Alexander Woolf: My economic views are mainstream – but have been almost impossible to air at Britain’s universities

2 Aug

Alexander Woolf is a PhD researcher in political economy and a former parliamentary assistant. 

During my years as an undergraduate politics student, I gradually learnt how writing assignments from a free market perspective was like asking to be failed. By my final year, I acquiesced to writing through a socialist lens and I received high Firsts every time.

The fact that I had to pretend to be somebody else in order to succeed frustrated me and violated every belief I had about individuality and meritocracy. At that moment, I decided that my career goal would be to enter academia and teach political science objectively, helping students to understand not just the few flaws of capitalism but also the many benefits. Like today’s political philosophers and political economists, I would continue to teach Marx, but I would also teach Hayek, Mises, Smith and Rothbard. After all, what is education when it is only half-taught?

After finishing my degree and my Masters, and gaining a few years’ experience of working in Parliament, I was accepted on to a PhD course, the final step towards entering the academic world. Finding a British university as a Conservative, libertarian, or classical liberal is no easy feat. I was told by every like-minded scholar I encountered to apply for King’s College in London or cross the Atlantic to attend George Mason University in Virginia. Anywhere else was a waste of my time.

This seemed strange to me. My views about the economy are mainstream among economists and businesses, who champion a system of limited government involvement. My views about wider issues are also shared by the majority of British voters, who have elected Conservative governments for the last decade – and even delivered an unexpected Brexit result. However, I was told that people like me are unwelcome in the vast majority of political science departments in this country.

Despite being driven for so many years to help correct the ideological bias in our universities, I still hadn’t fully grasped the gravity of this problem. As soon as I started my PhD, I grabbed the first opportunity to teach by becoming a seminar tutor. I was given classes in a module called “The Politics of Global Capitalism”. Despite the objective title of this class, however, I soon learnt that the lecturer in charge of the module is a proud Marxist. In our introductory meeting, the lecturer joked how he hoped the students would “throw their iPhones out the window and raise the red flag” by the end of the semester.

In hindsight, I should have recognised the red flag that was raised by his ideological comments and dropped the class, but this just made me more determined. And since Tory students are highly unlikely to secure funding from the ESRC funding council, I frankly needed the money.

I was pleasantly surprised during my months of teaching subjects how mature, rational and open-minded the students can be. However, my Marxist class had two self-confessed communist students who were problematic, to say the least. Other students would confide in me that they felt uncomfortable getting involved in discussions because these students would shout people down, scoff and laugh at them, or call them stupid.

During one particular rant about how “we” should raid businesses and seize their profits, before kicking Jeff Bezos out of the country (for what reason, I’m still unsure), I decided to probe with some intellectual questions. What signals would it send to other businesses? What would happen to our economy when we’re seen as a volatile place to invest? I received no response.

Within one week, I was informed that two students had complained about me for being biased, and since the lecturer had let me teach on the assumption that I was also a socialist, I was advised to drop the class. As with the 2011 riots and the militant tactics of Momentum, the theme is clear: when socialists inevitably lose an intellectual or political debate, they turn nasty.

However, two 18-year olds aren’t the problem here; the responsibility lays with our educational institutions. Students learn what they are taught, and if they are only taught by socialists, then we can’t be surprised when they refuse to tolerate a conservative teacher.

Universities were founded as institutions for creating new ideas and spreading knowledge, but our social science faculties peddle propaganda and incite young people with their own prejudices. My university department, for example, has a research centre dedicated to furthering “public understanding of politics”, an important and admirable task. The fact that this centre is named after a socialist, however, raises serious questions about whose understanding is being publicised.

Approaching the final year of my PhD, my desire to teach has evaporated and I have turned down offers to tutor again. I came to realise that the lack of “people like me” in academia stems from the fact those people don’t want to work in the modern-day university; ones that pride themselves as being “safe spaces”, but safe spaces for whom, when evil, climate-destroying Tories are not welcome? Why would anybody subject themselves to this kind of work environment?

There is cause for conservatives to be concerned about the future of voting in this country. Yes, it’s a blessing that a centre-left Keir Starmer is Britain’s current worst-case scenario, considering his predecessor. However, we cannot forget the perplexing irony that tech-savvy millennials were captured so easily by Corbyn’s 1970s solutions to modern world problems.

The next generation of voters won’t know how socialism worked out in Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba. They won’t understand that government bureaucrats can’t design a smartphone to rival the iPhone. They won’t realise that arbitrarily punishing businesses might mean an end to the next-day deliveries of their favourite products, forty-minute deliveries of their favourite restaurant food, or instant streaming of their favourite TV shows.

Economic knowledge is important in an advanced economy, and this knowledge needs to be based on facts rather than myths or ideological hyperbole. If we want to ensure that the next Jeremy Corbyn suffers the same fate as the last, it is vital that we ask questions of our schools, colleges, and universities about the accuracy and objectivity of their lessons and lectures on issues of citizenship. Opponents will say that this threatens independent science, but what I have seen both as a politics student and teacher is far from science.

Newslinks for Sunday 2nd August 2020

2 Aug

Tory ex-minister arrested over rape

“A former minister has been arrested after a woman in her twenties accused him of rape, sexual assault and coercive control. The Conservative MP was taken into custody early on Saturday and was still in a police station in east London by late afternoon. The complainant, a former parliamentary employee, accuses him of abuse during a relationship last year. She alleges that the MP assaulted her, forced her to have sex and left her so traumatised that she had to go to hospital. The Metropolitan police said they had launched an investigation. They said: “On Friday, 31 July, the Metropolitan police service received allegations relating to four separate incidents involving allegations of sexual offences and assault.”” – The Sunday Times

>Yesterday

“Rogue SAS Afghanistan execution squad” exposed by email trail

“Incendiary documentary evidence has emerged in a British court in which allegations are made about a “rogue” SAS unit accused of executing civilians in Afghanistan. The evidence had been withheld from earlier proceedings of the legal case, prompting a judge to demand a full explanation from Ben Wallace, the defence secretary. The cache of emails, notes and reports from inside the SAS — the like of which has never been seen before — reveal that special forces commanders were highly concerned about the killing of more than 33 people in the space of three months during night raids on their homes. There was a particular pattern in which men were captured and then killed when the SAS sent them back into their houses at gunpoint. The Sunday Times has pieced together the disturbing evidence, which raises serious questions about whether war crimes have been covered up.” – The Sunday Times

Johnson to begin biggest overhaul of the planning system since the Second World War

“New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be given an automatic “permission in principle” in swathes of the country, under Boris Johnson’s plan for the biggest overhaul of the planning system since the Second World War. The Prime Minister is preparing to slash red tape to produce “simpler, faster” processes as part of a “once in a generation” reform of the system. It will see the entire country split up into three types of land: areas designated for “growth”, and those earmarked for “renewal” or “protection”. Writing in the Telegraph, Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, describes the country’s planning system as “complex and slow”.” – Sunday Telegraph

Jenrick: Radical and necessary reforms to our planning system will get Britain building

“During lockdown many readers will have spent more time at home than ever before; a home can be a haven, that provides financial security, roots in a community and a place that a family can call their own. But our country’s outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t. Half as many 16-34 year olds own their own homes, compared to those aged 35-64. While house prices have soared since the Millennium, with England seeing an increase at one of the fastest rates in Europe, our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.” – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 1) Millions of over 50s could be told to stay at home and shield

“Boris Johnson has ordered officials to draw up “nuclear” plans to prevent another nationwide lockdown, which are expected to mean that millions more people over the age of 50 will be asked to stay at home if local crackdowns like the one in the northwest last week fail to curb a second wave of the coronavirus. The prime minister convened a war gaming exercise last Wednesday in No 10 that could also pave the way for draconian travel restrictions in and out of London and at Britain’s airports if the virus flares up in the capital. When the prime minister paused the lifting of the lockdown last week he compared the prospect of a full national lockdown to a “nuclear deterrent” that should be used only as a last resort.” – The Sunday Times

  • People aged between 50 and 70 would be given personalised risk ratings – Daily Mail
  • More people dying of bowel cancer than Coronavirus, statistics show – Mail on Sunday
  • WHO disease detective warns against return to national lockdowns – Daily Telegraph
  • Bradford’s Eid celebrations cancelled after “every street” has a death – Sunday Times

Coronavirus 2) Track and trace fails in 50 per cent of “easiest” cases

“The government’s £10bn contact-tracing programme failed to reach almost half the contacts named by infected patients in “non-complex” cases — including people living under the same roof. The outsourcing giants Serco and Sitel are being paid £192m to provide 18,500 call handlers who are responsible for tracing non-complex contacts referred to them. “Non-complex” cases, such as when the infected person came into contact with a friend, are dealt with by the two firms, while “complex” ones involving a potential outbreak in a school or workplace are referred to experienced Public Health England teams.” – The Sunday Times

  • Antibody coronavirus tests fail to work for a large number of people – because they only have a mild infection – Mail Online
  • Northern England witnessing “last ripples” but not a second wave – Sunday Telegraph
  • Hairdressers might be passing on Covid to customers because of “inadequate” visors, ministers warned – Sunday Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) Ministers “considering” a “part-time rota system” for schools in September

“Downing Street has moved quickly to try to reassure exasperated parents that schools will open full-time again in the autumn – despite reports that Ministers were considering introducing a ‘part-time rota system’ in September. Many working parents were left infuriated by mixed messages from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson over whether full-time schooling would return before the summer holidays, and now they’re left wondering whether it really will start again this year. Yesterday, it was claimed that there were ‘murmurings’ in Whitehall that schooling would still only be part-time when pupils returned from their holidays, as Ministers struggle to plan for what they fear will be a second wave of the virus. But a senior source said: ‘The Prime Minister is absolutely committed to the full re-opening of schools.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Pubs might have to close to control Coronavirus, says Sage adviser… – The Guardian
  • … as bar bosses warn ministers that new closures “will destroy jobs” – Mail on Sunday

Coronavirus 4) Care home testing pledge abandoned

“Ministers have abandoned a key pledge to test all people in care homes regularly throughout the summer, plunging the test and trace system into chaos. In a leaked memo sent to local authority chief executives on Friday night, Professor Jane Cummings — the government’s adult social care testing director — said “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being torn up because of “unexpected delays”. Regular testing of almost two million residents and staff was supposed to have begun on July 6. But Cummings said it would not reach all care homes for older people and those with dementia until September 7.” – The Sunday Times

Truss “warned” she faces Tory rebellion unless she guarantees protections for British farmers

“Liz Truss has been told to beef up post-Brexit protection for British farmers or face a ‘brick wall’ of Tory rebellions. The International Trade Secretary was warned to expect a fresh revolt from Tory MPs unless she guaranteed ‘in law’ not to sell out the UK’s world-class food production standards in a trade deal with the US. The warning comes despite Ms Truss unveiling a commission last week to advise on forthcoming trade deals. It also follows repeated pledges from the Minister, a free trader, that she would never let down UK farmers by allowing in ‘unsafe’, cheaper US-made food – such as hormone-fed beef or chlorinated chicken – to secure a lucrative trade deal with Washington.” – Mail on Sunday

Gandhi to become first non-white person on British currency

“Mahatma Gandhi is set to be the first non-white person to feature on British money, the Telegraph can reveal. The Royal Mint Advisory Committee is working to create a coin featuring the anti-colonial campaigner, who led the protest against British rule in India. It comes as Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, on Saturday threw his support behind a campaign for BAME figures to feature on coins, saying their contribution to Britain should be recognised. In a letter to former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi, who is leading the We Too Built Britain campaign which has called for ethnic minority people to feature on currency, Mr Sunak said: “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom.” – Daily Telegraph

Over-75s’ TV licence scheme in chaos as BBC demands to see bank statements

“The BBC’s move to make over-75s pay for television licences descended into farce yesterday after the website crashed as soon as the charge was introduced. Viewers trying to pay were greeted with a message that said the service was “temporarily unavailable while we update it for the changes to over-75 licences”, before the site was restored last night. The Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock described the situation as “farcical”. “We said this would be an administrative nightmare and that has proved to be the case,” he said. “It will also cause distress among some elderly people who are already worried about how they will pay.”” – The Sunday Times

The Met spent £1.5 million policing the Black Lives Matter and counter protests

“Black Lives Matter UK is to announce on Tuesday how it will spend the £1 million it has received in donations. A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign started by the activist group on June 2 has attracted more than 35,000 donations totalling £1.17 million. But BLM UK has revealed GoFund-Me is holding on to the money until it explains how it will be distributed. The group has been criticised for a far-Left policy agenda, which includes tearing down capitalism and abolishing the police, and its lack of transparency. Beyond founding member Joshua Virasami, 30, little is known of the identities of its ‘core’ leadership.” – Mail on Sunday

Carrie Symonds “stopped” fiancé Boris Johnson ditching transgender reforms, say Tory MPs

“Boris Johnson developed cold feet about scrapping reforms that would make it easier for people to change their legal gender after being influenced by his fiancee Carrie Symonds, Tory MPs have claimed. The Prime Minister had been expected to declare that the Government was abandoning moves to allow transgender people to change their birth certificates without a medical diagnosis. However, that announcement was postponed at the last minute earlier this month. It was a blow to Cabinet Minister Liz Truss, who has been fighting a ‘culture war’ within Whitehall to stop the rules being relaxed to allow biological males who identify as women to use female facilities such as lavatories.” – Mail on Sunday

Natalie Elphicke inherited Dover seat in “coup”

“Natalie Elphicke inherited her disgraced husband’s safe seat without an open selection contest in a move described by critics as a “House of Cards-style coup”. The Conservative MP ended her marriage of 25 years last week, only minutes after her husband, Charlie, was convicted of three charges of sexual assault and was told he faced prison. He is the first MP to be convicted of sexual assault since 1962. Elphicke defended her husband for 2½ years after the allegations emerged. She had claimed the Tories threw her husband “to the wolves”, before ultimately securing the candidacy for Dover and Deal, the 12,278-majority seat he had represented since 2010.” – The Sunday Times

Taxpayers lose millions on Trainline ticket sales

“The newly nationalised railways are losing tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by paying the Trainline booking service up to 9% commission. Under the terms of the emergency state support at the start of the pandemic, all revenues generated by train companies go to the government, but this does not apply to commissions paid to Trainline. When a passenger books a ticket via Trainline, the Treasury receives less than if the passenger had booked direct with the rail operator. The revelation will put Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, under pressure to renegotiate its fees as he prepares to extend support for the railways beyond the current six-month deal. Industry sources expect emergency measures to stay in place until September 2022.” – The Sunday Times

Brexit peer Claire Fox still wants to abolish Lords

“Just 11 months ago, Claire Fox was still expressing her opposition to the House of Lords. Now, the former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who has long bemoaned the unelected elites of the upper chamber, is set to don an ermine gown, one of the 36 new peers named by the government on Friday. Even on a controversial list, Fox stands out. She has moved from the RCP via the BBC to the Brexit Party, and will now become a non-affiliated peer. She said yesterday that she still wanted the Lords abolished, but would now make that case from inside the chamber.” – The Sunday Times

>Today

Unite sounds warning over Labour antisemitism payouts

“Labour’s biggest union backer will review its political donations in light of Keir Starmer’s decision to pay damages to ex-staffers who claimed the party had not dealt with antisemitism, its general secretary has warned. In an interview with the Observer, Unite leader Len McCluskey said there was “no doubt” the union’s ruling executive would be demanding a review of the millions it donates to the Labour party in the wake of the six-figure settlements. “It’s an abuse of members’ money,” he said. “A lot of it is Unite’s money and I’m already being asked all kinds of questions by my executive.”” – The Guardian

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon head for new showdown

“Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is heading for a showdown with her former boss Alex Salmond, who is said to be prepared to release documents pointing to a conspiracy against him. The ex-SNP leader was acquitted of sexual assault charges in a trial earlier this year. Sturgeon is now set to testify under oath in a parliamentary inquiry into her administration’s flawed complaints procedures, which led to the prosecution. Sturgeon will be pressed on what she knew and when about complaints made against Salmond, whom she served as deputy first minister from 2007 to 2014.” – The Sunday Times

News in brief:

Neave. Berry. Gow. Three Conservative MPs whose murders a new peer believes were justified.

2 Aug

When next the Prime Minister takes to the despatch box, he may if he has a few moments cast his eyes around the edge of the House of Commons. If he does, he may note that some of the decorative shields around walls have been painted in.

These are tributes to Members of Parliament who have been killed whilst serving in that role. With pre-emptive apologies for butchering the proper heraldic terminology, three of them in particular should weigh on his conscience.

Of these, one sports a black cross and five golden fleurs-de-lys on a white field, topped with a crown. This represents Airey Neave, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and Conservative MP for Abingdon. Murdered by the IRA in 1979.

The next has a field of red and gold stripes, on which is displayed a white triangle containing three black birds. This represents Sir Anthony Berry, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate. Murdered by the IRA in 1984.

Finally, the third features a simple blue field, on which is displayed a golden monogram of the letters IREG, in a laurel wreath. This represents Ian Gow, PPS to the Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Eastbourne. Murdered by the IRA in 1990.

(Depending on how you assess the relationship between the parties at the time of his assassination, we might also count the shield of Robert Bradford, Unionist MP for South Belfast. Murdered by the IRA in 1981.)

These memorials invite us to reflect. On the individuals the commemorate. On the causes they served. On why their careers ended with a painted shield in the House of Commons, rather than retirement. Especially today, when a Conservative Government has elevated to the peerage a woman who believes that the people who killed Neave, Berry, and Gow were right.

Claire Fox is no stranger to this controversy, which Sunder Katwala has thoughtfully outlined on Twitter. It already received plenty of coverage when she stood to become a Brexit Party MEP for Warrington, despite her defence of the 1993 IRA bombing in the town which killed two people – one of them the 12-year-old son of a fellow Brexit Party activist.

The arguments are the same. Fox does not support republican terrorism post-1998. But she believes it was justified before 1998. That these MPs, and the IRA’s many other victims, were legitimate targets.

She believes this belongs in the past. And to an extent, that’s right. It is a nasty but inescapable reality of any peace process that it involves a certain amount of letting go. Fox is an engaging speaker, energetic activist, and a popular figure on the libertarian right. She runs a successful think-tank, was returned to the European Parliament, and enjoys a high media profile.

But there ought, surely, to be some limits, if not to Fox’s ambitions for public life then at least to a Conservative Prime Minister’s willingness to facilitate it. The limits of justifiable rapprochement do not extend to a seat in the House of Lords.

There is a strange symmetry to the fact that the only other ‘Non-affiliated’ political peerage has gone to Charles Moore, Thatcher’s great biographer and one of the most anti-IRA journalists in Britain. How he feels about this pairing is anyone’s guess, but it symbolises – in a more visceral way than Boris Johnson’s u-turn over the Irish Backstop – just how much of a gulf there really is between today’s Party, or at least its leadership, and that which fought the IRA to the table between 1979 and 1997.

Airey Neave. Anthony Berry. Ian Gow. Three elected Conservatives who paid the ultimate price for our Party’s commitment to defending the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland’s place in it, from republican terrorism. If there is any good to come from this appointment, let it be that it prompts us to remember their sacrifice and their cause.

If the Prime Minister looks a smaller man today than before, it is because he stands in the shadows of giants.

Dom Morris: The focus on physical contest is compromising national security. An upcoming review must change that.

2 Aug

Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.

It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.

I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.

The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?

Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.

We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.

It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.

We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!

The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.

Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.

This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.

Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.

Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.

Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:

1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.

2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.

3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.

4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.

5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.

6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.

7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.

8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.

9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.

10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?

11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.

Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)

Breaking news: Conservative MP arrested – accused of rape, sexual assault and coercive control

1 Aug

The Sunday Times reports that a former minister has been arrested “after a woman in her twenties accused him of rape, sexual assault and coercive control.”

The MP was taken into custody earlier today, and was still in a police station by late afternoon. He has been accused of abuse during a relationship with the complainant, a former parliamentary employee.

“She alleges that the MP assaulted her, forced her to have sex and left her so traumatised that she had to go to hospital”, writes The Times. The Metropolitan Police has since launched an investigation. Of the incident, they said:

“On Friday, 31 July, the Metropolitan police service received allegations relating to four separate incidents involving allegations of sexual offences and assault.

“These offences are alleged to have occurred at addresses in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney between July 2019 and January 2020.

“The Met has launched an investigation into the allegations. A man was arrested on suspicion of rape and is currently in custody in an east London police station.”

Chris Newton: In imposing new Coronavirus restrictions, the Government isn’t doing anything it said it wouldn’t do

1 Aug

Dr Chris Newton is a historian and a former defence policy adviser in the Conservative Research Department.

Boris Johnson announced on Thursday evening that the Government will impose new Coronavirus restrictions in parts of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire a few hours before it was enforced at midnight.

In addition, on Friday, the Prime Minister announced that he is postponing the reopening of “high-risk settings” (including casinos, skating rinks, and bowling alleys) in England, originally planned for August 1, for a fortnight.

Keir Starmer and Labour, while agreeing with the restrictions in the north, criticised how the announcement was made, which they claimed was on Twitter and at short notice, and called on the Government for “urgent clarity and explanation”.

The criticisms about the short notice the Government gave for the North of England have some merit, although the Government has published clarifications and answers on its website.

Moreover, Labour’s condemnation should be tempered by the fact that swift action in response to spikes was what it had been demanding.

Another criticism, especially on social media and one raised during the Prime Minister’s press conference on Friday, is that these announcements represent the failure of Johnson’s plan for easing lockdown. They show that the Prime Minister has been too optimistic, that easing lockdown has been premature, and that he should not have announced his timetable so far in advance.

This argument is, however, less convincing. The recent measures should not surprise anyone who follows the Government’s statements, for local lockdowns and timetable postponements were built into its strategy.

On July 17, Johnson set out his plan for further relaxations, including the re-openings on July 25 and those originally set for August 1. During this statement, he warned:

“Now I must stress, the timetable I am about to set out is conditional. It is contingent on every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly. It relies on our continued success in controlling the virus. And we will not proceed if doing so risks a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS”.

Johnson also acknowledged that: “I know some will say this plan is too optimistic, that the risks are too great”. Nonetheless, he accepted that his plans would have to change if there was a significant rise in the infection rate:

“And of course, if they are right in saying that, and we cannot exclude that they are, let me reassure them, and reassure you: that we will not hesitate at any stage to put on the brakes”.

He reiterated that “from May 11 onwards, this plan has been conditional, and it remains conditional”. Johnson also set out the Government’s guidance for containing future outbreaks. These included giving new powers to local authorities, as well as establishing powers for central government intervention.

Therefore, at no point did the Prime Minister say the timetable was guaranteed, and the Government has not announced anything it said it wouldn’t do.

Johnson has “put on the brakes” as he indicated.

As Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, stated on Friday: “we all know that what we have to try and do is to get to the absolute edge of what we can do in terms of opening up society and the economy without getting to the point where the virus starts to take off again”.

No-one knows where that “absolute edge” is until it has been reached. Faced with a dramatically shrinking economy and rising unemployment, the Government tested what was possible until it reached that edge. In order to balance opening up the economy as well as keeping infections as low possible, its approach has been incremental, flexible, and fluid.

Its strategy was always going to be modified by unexpected developments, what military theorists call “friction”.

This is a crisis that no post-war government has faced. Coming out of lockdown puts us into unknown territory, and no doubt the Government has made mistakes purely because it is dealing with a new, uncertain situation.

It is right that it is held to account over its decisions and communications during this crisis in time.

However, analysis and criticism should not only take the enormous challenge into account, but also be based on what the Government has actually stated.

Those expecting that the easing of lockdown would follow a simple, linear path are being unrealistic and are not portraying the Government’s plan accurately.

Newslinks for Saturday 1st August 2020

1 Aug

Prime Minister ‘slams brakes on easing of lockdown’

“Boris Johnson has postponed easing the coronavirus lockdown and readied the country for an autumn without seeing friends or family. The prime minister warned of “trade-offs” ahead yesterday and delayed the lifting of restrictions in England for at least two weeks after a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases. At a Downing Street press conference after households were banned from meeting each other at home in parts of the northwest, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, bluntly warned that the country had “reached the limits” of reopening… Mr Johnson said the return of pupils was a national priority but that in other areas freedoms were “conditional”. Privately, government sources say that No 10’s strategy is to keep schools open, even if that means reducing the freedom of households to socialise, to allow workers to keep the economy moving.” – The Times

  • 36 hours that ‘forced Johnson to put the brakes on’ – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Handbrake’ turn on restrictions evaporates Downing Street ebullience – FT
  • Follow rules to avoid second national lockdown, Government warns – The Guardian
  • Businesses ‘warn they face ruin’ – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: Local lockdowns are dispiriting – but there are reasons to be hopeful about the battle against Coronavirus

Whitty’s ‘trade-offs’ warning could mean pubs closing so schools can open

“Britain has “probably reached the limit of opening up society” and will only be able to open schools in September by trading some existing freedoms, the chief medical officer has warned. On Friday, Professor Chris Whitty said Britain had gone as far as it safely can to restore normality and may now have to sacrifice existing freedoms, such as the reopening of pubs, to stem the spread of coronavirus. “We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” he told a hastily-convened Downing Street press conference… Opening up schools is “an absolute priority”, Prof Whitty stressed, echoing the words of Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Britain records highest daily spike for a month – Daily Mail
  • Furlough scheme wind down sparks UK job fears – FT
  • Hancock is confused by ‘crystal clear’ new local lockdown rules – The Sun

Home Nations:

  • Sturgeon urges Scots not to travel to Covid-hit parts of northern England – Daily Telegraph
  • Wales to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions despite England ‘pause’ – The Guardian

Comment:

  • If you think this is bad, just wait for winter – James Forsyth, The Times
  • The northern lockdown represents government failure – Devi Sridhar, The Guardian

>Yesterday: MPs Etc: “We must be focused and we cannot be complacent.” The Prime Minister’s statement – full text

Britain could face ‘London-style riots within days’

“Britain could be rocked by riots within days amid growing tensions over local lockdowns, Government advisers have warned. Inequalities fuelled by the virus have left the UK “precariously balanced” and at risk of disorder that threatens to overwhelm police. The violence may be worse than that seen during clashes in 2011 and “catastrophically undermine” the country’s recovery plans. It would require military intervention, send Covid infections spiralling out of control and hinder the revival of the economy, it is claimed. The fears are detailed in documents published today by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). The papers, considered at a meeting on July 7, say local restrictions, racial inequalities, protests and street parties have sent tensions soaring.” – The Sun

  • Police condemn Johnson’s order to enforce mask and social distancing rules – Daily Mail
  • Coronavirus raves and protests may need army, advisers warn – The Times
  • Officer injured in mass street brawl – Daily Mail

More:

  • ‘Heartless and reckless’ to force shielding people back to work, says TUC – The Guardian
  • Tory MP sparks racism row after claiming the ‘vast majority’ of rule-breakers are BAME – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Dr Chandra Kanneganti: The Coronavirus challenges I’ve seen as a doctor and a councillor

Johnson loyalists ‘rewarded with peerages’

“Boris Johnson has appointed 36 new peers to the House of Lords, including several notable Brexit campaigners, two former Tory chancellors, supportive allies from his time in London City Hall, and his former editor. The list of peerages, granted by the Queen on Friday, also included Evgeny Lebedev, Russian proprietor of the London Evening Standard newspaper and son of a former KGB agent, former cricketer Ian Botham and Ruth Davidson, former head of the Scottish Tory party. Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, who were both thrown out of the Conservative party in September for voting against Mr Johnson on Brexit, were readmitted to the party and given peerages that are typically given to former chancellors. Former ministers Patrick McLoughlin, Nick Herbert and Ed Vaizey will also be given positions in the Lords.” – FT

  • New peers include brother, a former Tory treasurer, and a union firebrand – Daily Telegraph
  • Son of KGB agent handed a seat in the Lords – The Times
  • May’s husband Philip and Brexit backers are handed honours – The Sun
  • How much will 36 new peers cost the UK? – Daily Express

>Today: MPs Etc.: Hammond, Stuart, Davidson, Hoey. Johnson, Fox… but no Bercow. The new peerages for the House of Lords.

Andy Beckett: Why are the Tories so tight with veterans of the Revolutionary Communist Party?

“This similarity is less surprising once you know that a former RCP member, Munira Mirza, is head of the Downing Street policy unit, and probably Johnson’s most important adviser after Cummings. In an article for Grazia magazine this year, Johnson called her “extraordinary”, “ruthless”, and one of “the five women who have shaped my life”. On Friday another RCP veteran, Claire Fox, was nominated for a peerage by the government… Journalists have periodically probed the methods and motives of the ex-RCP network. Much less attention has been paid to why the Tory party and press have become so keen on them. What does the ascent of Mirza and her comrades tell us about modern Conservatism?” – The Guardian

Ross ‘poised to become leader’ of Scottish Conservatives

“Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, is expected to be appointed as leader of the Scottish Conservatives as the party scrambles to reverse a steep fall in popularity before the Scottish election in May. The party plans the quickest possible coronation for Ross, who confirmed on Friday he would stand after Jackson Carlaw’s shock resignation on Thursday night. Party officials are trying to dissuade other people from standing to avoid a delay in Ross’s appointment as leader, after a series of opinion polls showed a majority of voters are backing Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party. Ross confirmed the previous Scottish leader, Ruth Davidson, had agreed to take first minister’s questions for the Conservatives until the next Holyrood elections, but will not assume the role of interim leader or act as Ross’s deputy.” – The Guardian

  • Tories ‘admit independence the majority view’ – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Why are liberals so happy to be associated with Sturgeon’s brand of nationalism? – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph
  • If London does care at all about Northern Ireland, it needs to act to help unionism – Ben Lowry, News Letter

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Carlaw resigns. Counter-intuitively, the Scottish Tories may need a proper leadership contest.

Conservatives’ grip on ‘red wall’ holding firm

“Eight months ago, this traditional Labour seat returned its first ever Conservative MP — one of the bricks in the “red wall” of heartland constituencies that crumbled overnight to hand Boris Johnson’s party its first parliamentary majority in 30 years. Since then, Covid-19 has suspended normal politics. Mr Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have doled out billions to prop up livelihoods while fending off accusations they have mismanaged the crisis. Meanwhile Labour has elected Keir Starmer as its new leader who is erasing all traces of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Against this shifting backdrop, has Mr Johnson still captured the hearts and minds of Labour’s lost England? Kelly Moses, the landlady of The Old Priory pub, is “not massive” on politics but voted Tory for the first time in December purely because of Mr Corbyn’s leadership.” – FT

Don’t blame us, says BBC as over-75s pay up again

“The chairman of the BBC hits back at the government today as millions of older people are forced to start paying for their TV licences for the first time in more than 20 years. Sir David Clementi points the finger of blame at ministers for the decision to charge over-75s £157.50 a year. Writing for The Times, he says: “It’s important to recognise that this change has come about because the government made a decision, in 2015, to stop funding free TV licences for over-75s.” In what appears to be a coded attack on Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, he adds that “much of what has been said [about the change] has been misleading at best”. Last month Mr Dowden said the BBC had been given a “generous” settlement and he regretted that the corporation “couldn’t find the efficiency savings” to avoid imposing the charge on older viewers.” – The Times

  • The Corporation has made a fair decision – David Clementi, The Times

Local lockdowns are dispiriting – but there are reasons to be hopeful about the battle against Coronavirus

1 Aug

On Thursday evening, Matt Hancock posted a series of Tweets that sent the UK into disarray. He wrote that the Government had “seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England” and would subsequently not allow people from different households to meet indoors in Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale, starting from midnight.

Events moved quickly the next day, in which Boris Johnson elaborated on the decision that had been made. At a 10 Downing Street press briefing, he announced that lockdown easing would be postponed in England and that the country would have to “squeeze the brake pedal”, as “the prevalence of the virus in the community, in England, is likely to be rising for the first time since May”.

Even more depressingly, Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that “we have probably reached or neared the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society”.

Alongside the news that England has the highest excess mortality rate in Europe, the spikes being seen across Europe, and the repeated warnings of a second wave, no doubt this has been one of the most disheartening weeks in the Covid-19 crisis so far for many Brits – particularly those living in the affected areas.

Indeed, in these times, it can be hard to feel optimistic about the battle against Coronavirus. But there is a strange paradox to the detection of cases in the North – abrupt though Hancock’s announcement was – and the Government’s swift action.

Far from being a sign of decline, it emphasises the enormous improvements that have been made in the UK’s testing regime. Hence why it is now easy to spot cases.

At the beginning of the crisis, many will remember that the Government was routinely attacked for lack of tests. When the Health Secretary promised to accelerate the testing regime by tens – and then hundreds of thousands – the target seemed preposterous. But big strides were made; 11,722,733 tests have been processed so far, with 206,656 processed today, and testing capacity at 338,585. 

To put this in context, by way of new tests per thousand people, the UK rate is 2.27 (as of July 30. Source: Our World in Data), Belgium is 1.30 (as of July 29), Denmark is 0.79 (July 30), France is 1.38 (July 28), New Zealand is 0.51 (July 30) and Norway is 0.89 (July 27). 

Now that our testing regime is better, there’s no doubt that the UK will have more localised lockdowns. But as the testing, and data, becomes more sophisticated, so will the way that the Government is able to apply its intelligence.

Another reason to feel hopeful is the progress made in developing a Covid-19 vaccine. Last month, a team of scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group trialled one that induced a strong immune response in patients. They have since worked with the UK-based global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, with the help of a £84 million Government funding scheme, to accelerate its development. The organisation has reported “good data so far” in its large-scale clinical studies.

And that’s not all: the Government has signed up for 60 million doses of a potential Coronavirus vaccine, which is being developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline.

Of course, no one can argue that the Government has been perfect in this crisis – clearly the decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes was wrong, and people will be troubled by the excess mortality rate (although there is some debate as to whether this accurately gives a snapshot of countries’ performances). 

But it can be easy to forget that hospital cases continue to decline (even if cases are going up, it doesn’t mean hospitalisation), as have the number of deaths involving Coronavirus across all English regions. At the same time, treatments and understanding of the virus continues to rise.

And let’s not forget the significant achievements throughout this crisis; the speedy roll out of the Nightingale Hospital; the shielding scheme to protect two million people; the Government’s ability to increase the number of mechanical ventilators in the NHS from 9,000 before the pandemic to 30,000; the emergency arts package, and of course Rish Sunak’s multiple schemes to keep the economy moving.

They were phenomenal logistical achievements that should give us faith about Britain’s ability to deal with what’s next.

The speed at which the nation has improved on testing is only going to bolster its decision-making further – and, indeed, these developments will be seen worldwide as all countries improve in this regard.

In short, it may not feel like it this week, but there are reasons to be hopeful about the future.

The Prime Minister being ‘frustrated, angry and upset’ is no basis for Lords reform

1 Aug

Although eclipsed by the decision to delay the latest round of lockdown easing, last Friday’s Daily Telegraph carried a troubling story about the Prime Minister and the House of Lords.

No, not his proposals to move them to York – although these remain the height of folly – but the claim that he is considering an overhaul of how new peers are appointed after getting several of his nominations knocked back at the last minute.

From the start, this Government has expressed a keen interest in constitutional issues, although following the shelving of their mooted Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission it isn’t clear what shape that interest will take. But this story highlights the dangers of an uncoordinated, unsystematic approach. This is how the Telegraph describes it:

“Boris Johnson is understood to be furious after he was blocked from giving peerages to some of the Conservative Party’s financial backers, and is threatening to reform the House of Lords in retaliation.

“The Prime Minister is said to be “very frustrated, angry and upset” after a Lords watchdog refused to sign off peerages for some of his business supporters this summer.”

Surely Downing Street can see the danger here. There may well be grounds for reforming the way we appoint peers, or other aspects of the Upper House. There may also be a case for bolstering the ranks of the Conservative benches, although this is less pressing with a large Commons majority and in any event only hastens the day when someone will have to confront the unsustainable pattern of parties having to bid up the number of peers after every change of government.

But such changes will never attain widespread legitimacy if it looks as if they have been imposed purely to aid Boris Johnson in appointing Tory donors to the red benches (although these are still better than some of his successful choices).

If the Government really is going to mount a serious push on the constitutional front – and it is past time that it did – then ministers must take pains to ensure that their proposals cannot be fairly painted as straightforward partisan game-playing. When listing the reasons for altering the arrangements in Parliament, the courts, or elsewhere, ‘the Prime Minister is upset’ should not even feature.

Lords 2) Hammond, Stuart, Davidson, Hoey. Johnson, Fox… but no Bercow. The new peerages.

1 Aug

Dissolution Peerages

Conservative:

  • Sir Henry Bellingham
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Ruth Davidson
  • Philip Hammond
  • Nick Herbert
  • Jo Johnson
  • Mark Lancaster
  • Sir Patrick McLoughlin
  • Aamer Sarfraz
  • Ed Vaizey

Labour:

  • Kathryn Clark
  • Brinley Davies

Democratic Unionist:

  • Nigel Dodds

Non-affiliated:

  • Frank Field
  • Kate Hoey
  • Ian Austen
  • Gisela Stuart
  • John Woodcock

Political Peerages

Conservative:

  • Lorraine Fullbrook
  • Ed Udny-Lister
  • Daniel Moylan
  • Andrew Sharpe
  • Michael Spencer
  • Veronica Wadley
  • James Wharton
  • Dame Helena Morrissey
  • Neil Mendoza

Labour:

  • Susan Hayman
  • Prem Sikka
  • Anthony Woodley

Non-affiliated:

  • Claire Fox
  • Charles Moore