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Friday, March 31, 2023

Can we have a referendum please, Rishi?

The Independent reports that the UK will become the first European nation to join an Indo-Pacific trade pact in a deal Rishi Sunak has hailed as putting the UK in a “prime position” globally.

The paper says that the deal, which would see the UK join countries including Malaysia, Japan and Australia, would “boost the UK economy by £1.8bn in the long run”, a figure dwarfed by the long term cost of Brexit.

The unanswered question however is why the British public has not been given a say in this decision. After all we had a referendum to both join and to leave the European single market, why is this different? No doubt there will be regulations we will have to agree to in order to trade within this bloc, how is that different to the regulations we signed up to when we were in the EU?

Ministers need to provide answers on vital issues, including on consumer safety, food safety, data protection, and environmental protections. And we need a referendum.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Regrets, we've had a few

The Independent reports on an interesting poll that shows that the British public has more confidence in the EU than the UK parliament.

The paper says that confidence in the Westminster parliament has plummeted 10 points to just 22 per cent since the Brexit referendum, and that although the popularity of the EU has lagged behind parliament among Britons since the early 1980s, confidence in Brussels has shot up seven points to 39 per cent since Brexit:

The findings came from analysis of more than 20 countries by the Policy Institute at King’s College London (KCL) as part of the World Values Survey – one of the largest social surveys in the world.

In further evidence of Brexit regret, only 24 per cent of people said they were “happy” with Britain’s exit from bloc. Some 49 per cent said they unhappy about it.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the KCL Policy Institute said: “Confidence in parliament has halved since 1990; we’re among the least likely of more than 20 countries in the study to have confidence in the government.”

He added: “Our confidence in the EU has also bounced back post-Brexit, and now we’re much more likely to have confidence in it than our own parliament and government.”

Of course this is just one poll, but it does show the sort of shift in attitudes that should encourage pro-EU parties like the Liberal Democrats to be a bit more assertive in the way that they campaign on this issue. How about it, Ed Davey?

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

UK Government to reintroduce Victorian prison hulks?

In a remarkable feat of synchronicity, the week that the BBC starts to air a new adaptation of Great Expectations, the Tory Government announces that they intend to house asylum seekers on barges and cruise ships, a modern day equivalent of the prison hulk that dominates the opening chapters of Dickens' novel.

As the website Exploring London explains, floating prisons known as ‘hulks’ were a regular site on the Thames in London between the late 18th century and mid-19th century, used to house convicts awaiting transportation to British penal colonies including in what is now Australia.

The ‘hulks’ were actually decommissioned warships, dismasted and repurposed for the purpose of housing prisoners. They add that conditions on board the vessels were indeed appalling and disease spread quickly with mortality rates of 30 per cent not uncommon. Prisoners were kept chained when aboard and floggings handed out as punishment for any offences. Food and clothing were of poor quality.

The Independent says that migrants arriving in the UK via small boats could be housed in ferries and barges as well as disused military bases under government plans to reduce the spending on hotels, with immigration minister Robert Jenrick planning to announce the use of two RAF sites as he tries to reduce the £6.8m a day spends on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers.

They add that the Home Office is looking at housing asylum seekers on giant barges used for offshore construction projects, while other reports indicate ministers are also looking at disused cruise ships, including one from Indonesia that could be moored off the south-west coast.

These drastic and inhuman measures are the result of policy failure by the UK Government. They have failed to provide legal routes to clain asylum, failed to process those who do ask for sanctuary in good time and are failing to work with other countries to manage claims. As a result the asylum system is spiralling out of control with Ministers floundering cluelessly as to how to turn the situation around.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The damage caused by Brexit

The Independent reports on the judgement of the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), Richard Hughes that the impact of Brexit on the UK economy is on the same “magnitude” as the Covid pandemic and energy price crisis, and that it will take five years before people’s spending power recovers to pre-coronavirus levels.

They say that Hughes confirmed that it will take five years before people’s spending power recovers to pre-coronavirus levels:

Asked how much stronger the economy would have been without Brexit, he told the BBC: “We think that, in the long run, [Brexit] reduces our overall output by around 4 per cent compared to had we remained in the EU.”

While the OBR first predicted a 4 per cent long-term hit to GDP in 2021, the chairman has been reluctant to be drawn into assessing the seriousness of the damage from Britain’s exit from the bloc.

Grilled by host Laura Kuenssberg on the scale of the harm done, Mr Hughes said: “I’ve struggled to put it in any kind of sensible context. It’s a shock to the UK economy of the order of magnitude to other shocks that we’ve seen from the pandemic, from the energy crisis.”

The OBR chief said the country is undergoing the “biggest squeeze on living standards” on record. “But we do expect, as we get past this year and we go into the next three or four years, that real income starts to recover.”

He added: “But it’s still the case that people’s real spending power doesn’t get back to the level it was before the pandemic even after five years, even by the time we get to the late 2020s.”

Mr Hughes said economic growth had been held back because of “supply constraints” – pointing to labour shortages and an investment slump.

“We’ve lost around 500,000 people from the labour force, we’ve seen stagnant investment since 2016 and also our productivity has slowed dramatically since the financial crisis and not really recovered,” he said.

The paper adds that in December, the Centre for European Reform (CER) found that Brexit cost the UK a staggering £33bn in lost trade, investment and growth. They say that the CER also estimated the tax loss from Brexit at around £40bn:

The research – first shared with The Independent – showed that by June of this year Britain’s economy was 5.5 per cent smaller than it would have been if the country had remained in the EU.

Brexit has cost households more than £5.8bn in higher supermarket bills – pushing up UK food prices by 6 per cent, a study by the Centre for Economic Performance also found in December.

I don't recall seeing any of his on the side of a bus in 2016.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Welsh Labour Government emulate John Redwood

Those of us who have been in politics a long time will remember the huge fuss, especially from Labour spokespeople, when Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood returned £100m of the Welsh Office's budget unspent to the Treasury in 1995 at a time when public services were under-pressure and the Welsh economy was under the cosh. 

Well it seems that the Welsh Labour Government have just repeated the trick, though in this case it wasn't intentional, just incompetence in not spending the money on time.

Wales-on-line reports that the UK Government has taken back £155m allocated to Wales because the Welsh Government hadn't spent it:

Most Welsh Government funds are held with in the UK Government Banking Service and the Treasury has taken back £155.5m from the Cardiff Bay administration's balance because it exceeded the amount the UK Government allows the devolved administration to carry forward at the end of the financial year.

The figure emerged as part of the scrutiny of the Welsh Government's accounts by the Senedd's Public Affairs and Public Accounts Committee and has caused controversy. Wales' finance minister Rebecca Evans called the decision "completely arbitrary" and the Welsh Government said it was "wholly unacceptable" and exposed the fundamental flaws in the devolution settlement.
However the committee, which is made up of one member of each political party and is chaired by Conservative MS Mark Isherwood, blamed the Welsh Government for "poor record keeping and mismanagement of public accounts".

This figure is the result of the difference between the balance of the Wales Reserve on April 1 2021, £505.5 million, and the amount that the UK government has set as a limit for the reserve at the end of each financial year of £350 million.

The Welsh Government said the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had rejected its request to carry forward funds in excess of the Wales Reserve limit In a letter, Wales' finance minister Rebecca Evans said she had "pressed the Chief Secretary to the Treasury repeatedly to allow additional flexibility for this excess to be made available to Wales going forward" and had made a "number of reasonable and pragmatic suggestions for how this could be achieved".

She added that the decision by the Treasury was "completely arbitrary" and "does not fully recognise the arrangements agreed with devolved governments" and that "all these requests have been denied". She went on to say: "As a result, Wales will be deprived of £155.5m which we should have been able to carry forward - a position I have expressed to the Chief Secretary as wholly unacceptable."

The committee questioned why the Welsh Government “waited so long to be told it could not do as it wished with the underspend, and why such a request was made retrospectively”. It said the Welsh Government “appears to have assumed, based on previous HM Treasury decisions, that it would be granted flexibility to use the funding”.

The committee said this raises questions as to whether making a request sooner may have enabled the funds to be used, as it warned “lessons must be learnt to ensure such vital funding is not lost from Wales again”.

Chairman of the Papac, Mark Isherwood, a Conservative Member of the Senedd for North Wales, said: “We are very concerned that significant funding was lost to Wales as a result of the underspend in 2020-21. This money could have been used to fund essential services and it is especially frustrating now when there are such pressures on public funding. “It is one of many examples where poor record keeping and mismanagement of public accounts has cost the people of Wales.”

Given the pressures on the Welsh Government in terms of pay claims, the need to maintain bus subsidies and many more, the failure too spend this money is unforgiveable.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Time to derail the gravy train

The extent to which MPs are raking in cash from secondary employment, instead of doing the full time job they have been elected to, is revealed in today's Observer, who report that former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and former health secretary, Matt Hancock, agreed to work for £10,000 a day to further the interests of a fake South Korean firm after apparently being duped by the campaign group Led by Donkeys.

The paper says that Kwarteng attended a preliminary meeting at his parliamentary office and agreed in principle to be paid the daily rate after saying he did not require a “king’s ransom”. When Hancock was asked his daily rate, he responded: “It’s 10,000 sterling.”

They add that Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, also attended an online meeting for the fake foreign firm from his parliamentary office. When asked about the limits on arranging meetings, he made clear he could not advocate on behalf of the interest but said he may be able to advise the firm on who to approach in government. He said a rate of about £6,000 a day “feels about right” and any payments would be on a public register:

A fourth MP, former minister Stephen Hammond, who had been approached, said this weekend he considered he had been the victim of a “scam”. He said he thought he was engaged in a preliminary discussion with a company but “it turns out this company was fake, with a fake website”. Hancock’s spokesperson said he had acted “entirely properly” and criticised what he described as the “illegal publication of a private conversation”.

The senior politicians have complied with all relevant rules and referred to their obligation to their constituents during preliminary meetings. The Led by Donkeys project, conducted with investigative reporter Antony Barnett, comes at a time when people face a cost of living crisis. The campaign group released a report on its investigation on Twitter on Saturday, with recorded undercover footage.

While they are not prohibited from such meetings and no arrangements were finalised, there is currently intense scrutiny of politicians’ outside earnings. Labour has said it will ban most second jobs for MPs if it wins power.

The point that all these MPs have appear to have missed in responding to this article is that they already have a well-remunerated job and, although taking on outside work may be within the rules, it is a practice that could cause voters to doubt their commitment to the privilege of serving in the House of Commons, especially at a time when so many of their constituents are struggling to make ends meet. The sooner this practise is outlawed the better.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Labour threaten local bus services

The BBC report that the potential loss of Covid bus grants in a few months time has sparked fears of large scale cuts to services across Wales.

They say that fears about the impact of these cuts are so great that two Labour Council leaders have come out into the open to criticise their party colleagues in the Welsh Government in a letter, saying that cuts to bus services could be "devastating" for groups that rely on public transport:

The letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford raised concern about the recent roads review that scrapped all major road building projects, plans for the 20mph default speed limit in urban areas and pavement parking fines.

Leaked to BBC Wales, the document also criticised the "tone" adopted in meetings by the man in charge of the policies, Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters.


The letter said Wales' 22 council leaders want an "urgent" meeting with Mark Drakeford, and argued bus services are a "life-line" for older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households.

"Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups, impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, health and leisure services and to family and social contacts," it said.

They accused the Welsh government of "cart-before-horse planning" for public transport, and called for ways to be found to make Covid bus emergency cash permanent to protect services.

"Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales," the WLGA leaders wrote.

Rural council leaders are worried there could be more areas with no public transport services.

"Attempts to attract businesses to rural areas to create local sources of employment and reduce the need to travel are felt to be at risk if vital highway improvements and access routes are effectively ruled out and public transport options are not available," the letter said.

Despite the pandemic easing, bus firms are reliant on Covid aid because passenger numbers have not fully recovered.

Earlier this year it was extended, but only for three months to June.

On Wednesday Mr Waters told the Senedd the government was trying to find a way to bridge the gap between the end of the scheme and plans to reform bus regulation.

"The money simply isn't there to keep all the current services running," he said.

He said "in the face of the continued austerity budget that we have" from the UK government "we simply do not have the resources available to continue funding the emergency subsidy at the rate that we have".

The WLGA letter also appeared to contradict claims by the roads review chairwoman Lynn Sloman that the exercise conducted "considerable engagement".

The leaders said there had been "very limited contact" with council leaders and only after the review had reached its conclusions.

"Local communities that will be affected by the decisions were given no opportunity to input from their lived experiences," the pair wrote.

Meanwhile councils were said to be struggling with the "sheer volume of transport-related issues", the WLGA leaders wrote, with lots of projects being taken forward at the same time, including pavement parking.

The 20mph default speed limit, due to be introduced in September, "will lengthen some home to school journey times" and add to school transport operator costs, the WLGA argued.

"Taken together, one leader described the situation as a 'perfect storm' for communities," the letter said.

"Another referred to the current approach as 'all stick and no carrot'."

Referring to Mr Waters, it added: "Whilst we have been grateful to the deputy minister for his readiness to engage with leaders and transport cabinet members on these issues, members have been concerned about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings.

"Leaders stressed the importance of mutual respect in our discussions," it added.

The letter said the current set of highways and transport policies "are all well-intentioned and laudable in their own right, but we feel there is a better way to approach them".

"Leaders' general feeling was that they are being handed down to councils rather than being developed with us."

Time for a rethink by Welsh Ministers.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Nominative determinism - A marketer's dream

I rarely pay much attention to the adverts on television, but one from the Ford Motor Company recently caught my attention, simply because it was using historical footage of a female motorist and explorer whose name seemed to be made-up to create a form of nominative determinism. A little bit of googling soon dispelled that notion.

For yes, Aloha Wanderwell really existed, and she did a fair bit of wandering.

As Wikipedia relates, Idris Galcia Welsh was born on October 13, 1906, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Margaret Jane Hedley and Robert Welsh. When her mother married Herbert Hall in 1909, her name was changed to Idris Hall.

She began her adventuring career when she met her travelling companion, Walter "Cap" Wanderwell, in 1922. They married in 1925 and had two children. As they continued to travel the world, Aloha Wanderwell performed on stage, giving travel lectures against the backdrop of a silent movie, Car and Camera Around the World. The Wanderwells made films of their travels on 35mm nitrate and 16mm film which are now held in the archives of the Library of Congress and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

During the 1920s, Wandeerwell visited over 80 countries and six continents, and drove over 500,000 miles in Ford vehicles. She became the first woman to drive around the world, beginning and ending her journey in Nice, France, between December 29, 1922, and January 1927.

The story of her life is quite extraordinary, ending in June 1996 when she died at the age of 89.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Are the Metropolitan Police in denial?

The Guardian reports that the author of the devastating report on the Metropolitan police has criticised the force’s commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, for refusing to accept her description of the force as institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic, describing his reasoning as “hollow”.

As the paper says, Louise Casey’s report on Tuesday excoriated the Met and found widespread bias against its own staff and the public, with officers found to have got away with acts so serious they amount to crimes. 

They add that the report also said stop and search was biased, the force had made choices to degrade its service to women and rarely caught the men who attack them, and was suffering from broken trust with the public it serves.

However, Met Chief, Sir Mark Rowley’s refused to admit the Met police is ‘institutionally’ racist, misogynistic and homophobic:

Casey hit back on Wednesday and told the police and crime committee of the London assembly that Rowley was wrong, but stressed he was the right choice to reform the Met.

Casey said: “When people say something’s become politicised, it’s often a get out of jail card for the word difficult. I’ve heard it so many times, I’m sorry, you’re dealing with a dinosaur, I’ve been around a long time. And sometimes it is right that we step into what is difficult.”

Casey said of black Londoners’ experience of the Met: “They are over-policed and under-protected. If a woman is black she is 65% more likely to be on the receiving end of domestic violence.”

The Met was first found to be institutionally racist in 1999 by the official inquiry into why the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence had escaped justice. That inquiry followed a campaign led by his, mother Doreen Lawrence.

Casey said: “This was the moment to say to Doreen Lawrence, the countless people out there: ’Yeah, this is institutional.’ And then you can move on and have a straightforward and direct discussion with the people of London.

“Because it just rings hollow to say: ‘I don’t like the word and it is not a word I would use.’ And I know Mark Rowley, he is a man of utter decency and integrity.”

Whether the hierarchy are in denial or not will depend on what measures they put in place to tackle the institutional problems the Met suffers. Not accepting the intital judgement is not a good start.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The escalating cost of Tory failure on immigration

The Guardian reports on estimates by the Refugee Council that the cost of detaining and accommodating people under the UK government’s controversial plans to tackle Channel crossings could amount to more than £9bn in the first three years.

The paper says that the charity believes that more than 250,000 people, including up to 45,000 children, could have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible under the illegal migration bill in that time:

The charity said its policy experts came up with the estimates as part of an impact assessment of the consequences of the first three years of the bill, assuming it comes into force on 7 November, six months after it was introduced in parliament.

Its calculations are based on the Home Office being able to remove 10,000 people to Rwanda in each of the three years, detaining people for an average of 28 days and accommodating those who are not detained.

The Refugee Council assessment said: “In the first three years of the legislation coming into effect, between 225,347 and 257,101 people will have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible. This includes between 39,500 and 45,066 children.

“At the end of the third year, between 161,147 and 192,670 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but not have been removed. They will be unable to have their asylum claims processed, unable to work and will be reliant on Home Office support and accommodation indefinitely.

“In total, between £8.7bn and £9.6bn will have been spent on detaining and accommodating people impacted by the bill in the first three years of its operation.”

The charity said it used various data sources and made assumptions, including that 88% of people who cross the Channel in a small boat each year subsequently apply for asylum and it costs £120.42 to detain someone each day.

It said its lower estimates assume 50% of people will be detained under the bill and upper estimates assume 100% of people will be detained.

The organisation said it was important to note the Home Office did not publish data on how many people who apply for asylum arrive irregularly other than by boat, and said it based its figures on existing data from reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

It said its estimates were likely to still be conservative “based on our experience at the Refugee Council of working with people who arrive in the UK”.

Looking beyond these figures however, the judgement of Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, on this policy is very important. He has described the bill as “draconian legislation”, that “stains our country’s reputation for fairness in the face of adversity”.

He said: “All the evidence shows that the vast majority of those who come here by so-called irregular routes are refugees escaping bombs and bullets, violence and persecution. They take these dangerous journeys as no workable alternatives exist for them – unlike Ukrainians who were rightly able to come to the UK on a visa scheme."

Rather than put in place legal routes for refugees, and set up proper international arrangements with other countries to manage and process claims, this government is choosing to villify and persecute victims in defiance of international law and their own treaty obligations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Could road charging come to Wales?

The BBC reports that drivers of heavily polluting vehicles could have to pay on some of Wales' busiest roads under a new law that aims to clean up air pollution. This could include sections of the M4 near Newport and the A470 at Pontypridd, both of which have been considered as potential clean air zones if lower speed limits do not work:

The charging powers are contained in a long-awaited bill that also paves the way towards new national targets on cutting pollution.

Other plans include steeper fines for drivers who leave their car engines idling, especially when parked outside schools.

Councils will get new powers to enforce smoke control areas, where there are restrictions on what fuels can be burned.

To tackle noise pollution, ministers will have to produce a strategy that would also protect natural sounds, such as birdsong.

But the government is not proposing to ban wood-burning stoves in the legislation, entitled the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) Bill.

At present, the Welsh government can only introduce clean air charges on roads in limited circumstances, for example where there are bridges or tunnels of at least 600m.

That would change under the new law, with ministers able to create low emission zones anywhere on the trunk road network, which includes the M4.

Speed limits of 50mph have been introduced on five sections of motorway and A-roads to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide released from vehicle exhausts.

They include the M4 between junctions 25 and 26 and the Upper Boat to Pontypridd stretch of the A470 in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Government documents say clean air zones will only be considered in those two locations "should the reduced speed limits fail to ensure sustained, long-term compliance".

The law, which will need to be passed by the Senedd, would not apply in towns and cities, where local authorities are in charge of the roads.

But the government said it would also let councils introduce their own emissions charges, as has happened in some English cities.

This legislation has to pass through the Senedd of course, but it is worth keeping an eye on it.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Teddy safe and sound


Some good news to emerge from the devasatating suspected gas explosion in Morriston,  Swansea in which a 68 year old man lost his life, while up to twenty homes have been damaged, some beyond repair.

The BBC reports that Teddy, a ragdoll persian cat, who was caught up in the explosion has been found safe and sound, and has been reunited with his owner Claire Griffiths-Bennett and her son.

The other cat belonging to the family had been rescued from the rubble soon after the explosion but Teddy's whereabouts remained unknown:

It is believed Teddy had been living in the remains of the family home.

The centre said Ms Griffiths-Bennett had been sitting next to the animal at the time of the blast. There were concerns he may not have survived, but on Tuesday he was spotted by Swansea Cats Protection, Llys Nini and South Wales Police.

Llys Nini's Sally Hyman said they saw him "sitting on a pile of rubble".

Ms Hyman said Teddy was looking at her and washing, but it was not until Sunday that they managed to catch him.

She said: "He was big, fluffy and dirty but alive and well. Maybe he was hiding in the debris in the house."

There were concerns the property would be demolished with Teddy inside.

"So today [Sunday] was make or break," Ms Hyman added.

In a Facebook post, the animal centre said: "Claire was released from hospital on Sunday and went straight to the remains of the house to see if Teddy would respond to her whistle.

"However on arrival she was greeted with the news that Teddy had, just at that moment, been trapped.

"There were tears all around."

Teddy was described as "dusty" and "cross", but apparently unharmed.

The rescue was a joint operation between Llys Nini, Swansea Cats Protection and the local PCSOs. Apparently, there was a big bag of cat biscuits in the ruins that had been ripped open, and which Teddy was obviously working his way through.

If he hadn't finished them before he was rescued then no wonder he was cross.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Targeting the children

The Observer reports that Suella Braverman’s plan to stop the Channel crossings would see as many as 45,000 children effectively barred from refugee status in the UK.

The paper says the claims are made in a forthcoming Refugee Council report analysing the overall impact of the illegal migration bill, which reveals the possible extent of children who could have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible under the new laws:

Braverman is on a visit to Rwanda that follows a deal to deport asylum seekers to the African country once they arrive in the UK. The plan is on hold after a court challenge.

However, senior Tories are already involved in plans this weekend to overhaul her proposals, which would see asylum seekers arriving in small boats automatically barred from settling in the UK. Ex-ministers are engaged in the attempts to remould the policy, while former prime minister Theresa May has already raised her concerns over its impact on the victims of human trafficking.

Meanwhile, an attempt is also expected to be made to strengthen the government’s ability to ignore the European court of human rights in tackling the Channel crossings. Some Tories believe the plans do not go far enough in disregarding human rights legislation and suspect Braverman would also like to go further.

“They have got a problem at both ends of the party,” said one key figure involved in revising the plans. “They’ve got a problem at the ultras end – people who think the bill needs to go further and specifically do more to exclude provisions of the Human Rights Act. Frankly, that’s where the home secretary is.

Migrants being picked up in the Channel. There are growing concerns among Tories over the new bill’s impact on children and trafficking victims. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images “Then you’ve got people like me and a host of others. It is not a slam dunk they can beat us in the Commons, and we can at least strengthen the hand of the Lords by showing there are real concerns among MPs [over these plans].”

Despite the rebellions, Braverman is resisting any amendments to her illegal migration bill, which the Home Office is attempting to rush into law. Insiders said that attempts to add protections for children and families, as well as trafficking victims, could end up creating loopholes that would be exploited by the gangs involved in transporting people across the Channel.

The growing Conservative concerns come after a Commons debate on the proposals last week that saw several senior figures, including May, express their reservations. May, who introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 when home secretary, said the Home Office “knows genuine victims of modern slavery would be denied support” under the bill.

“As it currently stands, we are shutting the door to victims who are being trafficked into [modern] slavery [in] the UK,” she said. “Anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong.”

Former ministers Caroline Nokes, Robert Buckland, Stephen Hammond, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore are among those with concerns. The bill says refugees who arrive in the UK without prior permission will be detained for 28 days and that asylum claims will be deemed “inadmissible” whatever the individual’s circumstances. This includes children.

In the Commons, Braverman told MPs that the duty to remove “will not be appl
ied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”. However, concern remains around the detention of families, as well as the broad powers handed to Braverman over the treatment of unaccompanied children.

The fight to stop this toxic bill is on.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Labour Party accused

The Guardian reports on the comments of Martin Forde KC, who was commissioned by Keir Starmer to investigate allegations of bullying, racism and sexism, that the Labour party is enabling a “hierarchy” of racism.

They say that Mr Forde has accused the Labour Party of still not fully engaging with claims that anti-black racism and Islamophobia were not taken as seriously as antisemitism:

Last summer Forde published his 860-page report that accused Labour of “in effect operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination”. Responding to the inquiry at the time, a Labour party spokesperson said the report detailed “a party that was out of control”.

Forde had urged the party to implement 165 recommendations, many of which the party says it has put in place. But Forde claims Labour’s lack of debate and engagement over his findings indicates wider issues.

Forde told Al Jazeera: “Anti-black racism and Islamophobia is not taken as seriously as antisemitism within the Labour party, that’s the perception that has come through.” He added: “My slight anxiety is that in terms of hierarchy, and genuine underlying concerns about wider racial issues, it’s not in my view a sufficient response to say that was then, this is now.”

Forde expressed shock that no one from Labour had engaged with him after he published the report to discuss his recommendations further. “I had limited communications with David Evans [the party’s] general secretary but that was about general housekeeping. I have spoken to a caucus of black Labour MPs in the Commons,” he said, but otherwise claimed he had not spoken to any party officials. “These are serious debates that need to be had in a respectful context and I just feel there’s work to be done.”

The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the “vast majority” of Labour members would find Forde’s accusations “deeply worrying and will want a serious response from all those holding leading positions in the party”.

Kate Osamor, a former shadow minister, added: “The Forde report was a call to action. It must not be ignored. Unless something changes, the party risks becoming a hostile environment for black and ethnic minority members.”

The paper adds that a number of Labour MPs have also voiced concern over the party’s engagement with the Forde report:

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the MP for Streatham in south London, said: “It’s concerning to hear Martin Forde say that the Labour party has failed to engage with his report. If all forms of racism are to be taken seriously in our party, his report’s recommendations must be implemented in full.”

Describing Labour’s response to the report as “stonewalling”, Apsana Begum, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse in east London, said: “The stonewalling and ignoring [of the report] is all too familiar for me. But the report was about more than any one person. It was about all of us in the Labour party. So many members campaigned, sacrificed and served our party in the last two general elections and beyond.”

Forde’s report also found that some of the attitudes expressed towards Diane Abbott and other black, Asian and minority ethnic MPs in private WhatsApp messages among staffers hostile to Jeremy Corbyn represented “overt and underlying racism and sexism”.

Abbott has said she received no apology for the comments, which Forde said used “expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes, and they bear little resemblance to the criticisms of white male MPs elsewhere in the messages”.

It seems that the Labour Party still has a long way to go in dealing with these issues.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Metropolitan Police 'riddled with deep-seated racism, sexism and homophobia'

The Guardian suggests that an official report, due to be published on Tuesday, will characterise the Metropolitan Police force as being riddled with deep-seated racism, sexism and homophobia and has failed to change despite numerous official reviews urging it to do so.

The paper says that senior government and policing figures are aware of the contents of the report from Louise Casey, with one describing it as “horrible” and another as “atrocious”. They add that one source with knowledge of the findings said the report would make clear that the Met was in the “last-chance saloon”:

The force commissioned the report in 2021 after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, Wayne Couzens. The report will consider whether Met failings result at least in part from institutional misogyny, homophobia and racism.

Lady Casey will criticise the force for failing to tackle its problems despite decades of warnings in previous official reports, and she will illustrate her findings with damning new case studies.

In 1999, a report by Sir William Macpherson on the failings that helped the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence escape justice for so long identified institutional racism as a cause of some of the problems. A decade later, the Met said the label no longer applied. However, Casey will say significant problems persist, and she will raise the question of what should happen to the Met if it cannot reform.

The final draft has been sent to the Met leadership and government, leading to crisis talks in the past few days between Sir Mark Rowley, the Met commissioner since September, and the home secretary, Suella Braverman, Whitehall sources say.

The Met’s biggest recent disasters, such as the cases of Couzens and the serial rapist David Carrick, were not one-offs but symptomatic of how profound and serious its failings were allowed to become, the report will say. It will criticise poor past leadership and say pernicious cultures took hold and grew in the Met.

Couzens and Carrick were judged as fit to carry a gun and served in the same unit, the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, which Casey will highlight as having unacceptably high levels of problematic behaviours.

Casey’s team has sent so-called Maxwell letters – which allow figures criticised in an official report to respond before publication – to former Met leaders including Cressida Dick.

The 300-page report is expected to criticise Dick’s leadership from 2017 to 2022 as the Met’s problems grew. But it will say the problems were apparent before her commissionership. One supporter of Dick said she had been focused on reducing violent crime during her tenure.

Casey will say austerity – when the Conservative government from 2010 cut police budgets – had a damaging effect on the Met, its neighbourhood policing and its relations with the communities it serves. Some officers and units have been left overworked.

The furious reaction to the Couzens case after he was sentenced to a whole-life term prompted Dick to order the review in October 2021. Dick was ousted as commissioner in February 2022 as the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, was unconvinced she could lead the Met out of crisis.

The Casey report will say while Couzens and Carrick were responsible for their crimes, clues were repeatedly missed about the dangers they posed. Couzens was a serial flasher but the Met bungled chances to identify him as a danger to women despite his crimes being reported to them.

A draft of the Casey report has been sent to Rowley and is said to have been met with shock at its findings and concern at the further damage it may do to public confidence in the Met. Confidence was already low before Carrick’s conviction in January and details of the Met errors that left him free to attack women.

One senior source said Rowley’s turnaround plan had a year to show signs it was working. Another said the commissioner had two years to show progress.

Casey’s first set of findings, released in October 2022, focused on the Met’s disciplinary system, and found that too many complaints from officers and staff about their colleagues were not taken seriously. Rowley has vowed to change that and already promised reforms.

The October report found that officers and staff were being fobbed off when they complained of wrongdoing, and were reluctant to do so because they feared nothing would be done or there would be reprisals.

It found that officers suspected of serious criminal offences, including sexual assault and domestic abuse, had been allowed to escape justice, and Rowley accepted that hundreds of racist, women-hating and corrupt officers had been left in the ranks.

Last June, the policing inspectorate placed the Met into special measures over a series of failings.

None of this is surprising of course, given what has happened in recent years. The test for the new Commissioner, the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary now is how they are going to turn things around,

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Discriminatory legislation and careless talk will cost lives

The Labour MP, Jess Phillips makes a very powerful and accurate point while speaking in the House of Commons about the Tory government's illegal immigration bill.

As the Mirror reports, Phillips asked the PM what she should say to the next trafficked woman who is being repeatedly raped and who comes to her for help.
Her remarks follow the government's announcement that its illegal Immigration Bill will withdraw protection under modern slavery laws to those who don't enter the UK via legal routes:

When the policy was unveiled last week, Mr Sunak posted his support for the legislation and said people arriving in small boats "can't benefit" from modern slavery protection.

At PMQs Ms Phillips told MPs: "I've worked for years with women brought here illegally as sex slaves, raped by 30 men a day.

"Last week the Prime Minister tweeted that these victims would be denied access to support from our modern slavery system - a tweet that traffickers will hold up to these women and say 'See, no-one will help you'."

Ms Phillips, a shadow Home Office minister, continued: "The biggest increase in the last 10 years has been from the huge increase in British adults and children trafficked for sex and crime within Britain. Not a number they should be proud of."

She asked: "How exactly will I help the next woman I meet, brought here illegally, from being repeatedly raped if she, as he tweeted, is denied access from our modern slavery (system)?"

Condemnation of this bill has been cross party, with the paper quoting former PM and Home Secretary, Theresa May as well as Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper who described it it as a "traffickers charter"

She [Cooper] branded the Tory plan a "con", fuming: ."It will lock up children and remove the support and safe refuge for women who have been trafficked and could well deny citizenship from people like Mo Farah."

And Mrs May - herself a former Home Secretary - piled the misery on Ms Braverman, saying: "Anybody who thinks that this Bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong."

The former PM has warned modern slavery victims will be "collateral damage", saying: "The Home Office knows this Bill means genuine victims of modern slavery will be denied support."

It would be nice though if Labour had a viable and humane alternative to managing asylum. Instead we get key spokepeople tweeting their opposition while still playing into the toxic 'small boats' rhetoric.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Government regularly puts BBC under pressure to alter reporting

The Guardian reports that leaked email and WhatsApp messages show that BBC editors asked their journalists to avoid using the word “lockdown” in reporting at the start of the pandemic and to be more critical of Labour after pressure from Downing Street.

The paper say that the emails and messages were shown to them amid concern among some BBC insiders that the corporation has been too cowed by the government in recent years:

The messages seen by the Guardian date from 2020 to 2022, and show the BBC coming under pressure from No 10 over the corporation’s political reporting.

One email shows a senior editor informing correspondents that Downing Street was requesting them not to use the word “lockdown” in relation to the shutdown ordered by Boris Johnson on 23 March 2020 – the day the first lockdown was announced.

The email, sent to correspondents at just after 6pm on the day lockdown was announced, was labelled: IMPORTANT ADVISORY – language re broadcast. “Hi all – D st are asking if we can avoid the word ‘lockdown’. I’m told the message will be that they want to keep pushing people to stay at home but they are not talking about enforcement at the moment,” it said.

Reporters argued unsuccessfully against the advice and thus the website and broadcasts on that day spoke about “curbs” and “restrictions” on daily life, while other outlets, such as rival broadcaster Sky, were referring to “lockdown”.

In another WhatsApp message from Sunday 24 October 2021, a senior editor asked journalists to make coverage more critical of Labour after a complaint from No 10.

The message reads: “D St complaining that we’re not reflecting Labour’s mess of plan b online. ie Ashworth said it earlier this week, then reversed. Can we turn up the scepticism a bit on this?”

The message was sent on the day Rachel Reeves confirmed Labour was calling for Plan B Covid restrictions, a policy initially announced by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, which was being resisted by the government.

Downing Street argued Labour kept changing its position on Covid restrictions and a line was added to the BBC online story to that effect.

A third leaked message from 2022 shows a senior editor circulated a message to BBC political journalists from the then No 10 director of communications the day after a speech by Johnson in which he compared Ukraine’s struggle against Russia to the British people’s vote for Brexit.

The message from the No 10 aide included a tweet from the Ukrainian embassy and read: “Hi, worth sharing with any reporter misinterpreting the PM’s speech. I travelled home with the ambassador. He most definitely did NOT think the PM was equating Brexit with Ukraine. He heard him say v clearly nothing like this since the 1940s.”

One insider said circulating the message had a chilling effect on how the BBC covered the story.

The issue here of course, is not that Downing Street are putting pressure on news editors to change stories, all governments do that, but the extent to which the BBC seem prepared to tow the line. 

As one BBC insider is quoted as saying: “Particularly on the website, our headlines have been determined by calls from Downing Street on a very regular basis.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

And now back to the real issues

It is true, important as the principle of free speech is, the real issue behind Gary Lineker's controversial tweet was the damage caused and the sheer inhumanity behind, the UK Governments illegal and racist immigration bill.

The Guardian reports on the view of one former Home Office adviser and one time Conservative campaigner, Nimco Ali that Suella Braverman should consider her position for putting forward “cruel and heartless” immigration policies that discriminate against war refugees of colour.

They quote Ms Ali, who in December left her job as an adviser on violence against women, as saying that the home secretary was “the wrong person not just for the Conservative party but for the country”:

A child refugee from Somaliland, Ali said the government’s failure to widen routes open to Ukrainians to other refugees appeared to be “racist” and “painful”.

Her words came as the government faced opposition from MPs across the House of Commons as it attempted to push the illegal migration bill through parliament on Monday. After a bad-tempered four-hour debate, a Labour amendment to block the bill was defeated by 312 votes to 250 during its second reading.

In a damning intervention during the debate, Theresa May criticised Braverman’s plan, warning that “anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong”.

The bill says that refugees who arrive in the UK without prior permission will be detained for 28 days and that asylum claims will be deemed “inadmissible” whatever the individual’s circumstances.

They will be removed either to their own country or a “safe third country”, such as Rwanda, if that is not possible.

Ali, who came to the UK 32 years ago with her family, said they would have been criminalised if they had arrived under the planned legislation.

“The bill that Suella Braverman has put forward means that anyone like me who escapes from war and comes to the UK to claim asylum is a criminal.

“The focus from Suella is on criminalising the victims, not the perpetrators of trafficking. Women who are trafficked should be seen as victims, but under this law, people who are trafficked would be criminalised,” she said.

Ali said that the plans to send people to Rwanda posed difficult questions for her while she was a Home Office adviser, but “at least there was due process”.

“As a former refugee of colour, if we can provide generous help to Ukrainians escaping war then I think we need to look at ensuring that we also provide routes to anyone escaping conflicts,” she said.

“If we can find room for a white child but not a black child, who are coming here in similar circumstances, it is racist. It is really painful if we believe that people can seek refuge if they come from Europe but not elsewhere.

“If we can provide safe and legal routes for Ukrainians, we should do it for other people as well,” she said.

Ali, who campaigned for the Conservative party in 2019, said Sunak would not win the next election with Braverman as his home secretary.

“He is in danger of losing younger people, floating voters and undecided millennials.

“Suella Braverman wants the government to look tough but it will instead make us look cruel and heartless which I don’t think the PM is.

“I have a problem with her language. I believe that blaming lefty lawyers when they are challenging the law is dangerous. When she spoke about her dream of seeing a plane take off to Rwanda, it lacked compassion and understanding.”

There is still a debate to be had as to whether the government's language is reminiscent of that used in Germany in the 1930s, but for those of us who grew up in the 1970s, the echoes of the language used by the National Front are all too evident.

Monday, March 13, 2023

UK Government hypocrisy over Lineker exposed by Home Office video

Having been bombarded on social media by the protests of Tory MPs and Ministers at Gary Lineker's very reasonable tweet about their illegal immigration bill, so called because it breaks international law, I was astonished to find this report in the Guardian about the Home Office fronting their propaganda video about the bill with clips featuring BBC newsreaders.

The paper says that Home Office officials were forced to alter a Twitter post about the illegal migration bill to remove an image of the newsreader Huw Edwards after complaints from the BBC:

The tweet, which contains a video explainer for the divisive legislation, was posted on Tuesday by the Home Office from its official account and initially the accompanying image seen on Twitter feeds was of Edwards, the veteran broadcaster.

The Guardian understands that the department did not ask permission to use the clip of Edwards featured in the video and the broadcaster personally objected to the juxtaposition.

On Wednesday, the BBC asked the Home Office to remove the footage. Rather than delete it, the department amended the clip so that Edwards no longer appeared in the first frame, although he does remain in the video.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We contacted the Home Office last week to object to their use of BBC footage and asked them to remove it.”

Contrary to the Home Office's claim that the video, which can be seen here, should not be perceived as party political but as an explainer to help the public understand the new policy. it is in fact highly partisan and emotive propaganda.

This government needs to make up its mind. It cannot seek to censor high profile personalities who work for the BBC because they are critical of their policies, whilst at the same time using clips from other BBC personalities without their permission, to promote the same controversial policy.

It seems that the impartiality the Tories want for the BBC only exists when it suits them.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

A further failure of impartiality

A far more serious breach of the BBC's impartiality guidelines than anything Gary Lineker may have tweeted in my view, was the comments by Fiona Bruce during Thursday's Question Time. The remarks in full are quoted below:
Effectively, we have a presenter trying to minimise domestic violence, and one as well, who is also an ambassador for the charity Refuge, who work with victims of domestic abuse. The reaction of BBC management was that Bruce was trying to provide context. Presumably they think 'I only hit her once for context' is a valid defence to a domestic abuse charge.

Just to actually provide some real context, there is an excellent article in the Observer by Catherine Bennett, who writes that Stanley Johnson's ex-wife, the late artist Charlotte Wahl, kept his abuse secret until four years ago when she told Boris’s biographer, Tom Bower, that their marriage had been “ghastly, terrible”:

“I want the truth told,” she said about Stanley’s violence, which was witnessed by Boris. “He hit me many times, over many years.” Early on he resented her seeing her friends “and that’s when he first hit me”. Later, she was deposited in the country, without a car. “To adultery and violence, his family could add deserter.”

Although the full extent of her domestic torment was not made clear in extracts published by the Daily Mail in 2020, it became national news that “Boris’s dad broke his mum’s nose”. After a breakdown, Wahl had been admitted to the Maudsley hospital where doctors, she said, “spoke to Stanley about his abuse of me”. Her parents confronted Stanley, “but he denied it”.

More allegations are available in Bower’s biography of Boris, The Gambler. Stanley’s denials have been reported, but remain hard to source.

Should Rishi Sunak allow his knighthood, there could hardly be a clearer sign that the Tory approach to domestic abuse will be resuming, after a temporary show of interest, the default complacency that allowed Theresa May to award the same honour to Geoffrey Boycott. He’d been convicted in 1998 for repeatedly punching a girlfriend. Sir Geoffrey’s response, when asked about this: “I couldn’t give a toss.”

The king, too, if he intends to indulge Johnsonian overreach, might want to consider the academic contention that public attitudes towards IPVAW shape, as one study puts it, “the social environment in which such violence takes place, and attitudes of acceptability to IPVAW are considered a risk factor to actual IPVAW”. It follows that policymakers and public figures who are serious about protecting women will not want honours conferred on men who hit them.

A knighthood for Stanley can raise awareness only of what remains evident from abject conviction rates, from sickening police attitudes again exposed in the case of David Carrick and, indeed, from much of the media’s lingering regard for post-disgrace Stanley: domestic abuse remains one lethal epidemic society can live with. After Wahl finally disclosed what Bower calls “the family’s great secret”, broadcasters’ appetite for her persecutor’s fatuous condescension continued as inexplicably keen as it was before he was exposed. Given an honour, he might even be able to increase his fees.

That Stanley has seen no necessity for perceptible regret or a hint of shame, can – if Sunak agrees to his elevation – only remind abuse victims that their assaults at home by the men in (or once in) their lives are still considered less, not more serious, than assaults by strangers. Had Stanley been revealed by Bower to have once broken a random woman’s nose in the street, or repeatedly hit female strangers in public, even his son might have anticipated an absolute refusal to honour such a man. Since the victim of these acts of violence was Boris’s mother, assaulted at home by someone he would call “a loved one”, he could reasonably expect what happened last week: a recoil from, above all, his latest venture in cronyism.

Tom Bower's biography of Boris Johnson makes it clear that the hitting was not a one-off, but repeated. And yet there are no Tory MPs or cabinet ministers clambering for action to be taken against Fiona Bruce for the imbalance she demonstrated on Question Time. 

Is that a sign of the times, an indication of the extent that Lineker put the Tories on the defensive with one tweet, or both?

Saturday, March 11, 2023

BBC and Tories digging a hole

If there is such a thing as a meltdown in broadcasting then the BBC has achieved the nirvana. Their failure to stand up to political pressure from Tory MPs and Ministers, and in doing so compromise their own political impartiality, has effectively left them with the only option of airing a zombie-version of Match of the Day tonight.

The Guardian reports that Match of the Day will be broadcast without presenters, pundits or its usual commentators this weekend, after the main host, Gary Lineker, was suspended from the BBC for allegedly breaching impartiality guidelines after criticising the government’s asylum policies.

The paper says that his suspension immediately led to displays of solidarity from Lineker’s co-hosts Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, who publicly announced that they would not be turning up to present Saturday’s show:

Faced with an effective strike by its on-screen staff and unable to find willing replacements, the BBC took the unprecedented decision to announce that the Premier League highlights programme would go ahead without any hosts or studio presentation. It will feature only match footage.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Some of our pundits have said that they don’t wish to appear on the programme while we seek to resolve the situation with Gary.

“We understand their position and we have decided that the programme will focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry.”

Late on Friday, commentator Steve Wilson tweeted that the show’s commentary team had decided to pull out of the programme. “As commentators on MOTD, we have decided to step down from tomorrow night’s broadcast,” he said. “We are comforted that football fans who want to watch their teams should still be able to do so, as management can use World Feed commentary if they wish.”

The BBC has the option to use the Premier League’s world feed service.

Ministers put the BBC under pressure after Lineker posted tweets this week criticising Rishi Sunak’s new asylum policy. He likened the language used by ministers about asylum seekers to “that used by Germany in the 30s”, a comparison labelled “offensive” by the home secretary, Suella Braverman.

A BBC spokesperson said Lineker would be off air until an agreement was reached on his future use of social media. If Lineker, who has two years left on his contract to present Match of the Day, refuses to back down, then it opens up the possibility of him leaving the corporation.

The BBC's decision immediately focussed attention on the political links of its chairman:

While suspending Lineker for breaching impartiality guidelines, the BBC chair, Richard Sharp, has faced calls to quit in recent weeks. It was recently revealed that Sharp, a previous Tory donor, had made the introductions between Boris Johnson and one of the former prime minister’s distant cousins, who became a guarantor for a substantial loan. Sharp later claimed that he had acted “in good faith” as a “go-between”. Labour said his position was “increasingly untenable”.

The journalist Jon Sopel, who has held several senior positions at the BBC, said: “Lucky there are no producer guidelines on whether you need to declare facilitating an £800k loan to a prime minister while applying for a job as chairman of a broadcasting organisation.”

The former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, a commentator for Sky Sports, said the decision was what happened when “you take on the Tories and the system”.

Philippa Childs, head of the entertainment trade union Bectu which represents thousands of BBC workers, said the broadcaster’s decision was “deeply concerning”. “It will give the appearance that they have bowed to political pressure from ministers to take someone off air for disagreeing with the policies of the current government,” she said.

“Taken with the ongoing controversy over the appointment of the BBC chairman, who has a much more important role in upholding the reputation of the BBC, and who has not stepped back while under investigation, it also risks giving the impression of double standards on these issues.”

At the same time there were questions as to why other presenters were not being withdrawn for their own political statements. One example was the comments by Fiona Bruce on Question Time, when she defended Stanley Johnson, who had been accused of being a wife beater on her programme.

I suppose this is what happens when Tories are put in charge of the so-called national broadcaster.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The balance the BBC won't admit to

An article in the Mirror a few days ago sums up the sheer hypocrisy of those arguing that Gary Lineker should be silenced because of BBC 'impartiality'.

The paper points out that BBC Chairman, Richard Sharp, who used to be Rishi Sunak ’s boss at Goldman Sachs, remained in his role after helping to land former PM Boris Johnson an £800,000 loan and not disclosing the matter during the selection process.

BBC director-general Tim Davie, who stood as a Tory councillor in the 90s, is under pressure to silence the former England striker, but contractually doesnt have a leg to stand on.

It isn't difficult to see how convenient the government finds these continuing attacks on Lineker by Tory MPs and the right wing press in that they distract from the substance of their illegal immigration bill.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Only in Wales!

Having commisioned an expert review panel, led by transport consultant Lynn Sloman, to assess 59 road projects and make recommendations on which projects to proceed with, which to abandon and which to reconsider in a different form, one would expect the ruling Labour Party in Wales to back their own Minister, who accepted the outcome of that review.

Of those schemes looked at, it is intended to go ahead with fifteen, but all the rest have been rejected or will be substantially revised. However, it seems that a major revolt against this decision is underway.

The BBC reports that in the Senedd, Labour politicians, including the first minister, voted for a Welsh Parliament motion criticising their own roads review:

The motion, which regretted the review's "lack of engagement" with the public, passed in a vote on Wednesday evening.

Mike Hedges, Labour MS for Swansea East, said the review was rushed and "needs to be rectified".

Ministers say the public would be consulted as schemes are developed.

Labour backbenchers have previously attacked the government's policy after most major road schemes were scrapped.

One source suggested the government position changed after some backbenchers had threatened to vote with the Conservatives, after ministers failed to table their own amendment.

Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters, who led the Welsh government's response to the roads review, did not take part in the vote, or any other votes on Wednesday.

It is understood that he had been expected to go on a trip to France that was cancelled at the last minute - he was paired with a Conservative MS.

After the debate the Conservatives accused Labour of admitting their review was flawed.

One Labour source, expressing surprise with the whipped vote, said: "They have thrown the review panel under a bus."

BBC Wales was told Labour decided to back the opposition motion after a deadline for the Welsh government to submit its own amendment had been missed, and it was decided to let the criticism go.

However, others said the decision reflected broader views in the group and among several backbenchers.

Mike Hedges said: "The review was rushed and accepted without public discussion. That was wrong and that has now been accepted and needs to be rectified."

Even by Welsh standards this is an extraordinary outcome. Surely, the Deputy Minister's position is now untenable.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Language reminiscent of the National Front

I am still so angry and appalled by the immigration legislation announced by Rishi Sunak yesterday, that it is difficult to find the words to condemn it properly.

It is hard to disagree with Gary Lineker, when he tweeted that 'This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.' The fact that he enraged so many Tory MPs in making that comparison was just a bonus.

Nobody is saying that this policy is in any way as bad as, or can be compared to, what followed in the 1930s, and it wouldn't be right to do so, but the language being deployed by Tory MPs and Ministers is typical of far right, popularist parties and is certainly reminiscent of that used by the National Front in the 1970s, as well as their successor organisations.

For a more considered response, however, we have to turn to the United Nations Refugee Agency. As the Guardian reports, they view the bill which introduces a contentious new law to stop small boats from crossing the Channel, as effectively “extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the UK”:

After Suella Braverman was forced to admit that the illegal migration bill was “more than 50%” likely to break human rights laws, the UNHCR said it was “profoundly concerned” by the bill’s provisions, which give the government the right to criminalise, detain and deport asylum seekers, saying it would be a “clear breach of the refugee convention”.

Unveiling the plans to MPs earlier, Braverman said the law places a legal duty on the government to detain and deport nearly all those who arrive “irregularly”, such as via small boats in the Channel.

There would be constraints on the rights of asylum seekers to use a judicial review to challenge decisions, she said on Tuesday, as ministers attempt to bypass the legal wrangles that have prevented the implementation of plans to send people to Rwanda.

The bill will also introduce an annual cap, to be decided by parliament, on the number of refugees the UK will offer sanctuary to through safe and legal routes – but only once the boats have been stopped.

In an unusually critical statement, the UNHCR said: “The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be.

“The effect of the bill [in this form] would be to deny protection to many asylum seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.

“This would be a clear breach of the refugee convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.”

Just how desperate, cruel and diabolical this legislation is becomes clear when Braverman acknowledges that she is unable to say that the provisions are “compatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights, one of the lagacies of Winston Churchill, brought in to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the second world war.

The fact that many Tory MPs reacted to this statement by demanding we leave the convention, just underlines the sort of right wing dystopia we are drifting into.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Patronage in extremis

As resignation honours go, Boris Johnson's must rate as the most shameless since Lloyd George first hit on the idea of selling them for cash. As the Independent reports, even senior Tories think Johnson’s “absurd” plan to give his father a knighthood will discredit the system and “corrode public trust”.

The paper says that former cabinet minister David Davis told The Independent: “I think it’s ridiculous. It’s discrediting the honours system, which is rather a good one in that it doesn’t cost money and it recognises achievements of ordinary people.":

“There has been progressive corrosion of public trust in this system, so it doesn’t help to undermine that trust further just because of a family favour. It’s corrosive,” said Mr Davis.

A former Tory minister added: “The idea of Sir Stanley would be ridiculous nepotism, completely without merit. The trouble with Boris is he tarnishes everything he touches. And now he is discrediting the entire honours system.”

The senior figure said: “The honours committee should weed out the majority of these names and spare Rishi Sunak the embarrassment of having to veto them and correct Boris’s bad judgement.”

It really does take some brass neck to have submitted this nomination, but then that is something Johnson has never been short of.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Public blame Brexit for food shortages

The Independent reports that most voters think Brexit is to blame for widespread shortages of fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves.

The paper says that in a Savanta survey, the majority of the public (57 per cent) said Britain’s exit from the EU was behind the lack of fresh produce:

Only one in three (36 per cent) said Brexit was not to blame. The poll also discovered 57 per cent had been affected by shortages while 40 per cent were unaffected.

Unusual weather which has hurt crops in Spain and north Africa has been blamed for UK shelves being short of tomatoes and other fresh produce.

But farming campaigners and food experts have pointed to Brexit for the particularly acute shortage in Britain – describing the idea of Spanish weather being solely to blame as “absolute nonsense”.

It comes as The Independent revealed that millions of pupils face missing out on fresh fruit and vegetables after the food shortages hit school meals.

School meal providers say items such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers are among the items off the menu due to “extreme shortages” and “unviable costs”, with ministers now working with schools to try to minimise the impact.

In an email sent to primary schools, meals provider Caterlink, which provides more than a million meals a week to 1,300 schools, said certain fresh goods would not be available for two weeks from 1 March.

If only the rest of the UK could have the deal recently agreed for Northern Ireland.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

UK Government complicit in attacks on asylum seekers

The Observer reports on the very credible view of some of Britain’s biggest unions that the government is “complicit” in attacks on hotels housing asylum seekers. The paper says that the unions are urging members to “mobilise” against far-right groups seemingly emboldened by the rhetoric of senior Tory politicians.

The first big intervention by trade unions on the increasingly politicised issue follows comments on Friday by the Conservative party’s deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, who said he had sympathy with people protesting outside hotels.

His remarks came days after the home secretary, Suella Braverman, said hotels providing refuge to asylum seekers were causing “understandable tensions”, and protesters targeting them were not “racist or bigoted”.

A wave of protests, many organised by far-right anti-immigrant groups, has targeted hotels in recent weeks, with a number culminating in violent clashes with police.

One far-right group involved is Patriotic Alternative (PA), founded in 2019 by Mark Collett, an admirer of Adolf Hitler, who once suggested Mein Kampf as one of three books people should read. PA, Britain’s fastest-growing far-right group, delivered hundreds of leaflets attacking migrants to homes in Merseyside days before a riot outside a hotel in Knowsley housing asylum seekers.

Now the leaders of 13 main unions including Britain’s largest, Unison, which has more than 1.3 million members, the GMB, which has 600,000, along with the National Education Union, which has at least 450,000, have issued a joint statement saying: “We know whose side we are on when we see far-right mobs attacking refugees, and politicians playing the mood music.”

It added: “In recent weeks, we have seen an alarming rise in violence and intimidation organised by the far right against refugees and refugee accommodation. The government is complicit in these attacks.”

It said the government’s controversial policy of deporting asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda “fits with a long-running campaign of rhetoric and demonisation”.

The unions, which also include the University and College Union, which has more than 120,000 members ,the Fire Brigades Union, Aslef, the RMT, Equity and the Musicians’ Union, also sent their solidarity to Care4Calais, the refugee charity caught up in the Knowsley attack. “We call on workers and trade union members to show their solidarity and to mobilise against the far right,” added the joint statement.

A number of the protests outside hotels have been met with counter demonstrations, many organised by anti-fascist groups.

Hard-right protesters visited hotels housing asylum seekers 253 times last year, twice as many visits as recorded in 2021. The most prolific of the self-proclaimed “migrant hunters” last year was Amanda Smith, a member of the hard-right English Constitution party, who is said to have visited migrant accommodation 124 times.

This is of course the big contradiction at the heart of a government, which says it is in favour of law and order and which wants to restrict democratic protests against itself, but is happy to stir up racial hatred and empower far right groups through ministerial rhetoric. 

It is little wonder that many of us think democracy itself is under attack in this country.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Did Labour let Boris Johnson off the hook?

The Independent reports that Labour has hit back at “ludicrous” claims that Sue Gray was appointed as part of a Boris Johnson stitch-up over his involvement in Downing Street parties.

The paper says that the party’s shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, condemned suggestions from the former prime minister’s allies that Sue Gray’s plans to join Sir Keir Starmer's office show that the Partygate scandal was manufactured to bring down the former prime minister:

She told Times Radio on Friday morning: “I think that's just a ludicrous claim by Boris Johnson and stands in stark contrast to what he said at the time the report was published, and all the while that the report and the investigation was taking place, when the prime minister - and indeed the rest of the Conservative government - were at pains to tell the country how independent and impartial, and how formidable, Sue Gray was as a civil servant, which she absolutely was.”

Ms Powell said it was an attempt by Mr Johnson to “vindicate himself further” over his involvement in Covid lockdown parties at No 10.

Ms Powell insisted “there's no suggestion whatsoever” that Ms Gray would reveal any information to Labour she has been privy to as a senior Cabinet Office official.

Asked whether Ms Gray's knowledge of ministerial appointments and conflicts of interest made her attractive to Labour, Ms Powell told Times Radio: “Absolutely not. And, of course, there's no suggestion whatsoever that Sue would reveal any of that information.

“It's not what she's coming in to do.”

Powell is of course absolutely right. Sue Gray is a professional civil servant and would have done her job impartially and without favour to anybody. The question has to be asked though, have Labour put her in a difficult situation by offering this job. 

More importantly have they let Johnson off the hook politically by giving his allies something to focus on in rebutting Gray report? Only time will tell.

Friday, March 03, 2023

UK Ministers did not understand their own Covid rules

In today's least surprising news, the Guardian reports on the view of a former police chief that UK government ministers did not understand their own Covid lockdown rules, causing confusion and resentment among the police officers tasked with enforcing them.

The paper says that Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said that recent revelations in the Telegraph have underlined how difficult it was for officers to enforce the lockdowns:

The Telegraph reported on Thursday that a cache of WhatsApp messages show Matt Hancock, the health secretary at the time, telling Simon Case, the Downing Street permanent secretary, that ministers would have to “get heavy with the police” to enforce lockdowns.

Fahy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Lots of people in the police service won’t be surprised at the tone of these remarks. They were faced with an unprecedented situation. This legislation was rushed out: it was confused, with poor definitions in it, there was this constant confusion between what was legislation and what was guidance. Often it seemed ministers themselves didn’t understand the impact of the legislation.”

He said it caused “huge resentment within policing” when “individual instances of officers trying to do their best were highlighted and misunderstood”.

The messages revealed by the Telegraph on Thursday show that in August 2020, senior ministers in the UK government – including the then home secretary, Priti Patel – held a meeting with police chiefs to discuss lockdown enforcement. In the week before that meeting, Hancock messaged Case to say: “I think we are going to have to get heavy with the police.”

Timestamps on the messages also show that the government issued a tier 4 alert, ordering people in south-east England to stay at home over Christmas, while a lockdown party was taking place in Downing Street. At another point, Hancock jokes with others in government about people having to be quarantined in hotels as they entered the country. Case asks: “Any idea how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?” to which Hancock replies: “None. But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in Quarantine Hotels due to their own free will!” Case says simply: “Hilarious.”

In a later exchange, Hancock sends Boris Johnson, then the prime minister, an article about a couple being fined £10,000 each for failing to quarantine when returning to the UK from Dubai. Johnson replies: “Superb.”

The messages have renewed scrutiny of ministers’ decision-making during the height of the pandemic, as well as how they put pressure on police to interpret the rules they set.

It didn't help of course when the police failed to enforce those rules against the very politicians who had made them.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

What happened in Wales?

The leaking of more than 100,000 official WhatsApp messages by the journalist, Isabel Oakeshott has really put the cat amongst the pigeons with regards to the official Covid inquiry. 

It's just as well that there are cats left to set on these pesky birds, given the most astonishing revelation from the leak, that the UK government considered whether it might have to ask people to exterminate all pet cats during the early days of the Covid pandemic.

Quite apart from the fact that such mass felicide sounds eerily like the plot from Planet of the Apes, it is likely that this decision alone would have caused mass demonstrations and the overthrow of the government. If this is what Tories think of cats then roll on the next General Election when we can vote them all out.

More seriously, one of the most disturbing revelations from the leak is that the official advice to test everyone entering a care home for Covid at the start of the pandemic was ignored by Ministers, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

As the Guardian says, an exchange took place in in April 2020, in which Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told Hancock that “all [people] going into care homes” should be tested, recommending “segregation whilst awaiting result”. According to another leaked message, Hancock rejected this, telling an aide that such a move “muddies the waters”:

Other messages divulged to the Telegraph suggested:

* Gavin Williamson, the then education secretary, said teachers were complaining about a lack of PPE in order “to have an excuse not to teach” adding that some teaching unions “really do just hate work”.

* Pupils in English schools were told to wear face masks despite limited evidence of the policy’s efficacy after Johnson was told by Whitty that it was probably “not worth an argument” with Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, on the issue.

* Hancock asked George Osborne, the Conservative ex-chancellor for whom he once worked, for favourable coverage in the Evening Standard newspaper, which Osborne edited at the time.

* Whately, as care minister, warned that restrictions on visitors to care homes at the time were “inhumane”.

* An adviser to Hancock helped send a Covid test to the home of the then leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, in September 2020 – amid a backlog in testing – for one of his children.

It is little wonder that the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group believe that families should be represented at the hearings and be allowed to cross-examine witnesses such as Hancock.

The unspoken question in all this, though, is what about Wales? Did Ministers here receive similar advice, and if so, what did they do with it?

The need for a Welsh specific inquiry into Covid has never been more urgent. It is no longer good enough to say we are covered by the UK inquiry, these leaked WhatsApp messages have debunked that argument for good.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Out-of-touch Royals indulging in immoral house swaps

I had a meeting with my local housing office on Monday during which it was driven home to me how bad the cost of living crisis is in Swansea. 

Rent arears have shot up in the last few months as families choose to make food and heat their spending priorities, while it is now almost impossible to get a council house or flat unless you are homeless, simply because the number of people presenting as such is off the scale, and growing daily.

This is a crisis worse than anything I have seen in my 39 years serving as a councillor. 

At the same time however, the mainstream media is full of a row brewing in the Royal family because the prodigal brother, Andrew is being threatened with eviction from his thirty bedroom home, set in 98 acres at Windsor Great Park.

According to the Times, Andrew is being offered the ten-bedroom Frogmore Cottage instead, previously the home of Harry and Meghan, who are now living in a mansion on the west coast of America.

How humiliating it must be for him, but what are the chances that he will even give a thought to all those families who do not have a home, or who are struggling to hold onto the one they have? 

This immoral house swap just sums up the country today and the unaccountable elites whose wealth makes them immune from the daily struggles of others.

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