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Hammond faces a challenge Osborne never did: Tory MPs are becoming austerity Nimbys

The Chancellor is not a bad boss, but the Treasury is weak.

One of the most thankless jobs in Whitehall belongs to the civil servant who runs the Budget “scorecard”. This document demonstrates the Treasury’s equivalent of Newton’s third law of physics: for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. For every new spending commitment, taxation must rise or spending must fall.

Until quite recently, when the scorecard left the Treasury, it invariably balanced. But recent Budgets have tended to go wrong. One of those new spending cuts, or an extra tax rise, has proved a little too much for either public opinion or parliamentary sensibilities to bear. In Hammond’s first Budget in March 2017, it was a modest change to the National Insurance contributions of the self-employed – popular in the country but intolerable to Conservative backbenchers (and many freelance newspaper columnists). The year before, the landmine was disability benefit cuts, which prompted Iain Duncan Smith’s cabinet resignation.

The Treasury’s recent difficulties go back to 2015, when David Cameron gained one majority (becoming leader of the first entirely Conservative government since 1997) but lost another: the parliamentary majority for austerity.

Together with the Lib Dems, he had commanded a coalition that outnumbered the opposition by 71 – more than enough to repel even well-organised rebellions. Disagreements were hammered out behind closed doors by the “Quad”: Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and the chief secretary to the Treasury, a post held briefly by David Laws and then by Danny Alexander. By the time the Budget reached parliament, it had been thoroughly scrutinised.

After 2015, another problem emerged. During his first five years in power, Osborne made sure that for most Conservative voters, austerity happened to someone else. England’s great cities, which all backed Labour candidates in 2010, faced the biggest reductions in their local authority grants. Fiscal retrenchment was concentrated on the expensive few with chronic needs – such as those requiring adult social care – while most voters were shielded from the consequences of the cuts.

After Cameron was returned to power, however, that approach was running out of road. Nimby – “not in my backyard” – is the derogatory label given to people who support the idea of more housing, provided it isn’t anywhere near them. Since 2015, most Conservative MPs have been austerity Nimbys. They support spending cuts in theory – just as long as they happen to someone else’s constituents.

Achieving this was difficult, even when  the Treasury was unquestionably the dominant force in Whitehall. Under Osborne, the Treasury enjoyed the institutional clout established by Ken Clarke and then Gordon Brown, which was increased further by the political and personal kinship between Osborne and Cameron. Not only did the Treasury control the purse strings; the chancellor had unprecedented powers of patronage. And, unlike Brown, Osborne ran a happy ship: I have yet to meet a Treasury official who hasn’t praised Osborne’s kindness and diligence as a boss, even if they might, a breath later, have nothing but scorn for his economic policies. (Strangely, this reputation does not extend to Osborne’s new fiefdom, the London Evening Standard.)

Philip Hammond’s civil servants find him courteous and good-humoured. He is not a bad boss, but he is a weak chancellor. Even if he were inclined to put in the hours in the Commons bars and tea room to cultivate a following, Hammond has no natural constituency in the parliamentary party.

He is the most vocal Remainer in government, which makes him unpalatable to the Conservative right, and is committed to public spending restraint, which makes him unappetising to the Tory left. When he arrived at the Treasury, there was a quick realisation that the new boss’s weakness made the difficult task of carrying out Conservative promises about public spending even harder.

It’s not Hammond’s fault that he is a political black sheep in the current Tory parliamentary party. He cannot be blamed, either, for the difficult post-Brexit inheritance he received on 13 July 2016, when he became Chancellor. However, he has played a poor set of cards badly. He initially appointed John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, as his parliamentary private secretary. The traditional role of a PPS is to be a minister’s eyes and ears in parliament, and Glen – though MPs find him likeable – also backed Remain.

Astute ministers often appoint a PPS from a different faction, which is why Jon Trickett, now a senior left-winger in Jeremy Corbyn’s team, started his career as PPS to Peter Mandelson. Hammond belatedly fixed his mistake in July, appointing not one but two Brexiteers: Kwasi Kwarteng and Suella Fernandes. Kwarteng is widely considered to have one of the biggest brains in the Commons. (“The only thing crazier than Kwasi,” one pro-European Conservative told me recently, “is that he isn’t a minister yet.”) Fernandes chairs the European Research Group, the organisational centre of the most devout Conservative Brexiteers.

Still, the move came a year too late. The sluggishness is typical of Hammond’s faulty political antennae, which were also in evidence when he began Budget week  by carelessly claiming on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “there are no unemployed people” in Britain.

Until now, though, Hammond has survived despite his lonely views precisely because of the wrath of the Brexiteers. As their hate figure, he has racked up credit with Remainers – even those who disagree with his economic policies. In this government, after all, for every Brexiteer action, there is an equal and opposite Remainer one. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Europe: the new disorder

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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.