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2 days ago

The real reason Britain can’t build anything

From HS2 to housing shortages, we forget that two-thirds of the British population live on a quarter of the land.

By Jonn Elledge

There’s a map doing the rounds on social media at the moment which shows the scale of Japan’s Shinkansen rail network: 2,800km of high-speed trains, a system so vast that, superimposed onto the UK, it stretches from somewhere east of Shetland to the northern edge of the Bay of Biscay. Beneath it, in the southern half of Great Britain, you can see the original Y-shaped plan for HS2, a tiny little stub by comparison. We are struggling to build even that. Rishi Sunak, a man who gives the impression that he wakes up screaming after nightmares about being forced to travel by train, lopped off the eastern arm, to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and points north, while he was chancellor. This, ...

3 days ago

The SNP’s treatment of Fergus Ewing shows its decline

A more confident party would have shrugged off the veteran MSP’s rebellions, not suspended him.

By Chris Deerin

If anyone entertained doubts that the divisions in the SNP are real, ongoing and significant, the suspension of Fergus Ewing from the MSP group at Holyrood should end them. Ewing, 66, is Nat royalty – his late mother, Winnie Ewing, was a pioneering MP and MEP, his late wife, Margaret, an MP and MSP, and his sister Annabelle is deputy presiding officer. He has been MSP for Inverness since Holyrood was founded in 1999. But he is also more than that. He is a symbol of what the SNP has left behind in its journey to a left-wing, urban, central-belt identity under a leadership that demands and expects total loyalty. Rather than get with the programme, Ewing has remained stubbornly independent in ...

4 days ago

Does Labour now support private schools?

Starmer’s acceptance of private schools’ charitable status indicates an appetite for mild reform rather than ideological opposition.

By Freddie Hayward

Labour is trimming its plans for government to ward off Tory attacks and de-risk Keir Starmer’s route to No 10. Its latest move is to cancel plans to end private schools’ charitable status, which the party promised to do in June last year. Labour has played down the importance of the decision, claiming that removing charitable status is more complicated than it’s worth. The substantive reforms would still happen: a Labour government would still impose VAT on fees and cut business rates relief. But the tax expert Dan Neidle has pointed out that charitable status allows private schools to claim tax relief on donations. In other words, this U-turn does mean Labour will tax private schools less than it had said it ...

4 days ago

Rishi Sunak’s endgame: attack everything

The Prime Minister’s vision for the future is confined to criticising the past.

By Freddie Hayward

Rishi Sunak’s shot at re-election is emerging. It is to say that everything his predecessors pursued is dumb or unachievable. The suggestion over the past week that HS2 should be scrapped is the best example yet that the Prime Minister has no fidelity to the spirit of the 2019 campaign that helped to give the Conservatives their best election victory since 1987. Levelling up for Sunak is a misguided policy. It does not align with his desire to control public spending and trim the size of the state. You could argue that was always the case for Boris Johnson as well. The several levelling-up funds he announced were little more than small pots of money designed to help often Conservative-voting areas ...

6 days ago

Suella Braverman is daring Rishi Sunak to sack her

The Home Secretary’s attack on the UN’s Refugee Convention is a clear challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Why is Rishi Sunak letting Suella Braverman freelance on foreign policy across the Atlantic today (26 September)? That’s the question to keep in mind as we digest the Home Secretary’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC – an address in which she challenged the global asylum framework by taking aim at the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention (describing its application as “absurd” and “unsustainable”). For Braverman, this wasn’t really a speech about refugees at all. On the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, it was a pitch for the leadership. Uncontrolled and illegal migration is an “existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West”, she declared – words many Tory members will welcome. While Conservative ...

6 days ago

Ed Davey bets on the NHS to deliver a Lib Dem surge

The Liberal Democrat leader’s pledge on cancer treatment is designed to appeal to “Blue Wall” voters for whom the cost-of-living crisis is not the biggest priority.

By Freddie Hayward

Ed Davey only gets the attention of the nation’s press once or twice a year. He has to make it count. His Liberal Democrat conference speech today was an opportunity to ignite the campaigning passion for which the party is famous and convey a singular message that will, hopefully, cut through to voters. His jokes landed. Party activists in Bournemouth enjoyed the speech. His big bet to win over voters is healthcare. Party strategists believe the NHS will attract affluent voters in the “Blue Wall” for whom the cost-of-living crisis is not the top priority. Davey promised a five-year cancer plan that will give a patients a legal right to receive cancer treatment within 65 days. He wants to prioritise new ...

6 days ago

The West is emulating China

Instead of the People’s Republic becoming more liberal, we have become more authoritarian.

By Adrian Pabst

At last week’s UN General Assembly, Joe Biden, the US president, repeated the narrative that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is part of a wider war of Eastern autocracy against Western democracy, opposing liberal freedom to despotic tyranny. Yet over the past 30 years, the boundaries have become blurred: the West has taken an authoritarian turn towards state capitalism, bio-medical control and tech totalitarian tendencies in ways which increasingly resemble the autocratic axis of Moscow and Beijing. For two decades, Francis Fukuyama’s Hegelian notion that history was ending in a universal convergence on US-style liberal market democracy was greeted like prophetic wisdom. But defeat in Iraq and the humiliating retreats from Afghanistan and Libya suggest that the arc of global history does ...

6 days ago

Rishi Sunak is not serious

Cutting inheritance tax is a sure way to perpetuate wealth inequality and hinder economic growth.

By Harry Lambert

Rishi Sunak and his cabinet are not serious. I expect they are sincere: they will probably commit to cutting inheritance tax before the next election, as was reported in the Sunday Times last weekend. But they are not, as Logan Roy would have it, serious people. Cutting inheritance tax is an act of national self-harm. Only a dying government would propose it. We recently ran a cover piece on the UK’s tax system. In that feature I described a tax code that punishes work at the expense of wealth, poorer homeowners at the expense of richer ones, the tenant in favour of the landlord, and anyone who does not inherit capital, almost all of which is passed on untaxed. Only 3-4 ...