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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Why can't the Tories deal with their Islamophobia problem?

Labour may well be struggling to deal with the anti-Semitism within their ranks but the Tories have an equally toxic problem with Islamophobia.

The Guardian reports that a dossier obtained by them reveals that twenty-five sitting and former Conservative councillors have been exposed for posting Islamophobic and racist material on social media.

They add that the disclosure that 15 current and 10 former Tory councillors have posted, shared or endorsed Islamophobic or other racist content on Facebook or Twitter will increase pressure on Boris Johnson after he backtracked on a pledge to hold an independent inquiry into the issue:

Inflammatory posts recorded in the dossier, which has been sent to the party’s headquarters, include calls for mosques to be banned, claims the faith wants to “turn the world Muslim”, referring to its followers as “barbarians” and “the enemy within”.

In 2017, one councillor, who has been pictured with Johnson, endorsed a suggestion that all aid to Africa helping feed starving people should stop, allowing “mother nature take her course”. She replied: “It’s nature’s way of depopulation.”

The paper lists some examples:

• Beverley Dunlop, a councillor in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, who posted messages in two Facebook groups with more than 11,000 members between them. In one posted in 2016 she railed against the burqa, adding: “I hate to ban anything really but I’d suggest we start with Mosques!” In another post, she responded to a call for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party by hitting back last year: “How about them calling for an inquiry into Islamist rape gangs grooming underage, underpriveleged white girls [sic]?”

• The Walsall councillor Vera Waters who endorsed a suggestion that impoverished Africans should be left to starve, saying that famine is “nature’s way of depopulation”.

• Trevor Hales, a parish councillor in Sandiacre, near Nottingham, who complained on Twitter about Muslims in a stream of tweets last year in which he referred to them as “the enemy within”, claimed “spineless” governments had sold “us to slavery of Muslims”, and warned Sajid Javid: “How long are you going to allow this Muslim takeover.”

• Malcolm Griffiths, a councillor in Redcar and Cleveland, North Yorkshire, who is also chairman of South Tees Conservative Association, and liked Facebook comments in 2017 urging migrants to “go back to where they came from” and to “get the fuck out and go home”. In a separate post, Griffiths suggested Muslims were inbred.

• A Conservative councillor in Kettering, Paul Marks, who referred to London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, as a “vile creature” and liked a post ranting about the politician, which claimed he “will always lobby against anybody or anything which finds itself in direct conflict with Islam”.

The post added: “No doubt he will be voted in again by the exploding Muslim hordes that now dominate London and suppress any counter votes from the more white conservative outer London boroughs.” In reply, Marks wrote: “That this vile creature was a elected mayor of London tells me all I need to know about that anti-British city.”
Isn't it time the party sorted this out once and for all?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Does Tory-Brexit Party pact presage a hard no-deal exit from the EU?

In many ways it was inevitable that Nigel Farage would bow to all the pressure and make a deal with the Tory Party. After all Boris Johnson was his favoured candidate for Tory leader, while the dysfunctional deal the Prime Minister negotiated with the EU is much closer to the Brexit Party leader's position than that secured by Theresa May.

Nevertheless, the announcement that the Brexit Party would stand down in the 317 seats the Tories won in 2017 was a surprise, if only because of Farage's gung-ho insistence that this election was an all or nothing endeavour for his limited company.

As the Guardian reports, Farage has agreed to make way at the very last minute for incumbent Tories, but so far has been silent on those seats the ruling minority party want to take off others. Inevitably this makes a Tory majority more likely, but it also tells us a great deal about the nature of a new Conservative Government.

For all intents and purposes the Tory Party has become a shadow Brexit Party, committed to isolating the UK in subsequent post-Brexit negotiations with the EU. It is a pact that has the potential to wreck the UK economy, lead to the further persecution of EU citizens in the UK as well as other migrant workers, and undermine much of our industrial base.

There is no longer any room in the Conservative Party for moderates and pro-Europeans. They have tacked hard right, leaving many of their members and voters behind. The job of those parties committed to remaining in the EU now, is to convince Tory voters of that fact and deny Boris Johnson the majority he so craves.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Suppressed Intelligence report identifies nine Russian donors to Tories

The Sunday Times reports that Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has received a surge in cash from nine Russian donors, who have been named in a suppressed investigation into Russia's attempts to undermine democracy in the UK.

The paper says that oligarchs and other wealthy Tory donors were included in the report on illicit Russian activities in Britain by the cross-party intelligence and security select committee (ISC), whose publication was blocked by No 10:

Some Russian donors are personally close to the prime minister. Alexander Temerko, who has worked for the Kremlin’s defence ministry and has spoken warmly about his “friend” Boris Johnson, has gifted more than £1.2m to the Conservatives over the past seven years.

MPs on the ISC, which conducted an 18-month inquiry, were also briefed on Alexander Lebedev, the former KGB spy in London whom the last Labour government allowed to buy the London Evening Standard newspaper.

Lebedev’s son Evgeny invited Johnson when he was foreign secretary to parties at the family’s converted castle near Perugia, Italy. The future prime minister apparently travelled without the close-protection police officers that normally accompany senior ministers of state during the trip in April 2018.

The largest Russian Tory donor is Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, a former ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. She paid £160,000 in return for a tennis match with Johnson and has donated more than £450,000 in the last year alone.

Britain’s intelligence agencies are understood to be “furious” at the delay in releasing the report because measures to protect sensitive information have already been taken.

It is not known whether the Tory donors are named in the public section of the report, or whether they have been included in its confidential annex, which will remain classified indefinitely.

If this is accurate, then it is little wonder that government ministers have suppressed the report until after the election.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Another day, another investigation into a Tory shelved

And this time it is an inquiry into the Prime Minister himself. The Guardian reports that the scandal over Boris Johnson’s friendship with technology entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri has reignited when it emerged that the independent police watchdog has delayed its announcement on whether the PM should face an investigation into possible criminal misconduct until after the election.

The paper adds that the decision prompted fury from Westminster politicians and London assembly members who said it appeared that a ruling had been “suppressed” in order to protect Johnson from potentially damaging headlines at a crucial stage of the election campaign:

In a private meeting held before parliament was dissolved last week, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) officials agreed not to announce whether they were going to investigate “possible criminality” over allegations about a conflict of interest in Johnson’s dealings while mayor of London with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri until after the election.

Sources close to the IOPC investigation said the watchdog was on the verge of announcing its decision on whether it was proceeding with a criminal investigation.

The IOPC was tasked by the Greater London Authority with assessing whether criminal charges should be brought because of the then-mayor’s responsibility for London’s policing.

It is alleged Arcuri received favourable treatment due to her friendship with Johnson, including receiving large sums of public money for her technology firms.

The offence of misconduct in public office carries a maximum term of life imprisonment. Johnson has denied any impropriety.

We have already seen in the last few weeks, the scandal of the now-resigned Secretary of State for Wales backing a friend who collapsed a rape trial, being passed to a cabinet inquiry, enabling him to dodge answering questions on the matter prior to the election, the Office for Budget Responsibility being blocked from publishing damaging figures on the state deficit and debt, and Nunber 10 refusing to clear the publication of a potentially incendiary report examining Russian infiltration in British politics, including the Conservative party.

Can anybody see a pattern here?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Are the Tories just another misogynistic boys club?

Yesterday's Wales on Line reports that journalists finally tracked down former Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns while canvassing in his constituency. Now, those doorstep encounters are a series of conversations I would like to listen in on.

Are constituents challenging their Tory candidate on what he knew and when he knew it, regarding the role of his friend and employee in the collapse of a rape trial? Are they asking him if he lied when he said he didn't know anything about the circumstances of this collapse until last week, despite an e-mail suggesting otherwise? To what extent has this controversy impacted on the Conservative vote in the Vale of Glamorgan?

To date it seems that the Conservative Party, and Boris Johnson in particular, are going to brazen it out and back Cairns to remain a candidate in the General Election. They still have time to change their mind. The real question however, is what this issue says about the nature of the Conservative Party.

As far as I can see neither Cairns, any senior figure in the Welsh Conservative Party nor the Prime Minister appear to have apologised to the victim. Their main consideration is damage limitation. When challenged yesterday, Cairns gave a list of non-answers, did not apologise to the victim for what had happened and refused to account for his own actions.

I doubt if many voters will consider it an adequate answer to their queries if they are referred to a cabinet inquiry into whether Cairns has broken the ministerial code. Instead we have a series of white middle aged men focussing on their own careers and that of their party, apparently with no regard for the victim, her ordeal and whether their actions in backing Ross England were right or wrong.

It is little wonder that many people consider the Conservative Party in Wales to be nothing more than a misogynistic boys club. Isn't it time these senior figures grew some cojones and apologised to all concerned?

Friday, November 08, 2019

Tory fiscal mismanagement hidden by purdah rules

The Independent reports that Boris Johnson has been spared a potentially embarrassing spotlight on the state of the public finances after the official fiscal watchdog was blocked from releasing new figures on the state deficit and debt.

The paper says that Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill barred the Office for Budget Responsibility from publishing its revised public finance forecast on Thursday, ruling it would breach civil service “purdah” rules in the election period.

Chancellor Sajid Javid has come under attack for refusing to release the normal autumn forecasts for the economy after cancelling the Budget announced for 6 November.

One think-tank has predicted the deficit target will be overshot by £16 billion this year, because of the slowdown and big spending pledges made by Mr Javid.

All the political parties are proposing massive public borrowing to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements. However, if the deficit is greater than anticipated that could well stymie the next government's room for manoeuvre.

In the circumstances, it seems that the figure should be published so we can make our own judgement on what is and what is not affordable.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Former Labour MP urges vote for Boris Johnson

The extent of disillusionment amongst many Labour MPs at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership crystallised itself last night with the resignation of the party's deputy leader and an astonishing volte-face by retiring MP, Ian Austin, who is now urging voters to back the Tories.

The Times reports that Austin, who worked as a special adviser for Gordon Brown and in Downing Street, said that Jeremy Corbyn was “completely unfit” to be prime minister that he would be voting for the Conservative Party on election day.

“Voting for anybody other than Boris Johnson risks Corbyn getting into No 10 and I think that would be a disaster for Britain,” he said.

Mr Austin, 54, who resigned from the Labour Party to sit as an independent in February, has told The Times that he decided not to stand again in his Dudley North constituency because he did not want to “muddy the waters” and risk the Labour candidate getting elected. Instead he will encourage voters in this key marginal seat to back the Conservatives, who came second in his constituency at the last general election.

“Jeremy Corbyn is an extremist,” he said. “He’s allowed the Labour Party to be poisoned by extremism and racism, he supported terrorism, he can’t be trusted with our defence and he always picks the wrong side. To lead our country you’ve got to be able to say you love Britain and I do not think he is a patriot. He has sided with our country’s enemies, whether that’s supporting the IRA or saying Hamas and Hezbollah are his friends.”

By contrast, he said that Boris Johnson was “a patriot”. Although he insisted that “I’m not a Tory, of course I disagree with things that Tory governments have done”, he added: “I wouldn’t say Boris Johnson is unfit to run the country. I don’t think he is.”

Having voted Labour all his life from the age of 18 and been a Labour councillor in his twenties, Mr Austin said: “I am proper, decent, traditional Labour.” He explained: “Until Jeremy Corbyn became the leader I would never have imagined voting for anybody else. It’s been a difficult decision but in politics you’ve got to tell the truth and you’ve got to do what’s right.”

Mt Austin continued: Britain would, he warned, be poorer and less safe if Labour got into power. “It’s not just Jeremy Corbyn, I think John McDonnell is an extremist as well who spent the 1980s supporting the IRA. It’s not true that they were campaigning for peace, they were backing one side in a brutal civil war which saw people murdered in shopping centres, pubs and hotels,” he said.

Having worked at the Treasury under Mr Brown he does not trust the shadow chancellor or the Labour leader with the nation’s finances. “I think they regard wealth as a problem and people who create it as the enemy,” he said.

National security would also be at risk, he said. “What would Jeremy Corbyn do if Putin sent people to murder people on the streets of Britain? When that happened before he questioned the evidence provided by the intelligence and security services and he parroted the Kremlin line. I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn can be trusted to stand up to terrorists and he’s never supported any form of military action in his life proposed by the British government.”

The Labour leader’s long-standing opposition to Britain’s nuclear deterrent also worried him. “Would he sign letters authorising military action? I don’t think he would.” He warned that Mr Corbyn was instinctively anti-America and said: “He has consistently, throughout his entire time in politics backed the wrong side. I don’t think he can be trusted. I think the decent patriotic Labour voters should vote for Boris Johnson.”

Mr Austin’s greatest concern is the rise of antisemitism in the Labour Party. “Most shamefully of all they have allowed a party with the proudest record of fighting racism and standing up for equality to be poisoned with racism against Jewish people and it is a complete and utter disgrace,” he said.

These criticisms go to the heart of why Labour are struggling in the polls this time around. We will have to wait and see how they play out at the ballot box.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Another Government advertising campaign bites the dust

The UK Government is not having a good time with its propaganda. As the Guardian reports a series of government ads extolling the virtues of universal credit and purporting to bust negative myths about the flagship Conservative welfare policy has been banned because it is “misleading”:

In an embarrassing indictment of the policy before next month’s general election, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that a claim that people moved into work faster on universal credit (UC) than under the old system could not be substantiated.

Two other claims – that jobcentres will pay an advance to people who need it and that rent can be paid directly to landlords under UC – were also found to be unsubstantiated.

The adverts, part of a £225,000 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) campaign to detoxify UC, appeared in print in the Metro newspaper and on its website, as well as on the MailOnline, in May and June.

They attracted 44 complaints, including from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and the anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), who have called for the DWP to apologise in light of the ASA ruling.

The Z2K chief executive, Raji Hunjan, also demanded an investigation into working practices at the department.

“If it has misled the public on UC, its flagship policy, what else is it misleading us on?” Hunjan said. “The next government must engage with the compelling evidence that points to the harm UC is causing, leaving many people reliant on food banks and others destitute. Enough is enough.”

The advertorial purported to bust negative ‘myths’ about universal credit.

Time to go back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

What are the Tories hiding over Russion infiltration?

The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson has been accused of presiding over a cover-up after it emerged that No 10 refused to clear the publication of a potentially incendiary report examining Russian infiltration in British politics, including the Conservative party.

The paper says that Downing Street has indicated that it will not allow a 50-page dossier from the intelligence and security committee to be published before the election, prompting a string of complaints over its suppression:

The committee’s chairman, Dominic Grieve, called the decision “jaw dropping”, saying no reason for the refusal had been given, while Labour and Scottish National party politicians accused No 10 of refusing to recognise the scale of Russian meddling.

Fresh evidence has also emerged of attempts by the Kremlin to infiltrate the Conservatives by a senior Russian diplomat suspected of espionage, who spent five years in London cultivating leading Tories including Johnson himself.

It can now be revealed that Sergey Nalobin – who once described the future prime minister as “our good friend” – lives in a Moscow apartment block known as the “FSB house” because it houses so many employees from the Kremlin’s main spy agency.

The committee’s report is based on analysis from Britain’s intelligence agencies, as well as third-party experts such as the former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, and is subject to a final clearance from Downing Street. That has to come before parliament is dissolved on Tuesday if it is to be released ahead of the election.

Downing Street sources stated that was not now expected to happen in time, claiming the sign-off process typically takes six weeks. A No 10 spokesman added: “There are processes reports such as this have to go through before publication, and the committee is well-informed of these.”

However, it is understood the dossier has already been approved by the intelligence agencies themselves as part of a long clearance process that began in late March. Downing Street was sent a final draft on 17 October and had been expected to sign off the report by the end of last week.

The failure of the Prime Minister to give a good reason to the committee why the report cannot be published inevitably leads to claims of a cover-up. The dossier specifically examines Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum. While the committee also heard allegations that Moscow money has flowed into the Conservative party via emigres living in the UK making high-profile donations.

With a General Election imminent, surely it is in the public interest that this report is published, if only to ensure full transparency and to enable proper scrutiny of the process over the next month. The fact that the Government is refusing to do so begs the question: what have they got to hide?

Monday, November 04, 2019

The wasted taxpayers' cash in pursuit of elusive fracking dream

The UK Government's moratorium on fracking, announced on Friday, must rank as one of their biggest u-turns. The moratorium leaves the government with an option to restart fracking in future years. However, many critics believe the technology is not suitable for the UK:

“Fracking is utterly incompatible with our aims of ending the burning of fossil fuels in this country in a couple of decades,” said geologist Professor Stuart Haszeldine, of Edinburgh University. “Pursuing the technology of fracking while embracing the concept of having a carbon-free society is an example of national schizophrenia. It has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. It has also wasted a decade when we should have been pursuing other goals.”

One such aim should have been the development of the technology of carbon capture and storage which would involve carbon dioxide being captured, liquefied and stored underground in old mines or depleted oil reservoirs, added Haszeldine. “We have lost significant leads in developing this technology over the past decade when we should have been pursuing them energetically. Instead we have wasted our time on fracking projects.”

This point was backed by Professor Jon Gluyas, director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University. “The government ban on fracking is a neat way of ignoring the now inescapable truth that the projected shale gas potential for the UK is tiny at best. We have, though, as a nation wasted a decade hoping for more gas to heat our homes rather than installing ultra-low carbon geothermal heating like that used in much of Europe.”

The Guardian reports that Ministers have been condemned for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in their failed attempt to introduce fracking to the UK. Scientists also say that the pursuit of fracking has cost the nation a decade of effort that should have been expended on other, more environmentally friendly energy projects.

Whether anybody will be held accountable for all this wasted money, effort and time is doubtful. I wouldn't be surprised if, once the election is over the Government does another U-turn and start licensing drilling again. The vested interests in this industry are well-entrenched.

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