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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Columnists"

Garvan Walshe: To win re-election, Poland’s President Duda is counting on the homophobic, sexist Konfederacja party

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Incumbent Polish president Andrzej Duda found out on Sunday that populist indignation is all very well when you’re running against an unpopular government, but much less when the demands for change are directed against you.

After a cock-up in which emergency legislation to hold an all-postal ballot was defeated in the Senate and then scotched by the ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) coalition partners, the first round of Poland’s presidential elections proved much closer than had seemed likely had the Coronavirus not caused their postponement.

The delay gave the opposition KO (Civic Coalition) a much needed chance to swap out the underperforming Malgorzata Kidawa-Bionska for Rafal Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The substitution proved effective, denying Duda a victory on the first round against a divided field of anti-PiS candidates. (Duda got 43 per cent of the vote, and Trzaskowki 30 per cent).

Turnout was high in recognition of the stakes produced by Law and Justice’s divisive political style: the campaign was marred, the mild-mannered Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights noted, by Duda’s “inflammatory” and “homophobic” language. His messages were parroted by state TV: “the public broadcaster became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

It came after five years of constitutional vandalism by PiS that even extended to keeping judgements of the constitutional court that struck down PiS legislation, secret. Because Poland’s president can veto legislation, a victory for Trzaskowski would decisively shift the balance of power in Poland. At present the opposition only controls the Senate, which can only delay laws for 30 days.

The luck of the political calendar (parliamentary terms are four years long, but presidential terms last five) had given PiS control of both houses of the Polish parliament, and the presidency in 2015, when their support was at a high point, and their opposition tired and divided.

Though they campaigned as moderates focused on social distribution, they governed as radicals, engaging in all-out war with the judiciary, politicising public broadcasting, clearing out senior ranks of the civil service and armed forces, attempting to ban abortion, and showing considerable tolerance to Poland’s ultra-nationalist paramilitary fringe.

This shook up the opposition, causing rival parties Civic Platform (PO) and Nowoczesna to form an alliance, which fielded Trzaskowski as its presidential candidate, as well as inspiring Szymon Holownia, an independent conservative, to run (and win 14 per cent of the vote).

Another mayor, the openly gay Robert Biedron, sought to revive the left, and while he did well enough in last year’s parliamentary elections faded in the presidential contest. This leaves the second-round result on a knife edge.

It is likely that most of Biedron’s and Holownia’s voters together, with those for the agrarian Wladyslaw Kosinak-Kamysz, will swing behind Trzaskowski, giving him another five per cent, and bringing his vote up to between 45 and 48 per cent of the total, and possibly an edge over Duda.

Duda however seems close to his ceiling. His 43.5 per cent of the vote is essentially unchanged of his party’s 43.6 per cent share at last year’s parliamentary election, and desperate attempts to drive up turnout among his base, which included awarding a fire engine to villages with high turnout (PiS is strongest in the countryside), don’t seem to have worked.

The only available vote bank is the seven per cent of supporters of Krysztof Bosak, the candidate for the anti-semitic, pro-Russian, economically libertarian and deeply misogynistic Konfederacja party. The electoral impact of this love-child of Von Ribbentrop, Molotov and Jordan Peterson is less clear than its designation as “far right” would indicate.

One might think they would naturally support Duda’s against the evils of “LGBT ideology”. Yet they differ radically from PiS on economic policy, favouring high-tech free markets over redistribution to rural communities, and consider PiS’s pro-Catholicism at best naive. Demographically, they are young and educated, more in line with Trszaskowski’s generation than Duda’s, and unlikely to be inspired by Duda’s message of continuity.

Duda has to hope that his homophobia can bring them over without alienating some of his more centrist backers. Trzaskowski had sought to woo them by making references to economic freedom. Bosak himself has endorsed neither candidate and it is not unlikely quite a few of his more cynical voters will sit the second round out. The final result may depend on whether they’re more scared of gay men or the tax man.

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

Ben Roback: When masks become memes: The partisan political climate has hurt America’s fight against coronavirus

Westlake Legal Group ben-roback-when-masks-become-memes-the-partisan-political-climate-has-hurt-americas-fight-against-coronavirus Ben Roback: When masks become memes: The partisan political climate has hurt America’s fight against coronavirus World Health Organisation US Republicans United States Social Media Opinion Polls New York donald trump coronavirus Columnists

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect a Governor to become a reliable source of memes on social media, but Andrew Cuomo is doing things differently. The Democratic Governor of New York has harnessed his social media following to spread the COVID-19 mitigation message to New Yorkers, (primarily) young and (occasionally tech-savvy) old. There aren’t many politicians who become memes for a good reason. With respect, Cuomo has hardly broken the internet in a manner that threatens the dominance of Dwayne Johnson or Kylie Jenner on Instagram. But he has harnessed the platform to communicate a clear message to his 987,000 followers.

Shareable content is even more powerful at a time when politicians are – with one notable exception – campaigning remotely online. Whilst becoming the source of a meme and the butt of all jokes online had once been the bête noire of the political class, Cuomo is getting good at it.

But the focus here is not so much on digital campaigning, as much as the topic is worthy of words on this site. Instead, it shows how something as simple as wearing a mask during a global pandemic has been politicised in the United States.

Wearing a mask ought not to be controversial, especially when the guidance is now unequivocal. The World Health Organisation acknowledges that ‘Non-medical, fabric masks are being used by many people in public areas, but there has been limited evidence on their effectiveness and WHO does not recommend their widespread use among the public for control of COVID-19.’ However, in instances where social distancing is not possible, ‘WHO advises governments to encourage the general public to use non-medical fabric masks.’

In the United States, the advice from government has changed over time, which has created room for confusion. The anti-maskers are well aware of this. The government’s leading infectious disease authority, Dr Anthony Fauci, initially opposed mask-wearing by the American public for fear of draining supplies needed for health care workers, but later reversed course. Since then, he has criticised those reluctant to wear a mask and urged them to “get past” political objections. Research has since squashed any further wiggle room for doubt. A University of Washington health institute study suggests that if 95 per cent of Americans wore masks now, 33,0000 fewer people would die by October 1.

This ought not to have prompted political debate

The mask has become a symbol of political attitudes to the binary ‘health vs recovery’ debate that now looms large over the United States. The president has gone to great lengths to avoid being seen wearing a mask in public, famously refusing to do so when touring a Ford plant in Michigan – despite official state and local requirements to do so. Surrounded by executives wearing masks, President Trump told reporters: “I had one on before. I wore one in the back area. I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.” It is unclear why being seen in a mask by the press would represent a form of defeat for the president, short of an infringement on his civil liberties. Some GOP governors are following the president’s lead. Of 20 states that have implemented broad mask-wearing requirements, just four have Republican governors.

The response to the pandemic has descended into political point-scoring – not a shocking statement to make in an election year after all. In refusing to wear a mask, the president wants to become the physical embodiment of the national recovery he hopes will return him to office for four more years. It has become abundantly clear that, even in the simplest form of responding to COVID-19 like wearing a mask, there would be no unity forged between Democrats and Republicans.

Westlake Legal Group Cuomo Ben Roback: When masks become memes: The partisan political climate has hurt America’s fight against coronavirus World Health Organisation US Republicans United States Social Media Opinion Polls New York donald trump coronavirus Columnists

The president could be convinced that there is still time to lead

The Republican leadership and membership appear to be bending on the question of masks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there should be no stigma associated with covering one’s face and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says doing so is essential to fully reopening the economy. Even Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of the president’s most vocal and influential supporters, has said he will wear one. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, another media friend of the president, went a step further and said:

“I think that if the president wore one [a mask], it would just set a good example. He’d be a good role model. I don’t see any downside to the president wearing a mask in public.”

There is no sign that a change in course from the president would be frowned upon by voters. A new Fox News poll showed 68 per cent of Republicans have a favourable view of mask-wearers, and 61 per cent of those who strongly approve of President Trump’s job performance. Incidentally, perhaps more alarmingly, by a 36-point margin, voters say presidential candidates holding large political events and rallies is a bad idea.

The evidence therefore suggests that there is still time for the president to show leadership on this issue, but the window of opportunity is narrowing. What is more, a volte-face would be jumped on by the president’s opponents as the sign of a spectacular U-turn. What is, in fact, a victory for common sense would be seized upon by the Biden campaign and the likes of Governor Cuomo as a great victory for the Democrats looking ahead to the November election. Policy changes are so often sensationalised as admissions of defeat, whereas often it is simply a victory for common sense – see Downing Street’s concession on the Marcus Rashford campaign for free school meals, for example.

Those hoping for a change of tack from the president are likely to be disappointed. To wear a mask would be to admit that the United States is still in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, enduring the first wave before worrying about the second, at a time when the president wants to focus on the economic rebound. States that previously opened up to a flood of economic activity at bars, restaurants and salons are now facing a tsunami of new cases. For as long as daily cases rise – and Dr Fauci warned yesterday they could creep up to 100,000 per day in short order – the president will look disjointed and out of touch in focussing on the economic recovery. Can a nation’s economy begin to heal while its citizens are still dying?

Covering one’s face should be a simple way of limiting the spread of the disease, above political debate, discourse, or disagreement. The fact that something as obvious as wearing a mask has become a symbol of the political divide that now surrounds COVID-19 embodies the hyper-partisan climate that continues to threaten America’s chances of getting on top of COVID-19. The crossover of politics into pop culture, coupled with the fact that the president appears to consider wearing a mask the antithesis to the economic recovery, makes it hard to foresee a change in approach. That is going to make it harder, not easier, for the United States to get on top of a health pandemic that once again is spiralling out of control.

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

Luke Evans: My Coronavirus report from near the Leicester lockdown front line

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

As I sit down to write this week’s column I hope that you will excuse it’s slightly erratic nature and its stream of consciousness tone. Forgive me.

As a Leicestershire MP, the last 48 hours have been taken over by the news of the Government’s local lockdown of Leicester and, at first, considering the approach which should be taken should any of my own Bosworth constituency be included in the lockdown area; and subsequently what steps we may have to take locally now we know that we are not.

Over the weekend, rumours started circulating in the media that ‘Leicester’ might become subject to the first localised lockdown since the imposition of Coronavirus legislation. There is a cluster of outbreaks – which must be taken seriously.

Like many cities, ‘Leicester’ is quite difficult to accurately define. Did rumours relate solely to the local government area that is the ‘City of Leicester’, or could it include the suburbs which stretch out towards the rural areas which are covered by Leicestershire County Council’s jurisdiction, and of course the constituencies of our seven Conservative MPs?

I set out on Monday morning to do my due diligence by speaking with regional public health leads, our chief constable and the chair of our local resilience forum, to get the actual facts on the ground.

During the day, it became increasing clear that a local lockdown would be imposed imminently, and I was invited to a Zoom call with other Leicestershire MPs, the elected Mayor of Leicester, the Leader of the County Council, Dido Harding, senior leaders in Public Health England and Nadine Dorries, the Health Minister.

During the course of that conversation, it became quickly apparent that the data is worrying enough in Leicester to make a local lockdown was inevitable; with an R rate stubbornly stuck at one, it was clear that, unless something was done now, this outbreak could get considerably out of hand…and quickly. To be safe, lockdown would include parts of the county – potentially including my own constituency.

Although incidents of Coronavirus are showing a marked national trend downwards, it is obvious that this isn’t the case in parts of Leicester. Nationally, for every 100 people tested for Covid-19 – that is those displaying symptoms –  two receive positive tests; in Leicester, that figure increases to ten.

Leicester now accounts for 10 per cent of Covid-19 admissions nationally and, crucially, the trend is not downwards.

Clearly, it is important that we understand why the trends in Leicester are so different from the national ones. The health specialists were in agreement that it is not due to the national release of lockdown (otherwise you would expect hot spots popping up all across the country), so something else must be going on.

At this point, the uptick appears multifactorial, and plenty of work is going on to establish categorically what these factors are, but right now our focus is much more about practicalities and what to do.

How do we guarantee health safety, effective enforcement of lockdown, protecting businesses and support for livelihoods? How do we communicate all of this to the public, preventing spread and make best use of shared working?

Questions like these all immediately sprung to mind, and were evidently shared by all fellow MPs on the call.

Post-meeting, it was straight onto a statement from the Health Secretary, and then my first step was to speak with members of my team with a plan, followed by courtesy calls to councillors whose wards and divisions were likely to be affected and local leaders.

I’m very conscious that an MP never works on their own, and I very much rely on my team and local activists. I said in my maiden speech that healthcare taught me that “empowering those who can and helping those who can’t” is critical; this situation ably demonstrated this again.

In the wake of the Secretary of State’s statement, as you might expect, calls continued well into the night.

Yesterday morning started with a very early meeting with the Health Minister and Leicestershire MPs to digest the news, update and then talk about practicalities.

As Tuesday progressed, further questions come to forefront.

With worried residents, particularly those living in the city commuter belt, it would have been preferable if a map of the lockdown area had been produced far quicker than it actually was. There are many questions about how we can prevent those living in the lockdown area from visiting areas, including my own, where restrictions are being lifted this weekend.

Government was clear it was for local decision makers to decide the extent of the boundary, given that they are best placed to know natural geography, and how communities function in real life not just on a map. (The map is not the territory coming through here from last week!)

Ultimately, I see my role as being that of an honest broker in a fluid situation. I’m determined not to put information out because I want to be first with the news, but rather believe it is best to wait until updates are properly verified.

Instead, what are the worries of my constituents both regarding their safety and their livelihoods? My job is to do my best to secure both.

Over the course of yesterday, I had further meetings and calls with officials from the Department of Health, Home Office, Treasury and local leaders from the police, council and LRF, to name but a few.

Like any emergency situation faced, you want to deliver clear, accurate information, even if that maybe no further news, that is an imperative.

The situation reminds me of my early days as an A&E doctor. The relatives of a very sick patient will always want updates quickly, yet medical uncertainty about how the patient will respond is difficult, added to which the demands of my bosses might be altogether different; but at the end of the day you can lay out what you know, what you are doing and why, and how you expect the poorly person to respond.

The outbreak in Leicester city is no different….now we have two weeks to watch for signs of response, and I will continue to be communicating them to my constituents, working with all the teams involved to get the best outcome; a safe time to return the easing of lockdown.

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

Darren Grimes: Why I’m backing this new campaign to defund the BBC

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

It’s safe to say that the BBC has had a terrible Coronavirus war.

Allowing itself to become the propaganda wing for Black Lives Matter protestors; dismissing one protest in particular that injured 27 rank and file police officers as ‘largely peaceful‘. The Corporation has decided it can use our own money to tell us what to think further still – removing Little Britain from its increasingly skewed iPlayer content. It then announced it would spend £100 million of our dosh on producing “diverse and inclusive content”, when its only diversity problem is its lack of diversity of thought.

At the weekend, the BBC even went as far as to say gay men who exclusively fancy men are transphobic, placing itself at the very front of the barricades of the culture war that we appear to have imported from the United States. In a BBC News piece on Pride Month, the (since removed) bit of text told us that: “discrimination also extends to what some people describe as transphobic preferences in the dating world: from cisgender gay men not wanting to date trans men”.

A gay man exclusively fancying men? “Bigotry!” says Auntie Beeb.

Readers of this column will be aware many things grind my gears, but having to pay the BBC to watch Newcastle United get thrashed in real-time, via a Now TV subscription, is one thing that I find staggeringly incomprehensible. As if being a NUFC fan isn’t punishment enough? To watch any live telly, I have to pay for the BBC in its entirety, even if I watch none of it. Funding right-on Gary Lineker’s large pay packet with the threat of prison if I do not.

It might well have made sense when my mother was a child to ensure that house number 48 couldn’t pick up the signals from number 47 for nothing, using just a TV set with an aerial or even a coathanger, but the world of broadcasting has changed. Back in my mother’s day, there existed no technological mechanism to charge people based on what they actually wanted to consume.

Choice in television has since exploded. More than 480 channels are available to every UK TV viewer, as well as an abundance of other streaming services: people are now used to paying a subscription for the telly they want. With an understanding that if you don’t pay the fee, the only penalty you face is that those channels are switched off.

That’s not the case with the BBC’s Telly Tax. It’s single mothers like mine that are hardest hit by non-payment of the licence fee. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 72 per cent of cases, or 93,319 of 129,446 prosecutions in 2018 were brought against women. If you ask me, that’s too high a price to pay just to keep Strictly Come Dancing on free-to-view telly.

And then there are young people. It was reported in December that around 18,000 people under the age of 20 have been prosecuted in the last five years. Surely the liberal do-gooders advocating decriminalisation for middle-class coke sniffers, to protect young people from a criminal record that they deem to be a minor or harmless activity, must now recognise the human cost to young people and women from criminalisation for non-payment of the telly tax?

The same bunch that opposed Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax must surely be opposed to the BBC’s poll tax. A tax imposed on those who are increasingly likely to watch little or no BBC output, but must pay the £154.50 a year tax, regardless of income, to watch a TV set.

Inevitably, all of those arguing that our courts are overstretched, seized-up and that the justice system must be better funded, will recognise that substantial resources are taken up with thousands of prosecutions for non-payment of the licence fee, right?

If you have read all of these arguments and heard them all before, many have not. That’s why I’ve decided to join the Defund The BBC campaign, which is now managed by the same set of seasoned campaigners behind StandUp4Brexit, who held our parliamentarians’ feet to the fire in ensuring that our voice and our vote for Brexit was listened to. They want to do that again with the BBC.

Defund The BBC want to make the case to the public, lobby our Government and stiffen the resolve of our parliamentarians to do something about the biased, bloated, antiquated and regressive BBC. Anything you can donate to their crowdfunding efforts will boost their campaign to secure the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee by the end of 2020, and to fight for a commitment from the Government to change the Charter, so that its remit covers only BBC channels and content.

Our broadcasting and streaming habits have left the 1970s days of aerials and coathangers behind them, it’s about time that the regressive and antiquated BBC funding model – with its real, present and tragic human cost – was dragged into 2020 with them.

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

Robert Halfon: Johnson delivers for the workers but Starmer could win back their votes

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.

Blue-Collar Boris

I think readers of ConservativeHome will know my columns well enough by now that when I want the Conservative Government to be better, I am not afraid to say it. But it is also important to dance a jig or two, when they get it right.

Yesterday’s speech by the Prime Minister was a blue-collar speech in tooth and claw. When he said that he would focus on the people’s priorities, he really meant it.

For communities like mine in Harlow, and no doubt those in and around the blue wall, there will be a sigh of relief that there is no return to austerity, that the NHS is King, that schools and colleges will be better funded and housing and infrastructure will be built across our land.

Above all, we now have an extraordinary and exciting offering to our young people – an opportunity guarantee, comprising a choice between an apprenticeship or a work placement. This is a real policy that could make a difference to winning back younger voters as well.

The reason why this Boris Johnson speech was so important was not just the significant policy content, but because it set the direction of travel for the Conservative administration. After a few rocky weeks seemingly being bogged down in the Coronavirus mire, the Prime Minister is back on the front foot, setting out a Tory Workers’ agenda, that millions of lower income workers not only relate to, but can also get behind.

They have been reminded of why they voted for us again. Of course, saying that we are going to ‘build, build, build’ is easier than the building itself, but now the course/trajectory/path has been set, it is up to the rest of the Government to start constructing our New Jerusalem.

Starmer unstuffed

Patrick O’Flynn was one of the early media forefathers (and proponents) of blue-collar conservatism, way back in the days when Notting Hill was regarded as the preferred venue of the Tory éminence grise – a little unlike Dudley, where Johnson was yesterday. So, he is someone worth reading up on or listening to.

However, his recent article for The Spectator entitled, ‘Starmer is stuffed, filled me with absolute horror, because his line of argument, if accepted, would instill a large dollop of complacency in every Conservative.

In O’Flynn’s view, Starmer’s history and background, his inability to develop blue-collar policy, the cultural wars and the Tories’ reputation for economic competency, means everything will be alright on the night.

If we, as Conservatives, believe the above to be true, that way disaster lies; not only will we lose our majority at worst, or have a hung parliament at best, but our historic red wall gains in the North will crumble away.

Let me set out a few reasons why:

First, Keir Starmer is radically de-Corbynising the Labour Party – almost by stealth and under the cover of coronavirus. Almost all the way through the Shadow frontbench, from PPS’ to the Shadow Cabinet, moderates are being promoted. If you look at the calibre of Labour MPs – like Shadow Business Minister, Lucy Powell, or Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas Symonds – you know that the Labour leader is being serious when he wants to present an alternative Government. Meanwhile, the NEC and Labour General Secretary are passing into the hands of social democrats, rather than the far left.

Second, whilst Starmer may not have had his Clause IV with the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, it is certainly a Clause 0.4. In one fell swoop, Starmer has shown the British public that he will not tolerate the anti-semitism that has so infected his party over the past few years – and given a pretty sure signal that he wants to enter the doors of 10 Downing Street.

The idea that the public will care about Starmer’s past record as Director of Public Prosecutions is as fanciful as voters being negatively influenced by Johnson going to Eton, or his early and controversial newspaper columns.

Third, never underestimate the power of Labour. Their message of helping the underdog and the poor is enduring, still popular and extremely potent. They are not going to sit back and let the Tories rule for eternity. The psephological evidence shows that public opinion is leaning closer and closer towards Starmer for Prime Minister.

The latest Opinium poll shows that Starmer is preferred to lead the country by 37 per cent of voters, compared with 35 per cent who back Johnson. While the Conservatives remain four points ahead of their opposition on 43 per cent to Labour’s 39 per cent, the gap has closed from over 20 per cent in February and early March, when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Scaling the Tory wall is far from insurmountable.

Fourth, on policy: Just because Starmer is a ‘metropolitan’ does not mean that his policies will be ‘metropolitan’, too. His Policy Chief is Claire Ainsley, who wrote an important book, The New Working Class: How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes.

If her views, alongside those of a more communitarian nature as proposed by thoughtful Labour thinkers like John Cruddas, MP for Dagenham (with whom Johnson’s former Political Secretary, my colleague Danny Kruger, is collaborating on big society policy development), or Maurice Glasman, then they could actually have an exciting message to the public, winning minds as well as hearts.

If Tories are busy painting flags on planes, or building Royal Yachts, or shooting ourselves in the foot as we are wont to do on a regular basis – whether it be on free school meals or the NHS surcharge – and Labour are focusing on the cost of living, skills and genuinely affordable housing, I think it is pretty clear voters are going to be looking at the Labour offering, once again.

Having said that, if we come up with more of the blue-collar narrative, I set out in the first part of this article, alongside significant tax cuts for the lower paid, then perhaps O’Flynn could be on to something.

I just wish he wouldn’t say it, nor any other right-thinking individual. Conservatives have to take the next few years as if we have a majority of one, and remember that the political left want the Tories gone, and will stop at nothing to kick them out of Downing Street.

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

Andy Street: Our blueprint setting out the economic ambitions of the West Midlands

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Last week saw the launch of a blueprint setting out the post-Coronavirus economic ambitions of the West Midlands. As a manufacturing heartland, where draftsmen drew up plans for everything from steam engines to Spitfires, blueprints are in our blood. They illuminate our history. This intentionally ambitious £3.2 billion business case draws a clear trajectory to our region’s future.

As Mayor of the West Midlands, it’s my job to attract as much investment as possible. Rishi Sunak’s bold and decisive actions – notably through the furlough scheme – have provided unprecedented economic support for jobs during lockdown. Now, demands on the public purse are high. All investment must be fully justified, diligently used and – crucially – deliver real results. Every penny counts.

Our region was the UK’s fastest growing outside the capital until Covid-19 struck, and as a hotbed of export, manufacturing, construction and professional services, we play a key role in the UK’s economic success. This new blueprint lays out a powerful business case for how continued investment can spark rapid and sustained recovery, not only for us here but for UK PLC.

Our ambition is deliberate because the stakes are high. Research suggests we could be hit harder than most by the lockdown. When coronavirus struck, the West Midlands was in a strong economic position, with record employment figures and productivity growth well ahead of the national rate. However, our economic mix – dependence on manufacturing and business tourism, as well as a significant contribution from universities – leaves us vulnerable.

By following the blueprint we have drawn up, the Government can demonstrate its commitment to ‘levelling-up’ by backing the people of the West Midlands to deliver.

We need to do everything we can to get back on our feet quickly and return to the levels of success we were enjoying before the outbreak hit. That means driving a rapid economic recovery, safeguarding more than 135,000 jobs while building thousands of new homes. It also means learning the lessons of the financial crash of 2008/09, and listening to business.

Investment is crucial. However, while we need significant investment from the Government – £3.2 billion over the next three years – this is broadly in line with the £2.7 billion investment we have secured since 2017, which supported strong economic success here.

Our business plan is to build on our success and on the investment we have already attracted from Government, while leveraging much more private and public sector investment locally, including from our universities.

The blueprint sets out a business case for investments, while outlining the economic benefits they would deliver. For example, it directly supports our automotive sector by harnessing clean technology and electrification. A major investment package, including £250 million towards a Gigafactory producing state-of-the-art batteries, will unlock 51,700 green jobs.

The building of HS2, next year’s Coventry City of Culture festivities and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games present opportunities to create jobs for local people. By accelerating major infrastructure investment and supporting the recovery of the tourism and cultural sector we can unlock 33,000 jobs.

Then there is the West Midlands’ growing reputation as a hotbed for health research. By investing in healthcare innovation we can protect 3,200 jobs, while improving the health of our population.

Improving transport, housing and digital infrastructure will play a key part in a rapid recovery, while laying the foundations for future economic strength. We can build better transport and digital links to drive productivity and create thousands of jobs in construction. Schemes include extending rail, metro and bus routes, with cash for enhanced digital connectivity and to accelerate fibre connectivity in deprived areas. Reopening long-closed railway stations will better connect people to employment opportunities, attract investment into once-isolated areas and improve productivity.

The West Midlands has pioneered the regeneration of brownfield sites to tackle the housing crisis, while protecting the environment. We even have our own regional definition of ‘affordable housing’ applied at planning level by the West Midlands Combined Authority. We want to build 35,000 new homes – 15,000 of which will be affordable – with a focus on housing key workers. Plans include using a £200m investment package to regenerate derelict eyesores and £24 million for a new National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton, which will be a centre of excellence for land reclamation.

Investment to equip people with the skills needed for the future aims to help get them back into work. This includes helping 38,400 young people obtain apprenticeships and work experience, retraining 20,000 workers for in-demand sectors such as health and social care, logistics and business services, and upskilling 24,000 for jobs for the future.

Finally, we want to back the region’s businesses with support schemes – including helping them navigate their way through the post-lockdown world – creating or safeguarding 43,900 jobs.

This ambitious business case is based on our region’s experiences not only of recovering from the last downturn, but on the successes of the last three years. The blueprint has been developed as a team effort between the region’s local enterprise partnerships, universities, business groups and local authorities.  Crucially, some of our biggest employers have also shared their insights about how the region can play its part in securing a strong national recovery, putting central investment to good use.

For the UK to fully recover, all of its regions must recover too – creating a stronger country with a more robust, balanced economy.

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Neil O’Brien: The New Puritans want to tear down our liberal settlement. Here’s who they are, what they think – and why they must be resisted.

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Consider recent news.

JK Rowling criticised the expression “people who menstruate,” leading to accusations of “transphobia”, numerous authors quitting her literary agency, and staff at her publisher refusing to work on her new book.

Various controversies have followed the Black Lives Matter protests. Liverpool University will rename a building named after Gladstone.  UKTV deleted an episode of Fawlty Towers making fun of a racist character. The RFU is reviewing the singing of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

These stories illuminate a new division in our politics. It’s not left vs. right, but is uniting conservatives and liberals against something new, which we need to give a name to.

“Woke” is the most common term, and laughing at its excesses is part of the cure. But we also need to take it seriously. Paul Staines calls it “Neo-puritanism”, which captures the absolutist, quasi-religious nature of it – the urge to “police” others behaviour.

Like puritanism, it’s strongest in America, but powerful here.

So what is Neo-puritanism?

First, Neo-puritans want to change the balance between free speech and censoring offensive speech.

The embodiment of liberalism is the slogan: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Neo-puritans feel a duty to “call people out”, often pressing for people to be sacked or shunned.

Don’t debate JK Rowling – “cancel” her. They see debate not as a chance to test and exchange ideas, but as unwelcome, wearying, maybe impossible.

Neo-puritanism has tightened the boundaries of free speech. Like Amber Rudd being “no platformed” by Oxford students. The NUS trying to block Peter Tatchell from speaking. A school dropping plans to name a house after JK Rowling. A DJ sacked (now reinstated) for denying he has “white privilege.” An Oxford professor given security guards after threats from transgender activists. Sheffield University paying students to police “micro-aggressions”. Hundreds of Guardian employees attacking Suzanne Moore’s “transphobia” for writing: “Female is a biological classification.”

Second, Neo-puritans believe in “hard” quotas and targets.

Conservatives and liberals often support increasing numbers of women or ethnic minorities in certain roles. They favour outreach programmes, mentoring, open days, etc.

Neo-puritans want quotas and sex/racially defined scholarships which other groups can’t enter. For example, Reni Eddo-Lodge argues that “when there are no hard targets for programmes of positive discrimination, they will always run the risk of looking like they’re doing something without achieving much at all.”

Examples include Cambridge University’s scholarship scheme (worth £18,000 a year) solely for black British students and Oxford’s  Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates. UCL has scholarships for BME postgraduate students. The Bank of England has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Third, Neo-puritans (i) think people are defined by their group, (ii) say people have “false consciousness” about our society and (iii) attack the liberal idea that people can be neutral.

A wave of bestselling books by Neo-puritan authors ramp up the importance of group differences Whether we’re talking about “White supremacy”, “White privilege”, or “White Fragility”, it’s not that some people are racist, but society.

For Neo-puritans, not only are people defined by their race, but race is defined by behaviour in an almost mystical way. The founder of “decolonise the curriculum,” Pran Patel, said: “Priti Patel is the perfect example of whiteness inhabiting a different coloured vessel”.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge academic, tweeted: “White lives don’t matter. As white lives” and “Abolish whiteness.” This isn’t just divisive and unhelpful. The concept of “whiteness” – that there are certain ways of behaving that are “white” – is intrinsically racist.

This explains why Neo-puritans think it’s OK to attack Conservative MPs from ethnic minorities as “coconuts” or “bounty bars” Robin DiAngelo argues there is deep false consciousness in our society: “Our racial socializatition sets us up to repeat racist behaviour regardless of our intentions.”

Neo-puritans see the “colour-blind” ideals of liberals as part of this false consciousness.

Reni Eddo-Lodge argues: “Colour-blindness is used to silence talk about structural racism while we continue to fool ourselves with the lie of meritocracy.”

A headteacher in Sheffield agrees, writing to parents: “Our society is built upon white supremacy… the world’s systems and structures are built on this bias, and this therefore creates White Privilege.”

Finally, Neo-puritans have a particular take on history, with the emphasis on criticism.

The self-styled “leader” of the BLM protests says Churchill’s statue is offensive and should be taken down.  A university lecturer argues: “Churchill must fall”, because he was an “imperialist racist,” “hated” by the working class. Maya Goodfellow argues: “The way Churchill is remembered in the UK has always been tied up with ideas of white superiority.”

Nor is it just Churchill.

Take the student union leader who vowed to paint over a First World War memorial: “Mark my words – we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself.”

Or the Oxford lecturer who hopes Oxford researchers don’t invent a coronavirus vaccine first because: “it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.”

So what’s the problem with Neo-puritanism?

First, I worry hard quotas lead to resentment; undermine those who succeed (am I only here because of my race or gender?); and lead to unfair, arbitrary decisions: can a scholarship for black students be awarded to a mixed-race person?

Second, there’s an abuse of language here. Apartheid South Africa and the Confederacy were states with an ideology of “White Supremacy”. Britain isn’t.

Third, relentless emphasis on group membership plus tighter boundaries on speech will lead to a society not at ease with itself. Instead of the colour-blind world liberals hope for, we’ll end up in a world walking on eggshells, where more and more we’ll see each other primarily as members of groups.

Fourth, I worry about the counter-productive effects of this conversation. If the “core function” of the police is racism, why should anyone non-white join up?

A 13 year old boy recently pleaded guilty to kicking a police officer on the head as he lay on the ground because of protests he’d seen on TV. Ideas have consequences.

If you claim our society is built on “white supremacy”, this will be heard by some people with fragile mental health. I know of a case of a young person who feels oppressed by all around her, seeing offers of friendship and help from white people as disguised attempts to hurt her.

Compared to a world in which you tell kids – ‘you’re all just the same, you just have different coloured skin’ it makes it more difficult to have natural relationships, and friendships without hangups.

Overemphasis of group differences is disempowering. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of one of the country’s top performing state schools says it: “undermines much of the work we do at school in trying to empower our children to take personal responsibility and grab life by the horns.”

Finally, healthy countries need a balance of self-criticism and self-confidence. Self-loathing is unattractive, but might also have bad practical consequences. People are often called on to do things for the greater good of the nation, from paying tax to fighting for their country.  If Britain is basically shameful, why bother?

Neo-puritans sometimes highlight important problems. But though there is more to do, the big picture is one of progress. Sexism is down, racist attitudes are declining and ethnic minorities are steadily getting better off. Neo-puritanism won’t accelerate that, but instead risk a whole set of new divisions.

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Iain Dale: The Jenrick row. What would the Daily Mail have against the former owner of the Daily Express?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

One of the grubbier aspects of Robert Jenrick’s woes at the moment is the position of the Daily Mail.

Yesterday, it printed four pages of bile against the Communities Secretary, with articles headlined as follows: “He sweated under the glare like a saveloy in a chip shop” – “Riddle of his £830k home makeover planners refused” – “This haughty and reckless Minister is now a drag on the Tories”.

And it’s been like that for days. It’s quite clear that it has little to do with the rights and wrongs of the case. It’s all bound up with the fact that their arch enemy and rival, Richard Desmond, is the one who stands to gain from the housing development on the Isle of Dogs.

He is, of course, the owner of the Daily Express until 2018. Now, given that the Express is hardly the paper it used to be, and the Mail’s circulation is now many times that of the Express, you might think the Mail would ignore it, in the way that Waitrose wouldn’t worry about the competition from the local independent Minimart. But newspaper owners have long memories and carry grudges longer than elephants do.

The original accusation of “cash for favours” has quietly been dropped. I wrote in this column last week that no politician is likely to be bought for £12,000, especially when the money wasn’t even a donation in the conventional sense – it bought tickets at a fundraising dinner.

The trouble is that there has been a drip of information ever since, culminating in Robert Jenrick publishing 129 pages worth of emails, texts and letters between him and Desmond, or his department and Desmond.

And on Wednesday, The Times published what it thought was a massive new angle whereby Conservative councillors in Westminster were alleged to have overturned a planning decision on Jenrick’s Westminster home in 2014. He only became an MP in June 2014, so it’s not clear what the accusation is here.

Downing Street are standing by their man, just as they did with Dominic Cummings. The letter from the Cabinet Secretary to Steve Reed seeks to close the matter down, but the fact that it was sent only hours after Jenrick released all the different communications with Desmond probably didn’t help, and it certainly hasn’t ‘drawn a line’ under it all.

Jenrick expended a lot of political capital with his parliamentary colleagues over this three home lockdown situation back in April. He’s expended a lot more over the last few weeks. He must hope that Number Ten remains staunch and that there is nothing else for the Mail to latch on to. But the warning to other ministers is clear. And, frankly, it should always have been clear to Jenrick. When it comes to Desmond, sup with a very long spoon.

– – – – – – – – – –

The fourth anniversary of the Brexit referendum passed this week with comparatively little comment.

On the actually Brexitversary on Monday night, I made the mistake of doing a phone-in on it. I started off by saying that I didn’t want to refight the referendum, but I might as well have saved my breath.

Remainer after Remainer phoned in, all seemingly having been to the same debating school, where they had been taught not to engage in a debate and instead just barge their way through without any recognition that there might just possibly be another viewpoint. It was like going back in a time machine.

By the end of the hour I had almost lost the will to live. In real life, my experience is that most moderate Remainers have long ago come to terms with the fact that we have left, and it’s up to the whole country to make the best of it.

I’m far more optimistic than that. It’s not a case of tolerating the new post-Brexit world, it should be a matter of embracing it. And after Coronavirus is over (assuming it ever is), I think there will be new spirit of entrepreneurialism in this country, which will able us to do great things, both domestically and internationally.

I can’t prove it, and there always will be those who attribute any bad bit of economic bad news to Brexit, but I am genuinely excited about the future.

– – – – – – – – – –

The end is in sight. The Government has advised those of us in vulnerable groups that we can emerge from isolation from the beginning of August.

This means I can leave the comfy confines of my bedroom and resume broadcasting from a proper studio at last. It will have been 137 days since I last did that.

I’ve rather enjoyed broadcasting from home and recording lots of podcasts on Zoom, taking part in video conferences on Teams or BlueJeans, but I am relishing some degree of normality returning.

The one thing I am certainly not looking forward to is wearing a facemask from the moment I step on to the train at Tonbridge each day. But I guess I’ll get used to it. Because it will be part of what we now have to refer to as the ‘new normal’.

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Henry Hill: Sturgeon sets out plan to ‘unlock’ Scotland… one day before England

Sturgeon unveils timetable for ‘mass unlocking’ of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon is planning a major easing of lockdown restrictions, the Daily Telegraph reports, including lifting a five-mile travel limit and opening up access to holiday homes.

In proper devocrat fashion, this new regime will kick in one Friday, July 3rd – the day before Boris Johnson’s own changes take effect south of the border.

This comes as the Scottish Government faces continuing criticism over its handling of schools, with its plans for so-called ‘blended learning’ coming under attack from both the press and SNP politicians. Scientists have also attacked the evidence base (or lack thereof) underpinning Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to lockdown.

(The Welsh Government is not doing any better, with their Education Secretary unable to say when schools will reopen and likewise committed to ‘blended learning’.)

Local government in the spotlight

The Scotsman reports that several Scottish councils are facing severe financial black holes as a result of the pandemic. Three council have deficits adding up to hundreds of pounds per resident – the highest is £411 – which adds up to hundreds of millions of pounds in total.

This is the latest twist in a long-running battle between the Nationalist administration at Holyrood and Scottish local government. Arch-centralisers, the SNP have been using Scottish Government financial support to reduce the independence of councils.

In Wales, meanwhile, the Centre for Welsh Studies has published a new report which suggests that the Shared Prosperity Fund – the UK-administered scheme which will replace EU funding post-Brexit – should be administered by Westminster and local councils, rather than being handed to the Senedd.

This proposal will doubtless outrage the devocrats, who are consistently opposed to letting Westminster control UK-level policy in the way that Brussels controls EU-level policy. But if the SPF is to become an instrument for strengthening the Union, keeping it out of devocrat hands is essential.

DUP again press Johnson on post-Brexit border arrangements

Their moment in the Commons sun may have passed, but the Democratic Unionists are still trying to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire over his promises to Northern Ireland.

Speaking at yesterday’s PMQs, Sammy Wilson challenged Boris Johnson over the fact that the Port of Larne is reportedly making preparations for extensive customs infrastructure, ready to receive shipping from the British mainland.

In response, the Prime Minister said that “I can tell him absolutely, categorically that there will be no new customs infrastructure”, citing the Withdrawal Agreement’s recognition that Ulster remains inside the British customs territory.

Abolish the Assembly get their first MS

After a few months of growing media attention, following some good poll showings and the defection of their first councillor, the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party (‘Abolish’) have secured their first representative in that institution.

Gareth Bennett, an independent MS who previously served as leader of UKIP’s Assembly group, has now signed up to the group. (And if you want an idea of why devosceptics might be rare in Welsh political life, check out the extraordinarily aggressive interview he got from Wales Online).

Apparently Abolish, which recently launched a membership programme, will consider it a good result if they win three seats at the next Senedd poll.

(In other devosceptic news, I spoke to David Leask at the Herald on Sunday about why opposition to devolution appears to be waxing during Covid-19. Most of my section seems to be missing from the online version, but it may return.)

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Stephen Booth: While UK-EU talks gather momentum, Britain should continue to diversify its trading relationships.

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

There are signs that the UK-EU negotiations on the future relationship may be gathering some momentum.

Last week’s stock take meeting between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Commission and European Council Presidents, respectively, confirmed there will be no UK request to extend the transition period beyond December 31 this year.

Both sides agreed to inject fresh impetus into the negotiating process, with talks set to intensify in July, August and September. This marks the make-or-break period to reach a trade agreement and new arrangements in other areas such as cooperation on policing and security.

In my previous column, I argued that the nature of the impasse – essentially whether the EU is prepared to cut a deal under which the UK would be free to leave Brussels’ regulatory orbit – means that it is incumbent upon the EU to move on the key sticking points.

These are fishing and the demand for ongoing UK alignment with EU law on the “level playing field”, particularly with regard to state aid. Important UK-EU differences remain but there are encouraging signs that this is now happening.

Following her meeting with Boris Johnson, von der Leyen signalled in a speech to the European Parliament that the EU was prepared to compromise without, of course, putting into question “our principles and the integrity of our Union”.

In her speech, von der Leyen made no mention of the EU’s initial demand to maintain EU boats’ access to UK waters on the basis of the status quo. “No one questions the UK’s sovereignty on its own waters,” she said. “We ask for predictability and guarantees for our fishermen and women, who have been sailing in those waters for decades.”

Neither did von der Leyen mention the demand for ongoing alignment with EU law on state aid or a role for the Court of Justice (ECJ) in overseeing the level playing field. “It should be a shared interest for the EU and the UK to never slide backwards, and always advance together towards higher standards,” she said.

Notably, she limited her remarks on the role of the ECJ to the part it should play “where it matters” in the area of police and judicial cooperation, rather than in the wider trade deal. If the UK wishes to retain access to EU crime and policing databases, these are underpinned by EU law and there is no escaping that the Court has the role of interpreting how law applies on the EU side.

Though, as the UK has pointed out, the EU has consistently agreed treaties with non-EU countries on policing and judicial matters without requiring the ECJ to settle disputes between the two parties. Equally, the Government has said it will not agree to the extraordinary EU demand for treaty provisions that would oblige the UK to maintain its existing implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights in domestic law.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that a compromise on the level playing field is being explored, under which Britain would assert the right to deviate from the EU rules that it will inherit after the transition period expires. And, in return, the EU would have the ability to apply tariffs on British exports if regulatory divergence amounts to unfair competition.

Neither side has formally adopted the idea yet, but there are reasons to suggest it might have legs. The UK would regain regulatory independence (and the consequences), while the EU would retain the ability to control access to its market in instances where it perceived the UK was lowering standards.

Brussels would need to give up on its desire to export its regulatory model to the UK indefinitely by treaty and the UK would need to compromise on its current position that any commitments on subsides, labour and environmental rights should be exempt from dispute resolution.

It is also an idea hiding in plain sight. The EU’s draft UK trade agreement text already proposes so-called “temporary remedies” and “interim measures” in the event of non-compliance with treaty commitments.

Such a model would not be without difficulties. The UK and EU would still need to agree on the relevant benchmark for identifying a breach of level playing field commitments. The UK could insist that evidence should be required to show that the effects of divergence are harmful to open and fair competition. The EU could continue to insist that the letter of EU law is the benchmark.

Equally, the prospect of the EU using tariffs or market restrictions as a political tool to secure leverage over the UK in other areas of the agreement cannot be discounted. This has been a feature of the EU-Swiss relationship in recent years. However, this needs to be weighed against the prospect of UK-EU trade facing the full panoply of tariffs on day one, if talks break down completely and trade reverts to World Trade Organisation terms.

Critics have noted that rather than providing for managed divergence, such a mechanism would create perpetual conflict. But, ultimately, while it would be nice to avoid it, the likely reality is that the UK and the EU will face disputes in the future, just as they have in the past. This is a feature, rather than a bug, of an independent UK. Some disputes may be easily resolvable through treaty dispute mechanisms, others will require political resolution.

One way for the UK to insure itself in the event of such disputes is to diversify its trading relationships outside of the EU. And negotiations with the UK’s priority non-EU markets, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, are also intensifying over the coming months.

This week, Hiroshi Matsuura, Japan’s chief trade negotiator, called for a UK-Japan deal to be secured in just six weeks to be ready for ratification in the Japanese parliament. The challenge is to replace the existing EU-Japan agreement, which is due to expire at the end of the Brexit transition period, and Japan is insisting on a bespoke UK deal rather than a simple rollover of the existing EU agreement.

This may mean that the deal is less ambitious than the UK would like on agricultural tariffs but Japan and the UK could go further than the EU was prepared to in areas of mutual interest such as services and digital.

Unlike the Japanese deal, the talks with the US, Australia and New Zealand are about fresh deals and the talks are expected to run into next year. UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is next on the agenda. India would be another potential candidate for the future.

With this week marking the fourth anniversary of the EU referendum, the contours of the UK’s international trade policy are beginning to take shape.

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