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

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Environmental posturing

Sometimes, I wonder why the powers that be even pretend to care about the environment when their own actions blatantly fail to live up to the rhetoric.

The Independent reports that Rishi Sunak is facing fresh outrage from climate campaigners after it emerged that the prime minister, the King, and foreign secretary David Cameron are taking separate jets to the Cop28 conference in Dubai.

The paper says that Downing Street has confirmed that all three of the leading British representatives at the crucial summit – aimed at cutting global emissions – will each get their own private plane:

No 10 defended the decision to have Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron travel separately – as it was confirmed junior ministers and officials would fly out on commercial flights rather than travel with the PM’s entourage.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson claimed that there was nothing wrong with so many flights since the government is “not anti-flying” and is pushing new sustainable fuels.

But opposition parties and activists accused Mr Sunak of climate hypocrisy – criticising the use of separate jets as “setting an awful example” and being a “waste of taxpayers’ cash”.

This sort of elitist nonsense is not just a waste of taxpayer's cash but sends out all the wrong signals about the UK's commitment to tackling climate change.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A new war of the roses?

Oh dear, they're at it again. The Independent reports that the so-called senior Tory, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg has issued a warning to the Prime Minister, employing yet another of his ridiculous historical allusions.

The paper says that Mogg, in an extraordinary attack on his own party, has warned Rishi Sunak he must wake up and act or lose the next general election, suggesting that Sunak’s government is the most inert since the reign of Henry VI in 1453. Is he trying to institute another War of the Roses? Presumably he sees himself as a modern day Earl of Warwick:

“The current government … needs to awake from its catalepsy if it wishes to win the election,” he warned.

Sir Jacob lashed out at the government’s failure to tackle immigration after figures last week showed net migration has soared to a record high of 745,000.

He said mass levels of migration “lets down an electorate that has given repeated mandates to get the numbers under control” and “could cost the Tory Party the next election”.

The figures prompted a furious row within the party, with sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman saying they were a “slap in the face” for voters.

The right-wing MP told GB News that Ms Braverman had a plan to bring the level of legal migration under control that the government should embrace.

That plan included closing down the graduate visa route, restricting the number of dependents migrants can bring to the UK and prioritising overseas students applying for Russell Group universities. It also proposed raising the salary threshold for migrants to £40,000.

“James Cleverley, the current home secretary, says he is still reviewing measures to curb migration but I don’t think he needs to look much further than his predecessor’s plan,” Sir Jacob said.

He added: “Henry VI, who became monarch in 1422, suffered from catatonic inertia for 18 months, beginning in the middle of 1453.

“Since then, we’ve never had so inert a government – until today.

“The current government seems similarly inert and needs to awake from its catalepsy if it wishes to win the election.”

The sooner this lot are kicked out of office, the better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Waiting for the bus

Wendy Cope famously wrote: 

'Bloody men are like bloody buses — 
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.' 

Nowadays the analogy rarely works because if you see more than one bus at a time the chances are you are hallucinating.

I exaggerate of course, but the point is a serious one. In Wales, the Welsh Government, apparently in defiance of its own policy of getting people out of cars and onto public transport, have cut the subsidies for buses. This act also goes against their stated aim of tackling climate change, reducing poverty, getting people back into work, and reconnecting communities.

And if you get to a bus station, and see that a bus is available to your chosen destination, do not count on catching it, because odds are it will disappear from the electronic display boards minutes before departure due to the non-availability of a driver.

It seems trite to say this, but many migrants coming to the UK in the past worked as bus drivers or in other transport jobs. Nowadays, Tory government policy means that we are lucky if we can recruit health and care workers from abroad, never mind people to undertake other work.

It is no surprise therefore to read in today's Guardian that new research has found that bus services have been cut by more than 80% in the past 15 years in some parts of England and Wales in a “silent war” on users.

The paper says that outside London, bus services plummeted by more than 60% in 80 local authority areas:

The University of Leeds, in conjunction with the charity Friends of the Earth, examined timetables across England and Wales since 2008. It found urban and rural services had decreased by 48% and 52% respectively – with some localities faring worse than others.

The findings showed that in Hart, Fenland and Broxtowe there had been a decline of more than 80%. Other constituencies without consistent bus services were North East Hampshire, with an 82% drop in services, and Bridgwater in Somerset, with an 81% decrease. Staffordshire Moorland and Stoke-on-Trent North have experienced the same reduction in services at 78%.

Mike Childs, the head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said: “There has been a silent war on bus users for over a decade. This is not only disproportionately affecting those living on low incomes, people of colour and disabled people, who are less likely to own a car, but people who have had to give up their cars as they have got older due to poor health.”

For the 22% of UK households without access to cars, buses are crucial. The smooth running of services also helps to lower car use, reducing carbon emissions in highly congested urban areas.

Of the 100 constituencies with the greatest decline in bus services, 82 have a Conservative MP. This contrasts with analysis of bus services in London, which have stayed at similar levels for the past 15 years.

The data found urban areas outside the UK capital had an average of 14 buses an hour, whereas in London the hourly average was 120.

Friends of the Earth has called on all political parties to ensure a manifesto pledge for what it calls a “public transport renaissance”. The charity has also demanded that the next government pledges a return of “normal” bus services in the next five years.

Childs said: “To reduce pollution and cut emissions, we need the government to invest in our crumbling public transport system to make it far easier for people to use their car less and switch to greener ways to travel, like buses, trains and cycling.”

The Welsh Government may have read this research, but I am not holding my breath on them doing anything about it.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Ambitious flagship promises

With the Tories in disarray and the public finances in a mess, everybody is naturally looking to see what Labour is going to do if it wins the next election, and in particular whether the party is going to be able to deliver on its promise to pour £28bn a year into its flagship green economic policy.

According to the Independent, there are doubts even within the Labour Party itself, with one 'senior party source' suggesting that the current level of government debt is a major obstacle to delivering on the promise:

Labour’s “green prosperity plan” promised to pour the money into climate-friendly investments every year until 2030 if it wins the next election.

But it was already watered down by the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves earlier this year – after she blamed that Tories for “crashing the economy”.

At the time she said she would always prioritise being economically responsible.

The plan, announced at the Labour conference two years ago, is designed to reap the benefits of a ‘net zero’ future.

Initially, Labour planned to spend £28billion a year from the moment it entered government.

Ms Reeves later amended that to say the party would “ramp up” to the figure by 2027.

Now there are major doubts at the top of party that that level of investment will ever be met, a source close to the Labour leader Keir Starmer told the BBC.

The party’s ‘rules’ for responsible management of the economy - which include a promise to get debt falling within five years - are seen as the "North Star", more important than any individual policy.

The party later denied it planned to rollback its pledge further, saying it would ramp up investmentto a “total of £28bn a year as planned” in the second half of the next Parliament.

The green promise, Labour’s biggest spending pledge, would require more than £100bn borrowing.

It has come under fire over fears that the scale of borrowing would drive up interest rates.

The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating, but already things are shaping up to be quite a stormy general election next year, as the Tories make hay with what they will claim is Labour's financial illiteracy.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Bamboozling the public on post-Brexit deals

The Guardian reports that the much-heralded flagship Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is worth less to the UK economy than previously claimed.

They say that Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch was mocked for a prediction that the deal with Asia-Pacific countries would grow the economy by paltry 0.08%, however she staunchly defended the agreement, hailed in a blaze of publicity as part of a new “global Britain” strategy.

But, the paper says, new figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest joining the CPTPP could add just 0.04% to GDP in the “long run”, after 15 years:

The figures were contained in documents released alongside last week’s Autumn Statement.

Two other deals, with Australia and New Zealand, “might increase the level of real GDP by a combined 0.1% by 2035”.

The OBR also calculates that the economy will be 4% smaller than if the UK had stayed in the EU.

Trade expert David Henig said that while entry into the CPTPP had been presented as a huge victory for the UK, its impact had been “hugely overhyped”. “Some companies will benefit, but the effects will be very small,” he told the Observer.

When she announced the deal on UK entry into the CPTPP, Ms Badenoch said it would bring “significant” benefits to the UK.

She responded to mockery of the 0.08% figure by saying her department’s estimate was probably too low and ignored some benefits.

But the Independent revealed earlier this year that officials working on the CPTPP deal changed their usual approach to calculating the GDP figure and instead used a new model that “generates larger estimated GDP impacts”, according to the government’s own documentation.

A technical document, published by the Department for International Trade, said officials could not employ their usual approach to calculating the GDP benefits of a deal, known as a “Melitz-style model”, because there were too many unknown variables.

Instead, it used a so-called “Armington-style” model, which the document notes tend to produce higher GDP figures “for a given free trade agreement”.

At the time Sam Lowe, a trade expert and senior visiting fellow at the King's Policy Institute, told The Independent: "While the approach the government has taken is perfectly credible, the change in methodology does seem to have been made with the intention of making the GDP figure sound more impressive."

When compared to the benefits to the economy and growing GDP that staying in the EU would have given us, then it is no wonder that many people feel that they were bamboozled by the case for leave and the spin that subsequently followed that act.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

A new austerity?

We suspected it, but now the Institute for Fiscal Studies have confirmed it. The IFS say that Jeremy Hunt’s economic plans have put Britain on course for drastic public sector cuts even more “painful” that the austerity period of the 2010s.

The Independent reports on the IFS's view that the Conservative chancellor may have boasted of handing out the biggest tax cuts since the 1980s, but their experts say he offered no credible plan to deliver the huge spending cuts now required:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said “sharp” and “harsh” budgetary reductions were now needed, accusing Mr Hunt of leaving a big problem for whoever is chancellor after the next general election.

The influential think tank’s director Paul Johnson said the austerity ahead would be even more severe than the Tory programme delivered by David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne between 2010 and 2016.

Mr Johnson said: “George Osborne managed to get the size of the state back down after the financial crisis. That was painful. Doing it again will be more painful still.”

“Mr Osborne made his cuts after a decade of big spending increases. Mr Hunt – or his successor – will have no such luxury,” he added.

The IFS expert said Mr Hunt’s “successor is going to have the mother and father of a headache when it comes to making the tough decisions implied by this statement in a year or two’s time”.

The institute said the Rishi Sunak government’s tax cuts – including a 2p cut to national insurance and £11bn-a-year-tax break for businesses – were “paid for” by “pretty serious cuts across other areas of public spending”.

“How did Mr Hunt afford tax cuts when real economic forecasts got no better? He banked additional revenue from higher inflation, and pencilled in harsher cuts to public spending,” said Mr Johnson.

Leading economists have been scathing about the impact of the tax giveaway – warning that Mr Hunt had left the next government a “ticking time bomb” of austerity cuts to public services. Those departments not ringfenced face cuts of over £20bn by 2027-28, said the IFS.

Ben Zaranko, an economist at the IFS, said councils, prison services and courts and benefits at the Department for Work and Pensions could be “squeezed”. He added: “It seems inconceivable that you could make cuts of 2 per cent or 3 per cent per year to those services and not have some impact on quality.”

The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) warned that Mr Hunt’s plans left £19bn-worth of real-terms spending cuts ahead, warning that it would “present challenges”.

The watchdog said it meant a 2.3 per cent a year real-terms cut to spending in the decade ahead. Unprotected departments – those outside of health and defence – would face cuts of 4.1 per cent a year in real terms.

OBR chief Richard Hughes said on Thursday that Mr Hunt had pumped only £5bn extra into public spending – but insisted that the chancellor would have had to have added £25bn “if he wanted to keep them the same in real terms”.

Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said Mr Hunt had stored up a “disaster” for hospitals, schools and local authorities with the spending cuts. She said he had set out “no plan for the future, leaving our crucial public services in a dire state”.

In my view the Tories have miscalculated in putting all their eggs into the tax cuts basket. I believe that the next General Election will be fought on the state of public services. If that is the case then, when married to the increased tax burden, Hunt has just delivered a massive onw goal.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Welsh Government spin

It seems that it is not just the Welsh Tories who are guilty of shameless and inaccurate spin on the new default 20mph limit in Wales. The Welsh Government has been caught bang-to-rights as well.

The BBC reports that the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has queried how statistics supporting the claim by Welsh Ministers that "most journeys will be around one minute longer" were presented.

It said promotional leaflets posted to Welsh homes about the move lacked transparency and they expressed concern about how difficult it was for the public to understand and scrutinise the figure:

The OSR comes under the umbrella of the UK Statistics Authority, which works independently of government, and reports directly to the parliaments of the UK.

The OSR's Director General for Regulation Ed Humpherson said it would have been "challenging for a reader to unpick this detailed document to find and understand the data and calculations used to support this claim".

He added that "improvements could have been made to aid transparency and better support users".

It is little wonder that the Welsh Government's claims on this change are treated with such scepticism by the public.

More on the Tory tax hoax

Following on from yesterday's blog about Tory budget spin, it transpires that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts show the freezing of income tax and National Insurance thresholds is due to raise £201bn between now and 2028-29.

The figures also show 7.4 million people are set to be dragged into a higher rate of tax over the next six years. 4 million people are set to be brought into paying income tax for the first time by 2028-29, while 3 million will be dragged into paying the higher 40p rate.

It comes despite a Conservative Party promise not to raise the income tax rate in their 2019 manifesto. Look at what they do, not what they say.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Tory budget spin uncovered

The Guardian reports that the Chancellor's carefully constructed narrative of Tory budget measures relieving the tax burden on lower and middle income workers may not be as compelling as Jeremy Hunt believes.

They say that an analysis by the Resolution Foundation has found that the tax cuts worth £20bn in the autumn statement favoured the richest 20% of earners, undoing much of the progressive policy changes made during the parliament’s first half.

The top fifth will gain £1,000 on average, five times the gains seen by the bottom 20%, who will be only £200 better off from measures that include a 2p cut in national insurance, according to the Resolution Foundation’s analysis.

The thinktank also found that while earnings are growing faster than previously estimated by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the Treasury’s independent economic forecaster – real average earnings adjusted for inflation are not forecast to return to their 2008 peak until 2028 – “a totally unprecedented 20-year pay stagnation”.

The analysis said this parliament was on track to be the first in which real household disposable incomes fall – by 3.1% from December 2019 to January 2025. Households will on average be £1,900 poorer at the end of this parliament than at its start.

And the news gets worse:

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said that “despite the tax-cutting rhetoric”, taxes are on course to rise by 4.5% of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) between 2019 and 2020 and 2028 to 2029, equivalent to £4,300 a household.

The thinktank praised welfare benefit increases and a lifting of the cap on private rent subsidies after a freeze of several years that had been blamed for thousands of tenants being forced to leave their homes.

However, Bell added that the tax cuts and benefit rises were underpinned by an “implausible” squeeze on public services over the next five years that amounted to a 15% budget reduction in real terms for unprotected departments such as justice and transport.

Perhaps the Tory supporting newspapers should have paused for a bit before splashing celebratory headlines this morning.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Abusing the Tories

I was once told that a reasonable defence to a slander action was that the words used were commom abuse. I have no idea if that is the case and, of course, it will all depend on context, but it seems that in recent years the ability to effectively abuse people, particularly politicians, has been severely curtailed by the police and the courts.

This week's judgement by the High Court, therefore, upholding the acquittal of two protestors who called Iain Duncan Smith “Tory scum” outside the Conservative party conference, seems to be a turning point.

The Guardian reports that Lord Justice Popplewell and Justice Fordham said no fault in law was made by a senior district judge last November in finding Ruth Wood, 52, and Radical Haslam, 30, not guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent:

In response to a request for a judicial review from the director of public prosecutions, the high court found that Judge Goldspring, who is also described as a chief magistrate, had made the important finding that “the use of Tory scum was to highlight the policies” of Duncan Smith, and that this was relevant to the “reasonableness of the conduct” in relation to the rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

There was nothing to undermine Goldspring’s conclusion that criminalising the words “Tory scum” would be a disproportionate interference in the two protesters’ rights, the high court ruled.

Tom Wainwright, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers representing Wood and Haslam, said the judgment represented an important defence of the right to freedom of expression.

He said: “Just the idea that someone can be convicted for saying this is bizarre in the first place. The director of public prosecutions was trying to put the burden on the defendants to show that they hadn’t crossed the line – the crucial question of when free speech crosses the line into something that is criminal.

“What this judgment confirms is that it is not for the defence to show that, but it is for the state to show that there is a good reason to restrict free speech and that a conviction is the only way that could be done.”

Of course anybody who has waded through a collection of political insults will know that the most effective are witty and cutting ripostes that undermine one's opponents credibility or arguments. Perhaps now that 'Tory scum' has been legalised protestors might consider developing a more sophisticated vocabulary.

N.B. Some of my favourite quotes are below:

Former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating on John Hewson: “He’s like a shiver waiting for a spine.”

Winston Churchill on Prime Minister Clement Attlee: “An empty cab pulled up to Downing Street. Clement Attlee got out.”

Adlai Stevenson on Richard Nixon: “The kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree and then mount the stump to make a speech for conservation.”

MP Jonathan Aitken on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A searing condemnation of Parliament

The Guardian reports on a statement by the head of parliament’s complaints watchdog that she “does not know” if the Palace of Westminster is a safe workplace for women:

Thea Walton joined the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme in March with a vow to build trust in the watchdog.

Established in 2018, the ICGS processes official HR complaints and also assesses complaints made on the parliamentary estate against a number of codes including the palace’s sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment policy.

Since the last general election, 24 MPs have faced at least a one-day suspension, according to Chris Bryant, the former chair of the House of Commons standards committee.

Bryant said this was because of those in power turning a blind eye to poor conduct, a temptation among politicians to protect their own, and hard-to-change behaviours and attitudes at Westminster.

When asked whether Westminster was a place women can feel safe, Walton told the House Magazine: “‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer. I wouldn’t say that nobody feels safe, but I have heard lots of things where women don’t from some of the engagement that I’ve done.

“I think all the time that there is a section of people that are saying they don’t feel safe, then people have to listen and do something about it.”

The number of MPs who have lost their party’s whip as a result of allegations of sexual harassment or assault has grown recently. The Labour party suspended Bambos Charalambous, MP for Enfield Southgate, after a complaint was made against him.

Senior Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has been arrested on suspicion of rape and possession of drugs and has been suspended by the Tory party. MPs and staffers have previously expressed concern that those already vulnerable after reporting serious incidents – and others shaken by reports of parliamentary sleaze scandals – are at risk from members under investigation but who are still free to roam the estate.

That the primary law-making body in the UK, with a duty to protect its citizens, can be deemed an unsafe workplace for women is a searing indictment of those who are elected to it. Something has to be done to correct this culture, and quickly.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Same old, same old

Any notion that the appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary would put the Tory party firmly back into the centre of British politics must surely have been rebutted by the speculation that followed soon afterwards regarding the Chancellor's autumn statement.

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Hunt may well be using next week’s autumn statement to announce pre-election tax cuts for the wealthy while overseeing a multibillion-pound stealth raid on the incomes of 36 million workers.

The paper reports on analysis by the Resolution Foundation thinktank that found that cutting inheritance tax – which is paid by fewer than 4% of all estates, affecting largely the richest in society – could be financed by a gargantuan £40bn raised from freezing income tax thresholds, which would in turn leave millions of low paid workers worse off.

They say that Hunt is also weighing up cuts to benefits, drawing an angry response from union leaders and charities who warned the chancellor risked ignoring the pressures facing millions of households amid the cost of living crisis:

Adam Corlett, the principal economist at the Resolution Foundation, said the government’s six-year freeze in income tax thresholds had “turned from an £8bn ‘stealth’ tax to a gargantuan £40bn tax rise” because of higher inflation.

“Any pre-election tax cuts – such as cutting inheritance tax for a small number of wealthy estates – would effectively be funded by higher taxes on the incomes of 36 million people,” he said.

It is the same old Tories after all.

Friday, November 17, 2023


The Guardian highlights a report by the left-of-centre Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank which has found that Britain’s economy has lost billions of pounds in investment since 2010 due to government “flip-flopping” on its industrial growth plans as it churned through 11 different economic strategies.

The paper says that industry bosses have warned ministers that more consistency is required to increase investment levels after more than a decade of instability, saying that the constant chop and change of government industrial strategy and a revolving door for senior ministerial appointments have undermined the country’s ability to attract investment.:

The IPPR pointed out that since 2010 Conservative-led governments had appointed nine different business secretaries and seven chancellors, resulting in the launching of 11 economic strategies – from George Osborne’s 2011 “plan for growth” to Hunt’s “growth plan” announced this year.

Publishing a report backed by two leading business groups and the former chief executive of Siemens UK Jürgen Maier, the thinktank said companies were crying out for consistency, certainty and clarity.

Stephen Phipson, the chief executive of the manufacturing trade body Make UK, said: “Recent governments have been so confused about industrial strategy that they’ve had 11 of them in 13 years. No wonder businesses are putting investments in the UK on hold.”

Describing the lack of a long-term industrial strategy as the UK’s “achilles heel”, Phipson urged the government to set out its strategic objectives, including for growing green manufacturing. “Every other major economy has a national manufacturing plan, underlying the importance of an industrial base to the success of its wider economy. The UK is an outlier not having one and, if we are to compete on a global stage, we need one as a matter of urgency.,” he said.

Hunt is preparing to outline the government’s plans for increasing private investment and growing the economy, after forecasts from the Bank of England this month showed Britain would come close to recession next year.

Writing in an open letter to the chancellor, the chief executives of 37 local chambers of commerce across the country said “much needed solutions to Britain’s investment problem” were required.

Representing more than 35,000 companies in the British Chambers of Commerce network, the bosses said the autumn statement would be one of the government’s last chances before the next general election to show it could provide businesses with the long-term certainty they needed to make investment decisions.

The letter urged Hunt to overhaul the UK’s planning system to support companies with investment in business premises, factories and shops; upgrade the energy grid; and extend tax breaks for business investment.

Growth in business investment in the UK has been consistently worse than other leading economies in recent decades, with a particularly weak track record after the 2016 Brexit referendum. A report from the IPPR in June found business investment in the UK was lower than in any other country in the G7, and 27th out of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, ahead of only Poland, Luxembourg and Greece.

Publishing a blueprint for a modern green industrial strategy, the thinktank said there were four key areas for the government to focus on: production, purchasing, planning and governance, and the wider economy.

It said the government could shape industrial production through subsidies, tax allowances and regulations, while guaranteeing the purchase of goods by the state – as seen with Covid vaccines – could spur private investment. An effective policy would also involve clear plans and oversight, as well as ministers supporting the wider economy.

If there had been different governments this inconsistency would be understandable, however the country has been led by the same party for the entire period of this study, which seems to reflect the turmoil in the Conservative party and its ongoing civil war rather any other cause. Yet another reason for a general election.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Sunak presses on with 'batshit' policy

The Independent reports that despite yesterday's uanimous high court ruling, the UK Government plan to press on with their plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The paper says that the new Home Secretary, James Cleverly has revealed that the government’s plan B is “ready”. Meanwhile, a rattled Rishi Sunak said he would introduce emergency legislation to stop “foreign courts”, such as the European Court of Human Rights, from blocking flights to Kigali. He vowed to get planes in the air by spring next year.

Any thoughts that ministers have completely lost the plot in thinking that they can legislate in the UK Parliament to make Rwanda a safe destination are surely correct. In fact, even the Home Secretary appears to have doubts.

The Guardian reveals that in the Commons yesterday Yvette Cooper, his Labour shadow, alleged that in private Cleverly had described the Rwanda policy as “batshit”:

Cleverly has been doing an interview round this morning and, while not the main focus, this issue has come up. Although he did not admit using the phrase, anyone watching or listening to his interviews will conclude that he did indeed, at least once in private, describe the centrepiece of the government’s policy for dealing with irregular migration, beloved of rightwingers, as “batshit”.

Asked about the comment on Sky News, he replied: “I don’t recognise that phrase.”

Asked again on BBC Breakfast, he “squirmed” (in the words of the Mirror) and said this was a claim made about him, not by him, and claimed he could not remember using the word.

And when the question got asked again on the Today programme, Cleverly laughed unconvincingly and claimed the interviewer was falling into a trap laid by Labour.

All of which means that Sunak has appointed a new home secretary who – almost certainly, at least once – has expressed views on the Rwanda policy more in line with those of Guardian readers than Daily Mail readers. In the Conservative party, that will have been noted.

Is there an actual grown-up in the room after all? We will have to see.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Standing up for otters and the environment

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats, using a list of well-known otter habitats from the Wildlife Trust, has found that water firms dumped sewage over 650 times in otter habitats last year – lasting a total of 2,546 hours.

According to the Express, the worst incident was near Portrack Marsh, where Northumbrian Water discharged sewage for 561 hours in the River Tees:

Several firms discharged sewage into or nearby otter habitats, including United Utilities, Anglian Water and Yorkshire Water.

Liberal Democrat Environment spokesman Tim Farron MP said: “This is a scandal. Otters must be saved from raw sewage ruining their homes. No animal seems safe from this awful polluting crime.

“At the very least there should be a ban on all discharges into rivers which serve otter habitats. The public will be rightly outraged at water firms stuffing their pockets with bonuses whilst wrecking our natural environment. Frankly, the whole thing stinks.”

Ali Morse, water policy manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said otters were almost driven to extinction historically because of habitat loss and the dangerous use of organo-chlorine pesticides, which poisoned their food sources.

She added: “While better controls on toxic chemicals helped these charismatic creatures to recover, modern cocktails of pollution from sewage and farming are putting otters and other wildlife under huge pressure again.

“We know that chemical pollutants find their way into watercourses from storm overflows but also in the effluent from wastewater treatment works; ‘treated’ doesn’t mean the discharge has no impact on nature.

“Water companies need to look seriously at the harm both treated and untreated sewage causes to lakes, rivers, and streams. Otters rely on clean and healthy water; they shouldn’t be fighting for survival in rivers plagued by human waste.”

The Liberal Democrats have also called for a ban on water firm executives receiving bonuses.

Half of water companies paid out bonuses for the past financial year despite the sewage crisis, regulator Ofwat revealed on Wednesday.

It said that five out of 10 water companies that deal with sewage had chosen to award performance-related bonuses.

Northumbrian Water, Wessex Water, Anglian Water, United Utilities and Severn Trent all paid out bonuses to at least one of their top executives. These were paid by shareholders rather than customer bills.

James Wallace, chief executive of River Action, says "The combination of 1.7 million hours of raw sewage and 26,000 tonnes of phosphates from manure released each year by water companies and farms is snuffing the light and life from our rivers.

"Our rivers are turning into greeny-brown, stinking drains for profiteering industries with no sanctuary for wildlife. We need the Government to do its job: monitor and regulate polluters and incentivise sustainable waste management. Or we are staring down the barrel of mass extinctions across our once fair and pleasant land."

This is a scandal that the government need to get a grip on, even if it means massive public investment to prevent it happening again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Lost in fantasy land

If anything sums up the fantasy land that the current Tory government is occupying, it is the decision by Rishi Sunak to try and appease the right wing of his party by appointing Esther McVey as a Cabinet Office minister with the task of leading the government’s anti-woke agenda, acting as a “common sense tsar”.

The Guardian reports that McVey, who is currently a presenter on GB News, has been elevated to the cabinet in an attempt to appease the right wing of the Tory Party, who are mourning the sacking of Suella Braverman.

Braverman had long frustrated No 10 with her off-the-cuff comments, but she was removed on Monday for her article published in last Thursday’s Times, in which she claimed there was a “perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters” and were tougher on rightwing extremists than pro-Palestinian “mobs”.

McVey said last week that she believed Braverman was “feeling very vulnerable” and attempted to shore up more support on the right of the party so Sunak could not sack her.

She told GB News at the time: “I think that the immigration problem hasn’t been solved. So what she needs to do is, as she’d see it, is shore up a base, a base on the right hand side of the party, one that Rishi can’t naturally reach out to.

“What she’s saying is ‘you can’t get rid of me’. There is a reshuffle coming forward and she’s saying ‘I’m going to be quite out there’ … I have to stay in.”

With Braverman out, and the likes of David Cameron, Laura Trott and Victoria Atkins in, many of the party’s rightwingers have seen the reshuffle as an attempt to move the party into the centre ground.

Andrea Jenkyns said “enough is enough … it’s time for Rishi Sunak to go”, and submitted a letter of no confidence to the 1922 Committee.

She said that forcing Boris Johnson out was “unforgivable enough”, before criticising the removal of Braverman – the “only person in the cabinet with the balls to speak the truth of the appalling state of our streets and a two-tier policing system that leaves Jewish community in fear for their lives and safety [sic]”.

Does this mean that the confrontational and right-wing stance of GB News will now be the order of the day in the cabinet office? The idea that somebody should be handed a senior government post with the intent of suppressing certain views and actions is hardly democratic.

Sunak's brave new world may turn out to be Trumpian after all.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Deja Vu on Museum Wales row

Do public bodies in Wales learn from their past mistakes? That could well be the subject of a Phd thesis at some stage. In the meantime, we have to rely on those with long memories to dredge up incidents that may or may not have a bearing on current events.

These thoughts came to mind when I read about the latest reports concerning the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. The BBC report that a bullying row which led to a former rugby boss leaving his job at Museum Wales left taxpayers with a bill of more than £620,000.

They add that Roger Lewis was the subject of complaints from two senior employees when he was the museum's president and that the museum has been subsequently criticised for how it settled the dispute.

The Wales Audit Office has issued a report on the matter which has revealed that the museum spent £757,613 including a £325,698 settlement to the then director general David Anderson, who was in charge of the organisation:

Mr Crompton [The Wales Auditor General] found the "decision-making process concerning the resolution of the employment dispute with the former director general was fundamentally flawed".

He said the museum had not been able to demonstrate it acted in the best interests of the charity or that the settlement represented value for money.

He said his audit team was also not provided "with any specific written advice from the Welsh government to Amgueddfa Cymru concerning the settlement agreement itself, notwithstanding the involvement of the Welsh government's director of human resources in that process".

Although, the cases are fundamentally different, this report did remind me of one of my earliest meetings as a Welsh Assembly Member in early 2000, when I was on the nascent Assembly's Audit Committee, an early version of what is now their Public Accounts Committee.

That meeting considered a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General for England and Wales on a decision by the then Accounting Officer and Director of the National Museum of Wales relating to allegations of mismanagement against a senior employee.

A formal ‘Compromise Agreement’ was drawn up, which involved a payment of £30,000 from the National Museum of Wales as compensation for loss of office and a contribution of £1,450 plus VAT towards the employee's legal expenses. There was also a confidentiality clause and an agreement that the museum would provide a favourable reference for its former employee.

However, this agreement was never formally signed off in writing by the Welsh Government's accounting officer, even though the money was paid and the terms honoured by the museum. The National Audit Office was very critical of this failure to follow proper procedure as was the Assembly's Audit Committee.

An interesting parallel with current events that should be noted by all concerned.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

An abhorrent Home Secretary

It is difficult to disagree with Sadiq Khan when he states in the Mirror that the violent scenes we witnessed yesterday around the cenotaph were a direct result of the Suella Braverman’s words and behaviour.

Like many of us, he believes that the scenes of unacceptable aggression and disorder from the far right near the Cenotaph and in parts of central London yesterday were deeply disturbing. 

Just minutes before a moment of national silence to remember all those who have lost their lives while serving our country, we saw far-right thugs attacking the police. Sadly, he says, these scenes were predictable after a week of efforts from some to stoke tensions and cause unrest:

Emotions have understandably been running high because of the events in the Middle East, and what we needed last week was for everyone to play their part in calming the situation and to work with the police do their job.

Instead, we saw Suella Braverman, who holds one of the great offices of state, doing the complete opposite - with the Prime Minister sheltering behind her. There can be no doubt that the scenes we witnessed yesterday involving the far right were a direct result of the Home Secretary’s words and behaviour. If she had any honour she would resign - and if not, Rishi Sunak should sack her. If he doesn’t, he’s either too weak to do so or he agrees with her.

The far right have clearly been encouraged and emboldened. This includes amplifying misleading fake audio purporting to be of me that rapidly spread across social media with no control. The Met have my full support in taking the action they did against those who broke the law yesterday, and I continue to support them in taking a zero-tolerance approach against anyone found spreading hate.

The irony, of course, is that after the Home Secretary warned us over and over again that protestors marching for peace in the Middle East were a threat to the peaceful remembrance of those who gave up their lives for our country, the real disruption came from the thugs who were supporting Braverman. Surely, Rishi Sunak must take action to remove her from office now.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Civil War

Guns and Roses sang 'I don't need your civil war' and that very much sums up the feeling of most of us when we read about the latest conflict within the Tory Party over Suella Braverman.

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak is facing a civil war in the Conservative party over the future of the home secretary, as he held off sacking her for saying police were biased for allowing a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day.

The paper says that allies of Suella Braverman claim more than 50 Tory MPs are fighting to help her keep her job:

Some of the MPs – from hard-right Tory groups labelled “the five families” – are also blaming the chief whip, Simon Hart, for orchestrating a plot to get rid of her.

On the other side, moderate Tory MPs are furious with Braverman for stoking tensions before the pro-Palestinian protest, and are pressing No 10 and the chief whip to sack her, saying failure to act looks like weakness.

Sunak is considering Braverman’s future as home secretary after she defied Downing Street by submitting the controversial piece to the Times without making changes it requested.

The home secretary has kept silent since then, but on Friday met Sir Mark Rowley, the Met commissioner, and issued a statement of support for the police in an apparent attempt to calm the furore and stay in post.

A source close to Braverman said: “The commissioner outlined plans to continue working to maintain public order, ensure compliance with the law and maintain the safety of participants, police officers and the general public.

“The home secretary emphasised her full backing for the police in what will be a complex and challenging situation and expressed confidence that any criminality will be dealt with robustly.”

This drama is starting to sound like an episode of the Sopranos, with the “five families” reference being a “darkly comic” allusion to the five families who have been alleged to control the mafia in the US.

My problem is that none of this is going to make a general election come any closer. What it will do is deepen the Tory party's electoral losses when we do get to vote. 

In the meantime we have no choice but to look on and grimace as the UK's international reputation continues to be trashed by this bunch of self-serving numbskulls.

Friday, November 10, 2023

The many sins of Suella Braverman

Over at the Guardian, Sean O'Grady outlines tha case against Suella Braverman and why she is a danger to democracy, the constitution and to multicultrism.

In doing so, he sets out the many reasons why the Home Secretary is so toxic:

She is inflicting huge damage on our multicultural society, on the party she purports to serve and the constitution of the nation. She’s not just potentially dangerous – she is undermining the police, eroding the right to protest, encouraging Islamophobia, stirring up hatred and effectively encouraging violence on the streets in a lot of what she says and does.

Whether the prime minister or his staff approved her latest article or not (in an op-ed for The Times she also claimed Islamists were using Saturday’s demo to express “primacy” and compared it to extremist rallies in Northern Ireland with links to terrorism), she is the home secretary. The fact that she feels the urge to encourage conflict is profoundly disturbing.

Her language is defiantly extreme and, it seems, designed to provoke fear and anger. It is in that respect, Powell-like. At the Conservative conference, she spoke about a “hurricane” of migration. She suggested that asylum seekers pretend to be gay in order to gain a right to remain in the UK – at odds with the statistics. According to Home Office data, sexual orientation formed part of the basis for an asylum claim in 1 per cent of all applications in 2021 (77 per cent fewer than in 2019).

She claims, again in defiance of the evidence of cities such as Leicester, that multiculturalism has failed. Before her latest foray into inciting hate, she cheerfully called the movement of small boats full of refugees in the English Channel an “invasion”.

She has openly advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights – something that would conveniently end the qualified right to protest and lawful assembly we’ve enjoyed for centuries. Braverman is a kind of cultural vandal, who seems to take some sort of sadistic pleasure in making us believe that what divides us is far greater than what unites us.

Frankly, she seems highly Islamophobic, and that is not helping Muslim people in Britain who want nothing more than to make a living and build a future for themselves and their families – the same as everyone else.

It is little wonder that he concludes that the kind of society Braverman represents, one where the “will of the people”, as interpreted by a handful of people in power, becomes an elected dictatorship where a part-rigged general election every four or five years hands absolute power to the leadership of one political party, is the reason she is so dangerous.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Toys out of pram time

I don't suppose it's unusual for a government minister to sulk if they can't get their own way, but not many do it publicly, while having a temper tantrum that the most irascible toddler can only marvel at. Nevertheless, Home Secretary, Suella Braverman has managed to achieve peak Violet Bott with apparently little effort.

The Guardian reports that Braverman has launched a full-throated attack on policing “double standards” after the head of the Metropolitan police gave the go-ahead for a pro-Palestine march on Saturday, Armistice Day.

The paper says that the protests, which have brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of London, were described by the home secretary as an unchallenged “assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists”, in an article in the Times published on Wednesday night:

She claimed that unnamed police chiefs appeared to care more about avoiding “flak” from tackling such “mobs” than ensuring public safety, in what will be taken as thinly veiled critique of Britain’s most senior officer, Sir Mark Rowley.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters,” she wrote.

“During Covid, why was it that lockdown objectors were given no quarter by public order police yet Black Lives Matters demonstrators were enabled, allowed to break rules and even greeted with officers taking the knee?

“Rightwing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law? I have spoken to serving and former police officers who have noted this double standard.

“Football fans are even more vocal about the tough way they are policed as compared to politically connected minority groups who are favoured by the left.

“It may be that senior officers are more concerned with how much flak they are likely to get than whether this perceived unfairness alienates the majority. The government has a duty to take a broader view.”

In a direct challenge to Rowley, and using language that is likely to provoke further claims of political interference in operational matters, Braverman went on: “If the march goes ahead this weekend, the public will expect to see an assertive and proactive approach to any displays of hate, breaches of conditions and general disorder.”

On Tuesday, defying days of heavy political pressure, Rowley said there were insufficient grounds for him to ban Saturday’s pro-Palestine march under section 13 of the 1986 Public Order Act.

The last group to have a ban imposed upon one of its planned marches was the far-right English Defence League.

The Met chief was summoned into Downing Street on Wednesday to provide a reasoning for his decision and to reassure Rishi Sunak that remembrance commemorations over the weekend will go undisturbed.

The prime minister subsequently took a more measured approach to the issue in a statement in which he recognised the right to peaceful protest.

Braverman’s comments, however, departed wildly from the prime minister’s tone. The home secretary instead likened the recent marches calling for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas to sectarian rallies in Northern Ireland.

In her article, Braverman also made reference to a report in the Daily Telegraph that identified a link between a former member of Hamas and one of the six groups that have been organising the recent protests.

“I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza,” she wrote. “They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.

“There will be time for proper discussion about how we got to this point. For now, the issue is how do we as a society police groups that insist that their agenda trumps any notion of the broader public good – as defined by the public, not by activists. The answer must be: even-handedly.”

The question now must surely be, how long can Sunak afford to keep this loose cannon in office? A Home Secretary that undermines the role of the police in maintaining law and order and creates division in this way is toxic to his government and the country. It is time she was sacked.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Demise of the dead cat?

Marina Hyde is coruscating in the Guardian about Nadine Dorries' new book 'The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson', suggesting that the narrative, rather than being an exposé of actual things that happen in Downing Street, may well be instead, an exposé of Nadine’s credulity/state of mind after not getting a peerage.

Hyde's explanation of the dead cat theory and its possible demise, though, is worth a read:

Anyway, by way of welcome byproducts, it would be nice to think that Nadine’s failure to burn down the whole Conservative government with her book would lead to the permanent demise of the phrase “dead cat”. This expression first made meaningful landfall with the political chatterati during the 2015 general election, when the Australian strategist Lynton Crosby was running David Cameron’s campaign, and had served up some distracting nastiness about the Miliband brothers and Trident. Isabel Hardman in the Spectator glossed it by explaining Crosby’s view that if you threw something disgusting on the metaphorical dining room table, everyone would deplore you but they’d be talking about that rather than the thing that was causing you real grief. Alas, through absolutely no fault of Isabel’s own, a deceased feline monster was born. Ever since, the phrase “dead cat” has served as the default explanation for armchair campaign strategists seeking to explain why anything from a scandal to a war is actually just a “dead cat” to distract the sheeple from the real story.

Has Nadine Dorries finally killed the dead cat. We will have to see,

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Talking the talk on child poverty in Wales

The BBC reports on some scathing criticism by the Senedd's Equality and Social Justice Committee of the Welsh Government's strategy for tackling child poverty.

According to the article, the committee decided that the strategy lacks ambition, and said blaming the UK government does "not help". They are also critical of the decision to scrap targets:

A target to eradicate child poverty in Wales by 2020 was scrapped in 2016.

According to figures quoted by the committee, 28% of children living in Wales lived in homes where the income of their household was less than 70% of the UK average between 2019 and 2022.

While that decreased between 2012 and 2022, rates have been consistently higher than in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The most recent figure is lower than the UK average of 30%, and six of the nine English regions.

The BBC add that the committee's report criticised the strategy's focus on the UK government:

"We fully recognise the strain on Welsh public finances, and that the most significant policy levers for redistributing wealth and reducing inequalities are held by the UK government and Westminster.

"However, the strategy's primary message should be what the Welsh government can do to alleviate child poverty, rather than what it cannot do."

It said there was "deep unease" among bodies which look at the issue "about the lack of targets and milestones".

MSs called for a dedicated minister for children, and called for a commitment from the Welsh government to use cash raised from increased spending in England on childcare to "fund seamless and affordable childcare and to develop plans for doing this by July 2024".

On BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, committee chair Jenny Rathbone said blaming the UK government "clearly... doesn't help".

"What we have to do in Wales is identify the things that we can do," she said.

"As one of our witnesses said, we might as well shut up shop if we say we can't do anything about it."

This is all very well, but what is the solution suggested by the committee and if it is so obvious why are Welsh Ministers not doing it already? Naturally, I went onto the Senedd website to find out for myself. The report is here, and it has six recommendations:

These include the Government setting better targets and a a clear action plan on how they are going to achieve them. There are no suggestions as to what should be in that action plan that will make a difference, nor what it is that Welsh Ministers need to do that they are not already doing.

The committee want the government to focus its final Strategy much more clearly on children’s rights, which is fine, though that doesnt actually put food on the table, nor does it improve people's economic standing.

Their third recommendation is that the Welsh Government should prioritise programmes where there is clear evidence that they are effective at reducing child poverty, and should provide sustainable funding to programmes that have proved their worth. No problem with that. Is there evidence that it is not happening?

Fourthly, the committee wants to establish a Welsh benefits system. Have they found a magic money tree? And does an additional child payment as piloted in Scotland tackle the fundamental structural problems the committee is focussing on?

The fifth recommendation of funding seamless and affordable childcare provision through the Barnett consequentials it will receive from increased childcare spending in England is sensible and will help parents return to work.

However the final proposal of appointing a dedicated Minister for Babies, Children and Young People with responsibility for tackling child poverty is essentially just a sticking plaster, and comes back to the issue of establishing accountability for targets that can only be delivered with more powers and more resources for the Welsh Government.

In conclusion, it seems that the committee is just as lost as Welsh Ministers on how to make a real impact on child poverty in Wales. This is because the Welsh Goverment is fundamentally right, that the best they can do is alleviate the impact of poverty. The real levers lie with Westminister and the UK government needs to get their act together on this agenda.

This does not mean that the Welsh Goverment is blameless. The chief cause of poverty in Wales is lack of economic activity and low GDP. While the Welsh economy struggles to attract investment and good quality jobs then families will continue to struggle to feed and clothe their children.

If Welsh Ministers want to make a real impact on child poverty then they need to do what they have promised for the last 25 years, and have failed to do, and that is get our economy moving again. Why didn't the committee mention that in its report?

Monday, November 06, 2023

How much trouble is Starmer in over Gaza?

The Guardian reports that the leader of Burnley borough council has resigned along with 10 other councillors in protest at Keir Starmer’s refusal to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza war.

The paper says that Afrasiab Anwar, who has been a member of the party for a decade, was among those who called for the Labour leader to step down last week:

He described leaving Labour as a “really difficult decision”, adding: “We just can’t stand by watching and being part of a party that is not speaking out, or at the very least calling for a ceasefire.

Starmer has urged Israel to obey international law and called for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting, but refused to call for an immediate ceasefire, a stance that has divided the party.

“Instead of talking of peace, all of our world leaders, including the leader of the Labour party, are talking about humanitarian pauses. It’s just nonsensical,” Anwar added.

He said the group had tried “everything we could by working within the party” and that he wanted Labour to “come back to its core values of fighting for social justice”.

A guest post on the Liberal England blog reports that 42 councillors in 20 Councils have resigned since 7 October because of the national party’s stance on Israel and Palestine:

Some may have moved to pre-empt expulsions, and others may be considering their position pending new developments in the Middle East or the shadow cabinet. There have been 10 Labour defections in both Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen, and eight former Labour councillors in Sheffield have formed a Community Councillors group.

How many of these councillors are going to campaign (or even vote) for the Labour Party at the next General Election? The inner workings of the Labour Party are a mystery to most people

With reports that a significant number of Labour MPs are sympathetic to the stance taken by these councillors and that an organised resistance to Labour by Muslim voters could put as many as thirty Labour seats in jeopardy, this is turning into a real crisis for Starmer.

Arguing for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to reach Palestinians is a perfectly logical position but it does not distinguish Labour from the Tories nor, more importantly does it even begin to address some of the big issues in the region.

Starmer may legitimately believe that a ceasefire will leave Hamas free to resume terror attacks, while doing nothing to liberate the hostages, but that does not stop him from criticising the policies of the Israeli government, whose continual colonisation of the West Bank and persecution of Palestinians there, is preventing progress to the two-state solution which is the accepted wisdom for a long term resolution to this crisis. And where is the criticism of Netanyahu's targeting of civilians and children?

The actions of Hamas in massacring innocent civilians was an act of terror, was unjustified and deserves retribution, but Israel has not distinguished itself in its response either. 

With the Labour party divided, and with Starmer apparently caught up in his own indecision, his leadership is in trouble, How he responds now, will determine whether he is capable of uniting his party or whether he will limp into the next general election with Labour hobbled by infighting and factions.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Government not going far enough on leaseholds

The Guardian reports that Tory MPs are preparing to force the government to toughen up its planned leasehold reforms in England and Wales after it was revealed that, while the bill is expected to include a ban on developers selling new houses under leasehold, government sources have told the Guardian it will not extend that ban to flats, which make up about 70% of all leasehold properties.

Several senior Tories said they wanted the government to end leasehold for new houses and flats, and were willing to bring their own amendments to the bill if it failed to do so. With Labour backing these MPs, they could even force a government U-turn or defeat.

Peter Bottomley, the longest-serving MP in the House of Commons, said: “If the government has not included in the bill things that are clearly necessary, both the Lords and the Commons will improve it. If anything is left out of the bill, it can be and will be improved.”

An unnamed Tory MP, who is helping organise the resistance to the government’s plans, said: “If this bill does not include flats, I absolutely will seek to amend it. If you’re buying a flat in a 50-apartment block, then there must be a way of doing it so that people can still own their own property and not be at the beck and call of a freeholder.”

Matthew Pennycook, the shadow housing minister, said Labour would back attempts to ban leasehold for new flats.

“It is deeply disappointing that the government appears set on legislating only for new houses to be sold as freehold, leaving those who buy flats trapped in an archaic system of home ownership,” he said.

“Labour believes commonhold should be the default tenure for all new properties, with the system completely overhauled so that existing leaseholders can collectively purchase more easily and move to commonhold if they wish.”

Gove has promised for a long time to end the leasehold system altogether, telling the Sunday Times this year: “It is an outdated feudal system that needs to go.”

Leaseholders have complained for years about a range of practices by some freeholders and managing agents. Many say they have been charged extortionate fees to carry out repairs or extend a lease, or that property management companies keep putting up service charges without reason.

The issue came to the fore in the wake of the Grenfell fire, after which thousands of leaseholders found themselves confronted with bills of tens of thousands of pounds to replace combustible cladding on their buildings. The government has since insisted that developers foot the bills for larger tower blocks, but much of the replacement work has still not been done.

To be fair to Gove, it is believed that he has been fighting for a more wide-ranging set of proposals that would also include measures to end leasehold on newly built flats, but he has been unsuccessful in that battle, with Downing Street concerned it could run into opposition from developers and Tory freeholders.

Reform is long overdue, as are changes to the way large scale developers are seeking to get around any ban, by not seeking adoption of new estates, but instead charging a management fee to freeholders to look after common areas. In these cases, the freeholders have fewer rights than those in leasehold flats as they cannot choose who the management company is, and as such cannot negotiate reductions in the fee they are charged.

Half measures are not enough. The government has to get to grip with the way the law is being abused to exploit homeowners. And why is the Welsh Government not acting independently on this?

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Losing the plot

In light of the appalling record of this government in tackling homelessness and delivering social and affordable housing, the proposal by home secretary, Suella Braverman to legislate to restrict the use of tents by homeless people in built-up areas seems rather crass. In fact, crass is maybe too charitable a word.

Sky News reports that the home secretary's proposals are said to include allowing charities to be fined if they give out tents that become a nuisance:

Ms Braverman wants the plans included in two clauses of a new criminal justice bill, according to The Financial Times, quoting Whitehall sources.

The potential new law would reportedly apply to tents that become a nuisance - such as by blocking shop doorways.

"Braverman has formally pitched a ban on tents in urban areas - except on your own land or the back garden - as well as a new civil penalty for charities to stop them giving out tents to homeless people for free," one source told the FT.

The proposed tent restrictions would be applied alongside support for the people affected, such as help to get access to a shelter, said the Whitehall insiders.

The government last year said it would repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which made begging and rough sleeping illegal, and promised £2bn over three years to help get people off the streets.

But the opposite appears to be happening - and a recent report said rough sleeping was up 26% on last year.

The study said many of the problems stem from a severe shortage of affordable housing and a lack of appropriate support services.

This, combined with the cost of living crisis, is pushing more people into homelessness.

Trying to cover up your own incompetence by perscuting the poor and the vulnerable is not a good look for anybody. Somehow, I don't think Braverman is bothered.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Is A.I. the current problem?

While Rishi Sunak spends his time hobnobbing with Elon Musk and worrying about the possible repercussions of Artificial Intelligence, his real problem appears to be the state of the government's ICT estate.

The Independent reports that the Prime Minister has been warned that the government’s ageing computer systems are an “accident waiting to happen” – as ministers admitted they do not know the cost of patching up old IT. There is concern that systems from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s could be increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack:

The Cabinet Office could not say exactly how many of the “legacy” systems in the NHS and other departments are risky, outdated or defunct.

And the government also conceded it did not know how much was being spent on keeping them running across Whitehall and elsewhere.

Labour pointed to recent government data showing that almost 12,000 NHS computers are still using outdated Windows 7 systems, leaving them potentially vulnerable to hackers.

Shadow science secretary Peter Kyle told The Independent: “Rishi Sunak’s failure to keep the government’s tech up to date is an accident waiting to happen.”

“After 13 years of Tory government, Britain is still using 20th century computer systems for essential public services,” the frontbencher added.

“During the AI summit, it’s crucial we know how vulnerable these systems are to cyber-attacks and if they will prevent us using AI to improve public services.”

The 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, which targeted PCs running Windows, hit the NHS at an estimated cost of £92m.

The government’s “legacy” IT systems includes those critical for national security, like the Police National Computer – which helps polices solve crimes and keep the public safe – introduced back in 1974.

Other legacy systems include the Pension Services Computer System, brought in back in 1988, which left 134,000 pensioners short of their pension payments totalling over £1bn.

This failure to invest in up-to-date and secure systems is part of of the phenomenon highlighted by the Institute for Government of public services being stuck in a “doom loop” of recurring crises as a result of ministers’ short-term policymaking, which I blogged on here.

We can no longer make do and mend. We need modern, properly-financed public services staffed by properly remunerated employees and we need the investment to deliver them now, not at some unspecified time in the future.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Dawn of Skynet?

The Guardian reports that the UK, US, EU, Australia and China have all agreed that artificial intelligence poses a potentially catastrophic risk to humanity, in the first international declaration to deal with the fast-emerging technology.

The paper says that twenty-eight governments signed up to the so-called Bletchley declaration on the first day of the AI safety summit, hosted by the British government, with the countries agreeing to work together on AI safety research, even amid signs that the US and UK are competing to take the lead over developing new regulations:

Michelle Donelan, the UK technology secretary, told reporters: “For the first time we now have countries agreeing that we need to look not just independently but collectively at the risks around frontier AI.”

Frontier AI refers to the most cutting-edge systems, which some experts believe could become more intelligent than people at a range of tasks. Speaking to the PA news agency on the sidelines of the summit, Elon Musk, the owner Tesla and SpaceX, and of X, formerly Twitter, warned: “For the first time, we have a situation where there’s something that is going to be far smarter than the smartest human … it’s not clear to me we can actually control such a thing.”

Does this mean we are heading for a Terminator-style catastrophe? Who knows. What is clear however, is that despite this declaration and apparent agreement on the direction of travel, there is little international agreement over what a global set of AI regulations might look like or who should draw them up.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Startling incompetence

If there is one thing that we have learnt from yesterday's evidence session of the covid inquiry, it is that no matter how appalling, how incompetent, how crass we thought Boris Johnson's government was, the reality was much, much worse. Who knew that was possible?

The Guardian posts eight shocking revelations from Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain and others from yesterday's session. These include:

* That Boris Johnson suggested ‘Covid is nature’s way of dealing with old people’:
* That Dominic Cummings connfirmed what we had all thought, that vulnerable people were ‘appallingly neglected’;
* That Cummings frequently called for the sacking of Matt Hancock and other cabinet ministers:
* That Cain tried to resist Sunak’s disastrous ‘eat out to help out’ scheme in the summer of 2020: and
* That Cain thought it was a ‘huge blunder’ to ignore Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals

Meanwhile, the BBC report that the Scottish government will hand over more than 14,000 electronic messages, mainly WhatsApps, to the UK Covid Inquiry. But where are the Welsh Goverment's WhatsApps?

As we hear more and more detail about the way that the UK Goverment handled the pandemic, the need for a separate Welsh inquiry grows increasingly important. 

Did Welsh Ministers fall into the same traps as their Westminster counterparts? Why did we follow the dysfunctional UK Goverment in not properly shielding vulnerable people in care homes? The list goes on.

It is a disgrace that the families of Welsh victims of covid are not getting the answers they need from a separate Welsh public inquiry.

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