Steve Brine: Making the most of vaping to deliver a smoke-free Britain

10 Jul

Steve Brine is a former Public Health Minister, and is MP for Winchester.

Last year, the Government announced plans to make England smoke-free by 2030, building on previous initiatives such as the ban on smoking inside public places, and the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco.

A year on, we have yet to see enough detail of how it intends to achieve its ambition, and there are real concerns that England could miss this target unless further clarity is provided.

The UK vaping industry, estimated to be worth more than £1 billion to the economy, can be a valuable partner in helping to deliver on the Government’s objectives and address the smoking cessation plateau.

Regulators and health experts in the UK have already acknowledged that vaping could play a crucial role in reducing smoking rates, providing smokers with an effective tool to quit altogether.

During my time as Public Health Minister, we laid out its plan for adopting a harm reduction strategy, aimed at maximising smoking cessation among adults and minimising uptake by young people.

This policy was driven by previous research conducted by Public Health England, which found vaping to be at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Since then, a clinical trial led by Queen Mary University of London found that vape products were almost twice as effective as patches and gum – known as nicotine replacement therapies – at helping smokers to quit.

With vaping, there’s no combustion, no smoke, no tar as found in traditional tobacco products. While vaping is not without risk, and we lack the long view afforded by decades of research science, we know it allows smokers to receive nicotine without the cancerous toxins produced by combustible tobacco.

However, to encourage smokers to try vaping, they need to have confidence that the products they choose are safe.

Recent negative media coverage means trust in the vape category has declined. For example, statements originating in the USA said that vapers could be at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, claims which are wholly unsubstantiated. This could deter smokers from transitioning to vaping, a significantly less harmful nicotine delivery method.

Such developments represent an opportunity for the Government to reappraise the regulatory landscape and improve product quality across the industry, thereby increasing consumer confidence in vape products as a mechanism for addressing public health concerns.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to achieve this would be to regulate non-nicotine products intended for vaping (specifically ‘shortfills’ – or ‘make your own’), which are not currently captured by the Tobacco and Related Product Regulations in the same way as nicotine-containing products are.

This would not only improve consumer confidence, but would ensure the UK retains its position as a global leader in the regulation of vape products and could support the Government’s public health objectives.

As the country moves through this unprecedented period of social upheaval, all efforts must be made to ensure that smoking rates do not rise again. The recent ban on menthol cigarettes will support this effort, provided regulators enforce it and challenge tobacco manufacturers who continue to flout the rules.

Greater efforts must also be made to inform the public about the benefits of vaping and how it has already helped thousands of people to reduce their tobacco use.

To be clear: if the question is ‘should non-smokers start vaping?’ the answer should and will remain no. But if we’re talking about smokers who are struggling to quit, then vaping is undoubtedly one of the better options in their toolkit.

Government and industry therefore need to recognise the opportunity they currently have, and that future regulation must evolve to reflect societal changes.

Danny Kruger: We should build, build, build the social housing we need. And build it beautiful.

10 Jul

Danny Kruger is MP for Devizes.

At the last election, the Conservative Party Manifesto promised to end rough sleeping, to build more homes and to build better homes. These remain the right aims for our country, even though the challenge in achieving them is now even greater.

The Prime Minister is right not to give up on our ambitions. We must “build, build, build.” But build what? The answer is very simple. Alongside the economic and social infrastructure the country needs, the gGvernment needs to make a major new investment in building genuinely affordable social homes – not least for those millions of families living in poor private rented housing or temporary accommodation. Sitting out the lockdown in a cottage in Wiltshire, as I did, was one thing. Doing it in an overcrowded flat in White City, where I used to live, is another.

Direct investment in a new generation of high quality, carbon-neutral, social homes would protect the skilled jobs in the construction trade that are now at acute risk. We should prioritise this over protecting the big housebuilders whose business model depends on winding down output when prices are low. Social housing faces no such risk in demand terms. Well over a million people are waiting for a social home. Every home we built would be snapped up.

In 2008, the major developers received financial help from the Government, and they are asking for this again. Persimmons made over a billion in pre-tax profit last year. Taylor Wimpey limped in with just over £800 million. The fact that the big developers, with their profits, huge dividends, plenty of cash, and their land banks, feel the need to turn to Government at the first sign of a market downturn suggests there is a problem with house building that needs some new thinking.

We need to think about the right rules for planning. It is undoubtedly the case that planning reform could free up more land for building in ways that don’t harm communities or the environment. And while we have built many more homes in recent years, it is an inescapable fact that some of these – particularly those in converted office blocks – haven’t been to the standard we would want. But we must not let the vexed issue of planning reform get in the way of building the social homes we need.

Most fundamentally, we don’t want house building dominated by ten enormous companies and one underwhelming product: your standard, small, identikit, uninspiring newbuild. We want innovation, a consciousness of beauty, and multiple products for buyers to choose between.

A diversity of suppliers will create resilience in the housebuilding industry, particularly when we have to weather another economic storm. As the Letwin Review pointed, supplier diversity leads to faster build-out rates.

Most of all, we need local involvement in planning and building. Community Land Trusts – like the excellent Seend CLT in my constituency – are the best way to get public support for development. CLTs and custom builders are vital source of contracts for local SME builders and many are developing on sites mainstream developers won’t go near. My party committed in its manifesto to more support for community led housing. I hope that at the autumn Budget, I hope we’ll see a renewal of the Community Housing Fund to help kickstart the engine of local growth.

Matt Vickers: The lockdown has increased loneliness. Some will need help to reconnect.

9 Jul

Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South. He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness.

Are you itching for things to get back to normal?

Are you looking forward to that holiday, trip to the pub, meal with friends?

Like me, do you feel like you’ve been cooped up at home forever, and are just bursting to live a full life again?

What is it you’re missing most?

A long walk on a sandy beach? That first cold frothy pint? Your favourite restaurant’s fish and chips?

Probably. But it’s bigger than that, isn’t it?

It’s the people we miss most.

As lockdown eases and we venture out more, it’s the people we’re looking forward to seeing – our family, friends, and workmates; people we connect with at our football matches, bingo halls, and places of worship.

For many, that will be easy but, for some, they will face challenges that make it harder to get back to normal because lockdown has compounded their isolation and loneliness.

A new British Red Cross report – Life after lockdown – reveals how big those challenges are and, this week, I chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness where we discussed its findings. What the report shows is that lockdown is affecting some people more than others.

People from Black, Asian and minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, younger people, those on lower incomes or unemployed, people who live alone, those with underlying health conditions, and parents with children at home are the loneliest of all.

As many as 41 per cent of UK adults surveyed feel lonelier since lockdown began, with 33 per cent saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week. We all have work to do to help people connect and feel part of their communities again.

At this week’s APPG, we heard from 22-year-old Harry Foreman from the Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign and he told us of his experiences graduating from university and suddenly having to leave behind some of his closest friends during the Covid-19 crisis. He said:

“There’s no handbook for graduating during a pandemic.”

But that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? We’ll all have to adapt in some way.

I’m lucky to be part of a vibrant community in Stockton and have been inspired by the sight of volunteers – both organised and spontaneous – who have been helping the most vulnerable with things shopping and other essentials.

I’ve been trying to play my part too, teaming up with Age UK to help constituents who are feeling lonely.

That spirit must blossom beyond this crisis because people were feeling very lonely before lockdown and many are feeling lonelier because of it – they’re going to need our help as we recover. Members of Parliament have a big role to play.

We must argue for sustained funding for services that help people overcome loneliness while looking to find ways of addressing the reasons why people become so lonely in the first place, like financial hardship and mental health.

We can champion approaches to health like social prescribing that put the focus on activity and interaction, helping people connect and improve their wellbeing through groups, classes, and events.

Rather than looking just at medical options, we need to look at social solutions – doing something you enjoy, meeting other people, forging quality relationships, feeling less lonely, feeling healthier.

It’s clear that, whenever we look at people’s health, there are inequalities at play in our society that impact on our ability to thrive, strive and prosper – MPs have to be at the forefront when it comes to tackling those too.

We can perhaps see loneliness as a signifier that other things may be going wrong in a person’s life and get to work addressing those issues and health concerns.

The Red Cross, Age UK, Mind, Sense, and many others have been supporting people throughout this emergency and will continue to do so when the crisis is over.

The examples of this sort of good work in my own constituency are just too numerous to mention and I know those people who have leapt to action to support others will want to continue to play their part in helping the most vulnerable.

Now is not the time to simply salute that good work alone. Now is the time to build on it.

Franco Frattini: Turkey’s actions in Libya risk another Europe-wide migrant crisis – and Brexit will not exempt the UK  

9 Jul

Franco Frattini is a former Foreign Minister of Italy and European Commissioner.

Libya’s bloody and destructive civil war has dragged on for almost a decade now, stamping out the hopes the nation held when it emerged from the brutal dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi. On Europe’s southern border, a hotspot of instability and chaos, where Islamist extremists have been free to exercise disturbing influence, has arisen.

A de-escalation in the conflict is not just in the interests of the Libyan people after years of suffering, but necessary to end the growing risk of a new migrant crisis, from which no European nation, in or out of the EU, will be immune. However, in recent months there has been one major obstacle to achieving this long sought-after goal: Turkey.

At the Berlin conference back in January of this year, before the world’s attention fixed firmly on the coronavirus pandemic, a major breakthrough was achieved, with a multilateral, UN-backed agreement to end external arms supplies to Libya’s belligerents.

Turkey was a signatory to this deal, yet it has used the following months not as an opportunity to further diplomatic efforts, but to up its supply of arms to the patchwork of Islamists, jihadists and organised criminals propping up the Government of National Accord (GNA). Indeed, with the ink barely dry on the Berlin agreement, the Turkish ship Bana had set sail with crate loads of arms bound for the port of Tripoli.

This stream of arms supplies, counter to the UN embargo, has since increased over recent months, with the Bana signalling the start of a steady flow of illegal shipments. With Europe’s attentions understandably fixed firmly on the dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak, Turkey has been allowed to get away with this largely unchallenged by the international community.

Conditions for a second migrant crisis, with the heightened conflict in Libya, have been allowed to brew unnoticed. European nations, particularly those in the south, stand to bear the brunt of a potential fresh wave of asylum seekers. The UK, regardless of Brexit, will also inevitably be dragged into the situation, having received tens of thousands of extra asylum applications per year at the height of the last crisis.

Furthermore, Erdogan has exhibited rank opportunism with the world’s focus turned elsewhere, by pumping thousands of Syrian fighters, many with links to violent extremist groups in their native land, into the conflict. With promises of Turkish citizenship, high financial bonuses and full medical expenses in return, these fighters have been all-to-eager to jump into the fray. The ultimate goal is clear – for Turkey to tip the odds in favour of the GNA, and hold unrivalled influence over the subsequent Islamist Libya that emerges.

Should that Libya emerge, EU nations and the UK can expect the flow of migrants to continue unabated, as citizens seek to escape the brutal reality of a newly Islamist, harder-line nation. As countries with deep and lasting ties to Libya and values of liberty, liberalism and democracy at their heart, in contrast to the political Islam increasingly espoused by Turkey and their proxies, the UK and my native Italy will likely be first choice for thousands of fleeing Libyans.

Libya overrun by extremist fighters, adhering to an Islamist ideology which views the West as its opponent, rather than as a partner, is now a very distinct possibility. The last thing Europe needs as it recovers from the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is a Turkey-induced migrant crisis on its southern border, but without firm resistance from the continent’s major powers, including the UK. This looks increasingly likely to become reality.

Europe and the international community must wake up to the threat posed by a destabilised Libya on the shores of the Mediterranean. Turkey’s culpability, with its reckless pumping of billions of dollars of weapons and thousands of extremist fighters into a conflict it had signed up to de-escalate is a security crisis waiting to happen on Europe’s southern flank. With attentions still firmly fixed on the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey has been allowed to quietly get away with reckless behaviour largely free of scrutiny. If this continues unabated, another migrant crisis beckons.

James Rogers: We’re in the G7 and are members of NATO. But we need a new alliance of democracies – the D10.

8 Jul

James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

Covid-19 is like a flash of lightning that uncovers a darkened landscape at night. It is, of course, first and foremost a public health emergency; but more deeply, it is a reflection of deep geopolitical change.

It has reconfirmed the Indo-Pacific zone’s growing centrality. It has revealed the authoritarian nature and untrustworthy character of China’s government. It has shown why we cannot afford to be so dependent on China – or any other country – for critical goods. And it has demonstrated why we need to work more with like-minded countries to uphold our principles and secure our objectives and interests.

Although it has been clear for some while that the so-called rules-based international system is increasingly dysfunctional, Covid-19 has confirmed the extent to which authoritarian powers have gained influence in such bodies last the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Human Rights Commission – stuffed as it often is with autocracies and systematic human rights abusers.

The reason for this is that the authoritarian revisionists – such as Russia and China – have grown in power over the past two decades. They want to make the world safe for autocracy; as they gain further in power, and unless they are resisted, they will continue to dismantle or hijack the international order that Britain and its allies have done so much to put in place and undergird.

This is why it makes sense, as Boris Johnson’s government restarts the Integrated Strategic Review, to thoroughly reappraise Britain’s membership of existing alliances and international organisations.

The problem is that most of these were born of a different age; they have grown difficult to reform; many allies fail to pull their weight; and it is proving ever-harder for the United Kingdom, like other democracies – even the United States – to secure its interests through them. It is vital to remember that multilateralism is not important for its own sake; multilateralism is important only if it helps Britain project its principles and secure its interests.

This does not mean, however, that the United Kingdom should descend into a clumsy transactional foreign policy, or facile isolationism.  What it does mean is that the government needs to be more selective about the alliances and international organisations it chooses to buttress and work with. It also means that Britain should be prepared to expand the functions of existing groups or, even, create new frameworks, to reflect new realities.

It is for this reason that reports that Johnson’s government is proposing to form a new coalition of democracies – potentially out of the G7 – should be particularly welcomed.

Notwithstanding Japan’s membership, the G7 is primarily Euro-Atlantic in orientation. It lost much of its rationale during the 2000s, as the centre of economic gravity shifted towards East and South-East Asia. The formalisation of the G20 after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 only confirmed its obsolescence.

Likewise, other organisations, even the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, have been rendered less relevant today than in the past as geopolitical competition has followed the previous economic shift towards China and the Indo-Pacific.

This is why a new coalition of democracies makes sense, particularly one that reflects new economic and geopolitical realities. Britain is said to be keen to build such a coalition – known as the Democratic 10, or ‘D10’ for short – to include the existing G7 members, alongside India, South Korea and Australia.

Ostensibly as a first step, Donald Trump suggested inviting the three countries to the upcoming G7 summit this autumn, perhaps alongside Russia – a proposal too far, which the British and Canadians, even the Russians themselves, quickly rejected.

It should come as no surprise that the concept of a community of democracies, even the D10, has been mooted in various guises for some time. That Britain is now prepared to push the idea – there will be ample opportunity during the British presidency of the G7 in 2021 – shows not only the fresh thinking Boris Johnson’s government is capable of, but also how much a new democratic coalition is needed.

An organisation like the D10 could help the democracies organise their efforts to resist the authoritarian revisionism of countries like Russia and China. It could provide a forum for technological cooperation at the strategic level, to ensure that an authoritarian power never again becomes the market or technological leader in the way that China has in relation to 5G telecommunications systems.

The D10 could also provide a platform for the democracies to coordinate the reversal of environmental degradation and their broader international development efforts, particularly as China accelerates and expands its vast £770 billion Belt and Road Initiative.

It could gradually expand to include additional democracies – such as Chile – that are able and willing to preserve an international order based on rules.  And, in time, the D10 could even facilitate greater military cooperation between its members, particularly if growing international tensions start to boil over.

Covid-19 has merely reconfirmed the fact that the democracies cannot take their security for granted. Britain’s proposal for the D10 shows that it is capable of putting the concept of ‘Global Britain’ into practice. It throws down the gauntlet to the Europeans, in an attempt to coax them out of their introspectiveness, while showing America, Japan, India and Australia that London takes their concerns seriously, particularly in relation to China. If implemented, it would rev-up multilateralism for a new age by preparing the world’s democracies for the challenges of the twenty-first century. And it proves that Britain is still at the crux of the international order – not a power shuffling away from it.

Rainer Zitelmann: Wealth taxes would not be popular, or Conservative. Sunak must remember this tomorrow.

7 Jul

Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist. The data cited in this article is analysed in detail in his recently published book The Rich in Public Opinion

Over the past couple of weeks, UK Treasury officials have been contacting private bankers to sound them out on how the country’s richest citizens might help pay for the huge cost of Coronavirus relief packages. Ahead of Rishi Sunak’s big speech tomorrow, this should be worrying for many.

Austerity might be off the menu for the state, but it’s definitely the dish that is being prepared by civil servants to be served to everyone else.

Labour are getting in on the act too with Annalise Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor, stepping onto the Sunday shows to explain with zero detail that the burden of higher taxation ought to fall on those with the “broadest shoulders” and that taxes needed to reflect the “increase in income and wealth inequality over recent years.” She’d called for wealth taxes in the preceding week during a speech at the IFS, again with scant information on what this would actually look like.

Now, leaving aside the fact that a lot of income and wealth inequality is mostly a proxy for geographic inequality and restrictions on growth of jobs and homes outside of major centres of population, we should question what brings together the Shadow Chancellor and Civil Service. Especially when it looks a lot like trying to confiscate wealth and punish those that have worked hard to get on in life.

This isn’t Conservative. The Civil Service should be reminded of that fact, and the party should remember the benefit of providing some clear blue water between the reds in Labour and the Tories in power. Rishi Sunak on Wednesday should signal he’s going in quite the different direction to keep Conservatives and the country on side.

In fact the party of a low-tax dynamic free market that in December ruled out an increase in the rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT – should also remember voters aren’t keen on the state coming for wealth either.

In a poll conducted in 2018 by Ipsos Mori across the UK, France and Germany, voters were asked their attitudes to the rich and to tax asks of them. They were presented with two statements:

The first was: The taxes on the rich should be high but not excessively high because they have generally worked hard to earn their wealth, and the state should not take too much away from them.

Over the UK as a whole, 29 per cent agreed. Of Labour voters, 20 per cent agreed. Of Conservative voters, 46 per cent agreed.

The second: The rich should not only pay high taxes, but they should pay very high taxes. In this way, the state can ensure that the gap between the rich and the poor does not become too great.

Of the UK population as a whole, 38 per cent agree. Of Labour voters, 53 per cent agreed. Of Conservative voters, 21 per cent agreed.

What the survey was designed to reveal is the proportion of the population in a given country that envies the rich (“social enviers”) and compared this with the proportion who do not (“non-enviers”).

While there is a section of the population in Great Britain that envies the rich, the number of enviers in Great Britain is much smaller than in the other countries. Much lower in fact.

The survey data was used to calculate a Social Envy Coefficient – the higher the coefficient, the higher the proportion of social envy.

The coefficient for France is 1.21, which means there are considerably more social enviers in France than non-enviers. Germany’s coefficient is 0.97, which means there is an even balance between social enviers and non-enviers. In the United States, the coefficient is significantly lower at 0.42. But the lowest coefficient is for the UK, at 0.37.

In other words, a clear majority of the British population are not envious of the rich.

There are significant differences between what Conservative voters and Labour voters think about the rich. Conservative voters say that society as a whole benefits from the existence of rich people (e.g. as entrepreneurs who create new products) but just a fifth of Labour voters think the same.

Despite a platform of envy and higher taxes on offer from the most far-left Labour leader in history, the British people decided to plump for the man opposed to them. Instead of thinking of the rich as a cash cow, when asked to describe the rich Conservative voters plucked for the following terms: industrious, imaginative, visionary, bold, intelligent, and ruthless.

Five out of six being positive traits ain’t bad. Labour voters under Corbyn plucked for the alternative, rich people to them were: materialistic, industrious too, ruthless, bold, self-centred, and greedy.

Starmer has done a good job of modernising his party, but he needs to win over Tory voters that thought of the rich as imaginative industrialists, not just pander to a coalition that thinks of them as ruthless greedy materialists that has failed twice to put the party into power.

Like throughout the pandemic, the UK is not the first to encounter the issues at play. When a few years ago the then socialist president François Hollande introduced a supertax on France’s highest earners, many wealthy people left France.

The tax was subsequently abolished. And France’s neighbour Germany found that the bureaucracy associated with levying a wealth tax is simply not worth it. As a result, Germany has waived its wealth tax since 1997.

Treasury officials and Tory strategists should realise: Britain is a low-envy country; a pro-growth country, and one that knows that imposing more envy taxes on wealthier people simply will not work.

Leave this idea to the Labour left and start pushing for growth by removing, rather than adding to, the burden of the state on businesses and families.

Ros Altmann: What Ministers should do to ease the plight of small landlords

7 Jul

Baroness Altmann is a Conservative peer.

Around eleven million people in England live in private rented housing.  Covid-19 has caused considerable anxiety for many tenants who fear its impact on their finances and their ability to keep up rent payments for their current home.

I welcome the policies that stopped tenants being made homeless during the emergency lockdown. The Government rightly decided to suspend evictions in the rental market for a period of three months to provide security to tenants and to ensure that the lockdown worked, backed by a financial package of support for tenants who were struggling to continue paying their rent. This included the furlough scheme and increases to the Local Housing Allowance and Universal Credit.

The Government recently decided to extend the ban on evictions by a further two months, pending the outcome of a judge-led working group that is looking at how to protect those most at risk from Covid-19, while also ensuring landlords can regain possession of their properties in legitimate circumstances.

All these steps are welcome, and have contributed to the vast majority of tenants (90 per cent according to the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA)) being able to pay their rent as normal. It has given tenants a breathing space during this unprecedented national lockdown. But a blanket ban on all evictions is not without its victims.

After so many months, I do wonder whether the Conservatives need to do more to show support for some of the landlords (especially small ones who own only one or two properties).

Many may have been relying on rental income for their retirement or other purposes and are struggling to pay their own bills, while their tenants are not paying rent, or are causing damage and disturbance. Even in such cases, all landlords are currently powerless to take action to protect themselves.

Anti-social tenants who blight the lives of neighbours, communities, fellow tenants and landlords alike cause real distress.  As one tenant recently wrote on twitter: This is a total disaster. I’m living in a shared house with a nightmare tenant. We all want her gone, as does the landlady. Her anti-social behaviour is driving us and the neighbours up the wall. She was due to go on 1st July. I can’t put up with it for another two months.”

The current eviction ban, while protecting tenants, leaves many private or social landlords, especially those who had tenants building rent arrears prior to the lockdown, struggling.

Consider a buy-to-let landlord, who owns just one property, with a tenant who did not pay rent for a few months before lockdown and has not paid since. Having already had to wait to bring a case to court, and then faced delays with getting an order enforced (on average about 6 months) followed by five months of the repossessions ban, the landlord will have received no income for over a year.

Yet they must still meet costs such as licensing fees, insurance, and maybe even utility bills for the property. It is therefore hardly surprising that 29 per cent of landlords are reporting some degree of financial hardship according to the NRLA.

I believe the Government should now draw up plans for the coming months, once the eviction ban is lifted. Tenants who have struggled to pay their rent will be worried about their future whilst landlords with troublesome tenants or rent deficits will be looking for much-needed relief. The following framework of measures could show greater concern for the plight of small landlords, while also helping tenants who do their utmost to behave responsibly:

  • The Government should clearly re-state that tenants must, wherever possible, continue to pay their rent as normal. It is not realistic to suggest the Government should simply suspend the all rental payments because of the pandemic. Such suggestions reflect an assumption that all landlords are wealthy or large firms who can afford to receive no income from their properties. This is certainly not the case and denying people any income from their properties is unsustainable, and possibly illegal.
  • Government should offer landlords and tenants additional support, including mediation, to agree rent repayment plans where arrears have built as a result of the Covid outbreak. This would help prevent some repossession cases coming before the courts, which is important because sustaining tenancies wherever possible should be a priority.
  • Government should urgently consider Court reforms so that possession cases are heard more effectively and speedily. There is a huge backlog of cases and courts will struggle to meet the demand for hearings. This would, therefore, be an ideal time for major reforms, including a focus on modernisation, such as introducing online hearings and making better use of web based arbitration. Court reform is an essential part of ensuring the Government’s Renters’ Reform Bill works, and it has been well over a year since the consultation on developing a housing court closed, so a response is urgently needed.
  • Finally, we need clear plans to deal with the rental market if localised lockdowns are required to combat future Covid-19 outbreaks. The courts may, for example, want to pause repossession cases in those circumstances, but if this happens, landlords and tenants need clarity on the precise areas affected and the likely timeframes for any pause.

The private rented sector plays a vital part in housing the nation. Some seek to paint a picture of tenants and landlords in constant conflict, but in the vast majority of cases they have been working constructively to address the challenges of Covid-19. Once the immediate crisis measures are relaxed, the proposals I have outlined here could engender a sustainable balance between the rights of renters and of landlord. But Conservatives also need to bear in mind the political realities, and must avoid causing long-lasting problems for landlords.

Chris Whitehouse: Raab delivers on Magnitsky sanctions

7 Jul

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Dominic Raab’s publication of the details of his new Magnitsky-style sanctions regime has been long awaited, but was worth that wait. The new scheme is another means of deploying Britain’s soft power around the world – a stick to balance the carrots of diplomacy and overseas aid.

No longer can individuals who benefit from corruption and egregious human rights breaches expect to live comfortably, free from repercussions, avoiding any unpleasant consequences of their actions. That leaving the EU means, for the first time, that the United Kingdom can act alone in bringing forward such sanctions is a further leap forward in our nation stepping up to fulfil its global potential, to play its full role on the world’s stage.

As Bill Browder, the man acknowledged by Raab in his statement as being behind the global campaign for Magnitsky sanctions, following the death in Russian custody of his business colleague, Sergei Magnitsky, told this column: “Although the UK is a relatively small country, it has an outsized role in the world, because this is where everyone from the developed world wants to buy property, keep their families safe and store their money.”

Without this sanctions regime, Browder explains: “In the past, whenever a dictator perpetrated an atrocity, the most the British government and many others did was to issue statements of condemnation, at which the perpetrators simply laughed. This Magnitsky sanctions regime creates real world consequences of which they’re rightly terrified.”

Raab, to be fair, has consistently, since 2012, declared that he was “passionate” about the introduction of a sanctions regime, believing that it would have real impact, particularly when used alongside those of other sympathetic nations.

There were some who feared that Foreign Office officials would water down his plans, this column included, and leave us with a regime that was not fit for purpose and did not strike the necessary fear into the hearts of those targeted by its restrictions on financial assets and freedom of movement. Maybe we should have had more faith, because the scheme now published puts considerable power into the hands of Ministers, provided, of course, due process is followed, to stop kleptocrats “laundering their blood money”, as Raab put it, in the United Kingdom

That we had the first designations, the historic early targets of this tough new regime and the very day it was presented to Parliament is a clear indication of the planning, the preparation and the determination on the part of Raab and his team. Rightly, some (though by no means all) of those complicit in Russia of the violent death in custody of Magnitsky, and of the state-sanctioned theft of assets from Bowder’s Hermitage investment fund are among the first to be hit. Let’s hope that others from that benighted kleptocracy follow in the future.

Rightly do we see targeted some (but again far from all) of those Saudis responsible for the shocking murder of tell-it-like-it-is journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequent beheading, dismemberment and disposal of his body inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

Others announced include against some of those responsible for the worst aspects of the systematic mistreatment of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, and those responsible for the sending to the Gulags of North Korea hundreds of thousands of innocent people in that country.

But now that the regime is published and the criteria for inclusion within it is known, we can hopefully expect a gradual extension of the lists of not only the perpetrators of the atrocities against Magnitsky and Khashoggi, but also the inclusion of others implicated directly in the genocide of millions of Uighurs in China, imprisoned in concentration camps to wipe out their sense of religious and cultural identity. We also need to see movement against the senior Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for the now internationally recognised harvesting of human organs from members of the Falun Gong community, among others.

And closer to home, with the threat to the basic freedoms of speech, thought, association and protest of 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders, and the wider people of Hong Kong to whom we owe a particular moral and historic duty, should we not be bringing forward in the immediate future sanctions against that city’s puppet of the Chinese Community Party, as identified in the Commons debate by Iain Duncan Smith, namely its Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and her head of police, the latter of whom is directly, personally and professionally responsible for the sustained campaign of brutal police violence against protestors.

When it comes to eating a large slice of humble pie for suggesting that Raab risked not meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to introduce a regime that delivered a truly effective Magnitsky sanctions regime, this column could not be more delighted than to have to ask, Oliver Twist-like: please sir, can I have some more!

In introducing the sanctions regime that he has, Raab has made a bold and decisive leap in the right direction. There is further to go, particularly into widening the scope of the regime to include a wider range, in particular, of human rights abuses, and we can only welcome his commitment to make further progress in that regard; but we can be proud as a party of what Raab has already delivered.

David Lidington: Why I profoundly disagree with my friend and former colleague, David Gauke

7 Jul

David Lidington was the MP for Aylesbury from 1992 to 2019, and has held a number of roles including Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

Last Thursday, in a piece that was characteristically both thoughtful and thought-provoking, my friend and former Cabinet colleague David Gauke came to a pessimistic conclusion. Choices had been made, he argued, which compelled the Conservative Party to pursue “the war on woke and Rooseveltian economics”. Implicit in his analysis was the suggestion that those whom he termed “small state free marketeers and one nation social liberals” had no future in the party and might have to look elsewhere.

I profoundly disagree. Throughout the 45 years that I’ve been a member and for decades before that the Conservative Party has been a coalition. Economic liberals, defenders of traditional values and institutions, social reformers, blue-green environmentalists: all have found a home. Different leaders of the party, at different times have chosen to emphasise different elements of the broad Conservative tradition.

As Paul Goodman pointed out yesterday, human beings tend not to fit neatly into a single, neat political category. Margaret Thatcher was strongly in favour of opening up broadcasting to greater competition and market discipline. Yet she was also passionate about the need for high standards of decency in what was broadcast – which meant intervention and regulation. I have crossed swords with Iain Duncan Smith many times over Europe, but have also admired his efforts to promote a Conservative approach to social justice.

The present government’s commitment to “level up” the opportunities available to people living in towns and estates that have for years felt left-behind and ignored will need to draw on all strands of Conservative thinking if ambition is to be realised: incentives for free enterprise to create wealth and jobs, and government action, both national and local, to provide modern infrastructure, drive urban regeneration and boost expectations and outcomes in education and training.

For years, Conservatives have fretted about our loss of support in old industrial areas and among people on lower incomes. The fact that we now represent seats in County Durham and South Yorkshire as well as Surrey and Sussex is something to be celebrated: it gives our words about standing for One Nation much greater credibility.

If a successful policy of levelling up (and at the same time improving our chances of holding those seats) means a tilt towards the economic and industrial policies of Macmillan, Heath and Heseltine, it should be seen as a pragmatic response to the needs of the times, certainly meriting debate and argument, including within the Conservative family, not some heretical departure from the one true faith.

Nor do I share David’s pessimistic conclusion that there is an inexorable electoral logic which must compel the party to abandon the ideas, policies and perhaps even the support of liberal Conservatives.

By 2024 the Conservative Party will have been in office for 14 years. The coming economic storm, even if, as we all hope, it is short-lived, will have left many people scarred. The Labour Party will be led by someone who is not Jeremy Corbyn. The temptation to vote “for a change”, to “give the other lot a chance” will be strong. It will be as great a challenge to secure re-election then as it was for John Major in 1992. We shall need every vote from as broad a coalition of support as we can.

Of course 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 on its own won’t be enough. By 2024 there will be about three million new electors on the register who were too young to vote in 2019. According to YouGov, at last year’s election the tipping point – the age at which someone is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour – was 39.

That is better than 2017, when it was 47, but still leaves no room for complacency. While it is possible that those who were in their teens, twenties and thirties in 2019 will automatically shift into the Conservative column by 2024, we cannot count on it happening.

In any case, we ought to be seriously concerned that so many people in their twenties and thirties – working, paying tax and often holding both professional and family responsibilities – should have preferred Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism to what we had to offer.

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.

Next year, the Prime Minister will host a world summit on climate change. The Glasgow conference will be an opportunity for the United Kingdom and its Conservative government both to showcase its own ideas to address the climate emergency and to demonstrate global leadership on the issue.

In recent years, “green” policies have been identified with the liberal wing of the party. David Cameron took a lot of flak early in his leadership for focusing on this agenda.

Again, it’s easy to oversimplify: I’m old enough to have been in the audience at the party conference in 1988 to hear Mrs Thatcher declare that: No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease. This Government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full. The key point is that it will be both right and in our electoral interests to take action on the environment and to be seen to do so.

Another political reality that the party must grapple with is the fact that voters from British people of Caribbean, Asian, African and central European heritage make up a significant proportion of the electorate in a growing number of constituencies.

Yet again, we need to beware of oversimplification. Many of my former constituents from Pakistani, Indian and Polish backgrounds are on the social conservative rather than social liberal end of the spectrum. They are certainly a long way from being “woke”.

But they care passionately about racism – sadly almost always because they and their children have been at the receiving end of abusive or insensitive comments – or worse. They judge politicians in part by how they handle these matters. Community relations and anti-racism are causes that, like the environment, have been championed within the Conservative Party by its liberal wing and, once again, are issues where our electoral interest coincides with what it is right to say and do.

The Conservative Party’s electoral success has rested in large measure on its ability and willingness to adapt to the realities of social and economic change. Far from giving up in despair, liberal, centrist Conservatives should redouble our efforts to influence the party’s thinking about how we can win again in 2024.

Tania Mathias: Social care reform should be Johnson’s legacy as much as Brexit

6 Jul

Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.

At the weekend Sir Simon Stevens deftly moved away from the problems during the current pandemic – that have led to NHS doctors protesting outside Downing Street, fears about the lack of PPE, and the paucity of testing – by commenting on the much needed reform of social care which had been highlighted well before SARS-CoV-2 had reached its human host.

Many clapped for the NHS at five o’clock on Sunday. Next year, if we have had progress in medical and social care integration, it could be a clap for NHSCARE.

Theresa May’s manifesto in 2017 addressed the need for social care reform, and we have had a Green Paper promised ever since. Now is a perfect rainbow: we need more people opting to work in the social care sector, and many people in retail and hospitality are facing the need to re-train and look for other jobs. If we can ride the wave of respect and current attention on the NHS, we can direct people seeking work to the care sector.

This year is the opportunity to give more status – financially and culturally – to jobs involving person-to-person care. Several Cabinet Ministers have spoken about the challenge of the fourth industrial revolution. High tech jobs are a dominant need in our society yet the often missed need is the “high touch” or empathetic jobs that are needed yet no artificial intelligence can mimic.

People do not need to have a calling or a vocation to be able to look after another human being who is in need of personal care. The new Job Centre mentors need to look to filling care jobs that also have a career structure to help the thousands of people who suddenly find themselves unemployed.

The Cavendish report addressed the need for a better career structure for care workers. Indeed, better training may have saved lives during this first pandemic peak. For example, who saw the images of the fire brigade workers training care workers how to put on PPE and wondered shouldn’t the care worker being the one to teach the fire brigade how to do this?

Care has been an overlooked career but now is a rainbow opportunity to bring a range of people from different life and job experiences into the care sector to fill vacancies. Instead of furlough, the Government could be subsidising the wages for people entering the care sector.

Longer term the Government could be encouraging companies to give their skills to the care sector. The Territorial Army is a template and now we have a chance to move some of the COVID-19 volunteers into a NHSCARE army, or rather NHSCARE family.

Sir Simon Stevens referenced Beveridge’s five evils. And I am told Margaret Thatcher kept a copy of Beveridge’s report in her famous handbag. I don’t care if that latter anecdote is true or not: the point is Thatcher cared deeply about the end to want, disease, ignorance squalor and idleness. A boost in recruitment in the care sector can address several of these issues at once.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s term of office was expected to be dominated by Brexit. A greater legacy will be a care sector fit for the next 72 years and integrated with a stronger NHS – the birth of NHSCARE. Thatcher would be proud methinks.