Lack of viewpoint diversity at universities threatens us all

4 Aug

Yesterday, research Policy Exchange confirmed what many people have worried about for years: a growing intolerance towards different political opinions at universities. Its report, titled Academic Freedom in the UK, showed the extent to which viewpoint diversity is under threat at these institutions.

Researchers examined one of the largest representative samples of UK-based academics in recent years and found that only 54 per cent of them would feel comfortable sitting next to a Leave supporter at lunch, with a third seeking to avoid hiring Leavers in the first place.

Researchers also estimated that between “a third and half of those reviewing a grant bid would mark it lower if it took a right-wing perspective”. In general, grants were found to attract the strongest levels of discrimination.

In summarising their report, the authors wrote that: “Hostile or just uncomfortable attitudes signal to those subject to such discrimination that they should conceal their views and narrow their research questions to conform to prevailing norms”.

In other words, academics are starting to self-censor in order to get by.

Much of this reinforces a recent article for ConservativeHome by Alexander Woolf, who wrote about the difficulties of trying to succeed in academia should one not subscribe to socialist politics. He regretted that people like him were “unwelcome in the vast majority of political science departments in this country.”

The research also reinforces my own feature for The Telegraph last year, in which I spoke to undergraduates about their experiences at universities. “I have lost a couple of really good friendships as soon as they found out I’m Tory”, one 19-year-old told me. Another Conservative said he was “abused and threatened” after protesting university strikes on campus.

The UK – and indeed the US – has reached a deeply troubling state of affairs in regards to ideological insularity on campus. And something has to change.

Fundamentally, it’s a contradiction of universities’ whole raison d’être for them to suppress and demonise diverse viewpoints. How is anyone meant to write or think anything interesting when only one worldview counts? The woke one, as it is called.

It’s not good commercially, either, given the British reliance on international students. Why would anyone want to study here when this problem exists?

The research will be particularly dispiriting to the general public as a measure of how much the culture wars have escalated – and how much worse it could get.

Some have always claimed that this battle is exaggerated, but the fact that an academic would shun a sarnie with another – simply because they want to leave an economic union – is a terrible indictment on society.

And it’s not only that: it’s campuses banning speakers, and even clapping (because it’s not “inclusive”) to replace it with jazz hands, and so forth.

Some of this is in part due to the growth of arts degrees and others which teach youngsters to see the world through the sociological lens – as a series of systems stacked against them, that they must then dismantle.

Yes, the Conservatives got a fantastic majority last year, and many took this as a pushback woke ideology, which was a dominant feature of Corbyn’s Labour (and Starmer’s hasn’t been particularly better, mind you).

But these victories can seem immaterial when its proponents have made great strides in our academic institutions – and elsewhere.

Over lockdown one of the most obvious ways in which woke ideology exerted itself was through the statue-toppling campaign. What began as just protests in response to the horrific murder of George Floyd descended into anarchy.

We’ve also seen JK Rowling shunned in celebrity circles for having conventional views on biological sex.

More and more people will be chastised, as she’s been, if universities continue teaching in the way they do, while shunning anyone who offers alternative perspectives.

Policy Exchange’s report makes some important suggestions. It wants higher education institutions and the Government to do much more to ensure that all lawful speech is protected.

Gavin Williamson, too, has taken some incredibly important steps towards moderating the issue. Knowing how much many of these institutions need a Government bailout thanks to Covid-19, he has told them they must first prove their commitment to free speech. It’s a great incentive.

The more the Government can set out policies to counter the issue, the better; universities are, after all, providing society with the next lawyers, journalists, doctors and generation of professionals. We simply cannot have them siding with one ideology; it’s not healthy for democracy, at the very least.

But combatting the groupthink will take more than legislation. It will also need the Government to be much bolder in putting forward its values.

Yesterday it was noticeable that Johnson’s ratings on the ConHome survey had gone down – which I hypothesised was due to his new-found interventionist tendencies on obesity, and face masks, and the rest.

But some of this may also reflect the silent majority’s wish for the Government to get a bit louder on the culture wars. Ministers should, at least, speak up while they can.

Bella Wallersteiner: A “Work Out to Help Out” scheme could boost the nation’s health and save our struggling gyms

3 Aug

Bella Wallersteiner is Senior Parliamentary Assistant to Greg Smith MP.

The two most memorable images of lockdown are a panic stricken Dominic Raab informing the nation that the Prime Minister had been admitted into intensive care juxtaposed with Joe Wicks exuding his irrepressible optimism while exalting the nation to join his daily workout. Joe Wicks has faded from our screens but the Prime Minister has had a Dasmacene conversion to lose weight and become as “fit as a Butcher’s Dog”.

There is a clear correlation between obesity-related conditions (those who have a BMI over 25) and patients in hospitals who require intensive care and intubation. Never has it been more important for the nation to take responsibility for its own health and thereby protect the NHS before the onset of winter when outdoor exercise regimes become more difficult to manage. The country will not be heading to their local parks on a cold dark autumnal evening in November.

It is all too facile for me as a relatively fit and healthy 25 year old to preach the benefits and merits of exercise to those who do not have easy access to open spaces and gyms. While it is amazing how much can be achieved by a simple work out in your average living room, better still is to leave your home, join your local gym and create a new daily work out routine.

Gyms are often maligned as intimidating spaces whose denizens spend their time toning their perfectly sculpted bodies in front of mirrors to reach the beach-ready, Love Island physique. The reality is very different as they have worked hard to become welcoming and inclusive spaces which encourage people of every shape and size in a national effort to increase fitness and reduce weight.

On March 21, UK’s 7,000 gyms and leisure centres were closed for the duration of the lockdown and only reopened on July 25 as part of the Government’s third stage of the national recovery from Covid-19 restrictions. Will the one in seven of the population who used to have gym memberships continue to inject £5 billion on keeping fit?

If my experience of attending gyms in the fortnight since gyms reopened is anything to go by the public has yet to be convinced. Monthly direct debits to gyms are not being renewed and while I have enjoyed the luxury of an empty gym this is not sustainable. We will see a swathe of gyms and fitness centres closing; a permanent loss to local communities with thousands of jobs disappearing and more empty spaces in our towns and cities.

The Prime Minister wants to level up Britain’s left behind areas, he should also be urging us to get on our spin bikes and thereby providing a leg up to this struggling industry.

At a time when the Government has launched its Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, with a £10 voucher for every meal out, there should be a similar financial inducement to encourage people to renew long-lapsed gym memberships and to support their local gym and fitness centres. A 25 per cent Government-backed discount on monthly gym memberships would incentivise people to join their local gyms and shed surplus weight gained during lockdown.

Comprehensive Government guidelines have ensured that gyms, pools and leisure centres have reopened safely. Measures include timed bookings to limit the number of people using a facility at any one time so that social distancing can be maintained, enhanced cleaning regimes which ensure that all equipment satisfies Covid-19 hygiene protocols and one-way systems reducing unnecessary contact between gym users.

The challenge now is for people to overcome their understandable reluctance to step back into enclosed spaces which have been caricatured as feted petri dishes for the spread of the Coronavirus. If we are to beat the pandemic the nation needs to be match-ready for the much anticipated second wave which could come sooner than expected.

Our survey. Johnson’s approval ratings for managing the crisis slip further for the third month running.

3 Aug

 

The results of our July survey indicate that approval ratings for the Prime Minister have fallen yet again – with just under 60 per cent of respondents (out of 1,169) saying that Boris Johnson has dealt with Covid-19 well, and 56.80 per cent saying that the Government as a whole has dealt with Covid-19 well.

To put this in context, in March of this year, 92 per cent of ConservativeHome panel members said that they believed Johnson and the Government had dealt with Covid-19 well. Johnson’s rating then slipped to 84 per cent in April (82 per cent for the Government) and fell even further in June to 72 per cent (71 per cent for the Government).

When quizzed in July about the Prime Minister’s performance, over 30 per cent of our respondents said he had dealt with Coronavirus badly (21 per cent of respondents selected this in June), and 9.58 per cent didn’t know.

Rishi Sunak, too, has suffered a fall in ratings – though this has been much less drastic than the figures for the Prime Minister.

When ConservativeHome panelists were asked in March if they supported the Chancellor’s economic plans in response to the virus, 92 per cent said yes – that figure now stands at just over 80.98 per cent, with 13.71 per cent saying that they do not support his economic plans, and 5.31 per cent answering “don’t know”.

In regards to Johnson, what could the reasons be for this fall? Retaining popularity in a pandemic is, of course, not easy for any leader. But some of this is surely due to his recent policies on obesity. As I wrote a week ago for our site, the new measures – which include banning adverts for high fat, salt or sugar products on TV and online before 9pm, calorie labelling in restaurants, cafes and takeaways, as well as ending the promotion of “buy one get one free meals” – risked pleasing no one.

Those who are pro-intervention say the moves do not go far enough, and on the other side of the spectrum, many Conservatives will be feeling concerned about the state intervening in their dietary choices, not least because they previously believed Johnson was a “libertarian” on things like sin taxes.

This concern about state intervention is not limited to obesity, though. Indeed, as I wrote in the aforementioned article, “Coronavirus, in general, has challenged what people expected from the Conservatives; there have been huge levels of spending and, with the public now forced to wear face masks in shops, many voters will need assurances of a return to a small state.”

There’s also the fact that the Government is reportedly considering asking over 50s to stay home and shield. Perhaps it is the case that people want the Government to be more hawkish at this point in the crisis – and that is what will improve the ratings.

Not least because they will soon have to tackle school reopenings – a battle over which the unions arguably won previously, and businesses are also struggling to get things off the ground. One cafe owner recently told me that he couldn’t get enough supplies, as delivery companies had still furloughed many staff.

“We need the Government to be stricter”, were his words. While not a Conservative panel member, perhaps it is this view – that Johnson needs to be tougher on getting the economy back to normal, instead of monitoring snacks – is not so far away from our respondents’ sentiments.

Richard Holden: Across the “Blue Wall”, there’s little sign Starmer’s approach to the crisis has cut through

3 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Green, Billy Row, County Durham. Nothing brings you back down to reality like properly being out and about in the towns and villages of North West Durham. People don’t hesitate to politely let you know their opinions, which I conveyed – again politely – to Amanda Milling, the Party Chairman.

Since lockdown eased, Amanda has sensibly been out and about across the “Blue Wall” and popped by to formally open my new office, before meeting some local members and constituents in Consett. It was only in 2010 that the Conservatives gained her seat of Cannock Chase. Part of the original “Red” to “Blue Wall” swing seats from 2010. it’s now held with 68.3 per cent of the vote for the Conservatives and a majority of almost 20,000. Something to aspire to and we are nothing if not the part of aspiration.

Lockdown has changed a few things and there is, understandably, concern about the future due to Coronavirus. While the caravan parks are full and people are holidaying in the towns and villages of Weardale, the reverse is true for my local businesses and companies that rely on international travel. From travel agents, through airlines, to aircraft manufacturers, all have been hit hard. How the next few months are managed is really going to set the course for the next few years.

But to date, the management of the economic impact of the crisis is seen as sound. A testament to that is that one first name has joined that very short list of “household name” politicians alongside “Boris” locally and that is “Rishi” – very much seen as someone who has worked hand-in-glove with the Prime Minister and done all he can to help steady the ship, in a credible way, at a very difficult time.

One of the things that really doesn’t appear to have changed though the antipathy of local people towards the London (and on a local level City of Durham) centric Labour machine. It’s quite clear that Keir Starmer, too, certainly hasn’t really cut through in any positive meaningful way here.

This hasn’t been aided by the missteps of the Labour-run County Council who, at the heart of the pandemic in late March, voted to put a new 3,000 sq ft roof terrace on top of their proposed new monstrous carbuncle of a County Hall on a floodplain in the centre of Durham city.

At a national level, Labour’s lawyerly approach to the crisis hasn’t helped it either. If your job is on the line – as quite a few are in my community – Starmer’s “Goldilocks Politics” of “too much/too little, too fast/too slow” with lashings of hindsight-driven drivel isn’t winning you over.

No-one wants to know that, like any good barrister, you can argue the counter argument. They want to know you get the economic reality of what’s going on and are instructing your local councillors where they’re in place to do something about it.

From those snatched chats over coffee or a pint in the pubs of North West Durham, it’s clear to me that without showing a desire to really challenge the basic economic arguments of the far-Left, Labour have still further to fall. This is Starmer’s real challenge: he’s dumped Corbyn, but can he – does he even want to – dump Corbynomics?

Within three months of taking office following the death of John Smith, Blair had told the Labour Party Conference he was going to change Clause 4 and within a matter of months at a special conference in April 1995 he did just that.

Aside from managing to knife his opponent for the job and boot her out of the Shadow Cabinet, Starmer’s first four months in office have been barely a tremor on the political Richter scale.

If I were Starmer at this moment I’d be recognising that I have one shot at this and boldly lay down the policy tracks in order to concentrate on next year’s elections in Scotland, Wales, London, The Midlands and the English counties.

From the attempted coup in 2017 and brutality of the internal wars currently taking place, it’s clear that Labour is up for knifing its leaders if they look like an electoral liability.

Starmer needs to show that Labour can win big in its remaining heartlands of London and Wales and show that he’s there, challenging the SNP in Scotland and winning over county councils across England – creating a real base for the future.

For us Conservatives the challenge is different. We can’t control what Starmer will or won’t do – any more than we can really predict or determine when we’ll finally be rid of the damned Coronavirus.

It’s about proving that we not only culturally understand the “Blue Wall”, but grasp their economic needs and aspirations too. The massive support that taxpayers have provided via the Government has not gone unnoticed by the man and woman in The Green at Billy Row and has cut through to constituents.

For the future it’s a mixture of delivering on policies both big – like the commitments on levelling-up – but also smaller policies, like ensuring that community services are maintained and lives, where possible, made a little easier, and cheaper.

Often that’s through ensuring fairness where the market fails or is skewed. From getting housing built on brown field sites that have been squabbled over for decades, to the cash machine on the green at Billy Row.

It might take some ingenuity at times, but we’ll need to keep highlighting to people that we’re on their side in their community economically, as well as culturally, to keep the trajectory away from Labour and to the Conservatives on course as we build the Blue Wall.

Karol Sikora: Millions of people are waiting for cancer services. That’s the second wave we should worry about.

3 Aug

Professor Karol Sikora is CMO of Rutherford Cancer Centres and Former Director of the WHO Cancer Programme.

Let me be clear, I have absolutely no interest in getting involved in politics. Despite being labelled a Government stooge on more than one occasion, one glance at my Twitter account will show that I have made my objections to Government policy clear, perhaps too frequently!

Before March I honestly had no idea how Twitter worked, I thought it was the sound birds made in the morning. The whole reason I signed up was to ensure cancer patients weren’t forgotten about in this Coronavirus whirlwind. To be honest, I failed.

We’ve tried everything; writing articles, doing media, lobbying ministers, online petitions. None of it has worked, there are still millions of people waiting for cancer services. Recent estimates put that number at 3,000,000 people, that is staggering. We’ve heard lots of words from Government, but not nearly enough action. Hopefully the message from this article may reach the right people.

Everyone reading this will have been touched by cancer in some way, we all know how relentless and insidious it is. It doesn’t stop for anything, never mind pandemics but we have given it far too much freedom to run riot over the last few months.

A delay of a few weeks in most cases will make no difference, and many cancer patients have had treatment delayed for appropriate clinical reasons, but lots have been delayed for operational reasons.

Sadly at the start of this pandemic I would always talk in hypotheticals about how many people could die from cancer delays. That is no longer the case; people have already lost their lives because the treatment they needed was not available.

We have far too often seen doomsday predictions thrown around by people who don’t fully understand the consequences. It is people of my age who are most petrified by this climate of fear and who are now unwilling to “trouble” the NHS. We’re the ones who need the help the most!

“Stay Home, Protect the NHS” was a brilliant slogan, but it was far too effective. People having heart attacks would refrain from ringing 999 and the numbers of people diagnosed with cancer this year has fallen off a cliff compared to the average. If anyone from the No 10 Behavioural Insights Team is reading this please understand you are playing long term with forces you don’t understand.

Oncologists have spent decades trying to get people to get persistent symptoms checked, so much of that progress has been undone in the last few months. I have neighbours who won’t even open their windows they’re so scared of catching the virus, if they find an unusual lump are they going to go and get a scan? I think not.

So what can we do? I’m acutely aware it’s all too easy to throw stones from the sidelines while offering no solutions. Isn’t that how politics works?

The approach has to be two-fold. First, we have to get cancer care prepared for the inevitable surge, but we also have to encourage that wave to come. If people won’t get checked at an early stage, sooner or later they will need treatment.

We need “COVID-secure” hubs to treat and diagnosis cancer. Weekly staff testing, temperature checks, ultra-caution within the building. We have to make cancer care as safe as possible to give people the confidence to come forward.

Embracing all available capacity seems obvious. My network, the Rutherford Cancer Centres, has increased our collaboration with the NHS during the pandemic and are willing to go further. There are other independent providers who have the capacity to help, it would be wrong to leave those machines empty whilst millions have cancer services delayed.

There is going to be a surge, we need to know exactly when that is coming to get ourselves prepared. I anticipate around September, so oncologists and our dedicated support staff should be getting ready for a very difficult autumn/winter.

What frustrates me the most is the fact that so many other countries have continued cancer treatment with not nearly as much disruption as us. An oncologist friend of mine has a Brazilian partner, even there they are dealing with cancer admirably in the face of a far worse situation than us.

The prospect of a second wave is one we have to take seriously and I have always said we are right to prepare for the worst, but we are already in this cancer crisis. In my mind, the second wave we have to worry about is the millions of neglected cancer, cardiac and other seriously affected patients who have been ignored.

History will not judge us kindly when the full damage of this disaster is visible. It isn’t too late to avert the worst of it, but we desperately need action, not more rhetoric and even worse dithering.

Dom Morris: The focus on physical contest is compromising national security. An upcoming review must change that.

2 Aug

Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.

It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.

I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.

The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?

Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.

We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.

It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.

We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!

The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.

Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.

This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.

Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.

Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.

Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:

1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.

2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.

3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.

4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.

5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.

6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.

7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.

8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.

9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.

10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?

11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.

Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)

Dom Morris: The focus on physical contest is compromising national security. An upcoming review must change that.

2 Aug

Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.

It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.

I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.

The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?

Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.

We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.

It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.

We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!

The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.

Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.

This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.

Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.

Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.

Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:

1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.

2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.

3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.

4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.

5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.

6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.

7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.

8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.

9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.

10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?

11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.

Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)

Dom Morris: The focus on physical contest is compromising national security. An upcoming review must change that.

2 Aug

Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.

It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.

I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.

The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?

Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.

We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.

It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.

We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!

The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.

Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.

This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.

Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.

Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.

Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:

1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.

2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.

3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.

4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.

5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.

6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.

7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.

8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.

9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.

10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?

11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.

Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)

Chris Newton: In imposing new Coronavirus restrictions, the Government isn’t doing anything it said it wouldn’t do

1 Aug

Dr Chris Newton is a historian and a former defence policy adviser in the Conservative Research Department.

Boris Johnson announced on Thursday evening that the Government will impose new Coronavirus restrictions in parts of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire a few hours before it was enforced at midnight.

In addition, on Friday, the Prime Minister announced that he is postponing the reopening of “high-risk settings” (including casinos, skating rinks, and bowling alleys) in England, originally planned for August 1, for a fortnight.

Keir Starmer and Labour, while agreeing with the restrictions in the north, criticised how the announcement was made, which they claimed was on Twitter and at short notice, and called on the Government for “urgent clarity and explanation”.

The criticisms about the short notice the Government gave for the North of England have some merit, although the Government has published clarifications and answers on its website.

Moreover, Labour’s condemnation should be tempered by the fact that swift action in response to spikes was what it had been demanding.

Another criticism, especially on social media and one raised during the Prime Minister’s press conference on Friday, is that these announcements represent the failure of Johnson’s plan for easing lockdown. They show that the Prime Minister has been too optimistic, that easing lockdown has been premature, and that he should not have announced his timetable so far in advance.

This argument is, however, less convincing. The recent measures should not surprise anyone who follows the Government’s statements, for local lockdowns and timetable postponements were built into its strategy.

On July 17, Johnson set out his plan for further relaxations, including the re-openings on July 25 and those originally set for August 1. During this statement, he warned:

“Now I must stress, the timetable I am about to set out is conditional. It is contingent on every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly. It relies on our continued success in controlling the virus. And we will not proceed if doing so risks a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS”.

Johnson also acknowledged that: “I know some will say this plan is too optimistic, that the risks are too great”. Nonetheless, he accepted that his plans would have to change if there was a significant rise in the infection rate:

“And of course, if they are right in saying that, and we cannot exclude that they are, let me reassure them, and reassure you: that we will not hesitate at any stage to put on the brakes”.

He reiterated that “from May 11 onwards, this plan has been conditional, and it remains conditional”. Johnson also set out the Government’s guidance for containing future outbreaks. These included giving new powers to local authorities, as well as establishing powers for central government intervention.

Therefore, at no point did the Prime Minister say the timetable was guaranteed, and the Government has not announced anything it said it wouldn’t do.

Johnson has “put on the brakes” as he indicated.

As Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, stated on Friday: “we all know that what we have to try and do is to get to the absolute edge of what we can do in terms of opening up society and the economy without getting to the point where the virus starts to take off again”.

No-one knows where that “absolute edge” is until it has been reached. Faced with a dramatically shrinking economy and rising unemployment, the Government tested what was possible until it reached that edge. In order to balance opening up the economy as well as keeping infections as low possible, its approach has been incremental, flexible, and fluid.

Its strategy was always going to be modified by unexpected developments, what military theorists call “friction”.

This is a crisis that no post-war government has faced. Coming out of lockdown puts us into unknown territory, and no doubt the Government has made mistakes purely because it is dealing with a new, uncertain situation.

It is right that it is held to account over its decisions and communications during this crisis in time.

However, analysis and criticism should not only take the enormous challenge into account, but also be based on what the Government has actually stated.

Those expecting that the easing of lockdown would follow a simple, linear path are being unrealistic and are not portraying the Government’s plan accurately.

Local lockdowns are dispiriting – but there are reasons to be hopeful about the battle against Coronavirus

1 Aug

On Thursday evening, Matt Hancock posted a series of Tweets that sent the UK into disarray. He wrote that the Government had “seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England” and would subsequently not allow people from different households to meet indoors in Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale, starting from midnight.

Events moved quickly the next day, in which Boris Johnson elaborated on the decision that had been made. At a 10 Downing Street press briefing, he announced that lockdown easing would be postponed in England and that the country would have to “squeeze the brake pedal”, as “the prevalence of the virus in the community, in England, is likely to be rising for the first time since May”.

Even more depressingly, Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that “we have probably reached or neared the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society”.

Alongside the news that England has the highest excess mortality rate in Europe, the spikes being seen across Europe, and the repeated warnings of a second wave, no doubt this has been one of the most disheartening weeks in the Covid-19 crisis so far for many Brits – particularly those living in the affected areas.

Indeed, in these times, it can be hard to feel optimistic about the battle against Coronavirus. But there is a strange paradox to the detection of cases in the North – abrupt though Hancock’s announcement was – and the Government’s swift action.

Far from being a sign of decline, it emphasises the enormous improvements that have been made in the UK’s testing regime. Hence why it is now easy to spot cases.

At the beginning of the crisis, many will remember that the Government was routinely attacked for lack of tests. When the Health Secretary promised to accelerate the testing regime by tens – and then hundreds of thousands – the target seemed preposterous. But big strides were made; 11,722,733 tests have been processed so far, with 206,656 processed today, and testing capacity at 338,585. 

To put this in context, by way of new tests per thousand people, the UK rate is 2.27 (as of July 30. Source: Our World in Data), Belgium is 1.30 (as of July 29), Denmark is 0.79 (July 30), France is 1.38 (July 28), New Zealand is 0.51 (July 30) and Norway is 0.89 (July 27). 

Now that our testing regime is better, there’s no doubt that the UK will have more localised lockdowns. But as the testing, and data, becomes more sophisticated, so will the way that the Government is able to apply its intelligence.

Another reason to feel hopeful is the progress made in developing a Covid-19 vaccine. Last month, a team of scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group trialled one that induced a strong immune response in patients. They have since worked with the UK-based global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, with the help of a £84 million Government funding scheme, to accelerate its development. The organisation has reported “good data so far” in its large-scale clinical studies.

And that’s not all: the Government has signed up for 60 million doses of a potential Coronavirus vaccine, which is being developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline.

Of course, no one can argue that the Government has been perfect in this crisis – clearly the decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes was wrong, and people will be troubled by the excess mortality rate (although there is some debate as to whether this accurately gives a snapshot of countries’ performances). 

But it can be easy to forget that hospital cases continue to decline (even if cases are going up, it doesn’t mean hospitalisation), as have the number of deaths involving Coronavirus across all English regions. At the same time, treatments and understanding of the virus continues to rise.

And let’s not forget the significant achievements throughout this crisis; the speedy roll out of the Nightingale Hospital; the shielding scheme to protect two million people; the Government’s ability to increase the number of mechanical ventilators in the NHS from 9,000 before the pandemic to 30,000; the emergency arts package, and of course Rish Sunak’s multiple schemes to keep the economy moving.

They were phenomenal logistical achievements that should give us faith about Britain’s ability to deal with what’s next.

The speed at which the nation has improved on testing is only going to bolster its decision-making further – and, indeed, these developments will be seen worldwide as all countries improve in this regard.

In short, it may not feel like it this week, but there are reasons to be hopeful about the future.