies will evidently come at the expense of valuable learning opportunities for young people, and we should expect better from our opposition.

That Labour view this policy as a vote-winner with the youth, when the biggest concern of many young women is their public safety, is yet another reason why I won’t become a young socialist comrade anytime soon. My advice to any youngsters reading this is to take any opportunity you can get your hands on, paid or unpaid.

What is clear, however, is that I need probably to find better uses of my time than reading Labour policy documents…

Davis says the Conservative Party is going to have to have a big argument about economic policy

4 Oct

For David Davis having the necessary argument is more than a duty: it is a pleasure. “We’re going to have to have a big argument within the Conservative Party about economic policy,” he said as he took questions from an audience which filled the ConHome tent.

Davis pointed out that Margaret Thatcher was often unpopular at this stage in a Parliament: “The question we should ask is whether what we do now is going to deliver a good outcome in two years’ time.”

So we should be asking whether raising National Insurance will deliver more jobs or fewer in two years’ time: “I worry about the National Insurance increase. I worry about the Corporation Tax increase.”

Not that Davis falls for the idea that some perfect policy exists.

When asked whether he himself has made mistakes, he joked for a moment that he had made none, but then went on: “We all make mistakes. I don’t criticise the Government for making mistakes.”

He said that what we need are not great men but great institutions: “Great institutions protect you from big mistakes.”

And later: “Good institutions do not deliver perfection, they deliver correction.”

He instanced the slave trade, For the whole of the seventeenth century “we had a terrible record on slavery”. But in 1807, Parliament changed its mind, and decided to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, which was what over the next 60 years the Royal Navy managed to achieve, displaying “heroism on a grand scale”:

“It’s the greatest ethical foreign policy and the most expensive in the world ever.”

In 1968, when student riots erupted at the Sorbonne in Paris, David Davis was in his first year at Warwick University: “I turned out to be the only person arguing against the riots.”

He became Chairman of that nursery of talent, the Federation of Conservative Students, in which capacity he saw Ted Heath four times a year, and Margaret Thatcher, then Education Secretary, ten times a year.

Britain seemed condemned to decline, but when Thatcher became leader she said, “Our job is to reverse the decline.” Davis recalled how “incredibly controversial” the 1981 Budget had been.

He entered Parliament in 1987 and soon found himself defending the Maastricht Treaty. This was not the fight he wanted to have: it was a fight that could not be avoided.

He thought the treaty was “terrible”, but that if John Major’s Government fell, Labour would get in and go much further with European integration, so there was “no right answer outcome”.

At this point he quoted David Frost’s observation earlier in the day:

“All history, all experience, shows that democratic countries with free economies, which let people keep the money they have earned, make their own decisions, and manage their own lives, are not just richer but also happier and more admired by others.”

“That’s actually a fantastic paragraph,” Davis said. “I’d stick it on the wall at home. Our history is the history of freedom.”

And that freedom includes the freedom to rebel when you conclude that the Government is getting something wrong. He was interviewed by Ryan Henson, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Global Prosperity, which “brings together political, military, business and faith leaders” to make the case for “an effective development budget”.

Davis was a leading figure in the recent Tory rebellion against cuts in the international development budget, which he believed was heading for success: “We thought we had 50 [MPs] – it evaporated – we probably need 70 next time.”

He added that “you’ve got to move the public as well as the Government,” who can then put pressure on their MPs.

When asked about his back story, as the son of a single mother on a council estate, Davis objected:

“It’s become fashionable to talk about your back story. The press are gullible about it. They believe Angela Rayner to be a normal member of the working class.”

Interview with Kwasi Kwarteng: “My job is to make us not lose sight of the fact that we are Conservatives”

1 Oct

Eloquent, ebullient and frequently bursting into laughter, Kwasi Kwarteng did not look as he gave this interview yesterday morning like a minister in the middle of a crisis.

He is confident the petrol supply situation is “getting better”. Britain, he says, is making the transition from a low-wage economy with high immigration to a high-wage economy, which is what people wanted when they voted for Brexit, and although various business associations are resisting this change, it will happen quite rapidly.

As Business Secretary, Kwarteng is opposed to tax rises: “I don’t believe we can tax our way to wealth.” He calls himself “a pragmatic Thatcherite”, outlines how that philosophy can meet present-day challenges, and expresses no sympathy for gas suppliers who have got into difficulties: “Why on earth did they enter the market?”

Kwarteng communicated the genial toughness which is evidently intended to characterise the Johnson Government’s approach to business, with those who merely want to preserve the status quo granted no sympathy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, pronounced “Bays”) is housed in a dreary modern building at the end of Victoria Street, but from Kwarteng’s office on the eighth floor enjoys a spectacular view of Westminster Abbey.

He said that unlike Angela Rayner, he would never use the word “scum” to describe political opponents, and neither would Boris Johnson. In Kwarteng’s view, it is sometimes best just to stand back and let the Labour Party argue with itself about subjects which are of no interest to most people:

“I think the best approach is for us just to simply allow the Left to have these incredible navel-gazing debates on identity politics, because actually Critical Race Theory is not something that comes up on the doorstep, it’s not something that’s going to put food on anyone’s table.”

Kwarteng, profiled on ConHome after his appointment in January, said his department is not there to act as “a cash dispenser”, but to enable private investment. He is heartened to have confounded the head of Goldman Sachs, who predicted that after Brexit no one would invest in Britain.

The Business Secretary began by discussing what should happen in the coming days in Manchester:

ConHome: “What’s the conference all about?”

Kwarteng: “The conference is about focussing us to win the next election. It’s only two and a half years, tops, until May ’24, and we’ve got to focus obviously on trying to consolidate our coalition, and that’s all about economic opportunity, that’s all about the Prime Minister’s phrase talent is everywhere but opportunity is still focussed in a few areas.

“And that’s the intuition behind the levelling up, that phrase, if you like.

“My job is to make us not lose sight of the fact that we are Conservatives. We believe in markets, we believe in individual responsibility, we believe in the ingenuity of the individual to come up with ideas that can transform society.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to make that voice heard, when we’ve had all the interventions that we’ve seen with respect to the Covid response.

“And just to illustrate that, I was elected in 2010 and the deficit then was £160 billion, something like that, and it seemed like a huge amount of money, we were talking about Greece, we were talking about bankruptcy.

“We’ve just spent in one year, ’20-’21, £350 billion on Covid support, well over twice what the deficit was. And no one batted an eyelid.

“And there’s that great phrase in one of my favourite books, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, and he says that before the war we spent millions, after the war we spent hundreds of millions, and we discovered we were all so much richer, so [laughing] it was a completely different order of spending and nothing bad happened.

“And our job I think is to try to get back to some kind of – and I know the Chancellor’s very much on this – to try to get back to some sort of fiscal discipline.

“But it’s hard. There are lots of competing pressures. You saw David Davis say with the foreign aid cuts, their argument was we’ve spent hundreds of billions, what’s a few more million?

“The way I see BEIS, and I’ve talked about this a lot, we can’t see BEIS as a cash dispenser. Officials think of BEIS sometimes as if it’s DWP, or as if it’s the Health Service.

“But it’s an enabler. We should think about the money we spend as enabling private capital investment. If you speak to Michael Heseltine, he’s quite good on this stuff, he talks about his career and he says he was never in a big spending department, he always saw himself in departments which were driving private economic growth and investment.

“So he was Defence Secretary, he was sort of equivalent to Michael Gove, I mean he wouldn’t want me to say…”

ConHome: “Is it too late for you to bring Michael Heseltine back in some form, by the way?”

Kwarteng: “Look, I mean, we have differences over Brexit, I’m not going to bring him back in tomorrow. But he was a great minister, and I enjoy talking to him.”

ConHome: “Brexit was a vote for many things. It was in part a vote for lower migration of a sort, higher wages, a different economic model.

“Isn’t what’s going on with this difficulty with the petrol fundamentally about the sort of economy we want. The road haulage people, like some of the fruit pickers, like some meat processors, basically want to go back to the old ways.

“They want Government to issue hundreds of thousands of visas, and they’re trying to use public pressure to get you to change course.”

Kwarteng: “That’s absolutely right, and I’ve said this a number of times, certainly privately. The reason why constituencies like mine [Spelthorne] voted decisively for Brexit, 60 per cent to 40 per cent, was precisely this issue.

“I remember three weeks before the referendum in 2016, I came out of Staines station and someone came up to me and said ‘I’m voting for Brexit.’

“And I said, ‘Oh, why are you doing that?’

“And he said, ‘Well I haven’t had a wage increase in 15 years,’ and he was someone who worked in the building trade, lots of people do work, certainly in my constituency, in that kind of self-employed, small business, logistics, construction world.

“And that was in his mind what this was all about. And so, having rejected the low-wage, high-immigration model, we were always going to try to transition to something else.

“What we’re seeing now is part of that transition. You’re quite right to say people are resisting that, particularly employers that were benefiting from an influx of labour that could keep wages low.”

ConHome: “Aren’t you therefore in a very difficult political position, because they have a kind of weapon, which is the queue, the shortage.

“All you can do, other than take various emergency measures, is tough it out.”

Kwarteng: “I think this is a transition period. As economists would describe, between Equilibrium A and Equilibrium B there’s always going to be a transition period.

“I think it could be quite short. I think what we’re seeing already is quite a lot of investment in the UK. I’ve got a list on my board of lots of things we’ve announced, of investments.

“The head of Goldman Sachs said to me three years ago, ‘No one’s going to invest in the UK because of Brexit.’

“And then about three months ago I said to him, ‘Look at all the investment.’

“He said, ‘Ah, that’s because your assets are cheap [laughter].’ They can hop on the left foot and then hop on the right.

“And we’re seeing investment, we’re seeing success. You speak to investors around the world, they’re all very interested in Britain.

“Not just because of the success they saw with things like the vaccine rollout, great science base, great intellectual capital, but also they see us as a less highly regulated, if you can believe it, jurisdiction than many others around the world.”

ConHome: “How long will this transition take? Because a counter-argument would be it would take a few years to scale up…”

Kwarteng: “No, no, the whole issue of immigration into the UK was something that happened, this particular issue of immigration from the EU, was something that started in 2004, and completely transformed the way we did our economy.

“In fact, the Romanian extension was in 2013, I remember Mark Reckless and Keith Vaz, they were on the Home Affairs Select Committee, they went down to Luton and welcomed these people.

“And that was only eight years ago, and then three years after that we voted for Brexit. I think in terms of the global economy, I think you can see very rapid shifts.

“I think in a year we could be in a totally different place to where we are today.

“I’ve just been speaking to people in the steel industry and they’re saying there are high steel prices, they think they are going to sell lots of product, Liberty are going to do a financing deal that I’ve read about in the newspaper.

“Three months ago, these people were saying this is a disastrous situation.

“So in terms of the economy, I think things can turn round very very quickly, and in five years’ time I don’t think we’ll be talking about this. We’ll be talking about other things.”

ConHome: “Will petrol stations be back to normal by the…”

Kwarteng: “Yes, they are. I’ve got some data here.” [Cameron Brown, Kwarteng’s special adviser, quickly removed two sheets of paper bearing what look like coloured graphs.]

ConHome: “Is that the hand-out? Is that for us?”

Kwarteng: “I think things are stabilising, is the word we use. And I think it’s getting better. There’s been an intense period of anxiety and a lot of pressure.

“That was an extraordinary thing about the power of the media. If I look back on Monday 20th September, my two issues there were carbon dioxide, and the shortage of it, and the gap with the energy suppliers.

“Those were the two issues. This petrol forecourt thing literally flared up I think on the Thursday, there was a leaked conversation, the thing was splashed in the paper on the Thursday.

“There was a full-blown crisis by the weekend, which is now stabilising, and I am hopeful that it will recede, but let’s see.”

ConHome: “Are there any circumstances in which you could conceivably imagine referring to your political opponents as ‘scum’?”

Kwarteng: “No, never. I don’t know whether she was as they say under the influence, or tired and emotional. I don’t know what that was all about.

“Famously it was Aneurin Bevan who said ‘they are lower than vermin’, but he was sober and that was a deliberate piece of insult.

“I don’t think it’s helpful, talking about scum. I think she’s trying to speak to that visceral tribal anti-Tory thing, to shore up the base, but in terms of the wider electorate, I think that doesn’t really work in Britain, that kind of name-calling.

“I don’t think it’s very prime ministerial. The funny thing is, she tried to say the Prime Minister says these things.

“Boris never says things in anger. All of those phrases, they’re either dressed up in the fancy-dress costume of metaphor, or there’s an ironic thing.

“I can’t remember him at any time in 30 years saying ‘So and so is scum’. There’s no venom in the way he uses words. So I think equating that with the Prime Minister is completely inaccurate. He never abuses people in the way that Angela Rayner did.”

ConHome: “No, he doesn’t. Nor does he say, as you quote Margaret Thatcher saying on page four of your book, Thatcher’s Trial: ‘Moral qualities were the secret of our economic success.’ That’s another thing you can’t imagine Boris Johnson saying.”

Kwarteng: “The whole first part of that book is rooting her philosophy in a kind of Manichean Methodism. That’s intellectual history.”

ConHome: “So what are you? Are you a Thatcherite or a pragmatist?”

Kwarteng: “I’m a pragmatic Thatcherite.”

ConHome: “She was a pragmatic Thatcherite, actually.”

Kwarteng: “She sort of was. The thing that fascinated me about doing research about her is she did have this Manichean, you’re either with us or against us, good/bad, black/white, very binary way of thinking.

“But within that, you’re right, she was pragmatic, and she picked her battles when she could. I’m struck by the way in her first term, everyone says they only got going in the second term, in the first term they did some pretty radical things, like get rid of price controls, get rid of exchange controls – I mean, that was a big deal – and some of the privatisations.

“I think to be a Thatcherite in 1985, and to be a Thatcherite in 2021, are always going to be slightly different things. The context – and this is what I love about history – there’s always a context to these things.

“In 1985, you’re trying, essentially, to denationalise, because you’ve had 40 years of quite sclerotic, unimpressive growth, and a huge expansion of the public sector, that can’t respond to innovation.

“In 2021 we’ve got a triple whammy of Brexit, where we have to think about how we’re going to reorder our legal subsidy control, that sort of stuff; you’ve got Covid, which was an unprecedented situation in which the whole world reacted to a global pandemic in a way it never has done; and then you’ve got the whole Net Zero agenda, which whether I like or not, whether you like it or not, is part of the law of the land, we have a legal obligation to try to decarbonise our economy by 2050.

“So these three things frankly didn’t exist in 1985, and we’ve got to navigate them, and we’ve got to use our ideas, our brains, our philosophy if you like to deal with that situation.”

ConHome: “One of the issues that keeps coming back is tax. In the run-up to the Health and Care package you said ‘I don’t see how we could increase National Insurance’, though to be fair you then made some qualifying remarks after that, to suggest it might be possible.

“The point is, very plainly you really didn’t like it very much.”

“Do you think we’re near the point, with a pretty high tax burden as a percentage of GDP, that we’re basically running out of room to raise taxes?”

Kwarteng: “I will frame my answer to your question, or your thoughts, very broadly.

“I’ve never understood how we incentivise economic activity by increasing tax. I always come back to that. We can talk about raising taxes in the short term to deal with a short-term crisis.

“But broadly, higher tax is basically a tax on economic activity.”

ConHome: “What’s the first thought that comes into your mind when you hear the Chancellor say, ‘We’re going to put up corporation tax?”

Kwarteng: “He is I think doing a fantastic job. It was only just a little bit more than a year ago that people were saying there’s going to be massive unemployment, there’s going to be a huge kind of catastrophe.

“And I think he’s navigated that really nimbly. And that’s all I would say on that.

“But broadly, do I believe in higher taxes? No. I don’t believe we can tax our way to wealth.”

ConHome: “And you don’t think we’re near a point where having put up a number of taxes…”

Kwarteng: “You’re doing a really good job of getting me to stray outside my portfolio [laughter]. But I’m not going to go there. I am a low-tax, small-state, what’s the Gladstonian phrase, let…”

ConHome: “…money fructify in the pockets of the people.”

Kwarteng: “That was very clumsy.”

ConHome: “It’s memorable.”

Kwarteng: “Fructify in the pockets of the people. I’m a great believer in all of that. But you know, he didn’t have to deal with Covid. And actually he probably wouldn’t have bothered. I mean he would just have let the thing rip.”

ConHome: “The present Prime Minister is much more Disraelian, actually.”

Kwarteng: “He’s more like Disraeli arguably on public spending as well.”

ConHome: “Disraeli would have said Gladstone was worse than Covid.”

Kwarteng: “Absolutely.”

ConHome: “The wind sometimes doesn’t blow, though it does today, as we can see from the flag on the top of Westminster Abbey. And sometimes the sun don’t shine. Is there a risk that this drive to Net Zero will compromise security of supply?”

Kwarteng: “I think that’s a perfectly legitimate question, and when I answer these questions I pivot back to the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan, The New Decalogue as he calls it.”

ConHome: “That was a satire.”

Kwarteng: “He said it ironically and I’m saying it ironically. And in that, there’s a clear commitment to nuclear power.

“Now I think our nuclear power story has been a shame, because we had early advantage, we were very good on nuclear power, but we simply haven’t invested in it enough in my view over the last 40 years.

“And I think that’s a key missing piece of the puzzle, in terms of energy security.”

ConHome: “But what about security of supply, is that going to be all right?”

Kwarteng: “I saw Iain Martin today in the paper. This is not a supply issue, OK, it’s a distribution issue.”

ConHome: “At the moment, yes.”

Kwarteng: “It has never been a supply issue.”

ConHome: “And will not become a supply issue?”

Kwarteng: “I do not believe it will become a supply issue. It’s like an old-fashioned bank run. But actually, in terms of security of supply, that has never been an issue.

“The point is getting the supply distributed properly, and of course with the HGV driver issue that’s been more challenging.

“In terms of the energy issue, the gas suppliers essentially came into the market with a price cap and then they failed to see that if wholesale prices were significantly above the price cap they’d be out of pocket, and some of them didn’t even hedge for that.”

ConHome: “The price cap stops it being a proper market, doesn’t it?”

Kwarteng: “Yes, but why did they enter it?”

ConHome: “Why did the Government impose the price cap?”

Kwarteng: “That’s a very good question, but once it’s there, why on earth did they enter the market? They still thought they could make money.

“And then when the wholesale price was much higher than the price cap they complained, but I said, ‘The price cap was there when you entered the market, you should have sold oranges or something, or entered another business.’

“They knew what the situation was, and then some of them expected government bailouts, and thankfully that hasn’t really had any resonance, because people could see that they entered the market, they’ve been caught, the tide has revealed that they were wearing nothing, and I’m afraid some of them are going to have to exit the market.

“Having said all that, some of the smaller companies have really driven innovation in the market, so the price cap has allowed for greater competition, has allowed for new entrants, and now, some of those entrants who haven’t been as well-managed are having to leave the market.”

ConHome: “This is probably the moment to sneak in the fracking question. It comes up a lot. People on the Right say look, we have this shortage, why haven’t we fracked?”

Kwarteng: “So I was very pro-fracking. My first summer as Energy Minister, we had Cuadrilla fracking in Lancashire, and I remember speaking to the MP, and he was a pro-fracking person, and the limit I think was 0.5 on the Richter scale.

“This thing came in at about 2.9, and walls were shaking and plates were falling off them.

“And someone said we’d never have had the coal industry if we’d had that approach, which may or may not be true, but the coal industry started in whenever, 1650, and we’re talking about 2020 when we have a full democracy and all the rest of it.

“So we said that we would impose a moratorium and when we had new evidence that this could be done without too much disruption we would look at the moratorium again.

“And I think there were too many communities that were being disrupted. We’re a small country. The fact that it can work in the United States, and it works successfully, it’s what a thousand times bigger than England? Something like that.

“They would frack in a hundred places, and maybe one would be successful. But we don’t have that luxury here.

“There’s also geological questions. I know a firm that Tim Eggar was involved with, they fracked all over Poland and it didn’t work.

“So I get the whole fracking thing, but I don’t think it’s the answer. I think more nuclear is the answer. I think a wider range of renewable technology and things like tidal stream, those sort of things, can help us as well.”

ConHome: “The Government takes Critical Race Theory seriously enough to have a minister go to the Despatch Box and say it shouldn’t be taught in schools.

“Why is it that Kemi Badenoch seems to be the only Conservative among a mass of MPs who takes Critical Race Theory seriously?”

Kwarteng: “No one knows what Critical Race Theory is. If you ask 360 MPs what Critical Race Theory is, how many do you think on our benches would be able to give you a coherent answer?

“To be fair to Kemi Badenoch, that is part of her brief. She was Minister for Equalities even when she was in the Treasury.

“And she’s got a particular approach, I think a very robust approach to a lot of this sort of thing.

“I think the best approach is for us just to simply allow the Left to have these incredible navel-gazing debates on identity politics, because actually Critical Race Theory is not something that comes up on the doorstep, it’s not something that’s going to put food on anyone’s table.”

ConHome: “Are you saying it’s not a problem in any way?”

Kwarteng: “I’m saying I don’t see why we should engage with it. Even your readers, people who subscribe to ConservativeHome, I’d be amazed if more than about five or ten per cent know what Critical Race Theory is.

“I’m trying to run a business department that affects the whole of the UK economy. My views or otherwise on Critical Race Theory are singularly irrelevant to how I do my job.”

ConHome: “Can only women have a cervix?”

Kwarteng: “What did Sajid Javid say? I agree with him.”

ConHome: “I think he said it defies science.”

Kwarteng: “All these things, I know they’re very important to a minority of people, but they’re not really levelling up issues, they’re not about the prosperity of the UK, they don’t deliver jobs.

“It’s the worst kind of rabbit hole which I don’t think sheds any light on anything, it doesn’t improve people’s lives.”

ConHome: “Can you deliver levelling up, Net Zero, industrial strategy, skills, without more localism – without more elected mayors?”

Kwarteng: “Really good question. I think you’ve got to have more local involvement. I think the Prime Minister’s view, which I share, is we shouldn’t get into a theological debate about the structures and what the people are called.

“We’ve got to just deal with what we have. Because if you were very rationalistic and Napoleonic about it, dare I say, you would just spread the combined mayoral authorities across the UK.

“You’d divide the UK up into mayoralties and then you’d have a little mayor with a little badge.”

ConHome: “You’d have a Mairie.”

Kwarteng: “Exactly. We’re not going to do that, so we’ve got to work with the structures, and some of them do work very well, the mayoralties, some county councils work very well, we’ve got to work with the kind of patchwork that we have, we’re not going to rationalise things in a kind of centralised way.”

ConHome: “If Johnson wasn’t Prime Minister he’d be finishing his book about Shakespeare. What book would you be finishing?”

Kwarteng: “I’ve already got one on the stocks about the Congo called Masters of the World, and it’s been there since I’ve been made a minister. I’ve done the research, so it’s simply a question of cleaning up the text.”

Daniel Hannan: Forget Rayner and ‘scum’. It was Reeves’ interview this week that revealed why Labour is unelectable.

29 Sep

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

The moderates’ response was more telling than Angela Rayner’s original outburst. Calling Conservatives “scum” is hardly a new departure for Labour, as anyone who has been at either party conference will attest.

Indeed, an anthropologist coming new to the peculiar dialect of the British Left might assume that “Toriskum” was their standard word for people outside their tribe.

Rayner had simply rattled off one of those compound phrases that Lefties use: homophobic, racist, misogynist, absolute pile of banana republic Etonian piece of scum.”

OK, Etonian was a colourful addition (and a questionable one if the speaker’s intention was to suggest that you shouldn’t categorise or “other” whole groups of people) but, apart from that, it was a standard collocation: a stringing together of words that are so often placed next to one another that the speaker isn’t really thinking about their individual meanings.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell calls it duckspeak, a term of approbation in Party circles, meaning “to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.”

Much more interesting was the way in which supposedly grown-up, centrist Labour front-benchers reacted when asked about their deputy leader’s tirade. Well, they said, Angela might have used slightly OTT language, but her essential point was sound: this was indeed a hateful administration.

Typical was the interview given by Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, on Monday’s Today Programme. Nick Robinson asked her whether that list of adjectives was entirely fair when the Tories had had two female prime ministers, when two of the four great offices of state were held by women and two by British Asians, and when the education and health secretaries were also Asian, the business secretary black and so on. Here is how she answered:

“Look at what happened during the pandemic, where if you’re from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, you’re more likely to get the virus, more likely to die from the virus. The virus exposed some of those divisions and inequalities in society. I do understand why a lot of people feel very angry with this government. I feel angry with them as well.”

Robinson let it pass and, as far as I can tell, no one else has picked it up. But that response struck me as far more revealing than Rayner’s rant. Here was Labour’s Shadow Chancellor – in a BBC interview, not in some high-spirited speech to activists – accusing the Conservatives of causing needless deaths on grounds of race.

Whether they were doing so through neglect or out of some hidden Nazi impulse was left unsaid. But the differential in death rates was, in Reeves’ view, plainly ministers’ fault. Her suggestion that it was proper to “feel very angry with this governmentwas a straight imputation of blame.

It is true that, especially in the first wave, ethnic minorities were more vulnerable. No one knows exactly why. Epidemiologists have proposed different theories. Some link the higher fatality rate to being in more exposed occupations; others to multi-generational households; others to genetics; others to a greater incidence of pre-existing conditions; others to being a more urban population; others to vitamin D deficiency, which is more common in dark-skinned people at relatively sunless latitudes. More recently, differential rates in vaccine take-up have been identified as a factor, though that obviously didn’t apply during the first wave.

Maybe one or more of these explanations are correct; maybe it’s something else entirely. I have no idea. Neither have you. Neither has Reeves. But she thought nothing of blaming the deaths on Tory racism – an astonishingly serious charge to level if you’re not in a position to back it up.

My purpose is not to have a go at the Shadow Chancellor. In most interviews, she has struck me as pleasant, polite and personable. That’s the point. So natural is it in Labour circles to assume that people to your Right are murderous bigots that even the sensibles do it; and, when they do, no one bats an eyelid.

To see how odd it is to level such accusations, consider the related question of whether Covid is more dangerous to men or to women. Here, the differential is far greater than among ethnic groups. Although the sexes are equally likely to catch the virus, men are nearly three times more likely to need intensive treatment, and are significantly more likely to die.

Again, there are competing theories as to why, though here there is a clear front-runner, namely differences in immune response systems which make women less vulnerable to some viruses.

No one, to my knowledge, has tried to argue that the higher death-rate among people who carry a Y-chromosome is the result of sexism, and rightly so – it would be an absurd proposition.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the differential had been the other way around, and that women had been likelier to lose their lives. Would Labour MPs have followed the science and concluded that biological differences were beyond the power of the state, or would they have blamed Tory misogyny? I think we all know the answer.

Here, in a nutshell, is why Labour is struggling to make progress. It keeps stirring up a culture war that, in present circumstances, it can’t win. Its obsession with identity politics – organisers of Labour meetings in Brighton were declining to take questions from white men on grounds that they needed to talk less and listen more – puts it hopelessly at odds with the majority of British people.

It is possible, I suppose, that the majority will eventually shift, as woke youngsters grow up, carrying their values with them. Britain might end up like Canada (or at least English-speaking Canada) where there is genuine electoral demand for a measure of identity politics.

But that shift, if it happens, is many years away. In the meantime, the ugly combination of wokery and self-righteousness is as repulsive to the electorate as Corbynism was.

What an extraordinary state of affairs when our second party votes, by 70 per cent to 30, to condemn the defence pact with Australia and the United States as “a dangerous move that will undermine world peace”.

How shameful when the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the man aspiring to lead the next government, supports that motion. What a bizarre situation when he cannot bring himself to say that someone with a cervix is a woman.

I feel almost sorry for Keir Starmer, caught as he is between the electorate and his aggressively pacifist, bitterly internationalist, viciously tolerant activists. Still, what a needless and self-inflicted row. Never mind the cervix, Sir Keir. Consider, more immediately, the arse, the elbow and the difference between them.

Rayner’s rant suggests that Labour remains some distance from power – and knows it

27 Sep

Eleven years after their catastrophic defeat in 1997, the Conservatives were very much back in winning-power mode. David Cameron had won the leadership and with it a mandate to overhaul the party, even if he was forced to change course by the 2008 financial crash.

The same span of time has now passed since Labour lost office in 2010. But judging by the headlines coming out of their conference in Brighton, they are still some distance from seriously contending for office. At least that’s what some of their most senior figures seem to think – and they don’t care if the public know it.

Angela Rayner’s childish rant about Tory ‘scum’ was unedifying, and speaks poorly to her judgement. Her attempt to pretend that it was simply a cheery term of endearment in the North was extraordinarily patronising.

More than that, it demonstrates a clear lack of faith in Sir Keir Starmer. Not merely because she has refused to apologise, and he lacked the spirit to demand that she do so. But because she’s obviously pitching to the Labour activists who will choose the next leader if the party loses its fifth consecutive general election.

Perhaps she felt the need to get out ahead of Andy Burnham, of ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ t-shirt fame, who has been busy conducting his own manoeuvres, refusing to back Starmer’s rules changes and complaining that Labour’s metro mayors have been ‘sidelined’ at conference. Probably the plan would be to switch to a more collegial mode after securing the prize.

The affair reinforces the impression, leant by her constantly playing up her background to an electorate that happily handed Boris Johnson a comfortable majority, that Rayner is too willing to stick to the left-wing comfort zone. Millions of Labour voters switched to the Conservatives at the last election. Her rant might not have been slurring them directly, but it displayed a fundamental disrespect for their choice.

If the first step back to power is accepting that voters were at least partly right to throw you out, Rayner seems not to be the woman to make it.