Alan Duncan: The Conservative Party has a moral blind spot about the rights of Palestinians

13 May

Sir Alan Duncan is a former Minister of State at both the Foreign Office and the International Development department.

The beginning and end of any argument about Israel and Palestine is that it is all to do with land. The Israelis want to take territory which does not belong to them – and all of the claims and counterclaims about the rights and wrongs on either side stem from this single fundamental fact.

Israel has been recognised as a state since 1948 following a vicious conflict between June and September that year, during which 600,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. Today, contrary to the expressed guarantee contained in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the rights of the non-Jews (the Palestinians) have not been protected.

Palestinians are stateless, their land is occupied by the Israelis, and Palestine itself is perhaps the only populous territory in the world which rests unattached to any named state and is not permitted to call itself one.

International law is absolutely clear that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (between the River Jordan and the sea) and also Gaza, do not belong to Israel. Indeed, they comprise the components of a viable state of Palestine. If Israel can be a state, then why can’t Palestine?

For many decades, the imbalance of power – i.e. U.S support – has emboldened successive Israeli governments to pursue a deliberate policy of expansion of illegal settlements with impunity. This is brazenly contrary to international law, and has contributed to the further subjugation of Palestinians.

The main manifestation of this creeping annexation is settlements. The word sounds benign, as if it is no more than experimental camping, but the truth is far worse. Settlements may start out as little more than the planting of a caravan but, over the decades, the process has become the full-scale annexation of their neighbours’ land. Over half a million Israelis now live in modern-looking towns which are built on stolen land dotted all over the West Bank, thus making a would-be Palestinian state increasingly impractical.

The phenomenon is far worse than the mere construction of houses in the wrong place. Settlers are often armed and violent. They displace Palestinians from their own homes, cut down the olive trees on which their livelihood depends, take their scarce water, and frequently subject them to abusive attacks.

In turn, the Israeli Defence Forces defend the illegal settlers instead of the indigenous Palestinians they attack. The settlements are served by bespoke roads and utilities, which are either denied to the Palestinians or do not serve their communities.

Hand in hand with the settlement movement is the regular forced evictions and demolitions, which see so many Palestinians violently removed from their homes in their own country, all enforced and overseen by the apparatus of the Israeli state. In East Jerusalem, according to the UN, one third of all Palestinian homes are liable for demolition. This is why the forced evictions of Sheikh Jarrah is not a real estate issue, but part of a programme of getting rid of Palestinians from large areas of East Jerusalem.

The claim that Israel is a respectable democracy rings hollow when they behave in such an undemocratic way. Israel prevented Palestinians from campaigning and voting in Palestinian elections, even arresting those involved.

Whereas international law is clear that the West Bank is not theirs, Israelis justify their actions by claiming that the territory is ‘disputed’, as if to say that, because they want it, their opinion is equal to that of the people whose land they wish to take. It is not. Palestinians point out that the whole area of historic Palestine is disputed but, in past negotiations, they accepted the compromise of a Palestinian state on just 22 per cent of what was their country.

It is this same attitude that has created the serious unrest that has recently erupted. East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel. Because of the density of the city, and the incendiary overlap of its religious sites serving three main faiths, it has been widely regarded as an international city outside politics, with Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem existing in a delicate yet workable balance.

It is that balance that has just been destroyed by Israeli extremists. The proposed enforced eviction of over 70 Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah has ignited the flames of disorder. This has been simmering for weeks, during which extreme right-wing Israelis have been effectively supported by their police and soldiers in scenes which should bring the utmost shame to any Israeli. Blocking access to, and throwing stun grenades into the Al Aqsa Mosque is one thing; beating people up and arresting children is quite another. Last autumn’s scenes of a soldier’s knee on a Palestinian’s neck should make everyone realise that Palestinian lives matter too.

It is only the crass stupidity of Hamas in Gaza deciding to fire rockets at civilians in Israel and Jerusalem that has diverted attention away from the unimpeachable moral cause of the Palestinians. But neither Hamas in Gaza nor the nasty Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem are representative of their own people.

The narrative that all Palestinians are terrorists is a vile distortion, and such accusations fail to resonate when set against the chanting and graffiti which state that all Palestinians should be gassed, and that there is no such place as Palestine.

I feel an affinity with Israeli politicians such as the late Shimon Peres, and with Palestinians who strive for peace such as the late Sa’eb Erekat. Their decency is not confined to a few. Israel is not just Likud and Netanyahu.  Here is a link to a lecture I delivered a few years ago which develops these themes in detail.

More and more Israelis are appalled at their country’s occupation of Palestine. The campaign groups, NGOs and websites are beginning to multiply in support of human rights, justice, and a fair future for Palestinians. The UK risks being seriously out of tune with the Israeli people.

The last few weeks have starkly illustrated that the UK Government has been living a lie for years. Its policy, such as it is, exists in a moral vacuum. While stating that the annexation of Palestinian land is in breach of international law and goes against countless UN resolutions, it only ever utters the language of de-escalation and intones its belief in the importance of striving for a two-state solution, supposedly a viable Palestine living alongside Israel. They no longer look as though they really believe it. Where is this second state?

While the scenes in Jerusalem have been clear for all to see there hasn’t been a single word of serious condemnation from the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Labour Friends of Israel, the Board of Deputies or the government. All have found a way of not doing so. It seems the rules-based order only counts outside Israel. The Government has a hole in its policy: if it fails to stand for justice, the Conservative Party will forever have a hole in its heart.

Are we seeing a Conservative recovery in London?

13 May

The most startling aspect of the election for Mayor of London last week was that, though Sadiq Khan won, it was by a much narrower margin than the opinion polls had suggested. Had the polls proved accurate then Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, would have been blamed. So given that he performed so much better, it is right that this personal achievement should be acknowledged. In the days before the election, I was doing some phone canvassing for him and got a strong sense of a discrepancy from those expecting a Khan landslide. As I was ringing landline numbers it was skewed towards pensioners, who are much more likely to be Conservative supporters. But it was easy to find “switchers” of all ages – those who voted for Khan last time but would do so for Bailey this time. While the media were sneering, many voters felt Bailey cared about issues such as knife crime and had the experience and determination to tackle such problems.

The final result showed Khan beat Bailey by 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent – after second preferences had been included. Last time round, in 2016, Khan beat Goldsmith by 56.8 per cent to 43.2 per cent. So the gap narrowed from 13.6 per cent to 10.4 per cent. On first preferences, the gap narrowed from 9.2 per cent last time to 4.7 per cent. If Khan had widened the gap – merely by not as much as the polls had suggested – that would scarcely be much comfort for the Conservatives. But we saw a significant narrowing which does offer some sign of hope.

Naturally, there were special factors. There always are. Even many Labour supporters are unimpressed by Khan’s record of Mayor. Gimmicks and photo-opportunities. No significant achievements – least of all delivering what he promised. His personality has also become less attractive. When he was standing in 2016 he conveyed a great sense of energy – compared to Goldsmith who came across as rather languid in media interviews. But during this campaign, Khan was arrogant and petulant. Khan has been dismissive of his opponents and has not relished scrutiny or debate – which he would if he had confidence in his record. Some who would usually vote Labour felt uninspired and abstained.

All that dire opinion polling must have harmed Bailey’s campaign. Morale is important. If a candidate is perceived to have no chance then why donate to the campaign? Why volunteer? Why even bother to vote for him? Journalists had no difficulty getting off the record quotes from Conservative “insiders” on how they had given up; making Bailey the scapegoat. Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator wonders if Bailey would have won if he had not been undermined. Certainly, the treatment was unedifying.

So far as the London Assembly is concerned, no constituencies changed hands. But if we look at the “top-up” vote share, the gap also narrowed. Labour’s lead was 7.4 per cent, Last time it was 11.1 per cent. Labour are one seat down, the Conservatives one seat up. The demise of UKIP – who won two seats last time – may have helped.

Those figures tend to suggest that Bailey outperformed the brand. There were some Conservatives who gave anonymous suggestions that he should be deselected and a “stronger” candidate chosen. Usually, they didn’t come up with any names – certainly not of anyone who was willing to put themselves forward. I also doubt that if CCHQ had backed Bailey with more resources it would have been enough to clinch victory. A ten point gap is still significant.

The reality is that Bailey was the best candidate available. That does not mean I am uncritical of him. In Mayoral contests, voters are looking for some independence – even from candidates standing under a Party label. Bailey should have been bolder, less constrained about being “on message”, more radical in his policy offers. There should have been a greater willingness to take risks – he was always going to be denigrated and misrepresented by the Labour machine anyway. So he could have done even better than he did. But he did well and it is hard to see how he could ever have won.

What of the broader context? The 2019 General Election did not give a clear shift  in London. The Conservatives stayed on 21 seats – gaining Kensington from Labour but losing Putney to them; losing Richmond to the Lib Dems, but taking Carshalton and Wallington from them. Labour’s vote share was 48.1 per cent, down 6.4 percentage points on 2017. The Conservative’s share was 32 per cent, down by just 1.1 per cent. So on that measure the gap narrowed. But relative to the rest of country, the Conservatives in London fell further behind. That saw Labour’s vote share down 7.8 per cent while the Conservative share went up 1.2 per cent. The anti Brexit message from Labour and the Lib Dems went down better in London than elsewhere.

Next year we see the elections in London for the 32 borough councils. Last time round – in 2018 – these went pretty badly. Labour was ahead by 15.1 per cent in vote share. The Conservatives made a net loss of 92 councillors. Usually, we can get a clue of how things are going from local by-elections. Due to the pandemic, these have not been taken place. But we had a glut of them last week to catch up. 46 contests. They were generally encouraging. There were Conservative gains in Enfield and Barnet – with no Conservative losses. In terms of swing, including the seats that did not change hands, there is an analysis on the Vote UK Forum. 11 seats showed swings from Conservative to Labour – all rather modest. Not only did far more seats swing in the other direction but much sharper. Hounslow, Greenwich, Croydon and Redbridge all in double figures. The contest in East Ham Central Ward on Newham Council saw a 21.1 per cent swing to the Conservatives. Thames Ward in Barking and Dagenham achieved a 26.2 per cent swing to the Conservatives. Both seats were easily held by Labour – which shows just how big Labour’s majority was last time. At present, neither borough has a single Conservative councillor. Could that change?

Other results in Lewisham and Islington showed the Green Party doing well. This may put pressure on Labour in wards where they have had big majorities in the past and so indirectly help the Conservatives to, at least, be competitive.

The fundamentals though remain challenging. Conservatives in the capital should not be relying on Khan to do an even worse job in his second term than his first. Nor should hopes of Conservative salvation rest on voters switching to the Green Party due to Labour and the Lib Dems not being regarded as left wing enough.

We need a lot more housing. Not more tower blocks. But beautiful new homes. Those with the ambition to own their own property or to start a family – or both – should not be forced out. Building on the scale required can be achieved. The frequently stated objection that there is “no room” in London is not correct. The planning reforms should help. Far more could be done to force the sale of surplus public sector land. Herbert Morrison was accused of saying that he aimed to “build the Tories out of London” – that was when he was Leader of the London County Council and hoped that the municipal estates being established would prove to be socialist fortresses.

The mission now is to build the Tories back in London. That means a great neo-classical revival. Setting locally popular design codes, releasing the land, and then allowing the developers to get on with it. It is a national priority. But nowhere is the need greater than in London.

People forced to use food banks at the start of the pandemic faced extreme poverty

13 May

People forced to food banks at the start of the pandemic faced extreme poverty, with just £248 a month to survive on after housing costs, according to new research.

The Trussell Trust calls for government at all levels to commit to working to end the need for food banks for good as it launches study at cross-party political event.

Today, the Trussell Trust reveals State of Hunger 2021, a follow-up to the most authoritative piece of independent research into hunger in the UK to date. Commissioned by the charity and conducted by Heriot-Watt University, the study sheds light on the groups of people across the UK disproportionately affected by hunger and the drivers behind food bank use.

More than six in ten (62%) of working-age people referred to a food bank in early 2020 were disabled – that’s more than three times the rate in the UK working age population. And single parent families are more likely to be forced to a food bank, with almost one in five (18%) of households referred to food banks during the pandemic being single parents – that’s more than twice the rate in the general population (8%).

The charity says hunger in the UK isn’t about food, it’s about people not having enough money for the basics. The research shows extremely low income is a key factor in driving people to food banks. In early 2020, the average monthly household income after housing costs for people who needed to use a food bank was £248 on average, or £8 a day for a couple without children. This needs to cover energy and water costs, council tax, food, and other essentials and is just 13% of the average national income.

In fact, in early 2020 95% of people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network were living in ‘destitution’ – this means people cannot afford to eat and stay warm and dry.

The main reason people had such low income was due to social security payments failing to cover the cost of living, according to the research. This was more often than not due to the design of the system, including issues such as the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment and low levels of payments.

Worringly, the charity says people living in destitution risk being further pulled under by difficulties such as debt and mental health issues. The research finds in mid-2020 nine in 10 households at food banks were in debt, while six in 10 had arrears on bills and owed money on loans.

In mid-2020, 47% of all people using food banks and 41% of disabled people referred were indebted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), making it the most common creditor to people at food banks. People experiencing poor mental health referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network grew from around half (51%) in early 2020 to almost three quarters (72%) in mid-2020.

With high rates of unemployment and redundancies, the charity says more people than never are now likely to need the social security system to provide a lifeline to keep them afloat. The charity says this should start with keeping the £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic but set to be removed in the autumn.

The findings will be discussed by panelists such as Dame Louise Casey and Baroness Stroud at an All-Party Parliamentary Group event on destitution later today.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said:

“How can anyone in this country stay warm and dry and buy food on just £248 a month after rent? People strugggling in extreme poverty are pushed to the doors of food banks because they do not have enough money to survive. Hunger in the UK isn’t about food – it’s about people not being able to afford the basics.

“We know we can change this. We need to change the conversation around poverty and take action together. We need government at all levels to commit to ending the need for food banks once and for all and to develop a plan to do so. It’s time for government to make this a priority – to recognise that it must be an essential part of their levelling up agenda to work towards a hunger free future where we can all afford the basics.”

Dame Louise Casey, former government adviser on social policy, said:

“This research today by the Trussell Trust is deeply worrying, with record food bank use showing that too many people have been pushed into hardship by the pandemic.

“We have to stand together as we pull through this pandemic and not leave people behind, forced to rely on food banks to keep going. That is an abject failure by government and all of us. Food aid should be a one off in the UK, not a new form of charity.

“It is in this Government’s gift to end hunger, but it warrants a concerted cross-government and cross-party action – a plan to end the need for food banks, delivered as an urgent priority.”

The Trussell Trust is urging the public to sign up to its Hunger Free Future movement to become part of a new conversation about how, together, we can end the need for food banks.



The report will go live on Thursday May 13, at Contact the Trussell Trust for a copy of the embargoed report on 020 3137 3699 or     

Notes to editors   

  1. The State of Hunger is a three-year independent research programme, commissioned by the Trussell Trust and conducted by I-SPHERE at Heriot-Watt University. It is the largest study of hunger in the UK. 
  2. ASDA’s Fight Hunger Create Change partnership funded this study and has enabled food banks in the Trussell Trust network to support more people in crisis with access to food and advice servicesto help tackle the root causes of poverty. 
  3. The main report provides robust evidence on the experiences of those in the UK affected by hunger, and the drivers of food bank use. The main report can be read here. 
  4. It utilises a wide range of surveys, interviews and statistical analysis to draw these conclusions. The conclusion on the relationship between low income and social security is drawn from across these data sources.  
  5. The main data in this report refers to people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network. Significant populations of people are supported by independent food banks.  
  6. Data on people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network in early 2020 refers to a survey of 716 adults 18+ conducted face to face at 43 food banks in the Trussell Trust network between 15 January and 12 March 2021.  
  7. Data on people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network in mid-2020, or referenced as ‘during the pandemic’ refers to a survey of 436 adults 18+ conducted online, with invitations issued by 43 food banks in the Trussell Trust network. Fieldwork was conducted between 22 June to 30 July 2020.  
  8. In early 2020 the equivalised monthly household income (after housing costs) of households referred to food banks was £248. This increased to £335 after the first few weeks of the pandemic, most likely due to the £20 increase in the weekly rate of the Universal Credit Standard Allowance.  
  9. People taking part in the early 2020 survey are classed as disabled according to the Equality Act 2010 definition of disability.  
  10. The definition of destitution is derived by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. More information can be found here. 
  11. The growth in the proportion of people living with poor mental health is reported on whether anyone in the referred household has poor mental health.  
  12. For December 2020 to February 2021 the unemployment rate for those aged 16+ was 4.9%, up from 4.0% in the previous year. Labour Market Overview 
  13. Redundancies have reached record levels during the pandemic and increased by a historic 181,000 between Q2 2020 and Q3 2020, a 138% increaseLabour Market Overview 

About the Trussell Trust:   

  • We’re here to end the need for food banks in UK.     
  • We support a UK-wide network of more than 1,300 food bank centres and together we provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty, and campaign for change to end the need for food banks in the UK.     
  • Our most recent figures for the number of emergency food supplies provided by our network:     
  • The Trussell Trust’s food bank network brings together volunteers, staff and supporters of all faiths and none to make a difference. Local churches play a vital part in this work, with around 12,000 churches actively involved in donating food, and providing venues, volunteers and financial support for food banks.    
  • You can read more about our work at    

The post People forced to use food banks at the start of the pandemic faced extreme poverty appeared first on The Trussell Trust.

Deborah Mattinson – Labour’s new strategist. What we know of her views on The Red Wall.

12 May

As ConservativeHome readers may have spotted last week, Keir Starmer has hired a new strategist in the wake of Labour’s less-than-ideal election results.

Deborah Mattinson is the appointee in question. She brings a huge amount of experience to the party, having previously advised Tony Blair, John Smith and Neil Kinnock, as well as being chief pollster to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor and then Prime Minister.

Since then she co-founded and has worked for BritainThinks, a research and consultancy company. She is also author of the book Beyond the Red Wall: Why Labour Lost, How the Conservatives Won and What Will Happen Next? So Starmer will no doubt be drawing on her research here.

Last year ConservativeHome was delighted to have Mattinson speak in our Conservative Party conference event, Social care and beyond: delivering for older voters in the ‘Red Wall’. Lots was covered in the event, but we’ve tried to give a summary of some of the most interesting snippets from Mattinson. It was recorded in October – so it’s worth bearing in mind that a lot has changed, but it still gives an idea of what insights she’ll have for Labour HQ. The clip is at the bottom of the article too.

A reminder: the Red Wall isn’t small

Mattinson said “it’s easy to lose track of how many people it is”, warning “you can’t lump a group of people like that – 4.7 million people – together”.

However, there are commonalities

In general, Mattinson said Red Wall voters want the same as everybody else: “decent housing, decent jobs… secure retirement… a future for [their] children”. 

But she said these voters “feel somewhat resentful” and “believe that their areas have been neglected”, and that they live in places that have “incredibly proud pasts but very uncertain futures”. 

Marks and Spencer is a symbol of social deprivation

Mattinson talked about the problem of “run down high streets” in some Red Wall areas, and she noticed a “correlation” across those she visited. “Everywhere I went… people had lost their Marks and Spencer”, which she described as a “symbol of the good things being taken out of your area.” Will Labour have a think about how it can put the “good things” back?

Older voters

Mattinson also spoke about the importance of older voters in the elections, who “are very patriotic”. In general, she said “there is a very strong identification with local communities… but really strong resentment towards London and the South.”

Women and caring

Mattinson spoke about the fact “women were often the hardest hit” in some of these communities, and “more likely to be on benefits… more likely to be working in multiple insecure jobs and… very often carers.” So perhaps we’ll see a stronger feminist message for Labour’s Red Wall campaign.

Red Wall voters wanted to be “wooed” and have high expectations

Mattinson said that Red Wall voters have “now discovered their political power” having had their loyalty taken for granted by Labour. She added that they will have “high expectations for a better future and better funding”, believing that “Brexit will help it along.” She said that they are “quite optimistic and hopeful”.

But they know you don’t get “out for nowt”

On the difficulty of raising taxes (for things like social care), Mattinson warned that “voters aren’t stupid – they know you don’t get out for nowt.”

Participative democracy

On areas like social care (which formed the basis of the event), Mattinson advocated the likes of “citizens’ juries/panels” and “participative democracy”. She believes these are the way to get “breakthroughs” on tricky topics, while acknowledging that politicians don’t like this approach. In general, she seems to want to level more with voters about costs and difficult areas, even advocating “political and fiscal education”.

Levelling up does not cut it for people

Although Mattinson found that people resented the South, in her research she found that the term levelling up “is not known by people” and that they “don’t find it credible as a solution.” Could Labour find its own soundbite to rival the Conservatives on “levelling up”?

Voters see the UK as a “zero sum game”

Furthermore, Mattinson said people see regeneration in their area as a “zero sum game”. “Basically what they believe is that their place can’t get better unless those other places get worse”, she cautioned.

Cynicism around HS2

Mattinson said she found “huge cynicism” about HS2 in the Red Wall, and that “all that they could see was that it would help people in London to get around the country more easily.” Perhaps we’ll see Starmer go more on the attack around this topic – it could be a simple way to gain ground.

David Gauke: Demographic changes in the Blue Wall will work against the Conservatives – they must pay close attention

12 May

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

This is a bit of a postscript to my article from Saturday. In the unlikely event of you not having read it (or that you are not going to rectify this unfortunate omission before proceeding to read this article), in summary I said that the election results were very good for the Conservatives with evidence of a vaccine bounce (the incumbents also did well in Scotland and Wales).

Furthermore, there was a political realignment in English politics that made it easier for the Conservatives to win general elections. A divide along cultural grounds, rather than economic or class grounds, left the Tories’ opponents split and their votes inefficiently distributed.

At the time of writing, we had seen some of the details of how Leave areas were swinging towards the Conservatives (most spectacularly in Hartlepool) but had not seen that much from the Conservative Remain areas, mostly in the south of England.

Now that we have got these results, the data shows that Remain areas are behaving very differently to Leave areas – large swings to the Conservatives in Leave areas, very small swings in Remain areas.

I thought I would take a look at two county council divisions in my old constituency of South West Hertfordshire. Berkhamsted is an attractive and prosperous market town. It is the type of place to which young professionals move from London when starting a family and then never leave.

As is not uncommon in Home Counties constituencies, the Conservatives have generally done better here in general elections than local elections, but Berkhamsted has always returned a Conservative county councillor (except in 1993 when the Conservative vote collapsed across the country), although not always comfortably.

In the last six elections, the Conservative candidate achieved between 40 and 45 per cent of the vote with the size of the majority varying depending up how the other parties’ votes were distributed. In 2016, the ballot boxes from Berkhamsted contained a large majority of Remain votes.

South Oxhey & Eastbury was a new county division which narrowly elected a Labour councillor in 2017.  It is made up of two contrasting areas. Eastbury is affluent Middlesex suburbia and solidly Conservative, but the bulk of the division is made up of a post-War London overspill council estate that has always voted solidly Labour (apart from 2009 when it infamously elected the BNP’s only ever county councillor). South Oxhey voted overwhelmingly for Brexit (“hardly any Remain votes at all” one of the counters told me on the night).

When Thursday’s results were announced, South Oxhey & Eastbury went blue with an eight per cent swing from Labour to Conservative which, looking at the district council elections, seems to have been the consequence of a strong Tory surge in South Oxhey. Meanwhile, in Berkhamsted there was a swing of 12 per cent from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, reducing the Tory share of the vote to a record low of 30 per cent.

Admittedly, local factors are relevant (there is an unpopular local plan), but the Berkhamsted experience of affluent commuter area deserting the Conservatives was replicated elsewhere in the constituency in Three Rivers Rural and elsewhere in the county in Harpenden, Hitchin, Hemel Hempstead, Bishop’s Stortford and Hertford (all to the Liberal Democrats apart from Hertford which went Green). Looking outside Hertfordshire, places with similar demographics in Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire did much the same.

Is this an immediate problem for the Conservatives? Taken in the round, probably not. The Liberal Democrats tend to over-perform in local elections compared to general elections. In individual constituencies, declines in some areas (such as Berkhamsted) were offset in part by advances in other areas (such as South Oxhey) – this is more complex than North versus South. And even if the realignment of British politics puts at risk affluent, well-educated, Remain-voting constituencies, there are far fewer of them than there are Labour Leave-voting seats that now look winnable for the Tories.

At a local level, however, there three reasons to be concerned. First, given that the electoral logic suggests that the Red Wall will be a bigger priority than the Blue Wall, Government policy will prioritise the Red Wall – if necessary at the expense of the Blue Wall (someone is going to have to pay for “levelling up”).

Second, demographic changes in these areas work against the Conservatives. The loyal Conservative vote is often quite elderly and the likely population increase will predominantly be newcomers from London. The pandemic is only likely to accelerate the process of these places becoming more graduate-heavy and small L liberal.

Third, a share of 40 per cent for a Government is very high. No doubt the vaccine rollout has made a big difference and, assuming the Conservatives will still be in office in 2025 (and not many are betting against that), achieving a similar share of the vote would be quite some achievement.

All of this suggests that the loss of a few southern seats on Thursday might not be a crippling wound for the Conservatives, but nor is this temporary.  The Tories will do very well to get many of these council seats back and there may be more to come.

Why there is so much grassroots disquiet at the Welsh Tories’ best-ever Senedd result

12 May

Running the live blog tracking the elections in Scotland and Wales was something of an emotional rollercoaster. Early on, the Conservatives in both nations lost key targets. But in the end, they each ended up either delivering or matching their best-ever performances.

But whilst Douglas Ross’s achievement is near-universally acclaimed, and has cemented his authority in the Scottish party, there is disquiet amongst his Welsh colleagues about their own performance.

On the face of it, this is surprising. After all, at 16 MSs, the Welsh Conservatives have returned their largest-ever Senedd caucus. They have basically managed to win five of the seven seats that UKIP won in 2016, effectively consolidating the ‘unionist right’ in the Welsh Parliament whilst seeing off what looked like a strong challenge from Abolish the Welsh Assembly, who despite strong polling failed to return any MSs at all. Plaid Cymru are now definitively at the Senedd, as at Westminster, Wales’ third party.

The leadership is understandably keen to present this as a triumph. Likewise, some of the MPs are chipper, saying that suggestions the party under-performed “a total press fabrication”. They point out that the vote share is up and delivered a record number of Senedd seats, both of which are true.

So why are others in the party so unhappy? Why are the media headlines about ‘soul-searching’, not success?

In short, because it failed to do what it was trying to do, which was mobilise the mass of support that saw Boris Johnson deliver an exceptional haul of Welsh constituencies at the 2019 general election to change the political map of the Province.

Whilst they did unseat the Liberal Democrats in Brecon & Radnorshire, of the party’s Labour-held targets only Vale of Clwyd fell. Meanwhile Clwyd South, Delyn, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham stayed red, despite having Conservative MPs at Westminster. It was the same for second-order targets Cardiff North and Gower, which had Tory MPs in the recent past.

Those defending the Conservative performance point out that in many cases the Labour MS was returned with fewer votes than the Conservative MP received in 2019, so these should be winnable seats.

But whilst this is true as far as it goes, it only highlights the other big strategic failing of the campaign. It was supposed to mobilise 75 per cent of the voters who back the Tories at the general election. In the end, one source said that “by my calculations we only achieved 52 per cent”. Once again, and for all the grand claims by the devocrats that it should be considered the pre-eminent voice of Wales, turnout for a devolved election failed to reach even half of registered voters, coming in at just 46.5 per cent.

This failure probably hurt Abolish too – it’s no point polling seven per cent if those voters sit it out on election day. And defenders of the campaign point out that it affects all parties.

But there is no denying that it hurts the Tories more. Last Thursday, Labour took 443,047 votes to the Conservatives’ 289,802; in 2019 it was 632,035 to 557,234. Tory MPs tell me their canvassers know voters who turn out not just for Westminster but for local elections, yet sit out the Senedd.

How to mobilise them is probably the biggest single challenge facing any Welsh Conservative leader. But it comes with risks. In order to woo devosceptic voters (not to mention see off Abolish) the Tories ran a strongly unionist campaign on the promise of “no more powers!” – which delivered their best-ever result. They have had to abandon their old ambition to win power via  some sort of deal with Plaid. For the first time, even some of the MS group are devosceptic, in addition to several MPs and much of the activist base.

The long-term consequences of this have been disguised by Labour’s strong showing this time. But it heralds a future Senedd more polarised around the constitutional question. So long as Labour is led by a nationalist such as Drakeford, their only path to holding on to power if their position slips will be a deal with the capital-N Nationalists. Meanwhile there won’t be any shortcuts to power for the Conservatives, who will need to either win switchers directly from Labour or double-down on whatever strategy it takes to get their Cardiff-sceptic coalition to actually vote.

Holding more than a quarter of the seats in the Welsh Parliament is a good result. But polling suggested that the Tories and Abolish between them might at one point have got more than a third. Governing requires winning at least close to half. This election doesn’t create an obvious path to those sort of numbers, which may be why there is such grassroots disquiet at what is, objectively speaking, the Conservatives’ best-ever result at Cardiff Bay.

Newslinks for Wednesday 12th May 2021

12 May

Queen’s Speech 1) The 31 bills, from planning laws to police powers

“The Queen’s Speech outlines 31 bills that MPs and peers will be asked to scrutinise and vote on over the next year. Some are uncontroversial and will move onto the statute book with barely a mention outside Westminster. Others will dominate the headlines for months. So what is Boris Johnson proposing? The biggest shake-up of the planning system in decades would remove the power from local planning authorities to turn down housing developments if they meet set standards and force local authorities to set new zones for housing. The PM is already facing opposition from his own MPs, who fear it could allow big new developments in their areas against the will of local people.” – The Times

  • Johnson vows to harness ‘extraordinary spirit’ of UK’s battle against Covid – Daily Telegraph
  • New laws to protect university free speech – The Times
  • Protect children online or face big fines, tech giants warnedThe Times
  • Sunak wants a clearer plan to improve social care – The Times
  • Online harm law will not be a ‘woke charter’ that encourages censorship, Dowden says – Daily Mail


Queen’s Speech 2) May leads Tory revolt over push for new housing

“Theresa May has said that the government’s Planning Bill will put the “wrong homes in the wrong places” and countryside campaigners said that the reforms would mean “open season for developers” in rural areas. Boris Johnson has set himself on a collision course with Tory MPs after unveiling proposals in his Queen’s Speech to deliver the biggest shake-up to the planning system in more than 70 years. Under the terms of a new bill, land would be designated for either growth or protection, making it easier for developers to secure planning permission for new housing. Ministers are still considering whether or not to include a third, regeneration zone. The prime minister has promised to build 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the decade.” – The Times

Hunt: Our social care problem is now critical… so why the delay in fixing it?

“Leadership often involves banging down doors and making trade-offs so that big issues are tackled head-on. Boris Johnson has defied the sceptics and done just that with Brexit. Voters clearly believe he will do it again when it comes to ‘levelling up’ as evidenced by his stunning victory in Hartlepool last week. But one thing was missing from yesterday’s otherwise packed Queen’s Speech: concrete plans on social care. If ever there was an area we need the same bulldozer spirit to crack a problem that has been ducked by government after government, it is the way we look after older people. I share part of the responsibility for that lack of progress: as health secretary I took legislation through the House of Commons in 2014 to establish a cap on care costs that would mean people didn’t have to sell their home.” – Daily Mail

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I am ‘v free’: Cameron sent 68 messages to ministers and mandarins about Greensill Capital

“David Cameron bombarded ministers and officials with 68 messages about the collapsed lender Greensill, it has emerged, as the scale of his intense lobbying campaign has been laid bare. The communications fired off by the former Conservative prime minister on behalf of the controversial finance firm – totalling up to 19 calls, text and emails in a single day – were published on Tuesday afternoon by a committee of MPs. The Treasury committee, which is one of three Commons select committees conducting an inquiry into Greensill Capital and its collapse, released the messages supplied by Mr Cameron ahead of his appearance before its panel on Thursday.” – Daily Telegraph


Patel faces little resistance as Tories sweep police elections

“Priti Patel has consolidated her power over policing after the Conservatives won 70 per cent of elected police and crime commissioner posts, including 11 gains. Policing experts said that the result, which one PCC called a “blue tsunami”, meant that the home secretary would encounter little resistance from PCCs when implementing her agenda. There are no independent PCCs in England and Wales, compared with 12 nearly a decade ago when the elections were introduced and there was emphasis on keeping party politics out of policing. PCCs oversee the strategic direction of forces, control budgets and have the power to hire and fire chief constables. Conservatives now have the posts in 29 of 41 police force areas.” – The Times

Coronavirus 1) Britain back to normal this year if Covid vaccines keep working

“Britain could be back to normal by the end of the year, the government’s chief pandemic modeller has said. Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that people should return to normal mixing patterns slowly to ensure a third wave was not severe. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said yesterday that the government would be giving people more freedom to make their own judgments about risk as the pandemic eased. “We will be changing the rules to be far more about people taking personal responsibility, exercising common sense according to their circumstances,” Hancock told Sky News.” – The Times

  • Deaths in Britain 7.3 per cent below five-year average as Covid fatalities continue to fall – Daily Telegraph
  • Pfizer asks UK regulator to approve Covid vaccine for use in 12 to 15-year-olds – Daily Telegraph
  • MPs call for more countries to be added to register of ‘safe’ travel destinations to boost economy as we move out of Covid lockdown – Daily Mail

Coronavirus worldwide:

  • Germans fake details to jump queue for Covid vaccine – The Times
  • Lockdown delay cost 2,000 lives, Sweden told – The Times
  • Spain prepares to let British travellers in – The Times


  • Government gamble on working from home risks creating a two-tier Britain – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2) Johnson promises Covid inquiry within a year

“Boris Johnson has committed himself to a “full, proper” public inquiry in the next year into the government’s handling of the pandemic. He said such an inquiry was “essential” and pledged to hold one within this session of parliament. Sessions do not have a fixed length but usually last about a year. Challenged on the timing of an inquiry by Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, Johnson said: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session — yes, absolutely.” He added: “It is essential that we have a full, proper public inquiry into the Covid pandemic and I have been clear about that.” Ministers have repeatedly said that an inquiry should not be held during the pandemic, arguing that it would be a distraction for officials dealing with pressing issues thrown up by Covid-19.” – The Times

No more tax rises if economic boom provides £20bn windfall

“Britain’s booming economic recovery will remove any need for further tax rises this parliament as Rishi Sunak is given a £20 billion growth windfall, according to an analysis of the Bank of England’s upgraded forecasts. With the government facing a series of uncosted spending pressures on welfare, health and other departments, the chancellor is likely to use the headroom in full to meet the Tory pledge to “end austerity” and avoid having to impose a wealth tax. Andrew Goodwin, chief UK economist at Oxford Economics, which carried out the analysis, said: “The prospect of better growth has given him more flexibility. Tax hikes should be off the table, certainly new tax hikes.” The Bank’s latest forecasts, published last week, are more optimistic than those in March from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government’s spending watchdog.” – The Times

  • ‘Nightingale’ effect drives thousands to work in NHS – The Times

EU 1) French ports lift ban on Jersey fishermen landing their catch

“France has lifted a ban on Jersey fishermen landing their catch after the Channel Island granted a two-month delay to the controversial post-Brexit fishing licences. Last week the Council of La Manche, Normandy, prevented Jersey vessels from landing their catches in Granville, Barneville-Carteret and Dielette. The fleet was stopped from landing for around five days, fishermen told The Telegraph, with one actively prevented from landing in Carteret on Thursday. Welcoming the news, the Jersey government said the action was “not compliant” with the terms of the Brexit trade deal – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). But on Tuesday night, the Normandy Fishing committee threatened to block a Jersey freight vessel, the Normandy Trader, from leaving the port of Granville on Wednesday if it attempted to land.” – Daily Telegraph

EU 2) Barnier says France should suspend immigration from outside the EU for five years and warns of migration’s links to ‘terrorist networks’

“Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has called on France to halt migration from outside the EU for up to five years, saying terrorists have infiltrated migration routes. The 70-year-old, who is being tipped to run against President Macron in next year’s election, said the pause is necessary so France can ‘verify, evaluate and if necessary change’ its immigration policies. Mr Barnier, who previously served as France’s agriculture minister, then warned of ‘the terrorist networks which use migratory flows, which infiltrate them.’ France should also push the EU to adopt tougher migration policies at its external borders, he added. His comments came after a group of French soldiers published an open letter to Macron on Monday, warning him of a ‘civil war’, and calling for military action against ‘Islamist’, in another sign of growing tensions in France.” – Daily Mail

Hamas launches more than 200 rockets at Israel as conflict escalates

“Palestinian militants Hamas said on Wednesday that they had fired more than 200 rockets into Israel, in retaliation for strikes on a tower block in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza, which they control. The armed branch of Hamas said in a statement that it was “in the process of firing 110 rockets towards the city of Tel Aviv” and 100 rockets towards the town of Beersheva “as reprisal for the restarting of strikes against civilian homes”. Sirens warning of incoming rocket fire blared in Tel Aviv early on Wednesday, amid the heaviest fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza in years. The sounds of several explosions were heard. Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire on Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded. The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 10 children, according to the Health Ministry. More than 200 people were wounded.” – Daily Telegraph


First decline in private school pupils for ten years

“The number of private school children has fallen for the first time in a decade, according to an annual survey suggesting that a decrease in boarders from overseas is to blame. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) census for 2021 said that last year was the “most difficult period for schools since the Second World War”. Overall there were 5,000, or 1.3 per cent, fewer children being privately educated this January than the previous year, the first decline since 2011. This was despite the sector freezing or even cutting fees during the pandemic. The number of boarders fell by 9,000, or 12 per cent, to 65,000, including those registered with schools and pupils being taught remotely. The number of overseas boarders decreased by 17 per cent, from 29,000 to 24,000.” – The Times


News in brief:

The socially distanced and politically distant Queen’s Speech

12 May

The Conservative Manifesto of 2019 took no risks, precisely because that of 2017 had done – and the gamble failed.  The Tories lost seats because of a social care policy for which the pitch had not been rolled, a fightback against Jeremy Corbyn that was never delivered, and a leader who, in any event, could not persuade.

Boris Johnson is a far more vivid communicator and, as it turned out, an infinitely more cautious politician – as well as one with a compulsion to cheer people up and make them laugh, or try to.  Furthermore, he wanted no distraction at the time from “getting Brexit done”.

This combination of playing it safe and Prime Ministerial ebullience are the parents of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.  It was delivered as the Government faces a double challenge, half of it unforeseen 18 months ago – namely, preparing Britain for the new age of Brexit and the new era after the pandemic (God willing).  Is it up to the challenge?

There are three main reforming responses in the speech.  The first was presaged in the manifesto, and should be deliverable.  The second was too, but may not be.  The third wasn’t.

The first is the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.  This will bring in a lifetime skills guarantee.  Like so much else in the speech, we want to see the details.  But this has the potential to be the most transformational item in the speech, redressing the imbalance that leaves Britain with strong academic but weak vocational education.

Next, the Planning Bill.  We don’t see how all of it can pass the Commons, the Tory majority of 80 or so regardless.  Remember the fate of the algorithm.  And read our summary of this housing debate last year, in which 19 Conservative MPs queued up to complain of “levelling over green fields with concrete”.

Finally, a Health and Care Bill.  No structural NHS reform of any significance was proposed in the manifesto, but Covid showed up the weaknesses as well as strengths of the system.  Is the Government now preparing to exalt co-operation rather than competition – shifting health policy to the left, despite more pressure on the system?

So we have one reform with tremendous potential; one which, through no fault of Ministers, won’t happen (or at least will be watered down), and one which looks unlikely to help access the private suppliers who can help reduce queues.  So much for the principal reforms that are in the speech.  What about the ones that aren’t?  Again, we cite three.

The one identified by nearly everyone is the absence of a Social Care Bill.  But the same newspapers that are lamenenting the absence of a Bill would be denouncing the presence of one, were it there.  There is no way social care can be reformed without more people paying out more money – in tax, insurance or both.  Nonetheless, the moment of decision can’t be postponed forever.

Next, net zero.  The Environment Bill is carried over from the last session into this one.  The Speech said that the Government will “commit the UK to achieving net zero emissions by 2050”.  It does nothing to prepare voters for taxes on their hybrid cars, bans on the oil and gas boilers they use at home, hikes in their electricity bills and measures to deter them from eating meat – all of which are either coming or may.

Finally, devolution.  As one former senior Minister put it to ConHome: “we can’t deliver levelling up, a skills revolution, an industrial strategy and zero carbon from the centre. The new mayors have a convening power: they can get local businesses, the Chief Constable, the NHS bigwigs, the university vice-chancellors, the local enteprise partnerships round the table, and come up with a plan.”

The proposed Devolution White Paper has been through postponements and gone through revisions.  But there is nothing to suggest that Ministers will act with the urgency required – or, indeed, that Downing Street has made up its mind what it wants.  Wanted: not a table d’hote menu which local government must eat off, but an a la carte choice of new powers for them to select from (or refuse).

We don’t mean to imply that the Speech is unpolitical.  In one sense, it is deeply political, and all the better for it: the Government proposes curbing the excesses of judicial review, requiring photo ID when voting and junking the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  The last implies a possible general election in 2023, which this site envisaged when the Budget was delivered.

That mention is a reminder that Bills aren’t everything – even most things.  Secondary legislation, the bully pulpit and executive action achieve at least as much.  So, then: if you roll this Speech, that last Budget and everything else together, is there a plan to deliver the growth without which levelling up, however defined, will be impossible?

Our take on Rishi Sunak’s measures, delivered after the waters had settled, was that they promised “infrastructure spending, possible tax rises, pots of money from the centre for those provincial seats, limited localism, plus some levelling-up but little reform. That’s a mix of pluses and minuses, but not a plan for growth”.

The Speech develops the theme.  It holds fast to the centre ground of politics, as this site and James Frayne identify it: a bit left on economics, a bit right on culture.  On economics, there is the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill (carried over), the post-Brexit Subsidy Control Bill and the Procurement Bill.

The first, the ARPA Bill, sets the tone: it is the Dominic Cummings legacy project, a Bismarkian, state-driven enterprise to discover and market the technologies of the future.  On culture, there is a Free Speech Bill.  Ministers are shy of spelling out the details of the proposed conversion therapy ban (which is wise) and how they will respond to the Sewell Report (which they should do as soon as possible).

Culture and security morph, at least as far as the Speech is concerned, so there’s a Counter China threats Bill, sorry, Counter state threats Bill – not before time.  Elsewhere, there is no sign that Downing Street has yet squared the circle which pits justice for former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland against the independence of its legal authorities.

Chris White wrote recently on this site that “a normal legislative year, running May to April, could expect to have between 20 and 25 bills”.  This Speech lists 28.  One can’t complain of a lack of action, if that is to be defined by the number of Bills in a session, and the Speech looks eerily like the last full one of an electoral cycle, with next year’s tailing off as an autumn 2023 election looms.

Something old, something new, something definitely borrowed, not a lot blue.  That would be one view of a speech that is at once politically focused and politically distant.

Focused, because it fixes on tearing up any obstacles that might inhibit a quick dash to the polls.  Distant, because it is so concentrated on the politics which might deliver another win as to miss policies that could spur national revival. In some cases, like housing, that’s scarcely Ministers’ fault.

In others, the policies are there, or may be – see the lifetime skills guarantee.  For Tories, it is good to have a Prime Minister who cheer us up, and even better to have one who is a winner. But overall, there is a sense of an opportunity missed not so much to level up Britain as to level with voters about the scale and steepness of the challenges ahead.

Daniel Hannan: Super Thursday’s results weren’t a victory for conservatism, but for our leader: Brexity Jezza

12 May

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

It was, as every pundit rushed to explain, an incumbency vote. The Conservatives held England, Labour held Wales and the SNP held Scotland. In a crisis, people rallied to the regime.

Yes. But let’s spell out, in full depressing detail, precisely what kind of regimes they were rallying to. They were rallying to free stuff. They were voting gratefully for administrations that were ladling out grants, subsidies and interest-free loans. They were cheerfully endorsing the idea of being paid to stay at home.

Indeed, they had little option but to vote for these things. Who was offering an alternative? What politician, in the current mood, wants to be the gloomster reminding everyone that accounts must be settled? Who feels like being a Cassandra, droning on about how the debts of the past 14 months will drag us down for years to come? I mean, look what happened to Cassandra.

The rise of big government is paradoxically bad news for Labour. Boris Johnson has always had a thing about bridges, airports and other grands projets. Even before the pandemic hit, the man who once described himself as a “Brexity Hezza” was starting to unscrew the spending taps. But the lockdowns altered the fiscal terms of trade utterly and irretrievably. Not so much Brexity Hezza now as Brexity Jezza.

Corbynistas are claiming belated vindication. “You see? There was a magic money tree after all! Your guy is spending more than our guy ever promised!” Yes, he is. And that is precisely Labour’s problem. How can Keir Starmer – how can anyone – criticise the government for not spending enough? The usual Labour line, namely that they’d be more open-handed than those heartless Tories, is redundant.

If it can’t attack the Government on fiscal policy, what else can Labour go for? Sleaze? Yeah, right, good luck with that. The country decided early on that it was fond of the PM. Sure, he might be seen as a bit chaotic, but he is doing things that people like. At a time when he is leading the UK through a world-beating vaccination programme, moaning about a redecoration that is not alleged to have cost taxpayers a penny is not just pointless, but self-defeating. Labour has made itself look unutterably small during a crisis. Wallpaper for Boris, curtains for Keir.

Green issues, then? Again, forget it. The PM has embraced the eco-agenda as wholeheartedly as any head of government on the planet. Labour would, as voters correctly perceive, pursue the same agenda, but in a less cost-effective and market-friendly way.

With economics, sleaze and environmentalism off the table, Labour is left only with the culture war. Oddly, this is one of the few issues that unites Corbynites and Starmerites. The trouble is, it doesn’t unite them with anyone else. The two Labour factions squabble furiously on Twitter, but both are leagues away from the patriotic working people who used to be their party’s mainstay.

As Khalid Mahmood, the Birmingham MP, put it after the result: “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party”. Mahmood was the first British Muslim MP, and is generally happy to take up causes for his co-religionists outside Birmingham. But he has little time for identity politics – at least, not in the deranged form that the British Left seems hell-bent on importing from the United States. In common with most Brits of all ethnic backgrounds, Mahmood a patriot, proud of having had ancestors in the Merchant Navy in both world wars. That his love of country should set him at odds with the Labour leadership is telling.

The culture war is where Labour is weakest. Corbyn was more or less openly anti-British, siding automatically with any nation against his own, regardless of the issue. Starmer at least sees why this is unpopular, and does his best to be photographed from time to time with flags. But, coming late and awkwardly to patriotism, he offers a slightly cringe-making version. The country at large – not just Labour’s old base, but the 80-plus per cent of us who think that, with all its faults, Britain has been a benign force down the years – senses his inauthenticity. As I write, opinion polls suggest an 11-point Conservative lead.

The combination of social liberalism and extreme internationalism that Corbynites and Stamerites share is, outside a few cities with big universities, unpopular. That may change over time, of course. The historian Ed West, rarely a man to look on the bright side, believes that demographic change will eventually align the electorate with Labour’s purse-lipped culture warriors. The population, he glumly notes, “is going to be more diverse, more urban, more single, more university-educated and more impoverished by rental prices” – all trends that help Labour.

Perhaps so. Indeed, as Henry Hill noted on this site yesterday, the one region of England where the Conservatives have started slipping is my old patch, the South East. Local election results saw reverses in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire and (by extrapolation from the new boundaries) Buckinghamshire. But, to be brutally frank, it makes little difference. Under the first-past-the-post system, the Tories can slide a lot further in the Home Counties without endangering more than three or four MPs. For the next couple of election cycles, at least, the Long Awokening won’t much matter.

No, far more alarming is the way in which fiscal conservatism has simply disappeared, an early casualty of the lockdowns. Even as the country reopens, there is almost no talk of cutting spending back to where it was, let alone of starting to repay our debts. Just as after 1945, a collective threat has made us more collectivist. We crave big government. We feel we have earned a pay rise, and we vote accordingly. The Labour Party may have had it; but so, alas, has the free market.

Radical: The criminal justice system has been thoroughly captured by gender-identity ideology

12 May

Kate Coleman is Director Keep Prisons Single Sex.

In February 2021, the Judicial College published a revised edition of the Equal Treatment Bench Book. It’s been significantly updated, at almost double the length of the previous edition.

The Bench Book aims to advance fundamental principles of fair treatment and equality. It suggests steps for judges to redress inequality arising from difference or disadvantage, to ensure fairness for all those engaged in legal proceedings.

While not intended as an expression of the law, it states “judges [and other court officiants] are encouraged to take its guidance into account wherever applicable. [The Bench Book] is increasingly cited in judgements and by practitioners as to the approach to be adopted”.  

Chapter 12 is entitled “Trans People”. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, and the law is clear that no individual should be discriminated against based on gender reassignment. The inclusion of this chapter is therefore appropriate. 

However, in common with much current policy and guidance across public and private sectors, this chapter is steeped in the ideology of gender identity, which is unquestioningly presented as uncontested fact. This “institutional capture” has been comprehensively discussed elsewhere

The Bench Book goes far beyond appropriate and reasonable steps to ensure that transgender individuals engaged in legal proceedings don’t suffer disadvantage and are treated with respect and assisted in participating fully. Instead, the law is misrepresented, with judges urged to act according to these misrepresentations.   

The first inaccuracy occurs early in Chapter 12, and informs much of what follows: “The Gender Recognition Act (2014) (‘GRA’) enables transgender people to change their legal gender by applying to the Gender Recognition Panel for a Gender Recognition Certificate (‘GRC’).  […]  A person who has been issued with a full GRC is entitled to be recognised in the gender stated on their certificate for all purposes…” 

This ignores provisions in the GRA that allow, for example, a male in possession of a GRC stating that legal recognition of female gender has been obtained, to be lawfully treated differently from biological females. Possession of a GRC expressly does not affect recording of parenthood, for instance. The possibility of being convicted of a crime defined as one that only a male can commit is unaffected by possession of a GRC, as is the possibility of being the victim of a crime defined as one of which only a female can be the victim. Primogeniture is unaffected. Males with a GRC can be excluded from “gender affected sports” for females where necessary to ensure fair competition and/or competitor-safety. 

The Judicial College also ignores the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act, which permit males to be excluded from single-sex spaces where this is a proportionate means to a legitimate aim.   

The Judicial College gets the GRA wrong again in respect of section 22 of the GRA, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose “protected information” that an individual has obtained or applied for a GRC, where that information was acquired in an official capacity. The Bench Book is correct that it is not an offence to disclose such protected information where required for court proceedings. However, Section 22 includes other circumstances where protected information may be disclosed, including for investigating crime, and for the purposes of the social security or pension system — which The Bench Book disregards. 

Most importantly, disclosing information concerning someone’s transgender status can only be criminal if that information was acquired in an official capacity. This is contrary to the widespread belief, often reflected in policy and guidance, that it is an offence to reveal that someone is transgender, regardless of the basis on which this information was acquired.  Moreover, section 22 self-evidently does not apply to information about a transgender person who has never applied for a GRC.   

This misunderstanding of section 22 creates a chilling effect. Citing section 22, The Bench Book states “the court may consider making reporting restrictions under Section 4 of the Contempt of Court Act (1981) to prevent disclosure of a transgender person’s previous name and transgender history, or it may direct a private hearing”.

Judges are instructed in the book that “deadnaming” (using or referring to a transgender person’s previous, now rejected name) must be avoided, as it is “highly disrespectful and may well be inhibiting and possibly humiliating to a witness”. Again, support for this is claimed, questionably, from Section 22.   

Judges are informed that it is “rare” that the biological sex of a transgender person will need to be referred to in court. The motives of those who seek to do so are disparaged: judges are advised that “It is important to be alive to the fact that the gender history of a person may be something an opponent litigant may seek to use in order to place pressure on them…”.  

Reflecting a widespread tendency in policy and guidance (though not the law, which does not recognise self-ID) the Judicial College states that it should be possible to recognise a person’s gender identity and their present name for nearly all court purposes, regardless of whether they have obtained a GRC and without any further inquiry. Further inquiries are discouraged on the grounds that these would be “intrusive and offensive”, and (the book claims) may constitute a breach of the individual’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.   

The cumulative effect is that a person’s gender identity is to be accepted on the basis of self-ID, transgender people are to be considered to be the sex they identify as for all purposes, and referring to their former name or biological sex, or using pronouns appropriate to that sex, are potentially criminal acts. The motives of counsel who consider biological sex or transgender history to be relevant are viewed with suspicion. Reporting restrictions or private hearings are suggested.   

The criminal justice system has been thoroughly captured, therefore, and is in thrall to gender-identity ideology. Even before this latest Bench Book was published, female pronouns and names were consistently used to refer to male offenders who identified as transgender, by defence, prosecution, judges, and witnesses, including when the male in question was on trial for serious sexual offences. All with questionable legal basis. 

This matters fundamentally because it communicates a lie. It matters in court when victims and witnesses are instructed that the evidence they give must be “respectful of pronouns”.  Victims of violent offences have been compelled to use female pronouns to refer to their male attackers. Males convicted of sexual offences against children have been referred to at trial as female. Where do the limits lie concerning who will be compelled to describe their male attacker as a woman?  

Words are powerful, and the drip-drip effect of repeated reporting that serious violent and sexual offences have been committed by women distorts our understanding of the known differences between patterns of male and female offending . This affects our thinking about risk and safeguarding. Transparency and openness in judicial processes are important principles. It should only be in rare and carefully justified circumstances that the right to privacy requires reporting restrictions or a private hearing. Referring to biological sex, ‘misgendering’ or ‘deadnaming’ are not such circumstances. 

The Judicial College, and the individuals who contributed to this edition, should be accountable for what is, at best, carelessness of the law. We are all equal before the law, but it appears that the Equal Treatment Bench Book would have it that some are more equal than others.