January 21st, 2018 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
In the autumn of 2017 I gave a long interview to the Institute for Government for their series “Ministers Reflect”. I talked at length about my time as a Minister in Government – from a junior whip right through to a member of the Cabinet and Leader of the House of Lords. I spoke in particular about Whitehall’s relationship with Parliament and how we can legislate better. And I also talked about some of my experiences as a Civil Servant (from the mid-80s to mid-90s) and the differences I found in the Service when I returned to Whitehall as a Minister.
You can read the interview in full on the Institute for Government’s site on their special Ministers Reflect section.
This interview in the Sunday Times for their regular ‘Fame and Fortune’ feature in the Money Section (which appeared in the paper on 31st December 2017) covers my attitude towards money, and what I learned about how to manage it when growing up.
December 10th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
I was delighted to accept an invitation from Nottingham University’s Centre for British Politics to wrap-up their 2017 series, How Britain got hung: Exploring the 2017 General Election, Brexit and beyond. Below is the text of my talk, which I gave on Friday 8th December 2017 in the Portland Building on the main campus.
Well, today’s early morning agreement between the UK and the EU on stage one of the Brexit negotiations is an important moment – and marks a turnaround for Theresa May. The detailed shenanigans of the last few days have been hard for most people to keep pace with and follow. But what won’t have gone unnoticed is her determination and effort to make progress in honouring the voters’ majority decision to Brexit. I often say that voters don’t hear what politicians say, but they do notice what they do. Today is a classic example of that.
I’m billed to talk about the House of Lords and how it will shape the outcome of Brexit. And I promise I will. But I first want to step back and talk about the social divides that Brexit exposed. Because bridging them and tackling the causes of Brexit is being lost in the debate over the kind of Brexit we negotiate.
Saying that, last week I was pleased when Alan Milburn, the chair of the Social Mobility Commission, published his latest report and said it showed the causes of Brexit are real and that the government needed to be tough not just on negotiating the terms of Brexit, but on the causes of Brexit too. His report identified that 60 of the 65 areas most in need of social mobility had voted to leave the EU.
To me this proved what I had long believed, that we can’t tackle the causes of Brexit without delivering Brexit, and vice-versa.
So I was surprised and disappointed when only a couple of days later Alan Milburn resigned his post explaining it was because this Government lacks “bandwidth” to tackle the causes of Brexit whilst they are so tied up negotiating the terms.
It would have been so much more powerful if instead he had stayed to argue against those who seek to isolate Brexit and to campaign for as much change as possible to right the wrongs his reports have uncovered – with the aim of establishing a new kind of “certainty” that has the confidence of ordinary people as well as big business.
As he didn’t, I’ll return later in more detail to what I think moderate politicians like him, determined to address the causes of Brexit, need to do differently. But first, I’m going to re-tread the steps taken by Theresa May when she became Prime Minister in June 2016.
I should say that, as one of the Cabinet ministers who didn’t survive Theresa May’s first reshuffle on her arrival at Number 10, I’m not beholden to her. But I was nonetheless impressed when, in my mind, she threw a rope ladder across ‘the chasm’ which the referendum had exposed and edged her way over to the voters on the other side. Her speech on the steps of Number 10 showed she understood why so many injustices had caused Brexit, and that she would leave the comfort of the ‘elite’ side of the chasm in order to fix the problems of the people situated on the other side.
But once she got there, instead of building a stronger bridge for other political and business elites to follow her across, she whipped the rope ladder up from behind and insulted them with her “citizens of nowhere” jibe.
To be fair to Theresa May, I think she had to be dramatic in demonstrating to voters (regardless of whether they’d voted leave or remain) that they were right in wanting things to change. Joining ‘their side’ (regardless of whether or who they’d voted for in the past) was essential to gaining their confidence that she could be trusted to handle the difficult and complicated decisions if things really were going to change.
So I assumed – as presumably she did too – that at least some people in positions of power on the ‘elite side’ would understand that they needed to do the same and would find their own way of crossing the chasm to the ‘other side’.
When they didn’t and it became evident some would take every opportunity to disrupt Brexit (eg the Supreme Court case; the battles over the Article 50 Bill), Theresa May called a General Election.
Obviously that back-fired, badly.
Having gained the confidence of voters and so much personal support by that stage Theresa May could afford to be big and bold. But instead of an election, with hindsight I think at that point she should have thrown her arms open wide and in the national interest called on politicians from all parties, public figures and big business leaders to join her in forming some kind of “change-movement” to deliver Brexit and a new order to address the causes of it.
Anyway, that didn’t happen and once the General Election campaign got under way, Theresa May and the Conservatives appeared to forget that for voters Brexit was and always will be less about Europe and more of a means to change. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about the Conservative campaign. And the day that Theresa May declared “nothing has changed” was totemic and fatal.
The young, highly-educated voters were taking Jeremy Corbyn seriously long before that point. But Theresa May’s ‘continuity campaign’ alongside Corbyn’s radical and revolutionary programme for change made him interesting to some people who hadn’t taken him seriously before.
In the end, the general election became about ‘change’ to the voters for whom it was meant to be about Brexit, and it became about Brexit to those for whom it should have been about stability.
The result – in addition to a hung Parliament – is an even bigger chasm between ‘them’ and ‘us’ and new fractures emerging all over the place.
So now what?
Well frustratingly, still too few ‘elites’ have followed Theresa May across that chasm. I genuinely struggle to think of any big names. And even those who are campaigning tirelessly on important injustices – such as Andrew Adonis on vice-chancellor salaries – are diminishing their efforts by not conceding and moving on from the referendum result.
Maybe they’ll do enough good work that eventually their refusal to accept Brexit won’t matter, but time is running out. Because doing good is not good enough. Us moderates (or centrists if you prefer) need to find ways of expressing where and how we have previously gone wrong. And continuing to debate the outcome of the Referendum which was decided by voters is – metaphorically or literally – evidence to voters of the unwillingness of elites to do that.
For politicians and big business leaders the reality is that the terms of Brexit remain their priority. They are locked in a battle to preserve as much of the status quo as they can. Some do so for well-intentioned reasons. But the longer they focus on the ‘terms’ without addressing the ‘causes’, the more that voters believe ‘elites’ are battling with ‘them’ for control and that nothing will change whether or not we leave the EU.
Most ‘ordinary’ voters have put the arguments of Leave and Remain behind them and they certainly don’t divide themselves in that way. Many have also dispensed with what political-party allegiance they had in the past. This week Ipsos Mori published some voter segmentation which is interesting for understanding the different groups who can be found on the ‘ordinary’ voter side of the chasm.
Rather than complicate things too much though, I’m going to stick with two distinct groups of voters who feel equally distant and cut-off from the political and business elite and are looking for things to change:
The highly-educated younger people who don’t like what many elites stand for (which to them seems to be money and profit above everything), and who want to challenge intellectually the economic and political theories the current elites espouse. At the same time, they also feel alienated from their older, less-well-educated neighbours whose social attitudes they consider retrograde.
And the non-graduates who also tend to be older and have battled through some difficult circumstances over several decades to achieve their version of success. Amongst this group you might find skilled tradesmen, small business owners, middle-managers, supervisors, factory workers, call-centre operators. They feel their experience is ignored, their hard work goes unnoticed, and the kind of attitudes and standards that allowed them to achieve their own successes have become diminished by the elites and now hold little currency for their younger neighbours.
If there’s one thing I would love to achieve is a greater bond and appreciation between these two groups. I think they share more than they realise. And the last thing anyone should do is try and pitch them against each other.
Indeed, we need a political leader who can successfully unite those two groups – because doing so is essential to creating a better, more equal future.
But how? Well, they’ll have to do three very big things:
(a) First, and with the help of many more elites, they need to create a more accountable version of capitalism so it spreads the proceeds of growth more widely. That doesn’t mean us all becoming poorer or introducing some version of socialism. I think a changed approach to capitalism has the potential to create even more wealth because it means using all of our talents. But it will mean the elite giving up some of their power and advantage. They will have, metaphorically, to cross the chasm to listen to and learn from the people there and work out with them what needs to change so everyone’s efforts are purpose-driven and rewarded more fairly.
(b) Second, shifting vested and entrenched interests on some sacred cows such as planning policy, how we fund expensive services such as social care, and our learning and education requirements in this modern world. In other words, alongside creating a more accountable and fairer version of capitalism, supporting people to accept difficult changes in order for important services to be sustained and social needs to be met.
(c) And third, articulate and live by a set of standards of behaviour which are common to everyone – and I mean everyone. One of the things I think we need more than anything else is a shared understanding of what doing the right thing means and confidence in one another that – regardless of our personal status – we’ll always back the people who do right and sanction the people who do wrong. [CapX published an article by me on this topic recently if you’d like to read more.]
So finally, I think this might be the moment for me to talk about the House of Lords and offer my views on what its role should be in shaping the outcome of Brexit.
First and foremost the House of Lords must honour the referendum decision.
Of course exiting the EU is complicated, the Government alone can’t and won’t get everything right and both Houses of Parliament have a legitimate role in scrutinising, debating and influencing the terms of the exit deal. But MPs and peers have to understand that the way they behave in this process is fundamental to what happens once we do leave the EU.
I fear that members of the House of Lords who have been open about their intent to derail Brexit have undermined some public confidence in the second chamber’s important scrutiny role on Brexit legislation. For me – and because of that – I think it’s important that MPs are exhaustive in their scrutiny of the Repeal Bill before it leaves the Commons and reaches the House of Lords. In other words, I want MPs to be clear that the form in which the Repeal Bill leaves the elected House is the form it should remain.
If that does happen it wouldn’t prevent peers scrutinising, debating and raising any legitimate concerns about the Repeal Bill. And if there is consensus for amendments arising from debate that should not present a problem. But it would be concerning if the House of Lords adopts an aggressive approach – even for just one round of ping-pong.
In normal circumstances I wouldn’t argue against the House of Lords amending a bill and asking the Commons to think again if peers believed MPs had got it wrong. But Brexit is different: it is a democratic decision made by voters and I would ask again that we don’t allow the causes and the divides it exposed to get lost.
More generally – but as part of the wider change agenda which I associate with Brexit –the House of Lords needs to continue its programme of incremental reforms, which in recent years have included the facility for peers to leave the House permanently and a stronger disciplinary regime.
Beyond that I believe the House of Lords also needs to reverse the trend for peers to be political in their motives and behaviours – which too often, makes the House of Lords indistinguishable from the House of Commons.
Frequently peers are locked in a battle to win, with opposition parties frustrating the will of the elected Government because they can; and the Government so focused on getting their legislative programme through at all costs they’re struggling to discern when to stop and listen.
In an era where people want and need more honest, frank debate from a Parliament motivated to get the best outcomes regardless of party politics – the House of Lords could be a shining beacon. But if the Lords increasingly displays the same vices as the Commons without the virtues of being elected it could eventually self-destruct. And that would be a real loss.
I’ll conclude now so we have time for questions. But my main message today is that the people of our country have rejected the status quo. Some of them expressed their verdict at the referendum and some at the general election. Either way, their message is clear: they want things to change.
Political and business leaders have a choice. We either embrace change at some short-term cost to ourselves so we can create a future which is better for everyone. Or we try and retain the status quo and have a version of change forced on us which might not be better and could be a lot worse than what we have now.
December 2nd, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
I was invited to contribute an article to the Michaelmas edition of Blueprint, the Oxford University Conservative Association magazine. I decided to reprise the case I made for Patriotism when I participated in a debate at the Oxford Union. Below is my article.
November 17th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
There was a debate in the House of Lords about inter-generational fairness on 26th October. This link takes you to my contribution. I concentrated on working-class older people, why they feel misunderstood and are being criticised unfairly.
The following day, during the debate on Lord (Chris) Holmes’ Private Members’ bill to ban unpaid work experience (beyond 4 weeks), I spoke about the way too many of our young people are being exploited when trying to find paid work and why I supported his bill. I also made the point that younger people feel misunderstood by the generation just ahead of them, whose experiences were different to their own. This is my speech.
The last thing we should do is pitch older and younger people against each other. In fact, I think there is quite a lot which unites these two demographics.
November 17th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
This piece by me for CapX, published on 23rd October, focuses in particular on the educational attainment divide exposed by Brexit. It seeks to help those who are highly educated understand better how they’ve caused the divide and what we need to change about our own behaviours if we are to bridge it. The article builds on the themes I raised in my speech in the House of Lords in June 2017.
November 17th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
Part of what needs to change if we are to respond properly to the social divides in our society is the way we do politics. This piece by me for Unherd focuses on the Parliamentary process. It was published on 11th October 2017.
July 26th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
In this piece for Huffington Post (19th July 2017), my point is that political and business leaders who want more flexibility to get the best Brexit deal have got to work even harder to build public confidence.
When I argue in favour of politicians and business leaders becoming more like public servants, what I’m saying is that: people are looking for leaders who show they understand the world through their eyes, can translate that understanding into practical solutions, and who deliver on their promises.
In these times that requires us to stop questioning whether Brexit is right, and instead to start focussing on how and why we got here. The more we do that, and come up with proposals to address the causes of Brexit, the more scope we will have to get the terms right for our exit from the EU.
July 11th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
I wrote a piece for the New Statesman website which they published on 3rd July 2017. The full article (no paywall) is available here.
July 10th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
The decision by Mr Speaker to relax the rules about ties in the House of Commons has been troubling me. As I’m a peer and a former Leader of the House of Lords, I should make clear my concerns have nothing to do with how or whether parliamentary traditions should be changed; that’s a different debate. And I feel it necessary also to say that I’m not a fanatic about ties and am happy to go with a “time and a place” type approach (I used to work in the media where they have long been optional).
My worry is Parliament – where our laws are made – dispensing with a universal symbol of common standards, without any regard for how and why such things might matter to everyone else. And of all the times to dispense with something that’s universal, choosing to do so now.
Since the referendum there’s been a lot of talk about our divided nation and the growing sense of “them” and “us”. Alongside age, the starkest divide is between those whose education ended at secondary school and the rest who have at least one degree. This divide is a serious problem, and you will hear us politicians routinely say in response that the best solution is more social mobility. Or, to put it bluntly, we need more people from working-class backgrounds in powerful positions.
Well I wouldn’t disagree with that, except it’s assumed the best way to make it happen is for more youngsters from working class backgrounds to obtain degrees. Again, that’s fine, but it doesn’t address the bigger problem this education divide exposes.
As someone without a degree who travelled a long path myself, I can see now that one of the most insidious ways those of us in powerful positions have diminished opportunities for non-graduates over the last 20 years is by undermining the importance of some standards hard-working people of all backgrounds used to share. More worryingly, we are still doing it without seeming to understand it is precisely these common standards which help people – especially those without the benefits the rest of us enjoy – navigate their way to success.
In the mid-80s when I arrived in London aged 18 to join the Civil Service as a secretary, I could not conceive of eating fish without batter, pronounced the title Viscount “viz-count” (like the biscuit I was more familiar with), and had only ever heard the name Trollope used about women with certain reputations. My lack of knowledge and sophistication was innocently on display for all in my new world to see. But so too was my positive attitude to work, evidenced by my smart appearance, timeliness and reliability. In other words, all the things I had learned growing up in my old working-class world were just as relevant in this other, rather alien place because they were mutual. They allowed me to say to my better-educated bosses without the need for words: “I take my job seriously just like you take yours.”
How I went from being an ambitious secretary to a Cabinet minister thirty years later cannot be reduced to one reason, but I know for sure (not least because I received so little formal education) that the attitudes and behaviours I brought with me from the world in which I grew up guided my path more than anything else. They were crucial because they are simple and universal and I was lucky that for the first 10 or 15 years of my working life, people of all backgrounds shared them. They didn’t require translation or a code and allowed strangers from all walks of life to cultivate trust and confidence in each other.
But over time and as I progressed up the ladder, I noticed that the common standards both my worlds used to share became less important to the new, more powerful world I had joined. It’s not just about dress code. In my new world, simplicity in so many ways is shunned as old-fashioned and unsophisticated in favour of more complex nuances understood by only those with the money and/or education necessary to be a member.
This separation and exclusivity has real consequences.
Now, even outsiders who’ve worked hard for their degrees and gain access find their new complicated world forces them to change the attitudes and behaviours that would otherwise also keep them connected to where they’ve come from. They have to, because there’s no advantage to not adapting to fit in and get on.
All of this illustrates how those of “us” who enjoy great privilege are growing apart from “them” who don’t. And it’s made worse because we don’t even notice now that we are doing it.
Some people will argue I’m making a fuss over nothing. A tie is just a tie, they will laugh – a piece of coloured cloth with a knot in it. But these are the people – most likely highly educated – who don’t understand. They have created so many other ways to signal their status and importance, they no longer value some basic standards other people have to rely on when trying hard to succeed.
Every time we dispense with something simple and universal, which signals a standard we share, the bigger the divide between us grows.
And if the people in charge don’t value and protect the simple standards we all understand and used to share – who will?
June 29th, 2017 | no comments | Posted in Uncategorized
This is the transcript of my speech in the Queen’s Speech debate on Thursday 30th June 2017.
“My Lords, it is always a privilege to speak in your Lordships’ House. Today, I want to discuss one of the big social divides exposed by Brexit and all the other major political events of the past year. That is in education. In the EU referendum, the difference between the way in which graduates voted and non-graduates voted was stark, with nearly two-thirds of postgraduates and four in five of those still in full-time education voting to remain and 64% of those whose formal education had ended at secondary school voting to leave.
I feel that we are a long way off understanding this. Notwithstanding what has been said by some noble Lords in the debate today, we might also be looking in the wrong place. There are no data on how many of your Lordships are educated to degree level, but I do not think that I would be far off if I guessed that a good number, or the majority, of Peers were graduates. I think that that is the case among most people in leadership positions in all walks of life—that is good; we want people in positions of power to be well educated and to know what they are talking about.
However, that means there is a lack of diversity at the top when it comes to understanding this big social divide. Perception of people who are not educated is sometimes a little warped. When Brexit and the referendum are debated, it is not uncommon to hear it said that the so-called uneducated were “duped”. Although it is sometimes whispered, the word “stupid” is used about people who voted to leave. When the presidential elections in the US are talked about, it is often said very loudly that President Trump is stupid. Obviously, when you get to become a President, you should be big enough and ugly enough to take any kind of insult, but we have always to bear in mind that if you dis someone like the President, whoever they may be, in hostile terms, you are effectively dissing the people who supported and voted for that person.
I should declare at this point that I did not go to university. I was the Leader of this House—some of your Lordships may say that you could tell that I did not go to university when I was in that role. It is important for me to share that fact. One of the worst feelings for any human being is that of being misunderstood. One of the worst things for any human being to do to another is not to take them seriously. When I was Leader of this House, I used to make it my business to make sure that I and the rest of my ministerial team took your Lordships’ House seriously and that we represented this House back into government. We need to remember that that sort of thing is important to us in powerful positions, those of us who are highly educated, and so it is equally important to those who are not.
Often, when we talk about those who are uneducated when we think about these big political events, we use phrases such as “left behind”—the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, did so earlier today. She painted some parts of the picture but I do not think she painted a full picture, because I think we are in danger of thinking that people who are not educated to degree standard are all failures, and that is just not true. Many people who are not educated to degree level will have set up and run their own business, they will be skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen, they might do important jobs, managing other people, and they have things to contribute to society—and they do. A better way of thinking about them is as being cut off and left out, sometimes. They are not left behind; they are right here, right now. What is happening is that the educated side of the divide have decided that everything is so complicated that only the educated people can come up with the answers, and this has been going on for a long time. That is okay if the answers that the educated people come up with are right. However, it seems now that they are not, so that is where we have a bit of a problem.
Let me take the House back to 2010 and remind noble Lords of the incident between Gordon Brown and Mrs Duffy. The reason I highlight that is not to rehearse again what he said about Mrs Duffy but to point out how Mrs Duffy responded when told what the then Prime Minister had said about her. She had all these journalists gathered around her and she said: “I’m very upset. He is an educated person. Why has he come out with words like that?”. The point is that someone like Mrs Duffy—I have no idea how far she went in her education—feels that, if those who are educated do not understand them, then who the hell will? That is what we need to think about. I know we talk about a better education system and of course that should always be part of the solution; of course, truth is a good thing and I know that we sometimes like to point to different things in different campaigns as being outrageous and misleading, but we need to reflect the fact that the people who need educating right now are not necessarily those that we think of as uneducated but those of us who are very well educated and in positions of power.
There is much more I could say but I have run out of my time, so I have to conclude. But I want to leave noble Lords with one thought about how we proceed over the next few months in our various debates, particularly about the European Union. The biggest thing that motivated how people voted at the general election a couple of weeks ago was other people’s motives. They were looking at the different parties and party leaders and judging their motives. That is why, when we were discussing the Article 50 Bill, I was vocal in those debates about the way we were trying to engage in that very important topic—not that we should not engage in that topic but that we needed to be clear in our own mind that other people are looking at our motives in judging what it is that we say and do and how we are contributing to these very important matters. Whether it is debates about the single market, the customs union or whatever, we have to remember that, for a vast majority of people, the reason they voted to leave the European Union was because they wanted things to change. We need to remember, when we talk about the pros and cons of the ways forward, that as a result of all of this things should be different at the end of this process for those who felt so angry and fed up that they forced this disruption upon our country.”
If you feel moved to watch me deliver the speech, you can do so via this link.