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When governance breaks down

By David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association  

Latest Political events have left most of us breathless, bewildered and despairing. Once Great Offices of State have been brought into dispute, changing hands faster than gambling cards. Five Prime Ministers in six years and four Chancellors in under four months. Now the total volte farce of a Budget delivered only in October is being binned and totally reversed following serious market instability from the party that trades on economic competence.

Now we have seen the total abandonment of the programme the new Prime Minister advanced just months ago. We have a Prime Minister in Rishi Sunak Conservative Party members didn’t endorse; indeed rejected just months ago, and an empty programme no-one has backed, but which seems in contravention of key aspects of the 2019 manifesto on which the Conservative Government under Boris Johnson was elected with the biggest mandate for 35 years. This is not a criticism of Sunak, but of the party process.

This is a sham, a farce, a disaster. The only benefit is that Rishi Sunak’s Government has brought some stability after such turbulence worthy of the most ferocious of rollercoasters.

What we are witnessing seems to be an absolute breakdown of governance itself. I say ‘governance’ not ‘government’ – meaning the “manner of governing a state” rather than “the body/entity invested with the power to manage a political unit, organisation or state”.

That to me lies at the heart of this appalling shambles. The manner of governance.

The Freedom Association is not just about defending individual freedom, free speech and free expression; our principles embrace the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, limited government, the free market economy, too – all affected by this failure of governance.

Governing has become like running in quicksand, with the public wondering why Government seems incapable of getting anywhere and of delivering anything, fast. This has brought about dangerous levels of dissatisfaction, complacency and cynicism of the public in the electoral system.

Examples readily abound. The ‘Boats Crisis’ is a perfect example. One would expect one of the primary duties of Government would be to protect our freedoms by maintaining the borders of the country. Yet so far this year 43,000 undocumented unknown individuals, mainly young men, have arrived uninvited and unannounced on our shores.

The Government response is what? Mass arrests? Troops ordered to defend the beaches? The Navy turning back the boats? This is what the Australians successfully did (ensuring the vessels were safe and with fresh provisions – which led to a drop from 60,000 a year to zero. I met the minister responsible).

No! The response has been to welcome them into our country, give them free meals, free instant healthcare (unavailable to those outside the camp walls), free high-grade mobile phones, bicycles and handouts, and treat economic immigrants like refugees when they have travelled through so many safe countries without claiming asylum there. It has been to make dedicated hotel workers redundant before Christmas as hotels are turned into hostels (often in breach of planning permission which only allows 28 days of such ‘change of use’) right across the UK at 300 sites. Veterans’ events, weddings, major functions have been cancelled with the Home Office offering £1 million cheques at a time and a daily cost of £7 million so far.

Meanwhile Care4Calais and other misguided charity workers (allegedly the charity is under investigation by the Charity Commissioners) offer illegal immigrants advice on how to beat the system in French camps. Demonstrators arrive at the Manston immigration centre on behalf of the illegal immigrants - and they are immigrants as they are coming into the county. Migrants move within a country.

Above all, we have human rights lawyers line up to use taxpayers’ cash to work against taxpayers’ interests – particularly by using the twisted knot of human rights laws from ECHR Court judgements to Blair’s Human Rights Act to May’s Sex Trafficking Act to frustrate removals policies such as the Rwanda Plan – approved by Parliament; suspended by lawyers.

This is what creates this legalistic quicksand - and the Government is then continually made to look like the bad guy with numerous Parliamentary and legal challenges. Rather than indulge in PR friendly schemes which appear to address the problems – such as paying the French more to try to stop migrants – we need to address the real causes. The BBC even reported a Calais policeman saying that the EU was to blame by preventing the French police from arresting undocumented illegal immigrants, Even if they stop them getting in boats, they have to let them go again.

There seems to be a new enthusiasm to open the gates to yet more people coming into the UK, despite the fact that now 1 in 6 people in the UK were born abroad and around 8 million people – the equivalent of all people living in Wales and Scotland – have arrived since 2004. The public have reached their tolerance limit when it comes to the scale of Immigration. The British people are law-abiding and strong – they are slow to rise, but when they do, they are formidable.

This picture looks like total and abject failure. A collective breakdown brought by excessive technocratic and legalistic obstacles to the democratic will. It is more the failure of governance than an individual Government – these barriers would apply to a future Labour or Coalition Government. It was John Reid, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently, who coined the phrase “not fit for purpose” to describe the Home Office. Despite decades seeking reform, the same failure to reform is with us today. The failings are systemic.

A barrister friend of mine says this represents the 1930s Weimar Republic in the weakness and frustration of its democracy, which is a scary parallel indeed.

Unfortunately, we saw this again with Brexit. I really fear that there is an agenda to obstruct and undermine all the benefits of Brexit currently in the pipeline, as there was negotiating a Brexit deal under Theresa May – where it often seemed our negotiating team was on the same side as the EU. Thank God for Lord Frost later.

Suddenly, progress on the UK-India trade deal, which would bring major benefits for UK exports through removing 150% tariffs on luxury goods such as top-end cars and whiskies, appears to have stalled despite warm relations between Sunak and Indian Prime Minister Modi. So too has the prospect of joining the World’s largest trade block, which is not the EU, but the Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade block. Again, talk of that has quietened. These would both be decisive breaks from EU convergence. Is that the problem? Would it disrupt the new agenda to retain convergence?

In my view, EU deregulation – the removal, repeal or reform of up to 700,000 pages of EU red tape, directives, regulations and ECJ court rulings (a Nelson’s Column worth of paper) – is the primary economic benefit of Brexit.

Whilst it is very welcome news to see one such benefit – the billions in extra investment that scrapping the EU’s excessive solvency II directive required – in the Autumn Statement as Treasury policy, progress on removing up to 700,000 pages of EU red tape has suddenly been put in doubt by a feeble excuse: they have discovered another 1,200 laws in the archive and OFFICIALS DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO GO THROUGH THEM ALL! What? Wouldn’t saving money be rather a good use of officials time – that large army – just now? No wonder Jacob Rees-Mogg, who introduced the Brexit Freedoms Bill, has attacked the delay.

Now the Sunday Times reports that we are slipping back to discussing failed and rejected trade models when we have the arm’s length deal we need now – and just need to sort the protocol. The ‘Swiss option’ is half a deal. It covers only goods and people of the four core freedoms at the heart of all free trade deals and EU membership, and not investment and Services such as Financial Services – which is why Swiss banks such as Swiss Re and UBS operate out of London.

It is over complex and unwieldy, with 120 bilateral agreements, not the one like the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (the TCA) we have now. Above all there is no control over immigration – the second dominating reason why people voted for Brexit – as the Swiss option has a signed freedom of movement bilateral agreement.

Even the Director General of the CBI, who were very anti Brexit, said on Laura Kuenssberg’s show on the BBC that the Swiss deal would be a distraction and the Government should focus on sorting the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Protocol is another example of such failure of governance. This revolves around selling-out the UK on alignment to EU rules in order to ‘solve’ the so-called ‘border issue’ that was always ever a device, a tool, to keep the whole of the UK aligned to the EU. It is the EU that has incited community tensions this way by weaponizing the issue through Varadkar and the Irish Government. A previous Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not regard it as hard to solve.

How many times has the Government threatened to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol? Article 16 is an emergency clause to allow (where there are serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are likely to persist) a suspension of the Protocol until sorted. At least the Protocol Bill, which has passed through the Commons, is now making its way through the Lords, but there is a reluctance even to use that legislation or act on the Protocol, in fear of EU retaliation. Another logjam; another lack of courage.

On the NHS, the Government has not looked at reform, but has provided more and more resources, with seemingly greater and greater queues in the form of waiting lists. As Michael Portillo points out on GB News, we have increased spending as a share of Government expenditure from 30% to 40% at the expense of the police, soldiers and schools, but waiting lists have ballooned. The Covid impact is wearing thin as an excuse and the denial of access to care for the first time seeing the NHS drop amongst the public. What’s the plan?

There are numerous other examples of such failures in governance we can all point out, but what are the reasons and what are the elements behind this?

Taking all the sectors at play here, I’ll start with MPs first.

It is clear that people think that the quality of MPs is much diminished. I see too many ministers that are weak; too many overpromoted; and far too many lacking conviction. Compare them with Lady Thatcher’s conviction and strength; Michael Portillo, with his razor sharp mind and real authority; Peter Lilley – one of the brightest and most sensitive ministers I have met; the gutsy and competent Gillian Shepherd; Nigel Lawson, the creative Chancellor; David Mellor with his grasp of culture; Lord Carrington, the last minister to resign over something he didn’t do out of principle (the loss of the Falklands); my old boss, Sir Patrick Mayhew, a great man of principle who laid the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement; the canny Norman Tebbit, and yes, even Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, bright characters and right on other things than Europe. Many of today’s ministers belong in the civil service or middle management. Rather than giving leadership to departments, too many have become robotic compliant reciters of given policy positions.

This is a feature of the selection of MPs, which has become a disaster in itself, in all parties. Tony Blair set the model by controlling candidate selection. All Eurosceptic Labour MEPs were wiped out in one go, a Labour MP told me. The journalist Michael Crick’s Twitter page, @Tomorrow’sMPs, lifts the lid on Labour selection, saying “Labour’s selection processes are unfair, and verge on corrupt. Some contenders get access to local membership lists long before others do”; whilst saying Lib Dems only offer a single candidate often.

Conservative Party selection procedures are far too centralised and look for the compliant MP, not the independent minded free thinkers of old – those, like Lady Thatcher, who were prepared to challenge officials and their advice; people who were ideological. They are also too much into Blair-style tokenism. I understand the emphasis on Conservative candidates to be able to demonstrate the ability to speak in public is much diminished. Some get to a high level without the ability to put their case effectively in speeches or the media. Too many are careerists. More worryingly is the lack of interview time to ascertain whether candidates are actually real Conservatives. Their actual views are little scrutinised.

Number 10, so constantly under pressure, and often without an Alastair Campbell or Craig Oliver to provide steady and informed top-level guidance, is too often pushed around by the media and Parliament, and it is too ready to throw ministers under a bus if enough pressure is brought to bear.

Whilst action on Pincher may have been too slow, action on Conor Burns may have been too fast and unjust. He was immediately fired, humiliated, and banned before having any right to reply. Now we find there is no evidence from the supposed witness - so there is not even a charge; and it was off the Parliamentary estate anyway. A good minister shoddily treated by the system.

Political correctness and wokeness are killing free speech and free expression. Any supposed variance from agreed norms and the media (primarily social media) organise a ‘pile on’.

I am informed that students in journalism are now schooled that their careers will be best advanced by tearing down rather than actual objective, intelligent and courageous reporting of the facts.

On impartiality, the great John Humphrys of BBC Radio 4 Today fame, never gave away his politics until he had retired, such was his professionalism. He was demanding of all – and fair. But now we have Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel publicly whingeing at the fact they have to be impartial, with Maitlis regularly straying into impartiality in direct and unacceptable ways.

The bias in the BBC, and other channels, such as Channel 4 News and Sky and others – more amongst those controlling the agenda than presenters generally – the Media Line – does not seek to report facts for the viewer to make their own judgement on, but seeks to campaign and load the facts one way. Apparently (Nigel Farage told) Climate Change is now such an ‘uncontested and proven view’, apparently, that bias in mentioning it is beyond the rules on impartiality.

MPs, of course, are having to operate in a media and social media world that is incessant and 24 hours. Whilst very revealing of hidden facts in a positive way, it is also too full of bile and falsities on another negative level. I am just immensely glad that as a keen tweeter, with 40,000 people kind enough to listen to my thoughts, that Elon Musk has arrived as Chief Twit restoring free speech and free expression to an important communications platform for politicians.

As for Whitehall – that great body of Government itself - the man or woman on the street see the Government in a highly personalised way: it is Boris’s Government in charge; Liz Truss’s policies; Sunak’s budget, delivered by Jeremy Hunt.

What the public doesn’t see, and doesn’t think much about, is that massive technocratic, legalistic and technical machine behind the few politicians. That is where the numbers are. The Department of Work and Pensions has 96,011 employees for example, and there are 478,540 full-time equivalent civil servants as of March 2022. The Government’s 121 ministers are totally outnumbered, and too often under remunerated. Many civil servants are paid more than the Prime Minister.

I know, as a former Special Adviser, that officials resent external influence – they want to be in control. They claim not to be political, but very much are – they just aren’t party political.

In my view, however, there are now too many special advisers to ministers (SPADS), who are half official and half party political. In my day, when I was a Northern Ireland SPAD (1996-97), there were only 40. Blair had 80. Now there are 180. I don’t knock SPADS; many are very bright, able and well connected, but some don’t have the experience, whilst others create instability in government though too many media contacts and briefings. Dominic Cummings tried to run Government through SPADS, who formed much of Vote Leave, too, but they are not really part of departmental command structures. Departments have press offices anyway, so there is some duplication.

There is also too much of a ‘Chumocracy’: a web of personal relationships where contacts and personal connections count most. The number of married or dating senior advisers, or who are children or friends of, is quite striking.

Newer, I think, is that too many senior civil servants are now becoming overtly political: in office through leaking and obstruction, as well as out of office through public statements. How dare a former servant of the Crown help bring down a Prime Minister, such as former Foreign Office Permanent Secretary (not known for being fans of Boris Johnson) Lord Simon McDonald with his “extraordinary, devastating intervention” which helped bring Boris down over Pincher? 

These generally strong Remainers loved the EU because it was like them, putting the technocratic and legalistic before the democratic. A Valhalla for Sir Humphrey Abbleby-like Yes Minister dominance. Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell is more measured and sensible in his interventions, but he is still actively political. There is too much nauseous use of the phrase ‘Speaking Truth unto Power.’ This gives away a superior attitude where the officials are supposedly the best judges of the truth – like the EU - through what superior education and privilege seemingly. 

The ability to hamper, disrupt or destroy ministers is out of control. How can they deliver their agenda for the people who elected them when they are forever distracted by inquiries, legal challenges, departmental resistance? Priti Patel was a victim of this. Dominic Raab is being currently called a bully – with a huge media drama about allegedly throwing a few tomatoes, elevated to career-destructive level, shows officials are in power, not the Government.

If not finding resistance in departments, ministers are being subject to ‘Kangaroo Court’ justice in the Houses of Parliament. And a misuse of an over-controlling Ministerial Code, that seems designed to tie the hands of ministers delivering their agendas, rather than preventing misuse of office, which is not of course acceptable.

There is an ultimate court, and that is the British voter. They have every right to throw out supposedly sleazy or incompetent MPs, as they did after the Parliamentary expenses scandal, and the electorate is becoming more canny on tactical voting. That is the democratic way surely, not endless legalistic and technocratic codes – the stuff of EU rule.

Look at Boris Johnson. What court in the land (and the Privileges Committee is semi-judicial) would allow such compromised MPs who have been so vocal on Boris to hold court over a Prime Minister? Those who have shown such aggression or public attacks, such as Harriet Harman, have clearly been hostile to him.

This use of judicial tools for political ends seems reflected in the USA, too, where a ‘War Crimes investigator’ is let loose on Donald Trump. Whatever one thinks of Trump, to use the legal system and absurd comparisons to war crimes to debar a political candidate, is a dangerous undemocratic development indeed. Or to have the FBI as political police to make Trump look bad by raiding his Florida home in such a disgraceful manner. That too is abuse by State officials of their public office. Or to claim that Trump’s deep concerns over election fraud and voting integrity are ‘false claims’, as if that is definitive, as the BBC do, and that voter fraud doesn’t exist (think the Mafia helping Kennedy in Chicago; or the UK case of misuse of postal ballots in Tower Hamlets) is biased reporting.

Then, of course, to ban someone who was an elected President from Twitter, just because his views don’t conform with extreme forms of Californian wokeness, is very worrying. It is all part of the same problem – the onward march of aggressive Cultural Marxism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whitehall is shown to be just as left-leaning as its genesis, Academia, which is 80-90% left-wing and hooked on state support, the mainstream media, who now put more emphasis on political activism than to report unbiased facts, and the cultural sector, also state dependent and frequent unrealistic in its criticisms of the Government. Why does it seem that it is generally the right-wing ministers attacked this way: Braverman, Raab, Boris, whilst Left-leaning MPs seem to enjoy a much softer treatment?

The evidence of this is the recent public sector strikes announced – including whole Departments going on strike from mid-December such as the Home Office, the Department of Transport and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, affecting passport and border checks, driving tests and payment of farm subsidies.

As the inventor of rail franchising (which pre-Covid attracted more passengers than BR ever did, on a third more trains, and eliminated the subsidy for trains overall, if not for track), I found the Government’s decision to replace the successful (but needing some reforms) franchises with the unsuccessful (old BR and Corbyn-style renationalisation) concessions thanks to the public sector Williams Report, incomprehensible and anti-Conservative.

In particular, the decision to negotiate as one, as the Government, was irresponsible, bringing back national rail strikes after their absence under rail privatisation. There has been confusion over whether the Transport Secretary should be in the room or not. Shapps refused to be, and his two successors have met with the unions. Are we going back to retro 1970s-style ‘Beer and Sandwiches’ as well as curly sandwiches?

Whilst there may have been some painful single franchise-only strikes, such as on Southern, other franchises kept operating, and it was not nationwide. If the Government can’t even recognise, reward and improve successful policies, what hope is there? Personally, I would extend such a franchising model to schools, hospitals and to much of Whitehall. 

So, in all these ways, and with such a rich choice of examples sadly to choose from, it is clear that something is seriously wrong with the way we are governed – with governance – that is far deeper, and in much greater need of radical reform, than just the usual choice of policies between the two dominant political parties.

Radical reform is needed to govern better; and in so doing, to restore many of the freedoms we hold dear. 


Andrew Allison talks to Mike Graham on Talk TV about the cost of living crisis

WATCH Chief Executive, Andrew Allison's interview with Mike Graham on Talk TV last Thursday. They discussed the cost of living crisis, the World Health Organisation, and Douglas Murray's new book, "The War on the West."

If now is not a good time to cut taxes, then I don’t know when it is

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive 

The cost of living crisis is going to be number one on the list of priorities for most voters. Last week we heard that the Government plans measures to ease the cost of living crisis, but we don’t know what those plans are. The Government is either deliberately keeping its cards close to its chest, or (more likely) there are divisions on what should be done next. 

Some of the economic problems we are suffering at the moment are home grown; many more are faced by other countries around the world. But governments are always blamed when voters are feeling poorer. They always want politicians to do more. Right and wrong do not matter. 

In an experiment never tried before, we closed down our economy for many months in response to Covid-19. We restricted the economy for over 18 months. To fund this, the Government borrowed heavily, and the Bank of England, whose primary job is to keep inflation under control, now owns between a third to a half of Government debt. Because most countries around the world also embarked on the same experiment (some much more harshly than we did), they are in a similar position to us. Supply chains are broken, and demand is outstripping supply. It is hardly surprising that inflation is now out of control. It is hardly surprising that the UK’s economy is predicted to go into recession. 

The Government has to do more to alleviate the suffering many are going through now, and many more will be going through in the months to come. If now is not a good time to cut taxes, then I don’t know when it is. 

VAT on gas and electricity should be scrapped, and the green levy should be removed from bills. The rise in National Insurance Contributions should also be scrapped, but National Insurance threshold uplift should remain in place. This could save some families thousands of pounds a year and will make a real difference. 

The next general election is expected to take place in the spring of 2024. We don’t know if Boris Johnson will still be Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party then. We don’t know if Sir Keir Starmer will still be leader of the Labour Party. We don’t know how high inflation is going to be, if the economy will still be underperforming, or how hard the cost of living crisis will have bitten millions of people. To paraphrase the late Donald Rumsfeld, there are many known knowns; there are many known unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns. Although I still don’t think that Labour will form a majority Government, it is all to play for. Those who are gifted at reading political tea leaves will be in great demand!

We must stand with Ukraine

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive 

Three weeks ago I thought that Putin would not invade invade Ukraine; that he would continue to play a game of brinkmanship, try to divide NATO and the West, and take over parts of Ukraine using salami tactics. But after his deranged television addresses last week, it was clear that he is an old man in a hurry. So when I woke up to the news on Thursday morning that Russian forces had invaded Ukraine, I can't say that I was surprised. 

Earlier last week, Putin tried to con the world that the invasion into Donetsk and Luhansk wasn't an invasion. Russian troops were there to maintain peace, he said, but he wasn't fooling anyone. I wasn't impressed with the sanctions announced by the Prime Minister on Monday in response to this invasion, but in all fairness to him, his hands were tied as Western powers attempted to move in lockstep with each other. After the full invasion of Ukraine on Thursday morning, the package of sanctions were much more robust, but we know that other countries have been in appeasement mode. 

The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, announced that he has halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, designed to double the flow of Russian gas direct to Germany. But there is still Nord Stream 1. Germany didn't want Russia cut-off off from the Swift banking system. It has now been agreed that it will, but it took days to happen when it should have happened immediately. Germany spends just 1.36 per cent of GDP on defence, although the news that Germany plans to correct that and spend two per cent - NATO's minimum - is welcome news. 

Italy still wants to send luxury goods to Russia. In other words, it stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but doesn't want to feel any pain! 

Hungary under Viktor Orbán is not much better than Russia under Putin. He eventually distanced himself from Putin, but only when he realised that Hungary would be isolated. He faces elections in just over a month's time. I am sure that played a crucial part in his decision. I have spoken to free speech and free market activists from Hungary, and many of them fear being imprisoned if they upset Orbán's regime. Freedom is not alive and well in Hungary. 

In 1994, Ukraine unilaterally gave up its nuclear weapons in a non-proliferation treaty. The United Kingdom, United States and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to respect the independence, sovereignty, and the existing borders of Ukraine. There was an obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and a commitment that nuclear weapons would not be used against the country. 

Russia has not respected this international treaty.

Nations bordering Russia are desperate to join NATO. Why? It’s not because they want to attack Russia. The opposite is true. They fear a Russian attack, and this is why Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are all on a heightened state of alert, despite being NATO members. They have every reason to be fearful.

Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states that "an armed attack against one or more of them [NATO members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

Joe Biden is (and I choose my words carefully) clearly not well enough to be President of the United States. Unless he makes a firm commitment that America will honour Article 5, NATO will not be fit for purpose and the Baltic states and other NATO countries like Poland and Slovakia will be left to their own devices. 

During times of adversity, you find out who your friends are. Poland is willing to accept all refugees, even if millions of people cross over its border with Ukraine. Slovakians are busy fundraising so they can offer assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Other neighbours are offering their wholehearted support, too. 

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been leading from the front. Biden has offered to evacuate him, but Zelenskyy told the US President that "the fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride." He would rather die defending his country than go into exile. 

A new axis is forming. The Chinese Government has told its citizens living in Ukraine to place Chinese flags on their cars. This is the 21st Century equivalent of the Passover. It is clear that despite being traditionally hostile to one another, Russia and China have been moving closer since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. It won't be long before Iran joins this axis, if it hasn't done so already. Pakistan's Prime Minister, Imran Khan, met Putin a few days ago. India abstained in a vote condemning the invasion in the United Nations Security Council on Friday. 

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a major assault on liberty, freedom, and democracy. It’s implications will not stop with Ukraine. It encourages other totalitarian regimes to act in similar ways. This is why Putin's actions are not, rightly, going unpunished. 

Slava Ukraini!

Will the cost of living crisis eventually destroy Boris Johnson's premiership?

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive

On 4th February at the Victory Services Club. Nigel Farage was the guest speaker at the Jillian Becker Annual Lecture and he spoke about the greatest threats to freedom today. He was on top form and did not disappoint. Click below to watch his speech.

Nigel covered many subjects close to the hearts of TFA members, but one I would like to highlight is the Government’s response to high energy bills. Here is what he said:

“I used to work in financial markets. I should be good about money. I can’t work this out. We put a 25 per cent surcharge on the electricity bill. We put a five per cent surcharge on because the EU demands it in terms of VAT. And now because the bills are too high, we’re going to give you some money back against that tax, but we’re also going to put your taxes up on 1st April, so we’ll cut your Council Tax. I can’t work it out. Maybe you can.

“And then we’ve got this full on drive being led by the Prime Minister (and she is a very powerful Prime Minister!)... this completely insane drive to net zero, which will lead to yet another massive transference of wealth from those who frankly haven’t got the money to those who have got the money.”

The Downing Street parties have badly eroded the trust between Boris Johnson and voters, but it will be the cost of living crisis that could easily see him kicked out of Number Ten. 

Just at the time millions of people in this country are facing a squeeze in living standards, the Government is still ploughing ahead with a 1.25 percentage-point increase in National Insurance contributions (a 10 per cent rise from the existing level), and next year the Government still plans to increase Corporation Tax. You have to go back many decades to remember taxation in this country as high as it is now. 

Yet Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would have you believe that they are low tax Thatcherites. They should be prosecuted in the Trades Descriptions Act! And it gets even worse. 

During his economic update to the House of Commons on 3rd February, Rishi Sunak said that abolishing VAT on domestic energy bills “would become a permanent Government subsidy on everyone’s bills.” This ‘low tax Thatcherite’ had the audacity to say that reducing the amount of tax we have to pay would be a Government subsidy. Here’s me thinking that we had a Conservative Government. It’s worse than when Gordon Brown was in power, and at least he wasn’t trying to pretend that he was a Conservative.

In November, our Chairman, David Campbell Bannerman, wrote a piece highlighting how all of our ten principles of a free society are under threat. It is worth reading. 

Limited Government appears to be a thing of the past. Our freedom of speech is being eroded by a woke mob, aided and abetted by the tech giants, and if the Government is not careful, our free-market economy will be strangled by high levels of inflation and taxation.  

As Boris Johnson scrambles to save his premiership, he needs to mark, learn and inwardly digest his own words written over many years. In 2019, the voters rewarded him with an 80-seat majority mainly to get Brexit done. But Brexit is not like Waterloo Station: a terminus. It is more like Clapham Junction: a place where one alights and then can travel in many directions. Brexit in itself is not enough. It is what we do with the opportunities Brexit gives us that will determine whether or not he survives. We can only hope that the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency is going to shake things up in Whitehall, because at the moment the Government is failing badly.


Editorial credit for photograph of Boris Johnson: Michael Tubi /

What is going on in Canada and New Zealand?

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive

Whilst the UK has moved away from lockdowns, restrictions, Covid passports, and the mandatory wearing of face coverings, both the Canadian and New Zealand governments are continuing to do the opposite.

A convoy of tens of thousands of Canadian truckers moved its way across the country last week and arrived in the capital Ottawa yesterday. Truckers are protesting against vaccine mandates and other policies implemented by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. His response was to insult them and then go into hiding. He described them as a "small fringe minority" and people who hold unacceptable views.

Nova Scotia has enacted emergency legislation prohibiting those protesting against COVID-19 measures from blocking the Trans-Canada Highway near the New Brunswick boundary. The Emergency Management Act also applies to people who stop or gather alongside the highway. You can find out more by watching this interview on Neil Oliver's show in GB News last night. In Quebec, those who are not vaccinated will be charged a health tax.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a country which officially abandoned its zero-Covid policy last year, there is very little evidence that the country has moved on from March 2020, despite around 90 per cent of those living in the country being double jabbed. A two-tier society is being developed by Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, (just as it is by Trudeau in Canada) where those who are vaccinated have more freedom than those who are not. 

Dan Wooton, writing in the Daily Mail, notes that "after just nine confirmed Omicron cases, Ardern plunged the entire country into red alert, a form of lockdown that bans large gatherings, enforces mask mandates, makes Covid passports compulsory if you want to live normally as part of a 'two-tier society', and reintroduces work from home orders." That sounds very much like a zero-Covid policy to me - one which cannot and will not work if New Zealand wants to get back to anything like normality. 

Families cannot reunite, even if a parent is dying. As Dan Wootton notes:

"Each month, around 50,000 desperate Kiwis – many trapped overseas in countries where their visa has run out or desperate to see sick relatives – have been forced to sign up online to enter a waiting room where they are placed in a virtual queue. Only around 1,500 'winners' a month gain tickets.

"And that's just the start of it. Once you 'win' the lottery, you have to pay for an exorbitantly expensive flight and then about £1,500 to spend 14 days in government run hotel quarantine, where the army has been sent in to ensure no one absconds."

One would think that when governments react in these ways, completely dividing society, and destroying businesses and livelihoods, that a majority would stand up and say no. Sadly, this is not the case. The vast majority of Canadians and New Zealanders support their governments. One can speculate as to the reasons why, but I would put fear at the top of the list. Jacinda Ardern once told New Zealanders (and I will never forget this) to "dismiss anything else, we will continue to be your single source of truth.” She needs to be reminded that George Orwell, in his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, was issuing a warning, not offering a blueprint. 

Justin Trudeau called a snap general election last year. Despite his draconian policies, he remained Prime Minister, with the results largely unchanged from the general election in 2019. New Zealanders went to the polls in October 2020. Jacinda Ardern recorded a landslide victory. You reap what you sow. 

I used to think that both Canada and New Zealand were populated by freedom loving people. I have been disabused of that opinion. We have endured much during the last couple of years in the UK, but we have not gone anywhere near the level of restrictions imposed in New Zealand. We have gone too far in mandating vaccinations for health care and NHS workers, but we do not suffer from the levels of authoritarianism currently being displayed in Canada. I am concerned, though, that if Boris Johnson had followed the examples set by Trudeau and Ardern, too many people would have supported him. I would like to think that we would have protested in sufficiently large numbers, but I honestly don't think that we would have done. 

There are many other governments in the world who continue to strip freedoms away from their citizens - some are very close to home in Europe, and I haven't even touched on Australia. I can't say that I am grateful to Boris Johnson for returning freedoms which were not his to take away. The way we allowed people to die alone was disgraceful. Allowing elderly and vulnerable people to exist without any meaningful human interaction was cruel. Sweden didn't close schools, but we deprived children of their education for months on end. In the first lockdown, children's playgrounds were closed. Millions more are now suffering from mental health problems. The number of people who will die from preventable illnesses is still yet unknown. Having said that, when I look at what is still being endured by people in other countries, I am grateful that I live in the UK - warts and all. 

If the PM can't turn the Johnson supertanker around in record time, he may not have a future as its captain

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive

It has been a terrible week for Boris Johnson. Before Christmas, Number 10 had hoped that the so-called 'Partygate' scandals would be forgotten about. Instead, matters have got far worse. 

I am not going to go into detail about all of the parties which have taken place in Number 10. But what I will say is that there is a "do as I say, not as I do" culture inside the heart of Government, and that no-one appeared (or appears) to be interested in changing that culture.

In the House of Commons last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that when he mixed with 40 people all merrily chatting and drinking in the evening sunshine, he hadn't realised that it was a party. That stretches incredulity to breaking point. I don't begrudge anyone a drink after work; I have done it plenty of times myself over the years, but the problem is that at the time that particular party took place, if you or I had sent an email around to colleagues suggesting that they bring their own booze to an after work party in a garden, we would have been fined up to £10,000 for breaking Covid laws. 

Likewise, the images of the Queen sitting alone in St George's Chapel, Windsor, during Prince Philip's funeral are in stark contrast to the two parties in Downing Street the previous evening, where some people left with an empty suitcase to fill it up with booze at a local convenience store so as not to arouse the suspicion of police officers when they returned. 

I will always be grateful to Boris Johnson for eventually getting us out of the European Union, but as I have said on numerous occasions, the Government is not taking full advantage of the benefits Brexit has to offer. Instead the tax burden is at its highest since Clement Attlee was in power; inflation is rising; electricity and gas bills are rising; the cost of petrol and diesel have risen substantially over the last year. The Government could immediately scrap VAT on domestic fuel, but it will not. It could help families and businesses by scrapping the planned rise in National Insurance this April, but has no plans to do so. Next year, Corporation Tax will rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent.

Boris Johnson has lost the trust of many people. Patients died in hospitals alone because their families were prevented from visiting them. Many friends and family of those who died were prevented from attending their funerals. Celebrations were cancelled. When trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain it.

For the Prime Minister to survive he needs to offer a truly heartfelt apology. He can't hide behind technicalities and exemptions. He needs to remember that we hold those in Government to high standards. They are not above the law.

He needs to understand that this year is going to be an extremely difficult year for millions of people. You can't grow the economy by constantly increasing the tax burden on families and businesses.

All of us want to live in a clean environment, but stop the doomsday rhetoric. Most people don't believe that we are at a minute to midnight and that if we don't act now, the earth is doomed. Allow businesses and entrepreneurs the time to develop the technologies required to move us in this direction. Stop banning things; stop setting arbitrary targets; stop inflating all our energy bills with green levies. We can't afford any of this. Let the invisible hand of the free market do its work. 

The Prime Minister needs to show real leadership. He also needs to have a huge clear-out at Number 10. The operation there is shambolic. 

If he fails to understand the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people; if he fails to fully appreciate the sacrifices we have all made since March 2020; if he thinks that laws he pushed through Parliament don't apply to him, then he is doomed. In short, if he can't turn the Johnson supertanker around in record time, he may not have a future as its captain. I suspect, though, that it is already too late. 


Photo Credit: Boris Johnson - Michael Tubi /

Opportunity Lost

By Christopher Gill

Unlike the perceptive few who saw beyond his bonhomie, I had high hopes for Boris. 

Winning a magnificent 80 seat majority in the House of Commons meant that ‘taking back control’ from the benighted European Union, after all the shenanigans of the previous three years, had suddenly become doable.

But here we are, two years on, with illegal immigration out of control; Northern Ireland still in limbo; fisheries problems unresolved; the UK jurisdiction still compromised by adherence to the European Arrest Warrant and the European Convention on Human Rights, not to mention our own Human Rights Act; UK power supplies on a knife edge; Government spending and borrowing as though there is no tomorrow; a fixation upon climate change which appears to be divorced from the practicalities of sustaining a healthy economy, and tax increases to fund that unreformed leviathan known as the NHS whose crying need is surely for more doctors and nurses rather than an ever increasing army of bureaucrats .

The words of the Confession about doing the things that we ought not to have done and not having done those things that we ought to have done would seem to encapsulate Boris’s progress to date.

Time was when, as a Member of Parliament, I might have been able to put my finger on what is causing such a multitude of problems: is it Boris himself, is it his Ministers or, perish the thought, is it the Civil Service?

However, whichever way you slice it, it all comes back to Boris.

He is the man at the top and it is his duty and his responsibility to make things happen. He must either back his Ministers or sack them. Likewise he must leave the Civil Service in no doubt that if they obstruct the will of the people (as articulated by their elected representatives in the House of Commons) then they will be required to do the other thing!

If, on the other hand, Boris just wants to be loved, then not only is he in the wrong job, he’s probably also in the wrong profession.

On his current trajectory Boris will inevitably forfeit the support of us former Ukippers who lent the Conservative Party our votes in December 2019 and he deludes himself entirely if he thinks that the so-called Red Wall voters who voted overwhelmingly to ‘get Brexit done’ had a lasting Damascene conversion to conservatism.

This is all so very, very sad. Boris’s administration have had an open goal which will almost ineluctably close before the next General Election unless they are seen to be kicking the issues upon which they were elected into the back of the net – and that right soon!

Within the Parliamentary Conservative Party there appear to be more than a few different groupings who, in one form or another, might be sympathetic to the views expressed above, but whether or not they will reach the same conclusion time alone will tell.

But that is precisely the point – with the life-span of this Parliament nearly half-spent, time is what they no longer have.

In the immortal words of the great bard, time taken at the flood leads on to greater things. Sadly for Boris, a surfeit of votes for Brexit in December 2019, followed by widespread flooding in February, succeeded by Covid in March, was a veritable baptism of fire, but in politics gratitude for past achievements is soon overtaken by demand for future action, which is where we are today.

What saddens me most of all is the snail’s pace at which we are proceeding to take advantage of the opportunities outside the sclerotic European Union - for which we had to fight so hard - to disentangle ourselves from mindless regulation and to do positive things, such as reducing corporate taxes and creating much-vaunted freeports, that would distinguish us from our former so-called EU ‘partners’ –  our competitors.

An almost heaven-sent opportunity to restore the reputation of a political party, once seen as the most successful one in political history, is being frittered away by its failure to grasp the many current nettles and its apparent drift to the left.

The opportunity which Boris appears to be squandering, to prioritise wealth creation, national sovereignty and individual freedom, may never be repeated – certainly not in my lifetime!

If folk want socialism they have the option of voting for other Parties, but for those of us who support, inter alia, private enterprise, low taxation, national independence and individual freedom it is beginning to look as though, once again, we are going to have to look beyond the current Conservative Party.

Whilst he still has the opportunity, Boris really must get a grip or face the prospect of another hung Parliament.

Would that he would make it abundantly clear to all his subordinates, both in Westminster and in Whitehall, that dither and delay is no longer acceptable and that his hero’s watchword , “Action This Day”, is, once again, the order of the day.

If, however, he doesn’t have it in him to properly delegate and to make conservative things happen, then both we conservative-minded voters in general and the Conservative Party in particular are facing a disappointingly bleak future.

Christopher Gill is a former Chairman of The Freedom Association. He served as the MP for Ludlow from 1987 - 2001.


Photo Credit: Euro Realist Newsletter - Christopher Gill, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Restricting our freedoms is now the default option. This Government is not interested in freedom

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive

This week was supposed to be ‘Law and Order’ week for the Government. It started on Monday morning with Boris Johnson dressed in a police uniform on an early morning raid with Merseyside Police. Just four days later, his future as Prime Minister hangs in the balance after the worst week of his premiership so far. 

There is a stench emanating from Downing Street. It’s not just the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to Covid restrictions. That is bad enough, and has already claimed one scalp. What the British people cannot stand is hypocrisy. We were told to forsake a normal Christmas last year, but it appears it was business as usual in Downing Street. But let’s park that to one side, as egregious as it is. 

The Government was praised by me and millions of others for having the courage to (eventually) ditch Covid restrictions during the summer. He was criticised by those addicted to lockdowns, but he held his nerve. Yes, Covid spread more rapidly throughout England, but we didn’t witness a spike in hospitalisations and deaths. Covid infected young people who barely noticed that they were infected. The vaccination programme has been a huge success and the vast majority of those who are most vulnerable to the worst that Covid has to offer have received a booster jab. I received mine last Sunday. 

The Omicron variant appears to be mild. No-one in the world who has been infected with this new variant has died. The World Health Organisation has told us not to panic. The evidence from South Africa tells us not to panic. Even Joe Biden has said that we shouldn’t panic. But during a press conference on Wednesday that is exactly what Boris Johnson did, unless he announced more restrictions to our freedoms as a ruse to deflect other negative headlines: the so-called ‘dead cat’ strategy. 

It is estimated that the restrictions he announced will cost the economy £4 billion a month. Businesses in the hospitality sector are already reporting cancellations in what should be the busiest time of the year for them. There is no support for them now - they just have to take it on the chin. During the traditionally lean months of January and February, these businesses may close. 

Evidence from Scotland, for example, highlights that Covid passes do not reduce the spread of the virus. We know that even if you are fully vaccinated you can still catch Covid and can still pass it on to others. A vaccine protects the person who receives it. I didn’t get vaccinated in some selfless act to protect others. I got vaccinated to protect me. Covid passes are illiberal - I will not share my personal medical information with anyone unless they are treating me for a medical condition. Even though I am fully vaccinated, I will not enter any venue which demands to see proof. We are not a ‘papers please’ country. England shouldn’t and mustn’t move in that direction.  

Boris Johnson has suggested that we have a national conversation about mandatory vaccinations. I will happily start one: the answer is no. The idea of forcibly injecting someone against their will fills me with revulsion. In the words of GP Dr Renee Hoenderkamp, "I'm 100% against mandatory vaccines. It goes against every medical ethic that I've ever been trained to." It is something which we have never done, and frankly, it plays into the anti-vaxxers hands. 

According to ONS data, in the week beginning 15 November 2021, the percentage of adults that would have tested positive for antibodies is estimated to be 95.3% in England; 93.9% in Wales; 91.6% in Northern Ireland; and 95.0% in Scotland. We were told earlier this year that the roadmap to freedom was irreversible. Instead, the Government has performed an emergency stop and has engaged reverse gear. If now is not the time to learn to live with Covid, the time will never come. 

Boris Johnson doesn’t have many allies in Parliament. His relationship with Conservative MPs is contractual: as long as he is electorally popular, they will continue to support him. In a recent opinion poll, more than half of the electorate thinks that Boris should resign as Prime Minister. He is rapidly (for a number of reasons) losing support from his backbenchers. In recent weeks he has marched them up to the top of the hill only to change his mind and make them look like fools. It is becoming increasingly clear that the only way he will get his Covid pass policy through the House of Commons next week will be because of opposition votes. This is unsustainable. 

Two years ago, Boris Johnson appeared to be a man with libertarian instincts. Where has that Boris gone? The Number Ten operation is chaotic; he is not showing leadership; he is not across the detail; he is alienating the public and members of his party; he is pushing unpopular green and nanny state policies; he is presiding over a fiscally incontinent government; he is not behaving like a Conservative. Unless Boris takes a firm grip and changes his ways, he will not be Prime Minister for very long. 


The Freedom Association responds to Boris Johnson's speech at the Conservative Party Conference

Responding to Boris Johnson's speech, Andrew Allison, Chief Executive of The Freedom Association, said:

"As political speeches go, that was one of the best I have heard; however, words must be followed by actions. His speech did not contain anything about the disastrous green policies the Government has announced. What will he do to cancel 'Cancel Culture'? What about a British Bill of Rights? How will the Government protect free speech, freedom of expression and assembly? There are many unanswered questions." 




To arrange broadcast interviews, please contact:

Andrew Allison
Chief Executive 
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07803 741104 


The Freedom Association (TFA) is a non-partisan, centre-right, classically liberal pressure group. We believe in the freedom of the individual in all aspects of life to as great an extent as possible. As such, we seek to challenge all erosion of civil liberties and campaign in support of individual liberty, freedom of expression, and free markets. 

To find out more about The Freedom Association, visit our website: