.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Can Boris Johnson kick his polluting habits to stop climate change?

It is difficult to see how anybodycan take the UK and its prime minister seriously when they talk about the need to tackle climate change. The latest example of ministerial hypocrisy is featured in the Mirror, who report that Boris Johnson has spent at least £216,000 on private flights since becoming Prime Minister, having taken more than 20 flights on private aircraft in two years:

The polluting PM pumped an estimated 52 tons of CO2 into the air with party political campaign trips on private jets and VIP charter planes.

It comes after the Sunday Mirror revealed Mr Johnson had travelled more than 1,200 miles in just two weeks on a £47 million Gulfstream jet owned by JCB digger magnate and Tory donor Lord Bamford.

Almost all of the private flights taken by Mr Johnson since becoming PM could have been made with forms of transport which produce far less carbon dioxide - often with little difference in travel time.

And it would have taken a year for a typical petrol-powered car to emit the carbon dioxide released by the private jet flights in just an hour.

Mr Johnson has sought to boost his green credentials ahead of COP26, with the government's Net Zero proposals including plans to replace gas boilers, encourage the switch to electric cars and plan millions of trees.

But he's resisted calls to encourage people to take fewer flights.

Research commissioned by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy was pulled from the government's website last week, shortly after it was published.

But the document called on politicians to “lead by example” in reducing their air travel.

“Actions can speak louder than words,” the paper read.

“And so the decisions of government and members of government signals the importance, validity, credibility, and moral authority of the net-zero message.

“Perceived hypocrisy can do a lot to undermine efforts to build public engagement and support.”

The paper adds that research by campaigners Transport and Environment found private jets are between 5 and 14 times more polluting than commercial planes per passenger - and 50 times more polluting than trains. They add that just 1% of the world’s population contribute around 50% of global aviation carbon emissions.

Perhaps Boris Johnson is being influenced by Car26.org who, according to this article on Open Democracy, is a “new campaign group calling for a referendum on net zero proposals and a pause in eco regulations until such a ballot is held”.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Government actions on climate change contradict their words

The Independent quotes Boris Johnson this morning as suggesting that civilisation could collapse “like the Roman Empire” unless runaway climate change is stopped. And yet as I pointed out here, his government's recent budget scrapped a planned fuel duty rise for the twelfth year in a row, effecctively offering a subsidy for drivers of polluting vehicles, and reduced air passenger duty (APD) on flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, adding to dangerous emissions.

The Independent also points out that new analysis has found that the post-Brexit shift in trade links away from the UK’s EU neighbours to far-flung partners like Australia, China and the US could almost double Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, an increase in annual emissions from UK-linked shipping of 88 per cent.

It is little wonder that Friends of the Earth have said this is further proof that the government is “missing the mark on all counts” over the climate implications of its trade policies.

Boris Johnson can conjure up as many classical allusions as he wishes, but without action his words are just more hot air.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Was this gunboat diplomacy an inevitable consequence of Brexit?

We already know that fishermen feel let down and betrayed by Brexit after unrealistic and undeliverable promises made to them by Boris Johnson and his brexiteer chums inevitably hit the rocks. But now the true consequences of the UK's imtransigience is starting to hit the fishing industry with both UK and French ministers digging in and making increasingly wild threats against the other.

As the BBC reports, the UK environment secretary, George Eustice has suggested Britain would retaliate if France imposes sanctions in an escalating row over post-Brexit fishing rights, while foreign secretary, Liz Truss has summoned the French ambassador to the Foreign Office over the seizure of a British fishing boat.

The paper adds that French ministers have also warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue is not resolved by 2 November — as well as threatening the electricity supply to the Channel Islands:

A British trawler was seized by France and another fined during checks off Le Havre on Thursday.

French authorities said the detained vessel did not have a licence.

Mr Eustice told BBC Breakfast the trawler had been granted a licence at the beginning of the year and the government was "trying to get to the bottom" of why it had subsequently been taken off the list given to the European Union.

France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to dozens of French boats, and argued that this breached the Brexit deal.

The country has warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute over fishing licences was not resolved by 2 November.

France has also warned it could cut electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as it previously threatened in May.

The deal that has been struck with the EU enables their boats to continue to fish in UK waters for some years to come, but UK fishing boats will get a greater share of the fish from UK waters. There will be a shift in the share phased in between 2021 and 2026, with most of the quota transferred in 2021. 

After that, there will be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out between the UK and EU. The UK would have the right to completely exclude EU boats after 2026. But the EU could respond with taxes on exports of British fish to the EU or by denying UK boats access to EU waters.

However, the latest events indicate that even that compromise is starting to break down. Brexit is going so well.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The wrong signals

With the climate change conference almost upon us, one would have thought that the UK Government, who after all are hosting it, to at least make an effort in setting the right tone. Instead they introduced measures in yesterday's budget that effectively offer two fingers to those seeking to avert global warming.

As the Independent reports, the Chancellor used his budget to scrap a planned fuel duty rise for the twelfth year in a row, effecctively offering a subsidy for drivers of polluting vehicles.

The paper says the move, which will cost the taxpayer nearly £8bn over the next five years, has drawn sharp criticism from clean air and active travel advocates, just days before the UK hosts the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow:

Jemima Hartshorn, founder of clean air pressure group Mums for Lungs, told The Independent: “The chancellor clearly hasn’t made the connection between the climate emergency, public health, the pandemic and the need for combining all of these in a responsible Budget that addresses future challenges but also ensures the health of children now.”

The UK continues to suffer from illegal levels of pollution linked to emissions from the high numbers of cars, taxis and lorries on the roads.

Ms Hartshorn said motor vehicle owners “receive much more generous subsidies compared with sustainable means of travel, such as public transport. This needed to be addressed in the Budget so that investment and subsidies from the government ensure that everyone is encouraged to travel in a way that is not polluting and harming our children.”

And then, as if to double down on his snub to climate change scientists, the chancellor said that from April 2023 air passenger duty (APD) on flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be reduced from £13 to £6.50 per leg, offset by increased rates for long-haul routes.

This, along with the freeze on fuel duty, was branded “astonishing” and “retrograde” by Friends of the Earth, coming just a day after the government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC) told the prime minister that his administration’s net zero strategy had “nothing to say” on aviation and must take further action to discourage people from flying.

Environmentalists are quoted by the Independent as saying that a Budget statement that spent longer on the reform of alcohol duty than the government’s net zero targets would effectively “extend the age of fossil fuels” in the UK.

The paper adds that the policy effectively pushes passengers to switch from rail to flying, by cutting the price of internal flights at a time when rail fares are set to see their biggest rise in a decade. This is the polar opposite of what is being done in some other European countries, which have increasingly moved to restrict domestic air travel where rail alternatives are available.

It is almost as if this government does not care about our future on the planet.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Another them and us decision by MPs

The Guardian reports that masks are being made mandatory again for all parliamentary staffers – but not MPs – amid concern over the recent rise in Covid cases and the safety of workers in the Palace of Westminster.

The paper says that it is the first reintroduction of measures by the parliamentary authorities since restrictions were relaxed over the summer an dthat those who refuse to wear a face covering will be told they must leave the estate:

New guidance was issued on Tuesday in advance of Rishi Sunak’s budget speech on Wednesday. It said that “all face-to-face meetings with colleagues should be avoided, unless there is a business need” and people should “space out and avoid sitting directly opposite each other in working areas [to] avoid close contact at all times”.

However, MPs cannot be forced to follow the same rules, so those who choose to continue following the law rather than the advice are free to do so.

Many Conservatives have been seen recently packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the Commons chamber, while Labour MPs have made a point of wearing masks.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, last week appeared to joke that his party’s “convivial, fraternal spirit” meant they were acting in line with the government’s Covid guidance.

It came after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said politicians have a responsibility to set an example in the battle against Covid, including wearing masks in crowded spaces.

Tory MPs have since been told by senior party figures to wear masks for Wednesday’s budget as it will be watched by thousands of people, and ministers have realised they need to set a better example to encourage mask-wearing.

A memo sent to parliamentary staffers and contractors said the change was “due to recent increases in Covid-19 across the country, which are also being reflected in parliament” and added “we are aware some of this guidance alters changes only recently agreed” but that the situation was “highly fluid”. It will be reviewed on 4 November.

So yet again we have a situation whereby MPs are asking others to take precautions they are not prepared to take in an effort to combat this virus. No wonder compliance is low and infection rates rising.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tory sewage shame

Fpr some reason Conservative MPs have been taken by surprise by the reaction to them voting down a Lords amendment to the Environment Bill seeking to place a legal duty on water companies not to discharge sewage into our waterways.

Of course if the amendment had actually said that then one could understand MPs' protestations of innocence centred around cost and practicality, but the Lords were more subtle and realistic than the story being spun by Tory Central Office. 

The amendment actually called on water companies to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage, a reasonable and achievable objective.

The reason for this amendment is obvious, but just in case the Tories have missed it, the Mirror sets out the facts in stark detail

They say that last year, water companies around the country allowed more than 400,000 sewage discharges into streams, rivers and the sea, lasting three million hours. That was compared to 293,000 hours of discharges in 2019:

Britain’s combined sewer system, dating back to the Victorian era, collects rainwater and waste in the same pipes, meaning it overflows in times of heavy rain.

Under a 2012 European court ruling, water firms can release rainwater and untreated sewage into waterways in “exceptional” circumstances to stop waste backing up in streets and homes. But environmentalists say better infrastructure, such as storage tanks, could prevent this.

Campaigners warn Lake Windermere could become “ecologically dead” because of sewage.

A plant in Ambleside let raw sewage flow into the lake for 1,719 hours in 2020.

Paul de Zylva, from Friends of the Earth, said: “Pumping sewage into our rivers and seas by water companies has become a regular cause of pollution. What is meant to be an exceptional act is routine.”

Hugo Tagholm, of Surfers Against Sewage said: “Our coastlines are struggling.” The Rivers Trust warns that 86% of England’s rivers are in “failing health”. Just one stretch of English river, the Wharfe at Ilkley, Yorkshire, has bathing water status, compared to 420 in France.

"In England, just 14% of rivers have good ecological status and none have good chemical status."

Welsh rivers are also suffering from this abuse, as evidenced by ths interactive map, a fact that did not prevent ten Welsh Conservative MPs voting against the amendment. Let's hope that they do better when the reworded clause comes back to the House of Commons.

Monday, October 25, 2021

UK Government embraces opacity

The Guardian highlights a growing trend in the UK Government to block and delay freedom of information requests, leading to accusations that they are waging a secret war against transparency.

They say that in a report published on Monday, the investigative journalism website openDemocracy alleged that last year was the worst year for transparency since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005:

It highlighted the government’s own figures that show that in 2020, 41% of freedom of information requests by the public to central government departments were granted in full. Government statisticians acknowledge that “this is the lowest figure since recording started in 2005”.

The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for freedom of information, dismissed the report as “complete nonsense” and showing “a total misunderstanding” of the act. It said the Covid pandemic had left fewer resources available to answer freedom of information requests from the public.

However, an analysis of the government’s annual reports on the Freedom of Information Act shows a consistent fall in the number of requests being granted in full over the last decade. This is also acknowledged by government statisticians who describe what they call either a “downward” or “decreasing” trend.

The Cabinet Office disputed whether this measurement was an accurate way of assessing the level of transparency within Whitehall, arguing that some requests would always be rejected in full because they concerned sensitive areas such as the working of cabinet committees.

The government's excuses are not washing with campaigners, however:

OpenDemocracy’s report accuses the government of exploiting a series of loopholes to delay the public’s access to information, or stonewalling requesters by failing to answer.

Public bodies are entitled to request more time to consider whether to release information. But openDemocracy said evidence suggested that this was often used simply to delay responses to sensitive requests.

OpenDemocracy also said emails had shown that political advisers working for ministers were vetting requests before decisions were made on whether to release information.

Yet another worrying trend from this increasingly authoritarian government.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Ideological battle moves back to the BBC

The assault on the BBC, our so-called public sector broadcaster, has been underway since the days of Margaret Thatcher, maybe even longer. The fact that at some stages the corporation is attacked from both left and right indicates that perhaps they are getting the balance right after all, though on many many occasions producers' idea of a balanced feature is perverse to say the least.

Now, the government, or its allies at least, see an opportunity to turn the tide in their favour. Laura Kuenssberg is moving on from the role of political editor and at least one senior Tory wants her replacement to be ‘pro-Brexit’. 

The irony of Julian Knight MP, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, even mooting such an appointment appears to have eluded him. You can't go around saying the BBC is biased, calling for better impartiality and then demand that it be stacked in your favour. Well, you can, but it's hardly consistent:

“This would be an opportunity for the BBC, maybe, to look at journalists who had a much more pro-Brexit [approach],” the influential Tory told The Telegraph.

Mr Knight added: “In front of our committee [BBC director general] Tim Davie could not name any senior person he had employed during his watch who supported Brexit. Maybe this is a chance to correct that.”

The senior MP recently attacked the BBC for not “getting on with it” after the Brexit referendum, saying: “It was not in touch at all over Brexit – it had a collective nervous breakdown in my view.”

The media select committee chair did offer praise for Ms Kuenssberg’s work, however, saying that she “will be a really sad loss to the role, she brings real insight”.

His call for a pro-Brexit political editor follows Tory concern about the appointment of Jess Brammar to a senior role in BBC News, despite an impartiality row over her old tweets.

Some right-wing media outlets drew attention to Ms Brammar’s now-deleted tweets, which were critical of Brexit. BBC board member Sir Robbie Gibb – former communications director to Theresa May – reportedly objected to her appointment.

After weeks of sniping from Conservative MPs, the former editor of HuffPost UK was given the job of overseeing the BBC’s domestic and international news channels in September.

If the independence of the BBC is to be maintained politicians in particular need to butt-out and let them get on with it. Surely, the chair of Parliament's media committee understands that better than most.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Britain's most expensive cinema screen

In some ways it is reassuring that the extravagant £2.6m Downing Street briefing room is getting some use, but is it really appropriate to turn it into a private cinema for the Prime Minister and his entourage, especially when he is still using No. 10 Downing Street for lobby briefings?

The Guardian says that Boris Johnson attended a screening of the new James Bond film 'No Time To Die' in this room after work hours on Thursday. It transpires that other films have been screened here as well and, although costs are met through voluntary donations and by donors, that does not detract from the fact that a room paid for by taxpayers for a specific purpose has now become and unofficial cinema rather than the briefing space it was intended to be.

As the paper says, the renovation of this premises took place under plans to hold daily televised media conferences at the venue, to be led by former journalist Allegra Stratton, who was appointed as the prime minister’s press secretary. But in April it emerged the plans had been scrapped amid concerns about the “political risk” involved, and Stratton was moved to become a spokeswoman for the Cop26 climate summit.

It is a vanity exercise and in no way a proper use of public money.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Johnson's levelling down agenda

Many of us had suspected that the so-called 'levelling up' agenda being mooted by Boris Johnson in an effort to retain red wall seats was nothing but flim-flam, and now evidence has emerged that gives some credence to that view.

The Independent says the cross-party Public Accounts Committee has found that government changes to education funding in England have redistributed cash from poorer areas to richer areas, with the new national funding formula cutting funding in the most deprived parts of the country by 1.2 per cent but increasing it by 2.9 per cent in the least deprived. They add that further cuts to pupil premium spending have also cut £90 million from the most disadvantaged children:

The findings come despite the government's rhetoric and repeated claims to be "levelling up" left-behind parts of the country.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the redistribution "ensures resources are delivered where they are needed the most".

But the cross party group of MPs says ministers “failed to take enough account of the impact of its decisions on individual schools and their pupils” and that adverse effects are falling “disproportionately on deprived local areas and schools”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Schools are facing a perfect storm of challenges with promises of teacher pay rises, per pupil funding changes and falling rolls but no clear plan from the Department for Education.

“Schools and pupils in deprived areas are being hit hardest by the funding formula at a time when the government’s commitment is to level up.

"Add to this the ongoing delays in the review of support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and some of the most vulnerable children are facing an uncertain future – on top of the impact of Covid.

Every part of government has faced challenges but the impact of the exam chaos, funding uncertainties and repeatedly delayed decisions is hitting young people hard and risks scarring their life chances.”

Time for the Tories to put their money where their mouth is.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Another trade deal, another flop

I woke this morning to the news that the UK have signed a trade deal with New Zealand. No doubt this will ne heralded as the best thing since sliced bread and a vindication of our leaving the EU. However, it will in no way compensate for the trade we have left since Brexit, and not everybody is impressed with the agreement.

The Guardian reports that the agreement is expected to add no value to the UK’s gross domestic product. They say that the deal may boost New Zealand’s GDP by $970m or around 0.3%, however, last year’s analysis by the UK government found that its effect on Britain’s GDP would probably have “limited effect … in the long run” – being between a positive growth of 0.01% or negative growth of -0.01%. And that is not all:

Minette Batters, the National Farmers Union president, said it would open the country’s doors to “significant extra volumes of imported food – whether or not produced to our own high standards – while securing almost nothing in return for UK farmers”.

She added: “We should all be worried that there could be a huge downside to these deals, especially for sectors such as dairy, red meat and horticulture. The government is now asking British farmers to go toe to toe with some of the most export-oriented farmers in the world, without the serious, long-term and properly funded investment in UK agriculture that can enable us to do so.

“It’s incredibly worrying that we’ve heard next to nothing from government about how it will work with farming to achieve this.”

Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, echoed the criticism and said the deal would generate just £112m in additional exports for UK firms compared with pre-pandemic levels. Referring to the price tag of a new national flagship, she claimed the total value for businesses from the agreement would be “less than half the cost of Boris Johnson’s new yacht”.

Thornberry said: “It is a deal whose only major winners are the mega-corporations who run New Zealand’s meat and dairy farms, all at the expense of British farmers who are already struggling to compete. But for British jobs, growth and exports, this deal is yet another massive failure.”

It is no wonder our economy is struggling.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Economy faces crisis as Brexit supply-side crisis bites

The Guardian reports that restaurants and hotels are wrestling with “terrifying” inflation running as high as 18%, bosses have warned, as supply chain disruption and labour shortages wreak havoc in the hospitality sector.

The paper says that food and drink producers have been squeezed by a combination of higher prices for raw materials, soaring wages, increased costs for transport amid the HGV driver shortage, and rising energy bills:

Inflation in the UK hit hit 3.2% in August, rising from 2% in July, according to the consumer prices index measure of inflation and figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Inflation is at its highest level in the UK since March 2012, and it is expected to increase further, adding to the squeeze on consumers just ahead of government raising taxes.

Soaring gas and electricity prices will also have an impact on household bills and the Bank of England expects inflation to rise above 4% this winter, well above its 2% target, increasing expectations that it will be forced to raise interest rates.

Manufacturers are facing price rises of between 30% and 40% for raw materials, according to Stephen Phipson, chief executive of trade body Make UK, which could become critical for certain firms if they are not able to pass on those costs.

“To the extent we are seeing now, they are not passing on all of it and that can only persist for a number of months, six months would be my best guess, before we start to see real failures in terms of businesses,” Phipson said.

Phipson said firms are, like many other sectors of the economy, suffering from the lack of availability of lorry drivers.

However, the government’s recent moves to improve the labour squeeze in the logistics industry – allowing drivers from abroad to apply for temporary visas and a relaxation on the number of deliveries permitted within the UK for foreign-registered trucks, also known as “cabotage” – have not yet improved the situation, according to trade body the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

Government policies on non-British workers, Brexit and the pandemic all have a part to play in this, but whatever the cause, it will be consumers who will pay for it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Who are the VIPs?

Some good news for transparency and accountability with the Guardian reporting that the UK government has been ordered to reveal which companies were given “VIP” access to multimillion-pound contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early months of the Covid pandemic.

The paper says that The Department of Health and Social Care has previously refused to disclose the names of 47 companies that had contracts awarded through the privileged, fast-track process allocated to firms with political connections but, thanks to a ruling by the Information Commissioner's Office, that may be about to change:

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last year found that companies referred as possible PPE suppliers by ministers, MPs or senior NHS officials were given high priority by the DHSC procurement process, which resulted in a 10 times greater success rate for securing contracts than companies whose bids were processed via normal channels.

The Good Law Project (GLP), which first revealed the existence of a VIP lane, is together with fellow campaign group EveryDoctor challenging the DHSC over the lawfulness of the VIP lane and large contracts awarded to three companies: PestFix, Ayanda Capital and Clandeboye Agencies.

The government is defending the claims, arguing that the contracts were lawful and the suspension of competitive processes for all PPE contracts – that in total were worth £12.5bn – was justified due to the health emergency.

A government spokesperson confirmed last December that another company, PPE Medpro, had been awarded contracts worth £200m via the “high-priority lane,” but the DHSC declined to say how the company came to be given VIP status.

The NAO stated in its report that 47 companies had been given PPE contracts via what it termed the “high-priority channel” for those with political connections, but the then health minister James Bethell said the government did not intend to reveal their identities because “there may be associated commercial implications”.

The GLP applied in January under the Freedom of Information Act for the company names to be disclosed, which the DHSC took nearly three months to refuse. It took a further four months to carry out a review, then said on 7 September it would publish the names, but failed to do so. The GLP successfully complained to the ICO, whose ruling requires the names to be published by 22 November and states that the DHSC breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to do so.

The GLP’s director, Jo Maugham, said: “If, and this shouldn’t be so, government needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to transparency, we’re here and we’ve shown time and again we’re happy to do that job.”

We now wait with bated breath to see if the list will be published as ordered.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Do we have the Justice Secretary we deserve?

Having been demoted from Foreign Secretary, after a near catastophic performance, Dominic Raab is setting out to make his mark in charge of the Justice department and already he has dived head first into deep water.

Raab's determination to undermine human rights legislation is very much in keeping with the authoritarian impulses of this government, but does he understand exactly what he is doing?

According to the Independent, the new Justice Secretary wants to legislate to “correct” court judgments in human rights cases that go against the government. That includes judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, to whose judgements the UK is bound by treaty. Has anybody told him that you cannot legislate to override international treaties without screwing up relations with other countries, including trade deals? Haven't this government learnt anything from the Brexit debacle?:

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said that he was devising a mechanism to allow ministers to introduce ad hoc legislation to “correct” court judgments, whether passed by the ECHR in Strasbourg or by UK judges, which he regards as creating new law through “judicial legislation” rather than the decisions of elected politicians.

“We will get into the habit of legislating on a more periodic basis and thinking about the mechanism for that,” he said. “Where there have been judgments that – albeit properly and duly delivered by the courts – we think are wrong, the right thing is for parliament to legislate to correct them."

Mr Raab said it was wrong for the European judges to “dictate” to the UK on how its armed forces, police, welfare system and health service should operate.

“We want the Supreme Court to have a last word on interpreting the laws of the land, not the Strasbourg court,” he said.

“We also want to protect and preserve the prerogatives of parliament from being whittled away by judicial legislation, abroad or indeed at home.”

The former head of the government’s legal service, Jonathan Jones, has branded the deputy prime minister’s proposals “muddled”, while a professor of public law at Cambridge University described them as “deeply troubling” and argued that they threatened to undermine basic standards of good governance. As if that mattered to Dominic Raab.

Human rights lawyer Jessica Simor QC, of Matrix Chambers, is absolutely right when she says Raab is peddling a “false narrative” that foreign judges were ruling over the UK court system, when in fact the Human Rights Act was introduced specifically to ensure that British people were able to have their rights upheld in a domestic court rather than having to go to the ECHR:

Watering down its provisions would simply mean more complaints going to Strasbourg and more rulings against the UK, unless the government intended to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether, which would be “a step into a dark place for this country and the world”, warned Ms Simor.

The most disturbing verdict however, comes from Cambridge professor of public law Mark Elliott. He has pointed to a recent Supreme Court ruling, saying that allowing a minister to overrule a decision of the judiciary simply because he did not agree with it would cut across “principles that are fundamental components of the rule of law”:

Mr Raab appeared to be suggesting changes that would give the government the power to correct court decisions through secondary legislation, which does not have to be subjected to scrutiny or votes in parliament.

“If that is what is in contemplation, then that is profoundly problematic,” said Prof Elliott. “Indeed it turns constitutional principle on its head.

“Ministerial power to do this would itself be deeply troubling. It would reassign a basic judicial role – interpreting the law – to ministers.

“Ultimately, this all strikes me as part of a project to enhance executive supremacy by treating courts, whether foreign or domestic, as unwelcome interlopers.

“And yet all of this masquerades as an attempt to protect parliament. The reality of this executive power project, as we might call it, is that it will be the executive that is the principal beneficiary of such changes, and the loser will be basic standards of good governance.”

In other words this is a project to circumvent the consitution and our democratic process.

The narrative that has is enabling Raab has built up over many years in the media and through the ill-informed prnouncements of right wing politicians seeking to make a name for themselves. In that regard, we only have ourselves to blame for allowing it to develop in this way. Should we not have been more vocal in making the case for human rights as Liberty have done in their response to Raab? They say:

“The Human Rights Act helped families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster to secure justice for their loved ones. It has enabled disabled people to challenge the removal of their benefit payments. It has been used by families to win investigations into the deaths of their family members after poor treatment and neglect, and it helped LGBT veterans get their medals back after they were kicked out of the armed forces.

“The Human Rights Act has made many people’s lives better, allowing ordinary people to challenge governments and public authorities when they get it wrong. No one should be above the law – but this statement, along with the Policing Bill, the Judicial Review Bill and the Elections Bill, shows a Government that is actively planning to erode our ability to access justice and stand up to power – in the streets, in the courts, or in the polling booth.”

Now is the time to take a stand, before it is too late.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

More Tory donor controversy

The lack of transparency around the awarding of government contracts and the failure to rein in political donations have collided once more to raise further questions about the influence of those who give cash to government parties.

The Mirror reports that a Tory donor whose father lends Boris Johnson his helicopter has won millions of pounds in government green cash. They say that Jo Bamford, son of JCB boss Lord Bamford, has set himself up in the hydrogen fuel industry – which will be big business at next month’s COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. The self-styled “green entrepreneur” bought collapsed bus manufacturer Wrightbus out of administration in 2019 and set up his own Bamford Bus Company. The firm has since landed a share of £700million-worth of contracts from government bodies to supply hydrogen buses:

While there is no suggestion of improper conduct, Tom Brake, director of the Unlock Democracy campaign group, told the Sunday Mirror: “As long as donors are allowed to gift huge amounts of cash to MPs and political parties, and MPs can switch seamlessly between being the lucky recipient of a donation or a paid consultancy role and a ministerial position, questions will be asked.

“Until a cap on donations is introduced – Unlock Democracy is calling for £5,000 per year – there is always going to be doubt about whether grants or contracts were won fair and square or whether cash for access and influence came into play.”

Lord Bamford and his family have handed at least £10million in cash and gifts to the Conservatives since 2001 – with son Jo also giving £74,854 since 2019. His donations include gifts to constituencies of several MPs now in ministerial jobs, including George Freeman, the new Energy Secretary.

A year ago, Mr Freeman entered into a contract to offer “strategic advice” to another of Mr Bamford’s firms – Ryze Hydrogen, which invests in facilities that make the fuel cells to power buses.

The contract was scrapped and payments returned after Mr Freeman was reported for a breach of the ministerial code for failing to inform a Parliamentary watchdog.

Fellow Tory Julian Smith, the former Chief Whip, is a £60,000-a-year adviser for Ryze. And a new £45m hydrogen production facility is set to open up a stone’s throw from the COP26 conference – with Ryze as a major partner.

The Government’s Hydrogen Strategy predicts the industry will be worth £13billion to the economy by 2050. Last year Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was “very, very keen that we push hydrogen”.

According to industry magazine Passenger Transport, that came after “sustained lobbying” from Mr Bamford.

While the businessman has thrown his lot into green investments, his digger mogul father still has a fleet of aircraft. And the PM has come under fire for using helicopters and jets lent to him by Lord Bamford for campaign visits.

Before May’s local elections and the Hartlepool by-election, Mr Johnson is understood to have used a Gulfstream 650 business jet to fly from Farnborough, Hants, to Wales and the North East.

The same month the PM used a Bamford-registered chopper on a 50-minute flight from London to Wolverhampton – saving just over an hour compared to taking the train.

Meanwhile, Wales-on-line reports that a Welsh company whose directors include a former adviser to Boris Johnson donated £20,000 to the Conservative Party at the same time that it secured UK Government funding worth millions of pounds. Hydro Industries, a water technology firm based at Llangennech in Carmarthenshire, was awarded a “convertible loan” from the government’s Future Fund scheme last year:

Hydro has donated more than £70,000 to the Conservative Party since 2015, including last year’s £20,000 payment.

One of its non-executive directors, broadcaster and journalist Guto Harri, was an adviser and spokesman for Boris Johnson from 2008 to 2012, when he was Mayor of London.

Jolyon Maugham, the director of Good Law Project, which is taking legal action over alleged Tory cronyism, said: “The fact that large sums of public money are going to those with close links to the PM, and who give money to his party, adds to the miasma of sleaze around this government.”

In March 2020 Hydro agreed a deal worth £150m to treat sludge from oil and gas exploitation in Egypt and has another lucrative UK Government-backed contract in Saudi Arabia.

Welcoming the Egypt deal in March last year, the Prime Minister said: “This is exactly the type of contract in the post-Brexit era that showcases the best of UK industry.”

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “The Prime Minister had no involvement in the signing of this deal or any private meetings with members of Hydro Industries. Any suggestion of a conflict of interest or impropriety on the Prime Minister’s behalf is categorically untrue.”

In total Hydro donated £71,000 to the Conservative Party between 2015 and 2020.

All of these donations are legal and above board and there is no suggestion of impropriety. Nevertheless, the impression these donations give of how politics in this country operates must be tackled through reform.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

How Labour's legal troubles are helping the Tories

Like many others I am looking at the clueless, incompetent Tory government we have in power at the moment and asking why it is that they have a ten point lead in the polls. The answer lies in the fact that the main opposition party is just as clueless and is failing to project a convincing alternative narrative to that of Boris Johnson. And then of course there is this.

The Guardian reports that Labour is spending significantly more of its cash on fighting its legal battles than on political campaigning, with party sources telling reporters that last year campaigning was Labour’s fourth-highest spend, behind costs linked to legal cases:

This week’s naming of five of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest staffers in legal action alleging responsibility for leaking a contentious report marked a new chapter in the war between two sides of the party. The report, which contained private WhatsApp messages, aimed to demonstrate bitter factionalism among staff but has prompted legal action from many of those named.

One senior source described the situation between the two sides of the party as “full-blown lawfare” – comparing it to how competing governments in South American countries have attempted to take down each other.

The party’s financial situation has led to the departure of dozens of staff in recent weeks including a significant number of its press office.

The toll of the ongoing legal action was putting off some potential donors, staffers said, though donations can be ringfenced. “We’ve had some amazing conversations with brilliant people, some of whom have defected from other parties, some never involved in politics before – but they don’t want money spent on a legal fight,” one party source said.

Last month, a senior party official revealed Labour was spending more than £2m a year on legal fees, when costs used to be 10% of that figure – about £200,000 a year.

There have been other financial issues that have led to internal questions too. The general secretary, David Evans, was reluctant to use the Treasury’s furlough scheme for fear of negative publicity, so Labour used party funds to pay for up to 20 staff to be furloughed on 80% of their usual pay.

One of the legal cases – by ex-staffers featured in a Panorama programme on antisemitism – has been settled. The most pressing focus for the party’s lawyers now is action by 27 former staffers named in the 860-page leaked report. There is also a separate legal action on data breaches alone, launched by non-staffers whose personal information is mentioned within it.

One of the ex-staffers who is part of the first claim, the former director of governance Emilie Oldknow, had been given leave to appeal her attempt to force the disclosure of the names the party thought were responsible, something Labour had resisted at a hearing in January.

But that battle has come to an abrupt end after a major change of tactic by the party. This week, Labour lodged papers at the high court seeking to place responsibility for the leak on two of Corbyn’s most senior advisers, Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy, as well as Georgie Robertson, Laura Murray and Harry Hayball.

The report, which was intended as a submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry into antisemitism in the party, was leaked unredacted in April 2020 and alleged that staff had worked to undermine Corbyn’s leadership and antisemitism disciplinary procedures and had sent abusive messages about senior figures.

Milne, a former Guardian journalist, worked as Jeremy Corbyn’s head of communications, while Murphy was his chief of staff. All five have vociferously denied leaking the report and sources said they would take advice on whether to countersue.

What makes it worse for Labour is that costs are going escalate as they submerge themselves in much more involved and complex action that will drag on for much longer. The paper says that there are other challenges on the horizon. For a start Labour could receive a fine from the ICO that might run into seven figures, there is pending action from expelled members and a threat from Corbyn to challenge the removal of the Labour whip, which has been withheld since a statement he made over the EHRC report.

I can't see that gap in the polls closing much for some time to come.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Levelling up from a Spanish beach

In the light of recent developments one moght be forgiven for thinking that Boris Johnson's commitment to the levelling up agenda was fairly superficial. After all, how many people living in red wall areas have the opportunity to borrow a Spanish villa for a mid-autumn holiday?

The incongruity between the prime minister's words and his actions grows when reading in yesterday's Guardian that Johnson's enjoyment of his pal's two swimming pools, organic farm and private woodland in the Spanish sunshine has even moe controversy attached to it.

The paper says that the sprawling Marbella estate where Boris Johnson has been staying this week may be an awkward reminder of the questions he faced – and managed to avoid – in the wake of the Pandora papers revelations last week:

Documents seen by the Guardian indicate the luxurious villa, lent to him by environment minister Zac Goldsmith, has been held by an opaque offshore structure based in multiple tax havens.

The papers suggest the minister and his family may have owned the property through a Maltese company held by companies in the Turks and Caicos Islands and administered by a wealth planning firm based in Switzerland.

Goldsmith refused to answer questions about the arrangements, though his spokesperson did not issue a denial.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Goldsmith, who has declared his interest in the secluded villa. But Johnson’s holiday at a property that appears to be held through a chain of companies in secretive jurisdictions will probably raise questions about his commitment to reforms designed to introduce transparency to offshore property ownership in the UK.

The documents also raise questions about whether Goldsmith, a senior government minister who was appointed by Johnson to the House of Lords in 2019, holds valuable and income-generating assets offshore.

How the other half live, eh! Perhaps there should be some levelling down, including means to tax the off-shore assets of UK citizens, as well as the other stuff this government talks about.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

More evidence the UK Government cannot be trusted on international agreements

As the Tory government desperately tries to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, the big question on the lips of most European leaders must be whether they can trust anything that UK Ministers say.

It does not help of course that since the agreement was signed by Boris Johnson, after a personal negotiating session with the Irish taoiseach, he and other ministers have spent every possible opportunity bad-mouthing it, and pretending it was imposed on them by the EU. That is a complete lie.

Unfortunately for Johnson and his cronies, there are some who are prepared to put a spoke in their works. The Spectator reports that the Prime Minister's former advisor, Dominuic Cummings has suggested that the government always planned to 'ditch' the protocol:

Cummings says that the priority was to deliver Brexit with the 'best option' available at the time and then later 'ditch' the bits that they didn't like once the government was in a more stable position. He says his claims do not amount to saying that Boris Johnson was lying when it came to the protocol. He says the Prime Minister can't have been lying as 'he never had a scoobydoo what the deal he signed meant'.

To say those claims have landed badly with the EU would be an understatement. Former taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was instrumental in negotiating the protocol with Johnson at a countryside retreat, has said that if the UK government acted in bad faith, they could not be trusted on future agreements either. Unsurprisingly the comments are viewed as very unhelpful inside government. The issue ministers face is that they are trying to broker a new agreement with the EU — including renegotiating the role of the ECJ — anything which suggests the UK side cannot be trusted makes that task all the harder.

The UK may come back empty-handed from these fresh negotiations after all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A deliberate attempt to avoid scrutiny?

If it wasnt bad enough that some Ministers have been governing using WhatsApp and private phones, the Guardian has revealed that government rules on these messages are creating a failure of transparency and accountability.

The paper says that ministers and civil servants are required by policy to set instant messaging chats to delete automatically, in violation of British law on public records and freedom of information. A legal challenge by the not-profit organisation the Citizens seeks to overturn this process.

They are concerned that the likes of WhatsApp and Signal, which have a disappearing messages option, are being used to avoid scrutiny of decision-making processes, including on significant issues such as the government’s coronavirus response:

At a high court hearing in London on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Cabinet Office’s “information and records retention and destruction policy”, disclosed in response to the Citizens application for a judicial review, obliges officials to delete instant chats.

The policy says: “Instant messaging is provided to all staff and should be used in preference to email for routine communications where there is no need to retain a record of the communication. Instant messages history in individual and group chats must be switched off and should not be retained once a session is finished. If the content of an instant message is required for the record or as an audit trail, a note for the record should be created and the message content saved in that.”

The Citizens says making a separate note, as opposed to preserving the actual message, is insufficient to comply with the law. Other documents disclosed ban the use of personal phones, email and WhatsApp by ministers and civil servants. The Citizens, which is being supported by the campaigning law group Foxglove, says the policies are “a confusing, contradictory mess”.

It is challenging the lawfulness of:
  • Use for government business of instant messaging services that allow messages to be automatically deleted, permanently, within a short period of receipt by ministers, civil servants and special advisers. 
  • Cabinet Office policy requiring the use of automatic deletion within all instant messaging services. 
  • Use for government business of personal devices, email and communications applications in breach, it says, of the government’s own policies.
After Mrs Justice Lang granted permission for the case to go to full judicial review, Clara Maguire, the director of the Citizens, said: “This is a good day for democracy. Lack of transparency has been at the heart of the UK government’s disastrous handling of the Covid catastrophe as today’s parliamentary report points out so clearly.

We will have to see how this plays out now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A public health failure - but where is the Prime Minister?

Just as he was missing in action at the beginning of the pandemic, Boris Johnson is also absent as the first damning report is published condemining his government's handling of covid.

As the Guardian reports, a landmark inquiry by the House of Commons science and technology committee and the health and social care committee has concluded that Britain’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was one of the worst public health failures in UK history, with ministers and scientists taking a “fatalistic” approach that exacerbated the death toll:

“Groupthink”, evidence of British exceptionalism and a deliberately “slow and gradualist” approach meant the UK fared “significantly worse” than other countries, according to the 151-page “Coronavirus: lessons learned to date” report led by two former Conservative ministers.

The crisis exposed “major deficiencies in the machinery of government”, with public bodies unable to share vital information and scientific advice impaired by a lack of transparency, input from international experts and meaningful challenge.

Despite being one of the first countries to develop a test for Covid in January 2020, the UK “squandered” its lead and “converted it into one of permanent crisis”. The consequences were profound, the report says. “For a country with a world-class expertise in data analysis, to face the biggest health crisis in 100 years with virtually no data to analyse was an almost unimaginable setback.”

Boris Johnson did not order a complete lockdown until 23 March 2020, two months after the government’s Sage committee of scientific advisers first met to discuss the crisis. “This slow and gradualist approach was not inadvertent, nor did it reflect bureaucratic delay or disagreement between ministers and their advisers. It was a deliberate policy – proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK,” the report says.

“It is now clear that this was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy. In a pandemic spreading rapidly and exponentially, every week counted.”

Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – “rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”, the report concludes, stressing: “This happened despite the UK counting on some of the best expertise available anywhere in the world, and despite having an open, democratic system that allowed plentiful challenge.”

The report says that the “impossibility” of suppressing the virus was only challenged when it became clear the NHS could be overwhelmed and questions why international experts were not part of the UK scientific advisory process and why measures that worked in other countries were not brought in as a precaution, as a response was hammered out:

While Public Health England told the MPs it had formally studied and rejected the South Korean approach, no evidence was provided despite repeated requests.

“We must conclude that no formal evaluation took place, which amounts to an extraordinary and negligent omission given Korea’s success in containing the pandemic, which was well publicised at the time,” the report says.

The MPs said the government’s decision to halt mass testing in March 2020 – days after the World Health Organization called for “painstaking contact tracing and rigorous quarantine of close contacts” – was a “serious mistake”.

When the test, trace and isolate system was rolled out it was “slow, uncertain and often chaotic”, “ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns”, and “severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic”. The problem was compounded, the report adds, by the failure of public bodies to share data, including between national and local government.

Further criticism is levelled at poor protection in care homes, for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and for people with learning disabilities.

Boris Johnson's decision to go on holiday to Spain at the exact time this report is being published is interesting. Let's hope he will be questioned on it when he returns and does not try and pass off the blame onto his recently sacked health secretary.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Will public pressure force sceptical MPs to act on climate change?

There is an interesting article in the Independent suggesting Tory MPs like Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood and Steve Baker, who are opposed to proposals to help the UK meet its legal commitment of ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050 because they are too costly, may well be out-of-step with their own constituents.

The paper says that polling carried out in their constituencies by Greenpeace reveals big majorities support the UK going further and faster, in the run-up to the crucial Cop26 summit in Glasgow next month:

In all three seats, around two-thirds of voters said the government should be “doing more” to address the climate crisis – while under a quarter said it was “doing the right amount”.

More than 70 per cent of adults in each constituency want the UK to be “one of the most ambitious countries in the world” – rather than wait for bigger countries, such as China, to take tougher action.

Between 64 and 71 per cent want gas boilers phased out and households given help to replace them with low-carbon emission heat pumps – a key current controversy.

And large majorities say that climate will be a “key issue for me at the next general election” in Sir Iain’s seat (67 per cent), Sir John’s (66 per cent) and Mr Baker’s (63 per cent).

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s policy director, called the trio “political dinosaurs seeking voters who have largely gone extinct within their own constituencies”.

And he warned the government of “a mutiny brewing” among voters unless it stopped “pandering to climate-laggard MPs that quite clearly fail to represent their views”.

“Lots of research and polling shows voters want the government to do more to tackle the climate crisis and they want them to do it fairly,” Mr Parr said.

“People understand that people on low incomes need to be protected, but that we can’t afford not to implement these policies.”

In the run-up to Cop26, Tory infighting has appeared to slam the brakes on CO2-cutting measures to put the UK on a path to net zero, with just three weeks until the summit.

Long-promised strategies to replace gas boilers and insulate homes have yet to appear – while the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, came under fire for failing to even mention climate in his conference speech.

Unfortunately, this polling does not appear to have moved the sceptics from their position:

The Tory trio have warned the party’s new ‘Red Wall’ voters will not accept higher household costs – or criticised the UK for acting while fast-developing nations drag their heels.

Sir Iain, who must defend a tiny majority of 1,262 in Chingford and Woodford Green, in north east London, has accused Boris Johnson of a “frenzied determination to hit the arbitrary net zero target”.

He claimed that “weaning Britain off petrol and onto electric cars” would result in a “growing dependency on a brutal Chinese regime”, where most batteries are made.

Sir John, who enjoys a 7,383 majority in Wokingham, asked, in August: “Why should UK people be told to fit expensive heat pumps they don’t want and can’t afford, when China and Germany keep on burning coal on an industrial scale to dominate export markets?”

And Mr Baker, who leads by 4,214 votes in Wycombe, became a trustee of the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, set up by former chancellor, Nigel Lawson, to challenge “harmful” CO2-cutting policies.

“We’ll have another absolute political fiasco if we don’t confront the cost of net zero now,” he said in August – warning Tory voters would desert to Reform UK, formerly the Brexit Party.

I suppose we will have to wait until the next general election to see whether the voters in these three constituencies are prepared to cast their votes for change or to keep the dinosaurs in place.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Tories are the new authoritarians

As Liberty point out there is already a strong authoritarian streak running through this Conservative government. They point out that during the pandemic, the Government frequently made drastic changes to our rights and freedoms with barely a moment’s notice with next to no oversight from Members of Parliament. COVID regulations have been created and amended upwards of 425 times – with many coming into force before or on the same day that MPs first had a chance to debate these changes.

They add that the Government is shutting down accountability by trying to make it much more difficult to challenge the powerful in court, they are legislating to gag protestors and to prevent people publicly standing up for their beliefs, they have set up a a secret ‘clearing house’ for freedom of information requests, regularly screening hundreds of requests from journalists and campaigning organisations before refusing to release information to them, and they are introducing voter suppression measures to make it harder for their opponents to win elections.

So really it should be no surprise to see a backbench Tory MP urging them to go further. The Mirror reports, Stoke-on-Trent North MP, Jonathan Gullis, has called on teachers who use the phrase “white privilege” to be disciplined and reported to Prevent as extremists. He also wants teachers who show support for Labour in the classroom to be sacked:

The phrase ‘white privilege’ is used to describe unseen advantages for people with white skin, in a society where most other people are of the same ethnic background as them.

But Mr Gullis claimed: “The term white privilege… is an extremist term, it should be reported to Prevent, because it is an extremist ideology.”

Prevent is a government programme to tackle extremist ideology that could lead to terrorism.

Mr Gullis continued: “It’s racist to actually suggest everyone who’s white somehow is riddled with privilege.

“So I hope that will be reported, I hope that will be looked into, and any teacher who’s perpetuated in the classroom ultimately should face a disciplinary hearing at the very least.

“Because it’s not what children should be listening to, it’s not appropriate for the classroom.

“The classroom is a place to impart knowledge, not to impart political ideology of the teacher standing in front of you.”

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “The idea that white privilege exists isn’t extremist, it’s a widely accepted fact.

"These comments betray a wider desire in the Tory party to drive a wedge between working class communities, crack down on free speech in education, and impose right-wing values on teachers.

In many ways, this MP is putting up straw men to be knocked down, but underlying his remarks is a worrying lack of commitment to freedom of thought and freedom of speech. This government is becoming more and more authoritarian and that should worry us all.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Will the royal family step up to the plate in tackling climate change?

According to the Guardian, bpth the Queen and Prince Charles are due to attend the Cop26 climate summit, which starts on 31 October. It seems apt therefore that the conservationist and broadcaster Chris Packham has used this moment to call on the royal family to “step up” by committing to rewilding their estates before Cop26:

The royal family is the UK’s biggest landowning family with an estate that includes lands held by the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall and the Queen. According to calculations by the rewilding campaign group Wild Card, the family owns more than 323,748 hectares (800,000 acres) of land, including the crown estate, which is equivalent to double the area of Greater London or 1.4% of the UK.

“That’s a very large amount of land,” said Packham, 60. “And quite a lot of it is not in what I would call good ecological condition.”

Citing Balmoral as an example, he said ideally the 20,234-hectare estate should be covered in temperate rainforest. But instead it is largely managed for grouse shooting and deer stalking. “So that land is not working to its greatest advantage to us at this critical point.” He also said that overall, royal land had less forest cover than the national average.

Balmoral estate in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is largely managed for grouse shooting and deer stalking.

“With 1.4% of the land surface they could do enormous good. Leading by example is the best way to lead and a lot of people follow their example,” he added.

The benefits of rewilding include carbon capture, biodiversity and flood prevention. The UN has said the world must rewild and restore an area the size of China by 2030 in order to meet climate and nature commitments.

Given that such a drastic move would mean that the royals would have to stop hunting the wildlife for sport, I am not holding my breath, but surely it is time for leadership by example, not just words.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The continuing scandal of government covid contracts

I don't believe that details of the UK Government's independent covid inquiry have yet been announced, but if it does not include a serious and detailsd look at the awarding of contracts for PPE and other essentials then there should be questions as to why not.

The Independent reports on the latest news in this saga, with calls for Boris Johnson’s government to end “secrecy” after it emerged that a Covid contract handed to a Conservative Party donor’s firm is still under wraps after 18 months.

The paper says that Clipper Logistics – whose boss has donated £730,000 to the Tories – secured a deal to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) last year without facing any rival bids, but government figures now show the deal for the firm’s services was renewed at £650,000 a month – which means the contract has cost the taxpayer an estimated £11m.

This firm initially won a three-month government contract worth £1.3m to take responsibility for the delivery of PPE to all NHS Trusts in March 2020. The contract was then extended to £1.95m for another three months, followed by “monthly extensions at estimated values of £650,000”. The government has also confirmed that Clipper Logistics have “distributed all PPE since April 2020”, taking the total value of the contract since last spring to £11m:

Amid an outcry over alleged cronyism, a court ruling in March found that 100 Covid contracts had not yet been released when Mr Johnson told MPs they were “on the record for everyone to see”.

It followed a High Court ruling which found that the government had acted unlawfully by handing out contracts during the pandemic by failing to publish details in a timely way.

Ministers have also faced flak over “eye-watering” levels of waste. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found in July that 2.1 billion items of PPE ntended for the NHS had been deemed unfit.

And last month health minister Lord Bethell admitted the government was in dispute over £1.2bn worth of PPE deemed “substandard” or undelivered.

The Good Law Project campaign group – which has taken legal action in bid to get Lord Bethell’s to hand over phone messages – said the contracts in question amounted to 10 per cent of the money spent on PPE at the peak of the pandemic.

Surely the Covid inquiry must provide clarity and transparency on these dealings.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

My bleeding heart and the struggling Tory MPs

We have just seen a £20 a week cut in universal credit, national insurance is going up for everybody but the super-rich, the demand for food banks continues to grow, furlough payments have ended leaving many people jobless and worse off, and wages are struggling to keep pace with inflation, having barely recovered fron the pandemic, yet a Tory MP is claiming that £82,000 a year is not enough to live on.

The Independent reports on the view of Worthing West Conservative MP, Sir Peter Bottomley, that some MPs are finding it “really grim” to live on a salary of £82,000. Mr Bottonley, who is well past the normal retirement age at 77 and currently Father of the House, believes that the annual salary, which does not include expenses and perks, should be higher. This is despite the fact that the median salary in the UK is just over £31,000:

In an interview with the New Statesman, Sir Peter insisted that MPs should get paid as much as GP – about £100,000 on average in England.

An increase of £18,000 a year to MPs’ salaries would represent a pay rise of almost 22 per cent. The government this year offered NHS staff a rise of 3 per cent.

Sir Peter said: “I take the view that being an MP is the greatest honour you could have, but a general practitioner in politics ought to be paid roughly the same as a general practitioner in medicine.

“Doctors are paid far too little nowadays. But if they would get roughly £100,000 a year, the equivalent for an MP to get the same standard of living would be £110-£115,000 a year.

“It’s never the right time, but if your MP isn’t worth the money, it's better to change the MP than to change the money.”

While Sir Peter said he did not struggle financially, he believed the situation was “desperately difficult” for newer MPs.

He said: “I don’t know how they manage. It’s really grim.”

His comments came as ministers pressed ahead with a cut Universal Credit that charities have warned will plunge thousands of people into poverty.

My heart bleeds for the dire straits these MPs find themselves in. Perhaps they should find themselves a better paying job and leave politics to those who have a better understanding of how people live and survive on far less than an MPs salary.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Farce in the Senedd as opposition screw up

I have been away for 12 days and thus not been blogging, despite there being plenty to blog about. I did not expect to come home though to a classic screw-up by an incompetent opposition party in the Welsh Senedd.

As the BBC report, mandatory Covid passes in nightclubs and large events will now be introduced in Wales as planned on 11 October after Welsh ministers won a knife-edge Senedd vote, with 28 politicians voting for and 27 voting against. The public will be expected to show evidence of being fully vaccinated or having a recent negative Covid test at these events.

If all opposition MSs had taken part the government would have lost in a tie, with the Tories, Lib Dems and Plaid opposed to the scheme and the Presiding Officer voting against, however Conservative Vale of Clwyd Member of the Senedd Gareth Davies did not take part in the vote, with the Tories citing "technical difficulties" for what happened.

Appareently, the Tory whips allowed him to go to their Manchester conference and failed to get him online in time to cast his vote. The excuse of technical difficulties does not wash. Every MS's first duty is to the Senedd to which they have been elected, he chose an alternative course and an opportunity to defeat the government on what for the Tories is a point of principle, was lost.

Personally, I am ambivalent about Covid passports, but if I had still been in the Senedd I would have made sure I was listening and participating in the debate and I would have cast my vote. Only a bad workman blames his tools.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?