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Westlake Legal Group > Workers’ Party

Robert Halfon: How Labour flicked two fingers at 17.4 million

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Labour botched Brexit

As I was scootering out of the House of Commons (literally) on Saturday, and came across the huge crowd of remainer/second-referendumers, the first dulcet tones I heard came from, none other than, “Rochester woman”, Emily Thornberry. To rapturous roars from the rowdy bunch, she exclaimed, “Britain is a Remainer country!”, and expressed her strong support and that of the Labour Party for a second referendum.

I thought to myself at the time, how incredible that, not only has Labour defied the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but so too have they come out against their own 2017 manifesto commitment to respect the referendum result.

Labour’s decision to support a second referendum – and by intent, remain – is extraordinary for another reason; whilst it may please some metropolitans, electorally, it makes no sense.

On Sunday, when Keir Starmer got up on the Marr programme to confirm Labour will have a second referendum, his party, essentially, flashed two fingers up at working class constituencies like my own – Harlow.

But the decision begs the question of whether Labour will even win the arch-remainer votes they are so intent on attaining. Although they might gain Islington, it’s very likely the die-hard-remainer vote will go to the Liberal Democrats.

If I learned anything from Saturday’s anti-Brexit march, the first was better-acquainting myself with the back roads of Westminster, thus avoiding the “remoaner” shrieking. Second, it is clear that the so-called “liberal voter” – the young professional, disenchanted with the Conservative pro-Brexit position and ardently adamant on remaining – is going to vote for the Liberal Democrats, who have made it their signature policy. These same people have very little faith in a Corbyn-led government.

But in attempting to appeal to these voters, the Labour Party will be sure to lose the votes of working people. Their decision smacks of contempt for millions who voted to leave, and the arrogance of an elite who think they know better. No doubt, Labour will suffer hugely for this at the polls.

In turn, the Conservatives have an opportunity to win millions of these working people’s votes. However, not only must Boris deliver Brexit, the Conservatives must convince the public that we care deeply about public services, particularly the NHS and education.

That is why the Boris strategy is the right one. Taking visible steps to be the party that champions our NHS, with new hospital projects, and invests in our schools and colleges, with increased teacher salaries and more funding per pupil.

The public who voted to leave because they felt left behind, must be sure that if they vote Conservative, they will not be left behind again.

It’s time to end the social injustices facing parents of children with special educational needs

I wrote recently for Conservative Home about the brilliant work that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is doing, particularly on apprenticeships, skills and technical education. He should be congratulated and supported on this.

However, there are some areas of our education system where deep social injustices remain.

One such disaster zone is in the way that children with special educational needs and their parents are continuously let down.

Thousands of parents face a titanic and shameful struggle to get the right care for their child. They have to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict. Families must navigate a postcode lottery of provision. At times, support for their child is at the peril of local authorities acting unlawfully, rationing support and imposing barriers to getting help, meaning their needs are neither identified, nor met.

There is a horrific lack of accountability and significant buck passing from local authorities to schools, and back again. Unclear responsibilities for resourcing also stretches to the Government departments, meaning that the health aspect of a child’s Education Health and Care Plan often falls short, or is non-existent.

All this increased bureaucracy is directing support away from the classroom; despite the good intentions of Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014, there simply aren’t enough specialists (SENCOs) in schools or educational psychologists (EPs).

This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I suspect that most MPs are very aware of what is going on because of the enormous swathe of parents of children with SEND who come to see them at surgery appointments – a last-ditch effort to get the right treatment and resources for their child.

Today, our Committee has published a comprehensive report highlighting these problems that parents and teachers of children with SEND face. In what was one of the biggest ever inquiries, with over 17 hours of evidence-gathering sessions and more than 700 submissions, the Committee has painstakingly gone through each of these issues (and many others) in turn, and come up with suggested solutions.

First, every parent/carer should have an allocated person with a neutral role to help them navigate this bureaucratic nightmare. All schools should be guaranteed access to SENCO professionals and there must be a rocket-boost in the number of educational psychologists.

Second, there must be a more rigorous inspection framework to improve accountability. Local authorities and health providers should have clear consequences for failure and greater powers are needed for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate inside the school gates, when something does go wrong.

Third, my Committee is calling for a reporting line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.

Moreover, even if a child gets the right provisions up until they turn 16, there are real resource questions as to what happens after that, and whether or not there are special incentives and support for businesses who can offer these young people apprenticeships and other employment opportunities.

Young people are eager to grab opportunities with both hands but are, currently, being let down by a lack of support and opportunities.

As Conservatives, we have to acknowledge and address these deep areas of social injustice. Parents need hope from us that we are looking after their children with special educational needs, that their titanic struggles are over, and that they will get the best quality provision for their child.

These children should have as much chance of climbing the educational ladder of opportunity as anyone else – too many are being denied that chance.

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Robert Halfon: The Thomas Cook bosses should pay for their greed

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

The greatest democratic exercise of all…a general election

Whatever one’s view about the Supreme Court’s decision, it is worth noting that twice in the past three weeks, the Prime Minister has called a parliamentary vote for a general election – the greatest democratic exercise of all – and which could resolve these issues once and for all.

I have voted for a general election twice in the past month, as I wish to hold myself to account to the people of Harlow.  Both of these votes have been opposed in Parliament by Labour and the other opposition parties. Do they believe in democracy or not?

Thomas Crook

It seems extraordinary that, yet again, a long-standing, British company, founded 178 years ago, has crashed and burned because of the ineptitude and greed of the management. Figures published show that the senior directors carved up £47 million for their bonuses and wages over the past twelve years, all the while, the company’s assets were going from bad to worse.

Not only have hundreds of thousands of British holiday-makers had their holidays and lives ruined and disrupted, but spare a thought for the 21,000 Thomas Cook employees who, through no fault of their own, are suddenly out of their jobs.

Whilst the senior management will no doubt go back to their millionaire lifestyles, the ordinary employee will be at home without a salary and a risk to their pension.

This is all grist to the Corbyn, anti-capitalist mill. Conservatives must have an answer to the failure of incompetent management and corporate greed – especially when taxpayers’ money is involved. How about, rather than just the hard-pressed taxpayer having to pay for all the compensation, flights and insurance for Thomas Cook customers, why shouldn’t the company directors open their fat wallets and give some of their money back to the taxpayer?

It’s time that we looked at corporate laws and make sure that those responsible for the mess, are also responsible for clearing it up

We have an opportunity; let’s seize it

As Tom Watson has put it, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been like “a drive-by shooting”. Their civil war is out in the open for all to see. As happens with every hardline revolution, the revolutionaries eventually turn on each other, and “the revolution devours its own children”.

If this civil strife was not bad enough, the Opposition leadership has proposed a range of policies calculated to appeal to the few, rather than the many. Abolishing Ofsted, the four-day week – alongside billions of pounds of unfunded promises to be spent on anything and everything.

So, as Conservatives – even with the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the prorogation of Parliament – we have a real chance here to unify as a Party.

The truth is that around 80 to 90 percent of the Party are united behind the Brexit position and almost 100 percent of the Party is united behind policies to spend more on education, health and policing. We have a choice; either we can argue about leaving the EU, or we can set out policies on public services and social justice that really capture the public’s imagination.

Don’t be fooled by the polling data – complacency is the enemy

Despite our rise in the polls, many of the Corbyn messages on austerity still resonate. People are struggling with the cost of living. Nearly a million people are living in overcrowded accommodation. One in four have less than £95 in savings.

Complacency is the enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been wonderful to see the rise of the Conservatives in the polls and Labour’s decline. At the time of writing, the latest YouGov polling data states that we are 11 points ahead of Labour.

But we’ve been here before. If we think back to the 2017 election, we had a confident lead in the run-up – at times, 20-points ahead of Labour – and we all know what happened then.

It’s also worth remembering that only until recently Labour were ahead of us in some polls. The Brexit Party remains strong, and could potentially take millions of Conservative votes. Meanwhile, Labour Party is significantly close in many target/marginal seats.

The worst thing that could happen is if we, Conservatives, think this election will be a walk in the park. It’s true that, if we get Brexit sorted on October 31st, things could be a lot better, but it will still be probably one of the toughest elections to fight.

Conservatism must also find an attack-line against Corbyn which isn’t about him being a “Marxist” – as I have written about before on ConservativeHome. Tories have to look for a narrative that provides a meaningful way to explain to ordinary folk the damage that a Corbyn-Government would do to both our economy and our public services.

Williamson: A real vocational education reformer

Could Gavin Williamson be one of the real reforming Education Secretaries and transform vocation and skills? Alongside Sajid Javid, he is one of the very few cabinet ministers to have gone to an FE college and has a real passion and understanding for skills and apprenticeships.

Whilst some have criticised the fact that there is no longer a dedicated Skills Minister, I see it quite differently; skills and apprenticeships will now receive significant attention, playing a major role in the Education Secretary’s brief and having a significant voice in the Cabinet, for the first time.

It was good to see that in his address to the Universities UK Conference two weeks ago, Williamson spoke so passionately and set out a vision for skills in our country. He encouraged “collaboration” between higher education institutions, schools and colleges to “drive this country forward” in terms of skills, and recognised that we must “boost further education and its links with industry and business”.

Furthermore, Boris Johnson has announced an extra £400 million for 16-19 education which should make a significant difference. It certainly helps that both the Chancellor and Education Secretary are passionate about FE and will ensure that the sector is well looked after.

Williamson seems to understand vocational education and the need to build up its prestige, in a way that many in top Government positions often don’t. I’m hopeful that we could see, under his stewardship, a very exciting future for apprenticeships and skills in our country.

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Robert Halfon: Skills, social justice, standards, and support for teachers. A four-part manifesto for the new Prime Minister.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Whether it is Boris Johnson’s £4.6 billion earmarked for schools, or his pledge to boost funding for apprenticeships, education has received vital oxygen during this leadership contest.

The Education Select Committee’s upcoming report on school funding, which we will publish later this week, supports the logic of these pledges – in particular, the need to support further education, which has for too long been considered the Cinderella sector.

But we must look beyond this. Education policy is an enormous montage of different worlds. In the months and years ahead, the new Prime Minister should collect these into one ambitious strategy. He can do this by focusing on the following four “S”s: skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession.

First, skills.

Around nine million working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. Many end up in low-skill, low-paid jobs – their life prospects dragged into the quicksand. And a third of England’s 16-19-year-olds have low basic skills.

We must urgently address this by building on the fine work of Damian Hinds and Anne Milton.

In particular, the new Conservative Government should build a world-class apprenticeship offer. It is vital to better understand what is driving the dramatic decline in Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, and increasing FE funding is a necessity. We would be in a remarkable position if we were able to offer an apprenticeship to every single young person in our country who wanted one.

In terms of lifelong learning, we should build an adult community learning centre in every town, restructure existing employer tax reliefs so that they receive more generous relief when investing in low-skilled employees, and introduce a social justice tax credit, which would expand the number of employers who benefit from tax breaks when they invest in training for low-skilled workers in areas of skills needs.

The curriculum also needs reappraising to make sure our country is ready for the march of the robots. 28 per cent of jobs taken by 16-24-year-olds could be at risk of automation by the 2030s; many low-skilled jobs are at risk and even higher skilled jobs are not immune. Policy makers must consider what it means to develop the skills of the future, and how best to do this. There should be a Royal Commission, with the finest scientists, economists and academics in the land, looking at the effect that AI, automation, and robots will have on society, the economy and our education system, as well as how we should respond to these challenges.

Degree apprenticeships, the crown jewel in higher education, should be at the heart of our higher education offering. The Government must aim to have at least 50 per cent of students doing degree apprenticeships. They allow students to get good quality jobs and earn whilst they learn without a lead weight of £50,000 dragging from their feet.

It is time to reflect on what we consider to be an ‘elite university’. Do they just have good research rankings or are they institutions that deliver high graduate employment outcomes, meet our skills needs and address social disadvantage? We must better recognise the unsung heroes of higher education, like Portsmouth University which came top of The Economist’s “value-added” university rankings (this compares graduates’ wages with what they would have been expected to earn if they had not gone to that university), or Nottingham Trent which has exceptionally high numbers of disadvantaged students and incredibly high destination outcomes.

Second, social justice.

Currently, social injustice inhabits every part of our education system. Almost half of children eligible for free school meals are not ready for primary school. Disadvantaged children are 19 months behind by the time they do their GCSEs. Just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs. And the most disadvantaged students are almost four times less likely to go to university than the most advantaged students.

Good schools are not just bastions of learning but also places of community. And yet schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Teachers in disadvantaged areas are also less likely to teach subjects in which they are qualified, and access to good initial teacher training varies by geography.

So how to dismantle these obstacles to learning? Social justice must be the beating heart of our education policy. A bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.

The DfE should incentivise elite initial teacher training providers to set up shop in disadvantaged areas and support the subsequent development of local teachers. This might involve new funding, but they could also consider making use of existing funds – for example, we spend £72 million on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having.

Disadvantaged pupils should also enjoy the benefits associated with our best private schools, including extensive social capital. I attended a private school and am a huge fan of their transformative potential. But, given the extensive charitable benefits that private schools get, they must do more to open their gates to acutely disadvantaged pupils. This could be done by better incentivising schools through the tax system.

Third, standards.

There is no doubt that education has improved in recent years. I have a great deal of admiration for the work the Government – and in particular, Nick Gibb – has done to improve standards.

The evidence is clear. The Government has furnished our children’s education with more rigour. The proportion of six year olds passing the phonics check increased from 58 per cent in 2012 to 82 per cent in 2018. We are stripping out qualifications that hold no real currency. Our Free Schools Programme continues to produce such gems as King’s College London Mathematics School. Since 2010, 1.8 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

It is important to build on this and export rigour to every part of our education system and that includes technical education. The Government is starting to do this in its post-16 Skills Plan, which will produce a smaller number of T-Level qualifications that employers recognise and value. The next step is to make sure these new qualifications land safely.

The Free Schools Programme must emphasise community and not get subsumed into larger academies’ broader programmes. And we must apply the logic of high standards to non-mainstream alternative provision, where 1.1 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSE passes and the supply of good schools is highly variable.

Finally, support for the profession.

It is vital that we support our teachers. We can build the best facilities in the world, but without their most precious element, they are just empty shells.

The education sector needs to continue to attract the brightest individuals. And the Government should support their professional development. We can learn lessons from countries that have a strong record in this area, such as Singapore, which gives classroom teachers more flexibility to hone their trade; places an unusually strong emphasis on peer support (around four fifths are either mentored or a mentor); and has a clearly defined ladder of career progression.

It is also important to make teachers’ lives easier. According to the OECD’s latest international survey, our teachers work more than they used to, and their working week is higher than average. Teachers also spend less time teaching than they did five years ago. Our next Prime Minister must free teachers from unnecessary bureaucracy, and give them more time to do what they do best: teach.

So to sum up.

Skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession. These should be the four, interlocking foundations of the next Prime Minister’s education programme. Together, they allow those who cannot even see the ladder of opportunity to find it, and they give us all the chance to climb high and build prosperity.

Some of this can only be delivered with wisely targeted resources, but funding alone is not the answer. These four foundations are as much about ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness, as they are about hard cash.

We have a unique chance to address the broad restlessness that exists in society. By extending the ladder of opportunity to those who currently lack it, and by nurturing our raw talents more generally, we can ensure the next generation climbs that ladder and gets the jobs, security, and prosperity that they, and our country, need. It is well within our ability to make sure this happens.

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

Robert Halfon: How old Etonian Johnson is boarding a white van

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

It’s true that Boris Johnson may be posh, that he went to Eton and that he likes quoting Pericles. But your background doesn’t matter if you’re actually relatable to white-van-men and women – and he does just that in spades.

I saw this for myself many years ago when I was in Golders Green in North London campaigning for Johnson to be Mayor (on a red bus, of course). Everyone – black, white, male, female, young and old – was rushing to see him and shake his hand. It is because of his ability to reach out to all people, wherever they came from, that he was such a successful London Mayor.

In Westminster, amongst Conservatives, we love to use the expression, One Nation which, in essence, means a compassionate, social justice Conservative. But, actually, to the man or woman in the street, it’s not a term that resonates. If we really want to appeal to working people across the land, we need more white-van workers’ Conservatism.

All across the world, politics is changing. People are moving away from the politics of technocracy and managerialism to the politics of authenticity and conviction. The same thing is happening in the UK.

The reason why Jeremy Corbyn (“Magic Grandpa”) and Nigel Farage are so appealing to their respective audiences is because the public see them as authentic and conviction politicians. They win support from millions of people, warts and all, because the electorate want public figures who say what they mean and stick by their principles, rather than sounding like a speak-your-weight-machine in Boots.

Authenticity is refreshing. It makes people feel comfortable, engaged and trusted. They feel a part of the conversation, rather than being talked down to and patronised.

Johnson has that conviction and authenticity and, now, he is embracing white-van, workers’ conservatism in both his narrative and his policies. He’s emphasised tax cuts for the lower paid, particularly in raising the national insurance threshold, which will help millions of low-income and disadvantaged workers.  He also wants to reduce “sin taxes” on food: taxing McDonald’s milkshakes, and making food for working people more expensive, is not for him.

He understands that low-paid public sector workers have had it hard in recent times, with pay restraints for years because of the economic mess left by the last Labour Government. So, he’s right to say that these workers need to be helped with the cost of living. They are, after all, the guardians of our health, education and security.

Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Boris said: “I think education is the single most important thing that we Conservatives believe in. In the sense that it is the tool that every kid should have to make the most of their talents and their opportunities”.

He recognises that education helps people climb the ladder of opportunity, but is honest about the fact that, despite increases from the Government, education spending has not caught up with the needs of the nation. Therefore, his announcement to spend £4.6 billion on school funding is welcome.

My hope is that this cash boost will be accompanied by a Ten Year Strategic Plan and a Five-Year Funding Settlement for education, just as the NHS has a Long Term Plan (and an extra £20 billion by the end of 2024).

It’s always interesting that the centre-Left “commentariat” automatically assume that if someone believes in Brexit, they are either an arch-ideological, free-market, anti-state libertarian or, they’re “anti-immigrant”.

But, if any reasoned observer looks at Johnson’s legacy in London, it is far from being rooted in some ‘unthinking’, right-wing policy. He pushed for, and raised, the Living Wage. He cut homicide rates by 50 percent and transformed some of the bleakest parts of London. He championed measures against FGM and helped launch the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. He worked to eradicate hate crime in the capital and supported a number of initiatives to unify communities.

Given Johnson’s strong London links, it is refreshing that he spends much of his campaign stressing the importance of the Northern powerhouse and building up Northern infrastructure – absolutely vital to transforming the economic well-being of our country.

So: tax cuts for the lower paid, protecting the National Living Wage, more funding for our schools and colleges, revitalising our nation’s infrastructure, delivering Brexit by 31st October – these are the things that will not only unify our nation, but also reinforce the Conservative claim to be the true workers’ Party. This is the kind of programme that will win the support of working white-van men and women across the country.

One final thought, on the subject of Boris’s favourite hero, not only did Pericles say fFreedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it”, but he was also a social justice reformer and fierce proponent of democracy.

Pericles enacted legislation granting lower classes access to the political system and holding public offices. He bestowed generous wages on all citizens who undertook jury service and pressed for social integration, permitting the poor to attend the theatre for free.

Not extremists

We’re always told by the media that our Party members are very old, hardline and extremist. But, the ongoing hustings (available online, as I have been watching) show a very different picture. The audiences are packed out with young people and questions cover a broad range of subject areas – not just Brexit but, the economy, infrastructure and education.

These hustings have done us the power of good. Figures from Tim Bale show that average membership age is not as polarised as some may like to believe, with Conservatives at 59 and Labour at 52. We should be proud that we have 160,000 members now and proud of our diversity.

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Robert Halfon: Under our new leader, we must prize social justice above social mobility

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Compassionate Conservatism courses through the veins of this Party. I know – I speak to colleagues and members every day. From educational attainment to lack of in-work progression. From family breakdown to fragile social care. From addiction to defunct housing. These concerns, and many more that disproportionately affect society’s most disadvantaged individuals, are deeply troubling for us all.

We are the Party of high school standards and aspiration. The Party that introduced the National Living Wage, the Modern Slavery Act, the Pupil Premium. Compassionate Conservatives believe in a strong safety net, but also in a dynamic welfare system that is ambitious for individuals, rather than one that writes them off.

Our Party is the champion of free trade and enterprise – the engine of prosperity for us all. But, we also recognise the state’s vital role in helping disadvantaged individuals overcome adversity so that they, too, can prosper.

All too often, however, our concerns about the most disadvantaged are not reaching the light of day. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Social Justice, just five per cent of low-income voters think the Conservative Party is “compassionate”. 72 per cent say the Party is not concerned about people on low incomes. 52 per cent believe that we “don’t understand what it is like to struggle”. And 57 per cent say Conservatives “only care about the rich”. These are damning statistics, and do not reflect my colleagues’ natural sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Left hoovers up recognition, despite the mirage of its self-declared monopoly on compassion. Take its proposals on welfare, which focus more on parking people on benefits than on encouraging aspiration. Or Corbyn’s plan to scrap tuition fees; an enormously wasteful and regressive measure that would suck precious resources out of the pot – resources that could instead be used to support the most disadvantaged. Or Labour’s misconceived notion that helping poorer individuals can only be achieved by taking down the rich.

It is time Conservatives claim compassion as one of our own. However, we cannot do so until we are clearer about what we mean by this.

Equality of opportunity should be right at the heart of our thinking. The problem, however, is that this has become synonymous with social mobility – a term that has become increasingly fashionable but loses sight of the bigger picture. At its core, social mobility implies the capability to move up the ladder of opportunity. But it is not enough just to focus on this. There are swathes of people who are not even at the foot of the ladder in the first place; people who are so far removed from the mainstream that the idea of progression and self-fulfilment is a distant fog.

If we are serious about creating opportunity for all, Conservatives also need to have an answer for these individuals and can only do so by thinking about social justice. This means addressing all the personal circumstances in somebody’s life that are shackling his or her ability to enjoy the opportunities that exist in society. In addition, we must tackle the things that cause people to crash into poverty, rather than the symptoms: educational failure, worklessness, family breakdown, unmanageable debt, addiction, disability, exposure to crime, poor housing.

If we fail to grasp this, we will fail the Conservative Party’s moral heritage. We will also, almost certainly, demolish our prospects of a working majority in the next general election.

The Centre for Social Justice has calculated that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats in the country. And in every single one of those seats, these individuals exceed the majority of the standing MP, in many cases by a considerable margin. Put simply, the Conservative Party cannot win the next general election without winning the hearts and minds of society’s most disadvantaged individuals.

The next leader must deliver Brexit, arguably, the most daunting task faced by a post-war Prime Minister. And he must do so swiftly and decisively. But this cannot define his premiership. Brexit was a symptom of a much broader restlessness in our society: the marginalisation of large numbers of people from prosperity. The answer to that is a bold, assertive domestic agenda that has social justice right at its core.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, the victor must stitch together the ripped fabric of our society. He must reach out to those who are stuck on the side lines of prosperity. And he must reignite the compassionate instincts that lie at the heart of this great Party.

To make a start, our future Government should transform the current Social Mobility Commission into a Social Justice Commission, embedded in the heart of Downing Street. They must address all the concerns I have outlined, and more, to make sure Government brings every single person to the ladder of opportunity, not matter who they are, where they come from, or what difficulties they face.

The Commission should produce social justice impact assessments on domestic policy and legislative proposals. They should not only be a means by which negative effects are flagged but should be used to ensure that everything we Conservatives do is positively helping to improve the lives of those who need looking out for most.

As our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said, delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU. “The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”

What comes next is equally important, if not more so, and delivering social justice to all corners of our nation must be a focal part of it.

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Robert Halfon: Does May’s selfish operation care at all about the Party’s future?

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

What a s**t-show. More than 1300 seats lost. Over a thousand hard-working councillors out on their ear – not for the most part because of anything they did wrong, but because of a disastrous national situation. We haven’t just lost councillors, but also a huge activist support network in the shape of their friends and families. Our grassroots operation, already weakened, has been further damaged and is now on life support.

Our failure to deliver Brexit, broken promises to properly address burning social injustices, our continued Party disunity and a lack of strong leadership brought about this disaster.

It was compounded by the incomprehensible decision to sack the Defence Secretary on the eve of the local elections. I spent much of Thursday telling at the Harlow polling stations. I lost count of how many voters came up to me asking: “What on earth is going on?” I have no idea as to the true story re Huawei et al, but why on earth did this need to be decided, in full media glare, just a few hours before the polling stations opened?

After a couple of days of quiet during which we were able to concentrate on local issues like lower council tax and waste collections, Number 10, in full bloodlust, chose to ignore the thousands of councillors and unpaid volunteers who were fighting for the very soul and survival of the Conservative Party. Creating such a self-indulgent drama was an utterly selfish decision from an utterly selfish Number 10 machine. Do they even care about the future of the Party?

Some spinners have responded to these results by comparing them to those of 2015 or even by saying Labour did pretty badly and should be advancing. Others have said that this is not like the run-up to 1997, because Jeremy Corbyn is unpopular. This is entirely the wrong way to respond to what has occurred.

In Harlow, we bucked the national trend and kept all of our council seats (with decent majorities) thanks to hard-working councillors and a good campaign. Yet, make no mistake, there is a tidal wave of anger in my constituency – as there is across the country – over the crass failure to deliver Brexit. Failing to leave on 29 March has caused the Conservatives untold damage. As a Party, we just have to get Brexit over the line.

Second, it is true that Corbyn lost seats, but he also did badly in local elections in the run up to the 2017 election. If Labour sorts out its position on Brexit, then its voters in the North could return to the Labour fold. If Corbyn goes and is replaced by someone like Angela Rayner, that is likely to bring its voters back home. Their message on austerity still resonates with working-class voters struggling with the cost of living and fatigued with cutbacks in local government and public services.

Third, the new Brexit Party represents a tsunami in terms of political disruption. If their candidates had been standing in the local elections, the Conservatives would have probably lost double the number of councillors. This Brexit Party is not the UKIP Party of old. Nigel Farage has matured, and has some serious and credible Euro-Parliamentary candidates. In just a couple of weeks, they have 85,000 paying members. In a few months, as things stand, they will probably leapfrog over our membership numbers. If they stand at the general election and we haven’t left the EU – or there is a second referendum – the chances of change in Westminster is huge. And why is it that the Conservative Party cannot produce anything like the quality social media content of this new political Party?

Fourth, Conservatives have to realise that the reason behind the relative success of Liberals and Greens was not down to some huge enthusiasm for Remain. It was because these parties simply represented the best way of delivering a protest vote against the Government and Opposition, largely for the abject failure to deliver Brexit.

So the stakes are huge. We are heading towards a 1997-type defeat unless we make fundamental and radical changes to our Party machinery and to our policies and deliver, as instructed, a good Brexit.

At present, we have an array of leadership candidates – all of them talented, but busy holding a beauty parade. Sometimes it appears that the field in the leadership stakes rival in terms of numbers a Grand National line up. Yet, surely – at the risk of mixing metaphors – all these potential runners are surely putting the cart before the horse? What we Conservatives should be doing in response to last Thursday is asking what is Conservatism for? What should we do to get Brexit done? How do we address the deep social injustices in our country? How do we cut the cost of living? How do we build an Apprenticeships and Skills Nation? What do we do to ensure more affordable housing? Let’s get a debate and establish some real Conservative policies on these difficult questions before we decide who our next leader should be. And, whilst we are at it, we should be contacting all those defeated councillors saying, “Sorry”.

 

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Robert Halfon: Stop calling Corbyn a Marxist

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Conservatives have got to stop calling Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist. Not because he isn’t from the most socialist part of the socialist wing of the Labour Party. Nor to appease the approach that the Opposition leader stands for.

But simply because that the term doesn’t resonate with the public – certainly not with the younger generation.

I don’t meet many people these days who have a strong predilection for or against Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky…or Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela for that matter. In the streets of Harlow, and elsewhere, voters will not be convinced of the ills of Corbyn by hearing, “Don’t vote for Labour because he is a Marxist”. Such terminology means very little to most ordinary folk.

With the same end, Tories fall into the trap of regularly describing Labour’s programme as “hard Left”. Again, as well as being unintelligible to most members of the public, what on earth does this actually mean? Outside the Westminster village, people who are not as politically engaged aren’t thinking in terms of ‘the hard Left’ or ‘Marxists’, if they even understand the origins of these labels, at all (though they may well think of Corbyn as more extreme than his predecessors).

During the 2017 election, the attack dogs at CCHQ focused on Corbyn’s “extremism” and the Labour leadership’s apparent close links with the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. Reams and reams of newspaper coverage (which still continues) emphasised the Labour leader’s alleged terrorist and neo-Communist tentacles.

The electorate’s indifference to all this was clear to see. Families were more worried about school funding, police on the streets, and whether their children could have free tuition at university – to all of which, of course, we had very little response.

Whilst Conservatives were branding Labour’s 2017 manifesto as one of the most left-wing since Michael Foot, the public were just hearing about an end to austerity, more money for health and education and better train services.

So our attack lines on Labour need to be reimagined.

First, we should describe what Labour in Government would mean for our country. Rather than putting Corbyn under an intellectual umbrella of Marxist/Communist philosophy, which has proven unrelatable, far better to set out how Labour would be damaging the economy, in turn damaging public services and damaging our country’s security? Our message is clear: Labour would damage Britain.

Second, Tories can make a virtue out of the fact that Corbyn’s Labour (unlike that of the Blair and Brown years) make no hard choices. In contrast, the Conservatives take difficult decisions when they need to be made; not because they want to, but for the sake of economy – a relatable stance for those millions of hardworking families worrying also making decisions about how to spend money wisely.

Third, greater emphasis must be placed on Corbyn’s threat to public services and the cost of living. Under a Labour Government, the country will run out of money or, as Margaret Thatcher more accurately described, “other people’s money”. No funds for our hospitals, schools and police and no finance to hand back the people their own money in the form of tax cuts makes for some uncomfortable reading.

People are afraid of economic upheaval and, as shown by some Conservatives in Canada, it is possible to make the case that strong public services depend upon a robust economy. Just imagine a Tory Party political broadcast of a hospital and NHS in crisis because the country has no money.

Fourth, the Conservatives need to focus on national security. Merely arguing Corbyn is a hard-Left Trotskyite who wants to get rid of our nuclear weapons does not work. People care deeply about security and seek confidence in a strong defence. A damaged economy means no money for proper funding of our armed forces, nor to protect our families against the evils of ISIS, Putin, Iran et al.

The anti-semitism crises that has infected the Labour body politic does hit home, and undermines Labour’s aim to be a values-based party. Whilst tragic, it is also poignant, leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of voters as to what the Labour Party stands for. But that is very different to proclaiming its anti-semitism as a means of shouting that Corbyn is a Marxist.

Of course, in the Conservative salons and think tanks, there should be continued reflection about Marxism, communism and the philosophical roots of Corbyn’s socialism. Perhaps even a Museum of Communism as a way of remembrance of all the horrors and many millions of deaths that the ideology has caused. This would be a good way of educating voters of the horrors that communism led to. Nevertheless, attacking Her Majesty’s Opposition Party simply won’t cut the mustard with voters.

So, please put the unreconstructed Marxist monikers to one side, focus on developing our own compassionate Conservative brand and develop a credible attack on Corbyn’s Labour – something that can really resonate with millions of our fellow countrymen and women.

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Robert Halfon: Labour, Corbyn – Kim Jong-un, for that matter. I’d talk to anyone, anywhere to ensure that Brexit takes place.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Let me get one thing clear: as someone from a Jewish background, the anti-Semitism infecting Labour fills me with dread, and I have experienced it locally in Harlow. Her Majesty’s Opposition is socialist rather than social democratic – and all Conservatives have a duty to oppose it. So I understand the anguish about Theresa May dealing with Jeremy Corbyn.

Like most Tories, I would rather we had a bold centre-right agenda, making the case for fairer capitalism, enveloping blue collar conservatives, white van conservatives, with DNA Conservatism of lower taxes and the free market.

  However, when it comes to voting on the EU, we can choose either to vote idealistically or for the least worst option, given the current political realities. Politics must be the art of the possible.

Idealism only works if there is a majority in Parliament to get those ideas through. So when I plan to vote on the fourth Meaningful Vote on Parliament I will take the below – irrefutable facts – into consideration.

  1. We have to accept that much of Parliament is for staying in the EU, a long delay or a second referendum – all of which I am opposed to. Everything that has happened since the Second Meaningful Vote failed to pass the Commons has been moves towards a ‘People’s Vote’, delay or revocation.
  2. It does not matter who is Party Leader, whether it be Mother Teresa or Theresa May – the arithmetic of Parliament does not change. Only Tory plurality in the Commons and an arch-Remainer House of Lords. Even were a charismatic leader elected, who managed to unite most of the Conservative Party, this does not change the lack of a majority in the Commons, or the Conservative minority in the Upper Chamber.
  3. Corbyn is literally a thread away from Downing Street, thanks to the disastrous 2017 election, which wiped out the gains from 2015. 

We are also unpopular in many parts of the country, because of the painful effects of austerity and the rising cost of living. The Brexit shenanigans have made it worse. We have no majority in Parliament, made worse because of four Tory defections. Three of these defectors have no love of any kind for their old party.
  4. Whilst difficult to happen, an early general election is not impossible. It is true that MPs have to vote for it, but a few renegade Parliamentarians upset about the handling of Brexit make a General Election less unthinkable than it might seem. DUP support for the Conservatives is no longer guaranteed.

Given the current opinion polls and the anger from the public against the political class, I don’t think that even the most Pollyannish type Conservative would think that an general election would bring anything less than a wipeout at worst, another hung parliament at best.

So when I choose how to vote on the EU deal, my whole purpose will be to avoid these four scenarios, particularly 1 and 2 above – avoiding either a long extension, a second referendum, or not leaving at all, with the possibility of a Corbyn Government.

For these reasons, I don’t care who Theresa May talks to about a deal – whether it is Corbyn or Kim Jong-un. When we next vote on the above, the least worst option may be the only one that avoids 1, 2, 3 and 4. That means getting some for Brexit over the line so that we legally leave the EU.

May met with Corbyn a few weeks ago after the First Meaningful Vote. No one appeared to see it as such a problem then. Indeed, the Labour leader was criticised for initially refusing to talk to the Prime Minister. Rather than get worked up about the talks with Labour, we should be reflecting what the current political realities are – whether we like it or not.

It may be when all this is over (if it ever is) there is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to decide what went wrong; who the guilty men and women are; why the negotiations with the EU have gone the way they have, how the 2017 election was ever allowed to happen – et al. But all that is for another day. The priority now must, must, must be to unify the country, keep the Conservative Party together, stop Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street and to retrench, re-inforce and regroup ready for the mighty battle ahead – hopefully in 2022.

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