Charlotte Gill’s Podcast Review 10) Chatterton with Bindel, Freeman and Harrington, and Hope with O’Brien

9 Feb

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: UnHerd Live
Host: Sally Chatterton
Episode: Where does feminism go next?

Duration: 1:08:49 hours 
Published: February 3

What’s it about?

In this fascinating event, Sally Chatterton, Editor of UnHerd, chairs a discussion between Julie Bindel, Hadley Freeman and Mary Harrington on the future of feminism. Each have unique takes on where the movement is going wrong, and right (but mostly wrong), with the discussions spanning a huge number of areas, from gender identity, to sex work, to surrogacy and motherhood.

Some teaser quotes:
  • Bindel: “Feminism is vibrant, and it is moving forward, because women have had enough. We’ve always had enough, but we’ve particularly had enough now.”
  • Harrington on growing anti-natalism: “Somehow it’s as though a collective decision has been taken by at least some of the generation or so younger than me, that ‘let’s just draw a line under this; we’re not going to do this any more’; a sort of collective human death wish”.
  • Freeman: “There’s so much ageism that I see now among younger women, which I find quite shocking and also incredibly Freudian. The disdain that I see expressed about, for example, Mumsnet, I think largely cause it’s got the word ‘mum’ in it. And this disgust that I see from young women when women talk about things like breastfeeding and childbirth.”
Verdict:

A brave discussion, full of thought-provoking commentary.

Title: Chopper’s Politics
Host: Christopher Hope
Episode: Just what is ‘levelling up’?

Duration: 41:59 minutes
Published: February 5

What’s it about?

In this interview, Christopher Hope sits down with Neil O’Brien, Minister in the Levelling Up department and co-author of the Government’s white paper on Levelling Up, to talk about – guess what? – all things levelling up. The MP for Harborough, Oadby & Wigston takes listeners through the process of putting together one of this government’s most important visions. Towards the end of the podcast, Hope speaks to Sebastian Payne of the FT about what the white paper means for Johnsonism, and Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up, offers her thoughts on the topic.

Some teaser quotes (from O’Brien):
  • “It’s quite often written up as a kind of North-South thing, and it is true that lots of the North is poorer and in need of levelling up, but it’s absolutely the case that we recognise that within even affluent regions like the South East, there are places that are poor”.
  • On whether there could be a bid for the Olympics again, and where it would take place: “It wouldn’t be London… It would probably have to be spread across a number of places.”
  • “We can have two economic models. We can have the Blair model, which is just pile everything into London, let’s all move to the greater South East, and Lord knows how we’ll cope. Or we can try and have more balanced growth across the country, get some of these great cities and towns that have such potential, but have shrunk, going again.”
Verdict:

Essential listening for anyone who wants to understand Levelling Up in depth.

Title: The New Culture Forum
Host: Peter Whittle
Episode: How England Could Have Europe’s Worst Free Speech Protection. + Lockdown Sceptics’ Vindication.

Duration: 54:35 minutes
Published: February 6

What’s it about?

In this podcast, Peter Whittle interviews Toby Young, founder of The Daily Sceptic and the Free Speech Union, the latter of which has just celebrated its second anniversary, to discuss a vast range of topics – from whether the UK was right to lockdown, to Boris Johnson’s leadership, to the extent to which free speech is under attack in England and Scotland. As the title indicates, Young is not optimistic about our current trajectory.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “[T]here was so little intellectual curiosity about the origins of the virus. And anyone speculating that it might have been leaked from the virology institute in Wuhan was, for a long time, smeared as a conspiracy theorist trafficking in misinformation, and that kind of smear was enough to shut down debate about it for more than a year”.
  • “The fact that [Johnson] himself broke the rules makes it much harder for him to insist everyone else obey them again. You can’t imagine a political leader across the West for whom it would be politically more difficult to impose another lockdown”.
  • “We keep winning battles at the Free Speech Union; 75 per cent of the cases we take on, we win. But we’re losing the war.”
Verdict:

A lively exchange covering the most important subjects of the day.

James Frayne: If Conservatives are serious about levelling-up, here’s what they need to focus on

1 Feb

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The Conservatives should aspire to be a national party for those who work hard, but its future powerbase should lie in provincial Britain. With the publication of the Levelling-Up White Paper this week we’ll get a sense for whether this is a viable ambition.

Since Michael Gove and Neil O’Brien took over levelling-up strategy – with a new Department under their management – the Government has been asking the right questions and saying the right things. The white paper will reflect this.

We need to be realistic about its contents. While there’ll surely be new policy announcements, white papers are essentially strategy documents and it’s likely to feel such. The backdrop to the launch is a weak economy and massive accumulated debt; we therefore obviously won’t see huge sums of new money. That’s not terminal: what matters more is how Government money is diverted to this strategy from other places.

The pre-briefing has been encouraging: the Government is said to be encouraging greater devolution, shifting more Government jobs outside London, and rebalancing spending on culture across the country. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be new policies on high streets, crime and anti-social behaviour and skills and retraining; these are the public’s priorities. We’ll know tomorrow.

However, those of us that believe in a provincial pivot will be asking a more fundamental question: does it look like levelling-up is going to be the admirable work of one small Government Department, or does it look like levelling-up will define the Government’s economic and social policies for the next decade? While we’ll certainly get a sense for the answer tomorrow, we’ll only know for sure later in the year.

We’ll judge the Government on both style and substance. Thinking about style first, if a provincial pivot is going to happen, we should expect the language of levelling-up to begin to dominate the way Conservatives talk about the economy – most obviously in future Budgets. To date, there have been mixed signals. In some ways, the party has gone backwards in recent years; when Nick Timothy was in No 10, with the Government’s talk of an industrial strategy, it felt like the provincial economy was in the mainstream of Government thinking. We need the same again now.

Similarly, as the Government talks about levelling-up as if its integral to economic policy, we should hopefully hear less about the extremes of provincial economic failure. To be clear, there are parts of the country – particularly in the post-industrial North – which certainly need economic and social help. But these areas need special attention; they should not define the Government’s overall economic and social mission. Levelling-up should be about Derby as much as it should be about Redcar.

Thinking about substance, beyond what the Government announces in the white paper, if the Conservatives are serious about levelling-up, two policy streams come immediately to mind, which I have written about here briefly before.

First, radical devolution – not just local control over spending decisions, but over tax-raising and, crucially, tax-cutting powers. From the pre-briefing, it seems devolution will be a big part of the white paper; while it seems unlikely that they will recommend what we might call “American-style federalism”, we should hope there are signs this is the direction of travel.

Second, substantially, a new focus on HE and FE. Too many Conservatives pointlessly trash HE, arguing that too many young people go to university and that there are too many courses. Too often, this doesn’t sound like a policy position, just pointless moaning. If we’re going to successfully level-up the country, we need an expansion of both HE and FE so that there are more high-qualified people ready to work in areas where the economy is weak. Dominic Cummings was briefly all over this at No 10; it needs renewed attention.

The publication of the white paper ought to be the beginning of a process, not the end; it should mark the start of a provincial pivot in earnest. With the party’s track record, it’s hard not to worry: the party has a tendency to think that a few announcements mean that a policy stream is “done” – and on to the next thing. You can imagine that levelling-up slowly loses steam, with the Department wrapped-up into another. It’s vital that this doesn’t happen.

James Frayne: What voters want when it comes to the Government’s levelling-up strategy

23 Nov

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Michael Gove and Neil O’Brien rightly see two speeds to their levelling-up strategy. Firstly, long-term economic policies to extend opportunities to the young and those in need of new career options. Secondly, short-term, primarily social policies that improve life in towns and cities and boost civic pride.

Along with an excellent team in Downing Street (who are quietly doing a really great job on civic pride), Gove’s officials are now considering which policies would make the most differences on everything from housing policy to productivity. However, as they do, the voice of the public is crucial in shaping these policies. While most people can’t formulate specific policies, their views are useful in conceptualising these policies in broad terms.

Having followed this debate for a long-time, I thought it would be interesting to test public attitudes to all this. Public First has therefore just concluded a comprehensive new landscape poll that probes public attitudes to short-term and long-term challenges.

It’s the most detailed quantitative research we’ve conducted yet on levelling-up and we take a particularly detailed look at actual policy options the Government might take. I’ll do a more detailed look at the research and the various cross breaks another time, but today I briefly cover the main implications for the Government. You can find a link to the full results here.

Most people think levelling-up is for them but working class voters feel the issues more

Who does the levelling-up strategy appeal most to? Our poll confirms it has general appeal, even though when pushed people say it’s primarily for former industrial towns in the North of England. Nearly two thirds of our sample said they believed their own local area needed levelling-up – and middle class voters were almost as likely to say their area needed levelling-up as working class voters.

However, it’s clear the levelling-up narrative – particularly the civic pride element – will be more intensely felt by working class voters. They are more likely to say their town or city has got worse in the last ten years and they are less likely to say they’re proud of where they live, as are over 65s (the very people who talk most about the decline of their towns in the groups). In working class communities there is an immense feeling of wounded civic pride

The state and safety of the public realm determine levels of civic pride

When we asked directly what builds civic pride and what has undermined it – giving people a very wide range of options – people are clear: it’s ultimately about the quality of shared spaces and the public streetscape. So (along with “the people”), civic pride is built by parks (by far), historic buildings and the high street – the places where people spend time together. And what undermines civic pride is anti-social behaviour, the decline of the high street and general litter and disrepair.

Downing Street’s team know the importance of anti-social behaviour to levelling-up but it’s yet to be pushed hard by politicians. Given a list of options to level-up areas by tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, the most popular answer was getting people who had committed crimes to clean graffiti and pick up litter. 

People see the power of economic policies (but there are limits)

Ask people about levelling-up policies without prompting in focus groups and high streets totally dominate. However, when we put a range of options before them in the poll, economic policies came to the fore. Given a broad range of options the Government might take, helping people retrain in areas where industry has declined comes top, followed by encouraging business investment into particular areas (yes, a generic policy concept).

Elsewhere, asked generally what the Government should prioritise, creating more local jobs and encouraging business investment came top – well above high streets. However, it’s important to put the power of the economic message into perspective: productivity, a major preoccupation of the Levelling-Up Department, came bottom of the list of options in the first question above. Perhaps it would be fairer to say therefore that simple economic policy concepts are the most persuasive. 

Green policies play well in policy thinking on levelling up

A few months ago, some interesting research I did for Green Alliance showed people in former industrial areas were surprisingly positive about the prospect of new, green technologies replacing industries of the past. And the same was true in this poll: given a list of options for the Government to encourage investment outside the South-East, overall the most popular was “developing expertise in green technologies in those areas that have lost traditional manufacturing”.

Admittedly, it was more popular amongst middle class voters, but it was still popular amongst working class voters (who preferred the option of financial to support to relocate for work). Past groups suggest this is explained by a feeling both that green jobs are a moral good but also because they’re viewed as modern and “future-proof”.

Devolution can be part of the levelling-up message if it’s bold

Odd as it might be, in my experience devolution is not yet viewed as a pre-requisite for success on levelling-up. Consequently, perhaps, the most successful economic policy option for local areas was Central Government moving jobs outside London. However, essentially equally popular was allowing cities to cut taxes to encourage business investment (this was the most popular amongst working class voters).

And another question – this time on what powers local government might have – showed the most popular option was holding more local referendums. These are two options that many local governments might run a mile from. Regardless, they hint at a certain interest in a more dynamic and disruptive devolution settlement.

The poll is all encouraging and offers some useful pointers to the Government. However, a final note to finish on: despite widespread support for the Government’s attempts to level-up, half the sample said they were not confident the Government would succeed, compared to under a quarter who said they were confident. Whether this means the public will think there are better priorities in time or whether they just think it’s all worth trying, time will tell.

Matt Leach: Levelling up isn’t simply about infrastructure – it’s about community connection too. Here’s how the Government can improve matters.

26 May

Matt Leach is Chief Executive of Local Trust, a charity that delivers the Big Local programme; a long-term community-led approach to regeneration in 150 neighbourhoods across England.

When launching the legislative programme for the coming Parliament, the Prime Minister again declared his commitment to “unite and level up” the country – and announced plans to publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year, setting out “bold new interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunities throughout the UK.”

To ensure these ideas translate into meaningful action, a new levelling up unit has been created at the heart of government, with Neil O’Brien responsible for helping drive the agenda across Whitehall. Within government departments, workstreams have already been initiated, as civil servants and advisers work up proposals to feed into both the White Paper and the autumn Spending Review.

But if levelling up is the only game in town, what exactly is it? And perhaps more importantly, what might it mean to residents of the “left behind” communities who should benefit most from it?

To date, levelling up has been interpreted as primarily about tackling regional economic divides, with initiatives such as the Towns Fund, the Future High Streets Fund and significant investment in infrastructure, such as roads and railways dominating headlines.

But recent government pronouncements have suggested a broader policy ambition aimed at “improving everyday life for communities…and ensuring everyone can succeed regardless of where they live”; enabling “people….[to be] proud of their local community, rather than feeling as though they need to leave it in order to reach their potential”; and as noted in the Queen’s speech briefing, “strengthening community and local leadership, restoring pride in place, and improving quality of life in ways that are not just about the economy”.

In many ways this reflects some of the priorities identified in Onward’s report on the nation’s social fabric. It also picks up on ideas included in Danny Kruger’s report to the Prime Minister on levelling up, which highlighted the importance of strengthening our shared sense of community, both locally and nationally.

Both reports, in different ways, respond to something very important about the mood of the country right now. Even before Covid, there was an anxiety that, in many places, the fabric of our shared social and civic life had been torn – with the loss in many places of local pubs, bingo halls, community centres and neighbourhood shops.

The places where we connect, make friends, build relationships, and cultivate a sense of neighbourliness. This phenomenon isn’t limited to our poorest places, but the impact is often most obvious in communities that have also suffered economic decline.

As human beings, we have a basic need for connection and a sense of belonging, and we gain this in large measure through institutions that reflect our collective local identities whether that be community centres, rugby clubs or pubs. This isn’t just anecdotal, there is research to back it up. In the United States, the American Enterprise Institute has demonstrated the importance of social connection and place.

Closer to home, Pro Bono Economics’ analysis suggests that the presence of community assets may be a better predictor of life satisfaction in an area than its GDP or household income. Polling by Survation indicates people feel the biggest funding deficit in “left behind” areas has been investment in provision of places where their local community can meet. Similar points can be found in a range of other recent reports, including from the Centre for Progressive Policy, the Covid Recovery Commission and the Bennett Institute at the University of Cambridge.

Indeed, it is now largely uncontested that high levels of trust and reciprocity and the bonding and bridging social capital they create underpin the success of any economy – whether national or local; one is a building block for the other. Local social and civic institutions are the fundamental engines of social capital and we know that individuals living in communities with higher levels of social capital have, on average, better outcomes across a range of indicators including employment and health and wellbeing.

Research by OCSI for Local Trust suggests the presence of places and spaces to meet in a neighbourhood, an active community life and good digital and transport connectivity contributes to improved socio-economic outcomes in the most deprived areas. People living in the most deprived areas lacking such provision have markedly worse employment and health outcomes, while overall educational attainment is lower.

But if the proposition that levelling up should be about investing in social and community as well as economic infrastructure is not controversial, what might it amount to in practice? Kruger’s report emphasised the need for investment in places to meet, alongside support for local community-based organisations to sustain them, providing resources to areas that need them most and giving communities as much power and control over decision making as possible.

And rather than being directly financed by the Treasury, his proposed “Levelling Up Communities Fund”, very similar in form to the proposal for a Community Wealth Fund championed by an Alliance of over 400 organisations, mostly from civil society, but including over 30 local and combined authorities, would be funded from dormant assets.

The legislation to release the new wave of dormant assets (from stocks, shares, bonds, insurance, and pension policies) is now before Parliament. It provides an early opportunity for government to commit funding to meeting its levelling up ambitions through support for social and community infrastructure.

Over time, dormant asset funding has the potential to generate several billion pounds to transform the social fabric of some of our most left behind places, over timeframes that extend significantly beyond Treasury timescales, at no cost to the public purse.

This may seem like a radical commitment for any government. But, as we emerge from a pandemic which has demonstrated the power of hyper-local community action, it’s an agenda that needs to be enthusiastically embraced if the this one’s levelling up ambitions are to be achieved.

Jonathan Werran: Levelling up. A radical economic overhaul and zero carbon cannot be delivered from the centre.

6 May

Jonathan Werran is Chief Executive of Localis.

Like a wild schoolyard football game, it will be a case of everyone’s eyes on the ball, with their legs enthusiastically following, as we throw our attention into the joyful pile-on of local and devolved election results.

We should certainly enjoy the spectacle of postponed local democracy restored, while voters in their millions flock to polling booths across England to vote in various district, county, unitary, London mayoral and regional mayoral combined authority elections.

But were we to zoom out and survey the whole frame, we’d see a tangled skein of pitches with different games being played out on fields of various sizes, to somewhat different sets of rules.

This is because, for many parts of England, a devolution destiny remains unfixed. This means, in certain cases, it remains doubtful whether there will be repeat polling business four years hence. The baked-in assumption is that in order to secure prized strategic devolution deals, parts of the country will submit themselves to the Whitehall meatgrinder of reorganisation.

The white paper and the problem of “place”

Today Localis has issued a place-based analysis of “Building Back Better” in a report entitled A Plan for Local Growth. The central thrust of our argument is that there should be a strict separation between short-term, community-led decision-making for town centre and high-street renewal – which boosts place prosperity – and long-term, high-value central government infrastructure strategies aimed at raising historic low-levels of productivity.

To this end, central government must get behind community control of high-street regeneration, accelerate devolved skills reforms and define a clear role for local authorities and their economic partners in driving economic development and meeting net zero targets.

On that vexed issue of local government reorganisation, our analysis questions the efficacy of driving economic recovery through changes of machinery to the local state. Localis firmly believes that national recovery through building back better and “levelling up” will only succeed through a grounded approach focused on place – melding the horizontal elements of place with the sector based vertical deals from the ancien regime’s industrial strategy.

However, the problem seemingly is that the definition of “place” can mean literally anything across separate Whitehall departments operating in the same place. This is often to the bewilderment of authorities seeking inward investment and businesses seeking to survive and thrive beyond Brexit and Covid.

This Whitehall disconnect also applies to public services. Anything from dedicated schools grant, migration to criminal justice reform can see individual departments taking on bit parts – research, funding, delivery. Perhaps whether the ambit of the Levelling Up White Paper can solve the perennial problem of un-joined-up government is a moot point. But a way is needed to integrate disparate cross-departmental central government agendas so that there is actual early proof these connect at the level of place, work in practice and inspire confidence to move onwards at speed.

This is where we must pin our hopes upon Neil O’Brien to ride to the rescue.

On account of the time, money, political capital and economic potential forever lost to the pandemic, we find ourselves at more of a crucial moment than we perhaps realise. The moment calls for urgently aligning the agenda for devolution and decentralisation with that of growth and recovery.

So it is a hopeful sign that O’Brien has been set the task of pulling together the disparate threads of the levelling up agenda into a forthcoming white paper, resurrecting a cause deflated by last autumn’s failure to launch the English Devolution and Economic Recovery White Paper amid the sudden ministerial departure of Simon Clarke.

The challenge demands a policy mind as sharp and political senses as keen as O’Brien possesses. The levelling up agenda currently risks a fate worse than “Big Society” – as a potentially hugely transformative agenda with popular appeal that dies from lack of rootedness in local daily life and concrete, plainly visible outcomes.

Joining the dots on levelling up

Devolution and growth must be seen as so intrinsically linked as for one to be as impossible to conceive of as existing without the presence of the other. There’s a fancy term from classical rhetoric for the occasion, “hendiadys” or literally “one through two”. In common parlance, think of “bread and butter” or “fish and chips” and try imagining in your mind one of these essential elements without the thought of the other arising.

In an earlier Localis contribution to ConHome on England’s place in the union, and taking our cue from George Orwell, we advocated that “England has got to assume its real shape”. A bit of local laissez-faire and free choice when it comes to English local governance might not be the worst outcome, it was argued. And as Paul Goodman instantly observed of the Plan for Growth in ConHome, “if it really wants to go for sustainable and more even growth, the Government will need to devolve more power”.

So on the basis that levelling up, a radical economic overhaul and zero carbon cannot be delivered from the centre, and that we must trust in the new mayors to use their convening powers to get the local political economy around the table, how might we suggest the Levelling Up White Paper create maximum benefit for minimum effort? To build on the foundations laid out in the Plan for Growth, Localis recommends that the Levelling Up White Paper should:

  • Create pathways to community autonomy as a vehicle for hyperlocal, small-scale and patient financing of regeneration;
  • build a framework for devolution to skills advisory panels to facilitate local collaboration between employers, providers and education authorities to further accelerate the push to improve skill levels;
  • create a clear role for the local state in driving towards the skills for net zero; and
  • clarify and codify the role for existing institutions of the local state particularly local authorities in LEPs – in driving economic development.
The political and economic imperative

Many Red Wall Conservative MPs will become if they are not already are acutely alert to the fact that they risk paying the political price for an unreformed, silo-fixated Whitehall’s disjointed and agonisingly slow local delivery at local level.

The test for Levelling Up White Paper will be its ability to work through connective administrative tissue of the “people’s priorities” – clean growth, whatever new badge is thrown over industrial strategy, as well as local skills training. A joined-up and fleshed-out levelling up can achieve a virtuous circle of devolution, leading to growth and recovery that inspires further trust and pride in place and place leadership.

Witness the electoral fortunes of Ben Houchen in Tees Valley and Andy Street in the West Midlands. Their likely success is testament to the policy vision laid out for trusting men of “push and go”, charismatic regional leaders with energy and vision to champion their wide economic area. So on the basis that a combination of the vaccination bounce and whatever local political factors ensure a satisfactory set of local and regional results overnight, there should be both confidence and conviction to repay this trust with Whitehall ceding more powers to metro mayors in a deeper devolution settlement.

Otherwise, we risk the continuation of a lop-sided, centrally-led, interventionist growth policy which only serves to hamstring our localities from achieving anything like their fullest inherent economic and place potential.

Garvan Walshe: Democracies need to pull together to stop Chinese subversion of the open global economy

3 Dec

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

Chinese aggression hit the headlines after Beijing imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine. But resisting Beijing’s exploitation of the international economy to build up its own power needs democracies to do far more than buy the odd bottle (or case) of Cab-Sauv.

On Tuesday, the China Research Group, led by Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien, released a hard hitting report, Defending Democracy in a New World, describing a toolkit of things democracies can do to limit China’s abuse of the international system (I was involved in drafting the report).

Quite rightly, the report emphasises the importance of engaging with China, and welcomes Chinese economic progress, which, since Deng Xiaoping began to open the Chinese economy in 1979, has brought huge gains in the standard of living of billions of Chinese people, and indirectly, to the rest of the world.

Yet that international economic system is based on fundamental principles that China has been systematically violating. Human rights abuses have intensified since Xi Jinping consolidated power, from the concentration camps into which Uighurs have been crammed, to the destruction of civil liberties and democratic rights in Hong Kong, and the totalitarian oppression to which all Chinese citizens are subjected. China is bullying its neighbours, even to the point of preventing Taiwan helping fight the Covid–19 pandemic through the World Health Organisation, and has been rearming to back that intimidation with force.

Defending Democracy’s most important contribution however, is that it identifies the core source of Chinese Communist Party power and presents a set of practical measures democracies can take to blunt this expansionism. Today’s China is capable of reaching into the open economies of the West and pressing the undoubted economic achievements of Chinese industry and technology into the service of the Chinese state.

When globalisation brought barriers between states down, it did so on the implicit assumption that in market economies, the purpose of business was to make money – not serve the home states of the companies’ owners.

This created a world where it’s possible for all of us who can afford it, no matter where we are from, to own parts of foreign companies by buying shares in them, and have that ownership protected by the foreign country’s legal system. Instead of competing politically-like nineteenth century powers, we invest in each others’ economies and reap the benefits of companies competing with each other across a massive international market.

This ideal, however, is based on governments’ understanding that their job isn’t to promote “our own” companies at the expense of “theirs”, but to create an economic environment where a market economy could meet people’s needs and create jobs. Notwithstanding occasional outbursts of protectionism like France’s declaring dairy producer Danone a “strategic” industry, or outright state capture in some of the smaller ex-Communist European states, this ideal has mostly been upheld in the advanced economies of the world.

Xi Jinping’s China has seen that it is possible to apply the subversion of open Western economies, pioneered by the KGB, at industrial scale. When Western countries began to open up to each other after World War II, we did so on the condition that foreign trade and investment would not be used as a crude tool of political influence.

Perhaps seduced by the size of the Chinese market, and deceiving ourselves into thinking that as the Chinese grew richer, their political system would automatically grow democratic, we neglected to apply the same condition to Beijing. China is now going further, and using its power not only to enrich itself at the expense of a naive international economic and political system, but to start shaping the system’s rules in its own favour, and against liberal democracy.

This report is the start of a line of thinking that democracies, including of course the incoming Biden administration, need to join forces to impose costs on China for as long as its abuse of the international system continues. It contains some powerful measures that we can take to limit proposes some powerful measures that can be used to limit the extent of Beijing’s exploitation of our openness to further entrench its totalitarian rule.

As well as innovative specific measures to support the people of Hong Kong, and British National Overseas passport holders, to which the UK has a special responsibility, the report develops policies that can be applied by other democracies.

These include the systematic extension of Magnitsky Act-style sanctions to individuals responsible for human rights violations in China, including those in leadership positions.

Another key proposal is a “know your supplier” obligation to hold companies responsible for goods they sell that have been produced in supply chains where slave labour has been used.  Companies that fail to adequately investigate their own supply chains could be fined, and their directors be subject to personal liability and asset forfeiture if it is found that their wealth resulted from forced labour.

Chinese state-owned enterprises could be excluded from national-security sensitive infrastructure projects. Indeed, given the control the Chinese government exerts over even non-state owned enterprises such as Huawei, through its own national security legislation, the report could perhaps have gone further here, though considerable work is needed to make such restrictions compatible with WTO rules.

China’s participation in the open global economy has been good for China, and good for the rest of us,  but it has become clear that China is actively undermining the separation of politics and business upon which economic openness depends. Until Beijing changes its behaviour, democracies need to work together to ensure that China can no longer use its economic power to to bend the international system out of shape.

James Roberts: Woke ideology has brought with it an entire industry – and, even worse, it’s the taxpayer who’s funding it.

22 Sep

James Roberts is political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance

With all the talk of post-Brexit state aid rules and subsidies for cutting-edge tech, other sectors propped up by the taxpayer are often overlooked. That includes our super-subsidised social justice sector.

The wave of woke has brought with it an entire industry. It has all the hallmarks of a successful sector: thousands of employees; quarterly results in the form of constant corporate releases on diversity; legions of lawyers; and incomprehensible industry jargon, repeated ad infinitum in its trade press, the BBC. It enjoys the backing of its own (captured) regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and it parasitically preys on millions of pounds of public money.

You would have thought the social justice sector was big enough to look after itself. In 2003, an American professor noted that companies were spending an estimated $8 billion a year on diversity efforts. Today, business is booming. 

Diversity demagogues have successfully roped gullible civil servants into their agenda. Annual reports from every government body are filled with endless initiatives (the Civil Service Commission’s “diversity forum” and Network Rail’s “Race Matters” programme, to name but two).

In 2018, we estimated that the Equality Act alone (which spawned a great deal of this diversity doctrine) would cost the taxpayer £49 million annually by 2020. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are government jobs a plenty for these cultural commissars: everything from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Specialists at UK Research and Innovation (£49,708pa) to Head of Inclusion at Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (£47,544 – £53,459pa).

Nowhere is this clearer than with the EHRC. The body once headed by Trevor Philips has become the engine for social activism.

It starts with subsidies. We identified £40 million of taxpayers’ money being given to a sample of organisations last year which campaign and lobby for political causes. EHRC was one of the main suppliers. Lucky recipients of EHRC grants included £10,169 for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, £18,000 handed to think tank Bright Blue for “event costs”, and £19,000 to Diverse Cymru, having been commissioned to create films highlighting refugees’ issues in Wales.

Even this year, with a global pandemic, the right-on racket continued. Self-proclaimed “specialist in Gender and LGBT Equality” Julie Scanlon received £8,305 in April from EHRC for “research”. Topics from her blog include “Has your organisation ever celebrated Lesbian Visibility Day” and (somewhat ironically for taxpayers) “Is your privilege losing you money?”.

Then we have TS4SE, a provider of “refugee and migrant awareness training”. The EHRC gave it a grant of £9,191. Justice Studio Ltd were paid a total of £65,560 between April 2019 and July 2020. Before the final payment had even been made, the founder and managing director felt it appropriate to condone the desecration of Winston Churchill’s statue, claiming he “had it coming”, as well as pronouncing extensively on the existence of white privilege.  

These campaigners, openly and aggressively pursuing a political agenda, should not be receiving taxpayers’ money. For the record, we pursue an agenda. So does Greenpeace. But neither of us takes a penny from the state.

With political activism in full swing, woke warriors have been looking for other ways to influence policy-making at the taxpayers’ expense. Once again, EHRC has obliged. The EHRC panel of counsel is a list of preferred providers of external legal services for the quango, including representation and advice. The panel is the linchpin of a network of activist lawyers, pursuing contentious political causes with no regard for the effective cross-subsidy coming their way from taxpayers, via the EHRC.

Unlike the attorney activism of the past, this doesn’t need a penny of legal aid money. EHRC panel lawyers are able to claim and continue campaigning as they please. Catherine Meredith, of Doughty Street Chambers, enjoyed payments totalling £3,264 in January and February of 2019, before claiming Britain requires “radical institutional and social change” following the death of George Floyd.

Lawyers from Matrix Chambers have received almost £600,000 since 2017. Yet one represented the organisation that blocked a recent Jamaica deportation flight. He got £86,900. Another, Emma Foubister, defended Extinction Rebellion activists after their eco-antics. Her EHRC bill came to £55,934. Helen Mountfield QC, who represented “The People’s Challenge” in the Gina Miller Brexit case, herself pocketed £190,688.

The persistent campaigning of the publicly-funded progressives has been a remarkable vehicle for influencing public policy. With a few notable (and noble) exceptions, like Ben Bradley and Neil O’Brien, now MPs themselves have been bounced into (taxpayer-funded) lectures on woke ideology via “unconscious bias” training.

For all the talk of fighting for the values of “forgotten man”, remarkably few figures in this “People’s Government” have joined the battle. Priti Patel put her head above the parapet in battle against activist lawyers, and became a hate figure in return. One Matrix lawyer publicly mocked Patel as “not smart” or “deliberately misleading”. Last year an organisation called Race on the Agenda happily took almost £20,000 from EHRC, but had no qualms about signing an open letter to the Home Secretary accusing her of a “regressive and counterproductive policing policy and cheap political point scoring”.

Ministers need to wake up. The social justice super-blob will never stop campaigning, attacking any government policy they can, driven on by professional zealotry and perks of public funding. Popular policies (from any party) will always be targets. For the activism industry, the world truly is black and white.   

So what can be done? First, defund the committed crusaders. Organisations that campaign and lobby for political objectives shouldn’t receive taxpayers’ money. The EHRC, which began recruiting a new chair and board members in June, should cut them off. The new leadership would do well to remember, as Trevor Philips himself has found out, that the activism industry inevitably turns on its own supporters. It’s better to starve the beast. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidise this agenda any longer.

Unconscious bias training. What’s the point of having a huge majority if Tories can’t say no to it?

2 Sep

On Monday, The Times revealed news that won’t exactly delight Conservatives. Having voted for Boris Johnson under the assumption that his party would stand up to cancel culture, wokeness and all things far-Left, they will be astounded to know that the House of Commons is reportedly piloting “unconscious bias training” for MPs.

Though this training has been offered to Commons staff since 2016, it is the first time it has been extended in such a manner. The move has come about partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as the experiences of parliamentary staff. According to research by Parlireach, employees from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to be challenged to show their security passes, among other discriminatory incidents.

While these injustices must, of course, be fixed, it is the “unconscious bias training” solution that a lot of the electorate will take issue with. Numerous articles have been written about how pseudoscientific the method is. But the worst bit is the basic premise; it assumes that racism and other prejudices sit deep within people’s minds, and need to be exorcised with the help of an educator.

Are we okay with our MPs undertaking this? What does this say if they are happy to go along with it? Personally I think unconscious bias training is prejudiced in itself (“white people have the same bad thoughts”), oxymoronic (how can you train the unconscious?), and ultimately sounds like something out of Salem (“let’s get the devil out of you!”). Yet the industry is now worth $8 billion.

Sadly, the emergence of unconscious bias training is not an isolated phenomenon; it fits into a wider trend that is troubling the silent majority, who will see this latest development as yet another example of Conservatives/ the mainstream, even, losing the culture war. Yes, the Tories repeatedly win elections, but Britain remains plagued by woke ideology, which seems to grow in prevalence each day.

The most recent example of this came from a somewhat predictable place – the BBC, which decided to scrap the words from Land of Hope and Glory and Rule, Britannia! in favour of orchestral music after the lyrics were deemed problematic. It has since u-turned on this decision, but only after a great amount of backlash. You almost had to pinch yourself that we reached that situation, and that the change of heart was some sort of victory.

As if that wasn’t barmy enough, the British Library (BL) is also going through a woke revolution. A number of people, including – worryingly – its chief librarian, have decided that this institution needs a “major cultural change”. Reforms have been proposed by a “Decolonising Working Group”, which says that the BL building is an “imperialism symbol” because it resembles a battleship. 

Who knows what’s next… Will activists “dismantle” the BL in the same way they want to “dismantle” patriarchy and other vague sociological constructs? Not to give any ideas, but perhaps the scene of it coming down might finally make politicians wake up and realise how serious the threat they are facing is. Woke ideology has been accelerated through lockdown, and it is not going away.

One is not naive, incidentally, about injustices in the world. It is far from perfect, and the battles for racial and gender equality, among others, are not won yet. It would be foolish to dismiss these, and pretend that things are fine. Clearly they aren’t.

But we have reached a state in which intolerance masquerading as tolerance has become increasingly dangerous. We live in a society where students and professors are afraid at universities because of having right-leaning political views; where people can’t get work in the arts for the same reason, and where Netflix shows as innocuous as The Mighty Boosh are eradicated because someone’s now suddenly offended.

The standards of morality seem to shift all the time; for activists, nothing is ever enough as they look for 2020’s blasphemers. Sometimes they claim that cancel culture is exaggerated, or a myth, but only because they are doing the cancelling – and never on the receiving end.

In all this, many voters are asking themselves one question, and that is: where are the Conservatives? Busy, of course, with the pandemic, but more than ever the electorate is needing reassurances that they’re safe; not next to be cancelled.

Ministers have made small steps towards sticking up for not so much ‘conservative’, but mainstream values. Gavin Williamson, for instance, has encouraged universities to defend free speech through financial incentives, and the BBC has its new Director General who wants more plurality of opinion

And yet, the recent scenes of statue toppling have not exactly inspired confidence. MPs were too quiet on the matter, perhaps scared of putting a foot wrong. They should have taken some lessons from Emmanuel Macron, who took charge when France experienced BLM protests, making a televised address that struck an important balance.

There, he acknowledged that someone’s “address, name, colour of skin” can reduce their chances of success in French society and promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”. At the same time, he said the fight against racism had been distorted when it became exploited by “separatists”, and that “the republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history.”

The Prime Minister has spoken out against woke ideology – last week he said of the BBC Proms’ decision that Britain must stop “this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness” – but I can’t help feeling it lacked the command of Macron’s address.

Where do ministers begin at fighting back? Perhaps it is Michael Gove, Chancellor Duchy of Lancaster, who will have to lead this charge. He has already criticised “group think” in the civil service, warning that a “metropolitan” outlook of decision-makers had led to a government that was “estranged” from the people.

Or it might be that Dominic Cummings – ever in touch with public opinion – who will make a difference as he reforms the civil service, as with Munira Mirza, Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, who has written for distinctly “unwoke” publications, such as spiked. 

It may also be the case that MPs like Joy Morrissey, who has stood up for free speech, Ben Bradley, who has fought back in the culture wars, and Neil O’Brien, who has also done this – recently criticising unconscious bias training – get pushed more towards the centre stage.

I suspect that deep down, the answer to all this wokeness (call it that, or whatever you like), is courage. Tories simply need to get much more vocal about their own convictions; the more speak up against this ideology, the better. Saying no to unconscious bias training is a good place to start.