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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Labour's dissarray over Brexit continues

One of the biggest threats posed to the country and our economy by Brexit is the failure of the official opposition to adopt a clear position and to properly scrutinise the way the UK Government are dealing with this issue.

There are honourable exceptions of course such as Kier Starmer but, as reported here before, he is being constantly undermined by other Shadow Cabinet members.

The Independent reports that this lack of clarity is frustrating many within the Labour Party as well as without, with senior Labour MPs accusing their party leadership of paving the way for a hard Brexit while aping the populist language of Nigel Farage.

They say that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is facing a furious backlash over a speech, which urged Labour to “embrace the enormous opportunities” of withdrawal – instead of fighting to prevent its most damaging consequences. Mr McDonnell also horrified many high-profile backbenchers by accusing pro-Europe MPs of siding with “corporate elites” – a charge normally levelled by Ukip.

The most incendiary sections of the speech were briefed in advance to a right-wing newspaper only, adding to suspicions that the Labour Chancellor is attempting to bounce Labour into a tougher anti-Brexit stance. A string of former shadow ministers told The Independent that the shift would make it easier for the government to pursue the hard Brexit apparently sought by Theresa May.

Yet Labour, in alliance with up to 30 Tory MPs and the other parties, has a potential Commons majority in favour of staying as close as possible to the single market, to protect trade and jobs – a so-called soft Brexit.

Some MPs are prepared to give quotes to the paper but not do so on the record:

One prominent Labour MP said: “John gives the impression that we will simply lay down and accept a hard Brexit with joy in our hearts, but that is a million miles away from where the Labour Party should be.” A second warned: “If we carry on with that sort of language, it will play into the hands of the hard Brexiteers, who claim we can leave the EU without the downsides and the risks.”

And a third, a former minister, turned on Mr McDonnell for suggesting anyone making a pro-Europe case was somehow playing the game of “corporate elites”. “A lot of people see the EU as having done much to preserve peace, to introduce good employment and environmental standards and having allowed Britain to be a good place to invest,” he added. “They don’t want to be told that, if they believe those things, they are in the pocket of corporate elites – which is the Ukip, nationalist, right-wing position.”

Only the Liberal Democrats are outlining a clear and united position on the way forward and we are the only party advocating a referendum so people can decide to accept or reject the final deal.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Who is entitled to see our entire internet history?

As the Investigatory Powers Bill passes into law, internet providers will be required to keep a full record of every site that each of its customers have visited and that means that a number of government agencies will have the right to inspect our full browsing history.

The snoopers charter forces internet providers to keep a full list of internet connection records for a year and to make them available to the Government if asked. Those records will serve as a full list of every website that people have visited, rather than collecting which specific pages are visited or what's done on them.

They will be made available to a wide range of government bodies. Those include expected law enforcement organisations such as the police, the military and the secret service, but also includes bodies such as the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, councils and the Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust.

The Independent provides a full list of agencies that can now ask for UK citizens’ browsing history set out below:

Metropolitan Police Service
City of London Police
Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
Police Service of Scotland
Police Service of Northern Ireland
British Transport Police
Ministry of Defence Police
Royal Navy Police
Royal Military Police
Royal Air Force Police
Security Service
Secret Intelligence Service
Ministry of Defence
Department of Health
Home Office
Ministry of Justice
National Crime Agency
HM Revenue and Customs
Department for Transport
Department for Work and Pensions
NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
Competition and Markets Authority
Criminal Cases Review Commission
Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
Financial Conduct Authority
Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
Food Standards Agency
Food Standards Scotland
Gambling Commission
Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
Health and Safety Executive
Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
Information Commissioner
NHS Business Services Authority
Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
Office of Communications
Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
Scottish Ambulance Service Board
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
Serious Fraud Office
Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust 

I am at a loss why some of those agencies would need this power at all. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

What Brexit will cost us

As we digest the contents of this week's autumn statement and the economic forecasts of the Office for Budget Responsibility, it is worth reflecting on how exactly the decision to leave the European Union is going to hit ordinary working people.

The Western Mail reports on an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which concludes that workers face the “dreadful” prospect of real wages still lagging behind 2008 levels in 2021. Paul Johnson, speaking on behalf of the IFS told the paper:

“Overall real average earnings are forecast to rise by less than 5% between now and 2021.

"To put it another way around half of the wage growth projected for the next five years back in March is not now projected to happen.

“On these projections real wages will, remarkably, still be below their 2008 levels in 2021.

"One cannot stress enough how dreadful that is – more than a decade without real earnings growth.

“We have certainly not seen a period remotely like it in the last 70 years.”

He further warned that the “real value” of working age benefits such as the Jobseeker’s Allowance will “fall by 7.7% rather than 6.5%”.

The Resolution Foundation have also waded in. They expect a hit to wages, stating in their Autumn Statement analysis: “Average earnings are now forecast to be £830 a year lower than expected in 2020, with this decade now set to be the weakest one for wage growth since the 1900s.

"Growth of just 1.6% between 2010 and 2020 compares with an increase of 12.7% in the 2000s and over 20% in every other decade since the 1920s.”

The foundation warns that “real weekly earnings are forecast to grow by just 1.6% over the decade, compared to 12.7% in the 2000s and over 20% in every other decade since the 1920s”.

It further warns: “While top earners were hit the hardest following the financial crisis, the big difference looking forward is that the biggest losers are lower income families, with the entire bottom third of the income distribution set to see incomes fall in the years ahead.”

Brexit then is going to hit the lowest earners and those on benefits the hardest. Meanwhile Nigel Farage, who was instrumental in getting us into this mess, is set to go on a tour of the USA, where he could earn half a million dollars for 20 lectures. Nice work if you can get it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The figure they didn't put on the side of a bus

Any pretence that we will have an extra £350 million a week to spend on the health service surely went out of the window today when the Chancellor stood up in the House of Commons and outlined the financial consequences of the Brexit vote.

As the Daily Mirror reports, the Independent Office for Budget Responsibility's figures estimate the national debt will spiral above 90% of GDP. While estimates for growth in 2016 are marginally higher, up from 2 to 2.1%, the paper reports that they drop staggeringly from 2.2% to 1.4% in 2017.

The OBR said hugely increased borrowing will total £122 billion over the next few years. And its analysis shows £58.7bn of borrowing over five years was "related to the referendum result and exiting the EU".

According to the paper, the Open Britain group say that this means Brexit will cost £226 million a week, a far cry from the Leave campaign's claims of £350 million extra a week for the NHS that were plastered down the side of a bus.

If those who lied about the money the NHS would receive after Brexit and then left others to sort out the mess they created, had put on the side of the bus that actually it was going to cost us an extra £226 million a week and that the health service would not see an extra penny, maybe the country might have voted differently.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Distant memories of the campaign trail

There are many examples of politicians overreaching themselves on the campaign trail, making promises that prove to be impossible to keep, or miscalculating the deliver-ability of a particular policy, but I think it is safe to say that as in so many other matters, Donald Trump has broken the mould on that one too.

Will the great wall of Mexico ever be built along the shores of the Rio Grande? Can he really set up a register of Muslims, the fastest growing religion in the United States? And what about Obamacare? Has he already signalled a retreat on that promise too?

Ultimately, the pledges that are most difficult to deliver are those caught up in the rhetoric of the campaign, when Trump threw caution to the wind and sought to be as outrageous as possible to maximise his publicity and energise his core support. Now, he has started to row back from some of those positions.

The Independent reports that the President-elect has backed down on his vow to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. This has apparently disappointed many of his supporters who genuinely thought that he would do it.

And now there has been a second, equally fundamental u-turn on climate change evidenced in an interview with reporters and columnists of The New York Times. Trump told them that he accepted some possibility of “connectivity” between global warming and human activity and signaled he may after all embrace the new international treaty on emissions.

The paper says that Mr Trump predicted his supporters would get over their disappointment because 'his administration would “save our country” in other ways. That sentiment is unlikely to mollify Judicial Watch, a right wing group that seeks to influence the country’s legal landscape.

“It would be a betrayal of his promise to the American people to 'drain the swamp' of out-of-control corruption in Washington,” it fulminated later on Tuesday. “President-elect Trump should focus on healing the broken justice system, affirm the rule of law and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton scandals.”'

Trump hasn't even taken office yet and already he is acknowledging the reality of power. The problem is that there is still a substantial list of excesses to be put into place. We can only hope that his penchant for u-turns continues.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

UKIP continue to lose Parliamentarians

UKIP's unique record of losing MEPs at a rate unparalleled amongst any other political party has continued with the departure of their former leader, Diane James. Of the 40 people ever to have served as UKIP MEPs, thirteen, 32.5% of the total, have either now quit the party or been expelled

Once considered a rising star, Diane James left Ukip, saying her relationship with the party had become "increasingly difficult" and will now sit in the European Parliament as an Independent.

As the Independent reports, infighting has plagued UKIP since Mr Farage stood down, with one high-profile dispute involving leadership hopeful Steven Woolfe culminating in him leaving the party and claiming it was in a "death spiral":

In a statement, Ms James said the president of the European parliament, Martin Shultz, had accepted her request to stand as an independent.

"At a high profile public event in Cambridge last week, I was asked why I had not completed the process to become leader of UKIP," she said.

"I had little option, but to give the truthful response that, although nominated leader by popular vote in the membership, I found that I had no support within the executive and thus no ability to carry forward the policies on which I had campaigned.

"My decision to retire from the election process and not complete it was very difficult personally and professionally, given that Ukip has dominated my life and all my efforts for over five years.

"In recent weeks, my relationship with the party has been increasingly difficult and I feel it is now time to move on."

It is looking increasingly like Steven Woolfe may have been right and that UKIP, now devoid of a purpose, is in a death spiral.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The mummy returns?

Those who recall Margaret Thatcher's triumph return to the Tory Party Conference, when she announced that 'The Mummy has returned" in direct reference to a poster advertising an American action adventure fantasy film, may feel a twinge of Déjà vu at this weekend's news that Tony Blair is to re-enter politics.

The Independent says that the controversial former Prime Minister is engineering a comeback because he feels he can fill a political vacuum caused by Theresa May being a “light weight” and Jeremy Corbyn being a “nutter”. They add that Blair is sourcing premises near Westminster in order to relocate 130 staff to the UK’s political hub:

They add that a source allegedly told the Sunday Times: “He’s not impressed with Theresa May. He thinks she’s a total lightweight. He thinks Jeremy Corbyn’s a nutter and the Tories are screwing up Brexit. He thinks there’s a massive hole in British politics that he can fill.”

None of this is confirmed of course nor is their any indication as to what role Blair will seek to take up if the speculation proves to be true.

The account in the Independent as to Blair's views on Brexit is interesting:

In October, Mr Blair called for a second Brexit referendum to be held when it becomes clearer what EU withdrawal would actually look like. He said: “If you want to retain that access to the single market there will be various obligations that are imposed upon you, in relation to the free movement of people, to legal obligations…you are going to have to work out at that point, ‘are the freedoms that we’re going to enjoy…really so substantial that we want to leave the European Union?’.

“Another possibility is that you actually go for a much harder form of Brexit, you leave the single market altogether…then you’re going to be able to calculate, how much pain, how much difficulty, economic/social restructuring, is going to be necessary to make a success of that.”

Mr Blair added that people supporting Remain are: “the insurgents now. We have to build the capability to mobilise and to organise. We have to prise apart the alliance which gave us Brexit.”

In calling for a referendum on the terms of exit, Blair is much more in line with Liberal Democrats' thinking than that of Labour. Nevertheless, I cannot see Tim Farron picking up the phone and ringing him anytime soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Labour splits widen over Brexit

Theresa May's refusal to commit the Government to anything more meaningful than 'Brexit means Brexit' may well be keeping the Tories together for the time being, but that is certainly not the case for Labour.

The Guardian reports that the carefully brokered truce within Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is at risk of blowing apart, with the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said to be “furious” at John McDonnell’s description of leaving the European Union as an “enormous opportunity”:

How to tackle voters’ concerns about the free movement of people has become an increasingly fraught issue within the party since the EU referendum, with some backbenchers, including Emma Reynolds, Stephen Kinnock and Rachel Reeves, suggesting the party should back tougher controls.

But Corbyn, Abbott, and the shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, are keener to stand up for the benefits of immigration — though Lewis has suggested foreign workers could be forced to join a trade union before they can take up a post in Britain.

Labour’s policy on Brexit is discussed at fortnightly meetings of a “Brexit subcommittee”, chaired by Corbyn, with Starmer, Thornberry and Abbott present.

But McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, reportedly went far beyond the agreed line – and shocked some Labour MPs, including Starmer – when he used his pre-autumn statement speech in London on Tuesday to urge the party to seize on the opportunities opened up by Britain’s exit from the EU. One source described the shadow Brexit secretary as “absolutely furious” about McDonnell’s intervention.

McDonnell said in his speech: “Labour accepts the referendum result as the voice of the majority and we must embrace the enormous opportunities to reshape our country that Brexit has opened for us.

“In that way we can speak again to those who were left behind and offer a positive, ambitious vision instead of leaving the field open to divisive Trump-style politics.”

With both the Tories and Labour ripping themselves apart over Europe, those who are committed to remaining within the EU, those voters seeking to have a say over whatever deal is cooked up in response to the referendum result, only have the Liberal Democrats to turn to.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How high are the electoral stakes on Brexit?

The lay of the land is that the Tories and UKIP are committed to coming out of the European Union, the Liberal Democrats want a referendum on any deal and Labour, well Labour are all over the shop but seem to be leaning towards a soft Brexit.

Just what impact these positions could have on the future electoral prospects of these parties has been revealed by a new poll.

The Independent reports that a YouGov survey has concluded that the Liberal Democrats could beat Labour at the next general election because of their pledge to hold a second EU referendum.

According to the survey if all the parties except the Liberal Democrats said they would press ahead with Brexit, my party would gain 22 per cent of the vote, while Labour would score just 19 per cent.

The Conservatives would come first with 39 per cent of the vote and UKIP would take 14 per cent.

They say that the results would produce a notional Tory majority in the Commons of over 100 seats, according to an electoral calculus projection of the results.

Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP have all already said they would accept the result of Brexit – while the Liberal Democrats have said they would offer a second referendum.

The stakes are very high but Tim Farron's principled position on our membership of the EU certainly has the potential to help a Liberal Democrats revival.

Friday, November 18, 2016

UKIP may be asked to repay £150,000 in 'misspent funds'

The Guardian reports that UKIP is likely to be asked to repay tens of thousands of euros by European parliament finance chiefs who have accused the party of misspending EU funds on party workers and Nigel Farage’s failed bid to win a seat in Westminster.

They say that the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE), a UKIP-dominated political vehicle, will be asked to repay €173,000 (£148,000) in misspent funds and denied a further €501,000 in EU grants for breaking European rules that ban spending EU money on national election campaigns and referendums:

According to a European parliament audit report seen by the Guardian, Ukip spent EU funds on polling and analysis in constituencies where they hoped to win a seat in the 2015 general election, including the South Thanet seat that party leader Farage contested. The party also funded polls to gauge the public mood on leaving the EU, months before the official campaign kicked off in April 2016.

“These services were not in the interest of the European party, which could neither be involved in the national elections nor in the referendum on national level,” concluded the parliament’s finance watchdog.

“The constituencies selected for many of the polls underline that the polling was conducted in the interest of Ukip. Most of the constituencies can be identified as being essential for reaching a significant representation in the House of Commons from the 2015 general election or for a positive result for the leave campaign,” the report continued.

The ADDE also used EU funds for polling before the Scottish and Welsh elections in 2016, the report said. “The administration discovered a substantial number of activities for which financing ought to be considered as non-eligible expenditure,” the watchdog said.

The question has to be asked as to how exactly UKIP will be able to fund its party political activities after Brexit, when the option of using public money will not be available to it?

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