Neil O’Brien: Challenges for the new Prime Minister 1) Energy. The Treasury will advise limited nuclear and carbon capture. It should be ignored.

1 Aug

Neil O’Brien was until recently a Miister at the Department of Levelling up. He is MP for Harborough.

Ah, the 1970s. The nostalgia industry has given the decade a familiar iconography.

Flared jeans and Milton Keynes… Mullahs in Iran….The Magic RoundaboutMy Sweet Lord and Concorde… decimalisation, stagflation and women’s’ liberation… Star Wars, Jaws, The Doors… Vietnam, Spam and Glam…. roller skates and economic policy mistakes.

Some of the most enduring images of the 1970s are the multiple energy crises. Office workers typing by candlelight during the miners’ strike. Cars queuing for petrol after the oil shock.

Among the most urgent questions facing our new Prime Minister is: are we heading back to the 70s this winter?

Gas prices in Europe went up a third last week after Russia said it will limit the flow to Germany. Goldman Sachs says recession in Europe is more likely than not. The US is already in recession. Last week saw predictions that household energy bills here could hit £4,000 a year.

Britain has decent gas supply: just under half our gas comes from our own continental shelf, a third via pipeline (almost all from Norway) and a quarter from LNG imports.

But the UK is unusually gas dependent: 40 per cent of our energy is from gas, compared to 25 per cent in the EU. Both UK and EU are in a traded market, with prices many times higher than the longer run average.

The UK also starts from really high industrial electricity prices, so increases are even tougher on industry.

A really high price becomes pretty similar in practice to a physical shutoff. Energy feeds into the price of everything else: McDonalds just raised the price of a cheeseburger for the first time in 14 years.

Countries around us are preparing for the worst. Germany is both ramping coal power and reducing demand, creating a market to reward companies that reduce gas consumption. EU members just reached an agreement to reduce gas consumption 15 per cent over the winter.

Short term

Over recent decades, policy focussed on optimisation not resilience: making things leaner, not tougher.

Now, in a more volatile world, that looks like a mistake. We stopped requiring a copper wire alongside new fibre phonelines, meaning a powercut now means phones cut too. We shuttered gas storage, sold gold, outsourced the production of vital medical kit to a dictatorship that hates us…

It’s the same story in energy, so our short-term options are limited. We can try increase our tiny gas storage. In February, the UK had just 8.5 terawatt-hours of stored gas, versus 36 in France, 79 in Germany and 84 in Italy – ten times more than us.

The Business Department just gave Centrica permission to try reopen the Rough storage facility, closed in 2017. But there are big engineering challenges. And while storage can help smooth spikes in prices, it doesn’t stop long term increases. Nor is there an option to stop exports: we export gas in summer but import in the winter. We’ll be extremely dependent on continental partners sticking to their side of the bargain.

National Grid have persuaded four out of five remaining coal power stations to delay closure which will help.

We could build a contractual market for demand reductions from businesses, as countries others are. National Grid imply they’re trying to do this, but their winter outlook is a bit opaque, perhaps to avoid people freaking out. An orderly market is better than industrial firms being forced out of business by price spikes. Public sector buildings could be the first participants.

Government could promote domestic savings too – it’s amazing that turning down the thermostat one degree can save large amounts.

Long term

In the longer term we’ve more options. What we do about nuclear is the biggest choice. Reducing reliance on gas would spike Vladimir Putin’s energy weapon.

At present, just 15 per cent of our electricity is nuclear, but only one station is being built, and all existing stations will be closed within a decade – Hinkley Point B shuts this week. The Energy Security Strategy included an aspiration to increase nuclear to 25 per cent of electricity by 2050, and said we’d take one new project to final investment decision this Parliament.

Yet the decision on nuclear is far from made.

In the new Prime Minuster’s early meetings, Treasury officials will sketch out an attractive-looking scenario with more limited nuclear, in which unproven technologies like carbon capture take the strain.

They’ll probably skim over the fact that this scenario involves us installing solar panels covering an area nearly the size of Greater Manchester.

They will argue that Great British Nuclear should be a “small, nimble organisation” and that we should “leave it to the market” to develop.

This would mean we build absolutely no new nuclear power, and the new Prime Minister should ignore them:

  • Even if prices fall, Russia has shown it will use energy as a weapon, and that won’t change.
  • Gas prices already soared in 2021, pre-invasion – as Dieter Helm points out, uncertainty is high and we can’t assume a future of low, stable prices.
  • With the global population exploding and relative power of the west declining, we should reduce our dependence on the kindness of strangers.
  • Demand for electricity is soaring: the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements last month suggested we need to triple capacity by 2035.
  • Renewables are intermittent, and can’t always supply at the key moment. National Grid calculates “Equivalent Firm Capacity”: how much reliable capacity a resource can displace without increasing the risk of blackouts. A combined cycle gas turbine is rated at 90 per cent, coal and nuclear at 80 per cent, but offshore wind at just 8.5 per cent, onshore wind at 6.3 per cent, and solar at 3.3 per cent, because it’s not sunny during the UK’s winter use peak. We need firm power.
  • The volume of onshore renewables we are already planning is likely to lead to extensive industrialisation of the countryside.
  • By a happy coincidence, the potential sites for new nuclear tend to be in coastal locations needing levelling up – the coasts of Cumbria and Lancashire, Anglesey, Hartlepool and so on.

Two things drive the cost of nuclear. The first is the cost of capital. The recent decision to move to a system where it is funded on balance sheet largely solves that.

The second is commissioning at scale. The countries that built nuclear cheaply benefitted from learning-by-doing – having the same teams building the same thing again and again. That’s what the French did in the 1970s and 1980s (in red below) and the South Koreans more recently (in pink).

The new Prime Minister should gear up Great British Nuclear to commission a substantial pipeline of plants. It should get control over the nuclear sites and drive the use of as much British content as possible.

There are choices about which technology to use. Newly nationalised EDF are unlikely to want to do more. We could partner with the Koreans, arguably the world leaders. We could buy back technology from Westinghouse, or buy equity in it. (Gordon Brown sold it to Toshiba in 2006, it’s now owned by a Canadian fund).

Or we could order a substantial number of small/medium sized, factory-built reactors from Rolls Royce, which might also open the way to exports in coming decades. That might also give some more flexibility we would be buying in smaller “lumps”.

Either way, the key is to make a clear decision and stick with it, and not do what the UK keeps doing, and building expensive one-off reactors.

Churchill said you should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The new Prime Minister should seize this grim moment to end our energy dependence on hostile powers.

The post Neil O’Brien: Challenges for the new Prime Minister 1) Energy. The Treasury will advise limited nuclear and carbon capture. It should be ignored. appeared first on Conservative Home.

Robert Tombs: Our recent history rebuts the perennial narrative of British decline

20 Jun

Robert Tombs is the author of This Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe, which appears in an updated paperback edition on 28 July. He is a fellow of the Centre for Brexit Policy.

Throughout the United Kingdom’s existence, its rulers – and many foreign friends and enemies – have been convinced it was on a downward spiral.

The ‘memorable era of England’s glory is past’, thought William Pitt in the 1780s, and the Emperor of Austria agreed: Britain had ‘fallen utterly and forever, all influence and force lost … a second class power.’

We were ‘a weary Titan’, lamented Jospeh Chamberlain in 1902. Dean Acheson, the former US Secretary of State declared in 1962 that Britain had ‘lost an empire and not yet found a role.’

This litany of pessimism (and there is much more in the same vein) is always at least in the background, and indeed it often dominates discussion.

It reflects the glaring imbalance between our size and our global role. The world communicates in our language, copies swathes of our culture, uses many of our political and legal principles, and has followed our path of economic development.

Such disproportionate power and influence have often seemed precarious and fragile, even fraudulent. So it is easy to feel that we have declined from some unspecified Golden Age.

Declinism reached new depths in the postwar period. What caused it? Militarily, we were certainly overtaken by the USA. But then so was every other Great Power. The end of empire was a severe blow to the prestige of the political and diplomatic establishment. Yet the empire had brought limited economic advantage and was a huge drain on resources.

The economy was portrayed as falling behind Europe, but this was only because Italy, France and Germany were experiencing a one-off boom. Ironically, this came to an end just as we joined the EEC, and we have outperformed the Eurozone since its creation.

The declinist mindset is damaging. It persuaded governments in the 1960s and 70s to beg to join the European Common Market. The EEC was ‘the lifeboat’ and Britain ‘the sinking Titanic’, as one of Edward Heath’s close advisors put it. So however disadvantageous the terms, we should ‘swallow the lot,’ decided the chief British negotiator.

This same mindset underlay Remainer sentiment, and affected the politicians and officials who swallowed the EU’s ‘divorce settlement’, treating Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than a national opportunity.

Britain, to them, is a weak and failing country, that can only survive in the EU lifeboat or clinging to its gunwales – however many leaks the lifeboat keeps springing.

If we look at our history dispassionately, it is not a story of decline, but one of remarkable continuity over three centuries: as the smallest of the half-dozen or so most powerful states, but arguably the most enterprising and influential.

If one drew up a ‘league table’ over the last three hundred years, it might suggest that we have recently risen.

Never before in our peacetime history have we been Western Europe’s leading military power (our army in the 1930s was much smaller than that of Czechoslovakia, for example). Never before have we extended security guarantees as far east as Finland – Palmerston would have had a fit!

Brexit was a victory – even though a narrow one – over declinism and ‘Project Fear’. Most voters refused to accept that their country was incapable of successful self-government, and they have stuck to that opinion. Forceful aid to Ukraine has shown what is possible.

Our global role has been assessed by Professor Brendan Simms, the Cambridge international relations specialist, as ‘probably in third place after the United States and China, and certainly among the top four or five actors in the global system.’ We need governments that will act accordingly.

The post Robert Tombs: Our recent history rebuts the perennial narrative of British decline first appeared on Conservative Home.

Gerry Lyons: How the Bank of England has failed to control inflation. And what should be done to reform it.

3 May

Dr Gerard Lyons is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. He was Chief Economic Adviser to Boris Johnson during his second term as Mayor of London.

This week sees the Bank of England celebrate 25 years of independence. Quite rightly, the current rise in inflation has raised questions about whether it is time to reassess its remit and governance.

There has been a rise in inflation across western economies. That this is more than a UK issue should not divert attention from where the problem lies.

If you are driving a car and approach a red light and decide to not only ignore the signal to stop but put your foot down on the accelerator, you are driving dangerously. That some other cars may do the same does not change that fact. It is not safety in numbers, but is more likely to cause greater carnage. Last year, in monetary policy terms, central banks went through the red light – with their feet down on the accelerator. The Bank of England was near the front.

At that time, it was clear that our economy was recovering and inflationary pressures building. The supply-side shock triggered by the pandemic was already evident. The correct policy would have been to tighten policy, not add fuel to the fire by increasing Quantitative Easing to a mammoth £895 billion.

The question I posed then was: which ‘p’ was this inflation? Would it pass-through, persist or become permanent. The Bank strongly believed it would pass through quickly. It was evident it would persist. It was unlikely to be permanent because of intense global competition but, even if inflation persists, once it then eases it may settle at a higher level than before, say nearer three per cent to four per cent than one per cent to two per cent.

The danger, as was clear at the time, was that even if the initial cause of inflation is a supply-side shock, action needed to be taken to prevent cost-push inflation by which firms raise prices to pass on higher costs, or second-round effects allowing prices and inflation expectations to creep higher. Effective communication as well as clear actions were called for. We got neither.

What are the lessons and implications?

Consider the 1970s. It may be hard to believe, but Britain began the 1970s as the low inflation country of Europe. Monday 15th February 1971 was Decimalisation Day, when we moved from 240 pennies in the pound to 100 new pence.

Ahead of that day, I remember paying my bus fare with pennies that had been minted not just in the early part of the twentieth century but some in the nineteenth century too, with Queen Victoria’s head on them. That such old coins were still legal tender was testimony to how well Britain had kept inflation under control.

Apart from the First World War, when annual inflation averaged 15.3 per cent in the UK, only the 1970s saw high inflation, averaging an annual 12.5 per cent during that decade. There is no reason why, with the right policies we cannot return to being a low inflation economy.

The 1970s showed that inflation is deadly. That’s why the complacency with which the Bank treated it last year was wrong. It is felt by everyone, with the poor and those on fixed incomes like pensioners suffering the most.

Another lesson is that the measures necessary to control inflation are deeply uncomfortable, often requiring sharply higher rates, with damaging economic consequences. Nowadays, with borrowing higher, the economy is not only vulnerable to higher rates, but can be impacted sooner as policy tightens.

UK policy rates are currently only 0.75 per cent, while annual consumer price inflation in March was seven per cent, ten times higher than its rate of 0.7 per cent a year ago. And it will head higher.

Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Jim Callaghan all lost elections because of their inability to control inflation. A central feature of the two general election campaigns in 1974, and even of that of 1979, was the use of a shopping basket to show how the Government had failed. Don’t be in any doubt as to who pays the price for a failure to control inflation.

Given this background, and how important monetary policy is in everyday life, one might think Westminster would pay more attention to the Bank of England – to how it is governed and keeping inflation under control. It is now as the cost-of-living crisis bites and the economy slows sharply.

The weekend saw much coverage of the 25th anniversary of the Blair landslide in 1997. An early decision – on 6th May 1997 – was to award operational independence to the Bank of England.

Although a surprise – having not been mentioned in the campaign – independence had been a topic of discussion for some time among economists. Indeed, I remember a well-attended Society of Business Economists debate early in 1997 where David Currie gave the case for central bank independence and I argued against. There were pros and cons. It would embed low inflation expectations, but there was a need for transparency and democratic accountability.

Even the Bank’s own Quarterly Bulletin in 1995 had carried an article by a leading economist, Robert Barro, showing that it was not independence but often an external factor that was the driving force behind inflation. Indeed, China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 contributed to intense competition – helping to drive inflation down globally and in the UK for much of this century.

Inflation has averaged two per cent over the last quarter century. While welcome, this should not divert attention from how the economy has suffered the consequences of three major policy mistakes from the Bank.

First, monetary policy has fed rampant asset price inflation, in financial markets and property. Alongside low property supply, this has fed intergenerational inequality.

Second, a cheap money policy through low interest rates and Quantitative Easing has fed financial instability as markets do not price properly for risk.

Third, the Bank’s recent policies have fed inflation.

Attention usually focuses on the Monetary Policy Committee and interest rates. Thus, the Bank’s other policy committees on prudential regulation and financial policy are too often freed from scrutiny – as is the interaction between these policies. The economy, after all, is significantly affected by the prudential controls placed upon on banks, and peoples’ ability to borrow has been impacted by micro-prudential regulations.

While the Bank, in recent years, has played a welcome role in how finance can help achieve the green agenda, there are other important areas that the Bank should confront. Not least among these is the low level of commercial lending to small firms. It should also be more of a cheerleader for the Square Mile.

Now, it is time to ask whether the Bank’s inflation targeting regime has run its course. I favour a new remit based on a target for nominal GDP. An anti-inflationary monetary policy remains critical, but change is well overdue.

In this much-needed review of the Bank there needs to be a reassessment of its governance, transparency and accountability.

The Bank’ governance is overseen by the Court, but this is rarely held to account, and would appear to pay only lip-service to diversity, not least in thought. Groupthink can be a problem with policymakers. In my view, one might ask if the Bank’s historic underrepresentation of those from working class backgrounds in senior positions hinders how it sees its policies affecting those on low incomes. Its communications too have caused problems. Yet, effective communication is critical – not only to the public and financial markets, but to global audiences too.

Adrian Lee: The Düsseldorf Agreement, when British industry almost got into bed with the Nazis

18 Mar

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

The media is currently full of stories of Westerners who grew rich in the service of the Russian regime. Perhaps the tallest poppy to fall from grace is Gerhard Schröder, the former German Chancellor, who since leaving office in 2005 has served as Chairman of both the Russian energy giant Rosneft and Nord Steam AG.

Not for nothing is he regarded as the key figure in weening Germany onto the economic cocaine of cheap Russian gas, and thereby neutralising its political independence. Indeed, his close business relationship with Russia continued until the eve of the invasion of Ukraine: Schröder was nominated as a director of Gazprom in February 2022.

No wonder then that he has not only frequently spoken of his long-lasting friendship with Vladimir Putin, but once went so far as to state that he was convinced that the Russian President was “a flawless democrat”.

As years went by, Schröder never seemed to miss an opportunity to physically embrace Putin before the cameras whenever they publicly met. So close where they, that it reminded some Germans of the infamous 1979 photograph of Erich Honecker french-kissing Leonid Brezhnev in supposed “socialist fraternity”.

When Georgia was attacked by Russia in 2008, and when the Crimea was “annexed” in 2014, Schröder always had the same explanation: it was the West’s fault. At the start of February 2022, just a few weeks before Russia crossed the Ukrainian border, he accused the Zelensky government of “sabre-rattling”.

Unsurprisingly, the former statesman’s reputation has gone through something of a reassessment in recent weeks. On 1 March, Schröder’s entire office staff resigned in protest at their boss’s relationship with Russia. A week later, on 8 March, he faced two further blows.

Firstly, the German Social Democrat Party (which he once led and had been a member of since he was 19) initiated proceedings to expel him. Secondly, the Public Prosecutor General announced a formal investigation of his complicity in crimes against humanity, due to his senior role in Russian state-owned corporations. Whatever the eventual outcome, it is fair to say that Schröder’s personal reputation is unlikely to recover.

He is just the latest example of a prominent figure from a democracy who thought that it was desirable to trade with a dictatorship. Exactly 83 years ago this month, in March 1939, leading representatives of British industry signed “The Düsseldorf Agreement”, a trade pact that pointed the way towards closer commercial cooperation between Great Britain and the Third Reich. This late exercise in appeasement has largely been forgotten, and deserves closer re-examination.

The Federation of British Industries (FBI) started life in 1916 as the United British Industries Association, with a membership of 124 large firms. It soon became the leading British employers’ association, changed to the FBI moniker, and was duly incorporated by Royal Charter in 1923. It is still going today, but following merger with two smaller bodies, it again changed its name in 1965 to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), whom we all know and love.

First attempts to establish a trade deal between the UK and Nazi Germany began in July 1938. The FBI was in contact with its German counterpart, an organisation called Reichsgruppe Industrie (RI) and both agreed that the two governments would enter into negotiations as soon as possible regarding Anglo-German economic integration.

The next step was to organise a face-to-face meeting between industrialists from the two nations. This took place in London on 9 November between representatives of the British Board of Trade and the FBI and, on the German side, the Reich Ministry of Economics and RI.

By all accounts, things went well between them, and a firm date was pencilled in for a full conference to achieve a formal agreement. The overseas representatives then took their leave and returned to Germany.

Later that evening, the Nazis started burning synagogues as the officially sanctioned Kristallnacht pogrom began. Nevertheless, preparations continued for the big event (now planned for 15-16 March 1939 in Düsseldorf) and a further preliminary event was held in London between 21- 22 December. On this occasion, an agreement was reached on the establishment of Anglo-German coal cartel.

In February 1939, the British Government gave direct support to the forthcoming Düsseldorf negotiations by sending Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, director of the economics department at the Foreign Office and personal confidant of Neville Chamberlain, to Berlin for “consultations and preliminary investigations”.

The Nazis rolled out the red carpet for Ashton-Gwatkin. He was officially “received” during his visit by both Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, and Reichsmarshall Herman Göring, the so-called “Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan”.

The trip went so well that within days two British Ministers, Sir Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Trade, and Robert Hudson, Minster for Overseas Trade, made their own “virtually unprecedented” pilgrimage to Berlin and hosted a banquet for representatives of British industry.

With the main conference fast approaching, a high-profile delegation representing all corners of British industry was assembled by the FBI and led by their President, Sir Peter Bennett. On the eve of their departure to Germany for the conference, they were told by Walter Runciman, Lord President of the Council, “Gentlemen, the peace of Europe is in your hands.”

The group then ventured to Düsseldorf, but if they detected that the German government was a little preoccupied with other matters when they arrived, they would have been correct. History records that on the night of 14 March, the Reich’s industrial supremo, Herman Göring, was busy inducing a heart attack in Emil Hacha, the visiting Czech President, by threatening to bomb his capital if he failed to surrender his country.

Next morning, on 15 March, as the British trade delegation arrived for the first session of the conference, German tanks were entering Prague. Still the conference went ahead and on the following day the Agreement was ready to be signed.

The document took the form of a 12-point declaration and envisaged “a world economic partnership between the business communities” of Britain and Germany. The declared aim was to prevent “destructive competition” by implementation of quotas, price fixing, market sharing and joint development schemes.

Different industries in both countries were to be encouraged to begin negotiations to form bi-lateral cartels. British manufacturers were to be compelled to organise themselves according to the desire of the State. The FBI and RI pledged to invoke the powers of their governments to force third-country industries to comply with the terms of the Anglo-German arrangement.

If the delegates returned home pleased with themselves, it was to be short lived. To their astonishment, the world had moved on and, shocked by Germany’s occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, the Government decided not to ratify the Düsseldorf Agreement.

So, all of the FBI’s work had apparently been for nothing. However, not everyone went without recognition. Sir Peter Bennett, the FBI President who led the British delegation to Germany, was honoured by being elected to Parliament in December 1940, replacing Neville Chamberlain in Birmingham Edgbaston, and was later elevated to the peerage.

Jeremy Black: This crisis will require a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention

1 Mar

Jeremy Black is Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University.

Real people fear, suffer and die. That is the nature of war. Conflict is also intensely political, not just because war is waged in order to enforce policies and determine decisions, but also because observers recalibrate their world, its hopes, fears, opportunities and nightmares. What yesterday appeared of great consequence is rendered redundant and new contexts provide the basis for judgment.

The Ukraine conflict will not end las the Falklands invasion did with the fall of the aggressive government and a situation that can be readily policed. Instead, whatever the short-term outcome and resulting position, this situation will fester, which will pose major challenges for statecraft, and for the stability both of Ukraine and of surrounding areas.

Russia has taken on a huge task, one that ultimately depends on installing a pliant government. Ukraine (233,031 square miles) compares to such previous areas of intervention as the Korean Peninsula’s 85,232, Vietnam’s 128,066 and Czechoslovakia’s 78,871.

Moreover, whereas the Soviets invaded Manchuria (390,625) in 1945 with two million troops, Vladimir Putin, who cannot draw on the same land forces as Stalin, has deployed fewer than 200,000.

Moreover, Russia cannot draw on the support of the Warsaw Pact allies as the Soviet Union did when invading Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, modern missiles offer little for the control of over 40 million people, and you cannot have a secret policeman at everyone’s elbow.

So, due to arrogance and stupidity, Putin, with his unprovoked, illegal, and totally unnecessary aggression, has put Russia in a very difficult position. Yet, however badly it goes, it is hard to see any Russian government letting Ukraine become a member of NATO because, although neither is a threat to Russia, that is not how they are considered by the paranoid Russian leadership.

On the mega-strategic level, this Russian attitude to Ukraine is made more difficult because of the range of other crises in which Russia could play a more or less hostile role, from East to South-West Asia and the Balkans to the Caribbean. A hostile Russia could make such issues as Iranian aggression, Chinese expansionism, and North Korean volatility far more difficult, and could further empower dictatorial allies or would-be allies, a list by no means limited to Belarus, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, none of which offer a pleasant prospect for Ukraine.

Western policymakers are going to have to consider the knock-on impact of the specific crisis, and the need to recalibrate tripwires elsewhere, both diplomatic and military.

The ability of the West to act with unity in this crisis will require continual care which means the need for real skill on the part of the Foreign Office and its ministers, and a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention.

There is also the political wake within Britain. Covid costs and attention hit hard at this government, forcing the jettisoning of projects, such as the Yorkshire spur of HS2, and, more seriously, weakening its attention and energy. Differently, the same is the case with the Ukraine crisis, which, with Putin’s talk about nuclear alert, makes the relative inconsequence of the Covid pandemic more apparent.

Domestic governance will be harder as projects are cancelled and hopes brought low, and, aside from resulting problems, it would be unrealistic not to assume that Russia will meddle in domestic politics, not least by continuing to support separatist movements.

This situation ensures a need for maturity and judgment in the short term, but also consideration of the degree to which our democratic system is undermined from within by anti-democratic forces. The Soviet Union did so with some success during the Cold War, not least through providing assistance via allies to the Provisional IRA and the National Union of Miners, and it is naïve to expect that the same will not recur. This provides a particular need for government to consider how best to monitor, assess and, if necessary, counter dangerous, if not treasonable, domestic opposition.

As with the Cold War, this is a task that ranges widely, to include intellectual division. Indeed, there is a clear context in terms of culture wars, which the Left repeatedly appears to be winning, not least in the universities. Many who denounce a long past of the British empire and of the Atlantic slave trade appear all-too-oblivious about Russian imperialism and about the enslavement of the Ukrainians. What might appear a troubling absence of values is in fact a commitment against our country.

Tony Lodge: Heath, Thatcher, Major, Blair – and the litany of errors that left us dependent on gas imports

22 Feb

Tony Lodge is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Britain and its leaders are learning the hard way. For the first time since the early 1970s, the country is facing an energy cost and supply crisis and – as then – a Conservative Prime Minister is largely helpless as he grapples with the climax of bad policy making which stretches back over a generation.

Whilst Edward Heath in 1972 faced the wrath of coal unions who had been allowed a stranglehold on energy supplies for too long, Boris Johnson endures a far worse situation – Britain’s growing inability to generate and supply the affordable power it needs. This is coupled with a desperate and growing dependence on imports of gas and electricity to keep the lights on, homes warm, and industry working.

The biggest domestic story of 2022 is likely to be energy prices. Forget parties at Number 10, channel migrants, or Covid fraud. The real crisis for Conservatives will be the steep rise in household bills, and the clear and obvious inability of Ministers to do much about it. Expect power company CEO summits in Whitehall, more urgent statements in the Commons and more public spending intervention to artificially fix prices.

On energy strategy, Britons have endured an unrivalled record of bad policymaking since the 1970s. Contradictory plans and missed opportunities have seriously eroded security of supply, affordability and helped drive jobs and key industries overseas. The die is cast for the short term and here is why.

Lessons could have been learned and the right decisions taken in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but were ducked. We are now paying the price. The right policies then would have shielded Britain now from a creaking system which is wildly exposed when the wind doesn’t blow, and we desperately hold out for the next shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as North Sea supplies fall and gas storage remains poor. How did it come to this and what can we do?

Following his mauling in the first miners’ strike of 1972, Heath foolishly rejected a plan to build over 30 new nuclear reactors totalling almost 40 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generation. The first plant would have opened in the early 1980s, started insulating Britain from high oil prices and helped wean the country off unionised coal.

Surprisingly and regrettably, Heath, the great Francophile, had ignored the bold plan and leadership from France to build no less than 40 nuclear plants between 1965 and 1985, which today still generate around 70 per cent of comparatively cheap electricity. Instead, Heath left the field open for Labour plans to increase coal burn via the 1974 ‘Plan for Coal’.

In 1980, Margaret Thatcher announced plans for eleven large reactors totalling 20GW of new electricity capacity, but only one was built at Sizewell. The then huge oversupply of coal, power generation overcapacity, abundant North Sea gas and a deep recession had together hurt the short-term commercial case for new nuclear build.

As coal wasn’t the answer and the case for nuclear lacked friends, Britain turned to its precious North Sea gas resource. It is this choice which is now hurting and will continue to do so for some time. The 1990s ‘Dash for Gas’ has led to Britain becoming one of the world’s largest gas consumers per capita, both for household use and particularly for the generation of electricity. Over 30 years, Britain’s North Sea gas bounty has been squandered to a perilous state where supply is increasingly now met from imports.

John Major and his ministers were warned during the early 1990s that the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) would be significantly run down by the mid-2000s if the proposed fleet of large new gas burning powered stations went ahead. Michael Heseltine reassured the Commons in 1992 that UK gas reserves would last for 55 years. He was wrong.

Many argued, including the then Chairman of British Gas, that North Sea natural gas is a valuable premium fuel and should not be wasted to generate electricity, where 50 per cent of its efficiency is lost in the process, unlike when used for direct heating or cooking. This argument was lost and gas replaced King Coal, generating over 50 per cent of UK electricity for the first time in 2010.

Britain’s gas overdependency and growing electricity import habit is the problem, and I first highlighted this for ConservativeHome 13 years ago. The focus must now be urgently to prioritise more domestic gas exploration and extraction, stop supporting plans to import more untaxed electricity from overseas and now turbo-charge new nuclear power. The latter should receive the same focused policy support as that enjoyed by those tasked with beating Covid.

This strategy must surely be Treasury-led. After all, when gas is produced overseas the Treasury loses huge revenues. When electricity is increasingly imported from Europe (as a result of the EU forcing Britain to close power plants early), its generation does not pay British carbon or transmission taxes because the power plants are overseas. Britain is offshoring its fuel supplies, power generation, and consequently losing billions in revenue alongside the erosion of energy security.

Between 2019 and 2020, liquefied natural gas (LNG) represented 40 per cent of all gas imports compared to an average 14 per cent in 2017/18. Imported gas pays no corporation tax in the UK, but it is perversely treated as producing ‘zero emissions’, despite it travelling thousands of miles by ship and carrying a large carbon production footprint. It therefore doesn’t face the same carbon costs, as UK producers which means gas imports are effectively subsidised compared to home production. This import dependency could reach as high as 75 per cent within the next 10 years, so new price spike crises are guaranteed to increase in frequency.

Britain’s dash for gas was a medium-term fix based around a once rich but now dwindled national resource – which has led to huge over-exposure to volatility and imports. Everything must now be done to invest in new domestic gas production to help us through, whilst prioritising the transition to new nuclear power with which renewables and green storage will co-exist. We must stop offshoring our ability to keep the lights on and keep households warm.

Edward Heath lost in 1974 after his second battle with the miners, the three-day week and soaring prices. Conservativs should beware.

Andrew Griffith: It is ultimately outputs that matter. My priorities as the Prime Minister’s new Director of Policy.

7 Feb

Andrew Griffith is the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, and is MP for Arundel.

With the benefit of the strong mandate that the Prime Minister obtained at the last general election, and building on the Government’s leadership during the Covid pandemic, the Number Ten Policy Unit has a vital mission to deliver policies that reflect the priorities of people across the UK.

You would not know it from the media headlines, but families want to hear about our plans to grow employment, tackle the NHS backlog, control our borders, make their streets safer, bring down the cost of living and return rapidly to the point when we can cut taxes to let everyone keep more of their own money – all policies that are rooted in strong Conservative values.

As the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, these are my top priorities together with delivering the tangible opportunities from Brexit that will allow our economy to be more competitive and the reform of government to deliver better public services. Whilst the Policy Unit’s remit is to advise the Prime Minister across the widest breadth of government policy, we will be unafraid to ruthlessly focus on the key issues. It is ultimately outputs that matter.

I bring to the role my personal experience of growing up in the early 1980s, when an unconventional Conservative Prime Minister built an unusually broad coalition of support, secured successive large election majorities, confounded pessimists and radically improved the way that the world and its own citizens perceived Britain. From a comprehensive school in south-east London, I was the first in my family to go to university, where campaigning to keep the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned me into a lifelong Conservative.

I stood for election in both the 2001 and 2005 general elections, reducing an initial 12,000 Labour majority. Corby, after the closure of its steelworks, was very much a target ‘red wall’ constituency of its time. It taught me the vital importance of policies being clear, relevant and simple to communicate on the doorstep.

More recently, having entered Parliament from business, I know first-hand that prosperity is created not by government but by the ‘fly wheel’ of enterprise and entrepreneurship creating jobs and providing the tax revenue to finance high quality public services. A competitively regulated, low tax and high skills economy trading globally has always been the right combination for economic success.

As we formulate and deliver policy it is vital that we harness the energy, experience, and insight from Members of Parliament, Parliamentary candidates and supporters, including the readers of ConservativeHome. Our Party represents voters across the whole of the UK and every generation, gender and religion. We have the opportunity to be a ‘hive mind’ of centre-right policy development.

It is important that we do so. In the battle of ideas, we remain an insurgent force: outgunned by the hegemony of left-wing orthodoxy that often lurks without challenge within swathes of the cultural and education establishment and in the state supported media.

One way we will do this is through Sir Graham Brady and the 1922 Executive’s ambition to re-establish backbench policy committees. The Prime Minister and I warmly support this, and we are committed to make them work. Covid has suppressed proper policy discussion for too long – indeed, for the majority of the time that I and my 2019 colleagues have sat in Parliament.

A large majority is a poor substitute for proper engagement between Ministers, Number Ten and backbench colleagues who in many cases possess decades of relevant experience. The 1922 backbench policy committees – one covering each major government department – will form just one part of changes in how a sleeker Number Ten operation engages with Members of Parliament.

Ministers, too, will notice a difference. In today’s complex, competitive and dynamic environment it’s a fallacy to control everything too tightly from the centre. Decisions are usually taken best close to where their impact is felt, and high-performing departments should expect a light touch approach, freeing up bandwidth for deeper interventions elsewhere.

Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, constructive engagement makes for good policies that last the test of time and that colleagues can unite around. The things that make the largest differences to the most people tend, by definition, to be challenging. It is not simple to reverse 40 years of EU ‘muscle memory’ overnight as we move to more competitive regulations. We will have to make brave and bold choices as we reform an asylum system that pre-dates the existence of mobile phones and the global internet. Getting Brexit done was not easy. But this is a Government that consistently takes tough decisions. In bringing forward plans to reform social care we have shown the courage to grasp a nettle that our predecessors had long shirked.

This Government has much in its favour. Clear leadership, an ambitious programme and political fuel in the tank in the form of our largest majority since Margaret Thatcher. But the yardstick of long-term political success is real action making a difference to the real experience of electors across the UK.

The British people understand that results take time, particularly as we emerge from an unprecedented global pandemic. So long as they see that we are focussing on them and their needs rather than fighting amongst ourselves, I believe that they will continue to place their trust in us. As I start my role as Policy Director today, it is time for we Conservatives to unite, to support the Prime Minister and to get on with the job.

Georgia L. Gilholy: Imagine the effect on a child who’s told that he’s not “racially innocent”

1 Feb

Georgia L. Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor.

Over 4000 parents have now signed a petition in protest of Brighton and Hove City Council’s five-year “anti-racist” education plan.

The petition, launched last June, disputes the council’s “racial literacy training” that 300 teachers have now undertaken. Although Freedom of Information requests to view its materials have been refused, the local authority is reportedly instructing teachers to inform children as young as seven that they are not “racially innocent” as white people are “at the top of the hierarchy”.

John Hayes, a former Education Minister, has vowed to urgently raise the controversy in the Commons, and will ask Nadhim Zahawi issue legal guidance to prevent “ideological race materials” being rolled out in schools.

Both the outrage of Sir John and thousands of local people is understandable.

As Kemi Badenoch has previously argued, it is inappropriate and illegal to teach the concept of ‘white privilege’ as fact given that it is a highly contested political concept. While the growing popularity of the idea in certain circles suggests that it must be confronted and dissected, there is no reason it ought to be spoon-fed to children whose brains are not equipped to process it critically.

Besides, the notion of white privilege fails to reflect the reality of modern Britain. Economically deprived white teenagers in England’s postindustrial and coastal towns are one of the least likely groups to progress to higher education.

Last year, just 13 per cent of white boys on free school meals went to university compared to 57 per cent of Indian, 59 per cent of black African and 32 per cent of black Caribbean youngsters on the scheme. The idea of whites consistently resting at the “top” of a pyramid of privilege has never been a more inept analogy.

Sadly, racial bullying remains a problem in many schools. A 2020 poll showed that one-third of British children reported hearing “racist comments at school”. However perpetuating the idea that white children are uniquely culpable is not only racially bigoted in and of itself, but it risks inflaming rather than harmonising racial divisions.

Racial hatred is a social contagion, and teaching children that their white classmates are inherently morally inferior can only provoke bullying and heighten prejudice where they may have been little prior. Incidents of racial abuse must be dealt with seriously, but not at the expense of encouraging the stereotyping of white children.

Many critical race theory advocates defend their ideology by arguing that while whites may not always be entirely ‘privileged’, they will never suffer race-based discrimination.

This is plainly false. Only a few days ago, two Orthodox Jewish men were viciously attacked by a black teenager in North London. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that all groups are capable of racialised prejudice.

While Brighton Council claims their plans will counterbalance the flawed eurocentrism of previous curricula, the notion of white privilege will do precisely the contrary. The concept robs young people of the chance to understand the complexities of contemporary and historical discrimination in Britain and across the world.

Under this training, children are to be taught that Christianity is linked to the slave trade. While it is true that many Christians have been involved in the crime of slavery, Christianity has also proved one of the world’s most powerful ideological antidotes to the practice.

It was evangelical groups who spearheaded abolitionism in the British Empire, and medieval clergy who near-eliminated slavery in Western Europe prior to the conquest of the Americas. Moreover, the 40 million people currently enslaved in 2022, chiefly across Asia and the Middle East, is a testament to the fact that the crime of slavery has persisted across most civilisations in various forms, and is not solely a white versus black phenomenon.

Like all conspiracy theories, white privilege is dangerously one-dimensional, and it does not deserve to be ushered into any educational setting as objective truth. Teachers must encourage learning and spark debate, not accuse pupils of immutable defects.

One Minister has already admitted that presenting white privilege as non-negotiable to students is against the law. It is time the Government took swift action to root out schemes such as Brighton’s from our schooling. It is not enough to occasionally complain about the folly of “wokeness” while doing little to stop it in its tracks.

Gerard Lyons: How to tackle the cost of living crisis

11 Jan

Dr Gerard Lyons is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. He was Chief Economic Adviser to Boris Johnson during his second term as Mayor of London.

Crisis? What crisis? The good news is that the economic rebound continues, and the jobs market has returned to broad health. We may also be over the worst of the pandemic, although possible new variants mean that learning to live with Covid and avoiding further restrictions may be a key priority this year.

Yet it is not this recovery but two other economic matters that look set to dominate policy this year: the immediate cost of living crisis and, less talked about, where growth will settle post-pandemic. Views on the latter may influence how policy responds to the former.

While the consensus expects growth around 4.5 per cent this year, after seven per cent last, there is still much pessimism about the future trend rate of growth.

It decelerated following the 2008 global financial crisis. If future growth is low, more of the budget deficit is structural, not cyclical, and needs to be addressed through fiscal restraint – a squeeze on spending or higher taxes. That thinking, which seems to dominate at the Treasury, will be resistant to reversing planned tax hikes for this spring.

Moreover, the economic consensus is that Brexit will exacerbate this challenge. However, despite this common refrain, tax rises are not inevitable. It is not leaving the EU but what you choose to do after you have left that helps determine future growth. In this respect, the Government still needs to articulate a market-friendly pro-growth economic strategy.

It also has bearings for now. There is no easy way to stop a cost-of-living crisis, but the first thing you should do is not implement policies that will make it worse.

The present crisis has multiple components. Inflation that is set to peak at over seven per cent in the spring. Higher energy prices though global in origin, are exacerbated here by decades of poor energy policies, including price caps that are now being lifted.

Furthermore, there have been two separate decisions taken to raise taxes this spring: higher national insurance, and a stealth tax in the form of a freeze on income tax allowances. And then there is a postponement of the triple lock on pensions, which means that they will rise by less than the increase in inflation this year.

Often at times of economic shocks, the search is for a timely, targeted and temporary response – that is, one that addresses the immediate problem but does not change longer-term policy.

Currently, policy is looking at how to support those most in need, which raises questions of how it can be funded.

Temporary financial help as offered during the pandemic would be one approach. It could be paid for by a windfall tax on energy firms. Such a measure would not be ideal, but it has been tried before, for example on North Sea oil producers and banks.

The argument against a windfall tax is the message that it sends. Firms across all sectors may need to factor in that high future profits could be seen as a cash cow by future governments, and this might deter planned investment in the UK by attaching a risk premium to it. Corporate tax rates have already risen, adding to the anti-business perception.

Another option is to cut the five per cent VAT on fuel. The saving, while small, will help those on low incomes. That measure alone, however, would not be enough in itself. And the Prime Minister seems to have ruled the move out as a blunt measure that disproportionately benefits higher earners.

It also appears that the planned tax increases will not be reversed – particularly as the hike in national insurance was effectively presented as a hypothecated tax for health and social care. Reversing this would reopen questions about how to fund the latter.

However, reversing the tax increases makes more economic sense. Not just because it would alleviate the cost-of-living challenge, but because the fiscal numbers, while poor, are improving and mean that such tightening is a choice, not a necessity.

These decisions are not easy. There is no right or wrong answer.  They are about judgement calls – to address the immediate challenge as well as to position for the future.

A current economic debate is about how much fiscal space governments have, despite public debt levels being at an all-time high globally. The debate is less concerned with providing a case for rampant state spending, and more with avoiding being pushed into tightening fiscal policy unnecessarily.

A high level of debt adds to problems, but if the rate of interest is less than the rate of economic growth it creates fiscal space, and improves the chances of debt sustainability. Debt to GDP can be reduced steadily, provided growth is solid and inflation does not let rip. The latter forces rates and yields up, hampering growth.

However, the Bank of England has been asleep at the wheel over the last year. The risk is that the inflation genie is already out of the bottle, as inflation expectations rise and firms increase prices.

In all likelihood, inflation will peak in the second quarter – since some of the initial supply shocks are now over and imported inflation may have peaked already – and, after staying elevated for a short while, will decelerate.

But chances cannot be taken and inflationary risks will force the Bank to raise policy rates this year, and reverse its printing of money by implementing Quantitative Tightening (QT).

We witnessed a short-lived cost-of-living crisis in the wake of 2008, when a weaker pound triggered a temporary rise in inflation. But the last such major crisis was in the mid-1970s.

There is a need not to be taken in too much with current comparisons being made with that decade, since the economy and environment are so different.

While there are not many economic lessons to heed from that period, one springs to mind. In a battle against a rising cost of living, it is vital to have the public on side. Not only so that they can understand the tough policy context, but also in the case of inflation to avoid what are called second-round effects – or put more bluntly, a wage-price spiral.

In June 1975, the annual rate of inflation hit 26 per cent. The then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, decided that every household needed to receive by post a pamphlet about his policy to fight inflation. I still have a copy.

Entitled Attack on inflation: A Policy for Survival – a Guide to the Government’s programme, its 16 pages made clear why inflation needed to be brought under control. One telling message, in bold capitals was: “the battle (against inflation) cannot be won in one year…but the battle could be lost in one year.”

In the event, the Labour Government lost the battle. Policy focused on a wages and income policy, culminating in the “winter of discontent” in 1978-79. The annual rate of inflation did not fall back into single digits until 1982, after Mrs Thatcher was in power, and also following a deep recession.

I am not advocating such a booklet now, but rather stressing the importance of ensuring that people understand the context of what is happening, especially when here is so much uncertainty and the pain may be severe but short-lived.

The best that can be done is to control the controllables. Provide assistance, ease the pain, reverse the tax hikes, explain why – and focus on a pro-growth strategy.

Stewart Jackson: A reshuffle that moved some of the Prime Minister’s critics into the Cabinet would be prudent

10 Jan

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

The precipitous recent decline in the poll ratings of the Prime Minister and predictions of electoral doom are indicative of two enduring phenomena: that Boris Johnson is unique and, like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before him, dominates the political landscape.

Conservative MPs will largely sink or swim as a result of the electorate’s judgement of him. But there’s nothing new in these setbacks, and many Conservatives have little institutional memory, and perhaps little understanding, of the vicissitudes of modern politics.

The bien pensant liberal media classes and their cheerleaders such as Matthew Parris are loathe to concede it, but the Prime Minister is a historically significant figure. He not only led the movement (or at least the last throes of it) which resulted in the UK’s exit from the European Union but, more fundamentally, built a mighty vote-winning electoral coalition founded on culture and community rather than class and capital.

What Johnson has had in spades is not just celebrity and chutzpah, but luck: inheriting a safe Commons seat in 2001 when the Tories had detoxifying work in progress; coming to power in London during a Conservative renaissance in the capital when the voters were sick of Ken Livingstone, and quitting the Cabinet after the Chequers plan in 2018 – to usurp the pitiful May interregnum and break the Brexit impasse.

The Prime Minister’s greatest weakness is that he loves to be loved but, ironically, the more hysterical and cacophonous the shrieks of his critics, the stronger he becomes politically. To many Tory voters, all the usual suspects hate the Prime Minister – not least bcause they believe that he was and should be one of them.

However, he lacks a Praetorian Guard in Parliament who will walk through fire for him (even John Major had one) and the relationship that many Tory MPs have with the First Lord of the Treasury is cynical and transactional.

Covid restrictions, tax rises, self-inflicted wounds such as the Paterson affair, ethical issues, the fall out from reshuffles and recurring problems of miscommunication between Number Ten and Conservative MPs have all soured the glad confident morning of December 2019.

Johnson still has the power to forgive – and a reshuffle that pulled some hitherto irreconcilables and malcontents back into the tent would be prudent politics.

My erstwhile colleague at Crosby Textor and electoral wunderkind, Isaac Levido, has compared the post Covid scenario as like when the tide is at its lowest: all the Prime Minister’s problems lie like broken boats on the harbour floor.

Brexit and future relations with the EU, the cost of living crisis and soaring energy prices, social care and the demographic timebomb, delivering the levelling up agenda and regional and national infrastructure, the busted local government funding and planning systems respectively, fighting the “Blob” in the delivery and reform of publc services and the endemic problem of uncontrolled immigration – all are moving up the list of voter salience.

But there’s nothing new under the sun. In 1979, Thatcher wrestled with an inflation rate of 13 per cent and interest rates of 17 per cent. Even John Major, barely a year before besting Neil Kinnock in the 1992 General Election struggled with a jobless figure in the millions, 10 per cent interest rates and annual price rises of seven per cent – none of which Johnson will experience next year or, most likely, before the next general election.

The last two months will have actually helped Johnson and his most devoted supporters to shake free the contagion of complacency and “BoJo is teflon” exceptionalism: the Cabinet revolt against further Covid restrictions was  timely and good for efficient government. It means that in future, controversial policies are likely to be more routinely challenged, and will be improved upon by robust critique.  The Iraq War showed that Cabinet government by fan club very rarely ends well.

The Prime Minister’s most urgent strategic challenge is the same as that for Thatcher, Blair, Major and David Cameron – namely, how to reinvent his Government. For Brown and May – similar personalities – it was already too late. But such reworking was done in 1986 after Westland and in 1991 before the ERM catastrophe.

Most recently, David Cameron offers hope and inspiration. (Yes, I did write that sentence!) His clever decision to back a Private Members’ Bill to give effect to an EU Referendum in 2014 soothed the Eurosceptic fever in the Commons, and allowed the Conservatives to focus on their retail offering to voters at the 2015 election.

What also helped teamwork and discipline then was a narrow but consistent poll lead for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, and the prospect of a re-energised Opposition and a possible SNP-Labour colation government.

Today, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is off life support, is winning the right to debate, is more credible than during the last six years, and sp tighter polls will concentrate the minds of fractious Conservative MPs. For all that, though, Labour is miles from looking like a government in waiting and, frankly, if Wes Streeting is the answer, it’s a very silly question.

Specifically, the Government must rebuild its demoralised electoral coalition, keep the Right broadly united and it develop a positive case for the continuance of a Conservative Government – a compelling narrative and a legacy.

Support amongst Leave voters has slumped from 72 per cent to 56 per cent during the last six months, and Red Wall voters are disilusioned and impatient.

Currently, many Tory supporters in the South and South West, ABs and C1s who voted Remain, but were terrified of a Corbyn government, are angry about tax rises, general incompetence, planning, Tory Sleaze 2.0 (sic) and are shopping around for a protest vote.

Ironically, Theresa May’s entrance speech on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in July 2016 provides the Prime Minister’s own template for rejuvenation.

There’s more than enough time to deliver on a commitment to localism – a repeat of the successes in Tees Valley and the West Midlands. Michael Gove has the acumen and strategic nous to understand that building enough houses for young voters is now existential for the Conservative Party – after all, you can’t create capitalists who don’t and can’t own capital. And deregulation, tax cuts and demonstrable Brexit wins, such as freeports, must be front and centre in the Conservative story.

The voters don’t care for Singapore on the Thames, but they generally favour traditional Tory values.The Cabinet, for all the media criticism, still has condident and pesuasive voices, such as Steve Barclay, Grant Shapps and Ben Wallace.

Johnson still has aces to play: by historic standards, he’s still polling reasonably well, even if the May local elections will be brutal. And as public opinion in the wake of the Colston statue trial has shown, the War on Woke energises his base, and is a cultural wedge issue which drives many newer Conservative voters.

But such action will be hobbled without firm and radical action on immigration.Similarly, “barnacles must be scraped off the boat” – such as socially liberal tokenism in new legislation, tax rises to fund green initiatives and appointing political opponents to public bodies.

It surely isn’t too much to ask for a Conservative Government to be, well, fundamentally Conservative? Competent, compassionate and communitarian. Johnson has limited time to deliver but at least he now knows and comprehends more than ever, as a classical scholar, the immortal words of the Roman slave to his Emperor: “respice post te, mortalem esse memento” – “look around you, remember you are mortal.”