David Gauke: Johnson’s health and social care plan. A betrayal of Conservative principles? No – because, at one level, there aren’t any.

13 Sep

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire in the 2019 general election.

The Government’s plan for increases in National Insurance (NI) contributions to fund higher health spending and increased health spending has provoked a furious response from some on the right.

It “sounded the death knell to Conservatism” and drove “a coach and horses not only through the Tory Party manifesto, but Toryism itself”  according to Camilla Tominey in the Daily Telegraph.  In the same paper, Allister Heath fumed “shame on Boris Johnson, and shame on the Conservative Party…they have disgraced themselves, lied to their voters, repudiated their principles and treated millions of their supporters with utter contempt” and that “an entire intellectual tradition now lies trashed”.

In the Times, Iain Martin declared that “at this rate, the Conservative Party might as well rename itself the Labour Party”  and in the Spectator, Fraser Nelson questioned whether the “Boris Johnson” definition of conservatism as “a protection racket, where the tools of the state are used to extract money from minimum-wage workers and pass it on to the better-off?”

Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings has argued that “if you think you’re ‘conservative’, and you give those speeches about ‘enterprise’ and ‘responsibility’, why would you support making many more dependent on state money and bureaucracy?”

It’s all jolly strong stuff. And there are elements of the criticisms with which I have sympathy. I share the scepticism about prioritising a tax-funded social care cap, in that those who will gain most are those who have the most (thanks to rising house prices) and that is the wrong priority for public money.

There is a need for risk-pooling, but I think Peter Lilley’s proposal on this site is worth close examination (I suggested something similar when in Government). I also dislike NI as the choice of tax because of the narrowness of its base – and the distortions that this causes – and the dishonesty of employers NICs (no, Prime Minister, it is not a tax on business: it is a tax on jobs and employees’ wages).

In fairness to the Government, raising taxes is difficult, NI is less unpopular than income tax (largely because much of the public misunderstand it) and, being cynical, it is not surprising that Ministers exploit that misunderstanding.

Having said all that, is it a fair criticism to state that Johnson’s Health and Social Care plan undermines everything for which the Conservative Party stands? For a number of reasons (some of which reflect better on the Party than others), I think not.

First, the Conservative Party has an honourable record of fiscal responsibility. When the public finances are in trouble, Conservative governments have been willing to raise taxes in order to put the public finances on a sound footing – not least Margaret Thatcher’s, when Geoffrey Howe raised taxes in 1979 and 1981. The advocates of Reaganomics always find this disappointing, but responsible Conservatives do not believe that lower taxes will pay for themselves (as they did not for Reagan).

In reality, even putting aside any new commitments on social care spending, the prospects for the public finances are not great. Not only do we face some immediate challenges (Covid catch up, net zero and levelling up), but demography and rising health expectations will mean a tax-funded healthcare system will require higher taxes.

Some on the Right will argue for further cuts in spending or an alternative health model, but the political feasibility of such an approach is highly dubious. If we are going to spend more (and we are), taxes will need to rise to pay for it.

Second, the idea that a Conservative government prioritising homeowners is a complete break from the past does not bear scrutiny. Look at the arguments that Thatcher made in resisting the removal of mortgage interest tax relief (although the Treasury rightly prevailed in the end), or the general dislike of inheritance tax from the wider Conservative world. The reaction to Theresa May’s social care policy in 2017 suggests that the instinct to ‘defend our people’ (and their inheritances) amongst Conservatives is a formidable one.

Third, complaints about the Conservative Party not being the party of business are (how can I put this?) a little rich from some quarters. Imposing higher taxes, whether on employment or profits, is not great for business – but making it substantially harder to trade with our largest trading partner is a bigger problem.

It is all very well complaining about the anti-business instincts of this Conservative government, but hard to do if you have been a cheerleader for anti-business policies or, for that matter, Boris “f*** business” Johnson. If your expectation is that the Conservative Party would automatically be on the pro-business side of the argument, you have not been paying much attention in recent years.

The reason why the Conservative Party moved in the direction of an anti-business Brexit is that was where the votes were. And this brings me to the fourth and most important observation about the Conservative Party.

It has one purpose: to be in power. At one level, it is not possible for it to repudiate its principles because it does not have any. This can give it a tremendous advantage in a democracy because the public, as a whole, does not have political principles either – opinions and political alignments shift over time.

The Conservatives have been protectionists and free traders, the party of Empire and the party that facilitated the retreat from Empire, Keynesians and monetarists, the party of price controls and wages policies and the party of market economics, the party of Europe and the party of Brexit. It never stays on the wrong side of public opinion for long.

What is happening to our politics at the moment is that party support is realigning along cultural lines and, as a consequence, much more along generational lines. This has worked to the advantage of the Conservatives, so it is no surprise that it pursues policies that prioritises health spending over lower taxes for people of working age.

Polling suggests that the new, Red Wall voters who switched to the Conservatives at the last election are notably more left-wing on economic issues than traditional Conservative voters who are, in turn, to the left of Conservative MPs. The decision was made to pursue those voters and, if the Conservative Party wants to keep them, it cannot risk the NHS collapsing under financial pressure – which means higher spending and, ultimately, higher taxes.

Johnson’s critics are right to think that this will not be the end of it. Last week’s package was supposed to be an answer to how we fund social care. The reality is that it was a package to boost spending on the NHS. As Damian Green has argued on ConHome, it is hard to see how resources will be taken out of the NHS and switched to social care in three years’ time – and that, at that point, some expensive social care commitments will come into effect.

here will another funding gap and, on the basis of last week’s revealed preference, a further increase in the Health and Social Care Levy. Those who see the purpose of the Conservative Party as delivering low taxes are right to be glum.

Afghanistan and America 1) Why British security policy is dangerously exposed

16 Aug

Air Force One is a period fantasy of U.S idealism and supremacy.  The Soviet Union has collapsed.  American hegemony is unchallenged.  At a dinner in Russia, James Marshall, the President, explains why the two countries have jointly apprehended the leader of a rogue state.

“The truth is…we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened did we act.  Tonight I come to you with a pledge to change America’s policy. Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right.”

The film was released in 1997, during the decade or so between the fall of the Berlin Wall and Al Qaeda’s attack on 9/11.  And some ten years before Chinese communism began to fill the gap that Russian communism had left.

This is the world that most of us have lived the longest in: the one that came into being after the United States got out of Vietnam and before it got into Iraq – and Afghanistan.

America is still the most powerful country in the world, at least if one turns to one of those indices that try to measure economic strength, military muscle, diplomatic reach and international influence.

It remains the lynchpin of NATO, which has helped to keep the peace in Europe since 1945, and maintains an armed presence in Germany, Kosovo, South Korea, Iraq, Djibouti and elsewhere.

Furthermore, it isn’t inevitable that China will wax while the United States wanes.  The collapse of communism, Khomeine’s rise to power in Iran, the so-called “Arab Spring”: none of these were foreseen by western governments.

Perhaps China will somehow crumple again into the “celestial chaos” of the early years of the last century.  Who knows?  But as we gaze appalled at barbarism rampant, innocents dying and the West humiliated in Afghanistan, we can only weigh likelihoods.

When Joe Biden proclaimed “America’s back!”, he wasn’t telling a lie – even if its frantic retreat from Kabul, captured in the most mortifying  footage for the U.S since the fall of Saigon, suggests otherwise.

The President has returned America to the communal fold on Iran, climate change, and engagement, ending the use of Twitter as a tool of presidential statecraft, if that’s quite the right word for it.

But it is crucial to grasp, as so much of our reflexively anti-Trump media didn’t, that America is back on Biden’s terms, and while these may be multinational diplomatically they are unilateral militarily, or at least have that flavour.

Indeed, Trump’s Afghanistan policy begat Biden’s, because the latter inherited the Doha Agreement, pledging the withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan, signed last year.

And Trump was successful at Doha where Obama had previously failed.  The former President’s administration tried at least three times to hold negotiations with the Taliban.

Such has been the direction of travel since George W.Bush – a kind of President Marshall on steroids – responded to Islamist terrorism with neo-conservative doctrine, attempting to build western, liberal, democratic states in Asia backed by American firepower.

Biden would presumably honour America’s NATO obligations were Vladminir Putin to open a new front in the Baltic States, though he has taken Russia’s part over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipline.

Perhaps he can cobble together an international alliance against China that re-establishes U.S. leadership – though how he will to do so after his grotesque miscalculation in Afghanistan, goodness knows.

Nonetheless, British policy-makers would be wise to look at the trends in America over the last decade or so.  And not merely the ones in security.

The Obama-Trump-Biden withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq (the President wants U.S troops out of the latter by the end of the year) haven’t taken place in a social, economic and cultural vaccuum.

The United States is becoming less united, more extreme (within both the main parties), more woke, more spendthrift, less religious, more druggy, more violent, more porous, less prosperous (at least compared to its main rival).

The British state shows no sign of coming to terms with the speed and scale of the change, and reviewing assumptions that have more or less held since the Second World War and the Marshall Plan.

And were America no longer to be there for us, for better or worse, we would be uniquely exposed – at least as our security policy is concerned.

Perhaps ConservativeHome is taking a rosy-tinted view of British security policy, but it seems to us that, in the balance between realpolitik and justice, the latter weighs more heavily here than among our European neighbours.

Consider Russia – the perpetrator of an outrage on our soil three years ago.  Germany wants Nord Stream 2 and a pacific policy to go with it.  Emmanuel Macron is pivoting towards Putin.

Poland and other Eastern European states are fighting back, and Britain, Brexit or no Brexit, remains their most committed military ally, with our troops exposed in Estonia in what Lord Ashcroft reported as “Operation Tethered Goat”.

London may be awash with Putin money, but it is our Government, alert to human pressures in Parliament and outside it, that has imposed “Magnitsky sanctions” on 25 Russians (and others).

Turn then to China, towards which British policy, echoing Biden’s, is more ambiguous – describing it in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy as a “systemic competitor” rather than, like Russia, as an “acute and direct threat”.

But while Boris Johnson wants to keep its options open on the Chinese communist state, an entire House of Parliament, plus a significant slice of the Conservative Party, does not.

The political push to hold China’s government accountable for crimes against humanity has found spectacular expression among peers and MPs over the past year.

Three times the Lords sent an amendment to the Trade Bill down to the Commons which would, if passed, have seen China’s leaders pursued through British institutions over the most heinous crime on the charge sheet: genocide.

On the last occasion, the Government squeaked through by 18 votes, and 29 MPs voted against the Party line – including a former Party leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

He and four other Tory MPs, including the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, and our former columnist Neil O’Brien, now Chairman of the Party’s Policy Board, have now been sanctioned by China.

Is this site alone in pondering the possibility that the trend to isolationism in America gathers speed, returning us to the kind of world that we haven’t seen since the 1930s, in the vanished days when Britain still had an empire?

If so, can we be so noisy about Russia and China at once? Furthermore, what about Islamist extremism and, with an eye to Plymouth, home-grown terror?

Might we not have to choose – in a Europe in which Russia is the nearest and biggest threat to our national security?  Can a Britain with smaller forces really afford a “tilt to Asia“?

Air Force One ends with the vigorous President Marshall, played by Harrison Ford, despatching a terrorist with the cry of “get off my plane”.  Biden is shut up in the presidential jet, metaphorically speaking, and heading for home.

Alistair Lexden: A century ago today, King George V opened the Parliament of Northern Ireland

22 Jun

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here.

At 11 am on a grey, overcast morning, a 21-gun salute rang out across Belfast Lough as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert, with King George V and Queen Mary on board, approached Donegall Quay in the City’s Harbour at the end of an overnight journey from Holyhead, accompanied by a magnificent naval escort.

The great shipyards, symbols of Ulster’s (now declining) industrial might, stood silent in honour of the royal visit, an event of momentous importance as a new chapter of Anglo-Irish history began.

Their Majesties were greeted by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, arrayed proudly in tail-coats, white waistcoats “with Harbour Gilt Buttons” and top hats. These great men in Belfast life were a little taken aback when the glittering casket they brought on board with them was unceremoniously thrust aside, the illuminated address inside it unread, leaving the King without details of the port’s progress since his last visit in 1897. Their Majesties were in a hurry.

An open carriage, surrounded by large (and at times slightly disorderly ) cavalry contingents, sped through some of the principal streets en route to the Edwardian splendour of the City Hall, the temporary home of the new Parliament, elected on Empire Day, 24 May. Loyal Ulster’s joy was unrestrained. “We really got a wonderful welcome & I never heard anything like the cheering”, the King noted in his diary, that dry record of his activities which he maintained dutifully throughout his life.

Disloyal Ulster had its say two days later. A train transporting horses and men who had taken part in the royal procession was blown up. Three soldiers and a guard were killed, along with a large number of horses (others were mutilated).

Faint hearts at Buckingham Palace had urged the King to stay at home. Across Ireland as a whole, some 1,300 people – soldiers, policemen, terrorists and innocent civilians- had died since the beginning of 1919 when the IRA, then (as later) the terrorist wing of Sinn Fein, had unleashed a vicious guerrilla campaign, which historians now tend to dignify as Ireland’s ‘War of Independence’.

Britain’s response, which came to involve arbitrary reprisals for IRA crimes (summed up in three words “ Black and Tans”), stained its reputation, to the King’s great distress, as he made clear to his Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, head of a coalition dominated by Unionists, as Conservatives were then known.

In Belfast, IRA attacks on property in 1920 helped reignite the sectarian violence, endemic in the city since the Nineteenth Century when industrialisation had attracted waves of Catholics from rural Ulster. In a particularly shocking incident, around 5,000 Catholics had been driven from their jobs in the shipyards in July 1920. Sectarian outrages, killing or injuring police and civilians, became depressingly familiar. Suffering was, as always, inflicted on Catholic and Protestant families alike.

No effort was spared to ensure the safety of the monarch and his wife. Cecil Craig, the devoted English wife of Northern Ireland’s new Prime Minister, Sir James Craig (later Viscount Craigavon), recorded the security precautions in her diary .

“Luckily [the City Hall] was not very far, and precautions had been taken of every description, trusted men stationed in each house, and on every roof top, and the closest scrutiny of all in the houses, and of course in the streets too. Every alternate policeman faced the crowd but as there were troops in front, this was not specially apparent.”

Lady Craig naturally had much praise for her husband on this great day. It was not misplaced. An unyielding opponent of Home Rule (as devolution was then known) before the First World War, the Ulster premier was now keen to make it a success in the six counties of Northern Ireland, for which he had become responsible. Lloyd George’s Home Rule scheme, passed into law in 1920, removed the spectre of uncongenial Dublin rule over northern Unionists, first created by William Gladstone in 1886 .

One country, two Parliaments (which might possibly want to merge at some undefined future point): that was Lloyd George’s prescription for Irish harmony in the years ahead. Craig was his conscientious associate in implementing the plan in Belfast; sadly Dublin, where Sinn Fein carried all before it, had other, subversive ideas.

Craig fought a campaign of studied moderation for the Empire Day elections, the first to be held in the United Kingdom under a system of proportional representation. Partnership between North and South, each respecting the other’s boundaries, was his theme. To the astonishment (and disquiet) of many Unionist voters, he went to Dublin during the campaign for discussions with De Valera, recently an inhabitant of British prisons.

He made clear that he would himself lead the Unionist delegation of ten on the Council of Ireland, a key feature of Lloyd George’s Irish settlement, when it was set up to oversee all-Ireland services like the railways and fisheries, and (if both North and South wished) work towards the reunification of Ireland under the Crown. Goodwill abounded. Craig declared that “they in the North would be only too delighted to see the harbours of Cork and elsewhere turned into great engines of industry, the same as they had in the North of Ireland. But having said so much, let it be clear that there was to be no tampering whatever with the rights of Ulster.”

On that basis, Craig won 40 of the 52 seats in the new Parliament, which was going to have to function without an official Opposition: non-Unionist MPs refused to take their seats.

That caused no disquiet among the loyal crowds as the royal carriage swept up to the Belfast City Hall on 22 June 1921, the tenth anniversary of George V’s coronation. The speech which the King delivered was like no other King’s speech in modern history. It contained no boring list of measures that would be debated and passed into law.

The dreary language invariably used on such occasions was replaced by striking eloquence, thanks to Edward Grigg, then one of Lloyd George’s Private Secretaries and later Lord Altrincham, an ardent proponent of responsible self-government within the Empire, who redrafted the speech four days before the King left London. George V’s official biographer, Harold Nicolson, recalled its reception: “Those who actually heard the speech never forgot the intense conviction with which it was delivered or the emotion it aroused.”

No one indeed could have listened without emotion as the King appealed “to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill.” He ended by recasting in memorable, idealistic terms the theme of partnership which Craig had deployed during the election campaign:

“The future lies in the hands of my Irish people themselves. May this historic gathering be the prelude of the day in which the Irish people, north and south, under one Parliament or two, as those Parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundation of mutual justice and respect.”

It was the most significant royal intervention in Irish affairs since George III blocked Catholic Emancipation at the time of the Act of Union in 1801, and so utterly different with its wholly constructive purpose. The speech received the national and international applause it deserved. When the King and Queen returned to London by rail the following day, Lloyd George and his Cabinet were at the station to meet them. “We have been deeply moved by the devotion and enthusiasm with which You were greeted”, the Prime Minister told the King.

Lloyd George was also impressed by an upsurge of public support in Britain for negotiations with Sinn Fein to end the armed conflict in Ireland on honourable terms. On 8 July, a formal truce with the IRA was signed in Dublin, paving the way for the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921,which conferred dominion status on the 26 counties of Southern Ireland. The Belfast visit proved the key to Anglo-Irish peace outside Northern Ireland.

As the royal couple boarded their yacht at the end of the visit, the King said to his Ulster premier: “I can’t tell you how glad I am I came, but, you know, my entourage were very much against it”. James Craig replied: “Sir, you are surrounded by pessimists, but we are all optimists over here.”

Their number diminished sharply during the months that followed. The truce in the South enabled the IRA to turn the full force of its enmity on the North. By the end of 1922, the death toll in Belfast amounted to 428 with another 1,766 injured, all now virtually forgotten by the English with their gift of historical amnesia. Dr A.T.Q Stewart, the doyen of Ulster historians, sought to remind them:

“Grenades were thrown into crowded tramcars, into pubs, into churches and even into groups of children playing at street corners…Whole streets were burned down, and in Belfast some of the main roads became like sections of the Western Front, still vivid in the memory of many of the combatants.”

The IRA also killed – deliberately – the spirit of partnership which Craig had fostered in the Empire Day elections. Power, which might in time have come to be shared, was confined to the Unionist majority as long as the Northern Ireland Parliament lasted. The voice of Catholic complaint was never silent. Could this polarisation have been reduced, perhaps overcome? Only by the continued participation of the Westminster government and the exercise of its restraining hand.

The legislation under which the Northern Ireland Parliament operated stated that “the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished.” Partnership within Ulster required a partnership of parliaments. But Westminster in a telling phrase that has become current preferred to “devolve and forget”. It was a tragic error. It is a pity that the King did not warn against it in his great speech a century ago today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY – D.G. Boyce, Englishmen and Irish Troubles : British Public Opinion & The Making of Irish Policy 1918-22 ( Jonathan Cape,1972). Patrick Buckland, Ulster Unionism and The Origins of Northern Ireland 1886 to 1922 (Gill and Macmillan, 1973 ). Alistair B. Cooke/ Lexden, Ulster: The Origins of the Problem ( Conservative Political Centre, 1988) and “ Lloyd George and an Anglo-Irish Centenary: The Government of Ireland Act 1920” in Journal of Liberal History (2020). St John Ervine, Craigavon, Ulsterman ( Allen & Unwin, 1949). Alf McCreary, Titanic Port: An Illustrated History of Belfast Harbour (Booklink, 2010). Harold Nicolson, King George The Fifth: His Life and Reign ( Constable,1952). Susannah Riordan, “ Politics, Economy, Society: Northern Ireland, 1920-1939” in Thomas Bartlett (ed,), The Cambridge History of Ireland Vol. IV 1880 to the Present ( Cambridge University Press, 2018). A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground : Aspects of Ulster,1609-1969 ( Faber & Faber, 1977). C.J.C. Street, Ireland in 1921 ( Philip Allan, 1922). Charles Townshend, Political Violence in Ireland : Government and Resistance since 1848 ( Clarendon Press, 1983

Gavin Williamson: Skills, jobs and freedom. My priorities for this week’s Queen’s Speech – and the year ahead.

14 May

Gavin Williamson is Secretary of State for Education, and is MP for South Staffordshire.

The election results last week demonstrated that today’s Conservative party commands support across the length and breadth of the nation. Whether it was in Devon, Dudley or Durham, the voters who first put their faith in the Prime Minister in 2019 resoundingly confirmed that the Conservatives are they party they trust to deliver results, to create opportunity and to stand up for Britain.

And with the first part of our mandate delivered – to Get Brexit Done – attention is rightly turning to our commitment and determination to level up the nation.

The Education Bills that her Majesty announced in the Queen’s Speech are at the living, beating heart of that agenda. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will deliver fundamental reforms to our college and university system, making it as easy to study a vocational course, at any age, as it is to go to university.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will put an end once and for all to the chilling effect of cancel culture in universities.

And alongside this legislation, we will be continuing to drive improvement in our schools, completing the revolution begun in 2010. We are supporting all schools to join strong multi-academy trusts, embedding a consistent culture on discipline and behaviour, and working with the Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, to develop an ambitious, long-term plan for recovery – on top of the more than £2 billion we have already invested for this purpose.

At the heart of our reforms is the new Skills Bill. Ever since I became Education Secretary, my mantra has been Further Education, Further Education, Further Education.

For too long in this country, technical and vocational education has played second fiddle to university. It’s left our economy short of the vital technical skills they need, our employers dependent on importing labour and too many of our citizens left behind by a culture that values academic qualifications above all else.

Our new Lifelong Loan Entitlement will change that, giving everyone the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime – at their local college, or at university. This is levelling up in action, and it will turbocharge our economy by getting people back into jobs and Britain working again.

In addition to the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, the Bill contains measures to strengthen our great further education colleges, the engines of opportunity that lie at the centre of our towns. New legislation will put employers at the heart of our skills reforms, joining forces with further education colleges to ensure young people can be confident they are taking high-quality, work-relevant courses that will get them the good jobs they deserve.

We are going to make sure there is a better balance between the skills that local employers want from their workforce and those that are being taught by colleges so that young people have a valuable and top-quality alternative to university.

Rather than encourage people to leave home to find a rewarding career, we intend to empower them to find fulfilling and rewarding work wherever they live, invigorating communities and driving economic growth, up and down the country.

It is a natural progression to the ground-breaking reforms we have already been rolling out, such as our T level and apprenticeship programmes, and which will deliver the skilled individuals to boost the post-pandemic economy and bring down unemployment.

And finally, the Bill will strengthen the ability of the Office for Students to crack down on low quality courses, delivering on our manifesto commitment. Our universities, which have played such a vital role in developing the vaccines and treatments to beat Covid-19, must be a fundamental part of levelling up through the Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt – and our reforms will open the way for them to embrace the opportunities offered by degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualifications, modular learning and our flagship Institutes of Technology.

Whether in the Tory shires or the Red Wall, the people of Britain have more in common than not. They want good jobs, better living standards and to own their own home. They want to know that they can trust their local school to give their children a good education, that their streets at safe at night, they can get a GP appointment when they need one. And, fundamentally, they want a society that offers a fair deal, where hard work pays off and the talented can get ahead, whatever their background.

And, as they demonstrated in 2016, and again in 2019, they believe in Britain. They know that while we may not always be perfect, this country has historically been a force for good in the world, and continues to be one of the best, fairest and most tolerant places to live and work.

The citizens of this country care deeply about injustice, rightly abhor racism, and increasingly recognise that love is love – but they have little patience with the increasingly intolerant and puritanical strand of the far left, which seems to be perpetually ashamed of our flag, our nation and our history. They have no truck with nonsense such as the denigration of Churchill, the ‘cancelling’ of our great naval heroes such as Drake and Nelson, or the renaming of buildings named after David Hume, a pillar of the Scottish Enlightenment, or the reforming Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who amongst other things implemented universal primary education for our children.

Our universities have a long and proud history of being spaces in which differing views or beliefs can be expressed without fear of censure, in recent years this has come under threat. There are increasing concerns of a chilling effect, with students and academics who dare to disagree with the campus consensus facing abuse, intimidation and even threats of investigation, dismissal or expulsion.

While the majority of academics and students believe in free speech, too many universities have allowed a small minority of activists to determine what can and cannot be said, for example by making law-abiding student societies pay security costs to invite mainstream speakers, rather than standing up to those willing to threaten violence to shut down speech.

I wrote a year ago that if universities didn’t protect free speech, the Government would. That is why we have introduced our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, delivering on our manifesto commitment to protect free speech and academic freedom in universities. The Bill will strengthen existing duties on universities to promote free speech, extend these duties to students’ unions and establishing a director in the Office for Students to protect and promote these rights – including levying fines where necessary.

The programme of reforms my Department is implementing delivers for citizens across our electoral coalition. It rewards the new voters who have put their faith in us for the first time, trusting us to deliver the opportunity, prosperity and better lives that Labour has so sadly failed to provide for them. And it reassures our traditional voters that the torch of liberty, democracy and freedom burns as brightly within the Conservative party today as it ever did. As the Prime Minister has said, we are going to unite and level up our nation, and education is at the core of that mission.

Rupert Myers: Let Prince Philip become Plinth Philip

12 Apr

Rupert Myers is a barrister and writer.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has been felt around the world. An inspiration for us all to do more, his death invites reflection and the celebration of a great man. A dutiful public servant who filled his unforgiving minutes with distance run for Queen and country, the Duke of Edinburgh was a fixture in all of our lives.

With his wit, style, and work ethic he epitomised the greatest generation, of which he was a leading man. For this reason, we must honour him suitably, and to do that we need to shake things up. It’s time for the experiments in public art on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to end, and replaced instead with a statue of the Duke.

A keen sailor who went from being one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy at just 21, to his appointment as Lord High Admiral a decade ago, Prince Philip would be at home in a square named after Britain’s most famous naval success – plinth pals with General Sir Charles James Napier, Major General Sir Henry Havelock and George IV. Forever placing him next to Horatio Nelson would be a fitting tribute for a man who played his part in World War Two at sea and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese.

Some might cry out that London would lose the contemporary artworks that are displayed on the fourth plinth. Beyond Rachel Whiteread’s beguiling ‘Monument’ – an upside down transparent resin copy of the plinth itself – and Antony Gormley’s ‘One & Other’, which saw 2400 members of the public each spend an hour on the plinth, the other installations have been highly missable. London is awash with brilliant spaces for the display of contemporary art, and Sir John Mortimer’s recommendation of the fourth plinth as the home for a rolling programme of temporary artworks has long since gone stale.

Many on the internet would be enraged by the erection of a statue to the Duke of Edinburgh in such a prominent location. “The country has reached its quota for statues of racist, old white men” as one person replied when I floated the suggestion on Twitter.

These people couldn’t be more wrong. Philippos Andreou reached this country as a Greek Orthodox child refugee in a cot made from a fruit box. He became the longest-serving consort in the most successful reign of any monarch, and helped shepherd our country through war, peace, and monumental change.

To judge him on the colour of his skin, or on a few terrible comments in the course of a lifetime of service may be the sort of lazy, reductive thinking we have come to expect from social media, but it does an utter disservice to his life. Try getting through 22,219 solo engagements at which you are expected to be entertaining and interesting, surrounded by the world’s press, without saying a few things you might regret.

The Duke took on exile, poverty, his mother’s schizophrenia, and personal tragedy, yet not only served as consort to the Queen but founded an award scheme that helped millions of young people find meaning, purpose, and discover the benefit of the great outdoors.

If he isn’t the sort of person we should be erecting statues to, then it’s time to do away with statues. So long as we put them up to anyone, we will be putting them up to brilliant people who lived flawed and imperfect lives whose records don’t regularly conform to the changing standards of modern life, as even a cursory glance at the lives of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King can confirm. Statues don’t have to represent an endorsement of everything contained within a life, but merely the greater balance of it.

Some claim that the fourth plinth is being saved for the Queen, but our longest serving monarch will – many years from now – be surely deserving of a square and a column all of her own. Right now, we must agree on a fitting tribute to her husband. He was a funny, curious, flawed man. He should be honoured in a place that befits his naval service and the high regard in which he is held by the public.

Let’s put the Duke of Edinburgh with the people – in the middle of things; not with the politicians in Parliament Square, constantly surrounded by unwashed campaigners with megaphones, but in the most iconic square in our great capital city, where he will be cherished by visitors from around the world for centuries to come. It’s time for Plinth Philip.

After the Duke

10 Apr

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, as they both later became, married in the wake of wartime – during 1947.  She came to the throne after the death of her father six years later.  To have any real memory of his reign now, one would have been roughly ten years old then, at least.

A small boy or girl of that age in 1953 would be the better part of 75 now. One has to be a quarter of a century old, or older, to remember well a time before her reign.

In other words, most of us have got used to the longest-serving monarch in not only British but also English history.  “May the king live forever,” the choir sings in that great coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest.  We enthusiastically join the chorus: “Amen, amen, allelluia, allueluia – amen”.

Spouses often survive the deaths of their other halves for many years, and naturally we hope that the Queen will be one of them.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

But either way, that fervent wish in Handel’s chorus can’t come about.  The king doesn’t live together.  So as Andrew Gimson wrote on this site yesterday, we must all – whether older or younger than 75 – begin to prepare ourselves for the fact that the Duke’s death is a sign that this Elizabethan era is nearing its end.

We may not be prepared for it.  For with the possible exception of a few tempestous days in 1997, in the wake of the death of Princess Diana, and for perhaps a period during the 1960s, to which the making of Royal Family was a response, the Queen and the monarchy have been extremely popular.

The Queen, overwhelmingly so: only ten per cent of those YouGov poll have a negative view of her; the monarchy, almost as much: only 14 per cent want no member of the Royal Family to succeed her.

This monarchical popularity is less unusual than we may think.  Indeed, the very idea may make no sense at all before the coming of age of mass enfranchisment – say, roughly the time of Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act.  Since then, neither Edward VII, George V nor George VI, the Queen’s father, experienced serious public hostility.

Even the king missing from that list, Edward VIII, seems to have divided opinion.  At the time of his abdication, respectable opinion seems to have been against him and unrespectable opinion for.  The latter is sometimes greater and wiser than the former (though not the second in this case and probably not the first either).

That leaves Queen Victoria, who undoubtedly did become unpopular for a period.  Nonetheless, it can’t be assumed that the opposite will always be the case for our future monarchs, just because it has been so with this one.

The Duke of Edinburgh didn’t shy away from making his views known, and was no less loved for it.  Although they weren’t party political ones – he was scrupulously neutral in that way – they did have a certain flavour, and its safe to say that he was no enthusiast for the big state.

The Queen balanced his outspokenness out (as so many spouses in so many marriages balance each other out) by expressing no views at all – or, rather, by expressing what our times call values and previous ones would have called virtues: stoicism, duty, service, fortitude, unselfishness, self-sacrifice.

When the time comes, the Prince of Wales, who undoubtedly “has views”, will face having to do the same, and so leaving behind – stepping beyond? – his take on the environment, architecture, education, medicine, and so on.

Perhaps our sense that he will need to do so is wrong, and we misjudge the mood of the times.  More to the point, he seems to be making that change already – pushing, for example, for fewer members of the Royal Family to be on the taxpayer-funded payroll.

But it is only common sense to suggest that the safest course to follow in due course will be his mother’s.  Are we getting ahead of ourselves, never mind the rest of the country, in looking forward in this way?  Is it out place to wonder if the next monarch will be less popular than this one during the course of his reign?

Our case for the defence is that the Duke of Edinburgh himself always seemed to be looking forward, not back: indeed, he was the original moderniser of the Royal Family during this reign.

He dispensed with powdered hair for footmen; put in intercoms; shut down a palace kitchen set up to feed the Royal Family only; set up new, informal lunches for the Queen to meet people from new, broader backgrounds; was instrumental in planning Royal Family (not one of his better ideas).

Some of passions preceded his oldest son’s: the environment, inter-faith.  It was the Duke of Edinburgh who reportedly first called the Royal Family “The Firm”.  In seeking to modernise it by reforming it, his son is showing that, in one telling sense at least, he’s a chip off the old block.

So we make no apology in warning supporters of our monarchy to prepare for rougher water.  For although the Queen is extremely popular and the monarchy scarcely less so, this isn’t always true of all members of the Royal Family.

But rather than linger over the mistakes of the Duke of York and the plight of the Duke of Sussex, we end on an optimistic note, in keeping we hope with the Duke of Edinburgh’s character.  Monarchy is the United Kingdom’s default setting.

It was England’s before that, when the Commonwealth ran out of legitimacy, and Charles II was invited to take up his throne.  Or when, in 1689, it passed from a Catholic monarch to Protestant ones.

Or when a woman who was originally fifth in line to the throne, and whose mother was ready to govern as regent instead of her, began her reign less than a month after her eighteenth birthday.  That was Queen Victoria, the great-great grandmother of both the present Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

We wrote earlier that the king doesn’t live forever.  But that isn’t the full story.  For as the cry on the death of a monarch has it: “the king is dead. Long live the king!”

William Shawcross: ‘Grief is the price we must pay for love’, as the Queen said. How much she will feel that now.

10 Apr

William Shawcross is the author of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: the official biography, and is a former Chair of the Charities Commission for England and Wales.

The Duke of Edinburgh has been a hugely important part of the modern history of our Kingdom and the success of the monarchy.

Princess Elizabeth fell in love with him as a child after meeting him at Dartmouth College in 1939 and never doubted that this handsome, brave, young man with strong views was the only one for her.

He had a superb naval war record, and was Mentioned in Despatches after the Battle of Matapan.

They married in 1947, when he was embarked on an excellent naval career. It was very hard for him to give that up after the sadly early death of King George VI in 1952, and difficult to sacrifice his commands for the formal intricacies of Palace life. But adjust he did, and he became an increasingly vital part of British society.

Whatever impatience he may have felt and whatever regret he had for the loss of what would almost certainly have been a glittering naval career, he understood the importance of the monarchy as perhaps the most vital part of the woof and warp of Britain.

And he did everything he could to enable his wife and the family to change as the monarchy always must, to retain the consent of the British people.  (He also said that the monarchy should only exist so long as the British people wanted it.)

His bluff manner concealed a remarkably thoughtful man as shown in his many books, lectures and exchanges about religious issues with the Right Reverend Michael Mann, published as A Windsor Correspondence.

Far from being a reactionary as sometimes caricatured, he was always compassionate and open-minded, as well as brave. The Prince of Wales recorded very movingly that as a school boy at a German boarding school in the 1930s, he stood up for an older Jewish boy being persecuted in the increasingly nazified atmosphere – at a time when it was really difficult to be anti-racist.

He never followed fashion but always led it – he championed the environment and wildlife long before those became widely followed causes.

His Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme has been perhaps the most practical example of his unique combination of humanity and effectiveness. It has been an inspiration to millions of young people all over the world for many decades.

In the UK alone, 6.7 million young people have taken on the personal challenge of a Duke of Edinburgh Award so far. In Scott Morrison’s statement yesterday, the Australian Prime Minister notes a further 775,000 have done so in Australia.

He had many other interests, all of which he studied and developed to points of expertise. Having first come to appreciate the importance of engineering as a naval cadet, he went on to found, decades later, the Fellowship of Engineering, which became the Royal Academy of Engineering.“It seemed to me the only way we were going to recover a sort of viability [after the war] was through engineering,” he said in a BBC interview, adding that “Everything not invented by God is invented by engineers.”

During the 1990s, he said it was time for him to step back. “I think I’ve done my bit. and I think I’ve done what seemed to me my best.” But he never retired. He was present at the Queen’s side through almost all his nineties.

He was never conceited, as the Queen noted when she said in 1997 on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”

She was absolutely right. The success of the Queen – probably our best as well as longest reigning monarch ever – is in good part based upon the success of that relationship – all 73 years of it. It was a magical marriage and, as she said, the country owes him a vast debt. He gave us, as well as his wife and Queen, his all.

The Queen herself has pointed out, “Grief is the price we must pay for love.” It is hard to imagine the grief she must feel now.

This article was originally published on Policy Exchange’s blog.

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.

David Gauke: Is Britain really set to become a low tax, less regulated, free trading, buccaneering country?

13 Mar

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Conversations about tax policy can take unexpected turns. It was during one such conversation in the late 2000s – I was the shadow tax minister at the time and developing our plans for corporation tax – that a senior tax lawyer at a city firm recommended a series of books on naval battles.

Peter Padfield’s Maritime Trilogy is, in truth, somewhat broader than that. Padfield alternates accounts of the most important maritime confrontations since the Spanish Armada with a broader account of the social, economic and constitutional development of the great powers.

His central argument is that there is a distinction to be drawn between maritime nations – with linked strengths of sea-fighting, trade, financial innovation and constitutional constraints – and land-based empires. The later relied on closed domestic markets, rigid hierarchies and centralisation, the former distinguished by liberty, flexibility and enterprise.

It is an analysis that many British Conservatives would share and, the argument goes, makes the UK well suited to the era of globalisation. We are historically and culturally accustomed to trade and with that comes a recognition that trading partners have other options. Our prosperity is dependent upon those partners wishing to continue to trade with us. Political stability; the rule of law; paying our debts; limited government; competitive and predictable taxes – all qualities that are necessary to succeed as a maritime nation and in the era of globalisation.

It was in this spirit that the Prime Minister’s first big speech following our departure from the EU was at the Old Naval College in Greenwich where – in extolling the virtues of free trade – he talked of recapturing “the spirit of those seafaring ancestors immortalised above us whose exploits brought not just riches but something even more important than that – and that was a global perspective”.

So how are we doing? Are we on course to be the open, outward-looking nation of which the Prime Minister spoke? Are we becoming a more flexible, enterprising, maritime nation?

My last column assumed that corporation tax rates would increase and argued that this would be a mistake. When I heard Government ministers defend the rise by saying that our corporation tax rates remained the lowest in the G7, I was reminded of my conversation with the tax lawyer.

The lawyer’s argument (which I found persuasive) was that we became economically successful from the 1690s onwards because our model was more like that of a small country dependent upon foreigners choosing to trade with and invest in us, taking inspiration from the Dutch rather than the French. Our modern tax system should seek to emulate this, he argued, encouraging international businesses to locate activities and investment in the UK. Our rates may be lower than other G7 economies but, if we see ourselves as nimble and competitive, our ambitions should be greater than that. A better corporate tax regime than France is not a proud boast.

How about freeports? The name could not be more evocative of our trading and maritime traditions. But the evidence suggests that they will achieve little other than displacing activity from one part of the country to another. And if we were really ambitious about a deregulated, low tax, low customs solution to our economic woes, why give these advantages to some places, why not everyone?

The emphasis on freeports reveals an approach to the levelling up agenda that I worry is more about creating grateful localities in exchange for pots of spending rather than a clear sighted vision for improving productivity. The suspicion must be that the preference for ad hoc ministerial decisions over a more defined industrial strategy will lead to a less economically rigorous approach. The suspicion will linger that party political considerations will be to the fore.

There is one surprising, if qualified, bright spot. We are becoming more open to talent. It was already the case that the requirements to get a work visa were much less restrictive than previously, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the skills visas is worthwhile. The qualification, of course, is that it is still much more bureaucratic for EU citizens to work here than it was – which brings me to Brexit.

Our history as a maritime nation is one often identified by supporters of Brexit – like the Prime Minister in his Greenwich speech. Even the word ‘Brexiteer’ evokes the naval escapades of buccaneers (although the Oxford English Dictionary also defines ‘buccaneer’ as ‘a person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way’). Liz Truss tops the ConHome Ministerial popularity charts largely on the basis of her energetic advocacy of Global Britain and for free trade as a benefit of Brexit.

The reality is that Brexit involves the erection of trade barriers with our largest market, as January’s appalling trade numbers suggest (although, to be fair, a clearer picture will only emerge over time). Given the Prime Minister was willing to agree to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it even involves trade barriers within the UK.

While good progress has been made by the Department of International Trade in completing free trade agreements with third countries, these have primarily rolled over existing agreements that we had as members of the EU. There was a flurry of excitement last week when the US dropped punitive tariffs on UK products that were in place because of a longstanding dispute with the EU over Airbus and Boeing. Brexit supporters rushed to declare it a triumph due to our new status, the Trade Secretary wrote a self-congratulatory piece in The Daily Telegraph. A day later, the US announced that it was dropping the punitive tariffs against the EU, too. The search for a trade benefit from Brexit continues.

What about regulatory flexibility? It is nearly five years since we voted to leave the EU, but there are still no bold plans to regulate in a different way. Plans to review workers’ rights have been dropped on the basis that this would be politically unpopular.

If the hard Brexit delivered by the Government has made trade with the EU much harder, the combative manner of our dealing with the EU has not only reduced trust but even undermined a key attribute for a trading nation – the rule of law. Having threatened to breach international law for three months over the autumn, Lord Frost has now decided to extend the grace period before internal checks come into place – unilaterally changing the terms of our agreement with the EU. A second breach of an international treaty only recently agreed begins to look like a habit. It does nothing for our reputation for trustworthiness.

The attributes of an outward-looking, open, trading nation are ones to which we should aspire. But in terms of our openness to trade, competitiveness on tax and adherence to the rule of law we are going backwards. In terms of the State telling businesses what they should do and where they should do it, we are becoming more centralised and more arbitrary.

For years, many in the UK have characterised the EU as centralised, interventionist, uncompetitive and protectionist. It would be a sad irony if our departure from it makes us more like the type of inward-looking, land-based power that we once used to disparage.

Jenrick warns City of London Corporation to ensure “heritage and tradition are given robust protection”

12 Feb

The City of London Corporation is very much an anomaly in terms of local authorities. In 1965, changes brought about in Greater London saw the creation of 32 boroughs. This was a dreary reform that saw administrative logic sweep aside tradition and local identity. But just as Asterix and Obelix defended “one small village of indomitable Gauls” against the Romans, there was a small exception which resisted the bureaucratic conformity that was fashionable at the time. Such was the importance of the City of London’s status in our island story that an exemption was allowed for the square mile. It was too well-entrenched. All the legal protections granted by Royal Charter.  The pledge in the Magna Carta that “the city of London shall have/enjoy its ancient liberties.”

Thus to the fury of the killjoy Lefties, all the pomp has survived. The banquets and the Lord Mayor’s Show. The sheriffs, the aldermen, the livery companies, the town clerk, the chamberlain, the beadles. The police with their special helmets. The special voting arrangements for its small electorate.

How extraordinary then, that of all local authorities, this bastion should have captured by the forces of wokeness. Last month the BBC reported:

“Statues of two politicians with links to the transatlantic slave trade are to be removed from central London.

The City of London Corporation announced it would remove statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass from the Guildhall, in Moorgate.

The decision was made by a taskforce set up by the corporation following nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.

A spokeswoman called the move “an important milestone” in moving towards an “inclusive and diverse City”.

The corporation, which looks after the Square Mile in the capital, said it was considering the future of a number of statues and road names with links to the slave trade.”

Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, has written to the Lord Mayor, William Russell, and senior officials calling on them to reconsider. His letter says:

“Our stance on historic statues and sites which have become contested is to retain and explain them; to provide thoughtful, long lasting and powerful reinterpretation that responds to their contested history and tells the full story.”

“These principles similarly apply not just to statues, but other aspects of our heritage, including street names.

“As a unique local authority with unique status compared to others, I hope you will consider this national advice carefully, given you are seen as a leading authority.

“The Corporation of London is itself a product of the City’s rich history. It is in the City’s own interests that heritage and tradition are given robust protection.”

Freedom is not something to be taken for granted. Slavery has dominated in most places across the globe throughout most of history. The unique aspect of the British Empire was abolishing it, in 1833 – with the Royal Navy subsequently stamping out the slave trade by stopping slave ships, not just at British ports but elsewhere. That is a source of pride. But should we really discount the achievements of any monarchs, businessmen, or other public figures, from before that time? Those on “taskforces” set on denigrating our past would seem to think so.

Historic England has produced a checklist for local authorities concerning “contested heritage.” It defines that as “historic objects, structures, buildings or places where the associated stories or meanings have become challenged. The interest in interpretation of our past has never been greater, and when heritage becomes contested, strongly-held views tend to exist on all sides.” It opposes knocking down statues and instead suggests “educational programmes” to provide a balanced account. There would still be plenty of room for dispute about what points should, or should not, be included in any adjoining display cases. But that approach seems reasonable. It is in the spirit of Kwasi Kwarteng’s recent comments that rather then de-colonise the curriculum” the opposite is needed “to learn more about colonialism.”

We might expect an agitprop response to this issue from Lambeth Council – evidently keen to restore its “loony Left” reputation. Yet how extraordinary that the City should need to be protected from a wave of cultural vandalism instigated by the City of London Corporation.

This desperate situation led my colleague Invictus to consider if the Government should respond “by abolishing the thousand-year old Corporation itself and folding its functions into Westminster City Council. After all, the British people might reasonably ask, if you won’t respect our traditions, why should we respect yours?”

The quirky arrangements for local democracy in the City leave it vulnerable. The custom is that party politics are considered infra-dig. So mostly independents are elected. With the assumpion that they will be honoured to be the custodians of its heritage. The difficulty comes when those sneaking in with the “independent” label embark on a mission of self-destruction.

My advice to the City of London Corporation – or any other local authority contemplating an anti-heritage drive – would be instead to devote its efforts to combat modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act of 2015 included a duty for councils to identify victims. There are estimated to be 10,000 in this country – trapped in domestic servitude or the sex industry. Often the perpetrators are involved in benefit fraud, arranging forced marriages, or providing substandard housing. Would not the most effective application of moral indignation about slavery be to catch the culprits and free the victims – in such districts as Tulse Hill Ward, Lambeth? Rather than fretting about it being named after Sir Henry Tulse, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1684.

How many slaves are trapped in all those awful flats in The Barbican?