A more dynamic and diverse civil service would halt HS2

If this Government is going to transform Britain then it must not only rewrite policy but redesign the way that policy is created and implemented. That is what is at the heart of Dominic Cummings’s radical recruitment drive: the PM’s special adviser has asked for scientists, engineers, “weirdos and misfits” and anyone who can add to the “cognitive diversity” of Whitehall. A key reason why the establishment got Brexit wrong, he argues, is because Britain draws from a pool that is too shallow in talent and ideology.

Unless Whitehall is properly rooted in the values of modern Britain and unless it is capable of innovation, then it will repeat the same old mistakes, almost regardless of who is in…

Arise, Dame Bercow?

Bad luck to former Speaker John Bercow, who has not received an honour this year. He has been beaten to it by, among others, Olivia Newton-John and Iain Duncan Smith.

The honours list is always full of mystery – the DCB for Alison Saunders, who was a disastrous director of public prosecutions, was bizarre – but also genuine selflessness. This year’s list includes a couple who fostered 39 children and a woman who set up a charity to support the bereaved after she lost her son and husband within days of each other. There is also a lot of talent on the list, including dramatist James Graham and golfer Catriona Matthew. Britain has a great deal to be proud of.

One name that stands out is Harry Billinge,…

What the late, great cricketer Bob Willis taught me about friendship

In these divided times, we need mutual understanding – not the restrictions of identity politics 

This afternoon, in Mortlake, we shall say goodbye to Bob Willis, the great cricketer who died earlier this month. The wider public recognised him as a magnificent fast bowler who played 90 Test matches for England. His friends knew a different man, who made time for everyone and brought much joy into the lives of those who loved him.

It will be a sad occasion. It will also be a time for that affirmation of the spirit which always survives the loss of loved ones. Robert had so many friends, who will remember him today in the midsummer of life, draining beakers of wine and sharing tales of human…

Why I’m with the Beckhams on the joys of a late christening

For years I told people the reason my younger son remained un‑christened was because I’m a terminal procrastinator who never does today what they can put off for a decade. Now, thanks to David and Victoria Beckham, who celebrated the christenings of their two youngest sprogs, Cruz, 14, and Harper, 8, on Saturday, I can change my narrative. I’m actually at the vanguard of fashionable society, waiting until my 11-year-old’s old enough to boogie at his own baptism.

I’m even considering postponing for another five years, so he can DJ. If only I’d made this case last week at our local church’s carol concert when I promised our vicar once again that this year would be the one in which I took my little…

Thank the voters for ridding us of this grandstanding Parliament

It is fitting that almost all the MPs who reduced our politics to paralysis have lost their seats

The House of Commons returns today, and one of the most striking changes will be who is no longer there.

John Bercow is tending to his new career as a television personality, replaced as Speaker by the less self-aggrandising figure of Sir Lindsay Hoyle. From Dominic Grieve and David Gauke to Sir Oliver Letwin and Philip Hammond, the ex-Tory rebels are out, either losing their seats in doomed bids to win as independents or having pre-emptively decided to leave politics for good.

Those Conservatives who defected to the Lib Dems to campaign for a second referendum all failed in their attempts to re-enter…

If the Labour Party is to survive this devastating verdict, Jeremy Corbyn must resign tonight

On two occasions they chose to ignore Jeremy Corbyn’s record of what he had said and done in a 30-year career and elected him to lead their party. They have spent the last four years shouting down and slandering anyone who dared to raise concerns about their leader’s friendships with terrorists and tyrants, who expressed concerns about the anti-Semites who saw his election as Labour leader as an invitation to apply for party membership.

That this reckoning was not doled out at the 2017 general election is neither here nor there; it was always likely that voters would reject – eventually – a party whose leader was tainted with an extremism.

Brexit played its part too. Thanks to Corbyn’s indecision…

The Jews are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to Labour’s treatment of anyone who would dare resist them

Another day, another Labour anti-Semitism scandal. This morning, a leak emerged of the evidence supplied by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) as part of its inquiry into Labour’s institutional racism.

Even for someone who spends his professional life unearthing and dealing with this stuff, the JLM dossier is a shocking read. One Labour member tells of 22 examples of anti-Semitic abuse directed at him at various Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings, such as being called "a Tory Jew", "a child killer", "Zio scum", being told that "[he’s] good with money", "to shut the f*** up Jew" and "that Hitler was right".

Another reports how at a CLP meeting,…

The Nato summit was a quick win for Britain, but world leaders face deep challenges

The Nato summit should have been a chance for the public to engage with the foreign policy issues at stake at this election. Never before have the two parties been divided by so much on an issue so important that receives attention from so few. 

Conservative and Labour foreign policy plans boil down to some huge divides: tolerance for messy realpolitik versus the search for perfection. Asserting our values versus relativism and whataboutery. A backwards looking apology for the past versus a future based on trade. Whether you favour one or the other, these are the choices. 

Instead the noise the public will hear is all about personalities: who gossiped, who caused a spat and who cancelled a press…

Thank God for passers-by who get stuck in 

What does courage look like in 21st century Britain? In an age when fatuous celebrity challenges are staged in the Australian jungle for our nightly entertainment, what constitutes a genuine hero?

On Friday we found out. As knife-carrying jihadist Usman Khan set out on his killing spree there was chaos, fear and hysteria among those who instinctively, rightly ran to safety.

And yet there were others who stood firm, who gave no thought to their own lives as they fought back and sought to save others. Two people were killed and three injured; it is thanks to the selflessness of strangers determined to disarm and bring down the attacker that the toll of victims was not higher.

Bravery has many faces:…

For the Tories, choosing candidates is a trade-off between parachuting in favoured sons and alienating grassroots members

Excessive CCHQ "command and control" is already angering some activists

As we near the deadline for candidate nominations ahead of next month’s general election, both major parties are embroiled in an evergreen row. This is not just about being forced to dump individuals who have a record of unsavoury remarks or (in Labour’s case) allegedly antisemitic views. Both Labour and Conservative headquarters are also being accused of stitching up selection races for favoured insiders.

On the Tory side, disgruntled members cite the selection of several former Downing Street aides for safe seats. These include Andrew Griffith in Arundel and South Downs, James Wild in West Norfolk, and Danny Kruger in Devizes – all despite the Prime Minister’s team having only been in office, with a non-existent majority, for a few months. Nor does the run of advisers stop there: we also find Claire Coutinho, who previously worked for Rishi Sunak, in East Surrey; Simon Jupp, who advises Dominic Raab, in East Devon; and Anthony Browne, who served as an aide to Boris Johnson during his time as Mayor of London, in South Cambridgeshire.

This last is already the subject of controversy, with Browne facing calls to stand down over allegedly racist arguments he advanced in the Spectator – not helpful in a seat where local polling shows the Conservatives may already have fallen behind the Liberal Democrats. Mims Davies, meanwhile, stands accused of launching a "chicken run" from her current seat of Eastleigh, where the Lib Dems are again expected to do well, to Mid Sussex, the safe seat vacated by Sir Nicholas Soames. This has reportedly angered other MPs defending marginal seats, who feel neglected by CCHQ.

There seems little doubt that there is a definite push for such candidates by the Party leadership. As my ConservativeHome colleague Mark Wallace has pointed out, the shortlist provided by CCHQ for the Arundel selection comprised one serving special adviser and two former Special Advisers (Spads).

On one level, this is nothing new. The central party has always tried to wield its influence on selections to shape the parliamentary party. Perhaps the most famous example was David Cameron’s "A List", but the same thing was attempted, less overtly, during the 2015 and 2017 general elections. At ConHome we have analysed each new intake, and the influence of these tactics is obvious. In many cases we see a significant divergence between the kind of candidates returned in safe seats versus those in newly-won marginals.

There are good reasons why CCHQ might want to play an active role – for example, the Tories’ progress in returning black and ethnic minority MPs is due almost entirely to the selection of BME candidates in safe seats. But both 2015 and 2017 hold warnings for the Conservatives about the dangers of excessive meddling, and of the limitations of using such meddling as a short-term alternative to genuinely diversifying the Party’s electoral appeal.

For example, in 2015 we found that a significant majority of newly-elected MPs who had taken their seats from another party enjoyed strong local connections to their constituencies. This also held true for the much smaller number of gains made in 2017. Many of these candidates not only lived locally but had previous experience running businesses, charity groups or campaigns in their communities. This sort of local credibility and profile cannot be bought. Just as importantly, a local candidate is much more likely to be well-known – and presumably, well-liked – by their local association, meaning that activists will be firing all on cylinders during the campaign.

On the other hand, imposing favoured sons and daughters on associations can trigger huge resentment. We are already seeing signs of it this time, in the reported walkouts during the selection for Rory Stewart’s old seat, Penrith and the Border.

This isn’t just bad optics. At a time when the Conservatives’ ground operation is already seriously underpowered compared to Labour’s, disaffected activists are likely to campaign less energetically or not at all. This can make all the difference in close races. Just ask Theresa May, whose CCHQ was accused of stitching up selections for candidates favoured by Women2Win only to end up returning just six new female MPs – and just one of those in a new seat.

One upside of 2017’s disastrous campaign is that far fewer Tories are taking the Party’s current polling lead for granted, and despite definite anger in some constituencies, the full list of Conservative candidates still shows plenty of worthy choices. But in a closely-fought election even the smallest of margins counts, and the Prime Minister should weigh up every ally who wants a seat against the risk of not returning to Downing Street at all.


Henry Hill is assistant editor at ConservativeHome