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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Free Speech"

Maria Chaplia: Illiberal regimes are exploiting the pandemic to attack the foundations of democracy

Maria Chaplia is European Affairs Associate at the Consumer Choice Center.

It took us 75 years to rebuild freedom in some parts of Europe after the totalitarian horrors of World War Two, and less than three weeks to bring it to its knees again.

With coronavirus looming in the background, worrying erosions of the freedom of speech and media are being rushed through Europe.

On March 30, Hungary’s parliament passed a law that allows the leader of the country’s nationalist movement, Viktor Orban, to rule by decree indefinitely. The law makes it possible for Orban’s government to imprison anyone who publicises false facts that interfere with the “successful defence” of public health, or can create “confusion or unrest” related to the coronavirus.

The witch-hunt after personal freedoms followed and led to a number of arrests. Such a sweeping amount of discretion on the side of government is a death sentence for freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy.

Freedom of speech plays an essential role in establishing accountability between the government and its electorate, and it facilitates indiscriminate, back-and-forth communication. When governments monopolise this freedom, democracy can be extinguished.

Orban chose the right target. Even though it is claimed that these laws will be relieved once the pandemic is over, his record suggests the opposite. Since his victory in 2010, Orban has tightened state control over the media to suppress any opposition and eroded, step-by-step, institutional checks and balances. According to him a state need not be liberal to be a democracy.

But it’s not just Hungary. In Serbia, the government’s decree about the centralisation of information during the coronavirus emergency gave rise to arrests. On April 1, after reporting about a shortage of protective medical equipment available for staff at a medical centre in Serbia, Ana Lalić, a Serbian journalist, was detained. Lalić was charged with causing public unrest by spreading fake news during the emergency.

In a similar fashion, the Polish Ministry of Health made it illegal for medical consultants to issue independent opinions on the epidemiological situation, the state of hospitals, and methods of protection against infection. Speaking up about the lack of protective equipment can cost Polish doctors a job.

Meanwhile both Slovenia and the Czech Republic have announced that they are ending the presence of journalists at official press conferences altogether. According to Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, a Slovenian journalist who requested information about the measures adopted by the government to address the pandemic has been the target of a smear campaign by media close to the political party leading the government coalition.

Despite the growing number of cases in Russia, Vladimir Putin continues to push for a nationwide vote on constitutional reform which could enable him to stay in power until 2036. On May 13, Russian lawmakers passed a bill that allows Russians to vote by mail or online for Putin’s constitutional amendments. Most likely Putin will get it his way since, similar to the direction chosen by Hungary, speaking up against the government automatically makes you a heretic.

Where people are pushed into choosing between the protection of their life and that of their loved ones and an act of political resistance, most opt for silence. Yet forcing such a choice is inhumane, manipulative and, in the end, will lead to the demise of those governments that do so.

An ardent admirer of China’s measures to halt the coronavirus, Putin has also resorted to outright totalitarian measures. The Financial Times and New York Times might soon be banned from Russia for revealing the truth about the death rate in the country. However, the first target of Russia’s anti-fake news campaign has been its own citizens, who are being fined for spreading ‘fake information’ about Covid-19. The already very small number of civil freedoms in Russia is under enormous threat.

Free elections are a key trait of democratic regimesm but are not sufficient in themselves. Genuine democracy cannot exist without civil rights and, in particular, the right to resist through protests, free speech, and a free media.

One could hardly imagine a better excuse to quickly proceed with illiberal agenda than a public health emergency. There is a reason why illiberal governments invest so much in propaganda. The very root of their power lies in artificially created and frighteningly powerful narratives that are repeatedly and consistently spread whilst censoring every voice of dissent. Freedom of expression is to democracy what property rights are to the economy. The monopolisation of either leads to disruption.

So we’re at an impasse. On the one hand, this pandemic might dissuade us from taking cues from the unfree world and its tactics.

On the other, the emergency nightmare might turn into our permanent reality by giving governments carte blanche to enforce severe restrictions on our liberties. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to suppress every potential disobedience than through the appeal of fear for our health, not to mention that of our parents, friends, and literally everyone dear to us. This provides illiberal democracies with a once-in-generation opportunity to camouflage their totalitarian pursuits as part of emergency packages to stop the pandemic.

Let us hope that for the best but be prepared to fight back in case of the worst. Democracy is rooted in freedom of speech and media and we have to defend it at all costs.

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

Profile: Munira Mirza, the Muslim from Oldham who leads Johnson’s Policy Unit

Amber Rudd says the Government would make “better decisions” if more women were in senior positions, a thought endorsed on ConHome by Charlotte Gill.

Munira Mirza, Director of the Downing Street Policy Unit, is, as Gill conceded, already in a senior position. This Muslim woman from Oldham, daughter of two immigrants from Pakistan, also worked for Boris Johnson throughout his eight years as Mayor of London.

Johnson loves to surround himself with clever advisers, people who delight in freedom of thought not merely as a pious notion, but as a way of puncturing the complacent liberal consensus.

Dr Mirza, as it amuses him to call her, is like him a rebel, who transcends the various categories in which people seek to place the two of them.

Johnson and Mirza do not always agree with each other, but they both like to astound the holders of received opinions, and especially the assumption that we must tiptoe round any question to do with Islam, for fear of causing offence.

So in August 2018, when Johnson wrote his controversial article about the burka and was widely condemned for having gone too far, Mirza took to the airwaves to defend him, and also contributed her only piece for ConHome, in which she declared:

“Johnson genuinely dislikes the burka, and has felt this way for as long as I’ve known him. Not because he is ignorant about Islam. Quite the opposite. He knows far more about Islam and Islamic cultures than most of the politicians who are now lining up to attack him. He sees that the burka is a recent cultural accretion, which has been championed by extremists in many countries around the world and is actively opposed by moderate Muslims. That some women in the West freely choose to wear it doesn’t make it any more palatable. It remains a symbol of gender inequality (if it wasn’t, why don’t men wear it too?) and it is intended quite literally to limit the interaction between Muslim women and other people.

“Johnson is the one treating Muslims as equals, expecting them to be part of the debate rather than left in a ghetto. He has bothered to learn about their customs, read their literature and understand the internal debates within their religion. He knows how badly many Muslim women are treated around the world and made girls’ education a priority whilst he was at the FCO. He made the issue of FGM in the UK a priority whilst he was Mayor of London. He met Muslim ‘community leaders’ yet also questioned them if he suspected they did not represent the full diversity of opinion amongst Muslims.”

There is a bracing astringency in Mirza’s writing, and in her attitude to her duties in Downing Street: “She’s not interested in the who-is-in-the-meeting bullshit,” as one of her colleagues in government puts it.

Another close observer says:

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who’s genuinely as independent-minded as Munira. She has strong views, arrived at on her own. She hasn’t bought a package – I’m going to think what that person says, because I like and admire them. I bet that’s what Boris likes. She’s a completely self-made person. I suspect he admires it and has grown to trust it and likes not quite being able to predict what she’ll say.”

Mirza was born in 1978 in Oldham, the youngest of four children. Her father worked in a factory. She went to Breeze Hill comprehensive school, which was overwhelmingly Asian and has since been amalgamated with an overwhelmingly white school, and then to Oldham Sixth Form College, from which she was the only person in her year to go to Oxbridge.

She read English at Mansfield College, Oxford, and January 2018, debating “Who is Winning the Culture Wars?” with Afua Hirsch at the Frontline Club, remarked:

“When I was growing up I thought of myself as left-wing. I realised very quickly in my twenties that the main thing the Left was not in favour of was free speech – that there was an intolerance about different ideas and opinions.”

She was by her own account a “museums junkie” who became fascinated by the politics of culture. She went on to do a PhD in sociology at the University of Kent, where Frank Furedi was the leading figure in the sociology department, having also been a leading figure in the Revolutionary Communist Party, or RCP, which dissolved itself in 2000 after its magazine, Living Marxism, edited by Mick Hume, was bankrupted by a libel action.

Living Marxism spawned a multiplicity of successor organisations, in several of which Mirza took an active part, including the Institute of Ideas, run by Claire Fox, and Spiked, an online magazine edited first by Hume and now by Brendan O’Neill, to which in 2006-08 Mirza contributed a number of characteristically tough-minded pieces.

But the decisive encounter of this young, provocative, free-thinking, culture-loving Leftie was with Policy Exchange, a new and at first very small think tank founded in 2002 by Nicholas Boles, Michael Gove and Francis Maude.

Boles told ConHome: “I sort of adore and am fascinated by Munira.” As far as he can remember, she applied soon after they launched for the job of Development Director. But she made her name at Policy Exchange with a piece of work called Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism.

She also edited a volume of essays, Culture Vultures: Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts?

A decade later, a second outstanding but as yet unknown person was hired by Policy Exchange. Rishi Sunak served as the first head of its Black and Minority Ethnic Research Unit, in 2014 co-wrote A Portrait of Modern Britain, the following year entered Parliament and in February 2020 was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.

While writing this piece, it occurred to me that while David Cameron, Conservative leader from 2005 to 2016, and many of his key lieutenants had received their early political training in the Conservative Research Department, Johnson’s key people are far more likely to have learned their trade and made close friendships at Policy Exchange, a think tank set up by a group of modernisers who realised, during the leadership from 2001 to 2003 of Iain Duncan Smith, that the Conservative Party had got somehow to reconnect itself to modern Britain.

Mirza did more than make a close friendship: she met and in due course married Dougie Smith, who had been involved in the Federation of Conservative Students and was now running Maude’s modernising campaign organisation C-Change, which shared premises with Policy Exchange.

When asked in 2014 if her mother was proud of her achievements – her father was no longer alive – Mirza replied:

“I hope so! I’ve just had a son – about a year ago – and I realised the thing that makes your parents most proud is when you have children.

“But, yeah, she is proud of me. I’m very proud of her as well. She was a housewife, and she did some part-time Urdu teaching as well, but she does a lot of voluntary work, and she’s very active in the community.”

Johnson was kept at a distance by Cameron, whom he was liable at any moment to upstage, so went off and beat the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in the election of 2008.

After his victory, Johnson had a number of key posts to fill at City Hall, and no people of his own whom he could put there. Boles, who had assisted him in the later stages of his campaign and stayed on for a short time afterwards, accordingly recruited some able people he knew, including Simon Milton, Kit Malthouse and Mirza.

She took the Culture portfolio at City Hall, to which in due course Education was added. In this role, she campaigned for the riches of high culture – literature, music, art – to be brought to all children, with no dumbing down of the curriculum in the patronising belief that children from disadvantaged backgrounds would not be able to cope with Shakespeare.

As Jess Bowie who interviewed her for Total Politics reported:

“While Mirza wants arts organisations in the city to work with a wider range of people, what she doesn’t want is for ‘people in those organisations to think “oh well that’s a black kid or a Bangladeshi kid, therefore we have to give them art that will be relevant to them”.’ This approach is very limiting, she argues, and for many people ‘also really boring’.

“If you want to show them great art, broaden their horizons and show them the full range of it and make them feel that it belongs to them too.

“That was my experience when I was growing up. The books I loved reading weren’t by Asian women from Oldham, they were by great writers. That mattered.”

A woman who worked with Mirza at City Hall described her as “really nice, really clever and really smart”.

In 2009, Mirza made a Radio 4 Great Lives programme about Hannah Arendt, of whom she said to the presenter, Matthew Parris:

“She doesn’t fit into categories of Left and Right very easily. The Right often criticised her for being too sympathetic to Marxism, the Left for being too conservative…

“There is a confusion about what’s Left and Right today and I don’t fit easily under a label and don’t particularly want to right now. It’s very difficult to understand lots of the problems we have today through those categories.”

One of the many reasons some commentators find Johnson incomprehensible is that he resists ideological definition. He is eclectic, as is Mirza.

Of the two of them, she is the more rigorous and scientific, he more inclined to rely on instinct and intuition.

But there is an affinity between them, especially as she also possesses, in the words of a senior minister, “A wonderful, waspish sense of humour which is attuned to the Prime Minister’s.”

She was a strong supporter of Brexit, which she said made her “a complete pariah”, but is one of the reasons why she understands the Labour voters who in December 2019 looked to Johnson to Get Brexit Done.

She is also strong on law and order, contending that the first duty of the state is to provide security for all, and that the poor suffer most when this duty is neglected.

In 2017, when the Labour MP David Lammy brought out his report into racism in the criminal justice system, commissioned by Cameron and endorsed by Theresa May, Mirza disputed his findings, arguing in Spiked:

“his review found that BAME people are more likely to plead not guilty than guilty because they do not trust their state-funded solicitors and the advice they give – the result is that they will not benefit from more lenient sentencing when they are convicted. Lammy implies that this lack of trust is because of institutional bias and discrimination. Certainly there is a historic legacy here from previous decades, but it is equally possible that the current accusations of institutional racism by lobbyists and activists – a perception more than a reality – is behind the further corrosion of public trust. When anti-racist lobby groups criticise the authorities for their racism, it is not surprising that BAME communities start to believe they cannot trust their own professional solicitors. They then make decisions that might harm their chances in the justice system. It is not likely that this report will do anything to improve that level of trust and it may even worsen it.”

The toughness of her reasoning is again apparent. Admirers of her intellect include Lord Bew of Donegore, David Goodhart, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Paul Marshall and Douglas Murray.

She likes football, is a supporter of Oldham Athletic, and has also been seen, in London, at Millwall games. A number of people who have worked with her remarked that she is “ethereally beautiful”.

When Johnson was told this week at Prime Minister’s Questions by Rosie Duffield (Lab, Canterbury) that there is a need for “a change of tone and more female voices at the top of Government”, he said she had made “an extremely important point”, and pointed out that “even before a reshuffle” he had just appointed two women, Dido Harding and Kate Bingham, to senior positions concerned with contact tracing and the search for a vaccine.

He could also have said that Mirza is the head of his Policy Unit, and that her severe egalitarianism and intense competitiveness make it difficult for him to get away with sloppy thinking. Here she is on exams, in the days when she held the education brief at City Hall:

“I believe in exams. It’s one of the important things about them, you learn to cope. Life is like that. You can’t turn up to a job interview and say I’m having an off day. You have to just do the best that you can…

“Actually I think it benefits children to have exams. That sense of being able to compare yourself with your peers is extremely important.

“It creates a sense of ‘I am not just from my background, I’m not just my identity and my social class. I am able to compete with the best’.”

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

Labour are fools to pick a fight with Trevor Phillips

With their disastrous election result in 2019, even more dire leadership contest and continued in-fighting, it would be difficult for Labour to look any more ridiculous.

But this morning they have done it. The party has decided to suspend Trevor Phillips, former Head of Britain’s Equality watchdog, accusing him of Islamophobia.

Never mind that Phillips has been a lifelong anti-racism campaigner, nor that he publicised the term ‘Islamophobia’ – having published a report on it in 1997 and successfully lobbied for Tony Blair to protect Muslims from incitement – he has been discarded by a Labour Party in the most authoritarian of ways.

There was, for starters, the timing. Phillips was sent a draft sheet of five charges put together by party members that were mostly taken from 2016 – and out in the public domain. Had they been so offensive, one might assume that he would have been suspended much earlier. Why did they sit on them for so long?

Then there was the obtuse manner in which some of his previous remarks had been read into, such as his joke about being “Islamophobe of the Year” at the Tory Party Conference. It was clearly a satirical comment about his dismay in receiving the award, which has also been handed to Barack Obama, and not – as made out – a slight against Muslims. Only someone looking to find offence would remove the context from this, but these are the times we are in…

Some of Phillips’ comments focus on more sensitive areas. In his 2016 essay “Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence” he highlighted that many men involved in grooming gangs (as seen in Rotherham) were from Pakistani-Muslim backgrounds, for which he has received backlash. Understandably members of this community are concerned about how these events are reported and commentators must be careful. But the sensitivity has gone so far as to mean all discussion is cancelled. Similarly, Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, was forced to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for bringing up this difficult area.

Today Phillips says “surely honest journalism, unburdened by fear of causing offence, should be beyond contention?” This sentence underlines his approach, which is why his critics find him too brazen at times having become accustomed to the politically correct climate of Britain. The truth is that many of his comments are no more controversial than those found in books such as Amy Chua’s Political Tribes and other non-fiction titles on identity, which seek to analyse political, ethnic and religious interactions in our society, with a focus on integration. Were this literature put out into the public mainstream one suspects, too, that it would be stripped of context, with the worst quotes being used to silence authors, no matter how nuanced their perspectives.

Labour’s main tactic over the last few years has been closing down any political dissent through extreme tactics, such as suspension, and the Islamophobia accusation has been an effective strategy to get rid of Phillips.

None of this is to downplay the issue of anti-Muslim prejudice in our society, which is widespread and dismissed all too often. But Labour are moving to an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) definition of Islamophobia that has been accused of being vague, covering “expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Some insist these need definitions of their own.

Critics say that Islamophobia has generally become too broad as term and can conflate religion with race. In liberal Western societies, of course, the ability to criticise the former is a central component of free speech.

Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, believes Labour are ultimately using the APPG definition of Islamophobia “weed out ‘difficult’ voices”, and Phillips echoes his comments – convinced that the accusations have been mounted against him to deflect from Labour’s own allegations of anti-semitism. These are being handled by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, where he formerly worked.

Whatever the case may be, one suspects that Phillips will not be as devastated by today’s events as some might assume; that the incident, in fact, promotes his brand in many ways. Phillips’ whole raison d’etre, after all, has always been fighting against the majority on a wealth of difficult issues, with political correctness being his more recent interest battle. Just two weeks earlier he was at the launch of Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, during which he denounced the UK’s censorious attitude to free speech, which formed the basis of his 2017 documentary “Has Political Correctness Gone Mad?” The programme hypothesised that fear of offence was stifling legitimate debate and had helped to kill off the Left. Labour are about to prove him right all along.

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

Labour are fools to pick a fight with Trevor Phillips

With their disastrous election result in 2019, even more dire leadership contest and continued in-fighting, it would be difficult for Labour to look any more ridiculous.

But this morning they have done it. The party has decided to suspend Trevor Phillips, former Head of Britain’s Equality watchdog, accusing him of Islamophobia.

Never mind that Phillips has been a lifelong anti-racism campaigner, nor that he publicised the term ‘Islamophobia’ – having published a report on it in 1997 and successfully lobbied for Tony Blair to protect Muslims from incitement – he has been discarded by a Labour Party in the most authoritarian of ways.

There was, for starters, the timing. Phillips was sent a draft sheet of five charges put together by party members that were mostly taken from 2016 – and out in the public domain. Had they been so offensive, one might assume that he would have been suspended much earlier. Why did they sit on them for so long?

Then there was the obtuse manner in which some of his previous remarks had been read into, such as his joke about being “Islamophobe of the Year” at the Tory Party Conference. It was clearly a satirical comment about his dismay in receiving the award, which has also been handed to Barack Obama, and not – as made out – a slight against Muslims. Only someone looking to find offence would remove the context from this, but these are the times we are in…

Some of Phillips’ comments focus on more sensitive areas. In his 2016 essay “Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence” he highlighted that many men involved in grooming gangs (as seen in Rotherham) were from Pakistani-Muslim backgrounds, for which he has received backlash. Understandably members of this community are concerned about how these events are reported and commentators must be careful. But the sensitivity has gone so far as to mean all discussion is cancelled. Similarly, Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, was forced to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for bringing up this difficult area.

Today Phillips says “surely honest journalism, unburdened by fear of causing offence, should be beyond contention?” This sentence underlines his approach, which is why his critics find him too brazen at times having become accustomed to the politically correct climate of Britain. The truth is that many of his comments are no more controversial than those found in books such as Amy Chua’s Political Tribes and other non-fiction titles on identity, which seek to analyse political, ethnic and religious interactions in our society, with a focus on integration. Were this literature put out into the public mainstream one suspects, too, that it would be stripped of context, with the worst quotes being used to silence authors, no matter how nuanced their perspectives.

Labour’s main tactic over the last few years has been closing down any political dissent through extreme tactics, such as suspension, and the Islamophobia accusation has been an effective strategy to get rid of Phillips.

None of this is to downplay the issue of anti-Muslim prejudice in our society, which is widespread and dismissed all too often. But Labour are moving to an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) definition of Islamophobia that has been accused of being vague, covering “expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Some insist these need definitions of their own.

Critics say that Islamophobia has generally become too broad as term and can conflate religion with race. In liberal Western societies, of course, the ability to criticise the former is a central component of free speech.

Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, believes Labour are ultimately using the APPG definition of Islamophobia “weed out ‘difficult’ voices”, and Phillips echoes his comments – convinced that the accusations have been mounted against him to deflect from Labour’s own allegations of anti-semitism. These are being handled by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, where he formerly worked.

Whatever the case may be, one suspects that Phillips will not be as devastated by today’s events as some might assume; that the incident, in fact, promotes his brand in many ways. Phillips’ whole raison d’etre, after all, has always been fighting against the majority on a wealth of difficult issues, with political correctness being his more recent interest battle. Just two weeks earlier he was at the launch of Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, during which he denounced the UK’s censorious attitude to free speech, which formed the basis of his 2017 documentary “Has Political Correctness Gone Mad?” The programme hypothesised that fear of offence was stifling legitimate debate and had helped to kill off the Left. Labour are about to prove him right all along.

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

Free speech is in crisis at universities. Just ask Rudd

Yesterday, in an incident that was beyond parody, Amber Rudd was no-platformed from Oxford University for allegedly “exacerbating racial and class tensions”.

What did this mean, exactly? Well, it turned out that the students were upset over her involvement in the Windrush scandal. Fair enough, one might say, but what wasn’t so fair was the way in which they put forward their objections.

Far from using the opportunity to debate and scrutinise Rudd, they held a committee meeting – probably resembling something out of Lord of the Flies – where they voted to cancel her talk.

Speaking of the decision, the UNWomen Oxford UK Student Society wrote: “We are deeply sorry for all and any hurt caused to our members and other wom*n and non binary people in Oxford over this event.”

But the only “hurt” they caused was presumably experienced by Rudd, who found herself on the receiving end of their pathetic zealotry (why else would they use the word “wom*n”?).

The whole debacle serves as an enormous wake-up call about how extreme the free speech crisis has become at universities – and, indeed, the West. So much so that the former Home Secretary is now treated as if she were Abu Hamza or Tommy Robinson.

The Left has historically called the free speech crisis concocted; they seem to think Tories are making it up, so that we can be offensive as possible. Every Guardian piece on the issue suggests we want regulations to disappear so that we can normalise hate speech.

This is a smear, obviously. The reality is that censorship has been used to shut down the most inoffensive of comments and ideas. Moderate voices are increasingly being removed from discussions at the whim of left-wing ideologues.

Censorship has, generally, created immense fear in our culture, having been used as a tool by faux liberals to eliminate political dissent and solidify left-wink groupthink. Far from actually being offended, one suspects censorious students get a kick out of cancelling others.

Fortunately, the Tories seem to understand how serious matters are. In their manifesto, they have pledged to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”, and have Dr Munira Mirza as one of their key advisors, who has a strong understanding of the censorship culture there.

Writing for The Times in February, Gavin Williamson has even gone so far as to declare that if universities didn’t take action to protect freedom of speech on campus the government would.

The issue, however, is that it’s not entirely obvious what mechanisms the Tories can use to do this. Williamson, for instance, has pointed out that intimidation, violence and threats of violence are crimes. But the “right to civil and non-violent protest is sacrosanct”.

Herein lies the problem; non-violent protest is the main way in which students get their way. They cancel speakers, or ignore them, or create petitions, and the rest. Students technically haven’t broken any rules with these methods, so they’re very difficult to deal with.

It seems to me that the change will come from more serious reforms to universities. For one, we need to vet students better – to work out who will truly appreciate the experience. Clearly the Oxford brats are not suitable for higher education. One suspects they are a product of too many teenagers being shoved into the university system; thus they treat it in the same vein as school, as if someone forced them to go. No-platforming is their little rebellion.

We must also ensure that those running universities have more of a grip on the situation – which would be easier if they were not having to deal with such colossal numbers of students, as a result of universities becoming all about bums on seats. With academics having such little contact time with scholars, is it any wonder that young people – left to their own devices – are throwing their toys out of the pram?

Maybe universities should take disciplinary procedures more seriously, too – dare I say even go so far as to suspend or expel students who engage in censorious tactics (give them a taste of their own no-platforming medicine). They could enshrine free speech in their applications process, making sure that anyone who enrols at the university understands its importance, and will not engage in cancel tactics.

Fundamentally, something major has to be done to end this nonsense. Students may be students now, but one day they will be serious decision makers in the UK – lawyers, politicians and the rest. Do we really want people who get upset about Amber Rudd to be calling the shots? What is today’s daft story about university snowflakes puts in jeopardy our future ability to speak.

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

Peter Ainsworth: The truth is that universities do not offer value for money

Peter Ainsworth is the Managing Director of EM Applications and is the author of Universities challenged: funding higher education through a free-market ‘graduate tax’.

Clashing with the big stories of Rutnam’s resignation and Boris’s baby, the Department of Education’s release on Saturday 29th February of its latest “research”, got little coverage. This new paper purported to “help students make more informed choices about higher education” and demonstrate “the strength and value of the UK’s world-class universities”. It should be important information, but in reality, it does neither and its significance is in showing that Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister as of 13 February, needs to find her inner Priti Patel and rein in the DofE blob that is stifling reform of the Higher Education Sector.

The problems in the Higher Education sector are well known. The ONS has increased the deficit by £12 billion to take account of the fact that about half of what is paid out in student loans will never be repaid. Nearly two in every five graduates – five years post-graduation – are not in jobs that make use of their education, up from one in three in 2012. Companies report growing skills shortages – and students with their “cancel culture” and “no-platforming” appear ever less tolerant of differing views, an essential component of a mind open to learning.

But the DofE paper addresses none of these issues. Instead, it tries to prove that going to University is a “good financial deal” for students with the headline: “Graduates enjoy £100,000 earnings bonus over lifetime.” Even if that headline were accurate, one would have to wonder why that is such a positive. Given each student “spends” about £50,000 in tuition fees and maintenance, plus another £50,000 in lost earnings over the three years of study, that is a return of £1 per £1 over a c40 year career – adjusted for risk and duration that is a very unattractive rate of return.

Given the Government’s agenda of levelling-up, one would also be inclined to wonder why so much is spent to achieve such a poor rate of return when graduates are in any case the more privileged element in society. Would it not be fairer to share out the student loan subsidies across all 18-year-olds and let them choose the education that suits them?

The “£100,000 earnings bonus” is in any case misleading. The paper admits that, for 20 per cent of students, attending university is a money-losing proposition, so that £100,000 is not a guarantee. And the calculation relies on some questionable assumptions. For example, a big driver of the gain to higher education arises from the fact that a higher proportion of graduates participate in the workforce. But rather than recognise that some people, mainly women, choose, for cultural or personal reasons, never to work outside the home, the study assumes that that decision is a consequence of the fact that they did not attend university rather than the reason that they did not attend university.

A better way to establish whether UK Universities really do exhibit “strength and value” would be to test if universities actually teach something useful. This would be easy to do as progressive firms such as PWC with its “Head Start” scheme offer a route into the professions without the need for a degree. A comparison of earnings outcomes versus time and educational cost between an accountant who took a degree and one who did not, would clearly establish whether the former had gained anything from their additional years of study.

Further, the report accepts that a large part of the financial return to the average student arises out of the loss the government makes on student loans and it notes that medical students have the highest average returns while teachers and nurses have very reliable returns – without considering that all of these are government policy decisions. The Government could raise average returns by making loan repayment terms easier (as Theresa May did) or reduce them by demanding more is repaid. They could raise returns by paying NHS doctors more or reduce returns by paying them less. None of this tells us anything about the value add of university nor about how certain future returns might be.

Allowing the blob to design studies to generate attractive headlines and not address the real issues will not end well. In the US, our main competitor in higher education, there is a revolution underway. Senator Marco Rubio and others have put forward a bill that will encourage American universities to share in the risk their students face by accepting payment through income share agreements. By aligning interests this approach encourages improvements in courses, in course delivery, and in career support.

Purdue University pioneered this approach and now offers courses in 150 majors – proof that any subject can be economic to teach this way. Google-funded Lambda School, paid entirely through income share agreements, has just raised a further $100 million to expand its offerings. You don’t need to be a super-forecaster to see where this is going. If Michelle Donelan wants to save our HE sector from being Netflix’d she needs to get a grip on her department, stop wasting money on self-justification and instruct her team to focus on risk-sharing to remain competitive.

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

Peter Ainsworth: The truth is that universities do not offer value for money

Peter Ainsworth is the Managing Director of EM Applications and is the author of Universities challenged: funding higher education through a free-market ‘graduate tax’.

Clashing with the big stories of Rutnam’s resignation and Boris’s baby, the Department of Education’s release on Saturday 29th February of its latest “research”, got little coverage. This new paper purported to “help students make more informed choices about higher education” and demonstrate “the strength and value of the UK’s world-class universities”. It should be important information, but in reality, it does neither and its significance is in showing that Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister as of 13 February, needs to find her inner Priti Patel and rein in the DofE blob that is stifling reform of the Higher Education Sector.

The problems in the Higher Education sector are well known. The ONS has increased the deficit by £12 billion to take account of the fact that about half of what is paid out in student loans will never be repaid. Nearly two in every five graduates – five years post-graduation – are not in jobs that make use of their education, up from one in three in 2012. Companies report growing skills shortages – and students with their “cancel culture” and “no-platforming” appear ever less tolerant of differing views, an essential component of a mind open to learning.

But the DofE paper addresses none of these issues. Instead, it tries to prove that going to University is a “good financial deal” for students with the headline: “Graduates enjoy £100,000 earnings bonus over lifetime.” Even if that headline were accurate, one would have to wonder why that is such a positive. Given each student “spends” about £50,000 in tuition fees and maintenance, plus another £50,000 in lost earnings over the three years of study, that is a return of £1 per £1 over a c40 year career – adjusted for risk and duration that is a very unattractive rate of return.

Given the Government’s agenda of levelling-up, one would also be inclined to wonder why so much is spent to achieve such a poor rate of return when graduates are in any case the more privileged element in society. Would it not be fairer to share out the student loan subsidies across all 18-year-olds and let them choose the education that suits them?

The “£100,000 earnings bonus” is in any case misleading. The paper admits that, for 20 per cent of students, attending university is a money-losing proposition, so that £100,000 is not a guarantee. And the calculation relies on some questionable assumptions. For example, a big driver of the gain to higher education arises from the fact that a higher proportion of graduates participate in the workforce. But rather than recognise that some people, mainly women, choose, for cultural or personal reasons, never to work outside the home, the study assumes that that decision is a consequence of the fact that they did not attend university rather than the reason that they did not attend university.

A better way to establish whether UK Universities really do exhibit “strength and value” would be to test if universities actually teach something useful. This would be easy to do as progressive firms such as PWC with its “Head Start” scheme offer a route into the professions without the need for a degree. A comparison of earnings outcomes versus time and educational cost between an accountant who took a degree and one who did not, would clearly establish whether the former had gained anything from their additional years of study.

Further, the report accepts that a large part of the financial return to the average student arises out of the loss the government makes on student loans and it notes that medical students have the highest average returns while teachers and nurses have very reliable returns – without considering that all of these are government policy decisions. The Government could raise average returns by making loan repayment terms easier (as Theresa May did) or reduce them by demanding more is repaid. They could raise returns by paying NHS doctors more or reduce returns by paying them less. None of this tells us anything about the value add of university nor about how certain future returns might be.

Allowing the blob to design studies to generate attractive headlines and not address the real issues will not end well. In the US, our main competitor in higher education, there is a revolution underway. Senator Marco Rubio and others have put forward a bill that will encourage American universities to share in the risk their students face by accepting payment through income share agreements. By aligning interests this approach encourages improvements in courses, in course delivery, and in career support.

Purdue University pioneered this approach and now offers courses in 150 majors – proof that any subject can be economic to teach this way. Google-funded Lambda School, paid entirely through income share agreements, has just raised a further $100 million to expand its offerings. You don’t need to be a super-forecaster to see where this is going. If Michelle Donelan wants to save our HE sector from being Netflix’d she needs to get a grip on her department, stop wasting money on self-justification and instruct her team to focus on risk-sharing to remain competitive.

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

Elections 1) The Conservatives can hope to make gains in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. But will it make a difference?

We have an array of local elections being held, May 7th, in England and Wales. We have the high profile Mayoral contests along with a complicate mix of contests in district councils, unitary authorities, and metropolitan boroughs. I have already provided an initial overview but as Polling Day approaches, I will provide a closer look at the different categories in a weekly series. We shall start with the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Contests to elect a PCC will take place in the following areas:

  • Avon and Somerset
  • Cheshire
  • Derbyshire
  • Devon & Cornwall
  • Dorset
  • Gloucestershire
  • Gwent
  • Hampshire
  • Humberside
  • Kent
  • Lancashire
  • Leicestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Merseyside
  • Northamptonshire
  • North Yorkshire
  • South Wales
  • Staffordshire
  • Surrey
  • Sussex
  • Thames Valley
  • West Mercia
  • West Midlands
  • West Yorkshire
  • Wiltshire

Police and Crime Commissioner elections last took place in 2016. That time the Conservatives won 20 PCC posts with 15 going to Labour. Both parties made gains at the expense of independents, though the independents still won three seats. I suspect that some voted for an independent at the first elections in 2012 due to a vague sense of disquiet that a PCC could order the police to go off and arrest political opponents (or decline to arrest political supporters). As such concerns proved ill-founded, the independents found it more difficult in 2016. Perhaps they will have a revival this time if disillusioned Labour voters turn to them – finding that easier than voting Conservative.

Plaid Cymru won two seats. Elections took place the same day for the Welsh Assembly – which probably helped Plaid and certainly will have increased turnout. That will not apply this time, as the Welsh Assembly operate on a five year cycle and so takes to the polls next year. Dyfed-Powys was gained by Plaid from the Conservatives last time. The General Election in December would suggest the Conservatives have a decent chance of taking it back.

Labour only narrowly won in Cheshire and Derbyshire. Lincolnshire was a fairly close Labour victory. So those will be potential Conservative gains. Humberside will be more of a stretch – but it was won by the Conservatives in 2012. The same applies to Leicestershire.

UKIP got a significant vote share last time – 13.7 per cent. Where will those votes go? The Lib Dems only got 8.6 per cent. Even in their best result, Cumbria, they were in third place. So even if they substantially increase their vote share they are unlikely to win any seats.

Might Labour be saved from a drubbing by the election of a new Leader on April 4th? It is expected that Sir Keir Starmer will win. That will give him a chance to tour the studios and proclaim that Labour has a “fresh start”, that it has “moved on” from Corbynism. Surely, on the issue of crime, the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn must have been especially toxic for Labour? With his sympathies for assorted terrorist groups, any Labour candidate claiming the Party was “tough on crime” faced being laughed to scorn. The difficulty for Labour is that they are doing so badly at present that even if a Starmer Bounce does transpire, giving them an extra couple of points in the polls, they would still be likely to lose seats.

So the Conservatives have good prospects of winning the PCC elections. Why does that not set the pulse racing? Why have several of the Conservative candidates been selected late and secretively?

After all, the PCCs have real power. They can set the budget and policing priorities. They have the power to hire and fire the chief constable. The contrast between the previous regime of police authorities – which were toothless talking shops – is stark. The cost of the system is much the same. But the new arrangements offer real democratic accountability. For that very reason some of the chief constables don’t like it. But there are advantages for them too. The PCC can help communicate with the public and provide “joined up” Government between the police and local authorities and the NHS.

The language used doesn’t help. The areas covered sometimes have artficial bureaucratic names such as Thames Valley, Humberside, or West Mercia. Then there is the title “Police and Crime Commissioner.” Dan Hannan first proposed that such a role should be introduced. He suggested they should be called “sheriffs.” This title was rejected as “too American” – an objection that betrays a limited grasp of history. Hannan also argues that the PCCs be given power “over local sentencing guidelines.” He says:

“Imagine that the PCC for Kent jailed shoplifters, while the PCC for Surrey took a softer line. One of two things would happen. Either a flood of Kentish crooks (and crooks of Kent) would pour across the county border, encouraging Surrey to elect someone tougher; or, conversely, Kentish taxpayers would baulk at funding the extra prison places. Either way, voters would be in charge.”

That reform would be welcome. But so would the existing PCC doing a more effective job with their existing powers. How many have really made clear that political correctness is to be banished and free speech upheld? Or taken bold steps to bring in reforms to improve value for money? What has been done to reduce bureaucracy and make policing less risk averse? Often it is the poor who suffer most when the police decide not to take action over “minor crime” – such as the theft of low value items. What are PCCs doing to change that defeatist culture?

The test would be if it really makes any difference if there is a Labour of Conservative PCC. In London, the role is taken on by the Mayor and there is clear evidence that the failings of Sadiq Khan have had an impact on rising crime. I’m not sure if there is a such a strong contrast between police forces elsewhere.

In fairness, there have been quiet achievements by PCCs that have tended to attract little media interest. But it is time for more assertiveness if the role is to win public credibility. For many Conservative PCC candidates, the hardest part will not be winning the election in May, but in proving that their victories make a difference to the rest of us.

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

Rebecca Lowe: The Right cannot afford to duck the debate about trans, sex and gender

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.

An absence of discussion about sex — in the sense of biology, rather than shagging — is one of the many ways in which Conservative discourse remains starkly different from that of our friends on the left. It’s been hard to miss, for instance, the way in which such matters have become central to the Labour leadership contest.

Yes, this has largely consisted of the candidates attempting to ‘outwoke’ each other — rather than engaging in valuable substantive debate — but this itself exemplifies an increasingly serious societal problem we all face.

In response to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s claim that a certain set of people — best described as ‘gender critical feminists’, or GCs — have no place in the Labour movement, an impressive number of female party members have publicly asked to be expelled.

Ok, ‘gender critical feminist’ might sound like something you’d roll your eyes at, shouting at the screen, “For heaven’s sake! What are these lefties on about now?”. But the beliefs that GCs hold — that gender (as opposed to sex) is a social construct, and that one’s biological sex is not something that can be changed — were, until recently, extremely mainstream.

Indeed, I’d bet a considerable amount of money that most Conservative members and voters are actually GCs. Yet professing such beliefs has become, in many circles, social suicide; it can even get you in trouble with the law.

Check out the case, for instance, of Maya Forstater — a think tanker who was sacked for openly expressing such beliefs, and whose former employer’s decision to sack her was recently upheld by a UK court. And also two further cases — involving Harry Miller and Kate Scottow, respectively — that you might have noticed in the news last week.

Meanwhile, there are increasing instances of the ‘no-platforming’ of GC academics — women who often face physical threats, even to the extent of needing personal security guards on campus. And, meanwhile, an increasing number of ‘detransitioners’ are going public, against ongoing campaigns to keep them quiet.

These are mostly young adults who have started to realise the lifetime effects of the medicalised path they set out upon as children. They are recognising that an institutional avidity to prescribe them hormone blockers meant that their mental health concerns were left untreated, and that their confusion about their sexuality was deemed ‘fixable’.

Here, again, the strongest response has also come from the Left. There is a seriously impressive set of practical campaigners and theorists who are fighting, day in day out, on these matters — at events, in the courts, and online. And this charge has been largely been led by women, often gay women — brave, honourable people to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude, regardless of our own political allegiances, sex, or sexuality.

Meanwhile, people on the centre-right have largely been ducking the issue. And most men, regardless of their political persuasion, seem simply too scared to get involved. This just doesn’t seem good enough; if you’ve followed these matters properly, you’ll realise that it really isn’t.

Just before Christmas, therefore, my lawyer friend Victoria Hewson and I launched a small, non-funded campaign called ‘Radical’, aimed at fighting for truth and freedom in this arena. Although our campaign is non-party-political — and our focus so far has been on building alliances across the so-called political spectrum, alongside making the case to responsible people in government — we’d become particularly concerned by the way in which people on the ‘centre-right’ either didn’t seem interested in the topic, or didn’t want to shoulder the risks involved in speaking out. We hope to begin to rectify that.

Now, these matters are complicated and emotive, and I’m aware that I haven’t really explained, here, exactly what I’m on about. Which side is it that we’re on? You might well be wondering whether Radical is one of those nasty ‘TERF’ things, set on provoking hatred towards trans people.

Well, countering purposeful misdirection and unhelpful name-calling is half the battle, here. GCs like us (I hate labels, but have come to embrace the term out of the need for quick clarification) categorically do not hate any person, or any set of people.

Indeed, what we are fighting for is the adherence to truth that is necessary to any fight for justice and freedom. After all, without truth as a common ground, you cannot ever hope to persuade your opponents through rigorous argument. Instead, the most powerful person simply silences everyone else.

Alongside this commitment to searching out truth, Radical also standards for an appreciation of civility. To choosing to respect one other as the equals we all are, as human beings; to fighting for the right of any person to express themselves along the lines of whichever gender stereotypes they wish.

Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it is also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And it is simply wrong to allow children to be subject to life-changing medical interventions to which they cannot in any possible sense consent. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.

This debate, therefore, is anything but simple. It ranges from issues of free expression, to truth denial, to child abuse. It involves complex considerations of how the interests and needs of one set of people can be balanced against the interests and needs of another.

But several important concerns remain clear. And one of these is that we must begin to speak rigorously about these matters, not only because they are important, but also because such discussion is being purposefully suppressed. A powerful lobby has taken over, and is in the process of capturing our institutions — our schools, our universities, our police force, our healthcare services. It comes dressed in the language of rights; it comes with knives for our children, and refutation of the mental health concerns of our teenagers. It comes to take away our freedom, and crowd out our norms of civility and kindness.

Brave people on the Left have led the charge on this topic so far. Please, Conhomers, consider joining us in joining them against those who have hijacked this important debate. Armed with science and with compassion, we can work together on this, for the good of all.

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

A victory for free speech. But clear legal safeguards are still needed.

Thank goodness for Mr Justice Julian Knowles. A judgement he delivered yesterday was a powerful defence of freedom of expression, which is expected to have significant implications.

Harry Miller, a 53-year-old man from Lincoln, had challenged the Hate Crime Operational Guidance of the College of Policing – the professional body which delivers training for all officers in England and Wales. Miller, himself a former police officer, had tweeted:

“I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.”

A complaint was made of “transphobia” which resulted in a visit from Humberside Police. Though no crime was committed, a “hate incident” was recorded.

Knowles said:

“There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

Evidence was presented to show that the underlying issue about gender identity is vigorously debated. Professor Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at Sussex University, stated:

“In my work, among other things I argue that there’s nothing wrong, either theoretically, linguistically, empirically, or politically, with the once-familiar idea that a woman is, definitionally, an adult human female. I also argue that the subjective notion of ‘gender identity’ is ill-conceived intrinsically, and a fortiori as a potential object of law or policy. In light of these and other views, I am intellectually ‘gender-critical’; that is, critical of the influential societal role of sex-based stereotypes, generally, including the role of stereotypes in informing the dogmatic and, in my view, false assertion that – quite literally – ‘trans women are women’. I am clear throughout my work that trans people are deserving of all human rights and dignity.”

Knowles quoted John Stuart Mill who wrote the treatise, On Liberty, which said:

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister, tweeted:

“To be clear: there should be a very bright line between speech which we as a society see as offensive, disgraceful, awful, hurtful – and speech which is punished by criminal law. As tempting as it is to lock up the people who offend and upset us it’s not generally a good idea and police are not good judges of where that line should be, if it is left vague.”

But can we rely on the judges either? Knowles is clearly a passionate believer in free speech. What if the matter had been left to another judge with a different view?  Knowles declared that the police response in this case was unlawful. He did not say its guidance itself is unlawful. That guidance defines a hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”. Until the law is changed, that “chilling effect” on free speech will continue. Anyone can report anything as a “hate incident” – just notifying the police of their “perception”. Then if the police decide to record it as such – and a judge upholds them as doing so – this would seem to be a matter of discretion. Free speech should surely have a more secure basis than that. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, is to be commended for seeking to protect open discussion in our colleges – but the threat goes much wider than academia.

It follows that reform of the judiciary remains an imperative – an area where the attention of the Policy Exchange is welcome. Pretty drastic change is also needed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

That makes the appointment this week of Suella Braverman as the Attorney General an encouraging sign. Last month she wrote on this site:

“Traditionally, Parliament made the law and judges applied it. But today, our courts exercise a form of political power. Questions that fell hitherto exclusively within the prerogative of elected Ministers have yielded to judicial activism: foreign policy, conduct of our armed forces abroad, application of international treaties and, of course, the decision to prorogue Parliament. Judicial review has exploded since the 1960s so that even the most intricate relations between the state and individual can be questioned by judges.”

So when we have all finished cheering Mr Justice Knowles, there is a lot of work to do. There must be public confidence that our legal system upholds freedom and democracy – rather than undermining that precious inheritance. To achieve that will be a huge challenge.

 

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