Daniel Hannan: Overstretched – that’s how our police see themselves. So how have they found time to hound a young Geordie journalist?

14 Oct

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Which of the following do you reckon constitutes a public order offence? Holding a demonstration in defiance of lockdown rules; vandalising a statue; recording an interview with a well-known Cambridge historian in which he makes a racist remark.

If you picked the third option, you could have a glittering career in the Metropolitan Police. London’s coppers, who switched from heavy-handed enforcement of the lockdown to indulgence of Leftist demonstrators, who literally dropped to their knees during violent protests, and one of whose commanders went so far as to issue a video asking BLM agitators to break the law considerately, has decided to investigate Darren Grimes over his interview with David Starkey.

Grimes, a Eurosceptic commentator, has been interviewed under caution in connection with Section 22 of the 1986 Public Order Act which makes the producer of a broadcast containing abusive or threatening language liable if “(a) he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or (b) having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.

No one, as far as I can tell, has defended Starkey’s assertion that, had the transatlantic slave trade constituted a genocide, “there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks”. Indeed, the dyspeptic doctor himself has issued a (for him) exceptional apology.

We can all agree that his remarks were intemperate, inaccurate and impolite. More than that, they were racist – a word that has been cheapened throughoveruse, but which applies in this case. A racist remark, though, does not in itself constitute a crime. The test is whether anyone hearing it would be stirred to racial hatred. In this instance, it seems vanishingly improbable. The common reaction, as we have seen, was a shudder of distaste at the speaker.

There used to be a clearly understood distinction between opinion (“Why are there so many damn Archenlanders in Narnia?”) and incitement (“Are you just going to stand there and let these Archenlanders violate our Marshwiggles?”) But that distinction has been systematically demolished, partly through legislation, partly through judicial activism and partly through over-eager policing.

It seems highly unlikely that the action against Grimes will result in a prosecution, let alone a conviction. But that doesn’t make it OK. For one thing, every investigation of this kind diminishes civil liberties and undermines the police. For another, there is a human cost even in cases that don’t reach court. As Mark Steyn (himself a victim of frivolous and malicious hate crimes accusations) puts it, “the process is the punishment”.

Grimes spent the better part of four years fighting off vexatious charges brought by people who resented the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. Although he was completely exonerated in the end, nothing could undo the stress, the financial cost and the damaging media reports. Now, he faces going through another such ordeal. And the poor chap is still only 27.

Hate crimes are one of the places where we hear screeching gears as our politico-legal class pulls one way and public opinion the other. It is incomprehensible to most people that a police force that claims to be overstretched and underfunded can find time to chase a young Geordie journalist (“investigate crimes, not Grimes”, as one wag put it).

There is also a strong suspicion of partiality. Had David Starkey made his remarks in, say, a Guardian interview, does anyone seriously imagine that that paper’s editor would find herself under investigation? Yet, as the public looks on in bewildered alarm, the Law Commission is plugging ahead with its attempts to extend hate crimes legislation even further – this time to include misogyny.

Labour MPs have piled in against Grimes. Karl Turner, a shadow law minister, came out with a singular definition of free speech when he declared: “Of course everyone has the right to freedom of expression. But that doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences from what they have said. As I understand it, the police are investigating complaints. And it is right that they should investigate racist behaviour.”

Got that? You have absolute freedom of expression, but you may end up getting your collar felt if you exercise it in the wrong way.

Keir Starmer agrees. “I think it does sometimes have to involve the police,” he said on Monday. “There has got to be a level of tolerance of course, but there is a line which can be crossed, and it’s very important that it is investigated, and that in some cases there are prosecutions.”

Starmer has what coppers call “previous” here. When he was Director of Public Prosecutions, he reportedly overruled his staff to insist on pushing ahead with a case against someone who had made a joke on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood airport.

If Boris Johnson moves to reverse the spread in these illiberal laws, he will be in the happy position of having the electorate with him but Labour against him. That, though, is not why he should act. He should act because, until he does, there will be many more travesties: more wasted resources, more ruined lives, more tarnished liberty. “It’s a free country”, we used to tell one another. Let’s make it one.

Fight crimes not Grimes

11 Oct

The Metropolitan Police are doubtless pursuing Darren Grimes as the publisher of the David Starkey interview as well as the interviewer.  That doesn’t make the decision any less sinister.

Such non-Conservatives as Tim Farron and Nick Cohen suggest that the Met’s decision to interview Grimes under caution is wrong.  Our readers are likely to agree.  So we won’t waste words attempting to talk them into a view they hold already.

Instead, we ask for the Met to be held to account for its push to curb free speech.  Did Cressida Dick approve the decision?

If she did, she needs to explain why it doesn’t represent a vendetta by the force against an innocent man who won in court against the established might of the Electoral Commission.  If she didn’t, and the officers have never heard of Grimes (or the Commission either), she should make it clear why they are pursuing him.

It will be claimed that this decision is an operational rather than a strategic matter, but there comes a point when the first blurs into the second.

Is it now Met policy to muzzle free speech, and intimidate journalists in this way.  There are three potential sources of accountability: the Mayor of London, the Home Secretary, and the Home Affairs Select Committee.  Sadiq Khan will do nothing.

Priti Patel has tweeted for freedom of speech, but has fallen into the trap of seeing this incident as an operational matter only.

She should haul in Dick for an interview without coffee, and get the bottom of who in the Met made this decision, and why.  We gather that Tim Loughton, a member of the Select Committee, intends to raise the case when it meets this week.  Good for him.

Meanwhile, Karl Turner, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Legal Aid, tweeted: “Freedom of speech Darren doesn’t afford people the freedom to make racist remarks or generally offend”.

But its inherent to free speech that it will sometimes offend, and it’s important to note that at least one member of Keir Starmer’s front bench either doesn’t get the point, don’t understand it, or don’t care.  The tweet has since been deleted.

The last word on the Met’s decision belongs to Kristian Niemietz of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who tweeted the following yesterday:

-“Hello? Police? I think there’s a burglar in my house…”

-“Sorry, we’re a little busy right now.” -“

…and the burglar just muttered something that sounded a bit like “All lives matter.””

-“We’re on our way.”

 

Steve Baker: The Coronavirus Act created the most dangerous changes to state power seen in a generation. It must be replaced.

29 Sep

Steve Baker is MP for Wycombe, and served as a Minister in the former Department for Exiting the European Union.

As we went into lockdown in late March, Parliament passed the Coronavirus Act. The public wanted action, but this act was an overreaction, creating the most sweeping and dangerous changes to state power seen in a generation. And while it was widely understood and accepted that we would all have to make temporary sacrifices, these new powers could last indefinitely.

The Act, which the human rights group Liberty has called “the biggest restriction on our individual and collective freedoms in a generation”, goes far beyond proportionate action. It contains powers many people don’t even know exist, and stands on the statute books as a potentially permanent threat to our freedom.

It imposes restrictions on the right to protest, creates radical powers to suspend elections and undermines oversight of covert Government surveillance programmes.

The most dangerous powers in the Act can be found in Schedule 21, containing extreme police detention powers. This Schedule gives breath-taking powers to the police, immigration officers and other officials to detain any “potentially infectious” members of the public, including children, potentially indefinitely and in unspecified locations.

The Health Secretary has further made a string of separate laws, including the self-isolation law brought into force yesterday, making it a criminal offence to fail to isolate, whether as a result of a positive Covid-19 test, close contact with an infected person, or travel from a country on the quarantine list.

In what world would we want police officers tasked with locking up members of the public outside of these laws, somehow determining that they are “potentially infectious”? Our police have a tough enough job as it is. Now they would have to be highly trained lawyers perfectly to navigate the stack of statutory instruments they are now supposed to impose; and they would have to be at least highly trained medics to sensibly wield these powers.

The College of Policing has already attempted two versions of guidance on Schedule 21, and has now had to open a consultation on the powers, seemingly in attempt to stem the flow of unlawful policing under the powers. As one line in the consultation tellingly says: “police officers are not medically trained”.

Every single charge under the Coronavirus Act – 141 so far – has been found unlawful on review by the CPS, which had to open a rolling review of every use of these powers due to these prolific failures. The Schedule 21 powers are responsible for the shocking rate of 100 per cent unlawful prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act.

For almost six months, we have lived not just with the anxiety of health warnings, but with this sprawling web of control. In other circumstances, Britain would have condemned both the content of this legislation and the way it passed. The Act went through Parliament in one day. The Health Protection Regulations were passed through emergency powers – avoiding any oversight both when they were imposed, and when they were repeatedly altered throughout lockdown.

The Act was rushed through in a bid to give the Government the powers it needs to get to grips with this disease, but, six months later, it’s evident that it’s a blunt instrument that does more harm than good. The patience and goodwill that saw us all make enormous sacrifices and help each other through the early days of lockdown are not infinite resources – they will be depleted if the Government strategy fails to learn and improve.

The prospect of a second wave of Covid-19 infections means we must continue to take precautions and make sacrifices where necessary and proportionate. It absolutely does not mean we must continue exactly as we have up to this point.

This is the point at which to look back on the last six months and ensure we have learned from them. During the lockdown, much Government decision-making was unclear and communications seemed confused. As we rattled through a dizzying set of lockdown regulations, many of us were left unsure if we might be criminalised for anything from looking after our families to going out for exercise.

Research indicates we will reap the most public health benefits by giving people the tools to comply by way of clear, evidence-based messaging rather than coercing them into submission. We need the British public to trust that the Government is following the evidence; we should also trust in them to act sensibly for their families and neighbours rather than policing their every move.

The Coronavirus Act and other legislation used in the crisis create enormous changes to our relationship as individuals with the state. The Act was a blunt and excessive reaction to an unknown threat, and the last six months have shown we need to facilitate compliance, rather than relying on coercion and control.

Tomorrow, Parliament will vote on whether to repeal the Act. It seems likely it will hang over us for at least another six months, and possibly years to come. Those of us who love liberty stand ready to help the Government do what is right: to show the public that we have heard their concerns, seen their sacrifices, and are ready to deliver a better strategy.

When so many have sacrificed so much, we will not be forgiven if we do not learn from the experience of the past six months. We have learned that the Coronavirus Act goes too far. The Government should bring forward plans to repeal and replace it with legislation that we can scrutinise full in the light of experience – before it damages faith in this Government, and our civil liberties beyond repair.

Steve Baker: The Coronavirus Act created the most dangerous changes to state power seen in a generation. It must be replaced.

29 Sep

Steve Baker is MP for Wycombe, and served as a Minister in the former Department for Exiting the European Union.

As we went into lockdown in late March, Parliament passed the Coronavirus Act. The public wanted action, but this act was an overreaction, creating the most sweeping and dangerous changes to state power seen in a generation. And while it was widely understood and accepted that we would all have to make temporary sacrifices, these new powers could last indefinitely.

The Act, which the human rights group Liberty has called “the biggest restriction on our individual and collective freedoms in a generation”, goes far beyond proportionate action. It contains powers many people don’t even know exist, and stands on the statute books as a potentially permanent threat to our freedom.

It imposes restrictions on the right to protest, creates radical powers to suspend elections and undermines oversight of covert Government surveillance programmes.

The most dangerous powers in the Act can be found in Schedule 21, containing extreme police detention powers. This Schedule gives breath-taking powers to the police, immigration officers and other officials to detain any “potentially infectious” members of the public, including children, potentially indefinitely and in unspecified locations.

The Health Secretary has further made a string of separate laws, including the self-isolation law brought into force yesterday, making it a criminal offence to fail to isolate, whether as a result of a positive Covid-19 test, close contact with an infected person, or travel from a country on the quarantine list.

In what world would we want police officers tasked with locking up members of the public outside of these laws, somehow determining that they are “potentially infectious”? Our police have a tough enough job as it is. Now they would have to be highly trained lawyers perfectly to navigate the stack of statutory instruments they are now supposed to impose; and they would have to be at least highly trained medics to sensibly wield these powers.

The College of Policing has already attempted two versions of guidance on Schedule 21, and has now had to open a consultation on the powers, seemingly in attempt to stem the flow of unlawful policing under the powers. As one line in the consultation tellingly says: “police officers are not medically trained”.

Every single charge under the Coronavirus Act – 141 so far – has been found unlawful on review by the CPS, which had to open a rolling review of every use of these powers due to these prolific failures. The Schedule 21 powers are responsible for the shocking rate of 100 per cent unlawful prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act.

For almost six months, we have lived not just with the anxiety of health warnings, but with this sprawling web of control. In other circumstances, Britain would have condemned both the content of this legislation and the way it passed. The Act went through Parliament in one day. The Health Protection Regulations were passed through emergency powers – avoiding any oversight both when they were imposed, and when they were repeatedly altered throughout lockdown.

The Act was rushed through in a bid to give the Government the powers it needs to get to grips with this disease, but, six months later, it’s evident that it’s a blunt instrument that does more harm than good. The patience and goodwill that saw us all make enormous sacrifices and help each other through the early days of lockdown are not infinite resources – they will be depleted if the Government strategy fails to learn and improve.

The prospect of a second wave of Covid-19 infections means we must continue to take precautions and make sacrifices where necessary and proportionate. It absolutely does not mean we must continue exactly as we have up to this point.

This is the point at which to look back on the last six months and ensure we have learned from them. During the lockdown, much Government decision-making was unclear and communications seemed confused. As we rattled through a dizzying set of lockdown regulations, many of us were left unsure if we might be criminalised for anything from looking after our families to going out for exercise.

Research indicates we will reap the most public health benefits by giving people the tools to comply by way of clear, evidence-based messaging rather than coercing them into submission. We need the British public to trust that the Government is following the evidence; we should also trust in them to act sensibly for their families and neighbours rather than policing their every move.

The Coronavirus Act and other legislation used in the crisis create enormous changes to our relationship as individuals with the state. The Act was a blunt and excessive reaction to an unknown threat, and the last six months have shown we need to facilitate compliance, rather than relying on coercion and control.

Tomorrow, Parliament will vote on whether to repeal the Act. It seems likely it will hang over us for at least another six months, and possibly years to come. Those of us who love liberty stand ready to help the Government do what is right: to show the public that we have heard their concerns, seen their sacrifices, and are ready to deliver a better strategy.

When so many have sacrificed so much, we will not be forgiven if we do not learn from the experience of the past six months. We have learned that the Coronavirus Act goes too far. The Government should bring forward plans to repeal and replace it with legislation that we can scrutinise full in the light of experience – before it damages faith in this Government, and our civil liberties beyond repair.

Simon Clark: How local authorities are waging war on personal freedom

25 Sep

Simon Clark is director of the smokers’ rights group, Forest.

When did local authorities become such busybodies, interfering in the lifestyles of council staff and the local people they are supposed to represent? Polls conducted by Populus, for Forest, have consistently shown that compared to issues like addressing crime and anti-social behaviour, or investing in roads and other infrastructure, the public does not consider tackling smoking, alcohol misuse, or obesity, to be a priority for local government. Despite this, local authorities are increasingly targeting adults who smoke, restricting or even banning the habit for council employees during working hours, or extending smoking bans to outdoor areas where there is no evidence of risk to non-smokers, including children.

Nine years ago things looked a little different. When a lone councillor in Stony Stratford suggested a ban on smoking throughout this small Buckinghamshire town, few people took him seriously. Indeed, for many people, he was a figure of fun. Sunday Times columnist, Rod Liddle, a former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, told him:

“Do you realise there’s not a single person in Stony Stratford who’s in favour of your plan? We’ve trawled the streets. We’ve walked up and down. We haven’t found a single person who doesn’t think that it’s a fatuous idea.”

Even his fellow councillors thought the proposal was a step too far and resoundingly rejected it.

Although prohibition remains a dream for Britain’s tobacco control industry, an increasing number of local authorities have nevertheless been emboldened to introduce strict new measures designed to dictate where and when adults can light up. Indeed, as a new Forest report makes clear, many councillors now believe it is perfectly acceptable to micro-manage the lives not only of their own staff but also members of the public who voted them into office.

Interestingly, it seems to make very little difference whether a council is run by Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, or, in Scotland, the Scottish National Party. Denying adults the right to choose, and extinguishing personal freedoms, is not restricted to one party. Instead, councillors of all political persuasions and none, are more than happy to embrace an increasingly interventionist agenda, ignoring the fact that if an adult chooses to smoke without breaking the law it is none of their business.

What is equally clear, as the report’s author, Josie Appleton, points out, is that anti-smoking campaigns are no longer exclusively about health. The risks of smoking have been known for decades, hence the steep fall in smoking rates long before government intervened to ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces, prohibit the display of tobacco in shops, or introduce standardised packaging of tobacco. Today smoking cessation has become a moral crusade. The tobacco control industry even has a word for it – ‘smokefree’. Smoking is not merely unhealthy, it’s ‘bad’, while not smoking is ‘good’ and virtuous.

Public Health England has been targeted for serious criticism during the coronavirus crisis, and justifiably so. Following its launch in 2013, PHE became so focussed on tackling people’s lifestyle – including our eating, drinking and smoking habits – officials completely lost sight of their primary function which was to protect the nation from infectious diseases over which individuals have little or no control.

Local authorities too have strayed far from their traditional role into areas in which they have little or no business. According to Appleton’s research, 192 councils (68 per cent of those that responded to her Freedom of Information requests) have a policy restricting or banning smoking at work, while almost a third now restrict smoking in open air public spaces, including children’s play areas, parks, beaches, council campuses or open air public events, with some of these bans enforced with fixed penalty notices.

Forty-nine councils ban cigarette breaks entirely, even if workers clock off, while a further 87 councils require workers to clock off or to obtain permission from a manager. In total, 113 councils currently ban smoking outside council buildings with some requiring employees to leave the site entirely or stand up to 50 metres from a council building to light up.

Whether adults choose to smoke is a matter for them and their nearest and dearest. It has nothing to do with local government. Thankfully, as the responses to this new research demonstrate, many councils do still adopt a common sense approach to the habit. A complete ban on smoking by council staff during working hours is not yet the norm, nor are bans on smoking in council-owned parks and other outdoor areas where the health risk to non-smokers can be rated somewhere between insignificant and zero. Nevertheless, the trend towards further intervention is enough to worry those of us who value individual freedom and personal responsibility.

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot about government overreach in relation to the way ministers have responded to the coronavirus. If there’s one group familiar with government overreach– at national and local level – it’s smokers. As one participant in a recent Forest webinar noted, “Smokers have been in lockdown since 2007.” He was referring to the year smoking was banned in every pub and club in the country and although it may be a stretch to compare the two situations, smokers know all about enforced isolation.

Councillors and local authority chief executives should therefore think twice before giving the green light to further intrusions into the lives of millions of ordinary people who are fed up with being dictated to by an army of politicians and public health professionals. The ‘smokefree’ utopia envisaged by many anti-smoking campaigners may appear benign and caring to some (including, I suspect, many readers of ConservativeHome). In reality however a ‘smokefree’ world will only be achieved by removing people’s freedom to think for themselves and make their own choices, so be careful what you wish for.

Doug Stokes: The Conservatives must rally to the flag of the Enlightenment tradition as the culture wars rage

20 Sep

Doug Stokes is a Professor in International Relations at the University of Exeter.

Slowly, perhaps too slowly, the Conservative Party is waking up to the importance of the ‘culture wars’. These struggles over meaning will only grow in significance as the UK charts its post-Brexit destiny, itself intimately bound up with questions of culture and identity. How can a nation know what it wants if it does not know what it is?

On the Left, ‘woke’ politics, with its binary worldview of moral certainty, sin, guilt and deconstructive redemption through Western self-erasure is more akin to a secular theology than a programme of political transformation. It offers little to the vast majority of the British people who are sick of its banal virtue signalling, and the open contempt of its high priests in the media, universities and throughout British institutional life.

The Labour Party now faces a likely irreconcilable balancing act, insofar as it must bring together its hyper-woke graduate middle-class activist base and the socially conservative and now ‘Blue Wall’ former Labour voters. Keit Starmer will have to learn to do the impossible: to bend his knee whilst climbing walls.

For its part, the Conservative Party should plant its flag firmly within the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom and equality of opportunity. Coupled with a progressive patriotism, this would be a winning cultural formula, and essentially pushes at an open door. Moreover, it would bring together its ‘levelling up’ agenda with a collective story that binds and unifies and links the past with the present to map a future.

There is both a party political but much more important existential element to the increasingly ‘hot’ culture wars. In party political terms, if the Conservatives fail to grasp this nettle, a new party to its right may well do so. At the moment, there is a political vacuum, amplified by its flaccid response to Black Lives Matter riots and continued assaults on the nation’s heritage and history.

Of more pressing existential import is the dangerous game being played by leftist ‘woke’ theologians. From what is little more than anti-white racism peddled by ‘critical race theorists’ and their ‘white privilege’ useful idiots in our universities, media and boardrooms, new forms of divisive thinking predicated around racial interest articulation are beginning to emerge. Preaching to gullible white liberals about their alleged privilege is an easy sell, and this seems to be the underlying gamble: guilt-tripping will help lead to political change.

However, beyond the BBC, lecture halls and other privileged islands, guilt will likely not go very far. It is hard to see how the woke priesthood’s catechism of privilege and self-flagellation will be received in such places as Rotherham. Failure to contain this genie, released by the explosive assault on British identity, places our valuable multicultural dispensation in grave peril. The twin crises of Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic have justifiably meant the party has been slow off the blocks in recognising this, but it must not linger for much longer.

At the moment, we are living through a unique structural moment in British politics. Strategically, the party should restructure elements of our legal-institutional matrix, much of which underpins the left’s culture war arsenal. Failure to do so will mean that whilst the Conservatives are in power, its exercise will be stymied time after time, and in the culture wars at least, conservatives will suffer a death of a thousand cuts.

What are the elements of this matrix? On the one hand, the party faces a largely left-hegemonic institutionalised ‘fifth column’, composed of quangos and assorted charities. Despite their hyperbole, the UK remains one of the most socially progressive societies on earth, as even a cursory glance at most data metrics show very clearly.

However, these entities have both a bureaucratic and economic self-interest in evidencing ‘forever’ grievance narratives that feed the left’s culture war. For over a decade, various Tory chancellors have pumped billions into these bodies. Why?

Crucially, in a market of diminishing inequality, these ‘social justice’ organisations and theorists have evolved and adapted to new market realities with often Orwellian conceptual innovations to evidence injustice and thus drive political change and their continued funding. From junk science mandatory tests for unconscious biases in corporate boardrooms to students being paid to police alleged unintentional micro-aggressions in our universities, forms of embedded egalitarianism are often illiberal and increasingly authoritarian.

A ‘grievance industrial complex’ exists to evidence the above, but in a market of diminishing inequality, the complex must adapt with ever more bizarre and illiberal conceptual innovations to make sure demand for one’s services is maintained in the context of a diminishing supply of injustice.

Philosophically, this grievance industry deliberately conflates equal outcomes with equal opportunities. The script is familiar. If there’s an unequal outcome, anywhere and at any point, likely explanatory variables are ignored in favour of an amorphous ‘systemic’ conspiracy to reproduce a system of discrimination. It does not matter that this ‘systemic’ conspiracy is totally at odds with readily available data on the incredible financial, educational and cultural advances of the UK’s diverse population.

Conveniently, ‘justice’ is achieved by a redistributive agent of technocrats to intervene to impose equal outcomes in the name of social justice and to combat this ‘systemic’ conspiracy. Similar to the USSR, this conception shifts debates from an examination of underlying processes that allow humans to participate equally to one of top down imposition to achieve outcome parity, usually by a self-interested elite that has a self-interest in mission creep and the maintenance of their power.

The Conservative Party must reboot its philosophical thinking around this crucial distinction: there has been a dangerous and lazy drift across British institutional life from equality of opportunity that is entirely consistent and optimal for a functional market democracy to one of equity or equality of outcomes.

To the extent that the latter conception wins out over the former, conservatives will keep losing battle after battle in what is in fact an ever hotter and ongoing value-conflict raging within the anglophone West.

Of far more strategic significance however, is the foundation upon which this grievance industrial complex sits. It is quite shocking that, after ten years of Conservatives in government, the Equality Act of 2010 has been left totally unreformed.

Although this legislation was intended to safeguard access to equal opportunities, it has in fact morphed into the central juridical weapon of the left. In particular, section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 – the Public Sector Equality duty – has breathed into being an army of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officials across huge swathes of national life.

Through mission creep, this has imposed huge costs on our public sector, helped shift social discourse to one of outcome equality as being the central metric and weaponized the duty to ‘foster good relations’ to transform organisational cultures in often highly illiberal ways.

No doubt the ‘optics’ of reform will be seized on by political opponents, but this is why the party should bundle this up within a much broader cultural offering: a reassertion of the primacy of the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom of speech and conscience and equality of all before the law, regardless of creed, class or colour.

It is these values that have helped challenge dogma, champion freedom and defend those gains once made. These are now under radical assault, with those questioning the orthodoxies of the ‘great awokening’ often targeted for harassment and censure. The Conservative Party should lay a firm claim to the enlightenment tradition and let that be its lodestar in the culture wars. Failure to do so will place our current dispensation in deep peril; it is time to wake up.

Doug Stokes: The Conservatives must rally to the flag of the Enlightenment tradition as the culture wars rage

20 Sep

Doug Stokes is a Professor in International Relations at the University of Exeter.

Slowly, perhaps too slowly, the Conservative Party is waking up to the importance of the ‘culture wars’. These struggles over meaning will only grow in significance as the UK charts its post-Brexit destiny, itself intimately bound up with questions of culture and identity. How can a nation know what it wants if it does not know what it is?

On the Left, ‘woke’ politics, with its binary worldview of moral certainty, sin, guilt and deconstructive redemption through Western self-erasure is more akin to a secular theology than a programme of political transformation. It offers little to the vast majority of the British people who are sick of its banal virtue signalling, and the open contempt of its high priests in the media, universities and throughout British institutional life.

The Labour Party now faces a likely irreconcilable balancing act, insofar as it must bring together its hyper-woke graduate middle-class activist base and the socially conservative and now ‘Blue Wall’ former Labour voters. Keit Starmer will have to learn to do the impossible: to bend his knee whilst climbing walls.

For its part, the Conservative Party should plant its flag firmly within the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom and equality of opportunity. Coupled with a progressive patriotism, this would be a winning cultural formula, and essentially pushes at an open door. Moreover, it would bring together its ‘levelling up’ agenda with a collective story that binds and unifies and links the past with the present to map a future.

There is both a party political but much more important existential element to the increasingly ‘hot’ culture wars. In party political terms, if the Conservatives fail to grasp this nettle, a new party to its right may well do so. At the moment, there is a political vacuum, amplified by its flaccid response to Black Lives Matter riots and continued assaults on the nation’s heritage and history.

Of more pressing existential import is the dangerous game being played by leftist ‘woke’ theologians. From what is little more than anti-white racism peddled by ‘critical race theorists’ and their ‘white privilege’ useful idiots in our universities, media and boardrooms, new forms of divisive thinking predicated around racial interest articulation are beginning to emerge. Preaching to gullible white liberals about their alleged privilege is an easy sell, and this seems to be the underlying gamble: guilt-tripping will help lead to political change.

However, beyond the BBC, lecture halls and other privileged islands, guilt will likely not go very far. It is hard to see how the woke priesthood’s catechism of privilege and self-flagellation will be received in such places as Rotherham. Failure to contain this genie, released by the explosive assault on British identity, places our valuable multicultural dispensation in grave peril. The twin crises of Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic have justifiably meant the party has been slow off the blocks in recognising this, but it must not linger for much longer.

At the moment, we are living through a unique structural moment in British politics. Strategically, the party should restructure elements of our legal-institutional matrix, much of which underpins the left’s culture war arsenal. Failure to do so will mean that whilst the Conservatives are in power, its exercise will be stymied time after time, and in the culture wars at least, conservatives will suffer a death of a thousand cuts.

What are the elements of this matrix? On the one hand, the party faces a largely left-hegemonic institutionalised ‘fifth column’, composed of quangos and assorted charities. Despite their hyperbole, the UK remains one of the most socially progressive societies on earth, as even a cursory glance at most data metrics show very clearly.

However, these entities have both a bureaucratic and economic self-interest in evidencing ‘forever’ grievance narratives that feed the left’s culture war. For over a decade, various Tory chancellors have pumped billions into these bodies. Why?

Crucially, in a market of diminishing inequality, these ‘social justice’ organisations and theorists have evolved and adapted to new market realities with often Orwellian conceptual innovations to evidence injustice and thus drive political change and their continued funding. From junk science mandatory tests for unconscious biases in corporate boardrooms to students being paid to police alleged unintentional micro-aggressions in our universities, forms of embedded egalitarianism are often illiberal and increasingly authoritarian.

A ‘grievance industrial complex’ exists to evidence the above, but in a market of diminishing inequality, the complex must adapt with ever more bizarre and illiberal conceptual innovations to make sure demand for one’s services is maintained in the context of a diminishing supply of injustice.

Philosophically, this grievance industry deliberately conflates equal outcomes with equal opportunities. The script is familiar. If there’s an unequal outcome, anywhere and at any point, likely explanatory variables are ignored in favour of an amorphous ‘systemic’ conspiracy to reproduce a system of discrimination. It does not matter that this ‘systemic’ conspiracy is totally at odds with readily available data on the incredible financial, educational and cultural advances of the UK’s diverse population.

Conveniently, ‘justice’ is achieved by a redistributive agent of technocrats to intervene to impose equal outcomes in the name of social justice and to combat this ‘systemic’ conspiracy. Similar to the USSR, this conception shifts debates from an examination of underlying processes that allow humans to participate equally to one of top down imposition to achieve outcome parity, usually by a self-interested elite that has a self-interest in mission creep and the maintenance of their power.

The Conservative Party must reboot its philosophical thinking around this crucial distinction: there has been a dangerous and lazy drift across British institutional life from equality of opportunity that is entirely consistent and optimal for a functional market democracy to one of equity or equality of outcomes.

To the extent that the latter conception wins out over the former, conservatives will keep losing battle after battle in what is in fact an ever hotter and ongoing value-conflict raging within the anglophone West.

Of far more strategic significance however, is the foundation upon which this grievance industrial complex sits. It is quite shocking that, after ten years of Conservatives in government, the Equality Act of 2010 has been left totally unreformed.

Although this legislation was intended to safeguard access to equal opportunities, it has in fact morphed into the central juridical weapon of the left. In particular, section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 – the Public Sector Equality duty – has breathed into being an army of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officials across huge swathes of national life.

Through mission creep, this has imposed huge costs on our public sector, helped shift social discourse to one of outcome equality as being the central metric and weaponized the duty to ‘foster good relations’ to transform organisational cultures in often highly illiberal ways.

No doubt the ‘optics’ of reform will be seized on by political opponents, but this is why the party should bundle this up within a much broader cultural offering: a reassertion of the primacy of the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom of speech and conscience and equality of all before the law, regardless of creed, class or colour.

It is these values that have helped challenge dogma, champion freedom and defend those gains once made. These are now under radical assault, with those questioning the orthodoxies of the ‘great awokening’ often targeted for harassment and censure. The Conservative Party should lay a firm claim to the enlightenment tradition and let that be its lodestar in the culture wars. Failure to do so will place our current dispensation in deep peril; it is time to wake up.

Ryan Bourne: A lesson from this pandemic. State action fails even when the case for it is strongest.

16 Sep

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

A week may be a long time in politics, but a fortnight seems an eternity. A two-week period that started with Ministers urging everyone back to work, ended with “the rule of six,” Covid Marshalls, and discussion of curfews and a phone line for people to dob in neighbours for breaching pandemic laws.

If the sharp pivot in public health policy was a shock, the tone about enforcement was more jarring. It’s one thing to set clear guidance, buttressed with legally-enforceable regulations that, in reality, depend on an honour system. It’s another to brief papers of threatening enforcement of unpoliceable laws.

Gone is Boris Johnson the instinctive libertarian, imposing restrictions with a heavy heart. Conservatives now push authoritarian messaging. If nothing else, this doesn’t seem a sustainable way to get buy-in for infectious disease control. Especially since the government’s own mixed messages are a large part of the problem.

The implicit Coronavirus strategy has changed (again), but the Government has not publicly spelt it out. They aren’t trying to suppress the virus, it seems, but now want to protect much formal market activity to boost GDP (hence, school openings and “get back to work”), while sacrificing much socializing in recompense.

Without articulating that trade-off, the public is bemused: Rishi Sunak’s been subsidising indoor dining, but you now can’t have dinner with your own extended family. More than six kids can congregate at school. but not outside for a birthday party. Wedding rehearsal meals are banned, but wedding reception dinners for up to 30 are fine. You can mix with people at work, but can’t gather for a pint.

These rules strike people not so much as “confusing” (as journalists claim), but stupid. They know the virus isn’t choosy between work and leisure, and that the value of each is subjective. The British people complied with measures when they had public health coherence. Now, our Government is imposing its values of what’s important, but without saying so, and while brandishing a bigger stick.

So it’s unsurprising to see a more liberty-conscious pushback now. But I suspect this reflects more than just “Covid fatigue”, or lesser willingness to comply following the Dominic Cummings episode. At least some of it appears to be waning confidence in government’s abilities too.

For years, certain Conservatives have pushed the party to discuss “the good government can do” to distance themselves from us pesky libertarians, with our supposed vice-like grip on keeping the party freedom-oriented. It was always a delusional read on reality, but, as it happens, most British free-marketeers recognised early on that Covid-19 was a genuine collective action problem requiring government involvement and guidance.

Steve Baker’s emotional speech to Parliament exhibited the sentiments of most of us. We acknowledged the uncertainties, and so tolerated the crude initial lockdown, but demanded it be limited in time and used for something—preferably to build a competent, rapid test-and-trace system that could help normalise economic life and provide feedback about where risks occurred.

The failures in delivering even this, however, have been a textbook case study in why governments fail. The early centralised approach to testing and provision of PPE showed the limits of government planning. Lockdowns caused a raft of unintended consequences. Some vested interests have been given favourable treatment in policy or guidance. Officials downplayed the potential efficacy of masks, because they wrongly thought of markets as zero-sum, rather than dynamic. Recent attempts to fine-tune human behaviour week-to-week in the North West has proven about as successful as Keynesian fine-tuning of the economy in the 1970s. A libertarian making the case against government intervention couldn’t have scripted it better.

The consequence of all this is a growing hopelessness about government. Johnson is right that a daily rapid testing regime, for example, could be a gamechanger, as economists agree. But judging from the reaction I got last week in explaining why, the public thinks the state is incapable of delivering. I was regaled with horror story after horror story on access to even existing testing, now confirmed by news reports. Confidence in the “moonshot” is non-existent.

If state planning worked in winning War World Two, it was asked, why not have government build a New Jerusalem in peacetime? I wonder: will government failures in this pandemic lead to an attitudinal change away from faith in government action. just after the Conservatives have embraced it? Why would you trust people promising to use government power to “rebalance of the economy” by “doubling down on leveling up” when it has made such a pig’s ear of a core competence?

To be clear: I disagree with other libertarian friends who think the pandemic is by-and-large over, and that we can “get back to normal.” I’m not making a point about epidemiology. What I’m saying is that the pandemic has provided a crash course in how government fails even in instances where the case for suspending freedoms is strongest. It’s possible the public may just blame this particular government for “incompetence,” of course. But if they do generalise, then we may find inadvertent new converts to the cause of freedom through cruel experience.

Jason Reed: Who stands for freedom in America? Neither Trump nor Biden speak for me.

2 Sep

Jason Reed is a student at the LSE. He is Deputy Editor of 1828.

Watching America’s quadrennial political reckoning from across the pond, one thing is becoming clearer than ever before. The US’s rigid two-party system and increasingly polarised socio-political discourse are leaving liberty-lovers and freedom-fighters politically homeless.

I believe in freedom. I want the government to get out of people’s lives. I think people should be allowed to conduct themselves however they wish. On economic issues, I am a tax-slashing capitalist; on social issues, a forward-looking progressive. This is neither a radical nor unusual political standpoint.

In the UK, the centre-right Conservative party caters to my politics. Sure, it’s a broad church – there are many whose views differ from mine, on both social and economic issues – but there are more than enough free marketeers and social liberals to make me feel politically represented, despite the occasional blip here and there. In America, though, neither party caters to what I believe in. Very few American politicians seem to believe in freedom.

In the UK’s two-party system, the Conservative Party – of which I am a member – is the right-leaning one. So, I should support the Republicans, since they represent the right-leaning half of America’s political dichotomy. Right?

If only it were that simple. The British political landscape is not at all mirrored by its trans-Atlantic cousin. The Republican party is not the same as the Conservative party. We Conservatives are much more moderate on the whole – centre-right, rather than right-wing – and, crucially, the Tory party is a much broader church than the GOP, which is narrow and dogmatic.

That means there is a great deal of overlap between the Conservatives and Democrats. Rory Stewart, who was a leading candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party just last year, is a former adviser to President Obama.

If Donald Trump were a British politician, he would be Nigel Farage. Too nationalistic for the Conservative party, claiming to speak for the silent majority, hinging his political relevance on the white working class and dishing out equal parts fear and anger in his politics.

Farage was only prevented from rising to the top of British politics in the same way Trump did in the US thanks to our electoral system. The ‘mother of parliaments’ does an excellent job of keeping populist crackpots at arm’s length. Trump’s political career would have failed in the UK, too.

This brand of politician can only win power when a presidential system allows them to exploit personality politics – and the hefty bank accounts of their donors – in order to soar to the top in one fell swoop, independent of establishmentarian party machinery.

Trump could never be a Tory. Republicanism means something fundamentally different to conservatism.

The GOP has no regard for fiscal conservatism. It embraces a backwards mercantilism, which it combines with its heinous nativism, resulting in a soup of nationalistic dogma. ‘Britain First’ is the name of a fascist group which was expelled from the political mainstream a long time ago. ‘America First’, in much the same way, represents everything fans of freedom ought to stand against.

Donald ‘Tariff Man’ Trump is the walking, talking reality of everything wrong with nationalism – and he single-handedly unlocked American politics, winning millions over with his hollow, affirming rhetoric. He and his ideological brethren will dictate the direction of the Republican party for at least a generation.

Although the British government’s current position on trans rights, for instance, is unsavoury, there is a genuine, vibrant debate within the party. A group of backbenchers, elected by the alleged tradcon loyalists who supposedly make up the northern Red Wall constituencies, recently banded together to call for a change of direction. A U-turn on this issue is not unforeseeable.

Conversely, Trump embracing trans rights and representation could hardly be any less likely. The man who banned trans people from armed service, citing fictitious “health concerns”, is not going to change his mind on his issue, and neither is anyone else in his party.

The Republican base of Tucker Carlson addicts laps up this kind of clumsy, directionless social conservatism. The more extreme, the better. Triggering the wets and owning the libs is now the only path to victory. A lack of English reserve is killing the American right.

The American left is no more attractive. Democrats are statists, albeit in varying degrees. Joe Biden wants to wrap America up in a red-tape pie and then take it out at the knees with a horrifyingly haphazard tax plan. His running mate, Kamala ‘Cop’ Harris, is an institutional racism enthusiast and a raging authoritarian.

Of the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination, only Andrew Yang spoke any sense to liberals (in the true sense of the word). But even he was frustratingly pessimistic on the power of big tech, AI and the free market to effect real change. And, of course, his winning the nomination would only have guaranteed a second term for Trump. The realistic choices were always two different brands of ultra-interventionist.

Washington’s two-party system is so unforgiving that there is no escape from this mire. Britain has a two-party system too, of course. And yet, a third party was in government barely five years ago. And last year, the governing party came in fifth in a national election. In the US, even those who loyally back the strongest third-party force – the Libertarians – have no hope of representation.

Freedom in America, then, is not some controversial idea which most are too cautious to touch. It is simply forgotten. An entire nation’s discourse has tossed liberty aside without a second thought, leaving its citizens with a stark choice between dangerous socialists and climate-denying racists.

The result is a political landscape that is openly hostile towards liberty. America has slipped into the very human trap of sorting the world into left and right, black and white, good and evil. Twelve per cent of members of the House of Commons are neither Conservative nor Labour, whereas every member of America’s representative bodies was elected as a Democrat or a Republican.

There are rare glimmers of hope in the likes of Rand Paul and Justin Amash but for the most part, freedom is absent from contemporary American politics. Our Atlantic cousins have become so plagued by polarisation that they have abandoned liberalism altogether.

The United States of America was built on the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those ideas ought to be timeless. America needs to rediscover itself. Its politics has become so overwhelmed by the weight of modern discourse and the beast of rolling news that an entire nation has forgotten what it once believed in.

Free speech for Wiley?

26 Jul

Our older readers will be familiar with Wiley – the rapper who last week posted a series of anti-semitic remarks on social media.

We linger on one tweet only, in which he undertook a whirlwind tour of the Israel-Palestine dispute, claiming that “I cannot be upset about two sets of people killing each other on land that belongs to us anyway”.  This is a Black Israelite trope – the claim that black people are real descendants of the biblical Hebrews.

It takes a unique diplomatic talent to deny the rights of both Jews and Palestinians simultaneously.  At any rate, it goes almost without saying that Wiley’s posts were deeply stupid, disgusting, and self-defeating.

On that last point, Wiley has lost his manager, John Woolf, a self-described “proud Jewish man” who first clung to his client, saying that “as someone who has known him for 12 years I know he does not truly feel this way,” but soon let him go – an admission that Wiley does truly feel this way.

The point about our more aged readers is not a piece of self-trolling, incidentally.  At 41, Wiley isn’t exactly a slip of a grime artist almost young enough to know no better.

Anti-semitism these days is found more often on the Left than the Right, so it is tempting for a conservative site simply to slag off Wiley, as we do above, and move on.  But if free speech demands anything, it demands even more than Orwell’s famous quote about liberty meaning “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.

For above all, it requires championing their right to free speech even when – no: especially when – they make remarks that we find reprehensible.

This is not to say that wicked words should escape consequences.  For example, Wiley is a Spurs fan.  So Tottenham Hotspur would be perfectly entitled to bar him from its stadium (assuming that he ever goes there).  That is its right as a free institution.  For what it’s worth, we hope that it does.

Twitter is a different matter.  After all, Spurs have not carved out, for all their footballing seniority, a culture-shaping space in the public square.  Twitter has.

At the time we publish, it has havered about with Wiley, deleting some of his posts but maintaining his account. There is a case for arguing that since Twitter is a private company, it is thus entitled to set its own rules for users – banning Katie Hopkins, for example, but tolerating Richard Cowie (Wiley’s real name).

Furthermore, it may be that Twitter is a rocket that will be brought crashing down to earth by the weight of its woke “hateful conduct policy” – and its double standards. Or, if you like, that will be outsmarted by more agile competitors.

We are not convinced.  Government already intervenes in the public arena – and must do, since the latter must be policed by the law. And it is Parliament that makes and unmakes law, government that must implement it, and the courts that must uphold it.  (Judges should also discover rather than make law, but that’s another subject.)

It follows that the law should always have a presumption in favour of protecting free speech.  So just as there’s argument for saying that what Twitter does is simply its own business, there’s also one for saying that is isn’t.

Which returns us to Wiley.  The Campaign against Anti-Semitism has reported him to the police and called for prosecution. If his posts broke the law, then so be it.  But not everything that is offensive is illegal, or should be.  To give an example in this area, Holocaust denial is not a crime in the UK, as it is in some other European countries.

There are a number of pragmatic arguments either way, but one of principle, rightly, holds: that free speech within the law is an ideal worth preserving, and that it should apply when the Holocaust is denied.

We would like to see it extended in the world of work.  Consider the case, for example, of Nick Buckley, recently reinstated as Chief Executive Officer of Mancunian Way, a charity.  He had been sacked after a social media storm in the wake of remarks he had made that were critical of Black Lives Matter.

The point is that he should never have been dismissed in the first place, and further free speech safeguards might have made the charity’s trustees pause before forcing him out.  (They themselves have now resigned.)

Then there is the story of Stephen Lamonby, dismissed as a part-time lecturer after making remarks about Jewish people that ventured into the perilous world of genetics, but which were positive.  Or of Gillian Phillips, a children’s author, fired as an author by Working Partners for tweeting support for J.K.Rowling over the trans issue.

Wiley makes music. He doesn’t help to run a charity or write books or lecture in a university.  This being so, what happens next is straighforward, or should be.

We hope that he will be ridiculed and ostracised, and that people boycott what he produces – which is admittedly, to paraphrase Shrek’s Lord Farquaad, a sacrifice that some of us are willing to make. What he can’t be, since the circumstances don’t apply – and shouldn’t be automatically, were they to do so – is  “cancelled”, i.e: sacked.

At least, not until or unless he were to be convicted by a court.  Let us spell it out in plain terms.  In this case, Woolf worked for Wiley, not the reverse.

And since Woolf worked for Wiley, he had the right to withdraw his services.  But were it the other way round, Woolf should not have the right to sack Wiley – or, rather, not an unqualified one (unless or until he is convicted, as we say.)

The right of a company to protect its reputation must be balanced by the right of a worker to free speech. Reprimands, penalties: yes.  Dismissal: not necessarily.

Overall, the Government should be reviewing the balance of the law to protect free speech – a natural companion to Gavin Williamson’s new drive to protect free speech in universities. To rework Dunning on the powers of the Crown, the Cancel Culture has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.