John Redwood's Diary
Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today's issues and tomorrow's problems

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The Prime Minister’s speech to conference

The P{rime Minister this week has a great opportunity and a great platform to set out his vision of the future and tell us how Conservatives can make things better and help people improve their lives.

Today I ask what should Rishi Sunak tell the nation this week, from such a good platform?

After 5 years of a Coalition government and 8 years of a Conservative one he must  not trash the past and can  be proud of some achievements. The transformation of school standards, the freedom from the large EU budget contributions and escaping from the running up of big new EU debts, the global reach of an independent UK   strengthening our ties with Australia, New Zealand and the Trans Pacific Partnership are all to be welcomed. Nor must he spend much time on the past, but show he as a new Prime  Minister is looking forward to the huge opportunities ahead for the UK now Brexit and the covid lockdowns are behind us.

He needs to reassure us that the high levels of taxation are temporary, brought on by covid and the Ukraine war. He should point the way to a slimmer, fitter and better public sector after several years of poor productivity and service interruptions from lockdowns and strikes. We need empowered users of public services, and well rewarded public servants with the machine power and data to be more productive. People want  access to doctors and hospital appointments to be easier and quicker, for their children to  have a choice of good schools, for our public transport to be on time and affordable and for our roads to have fewer potholes.

He began the fight back over the last two weeks. Government should not be telling us which  cars and heating systems to buy and then stopping us buying ones they do  not like. It should not be keeping our oil and gas in the ground and importing it from abroad. They should not be raising taxes on strivers, savers and small businesses.

Tomorrow  will offer some ideas on what he can now deliver.


Public spending up by £350 bn this year on 2019

The combination of inflation, a productivity collapse and higher interest rates means public spending is up by £350 bn this year compared to 2019.

No wonder taxes are so high. If the public services got their productivity back up to 2019 levels they would cost £30 bn less. Productivity was down 15.2% in 2020, up 7.3% in 2021 and up 1.7% last year.Overall public sector productivity 2019 to end 2022 is down 7.5%.

The BBC fails to represent a wide range of political views and news.

It took my breath away to hear BBC Radio 4 attacking GB News because they do not observe the BBC‚Äôs view of ‚Äú neutrality‚ÄĚ.

Why do the BBC think they reflect the range of ¬†political views in the UK? How can they not see themselves as they are, a voice for the public sector establishment. They seem to be ¬†pro Biden and anti Republican, pro Social and Liberal Democrat groupings and anti ‚Äúpopulist‚ÄĚ parties that sometimes win elections. You see that in their choice of stories, choice of ‚Äú experts‚ÄĚ and line of questions. They are anti Brexit going on and on about trade with the EU as if that was the main point of it, anti lower taxes and a smaller state. Their chosen experts in economics slavishly follow the failed forecasts and models of the OBR and Bank. They find comfort in continuously getting it wrong together.

They seem to believe that every problem can be solved by government action, usually requiring more spending and higher taxes. Yesterday their US political correspondent had to tell us some are raising age issues about  Mr Biden, yet he told us as a fact that Biden is only two and half years older than Trump. He  is 3 years seven months older than Trump. Why not tell the truth and let us decide if either or both are too old to undertake another 4 years in the top job?

They refuse to interview the Bank of England to hold  them accountable for inflation and the collapse of the bond market. They  tell us the Bank is independent and responsible for inflation so  why no tough interviews? They made a huge fuss about bond yields rising under Truss, but far less fuss now they have risen higher. They fail to interview the management and advisers to HS 2 to find out why it is so massively over budget and out of timetable. They do not cross examine top management of the NHS about the poor employee relations and productivity issues. They do not interview  the OBR to explain their hopeless record on forecasting the deficit.

They are the main cheerleaders for an extreme version of progress to net zero for the UK, so we have to rely on imports from countries still burning coal. They decline to examine the problems with carbon accounting or the way in which some of the net zero “solutions” actually increase world CO 2.

They do not regard £24 bn of losses year to date by the Bank of England as news. They fail to report and discuss the government studies showing a collapse of public sector productivity this decade. They do not mention the loss of 800,000 self employed since February 2020. They fail to offer regular critical analyses of policy and politics in France or Germany, seeing the EU as a repository of international values they clearly like.

They rarely interview Conservative thinkers or explore popular Conservative ideas. They prefer to find caricature slots for them or to highlight it when someone makes a mistake in what they say.They read little and  talk to few sources outside a circle of similar thinking establishment figures. They promote every  kind of diversity save diversity of thought.

Ways to cut the UK’s CO 2 output

I have been critical of various government policies that have been done in the name of net zero yet on analysis may well increase the output of world CO 2. I have been generally critical of policies designed to shut down carbon intensive activities in the UK, only to import from abroad.

Knowing how keen the Opposition parties and government are on cutting our CO 2, I thought today I would set out some obvious ways of doing this that the government should consider. In many cases they would also cut public spending and generate more tax revenue, helping tackle  excessive debts and deficits as well.

  1. Reduce the numbers of legal migrants to the UK. One of the biggest causes of extra CO 2 is the need to build homes, surgeries, schools, other public facilities and utility provision for an extra 600,000 people a year on last year’s figures. Once the construction is done then they all turn on their gas central heating and get in their petrol cars. That is a big rise in CO 2.
  2. Extract more gas and oil from the North Sea, recording a substantial CO 2 saving on imports.
  3. Remove the Old Oak Common to Euston leg of HS 2, saving a large amount of CO 2 intensive concrete, steel and construction activity.
  4. Install better insulation and solar roof panels in a wide range of public sector buildings to cut energy use and cost.
  5. Cut back heavily on government trips abroad in person using jet travel, by using on line conference calls  much more. Encourage the COP meetings to be on line as it looks so bad to see so much jet travel and air conditioned hotel use for an anti CO 2 conference.
  6. Encourage the development of synthetic fuels so we can continue to use existing vehicle/plane/plant engines for longer. This will save all the CO 2 involved in scrapping existing  technology and making all new electric versions. Extending useful lives and recycling is crucial to cutting CO 2. Synthetic  fuels can be introduced as soon as they are available by increasing the proportions put into the current fossil fuels.  (E 10 petrol. sustainable aviation fuel)
  7. Do not subsidise more electric cars, heating systems and the rest until a) all our electrical power is low or no  carbon and b) there is enough grid and  cable capacity to do this
  8.  Please get better at carbon accounting

The UK balance of trade

I have worried more about the UK’s continuing balance of trade deficit than its persistent government deficit though both pose problems. Our trade deficit became entrenched during our time in the EU and revolved around a heavy deficit with EU in goods. Now we have left more could be done to replace imports from the EU. Our  trade with the rest of the world has been much better balanced despite big deficits with China and Norway. We are in deficit with far too many EU countries.

In 2022 our deficit in goods was £231 bn. The three largest sources were Germany, Norway and China, accounting for around £40 bn each or a total of £120 bn. We have come far too dependent on importing  energy  from Norway. We import many vehicles, chemicals and machinery from Germany and many goods including our turbines, solar panels and batteries from China.

Getting out more of our own oil and gas is important to cut this deficit. Rosebank yesterday was a good start. Bring on the others I have written and spoken about.


What should we teach six formers?

The world of digital data and Artificial Intelligence poses interesting  questions about what young people need to learn and how much they should be able to rely on their personal computers and phones.

Clearly everyone needs to be given a basic training in how computers work and how they are programmed, as so much of modern life requires use of these items. Using AI in teaching and preparing answers is going to happen, so pupils need to be trained to check sources, question what the AI answer says, and to develop an understanding independent of the computer. There will need to be more reliance on exams  rather than coursework to check what young people know for themselves when the computer is turned off.

As an employer I have come to value enthusiasm for the job in hand, an interest in the issues and subject matter of the job, a sensibly critical approach to data and analysis and above all honesty about what the person is doing. A lack of knowledge or training can be remedied, but a lack of interest cannot. Ideally you find someone who has immersed themselves in what you are doing because it is their hobby as well as their future job. People who are really good at things do a lot of them. The more I practice the luckier I get.

Six formers do need to hone their language skills to communicate and to analyse problems . They need maths and statistics to handle data and resolve problems. Above that they can get started on more advanced study for whatever they wish to do as a degree or technical  qualification.

I would not wish to stop young people studying a few subjects in greater depth as preparation for university, or specialising in technical qualifications to set them up for a good job at 18. The A and T levels have a role going forward. Equipping all better in maths and English can be achieved by doing more before 16 and changing the maths and English options for GCSE.

Learning at school

The Direct Grant  school I attended with a free place by exam did offer us extra maths and English education beyond GCSE (then O level ).
We did Maths and English O levels a year early, and then offered Additional Maths and Further English Studies at the end of the fifth form with  public exams.  This meant we did tackle calculus,trigonometry and more complex algebra and geometry. The average age of the class to take English and maths O level  was a bit over 15. I took them around the date of my 14 th birthday as I had jumped a year at primary school.
We took the French O level at the end of the first term in the fifth form and had a two term course encouraging us to read French literature with no public exam at the end.
I took 5 more O levels as well as Add Maths and  Further  English Studies at the end of the fifth form.
In the sixth form we had to take a Use Of English exam which we were told some universities required , and I sat 3 A levels in Economics, History and English.

My experience of the fourth and fifth forms was of hard work with a lot of rote learning, but some good grounding in basics that were needed later on. We  were taught from a text book or from a lesson plan designed by the teacher.  I found latin particularly testing, exacerbated by not enjoying what you could read when you managed to understand a bit more of it. I was not interested in Caesar’s Gallic wars or Vergil’s Trojan wanderings. I disliked the Roman invasion of Britain and their slave based system.

My experience of the sixth form was transformational. My History teacher taught us a crucial lesson at the start of the A level course. He told us we needed to read widely and find out about the subject. He could not do the work for us. He was not going to tell us how to answer questions. I realised it was up to me to spend time reading. I needed  to set myself high standards and form my own judgements about the questions and issues raised.I did not have to stay for the sixth form and teachers were not going to accept responsibility for my choice to stay and study their subject. I needed to be really interested in it myself.

The first two terms were very difficult. I was very self critical, aware of how little I knew and struggling to find a style of writing which did justice to my thoughts and knowledge as it grew. The English course provided part of the answer. The teacher told us to ignore the set texts of the A level syllabus for the first year and spend the time  reading widely to get a sense of the span and range  of English literary output. Best of all we were asked to write an essay about a different Shakespeare play each week. This enabled me to study  the best writing and phrase making. If you want to write well, read well was a phrase I subsequently came across.

My A level experience was further changed by winning on open scholarship to Oxford by examination in the fourth term of the sixth form. Suddenly all I needed was two grade E passes at A level to qualify for a student grant. Oxford did not require A levels as they had examined me in four 3 hour exams already. I chose to continue with my 3 subjects but was even freer to study them as I saw fit. The School kindly arranged a readers ticket for me at the local University

A Levels

I read that the Prime Minister is considering reforming A levels. It is not something I have ever urged and I would be interested in views from readers.

The case seems to revolve around the idea that everyone should do maths beyond GCSE level, and maybe continue with English.  To accommodate this presumably the  depth and range of other subjects at A levels would be reduced to allow more time for extra maths and English.

If someone wanted to retain the current range and depth of maths and English as A level subjects perhaps they could be retained as they would not need to study the general English and  maths options for all other students. Or maybe the aim is to get all students taking more subjects in the sixth form so those wanting to specialise in maths and or English would still do the general courses and offer more other subjects.

The impact of these reforms would be people would have more range of knowledge but less depth of knowledge at the end of school, with a bigger gap to the degree level on arriving at university. All should have better skills in maths and English.

I will comment tomorrow on my own experiences at school.