Amanda Jenner: A “Devolution Revolution” in Wales will help politicians better connect to their communities

28 Jul

Amanda Jenner is Welsh Conservative County Councillor for the Trewern, Buttington and Middletown ward.

The Conservative Party is a broad church, a place where both common ground and respectful difference of opinion can be found within its membership on a whole host of issues.

This is particularly evident in Wales, where the Welsh Conservatives welcome those who believe that devolution has the potential to work for the whole of the country, as well as those who are anti the Welsh parliament and are understandably “devo-sceptic” due to 20 years of a now languid Welsh Labour, which even at best has been lackadaisical to most of Wales outside of the M4 Corridor.

Recently, Paul Davies, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, spoke passionately on the need for a “Devolution Revolution”. This was Calon Lân music to many of our ears and I hope that as part of this Revolution, we fully embrace the idea of localism.

Arguably one of the grounds for devo-scepticism is that decision makers down in Cardiff have lacked the appetite to address many of the issues that occur in Mid, West and North Wales. One example of this was their recent National Development Framework consultation, which identified priority areas for large-scale energy development, without sufficient consideration of the impact this would have on local tourism businesses or associated tourism assets, such as National Trails.

There are some within the Welsh nationalist camps who like to spin this devo-scepticism as a nonsensical idea that Welsh Conservatives are all Anglophiles above all else, who want to copy and paste England’s policies and culture, and enforce them upon Wales.

In the run up to the 2021 Senedd Election, the Welsh Conservatives must bat this ludicrous notion away. Yes we can learn from across the border, but it takes local knowledge and understanding to decide whether to apply, adapt or ignore policy and models used elsewhere.

As a county councillor in Mid Wales, I know my patch. I know that an all singing and dancing remote online learning system, is worthless for some of my residents who can’t get a decent broadband connection. I know that that my residents are alarmed that a minister in Cardiff will be making the decision on whether to develop a large-scale incinerator in a rural area, just a few hundred metres away from a primary school. I know that it is costly and complex to deliver public services in a rural area and that often, we have to think outside of the box.

Localism is a conservative value. As a Conservative, I want to conserve and safeguard the local things around my community that are loved. I want to see the children in our local schools encouraged to have aspiration and to become resilient and responsible adults who have the confidence to seize the local opportunities around them.

I want Welsh language and Welsh culture to be naturally embraced and to grow organically. I don’t want to see the Welsh language forced upon every nook and cranny of Wales, including upon those communities whose traditions and cultures may not have the Welsh Language embedded in them.

At the heart of localism is an appreciation of the significance of community spirit, which has been so commendable during the Covid-19 pandemic. Localism gives a nod to our wonderfully diverse Welsh culture and traditions. Localism encourages local solutions to local problems and would require local decisions for local developments, no matter their size.

In Wales, the decision on whether to approve developments over a certain size is made by a Welsh government Minister. I would like to see this power devolved to local government. Further, in the wake of Covid-19, in order to get the economy back on its feet, local knowledge of business, jobs and opportunities, is fundamental. As argued recently in the LGA magazine by Councillor James Jamieson, the Chairman of the LGA, I too would like to see local government ownership of the employment and skills agenda.

Those who continue to strive for an independent Wales surely cannot shun the idea of localism. Isn’t one sentiment of their movement, the desire for decision makers who understand the needs of those who are impacted by their decisions? Perhaps I am becoming an idealist here, but isn’t “localism” the pacifying solution for all?

What I do know though, is that we cannot carry on with the same old lacklustre Welsh Labour business as usual. I hope that as part of this “Devolution Revolution” we Welsh Conservatives look to de-centralise parts of the Welsh Government and to divert resources more directly to frontlines by empowering local decision makers.

Of course, to responsibly do this, we need to ensure that local authorities are funded fairly and transparently – something which is long overdue a thorough examination in Wales.

John Bald: Academisation does not guarantee higher school standards

28 Jul

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Vice President of the Conservative Education Society.

West London Free School celebrated the end of the school year with a concert and an announcement by headteacher Clare Wagner that no lessons had been missed during lockdown. Pupils in Years 10 and 12, the pre-examination years, had taken school exams, and six pupils, from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, had received offers from Oxford or Cambridge. The contrast with the National Education Union’s panoply of excuses not to do this, with the Guardian’s article on Manchester Grammar School, implying that state schools couldn’t possibly, and with the “Woke” lobby’s insistence that minority ethnic groups are essentially victims, could not be greater. Like Michaela, West London has travelled a long and sometimes difficult road, but has shown that the ethos of hard work and kindness works, and is the solution to the problems that have beset education since Labour’s botched introduction of comprehensives in the 60s. Like Michaela, West London is not (apart from twelve music places) selective, and, like Michaela, it has shown the difference between a genuine comprehensive school and a secondary modern.

There is a further contrast with Stantonbury International School, a sprawling, oversized comprehensive in Milton Keynes, which boasts of “Proud traditions, wide horizons and high achievement,” and has just received an Ofsted report, that is as bad as those that made headlines in the days of the late Sir Chris Woodhead. Numbers are high at 1,600, pupils are not safe, behaviour is poor, learning is haphazard, and examination results strongly negative from pupils starting points, with only three per cent achieving the English Baccalaureate (West London has 69 per cent). Like most comprehensive schools, it hides the full scale of the disaster behind the screen imposed by Lib Dems during the coalition, which provides an opaque summary rather than the full picture. Gavin Williamson should restore the requirement that schools publish their full results by grade and subject.

Stantonbury, an Academy with the Griffin Schools Trust since 2016, illustrates the difference between mass academisation and the best Free Schools, which are driven by the dynamism and vision of some of the best minds in education, as evidenced by Michaela’s second book, The Power of Culture, edited by Katharine Birbalsingh but written by members of staff. Each chapter is a detailed and intensely personal account of the author’s contribution, as head of department or year group, deputy, special needs co-ordinator, new teacher or school secretary. The result is a complete picture of its contribution to society as well as to its pupils’ education, including, but not limited to, some of the best examination results in history. Katharine Birbalsingh is not the fictional Miss Trunchbull of Crunchem Hall, but a smiling, happy person who uses authority much as the late Cardinal Hume did, in the service of the pupils.

New teachers are told that pupils will only give their best to a teacher if they love them, which comes from understanding that teachers care, and give their best to the pupils. This is not achieved by a raised voice, but by clarity and careful explanation, so that the pupils buy into the school’s ethos and share its purpose. At 380 pages, this is a demanding read, but worth it. It is the best book on school education that I’ve ever read, and better than I ever expected to find.

Back at Stantonbury, the Griffin Schools Trust has taken action to replace the senior team and the governors. But the school has been under its control since 2016, and was identified by Ofsted as requiring improvement two years later. It is fair to ask why it took virtual meltdown to lead to the necessary action, and whether this and some other multi-academy trusts are any better than the local authorities they replaced. Some of the most celebrated are demonstrably worse, and it was not good enough for Jeremy Hunt to tell me at the leadership hustings last year that I should focus on what had gone right rather than what had gone wrong.

An Academies pioneer once told me in private that “We haven’t got enough good people,” and the meltdown at Stantonbury proves the point. Barry Smith, who turned Great Yarmouth Charter Academy from sink to a thriving community in under a year, is now doing similar work in Hackney, and would do so wherever he went. Other distinguished headteachers, like Dr David Moody, formerly of Harris Battersea and now CEO of Academy Enterprise Trust are making a similar impact. But have we got enough of them? And are we making the best use of those we have? Until these questions are answered, the success of Academies as a national system of education will remain in the balance.

The Government’s obesity strategy risks pleasing no one

27 Jul

Last week, ConservativeHome wrote that Boris Johnson would have to abandon his libertarian instincts to tackle the obesity crisis; a fact fairly well hinted at, due to his own experience with the Coronavirus. It was said that he’d had a Damascene conversion after his previous resistance to interventionist methods.

Today, Johnson appears to have confirmed that through the Government’s new strategy, titled: Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives. It outlines a series of measures that will do little to please freedom fighters – and, by some indications, may not win over pro-interventionist minds either.

As everyone knows, the obesity crisis has long been in successive governments’ sights. The document calls it “one of the greatest long-term health challenges this country faces” with “around two-thirds (63%) of adults above a healthy weight” and “1 in 3 children leaving primary school who are already overweight”. 

The need to reduce obesity levels has become more urgent as a result of Covid-19. During the crisis it was well known that being overweight or obese increased the risk of hospitalisation, and Government statistics show that nearly eight per cent of critically ill patients in intensive care units with the virus were morbidly obese, compared to 2.9 per cent of the general population.

Furthermore, the Government document says that “[o]besity prevalence is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society”. Given Johnson’s “levelling up agenda”, and the clear exposure of social inequalities throughout the crisis, the Government felt it had a mandate to tackle obesity more radically.

The Government’s main proposals include:

  • Banning adverts for high fat, salt or sugar products on TV and online before 9pm; 
  • calorie labelling in restaurants, cafes and takeaways;
  • ending the promotion of high fat, sugar or salt products in store and online (meaning no more “buy one get one free meals”), and
  • further down the line there will be a consultation on calorie labelling for pre-packaged drinks.

Alongside these plans, Public Health England has brought out softer measures, such as a “Better Health” campaign. It encourages users to lose weight through a new NHS BMI tool, and a free NHS 12-week weight loss plan app.

In addition, the NHS will extend its weight management services, as well as its Diabetes Prevention Programme, meaning that tens of thousands more people will be able to use the services than ever before.

The Government is also engaging in nudge theory. It has noticed, for instance, that “43% of all drink and products located in prominent areas… were for sugary foods and drinks and less than 1% of food and drink products were promoted in high profile locations in stores were fruit and vegetables.”

These insights are important, as they lay out small, not particularly drastic measures that shops can embrace to influence consumer behaviour, such as putting healthy snacks nearer to checkouts.

Some say the Government has no right to tell people what to eat, but the truth is that society currently does that – in the opposite direction to the one complained about. There are numerous offers encouraging people towards unhealthy habits, which have a negative effect on people’s finances, too. It has been shown that “buy one get one free offers” increase the amount people spend by 20 per cent. So it makes sense to take action.

What’s the verdict on these moves, however? By all indications, the Government’s plans may not please either libertarians or those more pro-interventionist for a number of reasons.

In regards to the former group, there will be considerable disappointment about the direction Johnson has gone in, not least because many will have voted for him on the basis of his past aversion to sin taxes and his claim of being a “libertarian” in regards to obesity.

There are also economic concerns about whether the obesity campaign will harm a nation trying to find its feet after Covid-19. 

Sue Eustace, Director of Public Affairs at the Advertising Association, has said that the measures were “extreme” and that: “[w]e have some of the strictest [advertising] rules in the world already and children’s exposure to high fat, salt, and sugar adverts on TV has fallen by 70% over the last 15 years or so, but there’s been no change to obesity, so we don’t think these measures are going to work.”

Others say that the Government’s strategy undermines its “Eat Out to Help Out”; Rishi Sunak is trying to get people going to restaurants, which will no doubt boost the nation’s waistlines, all the while there is this strategy.

ConservativeHome believes that there’s no getting away from the fact that the nation has a growing obesity crisis, and that the Government was realistic and right to take bold steps. 

The question is whether these methods will work, or if they target the wrong things. 

The Government’s strategy, for instance, rests on the assumption that with the “[r]ight information” in stores, people’s behaviour will change, hence why it wants to put calorie content everywhere.

Its guidance reads: “It’s hard to make the healthy choice if you don’t know what’s in the food you are eating”. But is this going to stop someone from making a trip to McDonalds? The point is that temptation often overrides information.

It may be that actions such as investing more in gastric bands (which, as I wrote last time in ConHome “seem dramatic – but can improve people’s quality of life and the coping ability of the NHS in enormous ways”), and substantially increasing sports lessons at schools, can have a more sizeable effect.

The other issue Johnson will have to address is his re-establishing his political brand, having steered far away from his libertarian principles.

Coronavirus, in general, has challenged what people expected from the Conservatives; there have been huge levels of spending and, with the public now forced to wear face masks in shops, many voters will need assurances of a return to a small state.

Some of this confusion over what Conservatives now stand for will be exacerbated by the obesity document, which sounds incredibly left-leaning in parts. One statement suggests that “tackling obesity is not just about an individual’s effort, it is also about the environment we live in”. Even though others have preached about “personal responsibility”.

One hopes, of course, that the Government makes some breakthroughs in regards to its obesity strategy. But it may be about to achieve the worst of both worlds, exaggerating the role adverts play in promoting obesity (and causing economic damage in regulating them), while alienating libertarian voters. 

This “worst of both worlds” pattern seems prevalent in other parts of the Coronavirus crisis. We are trying to revive the economy, for instance, but there are so many rules and regulations on restaurants, shops and bars now that it may be the case we neither protect the NHS/ people from Covid-19, nor businesses.

Whether fighting obesity, or reopening the economy, “going for broke” may be the philosophy this Government needs – whichever direction it takes.

Ed McGuinness: Getting everyone back to work will save the economy

27 Jul

Ed McGuinness is a former Chairman of Islington Conservative Federation, founder of Conservatives in the City and stood for Hornsey & Wood Green at the general election.

Growth in GDP, from an economic perspective relies on three key areas. The first is labour; both population growth affecting its size and the participation rate. The latter of which will surely take a hit from this crisis. The second factor is capital investment in the economy and with the Government’s long-term investment plan this may very well be somewhat addressed. The third factor is known as Total Factor Productivity, productivity improvement or technological advancement. Normally in economics it is addressed residually (as capital and labour are fairly quantifiable), but generally, whilst we are holed up in our houses, especially the younger generations, the ability to be productive, to innovate as part of a social group, is limited. The bottom line is economic growth may jump around for a few months, but longer term will flat-line.

Boris Johnson’s rallying call of “build, build, build” follows well known and tried Keynesian economic principles, but putting aside that a British New Deal package comparable to that in the 1930s would actually cost north of  £700 billion, “shovel ready” infrastructure projects are rarely so in the United Kingdom. One can only look at the High Speed 2 rail link project which has been ongoing since 2009, the Heathrow expansion project, ongoing since the same year, and even the Channel Tunnel, arguably a huge success, took 18 years from agreement to completion. It would likely take a herculean effort, much like that seen in the early weeks of the Covid-19 response to expedite even the most minor infrastructure projects. Whilst this will be necessary for medium to longer term growth, a short-term booster shot is necessary to mitigate the risks of a permanently smaller economy.

Whilst the levelling-up agenda could perhaps see a step-change in the national economy, the wealth generating ability of London’s financial and multinational corporations is a capability that needs to be protected and nurtured if there is to be any economic recovery at all. London contributes between one quarter and one third of the entire economic output of the country, a population greater than the next 13 largest cities combined, and 11% of the UK’s tax revenue – a considerable and much needed source of cash as we emerge from this crisis. We have already seen some positive news with regards to the future of financial services in the post Brexit City which offers some security, but to get London’s economy firing again, benefitting not just the South East but the rest of the country. We must either adapt very quickly or risk a lasting hit to one of the world’s global economic command centres.

To do this people must get back to work – a simple aim, but complex in execution. The challenges are overarching twofold. First psychological and personal, people are genuinely concerned that they might get ill and naturally do not want to travel in close proximity (as is almost inevitable) in London and other city transport networks. The second, whilst fed and influenced by the first is separate, and is practical and organisational. In order to comply with new social distancing office space and transport has had to readapt to the point where it is impossible at the moment to have 100% capacity. Some offices in Canary Wharf have indicated a 50% capacity cap on open plan offices which seen have seen desks normally fit for six now only fit for one or two.  We must address both these issues when it comes to returning to work. By addressing the latter, a proof of concept is deliverable which will go a long way to alleviating the former, psychological concerns.

It is clear that accepting the current situation as the ‘new normal’ is not a solution. It would see not only resilient industries face collapse, but also highly operationally levered sectors like hospitality; fast food and tourism fall away alongside second order effects of rental and credit defaults. Therefore, the risks must be managed and mitigated. Practically those travelling should be encouraged to wear facemasks, wash their hands and observe social distancing, but we must change our working habits fundamentally, in the short term if we are to succeed.

Younger workers should be encouraged to return to the office more quickly than the manager class. The damage to younger people’s careers from Covid-19 has been highlighted in the potential loss of hospitality, retail and other feeder professions, but younger people who work in an office environment need social interaction and personal networking with colleagues, which is of huge importance to younger staff. Development through social interaction is not just a theory isolated to infants, but extends throughout all growth phases of life. Not only that, but younger people are generally less well paid and as such live in accommodation ill equipped for a healthy working environment lacking the space for a home office or a separate room for working. The active psychological damage of an absence of delineation between work and personal life, alongside the passive damage caused by separation from peers, will have a damaging effect on younger people if they do not return to work imminently.

There also needs to be a reform of the working day. If, as it is at the moment a 9-to-5 day, it is natural that rush hour falls either side of these, considerably so in London and other cities where commuter towns exacerbate the effect. London transport should run a rush hour service, therefore increasing capacity across the system, throughout the day, Companies, particularly those who work in close proximity to one another and are served by a limited number of transport links, for example in Canary Wharf, should collaborate to reassign their working day and stagger start and stop times and more importantly enforce them. An additional point of assistance would be to alter market opening hours from 9.30-4.30 as advocated by the Association for Financial Markets in Europe and the Investment Association, but not accepted by the LSE in the most recent review. This would lose the overlap with Asia, which is arguably not statistically significant, but would retain the lucrative overlap with US market whilst allowing more time, particularly in the morning, for commuter travel.

The Government must remember the importance of London and other cities’ regional influence on productivity – a problem in the UK even before Covid-19 – without which the entire country could level-down. By focussing on only the short-term operational aspect, large office-based London businesses may see a slight recovery, but support industries around them may collapse which will lead to longer term pain. On this occasion, working together to protect the centre is protecting the rest.

Newslinks for Monday 27th July 2020

27 Jul

Quarantine 1) Scramble to flee Spain as 1.8m Britons face chaos…

“British holidaymakers faced travel chaos yesterday amid anger over the government’s “disastrous” decision to introduce a two-week quarantine on arrivals from Spain. Passengers told of a scramble to book last-minute flights back to the UK on Saturday evening — hours before the restrictions were imposed — in an attempt to beat the quarantine rule. Many warned of a complete breakdown in communication from the government and airlines over the change to travel rules which were suddenly introduced following a spike in coronavirus cases in the country. An estimated 1.8 million Britons are either in Spain or due to fly there over the coming month — the peak of the summer getaway.” – The Times

Comment
>Yesterday:

Quarantine 2) …and Shapps must quarantine on return from Spain

“Grant Shapps was mocked by Government figures on Sunday after falling foul of his own “air bridges” policy by jetting off on holiday to Spain. The Transport Secretary will have to self-isolate for 14 days when he returns home after ministers closed the travel corridor with Spain on Saturday. Business minister Paul Scully fell into the same trap by going on holiday in the Canary Islands. Mr Shapps was unaware that his Government colleagues were about to remove Spain from the “safe list” of countries with lower levels of coronavirus infection when he set off on holiday last week. On Saturday, the Government decided to re-impose a 14-day quarantine period for all arrivals from Spain after Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, was shown data revealing that coronavirus was on the rise in 15 of the country’s 19 provinces.” – Daily Telegraph

Quarantine 3) The Sun: Imposing quarantines at short notice will destroy confidence

“We’ve all grown used to Coronavirus trampling our well-laid plans. But the Spain quarantine shambles over the weekend isn’t just causing inconvenience. Those being asked to stay away from work on their return aren’t legally entitled to sick pay. Which means that unless employers do the right thing and offer paid leave, sticking to the rules could mean losing two weeks’ income. It’s hard to blame the Government for acting quickly: cases in Spain spiked suddenly, and it would be a crying shame to undo all the good work over lockdown by allowing returning holidaymakers to roam freely around the UK. But you don’t need a crystal ball to realise that in the long run, imposing quarantines with four hours notice will destroy travellers’ confidence and decimate the struggling tourism industry.” – The Sun

Lose 5lb and save the NHS £100m, says Hancock

“Everyone who is overweight should lose at least 5lbs in order to save countless lives and spare the NHS a £100million cost, the Health Secretary has said. Matt Hancock said coronavirus was the “deadly wake-up call” Britain needed to tackle obesity, as the Government unveils a strategy to slim the nation’s waistlines. The advertising of unhealthy food will be banned online and before the 9pm watershed on television, with buy one get one free deals on chocolate and crisps axed and calorie counts placed on menus. An army of “weight loss coaches” at GP surgeries will be trained to persuade millions of people to change their diets and reform couch potato lifestyles.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Online junk food ads face ban – FT
  • Family doctors will become ‘weight coaches’ – Daily Mail
  • PM to launch obesity plan – The Sun
  • Four in five swimming pools remain closed in setback for Johnson’s anti-obesity drive – Daily Telegraph
Comment

Sunak ‘considers online sales tax in bid to save high street’

“Rishi Sunak is considering a new tax on goods sold online amid mounting concern about the collapse of the high street as Britain emerges from the coronavirus crisis. The chancellor is examining proposals for an online sales tax to provide a “sustainable and meaningful revenue source for the government” and help bricks-and-mortar retailers to compete. The Treasury is also considering radical plans to abolish business rates and replace them with a “capital values tax” based on the value of land and the buildings on it. The tax would be paid by the owner of the property rather than the business leasing it.” – The Times

  • ‘Four years’ to recover from record recession – The Times
  • Chancellor mulls tax on online sales – Daily Mail
  • Johnson and Sunak will announce spending spree on roads, infrastructure and energy – Daily Mail
Comment
>Today:

Over-40s in UK ‘to pay more tax to fix social care crisis’

“Everyone over 40 would start contributing towards the cost of care in later life under radical plans being studied by ministers to finally end the crisis in social care, the Guardian can reveal. Under the plan over-40s would have to pay more in tax or national insurance, or be compelled to insure themselves against hefty bills for care when they are older. The money raised would then be used to pay for the help that frail elderly people need with washing, dressing and other activities if still at home, or to cover their stay in a care home. The plans are being examined by Boris Johnson’s new health and social care taskforce and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, is a keen advocate of the plan.” – The Guardian

Patel takes on Twitter over Rapper’s antisemitic posts

“Priti Patel has criticised Twitter and Instagram for being slow to remove antisemitic posts by the rapper Wiley as the Jewish Board of Deputies called for him to lose his MBE. The home secretary demanded that social media companies act faster on “appalling hatred”. Messages by the grime artist, including one likening Jews to the Ku Klux Klan, were visible for 12 hours before some were removed. The Board of Deputies, the country’s largest Jewish group, called for the removal of his MBE, an honour awarded in 2018 for his services to music.” – The Times

  • Home secretary lashes out at Twitter – Daily Mail

No 10 faces challenge over rising cost of opinion polls

“Downing Street is facing questions from parliament’s spending watchdog over a surge in public money being spent on opinion polling. Analysis by The Times reveals that the Cabinet Office spent at least £833,000 with polling companies between January and May this year, more than was spent during the whole of last year. Meg Hillier, Labour chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, will write to the Cabinet Office this week over the increase. The figures put the department on track to spend £2 million on polling by the end of the year, which would be triple the £686,000 spent last year.” – The Times

  • Hoyle ‘worried’ by No 10 TV briefings plans – BBC News
  • Chief whip ‘did nothing when I said I’d been sexually assaulted’ – The Times

Whistleblowers ‘will drop legal action if Corbyn expelled’

“Expelling Jeremy Corbyn from Labour could spare the party legal action over a leaked anti-Semitism report that would bankrupt it. Some ex-party staff now poised to take part in multi-million pound lawsuits against Labour say they will drop their claims if the former leader is thrown out of the party. But the extraordinary ultimatum will enrage backers of Mr Corbyn already furious that Labour under new leader Sir Keir Starmer last week apologised to anti-Semitism whistleblowers and agreed to pay them damages in a separate case.” – Daily Mail

News in Brief

The case for a new treason offence

27 Jul

The Government is preparing to overhaul Britain’s security laws, utilising work done on them by Sajid Javid when he was Home Secretary, which in turn drew on research by Policy Exchange.

We wait to see what the legislation contains, but the plans seem to fall into three parts.  First, an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act.  Second, an updating of the espionage laws, which will be carried out largely with state actors, such as China and Russia, in mind.  Third, a new treason offence.

Its origins lie in the return to Britain of Islamist terrorists who fought abroad with ISIS.  Ministers believe that the present legal framework isn’t fit for purpose if prosecutions are to be successful.  The recent Court of Appeal judgement on Shamima Begum’s case doubtless explains why we are reading about revised laws now.

At any rate, the original Policy Exchange proposal was supported by a former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd; a former head of MI5, Lord Evans; a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, and former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, Richard Walton.

Tom Tugendhat, one of the authors of that report, Aiding the Enemy, was out and about in the Sunday Times yesterday, concentrating largely on espionage – and writing as he did so “pinstriped fixers, lawyers and silver-tongued svengalis are pocketing money” are doing the bidding of hostile foreign governments.

Meanwhile, Javid was busy in the Mail on Sunday, covering the same themes, and arguing that we need to repurpose “our ancient treason laws to cover Britons who operate on behalf of a hostile nation or go abroad to fight alongside terrorist groups”.

That would cover Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as ISIS and Al Qaeda.  It will doubtless be argued that Britain shouldn’t be in the business of legislating for loyalty oaths, or giving terror groups the same status as foreign governments.

But if you think about it, the loyalty oath claim is a red herring, since what would be required is not a pledge of allegiance to Britain, but the shunning of terror aimed at our troops or civilians.  (The form of words that Javid used would appear to cover fighting alongside terror groups, period – whether against British citizens or not.)

We expect that it will also be claimed that a new treason offence will be “bad for community relations” – i.e: that British Muslims will be opposed to it, though it will certainly go down well among others in Blue Wall seats, as we must now call them, and elsewhere.

A modernised treason offence would certainly be to the point.  Islamist extremism has no room within it for attachment to nation states – what matters is the worldwide community of Muslims, led from its present ignorance, as the extremists see it, to the politicised and ideological version of Islam which they themselves propagate.

(This use of religion rather than nationality as a catch-all definer explains why they identify Jews with Israel, by the way – despite the fact that not all Jews live there and many aren’t Zionists at all.  Hence the Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege in Paris in 2015, and the 2008 massacre at a Jewish outreach centre in Mumbai.)

We anticipate, too, that forcing lobbyists who work for foreign governments to register; toughening up rules on registering interests in the Lords or work undertaken by former Ministers, and slowing, say, the flow of Chinese money into our universities and civil society will also be resisted.  A sign of how much new measures are needed.

Neil O’Brien: Why closing the marriage gap between rich and poor is a vital mission for social justice

27 Jul

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Our daughter just had her last day at nursery. In the autumn she’s off to school. We’re sponging second-hand uniform from friends. It feels like just the other day I was driving home after her birth, flakes of snow streaking through the headlights.

Our baby son can suddenly crawl fast. He wants to climb the stairs, and chew any bits of cardboard he finds lying around.

My sister has unearthed a trove of old black and white family photos. There’s lots of things that catch the eye: Glasgow’s housing estates looking shiny and newly-built; the funny looking cars; the endless cigarettes. The bigger families too: my gran with her two children from before the war, and two after.

It set me thinking about family. Ten years ago we talked about it a lot. David Cameron’s criticism of “Broken Britain” highlighted work by the Centre for Social Justice on family breakdown and poverty. The most eye-catching pledge during his leadership campaign was a marriage tax break.

Over the last five years there’s been a lot of other things doing on, to say the least.  But as the new government starts to set out its domestic agenda, family should be part of it.

Politicians are nervous talking about family. It’s not just bad memories of the 1990s, when we screwed up and sounded like moralising hypocrites against a backdrop of sleaze.

It’s a deeper fear of sounding critical of friends and relations. We all have close friends who have been through everything: raising kids alone, divorce, abortion, bereavement and so on. I think of a friend who has raised two wonderful kids alone. Another single friend helped look after a young person when no-one else would. I don’t know how anyone manages to do it single-handed: they’re amazing people.

Some worry family policy will be about condemning them, or that politicians want to try and trap unhappy couples together. It mustn’t be about either. Instead, it has to be about two different things.

First, helping people with children financially, and with practical help, particularly during the difficult years with small children. Having no money on top of no sleep and endlessly crying babies makes it harder to sustain relationships.

Second, it should be about support and building up the social capital that many middle class people in politics take for granted. Indeed, it’s about healing a split in our society.

Let me explain.

Politicians who are serious about reducing poverty and spreading opportunity can’t avoid thinking about families and households.  Last year 23 per cent of children in couple households were below the fixed poverty line, after housing costs, compared to 38 per cent of children in lone parent households.

Controlling for other factors, A CSJ report found those who experience family breakdown when aged 18 or younger are twice as likely be in trouble with the police or spend time in prison, and almost twice as likely to underachieve educationally. They’re more likely to suffer mental health issues.

One part of family policy should be direct help families with children. I’d love to see us recognise children in the tax system, as we did until the 1970s: our tax system is unusually family-unfriendly. We should help working families with children on Universal Credit keep more what they earn before it gets tapered away. The CSJ has called for higher child benefit for parents of young children.

But we need to go deeper, and recognise that the links between family breakdown and low income run in both directions. Over recent decades a quiet revolution has taken place, and richer and poorer people now live in very different family structures.

Between 1979 and 2000, the proportion of households with dependent children which were lone parent households grew from 11 per cent to 25 per cent, then remained at that level, dipping a bit in recent years to 22 per cent in 2019. Since 1979, the proportion which are married couples fell from 89 per cent to 61 per cent.

There are few countries in Europe where children are less likely to live with both parents than Britain. It’s more likely that a teenager sitting their GCSEs will own a smartphone (about 95 per cent) than live with both parents (58 per cent).

But these headline stats conceal a massive social split, which starts at the point of birth and widens out.

For those in the top socioeconomic group, 75 per cent of children are born to parents who are married; another 22 per cent are jointly registered to parents cohabiting; 2 per cent are jointly registered to parents living apart, and just 1 per cent registered by one parent only.

At the bottom end of the scale, 35 per cent are born to married parents, 38 per cent to cohabiting parents, 21 per cent jointly to parents living apart and 6 per cent registered by just one parent.

These huge differences weren’t always there. For people at the top, family life looks similar to their parents’ generation. For people on lower incomes, society looks utterly different. A marriage gap has opened up, and society has been splitting apart into different family structures for rich and poor.

In the 1970s, mothers of pre-school children were equally likely to be married whether they had a degree or not, and 90 per cent plus were. By 2006 for mothers with a degree that was down to 86 per cent, but for non-graduate mothers it fell to 52 per cent.

Between 1988 and 2018 the proportion of jointly registered births which were to married parents fell from 90 per cent to about 77 per cent for the top socio-economic group. At the other end of the scale it fell from 70 per cent to 37 per cent.

Equally, it’s impossible to understand modern Britain without appreciating the different families people from different ethnic groups live in.

In 2011, among households with dependent children, for white households 53 per cent were married couples, 16 per cent cohabiting couples, 25 per cent lone parents, and 7 per cent other household types (mainly multigenerational households).

Among Indian households with dependent children, far more were married couples or multigenerational households.  68 per cent were married couples, 2 per cent cohabiting couples, 9 per cent lone parents and 21 per cent in multigenerational households.

Among black Caribbean households 28 per cent were married couples, 11 per cent cohabiting couples, 47 per cent were lone parents and 14 per cent in multigenerational households.

People of different ethnicities live in very different families, which influences everything else.

Most voters favour government taking action to support family life. But in Whitehall there’s scepticism: can the state do anything about these trends?

The truth is we don’t really know. As it happens, at the point when government stopped publishing its measure of family stability in 2016, the trend seemed to be moving back a little towards more children living with both parents.

Whitehall can be too pessimistic. Until Michael Howard, the consensus was that nothing could be done about rising crime. He proved the consensus wrong. Likewise, in the 1990s Whitehall had given up on helping lone parents into work. But successive reforms (under governments of all parties) doubled their rate of employment.

It’s not like there’s no ideas about how to help.  There’s masses and masses of recommendations gathering dust on think tank shelves, covering everything: tax, benefits, family hubs, relationship education in schools, birth registration, pre-and postnatal support…

My modest proposal is this: let’s do a major programme of controlled trials to test these ideas, and see what, if anything, makes a difference. Happily for the Treasury, experiments are cheaper than rolling things out nationally.

But we have to try. The costs are too high not to. They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is today. Let’s plant some seeds.

Damian Green: Here are our One Nation ideas for reviving post-Covid, post-Brexit Britain

27 Jul

Damian Green is Chair of the One Nation Caucus, a former First Secretary of State and is MP for Ashford.

There has been a flurry of comments about One Nation Conservatism, and what it means in the 2020s, over recent weeks. This is very timely, as for many years the One Nation tradition was linked with pro-European views, to the point where views on Europe seemed to become its defining characteristic.

Those times are clearly past, and one of the aims of the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is to set out a new set of policy priorities, both in domestic and international policy, which we want the Government to adopt. We hope that we are pushing at a reasonably open door, as the Prime Minister has always described himself as a One Nation politician, and certainly his levelling up agenda is absolutely in that tradition. His description of himself as a “Brexity Hezza” may have been rejected by, well…..Hezza, but nothing is easy these days.

Getting the country back on the track it voted for last December is the task for the next four years, and One Nation ideas will play a central role in the successful pursuit of that project. The last thing the Conservative Party or the country needs is a continuation of the Brexit divisions. If the only thing that matters is how you voted in 2016, we will never move on. So through the summer and autumn the One Nation Caucus will be publishing a series of policy papers designed to set out a full agenda for government in the post-Covid period.

The first of these papers is Restarting the Economy, which brings together six MPs from various intakes to address the central issue of our times. Stephen Hammond is the lead author, and he emphasises the importance of a relentless focus on levelling up to extend growth beyond London.

Key proposals in the paper include the development of new local economic bodies to drive growth, expanding the number of planned freeports, and creating technology adoption funds to support the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The report also suggests a number of policies to protect people on low incomes, including suggestions for ending consumer rip-offs, and proposals for managing repayments of Covid business loans, recommending an approach similar to the Student Loan scheme.

Each of these is a meaty idea in its own right, and the full paper is available on the One Nation website. But this array of economic ideas is only the start of the wider project to position Conservative ideas at the heart of the national political debate post-Covid.

Labour may be under new management but one of the features of the Starmer era so far has been the avoidance of any policy discussions. This is clearly a conscious tactic, but while Labour pursues it there is a space to fill in shaping the public mind. It is often observed that intellectual regeneration is more difficult inside a governing party, but it is not impossible, and is absolutely necessary if conservatism is to have another successful decade.

The financial crisis, Brexit, and Covid-19 have been three black swans that have swept aside the original plans developed the last time the Conservative Party was in opposition. They have incidentally also swept aside Tony Blair’s fond idea of making the twenty-first century “the progressive century”, by which he meant the New Labour century. How does that look in 2020?

So now is exactly the right time for One Nation Conservatives to think hard and set up debates. After the economic paper our next publication will be on social mobility, how we can bring it back, and why we must not think about it in traditional terms. Following that we will be publishing a paper on the environment, showing how capitalism is not the enemy of achieving carbon New Zero, but the only way of reaching it.

Future papers will look at Britain’s place in the world, covering trade and aid, and specifically what the new configuration of the Foreign Office and DfId offers in the realm of making our aid spending (which One Nation Conservatives strongly support) more effective in the future. We will also be taking a hard look at schools and what they can do better to spread opportunity, and at the new world of work.

It is very pleasing that all cohorts of the Parliamentary party have contributed to these papers. Former Ministers have worked with many members of the 2019 intake on the individual ideas, proving that there is no shortage of new thinking on the back benches, and that One Nation ideas are alive and well in the rising generations within the party.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a One Nation Conservative, I hope you will welcome the fact that those of us who are in that tradition want to contribute publicly to the key debates that will dominate the coming decade. The public will of course judge the Government mainly on its actions. But every political party needs to demonstrate that it can apply its principles to new circumstances. In a world that changes as fast as this one constant intellectual regeneration should be our goal. The One Nation recovery papers are a contribution to that.

Judy Terry: The increase in cycling poses safety risks

27 Jul

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Congratulations to Suffolk County Council (SCC), which has won £376,501 from the Department for Transport for emergency walking and cycling schemes, improving safety for people to make essential journeys and take daily exercise by foot or cycle whilst maintaining social distancing.

Work has already started in Ipswich, with changes to layouts, closing off sections of roads to motorised vehicles, widening existing footpaths and cycle lanes, and changing traffic signal timings to reduce waiting times at puffin and toucan crossings. The Government requires evaluation and consultation to be included during the emergency interventions, allowing some to be made permanent where possible.

Cllr. Andrew Reid, The Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, says:

“It is crucial that the measures work for the majority of people, ensuring accessibility for businesses whilst reducing congestion.”

Cycling maps and marketing campaigns will be updated to support health and air quality benefits.

During the lockdown, more people have taken to cycling, which is great for health and fitness, and the environment. However, few people appear to take their safety seriously; whole families take to the road without helmets. Young teenagers (usually boys) are everywhere cycling in groups, blocking other traffic, which then take risks overtaking.

Sadly, a coroner recently ruled that the death of a cyclist early one evening was likely to be attributed to alcohol. This doesn’t surprise me since, a while ago, a cyclist enjoying a tin of beer as he travelled on the wrong side of the road in daylight at about 6pm fell onto my stationary car, causing several hundred pounds worth of damage. Completely oblivious, he quickly righted himself and carried on.

Cycling proficiency tests, already available to children, are to be offered to adult novices, with instructors funded by the taxpayer, to build confidence and competence. Courses are not mandatory. Yet Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, admits that “it is crucial for cyclists to understand the rules of the road, manoeuvring skills and positive interactions with other road users.”

It’s worth pointing out that not all cycles are actually roadworthy; too many have non-existent brakes, and inadequate lights, making it impossible to see them at night. Taking precautions in rural areas, where roads tend to be narrow and twisting, without streetlighting, is especially important. Cyclists may use bridleways, but not footpaths – or pavements.

So, I suggest the Government should legislate to require:

  • Cyclists wear helmets and a hi-viz jacket;
  • Cycles must be certified as roadworthy;
  • Cyclists must be trained in the Highway Code and pass a test;
  • The same alcohol limits should apply to cyclists as to motorists;
  • Cyclists should have appropriate insurance (which would require evidence of roadworthiness and passing the Highway Code test).

With lockdown easing, now would be a good time to run courses in public parks, supporting novice cyclists, and checking roadworthiness. Volunteers could be recruited to help; discounts on equipment could also be negotiated with suppliers for attendees, and the wider community.

It is time to ensure that all road users are governed by the same rules, being appropriately qualified and equipped. It’s bad enough having millions of untaxed and unqualified drivers on the roads, lacking any respect for others and ignoring speed limits. Government should acknowledge that legitimate motorists – and the Police – have more than enough to cope with. But, without further action, there will be more accidents – and motorists will undoubtedly get the blame.

Adding to the problem, the Government has now decided to allow rented electric scooters to share cycle lanes and road space in pilot schemes, in some locations from this month for a year’s trial. Conditions include users having a provisional or full driving licence, wearing a helmet and a 15.5 mph maximum speed.

Inevitably, relaxing the rules in specific areas will encourage greater illegal use elsewhere.

Just a few days ago, I found myself following an (illegal) electric scooter down a narrow main road in Ipswich, with legal parking down one side virtually blocking one lane; within just a few minutes, the rider nearly caused two major accidents: first, his speed was approaching 30mph. He fell off, and the scooter skittered right across the road, causing three cars coming in the opposite direction to brake sharply. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, but took his time to recover the scooter and get back on.

He carried on, in the middle of the road, at the same speed, whilst looking at his mobile phone, which he continued to do as he approached traffic lights. Instead of stopping in the empty designated priority cycle space, ahead of vehicles, he stopped next to a car indicating a left hand turn. When the lights turned green, he looked up from his phone, heading straight across the road, having ignored the car still indicating as it slowly turned left. Falling onto the vehicle, he shouted abuse at the driver, then carried on again, gathering speed.

I don’t envy the Police trying to control this sort of behaviour, without any form of users’ identification, once word gets out that e-scooters can use the roads. For too many people, regulations on speed and rental won’t apply. Nor does common sense.

It costs billions of pounds to maintain public roads, so it is only fair that cyclists should share the burden with other road users. An annual £20 tax for individuals, with £40 for a family of four, would not only contribute to the economy at this difficult time, but it would help to encourage greater responsibility for their personal safety. Some cyclists display a particular arrogance, taking risks, compromising everyone’s safety, instead of respecting other road users, including pedestrians.

Suffolk County Council, and other rural county councils, should also take measures to protect horses and their riders. According to the British Horse Society, 845 horses were killed on the roads in 2019 – equivalent to nearly two horses every week. There needs to be a national awareness campaign, with penalties for selfish motorists who carelessly speed through country roads and villages, with never a thought for vulnerable road users, whether riding a horse or cycle, or simply going for a walk.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and more

27 Jul

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

– – – – – – – – – –

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel – Chair

“The chair is responsible for leading and managing the Panel. They must lead development and implementation of a strategic vision for the Panel and ensure the reviews under their supervision identify improvements safeguarding partners or others should make to better safeguard and promote the welfare of children…Successful applicants will demonstrate the ability to: provide strong strategic leadership; chair high level meetings; effectively manage team dynamics and maintain the confidence of others, including child safeguarding professionals, Ministers and the public. The right candidate will also demonstrate a strong understanding of multi-agency child safeguarding arrangements, policy and frontline delivery.”

Time: 6-8 days per month.

Remuneration: £500 per diem.

Closes: 31 July

– – – – – – – – – –

College of Policing – Chair

“The Chair of the College of Policing is appointed by the Home Secretary to ensure the long-term success of the College. Together with the College Board of Directors, the Chair (who must not have a background in operational policing) will set the College’s strategic direction and aims against budgets and priorities. They will provide the College Chief Executive and team of Executive Directors with the necessary leadership, support and monitoring that will help them to meet the College and Home Secretary’s goals. The College plays a critical role in helping to increase the diversity within the police to reflect the communities they serve.”

Time: 1-2 days per week.

Remuneration: £135,000 pro rata.

Closes: 03 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Equality & Human Rights Commission – Chair

“The Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities is seeking a strong, strategic leader who will continue to develop the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and set the Commission’s overall direction to reflect its crucial role as an equality body and National Human Rights Institution. This appointment fulfils the requirement of the Equality Act 2006 that the Secretary of State should appoint a Chair to the Commission. Although the Commission is an independent organisation, the Chair is accountable to the above sponsoring Minister. You will develop and maintain high-value relationships with Ministers, influential partners, governments at home and abroad, opinion formers, industry and others, demonstrating judgment, integrity and resilience in the face of challenge.”

Time: 1-2 days per week.

Remuneration: £500 per diem.

Closes: 03 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – National Citizen Service Trustees

“National Citizen Service (NCS) is a youth programme that runs across England and Northern Ireland. We exist to engage, unite and empower young people, building their confidence so they can go out there and achieve their dreams, no matter where they’re from or what their background is. Our programme is managed and supported by NCS Trust, our central team who are constantly working to make sure we deliver the most impactful experience we can to as many young people as possible. National Citizen Service is seeking three Trustees with experience and skills at a senior level in the following areas: experience and demonstrable senior leadership in the parliamentary/public sector (1 Trustee); human resources specialist with commercial experience and a particular focus on people strategy, culture and coaching high performance teams (1 Trustee); [and] an education leader with strong links to schools and young people (1 Trustee).”

Time: 5-10 days per week.

Remuneration: “Reasonable expenses”.

Closes: 09 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Home Office – Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner

“The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner role aims to promote police compliance with the rules on the collection and retention of DNA, fingerprints and surveillance cameras respectively. The roles were created by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (POFA), which set out the regime for police use of DNA, fingerprints and the regulation of surveillance cameras. We have decided to appoint a single person to both roles because of the confluence of existing and emerging regulatory issues around police use of automated facial recognition. The post will cover the duties of the Biometrics Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, while the Government is considering reforms in this area.”

Time: Full-time.

Remuneration: £125,000 per annum.

Closes: 09 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Home Office – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and of Fire & Rescue Authorities

“HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is an independent body that inspects and reports to the public on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces in England and Wales, fire and rescue authorities in England and national law enforcement agencies. It aims to ensure that the public and their elected representatives can hold inspected organisations to account by monitoring trends, challenging practice and identifying areas for improvement, and making performance information accessible. The principal role of HMICFRS is undertaking the all-force inspections of policing in England and Wales, and of all fire & rescue authorities in England; providing the public with a clear, consistent and independent view of the quality of services in their local area.”

Time: Full-time.

Remuneration: £175,000 per annum.

Closes: 17 August

– – – – – – – – – –

Joint Nature Conservation Committee – Chair

“Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Framework Document provides the legal, administrative and financial framework within which the Joint Committee operates and the specific functions of the Committee and the Chair. As Chair you will be responsible to the Defra Secretary of State for the leadership, direction and effectiveness of JNCC in line with strategies and plans agreed with Defra and the Devolved Administrations. You will be the primary contact with Ministers for the Committee. You will provide visible leadership and vision for JNCC, setting strategic and operational direction, ensuring good governance and, together with the Joint Committee, holding the executive to account.”

Time: 2.5 days per week.

Remuneration: £40,059 per annum.

Closes: 03 September

– – – – – – – – – –

Environmental Standards Scotland – Chair/Members

“Environmental Standards Scotland will be established, initially, on a non-statutory basis from January 2021.  It will transition to a statutory, independent body over the course of 2021. The Board will initially comprise of the Chair and two other members.  Once Environmental Standards Scotland becomes established as a statutory organisation, further board appointments are expected. Members of the Board of Environmental Standards Scotland will shape how the Board performs its role, including by exercising judgement on what information to monitor; selecting environmental concerns for initial review and for detailed investigation; resolving these through agreement with public authorities, where possible; and, highlighting any significant issues to Ministers.”

Time: 8-10 days per month initially, ~4 per month thereafter.

Remuneration: £300/£200 per diem.

Closes: 03 September