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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Racism and the Tory Party

Back from seven days in the sun to typical Welsh rainy weather and an exceptional by-election result in Swansea's Penderry Ward, where the Liberal Democrat candidate came from nowhere to gain a second place with 30% of the vote in Labour's safest seat. The looming local elections in England offer far more prospect for excitement than the rather antiquated and eccentric crowning of the King the following Saturday, but nevertheless we will endure both.

Other things that have not changed is the Tory Party's continual flirtation with racism. The Observer reports that five Conservative councillors standing for the party in this week’s local elections in England, have been suspended for alleged racism and Islamophobia in recent years – including one who suggested banning mosques and another who accused Muslims of being on a “quest to turn the world Muslim”.

The paper says that these five are among 13 councillors identified by the Observer, drawing on research by the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, who have been suspended over racist comments and social media posts in the past four years before being reinstated:

Among the five standing again is Danny Scott in Blackpool. He was one of 25 former and sitting Conservative councillors accused of making offensive comments online named in a 2019 dossier released by an anonymous Twitter account. Scott posted on Facebook at least two years earlier that “Muslims have been terrorising anyone who isn’t Muslim for 1,000 [years],” and that “it is their quest to turn the world Muslim”.

Scott was subsequently suspended from the party, but he has since been reinstated and is listed as the Tory candidate for his council ward at this week’s election.

The dossier also revealed Beverley Dunlop, a councillor in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, commented on Facebook that “Until [Muslims] are more frightened of the British government (because they and their families might get deported) than they are Isis nothing will change”, and separately posted, “I hate to ban anything really but I’d suggest we start with mosques!”.

After the dossier was published, the Conservatives said they had suspended anyone who was a party member, but Dunlop, who was suspended in 2019, is listed as the Tory candidate in her ward for the ballot on 4 May.

Three others are running again. Portsmouth councillor Lee Mason was suspended in 2020 after a leaked photo from his Snapchat account showed a hot cross bun with what seemed to be a swastika baked on it.

Robin Popley, a councillor in Charnwood, Leicestershire, was suspended in 2019 after describing Enoch Powell as “the greatest prime minister we never had”. Ian Stokes, a councillor in South Kesteven, Lincolnshire, was suspended in 2021 after using a phrase about there being an N-word “in the woodpile” at a meeting. He subsequently apologised, had diversity training, and his membership was restored.

The question of course is whether the Tories are serious about tackling racism in the first place. When there are senior cabinet members continually making controversial statements about race and stereotyping certain sections of society, it would not be unreasonable to draw the conclusion that racism is hard-baked into the Tory Party's psyche.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Sunak's indecision strengthens the case for independent arbiter

Welsh Liberal Democrats have long made the case for those policing the ministerial code to be independent of the First Minister, and the same argument applies to all the UK's Parliaments. 

It's just that whichever party happens to be running the show, in whatever country, whether it is Labour, Tory or the SNP won't allow it, because they don't want to lose control of the governmental process, no matter how badly ministers have behaved.

The Dominic Raab bullying case is yet another example of a Prime Minister being reluctant to sacrifice a colleague, despite allegedly damning evidence suggesting that he should do. Once more we have those representing possible victims calling for things to be done differently.

The Guardian reports that senior Whitehall staff are said to want the prime minister to allow an independent organisation to assess claims of wrongdoing against ministers. These calls follow repeated disappointments in the grievance procedures against ministers in government workplaces:

The prime minister alone will decide whether his deputy and justice secretary broke the ministerial code, after multiple complaints about Raab were made across three ministerial departments.

Under the bullying inquiry’s terms and conditions, the independent investigator Adam Tolley KC will only “establish the specific facts” surrounding the claims, which Sunak will then rule on.

The former home secretary Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job by Boris Johnson despite a formal inquiry finding evidence she had bullied her staff.

Jawad Raza, an FDA national officer who represents senior civil servants in the MoJ and parliament, said a new, fully independent process must be established if trust is to be rebuilt across Whitehall.

“At present, the prime minister has to give permission for an investigation into a minister to commence and then pass judgment on the facts.

“Can he really be a fully independent arbiter, especially when it is someone who has political value to him?

“In this case, the PM is being asked to pass judgment on a close political ally. It needs to be changed,” he said.

Raza said the process should be overhauled, and pointed to the establishment in parliament of an independent grievance scheme in 2018, after allegations of harassment and bullying against MPs.

“Our members want to have confidence in the mechanism, have the ability to raise a concern and know that they can have confidence in that process and for that process to be looked at independently.

“In the House of Commons, MPs once sat in judgment over one another, but we now have an independent complaints and grievance scheme.

“If there is an investigation in parliament and a case to answer then the independent expert panel would look at that.

“Ultimately, that has stopped MPs being able to mark their own homework.

There needs to be a similar option for civil servants complaining against ministers,” he said.

This is a change that is long overdue.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Another day, another Tory suspended

The Independent reports that a Tory candidate for the local elections has been suspended after posting on Facebook about an “invasion of Islam” and “stoning migrants”.

The paper says that Stuart Peach was standing to be elected as a Conservative councillor in Ashfield, where the party’s deputy chairman Lee Anderson is the local MP, but social media posts from 2019 have been unearthed which reportedly show Mr Peach referring to asylum seekers crossing the channel as “invaders”.

They add that he has since been suspended by the party, pending an investigation, but will appear on ballots as a Tory candidate because it is too late to make the change:

According to The Mirror, Mr Peach questioned what would happen if “the English started to take the law into their own hands” to deal with the issue. In another post, he allegedly wrote: “We have never been asked if we want this invasion of Islam.”

He also used his social media to praise home secretary Suella Braverman. Alongside a picture of the Cabinet minister, he is said to have posted: “We the people stand with this fine lady to defend ‘our shores’. Stop the invasion!”

In one post, Mr Peach asked: “What would happen if 200,000 Englishmen marched down to Dover and started stoning the migrants?”

This is undoubtedly the right decision, but when are the Tories going to suspend Suella Braverman?

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The disproportionate impact of inflation

Inflation may be running at around 10% at the moment, but for some basics it is much higher than that. The Guardian reports that the price of staple foods such as cheddar cheese, white bread and pork sausages has soared by up to 80% in some shops over the past year, in further evidence of how inflation is hitting those on the tightest budgets the hardest.

The paper says that porridge oats topped the price increase ranking among a basket of British basics measured by the consumer group Which?, with prices up by an average of 35.5% followed by skimmed milk, which was up by 33.6%, and cheddar cheese, which rose by 28.3%:

However, an 180g pack of Dragon cheddar cheese in Asda was priced 80% higher than a year before – putting it top of the study’s inflationary list for individual product lines. The same retailer’s own-label cheddar sticks were up by just under 79%. Asda’s budget Just Essentials pork sausages were up by 73%, a similar increase to Tesco’s Woodside Farms best-value pork sausages.

Sue Davies, the head of food policy at Which?, said: “Our latest supermarket food and drink tracker paints a bleak picture for the millions of households already skipping meals of how inflation is impacting prices on supermarket shelves, with the poorest once again feeling the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

“While the whole food chain affects prices, supermarkets have the power to do more to support people who are struggling, including ensuring everyone has easy access to basic, affordable food ranges at a store near them, particularly in areas where people are most in need.”

The Which? survey reflects a recent trend for price rises in supermarkets’ budget ranges as well as to their regular own-label goods and international brands as retailers pass on cost hikes linked to energy and commodity cost increases.

Such increases appear to confirm fears, raised over a year ago by the food campaigner Jack Monroe, that the poorest are being hit hardest by inflation.

Which?’s tracker shows that while supermarket own-label budget items remain the cheapest overall, prices rose 24.8% in March year on year. The price of standard supermarket own brands was up by 20.5% in the same period, while branded goods and premium own brand ranges rose by 13.8%.

Year-on-year price increases for all groceries reached an all-time high of 17.5% in the four weeks to 19 March, according to figures from the data firm Kantar.

Analysis of government data by Labour also found dramatic increases in the wholesale price of everyday fruit and vegetables with carrots up 80% since 2019, cauliflowers 161% and tomatoes 142%.

It is little wonder that public sector workers, including teachers and nurses, want pay increases that reflect the rising cost of living their daily lives. Isn't it time the government gave them a decent pay award?

Monday, April 17, 2023

Sexual misconduct and racism in the police

The Guardian reports that sexual misconduct and racism claims against officers are proportionally higher in some English forces than at the Metropolitan police, as new figures also revealed starkly different approaches to recording.

The paper says that three forces – Essex, Suffolk and Staffordshire – had, by proportion, more officers under investigation due to allegations of racism than the Met, according to the snapshot of investigations covering the period of late January and early February:

While 30 officers were under investigation in Suffolk – a force of 1,298 – over allegations of racism and 37 at Staffordshire, the figure was as high as 157 at Essex police, according to data released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

Essex police said this was because the force comprehensively followed Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) guidance that all public complaints around racial discrimination are recorded as an investigation at the point they are lodged. This differs to processes followed by other forces, some of which do not formally record discrimination allegations.

A spokesperson for the force, which has more than 3,400 officers, said: “Our approach ensures a better service to the complainant, as they receive a comprehensive report in response to their concerns and any issues arising about officer behaviour are identified. This does also mean that we would expect our figures to be higher than those of some other forces.”

Of the 157 Essex police officers under investigation as of 13 January, 70 have been told they have no case to answer. Eighty-six investigations are continuing.

Meanwhile, two forces – Staffordshire and Bedfordshire – had by proportion more officers officially under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct than the Met.

Nineteen officers were being investigated at Staffordshire and 14 at Bedfordshire, according to the snapshot of investigations.

Another force with a relatively high proportion of investigations into allegations of racism against its officers was the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, whose ranks had included Sarah Everard’s killer, Wayne Couzens, and the serial rapist David Carrick. Twelve officers were under investigation over alleged racism, including seven suspended ones.

The figures were obtained by the Guardian through multiple FoI requests, although some forces refused to provide any figures, claiming that doing so could lead to the identification of individuals. This included the British Transport Police.

However, the challenges of trying to understand the scale of the problem and comparing the approaches of different police forces was also illustrated by marked variations in the way different forces record complaints.

Staffordshire’s figures included some cases where an investigation was no longer active, due to limitations in the force’s recording system, which it is working to resolve.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the force said there had been an increase in officers under investigation and it believed this was “due to an increase in confidence in reporting and our robust stance”.

If this problem is to be rooted out then consistency in reporting and in the way these claims are investigated is crucial. The way these issues are dealt with is crucial to maintaining public confidence in the police.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sunak attack ad comes back to bite Starmer

I have just listened to a discussion on Radio Wales in which a former Labour adviser argued that the advert out out by Labour, accusing Rishi Sunak of failing to put paedophiles in prison has been succsesful because it is being talked about in pubs. Putting aside the fact that pub talk is a hardly a measure of competence and success, in my experience very few people are in fact discussing it, but of those who are, it is hardly doing Labour any favours.

The Observer reports that an an Opinium poll has found that the controversial “attack ad” has caused more voters to think negatively of Keir Starmer’s party than a Conservative poster that accused the Labour leader of being soft on crime.

The pollsters found that the Labour advert about Sunak made 17% of those polled feel less favourable about the Conservatives, but also 12% feel less favourable to Labour. The Conservative advert about Starmer made 9% feel less favourable about Labour and 2% less positive about the Conservatives:

Behind the scenes, however, the release of the crime attack ad has caused tensions and dented confidence within Labour, with senior figures and officials at odds over the party’s campaigning style. Last Wednesday, Starmer’s political director, Luke Sullivan, gave senior advisers a dressing-down after stinging unattributable briefings against the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, appeared in the media. The briefings, including suggestions that Cooper still had leadership ambitions and was disloyal, followed a report in the Observer last weekend saying that she had nothing to do with the ad and that several shadow cabinet ministers were blindsided by its release.

One Labour insider said there was a lot of “nervousness” about whether the party had lurched too suddenly from a relatively sober approach under Starmer into “dirty politics”. “It was quite painful. There was no laying of the ground. It is not where we have pitched before,” said one senior adviser.

Some see the change of style, which officials say was approved by a combination of Morgan McSweeney, the party’s campaign director, Shabana Mahmood, the national campaign coordinator, David Evans, the general secretary, and shadow justice secretary Steve Reed, as a panicked reaction to Sunak’s re-establishment of some semblance of competence to government after the chaos under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, during which Labour had to do little but sit and watch its poll lead soar.

“We expected this with Sunak,” said a party source. “He was always going to be different because he is not as crazy as Boris Johnson and not as mad as Liz Truss. But there remain questions about whether we lose more than we gain by coming off the moral high ground.”

A shadow cabinet source added: “We all had loads of emails. Our people didn’t like it. They thought it crossed the line.” Some of those who complained believed the ad had racist undertones.

While much of the criticism has come from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, including the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, it is by no means confined to that wing of the party. Another frontbencher said the ad was a product of Starmer’s lack of clear political vision, combined with frustration at having to limit spending commitments to a bare minimum in the belief that doing so bolsters Labour’s economic credibility. “If we can’t say much on policy, the view is that we have to attack them more. That is the thinking.

“But do people believe it when we tear into Sunak personally, when he has only been there five minutes? It’s not the greatest look.”

Inside the shadow cabinet itself, differences of approach are clear. Some point to Cooper and Reed. “She [Cooper] is very cautious, very risk-averse and always has been, whereas Steve is very gung ho, says let’s lean into everything which can be a problem,” said a well-informed source.

Labour may have retained their poll lead but if they keep up with this sort of campaign they will start to lose ground.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The consequences of lower environmental standards outside the EU

There is a terrible stink surrounding Brexit and it has nothing to do with the lies we were told in the lead-up to the referendum campaign. Specifically, it is that now we are outside the EU, there is nobody to tell us to clean up our waterways.

One of the consequences of that is highlighted by this article in the Independent, which reports that there were more than 3,000 “monster” sewage dumps into England’s rivers and seas last year, up 63% from the year before.

The paper refers to analysis of Environment Agency data by the Liberal Democrats, which found that 3,276 storm overflows were classed as having a “high spill frequency” in 2022, meaning they dump sewage so frequently into a single area that water firms are obliged to investigate the cause within three months. This marked a steep increase from 2021, when there were 2,008.

In total, 194,900 spills were counted from these overflows, lasting more than 1.36 million hours in total.

In the Guardian, we learn that more than 7,500 days’ worth of raw sewage was dumped in the constituencies of cabinet ministers last year, with the Yorkshire seat of the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, coming third on the leaderboard, with 3,455 dumping events, lasting 20,615 hours.

It is surely time for the government to clean up its act.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Tories showing their true colours

In Pembrokeshire, a Tory county councillor is being investigated by the ombudsman after allegedly saying: "All white men should have a black man as a slave". 

According to the Mirror, Andrew Edwards is also accused of saying black people were of "lower class" than whites and has refused to deny the claims.

But is this an isolated case or just a further manifestation of the way that Tories at all levels now are demonising minority groups in an attempt to garner some form of popularist support? It is little wonder that a former Tory Party chair has felt it necessary to speak out.

The Mirror reports that Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has questioned whether the Home Secretary has the skills to do her job and called on Rishi Sunak to "get a grip", claiming Ms Braverman was dragging the government "into the gutter"

They say that the former Tory Party chairwoman has called on Conservative MPs to speak out against Suella Braverman's "racist" words and save the party from Donald Trump-style oblivion:

The Conservative peer and former cabinet member spoke out after dozens of high-profile figures wrote to the PM demanding action over Ms Braverman's hateful rhetoric.

Baroness Warsi said: "I genuinely felt with the change in leadership with Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister that we were going to return to some level of grown up politics. I just think the Home Secretary keeps dragging him back into the gutter."

Ms Braverman sparked fury when she claimed British Pakistani men “hold cultural values at odds with British values” when talking about grooming gangs.

And she came under fire after she criticised police for seizing racist golliwog dolls from a pub in Essex after complaints from the public.

Baroness Warsi said: "I think we need to make it clear that this isn't going to be our strategy for the next 18 months - racist rhetoric and rabble rousing.

"The alternative explanation is that this is a Home Secretary who is incapable of making policy based on evidence and doesn't have the skillset to communicate policies in a way which don't create these huge glaring misunderstandings in the way she seems to do so."

The Tory grandee continued: "It just disturbs me that first it was migrants, then it was asylum seekers, then it was British Pakistani males.

"Today she's defending a landlord who thinks it's ok to have golliwogs hanging in his pub and talk about it on social networks and say they used to hang them in Mississippi not so long ago.

"And she felt the need to come out and defend that individual. It's just shocking. There's either an issue of deliberate divisive rhetoric or there's an issue of competence, but either way the Prime Minister's got to get a grip on this."

Baroness Warsi said she was alarmed that a former lawyer like Ms Braverman could be so provocative, saying: "I'm astonished that someone who's had legal training just cannot seem to communicate in any sensible evidence-based grown up way."

Racism and victim-blaming within the Tory Party is being led from the very top. It is little wonder that they are attracting people as members who identify with that rhetoric.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Voter suppression law will...er...reduce turnout, says Tory

We all knew that legislating to require ID at polling stations had nothing to do with voting fraud, and everything to do with suppressing turnout amongst certain classes of voters more likely to vote against the Tories, but its good to see one senior Tory at least, acknowledge that fact.

The Mirror reports that an ex-Tory Cabinet minister has warned that turnout at next month's local elections risks being reduced by the introduction of mandatory voter ID.

The paper says that David Davis believes that the controversial multi-million pound policy risks having a "more deleterious effect" on voting than the issue the new law is attempting to solve:

The senior Tory MP told The Mirror he would like to see ministers delay the policy and re-think, but admitted the Government was unlikely to do so at this "late stage".

It comes as voters across England will be forced to show a form of photo ID - for the first time - when they head to the ballot box in May .

But campaigners have repeatedly warned many risk being excluded on election day if they fail to present the correct documents at polling stations.

They have also highlighted the low take-up of the Government's free Voter Authority Certificate, with just over 40,000 people applying in England.

The ex-Brexit Secretary Mr Davis said: "I opposed it [Voter ID] when it was proposed. It seems to me it is trying to solve a problem that's not really there".

Last week The Mirror revealed that police had issued just one caution for electoral fraud in 2022 - despite the multi-million pound cost of the new voter ID law.

Surveys also show 27% of voters are not aware of the new rule, prompting fears that tens of thousands could be blocked from casting their ballots.

Pressed on whether he believed it will impact turnout at the local elections next month, Mr Davis replied: "The only direction it can move it in is down.

"If people turn up and they either haven't got an ID with them or they don't own an ID at all - in both circumstances it will reduce the likelihood of them voting."

He added: "It will undoubtedly reduce the turnout. Whether it's by a fraction of a per cent or more than that is impossible to tell at this point in time."

It will be well worth watching turnout figures next month.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

How the hostile environment is harming the NHS

One of the consequewnces of the UK Government's immigration policy is the impact it is having on the country's economy. Not only do we have farmers who can't get workers to pick their crops, a hospitality industry struggling to recruit workers and other labour shortages, but people with key skills are being left to languish in temporary accommodation, all because there are no longer any legitimate routes to claim asylum, while red tape prevents or puts off people coming over here to work, as they once did.

The Observer reports that there are more than 160,000 asylum seekers still waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim at the end of last year, and that, among those trapped in the Home Office backlog and unable to work there are thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

Meanwhile, the NHS in England is facing a recruitment crisis that has left it with 154,000 fewer full-time staff than needed and could leave it short of 571,000 staff by 2036.

Robina Qureshi, the chief executive of the refugee charity Positive Action in Housing, which is providing resettlement grants to asylum seekers to help them work in the NHS, said that Brexit had led to an exodus of people leaving the UK for a cheaper life elsewhere in Europe, while NHS waiting lists soar. “Yet here in the UK we estimate there are thousands of potential nurses, carers and doctors who are available to work and contribute to our society right now,” she added.

The Doctors’ Association UK called on the government to allow qualified asylum seekers to work and called on ministers to act urgently to resolve the “ridiculous situation”.

A spokesperson for the campaign group, which is led by frontline doctors, said: “It is a clear failure of government thinking to not allow qualified individuals who are present in the country and willing to work, but are prevented from doing so due to bureaucratic failures.

“Nobody benefits from this situation, neither the public nor the individuals caught in this traumatic set of circumstances.”

This is what happens when you adopt a fortress mentality and play the right wing popularist. It is not just those fleeing war, famine and torture who suffer, but the whole country.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Tourism hit by Brexit

The Guardian reports that the damage caused to our economy is extending to the tourist sector. They say that French and German tourists are beginning to avoid the UK because of post-Brexit restrictions on travelling with identity cards:

Since anti-Covid measures ended across Europe last year, tourism has started to recover, but there are growing signs that significant numbers of French and Germans – two of the largest markets for UK tourism – are staying away.

Since October 2021, EU citizens have needed a passport to enter the UK. Previously they could use ID cards, but less than half the population of France and Germany hold a valid passport. People who run tourist attractions and businesses in the UK say that although Americans have returned in large numbers, the French and Germans have not.

Jersey’s government is so concerned that last month it announced a pilot project allowing French citizens to show their ID cards on day trips to the island. This year, walking tours in Oxfordshire, a significant part of the tourist trail for foreign visitors, are seeing bookings from France and Germany at half their 2019 levels.

The number of passenger vehicles transported by Le Shuttle through the Channel tunnel in the first two months of 2023 dropped to 251,175, compared with 314,497 in 2019. Brittany Ferries said in December that it had 155,000 arrivals in 2022 compared with 338,000 in 2019.

The decline is not just down to the issue of passports – Brexit has also battered the perception of Britain as a welcoming nation for tourists. Data from Visit Britain and the Anholt Ipsos Nation Brand Index shows a decline in how French and German people view the UK’s standing compared with other countries.

In 2016, Germans ranked the UK as the 7th best place to visit, and French people ranked it 9th. By 2022, the UK had fallen to 16th and 14th respectively.

Joss Croft OBE, chief executive of UKinbound, the trade association for the inbound tourism industry, said French and German tourists still regard the UK very highly.

“However, we know that the introduction of the new requirement for passports for EU citizens to access the UK … is proving to be a deterrent to travel, particularly for school groups, due to the additional costs and bureaucracy,” he said.

School groups are particularly badly affected because if one or two children in a class of 30 do not have passports, teachers will elect to travel to Ireland or Malta for English language trips instead. Children with non-EU passports, such as refugees, will also need a £95 visa to enter the UK.

Research by the Tourism Alliance last year found there had been an 83% drop in schoolchildren and students visiting the UK, leading to a loss of £875m and 14,500 jobs.

Something else that was missed off the side of the bus.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Those evidence free prejudices

We all suspected it, but now it has been confirmed, the Guardian reports that the Home Office has admitted it has no evidence to back one of the key justifications for its crackdown on small boat crossings.

The paper says that as home secretary in 2021, Priti Patel told parliament that “70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants”. In December last year, with the number of boat arrivals continuing to increase, her successor, Suella Braverman, backed the assertion, saying to MPs: “There is considerable evidence that people are coming here as economic migrants, illegally.” The problem is that it is simply not the case:

Human rights groups say such claims help create a false narrative that individuals arriving by boat are not genuine asylum seekers so are less deserving of sympathy.

However, when asked via a Freedom of Information request for evidence to support Patel’s claim, the Home Office admitted it had none. Its response – dated 20 March 2023, a year after the request was sent – states: “We have carried out a thorough search and we have established that the Home Office does not hold the information requested.” But the former home secretary’s statement appears not to have been corrected.

Sophie McCann, migration advocacy officer at charity MSF UK, said: “The government has failed to provide any evidence to support claims that the majority of those trying to reach the UK are so-called economic migrants. These kinds of statements are deployed to demonise and dehumanise people seeking safety here, stirring up divisions, with real and dangerous consequences. We know that many people who reach the UK are fleeing war, persecution and other hardships… and lots have survived violence, torture, and trafficking.”

The Home Office’s own data confirms that most of the people who reached the UK by small boat in 2022 – at least six in 10 – would be recognised as refugees. Despite this, the British government has closed or severely restricted most safe routes to the UK, leaving people with no choice but to risk the Channel crossing.

The failure of the government to justify its “economic migrant” argument comes days after Rishi Sunak and immigration minister Robert Jenrick were rebuked by the UK statistics watchdog for using inaccurate figures about asylum seekers.

Human rights groups say the Home Office has attempted to manipulate the debate by calling arrivals from Albania economic migrants or criminals, rather than refugees. Braverman caused outrage last November by saying: “If Labour were in charge they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country.”

Of the 45,756 people who arrived by small boats last year, 28% were Albanian. Charities argue that asylum seekers from Albania travel to the UK primarily because of poverty and corruption, and that many are “viciously exploited” after arriving. The Home Office responded by describing Albania as a “safe country”, adding that its nationals formed the biggest share of small boat arrivals last year.

McCann added: “The UK has a moral and legal responsibility to provide protection to people seeking sanctuary here, yet this government continues to desperately introduce punitive and deliberately cruel policies.”

The dogwhistle politics pursued by this government on immigration and asylum are damaging our reputation at home and abroad, more importantly they are leaving desperate and damaged individuals without the support they need as they flee war, famine and torture. Ministers should hold their heads in shame.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

The inbuilt racism in the police's new technology

The BBC report that civil rights groups have claimed facial recognition technology will make racism within the police worse.

They say that South Wales Police is set to start reusing the controversial technology after an independent review said it was not discriminatory, but Liberty have said that history showed it would "always be used disproportionately against communities of colour":

Live facial recognition enables police to find people at big events suspected of committing crimes.

In 2020, appeal court judges ruled a trial project to scan thousands of faces by South Wales Police was unlawful.

The force had paused its use of the technology amid concerns over discrimination, but will resume in the wake of a report commissioned in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police.

It found there were minimal discrepancies for race and sex when the technology is used at certain settings.

Liberty, which describes itself as "the UK's largest civil liberties organisation," said the technology was oppressive and had no place in a democracy.

"Our ability to express ideas, communicate with others and engage in democratic processes will be undermined by technology such as facial recognition," said campaigns manager Emmanuelle Andrews.

"The expansion of mass surveillance tools has no place on the streets of a rights respecting democracy."


But following a damning report about the Met and concerns about racism, misogyny and homophobia within Gwent Police, campaign groups said they have every right to be concerned.

"Facial recognition doesn't make people safer," Mr Andrews said.

"It entrenches patterns of discrimination and sows division.

"History tells us that surveillance technology will always be used disproportionately against communities of colour and those most marginalised in our society and at a time when racism in UK policing has rightly been highlighted.

"It's simply unjustifiable to use a technology that will make this even worse."

Race Council Cymru's Molara Awen pointed to incidents where the technology has had "difficulty identifying black faces".

She said the decision had been made without the organisation being consulted.

"We know that the justice system does not work equally for black people as it does for white people," she added.

"We're all of a sudden supposed to just trust them? And it's all fine?"

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have also expressed their concerns. Leena Farhat, speakimg on behalf of the party said:

“While it is welcome that South Wales Police have listened to some concerns regarding ingrained bias in this technology, its use still makes myself and many others deeply uncomfortable.

“This technology is only as reliable as the people who programme it and we know from trials in London there is a particularly high error rate for people of black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, as well as for children and women.

“There are strict rules on indiscriminately taking and cross-referencing our fingerprints and DNA but legislation has not caught up to apply to the use of live facial recognition technology.

“We all want to see crime tackled, but Wales should not become a society where innocent people feel as though their every movement is being watched by the police.”

This is clearly a very concerning development.

Friday, April 07, 2023

The damaging impact of Tory Ministers' misjudged massacre

The Mirror reports that figures, quietly slipped out while MPs are away from Westminster, have revealed that the badger cull death toll has passed 200,000, laying bare the extent of the decade-long killing programme aimed at curbing bovine tuberculosis.

They add that a report by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs revealed 33,627 of the creatures were slaughtered last year:

Added to the 174,517 killed since 2013 under efforts to curb the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, it takes the total number of badgers culled in the decade-long programme to 208,144.

Badger Trust executive director Peter Hambly said: “Badger setts across England are lying empty for the first time in history.

“One of our most iconic native wild animals is being wiped from parts of our natural landscape because of the badger cull.

“In just a decade, half of our population of badgers has been killed.”

This misjudged massacre of a protected species is continuing in England despite the fact that scientific research has repeatedly proven that badger culling doesn’t work. Instead, Defra need to concentrate on more effective disease-control methods that will make a lasting difference to English farmers - enhanced biosecurity such as restricting cattle movements, more effective cattle testing and cattle vaccination.

As I blogged back in 2008, when Wales' Plaid Cymru Rural Affairs Minister sought to initiate a cull here, the Independent Scientific Group in England carried out a ten year study, which included trials of badger culling. 

They concluded that culling could make no meaningful contribution to bovine TB control. Their research has been published in international, peer-reviewed journals and the authors analysed in detail, every possible culling option before reaching their conclusion.

These latest figures indicate that the UK Government is not so much focussed on a cull, but a total extermination of badgers. They need to be stopped.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Met vetting procedures under fire

The Independent reports that the Metropolitan Police’s vetting system is under fire after it emerged that convicted sex offenders are among those with criminal convictions still serving in the force.

They add that Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley says that there are “sex offender cases” and “serious violence cases” among the 161 officers with criminal convictions – admitting the rules around getting rid of unfit staff were “crazy”:

Susan Hall, chair of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, said the figures “proved” the current Scotland Yard vetting service is not “fit for purpose”.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if she was prepared to accept 161 officers with convictions, she said: “No. How on earth did they ever get through?”

Ms Hall added “It does prove that the vetting service isn’t fit for purpose. They’ve got to set the bar much higher. We’ve got to make sure that the public have confidence in our police force.”

The country’s biggest police force has moved officers from tackling serious and organised crime and counter-terrorism to internal standards to help clean-up its own workforce.

The Met has admitted 161 officers have criminal convictions, including three serving officers have convictions for sexual offences. Another 49 have convictions for crimes of dishonesty or violence – eight of whom committed the offences while they were police officers and remain serving with the force.

Sir Mark told the Radio 4 Today programme: “I think the current policy is too permissive and leaves too much ground for interpretation. There’s certainly some people when I looked at the list and thought, ‘Crikey – that’s not right’.”

But the commissioner admitted that it was “crazy” that there is not enough “leeway” to dismiss the “hundreds” of people in the force who should not be there – agreeing that the regulations have to change for necessary dismissals.

He told the BBC the force is under police regulations rather than “normal employment law”, adding: “Those regulations over time have become byzantine and complex.

Sir Mark said: “People will be shocked. Some of the people on that list of criminal convictions are people that the Met has sacked [and been reinstated].”

The commissioner added: “So not having clear provision to dismiss people who have failed the re-vetting process is crazy.”

It is little wonder that the vast majority of women mistrust the Met to sort themselves out.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Who's paying our MPs?

The Guardian says that a report from the House of Commons standards committee has called on MPs to be banned from using foreign governments to fund parliamentary “special interest” groups, as part of a crackdown on the influence of potentially hostile states in parliament.

The paper adds that at least two Gulf countries are said to have financially supported All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), while fears have been raised for years among security officials about the opaque nature of how the networks operate:

The Commons and Lords speakers are particularly concerned about the influence of foreign governments among APPGs, and are behind the push to block funding of the groups and donations of gifts in kind such as administration services.

Now a report from the Commons standards committee has gone further – making sweeping suggestions to curb the potential dangers posed by external secretariats, who effectively run the groups on behalf of MPs.

Given concerns the current rules that ban such secretariats from being handed a parliamentary pass are not being properly enforced, a review of pass-holders has also been recommended.

There are more than 740 APPGS – more than one for every MP. To limit the number, the standards committee is pushing for every group to have a maximum of four “officers” who are all jointly liable for following the rules. It also wants MPs to be allowed to be an officer for only six groups.

The ability of businesses to lobby MPs has also caused concern. APPGs that get more than £1,500 in financial benefits a year would face tough new restrictions under the rule changes suggested by the standards committee.

They would be forced to produce an annual report about their work, and have their annual general meetings chaired by an MP who is not part of the group but instead selected from a panel chosen by the speaker.

All APPGs should be banned from accepting foreign governments’ money, and have to publish their annual income and spending, the standards committee said.

Chris Bryant, the chair of the standards committee and a Labour MP, told the Guardian: “The easiest way in the world to peddle influence around parliament – whether appropriate or not – is through APPGs. There’s far too many of them. It’s out of control and we need to rein it in.”

Bryant added: “The whole of our system of lobbying has a soft underbelly – and it’s called APPGs. Anyone can set them up, they’re running in five minutes and you hardly have to have anyone interested or turn up – yet then you can tout your influence around parliament very easily.”

There are already strict transparency rules for individual MPs, these need to be extented to parliamentary groups too, if we are to protect our democracy from outside influences.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Tories' evidence-free voter suppression hits stormy waters

Voters going to the polls in England in a few weeks time will find that there has been a major change in the arrangements for them to state their democratic preference. It will be the first time that anybody wanting to vote will be required to prove who they are through some form of ID.

Ministers argue that this new measure is necessary to tackle fraud, however as the Guardian reports, statistics shave shown that there was not a single proven case of in-person voter impersonation last year. In fact the biggest risk is postal voting, which has no such measures attached to it.

The paper suggests that the new requirements could lead to mass confusion at polling stations as voters are turned away for lack of the appropriate ID, as official data shows that there has been minimal take-up of free official voter documents, with applications for the relevant paperwork closing in three weeks:

Data from the Electoral Commission said that in elections in 2022, which covered local elections in England, Scotland and Wales, elections to the Northern Ireland assembly, a series of mayoral elections in England and six Commons byelections, there were seven allegations of “personation” at polling stations, as the offence is officially known.

There was no action by police in any of these cases because there was either insufficient evidence to proceed or no evidence of wrongdoing, the report found.

There were three allegations of personation involving postal voting, which is not affected by the new ID rules, with one still being investigated.

There were 185 electoral-related offences reported during 2022 in all, the majority of them connected to campaigning rather than voting, with no action taken in 119 instances.

The statistics highlight a point made repeatedly by opponents of voter ID, that it tackles a problem which is almost unknown in Britain, while creating a barrier to voting for the estimated 2 million adults who lack the necessary documentation.

Those without ID can apply for a free so-called voter authority certificate, issued by their council but available via a central government portal.

A running tally for central applications, which close on 25 April, show that as of Sunday exactly 37,000 people had applied, fewer than 2% of the possible number of voters lacking ID.

Older and younger voters are even less likely to have applied for the document, despite both groups being seen as vulnerable to being put off from voting by the new laws. So far, just 1,361 people aged 75 or older have applied, 3.6% of the total. Just 6% of applications, 2,247 in all, have been from under-25s.

It is becoming more and more evident that these new rules are an an expensive, and unnecessary policy designed to dicsourage voting by groups who are unlikely to support the Tories. It is voter suppression by another name.

Monday, April 03, 2023

Why the new trade deal is bad for the UK

Following my rant on Friday about the new Indo-Pacific trade pact and the British public not being allowed to vote on it, I was interested in this article by Nick Dearden in the Guardian, which seems to reinforce my point.

Dearden claims that this trade deal is so contentious that it united Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in opposition to US membership, and that in signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Britain has ditched environmental standards, signed up to terms that will undermine British farmers, and left us open to being sued by multinational corporations in secretive courts. And all for no real economic benefit:

The deal began life as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, a last gasp of hyper-globalisation. Alongside its ill-fated sister deal, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), it aims to lock participating countries into rules that prioritise pro-market, corporate interests. The corporate power grab was then sold to a sceptical public as a way of containing China’s economic power, by surrounding that country in a sea of neoliberal trade.

But, like TTIP, the deal sailed into strong anti-globalisation headwinds. In the US, the last thing the public wanted was more outsourced jobs, longer and more fragile supply chains, and further power vested in the hands of big business. The 2016 presidential election was the death knell for US membership.

When the US withdrew, a few contentious parts of the deal were placed on ice – including rules that would have handed even more power to pharmaceutical monopolies to set medicine prices. But there is much to dislike in what remains of what became known as the CPTPP.

The most pressing issue reported from the talks is that Britain has been forced to lower environmental standards as a condition for entry to the deal. Palm oil plantations in Malaysia are a driver of deforestation, threatening biodiversity including the survival of orangutan populations. European tariffs on palm oil aim to stop deforestation, but the UK is understood to have agreed to scrap the tariffs as a condition for entry into the Pacific deal, in effect reneging on deforestation pledges made at the UN climate conference in Glasgow.

But it gets worse, because the Pacific trade deal isn’t a one-time set of rules, but rather gives corporate lobbyists permanent power to force governments to lower standards over time. The whole point of the CPTPP is to get countries to recognise standards as equivalent to each other – and to accept imports even where there are real differences in standards.

Britain still endorses the precautionary principle, which places the burden of proof on the producer of a product to demonstrate that it is safe. Most signatories to the Pacific trade deal do not, and there will be inevitable pressure to accept food containing pesticides that have been outlawed here, antibiotics in livestock farming or hormone-treated beef.

But nothing better displays the heavy bias towards big business interests than the corporate court system at the heart of the CPTPP – an international arbitration system that will allow corporations to sue the British government for treating them “unfairly”.

Fairness, here, is highly subjective. Corporate courts are increasingly used to challenge all manner of climate action, and Canadian companies are particularly aggressive users of the system, having brought 64 cases against governments. One such ongoing case sees Colombia being sued for $700m for daring to restrict gold mining operations on environmental grounds, by a Canadian company that didn’t even have all the permits needed to mine, and had had its environmental impact assessment rejected.

In another, more famous, case, a Canadian corporation is suing Biden’s administration for $15bn for cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried environmentally devastating tar sands oil from Alberta to the US. Canada is a signatory to the CPTPP.

And all of this in the absence of evidence that the deal will boost jobs or growth. By the government’s own estimates, the deal will add a mere 0.08% of GDP after running for about 10 years – a number so small as to be meaningless in the uncertain world of economic predictions.

As Dearden says, in order to prove we’ve taken back control, we are, in reality, relinquishing it as quickly as possible, while the parliamentary committee able to properly scrutinise treaties like the CPTPP was abolished last week.

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