Robert Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 6) Dehenna Davison

4 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School

Number 24 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Dehenna Davison

In the 2019 intake of new MPs, Dehenna Davison stands out. At number 24, she’s the highest-ranked of the new members on this list.

Since her election, she has moved a long way ahead of the competition, with over twice the follower count of the second highest (Joy Morrissey) of the freshman Conservatives. Her current ranking also puts her ahead of many big names, including Liam Fox, Esther McVey and Brandon Lewis.

Davison is the first Conservative to represent Bishop Auckland, taking it by a swing of 9.5 per cent. The seat had been held by Labour since 1935. And she’s been working hard to solidify her hold on the seat.

Davison takes after Jacob Rees-Mogg, her former boss and Leader of the House, in her ability to cultivate a strong social media following. With high-profile appointments already under her belt, it’s highly likely that her success will only continue. As a newly elected member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a member of the Immigration Bill Committee, her constituents will be satisfied to have elected a member who has taken so quickly to her parliamentary duties.

She has stuck to the party line and her attacks of the opposition have been sharp and well-delivered. At other times, her tweets are deeply personal and give her followers an insight into her life outside of the House. Davison has been the stand-out performer of 2019’s new intake of Conservatives. Expect big things ahead.

Newslinks for Saturday 4th July 2020

4 Jul

‘Eat out to help out,’ Sunak ‘pleads’…

“Britain needs to start spending in pubs and restaurants again to prevent a generation of young people being “lost” to coronavirus, the chancellor has declared. Rishi Sunak suggested in an interview for The Times that it was the nation’s duty to “relearn what it’s like to go out again” to avoid a jobs meltdown that will hit the young and low-paid hardest. With figures showing that savings grew five times more in May than on average before the pandemic, Mr Sunak called on people to start spending in the hospitality industry, which opens up today. The chancellor said that he was “worried about a generation that is scarred by coronavirus”.” – The Times

  • Johnson urges public to ‘enjoy summer safely’ as pubs get ready to reopen… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and warns of local lockdowns ‘for some time to come’ – FT
  • Whitty: ‘None of us believe this is a risk-free next step’ – Daily Mail

More:

  • Drinkers with £60m to spend will prop up their landlord – The Times
  • Pubs in England can open from 6am on Saturday, government says – The Guardian
  • Seven police officers are injured trying to break up block party – Daily Mail

…as he reportedly considers wage support to people in work

“The Treasury is considering proposals to “flip” the furlough scheme and provide wage support to people in work instead, as Boris Johnson hinted support for some sectors may be available after October. Sources close to Treasury discussions said officials are examining options to incentivise employers to keep staff in work after the furlough scheme ends. These include suggestions to switch from the current system of subsidising wages of people who are not working, to instead providing money to employers who put their staff back into work. Under one option, this could involve covering a proportion of staff wages – likely 10 per cent – for employers in certain sectors who retain staff in their jobs.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Six month stamp duty holiday could be introduced later this year – The Sun
  • Mass redundancy feared in Scotland as Johnson ‘rules out new help’ – Daily Express

Editorial:

  • Evidence suggests the economy could bounce back quickly – The Times
  • Let’s drink today to our freedom – The Sun

Priti Patel: Enjoy yourself this weekend – but please do it safely and responsibly

“Many of us will be seeing friends and family for the first time in months. Others will be returning to work or reopening their doors for business. But while these welcome steps will help restore a sense of normality to our lives, it is crucial that we stay alert while the virus is still present in our communities. We cannot jeopardise the hard work and sacrifices we have all made – not least those made by our NHS and care workers – through irresponsible behaviour and carelessness. And we must not forget that this disease has cost tens of thousands of lives in this country alone. Our thoughts remain with all those mourning the loss of loved ones, and we owe it to everyone who has suffered not to let our guard down now.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Tories will rue caving in over food vouchers – Matthew Parris, The Times
  • The Boris Johnson plan is far from conservative – Camilla Cavendish, FT

Photograph ‘links Blair to pro-China 48 Group Club’

“A photograph of Tony Blair at a meeting of powerful pro-China lobbyists has surfaced days after he claimed he “was not linked to them”. The revelation follows Mr Blair’s denial to The Times that he was associated with the 48 Group Club, which has been accused of grooming Britain’s elites to advance Beijing’s interests, after it named him as a fellow. The Times has discovered the photo of the former prime minister with Stephen Perry, a British businessman and chairman of the organisation, at an event for its youth wing in 2010. The club took down its website this week after a book describing alleged Chinese influence networks was published.” – The Times

  • UK can’t stop China’s ‘misuse of data’ if Huawei deal goes ahead, US warns – Daily Telegraph
  • Britain’s armed forces pivot east to face growing China threat – FT
  • Chinese students in Britain ‘told to serve motherland’ – The Times

Comment:

  • Hong Kong’s security law is a global problem – Juliet Samuel, Daily Telegraph
  • Britain is under attack from a meddling and bullying China – Edward Lucas, The Times

Johnson says he’s ‘more optimistic’ than the EU over sealing a trade deal

“Boris Johnson said he is “more optimistic” of doing a trade deal with the EU than the bloc’s chief negotiator. Michel Barnier said that Britain should take more note of the bloc’s red lines and said “serious divergences remain.” But the PM insisted he would not back down on taking laws from the European Court of Justice and handing over fish stocks. However, Boris added: “I’ve had some very good conversations with my friends and colleagues in the EU and I’m a bit more optimistic than Michel is on those grounds… It comes as International Development secretary Liz Truss will also reveal that Britain will be doing “mammoth” trade negotiations around the Asia-Pacific region over the next 11 months at a Policy Exchange event.” – The Sun

  • Furious French ‘set to block ports’ as EU trade talks collapse – Daily Express

More:

  • Johnson would probably not have run a department under Thatcher, says Tebbit – Daily Telegraph

Welsh and Scottish leaders attack foreign travel plans

“The full list of 59 countries which will be exempt from the quarantine from July 10 has been published by the UK Government. The long-awaited list of “travel corridor” countries includes Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as further afield locations including New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea. Greece is also on the list, despite Grant Shapps saying this morning it would not be. However, the US and China are among those not to appear – although Hong Kong and Macau have been included. Portugal is also not on the list, which you can read in full below. The Government has been accused of “shambolic” handling of the air bridges system, however, by not one but two leaders of Devolved Administrations.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Portugal blasts ‘absurd’ England quarantine measures – FT

More:

  • Northern Ireland deputy leader refuses to quit in funeral row – The Guardian

Gove: ‘Dominic Cummings is valued by Boris Johnson for his blistering honesty’

“Dominic Cummings is valued by Boris Johnson because he is “blunt to the Prime Minister” and displays “blistering honesty”, Michael Gove has said. Mr Gove, who has worked with Mr Cummings for a decade, said Mr Johnson and his team valued Mr Cummings “real originality” when developing policy ideas. Tory MPs have expressed their frustration over Mr Johnson’s refusal to sack Mr Cummings after his 200 mile journey to Co Durham when Britons’ movement was restricted during the coronavirus lockdown hit the party’s popularity in the polls. However, in an interview on Times Radio with former Tory politician Michael Portillo, Mr Gove lifted the veil on the appeal of Mr Cummings to Mr Johnson and his team.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sedwill’s resignation shows a hard rain is already falling on Whitehall – The Times

Patel ‘called for new lottery rules after meeting with Desmond’

“Priti Patel lobbied for a relaxation of lottery rules that would have benefited a Conservative donor after they met privately. In a Westminster Hall debate in December 2017 Ms Patel echoed Richard Desmond’s call for a large increase in the jackpot and sales limits for society lotteries such as his own Health Lottery. She later tabled written questions in the Commons and met a minister in order to push for the changes. Sir Henry Bellingham, who was a Tory MP at the time and called the adjournment debate, said that Ms Patel “was very involved” in the campaign to change the rules. “Priti was out of her job as Department for International Development secretary at the time of the adjournment debates, so she joined in and helped me,” Sir Henry said.” – The Times

  • Home Secretary accused of ‘shameful’ bid to deport girl at risk of FGM – The Guardian

NHS seeks teenage volunteers to join as ‘cadets’

“The NHS is launching a “cadet” scheme in an attempt to put thousands of teenagers on the path to careers in the health service. Young people will shadow staff and volunteer in hospitals, performing tasks such as delivering patient meals, as well as learning first aid skills and receiving leadership training. The programme is modelled on long-running cadet schemes in the police and military. It is particularly seeking entrants from marginalised backgrounds, including teenagers from black or other ethnic minorities, and those not in education, employment or training. Officials are keen to increase the number of “home-grown” staff coming into the health service. There were more than 100,000 vacancies before the pandemic hit.” – The Times

  • Nurses call on Johnson to turn applause for NHS into immediate pay rise – The Sun
  • Why NHS staff are more fearful than festive on ‘Independence Day’ – FT
  • Hancock reveals his own struggles with coronavirus – Daily Mail

More policy:

  • Push for selective sixth forms to improve education in north – The Times

UK to enter satellite race after winning bid for OneWeb

“Britain is set to go head to head with Elon Musk’s Starlink in the race to beam high-speed internet connections from space after the UK government’s joint $1bn bid with India’s Bharti Enterprises won an auction for satellite broadband operator OneWeb. If the bid is approved by a US judge next week, the British government will invest $500m for an initial stake of about 45 per cent in OneWeb, a lossmaking company that runs a low-earth orbit satellite broadband network. The government’s stake could still fall as discussions are under way with other potential investors to raise further funds of up to about $1.5bn, people close to the subject said.” – FT

  • Sharma: deal underlines Britain’s global ambitions – Daily Express

The return of the rave should put nightclubs on the Government’s radar

4 Jul

When I borrowed the interviewer’s chair for the Moggcast earlier this month, I took the opportunity to ask about the Government’s approach to the nightlife industry.

My concern was that as lockdown gradually eases, there was a danger that particular groups or sectors risked getting left behind, trapped in a system which is gradually getting less onerous for society as a whole.

Of course, clubs aren’t the only part of the cultural sector under threat: some theatres are already closing. And it isn’t difficult to see why the Government isn’t in a hurry to let nightspots re-open, as their high-footfall, low-margin business models are almost uniquely ill-suited to the era of social distancing.

But clubs pose a challenge which things like theatres don’t, namely that young people seem decidedly unwilling simply to wait for the Prime Minister’s say-so to go out.

Instead, frustrated clubbers are helping to fuel a dramatic resurgence in illegal raves. (Wildcat stagings of popular plays and musicals are not yet in evidence.)

This isn’t entirely a new phenomenon. The UK rave scene has endured, albeit with a much lower profile, since its Nineties heyday, sustained by a backbone of amateur enthusiasts and privately-owned soundsystems. These events occasionally get shut down by the police but are no scourge on society.

Yet there is a big difference between this semi-private fringe and a party scene which replaces shuttered clubs outright. Larger crowds of less-experienced party-goers means an increased likelihood of injury and crime, not to mention much greater disruption to nearby communities.

If this situation continues over the summer, it also becomes more and more likely that organised crime will start moving into this space. Such groups can clear huge sums off ticket sales, use their events to push drugs, and have the infrastructure to rebound from equipment seizures or other setbacks in ways the amateurs can’t.

Worse still, if dire industry predictions do come true and hundreds or thousands of nightlife venues shut their doors, the gangsters moving into the party scene could be well-positioned to buy up vacant clubs and move into the official scene when Covid restrictions are finally eased.

Speaking on LBC today, the Prime Minister was pressed on the timeline for opening various businesses, including gyms. But there is little sign that clubs, which probably lack much of a constituency at Westminster, are on the Government’s radar: Resident Advisor notes that the ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ document mentions them only once. This needs to change.

There may not be a good answer. It is indeed difficult to imagine how such venues could operate with social distancing in place. But this must be weighed against not only the relatively low risk Covid-19 poses to the young, but the obvious fact that they appear ready and willing to take those risks with or without the Government’s permission. The question isn’t whether people will go out this summer; it’s who profits.

David Gauke: I fear the Conservative Party is lost for small state free marketeers and One Nation social liberals

4 Jul

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

Are we seeing a fundamental realignment of British politics? It is a question that has often been asked in the wake of last year’s general election in which Boris Johnson won an 80 seat majority on the basis of winning traditionally Labour seats in the midlands and northern England.

During the last two weeks, we have seen three pieces of evidence suggesting that we are seeing such realignment.

First, a report by Matthew Goodwin and Oliver for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation studying the election . Goodwin and Heath make the case that in 2019 the Conservatives established a 15-point lead over Labour among people on low incomes (the first time in recorded history that the Conservative Party has outpolled Labour among people on low incomes); the Conservatives are now more popular among people on low incomes than they are among people on high incomes, whilst the Labour Party is today just as popular among the wealthy as it is among those on low incomes; consequently, both the Conservatives and Labour have inverted their traditional support base; and that Labour must improve its offer to low income voters and the Conservatives must work hard to retain their support.

Second, a report by UK in a Changing Europe which was discussed by its Director, Anand Menon on this site
This report compares the attitudes of MPs, party members and voters, by asking each group a series of questions about fundamental ideological attitudes on a left-right spectrum for economic issues and a liberal-authoritarian spectrum for social issues.

It reveals that, on social issues, the Conservatives at all levels are relatively united (MPs are a bit more socially liberal than Conservative voters) but, on economics, there is a much bigger divide, with Conservative MPs are a long way to the right of Conservative voters.

But perhaps most interesting of all (if not altogether surprising), were the survey responses for those voters who switched from Labour to Conservative at the last election. These are the people who decided it and, in all likelihood, will decide the next one.

On social issues, these voters were slightly more authoritarian than Conservative voters as a whole and a lot more authoritarian than Conservative MPs; on economic issues, they were to the left not just of the typical Conservative voter (who, remember, is somewhat to the left of Conservative MPs) but of the average voter.

The lesson for Labour from both analyses is straightforward. If it wants to win back the support of those Red Wall voters who switched to the Conservatives in 2019, the party should avoid the culture wars. When the Left go woke, their voters walk. It is lesson that Keir Starmer, who is trying to steer through the Black Lives Matter controversies with caution, appears to have learnt.

What about the positioning of the Conservative Party? This brings me to the third piece of evidence of realignment in British politics – the recent rhetoric from senior members of the Government embracing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal. First, Michael Gove and then Johnson went out of their way to endorse FDR’s approach to an economic crisis, provoking free marketeers like Daniel Hannan and Ryan Bourne to point out (correctly) that the US’s economic record in the 1930s was much worse than that of the UK’s, and that many of the President’s policies were deeply flawed.

Of course, one can simply shrug off the talk of being Rooseveltian as a rhetorical flourish (the measures announced by the Prime Minister were limited but perfectly sensible), and there is a strong economic case to the effect of there being a vital role for active Government in the current circumstances.

Nonetheless, the references to FDR are consistent with a Government that is essentially tacking Left on economic measures. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that it is tacking Right on social measures. And if it wants to retain those low income, Red Wall, Labour switchers who delivered the Prime Minister his Parliamentary majority that seems to be the sensible approach. Hug those voters close and give them what they want. It was an electoral strategy that worked in 2019 and, the argument goes, should work again in 2024.

There are, however, risks.

When it comes to pursuing a socially authoritarian agenda, this may well appeal to the new Conservative voters, but it could come across as divisive and mean-spirited to the wider electorate. For younger and better-educated voters, it can contaminate the brand. One shouldn’t carry the parallel too far, but being a cultural warrior doesn’t look as though it will guarantee Donald Trump re-election in November.

On the economy, Conservative MPs are more right wing than the new Tory voters not out of spite or contrariness, but because they believe that the best way to create wealth is to have a flourishing private sector, that the market is generally more efficient at allocating resources than Government, and that one person’s prosperity does not cause another person’s poverty.

This raises two problems. Either Conservative MPs ‘do not want to meet the losers of globalisation halfway’ (to use Matthew Goodwin’s phrase), which causes a political problem, or they will accommodate the views of these voters, which will cause economic problems.

Economic nationalism, a hard Brexit, high levels of Government borrowing, and more taxes on the wealthy and big business may well be popular with these voters, but it is not consistent with a dynamic, open and enterprising economy. As many of us used to argue against Labour politicians who themselves argued in favour of some of these measures, pursuing left wing economics makes working class voters poorer.

Then there is the question of competence. People decide on how they vote on the basis of a combination of factors. Partly it is economic self-interest, partly about values. But there is also a sense of whether the individuals concerned are trusted to be up to the job. Politics has changed a lot in recent years but there has traditionally been reluctance in the British voter to trust social authoritarians or economic left wingers. Politicians that just reflect back the views of voters can, ultimately, be perceived as insincere and insubstantial. And when it comes to competence, Keir Starmer will set the bar much higher than Jeremy Corbyn.

Those are the risks. But what choice does the Conservative Party have? The nature of the coalition of support it created in 2019, built on the basis of ‘getting Brexit done’ and successfully capturing large numbers of northern and midland low-income Labour voters, means that a return to a more traditional, liberal, middle-class Conservatism would doom dozens of newly elected MPs. If Boris Johnson wants to retain the Red Wall (or, if he prefers, consolidate the Blue Wall), the war on the woke and Rooseveltian economics is the way forward.

If you are a small state free marketeer, or a one nation social liberal, it is a depressing conclusion to reach. But when it decided to be the Party of Brexit, when it decided that it should focus on Red Wall voters, the Conservative Party made its choice. I fear it is too late to turn back.

Facebook, Liz Truss and future challenges with the internet giants

3 Jul

In recent weeks, Facebook has been up against huge pressure to control hate speech and groups on its site. Much of this increased after President Donald Trump posted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, in response to protests in Minneapolis, on both Twitter and Facebook. The aftermath exemplified, among many things, that the two dominant social media sites had taken very different strategies to tackling inflammatory content.

Twitter went for the cautious approach. It added a warning label for the post to say that it had glorified violence, and hid the content unless it was clicked on. Facebook, on the other hand, kept Trump’s post up, on the basis that it was not an incitement of violence, but an announcement of state use of force.

Facebook’s “hands-off” approach to Trump only changed when a number of powerful companies pulled out of advertising with the site, such as Coca-Cola, Verizon and Ford, in a campaign co-ordinated by Stop Hate for Profit. Some have called these organisations opportunistic – Covid-19 has eaten into advertising budgets, and surely any company will jump on the chance to look socially righteous – but it’s still an expensive wobble that Facebook no doubt wants to avoid.

As a result, the social media has said that it will add a label to tell people that content may violate its policies; it’s a watered down version of what Twitter is offering. Even so, Zuckerberg has been fairly resilient in dealing with Stop Hate for Profit, which has set out a list of content it wants gone from Facebook and other sites. Zuckerberg said that he would not change Facebook’s policies; that he thinks advertisers will be back “soon enough”, and that he remains committed to democracy and free speech.

In spite of this, one strange area Facebook has increasingly delved into is political affairs, especially in anticipation of the upcoming US election. Some of this is to right the wrongs of 2016, in which there was foreign interference, with Russia attempting to “undermine the voting power of left-leaning African-American citizens, by spreading misinformation about the electoral process”, among other activitiesFacebook has since spent “billions of dollars in technology” and hired “tens of thousands of people” to fix this. (Incidentally, the UK is still waiting for its report on the alleged Russian interference in politics to understand the extent of it here.)

But more strikingly, Facebook has ventured into interventionist territory, with the new aim to “help 4 million people register to vote”. In doing this, Zuckerberg is taking the organisation much further away from its initial design. Many users, like myself (aged 17 when it first came out), will think of it predominantly as a tool for making friends online and posting photographs; a type of social peacocking, in many ways.

Zuckerberg, however, clearly has more profound visions. He says he wants to boost “authoritative information” for voting that he expects “160 million people in the US to see”. The goal sounds altruistic on the face of it, but it also poses big questions, like, who gets to categories “authoritative”? And should social media giants be involved in democracy at all?

Increasingly there’s been accusations from conservatives that in delving into the political realm, social media sites tend to show biases in favour of liberals, most notably Trump, who said “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH” after it fact-checked one of his Tweets. 

One writer suggests that out of “22 prominent, politically active individuals who are known to have been suspended since 2005 and who expressed a preference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 21 supported Donald Trump”. In UnHerd, the author and commentator Douglas Murray goes further, revealing his own suspicions that Twitter is penalising right-leaning writers, such as hiding “likes” (a way of showing support for posts) from their posts.

Some say that there is no evidence of social media biases, with Kevin Roose, a tech journalist, noting yesterday that the best performing accounts on Facebook are all conservative. A tech expert tells me that the “exact opposite viewpoint (of social media bias) is shared in various countries, where the view is that the anti-capitalist left is censored by American tech giants”.

None of this has reassured Trump, however, who is proposing a bill to make social media giants take legal liability for material that their users post. But this could crush free speech, to a certain extent, making companies more likely to remove content to protect against litigation.

Even if there is not algorithmic censorship, many people were concerned last week after Google UK launched into Liz Truss, the Conservative MP, on social media. On June 18 it posted a petition trying to lobby her on the Gender Recognition Act.

This event should have rung serious alarm bells; a tech giant coming for a Conservative politician is seriously bad news, although – tellingly – there was a dearth of news stories about it. One suspects if Google UK had attacked a Remainer politician on refusing to leave the EU, it would have received the proportion response. This was, after all, perhaps the world’s biggest holder of personal information interfering in UK democracy.

One concern that has been pointed out repeatedly about Silicon Valley, and its companies, is that the demographic make-up of its tech talent could influence the ways in which content is censored. Even Zuckerberg has called it “an extremely left-leaning place”, and many will wonder how this affects their role in deciding the terms of “offence” on social media sites, and otherwise. 

In the UK, perhaps the most significant issue is that we are just so removed from these authors of our (online) reality, even if they have domestic offices. We know little about the algorithms they use – and it suits tech companies this way, limiting others’ abilities to get into the sector.

Here brings us to the biggest question: how should UK politicians deal with Facebook and other tech giants? Much of the focus on these companies has been on their involvement in elections, but they also have an impact on Joe Bloggs’ income, too, as one report by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) elucidates on.

It points out that Google has “more than a 90 per cent share of £7.3 billion search advertising market in UK, while Facebook has over 50% of the £5.5 billion display advertising market”. The report suggests that by dominating the market, these organisations control the default prices for advertising, which are arguably higher than they need to be – and in turn effect the consumer, as advertisers keep their product costs high.

CMA sets out numerous ways in which the Government can start to break up these giants and encourage competition. It is quite alarming in the ways in which it highlights tech giants’ control over many things – from prices, to regulation. And all of this has to change.

Ultimately, along with the current 5G issues the Government is dwelling on, they are going to increasingly need the knowledge, and foresight, to intercept some of these tech powers before they become so dominant as to make their powers irreversible.

Already the Government has found that Apple stifled the approach it wanted to take to contact tracing, and this is just a taste of what’s to come – as the tech giants, sometimes working in conjunction, block out competition. There is a mammoth amount of information to take on board, changing all the time. Along with Brexit and Coronavirus, Tories will have their work cut out.

Natasha Hausdorff: Ministers must set an international example and support Israel’s latest proposals

3 Jul

Natasha Hausdorff is a barrister and a Conservative activist. She specialises in international law, foreign affairs and national security policy.

Last week saw Rebecca Long-Bailey’s removal from her post, as shadow education secretary, for sharing an antisemitic conspiracy theory linking Israel to the death of George Floyd in the US.

But is it truly that surprising that conspiracy theories against Israel abound, across a range of left-wing campaigns, when even this Conservative Government has fallen into the trap of propagating falsehoods against the Jewish State?

The Government has sadly been misinformed on the proposal Israel is to consider this week: to apply Israeli civilian law to parts of Area C in the West Bank. The move is consistently misrepresented as “annexation” and a “violation” of international law.

Both allegations are false. The misconceptions betray a concerning level of ignorance, but most importantly, they prevent the formulation of sensible foreign policy on the part of the UK.

There is an urgent need to realise that what is being considered is a change to the internal administrative legal framework in certain parts of Area C of the West Bank, which would replace military law with the civilian law that applies throughout Israel – benefiting all inhabitants of the affected area.

The existing framework was intended to be temporary, but it has been dragged out for 53 years, through decades of failed negotiations. It is regarded as an inadequate and antiquated administration, comprising a confusing patchwork of Ottoman, British Mandate, and Jordanian law as well as aspects of international humanitarian law.

The British Government’s current approach rejects fundamental principles of international law and deploys double standards against Israel. Any legal analysis of the status of the disputed territory cannot ignore the basic principle that a country cannot be said to “occupy” territory that does not belong to another sovereign and to which it has a credible claim of title.

The UK certainly does not recognise Palestinian sovereignty over the territory. Israel has the strongest legal claim to the territory, based on a fundamental principle of international law governing the formation of new states and the delineation of their boundaries.

The universal rule for determining borders for emerging states, ‘uti possideitis juris’, dictates that they inherit the administrative boundaries of the prior administrative entity. Israel was preceded by the ‘Mandate for Palestine’, which was established by the League of Nations and administered by Britain. As the only state to emerge from the Mandate in 1948, international law dictates that Israel inherited the Mandate’s administrative boundaries.

This principle provides that the territory concerned has been under Israeli sovereignty since Israel’s independence. Even if the territory is politically disputed, the legal principle is clear. The term “annexation” is fundamentally misconceived.

The principle that a new state inherits the borders of the last top-level administrative unit has been universally applied upon the independence of new states, including to the emergence of states in Asia, Africa, South America, and from the former Soviet Union. The one and only exception now appears to be with respect to the establishment of Israel.

However, the record on this point was straightened in November last year when Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, clarified that Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law. This repudiated the conclusions of a 1978 State Department memorandum, which had, by its own reasoning, been overtaken by the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan.

The West has little leverage over terrorist organisations and rogue regimes. So far as negotiations are concerned, it is Israel that is expected to make concessions that are damaging to its security and that seem to reward terror and incitement to violence. When generations of Israelis have witnessed every compromise lead to more blood on the streets, it has become harder and harder to explain why the next time will be different. The three election results in the past year and the decimation of the traditional left-wing parties clearly illustrate this point.

The policy of “land for peace” (where Israel hands over land and the Palestinians promise peace) has been revealed, through the Oslo Accords and the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, to be a gargantuan failure. And yet successive Israeli governments have sought further negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, in the hope that further concessions on security will lead to a renunciation of violence by the Palestinian Authority.

The real danger here is that the misrepresentations, together with calls for the unilateral surrender of Israeli territory, hamstring the Palestinians. Advancing positions that misstate international law, demand unrealistic concessions, and call for unachievable goals, fundamentally weakens the negotiating position of the current, or future, Palestinian leadership by setting a high bar from which they cannot deviate without being accused of treachery.

Mahmoud Abbas has already made it clear that it is impossible for him to demand anything less than the positions for which certain elements of the international community clamour, impracticable and fanciful though they may be.

It cannot be over-stressed that, contrary to much of the rhetoric, the proposals with respect to Area C would not prejudice future negotiations in any way. Any proposals around a two-state solution have envisioned sovereign Israeli territory being transferred via land-swaps; most recently, the ‘Trump Plan’ envisages significant parts of undisputed Israeli sovereignty territory in the Negev being transferred in that fashion. Israel has negotiated over land to which its law applied in full and has shown every intention of continuing to do so.

It has been the unwavering position of the parties, and the international community, that a final peace settlement can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations. If there is even the slightest chance that these proposals may bring the Palestinian leadership to the negotiation table, then they merit the full support of the international community.

Labour clearly have a long road ahead in recovering from the anti-Israel obsession that has engulfed the party for so long. This Conservative Prime Minister should be leading by example.

Angela Richardson: Recovery cannot come a moment too soon for the performing arts

3 Jul

Angela Richardson is the Conservative MP for Guilford.

The performing arts has had the most profound impact on my life. Music dominated the landscape of my early years with a piano beautifully played by my mother, cornet and trumpet by my father and the sound of his lovely tenor voice.

We gathered, often with extended family around the piano to sing and I would have my afternoon nap as a toddler on a pile of cushions with classical music on the record player. My siblings would cringe as they heard me trying to learn how to sing harmony with the headphones on, the relevant melody silenced, but hours in childhood were devoted to learning how to express everything I could hear, even if it took time to make the mechanical side of producing it work.

There were many reasons to start attending my local Baptist Church in West Auckland, New Zealand as a twelve year old, including social ones. But in my most straightforward of ways, I went up to the pianist after the first service and started singing while he played, was given a microphone the following week and spent the rest of my teenage years up the front, with the band, as well as rehearsing several times a week. My dearest friendships were formed through music.

My parents were not devotees of the performing arts. It was an anathema to them and I had to audition for school plays without their permission, being cast at thirteen in productions that were the preserve of the senior students.

The frustration of being handed a choice between studying music and drama at fifteen was unbearable. My parents strongly lobbied for music and I acquiesced, though luckily enough for me, my state school offered Dance in sixth form and I countered with studying that for a year at sixteen. I’m sure many families have been through this tussle with their teenagers.

Through working life and early parenthood, opportunities to perform were few and far between. Life is about seasons and this period was particularly dry on the musical and theatre front until I moved with my husband and children to the small and lovely village of Ewhurst in Surrey, which is blessed to have the most astonishingly wonderful Ewhurst Players. Multiple NODA award-winning productions and a genuine centre of our village life.

It’s easy to lose your confidence when you have been at home looking after small children with a significant narrowing of horizons and I give huge credit to the Ewhurst Players with helping me rediscover mine and ultimately stand for public office.

In 2012, I plucked up the courage to audition for their Diamond Jubilee Review and they welcomed me with open arms. The bug hit hard and I auditioned and was successfully cast in almost every production over the next six years and turned my hand to directing a pantomime for five to nine year olds and a short adult play, having a go at ever including vocal coaching an adult pantomime and prompting from the wings.

This new family was full of the most wonderful characters, bringing joy, laughter and moments of profound understanding of the human condition to our audiences drawn from near and far.

It’s this most important facet of connection between us all that has been sorely missed over these many weeks of lockdown. While many innovative and dynamic production companies in Guildford have moved elements of performance online, the understandable frustration of being one of the last cultural gems to come out of lockdown is taking an enormous toll on the industry, professional and amateur.

So, too, is the genuine financial concern of these companies and their players. We have the brilliant Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford Shakespeare Company, The Guildford Fringe, The Electric Theatre and the renowned Guildford School of Acting to name but a few.

The heroic endeavours of the Treasury to mitigate the economic impact of Coronavirus have been rightly hailed as extraordinary. The DCMS Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, has signalled a roadmap for the recovery of the performing arts and pockets of funding have been received through generous grant schemes.

But I fundamentally agree that solid detail which I know is being worked on a speed needs to come sooner rather than later. Recovery cannot come a moment too soon.

I try to take the personal out of the political and look at the overall cost/benefit analysis to society and the unintended consequences in all we do. I do have a personal stake in this, but I know and I am sure that many will agree with me, that their lives are richer for the Christmas pantomimes they have attended, their own chance to shine in their primary school nativity play or the musical festivals or rock concerts that mark a summer on the cusp of adulthood, never forgotten.

Nor will many forget the first time they ever saw ballet, opera, Shakespeare or attended a Proms Concert and sang Land of Hope and Glory at the top of their lungs while conducting the orchestra with a Union Jack in hand.

Our rich cultural heritage and ground-breaking performances are as much of the beating heart of this country as is our economic prosperity. It is part of our global soft power and the sooner we can have both running successfully in tandem, the sooner we will thrive once again.

Robert Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 5) Steve Baker

3 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 14 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Steve Baker

A prominent Eurosceptic in a seat which narrowly voted to remain, Baker’s majority has fallen during recent elections. From a high of 28.9 per cent in 2015, it dropped to 7.7 per cent in 2019. But the verve with which he has pursued his cause has not eased, and he completed his second tenure as chairman of the European Research Group in February.

Baker previously held a junior ministerial position in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) but resigned shortly after David Davis stepped down as Secretary of State.

During the Conservative leadership contest he briefly considered running and received some positive press, but ultimately threw his weight behind Boris Johnson. When offered the opportunity to return to DExEU as part of the Johnson government, he turned it down.

The backbenches suit him well, and he has used his prominent position to drive support for Johnson’s deal. An influential voice and well respected, Baker is highly principled, putting his beliefs ahead of short-term career opportunism. But his singular mission has failed to win over many of his constituents. He also needs to find a way to stay relevant as we move to the lengthy process of renegotiating our place in the world.

He balances his tweets between popular sentiment and nuanced discussions. He’ll certainly have plenty to discuss in the coming years, but it is uncertain whether he and other prominent Eurosceptic backbenchers will continue to wield the same clout. But given our unprecedented opportunity to reshape our role on the global stage, there will be plenty of time to craft a positive, unifying message.

The Government toughens up on school reopenings

3 Jul

Public compliance has been essential in the Government’s fight against Coronavirus, and although it has arguably been successful in imposing lockdown, getting life back to normal looks rather more challenging. Case in point: the enormous difficulties the Education Secretary has had in trying to reopen schools.

After months of confusion and resistance from parents, teachers, unions, the Labour Party, and seemingly everyone with an opinion, Gavin Williamson put his foot down earlier this week.

On LBC, he said that parents who would not send their children back to school in the upcoming academic year (beginning September) would be fined, unless they have a “good reason” or subject to a local spike. It’s the first time the Government has exerted real authority on the matter. 

Crucially, the Government substantially enhanced its guidance for how schools can reopen safely. Some of these steps include administering Covid-19 tests to all schools and colleges, creating “bubbles” between year groups so that they have different lunch and break times, and adapting classrooms, so that windows are open and tables are facing the same way.

Even so, one suspects that the unions still won’t be happy… One of the worst parts of the school saga is that it was completely hijacked by their noisy selves. At every step, they polarised the issue to deeply unhelpful levels, including telling teachers not to engage with planning officials, in doing so obscuring the voices of those who wanted to work through perfectly reasonable concerns.

One worry was simply about consistency in health advice. As one headteacher told ConservativeHome a few weeks ago: “it’s quite worrying when the Government guidance goes from ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives, do not go anywhere near anybody’ to then suddenly ‘actually you don’t really need to socially distance with little ones anyway, so it will be fine’. That doesn’t feel like a confidence-giving statement.”

Many felt that the guidance had not gone far enough – and lacked a realism about young children’s ability to socially distance.

Moreover, the headteacher said that the Department of Education had been poor in terms of educational resources, adding: “nowhere… does it say what schools should be doing to provide online provision for children who are not at school. So every school in the country has translated that differently and is offering something different, and it becomes a pure lottery.”

Such concerns – that the schools closures were highlighting inequalities in the educational system – became central to more recent debates on reopening schools. There’s a sense that the focus has shifted, with the societal consequences of staying off school (domestic violence, mental health, parents’ inability to work, and the rest) outweighing the direct health risk of Covid-19, hence why the Government has now offered a £1 billion Covid catch-up package – in addition to £14 billion being invested over the next three years.

Much of the Government’s insistence on schools going back is no doubt directed by health experts’ increasing belief that children do not transmit, or pass, Covid-19 to the same extent as adults; a phenomenon increasingly highlighted through the safe reopening of schools elsewhere in Europe.

But, as with all things Coronavirus-related, there are no certainties, so the Government cannot reassure teachers and educational staff in the way it would like. Ultimately it’s worth remembering, though, that it cannot legislate around every difficulty that this virus might bring, and at some point we are – not just schools – simply going to have to get on with things.

Labour, too, has to take responsibility for the difficulties in reopening schools. The party saw the issue as a political football from the start, allowing the unions to dominate the Left’s response. For all who hoped of some national solidarity during a pandemic, watching these unhelpful criticisms – especially given the socioeconomic damage leaving schools closed will cause – was deeply depressing.

Even now Kate Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, has laid into Williamson on fines, warning that they will affect poorer patients. But faced with some of the biggest resistance in the Covid-19 crisis – and an issue that’ll leave all children worse off for years, the Education Secretary simply had to get tough. “About time,” many will think.