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Monday, July 31, 2023

Going up in flames

So where is that PPE the UK Government spent billions of pounds on during the pandemic? Well. according to the Mirror, NHS-owned PPE worth at least £225 million which never made it to the UK has been burned in China, releasing nearly 6,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere:

Analysis found incinerating the mountain of plastic-laced equipment would have pumped out as much carbon as the electricity consumption of 3,750 UK households for a year.

The UK ordered more than 30 billion items of protective-wear when the pandemic struck - with hundreds of millions of items coming from firms in China. But more than half a billion items never left China - and were still in storage at the end of last year.

As of September, “the majority” of the stockpile had not expired, and were “suitable for use in health and social care settings.” But the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said they had “sufficient stock in the UK” to meet remaining demand, and that the items were “surplus to requirements.”

While the government donated around 50 million gowns, masks and gloves held in China to other countries - there were still 589 million items in storage in the country in September last year. Since then, nearly all of that stockpile has been incinerated in a bid to reduce the eye-watering cost of renting storage space overseas.

Even assuming all the items were masks at their current value, which is much lower than during the pandemic, the stockpile burned since September would have been worth at least £225 million. That’s enough to pay the salaries of nearly 8,000 newly qualified nurses for a year.

Angela Rayner, Labour ’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “This Government has spent a fortune in taxpayers’ money, purchasing, storing and incinerating mountains of unused kit which never has and never will reach UK soil. The eye-watering waste of this bonfire of useless PPE is staggering.”

Most single-use PPE is made from a variety of plastics, including polypropylene, polyethylene and vinyl. For every tonne of dense plastic burned, more than two tonnes of CO2 is released.

Official figures show £6.8 million was spent with a single company - Kuehne and Nagel - in the last year for warehousing PPE in China. As of December, the firm was storing 118 million items - just a fifth of the total stockpile in the country. And as recently as March, the UK was still spending £215,786 a week to store surplus items in China.

The scandal continues.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

UKIP funders hosting asylum seeker barge

The Mirror reports that a family firm that donated more than £70,000 to UKIP is “profiteering from misery” by hosting the Government’s controversial migrant barge.

The paper adds that Langham Industries owns Portland Port, where the Bibby Stockholm is docked in a deal reported to be worth some £2.5million, while the Langham family owns luxurious properties and has links to high-profile politicians, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. The paper reveals that their business made 19 donations to pro-Brexit party UKIP between 2003 and 2016:

Late founder John Langham was described as an “avid supporter” of UKIP in an obituary in 2017. Now his children, John, Jill and Justin – all directors of the family firm – are set to profit from an 18-month contract with the Home Office to let the Bibby Stockholm berth at Portland, Dorset.

While Portland Port refuses to reveal how much the Home Office is paying, its website cites berthing fees for a ship the size of the Bibby Stockholm at more than £4,000 a day. In 2011, Portland Port chairman John, 71, invested £3.7million in Grade II* listed country pile Steeple Manor at Wareham, Dorset. Dating to around 1600, it has a pond, tennis court and extensive gardens designed by the landscape architect Brenda Colvin.

The arrangement to host the “prison-like” barge for housing migrants has led some locals to blast the Langhams, who have owned the port since 1997. Portland mayor Carralyn Parkes, 61, said: “I don’t know how John Langham will sleep at night in his luxurious home, with his tennis court and his fluffy bed, when asylum seekers are sleeping in tiny beds on the barge.

“I went on the boat and measured the rooms with a tape measure. On average they are about 10ft by 12ft. The bunk bed mattresses are about 6ft long. If you’re taller than 6ft you’re stuffed. The Langham family need to have more humanity. They are only interested in making money. It’s shocking.”

Phil Marfleet, 75, joint secretary of Stand Up To Racism Dorset, added: “They are profiteering from misery. The firm has decided to have several hundred refugees on a ship that’s designed for half of that in what amounts to prison-like conditions. Many refugees who end up on the ship will have fled war zones and been through dangerous journeys to get here. The contrast between the homes the Langhams own and the barge the refugees will be put in is very stark.”

This profiteering is the inevitable consequence of the Tory Government's approach to asylum seekers. Instead of processing claims promptly, they are wasting public momey on this inhumane housing solution.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Did Farage have a point?

I hate myself already for saying this, but Nigel Farage may have had a point when he said that banks should not be able to close down clients' accounts because they diisagree with their political views.

As many commentators have pointed out this is not just a Farage issue. There is a principle involved. If they can do it to Farage, then they can do it to anybody. And as this Guardian article points out, the random, targeting of political figures is not just confined to the extreme right wing.

The paper quotes anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller who says that “we don’t have a functioning democracy” if new political parties cannot access banking services, after she was told her own party’s account would be closed:

The government and financial services watchdog must step in, she said, to ensure new parties and MPs can access banking to be able to operate. Miller said it was a “bigger issue” than the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account, which led to a row resulting in the resignations of the top bosses at NatWest and Coutts.

Miller, who came to prominence bringing legal cases over Brexit, was told earlier this month by Monzo that her True and Fair party’s account would close in September.

She was told in a message on the bank’s app but was given no explanation.

Monzo has since said it does not accept any political parties and that the account was opened erroneously as it was not categorised as such in the application.

Nine banks had turned down the True and Fair party before it got the account with Monzo in November 2021, according to Miller.

She told the PA news agency: “That is the bigger issue, the fact that as a new insurgent political party you have no access to banking services, which is extraordinary in a democracy.”

The party has now found a small institution to bank with but, Miller says: “What if they turn around in future and say: ‘Well, actually, we’ve decided for no reason that because you’re a political party, you can’t have a bank account’?

“I think the government and the FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] have got to step in straight away because if this happened – we lose our account in September for Monzo, and then another bank or our new provider decides that they will use this same rule saying: ‘Oh well, we don’t accept political parties’ – then we in effect won’t exist.

Having been involved in the review of a political account I run by the bank concerned, I can testify that the whole process is opaque. The senior official I spoke to clearly did not understand how political parties operate, leaving me to spell out the basics to him, and over a year later I have still not been informed of the outcome of that review.

Gina Miller is quite correct, democracy needs money to operate effectively. If we can not manage that money in a transparent way through legitimate institutions, then the whole basis of our system will start to collapse. It is time for the government to intervene.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Windfall tax failing consumers

The news that British Gas has reported its highest-ever first-half profits, of almost £1bn, while Shell has reported profits of just over $5bn (£3.9bn) for the second quarter of the year, must raise serious questions as to why consumers are being penalised with soaring energy bills, while fat cats line their own pockets, and why government ministers are letting them get away with it.

Ed Miliband, quoted in the Guardian, is absolutely right when he described the current windfall tax as being full of as many holes as swiss cheese.

He rightly points out that bllions of pounds will go to shareholders instead of being recouped in tax and put towards more help for those struggling to pay their bills:

Miliband said Sunak had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to implement a windfall tax on oil and gas firms. The existing policy was like a “Swiss cheese” and “full of holes”, the Labour frontbencher claimed.

He called for the current rate, 75% of profits, to be upped to 78%, and criticised the so-called super-deduction that allows companies to reduce their payment if they invest in British energy projects, saying Labour would close the “loophole”.

“These are unearned, unexpected profits,” Miliband told BBC Breakfast “This is because Russia launched an appalling invasion of Ukraine and drove gas prices up.

“The only long-term answer is to move off fossil fuels as quickly as we can because even though we imported very small amounts from Russia before the war, we’ve been so badly affected as a country.

“That’s why the drive to increase onshore wind, solar energy, offshore wind – cheaper than fossil fuels – is the right answer for the country. And my regret is not just that we don’t have a proper windfall tax, it’s that we don’t have a government committed to that green sprint either.”

It is time for more direct action by government to rein in these obsecene profits and provide better protection for consumers.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

UK Government in £20m hole on PPE

The Guardian reports that the UK government appears unlikely to recover any money from a healthcare recruitment agency that allegedly failed to deliver on a multimillion-pound PPE contract awarded during the Covid pandemic.

The paper says that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed it is in a dispute over the £20m-plus contract awarded to SG Recruitment UK Ltd, however, the agency’s parent company has gone into liquidation, raising questions about whether the government can recoup any funds:

SG Recruitment was granted its first contract in April 2020, only five days after it was referred to the government’s fast-track “VIP lane”, following an introduction by the Conservative peer Lord Chadlington. A month later the agency, which has since been renamed, was awarded a second multimillion-pound contract.

When SG Recruitment gained its first Covid contract, it was a small, loss-making company that supplied healthcare workers to the NHS, and appears to have had no experience providing PPE. It has since emerged in a court judgment that its parent company, Sumner Group Holdings, registered in Jersey, was facing financial difficulties less than two years earlier. It went into liquidation last October.

The revelations raise further questions about the government’s buying of PPE during the pandemic, when it suspended normal procurement rules, and the extent of due diligence it carried out on companies before awarding large contracts.

The DHSC has consistently defended its processes but critics have pointed to £9bn spent on PPE that was subsequently written off, and the operation of the “VIP lane”, which gave high priority to offers from companies with political connections. Companies referred to the VIP lane, which has since been ruled unlawful, had a 10 times greater success rate for being awarded contracts.

The government is pursuing £1.6bn spent on PPE contracts it says were unsatisfactory, but insists it is unable to provide details due to confidentiality.

And so the saga drags on. I just hope that the current Covid Inquiry is going to look into the billions of pouunds wasted by this government in this way during the pandemic.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

A failure of ideology

The Independent reveals that a failure by the UK Government to build social housing in England has condemned 105,000 families to temporary accommodation.

They say that campaigners have slammed the government for failing to support the building of affordable homes and have warned  that “the time for empty words on building social homes” had “long past”:

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said families were trapped in temporary accommodation due to “the crippling cost [of] years of no investment in housing benefit and a shameful lack of social house building”.

He added: “Not only do people not have the stability and security of a home, but they’re often left to cope in just one room, with no facilities to cook meals or do washing.” He said households across the country “desperately need more social homes”.

Paula Barker, the shadow homelessness minister, said the figures were a “shameful indictment” of the government’s record, which have “devastating consequences for thousands of families and children”.

Of the 104,510 households in temporary accommodation by the end of March – a high since records began in 1998 – 64,940 were households with children. Both of these figures are up by about 10 per cent on the same period last year.

Temporary accommodation is offered to homeless households who are waiting for their application for help to be processed and to be offered a settled home.

The latest statistics come just a day after Michael Gove said the government would slash red tape to address the housing crisis and allow shops, takeaways and betting shops to be turned into living spaces. The housing secretary also pledged to spark intensive building in cities and change planning laws to allow more home extensions.

His announcements were mocked in the House of Lords by Labour’s Baroness Taylor who said: “With over a million people on social housing waiting lists, and 7,000 social rented homes built last year, does the minister really think a few flats built over chip shops is going to solve the problem?”

There is a huge need for affordable housing, and local authorities – who were traditionally big builders of social housing – have decreased the number of homes they build in recent decades. Analysis of government data by The Independent found that in each of the last five financial years, two-thirds of councils failed to build a single home themselves.

In 2021-22, 207 out of 307 councils that provided data to the government had not built a home in that period. A snap survey of district and borough councils in England carried out by The Independent also found that just over half of local authorities did not build a single home in the whole of 2022.

As the latest figures were released, Polly Neate, chief executive at homelessness charity Shelter, said: “The time for empty words on building social homes, and overdue promises on ending no-fault evictions, has long passed.”

She added: “To end homelessness for good, we need genuinely affordable homes. Michael Gove agrees social homes are essential to solving the housing emergency, so it’s time for his government to get on and build them.”

Riverside, an organisation which describes itself as the largest provider of accommodation for people affected by homelessness, described the figures as “very worrying”.

The figures, released by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, also show nearly 80,000 households faced homelessness in England between January and March – the highest figure since 2018.

On top of this private renting is becoming unaffordable for many families, with 24,060 households being threatened with homelessness last year as a result of a Section 21 no-fault eviction, which allows landlords to repossess their properties without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant. According to Shelter. this is up 21 per cent compared to the previous 12 months.

At the same time, rent prices hit a new record in the past week, with property website Rightmove recording that the average rent outside London had risen to £1,231 per month, while housing benefit remains frozen. There are now dozens of people competing for every vacancy, pushing up rental prices even further and effectively excluding tenants with poor credit ratings or who are unemployed.

Ideological commitments to cut the cost of benefits and to favour building higher priced intermediate housing rather than affordable homes, have all added to the crisis. It really is time for the government to step up and invest properly to deal with this crisis.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Artificial Intelligence in the House of Lords?

The Guardian reports on the view of crossbench peer, Richard Denison, that the House of Lords could be replaced by bots with “deeper knowledge, higher productivity and lower running costs”.

The paper says that Lord Denison hypothesised that AI services may soon be able to deliver his speeches in his own style and voice, “with no hesitation, repetition or deviation”:

He quoted the example to raise the wider issue of AI’s potential effect on the UK jobs market.

In May, IBM put the brakes on nearly 7,800 jobs that could be replaced by AI and automation over time, shortly before BT announced it would cut up to 55,000 jobs by 2030, about 10,000 of which were predicted to be replaced by AI.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the jobs most likely to be affected by the impending “AI revolution” were in “highly skilled” professions such as law, medicine and finance.

“Is it an exciting or alarming prospect that your lordships might one day be replaced by peer bots with deeper knowledge, higher productivity and lower running costs?” the independent crossbencher asked. “Yet this is the prospect for perhaps as many as 5 million workers in the UK over the next 10 years.

“I was briefly tempted to outsource my AI speech to a chatbot and to see if anybody noticed. I did in fact test out two large language models. In seconds, both delivered 500-word speeches which were credible, if somewhat generic.”

The crossbench peer Charles Colville, a freelance television producer, said that he had asked the AI programme ChatGPT to write a speech for him on the threat that AI poses to journalism.

He said one of the paragraphs stated: “AI, in its tireless efficiency, threatens to overshadow human journalism. News articles can be automated and editorials composed without a single thought, a single beating heart behind the words.

“My fear is, we will descend into a landscape where news is stripped of the very human elements that make it relatable, understandable and ultimately impactful.”

He added: “The new AI technology is further exacerbating this financial threat to the whole industry; AI-generating companies able to scrape for free the information from news websites, which are already facing increasing costs of creating original journalistic content.”

Other peers noted additional potential threats, spanning bias and discrimination, privacy and security issues, and advised that humanity move forward with caution.

If a bot really could replace peers then surely we have to ask why we are allowing the Lords to continue in its present form. 

In reality, AI can produce speeches gleaned from the information inputted into the internet, but it cannot exercise judgement in the same way as a human being, it cannot learn and develop in the same way as we can, nor would it make a stand on moral and ethical grounds as many peers do. In fact, on that basis, I wonder why the government hasn't made the change already.

The real question though is will the bots be elected? If they were then it would be an advance on what we have at present.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The fallout from Uxbridge and South Ruislip

One of the advantages of following an election count from the west coast of Canada is that you don't lose any sleep, as the declaration tends to come around the time of evening dinner. Nevertheless, the result in Uxbridge and South Ruislip was unexpected, especially in light of the huge Tory majorities being overturned elsewhere.

On reflection, it looks like Labour really screwed up their campaign in Uxbridge, allowing themselves to be skewered on the single issue of the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone being implemented by the London Labour Mayor. This was despite the fact that the extension was mandated by the Tory Secretary of State for Transport.

The big question now for all the political parties is how they react to this result. Do they review the way that they try to promote their green policies to the general public, or do they accept that some measures may be unpopular and abandon them altogether, irrespective of their importance to tackling climate change?

The indications are that both Labour and the Tories are choosing the second option. The Independent reports that Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has said that the mayor should “reflect” on the ULEZ policy in the wake of the loss in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, while some in the governing Conservative Party want to slow down even more, with a right-wing group of Conservative lawmakers, the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, saying the date for banning new petrol vehicles should be moved to 2035 or later:

U.K. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 46% from 1990 levels, mainly because of the almost complete removal of coal from electricity generation. The government had pledged to reduce emissions by 68% of 1990 levels by 2030, to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars the same year, and to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But with just seven years to go until the first goalpost, the government’s climate advisers said last month that the pace of action is “worryingly slow.”

Nevertheless, a debate is underway:

Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said “getting rid of unpopular, expensive green policies” would be a vote-winner for the party, which is trailing well behind Labour in opinion polls. A national election is due by the end of 2024.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove told the Sunday Telegraph that a measure requiring landlords to improve the energy efficiency of rental accommodation was “asking too much, too quickly” and should be delayed by several years.

Other senior Tories urged the government to stick to its guns. Lawmaker Chris Skidmore, the government’s net zero watchdog, said it would be an “abdication of responsible government” if ministers “play politics” with environmental policies.

Alok Sharma, a former Conservative government minister who served as president of the U.N.’s COP26 climate summit in 2021, tweeted: “Given the economic, environmental and electoral case for climate action it would be self-defeating for any political party to seek to break the political consensus on this vital agenda.”

We cannot afford to let up on the pace of reform, but it is important that we take people with us. Perhaps the debate should focus on that rather than abandoning policies altogether.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Dealing with the aliens

The Guardian reports that non-native species from Japanese knotweed to a fungus that kills ash trees is now costing the UK economy about £4bn a year, up from £1.7bn in 2010.

The paper says that there are about 2,000 invasive non-native species (Inns) in the UK, and about 12 new ones establish themselves each year, adding, along with inflation, to the rise in costs:

The economic impact is laid out in a study funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with the ash tree-killing fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, also known as ash dieback, the most economically damaging species over the past decade, now costs about £883.5m a year. Originating in Asia, it incurs huge clean-up costs near roads, railways, buildings and other publicly accessible land.

Japanese knotweed, introduced in the mid-19th century as an ornamental garden plant, is the next most expensive, costing about £246.5m as it colonises roadsides, riverbanks and derelict land. It is known to cause structural damage to properties, which can be expensive to rectify and decrease their values substantially.

Overall, annual estimated costs in 2021 associated with Inns were £3bn for England, £499m for Scotland, £343m for Wales and £150m for Northern Ireland, according to the research carried out by the international scientific organisation Cabi.

The species include rabbits, beloved as a pet but hated as a pest, introduced to Britain by the Romans about 2,000 years go. They can destroy agricultural areas by overgrazing, while burrowing affects the quality of pastures, meaning rabbits cost an estimated £170m. Rats and mice (£84m), cockroaches (£69m) and non-native deer (£62m) are among other costly species.

The cost to forestry from Inns has increased eightfold since the previous report in 2010 and is now estimated at £123m, while in agriculture, the most affected industry, they cost the UK economy about £1.1bn. Their impact on construction, development and infrastructure was £270m, and on tourism and recreation it was £136m, the scientists said.

Dr Richard Shaw, a Cabi co-author of the research, which was published in the journal Biological Invasions, said: “This assessment again shows the important costs of Inns to the UK economy. Few effects of Inns specific management efforts can be seen in these results. However, they highlight the need to continue prevention and early detection, followed by eradication of the highest-risk species prior to establishment.”

Established non-native species include killer shrimp, giant hogweed, mink and parakeets, while those that have arrived recently and had a big impact include H fraxineus and the sea squirt Didemnum vexillum.

On the plus side, these invaders are keeping a lot of people in jobs.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Will the parties ever end?

Is the party over for Rishi Sunak? Well, he might wish that some of the parties from the last few years would go away and not bother him again. The Guardian reports that Scotland Yard is reopening its investigation into potential Covid breaches at a “jingle and mingle” lockdown party at Conservative headquarters at the height of the pandemic. The Partygate scandal is continuing to plague the Conservative party.

The paper says that the Metropolitan police’s decision to look again at the gathering of former Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign team in the run-up to Christmas 2020 has prompted calls to delay his peerage until the investigation is completed.

They add that the force will also scrutinise an event in parliament that the Tory MP Bernard Jenkin – a member of the privileges committee that produced a highly critical report into Boris Johnson lying to MPs over lockdown parties – is said to have attended:

Rishi Sunak faced pressure of his own over Partygate during an appearance in front of the powerful Commons liaison committee on Monday, where he sought to justify missing the vote on Johnson’s sanction and admitted he had not yet fully read last week’s brief report on attacks on the privileges committee by a series of Tories.

The gathering in parliament on 8 December 2020, when London was under tier 2 restrictions, became the focus of a furious row between Johnson and Jenkin, the most senior select committee chair and one of four Tory MPs on the privileges committee.

Johnson issued a scathing statement accusing Jenkin of “monstrous hypocrisy” for allegedly attending the event before sitting on the cross-party panel which found, after a year-long inquiry, that the former prime minister had lied to MPs with his Partygate denials.

The event was believed to be a “drinks party” held by Dame Eleanor Laing, a Commons deputy speaker, in her office to celebrate the birthday of Lady Jenkin, the veteran Tory MP’s wife. Laing will not step down from her role while the investigation continues.

Elena Ciesco, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice who lost her father on 8 December 2020, said: “To think that while I was saying goodbye to him over a screen, the people who were supposed to be protecting him were ‘jingling and mingling’ and treating the whole situation like a joke is beyond devastating.”

As the Guardian says. the reopening of the investigation into the Conservative HQ event potentially plunges the Tory party’s London mayoral campaign into fresh turmoil. But the real damage must be to Sunak, who doesn't appear to be able to put Johnson's toxic legacy behind him.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Scrutinising the Prime Minister

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak is facing transparency questions over private jet travel and thousands of pounds in Conservative party donations after they were recorded as coming from a small company linked to a multimillionaire businessman.

They say that questions have been raised as to whether any rules have been broken over declarations of more than £88,000 over the past eight months for air travel by the prime minister, and direct funding to the Tory party:

Sunak had declared that air travel worth £38,500 – used for him and eight staff to attend Conservative events in Scotland and Wales in April – was funded by Balderton Medical Consultants, a one-man business whose address on the donations register was given as a west London property near Margaret Thatcher’s former home.

Land Registry records show that the property in Belgravia is owned by a firm based in the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. This firm’s beneficial owner is Akhilesh Shailendra Tripathi, a British-Indian medical tech entrepreneur who made a fortune from an anti-snoring device and who previously donated £114,625 to the Tories in 2021 and 2022.

When the Guardian visited the property, a person who answered the door said it was not the address of Balderton Medical or of its sole director. Asked if the property on Chester Square was the house of Akhil Tripathi, the person said: “Yes.”

A spokesperson for Tripathi’s company, Signifier Medical Technologies, said: “We don’t have any comments or information to offer regarding this situation.”

Sunak’s office and the Conservative party were approached for comment. A spokesperson for the party said: “This donation in kind was processed by the Conservative party, and the information then provided to the prime minister’s office. CCHQ [Conservative Campaign Headquarters] will now review the information provided. If necessary, any administrative errors will be corrected.”

They added: “UK-registered companies which are incorporated in the UK and carry out business in the UK are allowed to donate to political parties and candidates under electoral rules.”

Personally, I am uncomfortable with donations of these sort. They may be within the rules, but I wonder why they have been made in the first place.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Tory MPs lose the plot on immigration

The Mirror reports that a gang of Tory MPs is trying to force Rishi Sunak to stop foreign staff taking jobs in care homes - despite a huge number of vacancies.

The paper says that the New Conservatives Group on Monday will demand the struggling PM adopt their extreme plan for immigration:

The MPs, led by Tom Hunt, are angry that he has failed to deliver on the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge to slash the numbers of people arriving in this country.

Net immigration stood at 226,000 when Boris Johnson made the promise, but it has risen to an all time high of 606,000 since then.

In order to reduce the numbers, the group wants Mr Sunak to take radical action, including ending a scheme to give visas to carers to fill staff vacancies.

Social care workers, care assistants and home care worker roles are currently included on the Shortage Occupation List.

This means staff are eligible for the Health and Care Worker visa, lasting either three or five years.

Latest figures show there were an estimated 165,000 vacancies in the adult care sector in England last year, up 52% from the year before.

The New Conservatives Group said the immigration system set up by the government after Brexit has been "too lenient" and is not working.

"In 2019, we won our biggest majority in 30 years… with a manifesto that promised that there would be “fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down”,’ the MPs said.

“Voters across traditional Conservative heartland seats and new Red Wall seats alike placed their trust in us to keep our word. It’s time for us to honour that promise.”

It is remarkable that the Tories are happy to wreck our health and care system in pursuit of their racist, isolationist agenda.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Plaid Cymru's compulsory voting proposal is a blind alley

Why is it that when Plaid Cymru or Labour politicians feel that they need to get more attention, they resort to proposals that will either restrict individual choice or will seek to use legislation to compel people to act in a certain way?

The BBC reports that former Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price has proposed that voting in Senedd and local elections should be compulsory. He believes that this move could boost turnout, which has yet to top the 47% hit at the Senedd election in 2021.

He is supported in this by Counsel General Mick Antoniw who, speaking for the government, argued the idea was "well worth exploring".

Price told the BBC that he believed voters should still be able to abstain, possibly by marking a "none of the above" box, and that his policy could be enforced with fines, with some legitimate exemptions.

More ludicrously, he said that compulsory voting would mean Welsh voters would be "truly represented in the election system".

This is an electoral system being put forward by Labour and Plaid Cymru, where voters will no longer be able to choose the candidates who will represent them. Instead, they would be presented with a party list, chosen by a small number of activists, and would have to choose between these slates of political hacks, whose main skill is likely to be their ability to impress fellow party members.

Australia, which has compulsory voting, has a very high proportion of spoilt ballots. There is no evidence that their system has improved the quality of their political representation. In fact, from what I have seen their Parliament is a bear pit in which sexist baiting of the opposition is commonplace.

My view is that if politicians have to make voting compulsory, then both they and the political system have failed.

If they want to increase turnout then they need to give people something they actually want to vote for, not drag them kicking and screaming to the ballot box. Oh, and give them an actual choice of candidates.

If the grey mediocrity of the present Senedd is failing to inspire voters, then perhaps MSs need to be looking to themselves as part of the cause, and find a way to put that right.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

And now open warfare

The behind-the-scenes civil war within the Tory Party burst out into the open yesterday with the resignation of Lord Goldsmith from the government.

The Independent reports that the situation became even more fractious as Zac Goldsmith hit out at the “misleading” No 10 briefing over his scathing resignation, insisting that Rishi Sunak was “wrong” to claim he had refused to apologise over his Partygate comments.

The paper says that the outgoing environment minister claimed he was “happy to apologise” for remarks labelled “disturbing” by the privileges committee in their report alleging “interference” from 10 Tories during their investigation which found that Boris Johnson repeatedly lied to parliament:

As he sought to get back on the front foot at a No 10 briefing outlining his plans for NHS reforms, Mr Sunak insisted the Tory peer had resigned after taking a “different course” when asked to apologise for his “incompatible” remarks – despite No 10 insisting just hours earlier that he had the PM’s confidence.

But Lord Goldsmith opened up a new front of criticism for Mr Sunak as he countered the PM’s claims of his refusal to apologise on Friday, insisting the Sunak government’s “lethargy” on climate meant his resignation had been a “long time coming”.

As the Guardian reports, the Conservative peer and former MP published a long resignation letter detailing his disappointment with the prime minister for causing “paralysis” on the environment within Whitehall and choosing to attend the party of a media baron rather than an international environmental forum:

In his letter stepping down from the Foreign Office, where his portfolio was overseas territories, Commonwealth, environment, energy and climate, Goldsmith said it had been a privilege to work as an environment minister, particularly under Johnson.

He said he had been horrified by the Sunak government’s “abandonment” of policies around animal welfare, and that its efforts on environmental issues at home had “simply ground to a standstill”.

Addressing Sunak directly, the Tory peer said: “Prime minister, having been able to get so much done previously, I have struggled even to hold the line in recent months. The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis.”

He added: “This government’s apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we have faced makes continuing in my current role untenable.”

Goldsmith claimed the UK had “visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature”. He wrote: “Too often we are simply absent from key international fora. Only last week you seemingly chose to attend the party of a media baron rather than attend a critically important environment summit in Paris that ordinarily the UK would have co-led.”

It is understood Goldsmith had been feeling uneasy about Sunak’s commitment to the environment since the beginning of his premiership, when the prime minister had to be cajoled into attending Cop27.

The Conservative peer told friends at the time that he was considering resigning from a government that had seemingly deprioritised the environment and the natural world, a view that was cemented by a tussle over nature-based payments for farmers.

However, he planned to stay in post for as long as it took to get the international forest agreement, agreed at Cop26, over the line. The deal between more than 100 leaders to save the world’s forests, partly made possible with funding from the UK, was seen as one of the great successes of the climate summit.

This month the peer made up his mind to resign when Sunak’s government scrapped the kept animals bill after pressure from the hunting lobby, which was concerned that hunting hounds would be affected by its measures. The legislation would have cracked down on puppy farming as well as banning keeping primates as pets and banning live exports of farm animals. Friends say Goldsmith was “sickened” by the decision and wrote to Sunak begging him to reconsider, but that letter was ignored.

After learning that international development funding to protect forests would not be honoured by Sunak, allies of Goldsmith say he made the final decision to quit.

Legitimate criticism irrespective of the context.

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