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The Daily Telegraph

Anne Robinson has taught the government a lesson

If you have worked hard and saved hard, why shouldn’t you be free to leave your assets to your children rather than the taxman?

JILL KIRBY 23rd May 2024

Anne Robinson doesn’t think much of politicians. In fact she’s so unimpressed by the way they fritter away taxpayers’ cash that she’s decided to give her fortune to her children before she dies. Declaring “I don’t want the taxman to have it”, she hopes to ensure that by spreading her wealth amongst her family now there will be much less inheritance tax to be paid after her death.

She’s got a point, and with the threat of a Labour government on the horizon, she’s unlikely to be the only wealthy individual making such a decision. Robinson has made no secret of the fact that she has made plenty of money and enjoys a jet-setting lifestyle, but she has also been notoriously hard-working and a tough negotiator. Presenting herself as an unlikeable character as quiz show host didn’t bother her and was a canny decision that helped her make her fortune. Why, she argues, should the government take 40% of that fortune after she dies. Much better that her daughter and grandchildren should share it and enjoy it now.

Robinson’s bluntness in announcing her motivation is in keeping with her approach to life, but her honesty is welcome. It’s a view widely shared: polling shows that inheritance tax is the most unpopular tax in the UK. Reasons given to pollsters include that people have already paid tax on their earnings and on the property they purchased so they should not be taxed again when their assets are passed on. There’s a strong sense of injustice about double taxation, with the feeling that the government is dipping in twice to hard-earned resources.

There’s also widespread resentment that inheritance tax presses hardest on people who can’t afford to exploit tax loopholes. For the super-wealthy, there are ways to avoid big inheritance tax bills, by putting their wealth into businesses or agricultural assets eligible for tax relief.

Anne Robinson is in the comfortable position of knowing that she can share out her assets while she’s still alive without denting her current lifestyle, or risking impoverishment in the future. Having a good relationship with her daughter no doubt gives her more confidence to hand over some of her investments and perhaps one of her (several) homes.

However, for most parents worrying about a tax hit after their death, the decision to give away assets during their lifetime is not so straightforward. Parents who downsize their home in order to give part of the proceeds to their adult children can be dismayed if those children go on to spend the money frivolously or make decisions their parents don’t approve of. Arguments about money can  soon erode trust and sour relationships.

Even in the happiest of families, handing over assets that seem surplus in a time of good health can prove short sighted a few years later. Given the parlous state of social care in the UK, and the cost of private nursing, you would be very unwise to part with savings that might later be needed to pay for such care. Not to mention the state of NHS waiting lists: why give money to your grandchildren if it means you can’t pay for a new hip or urgent cancer treatment?

Government should therefore be doing everything in their power to encourage people to save for a self-sufficient old age; the threat that assets left over might be taxed at 40% is a strong disincentive to such self-reliance.

In speaking out about her own decision Robinson has highlighted two important truths. First, that high rates of tax don’t work because wealthy people will rearrange their affairs to avoid paying them. Secondly, that inheritance tax is unjust: if you have worked hard and saved hard, then provided you have paid all the tax due in your lifetime shouldn’t you be free to leave your assets to your children?

The Daily Telegraph

True British patriots have gas boilers and petrol cars

Rushing to adopt heat pumps and EVs won’t make this country more energy secure. It will put us at risk of blackouts.

JILL KIRBY 15 April 2024

As sales of electric vehicles (EVs) and heat pumps continue to fall far short of government targets, the net-zero lobby is resorting to ever more desperate tactics to persuade us all to abandon our cars and boilers. The latest, from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, is to argue that homeowners and drivers can demonstrate “energy patriotism” by using electricity to heat their homes and power their cars.

The claim is based on the theory that electricity is more likely than other fuels to be generated in the UK, through the use of wind farms and solar panels. Thus it is our patriotic duty to buy EVs and heat pumps, despite the fact that they can cost nearly twice as much as their petrol and gas counterparts.

As hostilities in the Middle East threaten oil supplies, and with the ever-present risk of sabotage to undersea cables, the idea of energy self-sufficiency is certainly attractive – and possibly crucial to our future security. If renewables really could provide us with such security, the net-zero enthusiasts might have a winning argument. But wrapping a Union flag around wind and solar power cannot disguise its inherent failings.

First, and most obviously, is the problem of intermittent supply. No matter how many new wind turbines are built, no energy will be generated when the wind doesn’t blow, a problem frequently experienced during the relatively calm year of 2023. Yet the opposite problem also applies: on the windiest days, UK turbines can generate more power than the transmission network can cope with, so they have to be turned off – and wind farms are then entitled to compensation equalling the price of the electricity they could have supplied.

In either situation, gas power stations have to supply the shortfall, creating additional expense. As the UK runs down its extraction of oil and gas, more of the gas fuelling our power stations is being imported. There’s nothing “patriotic” about this exercise.

Meanwhile, the suggestion that electricity from solar panels can ever have more than a marginal impact on this country’s power needs does not stack up, given intermittency of supply relative to the expense of installation and maintenance.
Even supposing the UK eventually undertakes the massive expansion of the grid necessary to manage the shift away from oil and gas, the prospect of being able to rely on renewable energy will therefore remain elusive. In the meantime, should consumers embrace heat pumps and electric cars at the rate envisaged by the UK’s various carbon targets, the demands on the grid would surely inevitably result in blackouts.

Moreover, mass purchase of electric vehicles is bound to increase our reliance on imports from China, since their EVs are the closest to becoming affordable. As with so much of the UK’s manufacturing industry – including the production of solar panels and wind turbines – carbon taxes and restrictions on the use of fossil fuels appear to have contributed to the outsourcing of production overseas, leaving the UK far less self-sufficient.

The most patriotic way forward for the UK would be to increase investment in North Sea oil and gas production and give the go-ahead to fracking, following the example of the US, where energy security is now a reality. America has been a net energy exporter for the past five years, as we have moved in the opposite direction.

The claim that abandoning fossil fuels will make this country safer in a hostile world is a perversion of reality; it should be treated with contempt.

The Daily Telegraph

The part-time probate office is compounding families’ grief

The Civil Service has once again decided that the answer to a crisis is to make life easier for staff and more difficult for customers

Jill Kirby 14 February 2024

Government services in Britain seem to be grinding to a halt. This week it was revealed that civil servants in the probate registry will no longer answer telephone enquiries after lunchtime. Their justification for this decision is that their huge backlog of probate documentation can only be tackled if they close their helpline at 1pm every day, for a period of at least three months.

In response to a crisis, why does the Civil Service always seem to decide that the answer is to make life easier for its staff and more difficult for its customers? Helplines will now presumably be jammed with callers from 9am to 1pm every day, as bereaved relatives seek help with their applications.

Families are already waiting far too long for probate to be granted. A compulsory legal process that used to take a few weeks now takes months and sometimes as much as a year. At one of life’s most upsetting and stressful times, grieving families are being left in limbo.

Having overcome the first layer of bureaucracy by registering a death and assembling all the necessary paperwork to apply for the grant of probate, their applications sit at the registry, often waiting for several weeks before being opened, let alone processed.

In the meantime, the assets of the deceased are effectively frozen. Until a grant of probate is provided by the registry, the house belonging to the deceased cannot be sold. Across the country, homes stand empty as a result, not only gumming up the housing market but also creating a headache for the bereaved.

Unoccupied houses are difficult and expensive to insure and they have to be secured and maintained, often by families living a distance away. Worse still, if the deceased’s assets reached the threshold for inheritance tax to be payable, HMRC requires the tax to be paid within six months of the death, failing which a hefty interest rate is charged at 2.5 percentage points above the Bank of England base rate. Yet if a property cannot be sold due to delays at the probate registry, the money still has to be found, as HMRC will not accept probate delay as an excuse.

These are the harsh realities facing grieving families on a daily basis, while one of the most basic functions of government bureaucracy is mired in chaos. Perhaps the worst of it is that no one is really surprised any more.

The reasons for this particular failure were all too predictable. Five years ago, England and Wales had a fairly efficient and responsive probate service, regionally based in district registries around the country, with experienced staff who could turn around applications promptly and rarely made mistakes.

To “streamline” the service, the district registries were closed and the process centralised and – guess what – “digitalised”. Experienced staff faced redundancy, on the basis that the new digital system would be cheap and efficient, requiring fewer, lower-paid, employees.

Sounds familiar? Not surprisingly, the transition to a digital system has been fraught with difficulties; probate lawyers complain that, when a grant of probate is finally received, it is much more likely to contain errors and will have to be returned to the registry for correction.

But this is what the ordinary citizen has come to expect of the modern British state. Pay more – in taxes and fees – for a worse service. And don’t expect anything to improve under a Labour government, where more services will be sucked into state monopolies and we will all have to stand in the queue.


The Daily Telegraph

Junior doctors are killing the NHS they claim to love

The system is broken, with many patients forced to go private in order to receive any treatment at all

Jill Kirby 2 January 2024

As junior doctors walk out on strike again today in pursuit of a 35 per cent pay increase, they will surely be aware that their decision to stop work for the next six days could cost lives.

In 2023, at almost 53,000, there were more excess deaths in the UK than in any non-pandemic year since the Second World War. Undiagnosed cancers, untreated heart attacks and delayed operations took a heavy toll, as nurses, paramedics and finally junior doctors all took part in strike action.

With more than seven million people already on waiting lists for treatment from the NHS, the situation can only get worse in the week ahead, as consultants cover the work of striking doctors on top of their existing duties.

The Government no doubt hoped that replacing Steve Barclay with a new Health Secretary might enable the impasse with the junior doctors to be broken, and for a brief while there were signs that negotiations might make progress. But the doctors’ union’s demands were too ambitious and the Government is unlikely to concede them for fear that meeting their claim in full will provoke other workers to demand more.

The British people no longer seem to think so; last year public confidence in the NHS dropped to its lowest ever level, with fewer than a third of people satisfied with the service.

More and more of us are deciding that the only way to get prompt treatment is to pay for it. Last year saw a record number of people opting for private treatment, not just through health insurers but also, increasingly, by paying to see a private GP and for tests and operations.

In contrast to previous generations, this includes many in their 20s and 30s, who lack confidence in a service that does not respond to demand. Research published in the autumn found that 18-24 year olds were the most likely of all age groups to have used private healthcare, and the vast majority of under-34s would consider going private.

Clearly they do not share the quasi-religious belief in the NHS that has been ascribed to previous generations. What good is a “free” health service if you can’t see a doctor? Or if you can’t get a test to find out if your symptoms are those of a life-threatening cancer?

Meanwhile, older generations are increasingly being forced to choose between paying for an expensive operation or putting up with a life of pain and restricted mobility. Tens of thousands of people are now paying for cataract removal, at around £3,000 a time, or hip replacement surgeries costing £15,000. The increase in upfront payments is in addition to a rise in membership of private health insurance schemes to cover such surgery, as well as cancer tests and treatments.

The Government should be grateful to the hundreds of thousands of British people of all ages now taking the private health option – if only because it reduces the pressure on NHS waiting lists.

Yet the idea of making private health insurance more affordable – for example by making it tax-deductible – is still regarded as unthinkable among even many Conservative politicians.

Sooner or later this Government – or its successor – will have to face up to reality and decide how best to implement a system of universal health insurance or means-tested co-payments. There are abundant successful examples from other countries, notably Australia. Our antipodean friends succeed in providing better care with more doctors per head, more treatment facilities, and notably better diagnosis and survival rates, at a lower level of expenditure relative to GDP.

Britain currently has the worst of all worlds, its people being forced to pay heavily through their taxes for a health service that doesn’t treat them adequately, and then having to pay for private services on top of that.

In the meantime, junior doctors are putting the final nail in the coffin of the health service that they profess to love.

The Daily Telegraph

It was no surprise, then, that in his Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced a set of initiatives to try to tackle this deep-seated problem, including a requirement for the long term unemployed to attend mandatory work placements and to withdraw benefits altogether from those who refuse to engage with the work search process.

Predictably there were shouts of “nasty party” from Labour MPs. But signing off tens of thousands of people every year with little to no requirement to look for work is more than just a poor use of taxpayers’ funds, it’s also a huge waste of human potential, consigning people to a future of inactivity and state dependency.

One of the ways in which the government seeks to sweeten the pill is to suggest that if claimants can’t get to work because of their disability, then they can try working from home. It sounds like a pragmatic alternative; and clearly the Government thinks this should make it harder for claimants to refuse a job. Modest extra funds are also being allocated to mental health treatment, in the hope that this combination of stick and carrot will at least stem the increase in worklessness and perhaps reduce the numbers.

It remains to be seen whether these policies will have much of an impact, and indeed how many of them will be in place before the next election, and their potential to be reversed by a Labour government. Will the threat of stopping benefits for those who refuse to cooperate actually be carried through?

It’s an irony that in seeking to cajole people into jobs, the Government has lighted on the idea of working from home – when in fact the reluctance of the UK’s public sector to leave their homes and get back to the office has seriously undermined the nation’s productivity. Hence the long tail of lockdown continues its damage to both lives and livelihoods. The Chancellor’s announcements are welcome, but it may be years before the tide is turned and the UK recovers the habit of work.

The Daily Telegraph

The heat pump nightmare is far from over

The National Infrastructure commission is wrong to rule out the use of hydrogen or the continued use of gas

Jill Kirby 18 October 2023

It’s now clear from the evidence that heat pumps are an impractical form of heating for millions of UK homes. This is due not only to high upfront costs but also the lack of insulation in older buildings and the inability of systems driven by heat pumps to respond quickly to weather variations. Yet Sir John Armitt, the head of the National Infrastructure Commission, is this week urging the Government to commit to a total ban on gas boilers by 2035, declaring that heat pumps are the only way forward.

In its Second National Infrastructure Assessment, the Commission lays out a set of recommendations without which, it claims, the Government cannot meet its net zero targets. This includes the disconnection and decommissioning of the UK’s entire gas network – at an estimated cost of some £74 billion – thereby ending the use of gas as a domestic and commercial heating fuel by 2050.

The Commission is adamant that the use of hydrogen as a full or partial substitute for gas, and which could be piped through the existing gas network after some modifications, should be ruled out. In order to persuade homeowners and local authorities to abandon their gas heating and install heat pumps, the Government would also be expected to hand out billions in subsidies.

Given the current level of the national debt, the state of the economy and the ever-increasing demands from the NHS, it is hard to see where all these billions will be found. The Commission blithely asserts that “bold” decisions must be taken, and the cost spread between national and local authority budgets as well as by levies on consumers. It claims that the costs could eventually be recouped through the lowering of energy costs via the increased use of renewables.

But this is itself an expectation that surely deserves closer scrutiny: there were no bids from suppliers for offshore wind in the Government’s most recent energy auction, mainly because the reduction in government subsidies had rendered the projects unprofitable. The prospect of cheap and plentiful renewable electricity remains a distant dream. Upgrading the electricity network to handle the switch away from fossil fuels is also expected to cost tens of billions.

Fortunately, the Government has not rushed to endorse the Commission’s proposals, and has issued a statement to the effect that the gas network will always be part of our energy system and that the role of hydrogen is still being explored. Certainly, the repurposing of the gas grid to accommodate hydrogen looks a lot more realistic than abandoning the grid altogether, and it’s surprising that the Commission has not referred to the progress being made in Germany, blending natural gas and hydrogen with a view to ending its reliance on imported gas.

This approach would draw on the experience of the 1970s transition from manufactured “town gas” to natural gas, which required modifications to the network and boilers but at a much more modest cost than wholesale replacement of national and domestic infrastructure.

Ironically, the Commission cites the UK transition to natural gas as a laudable example of a forward-thinking infrastructure change, comparable to the overhaul required to replace boilers with heat pumps. In fact, it’s a striking contrast. The Commission seems convinced that the bigger and bolder the changes and the more money is spent, the better will be the outcome.

Of course, the same reasoning was deployed for HS2, of which Sir John has also been an enthusiastic proponent. But if ever there was a moment for borrowing and spending upwards of £74 billion, that moment is long past. The Conservative government and Labour front bench now appear to agree that the dismal state of our public finances will constrain expenditure for the foreseeable future.

Yet neither party seems to have adjusted its assumption that net zero can be achieved by 2050. It’s to his credit that Sunak has postponed the ban on gas and oil boilers; it remains to be seen whether Sir Keir Starmer will follow suit by the time of the next election.

But there remains a yawning gap between an imagined net zero future and the practical reality of life in Britain today, of which the proposed abandonment of gas as an energy source is a graphic illustration.

The Daily Telegraph

The NHS seems to think GPs are too important to see their patients

Health bosses should be much more concerned that too many sick people are not being seen by their GP in the first place

JILL KIRBY 12 September 2023

Have you tried to get an appointment with your GP lately? Maybe you got as far as a conversation with the receptionist, only to be subjected to a long and possibly embarrassing interrogation about the nature of your symptoms. If you persisted, you might then have been offered an appointment some weeks hence, perhaps by telephone rather than face to face. It’s a discouraging process and many people just give up.

Such experiences make it difficult to believe the claim made this week by NHS England that around one in six of all GP appointments is taken up by people who do not need to be there. This is one of the early findings from the “National General Practice Improvement Programme”, an initiative launched by NHS England this year in response to widespread concerns about lack of access to a doctor.

Most of us are left asking: how on earth did these people with apparently trivial problems manage to get that appointment? Are they all fantasists who invented life-threatening symptoms? Or are they simply patients who thought that their symptoms should be checked out by a professional but were then reassured to find that their problem was capable of being remedied by a nurse or pharmacist?

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s no doubt possible to conclude that some GP appointments are unnecessary. But the NHS should be much more concerned that too many sick people are not being seen by their GP in the first place and their lives are being put at risk. Last year more than a third of all cancer sufferers were only diagnosed when they arrived at A&E, by which time they were much less likely to survive the disease.

Among the many dismal legacies of Covid has been a reluctance to seek out healthcare. The message throughout the pandemic was clear: keep away from the doctor if at all possible. Not only are you a potential burden on an overstretched NHS, you are also putting yourself at risk of infection. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in preventable deaths from illnesses that went untreated.

It also heralded the replacement of face-to-face appointments with telephone consultations, and expanded the role of GP receptionists in quizzing patients, in an attempt to keep the pressure off GPs. NHS England seems to have decided that this is the only way forward, regardless of patient satisfaction.

Of course it makes sense to try to ensure that GPs use their time efficiently, and that people are directed to the right service. But the emphasis on efficiency should not be allowed to compromise patient safety. As gatekeepers to the health service, with the power to decide whether a patient can have access to prescribed medication, specialist advice or hospital treatment, GPs have a massive responsibility.

Their failure to examine a patient, or to pick up potentially serious symptoms, can have life-or-death consequences. If one in six appointments turns out not to need professional attention, surely that is a small price to pay, compared with the risk of overlooking a fatal condition?

It’s depressing, therefore, that this latest initiative for “improving” GP services is to try to divert more people away from seeing a doctor. It’s also hard to believe that GPs themselves see this as a solution. One of their most frequent complaints is being forced to fill in unnecessary paperwork when they could be seeing patients instead.

If NHS England focused on reducing bureaucracy and encouraging doctors to spend more time with their patients, they might also find it easier to recruit and retain doctors in this crucial branch of healthcare.

The Daily Telegraph

No, I won’t replace my oil boiler with a heat pump

Even if I could afford the expense, the technology is not advanced enough to keep my house warm

JILL KIRBY 9 August 2023

Does anyone in Government really believe that domestic oil heating can be abolished entirely in just a few years’ time? A ban on fitting new oil-fired boilers, announced in 2019, is due to apply from 2026. But as the date draws near, the uproar in rural communities will make Ulez look like a walk in the park. It is a huge worry for the 1.5 million households in the countryside who rely on oil for heating and hot water, and who are wondering what they will do when their boilers wear out.

I know how they feel. Along with nearly all the houses in the Warwickshire village where I live, my home is heated by oil, because there is no local gas supply, and I dread the prospect of giving up such an efficient form of heating with no practical replacement in sight. Last December, as temperatures sank to -12C, I gave thanks for piping hot radiators and hot water at the flick of a switch, and shivered at the prospect of trying to warm my house by any other means.

Like much of my village, my home dates from the 19th century; it was designed to be heated by open fires in every room. Oil-fired central heating transformed life in these houses, and modern condensing oil boilers like mine, which recycle waste gases in the boiler flue, are now some of the most energy-efficient methods of providing heating and hot water. They are also currently some of the cheapest forms of heating, despite the fact that they are not covered by the energy price cap.

My oil supplier is a family-run local firm whose friendly delivery man comes out in all weathers to fill the tank; prices are competitive, as any of its customers can use another supplier whenever they like – no paperwork, just a phone call. What a contrast to my electricity supplier, which never answers the phone and goes on putting up my direct debit despite keeping a big credit balance.

Much as I love my oil-fired heating, by 2026 my boiler will be 20 years old, so I’ve researched the cost of replacing it with a heat pump, in order to comply with the Government’s mandate. It’s horrifying. For a start, the heat pump would cost more than twice as much as a new oil boiler. That’s pretty off-putting, but the expense doesn’t stop there.

Because my existing 20-year-old radiators would only reach around a half of the temperature currently achieved, I would need to replace all of them with much bigger ones, and all the existing neat and narrow pipework would have to be changed. Even supposing I could face the cost and disruption, I would still have to get used to lower room temperatures. My beautiful but thermally inefficient 19th-century windows would have to go, but replicating them with modern materials would cost a minimum of £3,000 each.

Even the most enthusiastic proponent of net zero targets might jib at the expense. I certainly can’t afford it, nor can I face the disruption to my life. And given the price of electricity, which economic forecasters reckon will go on rising for years to come, it’s likely I’d be paying higher running costs than at present, so there’s no prospect of recouping even a fraction of the enormous capital outlay.

Some of my neighbours who live in newly built homes with heat pumps are mostly happy with them; modern insulation means their houses are sealed from draughts and usually have underfloor heating. There are still drawbacks, such as keeping the heat running 24 hours a day in order to maintain a reasonable level of warmth. And they all have wood-burning stoves to top up the heat in their sitting rooms. But for any house built before about 1970 – in other words, the majority of UK housing stock – installing a heat pump could require so much adaptation that it is surely impractical and unaffordable.

Have ministers even begun to think about the impact on rural poverty, for families on low wages or those on fixed incomes? When their oil boilers fail and can’t be replaced, they may have no affordable alternative. Do ministers expect them to revert to 19th-century living standards and go out gathering firewood in an attempt to keep warm?

It’s baffling that a Tory government ever thought that oil-fired heating could be phased out nine years ahead of the gas equivalent. And while George Eustice, the former environment secretary, is right to warn of the electoral consequences for rural MPs, I’m inclined to ask why he didn’t speak up in 2019 when the ban was announced. Do politicians only think about the impact on rural communities when their own seats are at risk?

The Daily Telegraph

Thames Water is flirting with socialism

If utilities are sold on the basis of income, then the game really is up for our flailing economy

JILL KIRBY 12 July 2023

Customers of Thames Water who have large gardens might not be expecting a surcharge for their water because they are considered wealthy enough to afford it. But that is the logical conclusion of the ideas put forward by Cathryn Ross, the utility giant’s co-chief executive.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Ross suggested that having a big garden is an indicator of money, and presumably a potential target for her company. The gardens could be a “proxy for relatively high-income households”, she said, having already told a London Assembly committee that a “progressive charging system for water” could also be considered. “Soak the rich” might be another way of putting it.

But water usage is, of course, already metered for many households, so that those who use more – whether by watering their gardens, taking more baths, or for any other purpose – are paying bigger bills than their more frugal counterparts. That is perfectly fair; water is a commodity and should be charged according to usage.

Those aspects of the service which cannot easily be measured, such as discharge and drainage, tend to be covered by standing charges based on consumption. Having a large garden may be a reason why some customers use more water, but owners of such gardens will already be conscious that turning on the hose increases their bills, just as turning up the thermostat leads to a bigger electricity bill.

If Thames Water have failed to install water meters in enough of their customers’ homes then that will have been their own error. But to suggest that payment for water should be levied according not to usage but instead by income indicates a socialist mindset that bodes ill for the future of the company.

Suppose for a moment that the chief executive of one of the big supermarket chains suggested that they might start charging “progressively” for food. A proxy would have to be established, such as the size of the car in which the customer arrived at the store. A surcharge would then be applied at the till, on the basis that the customer looks wealthy enough to pay more for a loaf of bread or a pint of milk, and should be required to subsidise the food bills of other customers.

It’s not difficult to imagine the problems that would soon result from such a clumsy attempt at redistribution, by a company appearing to cast itself as a branch of HMRC.

Yet Ross’s suggestion is equally wrong-headed. There is no reason why any company should need to charge its customers differential prices based on their supposed ability to pay, rather than the amount of goods or services being purchased. Any attempt to implement such a policy would be a clear acknowledgment of serious market failure.

As a former head of Ofwat, the watchdog responsible for oversight of Thames Water, Ross might be expected to have a clearer idea about why the company was permitted to saddle itself with massive debts while seemingly failing to attend to basic problems, such as preventing sewage spills, dealing with leaks and ensuring that its customers would be supplied with enough water to manage through a summer without any hosepipe bans.

But now that she has a chance to redress Thames Water’s problems, Ross’s first instinct seems to be to see how far she can squeeze the customer.

Of course, Thames Water, like other UK water suppliers (but unlike any other utility company) has a monopoly on its customer base, and thus little incentive to compete. Market forces cannot therefore operate properly to keep prices down, leaving only the authorities to prevent Thames from introducing “progressive” pricing for its product.

But perhaps Ross reckons that a Government which appears to have few qualms about increasing taxation will raise no objection to piling on another levy in the form of a Thames Water wealth tax.

Enjoy your garden while you can, but be warned – it is now a signifier of your income, and could cost you dear.

Selfish teachers owe children an apology

They are now doubling down on the damage caused during lockdown via despicable strikes

JILL KIRBY 1st February 2023

Have the teaching unions no shame? For two years, evidence has mounted showing the harm inflicted by Covid lockdowns on children of all ages. School closures didn’t just hurt pupils’ education, they also had a serious impact on their mental health and social development.This damage may never be repaired: delayed literacy and lost qualifications, along with social anxiety, are already translating into lower wages and poorer life chances.

But the union leaders who insisted on school closures during lockdown have now found a new way to disrupt childrens’ lives – forcing schools to close all over again as teachers strike, apparently for higher pay. The majority of schools were believed to have been disrupted yesterday, and one in seven children at closed schools were offered no education at all.

This will have brought back painful memories for many parents. During the pandemic, they were expected to supervise their children’s remote learning at the same time as holding down their own jobs. For some this was an impossible task, and children who lacked motivation or whose homes were simply too cramped to cope with home learning missed out on education altogether. When schools did reopen, some children were reluctant to return – rates of unauthorised absence are still higher than pre-pandemic.

The consequences were predictable enough almost from the start of the first lockdown in 2020. Data was emerging to show that children were not at risk of serious illness from Covid. Nor did they play a significant part in spreading the infection. Yet the leaders of the teachers’ unions refused to believe it. Schools in the UK were subject to longer closures than in nearly all other OECD countries.

You might think the same unions would now express some regret at their decision to insist on these closures. In the United States, the head of one of the largest teachers’ unions even tweeted in support of an article that admitted the alarming damage caused.

In the UK, no such acknowledgment has been forthcoming. Instead the unions have decided to double down, urging members not only to strike but to organise their withdrawal of labour in the most disruptive way possible. By refusing to notify head teachers in advance of their intentions, union members made it very difficult for those in charge to decide whether or not to open their schools.

As a result, thousands of conscientious teachers who chose not to strike and had no wish to disrupt their pupils’ education will have been forced to stay at home. (Perhaps this had more to do with pay than anything else, since a school closure means that striking teachers might still be paid along with their non-striking colleagues.)

Meanwhile, with little or no advance warning, millions of parents had to take time off work to look after their children, causing disruption in turn to businesses and to the public sector and, with subsequent loss of income, for already hard-pressed families.

It is hardly as if the teaching unions have a strong case. As this paper revealed yesterday, average salaries for experienced teachers in England are higher than in most European countries, both at primary and secondary school level, when compared with their peer group. And not only are they better paid, but they are required to work fewer hours than in almost any other developed nation.

In Switzerland and Sweden, for example, teachers are paid less than in England but are required to be at work for 50 per cent more of the time. Only in Luxembourg are teachers’ hours shorter than in England. Why, then, would the situation in our schools be “untenable”, as Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, alleges?

While families and workers across all sectors are feeling the squeeze from inflation, it’s very hard to argue that teachers are particularly hard done by. Parents who are still trying to pick up the pieces from pandemic closures have every reason to feel aggrieved that their children’s schooling is subject to yet more disruption.

And the children? They deserve an apology at the very least, and for their teachers to get back to work and stay there.

The Daily Telegraph

The collapse of the NHS was all too tragically predictable

Try not to get ill, because the health service is too busy to see you

JILL KIRBY 3rd January 2023

Have NHS bosses learnt nothing from the pandemic? In 2020, we were told to stay away from hospitals and GP surgeries to prevent the health service from collapsing under the strain of Covid. In the ensuing two years, mortality statistics have shown the price paid for such restraint: thousands of excess deaths due to delayed treatments and a failure to diagnose serious health conditions. Now we hear that long delays in emergency care are adding to this death toll by as many as 500 lives lost every week.
In the face of this very predictable disaster, the message emerging from the NHS is unchanged: please don’t call us because we may not be able to help you. Sir Frank Atherton, chief medical officer of Wales, gave a New Year warning to the public not to do anything risky or attempt a keep-fit routine that might lead to an accident requiring medical attention. We already know that calling for an ambulance may be a waste of time and that it’s probably better to try to get to hospital by some other means. Getting a timely GP appointment, meanwhile, is close to impossible – which in turn piles more pressure on A&E.
The result is that it feels like 2020 all over again: try not to get ill, because the NHS is too busy to see you. A new survey reported yesterday that 30 per cent of adults questioned had tried and failed to get a doctor’s appointment in the past year and that, as a result, around half had either attempted to treat themselves or asked someone else (not medically qualified) to do so. Inability to access care is not just dangerous for those who are ill but also has a knock-on effect. As Chris Whitty has pointed out, the failure to be prescribed medication for blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels may be the cause of the excess deaths from heart conditions of thousands of middle-aged men.
It’s all too clear that this country is in the grip of a health emergency, yet the Government, along with NHS England and the NHS Federation, appears to think that the current model of healthcare in this country remains viable. They seem to imagine that the after-effects of lockdown will subside and that a bit more focus on cancer treatment, or new targets for GPs, or spending a few billion more in taxpayer funding, will put the NHS back on its feet. This is wishful thinking. For years before the pandemic, the accessibility of GPs was dwindling, waiting lists were too long, cancer survival was lagging well behind comparable nations, and beds were overflowing with elderly patients through lack of social care. Hence the panic when Covid erupted.
The tragedy is that the lessons which should have been learnt from lockdown are being ignored. Interviewed about the crisis yesterday, Chris Hopson, NHS England’s director of strategy, offered the usual excuses, such as the upsurge in flu admissions and failure to discharge elderly patients – problems that have been flagged up for months if not years in advance. There was no indication that he felt any responsibility for the lack of planning to meet these challenges. He went so far as to blame the post-war baby boom for placing additional demand on the service – a problem which NHS chiefs have surely had long enough to prepare for.
As excess deaths mount and as more people turn to private healthcare, the message could not be clearer: we need a health service that responds to patient demand, based on a different funding model. Attempting to hold back demand by asking the public to put off using the NHS is both dangerous and self-defeating.

The Daily Telegraph

This strike-ridden Christmas the elderly will suffer more than most

Today’s stoical older generation does not deserve to bear the brunt of trade union militancy

JILL KIRBY 19th December 2022

It is fashionable nowadays to complain about older people being cosseted at the expense of the younger generation. With their triple-lock pensions, subsidised bus passes and, for many, mortgage-free homes, we should stop worrying about the elderly and focus on other groups – or so the narrative goes.

But as union leaders dig in for a slew of Christmas-wrecking strikes this week, they should be reminded that the people who will be hit hardest will be the older generation, and especially the frail and lonely. For the last two years Covid restrictions have robbed this generation of the opportunity to be with their families at Christmas, and now they are confronted with a whole new set of distressing obstacles.

Those no longer able to drive, for example, are most likely to be stranded by rail strikes. Already deterred from using rail services due to repeated disruption, they will either have to rely on friends to provide a lift on abnormally congested roads, or stay at home. Still, this doesn’t seem to bother Mick Lynch and his merry band of train drivers, who are going ahead with their strike on Christmas Eve and giving themselves an extended holiday.

In the meantime, strikes across the NHS present a serious cause for anxiety. Older people whose mobility is limited, or life expectancy reduced, by delayed surgery – who have already waited months for postponed operations – will have to go on waiting even longer, since their procedures are often dismissed as “elective” or “non-urgent”. Indeed, some may have operations cancelled entirely.

Yet the nurses’ union maintains that pre-Christmas strikes are justified, even though it is abundantly clear that the Government will not countenance the 19 per cent pay rise they are seeking.

As if that isn’t bad enough, all three trade unions representing paramedics (Unite, Unison and the GMB) are going ahead with their strike this Wednesday. Some patients already in hospital who expected to be home for Christmas, many of them elderly, have been warned they may not be discharged because there will be neither nurses to discharge them nor ambulances to get them home.

And the old or frail who have been stuck indoors during the freezing weather, rather than risk a slip on the ice, now have to worry about the risk of falling over during the strike. Unless their condition is classified by the system as posing an immediate threat to life, it looks as though their 999 calls might be in vain.

The generation who have paid taxes and National Insurance contributions throughout their working lives, in the expectation that at least a minimum of healthcare would be available to them in times of need, surely have plenty to complain about this Christmas. But because they are also the generation who can remember the war, or at least post-war food rationing, and who once lived in homes without the luxuries of central heating, telephones or TV, they are not making much of a fuss.

Unlikely to take to social media to express their outrage, more likely to express quiet disappointment to their friends or families, today’s stoical older generation does not deserve to bear the brunt of trade union militancy.

The union leaders full of self-righteous indignation this week should spare a thought for their parents and grandparents, and call off their Christmas strikes.

The Daily Telegraph

Protecting the NHS was a dismal failure.

Lockdown was imposed to stop the NHS from collapsing. Now it is falling apart anyway.

JILL KIRBY 6th December 2022

Is it time to admit that the policy of “protecting the NHS” during the Covid pandemic was a dismal failure? We were told to stay at home to prevent the health service from collapsing. Non-Covid treatments were cancelled to allow doctors and nurses to focus on the virus, while people stayed away of their own accord. Lockdown imposed vast costs on society and the economy. But the NHS wasn’t saved. People didn’t stop becoming unwell from diseases other than Covid. And now, predictably, the health service is falling apart.
Alarming new figures published yesterday by the OECD show the scale of the disaster. The NHS shut down more services in 2020 than almost any other health service in Europe. In Germany, for example, the number of diagnostic scans for cancer fell by just 0.3 per cent compared to the previous year, but in the UK they dropped by 15 per cent. The drop in cancer surgery was even greater, at 25 per cent, the biggest fall in any European country except Romania.
According to Macmillan Cancer Support, around 30,000 fewer people in England started cancer treatment between March and August 2020 than in the same period in 2019. Two years on, the UK is counting the tragic cost in additional deaths and a health service struggling to catch up. As the country with one of the worst records in cancer survival in Europe before Covid, the UK now lags yet further behind.
As we know, it’s not just cancer services that fell by the wayside, but almost every other aspect of NHS care. Hip and knee surgery declined at a higher rate than any other European country, leaving thousands more people in pain and lacking mobility – operations that carry huge waiting lists two years later. Access to a GP is still limited and almost always delayed, meaning that the consequences of late diagnosis and postponed treatment are likely to persist for years ahead.
Now that we can see how badly the UK’s health service has fared compared with other countries, are politicians and health service leaders prepared to learn lessons from those comparisons? For example, why did the NHS feel it necessary to close down services that in other countries were largely maintained during the Covid outbreak? Was this because its leaders were aware that the service was too fragile to cope?
All the clapping and saucepan banging was a good way to distract us from the problems inherent in a service which was simply not structured to respond to patient demand – and which certainly didn’t have the flexibility to cope with a pandemic. Huge sacrifices were being asked of the public, in order to “protect” a service which was already on its knees. Even now, the Government remains reluctant to acknowledge that those sacrifices may have been too great, in terms of lives lost to undiagnosed conditions, young lives damaged by school closures, and mental health problems triggered by isolation and anxiety.
It wasn’t just the closure of services that prevented people being treated during the pandemic. As Government health advisors Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance admitted last week, people didn’t come forward for treatment, either due to a sense of altruism or fear. The Government relied heavily on both sentiments, using emotionally manipulative public advertising campaigns. Scary pictures of people in oxygen masks were deployed to frighten us into compliance with lockdown rules. And it soon became known that anyone receiving hospital treatment would be denied visitors, so that the fear of disease was compounded by the fear of dying alone.
Of course people didn’t stop getting ill from causes other than Covid. Yet concerns expressed at the time, by cancer specialists and others, pointing out the risks of delaying diagnosis and treatments for cancer and other ailments, were brushed aside. The focus on the pandemic at the expense of other healthcare needs continued, even as it became apparent that the disease was less deadly than feared and that deaths from other causes were accelerating.
As this deadly legacy continues to unfold, will the Government now admit that our costly attempt to “protect the NHS” was futile? Most importantly, will the Prime Minister and Health Secretary look at these international comparisons and finally accept that the top-down, cash-hungry and crisis-ridden NHS is broken, and we need an entirely new model?

The Daily Telegraph

We’re all the prisoners of an unreformed NHS

Higher taxes are inevitable so long as the unproductive health service fails to learn from the likes of Singapore

JILL KIRBY 18th November 2022

As he announced yet another big increase in taxpayer funding to the NHS yesterday, Jeremy Hunt made a bold claim for the future of healthcare in this country. “We want Scandinavian quality alongside Singaporean efficiency, both better outcomes for citizens and better value for taxpayers.”
Who could possibly disagree? Sweden and Singapore have two of the most successful healthcare systems in the world, with low mortality rates, high levels of patient satisfaction and world-leading use of innovative technology. The healthcare budget in Sweden is only slightly higher than that of the UK; in Singapore it is very much lower. They each offer universal care, with responsive primary care, faster diagnosis, better cancer survival, shorter waiting times and safer maternity wards than the UK.
Sadly, as Hunt, a former health secretary, must know, the chances of Britain’s NHS successfully reaching the high standards of Sweden or the efficiency of Singapore is precisely zero. That’s because the problems with the health service have nothing to do with money, but with the structure and funding model. And as long as those do not change, the whole country is stuck as the prisoner of a health system that demands ever-growing amounts of money for ever-worse outcomes. An ever-increasing tax burden is the inevitable result.
As reports from the National Audit Office and the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week made clear, productivity in the NHS is collapsing, despite a big increase in funds and a 10 per cent rise in the numbers of both nurses and doctors since 2019. More money has persistently failed to achieve better results.
In fact, the last time the health budget experienced a real spending cut was in 1976. Today, it consumes close to half of all day-to-day government spending, yet health outcomes continue to languish in the bottom half of international tables.  The UK can indeed be described as the “sick man of Europe”, with more than seven million people on waiting lists for hospital treatment. Yet the tax burden stands at its highest for 70 years.
In citing Scandinavia and Singapore as models for the UK, I fear Hunt was being disingenuous, because he made no reference to the reason for the success of those models. In the UK, care is organised through a single massive institution, channelling huge sums of money through innumerable layers of national and regional administration, inevitably wasting billions on the way. Patients, having paid for their healthcare through taxation, are treated as supplicants, who must wait their turn for a “free” service. There is no sense of accountability and no apparent connection between payment and results.
In the Nordic countries, healthcare is the responsibility of local government, observing standards set nationally, and delivered through a combination of private, charitable and public hospitals; payment is made through mandatory health insurance. The connection between patients and provider is much closer, and the incentives for competition between providers and insurers help to drive up standards. Patients feel more in control and are much more likely to demand, and receive, value for money.
The principles underpinning such health systems make sense to anyone with a Conservative outlook, and their success in practice would surely convince all but the most hardened socialist. So how is it that after all these years of Conservative government we are still lumbered with a dysfunctional Left-wing model that is now on the point of collapse? As the Chancellor awarded the NHS £6.6 billion of additional funding yesterday, he said that he was “asking” the NHS to tackle waste and inefficiency – but with no suggestion that the cash might be withheld if the efficiencies failed to materialise. No wonder the head of NHS England Amanda Pritchard declared she was pleased with the latest increase.
Perhaps Mr Hunt thinks the public will be reassured of his good intent and aspiration for reform. He also announced that he had made a key appointment of a new advisor who will find ways to increase efficiency. Step forward Patricia Hewitt, health secretary in Tony Blair’s government. The Conservatives are now so far out of ideas that the only person they can suggest to sort out the mess in the NHS is a former Labour minister.


The Daily Telegraph

Britain will pay a high price for the Tories’ new magic money tree

Leaving tax thresholds unchanged may seem like an easy win for the Treasury but it will be massively counterproductive

JILL KIRBY 14th November 2022

Remember the “magic money tree”? Back in 2017, the Tories used the phrase to dismiss as pure fantasy Labour’s plans for boosting welfare spending without raising taxes. All fiscal decisions have consequences, they rightly argued. During lockdown, however, some imagined that the tree had actually been found, as central banks were accused of printing cash to enable governments to borrow with abandon. Today’s surging inflation is proof that they were wrong.
But now Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt seem to believe they have found a magic money tree of their own. Their approach appears to have it all. It allows them to claim to be sticking to their manifesto promises, by not increasing headline tax rates, while still boosting revenue by £30 billion a year. Through the simple expedient of freezing tax thresholds at a time of high inflation, they may think they can balance the books without harming the economy or provoking a revolt among taxpayers.
This is so-called fiscal drag, a policy adopted by Sunak as chancellor in 2021 when he announced a five year freeze in income tax thresholds. In this week’s Autumn Statement that freeze is expected to be extended until 2028. But it has an even longer pedigree. When the 40p rate was introduced in 1990, it was paid by less than 4 per cent of the population – around 1.7 million people. This year it will be paid by 6 million. By 2026, the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that 7.7 million will be paying tax at the higher rate.
Maybe the Government thinks we won’t feel the pain. In times of low inflation, taxpayers may not have resented HMRC dipping slightly deeper into their wages each year if they were lucky enough to get a pay rise. But nowadays, when heating bills have doubled in a year and the price of essential food items is soaring, handing over a bigger slice of income to the government will squeeze household budgets hard.
The biggest problem, however, concerns incentives. As the UK tips into recession and with the after-effects of the pandemic lingering on, there is a desperate need to boost work rates and economic activity. But for low earners currently paying no income tax, freezing the tax-free allowance for the next six years will make work less attractive. For those on basic rate tax but close to the higher rate threshold, why work longer hours if for every extra pound earned the taxman will take 40p?
For families with children, the penalty could be much greater: as soon as a parent moves into the higher rate band, their child benefit is cut. Combine that cut with the cost of childcare and it’s hardly surprising if parents decide that working longer hours or seeking promotion is not worth the sacrifice.
This dampening of incentives will not only afflict businesses and wealth creation but poses a serious threat to the public sector, in particular the NHS. Why would hospital doctors or senior nurses increase their shifts and put in longer hours if it means a serious tax penalty? For GPs and consultants, the combination of a freeze in income thresholds and the cap on pension savings could mean extra hours at work would leave them worse off.
Leaving tax thresholds unchanged may seem like an easy win for the Treasury, but appearances can be deceptive. Stripping this supposed magic money tree of its fruit will leave the Conservatives with a bitter after taste if it shrinks the economy, reduces work rates and pushes more earners into early retirement.


The Daily Telegraph

Powerful NHS bosses are escaping scrutiny

JILL KIRBY  2nd November 2022

The NHS is in crisis and the winter has barely started. Health officials have told the Government that an extra £7 billion is needed to deal with rising costs, in addition to the staggering £152 billion already allocated to the health service this year. Seven million people are on waiting lists for treatment, a backlog that may not be cleared before 2025. Delays are costing lives: figures published this week show that the rate of excess deaths in England and Wales last month was higher than during the Covid pandemic, confirming a pattern already seen in mortality figures over the spring and summer. The price of “protecting the NHS” during lockdown is being paid in lost lives as well as cash.
Yet in contrast to the days of the pandemic, when health officials became household names, the current head of the health service has been almost invisible. Amanda Pritchard was appointed chief executive of NHS England in 2021; her job description makes clear that she is accountable to the government for the huge allocation of taxpayer funding being swallowed up by the health service in England. She sits at the head of a managerial team of national and regional directors, the layers of bureaucracy having continued to proliferate even as the number of front line health workers has fallen.
NHS England was created in the coalition years, ostensibly to provide an arm’s length management structure more effective than the Department of Health in making healthcare decisions. Cynics would suggest that, by putting a quango in charge, ministers could dodge the blame when things went wrong. Like most quangos, however, NHS England has created its own empire at huge cost without delivering any noticeable improvement in the quality of services on the front line.
Nor has it succeeded in lifting the blame for failure from the Government’s door – in part because neither politicians nor the public act as if it even exists. Governments continue to face demands for more money, and yet the people responsible for allocating that money face practically zero pressure to account for the results. This is even more extraordinary when, as international data shows, comparable European economies with similar levels of health expenditure have much better outcomes and, despite slower rates of vaccination, emerged from the pandemic in better shape – and with lower mortality rates – than the NHS.
Whether it is the dire state of maternity care in too many hospital trusts, endless waits for scans and tests, or the fear that calling an ambulance may be futile if there are no beds available, this “cradle to grave” service is failing at every level. Back in 2020, the government wanted us to be so scared of Covid that we wouldn’t go out. Nowadays we’re just scared of needing the NHS because we fear that it won’t be able to help us.
The effectiveness or otherwise of Pritchard and her team therefore has life and death implications for the entire population. Arguably, her role is of as much concern to the public as the Prime Minister’s. Why, then, is so little known about it?
Apart from a brief appearance yesterday when she talked about all the “challenges” the NHS is having to endure, Pritchard’s public statements since her appointment have been almost non-existent. We know almost nothing about what she thinks. Does she believe, for example, that there are too many layers of management sucking funds away from front line care? Is she happy that NHS trusts are still recruiting equality and diversity officers at salaries well in excess of nurses’ pay? How worried is she about the level of pay-outs for negligent maternity care, and avoidable baby deaths?
From his stint on TV during the pandemic, Chris Whitty became so recognisable that he became the butt of endless jokes, cartoons and internet memes, yet the majority of the British public have never heard of Pritchard, and certainly would struggle to tell you what her job is. I’m not suggesting that she should be at a Downing Street lectern on a daily basis, but surely she should be required to talk to the public more about the desperate state of the service over which she presides, and what NHS England proposes to do about it? Perhaps, she would only use the opportunity to complain about a lack of funds, but at least we would know who to blame the next time a massive injection of money fails to deliver the benefits promised.

The Daily Telegraph

 Leicester shows that without assimilation, multiculturalism fails

The city’s disorder is symptomatic of our dangerously lax attitude to community integration

JILL KIRBY 20th September 2022

It was depressing to see that while British citizens of every creed and colour united to pay tribute to the late Queen this Monday, a very different scene was unfolding on the streets of Leicester.

Hundreds of young men of Asian origin, many of them wearing hoods and balaclavas, were gathering and taunting each other, throwing bottles and brandishing knives. In the words of Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor, “Things got very nasty indeed.” Dozens of police officers from neighbouring forces, who had been scheduled to assist with the crowds in London, were redeployed to the area to set up cordons and to contain the disorder; some 25 policemen were injured.

The events were apparently the culmination of several weeks of street violence which had broken out after an India v Pakistan cricket match that took place in Dubai. Community leaders acknowledged that “celebrations” after previous cricket matches had sometimes got out of hand, due to tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities – but this latest violence was the worst they had seen. Thankfully, order has for now been restored, mainly as a result of police action, including the arrest of 47 youths since the trouble first flared up.

But what next? The mayor asserts that his city has managed its ethnic diversity successfully and that the weekend’s violence is uncharacteristic. Yet local crime statistics tell a different story of increasing street violence and social unrest. Whilst Leicester has long been host to a large ethnic population, by far the biggest minority being of Indian origin, there are wide variations of behaviours. Some have proudly adopted the British way of life, but others remain clustered within a few postcodes, living and working amongst those of the same faith and background. This is fertile ground for the simmering hostilities we have seen in recent years between those of Indian and Pakistani origin.

A more honest account of the state of community relations in Leicester would surely acknowledge that its ethnic population has been accepted but not assimilated, a situation that prevails in several other British cities, particularly in the Midlands and the north of England. As particular ethnic and faith groups have converged on areas within the city, “white flight” to the suburbs has taken place, leaving the minority groups to become the majority within a postcode.

This doesn’t apply to all of course: in Leicester there are examples of Asian-origin families who have moved happily into predominantly white areas. But for those who stay behind, whether out of choice or through financial necessity, their attachment to a neighbourhood consisting of extended families and friends and a shared faith can easily take priority over attachment to Britain. It’s perfectly understandable that this should be the case, but it’s not a mark of successful community relations, despite claims to the contrary.

Even where co-existence between ethnically diverse groups is entirely peaceful, the economic impact of isolation – including the lack of a shared language – can lead to persistent inequality.

And when peaceful co-existence breaks down and different ethnic or faith backgrounds become an excuse for violent disruption, maybe it’s time to ask whether Britain’s approach to community relations has been such a great success after all. We have not brought communities together under a common, British, identity.

Leicester’s problem shows how a failure to integrate one ethnic group leads to even greater tension when another, different minority brings its own historic differences to the scene. Unwillingness to identify primarily as British means that such disputes are much more likely to surface. The result in this case is that the city risks becoming a place of sectarian violence between Muslim and Hindu, where faith leaders are called upon to broker peace talks. Is this really the future for multi-cultural Britain?

The people who stood in queues and lined the streets of London and Windsor this week did not come as representatives of “communities”, however different their backgrounds, they came as individuals who wanted to share a moment in British history. Perhaps it’s time to stop treating ethnic groups in this country as communities in need of special treatment, but to focus instead on sharing British values.

The Daily Telegraph

The BBC’s bias against tax cuts is now too obvious to ignore

Does the Today programme ever give a right-of-centre politician a fair hearing?

  22nd July 2022

As the Tory finalists launch their respective campaigns, it is clear that there is one big policy difference between them – how to steer the economy out of its present difficulties. Briefly put: can government tax and spend its way out, or should it be cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth? The importance of this debate and its impact on future prosperity outweighs everything else under discussion in this summer’s contest, since it will not only determine our living standards but also our future security.

Here, then, is an opportunity for the BBC to put both sides of the argument and to reach the widest possible audience. Auntie is uniquely placed to air this argument from an entirely neutral standpoint. But is there any serious prospect that it is up to the challenge? On the evidence of its coverage so far, the answer is no.

Yesterday’s Today programme was a particularly depressing example of its failure to examine both sides dispassionately. The corporation’s inherent bias seems to be now so deeply ingrained that its researchers and presenters are quite possibly unaware such a bias exists.

In BBC-land, public spending must always be a Good Thing, whereas tax-cutting and keeping spending low must always be Bad. Tax cuts are therefore preceded by the word “unfunded”. More government spending, particularly on public services, will be unquestioningly accepted as evidence of compassion, for which more money must always be found.

In his breathless quizzing of Liz Truss yesterday, Robinson loftily insisted that tax cuts were inflationary and claimed that all leading economists agreed with him. Scornfully dismissing as a “gamble” Truss’s argument that keeping tax low would stimulate growth, he made it quite clear to listeners that he considered his interviewee to be a reckless know-nothing.

This despite the fact that, in contrast to many politicians, Truss was not dodging the question but was clearly determined to set out the reasoning behind her claims. In so doing, however, she was challenging the BBC orthodoxy. Robinson was therefore clearly keen to move her on, to questions of a more personal nature, perhaps hoping to unsettle her and to cement his authority.

But the authority which was once the preserve of our national broadcaster, and on which the Today programme could maintain its place in the news firmament, has long since ebbed away. As viewers and listeners turn to a vast range of other sources of news and comment, the BBC can surely only survive if it is willing to discard its institutional bias, its supercilious tones, and demonstrate instead a genuinely open mind. Otherwise how can it can it justify its dependence on the licence fee?

But maybe that’s the problem: the licence is, after all, a tax we are compelled to pay and the BBC will always want to increase it.


The Daily Telegraph

Forget state vs private, it’s selective schools that triumph

A new generation of selective schools, which relish the freedom to set high standards, are showing how educational “levelling up” can work

JILL KIRBY 16th December 2021

It seems that parents who want their children to gain places at Britain’s top universities should think twice before they spend a fortune on private school fees. New research, conducted by the Telegraph, analysed data from Oxford and Cambridge universities showing the number of offers made to every school over the past five years. There has been a distinct shift towards the state sector, where academies and sixth form colleges have seen the biggest increase in Oxbridge admissions. Offers to Eton, Cheltenham Ladies’ College and other leading public schools have been steadily falling.
No doubt some of the new bias towards state schools contains an element of social engineering: university admissions tutors have been feeling the pressure to reduce their intake from independent schools and to look harder for talented pupils from the state sector, particularly those whose families have no previous experience of higher education. But the most striking fact to emerge from the data is the type of state school that has achieved the greatest progress since 2017: the top 10 is dominated by those that are highly academically selective.
At the top of the table for state schools that have increased their Oxbridge intake most dramatically is Brampton Manor Academy in East Ham, one of London’s poorest boroughs, which is selective at sixth form. It sent 51 pupils to Oxbridge this year, up from just three five years ago. It’s a school that has been transformed since being granted academy status, thanks to a head and leadership team with huge ambition for their pupils, 95 per cent of whom are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Brampton is typical of the schools with the fastest growth in Oxbridge places: most are in poorer parts of London and since becoming academies and given freedom to select pupils have been turned into high achieving, tightly disciplined centres of excellence.
Indeed, it is not incidental that these schools are selective in their intake, either at age 11 or for entry to the sixth form. Selection allows them to choose those pupils who will benefit most from more rigorous teaching. Moreover, it shows that educational “levelling up” is no longer confined to grammar schools, many of which are only to be found in better-off areas and are increasingly dominated by middle class children. Selective academies, and specialist sixth forms such as King’s College London Maths School, are opening up opportunities for children from all backgrounds, provided they have some aptitude and, most importantly, the desire to achieve.
Yet the Labour Party and much of the educational establishment is still allergic to the idea of selection or school freedom. Keir Starmer has consistently voted against academy status for schools; Angela Rayner has vowed to return all schools to local authority control should Labour come to power. Their vision of education does not, it seems, include the opportunity to excel. All credit then to the head teachers and governing bodies of the new generation of selective schools who relish the freedom to set high standards and demand serious commitment not only from pupils but also from their parents. The huge demand for places at these schools suggests there is room for many more in their image. Perhaps the single biggest contribution the Government could make towards “levelling up” would be to promote this educational model – still largely confined to London – across the whole of the UK.

The Daily Telegraph

The NHS works for its staff, not its patients

NHS leaders would rather potentially increase the risk to patients than press their staff to get jabbed, for fear that they will walk away


It was an extraordinary admission. In an interview yesterday morning about the Government’s plans to delay the introduction of compulsory jabs for NHS staff until next year, Sarah Gorton, head of health workers at Unison, the union, said: “This isn’t about what’s right to do for patients, this is about what is the best way of increasing the rates of vaccination across the NHS.”

Usually the health unions – and NHS leaders, for that matter – are a little more coy. For decades, many of us have looked at the NHS, the way it operates, and the service it tends to provide, and concluded it isn’t run in the interests of the patients, but rather the interests of its staff. It is rarely admitted.

But the evidence is everywhere. We all acknowledge that most front-line health staff have been under huge pressure during the pandemic, but we also know that lockdowns have taken a huge toll on the physical, mental and economic health of the nation. We locked down the country to “save the NHS”. Many of us had thought that the NHS was there to save us.

Of course, it didn’t. To stop the NHS from collapsing, millions of non-Covid patients were denied the treatment they needed, and we are now having to pay billions of pounds in extra tax to clear the backlog. Poor infection control also meant that the NHS did not save the thousands of people who died having caught Covid after being admitted to hospital: more than 11,000, amounting to 1 in 8 of all Covid deaths in hospital.

But even today, with the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, little seems to have changed. Take Gorton’s comments and the issue of compulsory vaccinations for NHS staff. Around 100,000 of the people working in the health service are unjabbed, despite being one of the earliest groups offered the vaccine. Nearly a year later it is remarkable that NHS managers have still been unable to persuade thousands of employees to take up the offer.

It is not as if this is an irrelevant matter. It is noticeable that some of the hospital trusts with the highest rates of hospital-acquired Covid deaths – such as University Hospitals Birmingham – also have among the highest proportion of unvaccinated staff. For patients using those hospitals, still worried that they might catch Covid while being treated for other conditions, this is far from reassuring.

Care homes, in contrast, have been told they must dismiss unvaccinated staff before the winter, to protect their residents. Why is the health service being treated differently? It seems NHS leaders would rather potentially increase the risk to patients than press their staff to get jabbed, for fear that they will walk away. Likewise health unions have continued to resist compulsory vaccination – despite numerous consultations over the past year. Never mind that such vaccination would not only lower the risk of staff infecting patients, but would help to limit the likelihood they will need to take time off with infection themselves.

Still, the NHS has been saved the trouble of a staff exodus, so you might think they would be pulling out all the stops so that it can get through a difficult winter, while ensuring the public gets the care it needs. It doesn’t appear so. This week the head of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, sparked alarm when she asserted that the rate of hospital admissions for Covid had risen fourteen-fold since the same time last year. A quick look at the data showed this is far from being the case: admissions are much lower than last November. Her comparison was in fact between August this year and last year. It was a curious choice of data and only heightens the suspicion that NHS chiefs would like us to feel so frightened of another wave of deaths that we will voluntarily stay at home and stop bothering the health service.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the NHS has us in thrall to its demands. For years it has been able to excuse its failings by complaining of austerity, despite absorbing an ever-increasing share of funds while other public services were cut back. Despite hiring huge numbers of managers, it has seemed unable to plan ahead, by increasing staffing and bed capacity in readiness for winter pressure. The Government must share in the blame, for allowing the NHS to believe that, rather than face up to its failings, it has only to threaten collapse to be handed another wad of taxpayers’ money. But isn’t it about time our NHS took as its starting point the needs of its patients who are, after all, paying the bills?

The Daily Telegraph

GPs are merely at the vanguard of the new war on work

It often feels as if the GPs’ notoriously generous contract is a model that other sectors want to follow


Welcome to the new world of work: part-time, flexible hours, working from home, yet with a wage packet big enough to support your lifestyle. It sounds great: work-life balance for all, with more time to spend with the kids (or the exercise bike). You can work as much – or as little – as you please. Some are even campaigning for the five-day full-time working week to be cut to four days, for the same salary obviously.

But what the advocates of the war on full-time work fail to acknowledge is that someone has to pay the price for this flexibility, as has become painfully apparent with GPs.

A survey has revealed that in 2019 the average GP was working a three-day week, while average pay for GPs rose to more than £100,000 a year. Even before the pandemic, patients were struggling to get appointments; a more “balanced” lifestyle for a doctor can mean a patient waiting longer for a diagnosis. It’s hard to see how the health service will ever be able to keep up with patient demand.

Last week research from Norway found that being able to see the same GP on a regular basis substantially reduces the risk of hospitalisation and premature death; yet in most of the UK it’s virtually impossible to see the same doctor on a repeat visit.

Far from being a crisis that desperately needs to be addressed, however, it often feels as if the GPs’ notoriously generous contract is a model that other sectors want to follow.

As the pandemic recedes, employers in both the public and private sector are being encouraged to prioritise the so-called well-being of their employees over everything else. The right to request flexible working is already enshrined in law, and can be useful for some employees so long as their manager agrees, but the Government has suggested this right could be extended to every employee from day one of a new job.

Nearly three months after the ending of Covid restrictions, many civil servants (and private-sector staff) are still reluctant to return to the office. They have discovered the joys of working from home and are not keen to start back on the daily commute, never mind the effect on their colleagues, their company, or the wider economy. Some train companies are planning to reduce services on Mondays and Fridays, given the lower passenger numbers.

The Government at first appeared keen to embrace the new zeitgeist. But some ministers are beginning to express their concern as the machinery of government falters; the head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, has told Whitehall departments to get more staff back at their desks. One minister has claimed that the August withdrawal from Afghanistan was hampered because too many officials were working from home and thus unable to share sensitive material. A huge backlog at the DVLA due to staff absence has played a part in the lorry driver shortage, with HGV licences taking much longer to process. Disconnection from team work doesn’t only damage the training of new staff and block creativity, it is also positively harmful to customer service.

For the millions of people in the UK whose jobs cannot be done at home, or who are self-employed, struggling to run a business, and for whom there is no option but to work long hours to pay their bills, the fashion for “well-being” is empty rhetoric. Worse, it’s preventing them from accessing essential services. If it persists, half of the workforce might be enjoying the new balanced lifestyle – but the other half will be paying for it.

The Daily Telegraph

Boris Johnson has handed total power over the country to the NHS

Be in no doubt: if this winter the NHS declares that it can’t cope, the public, not the health service, will get the blame

Who governs Britain? In his announcement of the Covid Winter Plan this week, Boris Johnson gave a clear answer: the NHS.

Flanked once again by Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, the Prime Minister reserved the right to introduce anti-Covid measures, including vaccine passports and mask mandates. He even refused to rule out the possibility of another national lockdown if, as the Winter Plan document puts it, we have to take “whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed”. For the avoidance of doubt, the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “we don’t want to get into a position ever again where there’s unsustainable pressure on the NHS so it’s not able to see people in the usual way.”

The logic is simple: if this winter the NHS declares that it can’t cope, the Government has committed itself to bringing the country to a standstill until it can. Somehow, after three national lockdowns and the rollout of vaccines to more than 80 per cent of the adult population, we are still in the position where the people of Britain are being asked to “protect the NHS” rather than the other way around.

This worrying reversal of priorities was born during the pandemic and it would be a dangerous step if it were to linger after it. In NHS crises of the past, as tragic as it undoubtedly was to see ambulances backed up outside hospitals, there was no question of normal life being suspended until the crisis had passed. Or, indeed, of allowing the NHS itself to dictate terms to the rest of us. The answer was to try and improve the NHS.

Boris Johnson, as other prime ministers have done before him, has sought to do so with a massive cash boost, in his case an unprecedented commitment of an extra £36 billion. But where is the incentive now for the NHS to use that money well?

The first mistake was in writing a blank cheque with few, if any, conditions attached. Where, for example, is the stipulation that the extra money be spent not on extra managers but in training front line staff? Or the demand for innovative ways of keeping wards open, including devising a proper plan to make the most of Nightingale hospitals and seeking new ways, anathema to many in the health service bureaucracy, of integrating elements of the private sector? Why are frontline NHS staff, unlike those in care homes, still for the moment getting away with not having the vaccine?

Offering the reserve option of a lockdown if the health service’s leaders fail to improve capacity sufficiently and hospitals are overwhelmed only further weakens the incentive to improve. Worse, it is easy to see how the threat of a costly new lockdown could be leveraged to demand even greater injections of health funding.

To be fair to Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s recently appointed chief executive, capacity cannot be built overnight. In a creaking, monolithic structure that has proved stubbornly resistant to change, it is not easy to implement emergency measures capable of tackling a winter with the threat of Covid coupled with other seasonal illnesses such as flu. But what we have seen so far is precious little appetite to right these wrongs and few incentives from Government for things to change.

Sir Patrick Vallance made clear that he was keen to see the Government do everything necessary to repress the virus because the NHS is, in his view, already “under extreme pressure”. For all too many people in this country, struggling to get a face-to-face appointment with their GP, or unable to get diagnostic scans or cancer treatment, the NHS is still not seeing them “in the usual way”. But rather than an all hands to the pump effort to make hospitals fit for the challenge, we have more threats of lockdown and ministers and advisers once again resorting to doom-laden projections.

Be in no doubt: if this winter the NHS declares that it can’t cope, the public, not the health service, will get the blame. Perhaps the most dismaying conclusion from this week’s announcements is that this Government will never say no to the NHS, whatever the cost to the country.

We must remain in thrall to an unreformed, inefficient service which we must continue to revere, despite its many failings.

The Daily Telegraph

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that care homes are being made the scapegoat for government failings
Once again it seems that the care home sector is to take the blame for inadequacies in the NHS. A key reason why Covid swept through care homes last year, accounting for nearly 40,000 excess deaths, was the decision early in the pandemic to discharge elderly patients from hospital into care homes; many took the virus with them, with fatal consequences.
Now the Government has announced that all care home staff must be fully vaccinated by November 11, having their first dose by the middle of next month. The Care Quality Commission will have powers to enforce the requirement, their expectation being that staff who decline the vaccine will be dismissed, unless they can demonstrate that they are exempt. Surprisingly, however, the requirement is not applicable to hospital staff, who can continue to work in the NHS without being vaccinated. Why the disparity?
The Government has justified its decision for care home workers on the basis that vaccination offers protection against infection for staff and residents. While recent evidence shows that being vaccinated does not prevent people from passing Covid on, it does reduce the risk of being infected in the first place. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to argue that those working in close proximity to the elderly should have the jab.
For some care home owners, the ability to make vaccination a condition of employment will be welcome, and ministers should certainly make clear that the law will protect them from being sued on these grounds.
But a survey of care home managers has shown that six in 10 care homes are more worried about losing staff, a significant problem in a sector already struggling with staff shortages. They argue that they should not be forced to sack employees who are reluctant to be vaccinated, as they are tested daily and comply with other requirements for virus control. Losing these staff may pose a threat to the home’s quality of care, or even force its closure.
If vaccination is considered so important for care staff, why is it not equally necessary for NHS employees? We know that thousands of patients caught Covid while in hospital. Control of infection has been at least as big a problem for hospitals as it was for care homes. Surely the sick deserve as much protection as the elderly.
When mandatory vaccination was first mooted earlier this year, the Government appeared to be working on that assumption; it was announced that mandatory vaccination would apply to NHS staff as well as those working in care homes. But the ensuing consultation has caused the Government to change course. Both the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing spoke out against the legal and ethical implications of insisting on jabs. Describing enforcement as a “blunt instrument” they made clear their preference to encourage and inform, fearful that making jabs mandatory would only inflame vaccine scepticism.
It seems the louder voices of the health unions won the day, and the care sector must accept a requirement that medical leaders found unacceptable. Yet the rates of vaccine hesitancy in the two sectors is remarkably similar: according to the most recent figures, 90 per cent of NHS staff have had their jabs compared to 87 per cent of care home workers. It is hard to escape the conclusion that care homes are being made the scapegoat for government failings, while the NHS, as ever, goes unchallenged.

The Daily Telegraph

Testing is encouraging Covid paranoia

How can we live with the virus when the self-isolation policy suggests cases are still to be feared?

Whatever happened to Freedom Day? Throughout the pandemic the Government has been accused of sending out contradictory messages, but this week’s announcements must surely take the prize.

On Monday, the Prime Minister – finally – had a clear and confident message for the country: it’s time for us all to take back responsibility and use our own judgment, instead of relying on the Government to control our every move and monitor our day-to-day activities. Everyone over 50 or with particular vulnerability has been offered double vaccination and the take-up of jabs has been outstandingly high; the threat from Covid has been reduced to the level of flu. As the Prime Minister remarked “it’s now or never.” If the country doesn’t retake its freedom in the middle of summer, reaping the benefits of a brilliant vaccination programme, then when will we ever be free again?

But no sooner had we begun to digest this message and prepare to pick up the threads of normal life than the brakes were slammed on. Anyone who comes within range of an infected person and who receives a notification via Track and Trace must still go into isolation for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. This restriction will not be lifted until August 16. After that date, the twice-jabbed – and all under 18s – will no longer have to self-isolate, although may still be required to undergo regular testing.

With infections rising, the likelihood of coming into contact with an infected person is also growing, and likely to go on doing so for months to come. On the Government’s estimates, more than 2 million people could be infected in the next six weeks, leading to millions more being told to self isolate.

Every owner of a business desperate to re-open, or to operate at sufficient capacity to return a profit, is in despair. Who will risk going back to the office, or into a crowded pub, or book tickets for the theatre, and face being told the next morning that they sat near a reported case of Covid and must stay at home for the next ten days? How will restaurants be able to function with staff being sent home because they served an asymptomatic customer whose subsequent lateral flow test delivered bad news? Worst of all, how will the NHS begin to get through its huge backlog of cases with thousands of staff at home in isolation? None of these sectors can afford to lose another month crippled by self-isolation rules.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government is trying to justify the billions thrown at the test and trace app by prolonging its use past the point when it is relevant or helpful. Last spring and summer, when vaccines were still a distant hope, a swift and effective test, trace and isolate regime could have saved lives. Now, with most of the population protected against serious illness, it is holding captive vast numbers of individuals and families unnecessarily.

Not only has this brought misery and frustration, it goes against the entire logic of learning to live with Covid. Thanks to the vaccines, the number of cases is almost entirely irrelevant to the danger posed by Covid. Yet instead of encouraging us to view a case of Covid as we might a case of any other respiratory virus, the ongoing isolation policy is doing the opposite – setting the virus apart as a special threat and encouraging an unjustifiably fearful focus on case numbers.

As the periodic leaks have indicated, arguments have raged within government over the extent to which freedoms should be curtailed during the pandemic. Those in favour of maximum restrictions, regardless of the side-effects, have generally won the day. In accepting those restrictions, the majority of the public has seemingly been content to hand over many of the decisions which guide our daily lives. Fear of the virus, stoked by unending announcements of deaths and infection rates, has strengthened the Government’s hand.

Now that it is clear that Covid has been tamed but not eradicated, scientists and ministers agree that we must learn to live with the infection. But in order to do that, and restore some kind of normality, the Government must stop feeding the fear and switch to a message of reassurance. Continuing to treat every reported infection as a threat to public safety will only prolong the paranoia.

The Daily Telegraph

Why is the PM so downbeat about Britain’s Covid vaccine triumph?

Never has this country been more in need of an upbeat message – yet Boris, in an uncharacteristic fit of modesty, is refusing to oblige

Why is the Prime Minister so reluctant to share the good news, and trumpet the astonishing success of the UK’s vaccine programme? There is no question that the vaccines are achieving their objective: statistics published yesterday showed that of the 74,000 people admitted to British hospitals with the virus in the past seven months, only 32 had been vaccinated. These remarkable results were achieved with just one jab; it is expected that the protection from two shots will be even greater.

Yet still Boris Johnson seems unable to give the treatment the credit it deserves. Last week, he claimed that lockdown was the real reason for the retreat of the virus. This week, he grudgingly said the jabs were making “a big difference” but during a press conference replete with dire warnings of a third wave.

The ambivalent messaging surrounding vaccines surely cannot be because he thinks it will play well politically. Talking up the efficacy of lockdown leaves the Government open to accusations that it failed to shut down the country soon enough last spring and autumn, while downplaying the decision that really does give the Government something to boast about: putting its trust in vaccines.

Maybe the Government believes that, unless we are all kept in a state of anxiety, younger cohorts yet to be vaccinated may refuse their jabs. That appears to form at least part of the rationale for the constant talk of Covid passports. Again, however, there is no evidence to suggest that younger people need to be coerced. In fact, the Government’s mixed messaging on vaccine efficacy is more likely to damage take-up rates.

Possibly the Prime Minister’s real worry is that lockdown will crumble if he enthusiastically endorses the vaccines. But while that may justify a plea to keep restrictions going a little longer, it does not explain the extraordinary claim that lockdowns have done “the heavy lifting”.

By clinging to such a cautious timetable for easing lockdown, the Government is keeping the country in a state of near paralysis. This matters. Yesterday, a new survey assessing the impact of lockdown on households in the three largest European economies found the UK had been hit hardest, with the tighter, more prolonged restrictions imposed here playing a significant part in explaining the difference.

This excess of caution and the refusal to give the success of the vaccination programme more than a half-hearted acknowledgement means that the UK is losing its vaccine advantage, holding back our recovery further. Meanwhile, the constant dampening of confidence and the failure to allow normal family and social interaction are having a terrible effect on the nation’s mental health.

Never has this country been more in need of an upbeat message. Yet Boris, in an uncharacteristic fit of modesty, is refusing to oblige. If there really is a good reason to believe that a vaccinated nation needs to go on cowering in fear, we should be given the evidence. All the facts available to us suggest we should be seizing the opportunities granted by our vaccination programme; why doesn’t the Prime Minister agree?

The Daily Telegraph

There’s no point in harassing people to complete this pointless census

The advent of electronic data collection makes the census redundant. There is no justifying its £1 billion price tag

Householders who diligently filled in their census electronically have not been spared harassment by officials threatening £1,000 fines for non-completion. Thirty thousand field workers have been employed to chase up census forms and it appears that many of them have been making repeated visits to people whose questionnaires have already been submitted online. It’s all the fault of an IT failure, apparently. Given the personal nature of the information being gathered, such incompetence does not inspire faith in the state’s ability to protect our confidential information.

The situation is doubly ridiculous, however, because the census was hardly necessary in the first place.

From its modest beginnings in the 19th century, the census has ballooned in size. When public records were minimal and scattered around the country, a census was a government’s best opportunity to assess the size of the population. Questions were limited to the size of the household, and the sex and occupations of those living there.

As the state expanded, a new justification was found. The census was deemed to be an essential tool for determining where public resources should be allocated. Questions on ethnicity and religion were added later.

But the advent of electronic data collection has changed the picture entirely. The Office for National Statistics might still argue that the information provided enables the government to plan services such as healthcare, transport and education. But now that our personal data are collected by every public body and company with whom we come into contact, a household survey has become a clumsy, and most likely inaccurate, source of information. We are all logged, assessed, examined and inspected through every stage of life. Those who choose to remain unknown to officialdom, usually because they are living and working in this country illegally, are not likely to fill in a census form, or to be “at home” when the census inspector calls.

And that is not even to mention the cost. The last census, in 2011, was meant to be the last. After a row over its price-tag (around £500  million), ministers in the coalition government had threatened to abolish it altogether. Nothing came of that and this year’s exercise is estimated to cost an astonishing £1 billion. In common with so many government departments and quangos, the bureaucracy underpinning the census threatens to be self-perpetuating, regardless of need or cost-effectiveness.

If the census was already on its last legs, surely the pandemic must kill it off? Answering questions about journeys to work when millions are furloughed or working from home is not going to help the Government decide future transport needs. The NHS is unlikely to need the census to find out how many people are going to need care in the next 10 years either – the cancelled operations and waiting lists are evidence enough.

The Scottish Government postponed its census until 2022 on the basis that many of the answers supplied this year will have little relevance by next spring. Westminster would have been wise to follow suit. Spending a billion pounds to create a fleeting snapshot of England in a pandemic is a waste of time and money. The Government does not need it and can no longer justify this intrusion in our lives.

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph

Back in the sunny lockdown spring of 2020, escaping the office to work from home had its attractions. Freedom from the commute, lunch in the garden, more time with the family. For millennials, a couple of months back in the parental home, with free Wi-fi and all meals provided, made a nice break from routine.

But as we go into winter, told that there could be six months of ever-tightening restrictions ahead, a desk in a chilly back bedroom or corner of the living room, or a laptop on the kitchen table, are all looking less conducive to a well-balanced life. It’s not just the impact on heating bills of staying at home all day, or the threat of the taxman catching anyone who has taken the opportunity to carve out a space dedicated to home working. It’s the lack of any form of human interaction, especially if there’s no gym open for indoor exercise, or a pub to go to for a chat. And for young people at the start of their careers, needing to learn from working alongside colleagues, the lack of interaction is not just boring, it presents a real block to progress.

Online meetings are fine for a while, to cover the basics. But they leave no scope for creativity, for ideas generated in the informal conversations which are the stuff of office life, or those random encounters which might result in a new deal. For the first couple of months in lockdown, most office-based businesses found they could manage well enough; some even claimed that productivity increased due to less time spent travelling or chatting. But, for most, the ability to stay effective was based on the human and financial capital established by years of team-working, goodwill generated through interaction with clients and knowledge shared by colleagues accustomed to face-to-face encounters.

As those reserves of capital were depleted, the phased return to the workplace over the summer held out the welcome prospect of a return to near-normal business life. Employers invested heavily in virus protection, drawing up detailed protocols and work rotas to comply with new guidance, making the workplace as safe as possible to get their businesses back on track and – with luck – resuming growth.

No sooner had they done so than the Government ended its back-to-the-office message. Now, not only are employers’ efforts at virus protection largely wasted, they are being told they must take responsibility for employees’ working conditions at home. The new chairman of the Health and Safety Executive has announced that employers who “ask” their staff to work from home should conduct risk assessments. If sitting at the kitchen table is giving a worker a bad back, the HSE will offer a meeting (on Zoom, of course) to check up on the kitchen furniture and if necessary to take the matter up with their employer.

At this point, employers might reasonably be feeling rather aggrieved. Instead of paying for Perspex partitions, air-conditioning upgrades and hand sanitising stations, it seems they should have been arranging home deliveries of ergonomic desks and chairs for all their staff. In a tough economic climate, with countless at breaking point, this is not the news they want to hear.

As with so many of the rules currently being made in Westminster, there are costs attached. Employers may be meeting the bill for now, but as businesses falter and work dries up, WFH may turn out to be very expensive for us all.

The Daily Telegraph

Priti Patel’s migration plans are truly humane

The current soft system for protecting our borders only encourages desperate people to risk their lives

With the Government preparing to “take back control” of UK immigration policies, leaked plans to deter illegal migrants by threatening to process their asylum claims offshore were met with predictable uproar. Proposals being examined by the Home Office include setting up processing centres in British overseas territories, where migrants would be held pending their claims being assessed, or housing them in old cruise ships or decommissioned oil platforms off the coast of the UK.

These ideas draw on the example set by the Australian government in deterring illegal immigration by using detention centres on offshore islands. Angry voices on the Left assert that Priti Patel’s proposals are cruel and inhumane. But the present system is anything but humane, as dangerously overloaded boats and dinghies cross the English Channel in increasing numbers, enriching the traffickers responsible for what Boris Johnson described in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as an “evil trade”.

More than 6,000 people have made the crossing so far this year, more than twice the number arriving by this route in 2019. The majority are young men, but women (including expectant mothers) and young children, many of them unaccompanied, are also chancing their lives to make this journey. Many of those making the crossing will have paid the people smugglers thousands of pounds, using their savings or borrowing from their families. In their rush to beat the winter weather, more people are being crammed on to smaller boats; the smugglers charge less, but the risk to life is greater.

The Home Office has been grappling with this problem for years, to no avail. Since 2019 the UK has been paying the French to put extra police patrols along their coastline, and border forces in Calais claim that nearly half of all attempted crossings have been intercepted. But the number of attempts still continues to grow. French officials have blamed the UK for providing a generous health and welfare system, acting as a magnet, and for failing to deport migrants whose claims are unsuccessful.

Priti Patel certainly shares that sentiment, citing the “Leftie Labour-supporting lawyers” who exploit every opportunity offered by human rights laws to ensure that their clients remain in the UK. In the last year, only 6 per cent of the migrants who arrived illegally in small boats have been deported, representing very good odds for those tempted to make the journey.

Confident of being allowed to stay, and also knowing that they will be housed, will receive welfare payments and have access to UK healthcare, it’s not surprising that migrants choose Britain as their ultimate destination.

Ms Patel’s critics on the Left argue that this is as it should be; that Britain ought to provide a welcome for refugees from war-torn countries. But there is a gaping hole in this argument: all those who make the Channel crossing have already travelled through EU countries where they could have lodged their asylum claims.

The countries they fled from may indeed be unsafe. But if that is the case, the first EU country in which they arrive is obliged under the Dublin Convention to consider their claim to asylum. The fact that so many migrants do not seek asylum in Italy, or France, or any other EU country they pass through on the way to the UK indicates that they are not so much driven by fear as attracted by the prospect of a more comfortable life in Britain.

Hence the other key proposal being considered by the Home Secretary: that any claims for asylum being made by a migrant who has reached Britain via any EU country will automatically be rejected on the grounds that asylum should have been claimed in the first country reached. Not only would such a rule help to deter illegal migration to the UK, thus putting many of the people smugglers out of business, but it should also, if properly implemented, enable refugees to be distinguished from economic migrants. Such a distinction is crucial to restoring faith in immigration policy.

For all the noise on the Left, and protests from the shadow home secretary, Ms Patel can be confident of widespread public support. As a Covid-induced economic meltdown threatens the UK with record levels of unemployment, the prospect of feeding and housing increasing numbers of illegal migrants is deeply unpopular.

The ideas emerging from the Home Office this week provide grounds for hope that, post-Brexit, the tide can be turned and that a fairer and ultimately more compassionate system can be put in place.

The Daily Telegraph

Digital ID cards are a terrible idea

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided governments around the world with a cast-iron excuse to get intimately involved in the daily lives of their citizens. The UK Government is, it seems, no exception. Anyone who is concerned that state intervention may be getting out of hand should be alarmed by the latest wheeze emanating from No10: a plan to assign a “unique digital identity” to all British citizens. This data-sharing exercise is currently being touted as a solution to difficulties encountered by those trying to obtain welfare support during the pandemic, particularly the 2.6 million self-employed people about whom little information is held on government databases.

To those who remember the political battles fought over the proposed introduction of ID cards by the last Labour government, this will seem eerily familiar. Such schemes are always sold as a convenient and speedy way to access state services. The latest selling point – dealing with the spread of Covid – has breathed new life into a previously discredited idea. Earlier this summer Tony Blair, a long-time proponent of national ID cards, described digital ID as “a natural evolution of the way we are going to use technology.”

Those bold words have a hollow ring nowadays. What is it about the word “digital” that seems to lure ministers into a series of costly, ill conceived  projects, each one attempting to increase the reach and influence of the state? This latest scheme comes hard on the heels of the much-vaunted, hugely expensive track-and-trace app, once hailed by Boris Johnson as “world-beating” but which has returned to the drawing board due to – wait for it – “technical issues”.

Announcing the latest data-sharing project, minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman declared that digital identities could contribute billions to the economy and that he looks forward to “working with partners in the private sector”. If recent history is anything to go by, the section of the economy likely to benefit most from this will be the management consultants and IT providers tasked with setting it up.

In addition to concerns about the state encroaching on personal freedom, one of the strongest arguments against data-sharing exercises is the threat to privacy. The risk that our health records, tax and benefit status or bank details might be leaked or hacked, whether through incompetence or technical failure, has always been a good reason to resist the amalgamation of multiple sources of information.

Defenders of the plans will no doubt point out that Google and Facebook nowadays know everything about us, and that we willingly surrender our privacy every time we make an online search or log on to social media. And if the Government can create a seamless path between state agencies and the private sector, won’t we all benefit from increased efficiency?

Examples of this cited by the Government include removing the need for landlords to check tenants’ immigration status, for bar owners to ask for proof of age, or GPs to require new patients to fill in forms. If we don’t mind Sainsbury’s prompting us to make our usual purchases, or pop-up ads online, why object to the state hoarding our data too?

The crucial difference is one that should be plain to any right-minded Conservative. The internet giants who hold the keys to our online lives, and the supermarkets who reward us with our loyalty card points, are ultimately answerable to us: their users and their customers. Maintaining data security is essential to their commercial success; the reputational and financial cost of breaching our privacy enables us to hold them to account. Not only do state agencies have access to some of the most confidential details about us, they also seem to be the most likely to mislay that information, and there is very little we can do about it.

Whenever government has sought to amass individual personal data and share it across departments, similar justifications have been offered: speed, convenience, efficiency. Yet when it attempts to put into practice an all-encompassing database purporting to make our lives easier, at the cost of millions if not billions of pounds, the scheme generally collapses amid a welter of acrimony, due to technical failure, data protection breaches or public resistance – or a combination of all three. There is no reason to suppose that providing us all with a “unique digital identity” will be any different – and every reason to fear that this is the most dangerous example of government overreach to date.


The Daily Telegraph

We can’t wait for a vaccine to make us safe

For all the optimism, an effective vaccine could still be years away. We need to get back to normal now.

Shares in AstraZeneca surged yesterday on the news that President Trump was considering fast-tracking the Covid vaccine it is developing in conjunction with Oxford University. The White House later damped down reports that it would try to shortcut safety procedures in a bid to buy up millions of doses of the vaccine and make them available before the November presidential election.

US scientific agencies warned, too, of the dangers of rushing out a jab that might be ineffective, or carry harmful side effects. No doubt it’s also clear to the White House that the political gains from releasing a Covid vaccine will only be achieved if the American public have full confidence that it will be safe and effective.

The idea that President Trump is recklessly seeking to expedite the process has nevertheless taken hold in Left-wing circles. Certainly, he appears to be desperate for a good news story to offset the political damage his administration has suffered in its handling of Covid. But Trufmp is hardly the only leader wanting to boast that he got to the vaccine first.

The good news from initial trials is that the Oxford vaccine appears to have a double effect, of providing both antibodies and potentially longer-lasting “T-cell” protection. In carrying out their trials, however, researchers have – ironically – been hampered by the fact that the virus is no longer in wide circulation in the UK, so it’s hard to expose volunteers to the risk of infection. Indeed, few of us are likely now to encounter anyone with the virus. Hospital admissions for Covid across England have dropped from 3,000 per day in April to around 50 a day now; daily virus deaths are close to zero. The majority of people who do test positive have no symptoms.

Despite this very low level of risk, fear of the virus is more persistent in the UK than elsewhere. A survey this week found that employees in this country are more reluctant to return to work than anywhere else in Europe. Government threats of more local lockdowns, talk of a second wave and concern that the NHS would struggle to cope if Covid comes back in the winter have all combined to frighten us into staying at home. But, as Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty has cautioned, we can’t count on the promised vaccine to make us safe and we may have to wait at least another year before it’s ready to use.

Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s cash have been staked on government contracts with AstraZeneca and other big drug companies on the basis that normal life can resume once a vaccine is available. But there are still many unknowns. Until large-scale trials have been successfully completed, the Government clearly cannot risk giving the go-ahead to mass vaccination. This process could take at least another 12 months. If serious side-effects emerge, or if the immunity conferred proves short-lived, all bets are off, and we will have to learn to live with the virus.

Britain’s scientists clearly deserve great credit for the speed and expertise they have brought to developing a vaccine, as do the volunteers coming forward to take part in trials. If it works, and if the UK is indeed one of the first countries to be able to offer safe mass vaccination, there will be a huge sigh of relief across the nation, not least in 
Downing Street.

However, until that day comes – and in case it never arrives – the Government should avoid any Trumpian rhetoric and refrain from talking up the vaccine’s prospects. The most important message the country needs to hear is that the risk of falling ill with the virus, let alone dying from it, is now vanishingly small, and that we should not be putting our lives on hold until the vaccine comes along.

The Daily Telegraph

Ludicrous quarantine rules are unenforceable

Putting holidaymakers under house arrest will bring both the law and government into disrepute

The Daily Telegraph

Taxing the over-40s is not the way to solve the problem of social care

As any Conservative government should know, the solution does not lie in compulsion, but in providing incentives

In his opening speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street a year ago, Boris Johnson made a bold pledge to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.” The plan, it seems, has yet to be written, and the biggest question still waiting to be answered is: who pays?

The latest suggestion, emerging from a task force set up by the government last month, is for a new tax towards care costs to be levied on everyone over the age of 40. Similar to a system adopted in Japan, such a tax is apparently favoured by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, although the Treasury is said to be sceptical.

The idea should be firmly resisted. Compelling people to pay into a national fund, at an age when many will be struggling to meet the financial demands of raising a family and paying a mortgage, is the wrong answer.

As any Conservative government should know, the solution does not lie in compulsion, but in providing incentives for people to take responsibility for their own future in the way they can best afford. There is a case for “nudging” people, such as pension schemes that require employees to opt out, rather than opt in. Crucially, however, such schemes do not take away personal responsibility and choice.

National insurance was introduced in the first place to provide a fund to be spent on the contributors’ healthcare and pensions, but as Nye Bevan memorably admitted “The great secret about the National Insurance fund is that there ain’t no fund.”: the money raised is in practice treated in the same way as general taxation. There is no reason to suppose that a social care fund would be any different, or that those paying would have any control over how the money is spent.

We all need to think about how we pay for our own care in old age. But handing over more money to the government means handing over responsibility – and choice. As many families have found to their dismay, if the state meets the cost of old age care, social services will decide what kind of care will be offered.

Care at home will usually be minimal and inadequate, and there will be little or no choice between care homes, sometimes requiring families to travel long distances to see loved ones. Clearly it is much more desirable for an elderly person – or their family – to be able to choose the care best suited to their needs.

The biggest incentive for anyone to save for their own future – whether in pension plans, property, or savings vehicles like ISAs – is to provide such choice, rather than forcing them to be dependent on what the state can offer. But one of the biggest worries for anyone trying to save up enough is the inability to predict what their care needs will be: a couple of years of frailty at the end of life, or 20 years with Alzheimers? This is where the government could play a useful role, to act as guarantor.

Does that sound familiar? It should do, because back in 2012 the Dilnot Report on social care came up with just such a solution, providing a cap on the amount anyone could be required to spend on care, after which the government would foot the bill. The existence of such a cap was intended to open the way to a market in affordable social care insurance, giving everyone more confidence as well as choice.

The Dilnot Report received cross-party support and was poised for implementation in 2013. It remains the best solution on offer, would save the current government scraping around for new taxes, and provides a neat answer to the question every Conservative should now be asking: how can we give more people the chance to provide for their own needs in old age whilst sharing the cost?

The Daily Telegraph

Why should wealthy pensioners get free TV licences?

The BBC is right to end free TV licences for the over-75s. There is no justification for subsidising the viewing habits of well-off pensioners, so the decision to limit free licences to those on Pension Credit makes good sense. Of the 4.5 million households currently entitled to a free licence, about 1.5 million will continue to be able to claim, so that the elderly who genuinely struggle to meet the cost will still be protected.

In the last 20 years, too many freebies have been handed out indiscriminately to the elderly: TV licences, winter fuel allowances, bus passes and travelcards, along with numerous other leisure concessions. Yet over the same period, pensioners’ incomes have risen far faster than those of working age households. The typical pensioner has more disposable income than the average young family, a gap that will undoubtedly grow wider as the full economic impact of the pandemic is felt.

 In grasping that particular nettle, the BBC has made the right decision. But now, having turned the majority of its over-75 viewers into paying customers, it should take more care to respond to customer demand. Older viewers are the most likely demographic to tune into BBC4, yet this channel – which carries most of the BBC’s cultural and historical content – is threatened with closure in order to allocate more money to the youth-facing BBC3. The under-40s have become far less likely than over-65s to watch traditional television, preferring to stream content from the internet and watch whenever, and wherever, they want. With the advent of YouTube, Netflix and Amazon TV, the BBC has slumped in popularity among the young.

Instead of chasing after younger viewers, and losing its older audience base in the process, the BBC should copy its competitors by switching to subscription-based funding. Why should it be compulsory for everyone to pay a fixed fee for programmes they have no desire to watch? The best way to end the arguments about the licence fee would be to abolish it altogether.

When the Prime Minister returned to work at the end of April he pledged that all decisions on managing Covid-19 would be taken with “maximum possible transparency” and that the Government would share all its “working and thinking” with the British people.

The best place to share such thinking is in Parliament. The daily press briefings have never been a satisfactory format for exploring the reasons behind Government decision-making. If the British people really are to be allowed to share in the process, this can only be achieved through their representatives in the House of Commons. Yesterday’s farcical attempt at socially-distanced voting is proof there will be some kinks to iron out, but it is vital that Parliament resumes, in as close to normal conditions as possible, so that laws can be openly debated.

Take the latest changes to public health law, introduced on Monday by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. They include a new rule specifically prohibiting anyone from staying overnight anywhere except their own home. Mr Hancock asserted that these regulations would “flip the basis of the law back to specifically outlining things that you cannot do, as opposed to saying you can’t do anything unless it’s specifically provided for.”

A welcome principle – yet Mr Hancock is being a little disingenuous. Yes, this change represents an increase in personal freedom – but it also brings the law further into the private domain.

Instead of being accosted in a public place and told to go home, people can now be visited by the police to find out if they are entertaining guests beyond the permitted limit. Police chiefs have already stated that they will not seek to “forcibly remove” someone found to be breaking this law. But they can direct the offender to leave another’s house, with the threat of a fine or even arrest if co-operation is not forthcoming.

The “overnight stay” law may be desirable on public health grounds. But this should be a matter for personal judgment, taking into account individual circumstances. Such questions should at least be offered to the Houses of Parliament for discussion, for health advice to be aired and the arguments for and against personal freedom to be heard.

Mr Hancock instead took the view that the measures were so urgent that the emergency procedures permitted by public health legislation could be used. Hence the regulations were “made” on Sunday and became law on Monday morning. Only after becoming law – by way of statutory instrument – were they laid before Parliament. Yes, the Government has the power to rush such legislation through and to discuss it later. But this is hardly a transparent approach calculated to gain public trust.

To build such trust, the Government is right to insist that Parliament should return, and that means in Westminster and not via Zoom. If some MPs have health concerns that restrict their ability to participate, proxies and other arrangements will suffice. For others to cite childcare as an obstacle to attendance is feeble – countless key workers have had to overcome similar issues. Nor should it be difficult to find a way of voting that balances practicality with managing risk.

MPs owe it to their constituents to get back to work, and the Government must trust Parliament to do its job.

The Daily Telegraph

With the NHS no longer in crisis, it’s time to question the proportionality of the state’s restrictions

Did your heart leap when the Government told you that more shops would soon be opening? No, I thought not. Shopping won’t fill the aching void left by the inability to see our children and grandchildren, our brothers and sisters, our parents and grandparents. All those people who may not live under the same roof with us but whose lives are entwined with ours, and make life worth living: in other words, our families.

Of the many freedoms we have surrendered over the last 10 weeks, the loss of the freedom to spend time with our families as we wish has been the hardest to bear. Perhaps you have a new grandchild, born during lockdown, who you are longing to see and to hold in your arms? Or maybe you are a new mother, desperate for your own parents to come and hold the baby and share your joy?

More prosaically but just as importantly, you might be the grandparents who pick the children up from school once a week, or take them to the park on Saturdays, or have them to stay in the school holidays. You probably accepted that lockdown was a painful necessity to get past the point of maximum risk to the NHS and to your own health, and so for 10 weeks you stayed at home, kept your distance and avoided all unnecessary human contact.

But now, before going out into the wide world again, your first desire is to spend time with your family, knowing that they, like you, have been in lockdown. What could be the danger in that? Yet the Government will not allow you to trust your judgment and exercise this basic right, and so you can only meet your loved ones individually, six-feet apart, in a park or stretch of woodland – no hugs, no touching.

Maybe, if no one is looking, you let your grandchild’s little hand creep into yours. But you feel like a criminal as you do so. For a moment, you think that this is how it must feel to be hiding from the watchful eye of a hostile neighbour in a totalitarian state. And you drop the child’s hand and move away. The emotions stirred by such encounters are the most atavistic, for the denial of contact with our loved ones strikes at the heart – literally – of what it is to be human.

When Winston Churchill argued for an international convention to protect human rights after the last war, he had in mind those fundamental freedoms Britain had fought so hard to protect – among them the right to family life. The Human Rights Act, in large part derived from that convention, provides “the right to enjoy family relationships without interference from government”. The Act also provides for this right to be restricted, for the sake of public safety, health and security – but only where government can show that the restriction is “lawful, necessary and proportionate”.

With the NHS no longer in crisis, and infection rates so low that vaccine trials are struggling to find people exposed to the virus, it is surely time to question the proportionality of the Government’s restrictions? If it is judged safe to have a cleaner or a nanny in your home, for children to return to school and for clothes shops to reopen, isn’t it time to trust families to make their own judgments about their ability to mingle safely?

Much has been said about “bubbles” allowing two households to meet at some point in the next month. But the Government insists that such encounters must be outdoors and that no physical contact can take place; we are even to be given guidance on how to walk through a house to reach the garden without touching anything. This kind of micromanagement is becoming ridiculous.

We have grown accustomed to being told what to do these past months and we have, for the most part, swallowed orders without complaint, believing them to be for our own good and for the health of our nation. But there must be limits on the Government’s ability to intervene in family life. Only we can know the precise circumstances, home life and health risks to which our nearest and dearest have been exposed, and we should be trusted to act accordingly.

A Prime Minister who cannot understand the importance of this basic freedom shows a woeful lack of understanding of what makes us human. If we are forced to invoke the Human Rights Act to remind him, it will be a sorry moment for Boris Johnson and the Government he leads

The Daily Telegraph

Lockdown has been miserable enough without local authorities closing public amenities and shutting car parks in a bid to keep us all at home
The weather is glorious, the countryside beckons, and the risks of catching Covid in the open air are now known to be minimal. As lockdown eases off, the best thing we can do with any free time is get outside, soak up the vitamin D and enjoy the wide open spaces offered by England’s coast and countryside. But local councils and tourist boards are acting like a bunch of Nimbys, telling visitors to keep away. Many are refusing to open car parks and public toilets, forcing visitors to park on roadsides and avail themselves of the nearest hedge.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of the Government’s scientific advisory committee, says that councils should be ordered to reopen such facilities to encourage people to get out and about as much as possible. He is concerned that the British population has been “terrorised” into staying at home, and that such disproportionate fear will have a lasting negative impact.
The Government stated last week that we could all drive as far as we liked to take exercise and enjoy our leisure (in a socially distanced manner). But councils in some of the most beautiful parts of England appeared not to get the message. Cornwall’s council leader declared before the weekend that “Cornwall is not open for visitors”. In case anyone was thinking of driving to Keswick, at the heart of the Lake District, local councillors put up roadside signs announcing: “Keswick is still closed. Please come back when we are open.”
For thousands of people living in densely populated urban areas of the north west, access to the Lake District at the weekend, to wander on the lake shore or walk the fells, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For such access to be denied, or made as difficult as possible, is contrary to the founding purpose of England’s National Parks, of which the Lake District is one.
Some tourism chiefs, by contrast, have risen to the occasion. Andy Parsons, chief executive of the Cotswolds Conservation Board, announced that “everyone is welcome” to enjoy this beautiful part of England. He simply asked visitors to show consideration for local residents and farmers while they do so. It’s a sensible message that acknowledges the privilege attached to living and working in the countryside, a privilege that should be shared, not hoarded.
In areas such as Cornwall and the Lakes, heavily dependent on tourism for their livelihood, councils should be doing all they can to facilitate safe access. That means opening car parks and public toilets; the latter are a necessity, especially given the importance of hand washing.
People who cannot drive to the countryside must also be given the confidence to use their local parks. Yet some London councils, including Tower Hamlets (one of the UK’s most deprived urban areas) are closing parks at 5pm, more than three hours before the sun sets. For residents, the very people councils are supposed to serve, that can mean no open-air exercise all week, especially for those still at work.
The experience of lockdown has highlighted both the best and worst characteristics of British public life. Sadly, many local authorities and taxpayer-funded organisations have shown themselves too eager to cite risk or inconvenience to staff as an excuse to close things down, rather than working out how to open up safely in order to meet the needs of the public they exist to serve.

The Daily Telegraph

Why have we done such a poor job of protecting care homes?

14th April 2020

They could have been safe havens from coronavirus. In our obsession with the NHS, they were ignored

As the nation stays at home to “protect the NHS”, another tragedy has been unfolding away from the public gaze. Covid-19 is raging through the UK’s care homes. The number of residents dying each week with the virus rose tenfold between 27 March and 4 April. It has long been clear that the virus is more likely to be fatal to the elderly and to those with underlying health conditions, yet those most in need of shielding have not been afforded the protection they needed.

From the beginning of this year, as data emerged from China showing how the lethality of coronavirus differed according to age, it was clear that it would be the elderly who should take greatest care to avoid contracting the disease. Evidence from Italy emphasised the point; the age profile of the population, combined with the greater prevalence of multi-generational households, helped to explain the rapid spread and high death rates experienced in that country. Yet the bodies responsible for the inspection and supervision of our care homes, and in some cases the managers of those homes, were behind the curve.

In the UK, multi-generational households are the exception. Before the advent of coronavirus, this was commonly held to be a sad state of affairs. Why did we shuffle our elderly relations into residential care rather than have them living with young families? But with the arrival of a pandemic, this separation of the generations might have been converted from weakness to strength. Care homes could have become the equivalent of the “isolation hospitals” used until the 1960s to help protect against infectious diseases.

It should not be just a matter of hindsight to point to such a possibility: in 2016, a national drill codenamed Exercise Cygnus warned the government, the NHS and local authorities that the UK needed to be better prepared for the possibility that a severe strain of influenza could arrive from an Asian country with devastating effects. Every winter, care homes have to be on their guard against seasonal flu, knowing it to be more deadly for their residents than for the young and healthy.

Why, then, did the care home sector, the Care Quality Commission and local authorities not impose early lockdowns on care homes and demand that all staff be provided with protective clothing and virus testing? Perhaps the desire to ensure that the elderly did not feel lonely, and the well-meaning insistence that they should maintain social contact lest they suffer from depression, served to distract those in authority from the need to prioritise their physical health.

But it is hard to see why some relatively simple precautions could not have been introduced as soon as coronavirus reached these shores. Hand sanitisers at every doorway, restrictions on visitors and daily health checks on staff should have been the minimum required, backed up by warnings by Public Health England. However imperfect testing may be, surely care home workers should be given the same priority as doctors and nurses, to avoid them unwittingly spreading the illness to their elderly charges.

Moreover, protecting care homes and their residents will become even more important in the months ahead. Steps must very soon be taken to return the young and economically active to some semblance of normal life. But given all the evidence available about the differing impact of the virus, the over-70s and those with existing health problems will no doubt be required to isolate themselves as much as possible from the risk of transmission. The public needs to have confidence that the most elderly and frail are being properly protected.

It is a dismal irony, however, that our national and quasi-religious obsession with the health service has pushed care homes out of the picture. The Government has justified its entire strategy for fighting this pandemic on the need to “protect the NHS”, given the limited number of intensive care beds available.

NHS capacity does not yet appear to have been breached, but it is sadly inevitable that deaths in care homes will continue to rise. Let us at least do more to protect their staff properly and do our best to ensure that their frail residents are not exposed to unnecessary suffering.

31st March 2020

Pettifogging officials must not be allowed to stamp out the last sparks of freedom

“This isn’t a holiday!” said the police officers clearing sunbathers off the green in Shepherd’s Bush last week. Reminiscent of the 1940s “Don’t you know there’s a war on!”, it’s a phrase that will no doubt fall from the lips of many officials over the coming weeks. But as those weeks stretch into months, the British public must be allowed a little sunbathing if it is to keep its sanity.

The severity of the lockdown imposed on the people of this country will make huge demands on their patience and fortitude. Introduced in order to protect the health service and to save the lives thousands of the elderly and frail, the lockdown will nonetheless take a severe toll on the physical and mental health of millions.

Current polling shows resounding public support for the measures, but to maintain that support for long enough to have the desired effect, officials at all levels must restrain their desire to emulate ARP Warden Hodges of Dad’s Army, terrorising Walmington-on-Sea with endless petty commands. Setting up hotlines, for people to inform on neighbours suspected of taking two walks a day, might appeal to self-appointed busybodies but will do nothing to build community spirit.

The list of over-zealous interpretation of the lockdown laws grows longer by the day. Convenience stores, most of whose proprietors and staff are working flat out to keep the nation fed, complained yesterday that council officials had told them not to stock Easter eggs on the grounds they are “non-essential”. As the stores’ trade body was quick to point out, there is nothing in the regulations to prevent such sales. Of course no one “needs” Easter eggs, but when children cannot see their friends, go on holiday or even use the swings, who would grudge them a chocolate treat?

On Saturday, MP Stephen Kinnock tweeted a photo of himself visiting his parents on his father Neil’s 78th birthday, taking food supplies plus a couple of garden chairs so he and his wife could sit in the front garden ten feet away from them and sing happy birthday. The response from South Wales police was to rap Kinnock’s knuckles, tweeting “This is not essential travel”.

The Church of England has been telling clergy not to use churches for prayer or funerals, despite the fact that specific exemptions in the lockdown regulations allow them to broadcast online worship from those churches, and indeed to hold funerals (within social distancing rules). Whilst a few imaginative vicars continue to use their churches to pray and send out footage of their worship to their housebound flock, the majority have surrendered to officialdom. In this time of anxiety and spiritual hunger, churches and cathedrals stand empty even of their priests.

If the nation is to retain its health and sanity it must also, as the Government recognises, be allowed to take exercise in the open air. For city dwellers lucky enough to own a car, it is surely reasonable for them to drive into the countryside to take a bracing walk, away from the crowds. Indeed, by so doing they are relieving pressure on urban green space needed by those who lack cars.

The law does not preclude such outings, yet it seems the police are determined to clamp down on what they see as frivolity, to the extent that some forces have been setting up road blocks and asking “Is your journey really necessary?” Given that less than 6 per cent of England is built over, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t room in the countryside for us all to take a walk and hear the birds sing.

Nor should the construction industry be staging a pre-emptive shutdown. Forcing building companies to go under will not help us house the homeless when this crisis passes. The enthusiastic builders working on the new “Nightingale” Covid hospital suggest that with the application of imagination and common sense, construction work can continue safely with a low risk of infection.

With Corbynite enthusiasm for command and control, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth yesterday called for the government to publish a list of essential businesses – and close down all the rest. Labour must not be allowed to win this argument.

The great British public have so far shown remarkable solidarity in embracing the lockdown and supporting the beleaguered health service. The Government must not risk that support by stamping on the few small sparks of freedom that remain undimmed. No-one thinks this is a holiday. But we all need a little sunshine.

The Daily Telegraph

7th January 2020

Centralising our police forces would be a terrible idea

Policing needs to be brought closer to our communities, not made more remote

If the British public is to feel any benefit from the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, then it needs to be clear that an expanded force will focus on public priorities rather than chasing political fashions.

Research commissioned by this newspaper shows that the proportion of crimes being solved has fallen to the lowest level recorded, and that courts are standing idle as police and prosecutors fail to bring cases to trial. At the same time, allegedly overstretched officers are finding time to record thousands of ‘non-crime hate incidents’, of which it seems there is always a plentiful supply on social media.

There is plainly a serious disconnect between public concerns about day-to-day crimes, such as street attacks, burglaries and car crime, and the level of police responsiveness. Put bluntly, local police forces are failing in their most important duty: to keep us safe.

Senior police officers have admitted that this is worrying and acknowledge that police priorities have to change. But we should be wary of the solution currently favoured by Martin Hewett, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, who has called for a restructuring of the 43 regional police forces, merging them into a smaller number of bigger units. As ever, the siren call for economies of scale, “streamlining” and greater specialisation has met with a warm response from leaders of various representative bodies within the police force, such as the Superintendents Association and the Police Federation.

It is tempting to conclude that the officers who spend their time representing the interests of sectors within the force are more enthusiastic about rearranging structures than challenging and reforming front-line failings.

Policing our streets, gaining and using information effectively, responding quickly to muggings and break-ins and maintaining public confidence: all these tasks require local and neighbourhood knowledge and all demand front-line officers, not desk-bound “specialists.” It is an irony that at a time when technology enables information to be shared between individuals and small units faster and more widely than ever before, the assumption remains that mergers are necessary in order to scale up expertise.

In terms of policing, it is far from clear that this has ever been the case. As a large-scale academic review in 2016 pointed out, there is no convincing evidence that merging police forces improves results. The review found that mergers risk impairing local effectiveness and that there is no clear link between size and efficiency. Policing is above all a labour-intensive activity requiring officers on the ground, so that much-vaunted “economies of scale” usually remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

The 2013 merger of police forces across Scotland into one single force should be enough to dispel illusions about the benefits of centralisation. Promised budget savings have failed to materialise, millions being spent on management consultants’ fees while front line staff are cut; crime-fighting policies applicable to tough inner cities were rolled out across Scotland regardless of local policing needs, damaging public confidence and causing resentment amongst officers; both the inaugural Chief Constable and his successor lasted less than three years in the job, resigning amid allegations of management failure.

To her credit, Home Secretary Priti Patel does not seem convinced that restructuring police forces is necessary, and has made it clear her priority is more officers on the ground, with the support and equipment they need. But she also needs to steer forces away from their preoccupation with social media and the enforcement of “woke” viewpoints.

Giving police chiefs ever bigger fiefdoms over which to preside, replacing local knowledge with generalised policies, is precisely the wrong direction of travel. Policing needs to be brought closer to our communities, not made more remote.

The Sunday Telegraph

24th November 2019

Doctors should be doing more home visits not fewer

Persuading a doctor to visit you at home nowadays is fraught with obstacles, however ill you might be. Such is the reluctance of GPs to come and see you that you will end up having to get to the surgery somehow, or else head for A & E and take your chances there. Last week a national conference of GPs voted to scrap home visits altogether, describing them as an “anachronism” which should not be part of their core work. For the frail elderly, anyone living alone, or parents of young children, particularly those unable to afford a car, the end of home visits is a very worrying prospect.
Have GPs really so lost sight of their role that they feel able to describe this part of their work as a “waste of time”? In an age when almost every consumer item can be delivered to your door, it is extraordinary to think that the one service which you really need to receive at home could soon be consigned to the past. A GP’s waiting room these days is no place to be ill: full of feverish children crying, adults coughing and sneezing, queuing for hours to be seen for five minutes (if you are lucky). That such a system has been allowed to develop is surely a terrible reflection on the priorities of the NHS, where services seem increasingly geared to the convenience of staff rather than patients.
As all political parties vow to spend billions on the health service, it is worth considering what happened when a large pot of money was last offered to GPs, by Tony Blair. Fed up with a long hours culture, and struggling to meet the demands of an expanding – and increasingly elderly – population, family doctors negotiated a new deal which paid them better while relieving them of out-of-hours work. So began a trend away from a personalised service where GPs had a holistic picture of their patients’ needs, to be replaced by a box ticking, target-led and surgery-centred business.
If this latest proposal is agreed, any home visits will have to be dealt with by a separate NHS service rather than by local GPs. Not every GP at last week’s conference was happy with the idea. In the words of one of those opposing the resolution, “it will disrupt fundamentally the relationship that we have with patients if they do not trust that when they are older, sicker and more unwell we will still be their doctor.’’
For many patients on the books of large GP practices, who never see the same doctor twice, such trust is already a thing of the past. Enterprising NHS-trained doctors in wealthy neighbourhoods are setting up private practice groups, available to those who can afford to pay a fee. Ironically, these doctors have no surgeries, instead spending all their time on home visits. With minimal overheads, these modern-day Dr Finlays are rediscovering the satisfaction of knowing their patients personally.
One of the reasons NHS practices are currently under so much pressure is the difficulty in recruiting newly-trained doctors to this branch of medicine. Yet if GPs now abandon home visits they will be losing a task which lies at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship, giving purpose and meaning to their role. Any new government settlement for general practice needs to place more emphasis on that relationship, rather than whittling it away further.

The Daily Telegraph

15th October 2019

There’s nothing ‘populist’ about cracking down hard on crime

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” Tony Blair’s mantra was aimed at placating anger over rising criminality while reassuring the liberal intelligentsia whose good opinion he wanted to retain. It was a balancing act David Cameron attempted to imitate as he invited us to “hug a hoodie”. Under Theresa May, the Tories drifted even further away from their once-hawkish reputation on law and order. But fewer police on the streets, overcrowded and drug-infested prisons, a failing parole system and record levels of knife crime have all combined to create a feeling of insecurity.

It is this insecurity that Boris Johnson’s government is seeking to address and Priti Patel as Home Secretary has left us in no doubt about the direction of travel. “We are coming after you” is her message to criminals, and yesterday’s Queen’s Speech filled in the detail of previously sketched out plans.

Violent and sex offenders will face longer sentences. The horrific consequences of releasing prisoners only half way through their sentences were revealed by this newspaper last week: almost a fifth of all murders are committed by prisoners on parole who have been let out of jail early. Under the Government’s proposed reform, anyone jailed for four years or more will have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentence before they can be released.

Further measures include widening the category of murders for which life sentences will be applicable. Tackling concern about foreign offenders, anyone breaching a deportation order will serve years – rather than weeks – before being released again. The Government also wants to demonstrate its solidarity with the police by proposing a police covenant, similar to the Military Covenant.

The Government’s message to the public is clear: we understand why you have lost faith in law enforcement, we share your anger at a system that allows convicted murders to kill again and we intend to meet your concerns and rebuild your faith in British justice.

Predictably the cry has gone up from the bleeding heart liberals, Labour and their fellow travellers in the media, that this “crackdown on crime” is a “populist” measure designed to win the general election that cannot be far away. Francis Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform labelled the new sentencing proposals “the politics of the lynch mob” which will “take hope away” from prisoners. Channelling Blair, Harry Fletcher, from probation union Napo, said: “The Government must tackle the causes of anti-social and criminal behaviour and resist the temptation to flag populist measures.” Diane Abbott dismissed the Government’s programme as a “pre-election party political broadcast which the government has no means to deliver.”

Patel must be delighted with these reactions. Among the liberal intelligentsia, “populist” has become a term of abuse. But Johnson’s government, to its credit, sees no conflict between a policy that is popular and a policy that is right. When criminals on early release commit murder, when police officers are killed on duty and children knifed on the streets, the Government’s duty is not to fret for the welfare of the murderers, but to protect the public. And if the Opposition will neither allow the Government to put its reforms into action nor hold an election, it must face the day of reckoning when the public is finally allowed to have a say.


26th July 2019

Priti Patel’s approach is just what we need to win the war on crime

As knife crime and homicide rates have risen, the Conservatives’ reputation as the party of law and order has been shredded. Boris Johnson’s decision to appoint Priti Patel as Home Secretary, alongside his commitment to increase police numbers by 20,000, sends a clear signal that his government intends to restore that reputation.

Proud of his record in reducing crime in London, the new Prime Minister wants to show that he will give the police the tools they need – including more freedom to stop and search – to get knives off our streets and make all our towns and cities safer.

In these uncertain times, with an ever-present terror threat and an epidemic of fatal stabbings, you might expect broad support for such explicit emphasis on public safety. Yet the loudest response to Patel’s appointment so far has been from the human rights lobby, desperate to express their concern at the prospect of a Home Secretary who intends to make national security her priority and who has in the past called for stricter enforcement of immigration rules.

Underlying many of the criticisms from the Left is of course a barely-concealed hostility to Patel’s cordial relationship with Israel, a relationship which led to her informal meetings with Israeli officials while she served as Secretary of State for International Development.  Failure to clear all those meetings with Downing Street in advance prompted her sacking from the May government, already uneasy at her outspoken calls to make the international aid budget work towards Britain’s interests abroad.

Like her new boss Boris Johnson, Patel has long argued for a points-based immigration system. As a Vote Leave campaigner, she was a strong exponent of giving the UK control of its own immigration policy, not only to meet its economic needs but also for reasons of national security.

If called upon to decide between supporting the US and the EU in security matters, it is not hard to guess which way the new Home Secretary will turn. Civil liberties campaigners, outraged at her predecessor Sajid Javid’s decision not to seek an assurance from the US government that convicted Isis torturers and executioners will not face the death penalty, have already marked Patel down as an enemy of human rights, believing she is likely to stick with Javid’s line. Indeed, one of the first attacks against Patel is that she once sympathised with calls for the return of the death penalty in the UK, a view she later abandoned.

None of these attacks are likely to trouble Patel overmuch; indeed they will help her to establish her credentials as a politician who sides with the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators; not bowing to the liberal metropolitan elite but rather speaking up for the families who have suffered the consequences of rising crime.

In so doing, Patel needs also to recognise the link between illegal drug use, particularly the habitual use of cannabis, and violent crime. Examples of the connection are numerous, from the Manchester Arena bombers to the bloodthirsty murderer of Lee Pomeroy on a commuter train.

Yet over the last four years police forces around the UK have been increasingly reluctant to charge cannabis users, despite the fact that it remains a Class B drug. In some police authorities, fewer than 20 per cent of  those found in possession of the drug last year were charged. A Home Secretary who wants to make the streets safer has to challenge police forces on this issue, rather than allowing them to turn a blind eye to “recreational” use.

During her time as Home Secretary, Theresa May famously berated the police for their complacency and restricted their powers to stop and search. As Prime Minister she reaped the legacy of that confrontation, both in terms of rising knife crime and lack of confidence between police forces and the government.

Patel is no doubt aware that there is a fine line to tread between calling the police to account and giving them the tools they need to keep us safe. If she can get them to concentrate on public safety, while reassuring officers that she will support them in that task, she will not only restore confidence in the Conservatives but also improve trust in the police force, as a source of security rather than enforcers of political correctness.

4 June 2019

Labour has shown once again that it wants nothing more than the abolition of private property

Do you have a couple of spare bedrooms? Or maybe a large garden you enjoy cultivating? Jeremy Corbyn would like to tax you for such privileges, to discourage “over-consumption of housing. ” If Labour wins the next election,  you can forget about keeping your house in retirement and having space for the grandchildren to stay, unless you are assured of a big enough income to meet the tax bill. An official report produced for the Labour Party laments what it describes as our “broken” system of land ownership and proposes to replace council tax with a “progressive property tax”, set nationally and based on regularly updated values. Payable by owners but not by tenants, the tax would also be significantly higher for second homes. Current discounts for single people such as widows living alone would be removed, to deter them from occupying “large” homes.The report, entitled Land for the Many, is edited by green activist George Monbiot, and has been given a warm response by shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett. It makes no secret of its ambitions to change the way land is owned in the UK, to enable the state to take control over, and ultimately to reallocate, private property.

Playing on widespread concerns about the cost of housing, the report blames lack of social mobility on increased land values; it argues that the “accumulated wealth” of those who own homes is blocking the aspirations of those unable to get on the housing ladder.

Instead of considering the obvious causes of pressure on housing in the most overcrowded parts of Britain – such as the huge increase in immigration triggered by the last Labour government – Monbiot and his co-authors fall back on the old Left wing sentiments of envy and spite. Since we cannot all have a tennis court or swimming pool, it asserts, our objective should be to arrange that all tennis courts and swimming pools be publicly owned and shared by all. Or perhaps you hope to have your own vegetable garden to tend in retirement? Think again. If Jeremy Corbyn takes power, you will have to join the queue for a state-owned allotment instead.

Taking the socialist view that private ownership of land should ultimately be abolished, the report envisages an ideal world in which no-one would own the land on which their home is built. Land and housing should no longer, it argues, be “treated as financial assets.” As a first step, powers of compulsory purchase would be extended to enable public authorities to buy up land for social housing, paying landowners below market price.

Determined to crush any financial return on owning a property, Labour also has private landlords in its sights. The report describes the private letting market as a “buy-to-let frenzy” and proposes “open-ended” tenancies, with caps on permissible rent increases. Not only would this remove the incentive to let out a property , it would also create significant risks to landlords of being able to reclaim their property in the future, effectively handing control to the tenant.

Closing down the private rental market in this way would of course mean that everyone unable or unwilling to commit to buying a home would lose their access to privately rented property, a prospect that apparently does not trouble the writers of this report. They seem confident that the state would be able to take over enough land to supply social housing for all at public expense.

Conservative housing Minister James Brokenshire describes the proposals in Labour’s report as “extraordinary and deeply damaging in equal measure.” He is right.

Yet this is the same James Brokenshire who less than two months ago announced Conservative plans to stop private landlords reclaiming their properties on “as little as 8 weeks’ notice”: in other words, to end the freedom of contract brought about by shorthold tenancies, currently terminable by either side on a minimum of  two months’ notice. These “Assured Shorthold” tenancies, introduced by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher, produced a huge increase in the availability of property for rent. If Jeremy Corbyn wins the battle for hearts and minds with his openly socialist and authoritarian agenda, today’s Conservative Party must take its share of the blame, for shifting the goalposts so far in Mr Corbyn’s direction.

Let us hope the next leader of the Conservatives grasps the threat to freedom posed by today’s Labour Party – and succeeds in communicating it to the electorate before it’s too late.

6th September 2018

The Archbishop of Canterbury occupies a unique position in public life. Leader of the Church of England and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican communion, he has the opportunity to apply biblical wisdom to the challenges of the modern world and to speak up for Christ in a society too often consumed by secular demands. With a publicity machine and Twitter account at his disposal, the Archbishop’s opinions on controversial topics have the potential to influence both public and personal morality.

How depressing it is, then, that Justin Welby uses his unique position to espouse the standard Left-leaning political prescriptions that we can hear any day of the week not only from Jeremy Corbyn but from nearly all Labour, Green, and LibDem politicians. It has become all so predictable. At least since the Eighties, when in response to inner city riots the Church published Faith in the City – described by one Cabinet member at the time as “pure Marxist theology” — whenever an Anglican leader has chosen to intervene in politics, his demands have been for higher taxes, more state intervention, and more redistribution.

In Welby’s case, by participating in a commission on “economic justice” led by the IPPR, a think-tank founded to promote New Labour policies, the Archbishop has been unapologetic in expressing a tax-and-spend political worldview. Writing in support of the IPPR’s findings, he demands that the Government should increase taxes on personal wealth and multinationals, set up a state investment bank, force businesses to pay higher wages, and strengthen the bargaining power of the unions.

As Telegraph readers will know, such policies have been tested under past Labour governments and have proved ineffective at solving the problem of poverty and disadvantage. Under the current Conservative government, UK employment is at an all-time high, income inequality has fallen and the wealthiest people now pay a higher proportion of all income tax than at any time under Labour. As for strengthening the trades unions, rail and tube strikes in recent years surely demonstrate that in industries where the unions still exert significant bargaining power, the public pay a very high price in disruption and rising fares?

But setting aside the economic fallacies in the Archbishop’s proposals, the problem many Christians will have with Welby’s decision to share a platform with the IPPR is the political nature of his interventions.

With a background in the evangelical wing of the Church of England, it might have been expected that this Archbishop would seize every opportunity to promote a specifically Christian worldview and explain how Bible teaching can be applied to modern social and moral challenges.

There is surely no shortage of such challenges. Take the rising cost of care for the elderly: it might be apt for the Archbishop to remind us of the commandment to honour our fathers and mothers by taking responsibility for their care, instead of always assuming that the state will step in. The epidemic in gang-based violent crime is one of many social problems with roots in father absence and lack of male role models. Yet we do not hear a call from the Archbishop for policies to discourage casual relationships or increase parental responsibility.

As lawyers and the media combine to argue for easier divorce, a speech from the Archbishop about the serious and lifelong pledges contained in the ceremony of marriage might not come amiss. These are all topics of fierce debate involving decisions of both public and personal morality, where spiritual guidance is arguably more important than “economic justice.”

Politicians are very wary of talking about God, perhaps fearful of appearing messianic in their ambitions. But church leaders have a God-given opportunity to engage in moral and spiritual questions, untainted by a political agenda. Earlier this year, Welby attracted widespread ridicule by claiming that the European Union was “the greatest dream realised for human beings since the fall of the Western Roman Empire.” His boldness in attaching himself to the side of Remain shows that he is not afraid to court political controversy. But many of his flock would prefer that he showed similar boldness in speaking out for Christianity, instead of calling on the state to solve our social and economic ills.

From smart meters to the cash point’s decline: Why we are becoming hostages to tech

29th June 2018

Far from liberating society, technology is eroding our independence

Have you had a smart meter installed, thinking it would enable you to control your energy use and keep your bills down? Well, maybe you should think again.

This week the former head of “meterology” at energy regulator Ofgem, Jerry Fulton, confirmed what many of us had long suspected: smart meters will give suppliers, rather than consumers, greater control over our energy use and in particular the ability to charge us more for our gas and electricity when we most need to use it. Mr Fulton explained that the latest meters will allow half-hourly variations in charging rates, so that when wind and solar power generation is sluggish and usage is high, prices will rise steeply.

This seems entirely believable, given the failure of both Labour and Conservative governments over the past 20 years to plan for Britain’s energy needs. Too much green wishful thinking, combined with a pathetic inability to take infrastructure decisions, has led us to the point where energy rationing is a serious possibility.

As a substitute for long-term planning, the Government nags us into accepting smart meters (paid for by a levy on everyone’s bills), while telling us to save money by switching suppliers. Thousands of householders have already discovered that these two objectives are incompatible because their meters won’t recognise different suppliers. And, as Mr Fulton points out, once fluctuating tariffs are introduced, price comparisons will become virtually impossible.

This doesn’t feel like progress, does it? Worryingly, a similar process is threatening our access to our own money. Online banking, contactless cards and the end of cash payments are all promoted as tools to give us control over our finances. Yet the technological dream rapidly turns sour when online banking systems crash, leaving customers powerless and bringing businesses to a halt.

The march to a cashless society continues: more than a thousand cashpoints have closed in the past six months, often in towns where bank branches have also disappeared. Where ATMs remain, customers are more likely to be charged for using them: yesterday the Daily Telegraph revealed that the UK’s biggest cashpoint provider plans to start charging customers at thousands of its machines.

We thought that technology would liberate us, yet in the hands of big government – and big corporations – it is slowly but surely tying us down, by making us dependent. Once hooked, our choices are constrained and we cannot break free.

This bears down hardest on the poorest in society, who cannot pay their way to freedom: rationing by price is more regressive than any tax. David Cameron once memorably scorned Gordon Brown as an “analogue politician in a digital age”. But in its eagerness to embrace technology, the Government should be more mindful of the digital threats to our freedom.


Upholding family values will see off the Left

5th August 2017

Conservatives have long understood that strong families are the best safeguard against state intervention. Couples who take care of each other, look after their children and take responsibility for their elderly relatives, all reduce the burden on the state and on the public purse. In contrast, socialism has always been dismissive of family ties, viewing parents as agents of inequality. Marxist doctrine holds that children should be reared collectively, to eradicate privilege and to ensure loyalty to the state and its objectives.
To rediscover the differences between conservatism and Corbynism, to build a coalition of voters that will deliver a majority at the next election, and to create positive arguments for limiting the size – and cost – of the state, the Tories need to make the case for upholding and strengthening the role of the family.
What does this mean in practice? It starts with support for marriage, the institution proven to be the best insurance against family breakdown and the most likely to provide children with stability. Research shows that the value of marriage is not just coincidental; the public affirmation involved in signing up to marriage, rather than drifting into cohabitation, plays an active role in maintaining a couple’s commitment to each other.
Happily, divorce rates are falling, with fewer married couples splitting up. But the prospects for children remain bleak because nearly half of all babies are born to unmarried parents. These parents are three times more likely than their married counterparts to split up before their child reaches 16.
Worryingly also, marriage is becoming the preserve of the better-off: the vast majority of married parents are higher rate taxpayers, whereas low income parents are mostly unmarried. Clearly any government interested in promoting family stability needs to provide more support for marriage among middle and lower income groups. Yet recent Conservative governments, in common with their Labour predecessors, have focused support on couples who split up. The marriage tax allowance, so long promised by David Cameron, was finally implemented at a paltry £200 a year, so insignificant that most couples fail to claim it. This contrasts starkly with the level of subsidy available to parents living apart.
Conservatives also need a message to contrast with the Left’s vision of collective, state-supervised childcare. Raising children should be the prerogative of parents, with minimal state intervention, save in cases of abuse or neglect. The role of a Conservative government should therefore be to encourage freedom of choice for families. Instead of subsidies contingent on non-parental, state-regulated care, families with a working parent should be offered tax allowances to spend as they wish, on childminders, nurseries, or care by a family member. If one parent wants to spend time at home caring for their children, while the other works, Conservatives should applaud that decision. Perversely, however, the Tories’ strategy of continually increasing individual tax-free allowances has driven more families to have both parents in work, leaving those with just one breadwinner substantially worse off.
Giving families the option to pool their allowances, allocating work and care as best suits them, would not only affirm family life, it would demonstrate a Conservative belief in individual choice, enabling parents to transmit their own values. Such choices should also be open to families when deciding on the best school for their children, and so it is disappointing that the government is cutting the budget for free schools, the parent-led initiative introduced by Michael Gove.
Forced by their lack of a majority to abandon plans for more grammars, the Tories should at least be confident in making the case for free schools and their ability to respond to parental choice while providing opportunities for families at all income levels. Instead, however, Justine Greening appears to be succumbing to the agenda of the Left: that all schools should receive more cash regardless of their success rates.
The Education Secretary also seems overly keen to subscribe to the most extreme of Left-wing ideas: that gender is a social construct rather than (in almost all cases) a biological fact. Parents who are worried about such outlandish and confusing notions becoming part of the curriculum could be excused for thinking that “conservative” is no longer an apt description of Theresa May’s party.
In opposition, a political party can more easily be forgiven for toying with borrowed ideas or seeking to reinvent itself at leisure. But for a government trying to hold back the advance of the most Left-wing Labour leadership Britain has known, such luxuries are not available. If Tories fail to articulate a message based on recognisable principles, ideological ground will soon be ceded and they will find themselves lacking any coherent message. In making the case for conservatism afresh, and pushing back socialism, where better to start than by upholding the family?
Jill Kirby is a policy analyst and former director of the Centre for Policy Studies, the think tank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher

Projects like Hinkley Point look dated before construction even starts

24th June 2017

The government’s deal with French energy suppliers EDF for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is risky and expensive, and will force consumers to pay higher electricity prices for 35 years. That is the damning verdict of a report released yesterday by the National Audit Office. The total subsidy bill of the massive new power plant, which is not due to be completed until at least 2025 and is based on unproven technology, have risen from an initial £6 billion to £30 billion.

Theresa May came close to ditching Hinkley last summer, before apparently concluding that a bad deal is, in this case, better than no deal. It’s true that Britain has an energy gap but it’s also increasingly clear that Hinkley is not the answer. What would a better electricity deal look like?

First, we need to be more nimble: mammoth infrastructure projects like Hinkley look out of date before construction has even started. By basing the deal on pessimistic energy price forecasts back in 2012, the government committed to paying EDF more than double the market price for electricity at a time when prices are falling.

Second, the government must reconsider the UK’s carbon targets in the light of evidence on the harms of so-called “renewables”. The Labour government’s 2008 pledge to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 has distorted the market, closed British factories, and driven hefty subsidies towards the most costly and inefficient energy sources. Instead of burning cheap coal, several of Britain’s biggest power stations are now subsidised to burn imported wood pellets, a practice which is not only costly for households but has also now been found to emit more carbon. As the Chatham House think tank concluded in a report earlier this year, this misdirected subsidy has been bad for the planet as well as for the consumer.

Third, use home grown solutions. British engineering companies are developing small nuclear reactors, based on existing technology, capable of being built off site and installed much more quickly and cheaply than a giant reactor like Hinkley. Instead of paying hefty subsidies to EDF, why aren’t we promoting these British engineering skills, with the potential not just to supply the UK but to export their products?

Finally, the government must continue to make the case for fracking in the UK. Shale gas has driven down US energy prices, providing so much fuel that the gas is being liquefied and sold across the world. Because gas is the fossil fuel with the lowest emissions, it can provide us with cheap and reliable fuel at the lowest environmental cost – long before Hinkley Point raises its ugly and expensive head across the Somerset landscape.

The adoption crisis is a legacy of target culture 

12th November 2014

Rules intended to speed up the process have led to fewer children finding a suitable home

The Daily Mail

The more you tell teenagers about sex, the more sex they will have. And the more unwanted pregnancies will result.

31st May 2017

How can rewarding the feckless and punishing the hardworking be the right way to support families?

19th August 2014

The Times and Sunday Times

Arrogant Bercow should be brought to heel

20th August 2014

The Speaker’s nonsensical appointment of a new clerk of the Commons threatens to bring parliament into disrepute

The British parliament is the envy of the world, a model for lawmaking. So as the public lose trust in politicians, the reputation of parliament itself is crucial. That is why the row over the appointment of a new clerk to the House of Commons, at a salary of £200,000 a year, is not just a silly season Westminster spat. The prime minister should intervene.

The clerk of the House reports to the Speaker and is responsible for ensuring that parliamentary procedure is observed. This is not just fusty tradition: these rules allow MPs to be properly heard in debates, for due weight to be given to proposed law changes and for parliamentary privilege and freedom of speech to be upheld. The rules are  set out in Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, now in its 24th edition and comprising 45 detailed chapters. They are an essential part of the UK constitution.

John Bercow, the Speaker, depends on the guidance of the clerk and his or her team, as does every MP. The clerk’s salary is much higher than the prime minister’s because it is pegged to that of a lord justice of appeal, which suggests its quasi-judicial status. Indeed, the clerk has the authority to correct the Speaker if necessary, as Mr Bercow’s predecessor, Michael Martin, found to his cost. Mr Martin, under fire for his failure to respond to public concern about MPs’ expenses, tried to slap down backbench attempts to instigate a motion to unseat him. On consulting the clerk, Mr Martin was proved wrong; he resigned the next day.

Perhaps Mr Bercow is keen to avoid this fate. He is said to have clashed with the current clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who is standing down after more than four decades of service. Sir Robert is said to find Mr Bercow’s domineering behaviour towards him intolerable.

In common with his predecessors, who have typically spent their working lives in parliament, Sir Robert not only has a comprehensive grip of procedure but also knows every MP by name. This knowledge is not lightly acquired, which is why the obvious front-runner to replace him is his current deputy, David Natzler. But Mr Natzler, despite being well-liked and respected by parliamentarians, has been passed over by Mr Bercow, who proposes to appoint instead Carol Mills, a manager from the Australian senate.

Ms Mills has apparently been chosen for her management skills, having been responsible for catering and other administrative services at the Senate. Yet she is totally unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure. The clerk of the Australian Senate, Rosemary Laing, described the potential appointment of Ms Mills as “bizarre and an affront”. Baroness Boothroyd, the former Speaker has this week joined her voice to the criticism, declaring that Ms Mills would be “totally out of her depth”.

In choosing a clerk with so much to learn Mr Bercow clearly wants to grab more authority for himself. At the very least, he is showing disdain for the institution he is meant to serve.

To date, he has shown not only a determination to modernise his role but also to put his personal stamp on it. His decision to reject the speaker’s traditional robes and breeches, in favour of a lounge suit and schoolmaster’s gown, was an early indication of his tendency: to assume that his own choices are more important than the office he occupies.

Yet parliament is much greater than the sum of its parts. What makes it great is not its MPs or indeed its officers, but the collective wisdom drawn from its rules and traditions, built up over eight centuries. Foremost among the guardians of those traditions is the clerk of the House. Governments and prime ministers come and go; they rise and fall in public esteem and the quality of their governance varies widely. But their mistakes, their whims and preferences, and the possibilities of corruption, are curtailed by the “mother of parliaments”.

If, when the Chilcot inquiry finally reports, questions are raised again about whether Tony Blair knowingly misled the House of Commons over the Iraq war, there may be calls for the former prime minister to be impeached. The decision whether or not to do so will lie with the House of Commons, under the guidance of the chief clerk. Should this be a former Australian services manager or a clerk whose working life has been steeped in the workings of our democracy?

Mr Bercow’s wish to jettison institutional wisdom to further his own agenda must be overruled immediately. The clerk’s post is a Crown appointment, which must be authorised by the Queen on the advice of her prime minister. There are two problems. The passed-over deputy clerk, Mr Natzler, is said to be planning a sex discrimination case, arguing that the reason he was rejected for preferment was his gender. Ms Mills is also facing an investigation into her department’s decision to allow CCTV surveillance of an Australian minister’s office. The Queen should not be invited to ratify Ms Mills’s appointment with these issues still outstanding.

It is hard to see how such a controversial candidate can occupy this post with the quiet authority that is needed. The prime minister has the power to send this proposed appointment back to the Speaker and ask him to think again. He must do so.

First win hearts and minds. then win elections.

16th April 2014

Politicians must win the battle of ideas, and the Conservatives are at last making progress in tax and welfare debates

Has George Osborne finally decided that Conservatives can win the battle of ideas? The Chancellor’s new-found confidence, derived from a well-received budget and a growing economy, seems to be inspiring him to seek a change in the terms of debate. Given the importance of positive language in winning hearts and minds, this could be a crucial turning point. On Monday he appeared to lay to rest a negative description of tax cuts that for many years pervaded every speech he made on the subject.

The pejorative phrase “unfunded tax cuts” entered the political lexicon back in 2006, when Gordon Brown used it to slap down Blairites on the Labour benches. It was swiftly adopted by Mr Osborne, then shadow chancellor, who deployed it at regular intervals to dampen expectations that he would cut taxes. Notably, he used it to rebuff his own Tax Reform Commission’s proposals for increases in the personal allowance, asserting that he would (like Mr Brown) put “stability” ahead of reductions in tax — as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Such timidity in the face of Labour’s arguments has now, it seems, been overcome. This week, heralding the results of a new Treasury analysis showing that freezing fuel duty has contributed to growth, the Chancellor was bullish about the ability of tax cuts not only to help “fund” themselves, but also to boost the economy. This analysis came hard on the heels of the news that cutting the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p resulted in £9 billion of extra revenue to the Treasury — too big a margin to be explained away by deferred earnings. Instead of trying to defend “tax cuts for the rich”, Mr Osborne can now ask Ed Balls: “How would you fund a return to the 50p tax rate?”

Seizing the initiative in this way is hugely important for the Conservatives, who have spent too long — both in opposition and in government — on the defensive. Fearful of seeming to relish their task, ministers have often appeared apologetic about the decision to cut state spending. Yes, deficit reduction is a necessary and vital task — albeit one in which the government has made painfully slow progress — but it is not the only reason to curb the excesses of the Labour years.

The growth of the state was not just financially costly. As the long arm of government reached further into our businesses, our schools and our families, it squashed initiative, eroded trust and — as we have now learnt — increased inequality. The Blair/Brown governments proved that spending more does not solve deep-rooted social problems; on the contrary, it often exacerbates them.

In their pre-election pledges to increase spending on overseas aid and the NHS, the Tories appeared to concede an important argument to Mr Brown: only by spending more taxpayers’ money can you prove you care. Yet the cabinet minister most associated with “compassionate Conservatism”, Iain Duncan Smith, has argued consistently that public spending creates dependency and damages lives. He has been vindicated by a steady accumulation of data showing that tougher welfare sanctions are getting people back to work, confounding his left-wing critics.

The number of UK households where no one has a job has fallen from 20 per cent in 2010 to 16.6 per cent last year. Figures released yesterday show that in more than 4,000 of the households affected by the government’s benefits cap, working-age adults have now found jobs. If Labour had achieved these advances it would be proclaiming them from the rooftops.

Children growing up in a home where no one is working were among the greatest victims of the Labour years, lacking any role model for their future lives and learning to accept joblessness as a way of life. In describing the plight of these households, Mr Duncan Smith has rightly refused to describe the welfare dependent as feckless scroungers. Indeed, his preferred terminology is not welfare “cuts” but welfare “reform”. This insistence on positive language has reaped popular dividends, with polling showing consistent support for the government on this issue.

It is said that Mr Osborne’s new, positive language is at the behest of the Conservative campaign adviser Lynton Crosby, who has been concerned that the party is too often on the intellectual defensive. In observing Mr Duncan Smith’s success in getting voters on side, however, the Treasury should also take note of the role of think-tanks in crafting and promoting policy. Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievements, in curbing big government and unleashing enterprise, would not have taken place without free-market think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. Mr Duncan Smith’s own policy agenda was developed over the past decade by the important think-tank he himself founded; the Centre for Social Justice.

As Ed Miliband presents the electorate with a vision of old-style price controls and renationalisation, it is imperative for Conservatives to win the battle of ideas. In doing so they must demonstrate, as Mrs Thatcher did, that ideas are not the preserve of policy wonks in dark rooms, but are capable of transforming millions of lives. Key to the ideas’ success will be the language in which they are expressed. As Mr Osborne speaks of a “quiet revolution” where people come to realise they are better at spending their money than government, he is at last recognising the power of ideas and the vital necessity of sharing those ideas with voters. Otherwise it is your opponents who set the terms of debate.

Couples on £300k should pay for their own nannies

19 March 2014

David Cameron could soon be eligible for £6,000 a year of taxpayers’ cash to help him pay his nanny’s wages. The PM’s salary of £142,500 might seem a pretty comfortable annual income but things must be tougher than they look. The upper earnings limit for the coalition’s shiny new childcare subsidy is a whacking £150,000, or £300,000 for a couple, provided both parents are in paid work.

As long as Samantha’s part-time role at Smythson slips under this limit, the Camerons’ annual outlay on their Nepalese nanny could be nicely reduced. An extra £6,000 (£2,000 per child under 12) might come in handy. It might even pay for a chillaxing family holiday in Ibiza.

I can’t help thinking, however, that the Camerons, and other “hard-working families” on £300,000 a year, should pay for their own nannies. Nick Clegg, who is keen to take the credit for this government largesse, seeks to justify this generosity towards the rich by claiming that a lower cap would make things “too complicated”. Funnily enough, we didn’t hear the “too complicated” excuse when, two years ago, George Osborne confiscated child benefit from any family with a parent earning more than £50,000. They were labelled as the “better off” who should not, in the Chancellor’s view, be receiving support for raising children.

That confiscation has hit hardest families with only one breadwinner, for whom £50,000 represents their total annual income. These one-earner couples, typically with a mother at home looking after young children, are so far beyond the Government’s sphere of concern that they have been repeatedly punished by coalition policies. The increase in the tax-free personal allowance, for example, is worth half as much to them as to a dual-earner couple. The tax burden on one-earner families in the UK has risen steadily since 2010 and is now 45 per cent higher than the OECD average. And unlike the Prime Minister’s Notting Hill friends, these families will have no share at all in the latest childcare goodies.

Nor indeed will the very poorest couples, if one of them has the temerity to stay at home looking after their baby. In the eyes of the coalition, a mother who cares for her own children cannot by definition be “hard-working”. As far as Cameron, Clegg and Osborne are concerned, childcare is only worthy of financial recognition if someone else does it.

Jill Kirby is a policy analyst who blogs for The Conservative Woman

The nanny state must prove nannying works

31 May 2013

Is the Government really about to make some of the poorest working families in Britain worse off? 

Tax credit changes to encourage hard work can be justified but they have been bungled

6th April 2012

If you’ve got erotic capital, why not flaunt it?

Feminists may hate it, but good looks are just as important in the boardroom as the bedroom

23rd August 2011

Why Britain must spring its dependency trap

22 April 2011

Don’t tell us debt is bad then treat savers like mugs

7 April 2011

More maternity rights are bad for mothers

14 January 2011

National insurance is just a tax by another name

26 November 2010

Mummy, they’re misleading you about going back to work

The Sunday Times 8 August 2010

This retirement age needed pensioning off

30 July 2010

How Labour blew the children’s inheritance

11 June 2010

ASBOs can’t beat a neighbourhood policeman

30 September 2009

It’s not hard to spot the children really at risk

12 August 2009

Spare some change for our new billboard?

7 April 2009

Dithering ministers saddle us with an energy crunch

The Sunday Times, 3 August 2008

Parents beware: do-gooders want to push you aside

The Sunday Times, 8 February 2009

A mother’s place isn’t in the war zone

The Sunday Times, 1 April 2007

Scandal of the pension haves and have-nots

The Sunday Times, 25 February 2007

After Climbié, children are at even more risk

The Sunday Times, 11 February 2007

The hoodie needs a daddy, not a hug

The Sunday Times, 16 July 2006


The Daily Telegraph

Prison isn’t working for Huhne or for us

2nd April 2013

Neither the lax regime housing the disgraced MP nor high-security jails are fit for purpose

Our abortion law is being undermined

4th February 2013

The 1967 Act was never intended to make terminations a form of contraception.

Nick Clegg is not going to give working mothers a helping hand

14th November 2012

Mothers want to be able to spend more time with their children – this requires changes in the tax system, not pushing fathers to take paternity leave

Parenting should not be taught by the state

18th May 2012

David Cameron must not be led astray by Norway’s “Golden Skirts”

10 February 2012

Quotas are not the way to promote women’s interests

(Also covered as Talking Point  in The Week 10 February 2012)

Marriage desperately needs a royal boost

19 April 2011

When is the Coalition going to tackle the growing problem of family breakdown?

There is a way to save our lost children

22 February 2011

With 64,000 children in care, and adoption rates falling, reform is urgently needed.

Marriage makes us all richer – not poorer

8 February 2011

The cost to the nation of family breakdown is immense. It is time for politicians to act.

Prison is what Jon Venables knows best

24 July 2010

It might have been kinder to have left James Bulger’s killer in custody

Labour’s Katherine Rake is wrong: it takes two to mend a ‘broken …

1 December 2009

It is not in the interests of children to suggest that the nuclear family is dead.

The bigger Britain’s government gets, the worse it is for us …

10 July 2009

How has government become so disconnected from reality? Five techniques have been deployed to create the appearance of success while presiding over failure.

The equality agenda is bad news for women

30 July 2009

Women are being told to avoid ‘feminine’ jobs – but what they want is to stop being lectured.

The worst place to grow up is in care

7 November 2008

Councils should not be making it even harder for children to be adopted.

Why the NHS keeps failing mothers

10 July 2008

A lavishly funded health service in a Western economy should surely be able to guarantee every mother a properly supervised delivery. Where has it gone so wrong?

Tories must set parents free to raise children

16 June 2008

The Conservatives must develop their ideas for less state intervention in childcare.

Labour must stop penalising marriage

7 December 2005

Jill Kirby argues that the Chancellor’s policies have deepened the lone-parent trap.


Daily Express


27th October  2012

Couples are putting off having children because they need both salaries to pay the rent or to keep up their mortgage payments.

They also worry about the price of childcare and the sacrifices they will have to make to give their children a good start in life.

Why should their taxes be spent on allowing a jobless household to avoid these tough choices?



5th November 2011

We know that the coalition is fighting shy of a row about immigration.

But if it wants to cut the welfare bill, lift the burden on public services and get our young people into work it needs to talk about it.



10th September 2010

Today a child in a house where no one works may have access to a flatscreen TV and the latest trainers….



3rd February 2010

Do children have a duty to look after their parents in old age? The leading lawyer Baroness Deech believes we are too quick to shrug off our responsibilities…



2nd December 2009

Why won’t Gordon Brown stand up for marriage? The Prime Minister is, by all accounts, a happily married man…


The Independent

The trick is to succeed where a Labour government failed

28 July 2010


The five ways that government disguises failure as success

10 July 2009


The sinister Newspeak that makes cynics of us all

28 December 2007