“No-one voted for Brexit to become poorer.” Really? We vote to deny ourselves money all the time.

Security, cohesion, integration, solidarity: all are intangible. But we pay – literally – to gain them. Why single out self-government?

Philip Hammond may have coined the phrase – an appropriate use of the term, in this case.  “No-one voted to become poorer or less secure,” he told the Conservative Party Conference in 2016, less than six months after the Brexit referendum vote.  As others have taken those words up, the last three have tended to drop off it.  But was he right?

Obviously, even as senior a Minister as the Chancellor cannot have read the minds of all 17 million plus of those who backed Leave – the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything in a British poll.  But let us leave the point there, and turn to his own department’s forecasts.  The Treasury’s median long-term estimate is that a WTO-based outcome would reduce cumulative growth over 15 years from about 25 per cent to about 17 per cent.  In other words, GDP would, under this scenario, be eight per cent lower than it would otherwise be.  It would rise more slowly, not fall.

So even the Treasury, the high temple of Remain, doesn’t expect us to become poorer – but rather, less rich than we would otherwise be.  You may counter that this lost growth would mean lost wages and tax receipts, lower spending and higher tax.  Or that some short-term forecasts do suggest that we will become poorer this year in the event of No Deal.  (The CBI is pushing a very-worst-case scenario today.)

We could come back by pouring cold water on all such forecasts, starting with George Osborne’s referendum campaign projections of an “immediate” recession, half a million more people unemployed, and house prices 18 per cent lower than they would otherwise have been.  Instead, the economy grew, unemployment fell and house prices rose.  But rather than vanish into a statistical snowstorm, we ask our readers to view Hammond’s statement from a different angle – two angles, to be precise.

The first is from the Left.  Trident costs the taxpayer roughly £2 billion a year.  That money could instead be spent on tax cuts or public services.  Very many on the Left (and some on the Right) argue that it should be.  They say that we don’t use Trident, wouldn’t ever use it, shouldn’t ever use it.  The cash should go instead on schools or hospitals or benefits or childcare.

Next, mull an argument from the Right.  Overseas aid comes at a price of about £14 billion annually.  Again, that money could be spent on public services or tax cuts – or, the Right being the Right, on debt repayment.  A lot of people on it – and a sprinkling on the Left – hold that development aid is wasted or stolen and perverts incentives and is subject to the law of unintended consequences.

Now stand back from the fray, and ponder a stubborn fact.  Voters consistently back Trident and aid.  No, that’s not quite right.  Rather, put it this way: voters consistently return governments committed to both.  Then turn to another subject to illustrate the same point.

Pro-migration campaigners argue that it makes us richer – both overall and per head.  Others dispute that claim.  Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that those campaigners are right.  Even if every single voter could be persuaded of this, there is reason to doubt that all of them would come round to wanting higher rather than lower migration.  Very many would believe that there would still be costs in some places to higher immigration – in terms, for example, of pressure on housing.  And then there is the i-word: integration.

At which point, it is worth standing back from Hammond’s statement, and asking not whether he was right or wrong, but what he actually meant – or implied.  Who is the “no-one” in question?  Who are those to whom he glancingly refers?  Obviously, the British people.  But that’s a term which invites further thought.

In one sense, the British people is a single entity; in another, it is lots of groups of people, breaking down in turn into families and individuals.  Many of them help to pay for others.  Older people tend not to use schools, but they help to fund them.  Younger people use the NHS less than older ones, but they help to pay for it.  Londoners, some say, subsidise the rest of the UK.  And so on and so forth.

Readers will see where all this is going.  At each election, we vote to “make ourselves poorer”, in the sense of becoming less rich than we otherwise would be.  We plump for Trident because we worry about our security (to reprise the Chancellor’s word); or for lower migration because we think it will mean more cohesion, or for overseas aid because of solidarity with those who suffer. We vote to fund public services we don’t use and parts of the country we don’t live in.  Security, cohesion, solidarity: these are intangibles.  They can’t be touched or smelled or tasted – seen or heard.  They may lead to material gains, but they are not material themselves.  None comes with a price tag, but all have value.

Let’s end by illustrating the point.  John Hume was fond of quoting his anti-sectarian father, who used to say: “you can’t eat a flag”.  True – and anyone who has tried to do so has presumably been disappointed.  But the reverse also applies.  No-one, we suspect, has ever sung: “I vow to thee, my breakfast.”  Those intangibles – such as self-government, to cite another – matter.  From one point of view, the desire for the last is a form of solidarity or even for, to use a more EU-ish word, subsidiarity.

You can properly reply that self-government and patriotism aren’t the same thing, or even that they don’t overlap at all.  So be it.  What you can’t do, this site believes, is claim that Brexit alone, uniquely, exceptionally, will make us less rich than we otherwise would be (if it does so at all).  By commission, by omission, in the ballot booth and out of it, we opt to do this all the time – almost without noticing.

Robert Halfon: Why are white working class boys underachieving in our schools?

Rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

The educational prospects of white disadvantaged boys make for uncomfortable reading, and the first chapter begins in the early years. Some can barely string a sentence together by the time they start primary school. The proportion of Year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard of phonic decoding is 13 per cent lower than it is for black disadvantaged boys, and 23 per cent lower than it is for Asian disadvantaged girls.

As they continue to stumble through the rest of their education, any outline of promise diminishes further still. At GCSE level, all disadvantaged ethnic groups outperform their disadvantaged white peers. For example, the average Attainment 8 score per pupil is just 29.5 for white boys eligible for free school meals, compared to 40.5 for Asian disadvantaged males.

Life chances become bleaker at the point of higher education. Disadvantaged white pupils are 40 per cent less likely to go to higher education than disadvantaged black peers and disadvantaged Asian students are twice as likely to attend the most selective institutions than disadvantaged white students.

There are many reasons for the underachievement of disadvantaged white boys. Some people like to talk about a lack of aspiration. I disagree. It is not that white disadvantaged boys themselves do not want to succeed. Who doesn’t want to prosper in life? Ask any young man, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and I am sure that they have an idea, even if they do not have the confidence to voice it aloud. In fact, studies show that aspiration is unfailingly high in all social groups.

So rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, it is the lack of social capital that we should be focusing on. White disadvantaged boys cannot even play the game that is the competitive jobs market, whilst their wealthier peers win every time. They do not have access to the same know-how, extracurricular opportunities and social networks to build soft skills and boost their prospects in the jobs market.

One way to level the playing field is to provide comprehensive careers advice and meaningful work experience. At the moment, we are way off the mark. Around one in five schools do not even meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks – international markers of sound careers advice. Careers advice must be transformed into careers and skills advice; a one-stop-shop – a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for Further Education and Apprenticeships.

It is also important to understand what is driving disengagement with education. Disadvantaged white communities do not always make the link between educational success and getting a good job.

Professor Green, an award-winning rapper (and an unlikely reference I’ll admit), explored the lives of six young white men from deprived backgrounds in his documentary, Working Class White Men. Among those interviewed was 18-year-old Lewis Croney. Despite having defied his odds to secure a place to study Maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, Croney explained that he still faced scepticism from home, saying: “I’ve had people asking me why I’m going to Cambridge, why am I putting myself through three years or more of higher education when I could go straight into a job,” said Croney. Once this perception is embedded, it undermines educational performance.

One need only look at London to see how investment in good schooling can be transformative. Previously riddled with underperforming schools, our capital now proudly boasts an education landscape that is turning around many disadvantaged children’s’ lives. White boys in London who are eligible for free school meals perform better than those in other parts of the country.

There are so many things that can be done to stem underperformance for white disadvantaged children. But to do so, we need a proper, focused government strategy and it should start with the early years.

From a very young age, white working-class children have poor educational outcomes. Good quality childcare can help enormously. Children who attend high-quality settings for two to three years are almost eight months ahead of children who attend none. But, many families struggle with the cost of childcare. How can we justify giving major concessions, in the form of 30 hours of free childcare to 3-4-year-olds and tax-free childcare, to couples earning as much as £200,000 a year? We should reduce the current thresholds for 30 hours/tax-free childcare and redirect funding to help disadvantaged parents.

All schools in disadvantaged areas should be good. But good schools need good teachers and schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract good, experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Instead, more experienced teachers tend to gravitate towards less disadvantaged schools.

£72 million is spent on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having. How about using this money on things that are proven to improve failing schools, like great teachers and great training?

Finally, it is crucial that all educational routes – not just the traditional academic ones – are top notch. All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, well-oiled part of the educational machinery that exists. In Switzerland, for example, around 70 per cent of students undertake apprenticeships.

When done well, apprenticeships change lives – they allow people to grow their skills, increasing employability and earning potential. Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them. The Government should incentivise their growth and they could do this by drawing down on the Apprenticeships Levy.

However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships. Both the existence of apprenticeships and their value should be hard-wired into careers advice.

So a fairer distribution of funding to boost access to quality early years provision; spending money more wisely to bring great quality teaching to all schools; revolutionising careers support and putting rocket boosters on technical learning – these should be the core pillars of government strategy.

The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences. People must have a good education to climb the ladder of opportunity, and it is well within our collective ability to make sure this happens.

Jonathan Clark: Is it time to sweep away our party system – and clear the decks for Leave v Remain?

The electorate are less and less convinced by such arguments about party identity and destiny. Far underground, the tectonic plates are moving.

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

Nobody knows when the next Tokyo earthquake will happen. Nobody knows what, exactly, will cause it. All we know is that it is statistically overdue, that it is inevitable, and that it will cause major damage. How does the world economy prepare for this shock? It does nothing. Perhaps nothing can be done.

Similarly with the UK party system. Every 60 or 80 or a hundred years there is a fundamental crisis, a realignment, a radical recasting of the structure of parties in the face of new forces, new challenges, new problems.

The last time was when the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party in the years after the First World War. The previous occasion was when the Liberal Party split over the issue of free trade versus imperial preference. The time before that was when the Conservative Party split over Robert Peel’s repeal of the Corm Laws, that protectionist system designed to preserve the ascendancy of the landowners in the arable areas of England.

Now again we see a single unavoidable, fundamental, non-negotiable issue at the forefront of national life. Both the major parties are split on it, and in a state of rending, agonizing civil war. The Liberal Democrats are at one, but make little electoral capital out of their unanimity. These stresses seem unlikely to go away. Indeed, they are daily increasing.

Is it, then, time for a structural realignment of parties and party allegiances? Would the public interest be better served if there were just two major groups, a Leave Party and a Remain Party? Then the electorate would know what they were getting. They would no longer suspect that their representatives were saying one thing but about to do the opposite. Democratic participation would receive a massive boost. Consistent policies could be framed and carried through. We might even spell out when and how referenda could be held.

After all, it could hardly be said that the current parties do what it says on their tins. Whatever its origins, today’s Labour Party hardly dedicates itself to forwarding the interest of labourers, people who toil in productive employments to advance the interests of themselves and their families. It is no secret that the Labour movement is an alliance of trades unionists with public sector employees and welfare claimants. That alliance now dictates the ideological content of the party’s agenda more than the earlier attempt to boost the prosperity of labourers.

The Lib Dems fare no better. If Liberalism had a clear historic meaning, it revolved around free trade in the years when the merchants and manufacturers of the Manchesters and the Bradfords exported their products around the world. Now, Lib Dems instinctively side with the greatest international protectionist group, the EU. Once, Liberals campaigned for franchise extension and more frequent elections; today, they instinctively repudiate the result of the greatest ever popular vote in the UK; they endorse an EU in which the electorate cannot remove the executive from power, and representatives cannot initiate legislation.

The Conservatives are in little better shape. The National Trust, which conserves things, has five million members and rising; the Conservative Party, which conserves nothing, has a hundred thousand members and falling. Once, the Conservative Party conserved institutions, like the monarchy, the Lords, the Church of England, the armed forces, Oxford and Cambridge, the family. But all these are now embarrassing topics for many of its leaders, and the party is one of radical reform (even if it delivers much less of that than in the age of Margaret Thatcher).

The electorate may say: what, then, is the point of all of this? Why not sweep the career politicians away and begin again with a new set of faces, people with talent, ideas, principles, and candour? Why not have a spring cleaning of the Commons and the Lords in the manner of Macron? Electors could all list many honourable and able politicians who would deserve to survive such a cull; the problem is that the public increasingly thinks that that number is outweighed by others who would not.

What are the arguments against such a reconstruction? That the major parties are great stores of wisdom and experience. That their leaders are practical, prudent men and women who have taken moderate, feasible steps in policy. That public affairs are well administered. That the parties have big money behind them. That major change would cause uncertainty. Inertia.

The strongest argument in favour of the traditional parties’ divine right to continue in their present forms is that each of them embodies an essence, a set of ideas and ideals that is handed on from generation to generation and that inspire the living to complete the great work of their predecessors. Youthful politicians still sometimes write slim volumes attempting to outline that essence. As a matter of historical method, this task was always difficult; some people may now think it impossible.

The larger problem is that the electorate are less and less convinced by such arguments about party identity and destiny. Far underground, the tectonic plates are moving. There is a deep murmur rising from dark places. A suspicion is growing that public affairs are not well conducted, and that (in all the major parties) a Third Eleven is only shielding itself from insight and appraisal by the widespread use of non-disclosure agreements.

As a member of a political party, this intellectual hollowing out of parties distresses me. As a voter, what is happening in public policy formation and execution alarms me. Perhaps the show will be kept on the road after all; but, in that case, I would be reassured if it could be better shown what the rationale for the continuance of present party divisions is. But perhaps it will not.

Desmond Swayne: Weaning parents off disposable nappies

We must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

The message from the Budget is clear: consumers have made their views known on plastic packaging. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s empower people to cut down on other single-use plastics to benefit the environment, reduce waste and emissions in our over-stretched waste systems, and support household finances.

Both Defra and the Treasury have spent considerable departmental time and resource exploring how to influence consumer and industry behaviour when it comes to cutting plastic consumption, and rightly so.  For now, Philip Hammond says he is content to rely on industry to drive plastic use down rather than resort to taxation. Industry, especially hospitality and independent food retailers, have taken proactive steps over the last twelve months. I’m pleased to see that extraneous packaging has been banished from the majority of fruit and veg in our supermarkets, and plastic straws have been replaced by waxy paper ones in pubs and bars across the country.

But this is only the start. With a recent UN study finding that we have only twelve years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, people are only now realising it is their own responsibility to limit their impact on the planet – and that they must do this by making real changes to their daily routine.

The good news is that changes can be made quickly and to good effect – and this is why I was pleased to see the subject of reusable nappies being raised by Michael Gove at Party Conference this year. We’ve targeted straws, cotton buds, balloon sticks and shrink-wrap. Disposables, which currently make up four to six per cent of household waste, are the obvious next step.

The average baby uses 4000 nappies up to potty training, the majority of which will go to landfill: eight million of them every day in the UK alone. As well as taking up a large proportion of limited landfill space and putting significant pressure on our waste-collection services, disposable nappies typically contain around 30 per cent plastic material which can end up polluting land or water resources.

Whilst it would not be a very Conservative measure to ban disposables, especially given the other pressures young families have to contend with, we must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice. The time is right for Government to support this with practical and effective policy. Defra is consulting about how to end the use of single-life plastic straws and plastic-handled cotton buds which is important.

But it should also address two aspects of the use of disposable nappies. First, it should consider how to ensure that the plastics used in disposable nappies are as biodegradable and as harmless to the environment as possible. I understand that is something manufacturers are considering, but the development of a realistic disposable recycling system is still at a nascent stage.

Second, we need to look at how to share adequate information with consumers to enable them to make informed decisions – particularly about the impact that disposable nappies will have on the environment, even when they are responsibly removed to landfill. How long do disposable nappies take to biodegrade? What are the products of that process and what are their effects on the environment? What happens to nappies that are not responsibly disposed of, but end up in our watercourses and seas?

Parents should also know how modern reusable nappies work. I understand that nowadays reusables are light-weight and easy to wash – far removed from the heavy terry towelling models of days gone by. This is information that new parents could receive when they are given their Bounty packs during maternity care. Most importantly, parents need to know that it doesn’t have to be a case of all or nothing. An Environment Agency study found that, if parents swap to just one reusable a day, they can save using 800 nappies over the first 2-3 years of a child’s life, and make significant reductions to their own carbon footprint, not to mention savings to the household purse.

The Government has a tremendous opportunity here: better information for consumers; more biodegradable and safer plastics; less plastic going to landfill; reducing the emissions created through waste management; and a burnishing of the government’s green credentials. This policy initiative would be entirely consistent with the Environment Secretary’s record of green pragmatism and with his determination to make a difference to our environment; a small but impactful step that chimes with the growing traction of consumer responsibility.