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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Comment"

Graham Gudgin: Now is the time to combat Scottish Nationalism

Dr Graham Gudgin is an honorary research associate at the Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. He was Special Advisor to the First Minister in Northern Ireland 1998-2002.

When Douglas Murray wrote recently that Scottish nationalists are unique in escaping the opprobrium usually associated with nationalism he is only half right. Irish nationalists have pulled off this trick for decades or centuries even when their supporters were killing people. The trick is to make liberals view the nationalist cause as escaping from victimhood. Rather like escaping from a bad marriage, many will support the new beginnings of independence.

Who would not have supported the Finns escaping from Russian domination? The West always supports nationalists escaping from its opponents grasp, like the new nations emerging from the Soviet-bloc, even including Kossova a province of the greatly disliked Serbia.

Even more than the Irish, the Scots have a good case in arguing for independence. Their history and geography set them apart. They were an independent state for many centuries and could be one again. To write, as Murray did, that an independent Scotland would “join sub-Saharan Africa in the world poverty indices” is silly and will, of course, be taken as typical English condescension. The battle to save the union is now deadly serious and must be treated seriously.

We must recognise that devolution in the form adopted in 1998 was a mistake. Although there were misgivings at the time, the Labour view that devolution would strengthen the union prevailed but is now in tatters. Devolution cannot deal with a contested adherence to the wider nation any more than it could in Ireland. Labour domination of Scottish politics was viewed as sufficient protection for the union especially with an admirable leader in Donald Dewar. However, as the unifying memories of the world wars faded, along with strong memories of Scottish martial prowess, feelings of separateness could be built upon.

Although the SNP hate the idea, latent nationalism was reignited by North Sea Oil. The SNP first made real electoral gains under the slogan, ‘Its Scotland’s Oil’. The potent mix of a distinct national identity allied with financial strength was there to be exploited by middle-class Scottish nationalists who stood to gain financially and in status from independence.

The SNP’s problem was to carry with them the working class, especially on Clydeside. Thatcherism provided an opportunity with its use of Scotland as a testbed for the poll tax and the SNP grasped it gratefully. Ever since they have presented themselves as progressives. The long withdrawal of Labour from its historic role in defending working-class interests gradually overcame electoral loyalty, and just as in the red wall of northern England, Labour surrendered its Scottish base.

All of this is a national tragedy, but we are where we are. The task now for unionists is to face up to the realities of the problem and to avoid superficial remedies and soft-soap talk. These include avoiding a reliance on throwing money at the problem. Just as in Northern Ireland, the flow of cash from England does little to soften nationalist sentiments. Money is accepted without gratitude. Feelings of financial dependence can just as easily foster resentment as generating a need to ‘cling to nurse for fear of finding something worse’. In Scotland, the majority have never heard of Rishi Sunak, the saviour of their economy during a global pandemic.

Although the realities do indeed include living standards supported by financial subsidies from London, we should not assume that this will be decisive. Scotland’s economy is quite strong, with per capita GDP at close to the UK average. There is little doubt that Scotland could emerge as an economically successful nation rather like Denmark.

Subsidies are not necessary to bring Scots up to English living standards but rather have allowed Scottish living standards, and especially public services, to be better than in England and higher than their own resources would allow. ONS data shows that Scottish living standards are well above the English average and close to those of London once house price differences are taken into account. Scots may be willing to settle for a degree of austerity in return for independence, and with post-independence living standards at something close to the English average, their lot could be acceptable.

So, what is the case for the union? The core case is that three-hundred years of successful union should not be lightly tossed aside. The UK has been a force for good in the world through this period and can continue to fill this role. As a nuclear power with a seat on the UN Security Council and at the centre of a multi-racial Commonwealth of nations, its global reach is immense.

The SNP’s alternative of a future inside the EU may yet backfire if the UK secures a satisfactory deal with the EU and demonstrates that, like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, economic life outside the EU can be quite satisfactory. A slogan of ‘Give Back Control (to the EU)’ would hardly help the SNP. An EU border at Berwick would be a nuisance for everyone but especially the Scots.

The financial strength of the UK might not be decisive but is nonetheless a strong card which should be played vigorously. The Barnett Formula under which Scotland has received its subsidies since 1979 does little for the union since it leaves financial support largely invisible to voters. It needs to be quickly replaced by a UK Cohesion Fund. Public funds should be initially allocated on a simple basis pro-rata to population. This would leave Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland well short of what they currently receive, and the difference should be made up from a cohesion fund which makes it fully clear what money is coming from where. We need not go as far as putting Union Jacks on new roads or buildings, but the message would be clear.

Finally, although it is dreadfully late in the day, efforts should be made to contest Scottish beliefs about their own history. Like the Irish, the core of national identity is built upon beliefs about a successful resistance to English attempts at dominance, in the Scottish case most notably at Bannockburn.

The real story, as in Ireland, is not of attack from the English but by French-speaking Normans who, having overrun England, expanded further into Wales. Ireland and Scotland as well as Southern Europe and the Middle East. Scots’ resistance was helped by bringing in their own Norman barons, including the Le Brus and Balliol families, and unifying their own diverse ethnic groups under William Wallach (William the Welshman).

Even so, this would not have worked without the Great Famine, the Black Death and the Hundred Years War to deter the Norman descendants. Independence from then on was then a largely sad story of poverty, feudal dominance and dissension, until the Scots flowered magnificently within the British Empire.

David Starkey’s description of pre-union Scotland as a “benighted hellhole” might be too strong but is reminder of why the union was so positive for the Scots

Having tied themselves to an England on the up, Scots are tempted to jump ship from what they see as English decline. The best tactic is to persuade and demonstrate that a post-Brexit UK has a bright future, remaining a force for good in a troubled world. This needs to be a national effort involving historians, economists and many others. If we leave the task to Johnsonian bluster, we can expect the worst.

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

Matt Vickers: The killing of Andrew Harper. Why I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday.

Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South.

The images of Henry Long, Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole laughing during their trial for the killing of PC Andrew Harper truly pierced the public consciousness. Their sniggering and pride in the devastation they caused has desperately angered the British people, and last week’s manslaughter verdict feels out of step with such a brutal crime.

On August 15, 2019, PC Harper was called to the scene of the attempted theft of a quad bike. The three teenage boys involved sped away in their car, PC Harper became tangled and was dragged for over a mile, before dying on the road. His killers swerved time and time again, violently trying to shake him off, yet they claim they were unaware he was even stuck to the car.

Such a crime against one of our brave police officers must surely be met with only the strongest and toughest of sentences. Anything less beggars’ belief and flies in the face of justice.

It is for this reason I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday. We are urging her to refer the case to the Court of Appeal and recommend that a full life-term should be served. Faith in public order is integral; for our justice system to work we must protect those who work to uphold and defend it.

Just take a few moments to read Lissie Harper’s open letter, published on Facebook. PC Harper’s wife’s letter is both eloquent and direct, devastated yet composed:

“I implore you to hear my words, see the facts that are laid out before us, and I ask with no expectations other than hope that you might help me to make these changes be considered, to ensure that Andrew is given the retrial that he unquestionably deserves and to see that the justice system in our country is the solid ethical foundation that it rightly should be. Not the joke that so many of us now view it to be.”

His innocent loved ones have been left without closure; a common-sense approach to justice is needed. Unfortunately, many would say the ultimate aim of securing a retrial is unlikely, and I would be choosing to overlook significant legal precedents if I was to say otherwise.

It is very rare for “not guilty” verdicts to be overturned, regardless of how intense external pressures and public demand may be. In this instance, there is a potential road to a retrial, but it is uphill and scattered with obstacles. The High Court would be able to order a retrial if one of the defendants was acquitted because of “intimidation of, or interference with, a witness or juror”.

From the very beginning of the trial, there were allegations of attempts by supporters of the accused to distort the trial. At one stage, the presiding judge ordered extra security measures to protect the jury, following information from the police thatan attempt is being considered by associates of the defendants to intimidate the jury”. This alone creates the space for an investigation into the conduct of the trial from the Crown Prosecution Service. It could potentially be crucial.

It is obvious that PC Harper was a wonderful man. He had the sense of public duty to serve, even when his shift was up and he was due to head home.

We must stand alongside those who run towards danger to protect us at times like this. The intuitive recognition of what is right and what is wrong is something the people of this country have at their core; it is this very spirit and hunger for justice that must now be harnessed.

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

Eric Kaufmann: A chilling effect is taking place at British universities. An Academic Freedom Bill can change that.

Eric Kaufmann is Senior Fellow, Policy Exchange and Professor of Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Conservatives need to put as much emphasis on the drift of the culture as they traditionally have on questions of economics and foreign policy. If not, it is uncertain whether a culture of open debate, tolerant of conservative speech, can survive.

Universities are where many cultural trends begin. Our recent Policy Exchange report, Academic Freedom in the UK: Protecting Viewpoint Diversity, shows the scale of the challenge that those committed to free exchange face. This is not just about newsworthy events such as the no-platforming of Amber Rudd from Oxford or dismissal of Jordan Peterson from Cambridge. Beneath the surface lies a far more pervasive threat to academic freedom: political discrimination, leading to self-censorship.

Our report draws on the largest randomly-selected survey of British academics to date. It finds that just nine percent identify as right-wing, falling to seven percent among currently active scholars in the social sciences and humanities. This is largely caused by the relationship between advanced education and left-wing views, but hostility to conservatives may be a contributing factor.

Among right-wing scholars, one in three report that they have self-censored their views in research and teaching “for fear of consequences to [their] career”, three times the reported rate for centre-left academics. Two in three academics would be uncomfortable or uncertain about sitting next to a gender-critical scholar at lunch. And just three in 10 academics in the social sciences and humanities – of which 80 per cent are Remainers – say a Leaver would be comfortable expressing their Brexit view to a colleague.

These perceptions are grounded in an accurate appraisal of the costs of speaking freely: a third of academics would discriminate against a Leaver in a job application, and an even larger share would mark down a right-leaning grant proposal. Eight in 10 academics aren’t Leavers, Tory voters or gender-critical feminists, the main groups facing discrimination. This means that political discrimination, and the loss of freedom that goes with it, is invisible to most academics.

However, for the minority who are affected, these threats are all too real. The combination of political discrimination and the ripple effects of dismissal campaigns raise threat perceptions, creating a “chilling effect” that shuts down academic freedom.

Political discrimination and dismissal campaigns are unjust and illiberal, but they also strike at the heart of the academic enterprise: the quest for truth. Difficult questions aren’t asked, orthodoxies remain unchallenged, and key social divides – such as those between Leavers and Remainers – cannot be discussed to reach a higher understanding and accommodation.

There is also a mistaken view that threats to freedom stem from the state, and that Government intervention always reduces freedom. This may be true in Erdogan’s Turkey or Xi’s China, but as John Stuart Mill remarked, peer pressure can result in an equally crushing “despotism of custom”.

In such cases, especially where a prevailing orthodoxy is weaponised by radical pressure groups exerting power over university policy, Government has an important role in stepping in to protect individuals’ freedom. We have seen this before with the Government-ordered de-segregation of Southern American universities in the early 1960s and interventions into British schools where religious fundamentalism has taken root.

Threats also come from the right, whether from organisations that would report and shame leftist academics or from those who seek to chill controversial left-wing perspectives on Middle East politics.

We recommend that the Government table an Academic Freedom Bill, creating the new position of Director of Academic Freedom on the Office for Students, to proactively ensure that universities are respecting existing law. This will ensure due process for the accused and a route to appeal for those who believe their academic freedom has been infringed.

We also call upon the Government to provide guidance on the precise threshold at which free speech and academic freedom may be superseded by harm claims. Finally, we recommend that university administrators should have a duty to remain politically-neutral in their official communications to staff.

This is not just a tempest in the academic teapot. Nearly all graduate-dominated professions and organisations lean left and Remain, and where people’s views are manifest in work and conversation, this may produce a much wider problem of political discrimination and self-censorship. The recent letter in Harper’s magazine signed by 150 leading writers, including figures such as JK Rowling and Noam Chomsky, shows that the problem is not confined to universities.

The report highlights problems, but also has some bright spots. Just 10-20 per cent of academics support campaigns to have controversial scholars fired. Using a concealed method, we found that two-thirds of academics, including six in 10 leftists, wouldn’t discriminate against a Leaver. There is a silent majority of decent academics who support academic freedom.

Even so, while few professors and lecturers wish to cancel dissenters, few would actively oppose such campaigns, permitting an illiberal minority to exercise influence far beyond their numbers. Government action helps to signal that this will not be tolerated, strengthening the hand of university administrators in resisting pressure from radical staff, students and outside activists.

The growing challenge from a “woke” ideology that values emotional safety over academic freedom is gaining institutional traction in academia and beyond. Thus far, resistance has largely taken place among liberals and conservatives in the media and online.

In order to turn the tide, however, Government, backed by the courts, needs to step in to ensure that universities and other institutions are upholding the law in their daily operations. As Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar, notes, Government action can change social norms by signalling what the democratic majority of citizens approve of.

Smoking bans and seatbelt restrictions started with law, but led to norm change. Likewise, putting an end to mob-driven dismissal and political discrimination can help establish new norms in institutions like universities which obviate the need for close enforcement.

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

Emma Revell: Young people socialising made Sturgeon “want to cry”. If only she got as upset over their debt burden.

Emma Revell is Head of Communications at the IEA

It’s not often some millennials gathering on a beach on a blazing hot weekend is enough to move someone to tears but that was the case for Nicola Sturgeon this week. The Scottish First Minister told a press conference that the crowds of young people gathered, apparently without physical distancing, made her “want to cry”.

I understand the frustration governments might be feeling at people pushing the boundaries of social distancing recommendations but to be driven to tears? Not at the untold damage being wrought on young people’s careers, not for the unfathomable debt they have been saddled with for the rest of their lives and probably those of their children, not for the unsuitable conditions many have been forced to work in for the last five months – those who were lucky enough to have jobs which can be done from home at least. But the simple act of meeting one’s friends outside is enough for a national leader to condemn a generation.

How can this be allowed to stand? The chance of dying from Coronavirus for 15-24 year olds is 0.5 for every 100,00 people. For 25-44 year olds it is 2.9 for every 100,000. So even accounting for a very generous definition of what Nicola Sturgeon meant by young – stretching it to the second category to include myself at a mere 28 years old – the chances of dying from Coronavirus, assuming you did contract the disease, are vanishingly small. The burden of the measures introduced to combat the disease however will fall squarely on the shoulders of the young.

The UK’s debt as a percentage of GDP exceeded 100 per cent for the first time since 1963 in June and that is only likely to increase with unemployment likely to reach record highs.

Whether or not you consider a pivot to homeworking a joy or a disaster is likely to depend on your age. While upper management in their 50s and beyond have enjoyed the chance to skip the commute and take a leisurely lunchtime walk as a break from their kitted-out home office, young people are much more likely to have struggled to share the kitchen table with multiple housemates in private rented accommodation without the luxury of a decade chair, never mind a home office.

New research from the LSE found that young Londoners living in shared accommodation throughout lockdown had just 9.3sqm of private personal space and that 37 per cent of those were sleeping and working in their bedrooms. Nearly half of those surveyed reporting having no suitable place to work at all.

That is those young people who can work from home in the first place. A total of 22 per cent of workers between 22 and 25 in their first full-time job were in low-paying occupations in the hardest hit sectors: retail and hospitality.

For those lucky enough to hang on to work, long-term home working will severely damage the chances of progression and team cohesion in sectors where so much relies on making connections with colleagues and getting to know the rest of the team.

A Zoom pub quiz on a Thursday night organised by a frazzled HR manager will only get you so far. Reduced job opportunities will limit the chances of progression into higher paid positions even further.

And it is not all about money. What about our social lives, or our love lives? If you are in your late 20s like I am, the tick tock of the biological clock begins to edge ever closer. Lockdown has damaged countless relationships, ending many either through enforced separation or proximity. How long are we expected to put our social lives on hold?

Where are our champions? During the EU referendum both sides of the campaign played up the benefits of their side’s victory for young people. Remainers argued that membership of the EU was essential for safeguarding the rights of young people to live and work across the continent, while Leavers wanted the next generation to grow up in full control of the laws of the land. Where are those campaigners now?

It is, of course, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who are suffering the worst health outcomes from the pandemic. If rumours from Whitehall are to be believed, over 50s are at risk of losing essential liberties if a second wave of the virus hits Britain and of course maybe in middle age have been balancing the twin burdens of childcare and home-schooling with supporting older relatives who have been told to shield themselves.

No generation has escaped Coronavirus’ effect, but the young are uniquely positioned to bare almost no health risk yet will be living with the impact on careers, bank balances, romances, and mental health for the rest of their lives. It is time for politicians to remember that.

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

Ben Everitt: Our housing market is a weird spaghetti of disincentives. This must be fixed.

Ben Everitt is the MP for Milton Keynes North and the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery

We’re bouncing back by doubling down on levelling up. There’s no lack of active verbs or direction in the vision set out by this Government. The sense of mission is real, too – shared not just by new and enthusiastic 2019ers like me, but by veteran backbenchers, ministers and ‘15/’17 survivors too.

But there is a huge, intransient, illiquid, blob-like barrier to progress, that no amount of energy, passion and enthusiasm can succeed against. The UK housing market is broken. If we fix it, we can turbo-charge investment in infrastructure and enterprise outside of London. We can release young people trapped in the rented sector who are finding it harder and harder to settle down and start a family. We can remove the geographical choice too many are forced to make between the job they want and a home they can afford.

It’s a hugely exciting time for Global Britain right now. Trade deals going on left right and centre, our researchers leading the world in finding a Covid-19 vaccine. We’re even consulting on how the UK would regulate passenger space travel. But as we carve out our new global role, our broken housing market is a self-inflicted economic anchor holding Global Britain back. HMS Levelling Up is sailing into headwinds.

The recent reforms to planning announced by Robert Jenrick are certainly welcome. Planning is definitely a part of the problem but by no means all of it. There are much more structural issues with the UK housing market that need to be addressed if we are to build the right houses in the right places – which will be what makes levelling up sustainable.

The “housing affordability crisis” that the UK has experienced since the late 1990s is actually a problem caused by the UK’s success. The UK has become a global brand and a place that hundreds of thousands of people want to make their home every year. Our NHS, our schools, our universities, our jobs market, our countryside, our way of life; these are aspects of British life revered all over the world. Immigration has helped make Britain great and because Britain is great people want to migrate here. It’s a winning formula – and our new skills-based system will give British employers access to the worldwide talent they need to grow and invest. This unprecedented population growth (226,000 net growth in 2019) is equivalent to a new city every year and is not evenly spread but concentrated in London and the South East.

Another fantastic British success that’s adding pressure is the fact that our older generation are living happier, healthier, wealthier, more independent lives. It’s the golden age of the sliver surfer, and the fittest-ever cohort of over-70s in human history are alive and living in houses that in days gone by would have been back in the system for growing families to trade up into.

Naturally this level of population growth – both from migration and from living longer – puts a strain on our infrastructure, which was designed for a much smaller population. But Britain can, and will, solve this conundrum. Upgrading our public infrastructure is central to the Government’s agenda, and housing can also respond to the challenge of growth.

Well-meaning but minor and disconnected reforms by successive governments over decades have left the housing sector burdened with regulations which slow decision-making and create a weird spaghetti of disincentives. Put bluntly – the more we tinker, the more we mess it up. Our planning system is almost uniquely adversarial and expensive to navigate. Planners are often hamstrung by policy directives or afraid to use the powers they have. The whole thing jams up, sometimes for years, and I sometimes wonder if the only folk that truly win are the developers with the deepest pockets and the longest time horizon. And the lawyers, obviously.

The UK has experienced several housing crises since 1914, crises caused by war damage, shortages of building materials, shortages of labour, and population growth, but each previous crisis has been resolved by solutions co-designed by industry and government. Britain has a long and proud history of innovation in housing provision including house design, construction methods, neighbourhood design and loan financing. Innovation in each of these areas has helped provide affordable and decent homes for every generation.

Substantial innovation has been applied to housing over the last century; from the “Homes for Heroes” Addison Act of 1919, the “Metroland” that transformed NW London in the 1920s, the slum clearances and bungalow revolution of the 1930s, Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan of 1944, the prefabricated housing of the 1940s and 1950s, the first residential tower block of 1951, the two million council homes built in the decade after 1946, the “system-building” of the 1960s, the sixteen new towns created in England and Wales by 1964, the enhanced standards for council housing following the 1961 Parker Morris report which closed the gap between private housing and council housing, the return of bungalows in the 1960s, and the discounted sale of council houses to their occupants which started in 1971, Britain has led the way in innovative housing solutions. We can do this.

Today’s answers will not look like those: 21st Century conditions require a bespoke 21st Century response. But how do we rediscover the boldness and imagination which produced previous solutions?

A few things are clear. First, the answer doesn’t lie in reducing construction standards. The British public wants decent homes at affordable prices; our housing must be built to last and should achieve the highest aesthetic standards.

Second, any solution will require close collaboration between the Government and those with on-the-ground expertise of navigating the planning system and getting things built. We cannot have ministers handing down diktats from on high and leaving local authorities and frustrated housebuilders to sort things out as best they can. Joined-up, evidence-led thinking is essential.

And third, no more tinkering. To sort this properly, we need to unpick the whole thing and put it back together again. The fact is that the complexity of the issues with the housing market means that it doesn’t really resemble a market at all. A small intervention at one end sets off a chain reaction of unintended consequences leading, invariably, to an unexpected issue somewhere else in the housing ecosystem. We need all the players at the table to buy in to this.

That’s why I am delighted to be chairing the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery.

The aims of our group are simple: to bring together MPs and peers from all parties who recognise how vitally important it is that we get Britain building, as well as the experts and professionals from the sector who have experienced the business end of the current planning system.

Our programme of roundtable discussions, evidence gathering sessions, and public events will help to introduce MPs to the issues and foster stronger links between Parliament and the sector. With this deep pool of legislative and sector experience, we will put together a comprehensive research agenda to find the policy solutions needed to unlock the sector and unleash the housing boom we need.

With this evidence to hand, our members will feed it back into the policy process at every level, from responding to consultations to proposing amendments to legislation.

Our work begins now. Yesterday the APPG launched its first consultation. We are inviting responses to one or both of the following research questions:

“What are the challenges of delivering the required number and mix of housing units that the UK needs to meet current and future demand?”

“Exactly how broken is the housing market?”

Whether you wish to offer your personal expertise or make a submission on behalf of an organisation, if you think you have even part of the answer to solving the housing crisis than we want to hear from you. Please send between 1,000 and 3,000 words to secretariat@appghousing.org.uk by November 4th, 2020. Further guidelines for submissions are available on our website.

This will be just the first step on our journey, but I am increasingly confident that we will reach our destination. Across Parliament, there is a growing recognition that we need bold and decisive action to fix our housing sector.

Our APPG will serve as a bridge between the politicians who make the rules and the professionals who build the houses. Together, we will finally cut this Gordian Knot and deliver the British people the homes they want, in the places they’re needed, at a price they can afford.

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

James Frayne: Public support for the Government appears to have dropped – but not when it comes to individual policies

The conventional wisdom on the polling is the Government is fast losing public support on its handling of the Coronavirus crisis – and therefore that the Government is handling the crisis badly in reality.

While it’s true that the polls have moved against the Government from the early days of the crisis when approval ratings were sky high, the story isn’t as simple as the public turning against the Government.

Interestingly, on individual policy announcements, for example the Northern lockdown, public support remains high. The public back the Government on specifics, but not in the round. So what’s happening?

Let’s begin by looking at the polling on general Government popularity measures. The picture is clear: the public has become less sympathetic over time.

  • ConservativeHome’s newly released panel survey showed the PM’s popularity has slipped for the third month in a row.
  • YouGov’s tracker on perceptions of the Government’s handling of the crisis has shown a steady decline since the Spring.
  • Opinium’s tracker shows the same, with their most recent figures showing a net disapproval rating of -15. They also show a relatively narrow lead over Labour in the voting intention tracker.
  • A new study by Ipsos-Mori and KCL revealed an array of metrics showing public concern about the way the pandemic has been handled.

But now let’s look at the data on individual policies.

  • People appear to very strongly support the Government banning separate households meeting indoors in those parts of the country where the infection rate has risen.
  • People appear to strongly support the Government’s announcement that those with Coronavirus symptoms should now self-quarantine for 10 days rather than seven.
  • The majority of the public appears to be unsympathetic to those British people that went to Spain and got caught out by the demand to self-quarantine on their return – a decision for which the Government received enormous criticism.
  • People also appear to support restaurants having to show calorie counts on their menus – a suggestion the Government was said to be considering as part of No 10’s new focus on obesity. (I actually think this would drop like a stone when faced with a counter argument on burdensome regulations during a pandemic, but that’s another conversation).
  • The polls show the public support the requirement to wear masks in supermarkets and they want the supermarkets themselves to be tougher on compliance, presumably by refusing entry to those without masks or refusing service at the till.
  • The use of face masks has surged dramatically more generally.

What accounts for these stark differences, where the Government is losing support but where the public actually back its main policy announcements? There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.

First, it’s possible the public actually still favour extremely tough measures overall – much tougher than the Government is prepared to take. It’s possible they still favour what amounts to a near full-lockdown and, therefore, the support they give to specific policies is almost given in exasperation – as if to say: “of course they should do this, why haven’t they done so before?”

I think this is very likely the case among older and more affluent people, where the mix of fear and an ability to work from home and maintain their living standards means they take a very safety first approach. It might still be the case for many others.

As I’ve written before, the Government’s reputation has also ultimately been perversely damaged by the huge success of the furlough scheme. The fact that it worked smoothly and held up most people’s earnings meant it acted like morphine; it made people think the pandemic was almost exclusively a health crisis, not an economic one.

It made many think that the lockdown was a perfectly acceptable way to spend several weeks – not something that was crippling the economy. As such, many people believed, and still do, that the lockdown should keep going indefinitely. Were they exposed to job losses and higher taxes, they’d likely change their minds on this quickly.

In summary, it’s possible the Government is being punished for opening up the country too early.

Second, it’s possible that the little minorities of people who oppose Government action on, say, increasing the quarantine, actually all mount up to a majority overall, which brings down Government support.

So, a significant minority in the North of England might be angry about the new lockdown there, while a significant minority of holidaymakers might be angry about the new quarantine demands, and so on. In the end, the angry and annoyed on one issue accumulate to a large number. It’s as if everyone’s annoyed, but for different reasons. There’s also clearly just generally a virus fatigue: “when will it ever end?”

Third, we have to look at the role of Government communications. The Government has been accused of giving out mixed messages in recent weeks – most recently, encouraging people to go to restaurants while also telling people to stay apart and wear masks, or encouraging people to go to restaurants while telling them to eat healthily.

The Government’s view appears to be that they need a degree of ambiguity – yes, to encourage people to return to some form of normality, while always reminding them to take care because the virus hasn’t gone away. I have sympathy with this because the medium-term future is so uncertain and because the Government is balancing outrageously complex and high-stakes issues.

In truth, no one really knows what’s going to happen. However, the fact remains that their messages and stated priorities can look contradictory – and this in turn can make them look disorganised, which in turn can eat into their reputation for competence.

Fourth, it looks like party politics is returning to the public mind slowly. The gaps between Conservative and Labour voters on questions of competence and general handling reveal huge differences in opinion.

In short, Labour voters think the Government has done a bad job, even if they give support to specific policy ideas, while Conservative voters are cutting the Government slack. If Starmer starts drawing a greater contrast between Conservative and Labour policies – most obviously over economic recovery policies – we should expect these differences to become starker.

Where will the polls go? It’s hard to say. If there’s another serious spike in cases and another health emergency develops, it’s possible that people will again rally behind the Government for doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances.

But I suspect, in reality, now people have become accustomed to the habits and language of the pandemic, and now Labour has a basically competent leader, that the Government’s approval ratings will return to where you’d expect a Government that has been in power for a long time to be – with a divided country and a very large number of disgruntled voters.

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Sunder Katwala: Gandhi does not quite fit the bill of recognising ethnic minority Britons on our currency

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

There is a certain irony in Mahatma Gandhi being the dominant face of India’s currency. There was talk from the moment of independence of Gandhi replacing the image of the king on the money of the new Republic, though it took some decades for that plan to come to fruition.

A special commemorative 100 rupee note was produced as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, but it was only during this era of India’s post-liberalisation boom after 1996 that the austere home-spun Mahatma became routinely the image and watermark of modern India’s new high-security banknotes. It is still only Gandhi who appears on Indian banknotes, reflecting both his role as the spiritual father of the nation, and the lack of consensus whenever additional figures have been proposed.

Now Gandhi may be set to achieve an unusual double, following reports that the Royal Mint proposes to feature him on British currency too. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is supporting a call to recognise ethnic minority contributions in those celebrated on our currency.

Sunak wrote to the Royal Mint that “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom. For generations, ethnic minority groups have fought and died for this country we have built together; taught our children, nursed the sick, cared for the elderly; and through their enterprising spirit have started some of our most exciting and dynamic businesses, creating jobs and driving growth”, in requesting that they bring forward proposals to reflect this on coinage.

The Chancellor’s intervention was a response to the “We Built Britain Too” campaign, coordinated by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi and Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, of which I am a supporter. The campaign had hoped to persuade the Bank of England to feature the first ethnic minority Briton on a banknote.

Despite broad cross-partisan political support across right, left and centre, the Bank of England took a perfunctory and dismissive response to the campaign. The Bank’s remit includes “recognising the diversity of British society” in its choices, but it has considered this primarily through the lens of balancing artists and writers with engineers and scientists.

It seems entirely possible that we will have reached the post-cash society before Britain’s ethnic diversity enters onto the Bank of England’s radar. The support of the Chancellor and the Royal Mint will make a crucial difference to this happening on coins first.

It is not quite the case that no ethnic minority face has ever featured on British coinage. For example, the first black British army officer Walter Tull featured on a special £5 coin, part of a limited edition first world war centenary set in sterling silver and 22 carat gold, for the First World War Centenary.

But no ethnic minority Briton has featured on legal tender, or on the notes or coins that any of us might spend at the shops. The campaign is not proposing any specific individual – wanting to see a process of public engagement and debate – but suggestions including Noor Inayat Khan, Mary Seacole and black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, the first black British voter in the 1774 general election, have been suggested.

Gandhi does not quite fit the bill for the campaign’s aim of recognising ethnic minority Britons. Though he did not live almost of his eight decades of life as among the king’s subjects, though the central mission of his life was that this should cease to be the case. He saw India become independent, and the trauma of Partition, but was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu supporter of the far right RSS within six months.

To the British public, Gandhi is a famous name, one of the great figures who shaped the 20th century and of very few names that would mean at least something to most people. Standing alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as British leaders are a handful of international figures: Hitler and Stalin as the villains of the last century, while Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are cast as its secular saints. No other figure from the end of Empire – including Nehru in India, or any other figure from Ireland, Asia or Africa – has any similar level of public recognition.

So Gandhi’s iconic image is claimed for many causes. An image of integrity, to contrast with the politicians of our time; an image of simplicity and sustainability, perhaps now to be seized by environmentalists; an image of activism, “to be the change you want to be in the world” used for myriad causes.

A simplistic deification of Gandhi risks losing the complexity of the man and his times. He was a pacifist, who helped Britain to recruit Indians in the First World War as a strategy to earn Dominion status, and whose philosophy could drive the British from India but lacked answers to address the menace of Hitler and the Holocaust in WWII.

His arguments with Nehru over India’s post-Independence path illustrates how part of Gandhi’s appeal as an icon in the West can reflect a problematic romanticisation of Indian poverty. Gandhi was a crusader against caste and for India’s untouchables, and developed his strategies in campaigning for Indian rights in South Africa, but held dismissive prejudices against the black Africans, as his leading biographer Ramachandra Guha has set out. “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology”, as Patrick French wrote in his review of Guha’s Gandhi before India.

So Gandhi too has been challenged by anti-racist campaigners. We should recognise that there are no flawless heroes. The school curriculum should interrogate every controversy, so that we understand them, warts and all. Yet we can not set standards for the recognition of past achievements that not even Churchill or Gladstone, Gandhi or Mandela can attain, or we would surely have no statues at all.

That Gandhi’s statue now stands in Parliament Square – joining the statesmen of previous ages, along with the suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett – is modern Britain’s way of acknowledging the justice of Gandhi’s and India’s cause. It places his campaign against British rule as part of the story of British democracy, whose traditions and arguments were used by Indian Nationalists to tell the British that it was time to go.

The statue was welcomed across the British party spectrum, though it was David Cameron and Sajid Javid who unveiled it. The proposal to feature Gandhi on coinage may also be considered an important gesture of Global Britain’s commitments to the Commonwealth – and the warmth of its bilateral relationship with a rising India today – but this is a different, parallel proposition to the case to recognise British ethnic minority contributions.

This timely change would be one simple response to the growing appetite to deepen the public understanding of the history of race in Britain, and how that has shaped the country that we are today. Most people don’t want that to turn into a culture war over the history of our country. If the focus is almost entirely on who might be removed, we risk neglecting to ask contributions we want to recognise better.

This constructive campaign to reflect significant ethnic minority contributions to British history on national symbols, like coins, symbolises how our generation can contribute to broadening Britain’s national story in an inclusive way. Zaidi says her hope is that “it helps build cohesion, inspires young people and unites us as a nation that we all have an equal stake and contribution in society.

Having as open as possible a process of public debate about the potential candidates would maximise the educational value of this positive, symbolic change.

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Bella Wallersteiner: A “Work Out to Help Out” scheme could boost the nation’s health and save our struggling gyms

Bella Wallersteiner is Senior Parliamentary Assistant to Greg Smith MP.

The two most memorable images of lockdown are a panic stricken Dominic Raab informing the nation that the Prime Minister had been admitted into intensive care juxtaposed with Joe Wicks exuding his irrepressible optimism while exalting the nation to join his daily workout. Joe Wicks has faded from our screens but the Prime Minister has had a Dasmacene conversion to lose weight and become as “fit as a Butcher’s Dog”.

There is a clear correlation between obesity-related conditions (those who have a BMI over 25) and patients in hospitals who require intensive care and intubation. Never has it been more important for the nation to take responsibility for its own health and thereby protect the NHS before the onset of winter when outdoor exercise regimes become more difficult to manage. The country will not be heading to their local parks on a cold dark autumnal evening in November.

It is all too facile for me as a relatively fit and healthy 25 year old to preach the benefits and merits of exercise to those who do not have easy access to open spaces and gyms. While it is amazing how much can be achieved by a simple work out in your average living room, better still is to leave your home, join your local gym and create a new daily work out routine.

Gyms are often maligned as intimidating spaces whose denizens spend their time toning their perfectly sculpted bodies in front of mirrors to reach the beach-ready, Love Island physique. The reality is very different as they have worked hard to become welcoming and inclusive spaces which encourage people of every shape and size in a national effort to increase fitness and reduce weight.

On March 21, UK’s 7,000 gyms and leisure centres were closed for the duration of the lockdown and only reopened on July 25 as part of the Government’s third stage of the national recovery from Covid-19 restrictions. Will the one in seven of the population who used to have gym memberships continue to inject £5 billion on keeping fit?

If my experience of attending gyms in the fortnight since gyms reopened is anything to go by the public has yet to be convinced. Monthly direct debits to gyms are not being renewed and while I have enjoyed the luxury of an empty gym this is not sustainable. We will see a swathe of gyms and fitness centres closing; a permanent loss to local communities with thousands of jobs disappearing and more empty spaces in our towns and cities.

The Prime Minister wants to level up Britain’s left behind areas, he should also be urging us to get on our spin bikes and thereby providing a leg up to this struggling industry.

At a time when the Government has launched its Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, with a £10 voucher for every meal out, there should be a similar financial inducement to encourage people to renew long-lapsed gym memberships and to support their local gym and fitness centres. A 25 per cent Government-backed discount on monthly gym memberships would incentivise people to join their local gyms and shed surplus weight gained during lockdown.

Comprehensive Government guidelines have ensured that gyms, pools and leisure centres have reopened safely. Measures include timed bookings to limit the number of people using a facility at any one time so that social distancing can be maintained, enhanced cleaning regimes which ensure that all equipment satisfies Covid-19 hygiene protocols and one-way systems reducing unnecessary contact between gym users.

The challenge now is for people to overcome their understandable reluctance to step back into enclosed spaces which have been caricatured as feted petri dishes for the spread of the Coronavirus. If we are to beat the pandemic the nation needs to be match-ready for the much anticipated second wave which could come sooner than expected.

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David Green: The new Commission on Unalienable Rights allows us to compare America and Communist China

David Green is CEO of Civitas.

Is it time for a change of policy towards China? As we rethink our strategy, instead of referring to China, we should speak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to remind ourselves that we are dealing with an authoritarian dictatorship. We will constantly misunderstand Chinese rulers if we fail to recognise a simple truth: the ruling party in China is an organisation for keeping power in its own hands. It is as much in conflict with the Chinese people as with foreigners, as the experience of Hong Kong has reminded us.

The party doesn’t even have the excuse of believing that its high ideals justify violent methods. Everything is an instrument for keeping power. If voicing highfalutin ideals helps, then they will be proclaimed. If ideals widely shared in human history are obstacles, such as universal values and an autonomous civil society, then they will be denounced. Power is everything.

In the West, we are reluctant to think that a regime could be quite that bad. There is good in all of us and we never stop looking for it. But the internal documents of the CCP repeatedly give the game away. Take one prime example, the infamous Document Number Nine, distributed to party leaders in 2012 soon after Xi Jinping came to power. It was leaked the following year and we know that the person responsible was jailed for seven years for revealing state secrets. They didn’t want us to know about it. A translation is freely available on the website of the online publication, ChinaFile.

The document highlights seven false ideological trends found among the Chinese people. The first is promoting Western constitutional democracy, whose dubious characteristics include the separation of powers, the multi-party system, general elections, and an independent judiciary. The goal of Chinese enthusiasts for Western constitutional democracy is seen as undermining the CCP’s leadership and abolishing the People’s Democracy.

The second target is the promotion of universal values. Chinese people who champion them aim to “weaken the theoretical foundations of the Party’s leadership” and supplant the core values of socialism.

The third ideological tenet is “promoting civil society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation”. This dubious doctrine holds that individual rights are paramount and that they “ought to be immune to obstruction by the state”. But advocates of civil society want to “squeeze the party out of leadership of the masses at the local level”. The fourth target is the neoliberal market economy, which aims to “weaken the government’s control of the national economy”.

The fifth target is promoting the West’s idea of journalism, which challenges “China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to party discipline”. The ultimate goal of advocating Western-style journalism “is to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of press, oppose the party’s leadership in the media, and gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology”.

Sixth is promoting “historical nihilism” or questioning the CCP’s interpretation of the past. The aim is “to fundamentally undermine the CCP’s historical purpose, which is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the CCP’s long-term political dominance”.

Finally there is questioning reform and “the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”. If these ideas are allowed to spread, “they will disturb people’s existing consensus on important issues”. Within China’s borders, some private organisations were creating “reactionary underground publications”, filming documentaries on “sensitive subject matter”, and “defaming the party and the national leadership”.

The seven ideological trends must be resisted by strengthening “leadership in the ideological sphere” and forcefully resisting “influential and harmful false tides of thoughts”. The party must not permit “the dissemination of opinions that oppose the party’s theory or political line”. There must be “unwavering adherence to the principle of the party’s control of media”. We must persist in “correct guidance of public opinion, insisting that the correct political orientation suffuse every domain and process in political engagement, form, substance, and technology”.

Finally, the party must reinforce our management of “all types and levels of propaganda” and “allow absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread”. The party must “strengthen guidance of public opinion on the Internet” and “purify the environment of public opinion on the Internet”.

If the document had aimed to define totalitarianism as succinctly as possible, it could hardly have done a better job. As it happens the US State Department has just published the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which allows us to compare America and Communist China.

There are plenty of Americans who criticise their own country, most notably for failure in race relations, and there are some who detect a whiff of unbridled power seeking in President Trump’s proposal to delay the November election. He was, however, overruled by Congress within a few hours (whereas no one in China can overrule the supreme leader).

The report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is a nuanced defence of a free society, which steadfastly defends its own values without arrogance or righteousness. The preface begins with an acknowledgement of America’s faults. With recent racial divisions in mind, it says:

“With the eyes of the world upon her, America must show the same honest self-examination and efforts at improvement that she expects of others. America’s dedication to unalienable rights – the rights all human beings share – demands no less.”

The report reaffirms America’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) because it reflects America’s founding values. Perhaps with China in mind, the report asserts that there can be no moral equivalence between “rights-respecting countries that fall short in progress toward their ideals” and countries that “regularly and massively trample on their citizens’ human rights”.

Maybe the sharpest contrast with Document Number Nine is found in the declaration that “in a free society, the laws will leave a vast range of human activity to the conscience of each” and in its reminder that the US Constitution protects freedom of speech “by declining to give Congress the power to pass laws prescribing or proscribing beliefs, utterances, and publications”.

The report urges the American Government to defend human rights with renewed vigour, with pride in what has been accomplished, combined with humility born of the awareness of her own “shortcomings and imperfections”. But, it proclaims that in the war of ideas between liberal democracy and autocracy, “the uneven progress of liberal democracies does not invalidate the lofty goals to which they are dedicated”.

About the same time as Document Number Nine was being sent to Communist leaders, our own David Cameron and George Osborne were declaring a “golden era” in relations with China. Looking back we can perhaps see that this was one of the biggest foreign-policy blunders of recent times.

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Chris Whitehouse: The Medicines and Medical Devices Bill faces challenges with the Lords. Ministers must prepare now.

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Matt Hancock and Jo Churchill may have seen their Medicines and Medical Devices Bill sail serenely and swiftly through the Commons, but it’s heading for choppier waters in the House of Lords when it returns from its summer recess.

It’s not that their Lordships oppose the Bill in principle. After all, it’s a relatively simple and necessary measure to repatriate powers to the United Kingdom, post-Brexit, to regulate the safety and licensing of human and veterinary drugs and devices.

But, their Lordships have sniffed below that beguiling surface a constitutional truffle of the kind their House loves to expose, and they seem determined to dig it out and have their day with it.

That constitutional truffle is not that this Bill is, as Labour sought to portray the Trade Bill in the Commons, an attempt to bring in American companies to take over the NHS, nor is it that it would put patients at risk by cutting costs or lowering standards.

No, while those themes will no doubt be aired, the real issue of fundamental concern is the sheer all-encompassing sweep of the powers that it gives to ministers and the authorities that answer to them.

The current Bill is 46 pages long, so can be as daunting as many Government Bills when read for the first time. But, in reality, it divides into three substantive parts each only a few clauses long: Medicines, Veterinary Medicines and Medical Devices, and each of those parts is significantly repetitive.

Arguably there is only one section, Section 1, in each part that does much of any substance legally, and that is to grant to the minister and the authorities the power to make regulations on, broadly speaking, any matters they wish affecting medicines development, safety and marketing.

One could commend the open and transparent simplicity of this approach in giving the minister future-proof flexibility to evolve regulations to secure the UK’s position as a world leader in medicines and medical technology.

Unfortunately, our truffle hunters in the Lords don’t see it that way. Indeed, the Lords Constitution Committee has recently been excoriating in its analysis of the measure; as has the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee – both Committees being scathing of what they consider the unnecessary and unjustified use of a “skeleton bill”.

Mutterings of “Henry VIII” powers are to be heard in the corridors of the upper House – or at least in their Zoom chats and WhatsApp groups – such powers being ones given to Government by Parliament to make up new laws, as it goes along without the need for future parliamentary consent.

There is talk of “sunset clauses” being introduced so that even if Parliament consents to give ministers such powers, the lawfulness of exercising that power could be time-limited and a renewal of parliamentary consent must be obtained to go beyond the expiry date.

And there is a warning, being gently sounded in ministerial ears at this stage, that the generous scope of the Bill and its very simplicity almost invites further amendments of the kind we saw in relation to the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – introducing a human rights threshold as part of the campaign to block on security grounds the greater involvement of Huawei in Britain’s telecoms networks.

Tacking amendments are on the agenda not just for the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, but also for the Trade Bill, and ministers need to be alert to this, to understand that their Lordships have genuine and serious concerns, and are not as easily whipped as the Commons.

If the Government sees it fit to give itself capacity to create new regulations on a very extensive list of subjects, why shouldn’t the Lords simply add a few more permissive powers to that list?

Whether it’s the introduction of a human rights test into trade agreements, or further regulation of the trade in human organs harvested from the Falun Gong in China; the use of Uighur slave labour and the incarceration of an entire ethnic community in concentration camps, or the clamp down on democracy in Hong Kong; the excesses of kleptocrats in Russia, or religious persecution around the world; there are many Lords sensing that as the political seizure of Covid-19 passes, Government should no longer be allowed to take the passage of legislation for granted.

There’s also concern that the long-awaited Cumberlege review on medicines and medical device safety risks being swept under the carpets of the corridors of power, and that lessons from vaginal mesh use and the harmful effects of Primados for pregnancy-testing risk not being learned. Their Lordships are revolting, and are preparing to flex their ermine-clad legislative muscles in all these regards.

If I were Gerry Grimstone, charged with taking the Trade Bill through its Lords stages, or James Bethell piloting the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, I would be using the opportunity afforded by the summer recess to look for compromises, to identify which amendments they can in practice accept that would not wreck their Bills and would so allow them a somewhat smoother passage than they might otherwise receive.

In particular, there is a gathering squall behind one on human organ farming from China; one to which ministers, in the current climate, would be well advised to respond with as much sympathy as they can muster.

If ministers choose not to heed such advice, then they will simply store up for later in the session that task currently being undertaken by Diana Barran in seeking to find a human rights threshold for Government itself to introduce into the Telecommunications Bill prior to its delayed third reading – after the pincer movement by Iain Duncan Smith in the Commons and a plethora of pesky Peers in the Lords made it clear that they will have such an amendment if the Government is to have its Bill.

With so much important legislation now before the House of Lords, and with NHS and social care reform coming early in 2021, Government ministers need to identify the real fights, and to allow the Lords to pursue its own issues; for despite the recent nomination of 36 new peers, there’s no Conservative majority in the Lords!

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