WATCH: Montgomerie predicts that Johnson will be ousted as Prime Minister before the General Election

26 Jun

The post WATCH: Montgomerie predicts that Johnson will be ousted as Prime Minister before the General Election appeared first on Conservative Home.

Three cheers for small charities, and for the Centre for Social Justice

8 Dec

The nationalisation of many of our country’s most famous charities, and their consequent loss of the power of independent initiative as they decline into mere adjuncts of the central bureaucracy, is one of the saddest stories of our time.

What is one to do, if one becomes rich and wishes to turn philanthropist? For it is pointless to write cheques to these huge but lifeless organisations, nowadays funded by the state.

To this conundrum the Centre for Social Justice offers an answer. On Monday night it launched the CSJ Foundation, set up to support hundreds of small, grassroots charities, ten of which received awards.

There is something faintly incongruous about sitting down to a delightful dinner, in the lofty, pillared magnificence of St John’s Smith Square, a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament, in order to learn from elegant and prosperous people how to fight poverty.

But any sense of incongruity was forgotten as one heard the testimony of the small charities. I was sitting at the same table as Anna Smith, Chief Executive of One25, in Bristol, which was set up 26 years ago and provides a nightly van service for women trapped in street sex work: a cup of tea, somewhere safe to talk or to sleep.

Smith observed that many people wrongly imagine these street workers to be like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, leading an almost glamorous existence as they earn a bit of extra money.

In reality, these women are often homeless, often have mental health problems, are often addicted to drugs, are often raped and beaten up, often lose custody of their children, are ashamed of what has become of them and feel they are beyond any hope of escape.

As part of the award, the CSJ made a short film about One25 which, Smith said, “really encapsulates what we do”, so is useful in explaining this to people.

Doug Barrowman, of the CSJ Foundation, remarked in his speech that 85 per cent of charitable giving goes to only 4.4 per cent of charities by number.

How, he wondered, can a prospective donor, following in the footsteps of “the greats who came before, the likes of Carnegie, Cadbury and Peabody”, evaluate charities?

Tim Montgomerie, who in 2005 founded ConHome, the year before founded with Iain Duncan Smith and Philippa Stroud the CSJ, which has since worked to tackle the root causes of poverty, learning from the work done by hundreds of small charities and urging the government of the day to apply those lessons.

Duncan Smith spoke last. He said that “in every difficult area I found a charity that had solved the problem”, and went on: “We are here to change lives, not to observe them.”

The tone of politics is often rancorous. This event was not like that. In place of partisanship one saw a disinterested desire to help those least able to help themselves.

That is not a very newsworthy endeavour, but across the length and breadth of the kingdom, small charities are striving with slender means but with dedication and understanding to help those the state is too vast and insensitive to know how to help.

Donal Blaney: Lessons for GB News from an early draft of disruptor television

15 Jun

Donal Blaney is a solicitor, the founder of the Margaret Thatcher Centre and co-founded 18 Doughty Street and the Young Britons’ Foundation.

Sunday evening saw the much-anticipated launch of the self-styled disruptor news channel, GB News. Like many, I watched its opening couple of hours of broadcasting. My heart sank for those involved. Grainy and blurry images. Mics not working. Odd set design. It all felt familiar. It reminded me of the launch of 18 Doughty Street.

I was very much the junior partner in the team that launched 18DS in 2006. Funded by the visionary entrepreneur, Stephan Shakespeare, 18DS was run by Tim Montgomerie (then of this parish) and Iain Dale (now an award-winning presenter on LBC).

Our goal was to create what we called “Fox News Lite”, in an era long before Fox News lost its way. Unregulated by Ofcom because our output was online, 18DS would pursue a radically different news agenda to the mainstream print and broadcast media, ensuring that unheard stories were covered, and unheard voices had their say.

We failed. A little over a year after 18DS first began, the plug was pulled. Acrimony among the leadership team and a lack of long-term funding, coupled with feeble viewing figures, meant that the shows could not go on.

So what lessons, if any, are there for GB News to draw from 18DS?

  • Sort out the tech. There can be no excuse for audio or visual problems. Mics must always work. Guests need make up. Presenters need to be in focus. Whoever is speaking needs to be on camera. This is not rocket science. Practice, practice, practice. There will be howlers (who can forget when one 18DS presenter left his mic on while taking a pee, and the sound of him humming from the loo was broadcast live?) but these need to be ironed out within hours or days rather than in weeks or months.
  • Be ruthless. If presenters, contributors or guests are not cutting it, cut them. No matter how good a bloke X might be, if he turns out to be dull on screen, get rid of him. Now.
  • Change whatever needs changing, quickly. The first set we had at 18DS included a gold throne that looked as if it was straight out of a nineteenth century brothel. God knows how it was allowed to be seen. Parts of the GB News set looked like a North Korean news channel. Recognise the problem and redesign the set. Admit mistakes and move on, quickly.
  • Chemistry takes time. Watching Andrew Neil prompting his teams of presenters to say how feisty they were towards each other last night was cringeworthy. While every producer prays for the next Johnny & Denise, or even Piers & Susanna, such on air relationships take months or years to develop and can rarely be forced. And if on-screen talent hate each other, deal with it quickly. TV-AM learned that lesson too late.
  • Reconsider formats. At 18DS, we focused on 30 and 60 minute shows. But as these could only be watched online, at 2006 download speeds, these shows were way too long. No one watched them (me included!). We should have focused on much shorter clips that might have attracted a following or been shared virally. GB News needs to recognise that viewers have short attention spans and may struggle to sit through hour-long shows comprised of otherwise sound rants from hyped-up presenters.
  • Money matters. GB News is well backed financially. Leftists’ attempts to boycott advertisers in the hope they will cease advertising on the channel will fail to bring GB News to its knees (and will mean that Lottie, Hugo, Rupert and the gang of public school trustafarians at Stop Funding Hate will no longer be able to shop at Amazon or eat Kellogg’s). But running the channel, if it is to be a success, will cost way more than anticipated. Hopefully the financial backers have deeper pockets than they believe they might need.
  • Stick to the mission. 18DS went mainstream and lost its USP. Had it remained avowedly right-of-centre in its news agenda and output, it might have stood a chance. As yet another mainstream outlet, it was destined to fail. GB News needs to remain a disruptor. Everyone at the channel needs to watch Andrew Neil’s opening remarks last night until they are seared into their souls.
  • Ignore the naysayers. We live in an era of the cancel culture. Civility in public discourse has gone. The left will be desperate for GB News to fail. The morale of those involved in the channel will suffer if social media reviews are read. The solution is simple: ignore them. They are not your audience. The silent majority is.
  • Stand up to enemies. Ignoring naysayers does not mean that they should be allowed to kill GB News at birth. Be prepared to defend robustly all complaints to Ofcom from those who feign being offended. Their only goal is to see GB News go the way of News of the World. These people will never be happy until all media outlets with whom they disagree are destroyed, along with the reputations, livelihoods and lives of those who has the temerity to be involved. Do not be cowed.
  • Never give up. The first night was full of glitches. Many will mock online. Others are already furious that GB News presenters have expressed – shock, horror – opinions with which they violently disagree. But as these triggered snowflakes wail uncontrollably in impotent fury into their kale, lentil and chai lattes this morning, and for months to come, all at GB News need to channel their inner Churchill. The success of GB News matters. Truly it does. The silent majority has been denied a voice in broadcasting for far too long. 18DS tried and failed. GB News will try harder, and if it does so, it will not fail. All who believe in free speech must wish it well because, without a plurality of voices in the public square, we are not free.

David Gauke: May should lead the Commons struggle against her successor’s plan to break international law if necessary

12 Sep

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

The reputations of Prime Ministers tend to follow much the same trajectory.

First, there is a honeymoon period on the back of a Party leadership or general election victory. Their qualities are compared favourably with their predecessor and the country gives them the benefit of the doubt.

This period is usually as good as it gets. Popularity may fluctuate but eventually the attributes that once seemed refreshing begin to grate. A Prime Minister’s strengths become weaknesses. Disappointments accumulate and enemies become emboldened.

Whether suddenly (think John Major and the exit from the ERM or Gordon Brown and the election that never was) or gradually, they become damaged. A Prime Minister’s term in office usually ends on a low ebb.

At which point, the reputation of an ex-Prime Minister also tends to follow a familiar trajectory. Their qualities are compared unfavourably with their successor, and the country refuses to give them the benefit of the doubt. The troubled last period in office is fresh in the public’s memory. Former allies gravitate to the new powerbase or drift into well-remunerated obscurity. An ex-Prime Minister almost becomes a figure of pity and ridicule – the mighty fallen. Their reputation continues to decline.

And then, at some point, it begins to recover. The comparison with their successor becomes more nuanced. It is appreciated that the problems that beset their time in office were real and complex, and that maybe changing the captain hadn’t solved all the problems aboard the ship.

All of our recent Prime Ministers fit this profile to some extent, but none more so than Theresa May. On assuming office in 2016, her obvious diligence and decency won her the respect of much the nation. Her reserved, unshowy personality was seen as an asset. She was sensible and pragmatic, but also steely and determined. She polled extraordinarily well.

But, as is familiar to all readers of this website, this is all came to end – and very quickly. Over the course of the 2017 general election campaign, her reserved, unshowy personality was seen as uncommunicative and unsympathetic. A strength became a weakness and, when the Conservative majority was lost, she became a loser not a winner.

She then faced the almost impossible task of getting a Brexit deal through with a minority government, a deeply split Parliamentary Party and an increasingly polarised public. Her attempts at compromise failed to satisfy both sides of the arguments.

When she reached a deal with the EU – a compromise that had to address the contradictions and fantasies that had been peddled in previous years – she lacked the shamelessness necessary to persuade a sceptical Party and nation that she had achieved a triumph.

In the critical months that followed, she suffered Parliamentary defeat after defeat. Even those of us in her Cabinet did not know how she would try to find a way of out of the situation. In the end, she would not countenance what she saw as a risk of the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the potential implications for the peace process. Consequently, she did not attempt to force through a No Deal Brexit. The wider Conservative Party neither understood nor accepted her position and she was forced out.

For the next few months, many compared her unfavourably with her successor. Boris Johnson secured a deal which permitted greater regulatory and customs freedom (for Great Britain) and won a majority for it at Second Reading.

Rather than allow the Withdrawal Agreement be subject to extended Parliamentary scrutiny, he pulled the legislation and managed to force the opposition parties into a general election. In contrast to May’s efforts in 2017, he triumphed with a thumping majority. Six weeks later, we had finally left the EU. He had achieved what she had not.

In the 30 months after the start of the 2017 general election campaign, May’s reputation had fallen further and faster than most. But, I would argue, it then began to recover somewhat earlier than happened with her predecessors.

The Covid crisis would have played to her strengths. Her moral seriousness and attention to detail would have been well suited to the circumstances. She would have provided grip. People remembered that these were useful qualities for a Prime Minister.

And when it came to the ‘fabulous, oven-ready Brexit deal’ obtained by her successor, all was not as it was portrayed. The Northern Irish question was always immensely difficult with the Brexit-seeking UK holding contradictory objectives. Boris Johnson had got a deal by selling out the Unionists, but failed to recognise publicly that this is what he had done.

This was either staggeringly incompetent or extraordinarily mendacious (I am afraid either explanation is plausible) but it has come unstuck. Ministers’ explanations for the problems the Government now perceives – ‘it was all done in a hurry and now we must not jeopardise the peace process’ – only make matters worse. They certainly destroy the argument that Johnson had proven to be a masterful and triumphant negotiator.

In order to try to interpret the Northern Ireland Protocol in a manner that is consistent with what the Prime Minister has been saying about it, as opposed to what he actually agreed, he has had to come forward with legislation that gives the Government the power to breach international law.

I am not going to dwell on why this is an appalling course of action that will do immense damage to our international reputation and destroy trust in the EU negotiations (they stagger on, but I wonder if they are now just zombie negotiations). This is not a specifically Brexit issue, or even a No Deal Brexit issue, but it is wider than that. That is why staunch Brexiteers such as Michael Howard, Norman Lamont, Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale have been so condemnatory.

So has May. All those who worked with her would not be surprised by her principled objections to the proposal, and her concern that future international partners will not trust the UK to ‘abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs’.

It would have been inconceivable to May to have brought forward legislation such as this. From my point of view, this is just as well. As her Lord Chancellor, had she done so, I would have felt compelled to resign in order to uphold the rule of law.

In the next few days, the Commons will have to decide whether it is willing to endorse the proposed breach of international law. There is considerable disquiet in the Parliamentary Party about this, but caution about rebelling. It will be a stain upon the reputation of this country and the Conservative Party if the legislation, in its current form, were to pass.

There is only person who might be able to stop this in the House of Commons. If Theresa May were to indicate that she will vote against reneging on our commitments, it would embolden others.

Voting against the Conservative whip is not in her nature. She is not a natural rebel but were she to defy the whip – in a very specific and limited way – it would be immensely to her credit and very clearly in the national interest. History would judge her kindly.

Iain Dale: Good luck to Robbie Gibb’s prospective challenger to the BBC and Sky. And to News UK if it has a go, too.

4 Sep

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

On Wednesday, the German government declared that the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had indeed be poisoned, and that the nerve agent used was Novichok.

Predictably the Kremlin denied any involvement whatsoever, thereby taking the West for fools yet again. Novichok appears to have become the poison of choice for the Russian Government’s Federal Security Service (FSB). For an apparently developed country to sanction the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens is both unconscionable, and tells us a lot about the ruthlessness of Valdimir Putin.

It is inconceivable that he doesn’t know it is going on, whether or not he gives the direct orders or not. After Salisbury, he could have read the riot act to his former colleagues in the FSB and said: ‘Never again’. He chose not to – and the poisoning of his main political opponent is the result.

So what should the response be? When he was Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson did brilliantly to persuade 20 countries to expel more than 130 Russian diplomats. That was fine, but it didn’t go far enough. All western countries should now impose the most severe Magnitsky sanctions possible against all senior members of the FSB and every single member of the Russian cabinet, including Putin himself.

Germany will be key here. Angela Merkel has enjoyed a better relationship with Putin than most western leaders, and Russia and Germany enjoy economic ties which Britain and Russia do not have.

For Germany to take serious measures against the Kremlin may be the jolt that Putin needs if he is to re-evaluate his ‘poison policy’. Or he may respond by threatening to switch off the supply of gas to Western Europe. If you appease people like Putin, they just laugh at you. The time for serious action is now.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve enjoyed reading Philip Collins in The Times over the last twelve years. Sadly he’s been let go as a weekly columnist, but by most standards he’s had a good innings.

He fired off a parting shot email which was particularly ill-judged and ungracious. Rather than thank The Times for giving him the space to air his views over twelve years, he complained that he’d been let go in a thirty second conversation.

Galling, yes, but it’s always better to leave with your head held high, even if you think your benefactors have made a huge mistake. Bitterness is never a good look.

All columnists, and radio presenters for that matter, know that as each hour passes, their day of departure looms ever nearer. I’ve been on LBC for eleven years now. I hope when my time comes I conduct myself with due decorum, but also  hope that day is a long way off!

– – – – – – – – – –

It is rumoured that two more news channels may appear on our screens before too long. There’s little doubt that there is growing dissatisfaction with the news coverage provided by Sky and the BBC, but there is a big question-mark over whether the news viewing market is big enough to sustain new entrants. And would a news channel with a centre-right slant be able to garner enough of an audience to make it commercially viable?

GB News (let’s hope that if it gets on air it has a snappier name) is led by Robbie Gibb and an ex-head of Sky Australia. News UK is also rumoured to be planning something similar.

Both are at pains to say their vision does not involve becoming a UK version of Fox News. Would conventional advertisers be flocking to advertise on a right of centre TV channel? They advertise in right of centre newspapers, so there is no reason why not, I suppose, but I suspect they will take some convincing.

Whoever the financial backers of these channels may be will need to have some very deep pockets indeed to get them through the initial few years. Running costs will go into the tens of millions of pounds. I wish both enterprises luck, because competition is always good, and new entrants to a market can help shake the existing channels out of their rank complacency.

I remember that when Stephan Shakespeare, Tim Montgomerie, Donal Blaney and I started 18 Doughty Street TV in 2006 how difficult it was to build an audience. In those days few people watched video, live or not, on their laptops. Smartphones hadn’t then been invented. In retrospect, we were ten years ahead of our time. Such a channel would do really well nowadays, I suspect.