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The Policy Ask with Karl Williams: “A Norman Tebbit portrait hangs above my Tufton Street desk”

The research director at the Centre for Policy Studies on five-mile runs, the EU, and the miners’ strike.

By Spotlight

Karl Williams is research director at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), the think tank founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974. Before joining the CPS in 2021, he worked in the City, covering global seaborne trade and energy markets for Clarksons Research. His work at the CPS has focused on political economy, energy and immigration.

How do you start your working day?

I like to start the morning with a five-mile run. Then it’s the Politico email at about 7.30am and a skim of essentials like the Telegraph, FT and Conservative Home, followed by a review of my emails and a list of priorities for the day ahead. Two cups of tea are essential.

What has been your career high?

Co-authoring Stopping the Crossings with Nick Timothy, a report on how to take back control of Britain’s borders. Published in December 2022, it helped put deterrence at the heart of the government’s approach to the Channel crossings. As home secretary, Suella Braverman drew upon our analysis last September, in her widely commented upon Washington speech on the global migration crisis.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

Switching from a City career into the policy world, which involved going back to Cambridge for a Master of Philosophy in political thought and intellectual history. It was a big gamble – the right-wing policy ecosystem is small, so opportunities are few – but it paid off. In fact, it was one of the best choices I have ever made.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

Do not underestimate the importance of networks. And you enjoy writing – so start pitching articles to CapX and similar outlets now, rather than getting side-tracked by other projects.

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Which political figure inspires you?

Norman Tebbit, whose portrait hangs above my Tufton Street desk. I admire him for his pugilism, determination and clarity of vision during the miners’ strike. He was also probably one of the best PMs we never had. Just think: no Black Wednesday, no Maastricht Treaty, a robust stance on law and order, a 1997 Labour landslide averted. Oh to live in the Tebbit timeline!

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?

Introducing full expensing and putting it on a permanent footing. The policy allows businesses to write off capital investment costs against corporation tax immediately and in full. It will ameliorate a major distortion in the tax system and encourage more business investment, boosting productivity growth and hence living standards. Gratifyingly, CPS analysis of full expensing was cited by the Chancellor at the despatch box in November.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which will give the CMA extensive and unchecked powers to reshape digital markets. By creating an inflexible and hostile regulatory regime, it will stifle innovation and deter investment. More fundamentally, it will accelerate the expansion of the unaccountable regulatory state.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

There’s not much to look forward to in this parliament, but I am glad about the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. We should be pursuing energy abundance, not degrowth. Having spent years covering the US shale patch in my old life, I just wish the government had the political capital to ditch the anti-scientific moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, which benefits nobody but Putin and the despots of the Gulf petro-states.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

We could learn a lot from countries such as Greece and Estonia on digital government and public sector database management. There are all sorts of productivity gains and policy wins to be unlocked if we can get siloed government databases talking to each other. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is already doing great work on this, but we should look at beefing up the Digital Economy Act 2017.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

I would pass a law based on the CPS report “The Value of University” as a first step in reforming higher education. In essence, we need to ensure universities have skin in the game when it comes to repaying student debt. This should realign incentives towards offering more rigorous arts, humanities and science, tech, engineering and maths (Stem) courses. At present, many students are suckered into mediocre courses which benefit neither themselves nor the country.


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