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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Another Labour u-turn

It is getting to the point that the only reason why anybody might want to vote for Labour is because they are not the incompetent shit-show that currently governs us. As for policy differences, many of us are struggling to name any.

Labour are in full reverse mode on the £28bn green investment pledge, they are promising no further investment in public services, have ruled out a windfall tax on bank profits, and it would be difficult to insert a fag paper between their tax policies and what we currently have. And now they have even abandoned any pretence at restraining the get-rich-quick culture that permeates our entire financial sector.

The Guardian reports on comments by shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, that Labour will not reinstate a cap on bankers’ bonuses if it wins the next election.

They add that Reeves said she had “no intention” of bringing back the cap, saying she wanted to be the “champion of a thriving financial services industry”:

The regulations, which limited annual bonus payouts to twice a banker’s salary, were introduced by the EU in 2014, in a move aimed at preventing excessive risk-taking after the 2008 financial crisis.

In 2022, the then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced that he would be removing this rule as part of his now infamous mini-budget under Liz Truss’s short-lived reign as prime minister.

The decision received widespread criticism for rewarding bankers and failing to address cost-of-living concerns affecting households across the UK.

However, it was one of the few mini-budget policies to be kept under Rishi Sunak’s leadership, with the new rules coming into force in October last year.

Unions claimed Sunak was fuelling a “greed is good” culture in the City of London. The cap originally limited bonuses to two times bankers’ salaries, giving the average City worker an opportunity to pocket as much as £120,000 extra, equivalent to about seven times the average pay of a care worker, the Trades Union Congress said.

So, all that huffing and puffing by Labour over the last 14 years, about how the Tories are letting bankers off the hook, that they are nurturing greed, and that the rich are benefitting while the poor get poorer etc, has come to nought. Labour are signing up to the Tory agenda on bankers' bonuses.

Why am I not surprised?

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Dirty Britain

Just how far the UK has fallen in terms of environmental sustainability is evidenced by this article in the Guardian which records that eighty-three per cent of English rivers contain evidence of high pollution caused by sewage and agricultural waste.

The paper says that hundreds of anglers took part in the study, organised by the Angling Trust, after being angered by the brown blooms of sewage in the waters they painstakingly tend for the benefit of fish:

Six hundred and forty-one anglers from 240 angling clubs now regularly monitor pollution in 190 rivers across 60 catchments. Between them, they have taken more than 3,800 samples, which are revealing the systemic pollution across England’s waterways. This is mainly caused by agricultural runoff and sewage spilled by water companies.

The fishers found that 83% of rivers monitored failed phosphate standards for good ecological status in at least one test, and 44% of site averages for phosphate failed the standard for good ecological status. Aquatic life would struggle to survive in such conditions: phosphates cause an excessive growth of algae, which can decrease the level of oxygen dissolved in river water, choking the creatures within.

The mapped catchments with the highest phosphate site averages are the Medway; Swale, Ure, Nidd and Upper Ouse; Severn Middle Worcestershire; Loddon and tributaries; Wey and tributaries; Warwickshire Avon; Ribble; Hampshire Avon; Upper and Bedford Ouse.

Jamie Cook, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said: “The first annual report proves that across the country rivers are suffering from too much phosphate which is extremely damaging in freshwaters. We need to see much more enforcement and an update of existing laws to tackle the scourge of river pollution and hold polluters to account.”

The Angling Trust will now release the results of the monitoring annually, though anglers say it should not fall on volunteers to track the state of England’s rivers. Cuts to the government’s Environment Agency have meant, they argue, that monitoring levels have fallen. They have also complained that information about pollution remains elusive from the water industry and the agricultural sector.

The fact that official monitoring of the state of our waters has been cut is very concerning, as is the intention of ministers in England to diverge from the EU’s water framework directive, which sets pollution standards for European waterways. 

Under the plans, the Water Framework Directive would no longer be assessed as part of England’s legally binding environmental targets, potentially further weakening the regulation around water quality:

The targets to reduce phosphate pollution in England are already weak. Under current plans water companies could meet environmental goals by simply stripping phosphate only on their largest sewage works serving large populations and at the bottom end of rivers. This would mean that targets could be achieved with the lowest level of investment. Anglers argue that their new data shows that phosphates will still be present in the majority of rivers upstream and those with smaller wastewater works.

The only conclusion that can be reached from all this is that this government is prepared to abandon our natural environment for ideological and budget reasons. It is a disgrace.

Monday, January 29, 2024

The lie at the heart of government policy

As the Rwanda bill heads to the Lords for the first time this week, it is worth reflecting on the basic lie that sits at its heart, that Rwanda is a safe country to send refugees to.

Of course, the high court has already ruled that it is not safe to ship asylum seekers out to Africa, but the government disagrees and are seeking to legislate to make it safe, that is pass a law to argue that night is day, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, for the conservative ministers who are making this case, their own administration is undermining their argument.

The Guardian reports that four Rwandans were granted refugee status in the UK over “well-founded” fears of persecution at the same time as the government was arguing in court and parliament that the east African country was a safe place to send asylum seekers.

The paper adds that this decision by the Home Office, and the documents the paper has unearthed, raises fresh questions over prime minister Rishi Sunak’s claim that Rwanda is “unequivocally” safe for asylum seekers:

The Conservative government wants to send all asylum seekers who enter the UK across the Channel on small boats to Rwanda, arguing it would act as a deterrent. The supreme court last year ruled that Rwanda was unsafe, leading Sunak to introduce new legislation which, he argues, allays those concerns.

The investigation has also seen details of a dossier compiled by a western intelligence agency that accused Rwanda of orchestrating a dirty tricks campaign to smear and undermine critics including those based in the UK. It is further claimed that a London PR firm set up social media accounts to target a British author, but the company has denied this.

One of the Rwandans was granted asylum by the Home Office on 12 October, the day after the government concluded a case in the supreme court arguing the country was safe.

The refugee was a supporter of an opposition party led by Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who is campaigning for justice for colleagues who have been killed or disappeared. The Rwandan also witnessed alleged atrocities committed by president Paul Kagame’s forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

He and his wife were granted asylum with the Home Office stating in a letter: “We accept that you have a well-founded fear of persecution and therefore cannot return to your country Rwanda, and we have recognised that you are a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

The refugee, who still fears for his safety, said: “Britain should stop pretending this is a safe place. Find some other excuse for sending people to Rwanda but don’t say it’s because the place is ‘safe’, because that’s just insulting to people like me.”

Another Rwandan refugee who has spoken on the grounds of anonymity said he sought refuge in the UK because he feared he would be targeted by the regime over a family member’s suspected links to the opposition.

A Home Office decision letter dated 17 October 2023 accepted he had a “well-founded fear of persecution”. The Rwandan said refugees sent to his country would be safe if they keep their head down and did not criticise the government, but if they started speaking out they would get into trouble.

He said: “If that were to happen in Rwanda, then you’re treading a very fine line. Anything can happen to you. It doesn’t really take much in Rwanda. Even the mere suspicion of being sympathetic to the opposition is enough. People have died for much, much less, they have been imprisoned for much, much less.

Another asylum seeker from the African state was a woman who was being forced by the regime to work for the Rwandan intelligence. She was granted asylum on 24 November, according to information by Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, an organisation supporting people subject to immigration control.

All four cases were given asylum on application to the Home Office, without need to go to tribunal.

I am sure that the House of Lords will be very interested in these findings.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Bad day for Brexit

Author Edwin Hayward tweets that it's been an utterly abominable 24 hours for Brexit news:

- The UK gave up on negotiations to extend our trade deal with Canada, leaving us worse off than when we were an EU member

- New incoming border checks will add £200 million a year to the cost of our food and drink.

- MPs were warned that the EU's upcoming ETIAS/EES border systems may lead to 14-hour queues to enter (the rest of) Europe from the autumn.

- There were warnings of possible shortages of flowers for Valentines Day because of the new incoming border checks.

- A
plan to extend visas for British expats in France from 90 to 180 days was blocked by France's Constitutional Council court (a decision which has no right of appeal).

- Rishi Sunak's pledge to ensure no future laws can create a border down the Irish Sea has gone down like a bucket of sick in TUV quarters. (And has sent the blood pressure of the usual suspect Brexiters sky-high.)

- The EU's plans to increase bulk medicine procurement across the bloc risk creating shortages in Britain because they have very significantly greater buying power than the UK does.

So tell me again why the opposition parties are so silent on these issues.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Hollow popularism

The Guardian reports that Downing Street wants to give UK families higher priority for social housing in a controversial scheme that will be badged as “British homes for British workers”.

The paper says that Officials will launch a consultation in the coming weeks into how they can give British citizens faster access to social housing, a move designed in part to bolster Rishi Sunak’s reputation for being tough on immigration.

They add that the move has prompted anger from some in government, who warn it could further fuel support for the rightwing Reform UK party, while housing experts say it is likely to be either illegal or unworkable, or both:

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “This policy amounts to nothing more than scapegoating at its worst. It is unnecessary, unenforceable and unjust. Not only does it ignore the fact that there are already stringent rules so only UK citizens or those with settled status can access homes for social rent, but it blames a group of people for a housing emergency that they did not create.”

Advisers to the prime minister originally wanted to include a “British homes for British workers” bill in the king’s speech, but decided instead to focus on reform of the rental and leasehold markets – both priorities of the housing secretary, Michael Gove.

In recent weeks, however, the prime minister has been buffeted by polls showing his party heading for a defeat on the scale of 1997, as well a high-profile call for his resignation from a former cabinet colleague, Simon Clarke. He also faces a bruising confrontation with members of the House of Lords over his bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

With N0 10 looking for ways to boost the party’s ratings on immigration, officials are looking again at the “British homes for British workers” scheme, and are planning to release a consultation early next month setting out its options.

Under current rules, local housing authorities are meant to decide social housing allocation based on need, giving priority to those who are homeless or living in overcrowded or squalid conditions. Refugees are allowed to claim social housing, but anyone who is not entitled to benefits is not, meaning most foreigners in the UK are already excluded.

As the paper points out, the latest government figures show that 90% of the lead tenants in social housing are British citizens. 

The real problem is that we are not building enough social housing to let, while huge chunks of the housing stock has been sold off. Sunak will kick himself when he finds out which party is responsible for that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024


It's difficult to feel sorry for a Tory, but really, anybody who takes on the mantle of leading that party must be a masochist. 

There is no loyalty, while everyday they must face a crisis-management situation, not because of what is happening in the country, but to counter the many plots and betrayals amongst their own colleagues.

What is more, when those plots emerge in the light of day, there is an air of unreality about them, as if the instigators don't live in the real world. 

Hence the latest news that former cabinet member, Simon Clarke (who?) believes that his brand of little Englander, free market philosophy actually has traction amongst voters, who are clammering to bring back Liz Truss, when in reality most voters just want this Tory shitshow to be gone.

The Independent reports that Clarke has launched a blistering attack on Rishi Sunak calling him to stand down as prime minister.

The paper says that the former Housing Minister warned that “extinction is a very real possibility” for his party if Sunak remains the leader when voters next go to the polls. 

What he fails to realise is that no matter who is Tory leader, the die has already been cast as far as the outcome of that election is concerned:

Sir Simon, who was Liz Truss’s levelling up secretary, said: “Rishi Sunak has sadly gone from asset to anchor.”

He added: “It is time to strip away illusion, and stop tolerating any indulgence of it… [and] his uninspiring leadership is the main obstacle to our recovery.”

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the senior Tory said Mr Sunak was not solely to blame for the party flagging in the polls during an election year, but insisted “his uninspiring leadership is the main obstacle to our recovery”

“The unvarnished truth is that Rishi Sunak is leading the Conservatives into an election where we will be massacred,” he wrote.

Somehow, I don't think even the Tories have the stomach for yet another leadership election.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Hysteria and Commonsense

There is something comical about Nigel Farage calling for the sacking of members of the House of Lords because they voted through an unprecedented move seeking to delay the PM’s treaty with Rwanda.

Following the vote, the man who has reportedly hankered after a peerage himself tweeted: “We must sack all current members of the House of Lords. It is beyond parody.”

Farage himself, has been beyond parody for some time which makes it all the more disturbing that some UK ministers take him so seriously.

In fact, the House of Lords has done us all a service by voting by 214 votes to 171 – a majority of 43 – to delay the controversial deportation agreement until the government can prove the country is safe. 

As the Independent reports the upper chamber supported a call by Tony Blair’s former attorney general Lord Goldsmith that parliament should not ratify the pact until Sunak’s ministers can demonstrate Rwanda is safe:

The government agreed the legally-binding treaty with Kigali in December – arguing that it addressed concerns raised by the Supreme Court about the possibility of asylum seekers deported to Rwanda then being transferred to a country where they could be at risk.

But Lord Goldsmith cross-party agreements committee said promised safeguards in the agreement are “incomplete” and must be implemented before it can be endorsed.

The initial blow delivered by peers signals a potential rough ride for the legislation, despite Mr Sunak urging the house not to block the “will of the people”. While the government insist the defeat will not delay the PM’s bill, there is now a risk that ignoring the demand by peers could later be used in a legal challenge aiming to stop flights.

The treaty underpins Mr Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill which compels British judges to regard the country as safe.

The whole plan to send refugees to Rwanda becomes more and more unhinged as further details emerge. Thank goodness for the House of Lords injecting some commonsense and realism into the debate.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The wrong choices

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak is facing further attacks on his plans to expand oil and gas exploration in the North Sea this week.

The paper says that the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which aims to boost fossil fuel extraction by establishing a new system under which licences for North Sea oil and gas projects will be awarded annually, has already triggered widespread protests, including the resignation of Chris Skidmore, a former Conservative energy minister. But now, green groups and analysts are lining up to criticise it:

UpLift, which campaigns for green energy, pointed out that the bill, which the government says will “max out” the UK’s reserves, will actually result in only a 2% rise in North Sea gas output. “The remaining 98% of gas demand will come from existing North Sea fields,” its analysis finds.

It adds that just one 1.3 gigawatt windfarm would generate more than enough electricity to offset the gas that would be lost if no new licences were awarded under the bill.

“Sunak, like his predecessor Liz Truss, is obsessing over oil and gas, but dithering on renewables and insulation which will boost UK energy security and lower bills,” said Tessa Khan, executive director of UpLift. “And it’s making people in this country colder and poorer.”

This point was backed by Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “Investments in new North Sea developments will not make a significant difference to energy bills; they will have relatively high operating costs; and they will make it more difficult for the world to halt climate change.”

By contrast, investing in clean British energy and electrifying the economy, with heat pumps and electric vehicles, would reduce dependence on insecure and expensive fossil fuels, Ward added.

A new report by a group of leading economists including Nicholas Stern, criticises the government for allowing too much investment to continue to flow into unsustainable economies such as the development of new oil and gas fields and the construction of homes and offices that are not energy efficient or climate-resilient.

“Investing in the opportunities afforded by the global transition to an efficient, resilient and inclusive economy needs to be a bigger part of restoring productivity and output growth for the UK to gain a competitive lead in the innovative markets of the 21st century,” they state.

Once more the government is ignoring our international agreements, where we agreed to transition away from fossil fuels and adding to the climate crisis.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Will of the people?

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak is facing a possible defeat in the House of Lords this week over his controversial Rwanda deportation plan as peers prepare multiple bids to thwart its progress through parliament.

The paper says that the first test will come on Monday when peers debate a motion laid by former Labour attorney general Peter Goldsmith, which seeks to delay the ratification of the new Rwanda treaty until the government can show the country is safe.

However, a more severe test awaits the Prime Minister when his new bill, which is now heading into the House of Lords after a torrid passage last week through the Commons, and which seeks to make clear in law that Rwanda is safe, is finally scrutinised by peers:

Liberal Democrats are also set to launch a challenge on the Rwanda bill which will seek to kill off its passage through parliament for good. Lib Dem peers are set to table a “fatal motion” which will say that the current plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda breaches international law and will waste millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that could be better spent on public services.

The Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “Millions of pounds and months of squabbling later, there is still absolutely nothing to show for their failing Rwanda scheme. Our country cannot afford to waste any more time on a scheme that even senior Conservatives admit won’t work.”

To be successful, the motion would need to be backed by Labour and cross-bench peers. If passed, it would prevent the Rwanda bill receiving a second reading in the upper chamber. Fatal motions are not often successful but if it were to be, it could force the government back to the drawing board.

Sunak has sought to head off this challenge by urging peers not to “frustrate” what he called “the will of the people”. 

Given this policy has not appeared in any manifesto. nor been tested in a General Election it is difficult to justify this claim. As somebody else said this week, the Rwanda Bill is barely even the settled will of the parliamentary Tory party.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

More Brexit broken promises

I am happy to admit that when Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and the other architects of Brexit promising that environmental protections would be strengthened after the vote to leave the EU, I didn't believe them, but what could I do about it other than wait to see if they delivered on their promises? It is with regret that I record that my scepticism was justified.

The Guardian contains a major feature in which its environment reporter, Helena Horton details the scale of the changes in the law which mean that environmental legislation in Britain is facing death by a thousand cuts.

She says that in practice, changes by the EU that the UK is not following and planned divergences from EU law will mean toxic chemicals banned in the EU will be allowed to be used in the UK, the UK will reduce greenhouse gas emissions more slowly, its waters will be dirtier, and consumer products will be more likely to contribute to global deforestation.

The news article that accompanies it says vital legal protections for the environment and human health are being destroyed in post-Brexit departures from European legislation:

The UK is falling behind the EU on almost every area of environmental regulation, as the bloc strengthens its legislation while the UK weakens it. In some cases, ministers are removing EU-derived environmental protections from the statute book entirely.

Businesses and environmental groups have told the Guardian they have been left in the dark as to the extent of the regressions because there is no government body tracking the divergence between the EU and the UK.

In practice, it means:

* Water in the UK will be dirtier than in the EU.
* There will be more pesticides in Britain’s soil.
* Companies will be allowed to produce products containing chemicals that the EU has restricted for being dangerous.

At least seven big policies have been changed that have put a chasm between the EU and the UK on environmental regulation. These include:

* EU-derived air pollution laws that will be removed under the retained EU law bill.
* Dozens of chemicals banned in the EU are still available for use in the UK.
* Thirty-six pesticides banned in the EU have not been outlawed in the UK.
* The UK is falling behind on reducing carbon emissions as the EU implements carbon pricing.
* The EU is compensating those who are struggling to afford the costs of the green transition, while the UK is not.
* The EU is implementing stricter regulations on battery recycling, while the UK is not.
* Deforestation is being removed from the EU supply chain, while the UK’s proposed scheme is more lax and does not come in until a year later.

As the paper points out about 85% of the UK’s environmental protections are EU derived. They add that there are 10 further policy areas that are in the process of being tightened in the EU while staying the same or being loosened in the UK. These concern sewage pollution in rivers and seas, protection for habitats of endangered animals, food waste, electronic waste, fast fashion, “forever chemicals”, ozone-depleting substances, extracting rare minerals, regulating dangerous particulate pollution, and reducing emissions from intensive farming.

So it seems that not only are we losing all respect for our flouting of international law on asylum seekers, but we are also on track to become one of the dirtiest countries in Europe.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Rank hypocrisy?

It isn't hard to see where the priorities of this Tory government lie. As this article in the Mirror reveals they will always put their own privileges first.

The paper says that details buried in the Finance Bill show that the luxury flight-loving Prime Minister plans to raise Air Passenger Duty (APD) on all flights within the UK from April, except for the ‘higher’ rate that covers private jets:

Passengers travelling by economy will see the tax added to the cost of their fare raised from £6.50 to £7 under plans announced in last year's Budget. Travellers using premium economy or business class flights will see the duty will increase £13 to £14.

But the tax for private jets remains frozen at £78 - and helicopters are entirely exempt as it only applies to "fixed-wing" aircrafts. A Treasury document setting out the policy said: "This measure will impact on some individuals who travel by air, who may see an increase in air fares."

Treasury Minister Gareth Davies admitted this was the case during a committee hearing in Parliament this week(TUES). He told MPs "helicopters are not part of the APD regime, but they do incur fuel duty, and buying a helicopter incurs VAT". He added: "The rate on private jets is significantly more than any commercial flight passenger will pay.

It comes amid ongoing criticism over the Prime Minister's frequent use of luxury air travel. VIP flight addict Mr Sunak used RAF jets and helicopters more regularly than his last three predecessors during his first year, casting doubt on his climate credentials and fuelling claims he's out of touch.

An audit by the Mirror previously found he ran up a £43,730 bill with the Ministry of Defence for 20 domestic flights on RAF planes and helicopters in his first 11 months in Downing Street. That works out at an average of £2,186 per flight. Tory donors have also paid for £85,583 worth of domestic flights during the same period of time.

Some might call this rank hypocrisy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

A deluge of cuts

The Guardian tells us about a report by the House of Commons public accounts committee that has found that deteriorating flood defences mean more than 200,000 homes in England are at risk of flooding due to Environment Agency budget shortfalls.

They say that MPs have concluded that the Agency failed to meet a target of maintaining 98% of “high consequence” flood defences and has had to downgrade the number of properties it aims to protect by 2027 from 336,000 to 200,000:

New houses were being built on floodplains without checks being carried out to make sure suitable flood defences had been put in place, the MPs said. They described the failure as “unforgivable”.

Some 5.7 million properties were at risk of flooding in England in 2022 and 2023 and this number is expected to increase as climate breakdown brings more intense downpours more often.

Flooding across the UK earlier this month damaged nearly 2,000 properties.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chair of the Commons committee, said robust flood resilience must become a priority.

“The depredations caused by such disasters are a matter of life and death for communities up and down the country,” he said. “This inquiry has uncovered the alarming truth that in a number of ways, the approach to keeping our citizens safe in this area is contradictory and self-defeating, not least in the continuing development of new housing in areas of high flood risk without appropriate mitigations.”

The committee said the government should set a measure of how many properties were protected from flooding that took into account the number with poor defences, as well as new constructions.

It should also ensure that smaller projects found it easier to get approval so that rural villages had the same right to protection as others, they said.

What is really bizarre about this report is that the government is still allowing homes to be built on flood plains. Have they learnt nothing?

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Have the Tories abandoned the fuel-poor?

The Mirror reports that plans to launch an energy social tariff which would help low income households with energy costs have reportedly been "quietly shelved" by the Government.

The paper says that the Tories first pledged to consider energy social tariffs - which are cheaper tariffs for certain groups - in 2022, and this was doubled down on by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Energy Secretary Grant Schapps last year. However, Government sources have indicated that social tariffs are "no longer a priority" and that ministers are looking into other ways to help those struggling with energy costs:

The move comes despite calls from charities, organisations and energy companies themselves calling for the introduction of a social tariff for energy. End Fuel Poverty Coalition co-ordinator Simon Francis said the decision to "abandon plans" for energy bill reform would be a "slap in the face to British households.

Daniel Portis, the deputy director of Energy UK, which represents providers, told the i publication that the group was “concerned” ministers were “underestimating the scale of the issue” on the number of households unable to pay energy bills. The energy regulator Ofgem revealed last year that the level of dent amongst energy customers had risen to an estimated £3billion - although industry experts believe the debt is "significantly" higher than Ofgem's statistics.

Louise Rubin, head of policy and campaigns at charity Scope, since the promise for a social tariff was made, “almost a third of disabled people have been pushed into debt” adding that the “crisis has not gone away.”

She said: "We’re hearing from disabled people who can’t afford to eat, are using candles instead of switching lights on and rationing how much they use equipment like powered wheelchairs. Thousands of disabled people, charities and campaigners have been calling for this since the start of this crisis because we know it’ll make an enormous difference to disabled people’s lives.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at the consumer group Which? said that it was "very concerning" to hear that plans for a social tariff were potentially scrapped. She explained: "Energy debt has risen hugely over the crisis and prices are predicted to remain high until the end of the decade. Lower income households with unavoidably higher usage - such as families with young children - are more likely to be left in the cold this winter and beyond.

"The Government needs to set out its plans to deal with the issue. A properly targeted social tariff would ensure more affordable energy bills for those who need it most."

It really is time we kicked these people out of office.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Misleading legislation

As the House of Commons vote on the government's Rwanda bill approaches, the Mirror reports on new documentation that has emerged, which highlights the absurdity of Ministers legislating to create their own fantasy solution to immigration.

The paper says that Ministers have "brushed aside" evidence of refugee killings, discrimination and suppression in Rwanda in a desperate bid to declare the country "safe:

A Home Office assessment said Rwanda was a "relatively peaceful country with respect for the rule of law" but admitted there are "issues with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech". The documents reveal the fatal shooting of 12 people protesting food cuts at a refugee camp was dismissed as an "isolated incident" by the Home Office.

Officials admitted LGBT people may face "discrimination in practice" if sent to the African country. A Government policy statement also said there are concerns over human rights violations toward political opponents. But it claimed this doesn't impact the deportation scheme as these are directed at Rwandans rather than refugees.

Campaigners said the dossier, which was released ahead of a crunch vote this week, "blows a hole" in the Government's claim that Rwanda is safe. Rishi Sunak is set for a two-day Commons battle from Tuesday as he tries to revive his controversial deportation scheme, which the Supreme Court said was illegal in November.

The Rwanda Bill would declare it a safe country to send asylum seekers to, while reducing the rights of individuals to appeal. Documents designed to support the Government's claim that Rwanda is safe concede that LGBT people "may face some discrimination in practice in Rwanda" but legal protections for the LGBT community are "generally considered more progressive" than its neighbours.

The assessment added that the Rwandan constitution has a "broad prohibition of discrimination". It also described a 2018 protest in the Kiziba refugee camp where 12 people were shot dead by police as "an isolated case and there is no information on similar incidents since 2018".

The dossier also raised concerns about the Rwandan government's suppression of its own population. But it sought to ease fears, saying: "Most reports of any alleged human rights violations in Rwanda relate to Rwandan nationals who are critics of the government."

Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said: “Even the Home Office has acknowledged the serious human rights violations in Rwanda. It’s utterly shameful that even after all this expert evidence, the Government is relentlessly pushing ahead with this policy."

Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais said Rwanda’s poor human rights record, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and the killing of asylum seekers in 2018, were all "brushed aside". He said: "It is a shocking example of doublethink that the Government is proceeding in the full knowledge that the Home Secretary has issued a policy statement expressing legitimate concerns over Rwanda’s human rights record – concerns which it has blithely chosen to ignore. This blows a hole in the Government's feeble assertion that the Supreme Court was wrong, and that Rwanda is a safe country for refugees."

Steve Smith is absolutely right in suggesting that there is something Orwellian about the Government's approach to this matter. Just because a government says so, does not make it a reality, and that goes double for the kind of legislation Rishi Sunak is now promoting. What's next, a bill that insists black is white?

Sunday, January 14, 2024

When the computers take over

It was only a matter of time. The Mirror reports that government ministers are already getting AI to read documents for them and decide which are the most important.

The paper says that Tory minister Alex Burghart admitted he uses an experimental “AI Red Box”, developed by the Cabinet Office, to sift through the stack of papers he’s given to read every day, and he claimed another minister is also using the experimental system, as is top civil servant Alex Chisolm.:

He also revealed officials had tried to implement a chatbot to sit on top of the Gov.UK website and deal with enquiries from the public, with access to the entire database of government information.

But the experiment was scrapped when it did “some strange things” - like speaking French and being wrong a fifth of the time.

Describing the “AI red box”, Mr Burghart told an event in Westminster: “What it does is it can read documents that go into your red box, it can summarise them, it can highlight connections between papers, connections between previous papers. And over time, as we fine-tune this model, it will become, I believe, the institutional memory of the department.”

He said that while a lot of good people pass through the Cabinet Office, “they don’t always stay that long.” “It means that things that happened three, four or five years ago, those people are not around anymore,” he said. “But with an effective AI red box, that won’t be a problem any more.”

Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said: "MPs and Ministers spending time to look over casework and policy is bread and butter. If they can’t be bothered to read things for themselves, we may as well let the robots run the country. Which can't be much more worse than this Conservative mess."

There are some of course, who would argue that given the lack of compassion shown by this government, the computers have been running it for some time.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

More Labour backsliding

The Guardian reports that Labour's plans to scrap non-dom tax breaks would raise about a billion pounds less than the £3.2bn previously claimed, under an option being considered to allow a four-year grace period for those with the status.

The paper says that research suggesting that scrapping the breaks could raise £3.2bn a year was cited by Labour when it announced the plans in 2022 to scrap rules allowing some wealthy people to avoid tax on foreign earnings if they have lived in the UK for less than 14 years:

The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has said abolishing the tax break in full would raise that amount each year and that Labour would use the money to expand the NHS workforce.

However, the party is also considering new regimes for temporary residents. One option under consideration is for individuals to be be able live as non-domiciles in the UK for four years before they pay the full UK tax, it is now understood.

“We’ve actually been fairly conservative, with a small c, in terms of how much we think it will raise,” Wes Streeting told LBC on Thursday in relation to the overall policy. “We put the number [at] about £2bn; £1.6bn will go to the NHS, the rest will go to primary school breakfast clubs,” the shadow health secretary said.

A Labour spokesperson said on Friday: “We have always been clear that we will scrap the non-dom rules, bringing in a modern scheme for people who are genuinely living in the UK for short periods.”

But the party came under attack both from the Conservatives and from activists on its left over the potentially revised policy.

“Full abolition of the non-dom tax status is a common sense, popular policy,” said Hilary Schan, the co-chair of Momentum, the leftwing campaign group. “So it beggars belief that the Labour leadership is watering down an already weak commitment on non-doms, and sacrificing much-needed funds for Britain’s broken public services in the process.”

It seems that even with a popular policy like this, Labour are getting cold feet. At this rate they won't have any policies left to put in their manifesto.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Jets vs the Sharks in prime time Commons vote

To be fair, the way that the Mirror describes the forthcoming vote on the government's Rwanda bill, it really does sound like West Side Story.

The paper's headline says that the Tories are at war, as rival rebel gangs demand Rishi Sunak's Rwanda plan is shredded to pieces. The upshot is that the Prime Minister's Rwanda crisis has deepened after a group of his own MPs demanded key parts of the plan are ripped out, setting up a brutal showdown next week:

Moderates within the Conservative Party have told the Prime Minister his bid to weaken human rights laws has "gone too far". But hardliners - including Suella Braverman, Liz Truss, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Robert Jenrick - instead want the controversial Safety of Rwanda Bill to go even further in denying legal rights to asylum seekers.

It means Mr Sunak is caught in a bruising battle between his warring MPs - who will refuse to back each other's demands. It will take just 28 Tories voting against his Bill, or 55 to abstain, to inflict a humiliating defeat on the PM.

In the latest set of amendments, former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland called for a clause denying Human Rights Act protection to asylum seekers to be ditched. He also said the UK must not be allowed to ignore rulings by international courts, as proposed by Mr Sunak.

But this puts him at loggerheads with the right-wing "five families" groups, who want the Bill beefed up. Mr Jenrick, who quit as Immigration Minister in protest over the PM's plans, has tabled 15 amendments, backed by around 40 MPs. These are aimed at making it harder for asylum seekers to appeal, and blocking injunctions from European judges.

Sir Robert, a member of the centrist One Nation group of Tories, told GB News that no members of his faction - which has around 100 members - will back Mr Jenrick's changes. He said: "They are not acceptable. In fact they go way too far. They show no respect for the rule of law and are fundamentally unconservative.

"They will not be supported. And I can't think of many One Nation colleagues who would. The bill itself has gone too far anyway and it needs to be trimmed."

The legislation - designed to get around a Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda isn't a safe place to send asylum seekers to - will be put before the Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday. Right wingers warn that it won't achieve its aims without the changes they propose.

Mr Jenrick - who refused to say if he will vote for the Bill if it isn't amended, said it "simply doesn't work" as it stands. And former frontbencher Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg - who also supports the right-wing amendments - pointed out that two previous Tory attempts to stop the boats had failed.

He said: “Passing an ineffective bill would make the government look hopeless. In many ways it would be better to do nothing than to fail again because this is actually the third go at trying to get people deported to Rwanda.”

The bill is widely predicted to stumble in the House of Lords, many of whose members understand and support humnan rights law. They are not going to be fooled by the PM trying to "fundamentally change reality" by pushing the "fiction" that Rwanda is safe for refugees.

However, at this rate, the chances of the bill ever reaching the Lords is diminishing daily.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Dodging difficult questions

The Independent reveals that the guest chair in an LBC studio was bolted to the floor after Boris Johnson tried to duck cameras during difficult interviews while he was London mayor:

LBC Radio also films politicians and other guests when they are interviewed and sometimes shares clips of the interviews online.

Mr Johnson was regularly interviewed in a segment of journalist Nick Ferrari’s show called ‘Ask Boris’ when he was in City Hall from 2008 to 2016.

In an interview with the Radio Times, Mr Ferrari revealed that producers resorted to screwing the guest chair to the floor after the former mayor repeatedly drifted “off camera”.

“That is the Boris bolt,” Mr Ferrari said. “[When we were] doing the Ask Boris shows and he was mayor, he’d be asked why he was cancelling the 63 bus and he’d just drift off camera.”

The journalist also revealed that Dame Cressida Dick, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, once also tried to evade the camera but found the chair wouldn’t budge.

“We do this in our interview rooms so our officers don’t get hit over the head with them,” Dame Cressida replied when Mr Ferrari explained why the chair was nailed down.

During the interview, Mr Ferrari also said that initially had been a fan of Mr Johnson and admitted to liking Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.

When asked if government ministers got a free pass on his show, Mr Ferrari said “not at all”. He appeared to suggest that he would be tougher on Labour politicians than Conservative ones if the opposition wins the next election, expected in spring or autumn this year.

“[If Labour win the next election] it will probably mean that I can be a little bit more on the front foot and try to hit a few more sixes and fours, rather than just doing a little tickle for a couple of runs,” he said.

It was not the first time Mr Johnson, who stood down as an MP last year following a slew of scandals during his premiership, tried to avoid difficult questions.

In December 2019 he hid in a fridge while being pursued by a TV reporter attempting to interview him on the eve of the general election.

The prime minister had been on an early morning milk round in Leeds when he was confronted by Good Morning Britain’s Jonathan Swain about his “promise to talk to Piers [Morgan] and Susanna [Reid]”.

“I’ll be with you in a second,” Mr Johnson replied, before escaping into a large fridge.

Conservative sources later told The Guardian that the prime minister was “categorically not hiding” in the fridge and claimed he was instead being prepped for a different interview.

Mr Johnson had been accused of avoiding media scrutiny during this election campaign after he refused to take part in a one-on-one interview with former BBC journalist Andrew Neil.

We will have to see how these things play out in the next general election.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Rewarding failure

If there is one universal constant in this world it is bureacratic inertia, a tendency for government to plough on regardless, irrespective of the storms gathering around it.

This has never been seen more clearly than in the Post Office Horizon scandal, when a failed ICT project to enable benefits to be paid over Post Office counters was transformed into accounting software for small sub-postmasters. This scheme inevitably failed to work properly, ruining the lives of over 700 famlies when the bureaucrats in both Fujitsu and the Post Office decided to blame the victims rather than admit to their own failings.

What is worse, is that despite twenty odd years of news stories exposing this scandal, culminating in a revelatory TV drama that has taken the whole nation by storm, the UK government has continued to throw public money at the IT company involved, while ministers and civil servants still embrace large, flawed ICT projects as a universal solution to good governance and financial prudence.

Thus, the Mirror reveals that since 2012, more than a decade after the Post Office accounting scandal began, the public sector has awarded Fujitsu almost 200 contracts worth £6.8billion in total:

Fujitsu is still being allowed to bid for the lucrative work after its faulty software led to hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters and mistresses being wrongly prosecuted.

Since 2012 – more than a decade after the scandal began – the public sector has awarded Fujitsu almost 200 contracts worth £6.8billion in total, analyst Tussell says.

Fujitsu is still one of the Government’s “strategic suppliers”, which typically means it receives over £100million in contracts per year. Labour MP Kate Osborne, who has campaigned on the scandal, said: “It is astounding the Government is continuing to award them billions of pounds worth of contracts. The least they could do is not give them any new contracts. It’s a kick in the teeth for the former postmasters.”

The Government has said Fujitsu may be forced to contribute cash for compensation, but is refusing to stop the firm bidding for contracts until a public inquiry into the scandal has finished. The probe was established in 2020.

Journalist Tony Collins, the former editor at Computer Weekly which first exposed the scandal, said: “I smile wryly when I hear ministers saying they’re going to get redress from Fujitsu. It’s not going to happen... They can’t be forced to do anything. They are in a uniquely strong position.”

The Mirror also reveals that Fujitsu’s non-executive chairman until 2019, Simon Blagden is a Tory party member who has donated £376,000. Fujitsu insists the donations he made to the party while with the company came from his own money. The paper also reveals that Mr Blagden, who was said to have dined regularly with PM Theresa May, was awarded a CBE in 2016 for services to the economy.

But this isn't just about the Tories, Labour Governments have also awarded Fujitsu lucrative ICT contracts as well, while the company schmoozes MPs from all parties. Its accounts reveal that in 2015-16 it paid £21,000 to the Tories, £14,000 to Labour and £11,000 to the Lib Dems, amounts it says formed part of “the company’s presence at all three main political parties’ annual party conferences”. At the Conservative conference, the company has run the Blue Room, a private luxury lounge where executives mingle with ministers.

Surely, it's time to end this government love affair with Fujitsu and to stamp out bureaucratic obsession with ICT as a solution to all problems. Bigger is not better, as the Post Office scandal so ably illustrates.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

More revolting Tories

The Independent reports on yet another Tory MP who has decided that he is not going to roll over and accept Sunak's abandonment of policies to tackle climate change.

The paper says that senior Tory MP, Sir Alok Sharma has said he will not support Rishi Sunak’s “smoke and mirrors” oil and gas drilling bill, with the former cabinet member and Cop26 president arguing that the legislation is a “total distraction, which frankly changes nothing”.

Sharma went on to accuse the PM of “chopping and changing” climate policies, reinforcing “the unfortunate perception about the UK rolling back from climate action”:

It comes as senior Tory MP Chris Skidmore formally submitted his resignation in protest over Mr Sunak’s oil and gas drilling plans – triggering yet another by-election headache for the PM.

The ex-energy minister said Mr Sunak’s climate stance would “destroy the reputation of the UK as a climate leader”, having announced on Friday that he planned to stand down.

The MP for Kingswood in Gloucestershire formally quit the Tory whip and his seat on Monday, arguing that his constituents “deserve the right” to elect someone new if he could no longer back the government.

On Monday, Mr Sunak’s government will try to pass legislation requiring the North Sea regulator to invite applications for new oil and gas licences on an annual basis instead of the five-year average currently in place.

Critics have accused the government of backing new production as a way to create a dividing line with Labour ahead of this year’s general election.

Just 1 per cent of the oil from new licences granted in the North Sea would be used in the UK in 2030, according to analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

The ECIU said the bill will therefore have little impact on Britain’s energy security and do nothing to bring down household bills – which have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Former energy secretary Mr Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I will not be voting for this bill.

“As it is currently drafted, this bill is a total distraction… it is a smoke and mirrors bill which, frankly, changes nothing.”

The MP said the North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences when it deems necessary and “that will not change”.

He added: “What this bill does do is reinforce that unfortunate perception about the UK rolling back from climate action. We saw this last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies and actually not being serious about meeting our international commitments.

“Just a few weeks ago at COP 28, the 28th UN climate conference, the UK government signed up to transition away from fossil fuels.

“This bill is about doubling down on granting more oil and gas production licences. It’s actually the opposite of what we agreed to do… so I won’t be supporting it.”

This is of course a serious revolt by serious people, highlighting that the current Conservative Government cannot be trusted with our environment.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Tories face obliteration

At last some good news, the Guardian reports on comments by Danny Kruger, a leading backbencher Tory MP and founder of the increasingly influential New Conservatives group, that the Conservatives face “obliteration” at the next election after leaving the country in a worse state than they inherited it in 2010.

Kruger told an event last year that the Conservatives risked being ejected from power this year having left the country “sadder, less united and less conservative” than they found it:

Speaking to a private event of Tory members organised by the thinktank ResPublica last October, Kruger said: “The narrative that the public has now firmly adopted – that over 13 years things have got worse – is one we just have to acknowledge and admit.”

He added: “Some things have been done right and well. The free school movement that Michael Gove oversaw, and universal credit – and Brexit, even though it was in the teeth of the Tory party hierarchy itself, and mismanaged – nevertheless Brexit will be the great standing achievement of our time in office.

“These things are significant, but, overall I’m afraid, if we leave office next year, we would have left the country sadder, less united and less conservative than when we found it.”

A source at the event passed the comments to the Guardian. When a reporter approached Kruger to ask about them, he said: “This was a conversation among party members in which I made the case for realism and for honesty with the public.”

He added that the rise of the far right in Europe should provide a warning for the Tory party.

“For decades, across the western world, centre-right parties have controlled the institutes of the state – yet nevertheless have presided over a drift away from their stated values and the interests of their voters,” he said.

“Conservatives worldwide have presided over models of mass migration, political correctness and economic short-termism. The British government is making some of the right moves to correct this. But the reaction under way in Europe at the moment is a warning to my party – either we remember the people we work for, or we face obliteration.”

Kruger’s comments reflect widespread pessimism on the Tory benches about the direction of the party and its chances of winning the next election.

The downside to all this anguish of course is that Kruger wants to move the Tory Party further to the right, onto Reform Party territory. Other Tory MPs have different ideas:

The moderate One Nation group has become more vocal in recent months, warning in November that turning to the right risked “falling into an unrecoverable position with most of the voters”. Many of their members are urging the prime minister to keep his focus on the economy and aspiration, rather than moving to the right on issues such as immigration and identity politics.

Damian Green, the chair of the One Nation group, said that Kruger’s diagnosis of the problems facing the party was flawed. “The old saying that it’s the economy, stupid, still applies for general elections,” he said. “That’s where the Conservatives should fight. We need to convince would-be Conservative voters of all kinds if we want to win.”

With splits like these then, hopefully the Tories will be facing obliteration at the general election.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Same old, same old

The Independent strikes a familiar note with their report that Rishi Sunak has warned he will curb benefits and government spending to help fund tax cuts.

The paper says that in a new interview, the prime minister said his priority was cutting taxes, but that would result in “difficult decisions” having to be made on public spending, without going into specifics:

The prime minister told The Sunday Telegraph: “When I say that I want to keep cutting taxes, that’s what we’re going to deliver. We’re going to do that responsibly. That requires difficult decisions on public spending. It requires difficult decisions to control welfare. Those, I believe, are the right things to do for our country.

“I want to control public spending, I want to control welfare, which we’re doing and because we’re doing that, and because we’re being disciplined with borrowing and our debt, we’re going to be in a position to cut taxes.

“I want to keep cutting people’s taxes. There’s no way we can do that unless we restrain the growth in the public sector and government spending.”

Once more the poor and the disabled will be targeted to fund tax cuts for the better off.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Sunak comes up against a principled Tory

It is not commonplace for Tory MPs to put their principles before career, but kudos to Chris Skidmore, the former net zero tsar and former energy minister, who has said he will resign the Conservative whip and stand down as an MP next week in protest over the PM’s climate failures.

The Independent reports that in a scathing exit statement Skidmore said he could no longer continue as a Tory or “condone” the government because the PM’s environmental stance is “wrong and will cause future harm”:

Sunak’s proposed energy bill – to be introduced in the Commons next week – will allow new fossil fuel extraction licences in the North Sea.

The bill would mandate that licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea are awarded annually, and was seen as a challenge to Labour, which said it would ban new exploration licences to focus on renewables.

In a statement posted on X Mr Skidmore said: “As the former energy minister who signed the UK’s net zero commitment by 2050 into law, I cannot vote for a bill that clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas.

“To fail to act, rather than merely speak out, is to tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained. I am therefore resigning my party whip and instead intend to be free from any party-political allegiance.”

Labour’s campaign leader Pat McFadden said Mr Skidmore’s exit showed that Mr Sunak was “too weak” to lead his party or the country for much longer. The Lib Dems called his exit an “embarrassing mess” which showed a government in chaos.

The PM was heavily criticised by campaigners, opponents and green Tories over his July announcement of around 100 new oil and gas licences. Mr Skidmore said the move was the “wrong decision at precisely the wrong time”.

Mr Sunak also faced a backlash from Tory environmentalists after backtracking on more key government climate pledges to reach net zero in September.

In the wake of a surprise by-election victory in Uxbridge over the London mayor’s Ulez charging scheme, the Tory leader also attacked climate “zealots” and said he was on the side of motorists.

The PM then announced that the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars – and gas boilers – would be pushed back to 2035.

Former minister Zac Goldsmith – who quit in June with a swipe at Mr Sunak’s “apathy” toward climate change – said the moves were reprehensible and had “destroyed UK credibility on climate change”.

Boris Johnson also condemned his successor – warning that Mr Sunak was in danger of losing “ambition for this country”, and arguing that businesses were desperate for clear net zero commitments.

Mr Sunak was also accused of “shrinking and retreating” on the climate crisis at the Cop28 summit, as he was condemned for spending more time flying to Dubai than at the conference itself.

Labour, who are also scaling back their commitment to tackling climate change, should take note.

Friday, January 05, 2024

Are the police ‘institutionally racist’?

The Guardian reports on the view of the leader of Britain’s police chiefs’ organisation that policing is institutionally racist.

Gavin Stephens, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has called for a fundamental redesign of national policies and practices to eliminate discrimination, saying that black people should no longer experience disproportionate use of force, and that too little progress had been made to reform policing, with some leaders slow to accept the size of the challenge:

Stephens – elected by his fellow chief constables to lead their representative body – emphasised it was his personal view that discrimination in policing operated at an “institutional level”.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “It’s a leadership responsibility for us to describe to them what it [institutional racism] means and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that all police officers are racist.

“The way our policies, procedures [and] training have been designed and implemented for many years have not had the voices of black people involved in the design, the implementation, of those practices. And as a consequence of that, we get disproportionate outcomes in places where there shouldn’t be disproportionate outcomes.

“The most helpful discussion for policing to have in the future is how we redesign the policies, the practices, the implementation, of policing to remove that discrimination.”

Stephens’ remarks come as policing continues to wrestle with the issue of whether it should accept it suffers from institutional discrimination, a debate dating back more than 30 years.

His intervention will add to pressure on the heads of England’s biggest forces to adopt the idea – including the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley. Rowley refused to accept the terms “institutionally racist” and “institutionally misogynistic” after a damning report last year, with the Met commissioner claiming their meanings were unclear.

Those findings, by Louise Casey in March after the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021, were contained in the second report to find police to be institutionally racist. The first, by Sir William Macpherson in 1999, followed an inquiry into failings that allowed the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence to escape justice. Police leaders accepted the findings, then later claimed to have reformed the service to the extent that it no longer applied.

Stephens said his personal view was that the reports were correct. He said: “The problems that we need to solve across policing are at the institutional level and they need institutional changes. Whether you look at the Macpherson definition in the Stephen Lawrence report, or whether you look at Louise Casey’s definition, my personal view is that they apply to policing.”

Asked for clarity on whether his personal view was that “police are institutionally racist”, Stephens replied “yes”, while emphasising that his reasoning for reaching that conclusion was important.

That such a senior police officer has now acknowledged the institutional problems facing Britain's police forces is important, but until his view achieves widespread aceptance by his peers the problem will continue to persist.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Stop the culls

A review of evidence by the Badger Trust after 10 years of culling in England killed 210,237 badgers, costing £58.8m, without a significant easing of cattle TB, has found that improved cattle testing, better financial and mental health support for farmers, and cattle and badger vaccination will more effectively tackle bovine TB in cattle than culling badgers.

The Guardian reports that the disease has cost taxpayers more than £100m each year, with 20,000 cows prematurely slaughtered:

The government promised in 2021 to end intensive badger culling by 2025 but is now expected to consult on replacing it with “epidemiological culling”, whereby every single badger in an area could be culled based on epidemiological evidence.

The current culls require more than 70% of a local badger population to be killed rather than wiping out the entire population.

“The badger is a complete scapegoat and distraction,” said Peter Hambly, executive director of the Badger Trust. “We need to work with farmers because they need more support to understand the risks and transmission routes of bTB.

“The main ways to deal with bTB are cattle measures, and we need a more rigorous, focused approach and we need farmers, vets and the rural community with us. Reduced cattle movements, improved biosecurity and ultimately much better cattle testing and cattle vaccination will have the best effect on bTB in everyone’s interests.”

Some of us have been saying this for years. As the Guardian says, the main cause of cattle TB is other cows, with scientists estimating that on average about 94% of infections flow from cow to cow, and just 5.7% of infections from badger to cow and despite 10 years of badger culling in England, there is no scientific consensus on whether it has reduced cattle TB.

The UK Government needs to change course, and quickly.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Jog on

The Independent reports that running and gardening clubs will be used by Rishi Sunak’s government in bid to get people on long-term sickness leave back into work.

The paper says that doctors, employers, job centres and social workers will be encouraged to suggest therapy and life coaching under new government plans to cut the number of those signed off from work. 

And community activities such as jogging, singing, cooking or gardening will also be offered through NHS “social prescribing” initiatives.

So in the eighties it was 'get on your bike and look for work', today it is just 'jog on.'

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Backlog means another broken promise

THe Guardian reports that the Home Office is yet to make decisions on thousands of asylum applications from before June 2022 despite Rishi Sunak’s promise to clear the legacy backlog.

The paper says that caseworkers have been offered financial incentives to help hit the prime minister’s target of processing 92,000 cases from before June 2022. But in a statement released on Monday, the department said 4,500 complex cases from the backlog were still subject to further investigation:

In December 2022, Sunak pledged to tackle the remaining legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023. The backlog had more than 92,000 cases of individuals who claimed asylum before 28 June 2022 which were waiting for an initial decision.

A statement from the Home Office on Monday said: “While all cases have been reviewed and 112,000 decisions made overall, 4,500 complex cases have been highlighted that require additional checks or investigation for a final decision to be made.

“These hard cases typically relate to asylum seekers presenting as children – where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions, where checks may reveal criminality that would bar asylum.”

The statement came in a press release that said “the prime minister’s commitment of clearing the legacy asylum backlog has been delivered”.

A Conservative source said the Home Office’s claim to have cleared the backlog was clearly wrong. “You’ve either cleared all the cases and made decisions or you haven’t. And they haven’t,” they said.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “It is misleading for the government to claim that the legacy backlog has been cleared as there are thousands still waiting for a decision and almost 100,000 waiting in an additional backlog created by the government’s unfair and draconian new laws, including the unlawful Rwanda plan, that have left men, women and children feeling anxious and fearful resulting in some self-harming and becoming suicidal.

“The Home Office has lost track of too many people who have been removed from the asylum process and at the same time left those who have been granted refugee protection to fend for themselves, at risk of sleeping rough during the winter months.”

On asylum, as on inflation. the Prime Minister's claim to have delivered turns out to be just so-much spin.

Monday, January 01, 2024

Desperate Measures

The revelation that Dominic Cummings and Rishi Sunak held top secret meetings over general election strategy, as reported here in the Independent, shows just how desperate this Tory government is getting.

The paper says that the Prime Minister reportedly asked Boris Johnson’s ex-chief aide for advice on winning over the public as he pushed for a “secret deal” with Mr Cummings to help the Tories “smash” Labour in 2024:

Mr Sunak was branded “weak and desperate” by Labour and the Liberal Democrats for “secretly begging” Mr Cummings to return to No 10.

The Tory leader, whose party is trailing behind Labour in the polls, apparently decided against the plan after two meetings and after Mr Cummings made a series of demands about government priorities.

Mr Cummings urged Mr Sunak to abandon his cautious economic approach, hold an emergency budget, settle the NHS strikes and double the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate of income tax from £50,271 to £100,000, the Sunday Times reported.

He also reportedly advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as part of the Rwanda deportation plan.

No 10 has not denied Mr Cummings’ account of secret meetings in July and December 2022, but said no job offer was made.

A Downing Street source said: “It was a broad discussion about politics and campaigning, no job was offered.”

Surely, it is time to put this government out of its misery.

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