Ryan Bourne: A reassuringly conservative speech from Starmer’s Shadow Chancellor. The Tories will need to up their game.

20 Jan

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Just in case the Conservatives hadn’t got the message: Labour under Keir Starmer is a very different beast to the party under Jeremy Corbyn.

Dueing the past fortnight, the Labour leader has parked his tanks on conservative lawns, talking first of Labour as “the party of the family,” then setting out a foreign policy vision of the UK as a “bridge between the U.S. and Europe.” Annelise Dodd’s Mais Lecture on economics was perhaps more striking still in the break of tone and type of criticisms made of Conservative policy compared with the last leadership.

Gone were the unhinged attacks on “neoliberalism” that characterised Corbynite bloviating. The fault-finding was specific and targeted. Dodds acknowledged the difficulties any government would face in a pandemic. Her surgical critique was that the UK’s Covid-19 outcomes were worsened by government foot-dragging on tightening lockdown restrictions, and Treasury attempts to fine-tune the balance between economic and public health.

Specifically, she claimed that its mixed-messaging on financial support to businesses, first delivering it and then threatening to withdraw it based on firms’ “viability,” created needless uncertainty. With the vaccines hopefully soon ending the pandemic, she argued that supporting firms until reopening was now more prudent than letting the chips fall when furlough ends in Spring. On the balance of costs and benefits, most economists would probably now agree.

There was little Corbyn-like wailing about past “austerity” either. Dodds’ criticisms of the last decade of government fiscal policy were restrained, and more plausible for it. She claimed that some spending cuts may have adversely impacted the pandemic response; that 16 fiscal targets coming and going since 2010 has created instability; that there should be more focus on the long-term public finances rather than the short-term; and that rapid deficit reduction coming out of the pandemic (including tax hikes, as Rishi Sunak reportedly wants) would be economically destructive. All these criticisms, individually, would not be surprising in ConservativeHome op-eds.

Yes, Labour still wants a bigger state than the Conservatives. Yet unlike many on the Left, Dodds appears under no illusions that running up debt is riskless or a free-lunch. “…it would be an irresponsible economic policymaker who planned on the assumption that low interest rates will continue indefinitely,” she said, while musing about a longer-term inflation risk. Her new “fiscal framework,” focused on planning to balance day-to-day spending and tax revenue, would be based on the recommendations of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Now none of this is particularly exciting. The speech was littered with boilerplate progressive assertions and the usual touching faith in the power of government. But it’s telling that Dodds actively shirked the opportunity to announce some glitzy new retail offer to grab newspaper headlines. There was no promise even of a Labour government “creating” high-wage jobs, or “transforming” the economy.

Instead, the speech was quintessentially small-c conservative. Labour, we were told, would protect the independence of the Bank of England, be “responsible” with the public finances, embrace free trade, protect businesses from Covid failure, focus policy on thorny structural problems rather than chasing day-to-day media coverage, and deliver “value for public money” from government spending.

Indeed, peer through the mundane parts of the speech, and you see a rhetorical critique of the current government that wouldn’t have looked out of place coming from Conservatives a decade ago. Dodds’ subtle message was that government decisions on infrastructure and procurement contracts were often determined more by short-term, pork-barrel political considerations than sound economic judgment, bringing with them at least a whiff of crony capitalism.

The speech highlighted waste and mismanagement through Covid-19, for example, including on the test-and-trace programme and the purchase of faulty antibody tests. Any errors are more forgivable in a pandemic when there were potentially huge returns on such investments and time is of the essence.

But those types of criticisms will likely amplify with Conservatives’ newfound penchant for large regional infrastructure projects (prone to massive cost overruns) and place-based revival packages (prone to political cronyism). Again, the argument that Conservative economic decisions are politically-motivated and wasteful is a very different attack than the more ideological opposition from Corbyn and McDonnell.

None of this is to say that all of Dodds’ analysis is coherent or correct. The theme of the speech was “resilience” – that is, how the pandemic shows the need for an economy robust to future shocks. Mercifully, Labour has not jumped on the bandwagon of saying the pandemic proves we need the government to actively re-shore a whole bunch of medical manufacturing production—the braindead, yet widespread “fight the last war” recommendation of those unable to conceive of shocks originating here. Yet there was still a bit of a “this crisis proves much of what I’ve always believed to be true” about her analysis.

Dodds suggested, for example, that a lack of savings among the poor, job insecurity among gig economy workers, and “socio-economic inequality” all help explain Britain’s poor Covid-19 outcomes. Perhaps on the margins those factors did make things worse. But the overwhelming reason why the UK has performed badly so far relative to countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand, is surely little to do with the labour market or macroeconomic policy, and almost entirely explained, to the extent that policy can actually explain things, by public health decisions at various times.

It is within Labour’s comfort zone to say reducing inequality and strengthening workers’ rights would have mitigated the costs of this pandemic. It would have been braver for them to expose failures in government bodies: say, Public Health England, whose centralisation of testing proved a disaster; or the NHS, with its systemic rationing reducing the incentive for spare capacity; or government scientists, who downplayed the early need for tough measures and told people mask wearing was unnecessary. If they really want “resilience,” they would surely explore the future case for deregulation in medical innovation. Earlier human challenge vaccine trials, for example, could have sped up delivery or a working vaccine, negating much of the last year’s pain.

Such a broad evaluation was perhaps always too much to hope for. But this speech proved that Labour is developing a more refined critique of the Conservatives. This is not the sort of emotional “blood on their hands” or anti-capitalist screeching we saw from Corbyn’s Labour.

Instead it is a crisp focus on the need for decisiveness, competence, and propriety in delivering effective government. The upgrade in opposition may well, in time, sharpen government decision-making. But a party with half-baked plans to rebalance the economy through massive infrastructure projects and shifting around government departments, led by a Prime Minister known for making late calls, may find such criticisms difficult to shake off.

Daniel Hannan: If a restaurant can refuse to serve you, Amazon can refuse to host Parler

20 Jan

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

Trump’s Twitter ban is being treated as a free speech issue, but it isn’t. Properly understood, it’s a free association issue. The First Amendment to the US Constitution does not give Americans the right to say whatever they want in whatever forum they please. What it says is that “Congress shall make no law” abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.

In other words, provided you stop short of direct incitement to criminality, you can legally say whatever you like. But, though the government can’t shut you up, there is no obligation on anyone else to provide you with a microphone. You have the right to free speech, but everyone else has the right to free association. A restaurant can refuse to serve you because you’re not wearing a tie. A hotel can turn you away because it doesn’t cater for children. An online platform can reject your custom because it doesn’t like your opinions.

Whether a platform is wise to exercise that right is a different question. When I was an MEP, Facebook, Google and the rest used to fall over each other to assure us that they had no editorial control, and therefore could not be held liable for anything that appeared under their banners. That argument is now redundant, and I suspect the big tech companies will come to regret the shift. But, as a matter of broad principle, our starting assumption should be that a private company can set its own terms and conditions and pick its own customers.

Freedom of assembly and association is, or ought to be, as fundamental a right as freedom of speech and expression. We talked a great deal about the loss of our liberties in 2020, but it wasn’t our right to worship, speak out or cast a ballot that was suspended. The heaviest constraint, the one we all felt, was being unable to congregate as we pleased.

You might think that the lockdowns would have made us appreciate a liberty that, in normal times, we take for granted. That, though, is not how politics works. In practice, every age sacralises certain values, lifting them above the run of normal debate. In mediaeval Europe, the works of the ancient philosophers were judged, not by their accuracy or logic, but by their compatibility with Christian orthodoxy. In our own day, it is the tenets of identity politics that have been sacralised.

Thus, instead, of having an abstract conversation about the value of free expression in a manner that John Milton or J S Mill would have recognised, we start by asking whether it is ok for people to say racist things – an odd way to settle a general principle.

Likewise, when it comes to free association, lots of people see the debate solely through the prism of whether an imaginary private club would be allowed to exclude someone on grounds of ethnicity – a scenario that could come about, I suppose, though it would surely be very rare in this day and age. Hard cases make bad law, goes the saying; and hard putative scenarios make bad general precepts. The correct way to determine our position on human rights is to start from first principles and then see how those principles apply to specific cases rather than the reverse.

What should our first principles be here? Most obviously, a presumption in favour of liberty and property. If people are to be prevented from getting together in whatever combinations they please, there needs to be a good reason. An epidemic might be such a reason. The expectation of equal treatment as a citizen might be another.

In balancing the competing claims of private property and non-discrimination, many countries draw a distinction between ordinary businesses and companies defined as utilities, diluting the rights of the owners in the second category. We might, for example, say that the owner of a small café has the right not to serve her ex-husband, but that she would not have an equivalent right to refuse his custom if she owned an electricity company. We might say (indeed, the law broadly does say) that a religious baker should not be compelled to decorate a cake with a message celebrating gay marriage, but that a railway could not withhold its custom from gay people.

Obviously, people can reasonably disagree about where to draw the line. But wherever we draw it, it should then apply to everyone equally. Equality before the law means precisely that. Either the café owner has the right to refuse someone service or she has not. “Laws” as Hayek said, “must be general, equal and certain”.

Where does that leave us with Twitter banning Trump, Amazon banning Parler and the rest? Well, either they are defined as utilities or they are not. If they are, then regulators can tell them whom to serve. If they are not, then they can ban anyone they like: Republicans, Protestants, left-handed people, cartwrights. It’s one or the other.

There may be an immediate test of the principle as the lockdowns end. The Government has, quite rightly, said that it will not make vaccination compulsory or issue immunity certificates. But what if a cruise ship wants proof of vaccination before you board? What if a gym requires a certificate as a condition of membership? I reckon that free association gives them the right to set their own terms. But, either way, the law must be general, equal and certain.

James Frayne: Sunak must resist those calling for radical action on tax

19 Jan

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Speculation is rife the Government is planning to raise taxes in the Budget; the only questions seem to be who they’ll tax and for how long.

Time will tell; I don’t think big tax rises are a given yet, given the economic and political risks associated with such a decision and this Government’s tendency to kick hard decisions down the road until they’re sure they can carry opinion with them.

However, let’s assume the Government are going to raise taxes. Others on this site are better qualified to discuss the relative economic merits of such tax rises, but I set out here where the public are on the subject – and therefore how they might respond to different options said to be under consideration.

Don’t think tax, think living standards

In the 80s and 90s, the Conservatives won elections in part through their aggressive campaigns on tax; they savaged Labour on tax ahead of the upset victory in 1992.

In the three elections since, their tax campaigns weren’t enough to stand up to Blair’s juggernaut. Consequently, in this period, it became commonplace to think the public weren’t bothered about tax at all. And indeed, most contemporary polls on people’s political priorities tend to show the issue of “tax” as being very low down the list of public priorities.

But while “tax” sits low in the polls, “cost of living” or “living standards” are much higher; these are the questions we should be looking at in judging people’s attitudes to tax levels.

The question on tax is in part a question on income: people oppose most tax rises when they’re feeling poor. Massive numbers of people across the country – particularly those in the private sector outside the South East – have had a shocking year and their living standards have taken a battering. Tax levels really matter again, particularly where they directly eat into income.

Fairness, as ever, matters hugely

I know I’m obsessed with the English obsession of fairness, but here we go again: people must believe tax rises are “fair” – in their scale, operation and in who they hit.

Tax rises can never be too large; they must not be retrospective (for example by changing the rules in a way that punish people for lifestyle choices they made many years ago); they must not punish people who have, for example, already paid tax on some of their income; and they should not be targeted at those who are struggling.

Think of those taxes that have attracted public scorn in recent times: the “bedroom tax”; inheritance tax; and the prospect of raiding people’s accounts to pay for social care (effectively a tax). Each of them breached the public’s view of fairness.

Clear policy goals matter

In Westminster, it’s common to hear “people accept tax rises but always on others”. There’s some truth to this, but it needs explanation. Most people are willing to accept higher taxes if they think it’ll do some good.

This is why they initially went along with Gordon Brown’s tax rises in the early 2000s (they were seen as being directly linked to spending on public services), and why they also accepted higher taxes to pay for an increase in NHS spending recently.

It’s also why they are open to taxes being used to promote greener and cleaner lifestyles; while there’s scepticism about politicians’ motives on green taxes, they are open to the tax system being used, if it must be, to deliver policy outcomes like reduced air pollution and so on.

People know there’s no magic money tree

In France, politicians have been up in arms that so-called “Yellow Vest” activists want both higher spending and lower taxes; it’s a criticism occasionally levelled against new Conservative voters.

But it’s generally unfair criticism; most people know the money has to come from somewhere and debt must be repaid; they also know businesses pay a lot of tax. With this in mind, while given a choice they will often say tax “big business” first, they also know this isn’t cost free because it effects their ability to hire and retain staff.

What does all this mean? Probably five things.

Firstly, most fundamentally, any tax rises in the short term will be unpopular. No surprise there, perhaps, but the point is this: taxing families in a downturn is bad, but taxing their employers will be unpopular too.

It’s easier, as Labour discovered in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to raise taxes when the economy is doing well. It’s hard to see how the Government will be able to raise taxes and not take a hit somehow. Politically speaking, it’s about choosing the least-worst option; there is no clever route that will make the public think the Government has pulled off a wonderful move.

Secondly, and consequently, the Government should look to cut unnecessary spending wherever possible before raising taxes. People are opposed to tax rises but might reluctantly accept them – as long as it looks like Government has done everything possible to avoid them.

This provokes an immediate response: where on earth would you cut? Education? Welfare? Surely not in a downturn. This is a fair question; but the Government must at least be seen to try to reduce waste (incidentally, Labour are clearly alive to this, as they’ve been increasingly banging the drum on waste).

Thirdly, big bold changes like a wealth tax or equivalent risk political disaster. As discussed, English people go mad when rules change and they find themselves punished through no fault of their own. In this case, telling a group of thrifty, hard-working, older middle-class people they’re going to get whacked because the Government has previously enacted policies that caused their house prices to rocket would be completely politically insane.

With this in mind, politically speaking the Government would be better off pulling the levers that people understand: things like corporation tax, VAT and so on. While they would still be unpopular, they wouldn’t deliver massive losers – or, rather, massive new losers. Better to play safe.

Fourthly, the Government should consider one-off hits, justified by the need to pay for a year of massive but necessary largesse. Just as Labour introduced a one-off “Windfall Tax”, so the Government should consider one or more similar emergency taxes. People like to know what tax rises are for; they like them to be justified. There has probably never been a better time to justify a single, simple, one-off tax rise.

Fifthly, and finally, the Government should ignore the noise in the media on which products, sectors or businesses are popular or not as they consider who to tax. Instead, the Government should look at the actual choices ordinary people make in their daily lives: how they get to work; where they work; what they buy; where they buy; how they buy; and so on. The choices people actually make in life are usually the ones they really don’t want taxed.

Pretty soon, the media will be saying this Budget will make or break Rishi Sunak. A solid budget with no major political mistakes and commentators will be practically redecorating Downing Street on his behalf; a different outcome and you know the rest.

He will be encouraged to be big and bold and to do everything from launch Global Britain, to “level up” the country, and to pay off a massive chunk of new debt. I strongly suspect, when it comes down to it, he’ll play safe by using the tax system in the way we’ve all come to know – and he’ll announce that the Budget will be followed in short order by new statements on spending. In other words, he’ll try to stop people thinking this is a “one off” event.

But at the same time he’ll be thinking of his version of a Windfall Tax – and that could get dropped at any time.

Radical: A University lesson from the Kathleen Stock fracas. It’s harder to support her if you’re a younger academic.

19 Jan

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical. She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this fortnightly column on trans, sex and gender issues.

Regular readers of this column will know that the two of us who write it have some differences of opinion. Since one of us is a classical liberal (me), and the other a classic conservative (Victoria), you might not be surprised to learn we disagree about the honours system. One of our many points of agreement, however – regardless of whether the UK should have such a system – is that there are few people in public life more deserving of public gratitude than Kathleen Stock.

Professor Stock was awarded an OBE in December for ‘services to higher education and academic freedom’. Over the past decade, she has written and spoken at increasing length about sex and gender, emphasising her concerns about the rise of ‘gender-identity’ activism. She has approached this as a trained philosopher – writing analytically about complex matters in a clear and coherent manner.

I, for one, find her approach comes as a sharp relief, amid the sea of stream-of-consciousness ‘arguments’ from ‘authority’ that make up most of the contemporary writing on these matters. And I challenge anyone to read her relevant public philosophy and fail to understand exactly what she’s saying. Now, being clear is, of course, insufficient in itself. But it’s hard to stress quite how rare it is, today – not just in public writing about sex and gender, but, sadly, in academic writing more generally.

One reason Stock focuses on the area of sex and gender (having previously written mostly about aesthetics) is evident from something she wrote last weekend:

“People such as me are going to carry on thinking and writing about [the risks of uncritically assuming gender identity to be more important than biological sex] even if many of our colleagues would prefer us to shut up. I’m afraid we can’t afford to stop. The costs to the public are too large to do otherwise.”

Two salient points to take from this are that –

a) Stock believes that if she and others stop doing the kind of thing she’s doing, serious harms will ensue; and

b) that there are many people who want her and those others to stop.

The first point relates to the substance of arguments she makes: about the risks ‘natal’ women face if ‘natal’ men who self-identify as women are permitted general access to women-only spaces;* the societal importance of acknowledging biological truth; and the requirement to respect obligations of care towards children who aren’t capable of consenting to taking life-changing drugs of the type prescribed by the Gender Identity Development Service.

The second point relates specifically to the appalling treatment Stock constantly faces at the hands of others within academia. Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn she needs extra security on campus. Beyond that, just consider the past few weeks.

After the OBE announcement, many professional philosophers denigrated Stock on social media. They claimed she’s a weak philosopher, whose work is unworthy of public honour, and even – in one notable case – that it’s totally lacking in value. Learning, however, that the OBE hadn’t been awarded for the philosophical merit of Stock’s corpus, but for her embodiment of commitment to free speech, her opponents turned to character assassination.

Hundreds of academics signed a public letter stating their dismay at the OBE, on the implicit grounds that Stock is transphobic. Whilst this un-evidenced and defamatory specific accusation isn’t directly put into words, the letter is entitled ‘Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy’, and includes claims such as: “[d]iscourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to […] harms” against trans people.

That the letter included a serious substantive error (it stated that Stock opposed the GRA, rather than particular reforms to it) seemed of little concern to its organisers. Indeed, they stuck with the letter’s original uncorrected text for some time, preferring to present exactly what their initial signatories had agreed to (see the first attempt at an erratum), over removing untruths about Stock’s views.

This was actually helpful: it showcased the lack of value these people place in truth. This is unsurprising, of course, since dangerous truth-denying post-modernist roots lie beneath many of the ‘arguments’ that Stock’s work counters.

The letter’s organisers have now added a correction, however – in parenthesis, asterisked to an updated erratum. Even post-modernists understand the costs of being seen not to care about truth, it seems. (Of course, many of the signatories are not signed-up post-modernists. But I’d bet all of them believed signing would bring personal career benefits over costs.)

One particularly badly-thought-through take making the rounds these past couple of days explicates the matter further. Apparently, because Stock has an academic book coming out, because she’s given prestigious lectures (amid angry petitions), because she’s been able to reveal her struggles in the national press, and because she’s been awarded an OBE (suddenly of interest to philosophers all over the world..), therefore, they claim, she’s not ‘being silenced’.

Now, current obsession with the term ‘silencing’ is surely generally unhelpful. Attacks on free speech aren’t limited to instances of literal gagging. In a liberal democracy, it’s required that all members of society are able to speak out about whatever they want. Yes, certain conditions are typically placed on this, such as that constituted by J.S. Mill’s famous ‘harm principle’. But just because someone is able to speak publicly in certain privileged ways – indeed, even if they were able to shout directly into everyone’s ears, via some clever new technology – doesn’t mean their freedom of speech is not unjustifiably at risk.

Such risk can come from many places – not only from within the formal apparatus of the state, but from other institutions, groups, and individuals. A liberal democratic society must model an environment of deliberation, equally open to every member. We all have responsibilities, here. But foremost among the institutions expected to help maintain this environment are educational establishments. Within those, if you’re lucky, you’ll find some philosophers.

Philosophers are people committed to searching out truth. They understand the value of formal argument, and practise it. Not to denigrate or otherwise harm others, but to try to reach truths, by fully testing differing positions, which involve obviously firm things like scientific facts, and less obvious but nonetheless equally firm things like values and principles. We need these people badly. We need them, not least, to help us find our way through important but difficult and emotive debates.

So you should be pleased to hear of a second public letter. Entitled ‘Open Letter Concerning Academic Freedom’, its academic signatories state their consternation at the ‘public vilification’ the anti-Stock letter represents.

But, beyond concerns about the value of public letters, there’s something else worth considering. Although it’s cheering to note that many more philosophical ‘big hitters’ signed up to the second letter than the first, that doesn’t mean all’s well.

Successful older academics can say pretty much whatever they like, as long as they provide decent reasons – certainly without fear of career cost. But junior scholars don’t have that luxury. Telling a twenty-something graduate student ‘hey, don’t worry, you’re on the side of some of the most famous living philosophers!’ doesn’t mean much. Not when they know that their peers – and the academic administrators they depend on for preferment – are watching for any ‘misstep’, fingers on the screenshot buttons. Academic freedom? Doesn’t sound like it to me.


*Stock doesn’t use the term ‘natal’ like this, anymore. I think that’s generally a good call, but I’m using it here for clarity in the context of a limited word count.

Richard Holden: Biden’s inauguration this week boosts Britain’s new opportunity to pivot to the world

18 Jan

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Office of Richard Holden, Medomsley Rd, Consett.

Some readers will have seen and many more heard of the hit American musical, Hamilton. I saw it and loved so much that I went back again a few months later to see it a second time.

One of the songs that stuck with me, even though it isn’t one of the top tunes from the show, is called “One Last Time”. It’s about George Washington’s decision to step aside rather than continue to fight for further terms as President. Washington tells Hamilton that he’s doing so to teach the fledgeling republic “how to say goodbye.”

Sadly, the turmoil in the United States that has gripped the world in the last few weeks stands in stark contrast to Washington’s idealism. The vanity of a soon-to-be former President and the violent protests he caused are appalling.

And most shamefully, what could have been a moment of unity for the United States and a marker to the world about democracy and the peaceful transition of power has distracted from a real totalitarian government elsewhere: the moves by the Chinese Communist Party to end the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong, plus its continued oppression of the Uighur people.

Amidst this melee, a new US President will be inaugurated. He has already signalled his intent to re-establish the role of the United States on the world stage. The United Kingdom is busily involved with this change, too, following Brexit and is rightly pursuing it – especially in relation to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP for short).

The global ‘pivot to the Indo-Pacific’ has been going on for some time, and CPTPP provides two things. Most importantly, reduced tariff barriers to a new free trade zone with the established (Australia, Canada, Japan etc) and emerging and growing (Vietnam, Mexico, Chile, etc) economies of the Pacific rim. Second, with 13 per cent of global GDP (16 per cent if the UK joins) working together, this provides a strong counter-weight that, if the UK joins, will be as large as China economically.

To take advantage of this emerging space of global power, the UK needs to demonstrate that we’re up for being a long-term partner to the region via the CPTPP. Importantly, such a move would ensure that we can retain our place, with our new-found status as a newly independent trading nation, as the pre-eminent global hub for business – especially legal and financial services and high specification manufacturing exports.

Critically, as the global coronavirus pandemic has shown too, we’ve got to both look at better domestic supply chains, but also at more diverse international supply chains. That means looking further than just China to broader partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. That’s especially critical as we push to be global champions of free trade and fighting protectionism – while also tied to a rules-based international system of countries that respect the rule of law,

Following Brexit, Liz Truss and her team at the Department of International Trade have been busily signing trade deals around the world – the ones that some people said we couldn’t do or would be wouldn’t be as good for Britain, but have proved quite the opposite. The UK already has or is in the late stages of, bilateral trade agreements with nine out of the 11 existing CPTPP member countries.

With UK investments in CPTPP countries at £98 billion, these countries accounting for £111 billion worth of UK trade in 2019  and trade growing at eight per cent a year, joining now opens the way to putting nitrous oxide into our tank for increase trade with the Indo-Pacific region.

With the CPTPP removing tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between members and cutting other barriers to trade, there would be boosts to such sectors such as the automotive one, which exported £3 billion in cars to the CPTPP countries last year. This is massively important to help level up our regions with good, private sector jobs, which are the basis for funding our public services.

With the United Kingdom having just taken up the presidency of the G7, a new US president in place imminently, and increasing revulsion around the world at the way China is treating both the Uighur people and the people of Hong Kong, there is a new opportunity. For a new internationalism with the twin aims of rules based international security and rules based international trade in which Global Britain can play a crucial role. Accessing the CPTPP and building those bridges worldwide is a natural next step that Britain should now take with confidence.

David Gauke: The Covid paradox for Johnson: the nearer to normality we get, the more difficulties he’ll have

16 Jan

One consistent characteristic of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK is that at the bleakest moments in the health situation, Boris Johnson’s position in the Conservative Party has been at its strongest, but when the health news is less unremittingly grim, the internal politics become harder for the Prime Minister.

Overwhelmingly, the country rallied around Johnson last spring. His popularity started to fray once the simple ‘stay at home’ message was replaced by a more complex and nuanced one. This was also the point at which some of Conservative MPs started to argue that restrictions needed to be relaxed more quickly.

By the autumn, the process of relaxing restrictions had to be reversed. A pattern started to emerge. The Government’s scientist advisers, Matt Hancock and Michael Gove would favour tighter restrictions; Keir Starmer would eventually called for these; Conservative MPs would complain that the existing ones were bad enough; the Prime Minister would delays making a decision until the evidence was overwhelming, and would then act. Whether with hindsight or foresight, the evidence suggests that the Prime Minister was right to act but that he should have done so earlier.

This approach – as seen with the autumn lockdown, the Christmas restrictions and the January closure of schools – is far from an ideal way to handle a pandemic, but timely interventions would have made party management all the more difficult.

We are now entering into a new stage of the crisis. Notwithstanding that Covid deaths are at record levels and likely to rise for another week or two, there are now reasons to be optimistic. The most recent lockdown is working and cases are falling. The first stage of the vaccine rollout appears to be accelerating. Focus now appears to be moving to be where the country will be in mid-February when, all being well, the first four priority groups – who have constituted 90 per cent of fatalities – will have received a first dose. What happens then?

Steve Baker fired a warning shot, albeit one aimed at his own foot, in writing to Parliamentary colleagues calling for them to contact the Chief Whip demanding that the Government set out “a clear plan for when our full freedoms are restored and a guarantee that [the lockdown] strategy will not be used again next winter”. If not, “the debate will become about the PM’s leadership”.

Within a couple of hours of this communication leaking, Baker tweeted his undying loyalty to the Prime Minister. All somewhat embarrassing, but maybe this was just an error of timing. Many MPs will be calling for a return to complete normality once the first phase of the vaccination process has been completed, and will react in horror if they do not get their way. The Government will have to lift restrictions or have a good explanation for failing to do so.

It will not be enough to say that the people most enthusiastically calling for an immediate “restoration of our full freedoms” are the same people who have been consistently obtuse in understanding the implications of the pandemic.

Some of them may have argued that the virus would disappear in the summer, that we were close to herd immunity, that rising cases were caused by false positives, that there have not been many excess deaths this winter and that lockdowns do not work (although it is unclear as to whether they question whether the virus is spread through human contact or whether lockdowns reduce human contact).

Such positions may have been understandable at earlier stages in this crisis but should have been long abandoned. The best anti-lockdown argument – ‘we cannot do this forever’ – is no longer applicable now we have a vaccine.

Nonetheless, if the Infection Fatality Rate is going to be reduced to a very low percentage, there is clearly a case for easing restrictions given the enormous economic costs of the lockdown. Why might this not be the approach the Government takes?

First, deaths may well start to fall substantially in March, but pressure on the NHS – especially Intensive Care Units – will remain high. Many of the people in ICUs are under the age of 60.

Second, the new variant is very transmissible. A rapid return to normal is likely to result in very high infection levels. The IFR might be very low, but if the numbers infected are very high, deaths – and deaths of relatively young people – will still be significant whilst Long Covid will be a major problem. Meanwhile, those vulnerable people who are not vaccinated or for whom the vaccine might not work will be very exposed.

Third, in the circumstances of widespread infections, consumer and employee behaviour will not return to normal. A lesson of the last year is that there is not a straightforward trade-off between health and the economy – scared people change their behaviour.

Fourth, where there is an opportunity for widespread transmission of the virus, there is a greater opportunity for the virus to mutate and escape the vaccine.

I make these points not to argue that all restrictions should remain in place for months on end (I happen to think that there is a very persuasive case to reopen primary schools before long, but that the speed at which restrictions are lifted is going to require some finely-balanced decisions on which reasonable people will disagree. Or to put it another way, there is going to be an almighty row in the Conservative Party in late February and early March.

There are two things the Government could do to contain this.

The Government would be wise to start explaining the considerations sooner rather than later, even if that means dashing some unrealistic expectations. They have to retain flexibility to react to new circumstances (which is why calls for ‘guarantees’ are ill-judged), and detailed programme of how restrictions will be removed would be unwise, but the public deserve to be treated as grown-ups.

Assuming that the removal of restrictions will be gradual and cautious, the Government should make that argument now, even if it antagonises some MPs earlier than otherwise. Prepare the ground.

It also needs to be ambitious in completing the rollout of the vaccine. At present, the process appears to be going very well, and there are reasons to think that the Government is, uncharacteristically, under-promising and over-delivering. The February target for the top four priority groups looks attainable, and the rest of phase one looks set to be done by early April at the latest.

It is vital, however, that momentum on the rollout is not lost once the priority groups have been done. If at all possible, completing the vaccination programme in the early summer, rather than the autumn, will help the country – and the Government – avoid a whole heap of pain.

The main constraint appears to be supply but if this can be addressed, there is a case for being more imaginative in the delivery of injections (I have argued for using the local government infrastructure that sets up polling stations to deliver vaccinations). However it is done, the Government must keep its foot on the pedal in terms of vaccinating the whole population as quickly as possible.

It is sadly inevitable that many thousands of Covid deaths will occur in the next few weeks, but this does appear to be a case when the darkest hour will be just before the dawn. The new dawn, however, may bring new challenges for the Prime Minister.

Iain Dale: Biden has neither the imagination nor energy to heal his tearful nation

15 Jan

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

On Wednesday I got the chance to interview James Comey, former FBI Director, for thirty minutes. He’s got a new book out called Saving Justice and was doing the rounds of UK broadcasters.

I was a bit hacked off to have to sign a non-disclosure agreement which prevented us from broadcasting it on that evening’s show, but when I saw he was on Newsnight I understood why. They always insist on going first. Emily Maitlis interviewed him for ten minutes and, although it was all interesting stuff, I compared it to what I had got out of him in thirty minutes and decided it was yet another example of where the long-form interview wins out.

Mind you, it wasn’t plain sailing. I’m working from home at the moment, so we did it on Zoom, but as a fail safe also recorded it on an audio system called iPDTL.

However, when Comey came online I could hear myself back in my ears two second later, and everything he said came through twice. I was already quite nervous and a bit daunted by interviewing Comey, having read his first book A Higher Loyalty.

I also had had very little time to do any preparation, so I was well and truly flying by the seat of my pants. But experience tells me that the less preparation I do for an interview, the better the interview is. I had no list of questions, or even a list of topics. And that works for me. It doesn’t for everyone.

It turned out to be, I thought, an absolutely gripping conversation, for that’s what I wanted it to be – a conversation. And there were about a zillion newslines that came out of it. Anyway, you can judge for yourself and download it now on the Iain Dale Book Club podcast, should you so wish.

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It’s difficult to think of a political leader who has left office in such a state of disgrace as Donald Trump. And he has 100 per cent brought it upon himself. He still inspires massive loyalty and devotion from his MAGA fan club, but to most of those who have observed him closely over the last few years, this Wagnerian denouement was almost inevitable.

While I disagree with him being no-platformed on most forms of social media, the ban on Twitter has diminished him almost beyond recognition. Anything good he did, whatever achievements he may have had (and contrary to a widely held popular view, there were more than a few, especially in the field of foreign policy) have been relegated to a footnote in all his political obituaries. The narcissist has shattered his own mirror.

The inauguration of Joe Biden will not end the great divides that have been exacerbated over the last four years. The impeachment hearings will further entrench that divide. And if Trump is indeed found guilty in a Senate trial (which I doubt), then it won’t just be a divide, it will be a chasm. Biden has neither the imagination, nor the energy, to heal his tearful nation. It will take more than four years of steady as she goes to achieve that.

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Partly because of the nature of the modern-day publishing industry and partly because today’s politicians don’t seem to be prolific writers in the way that politicians used to be, we don’t see too many political memoirs come onto the market nowadays. Perhaps it’s also because we have so few politicians who might merit writing a memoir, you might think, should you be of a more cynical persuasion.

Over Christmas I read the memoirs of Tim Sainsbury, former mid-ranking minister in the Thatcher government and MP from Hove from 1973 to 1997. The book is self-deprecatingly titled Among the Supporting Cast. In many ways it harked back to the days when even the most junior minister would write a memoir when they left politics.

It takes a lot for me not to enjoy a political memoir, but this book achieved it. As I sit here writing this column, I can’t think of a single interesting anecdote or conclusion from the book to regale you with.

The next memoir on my list to read is a new book Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster by David Amess, the Southend MP. He was famously the MP for Basildon but switched to safer climes when his boundary changes affected his seat adversely. I first knew him when he was first elected in 1983, and there aren’t many MPs from that massive intake left in the Commons.

He’s never achieved ministerial office for reasons I have never quite been able to fathom. He’s been part of the poor bloody infantry for 38 years and has witnessed all the tumult over nearly four decades. I can’t imagine he has it in him to write a boring book, but I’ll let you know when I’ve finished reading it!

Henry Hill: MSPs concerned that Scottish Government spent tens of thousands ‘preparing’ witnesses

14 Jan

Taxpayers face new £55,000 bill to prep civil servants for Salmond hearings

On Monday, I wrote about the latest twist in the ‘Alex Salmond saga’ which is gripping Scottish politics. The former First Minister has made explosive allegations against his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, to the effect that she has broken the Ministerial Code and misled the Scottish Parliament. If substantiated, they could end her career.

The First Minister already seems to be in a potentially tricky position. Salmond claims to have several witnesses who can corroborate his version of events, whereas Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell (who also happens to be the SNP’s Chief Executive) have contradicted each others’ testimony.

Now the Daily Telegraph reveals that Scottish taxpayers stumped up almost £55,000 to help “prepare” six senior civil servants who gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the affair, sparking concerns from astonished MSPs that these witnesses might have been ‘coached’. As the paper reports:

“Staff logs released in response to a Freedom of Information request also show that witnesses spent several hours preparing for sessions, only to then face criticism for “forgetting” crucial details, giving misleading evidence, or dodging questions. Despite the extensive and costly preparation, and appearing under oath, four of the six civil servants were forced to correct or clarify their evidence after their appearances.”

Salmond himself has also hit out at the expense, saying that “the cost of the cover-up continues to mount”. MSPs are of course investigating because he ended up being awarded over £500,000 in costs after the courts ruled that the Scottish Government’s initial inquiry into him was unlawful and potentially biased.

The Telegraph also reports that the ex-SNP leader is wrangling with lawyers over whether or not he can release certain documents he obtained during his trial. Salmond says that if he is not allowed to do so, it may render him unable to fulfil his oath of truthfulness in front of MSPs.

In the meantime, the Nationalists’ posture of extreme defensiveness towards the whole thing is unchanged. Having frequently stonewalled the inquiry and refused to release evidence, now John Swinney, the SNP’s deputy leader, has refused to broaden the scope of the inquiry into his boss.

According to the Herald, a cross-party group of MSPs on the Holyrood committee wanted the Scottish Government to formally broaden the scope of the investigation being conducted by James Hamilton, the independent advisor on the Code, to address the specific allegations levelled by Salmond. But whilst Sturgeon has said that he can explore ‘any issue’, Swinney’s refusal to officially sanction the broader investigation suggests they are not nearly so relaxed as the First Minister would like people to believe.

There were also some interesting stories on the health front. First, the Sunday Mail revealed that the SNP’s £500 bung to NHS workers is being paid for out of the Covid-19 grant from Westminster. This has been attacked because it will go to “highly paid doctors and health service ­managers” and not low-paid frontline workers outwith the NHS.

Second, the Times reports that claims by Jeane Freeman, the Nationalist health minister, that the UK Government had ‘back-ended’ Scotland’s vaccine shipments are not borne out by the data. Earlier this week, my colleague Charlotte revealed that SNP members are amongst the least likely to take the vaccine, and most likely to worry that it will prove unsafe or ineffective, of any political group.

Nor have the other divisions within the SNP gone away whilst this drags on. This week Joanna Cherry, a high-profile Nationalist MP and ally of Salmond, made headlines by urging separatist activists to prepare alternative pathways to independence in the event that the British Government continues to refuse to grant a re-run of the 2014 vote. This reflects growing grassroots frustration with Sturgeon’s gradualist, by-the-book approach which could yet boil over if the First Minister finds herself politically wounded, yet in office and deprived of a plebiscite, after the upcoming Scottish elections.

Johnson and Gove to meet and set Union strategy

On the subject of the referendum, the Herald reports that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove “are set to hold private talks on how to give the Union a “big push” in the face of rising support in opinion polls for Scottish independence and May’s Holyrood elections.”

The plan is apparently to launch a new campaign to promote the UK in the spring, ahead of the Scottish elections currently slated for May but which will probably be pushed back into the summer. Officials have reportedly been discussing the four Home Nations ‘jumping together’ to delay the polls. Central to it will be the delayed Dunlop Review, which is looking at how the British Government can maintain and enhance its ‘Union capability‘ in the era of devolution.

As I noted on UnHerd yesterday, such a meeting could also see an important clash between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (‘CDL’, in Whitehall parlance) over the broader direction of the Government’s pro-UK strategy. Johnson’s instincts seem to be much more aggressive than Gove’s, who has some in government worried about an ‘appease the SNP’ mentality on the part of his team.

In other news Michelle Ballantyne, a right-wing MSP who has previously challenged for the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives, has defected to become the first representative in the Scottish Parliament of Reform UK, Nigel Farage’s latest vehicle. This will probably be a disappointment to the Alliance for Unity (George Galloway’s outfit), who have been trying to position themselves as the outsiders’ force in Scottish unionism.

Garvan Walshe: Conservatives need to choose. Are they with democracy or with the Capitol terrorists?

14 Jan

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

“Where are all the moderate Republican Imams?” asked David Frum, former speechwriter to George W Bush, after the Donald Trump-incited mob had ransacked the Capitol.

We came to learn that the 9/11 attacks, far from coming out of a clear blue sky, were the product of decades of radicalisation that Saudi Arabia had sponsored – because it gave its religious radicals something to do; because it allowed the kingdom to compete for influence with revolutionary Iran; and because the extremists sincerely believed in the doctrines to which the Saudi state paid only lip service. Riyadh was forced into a bloody counter-insurgency campaign against domestic terrorists and fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attack on the Capitol, in which an absurdly-dressed mob gave cover for what the FBI is now investigating as a terrorist plot to take senators hostage, is the direct result of Trump sponsoring the anti-democratic Right in America.

This is the price of the GOP’s deal with Trump. Trump added fringe voters to the Republican coalition, gave them power for four years and allowed it to put three judges on the Supreme Court, but it’s brought about the biggest threat to democracy in America since the Civil War.

Trump’s bullying of his party through his celebrity appeal to the Republican base, threatening any congressman or senator with the American equivalent of deselection in primaries, will be familiar to many current and former Conservative MPs, as well as to Democratic politicians at the receiving end.

But after losing to Joe Biden in November, Trump went beyond political hardball to subvert the constitution itself. Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s elections chief resisted (we know, because he taped Trump’s threats), but 138 congressmen and seven senators broke their oaths of office to try and overturn the votes of the American people on the basis of Trump’s own lies about electoral fraud.

It seems that some Capitol policemen also broke their oaths, refusing to defend the Capitol from the mob. More worrying still is the slowness with which Defense Department Officials responded to requests for them to authorise the deployment of the DC national guard, and to give permission for Virginia and Maryland to send backup. In the end it was Mike Pence, himself under siege in the Capitol building, who stood in to authorise intervention.

Τhe crisis is about far more than Trump’s personality. In fact, his outrageously flawed character hides the danger he poses, in the same way that animal-skin clad rioter obscured the much more serious kidnapping plot at the Capitol. Trumpists and many democratic American conservatives agreed about getting their people onto the Supreme Court, limiting abortion and restricting immigration, but they should disagree on how it can get done.

What distinguishes the anti-democratic right from democratic conservatives is not policy, but the concept of political office.

American government, like that in all liberal democracies, was created to be carried out by people who hold certain political offices subject to constitutional law and conventions. That’s what John Adams meant when he talked of a “government of laws, and not of men.” In liberal democracies, we don’t elect kings, but people who are temporarily “clothed”, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, in the powers of the office they hold.

Democratic conservatives believe that people hold specific powers in trust, repsecting the laws and conventions made in the past, and keeping them, adapted for the changing times, to hand over to their successors. The anti-democratic right wants to put their leaders in total power, to enact their will, disregarding traditions of the past and stability in the future.

They say it’s because people have the right to hire their leaders, and fire them when they come up short. But Trump’s behaviour gives the lie to that. Despite the American people firing him, Trump tried to intimidate election officials and incited a violent mob to try and stay in power anyway: there’s a technical term for this, by the way, invented in Latin America, it’s an autogolpe or self-coup.

Thanks to four years of encouragement from Trump, there’s now a large number of radicalised, violent and armed anti-democratic rightists in the United States. The FBI is bracing itself for coordinated acts of violence in on inauguration day.

As with all terrorist movements, the violent few are surrounded by a penumbra of fellow-travellers who make excuses for them, give them platforms on TV, amplify them on social media, and argue that their grievances must be addressed in the name of peace and unity. As with Islamist or Northern Irish terrorism, this would be a grave mistake.

The terrorists must be brought to justice, their funds caught off and the arguments of their fellow-travellers dismissed. Please no more specious arguments about Trump being “censored” by Twitter. Even had Twitter been a state entity, his megaphone should have been removed as a threat to public safety.

The application of the US’s extensive anti-terrorist legislation needs to be vigorous and swift. It must deny this movement access to weapons. It must put its leaders and activists behind bars. Trump and his accomplices need to be banned from future public office, either through an impeachment or the use of the third clause of the 14th Amendment.

Then there is the ideological battle against the anti-democratic tenets of this movement, which is not confined to America. The issue not that they are “extreme”, but that they’re anti-constitutional. Let them hold positions as right-wing as they like, and compete for support like anyone else, but only within the limts of constitutional government, where laws apply to public office-holders, and are adjudicated by independent courts.

As during the Cold War, where it was democratic lefitsts who stood up to violent communists, it’s now up to democratic conservatives to dismantle the ideology of the anti-democratic right, and its dangerous idea that law, constitutions, and the civil political process are part of some plot by a “liberal elite” or “activist lawyers”.

Even where we agree with some hard-right policies, or sympathise with their positions (about left-wing dominance at universities, say), upholding the institutions and norms of parliamentary democracy has to come first, something that escaped our own absurdly-dressed (and visually challenged) revolutionary before he was ejected.

Otherwise, make no mistake, they’ll come for us. No amount of toadying to Trump protected Mike Pence or Mitch McConnell on January 6th. All conservatives have to choose: are they with democracy or with the terrorists?

Robert Halfon: The levelling-up ladder risks being knocked away by Covid-inspired decisions on education

13 Jan

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Last week, having previously advised that schools would remain open – that the risk to children was low, that classrooms were safe and that closures had a marginal effect on transmission – the Government decided to reach a consensus with the education unions and shut school doors. At the same time, the decision to go ahead with exams was scrapped and pupils will now, for the second year in a row, be under a system of centre-assessed grades.

As pointed out by Department for Education (DfE) Ministers on a call with MPs just two weeks ago, one of the most senior CMO officials said:

“There is no evidence younger children transmit the new strain of the virus at the same rate as adults, and there is no evidence the new strain of the virus causes more serious illness in either children or adults” .

A statement on January 2 from the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health (RCPCH) noted:

“Children’s wards are usually busy in winter. As of now, we are not seeing significant pressure from Covid-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with Covid-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only. The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people.”

Conservative MPs were also told by the DfE about a recent study by Public Health England, which concluded that:

“School closures would have only a minor and temporary effect on transmission rates, and the wider impact of this on children’s social, physical, educational and emotional development would be significant.”

If the science has changed, and the new variant represents a serious threat to children, teachers and support staff, then the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief Medical Officer should, at the very least, set out the evidence explaining this, and why everything they had said about the need to keep schools open has now changed.

Whether or not a risk assessment was carried out as to the impact of school closures on pupils’ educational attainment, mental health and wellbeing is unknown. If it hasn’t, it should have been, and if it has, it should be published.

What we do know, according to a report by the IFS and Nuffield Foundation, is that education inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers has widened significantly. Since September, disadvantaged children have missed more school than others. They are also less likely to return to schooling, even when given the chance to do so. The IFS state that the pandemic will halt or reverse the closing of the attainment gap – undermining much of the work the Government has done since 2010.

The RCPCH and the Royal Society of Psychiatrists (RSoP) have also highlighted the damage to pupils’ mental health and well-being of school closures. A few months ago, 1,500 members of the RCPCH signed an open letter warning of the “scarring” harm to children’s life chances. Last week, Dr Karen Street, an Officer of the RSoP, wrote harrowingly about the 400 per cent increase in eating disorders amongst young people – partly due to social isolation. On Saturday, in The Daily Telegraph, Dr Bernadka Dubicka, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Child Faculty, reminded readers of the:

“NHS digital data published in October which found one in six five-to-16-year-olds living with a mental health problem, up from one in nine just three years ago.”

She warned that:

“Inequalities will widen, life chances will diminish, and the mental health crisis already running rife in our young people could plague this generation for years to come – that is unless the Government urgently prioritises children and young people and places them at the centre of policy making”

For our younger generation, it looks pretty bleak.

Of course, there is remote learning, but there are still hundreds of thousands of students on the wrong side of the digital divide. The Government is trying to address this, with one million laptops being provided and free mobile data, thanks to an agreement reached with phone operators. However, for all the laptops in the world, it still isn’t enough. We know that online learning can be extremely varied. Moreover, it requires a student to open the computer and to study independently or for parents to provide constant support. School closures put enormous pressures on parents, many of whom are balancing their own work commitments, while trying to help educate their children.

The Government has made its decision on schools and we are where we are. So what should happen now?

First, everything should be done to try and get schools open. If this means ensuring that teachers and support staff are a priority for vaccination (not because one group of workers are favoured over another – but to get pupils back into the classroom and learning again), then so be it. The end of half-term re-opening should be a reality, not just an aspiration.

Second, the DfE must rocket-boost the £1 billion catch-up tuition fund to focus it on disadvantaged areas so that extra assistance can be given to pupils at risk of being left-behind. Mental health support should be provided in schools so that children, parents and teachers who are struggling can access counselling and advice when they need it.

Above all, the Government needs to set out a long-term plan for education – focused on addressing the attainment chasm between the disadvantaged and the better-off and, perhaps, look at the role and effectiveness of the £2.5 billion pupil premium, for starters.

Children, parents, teachers and support staff need an educational route map out of the Covid-19 swamp. Without it, many could be stuck in the mire of an epidemic of educational poverty and a crisis of mental health, long after the pandemic has passed. The levelling-up ladder of opportunity for the coming generation, will have been knocked away.