Robert Jenrick: What we are going to give a warm welcome to Hong Kongers

19 Apr

Robert Jenrick is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Newark.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom launched a new, dedicated immigration route for British National Overseas (BNO) status holders and their descendants, reflecting our historic and moral commitment to those people of Hong Kong who have chosen to retain their ties to the UK. It’s an unprecedented scheme and there is no other visa in the world of this nature.

We are a champion of freedom and democracy, and will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, so that these families will come to find the UK a place they can call home.

It is an honour that many are choosing to relocate, and I have made it the mission of my department to guarantee that all BNO status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive here.

To those coming to the United Kingdom, on behalf of the whole country let me be among the first to wish you the very warmest of welcomes.

Our message is clear – that the UK government and the British people are here to welcome you with open arms, and we will endeavour to help you as much as possible to settle in and build a prosperous, happy life in your new home.

You have so much to offer our nation at this critical point in our island’s history. Our children will thrive studying alongside one another, our businesses will benefit from new talent, and our communities will be enriched by new neighbours and friendships.

While uprooting your family and beginning a new life on the other side of the world is a daunting prospect, I have no doubt that you are going to feel very much at home.

We are doing everything in our power to ensure your success and happiness here, with support to help you find a home, schools for your children, jobs and opportunity.

The UK has a long and proud history of embracing those who arrive on our shores seeking the rights and freedoms denied to them in their homeland.

And while the UK and Hong Kong may be many miles apart and different in many ways, the fundamental principles that underpin life here will already be more than familiar to you. After all, for more than a century we flourished together as free societies and dynamic economies under the rule of law where people can express themselves and achieve their full potential.

To those coming to the UK or already here, I hope the support we are providing makes your move as successful as it can be for yourself, for your family, and for this wonderful country that we now share.

Last week, we announced an initial £43 million package to help new arrivals find a home, a school place for their children, employment or a route to set up a business.

We are creating 12 welcome hubs right across the UK to give BNO status holders the practical help when needed. There will be support for everything from learning English to transferring professional qualifications.

We’re also creating educational resources for schools so that they can teach young people about our historic connection and commitment to Hong Kong and its people.

And we’ve created a comprehensive welcome pack to help BNO families navigate the move, including information on how to access public services, register to vote and open a bank account. It also points out how to access libraries and leisure centres, and promotes the UK’s rich cultural, arts and music events – all translated into Cantonese.

Last week, I met with four Hong Kong families who have recently arrived in the UK and heard their hopes and fears as they start their new lives. Their profound sense of optimism about the future, and an embracing of their newfound freedoms, reaffirmed my belief that this migration will serve to enrich our country immensely.

We will continue to work closely with civil society campaigners, and special credit must go to Dr Krish Kandiah, the founder of UKHK.org who has dedicated so much of his time and energy to this cause.

All of us have important roles to play in making Hong Kongers feel welcome, and to support their integration into British society. I am confident that we will step up to the moment and embrace this golden opportunity, and work together in the name of mutual understanding, freedom and cultural enrichment.

Graham Allen: It’s time to review our democracy on a sustainable all-party basis

6 Jan

Graham Allen is Convener of The Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy and was MP for Nottingham North 1987-2017.

Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Regardless of political affiliation, all of those of us who call ourselves democrats worry about keeping that system viable-the best “worst” it can be. Our democracy feels fragile and poorly maintained. If it is to have a strong long-term future it now needs some serious love and attention. The Government’s election promise to create a Commission on Constitution, Democracy and Rights presents the perfect opportunity to do just that, in an overarching way or in bite size pieces as is happening on Judicial Review, Human Rights and English devolution.

If we want to renew UK democracy then people of good will from all political backgrounds have to come up with some persuasive ideas and arguments. Above all these must remake an effective partnership between a jaundiced public and a political class that sometime struggles to know what to do next to reconnect with them. However in a sometimes depressing picture of national and international democracy there is a growing glimmer of hope – and oddly it has a pedigree going back to ancient Greece .

One unremarked item has been that all the four main UK-wide parties actually agreed in their last election manifestos on the need for a review of our democracy, be it by a commission, a citizens’ convention, or assembly. The optimism here for democrats of all persuasions is based upon the recognition that elections alone are not enough and like the ancient Greeks using deliberative democracy to re-engage citizens thoughtfully with their politics is an important way to restore trust and participation. This would not only halt the decline of faith in UK democracy but also take it to its next evolution, a cultural development as significant as was “Votes for All”.

It is time to review our democracy on a sustainable all-party basis, and make it strong enough to transcend the complacency, elitism and populism that threaten its very existence. Government and Parliament will of course have the central role. By agreeing in advance each step of the way (including an impartial governing board) they will be completely confident that deliberation is a welcome improvement of our democracy not a threatening alternative to it. Citizens and elected representatives who have hitherto felt powerless can work with government to play our part as sensible and constructive partners. The moment has come. As Hillel is reputed to have said “If not now, when? If not me, who?”.

So what is deliberative democracy? It is tasty and nourishing slow-cooked politics, the antithesis of our present fast food McPolitics. Deliberation is where a microcosm of the nation, region or locality propose recommendations for consideration by legislatures. In essence a group of 80 or so citizens, transparently and scientifically selected by IPSOS-Mori or suchlike come together to conduct, in the words of deliberative democracy guru James Fishkin, “democracy in good conditions”.

They are properly fed and watered, travel costs paid, even a small honorarium of thanks and a decent hotel for however many weekend days it takes them. Perhaps most importantly citizens don’t bring the baggage and prejudices of political parties with them. A point is made to discuss issues respectfully and with good manners with the seven or eight people on your table, a mind opening counterpoint to the yah-boo of the House of Commons chamber and the distortion of political and anti-social media spinners.

The amazing thing is that deliberative democracy is actually working and gaining traction in the UK and across the globe. The record shows that deliberators “everyday people“ like us are – with balanced briefing and professional facilitation – perfectly able to take forward issues which are found to be intractable to usual political processes. “Give us your toughest problem “ is the challenge from deliberators.

Scores of democratic deliberations are now underway or successfully completed for example on abortion in Ireland, nuclear power in South Korea, energy policy in Texas, social care in Northern Ireland, waste recycling in South Australia, the UK Parliament’s own Climate Change Assembly and three UK-government sponsored local deliberations in Dudley, Cambridge and Test Valley which are spawning many others.

Finally deliberators hand their finished gift to their elected representatives to do their part, the consideration and decision. Hitherto these representatives that we elect have been hamstrung by whips, tribal party loyalties, electoral short termism, lobbying and campaigning money to the extent that they are often unable to progress issues. I know since I was one for 30 years.

Hence, far from feeling squeezed out or undermined, representatives actually welcome the new democratic dyno-rod of deliberation to unblock our constipated political processes. They see that renewing a mutually respectful pre-legislative partnership with citizens strengthens them get the job done that we elected them and the rest of our parliament to do,

In the UK, the independent Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy with senior all party support has been working out how to use deliberative processes to enable citizens to help review our UK democratic institutions and to discuss with Government the political endgame to deliver change. Our proposal has been sent to the PM and Michael Gove for consideration.

We will continue to work with HMG and across the political spectrum to create an effective and inclusive review. An agenda for Citizen’s deliberation agreed by HMG might include the second chamber, devolution, clarifying “who does what” in our politics and much else. The joint ambition is to go beyond the “40 white guys in Philadelphia” model and, using traditional and the latest on-line techniques, back up our groups of 80 citizens by engaging with potentially millions of founding mothers and fathers in a UK national conversation on improving our democracy.

This independent process means that these initial recommendations will be citizens’ proposals not yours or mine or those of our favourite pressure group. They will ultimately be respectfully handed to HMG’s Review and to our elected representative for the final consideration and decision that their electoral mandate deserves. Pericles remarked “We are unique in considering the man who takes no part in public affairs not to be apolitical, but useless”. It is time for you and I to stop being a useless spectator and play our part on the democratic pitch while we still have it.

We are right to test and question this new-fangled deliberative democracy but you will be pleased to discover that much like elections, it’s rediscovered twin, deliberation is a process adapted from the ancients. It is not politics like we used to do, it is politics that every civilised society should aspire to do.

Before any further public announcement about reviews of  UK democracy we will continue our work with the Government on how to give everybody a meaningful stake in their democratic future. We can look at the growing number of successful examples of deliberation from home and abroad or maybe, just ask the Greeks.

David Lidington: We have left the EU and there is no turning back. Here’s what our new relationship with Europe should look like.

29 Dec

David Lidington is a former Cabinet Minister and Europe Minister. He is Chair of the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI), and of the Conservative Group for Europe (CGE).

Ursula von der Leyen’s tone was elegiac, Boris Johnson’s conciliatory. Their first public statements announcing that a deal had been agreed marked a significant shift in tone. Both leaders looked to a future in which the United Kingdom and the European Union could move beyond the fractious quarrels of the last four years and forge a new partnership in the months and years ahead.

The Commission President quoted T.S Eliot’s line that “…to make an end is to make a beginning”, while the Prime Minister spoke of how the United Kingdom would continue to be “culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically” attached to Europe. The following day, Michael Gove said that the deal would be “the start of a special relationship” between this country and the EU.

This isn’t about rejoining the EU. Even for someone like me – unrepentant at having campaigned to Remain back in 2016 – the prospect of revisiting in reverse all the agonies and divisions of the last four years is profoundly unappealing, as is the prospect of EU membership without the rebates or opt-outs we once enjoyed. The challenge for our country and for our fellow European democracies now is to work out new ways of working together to uphold values and defend interests that we share.

Every European country wants to address the climate emergency, disrupt and defeat terrorism and organised crime and resist efforts by Russia to subvert democratic values and institutions in our continent. We all want to see political stability in the Western Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa – and know from hard experience that civil war, ethnic conflict and corrupt or ineffective governance allow criminal networks and extremist doctrines to thrive.

The incoming US President values alliances and international institutions, but will also expect European allies not only to spend more on defence and security (where the UK is indeed setting an example) but to show political leadership in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and in Africa, and to contribute support in the Indo-Pacific region, which Joe Biden, like his recent predecessors, will see as the chief focus of United States strategic interest.

Our country remains a European power but one which, like France, also has global interests and a global outlook. We should not see a strategic partnership with the Member States of the EU and the EU institutionally as an alternative to “Global Britain” but as an important aspect of it.

It will take time for bruises to heal, but I’ve been struck by how, even during difficult, sometimes acrimonious divorce talks with the EU, the Prime Minister boosted Britain’s military contribution to the French-led counter-terrorist action in the Sahel and how, announcing the merger of the Foreign Office and DfID, he cited the Western Balkans and Ukraine as places where important interests were at stake.

On key global issues – climate change, the Iran nuclear agreement, Israel/Palestine – the Johnson government has chosen a position closer to the European mainstream than to the White House. The E3 of Britain, France and Germany has continued to work in partnership on geo-political challenges.

Over the next ten years, a United Kingdom outside the EU will need to renew and strengthen both its bilateral relationships with other European countries and its partnership with the EU collectively.

With national governments, this partly about finding a substitute for the regular contact between British Ministers and officials and their counterparts that for nearly 50 years, has taken place at and in the margins of Council of Ministers meetings. It wasn’t only the formal Council that mattered, but the breakfast, lunch or coffee with an opposite number from another country – or even just the quiet word in a corner about some issue.

Since we left the EU on 31 January this year, there’ve not been those same regular opportunities to get to know and do business with other European governments. We’ll need alternatives. It is good that the Government has signalled its intention to strengthen our diplomatic presence across Europe – but we should also consider formalising arrangements for annual summits and joint ministerial meetings with different European countries, as we already do with France.

The UK will also need over time to develop a strategic partnership with the EU as an institution. This is partly because we shall want to discuss issues that under the EU treaties fall to the Union collectively to decide and partly too because the reality is that even the big EU members spend a lot of effort trying to shape a common EU policy approach. The UK will need to operate at both national government and EU level just as the Americans, Swiss and Norwegians already do.

This is to a large extent already envisaged in the Free Trade Agreement, through the Partnership Council and its various sub-committees established to manage and monitor how the deal is implemented. As we go forward, UK policymakers will need to understand the debates within Member States and EU institutions on subjects like data transfer and privacy, and try from outside the tent to influence the outcome in a way that protects our interests.

The same is true about climate, a top-level priority for the Johnson government especially with the COP 26 summit scheduled for 2021. Should the UK’s planned emissions trading scheme be more or less the same as the EU’s? Will the UK’s requirements for green finance be accepted in the rest of Europe? Understanding each other’s positions and, where possible, working together on the global stage should work to our mutual advantage.

NATO will remain the cornerstone of Europe’s collective defence. The EU should not try to supplant or duplicate NATO’s work. Equally, NATO cannot do everything. There are both functional and geographical limits to NATO’s mission. In an age of hybrid conflict, not just military power but economic leverage (including sanctions), information, development spending and anti-corruption work – things that are more an EU than a NATO responsibility -also matter. Truth is, we shall need to work both bilaterally with individual governments and with the different international institutions.

Above all, we need to focus on the strategic picture. Throughout the world democracy, human rights and the rule of law are under pressure. Russia and China are increasingly assertive about the merits of their very different systems of government. The idea of a rules-based international order, fundamental to both our freedom and our prosperity, is being challenged. Criminal and extremist networks operate across national borders and are as internet-savvy as any legitimate business. Outside the EU, the United Kingdom’s interests impel us to find a new model of partnership with our closest neighbours and allies in Europe while at the same time reaching out to like-minded countries worldwide. Now is the time for the world’s democracies, in Europe and beyond, to stand together.

Garvan Walshe: Democracies need to pull together to stop Chinese subversion of the open global economy

3 Dec

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

Chinese aggression hit the headlines after Beijing imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine. But resisting Beijing’s exploitation of the international economy to build up its own power needs democracies to do far more than buy the odd bottle (or case) of Cab-Sauv.

On Tuesday, the China Research Group, led by Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien, released a hard hitting report, Defending Democracy in a New World, describing a toolkit of things democracies can do to limit China’s abuse of the international system (I was involved in drafting the report).

Quite rightly, the report emphasises the importance of engaging with China, and welcomes Chinese economic progress, which, since Deng Xiaoping began to open the Chinese economy in 1979, has brought huge gains in the standard of living of billions of Chinese people, and indirectly, to the rest of the world.

Yet that international economic system is based on fundamental principles that China has been systematically violating. Human rights abuses have intensified since Xi Jinping consolidated power, from the concentration camps into which Uighurs have been crammed, to the destruction of civil liberties and democratic rights in Hong Kong, and the totalitarian oppression to which all Chinese citizens are subjected. China is bullying its neighbours, even to the point of preventing Taiwan helping fight the Covid–19 pandemic through the World Health Organisation, and has been rearming to back that intimidation with force.

Defending Democracy’s most important contribution however, is that it identifies the core source of Chinese Communist Party power and presents a set of practical measures democracies can take to blunt this expansionism. Today’s China is capable of reaching into the open economies of the West and pressing the undoubted economic achievements of Chinese industry and technology into the service of the Chinese state.

When globalisation brought barriers between states down, it did so on the implicit assumption that in market economies, the purpose of business was to make money – not serve the home states of the companies’ owners.

This created a world where it’s possible for all of us who can afford it, no matter where we are from, to own parts of foreign companies by buying shares in them, and have that ownership protected by the foreign country’s legal system. Instead of competing politically-like nineteenth century powers, we invest in each others’ economies and reap the benefits of companies competing with each other across a massive international market.

This ideal, however, is based on governments’ understanding that their job isn’t to promote “our own” companies at the expense of “theirs”, but to create an economic environment where a market economy could meet people’s needs and create jobs. Notwithstanding occasional outbursts of protectionism like France’s declaring dairy producer Danone a “strategic” industry, or outright state capture in some of the smaller ex-Communist European states, this ideal has mostly been upheld in the advanced economies of the world.

Xi Jinping’s China has seen that it is possible to apply the subversion of open Western economies, pioneered by the KGB, at industrial scale. When Western countries began to open up to each other after World War II, we did so on the condition that foreign trade and investment would not be used as a crude tool of political influence.

Perhaps seduced by the size of the Chinese market, and deceiving ourselves into thinking that as the Chinese grew richer, their political system would automatically grow democratic, we neglected to apply the same condition to Beijing. China is now going further, and using its power not only to enrich itself at the expense of a naive international economic and political system, but to start shaping the system’s rules in its own favour, and against liberal democracy.

This report is the start of a line of thinking that democracies, including of course the incoming Biden administration, need to join forces to impose costs on China for as long as its abuse of the international system continues. It contains some powerful measures that we can take to limit proposes some powerful measures that can be used to limit the extent of Beijing’s exploitation of our openness to further entrench its totalitarian rule.

As well as innovative specific measures to support the people of Hong Kong, and British National Overseas passport holders, to which the UK has a special responsibility, the report develops policies that can be applied by other democracies.

These include the systematic extension of Magnitsky Act-style sanctions to individuals responsible for human rights violations in China, including those in leadership positions.

Another key proposal is a “know your supplier” obligation to hold companies responsible for goods they sell that have been produced in supply chains where slave labour has been used.  Companies that fail to adequately investigate their own supply chains could be fined, and their directors be subject to personal liability and asset forfeiture if it is found that their wealth resulted from forced labour.

Chinese state-owned enterprises could be excluded from national-security sensitive infrastructure projects. Indeed, given the control the Chinese government exerts over even non-state owned enterprises such as Huawei, through its own national security legislation, the report could perhaps have gone further here, though considerable work is needed to make such restrictions compatible with WTO rules.

China’s participation in the open global economy has been good for China, and good for the rest of us,  but it has become clear that China is actively undermining the separation of politics and business upon which economic openness depends. Until Beijing changes its behaviour, democracies need to work together to ensure that China can no longer use its economic power to to bend the international system out of shape.

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.”

Ed McGuinness: A lesson for democracy in Europe from an abandoned airport in Cyprus

13 Oct

Ed McGuinness is a former Chairman of Islington Conservative Federation, founder of Conservatives in the City and contested Hornsey & Wood Green during last year’s general election.

In the middle of the Mediterranean atop the Mesaoria plain lies a major European international airport. There is a terminal, a runway, baggage machines and even a first class lounge as you would expect.

What is missing are passengers and the passage of time. The Nicosia International Airport is abandoned in the Cypriot Neutral Buffer Zone between the Greek-Cypriot part of the Island in the South and the Turkish occupied territory in the North.

This no man’s land (though it actually contains several populated villages) was said to have been drawn on a military map in 1963, with a wax pencil, by a British general commanding the peacekeeping force on the island in the wake of the Turkish invasion. In recent times, it has become one of many explanatory points in the EU’s ever increasing complex foreign policy proposals.

Almost two and a half thousand miles away on an brisk autumn day in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen was delivering her first State of the Union address, amidst the backdrop of a huge coronavirus stimulus package, on-going migration crises and foreign policy dilemmas over Belarus and China.

As it stands at the moment, essentially in order to enact lasting change, the EU requires every member state to agree on such significant issues as economic sanctions. When effective, the result is the world’s second largest economic bloc exerting a hefty punch.

But more often than not, this bureaucratic behemoth ends up in months off stalemate, compromise and early morning solutions – not very conducive to effective law-making. Von der Leyen, frustrated with this, suggested that, for human rights and sanctions implementation, the bloc should move to a “qualified majority voting” whereby 55 per cent of member states (15) comprising 65 per cent of the population can vote for such measures.

The reason why this issue has come to the fore is the failure of the bloc to come up with unanimous sanctions against Belarus and its despotic leader, Alexander Lukashenko, following his blatant rigging of national elections and violent suppression of pro-democracy protests as a result.

The EU is seemingly united on the issue: indeed, all member states agreed to impose sanctions on their immediate eastern neighbour – all, that is, except Cyprus.

Cyprus, that small country in the middle of the Mediterranean amongst other forgotten Southern European countries, is still in a “cold” war against the Turkish invaders to the North. Their air forces engage in mock dogfights, and even their navies have quite literally run into each other.

Cyprus however, has less than two per cent of the population of Germany and just 0.25 per cent of the EU population.  So it has, whilst in an on-going state of conflict with Turkey, to stand by and watch Germany lead on negotiations with its rival over a migration crisis that is, in relative terms, more important to Angela Merkel than it is to the Cypriot people.

As a result, Nicosia has exercised its only real influence over Brussels to allow its people to be heard over what is its most important foreign policy dilemma – a mechanism that would much less effective under the changes proposed by vvon don der Leyen.

Ironically, von der Leyen is indeed correct. The only way to prevent endless vetoes, continuously circling the issue and ending up with watered down solutions is to adopt a voting system based on a simpler majority, but in doing so she fundamentally breaches the “universal value of democracy and the rights of the individual” within the Union – a phrase she uttered in the same breath as her comments on voting reform.

The confusion at the heart of the matter is this: the operative aspect of the EU is in persistent conflict with its aspiration – in short, it is suffering from an identity crisis with limited escape routes. It is trying, and failing, to be both an economic union and at the same time, seemingly whenever it choses, a political union, with both aims simultaneously mutually exclusive and co-dependant.

An example of which may be advocating for voting reform and lowering representation in one sentence, and espousing the democratic rights of its citizenry in another. Stating it stands up for the rights of its smaller nations, whilst its bigger nations club together to secure powers and influence over their own interests.

The EU is now attempting a slow death of democracy which will concentrate power and wealth in the north-western countries to the detriment and federalisation of the southern nations. It is no wonder that pro-sovereignty movements have taken hold there.

The EU faces a stark choice, which will upset a significant bloc either way.

The first course is to follow their stated aim of continual political integration, which is clearly the option favoured by the President and larger countries who will benefit given their scale.

The second is to recognise the value of devolution, and endeavour to support those countries on the periphery of the Union.

A final option is to simply do nothing…and allow these problems to continue to build in a state of perpetual crisis. As with much in the EU, some mixture of choices two and three is most likely followed by an undemocratic push into option one, sometime many years from now.

The result may well be a smoother machine, but will be a further drain on the power, influence and already low democratic representation in the smaller capitals of the Union who are trapped by economic shackles to the centre.

The UK, and Canada, at the time of writing, have enacted sanctions on Belarus, Lukashenko and his senior lieutenants, and have worked swiftly with the US on multiple occasions this year to act on aggression from Chinese and Russian abuses of the rules based international order.

The “take back control narrative” which prevailed in the UK in 2016 has begun to deliver on those promises. The EU, on the other hand, remains confused about its own democratic values and whether it actually works for all its member states, or only does so when it wants to, or when it benefits its larger members.

Ultimately, the smaller countries in the EU will be the losers in the reforms proposed by von der Leyen, echoed in a recent tweet on by Guy Verholfstadt suggesting “unanimity was killing the EU”.

Well, Guy, it will continue to hold back the EU – or else the EU will end up killing its smaller members. The President of the European Commission ought to visit the abandoned airport in Nicosia. There she would see the land that time forgot which would perhaps spur her, and her colleagues, to remember how easily democracy can die.

Kate Dommett and Sam Power: We must act now to protect our elections from foreign interference

25 Sep

Dr Kate Dommett (University of Sheffield), and Dr Sam Power (University of Sussex) are the authors of Democracy in the Dark: Digital Campaigning in the 2019 General Election and Beyond.

Only now are we beginning to get the real picture of what campaign spending looked like in the 2019 election. Our new analysis shows that the £19.5 million the Conservatives raised in this period is greater than the sum total of reported donations to all political parties in 2017 during the same pre-poll period (that stood at nearly £18.7 million).

Where did it go? The official spending returns aren’t yet out. But we can catch glimpses through social media giants’ ad archives.

Digital campaigning is a big business. We estimate that spending on social media platforms increased by over 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2017. Of this, the three main UK-wide parties spent around £6 million on Facebook and just under £3 million on Google.

While Facebook was used by all three national parties to a relatively equal extent, the Conservatives invested dramatically more in Google (which includes YouTube). The advertising archives suggest the party spent £1,765,500, dwarfing the combined spend of £873,300 made by Labour and the Liberal Democrat accounts on this platform.

Yet despite these large numbers, online spend by parties made up only a fraction of the total political ad spend overall. Why? Because we are seeing the rise of the ‘outrider’. These so-called ‘non-party campaigns’ often spring up in and around elections – with the public in the dark about how they are funded, and by who. In 2010 there were 18 of these bodies registered with the Electoral Commission; by 2015 that number had nearly doubled to 30, and last year the figure had doubled again to 64.

While digital campaigning has huge, positive potential to reach out to voters, there is much we don’t know about who is behind online content. This has led to urgent calls for change.

Many of you will be familiar with the practice of putting ‘imprints’ on printed campaign materials. Bizarrely, 15 years after the launch of Facebook in the UK, there’s still no such rule for online material meaning the provenance of these ‘outriders’ is often not widely known.

In this transparency vacuum, social media giants’ have set up their own online ad archives, allowing us a glimpse of the scale of campaigning. But anyone who has used them will know they are insufficient, error-riddled, and often too vague to be useful. Often, we just don’t know who’s targeting us online.

Analysis presented in the report coded data from Facebook to identify 88 UK organisations as non-party campaign groups active during the 2019 election. These groups placed 13,197 adverts at a calculated cost of £2,711,452. Facebook knows who they targeted and why, but they provide only limited information about this in the archive. This makes it impossible to know what exactly is happening, and suggests a need for more transparency.

Whilst the government has rightly pledged to implement online imprints, this remains out for consultation. Whatever the result, it only scratches the surface. We have revisited the many inquiries that have been explored the issue of digital campaigning to highlight a number of simple and proportionate recommendations to protect a free and transparent debate, around which there is broad and cross-party consensus.

The need for online imprints – and soon – is clear. However, currently donations under £500 are not classed as such, meaning foreign actors could split up donations into smaller amounts to shift our political debate. Companies funding political interventions only have to generate a nominal amount of income in the UK. A simple change in law could clarify that campaigning by non-UK actors is not allowed. Given concerns about Russian interference, this kind of enshrined principle is vital.

Many of the recommendations in this report echo existing calls to modernise electoral law to help rebuild trust in our democratic system. It’s why the report has been backed by Cheryl Gillan. As she notes, we need honest conversations about the need for “more transparency in the money spent on campaigning in the electoral process, particularly in the light of the rapidly developing digital world”. Despite the huge growth of online ads, what was spent on digital campaigning is far from clear.

“We must continue to examine how we can ensure we have free and fair elections and what changes are necessary to our laws as technology continues to advance,” Dame Cheryl writes.

We cannot leave our electoral integrity in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley giants. Unfortunately, recent years have seen parties and campaigners become even more cautious about disclosing information about their campaign activities online.

Maintaining transparency needs an independent regulator, which is why we are concerned by threats to abolish the Electoral Commission if it cannot be ‘radically overhauled’. The ICO has major clout to investigate alleged wrongdoing when it comes to our data. We must give the same – if not more – gravity to our free elections.

With elections due to take place across the UK in May 2021, we cannot let the urgent task of ensuring our electoral integrity be kicked into the long grass once more, or set-backwards through the rash dismantling of our watchdog.

At present, it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to uphold the fundamental principles of our democracy: of openness, transparency, and public trust. Digital campaigning has the potential to be hugely positive – provided we don’t let secrecy rule the day.

The people in whose name liberals act are absent from Applebaum’s defence of liberalism

25 Jul

Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum

Anyone wondering what has gone wrong with democracy over the last 20 years should buy this book. It opens with a New Year’s Eve party thrown on 31st December 1999 by Anne Applebaum and her husband Radek Sikorski at Chobielin, their not yet fully restored manor house in an “obscure piece of Polish countryside”.

It ends with a summer party which they gave there in August 2019:

“Nearly two decades later, I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party. They, in turn, would not only refuse to enter my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they had ever been there. In fact, about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half. The estrangements are political, not personal. Poland is now one of the most polarised societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Spanish right, the French right, the Italian right, and with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.”

The guests in 1999 are an eclectic mixture of journalists – Applebaum is an American journalist and historian who has by now already worked for The Economist in Warsaw and The Spectator in London – junior diplomats and politicians – Sikorski is at this point Poland’s deputy foreign minister – along with local friends, “a large group of cousins” and “a handful of Polish journalists…none then particularly famous”.

The party lasted all night,

“and was infused with the optimism I remember from that time. We had rebuilt our ruined house. Our friends were rebuilding the country… Poland was on the cusp of joining the West, it felt as if we were all on the same team. We agreed about democracy, about the road to prosperity, about the way things were going.”

Why are they no longer on the same team? Why has a part of the right – including the Law and Justice party in Poland – yielded to “a different set of ideas, not just xenophobic and paranoid but openly authoritarian”?

For Applebaum, this is a treason of the clerks, or of the educated class: she refers to Julien Benda’s work of 1927, La trahison des clercs, in which he described how intellectuals of both the Left and the Right betrayed their essential task, the search for truth, and became propagandists for Soviet Marxism, or else for “national passion” in the form of fascism.

With admirable brevity – the book is under 200 pages long – Applebaum touches on a wide range of countries, including Poland, Hungary, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, and on an even wider range of writers, some of whom have abandoned liberalism and become apologists for authoritarianism.

She recognises the temptation which an authoritarian regime presents to the disappointed, second-rate writer, who by placing his pen at its service obtains the material rewards and significance which have hitherto eluded him.

The poverty of his talents is made up for by his loyalty to the regime, demonstrated by his willingness to acclaim its lies as truth.

Applebaum is acute on the way a one-party state, a form of political organisation invented by Lenin, can be regarded as more just than a democracy which has competing parties:

“If you believe, as many of my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, people who are loyal to the party leader, people who are…a ‘better sort of Pole’ – then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them deserves to rule? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore truly deserving of wealth?”

She has the humility not to pretend fully to understand what is happening:

“There is no single explanation, and I will not offer either a grand theory or a universal solution. But there is a theme: Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.”

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We can never rest on our laurels and suppose that the end of history has arrived. Even the highest forms of civilisation contain within them the seeds of decay.

All that is true, and yet I think Applebaum’s pessimism is overdone. Or to put it another way: this lament for the failure of liberals to live up to their liberalism could have been written at almost any time since 1789.

There is a void in this book. The people in whose name the liberals act are absent. They have occasional walk-on parts: Sikorski knew almost everyone “including the flight attendants” on the plane which crashed at Smolensk in 2010 with the loss of all on board, including the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of senior military figures and politicians: an event since exploited by the Polish right to peddle disgraceful conspiracy theories.

At Applebaum and Sikorski’s parties, unimportant people are of course made welcome. As she writes of last year’s summer party:

“At one point, I noticed the local forest ranger engaged in heated discussion with the former Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, with whom my husband created the Eastern Partnership between the EU and Ukraine several years earlier.”

We do not, unfortunately, discover what point the local forest ranger was trying to impress on Bildt. The ranger is, as it were, a charming decoration, like one of the small, rustic figures which adorn a classical landscape, whose point is to show the imposing scale of the ruins in which the artist and viewer are really interested.

And here is Applebaum on the difficulty which far-right movements often have in forming alliances with each other:

“Relations between the Italian far right and the Austrian far right, for example, once came unstuck after they started arguing, amusingly, over the national identity of South Tyrol, a German-speaking province in northern Italy that has sometimes been Austrian.”

What a wealth of meaning the word “amusingly” carries here. We find ourselves at a dinner party where the foibles of the natives are dismissed as merely ridiculous.

For those who care about it, South Tyrol is not “amusing”: it speaks to deep emotions and loyalties, and carries a weight of history.

If one wants to prevent demagogues from exploiting those emotions, one shouldn’t start by ignoring or downplaying or declaring illegitimate or laughing at the very existence of such feelings and loyalties, while instructing people to forget any inconvenient bits of history.

Liberals have to show they offer a better way, which quite possibly they do: the abolition of borders. But that project can only work if instead of handing it down from on high, as if to their vassals, the liberals first listen with respect to what the people may be attempting, however inconveniently, to say.

Applebaum knows Boris Johnson: her husband was with him in the Bullingdon Club. In her view,

“Both were playing with the old forms of the English class system, acting out some of the rules because it amused them. They enjoyed the Bullingdon not despite [Evelyn] Waugh’s vicious parody, but because of it.”

That sounds right: the Bullingdon was a joke. But part of the joke was at the expense of the priggish middle class, the Puritans shocked by the club’s hooliganism – a hooliganism which, one cannot help thinking, may have put its members more in touch with the hooliganism found in other classes of society, though not, of course, in the middle-class prigs.

Applebaum one day bumps into Johnson in the City of London:

“He was then mayor; he was riding his bike. I waved at him, he stopped, exclaimed over the amazing coincidence, and suggested that we go into a pub for a quick drink.”

Once inside the pub he is mobbed by people demanding selfies. But then they have a chat. She does not tell us what they said, but here we see a man anxious to mend fences, or if possible not to fall out in the first place.

The Conservative Party has endured because it has avoided, at least with greater success than the Liberals or Labour, “the parting of friends”. Let’s have a quick drink.

And let’s find a leader who can connect with the wider public, however much the liberal intelligentsia may despise him – or her, in the case of Margaret Thatcher.

Applebaum at length takes us to Washington DC, where she was an early and outspoken opponent of Donald Trump. She recognises that he represents “another America”:

“This America has no special democratic spirit of the kind Jefferson described. The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair.”

All this may be true, but does not do much to penetrate with imagination or sympathy into the hearts and minds of Americans who voted for Trump, many of whom regard themselves as followers of Jefferson, president 1801-09, and of Andrew Jackson, president 1829-37.

Morality gets in the way of understanding. These people are deplorable. As I suggested at the end of a recent piece, “American liberals…will do everything they can for the American people short of spending any time with them.”

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission pledged in the Conservative Manifesto is being quietly shelved

23 Jul

The page of the Conservative Manifesto which most alarmed supporters of the status quo was page 48.  And the part of this page – which dealt broadly with constitutional matters – that alarmed them most was at its end.  We refer to the long paragraph that promised a “Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission” “in our first year”.

It explained that this commission would examine the Royal Prerogative, the House of Lords, the courts, judicial review, and access to justice for ordinary people. It would also “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law”.

That first matter, the Royal Prerogative, was clearly a reference to “Miller Two” – the Supreme Court judgement that sunk Boris Johnson’s prorogation plan, conflating as it did so the legislature with Parliament as a whole, and thereby arguing, with supreme constitutional illiteracy, that the monarch is not part of Parliament.

Needless to say, our reading of that judgement is controversial – and so therefore was the section about the proposed commission on page 48.  Which has a consequence: namely, that the commission was, from the start, what the Australians call “a tall poppy”.  It was exposed to critics who would want to scythe it down.

There were further complications from the Government side, once the dust had settled on last December’s election victory.  For putting together the commission turned out to present all manner of difficulties which for whatever reason were unforeseen at the time of its invention.

First of all, which items from this rich menu should its members select?  It’s no secret that Dominic Cummings is not exactly a fan of the way in which judicial review works.  Consider his convulsive reaction to the Court of Appeal’s decision in February to suspend the deportation of criminals to the Caribbean.

He was reported to have described this to officials as “a perfect symbol of the British state’s dysfunction”, adding that there must be “urgent action on the farce that judicial review has become”.  But what if the putative commission went haring off first after another quarry – Lords reform, say?

Those expert on Parliamentary reform might not be knowledgeable to the same degree on justice access, say.  People who have studied the Royal Prerogative may not have mastered judicial review.  The commission members might not be able to agree what dishes to select; too many diners spoil the broth.

ConservativeHome cannot be sure which of Cummings, various SpAds, Munira Mirza, different advisers and Robert Buckland came up with the Commission idea.  But we hear that the manifesto commitment is dead and that there will be no such commission – this year or any in other year.

Downing Street and Ministers will resist this take, of course.  They will explain that there will be lots of mini-commissions, ranging across the same constitututional, political and legal turf.  So the commission hasn’t really been scrapped, you see.  Just re-invented in other forms.  Hmmm.

At any rate, the principle is clear.  If you want a commission on judicial reform, “available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays”, then select members whose area of expertise is the law.

Which doesn’t mean only such people.  But there is no reason why intelligent lay members should also be experts on how the Lords or Commons works.  Meanwhile, the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights is the elephant in the constitutional room – one on which not just page 48 but the entire manifesto was silent.

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

8 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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