James Frayne: Churchill – and why the conservative movement would win a culture war. But it would be unpleasant and divisive.

21 Jul

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

The battle over the legacy of Winston Churchill shows in miniature what a big chunk of a future British culture war will look like. It will be one which the conservative movement wins decisively because of mass public support.  But the fighting and winning of the battle will be unpleasant and divisive. So we should hope a serious culture war never comes to pass.

Left-wing activists could spend hundreds of millions on campaigns to attack Churchill over many years, but would make no dent in public support for him. Without doubt, his resolute opposition to Nazism and his brilliant war leadership saved Britain from a successful invasion and shaped the global effort to defeat Hitler. The respect that the British public have had for Churchill since at least mid-way through the war is completely ingrained.

Footage of his funeral, at which working class dock workers lined the Thames to pay their respects is extraordinary to watch. What’s true then is true now. All these years on from his death, serious and sympathetic Churchill books are published; he’s depicted heroically in film; queues still form to see where he lived and worked.

There are many things to dislike about Churchill; his record as a politician pre-war was patchy at best, with some catastrophic errors of governance. More relevant to this debate, as Andrew Roberts has pointed out, his views on other countries and races were unpleasant for the time and therefore breathtakingly unpleasant now. And he wasn’t universally loved by the British public, either during the war or after it. On the contrary, many post-war Northern families (some of mine, included) were brought up with terrible stories about Churchill’s failures.

But the mass of the public sees Churchill overwhelmingly through the prism of the Second World War and the moral, political and military leadership he provided in the country’s darkest hour. It’s not that they share the same cultural views as Churchill – indeed, most would be horrified by them – but that they have chosen to honour him for his massive achievement in war time. Trying to make the public revile Churchill is like trying to make them feel bad for Britain fighting the Second World War at all; it has no point.

And this is the issue: it’s a pointless battle which the conservative movement (I can’t think of a better term) will win decisively, but in doing so risk opening up old and new wounds between different groups. Because, in doing so, Churchill’s record and views must inevitably be put into context – how could they not be? – and ultimately deemed to matter less on balance than his role as war leader and national saviour.

In turn, those that revile Churchill will be able to claim that most people don’t care about his views, and therefore that Britain is an unenlightened, intolerant country. On this narrow point, this will not be true – people will simply not be able to view him as anything other than a war leader – but there’s a logic to this position.

What’s true of the battle over Churchill will be true too of many other cultural battles too. The public will likely come to support the removal of those historical figures linked with atrocities abroad, but it’s hard to see how they could come to see Sur Francis Drake as anything other than the man who saved England from the Armada. The public will strongly support further efforts to make sure the police better reflects and better serves minority groups, but they will not support anything that looks like “defunding” the police, or which sees them pull back from making streets safer.

Voters will support a balanced narrative about Britain’s past in our schools, but they will want children to mostly feel pride in our past. (Such is public reverence for Churchill that a problem for those campaigning for social and cultural change, is that more palatable changes that the public understand and are happy to get behind, end up being obscured by a debate around Churchill, which they most certainly will not get behind.)

The mass of the public will demand that politicians stand firm on these issues – and will give these politicians strong support as they do so. And as these debates are played out, left-wing campaigns will accuse politicians of fostering intolerance and many in the public of “falling for it” – because, as with Churchill, people will expect politicians to put things in a wider context.

In the public mind: yes, Drake was one of those responsible for the aggressive expansion of England, but he saved England from a successful invasion; yes, the police should be more diverse, but they do a good job in difficult circumstances and limited cash; yes, Britain has done things for which it should be ashamed, but it has also been a force for good.

As all this is played out, as with Churchill, the conservative movement will win these battles, but division will emerge.

Emphatically, this is not to say that campaigns shouldn’t demand social or cultural change. Nor is to say that the public are hostile to such change. As we’ve seen consistently in the last few decades, campaigns have fostered and secured public support behind a range of morally just causes. Rather, it is to say that some harder-left campaigns are seeking battle with the mass of the public on areas where they won’t ever shift, and where the only outcome is victory for the conservative movement, but with division following in its wake. What would ultimately deliver electoral advantage to the Conservative Party would be damaging to the country.

Jeremy Corbyn went full throttle for culture war and it blew up in his face. Those that care about building a more united country, regardless of their party allegiance, should hope that Jeir Starmer steers the Labour Party back to mainstream values – with a focus on practically solving cultural and social problems (as well as economic ones). It’ll make for a more competitive electoral environment, but surely a happier place.

Radical: an open letter to Liz Truss. We urge you to see through your commitment to protect single sex spaces.

21 Jul

Dear Liz,

As you know, we’ve been thinking hard about sex and gender issues. We launched our Radical campaign last November, with the aim of searching out the truth, from a position committed to freedom, tolerance, and equal respect.

As planned, we’ve engaged with people from across the political spectrum, and learned lots from researchers, activists, practitioners, and more. We’re writing to you now to share our latest thoughts, ahead of your expected announcement on the outcome of the consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

Our initial instincts haven’t changed much, although our concern has grown, greatly, the more we’ve learned. Our view remains that people who choose to act in ways stereotypically associated with membership of the opposite biological sex should be treated just as respectfully as anyone else, all other things being equal.

But also, that this doesn’t equate to believing that the law should mandate that biological men must be treated as women, and vice versa, solely on their demand – via ‘self-ID’. That would not only risk a downgrading of the value of truth in our society, it would have serious detrimental consequences for the policy prescriptions that seek to ensure equal opportunity, and the social-science research and records that inform these policies. It would also constitute a safety risk to girls and women, by effectively outlawing single-sex spaces and services.

Our view also remains that, if adults wish to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble those of members of the opposite sex, they should be free to do so. But, that in the case of children, such interventions are always wrong: over the past year, we’ve grown even more committed to fighting against these interventions, which equate to child abuse.

We’ve been grateful to write for ConservativeHome, once a fortnight, about why we hold these views — sharing what we’ve learned with the conservative community. We were aware that many people on the centre-right weren’t engaged with these matters, and we’ve sought to change that.

On that topic, as you’ll know, there’s been a recent flurry of polling and campaigning on sex and gender matters. We believe that the results of recent polls – and how they’ve been reported – serve to illustrate public confusion about relevant current laws, and the reforms that’ve been proposed.

This confusion is persistently manifested in mainstream-media reportage, in policy documents published by state bodies, and in statements by high-profile commentators and politicians. This confusion, as we’ve written here many times, has been propagated by a set of powerful activists, who’ve seized on the uncertainty they’ve sown, to advance their political cause.

Pink News – the chosen media outlet of many of these activists – recently published, with great fanfare, the finding that most women in Britain support the right of transpeople to self-identify. This, they proclaimed, means that the law must be changed to remove the current procedural requirements for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (the document that legally changes a person’s sex).

However, what Pink News has actually done, is to highlight – inadvertently, no doubt – the reason why maintaining these controls on changing legal sex is so important. And also, how the retention of these controls is not only expected by the public, but that these controls are not generally seen as illiberal, or as ‘denying the existence’ of transpeople.

More detailed polling, subsequently released by YouGov, does indeed show high levels of support for people being able to self-identify their gender. But it also shows much lower levels of support for the idea of transwomen using women-only facilities, and serious disagreement — from almost all sections of society — with the idea that the legal ‘gender’-change process should be ‘made easier’.

It also shows widespread opposition to people who’ve not had gender-reassignment surgery using facilities reserved for the opposite sex. This is a crushing blow to those claiming that self-identified gender identity should solely determine one’s entitlements regarding single-sex services. It reflects the traditional understanding that ‘sex’ relates to membership of the biological sets of male or female, and that ‘gender’ relates to stereotypical societal understandings of masculinity and femininity.

As you know, we’re fully committed to free expression, and we’ve stressed many times that we’ll die on the hill for people to be allowed to dress and act however they like. But that doesn’t mean that men – adult human males – should be housed in women’s refuges or prison wings.

Now, you’ll be aware of current siren calls for ‘compromise’, rippling through Conservative Party circles. Common to these is the claim that a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is ‘just a piece of paper’ – and, that, if a GRC makes a vulnerable transperson feel more secure and validated, then what’s the harm in making GRCs available, on demand?

Well, those making such calls simply cannot be aware of the realities of the current relevant laws – and the repercussions such a change would have. It would not only make it much harder to exclude men from women-only spaces, it would also destabilise all manner of legal structures, from equal pay to sex discrimination law to criminal law.

Sadly, the truth is that, as a society, we’ve moved beyond the opportunity of dealing with these matters at the level of individual choice and decency. We urgently need laws that clearly prevent men seeking residency in women’s refuges and prisons; that prevent men rendering women’s sport null; and, yes, that even help to prevent men using women’s toilets.

This is an extremely depressing, yet fully accurate conclusion. And, yes, the current laws are imperfect. In an ideal world, they would be torn up and rewritten, but – unless you have the time to do that (!) – then we are where we are, and the inevitable negative effects of changing these laws must be accepted.

So we urge you to resist the calls for so-called ‘compromise’, and to see through your commitment to protecting single-sex spaces, and to maintaining checks and balances in the gender-recognition process.

Neither of those commitments can be honoured by allowing self-ID. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help support transpeople, and those suffering from gender dysphoria. Aside from small, genuine, unharmful direct compromises — such as removing the fee from seeking a GRC — foremost in these positive actions should be to improve resources for young people.

It must be ensured that children and teenagers get the proper support they need — and they must be protected from being instrumentalised and abused by political activists and politicised medical professionals.

Beyond that, we believe your priority should be to meet the urgent need for the review and clarification of formal guidance around relevant law. On all the YouGov questions, between 21 and 30 per cent of people answered ‘don’t know’. This is unsurprising, given the arcane nature of much of the debate, and — as previously emphasised — the confusing and often seriously manipulated advice that government departments and local authorities have been publishing and endorsing.

With very best wishes,

Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson

Richard Holden: Three opportunities that open for us in an Australian trade deal

20 Jul

Maddisons Coffee Shop, Front Street, Consett

On Saturday, I did my sixth “Lockdown Litterpick”, around the beautiful Bollihope Common. A group of us bagged up five bin bags full of cans, bottles, pizza boxes and the general detritus that had been dumped in one the most beautiful spots in my constituency.

While chatting to my Association Chairman as the rubbish was collected, one of the volunteers revealed that she had emigrated from Canada to marry a Brit almost 40 years ago. Later that afternoon, I spoke with an old friend who had worked with me when I was a Special Adviser, before getting married and returning ‘down under’ to work for the Australian Government.

And later that afternoon still, on my way to my constituency office, I listened with interest to Times Radio as one of their correspondents gave an update on the New Zealand election – where the newly-elected National Party leader, Judith Collins, seems to be clipping the wings of Jacinda Ardern in an election that had until a couple of weeks ago looked as though it was shaping up to be a Labour landslide.

I mention these things because they to remind us that the ties that bind the United Kingdom with Canada, Australia and especially New Zealand are incredibly strong. Yes, they’re linguistic and historic, but they’re also based on families and friendships, and shared mature democratic systems of government underpinned by the rule of law.

As has been seen in recent years in both Australia and the United Kingdom, our Parliaments are more powerful than their premiers and the people aren’t afraid of switching out either if they’re not getting what they want. While Britain has spent the last few decades concerned over and trying to reform the nature of our relationship with the EU (which in 1980 made up 30 per cent of global GDP, but has shrunk to just under 15 per cent today) our CANZUK allies have been reaching out into the world.

I am very aware of how much with the grain some of these thoughts are in traditional conservative circles. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the opportunities presented by closer bonds with our Commonwealth allies are not some nostalgic pipe dream, but instead absolutely central to our future global ambitions, as well as the fillip our post-Coronavirus economy will need.

Our trade deal with Australia looks a though it might be one of the most comprehensive of the ones currently on the table, and there are three aspects of it that I’d like to flag.

First, Australia currently has a 20 per cent tariff on imports of luxury cars. Like the UK, the country is also right-hand drive. With our Range Rovers, Aston Martins and other top marques, surely this must be top target for negotiations.

Second, we’re much more understanding of Australians who want to come and work in the UK than the other way around. As we end our open borders with the EU and look at our Australian-style points-based immigration system, more mutual measures with our cousins in this regard must be a basis of future agreements.

Finally, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all very developed service sector economies, but even our biggest companies are dwarfed by those of our American cousins. By opening our services sectors up to each other, we’ll drive competition, lower prices, increase productivity and, crucially, enable the formation of global firms with the diversity and reach across the globe.

That’s not to mention the new security integrations between our counties as the power structures of the globe tip towards the Pacific more generally and in which Canada, New Zealand and Australia all have a massive stake. We should be looking to leverage our foreign, defence and international assistance policies more generally on these security and international arrangements, as well as looking to build closer ties with an old ally of manufacturing in the North East of England – Japan.

China’s recent actions towards Hong Kong, the Pacific island nations, the South China Sea and, domestically, to its ethnic minority populations should give us all pause for thought. At the forefront of the minds of our allies across Asia and the Pacific is Chinese outward expansionism, control and internal repression

For Britain, out into the world is our call now. The tectonic plates of geo-politics have shifted to the Pacific; away from Europe to the wider globe. The world, not just the continent, is where Britain is at home. Now we’ve got to make the most of the opportunities on our global doorstep – and that starts with building our relationships with our old allies facing a new world on the Pacific rim.

Required next time. A fresh, charistmatic Tory leader who embodies modern, multi-racial Britain. Does that suggest anyone?

18 Jul

‘Don’t be so gloomy, the wheel will turn’. That, in essence, is the counter-argument to my last column.

Two weeks ago, I made the case on this site that the nature of the Conservative Party has changed. It has done so to reflect the fact that the swing voter in the swing seats has a different set of values than was the case before. Compared to the swing voters of the past (and, indeed, the typical Conservative voter of the present), the polling evidence shows that the voters who gave Boris Johnson his electoral triumph in 2019 are economically left wing and socially right wing.

If the Conservatives want to retain those Red Wall seats, I argued, they will need to deliver economic policies that are consistent with these views – high spending and interventionist – and ensure that cultural issues remain salient. It was a depressing conclusion, I argued, if you were a ‘small state free marketeer, or a one nation social liberal’ and that ‘I fear it is too late to turn back’.

One person who took issue with my conclusion was my good friend, David Lidington. As well as being probably the nicest person in politics, he is also one of the wisest. In his response on ConHome, David set out, from the perspective of a liberal Conservative, reasons to be optimistic.

First, he makes the very fair point that, in the 45 years in which he has been a member of the Conservative Party, it has been a home for many different types of Conservative and that ‘different leaders of the party, at different times have chosen to emphasise different elements of the broad Conservative tradition’.

Second, he acknowledges that ‘we shall want to hang on to traditional Labour supporters who lent us their votes last December, which in turn means that in four years’ time they need to see that we are at least beginning to deliver results for their families and neighbourhoods’ but that ‘to win again in 2024 we shall need to secure support from more younger voters than we did in either of the last two elections and to do that will mean reaching out to people whose values are, in the convenient shorthand, more “socially liberal” than those of their parents and grandparents, and who want to see political parties to take seriously their concerns about issues like the environment’.

‘Far from giving up in despair,’ David concludes, ‘liberal, centrist Conservatives should redouble our efforts to influence the party’s thinking about how we can win again in 2024’.

I genuinely wish David and other liberal, centrist Conservatives well in that endeavour. His analysis of the need to appeal to younger more socially liberal voters is one I share for two reasons.

First, I think it would lead to better government and, second, in the longer term, the Conservative Party will need to broaden its base. Relying on the votes of those born before 1960 has obvious long term problems. But in terms of understanding what will happen, there is a tension between what I would like to happen and the Prime Minister’s preferences, as revealed in the events of last year. I suspect those revealed preferences are a more reliable indicator.

Last year’s general election result was a triumph for the Prime Minister. It was the product of strategic clarity. Under Boris Johnson’s leadership, there was no real attempt to appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate (although he received the reluctant support of plenty of Remainers who were terrified of Jeremy Corbyn) but that gave him a clear message which appealed to the half of the country that favoured leaving the EU.

Theresa May had sought to seek a resolution to the Brexit issue that satisfied both sides of the argument. Leavers would see us depart from the EU, Remainers would see sufficient continuity to avoid the economic and security downsides that we feared from a hard Brexit. In my view, this was the sensible approach to the referendum result but by the time we got to last year it had little public support. Opinion was polarised into supporting a hard Brexit at any price or no Brexit at all, as the results in the European Parliamentary elections showed.

Johnson’s strategy was to be clearly identified as being on one side of the argument. In everything he did – from the make-up of the Cabinet, the prorogation of Parliament, the withdrawal of the whip for Conservative rebels, the nature of the general election campaign – was designed to win over the support of Leave voters. Forcing the Brexit Party essentially to step-aside in the general election meant that the Conservative Party had a near monopoly on Leave voters against a divided and badly led opposition.

Some will argue that these were the circumstances of 2019, but that does not make them the circumstances for 2024. And this brings me to the key question. Are we living through a fundamental realignment of British politics? Are our politics no longer defined by divisions on the grounds of economic class but on cultural identity? The somewheres versus the anywheres, the provincial and rural versus the metropolitan, non-graduates versus graduates, the socially conservative versus the socially liberal, the nationalist versus internationalist.

My view is that we are in such a period. More to the point, I think that the Prime Minister and the people around him believe that we are and that their view is that the most likely route to electoral success for the Conservative Party (and the route to success last year) is for the Party to embrace that realignment and establish itself as the Party for those on one side of the new dividing line in British politics.

Brexit may have accelerated this transformation but it did not cause it. Throughout the world, centre-right parties are being dragged in a similar direction as the social democratic left loses its grip on its traditional supporters, providing an opportunity for parties who can defend the cultural identity of those voters.

If that analysis is right (and, again, I would rather it is not), the wheel is not going to turn, at least not for a long time. Political realignments do not happen very often and this realignment has worked out very nicely for the Conservatives so far. But it means that the Conservative Party will not be economically or socially liberal (at least in terms of issues of national identity) for some time to come.

There is one other point. If I am wrong and David Lidington is right that the best course of action is for the Conservatives to seek the support of younger, more socially liberal voters there is a significant obstacle. Even though he is in many ways a social liberal himself, Boris Johnson is too battle-scarred, too associated with Brexit, too polarising to reinvent the Conservative Party yet again.

Fresh leadership by 2024 would be necessary. Someone not associated with the turmoil and divisions of 2016-19, someone with the charisma and communication skills to appeal to younger voters, someone who could embody modern, multi-racial Britain. Maybe, just maybe, such a leader could take the Conservative Party in a different direction. But who could fit the bill? Hmm.

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?

Henry Hill: Reserving control of ‘level playing field’ provisions to Westminster should be just the first step

16 Jul

Government’s fight over post-Brexit powers is late, but welcome

The big constitutional story this week is the news that the Government is squaring up to the devolved administrations over control of vital ex-EU powers.

According to the Financial Times, Boris Johnson intends to retain control over ‘level playing field’ provisions and state aid at Westminster, in order to prevent different parts of the United Kingdom undermining each other. This has revived specious claims by Edinburgh and Cardiff that London is engaged in a ‘power grab’, seizing powers which are rightfully theirs.

The Scottish Conservatives have come out fighting for the pro-UK position: Ruth Davidson has penned an op-ed in the Evening Standard supporting the move. Douglas Ross, who recently resigned from the Scottish Office, challenged the SNP on this basis:

“If it is a power grab there most be powers currently held by the Scottish Parliament, enacted by the Scottish Government on behalf of the people of Scotland that we the UK Government are taking away.”

Luke Graham, the former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire and now head of Downing Street’s Union Unit, has taken the same line: that these powers have never been devolved (indeed Holyrood was only established after many were already vested in Brussels), so there is no attack on devolution.

This is a welcome shift in position. During the pivotal clash over the misnamed “post-Brexit devolved powers” in 2017 and 2018, several leading Scottish Tories were at the forefront of the campaign to force the Government to scrap the part of the Withdrawal Bill safeguarding ex-EU powers in Westminster. Indeed, senior MSPs lent credence to the ‘power grab’ claim.

Defenders of Section 11 of the Withdrawal Bill, as-was, advanced detailed arguments about the dangers posed by ceding powers necessary to harmonise a common market below the highest level of political authority in that market, and were met with little more than airy rhetoric about the “spirit of devolution”.

Whilst some, such as the Institute for Government, believe the new, more centralised approach is “not a sustainable long-term strategy”, in fact the reverse is true.

It is not sustainable to continue trying to deliver pan-UK rules whilst bending over backwards to avoid our pan-UK institutions setting and enforcing them. It should be taken as read that any devolved administration committed to breaking up Britain will exploit any opportunity to foul up the proper functioning of the UK common market, whether that be through setting different standards or exploiting new consultation and dispute-resolution mechanisms as platforms for grievance.

Any power previously exercised at the EU level should, by default, be executed at the UK level. They were, after all, passed upwards for a reason. Ministers should re-acquaint themselves with the arguments over Section 11, and consider casting their powers net much wider yet.

Separatists attempt to game Holyrood elections with new party

An ex-SNP MSP has set up a new pro-independence party, with the aim of hugely inflating the number of separatist MSPs returned at the next Holyrood elections.

STV reports that the Alliance for Independence anticipates that it might win up to 24 MSPs by running exclusively for the Scottish Parliament’s ‘list’ constituencies.

Under the Scottish electoral system, voters cast two ballots: one for their geographical first-part-the-post constituency, and another for a regional list. When the parties contest both, the list vote is used to ‘top up’ those parties which under-performed under FPTP and ensure something resembling a proportional outcome.

But if the Alliance for Independence only contest list seats, and SNP voters lend it their support en masse, it could result in the ‘official Nationalists’ winning most of the constituencies and the ‘unofficial nationalists’ a huge share of the list, resulting in a chamber in which the unionist parties were seriously under-represented compared to their vote.

Some commentators, such as Kenny Farquharson, have argued that this would undermine the legitimacy of the resulting parliament – a possible boon to the Government if it truly intends to resist calls for a second referendum (as it should). Rory Scothorne, writing on a pro-independence site, sums up the approach as ‘magical thinking’.

There may also be more to the AfI than gerry-mandering. The SNP civil war, which David Leask profiled a couple of months ago, rages on. A new separatist party could provide a rallying point for Nicola Sturgeon’s internal opponents and provide a vehicle for Alex Salmond’s latest re-entry into politics.

On the other side of the argument, George Galloway is carving himself a space in unionist politics with the launch of his new ‘Alliance for Unity’. Based on the Scottish branch of his new Workers Party of Britain, it will provide a vehicle for his particular brand of energetic, left-wing unionism.

Galloway’s decision to return to Scotland and contest elections there might be bad news for Scottish Labour, the ailing giant of the left-unionist quadrant of Scottish politics. But who knows, perhaps the WPB will confine itself to the lists…

Brexit Party shift to anti-Senedd stance

There is now a three-way battle for the votes of Wales’ sizeable devosceptic minority. Mark Reckless, the leader of the Brexit Party’s MS group, has made it his party’s policy to scrap the Senedd.

Whilst differing in detail from the position of rival groups – Reckless’ plan is to hand the Welsh Parliament’s powers to Welsh MPs, rather than wholesale reintegration – this puts him in contention both with the rump of UKIP, led by Neil Hamilton, and the new Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.

Dividing this vote, which is already reluctant to even turn out for devolved contests, may provide a short-term boost to the Conservatives. But should one of the three emerge triumphant it could pose a serious threat on the Tories’ right-unionist flank.

Op-eds:

  • Sunak was right to bypass the SNP with UK-wide splurge – Alan Cochrane, Daily Telegraph
  • Devolution is dragging the UK’s economic recovery down – Matt Smith, CapX
  • Six things the Conservatives need to do now – Andrew Waddell, The Majority
  • The Union is in graver danger than ever – James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • Stand up for the Union or lose it – Stephen Daisley, Website
  • Sturgeon’s quarantine threat is an anti-English dog whistle – Henry Hill, Daily Telegraph

Garvan Walshe: Erdogan has failed his country – and turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque won’t put food back on Turkey’s tables

16 Jul

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

Built by the Roman emperor Justinian as a church, the Hagia Sophia, like the Catsel Sant’Angelo in Rome, is a sort of architectural missing link. Larger than classical structures, and enclosed, the visitor’s first impression is of the sheer quantity of stone, its bulk needed to support what was then the largest dome in Christendom. The graceful minarets are, of course, a later Ottoman addition.

When the Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople for the Ottomans he had it turned into a mosque, and Attaturk later made it a secular museum. But if Justinian built it at the Byzantine empire’s height, five years after Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, and Attaturk as his secular regime established himself, Erdogan has reestablished it as a mosque as his regime begins to decline.

Erdogan is no stranger to culture war. He built his power on a rising class of conservative Muslims who felt ill-served by the secular governing classes of Attaturk’s republic. They moved to Turkey’s cities as the economy modernised during the 1980s and 90s, and gave him his first taste of national office in Istanbul, where he was mayor between 1994 and 1998, Attaturk’s secularised Hagia Sofia looming over his city.

Battles over women being allowed to cover their heads on public property, alcohol taxes, and against an “interest rate lobby” blamed for repeated falls in the value of the Turkish Lira, have characterised his time in office, despite it also featuring major terrorist campaigns, a bloody war in Syria, the hosting of two million refugees who escaped it, large-scale counter-insurgency against Kurdish rebels and an almost successful military coup against him.

His governing style has evolved since he first became Prime Minister in 2003, and not only because he’s become an executive president. His first battles were with the military, when he pretended to be a democrat and gave his supporters pride in having their voice heard, and in economic progress.

But he turned on his former allies on anti-militarist left and in the Gülen movement, and constructed a far more grandiose and personal presidency. He built an enormous palace to live in, dressed up his bodyguards like Ottoman janissaries and radically changed foreign policy.

He abandoned Turkey’s historic friendship with Israel, opting instead to support Hamas, and the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. He financed Islamist rebels in Syria, and invaded the Kurdish areas of the country after, apparently, convincing Donald Trump to withdraw US protection for them.

He has even chosen to intervene in the Libyan civil war against the Russia and Egypt-backed General Haftar. He seems to see no contradiction between this anti-Russian intervention and ordering an S-400 air defence system from Moscow, or at least no greater contradiction than exists between that order and Turkey’s continued membership of NATO.

Domestically, he has been seduced by huge public works, from a new airport in Istanbul, to his now-presidential palace, the attempted paving over of Gezi Park (which provoked serious protests in 2013) and the enormous GAP dam project in southeastern Anatolia.

All these, and corruption allegations that swirl around them have begun to damage his reputation and, together with his increasing authoritarian style, cost his AK Party the mayoralties of Ankara and Istanbul. Voters weren’t impressed by his leaning on the Supreme Electoral Commission to rerun the Istanbul race after a narrow loss, and returned opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu decisively when the vote was held a second time.

More serious is the emergence of two new parties led by Erdogan’s former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively. Erdogan has managed only narrow victories in recent years, and relies on the ultra-nationalist MHP for its majority in parliament. A referendum confirming the switch to presidential rule was only narrowly carried.

Turkey’s government has come under criticism for mismanaging the economic fallout of the Covid-19 epidemic. The weak currency, a victim of Erdogan’s crusade against that “interest rate lobby” has been unable to support the huge borrowing to which other governments have resorted, with private initiatives organised by opposition mayors of Ankara and Istanbul taking much of the strain.

Reconsecrating the Hagia Sophia may give some cheer to his more committed supporters, but won’t put food on increasingly bare Turkish tables. A more humble man would treat it as part of his legacy and begin looking for a successor.

Luke Evans: We must protect our shop workers from violent crime. Not ask them to police the wearing of face masks.

15 Jul

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

Last Friday, a shop worker in my constituency was walking across the car park of the Co-op branch where he works after taking his break. The employee at the Markfield store saw a man acting suspiciously in the car park so asked if he could help him?

At that point the man became ‘very angry and verbally aggressive’ and started shouting abuse at the employee.

Without any provocation, the individual in question physically assaulted the shop worker knocking him unconscious, and subsequently rolled him on to his side stealing the employee’s phone, before climbing into his car and making his escape.

The Central England Co-operative Society have rightly decided to take a firm stance in respect of the incident, they are seeking both to ensure that their employee recovers from the ordeal, but are also doing everything in their power to ensure the perpetrator is tracked down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The details of this incident are shocking, they are also – sadly – not particularly surprising.

The latest edition of the British Retail Consortium Retail Crime Survey reveals that there are 424 violent or abusive incidents against retail employees every day – an increase of nine per cent on the previous year; the use of knives is becoming an increasingly concerning factor; and over 70 per cent of respondents described the police response to retail crime as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

It’s very easy to forget all of the events of Covid-19 pandemic, especially the astonishing contribution made to the national effort made by shop workers.

In the early days as most of us were advised to stay at home, we have to remember that, alongside NHS and care workers, it was shop assistants who continued to go to work, putting their own lives at risk, to ensure we could all continue to put food on the table.

In a very real sense, our shop workers have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic.

Incidents like the one which happened last week in my constituency should not happen. I’m supportive of the principle behind Alex Norris’ Private Member’s Bill calling upon certain offences against retail workers in the course of their employment, such as malicious wounding, to be classed as aggravated offences.

But I would suggest that those protections are needed now more than ever.

This virus has a habit of exploiting weaknesses in our society, and I am about to use it to highlight another.

For not only do we have the year on year increasing level of aggression against shopworkers we also now have their potential role in enforcing the mandatory and controversial wearing of face coverings in shops and supermarkets from 24 July.

In the same way as we must now wear face coverings on public transport, it is the police who will be able to enforce non-compliance in shops. But whilst we have to make clear that protecting our shop assistants is a priority, demanding that they act as quasi-police officers themselves never should be.

Shop assistants asking customers to put on a face covering will unavoidably put themselves at greater risk of being attacked.

With what is very clear legislation we must expect local police forces to act quickly and robustly in order to educate, change behaviour but most importantly protect those shop workers who were prepared to place everything on the line for us just four short months ago.

There is an ongoing debate about enforcing mask wearing, and I see both sides.

The mandatory wearing of face coverings isn’t primarily about protecting yourself, but about protecting others, and shop workers must be included at the very top of that list. It’s quite possible that there will be a second wave of coronavirus infections. I have heard multiple witnesses from Asia, in my role on the Health Select Committee, stating that one of the reasons countries in Asia have fared better is due to the culture adaption of virus reducing behaviour, learned through SARS, MERS and now Covid-19 – and mask wearing is an important part of that.

I see mask-wearing as a symptom, a time-limited intervention to deal with a specific problem. What we mustn’t forget however is those who will suffer because of this introduction; the deaf who lip read and possibly the high street as the advent of masks may deter shoppers.

But the wider point is simply this: frontline workers deserve to be protected, be it from assault or a virus – and we shouldn’t forget or negate that.

Darren Grimes: Today, it’s Conservatives who are the real rebels – against woke conformity and the cancel culture

15 Jul

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

I’m often emailed by very kind folk who think I am acting bravely. I’ve always questioned this; after all, I am merely offering my opinions. But what they’re getting at is that ordinary conservatives are told their ideas and values are reactionary, prejudiced, sexist or racist, and to stand up against the trend, for the views of the common sense majority, is now considered brave to do.

Some might be wondering how on earth we conservatives can possibly be the rebels, when the Conservative Party recently won a Commons majority of 80, the party’s largest since 1987? It may also seem odd to describe conservatism as rebellious when rebels, by definition, want change, and conservatives seek to conserve.

But while self-described conservative political parties across the West win elections, they are losing the institutions that act as the scaffold of our culture. Consider the Left’s dominance of our media; social media giants playing the role of custodians of an openly left-wing environment, and the boardrooms of corporations seeking affirmation from those media and cultural gatekeepers – always a good demonstration of their enlightened values at dinner parties and Davos drinks receptions.

The reason why conservatism is rebellious today is that the dominant cultural view is one that seeks to uproot our past, and what we stand for – making it revolutionary to stand against this view. In this culture war propagated by our generously funded universities and the BBC, it’s clear that the Left’s online battalion of outrage mobs and cancellation notices are aimed squarely at those who dare argue against it.

There’s also a world of difference in small-c conservatism and the big C Conservative Party. The Left is winning, despite being formally out power; in education, the arts, among the regulators and within all of their powerful functions over everyday life, because our politicians seem more concerned with looking good to Twitter over actually being good.

It is perhaps understandable; it takes real guts to put your head above the political parapet – the most high profile curreny example is being J.K. Rowling with her defence of sex-segregated spaces and biological truth.

According to Populus, approximately two-thirds of British people thought that a male-born person, with a penis, who self-identifies as a woman, should not be allowed to use female-only changing rooms. For suggesting that this view is justifable, Rowling is dismissed by those that her work made stars of as “rather conservative”. So even what can be read as moderate conservatism is enough to warrant Rowling’s cancellation. A school has since dropped its plans to name one of its houses after her after the online furore.

For ordinary folk, to be conservative requires balls of steel. No platforming is a regular occurrence in our supposedly world-class universities: I have been contacted by students who report that it is almost impossible for some societies to secure venue bookings to host democratically elected MPs with centre-right views.

Imagine that. Those who represent our country are now not able to engage in discussion with our nation’s young. The invitation will be issued, accepted, a venue secured – and then, like clockwork, left-wing students will apply pressure to the university societies and diversity teams to work their no-platforming magic.

Is all lost for Britain’s young? Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck University, presents limited data that shows that Britain’s youngest voters, the Zoomers, seem to be diverging from voters aged between 22 and 39. He posited the idea that the chilling effect of political correctness could explain why the ‘Jordan Peterson generation’ is quite so conservative. However, the issues a warning: “The Conservatives are going to have to do a lot more to reverse the leftward drift of the culture if they hope to remain competitive in a generation’s time.”

In a brilliant interview last weekend, Ricky Gervais depressingly argued that The Office wouldn’t get the green light in today’s climate. He made the case that free speech protects everyone, and explained that the evolving definition of what constitutes hate speech is detrimental to society, when our speech is already policed via libel, slander, watershed, advertising and criminal laws.  And he delivered the wonderfully pithy line: “If you’re mildly conservative [on Twitter], you’re Hitler!” If only our Conservative politicians could defend our values in such a robust fashion.

If we look at reforms since 2010, with Tory-led or Conservative majority governments, there’s precious little in the way of public appointments or reforms that show the Conservative Party’s ideological commitment in this area. Remember what happened to the late and great Roger Scruton? But with or without the big C party, there is much we can all do.

Online cancel culture depends on social anxiety and fear, which creates this atmosphere of self-censorship for what are ordinary and widely-held views. Under-represented voices in the mainstream media, arts and academia agree with you, your politics and your value system. The more of us that come out of the closet – the political one – the more tolerant and reflective our culture will become. Producing better quality discourse and a more rigorous discussion of ideas.

Those with genuinely sexist, racist or homophobic views are, rightly, called out for being so today. But so are those unfairly accused of being so by those that disagree with them. We may have moved on from the Middle Ages: it is not the man who is executed anymore, but his character on Twitter. Free discussion is being shut down. Activists must be reminded that how you challenge uncomfortable views is, as is evidenced throughout history, through more speech, not less. We must be opening up, not shutting down, avenues to discussion and debate.

Our ancestors were much braver than we are today.  But all is not yet lost, come out and join the reasoned fightback against this madness.