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Westlake Legal Group > British history

Sheila Lawlor: Johnson, like Churchill, must seize the chance of his lifetime

Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia, a historian and the author of Churchill and the Politics of War, 1940-41.

In the battle for the Tory leadership there has been one focus for attack: Boris Johnson’s judgement. We’re told he can’t be trusted; he lacks judgement; he is irresponsible, unpredictable. Though politicians and press can be a jealous bunch, the vendetta against Johnson has been in a class of its own. But now, as the contest reaches its close, their attack raises a serious point – which is in Johnson’s favour.

For what Britain needs now is not a safe pair of hands, but a leader who can seize the moment. A leader to bring this country the freedom from the EU for which it voted in 2016, just as in May 1940 Churchill – himself having been written off as a failure and political opportunist – seized his moment. It should be looking for a prime minister who has the head, the heart and the sheer boldness to cast himself in the historic role to rally the nation to win its freedom in the biggest test since that time.

In 1940, Churchill’s CV read like a litany of failures. He had switched parties (twice), causes, allegiances, political tunes. There seemed to be only common thread – opportunism. He had played to the gallery, deployed a language that broke the rules, and time and again misplayed his hand in a bid to move ever closer to the power that eluded him. From being the enfant terrible of his party, Churchill had become a grown-up liability.

Then came the chance of his lifetime.

French and British troops massed in France waited for Hitler’s next move westwards – a stalemate broken only by the disastrous British raid on Narvik. Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister on 10th May, 1940. The same day the ‘real’ war in the west began. Hitler invaded France, Holland and Belgium; German tanks could be at Britain’s doorstep in weeks. Of the two candidates, Lord Halifax, a remote figure in the upper chamber, had the extra disadvantage of being in the Government now under attack. Churchill, in the Commons, could command the support of its critics, Labour MPs and Tory ‘glamour boys’ who had parted with the Government, while also bringing most Conservative MPs, begrudgingly, with him. Besides, he could rally the nation, and what had been the failing of his lifetime, that he loved war, would now play to his strength.

Some things today will be trickier today for the new Tory leader than they were in 1940. The Parliamentary Conservative Party has had little leadership. Out of step with its membership, abandoned by its voters and at odds with the quiet and instinctively conservative sentiment of the nation, the Conservative-led governments and MPs have seemed to sidestep the great issues their party has always stood for – the constitution that protects freedom and order, sound money and a small state – pandering instead to the ragbag of fads and interest groups.

To make matters worse, MPs and ministers waged war on the constitution to defy the authority, derived only from the voters, over Brexit. Not only did the Government fail to honour the country’s Brexit decision, but it made common cause with its opponents.

The question for Party members is whether, as in Churchill’s case, Johnson can move on to shape the future, to be part of the history about which both men have written. Though opponents suspect Johnson, as they did Churchill, of being an opportunist, some nonetheless have turned to him. Is it a leap in the dark? Or is it a choice that in retrospect will appear both inspired and almost inevitable?

Johnson appears to understand what marks out Great Britain, irrespective of politics, irrespective of period: its voters are a quiet, obstinate lot, for whom a certain kind of freedom matters, not that of banners or marches, but the freedom to protect their way of life, their laws, their system of government. The freedom to be left alone. The battle for Brexit is a battle for the country’s, and their own, freedom – the right to determine how they are governed, by whom, whether they can shape the laws that forge and reflect their way of life – something Theresa May’s deal or its variants would not do.

As in 1940, the time has come to finish the job. But, unlike then, people today are angry, and their anger is directed not against the EU, which has only acted in character in seeking to do down a democratic decision, but against their own leaders who wanted to surrender sovereign power to a foreign state.

Had Churchill not become Prime Minister in 1940, the political obituaries would have written him off as too often on the losing side: a failure, in war, a failure in peace, a disreputable politician in coalition, a minister who stoked class hatred in the General Strike, a chancellor who ran down the defences to build houses, not battleships. By contrast, Johnson’s record is more promising, but it is not his record that now matters.

Does he understand that this is a time like no other for this country and its people? Is he, like Churchill, ready to ‘walk with destiny’? The signs are that he is.

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George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

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Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – We must ensure that no-one is left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stanley Baldwin said the Conservative Party stood for “real England” – a Party defined by voluntary organisations and Christian patriotism, little platoons and big national causes.

His Conservative Party of the 1920s faced an upstart opposition in a Labour Party that had usurped the Liberals to become the second party of British politics. Outlining the growing threat from Labour, Baldwin described them as being for a nation of class divisions and over-mighty trade unions.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has come full circle and is once again challenging the success and legitimacy of our free-market economy.

A century on from Baldwin, and despite being the natural party of government, our Party has often struggled to break out from its vote base of shire counties and market towns. It’s over 30 years since we won a majority of over 21 at a general election.

But there are signs of change. Our electoral success in recent years has been driven by securing more votes in Labour’s industrial heartlands. Dudley, Mansfield, Copeland and Teesside have all elected Conservatives in recent years, whilst the West Midlands and Tees Valley have elected Conservative Mayors on a region-wide basis.

This Conservative momentum in areas once dominated by trade unions and the Old Left shows that our message of hope, personal freedom and low taxation can re-define our path to a majority.

Yet our progress in these Labour heartlands is not concrete and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A pro-Leave electorate that has trusted another party for so long will be looking to the Conservatives to not only deliver Brexit, but ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution either. As I said in yesterday’s article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR].

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had a strong leader with a firm ideology. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. Through deregulation and an unwavering belief in the free market, the City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. From the stuttering, strike-crippled, state-dominated closed market that Thatcher inherited, the foundations were laid for rapid economic growth and the business-friendly, pro-innovation environment we enjoy today.

Our next Leader will also find themselves at an inflection point. They will have to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as artificial intelligence, big data and automation change our economy and society beyond recognition – and ensure that every community and region benefits from the wealth that it creates. Whilst Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain’s economy for the better is undeniable, there are mining and industrial communities who felt they were left behind as other parts of the country raced ahead. To win a majority at future elections, today’s Conservatives need to attract working class and northern votes, so we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to achieve for our next leader.

That’s the reason why, whilst we still have an opportunity to shape the 4IR, our policies must be focussed on creating an Opportunity Society centred around social mobility powered by lifelong learning, high-quality education and skills training for everyone at every stage of their lives. Our Opportunity Society must be more than just a short-term policy objective. It has to be an integral part of the future of capitalism and a key part of Conservatism 4.0.

As robots slowly replace human workers, many on the radical-left are arguing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a minimum wage paid by the Government to every citizen regardless of their productive capacity. Every single country that has trialled UBI – from Kenya to Finland – has found it expensive and ineffective. Research by the International Labour Office has estimated that average costs would be equivalent to 20-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. In Britain, this would be more than double the annual budget of the NHS, yet John McDonell says a Corbyn-led Labour Govnement would trial it. These are just two of the reasons why we Conservatives should reject UBI as the solution to growing automation in the 4IR.

The truth is work has always paid, and work for humans will always exist. Work drives our economy, multiplies and makes the world richer. It takes people out of poverty and gives them purpose, and this will continue to be the case in the 4IR. In fact, many more new jobs are likely to be created than are lost to robots because the technology of the 4IR will drive economic growth, which in turn will create new and more interesting jobs, especially in new tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, precision medicines and AI-powered creative industries.

Not enough is made of our job creation miracle since 2010, which has seen our economy put on three million new jobs. As we enjoy the lowest unemployment rates since the 1970s, we need to re-emphasise the value of work and the benefits to be derived from a good job. A UBI would be defeatist, signifying that humans had ceased to be useful in a world of machines, and be the antithesis of social mobility – there would be no need to work hard to move upwards on the income and living standards scale if we are all paid to stay at the same level. A UBI would also stall our economy through either crippling debt on the public purse or new taxes imposed on innovation. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Robot Tax would simply mean a left behind country – a nation that fails to attract foreign investment and which becomes known for its anti-innovation approach to technology.

Instead, true devolution must be at the heart of delivering an Opportunity Society and making sure no community or individual is left behind. Our next Prime Minister must invest in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine so regional economic growth is put in the hands of regional leaders. The benefits of the 4IR, from new start-ups to overseas investment, must be enjoyed beyond the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. As Juergen Maier who led the Government’s Made Smarter Review, argued, it’s about creating an “innovation climate” in regions such as the North.

We cannot expect the heavy industries of the past to return, but instead our focus should be on ensuring the new technologies of the future are exploited in every area of the country to create new jobs and rising skills levels in every community. The Liverpool City Region understand this, and have already taken the initiative. They have launched LCR 4.0, an ambitious plan to support manufacturing and advanced engineering organisations in the region by funding practical support to transform businesses through digital innovation. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive. Conservatism 4.0 should support more initiatives like this.

Moving towards a system of local business rates retention will also encourage further investment in skills and business support from local authorities as they reap the rewards of encouraging local growth. There should also be more scope for local taxation and decentralisation as a central tenet of Conservatism 4.0 to empower local areas to evaluate their workforces and set-up true long-term strategies for delivering local economic growth, building on the work of existing Local Enterprise Partnerships and new Local Industrial Strategies.

Conservatism has always evolved and must do so again as we enter a new technological age by putting social mobility and reginal devolution centre stage. They are the two key building blocks to ensuring that every community and region can benefit from technology-driven economic growth. While Thatcherism delivered for the Third Industrial Revolution, we need a new brand of Conservatism to build an Opportunity Society for the Fourth. My final article in this series, published tomorrow, will set out the four principles that should guide us as we re-calibrate Conservatism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This article is the second in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

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Chris Penney: A lesson from D-Day – 75 years on. It was textbook exercise in how to succeed against the odds.

Chris Penney is a freelance writer covering aviation and military history, and is a member of Taunton Deane Conservatives.

In one of her last acts as the Conservative Party’s leader, Theresa May will attend the D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations at Southsea in Hampshire next Saturday.  Surrounded by fellow leaders, she will doubtless derive some comfort from the fact that they represent NATO partners rather than EU antagonists.  But as she looks out over the Solent and the English Channel beyond, I wonder what she’ll be thinking?  If only Brexit had proved as successful as D-Day, perhaps?

To the casual observer, D-Day is the story of a mighty multinational force unleashed from southern England successfully landing in Normandy with the result that, less than a year later, the war in Europe had been won.  Yet at almost every stage of the preparations for this assault on occupied Europe, there was disagreement and division.

From before its start, those nations taking part had very differing outlooks on the conduct of the war, and these had to be ironed out before detailed planning could commence.  Other factors at play were command rivalries, clashes of personally and egos, arguments on every level about strategy and goals, conflicting advise from experts and even a breakdown in collective responsibility that needed addressing.  Such was the task facing the wartime allied commanders working up their D-Day plans.

In trying to decide when, where and how to assault Nazi Europe the allies had some experience to call on.  As early as 1940, Britain and France had attempted a landing in Norway.  The debacle lead to the famous Norway Debate in the Commons that sealed Neville Chamberlain’s fate.  The fatally-flawed Dieppe raid in 1942 lead to grievous Canadian losses, and proved that a defended port couldn’t be taken from the sea.  The Sicily landings highlighted problems of friendly fire, and the later Anzio landings exposed the tragic decision not to push inland at the earliest opportunity.  It’s often overlooked that by the time of D-Day on June 6 1944, the Allies were already ashore and fighting their way up the spine of Italy in what many veterans often cite as the forgotten European campaign.

Once it had been decided that the US would take the lead on D-Day, with the appointment of General Eisenhower as overall commander, he had to bang service heads together to achieve his aims of delivering the assault at a time and place of choosing.  Some factors were outside his control.  The weather would dictate suitable conditions for a landing, and the operation was tied to a period of moonlight for the nightime parachute and glider landings and lowest tide level for the dawn beach landings.  This severely restricted the number of nights each month when conditions were right to launch D-Day.

The Dieppe raid had also highlighted that control of the air over the Normandy area was a prerequisite for the landings to take place.  Trying to persuade the strategic bomber arms of both the RAF and US Army Air Force to redirect their heavy air power in support of the operation proved nigh on impossible, and Eisenhower had to threaten to resign to force the issue and get his way.  The bomber barons didn’t like it, but they had no choice: the cause was momentous.  There were then arguments about the bomber target list – oil versus transport.  Air commanders had to be summoned to a council of war meeting in March to be told taking out rail and road links in the assault area would be the most effective way of reducing German fighting capacity in Normandy, even though intelligence staff thought otherwise.

There were also some big personalities involved in the chain of command, all keen to stamp their authority on proceedings.  Churchill, remembering Gallipoli, ensured he had his say on matters that would rebound on him were they not successful.  Montgomery was his own man, and US army commanders viewed him with suspicion, saying that he lacked confidence.  Leigh-Mallory, who was in charge of the ground support air operations, had to be carefully sidestepped, to avoid empire-building ambitions getting in the way of the real military objectives, and always in the background there was the enigma that was de Gaulle.

To ensure D-Day was successful, ingenious ‘out of the box’ ideas were required.  It was recognised that reinforcements had to be landed during the follow-up phases fastr than the Germans could concentrate their reserves to repel the landing force.  This led to the design of the Mulberry floating harbours constructed in England, and towed across the Channel to form an instant port for the unloading of fresh troops and supplies and the evacuation of causalities.  If there was one invention that contributed to D-Day’s overall success then surely this was it.

Behind the scenes, there were the unsung heroes.  The naval planners that had the unenviable task of ensuring that over 5,000 ships were convoyed to deliver a simultaneous landing.  The army logisticians who had to make sure that every soldier and tank was where it was supposed to be when the army demanded it.  The air intelligence analysts who provided the targeting information upon which the supporting air attacks were based.  And in an era without computers, the typists who had to create the orders of the day upon which everything happened.  Years and years of planning and staff work came together to ensure nothing had been left to chance, and Eisenhower didn’t need the speech he had prepared announcing to the world that D-Day had failed.  As a result, Churchill never had to face a Norway-style grilling by parliament.

D-Day was never a guaranteed success, and there is much to admire about the single-mindedness of military purpose that overcame so many obstacles to accomplish it.  A year later, the only fighting still taking place was in the Far East.  It’s a lesson from history that is still relevant today.

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Mohammed Amin: How the Conservative Party should fix its Muslim problem

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.

About 30 years ago, Perrier discovered that it was selling mineral water contaminated with benzene. The way the company successfully dealt with this problem has become a business school case study in crisis management.

Conversely, when Arthur Andersen encountered problems from its audit of Enron, it handled the issue so badly that the firm was destroyed. A textbook example of how not to do it.

In Britain, over the last three years, we have seen the Labour Party engulfed by accusations of anti-semitism. For a detailed explanation and analysis, I recommend reading the second edition of Dave Rich’s book “The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism.” In my view, Labour has been unable to shake off the problem because the attitudes involved go right to the top.

Like society as a whole, the Conservative Party has always contained some members who are xenophobic generally, or anti-Muslim in particular. However, I have never believed that this extended to the Party’s leadership. Otherwise I would not have been a Party member for 36 years. Nevertheless, we have seen a growing problem with significant numbers of Conservative Party members making anti-Muslim comments. Occasionally, this has extended higher up, for example with Boris Johnson denigrating Muslim women who wear the burqa by comparing them to letterboxes and bank robbers.

Despite the Party Chairman asserting a zero tolerance approach on ConservativeHome, the bad news continues to emerge. In the time-honoured words of Lenin, “What is to be done?”

I have some specific advice.

Get serious about transparency

I recommend watching Brandon Lewis being interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show on 28 April 2019. At 43:57 Mishal Husain asks him some very straightforward questions about cases of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Despite claiming to be transparent, the only demonstrated transparency in Lewis’s replies is that the Conservative Party has a code of conduct visible to the world on its website.

The Party should:

  • Publish monthly on its website the number of Islamophobia complaints that Conservative Campaign Headquarters are dealing with.
  • Publish the tariff of sanctions that are applied, with some illustrations of what types of violation qualify for different levels of sanction. At present we get vilified because people are suspended and then unsuspended. Making it clear that temporary suspension is a normal sanction, and setting out what needs to happen before unsuspension is the only way for the Party to stop looking as if it is guilty when it is actually acting perfectly reasonably.
  • When people are found guilty by the disciplinary process, their names should be published with details of their offense and the sanctions applied.
  • Publish details of the diversity training which needs to be undergone before qualifying for unsuspension. (I am available pro-bono if the Party wants me to talk 1-1 with any suspended Conservatives as part of their re-education. Talking to someone as boring as me might also be seen as a severe penalty!)

Commission an independent enquiry into anti-Muslim bigotry and how the Party has dealt with it

In 2018 a former Party Chairman who is a Muslim, alongside the Party’s longest serving Muslim Peer, and also the Conservative Muslim Forum, all called for such an enquiry. The refusal to respond positively to these requests from senior Muslims within the Party has not been well received by British Muslims generally.

In the context of Islamist extremism, Michael Gove has pointed out that you cannot manage by shooting the crocodiles one by one as you spot them. You have to drain the swamp. That is why an enquiry is essential.

More active celebration of Islam’s contribution to Britain

In 2007 David Cameron wrote a Guardian column called “What I learnt from my stay with a Muslim family.” While I am happy to be corrected, I cannot remember a single speech since then from either him or Theresa May focusing entirely on the positive contribution of Muslims to Britain. I do not count positive comments which may have been included speeches focusing primarily on radicalisation.

What is needed is not just a single speech, but a series of speeches to celebrate the contribution to our country of Muslims who are by now five per cent of Britain’s population, and highlighting individual role models. In particular, all Britons need to hear repeatedly about the very large and vital contribution Muslims made to Britain’s armed forces in both World Wars.

Respond to calls for the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia

Many leading British Muslims and Muslim organisations have called on the Government to formally adopt the definition of Islamophobia published in November 2018 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.

The Government has ignored these calls.

In my view, the Government is right not to adopt the definition. As I explained on this site in February, “It is time to abandon the word “Islamophobia”

However I cannot find anywhere an actual statement from the Government saying why it is not adopting the definition. Silence is not a good strategy in this case. It simply makes the Government, and therefore the Conservative Party, look as if it does not care about anti-Muslim hatred.

What is needed is a clear explanation of why the definition is not a good one, and that adopting any definition of Islamophobia would add nothing to the existing protections in hate crime and equalities legislation. At the same time, the Government should outline what it is doing to combat anti-Muslim discrimination and anti-Muslim hatred.

Closing comments

Problems don’t go away unless you tackle them. At present, the Conservative Party’s only perceived strategy for this problem is dealing with cases one by one, as quietly as possible. It is not working.

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WATCH: 40 years ago today, Thatcher became Prime Minister

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Richard Ritchie: Brexit. Four great Commons debates that show how we got here – and what’s at stake.

Richard Ritchie is the author of The Progress Trust (Without Hindsight: A History of the Progress Trust 1943-2005). He is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

The reading of past debates in Hansard is a salutary exercise. I learnt this in researching my recent history of The Progress Trust where I was constantly impressed by how often political arguments seem to repeat themselves. But no more so than on the question of Europe.

Before joining the European Community, the Commons held three debates on the question of principle – four, if one includes the debate concerning the Labour Government’s refusal to countenance the Schuman plan in June 1950. All of them were considered historic by their participants. The final debate lasted six days (21st – 28th October 1971), sitting often until 2am and on one occasion until 7am.

In passing, it’s impossible to ignore changes in Parliament’s character between then and now. In 1971, speeches were still of unlimited duration, there were far fewer female contributions, and the Speaker (unlike now) was polite and impartial. The only time a Speaker came near to issuing a rebuke in all these debates was when Selwyn Lloyd on October 27 1971 exploded “It is really not tolerable that the Rt. Hon. Member for Leeds East (Denis Healey) should continue to interrupt from a sedentary position.”

But what strikes one most is how, with hindsight, the inevitability of today’s crisis is apparent. The issue of sovereignty was always acknowledged as crucial, and politics took precedence over economics from the start. Moreover, the Commons was always divided on the issue, with a constant sense from opponents of entry that the Government of the day was exceeding its democratic mandate.

– – –

The debate on the Schuman Plan is instructive, because it shows how the Conservatives were as willing as Labour to say one thing in Opposition, and another in Government. Churchill criticised the Labour Government for its refusal to consider a plan which he himself, as Prime Minister, was to judge unacceptable. The kernel of the argument was whether Schuman’s plan necessitated a “supra-national authority” as claimed by Attlee, but denied by Churchill who described it as “an odious phrase.”

And yet, Churchill took Attlee’s view once he regained office. Incidentally, it was during this debate that Edward Heath made his maiden speech, urging the Labour Government to “go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to coordinate it in the way suggested.” Heath, at least, was always consistent. The most striking comment was uttered by the left-wing intellectual, Richard Crossman – “The amount of enthusiasm for federal union in any country is a measure of its defeatism and of its feeling of inability to measure up to its own problems.”

– – –

It was not until Harold Macmillan’s attempt in 1961 to join the ‘Common Market’ that the Commons again fully debated the principles involved – although only in respect of authorising negotiations. The debate contained many interesting statements, including Macmillan’s assurance that “it is quite unreal to suppose we could be compelled suddenly to accept a flood of cheap labour.”

Of special relevance to today was the distinction between applying for membership under Articles 237 and 238 of the Treaty of Rome. The Labour Party preferred the latter because it simply meant joining ‘a customs union’. But as Macmillan pointed out, this amounted to no more than becoming “country members” (it was typical of Macmillan to use a club analogy). He continued: “it would raise all the same problems without giving us any position in which we could share in the decisions of the Community in all its aspects.” In other words, precisely the same objection as is made today of Theresa May’s approach.

On the economic side, the debate was between those who feared economic exclusion from a large market, and those who felt this country was betraying its farmers, and the Commonwealth. On the political side, the argument was over sovereignty. Derek Walker-Smith was the main Conservative opponent of entry, urging the Commons to consider “the direction and destinations” to which membership would lead, and emphasising that “for the Community economic union is a prelude to political union.”

He was not alone in warning of what came to be known as the ratchet effect. The word ‘sovereignty” was discussed frequently during this short two debate in August. It’s a myth to suppose it was of lesser concern in 1961 than in 1971 or indeed today. And from the start, it was divisive. As the Conservative MP Sir Robin Turton warned, “there are hundreds of thousands of Conservatives who hold the views that I hold” on sovereignty, and continued “I fear that the Government will split not only the Commonwealth but the Conservative Party.”

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Because this attempt to join the Common Market was blocked by de Gaulle, the Commons was never required to debate the actual terms of entry. By the time Harold Wilson launched a second attempt to join the Community in 1967, there was a greater appetite to debate in detail the economic dimension.

A three day debate took place between 8th and 10th May, by which time Edward Heath was leader of the Opposition. While resentful of the lack of support offered by Labour to his negotiations in 1961, Heath offered the Government almost unequivocal backing on condition that, as he had stated a few months earlier, Wilson’s application was based on full acceptance of “the Treaty of Rome, the common external tariff, the abolition of the internal tariff, the common agricultural policy and the movement towards economic union.”

Wilson opened the debate with a speech lasting nearly one and a half hours, and most of it was devoted to economic matters relating to agriculture, the movement of capital and the Commonwealth. On the political dimension, Wilson was mostly interested in how membership would affect relations with Russia, and issues of peace and security in general. He was less concerned with ‘sovereignty’ although he did make the extraordinary claim that “by far the greater part of our domestic law would remain unchanged after entry.”

There was also greater concern than in 1961 over the dangers of exclusion. Sir Alec Douglas-Home argued “the country is in danger of being put out of business” although he conceded that “the difficulties of grafting Britain on to a Community which will achieve complete integration by 1970 are much greater than they would have been five years ago.” By 1967, immigration was also a much bigger issue than in 1961, but this did not prevent Wilson from echoing Macmillan in his emphasis that “the Government do not believe that there is likely to be any large net increase in the number of EEC nationals coming here to work.”

Backbenchers of both parties preferred to debate the issues of principle. Duncan Sandys, for example, was the precursor of Michael Heseltine in arguing that “in this age of super-states, Britain by herself is no longer in a position to exercise any really effective influence in international affairs.” Socialists such as Michael Foot feared a capitalist conspiracy (just as Corbyn does today). Internationalists argued that internationalism does not “reside behind tariff walls.” And it was the Ulster MP Captain Lawrence Orr who expressed most succinctly the sovereignty concern: “It is a loss of sovereignty which can never be regained. Once we sign the Treaty and are in, every kind of sanction could be used against us, and would be used against us, if we sought to abrogate it.” The Labour MP Manny Shinwell urged that more attention be paid “to what is being said on the other side, on the Continent”, a warning ignored by the Foreign Secretary, George Brown, who stated “we expect to get in.”

But what distinguished this debate from its equivalent six years earlier was that Conservative opponents of entry tabled their own critical amendment, albeit unsupported by the official Opposition. While only 26 Conservatives supported the ‘rebel’ amendment (although 62 MPs voted against the application itself), it was the first manifestation of divisions to come. Before leaving the 1967 debate, the temptation to quote Percy Grieve, Dominic Grieve’s father, is too great to resist in illuminating the family atmosphere in which his son grew up: “The changes in law resulting from accession to the Community would not affect the ordinary man or woman in this country, who simply would not realise the changes resulting in the laws dealing with commerce and restrictive practices.”

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Everyone was agreed that the final debate of principle, in 1971, was different from its predecessors because here Parliament was asked to approve a final decision to join “the European Communities on the basis of the arrangements which have been negotiated.” Inevitably, therefore, the debate was not just about the principle but also the terms of entry.

The consequence of this was an inordinate amount of time was taken up by a boring quarrel between the two front benches as to whether Harold Wilson and the Labour Party had again changed their minds and could have negotiated something better. Wilson denied the former, and asserted the latter. Heath and the Conservatives in turn accused Wilson of subterfuge and lack of principle. It was a forerunner of what we are seeing today. Wilson had no more chance of winning better terms in 1971 than Corbyn has in 2019. But the farce of pretending otherwise has to be enacted, while the issues of principle are evaded.

However, a six day debate afforded plenty of opportunity to debate every angle, and the arguments expressed on this occasion retain a resonance for us today. Dennis Healey described the debate “as the end of the beginning of an argument which has lasted for more than 15 years.” Peter Shore put it better in saying “I sense that neither here nor in this country are we at the end of this great debate but rather at the beginning.”

When it came to the economic dimension, the quarrel was over familiar ground, although regional policy had assumed greater importance for Labour because of its radically different approach. Also, this debate contained for the first time detailed discussion over Britain’s net contribution to the EEC Budget, which the Government was keen to downplay but where Labour was ultimately vindicated – culminating in Margaret Thatcher’s struggle to reduce this country’s net contribution in 1984. Nevertheless, much of this argument was about statistics, growth rates and forecasts about which, like today, neither side had any justification for certainty. One could almost substitute the numbers cited then for the numbers extrapolated now, and be none the wiser. As in 1967, for Sir Alec Douglas-Home the question was simple: “Where do we find the jobs for our people unless we take advantage of an opportunity like this?”

But the political implications were not to be crowded out by disputes over “the terms” or economic projections. These implications now included to a greater extent than before the issue of defence, as Heath was suspected by an increasingly unilateralist Labour Party of planning an Anglo-French nuclear force. Essentially, the sovereignty argument was still between those who, like Keith Joseph, believed “it will never be requisite upon us once we are in the Community to take any decisions, or to join in any decision, against our national interest”; and those like the Labour MP Michael English who pointed out that “if every member of the Cabinet had a right of veto, there would be no Cabinet decisions.”

A Conservative MP called Peter Trew predicted “The British people could find themselves on a bandwagon travelling in a direction not of their choosing and at a speed which they could not control.” Tony Benn argued that defence and foreign policy “are to be put in for harmonisation with tariffs and taxation.” Derek Walker-Smith referred to “the new fashionable expression” of ‘elitism’ and concluded “If this is the product of elitism – government by community decree, with Parliament a rubber stamp – new elitism is old autocracy writ French. If this is elitism, then give me democracy.”

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So, what are the main lessons of these debates for today’s MPs? It was Benn who said in the debate: “I think that history is unlikely to confirm any of our certainties expressed, and that what the historians will want to know is how deeply we thought about the possibilities.” Events have occurred which were not fully perceived. Perhaps the most important is the unification of Germany and the break-up of the Soviet Union. The second is the enlargement of the EU. It is harder now than then to argue that the EU does not embrace most of Europe. Another development not fully acknowledged was Scottish nationalism, although the Tory MP Lieutenant Colonel Colin Mitchell (known to his contemporaries as “Mad Mitch”) got it right when he argued that “nation states are being eroded, but are being eroded not only from above but from below as well, and with the weakening of nation states there are supra-national groupings and sub-national independence movements.” The Northern Ireland border was hardly discussed, although Stanley McMaster, the Unionist MP for Belfast East, feared the movement of labour from Eire to Ulster.

But just as striking are the similarities. For example, then as now there was concern over Britain’s influence in any alternative grouping. The Labour MP Ronald Brown, who was George Brown’s younger brother, stated “I object to this country joining any grouping (such as EFTA) in which we have a subordinate role. This is the great value of our joining Europe, that we will be on equal terms with our partners.” This is precisely what is argued by today’s critics of ‘Norway-plus’ and its variations. It was also frequently argued that the Government failed to listen to the Community. One can’t help wondering whether it would not have been better for everyone if the advice of “people of some authority” in the Common Market, quoted by George Brown in 1961, had been followed: “If you are coming in believing that this is no more than an economic arrangement, we would much rather that you did not come in.”

Finally, there is the issue of public consent. There were just as many complaints then as now over the Government’s attempts to influence public opinion and the illegitimate use of taxpayers’ money. There were frequent calls for either a general election or a referendum. Benn again put it best when he said “There are such sharp differences of opinion within each party that it would not be possible to decide the issue at a general Election, even if the leadership of the two major parties were taking contrary views.”

That was the dilemma then, as it is today. Parliament and Parties have always been divided on this issue. ‘Sovereignty’ was always the key concern, despite arguments over its meaning. The question now is whether those divisions within the Conservative Party which have been apparent ever since Macmillan made his first application (and before) are finally bringing about its destruction. If so, nobody can say they weren’t warned.

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