Andrew Bowie: Expanding regional airport capacity can help strengthen the Union, and support left behind communities

1 Jun

Andrew Bowie is Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and a Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party.

While representing West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine in the House of Commons is a huge honour and a privilege, it’s quite the commute to the office. So, when you represent a constituency 398 miles “as the crow flies” from Westminster, you develop a new appreciation for just how important air travel is, particularly for those who want or need to travel to Scotland.

Scotland has, of course, long been a top tourist destination for travellers from around the world, particularly the beautiful North East I am lucky to call home. Whether it’s the thirteen stop “Castle Trail” through my own constituency, an even longer tour of the Speyside distilleries, or even a trip up to Banffshire’s famous “Dolphin Coast”, the North East is a fantastic place to live and visit.

Visitors from around the world clearly agree with this assessment. In 2019, before the impact of the pandemic, visitors to Scotland made 17.5 million overnight trips, with a total spend of £5.9 billion, the highest figures over the last decade according to VisitScotland. This represents a huge contribution to our GDP, with much of this money flowing in from the US, Europe and further afield.

Scotland’s heritage and natural beauty is a huge asset to the UK, one we should invest in to keep the “union dividend” rolling in for Scottish businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector who have been hit so badly by the pandemic. And while every visit to Scotland is a pleasure, business travel is also of paramount importance.

For example, without high quality, reliable air links, Aberdeen would not be the oil and gas capital of Europe it is today. The oil and gas industry isn’t just the beating heart of the local economy in the North East, employing many of my constituents, but is also crucial to the wider Scottish economy.

This is well understood across the Scottish political spectrum. The SNP’s 2014 economic plan for independence relied heavily on high oil prices and the continued exploitation of these resources. The subsequent downturn proved this would have been a disastrous model, but it does serve to underline just how central the industry is to Scotland’s economy.

With COP26 fast approaching, it might seem unfashionable to advocate for an industry widely demonised for its central role in the exploitation of fossil fuels. But what is not always widely understood in political circles is the huge contribution the oil and gas sector is making to achieving net zero, by developing and investing huge sums of money into clean renewable energy technology. When we reach net zero, as we will, we will have achieved it not despite the oil and gas industry, but in large part due to the incredible innovation and investment taking place in cities like Aberdeen.

The same is true for aviation – we cannot reach net zero without investing in sustainable air travel. As the vaccine rollout continues in the UK and around the world, many of us will be looking forward to a long overdue holiday, whether abroad or to another nation of our United Kingdom (the second paragraph of this article may have given you some ideas!). The demand for air travel is not going to disappear any time soon, and we should take the opportunity to make sure that the future of British aviation is sustainable, drives investment around the UK, and strengthens our precious union.

For this reason, I welcomed the UK Government’s Union Connectivity Review when it was announced, and eagerly await its recommendations. It is not enough to simply make sure that each part of the UK receives investment in transport infrastructure – we need a joined-up approach to encourage domestic travel around the UK, its nations, and its regions. If people cannot easily and quickly travel around the UK, they cannot enjoy everything it has to offer them. Without those opportunities and experiences, we run the risk of letting support for the Union stagnate when it should be growing.

The best way to do this, at the lowest cost to the taxpayer, is to support clean aviation growth by backing regional airports like Aberdeen, Bristol, and Belfast – particularly where they need to expand to increase capacity. Too much of our national conversation about airport capacity is focused on Heathrow and the other London airports, just as too much of Westminster’s time is spent talking to Westminster about Westminster.

Investing in sustainable aviation around the UK would be a fantastic way to show that we are a party and a government for the whole United Kingdom, as well as providing fresh opportunities for the Government’s levelling up agenda. Wherever there is investment in airports and the infrastructure which serves them, thousands of jobs and opportunities are created in the local area and further afield through the supply chain. Increasingly, as in the oil and gas sector, many of these are “green” jobs.

And while it is right that the Government spend money on levelling up in communities which have lacked investment for many years, it is important to remember that this doesn’t just mean spending in the “Red Wall” and the North of England. Communities that were left behind by Labour deserve to see investment and support. But we mustn’t take our eye off the ball in other parts of the UK, lest we repeat the mistakes of previous governments and create a new generation of left behind communities.

I’ve welcomed the measures the Government has taken over the last 18 months to support airline operators, particularly household names like British Airways – long-established great British brands we want to preserve. But other parts of the aerospace and aviation industries are suffering too, in what the industry body ADS called a “deepening crisis” earlier this year.

Rolls-Royce, another great British household name, made significant job cuts to its global workforce last year, as did Airbus. Both companies are big long-term investors in the UK and significant employers in the South West of England, a major hub for the British aerospace industry in general.

So, what is to be done? The Union Connectivity Review was a good first step and I eagerly await Sir Peter Hendy’s recommendations, to be published this summer. But in the meantime, we should be looking at what we can do in the immediate short term to increase regional airport capacity – getting ahead of the demand rather than trying to catch up. This means working closely with regional airports and investors who are willing to help build the infrastructure needed to increase capacity in a green, sustainable fashion.

And what we mustn’t do is uncritically accept the narrative that British aviation is incompatible with a net zero future – just as we’d be wrong to take that view of the oil and gas sector. The public want politicians to come up with sensible, balanced solutions to combat climate change. They won’t thank us for knee-jerk reactions or short-sightedness.

The Troubles legal cases. After yesterday’s outcome, could the Government return to Lord Caine’s proposal?

5 May

Yesterday the case against two former paratroopers over the killing of John McCann, an Official IRA commander, in 1972 collapsed due to a lack of fresh evidence.

At Langanside Courts in Belfast, Mr Justice O’Hara ruled the evidence “inadmissible” almost 50 years after Soldier A and Soldier C first gave statements, and said material from 1972 had been put before the court “dressed up and freshened up“.

The case has inevitably been incredibly divisive. McCann’s family have accused the state of “failure” at “all levels” over the lack of prosecution.

In the meantime, there’s growing anger in Westminster about veterans being taken to court. Johnny Mercer, the former veterans minister who recently resigned over the Government’s handling of the investigations into the Troubles, called the trial “farcical”.

Soldier A and C’s was the first prosecution around the Troubles shooting since the Good Friday agreement of 1998, but currently over 200 veterans, many of whom are in their seventies and eighties, are at risk of criminal investigations too. Soldier A and C’s legal team had warned in 2016 that earlier evidence from their clients would not be admissible (the soldiers gave statements in 1972 and subsequent ones in 2010), so it raises the question of how the case reached the court – and what else could follow.

Barra McGrory, formerly the Northern Ireland director of public prosecutions, was behind the decision to press ahead with the prosecution, who it’s been pointed out represented Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness while in private practice. Mercer has been critical of the PPS, and asked for “an urgent independent inquiry to establish whether [its] decision was made ‘properly and correctly’.”

Clearly the Government needs to take decisive action, with legislation expected in next week’s Queen’s speech. But it must strike a careful balance, which respects Northern Ireland’s judicial structure (such as having its own Attorney General) relating to its delicate political settlement, while stopping veterans’ cases dragging out for years.

One solution that could create much-needed balance was proposed in 2019 by Lord Caine, formerly an adviser to six secretaries of state for Northern Ireland. His idea was to apply a modified version of Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 and the common law on self-defence, an idea which John Larkin, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, raised that year in a lecture.

The modification would help legal authorities distinguish between “a split second error of law on the one hand, and the execution of an act of studied illegality on the other.”

Caine proposed that once a legal authority could make distinctions on these complex cases, this could in turn be used for a certificate system. He wrote: “A certificate could only be issued if that legal figure were to conclude that a person potentially under investigation or facing trial had not honestly believed that the action he or she took with lethal or injurious effect was reasonable in the circumstances. If no certificate were to be issued, the investigation or proceedings would cease. Should a certificate be issued, the investigation or proceedings continue in the normal way.”

Elsewhere, there have been proposals for the Government to create a new investigative body to look through the files of 3,600 Troubles deaths and remove cases where there is no compelling evidence. But it could take a long time – during which veterans’ desperately need an end to the ongoing situation.

While reportedly some ministers think the Caine certificate system goes too far, Downing Street seems to be struggling around any proposal at all. Yet its paralysis could prove as politically risky as trying to override the judicial processes that brought Soldier A and C to court.

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

31 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damian Flanagan: Manchester has a central role to play in preserving the UK

11 Feb

Damian Flanagan is Chair of Manchester Conservatives.

While we are all busy trying to make our way – maintaining life and livelihoods as best as we can – through the long ordeal of the Coronavirus pandemic, we might also be grimly aware that our very nation seems to be intractably moving apart.

Calls from the SNP for a second independence referendum – ignoring the understanding that the 2014 poll would be a “once in a generation” event – combine with opinion polls north of the border consistently showing a majority in favour of permanent separation. In Ireland meanwhile the possibility of holding a border poll in Northern Ireland is regularly discussed, inviting opinions ranging from glee at the prospect of long-cherished Irish unity for some, horror at the financial burden for others, and dogged determination to remain part of the UK from Unionists.

As things continue to pull apart, it might appear that our role here in Manchester is simply to act as by-standers to what might yet prove to be the beginning of an end game for the UK, watching London cope as best as it can with these forces of division.

But if you think about things differently, it is Manchester, not London, which stands at the geographical heart of the UK. Indeed, one of the key problems our relatively small nation faces is that, to people in Belfast and Glasgow, London feels distant and out of touch, lost in its own cultural bubble.

Indeed Manchester seems far better equipped than London to sympathise with the economic realities of what is going on in cities far closer to us and often with similar industrial histories and post-industrial problems.

Rather than seeing Manchester as “northern” – a profoundly London-centric view of the world – how about we start seeing Manchester instead as “central”? It is central both in terms of the position we occupy in the country we live in and to the prospects of that nation continuing for another 300 years.

We might ask a bolder question – why exactly does London, tucked away in the south east, have to remain the capital of the nation anyway? True, London has of course the overwhelming economic power and population, but plenty of nations – think Canada, the US, Australia – position their political capitals in places separate from the largest city. A nation’s capital should be placed to reach out to every part of the land. In the UK at the moment, London palpably fails to do that.

Looked at historically, one reason why London emerged as the nation’s capital was profoundly connected to the ruling elite – from the Romans to the Normans to the Tudors – maintaining land interests in continental Europe and needing to stay in close contact with them from a defendable position away from the coast. At the point where Henry VIII finally lost the last vestigial footing in France, the great age of sea trade and worldwide exploration began, making London, positioned on the estuary of the Thames, perfectly placed to be the engine of the nation’s success for another 400 years.

But in today’s new age of “Global Britain”, where we have just decisively cut our ties with the political arrangements of continental Europe and broken free to reach out to the rest of world, why is it necessary for London to remain the centre of UK politics, an arrangement which clearly does not appeal to large numbers of people in the other nations of the UK?

It’s time not for more federalism – the very thing which is driving the UK apart – but for a political reconfiguration that recognises where the centre of the nation we live in actually is. We want a *united* kingdom, with government agencies and institutions operating in Manchester – the second largest conurbation outside London – that help to keep the entire nation together.

Moving to Manchester a reformed upper chamber of Parliament – perhaps elected by proportional representation – would make a healthy start. It would also open the eyes of many of our London-centric legislators as to what the issues facing cities like Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow actually are.

This is our precious nation and we can not just sit on the sidelines while London allows it to drift apart. Manchester, at the heart of the nation, is ready to step up and play its part in its political destiny of holding the UK together.

Ed McGuinness: Cities are still the most viable locations for new housing

19 Dec

Ed McGuinness is a former Chairman of Islington Conservative Federation, founder of Conservatives in the City, and contested Hornsey & Wood Green during last year’s General Election.

As someone who grew up in Belfast, the “city in the countryside”, I attest to what it is like to walk less than five miles and go from the dense central business district, through suburbia to the leafy hills and fields surrounding. I understand, from a personal perspective, the importance of the relationship, geographically and demographically between urban and green field development and so I welcome the Government’s shift towards prioritizing more urban home building than initially proposed in the summer. Not only that but it makes practical sense for three reasons: existing urban centres have infrastructure in place; cities are where the demand and supply imbalance is most prevalent; and regional economic development will be driven from urban centres tying in neatly with the Government’s levelling up strategy.

Existing infrastructure

Using the OECD definition of core cities we have 11. Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. Altogether they accounted for 25 per cent of the UK population, 24 per cent employment and 22 per cent gross value added in 2017. The UK’s major urban centres, outside of London, are in a better position, than blank canvas rural areas, to use existing infrastructure to support further home growth. Of the 11 cities included in the definition, nine have metro or light rail links however most, admittedly, still do remain highly reliant on cars. Shifting the focus from Greenfield sites to developing existing urban centres therefore yields two benefits.

The first presents a needs driven opportunity for investment in core infrastructure services that has been neglected in favour of public capital investment in cars, driving advancement towards climate and lifestyle benefits. Secondly, infrastructure development leads to an increase in general productivity, and, if applied to the urban centres in core cities outside of London, that relative increase in productivity per pound spent will drive recovery in the regions and place urban centres on a more sustainable footing to have a positive impact on their surrounding areas.

Supply and demand

Conservatism has traditionally been a values based political philosophy whereby our values remain constant, but the practical implementation of these values adapts over time – a key aspect of our success as a Party in navigating changing national landscapes over the last 100 years. A rare sustaining policy goal, of home ownership, has remained and for good reason; just like when someone owns a share of a company, owning a small share of the Nation, through homeownership, gives people a real sense of stake in their country and encourages a sense of care about what happens to that nation (back to values). House prices in core cities, whilst cheaper than the rest of the UK, are still high by international standards. To attract younger people to take a stake in society through homeownership, the supply and demand balance must be addressed. COVID has seen a temporary imbalance away from exiting urban sprawls in favour of the countryside. But throughout human history the trend has been to consolidate economic output in key areas and this is unlikely to be upended by the pandemic.

Cities drive regions

A process known as agglomeration makes a given worker or firm more productive in larger cities than in smaller cities. This relationship is robust in many countries but when comparing the core cities of the UK to other comparable cities across the world, the UK lags behind on the agglomeration effect by around three times. This presents a huge opportunity, with data suggesting that if core cities grew by ten per cent, and had comparable productivity improvements as those seen in France and Germany, the average productivity, relative to the national average, would increase by over four per cent. This is a lot of numbers but, bigger picture, when elevated to the national level such growth could see aggregate productivity increase by one per cent or £20 billion of GDP.

So-called Northern Powerhouse cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Newcastle could see improvements of between four and six per cent. Developing urban centres helps the surrounding region. Data from the OECD suggests that urban areas that are within 90 minutes travel time of London have on average a 3.5 per cent higher productivity than would be expected given the characteristics of their workforce, sector mix and population size. It therefore makes sense to prioritise housing development in urban centres as a centrepiece of the levelling up strategy.

Intercity links

Whilst prioritizing home building in urban centres now seems logical and beneficial, there is still the question of intercity and regional transportation. Given the complexities of devolved government – regional mayors, district councils, county councils and nationally devolved administrations, to name a handful – any home building, even inside existing urban boundaries, will need to be at least coordinated centrally, so as links between areas are built and sustained allowing economic development to be transmitted across and amongst regions. This ought to form a cornerstone of any development, should be factored into tendering processes from the outset, and will be a drag on development if not included properly.

Conclusion

Housing policy surely is the driver of the levelling up strategy. What is more significant to a person’s life than where they live? It determines where they shop, how they travel, where they send their children to school, where they work, who they are friends with, and what they believe about our country. To truly level up housing can have real positive effects as it will create an imperative for joined-up infrastructure. If supplied in quality and quantity, it will become affordable and attractive for young people, and as it does so, it will bring jobs and industry which will spread wealth like an ink spot across the region.

What would President Biden and Vice President Harris mean for the Special Relationship?

12 Aug

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Contrary to some of the analysis of late, Joe Biden is by no means a shoo-in for the presidency in November. Nationally, polls are tightening and at the same point with 84 days to go in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the Five Thirty Eight polling average was 6.6 per cent. The Biden campaign will begin to face accusations of losing momentum if Donald Trump continues to chip away at his lead. On that basis, it makes sense that Biden has sought to wrestle back the narrative by announcing Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. If the Biden-Harris ticket is victorious in November, the White House will look like a very different place to the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Biden on Britain and Brexit

Biden is no Brexiteer like Trump. Biden and his old boss, President Obama, fell into line with David Cameron when they effectively backed the Remain campaign by declaring an independent UK would be at the “back of the queue” when it came to negotiating a US trade deal. The day after the EU referendum in 2016, Biden was in Dublin and remarked “We’d have preferred a different outcome”.

Nevertheless, the political imperative of the Special Relationship means there is no chance that Biden would abandon the UK on day one of his presidency. On the contrary, one would expect a presidential visit to London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin within the first six months of President Biden’s tenure. It is the final two stops of that likely trip that provide the most interesting topics for discussion.

Both presidential candidates have direct links to the UK. Donald Trump is an Anglophile and reveres his Scottish heritage. Biden’s proximity lies in Ireland. His great grandfather, James Finnegan, emigrated from County Louth as a child, in 1850. In advance of his 2016 visit to Ireland, Biden said: “James Joyce wrote, ‘When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart. Well, Northeast Pennsylvania will be written on my heart. But Ireland will be written on my soul.’” On a purely personal basis therefore, we have grounds for optimism that the Special Relationship is in safe hands no matter the election outcome.

Negotiating a US-UK FTA in a Biden presidency

Biden would almost certainly cool some of the Trump White House’s more aggressive trade policies such as obstructing the work of the World Trade Organization. But Biden’s 40 years of political experience means he knows which way the wind is blowing on trade. He will want to ensure any deal is seen to protect US jobs and domestic production, while maximising export potential.

What is more, Harris, Biden’s newly announced running mate, has said she would oppose any trade deals that don’t include high labour and environmental standards. She opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 citing insufficient protection for US workers.

That rings alarm bells for those hoping the UK could ascend to the CPTPP – assuming the United States would do the same – therefore subverting the need for a bilateral US-UK FTA. Furthermore, Harris has little experience of the Special Relationship to speak of. On the foreign policy section of her website, she lists as “key partners” Japan, India, Mexico, and Korea. The UK is conspicuous in its absence for a potential future Vice President of the US

Where Washington and Westminster could align

In four clear instances we see Washington and Westminster aligning under the prospective leadership of Biden and Johnson respectively.

First, the Trump campaign and Republican Party are trying to paint Biden as a puppet of China. Consequently, he is being pushed into a more hawkish corner. That will mean alignment with an increasingly Sino-scepetic Downing Street and Parliament. Trump initially courted Chinese President Xi Jinping but since then has made an aggressively anti-China stance a key plank of his presidency. Having banned Huawei from our 5G infrastructure, Downing Street looks set to be largely in lockstep with Washington regardless of the outcome in November.

Second, Johnson’s government has shown little interest in entertaining Trump’s more excessive foreign policy ideals. The Trump administration has done its best to erode the World Trade Organization, considering it too kind to China. Conversely, Johnson has nominated Liam Fox to be its next Director-General. Both Fox and his successor at DIT, Liz Truss, extol the virtues of global trade and the rules-based international order that governs it. The British government aspires to be an invisible link in the chain that connects trading nations. In that regard, Biden would be supportive.

Third, environmental policy is one area in which Johnson and Trump do not see eye to eye. The stark divergence in approach has become an awkward rift between the two allies. The UK was a key supporter of the Paris Climate Accord from which Trump removed the US. As the Chair of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Downing Street would undoubtedly favour a US President who considers climate change one of the world’s biggest and most pressing priorities. That only applies to Biden.

Lastly, Iran. As Foreign Secretary, Johnson failed in his attempt to persuade the Trump administration to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. Biden would rejoin it in a heartbeat, having been a part of the Obama administration who orchestrated it in the first place.

In summary, the Special Relationship will endure irrespective of the winner in November. Built on a shared understanding and common values, the relationship transcends presidents and prime ministers. On China, the US and UK look set to form an even closer alliance alongside their Five Eyes allies. That is something both Trump and Biden appear to agree on.