Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: This unbrushed, unkempt PM reckons he can beat the Nats

10 Feb

“I have the confidence to do things my own way,” Boris Johnson’s hair declared.

It was this week messier than ever: unbrushed, unkempt, uncut, as if the Prime Minister had washed it and fallen asleep with it in a wet and tangled mess, so that when he awoke it would stick out in every direction.

Sir Keir Starmer was left to uphold respectability. He invited Johnson to extend business rate relief beyond 31st March.

The PM said business would have to wait until the Budget.

Sir Keir accused Johnson of procrastination: “Let me let the Prime Minister into a secret. He can take decisions for himself and he doesn’t have to leave everything until the eleventh minute.”

The PM does sometimes leave things until the eleventh hour, or even until the last minute, compared to which the eleventh minute sounded quite prompt.

He retorted by mocking the Leader of the Opposition for “a damascene conversion” to the cause of business. Sir Keir said he was “not going to take lectures from a man who wrote two versions of every column”.

This exchange of jibes would have benefited from being conducted in front of a live audience. When the Commons is full, there is at least a chance that PMQs will come alive.

There is then a danger then of things going wonderfully well, or horribly wrong, within the space of a few words. This ghostly Chamber can’t reproduce that threat.

Ian Blackford, appearing for the SNP by video screen from the Isle of Skye, accused the Government of leaving “1.3 million children under five living in poverty”.

Johnson said “we bitterly lament and regret the poverty that some families suffer”, but went on to observe, somewhat unexpectedly, that there is a “a profound philosophical difference” between the Scottish Nationalists and the Conservatives.

The SNP, he suggested, “is morphing into an ever more left-wing party that believes fundamentally it is the duty of the taxpayer to pay for more and more and more. We want to get people into jobs, Mr Speaker.”

Here is a line of which we can expect to hear more during the Scottish elections, when the Nats will be accused of trying to solve every problem by building a socialist state at the expense of frugal, hard-pressed taxpayers.

As if to distract from the seriousness of what he had said, Johnson continued to making teasing references to the Scottish Nationalist Party, instead of the Scottish National Party.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, continued to reprove the PM for this, and for going on too long, and on one occasion quite rightly shut him up.

Johnson remained irrepressible. Here is a PM who greatly enjoys being underestimated, and who thinks he can win.

Alistair Lexden: The Conservatives and the Carlton Club – in partnership for nearly 200 years

30 Jan

Alistair Lexden is the Carlton Club’s official historian. His publications include ‘The Carlton Club 1832-2007’ (with Sir Charles Petrie,2007) and ‘A Gift from the Churchills: The Primrose League,1983-2004’ (2010). In preparing this address, he drew heavily—and with gratitude– on Seth Alexander Thevoz, ‘Club Government: How the Early Victorian World was Ruled from London Clubs’ ( I.B.Tauris,2018).

On 28 January, Lord Lexden spoke to some 100 members of the Carlton Club by Zoom about the Club’s history. The text of his address follows.

There would have been no Carlton Club without that excessively overweight, spendthrift, arts-loving monarch, King George IV.

There would undoubtedly have been a powerful Conservative club, but it would have been called something else – perhaps the Wellington Club in tribute to the great Duke, who was leader of the Party when the plans for its establishment were made after 1830. In that case, history would have been robbed of one of Wellington’s celebrated quips: “never write a letter to your mistress, never join the Carlton Club”.

It was a very odd thing for him to say, despite its having his characteristic terseness and, as regards the first bit, good sense. He was after all the Carlton’s founding father and, although he played no large part in its affairs, he must have observed its success with considerable satisfaction. Perhaps, like many phrases supposedly uttered by famous people, it was attributed to him, but actually coined by someone else.

In no sense was George IV a founding father of the Club, though one of his brothers, the Duke of Cumberland, a man widely reviled as a murder suspect, was one of the original members, along with a cousin, the Duke of Gloucester; no one at that time thought the royal family should be politically impartial. The King made his contribution unwittingly. In the 1820s he decided to demolish Carlton House, a palace in all but name, where he had lived in splendour as Prince of Wales, and to turn the then unpretentious Buckingham House into a residence fit for kings.

Carlton House Terrace, itself not lacking in splendour, was built over what had been the royal gardens. While it waited for its permanent home to be made ready for it in Pall Mall, the Club found a temporary abode in the Terrace, renting the house of a Tory supporter, Lord Kensington. It was in this way that the famous name was acquired. The indirect royal link was commemorated through the incorporation of the Prince of Wales’s feathers into the Club’s symbol. (At least I think that was the case; in the absence of any surviving records bearing on the point it is impossible to be sure.)

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the establishment of the Carlton Club in the history of British party politics. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, there were in existence two great clubs, Brooks’s and White’s, linked to the historic Whig  and Tory Parties respectively. But by the 1830s, the two Parties needed far more than their long-standing London bastions could supply. They simply were not large enough. Some MPs had begun to resort to non-political Clubs, like Boodle’s in St James’s Street, giving rise to the following merry ditty: ‘In Parliament I fill my seat/With many other noodles/And lay my head in Jermyn Street/And sip my hock at Boodle’s’.

Such exile from the political mainstream soon became unnecessary. Politics entered a new era, in which the two Parties, which evolved in the 1830s and the two subsequent decades (acquiring new names, Conservative and Liberal), expanded their activities greatly. They needed London accommodation on a generous scale in premises which provided  a variety of rooms, large and small.

That is what the Carlton Club supplied. In 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, it opened its first Clubhouse in Pall Mall on the corner of Carlton Gardens, yet another reminder of the gross, bloated monarch, George IV (114 years later a slim Miss Margaret Roberts would depart from the next door house in Carlton Gardens en route to her marriage to Mr Denis Thatcher).

The Club remained on its Pall Mall corner site until a Nazi bomb fell on it in October 1940. The original Clubhouse underestimated the Party’s need for space. It was enlarged in the 1840s as Sir Robert Peel brought the Party first to election triumph in 1841, and then to political disaster and division as a result of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. To assist the Party’s recovery from the split that the Corn Laws’ repeal brought about, the enlarged building was demolished and replaced by an even bigger one in 1856.

Members stared from the Club’s windows across Carlton Gardens at the Reform Club, founded in 1836, four years after the Carlton, to equip the Tories’ opponents with the same range of services, social and political, that the Carlton  pioneered. (It should be noted in passing that in the new nineteenth-century political world the Conservatives put themselves at the forefront of organisational change, where they were to remain until Tony Blair’s day.)

The close proximity of the two rival Clubs meant that they kept each other under close observation. In the early days, the Reform took a great interest in the volume of mail posted by servants of the Carlton, who retaliated by waiting until darkness fell before venturing forth. During a political crisis in 1884, blinds were pulled down at every window of the Carlton Club’s library after a member  noticed two figures across the road in the Reform Club spying with the aid of opera glasses. Members of the Carlton noted with satisfaction that their Club eclipsed the Reform in size and grandeur.

The Reform Club’s interior today gives some idea of what the Carlton would have been like inside. The Carlton’s atrium, immediately inside the entrance, at over 100 square metres was larger than the Reform’s. It was there that Conservative Members of Parliament and at least a sprinkling of peers would meet with some regularity to be addressed by their leaders over the next century, the most famous such meeting occurring in 1922 when Lloyd George’s coalition was brought to an end. With all visitors to the Club banned, absolute privacy would have been guaranteed if MPs, then as now, had not leaked so readily to the press.

The smaller premises in St James’s Street could not accommodate such meetings, which must, I think, be a cause of some regret. The Parliamentary Party had to settle for a large Commons committee room or Central Hall, Westminster.

The most important cause of the fundamental political changes, of which the formation of the two great political clubs was such a significant consequence, was the reconstruction of the electoral system, brought about by the Great Reform Act of 1832. It is no coincidence that the Carlton was established in that year following earlier, more modest attempts to give the Party a new London base in Charles Street, off St James’s Square, by a group of leading Tories, known unsurprisingly as the Charles Street Gang.

The 1832 Reform Act created, for the first time, a set of common qualifications for the right to vote in borough seats on the one hand and for county seats on the other, based on stiff property tests – designed as a permanent measure, not as the first step on the road to full democracy. The total number of voters increased, though not hugely so; the new electorate numbered around a million. The Tory Party needed to locate and enlist its supporters in order to get them on the electoral registers, which the Reform Act brought into being for the first time. This often involved long and expensive battles in the courts.

Of course, then as now, most of the work had to be done in the constituencies themselves, where solicitors became the first agents of the Conservative Party, in effect if not always in name. The Carlton provided a centre in London, where nationwide activity could be co-ordinated and, where necessary, supplemented.

Finance was a constant requirement at a time when general elections cost a million pounds and more, colossal sums in today’s values. From the outset, the Carlton had no more important function than to maintain a substantial Political Fund, for which its Political Committee was given responsibility. Lurid accounts appeared in the non-Conservative press about the flow of Carlton gold, as it was called, to constituencies for corrupt purposes, of which there were plenty of examples under the reformed electoral system, down to the 1880s.

There was no doubt much exaggeration in the stories of Carlton-financed malpractice, put about by opponents and included in the political novels of the period. To the historian’s deep regret, It is impossible to establish the truth because the records of the Club’s Political Committee do not survive for any part of the Nineteenth Century. How good it would have been to have had the inside story of the Carlton’s role in the colourful history of nineteenth-century electioneering.

(May I mention in parenthesis at this point the means by which the Conservative Party finally broke away from high, often corrupt, election expenditure? It was achieved through the Primrose League, founded at the Carlton in 1883. The League produced a whole army of election workers, half of them women, who happily toiled for votes, constituency by constituency, without receiving a penny piece in return. Beginning its life at the Carlton, the League returned to it in the years of its decline, occupying a small office at the Club in the 1970s. The Carlton at its height had some 1,800 members; the League at its zenith some two million. I am glad that Primrose League banners, and some examples of the extensive regalia worn by its members, are now on permanent display at the Club, along with a short sketch of its history which I wrote for the Club some years ago.)

Like Conservative headquarters today, the Carlton was sometimes accused of imposing candidates on constituencies. That was rarer then than now. What normally happened is that constituencies with vacancies to fill turned to the Carlton for recommendations, the nearest thing to today’s official candidates’ list.

It was in this way that a remarkable Tory who fascinated his contemporaries, and continues to fascinate posterity, got into the Commons after a succession of unsuccessful contests. An ardent supporter of the candidate recorded what happened:

“At the General Election in 1837 a Committee of the Conservative party in Maidstone had determined to run one candidate only, namely Wyndham Lewis Esquire (an intimate friend of the Duke of Wellington). At the end of the first day’s canvas, on casting up the promises, they so far exceeded the number contemplated, that the Committee determined to apply to the Carlton Club for another candidate, and three of our Committee went up to London, and with the aid afforded at the Club, Mr Disraeli was selected, and he consented, and went down with our three friends at once, and entered upon the canvas on the following morning. He soon became a great favourite with the voters.”

(At the 1837 election Maidstone had 1,399 electors.)

This important role in election management was supervised from ‘dark little rooms under the Carlton Club’, as an election agent put it in 1853. Above, in the infinitely more comfortable rooms of varying size, MPs gathered in some numbers when the Commons was in session. It was almost unheard of for an MP not to join the Carlton. The Commons was an unattractive place to spend any length of time at this period. Destroyed by fire in 1834, rebuilding work continued for some 30 years, and the place often smelt horribly because the Thames was little more than an open sewer until ‘the great stink’, as it was known, was finally subdued by Disraeli’s versatile political skills in 1851.

Travel between Commons and Club was easy. An MP recorded that “there is a cab stand at the very door of the House, and the whole process of going for, and returning with, an honourable gentleman does not occupy more than eight minutes.” The Carlton provided everything MPs needed: accommodation, food, drink (that indispensable element of club life), stationery, newspapers, a postal service and that essential ingredient of political life at all times and in all places, gossip. Sir Robert Peel as Party leader spent much of his time at the Carlton, as did Disraeli who called in most days. Never before had Tory MPs seen so much of their leaders, or been on such close terms with them.

The Club’s Committee, dominated by titled grandees, was kept busy ensuring that services were up to scratch. Who among today’s Committee members would be willing to sort out maintenance problems on Christmas Day as their noble predecessors did in the early days? In 1839 they ordered that “holes in water closet seats throughout the House be cut larger.” Britain’s leading political Club did not neglect its members’ comfort.

*

“In a progressive country”, said Disraeli, “change is constant”. How has the Carlton changed over nearly two centuries? The election managers and agents, supervised by the Party Whips (there was no Party Chairman until 1911), departed from their dusty basement for the newly established Conservative Central Office in 1870, for they now needed more room for the work of election organisation with the arrival of working-class voters in borough constituencies as a result of Disraeli’s Second Reform Act of 1867. But Carlton gold, raised by the Political Committee, continued to help fill the Party’s election coffers for the rest of the Nineteenth Century.

Almost all  MPs remained members of the Club until the First World War, happily paying its ten-guinea subscription, fixed in 1832 (equivalent to nearly a thousand pounds today), which remained unchanged until  the 1930s. But as the Commons developed its refreshment and other services, MPs tended to make less use of the Club .

No longer could they expect to rub shoulders on a daily basis with their Party leader. Disraeli, who died in 1881, was sorely missed. His successors spent little time in the Club, appearing only when they had meetings to address. Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour positively disliked it. Affection at the highest level was not seen again until after 1945, when Churchill and Macmillan resumed the habit of making fairly frequent visits, a practice continued by Mrs Thatcher who was to become the Club’s second President (Harold Macmillan, who was devoted to the place, having been the first). Perhaps in the future serving Conservative Party leaders will  be drawn once again to visiting the Club with some frequency .

Cause for serious complaint arose in the early Twentieth Century. The Club’s standards, maintained by Christmas Day Committee meetings in the early years, fell sharply. A great crisis erupted in 1912. Lord Balcarres, then Tory Chief Whip, recorded in his diary on 1 April 1912 that:

“the club is rapidly falling from its high state. Not only is the food bad, the waiting atrocious and the normal comforts of club life quite deficient, but with the steady deterioration in its social qualities the Carlton which in old days was at the very centre of political activity now almost ceases to count…The management and control have fallen into weak hands with deplorable results.”

Could the decline be reversed? The Club’s Secretary, who had been in his post for 35 years, was sacked, and a Club Chairman was appointed for the first time. Marked improvement occurred. MPs attested to the high quality of the catering during the inter-war years by eating in the Club in considerable numbers; they were well represented when the Nazi bomb arrived at 8.30pm on 14 October 1940. Cuthbert Headlam MP noted in his diary the following day that “there were over 100 members in the Club at the time and not one of them was scratched which seems to indicate that God approves of Conservative legislators.”

The real test for the Club was whether it could revitalise its serious political work. That did not happen for a long time. The Political Committee, on which all such work depended, had ceased to exist by 1912, and was not reconstituted until 1949. Even then, it did not do much, apart from arranging for Churchill to address a packed Club through loud speakers. The final completion of the  Political Committee’s resurgence was noted as late as 1983 when the Club’s AGM was told that “the Carlton Club was back as a strong political force”, as it had demonstrated by raising £50,000 for that year’s election campaign. The Committee had returned to its central position in Club life, where it remains today.

But for the Club as a whole that was by no means the most serious problem which had to be overcome in these years. Even before members arrived at 69 St James’s Street in 1940, longing for the moment when their Pall Mall home could be rebuilt and complaining about the cramped quarters in which they were now confined, membership had been falling alarmingly. By 1976, it was down to just 845, with only a handful of MPs among them. The spectre of closure loomed. It was removed by the one of the greatest of all political magicians, Harold Macmillan, then aged 83. In 1977, he achieved in months what had eluded everyone else: the amalgamation of the Carlton with the Junior Carlton, founded in 1864, which had been clinging obstinately to its independence in Pall Mall while its membership also plummeted. Not since the days of Disraeli had the Carlton had such unstinting support from an outstanding Conservative – and it came just in time.

As the Club was climbing back to financial stability, rebuilding its membership and regaining its political role in a form suited to our times, it suffered its second physical assault. It came from the IRA on 25 June 1990, fifty years after the Club had been bombed out of its Pall Mall Clubhouse. Half the ground floor, a quarter of the first floor and a significant area in the basement were damaged. In 1940 no one was killed; in 1990 a member, Lord Kaberry, and a porter, Charles Henry, died as a result of their injuries, a source of infinite sadness to members.

Everyone was astonished by the speed with which the Club patched itself up, and, having done that, began to lay ambitious plans for refurbishment which, evolving over the years, have brought the Club to its present handsome state. The grand building in Pall Mall was certainly imposing, but no one ever said it was a thing of beauty.

Happiness within the resplendent walls of 69 St James’s Street was impaired for some years after 1990 by a division of opinion over whether women should be full  members, having been associate members since 1977. The issue was finally resolved in 2008. Who today is not glad of the great contribution which women are making to the Club?

Long- established institutions must always remain conscious of the traditions of which they are custodians. Writing to Winston Churchill in 1948, the then Club Chairman, Lord Sandford, stressed that ‘members should realise the traditions attaching to their membership, and be prepared to shoulder those responsibilities which commit them to an unstinting support of the Party and its work.’ In that essential respect, the Carlton has remained unchanged over nearly two centuries.

The amazing story of Mohammad Sarwar shows how Sturgeon can be defeated

22 Jan

Global Britain need not wait to be conjured up by Boris Johnson. It already exists.

Mohammad Sarwar is not among its most fashionable manifestations. The British press, which has difficulty in attending to more than one thing at a time, does not hang on his every word.

Sarwar is described by one who knows him as “a very affable person”, but has never given a memorable speech. He lacks charisma and passed through the House of Commons without making his name.

And yet he has achieved something astounding. After spending 13 years as an MP, he went off and became Governor of Punjab, and now enjoys in the middle of Lahore, surrounded by 80 acres of gardens, an official residence which is said to make Buckingham Palace look like “a suburban villa”.

We have become accustomed to Cabinet ministers such as Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng whose parents moved to the United Kingdom from various parts of the Commonwealth, but in 2013 Sarwar travelled in the opposite direction, and became a senior figure in Pakistani politics.

The two-way traffic between the UK and the former British Empire, so routine in other fields that it attracts no notice, is being re-established in politics, or perhaps had never gone away, but just slipped from view.

In Sardar’s case, as perhaps in most others, he has not forsaken the UK. His younger son, Anas Sardar, is frontrunner to become the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Here is a development which will rejoice the hearts of those of us who regard the hereditary principle not merely as inevitable  but as beneficial.

No need to distinguish between nature and nurture. If parents pass on their abilities to their children, society is enriched.

In 2010 Mohammad Sarwar passed on his parliamentary seat, Glasgow Central, to his younger son, Anas Sarwar, who could now be about to save the Scottish Labour Party from extinction.

No less a figure than Alan Cochrane, doyen of Unionist journalists, testifies to ConHome that Anas Sarwar is “very good”.

Here at last is a Scottish Labour politician who knows how to carry the fight to Nicola Sturgeon by exposing the grievous damage inflicted on Scotland by incompetent SNP ministers at Holyrood.

Egalitarians who protest at the flying start in Labour politics which young Sarwar got from old Sarwar might pause to consider not only the son’s ability, but the father’s courage.

He was born in 1952 in a village near Lyallpur, now known as Faisalabad, in the Pakistani province of Punjab. His parents had fled in 1947 from what became India. His grandparents and his eldest sister, who was a baby, died on that flight.

When Mohammad was four years old, his father left in search of a better life in Scotland, where he sold goods door to door. Mohammed followed 20 years later and himself became at first a travelling salesman, after which, in order to be considered fit to marry his cousin Perveen, like him a Pakistani Muslim, he took a shop on Maryhill Road, in Glasgow.

With his brother, Mohammad in due course set up a cash and carry business which prospered:

“People who come from Pakistan and from working-class families in other countries know what it means to be poor, and when they come here their priority is to earn some money and send back some to look after their families. They often work seven days a week to start up. Then you make money, and the money you make starts to make money. It is difficult to make the first million, but then the first million makes more.”

In 1984 Sarwar joined the Labour Party and in 1987 he was asked whether he would like to stand for Glasgow City Council in the hopeless ward of Pollokshields East. He ran, cut the Conservative majority from 700 to 70, and five years later won the seat.

While a councillor, he was told of two Glaswegian Asian girls who had been abducted while visiting Pakistan and subjected to forced marriages. A timid man might have reckoned this was a family matter in which it would be safer not to interfere. Sarwar went to Pakistan and secured the girls’ release.

In 1997, he fought the bitter Labour selection battle for the parliamentary seat of Glasgow Govan, with accusations of electoral malpractice flying to and fro.

Sarwar emerged victorious, and was later cleared of all the charges against him, but some observers thought the bloodletting had done such damage that Labour would lose the seat at the general election, especially as Sarwar, who suffered racist abuse and was somewhat wooden in manner, faced a personable young Scottish Nationalist candidate called Nicola Sturgeon.

He beat her by 2,914 votes, becoming the first Muslim MP at Westminster and the first to take the oath on the Koran. He upheld Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir, and the rights of Palestinians, but proved himself “very sound on the extremism issue”, as a Conservative observes.

When a white, 15-year-old boy was murdered in Glasgow by a Pakistani gang, Sarwar went to Pakistan and with great difficulty arranged the extradition of three of the culprits who had fled there.

While still a student in Faisalabad he had met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 until overthrown in 1977 in a military coup. Sarwar’s first political campaign in Scotland, a vain one, was for Bhutto to be spared the death penalty, carried out in 1979.

Two decades later, Sarwar got to know Nawaz Sharif, a former and future Prime Minister of Pakistan, and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif:

Sarwar got to know the Sharifs while they were living in exile in London after the 1999 coup in which they lost power. He is said to have won their gratitude by lobbying for them to remain in the UK.

“Yes, they had some problems when they were first on British soil, but they deserved to stay on merit, and I think they got it on merit,” he says. “I don’t think they are in debt to me, or I got this job because of that reason.”

The job to which he refers is the Governorship of Punjab, a grand ceremonial role which at moments of crisis can become of great political importance.

A previous Governor, Salman Taseer, was in 2011 assassinated by his own bodyguard for denouncing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Sarwar, who had to renounce his British citizenship in order to enter Pakistani politics, held the post of Governor of Punjab from 2013-15, when he fell out with the Sharifs and transferred his allegiance to Imran Khan.

In 2018 Khan became Prime Minister and Sarwar was reinstated as Governor.

Anas Sarwar had meanwhile lost his Westminster seat in the SNP landslide of 2015, had entered the Scottish Parliament in 2016, and in 2017 had failed to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Various atrocious crimes were attributed to him. His parents had sent him to Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow, an independent school whose alumni include John Buchan and Derry Irvine.

And although Anas had read dentistry at Glasgow University, and had afterwards practised as a dentist for a few years, he was known, thanks to his father’s business career, to be a man of independent means, which was reckoned to be incompatible with being a socialist.

So Labour chose instead the Momentum candidate, the hapless English-sounding Richard Leonard, under whom its fortunes in Scotland continued to decline, with socialist Scots flocking instead to support the SNP.

Anas will not have long to get those voters back before the elections in May. But he is at once more local than Leonard, and more international than Sturgeon.

He will never be able to enter Pakistani politics, for unlike his father he has not spent the first 24 years of his life there. But he might just be able to make Sturgeon, with her desire to rejoin the European Union, look a bit limited, a bit parochial.

Amanda Milling: We’re delivering on our promises – and couldn’t do it without grassroots support

12 Dec

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

This time last year Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party secured a momentous election win. It was a win that gave us the majority we needed to end the gridlock in Parliament and move the country forward.

The fact that millions of people put their faith in us, many in seats that had been historically Labour, has allowed this Conservative Government to get the country moving forward by delivering on the promises we were elected on last year.

We promised to get Brexit done, and we left the European Union on the 31st January. We promised to take back control of our borders, and last month we passed the Immigration Act, which will see the introduction of a fairer points-based system with people coming to the UK on the basis of what they have to offer, not where they come from.

We promised to put more money into our NHS, and in March we passed the NHS Funding Act which has provided the biggest-ever cash boost to our frontline NHS services with £33.9 billion a year by 2023/2024. We promised to deliver 50,000 more nurses, and in one year there are over 14,800 more and 6,250 more doctors. We promised to recruit 20,000 police officers and in one year we’ve recruited nearly 6,000. We promised to invest more in education so that young people across the country can have a better start in life. That’s why we’ve delivered a £14.4 billion funding boost for schools over the next three years.

We promised to level up across the country and we’re investing in the biggest ever infrastructure project to link our country by rail and road. Our Towns Fund is providing 101 towns throughout the UK with money to improve their areas increasing jobs and investment.

Even with the fight against Covid-19 – which has seen us put in place a £280 billion economic support package to support jobs and livelihoods, provide over 30,000 ventilators to our NHS, deliver billions of items of PPE, conduct over 40 million Covid tests, and become the first country in the world to roll out a vaccine – we have remained determined to deliver on the promises we made to you last year.

However, none of this would have been possible without the many hours so many of you, our dedicated supporters, activists and members, put into the General Election campaign. In the cold, dark and rain you trampled hundreds of thousands of miles delivering leaflets and knocking on doors to get the Conservative message out there. You spent hours on the telephone asking people to vote.

Without your efforts on the doorstep and the endless nights of telephone canvassing, we would not have defeated Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

It’s why today the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are hosting a virtual members event to say thank you for your support and mark this momentous occasion one year on.
This is the biggest grassroots fundraiser we’ve ever held and you will be able to ask Johnson and Rishi Sunak questions directly on everything from the election to getting Brexit done and the unprecedented year 2020 has been.

This time last year none of us could have predicted a 2020 like the one we’ve had, but in the face of adversity we stepped up to the challenge and put in place measures to protect the NHS, jobs, and livelihoods. And with the roll out of the vaccine this week there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Next year we have a bumper crop of elections with local, Police and Crime Commissioner, mayoral and elections in Wales and Scotland.

So I hope you’ve got your delivery bags and boots to the ready as we get back out on the campaign trail, abiding by the latest Covid guidelines, working to get Conservatives in charge of your local services and strengthening our union with more Conservative voices in power.

There’s no denying these elections will be tough but I have no doubt that your hard work on the campaign trail will help. Conservative councils, mayors, and PCCs have a proven track record of providing good local services, securing vital investment to boost jobs, and keeping communities safe.

The alternative is Labour wasting taxpayers money and playing politics for their own personal PR rather than working to deliver for the people they represent.

Last year showed that if we work together as one team we can achieve great things. I look forward to joining you as we get out delivering leaflets, following the guidance, and hit the phones to get even more Conservatives into public office.

From Disraeli to Johnson, the Left has never understood the Right, and Fawcett shows us why

31 Oct

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition by Edmund Fawcett

Edmund Fawcett, “a left-wing liberal” (his term), here performs, with grace, acuity and good humour, a signal service for conservatives. He introduces us to each other.

Reading his book is like being at a vast family party, where as one glances round the marquee one is struck by the affinities between people who have never met, but have much in common.

Here one encounters cousins of whom one may, perhaps, have heard, but about whom one knows next to nothing.

In one of the most delightful parts of his book, published as Appendix C, Fawcett in under 40 pages gives us brief lives of over 200 conservative politicians and thinkers, drawn from Britain, France, Germany and the United States, all of whom have attained some degree of eminence since the French Revolution.

This brevity is wonderful. It is not difficult to find a long book about any of these people. To find a dozen lines that are worth reading can be almost impossible.

And conservatism is itself an almost impossible subject. As Fawcett remarks in his preface, “A chaos of voices has often made it hard to say what, if anything, conservatives stand for.”

He notes a paradox:

“Puzzling as it sounds, conservatives have largely created and learned to dominate a liberal modern world in which they cannot feel at home.”

He remarks that he is not writing solely or even primarily for the benefit of conservatives:

“Readers on the Left will get a view of their opponent’s position, which they are prone, like rash chess players, to ignore.”

And he adds a pointed question for his companions on the Left:

“if we’re so smart, how come we’re not in charge?”

Part of the answer to that question is that the Left often fails to take the Right seriously. Moral condemnation forestalls understanding.

Another part of the answer is that the Right does take the Left seriously, is indeed terrified of the damage it can do. Fawcett begins with two conservative opponents of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre.

Burke is for British and American conservatives a marvellous source of wisdom, endlessly invigorating and enjoyable. Few of us have ever felt at ease with Maistre’s savagery, but Fawcett insists that although “Maistre was never going to sit well in conservatism’s front parlour”, he “belongs in the household as much as Burke”.

We are happier to be told that Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), a Prussian who studied under Kant, worked for the Austrians and took a retainer from the British, translated Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution into German, “teasing out Burke’s thought in long footnotes that tidied up the argument in rationalist spirit”.

Gentz, Fawcett suggests,

“was an early model of a familiar present-day figure, the clever policy intellectual with top degrees circulating between right-wing think tanks, conservative magazines, and political leaders’ private offices.”

And Gentz in his essay “On the Balance of Power”, published in 1806, developed the ideas which would guide the post-Napoleonic settlement, upholding peace between nations while retarding not just revolution but democracy.

Fawcett is excellent at giving us a feeling for his conservatives by quoting remarks which a less worldly Lefty would not find funny, and might therefore be inclined to censor.

So at a dinner at the Congress of Aix in 1818 we get Gentz telling Robert Owen, pioneer of utopian socialism and of the co-operative movement:

“We do not want the mass to become wealthy and independent of us. How could we govern them if they were?”

But Gentz was not some blinkered reactionary, who supposed the ruling classes could restore to themselves the privileges they had enjoyed before 1789:

“Revolution had to be fought, Gentz insisted, not with nostalgia but with modernity’s own weapons.”

Here is another part of the explanation for conservative incomprehensibility. Intelligent conservatives are at once more attached to the past than their opponents, and more anxious to understand what will work in the future.

This mixture of mixture of emotion and pragmatism cannot be reduced to an ideology – the very thing that leftish commentators consider it a mortal weakness not to possess.

Fawcett’s book is brilliantly organised, so one can without difficulty find what conservatives in Britain, France, Germany and the United States were saying and doing in any particular period.

He himself worked for The Economist as its chief correspondent in Washington, Paris, Berlin and Brussels, and also as its European and literary editor.

As in that magazine, his eye for what is happening overseas is very good, but the texture of British politics is sometimes smoothed away in order to make it fit some editorial analysis.

Fawcett does not get Benjamin Disraeli. Few historians of ideas do, for by the time the butterfly has been pinned to the page, he is dead.

Millions of voters did get Disraeli, loved his patriotism and felt exhilarated by his impudence. He is the only Prime Minister who has inspired the creation of a posthumous cult: the Primrose League.

When he comes to Stanley Baldwin, Fawcett attributes his description of the new Conservative MPs elected in 1918 as “a lot of hard-faced men who look as if they had done very well out of the war” to Lloyd George, as if only a Liberal could see how repulsive the Tories were.

Baldwin succeeded in part because he well understood how repulsive the Tories might seem, and took enormous pains to create a more favourable impression.

In 1980, Fawcett introduces us to “the hard right”. It is an unsatisfactory label, for the word “hard” makes it sound more defined, and less yielding, than it really is.

Fawcett knows the term is not satisfactory, for he keeps worrying away at it, and trying to justify it. In the course of a passage about Donald Trump, he writes:

“The hard right, in sum, was not weird or extreme. It was popular and normal. Indeed, it was alarming because it was popular and normal.

“Lest the term ‘hard right’ here sound loaded, and the account of events overdrawn, the passion and dismay with which mainstream conservatives themselves reacted needs recalling. They did not, in detached spirit, dwell confidently on the hard right’s visible weaknesses and incompatibilities. They did not ask if there was here a pantomime villain got up by the liberal left.”

Trump was and is an opportunist, a huckster who has belonged to three different political parties, and who seeks, as American presidential candidates since Andrew Jackson have sought, to get himself elected by expressing the anger of poor white voters who loathe the condescension of the East Coast establishment.

When he comes to consider Boris Johnson, Fawcett quotes The Economist‘s description of him as “indifferent to the truth”, and its advice to voters last December to vote Liberal Democrat – a way, perhaps, of feeling virtuous, but also of opting out of the choice actually facing the country.

Fawcett goes on to attribute a “forceful hard-right style” to Johnson, and a “disregard for familiar liberal-democratic norms”. The author is worried, for as he declares in his preface:

“To survive, let alone flourish, liberal democracy needs the right’s support… When, as now, the right hesitates or denies its support, liberal democracy’s health is at risk.”

The conservative family is in danger of going to the bad. This is true, but has always been true, and sometimes the warnings have turned out to be exaggerated.

Johnson enjoys teasing liberals, but has lived much among them, craves their approval and himself possesses many liberal characteristics.

Fawcett will know this, for he is the Prime Minister’s uncle: a brother of Johnson’s mother Charlotte.

The near impossibility of defining Johnson, something of which his critics complain, could even be a sign that he is a conservative.

These quibbles about the last part of the book in no way diminish admiration for it as an astonishingly accomplished survey of the last two centuries of conservative thought.

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

21 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ConHome: “Came out all wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conservative Party Conference programme – and which ministers are up and down

30 Sep

With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted. 

Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.

The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.

The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions. 

Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:

  • Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
  • Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
  • Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
  • The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)

Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.

Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:

  • Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
  • Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)

Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:

  • Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
  • Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
  • Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.

There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:

  • Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
  • Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
  • Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).

Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.

These include:

  • Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
  • Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
  • Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
  • George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.

It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.

Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.

Interview: “Petrolhead” Milling denies that Elliott is really in charge at CCHQ, and says that she’s visited all 48 Red Wall seats

30 Sep

Amanda Milling’s “greatest love” is Formula 1 and she is making sure the Conservative machine is ready for next year’s election races: “I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.”

As Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party she announces “the biggest conference ever”, starting on Saturday, and has been “on the road constantly for the last three months”, visiting all 48 of the Red or, as they are now sometimes called, Blue Wall seats won off other parties at the general election.

Milling denies in this interview that Ben Elliot, her Co-Chairman, runs the show at CCHQ, just as Andrew Feldman did for David Cameron.

She does not deny that since the general election victory in December, CCHQ has got rid of some campaign managers: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers round the country.”

Her role, she explains, is not to represent the party on the airwaves, but to maintain close contact with activists: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base.”

The interview was conducted on Monday afternoon in her office at CCHQ, which is adorned by pictures of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

ConHome: “What do you think the virtual party conference will be like, and what do you hope to achieve from it?”

Milling: “Well I’m thoroughly looking forward to the virtual conference which starts on Saturday. It’s going to be the biggest conference ever, given the number of registrations.

“Obviously I’m disappointed we’re not in Birmingham, but we are where we are. You do find yourself attracting people who would normally not come to conference, by virtue of being able to dial in from your home.”

ConHome: “It is very expensive, in time as well as money, to go to conference.”

Milling: “Yes, in terms of normal conference, if you think about actually going along to Birmingham or Manchester, the hotel, it can be quite a big commitment.

“But I’m delighted we’ve got this virtual conference this year to be able to pour more people in, and hopefully it’ll give them appetite to join us at future conferences both in the spring and in the autumn.”

ConHome: “Will they be able to answer back, or to applaud?”

Milling: “It’s going to be very interactive. A virtual conference does give us the opportunity to have that chat function. People can pose their questions.

“I think that’s quite an important part of this. Because otherwise I think there’s a bit of a danger that it’s permanently just ‘transmit’ – it’s much better to have that interaction – the ability to ask colleagues questions.

“And I’m very pleased that ConHome are having the fringe events too.”

ConHome: “We are, in massive number. Just so you can help us plan, how many set-piece speeches will there be?”

Milling: “We’ve got set-piece speeches from the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, but other Cabinet ministers will be having their slots as well.”

ConHome: “Let me ask you about your function, and do this by looking back for a moment. We’ve had a number of dual chairs, we’ve had Saatchi and Fox, then we got to Feldman and Shapps, and Feldman chaired the Board, and Feldman really was David Cameron’s man, he was in effect the real Party Chairman.

“I’m going to put this to you absolutely straight. There’s a view that Ben Elliot chairs the Board, Ben Elliot is a long-time supporter of Boris, as you are, and Ben’s the real Party Chairman.

“And that with no local elections this year it’s been very hard to see what you’re up to, or some people would say, brutally, why you’re there.”

Milling: “It’s very much a Co-Chairman role, and very much teamwork, with both of us working together. Inevitably we take on different roles and responsibilities.

“Your point about campaigning. Whilst we did have the pause, the postponement of elections earlier in the year, we still have to work towards those elections next May.

“During the summer since we had the easing of lockdown one of the things that’s been really important is setting out guidance for our activists in terms of how they can campaign in a Covid-secure way ahead of those elections next year.”

ConHome: “Tell us about your year. What have you been doing with no local elections? How did you fill in and prepare for next year’s?”

Milling: “Let’s be honest, when I was appointed Co-Chairman back in February I was there ready to get out campaigning and get out also to those seats which are the Blue Wall seats.

“They are Blue Wall seats not Red Wall seats now. Lockdown made that somewhat more difficult. But during lockdown I did a lot of work engaging with the membership via our various new virtual platforms, Zoom and Teams.

“in fact the day was filled morning to evening engaging with our activists. Actually you can get to see more activists in many ways using technology because you’re cutting out the travel time.

“But then after the lockdown was eased I started on what my original mission had been which is to get out and visit these Blue Wall seats.

“And at the weekend I did my last visit which meant I’d visited every single seat that we gained in December. I’ve been on the road constantly for the last three months.”

ConHome: “You actually visited physically?”

Milling: “Physically every single one.”

ConHome: “Could you remind me how many that is?”

Milling: “It is 48.”

ConHome: “And how many times in the year have you been put up on the Today programme or Newsnight?”

Milling: “So I haven’t been on either the Today programme or Newsnight, but obviously with Conference it’s a big opportunity to reach out to our activist base, our members, and talk about my vision for the party.”

ConHome: “Will the local elections definitely go ahead next year?”

Milling: “Yes, there is a lot of work going on in the Cabinet Office to make sure that those local elections go ahead.”

ConHome: “This is a bumper crop of local elections. What have we got? We’ve got London…”

Milling: “We’ve got the county council elections, PCC elections, mayoral elections from 2020 and also 2021, we’ve got elections in Wales and elections in Scotland. So you’re right, this is an absolutely bumper year.”

ConHome: “And everywhere you’ve got a third of the council being elected.”

Milling: “And you’ve got some by-elections. This is why this conference is a really great opportunity to galvanise the troops, enthuse the troops in terms of campaigning.

“I think back to about June time, I would go round the House of Commons, I would literally have colleagues going ‘When can we go out campaigning?’ I was actually hearing that from the grassroots as well.

“And it’s been great to see people getting back on the campaign trail, having rested their legs over lockdown.”

ConHome: “Do you think these elections will be seen as a referendum on the Government?”

Milling: “These elections are our opportunity to really demonstrate Conservatives delivering at a local level. These are local elections, but on a very large scale, given that they are two years’ worth.”

ConHome: “How has it come about that the opposition to the way the fight against Covid was conducted is actually now being led by the Chairman of the 1922 Committee?”

Milling: “Throughout this, we as a Government had to respond to an unprecedented situation with measures to protect jobs, businesses and also lives.”

ConHome: “But how come you seem to have lost the confidence, up to a point, if I read his piece in The Telegraph on Saturday rightly, of the Chairman of the ’22?”

Milling: “So what this debate is about at the moment is the time spent in Parliament discussing it. Today [Monday], as an example, we are having a debate on Coronavirus and the various measures, and a staggering 80 people are in that debate. And there will be further debates and votes going forward.”

ConHome: “But some of them are hopping up and down because today they say we’ve had another set of regulations sprung on us without any notice, saying you can’t dance in a pub and you can’t sing in a pub.”

Milling: “What the Government’s having to do is respond to what is a very fast-moving situation, but at the same time giving colleagues the opportunity to debate that, as is being demonstrated this evening.”

ConHome: “Do you feel there’s been a movement among the colleagues towards a more Swedish-type solution?”

Milling: “Colleagues are as I say debating this today and the Government are responding to the science and the research to ultimately save lives, and that’s the most important thing.”

ConHome: “If this Brady amendment is debated on Wednesday, by then we would expect the Government to have made some move to accommodate it?”

Milling: “We will be having the vote on the Rule of Six next week.”

ConHome: “Though not amendable.”

Milling: “The days of me being in the Whips Office in terms of what’s amendable are over, you seem to forget.”

ConHome: “What do you do in your spare time? Though by the sound of it you don’t have all that much of it just at the moment.”

Milling: “Well my greatest love, and I do try to carve out the time for this, is watching Formula 1.”

ConHome: “Gosh!”

Milling: “So I am a petrolhead.”

ConHome: “From what age were you a petrolhead?”

Milling: “From childhood. I was brought up around cars.”

ConHome: “Who are the greatest racing drivers in your lifetime? Lewis Hamilton’s a bit dull, isn’t he? I mean obviously very good at it.”

Milling: “He’s very, very good at it. He had a bit of a tough day in the office yesterday. Eddie Irvine I always thought was quite an interesting character, because he really took the challenge to Schumacher at the time if I recall rightly.

“So I love Formula 1. So you can imagine my Sunday evenings are most definitely carved out for watching the highlights.

“It’s nice downtime. It would be nicer to actually go to one, but obviously at the moment that’s more difficult. Going to Silverstone is a great, great experience.”

ConHome: “You were brought up around cars?”

Milling: “My father had some vintage cars. There’s a photo if I recall correctly of me at about two in a kind of jump suit with a spanner in hand, although I’m not sure I’d be very good at servicing cars.

“Although on the matter of servicing cars, in terms of this particular role at the moment, I’ve got the bonnet open, we’re having a look at what needs a bit of oil, what maybe needs replacing.

“You haven’t maybe been able to do these things over the last few years, because we’ve just been so focussed on elections.”

ConHome: “So you’re tuning the engine.”

Milling: “We’re tuning the engine. Curiously, lockdown enabled us to do that to a greater extent.”

ConHome: “What sort of things?”

Milling: “One of the things is the candidates’ process, so an end-to-end review of that, from identifying talent to assessing talent and then supporting and nurturing talent.

“We did the Welsh review. We’ve recently appointed a team member to be the campaign manager for Northern Ireland.”

ConHome: “In the past there’s been a lot of criticism of losing highly knowledgeable campaign managers after a general election, and then the machine not in fact being in proper working order, for example in 2017.”

Milling: “So what we’ve been doing over the last few months, particularly ahead of next year’s elections, is making sure that our team are in the right places.

“But also over time our main focus is on getting the organisation fit for not just next year but 2024.”

ConHome: “The organisation was very scanty in many of the 48 seats which were won in December. What are you doing to build up some troops, some boots on the ground, for next time?”

Milling: “There’s a big piece of work we’ve been undertaking looking at these Blue Wall seats. Lee Rowley, who’s the Deputy Chairman, has been sitting down with all these colleagues to really get under the skin of what have they got, what have they not got, what their priorities are, what we need to do to build a membership and activists in these different areas.

“We’re going to be having a working group to make that more action-focussed.”

ConHome: “You just said you’ll be getting the campaign managers to the right places. Is that fewer people to the right places?”

Milling: “It’s not unusual after a general election you don’t have as many campaign managers around the country. But I think the main point for me as well is making sure that those campaign managers that we’ve got are focussed in the right places, particularly ahead of next year, which you know is a challenge, given the number of elections that we’ve got.”

ConHome: “When you went round the Red Wall or Blue Wall seats, how many of them don’t have a Conservative councillor?”

Milling: “It’s a big of a mixed bag. I think the key here is about building on having a Conservative MP. From being out on the ground, when I’ve met with businesses and residents, they’re really chuffed to have a Conservative MP who’s really there acting on their behalf, a voice in Parliament for them.”

ConHome: “How many of them actually have activists, never mind local councillors? How many of them have had to put together a team outside the traditional association structure?”

Milling: “My seat back in 2015 was a marginal seat and you have to build it up over time to have that broader activist base.”

ConHome: “Previous Chairmen have actually declared the membership figures. I don’t think you’ve got any plans to do that, have you?”

Milling: “No. I’m not going to be declaring the membership figures.”

ConHome: “Why not?”

Milling: “There’s a number of things on this. Number one which is actually membership’s just part of the Conservative family in many ways. It’s also about activists as well.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is actually people putting their cross by the Conservatives at an election.

“But what I would say is that membership is up from this time last year.”

ConHome: “Is there any other organisation – the National Trust or whatever – name me another that doesn’t declare their membership.”

Milling: “Look, I’m not going to declare the membership numbers. But as I say, it is up from last year.”

Why the Germans don’t always do it better

4 Sep

Every so often it becomes fashionable to use the understated brilliance and modernity of Germany as a stick with which to beat Britain for holding to absurdly antiquated ways of doing things.

I did it myself a few months ago, in a piece for ConHome suggesting that when the pandemic is over, we will have to look at what the NHS can learn from Germany.

Now John Kampfner has devoted a whole book, Why The Germans Do It Better, to this theme. It is a good title, but also a hostage to fortune. Will the Germans go on doing it better? Nobody knows.

And although the book, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading, doubtless contains all sorts of prudent qualifications to the bold assertion in the title, it is bound to encourage the kind of Briton who already believes that compared to Germany, the United Kingdom is hopelessly old-fashioned and resistant to change.

I love Germany, and in the 1990s had the pleasure of living for almost six years in Berlin. During that time, I wondered in vain how to write a book about modern Germany which could be read for pleasure as well as edification.

For in those days, and I fear this is still  true, while educated Germans often had an almost perfect grasp of the English language, and a detailed knowledge of British society, the reverse was by no means the case.

In some well-to-do parts of German society, Anglophilia raged almost out of control. They dispatched their children to fee-paying schools in Britain, followed by British universities. Even their dogs seemed to come from Yorkshire.

I hope some German author is at work on a study of this phenomenon, entitled Why The British Do It Better, which can sit next to Kampfner’s volume on my shelf.

But the truth about Britain and Germany is more complicated than such compliments, or exercises in self-denigration, can convey. And although it is worth identifying the things the Germans do well, it would be naive to suggest that simply by copying German methods, we can transplant their successes to British soil.

John Major said in March 1991 that he wanted Britain to be “where it belongs, at the very heart of Europe”. This always seemed, from a geographical point of view, an implausible goal.

Germany is at the heart of Europe, surrounded by about 20 other countries, all of them smaller than Germany. This is an inescapable fact, and offers a powerful reason for developing some system of amicable co-operation with those neighbours, so none of them becomes worried by Germany’s preponderant size.

The United Kingdom is on the edge of Europe. We have fewer neighbours and wider choices. We may make a dreadful mess of those choices: the Union with Scotland is now in grave danger.

But there is not much profit in trying to deny that the choices exist. Yet this is what Major and his successors tried to do. They said it would be mad to adopt any policy other than being at the heart of Europe.

This accusation of madness did not prove a happy way of managing Major’s critics within the Conservative Party, who put up a dogged resistance to his European policy.

In the eyes of the kind of people who will feel themselves in instinctive agreement with Kampfner’s title, this protracted row was an embarrassment.

It showed how backward and barbarous some Tory MPs were. Individual parliamentarians were held up as examples of complete madness. None of the care and sympathy which are nowadays supposed to be extended to the mentally ill were extended to these Conservatives.

There was instead a brutal attempt to cast them and their ideas out of polite society.

Germany did not have an argument like that. Although the German people wished by a clear majority to keep the German mark, German MPs voted on 23rd April 1998 by 575 to 35 in favour of replacing it with the euro, with no fewer than 27 of the “no” votes coming from the PDS, successor to the East German communist party.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl assured German MPs that the euro would make Frankfurt a “very big financial centre”, that Britain would be a member of the new currency within a few years, and that Switzerland would join within ten years.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which I rejoiced to read each morning, learned professors of economics argued with anguished pedantry that the new currency could not work. Their opinion was widely shared by German voters, who loved going on holiday in Italy, or at least to the local Italian restaurant, but did not think sharing a currency with the Italians was a good idea, and feared German savers and taxpayers were bound to end up subsidising the weaker members of the euro.

Kohl promised them their fears were groundless, and kept the political class solidly behind the project. He was a power politician of genius, who exploited the fact that the opposition Social Democrats believed more devoutly in his European policy than his own Christian Democrats did.

Nor was he above maintaining his dominance with the use of illegal bank accounts. High ideals and low methods were yoked together, but for a long time only the former got much coverage in the German press.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Kohl succeeded: it is hard to tell, for we have not reached the end of the story.

But it is in some ways a pity that German politicians failed to have the argument among themselves which created such animosity within the Conservative Party.

German public opinion was not prepared, and the assumption took hold that one’s duty, as a member of the political class, is not to rock the boat, and to suppress any details which might create the wrong impression.

There wasn’t, in Bonn, the open parliamentary debate which should have preceded so a momentous an experiment as subsuming the national currency, proud symbol of post-war recovery, within a new, supranational currency, as yet unsupported by a new, supranational state.

Dissent was stifled: something more easily done in a system with party lists. Many Germans saw with indignation the herd mentality that had developed among their representatives.

It has become a commonplace of commentary on foreign affairs that Germany is failing to rise to the great responsibilities which now rest on her shoulders.

Again, one may argue that this is a good thing: that being undramatic is better than being over-dramatic: that all difficult questions should be left in the calm hands of Angela Merkel, who long ago had the ruthlessness to knife Kohl.

But this preference for a quiet life has its drawbacks too. For years, Wirecard was held up as a German success story, a rare example of a national tech champion which could beat the Americans at their own game.

German regulators declined to investigate persistent allegations of irregular accounting and the company frightened into silence anyone who suggested its figures were too good to be true.

Only a year ago, Merkel promoted Wirecard’s efforts to get a licence to operate in China.

The German press failed to expose the Wirecard scandal. That was left to a troublesome newspaper based in London, The Financial Times, which took a courageous, principled, long-term view of the story, and wanted to tell its readers what was actually going on. Those qualities are not only found in Germany.

David Gauke: Without a proper state aid regime, the UK is unlikely to make a deal with Brussels

1 Aug

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Within the next three months, Boris Johnson is going to have to make the decision that will define his premiership and determine the future of British politics – especially the Conservative Party – for a generation. And the subject matter of this momentous decision? The previously obscure issue of the regulatory regime constraining the ability of the Government to provide taxpayer support for private sector companies. In other words, state aid.

Before turning to the issue in hand, let me set out a little context. My last two columns (here and here) have made the case that there is an electoral logic that points towards the Conservative Party moving in a leftwards direction economically but in a rightwards direction when it comes to social issues or, to put it more precisely, issues of national identity. Politics appears to be realigning as the biggest dividing line ceases to be about economic class or ideology but in relation to cultural issues.

The consequences of such a dividing line – and the Conservative Party unambiguously placing itself on one side or the other – is an uncomfortable one for those Conservatives with a desire for intellectual consistency.

At least since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Conservative orthodoxy has been in favour of sound money and free trade. That is not to say that the State had been banished from making any kind of intervention in the economy – no recent government could accurately be described as laissez faire – but that any such intervention would be made carefully, recognising that the market was, by and large, a rather good way of allocating resources.

As for cultural issues, the Conservative Party has been a broad church consisting of social conservatives and social liberals, tub-thumping patriots and committed internationalists. Generally, we rubbed along alright.

These Conservative traditions were abandoned in 2019, resulting in the Prime Minister’s electoral triumph in December when he won previously safe Labour seats. He did so by promising an economic policy that involved more spending and greater government intervention. He also promised to deliver Brexit at whatever cost. It was an uncompromisingly Leave prospectus that appealed to patriotic/English nationalist working class voters.

This brings us to the UK/EU negotiations over a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Contrary to promises of an oven-ready deal, discussions have not yet made a lot of progress. There are two sticking points. The first is fish. This is a matter of economic irrelevance (our fishing industry contributes less to GDP than Harrods) but of disproportionate political importance. As one can make a similar point about the EU, it would be an extraordinary failure for this matter to prevent a wider deal being reached.

The more substantive issue relates to the level playing field provisions. These are the EU’s requirements that the UK will not engage in “unfair competition” by undercutting the EU’s social and environmental legislation, nor provide anti-competitive subsidies.

The UK Government’s response to these demands has been to argue that this is an outrageous attempt to fetter the actions of a newly-independent nation. Given that (1) free trade agreements inevitably involve accepting some restrictions on a country’s ability to determine its own rules and (2) the UK accepted the principle of level playing field provisions in October’s Political Declaration, the EU is less than impressed by the argument.

The particular focus of the dispute has been state aid. At one level, this is surprising. The UK has traditionally eschewed state aid spending, seeing it as market-distorting and a wasteful use of taxpayers’ money. We spend less of it than the French and Germans and, as EU members, consistently argued against its use.

Nor has it traditionally been a touchstone issue for Eurosceptics. From my days in the ERG, I recall plenty of conversations about how the EU imposed regulatory burdens on businesses, prevented trade deals with rising economies like China and resulted in too much power in the hands of the unelected (oh, happy innocent days). Restrictions on bailing out private sector companies were not so much of problem for us Thatcherites.

This issue could have easily been de-escalated if we had put in place our own, independent and robust state aid regime, perhaps enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority. Such a regime is probably necessary (albeit not sufficient) in order to reach a compromise with the EU on this topic.

Instead, we have refused to set out our own domestic regime and there is much talk of how we can use our new freedoms as ex-members of the EU to support our own companies, like the rather odd acquisition earlier this month of a £400 million shareholding in a failed satellite company.

According to the Financial Times, Dominic Cummings is digging in against anything other than a “minimal, light-touch” state aid regime, believing that once you have left the EU “you should just do whatever you want”.

This brings me back to the nature of the Conservative victory last year and, in particular, the new supporters. If the Government’s focus is appealing to nationalists who favour an interventionist state, it would want the ability to back national champions or other businesses in favoured locations.

And if you are temperamentally inclined to think that any constraint on your ability to “do whatever you want” (whether by the EU, Parliament or the legal system) is an affront to democracy, then you will be all the more the likely to resist a robust and independent regime.

There are, however, consequences. First, it is very hard to see how the EU will agree to a deal if the UK does not have a proper state aid regime. I wrote in February how there may be a political case for not getting a deal (any deal will be very thin in any event, some parts of the economy will suffer as a consequence of leaving the Single Market, better to collapse the talks and blame the EU for the consequences) and that argument still applies.

But, as a consequence of the handling of Covid-19, the Government is more vulnerable to the charge of incompetence. In addition, a no deal Brexit would be a gift to the SNP, thus weakening the Union yet further.

Second, even putting aside the EU dimension, there are very good arguments for having in place a robust state aid regime. The Treasury will be arguing the case. Both as a finance ministry (ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely) and as an economics ministry (wanting resources to be allocated productively in order to maximise economic growth), it institutionally hates state aid. Presumably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, well-regarded by his officials, will have similar views and will be making the case forcefully. At least, he should be.

It will be for the Prime Minister to decide. Go for the purist view of Brexit (“you do whatever you want”), embrace the new political alignment and splash the cash in order to play to the Red Wall voters. Or keep open the possibility of a deal, look after the interests of taxpayers and maintain some kind of consistency with economic orthodoxy. Whichever way he goes, it will be a hugely consequential and revealing decision.