New Cabinet. Complete List.

8 Jul
  • Prime Minister – Boris Johnson.
  • Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – Dominic Raab.
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer – Nadhim Zahawi.
  • Foreign Secretary – Liz Truss.
  • Home Secretary – Priti Patel.
  • Defence Secretary – Ben Wallace.
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – Kit Malthouse.
  • Levelling Up Secretary – Greg Clark.
  • Business Secretary – Kwasi Kwarteng.
  • COP26 President – Alok Sharma.
  • Trade Secretary – Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
  • Work and Pensions Secretary – Therese Coffey.
  • Education Secretary – James Cleverly.
  • Environment Secretary – George Eustice.
  • Transport Secretary – Grant Shapps
  • Northern Ireland Secretary – Shailesh Vara
  • Scotland Secretary – Allister Jack.
  • Wales Secretary – Robert Buckland.
  • Leader of the Lords – Natalie Evans.
  • Culture Secretary – Nadine Dorries.
  • Minister for Government Efficiency – Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Attends:

  • Paymaster-General – Michael Ellis
  • Chief Whip – Chris Heaton-Harris
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury – Simon Clarke.
  • Leader of the Commons – Mark Spencer.
  • Attorney General – Suella Braverman.
  • Minister of State without Portfolio – Nigel Adams.
  • Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs – Johnny Mercer.
  • Minister Without Portfolio (Conservative Party Chairman) – Andrew Stephenson.

The post New Cabinet. Complete List. appeared first on Conservative Home.

Peter Franklin: Is it time to prepare for opposition? Only if the Cabinet still refuses to act.

4 Jul

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

“When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

These words are attributed to Lucius Cary, who died fighting for the Royalist cause in 1643. Rooted in a recognition of human fallibility, Cary’s axiom has been quoted by conservatives ever since.

However, given the perversity of our species, a corollary is required, which would go something like this: “if it is necessary to change, then change will not necessarily happen.”

Such is our self-destructive nature, that even when we see the cliff-edge approaching there’s no guarantee that we’ll alter course. It’s a madness that overtakes individuals and institutions alike.

Over the weekend, I finally accepted that this is true of Boris Johnson’s government. It’s not that it’s too late to turn things around. Downing Street still could, and should, deviate from its current trajectory; but on the available evidence one has to conclude that it probably won’t.

For me, the last straw was the resignation of the Deputy Chief Whip. The details of the case have been splashed across various front pages, so I won’t repeat them here. I’ll only point out that, once again, the warning signs were ignored; that the withdrawal of the whip was pointlessly resisted; that the Prime Minister’s judgement has been called into question; and that Cabinet ministers have been sent out to defend the indefensible.

For those of us who remember the death spiral of John Major’s government there’s a grim familiarity to it all.

The next general election has to happen by the end of 2024, therefore 2022 is equivalent of 1995 — the “no change, no chance” moment that preceded the landslide defeat of 1997. History is surely repeating itself. Again and again, we’ve seen the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Parliamentary party squander every opportunity for change. Our chances of winning next time are thus evaporating.

I hope I’m wrong — and I still could be. Keir Starmer is no Tony Blair and there’s a non-negligible possibility that the Labour Party will miss the open goal in front of it. More remotely, the wild card could be Boris himself — the leopard might just change his spots and opt for discipline, consistency and principle.

Failing that, there’s still time for another leadership challenge — though the closer we get to the next election, the more desperate that any change of leader would look. That’s why the last best hope lies with the Cabinet — who may discover a hidden reserve of courage and do what needs to be done.

Yet, at this stage, the base case scenario is that none of these things will happen. And thus, trailing sex scandals in its wake, the party finds itself hurtling toward a second 1997.

The parallels are not exact. The polls do not point to a Labour landslide. Most of them don’t even give Labour a majority. However, they do all predict a Conservative defeat. So, to paraphrase David Steel, is it time for us to go back to our constituencies and prepare for opposition?

To plan for anything but victory smacks of defeatism. But when disaster is inevitable, we should do what we can to enable the recovery. Like the early medieval monks who copied and preserved the manuscripts of the classical world, we may not be able prevent the coming dark age, but we can shorten it.

Let’s start by learning from the lessons of 1997 — and what happened to the party in the aftermath.

25 years ago we threw everything we had against New Labour – but the election campaign only rebounded against us. For instance, the “demon eyes” portrayal of Tony Blair did him little harm but helped toxify the Tory brand.

Then there was the financial overreach. We spent almost double what Labour did, which left the party struggling to stay afloat in opposition. If all that expensive campaigning had saved more seats, then it might have been worth it — but the parliamentary party was reduced to a rump. A lack of attention to the ground war meant that seats like Enfield Southgate, Michael Portillo’s constituency, were needlessly lost.

There are many criticisms that can be made of William Hague’s time as leader. But just consider what he had to work with — the party’s reputation was in tatters, its coffers were empty, and there were just 165 Tory MPs to oppose Labour’s massed ranks. Hague’s great achievement is that the party survived at all.

Whatever happens between now and 2024, Boris Johnson must leave his successor with a better inheritance than John Major did. Even if the next election turns out to be Boris’s last stand, he cannot be permitted to take the rest of the party with him. Bankruptcy, both financial and moral, must be avoided.

That, however, is the easy bit. Much harder is the conversation that a defeated party has to have with itself. The internal debate that followed the 1997 defeat was an object lesson in how not to conduct a post-mortem. Taking the form of a running battle between the “Mods” and “Rockers”, the conflict generated much more heat than light.

Two and a half decades ago, UK conservatism lacked the institutional infrastructure in which a constructive debate could have happened. After 18 years of Tory government, the right-leaning think tanks were a shadow of their pioneering selves. The Tory-supporting newspapers had either defected to New Labour or were busy stoking shadow cabinet feuds.

ConservativeHome did not exist and honest investigations into the state of the party were few and far between. For instance, the wake-up call of Lord Ashcroft’s Smell the Coffee report would not be published until 2005.

And thus the process of renewal took an age to get started. That may prove to be the biggest difference between the past and the present. If we do lose the next election, then the difficult conversations will start from the outset — and we won’t need the mainstream media or the formal party to officiate. An independent infrastructure is in place; the post-mortem will be held in public, instead of through anonymous shadow cabinet briefings to the newspapers.

ConHome will, of course, play its role — but there’s a whole constellation of other outlets, think tanks and campaign groups ready to pitch in. I’m especially looking forward to what Tim Montgomerie’s forthcoming Conservatism Project has to say.

What I’m not looking forward to is a Labour-led government propped-up by the SNP. But if losing the next election can have a silver lining it would be that everyone — including members of the current Cabinet — will be free to speak their minds.

Of course, the same could happen right now if we hold a leadership contest. We could have the open debate that we desperately need — and give ourselves a fighting chance in 2024.

The post Peter Franklin: Is it time to prepare for opposition? Only if the Cabinet still refuses to act. appeared first on Conservative Home.

Changing the Conservative leadership challenge rules. Is there a trade off?

27 Jun

Rightly or wrongly, ConservativeHome didn’t advise Tory MPs to vote against Boris Johnson in the recent leadership ballot.

I believed that there were good arguments both for him staying and going, but that he had not sustained a major policy defeat – such as Suez, the pound being forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, or the defeat of his EU withdrawal proposals (unlike his predecessor).  And that this should tip the balance in favour of support.

However, some two in five Tory MPs, including a majority of backbenchers, voted against the Prime Minister, which in my view makes it likely that he will challenged successfully before this Parliament ends.

So I wrote that the Cabinet should tell him to stand down, thus ensuring that he leaves office undefeated, either in a general election or by an internal challenge, and so is able to depart with more dignity – having delivered Brexit with the Vote Leave team, for which the country is in his debt.

As far as I know, no centre-right national newspaper has called on Cabinet members to act in this way, for all their pungent criticisms of Johnson.  So this site seems to be a bit of an outrider amidst the Tory media family.

Oliver Dowden was not in a position to compel the Prime Minister to resign, nor apparently to act with his Cabinet colleagues to that end.  So he took the honourable decision to quit himself.  That he might himself have been sacked in the coming reshuffle should not detract from it: after all, he has no guarantee of return to office.

It may be that other Cabinet members will soon follow suit.  Perhaps one of the others tipped for the chop in the next reshuffle will also decide to resign.

But there are reasons for none to do so.  Some of these will be bad – such as privately believing that the Conservatives can’t win the next election under Johnson’s leadership, but thinking that by then they may no longer be in Cabinet, and apres moi le deluge.

More will be good.  If you believe that you’re doing a good job, as Cabinet Ministers presumably do, they won’t want to leave it, and will believe that they have a duty to stay in post.

Furthermore, many were first promoted to the Cabinet by Johnson himself, and all will feel that they owe the Prime Minister some loyalty, whether he appointed them or not.  Some may also believe that the Party should not be plunged into a leadership election with no clear consensus over who should win it.

There is another factor.  No Cabinet member who has an eye on standing in the event of a vacancy will want to tell the Prime Minister to go – on the ground that doing so would make his or her victory less likely.

The old saw has it that he who wields the dagger never wears the crown.  Whether or not it’s true may matter less than Cabinet ministers believing that it does.  In any event, the ambitions of some of them make acting in concert less likely.

“After you, Liz.”  “No, after you, Rishi.”  You can see why senior Cabinet members might be hesitant, if they come to believe in the near future that Johnson should go, to do anything much about it.

Where the Cabinet is unlikely to act, should the 1922 Committee Executive?  There is a view among some Tory MPs, as the elections for a new executive approach, that it should change the leadership challenge rules. At present, there can only be one a year.

In principle, allowing more frequent ballots is a bad idea.  A party which permits its MPs to seek formally to remove its leader several times a year is unlikely to be a party capable of governing coherently.

It may be that there is a trade-off between more frequent leadership ballots and a higher threshold requirement – a quarter of the Parliamentary Party, say, rather than the current 15 per cent.  But even that would have a smack about it of seeking to re-run the FA Cup Final because one didn’t like the result.

In practice, it may just be that Johnson stands down without a ballot being held.  Were Graham Brady convinced that a challenge would defeat the Prime Minister, he would surely tell him so.

The legend is that it would take nothing less than an SAS snatch squad to remove Johnson from Downing Street.  It’s certainly in Number Ten’s interest to say so. But I wonder.  Were the Prime Minister convinced that he would lose a ballot, it’s possible that he might go quietly – well, noisily, but you know what I mean.

After all, he decided not to pursue the leadership in 2016 after Michael Gove withdrew his support.  There are precedents for Johnson not hanging on until the bitter end.

The post Changing the Conservative leadership challenge rules. Is there a trade off? appeared first on Conservative Home.

Our Cabinet League Table. Wallace top again, Patel up, Johnson down – and Sunak in the red

25 Apr
  • This is Ben Wallace’s third table-topping month (with 85 points his rating has barely moved), and a pattern is beginning to form below him – as Liz Truss, Nadhim Zahawi and Anne-Marie Trevelyan come in variously at second, third and fourth (with scores in the mid to low sixties).  Both the first of those and now the second are being written up as potential leadership candidates.
  • Priti Patel was bottom of the table last month on -17 points, having languished at the lower end of it for some time – not least because of the small boats issue.  The Government now has a policy to deal with it, and her rating consequently jumps to 31 points, near the middle of the table.
  • Boris Johnson was in the same zone last month, having been in negative ratings for the previous three, and is now back down again – third from bottom.  Ukraine will have pushed him up last month; partygate will have pulled him down this. But the driver of his low scores is that the Government is too left-wing, at least in the view of many activists.
  • Rishi Sunak plunged last month to third from bottom in the wake of the Spring Statement (on plus eight points).  He drops to last place this month, coming in at minus five points, in the wake of the furore about his wife’s tax affairs and former non-dom status.  It is perhaps surprising that his fall isn’t larger; it may even be that the worst is behind him – in this table at least.

Our Cabinet League Table: Johnson falls to his lowest ever negative rating.

28 Dec
  • Perhaps the only good news for Boris Johnson is that his score, woeful as it is, is nowhere near as dire as that of Theresa May in the spring of 2019 – when she broke the survey’s unpopularity record, coming in at a catastophic -75 points.
  • Nonetheless, this is the Prime Minister’s second consecutive month in negative ratings, his third altogether, and his lowest total of the lot.  The explanation? Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and Net Zero, not necessarily in that order.
  • Nadine Dorries is down from fourth (plus 61) to mid-table sixteenth (plus 25), Michael Gove from twelfth to sixth from bottom (plus 43 to plus 16) , and Sajid Javid from eighth to twelfth (plus 54 to plus 29). All are associated with support for Covid restrictions.
  • Mark Spencer stays in the red and Priti Patel inches into it: in her case, the explanation is “small boats”. Liz Truss is top again, Ben Wallace is up from second to fifth, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Nadhim Zahawi are scoring well. Generally, there’s a drift down.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: A chastened and humiliated Johnson has to eat humble pie

8 Dec

We saw today a chastened and humiliated Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is generally strong enough, at these encounters, to dictate the terms of debate, by indicating that he finds his opponents ridiculous.

Today, he knew it would be fatal to give any impression he was trying to laugh off the video clip which emerged last night.

Instead he set out to show that “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing Number Ten’s staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures”.

Those words came in his opening statement: he would eat the gargantuan slice of humble pie which had appeared on his plate before Sir Keir Starmer could instruct him to swallow it down.

The House learned that the video clip was as repugnant to the PM as to anyone else: “Mr Speaker, I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.”

That is not, of course, an admission of guilt. Johnson went on to say he had been “repeatedly assured” there had been no Christmas party and no Covid rules were broken.

But he has asked the Cabinet Secretary “to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible”, and if the rules were broken “there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.

Here was a major concession of power to the official machine, even if the implication was that the disciplinary action will fall on officials, not on politicians.

Sir Keir Starmer went into prosecutorial mode. Last week he had asked the Prime Minister whether there was “a Christmas party in Downing Street for dozens of people” on 18th December last year.

The Prime Minister, and the Government, had spent the week telling the public there was no such party: “Millions of people will now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools – that they were lied to. They’re right, aren’t they?”

How Johnson would enjoy, on a normal Wednesday, making fun of his pious, prosy opponent. But today he had to say that he too was “sickened” by and “furious” about the video, and to promise that the “requisite” disciplinary action would be taken.

The Prosecutor demanded: “Will the Prime Minister support the police and support the CPS by handing over everything the Government knows about parties in Downing Street to the Metropolitan Police?”

The Accused made another concession: “Of course we will do that.”

Towards the end of the exchanges, he said Sir Keir had muddied the waters and was playing politics, but this counter-attack was launched without any of Johnson’s usual brio.

He knew that to sound frivolous would be disastrous, when so many members of the public agree with Sir Keir that this is no laughing matter.

Ian Blackford, for the SNP, called at length for the PM to resign, and Johnson replied, with brevity, that Blackford too was playing politics.

A more pointed and painful jab came from his own backbenches. William Wragg (Hazel Grove) referred to media reports that Covid Plan B was about to be implemented, and said “very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic”.

The PM replied that “no decisions will be taken without consulting the Cabinet”.

So perhaps, like the Cabinet Secretary, the Cabinet will acquire greater power to restrain the PM.

Johnson can never have endured a more gruelling PMQs. In adversity, he was forced to strike a note of high moral seriousness, and penitence, which in prosperous days he would regard as an intolerable concession to his critics.

Emily Carver: The war on drugs has failed. Will this government have the guts to change tack?

18 Aug

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

One feature of the media’s coverage of the pandemic that many of us will be pleased to see the back of were the daily reminders of the Covid death count. For many months, switching on the television or picking up a newspaper meant being barraged with distressing figures of those who had sadly passed away from the virus.

While the presentation of this data may have been understandable at the peak, the tallies gave little context to the thousands of people who sadly die every year from other causes, and contributed to our obsession with this one disease over all else.

Now, with the worst of the pandemic behind us, the scale and breadth of the nation’s broader health crisis is becoming apparent. Besides the millions waiting for routine and life-saving NHS treatment, one crisis that is becoming ever more acute is the scale of drug-related hospital admissions and deaths in this country.

The ONS revealed last week that there were 4,651 drug-related deaths in England and Wales last year alone – the highest tally since records began in 1993 and 3.8 per cent higher than in 2019. The number of deaths may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but they are by no means an anomaly; drug deaths have risen year on year for the past eight years, each leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

The data make for a sobering read; it is a tragedy that thousands of people are dying prematurely in this way. But what is a true national scandal, is the stubborn unwillingness of successive governments to change tack.

That the war on drugs has failed is indisputable. By nearly every conceivable metric it has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite decades of “cracking down”, drug use continues to rise, drug-related crimes account for a third of the prison population, county lines gangs remain rampant and drug-related violence shows no signs of abating.

A new strategy is set to be announced in the autumn, with the aim of once again cracking down on illegal drug use, this time among the middle classes. In a new PR campaign, users will be told that they are helping fuel Britain’s epidemic of violent crime and gang warfare – as well as exploitation and corruption around the world – all in a bid to change the “perceived acceptability” of taking drugs.

Of course, it is true that too few recreational users give a second thought to the violent reality of the drugs trade, and it would be no bad thing if more of us refrained from drug use, not least for the sake of our own health.

But this latest PR drive looks to be characteristic of a government paralysed by a lack of policy direction. This may be a relatively cheap intervention, but it will likely be a waste of money nonetheless, that will sadly do little, if anything, to prevent a black market that is fuelling organised crime and misery in this country.

What’s more, Boris Johnson and his Cabinet’s involvement in the campaign will only serve to bring fresh media attention to their own personal experiences of drugs – of course, Johnson is known to have dabbled in a little cocaine and marijuana in his younger years. Again, opening himself up to accusations of hypocrisy and “one rule for them, another for us”.

In terms of law enforcement, the drive will be supported by a fresh crackdown on recreational use. Priti Patel has reportedly told senior police officers to “name and shame” middle-class drug users and to make examples of business owners and wealthy users.

There have been numerous political interventions over the years, consultations, papers published, and debates held in parliament, attempting to change the way we handle this problem. But these have been largely fruitless.

William Hague made his own change of heart clear in The Times this week. After years of backing a “tough” law and order approach, he is now advocating that we take lessons from Portugal, a country which has gone down the decriminalisation route, choosing to treat drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.

It is curious how on this issue there is such a lack of will at the heart of government to debate the potential for change, despite growing evidence that the war on drugs is failing. As with so many areas, the Government is ostensibly trapped by status quo bias, unable to look beyond the same type of interventions that have clearly failed to resolve the problem, and arguably exacerbated the problem.

Interestingly, the mood among the public is shifting on drugs. Earlier this year, 52 per cent of Britons said they would support the legalisation of cannabis, compared to 32 per cent who opposed it. Whether this translates to support for decriminalisation of other drugs is less certain – indeed cannabis has been all but decriminalised by stealth – but it may encourage a more open-minded discussion of the way we currently do things.

When it comes to different areas of policy, we must not shy away from learning from international best practice – whether it be our health service or education system. Continuing a tried and failed strategy would be a mistake. And one which will ultimately cost lives.

Ben Obese-Jecty: As an ethnic minority party member, my experiences have been positive. But Singh’s report shows room for growth.

27 May

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

The publication of Dr Swaran Singh’s independent investigation into alleged discrimination within the Conservative Party has made for interesting and at times tough reading for Conservative members.

Allegations of discrimination, particularly racial and specifically Islamophobic, have dogged the party in recent years, and while this report offers a welcome degree of closure to the issue, it also offers a robust and granular view of where there is significant scope to address current failings.

My own experience as a party member spans across multiple associations, as an association executive officer and even as a prospective parliamentary candidate, but across these varied groups I am yet to experience, or indeed encounter, any racism. Even within the febrile atmosphere of social media, particularly Twitter, I am yet to experience any intra-party bigotry.

The findings of Singh’s investigation are thorough and sometimes scathing, pulling no punches in revealing the number of incidents of alleged discrimination and their respective outcomes. It is notable that the investigation details how the party takes an even-handed approach to the handling of all complaints, whether they are anti-Muslim in nature or otherwise. But amid the findings and recommendations it is also important to recognise that the report found no evidence of institutional racism, which is hugely welcome.

While those on the Left continue to bivouac on the moral high ground on matters of race, despite the damning EHRC report into Labour anti-Semitism only last year, the abuse I have endured during my time in politics has always come from the supposedly more “inclusive” end of the political spectrum. A narrative that often depicts black Conservatives with the ugly neo-racism of race-treachery, of “Uncle Toms” and “House Negroes” accompanied by social media memes of tap-dancing cartoon characters that play on the most racist tropes of the American Deep South. This is bigotry that largely goes unseen, or washes over those who are happy to ignore it. To hear it casually used on Good Morning Britain without an eyebrow raised by presenters is astonishing.

The Conservative Party has undoubtedly grown and changed over the course of my lifetime. Where once a non-white Conservative MP would be extremely unlikely, the contemporary party is now more diverse and more representative than at any previous point in its history. Indeed, the Conservative Party has now had double the number of ethnic minority Cabinet members that the Labour Party has had. There are currently as many British Indians around the Cabinet table as the Labour Party have had ethnic minority Cabinet members in its entire history.

Much has been written before of the diversity we have seen in the Cabinet and the great offices of state during this government. More yet has been written by those who view this as the wrong type of diversity, of brown-washing Conservative racism. Accusations that are mired in their own soft bigotry. The belief that black and brown Conservatives lack the agency to forge their own path. But the success that the party has had regarding the diversification of its MPs is indicative of an organisation that has already recognised the need to evolve and is doing so with aplomb.

No political party can claim to be completely free of those with prejudices, be they overt or more pernicious, any large organisation can expect to contain those with unsavoury views. But removing those whose bigotry is known before it can be allowed to fester and spread is a key step to assuaging fears and convincing sceptics that it is an issue being taken seriously.

That the party leadership has committed its time to being subjected to this level of scrutiny should provide a degree of reassurance in that regard, and the fact it has agreed to implement all of Singh’s recommendations in full shows the party’s commitment to improving things where there have been failures.

The findings from the Singh investigation propose deep reforms and provide a welcome chance for the party to assess how best to adapt and address the opportunity to make it a political home for all those who wish to be a part of it. As a party we should welcome measures that can help address existing shortcomings, transform the way the party works and broaden its appeal beyond its core voter base.

While the Conservative Party has not traditionally been seen as a natural home for voters from Britain’s ethnic minority populations, there is no reason why an ideology that speaks to personal responsibility, hard work and aspiration cannot continue to win support from those who feel that they are values which represent them. With the party committed to a levelling up agenda across the country, why shouldn’t a place where talented individuals are able to thrive no matter their background be the most attractive proposition?

Matt Kilcoyne: Vaccine certification is an idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market

31 Mar

Matt Kilcoyne is Head Of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.

Since vaccines started being approved by British regulators at the very end of last year, the country has undergone a psychological transformation unlike any in my lifetime.

From fear of an unending cycle of lockdowns and limited freedoms came news from one Kate Bingham. Her work gave purpose to the privations that were coming, helped all of us that kept faith that there would be end to this disease by human ingenuity and within time to mean our actions to save lives, avoid economic scarring and adaption to a non-normal economic situation that would then have to be readjusted to soon after at even further cost too.

Given the mortality rates we’ve seen across the world and even here with extensive curtailment of our ancient liberties, it is reasonable to say the number of lives Bingham has saved alone will number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands and given greater evidence to the rightness of the choice to retain the jobs held in stasis by Bank of England furlough scheme.

These people and jobs saved through her tight and spread-bet pre-purchase agreements and the use of Britain’s comparative advantage in legal agreements, trade credit and other forward payment mechanism, and experience dealing with and preparing for rogue states that shut down exports or expropriate private property mean I fully back calls for Bingham to be elevated to a Duchess should it please Her Majesty.

The change in the psyche and morale of the British people her decisions enabled means that Cabinet can take positive decisions of true gravitas in a time of true national and international crisis. This requires careful and assured action. It might require prompt, wide impacting, and sensitive personal and national topics.

It could, let’s say for the sake of argument, include things like vaccination certificates for Covid. The idea hits all the right buttons to rile everyone in such divergent ways that they’ll talk past one another and fail to see the issues that are being discussed, why, and what is actually being proposed.

The first thing to say is that you personally have a right to full knowledge of medical data and records that are kept on you, assuming you are of appropriate age and sound mind. The governments within the UK have a near monopoly of service provision for healthcare save for all the private GPs that actually have a local duty of care to you to hold and maintain your personal records. They also can, via their contracts of supply and commissioning of care of other services with the NHS and associated parts, pass data onto third parties with your consent.

The lack of a series of principles over the free use of data between consenting individuals and third parties, and the lack of direction even by government towards the suitability or otherwise, never mind the likely legal consequences of using the data of vaccine take up to determine suitability of access to new or existing roles.

In the space provided by a lack of determination in good time, trade associations burned by huge restrictions announced against their members’ interests and often provided with evidence after the event with the scope and scale of restrictions decided by committees rather than parliament in the primary role.

All action must now and in future, and should’ve been the case throughout the pandemic, be based upon scientifically testable hypotheses, all the reasoning deduced and relied upon and all assumptions set out.

It is telling of a lack of trust between governed and government that pubs do not trust the word of a party that prides itself as being one of business to promote policies as we get back to the business of living that would enable them as far as possible now they’ve jabbed enough arms to reduce risk of reinfection and mortality.

Laws from now should be freedom-oriented to remind Tory voters that actively value the ability to enjoy the things that make life worth living they will be able to enjoy them. Around 20 per cent of publicans say they want to access punters and staff for proof of vaccines to ensure their, their staff and all of their families’ health.

The Government’s role here is to ensure that individuals have access to the ability to consent to their records being displayed by an accredited source (whether just their GP signing and by word of their bond confirming, or a company that facilitates access that across multiple GPs in a usable format for other firms without contravening data protection rules).

We know well the issue of mission creep with ID cards a totemic Tory issue after the defeat of Tony Blair’s flagship policy and David Davis’ whole career centred around civil liberties. But this is a facilitation not a coercion or anything mandated. Even if Blair is a principle agent of the campaign to promote their use — and I share concerns about the number of meetings he has had with serious ministers and civil servants on the topic given a the financial gain any company could get from providing either national or international accreditation of such valuable information on behalf of an individual. And elsewhere yellow fever and rabies certificates are in use regularly when crossing borders. Nigeria could teach us a thing or two about digital storage and transfer of said data and forgeries still emerging.

Government can signal intent on rejection of mandate by declaring it will not check status upon leaving the country or ahead of access to existing NHS services. The areas where people will encounter officialdom most keenly.

Liberalism demands freedoms to associate and self organise, and Conservativism demands the liberties of the individual by upheld by institutions acting in their care. Vaccine certification is actually a simple idea that should be allowed to sink or swim in a free market. Let’s let them, and keep an eye on vested interests with cosy relationships benefiting friends for sure. But let’s enable anything that let’s us live our lives again.

Interview. Therese Coffey – “An element of a kinder politics is not calling other people bigots because you don’t agree with them.”

19 Mar

Thérèse Coffey runs a major front-line department yet is hardly ever seen on our television screens. As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, she has administered one of the great successes in the official response to the pandemic, the extension of Universal Credit, coping at one point with an extra 100,000 claimants in a single day:

“I always think of that train scene in Wallace and Gromit, the one with the penguin, and Gromit’s on the front of the train laying down the track in front of it, and that’s how it felt like for a little while.”

In this interview she refuses to say there will be any further extension of the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit, and instead indicates that she wishes to concentrate on promoting the DWP’s various schemes to help people get back into work:

“Big thanks to the Jabs Army, we are the Jobs Army, and I’m keen that you will see more of me, also more of my colleagues like Kwasi Kwarteng and Oliver Dowden.”

Coffey says there hasn’t been “as much interest as I would expect from local government” in the “flagship” Kickstart Scheme for placing young people in jobs.

She also discusses what it is like being a Catholic in politics, says one of her “proudest days” was when she voted against the Assisted Dying Bill, recalls seeing Tony Blair at Mass in Westminster Cathedral, and calls for an end to calling opponents “bigots”:

“People do talk about having a kinder politics. An element of a kinder politics is not calling other people with different views bigots because you don’t agree with them.

“People are bigots for calling other people bigots in a way, if that makes sense.

“It genuinely is about just accepting that other people may have different views to you. We seem to be candidly better at doing that in the Conservative Party than perhaps some of the other political parties.

“Being respectful to each other even if you completely disagree with their perspective or their viewpoints, and just accepting that people can have different views. I think politics could be a lot gentler.”

Coffey, MP since 2010 for Suffolk Coastal, is originally from Liverpool, and explains why the Conservatives have declined in that city. She remains an ardent supporter of Liverpool Football Club and ends by comparing Boris Johnson to Jurgen Klopp: “I’m a great fan of very visible leadership.”

ConHome: “What difference does your background as a scientist, your doctorate in chemistry, make to the way you operate as a politician, indeed as a senior minister? Most of your colleagues have a background in politics, economics, history, law, or, in one prominent case, the classics.”

Coffey: “I think just generally the approach of being pretty data-driven, evidence-based, analytical, good use of statistics, challenging sometimes things which people aren’t familiar with – perhaps I’m more confident, even though I don’t pretend to be a medical scientist or anything like that.

“But the ability to ask good questions is very helpful.”

ConHome: “Do you think there should be more people in the Cabinet who are scientifically literate?”

Coffey: “Well I think everybody has different strengths. You don’t need to be a scientist to be able to have that analytical ability. I’m just conscious that that’s led to a particular way of how sometimes I approach matters.

“I think it also helped, I really value my industrial experience and learning at one of the best companies in the world [Coffey worked for Mars].

“All that sort of experience we each bring as members of the Cabinet, and other people will have other life and work experiences too. So it’s the combination of strengths that help us.”

ConHome: “The uplift in Universal Credit is going to be extended for six months. Isn’t it absolutely inevitable that after that six months is over it’s going to be extended again?

“And if that’s so, why not cut out all the bother and just announce that now?”

Coffey: “I don’t think it is the case that we wanted to make sure, close discussions with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, undoubtedly the response at the time, like a lot of the responses, what could be done quickly and effectively to support people, particularly those who we think were very much impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

“And I do think that we are in a good place, that the economy will be opening up, we have to get confidence back into the economy, back into employers to create jobs, and the investment that’s already gone into DWP and across government more broadly for the Plan for Jobs means that we’re well-placed to encourage and get people taking up those vacancies as quickly as possible.

“This has been a long time now for quite a lot of people being out of work. The furlough has kept that link, and we need to encourage employers to make sure that those people still on furlough are now being prepared to be trained, to be refreshed to get back into their workplace as soon as possible, when conditions allow them to resume their normal activities.”

ConHome: “Do you think there will be a case for an extension at the end of six months? Given the fact that unemployment will be rising.”

Coffey: “Yes I’m conscious about that. And I think that we’ve been clear about the value of this extension. I think that the Chancellor’s always said that we’ll wrap our arms around, but we do believe genuinely in economic terms the large effects of the pandemic will be over, and the investment of people into skills, to get people working again, and that training I think will be important in order to take full advantage of the vacancies that arise.

“So the decision’s been made about the up to six months extension of a variety of schemes, and we’ve got the full six-month extension for people on Universal Credit.”

ConHome: “Can you say more about what your department’s broad plans are for dealing with the unemployment challenge as it will be when lockdown is lifted, particularly for younger people coming into the labour market as they hope, people who lost their jobs immediately before the first lockdown happened.”

Coffey: “Yes, well, already across the country we’ve nearly 27,000 work coaches, we’re not far off now, we’ll have recruited our extra 13,500 by the end of the month.

“And they’re already making interactions with people who’ve been looking for work. We reintroduced Claimant Commitments last year, which is our contract on behalf of the taxpayer with the people receiving benefits.

“People are already taking advantage of more tailored support through a variety of schemes under the Plan for Jobs. So for example probably our flagship scheme is the Kickstart Scheme focussed on young people, and the intention is to have a quarter of a million Kickstart placements by the end of this year.

“And we’ve already approved over 150,000. I don’t know when we’re publishing this information, just over 6,000 young people have now started that role, since November, and we have vacancies, I think there’s over 40,000 vacancies at the moment, which we’re now starting to process with employers and the young people, to get the start.

“I think it’s fair to say that some of the sectors and some of the areas it’s been challenging for them to get the start dates agreed, because they just want to make sure it’s in line with when their sectors can open up.

“But I’m also looking into the fact, I had hoped that more councils would take up the offer of programmes like that. We haven’t had as much interest as I would expect from local government and very few people have started in local government, so that’ll be an area of emphasis.

“But it’s not just about the young people. We’ve got schemes called SWAPs, sector work-based academy programmes, where there are vacancies, employers set these schemes up with us, they get some training, they get some work experience, and they get a guaranteed job interview.

“And that’s often important for people whose sectors aren’t particularly recovering in the way we would like, and we are focussing on some of the growth sectors, or sectors where there are well-known vacancies.

“So that can be a mixture of different levels, including health and social care. We’ve got some other opportunities. There’s something called JETs. This is where people have been unemployed for a while and they get more specialist support.

And indeed something called JFS, Job Finding Support, it’s very light touch, because quite a lot of the people who’ve turned to us for help are people who haven’t had to look for a job for the last 20, 25 years, may not have a LinkedIn profile, may not have their CV quite up to date, and some of that probably just needs some finessing, and an element of confidence and interview practice.

“So we’re trying a whole series of ways in order to get people back into the habit of this, getting them ready, and then steering them, as part of their Claimant Commitment, towards jobs that are available. And we need people to keep going for those vacancies.”

ConHome: “Were you as baffled as we were that you weren’t tasked with fronting any of the daily Government press conferences over the last year?”

Coffey: “Well it’s kind of you to say that. I think the way the process worked was largely if there were announcements to be made in particular areas, and then you had some of my other colleagues, like the First Secretary of State, or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, running the Cabinet Office, who would actually have a broader remit I suppose to make announcements on behalf of the Government.

“So I think that, I’ll be open with you, I’m quite happy to, we’ve got this enormous jobs army, as I call us now, at DWP, we’re growing to nearly 100,000 people, and you know we have the most connections with communities right around the country.

“We’re increasing the number of Job Centres by 200, so we’ll have well over 800 Job Centres. So we have enough to do, to actually deliver the day to day services that we need.

“And who knows in the future. We’ve got the press briefing starting, but the shift of the Government away hopefully from Covid and actually onto the jobs recovery.

“So big thanks to the Jabs Army, we are the Jobs Army, and I’m keen that you will see more of me, also more of my colleagues like Kwasi Kwarteng and Oliver Dowden, as we really push and bang the drum alongside the Chancellor and the Prime Minister for job creation.”

ConHome: “Last year has been full of Government successes, and frankly some Government failures. But one of the big successes has been Universal Credit.

“It’s stood up. It didn’t fall over. If it hadn’t been there, goodness knows what would have been done in terms of support. Why was it you weren’t allowed out at a press conference to talk about this?”

Coffey: “Well I think quite a lot of Government, quite rightly, citizens expect it to work. And I’m conscious that perhaps colleagues and dare I say it the commentariat might have been surprised that UC didn’t fall over.

“It took a lot of effort. I’m really proud of what our civil servants did. I have to say there was a particular day when over 100,000 claims were made and we had some really intensive work undertaken to increase the capacity of our IT, our servers.

“I always think of that train scene in Wallace and Gromit, the one with the penguin, and Gromit’s on the front of the train laying down the track in front of it, and that’s how it felt like for a little while.

“But we did cope, we did manage, we made some effective decisions, and we worked together very well, and how can I put it, it was a great success story in a way, that DWP was not in the news for it falling over.

“We’re happy to be the unsung heroes, but it’s nice to get some praise as well, and we’ve certainly been given that by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister in the last year.”

ConHome: “The manifesto commitment on the Winter Fuel Payment and the older person’s bus pass, that’s all very clear, but those payments have aroused controversy recently. Can you rule out the possibility of the age at which they’re received being raised?”

Coffey: “I haven’t been involved in any policy discussion about that. It’s not on the agenda, as far as I know.”

ConHome: “Do you think you were right, in retrospect, to vote both in 2013 and in 2019 against same-sex marriage?”

Coffey: “Well I’m a practising Catholic, we have a diversity of people and their views in Parliament, and think it’s fair to say, I’m a great believer in democracy, I’ve not sought to try and block anything further.

“But I will say the thing about the 2019 [vote], which is the Northern Ireland situation, I felt that was a devolved matter, to be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“As did I think you’ll find some other people who voted against that at the time, who actually support same-sex marriage, but respect devolution. I didn’t agree with the situation that forced that through, but again, I’m a democrat. The vote went through and it’s now been delivered.”

ConHome: “You’re part of the quite sizeable tribe of Tory politicians from Liverpool who don’t sit for Liverpool. Why do you think the Conservatives have basically been driven out as an electoral force, not only of Liverpool now, but the whole of Merseyside pretty much, with one exception.”

Coffey: “As you say, Southport was there, and we came close in Wirral West to regaining that in 2019. I wasn’t born there, but I grew up there, I was in a place called Formby from about six months old and then proper Liverpool if you like from the age of six, to the point that I actually had a Conservative Member of Parliament when I lived there, for a while.”

ConHome: “Who was that?”

Coffey: “I’m trying to think. Malcolm Thornton it was at one point. I know he then moved constituency to Crosby, but I don’t have entire recollection of that time.

“I think that what happened, especially when Militant took over, that’s when I got interested in politics, or I realised politics mattered, I think with the rule of Militant about 20 per cent of the population actually just left Liverpool.

“And I’m conscious that some of the economic impact there was pretty tough on the city. The issues that had happened earlier in that decade with the riots and so on.

“Candidly, other bits of the North West, like Manchester, instead of having a row with the Government, just got on with it and did better economically.

“There are several of us, as you say, from Liverpool who’ve ended up in other parts of the country. I didn’t go back after university, I got a job elsewhere in the country.

“But I’m still very fond of what I consider to be my home city, and very keen to try to make sure it does prosper, which is one of the reasons why earlier this week I was doing a fundraiser with Gillian Keegan for Jade Marsden, our candidate for the LIverpool City Region.”

ConHome: “Where are we on the Government review of women’s pensions?”

Coffey: “Well the Government’s policy has been consistent on women’s pensions. We won our latest court session, to keep the fact that we wanted to have the age of pensioners to be the same, whether a man or woman.

“However, we’re awaiting a legal process. A further appeal was made by others and we’re waiting to hear if the Supreme Court is going to take it on.”

ConHome: “Do you feel it’s tougher in any way for Catholics in politics than it was? Some Catholics say so though others disagree.”

Coffey: “I don’t know because I’ve only had ten years of experience. Probably the famous one was Alastair Campbell saying ‘we don’t do God’.

“Before I was an MP I actually remember, I think it’s the only time I’d seen Tony Blair in the flesh, I was at Mass at Westminster Cathedral and all of a sudden he appeared with his daughter, and it was quite amusing, at the shake of the hands of peace there were people clambering over the pews to shake his hand.”

ConHome: “That must have been before the Iraq War.”

Coffey: “I can’t remember when, but it can be a difficult balancing act, I appreciate that. And sometimes people of faith just have different views on certain matters.

“I’m a great believer in live and let live, and not condemning other people for choices they make or for approaches they take. I have very different views to some of my friends say on assisted suicide.

“That day, 11th September 2015, is one of the proudest days in my time as an MP, to stop that Second Reading [of the Assisted Dying Bill].

“And I’ve got friends who completely disagree with me, and that’s OK.

“People do talk about having a kinder politics. An element of a kinder politics is not calling other people with different views bigots because you don’t agree with them.

“People are bigots for calling other people bigots in a way, if that makes sense.

“It genuinely is about just accepting that other people may have different views to you. We seem to be candidly better at doing that in the Conservative Party than perhaps some of the other political parties.

“Being respectful to each other even if you completely disagree with their perspective or their viewpoints, and just accepting that people can have different views. I think politics could be a lot gentler in that way.

“How I explain it sometimes to members of the public or indeed schoolchildren is that in the Chamber, you tend to only discuss largely the things where you disagree.

“Frankly on most things, all the parties probably agree on about 70 per cent of matters.”

ConHome: “Do you have any advice for Jurgen Klopp? You’re a Liverpool supporter we believe.”

Coffey: “I’m a huge supporter of Liverpool Football Club. Clearly the impact of injuries on defenders, particularly Virgil van Diyk, has knocked confidence.

“But it’s about having self-belief, and recognising it’s only one match at a time. That’s all it takes, and I’m a great fan of Jurgen Klopp, and his enthusiasm, his visible leadership, and I’m a great fan of very visible leadership.

“And we’ve got that in bucket loads in Liverpool, and we’ve got it in bucket loads in our Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well.”

ConHome: “The Jurgen Klopp of politics.”

Coffey: “Well, you know, it’s the style that I really like.”