Cabinet League Table: Johnson plummets into the bottom third of our Cabinet League table

5 Sep
  • In our first post-general election survey, no fewer than 18 Cabinet members had a satisfaction rating above 50 per cent.  Now, only six do.
  • Of those six, Liz Truss is a fraction higher than she was (61.7 per cent to 61.3 per cent), Dominic Raab up an insignificant point (66 per cent to 67 per cent), and Rishi Sunak up to the top of the table (79 per cent to 83 per cent).
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg has risen by only two points, from 48 per cent to 50 per cent, but was then tenth from bottom.  Now he is sixth from top.  The difference between his change in score and change in place says everything you need to know about how Cabinet ratings, generally, have fallen.
  • None more so than Boris Johnson.  In that post-election table, he was top on 93 per cent.  Now he is eighth from bottom on 25 per cent.  That’s a drop from sixth from top on 57 per cent last month – a fall of almost half into the bottom third of the table.
  • Robert Jenrick is still in negative territory, and Amanda Milling now joins him.  Gavin Williamson may take comfort from the fact that his expected fall into negative territory isn’t record-breaking.  In April last year, Theresa May reached -74 per cent.
  • The members’ panel has good record as a guide to activist voting in leadership elections, so we’ve no doubt that this month’s survey is picking up unease about the Government’s competence, consistency and sense of direction.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for Raab to bring Magnitsky sanctions to bear on those oppressing Hong Kong

25 Aug

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

It is not often that one sees Iain Duncan Smith, John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett, Andrew Adonis, Alistair Carmichael and the Scottish Nationalists on the same page.

Bringing the former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer together with the former Labour Shadow Chancellor, the former Green Party leader, the former Labour minister and leading Remainer, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, and two SNP MPs is an achievement – and as far as I can see it is Carrie Lam’s, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, only achievement.

Last week these politicians, together with David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, Helena Kennedy, a leading human rights barrister and Labour peer, and 12 other Parliamentarians, wrote to the Foreign Secretary in support of calls for the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for grave human rights violations and a flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Their letter follows a personal appeal to Dominic Raab by Nathan Law, the highest-profile pro-democracy activist to escape Hong Kong since the imposition of the new draconian national security law on 1 July.

In 2016, Law was elected Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, at the age of 23, but was disqualified the following year for quoting Mahatma Gandhi when he took his oath of office. He was then sentenced to eight months in jail for his role in leading the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. In his letter, Law writes:

As a party to the legally binding Sino British Joint Declaration, the United Kingdom holds a unique position in advocating for Hong Kong. I earnestly hope that the UK government would take the important step to sanction Ms Carrie Lam and other officials involved, so to send a clear signal –– not just to Beijing, but also to other countries in the free world that we ought to stand firm against an oppressive regime which disrespects both their citizens’ rights and the international norms.  Please safeguard our shared belief in freedom and human rights as well as the pursuit of democracy in Hong Kong. Please stand with Hong Kong.”

Since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing, Britain has responded robustly, by announcing a generous package to allow Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK on a “pathway to citizenship”, and by suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. These are very welcome steps, but there is much more than needs to be done.

Although the new law has only been in place for less than two months, we are already seeing its dramatic impact on Hong Kong. The arrest of several prominent activists, particularly the entrepreneur and media proprieter Jimmy Lai, the police raid on his pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of Law’s colleague Agnes Chow and ITN reporter Wilson Li; the issuing of arrest warrants for six Hong Kong activists outside Hong Kong, including Law; and the banning of slogans, the withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and the censorship of school textbooks; all indicate the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems” and the destruction of the city’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is right for the British Government to respond to events proportionately, and with a staggered approach. There is no point in firing all our ammunition in one go, and then having nothing left to deploy. But the events in Hong Kong in recent weeks require a response that goes beyond rhetoric. That’s why it is time for targeted sanctions.

The United States has already imposed its Magnitsky sanctions on Lam and other officials, but it is vital that the international community act in as united and co-ordinated a way as possible. Hong Kong must not become – or even be perceived to be – a pawn in a US-China fight, but rather as the front line in the fight for freedom and the international rules-based order.

For that reason, the rest of the free world has a duty to act, and as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s continued autonomy, it is right that Britain should lead the way.

Our Magnitsky sanctions legislation is now in place, and so far 49 individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Burma are on the list. Raab is one of the architects of this legislation – dating back to his days on the backbenches when he championed the idea – and he is said to regard it as a legacy issue. So he has every interest in ensuring that this sanctions regime is meaningful.

To do that, those responsible for dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, and the violation of an international treaty – as well as those perpetrating some of the 21st Century’s most egregious atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs – must be held to account. If Lam cannot be sanctioned for presiding over a year of shocking police brutality and repression, who can?

So the 19 Parliamentarians who signed this letter are right to declare: “We stand with Nathan in this appeal.” I do too, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will act soon.

Our latest Cabinet Survey. Sunak stable at the top, but Hancock’s ratings are in poor health.

7 Aug
  • Johnson sinks again. The Prime Minister falls from sixth to eighth, but more significantly falls into a lower decile for the third month running. In the table we published in May, he was in the 80s. Last month, the 50s. Now, the 40s.
  • Sunak: returning to Earth? The Chancellor’s scores remain comfortably ahead of those of his colleagues, but he’s out of the 90s and down seven points. It’s easy to be popular when handing out money: paying for it is the real test of political skill.
  • A stable podium. Apart from Johnson’s exit from it there is otherwise a lot of stability at the top table. Sunak, Dominic Raab, and Michael Gove take the medal positions again, albeit with the latter two swapping places, and Liz Truss and Priti Patel likewise hold on to fourth and fifth positions.
  • Negative territory. Both Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick stay in the red, but with significantly improved scores on last week. Will they be back in black next month – or will a backlash against planning reforms or A Level grades trip them up?
  • Hancock’s rating in poor health. In April, the Health Secretary took a top-three spot with a score of +88. Now it is just +39, down five on last month, and he languishes in the lower half of the table.

Rob Sutton: Sir Philip Barton – a key player in Johnson’s quest for global Britain

5 Aug

Rob Sutton is a junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Sir Philip Barton, the British High Commissioner to India, has been announced as the incoming Permanent Under-Secretary of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). He will take over from Sir Simon McDonald, who is stepping down at Johnson’s request, on September 1 and oversee the long-awaited merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DfID)

An FCO lifer, Barton will inherit complex internal dynamics and be vital to the success of Johnson’s mission to reshape Britain’s role on the world stage. He has been with the FCO since 1986, punctuated occasionally by secondments to the Cabinet Office. Early assignments included Caracas, Nicosia and Gibraltar, and he was Private Secretary to the Prime Minister under Major, then Blair.

From 2011 he was Deputy Head of Mission to the USA in Washington, D.C., from 2014 to 2016 he was High Commissioner to Pakistan, and he is currently serving as High Commissioner to India. He has been tested during political crises, as the Director General, Consular and Security at the time of the Salisbury poisonings and most recently as Director General of the Covid-19 Response at the Cabinet Office.

His appointment has thus far had a positive reception. Dominic Raab has called him an “outstanding public servant and diplomat” with “experience across all areas of foreign policy.” Sir Mark Sedwill said he “will bring to the role an understanding of overseas development funding together with experience of international relations.” Jeremy Hunt Tweeted that “he is one of the most thoughtful & diligent civil servants I worked with & carries great wisdom lightly.” Andrew Adonis described him as “an immensely able & experienced ambassador who is well equipped for the big challenge of heading the diplomatic service at this time of crisis.”

He is well-liked and trusted. It is important that he is perceived as a safe pair of hands and a natural choice within the civil service. With multiple high-profile civil servants stepping down since the 2019 general election, a controversial appointment to lead FCDO would have put No 10 on the back foot at a time when it should be looking to craft a positive vision for the future.

For Barton, the challenges are both internal and external. Within the FCDO, a new hierarchy must be built. Creating clear chains of command from two parallel organisations with competing interests will cause friction. Buzzwords like “coherence” and “integration” will seem premature if the new organisation is wrought with internal power struggles and turf wars. We should have some idea of Barton’s initial success by the end of September.

Long term, he will need to ensure the functions of the FCDO’s constituent departments can be executed. Tensions are an inevitability, and tailoring a unified mission will be difficult when commercial and political interests and poverty relief pull in different directions. All this as Britain seeks new trade deals across the globe and weighs its future relationship with Europe.

Barton appears to be an exceptionally good fit to take on these challenges. His background is less Eurocentric than his predecessors in the role. He looks away from Brussels and towards Commonwealth nations with whom Johnson will be eager to renew relationships.

His experiences will also help to ensure Britain continues to be a world leader in international development. Pakistan is one of the five biggest recipients of UK aid funding, and Barton’s time as High Commissioner will have given him a better understanding of the challenges of poverty relief than his peers appointed to industrialised European nations. This will go some way to settle the nerves of those who worry international development will be an afterthought for the new office.

Barton will take the helm at the FCDO at a time of internal upheaval and international uncertainty. His career path is typical enough to avoid controversy but his specific experiences may prove invaluable to performing the multiple tasks which his success will depend upon. The Government aims to complete the formation of FCDO by the end of September, so we will know soon enough whether he is up to the task.

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.

Chris Whitehouse: Raab delivers on Magnitsky sanctions

7 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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