Iain Mansfield: We must recapture the commanding heights of society from the Left

It has secured an overwhelming dominance. Until or unless this changes, the Right may win elections – but to limited effect.

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

A stark feature of the 2017 election was the emergence of an army of independent groups and organisations backing Labour, with very few backing the Conservatives. From ivory trading to welfare reform, school funding to tuition fees, influential groups were queuing up to support the policies of the Left. The election demonstrated that whilst the Conservative Party can still win more votes, the Left has secured an overwhelming dominance amongst those traditionally seen as opinion formers and societal leaders.

A poll held shortly before the election found that fewer than one in ten university staff members were planning to vote Conservative. Statistics amongst teachers are similar, with the BBC recently quoting a former Conservative teacher as saying, “Walking into a teachers’ room is like walking into a socialist convention.” The major charities, many of which receive the bulk of their funding directly from the state rather than from individuals, are vastly more sympathetic to Labour, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as other senior bishops, regularly criticise Conservative policies in the press. The civil service is a little more balanced, though the startlingly consistent views of former permanent secretaries on Brexit demonstrates that the broad church of conservatism does not appear to be well-represented at the highest levels.

It wasn’t always this way. The Church of England was once known as ‘The Tory Party at prayer’, whilst the Sir Humphreys of their day were stalwarts of conservatism. Academia has always had a Marxist streak, but as late as the 1950s it was credible for CP Snow to set a novel in a Cambridge college divided into left-wing and right-wing factions. The Left also had its strongholds, from the trade unions to the Fabian Society, which groups on both sides contributing to the public debate.

We cannot simply abandon entire swathes of society to the left. This is true not simply for the short-term goal of winning votes, but  because of the importance of such institutions in shaping society as a whole, including via the education of the young and the contribution to political and societal discourse. An important part to this is ensuring there are no areas of society where Conservative voices cannot be heard, as Sam Gyimah, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others are doing with their campus tours. But if we are to reclaim these institutions for conservatism, we must do much more.

A more positive approach to the public sector

As Conservatives, we rightly believe that the private sector can often do a better job than the public sector at delivering the outcomes that people want. It is important to remember, however, that this is for structural reasons: the incredible power of prices as signalling mechanisms, or the way that meaningful competition can unleash innovation and improvements in performance.

Too often when speaking on this subject, some Conservative politicians give the impression that they believe that people who work in the private sector are innately better, more capable or harder working – a conclusion that is not just wrong, as anyone who has spoken to a nurse or teacher will tell you, but which understandably alienates hard working public sector employees, driving them into the arms of our opponents. When championing the  private sector we must ensure we do so for the right reasons, and do not simultaneous denigrate the public sector.

Alongside this, as many Conservative MPs have already called for, we must take a more compassionate approach to public sector salaries, particularly for those on lower and middle incomes. The touch decisions taken by the Coalition to freeze pay and reform pensions were badly needed, but after eight years of pay restraint, salary increases in line with inflation are essential if we are to granted a fair hearing.

Strategically selecting Conservatives when making public appointments

Many of the most important public decisions in the UK are not made by government ministers, but by arms-length bodies. Ministers have little direct control over such bodies, but the principal power they do have is to appoint their leadership, typically including the chief executive, air and board members. Unfortunately, whilst Labour ministers typically appoint individuals who share their values, Conservative ministers have typically taken a more even-handed approach, meaning – as ConservativeHome has long recognised – Labour supporters are significantly over-represented in such positions.

Encouraging more applications is a good start; however, it is not sufficient. Conservative ministers must ensure that they actively select appointees who share conservative values. If necessary they must be willing to use their existing powers to overrule officials’ advice and insist either on reopening applications, or appointing an otherwise qualified individual.

I am not suggesting that every appointee must be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. There are many excellent individuals for whom their political views, whatever they may be, do not significantly impact their professional outlook or decisions. There may also be some exceptions: foreign policy, for example, is an area where left and right often agree and which therefore may allow cross-party appointments, as illustrated in art by President Santos’s appointment of Arnold Vinick as Secretary of State, or in life by the superb recent appointment of Gisela Stuart as Chair of Wilton Park. But in the main, to hand over large swathes off our economic and social landscape to those who are open Labour supporters, active in the left-wing union movement, or otherwise opponents of conservatism does great harm to our cause.

Dismantle New Labour’s left-wing policy laws

One of Blair and Brown’s most insidious legacies is the number of laws that enshrine a left-wing bias in our policy making. Little known by the general public, and often included as part of otherwise worthwhile Acts, such clauses force civil servants to couch their advice in the language of the Left; not due to bias on their part, but through rightful, dutiful adherence to the law of the land.

The Human Rights Act’s commandment that ministers must consider the human rights implication of any Bill brought before Parliament; the ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ in the (otherwise positive) Equalities Act; the so-called ‘fair access’ regime in university admissions; and the exclusion of the UK’s national interest from the International Development: these laws, amongst others, create a policy framework in which left-wing views find fertile fruit more readily than conservative ones. The systematic amendment of such Acts is a vital part of restoring the civil service’s ability to genuinely provide objective, impartial advice to ministers.

The commanding heights of society

When Tony Blair revised Clause IV of the Labour Party’s constitution, it was taken as a sign that he had renounced Marx’s instruction for the state to take control of the commanding heights of the economy. Not only was this judgement premature, as Corbyn’s return to fully-fledged socialism demonstrates, we overlooked the way the left was establishing its dominance across society. If the Conservative party is to thrive in the twenty-first century, we must act now to reclaim the commanding heights of society for conservatism.

Iain Dale: After Sitwell’s sacking, will I be the next journalist to be fired for offending snowflakes?

Plus: When The Sun doesn’t shine and the Home Office doesn’t work. P.S: In solidarity with the former Waitrose food magazine editor, I will eat steak.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

A good example of how The Sun manipulates its readers could be found in Wednesday’s edition. Matt Dathan had a story about how the foreign aid budget will now top £14 billion. In The Sun’s eyes, this is clearly a disgrace. Dathan wrote: “Data buried in the budget said that spending would rise £230 million next year and £190 million in 2019-20. The combine sum is £20 million higher than the £400 million given to schools for “’little extras they need’.”

He failed to point out that the money for schools is an extra in-year allocation payable in this financial year. It’s hardly comparing like with like. A more legitimate piece of political criticism would have been to criticise the tin-rated Treasury politicians, advisers and civil servants who failed to spot that spending  £20 million more on potholes than schools might just rebound on the Chancellor. Say what you like about Damian McBride, but he would have spotted that one a mile off.

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This week, the editor of the Waitrose Food Magazine, William Sitwell, was forced to resign. In other words, he was sacked.

His crime? Well, Selene Nelson, a vegan writer, emailed him a suggestion for a series of articles on Vegan food. He responded with a tirade against Vegans, and suggested they should all be force-fed food and killed one by one.

This was clearly not meant seriously – but in this day and age, obviously, one has to take offence. Nelson did what any person would do in the circs and went to the press.

Result: Waitrose took fright at the Vegan onslaught on social media and let Sitwell go. This really is the age of the snowflake. And I say this as someone who for health reasons now has to eat some Vegan food. However, in solidarity I shall be having a steak for dinner tonight.

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I’m in the middle of preparing to write a very long read profile/interview with a Cabinet Minister for a national newspaper. I’m at the stage in the process where I wonder why I ever suggested doing it.

I’ve done nearly all the interviews, done most of the background research, I know roughly what themes will run in it…but I haven’t yet written a word. The only thoughts that go through my head are: “this is going to be rubbish, I can’t write as well as other people, should I just ditch it?”

I won’t of course. Because I’ve been through this so many times that I know that once I start writing, it’ll be fine. It’s just getting to the point where I write an actual sentence. I’d love to tell you who I’m writing about, but then, in the words of William Sitwell, I’d have to kill you. And that would obviously that mean Paul Goodman would fire me from this column for offending snowflakes. And you wouldn’t want that. Would you???

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It seems to me the big winner from the Budget, if we’re talking about politicians, is the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson. No one thought he could get £1.8 billion out of the Chancellor, especially after going to public on his demands. But get the money he did. Now let’s see what he does with it.

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Caroline Nokes is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most hapless and gaffe-prone minister in the government. Which is a shame, since she’s actually in the charge of the country’s borders.

Her performance in front of the Home Affairs select committee this week was buttock-clenchingly embarrassing. If you don’t believe me, watch it. For the immigration minister not to know her own Government’s immigration policy post-Brexit was simply unforgiveable.

Shona Dunn, The Home Office’s Second Permanent Secretary, then went on to say that the Prime Minister has made clear that, in the event of a no deal, that free movement would end on March 29 2019, and she imagined – yes, imagined – there would have “to be a few bits of secondary legislation” passed before then.

Sajid Javid then appeared on Peston the next day, and completely contradicted his  most senior civil servant – saying that in these circumstances there will be a “transition period” for EU citizens, explaining that “if there was a no deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans who were here before March 29 and those who came after.”

He’s right, of course, but why is that so difficult for both his Permanent Secretary and Immigration Minister to understand? In 2006, the then Home Secretary, John Reid, caused a massive political row by saying that he believed the Home Office was not “fit for purpose”. We’ve had five Home Secretaries since then, and it appears that little has changed. It’s still too unwieldly.

Here’s a suggestion. Post-Brexit, let’s take immigration out of the Home Office, and create a new Department of Border Security with a seat in the Cabinet.

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If you’re into podcasts, check out my new Book Club podcast, which this week asks how we can mend our broken politics. I’m joined by three political political experts with books out – Isabel Hardman from The Spectator, Philip Collins from The Times and Tom Baldwin, who now runs comms for the People’s Vote campaign. It’s a great listen, even I do say so myself. And as a bonus you can also listen to me interviewing Giles and Mary from Gogglebox!

George Freeman: There was much to cheer in the Budget. But now we need an inspiring programme for growth.

At the moment, we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Corbyn, to keep us in office.

George Freeman MP is Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum and The Big Tent Ideas Festival, and is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

On Monday, the Chancellor announced that “austerity is coming to an end”. Politically, there was a lot to cheer in this Budget – some good news and headlines for struggling high streets, our crucial Universal Credit reform, NHS workers and the vast majority of constituents who rely on public services. Furthermore, there were many helpful retail pledges for colleagues in marginal seats. Given the Brexit divisions and infighting, we badly needed some good news.

But if we are going to end the biggest squeeze on disposable incomes since the war, the central question for our future is this: how can we get back to the 2.5-3 per cent growth that we enjoyed pre-Brexit? Before the EU Referendum, we were one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe and the G7. Now we’re one of the slowest-growing.

The Budget invites the public to judge us on different metrics – no longer on our commitment to balance the books (abandoned) or reduce the debt (still growing), but on our ability to “end austerity”. People will now need to feel tangible improvements and see how Brexit can be a catalyst for much higher growth and prosperity.

Because this Budget won’t be decided on the comment pages of broadsheets. It will be decided on the ground.  By parents chatting at the school gates. Families looking after their ageing relatives in care homes. Commuters stuck in traffic jams because the housing has come, but the infrastructure hasn’t. Or the millions standing on trains every morning who’ve shelled out £2,000 for a season ticket and feel ripped off.

I no longer advise the Prime Minister, but here’s what I’d say if I still did. We need to remind people that every public sector pound has to be earned before it is spent, and that we need a more inspiring programme of business-led growth to drive prosperity and opportunity.  This means some big changes.

First, accelerating our transition from a service economy to an innovation nation.  Innovation is key to our driving up productivity, prosperity, inward investment and exports. We won’t escape debt with growth at 1.5 per cent and low productivity.  We need a renaissance of enterprise and innovation.  Such buccaneers as James Dyson and Richard Branson have done more to transform this country’s prospects than any government department ever will.  We need to stop the business-bashing and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. While the UK is still a crucible of start-up entrepreneurship, the engine is not yet humming: we have too many start-ups that are never scaled up, too little of our innovation funded by the City and too little that is taken global by British companies. We need a new national mission. We must be the innovation nation.

Second, tangible access to new markets for our innovation.We can’t just do research.  We need to innovate, manufacture and trade.  If Brexit means anything, it surely means an opportunity to go global. But that can’t mean importing cheap food and cheap clothes from sweatshops. We need to be exporting our innovation. The UK should be using every tool possible to unlock access to the fastest emerging markets in Africa and Asia.

For 40 years our whole economy has been geared to our being a European services economy. Why don’t we make Brexit the moment to embrace a new global strategy for higher growth through exporting technology and innovation into emerging markets? If the opportunity is properly seized, we could use our Industrial Strategy and public sector innovation to make Britain a crucible of new technology scale up and financing through the City.

We could then use our aid budget and global soft power in emerging markets to grow our exports and trade links with the fastest growing economies. Why don’t we offer some of the fastest emerging countries where we have a strong historic links a deeper Aid, Trade and Security Development Partnership?

Third, harnessing the public sector as a test bed of innovation. We’ll never export our innovation if we’re not using it ourselves. Innovation can’t be just about making a lucky few in the City rich beyond their wildest dreams. In order for us to be a test bed for new technology, we need to put enterprise and innovation at the heart of the public sector.  If we want to lead the world in digital health, we won’t do it unless the NHS is already a pioneer. You can have as many digital health clusters in Shoreditch as you like. But if the NHS isn’t testing and buying it, we will never become the innovation nation we need to be. Building, financing and growing these little start-ups into serious businesses of scale. The problem of the austerity era was thinking that our problems could be solved by cutting things. Actually, the only way our problems can be solved is by growing things.

Fourth, empowering local leaders to innovate more. Innovation can’t be ordered from on high. It comes from people having the power to make decisions themselves. That’s why we need to embrace bolder economic localism. Let’s remember that our national economic performance is made up of hundreds of local economies, all of which need to be growing faster. Another five years of ever-tighter spending controls from the Treasury risks undermining local growth and innovation.  Instead of delaying essential local infrastructure holding our growth hubs back, why not let them raise infrastructure bonds in the international capital markets and embrace bold ideas like integrated track and train mutuals which invests users money into better services?

Fifth, a new model of Treasury incentives. Too often, Whitehall’s funding orthodoxy rewards failure.  If you deliver more for less in the public sector we give you…less!   And give more to those failing.  If you ran a business like that it would be bust.  And depressing to work in. It’s no wonder that public sector leaders are so dispirited.  Many are leaving.  We need them to stay.  So why don’t we send a signal to encourage them, be bold and embrace a new model of incentives-based funding which rewards successful local service leaders for delivering efficiency and productivity? We need a new approach based on a radical idea: if an area reduces the deficit quicker than Whitehall’s average we should let them keep 50 per cent of the savings to re-invest.  Why not the same on growth? If councils grow their tax base, why not let them keep 50 per cent for local services?

Our choice as a nation is clear. Do we timidly manage our decline? Or do we set out a bold plan a brighter future? At the moment we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Jeremy Corbyn, to keep us in office.

For a majority of voters, keeping Corbyn out and delivering Brexit are not good enough answers.  We need to show voters that this is the path to something more inspiring.  We need to start setting out a bold vision for Conservatism in the twenty-first century.

Can you help John Barrett raise money to support an Ethiopian family?

I caught up with John Barrett, former Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, the other day. He told me about his recent trip to Ethiopia. He first visited the country as an MP 15 years ago and has had a particular interest in international development ever since. He talked about how he and his wife […]

I caught up with John Barrett, former Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, the other day. He told me about his recent trip to Ethiopia. He first visited the country as an MP 15 years ago and has had a particular interest in international development ever since.

He talked about how he and his wife Carol have been supporting a family in recent years. As a result of a conversation on their trip, he is now trying to raise £2000 to get them a fridge, a water purifier, a cooker and a washing machine.

He explains why on his Just Giving page:

Ten years ago I met Gimacho Ermias, a tailor, and his daughter Sarah in Ethiopia ,in the small town of Hosanna. Seeing how little they had of everyday things we take for granted, Carol and I have helped them out in a small way for the last 10 years and will continue to do so. Last month we visited them in their home town to see how they were.

He is still working as a tailor, earning a few pounds a day, and his wife, who suffers from asthma, has a full time job 25 miles away to make ends meet, so she can only return to be with her family at weekends. When I asked them what would change their lives, the answer came quickly. “Something to filter our drinking water, a fridge to keep food fresh, a cooker to replace their single electric ring and to make bread, and a washing machine.

I have decided to set up this page in the run up to Christmas to see what can be done to help them out. If you can help in any way, they would really appreciate it.

Why do we need to raise so much? These items, in Ethiopia, cost two to three times what we would pay for them here. I have contacted various places to see if we can get them at a more reasonable cost and if so we will be able to do more with any money we raise.

Two grand seemed like quite a lot for these items. John told me that this was because of massive import duties charged by the Ethiopian Government:

These items, in Ethiopia, because of import duties and tariffs cost two to three times what we would pay for them here. I have contacted various places, including the Minister at the Department for International Development, and the World Mission, to see if we can get them at a more reasonable cost and if so we will be able to do more with any money we raise.
So if you would like to help John and Carol on the way to their target, you can do so here.
As an aside, John is getting an award from Care UK this month for people who go “above and beyond for their community.’ A couple of weeks ago, he organised a concert which raised over £1300 for a local youth centre.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings