Profile: George Eustice, negotiating agriculture’s future between farmers, free traders, protectionionists and rewilders

7 Apr

George Eustice recently expressed the hope that a decade from now, the rest of the world will come to Britain to see how to run a successful, independent farm policy.

As Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he is in charge of the seven-year transition, begun at the end of 2020, from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy to new British policies for agriculture and the environment.

The invasion of Ukraine has prompted renewed fears about security of supply, and whether British farmers are now being paid to concentrate too much on rewilding and too little on food production.

Rewilding is not just fashionable, promoted by such figures as Isabella Tree and the Goldsmith brothers. It is official Government policy, as Eustice recently outlined at the Oxford Farming Conference:

“If we are to deliver the targets we’ve set ourselves for woodland creation in England – around 10,000 hectares of trees per year – and if we’re to deliver our objective of getting 300,000 hectares of land where habitat is restored, there is inevitably going to be a degree of land use change. I know that that causes some people some concern. But you have to look at the numbers we’re looking at in the overall context. Of the fact that we have some 9.3 million hectares of farmland in England, and so we are only looking at change taking place on a relatively small area of that land.”

The Government will pay subsidies in order to persuade landowners to enable it to reach its environmental targets. Eustice seeks with his usual tact to persuade sceptics that this is not just a way to hand out public money to the rich so they can pursue frivolous and faddish hobbies for which they should be happy to pay out of their own pockets.

Meanwhile the cost of living crisis has encouraged some Brexiteers to proclaim the virtues of free trade, as a way of cutting food prices, and to fulminate against agricultural protectionism.

Eustice himself is not much given to fulminating. He prefers to deliver careful, detailed speeches, stronger on pragmatism than on ideology, so in that respect profoundly conservative.

His recent addresses to the CLA  Conference and to the Conservative Spring Forum offer further examples of his style.

At the latter event, which occurred three weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine had raised worries about food supplies, he was at pains to deliver the reassuring message that “domestic food production gives us national resilience”.

He pointed out that while in the late 19th century Britain produced only 30 per cent of food consumed here, the figure now, for foods that can be produced in this country, is over 75 per cent:

“We are 86 per cent self sufficient in beef, fully self sufficient in liquid milk and produce more lamb than we consume. We are close to 100 per cent self-sufficient in poultry, eggs, carrots and swedes. Sectors like soft fruit have seen a trend towards greater self sufficiency in recent years with an extended UK season displacing imports.”

And he denied that there was any contradiction between food production and environmental protection: these “must go hand in hand” and “are two sides of the same coin”.

As for the free trade argument, Eustice has at least advocated opening new markets to British produce, looking at the topic from the point of view of farmers rather than consumers:

“For the livestock sector, maximising value can depend on carcass balance and on being able to get access to a higher price for some cuts in overseas markets. There are opportunities for British agriculture in many Asian markets including Japan and India; opportunities for the Dairy industry in Canada and the US; and opportunities for the sheep sector in both the US and the Middle East. We have been working with the AHDB [the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board] on opening access to these markets…”

In 2017 Policy Exchange brought out a report, Farming Tomorrow, which contended that this was a once in a lifetime chance to achieve cheaper food for consumers, by abolishing tariffs on food imports while scrapping agricultural subsidies, with any remaining subsidies instead devoted to protecting the environment.

One of the authors of that report, Warwick Lightfoot, who has advised three Chancellors of the Exchequer but speaks here in a personal capacity, told ConHome that while Michael Gove, Environment Secretary from 2017-19, had indeed switched subsidies in that way, this could be a means of “keeping protection via the back door”.

When ConHome pointed out that Eustice has a farming background, and has spoken with approval of his ruggedly independent forebears who refused to do what the man from the Ministry of Agriculture told them, Lightfoot retorted: “You’ve got to think about people who’ve got an eating background.”

He remarked that he does his shopping in Lidl and would like to be able to buy cheap meat from abroad. The Government must put consumers’ interests first, and not accept propaganda from the National Farmers’ Union about the dangers of, for example, chlorinated chicken from America:

“I’ve just spent a month in America. Do you think I was taking a risk when I had a chicken caesar salad?”

Daniel Hannan, ConHome columnist, reckons “there is a massive problem with DEFRA”, which is “prone to capture from every passing Green lobby group”.

Eustice plays the deadest of dead bats to attacks on either himself or DEFRA. He talks in a lucid, ungimmicky, commonsensical way, and was presumably appointed partly in order to avoid picking fights. His ministerial career has been spent entirely in his present department, where he started as Parliamentary Undersecretary in 2013 and became Secretary of State in February 2020.

His family have farmed for six generations near Camborne, in Cornwall, and as he told the CLA:

“Advice was passed down the generations. My great grandfather, George Henry Eustice, had an outlook forged during the difficult inter-war years. It led him to embrace an ethos very much rooted in self-reliance. He used to say, ‘When the man from the Ministry tells you he is going to pay you to produce something, it’s time to get out!'”

As Eustice went on to remark, now that he himself is “the man from the Ministry, the scepticism of my forefathers does weigh on me”. He is not, by either upbringing or instinct, a man who favours central control.

He instead believes in the ability of farmers, through hard work and attention to detail, and often in defiance of what the state is telling them, to work out what is best.

This Cornish sense of self-reliance is a cardinal point. Eustice was born in 1971, educated at Truro School, studied horticulture at Cornwall College and ran for Cornwall’s cross country team.

For nine years he worked in the family business, a fruit farm which today has a restaurant, a farm shop, a herd of South Devon cattle and the country’s oldest herd of a rare breed of pig, the British Lop, which is not as well known as it might be because it does not look strikingly old-fashioned.

In the European elections of 1999, Eustice stood unsuccessfully as a UKIP candidate in South West England. He afterwards got a job working for the campaign set up by Business for Sterling to stop Britain joining the Euro.

When ConHome asked one of his colleagues in this campaign about him she replied: “Can’t really remember. Sorry. Strawberry farmer.”

Eustice served from 2003 as Head of Press to two Conservative leaders, Michael Howard and David Cameron. Day after day, he toured the Commons press gallery, unfazed by the tough questions put to him, but unimpressed by some of Fleet Street’s behaviour – he was to back Lord Leveson’s proposals.

In 2010 he stood as the Conservative candidate for his local seat, Camborne and Redruth, and won it, after a recount, by 66 votes from Julia Goldsworthy, who had been, on different boundaries, the Liberal Democrat MP for Falmouth and Camborne.

When the European Referendum came, Eustice was, as might be expected, a Leaver. But even here, he was studiously moderate in tone: he recommended the Norway route to leaving the EU.

In February 2019 he resigned from his post as Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, having lost faith in Theresa May’s negotiating strategy, and in July of that year he was reappointed to his old post by Boris Johnson.

Eustice has laboured mightily to draw up the legislation needed to replace European governance of farming and fisheries. He was regarded as a safe pair of hands during the pandemic, during which the following dialogue took place between him and Nick Ferrari on LBC:

 Ferrari: “You can only serve alcohol with a substantial meal…what constitutes a substantial meal? Scotch egg?”

Eustice: “Um, I think this is a term that is understood very much by the restaurant trade.”

Ferrari: “Would a Scotch egg count as a substantial meal?”

Eustice: “I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service.”

A much mocked ruling, but even here, Eustice himself was not remembered. He is now in charge of regulating an industry of great importance:

“There is a food manufacturer in every parliamentary constituency in the UK – except Westminster. The food industry is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined and more evenly dispersed across our country.”

He does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, when farmers were told what to do. His inclination is not to order either rewilding or maximum food production.

Eustice contends that environmental measures, for example to protect the health of the soil, are also, in the long term, good for productivity, and make farming more resilient.

He recently warned that rises in the price of wheat and of energy are bound to lead to rises in the price of other foodstuffs. What he did not say is that higher prices will be good for farmers, with the most resourceful and enterprising of them doing best.

Higher prices are of no concern to the prosperous middle-class consumer who frequents farmers’ markets, buying delicious but amazingly expensive local produce. Higher prices will, on the other hand, be a body blow to the poor, who will soon notice whose side the Government is on.

In his maiden speech in the Commons, Eustice quoted some words from a letter written by Richard Trevithick, the famous inventor from Cornwall, who did not become rich from the steam engines he designed – rather the reverse – but who had no regrets:

“I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late Mr James Watt, who said to an eminent scientific character still living, that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This so far has been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward and maturing new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country. However much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which to me far exceeds riches.”

Eustice observed that the Government could not have all the answers: when one wants to attempt “what the world calls impossibilities”, brilliant individuals like Trevithick are indispensable.

William Atkinson: P.J. O’Rourke – the last person to make conservatism cool

16 Feb

William Atkinson is a history teacher.

Despite my immense respect for Charles Moore, I cannot ever imagine him ever entitling a piece “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink”. Not only because British conservatives naturally represent all that is sensible and respectable about politics and the press, but because putting your name to an article like that requires a particular outlook. An irreverence, a silliness, a partiality for various questionable substances – whatever it is, the late P.J.O’Rourke had in spades.

O’Rourke passed away yesterday aged 74. The satirist’s work included time as Editor-in-Chief at National Lampoon (of Animal House fame), as the foreign correspondent (and token Republican) at Rolling Stone, articles for Playboy, and 19 books. Admittedly, most this side of the Atlantic probably know him for complaining about “cow juice” in a 90s’ British Airways ad. Nevertheless, his writing was so ubiquitous you may well have stumbled across him The Spectator or the Daily Mail and never realised he was that same Johnny Foreigner.

What made O’Rourke so notable? His air miles, for one thing. He estimated that Rolling Stone had sent him to over 40 countries. No war, intifada, or coup is seen better than through his habitual lens of the bottom of a glass. His reports were usually as complimentary about those he encountered as his notorious article on ‘Foreigners Around the World’, and his description of the Bosnian Genocide as the “unspellables killing the unpronouncables” naturally garnered criticism. But pieces such as ‘Ship of Fools’, an early 80s effort describing a cruise through the decaying and drunk late U.S.S.R amongst a party of American peaceniks, show him at his hilarious best, as damning of the iniquities of Communism as it is the delusions of his liberal fellow-travellers.

But it wasn’t just O’Rourke’s foreign reporting or driving advice that made him so enjoyable. Having been a student during the late 1960s, O’Rourke indulged in every fad of the Summer of Love: converting to Maoism, experimenting with LSD, and dodging the draft for Vietnam. He was excused thanks to a four-and-a-half-page doctor’s letter, “three and a half pages devoted to the drugs [he’d] abused.” The preface to his collection Give War a Chance is an apology to the poor schmuck who took his place.

Fortunately, O’Rourke grew up, became a registered Republican, and came to consider “socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn’t stick your nose in other people’s business except to make a buck.” He embodied the best elements of the American right – the libertarianism, the love of freedom, the ability to look good on television – whilst ditching that terrifying element which carries a Bible in one hand and an assault rifle in the other.

It was in castigating the Parliament of Whores – his name for the U.S. Government – that O’Rourke produced many of the lines that made him the living man with the most entries in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations.

“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

Or:

“One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”

Useful advice.

Unfortunately for an icon of ‘Gonzo’ journalism, over the last decade, America has become too crazy even for O’Rourke. Despite having once described Hillary Clinton as ‘America’s ex-wife’, “the particular woman who taught the 4th grade class that every man in America wished he were dead in”, O’Rourke endorsed her in 2016. He told listeners on National Public Radio, where he was the resident grouchy right-winger, that Clinton was “wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” His last books How the Hell Did This Happen? and A Cry from the Far Middle were attempts to explain Trump’s America to a sceptical world.

In a sense, modern America suffers from the success of humourists like O’Rourke. The world of William F. Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal was over-taken by Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert – satirists became the new sages. And when all politics seems a joke, when “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys”, it’s unsurprising if your politicians end up being a joke too. Such is the price O’Rourke paid for five decades’ sterling work at trying to get conservatives to not take themselves too seriously.

Nevertheless, despite his wit, O’Rourke’s finest moment came when describing the fall of the Berlin wall. His description of the moment he saw an East German border guard asking for a piece of that crumbling edifice of totalitarianism deserves quoting in full.

“I looked at that and I began to cry.

I really didn’t understand before that moment, I didn’t realize until just then – we won. The Free World won the Cold War. The fight against life-hating, soul-denying, slavish communism – which had shaped the world’s politics this whole wretched century – was over.

And the best thing about our victory was the way we did it – not just with ICBMs and Green Berets and aid to the contras. Those things were important, but in the end we beat them with Levi 501 jeans. Seventy-two years of communist indoctrination and propaganda was drowned out by a three-ounce Sony Walkman. A huge totalitarian system with all its tanks and guns, gulag camps and secret police had been brought to its knees because nobody wants to wear Bulgarian shoes.”

We sometimes forget, thirty years on, that the Cold War wasn’t just a dispute between two economic systems, but a fight between freedom and tyranny, liberation and repression, good and evil – and good ultimately triumphed. In his writing, P. J. O’Rourke showed why it deserved to.

A minister resigns in protest at the Treasury’s failure to prevent a grotesque waste of public funds

25 Jan

Ministers do not resign any more. This complaint is often heard, but was yesterday confounded by Lord Agnew, who resigned from the post of Minister of State for Efficiency and Transformation.

He informed the Lords that while seeking over the last two years to institute the measures needed to stop vast sums of public money disbursed during the pandemic from being stolen by fraudsters, he could be neither efficient nor transformative.

It is a pity so much else is going on, for what turned out to be his resignation speech was a devastating attack on both the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [BEIS] for their “desperately inadequate” performance:

The oversight by both BEIS and the British Business Bank of the panel lenders of the BBLS [the Bounce Back Loan Scheme] has been nothing less than woeful. They have been assisted by the Treasury, which appears to have no knowledge of, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society. Much store has been given to the extra money allocated to HMRC, but it took a year to happen, and this department was already the most competent and well-funded in that discipline; whereas at the beginning of Covid, BEIS had the grand total of two counter-fraud officials on its staff, neither of whom were experienced in the subject. They refused to engage constructively with the counter-fraud function that sits in the Cabinet Office, has considerable expertise and reports directly to me.

Schoolboy errors were made: for example, allowing more than 1,000 companies to receive bounce-back loans which were not even trading when Covid struck. They simply failed to understand that company formation agents hold in stock companies with earlier creation dates. I have been arguing with Treasury and BEIS officials for nearly two years to get them to lift their game; I have been mostly unsuccessful.

We move now to a new and dangerous phase: banks’ ability to claim on the 100 per cent state guarantee for non-payment. We do this without implementing a standard bar of quality assurance on what we expect as counter-fraud measures; we know that we have serious discrepancies. For example, three out of the seven main lenders account for 87 per cent of loans paid out to companies already dissolved. Why is the ratio so skewed? Two of the seven account for 81 per cent of cases where loans were paid out to companies incorporated post-Covid, as I referred to a moment ago. One of the seven accounts for 38 per cent of the duplicate BBL application checks that were not carried out after the requirement was enforced. Bizarrely, it took six weeks to get the duplicate check into place, during which time 900,000 loans, or 60 per cent in total, were paid out, bearing in mind that some £47 billion has been paid out.

If only BEIS and the British Business Bank would wake up, there is still time to demand data and action on duplicate loans. Why will they not do it? Despite pressing BEIS and the BBB for over a year, there is still no single dashboard of management data to scrutinise lender performance. It is inexcusable. We have already paid out nearly £1 billion to banks claiming the state guarantee. The percentage of losses estimated to be from fraud rather than credit failure is 26%; I accept this is only an early approximation, but it is a very worrying one. I will place in Hansard a copy of my letter to the chairman of the British Business Bank, sent on 16 December, addressing some of these points. I have still not received an answer.

I have at least four differences of opinion with Treasury officials: first, on urgent improvements in lender performance data, I simply want the bar to be set at what the best of the panel banks can deliver—to repeat, there is not even a common definition of fraud to trigger the payment of the guarantee; secondly, far greater challenge of lender banks when we uncover inconsistency in data; thirdly, educating Treasury officials as to why reliance on audits is far too reactive and generally happening well after the horse has bolted; fourthly, a failure by Treasury or BEIS officials to understand the complete disjunction between the level of criminality—probably hundreds of thousands of pounds—and enforcement capability. For example, NATIS, a specialist agency, can handle around 200 cases a year; local police forces might double that.

Noble Lords can see that it is my deeply held conviction that the current state of affairs is not acceptable. Given that I am the Minister for counter-fraud, it feels somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly, let alone of defending our track record. It is for this reason that I have, sadly, decided to tender my resignation as a Minister across the Treasury and Cabinet Office with immediate effect. I would be grateful if my noble friend would pass this letter to the Prime Minister at his earliest convenience. It is worth saying that none of this relates to far more dramatic political events being played out across Westminster. This is not an attack on the Prime Minister, and I am sorry for the inconvenience it will cause. Indeed, I think any Prime Minister should be able to reasonably expect that the levers of government are actually connected to delivering services for our citizens.

I hope that, as a virtually unknown Minister beyond this place, giving up my career might prompt others more important than me to get behind this and sort it out. It matters for all the obvious reasons, but there is a penny of income tax waiting to be claimed here if we just woke up. Total fraud loss across government is estimated at £29 billion a year. Of course, not all can be stopped, but a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the government machine. Action taken today will give this Government a sporting chance of cutting income tax before a likely May 2024 election. If my removal helps that to happen, it will have been worth it.

It leaves me only to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his courteous but attentive role as shadow Minister of my portfolio, and to thank noble friends, many of whom I know will carry on their scrutiny of this important area. Thank you, and goodbye.

I had not intended to quote so much of Lord Agnew’s speech, but frankly, he knows a million times more about this subject than I do.

As Charles Moore recently pointed out, one of the grievous deficiencies of our media is that with rare exceptions (in this case The Financial Times carried a piece by Agnew) it does not report speeches, even when the speaker has something worthwhile to say, and is instead much more excited by splits and gaffes.

While drafting this article, I kept half an ear on The World At One. The BBC was yet again canvassing the views of Andrew Bridgen (Con, North West Leicestershire).

What an absurd displacement activity this sanctimonious babbling about the climate has become

30 Oct

There is only so much of this moralising one can take. In the run-up to COP26 we have been deluged with sanctimonious propaganda about the need for us to do more to save the planet.

“I am virtuous, therefore you must agree with me,” is the underlying message of these addresses. However much one has already done to reduce one’s carbon emissions, one has not done enough.

No point of adequate performance is recognised. We continually find ourselves coerced to do more.

This coercion is an insult. We are not treated as free people, capable of deciding things for ourselves, but as underlings who must submit to the instructions handed down by various prigs and preachers.

At best, we are treated like children, who must meekly submit to the wheedling exhortations of the grown ups, who declare themselves infallible.

Everything we were already doing which might be of some value is taken for granted, or ignored. Until a generation or two ago, it was unusual for houses in Britain to be warm in winter.

A certain proud frugality prevailed. One couldn’t afford to burn tons of coal, so one wore thick winter clothes, and plenty of them.

Any piece of clothing which had some wear left in it would be passed down to whoever was, or might become, roughly the right size to wear it.

Jam jars, milk bottles, biscuit tins, brown paper, string, a hundred other items were used over and over again as a matter of course.

No piece of food was wasted, and anything that could be repaired was repaired.

Here too a certain morality could be detected. As late as the 1960s, it seemed to those who had known the privations of the 1940s to be wrong to waste whatever the Merchant Navy had delivered at great sacrifice to these shores.

A generation or two ago, people also thought, not without reason, that the end of the world was nigh. Nuclear war, or over-population, or a new ice age might bring disaster.

Nobody knew for certain what the future held, but there were plenty of reasons for alarm.

So too today. Global warming is undoubtedly a reason for alarm. But dealing with it is almost impossible when newly industrialising countries such as China are so far from being either willing or able to stop burning coal.

As Charles Moore pointed out in last Saturday’s Telegraph,

“Environmentalism is often seen as a Left-wing cause, but Margaret Thatcher was the first leading world statesman to address global warming. As our first scientist prime minister, she was excited by the theory, propounding it to the Royal Society in 1988. The following year, she argued that the problem could be dealt with only through a global UN framework, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The challenge, she said, was ‘as great as any disarmament treaty’. She made that comparison because disarmament is worse than useless unless all parties really do disarm.”

Over three decades later, developing countries such as China and India show little inclination, when it comes to climate change, to disarm. That is why UN summits on climate change are held so frequently and achieve such disappointing results.

Yet to listen to our domestic propaganda, one would think the main problem is that the British public does not yet take a sufficiently enlightened approach.

For some reason, we have yet to rise up and rip out our gas boilers.

What an absurd displacement activity this virtuous babbling has become. The more John Bull shrugs his shoulders, and reaches for the off switch on his radio, the greater the burden of blame that is laid upon him.

In China, so far as one knows, no activists have yet glued themselves to the motorways; not, at least, since the horror 32 years ago of Tiananmen Square.

Maybe the world is not going to hell in a handcart after all

3 Jun

It is always tempting for a conservative to believe the world is going to hell in a handcart, but are things just now as bad as all that?

On my last visit to Oxford, I took the trouble to stop outside the University Church, on the north side of the High Street, and gaze up at the statue of Cecil Rhodes.

My hosts assured me that Oriel College was about to remove the statue of its benefactor, so this would be my last chance to see it.

Instead of which, the statue is to remain in place, and the college is going to promote “educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort”.

The announcement was made in the most tactful possible terms. Oriel’s governing body insists it still wishes to remove the statue, but has discovered that “the regulatory and financial challenges” which stand in the way of doing so are too great.

In plainer language, the college authorities have realised the whole thing would a grotesque waste of money.

Over at Jesus College, Cambridge, it seems a similar realisation may be dawning.

As Charles Moore reports in The SpectatorJesus wants to remove Grinling Gibbons’s bust of its 17th-century benefactor, Tobias Rustat, from the college chapel, because of his connections to the slave trade.

Here too, the likely costs of removal turn out to be considerable, and hard to reconcile with the college’s “charitable aims of education, learning, research and religion”.

Moore chronicles, in the cover piece of this week’s Spectator, how the National Trust’s charitable purposes were subverted after those running the organisation allowed Black Lives Matter to set a different agenda.

A body called Restore Trust has launched a campaign to get the NT “to return to its original principles”, and the NT’s Chairman, Tim Parker, has resigned.

In all three cases, the leaders of a long-established institution succumbed to an outburst of moral panic, and gave a hasty yet unconditional assent to changes which had not been thought through, and which turned out to be incompatible with the institution’s purposes.

Only the most bone-headed conservative would contend that institutions do not need to change, in order to adapt themselves to new conditions.

The problem here is the bone-headedness not of conservatives, but of certain glib and irresponsible progressives who convince themselves, with ineffable self-righteousness, that after a short period of study, or indeed after no study at all, they have arrived at the one true view of history, and are entitled to impose it on everyone else.

No institution should allow itself to be imposed upon in this way. If the history which is being urged is true, prolonged and careful study will confirm this.

When a statue has stood for a century without anyone making a serious case against it – indeed without most people noticing its existence – it should not be torn down in a momentary ebullition of moral funk, so those responsible for it can be thought of by others, and think of themselves, as fine fellows.

In the words of Edmund Burke,

“Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.”

That can be found in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a sublime work which reminds us that conservatives have often feared with better reason than we now have that the world is going to hell in a handcart.

What Thatcher’s response to the AIDS crisis teaches us about tackling the present pandemic

1 Dec

“There is now a danger that has become a threat to us all,” the soundtrack begins. “It is a deadly disease and there is no known cure…”

A volcano erupts, a hail of boulders rains down a cliff, and to the sound of wild, funereal music a pneumatic drill and a chisel carve from the solid rock a tombstone bearing the single word AIDS, on which a bunch of lilies is thrown.

This must be one of the most frightening public information films ever made, directed by Nic Roeg, voiced by John Hurt, and intended to strike fear into viewers and get them to read the “Don’t Die Of Ignorance” leaflet which was distributed to 23 million households.

On World AIDS Day, it is worth recalling that in the 1980s another pandemic struck: a lethal and mysterious illness for which there was no cure.

The parallels between AIDS and Covid-19 should not be pushed too far, but are nevertheless illuminating, and in the fulness of time have even become encouraging, for the HIV Commission today publishes its plan for England to become by 2030 the first country in the world to eliminate the transmission of the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.

The Commission’s key recommendation is “test, test, test”, and as one of its members, Steve Brine MP (Con, Winchester), yesterday told ConHome, “in the context of the last nine months, you really get what we’re saying”.

Both pandemics struck during periods of Conservative government, and posed enormous troubles for the Prime Minister of the day.

In August 1975, when there had been 206 confirmed cases of AIDS in the United Kingdom, of whom 114 had died, Margaret Thatcher was told by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Donald Acheson, that it was likely AIDS could be transmitted heterosexually as well as homosexually.

What message was to be given to the public? In his brilliant account, beginning on page 71 of Herself Alone, the third volume of his life of Thatcher, Charles Moore quotes David Willetts, then a member of Thatcher’s Policy Unit, who told her, “We have to walk a difficult tightrope between being accused of bureaucratic inertia, and being so active as to whip up public hysteria,” and went on:

“We simply don’t know whether everybody with the virus will eventually go down with the symptoms of the disease. So we would be telling people that they may get the clinical disease, but we don’t know; and if they have got it, we can’t cure it. That’s not a very satisfactory message, but seems to be the best course out of several unattractive alternatives.”

The problem was rendered still more difficult by the close association which emerged between AIDS and homosexuality. Some people seized the chance to express the disgust and hatred they felt for homosexuals: as Willetts warned, there was a danger of fomenting public hysteria.

Some Conservatives, and some religious leaders, urged the Prime Minister to preach the virtues of abstinence.

Thatcher declined to treat AIDS as an opportunity for moralising. For her it was a scientific and medical problem. As Moore writes, she was happiest “when she had a concrete and exact point to advance”.

She was a Tory pragmatist: she wanted to solve the problem, not prate about it. Those who have insisted on understanding her in ideological terms have often overlooked how practical she was.

But part of being practical was framing a public message about the dangers of anal sex, and here she took some persuading, which was done by the Health Secretary, Norman Fowler, who in March 1986 told her that the advice to avoid anal intercourse, “which has been linked with 85 per cent of AIDS cases so far”, must remain in advertisements to be placed in the press, or else these would lose all “medical authority and credibility”.

Lord Fowler, who has worked to this day to reduce and at length eradicate HIV, has recalled how difficult things were in the 1980s, and why at the start of 1987 a yet bigger public health campaign, which included the television advertisements, was warranted:

“We had no knowledge of this disease and no drugs with which to treat it. I was reading a note the other day from the Chief Medical Officer at the time and some of the predictions as to what could happen were terrifying – we were talking millions and millions of people becoming infected. That’s why we launched what is still the biggest public health campaign there’s ever been in this country with leaflets sent out to every home.”

In the 1980s, the predictions of the scientists did not always prove accurate. So too today. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock prefer to present themselves as following the science, than as adherents of a theory of freedom which would allow them to ignore what the scientists were saying.

They too are Tory pragmatists, most interested in what works, even if that has to be discovered by an agonising process of trial and error.

Thatcher was always worried, and with good reason, that although she and her colleagues insisted “the Health Service is safe in our hands”, the voters would not believe them. Johnson can be seen guarding at every turn against that danger.

Caroline Slocock, the first female private secretary at Number Ten, has described a visit Thatcher eventually undertook to an AIDS hospice, without any press in attendance, partly because she did not wish to seem to be competing with the well-known work already done in this field by Diana, Princess of Wales.

The first patient she sees is clearly “very ill and has no hope of recovery”. Slocock goes on:

“I feel out of my depth. I have never been at the bedside of a dying person before and I feel strongly that family and friends should be there at this moment, not us… She [Thatcher] responds by taking a seat by his side, asking questions, expressing sympathy, connecting in a simple and genuine way, to which he responds sweetly. She comes across as more of a mother than a Prime Minister…

“After about ten minutes, we leave him and go into the second room. Inside, sitting in a chair beside his bed, is a young American man, also extremely thin. The virus has attacked his brain too, as it does in the final stages, we are told afterwards, and he is excited and confused. At first he thinks she must be a creation of his own mind, a delusion. But then he begins to believe that she really is Margaret Thatcher, but sent to him miraculously to hear his thoughts and to pass them on to President Bush. He tells her to ring the President. It is imperative that action is taken now to help people like him – that is his message. He is overexcited, it is very difficult to know how to respond, and it is very, very sad.

“I desperately want to get out of the room. I feel responsible for putting them both through this awkward scene. Margaret Thatcher is unfazed and behaves as if she has all the time in the world. She places her hand on his arm, asks him a few questions about his life and listens, in a way that demonstrates that she is real, not a phantom, and is there because she cares and wishes him well. He calms down in response. It is simple, human stuff, but I am in awe of it.

“When we leave them, we ask the staff about their families. It turns out that neither have felt able to tell their parents that they are gay, let alone that they have AIDS, and so they are dying alone.”

For a quite different reason, the need to prevent infection, many sufferers from Covid-19 have lived and died alone.

While reading about the 1980s, it struck me that there was often no correlation between a politician’s views on other questions, and what he or she thought about AIDS.

This elementary point has sometimes been overlooked in coverage of the present pandemic. The urgent need to get things done, in order to avert or relieve suffering, trumps whatever abstract views one may have about the right way to set about this.

In January 2019, when Steve Brine was serving as Public Health Minister, and three charities – The Elton John AIDS Foundation, National AIDS Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust – came to him with proposals for the eradication in England of HIV, he gave the Government’s support and approval to what they wanted to do, as did Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.

Brine said yesterday:

“We had a policy decision, we had the science that allowed us to approve it. The science of PrEP [Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis], which has been a huge game-changer, now allows us to finish the job.”

A connecting thread of pragmatism links the 1980s to the present day. Lord Lexden, the Conservative Party’s official historian, traces this tradition of unmoralistic pragmatism further back:

“‘Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas’: Disraeli’s famous misquotation from the fourth century Vulgate in the course of his great three-hour speech in Manchester in April 1872 defining modern conservatism rings down the years. He understood that moral censoriousness had no more place in health policy than in private life. In this respect, Boris Johnson, like successful Tory leaders before him, follows in the great Disraelian tradition.”

Ben Monro-Davies: “I think when women cry, often they are angry.” On this day, 30 years ago, Margaret Thatcher resigned

22 Nov

Ben Monro-Davies is an Executive Producer at Sky News and has previously work at the BBC and Channel 4 News. He is the host of the podcast Big Ben History, which discusses the past at Westminster.

All remember it vividly. They arrived not entirely sure what was about to happen, awaiting her in the ante room. Her Principal Private Secretary, Andrew Turnbull, briefly panicked: he’d forgotten to tell ministers the right time, such was the silence as he and the soon to resign Prime Minister approached. But as they turned the corner – he and she saw them all there – in his words, “pressed back, looking at their shoes.”

The meeting was earlier than usual – bought forward not because of the end of an eleven year premiership – but for the memorial service for Libby Douglas Home, the wife of Alec. Many went straight to St Paul’s Cathedral afterwards – William Waldegrave remembers the surreal juxtaposition of them singing All Things Bright and Beautiful with the choir just an hour afterwards.

Some had anticipated what was about to happen. The Cabinet secretary, Robin Butler, realised the night before that it was all over. He was keen to “stage manage” proceedings. “I didn’t want there to be a hiatus with nobody knowing what to do.” On November 21st, he drafted a tribute on behalf of the Cabinet – and asked James Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, to read it. He chose Mackay as someone who was clearly not going to succeed her.

Lord Mackay – today still active in the Lords in his nineties – reflects that he, the son of railway signal man, had “strangely enough become number two in the cabinet, and I was sitting next to the Prime Minister.”

He remembers Thatcher reading her statement and breaking down. Cecil Parkinson spoke up, saying: “the Lord Chancellor will read it for you.” Two members of her staff, Barry Potter and Dominic Morris recall Parkinson adding “you don’t have to do this”. Mackay says he responded firmly: “no : the Lord Chancellor will not read it for you, The Prime Minister will read it herself.” Others recall her stumbling to the end – and then saying “I had better do that again”, and reliving the grief once more.

When I first became interested in this most dramatic of meetings, I’d assumed that was that. With a twenty-first century sensibility towards job termination, it already required imagination to grasp a scenario in which you’d have to read out your resignation to the men who’d called time on your career the day before.

But the meeting was not over. It was still a Cabinet gathering with an agenda. So with some ministers such as the Home Secretary, David Waddington, in tears, the meeting moved on – albeit with some constitutional as well as emotional awkwardness.

Her Party Chairman, Kenneth Baker, remembers a break for coffee, and a revived Iron Lady then telling the cabinet “on no account must Heseltine be elected” – an instruction he calls “inappropriate”. That was exactly what some of those in the meeting did want. Butler felt obliged to “soften” the Cabinet minutes to record a general exhortation to carry on the work of her government.

Tom King, then Defence Secretary, was moved by the scene. He’d found her very supportive during his time in Northern Ireland office, and remembers her kindly taking him aside after his mother died. By contrast, he doubts his previous boss, Ted Heath, ever knew his name. He also considered himself as the possible next Prime Minister. “The truth was at that moment four or five of us could have come through as her successor. That’s the reality. “

But he was also next on the Cabinet agenda – outlining the biggest military deployment since World War II to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. This was effectively a war cabinet meeting, and the British machinery of government was navigating the defenestration of its leader and a massive military engagement at the same time.

The less historic was attended to as well. No-one understandably remembers, but in her memoirs Thatcher describes an item on “an unsuccessful Fisheries Council ruined by incompetent Italian chairmanship”. It’s confirmed in the minutes. The State was remorselessly executing the tasks in hand,

There were only two women in the room: Thatcher, and Caroline Slocock, then a private secretary in Downing St. She was not politically sympathetic to Thatcherism, and to her disappointment had been denied the position on a permanent basis. She later discovered that Thatcher had been behind this.

Nevertheless, she remembers the meeting as “pure torture. I was only the other woman in the room. To my shock I started to cry. I hadn’t even brought in a handkerchief. It was the extraordinary loss of power. “

But as a woman, there was another perspective. “It was also the anger. I think when women cry, often they are angry. I think she was probably very angry with these men. The scene has haunted me ever since.” By the end of that day, she recalls there being no tissue paper in the women’s bathroom.

Slocock was right. Thatcher was angry and made little secret of it afterwards. Peter Lilley thinks he was the only cabinet minister present at the launch of her memoirs which eviscerated her former colleagues as “men in lifeboats”.

As to how it had come to this, there are the common observations that longevity breeds detachment. Having so often been proved right at the ballot box, it became harder for her to accept she might be wrong, most notably on the poll tax. Lilley feared she might ask him to rescue it, and warned his wife he would have to return to the backbenches because he believed the policy wrongheaded.

But more bespoke episodes are identified. All bring up a cabinet meeting just a few days before, where she humiliated Geoffrey Howe needlessly over an issue of the parliamentary timetable. Malcom Rifkind says “he was the Deputy Prime Minister and she tore him into as if he were an errant schoolboy. That was a disgrace.”

Howe resigned shortly afterwards, triggering the events that led to a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine. Charles Moore in his authorised biography of Thatcher concludes that Howe was going to resign anyway. But in two Cabinet meetings in November 1990 ministers spent much of it, in Kenneth Baker’s words, “staring at the blotters on their desks.”

And one name forgotten name comes up again and again. Peter Morrison was her Parliamentary Private Secretary who was tasked with her leadership campaign. Michael Howard says: “He was frankly hopeless. I remember ringing Peter up, and asking is there anything I can do to help? ‘No, no, no he said, it’s all under control old boy, there’s nothing you can do.’ It was a disaster.” Morrison was an alcoholic who died five years later, and the current Independent Child Sex Abuse inquiry has heard claims that he was also a sex offender.

Thatcher was forced into a fatal second ballot by a handful of votes – hearing the news In Paris at a conference with world leaders to mark the end of the Cold War. She’d played a crucial role in defeating the Soviet Union, but neglected to appoint the right general to deal with her own troops. Barry Potter blames a weakness for “posh men.” Andrew Turnbull adds she liked them also to be “tall.” Morrison fitted both categories.

And for all the drama of the final cabinet meeting , it’s worth noting the absence of three central actors. Michael Heseltine was of course challenging from the backbenches. Geoffrey Howe was there with him, for the first time since 1979. And the Chancellor of Exchequer was also missing. John Major was at home recuperating from having his wisdom teeth removed. The next cabinet meeting he attended was as Prime Minister.

Iain Dale: If Milling isn’t up to being Party Chairman, why was she appointed in the first place?

9 Oct

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

I have to admit that I didn’t watch any of the Conservative virtual conference online. Judging by the number of registrations, it can be deemed a success. Twenty thousand people registered, and there were often more than 6,000 people watching.

I’m told fringe meetings proved more popular than the set-piece cabinet minister speeches (wasn’t it ever thus?) with some events, including those hosted by ConHome) attracting online audiences in four figures.

Given that normal fringe meetings might attract a couple of hundred people at most, this ought to give the conference organisers food for thought for the future. CCHQ told me this week that future conferences would almost certainly be hybrid events, and that’s exactly right. The more people who are able to take part, the better.

– – – – – – – – – –

Watching highlights of the US Vice-presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, it almost seemed like normal politics had returned.

For the most part, the debate was conducted with mutual respect, good humour and dignity from both candidates. Yes, there were some interruptions, but that happens in debates. We had none of the abuse, insults and acrimony that characterised the debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden a week before.

And it wasn’t just the President who was guilty. We don’t know yet whether the next debate, due to take place in Florida next week, will go ahead. If it does, let’s hope that it’s more edifying than the first one.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Tuesday, I deputised for Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph.  I thought long and hard about writing what I did – but it had to be said.

I wrote about the role of the Party Chairman, and how its importance has diminished over the years, and how the present incumbent, Amanda Milling, was performing no useful role, except to travel the country and eat a few rubber chickens

It gave me no pleasure, and in many ways it’s not her fault. She’s performing the role dictated by Number Ten. She has no power to change anything, and scant little influence. Her co-chairman, Ben Elliot, is the one in control and we all know it.

The one role she could perform, but hasn’t got the experience to do, is to get out there on the media and be a lightning rod for the Prime Minister. That’s what Cecil Parkinson did. It’s what Norman Tebbit used to do. It’s what Brian Mawhinney did for John Major. And it’s what Brandon Lewis did for Theresa May.

Amanda Milling went on Any Questions last Friday, and proceeded to read out lines from her briefing notes. It was buttock-clenchingly embarrassing. A programme insider reckoned she was the worst guest they had had on in recent memory.

Again, in many ways, I don’t blame her for that. Everyone tells me that Milling was an excellent Deputy Chief Whip, but we all know that whips don’t do media, and don’t speak in the chamber.

So to appoint someone with little media experience as co-Party Chairman was bizarre to say the least. It did her no favours whatsoever. By all accounts, the Number Ten machine is frustrated by her performance. No shit, Sherlock. Well, they shouldn’t blame her for it, they should apportion the blame to the person who made the appointment.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was disappointed but not surprised to see Liam Fox fail to reach the final two in the race to become the next director general of the World Trade Organisation.

The EU was always determined to scupper him, which says far about them than it does about him. He is very well qualified to do the job, which will now be a straight fight between candidates from South Korea and Nigeria. Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Foreign Minister, has spoken out and said the whole charade has not been “to the greater glory of the European Union”.

– – – – – – – – – –

Just as the Conservative Party has had to put its conference online, so have literary festivals – or at least some of them. I’ve done quite a few on Zoom over the last few months, but appeared in person last Saturday at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, as trailed on this site last week.

The event was organised it very well, ensuring that both speakers and audience were safe. Next Friday ,I’m doing the Bristol Festival of Ideas remotely, but the Wells Festival of Literature in person on the same day.

Then on Sunday October 18, I’m in Twickenham being interviewed on stage by LBC’s Steve Allen, and then on  October 24 in Diss, Norfolk.

On that occasion Brandon Lewis will interview me, which I suspect he’s going to relish, given he tells me I always give him such a hard time when he comes on my show. Ticketing details can be found here.

Daniel Hannan: Clever, inquisitive and, crucially, independent, Charles Moore would be the perfect BBC chairman

30 Sep

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Charles Moore is everything a BBC chairman should be: clever, inquisitive, independent, humane, well-read, polite, patriotic, broad-minded and generous to his critics. During the golden age of newspapers – roughly the years between the new technology brought in following the Wapping dispute in the late 1980s and the rise of online journalism in the early 2000s – he led the editorial field. His only rival, though their styles were very different, was The Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, now being mooted as the next head of Ofcom.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have worked for both men. I don’t know Dacre well, but even slight acquaintance is enough to reveal the secret of his success, namely an unparalleled ability to speak to and for ordinary people. At a time when other newspapers were going online or throwing themselves on the generosity of patrons, Dacre’s Mail remained both popular and profitable. A newsman to his fingertips, he filled the editor’s chair with his restless energy and curiosity. With almost all media struggling to make money, he is exactly the regulator we need: fair-minded, diligent and committed in his bones to freedom of speech.

I know Moore rather better, having spent seven years working for him at The Daily Telegraph. He was, as any Telegraph writer of that era will attest, a wonderful boss. Patiently and intelligently, he improved every section of the paper, from the sports pages to the weekly children’s pull-out section. He always stood by his people – he once went to war against the Prince of Wales’s office because it had treated a Telegraph photographer badly – yet he was impervious to flattery. The newspaper he edited reflected his voracious interests. He cared a great deal about accuracy, and hired several Labour-leaning lobby correspondents – perhaps on the principle that a Leftist reporter on a Rightist paper would always strive to be objective.

The BBC stands to gain enormously from his involvement. As he did at each of his newspapers, he will take a benign interest in every aspect of programming, from comedy to cookery. He will ensure that the Corporation gets a sympathetic hearing in Downing Street. He will steer it through a landscape changed utterly by the rise of YouTube and Netflix. He will revive that sense of integrity and high-mindedness that we might loosely call Reithian.

This, naturally, is not the view of most Beeb staff. Have I Got News For You, the quiz show which arguably set Boris on the path to Number 10, Tweeted that if Moore became chairman, the BBC wouldn’t last another five years. One staffer described his mooted appointment as “the Corporation’s Stalingrad.”

In part, this is simply a howl of anguish from a Leftist establishment used to getting its way. It is striking how many BBC figures cite Moore’s Euroscepticism and Toryism as ipso facto disqualifications – even though the country voted for Brexit and then elected a Conservative Government. Implicit in the criticism is the notion that someone on the Right can’t be disinterested – or, more precisely, that the soft Left positions we associate with the Beeb are statements of objective fact. The ordinary viewer might think the BBC has certain prejudices – feminism good, austerity bad; immigration good, Israel bad; EU good, Trump bad – but to its editors, these are not prejudices but truths.

Moore’s critics display the close-mindedness that they falsely suspect in him. In fact, you won’t find a less partisan man. Moore started out as a Liberal back in the pre-SDP days when that party was still broadly liberal. His liberalism rested, and rests still, on a readiness to question assumptions, to think things through from first principles, to spot what others have missed. Successive Conservative leaders came to fear his pen more than that of any Labour-supporting editor.

His BBC critics, naturally, won’t be convinced by anything I write. A readiness to dismiss views from outside their tribe is part of their problem. But, if he gets the job, they will come to appreciate him.

For the BBC, as it is currently run, is obsolete. The problem is not that it is biased or expensive or out-of-touch. The problem rather, is that it is not feasible to fund a state broadcaster through taxes in an age of streaming. Yes, the BBC’s partiality has weakened it by alienating conservatives. But even if everyone agreed that it was run by the best, wisest and most neutral public servants, it would still not survive in its current form.

Some senior figures within the BBC recognise that change is coming, and want to take ownership of that change. The corporation, after all, has huge advantages. No broadcaster has a stronger global brand. BBC programmes are watched on every continent. Much of what it does would be commercially viable under any dispensation.

People are creatures of habit. Thirty years after privatisation, BT was still by far the largest supplier of landlines, with nearly 40 per cent of the market. Without the licence fee, plenty of viewers will still want to watch Strictly and Planet Earth and Eastenders. The BBC could more than hold its own as a subscription channel. Yes, some parts might be less viable than others – I never understood, for example, why the BBC felt the need to get into local radio, an area amply served by private suppliers. But there is every reason to believe that a more commercial BBC could become more popular as well as more efficient.

The way to ensure that that doesn’t happen, of course, is to resist all reform, to be dragged kicking and screaming into each new change.

A wise BBC will turn technological change to its advantage, aiming to emerge as a more successful and original content-generator while recovering its former place in our national esteem. No one would help it achieve that goal better than Charles Moore.

Dacre, Moore, Neil. Is triple change coming for the BBC?

27 Sep

Each weekday, this site publishes a list of public appointments vacancy highlights, in order to encourage conservatives to apply.  This may just be worth mentioning in the context of the Sunday Times‘ claim today that Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail Editor, and Charles Moore, the former Daily Telegraph Editor, are tipped to be the next Chairman of Ofcom and the BBC respectively.

We got the list up and running in the wake of the Taxpayers’ Alliance reporting, during the early years of the Coalition, that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

Its findings were followed on ConservativeHome by an occasional back-and-forth between Matthew Elliott, then of the Alliance, and the Cabinet Office, where Francis Maude was in place.  Elliott would write about the latest figures, suggesting that there was still an imbalance.  The Cabinet Office would fight back, arguing that Elliott’s statistics didn’t show the whole picture: for example, many appointments were made on a local and not a national basis.

A number of points became clear over time.  First, the Coalition gradually began to encourage its supporters to apply for posts, and some were appointed: William Shawcross at the Charities Commission, Peter Bazalgette at the Arts Council, David Prior to the Quality Care Commission.

Second, it became clear, as a Policy Exchange report said, that part of the reason there were fewer Conservatives on public bodies is that fewer of them applied in the first place, compared to Labour supporters.  This remains an issue: a further one is the relative inability of those who apply to negotiate diversity requirements – or, rather, the nature of those requirements in the first place.

Third, the reporting criteria has changed.  Candidates for posts now don’t have to declare if they belong to a political party – merely if they’ve been politically active during the past five years.  That’s extremely convenient from a civil service controversy-smothering point of view.

Our sense is that holding office for the last ten years has altered the balance a bit and that the Conservative presence in Downing Street, despite the discontinuity of having three different Tory Prime Ministers in office over five years, is alert to the issues, some of which are beyond its remit.  For example, it’s CCHQ’s job, not Number Ten’s, to take on the party political work of getting conservatives to apply for posts, and training them for interviews.

At any rate, if Boris Johnson wants Dacre at Ofcom and Moore at the BBC, it’s a sign that he himself understands the importance of appointments.  On the one hand, we think the Sunday Times is correct, about Moore at any rate.  On the other, it would be a mistake to think that Dacre would actually run Ofcom day-to-day if appointed, since it has a Chief Executive, Melanie Dawes, a former civil servant.

Moore would be a similar position at the BBC, where Tim Davie has recently taken over as Director-General.  Furthermore, neither appointment is in the gift of the Prime Minister or of anyone else: there are appointments processes.

Nonetheless, change at the Corporation is coming.  In a sense, it’s already arrived, because the BBC has lost Andrew Neil, its most formidable political interviewer and another former Fleet Street editor, to GB News, a new TV venture – and thus a challenger to the Corporation.

The appointment of either Dacre or Moore would horrify the BBC powers-that-be, but the former has said that he “would die in a ditch defending the BBC as a great civilising force”, while Moore thoroughly grasps the Corporation’s original Reithian mission – to “inform, educate and entertain” (in that order).

As for the Corporation itself, we repeat what we’ve written before: what’s required is fewer BBC TV stations, a reduced number of radio services, a scaled-back website, more spent on the World Service, a bigger presence for the Corporation outside London. In other words, less money plus the right reform – change that would leave a solid core of public service broadcasting with the BBC at its heart.