Ben Roback: The ‘defund the police’ movement is a gift to Republican strategists – as Americans increasingly fear crime

15 Dec

Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

American politics has been shaped by a minor handful of major events in recent years. Few predicted the transformative effect Donald Trump could have on the Republican Party, which now sits almost entirely in the palm of his hand.

No one could have knowingly predicted the outbreak of an obscure virus in Wuhan province that would lead to over five million deaths worldwide, leaving economies ravaged in its wake. But just like death and taxes are life’s two great known outcomes, crime remains a constant political problem that won’t go away. Is Joe Biden losing his grip on such a fundamental issue?

Keeping the nation safe is the first function of government. Fail on crime, fail to get re-elected. On that basis, public attitudes to crime in the United States are alarming. Consider the numbers revealed in the polling undertaken by Morning Consult in July of this year:

  • A staggering 78 per cent of voters said they believe violent crime is a “major problem” in the US;
  • 73 per cent said crime is increasing;
  • 52 per cent identified “too many guns on our streets” as a “major reason” that violent crime is increasing in the US; and
  • 49 per cent blamed police defunding for the crime surge.

Logic dictates that tackling and reducing crime should be a political priority from the White House to Congress, all the way down to state legislatures and town councils. The president is understandably spinning infinite plans – Covid, climate change, managing his own party to name three of the most time-consuming – and few could blame him for struggling to find time to fight crime. At the local level, that excuse does not wash. With such a stark backdrop, how can it be that Democrats still flirt with the idea of taking money away from police departments?

Is “defund the police” a vote winner or loser?

Progressive Democrats have for years been leading campaigns to “defund the police” in towns and cities across the US. This is not informed by any clear partisan divide over attitudes to crime. Republican voters (79 per cent) and Democrats (68 per cent) both overwhelmingly agree that crime is increasing.

“Defund the police” became turbocharged by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that followed the murder of George Floyd by an on-duty police officer. Since then, it has become an integral part of the American political vocabulary. Before that, it was largely the preserve of small, devoutly Democratic local jurisdictions overwhelmingly stacked with progressives in positions of power.

The left of the Democratic Party has been working hard to turn a slogan into meaningful policy. In the pursuit of defunding the police, more than 20 cities have reduced their police budgets in some form, diverting cash to fund the ‘solution’ and not the ‘problem’. Local government in Austin, Texas, passed a major cut to the city’s law enforcement budget and is now reallocating that funding to housing programmes. The city used to spend 40 per cent of its $1.1 billion general fund on law enforcement, whereas that figure is now just 26 per cent.

Calls to defund the police present two major headaches for any incumbent Democratic president.

First, it creates a fight with the unions that no Democrat wants to have. Not least Biden, a self-described “union guy”. Protecting their members jobs and to a greater extent their own existence, police unions have consistently opposed any reforms that might reduce the number of officers keeping the peace.

Some have pursued a middle ground in which they recognise the need for reform, but instead pursue more police with new training programmes and standards for community engagement – especially in the communities of colour which have historically so often felt the brunt of police misconduct in the US. Whether reform is a pill that police departments are willing to slow, even if it helps stave off huge reductions in their budgets and number, the very debate around defunding the police is reported as a major hammer blow to morale in the communities in which their existence is under threat.

Second, on the campaign trail it becomes manner from heaven for Republicans in any district or state that is anything but deep blue. Police reform is a worthy political priority in cities and states the length and breadth of the US where raging homicide statistics sadly speak for themselves. But for communities less affected and perhaps with a more traditional view of policing – visible, firm, respected – the “defund” campaign sounds like the beginning of the end for law enforcement. It gifts Republican strategists and candidates the chance to warn of police abolitionists and link surging concerns about crime, identified above, with a Democratic Party intent on making crime easier.

Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, lurching the Minnesotan city to the epicentre of the “defund” movement. Seventeen months later, in November of this year, voters resoundingly rejected a proposal to remove the Minneapolis Police Department from the city charter and replaced it with a “public-health oriented” Department of Public Safety. Even some cities that successfully defunded their police departments have begun to distance themselves from the slogan.

Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in Oakland, San Francisco, where city council members once supportive of aggressive reform have shifted to terms like “reimagining” and “reinvesting” when speaking of their approach to policing and public safety. “Defund” has turned off voters that were tempted by police reform but turned off by the prospect of chaos in un-patrolled streets.

President Biden is experienced enough to know a political problem speeding towards him. As the national murder rates rises, just over one in three Americans (36 per cent) approve of his handling of crime, down from 43 per cent in an ABC News/Ipsos poll in late October. His approval ratings on crime are tumbling just at the time when Americans are growing ever more concerned about it.

Sarah Ingham: Social inequality cannot be fixed by erasing Britain’s history

15 Oct

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

Along with Jon Bon Govey, thanks to the Prime Minister another hero burst into our collective consciousness last week: Hereward the Woke.

The PM’s Conference speech might have skirted around the many challenges facing the United Kingdom, but he was clear whose side he was on in the country’s culture wars, highlighting a key battleground: history.

Hereward the Wake (or Watchful) led a five-year insurgency against William I’s all-conquering Normans around 1070. They were fighting in what by then was recognisably England, even if it seemed more like Game of Thrones’ Westeros. The frequent descriptions of the legendary Hereward as one of the ‘greatest Englishmen’ might, however, be pushing it: the resistance leader could well have been as much Danish as Anglo-Saxon.

If only there were more 11th century texts to view through the post-modernist lens of critical theory, Hereward might be the subject of numerous academic papers on identity and colonisation. Wake or Woke; structure or agency.

Voted the greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll in which more than one million took part, it is Winston Churchill rather than Hereward who has come to embody the current cultural conflict within history – and indeed within wider society.

As the author of History of the English-Speaking Peoples, our most illustrious Prime Minister also joins the fight as participant, as well as prize, in today’s history wars. His style is less the drums and trumpets school and more Land of Hope and Glory: ‘… on that little Anglo-Saxon island there was kindled the flame of freedom and equality for the individual … This idea grew and was spread over the earth by the English-speaking peoples, and has now brought democracy to the whole free world …’

If Prime Ministers Johnson and Churchill are battling for history in the metaphorical blue corner, in the red is the seemingly self-hating Churchill College, Cambridge. In July, it announced it was disbanding its Churchill, Race and Empire Working Group.

This follows a panel discussion ‘The Racial Consequences of Mr Churchill’ – still available on YouTube – in which various publicity-hungry academics denounce the British Empire, which is given moral equivalence with Nazi Germany, while among other howlers, apparently mixing up Nye Bevan and Ernest Bevin. Historical accuracy; so yesterday, right?

Last week’s report from the Office for Students stated that universities were ignoring poor spelling, punctuation and grammar. ‘To achieve or promote inclusivity’ some institutions are turning a blind eye to the rules of basic written English. Not only is this jaw-droppingly patronising, but harming students’ career prospects. But who cares about the future of £9,250 a year fee fodder, when there is decolonising the curriculum to get stuck into?

‘They Kant be Serious’ was The Daily Mail’s Johnson-esque response to reports that students at School of Oriental and African Studies wanted to side-line various philosophers, including Plato, as part of its Decolonising Our Minds campaign. Across Britain, universities are following suit, treating the canon by dead white men as if it were radioactive.

Exeter University’s History Department declares that it is ‘working to decolonise the way we teach, research and work with one another’. Its counterpart in Durham is not only committed to decolonisation but to creating an ‘all-inclusive culture and environment’.

With about one-third of their students privately educated, Exeter and Durham aren’t too far off the top of the posh list. Are we quite sure that this current fad for new narratives, which was given fresh momentum with the Black Lives Matter movement, is nothing more than Britain’s academic leaders appeasing their noisier students? After all, they are happy to pander to student-led, mind-closing gestures like no-platforming.

It is ironic that so many of the country’s higher education institutions are making a virtue of decolonisation while structural inequality is obvious in many lecture theatres. It must be questioned how far the cause of social justice is served by ensuring Josh and Jemima, whose schooling cost £40,000 + a year, have more non-white radicals on their reading list than Frantz Fanon.

Last week the Prime Minister warned that our national story is being rewritten. Just as Trotsky came to be air-brushed out of the Stalin-era Soviet picture, whole periods of our collective past are being re-interpreted to fit in with today’s orthodoxies. Statues must fall, links – however tenuous – with the slave trade denounced, street names changed. Supposed guardians of Britain’s history, including the Church of England, art galleries, museums and the National Trust, pander to present mood of iconoclasm.

In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyam province, smashing 2,000 years of history. A decade later, not content with burning alive or beheading opponents, ISIS obliterated artifacts and ruins of the Greek and Roman empires across an arc from Libya to Iraq. In trying to wipe out any trace of a pre-Islamic past, these cultural nihilists decimated a common global heritage for future generations. They could not, however, change the immutable past.

In the context of today, Britain’s history is a litany of uncomfortable and inconvenient truths. Most of it is problematic, some of it heart-stirringly glorious. The current canyons in social equality in this country are not going be bridged by obsessing over what happened hundreds of years ago.

In the current rush to re-write and re-interpret it, what is overlooked is how little history many know. This mass ignorance was reflected last year, when Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, called for a disclaimer on the Netflix series The Crown. Viewers needed reminding that the events depicted were fiction, not historical fact.

As Black History Month continues, it is apt to reflect on the words of Marcus Garvey: ‘A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’ Last week, the Prime Minister declared that ‘we Conservatives will defend our history and cultural inheritance’.

To the barricades.

Is racism in Britain increasing?

21 Jul

Lewis Hamilton became the target of racist abuse on social media on Sunday after winning the British Grand Prix, while a week earlier Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Sako were targetted following England’s defeat by Italy in the final of Euro 2020.

Such disgraceful incidents provoke the fear that racism is on the increase.

But it would be a great mistake to imagine that what happens in the lawless spaces of social media provides a true reflection of what is happening in wider society.

The letters column in a traditional newspaper has an editor, whose tasks include preventing that space from being infiltrated and taken over by racists, or other disgusting people, who set out to pollute debate and drive out reasonable contributors, the latter coming to feel they have better things to do than wrestle in the mud.

To work out whether racism is increasing or diminishing, it makes more sense to start with some polling carried out last summer:

“New research from Ipsos MORI shows that the British public have become avowedly more open-minded in their attitudes towards race since the mid-2000s. However, seven in ten still think there is at least a fair amount of tension in Britain between people of different races and nationalities, and there are concerns about inequalities in public services, the police and politics.

“The vast majority, 89%, claim they would be happy for their child to marry someone from another ethnic group, and 70% strongly agree. This is an improvement from January 2009, when 75% said they would be happy overall, and 41% strongly.

“Similarly, the vast majority (93%, nearly all of them strongly disagreeing at 84%) disagree with the statement that, “to be truly British you have to be White”. In October 2006, 82% disagreed,  55% strongly. The proportion who agree with the statement has fallen from 10% to 3% in the last 14 years.”

This encouraging picture was confirmed in March 2021 in the Sewell Report, issued by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was chaired by Tony Sewell, pictured at the top of this article.

All but one of the ten members of the commission were from ethnic minority backgrounds, yet they found themselves accused of setting out “to whitewash the problems of racism in Britain”.

The row which blew up at the time of publication obscured the many astute observations in the actual report, too numerous to be summarised here, or indeed in the news coverage.

The Commission pointed to the “many instances of success among minority communities”, observed that family is often “the foundation stone” for this success, and went on to remark that family breakdown “is one of the main reasons for poor outcomes” in some communities:

“This Commission finds that the big challenge of our age is not overt racial prejudice, it is building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. This requires us to take a broader, dispassionate look at what has been holding some people back. We therefore cannot accept the accusatory tone of much of the current rhetoric on race, and the pessimism about what has been and what more can be achieved.”

As the Commission found,

“All the data tells us that the UK is far more open to minority advancement than 50 years ago. And while some doors at the top remain hard to lever open, people from some minority backgrounds are successfully taking up opportunities. In fact, as of 2019, the ethnicity pay gap – taking the median hourly earnings of all ethnic minority groups and the White group – is down to just 2.3% and the White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are on average earning notably more than the White British average.”

But this should not be taken to mean that all is well:

“Overt and outright racism persists in the UK. Examples of it loom larger in our minds because we witness it not just as graffiti on our walls or abuse hurled across our streets, but also in the more private setting of our phones and tablets. The rise of social media platforms mean racist incidents can go viral in hours. What is too often dismissed as ‘trolling’ means many prominent ethnic minority people routinely receive racist abuse from people who cannot be traced and held to account.

“Making anonymous abuse harder online is a complex issue but should be a public policy priority. Speech resonates long after it is heard. Being made to feel that you do not belong, that no matter how patriotic, law-abiding and hard-working you are, you can be treated differently because of your skin colour, stands against everything this country holds dear. A multi-ethnic democracy like ours cannot function properly if people can denigrate their fellow citizens in such deplorable terms on the grounds of their race.”

It has become clear that social media platforms have to be held responsible for the material they publish. In the beginning, they abolished editors, which seemed like a liberation.

Editors, after all, were quite often excessively restrictive, and yielded to the temptation to spike letters which showed up the perfidy, or stupidity, or inaccuracy of whatever the newspaper had reported.

Then an aggrieved correspondent would have to try to get a hearing in some rival publication.

In those days racists could not just press a button on a keyboard and send direct to its target, under the cloak of anonymity, whatever vile abuse had just occurred to them.

The editorial function is now being rediscovered – with reluctance, for it costs money – by the providers of social media platforms.

So it seems likely that they will soon be able to prevent such easy distribution of racist slurs.

But that will not be the end of the matter. The question will remain of how far racism has been eradicated, and how far it has merely been suppressed, or driven underground.

It is possible that by purifying the internet, we shall create a perverse incentive, at least in yobbish minds which regard themselves as oppressed, and yearn to shock respectable opinion by somehow contriving to publish racist obscenities.

When I lived in Germany in the 1990s, there were a few marginalised thugs who knew the most shocking thing they could do was to declare their support for the Nazis, so duly did so.

And when I have reported on opinion in Britain’s pubs, I have sometimes found anger about unrestricted immigration, and restricted free speech, as in this piece for ConHome from 2014, attempting to account for the surge in support for UKIP.

If such concerns had been reported earlier and more prominently, it is possible that in 2004 Tony Blair would have decided not to risk allowing immediate, unrestricted immigration from newly acceded members of the European Union such Poland.

Racism should not be thought of as a problem that is worse in Britain than elsewhere. A study in 2019 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on ‘Being Black in the EU’ revealed, the Sewell Report pointed out,

“the percentage of Black respondents who experienced racial harassment in the past 5 years. The figure was 63% in Finland, 52% in Luxemburg, 51% in Ireland, 48% in both Germany and Italy, and 41% in both Sweden and Denmark. In comparison, 21% of Black British respondents reported such harassment, the second-lowest result in the countries surveyed. The UK had the lowest figure for Black respondents who experienced discrimination in job-seeking, education (either themselves or as parents), health, housing, public administration or other public or private services such as restaurants, bars or shops within the past 12 months.”

After thanking the mainly young people behind the Black Lives Matter movement for “focussing our attention once again on these issues”, the authors of the Sewell Report went on:

“But most of us come from an older generation whose views were formed by growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. And our experience has taught us that you do not pass on the baton of progress by cleaving to a fatalistic account that insists nothing has changed.”

Much has changed for the better, and sometimes the obsessive urge to define people in racial terms seems all wrong, as Matthew Parris explained in a recent piece for The Spectator:

“The dream for which my family fought in what was then Rhodesia is now not so much unfashionable as forgotten. The ‘dream’, I mean, of multiracialism; a growing irrelevance of skin colour or ethnic origins; the gradual convergence of the world’s peoples; the building on our planet of a shared culture, shared values, a shared membership of our human race; and a slow but steady dissolving of our differences.”

Most of us can at least agree that being British is a political, not a racial characteristic; as I argued in my last, unmemorably tactful attempt to tackle this subject for ConHome.

Iain Dale: Cummings. Why bother giving seven hours of testimony – only to not provide supporting evidence?

11 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

This is nothing new, I suppose, but the last 48 hours have not been pleasant in the Twittersphere. In fact, it’s become so unpleasant I am seriously considering stepping back from this increasingly ugly form of social media.

Trouble is, it’s very difficult for me to do that given it’s my prime marketing medium for all the things I do, whether it’s advertising what’s on my radio show, promoting my writing, books and other activities. Sometimes it can be a wonderful thing, but oftentimes it is just a sewer, where vicious, nasty people spew their bile and vitriol no doubt getting a hard on along the way. They’re virtually all men.

On Tuesday I had the temerity to tweet praise for Gareth Southgate’s “Dear England” letter. In my opinion he articulated better than anyone has for a long time what it means to be English and how we demonstrate our patriotism.

And then the abuse started. Apparently it was all a justification for the England players supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Utter rubbish. He and they have made clear that they support equality and fairness for everyone, and that they support the slogan Black Lives Matter, not the political organisation. Surely everyone can support that? Apparently not.

I have repeatedly made clear that I would never take the knee to support a Marxist organisation which supports the destruction of the police, closing prisons and dismantling capitalism. But I am quite happy to make clear that I support equality for all people, whether they are white, black or anything else. Surely any reasonable person would?

Oh no, not on Twitter. I’m a shill, a sellout, obeying my paymasters, not a proper conservative, woke and worse. Far worse. Did I support the England players giving the Nazi salute to Hitler in 1936? Do I think England should make a political statement and withdraw from the Qatar world cup in 2022 because of Qatar’s policy on homosexuality? Yes, I’m sure these trolls care deeply about gay equality. Not.

Over 24 hours I lost 200 Twitter followers and had to block around 50 others, many of them racist. Not all, but many. And this is the level of public discourse we are supposed to get used to, is it? Where people comment on a letter they most probably haven’t even read. Where they just believe what other people say it says. And then they launch violent attacks on those who support the sentiments in the letter without even attempting to understand any nuance. Well, I’ve had enough.

The trouble is, until I retire from political commentary and broadcasting, I’m tied into it and have to suck it up. Boo hoo, many of you will think. You’ve made your bed, you lie in it… Fair enough. No one forces me to do the jobs I do, and most of the time I love it. I’ve never experienced problems with my mental health, but I have a real sense that my mental health is now being affected by it all. I don’t expect any sympathy at all, and I know the solution is in my own hands. It doesn’t make it any easier, though.

– – – – – – – – –

I suppose we have always known that Dominic Cummings is a strange cove. Why would anyone spend seven hours giving evidence to a select committee, make all sorts of serious allegations, say he had the paperwork to back them up and he would provide it to the committee, and then fail to do so. The only conclusion to draw from that is that much of his evidence was fantasy and he can’t back it up with documentary evidence. It’s a very good way to undermine your own credibility and reputation, isn’t it?

– – – – – – – – –

Michael McManus has become a bit of a polymath. I first knew him in the late 1990s when he was working for Sir Edward Heath, and they came to Politico’s to do a book signing.

I was nervous as a kitten as I had heard that the former PM could be rather difficult. In fact, he was charm personified and the conversation flowed very well. Michael then wrote a rather good biography of Jo Grimond, the former Liberal leader, and contributed to the Blue Book series I published on future Conservative policy, which Ed Vaizey was editing.

Michael stood for Parliament in 2001 in Watford but was unsuccessful and since then he has come close to getting a number of safe seats, but never quite got the lucky break. He told me in an episode of my All Talk podcast which will be published next Wednesday that he’s now come off the candidates list. It’s a shame as he would have made a good MP.

Over the last few years he has turned his hand to being a playwright. His latest play is called MAGGIE AND TED and has a two night run at the Garrick Theatre in London on June 28 and 29. It’s all about the relationship between the two former Prime Ministers, and from what he told me on the podcast, it is going to be well worth going to.

Putting on a play in a London theatre is a costly business, especially in the pandemic, and I’d encourage anyone who’s got one of those evenings spare to book a ticket and support an up and coming political playwright, and a thoroughly nice man. And a fellow Hammer. Book tickets here.

Football – and taking a knee. If the boos and cheers get louder, Johnson and Dowden will need a plan.

7 Jun

A man takes a knee.  What do you see?

Defiance of racial injustice, that’s what.  At least if you’re a black footballer. You will almost certainly have heard of George Floyd, and will be well aware of America’s legacy from slavery.

You will almost certainly not have heard of Nick Timothy.  But you will be alert to what lies behind words he wrote for Theresa May: “if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white”.

And you are most unlikely to have read the Sewell Report cover to cover.  But you will doubtless agree with one of its few findings unmauled by the usual suspects: “overt and outright racism persists in the UK”.

You are likely not to be particularly political, let alone party political.  Nonetheless, you have another reason to take a knee before a game: the racist abuse you and your team-mates get on social media.

Now switch your perspective.

If you are a white fan, you may also see defiance of racial injustice.  But you may not.  Again, you will probably have heard of George Floyd – but may wonder what his murder has to do with an English football game.

You, too, won’t have heard of Nick Timothy.  And you may not have picked up what underlies another sentence in that May speech: “if you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university”.

But claims of “white privilege” may have reached you and, if so, you’re likely to wonder what it is – since you will probably earn less, if you’ve come to watch a Premier League game, than any of the team’s black players (or those of any colour).

Like them, you will probably not be political.  However, you will doubtless have seen pictures of the wave of statue toppling and defacement here in Britain, including that of Churchill’s in Parliament Square.

We admit that this sketch of contrasts is simplistic.  For a start, if you are that black player, you are likely be kneeling yourself.  As you will also be, if a professional footballer, whatever your colour.  Many white players will be across the George Floyd story.  And so on.

But we keep it simple to make a point.  Which is not that everything depends on one’s point of view – though, certainly, these perspectives may be so different as to be irreconcilable.

Rather, it is that the whole business of taking a knee is divisive.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself.  Division can drive progress.  After all, Churchill himself was a divisive figure, come to think of it.

But if a gain can be achieved without breaking the china, so much the better.  Hence the more consensual feel of Kick Racism Out Of Football (later rebadged as Kick it Out.)

Now, “Kick it Out” is not uncontroversial; some players believe it to have been too passive, for example, in the aftermath of the racism and violence that marred an England-Serbia youth game in 2014.

However, the campaign comes without the primal instincts that kneeling, which many view as a gesture of submission, and clenched fists, which threaten violence, are capable of stirring up.

(The counter-argument is that black players themselves are taking a knee, which scarcely signals subservience, and that kneeling can be a gesture of repentance. But for many, those feral undertones will linger.)

As the European championships prepare to kick off, two possible futures lie ahead of us during the weeks ahead, and then in the football season that will follow.

The first is that the booing and counter-cheering fade away, and taking a knee does too, over time. Or else lingers as a formality stripped of real intent, as genuflection sometimes is in a church.

The second is that they don’t.  The players keep kneeling.  Some fans keep booing.  Others keep cheering.  The grandees of the football world – Gary Lineker, anyone? – suggest that the first lot are racists.  Or at least that they are providing cover for prejudice.

The to-and-fro spills over into the new football season during which, unlike the last one, attendance should be back to normal.  Which outcome do you think is more likely?

In short, the nation’s best-attended sport faces the possibility, to put it no more strongly, of crowds balkanising before football matches on political lines, if not quite ethnic ones.

With the booers demonised as racists.  Some are.  Most aren’t – they’re simply resistant, as we’ve seen, to a gesture which implies that they’re somehow responsible for racism.  How will telling them that they are make that better?

Perhaps the consequences are containable – kettle-able, as the police might say, with a nod to one of their means of crowd control.  And perhaps not.

After all, statue-toppling, flagrant anti-semitism, street violence, vigil arrests, kneeling police, and flag-toting convoys have all happened on our streets and road within the last year.  That’s meant tough calls for the police, some of which were got wrong.

Not all of these are linked to the Black Lives Matter protests.  But we’ve little doubt, after asking around, that both the footballing and political authorities worry that the controversy over footballers taking the knee before games is stoking rather solving Britain’s discontents.

The problem for both is that neither are in control.  Nor are the national teams, nor the clubs – nor even the diversity-equality complex, to borrow the image that Eisenhower applied to the military and industry.

No, the decision to keep taking the knee is evidently being driven by the England players themselves.  “We feel, more than ever, we are determined to take the knee throughout the tournament,” as Gareth Southgate put it earlier this week.

And so it is likely to be elsewhere when the new football season begins – not least because some 25 per cent of professional footballers are estimated to be black.

Understandably, Boris Johnson and Oliver Dowden will want to steer clear of the whole business.

The Prime Minister’s technique with woke, as with nearly everything else, is to poke his tousled head out of Downing Street, sniff the wind, cock an ear, lisen out for the noise of a consensus emerging – and wade in with a few soothing words.

That’s more or less what he did over the Churchill statue defacement.  It may not be bold, but it’s certainly fly.  And has helped to get him where he is today.  Who are we to knock it?

He’s previously refused to take a knee himself, so showing a canniness that Keir Starmer lacked.  But the last thing he will want to do now is say that those footballers taking a knee should well, um, look my friends, er, do something a bit, um, a bit more, well, you know.

Because players would undoubtedly tell him to stuff himself.  Dowden may not evade his responsibilities so lightly.  He’s the Culture Secretary, after all, so the subject’s his bag.  Perhaps he and Johnson have been using Ollie Robinson to test the water.

Dowden is a pro and knows the ropes.  If he isn’t working on reviving Kick It Out, or something like it, we would be surprised.  The more time passes, the more pressure there will be on him to say that taking a knee is doing more harm than good.

But action speaks louder than words.  What’s needed here is a plan; work with the clubs and the authorities; a new initiative; a bit of charm behind the scenes; patience; a touch of politicianly oil and balm.

Scott Benton: It’s time for England’s football team to stop taking the knee

7 Jun

Scott Benton is MP for Blackpool South.

I recently watched England’s football friendly against Austria at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough. Whilst, sadly, England’s performance wasn’t much to talk about, players ‘taking the knee’, and subsequently being booed by a large proportion of the crowd, was.

Since fans were allowed back into stadiums several weeks ago there have been a number of instances when fans have booed the practice. For example, the boos were obvious to hear from the Blackpool fans at Wembley during Sunday’s play-off final, and at the club’s home game against Oxford United several weeks ago, both of which I attended.

I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person who doesn’t agree that racism is wrong, and there is always more that can be done to tackle it, both in football and in wider society. There are many examples of initiatives over the years that have been launched to do just that.

Whilst no country will ever be perfect and you can never account for the actions of every individual, I think the U.K. can be held up as one of the most tolerant and diverse countries in the world. Football, and sport generally, has also come a long way with regard to tackling racism over the last generation or so.

This time last year, we saw widespread vandalism and disorder from groups claiming to be ‘anti-racist’, including buildings being smashed up, police being attacked and historic monuments, including that of Winston Churchill outside Parliament, being attacked. The behaviour of these groups, particularly the ones acting under the banner of Black Lives Matter, did nothing to promote equality or race relations. In fact, all they did was promote division.

It was at this point we started to see the football authorities promoting Black Lives Matter and using this in promotional material, on shirts and even with players ‘taking the knee’, which was facilitated by authorities at the start of every game. Whatever people say, players had no choice but to do this (imagine if one had refused to do it and the press they would have received). We even saw Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner photographed taking the knee.

What many of us realised – and what the football authorities seemingly didn’t – is that Black Lives Matter is a political movement and also promotes some disgusting and extreme policies, such as abolishing the nuclear family and defunding the police, as well as many others.

Whilst I don’t doubt that the football authorities had genuinely good intentions, I believe they were misguided and that they should have devised their own campaign at the time, rather than seemingly allying themselves with a political movement.

This was always going to end badly – and the first time fans were let back into the stadiums the gesture was booed. The FA and football authorities have held many previous anti-racism campaigns which have been well received and welcomed by all. It is time that the football authorities refreshed these campaigns and their approach to tackling racism, rather than persist with this overly political and divisive practice of taking the knee.

To suggest that fans “aren’t quite understanding the message”, as Gareth Southgate has recently, is an insult to their intelligence. Fans understand perfectly well – they are just sick and tired of being preached and spoken down to. They are there to watch a football match, not to be lectured on morality.

It is the football authorities and elements of the media who aren’t understanding the message. Find something we can all support and ditch this ridiculous empty gesture.

I’ll always passionately support England but the FA and England team need to review their approach to taking the knee fast to ensure that it doesn’t alienate the majority of decent football fans.

Emily Carver: ‘White privilege’ and other forms of identity politics are dividing our society. It’s time to speak out.

7 Apr

Emily Carver is Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

There’s nothing more tedious than scrolling through Instagram when it gets political. The usual selfies, photos of dodgy culinary creations and snaps of friends and family are replaced overnight with social justice infographics, anti-Tory soundbites and demands to check one’s privilege.

Last summer, Instagram became the platform for discussions about racism and how to tackle it. What began as legitimate outrage over what appeared to be the killing of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis soon morphed into a toxic – and largely one-sided – debate around ill-defined concepts such as “white privilege” and “white fragility”.

For days, scrolling the platform meant sifting through a barrage of statements on how “white silence is violence”, recommended reading lists for white people to re-educate themselves (all of them including Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, of course), and influencers issuing public apologies for failing to adequately display support for the Black Lives Matter movement (it’s not enough to be non-racist, you must be “anti-racist”, so the saying goes). Anything short of total self-flagellation appeared unacceptable to the vocal Insta-mob.

It was against this febrile atmosphere that an interaction with an acquaintance turned sour. The man in question had reached out to his followers for advice on how to teach his young child about her “white privilege”. Perhaps foolishly, I responded that he could instead teach his child not to judge people based on their skin colour. Radical, I know. However, as I half-expected, this was akin to blasphemy and was met with an instant “how dare you”, “embarrassing response” and “easy for you to say in your privileged white position”. When I didn’t bite back, I was blocked. Slightly bruised by the reaction, I decided to delete the app – albeit temporarily.

Given the contempt with which reasonable suggestions can be met, it’s not surprising that many people simply choose to remove themselves from these discussions. There are many who believe as a white person, I shouldn’t express an opinion on such matters. But when so many of our institutions have fallen hook, line, and sinker for identity politics, indulging in and perpetuating pseudo-scientific theories of “white privilege”, critical race theory and unconscious bias training, it is critical that people put their head above the parapet, however uncomfortable it may be.

Dubious literature furthering ideas of this sort has already been widely shared and used as teaching material in our primary and secondary schools, shedding plenty of heat but not much light on what are undoubtedly important issues. Now, we have got to the stage where even nursery teachers may soon be trained in “understanding white privilege”. As reported in The Times, The Early Years Coalition, which represents tens of thousands of nurseries and other providers, is now advocating a shift away from a “colour-blind approach to race”, so children “recognise racist behaviours and develop anti-racist views”.

But how exactly, one might ask, will encouraging toddlers to “see race” achieve anything but division? And were the Conservative MPs who criticised the advice not right to warn that it risks early years learning “becoming some kind of political Soviet indoctrination session”? Perhaps my aforementioned Insta-pal can enlighten me as to where I’m going wrong.

While some of the immediate indignation has subsided from the conversation around Black Lives Matter on Instagram, the ugliness in the debate around race in this country persists, with the release of last week’s race report revealing once again some of the tensions at play. Among many sensible recommendations, the report rejects critical race theory and terms such as “white privilege”.

The report’s authors, the majority of whom come from an ethnic minority background, were consequently bullied, racially abused and told they were “part of the problem” by those who disagreed with their conclusions. The report did conclude that there is still racism in Britain and it must be taken seriously but, crucially, that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the country as a whole is “institutionally racist” and that other factors, such as social class and family structure, also play as much, if not more, of a part in how people’s lives turn out.

To many, of all ethnicities, this report was a welcome intervention. It sought to take a nuanced look at ethnic disparities in this country in order to come up with evidence-based solutions to some of the challenges facing different minority groups. The report was not a “whitewash”, as some critics have said, but a challenge to the widely-held mistruth that any difference in outcome across ethnic groups is purely down to discrimination. This was met by accusations of “gaslighting” minorities from some of the most vocal people in the media, politics and academia, including a number of prominent Labour MPs who sought to undermine the entire 260-page report – not least, Clive Lewis who compared the report’s authors to the Ku Klux Klan in what was a rather ill-judged tweet, to put it mildly.

There is a vocal minority of people in Britain who dominate discussions in the media, and seem determined to import the racially-charged culture we see in the US. However, the picture in this country is complex and the parallels we can draw are limited, not least because of our dramatically different histories. It is working-class white boys who are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to educational outcomes. And while black Caribbean children are also underachieving at school, the data shows pupils of black African heritage are doing better (though, of course, there are huge discrepancies within these categories too). It reinforces why there is more to racial disparities than simply shouting “racism” – however unfashionable in our current climate it may be to say so.

It is likely that the Government suspected the report would be met by a level of outrage and, in the coming weeks and months, it will consider the recommendations in detail in order to inform policy. But, however much Conservatives may wish to write off the influence of social media and the contributions of the usual suspects as transient, unfortunately the belief that the UK is a racist country has taken a grip of many of our young people, including the highly educated. We must encourage critical thinking, especially when the conclusions we find don’t fit the current liberal woke orthodoxies. There is too little critical thinking in schools and far too much critical race theory and we will all suffer in the end, for it can only lead to division.

Daniel Hannan: Laws must be general, equal and certain. And yes, that applies to lockdown gatherings too.

17 Mar

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.

Look, either it’s ok for people to gather in crowds or it’s not. We really can’t work on the basis that it’s wrong for other people to do so, but fine for you and your mates. Laws, as F.A. Hayek put it with admirable economy of phrase, must be general, equal and certain. Yet politicians, police chiefs, BBC presenters and – let’s not dance around the fact – the public at large now want a more or less arbitrary system where the rules are differently enforced depending on whether they share the opinions of the people infracting them.

This shouldn’t need saying, but the virus doesn’t care whether you’re demonstrating against the lockdowns, or for the safety of women, or against a police killing in the United States, or for the restoration of the Brazilian monarchy.

My own view is that many lockdown prohibitions are disproportionate. We know that outdoor transmission of Covid-19 is rare and, as a general principle, we should trust people to use their common sense. I would therefore allow peaceful demonstrations to go ahead. But plenty of good and sincere people disagree with me. Indeed, if the polls are to be believed, most voters want restrictions tightened further.

Fair enough. Where to draw the line between liberty and security is a legitimate argument – and, during an epidemic, an especially difficult one. If you’re in favour of people being allowed to congregate outside, fine. If you’re against it, fine. But if you want bans on sports crowds, weddings and other gatherings, but think that a special case should be made for demonstrators whom you happen to like, then you need to go back to basics and understand what the rule of law means.

When I say “you”, I include all the Labour and Conservative MPs who have spent this week complaining about the application of a law that they themselves passed only last year. I have no doubt that they were genuinely shaken to see images of women at Clapham Common being roughly manhandled. But what did they imagine would happen when they voted to outlaw demonstrations?

There is no dishonour in changing your mind, of course. If MPs were respond to the footage by easing the restrictions on public gatherings, or at least by bringing forward the end of the lockdown to take account of better than expected figures on infections, hospitalisations, fatalities, inoculation take-up and vaccine effectiveness, I would be the first to applaud. But that is not what they are doing, at least not in most cases. They still want people to be banned from attending the funerals of loved ones. But they want the law to be selectively disapplied when, as in the case of the Clapham protest, they sympathise with the demonstrators.

Not that I want to pick on MPs. They are reflecting the prejudices of their constituents. The rule of law – the idea that the rules apply equally to everyone, and that the people in charge shouldn’t get to change them as they go along – does not come naturally to us. Very few societies, in the sweep of history, have tried to apply it, let alone succeeded.

Think of the TV dramas that we watch: Game of Thrones, Narcos, Peaky Blinders. They appeal to a much older, tribal instinct, a desire to take sides. In evolutionary terms, Magna Carta, the American Revolution and “a government of laws not of men” happened an eye-blink ago. Our instincts and intuitions come from a different world, a world in which two completely different sets of rules governed our behaviour – one set for our kin-group, and another for everyone else.

That, in a nutshell, is why people are uninterested in due process when they happen to want a particular outcome. It is why they hold other parties to a very different standard from their own. It is why the first thing they ask, when they see people protesting against lockdowns, or holding a vigil for a murdered woman, is not “what do the rules say?” but “are these my kind of people?”

The rule of law, in many ways, contradicts human nature. We need to appreciate it intellectually, because we struggle to feel it in our bellies. The institutions of a modern state – legislature, judiciary, media, police – must build and maintain the norm through careful and rigorous impartiality.

Last year, that stopped happening, for two reasons. First because, in a panicked response to the disease, MPs passed too many rules. “If you make ten thousand regulations,” as Churchill once put it, “you destroy all respect for the law.”

Second, because, over the summer, the police – cheered on, it must be said, by the organs of Official Britain – subordinated the duty of consistency to the imperatives of identity politics. Having spent months harassing people for walking too slowly, sitting on park benches or chatting to friends, they dropped to their knees when Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets.

Unsurprisingly, our respect for the law has taken a hit. With each violation of the lockdown rules, the taboo against law-breaking buckles further. The police come to be seen, not as impartial upholders of the law, but as just one more group with an agenda. And the worst of it is that there is no reason to expect these things to end when the lockdown does.

Sarah Ingham: The Duchess, the Queen – and that Oprah interview. It’s time for Johnson to step in.

14 Mar

Dr Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant: Its Impact on Civil-Military Relations in Britain.

Boris Johnson may have wanted to be the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, but it looks increasingly likely that he has to be the next Stanley Baldwin.

Baldwin played a crucial role in the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936: as the leader of Her Majesty’s Government,  Johnson must step in and help sort out the constitutional mess that is being created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Make no mistake, the fall-out from the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey is perilous for the future of the Crown. The monarchy is the symbol of Britain’s national unity or it is nothing.

Thanks to the insinuations by Prince Harry and his wife, the heir to the throne and his successor stand accused of being racists. At the time of writing, it is not known who speculated about the skin tone of the Sussex’s unborn child: although the couple deigned not identify the culprit, they intimated that such conjecture was made from the basest of motives.

The Queen’s response to the interview, which has now been watched by tens of millions, stated that the matter will be dealt with privately. No one can blame her for not wanting any more royal monogrammed linen to be washed in public, but the Sussex’s accusations are a matter of state.

Racism is a grievous accusation to level against any individual or institution. It is often career-ending, as the Duchess’s close friend Jessica Mulroney can attest.

In the last 12 months, British society has become increasingly polarised about race. Taking the knee, Black Lives Matter, the Edward Colston statue, slave-ownership and National Trust properties, Covid and the BAME community …we are living in fractious, fissiparous times. This is all the more reason why the Crown must be believed not only to be above the political fray, but, more importantly, above suspicion in connection with that most socially divisive of all political issues: racism.

In a constitutional monarchy, the personal is political. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have raised the spectre that a future head of state is a racist. Should any politician have a similar accusation made against them, it is highly unlikely that they would ever become Prime Minister, having weekly audiences with the sovereign.

And not content with doing their best to destabilize the monarchy, the Sussexes are threatening free speech and the freedom of the press.

Reports that a Royal Duchess brought pressure to bear on ITV, one of Britain’s national broadcasters are alarming. Can we look forward to the company’s new series – Britain’s Got Feudalism?

Just as ITV’s share price began to plummet following the departure from Good Morning Britain of that Scourge of Sussex, Piers Morgan, The Sun was carrying another report on media interference by the Duke and Duchess: their PR people allegedly told the BBC not to use just ‘old white men’ in any post-interview analysis. Shall we all sit down to Are You Being Serfs?

Holly Lynch, a Labour MP, demanded that a media environment be created ‘where a woman isn’t hounded in the way we saw Meghan Markle being hounded’. Presumably, she is not talking about Vanity Fair cover stories or guest editorships of Vogue.

“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” should have remained the outburst of a besotted fiancé, never becoming the guiding principle of a publicly-listed television company or of our state broadcaster. It certainly should not be a call-to-arms by a Labour MP, whose Halifax constituents are probably wondering why she is choosing to channel her energies into the plight of a wealthy duchess living the dream in California.

Of course, Britain could be thanking the Sussexes for providing us with a much-needed diversion from the longueurs of lockdown. Giving us plenty to pick over, the Oprah interview raised questions in households up and down the land, not least how the American duchess can cope with Harry’s English teeth. Indeed, slanted a different way, injected with a bit more gratitude and grace, the programme might have been considered an act of ‘universal’ service that the couple alluded to last month when they lost their royal patronages.

Instead, a family psychodrama has been played out in public, creating one of the biggest crises in the Queen’s long reign. What are Commonwealth countries making of the Sussexes’ allegations?

Living in the United States, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are no longer invested in this country. They are heedless of the damage they are currently doing to Britain or to the Crown. How many more incendiary interviews will there be in the years ahead? There are also the long hours of podcasts and broadcasts the Sussexes have to fill for Spotify and Netflix, who will be wanting their multi-million dollar of flesh.

As a British Army Officer, Prince Harry took an oath of allegiance to ‘honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors’. We can infer from the interview that this is now irrelevant to him. Why should he remain one of those successors?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex received their titles and status as working royals, but they resigned more than a year ago. Boris Johnson must find his inner Stanley Baldwin and act.  Her Prime Minister should advise the Queen that as private citizens, the Sussexes can intervene in politics, jeopardise the monarchy and try to muzzle the press and free speech all they like.  He should suggest that, however, Britain cannot risk allowing them, in any royal capacity, to trash this country or its institutions ever again.

Andrew Haldenby: Cameron was right to bury Labour’s targets regime. Johnson shouldn’t now seek to resurrect it.

20 Jan

Andrew Haldenby is a director of Haldenby Woodford, a public services consultancy.

According to reports, Home Office Ministers want to bring back national crime reduction targets for the police – most likely a 20 per cent reduction in crimes such as burglary, vehicle theft and serious violence. There is a wealth of evidence as to why this remarkably bad idea will make policing worse, not better. There are many things that Ministers can do to improve the police (and public services more generally). But central targets are not among them.

The new targets may be inspired by the “MOPAC 7”. Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse introduced targets for 20 per cent reductions in seven crimes during the Prime Minister’s time as London Mayor. If so, that is a huge red flag. The MOPAC Seven led to one of the police inspectorate’s most damning reports in recent years.

In 2016, the inspectorate found that the Met’s work on three-quarters of their child protection cases (278 out of 374 examined) either “needed improvement” or “was inadequate”. The Met had neglected work on child protection because of “the attention given to measuring and monitoring the MOPAC 7 crime types”.

The inspectorate rightly judged that this was “unacceptable”: “Irrespective of the mayor’s stated priorities, it is the responsibility of every police force to protect all citizens – particularly children, as they are the most vulnerable and have the most to lose.”

Police officers will tell you that “if it gets measured, it gets done”. Forcing the police to address certain crimes means that others will receive less attention. The police inspectorate noted that the MOPAC 7 list also excluded “serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, sexual offences, kidnapping and firearms offences”.

Another consequence of targets is gaming – that is, manipulation by the police to give the appearance that crime is falling against a target, when the reality is different.

Police officers will give you endless examples when asked. One reminded me that in 2011, in the riots after the death in London of Mark Duggan, one Midlands town was particularly successful in its policing (due to good community relations).

On one night, a small disturbance in one street led to 40 cars being damaged, and 40 crimes were recorded.

In another town, much more serious violence spread across the whole urban area. The police force however recorded only three crimes of public disorder. Targets create incentives for gaming: both Ministers and police forces wish to produce statistics that give the evidence of falling crime.

In 2012, a police inspector gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee setting out the evidence on gaming during the previous high water mark of police targets, during Tony Blair’s first two terms.

He identified “cuffing” (i.e. the under-recording of recorded crimes) and “skewing” (moving resources to target crime areas – like the MOPAC 7). He quoted a police officer who said: “Every borough is playing the game; those that are not are seen as under-performing. Policing has completely lost its way. We only investigate crimes that matter in terms of performance data.”

It is difficult to describe how poisonous the atmosphere around police targets had become by the end of the Labour government. In 2009, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ian Blair, said that there was “almost no public faith” in falling crime numbers. Sara Thornton, then Thames Valley Chief Constable, said her force would deliver “what the public wants” and added “you do not improve policing by setting lots of targets from the centre”.  The Coalition Government eventually abandoned them, to great relief in police forces and in Whitehall and Westminster.

Given all this, it seems almost incredible that Ministers want to bring targets back. It may be that Ministers are looking for extra performance in return for the 20,000 new officers being recruited. If this is the case, the question has to be asked: if Ministers don’t trust the police to use the extra officers, why did Ministers decide to recruit them in the first place?

The Blair Government showed that it is possible to create a doom loop – extra resources tied to new targets, followed by more resources and more targets, leading to all the problems outlined above. If Conservative Ministers set off down this path, it would be a gift to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which would capitalise on police disaffection and public scepticism in the same way that David Cameron did. There is great respect for the Home Secretary at present among officers. This direction would put that at risk.

It has to be recognised that targets have a powerful appeal to every Minister, not just in the Home Office. They appear to embody a seriousness of purpose in a simple, easy-to-communicate form.

But Home Office Ministers already have a strong policing agenda that they can develop. The 2019 manifesto promised much greater action on the prevention of crime– specifically around reducing youth offending, reducing addiction and improving rehabilitation. A sustained programme in these areas will change lives for the better. If they move with energy now, Ministers will have results before the next general election.

Others suggest that Ministers have lost trust in the police, on the grounds that they have taken on too much “woke” culture, as shown by their reticence in the destruction of statues last year.

A police officer responded to this by telling me of his experience in the Black Lives Matter disturbance in London in June. He said that he spent several hours, in warm weather and riot gear, being called a “fascist” by the protestors in front of him. Ironically, he was then injured when an actual fascist hit him in the back later on. “Woke” protesters see the police as safeguards of national institutions, not part of their campaign.

Speaking in Parliament last year, Malthouse rightly said there is no direct link between the number of police officers and the level of crimes (“Throughout our history, we have seen police numbers at a lower level and crime higher, and police numbers at a higher level and crime also high. There is no direct correlation”).

Instead, he pointed to the importance of “motivation” and “leadership” on the part of senior officers. He was right. Targets would cut across that leadership and reduce leaders’ motivation at a stroke. They would drive a wedge between Government and officers and open the door to the Opposition. They are not a good idea.