Editor's Blog

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Why I’m backing Comrade Giles Fraser’s manifesto*

Giles’ manifesto was published last week as part of an UnHerd series exploring what new parties might look like if the UK, US and other nations – inspired by what Macron has achieved in France and Beppe Grillo has pulled off in Italy – were to dispense with old ideological boundaries and put new offerings in their place.

Admittedly, the headline to this blog overstates the extent of my love-in with Comrade Fraser (see caveat, below) but if it were simply a matter of endorsing his housing policy, I wouldn’t just be voting for his “Home” party, I’d be campaigning 24/7 for it.

He wrote:

“We will lift the cap on local authority borrowing. We will build on the Green Belt. We will introduce a tax on unoccupied properties bought as piggy banks for offshore investors. Long-term unoccupied properties will be repossessed and there will be higher stamp duty on second ‘holiday homes’.”

I’d go even further. I’d do as Comrade Sajid Javid advocated and use billions of extra central government borrowing to put some oomph behind the scale of housebuilding that the crisis in Britain demands.

Liam Halligan recently deployed six graphs in his housing series for UnHerd to illustrate the extent to which millions of Britons are being condemned to combinations of debt, cramped accommodation, long commutes or/and insecurity of residency by the costs of either owning or renting. But there’s another vast cost which is largely unmeasured in official stats and assessments. When young families can’t afford to stay close to their friends and family, they lose the care that otherwise would feed up and down through the generations. This is either not replaced at all, or is inadequately and/or very expensively provided by state and private “care”. In this and so many other ways, this crisis is hitting so many, so hard.

The absence of a majority for any party in the House of Commons should have led to some serious efforts at finding cross-party solutions to urgent problems like this one. If Giles and I can agree, it shouldn’t be impossible for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to hammer out some sort of half-ambitious plan. Unlikely, perhaps, but surely not impossible?

* But only his housing policy


An UnHerd series

Political Realignment

By By writers from across the ideological spectrum


Premier-designate of Ontario, Doug Ford. Credit: The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette

Poor Justin Trudeau! The populists are now advancing in his ever-so-liberal Canada

Only this week, Canada’s Senate took a decisive step towards the country becoming the first G7 nation to legalise cannabis. And the host of this weekend’s G7 gathering in Quebec is still Justin Trudeau – prime minister and perfect embodiment of Canada’s reputation as the environmentally-aware, immigration-friendly, pro-abortion and anti-guns top bit of North America. Trudeau is more Obama than Obama (which is exactly what America’s last president asked him to be). But, dear readers… EVEN Canada isn’t immune to the populist wave we have seen elsewhere in the advanced world.

In elections held yesterday, Ontario chose the 53-year-old Doug Ford to be its new premier, ending the 15-year reign of the Liberals. He didn’t win by half-imitating the policies of the outgoing Kathleen Wynne (as “modernisers” had insisted would be necessary), but by promising tax cuts, lower electricity prices (delivered by diluting environmental policies) and a sprinkling of social conservatism (including a less liberal sex education policy in schools).

Canada’s biggest province (home to 14 of Canada’s 36 million citizens) has given Ford a clear working majority in the Toronto-based legislature to implement his agenda. The Liberals have been humiliated – losing all but 10 of the 55 seats they were defending (results not quite final at time of posting). The more leftist NDP will now lead the opposition to the ‘Progressive Conservative’ administration installed by voters.

The ‘Help is on the way’ and ‘For the people’ slogans emphasised the outsider-versus-the-elites populist messaging of the Doug Ford campaign. Credit: The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette.

Ford, a businessman with little experience of political office and who styles himself as the outsider who’ll cut the power of Ontario’s elites, has unsurprisingly been constantly compared to Trump. It’s true that there are overlaps between the two men, but Ford already had a role model closer to home – his infamous younger brother, Rob.

An addiction to illegal drugs produced an explosive end to Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor of Toronto just a few years ago. But although he died in 2016, his “Ford Nation” recipe has not died with him; moreover, as leader of the whole province of Ontario, rather than just mayor of its capital city, Doug will have much greater scope to cut waste within the government bureaucracy, loudly champion car owners at least as much as public transport users, and to breathe new life into other signature themes that his late brother used so effectively.

Thank you Mr Dacre (and Mr Murdoch) for Brexit

I’ve always believed that the most successful newspapers are more of a reflection of their readers’ hopes and fears than the cause of them. Britain isn’t a broadly eurosceptic nation because of Mail, Sun and Telegraph journalism but because of our different experiences as an island nation and of the impact of key moments in recent EU history when this country’s interests have played second fiddle to the priorities of the French-German axis at the heart of the Brussels project. The state of the economy will always shift more votes than how the state of the economy is reported. Real events really are nearly always a bigger deal than how events are recorded. What may, however, be true and will fuel the Left’s anger for years to come is the very credible claim that Paul Dacre’s Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Sun – while not determining the voting preference of all 17,410,742 Leave voters – may well have delivered the winning margin of votes. My claim rests on the sustained recording of the EU’s failings for a period many times longer than characterises one general election campaign or even one parliamentary term. Exposing Brussels to the kind of scrutiny it doesn’t get from other European media cultures has been a generation’s work for Mr D and Mr M – and has been pursued more consistently than any other political position their titles have embraced. The two men were certainly in close touch throughout the Brexit campaign and didn’t hesitate in unleashing a scale of negativity towards David Cameron, asRemain’s foremost champion, they usually only ever deploy against Labour leaders.

Tonight’s news that Paul Dacre has chosen to step down from his 26 years of editing The Daily Mail is worth marking, therefore. The fact that he’s not disappearing but will become the Chairman of the Associated Newspapers group means he’ll probably be able to stop the daily title becoming more like its metropolitan, anti-Brexit Sunday stable mate – edited by Geordie Grieg. At least for now.

His departure from the daily hot seat also sees the ending of one of the very last of the old-style, all-powerful newspaper editorships. Under his watch the paper has been so consistently profitable and so central to big public debates (let’s never forget his hugely worthy campaign waged on behalf of, for example, the Stephen Lawrence family or, right now, against plastic’s polluting menace) that he has been able to completely resist the bean-counting accountants and risk-averse lawyers who – in today’s economically precarious times for the newspaper industry – stifle newsroom creativity and braver forms of investigative and campaigning journalism. Folk from all parts of the political spectrum should regret that.

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I know someone with all the qualities Britain needs in her next prime minister

This week, we’re running a series of articles on UnHerd exploring how voters might be better served if our Jurassic-era political parties were replaced with new movements – ones that reflect the evolution of social and economic realities which now no longer fit that old left-right template.

I do think, though, that there may yet be quite a lot of roar and top-of-the-foodchain command left in the Torysaurus. Sadly, a visibly exhausted Theresa May is not going to give her party a fresh lease of life. A new leader is needed and I suggest five key search criteria:

  1. A determination to give poorer, more insecure Britons the scale of change that in their votes for both Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn they were crying out for – but still haven’t seen.
  2. Someone who isn’t so associated with either Leave or Remain that they’ll struggle to ever appeal to the diehards who have dug themselves so deeply into the trenches of the post-EU-ref divide.
  3. A person who hasn’t spent their whole life in politics but has the determination and skill-sets of a fresh-thinking but accomplished outsider; someone able to drag a very sleepy Whitehall towards policies that ensure the world’s younger economies (ie most of them) don’t get ahead of us in the new destiny-determining technologies.
  4. A focus on national competitiveness won’t be enough, however. The party and country needs a PM who knows that most people feel more insecure than they do unfree. Wealth will need to be shared as well as created and possibly on a scale some Tories will oppose.
  5. And, fifth, what about a life story that won’t reinforce the idea that the Tories are a privately-educated elite with a limited understanding of the Britain of 2018?

In today’s London Evening Standard, I argue that the party has that candidate in Sajid Javid. True, I have a friendship with him that is now three decades old, which may, indeed, have turned me into a highly biased advocate. But I hope it also means that I might know quite a bit about the man I earnestly hope will get the UK’s top job. And the sooner the better.

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Five big policies to build a better capitalism

This morning, at a venue very close to UnHerd’s own offices, a speech entitled The Right Environment for Growth – reforming capitalism for the 21st century was delivered by Michael Gove. The Environment Secretary is the leading provider of grand intellectual strategy to today’s Tories, of a calibre which could well match the potency of what Keith Joseph gave to Margaret Thatcher’s governments 40 years ago. 

Two members of the UnHerd family – Paul Marshall and Juliet Samuel – were appearing alongside Gove, as members of the panel which responded to his speech. It will be interesting to see what emerges. Reforming capitalism is one of our driving motivations here at UnHerd and we have already published many thought-provoking pieces on the subject. These contain compelling insights on what went so spectacularly wrong in financial and related markets in 2008, and suggest ways forward  for global governments who, despite the passage of a decade, have been excruciatingly slow to adequately reset public policies. Their inaction has given the likes of Trump and Italy’s new government the opportunities for power that are being seized with such relish.

I’ve chosen just five from our 11 month archive:

  • In a chilling contribution, Liam Halligan complains that the ‘too big to fail’ problem that was at the heart of the ’08 crash still hasn’t been solved. Only a clear separation between those banks that provide vanilla services to households and those which are immersed in speculative investments can, he writes, maximise protection of taxpayers from demands for ANOTHER bailout.
  • And also on the theme of avoiding concentration of economic power in too few hands, Harriet Maltby profiles the EU commissioner that enjoys the admiration of even many staunch euroscceptics. Meet the scourge of monopolies Margrethe Vestager – “the eurocrat who shows the middle finger to big business”.
  • To deliver greater social justice, Charlotte Pickles makes a case for greater taxation of wealth. Although the situation varies from country to country the really pronounced spikes in inequality have been in ownership of property and other assets. Income inequality has not seen anything like the same intensification.
  • Within an audio documentary made by Juliet Samuel, the economic historian Niall Ferguson urges more focus on the failure of western education and welfare systems to prepare people for effective participation in the global economy. He saw state failure as the greater explanation of current discontents… and he might well be right.
  • And fifth, and finally: Douglas Carswell’s critique of central bankers. The former MP charges the hugely powerful and largely unaccountable herd of central bank chiefs with being responsible for the easy money policies that inflated the pre-bust boom. They nearly all failed to moderate the frenzy in housing markets, in particular, with the kind of preventative, precautionary measures that were the hallmark of their predecessors from what were largely more prudent times.


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The West may be rejecting Rome on abortion but so much Catholic social teaching could hardly be more relevant to our times

I wasn’t surprised at Ireland’s recent vote to end the clause in its constitution that accorded an equal right to life to the unborn child and his or her mother. An increasingly secular, economically emancipated and urban nation has been heading away from Éamon de Valera’s vision of an Ireland ruled by Rome as much as by Dublin’s dáil for some time. The scale of the Irish electorate’s rejection of the Catholic Church’s foundational moral teaching did shock me, however. The Republic’s reversal of a pro-life ethos in just one generation is a powerful illustration of the premise of my current bedside reading – Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. Civilisational transformation can be amazingly rapid. Newborns are not innately good and will emulate the immoralities of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies if the task of civilising the young is neglected.

I wouldn’t have been as surprised at the 66%/34% outcome if I’d downloaded William Crawley’s thirty minute “Church in Crisis” documentary a little earlier. Three stats from the documentary (first broadcast a fortnight before the referendum) stuck in my mind.

The average age of a Catholic priest in Ireland is now seventy. SEVENTY!

A clear majority of the Irish still identify as RCs but they take a very pick’n’mix approach to their faith’s teaching.

8% of self-identifying Catholics don’t even sign up to the idea that there’s a God.

That third stat actually gave me a little bit of hope. While I’m not a Catholic and couldn’t sign up to a good number of its doctrines I’m an admirer of the principles enshrined in its unparalleled body of social teaching – especially as interpreted by the late great Michael Novak. If 8% of Irish Catholics still identify as such even though their problems start in Genesis Chapter 1 there may be some hope that the widespread rejection of Church teaching on matters such as abortion and homosexuality won’t become a wholesale deafness to anything advanced by a Pope or priest.

Do immerse yourself in Novak if you are interested in CST’s challenges to both free market and welfare state fundamentalists but three teachings seem especially relevant to our current tumults and all are neglected by the parties and philosophies that both dominate the West and which have been so unresponsive to our times’ popular protests.

  1. There’s the idea of personhood. At first glance it’s a concept that might appear little different from individualism – the philosophy of contemporary rights cultures. But dig only slightly into the idea and it’s very different. While insisting that every human life is of equal worth it sees individuality as only truly fulfilled when it is in community. When we feed a person’s material needs but don’t worry about their need for loving neighbours (and for them to also be be loving neighbours) in, eg, the design of public policy we accelerate the crises of loneliness and mental ill-health that are now at epidemic levels.
  2. There’s subsidiarity – the idea that power should be devolved as close to the people and communities affected by the exercise of that power. Brussels talks about subsidiarity but Hungary, Poland and Italy all have recent reason to wonder if it’s much more than talk.
  3. And, thirdly, I’d emphasise CST’s bias to the poor. Most parties – especially those on the Left – would insist they already live and breathe this but do they? Look at the British Labour Party’s current spending priorities. Whether it’s the promise of more money for university students, rail passengers or pensioners there’s disproportionate gifting of constituencies that are likelier to vote and really aren’t society’s poorest communities. And if the media and Right-wingers fail to expose this ugliest secret of the modern Left, the Catholic Church can fill the gap – however uncomfortable that might be for Jeremy Corbyn and socialism’s other secular saints.
France's far-right party Front National (FN) president Marine Le Pen and former US President advisor Steve Bannon attend the French far-right Front National (FN) party annual congress on March 10, 2018 at the Grand Palais in Lille, Photo by Sylvian Lefevre/ABACAPRESS.COM

Is half-Trump/half-Sanders where the populist revolution ends?

The controversial Steve Bannon remains controversial.

That’s my quick take on the interview he gave at the weekend to CNN. The channel’s Fareed Zakaria flew to Rome where President Trump’s former guru is celebrating the  “vaffanculo” that Italy’s voters gave to established parties.

In descending order of controversiality here’s my list of Bannon’s main contentions…

  • The tax cuts passed by Republicans were Trumpian in character. I say: Very “Sloppy Steve”. Like George W’s tax cuts, it’s the rich that benefit most from changes that will also cause a large increase in the government’s deficit.
  • President Trump should be prepared to close down the federal government in the autumn if Congress continues to allocate only tokenistic resources to the fulfilment of the President’s pledge to build a wall across the USA’s border with Mexico. I say: Most polls find about 60% of US voters oppose the wall. Perhaps because of its estimated $33bn cost.
  • The recent uptick in US wages reflects the Trump administration’s less liberal approach to immigration. I say: We need more data but it’s much more likely that the strong and strengthening US economy is the main explanation.
  • Immigration is the issue that’ll ensure the results of November’s mid-term elections depress Trump’s critics rather than Republicans. I say: SB might be on to something here. Immigration was a big issue for many of the 9.2% of Obama’s 2012 voters who defected to Trump in 2016 and gave him victory in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Despite the Wall Street Journal’s warning that a Bannon-ite stance on immigration could hurt Trump amongst more upscale Republican voters the overall polling suggests a definite improvement in GOP fortunes. As our own Henry Olsen keeps pointing out… Trump’s approval ratings are rising significantly and while the House of Representatives should still fall to Democrat control the Senate looks secure for the President. 
  • Brussels is even more out-of-touch than the Washington Beltway. I say: What took you so long Steve? And didn’t you listen to what Nigel Farage was telling you?

Even less controversial than Mr Bannon’s assessment of Brussels is his final sweeping thought: the remaking of politics of which he’s an unrelenting champion has only just begun. Claiming that the agenda of Italy’s new government is half-Trump and half-Bernie-Sanders he suggests that a new economic settlement that favours workers over bankers (I paraphrase) and a new social settlement that favours a nation’s own citizens over outsiders is being built. The Italian experiment takes on more international importance if Bannon is right. I’m much less sure what the insurgent politics of our time might eventually produce – not least because the M5S-Liga recipe of higher welfare spending and tax cuts sounds very familiar to me and economic gravity is likely to bring it to an equally familiar indebted ending. But when there’s an Italy, Austria and Hungary for every Macron – and when the Old Left is gaining considerable ground inside the US Democrats (notably in primary races for November’s Congressional contests) – we haven’t reached the end of the democratic convulsions of our time. We may only be at the beginning of them.