Alastair Lexden: On this day, 75 years ago – Churchill’s unexpected election disaster.

26 Jul

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here

On the previous day, 25 July, Winston Churchill and his superb Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, had flown back to London from Potsdam, where they had been taking part in the last great conference of the Allied leaders of the Second World War. For security reasons, they used separate aeroplanes.

So too did the Labour leader, Clem Attlee, whom Churchill had invited to Potsdam to show (in his words) “ we were a united nation”, despite the end of war-time coalition in May. Many Conservatives had wanted to extend it until after the defeat of Japan, or even longer, and defer the election. Churchill argued for this strenuously, suggesting a referendum to get the nation’s approval for delay , but the Labour Party refused to agree. He formed a new government without it, and prepared for an election.

Everywhere a resounding Tory victory was expected on 26 July 1945. No one was more confident of it than “Uncle Joe” Stalin (the war-time affection would soon wear off). Wholly unable to understand that an election might be free and fair, Stalin told Churchill’s Private Secretary, Jock Colville, at Potsdam that the British poll would of course be “fixed” to ensure a Tory majority.

All leading British politicians ( with the single exception of Rab Butler) anticipated such a result without any sinister helping hand for the Tories. On the flight from Potsdam, Eden speculated: “would the government get a majority of 50 or more; or perhaps less?” as his Private Secretary, Nico Henderson, recorded. Labour did not dissent. Attlee told Jock Colville that “ in his most optimistic dreams he reckoned that there might be a Conservative majority of only some 40 seats.”

When Ernest Bevin arrived in Potsdam as the new Labour Foreign Secretary on 28 July, he told his stunned colleagues that the “result of the general election was quite unexpected. He thought that Churchill’s popularity would have assured him of a majority of 50”, as an official Foreign Office minute noted.

Churchill himself never had the slightest doubt that “ the British people would wish me to continue my work.” The campaign strengthened that conviction. He was acclaimed wherever he went. He spent four days touring constituencies in the Midlands, the North of England and two great Scottish cities by train and open-top car. “ He addressed vast and enthusiastic crowds at Leeds, Bradford and Preston”, Colville recorded in the final stages.

“The train moved to Glasgow where he made ten speeches to deafening applause. He drove to Edinburgh along roads thronged with cheering men, women and children, and when he finally returned to the train, after a reception in Edinburgh as warm and moving as in Glasgow, he said to me that nobody who had seen what he had that day could have any doubt as to the result of the coming election.” Conservative Central Office promised him a majority of 211.

– – – – – – – – – –

The votes that confounded the confident predictions of Tory victory, and gave Labour an overall majority of 146, had been cast three weeks earlier on 5 July. The count was delayed to enable the postal ballots of servicemen and women spread across the globe to be collected and delivered to their constituencies. The Times reported that “the task of carrying the ballot papers and election addresses to and from[ their destinations] was performed by R.A.F. Transport Command. The loss in transit of completed papers was negligible.”

Over half of those in the armed services also voted through proxies. The Times explained that “ the dual system of service voting involved a check before the count to eliminate proxy votes where the elector had also voted by post.” This seems to have been completed successfully, thanks to the use of coloured paper for proxy votes.

In the aftermath of their shock election defeat, many Conservatives came to believe that men and women in the services, indoctrinated by left-wing lecturers in the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, had contributed decisively to their humiliation.

The diarist and MP, Harold Nicolson, noted on 13 June that “ the Tories feel that the Forces will all vote Labour.” “ This cannot be true”, Professor John Ramsden concluded in his detailed history of the Conservative Party in this period. “The total number of service votes cast was far less that Labour’s lead in the national popular vote, and since some of these anyway went to Conservative and Liberal candidates, the votes of servicemen may contribute to an explanation of the result, but they cannot explain it on their own.”

They were part of an immense tide of votes that swept the Tories away. Henderson watched it from the Foreign Office. “ The results of the election started coming through by 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, 26 July. All of us in [Eden’s] Private Office were eagerly hanging on to the news. Never modish, the room still had no radio, but people kept dashing in saying, ‘[Brendan] Bracken’s out, Labour gains 30’, then 40 and so on. ‘Macmillan’s out’. By 11.30 it was clear what the overall result would be.”

Ten years earlier, the Tories, with over 50 per cent of the vote (never to be seen again in a British election), had won 432 seats. On this day 75 years ago, they fell to 213. For the first time in British history, the total Labour vote at just under 12 million was higher than that of the Tories who got just under 10 million. (The Liberals’ 2.2 million votes brought them just 12 seats.) Turnout at 72.7 per cent was only slightly above the 71.2 per cent of 1935 (it was to rise sharply in the 1950s).

At Number 10, Mrs Churchill, a lifelong Liberal supporter, had a much-quoted exchange with her husband. “ It may well be a blessing in disguise”, she said. “ At the moment”, replied Churchill, “ it seems quite effectively disguised.” At 7 pm he was driven to Buckingham Palace, where he tendered his resignation to the King, who offered him the Garter. Churchill declined it. “ I felt that the times were too sad for honours or rewards.” His refusal was made public; Eden insisted that his decision to decline the Garter should not be made known.

After Churchill had departed in his chauffeur-driven Rolls, Mrs Attlee drove her husband into the Palace forecourt in their small family car at 7.30pm. A very different style of government was about to begin.

– – – – – – – – – –

To what extent was Churchill himself responsible for his election disaster? During the campaign he pursed a baffling, erratic course, so common during his long career. At some points he was the epitome of moderation; at others he was the embodiment of right-wing recklessness.

On policy issues, bipartisanship ruled. Churchill’s election manifesto (a personal, not a Party, document) made clear that he would implement the plans for peace formulated by the war-time coalition, rather than striking out in a new distinctively Tory direction. The scene was set for co-operation between the parties in the work of post-war reconstruction, ideally, in Churchill’s view, through another broad-based coalition government after the election.

He wrote that “ my hope was that it would be possible to reconstitute the National Coalition Government in the proportions of the new House of Commons.” Having argued strongly for the retention of the coalition after the defeat of Germany, Churchill looked forward to remaining prime minister after the election at the head of another such government. Conservatives would share power again, just as they had done since May1940 when he first gained the premiership.

In all that has been written about the 1945 election, this crucial point has been missed, permitting the false assumption that his victory would have been followed by a purely Tory administration. “ People liked the late Coalition Government”, he said on 30 June, “and would have been well pleased to give it a vote of confidence .”Churchill wanted to give them another opportunity to enjoy the benefits of coalition.

Agreement on a post-election coalition programme would have caused little difficulty. The Times noted that the parties “fought the election on programmes which contained very much in common. [They were] at one in promising to give early legislative effect to the social reforms agreed by the Coalition Government, particularly those for a comprehensive and extended system of national insurance and for a national health service.

All of them adopted the Coalition policy of accepting as a prime responsibility of the Government the maintenance of a high and stable level of employment; and all pledged themselves to apply emergency methods to the provision of houses.” These were the things that mattered most to the electorate.

It seemed that the election would be conducted in a mood of sweet reasonableness . Churchill, the arch-coalitionist, suddenly shattered it in a manner that was never to be forgotten. In four election broadcasts he attacked the Labour Party in fierce, lurid language. During the war, families had become accustomed to gathering round the radio for the latest news. On 4 June, they were warned by their prime minister that in order to carry out plans to impose full-blooded socialism on Britain, Labour “would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo“(he pronounced the word as menacingly as he could) as they gathered “ all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders.”

To ensure that no one missed the parallel with evil regimes in Europe, he added that “there can be no doubt that Socialism is inseparably interwoven with totalitarianism and the abject worship of the State.” Some blamed two reckless political buccaneers, Brendan Bracken and Lord Beaverbrook, who were alongside him during the campaign, but the notorious “ Gestapo” speech was written by Churchill himself.

His wife and senior colleagues were horrified. Nevertheless, there was more in a similar vein in his subsequent broadcasts. Amongst the wider radio audience, the reaction of the poet and novelist, Vita Sackville-West, was not untypical. “ You know I have an admiration for Winston amounting to idolatry”, she wrote to her husband, Harold Nicolson, “so I am dreadfully distressed by the badness of his broadcast election speeches. What has gone wrong with him? They are confused, woolly, unconstructive and so wordy that it is impossible to pick out any concrete impression from them. If I were a wobbler, they would tip me over to the other side.”

Churchill’s defence was that politicians should be free to insult one another during an election without harming their prospects of working together in government thereafter. His critics were not disarmed. Despite his war-time glories, the view persisted at Westminster, particularly among Tories( some of whom always distrusted and disliked him), that Winston had no judgement when it came to domestic politics. The 1945 election reinforced that view.

– – – – – – – – – –

Churchill did not of course plunge from what seemed inevitable triumph to disaster simply because of a bad campaign. Colin Coote, Deputy Editor of The Daily Telegraph, said that he had “ seen ten elections, but never one conducted with more phenomenal imbecility than this”, and yet judged that defeat represented “ a vote against the Tory party and their records from 1920 to 1939”, by which he meant appeasement and unemployment.

An addiction to condemning the inter-war Tory governments retrospectively was in 1945 to be found everywhere . No one seriously contested it, least of all Churchill himself with vivid memories of his “ wilderness years”. But it was a gross travesty all the same. It could only be sustained by ignoring Neville Chamberlain’s great inter-war social reforms (which gave the country the most advanced social services in the world), Britain’s economic recovery in the early 1930s on a scale that dwarfed Roosevelt’s New Deal, house-building at the rate of 350,000 homes a year and the rearmament programme of the 1930s carried through in the teeth of Labour opposition. All were indeed ignored, and swelling anti-Tory sentiment went unchecked.

Within days of defeat on 26 July, the conviction that Churchill could not lose was replaced by an equally strong conviction that he could never have won. People woke up to the fact, hitherto largely unremarked, that the Party organisation was in many places virtually non-existent; Labour, for the only time before 1997, was in much better shape. Rab Butler, ever perceptive, added a further key factor: “six years of left-wing propaganda accompanied by a virtual cessation of right-wing propaganda”, so very different from the years before 1939 when Chamberlain, Butler’s mentor, had carried all before him.

Eden, then at the height of his powers and ready to take over the Tory leadership (which Churchill had said he would give up), reflected judiciously in his diary on this day 75 years ago: “ We fought the campaign badly…It was foolish to try to win on W’s personality alone instead of on a programme. Modern electorate is too intelligent for that, and they don’t like being talked down to. Finally, while there is much gratitude to W as war leader, there is not the same enthusiasm for him as PM of the peace. And who shall say that the British people were wrong in this?”

– – – – – – – – – –

BIBLIOGRAPHY – Paul Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (Jonathan Cape,1992). Lord Butler, The Art of the Possible (Hamish Hamilton,1971). John Colville, The Fringes of Power :Downing Street Diaries, Volume Two October 1941-1955 (Septre edition,1987). Martin Gilbert, ‘ Never Despair’: Winston S. Churchill 1945-1965 ( Heinemann, 1988). Nicholas Henderson, The Private Office: A personal view of five Foreign Secretaries and of government from the inside (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984). Scott Kelly, ‘ “The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain”: Guilty Men and the 1945 Election’ in Conservative History Journal ( Autumn 2005), pp 18-24. Alistair Lexden, Neville Chamberlain: Redressing the Balance ( A Conservative History Publication, 2018). Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, edited by Nigel Nicolson (Collins,1967). John Ramsden, A History of the Conservative Party: The Age of Churchill & Eden 1940-1957 ( Longman,1995). The Times House of Commons 1945 ( The Times Office, 1945). D. R. Thorpe, Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977 ( Chatto & Windus, 2003). Victory: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill O.M.,C.H.,M.P. 1945,compiled by Charles Eade( Cassell,1945).

Judith Barnes: How to maintain the Right to Buy without losing social housing stock

25 Jul

Judith Barnes was the Leader of the Conservative Group on Camden Council for eight years and practised as a lawyer for most of her professional life.

Housing regularly comes high on the list when the public’s concerns are canvassed. This has turned the spotlight back onto social housing, reviving questions about the sale of council houses. Time, perhaps, for a rethink on how Right to Buy operates?

Right to Buy has never been without its critics but it has proved its worth over the years. The benefits are undeniable. Hundreds of thousands of council tenants have been given the chance to own their home and pass it on to their children. Many of them were doubtless in need of a subsidised home when they first became council tenants, but had long ceased to qualify, so it removed the burden of subsidising their housing from the taxpayer.

It all came at a price of course, and not just the cost to the public purse of the discount allowed; it removed a home from the stock of council housing available for those who did need a subsidy from the taxpayer. For many years governments, whether Conservative or Labour, largely addressed this (if at all) by switching provision of affordable housing to housing associations rather than councils.

The result was that, by the mid-2000s, the amount of social housing in the hands of housing associations was beginning to outstrip that provided by councils and the total social housing stock in England had reduced from some five million in the early 1980s to just under four million. It did not, of course, follow that a million households in need went without homes; housing benefit was available for those renting in the private sector.

Then came the expansion of the EU in 2004, which led to a marked increase in the population of the UK, while the financial crisis saw a drop in the number of houses built in the private sector. So housing generally has been in short supply in recent times, pushing the cost of buying beyond the means of an increasing proportion of the population and driving up rents.

This prompted a pivot back towards council housing by the Coalition Government and subsequently the Conservative Government. Since 2012 controls on the use of receipts from Right to Buy sales for replacement housing have been loosened, the Government has made grants for new social housing available and relaxed the restrictions on local authority borrowing to build social housing. This year’s February budget cut interest rates for investment in social housing by one per cent.

But to many, it will not make sense that local authorities are empowered to build social housing and at the same time forced to sell it. There is a way to avoid this contradiction, while preserving Right to Buy and the benefits it brings. It would involve revamping Right to Buy so that it is no longer a right to buy the home the tenant occupies, but a right to use the discount to buy a home in the private sector.

This is the way it would work:

  • The tenant would get a valuation from the Council of the market value of the council-owned property the tenant occupies and the amount of the discount for which the tenant is eligible – just as the tenant would now, if thinking of exercising the Right to Buy.
  • Instead of buying the council-owned property for its market value less the discount, the council would pay an amount equal to the discount towards the price of a property the tenant has chosen to buy in the private sector.
  • The tenant would finance the balance of the purchase price by getting a mortgage – just as the tenant would if exercising Right to Buy in its current form.

This reform would deliver many benefits. The home vacated by the outgoing tenant would become immediately available for a new tenant. The proceeds of a sale would be foregone, but, with the sale price discounted, those proceeds of sale are likely to be less than the cost of building a new home; so the change would mean savings for councils in delivering vacant homes for rent. It would increase the number of people able to buy in the long term, as a tenant exercising the Right to Buy would free up a home, whose new tenant could, in turn, be eligible for Right to Buy.

There are obvious benefits for the tenant, who would have greater choice in what to buy and where, and, in particular, the size of the property. Those looking to downsize after raising a family could opt to buy a smaller home, thus reducing the proportion of the price they would otherwise have to finance themselves (and also mitigating the under-occupation of homes by older people, a problem which affects all sectors of housing). Of course, buying in the private sector might have been difficult in recent times, given the shortage of housing. This is changing though, with the number of houses started and completed in the private sector in England in 2017/18 at its highest since 2007/8.

Would tenants still buy if they had to look for a home in the private sector? Experience to date suggests they would. Some councils run schemes under which council tenants are offered a payment towards a home in the private sector if they agree to move out of their council home. These schemes have, according to Shelter, proved popular even though the payment offered is less in many cases than the discount obtainable on exercising the Right to Buy. (Such schemes, which have been a valuable adjunct to Right to Buy, would no longer be necessary if this proposed reform is adopted.)

Here, then, is a reform that could appeal to council tenants – and play a valuable part in providing social housing faster and more cheaply than under current policy.

Newslinks for Saturday 25th July 2020

25 Jul

Coronavirus 1) “Very open questions” about whether the lockdown should have started earlier

“Boris Johnson has admitted the government did not understand coronavirus during the “first few weeks and months” of the UK outbreak. The PM told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg there were “very open questions” about whether the lockdown had started too late. Mr Johnson also spoke of “lessons to be learned” and said ministers could have done some things “differently”…Previously, the prime minister has said he took the “right decisions at the right time”, based on the advice of scientists. But, in an interview with Laura Kuenssberg to mark the first anniversary of his entering Downing Street, he said: “We didn’t understand [the virus] in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months. And I think, probably, the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person.” – BBC

>Yesterday: Amanda Milling on Comment: A year ago, Johnson became Prime Minister – and we have since laid strong foundations for our levelling-up agenda

Coronavirus 2) Sharma: Please volunteer for a vaccine trial

“The best way to defeat this virus once and for all is finding a safe and effective vaccine, and, while scientists are leading the charge, the public can help by volunteering for trials. We are asking people to register to participate in important clinical studies, helping to speed up the search for a vaccine and to end the pandemic sooner. I am incredibly proud that, here in the UK, remarkable vaccine research is taking place right this second at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London…As a Government, we are backing every horse in the race to ensure the British public can be vaccinated against this disease as soon as possible.” – Alok Sharma, Daily Mail

  • Hopes for ‘game-changer’ coronavirus antibody test sinking fast – The Times

Daily Telegraph confirms ConHome’s report: The Conservatives are scrapping their proposal for a Democracy Commission…

“Boris Johnson has speeded up plans to curb the judiciary after axing a manifesto pledge to hold a commission on changing the way the courts operate. The Prime Minister is expected to announce next week that he has set up a panel to examine the issue of judicial reviews, which were successfully used to overturn his decision to prorogue Parliament last year. Mr Johnson believes the courts have become increasingly politicised and are being used to “conduct politics by another means” and wants to define in law what they can and cannot be used to challenge. The Conservative Party’s last manifesto promised to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission by December to examine “in depth” issues ranging from judicial reviews to the Human Rights Act. But instead, Mr Johnson has decided to speed up the process on priority issues by setting up small, highly expert panels to deal with each element individually.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Whitehall coup upstaged by Scots – The Times

>Thursday: ToryDiary: The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission pledged in the Conservative Manifesto is being quietly shelved

…as Moore welcomes the decision

“This week, it has emerged that the Government is dropping its manifesto pledge to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission. This should be seen not as a jettisoning of these subjects, but the opposite. Commissions on great themes tend to spread themselves too widely, take up too much time, and produce no result. Instead, the Government seems set to pursue the issues by other means. Soon there will be a reappraisal of Judicial Review (JR). JR used to be the legitimate practice of ensuring that governments only acted within the scope of the powers conferred on them. It has increasingly become a means to question the merits of the decisions governments have made. It must rein back. The long-touted repeal of the Human Rights Act is now being actively pursued.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

Patel to restrict hostile Chinese commercial activity

“Priti Patel is to bring in sweeping powers to protect British companies from being ripped off by hostile Chinese rivals. Tough laws will stop Beijing-backed firms taking over UK businesses and stealing their ideas.Home Secretary Ms Patel said Britain is “completely geared up” to better protect itself against such “pernicious behaviour”. Under the shake-up, sanctions will be imposed on spies and their governments to curb hostile activities in the UK. Ms Patel said: “You’ve got to have effective sanctions and tools that are deployed. We’ve seen China responsible for all sorts of actions even through Covid.” The Bill will also include greater screening of overseas investment to protect critical industries.” – The Sun

Restaurants “to be forced to publish calories for each meal”

“Restaurant and takeaway chains will be forced to publish the calories in every meal they serve. Similar labels will also have to be placed on bottles and cans of beer, wine and spirits sold in shops. The move is part of an anti-obesity strategy ordered by Boris Johnson following his near-fatal brush with coronavirus in April. Obesity is one of the key risk factors for coronavirus. The Government is also expected to consult on plans to outlaw online advertising of junk food and restrict it on TV until after 9pm. A ban on buy-one-get-one-free supermarket deals is part of the strategy although ministers are wrangling over exactly which items to include.” – Daily Mail

  • Johnson’s obesity strategy embraces his inner nanny – Leader, Financial Times
  • Public Health England calls for action – The Guardian
  • We’re on a runaway train to a total ban on all ‘junk food’ advertising, and it will achieve nothing – Christopher Snowdon, Daily Telegraph
  • Government isn’t the only means to fix the obesity problem – Leader, Daily Telegraph

Conservatives “considering reinstating Party Conference”

“The Conservatives are considering reinstating a scaled-back party conference weeks after cancelling the annual event on safety grounds as they seek to boost confidence in the flagging UK economy. The governing party moved this year’s gathering in Birmingham from October 4-7 entirely online because of the lockdown. At the time it said it “hoped to” run some small scale meetings but is now advancing plans to lead by example in demonstrating Britain is open for business. Events venues can reopen on October 1 in England and the owner of Birmingham’s International Convention Centre said it was talking to Conservative high command about a “hybrid event”, with some delegates present and the rest participating online. Paul Thandi, chief executive of NEC Group, told a media briefing on Friday that the event was cancelled on July 7 when the government did not know when venues would reopen.” – Financial Times

Brexit 1) Merkel “will help secure UK/EU trade deal”

“British negotiators believe Angela Merkel is set to switch her attention to Brexit and can help broker a deal in September. The German chancellor and other EU leaders will have more time to focus on the talks now they’ve ended their internal budget bunfight.No10 hopes capitals will provide Michel Barnier with some meaningful guidance on a way forward to smash the deadlock. EU chiefs have been distracted by a long scrap over how to bankroll the continent’s coronavirus recovery which was finally resolved this week.” – The Sun

Brexit 2) Parris: The EU is slowly herding Britain to satellite status

“We may manage a few deals that don’t undermine the European standards we’ll undertake to stick to but the last thing we’ll want is big new rows that threaten the trade deal with Brussels. Thus, slowly but with a horrible inevitability, and after four years of bleating and barking and running hither and thither, are the Brexit sheep herded through the only gate left: economic satellite status to the EU. It won’t be a disaster and we’ll remain free (as Mr Johnson will trumpet) to depart the playing field whenever we choose. And we won’t.” – Matthew Parris, The Times

Labour was warned antisemitism report was deliberately misleading

“Labour’s most senior lawyer under Jeremy Corbyn formally warned the party that an internal report on antisemitism was deliberately misleading and relied upon improperly obtained private correspondence, leaked documents show. Thomas Gardiner, Labour’s director of governance and legal until last month, wrote that the report should not be circulated because party employees’ emails and WhatsApp messages had been “presented selectively and without their true context in order to give a misleading picture”. The report, which was leaked to the media, was compiled to be submitted to an inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints.” – The Guardian

  • Corbyn supporters raise £190,000 for legal fight – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: LeftWatch: Starmer’s desire to “draw a line” under anti-Semitism in Labour will be harder than he thinks

Lib Dems hold online hustings for leadership election

“The Liberal Democrats will hold a virtual meeting with its members in Wales on Saturday to help decide the next leader of the party. MPs Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran are the two candidates, with results to be announced on 27 August. The Liberal Democrats lost their only Welsh MP at the last General Election and the party only has one Senedd seat. That is held by Member of the Senedd (MS) for Brecon and Radnorshire Kirsty Williams, the education minister. The hustings will be held online and available for all to watch, although only Welsh Liberal Democrat members will be allowed to submit questions to the candidates.” – BBC

>Today: ToryDiary: The Tories’ hard pivot against the Cardiff Bay establishment reveals the power of Welsh devoscepticism

Peers went to Russia despite warning

“Peers travelled to Moscow to launch talks on the “restoration of inter-parliamentary relations” with Russia in defiance of warnings from the Foreign Office last year, The Times can reveal. Viscount Waverley, a hereditary peer who sits as a crossbencher, joined Tory Lord Balfe and Labour parliamentarian Lord Browne of Ladyton on the visit to the Duma, Russia’s parliament, last December. They had talks with Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the state assembly, and other Russian representatives. Viscount Waverley and Lord Balfe are vice-chairmen of the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, which had been warned by the British government to avoid travelling to Moscow.” – The Times

Murray: Trump has a path to victory

“One giant opportunity has been handed to Trump. And, being a man of shark-like senses, he will not let it go to waste. That is the opportunity that the Left has handed him through its response to the shocking killing of George Floyd two months ago now. The legitimate expression of outrage that followed the killing in Minnesota did not last long before its crazier elements began to take hold. Within days, the narrative had slipped from “These were outrageous actions by specific policemen” to “The American police have a problem in their entirety”. From there it was the work of a moment to fall into the current slogans of the radical Left: “All cops are b—–s” and “Defund the police”. It is easy enough for campaigning radicals to think that the public is on their side in such a moment. The vast majority of Americans were appalled by what happened in Minnesota as much as were publics worldwide. But in that moment of opportunity the Left significantly overplayed their hand.” – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • Has a spending splurge staved off a slump? – Ross Clark, The Spectator
  • Power up the powerhouse – Alistair Burt, The Article
  • Managing the overseas aid budget – John Redwood
  • Johnson faces an almighty battle against the SNP – here’s how he can win it – Henry Hill, CapX
  • A ban on junk food ads is gesture politics – John Rentoul, Independent

The Tories’ hard pivot against the Cardiff Bay establishment reveals the power of Welsh devoscepticism

25 Jul

Back in May, I wrote about how the widening cracks within the Welsh Conservatives risked undermining their bid to capitalise on strong polling and deliver historic gains at next year’s devolved elections, with devolution becoming ‘Europe 2.0’.

Not only did a section of the grassroots appear to be getting much more vocal on the question, but the Party faced the prospect of being outflanked on its right by parties formally adopting a devosceptic agenda.

Despite what I was hearing from the rank and file, more senior sources – including some not personally ill-disposed towards devoscepticism – assured me there was nothing to see. This was a perennial debate amongst the membership, yes, but they expected everyone to fall into line in the end.

Two months on and it appears that the leadership may have been more spooked than this analysis suggested.

Paul Davies is nobody’s idea of a revolutionary. But following a ‘relaunch of his leadership’ in March in which he took aim at the Assembly gravy train’, the Welsh Conservatives have adopted a much more strident tone on the question. Davies now says Wales needs a ‘devolution revolution‘ – you can listen to the speech here – and has even gone so far as to say Cardiff Bay needs a “dose of Dom”.

Meanwhile Darren Millar MS, the power behind the Tory throne, has trained the Party’s guns on the devocracy (although of course not using the term).

Writing on Gwydir, the blog of the Cardiff University Conservatives, he promises a cull the algal bloom of quangos (“cronies and hangers-on in civic society”) which has spread across the stagnant waters of Cardiff Bay under two decades of unbroken Labour rule. Or to drain the swamp, as it were.

Yet perhaps the spiciest passage is the one which really drives home that this is no gradual evolution, but a definite and deliberate shift in approach:

“Over the summer the process of developing a full first draft of the Welsh Conservative manifesto will be completed and I can assure you that it won’t be Butskellism with a dragon on it. The days when you could take paragraphs from a Welsh Conservative manifesto and slot them randomly into documents by Plaid or Labour or the Lib Dems are over.”

That is a barb with a target, and it is clearly causing some unease amongst the devophile wing. David Melding, a retiring MS of pronounced nationalist sympathies, hit back on Twitter, but it feels suddenly as if he’s sailing against the wind. ‘Ever looser Union’ no longer looks like an inevitable future.

None of this is to say that the current leadership has converted to devoscepticism. It certainly has not, and Millar especially is viewed by devosceptics as something of a witchfinder-general on the constitutional question. The ferocity of the response to Daniel Kawczynski’s call for the Senedd’s abolition is a better indicator of their true feelings on that fundamental question.

But they have clearly concluded that it is no longer sufficient simply to have the whips machine-gun the parapet and force people to keep their heads down. Devoscepticism is a constituency, and the question is breaking out whether they like it or not. Candidates are penning pieces criticising devolution.

One has even gone so far as to suggest, in a piece for the Centre for Welsh Studies, that the Party is approaching a make-or-break moment:

“In next year’s Senedd Elections I see the future of Wales at a crossroads and my view is clear: if Conservative policies cannot deliver the positive changes we need to see to drive forward improvements in our public services, infrastructure and economy then we must campaign for a different settlement. That settlement would not include a Senedd.”

Given how recently devoscepticism was anathematised by the Party hierarchy, it’s remarkable that someone aiming for office should feel able even to hold out the prospect of opposing devolution.

Their framing, however, reflects that of the leadership. In materials from a recent strategy session, seen by ConHome, Tory strategists included the slogan “Abolish Labour, not devolution”. The goal is evidently to harness mounting dissatisfaction with Cardiff Bay and channel it towards a Conservative programme, rather than abolition.

But is this feasible? The Party is acting as if it were. Notwithstanding their polling, their operation includes a concerted effort to mobilise the hundreds of thousands of Tory voters who turn out to consistently deliver it second place at Westminster contests but ignore devolved ones, leaving it bumping along at roughly level pegging with the Welsh Nationalists.

Were the Conservatives to hit their goal of getting 75 per cent of their 2019 vote (557,234) to turn out next year, it would give them almost 418,000 votes. For comparison, they took just 190,846 in 2016. Indeed Labour, which took 29 seats at that contest, only won just over 319,000 votes in that election.

But is this goal realistic? We have covered the gulf between the two Welsh Conservative electorates several times since 2018. Last year, I explained that “‘leaning in’ to the devolutionary status quo and trying to align themselves as possible coalition partners with Plaid Cymru” made it impossible for the Tories to motivate their devosceptic stay-at-home voters.

On this front, the tough new rhetoric and rumoured shift in stance against governing with other parties is a good start. Operationally, the Conservatives also have an advantage in that they have the data to know where these voters are. The various parties scrapping for the anti-Senedd vote will need time to build up their own electoral intelligence.

But it still seems a long shot, not least because any strategy built on mobilising non-voters always is (ask Jeremy Corbyn). There is also a danger that the Tories might rouse these slumbering dragons only for them to plump for Abolish, even if just for the regional vote, once they get to the polling station.

It also seems unlikely that the Conservatives could marshal hundreds of thousands of new voters without provoking some kind of response from the the Left. There are a good number of Labour voters who don’t turn out for Cardiff Bay too – will they stay idle if it looks like the Tories might be about to take power?

There also remains a big question mark over whether the leadership would really turn out an opportunity to turf Labour out, after so long, even if the price were a compact with Plaid.

A big win next year might slice this strategic Gordian Knot. But should this plan fail, and grassroots Conservatives despair of ever taking power in the Senedd, it seems likely that pressure will continue to build for an even more devosceptic position.

Some in Wales are already suggesting that, notwithstanding efforts to keep them off the lists, it may not be long until an anti-Senedd candidate contests and even wins the leadership. The alternative could be the slow bleed of activists and councillors to Abolish growing to a haemorrhage.

The people in whose name liberals act are absent from Applebaum’s defence of liberalism

25 Jul

Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum

Anyone wondering what has gone wrong with democracy over the last 20 years should buy this book. It opens with a New Year’s Eve party thrown on 31st December 1999 by Anne Applebaum and her husband Radek Sikorski at Chobielin, their not yet fully restored manor house in an “obscure piece of Polish countryside”.

It ends with a summer party which they gave there in August 2019:

“Nearly two decades later, I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party. They, in turn, would not only refuse to enter my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they had ever been there. In fact, about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half. The estrangements are political, not personal. Poland is now one of the most polarised societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Spanish right, the French right, the Italian right, and with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.”

The guests in 1999 are an eclectic mixture of journalists – Applebaum is an American journalist and historian who has by now already worked for The Economist in Warsaw and The Spectator in London – junior diplomats and politicians – Sikorski is at this point Poland’s deputy foreign minister – along with local friends, “a large group of cousins” and “a handful of Polish journalists…none then particularly famous”.

The party lasted all night,

“and was infused with the optimism I remember from that time. We had rebuilt our ruined house. Our friends were rebuilding the country… Poland was on the cusp of joining the West, it felt as if we were all on the same team. We agreed about democracy, about the road to prosperity, about the way things were going.”

Why are they no longer on the same team? Why has a part of the right – including the Law and Justice party in Poland – yielded to “a different set of ideas, not just xenophobic and paranoid but openly authoritarian”?

For Applebaum, this is a treason of the clerks, or of the educated class: she refers to Julien Benda’s work of 1927, La trahison des clercs, in which he described how intellectuals of both the Left and the Right betrayed their essential task, the search for truth, and became propagandists for Soviet Marxism, or else for “national passion” in the form of fascism.

With admirable brevity – the book is under 200 pages long – Applebaum touches on a wide range of countries, including Poland, Hungary, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, and on an even wider range of writers, some of whom have abandoned liberalism and become apologists for authoritarianism.

She recognises the temptation which an authoritarian regime presents to the disappointed, second-rate writer, who by placing his pen at its service obtains the material rewards and significance which have hitherto eluded him.

The poverty of his talents is made up for by his loyalty to the regime, demonstrated by his willingness to acclaim its lies as truth.

Applebaum is acute on the way a one-party state, a form of political organisation invented by Lenin, can be regarded as more just than a democracy which has competing parties:

“If you believe, as many of my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, people who are loyal to the party leader, people who are…a ‘better sort of Pole’ – then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them deserves to rule? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore truly deserving of wealth?”

She has the humility not to pretend fully to understand what is happening:

“There is no single explanation, and I will not offer either a grand theory or a universal solution. But there is a theme: Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.”

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We can never rest on our laurels and suppose that the end of history has arrived. Even the highest forms of civilisation contain within them the seeds of decay.

All that is true, and yet I think Applebaum’s pessimism is overdone. Or to put it another way: this lament for the failure of liberals to live up to their liberalism could have been written at almost any time since 1789.

There is a void in this book. The people in whose name the liberals act are absent. They have occasional walk-on parts: Sikorski knew almost everyone “including the flight attendants” on the plane which crashed at Smolensk in 2010 with the loss of all on board, including the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of senior military figures and politicians: an event since exploited by the Polish right to peddle disgraceful conspiracy theories.

At Applebaum and Sikorski’s parties, unimportant people are of course made welcome. As she writes of last year’s summer party:

“At one point, I noticed the local forest ranger engaged in heated discussion with the former Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, with whom my husband created the Eastern Partnership between the EU and Ukraine several years earlier.”

We do not, unfortunately, discover what point the local forest ranger was trying to impress on Bildt. The ranger is, as it were, a charming decoration, like one of the small, rustic figures which adorn a classical landscape, whose point is to show the imposing scale of the ruins in which the artist and viewer are really interested.

And here is Applebaum on the difficulty which far-right movements often have in forming alliances with each other:

“Relations between the Italian far right and the Austrian far right, for example, once came unstuck after they started arguing, amusingly, over the national identity of South Tyrol, a German-speaking province in northern Italy that has sometimes been Austrian.”

What a wealth of meaning the word “amusingly” carries here. We find ourselves at a dinner party where the foibles of the natives are dismissed as merely ridiculous.

For those who care about it, South Tyrol is not “amusing”: it speaks to deep emotions and loyalties, and carries a weight of history.

If one wants to prevent demagogues from exploiting those emotions, one shouldn’t start by ignoring or downplaying or declaring illegitimate or laughing at the very existence of such feelings and loyalties, while instructing people to forget any inconvenient bits of history.

Liberals have to show they offer a better way, which quite possibly they do: the abolition of borders. But that project can only work if instead of handing it down from on high, as if to their vassals, the liberals first listen with respect to what the people may be attempting, however inconveniently, to say.

Applebaum knows Boris Johnson: her husband was with him in the Bullingdon Club. In her view,

“Both were playing with the old forms of the English class system, acting out some of the rules because it amused them. They enjoyed the Bullingdon not despite [Evelyn] Waugh’s vicious parody, but because of it.”

That sounds right: the Bullingdon was a joke. But part of the joke was at the expense of the priggish middle class, the Puritans shocked by the club’s hooliganism – a hooliganism which, one cannot help thinking, may have put its members more in touch with the hooliganism found in other classes of society, though not, of course, in the middle-class prigs.

Applebaum one day bumps into Johnson in the City of London:

“He was then mayor; he was riding his bike. I waved at him, he stopped, exclaimed over the amazing coincidence, and suggested that we go into a pub for a quick drink.”

Once inside the pub he is mobbed by people demanding selfies. But then they have a chat. She does not tell us what they said, but here we see a man anxious to mend fences, or if possible not to fall out in the first place.

The Conservative Party has endured because it has avoided, at least with greater success than the Liberals or Labour, “the parting of friends”. Let’s have a quick drink.

And let’s find a leader who can connect with the wider public, however much the liberal intelligentsia may despise him – or her, in the case of Margaret Thatcher.

Applebaum at length takes us to Washington DC, where she was an early and outspoken opponent of Donald Trump. She recognises that he represents “another America”:

“This America has no special democratic spirit of the kind Jefferson described. The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair.”

All this may be true, but does not do much to penetrate with imagination or sympathy into the hearts and minds of Americans who voted for Trump, many of whom regard themselves as followers of Jefferson, president 1801-09, and of Andrew Jackson, president 1829-37.

Morality gets in the way of understanding. These people are deplorable. As I suggested at the end of a recent piece, “American liberals…will do everything they can for the American people short of spending any time with them.”

Starmer’s desire to “draw a line” under anti-Semitism in Labour will be harder than he thinks

24 Jul

Since becoming Labour Party leader in March of this year, Keir Starmer has made tackling anti-Semitism a top priority. In his acceptance speech he promised to “tear out this poison by its roots”, and one of his first actions was to set up a video conference with Jewish leaders, in which he told them he would create an independent complaints procedure. They welcomed these actions, and said that he had “achieved more in four days” than Jeremy Corbyn had “in four years”.

The extent to which Starmer is determined to address anti-Semitism was clear in June 2020, when he sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Education Secretary, for retweeting an interview with the actress Maxine Peake. In it, Peake had said an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, namely that the tactic deployed in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis “was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

Upon becoming aware of Long-Bailey’s Retweet, Starmer acted quickly and decisively in sacking her, winning praise from people across the political spectrum. After years of Corbyn’s ineffective ways, it was quite a change.

Even in spite of these efforts, though, recent events demonstrate just how difficult it will be for Starmer to stamp out anti-Semitism in his party, due to disagreements about Corbyn’s tenure. The factionalism of Labour was highlighted this week after the party apologised and paid damages of around £200,000 to a group of ex-staffer whistleblowers, who Corbyn’s Labour had criticised for appearing in a BBC documentary titled Is Labour anti-Semitic? During this they’d spoken about various incidents within the party, only to be accused of having “personal and political axes to grind”, hence why legal action was brought forward. 

Starmer no doubt believed the settlement would help everything. “I made it clear that we would draw a line under anti-Semitism. Settling this case was important in that respect”, were his words. Case closed, some might think (Starmer was a barrister, after all.)

But instead, Corbyn contradicted his successor’s words, issuing a statement in which he called the decision “disappointing”, a “political” not “legal” one, which risked giving “credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.” 

John Ware, who made the documentary, and some of the whistleblowers have since instructed Mark Lewis to pursue a defamation case against Corbyn. (Lewis, incidentally, has said he’s been approached by 32 individuals who want to take action against Labour). 

In response to this, some have called for Starmer to withdraw the whip from Corbyn, suspend or expel him. But he is clearly wary of doing this, as it would lead to an “uncontrollable civil war”, as Tom Harris put it for The Telegraph, “that would conceivably split the party and leave each half as unelectable as the other.” Other Labour figures, such as Len McCluskey, have already argued against the court settlement. It has met strong resistance.

The other thought that will linger at the back of many people’s minds is that Starmer, for all his decisiveness now, campaigned for Corbyn to be Prime Minister. He did this at the same time that Jewish MPs, such as Luciana Berger, were the targets of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats. 

MPs and many party members couldn’t stand by as this happened. Frank Field quit the party, saying that the leadership had become “a force for anti-Semitism in British politics”, and nine MPs left in 2019 for the same reason. 

In essence, Starmer can apologise and try to correct things all he wants, but that legacy of doing nothing – when it mattered the most – will stay in hearts and minds.

With Starmer recently receiving a draft report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to how Labour handled anti-Semitism allegations under Corbyn’s leadership, there will be significant pressure for him to continue to “tear out this poison”, as he put it. He reassured parliament on Wednesday that Labour was “under new management”, and he clearly believes that he is the man to end this dire era.

Let’s hope so, of course. But due to the instabilities in his party, along with his past lack of action on anti-Semitism, his wish to “draw a line” under it will be harder than he thinks.

David Morris: Asbestos continues to be a danger in workplaces – and it’s teachers who are at increased risk

24 Jul

David Morris is Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Asbestos is the nation’s number one occupational killer. Over twenty years after the use of this deadly substance was banned, it is still causing more than 5,500 deaths a year.

Most deaths occur among those who formerly worked with asbestos, before the ban in 1999, and those who still come into contact with it, namely workers in building trades such as plumbers-heating engineers, and electricians. Yet, there is a new demographic that lives and works at increased risk.

Eighty per cent of British schools contain asbestos. As a result, there is a worrying increase in death rates among teachers, a profession not traditionally linked to working with the deadly material.

The think tank ResPublica draws attention to this in its campaign Airtight on Asbestos, which shows that teachers are five times more likely than average to develop mesothelioma, the disease most closely linked to asbestos inhalation. Since 1980, there have been almost 300 recorded deaths from mesothelioma among teachers in the UK. Of that total, 177 have occurred since 2001.

The current policy in relation to monitoring the material in schools is confined to its management in-situ. This means monitoring and controlling for the condition in which asbestos is kept and maintained over time.

However, air monitoring is not a routine activity. It is only undertaken where asbestos is being removed or treated. Even in these circumstances monitoring cannot provide assurance of a “safe” level for everyday use in these buildings. Unlike France and Germany, the UK does not have a legislated “environmental limit” for the amount of asbestos fibres that can be permitted in a school or any other building.

The UK’s current regime allows a “clearance level” of airborne asbestos of 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.01 f/cm3) on completion of asbestos remediation. This is five times greater than the “environmental limit” allowed in France (0.005 f/cm3) and ten times greater than the acceptable “occupational exposure limit” in Germany (0.001 f/cm3).

So the UK’s standards for monitoring airborne asbestos fibres in schools are well behind those of other countries. To make matters worse, the data which spells out the correct safety limits of airborne fibres continues to be ignored. According to research (Hodgson and Darnton, 2000) asbestos fibre levels for children in schools should not exceed 0.0001 f/cm3. Yet we do nothing in the UK to assure either teachers or parents that this limit is adhered to.

There is, in the UK, a lack of awareness, or interest in the scientific evidence for other microscopy regimes. The HSE is duty bound to adopt best practice, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but have refused to acknowledge that there are proven alternatives because they do not accept that we may have an ongoing problem with exposure to unsafe levels of asbestos.

These observations raise serious questions about what the UK considers proper health and safety in its schools, compared to other developed European nations. By continuing on our current path, we are risking the lives of all those who enter school buildings.

It is worth pausing to reflect on the analysis of one US study, which found that for every teacher who dies from mesothelioma at work, nine pupils can be expected to develop the fatal disease.

The UK’s health and safety regime starts with the presumption that the management of asbestos in-situ is safe, with minimum disturbance, and a remote risk of exposure.

This is not plausible given the amount of asbestos that remains in our school buildings. Other countries with national asbestos plans, enhanced testing, and phased removal targets accept that asbestos in-situ is deteriorating and will release fibres. So why does the UK assume that all asbestos in-situ is safe?

Other European nations have clearly introduced higher standards for asbestos air monitoring, despite having far lower death rates from asbestos-related diseases. Yet the UK remains blind to this best practice and blind to what fibres it can see in the atmosphere.

We have a particular duty to use best practices of air monitoring to determine whether certain schools in this country should remain standing. Our asbestos laden CLASP schools, for example, have been in use since the 1950s and are long past their sell-by-date. Shamefully, many of them will open their doors once more to children and teachers once term time commences.

Adopting the best practices for air monitoring would allow us to identify the worst levels of exposure in any given school building, which could then spur an evidence-led programme of removal to ensure they no longer pose a major health risk to staff and pupils.

Ultimately, such measures will lead to fewer teachers and school children dying prematurely. We must realise how far behind we are in these basic procedures, and what it is doing to such an essential arm of the public sector.

If nothing else, we must learn the right lessons from the past four months. We can no longer afford to ignore hard evidence, nor take for granted those who stand to lose the most from such oversight.

David Morris: Asbestos continues to be a danger in workplaces – and it’s teachers who are at increased risk

24 Jul

David Morris is Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Asbestos is the nation’s number one occupational killer. Over twenty years after the use of this deadly substance was banned, it is still causing more than 5,500 deaths a year.

Most deaths occur among those who formerly worked with asbestos, before the ban in 1999, and those who still come into contact with it, namely workers in building trades such as plumbers-heating engineers, and electricians. Yet, there is a new demographic that lives and works at increased risk.

Eighty per cent of British schools contain asbestos. As a result, there is a worrying increase in death rates among teachers, a profession not traditionally linked to working with the deadly material.

The think tank ResPublica draws attention to this in its campaign Airtight on Asbestos, which shows that teachers are five times more likely than average to develop mesothelioma, the disease most closely linked to asbestos inhalation. Since 1980, there have been almost 300 recorded deaths from mesothelioma among teachers in the UK. Of that total, 177 have occurred since 2001.

The current policy in relation to monitoring the material in schools is confined to its management in-situ. This means monitoring and controlling for the condition in which asbestos is kept and maintained over time.

However, air monitoring is not a routine activity. It is only undertaken where asbestos is being removed or treated. Even in these circumstances monitoring cannot provide assurance of a “safe” level for everyday use in these buildings. Unlike France and Germany, the UK does not have a legislated “environmental limit” for the amount of asbestos fibres that can be permitted in a school or any other building.

The UK’s current regime allows a “clearance level” of airborne asbestos of 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.01 f/cm3) on completion of asbestos remediation. This is five times greater than the “environmental limit” allowed in France (0.005 f/cm3) and ten times greater than the acceptable “occupational exposure limit” in Germany (0.001 f/cm3).

So the UK’s standards for monitoring airborne asbestos fibres in schools are well behind those of other countries. To make matters worse, the data which spells out the correct safety limits of airborne fibres continues to be ignored. According to research (Hodgson and Darnton, 2000) asbestos fibre levels for children in schools should not exceed 0.0001 f/cm3. Yet we do nothing in the UK to assure either teachers or parents that this limit is adhered to.

There is, in the UK, a lack of awareness, or interest in the scientific evidence for other microscopy regimes. The HSE is duty bound to adopt best practice, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but have refused to acknowledge that there are proven alternatives because they do not accept that we may have an ongoing problem with exposure to unsafe levels of asbestos.

These observations raise serious questions about what the UK considers proper health and safety in its schools, compared to other developed European nations. By continuing on our current path, we are risking the lives of all those who enter school buildings.

It is worth pausing to reflect on the analysis of one US study, which found that for every teacher who dies from mesothelioma at work, nine pupils can be expected to develop the fatal disease.

The UK’s health and safety regime starts with the presumption that the management of asbestos in-situ is safe, with minimum disturbance, and a remote risk of exposure.

This is not plausible given the amount of asbestos that remains in our school buildings. Other countries with national asbestos plans, enhanced testing, and phased removal targets accept that asbestos in-situ is deteriorating and will release fibres. So why does the UK assume that all asbestos in-situ is safe?

Other European nations have clearly introduced higher standards for asbestos air monitoring, despite having far lower death rates from asbestos-related diseases. Yet the UK remains blind to this best practice and blind to what fibres it can see in the atmosphere.

We have a particular duty to use best practices of air monitoring to determine whether certain schools in this country should remain standing. Our asbestos laden CLASP schools, for example, have been in use since the 1950s and are long past their sell-by-date. Shamefully, many of them will open their doors once more to children and teachers once term time commences.

Adopting the best practices for air monitoring would allow us to identify the worst levels of exposure in any given school building, which could then spur an evidence-led programme of removal to ensure they no longer pose a major health risk to staff and pupils.

Ultimately, such measures will lead to fewer teachers and school children dying prematurely. We must realise how far behind we are in these basic procedures, and what it is doing to such an essential arm of the public sector.

If nothing else, we must learn the right lessons from the past four months. We can no longer afford to ignore hard evidence, nor take for granted those who stand to lose the most from such oversight.

Amanda Milling: This year, the Government laid strong foundations for our levelling-up agenda

24 Jul

Amanda Milling is the Member of Parliament for Cannock Chase and co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

They say a week is a long time in politics, and in a year, well, a lot can happen. But when Boris Johnson spoke on the steps of Downing Street as Prime Minister for the first time exactly a year ago today, absolutely no-one could have predicted the course of events that would unfold.

Coronavirus has been an unprecedented crisis that has required an unprecedented response. Who would have thought a year ago that the Government, a Conservative government no less, would be directly paying the wages of over nine million workers?

We make no apology for that, and our response to Covid-19 – to save lives while protecting our economy and people’s livelihoods – has been one of the most comprehensive in the world.

And while the machinery of government has rightly been focused on getting our country through this pandemic, we have not lost sight of the promises we made to the people of this country. At the last election, many people who had never voted Conservative before put their faith in us for the first time. And even in the depths of this unprecedented crisis, honouring that faith has remained at the core of what we do.

We are a Government and a Party that is determined to make good on our commitments and repay the voters who lent us their votes, no matter the turbulence that might hit along the way. When reflecting on the year passed since Johnson became Prime Minister, we have kept to our commitments and made remarkable strides forwards.

We said we’d get Brexit done, honouring the biggest democratic vote in our nation’s history, and we did. We broke through the endless parliamentary deadlocks and on the 31st January 2020, we delivered on the mandate the people set us to leave the European Union.

And we also set out an ambitious and wide-ranging domestic agenda, to level-up our country and forge prosperity for every region and nation of the UK.

During the last election, we all had to endure the age-old Labour lie that the NHS would not be safe in our hands. It was as wrong seven months ago as it was when they trotted it out 38 years ago.

It is this Party and this Government that enshrined into law the biggest-ever cash boost for the NHS, investing an additional £33.9 billion in frontline services every year by 2023-24, the largest and longest funding settlement in the history of the Health Service. And when the NHS needed additional resource to cope with the coronavirus, we provided it.

And we are making good on our commitment to recruit more doctors and nurses too: there are now 12,000 more nurses and 6,000 more doctors in our NHS since a year earlier.

I also know many of you and my parliamentary colleagues were subject to local schools cuts campaign run by the National Education Union at the last election. Yet it is this government that is boosting funding in our primary and secondary schools by £14 billion over the next three years, so that every child can get a good education.

And just last month, the Prime Minister set out our ambitious ten-year plan to rebuild schools throughout England, with £1 billion for the first 50 projects.

Safety on our streets was another area where we pledged to take action, and we have. Recent rates of knife crime have been a major concern, particularly in London, where the Labour Mayor refuses to take responsibility. I am pleased that we have already recruited an additional 3000 police officers as part of our manifesto pledge to put an extra 20,000 officers on the streets.

We also know that transport and infrastructure is key to driving our future economic growth and success, but that particularly in our Northern cities and towns, good transport infrastructure has been too often lacking.

As someone who used to live in Leeds, I was delighted at Grant Shapps’ announcement yesterday of £589 million to kick-start upgrade work between York, Leeds, Huddersfield, and Manchester, to speed up trains and boost reliability by electrifying much of the line and doubling the number of tracks on congested stretches. This comes on top of the money we have already pledged to upgrade rail and roads across the country.

Finally, I know that for many the cost of living is a major concern. In April, this Government gave the National Living Wage its largest cash boost to £8.72 – giving nearly three million people a well-earned pay rise. This week we also gave millions of hard-working public-sector employees, such as our armed forces, doctors, police, and teachers, an above-inflation pay rise, on top of what we’ve already given to nurses in the NHS.

Over the last year, in the face of adversity, a remarkable amount has been achieved. Yet we cannot be complacent. We still have much to do to honour our commitments and level-up our country as we emerge from the greatest crisis of our times.

But the last year should give us confidence that we can, and will, achieve our mission.