One, two, three – and now Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the fourth time

4 Apr

The table now seems to be in set pattern established soon after Britian’s vaccination success became apparent.

The same Ministers remain at its top and the same too at its bottom.  Consider the case of Kwasi Kwarteng, up a place this month at fourth: his score, 64.7, is exactly the same as it was then.

There are a mix of small score and table movements up and down, but none of them worth expending many words about – though we pause for the Ministers at the very top and bottom of the table.

At the top, there is Liz Truss, on her fourth table-topping month – and a record high of 89 per cent.

That’s a reflection, in a minor key, of her decisive handling of the Equalities brief and, in a major one, of the rapid succession of trade deals: most of them rollovers, true – but accomplished more speedily than some anticipated.

At the bottom, there is Gavin Williamson – on minus 27 per cent.

That’s a dreadful rating, but less so than the -43 per cent he scored last month, or this – 36 per cent and -48 per cent during the previous ones.

Our reading is that his early and emphatic support for free speech during the Batley Mohammed cartoons row, which we haven’t heard the last of, accounts for his improvement.

David Gauke: Is Britain really set to become a low tax, less regulated, free trading, buccaneering country?

13 Mar

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

Conversations about tax policy can take unexpected turns. It was during one such conversation in the late 2000s – I was the shadow tax minister at the time and developing our plans for corporation tax – that a senior tax lawyer at a city firm recommended a series of books on naval battles.

Peter Padfield’s Maritime Trilogy is, in truth, somewhat broader than that. Padfield alternates accounts of the most important maritime confrontations since the Spanish Armada with a broader account of the social, economic and constitutional development of the great powers.

His central argument is that there is a distinction to be drawn between maritime nations – with linked strengths of sea-fighting, trade, financial innovation and constitutional constraints – and land-based empires. The later relied on closed domestic markets, rigid hierarchies and centralisation, the former distinguished by liberty, flexibility and enterprise.

It is an analysis that many British Conservatives would share and, the argument goes, makes the UK well suited to the era of globalisation. We are historically and culturally accustomed to trade and with that comes a recognition that trading partners have other options. Our prosperity is dependent upon those partners wishing to continue to trade with us. Political stability; the rule of law; paying our debts; limited government; competitive and predictable taxes – all qualities that are necessary to succeed as a maritime nation and in the era of globalisation.

It was in this spirit that the Prime Minister’s first big speech following our departure from the EU was at the Old Naval College in Greenwich where – in extolling the virtues of free trade – he talked of recapturing “the spirit of those seafaring ancestors immortalised above us whose exploits brought not just riches but something even more important than that – and that was a global perspective”.

So how are we doing? Are we on course to be the open, outward-looking nation of which the Prime Minister spoke? Are we becoming a more flexible, enterprising, maritime nation?

My last column assumed that corporation tax rates would increase and argued that this would be a mistake. When I heard Government ministers defend the rise by saying that our corporation tax rates remained the lowest in the G7, I was reminded of my conversation with the tax lawyer.

The lawyer’s argument (which I found persuasive) was that we became economically successful from the 1690s onwards because our model was more like that of a small country dependent upon foreigners choosing to trade with and invest in us, taking inspiration from the Dutch rather than the French. Our modern tax system should seek to emulate this, he argued, encouraging international businesses to locate activities and investment in the UK. Our rates may be lower than other G7 economies but, if we see ourselves as nimble and competitive, our ambitions should be greater than that. A better corporate tax regime than France is not a proud boast.

How about freeports? The name could not be more evocative of our trading and maritime traditions. But the evidence suggests that they will achieve little other than displacing activity from one part of the country to another. And if we were really ambitious about a deregulated, low tax, low customs solution to our economic woes, why give these advantages to some places, why not everyone?

The emphasis on freeports reveals an approach to the levelling up agenda that I worry is more about creating grateful localities in exchange for pots of spending rather than a clear sighted vision for improving productivity. The suspicion must be that the preference for ad hoc ministerial decisions over a more defined industrial strategy will lead to a less economically rigorous approach. The suspicion will linger that party political considerations will be to the fore.

There is one surprising, if qualified, bright spot. We are becoming more open to talent. It was already the case that the requirements to get a work visa were much less restrictive than previously, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the skills visas is worthwhile. The qualification, of course, is that it is still much more bureaucratic for EU citizens to work here than it was – which brings me to Brexit.

Our history as a maritime nation is one often identified by supporters of Brexit – like the Prime Minister in his Greenwich speech. Even the word ‘Brexiteer’ evokes the naval escapades of buccaneers (although the Oxford English Dictionary also defines ‘buccaneer’ as ‘a person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way’). Liz Truss tops the ConHome Ministerial popularity charts largely on the basis of her energetic advocacy of Global Britain and for free trade as a benefit of Brexit.

The reality is that Brexit involves the erection of trade barriers with our largest market, as January’s appalling trade numbers suggest (although, to be fair, a clearer picture will only emerge over time). Given the Prime Minister was willing to agree to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it even involves trade barriers within the UK.

While good progress has been made by the Department of International Trade in completing free trade agreements with third countries, these have primarily rolled over existing agreements that we had as members of the EU. There was a flurry of excitement last week when the US dropped punitive tariffs on UK products that were in place because of a longstanding dispute with the EU over Airbus and Boeing. Brexit supporters rushed to declare it a triumph due to our new status, the Trade Secretary wrote a self-congratulatory piece in The Daily Telegraph. A day later, the US announced that it was dropping the punitive tariffs against the EU, too. The search for a trade benefit from Brexit continues.

What about regulatory flexibility? It is nearly five years since we voted to leave the EU, but there are still no bold plans to regulate in a different way. Plans to review workers’ rights have been dropped on the basis that this would be politically unpopular.

If the hard Brexit delivered by the Government has made trade with the EU much harder, the combative manner of our dealing with the EU has not only reduced trust but even undermined a key attribute for a trading nation – the rule of law. Having threatened to breach international law for three months over the autumn, Lord Frost has now decided to extend the grace period before internal checks come into place – unilaterally changing the terms of our agreement with the EU. A second breach of an international treaty only recently agreed begins to look like a habit. It does nothing for our reputation for trustworthiness.

The attributes of an outward-looking, open, trading nation are ones to which we should aspire. But in terms of our openness to trade, competitiveness on tax and adherence to the rule of law we are going backwards. In terms of the State telling businesses what they should do and where they should do it, we are becoming more centralised and more arbitrary.

For years, many in the UK have characterised the EU as centralised, interventionist, uncompetitive and protectionist. It would be a sad irony if our departure from it makes us more like the type of inward-looking, land-based power that we once used to disparage.

Anand Menon: What does Global Britain mean in practice, and when will the Government deliver it?

1 Mar

Anand Menon is Director of the UK in a Changing Europe.

“In leaving the European Union we restored sovereign control over vital levers of foreign policy,” declared Boris Johnson in his speech to the Munich Security Conference. To be frank, that is debatable. The EU’s competence over foreign policy is limited – so membership provided little in the way of constraint on national autonomy.

What is less open to question is the assertion, as the Prime Minister clearly laid out in what was an important speech, that this is a moment of opportunity for British foreign policy. Seizing it, however, will pose several challenges.

Brexit has already allowed the UK to take some actions it would not otherwise have been able to. By 1 January, continuity trade agreements had been signed with 58 countries. The UK moved to impose sanctions on Belarus, while the EU dithered and delayed.

There are costs as well as benefits, though. The new trade deals largely replicate what we had as a member state, and their impact is paltry compared to the negative impact of new barriers to trade with our nearest and largest trading partner. Equally, sanctions are more effective when applied by several states, and autonomy from the EU comes at the price of a decline in influence over what the EU does.

Indeed, it might yet be that the most important foreign policy impact of Brexit turns out to be indirect. ‘Global Britain’ was dreamt up as a way of underlining that Brexit did not mean insularity. And the desire to ensure that Brexit is seen to succeed provides a powerful incentive to make Global Britain real.

Consequently, at Munich, the Prime Minister sketched out an ambitious agenda. He clearly intends to use his convening power to push his agenda. He has used the UK’s chairmanship of the G7 to issue invitations to Australia, India and South Korea to attend the summit in Cornwall in June. This may mark the inauguration of a formalized D10 intended to present a united front against China.

On climate change, the 26th United Nations ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) on climate change will be the first such event to be held in the UK, presenting a golden opportunity to establish the UK as a continuing big player in global climate diplomacy in its own right.

Yet turning ambitions into reality will require several things.

First, a clarity of vision and ability to make difficult choices. When it comes to the D10, Mr Johnson needs to consider whether it really makes sense to create a grouping of democracies without engaging closely with the EU, whether some of those he is inviting really merit the label ‘democracy,’ and, indeed, what balance he wishes to strike between sanctioning and engaging with China.

It is hard to believe now, but the Prime Minister repeatedly called for a free trade agreement with China. Domestic pressures are going to make that impossible to deliver. And yet an overlooked implication of Brexit is that Beijing can retaliate against UK measures in response to perceived human rights abuses without the need to get embroiled in a wider fight with the EU as a whole.

Dealing with China and – more so – addressing the climate crisis are the work of decades. Success is not a question of quick political ‘wins’, but requires sticking power. For partly understandable reasons related to the pandemic, this is not a Government that has, as yet, shown an aptitude for thinking beyond the short term. If it is genuine about its environmental aspirations, however, it must.

This will involve not only confronting those among the Prime Minister’s own supporters who do not share his liberal international vision, but also building a consensus that can outlive his time in office.

None of which will be altogether straightforward. According to recent polling by the British Foreign Policy Group, while 34 per cent of Britons think ‘Global Britain’ implies the UK being a ‘champion of free trade and globalisation,’ more than a fifth (21 per cent) – including 35 per cent of Conservative leave supporting voters – take it to mean the UK is a nation with strong and secure borders focused on issues at home.

And when it comes to climate, while 68 per cent support the UK taking a global leadership role, Conservative voters appear less supportive and the least willing amongst voters to take individual action to address climate change.

This matters, because tackling the climate crisis involves a combination of diplomacy with action at home. Just as claims to be a champion of a rules-based international order were undermined by a stated intention to contravene international law so, too, the UK’s international climate leadership will hinge in part on it setting an example at home. The Government’s Ten Point Plan of November last year marked a good start, but more will need to be done to meet the ambitious targets set, and a failure to do so will hardly burnish our international climate leadership credentials.

And all this is without mentioning the domestic bases of international influence. It perhaps goes without saying – yet nevertheless I will mention it here – that the UK’s ability to make Global Britain a success will hinge every bit as much on the pace of its economic recovery from both the pandemic and from Brexit, and its ability to retain its unity in the face of separatist challenges.

The year ahead holds real promise in terms of the UK’s ability to finally put some flesh on the bones of its claims about Global Britain. Brexit adds a degree of political urgency to the quest to show the UK continues to wield influence. And the Government has laid out a pretty impressive agenda committing itself to the defence of the liberal, rules based international order. But declarations are merely a start. To deliver on its rhetoric, the Government will need to make hard choices and to show evidence of a clarity and long-term vision that, to date, have been rather notable by their absence. The long-awaited Integrated Review of security, defence, foreign policy and international development will represent an important signal as to whether it is willing to do so.

ConservativeHome and UK in a Changing Europe will be discussing Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world this evening with: Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade; Katy Balls, Deputy (Chairman). Paul Goodman, Editor of ConservativeHome, will chair the event. Please register via this link.

Our next live event: Truss on ‘Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world’

18 Feb

We are very pleased to invite you to ConservativeHome’s next free online event: a timely discussion on “Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world“.

At 7pm on Monday 1st March, we’ll be joined (via Zoom) by:

  • Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade
  • Professor Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe and Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London
  • Katy Balls, Deputy Political Editor of The Spectator
  • Paul Goodman, Editor of ConservativeHome (Chairman)

Having left the EU, the UK is embarking on a new period in its political, diplomatic and trading history. Re-establishing an independent trade policy, negotiating new and ambitious trade agreements – including the recent application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – and navigating a competitive and turbulent world bring distinct opportunities and challenges.

In this live online event, our expert panel will be exploring what ‘Global Britain’ means in practice, how the UK is equipping itself to forge this new path, and what the future might hold for a country adapting to such changed circumstances. This event offers the opportunity not just to benefit from our panelists’ unique perspectives inside government, academia and the media, but also for the live audience to put your questions to them directly.

This event is hosted by ConservativeHome, in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, a research initiative which promotes rigorous, high-quality and independent research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the EU.

To register for your free ticket, click here.

Ranil Jayawardena: A strong trading partnership with India will be a central feature of Global Britain

10 Feb

Ranil Jayawardena is Minister for International Trade, and is MP for North East Hampshire.

Benjamin Disraeli once said that the secrets to success in politics were to “be amusing, never [to] tell unkind stories and above all, never [to] tell long ones.” I will make sure to abide by the latter two rules here, though sadly I cannot promise you the former!

The great Conservative Prime Minister once also, perhaps rather more prophetically, opined that “there is no education like adversity.” And, as the world recovers from the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, this Government will use key lessons we have learned to build our economy back better, stronger, and more resilient in the months and years ahead.

Trade will be pivotal to this great endeavour, driving growth throughout the United Kingdom, generating jobs, fostering innovation, and creating prosperity in every corner of our country.

Using our newfound freedom, we will seek to forge even deeper and stronger trade ties with our friends around the world, including with the world’s largest democracy: India.

Liz Truss, our Trade Secretary, and I have had countless video calls with our counterparts since last year, and Truss is in India this week to take forward the opportunities built for closer collaboration between our nations. She will outline our commitment to strengthen the United Kingdom–India Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP), a landmark moment on the road to a future Free Trade Agreement. The ETP will, itself, bring economic benefits, address key barriers, boost trade and investment, and create more jobs in both countries.

It is clear we must work side-by-side with other enterprising free trading nations to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 and embrace the enormous opportunities for global economic growth to come, so that future generations are not left shouldering the burden of the pandemic.

Trade will fuel the engine of British growth, as we plot a new path for ourselves as an independent trading nation – opening up fresh opportunities for budding exporters from Peterhead to Penzance, Bathgate to Ballymena, and Altringham to Aberystwyth, as we level up opportunity across the country. And it will bring us closer, culturally and economically, to likeminded nations, as we forge new bonds of prosperity worldwide.

In fact, it is the global pandemic that has highlighted the importance of keeping trade flowing and supply chains open – as the spectre of protectionism has reared its head once again.

Throughout the crisis, Britain and India have worked together to create ground-breaking solutions to the challenges presented by Covid-19, spearheading the drive to make sure that vaccines are distributed fairly, which is key to reopening the world’s economy. And our nations will continue to work side-by-side to develop the vaccines of the future, through the joint United Kingdom-India vaccines hub we launched last year, sharing best practice for regulation, clinical trials, and fostering innovation as we place ourselves at the vanguard of change in this field.

A truly Global Britain – a beacon of free and fair trade – will work with our friends and partners, like India, to overcome barriers to international commerce wherever we find them, using our seat in the G7, the G20, the WTO and other fora.

As two of the world’s most dynamic, innovative and truly global trading nations, Britain and India can help lead the world in harnessing the economic potential that only free trade can bestow. It’s this potential – harnessed by this Government – that will create opportunities for the next generation. For those in school, college or university – at this most difficult of times – Britain setting sail to trade with the world should provide hope. We stand tall in the world.

People want to do business with us. We are committed to playing our role beyond our shores. It is this global outlook that will provide our whole nation the exciting future we deserve, from generation to generation.

Free Trade Agreements with countries worldwide will be pivotal in building this truly Global Britain. I wrote on New Year’s Day that we have had agreed deals with 63 countries outside the EU. It is now 64, plus the EU, accounting for £889bn of our bilateral trade. No other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously, nor with the same ambition.

The voice of British business – including the small and medium-sized firms that form the backbone of our economy – has been heard loud and clear throughout this process, and we want to expand this national conversation even further, as we build a trade policy that works for every part of Britain, and every generation.

That’s why, as much as it is right to celebrate our growing trade and investment relationship with India, worth almost £24 billion a year, supporting more than half a million jobs in each other’s economies, it is right to go further for the future.

We are already the largest European market for India’s goods exports, with hundreds of Indian companies doing business across our country, employing more than 80,000 people. But we can do even more. By taking our trade to new heights, our two great independent trading nations are helping support our shared values – of democracy, freedom, and protection of the environment – worldwide.

These fantastic agreements will provide the charge that powers the British economy forward, as we spearhead work to develop pioneering solutions to the great challenges the world faces, securing the opportunities that the country has called for.

Central to this is perfecting green technologies, from renewable energy to carbon capture storage, which will help build a cleaner, greener, more sustainable global economy, particularly as Britain progresses towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As we prepare to host COP26, we will work with India to develop the green technologies that will transform the way people live and work worldwide as we help build back better from the pandemic globally.

So, as we look ahead to a better, bolder, brighter era for international trade and investment, we want Britain to set her course to the heart of the action, driving change and fostering progress and innovation worldwide.

After all, as Disraeli recognised a century and a half ago, it is only by embracing the challenges of the present that we can help shape the world of the future.

Our Cabinet League Table. Truss is still top, Johnson is up again – and Kwarteng comes straight in at fourth.

4 Feb
  • Our final Cabinet League Table of last year saw a Brexit deal bounce.  The ratings of every member of the Cabinet was up.  So there’s not much room this month for a vaccine bounce.
  • Nonetheless, nearly every Minister’s rating has risen, though not by enough to matter much if at all.  For example, Liz Truss, who tops the table for a third month running, sees her score rise by a single point – margin of  error country.
  • Priti Patel drifts down from sixth to ninth (from 58 per cent to 51 per cent), and Grant Shapps falls into the bottom third (from 43 per cent to 36 per cent).  That looks like a border control and airport quarantine effect.
  • Boris Johnson and Michael Gove continue to work their way back upwards.  The Prime Minister was ninth on 47 per cent.  Now he is seventh on 55 per cent.  Gove was seventh on 47 per cent and is now fifth on 61  per cent.  And Kwasi Kwarteng comes straight in at number four on 61 per cent.  Watch that man!

Iain Dale: Your Brexit trade talks countdown. Fifteen days left until transition ends fully.

18 Dec

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

As I write my final column of 2020, the Brexit free trade negotiation is still not done.  Recent indications were that it will be, although their fate stlll seems swing back and forth.

But surely it has to be settled very soon if any deal is to be ratified by January 1st. I wouldn’t put it past the European Parliament to put a last minute spanner in the works, and declare that MEPs haven’t had time to scrutinise it. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.

– – – – – – – – –

This week, Liz Truss signed a trade agreement with Mexico, a country we do £7 billion worth of trade with each year.

I’m going to be honest, and say that I was rather surprised when she topped the ConHome list of cabinet ministers last month but, when you think about it, she’s quietly got on with her job, and done what she’s there to do – sign trade agreements.

We’ve now got rollover agreements with most of the G20 countries which the EU already had a trade agreement with. I remember the days when Remainers said this would be impossible to do.

Well, Truss has proved the opposite.No grandstanding, no fuss, just getting on with it. When she was appointed, I thought it was a strange one, but she’s risen to the challenge and proved herself.

Only six months ago, she was being tipped for the chop in a reshuffle. If she were ditched now, it would be incredibly unfair. When people prove themselves in a job, it’s often a good idea to leave them there – and the next twelve months are going to be absolutely vital in the promotion of Global Britain. It would be no time for a trade novice.

– – – – – – – – –

The announcement on Wednesday of the four nation approach to Covid restrictions over Christmas was a disaster from a communications viewpoint. To try to pretend, as the Prime Minister did, that the policy and guidelines remained unchanged was ridiculous, and further undermined the government’s approach.

When circumstances change – and they have changed since the initial announcement of the Christmas rules on December 2 – it would be wholly reasonable to change approach, even if there might be a political backlash.

Infections are rising in large parts of the country, as are hospital admissions. Death numbers are rising again, too. In those circumstances, would surely be reasonable to tighten the guidelines. Other European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands have done it. It’s called leadership.

Boris Johnson appears to think the British public wouldn’t swallow it. All the polling suggests that they would. There will always be people who ignore anything the Government says and deliberately do the exact opposite, but most people do take notice of what Ministers and scientists say.

We know from the spike that happened after Thanksgiving in the America what happens when families get together. The virus spreads. And that’s what is undoubtedly going to happen over Christmas.

Would we be having this five day long super-spreader event, were it not for this annual holiday? No, of course we wouldn’t. In fact, I suspect much more severe measures than Tier Three would be imposed.

So when we get to the middle of January and we’re getting 40-50,000 new infections a day, and at the end of that month the death rate climbs to more than a thousand a day, many people will look back and blame the Prime Minister directly for it.

You can explain all you like that it’s individual people’s lack of discipline or adherence to the safety measures but the commentators and scientists will blame one person: Johnson.

I hope he’s got a good explanation ready. Having said all that, it will be interesting to compare infection rates in January in Wales with those of the rest of the UK. Mark Drakeford has said only two families may meet over Christmas rather than three, and is criminalising anyone caught breaching the limit. Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t gone that far, but she’s advising people only to meet on one day, with no overnight stay.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is saying that just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and that we should all enjoy a smaller, shorter Christmas. In essence, he’s trusting the people to do the right thing. In normal circumstances, that ought to be the right message. In this case, that message has been undermined, yet again, by a lack of clarity. It’s something I suspect we’re all going to live to regret.

– – – – – – – – –

As this is my final column of the year, let me conclude by wishing you all a very Happy Christmas – and let’s hope that 2021 is a much better year for all of us and the country.

‘The new fight for fairness’. Truss’s speech on the Government’s new equalities agenda – full text

17 Dec

This is the text of the speech Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, gave today.

“No matter your skin colour, sexuality, religion or anything else, the United Kingdom is one of the best places in the world to live.

The British story has been driven from its earliest days by the desire for liberty, agency, and fairness.

It is the notion that in Britain you will have the opportunity to succeed at whatever you wish to do professionally…

…that you can be whoever you want to be,

…dress however you want to dress,

…love whoever you wish to love

…and achieve your dreams.

But we must be honest. Our story is not yet complete. Our equality journey is not yet finished.

For too many people… particularly in places beyond the South East… opportunity is diminished.

For years, successive governments have either pretended that all opportunity was equal… or failed to come up with proper solutions … paying lip service to a problem that has festered for decades.

It was this government that finally tore down this social taboo when we were elected to level-up the country and toppled the Red Wall … turning it Blue.

We were elected partly on the promise of fixing the scourge of geographicinequality … and ensuring equal opportunity for all. There are still too manycases  where your destination in life is decided by where you started it.

So today, I am outlining a new approach to equality in this country.

This will be founded firmly on Conservative values.

It will be about individual dignity and humanity … not quotas and targets, or equality of outcome.

It will reject the approach taken by the Left … captured as they are by identity politics, loud lobby groups and the idea of ‘lived experience’.

It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality … addressing the real problems people face in their everyday lives … using evidence and data.

If you were born in Clacton or Darlington, you have been under-served by successive governments. No more.

Things must change…and things will change.

This new approach to equality will run through the DNA of this government.

The moral and practical case for equality

For me, it is a moral and practical mission.

Just as our forebears fought for change, we must fight for change again – challenging what is unfair and unjust today.

It is not right that having a particular surname or accent can sometimes make it harder to get a job.

It is appalling that pregnant women suffer discrimination at work. Or that women may be encouraged to dress in a certain way to get ahead.

Or that some employers overlook the capabilities of people with disabilities.

It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces.

As well as being a moral problem, it is shameful we are squandering so much talent.

  • If women opened businesses at the same rate as men – we could add £250bn to the economy…
  • If people of every ethnic group were fully represented across the labour market, that would mean an extra £24 billion of income a year.
  • If businesses were fully accessible for disabled consumers, they could benefit from an estimated £274 billion a year in spending power.

We can ill afford to waste this potential as we recover from Covid and build back better.

Equality rooted in Conservative values

Our new approach to equality will be based on the core principles of freedom, choice, opportunity, and individual humanity and dignity.

We will move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics… and deliver real change that benefits people across our United Kingdom.

We will do this in three ways.

First, by delivering fairness through modernisation, increased choice and openness.

Second, by concentrating on data and research, rather than on campaigning and listening to those with the loudest voices.

And third, by taking our biggest and broadest look yet at the challenges we face… including the all too neglected scourge of geographic inequality.

Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face… like affording a home… getting to work… going out safely at night… ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors … and improving our schools so every child has a good chance in life.

It is our duty to deliver, because if right-thinking people do not lead the fight for fairness, then it will be led by those whose ideas don’t work.

The failed ideas of the Left

The ideas that have dominated the equality debate have been long in the making.

As a comprehensive school student in Leeds in the 1980s, I was struck by the lip service that was paid to equality by the City Council while children from disadvantaged backgrounds were let down.

While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write.

In this school of thought, there is no space for evidence, as there is no objective view – truth and morality are all relative.

Rather than promote policies that would have been a game-changer for the disenfranchised like better education and business opportunities, there was a preference for symbolic gestures.

Even now, authorities rush to embrace symbols – for example, Birmingham City Council promoting new streets named “Diversity Grove” and “Equality Road” – as if that counts as real change.

Underlying this is the soft bigotry of low expectations, where people from certain backgrounds are not expected to reach high standards.

This diminishes their individual humanity, dignity and agency.

And it hasn’t delivered the progress it promised.

In 1997, there was a huge celebration of all-women shortlists delivering Blair’s babes.

But 23 years later, the Labour Party still hasn’t had a female leader. In the last leadership election, there were four women standing… but the man won. Again.

In addition, this focus on groups at the expense of individuals has led to harmful unintended consequences.

It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women… enabling and tolerating antisemitism … or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.

Although time and time again, the Left’s ideas have been shown to fail, they still pervade our body politic.

Study after study has shown that unconscious bias training does not improve equality, and in fact can backfire by reinforcing stereotypes and exacerbating biases.

That’s why this week we announced we will no longer be using it in government or civil service.

Whether it’s “affirmative action”… forced training on “unconscious bias”… or lectures on “lived experience”… the Left are in thrall to ideas that undermine equality at every turn.

The absurdity was summed up just this week by the Mayor of Paris being fined for employing so many female managers she had breached a quota.

By contrast, the Conservative Party has elected two female leaders, and has a Cabinet with the highest ever level of ethnic minority representation.

We have done this not by positively discriminating … but by positively empowering people who want to go into politics and opening up our Party to people of all backgrounds.

Because when you choose on the basis of protected characteristics, you end up excluding other people.

1. Fairness, not favouritism

Fairness, not favouritism, drives our approach to equality.

Too often, the equality debate has been dominated by a small number of unrepresentative voices, and by those who believe people are defined by their protected characteristic… and not by their individual character.

This school of thought says that if you are not from an ‘oppressed group’ then you are not entitled to an opinion… and that this debate is not for you.

I wholeheartedly reject this approach.

Equality is something everybody in the United Kingdom should care about… and something all of us have a stake in.

So, I am calling time on “pink bus” feminism, where women are left to fix sexism and campaign for childcare.

Rather than virtue signalling, or campaigning…this government is focused on delivering a fairer and more transparent society that works for all … and that delivers genuine equality of opportunity.

The work of American academic Iris Bohnet shows that modernising and making organisations more transparent is the best way to tackle inequality.

When things are opaque, it benefits those who know how to game the system.

We know that when companies publish their wage ranges, it leads to more equal starting points for men and women.

We know that automatic promotions based on performance help level up opportunities for women in the workplace… overcoming the barriers that make women less likely to put themselves forward for promotion.

And we know that evidence-driven recruitment in a clear and open structure is more effective than using informal and ad hoc networks.

On the other hand, techniques like unconscious bias training, quotas and diversity statements … do nothing to make the workplace fundamentally fairer.

By driving reforms that increase competition, boost transparency and improve choice, we can open up opportunities.

This is the approach we will be taking across government.

It is fundamentally important that the role of equality minister is held by someone who also has another cabinet job, as I do with trade.

This ensures equality is not siloed… but is instead the responsibility of the whole government and all our elected representatives.

For example, the Academies Act 2010 meant good free schools were established across England and more children had the opportunity of a great education… the 1980 Housing Act empowered over two million people to get on the housing ladder…and the independent taxation of women in 1988 gave wives control of their own money.

All of these reforms promoted equality by giving people greater agency over their own lives and making systems more transparent.

For example, we know that students from poorer backgrounds are more likely to achieve better grades than they were predicted… and they lose out in the current university admissions system which is based on predicted grades.

That is why Gavin Williamson is right to base the university admissions system on the actual grades students achieve, making sure that students from lower income backgrounds have a fairer shot at university.

In the workplace, we know that flexible working improves productivity and helps people to combine work with other responsibilities.

That is why I will be working with Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, to enable more flexible working – not just as a necessity amid the Covid crisis but to empower employees.

The best way to reduce unfairness in our society is through opening up opportunities for all.

This is the level playing field we should be talking about.

And we are going to make sure that this level playing field is properly enforced.

That is why I am appointing a new chair and a wide variety of commissioners to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to drive this agenda forward.

I am proud we have Baroness Kishwer Falkner, David Goodhart, Jessica Butcher, Su-Mei Thompson and Lord Ribeiro, all of whom are committed to equality and ready to challenge dangerous groupthink.

Under this new leadership, the EHRC will focus on enforcing fair treatment for all, rather than freelance campaigning.

2. Facts, not fiction

To make our society more equal, we need the equality debate to be led by facts… not by fashion.

Time and time again, we see politicians making their own evidence-free judgements.

The Labour party made the ridiculous claim that “our country has never been more unequal”, with even Channel 4 concluding it “does not stand up to scrutiny”.

My superb colleague Kemi Badenoch is leading work on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, established by the Prime Minister.

We should heed the warning from its chair, Dr Tony Sewell, who wrote last month that they have uncovered “a perception of racism that is often not supported by evidence” and that “wrong perceptions sow mistrust”.

We can and must have an equality agenda that is driven by evidence.

Today I am announcing that the Equality Hub will embark on the Government’s biggest, broadest and most comprehensive equality data project yet… and it will closely coordinate with the work of CRED.

Over the coming months, we will look across the UK to identify where people are held back and what the biggest barriers are.

We will not limit our fight for fairness to the nine protected characteristics laid out in the 2010 Equality Act… which include sex, race, and gender reassignment.

While it is true people in these groups suffer discrimination, the focus on protected characteristics has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality.

This means some issues – particularly those facing white working-class children – are neglected.

This project will broaden the drive for equality and get to the heart of the barriers people face. It will report its initial findings in the Summer.

In addition to race, sex, disability and religion, it will also look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background. It will deliver a new life-path analysis of equality from the perspective of the individual, not groups. Using longitudinal data sets will help us understand where the real problems lie.

3. Geographic Inequality

There is a deeper wage gap between London and the regions than between men and women, with an average full-time salary a third higher in the capital than the North East of England.

There are lower employment rates, pay packets and life expectancy across the North than the South.

That is why the equality agenda must be prosecuted with fierce determination and clarity of purpose up and down the country… not just in London boardrooms and Whitehall offices.

Whether that is making the case for free schools in deprived areas… or using data to help regional businesses attract investment.

We will use the power of evidence to drive reform and give people access to the facts so they can push for change.

We will drive this action from the North of England, where we will be moving the Equality Hub.

And I am delighted to announce that we are also taking on sponsorship of the Social Mobility Commission, to give this agenda real teeth and coherence.

The whole of government will be – and is – totally committed to this agenda.

The Treasury is revising its Green Book so that it judges infrastructure investment fairly across the UK, no longer seeing – for example – faster broadband as a better investment in Surrey than South Lanarkshire.

The Department for Education is going to extra lengths to create academies and free schools outside London. And in housing, we are working to increase opportunities for home ownership across the country.

This is just the start. There is much more we will be doing to make our country fairer and give people agency over their own lives.

This is not limited to the UK

This fight for fairness goes beyond our shores.

Next year, the United Kingdom will use its presidency of the G7 to ramp up its work worldwide with like-minded allies to champion freedom, human rights and the equality of opportunity.

The UK is co-leading the new global Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender Based Violence, and co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition.

In that role, we will be holding our International LGBT conference, on the theme of Safe To Be Me.

We are working internationally to bring an end to child marriage… and are supporting international programmes to end the abhorrent practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

We need to make progress across the world and at home… as a fairer world and a fairer Britain go hand in hand.

Taking the right approach to deliver real change At this vital time in our country’s history, we must make sure everyone has a chance to succeed in modern Britain.

That is why we cannot waste time on misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people.

Instead, we will drive an agenda that empowers people and actively challenges discrimination.

We will use evidence to inform policy and drive change.

And we will focus on increasing openness and transparency … fixing the system rather than the results.

Together, we will build back a better society and lead the new fight for fairness.”

Mark Lehain: The end of unconscious bias training and Truss’s coming speech on equality – signs of a Ministerial anti-woke fightback.

16 Dec

Mark Lehain is Director of the Campaign for Common Sense, and the founder and former Principal of Bedford Free School.

Yesterday’s announcement that “unconscious bias training” (UBT) is being scrapped for civil servants is a very welcome one indeed.

UBT is perhaps the most conspicuous example of the kind of worrying thing that has crept into organisations in recent years under the guise of “equality and diversity”.

Obviously we want the workplace and elsewhere to be welcoming and supportive. First of all, it’s the right thing to do morally. It’s also the best way to ensure better performance: it makes it more likely that the widest possible pool of talent will want to work for you, and that as many customers as possible will buy your goods and services.

The issue with UBT and so many other “woke” approaches is that they actually do the opposite. They make it harder to have open and honest discussion between people, and create or deepen identity-based division and resentments.

This is because they take a very particular, quasi-religious, view on the world – everything is generally awful, due to the wrong people having power over everyone else – and insist that everyone adopts it. People who don’t buy into it are seen as part of the problem and heretical – and should be dealt with as such. History tells us that absolutist religions don’t make for happy countries, and “woke” workplaces are no different.

The good news is that UBT, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, doesn’t stand up to any kind of examination when you look at the evidence.

Indeed, it’s this paucity of supporting evidence that has allowed the civil service to make yesterday’s tactical retreat: in the Written Ministerial Statement announcing the end of UBT, it is said that “an internal review decided in January 2020 that unconscious bias training would be phased out in departments.” Yes, I’m sure it did…

(You’ll forgive me if I take this with a pinch of salt, given the enthusiasm with which senior civil servants were still pushing it as a response to the Black Lives Matters protests this summer. Still: Luke 15:7.)

So: the ending of UBT is a useful move in the right direction. But we shouldn’t consider it in isolation. Take a step back and it’s part of the broader move by the Government to rein in some of the more extreme politically correct excesses that went unchecked before.

In the past few months we’ve had the Department for Education remind schools of their obligation to teach political issues in a balanced way and Kemi Badenoch emphasise that Critical Race Theory shouldn’t be taught in schools as fact. Oliver Dowden told galleries and museums to not remove objects under pressure from activists. Liz Truss found a middle way through the minefield that is trans rights, and looks set to take the equality debate in a more consensual, small-c conservative direction with her speech tomorrow.

Then there’s the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It’s quietly getting on with the job of examining what evidence – as opposed to emotions – tells us about why there are differences in outcomes between groups of people in health, education, etc. Its report on COVID disparities gives a good idea of the approach being taken.

Much recent Westminster gossip has focused on who is in or out with the Prime Minister, and what this means about the broader direction of the government. Well, it seems to me that the Cummings and goings have made little difference to the growing importance of using the evidence and existing law to take the heat out of the culture wars.

Some left-wing activists like to present this as a hard-right government stoking things up, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. All we’ve seen so far is politicians asking the public sector and taxpayer-funded organisations to keep their practice in line with existing law and public opinion, and focus on their core functions, not wokery.

There’s everything to gain from this approach too: less taxpayer cash will be wasted, performance should improve, and it’s very popular with the public too.

Yesterday’s move against Unconscious Bias Training was very conscious – we should hope for more of this kind of thing in the months ahead.