Brave New World

15 Nov
  • One of this site’s favourite sayings is that character is destiny.  This being so, it would be unlike Dominic Cummings to go quietly.  At some point, he will surely drop a bunker-busting bomb on Downing Street – his version of recent events.  It will not make happy reading for the Prime Minister.
  • This position overlaps with Lee Cain’s, but isn’t identical.  Like Cummings, Cain is a core member of Team Vote Leave.  Unlike him, he worked for Boris Johnson previously as a SpAd at the Foreign Office, and then as his aide after the Chequers resignation.  “Caino” has a real attachment to his former boss.
  • At any rate, both are gone, and the sum is that certainty has been changed for uncertainty.  With the Johnson/Cummings duo, the Government’s political strategy was a known – and and a core part of it was winning and keeping support in parts of England with a Labour history, from those famous Just About Managings.
  • Does the new Downing Street aim to carry on marching north, as it were, but with fewer male, macho officers in charge: more Allegra Strattons (not to mention Carrie Symonds, now fully politically engaged?), fewer Cains   If so, will such a switch work?  Isn’t in-your-face anti-establishment aggression an integral part of the exercise?
  • Or does the Grand Old Duke of Johnson intend to march his army back south towards its home counties comfort zone – to make a greener, kinder, gentler and more female pitch to a more familiar Tory audience, with today’s Prime Minister magically recreated as yesterday’s London Mayor?
  • Either way, it is, in principle, a bad thing for a Government to seek to reinvent itself after less than a year in office.  If it’s messed up the past – by its own tacit admission – why trust it in future?  In practice, it is also swapping certainty for uncertainty: Johnson risks becoming a blank sheet of paper on which others will scrawl whatever they wish.
  • Which is what’s happening now.  So it’s necessary to discount much of what you are currently reading and seeing as rumour and speculation.  What’s certain is that the Prime Minister needs to make some decisions fast: first, about Downing Street itself.  Second, about the Government.  Third, about policy and strategy.
  • On Downing Street, he needs a permanent Chief of Staff.  What would fit the bill is a senior civil servant, not an MP, with political views.  That sounds a lot like David Frost, when the Brexit negotiation is over.  Sajid Javid’s name is presumably being floated because Symonds was his SpAd, but he would be wrong for the post.
  • Which takes us to government.  Able politicians should be running departments as Cabinet members, not working as staffers in Number Ten.  Johnson cannot now avoid a reshuffle at the top.  That means bringing in talent old and new: Javid, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Hunt, Kemi Badenoch, Liam Fox.
  • And, on the subject of governing better, Cabinet members should be given their heads and not micro-managed.  There can be no repetition of the Cummings experiment – not least because it would be impossible to find a substitute for him, anyway.  Circumstances make it inevitable to try a more traditional style of government.
  • That also suggests: a single elected MP, who has independent political authority, as Party Chairman; a new Chief Whip and more experience in the Whips’ Office; an Andrew Mackay-type senior MP to sit in the key Downing Street meetings and to work the backbenches.
  • Next, and turning to policy, the Brexit trade talks.  Cummings’ departure raises two possibilites.  First, that any deal is written off as a “betrayal of Vote Leave’s legacy” and “a stitch-up by Remainers” (point of information: Symonds and Stratton both voted Leave).  And that No Deal leaves Johnson bereft of Cummings when he most needs him.
  • Then there is Covid-19 – and the December 2 deadline for returning to the three-tiered system.  The emergence of the Covid Recovery Group is a sign of a rising backbench revolt against lockdown.  Attempts to prolong it would blow up the fragile truce currently in place between Downing Street and MPs.
  • On policy, other quick points.  MPs opposed to the Government’s housing plans are moving in to try to kill them off; others who back a “war on woke” are mobilising (in the wake of reports that Johnson wants to steer clear of one); and all agree that the Prime Minister is increasingly preoccupied by the possibility of losing Scotland on his watch.
  • What will any new stress on green policy mean, as COP26 looms into view?  One version would be a softer-focused one, focused on emissions, climate change and animals (a passion of Symonds).  Another would be harder-edged: preocuppied with growth and “green jobs” – that stressed by such pro-Brexit provincial politicians as Ben Houchen.
  • Uncertainty reigns elsewhere, too  For example, does the Prime Minister really want to recreate a Cameron-era style Policy Board – led by an MP: reportedly, our columnist Neil O’Brien? If so, how would it, and new taskforces with MP members, dovetail with the Number Ten Policy Unit, as led by Munira Mirza?
  • The media is currently trampling on the grave of Dominic Cummings.  At some point, much of it will turn on Symonds.  Her backers will point out that she is a communications professional, and entitled to have views.  Her critics will argue that she is unelected, and holds no official position.  There are claims of sexism.  This is where we are going.
  • And finally, there is one very senior Conservative politician indeed who is keeping well out of it – and, no, we don’t mean Michael Gove, who is still our candidate to bring order to policy and process.  Rather, we are thinking of the man last seen placing his rangoli outside Number 11 for Diwali: Rishi Sunak.

Anthony Mangnall: How the Prime Minister can make British overseas aid spending more effective

13 Nov

Anthony Mangnall is MP for Totnes. His new report on Global Britain and Development for the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is available here.

There is a great deal to welcome about the election of President-Elect Joe Biden. After four years of scandal, trade wars, and denigration of international institutions, we can look forward with a greater degree of certainty and comfort as a resurgent America restores its commitment to global leadership.

Biden was elected on a platform which puts social justice at the heart of his foreign policy. He has committed to returning America to a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls, both at home and abroad. Moreover, as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, I am delighted that Biden has included tackling gender-based violence internationally a key tenet of his foreign policy priorities.

In the United Kingdom, Biden will find a staunch ally of his proposed humanitarian programme. Britain is an international development superpower, one of only a handful of countries to meet the OECD target of spending 0.7 per cent of income on aid, with a proud record of supporting the world’s poorest.

Since 2015, as a direct result of the 0.7 per cent target, the UK has helped almost 52 million people access clean water or improved sanitation, vaccinated 76 million children, and provided 14 million children with a decent education.

The vast majority of us within the rank and file of the Conservative Party recognise the significant, important, and essential work carried out through our development budget. Leaving aside our moral duty to the world’s poorest, we recognise our aid spending pays for itself by tackling the root causes of expensive and intractable issues that directly impact our country, from conflict and terrorism to mass migration. We understand that aid is a core tenet of what modern compassionate conservativism is all about.

That said, it is fair to say that aid spending has not always been spent as effectively as it could have been. It is vital that our international development budget is targeted both to support those most in need and to deliver value for money for British taxpayers.

The recent decision to merge Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) affords us with an excellent opportunity to reinvigorate our approach to aid. To that end, supported by two former Foreign Secretaries amongst other colleagues in my party, I have produced a new report for the One Nation Caucus exploring the ways in which we can capitalise on the merger and deliver a more effective aid and development programme.

One of the most important aspects of our aid policy that we need to get right is the 0.7 per cent target. Speculation around the viability of the target has set hares running amongst those who have long understood the value of a Global Britain. But as outlined in a recent report by Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the annual target can mean projects are left with little time to spend their budgets, resulting in poor spending decisions.

While maintaining the target and our commitment to the world’s most vulnerable, we should reform how it operates. That is why our new report calls for a multi-year 0.7 per cent target, in order to remove artificial spending deadlines and provide the certainty needed to make long-term strategic decisions.

Turning to the policies of the new FCDO, the widespread cases of gender-based violence, both at home and abroad, should be a clear indicator that empowerment of women must be at the very top of the new department’s priorities. As outlined in our report, the Government should create an international mechanism to document crimes of sexual violence, support survivors, and lead legal action so as to shatter the culture of impunity.

Taking inspiration from Biden’s call for reimagining existing foreign partnerships and designing new frameworks, our new report also calls on the Government to push for further reform of OECD rules to allow greater spending on peacekeeping missions. The UK could also convene a meeting of nations with a commonality of purpose in aid and development to better co-ordinate our aid strategies and outcomes. For example, a CANZUK consensus on how and where to spend aid would lock in respective development spending commitments, develop international cooperation, and improve outcomes.

Many of us in the Conservative Party still refer to the ‘golden thread’ theory of international development; that you only get real long-term development through aid if there is also a golden thread of stable government, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. By adopting some of the proposals in the One Nation Caucus’ new paper, the Government can recast this golden thread into a golden rod that breaks the vicious cycles of poverty, conflict and impunity.

This hatchet man in a hurry casts no new light on Johnson, except to show him as a vulnerable child

17 Oct

Boris Johnson: The Gambler by Tom Bower

In his Acknowledgements, buried on page 527 of his book, Tom Bower remarks, in the manner of an author broaching a humorous topic: “Readers should be aware that Boris Johnson is not a stranger in my home.”

He adds that “Veronica Wadley, my wife, has known him as a journalist since he joined The Daily Telegraph in 1988.”

Readers are not, however, made aware that during Johnson’s second term as Mayor of London, from 2012-16, Wadley worked for him as a well-paid adviser at City Hall, and now that Johnson is Prime Minister, he has made her a Conservative peer.

These interests really ought to be declared, if only in order for Bower to declare that he has not allowed himself to be swayed by so much as a syllable from what he would have written anyhow.

The peerage is recent news, but not so recent that it could not have been mentioned here. A few pages earlier, Bower has referred to “the government’s mismanagement of the A level and GCSE examinations in mid-August”. His wife’s elevation was announced on 31st July.

Bower is billed on the cover of this book as “Britain’s top investigative author”, yet says of Wadley: “She played no part in researching or writing this book.”

For a top investigative author, that seems a strange omission. Only a third-rate investigative author would have failed to ask the woman he lives with for help in explaining Johnson, whom she has known for 32 years.

And she has in fact given some rather unrevealing help with the question of why Johnson ran for mayor: “At a summer party in Carlton Gardens, she cornered Boris and suggested that he run for mayor. Although surprised, he agreed to consider it.”

Wadley was at this point editor of The Evening Standard, which threw its full support behind Johnson in his closely contested battle with the incumbent mayor, Ken Livingstone.

The chief power possessed by any Prime Minister is the power of patronage. He or she has hundreds of jobs and honours with which to reward his or her followers. Johnson understands this as well as any previous holder of the post.

The chief power possessed by a writer is the power to tell the truth, or at least to try to tell it. But in order for readers to trust a writer, they have to feel he or she is taking them into his or her confidence.

James Boswell possessed that quality in superabundance. He really wanted to tell us what he thought about Samuel Johnson, and about those round Johnson.

Bower doesn’t have that quality. He doesn’t want to take us into his confidence, and gives us no real sense of what the people round his Johnson are like. For most of the time, he doesn’t sound in the slightest bit interested in them himself.

Anyone can make mistakes, but Bower’s mistakes have the curious effect of rendering vivid material less vivid, funny stories less funny.

So he has James Landale, then of The Times, saying of Johnson as a correspondent in Brussels: “Boris told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp.”

No mention that Landale was adapting “Matilda”, by Hilaire Belloc, for use at a farewell party.

Sonia Purnell, who wrote a generally unfavourable biography of Johnson, has taken to Twitter to dismiss what Bower says about her as “so inaccurate it’s risible”.

My own regret is that while Bower has paid me the compliment of borrowing extensively from my own life of Johnson, the comic element is almost always lost, and with it an essential part of the explanation for Johnson’s ability to reach the wider public.

One can, of course, say that Johnson is beyond a joke. Over the years, many eminent commentators have come round to that view. Bower quotes Max Hastings in The Daily Mail in October 2012:

“If the day ever comes that Boris Johnson becomes tenant of Downing Street, I shall be among those packing my bags for a new life in Buenos Aires or suchlike because it means that Britain has abandoned its last pretensions to be a serious country.”

So far as one knows, Hastings still lives near Hungerford.

Bower’s book serves as a reminder that more journalists have said Johnson could not, and should not, become Prime Minister than has been written of any other figure in recent times.

These denunciations now read like so many predictions of future success. For one does not bother to contend that someone with no hope of getting to the top will not do so.

Johnson’s critics were trying to suppress the awful realisation that he might actually make it. Matthew Parris has been trying to persuade himself.

Bower casts no light on this curious phenomenon. He made his name writing hatchet jobs about various well-known figures: his last book was an account of Jeremy Corbyn which was so unrelievedly hostile – so disinclined to give credit even where credit might be due – that it rendered Corbyn’s ability to win the support of large numbers of voters incomprehensible.

In this new book, Bower still swings his hatchet, every so often settling scores with various extraneous figures without indicating how in the first place they incurred his displeasure.

He has no understanding of the history, workings and mentality of the Conservative Party, which Johnson saved last year from destruction at the hands of Nigel Farage.

About Johnson himself, Bower is quite often positive, not by appreciating his good qualities, but by sinking the hatchet into others. For example, after relating the unhappy tale of Johnson’s evidence, as Foreign Secretary, about Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, Bower declares:

“The real culprit was the Foreign Office, a failing department.”

Why does he say this? Through his clotted prose, it is impossible to discern his real motives. We are not taken into his confidence. It sounds like pure Johnsonian propaganda.

One wishes Bower would tell us what he is trying to achieve, but the answer may be that even he, a hatchet man in a hurry, does not really know what he is doing, apart from getting the book finished. At the end, he deviates into a appallingly prolonged account of the pandemic which tells us virtually nothing about Johnson.

The one person who speaks truth in this book is Johnson’s mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who says of his father, Stanley Johnson:

“He was always hitting me, and Boris saw it.”

According to Bower, Stanley “feigned ignorance” about the causes of Charlotte’s nervous breakdown in 1974, for which she was treated for eight months at the Maudsley Hospital in south London:

“Charlotte corrects Stanley’s recollection: ‘The doctors at the Maudsley spoke to Stanley about his abuse of me. He had hit me. He hit me many times, over many years.’ On one occasion, Stanley had hit Charlotte especially hard. ‘He beat me up and broke my nose,’ she recalls. After that attack, Charlotte was treated in the St John & St Elizabeth Hospital in north-west London. The children were told that a car door had hit their mother’s face. Boris, however, knew the truth.”

This old, unhappy and not very far-off story is related in the first chapter of the book. Here we see a loving mother’s defence of her son against his enemies. Bower, it may be said, has served her purpose.

An excellent book about Johnson has just been published. Unfortunately it is in German. One hopes it will appear in an English translation, but meanwhile anyone who can read the language of Goethe is urged to get hold of Boris Johnson: Porträt eines Störenfrieds by Jan Ross of Die Zeit.

Ross in his Portrait of a Contentious Man – more literally of a disturber of the peace – recognises that Johnson’s fallibility awakens sympathy and a feeling of togetherness, and that by refraining from idealism, Johnson protects himself against the charge of hypocrisy.

Some of Johnson’s own writings sound better in German. The jokes distract one less from the seriousness, and the debt to classical antiquity is more apparent.

Johnson is serious! A provocative thesis, with which few members of the German political establishment will agree, but argued here with perfect lucidity.

Ryan Henson and James Rogers: The reformed Foreign Office has a fresh chance to counter China and Russia

21 Sep

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Global Prosperity. James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

Earlier this month, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) merged into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), a new “superministry” charged with representing and projecting British interests around the world.

Appearing before Parliament’s powerful Liaison Committee this week, the Prime Minister said that within the new department, overseas aid should serve ‘the diplomatic, the political, and the values of the UK.’ We wholeheartedly agree, for we believe the UK must continue to be a force for good in the world.

Indeed, as the international system starts to experience profound geopolitical change – a shift that looks set to accelerate over the next decade – it is in all our interests that the integration of Britain’s foreign and development policy be a success.

According to Britain’s most recent national security assessment – The National Security Capability Review (2018) – the world is witnessing “the resurgence of state-based threats, intensifying wider state competition and the erosion of the rules-based international order”, which has made “it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.” Likewise, the assessment also emphasised the detrimental impact of climate change.

Geopolitics can no longer be ignored. For the 700 million people who still live in extreme poverty – many in dysfunctional or failed states – will be the first to suffer as authoritarian, revisionist powers continue to expand their influence or if climate change accelerates.

Make no mistake: Russia and China have burst onto the international scene over the past decade. They are deeply authoritarian powers, and their vision of how the world should look is very different to our own. Both regimes see democratic values and liberal principles as dangerous to their own existence. Both seek to extinguish them.

This can be seen by Russia’s “non-linear” offensives in Ukraine and Syria. In Ukraine, the Kremlin has fermented civil war to prevent the country from opening up and moving closer towards the European Union and NATO. In Syria, Russia has engaged in the country’s decade-long civil war to boost its own position in the Levant and broader Middle East and prevent reformers from gaining in influence.

Meanwhile, China has weaponised international development with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as its geo-economic and geopolitical push into Africa and South America. Underpinned by a US$1 trillion budget over the next thirty years, China’s efforts through the BRI provide investment for developing countries, while seeking to capture their political elites so they support, or at least do not challenge, China’s broader international objectives. This has often been achieved through the establishment of so-called “debt traps”. By providing developing countries with loans they will never be able to repay, China is able to compel them, often by stealth, into dependency.

While China’s BRI could not be more different to Britain’s lifesaving overseas aid work, it may have had more impact. It is certainly more well-known. With the creation of its new world-facing superministry, the UK ought to strengthen its position as an effective force for good in the world.

While the FCDO should retain and entrench DFID’s lifesaving development expertise, it should also better ensure that Britain adapts to both prepare for, and combat, the emerging threats to the world’s most vulnerable people. If the UK is to stand up for them, it must also stand up for their right to determine their own destiny, free of the threat of climate change and interference from foreign progenates.

The FCDO would therefore do well to initiate an internationally recognised programme of its own – an “International Prosperity Initiative” – to provide an alternative to the “aid” agendas of authoritarian rivals. In practise, this would mean the UK continuing to lead the fight against preventable diseases. Over the past 20 years DfID has helped defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone, saved 6.2 million people from dying of malaria, and immunised 67.1 million more children against preventable diseases. The emergence and spread of Covid-19 only makes this work more important.

It would also mean continuing to support girls’ education, so that the next generation of women are more able to participate as equals in society. The FCDO could make girls in school safer by rapidly and significantly ramping up efforts to eliminate violence in schools, while supporting governance, taxation, and redistribution projects that will be essential to lifting the poorest women out of poverty.

At the same time, an “International Prosperity Initiative” would seek to revolutionise poverty alleviation by combating environmental degradation and promoting more inclusive, open, and responsive, democratic government. Britain could fund more efforts to develop green technologies and help spread them to developing countries, while boosting educational programmes to encourage critical thinking in schools so that the next generation of young people are able to challenge authoritarian narratives.

It’s time to gear up for the future. The UK is not without capacity: we spend on Official Development Assistance approximately 70 per cent of what China spends per year on the BRI. It goes without saying that we should not devise an “aid” programme like China’s, but if we can seize the opportunities the new FCDO offers, Britain can strengthen its capacity to extend international prosperity. In doing so, we will save and improve lives, defend vulnerable people from authoritarian advances, and keep British values at the heart of geopolitics in the twenty-first century.

Jude D’Alesio: The Budget must be centred on young people

30 Aug

Jude D’Alesio, aged 19, is one of the youngest school governors in Britain, and is a Law student at the University of Bristol.

When I listen to my grandparents complain relentlessly about the lockdown, I cannot help but feel slightly frustrated. Frustrated, because I have sacrificed a term at university to go into lockdown to save them from this virus!

The government’s imposition of a lockdown in the UK was aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, principally the elderly. There is no doubt that this was the correct decision, and Prof Neil Ferguson stated that lockdown should have been imposed earlier.

Over 95 per cent of coronavirus deaths have occurred in those older than 60, and 50 per cent of all deaths have occurred in those over 80 according to the WHO. It is only right, therefore, that we seek to protect the elderly, the most vulnerable in our society, from the disease, and the country is certainly united in this goal.

It is undeniable, however, that lockdown has taken a significant toll on the younger generation, of which I am a part. In higher education, lectures have gone digital, and some teaching missed altogether. This especially disadvantages final year students, many of whom will be embarking on their careers with significant gaps in their knowledge, particularly critical in professions like medicine.

There is also the immense damage caused to secondary and further education by the lockdown. At least a whole term of work missed will prove acute in those at crucial points in their education, namely GCSE’s and A levels.

Being robbed of the chance to outperform your predicted grades after months of hard work will deny many the chance to attend the best universities. This can only be negative, as we want our younger generations to receive the best education possible to enable them to pursue their ambitions.

Families with the lowest incomes will be hit hardest by the effects of distance learning; not being able to effectively participate in online classes due to a lack of technology will inevitably create skills gaps among the poorest in our society.

For all these reasons, the next Budget should be focused on, and most beneficial for, young people: their education, their skills, their opportunities.

In many ways, the pandemic has breathed fresh unity into our country as we are united in fighting the virus. It seems fair, therefore, that everyone should in some way bear the cost of the current recession. However, as the lockdown came at the cost of young people, there are undoubtedly changes benefiting young people which can be implemented in the next Budget.

Scrapping the triple lock is a great start. The triple lock, implemented by the Cameron government, increases pensions in accordance with the Retail Price Index, average earnings or 2.5per cent, whichever proves highest. This could enable savings of £8bn a year, according to a leaked Treasury document.

The current main rate of corporation tax, sitting at 19 per cent, has been stagnant since 2017. Such desperate times surely call for a cut in the rate, in line with the government’s aim to make us more competitive post-Brexit. Additionally, the government’s plan to merge the Foreign Office with DFID, whether the correct decision or not, will undoubtedly produce savings.

The proceeds of growth, merely the beginning of a range of reforms, should be reinvested heavily in young people’s education and opportunities to redress the balance caused by coronavirus. This must include the £1bn ‘catch-up’ plan to enable school children to bridge the gap left by lost teaching. However, amounting to only £80 per student (IFS), further funding once coronavirus passes should be on the cards.

This is, of course, only a starting point, and many more steps must be taken to alleviate the portentous educational, financial and social burdens which have overwhelmed my generation. But, there have been clear losers during this pandemic and the next Budget should recognise as such.

Andrew Selous: This pandemic has left more people exploited by ruthless traffickers

13 Aug

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire

The Government can rightly be proud of the great strides that it has taken against modern slavery in recent years.

Since the publication of its Modern Slavery Strategy in 2014, and the subsequent Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK Government has pioneered efforts to eradicate the worst human rights abuse of our time, both domestically and around the world. The UK is now rightly considered a leader on the global stage, and the Government is to be commended for its success in increasing international awareness and focus on the need to prevent this awful exploitation.

In my own constituency, I have seen major incidents of modern slavery with, on one occasion, the police freeing 24 slaves, 19 of whom were British and some of whom had been kept on the site for nearly 15 years.

This year, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, on July 30th, marked a pivotal moment for the anti-trafficking and slavery movement.

The establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an opportunity to take stock of the good work which has been done, and consider what needs to happen next to swiftly and sustainably eradicate modern slavery.

The FCDO must, of course, do so in the context of a global community which is seeking to overcome the crisis of COVID-19 and rebuild a sense of normality.

Experts estimate that there are 40 million people around the world held in slavery. More than at any other time in history. One in four are children. Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis means that increased numbers of people are likely to suffer trafficking and exploitation. Life has become harder for many people due to financial hardship and prolonged isolation, making them more susceptible to ruthless traffickers who prey upon vulnerability. The World Bank estimates that 49 million more people will be forced into extreme poverty this year. Without urgent action, increases in violence, slavery, and other forms of brutal exploitation, could become another pandemic.

There has never been a more crucial moment to build on the powerful momentum of the Government’s action against slavery in recent years. The FCDO must make accelerating our efforts to eradicate modern slavery a priority. There are four key principles which I believe ought to form the basis of the new department’s strategy for tackling this devastating problem.

Firstly, we must bring an end to impunity. The adage that modern slavery is a low risk, high reward crime remains true in many places around the world. Whether it be a lack of resources, expertise, or political will, too often justice systems fail to hold traffickers to account, and vulnerable people are exploited without consequence.

When public justice systems are equipped to enforce anti-slavery laws, dramatic change is possible. International Justice Mission, an NGO which works alongside local authorities to build their capacity to respond to trafficking, have seen this first-hand. In cities in which they have worked in the Philippines, the number of children available for commercial sexual exploitation fell by up to 86 per cent – an astonishing result.

If the FCDO is to develop a robust anti-slavery strategy, tackling impunity and strengthening the rule of law must be at its centre. Approaches like this could see slavery stopped at source, protecting millions of people and making everyone safer.

Secondly, those who have experienced modern slavery must play a pivotal role in shaping our response. Survivors hold an expertise which most of those who develop anti-slavery laws and policies cannot begin to understand.

Across South Asia, the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association has played a pivotal role in helping workers out of exploitation. Earlier this year, I read of 13 families who had been released from forced labour in a brick kiln, thanks to the RBLA’s advocacy which began in June 2018. The families, 42 people including 13 children, had been forced to work for up to five years to repay false debts. Many of them were injured or malnourished, having had no access to good food or medical care. Several of the women were pregnant, and the children worked alongside the adults turning the baking bricks in the hot sun.

Survivors are uniquely placed to understand the circumstances which led to their abuse. We must listen to them if we are stop others falling victim to the same brutal exploitation.

Thirdly, we must see a joined-up approach across government. Modern slavery requires a multifaceted response both at home and around the world. The FCDO will have an essential role to play, but its approach must be aligned with other government departments.

Take, for example, the need to address exploitation in business supply chains. British businesses often source and manufacture goods in communities where forced or bonded labour is widespread. The FCDO through our Embassies and High Commissions, the Department for International Trade, and the Home Office, must work together to create an environment in which business can thrive without the risk of perpetuating exploitation.

Finally, accountability and transparency are key. The British public must have confidence in the new department. The well-respected international aid network, Bond, are correct in saying that ‘aid only works well when it is accountable to parliament’. DFID was subject to close scrutiny by the International Development Select Committee, and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact helped to ensure value for money for the British taxpayer. Such scrutiny must be maintained to ensure we continually strive to be as efficient and effective as possible.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and as the Brexit transition period comes to an end, the FCDO has a responsibility to be a powerful force for good on the world stage. There are a myriad of pressing issues requiring urgent attention, but tackling the causes of modern slavery must remain upmost in the Government’s priorities.

Rob Sutton: Dame Barbara Woodward ­– An appointee who can test the limits of British influence at the UN

7 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. Andrew Gimson is away.

The UK’s Ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward, has been announced as the next permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. Woodward is a career civil diplomat who has been at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) since 1994.

Her distinguished record includes five years in Moscow, as Second then First Secretary, Commercial and Political. She has served as Deputy Head of the Human Rights Policy Department of the FCO, International Director of the UK Border Agency and Director General, Economic and Consular of the FCO.

Despite a career path which seems quite typical of what would be expected of such a senior diplomatic appointment, the contrast with previous representatives is notable. Dame Karen Pierce, whom Woodward will take over from, worked in Japan, the USA, Ukraine, Belarus, Switzerland and Afghanistan. Before her, Matthew Rycroft spent much of his FCO career in Geneva, London, Paris and Washington.

The significance of Woodward’s experience relates to the body of the UN in which the UK bears the most influence – the Security Council. The Security Council contains 15 members, of which five are permanent: China, France, the USA, Russia, and the UK – the so-called ‘P5’.

The considerable influence of the P5 is due to their powers of veto for all Council resolutions. Thus, these nations are the key players around which Britain must skilfully manoeuvre.

How much Woodward will be able to achieve is of course constrained by the limitations of the UN itself, its lack of moral leadership and its inability to intervene on the most pressing international crises. For an organisation which positions itself as a leader of leaders, the failings of the UN during the most trying international crises reflect the difficulty of building and implementing consensus at a global level. The response to the coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a long series of failures of leadership.

At the lofty heights of the P5, leadership could hardly be further from the ideals envisioned by Churchill and Roosevelt when they spearheaded the UN’s formation. Secretary-General António Guterres has also received fierce criticism for his toothless approach to challenging human rights violations.

Even amid such company, we have been timid where we should have been bold, and our future influence is in doubt. Britain has not used its veto since 1989. Since then, Russia, China and the USA have used it on a total of 45 times. We’re sitting at the grown-ups’ table, but we act as though we have no right to be.

By placing Woodward at the table, we can be assured that our representative will be completely comfortable with the competition. China is not a cultural mystery to her. Russia is no riddle wrapped in an enigma. Woodward understands the nuanced politics of our most serious rivals in the P5, and that experience is invaluable. Following her appointment, she spoke of joining the UN at “a time when the rules-based international system faces pressing global challenges”, so we might hope that she will speak out on the numerous egregious violations committed by these nations.

The challenge in shaping Britain’s role as an international player is due in large part to our antagonistic aims. Seeking trade deals across the globe becomes considerably more difficult when one seeks to also criticise these partners when they stray outside international law. So we could opt for business as usual. We could quietly talk Britain up in the back rooms and decline to use our veto or publicly criticise our rivals for fear of being exposed as a lesser force than we were in the immediate post-war years.

Or we could seize this opportunity. Woodward has the skill, experience and support to be a key voice as we seek a renewed national identity amidst a decaying rules-based international order. A respected, principled, and industrious diplomat who is unafraid to articulate the importance of an open society may go some way to helping the UN and the UK rediscover their moral authority.

Damian Green: Here are our One Nation ideas for reviving post-Covid, post-Brexit Britain

27 Jul

Damian Green is Chair of the One Nation Caucus, a former First Secretary of State and is MP for Ashford.

There has been a flurry of comments about One Nation Conservatism, and what it means in the 2020s, over recent weeks. This is very timely, as for many years the One Nation tradition was linked with pro-European views, to the point where views on Europe seemed to become its defining characteristic.

Those times are clearly past, and one of the aims of the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is to set out a new set of policy priorities, both in domestic and international policy, which we want the Government to adopt. We hope that we are pushing at a reasonably open door, as the Prime Minister has always described himself as a One Nation politician, and certainly his levelling up agenda is absolutely in that tradition. His description of himself as a “Brexity Hezza” may have been rejected by, well…..Hezza, but nothing is easy these days.

Getting the country back on the track it voted for last December is the task for the next four years, and One Nation ideas will play a central role in the successful pursuit of that project. The last thing the Conservative Party or the country needs is a continuation of the Brexit divisions. If the only thing that matters is how you voted in 2016, we will never move on. So through the summer and autumn the One Nation Caucus will be publishing a series of policy papers designed to set out a full agenda for government in the post-Covid period.

The first of these papers is Restarting the Economy, which brings together six MPs from various intakes to address the central issue of our times. Stephen Hammond is the lead author, and he emphasises the importance of a relentless focus on levelling up to extend growth beyond London.

Key proposals in the paper include the development of new local economic bodies to drive growth, expanding the number of planned freeports, and creating technology adoption funds to support the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The report also suggests a number of policies to protect people on low incomes, including suggestions for ending consumer rip-offs, and proposals for managing repayments of Covid business loans, recommending an approach similar to the Student Loan scheme.

Each of these is a meaty idea in its own right, and the full paper is available on the One Nation website. But this array of economic ideas is only the start of the wider project to position Conservative ideas at the heart of the national political debate post-Covid.

Labour may be under new management but one of the features of the Starmer era so far has been the avoidance of any policy discussions. This is clearly a conscious tactic, but while Labour pursues it there is a space to fill in shaping the public mind. It is often observed that intellectual regeneration is more difficult inside a governing party, but it is not impossible, and is absolutely necessary if conservatism is to have another successful decade.

The financial crisis, Brexit, and Covid-19 have been three black swans that have swept aside the original plans developed the last time the Conservative Party was in opposition. They have incidentally also swept aside Tony Blair’s fond idea of making the twenty-first century “the progressive century”, by which he meant the New Labour century. How does that look in 2020?

So now is exactly the right time for One Nation Conservatives to think hard and set up debates. After the economic paper our next publication will be on social mobility, how we can bring it back, and why we must not think about it in traditional terms. Following that we will be publishing a paper on the environment, showing how capitalism is not the enemy of achieving carbon New Zero, but the only way of reaching it.

Future papers will look at Britain’s place in the world, covering trade and aid, and specifically what the new configuration of the Foreign Office and DfId offers in the realm of making our aid spending (which One Nation Conservatives strongly support) more effective in the future. We will also be taking a hard look at schools and what they can do better to spread opportunity, and at the new world of work.

It is very pleasing that all cohorts of the Parliamentary party have contributed to these papers. Former Ministers have worked with many members of the 2019 intake on the individual ideas, proving that there is no shortage of new thinking on the back benches, and that One Nation ideas are alive and well in the rising generations within the party.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a One Nation Conservative, I hope you will welcome the fact that those of us who are in that tradition want to contribute publicly to the key debates that will dominate the coming decade. The public will of course judge the Government mainly on its actions. But every political party needs to demonstrate that it can apply its principles to new circumstances. In a world that changes as fast as this one constant intellectual regeneration should be our goal. The One Nation recovery papers are a contribution to that.