Is it sensible to call for an overhaul of the benefits system when so many are relying on it right now asks @SophyRidgeSky
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) June 28, 2020
Is it sensible to call for an overhaul of the benefits system when so many are relying on it right now asks @SophyRidgeSky
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) June 28, 2020
Is it sensible to call for an overhaul of the benefits system when so many are relying on it right now asks @SophyRidgeSky
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) June 28, 2020
“In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister promises a building blitz of hospitals, schools, housing developments and ‘shovel-ready’ road and rail infrastructure projects, while an ‘opportunity guarantee’ will aim to save the jobs of workers who have lost out in the employment market…He says: ‘This has been a huge, huge shock to the country but we’re going to bounce back very well. We want to build our way back to health. If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences. We’re going to be ready.” – Mail on Sunday
“This understated document tends to talk drily of “fiscal challenges” and “unsustainable upward trajectories”. But its essential message is always clear, and in the wake of the coronavirus crisis it will become clearer still: Britain is slowly, inexorably, going bankrupt. It isn’t an inevitable process. But it’s an outcome our political system is conspiring to deliver. In the years since the financial crisis, Britain’s annual growth rate has topped 2.5% only once — the worst performance since the Second World War. Even before the pandemic hit, the OBR’s projections had us bumping along at 1.5% for the next few years. You don’t have to be Mr Micawber to compare income and expenditure: mediocre growth (driven by abysmal productivity) versus soaring NHS demand.” – Sunday Times
“The Prime Minister – stung by criticism of the slow and partial resumption of teaching – admitted that the closure of schools had been ‘a massive problem’. ‘We need to get the kids back into school,’ Mr Johnson told The Mail on Sunday. ‘I want all pupils back in school in September.’ Asked whether it would be compulsory, Mr Johnson replied: ‘Yes. It’s the law.’ He added that the teaching unions which had opposed the wider reopening of schools – on the grounds that it posed a risk to the safety of their members – should ‘take their responsibilities seriously’.” – Mail on Sunday
“A former Met Police chief said there needs to be a ‘public conversation’ about the violence officers have faced in recent weeks…He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It cannot be right that this level of injury to officers is seen as acceptable.’ He added: ‘This is not a normal situation where an occupation carries this sort of risk of injury every day.’ He added: ‘That seen as the policewoman riding her horse and being smashed against the road sign because people were so angry is just not appropriate…Obviously this is a matter for courts and sentencing but I also think it is actually a matter for public conversation. This should not be like this.’” – Mail on Sunday
“In the biggest shake-up of the Prevent strategy since its launch in 2003, Priti Patel has proposed dividing England and Wales into nine regional hubs. Dedicated teams would operate from extremist ‘hot spots’ within each. The review was ordered after intelligence highlighted the changing nature of extremism in Britain, with an increasing number of Islamic terrorist offenders living in neighbourhoods outside traditional Muslim areas, and most far-Right extremists based in areas with little or no previous extremist activity. There has also been a significant rise in the number of far-Left, animal rights and environmental extremists and those with ‘no fixed ideologies’.” – Mail on Sunday
“Senior officials “begged” Robert Jenrick to block a £1bn property deal backed by the Tory donor Richard Desmond, it emerged last night. But the housing secretary overruled the objections from civil servants and lawyers to push it through. A Whitehall whistleblower said Jenrick dismissed their advice over the luxury housing plan in London’s Docklands via text messages to a junior aide. He also failed to inform his most senior planning officials that he had met and texted Desmond, the former Daily Express owner, when he overruled them.” – Sunday Times
“Mr Gove spoke of how ‘distant’ government was from many people and indicated that civil servants should move out of the capital into the regions. In a speech to the Ditchley Foundation, he asked: ‘How can we be less anywhere and more somewhere – closer to the 52 per cent who voted to Leave, and more understanding of why? Almost every arm of Government, and those with powerful voices within it, seemed estranged from the majority in 2016.’ Referring to the great 1930s US President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), he warned that the views of that majority were ‘rarely heard within Government’. ‘FDR asked his Government to remember the Forgotten Man. In the 2016 referendum those who had been too often forgotten asked to be remembered,’ he said.” – Mail on Sunday
“During a conversation on Saturday with Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson reiterated that the UK was prepared to leave on ‘Australia terms’ if no agreement was forthcoming. Australia has no bespoke trade deal with the European Union, leading Brexit critics to describe the proposals as akin to leaving on no-deal terms, albeit with a number of mini-deals put in place to allow vital sectors, such as air travel, to continue. A Number 10 spokeswoman, issuing a readout of a phone discussion with Mr Morawiecki, said: ‘On the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the Prime Minister welcomed the agreement on both sides to an intensified process of negotiations in July.” – Mail on Sunday
“The surge in peers taking part in votes on legislation since then has been startling. Research by The Sunday Telegraph found that an average of 497 peers have voted at an average division since the changes came into effect. This is 137 more than the average number voting over the last five-years. In 12 divisions in the House of Lords – held between June 15 and June 24 – an average of 497 peers took part. The first division under the new scheme – on the Extradition (Provisional Arrest Bill) on June 15 – saw 544 peers vote.” – Sunday Telegraph
“The electoral watchdog should be abolished and its powers handed back to local councils, the three remaining board members of the Vote Leave campaign group have said. The call came as Alan Halsall, one of the directors, spoke out for the first time to lay bare the toll taken by the Electoral Commission’s pursuit of him in the years following the 2016 referendum. MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee are due to grill senior officials from the Commission about its work on Thursday. Vote Leave is currently being wound up by its directors Mr Halsall, Jon Moynihan and Daniel Hodson, a legal process that can take months. In a statement to The Telegraph, the trio said: “The Board of Vote Leave is firmly of the belief that the Electoral Commission should be abolished, and its functions returned to the various institutions that have traditionally occupied those roles.” – Sunday Telegraph
“The new Labour leader chose Armed Forces Day to reach out to the military and distance himself from his predecessor, who famously said he would never use the Trident nuclear deterrent. Sir Keir said: ‘People need to know that under my leadership, Labour will always prioritise the first duty of any government – to keep its people safe.’..n a dig at Mr Corbyn, he said he no longer wanted to hear voters say they ‘don’t think the Labour Party values the Armed Forces’. The bid to reset the party’s links came with a video highlighting key Labour figures’ former military service – including darling of the Left, the late Tony Benn, who was in the RAF during the Second World War.” – Mail on Sunday
“The office of taoiseach is to rotate between the two centrist parties — Fine Gael and Fianna Fail — after they agreed ambitious climate targets to seal a power-sharing deal with the Green Party. The pact sees Fine Gael’s 41-year-old leader, Leo Varadkar, step down as prime minister in favour of Micheal Martin, 59, the Fianna Fail leader and Varadkar’s erstwhile political rival. Varadkar will return to lead the government in December 2022 under the rotating prime minister pact. The election of Martin, a former teacher, as prime minister sees Fianna Fail join in coalition with Fine Gael for the first time.” – Sunday Times
As far as we know, no Conservative MP has called for Robert Jenrick to quit. And he has no gang of internal, ideological foes waiting to pounce. Furthermore, the signal from Downing Street has been that Boris Johnson does not want to hand his media foes and others a scalp.
So we are surprised by this finding, which shows that, admittedly by a margin of only a point, our panel of Party members believes that he should go. (At the best part of 20 per cent, the don’t knows are high.)
Whether because they believe he should walk because he’s acted wrongly, or simply think that the planning controversy in which he’s become embroiled is bad for the Government isn’t clear.
Interestingly, while a plurality concludes that he should resign it don’t also find that Boris Johnson should dismiss him. By 45 per cent to 32 per cent, they conclude that the Prime Minister shouldn’t. Though that 32 per cent is roughly a third of respondents.
Rightly or wrongly, we read the panel as saying: “Jenrick should quit, but if he won’t the Prime Minister shouldn’t have to go through all the bother of sacking him.”
Chris Skidmore is a former Universities Minister, and is MP for Kingswood.
Why does history matter? Well, as I wrote on this site nearly a decade ago, history can give us a common, shared body of knowledge and values which we then pass on to the next generation.
In recent weeks, however, it has become clear that there are vast gaps in that knowledge for too many people. A sense of national, shared values seems to be breaking down, as the vandalising of Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square so amply demonstrated. Graffiti labelling him a “racist” speaks volumes about how some on the political extremes approach our history.
The good news, revealed in Policy Exchange polling – published today to mark the launch of its History Matters Project – is that there is more consensus on our history today that one might imagine.
When asked if Churchill’s statue should stay put in Parliament Square, four out of five people said yes. Even among 18 to 24-year-olds, there was a large majority in favour of leaving him alone, despite what the leaders of recent protests have had to say on the subject.
In general, the polling revealed, British people are proud of our history, with only 17 per cent saying it is something of which to be ashamed. The vast majority recognise that it makes little sense to judge historical figures according to contemporary mores.
Yet there is serious concern that a minority of activists are being given too much of say over what happens to our national and local monuments. Who gets to decide which statues remain, and which are toppled? It surely cannot be the loudest voices, or an angry mob that chooses on the spur of the moment.
Companies and public institutions should also be wary of rushing to appease the noisiest activists. As Trevor Phillips, Chair of the History Matters Project, has noted, too much is happening too quickly. He urges a pause for reflection – “to consider what is being done, why and with what effect”. We might also remember the late Roger Scruton’s words here: “good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”
With that wisdom in mind, what should we be trying to create? Difficult though it may be, I would argue for a greater understanding of our history that must begin at school. Some 60 per cent of those polled, I’m pleased to note, were in favour of children learning history to GCSE. This is a position I have supported for more than a decade, not only because I am a historian myself.
I also recognise that the humanities, these so-called ‘soft’ academic subjects, are worthwhile in themselves and can also lead to high-status careers. I applaud the excellent new “Shape” initiative, supported by the British Academy, which stands for “social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy”, and will promote these subjects, and the sort of reasoning skills and wider perspective they can offer school pupils and university students. “Shape” is not in opposition to Stem, but should hopefully serve to remind people of the UK’s strong creative economy and the job opportunities within it.
The truth, sadly, is that while about a third of children take GCSE history, as Government research indicates, subjects like it are “much more likely to be taken by pupils from less deprived backgrounds”. The same research also shows that over a quarter of schools do not even offer history GCSE.
As I discovered in 2011, in 159 schools, not a single pupil was entered for GCSE History, with 13 per cent of comprehensives entering less than one in ten pupils for the subject. How can we possibly expect to have a shared body of knowledge and values if we do not give children the opportunity to learn about our past? There are still vast blackspots in the education system where history is inaccessible, especially to disadvantaged children.
What might help address this is history that has a local as well as national approach. Children should learn about their local area, as well as Britain’s national story. Field trips and hands-on activities should be encouraged. History should not be a dry and dusty subject, but seen as a living study, with local elements that they can see for themselves.
Children should also learn that revisionism and intelligent criticism of past historical works is central to the academic process. It is wrong to say we can’t change our history. We can: history is an ever-changing study of the past, with its multiple narratives and biases. It’s the past that we can’t change.
Those who don’t want to study or debate the past but tear it down should be strongly resisted. Emmanuel Macron put it well when he said France “will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history… it will not take down any statue.” Instead, he argued, “we should look at all of our history together”, with a goal of “truth” instead of “denying who we are”.
This is what worries me about those who cherry-pick historical figures, such as Edward Colston in Bristol, and decide that they must be erased from public memory, like a disappearing commissar in an airbrushed, Stalin-era photograph. How many Bristolian children will have heard of Colston in 20 years’ time? Far better, I think, that they should learn of him as in some respects a hero and a villain, a product of his time, whose life was exceptional in ways that today are considered both good and bad.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little room for nuance in the recent debate around history, which has become the latest front in a culture war between left and right. But those of us in politics should remember – as today’s polling indicates – that there is a large, silent majority who value the UK’s history, want to protect it, and fervently wish that more of us could learn more about it.
“Writing in his Prison Notebooks, ninety years ago, the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci defined our times. “The crisis consists precisely of the fact that the inherited is dying – and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Gramsci’s analysis was developed between 1929 and 1935. The stability of the Edwardian Age – of secure crowns, borderless travel, imperial administrative elites and growing economic globalisation – was a memory. The inherited world of aristocratic liberalism had gone.
But a new world of liberal, democratic nation states with welfare systems, social insurance and cross-class solidarity was still a distant prospect. And for those who were charged with leadership there were any number of morbid symptoms affecting their bodies politic.
Economic depression had undermined faith in Western democracy. Traditional political and party structures broke down while protectionist trade barriers went up. Ideological polarisation divided families and societies, competition for resources generated international conflicts, new technologies offered expanded realms of opportunity but also unsettled traditional patterns of working, and threatened new and horrific means of destruction.
Our age is not the 1930s. But it is an age of morbid symptoms. The model that the current generation of political leaders inherited has been crumbling.
For much of the period since 1945, Western nations have had relatively stable party and political structures. The leaders of those nations, political and business, have justified their positions on the grounds of meritocracy – we’ve proved through our exertions we’re the best – and of efficiency – we’ve shown through the spread of economic growth and greater opportunity that we deliver.
But since the financial crisis of 2008 those foundations and assumptions have been systematically eroded.
Across Western Europe we’ve seen the political system we inherited fracture. Traditional Social Democratic parties have either been eclipsed or undermined to their left. Syriza in Greece overtook Pasok, Podemos in Spain took huge chunks out of the PSOE, the Dutch Labour Party lost three quarters of its vote in the last general election dropping from the 2n d to the 7t h largest grouping in parliament. The French Socialists were left for dust by the radical leftists of La France Insoumise and the German Social Democrats struggle to appeal to more than a sixth of their electorate, with a number of their former followers supporting the hard left Die Linke leading them to be consistently outpolled by the Greens.
Traditional Christian Democrat or Conservative Parties have tended to fare better. But parties of the radical or populist right have, in many cases, again either undermined their previous dominance or overtaken them entirely. Vox in Spain has chipped away at the PP. The AfD is the first party to the right of the CDU and CSU to sit in the Bundestag since the Federal Republic was established. In the Netherlands the parties of Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet, difficult to pigeonhole, but certainly to the right of the traditional Dutch consensus, together have the support of almost twice as many voters as the Dutch Christian Democrats. In France, Marine Le Pen, and in Italy, Matteo Salvini, are the principal opposition figures – again, neither traditional Gaullists or Christian Democrats.
And even in countries where the traditional party structures appear to be continuous with the world we inherited, the parties now take positions which would have been unfamiliar, to put it mildly, to their leaders much less than a generation ago. In America, the ruling Republican orthodoxy is to be sceptical of free trade; unattracted by notions of conventional global leadership; unconvinced by the efficacy of alliances such as NATO. All those positions are departures, I’m sure most would agree, from the position of George W. Bush never mind George H.W. Bush.
It would take more time than I have available today, indeed perhaps more time than any of us still have to spend in our working lives, to establish definitively why this has been so.
But, at its root, is – I think – a deep sense of disenchantment on the part of many of our citizens with a political system they feel has failed them. The compact leaders offered – trust that we are the best, trust that we have your best interests at heart, and trust that we will deliver – was broken in their eyes.
Even before the financial crisis of 2008, economic growth was slowing across the West, as identified by economists from Robert J. Gordon to Fredrik Erixon and Björn Weigel.
And just as growth was slowing, so its diminishing benefits were becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of the already fortunate – as Andy Haldane put it in 2016, the economic pie has not risen rapidly, and the pie has been unevenly sliced. Those with higher level cognitive skills saw an increasing return for their labour, while those working in traditional manufacturing saw more of their jobs undertaken abroad and indeed saw wages undercut at home.
Globalisation, as practised, seemed to be eroding social solidarity and deepening a gulf between elites and those whom they governed or employed. And that gulf was not simply one of wealth. It was also one of sympathy.
As the British author David Goodhart analysed in his book, The Road to Somewhere, the gap between those with connections and credentials who can live and work anywhere, and those with fewer resources who remain rooted to the heartland, has only widened in recent years. And his work, preceded by Christopher Lasch, and supplemented by the writings of Paul Collier and J.D. Vance among others, underlines that those in the elite with cognitive skills, qualifications and professional mobility tend to have, or develop, different social and political values from other citizens.
The views, tastes and concerns of those who write for the New York Times, run higher education institutions, chair business representative organisations, advise on ESG responsibilities for corporates and indeed run Government departments tend to have become more distant over time from those who build homes, manufacture automobiles, work in logistics, harvest food and dispose of waste. To colour it crudely: the former are more sensitive to the harm caused by alleged micro-aggressions; the latter are less likely to be squeamish about tougher sentences for those guilty of actual physical aggression.
This sense that those who had been in power had presided over a growing gulf in both wealth and attitudes, and were no longer working in solidarity with other citizens, was the backdrop for the crises in authority which started during the first decade of this century.
Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which I supported I should add, were widely seen to have been mismanaged – one suffering from endless revision and ending in retreat; the other perceived to be launched in haste and error; and both revealing faults in policy-making and execution.
Crises of authority in the church consequent upon abuse revelations, in our Parliament following the expenses scandal and in the media after phone-tapping allegations all unsettled faith in existing leadership.
The migrant crisis on Europe’s southern shores raised profound issues about just how humane and civilised our elites were.
And all these discontents were rising as the world faced the terrible fallout from the financial crisis. Those in politics and business who had been trusted to generate increasing prosperity and provide for social security were found more than wanting. For many, they had failed to anticipate the crisis, failed to identify or take responsibility for what had gone wrong, failed to ensure the burden of repair was fairly shared, failed to reform the institutions, especially the finance and business institutions at the heart of the crisis, and failed to recognise the scale of change society demanded.
All these factors underlay the revolt against the elites which saw voters desert established parties, withdraw their support for the economic consensus which had underpinned globalisation for at least three decades and, in many cases, opt for polarised identity politics rather than stay with broad-based national political movements.
These morbid symptoms weakened our politics before the terrible global impact of the coronavirus and have shaped how many have seen the response to that crisis. During the epidemic we have been made more powerfully aware of entrenched inequalities across the globe, seen how fragile the networks of our interconnected world have become, been reminded that confidence in projections about the future trajectory of a complex phenomenon is often undone.
And the Covid epidemic has also, tragically, underlined the racial and ethnic inequalities in many societies, not least our own. The disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities is both heartbreaking and a reproach. The reasons for this particular tragedy are various and require further, rigorous, investigation. But there can be no doubt that they reflect structural inequality in our society which must be addressed.
As we seek to restore our fractured economies and heal our divided societies following the advent of this pandemic, we must also be aware of other, complex and unpredictable, challenges we must overcome.
Science and technology, invaluable tools in tackling this pandemic, will bring other, dramatic, benefits to our world in the near future. Big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and further automation, 3D printing, quantum computing and other advances will transform the manufacturing and service economy. Genetic sequencing and screening, gene editing and other life science and biotech advances could enable transformations in healthcare and environmental stewardship.
All these developments have the potential to improve lives and livelihoods across the globe. But they also require us to think carefully about the moral questions they can raise.
We have seen all too recently how progress, enabled by technology, has brought gains but also exposed flaws in how we organise our societies. The development of our global financial systems enabled capital to be more efficiently allocated, risk to be more effectively hedged and innovation to be more powerfully incentivised – but they also created the conditions for hugely profound economic dislocation.
So, as we contemplate new technological and scientific breakthroughs we must also consider the ethical and political challenges they bring. Unless they are thoughtfully addressed, we risk worsening the morbid symptoms of our times.
The changes to the workplace the Fourth Industrial Revolution is likely to bring will see many current jobs and occupations either disappear or alter dramatically. The division between the fortunate and the forgotten could deepen perilously.
Life science and biotech breakthroughs raise old questions about equitable access to healthcare in new, potentially very uncomfortable, ways and open new territory for ethical concerns about our relationship with the natural world of which we are indivisibly part.
And in speaking of the natural world, the growing loss of biodiversity and the threat of climate change also reinforce how existing inequalities and vulnerabilities risk becoming more pronounced and how we need to understand that complex, adaptive systems demand respectful attention, not glib assertions of mastery.
And what makes these concerns pressing is the knowledge that all these changes – to technology, industry, employment, healthcare, food production, biodiversity and the climate – are coming at us fast.
If we are to be equal to all these challenges, then – as the Prime Minister knows and feels passionately – we need to both acknowledge the scale of the change and be ready to change ourselves. Those in political leadership most of all.
And just as the challenges of the Thirties inspired change, both good and bad, in the nature of political leadership – in the shape and scope of Government, in our sense of duty to the poorer, the vulnerable and the excluded, in our use of technology, in our sense of national and social solidarity – so we must ensure we follow the same, constructive, progressive, inclusive path that the best men and women chose then.
And for me, no one walked that path better, in what W.H Auden called the low, dishonest, decade that was the Thirties, than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When he assumed office in 1933, faith in free markets and the capitalist economy was ebbing dramatically. Indeed confidence in democracy itself was fragile – with, even in America, the idea of dictatorial executive authority winning surprising support.
FDR managed to save capitalism, restore faith in democracy, indeed extend its dominion, renovate the reputation of Government, set his country on a course of increasing prosperity and equality of opportunity for decades – and enabled America to emerge from a decade of peril with the system, and society, that the free citizens of the rest of the world most envied.
He succeeded on such a scale, of course, because he was a remarkable leader.
But there were principles underpinning his approach which I think we should learn from now, as we seek to overcome our own crises of authority; as we seek to reform capitalism, re-invigorate support for democracy, get Government working better for all and build more inclusive societies.
First, Roosevelt took it as a given that no society could succeed unless every citizen within it had the chance to succeed. Throughout his political career he had been concerned by the plight of the poor and vulnerable, and he knew they needed Government on their side if they were to achieve the dignity, status and independence they aspired to. Reform was needed, ‘that builds from the bottom up and not from the top down, that puts faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid’.
There are too many in our time and our society whose economic interests, and indeed whose values, have been forgotten. In our unequal times we must attend increasingly to those who have suffered from neglect and condescension and to those whose lives have been scarred by racism and prejudice. Our contemporary work of reform must put them first.
Second, Roosevelt recognised that faced with a crisis that had shaken faith in Government, it was not simply a change of personnel and rhetoric that was required but a change in structure, ambition and organisation. The establishment of new bodies such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Public Works Association, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration demonstrated a willingness to break the mould of the past. Of course, not every initiative upon which Roosevelt embarked was successful – but he recognised even before he became President that no one can predict at the start of a policy what its end will be. What is needed is both ambition in scope and honesty in assessment.
Faced with tumultuous and difficult times, Roosevelt knew government had to be flexible, adaptive and empirical. That meant taking risks, but it also meant the humility to know when to change course – as he argued in 1932, ‘The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another’.
And third, Roosevelt empowered reformers. Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins, Louis Brandeis, Hugh Johnson and others were drawn from different traditions, backgrounds and disciplines – and they were set missions. Their role was not to administer existing machines, or proclaim abstract virtues, but to act – to achieve real and concrete change in the lives of others.
As we contemplate the scale of the challenges ahead, for this country, and the wider democratic world, the lessons of FDR’s success have much to teach us.
This Government was elected on the basis that it would be different from its predecessors, as the Prime Minister set out so brilliantly during the election campaign – and events have only made that mission of change more urgent. We have set out plans for reform in technical education, schools, the environment, international development, housing and planning, science, digital infrastructure, taxation, public procurement, transport and across the field of Government.
But if this Government is to reform so much, it must also reform itself.
As FDR recognised, the structures, ambitions and priorities of the Government machine need to change if real reform is to be implemented and endure.
It is part of my job in the Cabinet Office to help drive that change. To demonstrate the good that Government can do, to reaffirm the nobility of service to the public, to strive every day to use the money, and the powers, the people have vested in us to improve their lives.
Public service is a privilege. Not because it brings wealth or ease. Many of those who work alongside me in the civil service could command higher salaries, and indeed face less stress, in other fields.
No, the privilege comes from knowing that those of us in Government have the chance every day to make a difference. The greatest gift any of us can be given is the opportunity to lead lives of purpose in public service – to know that by our efforts others stand taller. But with that privilege comes a duty. To ask ourselves if what we are doing is genuinely transformative. Can we prove that we have made a difference? Can we demonstrate the effectiveness of what we have done with other people’s money? Can we prove that the regulations and agencies we have established have made clear, demonstrable, measurable, improvements to the lives of others? And can we prove that in a way our fellow citizens can recognise, appreciate and applaud?
I ask, because I am conscious, in line with the starting imperative of FDR’s reform mission, just how distant, in so many senses, Government is from the people.
It is not just that all major Government departments are based in London, with the impact that concentration of senior jobs has on our economy. It is also the case that Westminster and Whitehall can become a looking-glass world. Government departments recruit in their own image, are influenced by the think tanks and lobbyists who breathe the same London air and are socially rooted in assumptions which are inescapably metropolitan.
There is a tendency, and I am certainly not immune to it, to see success in Government measured by the sound of applause in the village, not the weight we lift from others’ distant shoulders. Favourable media commentary, pressure group plaudits, peer group approval, all drive activity. But what is less often felt is the pressure to show, over time, that programmes have been effective and enduring. Of the 108 major programmes for which Government is responsible, only 8% are actually assessed to judge if they have been delivered effectively and brought about the desired effects.
We politicians are principally to blame. We go for the sugar rush that comes from announcing radical initiatives, unveiling dramatic overhauls, launching new spending programmes, ramping up this and rolling out that. Done right, such moments can galvanise the system into action. But at times we risk the hunger for new policy announcements becoming insatiable.
There is also a tendency in Government to applaud the gracefully performative and overlook the boringly transformative. Inclusive lanyards, progressive hashtags and high-sounding declarations from champions of this-and-that good cause are often signals of noble intent, but they are no substitute for improving exam performance for children from under-performing ethnic minorities, enhancing the ability of prisons to rehabilitate or shifting our economic model to see higher returns to labour and fewer opportunities for rent-seeking.
Tackling these challenges isn’t easy. Worthwhile things seldom are. But we can begin by changing important ways in which we work.
We can, literally, reduce the distance between Government and people by relocating Government decision-making centres to different parts of our United Kingdom. And in doing so we should be striving to reflect the full diversity of our United Kingdom. Why shouldn’t some of the policymakers intimately involved in reshaping our approach to energy and the decarbonisation of our economy be in Teesside, Humberside and Aberdeen? Shouldn’t those thinking about this sector be part of the communities whose jobs depend on getting these decisions right?
And why are so many of those charged with developing our tax and welfare policies based in London?
Wouldn’t it be better for those deciding how taxpayers’ money is spent to be living and working alongside those citizens across the country, from Mansfield to Middlesbrough to Merthyr Tydfil, for whom every pound in tax is a significant inroad into their income? Should we not also be better at recruiting our policymakers from those overlooked and undervalued communities.
There have been relocations of Government in the past but they have generally been to cities such as Bristol and Sheffield, with a particular socio-economic profile and a particularly large proportion of existing university graduates. We need to be more ambitious for Newcastle, for Teesside and Teesdale, for North Wales, for the North-East of Scotland, for East Lancashire and West Bromwich.
I also think we need to look at how we can develop an even more thoughtful approach to devolution, to urban leadership and allowing communities to take back more control of the policies that matter to them. One of the glories of the United States is that there are fifty Governors, all of whom can be public policy innovators. As so often, diversity is strength.
And an important part of bringing Government closer to people is making sure we have not just a wider spread of decision-making across the country but a broader and deeper pool of decision-makers.
Groupthink can affect any organisation – the tendency to coalesce around a cosy consensus, resist challenge, look for information to confirm existing biases and reject rigorous testing of delivery. It is the opposite of the bold, restless experimentation FDR called for. And it is particularly likely to occur when people are drawn from similar backgrounds. Indeed, as the academic Jonathan Haidt has pointed out, when you get a critical mass of people in any organisation who have similar outlooks, biases and preferences the minority who may dissent become progressively more uncomfortable about doing so.
The more that fluent, intelligent, kind and sensitive people explain that the Emperor’s New Clothes are a thoughtful co-creation blending public and private sector expertise from the textile and non-textile communities, benchmarked against international norms and sensitive to both body positivity feedback and non-judgemental protocols concerning the tone-policing of issues around personal space, the less likely someone is to call out that the guy is naked.
Which is why, as we strive to diversify the Government’s presence across the United Kingdom, we should also seek to diversify the talent pool from which we draw.
How can we in Government be less southern, less middle class, less reliant on those with social science qualifications and more welcoming to those with physical science and mathematical qualifications – how can we be less anywhere and more somewhere – closer to the 52% who voted to Leave, and more understanding of why?
Almost every arm of Government, and those with powerful voices within it, seemed estranged from the majority in 2016. That is not to say their views were not honest, principled and public-spirited. It is just to observe that a view, a perspective, a set of beliefs, which the majority, albeit slight, held in this country were rarely heard within Government. FDR asked his Government to remember the Forgotten Man. In the 2016 referendum those who had been too often forgotten asked to be remembered.
And as well as valuing a diversity of views we should also, as I implied earlier, value a diversity of skills. The manner in which Government has rewarded its workers for many years now has, understandably, prized cognitive skills – the analytical, evaluative and, perhaps, above all, presentational. I believe that should change. Delivery on the ground; making a difference in the community; practicable, measurable improvements in the lives of others should matter more.
Public servants, including those who work for private sector organisations delivering public goods, such as those in the care sector, waste and refuse disposal, and the people who keep our hospitals hygienic and safe, should be at the centre of our policy-making. They are the people who have given so much in the recent crisis and represent the best in every community.
Of course we need to promote economic growth in everything we do. But the purpose of economic growth is to build a more civilised society. As the Prime Minister has consistently argued, we should be a pro-worker, pro-public servant People’s Government.
The second Rooseveltian challenge is to change how Government itself works, to reorganise its institutions to become better at reform. The need for reform in so many areas is obvious. And this Government is determined to deliver it in a way that is consistent with our moral values.
We need to make opportunity more equal. We need to make productivity gains across our country more equitable. We need a just transition to a lower carbon world. We need to confront and stamp out racism wherever we find it. We need to heal and unite our country in the face of division and polarisation around identity. We need to make the twin virtues of earning and belonging work for others, and ensure that solidarity across communities defeats the forces of division and dependence which dissolve the ties that bind.
At the heart of our programme must be a focus on what works – what actually helps our fellow citizens to flourish.
That means, first, rigorous evaluation of Government programmes. What value do they add? What incentives do they provide for better performance and better service to others? The Treasury has been, historically, very good at questioning the cost of projects, but not their broader social value. Asking that question is not an evasion of Governmental responsibility but an embrace of it. And politicians like me must take responsibility for the effect of their actions and the consequences of their announcements.
I helped set up National Citizen Service. It is a noble ideal. But by what criteria do we judge it a success? The numbers who have signed up, and the warmth they feel about the programme, are welcome. But what has society, measurably, achieved for that expenditure?
I am proud to have played a part in setting up the Free Schools programme. But it is important to ask what, measurably and consistently, we have achieved through that investment.
In the aftermath of the 2011 riots I pressed for a range of reforms. But however well-intentioned they all were we need to be honest and self-critical about their progress. Have the Gangs Taskforce and the use of Gang Injunctions made people safer and helped young people out of the Criminal Justice System?
One of the reforms of which I am proudest was the introduction of the Pupil Premium to support disadvantaged children. I believe it has been transformative. But we need hard, testable, data on how it has worked. How well have we captured how effectively it is spent in the best schools and how are we setting about analysing what lessons to learn elsewhere?
To answer these questions properly, indeed to use the answers to drive improvement in public services, requires Government to change.
First, Government needs to be rigorous and fearless in its evaluation of policy and projects. And in doing so, we need to ask not only questions about spending per se, but about effectiveness against ambition. It may well be legitimate to say that Government wants to spend a large amount to achieve an incremental improvement in a specific area – such as support for children in care. The crucial question is what benefits have the extra spending and attention brought?
That is not penny-pinching. It’s a real concern that the vulnerable benefit. What are the metrics against which improvement will be judged? How are appropriate tools such as randomised controlled trials deployed to assess the difference being made? How do we guard against gaming and confirmation bias? All across Government at the moment that widespread rigour is missing.
Which is just one of the reasons why the machinery needs to change.
Government needs to evaluate data more rigorously. That means opening up data so others can judge the effectiveness of programmes as well. We need proper challenge from qualified outsiders.
If Government ensures its departments and agencies share and publish data far more, then data analytics specialists can help us more rigorously to evaluate policy successes and delivery failures. People’s privacy must be protected. But once suitably anonymised, it is imperative that we learn the hugely valuable lessons that lie buried in our data.
We also need to ask in those areas where our data is world class, as with the NHS, how we can use that to power scientific breakthroughs. Suitably anonymised, the deep and broad pool of health data we have can improve diagnostics and treatment, support life science innovation and close the health inequality gap.
And, perhaps most importantly, Government must ask itself if its people have the skills necessary for these challenges.
For many decades now the Civil Service has neglected to ensure its senior members have all the basic skills required to serve Government, and our citizens, well.
There are many brilliant people in our civil service, and I have never come across any civil servant who did not want to do his or her best for the country. But, nevertheless, there are a limited number, even in the Senior Civil Service, who have qualifications or expertise in mathematical, statistical and probability questions – and these are essential to public policy decisions. As governments in developed nations go, we in the UK are lagging behind many others in terms of numerical proficiency. But so many policy and implementation decisions depend on understanding mathematical reasoning.
That means we need to reform not just recruitment, but training. We need to ensure more policy makers and decision makers feel comfortable discussing the Monte Carlo method or Bayesian statistics, more of those in Government are equipped to read a balance sheet and discuss what constitutes an appropriate return on investment, more are conversant with the commercial practices of those from whom we procure services and can negotiate the right contracts and enforce them appropriately.
I should also add that it is important that those of us who are politicians have the knowledge, skills, and indeed humility, to be able to ask the right questions and understand the answers. Reforming how Government works requires ministers who can reform themselves.
And the need for appropriate skills, training and knowledge within Whitehall goes much further than the areas I have mentioned. Submissions, the papers which are prepared to guide ministerial decisions, and which were once the glory of our Civil Service, have become in far too many cases formulaic, over-long, jargon-heavy and back-covering exercises. The ability to make a tight, evidence-rich, fact-based, argument which doesn’t waste words or evade hard choices is critical to effective Government. As is deep, domain-specific, knowledge.
The Prime Minister has rightly argued that foreign policy-making is often weakened by the lack of deep knowledge of the language, culture and history of the nations with whom we are negotiating or whom we seek to influence.
As William Hague has pointed out, the decision to close the Foreign Office language school was an act of national self-harm and his restoration of it, along with his establishment of a new Diplomatic Academy, was a necessary renovation.
That same determination to instil and cultivate deep knowledge should apply across Government. Too much current Civil Service training is about vapid abstractions such as ‘Collaborating Better’ rather than about what works in classroom instruction or how to interrogate climate modelling or what really goes on in the preparation of Crown Prosecution cases which leads to so many cracked trials.
Of course, the vast majority of civil servants strive mightily to master the policy or delivery area they are asked to cover. And I owe a personal debt to many great civil servants who have helped secure lasting change, who have warned me off foolish initiatives and who have demonstrated the very best in rigorous policy thinking. But there are systemic problems which mean we often lose institutional memory and fail to build on hard-won success.
With the exception of a few bodies such as the Education Endowment Foundation there are precious few Government-sponsored or owned sources of reliable evidence on what works.
And the current structure of the Civil Service career ladder means that promotion comes from switching roles, and departments, with determined regularity. Just at the point that an official at DIT who is a deputy director masters the intricacies of tariff schedules and their impact on important UK sectors and the opportunities that arise from liberalisation with Ruritania, he or she, if they want to progress in their career, aspires to become a director in DFE overhauling child protection.
Commentators, rightly, criticise the rapid turnover of ministers and the seemingly random reshuffle of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries for Paperclips after just a year to become Ministers of State for Paper Files. But far less noticed and just as, if not more, damaging, is the whirligig of Civil Service transfers and promotions.
We must be able to promote those with proven expertise in their current role to perform the same, or similar, functions with greater status and higher rewards without them thinking they have to move away from the areas they know and love to rise in their profession. We would not ask an Orthopaedics Registrar to become a psychiatrist in order to make consultant. So why should we require an expert in agriculture negotiations with the EU to supervise the Universal Credit IT system to see their career progress?
So, if we are to make the most of the amazing talent that we have in such abundance in the Civil Service, we need to both train better and incentivise more smartly. We need to ensure that those in Government have access to teaching which develops deep knowledge.
We know already from evidence of what works in education that mastery of deep knowledge is the precondition of creativity and open-mindedness. Confident musical literacy, achieved after learning to read scores, practise scales and move from laborious application to automatic performance, allows the performer to become not just the passive reciter of others’ achievements but the author of original new work of quality and merit. Similarly, if those in Government have deep subject knowledge they move from reciters of the jargon generated by producer interests into the creators of original policy that serve the widest possible public interest.
That is why we need to ensure that we have a proper, and properly-resourced campus for training those in Government. One which is not preoccupied with the latest coaching theology or sub-business school jargon but equips the many hugely talented people within the Civil Service to become as knowledgeable in their policy areas as consultant surgeons, chancery barristers and biochemistry professors are in theirs. And, more than that, we need to ensure that basic writing, meeting chairing and time management skills are de rigueur.
The third Rooseveltian imperative I have invoked is the bias towards experimentation. And this is perhaps the hardest to achieve.
There are so many barriers to doing things differently in Government, and so many incentives to play safe that it is difficult to know where to start.
It is a cliché to say of Government that no-one ever lost their job for recommending the contract go to IBM.
Decide that you will procure services from a new organisation and, if things go wrong, you will face the wrath of the NAO, the criticism of self-righteous chairs of parliamentary select committees, the hindsight-rich rancour of newspaper columnists and the disappointed froideur of your Permanent Secretary and Secretary of State.
Elect to have the service performed by an established supplier, choose to assess their performance by deferring to management consultants, set up a board to manage the process with officials from lots of different departments and you can be insulated from failure. The delivery companies are too big to fail, too embedded in so much else that Government does, too sanctified by the faith other departments have placed in them. The consultants are an invaluable prophylactic – if these super bright people from the private sector with MBA degrees and huge earnings outside said it was ok, it must have been. And the cross-Whitehall board is the biggest insurance policy of all. You can’t hold me accountable – it was a ‘shared’ decision.
All of these factors work against innovation – and accountability. Innovation comes when people take reasonable risks – and responsibility. We need to move to a system where those who propose the innovative, the different, the challenging, are given room to progress and, if necessary, fail. But we must then ensure that we learn quickly, adjust and respond.
In my time in politics I have got many things wrong. But I have, most of the time, been blessed by the ability of Prime Ministers to forgive, provided I learned the lesson.
That is why it is the responsibility of those in positions of political leadership – myself chief among them – to support those who try something different and defend them if, at first, it doesn’t work. And to ensure we learn why and do better next time.
My first attempt as Education Secretary at a new history curriculum was deeply flawed, but the challenge it provoked improved on everything that had gone before. My cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme was a political fiasco, but it led to a method of commissioning new school buildings that saved the taxpayer billions. My proposal to bring back O-Levels strained the bonds of the 2010-2015 coalition and had to be abandoned but it led to a significant improvement in GCSE standards and school performance.
I should add that those GCSE reforms only worked because of the leadership of two outstanding public servants – Dame Glenys Stacey and Amanda Spielman – who ran the exams watchdog Ofqual at the time. They stood firm in the face of orchestrated opposition from those who wanted standards lowered, and helped end grade inflation. Exam reform was a rocky road but they made the experiment work.
We need, as a Government, to create the space for the experimental and acknowledge we won’t always achieve perfection on Day One. We will throw everything at increasing ventilator capacity, some projects will misfire, some will seem promising but fall at the final hurdle, but along the way we may end up with unexpected gains, and as we have seen in the past few months, a willingness to experiment will help drive up a huge increase in ventilator capacity.
here is a particular merit also in investing in the literal experimentation of pure science. As the success of DARPA in the US shows, sometimes by design, and sometimes by obliquity, hugely beneficial innovation can occur. Of course, some of the projects in which DARPA has invested have failed and foundered, but the knowledge that high ambition is supported and incentivised and wrong turnings accepted as necessary costs along the way has brought huge benefits.
But far too often, innovation in Government is treated as though it were a mischief rather than a model. The default mechanism of the NAO, PAC, other select committees and various commentators is that any departure from the status quo must be assumed to be more downside than upside. Had they been able to interrogate George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in 1783 they would have concluded that American independence was an expensive, untried and unjustifiable innovation. In Treasury terms it would have been novel and contentious and therefore stopped.
The whole culture of Government, and the wider world of political commentary, is hostile to risk, adventure, experimentation and novelty. But the experience of FDR and his administration was that it was only through big risks, and radical experiments, that progress could be assured. Many of the programmes initiated as part of the New Deal failed on their own terms. But, overall, the re-orientation of Government to help the Forgotten Man, to restore hope in place of fear, to change Government so it worked for all citizens and to be bold and restless in experimentation of new ways of working succeeded.
That is why now we should, as is our intention as Government, reform planning rules to fast track beautiful development, pioneer biodiversity net gain to offset any adverse consequences of development, better use anonymised NHS data to improve healthcare delivery, allow parents and others to compare schools on value added, exam entries and attendance, among other factors, compare individual courts, judges and CPS managers on their efficacy on processing cases, look at how successful individual prisons are at delivering education and rehabilitation programmes, compare that with re-offending rates, assess the effectiveness of anti-radicalisation programmes, ask what value for money gains the Troubled Families Programme has secured, interrogate the basis on which defence procurement contracts are considered value for money, ask how we judge the real impact of development spending, and I could go on.
The heart of my case, as I hope you now appreciate, is simple.
Faith in conventional political parties, their leadership and their allies in business has been broken.
Failures of policy and judgment have put previously existing elites in the dock.
Their misjudgements, in the eyes of many, have been compounded by cultural condescension and insulation from accountability.
The concerns of our fellow citizens are real. They matter. Their analysis is resonant. To carry on rejecting it will only weaken our politics and strengthen division.
We have faced similar, though not identical, crises, before.
To face the crisis honestly, we must change.
Confronted with a similar, though not identical, challenge in the 1930s FDR identified the need to: a) make the Forgotten Man – ie the victim of crisis and inequality, our first concern; b) transform Government to make it the efficient force for good the times command; and c) experiment and explore different routes in a crisis to escape with an emphasis on risk-taking.
I defy anyone now to say that the scale of the challenges our governments face are lesser than those faced by FDR in 1932, or the scale of change required is smaller.
If the suggestions for change I have put forward are wrong, or mistaken, which they may honestly be, I hope the response is to call for greater radicalism not less. We should always be receptive to bold new policy proposals. Now we must listen to ideas on transforming government itself, such as those from GovernUp and the Commission for Smart Government which it will shortly launch, because the machinery of government is no longer equal to the challenges of today. We owe change to the people we serve.
Every morning I wake up saddened by the fact we haven’t done more to make the most of every talent in our land, reproaching myself that we did not do more in children’s social care, primary schooling and secondary schooling to provide opportunities and keep young people safe. I worry that we have not succeeded in reforming the youth justice system, the police, the CPS and the courts. But we can do better, we can redeem souls, we can save lives through public sector reform. If money is rightly directed, properly authorised and its spending effectively evaluated then massive progress can be made.
Let me end on a personal note. I am in public service, as an MP and Government Minister, because I want to tackle inequality. I have other passions – the environment, culture, especially opera, and sport, especially football. But my driving mission in politics is to make opportunity more equal. I want to ensure that whatever their background, every child has the chance to succeed, and nothing we do should hold them back. It is on that basis I make my case and on which I am happy to be judged.”
Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy and is a papal Knight Commander of Saint Gregory.
Lockdown gave an unprecedented character this year to the major celebrations of the great Abrahamic faiths.
Those in the Jewish community endured Passover unable to join with family, friends and their wider community to celebrate the escape of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Those of Muslim beliefs found themselves daily breaking their Ramadan fast alone, not together; and approached the culmination of that celebration, Eid, at best in small household groups rather than with communal rejoicing.
]The Christian faiths marked the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday; the passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus on Good Friday; and the resurrection of their Christ on Easter Sunday, without the usual community support in the dark hours or the joyous celebrations of the greatest day in the Christian calendar.
No amount of digital alternatives – Zoom meetings, live-streaming of services, on-line communal singing of religious songs – can really substitute for the mutual support in a time of crisis that comes from being together both physically and emotionally with those who share values and beliefs.
All those whose beliefs and cultural traditions involve them coming together to pray, to worship and to be in social communion have suffered as they endured separation from their wider communities; but for those, in particular, whose faith is nurtured through holy sacraments, their separation from what they believe to be the source of grace has been particularly painful.
Gathering in supportive worshipping communities and maintaining those horizontal relationships with other people is important.
But for those whose beliefs involve a sacramental tradition, that vertical relationship to God that comes through their access to his grace in the sacraments (for example, of holy communion and confession), to deny them that access is to starve them of the spiritual nurturing and sustenance their faith teaches them to crave.
For many of those Christians for whom the sacrament of communion, central to the mass, is the beating heart of their faith, to be able to be present in that sacrifice only remotely has not, for many, been to sense participation. On the contrary, it has exacerbated the sense of separation.
For a church founded on the blood of martyrs, persecuted, tortured, and executed for their subversive beliefs, it has been particularly uncomfortable to see the doors of our Christian churches locked when they could, and should, have remained open to allow private prayer and socially distanced participation in services.
That Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey have remained closed, doors locked to keep out their faithful, whilst the local Sainsbury’s and Tesco have remained open, delivering socially-distanced access to physical food and drink, has been to exacerbate that pain of separation. Why a Warburton’s white medium sliced loaf, but not the bread of life itself?
That church leaders surrendered to this position at the outset of lock-down was perhaps understandable given the sense of crisis and uncertainty that prevailed at that time, but the closure could and should have been only temporary whilst practical precautions were introduced. It was not for our political masters to decide on the importance to the faithful of access to spiritual sustenance compared to other goods and services.
This plague has claimed many lives, including those of ministers of religion, and for their passing we mourn; but that they may have spent their final weeks denied the opportunity to share the sacraments with and to minister to the spiritual needs of their flocks must have been a cause of frustration and anguish to many. Not to hide behind locked doors did they tread the long and difficult path to religious ministry, but to share the love of God with his people and to be with them in their times of need.
Where was the priest to baptise my new grandchild? To marry my daughter whose wedding was postponed? To hear my confession and grant me absolution? To offer the sacrifice of mass and to let me take a personal, risk-assessed decision as to whether I should receive holy communion? To give the last rites to friends of faith who have died during the pandemic? To comfort my elderly and vulnerable mother, alone and fearful in her home?
For many people, these things are not just rituals, they are the building blocks of faith, the foundation upon which their lives, their families, their values, and their political views are based. Many are understandably frustrated, indeed angry, that these needs have been ignored.
Faith leaders will have had troubled consciences about these decisions; and there is no desire to exacerbate their doubts and fears; but their redemption can come only through them learning from these tragic few months, and by them making plans for the future so that when the next plague comes they are ready, their lamps are full of oil, and their wicks trimmed.
Church doors closed for a few hours for a deep clean and some social distancing sticky tape is acceptable; those doors being locked for 15 weeks is not. It must never happen again.
“The Chancellor has played down reports he is set to cut VAT, saying the economic challenge posed by coronavirus is a matter of “psychology” rather than “income”. Rishi Sunak insisted household finances were in “reasonably good shape” thanks to the Government’s furlough scheme, suggesting there would be little need to slash taxes. Instead, he said that his “number one” priority was boosting public confidence to return to hairdressers, restaurants and pubs when they reopen on July 4. It follows reports that Mr Sunak had instructed Treasury officials to explore a temporary cut in VAT. One option believed to be under consideration includes introducing a lower rate for the tourism sector, which has come under particular strain during the pandemic.” – Daily Telegraph
>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Don’t rule out a second lockdown
“Weekend patrols will be doubled and police leave could be cancelled to cope with feared violence and disorder next weekend, senior officers have said. Concerns about unrest have intensified after two nights of violence in London when police trying to break-up illegal parties were pelted with objects by aggressive youths. Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, spoke yesterday of the potential for future disorder and described attacks on police as “utterly unacceptable”. Chief constables believe it is inevitable that more illegal raves and parties will erupt.” – The Times
“A traffic light system showing the safest holiday destinations is set to be introduced so families can book summer getaways – as ministers agree to open air corridors for dozens of countries. The partial dismantling of Priti Patel’s quarantine scheme means UK holidaymakers will be able to return home without having to self-isolate for 14 days. The Foreign Office will also lift its advice against ‘all but essential travel’ to low or medium-risk destinations, making it possible to obtain travel insurance. Tour operators were yesterday offering record discounts of up to 70 per cent for trips to France, Spain, Italy and Greece.” – Daily Mail
“Britain’s coronavirus app fiasco took another humiliating turn as it emerged we’ve now had to turn to Germany for help. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has already ditched plans to build the mobile contact tracing system from scratch after his efforts flopped. Instead the Government announced it will rely on technology from Apple and Google – something most European nations decided to do weeks ago. And now Berlin’s ambassador to the UK has revealed he’s in discussions with Mr Hancock about us adopting their model… The revelation is a particular humiliation for the PM, who claimed on Wednesday that no other country had a working app.” – The Sun
“During Covid, it has become more obvious that the nuts of British administration have worked loose. There have been some under-reported triumphs – the quicker than expected payments of Universal Credit, Rishi Sunak’s successful underwriting of furlough via HMRC – but on the whole, our civil and public service leaderships have tended to exhibit the confusion and self-protectiveness typical of big bureaucracy. Compare, for instance, the openness of the much less centralised German health services to business and university cooperation with the jealousy with which the NHS and Public Health England have tried to guard their own fiefdoms.” – Daily Telegraph
>Yesterday: Robert Tyler in Comment: We need a Margaret Thatcher Foundation for Democracy
“The future of Britain’s most senior civil servant was called further into question yesterday as Downing Street refused to say that Sir Mark Sedwill would serve as cabinet secretary into next year. Sir Mark has been the target of increasingly hostile briefing as Boris Johnson draws up plans for an overhaul of the Cabinet Office and Number 10 before what is regarded as an inevitable public inquiry into how the government has handled the pandemic. Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s senior adviser, told a meeting of political aides this week that a “hard rain is going to fall” after detailing Whitehall’s “fundamental” shortcomings displayed during the coronavirus crisis.” – The Times
“Gavin Williamson has vowed to end the ‘softly, softly’ approach for dealing with teaching unions and get all children back in school by September. The Education Secretary said he plans for all children to go back to school at the start of the next school year ‘come what may’. It was said Mr Williamson ‘got the knuckle dusters out’ while addressing backbench Tory MPs at a meeting this week… Mr Williamson has previously come under criticism for his handling of reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. He argued on plans for primary school children to return to school before summer, but later changed his mind, saying this would be encouraged.” – Daily Mail
“Robert Jenrick has been reported to the Commons standards watchdog over his decision to approve Richard Desmond’s £1bn property scheme. Labour has asked Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, to investigate whether the Housing Secretary breached the MPs’ code of conduct in rubber-stamping the Westferry development. On Friday shadow housing secretary Steve Reed accused Boris Johnson of attempting to sweep the issue “under the carpet” after he expressed “full confidence” in the minister and decided the matter was closed. In his letter to Ms Stone, Mr Reed said he believed the minister had failed to “live up” to the transparency required of MPs and that he appeared to have “wanted to do favours for Mr Desmond without being seen to do so.”” – Daily Telegraph
>Yesterday: Iain Dale’s column: The Jenrick row. What grudge could the Daily Mail possibly have against the former owner of the Daily Express?
“Boris Johnson will give the go-ahead next week to a £1 billion loan guarantee for an African gas pipeline despite warnings that it will damage Britain’s environmental credentials before the international climate change summit in Glasgow next year. The Mozambique LNG Project to pump off-shore gas to a liquefying plant for domestic use and export is Africa’s largest private investment. The French firm Total and partners are seeking $15.5 billion for the project and have been in discussions with UK Export Finance for months. Mr Johnson has approved the deal, under which the taxpayer will underwrite £1 billion of the debt despite fierce opposition from allies including Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park.” – The Times
“Cracks have appeared in the unity at the top of the Labour Party after its deputy leader was said to be unhappy with Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to sack Rebecca Long Bailey. Angela Rayner, who was backed for the deputy leadership by the Corbynite campaign group Momentum, is a close friend of Ms Long Bailey and shares a flat with her in Westminster. Sir Keir sacked Ms Long Bailey as shadow education secretary on Thursday after she shared an article containing what he said was an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”. A close ally of Ms Rayner said yesterday: “It’s not what we would have wanted to happen. It could have been dealt with differently.”” – The Times
>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Johnson, Starmer – and their strategies in firing people
“The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that statues and memorials in churches and cathedrals will “have to come down” over links with slavery, dividing clergy and historians. In a move that experts said recalled the “iconoclasm of Reformation” in the 16th century, many dioceses are conducting audits to document who is memorialised in the Church of England’s 16,000 churches and 42 cathedrals after leaders backed the “alteration or removal of monuments” in some cases. Britain is examining its links with the slave trade after Black Lives Matter protests. There are several examples on church land of memorials to those who either participated in or profited from it or who were known to have murdered or tortured slaves under their control.” – The Times
Earlier this month, I wrote about how the Government needed to get a grip on public order policing, and Mark Wallace argued that the police’s limp-wristed tactics in Bristol and elsewhere were emboldening the mob.
The past two weeks have done nothing to diminish that assessment. We have seen the inevitable ‘counter-protests’, and now an establishment which bent over backwards to facilitate one form of allegedly unsafe mass public gathering is spitting feathers at Britons flocking to be beach.
We have reached the point where at least one force is now operating an explicit double standard, ‘facilitating’ a Black Lives Matter vigil whilst reminding the public that all other mass gatherings, “including counter-protests”, remain illegal.
What shape such action takes is an open question. In my last piece, I floated the idea of hiving off public order policing from the regular forces and assigning responsibility to a new, UK-wide specialist constabulary, in a similar – but not identical – fashion to the way many European nations employ a gendarmerie.
In response, Will Tanner of Onward suggested on Twitter that such an ‘oppressive’ policing model was contrary to the British policing tradition, and the ‘Peelian Principles’ upon which this is founded. Fleshing out his thoughts in Prospect, he described the proposal as ‘militaristic’.
This is misleading. For starters, the model outlined above employs no structures or strategies not already employed in British policing. The Ministry of Defence Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary are two already-extant specialist forces, and the Territorial Support Group the existing specialist public-order unit. I’m simply applying one existing organisational model to another existing operational model.
(It’s also worth remembering that Theresa May, Tanner’s former boss, employed double standards on such issues, waxing pious about how water cannon had no place on British streets whilst they were deployed on British streets in Northern Ireland.)
On the subject of actual gendarmeries, France is by no means the only European country to operate one: they are also employed by such authoritarian regimes as Portugal and the Netherlands. As for concerns that the UK might follow America down the path of hyper-militarised policing, this has arisen there in large part via the US Armed Forces selling off vast quantities of military surplus. Britain, which has a patchy record of equipping even its on-duty soldiers, is unlikely to face this particular problem.
But Tanner’s interpretation also misrepresents the Peelian Principles themselves. If one actually reads the ‘Nine Principles of Policing‘ set out by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, one finds little support for the indulgent, conflict-averse tactics favoured by many senior officers today.
For example, the very first duty laid on the police is “to prevent crime and disorder”. ‘Prevent’. Not peacefully facilitate in the hope of picking up the perpetrators afterwards from video footage.
The next one reminds them that their ability to operate effectively is “dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.” This is where ‘policing by consent’ comes from.
But note that it is the consent of the broad public, not the rioters, and in 2011 polls clearly showed that voters strongly disapproved of the feeble initial response of the police to the riots in London and elsewhere.
In fact, not only did the public ‘consent’ very strongly to a broad range of ‘militaristic’ tactics – the only one which polled under 50 per cent support was live ammunition, which still got 33 per cent – but fully 77 per cent of those polled backed deploying the Army. This put the police in violation of the First Principle, which mandates them to maintain order “as an alternative to their repression by military force”.
What about the Fifth Principle: “To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws…” How does that square with the current, pronounced tendency towards what Sam Ashworth-Hayes has dubbed ‘morality policing?
There are sections of the Principles which advise restraint in physical force policing. But take a closer look. Here’s the Sixth Principle, my emphases:
“To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.”
So that’s simply counselling the police against using force where the law can be upheld and order maintained by other means. It very much does not say that it is better for the law to be peaceably broken than forcefully maintained.
The Peelian Principles remain a sound basis for British policing. But too often they are trotted out only in defence of ‘weak policing. In point of fact, a robust and pro-active approach to maintaining order and protecting public and private property is entirely consistent with Sir Robert’s vision.
It’s the alternative that isn’t. To defer to the judgement of rioters and vandals is to turn the idea of ‘policing by consent’ into a bad joke. Theirs is not the consent required.
After years of Jeremy Corbyn doing nothing to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, many were astonished yesterday by Keir Starmer’s decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary.
He took action after she Retweeted an article by actress Maxine Peake, containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory; namely that Israel was linked to the killing of George Floyd in the US.
According to The Huff Post, Starmer gave Long-Bailey four hours to delete the post and apologise, but she did not do this – also refusing to take calls from his office, culminating in her prompt dismissal.
Many marvelled at Starmer’s decisiveness, using this as evidence for the increasingly fashionable assumption that Conservatives should be worried about him at future elections (one that this writer does not agree with, incidentally; the “taking the knee” photo will haunt him for years).
The move challenged stereotypes of Starmer – that he’s “forensic” and lawyerly in manner – as it was combative, as well as making him look straightforward (certainly something of an achievement after Labour’s past calculations to thwart Brexit).
Starmer’s decision to remove Long-Bailey from his Shadow Cabinet first and foremost reflects his commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism – and thank goodness for that.
But it may also demonstrate two other things. First, that he is sceptical about Long-Bailey’s overall popularity with the electorate – and wanted to get rid of her anyway. One suspects outside the Twitter bubble, voters overwhelmingly associate her with Corbyn’s dire tenure, and haven’t been won over with her tendency to use phrases such as “democratising the economy” and “progressive patriotism”, as well as her obsession with the “Green Industrial Revolution”.
Second, it arguably gives Starmer more leverage to demand Boris Johnson sacks members of his own team. The Prime Minister has already been under enormous pressure to do this, following the saga with Dominic Cummings, as well as recent attacks on Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary.
He is accused of trying to force through permission for a development by Richard Desmond – a billionaire donor he “inadvertently” sat next to at a dinner – who then paid £12,000 to the Tories soon after he got the green light.
Newspapers appear to have given up on getting rid of Cummings, and have now turned their sights on Jenrick, perhaps viewing the mild-mannered MP as an easier target.
Take The Daily Mail (Desmond is the former owner of the Express newspapers, as Iain Dale points out here, incidentally), which accused the Prime Minister of not being decisive enough over his Housing Minister. “It’s also another instance of Boris Johnson failing to act decisively when one of his ministers or senior advisers falls short of the standards the public expect”, read its leader, which praised Starmer’s “non-nonsense approach” and suggested Johnson “should learn from” it.
Anyone reading The Daily Mail over the last few months will know that it’s been consistently against (pro-Brexit) Johnson, so the attack is no surprise – but does the paper have a point? Has he been weak over the Covid-19 crisis when it comes to sacking people?
The events over the last few months have arguably softened Johnson’s image, with his u-turn on free school meals, and the enormous sums being spent on Covid-19 protections. He comes across as something of a yes man.
With all this, it’s easy to forget that he can be ruthless when it comes to his team. This was clear in his first reshuffle as Prime Minister, in which he sacked Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary, replacing him with Dominic Raab, as well as asking Hunt’s supporters Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt to go. It was “the biggest government clearout since Harold Macmillan’s infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962”, wrote PoliticsHome.
Later on, in what was referred to as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, Johnson fired five Cabinet ministers, including Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Sajid Javid resigned after the Prime Minister demanded he lose his team of advisers. Clearly Johnson is ready to strike if he sees fit to – so his critics will demand why Cummings and Jenrick don’t fit the bill.
This, one suspects, is not part of some grandiose plot, but down to the simple principle of belief: the Prime Minister does not think that either man is in the wrong.
A lot has been said about Cummings, but my own view is that his explanation made sense – and furthermore that No 10 could have gone on the offence in reminding people how unusual his circumstances are. A chief adviser in a nationwide pandemic, living in a house that receives death threats, who’s had the press (seemingly permanently) camped outside, and Covid-19, will have one of the most challenging lockdowns.
Jenricks’ case, on the other hand, is ambiguous and will come increasingly under scrutiny, with Labour now reporting him to parliament’s watchdog.
Text messages between him and Desmond demonstrate the latter to be a pushy character, repeatedly trying to get his housing scheme through. Jenrick seems uncomfortable in response, reminding Desmond that he’s Secretary of State and that he cannot have contact with him “whilst he was making” a “decision with respect to the planning application”.
As Andrew Gimson sets out in his recent profile of Jenrick, one Tory backbencher has described him as “a decent man”; one is less flattering, suggesting that he’s “a suit” – who simply takes orders. He has released 129 pages of emails, texts and letters in total – to clear his name. From reading some of the exchanges, one suspects, if anything, his main issue is being too polite.
Either way there is a false equivalence between what may be a mistake, and Long-Bailey’s disgraceful post. Especially after Starmer cautioned her, it would have been unacceptable for her to stay in her position.
What was especially poignant about yesterday, on a semi-related note, is how shocked members of the Left were with what happened, not used to being on the receiving end of such swift justice.
In recent years, it’s the Right that has been accustomed to its figures being “cancelled” – be it Toby Young’s resignation as Theresa May’s university adviser, or Roger Scruton’s firing after being misquoted.
A big feature of May’s tenure was her inability to stick up to the mob on such matters, as well as the endless departures under her leadership, ranging from misconduct (Gavin Williamson’s dismissal after he leaked highly classified information about 5G) to those leaving on behalf of Brexit strategy.
With his massive majority, Johnson has not faced such a chaos – his team is far more loyal, but it will still remain a priority of the Government to stand strong against the cancel culture fostered by members of the Left.
Yes the Government should dismiss MPs on legitimate grounds – if any investigation shows Jenrick to have deliberately been in the wrong than he has to go – but the Tories no longer need to cave to media pressure and concocted outrage. Voters will respect them for this, too.
Starmer has a totally different goal, however; restoring a sense of moral order to Labour. As aforementioned, I believe his actions this week will only take him so far. Long-Bailey was an easy win for a party that knows Corbynism was a major, defeating factor at the last election.
Showing bravery in other contexts – how about condemning statue-toppling, for starters? – is a much different enterprise. On these less crowd-pleasing matters, Starmer’s “non-nonsense approach” is fairly non-existent.