2 July 2005
The Spectator was established in 1828, and is the oldest continuously published magazine in the
English language. The Spectator’s taste for controversy, however, remains undiminished. There is no
party line to which The Spectator’s writers are bound - originality of thought and elegance of expression are the
sole editorial constraints.
1. Gerard Lyons: London needs to get moving again
We should worry about what is happening to London, writes Gerard Lyons. This was supposed to be the week when things would start returning to some kind of normality, as the government encouraged more people to go back to the office. Yet uncertainty prevails. There is a danger that short-term damage to London’s economy could become permanent unless the right steps are taken. The collapse in commuter travel, for instance, has led to a financial crisis in public transport. If this continues, the hollowing out that has blighted so many industrial areas will now threaten the heart of our capital. The government should rule out another lockdown nationally or in London, given its population and economic might. If we are going to prevent long-term damage to London and the UK’s future economic potential, we need to understand the reasons for the capital’s success. London leads globally in the City’s financial know-how and the capital’s creative and cultural uniqueness. A big reason for the success of the City and London’s creative industries is their ‘cluster effect’ — namely, that having a vast array of interconnected sectors and talented workers creates a dynamic that is hard to replicate. Quality of life matters too, which is why the creative industries are so important – they enhance London’s appeal as an exciting place to live, work and visit. But it is hard to see how any government economic strategy can succeed if the motor of the UK economy remains stuck in second gear. The government needs to get London moving again.
2. Katy Balls: why we should care who becomes the next Lib Dem leader
Layla Moran or Sir Ed Davey? Ask a No. 10 staffer or Tory MP which candidate they would prefer to win and you are more likely to be met with laughter than a serious reply, writes Katy Balls. But while the party may be both diminished and cash-strapped, it’s not done yet. In the 2019 general election it placed second in 91 seats, and appears to be within striking distance in a large number of these. ‘Dull as the party’s leadership contest may be, it will play a role, and a potentially crucial one, in determining whether or not the Tories win a fifth term at the next election.’ To win a Labour majority, Starmer needs to gain 123 seats in the next election. Given that the SNP are surging in popularity north of the border, to get to a working majority that doesn’t involve a deal with the Scottish nationalists, Labour would need to win in many Tory strongholds. As the Conservative party focuses more and more on voters in the so-called ‘red wall’, their opponents spy neglected voters up for grabs in the commuter belt. The hope in Lib Dem circles is Starmer will need their help to topple Conservative seats in order to put an end to the Tory majority. While Labour plans to stand candidates in every seat in Britain, there are ways for the party to soft pedal in Tory/Lib Dem marginals. Starmer could conclude that an unspoken alliance with the Liberal Democrats offers him his best chance of denying the Tories a fifth term in office.
3. Richard Dobbs: is our test-and-trace system ready?
Richard Dobbs introduces the ‘Harding-Hancock Efficiency’ (HHE), a new metric named after Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock and Baroness Dido Harding, chair of England’s test-and-trace programme. HHE is the ‘proportion of people successfully isolated compared to the perfect outcome’, and is designed to establish how effectively test-and-trace is working. A perfect system, in which everyone recently infected is tested, and all close contacts are identified and made to isolate before they become infectious, is ‘clearly impossible’. However, HHE allowed Dobbs to analyse how close to perfection England’s system is. His initial estimate is that HHE is ‘at a potentially catastrophic level of less than 5 per cent’, nowhere near good enough to prevent a second wave over the winter. While recognising the good work to get the system up and running from a standing start three months ago, with 2.7 million people having been tested, he also shows that ‘the present system is still a long way from what we need’. The main problem Dobbs finds is that test-and-trace does not find nearly enough new infections. While increasing testing capacity to 500,000 a day will help, it is not enough when ‘we are finding less than a fifth of infected individuals with the current 240,000 tests per day’. Dobbs will continue to refine and publish his metric on The Spectator’s website, estimating how good HHE needs to become to prevent a second wave, and to compare performance across devolved administrations and internationally.
4. Alex Massie: the ‘stubborn wee bastard’ fighting for the Union
Douglas Ross, the new leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, faces one of the more daunting tasks in British politics, writes Alex Massie. His mission is to thwart Nicola Sturgeon and, in the process, preserve the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As matters stand, next year’s Holyrood elections promise to be a brutally chastening experience for the Tories and the other Unionist parties. Current polling suggests that the SNP might well win an overall majority, despite an electoral system that was designed to make such an outcome all but impossible. As the Westminster MP for Moray, Ross will have to wait until next year’s Holyrood elections before he can assume full control. In the interim period, before taking up a seat in the House of Lords, Ruth Davidson will lead for the Tories at the Scottish parliament. This is being presented as a package deal offering voters the best of both worlds: the freshness of new and more robust leadership coupled with the reassurance offered by Davidson’s return to the front line. Ross’s task lies in maximising turnout among anti-SNP voters. Ross must, where necessary, stand up to a UK government that is hideously unpopular in Scotland. But Ross is not a politician overly interested in other people’s good opinions. Three years ago, he was asked what he’d do if he were prime minister for a day and, unthinkingly, responded that he’d ‘like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers’. He has since apologised for the phrasing of these remarks, while reiterating that illegal travelling sites are a problem in his constituency. ‘Douglas is a stubborn wee bastard,’ says one of his colleagues, fondly.
5. Christopher Meyer: what if Trump rejects the election result?
In an open letter to Boris Johnson, Christopher Meyer advises how best to navigate the US election should it end in ‘deadlock and confusion’. Meyer was the ambassador to Washington during the presidential election of 2000, between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and present at the Supreme Court hearing which decided the election in Bush’s favour. He uses this experience to tell the PM that while he will be ‘endlessly pressed to comment’, he should avoid doing so for that is ‘a mug’s game’. Tony Blair, he remembers, was ‘scrupulous in not even hinting at a preference as the court fight raged’. The risk of a fraught, acrimonious election is most acute in the event of a Biden victory, something Meyer remains ‘cautious’ about. If before November Covid-19 retreats and the economy starts to grow again, Trump will be in a good position. Postal voting may even benefit Trump, as there are fears that the Trump-appointed Postmaster General ‘will interfere with the postal service to Trump’s advantage’. Should Trump be defeated, the charge of election fraud gives him either a ‘face-saving’ excuse, or a reason to reject the result, should he try to ‘hang on in the White House. Who knows which way this erratic and thin-skinned fabulist will jump?’
6. Nigel Lawson: in defence of a sugar tax
In this week’s diary Nigel Lawson admits he was ‘undoubtedly obese’ when was chancellor. So what does he think of the Prime Minister’s obesity strategy? He believes the focus should be solely on diet, for while exercise is ‘good for fitness, it has nothing to do with the avoidance of fatness’. On the topic of diet, Lawson notes that ‘some foods are worse than others’, a fact with leads him to be ‘puzzled by the government’s reported aversion to taxing them’. A sugar tax would be especially helpful in a time when the Treasury is going to need every penny it can get.