Kirsty Finlayson: For the planet’s sake, we need tariffs to boost consumption of British food

24 Jan

Kirsty Finlayson is South West Ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network and former Director of Communications for the British Conservation Alliance.

This month, Asda abandoned its pledge to sell only British beef – a promise made only three months previously. The retailer said the U-turn was the result of higher beef prices, and that it would now sell both Irish and British-produced beef in its stores (Irish beef is said to be around 20 per cent cheaper).

Although Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Co-Op, Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons have maintained their commitment to sell exclusively British beef, the news is symbolic of a bigger issue facing society.

Whilst the UK has always had a special trading and immigration relationship with Ireland, should we be offshoring food production in the first place? What about from further afield?

Buying homegrown food benefits British farmers, consumers, animal welfare and our environment. British farming is worth £109 billion, employing 3.8 million people.

But we currently import 50 per cent of our food and animal feed, worth £18 billion. Whilst Brexit has opened up the UK to trade deals with countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is surely unnecessary to import food products which are available here.

Introducing import and export tariffs on certain products would incentivise domestic production, consumption and trade, encouraging locally-sourced food. It would also reduce reliance on transnational trade in the midst of global crises.

And this sort of self-sufficiency should be prioritised. The UK Food Security Report, published in December 2021, was the first in a series of regular publications to appear under a new duty in the Agriculture Act 2020 to report to Parliament on British food security at least once every three years.

The Report notes the complexities and dependencies of the UK’s food supply chain, alongside the risks of just-in-time food supplies. An entire chapter is dedicated to British food supply sources, with food security being defined as “strong and consistent domestic production of food combined with a diversity of supply sources that avoids overreliance on any one source”.

Although it is recognised that British consumer preferences include a range of products that cannot be grown in the UK, and key products are valuable for export (whisky being the UK’s most valuable food, feed and drink export), geographic proximity should be given higher priority in the context of low-value short shelf-life products.

We should also avoid offshoring production and associated risks of lower production standards. This was seen most recently last year with concerns expressed by the RSPCA in relation to New Zealand products not meeting current UK standards.

It is not uncommon, for example, for journey times for live animals in Australia to exceed 24 hours without access to feed or water. In comparison, HM Government has consulted on reducing domestic journey times in the UK to eight hours. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry launched into the Australia free trade deal in December will examine whether the deal will reflect the UK’s commitment to high animal welfare.

Perhaps even more importantly, in the wake of COP26 taking place in the UK and global leaders’ dire warnings, we should be focusing our consumption instead on home grown food for the good of our planet. Eating locally-sourced food decreases the ecological footprint of the human diet and shorter food value chains reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the production, processing, transportation, storage and distribution phases.

Environmental labelling is likely to encourage people to eat locally produced food. Although environmental food labelling legislation to-date has only been initiated by Canada (Chris Grayling’s private members’ bill in 2020 sadly did not pass before the end of the parliamentary session), the European Commission is scheduled to put forward a proposal for an EU-wide food labelling scheme by the end of 2022.

In the meantime, such an informational intervention is likely to be industry-led here by non-profit organisations such as Foundation Earth. Whilst many will choose to cut down on meat and dairy consumption, the environmental footprint of British meat in general is generally lower than elsewhere – cows can be grass-fed, and British weather has proven us to be very good at growing grass.

Indeed, ruminant agriculture is the only means of producing food from grasslands, which are themselves important habitats capable of locking up a great deal of soil carbon.

More domestically-produced food also has the potential to open up entirely new sectors, encouraging innovation and investment in the UK. In order to feed people locally in an increasingly urbanised world, vertical farming should be encouraged through provision of inhabitable brownfield sites to bring farming closer to people.

Whilst pilot vertical farms have so far been limited to wealthy cities such as Tokyo and New York, investment has been promising elsewhere, with start-up Bowery Farming raising $300 million in its latest funding round. This meets the Conservative values of conservation and capitalism simultaneously.

It is now crucial, more than ever, for retailers to champion British farmers. Whilst many changes can be industry-led by those supermarkets backing British, there is also plenty that the Government can be doing to to help farmers, businesses, and consumers.

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

24 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newslinks for Monday 24th January 2022

24 Jan

Britain pulls embassy staff out of Ukraine over invasion fears

“Britain has begun to withdraw some of its staff and their families from its embassy in Kiev in response to the mounting Russian threat to Ukraine. The move was confirmed by the Foreign Office after the United States ordered the families of its embassy personnel to leave the country for fear of an imminent invasion. In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kiev in response to the growing threat from Russia. The British embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work.” Yesterday the US State Department announced that it had ordered diplomats’ family members to leave the country in a clear sign that the Biden administration is bracing itself for an aggressive Russian move in the region.” – The Times

  • Nato sends ‘ships and fighter jets’ to Eastern Europe as tension grows – Daily Telegraph
  • Biden is considering sending up to 50,000 troops – Daily Mail
  • How the west went public to stop a war in Ukraine – FT

Consequences:

  • Putin could cut UK’s Internet ‘in days’ – Daily Express
  • Britain may be forced to contend with record-breaking prices for gas and petrol – Daily Mail

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: Putin will never have another chance like this to overthrow the European strategic order

“If Mr Putin is to attack, he must act soon. He has a narrow window for a combined-arms invasion with tanks and towed-artillery before the infamous rasputitsa turns the ground into a bog. The military imperative is to lunge deep into Ukraine and deliver a knock-out blow before the mid-March thaw. That is not easy: it took six weeks for Russian forces to clear the Chechen capital of Grozny in urban fighting. Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzia, and Odessa are all larger. A team of ex-military officers and planners writing for the Atlantic Council say that Mr Putin has over the last week “set the conditions to execute a high intensity, multi-domain attack”.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Thornberry – Putin will take advantage of any weakness we show

No 10 police give ‘extremely damning’ evidence to Gray over ‘partygate’

“Police officers who guard Downing Street have been interviewed by Sue Gray for the “partygate” investigation, The Telegraph can disclose. Members of the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command who were on duty when a string of lockdown-breaking gatherings are alleged to have taken place have provided detailed testimonies about what they witnessed. The statements, described by one source as “extremely damning”, are expected to form a key part of Ms Gray’s report, which is due to be published within days. The senior civil servant has also spoken to the Prime Minister, civil servants and political advisers, and accessed security pass logs and even Boris Johnson’s official diary.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Cummings to be interviewed today – The Sun
  • Raab refuses to confirm full publication of report – The Guardian
  • Johnson still believes he broke no lockdown rules – The Times

Civil service to probe claims ex-minister was sacked in reshuffle over ‘Muslimness’

“Boris Johnson today ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate allegations an ex-minister was sacked over ‘Muslimness’. The PM has instructed the civil service to carry out a probe after the extraordinary claims from Tory MP Nusrat Ghani. The move came after Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid joined calls for a ‘proper’ inquiry – with others suggesting it should be fully independent. A No10 spokeswoman said this morning that Mr Johnson took the allegations ‘very seriously’. ‘The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP,’ the spokeswoman said… Ms Ghani alleged that chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith was partly responsible for her getting the boot in 2020 – something he flatly denies.” – Daily Mail

  • Fresh row threatens to engulf Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Prime Minister  accused of not probing Islamophobia allegations – FT
  • Rayner urges Geidt to investigate – The Times

Comment:

  • Why I’m speaking out against my own party’s Islamophobia – Nusrat Ghani MP, Times Red Box
  • While Boris hangs on, poison is spreading through the Tory party – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Ghani, Spencer, Johnson, anti-Muslim prejudice, justice, the ’22, leadership unrest – and identity politics

We must turn historic Cop26 words into action, says Sharma

“The deal agreed at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow is at risk of remaining “just words on a page”, according to the minister who brokered it. Alok Sharma will warn today that the promises made in November may “wither on the vine” unless countries act. The promises include a commitment by all countries to strengthen their climate change targets for 2030 by the end of this year. In a speech at Chatham House, the Cop26 president, will say “There is no doubt that the commitments we secured at Cop26 were historic. Yet at the moment they are just words on a page. “And unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine. We will have mitigated no risks. Seized no opportunities. We will have fractured the trust built between nations. And 1.5 degrees will slip from our grasp.”” – The Times

Pressure to scrap National Insurance tax hike as ‘entire cabinet backs delay’

“Boris Johnson is under pressure to scrap the hated National Insurance tax hike – with the entire cabinet backing a delay. They want the hike — set to pay for extra NHS funding and social care — to be shelved for a year to help hard-up Brits cope with rising bills. Brits are braced for a spring bombshell as taxes, energy costs and everyday prices are set to soar because of pandemic pressures. But now its thought the the cabinet as a whole are hoping that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will delay or scrap the plan… The national insurance hike will raise £12billion to £13billion a year for the Treasury. It was supposed to help fund health and social care – however most of the money will go toward clearing the post-Covid NHS backlog.” – The Sun

  • Johnson U-turns over VAT on energy bills – Daily Mail
  • Sunak tried to distance himself from ‘the Prime Minister’s tax’ – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Tax increases are essential to improve social care, says Raab – The Times

>Today: Julian Brazier in Comment: Meet a hidden driver of a bigger state, higher taxes and more regulation. The libertarian movement.

Labour plotting ‘eye-watering tax increases’ as Tories warn £30bn plans will cripple incomes

“Labour has been accused of plotting “eye-watering” tax rises on middle and high earners after analysis showed the party has made more than £90 billion of spending promises. Pledges made by Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, would amount to an extra £2,138 per household if all of them were paid for through general taxation. It comes despite Ms Reeves describing the Conservatives as “the party of high taxation” when she set out her economic policy in a speech earlier this week. She has made it clear that Labour would impose a raft of new wealth taxes if the party won an election, targeting property, shares, capital gains, higher earnings and private schools.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Starmer must be honest about the pain ahead – Clare Foges, The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Wakeford should resign and fight a by-election in Bury South

Ghani, Spencer, Johnson, anti-Muslim prejudice, justice, the ’22, leadership unrest – and identity politics

24 Jan

Nus Ghani is a Vice-Chair of the 1922 Commitee’s Executive.  The other Vice-Chair is William Wragg, who will meet the police this week in the wake of his claims about some whips and other Ministers.  He alleges that they have sought to blackmail and intimidate Conservative MPs.

Wragg has also submitted a letter to Graham Brady calling for a confidence ballot in Boris Johnson.  No wonder that some of the Prime Minister’s supporters have joined the dots, and suggested that the timing of Ghani’s own claim has been chosen to cause Johnson maximum damage.

She says that she was told by a whip that her sacking as a Minister was related to her religion.  Her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting in Downing Street, she alleges, and her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.

She also says that there were concerns “that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations” and “had to listen to a monologue on how hard it was to define when people are being racist and that the party doesn’t have a problem and I needed to do more to defend it”.

Ghani claims that at a second meeting with a whip “I was told that I was in fact fired for apparently saying to the PM that we had a ‘women problem’ [attracting female voters]. In the following weeks I was informed that if I persisted in raising this I would be ostracised by colleagues and my career and reputation would be destroyed”.

In the wake of the publication of Ghani’s claims by the Sunday Times, Mark Spencer issued a tweet as follows: “I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening. These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”

Today, Johnson has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations.  Which will close the story down until a report is concluded.  Claims of anti-Muslim prejudice in Downing Street, and of an MP being threatened, are very serious.  What should we make of it all?

Let’s start with timing.  The conversations between Ghani and the Chief Whip took place the best part of two years ago.  Some of her colleagues and others will have known about her version of them.  The papers were looking for stories this weekend to damage the Government.

One should therefore be very cautious about suggestions from that Ghani herself gave the story to the Sunday Times.  It isn’t at all obvious that she has reason to make it and herself a centre of attention, and she has clearly believed that the injustice done to her, by her own account, should be resolved without nationwide publicity.

It was to that end that she met the Prime Minister, at her insistence, in the wake of her conversations with Spencer.  This raises a curiousity.  Johnson apparently wrote to Ghani in the wake of his meeting with her to advise that she should raise the matter with the Conservative Party under its complaints procedure.

Ghani’s response to this yesterday was that this suggestion “was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on Government business”.  But she did discuss the matter nonetheless with Swaran Singh’s inquiry into alleged discrimination within the Conservatives before it reported last May.

Spencer tweeted on Saturday that “I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims”.  It seems unlikely that this interpretation of Singh’s conclusions is correct.

For Singh had no mandate to investigate discrimantion that took place within government rather than among the Conservatives.  This would explain why his report says nothing about Ghani’s allegations.  However, it may be worth pondering some sections of it which Sunder Katwala has drawn attention to.

These are as follows: “It was ultimately disappointing that some individuals made their consent to be included in the Report conditional, demanding that the Report include contested details or evidence outside the remit of the investigation”.

And: “Some individuals, having voluntarily given evidence to the investigation, later declined to be named and, in a few instances, made their consent conditional upon their evidence being presented in a particular manner”.  It isn’t evident who this section refers to.

Friends of Ghani say that she had no alternative, Downing Street having denied her the inquiry which it has now conceded, but to knock on Singh’s door.  Be that as it may, this story obviously boasts different actors with different motives.

Ghani believes that she has unjustly been deprived of her job and wants it back (or at least another one in government).  The enemies of Johnson who have submitted letters of no confidence want him out. The Chief Whip’s opponents want him gone, too.

Ghani’s friends are agitating on her behalf.  Those vexed by anti-Muslim prejudice within the Conservatives have a natural interest in the case.  These include Sajid Javid, who has written that one Association rejected him as a candidate because of his religion.

Javid tweeted that “Ghani is a friend and a credit to the Conservative Party. This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard”. This was after Spencer had denied Ghani’s claims.

It is worth drilling down through the emphemeral politics to two persistent themes.  The first is the independence of inquiries.  An investigation commissioned by the Prime Minister reports to the Prime Minister.  The circular nature of the process has led some of Johnson’s critics to complain that Sue Gray’s own lacks independence.

The second is the “lived experience”, as the phrase has it, of Conservative ethnic minority MPs.  The party leadership has an eye on their selection, since it wants a parliamentary party that “looks like Britain”.  It also keeps a special one on MPs from minority religions, for the same reason.

Some of the MPs concerned embrace this interest: they, too, want more diversity, at least in some forms.  Others shun it: they see themselves as Conservatives and as British – end of matter.  They find the suggestion that they somehow been selected on any ground other than merit repugnant.

It is not at all impossible or even unlikely for an MP from an ethnic and religious minority feels the tug of both impulses, and feelings about the institutional Party that range from affection to resentment. For clarity: I have no window into Ghani’s lived experience, and am not writing these words with her in mind.

But her case stirs thought about wider issues.  And whatever was discussed between her and Spencer, it is not at all surprising that the Conservative leadership wants Muslim MPs to defend it against claims of anti-Muslim prejudice within the Party.

Singh concluded that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the Party”, but also that the inquiry “found no evidence of a Party which systematically discriminated against any particular group”.  That sounds right.  But should a Muslim Tory MP really be under some special obligation to defend it?

What if he or she feels that the truth is more ambiguous – or at least qualified?  Why shouldn’t one who is a Transport Minister, as Ghani was, get on with the job for which taxpayers pay him, and be left alone by Downing Street or CCHQ to do it? Such are some of the questions raised by the practice of identity politics and the way we live now.

Stewart Jackson: I can confirm, Inspector Knacker, as a former whip, that they can be rude, disobliging and sometimes coldly threatening

24 Jan

Conservative MPs will be weighing up their career prospects as Boris Johnson faces the most ominous week of his whole career. Sue Gray’s report into “Partygate” will damage the Prime Minister, whatever its nuances and subtleties, as it holds up a pitiless mirror to the apparent decadence of the Downing Street operation at a time of national sacrifice.

He and they will surely reflect on how things can change by unforeseen events: less than a year ago, the Prime Minister sat atop double digit poll leads, an historic by election gain in Hartlepool, excellent local election results, a landslide win in the Tees Valley Mayoral race, the near miss in Batley and Spen and the comfortable Conservative retention of Old Bexley and Sidcup, the latter barely two months ago.

He seemed then to have silenced the Brexit haters in the liberal media; the Labour Party as well as his backbench critics were becalmed, and he seemed on the cusp of crafting a strong and positive message of post-Covid renewal, Brexit exceptionalism and patriotic effort – not to mention strong growth and economic renaissance.

And now, at the start of 2022, he faces the bleakest of scenarios: a majority of Tory MPs expect a vote of no confidence, much of the Party’s all-too-public debate is about Johnson’s character flaws, and the self-interested Scottish Party appears to have declared its own form of independence from London and Conservative Campaign HQ.

We have such ephemera as a row about whipping of Conservative MPs being portrayed as a portentous constitutional crisis meriting the attention of the police. I can confirm, Inspector Knacker, as a former whip, that they can be tough, rude, disobliging and sometimes coldly threatening, but it’s their job to get government business through. Who knew?

As a new backbencher in 2006, I once asked a senior Whip (still in the House) when I could leave after the last vote, to be told pithily “When I fucking tell you.” For full disclosure, that same whip was himself physically assaulted during the Maastricht imbroglio in 1993 by a notoriously thuggish Tory whip.

Of course, Johnson has made a number of foolish errors: Primary amongst them is employing Dominic Cummings in 2019, and in doing so buying into the belief that this self reverential philosopher king “won” the EU referendum. He didn’t. Cummings’  loathing of the Parliamentary Conservative Party was always apparent, and it was inevitable that he would blow up and try to take Johnson down with him. David Cameron called him a career psychopath for a reason.

The obsession with following the flawed prognostications of SAGE as justification for draconian lockdowns was another big mistake, which alienated many of his strongest supporters on the Right. A failure to properly vet candidates at the last election, outsourced to an inexperienced co-Chairman Ben Elliott amongst others, means he has many more adversaries on the green benches than was inevitable.

And a clique of social liberals in Number Ten Downing Street overly focussed on such potentially toxic policiesas Conversion Therapy, Online Harms and Net Zero, puts Johnson on the wrong side of the “culture war” with many new social conservative supporters. People see higher taxes, spiraling debt, government intervention and Woke nonsense and ask: “Is this a Conservative Government?” The Tory tribe is demanding, with a cost of living squeeze and an energy crisis pending, a la Ronald Reagan of Walter Mondale in 1984, “Where’s the beef?”

They will be taking soundings, in that most pompous phrase, from trusted local supporters, but the key question Parliamentarians will be asking is: Is it all over for Johnson? There will be many calculations about recoverability concerning the Prime Minister and his Government. After all, Blair won a 66 seat majority in 2005 after the Iraq war eviscerated his image as a “pretty straight kinda guy” and Margaret Thatcher suffered abysmal local election results and personal poll ratings prior to her reelection in 1987. Even Gordon Brown, with Peter Mandelson’s help, pulled back from catastrophe in 2007 to almost hold on to power in 2010.

Many nevertheless think not, for the following reasons.

It took almost two years to remove Theresa May, who was in a much weaker and more precarious position than Boris Johnson – charmless and lacking many natural allies; inauthentic in her desire to get Brexit done and having blown an overall majority, she clung on for many months even after having suffered the worst Commons defeat in modern history.

A Prime Minister’s patronage powers are still significant until the end. I see, as yet, no sign that the Cabinet will turn on Johnson at least until the local elections and they are split for the simple reason that there is no alternative Prime Minister waiting to take over.

I think that three speficic things will decide Johnson’s future.

Firstly, many MPs will still feel a sense of fair play, as do their constituents, and wish to allow the Prime Minister at least the chance to set out his post Covid “reset” stall once the regulations fall away on Wednesday before they turf him out. After all, they knew he had a reputation as a rogue and a chancer when they elected him.

Secondly, the Conservative Party will look monomaniacally deranged if it plunges into a protracted leadership campaign at the same time as GDP figures and jobless data point to a solid and sustainable economic recovery, perhaps the best in Europe. Likewise, Covid has been a curate’s egg, but with notable successes in the vaccination roll out and booster programmes. On the flip side, with the Northern Ireland Protocol, a weak US Presidency, expected trade deals and a geopolitical crisis in Ukraine in the offing, the British people will not forgive careerist maneuvering and navel-gazing. The fundamentals, historically, are better for Joohnson than for many post war Prime Ministers. Yes the ‘parties/work events’ (delete as required) caused great upset and offense, but will his colleagues see the wood for the trees?

Finally, Johnson has to clean house at 10 Downing Street and Parliament and be seen to do so: Heads need to roll. The operation demands a major overhaul, the Policy Unit needs re energising and refocusing, “informal” advice from entitled special friends eschewed and there needs to be a statement of sincere contrition for the mistakes of the last two years. Repairing relations with Conservative MPs must be an imperative

And “Red Meat” needs to be real, not a gimmicky slogan – scrapping the Human Rights Act for a British Bill of Rights to deal with cross Channel immigration, tax cuts for families focused on everyday cost of living pressures, a planning shakeup to build more homes, reform of the House of Lords and a recommitment to new regional infrastructure. Legacy stuff, yes – but things that non-political folk notice,

Johnson’s biggest threat is the Churchill argument. Yes, he’s a maverick, an historic figure, a contrarian, a one-off who marches to the beat of his own drum and a man for the moment (War Leader/Brexit champion). But maybe we need something else in peacetime and a fresh start once the dirty work is done?

A vote of no confidence is I believe coming but no one can yet predict whether the Prime Minister will be judged on what he has achieved and possibly thrown away; and what potential this uniquely gifted and talented man can still deliver for his party and his country. I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on either option just now.

Julian Brazier: Meet a hidden driver of a bigger state, higher taxes and more regulation – the libertarian movement

24 Jan

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

In the background to the unhappy struggles in the Conservative Party today is a philosophical clash in which the voices of libertarians are loudest. While (mostly) still supporting the man, their accusation is that the Johnson government has abandoned liberty.

These voices call for much that traditional “small c” conservatives should agree with – a smaller state, lower taxes, less regulation – but their message carries at its heart a deeply unhelpful strand which would be bad for the country, and calamitous for the Party’s prospects of staying in power.

Our most important domestic challenge today is reining back public expenditure so we can lower taxes on struggling families. Government spending is the highest proportion of GDP since the aftermath of the Second World War.

Where I part company from my libertarian friends is that I believe it is time we acknowledged that one of the hidden drivers of runaway public spending is libertarianism itself and its left-wing cousin, the human rights lobby. Both stress freedom and gloss over the responsibilities and consequences which should come with it.

John Stuart Mill formulated the paradox of hedonism: “those only are happy … who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.”

Similarly, the paradox of liberty is that we can only attain true freedom and a smaller state, if we focus not on selfish individualism but instead on nurturing and rebuilding those natural structures and attitudes which reduce the need for the services of the state. This requires active citizens, robust families, stronger communities and a sense of nationhood. These were themes of the late, great, Sir Roger Scruton.

One of his favourite examples were the American laws which allowed people, in most places, to build freely where they wanted, but then required the American taxpayer to expend huge sums taking roads and power to them. This has created a nightmare of ever-expanding suburbs with social black holes in town centres – and heavy government spending.

More broadly, he attacked the growing wish for extending freedoms without accepting any corresponding responsibilities, even – crucially – where there are heavy costs to the taxpayer and wider community (including later generations).

There is a parallel with Britain’s NHS. The cost of NHS and social care has exploded to the point where some are claiming Britain is becoming a health and social care system with a country attached. The Party is buzzing with ideas for reform of the NHS and social care – from pruning expensive bureaucrats and tackling GP contracts, to moving towards an insurance-based system. Yet there is one way we could reduce NHS spending dramatically and improve productivity in the economy: by persuading millions of obese people to lose weight and the nation to become fitter.

Scandinavian countries adopted a wide range of contrasting approaches to Covid but, with their much fitter populations, all suffered far lower rates of Covid deaths, – and lower pressures on their health systems. Indeed, the Swedish approach was never an option here because our large population of obese people would have brought the NHS down.

The impact of Britain’s obesity, the worst in Europe (apart from Malta), goes far beyond Covid. A range of illnesses from cardiovascular conditions to arthritis to diabetes are made both more likely and more dangerous by obesity – and also drive up the cost of the NHS.

Yet libertarians oppose measures to incentivise fitness, from sugar taxes to public health campaigns (what they call the Nanny State). Meanwhile the human rights lobby screams against ‘fat-shaming’ even in professions (such as the Army and the Police) where fitness is self-evidently important.

So, yes to lower taxation in general. But yes also to taxes targeting unhealthy foods – and to tax breaks for gym subscriptions.

A parallel example is opposition to so-called Covid passports. Most of the Covid deaths, for some time now, have been among the unvaccinated. All Conservatives should wish to raise restrictions as quickly as possible. Indeed, the noisy lobby calling until recently for the re-imposition of Covid restrictions was mostly on the Left, but the circumstances which have underpinned their case – the existence of large numbers who refuse to vaccinate and get sick – is ignored by libertarians and the human rights lobby.

By contrast, millions of Britons saw nothing wrong with those who choose to be refuseniks paying some price (in terms of minor inconvenience) for their potential impact on the NHS. Even as we manage to ease out of the last parts of lockdown, protecting the short-term liberties of the refusenik minority has consequences, not just for public spending, but also for many who have other life-threatening conditions over which – unlike the refuseniks – they have no choice. Sick refuseniks are occupying beds desperately needed by other sick people.

A broader example is attitude to the family. Individualists on left and right campaigned successfully a generation ago for the virtual end to restrictions on divorce and the end of allocation of fault as a factor in child custody and the division of assets.

Today, attempts to reinforce traditional families are bitterly opposed by many the same people. Iain Duncan-Smith’s radical reforms on social welfare reintroduced incentives to work, but he was consistently blocked in trying to remove disincentives for traditional families to stay together.

Yet the result of the decline of the traditional family is not just growing misery among children, with mental health, suicide, self-harm and drug-taking all on the rise – and mostly higher than other European countries. It is also extremely expensive for the taxpayer as social security spending and the requirement for police officers, social workers, prison officers and children’s mental health staff grows. Studies consistently show that stable two parent families offer – on average – the best outcomes for children and family breakdown has an immediate cost to the benefit system.

If the state can encourage responsible personal choices and the rebuilding of those Burkean structures, from the family to the community to a sense of shared nationhood, expenditure can fall as the use of the safety net declines. If, on the other hand, choices which lead to mounting bills for the taxpayer are protected on the basis that “We are not a country which asks to see papers”, the size of the state will expand as the safety net gets more and more crowded.

Scruton once commented “When government creates an unaccountable class it exceeds its remit, by undermining the relation on which its own legitimacy depends.” In courser terms, people hate a freeloaders’ charter; rights should be balanced by responsibilities.

Boris Johnson led us out of the European Union. The next moves we take should seek to re-establish that balance. So, yes to reducing regulation (such as the Clinical Trials Directive which destroyed East Kent’s biggest employer). Yes to making strategic choices to cut public spending and taxation (a smaller university sector, an end to the triple lock for pensions?). Yes to forging new global trade and wider partnerships.

But let’s have an end to the suggestion by so many of the Prime Minister’s critics that a combination of offering freedom, alongside state-funded protection from the consequences, will capture the hearts of the British people.

Matthew Evans: Labour is in retreat in Newport

24 Jan

Cllr Matthew Evans is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Newport Council.

Three by-elections, a suspension, and a defection. Not the title of a new Hugh Grant film, but politics in the city of Newport over the past 12 months. It’s been eventful to say the least.

Let’s start with the by-elections. The first had been delayed for a year due to Covid and landed on the same day as the Senedd election. The Victoria ward, known as Maindee to the locals, is generally a safe Labour seat although the Lib Dems and Plaid once held it for a term a piece. The seat was held on to by Labour but Conservatives came a respectable third, beating the Greens into fourth place and halting the ‘Green Surge’!

The second by-election was in the Conservative-held ward of Graig, a leafy semi-rural area of Newport. Long serving Councillor, Margaret Cornelius, stood down for health reasons, putting the community first when she knew she could no longer fulfil the role to the best of her abilities. Our new candidate was John Jones, a local businessman and seasoned campaigner. Thanks to a strong campaign focusing on local issues and the M4 Relief Road we managed to increase our vote to over 50 per cent: the first time we had achieved this figure since 2008 when we took control of the Newport City Council. Labour threw the book at the seat, and If Keir Starmer was going anywhere near Downing Street, they should have won.

Our third by-election occurred in December following the resignation of another Labour councillor in Victoria Ward. We put up a good fight for the seat, focusing on the extra investment by central Conservative Government into local schemes. But National events conspired against us and it was difficult to get the Conservative vote out: this despite public dissatisfaction with the Council and the Welsh Labour Government; old habits die hard.

A disappointment came with the three month suspension handed to one of our councillors by Newport City Council on the grounds of breaking the code of conduct. I won’t bore you with the details, but we accepted the suspension, understood why such action had to be taken, and moved on.

At the end of the year, I was delighted to welcome Graham Berry to the group. A retired businessman and Labour councillor, Graham was unhappy with the Labour Party both nationally and locally. His defection takes us up to 13 seats with Labour 30, the Lib Dems two, and the Independents five.

Back to the Senedd elections and Labour again took both seats in Newport East and West.

We may not have cracked Labour’s last ‘Red Wall’ in South Wales but we have established ourselves as the only opposition party that can beat Labour. However, voters are still apathetic towards devolved elections and, although understandable, it is ultimately self-defeating. Since the pandemic, Welsh devolution has been under intense scrutiny, yet turnout increased by only one per cent overall. The good news for Newport Conservatives is we turned in a great result across the two seats. Astonishingly, for the first time at either a Parliamentary or Senedd level, Newport East is more winnable than Newport West: a first since I became a councillor in 1999 and stood for the Newport East seat in 2003.

Looking ahead, the council elections in May will be tough, but I believe our best chance to break through will be in areas of Newport currently neglected by Labour and taken for granted. We are now the party of working people who have been badly let down by decades of Labour dominance in communities right across South Wales. I sincerely hope Newport can release itself from the shackles of socialism which still hold back its potential.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Social Mobility Commissioners – and more

24 Jan

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.

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Research England – Executive Chair

The Executive Chair, working with the Research England Council Members, is responsible for setting the strategic vision for RE and contributing to the wider direction of UKRI. As a visible and credible leader of Research England you will provide direction, ensuring delivery research, skills, and infrastructure investments. As a member of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Executive Committee, the Executive Chair will be accountable to, and work closely with, the UKRI Chief Executive Officer. The Research England’s Executive Chair may also be responsible for leading and delivering one or more cross cutting areas for UKRI.”

Time: Full time

Remuneration: £120,000-144,500 per annum, plus bonus

Closes: 16 January

– – – – – – – – – –

Home Office – Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

“It’s a sad fact that around the world today, millions of men, women and children are cruelly enslaved and exploited. However, this is not something that just happens overseas, it is happening here and now across cities, towns and villages in the UK. The Government is committed to tackling this abhorrent crime, building on the UK’s strong track record in supporting victims and pursuing and punishing the perpetrators. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 established the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to drive up the strategic response by Governments and its partners to tackle modern slavery in the UK and overseas. We are looking for an outstanding candidate to take up the post of Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. You will have a track record of strategic leadership, a clear vision for the role, and will be able to engage people from across a range of backgrounds and viewpoints.”

Time: Full time

Remuneration: £130,000 per annum

Closes: 17 January

– – – – – – – – – –

Competition and Markets Authority – Chair

“The new Chair will lead an effective Board, setting the strategy for the organisation to meet new challenges including supporting the UK economy to grow post-coronavirus pandemic and taking more, and more complex, cases previously heard by the European Commission. The Non-Executive Chair, together with the Non-Executive members of the Board, will bring appropriate challenge to the decisions made by the executive in running the organisation. The Chair must work effectively with the CMA’s Chief Executive, executive team, Non-Executive members, and the CMA’s panel of independent competition and consumer experts. In doing so, the Chair will need to gain and retain the confidence of a wide range of stakeholders including Government, business, consumer groups, competition specialists and other international competition authorities.”

Time: Approx. two days per week

Remuneration: £106,666 per annum

Closes: 17 January

– – – – – – – – – –

Historic Royal Palaces – Chair

“Historic Royal Palaces is a leading independent charity that wants to make deep connections with people through the six sites of national importance in its care. We are seeking a Chair to lead our Board through a period of recovery after the Covid pandemic, to achieve successes in the future as we have in the past. The Appointment of Chair of the Board is made by Her Majesty The Queen, following the recommendation of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. DCMS is committed to eliminating discrimination and advancing equality of opportunity in its public appointments. We particularly encourage applicants from underrepresented groups, those based outside London and the South-East and applicants who have achieved success through non-traditional educational routes.”

Time: Approx. two days per week

Remuneration: None

Closes: 21 January

– – – – – – – – – –

National Highways – Non-Executive Director

“Highways are essential to connect people to places. They are used by everybody, every day, whether getting to a destination or delivering goods for consumption. Safe and reliable roads are vital for the economy and public wellbeing. National Highways manage and improve the UK’s motorways and major A-roads, helping customers have safer, smoother and more reliable journeys. Beyond that, National Highways are committed to working with Government to achieve zero carbon and exploiting the full potential of the digital revolution. The role is a crucial one and the incumbent will have the opportunity to help shape the future of the UK’s roads and ensure the organisation’s continued success. The National Highways Board holds the executive team to account and provides oversight, governance and assurance to the organisation. The new Non-Executive Director will be heavily involved in providing organisational strategic direction and overseeing all National Highways functions.”

Time: Approx. 27 days per annum

Remuneration: £25,000 per annum

Closes: 21 January

– – – – – – – – – –

Department of Health and Social Care – Patient Safety Commissioner

“Ministers are seeking to appoint the first Patient Safety Commissioner (PSC) for England. The core role of the Commissioner will be to promote the safety of patients in the context of the use of medicines and medical devices and to promote the importance of the views of patients and other members of the public in relation to the safety of medicines and medical devices. The first Patient Safety Commissioner will play a central part in establishing the role and will: Provide strong leadership, and challenge to the healthcare system through their core functions to: promote the safety of patients, and to promote the importance of the views of patients and other members of the public in relation to the safety of medicines and medical devices…”

Time: Three days per week to full-time.

Remuneration: £105,000 pa (full-time), £63,000 if for 3 days.

Closes: 25 January

– – – – – – – – – –

Bank of England – External Member of the Monetary Policy Committee

“The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom. Standing at the centre of the UK’s financial system, the Bank is committed to promoting and maintaining monetary and financial stability. The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England has responsibility for formulating monetary policy. The MPC consists of nine members – the Governor, the Deputy Governors for Monetary Policy and Financial Stability, and Markets & Banking, a member appointed by the Governor (the Bank’s Chief Economist) and four external members appointed by the Chancellor. This is a high profile and influential role, requiring strong and proven economic and analytical skills. Candidates must demonstrate that they have used their economic expertise operating at a very senior level in commercial, retail, business, financial markets, a policymaking environment or academia – as a leader in their chosen profession or field of economics.”

Time: Average three days per week

Remuneration: £158,000 per annum

Closes: 06 February

– – – – – – – – – –

Social Mobility Commission – Commissioners

“The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom. Standing at the centre of the UK’s financial system, the Bank is committed to promoting and maintaining monetary and financial stability. The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England has responsibility for formulating monetary policy. The MPC consists of nine members – the Governor, the Deputy Governors for Monetary Policy and Financial Stability, and Markets & Banking, a member appointed by the Governor (the Bank’s Chief Economist) and four external members appointed by the Chancellor. This is a high profile and influential role, requiring strong and proven economic and analytical skills. Candidates must demonstrate that they have used their economic expertise operating at a very senior level in commercial, retail, business, financial markets, a policymaking environment or academia – as a leader in their chosen profession or field of economics.”

Time: Average three days per week

Remuneration: £158,000 per annum

Closes: 06 February