Payne journeys through the Red Wall seats to discover how Labour lost them and Johnson won

18 Sep

Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England by Sebastian Payne

The first thing Sebastian Payne prompted me to do was to order a copy of English Journey by J. B. Priestley. For Payne starts his book in Gateshead, where he grew up, and is sporting enough to quote what Priestley wrote about it in 1933:

“No true civilisation could have produced such a town, which is nothing better than a huge dingy dormitory.”

Payne is not a second Priestley. He is neither such a good writer, nor so rude. But he is a good investigative journalist, who wants to understand what happened in the Red Wall seats where the Conservatives made such inroads in 2019.

The term “Red Wall” was coined by the pollster James Kanagasooriam to describe seats which had never returned a Tory MP since 1997 (or in some cases since the Second World War); voted on average by 63 per cent for Brexit (compared to the national average of 52 per cent); had a substantial Labour majority during the 1990s; and also had a substantial minority Tory vote.

Four such seats went blue for the first time at the 2017 general election: Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and Walsall North.

Thirty four went blue in 2019, and another 14 stayed in Labour hands. Payne quotes a Labour aide who says the 2019 result could have been even worse:

“We looked at the North and Midlands and thought the whole thing could just go, it could have been another Scotland for us.”

But to lose 34 seats is still pretty bad, and Payne sets out to discover what happened, and whether 2019 “was a fluke, or a realignment”.

His method is to visit ten Red Wall seats, each of which gets about 30 pages of text: Blyth Valley, North West Durham, Sedgefield, Wakefield, Don Valley, Great Grimsby, North East Derbyshire, Coventry North West, Heywood and Middleton, and Burnley.

In the course of his researches he interviews 120 people, including many former Labour MPs, often spoken to remotely, in part because of the pandemic. So we hear from Tony Blair, David Blunkett, David Miliband, Alan Johnson and many others.

In Blyth Valley, he meets Ronnie Campbell, former miner, Labour MP there from 1987-2019, when he retired because of a heart complaint; and Ian Levy, former mental health nurse, who proceeded to win the seat by 712 votes for the Conservatives.

Levy told Payne how he came to stand:

“We would often go out for a meal or a drink, me and my wife Maureen. On the wander back, when I’d had a few beers, I would start complaining about the state of the town centre: the state of the bus shelters, the feeling of despondency there was in the town where people feel really, really let down, and that their vote is taken for granted.

“I think she was happy to hear this, once, twice, maybe 30 times. But once it got to 40 or 50, she’d absolutely had enough. I remember this one night in particular she said, ‘Either do something about it or shut up.’ And I said, ‘Right, OK then.'”

The next day he told her he was going to stand for Parliament. His “gut feeling” took him towards the Conservatives, but he found there was no Conservative Association in Blyth Valley, so he wrote to David Cameron, explaining his passion for Blyth, the problems he had identified and how he intended to fix them.

Much to his and Maureen’s surprise, he received a positive reply, and in 2016 was invited to CCHQ for an interview, after which he became the prospective parliamentary candidate.

His first campaign, in the 2017 general election, was run with £500 donated by Matt Ridley, described by Payne as “the aristocratic science writer and libertarian campaigner based in Northumberland”.

Levy’s daughter and her friends distributed leaflets, and the Conservative vote rose to 15,855 (it had been 8,346 in 2015), but the genial Campbell was still well ahead, with 23,770 votes.

Two years later, the Conservative vote increased again, to 17,440, while Campbell’s successor fell back to 16,728. Levy in his second campaign had won a famous victory.

“One of the nuisances of the ballot,” Lord Salisbury once remarked, “is that when the oracle has spoken you never know what it means.”

There is a temptation, when seeking to explain what happened in the Red Wall seats, to pretend to greater knowledge than is actually possible.

It can be difficult enough to know what is going on inside one’s own head, let alone anyone else’s, as one makes up one’s mind how to vote. Here is Payne on his own decision in the EU Referendum of 2016:

“On both sides of my family, almost everyone voted Leave. I was deeply torn: my northern hinterland and instincts pulled me towards Brexit, but after twenty minutes in the polling booth, my head put a tick in the Remain column.”

One rejoices to find such a balanced outlook, such conscious doubt, in a reporter for a newspaper, The Financial Times, which expressed such dogmatic enthusiasm for remaining in the EU.

There is an overwhelming sense, in every place visited by Payne, of having seen better days. Great industries have collapsed,  so has the communal life which they engendered, and handsome town centres are left to rot.

Local pride is wounded at every turn by evidence of neglect, shoddiness and former greatness. The prosperous, of whom there are more than one might think, flee to houses on the periphery.

And as Payne explains, the Labour coalition has broken down:

“From its inception, the party was built on a Hampstead-to-Humberside electoral alliance, bridging metropolitan liberal voters, typified in the north London enclave, to the working-class voters in England’s working-class towns. Brexit annihilated this alliance, but Labour’s shift on other matters set the stage for the demise, according to Blair.”

Blair talks at considerable length to Payne. The ingenuity with which he justifies himself is impressive, and his self-righteousness is insufferable.

Nothing is ever Blair’s fault. Norman Tebbit, speaking from his office in the House of Lords, strikes a different note:

“There were mining communities in rural areas where there was very little other work. Unfortunately we could have run those mines down much more slowly. We could have done more to help to bring jobs to those areas. There was a deep and profound economic and social change that went on, which was adverse to those local people.”

One of the paradoxes of Payne’s account is that he talks to so many politicians, he does not always allow the voices of local people to be heard.

We instead get the generally rather bland language of professional politicians, discussing what to do about the Red Wall seats, what to do about Brexit, and still cut off from the people who in 2016 seized the chance to make their voice heard, administering a most tremendous shock to the metropolitan liberals who had ignored them for so long.

The weakness of Theresa May after the 2017 general election turned out to be a trap for the Remainers. Peter Mandelson tells Payne how Blair assembled a group of like-minded Labour figures and told them they had “a real opportunity” to get Leaver voters to think again.

After they had spent some time trying to persuade Leave voters that leaving was not such a great idea, Mandelson told Blair “We’re not gaining traction here”, but Blair would not accept this.

The People’s Vote campaigners were not thinking straight. As Mandelson says, the question of “what would be on the ballot paper of a second referendum…was insoluble”.

Labour, which in 2017 was still promising to implement the referendum result, ended up in a ridiculous position at the 2019 election, seen by Leave voters as an attempt to wriggle out of getting Brexit done, and Johnson won a thumping victory.

Johnson enters this book at the end, campaigning in May 2021 in the Hartlepool by-election, another famous Tory victory:

“With Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, he paced up the seafront in his trademark blue suit – sans coat, despite the weather. He was mobbed. Soon, the traffic piled up as every car stopped to point and shout, ‘Boris!’ He was the Pied Piper in the middle of a hurricane. He asked each voter he stopped to talk to if the party could count on their support. Bar some who were uncertain, every one answered in the affirmative. No one said they were backing Labour. The response was unlike any I have seen to any politician on the campaign trail, in any election: dozens of Hartlepudlians wanted selfies and elbow bumps with the Prime Minister. You cannot imagine David Cameron or Theresa May eliciting such a response.”

Payne later interviews Johnson:

“Recalling the scenes on the beach front, I asked why he felt he was so personally popular with working-class voters, despite his Eton and Oxford background? Was it that he was seen as an unconventional political insurgent? After running his hand through his mop of hair several times, Johnson said, ‘Look, it beats me.’ He appeared to be on the cusp of revealing more, before restraining himself. ‘It’s not about me, this is about this country.'”

Yes, it is about what kind of country we are, what kind of nation. And to cast light on that question, I hope another author, a latter-day Priestley, will make an English journey and spend more time talking to random members of the public, unimportant people.

David Skelton: Why a lack of dogma is Johnson’s strength, not a weakness

16 Sep

David Skelton is the author of The New Snobbery.

In October 1958, Harold Macmillan gave his second conference speech as Prime Minister and party leader. Here was a man at the peak of his political powers, who would a year later lead his Party to a thumping election win.

Rather unusually for a man of his verve and swagger, Supermac spent part of his speech talking about the nature of his political philosophy.

He differentiated Toryism from liberalism and Socialism with a characteristically fine turn of phrase. Macmillan argued that his opponents were living:

“…either in the past or in a world of make-believe. The pure doctrine of laissez-faire and absolute free trade; the nationalisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange – these were the cries of my boyhood. What a musty period flavour they have now. How utterly out of touch all this is with the problems and opportunities of today.”

I was reminded of the great man’s speech during the debate that followed the government’s necessary steps to support the NHS and social care last week. One Telegraph columnist even complained that it represented the “total victory of Socialism in Britain” and a “trashing” of “intellectual traditions.” The truth, of course, is much the opposite.

Conservatism – always adapting to meet the challenges of the day

The unifying thread that runs through the entire Tory tradition is a belief that the Party has a patriotic duty to tackle the big issues facing the country today, rather than become trapped by a tight partisan dogma. The Conservatives are the most successful political party of the democratic age because of their ability to adjust to changing circumstances and changing times, just as their opponents become trapped in ideological straightjackets.

When one of the major challenges was the degrading social conditions faced in factories, Disraeli’s Government pushed a radical agenda of social reform. When the state had grown too large, unions too powerful, and business too weak, Margaret Thatcher’s Government set out to restore the balance.

Conservatives have always believed that rigid dogma is the folly of our opponents and that we should do what is necessary to maintain balance and tackle the major issues we face today. We should not pretend that the solutions to the problems of the 1970s are somehow replicable as we face the very different problems of today.

Conservatism isn’t libertarianism

Conservatism has never been a libertarian concept. There’s a good reason why Hayek, the icon of the libertarians, wrote an essay entitled ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’. In it, he argues that conservatism and liberalism have often been opposites, as conservatism is based on a “fear of change” and liberalism is based on “a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.”

Conservatism can never just be a simplistic championing of the unfettered free market. For Tories other things, such as family, community, nation, and belonging, matter just as much as the market. As Robert Tombs set out in his masterpiece, The English and Their History, the reality of conservatism “is more complex, and more intriguing” than modern liberals would argue. According to Tombs:

“Tory beliefs – state intervention to defend the vulnerable.. Spending on welfare, rejection of deflationary economics – chime more with modern sentiments than those of the progressive Whigs.”

As Conservatives, we understand that the state often has a role to play in solving the difficult problems we face, as long as this is done in a balanced way that doesn’t diminish the role or importance of civil society, the market or families. Rab Butler was emphatic when he argued that, “Conservatives have always been ready to use the power of the state. That has been our tradition since Bolingbroke.”

Lord Hugh Cecil, in his important work on Conservatism, even suggested that modern “Conservatism inherits the traditions of Toryism which are favourable to the activity and authority of the state.”

Tackling today’s challenges

The major challenges that we face as a country today are not going to be solved by a simplistic, dogmatic mantra of “small state, low tax.” Social care, for one, is a policy dilemma that successive governments have dragged their feet over, so last week’s announcement that the government will be prioritising a lasting social care solution has to be welcomed.

Similarly, ‘levelling up’ – reviving the “post-industrial” towns that gave us an 80-seat majority – is not going to happen with a dogmatic attachment to a small state. Ambitious infrastructure projects and an industrial policy committed to reviving manufacturing represent the pragmatic solutions to the problems of the day.

Boris Johnson has always instinctively understood the importance of a balanced conservatism. When he was Mayor of London, he was, for a time, one of the only leading Tories who advocated a Living Wage and used his office to extend and support the concept. The Prime Minister has always seen the value of flagship and important infrastructure projects and this is reflected in the ambition that lies behind the Levelling Up agenda.

To return to Macmillan’s pithy summary of the political divide, Conservatives should neither be living “in the past or in a world of make believe.” Conservatives have always done what is right to tackle the challenges of the day, which sometimes involves utilising the power of the state.

Despite the cries of dogmatists on both left and right, simplistic sloganeering is no substitute for making the hard choices that come with governing.

The Thatcherites condemn Johnson. But it is to his advantage that he has no ideology

10 Sep

What cries of rage, anguish and betrayal Boris Johnson’s announcement of the social care levy has provoked from stern, unbending Thatcherites.

Never before has he come under such impassioned attack from the Right. Here is Allister Heath in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

“Shame on Boris Johnson, and shame on the Conservative Party. They have disgraced themselves, lied to their voters, repudiated their principles and treated millions of their supporters with utter contempt.”

Heath went on to lament “the moral destruction of the Conservative Party” and “its rejection of Burke, Locke, Hayek, Friedman and Oakeshott”.

The Daily Telegraph today reports that Cabinet ministers face “wrath of party’s grassroots over tax hikes”. The Times says the Tory poll lead has vanished.

And here is Iain Martin in yesterday’s Times:

At this rate the Conservative Party might as well rename itself the Labour Party…this Government doesn’t understand wealth creation, enterprise or business.”

Johnson’s many critics on the Right are so busy convicting him that they have neither the time nor inclination to wonder whether, despite ignoring their prescriptions, he might in fact be a deeply Conservative figure.

They generally ignore the nation as it is and keep their eyes fixed on the nation as it ought to be, a Gladstonian or at least Thatcherite idyll where taxes are cut and money fructifies in the pockets of the people.

And they soon work round (as do Johnson’s critics on the Left) to hurling moral condemnations at him: this dreadful Prime Minister has lied to the voters, betrayed his party’s principles (or manifesto promises), and deserves to be cast out of public life.

Behind these anathemas can be glimpsed a naive idea of politics: first discover the one true set of principles, or ideology, then stick to it through thick and thin with unwavering honesty, while denouncing anyone who departs from it as a traitor.

This arrogant and intolerant mindset is more often found on the Left. English Conservatives used from earliest youth to be guarded against it:

“Above all, we were taught to despise and distrust all forms of utopianism, socialist liberal or any other. It was presumption to believe that there was some single principle or simple body of principles on which human society could be reconstructed and sheer wickedness to be prepared to use massive public force for the sake of imposing such principles. I vividly remember the venom with which Kenneth Pickthorn used to protest against the attempt of the Left to capture the [second world] war, to imply that we were fighting not for the defence of our country but for a whole variety of social and moral purposes which could not be achieved by war, which it would, in any case, be immoral to pursue by war and thoroughly repugnant to many who were fighting it.”

So wrote T.E.Utley (1921-88) in The Daily Telegraph on 9th February 1981 (reprinted in A Tory Seer: The Selected Journalism of T.E.Utley, edited by Charles Moore and Simon Heffer).

Utley remarked in the same piece on the emergence of the “new Right”, which included “a variety of converts from several types of Left-wing radicalism” who had “attached themselves to the bandwagons of Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan” and were “radical in the sense of wanting a total transformation of society”.

Johnson is obviously not a member of the new Right. His critics say he has no ideology, and in this at least they are correct.

What they fail to understand is that it is an advantage to have no ideology. Johnson has not allowed himself to be imprisoned in a straitjacket which would prevent him from adapting his ideas in the light of events in the outside world, and would instead oblige him to fit those events into a pre-existing structure, an endeavour which would soon lead to grotesque intellectual dishonesty, requiring as it does the denial of the world as it is.

On Tuesday 23rd July 2019, after his victory over Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative leadership election had been announced, Johnson said:

“no one party, no one person, has a monopoly of wisdom, but if you look at the history of the last 200 years of this party’s existence you will see that it is we Conservatives who have had the best insights, I think, into human nature and the best insights into how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart, and time and again it is to us that the people of this country have turned to get that balance right, between the instincts to own your own house, your own home, to earn and spend your own money, to look after your own family, good instincts, proper instincts, noble instincts, and the equally noble instinct to share and to give everyone a fair chance in life and to look after the poorest and the neediest and to build a great society.”

Ideologists will shudder at such language, for they suppose they have a monopoly of wisdom. How they despise a leader who merely sets out, in the light of history, to manage jostling sets of instincts.

What sort of a guide to action is that? It lacks the glorious certainty, simplicity and self-righteousness of ideological politics.

There is a kind of Thatcherite who believes that economic policy can be reduced to a few rules – cut spending, cut taxes, liberate enterprise – regardless of what else is going on.

Johnson sought to reassure such Thatcherites when he told Conservative MPs on Wednesday evening,

“We should never forget, after all we’ve been through, that we are the party of free enterprise, the private sector and low taxation.”

This assurance was greeted by his critics with ridicule. But in the real world, it is normal enough to have aspirations one can’t immediately fulfil.

The plan hammered out by Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid may or may not survive contact with reality, but the various problems they set out to tackle are so difficult that there is still a marked lack of alternative proposals.

I have a socialist friend who possesses a valuable house. How pale he turned on hearing a few years ago that Labour was contemplating the introduction of a mansion tax.

He informed me in a sombre tone that until this reckless plan had been abandoned, he could no longer vote Labour.

Fraser Nelson sets out, in his cover piece for this week’s Spectator, how Johnson has favoured the “assetocracy” over the working poor.

He reports in passing  that Johnson tried to persuade backbenchers that his plan “stands for something very conservative”, namely “the right to pass on money”.

Some will scoff at this, but Johnson has taken into account an important instinct. We want to be able to pass on our property to our children.

And if this is to be allowed, it is impossible to draw a satisfactory distinction between the deserving and the undeserving rich.

The former may have created jobs and wealth by setting up new businesses, while the latter may have done nothing except sit tight in houses which have become absurdly valuable.

In order to incentivise the former, it is necessary also to allow the latter to pass on their wealth.

When the dust has settled, it is more than possible that Johnson’s recognition of the hereditary principle will bring about a reaction in his favour.

Ferguson got it wrong, but the buck stops with Johnson

31 Jul

“I wish I were as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything,”  Lord Melbourne once remarked.

More recently, Professor Neil Ferguson has attracted criticism for sounding unduly sure of himself. On 18th July he said it was “almost inevitable” that Covid-19 cases would soon reach 100,000 a day, instead of which the numbers began quite markedly to fall.

Nate Silver and Professor Philip Tetlock are among those who have since criticised Ferguson, not for being wrong, but for being “consistently over-confident” in his predictions.

In 2005, Ferguson predicted that “around 200 million people” would probably die of bird flu. In the event, 74 people died

We of course want to know how far the pandemic will spread, or what will happen to the economy, or which horse will win the 3.15 at Market Rasen.

But as soon as we suppose that this craving for certainty about the future can be satisfied, we deceive ourselves, and fall an easy prey to pundits pretending to impossible knowledge.

There is, one assumes, no pundit who predicted with complete success the results of the elections and referendums held in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

But there were certainly many pundits who forecast those results and got them wrong, often by following what other pundits and pollsters said, so a conventional wisdom developed which proved as unwarranted as some of Professor Ferguson’s assertions.

When Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, was asked on 17th May whether Covid restrictions were going to be lifted on 21st June, he rightly replied: “We can’t impose certainty in this situation.”

Many people suffer from the delusion that if only one draws up the right plan, and sticks to it through thick and thin, all will be well.

Politics becomes a question of upholding the one true ideology, and policies derived from that ideology. Morality in politics means being faithful to your ideology, in the confident belief that one day the promised land will come into view.

Your opponents are immoral, for they have no ideology, and no policies derived from that ideology. They are opportunists “who think that decency, honesty and integrity aren’t important”, as Sir Keir Starmer recently wrote in The Guardian.

Perhaps, on second thoughts, it is unfair to ascribe anything as definite as an ideology to the present-day Labour Party, but it certainly possesses, as intensely as it did under leaders as different as Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn, a conviction of its moral superiority.

This self-righteousness leads it to despise rather than understand the Conservative Party, which follows the pragmatic tradition of winning and retaining power by determining more quickly and surely that its competitors what at any given moment the nation wants, and how to provide it.

The Conservatives sack any leader who has become an electoral liability, Theresa May being the most recent example, and do not allow ideological commitment to obstruct doing what in practice is required.

It would certainly be difficult to draw an account of the Government’s handling of the pandemic in terms of ideology. Vast extensions of public spending and state power were made almost overnight.

The more dangerous charges are unpreparedness and incompetence, as ministers and their advisers proceeded by trial and error to try to work out the the best way forward.

Ministers spoke of following the science, but it soon became clear that the scientists were capable of disagreeing with each other.

Leadership involved, even more than usual, the strength to put up with uncertainty, and to make decisions on the basis of inadequate information.

The buck stops with the Prime Minister, and The Times reports today that his “support has collapsed in Conservative heartlands in the southeast and east of England”.

His touch has seemed a bit less certain as he and his colleagues work out when and how to repeal the measures brought in to contain the pandemic.

The end of a campaign can be less satisfying than the beginning, when the nation came together to meet the threat.

But Conservatives will draw comfort from the thought that the Government’s performance will not be judged against some imaginary standard of perfection. It will be judged by comparison with how well people think Labour would have done.

Johnson now has the serious task of restoring pride to the working class, failed by Labour

24 Jul

The New Snobbery: Taking on Modern Elitism and Empowering the Working Class by David Skelton

If David Skelton had delayed publication of this book by many more months, he would have had to rename it The New Orthodoxy.

For the lessons he urged in his last book, Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map, are becoming more and more widely accepted.

That book was reviewed on ConHome in October 2019, and in December of that year Boris Johnson redrew the political map by leading the Conservatives to victory in many of the forgotten towns.

Or the blue remembered towns, as one might now call them. The initiative now lies with the Conservatives.

The “new snobbery” identified by Skelton is mainly a problem for the Labour Party, which needs to regain the seats it lost in 2019, and cannot do so as long as voters in places like Hartlepool, captured by the Conservatives at a by-election held less than three months ago, feel despised by many on the Left.

That astonishing result came just in time for Skelton, who writes:

“Once the scale of the Hartlepool defeat for Labour had become clear, elements of the Left indulged in another round of electorate blaming. One claimed that the problem for the Left was that ‘a huge number of the general public are racists and bigots’ and asked, ‘How do you begin to tackle entrenched idiocy like that?’ Another claimed, ‘We don’t have an opposition problem. We have an electorate problem.'”

Skelton has collected much snobbery of this kind, some of which he quotes in his piece this week for ConHome.

In his book Skelton reminds us that such sentiments are not new. Here is Engels to Marx in November 1868, as newly enfranchised working-class voters supported “reactionary” parties:

“The proletariat has discredited itself terribly.”

Nobody has put it better than Engels. The workers often refuse to behave as progressive middle-class intellectuals instruct them to behave.

Skelton writes in a rushed, clumsy and gloomy tone about the dreadful delusions of the leftie intellectuals, but surely they have more cause for despondency as they contemplate Johnson’s to them incomprehensible success.

Lunatic “woke” nostrums, and attempts by their adherents to usher in a tyranny of virtue, cry out for a new Michael Wharton who helps us laugh to scorn these impertinent attempts to purify our history, language, institutions and the rest.

Earlier this week, I met a peer who has just been on one of the courses where members of the House of Lords are taught how to behave. He took it all with the utmost docility, but at the end asked his instructor whether it was all right to be rude to an Old Etonian.

“Oh yes,” she replied without a moment’s thought.

And perhaps that is one of the things people like about Johnson. One can be as rude as one wants to him and he doesn’t seem to mind.

The Prime Minister has an old-fashioned idea of liberty, as involving a degree of tastelessness; a propensity to live and let live; and a willingness to tease the Puritans, not least by avoiding a culture war fought on their own ineffably humourless terms.

We now have Wharton, not as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, but as Prime Minister: a man capable of seeing the absurdity of everyone, including himself.

But there is another part of Skelton’s story where gloom is understandable. The destruction of great industries, the loss of skilled trades, the humiliation of proud workers reduced to scraping a precarious existence, is the dismal post-war story in town after town.

The example closest to Skelton’s heart is the closure in 1980 of the great steelworks in his home town of Consett, a topic dealt with at greater length in his previous book.

One of the worst things about the nationalisation after the Second World War of the commanding heights of the British economy was that decisions were no longer taken locally, but in London, where it was easier to pretend that parsimonious investment, limited by Treasury rules and recurrent public spending crises, would be adequate to modernise these grand old industries.

Local pride and ownership were lost. Now everyone owned the plant, which meant nobody owned it, and its future was in the hands of distant politicians and officials who for the most part had no deep knowledge or commitment.

The nationalised industries declined into job-preservation schemes which failed even in their own terms, a series of doomed rearguard actions as the great names of British manufacturing went under.

Just as modern architecture done on the cheap in the 1950s and 1960s led increasing numbers of us to shudder at the idea of allowing anything to be built, so regional policy and industrial policy were discredited by a lengthening record of failure.

In his recent Levelling Up speech, Johnson lamented the “basic half-heartedness” of the 40 different schemes or bodies which over the last 40 years have tried to boost local or regional growth.

He admitted that “for many decades we relentlessly crushed local leadership” because “we were in the grip of a real ideological conflict in which irresponsible municipal socialist governments were bankrupting cities”.

Now, he rejoiced, “that argument is over and most of the big metro mayors know that private sector investment is crucial”.

So we are at last returning to local leadership. That at least is the idea. We can be pragmatic rather than ideological, and can bring everyone together in a particular locality in order to do what works.

Skelton agrees that we should not allow ourselves to get “stuck in the endless trenches of a culture war”.

He observes that the Labour Party “emerged from those great institutions of working-class life: the chapel and the trade union”, but that the proportion of Labour MPs who were manual workers “has fallen from almost 20 per cent in 1979 to less than three per cent today”.

The party has become obsessed by cultural issues, and has forgotten that secure, well-paid work is what matters to its former voters.

Let the Labour Party debate cultural issues to its heart’s content, while the dignity of work is championed by the Conservatives.

Skelton wants to formalise “the partnership between workers and employers” by putting workers on boards, which he thinks would “help to rein in the excesses of executive pay”, and would “increase productivity, enhance retention and promote a long-term focus”, instead of short-term expedients to increase shareholder value.

Every successful Conservative leader from Disraeli to the present day has taken seriously the requirements of the working class, and has thereby triumphed over priggish middle-class Liberals and Socialists who supposed they were the true guardians of the workers. Here is a serious task for Johnson.

Profile: Priti Patel, who promises to stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats

8 Jul

On 24th July 2019 Boris Johnson appointed a woman of Indian descent, born in London to parents who had fled Uganda, to one of the great offices of state.

Two years later, Priti Patel remains Home Secretary, and has introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill, intended to deter illegal entry into the UK, the most conspicuous route being by small boat from France.

On Tuesday, Patel told readers of The Daily Mail: “This cannot go on and as Home Secretary I will not allow this to continue.”

By introducing a two-tier system, making those who arrive illegally in the UK far less eligible for asylum and far more liable to be deported, Patel promises she will break the power of the people smugglers.

Henry Hill has examined, for ConHome, how likely these plans are to succeed, but we shall not know for sure until the legislation has been passed, and operated for a reasonable period of time.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, has suggested on this site that trying to send refugees who have arrived illegally in Britain back either to the safe countries through which they have passed, or to their countries of origin, will not work, and will merely increase the already disgraceful backlog of cases.

The Home Office’s administrative record is so poor that one cannot feel much confidence in its ability to clear the backlog. Nor is Patel’s task made easier by the leaking from time to time of implausible proposals said to be under consideration by her department – waves in the Channel, a detention centre in Rwanda or on Ascension Island.

But these obstacles in some ways make Patel’s appointment all the more comprehensible. It is harder for liberal critics to impute racism, or undue severity, to a Home Secretary who herself belongs to an ethnic minority.

And Patel is in any case capable of showing a remarkable imperviousness to argument, as when she defended the death penalty against opposition from Harriet Harman and Ian Hislop in a Question Time debate in 2011, the year after she entered the Commons.

“She’s small and a woman and an Asian – to be heard she has to be quite aggressive,” a parliamentarian who knows her well remarked, and went on:

“She is intolerant of people who disagree with her. I think she does go too far.

“People do like her straight talking. That’s part of her appeal. I’m full of admiration for her. It’s a bloody tough job. She’s still there.”

She might not be there. In February 2020 Sir Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, resigned, claimed he had been “the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign”, and accused Patel of bullying staff.

Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s Independent Advisor on Ministerial Standards, looked into these allegations, and in November 2020 concluded:

“My advice is that the Home Secretary has not consistently met the high standards
required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration
and respect. Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be
described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her
behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.
This conclusion needs to be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was
aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the
time. The high pressure and demands of the role, in the Home Office, coupled
with the need for more supportive leadership from top of the department has
clearly been a contributory factor. In particular, I note the finding of different and
more positive behaviour since these issues were raised with her.”

Johnson, as ultimate arbiter of the Ministerial Code, decided to stand by Patel, and Sir Alex resigned.

When Patel was interviewed by ConHome in 2015, she described how her family lost everything in Uganda, and the death of her mother’s father soon afterwards in India:

“He was a businessman. So he had tea factories, cotton plantations, coffee plantations as well. My grandfather was incredibly well known in Uganda. R.U.Patel, a very pious man, so always giving back to the community, very religious, a big Swaminar in the Hindu community.

“I think the trauma, it was just incredible for my entire family, for my Mum’s family in particular. My Dad’s family were shopkeepers as well. Everyone in that era of East African Asians was hugely displaced, hugely displaced, their rights taken away from them, and they were persecuted for what they had.”

They arrived in Britain with nothing, and set out to rebuild the family fortunes:

“And it was from a people point of view just deeply challenging. You know, hostile, immigrants coming in, really, really difficult. I was born [in 1972] in Islington, in Highbury, and my Mum and Dad rented a room off an elderly man in Finsbury Park, and that’s where we lived.

“Typically in Indian culture, if you’re the eldest you bear the burden of everything else in terms of family responsibility. So my Dad, who’s the eldest, he’s got a brother and two sisters, did the right thing, he had to think about looking after his Mum and Dad and his brother and sisters.

“So my Dad dropped out of university to just get a job, basically, to get cash wherever he could, low-skilled work, just to build up pots of money to get some security. So he then helped my grandfather, his Dad, to buy a shop in Tottenham, Number One, White Hart Lane.

“That was a newsagent. That gave my grandparents the footing to get on. My Dad became a shopkeeper as well. My parents have been self-employed like that for over 40 years. So I effectively grew up on top of a shop for most of my life. So we’ve done everything from newspapers to post offices to small supermarkets.”

Patel grew up with Thatcherite assumptions. Her father rose at four in the morning every day for 40 years and built up a chain of newsagents despite unfair competition from the established chains, who saw to it that independent competitors got the papers too late to be sure of delivering them in time for breakfast.

She went to Watford Grammar School, studied economics at Keele and politics at Essex University, became a devout Eurosceptic as well as Thatcherite, joined the Conservative Party in 1991, from 1995-97 was head of press for the Referendum Party, but rejoined the Conservatives as a press officer under William Hague, and also worked for several years in public relations.

At the 2005 general election she stood for the Conservatives in the safe Labour seat of Nottingham North. Early in David Cameron’s leadership she was placed on the A list of candidates, and in 2006 she put in for the newly created seat of Witham, in Essex.

The finalists for what was going to be a safe Conservative seat included Geoffrey Van Orden, who was already an MEP and had served as a brigadier at Nato, James Brokenshire, whose seat of Hornchurch was going to be abolished, and Patel, who looked like an outsider.

There was an open primary, and Baroness Jenkin, who was in the audience of about 200 people and in 2005 had co-founded Women2Win with Theresa May, recalls that when Patel started to speak, “It was very clear straight away that she appealed to Conservatives but also to people who weren’t Conservatives.”

Patel, who had begun to wonder whether she would be selected anywhere, was the unexpected victor, and on arriving at Westminster said in her maiden speech:

“My own deep and personal interest in what I call the economics of enterprise and small business stems from my family background…my youth was literally spent sleeping above the shop and playing directly under the till, while watching my family—thanks to the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher—thrive and grow. Wherever my parents set up shop, they employed local people, contributed to the local community, and made a substantial contribution to the local economy.”

Along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, she wrote Britannia Unchained, published in 2011 and somewhat critical of the British attitude to work:

“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Harsh words, but four of the five authors are now in the Cabinet. Perhaps this is a more Thatcherite administration than has yet been noticed by the pundits.

Patel rose swiftly, in 2015 becoming Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions,  and in 2016 backing Leave in the referendum campaign and Theresa May for the leadership, who rewarded her with the post of International Development Secretary.

But Patel had already displayed a marked capacity for annoying some of those around her. Here is Sasha Swire in her diary entry for 12 November 2015:

“Modi comes to town. Priti Patel has been inserting herself into this trip at every turn. As the PM’s Indian Diaspora Champion she does have a role, but she is behaving like the Minister for India, which is actually what Hugo [Sasha’s husband] is. Sure enough, she turns up at the VIP suite to greet Modi. She has also done all the press that morning, at Craig Oliver’s insistence, and got herself invited to a small lunch with the Queen when we were told no ministers were invited. H has thrown a wobbly…”

Sir Alan Duncan is even less complimentary in his diaries, in which she is variously referred to as Priti Horrendous, Priti Outrageous, Priti Appalling, Priti Frightful and Priti Unspeakable. In his entry for 23 January 2017 we read:

“They hate Priti Patel in DfID, mainly because she seems to hate all of them.”

Patel came a cropper at DfID when it was revealed in November 2017 that she had held a series of meetings with senior Israeli figures without informing the Foreign Office, or indeed the Prime Minister. A senior Tory backbencher and former minister described this episode to ConHome as “absolutely disgraceful”, and after a much publicised flight home from Africa, some not entirely candid statements about whom she had seen in Israel, and two meetings with May, she was obliged to resign.

In July 2019, Johnson put her back in the Cabinet in the altogether more senior role of Home Secretary. Here she has developed, presumably at his behest, a more stringent immigration policy than liberal opinion would wish.

Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party, yesterday reminded ConHome that the choice between being stringent and liberal about immigration is by no means new:

“As is well known, Tory Home Secretaries have to choose between offending much of their party and alienating the complacent lefties who always seem to be in the ascendant at the Home Office.

“Perhaps no holder of the post pleased the Party more, or attracted more derision from bien pensants, than Sir William Joynson-Hicks, known as Jix, who served throughout the five years of Baldwin’s dominant second cabinet of 1924-9. He detested short sentences, and thought prisons should be the permanent homes of the irredeemably wicked.

“His proudest boast, however, was to have stemmed ‘the tide pouring in here to secure better conditions than can be obtained in their own lands’. He visited the Channel ports amid great publicity, and looked into immigration control arrangements in minute detail.

“Afterwards, he told the Commons that ‘few aliens crept through the net that stretched round the coast, and that most of those who evaded the net were subsequently discovered and deported.’ Priti Patel must take heart from Jix’s success a century ago.”

Amanda Milling: How we’re going to ensure that everyone is welcome in the Conservative Party

6 Jul

Amanda Milling is the Member of Parliament for Cannock Chase and co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Six weeks ago, Professor Swaran Singh’s investigation into racism and discrimination within the Conservative Party was published.

While the report found no evidence of institutionalised racism, it set out the need for the Conservative Party to overhaul its complaints process so it was more transparent, and to simplify our Code of Conduct to ensure members have a fuller understanding of the standards expected of them.

The report set out 27 recommendations for the party to accept so we can begin to tackle these issues.

The first step in this process is the publication of an Action Plan setting out how we will implement the recommendations. Today we are publishing this plan – which you can read in full here.

The Conservative Party has always been a trailblazer when it comes to breaking through barriers, and it is core to our identity as a party that no one should be held back or discriminated against for any reason.

Regardless of race, background, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or anything else, everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, and everyone should be welcome in the Conservative Party.

As Co-Chairman of the Party I am determined to fix the problems that the Singh investigation shone a light on because, for me, one case of discrimination is one too many.

This Action Plan is the first stepping stone in tackling where we have fallen short and ensuring we put things right.

This Action Plan sets out how over the next year we will update our Code of Conduct so everyone is aware of the behaviour we expect of them. We will be improving our communication to members and training our Party officers to enable them to investigate and address issues effectively. And we will be clarifying how the complaints process works and what actions we will be taking at every step of that process.

Within the same timeframe as publishing the Action Plan the recommendations required us to review and clarify our Social Media Complaints Rules – this work has already been done and approved by the Board and will be further reviewed with the fuller review of the Code of Conduct.

As Co-Chairman, I am also aware of some of the frustrations and distress our process has, at times, caused to both the accused and the victims. We are determined to provide our complaints team with the resources to investigate and resolve these issues in a timely manner. Some cases are incredibly complex and rightly need a thorough investigation.

However as part of the recommendations, and as part of my determination to provide a better system, we will be introducing clear guidelines and expectations on how long we might reasonably expect cases to be investigated.

As part of these recommendations, we were asked to improve the transparency of our complaints system including notifying respondents about the identity of members of the panel that’s assessing their case. These processes are now in place increasing confidence for those going through the complaints system.

The Action Plan sets out a clear path over the next year for the Party to put right the findings of Professor Singh’s investigation.

There’s no denying these recommendations are challenging. It requires the whole Conservative Party family – members, Associations, elected representatives and Conservative Campaign Headquarters – to work together to implement these recommendations.

We will all need to get to grips with a clearer Code of Conduct. Associations Officers will need to set aside time for training on the complaints process to ensure all complaints are handled to the highest standard. CCHQ will be working with the voluntary party to deliver these changes and ensure the smooth implementation of Professor Singh’s recommendations.

This is not something that can be delivered by CCHQ alone. Over the coming weeks and months I will need your help to make these changes and I hope you will work with us to improve our Party for the better.

It’s only by reviewing our Code of Conduct, implementing training, and improving transparency that we can ensure our complaints process can root out racism and discrimination while ensuring it’s fair and easy for those that need it.

At every step of the way we will be working with you, the Conservative Party family, to ensure we are held accountable to delivering these recommendations and sticking to the timeline set out in the Action Plan.

The recommendations set out by Professor Singh require the Party to provide an update on its progress in delivering the Action Plan. You have my full commitment that the Party will update you on that progress in six months time.

Let’s use this Action Plan as a way of ensuring we right the wrongs of the past, and build on being a Party of aspiration and opportunity to all.

Profile of an ex-Prime Minister: Theresa May becomes the voice of Conservative conscience

24 Jun

“I think she has enhanced her reputation since leaving Downing Street, where she never looked comfortable.”

So said Andrew Mitchell, former International Development Secretary, of Theresa May, former Prime Minister.

Mitchell observed that as the only former PM in either the Commons or the Lords, she is “an important parliamentarian”:

“The first point is that she’s stayed in the House. Her interventions are incredibly telling. She speaks with enormous authority, she speaks up for her constituents, and she basically tries to keep the Government straight.”

Another former minister, an old friend of May, remarked on her “morality”, and added “there is a difference”.

He meant there is a difference between her and the present Prime Minister. Her contributions in the Commons, presented in easily accessible form by Hansard, display several qualities not always evinced by Boris Johnson.

She offers almost nothing in the way of entertainment, but concentrates on the matter in hand, to which she applies her prosaic but furiously logical mind, her mastery of detail and an icy Anglican conscientiousness.

These qualities did not suffice to make her a successful Prime Minister, but help fit her to hold the present incumbent to account.

When in her view he is behaving badly, she is on hand to tell him so. And because she is generally the first backbencher on the Conservative side to be called, he can quite often enjoy the pleasure of listening to her, and had to send her a note of apology after a recent occasion when he fled the Chamber just as she rose to speak.

The causes which command her attention include the Government’s handling of the pandemic; the proposed relaxation of planning laws; the abandonment of the 0.7 per cent manifesto commitment on international aid (no doubt one reason for Mitchell’s approval); sentences for causing death by dangerous driving (she wants life); modern slavery; mental health; domestic abuse; and various other tough, complicated, unfashionable matters on which she got a grip as Home Secretary.

As MP since 1997 for Maidenhead, she has always, as one long-term observer says, “been allergic to more houses in Maidenhead”, and can be relied on to demand: “Why can’t they put them somewhere else?”

Her majority at the general election of 2019 was 18,846, but in 2001 fell as low as 3,284. Nobody had to tell her the Lib Dems posed a danger in Chesham and Amersham.

May as PM found it impossible to assemble a sufficient coalition of parliamentary or popular support, but loss of office has liberated her to become the voice of a certain kind of Tory conscience.

She expresses a dutiful, deeply felt, traditional conservatism, and strives to expose the various ways in which, to some Conservatives, the present government is scandalously disreputable and unprofessional.

Here she is last September on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill:

“I cannot emphasise enough how concerned I am that a Conservative Government are willing to go back on their word, to break an international agreement signed in good faith and to break international law.”

And here she is in the debate on 10th June on the aviation, travel and tourism industries, when Robert Courts, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport, was on the receiving end of this reproof:

“This is a disappointing debate, because one year and one week ago this very issue was raised in this House… One year on, we are no further forward. Indeed, we have a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business.

More than not being any further forward, we have gone backwards. We now have more than 50 per cent of the adult population vaccinated—it is a wonderful programme—yet we are more restricted on travel than we were last year. In 2020, I went to Switzerland in August and South Korea in September. There was no vaccine but travel was possible. This year, there is a vaccine but travel is not possible. I really do not understand the Government’s stance.

Of course, it is permissible for a person to travel to countries on the amber list, provided that it is practicable for them to quarantine when they come back, but Government Ministers tell people that they must not travel and cannot go on holiday to places on the amber list. The messaging is mixed and the system is chaotic. Portugal was put on the green list, people went to the football, then Portugal was put on the amber list, leaving holidaymakers scrabbling for flights and devastated families having to cancel their plans… 

Business travel is practically impossible: global Britain has shut its doors to business and investors. In a normal pre-pandemic year, passengers travelling through Heathrow spent £16 billion throughout the country, including at places such as Legoland Windsor, which is partly in my constituency. That has been lost…

If the Government’s position is that we cannot open up travel until there are no new variants elsewhere in the world, we will never be able to travel abroad ever again…The Government may say all they have, as the Minister has, about the importance of the aviation industry, but they need to decide whether they want an airline industry and aviation sector in the UK or not, because at the rate they are going, they will not have one.”

“What’s her game?” people ask, but her style of debating is effective because there is no sign of any game being played. She is in deadly earnest.

“Most of the time I think she’s right and therefore effective,” the old friend and former minister quoted above said. “She shifts the dial.

“But one warning: don’t do too much of it.”

The obvious danger, he added, was that she would “turn into Ted Heath”.

It would be impossible for May to reach the stratospheric level of grumpiness maintained for a quarter of a century by Heath after he was overthrown by Margaret Thatcher, but one guesses she finds little to admire in her successor.

Heath – in the words of Douglas Hurd, who worked for him – struck, when attacking Harold Wilson’s style of government in the introduction to the 1970 Conservative manifesto,

“a note of genuine puritan protest, which is familiar in British history, sometimes in one party, sometimes in the other… It is the outraged assertion of a strict view of what public life is about, after a period in which its rules have been perverted and its atmosphere corrupted.”

Sir Keir Starmer hesitates to sound unrelentingly high-minded. May has no such qualms. At the time of the 1970 general election she was 13, and had already started working for the local Conservatives as a volunteer.

Another of May’s old friends says of her and Johnson: “She must despise him, and she must look at him and think how can he be there and I was dumped so humiliatingly.

“But honestly, I have no idea what goes on in her brain – nobody does.”

Yet in this week’s Spectator, James Forsyth offers a hint of what is going on there:

“I’m told that when May was canvassing at the Chesham and Amersham by-election, she took a certain pleasure in telling the campaign team about voters who said they weren’t voting Conservative because of Johnson.”

Lord Lexden, official historian to the Conservative Party, places the change in May’s demeanour in perspective:

“One might almost feel that it was worth the agony of the premiership to get this serene and rather impressive elder stateswoman. She is a powerful rebuke to Blair, Brown and Cameron who scuttled off indecorously after leaving Number 10. She is demonstrating again that ex-premiers can find a useful role in the Commons, which Heath’s unseemly behaviour had rather suggested might be impossible in modern politics.

“She remains at the political service of the nation, as no ex-premier since Douglas-Home has realistically been. Arthur Balfour left No 10 in 1905 after a disastrous three-year premiership with the party divided and in deep disarray. Rehabilitation followed quite quickly, and he held major offices in later governments, finally retiring at the age of eighty.  Here is an example for Mrs May to keep in mind.”

Interview with Dominic Raab: The EU’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol is “pretty analogue in a digital age”

18 Jun

Brexit has resulted in “a massive empowering of the Foreign Office to go out and have a genuine global foreign policy”. So says Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary since July 2019.

There has not, he suggests, been any comparable change in the attitude of the European Commission, particularly with regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol, where “the approach that Brussels seems to be wedded to is pretty analogue in a digital age”.

Raab questions the idea that the conflicts in Kashmir, and in Israel/Palestine, risk spilling over into British politics.

He denies he is better at chairing meetings than Boris Johnson, admits he is “still not wild” about taking the knee, and contends that the Conservative Party’s new appeal to voters in the North need not be gained at the expense of support in seats such as his own, in the home counties:

“What we’re trying to do is forge that crucial alliance between aspirational working and middle class voters. That’s the elixir of Conservative strategy I think.”

The interview was carried out on Wednesday evening, and ConHome began by asking about the material released that morning by Dominic Cummings, and the period when Johnson was at death’s door and Raab was “covering for the boss”.

ConHome: “Do you agree with today’s report that you are better than the Prime Minister at chairing meetings?”

Raab: “No [laughter].”

ConHome: “Here’s the full quote: ‘Unlike the Prime Minister Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes. He lets good officials actually question people, so we started to get to the truth.'”

Raab: “What is the question?”

ConHome: “Is this an accurate account?”

Raab: “No, no. I try to do things professionally, and I think the Prime Minister deploys me for that. But actually I think to the extent we’re talking about the period when I was covering for the boss, we were all focussed on doing what he wanted.

“There was a good team effort, in order to get ourselves into good shape for when we hoped he would be back at the helm.”

ConHome: “And what do you think of Cummings himself?”

Raab: “I can’t see any value added from me commenting on the commentary.”

ConHome: “Was there ever actually a moment when the Prime Minister was ill when you thought, ‘I’m going to have to take over’?”

Raab: “When you say ‘take over’, you mean beyond…”

ConHome: “Beyond what you were doing anyway.”

Raab: “I was conscious that he was not well, but also I think I had the pretty firm conviction he’d pull through. But I didn’t know.

“The truth is I thought he was in good hands with the doctors, which he was, exceptional care, and what I knew he’d want, when he came to, and was able to engage, was to know we hadn’t been sitting there, fretting so much over him, but that we’d been getting on doing what needed to be done for the country.

“That was the rationale. And the truth is the Cabinet were brilliant, because it’s a team effort, very disciplined, very professional, and I suppose that sense of worry and concern for someone who’s a colleague, not just our boss, kicked in.”

ConHome: “You never felt a moment of absolute terror, thinking ‘I’m going to have to be a kind of interim figure who…'”

Raab: “Well not really. There was never any news that gave me credible cause for concern. The truth is, people ask me this a lot, I didn’t have a lot of time for my mind to wander. It was pretty hectic.

“The Foreign Office was very busy at the time, and then there was obviously trying to make sure that we steered things through.

“I think I’m right in saying it was around the point at which we were edging towards the five tests of how we would come through lockdown.

“So there was a huge amount of substantive work, the Prime Minister had given us our steer, so there was a load to get on with, and I was just focussed on that really.”

ConHome: “Only a few weeks ago, a convoy went down the Finchley Road with someone shouting ‘F*** the Jews, rape their daughters’.

“Do you think the effect of foreign affairs, and of Israel/Palestine, is intensifying in a malign way here in the UK?”

Raab: “That was a deeply worrying incident and we jumped on it very quick, both in terms of condemning it, but also making sure the Met were aware, and satisfying ourselves that they were on the case, to give the Jewish community the reassurance they needed.

“But this cross-fertilisation of the international realm into domestic policy actually is much more prevalent than that. You can see it on a whole range of issues.

“Because we’ve got such a wonderful international mix in the UK. I am very, very sensitive to the impact on the British Chinese community of what we’re doing.

“When you think about that community, one of the most entrepreneurial, I sat on the Education Select Committee for two years, the British Chinese standards, the parenting, the engagement, from every class level, was exceptional. The contribution they make to cultural life, in lots of different ways.

“You can think of it from both sides in relations to Kashmir.

“If global Britain is going to mean what it says, which we do, of course we’re going to have to be sensitive to and take into account the feelings of those who have immigrated or settled here, or second, third, fourth generation communities.

“The same is true the other way as well. One of the big things that happened, which didn’t get a huge amount of attention, is the Prime Minister’s meeting – it had to be virtual in the end – with Prime Minister Modi, where we set out a road map for ten years, the 2030 road map, including the road map to an FTA.

“Some great stuff on migration and mobility, and young people, young professionals from here and from India being able to come and take advantage of everything the UK and India has to offer.

“Some stuff on cyber and other things, climate change.

“India deemed the UK a Comprehensive Strategic Partner. We’re only the fourth country India’s done that with. Now Prime Minister Modi himself has talked about the living bridge between the UK and India.

“He’s quite a lyrical leader, but actually it’s quite a good way of looking at it.

“And we have quite a few countries, because of our Commonwealth links, because of the travelling nature of Brits, where that’s true.

“But the truth is, if your foreign policy is a combination of pursuing a principled approach, but also delivering the national interest for the people of your country, you ought to be able to navigate that.”

ConHome: “Do you feel, in relation to Israel/Palestine and Kashmir, that the skies are darkening?”

Raab: “Well I don’t think you can combine them together.

“But let me take Israel and the Palestinians. I’ve been out there twice. I was out there recently. I met Yair Lapid as well as Prime Minister, as then was, Netanyahu, and a range of other leading figures.

“There is still going to be a measure of instability. I think the coalition may be fragile, it may be ground-breaking, we don’t know.

“But I think there seems to be a consensus that they need to firm up the ceasefire, and we need to try to avoid a vacuum taking hold, and there’s all sorts of ways we can do that.

“On the Palestinian side, there is an urgent need to shore up and support the moderate Palestinian leadership, and isolate and marginalise Hamas.

“I’m not expecting final status peace talks round the corner by Christmas. On the other hand, if you allow a vacuum to take hold then Hamas will take advantage.

“It’s in the moral and strategic interests of both sides to avoid that.”

ConHome: “In relation to antisemitism here, the effect of Israel/Palestine here, you don’t feel it’s getting worse?”

Raab: “Well I talked to the Chief Rabbi recently, I talked to the Board of Deputies, obviously I’ve got some history of my own.

“I think off the back of Corbyn, and with some of the radicalised elements of the Left articulating themselves, I think there has been a heightened sense of nervousness.

“But I also feel that we can provide the reassurance and that there is enough community cohesion here, not just among the Jewish community, but among British society as a whole, to stand up very vigorously and robustly against that.

“You look back in the Seventies, and you had radicalised groups seeking to take advantage of what was going on in the Middle East, and making their point here at home.

“I think we need to watch it very carefully, but I don’t think there’s a ground shift or a gear change in that happening.”

ConHome: “On India, Labour have put out a leaflet in the Batley and Spen byelection that is almost entirely about foreign affairs. There’s a section about Israel/Palestine, there’s a section about Kashmir where it says, ‘The Conservatives’ links to the BJP must not stand in the way of justice for Kashmir.’

“Are you worried at all that the Kashmir issue is dividing up on party political lines?

“Labour look at the Conservative Party and they say, ‘There are three ministers of Indian heritage in the Cabinet – the Conservatives are taking up a pro-Indian position,’ and you end up with that kind of division, which would be a very bad thing.”

Raab: “Well I don’t think the Labour Party could credibly do that, a) because of the British Indian communities in their constituencies, so from a pure or political interest, or b) given their historic approach to Kashmir, which is that it is for the two sides to resolve this long-standing dispute.

“I’ve never ducked raising the issue of Kashmir and human rights with the Indian government. I did it when I was in Delhi.

“The Labour Party would look incredibly hypocritical, and they would get a backlash from the other community, if they were to try to create this as a wedge issue.”

ConHome: “The Conservatives are now widely perceived as having shifted North both electorally and emotionally. Now you sit for a Surrey seat, Walton and Esher, a commuter seat, a traditionally Tory seat.

“Is there now a danger of your constituents believing the Conservatives are no longer quite so behind them?”

Raab: “The strategy, in political terms, is always to forge an alliance between the aspirational working and middle classes of this country.

“And that’s not new. Look at how successful Thatcher was, albeit in a different time and place, and a different context.

“What we’re doing as global Britain, as a force for good in the world, far from alienating Conservative voters, small-l liberal Conservative voters, I think goes down very well.

“The fact that we put Magnitsky sanctions on everyone from those persecuting the Rohingya to those persecuting the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

“The fact that Brexit is no longer a live issue for most of our constituents, they’re not being asked to vote on it.

“What we’re trying to do is forge that crucial alliance between aspirational working and middle class voters. That’s the elixir of Conservative strategy I think.

“There’s a ceiling on the Lib Dem vote if they only rely on the negative. Can anyone remember a single positive Lib Dem policy, now Brexit’s done?

“They’re campaigning in Chesham and Amersham on HS2, but they voted for it.”

ConHome: “Was Biden right in saying the G7 is in ‘a contest with autocracies’?”

Raab: “I think there’s definitely a sense that democracies are in retreat, if you just look at the numbers. And that the battle for the hearts and minds of the centre ground of the international community is there to be won but needs to be fought with a great vigour and energy.

“It’s great having the US return to the Paris Agreement on climate change. We cannot as a cluster of like-minded countries leave that vacuum in those multilateral institutions, because China and Russia or whoever else will fill it.”

ConHome: “Our ambassadors in say Paris or Berlin, who do they report to? Is it you, as Foreign Secretary? Or is it Lord Frost?”

Raab: “David [Frost] deals with the stuff that takes place under the EU formal mechanisms. He’s responsible for the EU business in relation to the Free Trade Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement.

“I’m responsible for the stuff in relation to the foreign affairs co-operation that we have, and I lead on the bilateral relationships, but obviously the two dovetail quite closely together.

“I don’t feel desperately proprietorial about it for two reasons. One, David’s a brilliant colleague.

“Secondly we are engaged it a process now where we look at our foreign policy in a much more integrated way.

“The truth is the Foreign Office is now much more central. We have a Prime Minister who really believes in the Foreign Office.

“With the merger [with the Department for International Development] I think we can all see that.”

ConHome: “So Brexit has actually worked out to the advantage of the Foreign Office? Because our foreign policy isn’t delegated in any way to Brussels any more. It’s our foreign policy.”

Raab: “I think there’s a massive empowering of the Foreign Office to go out and have a genuine global foreign policy. I’ve been out to the Nordics, I’m very keen on building up the N5 relationship, and the same with the Baltic Three, the Visegrad Four.

“Obviously with the Indo-Pacific stuff that we’re doing, I’m going out to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore next week, there is just a real chance for us to be more energetic, more activist.”

ConHome: “Do you still think that taking the knee is ‘a symbol of subjugation and subordination’?”

Raab: “I think we all ought to be united in the fight against racism, and we also, if tolerance is to mean anything, should be able to find our own way to express it.

“I’m personally not wild about taking the knee, but if the England team want to do it, it shouldn’t just be respected, it should be supported.”

ConHome: “And should not be booed?”

Raab: “I’m one of those people who don’t believe in booing your own team. Certainly not the England team as they’re embarking on the European championships.”

ConHome: “On the Northern Ireland Protocol, is there any intrinsic greater difficulty in dealing with a Democrat administration, because of the pressure that comes on an American President from an Irish diaspora who are not necessarily familiar with all the intricacies and nuances of policy in Northern Ireland?”

Raab: “So first of all there’s always a slightly different constellation of opportunities and risks depending on who’s in the White House.

“Also, the make-up of Congress. And that’s true regardless of who’s in the White House. I was going and talking to the likes of Richie Neal and the Irish caucus when I was Foreign Secretary before and after the recent US election.

“The Irish lobby on the Hill, which is not just Democrats, it also includes Republicans, feels like it’s got a stake, and does have a stake, in the Good Friday Agreement, I think we respect that, I remember the work that George Mitchell and other Americans did.

“But there’s certainly a job for us to do to make sure first of all that a full, comprehensive picture of what’s going on on the ground is understood, and the impact the Northern Ireland Protocol has for communities on all sides in Northern Ireland.

“And frankly just the bare facts of what’s been going on in terms of the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“If you look at the perimeter of the EU, and you think about the challenges they’ve got from the Central and Eastern European border, right down to the Mediterranean border, and you think of the sliver of the border in Northern Ireland, it is rather striking that one in five of controls and checks for the whole of the EU to police the single market takes place in Northern Ireland.

“I think talking in reasonable terms about the lack of proportionality in that is important. And having a sensible conversation with our US partners is really important. We can’t shrink from that.”

ConHome: “Do you feel you made any progress on that issue at the G7, given what happened before it with the demarche?”

Raab: “I think we’ve made steady progress right the way through, I didn’t read too much into the leaking of what happened, I think we make steady progress when we explain our position in sober terms.”

ConHome: “On the Protocol, you can’t rule out having to implement Article 16. If we do, we would need presumably to protect ourselves from the effects of Article 16 in domestic law and pass a Bill to that effect, would we not?”

Raab: “Look I’m not going to speculate on the decision or the things that would need to accompany the decision. The over-riding message we get across is we want a pragmatic, flexible approach from the EU, and if we don’t get it we’ll do whatever it takes to protect the economic and the constitutional integrity of the Union.

“Ideally, the ball is in the EU’s court, David Frost has sent a range of proposals over.

“What we just cannot have is a situation where Northern Ireland is receiving three times the volume of checks that you see in Rotterdam, double the number of checks that you see in France, to police the EU single market. That cannot be right.”

ConHome: “Did Martin Selmayr say that “losing Northern Ireland was the price the UK would pay for Brexit?”

Raab: “So as I said at the time, when I was asked about this, when I was Brexit Secretary I would get, not from political hacks or spin doctors, I would get constantly fed back to me that there was a political dimension to this.

“And so from officials I had fed back to me that Selmayr had made this point.

“All the officials fed back that for the EU this is existential, and therefore they’re going to want to deter leaving the EU.

“My relationship with Michel Barnier was perfectly cordial and constructive, I respect the guy, but I remember him losing his temper with me when I said we ought to be trying to forge something that is win-win.

“And I think there is a mindset in the Commission, and probably in some other parts of the EU, but I still think it was a fairly narrow mindset, but it was a controlling one, that there was no win-win to be found.

“I look at the thing, my father was Czech, I feel a very strong sense of European identity, we’re not leaving Europe, we’re leaving the EU, let’s try and forge win-win.

“As people might say after the divorce, you can understand why one side of it or the other don’t feel that way. But I still think that’s what we should be aiming for. And that’s our foreign policy. That’s what the Prime Minister believes.”

ConHome: “Do you believe this ethos of punishment is still there in relation to the Protocol?”

Raab: “I don’t want to impute bad intentions, but put it this way, what I do deal with are the facts, and the facts do not justify the fact that one in five controls or checks for the whole of the EU’s external border are now taking place in Northern Ireland.

“That just cannot be right. And that’s not born of protecting the equities of the single market, so there must be some more to it.

“I go and look at borders all around the world. Frankly the approach that Brussels seems to be wedded to is pretty analogue in a digital age.”

Profile: Stonewall, a once brilliantly successful campaign group which now seems to be committing suicide

10 Jun

While agonising over how to begin this profile, I was rung by a friend who, on hearing of the subject on which I was working, declared:

“I hope you will say we are sick of being dictated to!”

That is not how I had thought of starting, for I am more timid and tactful than my friend. But it is actually quite a good jumping off point.

Stonewall finds itself in crisis because it has changed from an organisation which sought, with brilliant success, to persuade and to carry people with it, into one which insists on imposing a far from popular line.

The voluntary principle has been replaced by compulsion.

Nancy Kelley, since last summer Stonewall’s Chief Executive, recently compared gender-critical views to anti-semitism. In other words, anyone who maintains, as gender-critical feminists do, that “biological differences between the sexes make the continued provision of female-only spaces necessary”, is a disgraceful person.

Trans activists have set out to intimidate and silence the feminists, who in turn are appalled when trans women assert the right to enter female-only spaces, including women’s refuges, dormitories, prisons and sports facilities.

When Keir Starmer was running for the Labour leadership, he signed up to the list of ten pledges presented to the candidates by LGBT+ Labour, promising he would “campaign with you for the changes rightly prioritised here”:

“I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process… I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men.”

A large number of feminists who think of themselves as Labour supporters find themselves without a leader who can articulate their concerns.

Not that Sir Keir is alone among politicians in preferring not to get involved in the debate.

Several influential Conservatives indicated this week to ConHome that they simply did not wish to play any part in the discussion.

Number Ten is watching developments carefully, but does not wish to have a public row. Boris Johnson’s approach to cultural issues of this kind, for example to the attacks on Winston Churchill’s statue, is not to intervene until people are pleading with him to do so.

Last September, the Government dropped plans to allow self-identification by trans people.

But a leading Conservative parliamentarian this week told me, on condition that their anonymity would be strictly preserved, that the trans debate is “extremely scary”.

In their view, Stonewall has completely dumped the LGB part of its mission, is now only interested in campaigning for trans, has become “an extremely unfriendly place for women”, and is viciously intolerant of dissent.

This presents, they argue, a danger for the Conservatives too: “The Conservative Party is terrified of another Section 28” – the law passed in 1988, towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities.

If the Tories were to become outspoken opponents of trans activists, they could once more come to be regarded as the nasty party.

So for several years, leading Conservative and Labour figures took great care to avoid the subject, as James Kirkup explained to ConHome in October 2018:

When James Kirkup became interested in transgender politics, people warned him that writing about it was too dangerous. He notes that the fear the subject inspires in many MPs of being attacked as “transphobic” has created a vacuum into which transgender campaigning groups have been able to move, and to push for the right of trans people to “self-identify” their gender, without the arguments for and against the reform being tested in rigorous debate.

In this interview, Kirkup says “nobody has really pointed out” that Professor Stephen Whittle – specialist adviser to the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller, when it drew up its agenda-setting report on Transgender Equality – is “also the founder of a group called Press for Change, which was the first trans rights campaigning group in the UK.”

This avoidance of the subject is now breaking down. Victoria Hewson and Rebecca Lowe yesterday reported for ConHome, under their joint byline, Radical, some of the horrific information about Stonewall which has started to emerge as a result of Freedom of Information requests.

And Gary Powell recently declared on this site that, as a gay man, the LGBT+ lobby with its “extreme gender ideology” does not speak for him, and warned that we must “stop neo-Marxist identity politics being force-fed to children in British schools”.

Two of the original 14 founders of Stonewall, set up in 1989 in response to Section 28, have recently dissociated themselves from the organisation.

Stephen Fanshawe described in The Daily Mail how he had received a message from someone he “had always considered an ally in the fight for equality”:

“By expressing your views, you have put yourself outside Stonewall,” the terse message read when it landed in my inbox two years ago. Its Orwellian tone might make you wonder what “views” I could possibly have exhibited that would have set me at such odds with the organisation I proudly helped to form three decades earlier, to campaign for the rights of gay men and lesbians in a society that cruelly discriminated against them.

They must, surely, have been hateful and inflammatory? Not a bit of it. I had simply expressed the opinion that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act for which Stonewall was campaigning — meaning people could legally “self-identify’” as whatever sex they chose, regardless of their biology — had serious implications for the rights of women.

And Matthew Parris explained in The Times why he thinks Stonewall has lost its way:

What is the charity I helped to found doing, getting entangled in attempts to deny free speech at a university? This column should avoid getting into the trans debate itself. My single, tight focus is on this question: why Stonewall?

There’s something perversely 20th-century about linking gays to trans. Gay men do not want to be women. We like being men. I doubt that being a lesbian is about not wanting to be a woman. Our issues have nothing to do with identification or changing our bodies: we know what we are and nobody disputes it. Most gay men would strongly resist the suggestion we’re boys who want to be girls. I can’t think of anything I’d like less. The whole history of the gay liberation movement is inseparable from what people do rather than what they are. Central to trans concerns is being, not doing. The one thing that links gays and lesbians with trans people is empathy with anyone excluded, oppressed, marginalised or rejected. Indeed this was what influenced some gay groups into supporting the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and Stonewall was perhaps drawn into the trans arguments because a group was fighting for what it considers to be its rights.

Stonewall, founded by a group of activists who met at the house of the actor Ian McKellen in Limehouse, in the East End of London, achieved in its first 20 years or so a series of legislative triumphs. It was named after the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, which erupted when members of the gay community in New York fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, and which led to the Pride marches which continue to this day.

In its original typewritten manifesto of 24th May 1989, Stonewall announced:

A Parliamentary Group has been set up to consider new, proposed or potential legislation on issues that may particularly effect lesbians and gay men; and to work with MPs and legislators to ensure equality.

Its central argument, that lesbians and gay men should enjoy equal treatment with heterosexuals, was so strong, and so in accordance with the way the world was moving, that a series of big reforms followed.

These included the lifting of the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces, the equalisation of the age of consent, legal adoption by lesbian and gay couples, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships.

In 2001, Stonewall launched its Diversity Champions programme, which had rapid success in recruiting major employers, including banks, retailers and government departments, who wished to ensure that, in the words of Stonewall itself, “all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace”.

And in 2011, David Cameron confirmed, as Prime Minister, that Stonewall had been working with the grain of history by declaring his support at the Conservative Party Conference for same-sex marriage, which was passed into law in 2013.

As far as legal equality was concerned, Stonewall had by this point achieved pretty much everything it set out to do. It cast around for a new mission, and in 2014 it decided it had found it in trans.

One can hardly blame trans activists for accepting this huge accession of campaigning strength, and one can see why the people running Stonewall persuaded themselves that instead of winding down their organisation, and putting themselves out of work, here was another injustice which they should be able in the space of a decade or two to put right.

As Parris puts it,

Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. I know many gay men have become embarrassed by Stonewall and see (as I do) the paradox that some of its activities are actually damaging the standing of the gay community. We don’t want to be associated with sallies in the trans wars. We want to feel proud, not hurt, not victims. Trans people cannot yet feel that: they need a support group. But that’s for them. Gays (to use the lingo) should not be colonising their issues.

It took a while for politicians to realise that the trans war was not necessarily going to end happily. Theresa May was generally favourable, during her prime ministership, towards the demands of the trans lobby.

Complaints that trans women were demanding the right to use facilities which ought to be reserved for biological women could at first be dismissed as transphobic, a charge all the more convincing because it is sometimes undoubtedly true.

So too complaints that children were being put under unfair pressure to discover that they were unhappy with the gender assigned to them at birth, and to have treatment.

Calm, open discussion of these issues was impossible, and most people felt they had better things to do than court confrontation with trans activists.

But there has now been an unmistakeable change in the political weather. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, is pushing for all government departments to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which includes 250 public bodies among its 850 members.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice will lead an “exodus” from the programme. A  source in the department told the paper:

“It’s a shame, as this was once an organisation that did incredibly important work, but it has totally lost its way and the ministers just don’t think it’s justifiable to give Stonewall taxpayers’ money.

“The department will be just as welcoming to LGBT people as before, but we really shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for controversial advice about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces.”

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the employment dispute service Acas have both withdrawn from Diversity Champions “for cost reasons”, a way of circumventing argument about the actual merits of what Stonewall offers.

But Lady Falkner, the new chair of the EHRC, has gone further, declaring in The Times in her first interview since taking up her post:

“Someone can believe that people who self identify as a different sex are not the different sex that they self identify. A lot of people would find this an entirely reasonable belief.”

When the editor of ConHome commissioned this profile, he asked: “Is the Government trying to kill Stonewall?” It seems to me it would be more accurate to say Stonewall is committing suicide.