The Conservative Reader
Sunak's foreign policy; the threat from China; Xi's obsession with control; the census; the resurrection of Christianity; tyrannical minorities; supporting families; and alternatives to immigration.
We think conservatives need to talk more and get better at sharing ideas. So here we share the best newspaper columns, policy reports and books that will stimulate thinking and promote new ways of doing things.
The Conservative Reader is published every Friday lunchtime, so please do look out for it. And expect plenty of content about the things we think make conservatism such a compelling body of thought: identity and belonging, community and commitment, market economics, national resilience and good government.
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Howard French says China’s protests are about more than a fire in Urumqi - they are the result of Xi Jinping’s obsession with control:
Although the details of … recent events are unique, some of their contours bear strong resemblance to previous crises in the country. Take, for instance, the 1989 Tiananmen crisis. Although Deng Xiaoping, as paramount leader, eventually approved the murderous crackdown on the student and worker demonstrators who filled the square, he later said privately that it was “very unhealthy” for “the destiny of a country to be built on the prestige of one or two people.” Not since Mao has China been so dominated by a single figure as Xi.
Even worse, under Xi, at each hint of crisis, whether economic—as with the pandemic-induced slowdown or a real estate bubble—or now political, instead of the liberalizing reforms his country and its broad middle classes need and hope for, Xi has reflexively become even more sternly top-down and authoritarian in his response. This ominously echoes his famous comment about the end of Soviet rule under Mikhail Gorbachev in which Xi said the Soviet Union’s Communist rulers lost their nerve, meaning that they failed to rule without flinching and to crack down on opposition mercilessly when necessary.
Tom Holland says post-Christian humanists are not as post-Christian as they believe:
Charity, no longer voluntary, was being rendered something novel: a legal obligation. That the rich had a duty to give to the poor was, of course, a principle as old as Christianity itself. What no one had thought to argue before, however, was a matching principal: that the poor had an entitlement to the necessities of life. It was — in a formulation increasingly deployed by lawyers in medieval Christendom — their ius: their “right”.
Yet this doctrine — despite its origins in Christian jurisprudence — was one that would come, in time, to slip the moorings of doctrinal Christianity. Indeed, first in the American Revolution, and then in the French, the claim would be made that human rights owned nothing at all to the distinctive history of Latin Christendom. They were instead eternal and universal. “The Declaration of Rights,” proclaimed anti-clerical French revolutionaries, “is the Constitution of all peoples, all other laws being variable by nature, and subordinated to this one.” A momentous discovery had been made: that the surest way to promote Christian teachings as universal was to portray them as deriving from anything other than Christianity.
Madeline Grant says the decline of religion leaves us worshipping destructive new gods instead:
The very idea that we can purge ourselves of superstition to reach some higher understanding is an inherently scriptural belief, visible in everything from the lamentations of Jeremiah to Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal. Not that divorcing ourselves from that inheritance isn’t risky all the same. A society that no longer understands the Bible is a society that will struggle to commune with its past – or with itself.
The secularist fallacy goes further still. Religion’s departure invariably leaves a vacuum in our worldviews; which new shibboleths will emerge to fill. This is because the needs religion addresses haven’t gone away: to belong, to trust, to hope and to sense a dimension beyond our own. But do new communities spring up, miraculously, to replace their faith-based predecessors? More often than not, we are left with atomisation, the snarky faux-communities of social media, or cult-like devotions to contemporary fads: my diet, my wellbeing, my half-marathon times, my gym sessions…
While Christianity begins with the idea that we are all fallen beings, implying a certain level of humility, new articles of faith are invariably of the “me-me-me” variety. What are Tik-Tokkers if not preachers? But what they preach is the self, and all the attendant anxiety that comes from never getting away from it. Cancel culture assumes a religious censoriousness without the possibility of forgiveness or redemption.
After the closure of a Wellcome Collection exhibition on the grounds of racism, sexism and ableism, James Marriott says we should get used to tyrannical minorities imposing their beliefs on us:
This is strange, isn’t it? A great many people will be prevented from seeing Medicine Man on the basis of views so esoteric and so far outside mainstream discourse that I’m willing to bet that many of the Wellcome Collection’s ordinary visitors have never even heard of them. How many of the families wandering around on the average Saturday afternoon could say what it means to “other” someone or explain what was wrong with prevailing morality in the year 2007? The exhibition has disappeared because, although a very large number of people would have quite liked it to stay, a very small number of people vehemently wanted it to go…
Tolerant institutions are inherently vulnerable. The philosopher Karl Popper referred to the “paradox of tolerance” — a tolerant society must tolerate even those who wish to destroy tolerance itself. The blogger Scott Alexander describes the way the Quakers of 17th-century Pennsylvania “tolerated themselves out of existence”. By welcoming other sects, they faded into political irrelevance as more activist, intolerant faiths took over. Because humans like to join groups with powerful signifiers of identity (tattoos, flags, unusual beliefs), intolerant institutions are better at attracting followers than woolly, tolerant ones. The fading Anglican church may be another institution tolerating itself out of existence.
Roger Bootle says immigration is not the cure that business lobbyists claim:
So what is the alternative solution to Mr Danker’s narrowly economic problem, namely the shortage of labour? There are several. First, the outstanding feature of the labour market over the last three years has been the fall in the number of workers. About half a million people have left the workforce since before the pandemic. Policy needs to focus on getting them back.
Second, business needs to invest more in training indigenous workers. Third, business needs to invest more in capital equipment, including robots and AI. Mr Danker was pretty dismissive of the ability to replace labour this way and yet there is widespread anxiety about jobs disappearing through automation. As I argued in my book, “The AI Economy”, although it is not going to happen overnight, the world of employment will be transformed by artificial intelligence. The task of business is to anticipate this and embrace it, not to ignore it and rely on an endless supply of labour from abroad.
In his first major foreign policy speech, Rishi Sunak promised that “under my leadership we’ll never align with EU law”, and declared “the so-called ‘golden era’ [of relations with China] is over”:
Our adversaries and competitors plan for the long term. After years of pushing at the boundaries, Russia is challenging the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. China is conspicuously competing for global influence using all the levers of state power. In the face of these challenges, short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice. We can’t depend on Cold War arguments or approaches, or mere sentimentality about our past. So we will make an evolutionary leap in our approach.
This means being stronger in defending our values and the openness on which our prosperity depends. It means delivering a stronger economy at home, as the foundation of our strength abroad. And it means standing up to our competitors, not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism.
We will do all this not only through our diplomatic expertise, science and tech leadership, and investment in defence and security, but by dramatically increasing the quality and depth of our partnerships with like-minded allies around the world. We will set out more detail in the updated Integrated Review in the new year, including how we’ll work with friends in the Commonwealth, the US, the Gulf states, Israel and others.
But tonight I’d like to describe how we’re already making this evolutionary leap in three other places. First, as we stand by Ukraine, we’re also reinvigorating our European relationships to tackle challenges like security and illegal migration. Second, we’re taking a longer-term view on China, strengthening our resilience and protecting our economic security. And third, we’re seizing the huge opportunities on offer in the Indo-Pacific by building deep and long-lasting partnerships.
Onward has recommended a new universal Childcare Credit for all parents of one to four year olds, and a more generous Additional Childcare Credit for families on lower incomes:
Costs of childcare have skyrocketed. Today, the average price for a part-time nursery place of 25 hours a week for a child under two is £140 per week. To put this in context, an average household spends just under £70 per week on food and nonalcoholic drinks. So for many, part time childcare costs are double what they pay for their weekly shop.
In the last five years, costs have risen by an average of 21% across the UK. This has left us dramatically out of step with other countries: 26% of parents’ joint income in the UK goes toward childcare costs, roughly three times higher than the OECD average of 9%…
So what’s gone wrong with the childcare system? The most obvious driver of high costs for parents is a low level of public subsidy. As a share of GDP, the UK spends considerably less on early years support than international comparators: 0.56% of GDP compared to 0.7% across the OECD. The UK also has an imbalance in investment, prioritising 3-5 year olds over 0-2 year olds. Sweden spends two times more on 0-2 year olds than 3-5 year olds, and France and the Netherlands spend similar amounts, but the UK spends six times more on 3-5 year olds than 0-2 year olds.
Book of the week
Our chosen book this week is The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny, by Benedict Rogers, who exposes the terrible truth not only about Beijing’s appalling human rights abuses, but its ambition to control the future global order:
If Washington, D.C., still has further to go, think how far behind London, Brussels, and Ottawa are. Charles Parton, a former British diplomat who specializes in China, believes in the case of London, the problem is “a lack of attention.” The government, he argues, “has neither the structures, the personnel, or the political direction” to comprehensively deal with the challenge. It is a matter of “resources, both financial and people.” It is an issue, Parton fears, that the British government has not “grasped.”
The National Security Council should form a working group on China, he suggests. “How often has the National Security Council met on China? How actively does it pursue the issues? There should be meetings right across Whitehall to ensure that a cross-departmental policy is drawn up and implemented,” Parton argues. “The U.K. does not have a China policy. There are rudiments of policies, but no strategy, and it is ever-changing. But China is not going away.”
Rush Doshi, founding director of the Brookings China Institute, sets outs the Chinese regime’s intentions in his superb book, The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order. Through a careful analysis of Chinese Communist Party documents and speeches, Doshi builds up a clear picture of the regime’s goals. “Politically, Beijing would project leadership over global governance and international institutions, split Western alliances, and advance autocratic norms at the expense of liberal ones,” he writes. “Economically, it would weaken the advantages that underwrite US hegemony and seize the commanding heights of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, with the United States declining into a deindustrialized, English-speaking version of a Latin American republic . . . Militarily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would field a world-class force with bases around the world that could defend China’s interests in most regions and even in most domains like space, the poles, and the deep sea.” In other words, writes Doshi, “China’s ambitions are not limited to Taiwan or dominating the Indo-Pacific,” but instead focused on “the global order and its future.” Doshi’s research and analysis should be taken seriously. China, he claims, poses a challenge “unlike any” we have faced before.
Britain accepts more than 55 per cent of Albanian asylum claims, compared to zero in Germany and the Netherlands.
London and Birmingham are now both minority-majority, according to the census…
… which also finds that only a minority of people in England and Wales are Christians.
A third of us wait more than a week for a GP appointment…
… and some heart attack victims are waiting more than an hour for an ambulance.
Sadiq Khan says school exclusions cause violence, which experts say is the wrong way round.
And Jiang Zemin has died.