Two new opinion polls suggest that a significant proportion of Britons want Covid regulations controlling routine social interactions to continue permanently, as part of ‘normal’ behaviour
Note: this is the longer and updated version of my argument, made as one of the two contrasting arguments set out in an article originally published at 1828 on Friday 9th July 2021, on whether the alleged public enthusiasm for continuing Covid social restrictions after the pandemic is likely to be merely temporary, or more lasting.
But, to my mind, the most shocking of those surprises has been the seemingly supine acquiescence of the British public, traditionally assumed to harbour an instinctive visceral hostility towards, and intolerance of, excessive state-authoritarianism, to the most draconian restrictions on their economic and societal liberty imposed on them by their elected Government in peacetime.
Firstly, and unfortunately, fear works; especially when fresh ‘variant’ scares follow one another in quick succession. An induced apprehension about contracting in the near future – and, moreover, merely via participating in what would otherwise be perfectly innocuous everyday activities – a hitherto unknown virus with a lurid reputation, creates a perception of both imminent and potentially fatal personal risk far greater than, say, apocalyptic but scientifically flawed warnings about a 1°C temperature rise by 2050.
It’s the apparently threatening combination of immediacy, proximity and lethality which boost the fear’s potency, and thus in turn, the susceptibility and inclination to compliance.
Secondly, over the last few decades, the British population has become inculcated with an almost pathological aversion to risk. The twin official fixations with both health and safety culture on the one hand and consumer protection on the other, taken to sometimes absurd lengths, have not only eroded individuality and personal responsibility in favour of reliance on Authority, but also created an expectation of protection as something to be provided by others, and thus a lowered tolerance of risk.
Thirdly, the poll findings are supported by the conclusions of the IEA’s newly published paper on how favourable attitudes towards socialism and collectivism are no longer a youthful aberration, but now persist even among those in their 40s. Against this background, it’s perhaps reasonable to assume as a concomitant a greater inclination within that demographic to see the activist and controlling State as a solution rather than a hindrance, a source of beneficial pastoral care rather than oppressive restriction.
Will it take a long time for the attitudes suggested by Ipsos MORI and YouGov polls to change, even if they do at all?
Well, we know that public opinion is both notoriously fickle, and logically inconsistent. A year or two from now, with the Covid scare receding in the memory, today’s professed enthusiasm for perpetual State-authoritarianism, still relying on it for justification, could have subsided to merely a minority obsession, in the same way that somehow reversing Brexit and rejoining the EU is for a dwindling core of unreconstructed Euro-obsessives.
But at present, it doesn’t feel like it; this feels different.
As well as being a lifelong sceptic of State power, for the last four years I’ve gradually become more and more convinced that the globalist, ‘liberal’-elitist clerisy which has actually governed most Western countries for the last three decades, irrespective of whichever particular gaggle of politicians has happened to be nominally in power, was rocked to its core by the democratic-populist revolts epitomised by the votes for Brexit in Britain, for Trump in America, and for anti-EU parties in Europe, and has been searching ever since for a means of re-asserting its hegemony.
Covid has provided the ruling clerisy with that means. As well as the advantages of immediacy, proximity and lethality mentioned above, it also has the advantage of obscurity – few of us are medically qualified and even fewer of us are virologists or epidemiologists, so most of us lack a readily accessible alternative to believing in the accuracy of what we’re being told by professions which we’re culturally accustomed to regarding as independent, disinterested and trustworthy.
In my view, that naïveté has been cynically exploited by a political class intent on regaining its erstwhile hegemony over the public sphere, and assisted by the susceptibility of a large part of the population to a quantum expansion of both State and non-State social authoritarianism as the palliative for a partly manufactured apprehension.
Having lost, and then regained, its dominance comparatively quickly, the ruling clerisy will be determined to prevent that loss re-occurring, and so will have few qualms, either about periodically warning of an actual or imminent re-emergence of medical threat, or about employing behavioural ‘nudge’ to perpetuate enough public willingness to comply with an illiberal, authoritarian response.
After all, it has been shown to work; and nor do we need to delve far back into history to see how the State rarely gives up, either willingly or quickly, the freedoms and liberties which it seized from the people under the guise of national emergency, even long after any such emergency has passed. So, how seriously should those two opinion polls indicating a widespread public desire to keep Covid social restrictions in place, even once the Covid threat has fallen away, be taken?
Because those poll results presage a dystopian nightmare that’s simply too terrifying to contemplate, I’d prefer to hope that my argument in the preceding paragraphs is wrong, and the mistrust of polling organisations currently expressed by so many people is valid, so that the pollsters’ figures are therefore just an outlier, an over-statement which at present is conveniently agreeable to the State.
But I genuinely worry that my apprehension is, in fact, well-founded, and those truly alarming opinion polls might actually be right.
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The incompetence and arrogance of BBC top executives before a Parliamentary committee prompt the question of how bad its behaviour must become before Boris Johnson’s timid government is forced to clip its wings
Problems which politicians hope will – if only they cover their eyes, block their ears, and pretend those problems either don’t exist or aren’t serious – miraculously subside or preferably even disappear, rarely do either. On the contrary, they tend to get even worse. Such is the situation the Johnson government now finds itself mired in with the BBC.
It’s obvious that the Corporation has benefited from the ‘Conservative’ Party’s cynical abandonment of its pre-election pledge, either to abolish the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ as a funding mechanism or at least decriminalise non-payment of it. It’s also evident, however, that the BBC has in effect banked that concession – or perhaps it would be better described as appeasement – and doubled-down on its woke-metropolitan left-‘liberal’ bias, on its ill-concealed contempt for its captive funders, and, above all, on its institutional arrogance arguably derived mainly from an assumption of its own immunity.
This was already obvious in the latter part of 2020, as the BBC –
More recent developments especially, however, must now prompt the question: how far it will be allowed to go before even Johnson’s over-indulgent administration is driven to act? Just what does the BBC have to do before this government, seemingly paralysed by timidity and reluctance to challenge it, finally acts to curb its excesses.
Before discussing those recent developments, it’s worth briefly re-visiting a few of its more blatant abuses of its uniquely privileged position over the past 18 months which I’ve previously either mentioned only in passing or not at all, or have occurred since I last wrote specifically about the Government-BBC relationship.
Eagerly embracing the woke agenda, it’s ‘advised’ all its staff that only trans-friendly pronouns may now be used for all internal communications and email signatures. (Though one can’t help but wonder if the Chairman and Director-General still prefer ‘Sir’ as a mode of address?)
It came very close to overt anti-white, class-hatred, anti-provincial racism in its notorious ‘Karens’ podcast of last summer in which two well-educated, well-off, intensely bien-pensant white women spent their time mocking less-educated, less well-off white women and instructing them on what to think. Typically, it declined to apologise, despite the substantial backlash.
Finally for this list, the BBC in January re-employed, a mere fortnight after his normal retirement, its former director of nations and regions, Ken MacQuarrie, in the £325,000 a year, impeccably-woke, grandiosely-titled role of Executive Director for Safeguarding Impartiality. Nice work if you can get it. As arguably the epitome of corporate marking-your-own-homework, this takes some beating.
Unacceptable and relevant as all this is, what makes the question posed in the title both urgent and unavoidable emerged from the Commons DCMS Select Committee summoning no fewer than three former or current BBC Directors-General to appear before it on 15th June, the trigger for which was the publication of the Dyson Report into the BBC’s failings, not only surrounding the original Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana in 1995, but also his subsequent re-hiring.
The Select Committee’s session promised to be compelling viewing, and in that respect at least, it didn’t disappoint. Over at The Conservative Woman, David Keighley, with the benefit of his prodigious inside knowledge, has already summarised the hearing and its outcome, but the demeanour of the three principal protagonists is directly relevant to my central point, namely, the Johnson government’s continued passive tolerance. Anyone wishing to sit through, as I did, the whole 3 hours 40 minutes performance can do so via the Parliament Live stream.
Only 20 minutes into the hearing, the Chairman’s forensic grilling of Lord Hall was already generating from the latter a studied evasiveness on the issue of Bashir’s re-hiring, His Lordship in effect blaming his subordinates. Asked by the Chairman how ‘this known liar‘ [Bashir] was being paid, Hall denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, Bashir’s pay arrangements, on the grounds that he personally was fully occupied in trying to run the whole of the BBC. He went on to deny also any knowledge of how Bashir came to be allowed to, in effect, moonlight at ITV while being paid by the BBC.
So, “Nothing to do with me, Guv“, in effect. Either His Lordship had sadly mislaid his “THE BUCK STOPS HERE” sign which presumably once adorned his desk, or this was taking hands-off management to a whole new level. Apparently, on his watch, the BBC needed official guidelines to explain to its reporters that obtaining a story or an interview based on forged or fake documents wasn’t necessarily best practice.
An exchange with Select Committee member Clive Efford (Lab, Feltham) was especially revealing.
Efford: “You had this particular guy (Bashir) being re-employed, and yet no-one thought to knock on your door and tell you as D-G that he was being re-employed?“
Hall: “No, they didn’t.“
Yet it was this same, apparently serially incurious, Lord Hall, who in July 2020, trumpeting its “largest-ever increase in investment in the World Service”, had cited as justification the BBC’s “potential to combat fake news”. The combination of hypocrisy and tin-eared lack of any self-awareness or contrition was breathtaking.
Having heard from ex-DG Lord Birt that he expected his (then) colleagues might have had a perfectly satisfactory explanation as to why they thought Bashir was lying (but didn’t tell him), Committee Chairman Julian Knight (Con, Solihull) subsequently became angry with him, practically accusing him of outright lying about the BBC’s treatment (both firing and blacklisting) of the Bashir whistleblower Matt Wiessler.
As David Keighley also recounts, the former D-Gs’ drive to inculpate others and exculpate themselves for the failings of the Corporation’s top management was relentless. It prompted Chairman Knight finally to observe, acidly: “Well, I’ve heard victim-blaming before, but this is quite something!“
The combined evidence of former D-Gs Lords Hall and Birt and current D-G Tim Daviecan in effect be summarised thus:
“We re-hired the guy whom we either knew or suspected was a liar with previous form in faking documents, who’d been sacked for wrongdoing in the US media, and who we knew was moonlighting for ITV while working for us. But neither of us is in any way to blame“
As a Dee-Gees’ reunion concert, it left a lot to be desired. But even after such a devastating public shaming, did the BBC appear to feel any guilt or embarrassment? Judging by its subsequent actions, not one iota.
Because, only one week after The Three DeeGees’ humiliation at the hands of the DCMS Select Committee, the Corporation announced plans to deploy ‘licence-fee’ enforcers to harass and intimidate over-75s who have yet to make arrangements to resume payment of it after the expiration of their Covid-related ‘licence-fee’ amnesty – notwithstanding that the amnesty doesn’t actually expire until 31st July – and to prosecute any who fail to pay.
Yet, even faced with all this, the Government response remained relatively muted. Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden contented himself witha few bleating bromides about how the BBC’ needs far-reaching change’ – but evidently, making it change its funding model to one involving willing customers voluntarily parting with their cash to consume specifically its own product is rather too ‘far-reaching.’
If an allegedly ‘Conservative’ government, despite being elected on a landslide only 18 months ago and with a parliamentary majority of 80, cannot bring itself to abolish an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion even by people who don’t want to consume the product which it funds, then what is the point of it?
If that same ‘Conservative’ government – with incontrovertible proof that the broadcaster uniquely privileged and protected by that tax not only failed to investigate adequately possibly the most shameful case of fraudulent journalism in half a century but compounded its self-indulgent negligence by re-hiring the perpetrator, to the evident incuriosity and insouciance of the individuals charged with running it – refuses to challenge it, then what is the point of a ‘Conservative’ government, or even a ‘Conservative’ Party, at all?
Just what does the BBC have to do before Johnson stirs himself?
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The blatant hypocrisy of recently resigned UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has boosted both the electorate’s awareness of, and resentment at, the governing elite’s long-developing practice of assuming that it’s one set of rules for us, but another for them
Few politicians achieve, even in their hour of disgrace, the dubious distinction of epitomising the faults of an entire ruling caste at the precise moment public resentment of those failings is growing exponentially. In this, at least, the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock can claim success.
As the government minister most closely identified with the imposition, and assiduous enforcement, of plausibly the most draconian but least politically scrutinised restrictions on our personal lives outside wartime, Hancock’s cavalier disregard, both privately and professionally, for the regulations which he demanded that we obey literally to the letter, has put rocket boosters under the hitherto latent but now openly expressed complaint of “one rule for them, but another for everyone else“.
It’s hardly as though other recent examples didn’t exist. A mere two weeks ago, delegates to the G7 summit were visibly guilty of double standards when, in contrast to the ostentatious mask-wearing, elbow-bumping and social-distancing practised for the official photographs, the pictures which subsequently emerged of their later informal bonhomie and back-slapping showed not a mask nor a two metres distancing in sight.
Soon after, and at a time when Brits returning from Amber-List countries must pay for at least two PCR tests and self-isolate for ten days either at home or in an insalubrious hotel at considerable cost, the Johnson government moved quickly to exempt thousands of UEFA officials, corporate sponsors and hangers-on from those same restrictions, in response to a crude threat to remove the final stages of the Euros 2020 tournament from London to Budapest. When challenged on it, the government’s unconvincing explanation made little effort to deny its apparent view that accommodating corporate sponsors and elite sports administrators was a higher priority than allowing weddings and concerts.
When asked about the exemption for football VIPs, a government source said, “It’s important to be able to host international events”. But why isn’t it important to be able to host weddings and concerts? https://t.co/04R7Iehsyk
And all this is before we even start to consider the string of ministers, MPs, scientists and celebrities who, over the past 15 months, have concluded that the regulations affecting the lives of millions of ordinary mortals clearly need not apply to themselves, but have been caught out.
Not only do members of the increasingly authoritarian politico-medico ruling elite appear averse to following personally the very same rules which they impose and assiduously enforce on the rest of us; they also seem, with a combination of arrogance and entitlement born of an assumed superiority, to expect to be personally immune from any consequences when found out and their hypocrisy exposed.
This development is arguably neither recent in origin, however, nor novel in nature. It is merely the latest “variant” – to use the currently topical label – of the ruling caste’s apparent growing distance from, and disaffection with, both the mass electorate as a component of democratic government and, by implication, with mass-participation universal adult franchise democracy itself; it is discernible, and documented, going back years.
As long ago as 2000, in his Fabian Society pamphlet “Coping with Post-Democracy“, Colin Crouch warned of the dangers inherent in the excessive concentration of power in the hands of a professional political elite.
In 2007, in his “The Triumph of the Political Class”, the journalist Peter Oborne described in detail the increasing tendency of the ruling caste to distance itself from the views and attitudes of those whom it purports to represent, to the extent that its members, even in different parties, have far more in common politically with each other than they do with their constituents.
If not yet entirely manifesting in full what the foremost modern English philosopher of conservatism, the late Sir Roger Scruton, in his 2004 book “England and the Need for Nations” termed “oikophobia” – the loathing of one’s home country and its people – then perhaps “demos-phobia” – an elitist distaste verging on contempt for the mass electorate – is a currently more accurate description.
In its contemporary form, the phenomenon emerged into more widespread visibility in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The governmental bailout of failed banks at taxpayers’ expense, an egregious example of what would later be called crony-corporatism, had the unusual effect of uniting – albeit for very different reasons – both the free-market Right and the collectivist Left against it, creating a notable public backlash. That backlash may have been articulated as condemnation of “privatising the profits but socialising the losses”, but the “one rule for them, but another for everyone else” narrative, resenting that reckless bankers who had created the crisis mostly got off scot-free while taxpayers were being made to pay, was there.
It surfaced again in the explosion of public anger in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, as avaricious individual parliamentarians attempted to justify their venality to an outraged electorate by claiming it “was all within the rules” – rules which they had themselves made. The members of the political class appeared mystified by the public’s anger at their indignant defence of behaviour which ordinary voters knew would, if perpetrated in their own lives, get them sacked and possibly prosecuted. Again, an undercurrent of “one rule for us, but another for them” was definitely abroad.
It intensified beyond the possibility of any further denial following the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union and the overwhelmingly pro-Remain governing elite’s furious refusal, first to accept it, and then to implement it. Not only was the inability of over half the electorate to participate at all in deciding the country’s future confidently asserted as a given; democracy itself, if it was capable of delivering an outcome so uncongenial to those who considered themselves exclusively qualified to adjudicate such matters, was questioned as a legitimate institution in its own right.
British politics between June 2016 and January 2020 was dominated by the democratically defeated Remain Establishment’s campaign to ignore, dilute or preferably overturn, using any parliamentary, legal or constitutional stratagem available, the biggest popular democratic mandate for constitutional change in UK political history.
It isn’t hard to detect that same antipathy to the mass electorate, which that eventually unsuccessful anti-Brexit campaign internalised in the collective mind of our ruling caste, in the assumption evinced by much of our current cadre of overlords that Covid rules are for us to adhere to rigidly, but for them to ignore if inconvenient. Neither, though, is it possibly to deny that it’s a significant factor in growing public resentment of our ruling caste’s now openly-flouted double standards.
Since Brexit, nothing has united the country more than the universal disdain for the absolute disaster that is our political elite.
Such apparent complacency is unwise. The slogan expresses the kind of resentment which, if not addressed, can quickly acquire critical mass, leading to revolt either at the ballot box or, in extremis, in another less benign form.
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The forced resignation, for deceit and double-standards, of Britain’s beleaguered Health Secretary was the arguably inevitable outcome to a political career built on a bizarre amalgam of hubris and obsequiousness
Throughout his political career, Hancock, possessed of an oleaginous unctuousness which if set in a Charles Dickens novel would make even Uriah Heep appear stand-offish and aloof in comparison, has always given the impression of being someone in whom Hubris would eventually clash with and be defeated by deserved Nemesis. The wave of simultaneous anger and schadenfreude washing over both UK mainstream and social media on Friday 25th June, in the aftermath of his exposure as a devious adulterer personally and blatant hypocrite professionally and politically, was almost tangible.
Given that his ascent of the political Greasy Pole was primarily via being chief sycophant, coat-tailer and bag-carrier to George Osborne – so much so that the Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, once allegedly joked that anyone seeking to advance their political career by crawling up Osborne’s backside would quickly find themselves blocked by Hancock’s feet – few were surprised that the subsequent development of Hancock’s own political career appeared to be based on sanctimonious agreement with whoever was in the political ascendant within the David Cameron led ‘moderniser’ metropolitan-liberal ‘Conservative’ Party at the time.
It’s Hancock’s performance as Health Secretary, however, particularly during the Covid pandemic, that vindicates those of us who argued that Theresa May, when newly installed as PM in mid-2016, should have sacked Hancock from the government on the same day that she peremptorily sacked his patron Osborne, as having been correct.
Given the societal restrictions which for 15 months he has been key, if not instrumental, in imposing on the country, the sheer scale of Hancock’s “do as I say, but not as I do” double standards is breathtaking, and on more than one level.
At the time, on or about 6th May, that the grainy but persuasively incriminating picture was taken of Hancock ardently embracing his paramour, Departmental aide Gina Coladangelo, Covid rules forbade the rest of us from hugging even close members of our own families.
Nor could a father even walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day without wearing a mask, a prohibition lifted only very recently. As a nation, we’ve had to watch loved ones die alone, without the comfort of human contact, or see friends’ serious illnesses go untreated, all because of Hancock’s lockdown-fanaticism and his willingness to turn the NHS into a Covid-only ‘service’, primarily to advance his own political career.
Which might be thought a bit rich, coming from someone whose reaction to the revelation of Ferguson’s breach of country-wide lockdown rules was to affect shock and surprise. Then, Hancock professed himself ‘speechless’ at Ferguson’s conduct, declaring ‘I don’t understand‘, before adding, tellingly, not only that Ferguson was right to resign after his ‘extraordinary‘ actions, but even that the Police should investigate him with a view to possible prosecution.
Throughout the pandemic and the Johnson government’s policy response to it, as one of the members of the so-called Cabinet ‘Quad’ overseeing that response, Hancock more than any other minister was the one responsible for implementing, without proper parliamentary scrutiny, the laws and ‘guidance’ which have made the last 15 months such a misery for so many. It was Hancock who pushed to criminalise the private lives of others, ordered them to refrain from starting new relationships outside of ‘established’ ones, and tolerated no leeway or discretion in applying his rules.
Not only was he one of the most enthusiastic advocates for State-authoritarian lockdown, mandatory vaccination, so-called ‘vaccine passports’, and all the other tools of economic and societal repression in the name of public health recommended by the left-leaning behavioural-‘nudge’ scientists to whom he and Johnson seem in such thrall. He was also one of the most enthusiastic and insistent in stressing the importance of compliance with the most draconian restrictions ever imposed on the British people outside wartime.
Yet when challenged, about his own cavalier disregard for the restrictions whose rigorous enforcement on others he championed, and about his own misconduct similar to Ferguson’s, he had the gall to invoke intrusion into his own private life as some kind of protective shield. He seemed to feel that a sanctimonious apology accompanied by the usual bromides about ‘letting people down‘ was all that was required. Certainly not resignation. Perish the thought.
He then deservedly suffered considerable political embarrassment in mid-June, when it emerged that he had deliberately concealed positive data on the progress of the national vaccination programme, which might well have resulted in Covid restrictions being eased as originally pledged from 21st June, instead of being continued until at least 19th July. In hindsight, this looks like merely another example of Hancock’s arrogance and hubris which have justifiably brought him down.
Legitimate questions now arise over whether Hancock’s infidelity was solely that, with no other connotations for public or Hancock’s personal probity. Accusations of cronyism and doing favours for pals surrounded Ms Coladangelo’s appointment to a somewhat nebulously defined role in Hancock’s Department of Health, which appeared to have been made with less than entirely rigorous adherence to appointment procedures, possibly because of its relatively unofficial nature.
Big questions about what exactly Gina Coladangelo’s role in government is – she’s listed as a non-exec at DHSC, but also referred to as an ‘aide’. She’s not a spad (or at least not on the most recent list of spads…), so what is the other role, if there is one? pic.twitter.com/e2epyjwmNQ
As if that wasn’t enough, in the hours after Hancock’s resignation came the revelation that he now faces an investigation over his use of a private email account to conduct government business, including negotiating multi-million pound PPE contracts, meaning that official records of much of his political decision-making simply don’t exist. The suggestion is that this was done with a view to protecting himself when the Covid Inquiry starts next year, but it’s not hard to imagine how it could also have been designed to facilitate more a nefarious purpose.
If nothing else, l’affaire Hancock yet again shows starkly the apparently widespread “rules are for you, but not for us” entitlement of our ruling caste. We saw it on the insouciant disregard for masks and social distancing at the recent G7 summit, and we’re now seeing it again in Whitehall.
Not only do this Government’s medico-totalitarian elite appear not to follow personally the rules they impose, and subsequently assiduously enforce, on the rest of us; they also seem to expect to be personally immune from any consequences when they’re found out and their hypocrisy is exposed.
It was historian Andrew Roberts who once said of the hapless John Major that, had his mid-1980s affair with Edwina Currie been exposed while he was still Prime Minister, he wouldn’t have been so much hounded from office in anger and outrage as laughed out of office in ridicule. With Hancock having become the object of both anger and ridicule in equal measure, his legacy reputation looks more likely to mirror what Major’s would have been. Anger, given time, may be redeemable, but ridicule, once it reaches a certain level, is the political kiss of death.
Johnson may think that Hancock’s overdue resignation – after trying to cling on, limpet-like, to office for 48 hours – resolves an unpleasant problem for himself. It shouldn’t and it won’t; people will remember that, instead of demanding Hancock’s resignation promptly and sacking him if it wasn’t forthcoming immediately, Johnson vacillated and tried to ‘declare the matter closed’ on the strength of Hancock’s inadequate, blatantly insincere and barely-apologetic ‘apology’.
By any standards, Hancock’s position should have been recognised as untenable from the moment the story about his office trysts with Gina Coladangelo broke. Yet initially he received Johnson’s backing in appearing firmly set against offering his resignation, for reasons which seem murkier by the hour. Johnson, in his acceptance of Hancock’s resignation, unwisely also left open the possibility of his returning to government in the future. Johnson has done himself no favours at all by publicly backing Hancock despite clear grounds for sacking him, and then losing him anyway. As a result, he now looks foolish, ineffectual and lacking both judgment and resolve.
As for Hancock, he should detain us no longer. The political obscurity which he no doubt now confidently expects to be temporary should be permanent. An oily, slippery, opportunist, self-aggrandising careerist whose flexibility of principle would have made him equally comfortable in a LibDem or even a Blairite New Labour government, he will be missed by few. Good riddance.
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Boris Johnson’s ‘Conservative’ Government has no intention of actually fighting against the Woke agenda; merely the intention of looking like it’s fighting against the Woke agenda which its substantive actions, belying its words, suggest it either supports or at least does not much oppose
Note: Extended and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 15 February 2021.
If you went only by the headlines, you might be tempted to believe that the ‘Conservative’ Party – following the justified criticism of its leadership’s reluctance even to criticise, never mind condemn, the explosion of intolerance, censoriousness and malign identitarianism which, after festering below the surface for several years, finally exploded into the open amid culturally and racially oikophobic street violence last summer – had finally resolved to tackle the Woke virus.
Not to be outdone in signalling Tory purported anti-Woke credentials, next up was Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, endorsing a ‘Conservative’ backbench MPs’ initiative to spike the Town Hall militant Woke-ists’ guns by re-naming, with the names this time of Victoria Cross recipients, the already and only recently re-named Diversity Grove and Equality Road in Perry Barr, Birmingham.
Then, in what the Government clearly wants to be perceived as a major escalation of its ‘War on Woke’, the Sunday Telegraph of 14th February reported Dowden as summoning the leading heritage bodies and charities to a summit at which he intended to entreat them ‘to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down’. Reinforcing that was to be a promise from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of a ‘Free Speech Champion’, with powers to defend free speech and academic freedom on campuses, accompanied by the warning: ‘Colleges or student bodies that try to cancel, dismiss or demote people over their views will be sanctioned’.
Given the extent to which Britain’s historic and cultural institutions have been captured by the Left, some ineffectual bleating from a hand-wringing Dowden is hardly likely to persuade the heads of leading heritage bodies and charities summoned to his exalted presence to change their ways. As the Daily Telegraph‘s Simon Heffer points out, their Achilles heel is their dependence, to a greater or lesser extent, on State funding, and threatening to curb it would concentrate minds, but the Government looks nowhere near ready even to contemplate such a drastic step, let alone carry it out.
Now, the re-naming of some Parry Barr thoroughfares after Victoria Cross recipients rather than ‘Diversity’ shibboleths isn’t at all a bad idea per se; but are these kinds of, frankly, peripheral and comparatively trivial placebos and palliatives from those political wet lettuces Jenrick, Dowden and Williamson really all we can realistically expect from the Tories’ so-called ‘War on Woke’?
Sadly, it might well be. Because, below the radar, and on several fronts, the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy appears to be not merely not opposing, but either passively accepting or even advancing, the ‘Liberal’-Left’s pernicious, divisive Woke agenda. Consider a few examples.
Take the issue of the sustained Woke assault on free speech, specifically that manifested via the de-platforming and/or cancel-culture now widespread among both academic and student bodies on university campuses. Any readers still doubting its extent and severity should either listen to the New Culture Forum‘s recent panel discussion podcast on it, or watch it on YouTube.
Last month, Tory backbencher David Davis introduced a Private Members’ Bill to place a legal duty on universities to uphold and promote free speech on campus, but which is unlikely to become law, owing to ‘lack of Parliamentary time’. Davis is right to address this issue; but why did it have to fall to a private member to introduce legislation to protect and uphold something as fundamental as free speech?
Where was the allegedly ‘Conservative’ Government which included in its last Election Manifesto a commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities? Was it fearful of incurring the wrath of the Woke Mafia? It’s a poor reflection on the Johnson Government’s now apparently only lukewarm commitment to free speech that legislation to uphold and promote it in universities, of all places, has to be via a Private Members’ Bill, and not a Government initiative.
Furthermore, the Woke assault on free speech is neither confined solely to the higher education sector, nor is it a fringe issue of concern only to civil liberties fundamentalists or free speech absolutists. A recent Savanta-ComRes opinion poll found that as many as 50 per cent of Britons feel freedom of speech in the United Kingdom to be under threat, and that only 12 per cent of the population believes that people have greater freedom to speak freely now than they enjoyed five years ago.
Presumably, alternatives to the now clearly discriminatory and non-‘inclusive’ expression ‘women’, were rejected on Woke grounds. ‘Persons who menstruate’ must have been ruled out as obviously transphobic in deference to the vicious Woke onslaught on J K Rowling for satirising its use as a substitute.
Using persons with wombs’ would have self-evidently excluded, and thereby demeaned, women of child-bearing age who’d had to undergo a hysterectomy, and women past the menopause and therefore unable to conceive; and that’s before even starting to consider how to tiptoe round the bear-trap of describing any cis-women now identifying as non-binary on a spectrum of genders running into three figures.
Ironically in view of all of this, the Equality Act 2010, which remains in force, refers to both pregnancy itself and pregnancy discrimination as something which happens to, erm, ‘women’.
Among the most sinister and damaging manifestations of the burgeoning Woke self-righteous intolerance is the expansion of censorship by the partisan hyper-‘Liberals’ of Silicon Valley Big-Tech. Even as its platforms leant more and more towards covert, then overt, shadow-banning and even outright banning, much of the Elite-Establishment with an interest, whether genuine or feigned, in promoting the Woke Cult and silencing or demonising opposition to it has been content to outsource censorship to the private sector, but has thereby created a tyranny.
So it’s curious that, despite the worthy ostensible aim of preventing online harm, the Johnson Government is apparently content to partner with Big-Tech to regulate online speech even more. Did it occur to Media, Digital and Culture Secretary Dowden that, given its recent track record, Big-Tech is likely to exploit the freedom given it by filtering out not only child-pornographic, terrorist and genuinely racist material but also by censoring legitimate conservative opinion and classical-liberal challenge to the Woke-Left agenda? Or is he relaxed about it?
Finally, and arguably most egregiously of all, Johnson’s Government appears to be going out of its way to virtue-signal its enthusiastic alignment with two of the most widespread and potentially calamitous Woke shibboleths of our time – Green-Left ‘climate-change’ and its new first cousin, the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset programme to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic so as to bring about the comprehensive re-vamping of all aspects of our societies and economies under a globalist, supranationalist, technocratic totalitarianism.
This is well illustrated by three pairs of linked tweets by Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, starting with the ritual obsession, which all senior British politicians have, of being seen publicly to be among the first to have telephone conversations with their counterparts in a new US administration.
There’s little intrinsically wrong in this rather tedious, perhaps even puerile, willy-waving aspect of the diplomatic game. Notable on this occasion, however, is how Johnson and Raab each take the opportunity afforded by it to shoehorn what, contextually, are almost forced and contrived references into it, linking pandemic recovery with the advancement of the Green eco-agenda – including those now almost obligatory buzzword-phrases ‘green and sustainable recovery‘ (Johnson), and both ‘tackling climate change‘ and the now almost universal ‘build back better‘ (Raab).
For a government supposedly committed to a ‘levelling-up’ agenda, allegedly intended to benefit people in the relatively economically disadvantaged Midlands and North, burdening them with much higher heating and power bills to pay for unreliable and subsidy-dependent Green energy seems a strange way of going about it. But here, once again, are the buzzwords beloved of the Great Reset’s adherents. ‘Net Zero by 2050‘ and ‘work together for our planet‘ from Johnson; ‘Paris Agreement‘ and ‘tackle climate change‘ (again) from Raab.
Lastly, their congratulatory tweets on New Zealand’s National Day to its Prime Minister, that darling of the globalist ‘progressive’ ‘Liberal’-Left, Jacinda Ardern.
This isn’t a controversial message in itself – New Zealand is, after all, a member both of the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere’s Five Eyes security alliance – but once more, we see the chance taken to insert some key WEF/Davos Great Reset platitudes. From Johnson, we get’ make the world a greener….place‘; from Raab (yet again) ‘to combat climate change‘; and, intriguingly, from both, the now near-ubiquitous and sinister ‘build back better‘.
One wonders to what extent all this has now morphed from being mere empty virtue-signalling into a form of subtle code; a method for national political leaders to signify to each other and to the elite of the supranationalist crony-corporatist globalist oligarchy that, despite having, for domestic political reasons, to offer reassuring but obfuscatory bromides to their electorates, they are in fact entirely on board with the Great Reset agenda, and can be trusted to further it in their own countries.
Pinpointing the reason for the Tories’ apparent reluctance to counter the Woke agenda in any way other than cosmetically is harder than citing examples of it. Over at UnHerd, Ed West quotes former Tory MP Ed Vaizey, part of the Cameroon/Notting Hill metro-‘liberal’ tendency which still holds sway within the Party, in enthusiastic support for the Woke agenda. West persuasively suggests that driving this is a naïve gullibility, which fixates on its superficial but bogus claim to be motivated solely by altruism and equity, but is blind to the illiberalism, intolerance and authoritarianism with which it tries to enforce its orthodoxy.
A week ago, I insinuated that Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ were only pretending to fight the Woke agenda at the domestic, socio-cultural level. The way in which their proposed post-Covid greater state-interventionism and Green eco-socialism manifest the accelerating conflation of the Green ‘climate-change’ agenda with the Covid-19 recovery agenda under the overarching aegis of the WEF/Davos Great Reset suggests that, when it comes to the Woke agenda at the internationalist, economic level, they aren’t even pretending to.
In the New Culture Forum‘s panel discussion podcast and video discussion referenced earlier, Professor Jeremy Black of Exeter University posits that there is an argument currently prevailing within Johnson’s Government againstengaging in any kind of what they call ‘culture war’, the idea being that that’s what characterised Trump, that it was a mistake, and that they, therefore, must not be seen to be emulating either it, or him.
The fact that we’re already in a culture war that’s being prosecuted aggressively by the ‘Liberal’-Left and hard-Left Culture-Warriors seems to have escaped their notice. As the Henry Jackson Society’s Dr Rakib Ehsan states, Britain cannot be blind to the threat to social cohesion presented by extremist far-Left revolutionaries via faux-‘progressive’ movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.
Particularly striking over the past year has been the sheer number of Britain’s civic organisations who, it now appears, already had personnel in place in their key positions, primed and ready to adopt the Cult of Woke in a big way– the culmination, presumably, of The Long March Through The Institutions, the phrase coined by the 1960s Communist student revolutionary Rudi Dutschke, but which has its origins in the writings of the Italian Communist political theorist Antonio Gramsci.
Though malign of intention, the people in these vocal, intolerant, Woke ‘minorities’ aren’t stupid. They spotted early on how craven, popularity-obsessed but blame-averse, politicians and governments of every stripe were increasingly outsourcing decision-making to authorities beyond the reach of the democratic process – and thereby conveniently beyond their own arc of responsibility – both upwards to supranational organisations, and sideways to autonomous agencies and quangos.
They realised how such near-State and/or quasi-State institutions would, in the developing post-democratic era, become the new centres of political authority and influence, whose capture by a relatively small cultural-marxist elite would enable them to wield power out of all proportion to the numbers who share their views. They have become powerful due to years spent infiltrating, then taking over, the near-State, quango and ‘charity’ sectors, and waiting for the signal or excuse to launch the culture war in earnest.
The George Floyd / Black Lives Matter / Antifa riots of last summer provided both. This is why the cultural and historical attack on England appears to have acquired such momentum, depth and width so quickly. But, irrespective of the precise cause, its consequence is that, sadly, there seems to be no real political desire to push back against what looks like nothing more than an updated, more malignant mutation of the stock Marxist critique of Western civilisation.
If the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy were indeed as serious about tackling the Woke virus as the Daily Telegraph‘s Allister Heath – uncharacteristically wrongly and over-optimistically in my view – suggests, then they’d be upholding free speech, countering pernicious, divisive Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory and Trans Theory as part of a wider repudiation of identitarian politics generally, and clipping the wings of the BBC, much more robustly than they are, instead of merely changing a few street names, making it slightly harder to pull down ‘problematic’ statues, and compensating de-platformed speakers at universities.
But they’re not; and neither do they want to. The Tories’ ‘War on Woke’ is strictly a Phoney War.
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Boris Johnson’s backsliding on his 2019 election pledges about BBC reform means it has a new Chairman who is unlikely to threaten it even with any significant reform, never mind the radical revolution which its illiberal funding model and institutional bias both demand
Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 15 January 2021.
In many fields, for the new Chairman of a major public corporation to be generally welcomed by the commentariat as a safe pair of hands should be reassuring for its stakeholders and customers. It would indicate the appointment of someone who could be trusted to do an important job well without making any serious mistakes, and who would not embark on a major upheaval.
The BBC in its current state, however, is not an organisation suited to such an appointment. It’s in serious trouble; arguably, even in crisis.
Strategically, as the Adam Smith Institute’s Madsen Pirie explains, it long ago deliberately abandoned its remit as an impartial public service broadcaster, both when it opted to pursue high ratings figures to try and justify its receipt of public money, and when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than a reporter, but with an internal culture of left-leaning metropolitan hyper-liberalism, projected by personnel who think their own views are the only “reasonable” ones to hold.
For all his manifest qualities, its newly appointed Chairman Designate, Richard Sharp, judging by the overall tone of press comment on the news of his appointment, appears unlikely to favour the radical, even revolutionary, approach to reforming the Corporation that its deep-rooted structural malaise demands.
That ‘senior BBC figures expressed relief‘ at the appointment, interpreting it as evidence of Government intent ‘to pursue a policy of reform rather than revolution‘, speaks volumes. That Sharp is reportedly seen essentially as ‘bipartisan rather than a culture warrior‘, and is described by his ‘allies‘ (may we be permitted to know who they are?) as likely to be ‘a tough friend‘ of the BBC, gives little confidence that the behemoth is seriously threatened by the kind of institutional shake-up which its captive funders clearly believe it needs at the top.
That the BBC’s senior executives apparently‘feared the appointment of an arch critic such as Lord (Charles) Moore‘, andSharp’s own reported opinion that ‘the BBC is at the heart of British cultural life‘, do not exactly presage a complacency-upending zeal. The comment attributed to Sharp’s ‘friends’ (once again, are we allowed to know their identity?), that he was ‘unlikely to push for a radical overhaul of the broadcaster‘, do not suggest an imminent change of focus away from the preservation of producer interest and towards more customer satisfaction.
The early signs from Sharp himself aren’t encouraging. At his pre-appointment hearing on 14 January before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, he described as ‘the least worst option‘ and as ‘terrific value‘ the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’, and declared himself ‘not in favour of decriminalisation‘ of its non-payment – thereby pre-judging, even before taking office, the outcome of the review of BBC funding which as Chairman he’s supposed to lead.
On the BBC’s unconcealed political bias, especially among its prominent current affairs presenters, and despite the new BBC Chief Executive Tim Davie’s instruction to them to curb it, it’s already apparent from, for example, Emily Maitlis’ continued blatant editorialising, that Davie’s executive writ barely runs as far as his own office door.
ICYMI: “There are millions of Americans who are very worried one man can create a lie so huge that his supporters believe in him over the principle of democracy.”@maitis pushes Tea Party Movement co-founder @michaeljohns over his belief the election was “stolen”#Newsnightpic.twitter.com/SENIYKdbsd
Sadly, the BBC’s new Chairman looks unlikely to change that. Quizzed by the select committee on the Corporation’s notoriously pro-Remain, anti-Brexit bias in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, he condescended to admit that ‘Question Time seemed to have more Remainers than Brexiteers‘. In fact, there’s no ‘seemed‘ about it: the News-Watch survey on this specific issue established that it was skewed by a factor of 2:1 or more in favour of Remain as part of a “massive, consistent and overt bias over decades“. Yet, the BBC’s overall coverage on Brexit, asserted Sharp, had been ‘incredibly balanced‘.
If all these indications are right, then the blame for what looks likely to become a total failure to call the partisan, bloated, smug, contemptuous of its financially captive audience BBC to account will lie, not with Sharp himself, but with those who took the decision to appoint him BBC Chairman. In other words, the risk-averse, pusillanimous, allegedly ‘Conservative’ government led by the politically invertebrate, pledge-reversing, all-bluff-and-bluster Boris Johnson.
How distant that now seems. The signals indicating the government’s abandonment of its pledge and its eventual capitulation have been discernible for the last six months or so, not least in Johnson’s and his ineffectual Media and ‘Culture’ Minister Oliver Dowden’s hesitancy and equivocation in condemning the BBC’s increasing doubling-down on the contempt it clearly feels for its audiences.
That was followed by a volte-face – one remarkable even by the standards we have come to expect from Johnson – when, deploying his usual compulsive hyperbole, he entrusted to the “fantastic” BBC responsibility for providing online lessons during his latest Covid-19 lockdown to children who are currently being denied their education mainly because of his own reluctance to take on the militant teaching unions obstructing the re-opening of schools and resumption of classroom teaching.
In little more than a year, therefore, he has gone from ordering a ministerial boycott of the BBC because of its political bias, to handing it a virtual monopoly on online teaching, despite half of Britons thinking it reflects their views and their values either fairly badly or very badly.
Tellingly, nowhere in any of the political announcements or mainstream media coverage of Sharp’s appointment is there any recognition of the fundamental iniquity of a funding model reliant on an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion, even by people who don’t wish to consume the product which it funds. So much for the ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson which we keep being assured, with fast-diminishing credibility, really does exist.
“In choosing Mr Sharp, a walking caricature of the Establishment, the Johnson government is signalling that it’s opting for a quiet life rather than conflict with the BBC.“
It is no criticism of Sharp’s qualifications and suitability for the role to say that he appears to be first-class choice – but for the next-but-one Chairman of the BBC. He would be an ideal candidate to steady the ship and settle it on its new course, after the difficult passage through the rough, rock-strewn seas that it absolutely must complete if it’s ever to emerge eventually into the calmer waters of firstly, a new funding model acceptable to its customers, and secondly, the trust by a majority of the public, in both its reflection of their values and its scrupulous adherence to impartiality, substantially restored.
But to command and navigate the lumbering BBC vessel successfully though that tricky passage requires something other than a gradualist or consensualist with insider connections to the government machine. It needs a radical, sceptical outsider, a disrupter, an unbeliever in the BBC’s specious claim to a ‘unique and special position in our national life’, unafraid to challenge and overcome the innate resistance to change among its self-referential senior executives and presenters.
The BBC behemoth needs a Chairman committed to demolishing its institutional groupthink; one willing to make life thoroughly uncomfortable for its senior cadres, to force on both it and them the changes necessary to transform it into a provider of product satisfaction and value-for-money to voluntary customers, not a pillar of the Left-‘Liberal’ Elite-Establishment exploiting its privileged position and guaranteed revenue to promote assiduously an ideological agenda unwelcome to most of its captive funders.
It isn’t going to get one. Thanks solely to the shameful timidity and duplicity of Johnson and his flaccid government, the BBC’s boat is not about to be rocked.
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If the Tories are pinning their hopes of re-election in 2024 on retaining the Red Wall seats they wrested from Labour in 2019, at least one opinion poll suggests their efforts are already doomed to failure
Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 06 January 2021.
In folklore and mythology, the Grim Reaper appears wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself. In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit or skinny jeans, and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results.
Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January.
Reported and analysed in The Sunday Times, the poll’s findings were startling. They showed that, were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority which they secured only just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour/SNP coalition government.
The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal; and yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election. All the same, for Johnson, in a mere 12½ months, to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage point vote loss shows.
Significantly, however, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern Red Wall seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative either for the first time in decades or in some cases for the first time ever.
If, as the Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.
It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid. An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the government’s lockdown response. High-Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.
Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower-middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.
Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using a laptop in the kitchen and communicating with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions, while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online. If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay,those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.
In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day. They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.
No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their opinion-polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.
Proud that the UK is taking over the 2021 Presidency of the G7 today. Hosting both the G7 Summit and @COP26 will make this a hugely important year for Global Britain and I look forward to welcoming our friends and allies as we beat COVID and build back better from the pandemic.
They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – and make no mistake, his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better‘ slogan is a dead giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatism benefiting boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its malign agenda.
No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural marxism and anti-white racialist identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.
As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity-politics intent on trashing their culture and national history, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely only to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.
As long ago as last mid-October, I remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to re-align UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. This now seems to be the verdict also of the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.
If the Focaldata poll over the weekend of 2nd/3rd Januaryturns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall voters have already pre-empted them. And who can blame them?Johnson’s obsessive adherence to the SAGE-authoritarian and Green eco-globalist agendas respectively is repelling his new Red Wall voters, and he doesn’t seem to care.
On past form, the Tories’ most probable reaction will be an arrogance-driven either dismissal, complacency or condescension, but they should resist the temptation to indulge in either. A hint of the latter has already been seen in the patronising assumption that those votes can in effect be bought back merely by throwing taxpayers’ money at the areas concerned, but the reasons for voter dissatisfaction discussed above appear too deep-rooted to be amenable to that convenient solution.
Relying on upcoming boundary changes to deliver extra seats to compensate them for any loss looks unlikely to be enough, with only ten additional seats in prospect. Moreover, the vote boost gained from former Labour voters in those Red Wall seats being repulsed by the leadership of hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn should be regarded as a one-off phenomenon. For all his flaws and inadequacies, its new leader Sir Keir Starmer is considerably more electable.
Polls are, of course, inconsistent and unreliable. The first full test of electoral opinion in those Red Wall seats should be coming at May’s 2021 local elections, including the local elections postponed from 2020 because of the first Covid-19 lockdown; “should”, because both now look likely to be delayed. Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ seem to be keen to put off an encounter with the electorate for as long as possible. Perhaps their private polling is closer to that Focaldata poll result than they care to admit.
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Despite the near-universal praise it attracted, the former PM’s intervention in the latest Commons lockdown debate arguably owed more to low politics than high principle
Note: (Slightly) longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 10 November 2020.
Credit where credit’s due. In contrast to her usual Maybot-style wooden, robotic, delivery of leaden, uninspiring content, former PM Theresa May’s speech, delivering a scathing criticism of aspects of the Johnson Junta’s second Covid lockdown, in the House of Commons’ debate on the afternoon of Wednesday 04 November, was, for once, uncharacteristically good.
Moreover, its impact was enhanced by PM Boris Johnson’s somewhat boorish reaction to it. By ostentatiously walking out of the Commons Chamber, to the audible disapproval of his MPs, just as May began to speak, Johnson not only demonstrated a puerile petulance but also demeaned both himself and his office.
He later apologised, apparently, pleading the need to attend a meeting. Well, maybe; and should not May, out of office now for only 15 or 16 months, also not have realised from her own experience that a PM necessarily has a very busy schedule? All the same, and though I’m no fan of May, she is after all a former PM, albeit an especially dire one, so was surely entitled to be listened to for four minutes by the present incumbent, if only out of courtesy.
Anyway, near-universal acclaim, some of it verging on the hyperbole, greeted May’s speech. According to the Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, it was a case of “May leads the charge” against Johnson’s second coronavirus lockdown. This was intriguing, to say the least, to those, like me, who have long felt that leadership, on the one hand, and the notoriously uncommunicative and taciturn Theresa May, on the other, are such mutually incompatible concepts as to constitute an oxymoron.
She had become the unlikely “Joan of Arc of lockdown scepticism“, in the eyes even of former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips, who was at least discreet enough not to mention that Jeanne d’Arc ended up taken prisoner by her own side before being burned at the stake by the English.
Prominent and respected political tweeters were effusive in their praise.
But, watching and listening to May’s speech live, I had some niggling doubts, and then especially later when reading it on Hansard, I found myself starting to wonder: just where had this apparently quasi-libertarian Theresa May, suddenly concerned about the loss of Britons’ economic and societal liberties as a result of Lockdown 2.0, sprung from?
“The Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship….sets a precedent that could be misused by a Government in future with the worst of intentions.”
“For many people it looks as though the figures are being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures. There is one set of data that has not been available throughout.”
Again, very true. But was this valid criticism about the lack of both published data and transparency really coming from the same Theresa May who, again as that reluctant-Brexiter PM, presided over the covert No. 10 operation to collude with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her infamous Chequers Plan for an ultra-lite BRINO, keeping it secret from her Cabinet, the Brexit Department, her MPs, her Party and the British public, and bounce it on to her Cabinet on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis with barely an hour’s prior notice?
Were we really seeing a new, changed Theresa May? No, alas we weren’t. Because at 10.30.am last Wednesday, a mere 3 hours 8 minutes before she rose to speak in the Commons at 1.38.pm, May had tweeted thus:
This, I suggest, was, and is, the authentic voice of Theresa May and the one with which we’re more familiar. Her instinctive reverence for unaccountable supranationalist bureaucracy self-insulated from the need to secure democratic consent. Her disregard for the astronomical cost to Western economies, energy users, and taxpayers of a predicted reduction in temperatures of a mere 0.05°C, and then only by 2100.
Her arrogant presumption that truth on ‘climate change’ is something to be negotiated via political consensus rather than discovered by strict adherence to Popper’s scientific method. Her delusion that challenges like a global pandemic and economic downturn, burgeoning government deficits and debt, and Islamist-Jihadist terrorism somehow pale into relative insignificance alongside a gentle 200-300 year recovery in temperatures from the nadir of the Little Ice Age.
So why the quite remarkable contrast between the allegiance to anti-democratic globalism confirmed by May’s 10.30.am tweet and her professed deep concern for personal liberty and government transparency expressed in her 1.38.pm Commons speech? Let me suggest a two-word solution: Boris Johnson.
I suspect May’s Commons criticisms, entirely valid though they conveniently were in context, originated not so much from principle or genuine ideological conviction as from a long-simmering personal pique at her 2019 forced removal from office, which she still appears to think was an unconscionable injustice and thus still has some scores to settle.
After such a focussed, if richly hypocritical, attack on the Johnson-led Cabinet, one might have expected May to join the rebels who voted against the Government’s second lockdown. Curiously, in the event she didn’t, but merely abstained.
Was she anxious to spare the Government from the political embarrassment of a former PM joining a backbench rebellion? Unlikely, surely, after roundly criticising it from the green benches. Was it too much for her inherent authoritarian-statist instincts to side with the lockdown sceptics in favour of freedom? Or was it just a case of wanting to wound, but afraid to strike?
Whichever, Hell, it would seem, still hath no fury like a former PM scorned.
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MPs debating the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill extending the protection of former Armed Services personnel from malicious historical prosecutions should honour the Military Covenant, not find grounds to wriggle out of it
I suspect few people will have heard of a gentleman called Dennis Hutchings. Those who haven’t should rectify this gap in their knowledge because, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re indebted to him and to thousands like him; but the Government and MPs which they, and we, have entrusted with the responsibility of discharging that debt on our behalf are resiling from their obligations and shirking both their duty and their own and their predecessors’ implied promise to him.
Mr Hutchings is one of those referenced in the quotation whose both origin and precise words are disputed, but is attributed variously to Kipling, Orwell or Churchill:
“We sleep easy in our beds because hard men stand ready to risk their lives on our behalf, to inflict violence on those who would do us harm.“
In Mr Hutchings’ case, “those who would do us harm‘ were the IRA, at the height of their murderous campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland, to try and achieve violently via the bomb and the bullet what they were unable to achieve peacefully and democratically via the ballot-box.
In 1974, while a serving soldier in the Life Guards, he had to make a split-second decision, under stress, whether to allow what was thought at the time to be an IRA suspect to run away from a patrol in County Tyrone, or follow standing orders and open fire. He insists, as he has done for the last 46 years, that he fired only a warning shot in the air. Another soldier, now deceased, also fired. The suspect was killed, but Mr Hutchings, now 78 years old and progressively dying from kidney and heart failure, is before the Northern Ireland courts charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.
This is happening even as the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is wending its way through Parliament. Its purpose, in the wake of British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to better protect former members of the Armed Forces from politically motivated lawfare conducted by mainly leftist human rights lawyers, in the form of (frequently found to be un-evidenced, or entirely without foundation) specious claims of unlawful detention and maltreatment.
Crucially, though, the current Bill as drafted would apply only to overseas operations, so would thus exclude Northern Ireland, despite The Troubles having accounted for 722 British military deaths resulting from hostile paramilitary activity, compared with 454 in Afghanistan and 226 in Iraq during both Gulf Wars.
Axiomatically iniquitous as this should be, almost no objection to the Government’s exclusion of military service in Ulster from the scope of its immunity from historic prosecutions Bill appears to have been raised during its so-called ‘scrutiny’ by ‘Conservative’ MPs. Why not? Was being shot at or bombed by the IRA or Loyalist paramilitaries somehow less risky than being shot at or bombed by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Taliban?
Where in particular was any protest from that formerly self-appointed champion of our military veterans and now a Junior Defence Minister with the same responsibilities, Johnny Mercer MP, from whom, having served in Afghanistan himself, one might perhaps have expected more?
If only Mercer were now displaying in that cause the same zeal with which he leapt aboard the Woke-Left bandwagon to condemn England’s foremost philosopher of conservatism, Sir Roger Scruton, without bothering to check the veracity of the accusations against him, when Scruton was viciously traduced in a blatant partisan hatchet-job by the New Statesman‘s left-wing hack George Eaton deploying deliberate misinterpretation and highly selective quoting.
Mr Hutchings is therefore in the invidious position of being dragged through the Criminal Courts after 46 years, in probably the last few months of life, while his erstwhile IRA adversaries enjoy the protection of the same immunity of which he is somehow deemed unworthy. No wonder he feels aggrieved: he has more than adequate reason to do so, and we should feel similarly indignant on his behalf.
Incredibly, it gets even worse. Some MPs, Mercer not unsurprisingly to the fore, now appear to be objecting to the very principle of such a Bill at all, claiming, despite it always having been intended that immunity from prosecution should never extend to torture, murder or genocide, that the Bill will create a presumption against prosecution for lesser alleged crimes, would hinder repeat investigations, and would enable ex-soldiers to ‘escape justice’.
Britain’s soldiers, it seems, can never be hung out to dry enough to satisfy the demands of, not only the politicians who commit them to action in the first place, but even their own senior commanders and political heads, for whom ‘diversity’ now ranks higher as a priority than equitable treatment or military effectiveness.
Until two decades or so ago, the Military Covenant did not figure much in the public consciousness, nor was it much discussed, despite its 400-year history. Neither enshrined in law, nor conferring contractual obligations, nor even enforceable, it was nevertheless understood to be an informal but morally binding agreement on their relationship between the State and those who voluntarily sign up to put their lives on the line to defend their country and its people.
Visible change commenced under Cameron when his Coalition government, rowing back from his previous commitment to enshrine the Covenant in law, proposed merely to publish an annual statement of how it was honouring the Covenant – or rather, as is so often the case in such public-relations driven exercises in self-congratulation – ostentatiously pretending to honour it while starting to chip away at its unstated commitments.
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is being debated in third reading in the House of Commons today. Rather than searching for weasel-word sophistry to justify hanging ex-soldiers like Mr Hutchings out to dry, it is high time the political class reverted to honouring the Covenant in full.
A full 130 years have now passed since Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in which it appears, but apparently, very little has changed that would either undermine or in any way invalidate the message contained in its couplet:
“It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, and ‘Kick ‘im out, the brute!’But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.“
Honour the Military Covenant, Fake-‘Conservatives’, or forever hang your heads in eternal shame. And as a proud military parent, never again would I waste my precious vote on you.
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Misgivings that Boris Johnson, across several policy areas, is in the process of betraying many of the promises he made or implied in both his party leadership and general election campaigns, are growing
Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 16th October 2020
Straws in the wind? Maybe. An overdeveloped sense of cynicism and scepticism on my part, laced with premonition? Perhaps. But the past few months have given enough indications to justify misgivings that, on several pressing issues of contemporary policy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is progressively abandoning the positions on which his General Election campaign was based, less than a year ago.
Whole areas under virtual house arrest. Travel, especially aviation, severely restricted. Rising energy prices. An increasing role for the State in the economy, needing to be financed of course by higher taxes, especially enviro-taxes.Unemployment growing, and business collapsing.
Johnson and Hancock’s policy response to Covid, imposing serial lockdowns in slavish deference almost exclusively to the doom-merchants among the medico-scientific advice available to them – despite a growing body evidence favouring a different, less economically and societally damaging approach – is certainly killing ‘Business As Usual’ for many firms, and their employees.
Johnson’s condescending assurance to newly Tory-voting electors in the Midlands and North, worried about losing their jobs in the developing economic fallout from lockdown, and apprehensive about whether they’ll be allowed to set their relatives at Christmas, that they’ll eventually be able to boil a kettle from ‘renewable’ energy – provided, of course, the wind is blowing hard enough (but NB, not too hard) at the time – is unlikely to retain their loyalty. And who can blame them?
The allegedly ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson has not been much in evidence during 2020’s explosion of leftist Wokery at not only street, but also at political, institutional, media, cultural and academic, levels. He has been reticent, to say the least, in robustly defending free speech, and has largely refrained from unduly criticising egregious instances of corporate Wokeness.
Particularly unedifying was the image of him, bunkered and mute in Number Ten, while hard-Left Black Lives Matter / Antifa protestors violently trashed the Parliament Square statue of his supposed hero Churchill, Johnson finally emerging to comment only after the statue had had to be boarded up for its own protection. We appear to have elected a Prime Minister reluctant to defend our history and heritage when both are under (literally) physical assault.
On Brexit, in recent weeks my colleagues Adrian Hill and Tim Bradshaw over at The Conservative Woman have done a sterling job of chronicling in detail the twists and turns of the tortuous negotiations with Brussels over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. To repeat many of their arguments would be superfluous, so that here I merely need to summarise and comment.
On fishing rights, if arguably not the most economically significant issue, then certainly the most politically totemic, can we be sure that a government seemingly powerless to stop rubber dinghies full of illegal migrants crossing the Channel has the determination to resist, whatever it takes, the threatened ongoing predation on our sovereign fishing grounds? The likelihood of compromise to avoid confrontation surely can’t be ruled out.
For a PM who prioritises being liked over being feared and respected, his record of resiling from previous commitments since last December’s election, and his evident susceptibility to pressure, cannot but produce apprehension that potentially damaging last-minute concessions will be made, purely to avoid No Deal.
It isn’t hard to see where this could be going. Are they hoping to use the anti-Brexit and EU-favouring Biden’s hostility to a good US-UK trade deal as an excuse to make last-minute concessions to Brussels, and thus be ‘forced’ to concede a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU?
On the other hand, if Trump does win, he’s unlikely to thank Johnson for cosying up to Biden in mid-campaign, and will be less inclined to give us a good US-UK trade deal. This, of course, can be also be used as the excuse for making last-minute concessions to Brussels and thus retaining a BRINO 2.0 that separates us much less from the EU.
All this will inevitably have electoral consequences.I warned about it on 7th October,but mainstream media commentators are now cottoning on to the prospect of Johnson’s Red Wall crumbling fast.
Seldom in modern political history can such a newly acquired electoral advantage have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. Whether it’s deliberate, accidental, or, as Mary Harrington argues persuasively over at UnHerd, Boris hasn’t recovered from Covid and, notwithstanding his colourful ‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog‘ metaphor, is actually suffering from Long-Covid, leaving us effectively leaderless, is a moot point.
However, I don’t believe Johnson cares overmuch about the potential electoral impact of all this on his party. I suspect he’s discovered that, in contrast to becoming PM, he doesn’t very much like actually being PM, because the job is too much like hard work, often involving having to choose that which he must judge is the least bad from several equally unpalatable and unpopular options.
Boris, on the other hand, as the only just released new biography of him by Tom Bower reveals, is not so much fundamentally lazy as chronically ill-disciplined and temperamentally disinclined to immerse himself in details. It’s easy to conclude that his innate desire to be popular rather than respected makes him find the stimulus and hyperbole of campaigning in purple poetry infinitely more agreeable than the more humdrum yet far more complicated business of governing in grey prose.
Moreover, he’s allegedly already complaining to friends about money: that becoming PM has left him significantly short of the income he needs to meet his ongoing financial liabilities which are the consequences of his louche, priapic, chaotic personal life. He knows he can make considerably more money as an ex-PM and journalist than as an incumbent PM. Presumably, he’ll claim ‘family reasons’ or something similar at the opportune moment.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But I fear we are about to be royally shafted on Brexit, just as Johnson is currently doing on Covid, immigration, Woke-ery and Green-ery. Messing up Brexit could even be his crowning excuse, and his chosen route out.
UPDATE: On Friday morning, in a development as surprising as it was welcome, Johnson announced that, unless the EU fundamentally changed its previously intransigent and uncooperative negotiating approach, Britain would conclude there was no prospect of an acceptable deal being agreed, and would therefore trade on WTO terms with effect from 1st January 2021.
If he means it, and sees it through, then I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong on this point.
However, the worry is that, despite it undoubtedly being the right thing to do, it might not be a statement of irrevocable intent by Johnson, but merely another negotiating tactic by a PM who has already allowed three deadlines he set to over-run without consequence, to be eventually diluted or discarded if it persuaded Brussels to return to the negotiating table in a more amenable frame of mind.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asserted, in The Sun on Sunday 18th November, that ‘Boris isn’t bluffing‘; that he really will go through with his threat to abandon negotiations and go for WTO on 1st January 2021 unless the EU grants Britain the same comprehensive free trade deal that it granted Canada.
Well, we shall see; after all, Johnson has bluffed for much of his life. Let’s hope this time he isn’t, and really means it.
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