Neil O’Brien: Why closing the marriage gap between rich and poor is a vital mission for social justice

27 Jul

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Our daughter just had her last day at nursery. In the autumn she’s off to school. We’re sponging second-hand uniform from friends. It feels like just the other day I was driving home after her birth, flakes of snow streaking through the headlights.

Our baby son can suddenly crawl fast. He wants to climb the stairs, and chew any bits of cardboard he finds lying around.

My sister has unearthed a trove of old black and white family photos. There’s lots of things that catch the eye: Glasgow’s housing estates looking shiny and newly-built; the funny looking cars; the endless cigarettes. The bigger families too: my gran with her two children from before the war, and two after.

It set me thinking about family. Ten years ago we talked about it a lot. David Cameron’s criticism of “Broken Britain” highlighted work by the Centre for Social Justice on family breakdown and poverty. The most eye-catching pledge during his leadership campaign was a marriage tax break.

Over the last five years there’s been a lot of other things doing on, to say the least.  But as the new government starts to set out its domestic agenda, family should be part of it.

Politicians are nervous talking about family. It’s not just bad memories of the 1990s, when we screwed up and sounded like moralising hypocrites against a backdrop of sleaze.

It’s a deeper fear of sounding critical of friends and relations. We all have close friends who have been through everything: raising kids alone, divorce, abortion, bereavement and so on. I think of a friend who has raised two wonderful kids alone. Another single friend helped look after a young person when no-one else would. I don’t know how anyone manages to do it single-handed: they’re amazing people.

Some worry family policy will be about condemning them, or that politicians want to try and trap unhappy couples together. It mustn’t be about either. Instead, it has to be about two different things.

First, helping people with children financially, and with practical help, particularly during the difficult years with small children. Having no money on top of no sleep and endlessly crying babies makes it harder to sustain relationships.

Second, it should be about support and building up the social capital that many middle class people in politics take for granted. Indeed, it’s about healing a split in our society.

Let me explain.

Politicians who are serious about reducing poverty and spreading opportunity can’t avoid thinking about families and households.  Last year 23 per cent of children in couple households were below the fixed poverty line, after housing costs, compared to 38 per cent of children in lone parent households.

Controlling for other factors, A CSJ report found those who experience family breakdown when aged 18 or younger are twice as likely be in trouble with the police or spend time in prison, and almost twice as likely to underachieve educationally. They’re more likely to suffer mental health issues.

One part of family policy should be direct help families with children. I’d love to see us recognise children in the tax system, as we did until the 1970s: our tax system is unusually family-unfriendly. We should help working families with children on Universal Credit keep more what they earn before it gets tapered away. The CSJ has called for higher child benefit for parents of young children.

But we need to go deeper, and recognise that the links between family breakdown and low income run in both directions. Over recent decades a quiet revolution has taken place, and richer and poorer people now live in very different family structures.

Between 1979 and 2000, the proportion of households with dependent children which were lone parent households grew from 11 per cent to 25 per cent, then remained at that level, dipping a bit in recent years to 22 per cent in 2019. Since 1979, the proportion which are married couples fell from 89 per cent to 61 per cent.

There are few countries in Europe where children are less likely to live with both parents than Britain. It’s more likely that a teenager sitting their GCSEs will own a smartphone (about 95 per cent) than live with both parents (58 per cent).

But these headline stats conceal a massive social split, which starts at the point of birth and widens out.

For those in the top socioeconomic group, 75 per cent of children are born to parents who are married; another 22 per cent are jointly registered to parents cohabiting; 2 per cent are jointly registered to parents living apart, and just 1 per cent registered by one parent only.

At the bottom end of the scale, 35 per cent are born to married parents, 38 per cent to cohabiting parents, 21 per cent jointly to parents living apart and 6 per cent registered by just one parent.

These huge differences weren’t always there. For people at the top, family life looks similar to their parents’ generation. For people on lower incomes, society looks utterly different. A marriage gap has opened up, and society has been splitting apart into different family structures for rich and poor.

In the 1970s, mothers of pre-school children were equally likely to be married whether they had a degree or not, and 90 per cent plus were. By 2006 for mothers with a degree that was down to 86 per cent, but for non-graduate mothers it fell to 52 per cent.

Between 1988 and 2018 the proportion of jointly registered births which were to married parents fell from 90 per cent to about 77 per cent for the top socio-economic group. At the other end of the scale it fell from 70 per cent to 37 per cent.

Equally, it’s impossible to understand modern Britain without appreciating the different families people from different ethnic groups live in.

In 2011, among households with dependent children, for white households 53 per cent were married couples, 16 per cent cohabiting couples, 25 per cent lone parents, and 7 per cent other household types (mainly multigenerational households).

Among Indian households with dependent children, far more were married couples or multigenerational households.  68 per cent were married couples, 2 per cent cohabiting couples, 9 per cent lone parents and 21 per cent in multigenerational households.

Among black Caribbean households 28 per cent were married couples, 11 per cent cohabiting couples, 47 per cent were lone parents and 14 per cent in multigenerational households.

People of different ethnicities live in very different families, which influences everything else.

Most voters favour government taking action to support family life. But in Whitehall there’s scepticism: can the state do anything about these trends?

The truth is we don’t really know. As it happens, at the point when government stopped publishing its measure of family stability in 2016, the trend seemed to be moving back a little towards more children living with both parents.

Whitehall can be too pessimistic. Until Michael Howard, the consensus was that nothing could be done about rising crime. He proved the consensus wrong. Likewise, in the 1990s Whitehall had given up on helping lone parents into work. But successive reforms (under governments of all parties) doubled their rate of employment.

It’s not like there’s no ideas about how to help.  There’s masses and masses of recommendations gathering dust on think tank shelves, covering everything: tax, benefits, family hubs, relationship education in schools, birth registration, pre-and postnatal support…

My modest proposal is this: let’s do a major programme of controlled trials to test these ideas, and see what, if anything, makes a difference. Happily for the Treasury, experiments are cheaper than rolling things out nationally.

But we have to try. The costs are too high not to. They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is today. Let’s plant some seeds.

Damian Green: Here are our One Nation ideas for reviving post-Covid, post-Brexit Britain

27 Jul

Damian Green is Chair of the One Nation Caucus, a former First Secretary of State and is MP for Ashford.

There has been a flurry of comments about One Nation Conservatism, and what it means in the 2020s, over recent weeks. This is very timely, as for many years the One Nation tradition was linked with pro-European views, to the point where views on Europe seemed to become its defining characteristic.

Those times are clearly past, and one of the aims of the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is to set out a new set of policy priorities, both in domestic and international policy, which we want the Government to adopt. We hope that we are pushing at a reasonably open door, as the Prime Minister has always described himself as a One Nation politician, and certainly his levelling up agenda is absolutely in that tradition. His description of himself as a “Brexity Hezza” may have been rejected by, well…..Hezza, but nothing is easy these days.

Getting the country back on the track it voted for last December is the task for the next four years, and One Nation ideas will play a central role in the successful pursuit of that project. The last thing the Conservative Party or the country needs is a continuation of the Brexit divisions. If the only thing that matters is how you voted in 2016, we will never move on. So through the summer and autumn the One Nation Caucus will be publishing a series of policy papers designed to set out a full agenda for government in the post-Covid period.

The first of these papers is Restarting the Economy, which brings together six MPs from various intakes to address the central issue of our times. Stephen Hammond is the lead author, and he emphasises the importance of a relentless focus on levelling up to extend growth beyond London.

Key proposals in the paper include the development of new local economic bodies to drive growth, expanding the number of planned freeports, and creating technology adoption funds to support the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The report also suggests a number of policies to protect people on low incomes, including suggestions for ending consumer rip-offs, and proposals for managing repayments of Covid business loans, recommending an approach similar to the Student Loan scheme.

Each of these is a meaty idea in its own right, and the full paper is available on the One Nation website. But this array of economic ideas is only the start of the wider project to position Conservative ideas at the heart of the national political debate post-Covid.

Labour may be under new management but one of the features of the Starmer era so far has been the avoidance of any policy discussions. This is clearly a conscious tactic, but while Labour pursues it there is a space to fill in shaping the public mind. It is often observed that intellectual regeneration is more difficult inside a governing party, but it is not impossible, and is absolutely necessary if conservatism is to have another successful decade.

The financial crisis, Brexit, and Covid-19 have been three black swans that have swept aside the original plans developed the last time the Conservative Party was in opposition. They have incidentally also swept aside Tony Blair’s fond idea of making the twenty-first century “the progressive century”, by which he meant the New Labour century. How does that look in 2020?

So now is exactly the right time for One Nation Conservatives to think hard and set up debates. After the economic paper our next publication will be on social mobility, how we can bring it back, and why we must not think about it in traditional terms. Following that we will be publishing a paper on the environment, showing how capitalism is not the enemy of achieving carbon New Zero, but the only way of reaching it.

Future papers will look at Britain’s place in the world, covering trade and aid, and specifically what the new configuration of the Foreign Office and DfId offers in the realm of making our aid spending (which One Nation Conservatives strongly support) more effective in the future. We will also be taking a hard look at schools and what they can do better to spread opportunity, and at the new world of work.

It is very pleasing that all cohorts of the Parliamentary party have contributed to these papers. Former Ministers have worked with many members of the 2019 intake on the individual ideas, proving that there is no shortage of new thinking on the back benches, and that One Nation ideas are alive and well in the rising generations within the party.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a One Nation Conservative, I hope you will welcome the fact that those of us who are in that tradition want to contribute publicly to the key debates that will dominate the coming decade. The public will of course judge the Government mainly on its actions. But every political party needs to demonstrate that it can apply its principles to new circumstances. In a world that changes as fast as this one constant intellectual regeneration should be our goal. The One Nation recovery papers are a contribution to that.

Judy Terry: The increase in cycling poses safety risks

27 Jul

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Congratulations to Suffolk County Council (SCC), which has won £376,501 from the Department for Transport for emergency walking and cycling schemes, improving safety for people to make essential journeys and take daily exercise by foot or cycle whilst maintaining social distancing.

Work has already started in Ipswich, with changes to layouts, closing off sections of roads to motorised vehicles, widening existing footpaths and cycle lanes, and changing traffic signal timings to reduce waiting times at puffin and toucan crossings. The Government requires evaluation and consultation to be included during the emergency interventions, allowing some to be made permanent where possible.

Cllr. Andrew Reid, The Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, says:

“It is crucial that the measures work for the majority of people, ensuring accessibility for businesses whilst reducing congestion.”

Cycling maps and marketing campaigns will be updated to support health and air quality benefits.

During the lockdown, more people have taken to cycling, which is great for health and fitness, and the environment. However, few people appear to take their safety seriously; whole families take to the road without helmets. Young teenagers (usually boys) are everywhere cycling in groups, blocking other traffic, which then take risks overtaking.

Sadly, a coroner recently ruled that the death of a cyclist early one evening was likely to be attributed to alcohol. This doesn’t surprise me since, a while ago, a cyclist enjoying a tin of beer as he travelled on the wrong side of the road in daylight at about 6pm fell onto my stationary car, causing several hundred pounds worth of damage. Completely oblivious, he quickly righted himself and carried on.

Cycling proficiency tests, already available to children, are to be offered to adult novices, with instructors funded by the taxpayer, to build confidence and competence. Courses are not mandatory. Yet Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, admits that “it is crucial for cyclists to understand the rules of the road, manoeuvring skills and positive interactions with other road users.”

It’s worth pointing out that not all cycles are actually roadworthy; too many have non-existent brakes, and inadequate lights, making it impossible to see them at night. Taking precautions in rural areas, where roads tend to be narrow and twisting, without streetlighting, is especially important. Cyclists may use bridleways, but not footpaths – or pavements.

So, I suggest the Government should legislate to require:

  • Cyclists wear helmets and a hi-viz jacket;
  • Cycles must be certified as roadworthy;
  • Cyclists must be trained in the Highway Code and pass a test;
  • The same alcohol limits should apply to cyclists as to motorists;
  • Cyclists should have appropriate insurance (which would require evidence of roadworthiness and passing the Highway Code test).

With lockdown easing, now would be a good time to run courses in public parks, supporting novice cyclists, and checking roadworthiness. Volunteers could be recruited to help; discounts on equipment could also be negotiated with suppliers for attendees, and the wider community.

It is time to ensure that all road users are governed by the same rules, being appropriately qualified and equipped. It’s bad enough having millions of untaxed and unqualified drivers on the roads, lacking any respect for others and ignoring speed limits. Government should acknowledge that legitimate motorists – and the Police – have more than enough to cope with. But, without further action, there will be more accidents – and motorists will undoubtedly get the blame.

Adding to the problem, the Government has now decided to allow rented electric scooters to share cycle lanes and road space in pilot schemes, in some locations from this month for a year’s trial. Conditions include users having a provisional or full driving licence, wearing a helmet and a 15.5 mph maximum speed.

Inevitably, relaxing the rules in specific areas will encourage greater illegal use elsewhere.

Just a few days ago, I found myself following an (illegal) electric scooter down a narrow main road in Ipswich, with legal parking down one side virtually blocking one lane; within just a few minutes, the rider nearly caused two major accidents: first, his speed was approaching 30mph. He fell off, and the scooter skittered right across the road, causing three cars coming in the opposite direction to brake sharply. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but took his time to recover the scooter and get back on.

He carried on, in the middle of the road, at the same speed, whilst looking at his mobile phone, which he continued to do as he approached traffic lights. Instead of stopping in the empty designated priority cycle space, ahead of vehicles, he stopped next to a car indicating a left hand turn. When the lights turned green, he looked up from his phone, heading straight across the road, having ignored the car still indicating as it slowly turned left. Falling onto the vehicle, he shouted abuse at the driver, then carried on again, gathering speed.

I don’t envy the Police trying to control this sort of behaviour, without any form of users’ identification, once word gets out that e-scooters can use the roads. For too many people, regulations on speed and rental won’t apply. Nor does common sense.

It costs billions of pounds to maintain public roads, so it is only fair that cyclists should share the burden with other road users. An annual £20 tax for individuals, with £40 for a family of four, would not only contribute to the economy at this difficult time, but it would help to encourage greater responsibility for their personal safety. Some cyclists display a particular arrogance, taking risks, compromising everyone’s safety, instead of respecting other road users, including pedestrians.

Suffolk County Council, and other rural county councils, should also take measures to protect horses and their riders. According to the British Horse Society, 845 horses were killed on the roads in 2019 – equivalent to nearly two horses every week. There needs to be a national awareness campaign, with penalties for selfish motorists who carelessly speed through country roads and villages, with never a thought for vulnerable road users, whether riding a horse or cycle, or simply going for a walk.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and more

27 Jul

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

– – – – – – – – – –

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel – Chair

“The chair is responsible for leading and managing the Panel. They must lead development and implementation of a strategic vision for the Panel and ensure the reviews under their supervision identify improvements safeguarding partners or others should make to better safeguard and promote the welfare of children…Successful applicants will demonstrate the ability to: provide strong strategic leadership; chair high level meetings; effectively manage team dynamics and maintain the confidence of others, including child safeguarding professionals, Ministers and the public. The right candidate will also demonstrate a strong understanding of multi-agency child safeguarding arrangements, policy and frontline delivery.”

Time: 6-8 days per month.

Remuneration: £500 per diem.

Closes: 31 July

– – – – – – – – – –

College of Policing – Chair

“The Chair of the College of Policing is appointed by the Home Secretary to ensure the long-term success of the College. Together with the College Board of Directors, the Chair (who must not have a background in operational policing) will set the College’s strategic direction and aims against budgets and priorities. They will provide the College Chief Executive and team of Executive Directors with the necessary leadership, support and monitoring that will help them to meet the College and Home Secretary’s goals. The College plays a critical role in helping to increase the diversity within the police to reflect the communities they serve.”

Time: 1-2 days per week.

Remuneration: £135,000 pro rata.

Closes: 03 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Equality & Human Rights Commission – Chair

“The Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities is seeking a strong, strategic leader who will continue to develop the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and set the Commission’s overall direction to reflect its crucial role as an equality body and National Human Rights Institution. This appointment fulfils the requirement of the Equality Act 2006 that the Secretary of State should appoint a Chair to the Commission. Although the Commission is an independent organisation, the Chair is accountable to the above sponsoring Minister. You will develop and maintain high-value relationships with Ministers, influential partners, governments at home and abroad, opinion formers, industry and others, demonstrating judgment, integrity and resilience in the face of challenge.”

Time: 1-2 days per week.

Remuneration: £500 per diem.

Closes: 03 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – National Citizen Service Trustees

“National Citizen Service (NCS) is a youth programme that runs across England and Northern Ireland. We exist to engage, unite and empower young people, building their confidence so they can go out there and achieve their dreams, no matter where they’re from or what their background is. Our programme is managed and supported by NCS Trust, our central team who are constantly working to make sure we deliver the most impactful experience we can to as many young people as possible. National Citizen Service is seeking three Trustees with experience and skills at a senior level in the following areas: experience and demonstrable senior leadership in the parliamentary/public sector (1 Trustee); human resources specialist with commercial experience and a particular focus on people strategy, culture and coaching high performance teams (1 Trustee); [and] an education leader with strong links to schools and young people (1 Trustee).”

Time: 5-10 days per week.

Remuneration: “Reasonable expenses”.

Closes: 09 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Home Office – Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner

“The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner role aims to promote police compliance with the rules on the collection and retention of DNA, fingerprints and surveillance cameras respectively. The roles were created by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (POFA), which set out the regime for police use of DNA, fingerprints and the regulation of surveillance cameras. We have decided to appoint a single person to both roles because of the confluence of existing and emerging regulatory issues around police use of automated facial recognition. The post will cover the duties of the Biometrics Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, while the Government is considering reforms in this area.”

Time: Full-time.

Remuneration: £125,000 per annum.

Closes: 09 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Home Office – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and of Fire & Rescue Authorities

“HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is an independent body that inspects and reports to the public on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces in England and Wales, fire and rescue authorities in England and national law enforcement agencies. It aims to ensure that the public and their elected representatives can hold inspected organisations to account by monitoring trends, challenging practice and identifying areas for improvement, and making performance information accessible. The principal role of HMICFRS is undertaking the all-force inspections of policing in England and Wales, and of all fire & rescue authorities in England; providing the public with a clear, consistent and independent view of the quality of services in their local area.”

Time: Full-time.

Remuneration: £175,000 per annum.

Closes: 17 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Joint Nature Conservation Committee – Chair

“Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Framework Document provides the legal, administrative and financial framework within which the Joint Committee operates and the specific functions of the Committee and the Chair. As Chair you will be responsible to the Defra Secretary of State for the leadership, direction and effectiveness of JNCC in line with strategies and plans agreed with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. You will be the primary contact with Ministers for the Committee. You will provide visible leadership and vision for JNCC, setting strategic and operational direction, ensuring good governance and, together with the Joint Committee, holding the executive to account.”

Time: 2.5 days per week.

Remuneration: £40,059 per annum.

Closes: 03 September

– – – – – – – – – –

Environmental Standards Scotland – Chair/Members

“Environmental Standards Scotland will be established, initially, on a non-statutory basis from January 2021.  It will transition to a statutory, independent body over the course of 2021. The Board will initially comprise of the Chair and two other members.  Once Environmental Standards Scotland becomes established as a statutory organisation, further board appointments are expected. Members of the Board of Environmental Standards Scotland will shape how the Board performs its role, including by exercising judgement on what information to monitor; selecting environmental concerns for initial review and for detailed investigation; resolving these through agreement with public authorities, where possible; and, highlighting any significant issues to Ministers.”

Time: 8-10 days per month initially, ~4 per month thereafter.

Remuneration: £300/£200 per diem.

Closes: 03 September

Newslinks for Sunday 26th July 2020

26 Jul

Tourists must quarantine for 14 days on return home from Spain

“Tens of thousands of British tourists in Spain have had their holidays thrown into disarray after the Government imposed an immediate two-week quarantine for anyone returning home from the country. Ministers reimposed restrictions on travel from Spain, including its islands, on Saturday night following new outbreaks of coronavirus that prompted Spanish health officials to warn of a potential second wave of infections. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its advice to warn against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is currently in Spain – Sunday Times

Senior Tories accuse PHE of failing to learn lessons from Coronavirus response…

“Public Health England has been accused of failing to learn the lessons of the first wave of coronavirus after Duncan Selbie, the chief executive, insisted its decision to drop mass contact tracing in March was “entirely appropriate” because “people weren’t moving around”. Senior Conservatives said PHE’s leadership appeared not to realise “quite how much harm they did” by failing to carry out mass testing and contact tracing during the peak of Covid-19 infections.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Some local Coronavirus outbreaks could be “mass hysteria”, says Joint Biosecurity Centre – Sunday Telegraph
  • Number of people with Coronavirus antibodies lower than thought – Sunday Telegraph
  • London cab drivers say Sadiq Khan has prioritised cyclists and buses as their earnings fall – Daily Telegraph

… and other Tory MPs claim union chiefs want civil servants to “stay home forever”

“Union chiefs were last night accused of wanting staff to ‘stay at home forever’ after defying Boris Johnson’s clarion call for workers to get back to the office. Tory MPs reacted with anger after the Public and Commercial Services Union told their members to challenge bosses who ordered them back to their desks. Former Minister Andrew Percy said it was ‘unacceptable’ that vital public-sector work such as issuing passports was going undone while private employees had toiled to keep the country going during the coronavirus crisis.” – Mail on Sunday

Treason laws to target UK lobbyists for “hostile” Russia and China

“Ministers are rewriting the treason laws to target Britons who work for foreign powers as concern grows about attempts by China and Russia to buy influence in Britain and manipulate public opinion. Senior government sources say Home Office officials have their “foot very much on the gas” to publish new treason laws this autumn, probably as part of a defence and security review. The definition of treachery would include helping foreign states that are engaged in various types of attacks on the UK and assisting groups with which the UK is engaged in armed conflict. Sajid Javid raised the prospect of a definition of treason to tackle “hostile state activity” when he was home secretary in 2019 and that work is now nearing a conclusion.” – Sunday Times

  • Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, warns that “China too are developing offensive space weapons” – Daily Telegraph

Javid: We must treat the threat of Chinese and Russian cyber attacks as seriously as we do terrorists

“In the Cold War television thriller Deutschland 83, there’s a scene in which a young East German spy is ordered to photograph a report in the possession of Nato’s top analyst. After breaking into his hotel room, the spy finds the report is stored on a floppy disk. Having sent it back across the Iron Curtain, the fiasco ends with his boss staring at the disk in bewilderment, asking his colleagues: ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with this?’ They hadn’t developed a computer that could read it. This is a quaint reminder of the days when technology worked to the West’s advantage and there were limited ways for foreign countries to interfere with domestic life.” – Mail on Sunday

>Today:

GPs told to get tough and tell patients “you’re fat”, under Johnson’s obesity drive…

“Boris Johnson will tomorrow tell the two-thirds of Britons who are fat to get on their bikes to lose weight – as GPs are ordered to be direct and tell their patients when they’re too fat. The Prime Minister intends to put daily exercise front and centre of his new ‘Better Health’ drive targeting the 35 million Britons estimated to be overweight. He is even recruiting his pet dog, Dilyn, to extol the benefits of going for walks. It is understood the year-old rescue pup will appear in a video alongside Mr Johnson as he launches the campaign. One of the key elements of the campaign will be urging GPs to be direct with patients.” Mail on Sunday

… as he and Sunak shake up Treasury with “Silicon Valley” approach

“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, are to ditch decades of Treasury orthodoxy, prioritising public spending on projects that will “move quickly, start small and fail fast”. In a major speech this week, Steve Barclay, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will reveal plans to import a venture capitalist-style approach from Silicon Valley that would champion “innovative” schemes and those that would be quickest to deliver Government promises on infrastructure, roads and energy.” – Sunday Telegraph

Shapps intervenes after his green traffic policy creates “ghost town” in his own constituency

“Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has been forced to lobby against his anti-car policy in his own constituency after barriers meant to aid social distancing turned a village high street into a “ghost town”. Shopkeepers in Welwyn say businesses already struggling after the lockdown could be forced to close because visitor numbers plummeted when roads were transformed and a one-way system was introduced. More than 1,300 people have signed a petition calling on Hertfordshire County Council to use “common sense””. – Daily Telegraph

Green electric railways to cost up to £30bn, says Network Rail

“Taxpayers are in line for a bill of up to £30bn to make the railways greener, according to a leaked Network Rail report. The document urges Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, to take action immediately or risk missing the Government’s 2050 net zero carbon goal. The 231-page analysis by state-backed tracks and stations owner, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shines a light on how Britain’s railways have failed to keep pace with electrification overseas. In order to meet Britain’s climate change commitments, 15,700 km (9,756 miles) of track, on which predominantly diesel locomotives run, needs to be upgraded.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Tax break for MPs and 3,000 staff to get on £2,500 e‑bikes – Sunday Times

A-level and GCSE results to be decided by computer modelling

“Most A-level and GCSE results will be decided by statistical modelling rather than teachers’ predicted grades, in a major about-turn by the Government. Teachers’ predicted grades will serve “little or no purpose” in the modelling that determines the majority of pupils’ results, sources have said. Concerns over the reliability of teachers’ predictions – in particular, their tendency to inflate pupils’ grades – led to a decision by Ofqual, the exam regulator, not to rely on them. Hundreds of thousands of students will receive their A-level and GCSE results next month, despite all exams being axed this year.” – Daily Telegraph

Free TV licences: over‑75s launch “guerrilla warfare” on BBC to escape fee

“The BBC has been accused of a “distinctly amateurish” start to charging over-75s for television licences as it emerged that pensioners will not receive a letter outlining the change until after it takes effect. From Saturday viewers over 75 will no longer be automatically exempt from paying the £157.50 fee. But TV Licensing will only then start sending out the 4.5 million “payment invitation” letters. They will be posted in batches, so many pensioners face a longer wait. Although households do not need to act until after the letters land, the three million aged over 75 who do not receive pension credit will still be expected to pay for the year from August 1.” – Sunday Times

Minorities still believe in tolerant Britain, poll finds

“Most people in ethnic minorities think Britain’s racial and religious groups get on well and have a positive view of other communities, according to a new poll. More than three in four adults in black, Asian and other communities agree that “in general, the different ethnic groups that make up this country get on well”. The findings come after a summer of protests led by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and suggest that the country’s reputation for tolerance is still seen as deserved. It comes 10 days after Boris Johnson launched a commission to look into racial disparity in the UK in the wake of the anti-racism protests, which followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” – Sunday Times

Labour antisemitism row: legal cases could bankrupt party

“Labour has been warned it faces payouts of millions of pounds that could threaten the party’s financial stability unless it settles a series of legal actions out of court. Lawyers from 3D Solicitors, representing nine current and former Labour members, are expected to inform the party of the detailed basis of claims they are making this week for breaches of data protection and privacy rules. All nine had their WhatsApp messages included in a report produced by Jeremy Corbyn loyalists in the party’s headquarters that was then leaked to the media in April.” – Sunday Times

20mph limit puts brakes on motorists in a third of UK towns

“A speed limit of 20mph is rapidly replacing 30mph as the norm in towns and cities – backed by an unprecedented level of police enforcement. After years of sparsely distributed speed cameras and police patrols, the new approach is catching drivers unawares. More than 77,000 motorists in London have been caught breaking the 20mph limit since January and face court hearings, fixed penalties and speed awareness workshops. The figure for the whole of last year was just over 50,000.” – Sunday Times

Google profits from anti-vaxxers

“Five companies have pulled online adverts after a Sunday Times investigation found Google placed them on websites spreading “dangerous nonsense” about vaccines and the coronavirus. Currys PC World, JD Sports, Sotheby’s, Jigsaw and Accenture ordered the tech giant to remove their ads from websites promoting false claims that vaccines cause autism and that people who have a Covid-19 vaccine will have a tracking chip implanted in them. Google was accepting web pages that violate its policies and as a result was earning millions of pounds in revenue via its digital advertising platform.” – Sunday Times

News in brief:

Free speech for Wiley?

26 Jul

Our older readers will be familiar with Wiley – the rapper who last week posted a series of anti-semitic remarks on social media.

We linger on one tweet only, in which he undertook a whirlwind tour of the Israel-Palestine dispute, claiming that “I cannot be upset about two sets of people killing each other on land that belongs to us anyway”.  This is a Black Israelite trope – the claim that black people are real descendants of the biblical Hebrews.

It takes a unique diplomatic talent to deny the rights of both Jews and Palestinians simultaneously.  At any rate, it goes almost without saying that Wiley’s posts were deeply stupid, disgusting, and self-defeating.

On that last point, Wiley has lost his manager, John Woolf, a self-described “proud Jewish man” who first clung to his client, saying that “as someone who has known him for 12 years I know he does not truly feel this way,” but soon let him go – an admission that Wiley does truly feel this way.

The point about our more aged readers is not a piece of self-trolling, incidentally.  At 41, Wiley isn’t exactly a slip of a grime artist almost young enough to know no better.

Anti-semitism these days is found more often on the Left than the Right, so it is tempting for a conservative site simply to slag off Wiley, as we do above, and move on.  But if free speech demands anything, it demands even more than Orwell’s famous quote about liberty meaning “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.

For above all, it requires championing their right to free speech even when – no: especially when – they make remarks that we find reprehensible.

This is not to say that wicked words should escape consequences.  For example, Wiley is a Spurs fan.  So Tottenham Hotspur would be perfectly entitled to bar him from its stadium (assuming that he ever goes there).  That is its right as a free institution.  For what it’s worth, we hope that it does.

Twitter is a different matter.  After all, Spurs have not carved out, for all their footballing seniority, a culture-shaping space in the public square.  Twitter has.

At the time we publish, it has havered about with Wiley, deleting some of his posts but maintaining his account. There is a case for arguing that since Twitter is a private company, it is thus entitled to set its own rules for users – banning Katie Hopkins, for example, but tolerating Richard Cowie (Wiley’s real name).

Furthermore, it may be that Twitter is a rocket that will be brought crashing down to earth by the weight of its woke “hateful conduct policy” – and its double standards. Or, if you like, that will be outsmarted by more agile competitors.

We are not convinced.  Government already intervenes in the public arena – and must do, since the latter must be policed by the law. And it is Parliament that makes and unmakes law, government that must implement it, and the courts that must uphold it.  (Judges should also discover rather than make law, but that’s another subject.)

It follows that the law should always have a presumption in favour of protecting free speech.  So just as there’s argument for saying that what Twitter does is simply its own business, there’s also one for saying that is isn’t.

Which returns us to Wiley.  The Campaign against Anti-Semitism has reported him to the police and called for prosecution. If his posts broke the law, then so be it.  But not everything that is offensive is illegal, or should be.  To give an example in this area, Holocaust denial is not a crime in the UK, as it is in some other European countries.

There are a number of pragmatic arguments either way, but one of principle, rightly, holds: that free speech within the law is an ideal worth preserving, and that it should apply when the Holocaust is denied.

We would like to see it extended in the world of work.  Consider the case, for example, of Nick Buckley, recently reinstated as Chief Executive Officer of Mancunian Way, a charity.  He had been sacked after a social media storm in the wake of remarks he had made that were critical of Black Lives Matter.

The point is that he should never have been dismissed in the first place, and further free speech safeguards might have made the charity’s trustees pause before forcing him out.  (They themselves have now resigned.)

Then there is the story of Stephen Lamonby, dismissed as a part-time lecturer after making remarks about Jewish people that ventured into the perilous world of genetics, but which were positive.  Or of Gillian Phillips, a children’s author, fired as an author by Working Partners for tweeting support for J.K.Rowling over the trans issue.

Wiley makes music. He doesn’t help to run a charity or write books or lecture in a university.  This being so, what happens next is straighforward, or should be.

We hope that he will be ridiculed and ostracised, and that people boycott what he produces – which is admittedly, to paraphrase Shrek’s Lord Farquaad, a sacrifice that some of us are willing to make. What he can’t be, since the circumstances don’t apply – and shouldn’t be automatically, were they to do so – is  “cancelled”, i.e: sacked.

At least, not until or unless he were to be convicted by a court.  Let us spell it out in plain terms.  In this case, Woolf worked for Wiley, not the reverse.

And since Woolf worked for Wiley, he had the right to withdraw his services.  But were it the other way round, Woolf should not have the right to sack Wiley – or, rather, not an unqualified one (unless or until he is convicted, as we say.)

The right of a company to protect its reputation must be balanced by the right of a worker to free speech. Reprimands, penalties: yes.  Dismissal: not necessarily.

Overall, the Government should be reviewing the balance of the law to protect free speech – a natural companion to Gavin Williamson’s new drive to protect free speech in universities. To rework Dunning on the powers of the Crown, the Cancel Culture has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.