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Royston Smith: It is time for a national memorial to the Spitfire in its home town of Southampton

Royston Smith is the MP for Southampton Itchen. Before his parliamentary career, he served as an engineer in the RAF

2020 marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, which was the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The contribution of the Spitfire to defending Britain, at one of the bleakest times in the Second World War, and its boost to our collective morale, is something that should never be forgotten. Yet the number of remaining Spitfire pilots is now less than five and there is a risk that a vital link between our past and future generations will be lost.

This is why I believe that now is the most pertinent time to build a monument dedicated to the indelible mark this magnificent aircraft left on the course of British history.

One of the reasons Southampton is not as architecturally interesting as other English towns and cities is because of the extensive bombing during the Second World War. Over 470 tonnes of high explosives were dropped on Southampton during the war, damaging nearly 45,000 buildings. Southampton was a strategic target for the Luftwaffe because of our docks and more importantly, the Supermarine factory in Woolston where the Spitfire was manufactured.

In September 1940, during two daylight raids, the Woolston works were destroyed, killing about a hundred people. The Minister for Aircraft Procurement at the time visited Southampton and insisted that Spitfire production continue. As a result, laundries, bus stations, and garages were requisitioned. Within a few weeks, the Spitfire was back in production in Southampton’s shadow factories. If you come to Southampton and speak to local residents, you will find that almost everyone has a personal or family story about the Spitfire.

The significance of R. J. Mitchell’s Spitfire should not be underestimated. The Spitfire is the epitome of what it is to be British: the plucky underdog who saw off the Nazi aggressor. It is a symbol of British innovation and courage. It is the reason we are free, but there is no national memorial to the designer, those who built it, and the brave pilots who flew it in battle.

The average age of a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War was 20. The youngest Spitfire pilot was Sqd Ldr Geoffrey Wellum who was only 18. They risked and, all too often gave their lives, so that we can enjoy the lives we have today. It is claimed that the average life expectancy of a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain was just four weeks. There is no definitive evidence of this, but what we do know is fewer than half of those who flew Spitfires survived the war.

The Spitfire’s maiden flight was from Southampton Airport on 5 March 1936 and it entered service with the Royal Air Force in August 1938. Of the 20,000 Spitfire that were produced, over 8,000 were built in Southampton by the time production ceased in 1948.

‘South coast of England’ conjures up images of quaint market towns with access to the coast. Nothing could be further from the truth. Southampton is home to 230,000 decent, hardworking people; they are anything but wealthy. The main industries that gave them long-term, well-paid employment are long gone and Southampton is now too dependent on service industries. To put it into context, Southampton is a typical Northern industrial town located in the prosperous South. It is for this reason that people from Southampton feel successive governments have overlooked them.

Southampton has a past to be proud of. First settled by the Romans over 2000 years ago, Southampton has been a major British port ever since. It was from Southampton that the Mayflower set sail to the New World 400 years ago and where the Titanic began its fateful maiden voyage in 1912. But perhaps the most important claim to fame for Southampton was the design, test flight, and manufacture of the iconic Spitfire.

The people of Southampton deserve recognition for their courage, determination, and selflessness for this country. Instead of commemorating a tragedy such as the sinking of the Titanic, it is more important that we celebrate achievements embodied by the Spitfire.

I believe we have not properly and permanently honoured those who defended our freedom and democracy; not just those who flew the Spitfire but those who worked and sacrificed themselves in the Supermarine Factory in Southampton. As Churchill so eloquently put it, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. It is long past time we commemorated the Spitfire, a significant player in the saviour of western freedoms and democracy and symbolic of the few. It is time for a national memorial to the Spitfire in its home town of Southampton.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ruth Edwards: The Iran crisis should spur us to upgrade our cyber defences

Ruth Edwards is MP for Rushcliffe.

The breach of the US Embassy in Iraq and the US retaliation in assassinating Qasem Soleimani are potent symbols of the increasing tensions between Iran and the West.

There are clear, visible signs of the Government moving to protect our people and assets in the region, with Royal Navy ships being sent to protect tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. But, unseen, there will also be huge amounts of activity in Security Operation Centres across the country to step-up our digital defences.

Suppliers of Critical National Infrastructure, such as my former employer BT, often face an increase in attempted cyber security attacks at times of high international tensions.

Cyber attacks are increasingly used by nation states to continue ‘war by other means’. Ten years ago, the Stuxnet virus was deployed against Iran to damage centrifuges being used in its nuclear programme and, last year, US officials claimed to have carried out a cyber attack which degraded Iran’s ability to target tankers in the Gulf.

We know that Iran has been developing its own cyber capabilities. Malware such as the Shamoon virus, which wiped out much of the digital infrastructure of oil companies like Saudi Aramco and RasGas, has been attributed to Iranian-backed sources.

We may not have yet seen a ‘C1’ cyber-attack against the UK – that’s an attack that cripples our critical infrastructure – but the UK’s ability and willingness to deploy both hard and soft ‘cyber power’ against nation state adversaries and organised criminal groups will be crucial as we redefine our role in international affairs post-Brexit.

This year’s Security, Defence and Foreign Policy review provides an excellent opportunity to reinforce Britain’s place as a leader in international ‘cyber power’.

As well as investment in hardware – ships, jets and kinetic weapon –  the UK must prioritise investment in defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.

Yes, that means investing in the latest technologies, but it also means making sure we have enough people with the skills to defend infrastructure and businesses across the country. This is the most pressing issue.

Government research has found that 54 per cent of businesses in the UK lack the skilled people they need to protect themselves from cyber-attack. This is a global problem, with current estimates that we will have a global shortage of 1.8 million cyber security professionals by 2022.

Previous governments have rightly sought to address the shortage of talent coming through the pipeline, with initiatives such as CyberFirst encouraging young people to study cyber security at university. This has been an effective method of getting young people into the industry.

What we need now is a comprehensive strategy to help train and transfer people into cyber security roles mid-career. The £3 billion National Skills Fund, announced in the Conservative election manifesto, to help adults re-train and re-enter the workplace provides this opportunity. Sectors of strategic national importance, such as cyber security, should be prioritised.

Finally, we must project soft-power abroad. In the same way the UK helps developing countries build infrastructure through its international aid programme, we need to use our leadership in cyber security to help our friends and trading partners develop their capacity.

For example, the UK has made good progress in improving the infrastructure of the internet and making it harder for attackers to exploit, through its Active Cyber Defence Programme. It also has advanced information sharing practises between the public and private sector and has spent years developing a comprehensive strategic approach to tackling cyber threats. Helping others to build this capacity would strengthen cyber security across the world.

Cyber Power will be a defining characteristic of the ‘20s: the UK can, and must, lead in its deployment.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jack Airey: The next Government should revitalise Key Worker Housing

Jack Airey is Head of Housing at Policy Exchange.

For a long time, it was common for certain public sector workers to be provided a home as part of their job. Housing support used to be included in salary packages of Metropolitan Police officers, for example, either as free or subsidised accommodation or a paid housing allowance. Firefighters, teachers and nurses have also been eligible for subsidised housing schemes.

Support with finding a home allowed people whose job necessitated them to be close to the community they serve to do just that. The outgoing Labour Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, has spoken of how “When working as a firefighter in the 1970s, I was provided a home… [It] allowed me to get on with serving the public rather than worrying about next month’s rent.”

Although many of these homes have been sold off over recent decades, the extreme costs of buying or renting a home in some parts of the country in relation to public sector wages means that it is time to look again at how vital local workers can be supported with housing.

Many of the most valued and important front-line public sector workers are simply struggling to live in or near the community they serve. Instead, vital local public servants like police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters have to commute from further and further away. This is a danger to local public services, making it more difficult to recruit and retain staff at the same time as impacting service delivery.

The NHS is a case in point. Recruitment and retention challenges are causing a high rate of vacancies for a range of roles which means that NHS trusts are using more short-term agency staff – at significant taxpayer expense. Staff health and well-being is also a major concern. Nurses, for instance, report that long shift work is a burden on their health and causing tiredness that puts their lives at risk if driving home after work.

The cost of housing compounds these issues in places where it is most unaffordable. Healthcare workers are competing for the same homes as private sector workers who are often better paid. It should come as no surprise, then, that four in ten nurses plan to leave London because of high housing costs.

The Metropolitan Police Service is similarly challenged by the cost of housing. Up until recently, the Met had a policy of recruiting new constables that had lived in London for a minimum of three years within the last six. This was because the police needs a workforce that understands and reflects the communities it serves. Past recruits who did not come from London were much more likely to transfer to another force outside the capital after a few years, lured by cheaper housing and family links. The Met’s residency criteria have now been relaxed, largely because they could not attract enough Londoners to apply. Again, the cost of housing is a deterrent to people choosing to work in a vital public service.

There are some public sector workers, of course, that require no housing support at all, either because they earn enough money or because they live in a place where the cost of housing is affordable relative to public sector wages. However, for the many vital local public sector workers who are struggling to pay next month’s rent or save enough to buy a home anytime soon, a helping hand would go a long way. The next government should commit to helping them as part of their housing agenda.

A report published today by Policy Exchange, the think tank I work for, outlines some of the steps the Government can take to support nurses, police officers and other vital public sector workers like firefighters and teachers in the housing market. We argue for the Key Worker Housing policy (first introduced by the Blair Government but later dropped during the Coalition era) to be revitalised.

This initiative allowed certain public sector workers – those who met ‘Key Worker’ eligibility criteria – to access affordable homes. It included demand-side measures, like equity loans, and supply-side measures, like funding for new Key Worker homes built for intermediate rental and for discounted ownership.

The Blair Government’s Key Worker Housing scheme had its flaws. Eligibility criteria for Key Worker Housing, for example, sprawled wider than necessary. A more narrow focus is needed in the criteria on workers from the local area who genuinely are a necessary part of the community infrastructure. The guiding principles of the Key Worker Housing programme, however, offer the next government a platform to support front-line public sector workers whose job requires them to live close to their workplace the chance to do so. A mix of new measures is then required involving local authorities and housing associations.

Reforms are firstly needed to increase the stock of Key Worker homes. Future capital funding programmes for Affordable Housing should be directed more towards the building of Key Worker homes. Public sector landowners like the NHS should also be encouraged to partner with housing associations that can build and manage affordable homes reserved for local Key Workers on their surplus land and property.

Local authorities and housing associations in areas where high housing costs are causing the most acute staffing challenges for front-line public services should, secondly, give greater priority to local Key Workers when allocating social housing. This will provide Key Workers a more immediate opportunity to access an affordable home.

Lastly, the Government should announce a Met Police Key Worker Housing Deal. This would be an important part of the Met’s recruitment drive, especially if the proposed 5,000 new officers are to come from London. To this end, London’s Affordable Homes Funding Programme should be topped up by £70 million to help finance the building of 2,500 affordable Key Worker homes specifically reserved for Met officers. Ministers should also consider extending the Forces Help to Buy scheme – this is a more generous version of the standard Help to Buy scheme – to help Met officers buy a home in London.

Both candidates hoping to lead the country after December’s election talk a lot about boosting public services and supporting vital public sector workers. Revitalising Key Worker Housing would show that they mean it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Lord Ashcroft: PTSD-suffering military veterans show long-term benefits from working with orphaned baby rhinos


Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com | www.lordashcroftwildlife.com | www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In December last year, I travelled to a secret location just outside South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park to report on a unique project.

The location was, and still is, secret because it is where dozens of young rhinos, some only weeks or months old, are brought when they are found abandoned and orphaned: in almost all cases their mothers have been brutally shot and dehorned, sometimes while they are still alive, by poachers.

So if the evil poachers knew the location of the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, they could go there in search of easy pickings: some of the older rhinos have well-established – and therefore valuable – horns.

I travelled to South Africa to report on first-ever Footprints of Hope project, which was organised by a British-based charity, Veterans for Wildlife. The intention of the programme was for humans and animals, both damaged by traumatic events in their lives, to benefit from the other’s existence through Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT).

In fact, I sponsored the first Footprints of Hope programme because of my dual interests in supporting military veterans (I was the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Veterans Transition for six years until resigning last year) and protecting wildlife.

The programme’s aims were ambitious considering the trauma that its participants had encountered: “To equip and empower veterans with the tools and support they need to make immediate and long-term changes to their mental wellbeing, allowing them to lead happy and fulfilling civilian lives.”

Five British military veterans, all suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PDSD) and some suffering from physical injuries too, spent two weeks at the orphanage caring for the baby rhinos. I wrote about this in a lengthy feature for The Daily Telegraph Magazine published on January 26 this year. The initial indications from the project were good: that the five veterans – three men and two women – had benefitted from their AAT programme. But were these gains only short rather than long term?

The only way to find out was to interview the veterans again and to discover from the programme organiser and clinical psychologist if they felt the veterans had made significant progress to their lives in the long run. This time the location for the interviews was less exotic: a first-floor room in Battersea, central London, where Veterans for Wildlife has its office. However, the positive feedback that the veterans recounted to me was equally encouraging to that I had received from them in South Africa many months earlier.

Pete Dunning, 34, a former Royal Marines Commando, was forced to leave the military after he lost both his legs and suffered other serious injuries when his Viking armoured vehicle was struck by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in May 2008.

He said of Footprints of Hope: “Being in South Africa and having the experience that we had out there has given us the tools to take back into every-day situations.” Pete observed his family and friends had commented, since his return from Africa, that he seemed to have a better and calmer approach to life. “I definitely feel more positive about the future. I have gone through peaks and troughs since South Africa but there have been more good times than bad. I feel better in myself and there are people out there [fellow veterans from the programme] that I can rely on if I need help.”

Pete, a divorced father of two, is now in a new relationship and working on a military study into the effect of battlefield injuries. He hopes one day to return to South Africa to see how the rhinos he was working with are progressing.

Chris Corbett, 32, served for eight years in the Army, becoming a corporal in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. He left the military after being injured by shrapnel during a tour of Iraq in May 2007. After suffering with aggression and depression, he was eventually diagnosed with complex PTSD. He currently works for a construction company.
Chris said of his Footprints of Hope experience: “It’s helped me absolute wonders…The main thing is how we have gelled together as a team, obviously [from] going out to Africa and doing a lot of work together and having to help each other out in physical and mental situations. We are still strong as a team, many months later. I have made friends for life.”

Chris said that speaking to two members of the group who had competed in the Invictus Games, an international event for wounded and sick military personnel and veterans, had encouraged him to get back into training with the aim of competing in power-lifting and rowing events. “It’s something I would probably never have done in the past: big crowds, a lot of people there. It’s just something that would have made me feel uncomfortable back in the past but it’s something I am really driven to go and do now,” he said.

Chris, who lives with his partner and their two daughters, has fond memories of his time working with the rhinos: “I fell in love with Africa when I went there,” he said. “It’s changed me in positive ways.”

Martin Bodley, 30, who left the Army in 2012 after seven years, was a craftsman in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and completed two tours of Afghanistan. He has since struggled with heavy drinking and depression and was diagnosed with PTSD. He currently works as a civilian investigator with Avon and Somerset Police.

“For me the long-term benefit has been the network…having such a close bond with the other veterans, being able to talk to them and realise that I am not alone,” he told me. “When first depression hits you and [then] anxiety and everything else flows into you, you very much feel isolated…Yet speaking to people [fellow programme members] who have common knowledge of what is going on is a big part of Footprints of Hope.”

Martin, who is divorced with a young daughter but now in a new relationship, said he feels more positive about the future because of his “absolutely incredible experience” in South Africa, working with the vulnerable young rhinos. “We all worked so well as a team,” he added. Footprints of Hope had introduced him to yoga and meditation, which he continues to do and which he says “helps me a lot”.

The other two veterans on the Footprints of Hope programme, Jennifer Jessey and Jennifer Yarwood, have also made significant progress as a result of being in South Africa but they find it more difficult to speak publicly about their experiences.

Wes Thomson, the London-based South African founder and chief executive of Veterans for Wildlife, and himself a veteran of the Royal Marines, said of the charity’s first Footprints of Hope programme: “It has been better than we ever anticipated. It’s been massively rewarding to see the progress of the veterans in terms of their mental health and well-being. We are delighted to have been able to play our small part in their journey towards recovery.

“Lots of lessons have been learnt – it was a hugely complicated project with many different moving parts. There are a few things that we will change going forward that will make the project better.” He said that in the future, providied the funding is in place, the charity hopes to arrange two Footprints of Hope projects each year.

Jovika Wiese, a South African-based clinical psychologist, who took the five veterans for group and individual sessions, recorded a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms for those who took part in the programme, and she noted that they related better to other people and felt better about their futures at the end of their treatment.

Her conclusion was: “It is clear from the assessment results that the FOH programme was able to achieve its aim of creating a catalyst for participants and start them on a journey where they could feel comfortable to facilitate elements of their own wellbeing and take a different path.”

All five participants in the Footprints of Hope project have told me that they would encourage other veterans with mental health and physical disabilities to apply for future programmes.

As Martin Bodley put it: “It’s done me the world of good, you [as a veteran] could be the next one to benefit. Go for it. For the five of us who went out there, it has very much changed our lives. It could change your life too.”

Pete Dunnett said that his message to other veterans was: “It’s the most unique course that you can imagine. There is nothing else out there like it. So why haven’t you applied yet?”

I feel privileged to have met all the five veterans in South Africa and to have met with most of them for a second time in London. I have found it a humbling experience to observe them at work in South Africa and then, months later, to hear them talk so enthusiastically about the benefits that their programme had given them.

Footprints of Hope has significantly improved the lives of five young veterans and I am confident that, in future, it will have a similar effect on many others who take up the challenge provided by the programme.

For more information on the Footprints of Hope programme, visit: www.veterans4wildlife.org/footprints-of-hope-veterans-wellness-retreat

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Boris Johnson: “Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s bring our country together.” Full text of his conference speech.

It’s great to be here in Manchester at the best attended conference for years and I know that some of you may have been mildly peppered with abuse on the way in but are you abashed? Are you downcast?

Of course not. We are conservatives and we get on with serving the people and speaking of service I should begin by paying tribute to my predecessor Theresa, I know the whole of conference remains full of gratitude to you, and to Philip May, for your patience and your forbearance, and yes, we will continue with the work of tackling domestic violence and modern slavery and building on your legacy I have been prime minister for only seventy days but  I have seen so many things that give cause for hope hospitals that are finally getting the investment to match the devotion of the staff schools where standards of reading are rising through the use of synthetic phonics police colleges where idealistic young men and women are enrolling in large numbers to fight crime across the country shipyards in Scotland that are building superb modern type 26 frigates for sale around the world – and every one of those high wage high skill jobs in shipbuilding is a testament to the benefits of belonging to the United Kingdom  the most successful political partnership in history which we will protect and we will defend against those who would wantonly destroy it and I say to Ruth Davidson as well  thank you for everything you did for the cause of Conservatism and unionism in Scotland and Ruth, we will honour your legacy too and I am proud of the role this government is playing in every one of those investments and they are only possible because it was this Conservative government that tackled the debt and the deficit left by the last Labour government.

It was because we cleared up the wreckage they left behind that we now have record employment wages rising the fastest for 10 years and we have record Foreign Direct Investment of £1.3 trillion and so many reasons to be confident about our country and its direction and yet we are like a world class athlete with a pebble in our shoe there is one part of the British system that seems to be on the blink.

If parliament were a laptop, then the screen would be showing the pizza wheel of doom.

If parliament were a school, Ofsted would be shutting it down.

If parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now. But at least we could have watched the speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle.

And the sad truth is that voters have more say over I’m a celebrity than they do over this House of Commons.

Which refuses to deliver Brexit, refuses to do anything constructive and refuses to have an election just at the moment when voters are desperate for us to focus on their priorities we are continuing to chew the supermasticated subject of Brexit when..

What people want…

What leavers want…

What remainers want…

What the whole world wants – is to be calmly and sensibly done with the subject, and to move on and that is why we are coming out of the EU on October 31, come what may Conference:

Let’s get Brexit done.

We can we must and we will even though things have not been made easier by the surrender bill we will work for a deal with our EU friends; but whatever happens we must come out by the end of October let’s get this thing done – and then let’s get ready to make our case to the country against the fratricidal anti-semitic Marxists who were in Brighton last week.

Last week Jeremy Corbyn had a number of damaging and retrograde ideas in his speech he wants a 4 day week – which would slash the wages of people on low incomes.

He wants to ban private schools and expropriate their property. Even though it would cost the taxpayer seven billion to educate the kids.

He wants to stamp out excellence in schools by banning Ofsted the inspectors who ensure that schools are safe for our children.

But he had one good idea. He had a whole paragraph repeating what he has said every week for the last three years. He wants an election now – or that is what he was going to say, poor fellow  the only trouble is that the paragraph was censored by John McDonnell or possibly Keir Starmer so we have the astonishing spectacle of the leader of the opposition being prevented by his colleagues from engaging in his constitutional function which is to try to remove me from office and in this age of creative litigation I am surprised that no one has yet sued him for breach of contract though it now appears that the SNP may yet try to bundle him towards the throne like some Konstantin Chernenko figure. Reluctantly propelled to office in a Kremlin coup so that they get on with their programme for total national discord turning the whole of 2020 – which should be a great year for this country – into the chaos and cacophony of two more referendums:

A second referendum on Scottish independence, even though the people of Scotland were promised that the 2014 vote would be a once in a generation decision and a second referendum on the EU? Can you imagine? QAnother 3 years of this?

But that is the Corbyn agenda – stay in the EU beyond October 31, and paying a billion pounds a month for the privilege, followed by years of uncertainty for business and everyone else.

As for the Lib Dems, their idea of serving the national interest was to write to Jean-Claude Juncker urging him NOT to give this country a better deal.

While the leader has called for a second referendum.

While pledging to campaign against the result.

It’s time to respect the trades descriptions act. And take the word democrat out of the liberal democrats.

My friends I am afraid that after three and a half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for foolsThey are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want brexit delivered at all and if they turn out to be right in that suspicion then I believe there will be grave consequences for trust in democracy.

Let’s get Brexit done on October 31.

Let’s get it done because of the opportunities that Brexit will bring not just to take back control of our money and our borders and our laws.

To regulate differently and better, and to take our place as a proud and independent global campaigner for free trade.

Let’s get it done because delay is so pointless and expensive.

Let’s get it done because we need to build our positive new partnership with the EU because it cannot be stressed too much that this is not an anti-European party and it is not an anti-European country.

We love Europe.

We are European. But after 45 years of really dramatic constitutional change we must have a new relationship with the EU a positive and confident partnership- and we can do it.

Today in Brussels we are tabling what I believe are constructive and reasonable proposals which provide a compromise for both sides.

We will under no circumstances have checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland.

We will respect the peace process and the Good Friday agreement.

And by a process of renewable democratic consent by the executive and assembly of Northern Ireland we will go further and protect the existing regulatory arrangements for farmers and other businesses on both sides of the border.

And at the same time we will allow the UK – whole and entire – to withdraw from the EU, with control of our own trade policy from the start.

And to protect the union.

And yes this is a compromise by the UK.

And I hope very much that our friends understand that and compromise in their turn.

Because if we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks.

When that technology is improving the whole time.

Then let us be in no doubt that the alternative is no deal.

That is not an outcome we want.

It is not an outcome we seek at all.

But let me tell you this conference it is an outcome for which we are ready.

Are we ready?

Are we determined to resolve this?

Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 because we must get on and deliver on all the priorities of the people to answer the cry of those 17.4 m who voted for Brexit because it is only by delivering Brexit that we can address that feeling in so many parts of the country  that they were being left behind, ignored and that their towns were not only suffering from a lack of love and investment but their views had somehow become unfashionable or unmentionable.

And let’s get Brexit done for those millions who may have voted remain but are first and foremost democrats. And accept the result of the referendum and when I say that I want us to work together, now, to bring this country together you are entitled to ask yourselves about my core principles and the ideals that drive me and are going to drive me as your prime minister.

I am going to follow the example of my friend Saj.

I am going to quote that supreme authority in my family – my mother (and by the way for keen students of the divisions in my family you might know that I have kept the ace up my sleeve – my mother voted leave) and my mother taught me to believe strongly in the equal importance, the equal dignity, the equal worth of every human being on the planet and that may sound banal but it is not and there is one institution that sums up that idea

The NHS is holy to the people of this country because of the simple beauty of its principle that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from but when you are sick the whole country figuratively gathers at your bedside and does everything it can to make you well again and everybody pays to ensure that you have the best doctors and the best nurses and the most effective treatments known to medical science and after 70 years the results are – on the whole –amazing when I was a kid the word cancer was a death knell and heart attack was a terrifying thought well, we are slowly defeating the legions of disease.

This country has seen the fastest falls in breast cancer in Europe but we have so much more to do.

On Monday I went to the north Manchester general hospital and I saw the incredible work they are doing with reconstructive maxillo-facial surgery on people who only a decade ago would have been permanently disfigured by their traumas and for whom hope and confidence is so important I talked to the patients and every one of them was bursting with praise for the staff and their energy and devotion but conference that fantastic hospital was built in 1876 to serve the workhouse and we were walking down long narrow nightingale wards that were designed by the pioneer of nursing and as one of the managers told me that asking those professionals to work in that environment is like asking a premiership footballer to play on a ploughed field.

And so I was proud to tell them under this government we will totally rebuild that hospital. 

So that we are not only recruiting more doctors and nurses, and training them but in the next 10 years we will build 40 new hospitals in the biggest investment in hospital infrastructure for a generation because after 70 years of the existence of the NHS – 44 of them under a Conservative government – it is time for us to say loud and clear:

We are the party of the NHS and I claim that title because it is our one nation conservatism that has delivered and will deliver the economic growth that makes those investments possible.

And it is we Conservatives who will solve the problem of social care and end the injustice that means people have to sell their home to pay for their old age.

And if you ask me how we are going to do it how we are going to grow the UK economy.

I will tell you that it is by raising the productivity of the whole of the UK not with socialism not with deranged and ruinous plans borrowed from the playbook of Bolivarian revolutionary Venezuela but by creating the economic platform for dynamic free market capitalism.

Yes, you heard it right capitalism – and when did you last hear a Tory leader talk about capitalism.

We are the party of the NHS precisely because we are the party of capitalism not because we shun it, or despise it and we understand the vital symmetry at the heart of the modern British economy between a dynamic enterprise culture and great public services and I have seen this formula in actio.

Now, who comes from London?

Who lives there?

No disgrace in that – I used to be mayor there and it is one of the many astonishing things about our nation’s capital that it is the most productive region in the whole of Europe because in 1863 this country led the world in putting trains in tunnels, among other breakthroughs and yet there are many other regions of the country that are far less productive and that represents not just an injustice but a massive opportunity.

I believe that talent and genius and initiative and chutzpah are evenly distributed across the whole UK but it is also clear that opportunity is not evenly distributed and it is the job of this one nation Conservative Government – to unlock talent in every corner of the UK because that is the right thing to do in itself and because that is the way to release the economic potential of the whole country and the first thing we must do in spreading opportunity is to insist on the equal safety of the public wherever you live to make your streets safer.

And that is why we are recruiting 20,000 new police officers.

And that is why we are committing now to rolling up the evil county lines drugs gangs that predate on young kids and send them to die in the streets to feed the cocaine habits of the bourgeoisie and we will succeed and yes we will be tough on crime we will make sure that the police have the legal powers and the political backing to use stop and search because it may be controversial but believe me that when a young man is going equipped with a bladed weapon there is nothing kinder or more loving or more life-saving you can do than ask him to turn out his pockets.

And yes, when people are found guilty of serious sexual or violent offences, we will make sure that they serve the sentence they should – if only for the protection of the public but we will also do everything we can to stop people becoming criminals with rehabilitation education in prisons so that they are not just academies for crime and we are investing in youth clubs and better FE training to give young people the best possible antidote to the criminal instinct the prospect of a good job and indeed the best way to level up and to expand opportunity is to give every kid in the country a superb education.

So that is why we are levelling up education funding across the country.

So that every child has the chance to express their talents and that’s why we are investing in transport from Northern Powerhouse rail to a huge new agenda of road improvements.

And yes I admit I am a bit of a bus nut. I confess that I like to make and paint inexact models of buses. With happy passengers inside.

But it is not just because i am a bus nut that we want to expand bus transport.

With clean, green buses and contactless payment by card or phone a good bus service can make all the difference to your job. To your life. To your ability to get to the doctor. To the liveability of your town or your village.

And to your ability to stay there and have a family there and start a business there.

And it is for exactly the same reason.

To increase connectivity and liveability that we are putting in gigabit broadband spreading across the country like tendrils of superinformative vermicelli because that is the way to unite the country to spread opportunity to bring the country together and there is another vital effect with the right infrastructure and education and technology you increase the productivity of the whole UK economy.

If the streets are safe, and if the transport links are there, and if there are good broadband connections you enable new housing to go ahead on brownfield sites that were never considered viable before we enable young people to get a foot on the housing ladder and we enable people to live near the good jobs and above all – with safe streets and affordable housing and fantastic wifi – we give business the confidence to invest and to grow that is the virtuous circle that is the balance and the symmetry at the heart of our one nation project and there are so many ways in which we are pulling ahead.

London has overtaken New York as the number one city for investment in fintech firms and that is before we have even delivered Crossrail which was on time and on budget when I left.

And isn’t it time we had a Mayor who is focused on the job – which is why i am backing Shaun Bailey here in Manchester we are seeing an extraordinary growth in genomics, with a flood of inward investment from banking and insurance to IT and that is before we have delivered northern powerhouse rail in the west midlands we are seeing a 21st century industrial revolution in battery technology one in five of the electric cars sold in Europe is now made in the UK and that is before we have begun Andy Street’s vision of a West Midlands Metro.

With infrastructure education and technology we will drive up the productivity of this country and bring it together.

I do not for one moment doubt the patriotism of people on all sides of this Brexit argument but I am fed up with being told that our country can’t do something when I believe passionately that it can thanks to British technology there is a place in Oxfordshire that could soon be the hottest place in the solar system. t

The tokamak fusion reactor in Culham.

And if you go there you will learn that this country has a global lead in fusion research.

And that they are on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world delivering virtually unlimited zero-carbon power.

Now I know they have been on the verge for some time. It is a pretty spacious kind of verge. But remember it was only a few years ago when people were saying that solar power would never work in cloudy old Britain and that wind turbines would not pull the skin off a rice pudding.

Well there are some days when wind and solar are delivering more than half our energy needs.

We can do it.

We can beat the sceptics.

We are already using gene therapy to cure blindness.

This country leads the way in satellite technology and we are building two space ports, one in Sutherland and one in Newquay soon we will be sending missions to the heavens geostationary satellites conference can you think of anyone who could trial the next mission.

Can you think which Communist cosmonaut to coax into the cockpit?

And let’s get Brexit done on October 31st.

Not just because we have such an immense agenda to take this country forward but because Brexit is an opportunity in itself.

We will take back control of our fisheries and the extraordinary marine wealth of Scotland and it is one of the many bizarre features of the SNP that in spite of being called names like Salmond and Sturgeon they are committed to handing back those fish to the control of the EU we want to turbo-charge the Scottish fishing sector; they would allow Brussels to charge for our turbot.

We will be able to allow UK businesses to have bigger tax breaks for investment in capital.

We can do free ports and enterprize zones.

We can ban the shipment of live animals.

And yes, we will have those free trade deals.

We already have some astonishing exports.

Just in the last few months I have seen an Isle of Wight ship-builder that exports vast leisure catamarans to Mexico.

We export Jason Donovan CDs to North Korea.

We exported Nigel Farage to America – though he seems to have come back.

And across the world there are countries that are yearning to engage with us.

Where we have old friendships and burgeoning new partnerships.

And that is the vision for Britain.

A country that is open, outward-looking, global in mindset and insisting on free trade.

A high wage, low tax, high skill, high productivity economy – with incomes rising fastest for those who are lowest paid.

A country where we level up and unify the entire United Kingdom through better education, better infrastructure and technology.

Acountry where provided you obey the law and do no harm to others you can live your life and love whomsoever you choose.

A country that leads the world with clean green technology and in reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

A country that is happy and confident about its future.

That is the vision for the country we love.

And when the opposition finally screw their courage to the sticking point and agree to have an election.

When the chlorinated chickens waddle from the hencoop where they are hiding.

That is the vision of the country that we will put to the people.

And the choice is clear.

We put up wages – with the biggest expansion of the living wage for a generation; Corbyn would put up taxes for everyone.

We back our superb armed forces around the world; Corbyn has said he wants them disbanded.

We want an Australian-style points based system for immigration; Corbyn says he doesn’t even believe in immigration controls.

If Jeremy Corbyn were allowed into Downing Street, he would whack up your taxes, he would foul up the economy, he would rip up the alliance between Britain and the USA, and he would break up the UK.

We cannot allow it to happen.

But it is worse than that.

It has become absolutely clear that he is determined now to frustrate Brexit.

What do we want and need? Do we want more dither and delay.

Do we want to spend another billion pounds a month that could be going on the NHS?

Let’s get Brexit done and let’s finally believe in ourselves and what we can do.

This country has long been a pioneer.

We inaugurated the steam age, the atomic age, the age of the genome.

We led the way in parliamentary democracy, in female emancipation and when the whole world had succumbed to a different fashion, this country and this party pioneered ideas of free markets and privatisation that spread across the planet.

Every one of them was controversial, every one of them was difficult.

But we have always had the courage to be original, to do things differently, and now we are about to take another giant step.

To do something no one thought we could do.

To reboot our politics.

To relaunch ourselves into the world and to dedicate ourselves again to that simple proposition that we are here to serve the democratic will of the British people and if we do that with optimism and confidence then I tell you we will not go wrong.

Let’s get on with sensible moderate one nation but tax-cutting Tory government and figuratively if not literally let us send Jeremy Corbyn into orbit where he belongs.

Let’s get Brexit done.

Let’s bring our country together.

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James Sutherland: Every Conservative should get behind the Armed Forces Covenant

James Sutherland is a member of Aldershot Conservative Association.

The recent appointment of Johnny Mercer as Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans and the introduction of the new Office for Veterans’ Affairs mark an exciting development in honouring the pledge that we owe to our Armed Forces.

But of course, the need to reset Britain’s relationship with its veterans is nothing new, and a framework already exists for societal change through the Armed Forces Covenant.

Enduring success will therefore depend on a fusion of top down (government-led) and bottom-up (local council-delivered) initiatives that place the Covenant at the forefront of our society and allow the whole country to derive maximum benefit from defence.

It may come as a surprise that there are an estimated 2.3 million ex-servicemen and women in the UK. When this significant figure is combined with family members or so-called ‘dependants’, not to mention those currently in service as either Regular or Reserve forces, here lies an influential body.

It is therefore clear to many that the Conservative Party must re-affirm its support for all serving personnel, veterans and their families, not only as the traditional party of the Armed Forces, but also as the defender of the democratic rights and freedoms that we share.

This is not just because there is so much to be gained from doing so, but also because it is the morally right thing to do. For one single veteran to be sleeping on our streets is one too many – so it is incumbent on us all to ensure that our debt to our Armed Forces is paid, and that we always show our gratitude to those who bear arms.

The Armed Forces Covenant is a brilliant document, and I commend it to anyone reading this article. It is a promise, that society must collectively acknowledge and reinforce, that our military personnel and their families should be treated with respect, dignity, and fairness by virtue of their service and the many sacrifices made. It also seeks to ensure that those who have previously served are never disadvantaged in the provision of public and commercial services compared to other citizens – this is about parity, not preference.

To date, over 4000 organisations have signed the Covenant across the UK, along with every Local Authority. But we should not be complacent, and the Office of Veteran’s Affairs will want to cut its teeth quickly by pursuing this extant agenda with even greater vigour than before. Indeed, it must ensure not only that all of the pledges being agreed are implemented correctly and fairly across society, but that the Covenant reaches new organisations and communities too.

Localism lies at the heart of success and much depends on the energy and initiative of dedicated local councillors. But here lies a potential banana skin. The loss of over 1300 council seats in May proved devastating in itself for the Conservative Party but one of its less well-known effects was the ejection of so many ‘Armed Forces Champions’ from legacy positions of responsibility.

With the Party now needing to re-build this vital influence capability, I would commend any local councillor to become an Armed Forces Champion at the first opportunity. The technical term for this winning formula is ‘no-brainer’ and further information can be found at www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk.

So what of the wider benefits on offer through the Covenant? In 2018 alone, over £23 million of Service Pupil Premium was provided to 76,000 service children in over 10,000 schools; the Covenant Fund Trust awarded 2,600 grants to remembrance activities; over £2.5 million was awarded to 14 welfare projects supporting service families; and the new Veteran’s Support Strategy was launched by the Ministry of Defence. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as generous funding is also available for welfare, sport, housing, healthcare and community projects.

As for the future, efforts are underway to help service spouses find employment, innovative self-build schemes such as Ty Ryan in Wales are being established for ex-Service personnel, and new Civilian-Military Partnership Boards are springing up throughout the UK. New resources are also being allocated to expand our fantastic Cadet Forces. At a time of knife crime and prevalent gang culture in our cities, the Service ethos can make a tangible difference to our young people.

So in addition to reaching out to our more vulnerable veterans, the Covenant is also about social mobility, reinforcing the essential fabric of society, guiding young people, and enhancing wider opportunity – these are principles that will resonate right across the Party.

Today, it is clear that support for our Armed Services is as strong as ever – but it comes at a price. So please do help by becoming an Armed Forces Champion, getting your employer or business to sign up to the Covenant, and throwing your support behind our veterans, cadets, serving personnel, and their families. With so much at stake politically, your efforts will be a worthy investment.

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Henry Hill: Wallace rejects amnesty for Ulster veterans, but wants inquiries restrained

Wallace rejects amnesty for soldiers but wants inquiries curbed

This week Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, revealed that he is opposed to offering an amnesty to members of the Armed Forces who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Whilst arguing that they should receive “the very best legal advice and support”, the former Security Minister is reportedly concerned that any amnesty would also need to be extended to paramilitaries and terrorists. According to the Times, he said:

“We must make sure we don’t let off the hook the murderers that are still out there and need to be hunted down and convicted of the killings that they took part in.”

This will be controversial due to the previous scandal over so-called ‘comfort letters’, which were issued by the Blair Government and are widely viewed to have given a de facto amnesty to IRA terrorists. They came to light after collapsing the trial of John Downey, who was being prosecuted over his role in the Hyde Park bombing.

However, Wallace did offer ex-servicemen some hope. The Daily Mail reports that he doesn’t want any new investigations to proceed unless actual new evidence emerges against individual soldiers. He also stated that he did not intend to allow the history books to be ‘rewritten’, and that the Armed Forces should be proud of what they achieved in Ulster.

This is addressed directly at the concerns of many unionists, who worry that the historical inquiries process is unfairly targeting the Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary and thus bolstering a republican narrative of the Troubles.

Labour’s civil war on the Union deepens

Last week, I wrote about how John McDonnell had opened a rift in the Labour Party over their stance on a second Scottish independence referendum.

In what looked like a fairly shameless bid to woo the SNP, the Shadow Chancellor announced that a Corbyn-led government would not stand in the way of a second referendum.

This sparked huge controversy because McDonnell appeared to be unilaterally re-writing Labour policy on the issue – and cutting Scottish Labour off at the knees to boot.

Although he initially doubled down on his remarks, this week opened with Labour officially ruling out entering into any formal alliance with the Nationalists to oust the Tories, instead committing to governing as a minority government in such circumstances.

If true, this suggests a remarkable amount of strategic incoherence. Such an announcement is unlikely to undo the damage McDonnell has likely done to Labour’s standing with its unionist voters, whilst ruling out an alliance appears to rule out any potential dividend from his actions. Of course, it does invite us to speculate as to what constitutes a ‘formal alliance’…

Meanwhile the Scottish party has condemned the national leadership, and Labour MSPs have vowed to ignore the Shadow Chancellor’s new policy – although left-wing allies of McDonnell hit back at ‘kamikaze unionists’ in a leak to a separatist site. The surprise departure of Brian Roy, the General Secretary of Scottish Labour, added to the turmoil.

On the Tory front, David Mundell has cropped up to suggest that it would be very difficult for the Government to resist legislating for a second referendum in the event that separatist parties won a majority at the 2021 Scottish election. (He is mistaken.) Meanwhile a poll found that only two fifths of Scottish voters think another referendum should be granted in the next five years.

Salmond paid half a million by the Scottish Government

It is often suggested that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP pursue independence so vociferously in part to distract from the hash they are making of governing Scotland. This week provides yet another raft of embarrassing headlines which lend weight to that suspicion.

First, and most shockingly, it emerged that the Scottish Government has paid out almost half a million pounds to Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, over its mishandling of its official inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him. This money was to cover his legal costs after he mounted a successful legal challenge on the matter.

That case is separate to the criminal case against the former SNP leader, who is charged with two attempted rapes, nine sexual assaults and two indecent assaults. He denies all wrongdoing, but the case remains a time bomb ticking under the Scottish Government – Sturgeon was Salmond’s protege, and it was her administration that presided over the botched inquiry into his conduct.

If that weren’t enough, elsewhere this week we learn that once again the Nationalists’ university fees policy has seen Scottish pupils missing out on places offered to applicants from elsewhere in the United Kingdom; the SNP Health Secretary has announced that an embattled £150 million hospital may not be open by the end of 2020, following concerns about the construction process and reviews of its safety; and a pro-Nationalist business magnate is furious that the Scottish Government may be about to nationalise a shipyard he rescued.

This week in commentary

There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary on Union-related issues this week, so rather than scatter them throughout the rest of the column I’ve collated them here.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner suggests that Brexit has made Scottish independence more difficult (only two years after ConHome considered that point proven, but still). Rather than be bullish about the implications of this he chooses to finish on a maudlin note, but that’s unionism for you.

From his new vantage point at the Atlantic, the excellent Tom McTague (formerly of Politico) sets out why Brexiteers are right to be deeply concerned about the Irish backstop. The analysis isn’t perfect, but it’s a rare sympathetic take on the pro-UK position.

In the Scotsman, Brian Monteith – now a Brexit Party MEP – suggests that Ruth Davidson’s decisions have imperilled the UK, whilst Paul Hutcheon writes in the Herald that the biggest threat to the Union is Scottish Labour’s collapse.

Finally, Iain Martin has decided that the way to save the UK is radical constitutional reform including devolution to England, a senate, and the rest. As is traditional for advocates of this position, he appears to just assume it will work, and makes no attempt to explain why identical assumptions about the last two decades of the devolution project have all come to nothing. Sigh.

News in Brief:

  • Varadkar ‘opposed to direct rule’ as he prepares to meet Johnson – iNews
  • Controversial cybernat blogger to launch new separatist party – The Times
  • Lib Dems and Greens to join anti-Brexit alliance with Plaid – The Spectator
  • SDLP sparks row after querying Union Flags on Tesco fruit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Scottish Court to hear ‘fast-tracked’ legal challenge to Brexit – FT
  • Ex-Plaid leader criticised over comments on carrying knives – The Sun
  • RBS ‘will move to England’ in the event of independence – The Scotsman

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Lewis Feilder: The Armed Forces must be more flexible over recruitment to attract those with the skills we need

Lewis Feilder is on the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary Candidates’ list, works as a defence consultant and is a board member of Conservative Friends of the Armed Forces.

One of the first briefings that the new Prime Minister will have received is from his National Security Advisor and senior military leaders. The primary duty of a Prime Minister is the defence of the realm and in the past 12 months, the UK has been on the receiving end of a string of hostile acts by other countries – a chemical weapons attack in Salisbury, daily cyber-attacks against government and commercial IT systems and attempts to seize British vessels in international waters. Most of these acts have been carried out by countries which publicly claim to be our friends. In private, military leaders and diplomats discuss how to counter the obviously hostile intent of the countries we continue to trade with and visit on holiday.

As the Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, set out for ConHome last year, we now find ourselves in a state of “constant competition” – a space somewhere between outright conflict and peace. This is the new norm. We are unlikely to go into head-to-head armed conflict with Russia, China or Iran, but these countries continue to commit openly hostile acts against the UK, to which a lack of response will only be interpreted as a sign of weakness and a free pass for them to ratchet up their attacks.

Boris Johnson and his new Foreign and Defence secretaries, will therefore be looking for options in this so-called “Gray zone”, where the aim is to increase the cost of our adversaries carrying out nefarious activities (and then denying their involvement) – e.g. Russia destabilising democratic processes, carrying out assassinations on UK soil, or China launching cyber-attacks against British infrastructure. It is broadly accepted that we have fallen behind in this race. Our Armed Forces now find themselves at the forefront of catching up, and have been quietly transforming themselves to fight in this new arena, previously the diplomatic preserve of the Foreign Office. Their task is to generate ways to outmanoeuvre our adversaries and to downgrade their capabilities to outmanoeuvre us.

This requires a very new way of working for our defence establishment, used to training men and officers in broadly the same way for the past 350 years, used to designing and procuring submarines and aircraft over 20-year cycles and used to operating within strictly-defined Rules of Engagement and Standard Operating Procedures laid down by civil servants in the Ministry of Defence.

The era of constant competition provides three real challenges to the status quo, with which the new PM and Secretary of State for Defence will have to grapple:

Agility of procurement

In a time of war, the Armed Forces can buy whatever they need rapidly through “Urgent Operational Requirements”. They can buy directly from whomever they judge best and don’t have to worry about how the kit, supplies or technology will be supported once the conflict is over. Traditionally, in peacetime, the 30,000-strong workforce at Defence Equipment and Support is responsible for procuring whatever the Armed Forces need. But, this doesn’t work particularly well when we are operating in the middle of those two states. The Armed Forces need to be able to rapidly purchase emerging technologies and trial them; they need to be able to link up in ecosystems with universities, start-ups, entrepreneurs and established industry players to experiment and rapidly develop prototypes. Ask any military officer who has tried and they will describe the crushing and demoralising bureaucracy, approvals and processes which make this nearly impossible at present.

We like to think that our adversaries don’t have to worry about such fripperies as commercial transparency or project management, but we shouldn’t think they have it much easier. Their militaries are even more centralised, riven with internal factions and intertwined with political autocracy, so are little more agile. It’s an area where our capitalist dynamism and tech skills base should give us a significant advantage.

A modern workforce

The Armed Forces realised years ago that recruiting school-leavers at the age of 16 and university-leavers at 21, training them and then looking after them almost cradle-to-grave until their retirement was unlikely to be the employment model of the future. Commendably, a great deal of work has been done to modernise recruitment and retention, and to broaden the appeal of the Armed Forces as an employer. Equally, the use of the Volunteer Reserves has turned what was once perceived as a Dad’s Army group of amateur weekend soldiers into a source of invaluable skills and experience to which the Armed Forces otherwise would simply not have access. I have seen how military personnel have the CEOs of tech companies on speed-dial and can call on a few hours’ time of high-flying corporate lawyers to test ideas, simply because they are Reservists and see it as an easy way to help their country whilst continuing to do their (highly-skilled and highly-paid) day jobs.

But, there remain significant barriers to creating the modern working environment that will harness the creativity and dynamism of the younger generation. Many of the most technically-gifted, whose skills would give our Armed Forces a competitive edge, would run a mile from the strictures of military discipline. For the weekday crypto-currency trader who usually works from his local WeWork collaborative office space, the idea of standing to attention at 07:00 for a kit inspection to check that boots are polished to within an inch of their life is utter anathema. Ways will have to be found to incorporate these types of personalities into the Reserves.

A former high-flying civil service analyst, now working in the private sector, was rejected from the Army Reserves because he requires commonplace laser eye surgery, which would render him unfit for tactical combat, despite his role being entirely desk-based.

The Armed Forces’ personnel standards are designed for the battles of the past, in which every serviceman and woman had to be fit for frontline combat. Whilst for swathes of the military that still applies, there needs to be common-sense-based deviation applied to those technical and analytical posts that are only ever going to be desk-based in the UK, or in a rear headquarters if deployed.


In Iraq and Afghanistan, junior officers and soldiers were making life-and-death decisions on operations on a daily basis. The Armed Forces work on the premise of a commander setting his intent and decision-making on how to execute being delegated to the lowest appropriate level.

In the era of constant competition, decision-making has been drastically pulled back up the chain-of-command. Tactical level decisions, such as whether to send a Tweet from a unit’s official Twitter account (designed to show off their capabilities to watching adversaries) are deemed to be fraught with risk and therefore subject to sign-off by senior officers. In the era of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, an effective response to emerging events is often a matter of minutes. Narrative-shaping activities are rendered ineffective by convoluted chains-of-command. Commanders need to trust that their staff will make sensible decisions in the online world, just as they would in the real world. They also need to accept that mistakes will occasionally be made.

The mantra of “fail fast, fail often” came out of the entrepreneurial tech scene a few years ago. It says that a fast-moving and innovative organisation encourages staff to try new things and not be afraid if they don’t work out – you just move onto the next thing. It is practically the opposite of the Staff Officer’s Handbook, which teaches officers to plan, plan and plan some more. Failure is to be avoided at all costs – perhaps understandably, as failure often means loss of life in a military context. But, in a world so fast-moving that your plan is likely to be defunct by the time it is complete, the Armed Forces need to give juniors the freedom to experiment and react quickly. Sometimes it will go wrong and commanders must back up their staff acting in good faith and within the commander’s intent, to send the message that it’s OK to try new and innovative things. There is currently a presumption that unless a written policy exists that says something is allowed, it is implicitly disallowed. This must be reversed by ministers.

Whilst it doesn’t always feel like it in the UK, as the battlefield isn’t obvious in our daily lives, we live in dangerous times and our Armed Forces are at the forefront of a new type of battle to keep us safe. Some of it is in the real world, some of it is online on social media, and some of it is in the heads of young people being attracted by the narratives of radical extremists. It will be up to the new Prime Minister and Defence Secretary to ensure that our Armed Forces are fit for that battle and freed from some of the self-imposed constraints that may prove central to whether the UK remains at the global top table, or slowly loses the ability to influence world events.

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Henry Hill: Hunt and Johnson declare Backstop ‘dead’ and promise to protect Ulster veterans

Hunt and Johnson declare backstop ‘dead’

Both candidates for the leadership have confirmed that they will not sign up to the Northern Irish backstop, the Guardian reports.

In a quite striking hardening of position, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt insisted that the mechanism could play no part in any deal between the UK and the EU – even if it were amended to include a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism, which Eurosceptics had previously indicated they might accept. Johnson went so far as to say that the backstop had been “devised by this country as an instrument of our own incarceration in the single market and customs union”.

Hunt, on the other hand, appeared to tee himself up for failure by saying: “If we are going to get a deal we must have an absolute cast-iron commitment to the Republic of Ireland that we will not have border infrastructure.” The decision to rule out any infrastructure whatsoever – to maintain a so-called ‘invisible border’ – is the root problem with the backstop. If an alternative mechanism for doing so (in a manner compatible with British territorial integrity) existed, the backstop would be a non-issue.

Since the EU has repeatedly ruled out re-opening the deal, blanket refusal on the backstop would put both candidates on track for a no-deal departure. Whilst this might not be the preferred option for Hunt, a strong line on Northern Ireland is undoubtedly necessary if either candidate wishes to maintain the Party’s working relationship with the DUP and the Government’s wafer-thin Commons majority.

In other news, both Johnson and Hunt have expressed support for measures aimed at protecting ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland from prosecution and historical tribunals. They have both signed a ‘Veterans’ Pledge’ organised by the Sun, which this week criticised Theresa May for her continued refusal to protect those who fought the IRA.

Meanwhile an SNP MSP has claimed that Ruth Davidson’s authority inside the Scottish Conservatives has been “shredded” after a growing number of her colleagues endorsed Johnson’s leadership bid. The contest has previously put a spotlight on the limits of her influence after the Scottish Tory leader endorsed Sajid Javid, only for none of the party’s 13 Scottish MPs to follow her lead.

Bebb to stand down over Brexit

Whilst the grassroots may not yet have managed to deselect a sitting Conservative MP over their stance on Europe, this week saw the latest indication of how Brexit might be redrawing the frontiers of the Tory ‘big tent’.

Guto Bebb, the arch-Europhile who represents the Welsh constituency of Aberconwy since 2010, has announced that he will not seek re-selection for the seat at the next election. This means another Tory-held Welsh seat (after Montgomeryshire) will be selecting a new candidate.

Bebb, who prior to joining the Conservatives was a member of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, accused the Party of tacking towards the “type of nationalism” – which he claimed was ‘English nationalism’ behind the rise of UKIP and the Brexit Party. He has ruled out rejoining Plaid.

This departure puts a spotlight on an awkward question facing both leadership candidates (Bebb could not bring himself to vote for either one). Whilst CCHQ has thus far taken a strong line against deselecting Tory MPs, it is an unavoidable fact that the Party can’t fight a general election intended to break the deadlock on Brexit with candidates who are opposed to the Government’s policy on the same. If Johnson were to seek a mandate for no deal, what does he do about the likes of Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, and David Gauke?

Bradley criticised over rushing Northern Irish legislation

Last week, I wrote about now Westminster’s decision to legislate on abortion and same-sex marriage had set a useful precedent for the DUP in their ongoing push to introduce full direct rule to the Province.

This week Sam McBride has written in the News Letter about how the episode highlights the ongoing flaws in Karen Bradley’s approach to governing Ulster (to the minimum possible extent she can get away with). The Secretary of State continues to use Commons procedures intended for unexpected events or emergencies to fast-track Northern Irish legislation through the Commons with minimal scrutiny, even when circumstances do not require it.

He explains how sloppy drafting by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP behind the abortion amendment, has left the Government with what might be an impossible task: introducing new regulations by an October deadline it cannot meet.

It has been a hallmark of Bradley’s ill-starred tenure at the Northern Irish Office that she has poured her efforts into hiding both from Parliamentary scrutiny and from the difficult decisions the ongoing failure of devolution poses for Westminster. Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that he would keep her in post was by far the most bizarre of his leadership campaign, and one must hope Johnson pays sufficient interest to the NIO to give it a much-needed shake-up.

News in Brief:

  • Ireland’s ma in Brussels says border checks can be avoided in no-deal exit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Assembly Members have paid their families huge sums – Wales Online
  • Lord Trimble’s daughter in same-sex marriage – News Letter
  • ‘Neverendum’ killing investment in Scotland – The Times
  • The Welsh Government’s legislative agenda – Wales Online
  • Unionists fear land grabs if Northern Ireland joins Republic – The Guardian

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Tom Tugendhat: The last two men left standing in this contest must resist the temptation to slug it out

Tom Tugendhat is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

In a contest which has been framed around personality, it is striking how many ideas have been generated by the Conservative leadership contest.  Each of the ten candidates original candidates had something to say. Each has championed a new vision of Britain, and each has given Conservatives plenty to think about.

It’s also showcased some good news about how the Conservative Party is changing. Which other party in any other country could boast a contest that included a television presenter, two newspaper columnists, an entrepreneur, an old-school adventurer, a second generation Muslim immigrant, or the son of a Jewish refugee? Not as tokens, but each arguing on merit their own cause as an advocate of an idea.

I backed Michael Gove’s determination to do everything he can to strengthen our United Kingdom and make this country a cleaner, greener place to live. But there are parts from other campaigns that were inspiring. I love Esther McVey’s promoting of Blue Collar Conservatism that has underpinned the Conservative movement for generations and Dominic Raab’s focus on home-ownership and cutting taxes for the lowest-paid.

Andrea Leadsom’s defence of EU citizens who live in the UK and the need to give them (my wife included) certainty about their future status is a proposal I completely back and Matt Hancock’s continued emphasis on mastering cutting-edge digital technologies as the key to our country’s future prosperity is one I have been pushing for since I discovered that parts of Kent are less well connected than Kabul or Khartoum.

At a time when faith in politicians is waning, Rory Stewart showed us just how we can rebuild trust not only through outreach but by talking about the real issues that change people’s lives.

And Boris Johnson? What isn’t there to say about him? He has picked up school places and tech infrastructure, taxes and the living wage and, closest to my heart in our in a time of educational separation – apprenticeships. That, along with his ability to animate the faithful make his contribution so powerful.

But he’s not alone. No one could be unmoved by Sajid Javid’s back story and determination. His pledge to recruit 20,000 more police is a welcome return to the values many expect of us – protecting those most in need. And as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve long admired Jeremy Hunt’s ability to master the widest of briefs and understand the details that drive change in our world. His commitment to fund our armed forces and diplomacy properly is also hugely welcome.

The range of these ideas gives me great hope for the future. Partly because they confound the lazy allegation that we have run out of them. Partly because none of them need be mutually exclusive. And partly because Brexit is the biggest shift in UK policy in generations with massive implications for everything from the NHS to housing policy: there is a massive opportunity for creative thinking.

While there is no shortage of ideas, there has been a shortage of leadership. We need a Prime Minister now who will take us through Brexit and confront the challenges beyond. The 2016 referendum, and the three years since our vote to leave, have revealed many profound political problems – common to many other countries – that we now have both an opportunity and a duty to address.

The poorest have felt the impact of the financial crisis hardest, while the benefits of our economic growth have been imperceptible to too many: especially those who do not live or work in our big cities. We have to build beautiful new housing that reflects the way we live today. We need to ensure that our education system is focused on endowing our young people with the skills that translate into career security in a world which has already been transformed by internet connectivity and will be further by automation and AI. Finally, everything we do must be sustainable. The policies we pursue today must not imperil our children’s future.

The temptation for the last two men left standing in this contest will be to slug it out. There is a real danger that the race becomes acrimonious and divisive.  We are at our best as a country when we are unified. I know from my time chairing the committee that has scrutinised both Foreign Secretaries that each man is above this.

Let us spend the next week scrutinising these two potential leaders. Then let’s unite behind whoever wins to deliver Brexit and a compelling vision of the future for this great country.

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