Daniel Hannan: Why is the West falling behind? Because we are abandoning meritocracy.

19 Jan

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

Even in Pakistan’s remote mountain passes, you keep stumbling upon China’s spoor. By the side of empty roads, you find monuments celebrating the unlikely alliance between the world’s first purpose-built Muslim country and the last Communist power. On the edge of villages, you find Chinese-funded social projects. More and more, you find highways, dams and factories springing up along the path of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

I spent early January in those sparse highlands. Like most visitors, I was struck by the beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people; but also by an uneasy sense that a country with the strongest demographic and cultural ties to us has drifted into the orbit of a nearer and fiercer star.

Pakistan has its own reasons for cosying up to China, which it has long seen as a counterweight to India, and to which it is closely tied commercially. But something similar is playing out across swathes of Asia, Africa and, now, Latin America. Countries which, 20 years ago, looked to the West culturally and politically – countries which wanted to think of themselves as a law-based, propertied, multi-party democracies – have found an alternative model.

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s clever and charming prime minister, recently put it this way:

“Up until now, we were told that the best way for societies to improve themselves is the Western system of democracy. What the CPC has done is that it has brought this alternative model. And they have actually beaten all Western democracies in the way they have brought up merit in their society.”

Merit. That’s the key. Allocating positions through talent rather than by birth, caste or status was a big part of what originally elevated the Anglosphere and a handful of related European states over their rivals. Now, just as the West is letting go of the idea, the world’s greatest autocracy has taken it up.

I have been thinking a lot about merit since reading Adrian Wooldridge’s magnum opus, The Aristocracy of Talent. I had vaguely intended to review it last year, but I was enjoying it too much, and wanted to savour each chapter.

Wooldridge, who recently moved to Bloomberg after a career at The Economist, has written one of the great books of the decade. Here, meticulously researched and in arresting prose, are definitive accounts of Plato’s authoritarian philosophy and the way later generations interpreted it, of China’s mandarinate, of the rise of IQ tests and much else. But what comes across most strongly is just how downright weird the concept of meritocracy is.

For most of human history, hierarchy and heredity were seen as the natural order. Wooldridge begins with some lines by our national poet:

How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows!

I remember Michael Portillo getting into terrible trouble when he quoted that passage. Yet, until an eyeblink ago, almost no one seriously questioned the world-view that Shakespeare was articulating. It seems to have been hard-wired into us as social primates. Even when we imagine future worlds – think of Star Wars, Dune or Foundation – we people them with emperors and princesses.

Wooldridge shows how English-speaking nations, in particular, replaced kin-based models with open selections and exams. He reminds us of how recent and, by global standards, how unnatural this system is. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, its chief supporters were on the Left. The Webbs and their followers saw a rational, socialist state as resting on meritocratic appointment, while many conservatives protested that abandoning the older social order would leave people deracinated and unsatisfied.

Oddly, from our present perspective, some of the biggest supporters of IQ tests and unadjusted exams in the United States were black sociologists, including Horace Mann Bond, Charles Johnson, Howard Hale Long and J. St Clair Price, all of whom saw the ability to rise by talent as an antidote to racism.

Judged by economic outcomes, meritocracy worked. Countries that tried it got richer than countries that didn’t. The Anglosphere went more or less the whole hog, but most places ended up with hybrid systems. Pakistan, for example, took from Britain the common law, individual property rights and a civil service open to talent. It also retained clannish voting patterns, resting on strong extended families.

As long as Western nations had open institutions, they tended to outperform their rivals. But, as Wooldridge shows, they are now turning against the creed that elevated them.

The assault comes simultaneously from both sides. There is a Trumpy/populist/Know-nothing line of attack which holds, roughly speaking, that a bunch of effete pointyheads, removed from the general population, are imposing their Leftie values on the decent majority. And there is a woke line which holds that groups rather than individuals are what matter, and that if, say, blind assessments result in more Asian than black students getting into a particular university, then those assessments should be racially weighted.

There is a third and more subtle critique, which posits that meritocracy is a hoax. Rich parents, themselves products of elite universities, invest resources in rigging the system in favour of their children, sending them to expensive private schools and buying them opportunities to ensure that they go to the same universities and perpetuate the cycle.

This line often comes from beneficiaries and exemplars of the system being decried. Professor Daniel Markovits of Law at Yale Law School argues in The Meritocracy Trap that “merit is nothing more than a sham”, a way to transmit inherited privilege. Harvard’s Michael Sandel agrees. In The Tyranny of Merit he laments the decline of manual jobs and argues that a new trans-national elite has arisen, bringing hopes of social mobility to an end for most people. The same theme is taken in Britain by David Goodhart who holds, in Head Hand Heart, that the overvaluation of cognitive skills (head) over manual (hand) and caring (heart) has led to the creation of a graduate oligarchy.

There is something in this analysis. The solution, though, might be more meritocracy. The domination of elite schools by the wealthy could perhaps be addressed by crammer-proof aptitude tests. The under-valuation of non-academic skills is widely acknowledged, and huge efforts are being made to boost technical education.

Far more dangerous is the notion that openness to talent is intrinsically racist. Woke critics don’t want to improve meritocracy. They want to return to the pre-modern idea of group rights, collective identity and advancement by caste. A theory that was, until perhaps eight years ago, more or less confined to campus, has, with astonishing rapidity, taken over most of our institutions. Company boards, charities, schools, churches, political parties, local authorities, NHS trusts and, most of all, the civil service – all now recruit and promote on the basis of physiognomy as much as aptitude.

You know who isn’t bothered about “equality, diversity and inclusion”, though? China. That’s why it’s on course to become the world’s largest economy. No wonder ambitious politicians across Asia and Africa are learning Mandarin. No wonder up-and-coming cadets want to train at the PLA National Defence University rather than Sandhurst.

The way for any society to get rich is to allow people to rise to the level of their talents, to remove obstacles of birth, tradition and clan, and thus to marshall its human resources with maximum efficacy. We used to do that very well. Now, others have taken our place.

Saqib Bhatti: Labour’s plans for the music industry would have a disastrous impact – at a time when we should be promoting its growth

30 Nov

Saqib Bhatti is MP for Meriden.

Joy Crookes, the 23-year-old British-Irish-Bangladeshi singer, is one of the rising stars of British music, reaching critical acclaim this year both at home and abroad.

She has a Top 5 album and was nominated for Rising Star of the Year at the BRIT Awards last year. It may appear that Joy has suddenly risen to stardom. In reality, there are years of investment, creative expertise and promotion behind the promising trajectory she is on today.

Joy is just one example of why Britain’s music industry punches above its weight on the global stage, topping charts, racking up awards, and fronting sell-out tours. From The Beatles and Elton John to Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Adele, we should be proud of our creative heritage and globally renowned music talent.

Our music sector plays a vital role in creating jobs and opportunities, including for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and in projecting British soft power across the globe. Our artists are a vital advert for UK plc in growing markets internationally.

The UK music industry cannot risk losing that critically acclaimed reputation. However, a Labour-led Private Members’ Bill – being branded as a ‘simple fix’ to how much artists earn from streaming – has been tabled and is expected to seek legislation for the introduction of so-called ‘Equitable Remuneration’ or ER.

The proposal suggests that streaming revenue should be diverted away from the labels who take the initial risk and make the upfront investment in an artist’s career.

Of course I want artists to get paid more, especially if it results in a more thriving music industry. However, while ‘Equitable Remuneration’ might sound appealing, the system it describes would be far from equitable. It would do exactly the opposite of what it intends to do.

First, the proposal would cripple small independent British labels and make it harder to be a DIY artist because of the new red tape. A logical conclusion is that if record labels (of any size) have their revenues significantly cut, there will be less money to invest in emerging new artists.

This means fewer opportunities for the young superstars of tomorrow, or for those from under-served communities. Some of our greatest UK artists have come from extremely underprivileged backgrounds and that is part of the reason we must continue to encourage record labels to invest in growing talent.

Second, there’s also a real risk ER would make Britain’s music industry uncompetitive and harm our music export potential. As free-market conservatives, we need to do all we can in the industry to become attractive for investment. Additional barriers will only hinder growth opportunities for local talent.

International competition is already eroding our position as a global leader in music. Markets in Asia and Latin America are booming, while the UK’s overall share of global music revenue has slipped by seven per cent in just six years. This legislation would hasten that decline if large labels decide to invest more in overseas territories than the UK, as larger markets like Latin America or the US would have lower costs.

Third, a change to the entire streaming model in the UK, and its economics, will add further complexity to an already complex business model which in turn will force operational costs to rise. This cost will ultimately be passed onto the consumer, bad for fans and another inflationary pressure.

We need to support the dynamism of this industry and continue to create opportunities for the next wave of British music talent, rather than stifle investment with the unintended consequences of regulation. Our efforts should focus on maximising investment in British talent, ensuring that streaming platforms responsibly protect and value music, and enabling the live music industry to continue to bounce back post-pandemic.

The Government is already doing great work in this area, looking at thoughtful and collaborative reforms in the music industry via several DCMS working groups that report back next spring – an important and thorough industry-led process.

Ultimately, success in music is largely driven by consumer choice and popularity in a fiercely competitive industry. It is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure the continuation of the sector’s global competitiveness and throw our weight behind initiatives that encourage investment in UK music and foster international success.

If we want a thriving music industry with lots of upcoming talent then we must encourage investment, not take away the incentives for doing so. Let’s not pull the rug from under the feet of our future musical talent.

Garvan Walshe: Conservatives need to choose. Are they with democracy or with the Capitol terrorists?

14 Jan

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

“Where are all the moderate Republican Imams?” asked David Frum, former speechwriter to George W Bush, after the Donald Trump-incited mob had ransacked the Capitol.

We came to learn that the 9/11 attacks, far from coming out of a clear blue sky, were the product of decades of radicalisation that Saudi Arabia had sponsored – because it gave its religious radicals something to do; because it allowed the kingdom to compete for influence with revolutionary Iran; and because the extremists sincerely believed in the doctrines to which the Saudi state paid only lip service. Riyadh was forced into a bloody counter-insurgency campaign against domestic terrorists and fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attack on the Capitol, in which an absurdly-dressed mob gave cover for what the FBI is now investigating as a terrorist plot to take senators hostage, is the direct result of Trump sponsoring the anti-democratic Right in America.

This is the price of the GOP’s deal with Trump. Trump added fringe voters to the Republican coalition, gave them power for four years and allowed it to put three judges on the Supreme Court, but it’s brought about the biggest threat to democracy in America since the Civil War.

Trump’s bullying of his party through his celebrity appeal to the Republican base, threatening any congressman or senator with the American equivalent of deselection in primaries, will be familiar to many current and former Conservative MPs, as well as to Democratic politicians at the receiving end.

But after losing to Joe Biden in November, Trump went beyond political hardball to subvert the constitution itself. Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s elections chief resisted (we know, because he taped Trump’s threats), but 138 congressmen and seven senators broke their oaths of office to try and overturn the votes of the American people on the basis of Trump’s own lies about electoral fraud.

It seems that some Capitol policemen also broke their oaths, refusing to defend the Capitol from the mob. More worrying still is the slowness with which Defense Department Officials responded to requests for them to authorise the deployment of the DC national guard, and to give permission for Virginia and Maryland to send backup. In the end it was Mike Pence, himself under siege in the Capitol building, who stood in to authorise intervention.

Τhe crisis is about far more than Trump’s personality. In fact, his outrageously flawed character hides the danger he poses, in the same way that animal-skin clad rioter obscured the much more serious kidnapping plot at the Capitol. Trumpists and many democratic American conservatives agreed about getting their people onto the Supreme Court, limiting abortion and restricting immigration, but they should disagree on how it can get done.

What distinguishes the anti-democratic right from democratic conservatives is not policy, but the concept of political office.

American government, like that in all liberal democracies, was created to be carried out by people who hold certain political offices subject to constitutional law and conventions. That’s what John Adams meant when he talked of a “government of laws, and not of men.” In liberal democracies, we don’t elect kings, but people who are temporarily “clothed”, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, in the powers of the office they hold.

Democratic conservatives believe that people hold specific powers in trust, repsecting the laws and conventions made in the past, and keeping them, adapted for the changing times, to hand over to their successors. The anti-democratic right wants to put their leaders in total power, to enact their will, disregarding traditions of the past and stability in the future.

They say it’s because people have the right to hire their leaders, and fire them when they come up short. But Trump’s behaviour gives the lie to that. Despite the American people firing him, Trump tried to intimidate election officials and incited a violent mob to try and stay in power anyway: there’s a technical term for this, by the way, invented in Latin America, it’s an autogolpe or self-coup.

Thanks to four years of encouragement from Trump, there’s now a large number of radicalised, violent and armed anti-democratic rightists in the United States. The FBI is bracing itself for coordinated acts of violence in on inauguration day.

As with all terrorist movements, the violent few are surrounded by a penumbra of fellow-travellers who make excuses for them, give them platforms on TV, amplify them on social media, and argue that their grievances must be addressed in the name of peace and unity. As with Islamist or Northern Irish terrorism, this would be a grave mistake.

The terrorists must be brought to justice, their funds caught off and the arguments of their fellow-travellers dismissed. Please no more specious arguments about Trump being “censored” by Twitter. Even had Twitter been a state entity, his megaphone should have been removed as a threat to public safety.

The application of the US’s extensive anti-terrorist legislation needs to be vigorous and swift. It must deny this movement access to weapons. It must put its leaders and activists behind bars. Trump and his accomplices need to be banned from future public office, either through an impeachment or the use of the third clause of the 14th Amendment.

Then there is the ideological battle against the anti-democratic tenets of this movement, which is not confined to America. The issue not that they are “extreme”, but that they’re anti-constitutional. Let them hold positions as right-wing as they like, and compete for support like anyone else, but only within the limts of constitutional government, where laws apply to public office-holders, and are adjudicated by independent courts.

As during the Cold War, where it was democratic lefitsts who stood up to violent communists, it’s now up to democratic conservatives to dismantle the ideology of the anti-democratic right, and its dangerous idea that law, constitutions, and the civil political process are part of some plot by a “liberal elite” or “activist lawyers”.

Even where we agree with some hard-right policies, or sympathise with their positions (about left-wing dominance at universities, say), upholding the institutions and norms of parliamentary democracy has to come first, something that escaped our own absurdly-dressed (and visually challenged) revolutionary before he was ejected.

Otherwise, make no mistake, they’ll come for us. No amount of toadying to Trump protected Mike Pence or Mitch McConnell on January 6th. All conservatives have to choose: are they with democracy or with the terrorists?

Ranil Jayawardena: The trade deals keep coming. And today, as the new EU agreement takes effect, we look forward to more.

1 Jan

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

In 2019, I voted against Theresa May’s deal three times. Not because I wanted to leave the EU with No Deal, but because I believed we deserved better. This was the view of the British people too and, as Boris Johnson, David Frost and their team have proven, a better deal was possible. It is this deal – in force from today – that unleashes Britain’s potential, at home and around the world.

We are no longer restricted by the EU and can demonstrate our true potential on the world stage. In the last few weeks, I am delighted that we have secured trade deals with our good friends in Kenya, Vietnam, Singapore, and many more. Just this week, we signed a trade agreement with Turkey, a major win for British automotive, manufacturing and steel industries. These deals are only the tip of the iceberg in our mission to establish a truly Global Britain, leading from the front and championing free and fair trade.

In just two years, the United Kingdom has agreed trade deals with 63 countries outside the EU, from Japan and South Korea to Moldova and Mexico. This in itself is an unprecedented achievement, as no other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously.

We’ve secured preferential trading terms for some £217 billion in non-EU bilateral trade, including the deal we signed with Japan – negotiated in record time and virtually – which guarantees better provisions for our world-leading services, digital and data sectors.

Britain is – once again – an independent trading nation, free to look beyond the horizon and seize the opportunities out there. It is through trade that she can build ever stronger partnerships around the world that not only generate economic value but, importantly, support our values – protecting our natural environment, defending democracy, and helping to transform the lives of people less fortunate around the world for the better.

We have now secured 97 per cent of the trade value that we set out to reach agreements for first, beyond the EU. And there’s more to come. Trade talks – as will now be apparent to all – often go down to the wire.

Laying the foundations for ambitious new trade deals

These agreements provide a strong foundation for our future trading relationships as we look to strengthen further trade ties globally through negotiating new and ambitious free trade agreements. By working together with forward-looking, like-minded nations, we will secure ambitious trade deals that benefit great British businesses, keep consumers in mind, and drive economic growth globally.

Our United Kingdom-Canada continuity trade deal signed this month slays the foundations – and secured commitment – to begin negotiating a bespoke British deal this year.

And our United Kingdom-Mexico deal enshrines our commitment to start negotiating a new trade deal with our Mexican friends too, which will secure even more benefits for British industry, and go further in areas of mutual interest such as data, digital trade, services and intellectual property.

That’s in addition to our ongoing negotiations with United States, Australia and New Zealand.

And our deal with Kenya, delivers long-term certainty, and preferential conditions, for businesses in both countries, benefitting consumers and investors, and supporting economic development. The deal has been constructed in such a way that other countries in East Africa will be able to join it and benefit their own people whenever they are ready.

Many of these deals and negotiations are significant steps towards Britain’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) too, to which we aim to apply for formal accession in early 2021.

Joining the CPTPP would put Britain at the heart of an increasingly influential trade network of 11 dynamic economies in the Asia-Pacific region that already accounts for 13 per cent of global GDP and would rise to 16 per cent with our accession. This is a trade network that doesn’t tell countries how to govern themselves nor how they can trade with their friends – but it does help remove tariffs on 95 per cent of goods.

All of this is ultimately good news for great British manufacturers, producers and exporters, supporting jobs in every corner of the United Kingdom. But it is not just our businesses that will benefit. British consumers will be able to continue to enjoy cheaper household goods on supermarket shelves from Chilean Wine to Kenyan Tea.

We have secured all this against the odds and facing unprecedented challenges.

The deals we’ve done are just the beginning, but they do set out clearly our ambition as a free trading nation to champion British interests and push for ambitious and forward-thinking trade partnerships. And that’s why I have been getting into the detail with our friends in India and the subcontinent, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Mercosur.

Our future trading relationships, over the next few years, will be based on strong relationships and will be all about the detail.

Global Britain in the years ahead

Having served as the Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman – and Vice-Chairman previously, with responsibility for policy – I enjoyed meeting Party members, listening to Parliamentarians, and working with the Cabinet and advisers in devising our manifesto ahead of the General Election, then campaigning on it on the doorsteps of constituencies across the country.

One of its clear promises was to secure free trade deals with countries that cover 80 per cent of our trade within three years – and it is good news that we are well on our way. All the folks at the Department for International Trade have been working flat out to strike the trade deals we have.

But it is clear that, now more than ever, we must also look to new markets, to help diversify our trade routes and supply chains in regions like Latin America, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific.

As Britain lifts her eyes for the first time in almost 50 years, our guiding principle over the next few years will remain the same; we will negotiate new trade deals that champion the interests of British businesses and the British people.

Global Britain is here, and is ready to show the world her true potential once again.

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

21 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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