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Friday, June 30, 2023

A very uncivil war

The Independent reports on more turmoil within the Conservative Party, which they describe as a civil war, claiming Rishi Sunak is struggling to manage the unruly elements in his own party.

The paper says that Boris Johnson’s most loyal allies, including Nadine Dorries and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, are causing yet more trouble for the Prime Minister – and could even face suspension from parliament for their roles in a “disturbing” campaign to undermine the privileges committee.

Meanwhile, Sunak also faces Tory divisions on small boats, after the Rwanda policy was ripped apart by High Court judges who decided it was not a safe enough place to send Britain’s asylum seekers.

Seven MPs and three Tory peers – including serving minister Zac Goldsmith – were named and shamed in the latest scathing report of the privileges committee, which suggested the Commons may wish to consider whether they were in contempt of parliament. 

This is putting pressure on Sunak to sack or at least condemn his Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith for joining in with attempts to discredit the work of the committee.

Furthermore, if Labour and the Liberal Democrats push for the Johnson supporters to be punished, it leaves the Tory leader in the difficult position of either backing people who despise him or being seen to hang a rump of his own MPs out to dry.

The Rwanda decision has caused an even more fundamental split. The Guardian says that Former cabinet minister Simon Clarke – a Liz Truss ally knighted by Mr Johnson – said on Thursday it could be time to “revisit the question of our [ECHR] membership” if the looming Supreme Court case goes against the government. But moderates such as ex-justice secretary Robert Buckland loathe the idea:

Mr Sunak says he is willing to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the government gets its way. Would he be able to win the backing of his own MPs for a manifesto promising to defy the human rights convention and put the UK in the same company as Russia?

One gloomy senior Tory MP told The Independent the small boats policy now risks turning off wavering voters on two fronts, alienating those who don’t like the idea of defying courts and angering those who just want to see the flights take off.

Sunak is trying to rally the electorate to his five big pledges. But he is having a hard time convincing his own fractious troops they can be achieved by the next election. “We said we’d fix inflation and, six months on, it isn’t fixed,” said one MP worried about losing their seat in 2024.

Former No 10 adviser Tim Montgomerie warned on Thursday that even if “Jesus Christ returned to Earth” and became Tory leader the party was still “doomed” at the next election.

It sums up the mood of bleak pessimism in the party at the moment. The Tories did not mistake Mr Sunak for the messiah when he walked into No 10 eight months ago, but they hoped things would be beginning to get better by now. Patience is wearing thin.

Time for a general election.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Does the Bank of England know what it's doing?

Last week, I argued that raising interest rates was no longer the fix-all solution for high inflation rates because oujt-of-control prices were not being led by demand, but by costs. Now the Independent reports that the Bank of England’s chief economist has reinforced that point of view, by admitting that the bank's forecasting model has become “unworkable” during Britain’s current inflation crisis.

The paper says that Huw Pill has conceded that the central bank’s model had produced misleading forecasts which failed to assess the ongoing impacts of the Ukraine war on prices and wages:

Speaking at the European Central Bank (ECB) forum on Wednesday, Mr Pill said the Bank used a model “based on last quarter century” when inflation expectations “were well anchored and there was little evidence of persistence”.

It comes as Mr Bailey defended the decision to hike interest rates to a 15-year high of 5 per cent, claiming the monetary policy committee had to make a “strong move” after studying a surprisingly bad inflation report last week.

The Bank has come in for fierce criticism from Tory MPs, who have accused governor Andrew Bailey and his team of being “asleep at the wheel” as inflation crept up in recent years.
Mr Pill told the forum that the Bank had adjusted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but had failed to anticipate “how that shock is going to propagate” with “second-round effects”.

The chief economist explained that the model used by officials downplayed the combined effects of high energy prices continuing to push up prices and wages during a period of labour shortages.

“As inflation moves away from [the] target, the everything-else-equal assumption that allows us to break down the contributions to the drivers of inflation in a linear way tends to become unworkable,” the chief economist said.

“The likelihood of second-round effects is much stronger when there is a tight labour market. The impact of the shocks is not additive to one another but has an important multiplicative moment.”

The Bank announced an external review of its own forecasting after it hiked interest rates to a 15-year high of 5 per cent last week – having repeatedly failed to accurately predict stubbornly-persistent inflation.

Essentially, then, we are having to endure high mortgage rates, low pay settlements and increasing hardship because the Bank of England's economists can't see beyond the end of their own nose. Time for a rethink.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Brexit threatening electric car production

The Independent reports on the warning of one auto-industry chief that there is a post-Brexit “cliff edge” looming in January 2024 that threatens the growth of Britain’s electric car production.

The paper says that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has said that the future of the UK’s industry is a stake unless a deal was struck with the EU to delay new tariff rules until 2027:

Among the final parts of the Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson, changes set to come into force in 2024 state 45 per cent of an electric car’s value should originate in the UK or EU to qualify for trade without tariffs.

Calling for a three-year delay, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said on Tuesday: “There is huge potential for growth, and that growth is now at risk from tariffs.”

Mr Hawes told his organisation’s annual conference: “We’re saying basically suspend that requirement, and just let the regulation that’s currently in place flow through to 2027, which is the next threshold.”

He added: “We need to make sure those [tariffs] aren’t applied … We can’t afford to have a last minute, 31 December agreement, because business needs to plan its volumes.”

Yet another Brexit disaster for the UK economy looms.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Home Office intransigence putting children at risk

The Guardian refers to a report by the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit ('We Lost Our Lives When We Arrived Here'), which claims that lone child asylum seekers are facing fivefold increases in delays in having their claims processed by the Home Office, with devastating consequences.

The paper says that social workers, legal professionals and the children themselves have warned that the impact of being left in limbo about their future for so long includes the risk of suicide, self-harm and persistent insomnia:

The report includes GMIAU’s own casework and Home Office data as well as interviews with child asylum seekers about their experiences.

While the overall Home Office asylum backlog is at a record level – 166,261 cases at the end of 2022 – the new report examines the impact of this backlog on one particularly vulnerable group: child asylum seekers who are in the UK without their parents.

Children represented by GMIAU who received initial asylum decisions so far in 2023 have been waiting on average for 480 days, up from an average of 89 days in 2019. The children have fled a variety of conflict zones including Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan.

Social workers have warned that the asylum system is neither child-focused nor trauma-informed. “As a social worker I feel that my young people need to be protected from the Home Office and the ways in which evidence or answers could be used against them,” said one social worker quoted in the report.

Due to the long delays in determining children’s cases, especially if they are age-disputed or suspected victims of trafficking, some children “age out” before the Home Office has made a decision about their case, which means they turn 18.

One of the children interviewed for the report, Amara, said: “When we wait long, without any response, we feel like we have been forgotten. That’s what I want to show, that’s the feeling that comes. Being forgotten.”

Taiwo, another child, said: “They have to look at delays for young people, because so many people kill their own selves because of the status.”

A spokesperson for GMIAU said: “There is a clear solution to the problems we’re seeing: clear the backlog by granting asylum to all the children waiting in it. Instead, the government escalate their inflammatory scapegoating and lies about people seeking safety.

“We call on the government to scrap the legislation that is burning holes in our international commitments to refugee protection and to create an asylum system that allows people to safely and swiftly access representation, justice and protection, so that all members of our communities and all children in our care are safe.”

These children are yet more victims of the hostile environment being engendered by this Tory Government.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

An anniversary to forget?

Friday was the seventh anniversary of the Brexit vote and as a result we have been subjected to the odd bit of gloating by Brexiteers, who are clearly inhabiting a different world to the rest of us. Just in case the likes of Nigel Farage et al have missed it, Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian sets out precisely how that vote has left the UK poorer and more isolated in the world:

We don’t need to rehearse on this seventh anniversary all the ways in which Brexit has disappointed even those who voted for it. Farage and Redwood, along with Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest, promised increased prosperity, cheaper food, flourishing trade and a flush NHS. They said we’d be free of all that tedious European red tape and would take back control of our borders, encouraging anyone agitated by immigration to believe that fewer people would come in. There would be no downside, only upsides. As David Davis pledged soon after the vote, our exit deal would “deliver the exact same benefits” as EU membership.

Look around to see how all that turned out. The country is in the grip of a cost of living crisis, food prices are rocketing, trade is either down or static while it’s surged for our EU neighbours, and the NHS is ailing. Post-Brexit red tape is strangling thousands of small businesses, whether travelling musicians or exporters of goods, tying them up in daunting forms or extra charges that cost time and money they don’t have. Those who thought legal migration of 330,000 people a year was too much when they voted in 2016 now contemplate an annual figure nearly twice as high: 606,000. As for the terms of our exit, ask anyone who buys from, sells to or is stuck in a queue to visit the continent if we enjoy the “exact same benefits” we once did.

These are not remainer facts. They are facts understood and absorbed by a growing majority of the British people, including a good chunk of those who voted leave.

But is there a way back? Freedland is very much in tune with my own thinking, that we need to ease our way back gradually, not least because we need to take the people with us, but also because the EU would be reluctant to have us, and certainly would not accept us on the previous more favourable terms of membership. He believes that rejoin negotiations could span two Parliaments, and who has that sort of political capital to spend? We have to take lessons therefore from the Brexiteers:

The long march from 1975 to 2016 required a dogged, even obsessive, persistence and, as important, a strategic patience. They didn’t move straight to their end goal: before they were Brexiters, they posed as mere Eurosceptics. They were prepared to play the long game, inching incrementally – a rebellion over the Maastricht treaty here, opposition to joining the euro there – towards their ultimate goal of exit. Sad to say, it worked.

Rejoiners should do the same. Start with commonsense, popular demands – say, a new, reciprocal exchange scheme for young people, closer cooperation on security or shared food safety and environmental standards – moves only an ideologue could oppose. A review of the EU-UK trade agreement is due to start in 2026: with a Labour government in place, that could be the vehicle for steady, gradual convergence. After that, the Overton window could be sufficiently open to let in a conversation about re-entering the customs union and the single market. And once you’re talking about that, rejoining the EU itself becomes the natural course of action.

Step by step by step. Mocked and on the margins at first, dismissed as unrealistic or swivel-eyed, prepared to be a Europe bore – the Brexiters showed us how it’s done and what it takes. It might be harder for us than it was for them. We have the young, but they had the old and the old vote. We have facts, but they had myths, and myths are often more potent. Still, theirs is a path worth studying. It led them to a rupture from our neighbours. It might just lead us to a reunion.

I'm up for it, are you?

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Another reprimand for Johnson and Rees-Mogg

The Independent reports that ministers have confirmed that working from home has had no impact on government productivity, just a year after Boris Johnson claimed staff were “eating cheese and making coffee” on the job.

The paper says that the former prime minister’s government was highly critical of Whitehall civil servants working remotely, with senior ministers including Jacob-Rees Mogg demanding staff return to offices when Covid lockdown restrictions ended. 

But in a sharp change of stance, Rishi Sunak’s government has embraced hybrid working, where staff work some days at home and some in the office, with ministers claiming it has “supported productive and effective working”:

Mr Johnson claimed working at home involved "getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing".

And his efficiency minister Mr Rees-Mogg led a drive to get staff back at their desks – leaving “nasty” notes for staff not in the office – which strained relations between the government and officials.

The notes read: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.”

Now, in a series of responses to questions about the impact of remote working on productivity, ministers from the home office, foreign office and the departments for education and health said it had had no negative effects.

Government minister Mims Davies said research conducted “across the civil service” showed remote working had no impact on “overall productivity”.

While fellow minister Gareth Davies said: “Occupancy rate and hybrid working does not affect the department’s ability to deliver high-quality work.”

The PCS union, which represents civil servants, called on Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg to apologise for their “slurs” against civil servants.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The attack on homeworking was always a political attempt to justify an unjustifiable attack on our hard-working members.

“This new evidence backs up what we’ve always said: that homeworking does not have any impact on productivity.

“Perhaps Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, both of whom accused homeworkers of being lazy, should apologise for their slurs and accept they have lost the homeworking argument once and for all.”

They may be waiting some time for an apology.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Voter suppression in action in the UK

The verdict is in. According to the Electoral Commission, about 14,000 people were turned away from polling stations at May’s local elections because they lacked the right ID, with the overall number denied a vote likely to be considerably higher.

The Guardian says that the interim study by the Electoral Commission also warned of “concerning” signs that voters with disabilities, people who are unemployed, or those from particular ethnic groups could be disproportionately affected by the policy.

The Electoral Commission also said that 4% of people who did not vote said it was because of voter ID – a tally that could run into hundreds of thousands more:

Campaigners have warned that the policy targeted a barely-existing problem of voter impersonation, and risked particularly affecting people from disadvantaged groups.

The Electoral Commission said data collected at polling stations across 230 councils in England on 4 May found that 0.7% of voters were initially turned away for lacking the correct ID, with 63% of these returning, meaning around 14,000 people were confirmed as being denied a vote.

However, the report said, the actual figure was likely to be higher given that almost 40% of polling stations used “greeters”, tasked with telling voters before they went in that ID was needed.

If a person left before going into the polling station they were not recorded in the data. Polling stations that used greeters showed notably lower average rates of people turned away than those that did not – 0.55% against 0.8%.

The statistics were additionally likely to underestimate the extent of the problem because data from some polling stations was “incomplete or inaccurate”, the report added.

The commission carried out separate polling to determine why some people did not vote, which found that 4% blamed the new ID rules – of these, three-quarters said they lacked the necessary documents, while the remainder disagreed with the policy.

Although the total electorate and turnout for May’s elections have not yet been published, if they are similar to previous years it could mean at least 400,000 people decided not to vote because of the new rules.

While a broader report in September will examine demographic factors, the commission said initial evidence suggested voter ID disproportionately affected people who have disabilities or are unemployed, with some correlation also apparent with factors such as ethnicity.

It is clear then that the objective of this policy, to stop certain groups of people from voting, was achieved. It's just a shame that this included lots of Tories.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Why interest rate hikes are the wrong answer

As sure as night follows day, yesterday's news that inflation in the UK unexpectedly remained stuck at 8.7% in May is going to provoke yet another hike in interest rates today, possibly as much as 0.5 percentage points, an increase of 11.11%, leaving many people struggling to pay their mortgage, and thousands of families facing the prospect of losing their home.

But we've performed this dance before and still prices remain stubbornly high, and even when inflation does start to slide downwards, there is no way that things will become cheaper, we will have just climbed to yet another plateau, in anticipation of a future rock face appearing in front of us.

And let's face it, everybody knows that 8.7% inflation does not reflect the real cost of living. Food prices in particular continue to soar upwards at more than twice that rate, adding to the difficulties felt by consumers everywhere.

The fact is that the tools traditionally wielded by the Bank of England are no longer working. Is that because they have not been bold enough? Not in my opinion. 

In my view it is because this time inflation is not being fuelled by demand, after all which mortgagees have excess money to spend when already their rent or mortgage payments have increased massively, fuel costs have gone through the roof and putting food on the table is a daily budgetary challenge?

Conversely, the people who do have a bit of extra cash are those with no mortgage and who have savings in the bank, so any rate rise will give them even more to spend. Further interest rate rises are a futile gesture, a bit like King Canute trying to turn back the tide.

It seems to me that the current inflation is being driven by rising costs. These are pressures generated by the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, climate change and Brexit.

A lot of our food is imported so red tape, import costs caused by us leaving the EU and a number of other factors have made that activity more expensive. This is then reflected in the price charged, so even if demand for those products is reduced, it is unlikely that this process will be reversed.

So, what the government and the Bank of England are actually doing by raising people's mortgage and rent payments, and by suppressing wage increases, is aggravating the cost of living crisis without actually impacting on underlying inflation rates.

They need to find other tools, such as a free trade agreement with the EU or joining EFTA, leave interest rates alone and let people have pay increases that actually helps them to cope. 

I don't believe that putting more money into people's pockets will stimulate demand as Ministers claim. That is because, families are going into debt to meet their current financial obligations. 

Putting more money in their pockets will mean that they can avoid further debt, while maintaining their expenditure on essential items. How about it UK Government.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Welsh Government missing its climate change targets

A Wales-on-line article from a few weeks ago, highlights just how difficult it is to turn around the current climate change crisis. They say that the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the UK's independent adviser on tackling climate change, believes that the Welsh Government is not on track to meet its emissions targets.

The CCC warns that there has been insufficient progress on emissions reduction with the policy powers available. Their report argues that action should now be focused on those sectors where Welsh ministers have the greatest capacity to effect change.

The site says that the Welsh Government has set the target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through mapping out a series of legislated five-yearly carbon budgets and with other interim targets, but the report states that if this decarbonisation is to happen then Wales must now accelerate:

The report says that the tangible progress has been insufficient “in many areas that are dependent on Welsh Government policy powers”. It says that “most notably” tree-planting rates and peatland restoration rates are far too low and development of the charging infrastructure needed to support the transition to electric vehicles is not happening quickly enough.

On the rate of new woodland creation in Wales the report said it had “been consistently very low and is currently less than a third of the Welsh Government’s target of 2,000 hectares per year, which in turn is significantly less ambitious than the CCC’s pathway”.

It does however praise them for work done in the waste sector noting that “recycling rates remain higher than in the rest of the UK, but improvements have stalled in recent years”. The report also highlighted the “positive steps” such as the recent decision to cancel all major road projects on environmental grounds” while adding that the “Welsh Government is not using its policy powers to full effect”.

The report also said: “In those sectors where policy is mostly controlled in Wales the effort is insufficient to achieve the emissions reduction required. In particular, agriculture and land use are missing an overarching decarbonisation strategy and the Welsh Government’s plan for the Second Carbon Budget (2021-2025) projects a slight increase in emissions from agriculture. Low ambition in this sector puts the later targets at risk and increases Wales’s reliance on emissions reduction in sectors with reserved policy powers, such as industry.”

* Addressing the funding gap in 2024 for agri-environment financial support and overcoming non-financial barriers related to woodland creation through capacity-building and skills development;

* Delivering a widespread, reliable, and high-quality electric vehicle charging network and developing a full delivery plan for achieving Wales’s target of a 10% reduction in car-km per person compared to 2019 levels by 2030;

* Improving recycling policies to increase the currently stalled rates in Wales to ensure future recycling targets are met, and;

* Developing a detailed plan for delivering energy efficiency measures and low-carbon heat, drawing on local area energy plans, including clear deployment targets and investment costs, and enabling delivery of long-term plans to decarbonise public buildings, social housing, and fuel-poor homes.

So B+ for effort, but must do better.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Beware of the sewage

The Guardian carries a feature on the crisis facing our beaches and waterways, as more and more raw sewage is discharged there.

The paper says that between 15 May and 30 September last year, sewage was dumped into designated bathing waters more than 5,000 times. 

There were an average of 825 sewage spills every single day into England’s waterways in 2022. 

In the north west, United Utilities discharged untreated sewage almost 70,000 times last year, while Severn Trent Water discharged sewage through storm overflows 44,765 times in the same period. 

In just a single eight-day stretch, Southern Water dumped more than 3,700 hours’ worth of sewage at 83 bathing water beaches.

As a result the country’s most popular beach destinations have been suffering. Earlier this week eight beaches on the Fylde coast – including the iconic Blackpool Central – were shut to the public after a storm and heavy rain led to a massive sewage discharge by United Utilities.

Wales-on-line takes up the story this side of the border, focussing on the wildlife haven at Bryngarw Country Park near Bridgend.

They say that just two miles away from meadows, mature woodland and gardens, where you will see dippers and kingfishers diving for their supper in the rive Garw, on 325 out the 365 days in a year, everything households flush into their toilets and tip down their sinks is allowed to flow untreated for thousands of hours a year into this idyllic waterway. 

That is because two of Wales' most overused combined sewer overflows are less than a park run away upstream of this popular spot for walkers and families:

These outlets are among hundreds around Wales that are a regrettable legacy of the UK's largely Victorian sewer network. When the system can't cope because of high rainfall or other reasons, the excess simply tips out into waterways, rivers and seas around Wales through the overflows.

In steep sided valleys like the Garw, the network comes under additional pressure when water run off from the land finds its way into the sewers. Filled with the combined flushing of toilets, emptying of sinks and run off from roads and fields, the sewer network cannot cope and releases its diluted filthy excess into local rivers and streams.

Welsh Water has monitors that allow the water company to keep track of how much of this bacteria-filled water is pouring into local watercourses. And its figures from 2022 show the combined sewer overflows (CSO) at Pont-y-Rhyl and Llangeinor upstream of Bryngarw Country Park were the most heavily used in Wales.

Just two and four miles up the road respectively, these pipes poured out raw sewage for a total of 7,804 and 7,784 hours each respectively in 2022. This adds up to 325 days of the year each where they are continuously spewing out waste water.

This faeces, flushed wet wipes and urine all run down the Garw, through the country park until it joins the River Ogmore. From there it flows through the centre of Bridgend before it is discharged into the sea next to Ogmore beach and the Merthyr Mawr nature reserve. The area of coast this near constant stream of poo is flowing into a few miles from the popular seaside spot of Porthcawl.

Professor Steve Ormerod, a professor of ecology at Cardiff University, explains why all this matters:

“Sewage is a combination of sanitary waste, nutrients, things that go through water treatment without being removed,” he said. And that's things like pharmaceuticals, so all of the drugs that we take, the pet flea treatments we give to our dog and rabbit and all of that. So it's a whole cocktail of things that come from wastewater, wastewater treatment removes a lot of that, but not all of it.

“And when it does get into the river environment, it's a combination of reduced oxygen concentrations, increased organic loadings, some toxic components, and that includes things like antibiotics. Some of the effects we understand very well but there are still significant unknowns about things like plastics and pharmaceuticals that are reaching the river environment, we don't fully understand what the effects of wildlife could be.”

That issue of antibiotic resistance is something that Professor Ormerod says really “scares” him. He said: “The one that scares me the most is the issue of antimicrobial resistance. So if you've got antibiotics leaking into the river environment, or the marine environment, there is a risk of antimicrobial resistance developing in bacteria and potentially in organisms.

“Some research came out of Exeter University probably about four or five years ago, which suggested that if you are a wild swimmer, or surfer, you are a greater probability of having antimicrobial resistant bacteria in your gut, by comparison with other people.

“It's scary, isn't it? So that implies either you are ingesting those bacteria, or you've ingested the antibiotics that have then caused that change in your own system?

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the really big issues I think societally we've got to face going forward. And if we've got that material, reaching surface waters through wastewater treatment, that to me is a scary one.”

The plastics from flushed items like wet wipes are also causing real concerns. A study Professor Ormerod at Cardiff Uni found that 50%of insects in the river Taff for example have plastic inside them with another study finding that birds living on river banks are ingesting plastic at the rate of hundreds of tiny fragments a day.'

This is the result of decades of underinvestment in our sewage infrastructure, and it is destroying out environment. If we were to try and address all 2000 combined sewer overflows in Wales, the cost would be somewhere between nine and 14 billion pounds, which is about £5,000 per person, to put right. 

That is beyond the power of water companies to sort out on their own, and so government must step in, and they need to do so very soon.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Braverman set to increase racial tensions with greater use of stop and search

The Guardian reports that Suella Braverman has called on police to increase the use of stop and search powers “to prevent violence and save more lives”.

However, as the paper states, her comments are likely to alarm critics of the technique, who point out that the approach disproportionately targets black and minority ethnic communities:

Government statistics suggest black people are seven times more like to be stopped and searched compared with white people. Campaign groups have previously said relaxing restrictions on police use of stop and search could compound discrimination.

In remarks that appear to be aimed at addressing anticipated criticism, Braverman said young black males were disproportionately affected by knife crime.

Her statement says: “Carrying weapons is a scourge on our society, and anyone doing so is risking their own lives as well as the lives of those around them. This dangerous culture must be brought to a stop.

“My first priority is to keep the public safe, and people who insist on carrying a weapon must know that there will be consequences. The police have my full support to ramp up the use of stop and search, wherever necessary, to prevent violence and save more lives.”

Braverman’s statement expresses backing for the police in tackling knife crime among young black males. “Every death from knife crime is a tragedy,” she says. “That’s why I also back the police in tackling this blight in communities which are disproportionately affected, such as among young black males. We need to do everything in our power to crack down on this violence.”

Earlier this month, the head of the police inspectorate in England and Wales, Andy Cooke, acknowledged that the use of stop and search “polarises the public”. But in his first state of policing report, he insisted that stop and search was an effective way of deterring crime and showing police visibility on the street.

He said police leaders should explain why it had been used disproportionally against black people. Launching the report, he said: “That doesn’t mean that the police are being racist … There’s also more disproportionality for victims. It is four times more likely as a black man to be murdered than a young white man.”

The inspectorates audited 8,902 stop and search records in 2020 and 2021 and found that 83.9% were reasonable. But it said the overall figures masked considerable differences between forces.

Cooke called for new research to assess the deterrent value of stop and search and the causes of disproportionality in its use.

The problem for the police of course is that their record on the use of this tactic is far from perfect. The Met in particular, has been recognised as inherently racist and misogynist, while there have been issues for other police forces as well.

The police may see this as protecting black and minority ethnic people and preventing knife crime, but the communities where stop and search is most prevalent have a different persepective, and it is that outlook which will lead to an increase in tension between officers of the law and those they are meant to protect.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The revolting Tory MPs

Just how much damage the Privileges Committee report on Boris Johnson will cause to the Tory Party will become more evident on Monday, but all the signs suggest that the Commons vote on the recommendatiuons of the committee could well prove traumatic for many Conservative MPs.

The Independent reports that Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries has offered a sinister warning to Tory MPs that losing their seats if they back the damning report which found he deliberately misled parliament over Partygate:

MPs who support the privileges committee’s findings were “fundamentally not” Conservative and would be “held to account”, the ex-culture secretary claimed.

A small group of fellow Johnson allies also vowed to vote against the “vindicative” report on Monday – and warned those who back it could be “given the boot” by angry, grassroots Tory members.

It follows the scathing verdict that found Mr Johnson repeatedly lied over Covid-era parties, and concluded that he would have been suspended for 90 days if he had remained an MP and should have his parliamentary pass revoked.

An attempted fightback immediately begun among Boris backers, with Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith branding the report's findings “appalling” and vowing to speak against them “in the House on Monday”.

The Bassetlaw MP tweeted: "I am appalled at what I have read and the spiteful, vindictive and overreaching conclusions of the report.”

Ms Dorries said the report had “overreached” and accused the committee chair Harriet Harman of setting out her “position” before the inquiry had even begun.

“Any Conservative MP who would vote for this report is fundamentally not a Conservative and will be held to account by members and the public,” she warned. “Deselections may follow. It’s serious.”

Simon Clarke MP said he was “amazed at the harshness of today’s report by the privileges committee”, adding: “This punishment is absolutely extraordinary to the point of sheer vindictiveness, and I will vote against this report on Monday.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, awarded a knighthood by Mr Johnson, said the findings against his old boss were “fundamentally flawed”. Another Johnson ally, Sir James Duddridge, added: “Why not go the full way, put Boris, in the stocks and providing rotten food to throw rotten food at him.”

Former Tory MEP David Campbell Bannerman said: “Any Tory MP who endorses this report does not respect democracy and must face deselection.”

The Brexit-backing boss of the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) even claimed that Mr Johnson should appeal the committee’s findings via the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Mr Campbell Bannerman told The Independent: “The irony of it all is Boris has a very good case to go to the ECHR to say this Stalinist show trial has imperilled his basic human rights under the convention.”

Asked about the deselection threat, one scathing senior Tory told The Independent: “Nadine is off her rocker and biting the hand that put her in public life. She is making a show of herself.”

Another senior Tory said colleagues should “show backbone” and ignore deselection threats made by Mr Johnson’s allies. “I hope colleagues have the integrity to vote how they want – never mind those stamping their feet.”

However, the former minister predicted that there would be an “even mix” of Tory MPs abstain to avoid upsetting Boris-backing constituents, and voting it through to “support the process”.

As well as nervousness about angering local Tory members, The Independent understands there was some “shock” in the Tory tearoom over the harshness of the 90-day suspension that may encourage more abstentions. It is a one-line whip, making widespread absences likely.

I am now in full popcorn mode.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

No excuses for Johnson

In this world of briefing and counter-briefing, it is not often that a Parliamentary Committee report can surprise us, but the conclusions and the tone of the Privileges Committee report on Boris Johnson, certainly surpassed all our expectations.

As the Guardian says, MPs on the committee found that the former Prime Minister deliberately misled parliament over Partygate and was part of a campaign to abuse and intimidate MPs investigating him.

And, in an unprecedented move, the cross-party group, with an inbuilt Tory majority, said that the now ex-MP, would have faced a 90-day suspension from the Commons had he not quit in rage at its findings last week:

Johnson was also found to have knowingly misled the committee itself, breached Commons rules by leaking its findings last Friday, and undermined the democratic processes of parliament.

As a result, it was recommended Johnson be banned from getting the pass granted to ex-MPs that allows them privileged access to the Westminster estate.

Johnson was originally set to face a suspension from parliament of 20 days – enough to trigger a recall petition that would have probably led to a byelection. But the committee said his blistering attempts to intimidate it last Friday would have ratcheted up the punishment to 90 days.

Two MPs on the committee – one Labour and the other from the SNP – had pushed for Johnson to be expelled from parliament. But the final report and sanction was signed off unanimously by all seven members.

“For the house to be given misleading information about the conduct of ministers and officials at the highest level of government, in the midst of the grave national emergency represented by the Covid-19 pandemic … is a matter of great seriousness,” the report said.

Retaliation by Johnson in trying to paint the committee as a kangaroo court “amounts to an attack on our democratic institutions”, it added.

I am not sure that the public will be amused to hear that Johnson burned through £245,000 of public money for his legal fees in defending himself to the committee.

MPs will now have to vote on whether to accept the report's recommendations. I don't doubt that they will do so. Johnson appears to have burnt his bridges with many of his supporters in the Commons. 

Remaining questions are how many Tories will stick with their former leader, will there be consequences back in the constituencies for those Tories who support the committee's conclusions, and what will be the damage to the Tory party from the fallout?

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Another abuse of public money?

This government has form on wasting public money, in some cases abusing its use. Whether it is unusable PPE, fast-track covid contracts or the billions wasted on their Brexit fantasy, the public finances are significantly poorer for having the Tories in government.

It should come as no surprise then, that the latest controversy centres on a plan to use our cash to promote Tory policies, a proposal that is causing some anxiety amongst traditionally neutral civil servants.

The Guardian reports that No 10 is planning a multimillion-pound taxpayer-funded campaign to promote Rishi Sunak’s “five priorities”, despite some within the civil service having questioned whether it was too political.

The paper says that there have been ongoing discussions for months about a campaign from the government communications service supporting Sunak’s missions, on which he has based his prime ministership – halving inflation, expanding the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists and stopping small boats crossing the Channel. 

However, their sources, who have knowledge of the campaigns, say that there has been “pushback” from within Whitehall against Downing Street’s plans for a mass media campaign, questioning whether it fits within the guidelines on propriety:

One source said advisers in No 10 wanted to bolt on messaging about Sunak’s “five priorities” to other campaigns aimed at encouraging the public to take certain actions or change behaviour, as well as promoting the strategy in its own right.

The source said the proposed campaign had been questioned by some within the Government Communication Service (GCS), with concerns that it was too political and that the priorities would be distracting and unnecessary when added to campaign material. However, the source said that it was ultimately likely to go ahead in print and digital form.

Another Whitehall source disputed that characterisation, saying: “There hasn’t been any objection to a communications campaign. We regularly discuss comms priorities to ensure we are supporting policy delivery in the best and most efficient way possible.”

Sunak announced his five priorities as prime minister in January but they also form the basis of Conservative campaigning and are likely to make up the core of his pitch at the next election.

Under the rules, campaigns from the GCS must not be – or liable to be – misrepresented as being party political. The rules state: “It is possible that a well-founded publicity campaign can create political credit for the party in government. But this must not be the primary or a significant purpose of government information or publicity activities paid for from public funds.”

No 10 has already started adding the five priorities to the top of press releases, underlining how crucial it regards the messaging to Sunak’s time in No 10.

I am not sure how repeating a series of promises that nobody believes will be delivered, and which are about as exciting and original as drying paint, will help Sunak narrow the gap in the polls.

It is clear that he is trying to project an aura of calm competence, but chanting the five priorities at every turn only makes Sunak sound like Marvin the paranoid android. 

Perhaps if he actually had some successes to sell, and ones not based on popularist prejudices, it might then be worth spending the money.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Open warfare

The Independent reports that the row between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak has descended into open warfare, as the former PM accused his successor of “talking rubbish” about the resignation honours list saga:

Mr Johnson hit back at the prime minister after Mr Sunak accused his one-time ally of asking him to “do something I wasn’t prepared to do” by bending the rules on peerages.

In his first public comments since Mr Johnson quit as MP, a defiant Mr Sunak claimed Mr Johnson asked him to either overrule the committee which vets peerages - known as Holac - or “make promises to people” on the issue.

Mr Sunak claimed he was “not prepared to do that” because he didn’t think it was “right”. Ramping up his message, he added: “If people don’t like that, then tough.”

But Mr Johnson responded hours later, saying that all Mr Sunak needed to do was ask Holac to “renew their vetting”.

He said in a statement: “Rishi Sunak is talking rubbish. To honour these peerages it was not necessary to overrule Holac - but simply to ask them to renew their vetting, which was a mere formality.”

Mr Johnson and his allies blame Downing Street for some of his key Tory allies - including Nadine Dorries, Alok Sharma and Nigel Evans - failing to appear on the former prime minister’s resignation honours list.

As well as Mr Johnson, the saga prompted the resignation of Ms Dorries and Ms Adams, triggering three challenging by-elections for the Prime Minister as his party trails in the polls.

Speaking at the London Tech Week conference, Mr Sunak said: “Boris Johnson asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do because I didn’t think it was right.

“That was to either overrule the Holac (House of Lords Appointments Commission) committee or to make promises to people.

“Now, I wasn’t prepared to do that. I didn’t think it was right and if people don’t like that, then tough.

“When I got this job I said I was going to do things differently because I wanted to change politics and that’s what I’m doing.”

After Mr Sunak’s comments, an ally of Mr Johnson fired back by accusing Mr Sunak of having “secretly blocked” a handful of peerages.

Downing Street later said Mr Sunak does not regret the comments he made at the event. A spokesman said: “He was asked a direct question. He gave a clear answer.”

There have been claims that Mr Johnson reached a “gentleman’s agreement” with Mr Sunak that he would wave through the honours list and allow the MPs to be re-vetted by Holac at a later date so they would not have to stand down now.

But Mr Johnson’s camp has accused his successor of breaking the deal that has now enflamed tensions.

Government figures have insisted neither Mr Sunak nor Downing Street removed names from Mr Johnson’s peerages submission. Michael Gove stressed on Monday that the “appropriate procedure” and the correct “precedent” was followed.

Meanwhile Downing Street said it is is “entirely untrue” that Rishi Sunak or members of his No 10 team removed names from Boris Johnson’s peerages submission.

Interestingly, former Tory leader, Michael Howard, went on the record yesterday to accuse Johnson of making misleading comments about the process Holac follows. 

Howard is a former member of the committee, and says that if Sunak had referred the list back to Holac, then he would have got the same result. He also says that Johnson is aware of that fact and that for the former PM to assert otherwise is disingenuous.

Only one Prime Minister has ever overridden a Holac recommendation, and that was Johnson himself, while in No 10, over the peerage of Tory donor Peter Cruddas.

I'm just going to get my popcorn.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The mystery of the eight disappearing peerages

A lot of people were surprised when Boris Johnson's resignation honours list was published to find so few peerages for his parliamentary friends and allies. Indeed, there is speculation that it was this, rather than the Privileges Committee report, that prompted the three resignations from Parliament on Friday. Clearly, there was a feeling amongst Johnson and his pals that Rishi Sunak had betrayed his predecessor, though he strongly denies this.

The Independent reports that the House of Lords Appointment Committee has, according to the Institute for Government think tank, confirmed it rejected eight peerage nominees put forward by Mr Johnson on the grounds of propriety.

They add that the suggestion is that the committee may have rejected the peerages for MPs on the basis that they were not already due to stand down. But where was the Prime Minister in all of this? The paper says that Downing Street denies that the prime minister blocked the peerages:

In an interview with the BBC, cabinet minister Grant Shapps insisted: “The committee would have to say if the prime minister removed anyone.

“The prime minister has exactly followed the very long-standing conventions of prime ministers who simply take the list and pass it on and receive it back.”

Alright – but if not the prime minister, then what about someone on his team? Pushed on whether someone in No 10 had purged the list, Mr Shapps replied: “My understanding is no. As far as I’m aware, that is not true.”

Mr Sunak’s press secretary has also said the prime minister forwarded his predecessor’s list to the Holac (House of Lords appointment committee) vetting process, which then passed back the approved list.

Mr Sunak then accepted the commission’s approved list and “forwarded it unamended to the Sovereign for their approval”, she said.

Though Downing Street and its allies have not quite said this, the seeming implication is that Johnson never nominated the MPs and that it is wrong to blame Sunak.

Yet this leaves us with a mystery: why would Boris Johnson promise peerages and then not nominate his allies? There is no cost to the former prime minister for nominating the peers.

The fact no sitting MPs are on the list at all should raise eyebrows. Even Alok Sharma, who was due to get a peerage for his widely respected work as Cop26 president, missed out.

And it is undeniable that the coming by-elections – apparently triggered in spite by slighted MP – will be difficult for Mr Sunak.

When asked whether Mr Johnson’s original submission contained names that do not feature in the committee-approved document sent to the King, No 10 said the list remained confidential. Yet it has released other confidential documents to try and prove Mr Sunak had nothing to do with blocking the peerages.

The opacity of the honours system does nobody any favours. It generates resentment and suspicion, and favours patronage over merit. Surely, it is time that nominations and decisions at all stages of the process were opened to scrutiny.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Her Majesty's feeble opposition

There was a lot wrong with Tony Blair's government, not least his willingess to join Bush in an illegal war in Iraq, and the disregard for individual rights and freedoms, as they pursued projects like ID cards, but the first term was also quite frustrating simply because he and his chancellor refused to move away from sticking to Tory spending plans and allowed public services to suffer for two years before finally beginning to invest the money needed to turn them around. Alas, it looks very much as if a Starner government will be following the same pattern.

The Independent reports that Labour have performed a major U-turn on one of Labour’s key economic policies, as the party delayed plans to borrow £28bn a year for a green investment pledge.

Rachel Reeves - who said she wanted to become Britain’s “first green chancellor” - said that Conservatives “crashing the economy” had triggered the “embarassing” rethink.

But Tory critics accused the party of “flip-flopping”, claiming it was another Labour plan that “does not add up”. And Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said Labour’s plan will still add £100bn to the national debt and “fuel inflation”.

Pressed on whether the £28bn figure was no longer realistic, the shadow chancellor said Labour will instead “ramp up” to that level of investment by halfway through a first parliament.

“We will get to the £28bn, it will be in the second half of the first Parliament. But we will get to that £28bn,” she told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

Ms Reeves said in the last two years “the Tories have crashed our economy”. “As a result, interest rates have gone up 12 times, inflation is now at 8.7 per cent,” Ms Reeves told the BBC.

She denied being “frightened of the bond markets”, insisting that the U-turn shows “Labour can be trusted with the public finances”.

Ms Reeves added that everything Labour does in government will be “built on a rock of economic and fiscal responsibility”, adding: “I will never be reckless with the public finances.”

It looks like groundhog day all over again.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Boris Johnson channels Trump as he departs in disgrace

Picture courtesy of the Daily Star

First, it was Nadine Dorries, departing in apparent disappointment at not being handed a peerage by her long-time chum, Boris Johnson, and then the former Prime Minister himself, leaving the Commons in disgrace, shortly after awarding seven peerages, five Damehoods, six knighthoods and twenty-six other honours to his closest chums and allies.

The narrative adopted by Johnson was pure-Trump. The former prime minister angrily accused the privileges committee investigation of trying to drive him out, and claimed there was a “witch-hunt under way, to take revenge for Brexit and ultimately to reverse the 2016 referendum result”. 

As the Guardian says, his bitter 1,000-word statement, attacked Rishi Sunak’s government, and blamed the current prime minister for rising taxes, not being Conservative enough and failing to make the most of Brexit:

In his statement, Johnson hit out at political enemies for targeting him after he was shown the privileges committee findings against him earlier this week.

“It is very sad to be leaving parliament – at least for now – but above all I am bewildered and appalled that I can be forced out, anti-democratically, by a committee chaired and managed, by [the Labour MP] Harriet Harman, with such egregious bias,” he said.

“Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts. This is the very definition of a kangaroo court.”

Johnson protests too much. He has been found bang to rights and his exit from the House of Commons is well overdue.

Of course, there are similarities between Trump and Johnson. These are two men whose vanity and ambition took them to the highest office, a level well beyond their competence, where they managed to wreck, on one way or another, their respective countries.

The big difference of course is that the former US President has significant (though misguided) minority public support, that is something Boris is lacking, and not even Trump could match the way Johnson systematically destroyed the UK economy through his obsession with Brexit. 

The higher cost of living, a widening divide between rich and poor, supermarket shortages, the undermining of free trade, increased red tape, an insidious culture war, the removal of individual freedoms, the subversion of democracy and openly racist UK Government policies are all part of Johnson's legacy. Let's hope this is the last we see of him.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Not so easy

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden have announced a deal for transatlantic cooperation that moves the UK firmly into the US administration’s economic orbit, but they also stress that this announcement signals the end of any hope of a full trade deal with the US, a key promise in the 2019 Tory manifesto.

But this goes beyond the breaking of a manifesto promise. Seven years ago during the EU referendum campaign, spokesperson after spokesperson, many of them now government ministers, told us that doing a free trade deal with the USA would be easy. They said the same thing about trading with the EU.

Alas neither has happened, leaving our country poorer and hitting the cost of living for everybody living in Great Britain. Brexit has not just failed, so have the people who tried to sell it to us.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Has technology enabled a surveillance society?

The Guardian carries an interesting article focussing on the reflections of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed the scale of surveillance – some of it illegal – by the US National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, and subsequently fled to Russia.

The most chilling part of that interview is Snowden's warning that surveillance technology is so much more advanced and intrusive today that it makes that used by US and British intelligence agencies he revealed in 2013 look like child’s play:

But he is depressed about inroads into privacy both in the physical and digital world. “Technology has grown to be enormously influential,” Snowden said. “If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today, 2013 seems like child’s play.”

He expressed concern not only about dangers posed by governments and Big Tech but commercially available video surveillance cameras, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and intrusive spyware such as Pegasus used against dissidents and journalists.

Looking back to 2013, he said: “We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power.”

The paper says that Snowden views the widespread use of end-to-end encryption as one of the positive legacies of the leaks:

The big Tech companies had been embarrassed by revelations the NSA had been handing over personal data.

That embarrassment turned to anger when further leaks revealed that, in spite of that cooperation, the NSA had been helping themselves to data from the Big Tech companies through backdoor vulnerabilities. In response, in spite of opposition from the agencies, companies rushed in end-to-end encryption years earlier than planned.

End-to-end encryption “was a pipe dream in 2013 when the story broke”, Snowden said. “An enormous fraction of global internet traffic traveled electronically naked. Now, it is a rare sight.”

But Snowden is worried by technological advances that eat into privacy. “The idea that after the revelations in 2013 there would be rainbows and unicorns the next day is not realistic. It is an ongoing process. And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives and beyond.”

I suppose most of us knew this already, it's just not so comfortable having it pointed out to us by an insider, albeit a disgraced one.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Missing cash still unrecovered

The Independent reports on the verdict of the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the government is still being “too slow” to recover taxpayer money lost to fraud and error over the pandemic.

The paper says that PAC has also warned Whitehall needs a “step change” in its approach to risk in order to prevent a similar “panic response” to future uncertainty:

In a wide-ranging report published on Tuesday, the group laid bare a number of “repeated problems” affecting governance.

Civil service churn means that those involved in commissioning projects rarely see them through to delivery, while “optimism bias” among officials and politicians is affecting the ability to be prepared for risk, it said.

Total fraud and error across Covid employment schemes delivered by HMRC was an estimated £4.5 billion, of which the department expects to recoup just £1.1bn, PAC said.

“Some increase in fraud and error was an inevitable short-term consequence of providing support quickly, but government is being too slow to recover taxpayer pounds lost,” the report said.

“Whitehall departments have an opportunity to do better by the taxpayer by prioritising work to tackle current levels of fraud and error; improving how they measure fraud and error so we can be clearer about the extent of the problem and measures to tackle it; and planning and implementing better fraud and error safeguards.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care wasted an “extraordinary” £14.9bn on PPE and related Covid expenditure across the last two years, the committee said.

“No-one could predict the Covid-19 pandemic, but we could have been better prepared. The scale of the losses incurred in a panic response on issues such as PPE procurement are documented in this report. We need to learn the lesson that there is always unpredictability.”

The committee added: “The military mantra is that no plan survives the battle, but never go into battle without a plan. Put simply we were unprepared. Whitehall is resistant to creating a Chief Risk Officer.

“We need to see a step change in Whitehall and among politicians about the value for spending to mitigate or be prepared for risk. Optimism bias creeps in here too – no-one thinks it will happen on their watch.”

When we think what that money could have been spent on, surely this waste is one of the biggest scandals of modern times. It shows Ministers and many governance structures were not fit for purpose. The least we can expect is an urgent effort to put that right.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Are big boats the solution to small boats?

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the government have acquired two more giant barges to house about 1,000 people seeking refuge in the UK. As a result, thousands of asylum seekers could be housed in vessels moored near Newcastle, Harwich, Felixstowe and the Royal London docks.

The development came as ministers prepare for a new wave of people seeking asylum in small boats this summer, amid objections from local residents and legal action over plans to house people in disused military bases:

Conservative MPs and refugee charities have questioned whether the vessels will provide humane living conditions for people escaping war, famine and torture. Opposition MPs have said that the plans are a calculated diversion from the government’s failure to reduce the backlog of asylum claims.

Speaking at Dover, the prime minister said he would wait to announce where the new barges would be located as there would be “extensive engagement” with local communities.

He said another ship planned for 500 asylum seekers, which the government acquired in May, would arrive in Portland off the coast of Dorset within the next two weeks.

This was met with a furious reaction from the Conservative MP Richard Drax, who claimed it would be “nothing more than a quasi-prison”.

He told LBC: “They’ve got £9 a week to spend, which isn’t much money – what happens if they disappear? None of these questions have been answered.”

Of course if they spent the money needed for these inhumane solutions on speeding up the processing of asylum claims and worked with other countries to manage the flow of asylum seekers, then Sunak would have a much smaller problem to contend with. Resorting to Victorian-style prison hulks is no answer and could well be in breach of our international obligations.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Labour's failure to resonate with swing voters

The Independent reports on polling that finds that nearly a third of swing voters are worried the Labour party will not do a better job of tackling the cost of living crisis than the Tories.

The paper adds that other reasons why members of the public say they are hesitant about backing Keir Starmer’s party included not knowing what the opposition stands for (24 per cent) and concerns it will raise taxes (22 per cent) if it wins the next general election:

More than 2,000 voters were surveyed for think tank The New Britain Project between 12 and 15 May in the exclusive poll.

The government has implemented a number of financial assistance packages aimed at helping households cover the cost of their bills and has set a target of halving inflation, which eats into household budgets, by the end of the year.

Despite the help, large numbers of people believe ministers are not doing enough to help them through the financial squeeze as support for middle-income households draws to a close.

Labour has said it would introduce a “proper” windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas giants to help people with their energy bills and to fund a freeze on council tax for cash-strapped households, some of whom face hikes of up to 6 per cent.

But critics have pointed out that the party has used the policy, which it initially said would raise around £13bn, to fund other pledges which one estimate put at £40bn.

And some 31 per cent of swing voters are not convinced Labour can improve the cost of living crisis and improve their personal finances, according to polling carried out by More in Common for The New Britain Project.

The issue appears to lie in Starmer not setting out a wider vision for how he wants to govern the country. Labour may have a double digit lead in the polls at present, with the Tories in disarray, but that is no reason to sit back and expect victory to fall into their lap. We need to know what they will do differently if they win, and how they will address the problems faced by the country.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

It's war

Boris Johnson has put himself in direct conflict with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office over the provision of materials nto the Covid Inquiry and nwo Rishi Sunak has retaliated.

The Guardian reports that the former Prime Minster has been warned that he could lose public funding for legal advice if he tries to “frustrate or undermine” the government’s position on the Covid-19 inquiry.

The paper says that Cabinet Office lawyers have told the former prime minister that money would “cease to be available” if he breaks conditions such as releasing evidence without permission:

Johnson has been at the centre of a row as ministers launched a high court bid to challenge the inquiry’s demand for his unredacted WhatsApp messages and contemporaneous notebooks.

He said he would send all his messages to the official investigation directly, circumventing the Cabinet Office.

Last week, the Times reported that Johnson sent 300 pages of unredacted WhatsApp correspondence to the inquiry after the government began a judicial review designed to block the disclosure of his messages without prior vetting by officials and to ensure Whitehall has the final say on what is handed over.

The Sunday Times detailed a letter sent by Cabinet Office lawyers to Johnson last week.

“The funding offer will cease to be available to you if you knowingly seek to frustrate or undermine, either through your own actions or the actions of others, the government’s position in relation to the inquiry unless there is a clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest on a particular point at issue,” it said.

The letter added that funding would “only remain available” if he complied with conditions such as sending the Cabinet Office “any witness statement or exhibit which you intend to provide to the inquiry so that it can be security-checked by appropriate officials”.

The Cabinet Office said the letter was “intended to protect public funds” so that taxpayer-funded lawyers are not used for any purpose other than aiding the inquiry.

At least one Tory donor has picked up the baton on Johnson's behalf. The paper say that Lord Cruddas, an outspoken backer of Johnson, who handed him a peerage, has urged the MP not to be “held to ransom” by the perceived threat. “Don’t worry, Boris Johnson, I can easily get your legal fees funded by supporters and crowdfunding, it’s easy,” he tweeted.

It is an interesting situation when a former Prime Minister goes to war against one of his successors in such a public way. Does anybody have any credibility left in this mess?

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Boris Johnson giving away the kingdom

The Independent reports that Boris Johnson has been accused of causing “embarrassment” for Britain after blundering into a £10bn trade deal concession with Australia in farcical scenes.

They say that over a chaotic dinner in No 10 in early 2021, an Australian official is reported to have cobbled together an agreement over meat import quotas on his way to the loo, which he rushed to get Mr Johnson to sign before the final course:

Liz Truss, who at the time was serving as international trade secretary and later tried to unpick the deal, is said to have been told later: “Your boss has conceded the whole kingdom.”

Darren Jones, the chair of the Commons business and trade committee, said the events would “make our professional trade negotiators weep ... this is just an embarrassment”.

And David Henig, a leading trade expert who helped set up the government’s Department for International Trade after the 2016 Brexit vote, told The Independent that, under Mr Johnson, the UK had begun to be seen as a “soft touch”.

The scenes, first reported by Politico, were even picked up internationally. Former US trade official Wendy Cutler said it underscored the detailed nature of trade talks and the “danger” of having “one’s leader at the head of the table”.

The deal saw the then prime minister agree to measure beef imports by the weight of only cuts of meat, rather than the entire cow, which is much heavier – effectively signing off a massive increase in how much meat Australia can send to Britain, it is alleged.

Apparently realising that the deal was too good to be true, Australian high commissioner George Brandis scrawled down the unexpected bonus and fled to the loo. On the way, he gave the piece of paper to an aide to hurriedly scan and turn into a trade document – before it was returned to the dinner table for Mr Johnson to sign.

In an extraordinary move, Mr Johnson is said to have told the Australian delegates, who included the country’s prime minister, that he had agreed to the deal because he wanted to apologise to Australia for Britain’s decision to join the EU 50 years ago.

A furious Ms Truss was reportedly told by the gleeful Australians that her boss, Mr Johnson, had already “given away the kingdom”, according to a former minister involved in the talks.

Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with Australia has long been controversial. It has been condemned as a sell-out by British farmers, while former environment secretary George Eustice has said the government “gave away far too much for far too little in return”.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said the Politico report was “total nonsense”, but the website said it had spoken to five senior people involved in the negotiations on either side.

Once more Brexit, Boris Johnson and the Tories have let down British farmers.

Friday, June 02, 2023

What did they think would happen?

And so, in the end the inevitable happened and the obsession with secrecy within government won out - the cabinet office decided to challenge its own public inquiry in the courts.

The Guardian reports that ministers have launched an unprecedented high court attempt to avoid handing over Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and diaries to the government-commissioned public inquiry into the handling of Covid.

Apparently, despite setting a very wide-ranging remit for the inquiry that allows it to poke into every nook and cranny of government for over a decade, the Cabinet Office believes that there are “important issues of principle” over passing on information that might not be relevant:

The lengthy Cabinet Office letter said the issue to be determined by the high court was “whether the inquiry has the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry’s work, including personal communications and matters unconnected to the government’s handling of Covid”.

It went on: “We consider there to be important issues of principle at stake here, affecting both the rights of individuals and the proper conduct of government. The request for unambiguously irrelevant material goes beyond the powers of the inquiry … It represents an unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of the work of government. It also represents an intrusion into their legitimate expectations of privacy and protection of their personal information.”

The letter was accompanied by a legal document setting out the claim, citing the Cabinet Office as the claimant, the inquiry as the defendant, and Johnson and Cook as “interested parties”.

The decision to challenge the inquiry has already caused disagreement within government. Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, said officials should be given “whatever they want” and that there was nothing for ministers “to be shy or embarrassed about”.

Jonathan Jones, who used to run the government legal department, told the Guardian he thought the courts would ultimately favour Hallett, if the government stuck to arguing on relevance grounds.

As one commentator said on Twitter: The government that set up the COVID inquiry refuses to cooperate with that inquiry and has invoked the Human Rights Act which it wants to dump in order to safeguard personal privacy.

What did officials and ministers think would happen when they set the terms of the inquiry so wide?

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Spot the difference

The Independent reports that Sir Keir Starmer has declared “Britain’s future is outside the EU”, confirming Labour will not seek to rejoin the bloc if it wins power.

The paper says that rather than trying to put right the mess we are in as a result of Brexit, he plans to try and 'make Brexit work', whatever that means:

Sir Keir’s promise comes as regret among Leave voters sits at a record high, with more voters than ever believing Brexit has been a “failure”. A recent YouGov poll found just a fifth of Brexiteers think Brexit has been a “success”, while a third who believe the opposite.

And, ruling out any move to rejoin the EU, Sir Keir risks disappointing Labour voters, 86 per cent of whom say the UK was wrong to leave in the first place. Former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage also recently declared that Brexit had “failed”.

There is virtually no detail as to how Labour plan to put things right, and it is difficult to see how they can do so while they remain committed to the present deal. In fact Starmer's position seems to be indistinguishable from that of the Tories.

There is an opportunity here for the Liberal Democrats, if only the leadership could see it and do something about it.

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