Mary Douglas: Defending freedom of speech as a local councillor was a battle worth fighting.

23 Nov

Cllr Mary Douglas represents the Salisbury St Francis and Stratford Division on Wiltshire Council.

Having served as a local councillor for 15 years, I was accused last November of breaching the council’s Code of Conduct because I disagreed publicly with the LGBT ideology promoted by a local Pride march. I explicitly affirmed the dignity and worth of those involved, explaining that it was not the people but their ideology which I opposed. Nonetheless I was accused of discrimination and told that my views were offensive and should not have been expressed.

I contested the accusation with support from the Christian Legal Centre, to whom I would like to express my heartfelt thanks. After enduring considerable personal abuse and a year-long investigation, I was finally exonerated and my right to freedom of speech upheld.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Why? Because freedom of speech matters.

It matters because it is essential for good relationships and good choices. It matters because it enables us to explore together what it is to be human.

Those who sought to stifle my freedom of speech equated my disagreement with disrespect, regarding it as antithetical to good relations. Yet, as we know from our own lives, the respectful expression of disagreement is essential for a healthy relationship.

The community cohesion to which we all aspire is not achieved by imposing one opinion on all, but by all recognising one humanity. It is not achieved by focussing on what makes us different from others, whether class or ethnicity or lifestyle; but by remembering what we have in common.

We are human beings, created in the image of God, of infinite worth, every one. We share a common humanity, a common responsibility to care for one another and a common search for truth and meaning. Remembering that, as we disagree respectfully and listen carefully, we can explore each other’s deepest values. That is the basis for good relationships.

Those who sought to stifle my freedom of speech disagreed strongly with my views and therefore sought to remove them from the public square. Yet, respectful disagreement in the public square is precisely what is required to make good choices. That is one of the strengths of a liberal (from the Latin liber meaning ‘free’) democracy, the essence of which is the free exchange of ideas.

Successful organisations deliberately seek diversity on their Executive Boards, inviting robust debate between different perspectives in order to reach the best decision. In politics, as we face momentous challenges – covid-19, climate change, endemic disinformation – we need every view to be heard.

Similarly, in our personal lives, we do well to listen to those who think differently from us, to imagine the world from their vantage point. Each of us thinks that our view is correct – why else would we hold that view? Yet, we could be wrong. Even if everyone else we know agrees with us, we could all be wrong; group think is notoriously seductive. So, when someone says something with which ‘we all’ disagree, we owe it to ourselves to let them speak.

Those who sought to stifle my freedom of speech felt offended and hurt, and so regard disagreement as harmful to good relationships and want to silence a view with which they strongly disagree. Yet, respectful disagreement is essential for both good relationships and good choices.

So, why do we stifle freedom of speech when it is so clearly beneficial?

I believe it is because we are deeply unsure of who we are. We do not know what it is to be human, so we define ourselves by what differentiates us from each other, such as our beliefs, sexuality, or ethnicity. Yet such things are not up to such a task. They are part of who we are, but they are not us.

We behave like an orphan who feels that they have no choice but to define themself, to fight for their place in the world, to find comfort and meaning wherever they can.

Yet, we are not orphans. We have a Father, who not only created us but has gone to great lengths to make us His children. In Jesus Christ, the Son of God as a human being, all humanity has been adopted, made sons of God, each and every one. An honour not imposed but offered as a gift, no merit required, simply willing receipt.

We are far more than we had realised, we are far greater than we had dared to imagine.

Why is this seldom said in public discourse?

I suspect it is because we are afraid that we might not be permitted to say such a thing.

What a tragedy if we were to miss our very identity because we had lost our freedom of speech.

As I said, freedom of speech matters.

James Somerville-Meikle: Religious services are essential for many people; the Government must not stop them again.

9 Nov

James Somerville-Meikle is Head of Public Affairs at the Catholic Union.

To ban religious services once could be seen as unfortunate. To ban them twice in a year looks like carelessness.

Unlike Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, this is sadly not a comedy.

The Government has once again prohibited religious services in England as part of its second national lockdown. While places of worship can still open for private prayer, religious services are banned until December 2.

Something that seemed unthinkable at the beginning of the year has now happened twice. We must not allow it to happen again.

While closing places of worship in the first lockdown was extremely painful, it was understood that we faced an unknown virus and the priority was to protect the NHS and save lives. We now know significantly more about this virus and how to control it.

If you’ve been into any church since the summer, you will have probably encountered an army of masked cleaners with disinfectant spray, one-way systems, and people collecting contact details for NHS Test and Trace. The efforts of thousands of volunteers across the country have made churches, and other places of worship, examples of how to make public buildings Covid-secure.

This has given faith leaders confidence to speak out against the ban. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, spoke of the “deep anguish” felt by Catholics at seeing churches closed for services. A feeling shared by many other people of faith.

The decision was also criticised by many MPs and peers during the limited time for debate on the regulations in Parliament. Edward Leigh MP, the Catholic Union President, described “outlawing religious services” as a “disproportionate response to the pandemic”.

Outlawing religious services – taking away a basic pillar of religious freedom – is a grave intrusion into our fundamental human rights. It should never become an acceptable response to the challenges we face, particularly not for a Conservative government.

Talk of “outlawing” religious services is no exaggeration. The Government is not simply asking Christians to stop attending church, or suggesting to Jewish people that they should stay away from synagogues, or encouraging Hindus and Sikhs to give up Diwali celebrations. It is forcing them to do this by using the law.

Of course, it’s not just faith groups who are affected by these restrictions. Daily life has become harder for almost every person in England and had consequences for people across the United Kingdom. Millions are worried about their jobs or businesses. There are a growing number of people in need as a result of this pandemic, and faith groups are often on the frontline in providing help.

People of faith are not asking for special treatment, but for religious services to be treated like other services deemed essential for health and wellbeing. It’s an important test of whether we understand the importance of faith to people’s lives and whether we’re prepared to reflect that in policy.

The new restrictions are significantly different to the full lockdown earlier in the year, in many ways for the better. More institutions are considered to be providing essential services, including schools and universities. A greater number of shops have been given essential status, including garden centres. And there will be far more essential journeys, with people encouraged to go to work if they cannot work from home.

The decision to label more aspects of life as “essential” under the new restrictions may help to avoid the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown. But it has also led to the Government straying into difficult territory by determining what is and isn’t essential in our lives – something which is generally best left to people to decide.

Excluding religious services from this list sends a message to faith groups that collective worship is deemed unnecessary.

This was not helped by the Prime Minister failing to mention places of worship in his speech on October 31. People were left to check on the Government’s website to see how the new restrictions would impact their churches, synagogues, and mosques. For the millions of people for whom prayer and worship is the rhythm of their lives, this omission will have been noted.

It shows that once again the “religious literacy” of those making decisions needs to be improved. A good start would be giving more clout to the Faith Taskforce, which was set up by Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, to advise on reopening places of worship after the last lockdown.

The ban on religious services is particularly frustrating given the lack of evidence for the decision. Are people really more at risk of catching the virus in a socially distanced church service than they are in a garden centre or lecture theatre? Or for that matter is a church used for praying more of a public health risk than a church used for worship?

When pushed for evidence on the spread of the virus in places of worship, Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “I don’t think we have good data to answer that with any degree of certainty.”

Had any evidence existed, the response from faith leaders would have been very different. People of faith have shown they are just as prepared as anyone to make sacrifices in the national interest. Closing places of worship was accepted earlier this year, while energy was focused on maintaining the services they run – such as food banks and bereavement support groups. Given the lack of evidence for the current ban, faith leaders have every right to complain.

Controlling the second wave of the virus was perhaps always going to be harder than the first. If there’s one thing worse than not having evidence, it’s being faced with a huge body of evidence and needing to make tough decisions.

Increasingly it seems that policy priorities are shaping the Government’s response to the pandemic, just as much as science and evidence. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means we need to get our priorities right. Policies that allow people to go to a garden centre on a Sunday morning, but not church, suggests that a rethink is required.

Over the next few weeks, difficult decisions will need to be made once again about the way out of lockdown. Above all, this will be a test of what we value. The Government should listen to our country’s faith leaders who have called for places of worship to reopen fully in light of their essential nature.

Banning religious services must not become part of the “new normal.”

Iain Dale: Trump is displaying all the signs of believing his own lies. And he is undermining democracy itself.

6 Nov

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

As I write this column on Thursday lunchtime, we still do not know for sure who will be inaugurated in Washington on Wednesday 20 January next year.  As Sky’s Mark Austin said earlier this week, the Americans will never be able to take the micky out of us for cricket – a game that can go on for days without a result.

It looks more than likely that Joe Biden will be the next President, which didn’t seem to be the case when I finished presenting LBC’s marathon seven-hour overnight election show.

At that point, it seemed clear that Donald Trump would be staying in the White House. He was ahead in most of the crucial swing states. But when I woke up after three hours’ sleep on Wednesday morning, the situation was beginning to change.

By the end of Wednesday, Biden had pulled ahead in both the popular national vote. Michigan became the American equivalent of Nuneaton or Basildon.

When he saw which way the wind was blowing, Donald Trump did what he does best: disrupt. He went on TV to say that there was widespread vote fraud in the states that he now appeared to be losing, and that all vote counting there should stop. However, the counts should continue in all the states where he was ahead. Brazen.

Rudi Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer – a man who has lost all of his previously respected reputation – made public pronouncements in which he speculated on whether the Democratic National Committee was behind multiple voting, and even went so far as to ponder whether Joe Biden himself may have voted 5,000 times. He demeaned himself – and not for the first time.

All candidates are entitled to challenge a count if they genuinely fear there has been foul play. In this country that rarely, if ever, happens. It has to be said that in the US it has happened rather too often.  But if you accuse your rivals of interfering in the electoral process, you need to have some evidence for your accusation.

This is dangerous talk from Trump, since it completely undermines any trust in the democratic process. It is now easy to imagine a situation in which Biden scores a higher number of electoral college votes than Trump did in 2016 – and yet the President still doesn’t accept the result. There will also be protests, and maybe even violent riots, which seek to keep Trump in the White House.

Being a disrupter is not necessarily a 100 per cent bad thing. But being a president who cannot accept a basic tenet of democracy – i.e. the acceptance of electoral loss – is not a good look. The trouble is that Trump displays all the signs of being someone who comes to believe his own lies.

The fact, however, that he has won five million more votes than he did in 2016 does tell us something important. We cannot write him off as an aberration. Trump caught a political wave in 2016 – one of dissatisfaction with politics in general and Washington in particular. If it hadn’t been him it would have been someone else.

The Tea Party’s rise in the 1990s and early 2000s was the first sign that something was changing, but the Washington elites chose to ignore it. It’s a bit like the Labour Party telling the electorate here that they keep getting it wrong, and what they really want is something that the elites in Islington tell them they should want. The electorate resile against this, and do the very opposite.

On Wednesday morning, I was watching the BBC’s election coverage and heard one of its journalist saying that to appeal to working class voters amounts to “economic populism”. It’s that kind of elitist arrogance that turns people off the so-called mainstream media – and plays into the hands of Trump.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rishi Sunak seemed to catch Labour off balance yesterday, when he announced that the furlough scheme is to be extended until the end of March. This will provide a lot of reassurance to a lot of people who previously must have feared they would lose their jobs entirely.

It is a legitimate criticism that this announcement came very late in the day, and too late for many thousands of people who had already been laid off – but better late than never.

There is still not enough support of the self-employed, and those who operate limited companies. After eight months, this is simply not good enough. To say “it’s all too difficult” just does not wash. These are, as Margaret Thatcher, might have said “our people” – and they deserve better treatment than they have so far had from a Conservative government.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Tuesday I achieved a lifetime ambition – to interview Sir Cliff Richard.

I have a very short list of people I would like to interview before it’s too late, and he was top of it. I spent an hour with him via Zoom, and it was all I hoped it would be.

I told him I wanted it to be a conversation rather than an interview, and that’s how it turned out. I didn’t want it to be an hour where he would just come out with well-worn anecdotes and lines, and I didn’t want to just ask the usual questions he gets asked in interviews.

The fact that I had an hour meant that it really could be a proper conversation. He talked openly about his religious faith, the sex abuse allegations that he had to endure, what he really thinks of the BBC and why he’s fallen out of love with Britain. And of course we talked about his music career.

Even if you’re not his biggest fan, I think you’ll enjoy the interview, which you can hear on my Iain Dale All Talk podcast.

Iain Dale: Stop this utter selfishness and pathetic whinging about not having a normal Christmas to look forward to

30 Oct

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

Again, it feels like the calm before the Covid storm, doesn’t it?

As more and more swathes of the country go into Tier Three lockdown, it’s clear that, by this time next week, most of the north and parts of the Midlands will have joined Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire in that tier. It’s only a matter of time before London does too, I suspect.

This week, even Germany has gone back into a partial lockdown.  Spain has declared a state of emergency.  France has announced a further draconian lockdown – and Coronavirus in Belgium is seemingly out of control.

At some point in the next two or three weeks, the Government will be forced to take a very difficult decision. No one wants a second national lockdown, but I’m afraid it is looking all but inevitable.

We could of course, take a different pah, ignore the scientific consensus and let the virus take its course – or let it rip, might be a more accurate way of putting it. I cannot see any responsible Government taking that course of action.

In the end, we are going to have to learn to live with this virus. But until our test and trace system is worthy of the name, or a vaccine becomes available, it’s very difficult to see any degree of normality returning to our lives in the next six months – or maybe for longer.

– – – – – – – – – –

After the political debacle about the provision of free school meals, and yet again being comprehensively outplayed by a young Premier League footballer, the next challenge for the Government is how to counter the pathetic accusations about the government ‘cancelling’ Christmas.

Those who make the accusation claim to be those who don’t have a Scooby Doo about what Christmas is all about. It’s not some quasi-materialistic present giving binge; it is a religious festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

There is nothing the Government can do or will do that could cancelsthat celebration. Yes, it may mean that family gatherings are more limited in number. Yes, it may mean that we don’t do as much present-buying as we have done in the past. Yes, it will be different.

But for God’s sake, if people don’t understand the seriousness of the situation the country may be in by Christmas, then there is nothing anyone can say or do which will shake people out of their utter selfishness and pathetic whinging.

I can say that. The Government can’t. But somehow, they will need to take on the view that somehow we should all be given a free pass on Christmas Day to let the virus rip.

– – – – – – – – – –

Arzoo Raja is 13 years old. She lived in Italy with her Christian parents. She too was brought up as a Christian. On October 13, she was abducted from outside her house. A few days, later the Italian Police said they had received marriage papers, which stated she was 18.

Her new “husband” was 44 year old Ali Azhar, who also stated Arzoo had converted to Islam, and her new name was Arzoo Faatima.

Her parents provided her birth certificate to the Italian and Pakistani authorities to prove that she was 13. This cut no ice with the Sindh High Court in Karachi, which ruled that she had converted of her own volition, and that she had entered into the marriage of her own free will. The court even criticised the Pakistani police for “harassing” Arzoo after her abduction.

In effect, the court has validated both forced marriage and rape. There have been protests on the streets of Lahore and Karachi.

Countries like the UK cannot stand by, and trot out the well-worn narrative that we can’t interfere with the judiciary of a sovereign nation.

No, but we can turn off the aid tap. We can call in the Pakistani High Commissioner for an interview without coffee. We and other countries have both the power and influence to stop this.

Imran Khan, the Pakistani Prime Minister, has a daughter called Tyrian. He should think how he would have felt if his daughter had been abducted like this when she was 13.

Just for reporting this news on Twitter I have been accused of being islamophobic and “not understanding” the culture. Utter tosh. If we are meant to keep quiet about child abduction and forced marriage, we have come to a pretty pass. I, for one, will continue to speak out, no matter what the backlash.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Thursday morning we all woke up to yet another terror attack in France, with two people being beheaded and another murdered in the name of “the religion of peace”.

Apparently, it is politically incorrect to point out that while the barbarous acts were taking place, the perpetrators were joyfully shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.

Muslims quite rightly point out that these acts are ‘not in my name’, but the uncomfortable fact is that this is not the view of the terrorists.

In his autobiography, David Cameron says he regrets maintaining that these kind of terror attacks were nothing to do with Islam. He argues that adherents of mainstream Islam have tried to disassociate themselves from the attacks without ever really understanding what has driven the terrorists to assert that they do their dastardly deeds in the name of their religion. He is right.

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

21 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ConHome: “Came out all wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain Dale: Farron’s strange friends here and Hammond’s bloody ones abroad

17 Jul

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

Tim Farron has hit the headlines again this week – if you count a story in The Independent nowadays as ‘hitting the headlines’.

It reported that he has accepted a £75,000 donation from an Evangelical group called Faith in Public. To be accurate, they “made a donation at the start of this year to provide him with a policy adviser two days a week, at an estimated maximum value of £9,100″.

“They donated the services of two policy advisers the previous two years at a total value of £50,319, as well as the services of a public relations company to the value of £15,000.”

Faith in Public supports gay conversion therapy, which is expected to be banned in new legislation shortly. The former Liberal Democrat leader says he does not support such an abhorrent practice, but still feels able to take a wedge from an organisation that does.

I’m surprised this donation hasn’t received more widespread coverage, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, had the MP in question been a Conservative one, there would be merry hell to pay.

Farron is coming under pressure within his party to return the money, but in practice that’s quite difficult, when no actual cash has changed hands and the payments were ‘in kind’.

Much of this money would presumably have gone towards paying researchers to help with the writing of Farron’s memoir, published last year by a Christian publisher.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another politician raking in the cash is the Philip Hammond, who was reported by the Spectator this week to have taken on a lucrative consultancy role advising the Saudi government.

Purely coincidentally, he also intervened in the row over Huawei and China, warning that we should not let human rights abuses get in the way of economic transactions.

Tell that to the Saudi citizens who enjoy few of the freedoms that Hammond takes for granted. Tell that to those who have their hands cut off or are beheaded. Tell that to the 50 per cent of the Saudi population with two X chromosomes who are treated as unequal to those with a Y.

Perhaps he’ll go the whole hog and take a consultancy with Beijing as well. Nothing would surprise me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The big question of the week, apart from how Chris Grayling contrived to lose an election rigged in his favour, is what on earth Michael Gove was thinking of when he went on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend to declare that he was against the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops?

Two days later, it was announced that this will now indeed be Government policy. Since Gove is in charge of Coronavirus coordination across governmentn you’d have thought that he might have been aware that this was in the offing.

So either he was hung out to dry by Number Ten, or he wanted to burnish his libertarian credentials. The result was that yet again the Government deservedly stood accused of sending out mixed messages. Another needless shambles.

– – – – – – – – – –

A few months ago I decided to leave my bank, Lloyds, after 40 years with them.

The big four banks have become monolithic and totally impersonal. You can never speak to the same person twice, and just getting through their security systems is a task in itself. When you dread picking up the phone to ring your bank, you know that is the time to look at the alternatives.

So I have started the process of opening accounts elsewhere, but if I’m honest, the number of forms you have to fill in is quite daunting, and I’ve put it all in the pending tray.

That changed this week when my card declined in a telephone transaction as I tried to buy some stock of my new book from HarperCollins. I rang the Lloyds credit card hotline, and they said it was a routine check, and that if I tried again in a couple of minutes it would work.

I did, and it didn’t. I phoned them back, and they admitted the person I had originally spoken to had cleared the transaction, but had then cancelled the card! So I’d get a new card in three to five days.

Wow. And no, nothing could be done about it and I’d just have to wait – even though they admitted it was their error.

This was all the incentive I needed to fill in those forms with my intended new bank. If ever I had doubted my decision to leave, this experience removed them.

Goodbye Lloyds. Hello, new dawn. However much these big companies take us for granted, we as the consumer hold the power in our hands.

The only way they will change is if we show them we are not prepared to stand for it any longer. I did the same a few years ago with my energy supplier and switched from EDF to Octopus, and I’ve never looked back. They are a delight to deal with.

– – – – – – – – – –

Over the next couple of weeks, I am spending three hours in the company of the two contenders for the LibDem leadership, Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran.

Last night, I did an hour long interview with Ed, and on Tuesday evening it’s Layla’s turn.

Then on August 2, I’ll be hosting a head to head debate on my LBC Sunday morning show. It’s called Public Service Broadcasting (I think). It’s, you know, the kind of thing the BBC used to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of the BBC, it was announced this week that another 150 jobs are to go in the News & Current Affairs department.

While Politics Live on BBC2 has been given a reprieve (see last week’s column), it’s losing one episode a week, and it seems we’ve seen the last of Andrew Neil on the BBC, with his eponymous interview show being cancelled.

Shameful. On what planet would they go out of their way to push out their best interviewer?

Iain Dale: Farron’s strange friends here and Hammond’s bloody ones abroad

17 Jul

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

Tim Farron has hit the headlines again this week – if you count a story in The Independent nowadays as ‘hitting the headlines’.

It reported that he has accepted a £75,000 donation from an Evangelical group called Faith in Public. To be accurate, they “made a donation at the start of this year to provide him with a policy adviser two days a week, at an estimated maximum value of £9,100″.

“They donated the services of two policy advisers the previous two years at a total value of £50,319, as well as the services of a public relations company to the value of £15,000.”

Faith in Public supports gay conversion therapy, which is expected to be banned in new legislation shortly. The former Liberal Democrat leader says he does not support such an abhorrent practice, but still feels able to take a wedge from an organisation that does.

I’m surprised this donation hasn’t received more widespread coverage, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, had the MP in question been a Conservative one, there would be merry hell to pay.

Farron is coming under pressure within his party to return the money, but in practice that’s quite difficult, when no actual cash has changed hands and the payments were ‘in kind’.

Much of this money would presumably have gone towards paying researchers to help with the writing of Farron’s memoir, published last year by a Christian publisher.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another politician raking in the cash is the Philip Hammond, who was reported by the Spectator this week to have taken on a lucrative consultancy role advising the Saudi government.

Purely coincidentally, he also intervened in the row over Huawei and China, warning that we should not let human rights abuses get in the way of economic transactions.

Tell that to the Saudi citizens who enjoy few of the freedoms that Hammond takes for granted. Tell that to those who have their hands cut off or are beheaded. Tell that to the 50 per cent of the Saudi population with two X chromosomes who are treated as unequal to those with a Y.

Perhaps he’ll go the whole hog and take a consultancy with Beijing as well. Nothing would surprise me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The big question of the week, apart from how Chris Grayling contrived to lose an election rigged in his favour, is what on earth Michael Gove was thinking of when he went on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend to declare that he was against the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops?

Two days later, it was announced that this will now indeed be Government policy. Since Gove is in charge of Coronavirus coordination across governmentn you’d have thought that he might have been aware that this was in the offing.

So either he was hung out to dry by Number Ten, or he wanted to burnish his libertarian credentials. The result was that yet again the Government deservedly stood accused of sending out mixed messages. Another needless shambles.

– – – – – – – – – –

A few months ago I decided to leave my bank, Lloyds, after 40 years with them.

The big four banks have become monolithic and totally impersonal. You can never speak to the same person twice, and just getting through their security systems is a task in itself. When you dread picking up the phone to ring your bank, you know that is the time to look at the alternatives.

So I have started the process of opening accounts elsewhere, but if I’m honest, the number of forms you have to fill in is quite daunting, and I’ve put it all in the pending tray.

That changed this week when my card declined in a telephone transaction as I tried to buy some stock of my new book from HarperCollins. I rang the Lloyds credit card hotline, and they said it was a routine check, and that if I tried again in a couple of minutes it would work.

I did, and it didn’t. I phoned them back, and they admitted the person I had originally spoken to had cleared the transaction, but had then cancelled the card! So I’d get a new card in three to five days.

Wow. And no, nothing could be done about it and I’d just have to wait – even though they admitted it was their error.

This was all the incentive I needed to fill in those forms with my intended new bank. If ever I had doubted my decision to leave, this experience removed them.

Goodbye Lloyds. Hello, new dawn. However much these big companies take us for granted, we as the consumer hold the power in our hands.

The only way they will change is if we show them we are not prepared to stand for it any longer. I did the same a few years ago with my energy supplier and switched from EDF to Octopus, and I’ve never looked back. They are a delight to deal with.

– – – – – – – – – –

Over the next couple of weeks, I am spending three hours in the company of the two contenders for the LibDem leadership, Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran.

Last night, I did an hour long interview with Ed, and on Tuesday evening it’s Layla’s turn.

Then on August 2, I’ll be hosting a head to head debate on my LBC Sunday morning show. It’s called Public Service Broadcasting (I think). It’s, you know, the kind of thing the BBC used to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of the BBC, it was announced this week that another 150 jobs are to go in the News & Current Affairs department.

While Politics Live on BBC2 has been given a reprieve (see last week’s column), it’s losing one episode a week, and it seems we’ve seen the last of Andrew Neil on the BBC, with his eponymous interview show being cancelled.

Shameful. On what planet would they go out of their way to push out their best interviewer?

Matt Kilcoyne: An unholy alliance is frustrating our freedom to shop on Sunday. Johnson should take it on.

24 Jun

Matt Kilcoyne is Head Of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.

An unholy alliance of small shops, supermarkets with convenience stores, unions and the church has formed again to oppose ending Sunday trading restrictions. The whole argument against letting the big shops open after 6.00pm appears quite confected. After all, no other industry has this weird restriction in place. Our NHS doctors and nurses can work Sunday night.

Few small business owners will refuse to help a customer if they come a-knocking after hours with a genuine need. You can even order online and have it delivered on a Sunday.

Meanwhile, if you’re a reporter with a sharp nose for a story it doesn’t matter if it breaks after your shift. Notably, an article announcing opposition to ending Sunday trading restrictions was published in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, indicating at least some of the editing was undertaken after 5.00pm the previous day.

Indeed, I’ve done something rather naughty while writing this. For you see, most of this piece was itself written on the Sabbath, by my own free choice. And unlike shift workers, I don’t even get paid to do so.

Yet for some reason, we arbitrarily do not allow shops larger than 3,000 square feet to open for more than six hours between 10.00am and 6.00pm on a Sunday. Deuteronomy is famous for its niche laws governing every aspect of the observant’s life, but I must have missed the verse that says shops with 3,001 square feet are too big, and that opening for more than six hours is forbidden.

The Old Testament calls for a day of rest. We have those written into law, just at times of our own choosing rather than convention. Universality is lovely in morals, but can be poor in practice.

Our restrictions hurt consumers, workers and businesses. They hold workers back from flexible and well-compensated hours; they reduce consumer choice; and they put pressure on time-poor and cash-poor parents in tight spots.

These current laws unfairly punish larger shops, when in fact these larger shops are precisely the ones that allow for much greater social distancing in the context of Covid-19. It is, to be frank, bizarre to encourage people to go to smaller shops, with the higher risk of interaction and contagion.

The same arguments Conservatives made against Sadiq Khan shutting down the tube at the beginning of this pandemic apply to those that want to control hours of opening for Sunday shoppers.

A great deal of our economy has gone off the cliff  but, like Wiley Coyote, we seem to have not yet realised. Instead of debates over the shopping habits of the past, we need as many ways as possible to increase transactions, consumption, and employment as we can muster.

We also need to find ways to keep us safe against the undimmed viral threat by allowing greater social distancing in stores, which is certainly helped by spreading out shoppers and staff over the week.

We consumer capitalists at the Adam Smith Institute have noted before that shoppers actually like the extra bit of choice: when Sunday trading laws were suspended during the Olympics, sales increased 2.8 per cent inside of London and 6.2 per cent outside of London.

The current restrictions are not even that traditionally British. Scotland has no restrictions on Sunday trading — workers have a right not to work on a Sunday should they so wish. Northern Ireland has even stricter laws than England and Wales, meaning you can only go to the supermarket between 1pm and 6pm.

Keep Sunday Special is made up of: the Association of Convenience Stores and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents; the Federation of Wholesale Distributors; the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Church of England, and post offices.

Beside the Church of England, which understandably wants us all in the pews rather than pounding the high street, you may have spotted the giant vested interests in this campaign. All the shops are themselves quite happily open on Sunday (and that includes some supermarkets with smaller inner city stores too), those that supply these small stores, a union that wants to limit labour competition, and the post offices that are reliant on corner shops.

This has nothing to do with keeping Sunday special. It has everything to do with shutting out the competition.

The idea that we’re a downtrodden people beholden to capitalists that want us to work every single second of every single day like Scrooge himself is both wrong and wrongheaded. The opposition and the quick backtrack from Number 10 also shows something much more worrying: a weakness for sticking to a choice when it’s made at the heart of a government.

Instead of the surety that should come with an 80-seat majority and the public’s support, we’ve had another U-turn in record time. In the face of obvious vested interests and a small but vociferous campaign that says it can muster 50 MPs to its cause, but only managed seven names on an open letter. And there’s something really off and quite worrying about the Chief Whip’s personal opinion ending up on the front page of theTelegraph.

For a Government that is supposedly obsessed with public opinion, this decision shows a deaf ear. A recent YouGov poll found 48 per cent in favour of abolishing Sunday trading rules with just 31 per cent against. Conservative voters were most in favour – with 53 per cent of self-identified Tories saying they would support relaxed trading hours rules.

Nobody is going to suddenly turn up at your house at 6.00pm on the Lord’s day, and drag you out of the house to a supermarket and stand over you while you weep in the veg aisle. But your opposition to Sunday trading should not prevent me from having that choice.

Boris Johnson should take back control of the agenda from a vocal minority on Sunday trading. The existing rules are inconsistent and hypocritical. They do not reflect a 24/7 economy, where people can purchase online and receive deliveries any time. They are backed by vested interests masquerading under a campaign of faux outrage. In their place, with a decisive move to liberalise, could come more opportunities to work, hours that meet our needs and reduced risk — and a reflection of the values of the voters that put the Conservatives back into power in December.