Writers come and go through the ConHome columnists’ revolving door. So it is that Graeme Archer has recently left the building and Paul Abbott entered. (And before you ask, there was no other connection between the two events.) The former winner of the George Orwell prize for blogging is a lovely writer, very clever and has a long connection with the site. The former chief of staff to Grant Shapps and Robert Halfon couldn’t be better informed about how CCHQ works, which is why his writing has already made waves both within it and without it. We will miss Graeme and are glad to have Paul – just as we are pleased to have our last new arrival before him, Daniel Hannan.
Budget-wise, we can’t compete with the big boys of Fleet Street, but I believe we are none the less able to punch above our weight columnist-wise. However, our reach from Monday will be less for the time being: Peter Franklin’s last Deep End piece was published on this site this morning. Each reader must take his own view but, to me, Peter is something very special. He believes that social mobility is a dead-end for government policy, that there is no Green Blob, that the BBC’s days are numbered, that the Euro is a disaster, that Bitcoin isn’t half as mad as the mainstream economy, and that we need more failures like Kids Company.
In many other writers, all this would be contrarianism – no more, no less. In Peter’s case, it flows naturally, like everything else he writes, from a particular kind of conservatism. It is easy to recognise but hard to summarise. You might call him a Christian Democrat, but he supports ECHR membership. You might call him a Tory traditionalist, but he favours radical constitutional change. You might call him a social conservative, but unlike many he is future-orientated – never more at ease than when writing about where new technology and culture meet. You might dismiss him as an armchair boffin, but he has a canny sense of how British politics works – and an exactingly bleak eye for the Cameroons.
Peter is the man who invented UKIP derangement syndrome, described Labour as reverse watermelons and conjured up the terrifying spectre of Boris Johnson in command of an army of flying robots. Despite the mild manner he can be savage – on paper, anyway – and very, very funny, though the jokes have a punch. “A supposedly humanitarian endeavour sucks up vast quantities of public money, pursuing unrealistic goals and without ever having the effectiveness of its methods properly evaluated.” he wrote recently. “But enough about the British welfare state, let’s talk about Kids Company.”
More seriously, he wrote recently that who leads China matters more than the election result. This week’s events are a reminder that this wasn’t a bad call. I will always be grateful to Peter Franklin for writing the draft and coming up with many of the policy proposals in the ConservativeHome Manifesto. We haven’t yet done a count of the number of ones that have been or are being taken up – an error we will rectify before too long – but Peter got in very early with ideas that the Government is now acting on. Here he is on Osborne’s Great Northern Super City. So the Party as well as this site is in his debt. We always got the best from him and here is a bit of the best of him.
“If you want to see more relative social mobility, you either need a plan for massively reducing income inequality – or a plan for ensuring that more children from middle and upper class households suffer a massive reduction in their living standards. Try selling that one on the doorstep.”
“Of course, if anyone could have made this fantasy real it would have been Ken Clarke – just about the only politician who can out-do the UKIP leader’s bloke-y schtick. But, perhaps voters would still have recalled Clarke sharing a platform with Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy in support of Britain’s membership of the single currency. If he’d become leader, how would he have explained such a monumental error of judgement?”
“One might wonder what we’re doing using antibiotics so carelessly – surely such a precious resource should be reserved for life-saving medicine, not for liposuction, tattoo removal and battery chickens. That, however, is the very essence of the modern age – an abundance that allows us the luxury of waste. Before long, we may have to return to older, more cautious ways of living.”
“Ironically, it is Michael Gove who is condemned as the ideologue. He is in fact the most anti-ideological of Education Secretaries. In rejecting the old rightwing obsession with grammar schools, while smashing through the entrenched leftwing opposition to free schools and tougher standards, it is evidence not theory that guides him.”
“While British conservatives have a choice of specialist and upmarket sources of news and comment, there are very few mass market challenges to the voice of the BBC and the other major broadcasters – which, to varying extents, embody the assumptions and values of the liberal establishment. So, whether it’s right or wrong, what really matters to the health of our democracy is that the Daily Mail is different – and not afraid to be so.”
“Britain is in the grip of an epidemic – a feverish hysteria called UDD or UKIP Derangement Disorder. The symptoms are for the most part psychological, but the physical signs include swivelling eyes, reddened extremities and drooling. At this point I should make clear that UDD isn’t a condition suffered by persons who may be attracted to UKIP, but by its most vociferous detractors.”
“It should be said that the West is not deliberately taking sides in this conflict. Western governments are no more ‘anti-Shia’ in their stance on Syria than they were ‘pro-Shia’ when they toppled Saddam Hussein. But what we are guilty of is blundering around in other people’s countries, arrogantly assuming that the fights we get involved in are all about us.”
“There are two massive problems with this argument. Firstly, it is highly selective. Income Tax is only one tax among many. Indeed, it isn’t even the only tax on income; once National Insurance is factored in, the system isn’t nearly so progressive. Add in all the taxes and duties and things become yet flatter. Secondly, the fact that the top one per cent are paying so much Income Tax these days only serves to highlight the long-term growth in their share of our national income – and the stagnation in the incomes of ordinary working people.”
“Even if there are no malfunctions, one has to wonder what the mere sight of UAVs in action would do to the relationship between government and people. Imagine a swarm of drones hovering over a protest in Trafalgar Square – swooping down to take photographs, barking out orders, firing missiles – what would that say about our country?”
“Far from being an applied science, economics is better compared to the pseudo-sciences of earlier times – such as alchemy and astrology. As with these ancient disciplines, there’s a huge amount of technical mastery involved and, in some cases, the ability and inclination to make useful observations. Nevertheless, all of that cleverness and complexity conceals a theoretical core that is fundamentally wrong.”
“In November last year, the AECR welcomed a rather important new member – Turkey’s ruling political party, the Justice and Development Party or AKP…According to the Committee to Protect Journalists there are now more journalists in Turkish prisons than in any other country in the world.
How can the AECR expect to be taken seriously when a government controlled by one its most important members is using the coercive powers of the state to attack “freedom of speech and expression”?”
“Despite what you might think about ‘lazy MPs’ – most of them, especially Ministers, work well over sixty hours a week. Not that this cuts much ice with the public. Indeed a cheap round of applause can be had by calling on MPs with constituencies close-ish to London to add a daily commute to their schedules.
Well fine – no one has to do the job, do they? Then again, don’t complain if we end up governed by a bunch of weirdos too tired to think straight.”
“The most interesting thing about Theresa May is that she is the leopard who changed her spots. She has made mistakes in the past and no doubt will make others in the future, but unlike most of her colleagues they won’t be the same mistakes repeated over and over again.
When measured against the consistent inconsistency of David Cameron’s style of leadership, and the culture of government that surrounds him, there couldn’t be a clearer contrast.”
“Yes, there are subsidies for solar panels and the like – but compare those to the vast financial, diplomatic and military effort that goes into supporting our dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Again, think about those who suck up the profits: the big energy companies at home; the European corporate entities that own most of our big energy companies; the big American polluters who bankroll a global campaign of anti-environmental propaganda; Vladimir Putin and his gang of Russian oligarchs; and, of course, the various despotisms of the Middle East.”
Now, that’s what I call a blob.”
“Britain’s own cultural oligopoly – centred on control of the licence fee – should be broken wide open. Whether the money is raised through the existing arrangement or by some other ring-fenced method, all programme makers should be free to bid for the funds. These measures would attract inward investment, enhance Britain’s position as a creative industry world leader and maximise consumer choice. Public service broadcasting – or its online equivalent would continue – but without the impediment of the BBC’s bloated bureaucracy.”