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Westlake Legal Group > Universities and Skills

Anna Firth: We need a plan to regain the university seats, and win over the students who flocked to Corbyn

Anna Firth is a Barrister, and a Councillor on Sevenoaks District Council. She contested Canterbury in the 2019 General Election.

Queues of students in pyjamas waiting to vote before 9am at the university polling station in Canterbury last month were not encouraging. The hope that students might have packed up and taken their vote home for Christmas turned out to be way off the mark. Thankfully, media speculation that another “youthquake” might deny the Conservative a majority proved false. It did, however, cost us a number of university seats, particularly in the south.

Since first getting the vote in 1970, undergraduate student numbers have ballooned from 400,000 in 1970 to 1.8 million in 2017/2018. Together with half a million postgraduates and 400,000 staff, university students and staff now comprise nearly three million voters. That is one of the largest, single voting blocks in the UK – over six per cent of the total UK electorate, almost twice the size of the NHS workforce and vastly more potent being so geographically concentrated.

Historically a low-turnout group, the last two elections have seen the university vote morph into a highly motivated Labour block vote. Some 64 per cent of registered voters in this age group voted in the 2017 UK General Election according to Ipsos MORI, and YouGov estimate a continued significant turnout last month. The remaining red dots across various parts of the country increasingly resemble a map of our university towns and cities.

Canterbury is an obvious case in point – but arguably the same could be said for seats such as Warwick and Leamington, Reading East, Portsmouth South, Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport and Bristol North West, to name but a few.

All these seats swung to Labour in 2017 on the back Corbyn’s offer to scrap tuition fees, a disastrous Liberal Democrat campaign and Momentum-led student activism. All looked set to comfortably return to the fold last October when the election was called. So what went wrong?

Firstly, not surprisingly, the national Brexit message was toxic in university seats, many of which voted strongly Remain. Secondly, despite the Liberal Democrats recovering to 18.2 per cent across the South East, in a number of university towns and cities the Lib Dem vote either failed to recover sufficiently or dropped. Finally, Labour and Momentum ran a far more effective social media campaign targeted at students.

On the positive side, in Canterbury we polled 45.3 per cent of the vote, the highest Conservative vote share for nearly 30 years. Indeed, 27,182 votes would have been enough to win the constituency at every other election in the last 150 years – bar this one!

The seismic transformation in Canterbury was continued high student turnout. On a cold, wet December day, 74 per cent of students turned out to vote at the main campus polling station, up from 55 per cent in 2017, only 17 per cent in 2015 – and compared with 67 per cent nationally. Not surprisingly, we estimated some 85 per cent of these votes were for Labour.

So what is driving such a seismic shift in student turnout and what should be our response as a Party?

Causes of increased student engagement

The EU referendum, austerity, generation rent and student debt are the common explanations for the recent surge in millennial voting. However, a recent student focus group suggested social media remains the big game-changer. As one student put it: “Of course, you are going to vote. You are not going to risk being shamed by your friends on social media”.

Students in Canterbury were swamped by Labour- and Momentum-led Facebook adverts every day in the run up to polling day. And whilst our own Facebook social media campaign was a quantum improvement on 2017, we are still communicating “at” not “with” young people. We also had nothing to counter the tsumami of news videos on “inhumane” Tory cuts to the NHS, austerity cuts to help the rich, Bullingdon Club toffs, etc, etc.

Party response

One response is to say “Who cares – they will never vote for us anyway. Why not focus on winning more seats in the North or on the more resolvable 30 – 39s?” The problem with this approach is that it allows millions of young people to spend three or four of their formative years in hard left/liberal-leaning institutions, risking a generation that will take years to switch away from Labour.

Electoral reform

A practical response would be to ensure that all General Elections take place outside term-time, preferably in September. Elections, however, are rarely entirely within our control even without the Fixed Term Parliament Act, so a fairer solution would be for students to vote only at their permanent home and not at their university address.

This would be very popular with local residents. Over the last few weeks I have received numerous emails from incensed permanent residents furious that their choice of MP has been made by part-time residents who will be gone by the next election, and who have little interest in long-term issues such better roads, schools and healthcare. With postal votes so easily and freely available, fortunately, there is no risk of disenfranchising students studying in far-flung universities.

Aspirational polices focused on the environment, opportunity and home ownership

More importantly, however, we need to welcome the next generation of voters with an aspirational message of freedom, opportunity and progressive social change. Ideas might include:-

The environment – this is the key issue with young people, and potential policies could include

  • Greater use of tax incentives to tackle plastic pollution, wildlife and ocean conservation.
  • Reduced university fees on all degrees that include significant environmental elements;
  • Cosmetics tested on animals being labelled in a similar manner to cigarette labelling;
  • Clothes and other retail items not manufactured with exploited labour being labelled as such and vice-versa.

Tuition fees – given that 60 per cent of student debts are unlikely to be repaid, tuition fees continue to disenfranchise millions of young people for no reason. This and the punitive rate of interest on student loans, currently 5.4 per cent, needs to be looked at again.

Target profession programme – University loans should be waived for students going into the caring professions. This would send a powerful message that Conservatives “care” and would be largely costless given many earnings fall beneath the repayment threshold.

Internship programmes – This is now the main hurdle to high level employment, particularly for those from less advantaged backgrounds. Better access to internship/work experience for post-graduate students would be very popular.

Home ownership – The manifesto proposal for long-term, fixed rate mortgages which slashes the cost of deposits was popular on the doorstep but not real enough to cut through. With three million people in the UK estimated to be trapped in rental accommodation as they can’t save for a deposit this proposal needs to become a reality.

Building on last month’s historic victory depends on winning back university seats. Momentum and Labour have persuaded students that a tired rehash of 1970s socialism is the solution to all our problems. It is not. For the sake of future generations, we need to make the case more powerfully, especially on social media. The prize will not come easily but is huge and available if we are brave enough to take it.

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

Robert Alden: CCHQ should be relocated to Birmingham

Cllr Robert Alden is Leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council.

The race may have just begun, but surely CCHQ can already call it off. There is only one sensible place to relocate head office and that is Birmingham in the West Midlands. Sitting in the heart of the nation, its motorway network gives unprecedented access across the whole country whether you wish to go north, south, east, or west.

The party is after ‘good train links’. With three stations in the city centre – Birmingham New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill, it’s possible to reach the majority of the country in three hours or less by train from Birmingham. That is before you even take account of the proposed HS2 station at Curzon Street due to open this decade. Currently, it takes one hour 26 minutes to London, one hour 57 minutes to Leeds, two hours 31 minutes to Durham, one hour 20 minutes to Bristol and just 46 minutes to Stoke-on-Trent – to give just a few examples.

The party has also stated they want to be close to Universities with good maths and physics departments. Again, Birmingham and the West Midlands delivers on this front. The city itself has four Universities, while close by are Wolverhampton, Coventry, and Warwick Universities. For maths, Warwick University (based on the edge of Coventry) is the seventh-best in the country, while the University of Birmingham is ranked 14th. For physics, the University of Birmingham is ranked fifth and Warwick University is ninth. Overall, Warwick is ranked the joint 11th best university in the country and the University of Birmingham is 13th.

The party is also keen to ensure the location is politically sensible. Again, the region scores highly on this front. At a parliamentary level, the West Midlands Met area is full of marginal seats, where some great local candidates made key gains at the last election.

There were two gains in Wolverhampton, two in West Bromwich, one in Dudley, and one in Birmingham. While the wider West Midlands is also home to key marginals such as the seats in Stoke-on-Trent. On top of this, there are also key seats which were lost by small margins which can be won next time.

At a regional level, Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, won the first mayoral contest in 2017 and is up for re-election this year. With a majority of under one per cent, it couldn’t be more marginal.

At a local level, Dudley and Walsall are Conservative-run, but they are marginal councils whose strong results in 2019 were a forerunner for the General Election later in the year.

Labour-run Birmingham is one of the few large cities with a large Conservative presence on the council, and one which Labour only kept control of by under 4,500 votes at the last all-out elections in 2018. The next elections in 2022 will be a key battleground.

Indeed, of the seven councils in the West Midlands Met area, the Conservatives have run six of them in the last decade, and the other – Sandwell – now has only one Labour MP left following the recent General Election.

Politically, national elections are won and lost in the Midlands, and the West Midlands is full of battleground parliamentary seats and local councils. It makes a lot of sense for the party to be based here.

Add to this the fact that good quality office space is far cheaper in Birmingham than London, and the quality of life is higher, it’s no surprise the city is the number one destination for people leaving London.

With quality housing available at a fraction of London’s prices, great parks, schools, shops and nightlife, plus some of the best restaurants in the country, the region has a lot to offer staff as well as the party.

The historians amongst you will know the modern party is widely considered to have been created with the declaration of the Tamworth manifesto in 1834 by Sir Robert Peel, just a few miles from Birmingham. Moving CCHQ out of London is a bold move which shows we will deliver for the whole country. Birmingham has already shown it can host wonderful party conferences. Surely now the time has come to bring our party home to Birmingham as well.

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

Neil O’Brien: Stormzy, “niggas”, “bitches” – and scholarships. Do we really want to fund racial groups?

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

When I was a teenager I smuggled a package into my parents home.I hid it in the back of a cupboard, and gradually consumed the contents when I was sure that no one was looking. But it wasn’t a bag of drugs.  It was a copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, borrowed from Huddersfield public library.

I hid it because I would have been acutely embarrassed to be caught not just reading, but with clear evidence of having visited a library. Let me scratch the record at this point.  This column is not about to descend into an awful hard luck story about how I lived in a hole in the road, ate gravel as a treat and so on.

In fact, I went to an averagely performing comprehensive school in an averagely prosperous town. But even from this average background, I could feel the gravitational pull of the powerful anti-education culture which screws up the chances of so many working class kids.

It wasn’t just that trying hard was uncool and library visits embarassing.  Expectations were low. My careers teacher at school (also the remedial teacher) asked how many GCSEs I thought I’d get a C in.  When I said all of them, he implied I was cocky.

I don’t know where this culture came from.  Maybe it’s a mutant version of the Victorian public school cult of effortless achievement.  Maybe as Mike Emmerich says, it’s something to do with the low-skill nature of Britain’s early industrialisation, or a leftover of a time when unskilled men could walk straight into a decent job in a factory.

What I do know is that the anti-education culture held back people I knew: particularly white working class boys (and black) whom it gripped most strongly.

And I do mean culture, not money or class. Poorer Indian pupils on free school meals are as likely to pass their English and Maths GCSEs as black pupils who are not.  (Only nine per cent of white boys on free school meals go.)

Poorer Black and Asian girls who are eligible for Free School Meals are more likely to go to university than white and black boys who are not.

Culture and aspiration really matter, and there were two important rows about them last week. Strangely, both involved the rapper Stormzy, who was asked to do a Bible reading on BBC 1 on Christmas day.

The first started when a leading Headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, criticised Stormzy’s lyrics for being racist, sexist and glamorising violence. She talked about the negative effects this had on inner city pupils and suggested some more positive black role models.

Twitter-land erupted in rage. One tweeted: “This woman shouldn’t be allowed around children”. Another: “How can a “headmistress” be so uneducated?” One left wing academic asked: “So you want to ban Shakespeare?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite his constant use of the n-word and frequent references to women as “bitches”, Stormzy has become something of a go-to figure when establishment organisations reach for “relevance”.

Earlier this year the charity “Youth Music” extolled “the benefits of students exchanging Mozart for Stormzy as part of a re-imagined music curriculum”. Indeed, why have Mozart when you can have gems like:

“We a bunch of bad niggas (bad niggas)

So is Jennifer with them bad bitches (bad bitches)/

Like we pour up man, we got cash nigga/

Like I get money, fuck what you have nigga.”

Stormzy is just one person.  But young black (and white) men are being fed a toxic cocktail of such messages from multiple sources, telling them they need to prove themselves with violence, that normal work is for losers, and normalising disrespect for women. Birbalsingh is surely right to want different role models, and to say that twenty years ago this stuff wouldn’t have been considered normal.  The reaction against any criticism of it is scary.

And there’s something really creepy about the idea that there are particular groups for whom “higher” culture isn’t appropriate, who should instead be served up something more “relevant” to them instead.It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The second row was sort of a mirror image.

It was about trying to raise aspirations – through scholarships for particular ethnic groups. It was revealed that Dulwich College in London and Winchester College in Hampshire had declined a bequest totalling more than £1 million to support the fees of white working class boys from Bryan Thwaites, a prominent scientist and academic who himself attended both schools on scholarships.

Sir Bryan defended his proposed grant by citing none other than… Stormzy, who established a Cambridge University scholarship scheme solely for black British students earlier this year. Through the Stormzy Scholarships, black students can get up to a £18,000 grant.

Such programmes are increasingly widespread: Oxford recently announced new Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates.  UCL has scholarships for black and minority ethnic (BME) postgraduate research students. The Bank of England also has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Let me be clear: Stormzy and others are trying to do a good thing.  I’m glad he is spending his money on encouraging black kids to apply to Cambridge. There is still a lot of racism out there and generally black people are worse off in lots of ways than white.

But there are some massive questions here. Commenting on the case, Trevor Phillips noted that there would be nothing illegal about scholarships for poor white pupils:

“This is not what we intended when we drafted the equality laws. As one of the authors of the [Equality] Act, and having encountered this situation before, I can see that the schools’ lawyers read the Act as though it were a law constructed purely to favour people of colour. It is not; it is designed to ensure equality, and in this specific case, the disadvantaged, under-represented group happens to be white.”

But do we want to go down a route of ringfenced funding for racial groups, be they black or white? Collecting statistics on people’s self-identified racial background is one thing.  Having ringfenced funding for one racial group is quite another, and leads into a minefield.

Last year, 44 per cent of Black African background pupils got five good GCSEs, but only 40 per cent of those from a Pakistani background.  On what basis should the latter be refused a scholarship only open to someone with slightly different skin colour? What proportion of your grandparents have to be of a particular ethnicity to count as “mixed race” and be eligible for a scholarship?

Apartheid South Africa had cruel racist laws to assign people to racial groups on the basis of things like “hair colour”, “facial features” and “eating and drinking habits”.  Could future court cases turn on such creepy arguments?

In the US, “affirmative action” has gone much further and has indeed led to court cases and legislation to control it. Issues have included discrimination against Asians who have then sued, problems with higher drop-out rates among favoured groups, arguments that it ends up helping richer members of favoured groups over poorer members of non-favoured, and arguments that it undermines members of favoured groups who would have succeeded anyway without the affirmative action.

Most leading UK universities rightly do quite a lot to “aim off” for students’ backgrounds. If you get top grades despite attending a school where few do so, you are more likely to get let in.  They look in detail at individuals’ backgrounds.

I think this fundamentally different to quotas or ringfenced grants: looking through people’s current disadvantages to assess their future potential as individuals is different to treating people as members of groups. Above all, if we want more people from some disadvantaged groups to be able to go to university, the main thing we need to do is to raise their achievement at school, which is why we need to put rocket boosters under our school reforms.

In the 2020s we should get more interested in the culture facing young people and who gets held up as a role model.  We must avoid sliding into US style quota-ism. We must do more to help people climb the ladder, but not be afraid to try and change parts of our culture that keep them down.

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

Ben Brittain: Get Brexit Done and innovate like Israel

Ben Brittain is a Policy and Data Analyst for a regional economic institute. 

The Conservatives were gifted their ‘stonking majority’ by deprived constituencies that are far removed from the growth and economic power of London. The UK is a tale of two economic nations – a wealthy and highly productive London and South-East, and everywhere else, where gross value added more resembles former communist states. It was in these former mining and industrial heartlands of the Midlands and the North where working-class people lent their vote to the Conservatives to ‘get Brexit done’.

The challenge for this new government is to make the economy one whole, bridging the productivity and wage gap between London and the periphery towns of city-regions. The government will want to reward the North and Midlands for their support at the polls. But getting Brexit done is only one step. The next is to embark on a long process of economic revival in these regions, drive agglomeration within cities through transport infrastructure and skills investment.

The Government has the opportunity to level-up productivity right across the whole UK. For that, we must not look not to Silicon Valley and seek to replicate it on the Tyne – but instead look to Israel.

Today, Israel is considered an innovation superpower, with more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country except the United States. The Israeli success in innovative industries, such as ICT, is based on an R&D-intensive, novel-product-based, export-oriented business model. One that the UK should adopt to create a post-Brexit, R&D-heavy, exporting economy.

Israel is a hot-bed of ground-breaking technology companies such as Waze and the autonomous driving company, Mobileye, which has been snapped up by Intel for $15.3 billion. These large dominant companies are an exporting successes, but large innovative companies have to start somewhere.

Israel’s success is driven by its impressive start-up culture, and this start-up friendly ecosystem is actively fuelling an innovation economy. Israel started more than 10,000 companies between 1999 and 2014, with 2.6 per cent of these start-ups creating revenues of more than $100 million. Their success is down to reform-oriented policy makers driving change in the public sector, embedding innovation, unafraid of the role of the state as a friend to free-markets and individuals that want to start an enterprise.

The UK needs to embed five elements within its future growth framework to drive innovation. These are: support for start-ups; a substantial growth in the training of scientists and engineers; empower research-oriented civic universities and drive commercialisation within universities, expand access to venture capital, and utilise the strength of government and big-data in regional industrial strategies. All of these interact with each other to drive the process from invention to innovation.

The UK has an unrivalled higher education system that is ready to plug-in to regional economies and drive sector specialisations. To achieve this, BEIS should restart the work of the Smart Specialisation Hub and bring it in-house, to further understand how productivity is evolving in regional firms. Businesses are best placed to lead in the identification of new opportunities for growth, and many regions are already developing highly-productive sector clusters, which should not be hindered by central government imposing their own industry preferences. Instead, local industrial strategies should identify current productivity strengths and seek to implement necessary supportive interventions and create the correct ecosystem for their growth.

A culture of people, business and universities fully attuned to research and development is required, as is leveraging long-term private sector commitment. Regions should focus on what they are good at – such as the automotive industry in the West Midlands – prioritise research and innovation investment in a competitive environment, and implement policies that are strategic, based on a shared vision for regional innovation and development (such as the development of UK’s first Tesla-style battery gigafactory in the West Midlands which will build on current agglomeration).

Creating dynamic and innovative clusters in regions previously neglected and cut-off from London’s success will ensure the success of Brexit is the success of Wales, the North and the Midlands. If there are greater opportunities for high-skilled, well-paying work in innovative companies, focused on exporting, catalysed and fuelled by free-ports across the region, in industries such as space, AI, life-sciences, health and clean energy, then London will no longer suck the life out of those regions. More local residents will have better paid jobs, with more disposable income to spend in local high-streets, meaning the physicality of neglected towns in places such as Darlington and Walsall can be overcome.

The nation could be one economic success story; a real One Nation Toryism. To do that the Government will need to get Brexit done and Innovate like Israel.

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

The Politics of And. Growing the Majority 2) Further education and higher education

The phrase is Tim Montgomerie’s.  He used to deploy it roughly as follows.  Yes, politics means making choices.  But they doesn’t always have to be either/or.  The Conservatives can have immigration control and international development.  Green growth and more fracking.  Same-sex marriage and transferable tax allowances.

The new majority Tory Government won’t necessarily smile on these examples.  But it will want to follow the principle.  To this end, ConservativeHome is reviving The Politics Of And.  In one series, we will examine Securing the Majority.  In another, Growing the Majority.  Boris Johnson will want to do both.

– – –

It is a leitmotif of this series that there are actions which the new Government will want to take which are good for their own sake. But which will also have the side-effect of helping to secure or grow the majority.

One of these is developing its policy on higher and further education.  For us, there are three main issues.

First, a sense that the balance between the two isn’t right.  As Alison Wolf put it on this site, “public spending per student is more than six times as high in universities as it is in the nation’s colleges. This imbalance looks even harder to justify in the light of regional inequalities.”

Second, there is what is usually and inaccurately labelled a free speech problem in Universities.  Free speech is not precisely the issue.  Rather, it is ensuring that higher education is a “safe space”, to borrow the jargon, for students with conservative, libertarian, centre-right or even liberal views: that they are made to feel no more or less welcome on campus than anyone else.  The issue is already live in relation to Jewish students.

Finally, there is the Conservative Party’s own internal housekeeping.  There has been no organised push among academics of any note since Leon Brittan undertook one for Margaret Thatcher during the late 1970s.  That should change.

The Tory manifesto is coy about higher education, pledging to “consider carefully” the “thoughtful recommendations of the Augur Review. Wolf was a member of the August Panel and her piece for us is still a must-read.  “Today’s young people are effectively offered a single choice. A full degree, now – or nothing,” she wrote. “Overall, Augar’s recommendations are designed to reverse this idiocy.”

She wants “more money for the neediest – cash to get further education back on its feet, to invigorate technical education, to allow adults to retrain and progress, and to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students”.  Nick Timothy wanted to close some universities.  Our columnist Neil O’Brien suggests reducing “access to courses that deliver low economic value in terms of graduate earnings premia”.

On free speech and all that, there is new guidance for Universities, produced in the wake of a free speech summit.  The question is whether it takes full account of the problem that we are trying to describe.  When Sam Gyimah was Universities Minister, he warned as follows: “Let’s say you happen to be quite right-wing, but your lecturer disagrees with your politics. You can suddenly become quite conscious about expressing your views because they mark your essays and grade you.”

We would be very nervous were we a conservative student at a University taught by a lecturer who, say, is prone to mouth off about “the Tories” on social media.  These will say that they have a right to free speech.  We say that they have a pastoral responsibility to all their students.

On the final point about Conservative academics, there is a fledgling network.  It was originally set up when David Cameron was Prime Minister; went into abeyance under Theresa May, but is still very much around.  Downing Street should take an interest in it.

Boris Johnson will need higher and further education Ministers who are across these issues – and who are capable, as Gyimah was in his Tory days, of touring the Universities (in this instance to make the case for conservatism); working with Tory academics; ensuring the free speech guidance is adhered to; responding to Augur.

We hope that Number Ten resists the temptation to take higher education policy out of the Education Department again, though we’re not confident on this point. Chris Skidmore has been in and out of the Universities Minister brief, which Jesse Norman or O’Brien himself could also do.

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

Robert Halfon: For years, I’ve urged that the Conservatives become a Workers Party. Now it is one.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow.

It feels like I’ve woken up from a dream. Not a White Christmas, but a sea of blue-collar, spanning the length and breadth of the country, on the electoral map. For many years as MP, I’ve been campaigning for us to be the “Workers’ Party” – the representatives of blue-collar men and women up and down the country. In Essex, we use the term, “white-van conservatism”.

It is extraordinary to think that this dream has been realised by the election of MPs from all over the country, from Bishop Auckland, to my own constituency of Harlow.

Of course, the narrative from the Corbynites is that their catastrophic performance is because of Brexit. But, if you look at long-term trends, Labour have been losing the vote of working people for a number of years. The Labour movement is seen as an enemy of aspiration. In my own constituency, the Labour vote has not veered from 30 to 38 percent since 2010. Having said that, the results this time around were remarkable.

We have a real chance to fundamentally change our Party for the better. As the Prime Minister said, many people have lent us their vote, and they won’t be so generous next time if we get it wrong.

The Conservative Party must take this opportunity to become the true Workers’ Party.

That means, first, being incredibly careful with our narrative and language, and ensuring that we’re seen as the party of the ladder of opportunity and the safety net.

We should be modest, humble and kind in all our dealings with the public. Real thought and care about our language must be taken at all times, but particularly when we face the media, to ensure that Tories don’t come over as heartless or lacking emotional intelligence. Too often, we’ve allowed ourselves to be seen as out of touch and not on the side of people who are struggling. Each of us has a role to play, individually, to change this perception.

Second, let us show that we Conservatives have a real passion for our public services and are just as proud of increased funding for the NHS – as we are of the necessary tax breaks for small businesses – which we know increases investment and employment opportunities.

Third, we have to be relentless about cutting the cost of living. Lowering taxes is a moral good. We must convey that it is not all about helping rich people in the city or tycoons. This means, as the Manifesto pledged, focusing on cutting taxes for the lower paid by continuing to reduce income tax and making increases to the National Living wage a priority.

But we shouldn’t just cut taxes for lower earners, we need to ensure they know about it. On wage slips, for example, the Treasury should set out exactly how much the Government is saving taxpayers. The wage slip should read: “Your tax bill would normally be £X, but the Conservative Government has discounted it to £Y, saving you £Z.”

A simple, practical mechanism to ensure that workers on lower incomes know that it is Conservatives that are cutting their tax bill.

So, too, should the fuel duty freeze continue – again, as mentioned by the Prime Minister in the campaign. More action needs to be taken to improve Universal Credit so that its purpose of eliminating the poverty trap finally becomes a reality.

Fourth, many working people in communities that have now voted Conservative are passionate about apprenticeship opportunities for their children. Our vocational and technical education reforms should be at the forefront of policy for our Education Secretary. Every single young person should have the offer of a high-quality apprenticeship – right through from Level 2, up to degree-level.  Conservatives should aim for 50 per cent of students to take up degree apprenticeships.

Conservatives must come good on school funding and continue to provide as much parental choice of schools as possible and do everything to improve standards of reading and numeracy. Skills, Standards, Social Justice and Support for the profession should be the four s’s mantra of our education policy.

Fifth, it is high time we deal with the lack of housing in this country. We have to be bold and build hundreds of thousands more houses, recognising that 90 percent of land is not yet built on. It cannot just be about schemes like Right to Buy and Help to Buy, great though they are, but also about real affordable housing that people can rent.

Sixth and finally, whatever happens, as well as being the Workers’ Party, Tories must be a movement for social justice, too. Millions of our countrymen and women struggle everyday, whether it is a parent waiting for 39 weeks for their child to be diagnosed with a mental health issue, or people living in ghetto-type social housing, or individuals being sucked into a spiral of dependency on addictive drugs. We should do more to combat abusive relationships and domestic violence, too.

Conservatives must be the Party for these people as much as those who are already climbing the ladder of opportunity. Our job is to bring people to the ladder, to help them climb up and be ready with a safety net should they fall. The Party that enables and strengthens social capital, as much as economic capital.

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

Dean Godson: What Johnson should do now in this Government’s first hundred days

Dean Godson is Director of Policy Exchange.

How does a newly re-ascendant Conservative Government maintain the momentum of the greatest electoral success since Margaret Thatcher’s triumph over Michael Foot in 1983?

This is the question posed and answered in a new Policy Exchange briefing paper, The First Hundred Days – published today with a foreword by John Howard, the former Australian Prime Minister. Howard is of course a great friend to the United Kingdom and a leading light in the broad “Conservative international”; he is always willing to offer solidarity and counsel to the global centre-right. He greatly admires Boris Johnson, and this is reciprocated.

His words are of particular interest since this is the golden era of the Australian way in UK politics – witness the leading roles of Lynton Crosby and Isaac Levido in successive Conservative election campaigns. Few, if any, American political consultants have enjoyed comparable influence in British elections.

Early on in the Conservative leadership race this summer, Crosby addressed Policy Exchange to invoke the example of the great Robert Menzies, the Australian Liberal Prime Minister whose leadership spanned the 1930s and 1960s – and who spoke of “the forgotten people”. If ever there was an election for the forgotten man and woman in Britain, this was surely it.

But how to make the bond between Johnson’s Conservatives and the “forgotten people” permanent? How to forge this into a governing programme?

In his foreword, Howard praises Johnson’s leadership skills and notes that he connected to wide sections of the British public by giving people hope during the election campaign. He also urges him to “seize the moment” – to take advantage of his new power in Parliament to implement the ideas and promises contained in the Conservative manifesto. Prime Ministers who don’t move fast to take advantage of electoral triumphs regret it, he notes.

The First Hundred Days offers a roadmap for how to do just that – across our four key research themes of Prosperity, Place, People and Patriotism. It reflects the content of the winning manifesto and builds on the theme of a new national consensus, as there seems to be on getting Brexit done among other issues.

There are some simple things that need doing. We need a date for a Budget. Local authorities in devolved countries cannot set their budgets until devolved governments have set theirs; devolved governments cannot set their budget until the UK Government has done so.

There are bigger themes too. Drawing on the research paper of last summer, Modernising the United Kingdom – a landmark in think tank terms – we urge the Government to publish its English Devolution White Paper and bring forward its National Infrastructure Strategy, focusing on cross-border projects as well as connectivity within the four nations of the Union. It is clear that levelling up the United Kingdom, so that London does not leave the regions behind, will involve – as Howard puts it – “stepping forward with the right investment in transport and other infrastructure where needed… but stepping back so that decisions are not always imposed from the top by central government”.

There are opportunities in housing and planning policy too – not just to overcome Nimbyism by building beautiful homes and places, but to provide some public sector workers, such as police officers and nurses, with affordable key worker housing. As a chapter on housing, outlines, the Government should announce that the next Affordable Homes programme will allocate more capital grant funding to schemes that provide a significant proportion of submarket rental homes for local key workers.

Science, as the Prime Minister made clear in his early speeches on the steps of Downing Street and in Manchester, will be a priority for this Government. We outline how a Defence Advanced Researcy Projects Agency-style agency, for high-risk, high-payoff research – at arms-length from ministers – can be created in shadow form within months at UK Research and Innovation, with funding from April next year, while a Bill creates the genuine Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The chapters on the constitution explain that the Government will need to do more than simply repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in order to restore constitutional norms in Parliament. A new Bill will have to show that it is clear that the Prime Minister (subject to the Sovereign’s approval) is to have the ultimate responsibility to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission must be set up quickly as well. But it should not mean delaying, for example, the amending of the Human Rights Act to protect UK forces from a sustained and illegitimate legal assault in the form of lawfare.

There are more fronts that can be opened within the first hundred days. There is a chance for the greenest budget ever, by announcing seed funding for three new British battery gigafactories, to accelerate conversion from fossil-fuelled vehicles to electric vehicles. The Government could protect academic freedom and free speech on campuses, with a Bill to establish beyond doubt in law that academic freedom means that opinions and speakers considered unwelcome by a small number of students cannot simply be banned or no-platformed. With an eye to 1st February, when we should have left the EU, the Government could also start negotiations to enter into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (an idea supported explicitly by Howard).

The good news is that, although the Tories have a parliamentary majority comparable to 1983 or 1987, they have in Number 10 Downing Street a sharper team of policy experts than Margaret Thatcher did. Whether or not there are calls for a new Department of the Prime Minister – as there were in the early 1980s – it is clear that this policy operation will be central to this Government’s reforming agenda. It has its work cut out for the next 100 days but the stunning election result gives it a strong mandate for its mission of modernisation and consensus-building.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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Annabel Denham: Don’t take the business vote for granted

Annabel Denham is Associate Director at The Entrepreneurs Network.

In the face of prolonged political uncertainty, UK business has proven remarkably resilient. Since 2010, the number of people engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by a third from its previous long-run rate. Over the last four years we have seen a 35 per cent rise in the number of high-growth companies. Pro-enterprise policies, from business rates relief to corporation tax cuts, have played an important role in signalling that Britain is open for business.

But no company is an island. Founders need to have confidence in the general economic outlook, so policies matter. Concerns have been voiced, not least by the business community, that Labour’s radical manifesto pledges if implemented would stunt innovation and harm the economy. By its own calculations it would push up day-to-day spending by £80 billion in 2023-24, and that excludes the extraordinary £58 billion vow subsequently made to WASPI women.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives cannot take entrepreneurs for granted. Their own manifesto featured a welcome focus on skills, infrastructure and research. Further, their comparatively modest spending pledges were viewed as “a pro-enterprise vision” by business owners. But vague plans to “review” business rates, “clamp down” on late payments, or “reform” Entrepreneurs’ Relief will do little to inspire. Some founders will be troubled by the Tory promise that “overall [migrant] numbers will come down,” given access to talent remains a persistent barrier to business growth.

And there is a third way: after all, Jo Swinson claims that the Liberal Democrats are the “natural party of business”. The Lib Dem leader also claimed last month that she was Britain’s next Prime Minister and three weeks later her Party is polling at around 14 per cent, so perhaps such bold statements shouldn’t be taken at face value.

We recently launched our Startup Manifesto in partnership with Coadec, outlining the 21 policies the next government – majority, minority or coalition – should implement to boost British business. What entrepreneurs need to build scale-ups is simple: world-class talent from here and abroad; the right kind of incentives to support the creation of early-stage businesses and then access to the capital needed to grow; and a clear set of rules and regulations flexible enough to encourage new and innovative startup business models.

This means visa reform, because while 14 per cent of UK residents are immigrants, 49 per cent of the UK’s fastest-growing businesses, and 11 out of the UK’s 16 “unicorns” (pre-IPO startups with a valuation of over $1bn) have at least one foreign-born co-founder. In our knowledge economy, prosperity is closely linked to our ability to produce and attract highly-skilled talent.

The last government was right to replace the Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Graduate Entrepreneur visas with the new Innovator and Start Up visas giving incubators, accelerators and VC firms a key role as external endorsing bodies. As the Tory Manifesto states, “Our start-up visa…will ensure that we can attract the entrepreneurs of the future who want to start great businesses here in the UK”. But flaws in implementation risk making it even harder for foreign entrepreneurs to create jobs in the UK. The process is overly bureaucratic and needs to be simplified.

It means unlocking more investment into startups – by streamlining the application process for advance assurance for EIS and SEIS tax relief, for instance. Or by unleashing pension fund capital to invest in early-stage businesses through VC funds by adjusting the pension charge cap. For many founders, seeking investment from abroad is not a strategic decision, it happens because the funds are not available in this country. VCs completed £63.7 billion of deals in the US but just £5.8 billion in the UK in 2017. While the steady flow of investment from overseas can be seen as a vote of confidence in the UK, it does mean that the fruits of our own startups’ rapid growth will be enjoyed abroad.

It means working with startups to ensure tech regulation does not create new barriers to entry. The FCA’s regulatory sandbox has helped small companies concentrate on innovation as well as compliance and should be extended to other tech sectors in the guise of five-year provisional licences to innovative companies with business models that conflict with existing regulations.

Don’t just take our word for it: our Startup Manifesto has the backing of over 250 UK entrepreneurs. Some have built household names – like Justine Roberts of Mumsnet or Taavet Hinrikus of TransferWise. Others are just getting started. All are asking that the next government prioritise the needs of Britain’s startups and scale-ups.

In recent years the Conservatives have pursued policies that Thatcher would hardly recognise and, in doing so, have thrown into doubt their claim to be the “Party of Business”. Though Labour have tacked to the left, the Tories cannot grow complacent. Since the EU Referendum many entrepreneurs feel they are without a political home: by implementing the 21 policy recommendations in our Startup Manifesto, the next government could help them feel anchored.

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Daniel Hannan: Where would we now find another Norman Stone?

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

One good thing – only one – came out of Oliver Letwin’s wrecking amendment earlier this month. It meant that I was able to come back from Strasbourg for Norman Stone’s memorial service.

Had the Withdrawal Bill been approved by the Commons as scheduled, we MEPs would have been voting on it last week, Britain would be leaving tomorrow – and I would have missed my chance to bid a final farewell to perhaps the most capacious, restless, inspiring mind I have encountered.

As it was, I was able to take my place in St Martin-in-the-Fields among hundreds of (for want of a better shorthand) conservative intellectuals. There were dozens of Tory peers and MPs, scores of distinguished writers and academics and a good number of those anti-communist Mittel-European thinkers who, in many ways, made up Norman’s hinterland.

Arriving just in time from the European Parliament, I found myself between Peter Lilley and Alan Sked, the LSE historian who founded the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, changing its name to UKIP in 1993. Dominic Cummings ambled in a little late wearing what looked like a black gilet for the occasion. Michael Gove and Andrew Roberts were among those who gave readings. You get the picture: here was the tribe massing to mourn one of its own.

Not just the tribe, though. Norman was generous and eclectic in his friendships. Also giving readings were Tim Garton Ash, the historian whose enthusiasm for European integration recently won him the Charlemagne Prize, and Robert Harris, the brilliant Blairite novelist who turned Norman into “Fluke” Kelso, the alcoholic Scottish hero of Archangel – portrayed, to Norman’s amused delight, by Daniel Craig in the film version.

We sometimes toss out the word “influential” too easily, but Norman was a man who truly shaped the thinking of a whole generation of historians. He taught his students to look with fresh eyes, to notice what others had missed. He amassed what must be the greatest trove of historical asides collected by a single human being. His histories, like his gravelly-voiced soliloquys, fizzed with facts that were at once pertinent and astonishing: Nikita Khruschev bought his maths lessons from a starving professor for a sack of potatoes; serfdom was formally abolished in England only in 1922. Those gems are picked more or less randomly from the hundreds that stud Norman’s last work, Hungary: A Short History, published earlier this year. To read that book, or any in his oeuvre, is like sitting spellbound as the master raconteur poured whisky in and anecdotes out.

Could Norman happen today? What I mean is, could a professor with his personality and his opinions achieve an equivalent position in our national conversation? One has only to put the question.

Norman’s critics held that his lifestyle disqualified him as a serious academic. They wrote him off as a flâneur, an adventurer, a journalist. He certainly had a colourful romantic life, and showed scant respect for the usual pieties of his caste.

But there is no doubting his scholarship. When he was 43, he left Cambridge to become Professor of Modern History at Oxford, arguably the supreme accolade for an academic historian. His books were not frequent, but they won prizes. His knack for languages bordered on the miraculous. He spoke French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croat and Spanish. More impressively, he mastered both Hungarian and Turkish, becoming convinced in the process that they were more closely connected than linguists usually allow. When I say “mastered”, I don’t mean, as historians sometimes do, that he could get through source material with the aid of a dictionary. I mean that he could deliver a speech or conduct a TV interview in that tongue.

While he was at Cambridge, his fellow dons wondered whether anyone could be quite as linguistically capable as he appeared, and would seat him at dinner next to any visiting Eastern European scholar, hoping to show him up. The two would chat away animatedly. Afterwards, the other fellows would ask the visitor whether Stone was as fluent as he claimed. “Oh, yes,” the answer would come, “he has a quite extraordinary idiomatic grasp of my language – but he appears to have learned it from a pimp”.

In an age when many tutors put in office hours before returning to family homes, Norman was a constant presence, always the centre of attention, the aperçus flowing. (“There is nothing inevitable in history, so good historians should never use the word ‘inevitable’ – except for ‘German counter-attack.’”) He was more interested in teaching than in writing. He liked students, taking an unfeigned interest in their development, remembering every detail of what they had written.

Had he been on the Left, he would have been regarded as one of our towering public intellectuals. His bohemianism and affairs of the heart would have been seen as natural, indeed laudable, embellishments. But Norman committed the ultimate sin: he was a Thatcherite. Anarchic and irreverent, he never liked governments telling people what to do. In the end, his disdain for the pettiness and provincialism of the British academy drove him to give up Oxford’s top job for a larger budget and a higher salary in Ankara.

When Norman first started teaching, around one in three British academics identified as Right-of-Centre. Today, that number is one in eight – and far lower in the humanities. To be a conservative academic is to be a class traitor. Norman’s death was marked by a poisonous attack by the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, masquerading as a Guardian obituary. Norman had committed the sin, apparently, of being a Right-wing journalist instead of a serious academic. (That professor’s next article likened Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament to the Nazi seizure of power. Any amount of journalistic bombast is fine in an academic, it seems, provided he is on the Left.)

Heterodoxy and free thinking are being snuffed out in the institutions that exist to defend them. A modern Norman Stone, finding the doors of higher education barred, would go elsewhere. He would doubtless be better off financially, but the rest of us would be impoverished.

I did not grieve for my old friend as I left the church: he lived and died on his own terms, God rest his soul. But I grieved for the state of higher education in Britain. I grieve still.

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