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.

Mark Lehain: The end of unconscious bias training and Truss’s coming speech on equality – signs of a Ministerial anti-woke fightback.

16 Dec

Mark Lehain is Director of the Campaign for Common Sense, and the founder and former Principal of Bedford Free School.

Yesterday’s announcement that “unconscious bias training” (UBT) is being scrapped for civil servants is a very welcome one indeed.

UBT is perhaps the most conspicuous example of the kind of worrying thing that has crept into organisations in recent years under the guise of “equality and diversity”.

Obviously we want the workplace and elsewhere to be welcoming and supportive. First of all, it’s the right thing to do morally. It’s also the best way to ensure better performance: it makes it more likely that the widest possible pool of talent will want to work for you, and that as many customers as possible will buy your goods and services.

The issue with UBT and so many other “woke” approaches is that they actually do the opposite. They make it harder to have open and honest discussion between people, and create or deepen identity-based division and resentments.

This is because they take a very particular, quasi-religious, view on the world – everything is generally awful, due to the wrong people having power over everyone else – and insist that everyone adopts it. People who don’t buy into it are seen as part of the problem and heretical – and should be dealt with as such. History tells us that absolutist religions don’t make for happy countries, and “woke” workplaces are no different.

The good news is that UBT, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, doesn’t stand up to any kind of examination when you look at the evidence.

Indeed, it’s this paucity of supporting evidence that has allowed the civil service to make yesterday’s tactical retreat: in the Written Ministerial Statement announcing the end of UBT, it is said that “an internal review decided in January 2020 that unconscious bias training would be phased out in departments.” Yes, I’m sure it did…

(You’ll forgive me if I take this with a pinch of salt, given the enthusiasm with which senior civil servants were still pushing it as a response to the Black Lives Matters protests this summer. Still: Luke 15:7.)

So: the ending of UBT is a useful move in the right direction. But we shouldn’t consider it in isolation. Take a step back and it’s part of the broader move by the Government to rein in some of the more extreme politically correct excesses that went unchecked before.

In the past few months we’ve had the Department for Education remind schools of their obligation to teach political issues in a balanced way and Kemi Badenoch emphasise that Critical Race Theory shouldn’t be taught in schools as fact. Oliver Dowden told galleries and museums to not remove objects under pressure from activists. Liz Truss found a middle way through the minefield that is trans rights, and looks set to take the equality debate in a more consensual, small-c conservative direction with her speech tomorrow.

Then there’s the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It’s quietly getting on with the job of examining what evidence – as opposed to emotions – tells us about why there are differences in outcomes between groups of people in health, education, etc. Its report on COVID disparities gives a good idea of the approach being taken.

Much recent Westminster gossip has focused on who is in or out with the Prime Minister, and what this means about the broader direction of the government. Well, it seems to me that the Cummings and goings have made little difference to the growing importance of using the evidence and existing law to take the heat out of the culture wars.

Some left-wing activists like to present this as a hard-right government stoking things up, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. All we’ve seen so far is politicians asking the public sector and taxpayer-funded organisations to keep their practice in line with existing law and public opinion, and focus on their core functions, not wokery.

There’s everything to gain from this approach too: less taxpayer cash will be wasted, performance should improve, and it’s very popular with the public too.

Yesterday’s move against Unconscious Bias Training was very conscious – we should hope for more of this kind of thing in the months ahead.

Frank Young: Why we need to get rid of the term ‘BAME’

18 Nov

Frank Young is Political Director at the Centre for Social Justice

A generation ago, virtually all ethnic minority groups in the UK were more disadvantaged than the White British population, by almost any measure. Today, disadvantage is no longer black and white.

Too often, we have viewed ethnic minorities through lumping everyone who is non-white into a crude “BAME” category, grouping their experiences as if there are no meaningful differences between them. It is time to get rid of this useless “BAME vs. White” approach and dig a little deeper into the facts.

Outcomes for virtually all ethnic minority groups have been on a positive trajectory over the last few decades. Many ethnic minority groups are now performing better in education and the labour market than the White British group.

Before we tipped our economy upside down, official earnings data showed that young people from Black African and Bangladeshi backgrounds no longer had lower earnings than their White British counterparts. This is most likely because African and Bangladeshi children are outperforming the national average in bagging good GCSE grades.

When it comes to the home life that sets the template for adulthood, there are vast disparities in family structures across ethnic groups. Only 10 per cent of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are headed up by a single parent; for Caribbean households with children the figure is nearly half. We shouldn’t be surprised that children’s outcomes are so varied when the homes they return to each day are so different.

None of this is intended to suggest we take a pollyannaish approach to ethnicity – there are real problems we need to tackle. But if we want to take them on properly we need to dig a little deeper into what is going on between and within ethnic groups with very different backgrounds, cultural expectations and experiences of the world around them.

The gaps are not just between White Brits and ethnic minority groups. There are huge gaps within broad ethnic minority groups too. For instance, Indian people of working age in 2018 succeeded in closing the employment gap between themselves and the White British population, and now earn more than White British workers, on average. Meanwhile, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people have consistently had the highest unemployment rates – more than double that of the Indian population – and have some of the poorest earnings.

The differences between Black Caribbean and Black African individuals are also stark. Black African GCSE students achieve higher than average in school, whilst their Caribbean peers have some of the poorest attainment rates. Disadvantaged African students perform better, not worse, than more advantaged Caribbean students.

Simply reporting “Asian or “Black” outcomes is deeply unhelpful – let alone reporting “BAME” outcomes. You won’t hear that in the news too often, let alone reports from bureaucrats who love to lump people into groups.

It might be tempting to just blame this on “poverty” or some imagined “structural disadvantage” but the fact is some groups seem to beat the odds. Poorer Indian students (those eligible for free school meals) achieve just as highly as relatively wealthier White British students in their GCSEs. Similarly, disadvantaged Black African students achieve better GCSE results than their more advantaged Black Caribbean peers.

At the CSJ, we have always tackled the most difficult social issues head on. All the above statistics come from our newly published report, Facing the facts: ethnicity and disadvantage in Britain. We need to improve the way we understand ethnic differences by binning the nonsense term “BAME” and instead turn our attention to tackling poverty at its root causes, making sure we get those out of work into a job, preventing families from breaking apart and making education an escape route from a poorer future. The Prime Minister is tip-toeing into this area with a new commission but more ambitious action is needed.

There’s a lot to be really proud of in our country and in many ways we are a hugely successful multi-ethnic democracy. We don’t need a crude approach to ethnicity anymore than we need it in tackling poverty. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has been a catalyst for re-examining how ethnicity affects “life chances”, but it is being held back a lack of nuance.

Governments love to say they are led by the evidence, it’s time to look at the evidence on ethnicity in plotting a better future for families growing up in our poorest areas. The first step is get rid of the pointless phrase “BAME” and get a lot more interested in the lives of real people, which will show up in the data when you look carefully.

Albie Amankona: It’s time for a Conservative approach to anti-racism

30 Oct

Albie Amankona is co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (CARFE).

As we mark the end of Black History Month in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests, it has become clear that the wrong types of arguments for racial equality in the UK have been getting too much attention.

As a black Conservative activist, I was proud to hear so many of our MPs passionately share their commitment to racial equality in the historic Parliamentary debate on education and BAME history.

Notably, Steve Baker, who announced his position as Chairman of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (CARFE), co-founded by myself and Siobhan Aarons. Together, we are building a Conservative approach to anti-racism; so far over 20 MPs and dozens of activists from all wings of the party and across the country have pledged their support, including Jeremy Hunt, Tim Loughton, and Robert Halfon.

Most fair-minded people agree with the statement that black lives matter, but disagree with the ideology of the organisation Black Lives Matter. They will agree that racism is not an issue of left and right, but an issue of right and wrong.

So why has it become so divisive? Few who garner media attention are making pragmatic, fact-based and effective arguments for racial equality. It’s time to build a Conservative approach to anti-racism which acknowledges injustices, but is based on the principles of patriotism, liberty, individual responsibility, the rule of law, equality of opportunity and growth-based prosperity. 

What many commentators miss is that the “all white people are racist”, Critical Race Theory inspired, anti-free speech, anti-police, anti-British type of anti-racism is never going to win the hearts and minds of the British people.

It is in no-one’s interest for 87 per cent of the population to feel guilty simply for being alive and for 13 per cent of the population to feel that the other 87 per cent unconsciously hate them simply because of the colour of their skin. But it is a fact that for many people, racism is a sad reality of life.

Proof of this includes the fact that 50 per cent of young offenders incarcerated are BAME, 40 per cent of the UK’s poorest households are black households, the risk of death in childbirth for black mothers is five times that of white mums and black people of working age are twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. 

Now is the time to redress the balance, redraw the boundaries of the debate and articulate a new approach. Conservatives have always been champions of justice and we must double-down on fighting inequality through classical liberal principles. The alternative is a diluted version of Labour’s “white-apologist” approach which serves no-one but the metropolitan liberal elite debating at dinner parties, posting black squares on Instagram and denouncing Churchill.

As the only serious party which supports the principle of free speech, ours has the most power to lead a rational debate on race; Labour has made its mind up. In its eyes, Britain is a bigoted country, which has done more harm than good in the world. The party fights against American food imports, but accepts without question the wholesale adoption of American theories on race. It perceives BAME voters to have no personal responsibility and of needing infinite government hand-outs and safe-spaces.

None of this is true and frankly, the findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into the Labour Party proves that its approach to anti-racism is far from perfect.

As Conservatives we must seize the opportunity to lead this debate, to ask those uncomfortable questions, find those difficult answers and implement effective solutions which will have a meaningful impact on Britain’s minority citizens.

We are the party for all and were elected to serve all, so this endeavour could not be more Conservative. We are calling on all Conservative activists and parliamentarians to join ussign our pledge and support our campaign.

Together, we can build our own common-sense approach to anti-racism and a country that all of our children, whatever their hue, will be proud to call home.

Interview: Goodhart says Johnson understands better than Starmer that a graduate meritocracy alienates manual workers

21 Oct

Sitting on a bench on a sunny afternoon in Hampstead, on a grassy bank with a view of Erno Goldfinger’s modern house at 2 Willow Road, David Goodhart warns of “the dark side of creating a cognitive meritocracy”.

In his new book, Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century, Goodhart contends that this meritocracy now shapes society largely in its own interests, and has devalued work done by hand or from the heart.

He believes Theresa May, Nick Timothy and Boris Johnson have so far shown greater signs than the Labour Party of comprehending what has gone wrong, and the need to uphold a national social contract.

Goodhart adds that we are sending far too many people to university, creating “a bloated cognitive bureaucratic class” and “a crisis of expectations for the kids”, many of whom find their degrees are of no real worth, and turn instead to protest movements such as Momentum and Black Lives Matter.

He laments “the lack of emotional intelligence of highly educated people”, and also touches on his own outbreak of rebellion after failing to be picked for the First Eleven cricket team at Eton.

ConHome: “Let’s start with the distinction you made in your previous book, The Road to Somewhere, between the Somewheres and the Anywheres.”

Goodhart: “The new book is The Road to Somewhere part two. It’s motivated by the same interest in understanding the political alienation of so many of our fellow citizens and what lies behind it.

“One of the complaints about the previous book was that the Anywhere/Somewhere divide is too binary. Obviously it is somewhat binary. But in the real world it is somewhat binary.

“People who read the book will know there’s lots of sub-divisions in the Anywheres, lots of sub-divisions in the Somewheres.

“A lot of the Guardian-reading classes felt I think very defensive about the last book – possibly rather less so about this one. The last book made more enemies because I was pointing out to a lot of people who think of themselves as progressive, and indeed on the side of the people who I call the Somewheres, that they are part of the problem.

“They like to think it’s the rich and the corporations that are the problem. But actually it is the lack of emotional intelligence of highly educated people whose priorities have dominated our society for the last generation or two.”

ConHome: “So this is new? Or it’s got worse, anyhow.”

Goodhart: “Exactly. It’s only really in the last 25, 30 years that the liberal graduate class has become so dominant, more numerous, and less inhibited about pursuing their own interests – generally thinking, for most of the time, that these are in the general, common interest, and indeed some of the time they are.

“Quite a large part of this is about educational stratification. It’s about the dark side of creating a cognitive meritocracy.

“We’re in the middle of a great deluge of books having a go at the meritocracy. There’s the Michael Sandel book, The Tyranny of Merit, there’s a guy a few months ago called Daniel Markovits who wrote a book called The Meritocracy Trap, he teaches at Yale Law School and is partly talking about his own very, very high-flying American students, and how even they suffer from it in some ways.

“These bigger reflections on the limits of meritocracy have mainly come from America. It’s quite interesting to reflect on why that is. One obvious reason is that meritocracy only really became – contrary to Michael Young’s intention [in The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033, published in 1958] – a feature of Centre-Left politics back in the Eighties, Nineties.

“After all, the Left had been at least formally more egalitarian than meritocratic. Meritocracy after all is the opportunity to be unequal.

“As that bold religion of socialism died, meritocracy became the soft soap version for modern social democrats, as the Left was forced to accept much of the political economy of the Centre Right, the Reagan/Thatcher reforms.

“It was easier for them to tell the meritocracy story than for the traditional Right, who at some level were still defending privilege. But even the Right was quite happy to take up the meritocratic mantle – the joke was that Tory party had been the party of people with large estates and was now the party of estate agents – they practised meritocracy while the Left talked about it.

“In America in particular this coincided with a period of grotesque increases in inequality, and slowdowns in social mobility pretty much across the western world.

“Meritocracy tends to get it both ways. It’s both criticised for not being sufficiently meritocratic, and it’s criticised in itself, for its own ideal – the Michael Young critique, which is essentially an egalitarian one. He was a very old-fashioned egalitarian socialist.

“Most people would go along with the Michael Young critique if you express it in terms of why on earth would we want to turn society into a competition in which the most able win and most of the rest feel like losers?”

ConHome: “It’s a very bleak, utilitarian idea, isn’t it. It doesn’t even contemplate the idea of human beings being of equal worth, which is the Christian idea.”

Goodhart: “The foundation of Christianity, and the foundation of democracy. One person one vote.”

ConHome: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”

Goodhart: “In recent times, too much reward and prestige has gone to this one, cognitive form of merit.

“Of course we all believe in meritocracy at some fundamental level. You do not want to be operated on by someone who’s failed their surgery exams. The people who run your nuclear research programme should be your top nuclear physicists.”

ConHome: “If you support Arsenal, you want Arsenal to have the best players.”

Goodhart: “You do not choose the England cricket team by lottery.”

ConHome: “In your new book, while remarking on the role played by chance in deciding a life course, you say your rebellious streak, mucking up your A levels and so forth, emerged as the result of your failure to get into the First Eleven cricket team at Eton.”

Goodhart: “I compare myself to John Strachey, who became a leading Communist in the 1930s after failing to get into the Eton First Eleven.

“My self-regarding explanation for that is that I was captain of the under-16 team, and I was a very selfless captain.”

ConHome [laughing]: “You gave everyone else a bowl.”

Goodhart: “I was an all-rounder, so I came in at number seven or eight, and I bowled fifth or sixth change, so I didn’t really develop either skill to a sufficient level to get into the First Eleven.”

ConHome: “Too much of a team player. And why did you not get those six votes when you stood on a Far Left ticket for a full-time student union job at York University, and just failed to win?”

Goodhart [laughing]: “That was bloody lucky. I’d be a f***ing Labour MP now.

ConHome: “Your father, Sir Philip Goodhart, was a distinguished Conservative MP. Anyhow, you feel relieved not to be a Labour MP.

“Which leads on to the question: who, politically, gets what you are talking about? Did Nick Timothy and Theresa May?”

Goodhart: “Well I think so. People sometimes say I influenced the notorious ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’ [May’s party conference speech of October 2016], but I think Nick is perfectly capable of thinking of that himself.

“But I contributed to a climate of opinion that made those sorts of ideas more legitimate and mainstream.

“It’s a shame that section of that speech…”

ConHome: “Came out all wrong.”

Goodhart: “I think what she said is perfectly right and perfectly legitimate, and she was actually aiming not so much at the Guardian academic, what Thomas Piketty called the Brahmin Left, she was aiming more at the people who don’t pay their taxes and the corporations who don’t pay their taxes, the people who live in the first-class airport lounges.

“All she had to do was preface it by something like ‘Of course there’s nothing wrong with being an internationally minded person…'”

ConHome: “There are lots of people here in Hampstead who think of themselves as citizens of the world, but they love Hampstead as well, and would rise up in their wrath against any threat to Hampstead.”

Goodhart: “They don’t have to love their country, but it’s also important they feel some kind of attachment to their fellow citizens, rather than feeling only attachment to international bodies or people suffering in faraway lands.

“Of course one should as a human being feel that. But national social contracts remain incredibly important, central to politics in many ways, and if the best educated and most affluent people are detaching themselves from those social contracts then I think there is a problem.

“And it’s reasonable for politicians to talk about it.”

ConHome: “To some extent both Trump and Johnson – without falling into the trap of imagining them to be identical – their success is partly explained by the work you’ve been doing.”

Goodhart: “Populism is a bastard expression of a majority politics which has not received expression in recent decades. The politics of what one might call the hard centre.

“Daniel Bell, the American sociologist, was asked for his political credo, some time back in the 1990s, and he said ‘a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture’.

“And I think that combination, I suppose someone like David Owen in this country might have come closer to it than most people, is very attractive, and I think it’s almost a majority one, but for various contingent historical reasons neither of the main political parties of the Centre Left or Centre Right have at least until recently adopted it.

“A lot of populism is a bastard form of that kind of lost centre actually.

“But I think both the Theresa May and to some extent the Boris Johnson government, when the Conservative Party decided it was going to be the party of Brexit, and particularly given how they’ve shifted to the Left on economic management, they probably come closer to that combination at the moment than any other political formation.

“And in some ways that’s a good thing. Boris rather oddly represents that combination, perhaps more than Starmer. And I do think, although I’ve been a member of the Labour Party most of my adult life, I resigned only a couple of years ago, I couldn’t bear the direction, because of Corbyn, yes, but even for Starmer I think there’s a real problem, me and Matt Goodwin argue which of us used this analysis first: that it’s easier for parties of the Right to move left on economics than it is for parties of the Left to move right on culture.”

Goodhart ended with some remarks about universities: “It’s absurd that we subsidise, even with tuition fees, the grand motorway into higher education. We’re international outliers in the very expensive form of higher education, which is residential higher education.

“Breaking that is I think pretty important in some ways. It’s a difficult thing to do. You get accused of wanting to kick away the ladder.

“We do need to readjust, and not allocate all of the prestige and reward to people that take the academic route, particularly as you just get diminishing returns.

“The most useful people, the Einsteins, are always going to be the people with the very highest academic, intellectual insight, producing new knowledge.

“What’s happened, though, is a whole great bloated cognitive bureaucratic class has emerged that piggybacks on the prestige of the higher intellectual cognitive class, and it’s now become dysfunctional.

“The knowledge economy simply doesn’t need so many knowledge workers, and yet we’re on automatic pilot, we’re creating a crisis of expectations for the kids.

“Even before AI comes along you can see this in the collapse of the graduate income premium. It used to be 100 per cent or 75 per cent, it’s now for most kids who don’t go to the most elite universities below ten per cent.

“They have these expectations. I think a lot of the political eruptions of recent times – Bernie Sanders in America, Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum movement, even perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement, although there are obviously other factors there – are partly an expression of the disappointment of the new middle class at the lack of higher status and higher paid employment.”

The police must be politically impartial. That includes being even-handed in upholding the law on protests.

28 Sep

Soldiers are not able to pick and choose which wars they fight in. Nor can the police decide the laws they are tasked with upholding. Naturally, there are practical limits, but we rely on our elected representatives to show some consideration and exercise restraint in the burdens they impose on public servants. It is hard to think of a greater change in the requirements expected from the police than the coronavirus restrictions.

In some ways the lockdown made their work easier  – for obvious reasons crime levels fell. If we are at home then the opportunities for burglars are diminished, as they are for muggers. When most shops were closed it was unremarkable that a reduction in shoplifting took place. On the other hand, enforcing the restrictions meant the police had to rapidly absorb considerable new duties.

The role of the police should not be to go beyond the regulations in restricting our activity. There were unfortunate instances of this – going through supermarket trolleys for “non-essential items” or ordering people not to sit in their front gardens. But I suspect these were exceptions and genuine misunderstandings due to the rapid pace at which the new rules were introduced.

What has been more concerning is the police force expressing an opinion on the merits of the lockdown. The police can and should advise on the practicalities of enforcing it. Individual police officers will have their own views. The majority of the public agreed with the lockdown as necessary to save lives. A minority of us felt (or feel in retrospect) it was disproportionate and may well end up costing more lives than it saved. The police as an institution should not have a view on that. Nor on the array of the details that arise. Some police officers may feel the 10pm closing time for pubs is a mistake – that doesn’t mean they are entitled to allow the pubs to stay open. In Scotland and Wales the “rule of six” exempts children under 12. In England, it does not. The respective police forces should get on with applying it accordingly. We all need to try and follow whatever the law happens to be where we live – whether or not we think it is a sensible law. The police have a duty to ensure we comply – but it is impertinent for them to tell us we should agree with any particular law even though we are obliged to accept it.

Nothing can be more important in terms of the police’s political neutrality than the conduct of demonstrations. Yet the blatant lapses by the police have been alarming. The regulations have changed but, quite properly, make no distinction as to the allegiance of the protestors. The problem is over the selective way in which they are enforced.

Before July 4th, public gatherings were limited to no more than six people. The law defines a “gathering” as a meeting involving “social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity”. That includes protests – even if social distancing was maintained, even if they are entirely peaceful.

So when 19 people (included Piers Corbyn, brother of Jeremy) were arrested at an anti-lockdown demonstration in Hyde Park on May 16th the police were doing their job. But have they shown consistency? On May 31st there was a Black Lives Matter protest outside the US Embassy and there were five arrests – two for assaulting a police officer. In many other protests – in Bournemouth, Coventry, Liverpool and elsewhere – no arrests were made. Criticism has been made of the passive police response to a statue being pulled down by a mob in Bristol and vandalism, in Westminster, of the Cenotaph and Winston Churchill’s statue. But these demonstrations were already illegal even before such instances took place.

On June 13th rival demonstrators came to London supposedly to “protect” statues and monuments. They included a cohort of racists and another of drunken football hooligans who were mainly were “up for a ruck” rather than having any very clear political motive. One of them urinated outside Parliament next to a memorial to PC Keith Palmer. 113 arrests were made which would seem a suitably robust response. But why the leniency shown on other occasions?

An indulgent response is usually given to Extinction Rebellion. The group organised several demos on May 30th, in defiance of the lockdown rules. The police could not give “precise numbers” on arrests.

Since July 4th, the rules changed so that demonstrations were allowed but with a requirement for organisers to carry out a health and safety risk assessment. The pressure group, Liberty, objected that demonstrations should have a full exemption. It argued that:

“The risk assessment is impossible to meet because: It is a workplace assessment which makes no legal sense when applied to a protest. There is no guidance on how a protest organiser should manage risk, or what a proper assessment looks like. No information has been provided on how assessments will be monitored.

“This means that anyone attending or organising a protest could find themselves at risk of arrest because it is impossible to know if a satisfactory risk assessment has been carried out.”

Another concern is that it gives the police great discretion over which particular “risk assessments” come up to scratch. 16 arrests were made on Saturday after an anti lockdown protest – where speakers included Piers Corbyn and the conspiracy theorist, David Icke. Apparently, a risk assessment was sent in but it was not complied with.

Then we had the very effective disruption of newspaper deliveries by Extinction Rebellion in the early hours of September 5th. The reason it succeeded was due to the police being so feeble. Hertfordshire Police said:

“Our officers are engaging with the group, which consists of around 100 people, and we are working to facilitate the rights of both the protestors and those affected by their presence.”

But those involved in criminal obstruction should have been arrested and removed without delay. The police should be aware there is no “right” to “protest” in such a way – even if they had sent in a “risk assessment” which would seem unlikely.

Some may dismiss such complaints on the grounds that in the past the police have been accused by the Left of bias. Certainly, during the mass pickets of the Thatcher era there was great controversy. Sir Keir Starmer, before he became Labour leader, put out a video stressing his “solidarity” with coal miners and striking print workers. The police were accused of “taking sides” – but in allowing those who wished to go into work to do so, they were upholding the law.

So far as the police are concerned, they would presumably deny any political discrimination at the number of arrests at different demonstrations. Operational decisions are not always easy. No doubt. But the credibility is undermined by the police “taking the knee” to some demonstrators (indeed being advised by their superiors to do so) and not to others. I am not proposing they should kneel before Piers Corbyn. They should not do so before anyone. Equality before the law is vital to a free and democratic society. The political impartiality of our police is a matter of historic pride for our country. It has been eroded and must be restored.

Neil O’Brien: Johnson should instruct a team of Ministers to wage war on woke

21 Sep

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Every day brings fresh examples of the woke revolution rolling through western institutions.

The last couple of weeks saw Edinburgh University ‘cancelling’ the great Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume, taking his name off one of its buildings. The BBC broadcasting a comedian joking about killing white people. The Parliamentary authorities considering making MPs undertake “unconscious bias training”. The Natural History Museum reviewing displays relating to Charles Darwin, because the voyage of the Beagle could be seen as “colonialism”. The SNP administration in Edinburgh trying to push through a “Hate Crime” law – despite being warned by everyone from the Police Federation to comedians and novelists that it threatens free speech.

In the US, where the woke agenda is further advanced, it was announced that films must now hit diversity quotas to be eligible to win an Oscar.  The English department at the University of Chicago announced it will admit only those graduate students who plan to work in Black Studies.

I’ve written before about what’s wrong with the woke agenda, but others have put it better than me, and in response to the woke revolution, there’s now a diverse group of thinkers pushing back.

Ed West and Douglas Murray have chronicled the excesses of wokery in books that are funny as well as perceptive.  Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have explained the origins of the woke agenda in the “critical theory” sweeping universities over recent decades.  Tom Holland, though not a political writer, explains how much the woke agenda owes (without realising it) to Christianity.

For me, one of the most compelling critiques is by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, two liberal professors in the US.

They are worried the woke agenda isn’t just undermining basic liberal ideas like free speech and debate, but encouraging younger people to think in ways that are damaging.

They diagnose three bad ways of thinking which have become engrained in US universities: a belief that young people are emotionally fragile and have to be protected from ideas they might find upsetting; a belief that you should always trust your emotions, prioritising emotion over reason; and forms of us-versus-them thinking which divide the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, with no in-betweens.

As Haidt and Lukianoff write, making universities into ‘safe spaces’ with no intellectual diversity is setting people up to fail: students don’t get used to disagreeing reasonably; or understanding that people who don’t agree with you may not be evil. As someone pointed out: you don’t help someone get strong by taking the weights out of the gym for them.

Their book contains hair-raising accounts of the kind of protests and madness this agenda has led to in US universities, increasingly a world of ‘trigger warnings’, ‘no-platforming’ and everyone walking on eggshells for fear of committing ‘microagressions.’

While this may seem remote to us living in Britain and not working in universities, the truth is that ideas from the US relentlessly percolate into the UK.

Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter protests in London, or British teenagers referring to the British police as “Feds”, ideas always blow over from across the Atlantic, so what happens in the US today will likely happen here tomorrow.

I find the woke agenda alarming because it promises a future very different from the one I grew up hoping for. When I was a teenager the future was going to be that we would be increasingly colour-blind.  That people would be treated as individuals, not members of races.  That everyone was capable of fitting into our shared modern, western culture.

Instead, wokeism tells us we should increasingly see each other as members of different races.  That ethnic minorities can’t assimilate into a modern, western culture because that they are (in some ill-defined way) incompatible with that culture.  That young people from ethnic minorities should be on their guard at all times, because they live in a culture which seeps racism from every pore.

Worst of all, it tells us that we must stay in our lane.  That we can’t enjoy another culture, because that’s “cultural appropriation.” That values like working hard or objectivity or the nuclear family are characteristics of white people, not others.

I’m not the first to say it (indeed there’s comedy sketches about it) but in the same way that the extreme left and extreme right are kind of similar, the woke agenda and the racist one have some powerful similarities.

If we think the woke agenda is damaging, divisive and illiberal, what can we do about it?

There’s now a number of campaign groups dealing with different aspects of it. The Free Speech Union does what it says on the tin. The Campaign for Common Sense brings a thoughtful take to the big questions raised by the woke agenda. The Equiano Project and “All In Britain” promote grown-up, non-hysterical discussion about race and diversity.

But what should we do as a Party and a Government?

While the Prime Minister is quite right to speak out on absurdities like the Last Night of the Proms saga, he simply can’t be everywhere, since he has a virus to fight, an economy to save and a Brexit deal to land. So the Government needs to empower a minister, or group of ministers, to lead and deal with this.

Different solutions are possible in different fields. For example, in the civil service, government has more control.  The Government could end programmes like “unconscious bias training” which don’t work and waste money, but have official backing and are compulsory for all staff in many departments.  The other day, it was revealed that the Ministry Of Defence has more diversity and equality officers than the Royal Navy has warships. Do we need so many people in such roles in the public sector?

In other fields like broadcasting, universities and cultural institutions, government has less direct control. Ministers like Oliver Dowden and Gavin Williamson have rightly rapped institutions over the knuckles when they have done things that are unacceptable.

But as well as intervening, government also needs to communicate why this agenda is wrong and divisive, and what it opposes.

Margaret Thatcher could not intervene personally in every departmental squabble.  But she didn’t’ have to. Civil servants didn’t have to wonder what her view on an issue would be. You knew. Because she took time to make arguments of principle, again and again.

That’s what’s needed now. One common theme in many woke rows is that people in positions of leadership simply don’t understand where the boundaries are.

For example, permanent secretaries of various government departments tweeted their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The Civil Service Race Forum attacks government, claiming “many anti BAME policies originated in Whitehall.” Several department’s intranets have promoted highly contentious material about “white privilege” and Britain’s “systemic racism.”

Officials need to understand that they are not posting neutral stuff that everyone agrees on, but one side of a political argument.

When the British Library promoted materials to staff suggesting they should back a campaign by Diane Abbott, how could its leadership not spot that they were violating the rules on political neutrality?

The truth is we all live in bubbles, and if you run a large arts organisation in London most of the people you know probably have a certain world view. Such people need to be reminded that the taxpayers who pay their wages don’t all agree, and they have an obligation to be neutral.

To get them to understand where the boundaries are, government needs to set them out clearly and wholeheartedly.  The Prime Minister has even bigger battles to fight. But he should empower a minister to lay down the law, and wage war on woke.

Doug Stokes: The Conservatives must rally to the flag of the Enlightenment tradition as the culture wars rage

20 Sep

Doug Stokes is a Professor in International Relations at the University of Exeter.

Slowly, perhaps too slowly, the Conservative Party is waking up to the importance of the ‘culture wars’. These struggles over meaning will only grow in significance as the UK charts its post-Brexit destiny, itself intimately bound up with questions of culture and identity. How can a nation know what it wants if it does not know what it is?

On the Left, ‘woke’ politics, with its binary worldview of moral certainty, sin, guilt and deconstructive redemption through Western self-erasure is more akin to a secular theology than a programme of political transformation. It offers little to the vast majority of the British people who are sick of its banal virtue signalling, and the open contempt of its high priests in the media, universities and throughout British institutional life.

The Labour Party now faces a likely irreconcilable balancing act, insofar as it must bring together its hyper-woke graduate middle-class activist base and the socially conservative and now ‘Blue Wall’ former Labour voters. Keit Starmer will have to learn to do the impossible: to bend his knee whilst climbing walls.

For its part, the Conservative Party should plant its flag firmly within the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom and equality of opportunity. Coupled with a progressive patriotism, this would be a winning cultural formula, and essentially pushes at an open door. Moreover, it would bring together its ‘levelling up’ agenda with a collective story that binds and unifies and links the past with the present to map a future.

There is both a party political but much more important existential element to the increasingly ‘hot’ culture wars. In party political terms, if the Conservatives fail to grasp this nettle, a new party to its right may well do so. At the moment, there is a political vacuum, amplified by its flaccid response to Black Lives Matter riots and continued assaults on the nation’s heritage and history.

Of more pressing existential import is the dangerous game being played by leftist ‘woke’ theologians. From what is little more than anti-white racism peddled by ‘critical race theorists’ and their ‘white privilege’ useful idiots in our universities, media and boardrooms, new forms of divisive thinking predicated around racial interest articulation are beginning to emerge. Preaching to gullible white liberals about their alleged privilege is an easy sell, and this seems to be the underlying gamble: guilt-tripping will help lead to political change.

However, beyond the BBC, lecture halls and other privileged islands, guilt will likely not go very far. It is hard to see how the woke priesthood’s catechism of privilege and self-flagellation will be received in such places as Rotherham. Failure to contain this genie, released by the explosive assault on British identity, places our valuable multicultural dispensation in grave peril. The twin crises of Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic have justifiably meant the party has been slow off the blocks in recognising this, but it must not linger for much longer.

At the moment, we are living through a unique structural moment in British politics. Strategically, the party should restructure elements of our legal-institutional matrix, much of which underpins the left’s culture war arsenal. Failure to do so will mean that whilst the Conservatives are in power, its exercise will be stymied time after time, and in the culture wars at least, conservatives will suffer a death of a thousand cuts.

What are the elements of this matrix? On the one hand, the party faces a largely left-hegemonic institutionalised ‘fifth column’, composed of quangos and assorted charities. Despite their hyperbole, the UK remains one of the most socially progressive societies on earth, as even a cursory glance at most data metrics show very clearly.

However, these entities have both a bureaucratic and economic self-interest in evidencing ‘forever’ grievance narratives that feed the left’s culture war. For over a decade, various Tory chancellors have pumped billions into these bodies. Why?

Crucially, in a market of diminishing inequality, these ‘social justice’ organisations and theorists have evolved and adapted to new market realities with often Orwellian conceptual innovations to evidence injustice and thus drive political change and their continued funding. From junk science mandatory tests for unconscious biases in corporate boardrooms to students being paid to police alleged unintentional micro-aggressions in our universities, forms of embedded egalitarianism are often illiberal and increasingly authoritarian.

A ‘grievance industrial complex’ exists to evidence the above, but in a market of diminishing inequality, the complex must adapt with ever more bizarre and illiberal conceptual innovations to make sure demand for one’s services is maintained in the context of a diminishing supply of injustice.

Philosophically, this grievance industry deliberately conflates equal outcomes with equal opportunities. The script is familiar. If there’s an unequal outcome, anywhere and at any point, likely explanatory variables are ignored in favour of an amorphous ‘systemic’ conspiracy to reproduce a system of discrimination. It does not matter that this ‘systemic’ conspiracy is totally at odds with readily available data on the incredible financial, educational and cultural advances of the UK’s diverse population.

Conveniently, ‘justice’ is achieved by a redistributive agent of technocrats to intervene to impose equal outcomes in the name of social justice and to combat this ‘systemic’ conspiracy. Similar to the USSR, this conception shifts debates from an examination of underlying processes that allow humans to participate equally to one of top down imposition to achieve outcome parity, usually by a self-interested elite that has a self-interest in mission creep and the maintenance of their power.

The Conservative Party must reboot its philosophical thinking around this crucial distinction: there has been a dangerous and lazy drift across British institutional life from equality of opportunity that is entirely consistent and optimal for a functional market democracy to one of equity or equality of outcomes.

To the extent that the latter conception wins out over the former, conservatives will keep losing battle after battle in what is in fact an ever hotter and ongoing value-conflict raging within the anglophone West.

Of far more strategic significance however, is the foundation upon which this grievance industrial complex sits. It is quite shocking that, after ten years of Conservatives in government, the Equality Act of 2010 has been left totally unreformed.

Although this legislation was intended to safeguard access to equal opportunities, it has in fact morphed into the central juridical weapon of the left. In particular, section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 – the Public Sector Equality duty – has breathed into being an army of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officials across huge swathes of national life.

Through mission creep, this has imposed huge costs on our public sector, helped shift social discourse to one of outcome equality as being the central metric and weaponized the duty to ‘foster good relations’ to transform organisational cultures in often highly illiberal ways.

No doubt the ‘optics’ of reform will be seized on by political opponents, but this is why the party should bundle this up within a much broader cultural offering: a reassertion of the primacy of the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom of speech and conscience and equality of all before the law, regardless of creed, class or colour.

It is these values that have helped challenge dogma, champion freedom and defend those gains once made. These are now under radical assault, with those questioning the orthodoxies of the ‘great awokening’ often targeted for harassment and censure. The Conservative Party should lay a firm claim to the enlightenment tradition and let that be its lodestar in the culture wars. Failure to do so will place our current dispensation in deep peril; it is time to wake up.

What could give the Government a sense of purpose – and chances to achieve? Making Gove Deputy Prime Minister.

18 Sep

Boris Johnson has a majority of 80, the Conservatives are still above 40 per cent in the polls, there is no leadership challenge pending, and there are still over four years to go until the next election.

But the Tory press this week is behaving as though none of that applies.  It hasn’t given up on the possibility of the Prime Minister winning in 2024.  However, it seems close to abandoning hope of him achieving anything substantial before then.

The joint catalyst of this development has been the Government’s adventures with international law, to which many voters are indifferent.  And its handling of the Coronavirus, to which they are not.  The common theme is that the country is all at sea, and that the captain has no sense of direction – or grip.

It may be that the media, some Tory MPs and Party donors are getting everything out of proportion.  The hysterical anti-Johnson hyperbole from the Remainer residue certainly muddies the waters.  To give an example almost at random, one prominent pro-Remain journalist once implied that Johnson’s Covid illness was faked.

None the less, ConservativeHome thinks that the critics have a point – and then some – for two solid reasons.  The first is all to do with the unique circumstances of last December’s election.  Johnson was elected to Get Brexit Done and spend a lot of money: at least, that’s what the hostage-free Tory manifesto suggested.

He has delivered Brexit as most voters see it (even if there is no trade deal), and his spending plans have been absorbed by the Coronavirus crisis, along with nearly everything else.  “Levelling up” is on hold.  So is the economy.  The manifesto had no programme for public service reform in any event.

If it had, the virus would make its delivery all but impossible. Covid means all hands to the pump, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to let the disease which put him in intensive care let rip.  That isn’t going to happen.  Global Britain may not either, at least if one means by it a coherent approach to China, Russia and radical Islamism.

The second reason is all bound up with Johnson himself.  We endorsed him last summer as “not the Prime Minister we deserve, but the Prime Minister we need right now”.  By which we meant that his character, gifts and personality are best shaped for campaigning rather than government.

Just before he made up his mind to declare for Brexit, he told friends that he was “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”.  That captures the essence of how he works when trying to deliver many ends, as one must in office, rather than single one, as is the case in elections.

A shopping trolley can’t move on its own.  It needs someone to direct it.  That person is thought by those demented Remainers to be Dominic Cummings.  Certainly, parts of the Government’s programme are Cummings-driven: upending the civil service, challenging judicial power, overhauling procurement, “investing in science”.

But Cummings’ hands are only some of those on the trolley.  His old Parliamentary supporters, Simon Case, colleagues from his London mayoralty days, Carrie Symonds: all these and others push and pull at Johnson, who has no enduring ideology of his own to steer by, and can be as indecisive in private as he is bombastic in public.

We don’t mean to suggest that the Prime Minister has no beliefs.  He does, and his experience in City Hall has shaped them.  He wants to build more houses (good for him), invest in infrastructure, spend money on policing – and he has liberal instincts on immigration, as Government policy confirms.

But these are not so much convictions as impulses.  This is not the man to throw himself into the culture wars, as his response to the Black Lives Matter eruption confirms.  Rather, he is Lord Stanley, pitching in to the Bosworths of the conflict only when they’ve already been decided.  So it was with Churchill’s statue and the Proms.

The big point is that his response to Covid-19 is in deep trouble.  Success would see test and track taking the strain this winter.  Instead, regional lockdowns have already kicked in, and it’s only September.  The Government wants life at work to be as close to the old normal as possible, but life at home to be a new normal – under compulsion.

Hence marshalls, curfews and the rule of six.  Last spring, voters swung behind the Prime Minister as they’ve sometimes swung behind others when wars break out.  Now, there is war-weariness.  The winter is shaping up ominously and the Parliamentary Party is skittish.

At this stage in editorials, the usual course is to reiterate advice.  Appoint better Cabinet Ministers – not just people who voted for you.  Find an Andrew Mackay-type figure to take the backbench temperature.  Get a single, strong Party Chairman.

We add: forget trying to carry out, in current cirumstances, a spending review that looks more than a year ahead.  Concentrate on sorting testing, keeping schools open – and saving the Union; concede that turning the civil service upside-down will have to wait; prepare for a pro-EU Biden presidency.  But there is a fundamental problem.

Johnson just isn’t the man to exercise self-discipline outside an election campaign.  This is integral to what makes him so interesting: As Sasha Swire puts it, he has a “greatness of soul…and best of all a wonderful comic vision of the human condition. He is not like any politician I have ever encountered before, and I have met many.”

He will carry on boostering about moonshots, world-beating systems and (James Forsyth writes this morning) hydrogen.  It’s a form of manic defence.  A David Cameron would think tactically; a Margaret Thatcher strategically.  But the Prime Minister doesn’t think so much as intuit.  And will carry on doing so because that’s how he is.

Perhaps memory can reach where advice can’t.  Johnson has worked at his best when he lurches noisily forwards and someone follows quietly behind, carrying a dustpan and brush: Simon Milton in London (then Eddie Lister), Stuart Reid at the Spectator.  To put it more neutrally, he performs and someone else administers.

The safe, secure choice to do this now would be Oliver Dowden.  The one that would cause a sensation, explode a mass of leadership speculation and conspiracy theory, and drag up horrible memories of commitment and betrayal would be the psycho-dramatic appointment of Michael Gove.

The media’s field day could last for the rest of this Parliament.  But in the meantime, Gove would get on with what he does better than any Minister other than perhaps Rishi Sunak: strategic thinking – and messaging – government with a purpose, and zeal for reform.

The planned New Year reshuffle would be the right time for the change, though we admit that it almost certainly won’t happen.  All the same, the Government’s shaping up to be in its own bleak midwinter by then.  Sure, the next election is there to be won.  And never underestimate Johnson’s strange bond with a big slice of the British people.

But getting the state’s creaking machinery up to responding to Covid, let alone achieving much before 2024, depends on him doing what all of us find it hardest to do: changing what he does; almost who he is.