Good riddance to neoliberalism

I listened to a fascinating debate on the BBC’s The World This Weekend about the ideological origins of that thing, populism. The agreeably thuggish Javier Milei had just taken the reins of Argentina and, perhaps a little late in the day, the TW2 (as it is known in BBC circles) production team had noticed that almost every election held anywhere these days – except perhaps Australia and here – tends to result in a win for a party which is either overtly populist, as in Argentina, or is called populist by its opponents and the BBC. What the hell is going on, they wondered, only ten years too late. Who

Qatargate and the dubious moral authority of NGOs 

The Qatargate scandal haunting the European Union is not merely about corrupt politicians and officials. The deplorable role of a non-governmental organisation is at the heart of the scandal, which highlights the interlocking of NGOs and EU parliamentarians and decision makers. The most interesting feature of the corruption scandal surrounding the detention of the EU parliament’s vice-president Eva Kaili and politicians and EU apparatchiks is their connection to a supposedly squeaky-clean NGO called Fight Impunity. The current president of the organisation is Pier Antonio Panzeri, 67, a former Italian leftist MEP. He was arrested after €600,000 in bank notes was found in his house in Brussels. He and his wife and daughter are alleged to have received bribes from a Moroccan diplomat. Even more interesting is the revelation that

How to be PM: ten rules for the next Tory leader to live by

You’ve just become prime minister. The public finances are in a mess, the Bank of England has stoked inflation, cutting taxes may make it worse, energy prices are through the roof, people are hurting so you can’t cut social spending, the Health Service is lengthening its waiting lists despite record budgets. What can you do? Given that you will be hearing a lot from people who do governing all day, here are ten things to remember on behalf of the rest of us – the governed: Assume all public bodies have the same goal – and it isn’t what it says on the tin. You might think the Committee for

Sunday shows round-up: Minister ‘absolutely confident’ No. 10 did not pressure Sue Gray

Andrei Kelin – Russian war crimes allegations are ‘a fabrication’ Clive Myrie took the reins of the BBC’s Sunday Morning show, and the centrepiece was a pre-recorded interview with the Russian ambassador Andrei Kelin. Myrie confronted Kelin with evidence of war crimes by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, as in the town of Bucha and the razing of Mariupol. Kelin spent the interview stonewalling most of Myrie’s claims: Brandon Lewis – If we don’t stand up to Russia now, what’s next? Myrie went on to interview the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. He asked Lewis if the UK government was prepared to ask Ukraine to cede territory to Russia in order

Javid says no to restrictions – for now

Is the government considering activating its ‘plan B’ Covid plans? Not yet.  After the Business Secretary played down talk of new restrictions this morning, Sajid Javid used today’s press conference to confirm that he would not be implementing the back-up plan ‘at this point’. However, the Health Secretary suggested that further measures – namely vaccine passports, work-from-home orders and mask mandates – could not be ruled out if the data substantially worsens. The main message from the press conference: get vaccinated There was a marked change in tone from Javid since the days soon after his appointment as Health Secretary when he declared that there was ‘no going back’. He said that

Time to ditch the pension triple-lock for good

Perhaps it’s finally dawned on the government that they have an intergenerational inequality problem on their hands. The decision to suspend the pension triple-lock for one year to avoid an 8 per cent increase to the state pension would suggest so. Asset wealth is already excessively concentrated in the over-55s. To even this spendthrift government, a massive bump in pensions while the rest of the economy languishes is a step too far. But that’s exactly what happens every year anyway under the triple-lock. The policy means that even when the rest of the economy stagnates, pensioners receive a boost. It is a feature of the system, not a bug, which came into place

James Kirkup

Boris should keep copying Blair

Having written here at least once before that Boris Johnson is the heir to Blair, my first thought on the Prime Minister’s tax-to-spend announcement on the NHS and social care is a petty one: I told you so. The striking thing about making the Boris-Blair comparison is how resistant some people are to it. Among Bozza fans on the Leave-voting right, there is often fury at the suggestion that their man, the hero of Brexit, is anything like the Europhile they used to call ‘Bliar’. On the left, there is an almost pathological determination to believe that a Tory PM must, by definition, be a small-state free-marketeer intent on starving and

The art of politics: what ministers hang on their walls

On the walls of the Chancellor’s office hangs a print of Eric Ravilious’s lithograph ‘Working Controls while Submerged’ (1941). Two engineers in blue overalls heave the levers of a submarine. A third slumps asleep on a bench. An image, perhaps, of the ship of state, several hundred feet underwater, but by no means sunk yet. We might picture Rishi Sunak in the Treasury control room, changing the gears, working the pumps, keeping the country bumping along even at the bottom of the economic ocean. Or perhaps Sunak looks at his four framed screen-prints by the artist Justine Smith — ‘Pound’, ‘Euro’, ‘Dollar’, ‘Yen’ — and thinks: if only it were

The art of the public information ad

Bring back the Tufty Club. Bring back the Green Cross Code. Bring back ‘Charley says’. Bring back ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule’. Bring back Vinnie Jones and ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Bring back the Country Code and ‘Always take your litter home’. Bring back public information films. Bring back the Central Office of Information. For younger readers, I probably need to explain what the hell I am talking about. Tufty was created for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and was an implausibly sensible young squirrel whose behaviour (in contrast to the foolish antics of the louche Willy Weasel) gave lessons to children on road sense. At its

The Covid trap: will society ever open up again?

The great pandemic of 2020 has led to an extraordinary expansion of government power. Countries rushed to close their borders and half of the world’s population were forced into some sort of curfew. Millions of companies, from micropubs to mega corporations, were prohibited from carrying on business. In supposedly free and liberal societies, peaceful strollers and joggers were tracked by drones and stopped by policemen asking for their papers. It’s all in the name of defeating coronavirus; all temporary, we’re told. But it’s time to ask, just how temporary? As Milton Friedman used to warn: ‘Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme.’ Measures that seemed unthinkable a few

Ross Clark

Government jobs don’t have to be in the capital

Boris Johnson has put a huge amount of stock in persuading reluctant civil servants to return to their desks in Whitehall. His campaign this week to get more people back to the office was tinged with the suggestion that those who were slow to return might be in danger of losing their jobs. This divided the cabinet, with Matt Hancock pointedly suggesting that he was happy with many in his department continuing to work from home. Never one to miss the opportunity for a battle with Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the government’s campaign to get people back to the office amounted to ‘intimidation’. But why not see the slow

Can Boris build support for his planning reforms?

The government always knew it would have to expend political capital to get its planning reforms through. Making it easier to build houses was never going to be popular with Tories in leafy areas. The benefit of an 80-seat majority was meant to be the ability to push through difficult but important changes. The problem is, as I say in the magazine this week, that the government has been expending political capital on rather a lot of other things recently. Tory MPs are in a fractious mood, irritated by the number of U-turns, and opposition to planning reform is beginning to build up. One normally mild-mannered former cabinet minister tells

Boris Johnson needs to be more open about Covid’s risks

The Prime Minister wants us back to normal by Christmas. If he is serious, then his government needs to take a big step forward in how it communicates evidence on Covid-19 with the public. Every day we get new insights about the coronavirus from research and statistics. Yet, for some reason, the government is holding its cards close to its chest about how it is assessing new scientific developments, and how this may affect policy decisions. Government communications currently seem to avoid telling people where their risks from Covid are actually low. There is a general reluctance to speak openly about how risk is assessed and the trade-offs there are

Mission impossible: Boris’s attempt to rewire the British government

It’s never a good sign when a government relaunches itself. Look what happened at the end of Theresa May’s time in power — there was a relaunch almost every other week, each one with diminishing effect. But although it has been over-hyped, Boris Johnson’s attempt to start again isn’t a mere re-branding exercise. It is not just about rehashing policy proposals but about trying to tackle the dysfunction at the heart of the state. The PM is attempting to do something past leaders have thought to be an impossible job: to rewire the whole system. Johnson has time on his side — four years to get things back on track

Tiberius and the ‘phantoms of liberty’

Word has it that ministers already do not bother to argue their corner with the government’s inner ring, while a slimmer, streamlined cabinet office threatens to disempower them still further. Ministers could soon resemble senators under Rome’s second emperor Tiberius (ad 14-37). The historian Tacitus painted an extraordinary picture of Tiberius’s early days in office. The fact was that his stepfather Augustus had exercised autocratic power after he ‘restored’ the republic that had collapsed in 31 bc. The question for senators, therefore, was what change to expect under the new man in power. Their experience suggested precious little. They already knew Tiberius as a cryptic, devious and heartless character, whose

The privilege of public service

Michael Gove gave the Ditchley Annual Lecture on Saturday in which he discussed the responsibility of government and the need for Whitehall reform. The full speech is below. Writing in his Prison Notebooks, ninety years ago, the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci defined our times. “The crisis consists precisely of the fact that the inherited is dying – and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Gramsci’s analysis was developed between 1929 and 1935. The stability of the Edwardian Age – of secure crowns, borderless travel, imperial administrative elites and growing economic globalisation – was a memory. The inherited world of aristocratic

When will the two-metre rule go?

The Tory parliamentary party is in a febrile mood. As I say in the Times on Saturday, the two-metre rule has become a particular focus of MPs ire. It is now symbolic for them of a cautious approach to lockdown easing, which they fear could lead to the UK having one of the slowest economic recoveries, as well as one of the worst death tolls, in Europe. Optimists in government are confident that the two-metre rule will be gone by the time that pubs and restaurants reopen on the 4 July. Interestingly, the guidance to those establishments that will be given the go-ahead to resume then doesn’t emphasise the two-metre rule. But

Trade minister quits after loan threats

Trade minister Conor Burns has resigned from the government, after a parliamentary inquiry found that he had used his position as an MP to intimidate a member of the public in February 2019. In a statement announcing his resignation, the MP said it was ‘with deep regret I have decided to resign as Minister of State for International Trade.’ Adding that ‘Boris Johnson will continue to have my wholehearted support from the backbenches.’ According to the Committee on Standards, Burns used parliamentary stationery to contact a member of the public about a dispute over a loan with Burns’s father. In his letter, Burns implied that he could use parliamentary privilege

The government’s political capital is waning

Upon how many fronts can a government fight at any one time? Political capital has a short-enough half-life as it is without the risk of it being diluted through simultaneous multiple battles. Concentration of political firepower matters. At a rough count, Boris Johnson’s ministry is currently fighting the civil service, the media, the European Union and now, of course, a looming public health emergency from a likely coronavirus epidemic. There is also the small matter of a budget and the government’s actual – or, if you prefer, notional – plans for ‘levelling-up’ the United Kingdom. Some of these are more significant problems than others, and some of them required no

Judgment day: the danger of courts taking over politics

Who runs Britain? When Boris Johnson’s lawyers made their case in front of the Supreme Court this week, defending his right to prorogue parliament, they in effect brought it back to this simple question. This was a controversy for politicians to settle, not courts. Judges, they said, should think twice about ‘entering the political arena’ and unsettling the UK’s ‘careful constitutional and political balance’. He may be the first prime minister to frame the matter so starkly, but no previous prime minister has had to. This is about far more than Brexit. Britain is witnessing political litigation on a hitherto unseen scale. We have a government that has lost a