Are windfall taxes unconservative? Thatcher and Howe didn’t think so.

29 Apr

1981 has been on my mind for the last 24 hours or so. Having spent my afternoon yesterday seeing For Your Eyes Only in Leicester Square (a solid Bond, but not a patch on Moonraker), I then fell into conversation over dinner with a fellow cricket nut, where he related to me first-hand his experiences of Botham’s Ashes. But even this nostalgia-hit was topped when I checked today’s headlines, and saw the Chancellor floating a windfall tax on energy firms to the good ladies of Mumsnet.

For it was in the infamous 1981 budget (panned by 364 economists for raising taxes in a recession) that Geoffrey Howe added a windfall tax on banks to the one he had slapped on North Sea Oil the previous November. It seems that the Chancellor is imitating his predecessor in more ways than just wrestling with inflation, worrying about interest rates, and making comments that damaged his next-door neighbour’s position. And not just copying Labour’s latest gimmick.

But from the opprobrium Sunak’s floating of the idea has attracted, one would not have got the sense that he was aping our finest Chancellor since Gladstone. Kate Andrews has lambasted the anti-business ethos of the levy, whilst Ross Clark suggested the Chancellor is engaged in tub-thumping left-wing populism. Indeed, The Daily Telegraph’s editorial launched a full-throated assault on the idea, portraying it as directly contrary to any efforts to encourage energy independence.

The sense one gets is that these titans of Conservatism consider windfall taxes as unTory as their nineteenth century predecessors did Catholics voting or the Corn Laws being cut. And yet one is reminded that it was Sir Robert Peel, another great Conservative Prime Minister and Chancellor, who steered both these two measures through Parliament. In short, if Howe could budget with a windfall tax without having to defect to Labour, then so can Sunak – and so the idea deserves some analysis.

Having consulted my well-thumbed copies of Charles Moore’s Thatcher biographies and Just in Time (John Hoskyns’ definitive inside account of her early Downing Street years), I am led to believe that Howe was driven towards these two windfall taxes as a way of raising revenue. Fundamentally, he desired to get government borrowing down, so interest rates could fall, and growth could return to a country harrowed by recession. Both the banks and North Sea firms were doing well, and so were easy targets.

As the Iron Lady put it in her autobiography, the banks “had made their large profits as a result of our policy of high interest rates rather than because of increased efficiency or better service to the customer” – and so were a viable target for a desperate Treasury. And these were the days when North Sea Oil was such a source of national pride, that it formed a core of the SNP’s case for independence, kept the Prime Minister’s plans afloat, and was rewarded with its own board game.

Sunak finds himself in a similar situation. It has been a sorry fact of the last few weeks that the Chancellor has received far more flack over his and his wife’s private financial affairs than he has praise for his prescience in predicting the petrifying inflation perforating our politics. A year ago, he warned of his fear of having to raise taxes if debt servicing costs increased. Lo and behold, he announced at the Spring Statement that they had quadrupled – and taxes rose accordingly.

A windfall tax on energy firms would have the obvious political attraction of falling on companies doing very well for themselves right now. This may stink of exactly the left-wing eco-populism that Ross Clark may dislike, but the alternative is to squeeze more money out of over-burdened and over-taxed voters. A few billion from the oil and gas companies might mean a tax cut for the ‘Squeezed Middle’, ‘Alarm-Clock Britain’, the ‘Just About Managing’, ‘Quiet Batpeople’ – or whatever we’re calling normal folk today.

But Andrews, Clark, et al are right to point out the obvious flaws in a windfall tax. These taxes hit the pockets of shareholders – which through pensions schemes, savings, and insurance policies, means those same normal folk. They also reduce investment, by forcing capital expenditure to go into paying taxes, meaning any of those plans that leading energy firms have for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables as to reach Net Zero will be disrupted.

Yet the Chancellor is a clever man and will know all this. Something else must lie behind his musings to Mumsnet. Unlike Howe’s push to cut borrowing, Sunak’s wondering about windfalls may have little to do with potential revenue – which, at £3-4 billion, would be a drop in the ocean compared to the costs he’s facing. Instead, as Andrews suggests, this may be a prod to the energy companies in line with the Chancellor’s Mais lecture earlier this year, which stressed the need for greater capital investment. Invest, chaps, or we’ll tax you more.

Nevertheless, since a windfall tax in practice would discourage exactly the investment the Chancellor might desire, this is hardly a fool-proof plan. I hope Sunak knows what he’s doing. There may well be a folder marked For Your Eyes Only somewhere in the Treasury that hold all the secrets to his tax-cutting, revenue-raising, productivity-boosting agenda. But if the Chancellor wants his fellow Conservatives to start having a bit more confidence in him, he should make his intentions a little less confusing.



David Willets: Johnson’s reorganisation of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office hints at bigger problems than partygate

11 Feb

Lord Willetts is President of the Advisory Council and Intergenerational Centre of the Resolution Foundation. He is a former Minister for Universities and Science.

Boris Johnson’s proposed reorganisation of 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office is being seen entirely through the prism of partygate. But there is more to it than that.

These two institutions at the very centre of government do not appear to be operating the way they should. This is not simply a matter of the PM’s personal style – the structures should be sufficiently flexible to adjust to the distinctive ways of working of different leaders. The problem is deeper than that.

First, a bit of constitutional doctrine. There is a locked door – and now its modern equivalent – between No 10 and the Cabinet Office. This is not just for security. It also signifies the difference between the office of the Prime Minister and the office serving the Cabinet as a whole. Blurring this distinction as if it is all a single entity weakens government it does not strengthen it.

On one side are the PM’s own staff. When I worked in Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 Policy Unit we were very aware of this responsibility. We might give her our personal advice but once we were dealing with anyone else we should be setting out her views – and if she had not yet reached a view on a particular policy option we should make this clear.

The cardinal sin was to present our personal views as the PM’s if they were not. There are now many more people in No 10. And it is no longer always clear if they really are transmitting the PM’s own views or not.

On the other side of the door is the Cabinet Office which serves Cabinet and all its committees. Some key committees will be chaired by the PM but many will not. The Cabinet Office’s job is to identify all the different departmental angles on an issue and ensure they are all heard before a decision is taken.

This may sound bureaucratic and slow – sometimes it is. But it is also key to good government. The media narrative all too often presents every decision as if it is right v wrong. If only! Most decisions get to high level cabinet committees because they are difficult trade-offs between good things which are all government objectives.

It is important to bring out what these trade-offs are. That involves government departmental ministers playing the roles allotted to them. I learned this lesson very early on when I was a Treasury official working on the Thatcher government’s first public spending round. Keith Joseph was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and so committed to Thatcherism that he agreed to all the cuts we were asking for with no argument. At last we thought we had a proper departmental minister who was on our side.

But within a year the Government was in an unexpected political crisis as every steel plant in Britain was due to close as all funding for British Steel was stopping. Ministers were taken by surprise and an expensive ad hoc rescue package was cobbled together to slow the rate of closure and keep one or two open. The original decision had been taken without enough proper assessment of the implications because nobody in the room was willing to warn of them.

The Cabinet Office exists to ensure that trade-offs are properly analysed– even if the PM may think he or she already knows what they want. There is often a key trusted figure – Willie Whitelaw for Thatcher or Damian Green and then David Lidington for Theresa May – to chair these discussions.

That role in turn depends on the Cabinet Office being trusted by all the players. But if the Cabinet Office itself becomes a player it loses that role. And now it is accruing so many different special units and operational responsibilities it becomes the shaper of policy. Some of these Cabinet Office responsibilities can themselves become drivers of bureaucracy – Whitehall departments end up spending a lot of time dealing with reviews and information requests initiated by the Cabinet Office.

Johnson’s own style of government needs a strong effective Cabinet Office with clear but limited role and commanding the trust of respected departmental ministers. And to move from constitutional doctrine to practical politics; Prime Ministers fall when they lose the confidence of their Cabinet colleagues.

So instead of bringing together No 10 and Cabinet Office in a single department, it might be better to do the opposite. Carve out a distinctive small No 10 operation which has Johnson’s voice and his personal priorities. Then keep the Cabinet Office separate serving all of Cabinet. It should build and respect strong departmental ministers.

They should then give a sense of momentum to the Government as a whole as they get on with things. And they should be delivering big thoughtful speeches explaining what they are trying to achieve instead of being bogged down in negotiating slots in the No 10 grid which can get in the way of proper planning of such interventions.

Its preoccupation with the theme of the week and specific narrowly policy statements can be an obstacle to ever getting these big arguments across. Then the stature of Cabinet ministers would rise and the PM would find he had what any PM needs in difficult times – a strong Cabinet supporting him.

John Redwood: What the Prime Minister can learn from Thatcher about running a successful Policy Unit

24 Jan

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

In the early days of this government, I was asked by the Prime Minister how I ran the Policy Unit for Margaret Thatcher. I sent him a presentation on options for establishing a strategic policy vision and direction, and briefly described the way Number 10 worked when I was a young senior adviser there.

I urged him to keep the crucial manifesto headline promises of levelling up, getting Brexit done and not raising the main taxes as central drivers of policy. The overall aim must be the greater prosperity of the many by expanding the economy, making and growing more things at home and showing how Brexit freedoms could lead to more and better paid jobs and more businesses.

These aims could then fuel matters for Prime Ministerial leadership and decision, and delegated matters for the different departments of state. Each Cabinet Minister should be told what is expected of them and how their department fits in with the general strategy. That needs to be agreed on appointment.

Thatcher had a much smaller staff at Downing Street than more recent Prime Ministers. There were three of us, senior civil servants, who talked to her a lot, knew her mind and helped her fashion government speeches, decisions and interventions and chair committees to resolve disagreements. The Principal Private Secretary ran her diary, ensured two way communication with all government departments and Ministers, organised meetings, sent out letters of confirmation and instruction following individual or collective decision and filled her daily boxes with work.

As Head of the Policy Unit, I provided briefs on all the main meetings she attended or initiated, ensuring her views and the strategic vision of priorities and aims could be reflected in what she and the government did. I sent her proposals to start work streams in government to fulfil manifesto and other promises, and to remove or amend departmental proposals that did not fit with the strategy.

I ensured she had bilaterals with leading Cabinet members to avoid misunderstandings and to enable them to voice their worries or request more support when carrying through agreed major policies. The Head of the Press and media department was her voice to the third estate, reflecting her views and answering criticisms as need arose. She had a Political Secretary for Conservative events and party correspondence.

She was pleased with the results of this structure and said she thought it helped her achieve more. For example we helped her drive through the whole wider ownership policy of everyone an owner. The work embraced home purchase, more self employment, personal pension savings, employee share schemes and the privatisation programme.

The Social Security Secretary led a wide welfare review with emphasis on personal pensions and other savings, the Treasury led the share ownership and privatisation policy , the Employment Department worked on qualifications, training and simplifying self employment, and the local government and Environment department pursued the housing initiatives led by Right to buy.

The system worked for a variety of reasons. The most important was we three knew her mind or made sure we found out her view on a topic before telling the rest of Whitehall or the press. They knew when we spoke we spoke for the PM. It was relatively easy for other departments to work out the view in many cases, as there were some clear precepts and priorities that would always influence decisions.

The occasional much-debated big speech charted the future in important areas and led to work across relevant departments to see it through to implementation. The speech was always thoroughly prepared and shared in draft with those Ministers likely to be affected. We tried to ensure there was always consistency, clear direction and language that made it relevant to people’s lives. I tried to keep our work strategic, as the PM should not try to do the jobs of Whitehall departments for them. Number 10 is a leader and change maker, not a means of implementing policy.

The work of the PM and Ministers was not done once the policy was announced. Indeed that to me was the formal commencement of the actions, not the end result after a sometimes long and argumentative process to arrive at an answer.

It was important to supervise implementation and check that all was working as intended. It would be no good for the PM to set out what she wanted, for there to be no follow up work to make sure it happened. This might well be the job of named Ministers, but for the big items there also needed to be reports back to the centre. The twice weekly briefing sessions for PM Questions ensured departments had to keep the PM up to date with topical or fast changing items.

The task of writing the big speeches gave me plenty of time with the PM on a regular basis for what was in effect a series of long seminars and reviews of government policy and actions. We checked the speech drafts for accuracy and for relevance to the state of play the government needed to manage or alter.

Policy Unit members had access to the PM on their specialist topics as well as through me. They did not have any licence to instruct Ministers elsewhere in government, and were urged to be careful if Ministers asked for a steer. There was no Policy Unit view for outside consumption, only the Prime Minister’s view. The Policy Unit view was worked through and argued out in private and put to the PM who could run with it if she wished.

We adjusted the view in the light of her responses. I met the Special Advisers in other departments from time to time but did not regard it as any part of my job to guide or employ them. Our relations with Whitehall usually took place via a formal Private Secretary letter from Downing Street reflecting the PM’s view or informal guidance and arguments in official meetings preparatory to briefing Ministers or in our case the PM. I ensured the Policy Unit was at all times a working part of the civil service with career civil servants as well as directly recruited experts.

There is a modern relevance to all this. A Prime Minister needs a few advisers that he trusts who have sufficient delegated authority to get things done across Whitehall. It needs to be done in a constitutional way, respecting the fact that Cabinet members should be the main source of advice and information on their remits.

Where a senior adviser thinks a department and its Cabinet member are taking a wrong direction which can damage the overall government strategy and outturn that has to put privately to the PM and the two of them have then to agree how change will be achieved with minimum damage and preferably with no press knowledge. There can only be one government policy at any time, so where there is disagreement advisers need to help the senior politicians arrive at a suitable collective decision.

This should not always be a compromise as sometimes one course is right and the other full of danger, so a clear choice needs to be made. Any good Cabinet Committee required careful preparation to ensure Cabinet members could freely express reservations amid criticisms whilst keeping the integrity and coherence of the overall aims and vision. Where the dispute was the usual Treasury versus spending department one the PM was usually the decisive voice. Number 10 needed a strong negative capability to stop needless change or complexity, as well as a strong positive view of what government could and should do to improve the lives of the nation.

Sarah Ingham: Under Johnson, the Marie Antoinette of our times, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable

10 Dec

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

For someone who aspired to being world king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has turned out to be more like France’s Louis XV, who predicted ‘Après moi, le deluge’.

“After me, the flood” has nothing to do with the Government’s obsession with carbon net zero. Let’s hope this fixation reached its zenith at last month’s preening eco-fest, COP26, also known as Davos on the Clyde. Instead, the failures of the reign of King Louis (1710-1774) paved the way for the French Revolution of 1789. Whether the monarch was anticipating or was indifferent to the chaos which would follow him is usually only of academic concern.

Close to the second anniversary of the 2019 election victory which delivered a landslide majority of 80, the Prime Minister’s own seeming indifference to the plight of the people of this country is only rivalled by that of Louis’ granddaughter-in-law, Marie Antoinette, to her subjects. Let them eat cake? Let their children, like 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, die alone. Let their frail elderly be unvisited in care homes. Let their weddings be postponed. Let their churches, temples, synagogues and mosques be closed.

Patterson, Peppa Pig, parties at No 10 and Plan B. During the past few weeks, Johnson has not so much crashed the car into a ditch as sent it over a cliff where it somersaults to the ground before exploding into a fireball. Never mind unforced, his errors appear so wilful, it has to be asked whether he is up to the job of being PM – or indeed even wants it.

“There is no Plan B” – you wish. On Wednesday, more Covid-related restrictions on daily life were unveiled. The timing was reminiscent of the United States’ 1998 bombing of a factory in Sudan, assumed to be Bill Clinton’s very own diversionary tactic to distract from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of business, enterprise and wise stewardship of the economy. The Institute of Economic Affairs suggests the latest Covid measures will cost Britain £4 billion a month. And the Government clearly views the hospitality sector as below the salt, despite contributing almost £60 billion in gross value added to the British economy in 2019. Hammering it in the run-up to Christmas for the second successive year could be the final straw for many weakened businesses. Let them go bust.

There should be no Plan B. Omicron might well be a live vaccine, bestowing natural immunity following a mild cold-like infection. Instead of viewing the variant as a possible blessing, we’re back to more masks, tests, vaccines passports and Working From Home. As ConservativeHome revealed earlier this week, WFH has turned out to be less than optimal for the Foreign Office or for desperate Afghans.

The Government’s response to Covid has been flawed from the get-go: disproportionate, panicked and heedless of collateral damage. It would have been better off consulting Mystic Meg than Professor Neil Ferguson and his ilk. SAGE should have been sacked long ago. Its advice has not only crashed the British economy but failed to prevent 146,000 Covid-related deaths.

The massive structural flaws within the state apparatus which the pandemic has revealed would have been a toxic inheritance for any leader. Post-Brexit Britain can no longer use Brussels as an excuse for mismanagement and burdensome red tape. The country needs a leader with the vision and drive to implement wholesale reform, not least of the Civil Service. We need another Thatcher to solve problems like the NHS: instead we get Johnson who ineffectively throws money at them, raising the tax burden to its highest and most unConservative level since the Second World War. Let them be poorer.

Anyone who has been out on the campaign trail with Johnson will testify to his charisma and the feel-good he conjures up among voters on the rainiest of days. However, his 2019 victory was not down to his celebrity or distinctive cartoon-like silhouette which fascinates small children or to his jokes.

Getting Brexit done was about more than Britain leaving the EU. By opting for Leave in 2016, voters signalled their demand for wholesale change within this country, only to be ignored and insulted by the Remainer political establishment – that includes you, Keir Starmer – who wanted to cling to the status quo. The Red Wall turned blue two years ago because Boris seemed to be on its voters’ side: instead of despising them, he got them.

Those voters are now asking where is Plan A. And whether it includes indulging the eco-loons of Insulate Britain, putting out the welcome mat for illegal migrants, ripping out gas boilers and imposing £1.4 trillion in costs to get the country to net zero. Where are Conservative principles in all this? Governing by focus group is not governing at all.

Blowing up voters’ goodwill, no Jeremy Corbyn to bash, Brexit done … MPs are surely weighing up whether Johnson is an asset or a liability. Next week’s result in North Shropshire should tell them.

The parties at No10 are the ultimate in toxic do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do hypocrisy. This is a different order of magnitude from Barnard Castle and the handsy Hancock trysts. Voters are not going to forget or forgive. For many, it’s too close to dancing on graves.

Johnson’s always shaky moral authority is ebbing away. There is already a suspicion that the PM and his wife stretched the rules (or was it the guidance?) last Christmas Day. Should they have stuck two fingers up at voters by going along to the knees-ups at the No10 frat house, it’s game over.

A three-week lockdown has turned into 21 months of state inference in our daily lives, with our hard-fought freedoms trashed by sub-prime officials and ministers. Liberty is the core Conservative value. It would be poetic justice if the Prime Minister were brought down by the statist rules he introduced.

The hubris, self-indulgence and lack of seriousness in Downing Street is typified by a melodrama over a makeover, involving the Electoral Commission in choices about wallpaper.

Thanks to the current chaotic regime, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable. Does Johnson care, or is he actually wanting to spend more time with his new family and with making Netflix documentaries? Après moi, le deluge.

Daniel Hannan: Where is the money coming from? The question that Conservatives don’t know how to answer.

27 Oct

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.

Alright, but where is the money coming from? I know that’s considered an indelicate question these days. Politicians don’t like to ask it, for fear of coming across as Scrooges. But it isn’t their own dosh they’re talking about, for Heaven’s sake. The debts they are running up will fall on all of us – including those our national poet called “your children yet unborn and unbegot”.

Billions have already been briefed in advance of today’s budget, as if Britain were a country with a healthy budget surplus. Five hundred and sixty million pounds to improve adult maths skills, £170 million extra for apprenticeships, £355 million more for improved street lighting and CCTV, £628 million in border technology and an eye-watering £7 billion on transport projects outside London.

Individually, each of these items might be defensible. But – again, I don’t like coming across as a miser, but someone has to say it – we are already spending and taxing at record levels. The state is spending a trillion pounds a year: two million pounds a minute. As Harry Phibbs reminded ConHome readers the other day, public expenditure has risen to a staggering 46.5 per cent of GDP.

Yes, the pandemic was a one-off challenge. Almost all free-marketeers understood that, and acquiesced in levels of emergency expenditure that they would never normally have countenanced. But that is not what we are talking about now. These are not spending rises caused by the epidemic or by the shutdowns. Those – the furlough, the emergency grants to businesses and so on – can reasonably be treated like a war debt, to be paid off over many decades. No, this is something else: a generalised and permanent increase in the size of the state, unrelated to the recent crisis.

Even when it comes to healthcare, we are way past contingency spending. The NHS was recently awarded an extra £36 billion in the last three-year settlement, but is reportedly in line for more than £4 billion more to pay for digitisation. By 2025, the NHS will account for fully 40 per cent of all government spending, up from 28 per cent in 2005. Britain is well on the way to becoming a healthcare system with a government attached.

At the same time, we are promised significant hikes in public sector pay and in the minimum wage. Once more – sorry to be a bore – where is the money coming from? Real wages tend to rise over time as technology advances and productivity improves. But simply decreeing higher wages, Ceausescu-like, does not make a country wealthier; it pushes up inflation. We are now hearing a deranged argument to the effect that higher wages are needed to pay for rising prices. Do I really need to spell out where that ends?

None of this profligacy is the result of Covid-19 – not directly, at any rate. There are, though, two ways in which the epidemic has indirectly altered the terms of the debate. First, and most obviously, it has blasted away our pre-2020 notions of proportionality. When a government is conjuring hundreds of billions of pounds into existence through quantitative easing and spending it furiously in emergency grants and subsidies, it becomes much harder to question hundreds of millions – vast sums by any normal reckoning – allocated to transport, policing or whatever.

Second, as this column has been glumly observing these past 19 months, the epidemic has altered our brain chemistry. Behavioural psychologists have long observed that wars, natural disasters and other collective threats make people more authoritarian, less tolerant of dissent, more demanding of the smack of firm government. Hence the overwhelming support for almost every lockdown measure, regardless of how founded it was in science. And hence the rise in support for a big state.

I have previously drawn a pessimistic parallel with 1945, when the authorities proved reluctant to let go of powers they had seized on a supposedly wartime basis. Identity cards remained until 1952, rationing until 1954, conscription until 1960 and most of the economic controls until the 1980s – not because voters were prepared to put up with them, but because voters actively demanded them.

There is another melancholy parallel to be drawn with 1945. Then, as now, there was a huge mismatch between what the nation could afford and what the electorate felt it had earned through its privations. Then, as now, the national debt was colossal (it is currently around 100 per cent of GDP). Then, as now, the recent trauma had engendered a collectivist mood. In 1945, it found expression through the creation of a monolithic welfare state. In 2021, it takes the form of public sector pay rises, nationalisations and industrial strategies.

In the short term, these things are very popular. Even in the longer term, they do little harm to their authors’ reputations. Clement Attlee is remembered as the man who gave poor people a safety net, not as the man whose nationalised behemoths eventually led to the collapse of the 1970s. There is a deal of ruin in a nation.

I don’t doubt Attlee’s decency. He believed he was spreading opportunity to those who had never had a chance. The trouble is that his reforms were not affordable in a state which had just emptied its treasury in the struggle against Nazism. Subsequent governments sought to inflate the debts away, with a catastrophic effect on our national competitiveness. Not until the Thatcher reforms was our decline arrested.

Just as Attlee had set his heart on state-funded health and welfare systems, so Boris had set his on some gargantuan government-led projects: levelling up, the nationalised financing of social care, big infrastructure schemes, net zero. Neither PM had the money to do the things he wanted. But, with the electorate demanding more government, it is always easier to spend today and let others worry about the bill.

For the avoidance of doubt, I want Britain to be a high-skills, high-wage economy. Who doesn’t? I want us to have first-class public services. Who doesn’t? The question is how to pay for these things. Do we gouge a chunk of revenue out of the private sector now, thereby shrinking our economy overall? Or do we try to ensure that GDP grows so that wages rise naturally and there is plentiful revenue for the Treasury?

Margaret Thatcher knew the answer. Contrary to widespread belief, overall public spending rose in every year that she led the government. But she ensured that the economy grew faster than the government. So while public spending fell in proportionate terms, it rose in absolute terms. Every leading member of the present government lived through that era. They know that her approach worked. How sad that they seem too scared to copy it.

Andrew Bowie: Cameron, and his modernising agenda, inspired my generation. Who or what will inspire the next one?

13 Oct

Andrew Bowie is Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and a Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party.

My political life has been dominated by referendums.

By arguments over national identity.

First the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence. Then the 2016 referendum on our membership of the European Union. It has been exhausting.

And it is not why I got into politics. I joined the Conservative and Unionist party, not because I was a unionist, although I am, but because I am a Conservative. Because I want to make this country a better place.

But I would never have joined had it not been for one man, David Cameron. I joined the Conservative Party because I believed in the modernising agenda that Cameron, George Osborne and our now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, brought to our party.

Because I thought you could believe in free markets, private enterprise, personal responsibility, aspiration, fiscal responsibility and low taxes, whilst also believing that we have a responsibility to act on man-made climate change; that two people in love, whatever their gender, should be able to marry; that the NHS is an institution to be as proud of as the British Army and that our response to mental health could be better than simply asking people to keep a stiff upper lip.

Cameron represented a modernising force that redefined centrist politics and left Labour – and the SNP at the start of its dynastic crumble – struggling to find relevance.

I was three weeks too young to vote in the 2005 General Election. Thank goodness, because I had absolutely no idea who I would have voted for! For me, I’m afraid, the Tories were a bit too pale and stale; speaking about issues in a language that my mates and I just were not interested in nor could understand. And yet, I knew was a conservative.

It was just after this, whilst waiting to join the Royal Navy, I found myself working at my local Morrison’s Supermarket. I loved it. I still miss it.

And one day, whilst waiting to start my shift, sitting in my dad’s car outside the store, I listened, in awful quality Medium Wave, to Radio 5 Live’s coverage of Cameron winning the leadership election (DAB in a car was a dream back then). And I knew then, that the Conservative Party was my party.

Because for me, Cameron spoke to my generation.

My generation. A generation that doesn’t remember Thatcher, but was born when she was in Downing Street. That grew up through the Blair years, entered the world of work through the Brown years and suffered as we did, the financial crisis.

One that is old enough, just, to remember a pre-internet age but that were the first users of Facebook and YouTube; to remember when going for a night out meant waking up the next day reeking of the stale smoke of the club the night before. That thought playing snake on a Nokia **** or owning a tamagotchi were the limits of technological achievement. That had the terrifying experience of actually speaking to a girl, or a guy, in person, before going on a date.

We did grow up in a different age. All of this is ancient history to the 18-25s of today.

My point? We, the “Cameroons”, are about as far removed from the lived experiences of young people today as the Tory Party and its leaders were from my generation and our values, concerns and dreams in the mid 2000s.

And, to go back to the start of this piece, I wonder if our focus, particularly in Scotland, on the constitution or referendums, has gotten in the way of our recognising that, as we in the political and commentariat class re fight, ad nauseam, the battles of 2014 and 2016, there is a whole new generation out there in the country we are not speaking to. A generation who voted in neither referendum but will vote in the next General Election.

A generation who have never known a world without social media, on whom the demands to look, speak or act a certain way have never been more demanding. Who are being asked to define themselves in ways I don’t even fully understand.

A generation who, just as friends of mine fought the battle for equal marriage, now fight for more equality. A more in touch, connected, informed, campaigning generation than ever before. A generation for many of whom owning a house is simply unimaginable and for many, owning a car, undesirable. And a generation who have had their whole lives turned upside down, put on hold, due to our actions in locking down the country last year to combat the pandemic.

I have been saying for a while now that the current generation of 18-25s have been more affected, not physically or medically obviously, but mentally and socially by the pandemic than any other. School life put on hold. Travel banned. The workplace closed down. University of college experience changed beyond recognition. The simple pleasures of going out and, shock, dating, banned.

I challenge anyone who hasn’t lived it to fully understand the sheer enormity of the impact of these decisions on the youngest in society.

At Party Conference, I had the huge privilege of speaking on a panel – organised by Onward and Speakers for Schools – alongside a 17-year-old young woman who *should* have sat her GCSEs last year, but whose entire academic career, everything she had worked so hard for, was upended, brought to an abrupt halt, by the tough but necessary measures taken in March last year.

The words she used to describe her experience – likening it to being in prison, feeling hopeless, despairing, trapped and abandoned – to describe being in education over the past year and half was so powerful it brought some in the room to tears. It was the best speech at Conference by far. And it gave me pause for thought. There is no doubt that she will go very far indeed.

But not all will. And we have an obligation, a responsibility to those young people. We, who took the decisions that put their lives on hold, must reach out, must listen, must start engaging and talking about the issues that affect them. We cannot assume we have the answers if we do not even know the questions to ask.

We cannot, for example, blithely talk about changing the student finance model without understanding the fear and worry this causes for students aspiring to a university education but who know their parents can’t afford it or don’t understand the process. Or dismiss new housing developments as undesirable whilst they look to a life at home with their parents because there is simply nothing affordable to buy for themselves.

So that is the challenge I lay at the feet of every one of my colleagues in the Conservative Party. Talk to this generation in the way that Cameron spoke to mine. Engage, challenge and be challenged. If we do we reap the rewards and change this country. If we don’t, others will. And we, as a party and as a country, cannot afford that.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 1) Nick Robinson with Rachel Reeves, Steven Edginton with Jordan Peterson

29 Sep

Every fortnight from now on, 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: Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
Host: As above
Episode: The Rachel Reeves One

Link: Click here
Duration: 36:15 minutes
Published: September 24

What’s it about?

With the Labour Conference wrapping up, readers may be somewhat reluctant to hear any more from party members (nor the words “cervix” and “scum” any time soon…). However, this interview between Reeves and Robinson offers an upbeat and insightful look into the former’s politics; perhaps the most interesting revelation is how skilled Reeves is at chess (the former under-14s champion for the UK).

During the course, Robinson delves into Reeves’ childhood, her experience working for the British Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as exploring how she got into politics. The interview shows a softer side of the party.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I didn’t play the Queen’s Gambit… I was more the Sicilian defence.”
  • “Christian socialist values are my values. I was always brought up that you should give something back, but also that you should work as hard as you can.”
  • “I didn’t agree with Thatcher’s politics and values, but I think in some ways she inspired women to believe that they could do it (lead).”
  • “Well Labour just keep losing; we’ve lost four elections in a row now… Why have we lost four elections in a row? Because people didn’t trust us.”

Title: Off Script – The Telegraph
Host: Steven Edginton
Episode: Jordan Peterson: The collapse of our values is a greater threat than climate change

Duration: 56:23 minutes
Published: September 24

What’s it about?

“Why are you a phenomenon?” begins Steven Edginton in this revealing exchange with Jordan Peterson, which has clocked up over 390,000 views (at the time of writing). It’s a question that leaves Peterson uncharacteristically lost for words. But Canada’s famous psychologist soon has lots to say on everything from his infamous interviews with Cathy Newman and Helen Lewis (“there’s a particular viciousness about British journalists”) to whether he could become a cult figure.

Some teaser quotes:
  • On the Newman interview: “It was so preposterous; the interview was so absurd; it was so palpably ridiculous that it couldn’t be believed; it was surreal. And then since then my whole life has just been one surreal event after another.”
  • On how easily Western societies adapted to lockdowns: “We certainly imitated totalitarian China almost instantly… It’s possible that we’re primed to imitate the first actor in a crisis, like a herd.”
  • “I don’t like the mandated vaccines; I think that’s a dreadful error. I think it’s a terrible mistake, and I think it’s an indication of failure of policy.”

Title: UnHerd with Freddie Sayers
Host: Freddie Sayers
Episode: Sweden won the argument on Covid

Duration: 21:15 minutes
Published: September 23

What’s it about?

“Judge me in a year”, were the words of Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist and now one of the world’s most controversial figures, when UnHerd interviewed him in 2020. The channel was one of the first to take a huge interest in his “herd immunity” strategy, which attracted mass criticism across the globe.

When grilled on whether the policy has been a success or a failure, Tegnell replies that the “question is very, very difficult to untangle”; it sets the tone for the interview, in which – for one of the most decisive epidemiologists – he remains fairly indecisive on the way forward in Covid. Far from being someone who wants to provoke debate, Tegnell emerges as a moderate and solemn figure.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “Even with a fantastic vaccine the way we’re having, we can control [Covid], but we cannot eradicate it. And I think that’s the difference we need to understand and deal with.”
  • “I really do believe that we’re going to have a much easier winter than last winter. Because really, 95, 96 per cent of the people that really got badly hurt last winter, they are now vaccinated, and they have a good protection.”
  • “It’s been reasonably peaceful in Sweden. We haven’t had a huge divide like in the United States and other places.”

Shabana Raman: It’s time to close the attainment gap by putting power into parents’ hands

30 Aug

Shabana Raman is Director of Mathematics Improvement for the EKC Group, which is a family of six community-based colleges across East Kent. She is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Invicta National Academy CIC.

Who remembers that YouGov poll of 944 Conservative members, showing that 55 per cent believed that Sajid Javid did not look or sound like a typical Conservative? Well, this resonates with me. I often get asked, “Why the Conservative Party? You are an immigrant in this country and they are anti-immigration!”

Secretly, I like being asked this question. It’s an opportunity for me to reiterate the core values of the party and conservatism which have shaped me as a person. I am a member of the party because I am an immigrant.

Being a Conservative means being responsible, hard-working, self-reliant, empowered, living within my means, respect for all, equality of opportunity for all, forward looking and compassionate. It’s my way of giving back to the country that welcomed me with open arms.

Growing up in a large and rather modest family in Mauritius with limited means, I was taught to aim high from a very young age and that education is the most powerful investment tool. I could dream of a better life but to achieve this, I would have to work hard and study – and sadly, sacrifice the latest Nintendo console for books and private tutors.

Today, I realise how fortunate I was to have had the support and guidance of my parents, and I want every child to have the same opportunities.

Hence why, during the first lockdown, I was disheartened to learn that pupils were learning through worksheets and web-based programmes instead of live, online lessons.

Friends shared their concerns over how little their children were doing during the day and how frustrating it was as a working parent to keep up with the numerous tasks set by schools. They were exasperated because they did not know how to help even if they wanted to.

Luckily, somewhere in West Kent, Anna Firth felt the same! Anna saw her son receiving a structured and robust education from his private school and on the other hand, her friend’s daughter, a grammar school pupil, was learning through worksheets and no teachers’ input. She felt so strongly about this that she decided to set up a free online school for pupils aged 7-15 years across Kent.

When I joined the team last year, there was no money or source of funding, no teachers and of course, no registered students. But we had a vision and under Anna’s leadership, we all rose to the challenge. A year on, as the Chair of the Board of Trustees, I am in awe of what the Invicta National Academy has achieved.

Thanks to generous donations and support from the Harry Oldfield Trust and other grants, such as the 2021 KCC Reconnect programme and an outstanding team of dedicated volunteers, the Invicta National Academy is now in its second year.

Last year, we delivered just under 40,000 pupil lessons over a five-week period to around 3,500 children around the UK. This year, under the leadership of Anna Firth and Caroline Platt, we are on track to deliver 85,000 pupil lessons over the same period to around 6,000 children around the UK – possibly far more, as we know some community groups are broadcasting our lessons to whole classes of children.

Bookings have also far outstripped last year. We now have over 122,000 lessons booked, over 5,500 every single day, compared to around 50,000 at the same time last year with no more than 2,500 booked for any one day.

This makes the academy, the largest online provider of FREE LIVE lessons of the country. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Laura Trott, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks, acknowledged our achievements in the House of Commons last Autumn. Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists called the team, “Educational heroes”!

This pandemic has undoubtedly brought to the surface the cracks in our education system. It has also exacerbated educational inequalities between the private and the public sector. The recent GCSE and A-levels results simply reiterated this disparity.

So, we must act fast! We must innovate to support our teaching professionals. It is time to close the attainment gap by putting power into parents’ hands, through a live, government-funded, out-of-school, teaching provision.

A free online academy using Invicta’s model, will not only help close the attainment gap but will also help with the disparity, providing a fair education system, serving pupils from all backgrounds. Invicta National Academy has contributed enormously towards levelling up education over the past two years and we need the support of the government to continue the job.

Our research has shown us that parents like and engage well with online learning because it is more convenient and flexible than traditional school-based learning. It is already well established that children with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores.

We know that parents are keen to support additional, out-of-school, supplementary education. The increasing reliance on expensive private tutors is worrying – a double-edged sword, helping wealthiest pupils succeed and further marginalising those whose parents cannot afford high tutoring fees. Like my parents, many are doing their best, despite financial constraints but there is still a large proportion of parents who cannot afford such exorbitant fees.

Therefore, we must seize this opportunity to invest in and modernise our education system to ensure that every child is treated equally and have the same opportunities. We need our first live, universal, free, interactive provision, accessible to every child, out of school. My professional experience has taught me that pre-recorded lessons are not the way forward. Pupils need engagement and interaction with their teachers and classmates to boost their academic progress and mental health.

As well as closing the existing education gap, a national online academy would be a backup provision in case the pandemic resurges. It would also ensure consistent access to qualified teachers delivering high quality lessons for the growing number of home schoolers, those without a suitable school placement and adults.

Margaret Thatcher said, “The younger generation doesn’t want equality and regimentation, but opportunity to shape their world while showing compassion to those in real need.”

Let’s work together to support parents inculcate in their children a positive attitude towards education and those vital core conservative values – like our parents did for us – so that they can grow up to be compassionate, hardworking and forward-looking adults, who can shape tomorrow’s Great Britain!

Mark Francois: Why, following the crisis in Afghanistan, Johnson must avoid a Love Actually moment with Biden

25 Aug

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a former Armed Forces Minister and a Member of the House of Commons Defence Committee.

There is an old saying that hindsight makes geniuses of all of us. However, the events of the last fortnight in Afghanistan have certainly demonstrated a lack of foresight, especially in the Biden White House.

When Parliament was recalled to discuss what went gone wrong, I was one of those who was highly critical of the Biden Administration for withdrawing so hastily, which has led to a strategic defeat for NATO, for the first time in its 72-year history.

Whole libraries have been written about the so-called “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. The term itself was first coined by Winston Churchill, whose very close relationship with US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was fundamental to the allied victory in World War Two.

Similarly, the very strong partnership between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was undoubtedly essential to winning the Cold War. Although it is often overlooked, a young Senator Joe Biden even supported the UK’s position during the Falklands Crisis in 1982.

Nevertheless, 39 years on, Biden’s address to the American people on August 16 2021 was inherently isolationist. It put US domestic political interests way above foreign policy considerations and America’s relations with its allies, including us.

So, what should we do now? Does our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, need to create a “Love Actually moment” of his own and start making Johnsonian wisecracks about Americans invoking the 25th Amendment? Probably not. But some are now asking can we credibly create a European defence, sufficient to deter a revanchist Russia, without the active involvement of the United States?

NATO now has 30 member nations, a third of which now meet the recommended alliance minimum of spending at least two per cent of their GDP on Defence. According to NATO’s own latest figures, (which helpfully compare apples with apples), Greece is now the highest spender in proportional terms, at an estimated 3.82 per cent in 2021, compared to 3.52 per cent for the United States.

The UK is now fourth at 2.29 per cent; with all three Baltic States a bit over 2.0 per cent. France sits almost exactly on 2.0 per cent, with Italy on 1.41 per cent and Spain, at barely one per cent at all. Still, in most cases this actually represents an increase, since Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

France, which maintains Armed Forces broadly comparable to Britain’s, including its own strategic nuclear deterrent, has increased its defence spending over the last seven years, has bilateral Defence ties with the UK under the auspices of the Lancaster House Agreement and is involved in a number of Anglo-French equipment programmes.

However, the calls by President Macron of France for the creation of a “European Army” have not been met by a sizeable increase in the French Defence budget to help facilitate such a concept which, for a number of NATO nations, including the U.K. is politically unrealistic anyway. Still, the French do maintain professional and operationally credible armed forces, which exercise regularly with our own.

But the great drag anchor in terms of any increased European defence capability is Germany. Although Germany recently signed a low-key bilateral defence declaration with the UK (described by one colleague of mine as, “a poor man’s Lancaster House”) even now the German defence budget has been only creeping upwards, to 1.53 per cent of GDP this year and is not due to achieve the two per cent target for several years yet – much to the repeated annoyance of former President Trump.

Moreover, the German Armed Forces are now a shadow of their former, highly operationally focused, Cold War selves. Much of Germany’s military equipment is in poor repair, with depressingly low levels of operational availability in everything from submarines to fighter aircraft. They are also a risky industrial partner, because of increasingly hostile attitudes to defence exports within the Bundestag.

Similarly, Germany’s close relationship with Russia, for instance in advocating the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, may suit Germany’s peacetime energy needs but does not help bolster NATO security, especially among its Eastern European members.

Much now hinges on the forthcoming German Federal Elections, with the era of the Merkel ascendency coming to an end and the race for her successor seemingly wide open.

Whether the largest party emerging from the elections is the CDP/CSU or the SPD, any subsequent coalition Government which meaningfully involves either Der Linke or the Greens is unlikely to be keen on the sort of very significant increase in German defence spending – and hardening of the line on Russia – that would likely be required to give a meaningful edge to a European Defence identity. Pious declarations are all very well but, as Stalin brutally put it: “How many divisions has the Pope?”

So, where does all this leave us? First, it means that we should look to strengthen defence ties with our European allies – but with a clear-eyed realism about the limits of what this is likely to achieve. For the foreseeable future, the idea that NATO’s European partners could credibly deter Russia entirely on their own is completely fanciful; they just aren’t prepared to pay for it – and even the most junior analyst in Moscow knows it.

That means that we need to try and repair the damage caused to NATO by the disastrous events of the past fortnight. In that context, the Anglo-American link is absolutely crucial. Historically, whoever has been in the White House or Downing Street, Anglo-American links at the diplomatic, military and intelligence (Five Eyes) have remained strong, and we now need to bolster them again. As one example, the previous US Ambassador, Woody Johnson, was a high-profile and popular Anglophile and we need to see someone equally charismatic appointed without delay.

Hard left opponents in Britain have sometimes railed about the “Anglo-American deep State”; well, if such a thing exists, now is surely the time to use all of these contacts to best advantage to bolster Western security.

To those in the American security establishment who have become obsessed with China, we need to remind them that Russia possesses thousands of nuclear weapons too, has invaded neighbouring countries on the European landmass within the last decade.

Russian spokesmen have even boasted about new nuclear torpedoes, which could cause an irradiated tsunami against cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States (and NATO believes these weapons actually exist). Finally, Taiwan, while an important Western ally, is not a member of NATO – but Estonia most certainly is.

The Atlantic Charter, which led, in turn, to the creation of the United Nations, was originally an Anglo-American construct. The American Eagle and the British Lion have stood side by side in defence of the free world for many decades now and we cannot allow any one individual, no matter how senior, to get in the way of that.

Daniel Hannan: We should thank, not demonise, the patriots who donate to political parties

4 Aug

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.

The Financial Times is becoming slightly unhinged in its dislike of Tories. The paper’s loyalties have always been mercurial: over my lifetime, it has endorsed all three parties. Having enthusiastically backed Tony Blair, it gave some support to the Coalition and then to Theresa May. But Brexit seems to have tipped it over the edge. Even when the alternative was Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, it could not bring itself to back Boris.

Now it has taken to insinuating that donations to political parties are somehow dodgy – an odd stance for a newspaper that still sees itself as a defender of the private sector. For several days, the FT has been running news articles, features and comment pieces that vaguely suggest – without actually alleging any impropriety – that there is something suspect about the Conservative Party’s receipt of private money.

Property donors provide one-quarter of funds given to Tory party,” was Friday’s headline. Oh dear, we’re meant to think, not property donors! Not those johnnies who put roofs over our heads! It is a curious feature of our present discourse that, despite an acute housing shortage, developers can be presented as being almost on a level with arms dealers or pornographers.

The following day, it fired its second barrel: “Elite Tory donors club holds secret meetings with Johnson and Sunak,” was its lead story, followed up by pages of analysis inside.

Gosh. Secretive, eh? Bad enough that they’re property developers. But these, we learn, are furtive property developers. How did the FT find out about the donations of this sinister cabal? It turns out that they’re all registered with the Electoral Commission. Anyone can look them up. The organisation that happened to do so is an outfit called Transparency International whose Director of Policy (and evidently the driving force behind this report) is Duncan Hames, who is married to the former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and was himself the Lib Dem MP for Chippenham from 2010 to 2015.

Nothing wrong with any of that, obviously. Indeed, I have always had a soft spot for Swinson, who served her party with diligence and good humour, and whose dignified reaction when the SNP took her seat was a model of how to do it. But this was hardly a disinterested piece of research, as the FT must have known.

It is worth stepping back for a moment and reminding ourselves of some basic principles. First, there is nothing wrong with individuals giving money to things they support. I’m sure most ConHome readers give to charity, and I’d be surprised if most of us don’t also pay subs to our local Conservative Associations. If wealthier people make proportionately larger donations, God bless them. It must surely be better for the rich to support whatever causes they favour than to spend their cash on themselves.

We are, of course, rightly suspicious of oligarchy. I wouldn’t want a system where big donations bought policy changes, and neither would you. Such things can happen, even in Britain. Most of us remember the 1997 Bernie Ecclestone affair, in which the Formula One magnate gave Labour a million pounds in exchange for exempting his races from the ban on tobacco advertising. Fewer of us, for some reason, remember the 2009 cash-for-amendments scandal, in which two life peers asked for payments in return for moving legislation.

By any definition, both these were cases of straightforward corruption – that is, of politicians being paid to do things they would not otherwise have done. But such cases are extraordinarily rare in this country. Bad behaviour by our MPs tends to be rather more Pooterish, involving bath plugs or fumbling adulteries.

There is no suggestion that any Conservative donor has tried to buy favours. Indeed, far from seeking advantages for their own firms, these benefactors seem to be pushing for open competition. As the FT reports, with a hint of corporatist distaste, “the top donors are Thatcherite free marketeers, and they have no qualms about giving Boris a piece of their mind.” If so, good for them.

Which brings us to a second basic principle. Private donations are admirable whether or not we happen to agree with the cause being supported. One thing I have learned from social media is that there is an almost total overlap between people’s definition of “corruption” and their definition of “views with which I disagree”.

To see what I mean, consider the way Left and Right respectively treated the Koch brothers and George Soros. Depending on which side you were on, one was an example of high-minded generosity while the other was a conspiracy against the public weal.

ConHome readers should admire donors from all sides – philanthropists like Lord Sainsbury of Turville, for example, who, alongside vast charitable contributions, has given millions to Labour, the Lib Dems and various pro-EU outfits. We should likewise salute Keir Starmer’s ambition to increase the proportion of his party’s spending that comes from private contributions.

It must be better to live in a world in which rich people give their assets away. The alternative is a world in which we are forced to support political parties with our taxes. Quite apart from the tax bill being high enough already, this strikes me as morally repugnant. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

What applies to donors applies even more to the people who volunteer to fundraise for parties. Here is a truly thankless job. Make the slightest slip and you’ll be treated as a crook. Indeed, the chances are that you’ll be hounded and accused whatever you do. In 2012, the then Conservative treasurer, Peter Cruddas, had to resign following newspaper accusations that he had been peddling cash for access. He sued for libel and won substantial damages, but he was not reinstated and, nearly a decade on, the original story was still being used to keep him out of the House of Lords.

Cruddas comes close to living up to John Wesley’s injunction to “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can”. Brought up in a council house in Hackney, he has set up a £100 million scheme to help kids from deprived backgrounds. Had he not also backed the Conservatives, he’d have been in the Lords years ago.

A similar campaign is now being waged against the party’s current Co-Chairman, Ben Elliot – again, a successful businessman who has given up a great deal of time to take on a role for which the only payment is abuse. He is the real target of the press campaign. The original allegations in the FT prompted a bizarre story in The Sunday Times which seemed to be based around the idea that there was some impropriety in his arranging for a wealthy donor to back one of the Prince of Wales’s charities.

Again, does anyone think it is a bad thing for successful people to volunteer as Elliot is doing? If he raised cash for Prince Charles’s good causes, we should applaud him. If he raises cash for the Conservatives (and he does, with extraordinary effectiveness) we should likewise applaud him.

We are in danger of driving public-spirited individuals out of politics altogether. The assault may come in the form of negative press, as with Cruddas and Elliot. It may come in the form of actual legal harassment, as with Alan Halsall, the big-hearted businessman who was pursued for three years by the electoral authorities after acting as the treasurer of Vote Leave (all the allegations were eventually shown to be nonsense, but the stress and the financial burden of those three years can never be undone).

A combination of partisanship and purse-lipped puritanism threatens to make politics a no-go area for patriots who want to support a cause bigger than themselves – whether on the Left or the Right.

So, just this once, let’s say it. Thanks to everyone who is prepared to act on principle. Thanks to all those who put their money where their mouths are. And thanks, especially, to those who give up their time and risk their reputations to make the system work. Without you, our public life would be colder, meaner and smaller.