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Child porn (2)

My first post on this topic was more than eight years ago. For most of that time the situation has got worse. Much worse. But today I saw the first glimmer of light:


All major disasters have multiple causes and the great child abuse overreaction is no exception. Why grown men – and occasionally women – should want to kiddie-fiddle, I have no idea. Some sexual misbehaviour I can understand, even find tempting. Usually men my age (60s) getting romantically or sexually entangled with 18 year old girls are figures of fun. I remember that when I was young I had difficulty appreciating fine differences (or a decade or so) in the ages of those much older than me. Basically there were just two categories: the old, like my parents or the teachers at school, and the incredibly old, like my grandparents. So that stunning, sexy 18 year old girl sees me as incredibly old, like her grandfather. Maybe her grandfather is a lovable old stick, in which case she might not mind talking to me. Or maybe is a bad-tempered bore, in which case she might not. But in no case would she have any romantic or sexual interest. Or maybe that kind of analysis comes more naturally to mathematicians (like me) who are programmed to generalise, abstract, recurse etc more easily than breathing.

There are clearly exceptions. The sufficiently famous and the sufficiently rich often attract at least simulated interest from much younger members of the opposite sex. A minority of girls also seem to enjoy trying to attract much older men either for amusement or as part of discovering their sexuality, but with no intention of ever consummating the relationship, such as it is. Also men seem to be genetically inclined to make fools of themselves even when their rational selves know that a relationship won’t work. But after a number of misadventures most men, over say 50, have grasped that relations with much younger girls are unlikely to work well, however tempting they may be.

So far I have skirted around an inevitable difficulty. The law uses fixed ages, which are set cautiously high. But some people mature sexually, if not emotionally, far earlier than others. Some girls have substantial sexual experience by the age of 14 or younger. Others have none by the age of 21. The American use “jailbait” to describe a girl under the statutory age who behaves like an extremely flirtatious and apparently sexually available girl in her twenties. Appearances can be deceptive, she may not actually expect or want things to go further than suggestive talk, but it makes little difference, responding to her overtures if you are significantly older (say over 25) is to risk being jailed, and we all have, or should have, sufficient self-control not to respond.

Arbitrary boundaries arise all over the law and basically one just has to accept them. But consider the case of someone manifestly young enough to have little idea of what sex is about, say age 9 or 4 or 2. Why are some people sexually aroused by such children? If you do not feel any such arousal yourself, you are likely to feel absolutely appalled by the behaviour of someone who apparently does.

In passing, it is unfortunate that the word “child” has two meanings in this context. On the one hand it means “under-age human being”, on the other it means what most people think of as a child – someone pre-puberty, probably under 10 and maybe under 4. So the horror which we naturally associate with someone buggering a 3-year old child tends to get carried across to someone having conventional sex with a highly sexually experienced girl of 15 who took the initiative all the way along.

So far I have been talking about “child abuse”. At first sight, it would seem that “child porn” is a far less serious matter. After all, if I spend all day watching unpleasant videos, no one else is apparently hurt, although there it is at least arguable that I am. Interestingly, this point is rarely made. When it is, the response is that the watcher is increasing the demand for such movies and hence indirectly increasing the supply of such movies. Assuming there is no clever fakery, each movie involves actual child abuse.

We can forget clever fakery. The only cheap fakery is for an actress in her early 20s to dress, make up and act as if she was 15. The video equivalent of “photoshopping” images is still far too expensive (in time and equipment) to be much used.

But it is hard to see that (say) 100 views of a video would justify the trouble and expense of making it. So yes an individual watching a video of a child being buggered is adding to the total number of real-world incidents, but his contribution is small, far smaller than the contribution of the person carrying out the buggery. You may object that an individual may watch thousands of hours of such videos, but I still find the whole argument flimsy.

If you try to discuss it, or look at the way the topic is treated, it is quite clear that this issue does not get careful consideration. People just emote. They are horrified by the idea of their 2 year old child being abused by some “monster” and anyone involved in that kind of thing (such as someone caught with downloaded child porn) is clearly a monster. Lock him up and throw away the key.

That brings us back to the elephant in the room. The overwhelming majority of child abuse is by family and close friends. Usually, family members not directly involved in the abuse cannot bring themselves to believe it is happening, even when there is clear evidence that it is. All that is exceedingly uncomfortable. Much easier to blame a gang of evil strangers going around kidnapping or grooming innocent children and then abusing and filming them, so their sicko friends and contacts can watch what they did.


Even professionals can get wildly over-excited – see my earlier article, although Jim Gamble has now left CEOP, which is now part of the National Crime Agency.

But curiously, Simon Bailey has now come out to say we should stop prosecuting people for watching child porn. He is the chief constable of Norfolk and the NPCC lead on child protection. The NPCC, for those lagging behind, is effectively the April 2015 replacement for ACPO. Its role is to coordinate policing between the various forces. Partly that is about boring issues like purchasing policy, and partly about trying to get an agreed approach to tricky issues.


Doing something about online child porn is one of its “digital” objectives in its 2016 plan:


Bailey is clearly aware that the public will emote wildly about the idea of not jailing those looking at child porn. He bases he recommendations simply on practicality.

Hounding Hogan-Howe

Do we really want a succession of Ian Blairs as Met Commissioners (see here, here, and here)? His attention seemed to be largely focussed on pleasing politicians. He spent inordinate amounts of time on cases/issues that he thought might interest them. Hogan-Howe on the other hand is a proper policeman. I believe him when he starts quoting the number of major cases he has to keep an eye on, with Operation Midland just one of them. He is interested in all of them, so making his life miserable and pushing for him to resign because of mistakes in one (Operation Midland) is completely unreasonable.

A brief recap. As the full horror of Jimmy Savile’s activities gradually became apparent, everyone started to worry what other paedophiles had been operating decades ago. In passing, I my view is that we need a statute of limitations on criminal cases except perhaps for the most serious – murder and maybe a tiny handful of others. Sex with girls aged 15 would not come into that category for me. Sure, it is illegal, but the limit of 16 is something of a cultural matter, it is hard to see it as an objective standard. Sex with children under the age of say 10, I would have no difficulty in making an exception. Where the dividing line should come I am not sure.

But whatever the category of exceptions, the other problem is that it is hard to get a reliable conviction for anything that happened decades ago. All sex crimes pose evidential problems at the best of times, but it becomes really difficult for a sex crime alleged to have happened long ago. It is easy to forget that convicting the innocent is worse than failing to convict the guilty.

Inevitably the pendulum swung too far. The police decided that traditional approaches to dealing with complaints of sexual abuse of children were wrong, because they were too off-putting for the complainant. As often happens in such cases, ACPO appointed someone to take the lead on policy, in this case Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk. He set up a “coordination hub” called Hydrant and produced the “Operation Hydrant SIO Guidance” for dealing with historic cases where well-known public figures were suspected of abuse (SIO is police jargon for the senior investigating officer on a particular case).

The full guidance is not publicly available, but it later emerged that it required SIOs to believe complainants, which (if followed) was more or less guaranteed to end in disaster.

Meanwhile several historical investigations were launched. Operation Fairbank focussed on claims that boys were sexually abused and groomed during parties of gay men at the Elm Guest House. It was about 7 miles from Parliament in a row of terraced houses in Rocks Lane, which runs North from Barnes station through Barnes Common. In the early 1980s it was raided by police following complaints that it had become a gay brothel, and it closed in 1982. The manager, Carole Kasir, was convicted of running a disorderly house. Later in 1990 she died aged 47; the inquest verdict was suicide by an overdose of insulin.

The precise story at this point is getting difficult to follow, because all sorts of documents once on the internet seem to have been taken down and I lack the inclination to search diligently for them on wayback etc. But a key player seems to have been Chris Fay (now 70), a former Labour councillor and social worker who worked for (and set up?) NAYPIC (National Association for Young People in Care, a child welfare charity). He appeared to claim that all kinds of photos and other documents had been shown to him by Kasir which proved that 4 MPs, led by Leon Brittan, the former home secretary, had been involved in abusing children at Elm House. All these (alleged) photos and documents had subsequently disappeared.

[a lengthy interview with Chris Fay by a sympathetic anti-child abuse activist and filmmaker]

He tried to interest a freelance journalist, who lost interest when he was unable to get any corroborating evidence. But all the allegations seem to have been passed to the Met, who also dropped them after failing to find anything to make them sufficiently credible.

The really curious can spend an hour watching the video above (from Oct 2013). Initially, at least, Fay comes across as low-key and credible. But at 28m (and 31m etc) we have the interviewer ranting on about how terrible child abuse by top people is. He is right, child abuse is terrible. But the questions are: did these particular individuals abuse children; and is there enough evidence to convict in court? Halfway through that video I began to see clearly that we could be in either of two situations: some powerful people covered up some terrible things, or we are in danger of re-running a modern version of the Salem witch trials.

The problem is that the internet is full of material by people who have not looked at the evidence available to them at all carefully, or even at all, but instantly react with violent emotion and want vengeance. Worse, it soon gets tangled up with all kinds of other agendas, like a visceral dislike of Tory politicians and policies.

Chris Fay tried to interest various people in his allegations, including Tom Watson (currently the elected deputy leader of the Labour Party). On 24 Oct 2012 (Hansard col 923) he asked at Prime Minister’s Questions:

The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.

He got a fairly non-committal reply from Cameron:

The hon. Gentleman raises a very difficult and complex case, and I am not entirely sure which former Prime Minister he is referring to. What I would like to do is look carefully in Hansard at the allegations he has made and the case he has raised, and look carefully at what the Government can do to help give him the assurances he seeks.

But, of course, the question was broadcast live and attracted a good deal of attention, including presumably in the Metropolitan Police who were apparently being accused of grossly failing in their duty. Some years later in 2015, Fay was interviewed as part of a BBC Panorama programme.


[last shown just over a year ago, no longer on BBC iPlayer, but still unofficially on youtube]

I wasted a good deal of time failing to make up my mind. On the one hand, Fay is claiming a large-scale cover-up, apparently masterminded by the security services. He also has a fraud conviction. On the other hand, he is not an obvious fantasist. So has there been a careful and successful cover-up, which has left little hard evidence beyond the odd witness whose uncorroborated evidence would be unlikely to stand up in court, or is he a fantasist?

My meanderings through various links quickly led me to things like Chris Spivey‘s blog. He is an angry campaigner who finds it really hard to attribute anything but bad motivation at every turn to senior Tory politicians. Eminently sane, he has a strong and powerfully-expressed point of view. Then I ran into Brian Heap who claims persecution over a period of several years by a substantial cast of characters (including the police) all because he sacked a teacher for child abuse when he was a headmaster.

As I read through the pages of his “Chronology” I started thinking what an awful time he had had. Then we moved on to his sectioning under Mental Health legislation. Most stories of paranoia are indeed induced by mental health problems, but occasionally they are true. Few people (including consultant psychiatrists) bother to look into such stories carefully, they just take a few salient features of such stories as clear hallmarks of mental illness.

Neither of those two individuals turned out to be relevant (as far as I could see, despite being only a link or two away from the Operation Midland case), but I began to grasp the real difficulty of investigating these “historical cases”. Many of the witnesses who come forward are clearly most unlikely to appear sufficiently credible – for a variety of reasons – in a court case where guilt for a specific crime by a specific person has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The real trouble came when Nick put forward his claims:

Operation Midland arose from claims by “Nick”, a man aged in his 40s who was a child at the time of the alleged incidents. Having written of his abuse, Nick was contacted by Exaro, a short-lived investigative journalism website funded by Jerome Booth. Exaro sold stories to newspapers about the alleged incidents, and a reporter from Exaro accompanied “Nick” to meetings with police.

Nick claimed the VIPs had not stopped at child abuse, they had murdered three children.

Operation Midland’s investigations into these allegations resulted in several VIPs being effectively named and shamed, despite the fact that the Met were unable to find any solid evidence to support the allegations, which later appeared to have been made by a wild fantasist.

Realising that Operation Midland had had a bad outcome, Hogan-Howe commissioned Richard Henriques, a retired High Court judge, to look into it. At the end of October Henriques submitted a lengthy 500 page report. Earlier this month, Hogan-Howe made public the 68 page summary.

The summary is hard-hitting and spells out clearly and forcefully why Simon Bailey’s Hydrant guidance is seriously flawed. Similarly, he spelt out that not only is “believing victims” wrong, so is calling them “victims”. They should remain “complainants” until the allegations are proved. He then went into detail about the Met’s policy on releasing information to the press prior to suspects being charged, and explained clearly why this policy did not work for well-known public figures, whom the press could easily identify from the limited information released.

The summary is clearly and forcefully written and closely argued. I imagine it will be persuasive in changing police practice.

But poor Hogan-Howe is now being criticised for not releasing the full report. This is ridiculous. Some of those under his command quite properly followed ACPO guidance on how to conduct a particular type of case. Hogan-Howe noticed that the case had had a bad outcome and commissioned an enquiry. He published the hard-hitting (and fairly lengthy) summary a few days after he received it. All that seems exactly what we should hope for in a Met commissioner. We really must stop treating highly competent professionals unfairly. Do we want a politicised police force?

Tram crash


The crash was between Lloyd Park and Sandilands. The schematic map above is confusing. The map below is clearer for orientation but less detailed. The shape of the track from Sandilands to Lloyd Park is like a Z:


The Google aerial map is:


Lloyd Park tramstop is the tiny blue and white symbol in the centre bottom. The track goes West a short way and then North-North-East up the dark gap between the two green lines. Near the top right it turns sharply left. The blue and white symbol a little further on is Sandilands Station. At the sharp left another track comes from Sandilands and takes a sharp left to Addiscombe tramstop way out of the picture to the NNE. A larger scale of the crash area is:


The speed limit on the long straight run up from Lloyd Park, much of which is in a tunnel, is 50mph. The speed limit on the sharp bend is 12mph. Apparently, the tram was going far too fast around the bend, derailed and killed 7 people, injuring many more. The driver was arrested.

We now have the classic media protest. Heart-rending sob stories from the injured and relatives of the deceased and demands that something be done. That translates, of course, into someone must be found to take the blame for the tragedy. The unfortunate driver looks like the fall guy.

When will people learn?

Blame enquiries are not the way to improve things. We know that. The paradigm is the air accident investigation. Because aircrashes tend to kill many people at once, they attract totally disproportionate attention. But at least we focus that in a constructive way. The investigations are usually extremely thorough. They are not about blame. You find that the pilot pressed the wrong button, say. Instead of demanding that he suffer for his terrible crime, the investigators ask what can be done to stop pilots doing that in future. Maybe the button is in the wrong place, or easily confused with another button, or needs some kind of interlock, so you have to twist it first. So you get carefully nested systems where several things have to go wrong before a tragedy can happen, instead of just one.

Medicine and the police tend to be different. There it is usually about blame. So what happens? Progress in eliminating bad behaviour is extremely slow. Those involved close ranks. Evidence mysteriously goes missing, and so on. But there are the occasional notable exceptions. When I was young it was common for patients to die in operating theatres as a result of errors in anaesthesia. The anaesthetists got together and started no-blame inquiries. Instead of blaming the harassed anaesthetist for pressing the wrong button, they redesigned the buttons. Today almost no one dies from anaesthesia.

I remember a few years ago falling into conversation with someone in Dillons (now Waterstones) near University College London and saying that. He turned out to be an anaesthetist/researcher. Yes, he said sadly, unfortunately we seem to have solved the problems! [Meaning that research was now less exciting.]

Named Persons

I have to confess to a secret vice: I enjoy reading law reports. My favourites are the Supreme Court judgments, but even the lowly Commercial Court can provide some enjoyable reading. I am not quite sure why I read them. Partly it is because many judges write beautifully clear English, partly because I quite enjoy knotty legal problems.

My attention was recently caught by reports of [2016] UKSC 51 (the “Named Persons” case). I suppose I should pause briefly to wail against LexisNexis and its ilk. They are for law reports what learned journal publishers are for university research. The problem LexisNexis has is that it does not own the copyright of law reports, so you might think that would make it difficult to charge lawyers large fees for providing them. But no.

RELX Group plc (reg no. 02746616) (Reed Elsevier Group plc until 2002) is dual listed. So RELX PLC is listed on the UK Stock Exchange (ticker LON-REL), current price £14.40, mkt cap £29.8 billion, and owns 52.9%. RELX NV is listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (ticker AMS-REN), current price €15.02, mkt cap €32.8 billion, owns 47.1%. So over £50 billion market cap for repackaging material mainly already easily available, not bad.


[share price of RELX PLC in pounds]


[share price of RELX NV in euros]


[plot of euro against pound]

Those who enjoy such things might want to figure out the scope for arbitraging the two companies and the related currencies. Note that 2016 has seen a 20% rise in the euro, a flat euro price and a 17% rise in the sterling price. One would need to look carefully at the effect of currency movements on the profits of RELX Group.

Elsevier, of course, is a major academic journal publisher. In 1991 it took over Pergamon Press, the notorious Robert Maxwell (aka Jan Hoch ) vehicle – he being the first to grasp that university libraries bought almost any academic journal, no matter how useless. See here and here for rants about journals and academia that I wrote nearly a decade ago.

The wheeze for law reports seems to be that there is copyright in arrangement as well as content. Fortunately, the UK has got much better about providing free law reports. The Supreme Court reports are easily available on its own site, and the last five years of appeal court decisions on the government site. A more extensive range of reports, including High Court cases, is on bailii, which is funded by a large collection of Inns of Court, chambers, individual barristers, firms of solicitors and a handful of major companies (see sponsors).

The Named Persons case is one of a small number where statutes passed by Holyrood have been overturned by the courts as ultra vires. It is also a horror story which might give pause for thought to those eager to extract us from the European Court of Human Rights.

It started with GIRFEC published by the Scottish government in 2008:


Like many disastrous schemes it was begun with good intentions, in this case a desire to get better outcomes for Scottish children. The original document (revised in 2012) has bizarrely bad layout and typography as well as the expected poor English (eg Core component 8: “Maximising the skilled workforce within universal services to address needs and risks as early as possible”). After several years of consultation the scheme was enshrined in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (“the Act”).


The centrepiece of the Act is Parts 4 and 5 on Named Persons and the Child’s Plan, which were due to come into force in August this year. The basic idea was to improve coordination between the umpteen agencies which might come into contact with a child by assigning every child a “Named Person” responsible for the coordination.

In practice it was hoped that two benefits would flow: parents would have a single point of contact when they wanted help, and where intervention by the state was needed it would be delivered more effectively. The second was the difficulty. This was eloquently explained by a civil liberties campaigner in the Isle of Man.

I am answering this call for written evidence because the ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ – GIRFEC policy contained in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill is very similar to the ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM) policy introduced in the Isle of Man several years ago. That policy had adverse consequences for both the local community and children’s & families social services.

… First indications that ECM was causing problems [came a year after its introduction] when the Government had to ask the Tynwald for £498,000 additional funding for a further 10 children’s social workers. The Minister stated that due to new policies “workloads for new cases and for support to the Courts have risen by approximately 500% in the last year”. Fierce debate ensued in Tynwald …

The statistics are startling because there are just under 1000 children born per year in the Isle of Man. So, with circa 959 referrals to children’s social services per year, it is likely that most children will be the subject of a referral before they are 18 – with at least 70% of the referrals being utterly unnecessary. In plain terms, nearly three quarters of all children will be the subject of intrusive enquires by social services at some stage in their childhood. This hugely intrusive policy is a direct consequence of over broad referral criteria …

Evidence … cited a range of adverse consequences and public health issues resulting from over involvement with children’s social services. These include including fear of accessing medical care, distrust of health visitors, concealment of post natal illness, more marital separations and breakdowns and lack of help for those in need. The point being that parents, entirely understandably, fear needless involvement with children’s social services and, consequently, avoid contact with public authorities …

GIRFEC makes further deep inroads into the sanctity of family life. For example, the National Risk Framework 11 says a child is at risk if he/she is under 5 years, has more than 3 siblings, is adopted or a step-child, has a ‘difficult temperament’, parents are contesting contact, does not speak English, has a parent aged under 21, or a parent whose partner is not a biological parent, is a child that lacks trust towards ‘workers’ or shows culturally inappropriate behaviours. These risk indicators are over broad.

A miscellaneous group of parents and pressure groups sued, lost in the Court of Session (the top Scottish court), and appealed to the Supreme Court, where they got a unanimous judgment in their favour at the end of July this year.

The somewhat coded language of the (single) judgment indicated that the judges thought the Act was a dog’s breakfast of bad drafting, because of its obscure interaction with the Data Protection Act 1998, but ultimately concluded that was not sufficient reason to strike it out as ultra vires the Scotland Act 1998 (which gave Holyrood its limited powers).

On the other hand, they found that the Act did fall foul of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy) and so Parts 4 and 5 had to be suspended whilst the Scottish government tried to redraft them.

The last word should go to the Scotsman (21 Oct 2016):

The ease of access that … [pressure groups] have to the centre of political decision making is one of the key characteristics of Scottish politics. This has led to the development of a revolving door … Former lobbyists now sit as MSPs and former MSPs work as lobbyists. Similarly, former civil servants have taken jobs with … [pressure groups]. Often these organisations receive a substantial part of their funding from the public purse and can have an important influence in shaping the development of Government policy and legislation …

The Scottish Government claimed that owing to the success of the [pilot] scheme in the Highlands in reducing referrals to the Children’s Panel, the scheme should be rolled out across the country. It worked closely with various children’s charities in developing the legislation. Understandably, these groups are keen to support any measures which they think might improve the outcomes for disadvantaged children.

[Deputy First Minister John Swinney claims] that … the pilot scheme … was responsible for a 68% decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel between 2007 and 2013. The problem is that a closer look at the data shows that the results in the Highland Council area are far from exceptional. Over the last 10 years there has been a decline in referrals across the whole of Scotland by 72.6 per cent. Highland ranks only 11th out of 32 local authorities in its track record on reducing referrals. Other councils which piloted the Named Person scheme, such as Angus and South Ayrshire, performed much worse, with Angus sitting at 20th and South Ayrshire at 30th in the ranking. Councils which did not pilot the scheme, such as Aberdeen and Glasgow, performed better than Highland with drops in referral rates of over 80 per cent. It appears, therefore, that the decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel is due to other factors …

One lesson … is the need for improved scrutiny of the evidence base which underpins new legislation. Too often decisions about which organisations to take oral evidence from are taken very early in the legislative process, before the deadline for submission of written evidence has expired. Parliamentary committees should wait until all the written evidence has been collated and read before deciding from whom to take oral evidence.

In other words, they meant well, but listened exclusively to charities and pressure groups worried about child abuse – and then, having made up their minds what to do, closed them to the evidence and tried to spin the data.

Box Office Phil


[photo from government website]

Hammond’s ironic nickname is because his boring interviews are guaranteed not to contain unpleasant surprises, witness this extract from his recent Conference speech:

Successful negotiation with the EU27 will demand patience, experience, meticulous planning and steely resolution. And I know of no-one better-equipped to lead us through those negotiations than our brilliant new Prime Minister, Theresa May. And we should approach that negotiation with self-confidence.

For those who have failed to notice him entirely over the last few years, here are the basics:

b 4 Dec 1995 (60)
Shenfield School (local state school in Essex, now an Academy). 1st in PPE University College, Oxford.
1977-83 Speywood Medical Ltd, a small medical equipment company, long since taken over.
17 Jan 1984 set up Castlemead Ltd (reg no. 01783537), a housebuilding company. Its main subsidiary appears to be Castlemead Group Ltd (reg no. 02985505) inc 1 Nov 1994, 2/3 owned. Its most recent accounts showed turnover down to £10M and £0.75M loss. Castlemead Ltd is now owned by a trust, presumably for Hammond’s benefit – the standard device for claiming that a member of the government has no influence over a commercial company which he owns.
He also seems to have made a significant income from consulting work before entering Parliament.

An article in the New Statesman in 2009 claimed he was worth £9M, £5M of which was Castlemead. There does not appear to be enough information yet in the public domain to assess what Castlemead is worth today (if anything).

chairman Lewisham East Cons Assoc 1989-96
Elected 1997 (newly created) Runnymed & Weybridge, majority 9875
1997: Hague made him front bench spokesman for Health
2001: Duncan Smith moved him to Trade & Industry
2002: Howard moved him to Local Government
2005: [post election] Howard promoted him to shadow Chief Sec
2005: Cameron moved him to Work & Pensions
2007: [when Brown became PM] Cameron moved him to Chief Sec
2010: [post election] SoS Transport
2011: [post Liam Fox resignation] SoS Defence
2014: Foreign Sec
2016: May moved him to Chancellor

I have just wasted an hour trying to find out rather more about him than the bare bones above, with precious little success. I could find nothing that might give me some insight. His Conference speech was loyal, but fairly dull and uninformative.

Curiously, Anthony Hilton, the long-standing Evening Standard business columnist in the Evening Standard, whom I quite like, found much to criticise in Hammond’s Conference speech. His article yesterday was headed:

Phil’s six impossible things to do before Brexit


Hilton’s first point was to quote some data from a recent report by Simon Tilford (its deputy director) for the Centre for European Reform ( pdf ). The CER is a think-tank founded 20 years ago, broadly pro-EU, which appeared to campaign for Remain. Tilford (an economist formerly with the Economist and Nomura) claims that whilst the UK’s GDP growth appears better than other leading European countries:


that is because we are looking at GDP in local currency (in 2010 prices). But the pound has fallen over the period since 2000 from about 1.6 Euros to 1.14 Euros


If one adjusts for that, and indeed goes further using “purchasing power exchange rates”, then one gets a different result


I think I mainly come away thinking that this kind of comparison is tricky, but that we seem to have done better than Italy and Spain recently, and not too much worse than Germany. I certainly cannot see much reason to share Hilton’s gloom about the UK’s growth prospects outside the EU.

He is obviously correct to dismiss Hammond’s

We will do it by making the British economy the most outward-looking, most dynamic, most competitive, high wage, high skilled, low tax economy in the world” as hype. His comments on UK productivity require a whole article to analyse properly.

as hype, and I agree with him that the thorny subject of the UK’s productivity requires a full article, but then he has a canard about all our best (academic) researchers will be leaving because of worries about losing their EU research grants. The government has already indicated that it will essentially made good those grants post-Brexit from UK funds.

He then worries that many Silicon Roundabout entrepreneurs are immigrants but they would no longer be allowed in under a points-based system. That is obviously a reasonable concern, but we are way off getting that kind of detail about future immigration policy agreed. The domestic pressure for less immigration is hardly coming from high-tech areas in London, it is coming from depressed Northern towns in low-tech or old-tech areas.

Hilton then went on at some length about the housing shortage and the difficulty of dealing with it. I agree, but it is hard to complain about Hammond’s passing praise for one of his colleagues getting started in that area. Finally, Hilton complains:

Sixth was a statement breath-taking it its audacity from a Chancellor and a government about to embark on the biggest and potentially most reckless economic gamble this country as ever seen. “Conservatives … carry the burden of ensuring that Labour can never again wreck the British economy”.

I find that a revealing complaint. Surely democrats have to take democracy seriously. Hilton may spend his time hobnobbing with overpaid businessmen who would rather not face the challenges of leaving the EU, but the electorate decisively decided that was what it wanted. Fighting a rearguard action to reverse the decision is not helpful. What we need now is to make Brexit as successful as we can.