Cornerstone at Conference

The Cornerstone Group’s annual meeting at the Conservative Party Conference will take place at 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 1st October 2013 at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5NS, just a few minutes walk from Manchester Central.

There will be a guest speaker, and a light buffet will be served




A thought for Trinity Sunday

by Edward Leigh

Today was Trinity Sunday, an opportunity for much intellectual religious positing on the nature of three-in-one. Perhaps we should be content with thought of God, not a lovely old man but a loving combination.

The Trinity can be a suitable excuse for a very boring theological disputation. And what has always particularly irritated me about it is the way that priests particularly state it to be true. How do they know? Faith, of course, authority. But for something as mathematical as this, how can faith be enough?

As I was thinking this, the concept seemed to chime in with my own doubts about our absolute individuality, as I lay awake I musing on this feeling that we are other people, were other people when younger, will be when older. And is not the Trinity a similar feeling? That God cannot be an absolute singleness.

This led me on Tuesday to wonder on whether a many-sidedness didn’t actually make survival after death of a single body more believable. A river does not die and nor do we.

I was in Eton College Lower Chapel for the first time on Wednesday. The chaplain reminded us that all this of which he was so proud would eventually fall into dust and only love would remain, for God is love and love not being a corporeal or even a spiritual being cannot have a beginning or an end. It is eternal.

At Mass on Thursday I had one of those moments during a reading that something gives one an immediate sense of confidence. It passes for a moment and then is gone but for the moment one has the confidence to speak one’s truth.

On Friday and Saturday I ran along the lane to our little medieval Anglican church in Lincolnshire. I decided to read through the Psalms, a new different one for every day. I was doing this, starting with Psalm 1 which I suppose is a hymn of the godly to Psalm 2 which is a denial of evil. You have to read through them in the King James Prayer Book for them to be anymore than arresting poetry but the truth sinks in or floats to the top.

This article originally appeared on Sir Edward’s blog, Another Country, on the 2nd June

Enough of this wanton destruction of our countryside!

by Edward Leigh MP

Like many MPs, my constituency has suffered from a recent rush of planning applications to build wind farms. Proposals are ongoing at Hemswell Cliff and Corringham, but I was heartened by the recent refusal of planning permission for a wind farm in Normanby by Spital. The most recent application in my consituency, however, is in Osgodby parish, within the bounds of the thousand-year-old Kingerby estate, flanked by ancient woodland. Here the wind farm industry proposes to build a 67-metre-high turbine – the top just a few feet lower than the Church of All Saints, the famous “Ramblers’ Church”, in Walesby.

Walkers along the Viking Way, in our splendid Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, will be able to look it in the eye as it stands a few miles away, standing hauntingly over the fields like some sort of H.G. Wells alien nightmare. The wind there is particularly fickle and unreliable, far below the norm for an efficient wind turbine, and so a single wind turbine will not be enough to make it feasible for the proposers. Instead, there will be a whole group of 67-metre-high turbines with their blades cutting across the blue sky. The way to Kingerby Church, noted by Simon Jenkins in his England’s Thousand Best Churches, will be overshadowed by these often useless and before long rusting monsters, standing where the heron used to fly. As the visitor to Kingerby church turns back to look towards Lincoln Cathedral, its profile will be marred by their great swinging blades.

This valley is unusually unspoiled. It is a haven for wildlife and close by is an extensive English Heritage manorial and ecclesiastical site of national importance, together with the beautifully kept nature reserve at Kingerby Beck Meadows just a mile away. Every spring, I am told, thousands of toads pass south over Kingerby Lane, returning to their breeding place. No one knows precisely where this is – perhaps around that warm mud of the old Elizabethan spa by the base of the proposed turbine. If so, that is why the herons nest in the wood behind. These considerations must be borne in mind by those who have to make the decision about the planning application.

I think we have had enough of these giant wind farms which spoil our countryside. As a keen rambler, I am opposed to this wanton destruction. I agree with the environmentalists that we need to preserve nature and the environment around us, but these wind farms blight our surroundings without giving us much energy in return. They provide financial gain for private companies through subsidies at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. Of course, given that I and other like-minded MPs are trying to pressure the Government to spend its money more wisely, I hope these subsidies won’t last much longer.

Cornerstone at Conference

The Cornerstone Group’s annual meeting at the Conservative Party Conference will be held on Tuesday, 9th October, at 1.45pm until 3.15pm, in the Birmingham Christian Centre, less than five-minutes’ walk from the main Conference venue.

This year’s speaker will be The Right Reverend Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, former Lord Bishop of Rochester. The Bishop will be addressing the question “Is there a moral future for Britain?” and will lead the discussion thereafter.

We hope to see many of you there!

The vocational route should be a highway, not a cul-de-sac

by John Hayes

This article is from the June 2012 issue of Total Politics

What can be done to raise the status of apprenticeships in the UK?

Those who take the practical path deserve to enjoy symbols of status that are as seductive and prestigious as those associated with the academic route. That’s why the government is publishing the achievements of high-level apprentices, has introduced apprenticeship award ceremonies, and is fostering alumni networks. We have also launched a new scheme that will give apprentices access to the benefits of a National Union of Students (NUS) card. For these emblems of success to be meaningful, we must ensure that achievement is properly recognised in the workplace.

Can we improve the quality of the apprenticeships we already offer?

For apprenticeships to fulfil their potential, quality must be paramount. All apprenticeships should therefore entail a rigorous period of learning and the practice of new skills. We’re toughening up apprenticeships by insisting that, from August this year, apprenticeships for 16-19 year olds will involve at least a year of learning. I’ve now extended this to adult apprenticeships (aged 19 and over) too. We are also boosting the number of Higher Level Apprenticeships from just a handful when we came to government to more than 20,000 by the end of this Parliament.

What’s the thinking behind the idea of giving young people the option to study for apprenticeships at university?

For too long we’ve left unchallenged the bourgeois myth that worth can only be assured through academic prowess. It’s now time to pull down the artificial barrier between the lecture hall and the workplace. One of the ideas I’m considering is the introduction of apprenticeships alongside degreesat university, enabling students to divide their time between work and study.

How should the skills agenda work with secondary and higher education?

We need to tackle the snobbery about vocational education. It’s fallacious to assume that academic study is necessarily a better route to success than learning on the job – after all, many of Britain’s entrepreneurs began their careers as apprentices.

The vocational route should be a highway, not a cul-de-sac. In the past, vocational learners have been let down by weak courses that wasted their time and taxpayers’ money. Doing an apprenticeship should be one of the best gateways to university-level study. By 2015, I want thousands of young people each year to be taking degree-equivalent Higher Apprenticeships in sectors like aerospace, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and the creative industries.

Economic flexibility and social progress depend on a mix of excellent academic courses and strong vocational education, each securing our national economic interest and serving the common good.

What will the new National Careers Service provide that wasn’t being offered before?

The new National Careers Service makes available to everyone a combination of accurate
information and professional advice about learning, careers and skills. The service, which I launched in April, can handle one million helpline calls from adults, 370,000 calls from young people, and 20 million hits on its website each year. It will also give 700,000 adults, aged 19 and over, face-to-face advice. These services will be delivered from more than 3,200 locations in further education colleges, job centres, community centres, housing associations and libraries, and advisers will work to new professional standards being developed by the careers sector. I want this first-ever, all-age career service for England to lead the way in providing professional advice that transforms lives, feeds social mobility and nourishes social justice.

The unemployment figures for young people are very high. What can be done to reverse this trend?

Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges we face, and we’re determined to make a difference to a problem that’s been building up for much of the past decade. Through the Youth Contract, we’re offering practical support to both employers and job seekers, which we hope will give young people a head’s start in the labour market. The message is clear – if you’re under 25 and don’t have a job, we’re helping you to work or learn, or both.

Earlier this month we announced that an extra 250,000 work experience places will be provided over the next three years. We are helping business to take on under-25s, through 160,000 wage incentives worth up to £2,275. From this summer, an extra 20,000 incentive payments will be made available to encourage smaller businesses to recruit their first young apprentices.

What is the role of apprenticeships and the skills agenda in bringing growth to our economy?

Apprenticeships boost productivity and competitiveness, and are important tools in building economic growth. We must ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills it needs to enable companies to prosper and compete globally.

Putting apprenticeships back at the heart of our education and skills system is one of the
government’s proudest achievements, with record investment paying dividends for businesses, trainees and the wider economy. Our unprecedented focus on quality and extra funding has produced the biggest and best apprenticeship programme in modern history.

The National Audit Office recently concluded that adult apprenticeships deliver £18 of economic benefit for each pound the government invests. Few government programmes can boast such value for money. In addition, the huge increase in the number of Higher Apprenticeships will give firms the high-tech skills they need to grow. Apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing alone have grown 32.4 per cent in the past two years.

Do we need greater incentives for businesses to create apprenticeships?

Employers of all kinds report that taking on apprentices improves the productivity of their
businesses and leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce. In the vast majority of cases, employers recoup their investment in an apprentice within two to three years. Around 91 per cent of apprentices say they’re satisfied with their training, and 86 per cent of apprentice employers conclude that vocational qualifications improved their business performance.

We recognise that taking on an apprentice is a big undertaking for smaller companies. Because I want to make it as simple and rewarding as possible for employers to do so, we’ve introduced incentive payments of £1,500 for up to 40,000 small firms that take on their first new young apprentice. We are also piloting a radical new programme to give employers greater ownership of vocational training. Employers can compete for a share of a £250m fund to explore innovative employer-owned approaches that test new ways to invest in skills.

How has the ‘red-tape challenge’ informed skills policy?

Some employers say they’re inhibited by unnecessary red tape. Because I want to remove these bureaucratic burdens and provide more support to help businesses, we’ve already removed all health and safety requirements that go beyond what legislation requires, we’ve made a significant reduction in data collection and audit requirements, we’ve launched an online toolkit to make navigating the system easier, and we’ve announced an employer-led review to advise on measures which will give SME employers more control in the system. The review is being led by social entrepreneur and jeweller Jason Holt, and he’ll present his report to me in late June.

Does the UK’s workforce need reskilling for us to remain competitive?

Advanced economies need advanced skills. Britain’s chance to grow and prosper is as a high-tech, highly-skilled nation, but past neglect of skills training and further education have let our country down. In Germany, two-thirds of young people take some form of apprenticeship by the time they’re 25, and that’s how I want it to be in Britain. That’s why, even in difficult economic circumstances, we boosted spending on apprenticeships to over £1.4bn. We helped 457,000 people start an apprenticeship last year, and now we’re aiming for half a million. That’s a staggering 250,000 more over this Parliament than the last government planned.

Dealing with Reality in Syria

Edward Leigh MP delivered this speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

With the great cost in human life currently being paid in Syria, there’s no doubt that this is a subject of urgent importance worthy of discussion amongst all European.

Yet there is a firm reluctance amongst the proponents of liberal interventionism to take into account the reality of the situation we are dealing with in Syria.

The casual dualistic thinking whereby Assad and his cronies are the big baddies and the insurgents and their allies are the goodies is simplistic folly which must be disregarded by all serious thinking people.

The regime of Bashir al-Assad and that of his father before him have been responsible for horrendous human rights abuses including arbitrary detentions, deaths, and even massacres.

The uprising against Assad has been carrying on for over a year now, allowing us an opportunity of observing what life is like in the areas under the control of the Free Syrian Army. It does not paint a pretty picture.

In Homs, home to Syria’s third-largest community of Christians, some churches were forced to abandon their Easter liturgies and services this year for the first time in centuries because of widespread violence against Christians including the bombing of churches.

Furthermore, units of the Free Syrian Army in Homs are reported to have imposed the jizyah, a tax specific to the non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state under sharia law.

The Catholic news agency Fides received word from the Syrian Orthodox Church that 90 per cent of the Christian community in Homs have been forced to flee. Others have been kidnapped with ransoms demanded by the insurgents.

The Barnabas Fund, a relief agency, has reported that Christians have been used as human shields by the Free Syrian Army.

If successful, they convince the government forces to rethink an attack. If unsuccessful, which is more often given the Assad regime’s lack of concern for human life, then the insurgents can use the bodies of the human shields for propaganda purposes as civilian dead killed by government forces.

In April, Msgr Giuseppe Nazzaro, the Catholic Vicar-Apostolic of Aleppo reported an attempted atrocity by the rebels in his city:

“[A] car bomb exploded in the vicinity of the school of the Franciscan fathers. By a miracle a massacre of children was avoided… only because the Franciscans, sensing danger, made the children leave 15 minutes before the usual time.”

In January of this year, the 29-year-old Greek Orthodox Hieromonk Basilios Nassar was shot dead while giving medical aid to a man who himself had been wounded by a bullet from suspected rebels in Hama, Syria.

Should the Assad regime, nasty as it is, fall we should then expect hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of such killings to take place – as, indeed, they have taken place in Iraq.

Christians are currently engaged in almost every aspect of public life in Syria. Can we realistically expect this to continue under an Islamist government with democratic legitimacy?

Of Syria’s 26 million inhabitants, Christians make up 10% of the population.

Besides Christians (who are predominantly Orthodox and Melkite Catholic), other religious minorities include Alawites, Shia, and Druze, while ethnic minorities take in Kurds, Armenians, Turkmens, Assyrians, and Circassians. The Kurds alone number over 2 million.

Syria was one of the first places in the world where Christian communities were formed through the ministry of the Apostle Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus.

With increased violence, there’s a danger of Christians and other minorities being caught in the crossfire, and potentially persecuted by both sides in the conflict.

One medical student at the University of Aleppo told BBC Arabic:

“The University has become a battlefield between the supporters and the opposition of the regime. As a Christian, both sides are suspicious of me. In fact I’m not with or against the regime.”

Such a quote betrays the reality that, despite the numerous thoroughly contemptible acts of the Assad regime over the decades, it has nonetheless provided a valuable breathing space for people to live ordinary lives.

We do note, and lament, however, the persecution of the Jewish community in the post-war period, which has resulted in the overwhelming majority emigrating to Israel and the United States. A community of 30,000 in 1948 has been reduced to perhaps no more than a hundred at the most recent estimates.

Insurgent groups are widely known to contain very strong Islamist elements, opposed to the continued existence of non-Muslim elements in Syria.

Any government that replaces Assad would likely be dominated by the Sunni Muslim majority.

We do not believe in democracy as a religion but employ it as what has been for us the most useful tool at bringing about a civic order and ensuring people are sufficiently represented in their government.

We must recognise that, despite our experience as western democracies, we must take into account the experience of other countries, where democracy has sometimes enabled a tyranny of the majority against the minority.

The Syrians, like all peoples, deserve a chance at establishing a peaceful civic order with eventual democratic prospects, but the democratic principle of majority rule must be tempered by the civic principle of tolerance, respect, and freedom for minorities.

Otherwise, the majority will eventually find themselves persecuted by their own elites anyhow, thus subverting even their own freedom.

It is worth looking at the condition of Christians and other minorities in nearby countries that have been subject to flat-footed liberal interventions by Western powers.

The war in Iraq has led to a significant decline in the freedom and quality of life of Christians in Iraq, also one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Violence against Christians in Iraq has become frequent, and Christian-owned shops and businesses are targeted by violent Islamic fundamentalists. Churches have been bombed, resulting in the loss of many lives.

In 2010, Edward Stourton of the Daily Telegraph relayed reports of people being stopped in the streets of Mosul by armed men and asked for their identity cards. If their names were of Christian or Assyrian origin, they were shot.

Hundreds of thousands Christians are believed to have fled the country – some to the United States and Australia, but many to Syria where they believed they would be safe.

Of the one million Iraqi refugees in Syria, half a million are thought to be Christians. Are we now to deprive them of this safe-haven as well? Many are already fleeing to nearby Lebanon.

Then there is Libya, where we are now witnessing beatings, abductions, and xenophobic killings.

The West must begin to acknowledge the pernicious edge of the liberal internationalist foreign policy pursued by some member states of the Council of Europe, but wisely avoided by many others.

We must remind ourselves that dangers lurk deep within the enshrinement of the rule of the majority without sufficient safeguards reinforcing the rights of minorities.

Rather than an escalation of the conflict by giving military backing to the Syrian insurgents, we should be encouraging a peaceful negotiated solution whereby Assad can be convinced to share power rather than being replaced and potentially exiled or submitted to trial.

Everywhere, always, from 1999 onwards, Western liberal imperialist military interventions have been to the detriment of minorities in the countries where we have intervened.

In Kosovo we have had NATO troops on the ground sitting idly by while churches were burned and monasteries sacked.

In Iraq we have seen one of the oldest Christian communities decimated by force, intimidation, and violence and increasingly forced into exile.

In Libya we have seen sub-Saharan Africans abused, detained, and killed and inter-tribal rivalries awakened.

In the areas of Syria under insurgent control, we have reports of Christians being driven from their homes, being forced to pay the jizyah, killed, kidnapped, detained, and being forced to act as human shields.

All the evidence suggests that the insurgents are not people who are interested in a tolerant, orderly, representative democracy.

Defenders of the liberal order need to stop pretending that in supporting the insurgents they are doing anything other than helping propel into power a dark and pernicious band of power-hungry fundamentalists.

Stop threatening the rich and start cutting taxes instead

by David Davis

In 11 days’ time the chancellor of the exchequer will deliver his third Budget. As this is the last Budget that will have a material effect on growth, jobs and so the deficit for the second half of the parliament, the stakes could hardly be higher. All three main parties are calling for an economic growth strategy – but there the consensus ends. If Labour and many Liberal Democrats had their way, we would get a Budget of populist gestures that would succeed in grabbing headlines but fail to restore growth.

The Budget must give a dose of effective economic shock therapy, not a populist placebo. It must include radical, pro-growth reforms to tax, regulation, energy, and infrastructure policy. So how do we do this? First, we should remember that it is small businesses that will create the majority of net new jobs in the next decade. Yet in January more small businesses said they were planning to lay off workers than hire new ones. No net new jobs means no extra employment tax revenue, no extra VAT and no reduction in state welfare payments.

The government must take radical steps to help entrepreneurs start new businesses and for small companies to grow to medium-sized companies. That is the real engine of wealth generation and job creation. The Budget should include major changes to tax policies, which focus not just on raising revenue but on boosting growth. So it must be a Budget of tax cuts and simplification, as well as spending cuts.

The government is fond of ruling out “unfunded tax cuts”. This phrase can, to put it mildly, be deceptive. Some tax cuts do need to be funded: Labour’s proposal to cut value added tax to 17.5 per cent would do little for long-term growth and cost the Treasury £12.5bn a year. But there are tax cuts that boost growth, and by increasing revenues and reducing welfare costs will more than pay for themselves. Almost by definition, these are not the populist cuts.

Abolishing the 50p rate of income tax is one such cut. The Howe/Lawson cuts in the top rate virtually doubled the tax take from higher earners, an experience that has been replicated in almost every country that tried it. We must decide whether the aim of tax policy is to punish the rich or to make them shoulder a bigger share of the tax burden. These are not the same thing. Gordon Brown’s 50 per cent income tax was and is a political gesture that drives revenue, jobs and talent out of the country, and leaves the less well-off to carry more of the burden. It should be scrapped. Similarly, some would like high capital gains tax to punish the rich but since the evidence shows the optimum CGT rate for raising revenue is in the high teens, that is where it should be.

It is said the Lib Dems want a “mansion tax” instead. Since cutting the top rate will generate revenue, this is a political not an economic demand. It is a tax on bricks and mortar not on wealth, and as such makes about as much sense as a window tax. It would probably hit elderly widows harder than billionaire bankers. It was precisely to avoid penalising people who are cash-poor but who for reasons of history, family or sentiment still live in large houses that the whole council tax system was designed.

If we really need the £1bn such a tax could generate, we should close the offshore company house-purchase loophole, which would generate almost as much, with more economic logic.
We should also scrap national insurance on all new jobs created by companies with fewer than 50 employees. Like abolishing the 50p rate, this looks expensive, but will cost next to nothing in lost extra NI and will save huge sums. With unemployment at a 17-year high, tax cuts for employing businesses are vital.

Radical tax policies should be accompanied by deregulation. In 2011, regulations cost British business more than £110bn. There should be far-reaching exemptions for small businesses from laws that make it prohibitively hazardous to create jobs, including working-time restrictions, lengthy parental leave and excessive equality laws – at least for the first few years of employment. The government must also press for this in Europe, where at least half of all business regulations originate.

George Osborne must also recognise that our energy policy drives up prices, damages business and costs jobs. So he should scrap our pledge to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. This and other “green” policies have caused huge rises in energy costs for business. The effect on energy-intensive industries is particularly acute. Second, we should cut costly subsidies for inefficient and unsightly wind farms. In private, ministers brag about being ahead of their windpower targets. That means the subsidies, costing more than £500m a year, are too generous.

On infrastructure, we need a sharp focus on projects with an immediate return. The government should scrap the £33bn HS2 project and use £5bn of the money saved to take superfast broadband to every front door, including in rural areas where it will have the most positive impact. If we do have to spend so much money on the railways, the government should upgrade the existing network and unblock its well-known bottlenecks.

The chancellor is right to press on with public sector spending cuts. I sympathise with those who say he is not pressing hard enough. He should certainly not flinch over welfare reforms. These, and the Lib Dems’ one sensible policy – cutting tax for the low paid – will provide a real incentive to work. Labour’s economic plan would not put us at risk of losing our triple A rating; under them we would already have lost it.

The chancellor’s problem is that Lib Dems are blocking the policies we need to develop, which will ultimately mean more unemployment and minimal deficit reduction. If Britain enters 2015 in that position, there will be little left of the Lib Dems after the next election. Their many sacrifices in the coalition will result in the ultimate sacrifice at the ballot box. Somebody needs to explain to Lib Dem MPs that their interest lies in collective success, not collective dissent.

Supply-side reforms, such as tax cuts and deregulation, will deliver growth but the benefits will not be felt for at least two years. The Budget is the final opportunity for measures that will produce perceivable, positive results before the next election. The government must bite the bullet and go for growth, now.

First printed in the Financial Times, 9 March 2012