The most pro-intervention speech by a Defence Secretary since the Iraq War

Is the Treasury up for funding and voters up for supporting the ideas he sketched out ealier this week?

Some of the Conservative Party’s most knowledgeable foreign affairs specialists are a bit sniffy about Gavin Williamson’s defence policy speech earlier this week.  One of its centre pieces was the announcement that “the first operational mission of the HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region.  “Significantly, British and American F35s will be embedded in the carrier’s air wing,” he continued, with a nod to our close relationship with America, before speaking of enhancing “the reach and lethality of our armed forces”.

That sounds a lot like a metaphorical, though certainly not a literal, shot across China’s bows in that last case.  One senior MP with an interest in security policy told ConservativeHome that he is all for stepping up activity in the South China Sea.  But “if you go out every few years for a few months, there’s no point.  It doesn’t show strength, it advertises weakness”.

Williamson’s answer to that might be to highlight the £1 billion that he screwed out of Philip Hammond in last autumn’s Budget, which itself came on top of an £800 million increase during the summer.  One point of the speech was to signal that he will soon be back for more: after all, there is a £7 billion black hole in the Ministry of Defence’s equipment budgets.  Without money to help reduce it, and more, the Defence Secretary will have no chance whatsoever of achieving the aims he set out.  These were so striking that it is well worth pondering their implications.

Only a few years ago, when the Coalition Government was formed, Russia was not considered a serious danger to national security at all.  It was only last year that Williamson tore up previous assumptions and told the Defence Select Committee that it is now a bigger threat to us than terrorism.  And earlier this week, he duly added China to the list of British security problems: “all the while, [it] is developing its modern military capability and its commercial power,” he said.  It was the most pro-intervention speech that any Defence Secretary has made since the Iraq War, listing “Kuwait, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo” as earlier, successful, valuable incursions.

Hence his reference not only to cyber and to new drones for the RAF, but to new Poseidon P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, new equipment for the army, and two naval “littoral strike groups complete with escorts, support vessels and helicopters. One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic”.

All this raises three questions.  First, is it the Government’s collective position that China is no longer the friend that George Osborne saw it as, but is instead, in effect, a foe – or at least to be treated with a premis of suspicion?  Second, are the voters really up for a more interventionist-leaning foreign and defence posture, especially at a time when America seems to be entering a period of relative isolationism?  (“We stand ready to support our friends in Ukraine and the Balkans,” the Defence Secretary declared.)  Finally, Williamson’s programme implies higher defence spending still.  Is the Treasury willing to fund it?

The speech might have been delivered in much the same way were Britain not due to leave the EU.  There is no necessary connection between the re-ordering to which the Defence Secretary referred and Brexit.  But quitting the EU does make a difference to defence policy.  If we are to remain committed to our common continent, that implies solidifying the army presence in Eastern Europe – at a time when its manpower is at its lowest for more than a century.  And if we are also to become Global Britain, that suggests extending our reach and capabilities.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Williamson has no military background and, in the Conservative Party, the post that he holds is greatly prized – and seen as almost on a rank with the great offices of state.  His promotion was therefore not a popular one, and he has been widely briefed against.

Furthermore, the speech is bound to be read, by a cynical Westminster Village, as a leadership election preparation exercise.  Our plea for the Defence Secretary is that he is damned if he does and also if he doesn’t.  If he sets out a policy direction, he will be accused of ulterior motives. If he doesn’t, it will be claimed that he has nothing to say.

At a time when Brexit is all-consuming, and most Cabinet Ministers other than Michael Gove seem unwilling to make an impression, it ought to be thoroughly welcome that one of the others is developing a policy, even if you don’t agree it – which by and large we do, as believers in higher defence spending.

LibLink: Vince Cable: Don’t let healthy scepticism about China become paranoia

A tasty breakfast As Business Secretary, Vince Cable was responsible for global trade and had to deal with the growing economic might of China. He writes about this in an article for City AM. He has a stark warning for those seeking a trade deal. It’s not going to be much fun without 27 of […]

A tasty breakfast

As Business Secretary, Vince Cable was responsible for global trade and had to deal with the growing economic might of China. He writes about this in an article for City AM.

He has a stark warning for those seeking a trade deal. It’s not going to be much fun without 27 of your mates to watch your back:

And while the EU with its combined heft is able to be both tough and constructive, Britain on its own will be a largely powerless supplicant. I suspect that the Chinese, seeing Britain desperate for a trade deal of its own, will be looking forward to a tasty breakfast.

The current slowdown in China’s economy will have knock on effects across the world.

Vince has ideas about how the west should engage with China for mutual gain:

Instead, the key question now for us and the rest of Europe is whether to continue close engagement at a time of major tension. There are at present two western responses, and the difference is crucial.

The first is fundamentally hostile, seeing China as a security threat by virtue if its success and size – a viewpoint that is taking hold in the US. That would be a big mistake, since China’s reemergence is inevitable, and in many respects welcome.

The second is to concentrate on getting China to conform to international standards of trading and investment behaviour. It is not a poor developing country anymore, and should not be treated as such. Its model of “state capitalism” will have to adapt if there is to be meaningful cooperation.

Vince also thinks that we shouldn’t exclude Huawei.

There are warnings that, in the brave new world of 5G technology, it is dangerous to allow a Chinese company to become one of our leading suppliers. I am sure that there are legitimate concerns, but I recall that these were aired throughout my five years as business secretary, and yet repeated, careful vetting of the company found no good reason to exclude it on security grounds.

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online.

Catching up with Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander was probably best described as the marmite minister of Lib Dem coalition politics. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he completed the “Quad”, the 4 ministers who decided the course of the coalition government. He, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne fought out the major battles of those years. It’s no secret […]

Danny Alexander was probably best described as the marmite minister of Lib Dem coalition politics.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he completed the “Quad”, the 4 ministers who decided the course of the coalition government. He, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne fought out the major battles of those years.

It’s no secret that he and Osborne got on very well. After the Coalition, Danny ended up as Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure  Investment Bank, based in Beijing.

A BBC Scotland programme, Scots in China, caught up with Danny and his family recently. You see him at his work, talking about how he spends a lot of time focusing towards India. A sure sign of where the balance of power now lies in the world. We also see him trying to learn Chinese.

Neil Oliver caught up with his family, including their new dog, Rocky. Their older daughter has some really compelling insights to offer about life in city of 22 million people. Her liberal heritage is clear.

Obviously, in China, Danny is much closer to the natural habitat of the panda. Some of you might remember the 2011 Christmas song “Danny Alexander, feed him to the pandas.” I restrained myself from sharing this on any form of social media until I came across him laughing his head off at it at the Party’s Inverness Conference in 2012. And having mentioned it, it would be so rude of me not to let you see it.

The band might want to change their name, though.

But back to Neil Oliver’s programme. Watch here from about 27 minutes in to see how the family is getting on.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Philip Booth: It’s time to remember that there’s more to politics than Brexit

It is essential that voters do not come to believe that those politicians who support a free economy have become obsessed by leaving the EU.

Philip Booth is Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He is also Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The old joke “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (“To get to the other side”) might have come out of some readers’ Christmas crackers. In fact, there is a serious point to that joke. The chicken can know of no higher purpose. There was no ultimate end: it just crossed the road to get to the other side. If the chicken were a person, getting to the other side would not have been a good enough reason for crossing the road in and of itself: there would have been some further, higher, end.

For those of us who have spent their lives not being very interested in the EU, these are not especially exciting times. We should remember that the Brexit debate is not an end in itself. The different protagonists in the debate within the Conservative Party have generally not taken that position. If you believe in limited government and free trade, perfectly rational positions can be and have been created to support an EEA position, free-trade deals, No Deal or Remain. I struggle to understand the rationale of the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back to us, but won’t get into that debate today.

Of course, the EU is not just about economics. But, when it comes to economics, those who believe in a free economy and free trade cannot allow the Brexit debate to act as an alternative for making the wider case for capitalism. We cannot put the making of the wider case for limited government on hold. Those who believe in a bigger state have certainly not stopped making their arguments.

On the whole, socialists like to try to take the moral high ground. They are effective in building narratives around people’s own problems or aspirations: Conservatives are not always good at this and the Brexit debate has certainly not helped. The recent visit to the UK by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston illustrates these points very well.

Those who believe in a free economy need to argue their case as if they really believe that free markets and sound institutions are matters of life and death for the poorest people in the world.

An excellent book by Rainer Zitelmann, The Power of Capitalism, makes some of these arguments forcefully. The opening chapter on China is shocking in its portrayal of the poverty of the Mao regime – 33 million people died in just four years to 1962. However imperfect and incomplete the move towards markets, the Chinese transition has ensured that most of the country’s people are now no longer one bad harvest away from starvation. The relationship between the institutions of capitalism and the poor being in a position where they can escape a life of drudgery or disease and famine is indisputable. It can be seen across countries and through time.

And yet the basic facts about the benefits of markets and the abject failure of socialism are more or less unknown here at home. Students, potential voters and those who frame the policy debates seem to have no clue about how globalisation has improved the lot of the poor. Indeed, they do not even understand that the lot of the poor has improved. In a recent Ipsos-Mori poll, 91 per cent of British respondents believed that the proportion of people living in absolute poverty had increased or remained about the same in recent decades. The reality is that the proportion has fallen more in the last three decades than in the whole of previous economic history put together.

Reports from Oxfam and many other organisations suggest that inequality is on the increase and this is the prevailing narrative (bizarrely echoed by people such as Mark Carney). I suspect that, if a poll were taken on whether people believed that global inequality was increasing or decreasing, the proportion believing it was decreasing would not get out of single figures – or perhaps it would be zero after rounding. Yet the last 20 years mark the first sustained period in over two centuries during which global inequality is falling.

Unless economic globalisation reverses or the institutional situation in poorer countries deteriorates, this trend will continue. The West has an awful demographic outlook which will lead to lower disposable incomes as a result of higher taxes, as well as other problems. Meanwhile, the possibility for catch-up growth fuelled by young populations with growing human capital should allow poorer countries to continue to grow rapidly.

We should take none of this for granted. It is essential that the public does not come to believe that those politicians who broadly support a free economy have become obsessed by Brexit. If you were to put the faces of publicly-known politicians before people in an opinion poll and ask the question: “which of these people support policies that will raise incomes for the very poorest and reduce global inequality?”, I suspect that not many would nominate those politicians whom we know support free markets. That needs to change. It is not as if the statistics or the messages are especially complicated. Brexit should not be like the chicken crossing the road. The broader purpose of government should never be forgotten. We cannot have a moratorium on making the case for limited government and free markets or a couple of years whilst we deal with Brexit.

Lord Ashcroft: America – the mid-terms and beyond

The 2020 race, then, looks wide open and depends on two things outside the President’s direct control.

For many months before America’s midterm elections, the conventional wisdom was that newly enthused Democrats, Republicans embarrassed by the antics of Donald Trump, and non-voters spurred into action by indignation at the state of their country’s leadership, would join forces to sweep the GOP from Capitol Hill.

As we know, this did not quite come to pass. While the Democrats gained 40 districts to take control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate, making a net gain of two seats in the upper chamber. Hardly the rout that Democrats had predicted – in fact, more like the tide flowing in both directions at once. What’s going on?

The straightforward answer is that the state-wide Senate elections included Trump-friendly small-town and rural voters, with the GOP gains being made in states it had carried in 2016. The competitive House races, meanwhile, were heavily concentrated in prosperous suburbs of big cities, where people take a more sceptical view of the President. My research during the campaign, which included focus groups in some of the key districts across the country, from New Hampshire to California, helped to illuminate some of the deeper dynamics of the race, and offered some signposts for what to look out for next.

Much about current American politics is explained by that fact that while criticisms of Trump focus largely on his personal behaviour, his supporters – including those who were initially reluctant – continue to separate this from his actions in office. Indeed, only one in three of those who voted for him mainly to stop Hillary Clinton say they approve of his character and personal conduct, but nearly nine in ten of them say they approve of what he is doing as President. This was confirmed throughout our midterm focus group research. As one woman in Iowa told us, “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that we’re going to be successful and I’m going to have a job from day to day.” While critics are transfixed by his style, his electoral coalition is more interested in delivery.

As for what they think is being delivered, our Iowan’s example holds true. Again and again our groups mentioned the performance of the economy, which many attribute to a pro-growth, anti-regulation presidential agenda. This was a crucial point for many of those who had voted for him only reluctantly two years ago. “I thought he was a joke,” a man in California told us. “But being a blue-collar worker, being a construction worker, for commercial drivers the work has tripled for me since he’s been in office. So for me, OK maybe Trump is immature and he’s definitely not a politician, he’s a businessman. Maybe that’s what we needed.”

My pre-midterm survey found that when asked about various aspects of his performance, both his stronger and more hesitant supporters, as well as independents and voters as a whole, award Trump the highest marks on the economy and jobs. His combative approach to ‘bringing back jobs’ to America, renegotiating NAFTA and confronting China over international trade, is an important part of his perceived record in this area – as well as being, in the eyes of his coalition, an example of what can be achieved with a more robust attitude to diplomacy than they believed America has adopted for some time. The President’s face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-Un and the freeing of American prisoners from North Korea are regularly mentioned as further fruits of a tough and unapologetic stance.

Two other issues have had a particularly galvanising effect on the Trump coalition. The first is his nominations to the Supreme Court, a matter whose importance to conservatives cannot be overstated. We found during the presidential election that this was a decisive factor for Republican-leaning voters otherwise sceptical of Trump, and he has fully delivered on their expectation that he would appoint conservative justices. Brett Kavanaugh’s explosive confirmation hearings in the weeks leading up to the midterms helped propel GOP turnout by reminding Republicans of the battle they were in.

The second was border control, perfectly highlighted during the campaign by the migrant caravan wending its way to the American frontier from Honduras. Though Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration has appalled its opponents and made some otherwise supportive voters uneasy, for his own people it falls into the category of ‘promises delivered’, as it has since the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ in the very earliest weeks of his administration.

All of these things help explain why the Trump coalition has held together as well as it has in the face of the furious controversy surrounding every day of his presidency, and why the midterms did not produce the Republican wipe-out many had predicted. But there has been some erosion, as the House results showed, and we must remember that two years ago he lost the popular vote and won by only a tiny margin in some of the states that gave him the edge in the electoral college. The 2020 race, then, looks wide open and depends on two things outside the President’s direct control.

One of these is the economy. To the extent that his support rests on growth and jobs, greater confidence and higher living standards, it could be vulnerable should these things fade. The point was made succinctly by John Kasich when I interviewed him in the Ohio Governor’s Mansion shortly before the November election: “I know that one guy that I grew up with said the reason he likes Trump is because his 401k [retirement savings plan] is improved. Now I don’t know what happens after the stock market tumbles. Does that mean he doesn’t like him anymore?”

The other variable beyond his power to determine is how the Democrats decide to play things. They managed to turn out their supporters, engage previous non-voters (2018 turnout was higher than for any midterm election for more than a century) and persuade enough former Republicans to switch to capture key Congressional districts, but it is as easy to take the wrong lessons from victory as from defeat.

The most misguided conclusion for them to draw would be that they are already on course for victory. The legendary Democratic campaigner Bob Shrum told me when I interviewed him in October that this danger was remote: “I don’t think after 2016 that there is the slightest chance that Democrats will ever again assume a presidential election is in the bag, at least those who were alive in 2016.” As one who had declared on TV “that no way no how, in no universe, not this one or an alternative one, could Donald Trump be President the United States, I don’t think people are ever going to get that complacent again.”

But as I found in my pre-midterm survey, few Democrats believe the party needs to rethink its ideas, and most think the key to victory is enthusing non-voters and their own base rather than reaching out to those who voted for Trump, however reluctantly. And as we found speaking to Democrats in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, many are torn between the need to reassure moderate independent voters and their own yearning for a more liberal, progressive candidate and platform which could frighten away some of those who helped put them in charge of the House. In 2020, the identity of Trump’s opponent will matter as much as his record in office. The next chapter in America’s political story looks set to be as enthralling as the last.

Lord Ashcroft’s research, commentary and interviews can be found at

Benedict Rogers: Hunt’s review of British policy on the persecution of Christians is crucial and courageous

The Foreign Secretary had already impressed me with his focus on human rights. Now he has created new hope for Christians around the world.

Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute. He is the author of six books, including “The Very Stones Cry Out: The Persecuted Church – Pain, Passion and Praise” (co-authored with Baroness Cox).

I have always been passionate about defending freedom of religion or belief as a human right for everyone, of all religions and none. I have worked for many years with and for the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma, the Ahmadiyya and Shi’a in Indonesia, the Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners in China and twice visited and campaigned for an atheist in jail in Indonesia. My colleagues in CSW have similarly championed the cause of the Baha’is, the Yazidis, Hindus in Pakistan and others. Our motto is “everyone free to believe”.

However, for some time there has been a sense that the persecution of Christians has not been receiving the attention it deserves in certain quarters of our foreign policy establishment. Regardless of your views of Christianity, in simple statistical terms Christians around the world are persecuted in the most countries, from the widest range of sources – from radical Islamism, extremist Hinduism, Buddhist nationalism, from Communist authoritarianism, militant secularism or non-State actors such as paramilitaries and drug cartels in parts of Latin America. The International Society for Human Rights estimates that Christians are victims of 80 per cent of all acts of religious intolerance, even though they only represent 30 per cent of the global population. The Pew Research Center’s most recent report on global restrictions on religion states that the number of countries where various religious groups were harassed either by governments or social groups increased in 2016, and the most widely targeted groups were Christians, who face harassment in 144 countries, closely followed by Muslims, in 142 countries.

That is why Jeremy Hunt’s announcement on Boxing Day, to conduct a review of the Foreign Office’s response to the persecution of Christians worldwide, is so significant. In the five months since he became Foreign Secretary, I have already been impressed by the way Hunt has prioritised human rights, and shown personal leadership on many issues. As I have written on this site previously, his Policy Exchange speech was one of the most important speeches I have read by any Foreign Secretary. His focus on media freedom, his handling of Yemen, his decision to meet the wives of human rights lawyers jailed in China, his visit to Burma, his statements on the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, handling of the case of Matthew Hedges jailed in the United Arab Emirates, and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in prison in Iran, are just a few examples of how he has increased attention on human rights. This latest announcement is another, and is potentially the most courageous.

I had the privilege of participating in a meeting a week ago, hosted by the Foreign Secretary, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, other senior church leaders and NGOs, and survivors of persecution from Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea. I had the opportunity to highlight the situation in China, Indonesia, Burma and North Korea. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is of course the most egregious, but it is not the only part of the world where Christians are in danger. I told Hunt that just three days before our meeting, I had received an email report about a Christian community in Burma holding a pre-Christmas celebration and being attacked and stoned by a mob of fifty militant Buddhist nationalists. China is facing the most severe crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, involving the closure of many churches, the imprisonment of pastors and the destruction of crosses. In Indonesia, I visited three churches in Surabaya earlier this year which had been attacked by a family of suicide bombers. Across Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the Middle East, Christians increasingly live in fear.

So a review of the Foreign Office’s policy specifically on the persecution of Christians worldwide is extremely welcome. We will see what comes out of the review when the Bishop of Truro, appointed to lead it, reports next Easter. I hope that at a minimum it will lead to the British government being more consistently outspoken, using its diplomatic networks to better defend persecuted Christians, ensuring our aid policy genuinely does not discriminate on religious grounds, for or against any religion, but recognises that faith-based aid groups can be part of the solution, and co-ordinates better with like-minded governments – particularly the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief – to ensure that the crisis facing Christians worldwide is no longer ignored.

As the Foreign Secretary says, “Britain has long championed international religious freedom. So often, the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority… We must never allow a misguided political correctness to inhibit our response to the persecution of any religious minority.”

The test will be in the outcomes of the review and in the implementation of what recommendations may come, but in taking this initiative Hunt has already symbolically shifted the Foreign Office in a better direction, and for that he deserves our appreciation.

Hillary Su: From childhood in communist China to Tory candidacy in London. Why I am a Conservative.

I still remember the first time when I bit into a Chips Ahoy cookie. Oh heavens, there was nothing like it – this must be what freedom tastes like.

Hillary Su is a director and early stage investor in tech startups. She has previously worked in investment banking and consulting. She is a local ambassador for Make It Your Business, an NGO that supports female entrepreneurship.

Growing up in rural China as a member of an ethnic minority, I learned the harsh reality of inequality at a very young age. As the commissar pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm warned, some are destined to be controlled by others. My parents’ biggest hope was for me to work for one of China’s state-owned enterprises one day, so that I might one day join the glittering Beijing elite. That was probably the dream of most Chinese parents. But was never mine.

Looking back, I was enormously blessed to have a purposeful and prudent grandfather, who taught me the most valuable lesson in life: do not be defined by your surroundings, but take responsibility for your own destiny. He made me realise I could hope for something different and better: a life defined by personal choice and rewarded by hard work. Little did I realise, back then, that this counter-cultural value system would pave the way for my journey toward becoming a Conservative.

My grandfather was a local politician in China in the early 1950s, having founded the local branch of the Chinese Democratic League shortly after the Chinese Communist Party took leadership of the newly established Republic. Unlike many Chinese households, who shied away from politics, my grandfather never hid his passion – even after the torment he endured during China’s Cultural Revolution.

He would sit down with me to watch the news every day, encouraging me to swallow as much as I could, so that I could learn to develop and express my own opinions in future. I have a particularly fond memory of him telling me about the magnificent “Iron Lady”: those core Conservative values of individual liberty, small government, free market and personal responsibility, and the values of Thatcher and Reagan, at the height of the cold war, were among the reoccurring dinner table discussions in our humble household.

Growing up in rural China during the late 1980s and early 1990s wasn’t a particularly glamorous experience. The skyscrapers, bullet trains and fast internet are part of Le Nouveau Monde. Before China embraced market liberalisation, the nation survived on food stamps. We were told by the central government what to eat, how much we should eat and how many children each family could have. That was the norm. Some families may have attempted to cheat the system. But not us. We were the rule, not the exception. Nevertheless, we awaited with baited breath for our country to evolve. During the lead-up to China’s bid to join the WTO, we started to see supermarkets showing up in our town with shelves filled with foreign goods such as Colgate toothpaste and Safeguard soap. Unilever felt like an epiphany for everyone.

I still remember the first time when I bit into a Chips Ahoy cookie. The 15 years old me carefully opened the izmir blue package with swelling curiosity and anticipation. Oh heavens, there was nothing like it! I remember telling myself “this must be what freedom tastes like”. To this day, I am still convinced that it was that bite changed the course of my life. Suddenly I had the wildest aspiration in life. I wanted to leave China and go to America – the land of opportunity and Chips Ahoy cookies.

I told my grandfather about my plan, and I remember him falling silent for a while, possibly knowing that our time together would be forever cut short, before he then sprang into action, telling me that I must prepare to work extremely hard and be willing to make sacrifices in order to make the best of my chosen path. He was the first to support my decision – and he did so unreservedly. Even my parents thought I was mad, because “people like us” were never meant to have “that” kind of aspiration.

The rest of my story is like so many other immigrants’ stories that you may have heard many times before. I first spent my formative years studying in America after winning a coveted scholarship. I then chose to move to Britain, because I found that it enables even greater civil liberty. Just as my grandfather advised, I worked very hard every day. I finished graduate school in 2008 amidst the global financial crisis.

With few job prospects on horizon, I interned for free for nine months, while earning minimum wage by folding jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch in order to pay my bills, until I landed my first full-time paid job in the City of London. I did not go protesting in the street or blame the “rogue capitalists” for giving me an abysmal start in life, nor did I blame the Government for failing to extend help to people like me.

I accept that life is full of trials and tribulations and it is not meant to be easy. Everything I have in life is not given to me, but a result of hard work. Needless to say, my family made significant sacrifices so that I could spread my wings to unleash my potential. My grandfather passed away four years ago, peacefully in his old armchair, while wearing a jacket I bought him with my first salary. I did not get to see him for one last time.

After nine years of working in financial services with some of the largest multi-national corporations, I decided I wanted to repay Britain for giving me the opportunities I would never have dreamt of having had I stayed in my hometown. I decided to stand in this year’s local election representing the Conservative Party. I did so because I want to help make this city even greater and also keep London from falling into the militant Marxist socialism agenda. I was privileged to be given that platform, and when the results were being called, I thought of my grandfather and how proud he would have been.

I stand proudly on my own, knowing that my story, and my politics, is possible here in Britain. My adopted home has given me – an ethnic minority girl from China – extraordinary opportunities to grow into a professional businesswoman able to participate in public life. It is Britain, a tolerant and liberal democracy, that turned a story of a life into a triumph. If I can do this here, so can you.

Knowingly or not, I think I have always been a Conservative – whether living in communist China or metropolitan London. The Conservative Party is truly the only party that delivers authentic aspiration and opportunity. We care about your values, not your identity. We respect responsibility, self-governance, hard work and our duty of care to others. We are compassionate, and strive to help those who aspire to self-betterment. We believe in where you are going, not where you have come from. I am glad that I am a Conservative. Perhaps the izmir blue package of Chips Ahoy cookie has sealed my destiny as Team Blue long before I even knew it.

“My views on treating allies with respect…are strongly held.” Mattis’ resignation letter: full text

“Because you have the right to have a Defense Secretar whose views are better aligned with yours…I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

“Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

Jim N. Mattis”

Rebecca Lowe: Leave isn’t right-wing, Remain isn’t left-wing

Len McCluskey’s opposition to a second referendum is explicit, Seamus Milne’s Euroscepticism is unshakeable, and so on. The People’s Voters need Labour’s whipping power, but they won’t get it.

Rebecca Lowe is Director of FREER — a new initiative promoting economic and social liberalism, based at the IEA, where she is a Research Fellow. She is also an Assistant Editor of ConservativeHome.

I’m going to use this column to address two incorrect Brexit assumptions. I don’t know exactly how widely held these assumptions are, but they are definitely held by some, which is too many, already. To me, these assumptions are clearly incorrect — they’re simply not true — but there are other related or contingent assumptions, the incorrectness of which is more debatable.

The first of these assumptions is that Brexit is a right-wing, or Conservative Party, thing. The second is that supporting a second referendum is a left-wing, or Labour Party, thing. By “thing”, in both cases, I mean entirely and exclusively so. I’ve written before about the problems of relying on a “left-right” spectrum. And there could also be reasonable disagreement about the various necessary and sufficient conditions of something being a Conservative Party, or Labour Party, “thing”. However, I think I can address the two assumptions’ flaws without getting too much into any of these meta discussions.

The first assumption seems as if it should be easy to disprove. It’s really only because Caroline Lucas came out with it so publicly that it seems relevant. Ok, not everyone is into psephology, but the reliable calculation that around 60 per cent of Labour seats were majority Leave voting — and, indeed, the sheer number of people, within all political and non-political groupings, who voted Leave across the UK — surely implies there’s widespread awareness that it cannot be the case that all Leave voters are Conservative supporters, or even that all Leave voters could possibly describe themselves as fitting somewhere on the right side of the spectrum.

Beyond those practical matters, comes the strong recent history of UK left-wing Euroscepticism, reaching from Tony Benn and Peter Shore, to, yes, Jeremy Corbyn (and many of Lucas’s Green friends). It can be seen in Labour’s historic distrust of the EU, its predecessor entities, and various other pan-national economic alliances. It can be seen within left-wing organisations. And, in value-based terms, in a distaste for what are too often described as the EU’s “neoliberal” trade policies, in a frustration with its formal opposition to nationalisation and industrial strategy, and in a nervousness about the anti-democratic nature of its decision-making. Many on the left have come to terms with all this for reasons ranging from a utopian quasi-internationalism, to an overwhelming attachment to the ECJ’s labour-law rulings. But, basically, fundamental EU characteristics, such as “neoliberalism” and anti-democracy, stand counter to traditional leftist hopes and goals.

Again, I’m keen to avoid the meta, but by “leftist”, I mean a range of positions that broadly overlap with grounding concerns about societal equality and the distribution of resources, and related ideas coming from some kind of adherence to socialist positions (and I mean “socialist” in a sense wider than Marx’s). None of this should be surprising to anyone interested in UK politics, or anyone with any left-wing acquaintances.

The secret that Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong Lexiteer is so well known that it’s not a secret. Yet the lack of discussion about, and acceptance of, the cross-party nature of the Leave vote has stoked the divisions understandably set in place by the binary referendum itself. This is more than depressing; it is negligent. And Jeremy Corbyn is by no means the only guilty party. It’s not too late to change the narrative, however. It’s not too late to recognise there were many honourable reasons to vote for Brexit. And that there are many good people who did so it in good faith that their private vote would be respected by the government of their democratic nation.

The UK Left used to pretend to have a monopoly on democracy. At this critical moment, the overwhelming silence, not only of its leading representatives, but also of so many of its everyday supporters, is deeply sad. Lexit arguments — most eloquently put by Harvard’s Richard Tuck, and by Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson (seriously, read her piece from last weekend) — may not completely resonate with non-left-wing Brexit supporters. They may include alien premises and hopes. But they form an essential part of the wider argument — an argument made here through a national vote, and throughout the countries of the EU in polls, frustrations, and, sadly, even riots.

The part of the second assumption I want to focus on is the idea that the Left is in favour of a second referendum. (I’m no fan of the term “people’s vote”: firstly, the people have already voted on this topic, both in the referendum and in the 2017 general election; secondly, this kind of use of “people” — see also, DPRK, PRC, etc — tends to mean “I’m speaking for the people” rather than “I’m listening to them”.) The assumption that the Left would support a repeat referendum on EU membership — effectively what’s being demanded by the various campaigns — is clearly incorrect for several reasons.

If we take the Left to mean Labour, by proxy, then the assumption is incorrect, not least because its leadership and key influencers are certainly opposed. I don’t believe Corbyn is much of a democrat (if he gets into power, don’t expect him to go away anytime soon), but he would never stand in the way of the UK leaving the EU. If his undying Euroscepticism were to falter on the grounds of political expediency (the man who was chosen for having principles — any principles — may not be so principled, after all), then he still wouldn’t stand in the way, because he’d know Labour would lose too many parliamentary seats. Having lost its Scottish heartlands, it’s already practically impossible for the party to win a majority; it cannot without its Leave seats. Corbyn has proven incredible at playing Leavers off against Remainers, but when it comes to it, he won’t risk overturning the Brexit vote. The same goes for his coterie: Len McCluskey’s opposition to a second referendum is explicit, Seamus Milne’s Euroscepticism is unshakeable, and so on. The People’s Voters need Labour’s whipping power, but they won’t get it.

Moving out, beyond the Labour leadership’s lack of support for a referendum rerun, we return to the arguments above. There is a bond between the left and an overwhelming concern for the people — all of the people, not just the many — which has often, in this country although not in others, translated into a bond between the left and democracy. This runs strong. Sure, some might claim all this would change were a second referendum to be based on the choice between “no deal” and May’s deal (or a similar cop-out deal). But that would still be an affront to any true democrat, left or right. Anyone assuming that Labour — or the Left — represents the natural, or actual, supporters of a second referendum is missing these key points.

It’s increasingly easy to identify the catastrophic mistakes of May’s approach to Brexit, but — aside from putting democracy in the firing line — few mistakes have been so disastrous as stoking the divisions a true unity leader could have begun to heal.

Ben Rogers: Ofcom must not give China’s TV propagandists special treatment

CCTV is closely entwined with the ruling Communist Party. If it is to operate in London, we must not fail to uphold British values.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, the co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and author of three books on Burma.

Two months ago I came face-to-face with the shrieking, ferocious, thuggish human face of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the Conservative Party Conference.

As we were concluding a fringe meeting on Hong Kong hosted by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Hong Kong Watch, Kong Linlin, a reporter for China Central Television (CCTV), the CCP’s propaganda arm, screamed abuse at me. It was yet another example of China’s “tantrum diplomacy”.

I had ended by saying that I am pro-China, even if I am critical of the regime. I have spent much of my life in China and I want China to succeed. But, I argued, it is in China’s interests for Hong Kong to succeed, so China must honour its promises to the people of Hong Kong.

With a venom which I have never before encountered, Ms Kong yelled out: “Liar, liar. You are anti-China. You want to divide China”. She continued to yell at me and our three speakers from Hong Kong – Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, and Benny Tai and Nathan Law, leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

Then, when she refused to sit down, she slapped a young student, Enoch Lieu, three times after he politely asked her to leave. Part of the incident was captured on video and went viral. She was arrested and charged, although last week the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges.

After that experience, it was a shock to learn that CCTV is opening their largest media hub outside China in Chiswick next month, employing over 300 staff. The thought of hundreds of CCP agents roaming around Britain is alarming. Kong Linlin’s behaviour is part of the Chinese regime’s growing pattern of thuggery around the world, and it should not continue unchallenged.

That is why I was delighted when Peter Humphrey, a former Reuters journalist-turned-corporate investigator, filed a complaint last Friday with Ofcom. At a press conference after filing the complaint, Mr Humphrey was joined by Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin to launch a new report on China’s use of forced televised confessions, titled Trial by Media: China’s new show trials and the global expansion of Chinese media.

Humphrey and Dahlin have first-hand experience of the CCP’s most brutal behaviour. Both have been imprisoned in China – Humphrey and his wife for 23 months in a Chinese jail, Dahlin for 23 days in secret detention. Humphrey was forced to confess on television twice.

“They drugged me, locked me to a tiger chair, and placed me and the chair inside a small metal cage,” he says. “CCTV journalists then aimed their cameras at me and recorded me reading out the answers already prepared for me by the police. No questions were asked.” His confession was broadcast on CCTV, before his case had even come to trial.

Humphrey was subjected to a catalogue of abuse: an overcrowded cell, poor sanitary conditions, meagre food rations, sleep deprivation, separation from family, denial of legal representation or consular access for part of the time and denial of medical treatment for cancer. “The aggregate of these different types of duress adds up to what the UN would describe as torture,” he says.

Complicit in this torture was CCTV. In his complaint to Ofcom, Humphrey writes: “CCTV was working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state”. Under duress, Humphrey was paraded on CCTV’s domestic and international broadcasts, “confessing” to crimes he had not yet been convicted of.

Seven years ago, Ofcom ruled that Iran’s Press TV was in violation of Britain’s Broadcasting Code for airing a forced televised confession. Press TV’s license in the UK was revoked. It was this precedent that prompted Humphrey to file a 17-page complaint with Ofcom, detailing 15 violations of the Broadcasting Code by CCTV.

Dahlin was subjected to psychological torture in secret detention. His organisation Safeguard Defenders has published two previous books – The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and Scripted and Staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced televised confessions. Their new book, Trial by Media, provides analysis of CCTV’s key role in China’s apparatus of repression.

Forced televised confessions, filmed and broadcast by CCTV, are now commonplace in China. Typically, Dahlin explains, confessions fall into three categories – “defend”, “deny” or “denounce”. The person giving the statement must defend the CCP, deny any mistreatment, and denounce their own ‘crimes’ and the regime’s critics. Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was abducted from Thailand in 2015 and continues to be held in China, was forced to read a statement denouncing Sweden.

My own experience pales into insignificance compared to the trauma which these two men endured, and the even worse treatment to which Chinese detainees are subjected. All I have experienced is being denied entry to Hong Kong on Beijing’s orders, receiving seven rather absurd anonymous threatening letters to me, my neighbours, employers and mother, and a woman screaming at me. I didn’t even get slapped.

But what I have experienced gives me a glimpse into CCTV’s character and its relationship to the CCP, and what I have heard from these two brave men leaves me in no doubt that allowing CCTV to build its media centre in London without reference to our Broadcasting Code would be an appalling surrender of our values. When I asked Peter Humphrey what he made of Kong Linlin’s behaviour, he responded with stark clarity: “Kong Linlin’s conduct reminds me of the woman who interrogated me while I was strapped to a tiger chair in a small metal cage – a total viciousness that is in the bloodstream of the CCP.”

Yet it is important to emphasise that at the heart of this are the values that make Britain different from China. We believe in a free press. Strangely, after Kong Linlin was arrested by West Midlands Police, the Chinese Embassy tried to portray her as a victim, suggesting that her right to freedom of expression as a journalist was denied. In the next sentence, the Chinese Embassy demanded that the organisers of the meeting apologise, because apparently we have no right to discuss Hong Kong.

Without a hint of irony, the CCP defends the freedom of its representatives to assault people, but denies the freedom of expression of the co-signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration to discuss Hong Kong.

The truth is, if she had asked a question or made a comment, however hostile, in an appropriate manner, she would have been welcome to do so. And Dahlin is clear that the Ofcom complaint is not about trying to drive CCTV out or to “silence them,” even though most western media is banned in China. “This is not about revenge or retaliation,” he said. “On the contrary, we want them to participate in the conversation – but on the same rules as everybody else. We want this to influence their behaviour”. China, he adds, “should not be afforded special treatment”.

That is all that Humphrey and Dahlin seek. They want Ofcom to enforce its own Broadcasting Code, and act according to precedent. I hope Ofcom will respond accordingly. Broadcasters cannot be accomplices to torture.