Sunday, October 24, 2021
The government has announced a £126 million investment in laptops and tablets to help care leavers, children with a social worker and vulnerable children arriving from Afghanistan access their education and fulfil their potential.
- While talent is spread evenly across the country, opportunity is not, and we need to continue to support children most in need with resources for their education.
- That is why the government is expanding the Get Help with Technology Programme by investing £126 million in laptops and tablets to provide up to 500,000 devices for disadvantaged children – to boost their learning in school and improve the life chances of those in the care system, including some of the most vulnerable children we have recently taken in from Afghanistan.
- Conservatives are determined to help all children and young people, no matter their background, to access education and support for a better and brighter future.
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Friday, October 22, 2021
The government has today launched a national advertising campaign alongside the largest ever winter vaccine drive – to boost vaccine uptake and strengthen our defensive wall against Covid over the winter months.
As we enter the winter months, seasonal weather increases transmission of viruses, including flu and Covid - it is vital that all those eligible to get a first vaccine dose, booster, or flu jab do so to protect themselves, their loved ones and the NHS.
That is why the government is working with national pharmacies including Boots and advertising booster jabs on billboards, radio, and on TV shows such as Coronation street – while rolling out the biggest flu programme in history with 35 million people eligible for a free vaccine, after already administering over 4 million booster doses.
The government does have a Plan B rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS - and we would only introduce these measures if needed.
Anyone who is eligible and has been invited to come forward to get their jab should do so. This is a national mission to continuing providing the best possible protection against the virus.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
The funeral takes place at noon today for James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup and a former cabinet minister, who died from with cancer a few days ago after a three-year battle with the disease.
He was 53 years old and leaves a widow, Cathy, and three children, Sophie, Jemma and Ben
James and I go back more than thirty years to when we were both Young Conservatives: he was my successor but one as Chairman of the East of England Area Young Conservatives. I attended his and Cathy's wedding and a year or two later they came to mine.
James was a highly intelligent, kind, practical and reasonable man and a dedicated public servant. Most people will never know of some of the things he did to protect them.
He is a great loss to politics - he will be an even greater loss to his family.
Rest in Peace.
Today the UK government has announced an historic new free trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand, cutting tariffs and creating opportunities as we unlock the potential of Global Britain.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Of course, the Republic in Star Wars is unusually unfortunate in that Robert Conquest's third law does not just accurately predict its' behaviour but is literally true - both the Republic and its open opponents, the Separatists really are secretly controlled by a small group of Sith Lords whose aims are inimical to both.
The author of this video, who calls himself "Arken the Amerikan" suggests that the saga of the fall of the republic in Star Wars draws parallel not just to real-world history but to contemporary politics as well. I think this is true: I don't think democracy is in as bad a state in the USA or Britain as it was in the galactic republic of the Star Wars stories even at the start of "The Phantom Menace" and before the rise of Sheev Palpatine.
The temptation for anyone watching this clip and making parallels with the real world might be to assume that the mistakes called out in the video correspond to the real-world errors of those we already disagree with. But we will learn far more from it if we ask ourselves whether we, and the people we support, are walking into some of the same traps.
In 2011, in a public speech, Labour MP John McDonnell said this:
‘I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory or MP, no Coalition Minister, can travel anywhere in the country or show their face anywhere in public without being challenged by direct action.’
He added: ‘Any institution or any individual that attacks our class, we will come for you with direct action.’
This year, according to The Times, an anti-vaxxer activist posted in a group chat on a secure messaging platform
“Pull up outside the front doors of every MP, news reader, editor, publisher . . . all of these f***ers need to know that we know who you are and we know where you live,” .
“They will soon change up their actions when 20,000 are outside your house.”
McDonnell is still a Labour MP who served for a while as shadow chancellor and as the Corbynistas frequently remind us, could easily have been the actual chancellor if a few thousand more votes had been cast in particular marginal seats for Labour in 2017.
The anti-vaxxer movement is not yet a serious threat to democracy. But if it started acting on posts like that, it could become one.
I have no precise answer to the question of when a free society which wishes to remain one should use the force of law to act against those who openly incite the use of violence or intimidation to achieve their aims, other than that we should not be too quick to do so. But there is a problem there.
And although we should think once, twice, and three times before suppressing the speech of those who disagree with the majority of our society, there is no need to hesitate even once before calling out speeches which incite intimidation or violence. And when such speeches or posts are made, it is not just the political opponents of the people making them, but also democrats who support the same causes who should call out incitement like the speech by John McDonnell or that anti-vaxxer post as what they are - threats of mob rule, a menace to a free society and an attack on democracy.
We should all remember a sentiment often attributed to Ben Franklin. I am going to quote it in the form voiced by the actor Malcolm McDowell in the introduction to the game "Wing Commander IV - the price of freedom."
In that game the character McDowell himself plays turns out to be the biggest threat to liberty so the irony - and it is an irony often echoed in the real world - is that the person giving the warning is also one of the very people it applies to, which does not make what he is saying untrue. He says,
"The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance."
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Monday, October 18, 2021
Sunday, October 17, 2021
I have no doubt that in the case of Sir David Amess, who really was a nice, kind person, who took his work seriously but never himself, who listened to anyone in his constituency, and died making himself accessible to the people he was elected to represent, it was the tributes which were sincere and that nobody who knew him intended comments like "scum" to refer to him.
"Everyone – at least every sensible, decent person, of which there are many – in Labour’s ranks knows it’s wrong. Keir Starmer knows it. Angela Rayner knows it. Every Labour MP knows it.
"It can’t continue like this. It can’t take the killing of a Conservative MP in their constituency" ... "for the Left to set aside their tribalism and acknowledge the essential decency of one of their opponents."
"Not least because that tribalism will not be set aside for long. Tomorrow, the House of Commons will gather for a moment of reflection. Sir Keir Starmer and other Labour MPs will help lead the tributes. And then it will be back to business as usual. ‘Tories – they hate the poor, they hate the migrants. They deserve everything they get.’
They don’t. Because they’re not ‘scum’. Tories are good, honest, decent, committed public servants, who just happen to have a different political philosophy.
David Amess wasn’t the exception, he was the rule. And it’s time for people on the Left – indeed, for all of us – to start to recognise it."
(Dan Hodges, former Labour and Trade union staffer, in a newspaper article calling for the dialling down of tribal demonisation of political opponents of right or left, which you can read in full here.)
Saturday, October 16, 2021
Friday, October 15, 2021
Despite the fact that the full council has voted not to pursue a judicial review over local government reform, and that the Scrutiny Management Board asked them to think again, the County Council's cabinet has voted to go ahead with it.
This is not just an irresponsible waste of money: it makes life more difficult for the officers of the county council and other councils in working on a very tight timescale to set up the new authorities.
It is also a very cruel thing to do to those who disagree with the form of local government which the former Secretary of State opted for, because it is holding out false hope.
Judicial Review is not something which you are supposed to use just because you disagree with a decision. To win a judicial review you have to prove in court - not just express an opinion in the council chamber or a press release - prove in court - that the person or body who made the decision you object to made a material error in the process they followed sufficiently serious that if it had not been made it could have made the decision.
And if you win the court action the whole thing goes back to the person or body who made that decision and they look at it again - and it's open to them to say that they have reconsidered it having corrected the process error and taking all the matters they were required to consider into account they are making the same decision again.
So to change the decision the Council cabinet have to both prove in court that the previous minister made a serious process error and then persuade the new Secretary of State to make a different one.
I don't believe they have a cat in hell's chance of doing either of those things. What's more, I have good reason to suspect that the councillors who voted for this do not imagine that they have any chance of winning either.
This is a cynical exercise in gesture politics by the Labour group on the county council.
The Lib/Dems, by the way, abstained when this was first discussed at the special council meeting at the end of August, abstained at the cabinet meeting when the decision to pursue Judicial Review proceedings was originally taken, voted with the Conservatives on the Scrutiny Management Board to refer the matter back to cabinet at the start of this week, and then abstained again at cabinet yesterday.
The Lib/Dem leader said he could not support Judicial Review - and then abstained.
I am utterly horrified and shocked to learn of the murder of Sir David Amess, MP first for Basildon and then for Southend West, who was rushed to hospital after being stabbed while conducting a constituency surgery but has died from his injuries.
Similar attacks have been made on MPs of all parties - the most recent and most similar tragedy was when Jo Cox MP was killed while attending a constituency surgery.
I knew David Amess slightly from my time as a Conservative activist in the East of England Region.
Regardless of what you thought of his politics, he was a nice man who worked hard for his constituents - and he was working on behalf of those constituents when someone murdered him.
All MPs take the risk that something like this could happen to them.
CCHQ has instructed that all Conservative campaigns should be suspended until further notice as a mark of respect and so we can be assured that the campaign workers who would have taken part are safe. I presume other parties will take similar action.
My thoughts and prayers are with David's family and friends.
Rest in Peace.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
"Like many Asian parents, my mum always wanted me to be a GP.
When I told her I’d been made Health and Social Care Secretary, she said: ‘Well, you didn’t quite make it to GP, but at least you’re working in healthcare!’
In truth, she was only half joking. There’s a reason why people such as my mum have such high regard for GPs: their powerful blend of expertise and empathy has made generations of communities happier and healthier.
So I want to say a huge thank you to GPs and their teams across the country for their commitment to patients during the most challenging of times."
(Health Secretary Sajid Javid, opening words of a piece on improving access to GP services which you can read in full here.)
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
“The fight against antisemitism is vast, but I hope today’s news goes a long way to showing positive change can be made and that we should never settle for anything less than a society free from all forms of hatred.”
The president of Bristol Jewish Society, Edward Isaacs, one of the individual Jewish students at Bristol University who were publicly attacked by Professor David Miller, responding to the decision by the University to dismiss Professor Miller because this “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff”
Because of ACAS guidelines - not least to ensure fairness and integrity of the process if Professor Miller appeals the decision as he has the right to do - the University of Bristol was not able to go into detail about the precise grounds on which they made the decision. The University's statement on the issue can be found here.
Professor Miller has previously defended Ken Livingston's comments about Hitler, and, eventually resigned from the Labour party because of the 'Zionist movement' (sic). He has a long history of making controversial comments which are often accused by his critics of being anti-semitic.
Let me nail my colours to the mast. In my humble opinion some of David Miller's comments about Israel and about Jewish charities such as the Community Safety Trust go way beyond legitimate criticism of the previous government of Israel and into the territory defined as Anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition. In particular I found his comments about CST to be wrong and totally out of order - and that is putting it mildly. However that is not why he should have been fired.
However much I and many other people might disagree with the views which David Miller expressed on various public platforms and online groups organised by bodies such as "Labour against the witch-hunt" and other groups which have nothing to do with the University of Bristol, those views would not have been a sound reason to fire him.
As one of the individuals who has written in his support had previously famously said, "If we don't believe in freedom of speech for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."
But he crossed a line with his public comments attacking Jewish societies, and effectively individual students, at the University, describing them as agents of a hostile power. That moved the issue from a freedom of speech issue to a duty of care issue.
The University of Bristol was right to point out that it has a duty of care to all its students. So do academics who work for the institution. And publicly accusing your students of being agents of a hostile foreign power is incompatible with that duty. That - not his criticisms of the government of Israel - is why the University was right to take disciplinary action against him.
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Monday, October 11, 2021
Until the government actually made a decision about what sort of unitary authorities it wanted, there was a high degree of consensus among County and District councillors in support of the principle of replacing the present County and District councils with a unitary council system.
Not everyone agreed that now is the time to do it, and there was no consensus about the best model, but the vast majority of county councillors voted in favour of going for a unitary system and so did many district councillors.
However, when the government decided to replace the county council and the six district councils with two unitary councils rather than the single unitary council he preferred, the Leader of Cumbria County Council authorised the start of a process which could lead to a legal challenge.
A special meeting of the full council was called for the end of August, and voted that it would be a waste of time and money to pursue such a legal challenge and that it would be better to concentrate on setting up the new councils and making them work to provide better services and representation for the people of Cumbria.
The September meeting of the County Council cabinet decided to ignore this decision and support the next stage of a judicial review. The report to that meeting suggested that this could cost council taxpayers £83,000 but it is entirely possible that it could be more than that - legal cases have a well-documented propensity to cost more than expected and if your case is weak there can be an award of costs against you - it is entirely possible that this legal challenge could cost Cumbria's taxpayers a figure closer to £200,000. Not least because whoever loses could appeal sending legal bills higher and higher as good money is thrown after bad.
So I and two other Conservative councillors "called in" the decision by the county cabinet to progress a judicial review, and that call-in was discussed by the council's scrutiny management board this afternoon in Kendal.
Conservative and Lib/Dem councillors on the Scrutiny Management Board shared some of our concerns and voted to send the issue back to the council cabinet for further consideration (which is the strongest action that they were able to take.)
The vote to refer the issue back to cabinet for further consideration was passed by seven votes to five.
Points of interest - we asked how the legal challenge would be funded and whether it was in line with the Policy and Budget framework, The answer was that the council has a "contingency" fund of £1.5 million pounds of which £1.2 million was left which the money could be taken from. That isn't exactly how the budget heading concerned was described when the budget was passed and it was interesting, to put it mildly, to hear that the leader of the council has that view of local taxpayers' money.
He also compared Cumbria County Council to the fans of Milwall football club - see tomorrow's quote of the day.
This coming week, during a speech in Lisbon, Lord Frost will repeat the need for significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
- There is widespread consensus that the Northern Ireland Protocol is not working as it should, and no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation.
- That is why the UK government is working to fix this and to reflect the concerns of everyone in Northern Ireland, from all sides of the political spectrum, to make sure the peace process is not undermined, and why Britain is calling on the EU to show ambition and willingness to tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the Protocol head on.
- The UK government is ready to work intensively and rapidly to find a solution to this problem, and in doing so we hope for a stronger UK-EU relationship with a focus on the future. However, if we are unable to reach agreement then Britain has warned that it may be necessary to take Article 16 safeguard measures to address the serious problems being caused by the Protocol.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
There is always a political bookshop among the commercial stalls at party conferences, and I don't often manage to attend a party conference without coming away with a book or five, often including one or two signed by the author.
The first of the books I bought this year at Conservative Party conference and have been reading is "How to fight Anti-Semitism" by Bari Weiss.
It is a wake-up call to anyone who imagines that with the defeat of Nazi Germany and the exposure of the Nazi's vile crimes against humanity the kinds of prejudice which led them to attempt genocide are so discredited that they are doomed to the dustbin of history.
Weiss's book looks at the three main groups spreading modern Anti-Semitic racism - the extreme right, the extreme left, and radical islamists - and discusses how in many cases these ideas are in common or are mirror-images of one another. She also looks at the historical roots of prejudice against Jewish people and Jewish culture and shows how in some ways this prejudice follows in a very old tradition while in others it has morphed into new forms which are designed to appear more convincing in new circumstances - but are as irrational and dangerous as ever.
I can recommend this book, which is available from good bookshops or on Amazon here.
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me."
Saturday, October 09, 2021
Friday, October 08, 2021
The Rt Hon James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup and a former cabinet minister, has lost a long battle with cancer; he died peacefully at Darent Valley hospital on Thursday evening with family members by his bedside. He was 53 years old and leaves a widow, Cathy, and three children. James had been in hospital since Sunday after his condition rapidly deteriorated.
His family said
“We would like to thank all the NHS staff, particularly those at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London, who cared for James with such warmth, diligence and professionalism over the past three-and-a-half years. We would also ask that our privacy as a family is respected at this time.”
James and I went back a long way: he was my successor but one as Chairman of the East of England area Young Conservatives a quarter of a century ago. I attended his and Cathy's wedding and a year or two later they came to mine.
James was a highly intelligent, kind, practical and reasonable man and a dedicated public servant. He is a great loss to politics - he will be an even greater loss to his family.
Rest in Peace.