Jonathan Hughes: In memory of Jonathan Sacks – whose words and writing contributed so much to British politics and society

9 Nov

Rabbi Jonathan Hughes is the orthodox rabbi to about 700 families in Radlett, Hertfordshire, and lectures widely as a motivational speaker to various audiences in and around the City of London and at secondary schools.

I was acutely shocked and saddened when I heard the news that former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, died in the early hours of Saturday morning. He was aged 72, and only about a month had passed subsequent to a cancer diagnosis.

As a young rabbi serving in his rabbinate, Rabbi Sacks was a personal mentor and role model to me. I can still hear his warm address to me from the synagogue pulpit in Hendon as I was about to embark on a new rabbinic role elsewhere. He was all about empowering those around him, challenging them to fulfil their calling and potential.

Even more memorable was the time when, profoundly disappointed by the actions of someone close to me, I burst into Rabbi Sacks’ home in St Johns Wood where he was addressing a group of youth leaders.

I gave him the details and, instead of indulging my abject despair, he warned me: “never give up on people.” His words have been a game-changer in the way I approach my rabbinic work, and I was particularly proud to have contributed to a book of essays on Jewish law and philosophy presented to Lord Sacks marking his retirement as Chief Rabbi.

Sacks, an orthodox Jew, was born in London in 1948 and, in 1991, became Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – the spiritual leader of the largest grouping of orthodox Jewish communities in the UK. It was a position he held with distinction for 22 years.

A prolific writer of over 30 books and regular contributor to radio, television and social media, Sacks was knighted in 2005, and made a crossbench life peer in 2009. In 2016, he was awarded the Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” He had been described by the Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation”.

Sacks has been universally lauded as an extraordinarily gifted orator, writer and social commentator. Although his inspiration was keenly felt within the worldwide Jewish community, his impact was never limited to his co-religionists. Lord Sacks’ intellect, eloquence and charisma made an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of people from every type of background and belief system.

His was a voice of reason in a tempestuous world of chaos and division, a voice that transcended faction and tribal loyalties. His unwavering moral philosophy was one that revered community, heritage and moderation. He was outspoken in his condemnation of those who committed acts of violence in the name of religion.

His cerebral prowess belied his humble piety. One example ought to be shared to exemplify the simplicity of his faith, clothed as it was in the elaborate raiment of philosophy and scholarship. During his lifetime, Lord Sacks seldom mentioned that he had battled cancer twice before – once in his 30s, and later in his 50s.

When asked why he eschewed publicly reflecting on these ordeals, he responded that he had witnessed his father undergoing many operations and heath problems in old age, and that these had sapped his strength until he was forced to walk on crutches.

Sacks added that his father had not been the beneficiary of much in the way of Jewish education, but did possess enormous faith. He said he used to watch his father in hospital reciting psalms and could see him getting stronger as a result. It seemed that his mental attitude had been: “I’m leaving this to God. If he sees that it’s time for me to go, then it’s time for me to go. And if he still needs me to do things here, he’ll look after me.’”

Sacks said that he had adopted exactly this attitude. During both bouts of cancer he said, “I felt, if this is the time God needs me up there, thank you very much indeed for my time down here; I’ve enjoyed every day and feel very blessed. And if he wants me to stay and there’s still work for me to do, then he is going to be part of the healing and I put my trust in Him. I didn’t feel the need to write a book about it. It was for me not a theological dilemma at all.”

Lord Sacks was a fearless critic of antisemitism and piercingly diagnosed all of its menacing metastases, including obsessive antipathy towards Israel and Zionism. He had a warm relationship with Gordon Brown during the latter’s premiership. However, as Labour moved further towards the radical Left, Lord Sacks felt the duty to speak out. Indeed, recently he had been critical of Jeremy Corbyn, amidst the row over antisemitism in the party.

Sacks’ vision for a more harmonious British society included dignity in difference, and recognising the need for meaning at the heart of the human condition. He was often prescient in identifying the ethical gaps in a secular society that often focused on ephemeral pleasure over spirituality and responsibility. His was a message of selflessness over individualism, and he took pride in his religious Jewish identity without ever sounding dogmatic or arrogant.

Above all, Sacks’ legacy will live on in his many students, congregations and followers, who include leading figures in divergent fields. He has left an historic impression upon religion in the UK and many thousands will feel bereft at the loss of his towering presence and courage. He was taken from us far too early, and is survived by Elaine Taylor, his wife of 50 years, along with their three children and many grandchildren.

Steve Bell: Corbynism achieved power in Brighton and Hove. It failed spectacularly.

28 Sep

Cllr Steve Bell is Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.

In July, Labour’s minority administration at Brighton and Hove City Council collapsed – just a little over a year after the 2019 May local elections.

When Labour lost two councillors over alleged anti-Semitic racism and had a third councillor suspended pending an investigation, the Greens seized power and have now taken over minority control.

The collapse was a shameful end for a Momentum-backed Labour Administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton & Hove into disrepute, and consistently let its residents down.

Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council.

This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on 2nd May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement, and weak leadership from start to finish.

Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people of this City who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our most vulnerable, time and again.

Its decisions led to a collapse of the Home to School Transport Scheme, putting children with a disability at risk, and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.

Another such investigation may well be on the cards after it was recently reported that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front.  And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would ‘protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty’ Labour instead left traders on Brighton’s famous seafront strip struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet after closing the road – and left office with Brighton & Hove languishing as a ‘below average resort’ according to a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.

Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the Housing Repairs Budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.

While Labour promised voters in its Manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the City for residents, including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the Council Leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill in her East Brighton ward along the way.

Most damagingly for our City, while Labour claimed to have sustained a reputation for Brighton & Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left having unforgivably failed on its pledge to be an anti-racist council. Labour’s Council Leader did not properly stand up to antisemitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for antisemitism remaining in her group. In doing so, the Council Leader failed to back up her own words at the Budget that Brighton & Hove is a City that is ‘inclusive and welcoming to all’.

Politically, the Council Leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the local Argus newspaper reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of local green space at Whitehawk Hill.

The fact that Labour collapsed over racism and ended with the shame of the Leader of our City Council being called upon to resign by a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism is a stain on our city. It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton & Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.

Labour’s constant failure to deliver for our City resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s Finance spokesman saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.

In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the Council Leader tried to desperately hold onto power by arranging a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction for our city had to come to an end.

This Council needs a Leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.

Corbynism failed spectacularly in Brighton and Hove and it will be a long time before the people of this City put their trust in Labour to run their City Council again.

Steve Bell: Corbynism achieved power in Brighton and Hove. It failed spectacularly.

28 Sep

Cllr Steve Bell is Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.

In July, Labour’s minority administration at Brighton and Hove City Council collapsed – just a little over a year after the 2019 May local elections.

When Labour lost two councillors over alleged anti-Semitic racism and had a third councillor suspended pending an investigation, the Greens seized power and have now taken over minority control.

The collapse was a shameful end for a Momentum-backed Labour Administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton & Hove into disrepute, and consistently let its residents down.

Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council.

This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on 2nd May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement, and weak leadership from start to finish.

Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people of this City who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our most vulnerable, time and again.

Its decisions led to a collapse of the Home to School Transport Scheme, putting children with a disability at risk, and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.

Another such investigation may well be on the cards after it was recently reported that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front.  And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would ‘protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty’ Labour instead left traders on Brighton’s famous seafront strip struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet after closing the road – and left office with Brighton & Hove languishing as a ‘below average resort’ according to a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.

Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the Housing Repairs Budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.

While Labour promised voters in its Manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the City for residents, including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the Council Leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill in her East Brighton ward along the way.

Most damagingly for our City, while Labour claimed to have sustained a reputation for Brighton & Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left having unforgivably failed on its pledge to be an anti-racist council. Labour’s Council Leader did not properly stand up to antisemitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for antisemitism remaining in her group. In doing so, the Council Leader failed to back up her own words at the Budget that Brighton & Hove is a City that is ‘inclusive and welcoming to all’.

Politically, the Council Leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the local Argus newspaper reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of local green space at Whitehawk Hill.

The fact that Labour collapsed over racism and ended with the shame of the Leader of our City Council being called upon to resign by a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism is a stain on our city. It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton & Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.

Labour’s constant failure to deliver for our City resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s Finance spokesman saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.

In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the Council Leader tried to desperately hold onto power by arranging a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction for our city had to come to an end.

This Council needs a Leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.

Corbynism failed spectacularly in Brighton and Hove and it will be a long time before the people of this City put their trust in Labour to run their City Council again.

Robert Halfon: Do Twitter’s bosses believe that anti-semitism is worth indulging for profit?

29 Jul

What is the difference between Radio des Mille Collines and Twitter?

Radio des Mille Collines (RDMC) was a radio station that broadcast in Rwanda between 1993 and 1994.  One of its founders (and primary funder) was businessman, Felcien Kabuga, who was recently arrested in France for alleged war crimes against the Rwandan Tutsi population in 1994. One million – predominantly Tutsi – Rwandans were killed over three months in a genocide that shocked the world. In the summers of 2008 and 2009, I spent time teaching in Rwanda, as part of the Andrew Mitchell-led Project Umabano.

What I learnt and saw first-hand in that country will haunt me for the rest of my life. The Tutsi people were, first, systematically demonised, then, marginalised and, finally, murdered. As so often in human history, the Free World stood by and let it happen.

In part, what made the mass-slaughter humanly possible were the activities of the RDMC. Listened to by millions, the station would broadcast regular propaganda against the Tutsis, notably describing them as, “cockroaches”. It helped ‘desensitise’ the Hutu population in terms of the killings they would go on to carry out.

I thought of Radio des Mille Collines on Monday this week as, for the first time since joining Twitter in 2009, I began a 48-hour boycott in solidarity with Jewish groups, Jews in public life, the former Chief Rabbi and supportive friends.

As RDMC showed, the power of broadcasting – whether it be social media, TV or radio – can, at worst, facilitate a genocide. At best, it desensitises those who engage with it, so much so that they no longer see racial hatred as an offence, but merely part of everyday parlance.

Clearly, Jack Dorsey is not Felicien Kabuga. Nor is Twitter as an organisation encouraging genocide.

But was RDMC the early equivalent of Twitter for the Hutu militia? Whilst the Hutus may not have had the internet, they did have access to pocket radio. They were able to switch on and hear ‘ordinary’ folk call in to tell their stories about the so-called horrific actions of the Tutsi “cockroach” population.

Was the ability of the RDMC to spread evil and hatred any different to some of the vile Tweets that anti-Semites write on Twitter, seemingly with both impunity and immunity?

In essence, the question to be asked is whether Twitter has created a safe haven to spread hatred of Jewish people? What I have never understood from some of these social media websites is why the onus is always on the victim to report abuse. Why is it that the advanced algorithms do not pick this up? Moreover, when it is reported, especially when it comes to anti-semitism, rarely is it followed through.

At the time of writing this article for ConservativeHome, despite reporting an anti-semitic tweet a week or so ago, it has still not been removed. This inaction – as exemplified in the case of Wiley, the rapper who wrote anti-semitic tweets last week, which are still up as I write -is why so many good people have decided to stage a 48-hour boycott of Twitter.

Often, Twitter goes after the big high-profile cases in terms of dealing with extremism, yet when it comes to specific and regular instances of anti-Semitism, the social media site appears to turn a blind eye.

Why does all this matter? In February, the Jewish Community Security Trust reported that anti-Semitic incidents were at an all-time high, with 1,805 cases recorded in 2019. Online anti-Semitism made up the greatest proportion of abuse, at 39 per cent, with the vast majority taking place on Twitter.

Perhaps the management of Twitter just don’t care because they are making so much money? Why should a few upset Jews upset its golden applecart?

As far as I am aware, none of us Twitter boycotters have left Twitter for good. I will still use the social media site as, on balance, it is more useful than not. But, I have a very different opinion of Twitter from a few years ago, when I thought the social media site was a genuine benefit to mediakind. There might come a time that this 48-hour boycott – a chip of ice, slipping down the mountain – may become an avalanche. Millions of decent people may decide that Twitter is no longer worth the candle. I think that time could be nearer than we think.

Michael Gove, in the past, described countries that treat their Jewish citizens well, as being the countries in history that were most liberal, enlightened, democratic and having deep respect for the rule of law. In the same way, perhaps, we can judge the enlightenment of social media sites by the way they genuinely – or not, as the case may be – work to combat anti-Semitism.

P.S. Readers may be interested in this article I wrote on the Rwandan genocide in August 2008 for ConservativeHome: “How Bergen Belsen came to the hills of Rwanda”.

Free speech for Wiley?

26 Jul

Our older readers will be familiar with Wiley – the rapper who last week posted a series of anti-semitic remarks on social media.

We linger on one tweet only, in which he undertook a whirlwind tour of the Israel-Palestine dispute, claiming that “I cannot be upset about two sets of people killing each other on land that belongs to us anyway”.  This is a Black Israelite trope – the claim that black people are real descendants of the biblical Hebrews.

It takes a unique diplomatic talent to deny the rights of both Jews and Palestinians simultaneously.  At any rate, it goes almost without saying that Wiley’s posts were deeply stupid, disgusting, and self-defeating.

On that last point, Wiley has lost his manager, John Woolf, a self-described “proud Jewish man” who first clung to his client, saying that “as someone who has known him for 12 years I know he does not truly feel this way,” but soon let him go – an admission that Wiley does truly feel this way.

The point about our more aged readers is not a piece of self-trolling, incidentally.  At 41, Wiley isn’t exactly a slip of a grime artist almost young enough to know no better.

Anti-semitism these days is found more often on the Left than the Right, so it is tempting for a conservative site simply to slag off Wiley, as we do above, and move on.  But if free speech demands anything, it demands even more than Orwell’s famous quote about liberty meaning “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.

For above all, it requires championing their right to free speech even when – no: especially when – they make remarks that we find reprehensible.

This is not to say that wicked words should escape consequences.  For example, Wiley is a Spurs fan.  So Tottenham Hotspur would be perfectly entitled to bar him from its stadium (assuming that he ever goes there).  That is its right as a free institution.  For what it’s worth, we hope that it does.

Twitter is a different matter.  After all, Spurs have not carved out, for all their footballing seniority, a culture-shaping space in the public square.  Twitter has.

At the time we publish, it has havered about with Wiley, deleting some of his posts but maintaining his account. There is a case for arguing that since Twitter is a private company, it is thus entitled to set its own rules for users – banning Katie Hopkins, for example, but tolerating Richard Cowie (Wiley’s real name).

Furthermore, it may be that Twitter is a rocket that will be brought crashing down to earth by the weight of its woke “hateful conduct policy” – and its double standards. Or, if you like, that will be outsmarted by more agile competitors.

We are not convinced.  Government already intervenes in the public arena – and must do, since the latter must be policed by the law. And it is Parliament that makes and unmakes law, government that must implement it, and the courts that must uphold it.  (Judges should also discover rather than make law, but that’s another subject.)

It follows that the law should always have a presumption in favour of protecting free speech.  So just as there’s argument for saying that what Twitter does is simply its own business, there’s also one for saying that is isn’t.

Which returns us to Wiley.  The Campaign against Anti-Semitism has reported him to the police and called for prosecution. If his posts broke the law, then so be it.  But not everything that is offensive is illegal, or should be.  To give an example in this area, Holocaust denial is not a crime in the UK, as it is in some other European countries.

There are a number of pragmatic arguments either way, but one of principle, rightly, holds: that free speech within the law is an ideal worth preserving, and that it should apply when the Holocaust is denied.

We would like to see it extended in the world of work.  Consider the case, for example, of Nick Buckley, recently reinstated as Chief Executive Officer of Mancunian Way, a charity.  He had been sacked after a social media storm in the wake of remarks he had made that were critical of Black Lives Matter.

The point is that he should never have been dismissed in the first place, and further free speech safeguards might have made the charity’s trustees pause before forcing him out.  (They themselves have now resigned.)

Then there is the story of Stephen Lamonby, dismissed as a part-time lecturer after making remarks about Jewish people that ventured into the perilous world of genetics, but which were positive.  Or of Gillian Phillips, a children’s author, fired as an author by Working Partners for tweeting support for J.K.Rowling over the trans issue.

Wiley makes music. He doesn’t help to run a charity or write books or lecture in a university.  This being so, what happens next is straighforward, or should be.

We hope that he will be ridiculed and ostracised, and that people boycott what he produces – which is admittedly, to paraphrase Shrek’s Lord Farquaad, a sacrifice that some of us are willing to make. What he can’t be, since the circumstances don’t apply – and shouldn’t be automatically, were they to do so – is  “cancelled”, i.e: sacked.

At least, not until or unless he were to be convicted by a court.  Let us spell it out in plain terms.  In this case, Woolf worked for Wiley, not the reverse.

And since Woolf worked for Wiley, he had the right to withdraw his services.  But were it the other way round, Woolf should not have the right to sack Wiley – or, rather, not an unqualified one (unless or until he is convicted, as we say.)

The right of a company to protect its reputation must be balanced by the right of a worker to free speech. Reprimands, penalties: yes.  Dismissal: not necessarily.

Overall, the Government should be reviewing the balance of the law to protect free speech – a natural companion to Gavin Williamson’s new drive to protect free speech in universities. To rework Dunning on the powers of the Crown, the Cancel Culture has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

Starmer’s desire to “draw a line” under anti-Semitism in Labour will be harder than he thinks

24 Jul

Since becoming Labour Party leader in March of this year, Keir Starmer has made tackling anti-Semitism a top priority. In his acceptance speech he promised to “tear out this poison by its roots”, and one of his first actions was to set up a video conference with Jewish leaders, in which he told them he would create an independent complaints procedure. They welcomed these actions, and said that he had “achieved more in four days” than Jeremy Corbyn had “in four years”.

The extent to which Starmer is determined to address anti-Semitism was clear in June 2020, when he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Education Secretary, for retweeting an interview with the actress Maxine Peake. In it, Peake had said an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, namely that the tactic deployed in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis “was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

Upon becoming aware of Long-Bailey’s Retweet, Starmer acted quickly and decisively in sacking her, winning praise from people across the political spectrum. After years of Corbyn’s ineffective ways, it was quite a change.

Even in spite of these efforts, though, recent events demonstrate just how difficult it will be for Starmer to stamp out anti-Semitism in his party, due to disagreements about Corbyn’s tenure. The factionalism of Labour was highlighted this week after the party apologised and paid damages of around £200,000 to a group of ex-staffer whistleblowers, who Corbyn’s Labour had criticised for appearing in a BBC documentary titled Is Labour anti-Semitic? During this they’d spoken about various incidents within the party, only to be accused of having “personal and political axes to grind”, hence why legal action was brought forward. 

Starmer no doubt believed the settlement would help everything. “I made it clear that we would draw a line under anti-Semitism. Settling this case was important in that respect”, were his words. Case closed, some might think (Starmer was a barrister, after all.)

But instead, Corbyn contradicted his successor’s words, issuing a statement in which he called the decision “disappointing”, a “political” not “legal” one, which risked giving “credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.” 

John Ware, who made the documentary, and some of the whistleblowers have since instructed Mark Lewis to pursue a defamation case against Corbyn. (Lewis, incidentally, has said he’s been approached by 32 individuals who want to take action against Labour). 

In response to this, some have called for Starmer to withdraw the whip from Corbyn, suspend or expel him. But he is clearly wary of doing this, as it would lead to an “uncontrollable civil war”, as Tom Harris put it for The Telegraph, “that would conceivably split the party and leave each half as unelectable as the other.” Other Labour figures, such as Len McCluskey, have already argued against the court settlement. It has met strong resistance.

The other thought that will linger at the back of many people’s minds is that Starmer, for all his decisiveness now, campaigned for Corbyn to be Prime Minister. He did this at the same time that Jewish MPs, such as Luciana Berger, were the targets of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats. 

MPs and many party members couldn’t stand by as this happened. Frank Field quit the party, saying that the leadership had become “a force for anti-Semitism in British politics”, and nine MPs left in 2019 for the same reason. 

In essence, Starmer can apologise and try to correct things all he wants, but that legacy of doing nothing – when it mattered the most – will stay in hearts and minds.

With Starmer recently receiving a draft report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to how Labour handled anti-Semitism allegations under Corbyn’s leadership, there will be significant pressure for him to continue to “tear out this poison”, as he put it. He reassured parliament on Wednesday that Labour was “under new management”, and he clearly believes that he is the man to end this dire era.

Let’s hope so, of course. But due to the instabilities in his party, along with his past lack of action on anti-Semitism, his wish to “draw a line” under it will be harder than he thinks.

Richard Holden: On Wednesday, Sunak needs to display as much confidence in Britain as local publications are showing in North West Durham

6 Jul

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Dairy Barn Cafe, North Bitchburn

As Saturday approached, you could feel the febrile excitement and demand for “the story” across the media. Television news and radio bulletins boiled over with predictions of carnage on Saturday night. The broadcasters and papers were eagerly anticipating Freshers Week-esque scenes of drunken debauchery as the public decided to get wasted in a post-lockdown bacchanal.

In North West Durham, I spent Saturday evening visiting the: Duke of Wellington, Consett Rugby Club, the Wheatsheaf in Leadgate and finally the Black Lion, my local in Wolsingham. I’m afraid that I must report that calm and friendly were the orders of the evenings – as it appears were the scenes across the rest of the country too.

Tog, the landlord of the Duke, four doors down from my office on Medomsley Road, took me to his beer garden to show me a mural he’d commissioned during lockdown from a local artist. Sarah-Jane, at the Black Lion, had me take a peak at how she’d transformed her beer garden from a flagged smoking area to a lively and welcoming garden of tables, tasteful lighting and colourful plants and flowers.

It was superb to see responsible local businesses at the heart of their communities investing in their businesses, and ensuring a safe and socially distanced experience for their customers. This hope of better things to come from local firms, with small but significant investments in themselves, is really welcome at a time when I know so many people are not only worried by the virus, but also about their jobs and their incomes.

However, in many sectors of the economy the broad economic impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic is coming through hard, and is reflecting just how interconnected demand is across our economy.

To give one example: at first as the crisis broke, I had travel agents and their staff get in touch. Then came had pilots and crew from Easyjet and British Airways based at Newcastle airport, as the airlines cut back. More recently, I’ve been in touch with a local manufacturing firm which makes inner parts for the wings of Airbus planes, and which is having to lay off half its staff (some of their factories across the UK have closed completely and will not re-open).

Very quickly, the lack of ability to – and demand for – travel has led to manufacturing job losses well down the chain. It’s clear that some sectors have been far more badly affected than others, and that base consumer demand is having a rapid knock-on effect.

Looking out of the panoramic window of the just re-opened Dairy Barn Café, I can see right up Weardale, and am reminded of a conversation I had early in the last election campaign. “Remember, we’re the working dale, Richard” a man in late middle-age in local authority housing in Stanhope had said to me.

At the time it made me think of where I grew up on the other side of the Pennines – walking up Pendle Hill in Lancashire 20 years ago, and looking south to the mill towns of East Lancashire nestled in the valleys below. Working towns like Burnley, Colne and Accrington which have since switched to electing Conservative MPs.

As the furlough scheme, which protected so many jobs at the height of the lockdown is wound down, we’ve got to do everything we can to help return demand to the economy – the demand that comes from confidence in the future. Demand that means work for decent working people up and down the seats of the ‘Blue Wall’.

This confidence and positive view to the future is not something anyone’s hearing from the Labour leadership under Keir Starmer. The best thing he could muster last week was to suggest that the Government was giving “mixed messages” by saying, “get out and about, have a drink, but do so safely”.  Which shows that he’s struggling to get cut-through – especially when the man in the village pub in County Durham is by and large is doing exactly what the Government has suggested.

Labour’s shambolic response to getting children back to school, by saying one thing nationally and another in Labour-run local authorities, certainly inspires no-one with confidence – except a growing confidence that Sir Keir is a political opportunist. He was, after all, remarkably quiet on anti-semitism under Jeremy Corbyn, in order to keep hold of Momentum votes for the leadership. And he tried to play both sides with Labour’s disastrous “we’ll accept the result, but negotiate a new deal, and then have a second referendum” policy on Brexit.

Perhaps most interestingly, this weekend marked the first time that any constituent has mentioned the Labour leader to me unprompted. She was a former Labour voter who switched to the Conservatives in 2017 (and had managed to convince her husband to do so in 2019), and it was clear that, after being initially open-minded, the new Labour leader was leaving them increasingly cool.

The Government has done well in giving support to business and jobs – Rishi Sunak has certainly won fans across the country for that. But without wanting to pile too much pressure on the Chancellor ahead of his statement on Wednesday, we’re all only as good as our most recent decisions in politics.

As we move out of the initial stages of lockdown, Rishi’s decision must be to put confidence as much confidence and therefore demand back into the economy – especially in hard hit sectors – as he can. Everyone knows that it’s going to a difficult time and no-one expects the Government to get everything a hundred per cent right, but voters do expect us to really try.

And in doing so over the next few weeks and months, the Government has got to show the confidence in Britain that my local publicans in North West Durham are showing. And, as they press ahead with “levelling up” their pubs, we must also keep that long-term goal in mind too for the North.

Confidence is the thing that underlies every relationship with the state that we have – from policing with consent to the value of the fiat currency in our pocket. Confidence that governments have the people in mind and the ability to deliver is what keeps them in office.

The electorate here in County Durham and in the mill Towns of East Lancashire took us into their confidence and bestowed their votes upon us. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the Government has supported people. Now our task is to give our businesses the confidence to look to the future positively, which will in turn give the people who work for them the confidence to invest and spend in a virtuous circle, bouncing forward out of the fear of recent months and towards the hope of a brighter future.