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Thursday, February 29, 2024


The next time a Tory politician complains about small boats bringing immigrants over to the UK, it will be worthwhile directing them to thia article in the Mirror.

The paper says that a damning report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has warned that Home Office 'chaos' is costing taxpayers millions of pounds with 55,000 asylum seekers in permanent limbo.

They say that this damning report has found that tens of thousands of asylum seekers are unable to work and stuck in temporary accommodation. They add that the failure to bring in the costly Rwanda deportation project means they're barred from claiming asylum, but ministers have nowhere to send them:

Suella Braverman's Illegal Migration Act means anyone who arrived in the UK without authorisation, including on small boats, after July 20 last year can't have their asylum claim considered. Meanwhile anyone who arrived after March 7, 2023, cannot generally be be given permission to stay.

Even if the Rwanda scheme - which would see asylum seekers given a one-way ticket to the African nation, it is "highly doubtful" it will have the capacity required, the IPPR said.

Marley Morris, associate director for migration at IPPR, said: “Chaos in the home office has led to tens of thousands of asylum seekers stuck in a perma-backlog, unable to get on with their lives and costing the taxpayer millions. This was an entirely predictable outcome of the Illegal Migration Act. The only way to escape this situation is for the Home Office to start processing claims.”

Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour ’s Shadow Immigration Minister, commenting on the findings, said: "The fact that the Conservatives have simply replaced one asylum backlog with another, at an enormous cost to the British taxpayer, only goes to illustrate the complete and utter chaos they have created in the asylum system.

"The Tories have already pledged to give £400million to the Rwandan government without a single person being flown there, and wider removals have collapsed by 34 per cent since 2010.

The The IPPR said in 2022/23 the asylum system cost £3.97billion, compared with £500million a decade earlier. It is little wonder that the asylum system is broken.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Wales not so special after all

The start of the Wales section of the Covid inquiry gave us a strong clue as to why the Welsh Government has been reluctant to follow Scotland's example and set up their own inquest. It seems that, despite the spin, Wales  was as much of a shitshow as the rest of the UK when it came to managing the pandemic.

The BBC reports on claims at the inquiry that the then health minister, Vaughan Gething, one of the men hoping to be the next first minister, automatically deleted messages from his phone during the pandemic.

They say that a barrister for a bereaved families group said Vaughan Gething used a disappearing messages feature when he was health minister:

The comments came during the first day of the UK inquiry's Welsh module, sitting in Cardiff.

Mr Gething said last week: "Everything I have got I have provided."

A senior adviser to the first minister, Jane Runeckles, was also said to have used disappearing messages.

But a Welsh government lawyer denied that WhatsApps were used for making decisions.

Tuesday was the first day of module 2B of the inquiry, which is examining the Welsh government's response to the virus.

The hearing also heard how a deputy minister called it "odd" that Welsh Labour cancelled its conference but allowed 20,000 Scottish fans to travel to Cardiff for a Six Nations game.

Vaughan Gething, who is now economy minister but held the health brief through the pandemic until May 2021, is running against Jeremy Miles to be the next leader of Welsh Labour.

The use of WhatsApps, and whether or not they have been retained, has been a controversial issue throughout the inquiry.

Nia Gowman, barrister for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, told the hearing that the "limited messages" disclosed to the inquiry showed WhatsApp and texts were used to discuss government business "where they shouldn't have been".

"They show Welsh government senior special advisors suspiciously and systematically deleting communications," she said.

Messages were sent by special advisers to ministers reminding them to "clear out WhatsApp chats once a week", Ms Gowman said.

"They showed Jane Runeckles, the most senior special advisor for the first minister for Wales, and Vaughan Gething, minister for health, turning on disappearing messages," she added.

First Minister Mark Drakeford told BBC Wales in January he had used electronic means of communicating "very little" during the pandemic.

But Ms Gowman said Mr Drakeford was regularly using the texting system to discuss policy announcements and seek clarification on the rules.

The counsel to the inquiry itself, Tom Poole, said that hundreds of messages have been disclosed from "numerous Whatsapp groups".

But he said the inquiry will want to know why messages have been deleted.

This show is going to run and run.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Our filthy waterways

The Guardian reports on the Rivers Trust annual report which reveals that the rivers of Britain and Ireland are in a desperate state from the impact of pollution, with not a single waterway in England or Northern Ireland listed as being in good overall health.

Their State of Our Rivers report reveals that the impact of pollution from treated and untreated sewage and agricultural and industrial runoff means rivers are in a worse condition than ever:

More than half – 54% – of rivers in England failed to pass chemical and ecological tests because of pollution from water industry releases of treated and untreated sewage, based on data from the EU-derived water framework directive (WFD) in 2022.

Agricultural pollution contributes to 62% of waterways in England failing to meet good standards for chemical and biological pollution. Urban runoff from transport contributes to 26% of rivers not achieving good overall status.

The report shows none of England’s rivers are in good chemical health, which means the concentrations of toxic chemicals are higher than the safe limit in every river. Failing to pass chemical tests means no river in England is considered to be in good overall health.

Just 15% of rivers pass biological markers for good ecological health. Ecological health looks at what is living in the river, and how modified it is. The presence, absence and abundance of species is a good indication of its general health.

Similarly, no stretch of river in Northern Ireland is in good overall health.

Wales fares no better:

The latest round of WFD assessments in 2021 revealed that 44% of Wales’s river stretches achieved at least good overall status. But Afonydd Cymru (Wales’s version of the Rivers Trust) has concerns about the way in which assessments for WFD are being carried out in Wales. It believes differences in waterbody status are more a reflection of differences in monitoring and reporting carried out by Natural Resources Wales, as opposed to any tangible environmental improvement.

Time for government action.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Tories under attack for Islamophobia

I have written about this many times before a few years ago, at a time when Labour's problem with anti-semitism was being echoed by the Tories suffering from Islamophobia, and now we are back full circle.

The Independent reports that the UK’s largest Muslim group has written to the Conservative Party demanding an investigation into claims of “structural Islamophobia” within its ranks.

The paper tells us that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have said it addressed a letter to Conservative chair, Richard Holden, on Sunday after what it alleged was “a week of inflammatory statements and Islamophobia from senior figures in the party”:

The body pointed to comments made by the former Tory party deputy chair Lee Anderson, who had the whip suspended after drawing widespread criticism for claiming on Friday that “Islamists” have “got control” of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

It also highlighted remarks made this week by the former home secretary Suella Braverman as well as the former prime minister Liz Truss.

Writing to Mr Holden, Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the MCB, said: “Our view is that the Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership.”

The letter criticised the Tories for removing the whip from Mr Anderson only after he refused to apologise for the anti-Muslim rant on GB News, which Mr Khan said was “Islamophobic, racist” and poured “fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Mr Anderson, who was deputy Tory chairman until last month, said on Saturday: “Following a call with the Chief Whip, I understand the difficult position that I have put both he and the Prime Minister in with regard to my comments. I fully accept that they had no option but to suspend the whip in these circumstances.”

However, speaking to the BBC earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out the possibility of Mr Anderson returning from his suspension.

The MCB also accused Ms Braverman of falling into a “well-trodden Islamophobic path” in her assertion that “Islamists are in charge” of Britain in a Daily Telegraph article on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the MCB condemned Ms Truss for remaining silent as Steve Bannon described the far-right’s Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.

It comes as new figures show the number of Islamophobic incidents has skyrocketed since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas and the retaliatory Israeli bombardment of Palestine. London charity Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU) said there was a 365 per cent increase in reports of Islamophobia in October.

A report earlier this week from Tell Mama – another body that records anti-Muslim hate incidents – found there were 2,010 incidents between 7 October and 7 February, more than triple the 600 reported during the same period the year before.

Rishi Sunak has so far failed to address Mr Anderson’s comments or surging Islamophobia across Britain, despite speaking publicly about a rise in “prejudice and antisemitism”.

The difference this time, with the Tories anyway, is that many of us are beginning to get the impression that the latest round of Islamophobia is deliberate, an attempt to attract votes from a certain demographic. If that is the case then it is a disgrace.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Democracy in danger

Time Magazine points out that globally, more voters than ever in history will head to the polls in 2024 as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union)—representing a combined population of about 49% of the people in the world—are meant to hold national elections, the results of which, for many, will prove consequential for years to come.

And yet, despite this, democracy is facing its greatest test, and its most existential crisis with a number of key players on the right seeking to subvert it to get their own way.

Chief amongst these players is Donald Trump, whose reaction to losing in 2020 was to extol his supporters to protest in a demonstration that led to violence and the storming of Congress. Now, the Mirror reports that his supporters have warned there will be a “civil war” in America if the ex-President loses this year’s election.

The paper says that many of his supporters are already arming themselves, having been taken in by the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and being prepared to resort to violence if he makes similar claims this year.

And even the UK is not immune from this trend with the Speaker changing protocols because of threats to MPs and with the Guardian reporting that three female MPs have been given bodyguards and chauffeur-driven cars after concerns about their safety:

The MPs, who have not been named, have been given close protection by private companies and chauffeur-driven vehicles. “Many MPs are petrified by the abuse they are facing,” a senior security source told the newspaper.

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, is understood to have been working with the Home Office, police chiefs and parliamentary authorities to bolster the safety and security of MPs.

A new process has been introduced in recent weeks in which the royal and VIP executive committee (Ravec), responsible for the security of the royal family and senior politicians, has been deployed to help assess the threat to MPs, according to the Sunday Times.

Two MPs have been murdered in the last eight years, that must surely give pause for thought. Threats like this cannot be tolerated.

Twenty Twenty Four may well be the year of elections, but it is also the year in which democracy itself is hanging by a thread for survival.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The unacceptable drift to madness

Like many people I worry about Donald Trump and the possibility that he might be re-elected at the head of a serious right wing coalition determined to impose their medieval views on the rest of us, but am reassured here by the checks and balances built into the UK's non-constitution. 

But could it happen here as well?

If it wasn't bad enough having a Prime Minister echoing some of the sentiments that got Enoch Powell sacked from the Tory front bench in the 1960s, we now have a cohort of Tories determined to use the Trump playbook to further their own narrow self-interests.

There is former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who claims that Islamists are now in charge of Britain, proving, as Nesrine Malik in the Guardian says, that hateful xenophobia is never far from the surface in Britain. She has gone much further than Enoch Powell in misrepresenting British society but she remains a sitting Tory MP.

The fact that the Tory whip has not been taken off her speaks volumes about the modern-day Tory party.

Her style of invective is also present in the latest utterings by former Tory Party deputy chair, Lee Anderson who, the Independent reports, has been accused of racism and Islamophobia after claiming that “Islamists have control” of London’s mayor Sadiq Khan.

Again, he still enjoys the protection of the Tory whip.

And then there is Liz Truss, Britain's shortest serving Prime Minister, who went full-Trump in a rant to a half-empty crowd at the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. According to the Independent Truss hit out at Joe Biden and members of the Tory party over the “most almighty backlash” that led to her own failed UK premiership.

The paper says that Truss, who lasted just 49 days in office, also blamed “quangos and bureaucrats and lawyers” for her political demise:

During her 15-minute address on Thursday she claimed that the “catastrophic reaction” to the budget had come from the “usual suspects” in both the media and the corporate world, as well as government, the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England.

She went on to blame the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Mr Biden, accusing him of having “intervened to have a go at my policies”. “Can you imagine being attacked on your economic policies by the inventor of Bidenomics? Talk about offensive,” she said.

Ms Truss later launched into a laundry list of complaints and conspiratorial musings about how “the left” is undermining the Conservative-led British government because they “did not accept that they lost at the ballot box” – similar to Mr Trump’s infamous claims of a “stolen” US election.

“Instead, they’ve been weaponizing our court system to stop us contorting illegal immigrants, they’ve been using the administrative state to make sure that conservative policies are faulted and they’ve been pushing their woke agenda through our schools, through our campuses, and even in our corporations,” she said.

Elsewhere, despite not endorsing Mr Trump – the GOP frontrunner and Cpac favourite – by name, Ms Truss also asserted that the world “needs a Republican back in the White House” and that it was the only way to “save the West” from opponents such as Russia, Iran and China.

“Of course we need a Republican back in the White House. By the way, it isn’t just America that needs it desperately, we need it desperately right across the free world, because you are the leaders of the free world, like it or not,” she said.

It isn't just that the Tory Party has lost the plot, of course they have, but these people are dangerous. The nonsense they are spouting is a threat to our democracy.

And is isn't good enough just to denounce them, their arguments need to be met head-on, within their own party and without. The fact that government ministers above all are not doing that, as Heath did with Powell, is an even bigger danger to our democratic state.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Donor scandal hits Welsh Labour

As the Welsh Labour leadership battle comes to its conclusion, a new and unexpected turn has thrown the outcome into doubt, while at the same time tainting the Senedd's scandal-free reputation, at least when compared to Westminster.

The BBC reports that one of the Welsh Labour leadership candidates, Vaughan Gething has accepted £200,000 for his campaign from a company run by a man who was convicted twice for environmental offences.

The paper says that the donor's director, David Neal was given a suspended prison sentence in 2013 for illegally dumping waste on a conservation site. Four years later he was prosecuted again for not removing it.

Gething also received donations from two other companies run by Mr Neal in Autumn 2018, when he last ran to become Welsh Labour leader:

All donations have been declared to the Electoral Commission, whose records show the economy minister accepted two donations of £100,000 each from Dauson Environmental Group.

One was given last month, while the second was given five days after Mr Drakeford resigned.

Mr Gething has vowed to introduce tougher penalties for those who break environmental rules.

Mr Neal is a director with significant control in Dauson Environmental Group. In 2013 he was prosecuted for illegally dumping waste at a conservation site on the Gwent Levels.

Cardiff Magistrates Court heard that toxic liquid had leaked into the water at the time. Mr Neal was given a suspended sentence of three months.

His companies Atlantic Recycling and Neal Soil Suppliers were also prosecuted and given fines and costs of £202,000.

In 2017, he was given another suspended sentence of 18 weeks, with fines and costs of £230,000 after failing to remove the waste.

The site falls within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its fauna and flora. In both cases he admitted the offences.

Atlantic Recycling and Neal Soil Suppliers donated a total of £38,000 to Mr Gething in 2018.

Another one of his companies, Resources Management UK Ltd, recently faced action by Natural Resources Wales after complaints about the smell at Withyhedge Landfill in Pembrokeshire.

Residents dubbed it a "a stink bomb on steroids".

Mr Gething has also declared in his Senedd register of members interests that he has received the donations for his leadership campaign from Dauson Environmental Group.

However, this is not the only question about donations being asked of Mr Gething. 

Nation Cymru reports that the Economy Minister has denied having any involvement in the awarding of a £1.8m PPE contract during the Covid pandemic to a company that has made a donation to his leadership campaign.

Gething was Health Minister at the time the contract was awarded to BCB International Ltd, which is based in his Cardiff South and Penarth constituency and which he has visited in his Ministerial capacity.

BCB's core business involves the supply of outdoor survival gear, and its donation is far smaller at £1,000, but it has added to concerns about the source of Mr Gething’s campaign funds.

All of these donations have been correctly declared in the Senedd and to the Electoral Commission, and there is no question of impropriety with regards to the awarding of contracts. As a spokesperson says, Gething did not make decisions on individual contracts awarded to BCB International or any other company during the pandemic.

There is though more. Nation Cymru says that four people associated with a company that donated a total of £21,200 to Mr Gething’s earlier leadership campaign in 2018, when he stood unsuccessfully against current First Minister Mark Drakeford, have been arrested as part of a £140m property fraud inquiry:

The Times reported: “Fraud investigators conducted raids yesterday morning [February 21] into the collapse of a property investment group that owns historic buildings across the country. Four people were arrested and are being questioned by Serious Fraud Office (SFO) officials investigating the Signature Group investment business. More than 1,000 investors ploughed at least £140m into the Liverpool-based group.

“It had 21 developments including the Shankly and Dixie Dean hotels in Liverpool, the George Best hotel and Crumlin Road courthouse in Belfast, and the Exchange Hotel in Cardiff’s former Coal Exchange building.

“The group operated for more than seven years, buying up predominantly historic buildings for redevelopment into luxury hotels, flats and offices. Investors lent money to Signature or bought a hotel room, apartment or office space in one of the group’s properties, with promised returns of between 8% and 15%. Lawrence Kenwright, 58, the founder, and his wife Katie, 46, were declared bankrupt last month.

“Nick Ephgrave, director of the SFO, said: ‘We have people up and down the country left out of pocket, and buildings left derelict at the centre of our cities. This is now an active criminal investigation.’ “

When the company took over the Coal Exchange, Mr Kenwright tweeted: “Vaughan Gething is why we came to Cardiff to bring the Exchange Hotel back to life – a building which had been laying derelict for years. It was @vaughangething who cleared the path for us, even though it was not part of his remit – he did it due to it being the right thing to do.”

On September 8 2018 Signature Living donated £10k in cash to Mr Gething’s campaign, together with a non-cash donation worth £1,200. On September 28 2018 Signature Living made a further cash donation of £10k to the campaign.

Again, Vaughan Gething's spokesperson makes the point that he accepted the donation in good faith, declared it in line with the rules, and was deeply disappointed by the project’s eventual failure. He has no involvement or interest in the running of the business concerned.

I have written here many times how the dependence of politicians and political parties on donations from private individuals can expose them to awkward questions. The issue is about appearances rather than wrongdoing.

In this case it is now up to Welsh Labour members and ultimately the public to decide, did Vaughan Gething, a candidate for First Minister, show poor judgement in taking this money, or was he just unlucky?

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Chaos and games amid the tragedy

The Guardian reports on the childish behaviour of MPs in the House of Commons last night over motions calling for a ceasefre in Gaza.

The paper says that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has apologised to MPs after the House of Commons descended into chaos when Conservative and SNP MPs walked out of the chamber in protest over his handling of the debate:

Commons Leader and Tory MP Penny Mordaunt claimed Sir Lindsay Hoyle had hijacked the debate and undermined the confidence of the House in its longstanding rules by selecting Labour’s bid to amend an SNP motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and Israel.

It had been expected Sir Lindsay would select just the government amendment seeking an “immediate humanitarian pause” to the Israel-Hamas conflict, which could pave the way for a more permanent stop in fighting.

But instead, he decided the Commons would first vote on Labour’s calls for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” before moving on to further votes on the SNP’s original motion, and then the government’s proposals if either of the first two were to fail to garner enough support.

Powered by Taboola Sir Lindsay was warned by House of Commons Clerk Tom Goldsmith about the unprecedented nature of his decision ahead of the clash with MPs, the senior official saying he felt “compelled to point out that long-established conventions are not being followed in this case”.

The Speaker faced calls to resign over his decision, which sparked uproar in the chamber and shouts of “bring back Bercow” – referring to his predecessor, John Bercow.

Ms Mordaunt said he had “raised temperatures” and put MPs in a “more difficult position”.

Frankly, the behaviour of MPs is a disgrace. Whatever the merits or demerits of the motions in front of them it was incumbent on MPs to debate this with dignity, as adults. Instead they disregarded the tens of thousands of deaths in Gaza so they could play political games. Tnese people deserved better, as does the British public.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The continuing cost of Brexit

The Guardian reports that Food businesses sending products to the EU have had to fork out an extra £170m in export costs because of Brexit red tape, with the changes described as being “catastrophic” for some exporters.

The paper says that in the three years since leaving the single market, exporters of foods of animal origin have had to pay the sums to secure sign-offs by vets before they can send their shipments: 

In the past 12 months alone, exporters have paid more than £58m. The extra costs have resulted in a sharp fall in exports, particularly among smaller producers, with the value of meat products sent to the EU down by 17% since 2019.

After the UK officially left the single market in January 2021, the EU made it a requirement for exporters of foods of animal origin to have vets check consignments and sign export health certificates (EHCs) before they could be sent. The UK brought in reciprocal measures last month, raising fears that some EU exporters might abandon exporting to the UK owing to the extra costs and bureaucracy.

Since December 2020, the month before the UK left the single market, more than 852,000 certificates have been requested by exporters, according to analysis by the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Certification Working Group, which brings together trade bodies such as the Fresh Produce Consortium, Dairy UK and the Road Haulage Association.

These include certificates for fish and fish products, livestock, and meat and dairy products.

The group calculated that these certificates – which cost about £200 to complete – have heaped more than £170m in added costs for exporters over the past three years.

Peter Hardwick, the trade policy adviser at the British Meat Processors Association, said the extra costs had been “catastrophic” for some smaller companies.

The rules had hurt small businesses most because it was now much harder to send small mixed consignments to the EU, as they did pre-Brexit, because they would require multiple certificates, resulting in far higher exporting costs, he added.

BMPA also calculated that the food exporters, which generally operate on margins of about 2%, will have had to make £8.5bn extra sales just to absorb the costs.

Karin Goodburn, the director general of the Chilled Food Association, said the certificates were just one element of the costs businesses faced and the true figure would be far higher when new IT systems, administration costs and extra staff were factored in.

Goodburn, who is also the chair of the SPS group, said: “We’ve had companies employ extra staff to do the new bureaucracy, one of my members had to employ 30 new staff just to shift the paperwork.”

On top of this the paper tells us that the Office for National Statistics last week showed the amount of meat products exported to the EU from the UK in 2023 totalled £1.26bn, a 17% drop from the £1.53bn exported in 2019.

Although many of us were warning this would happen during the referendum campaign, for some reason the pro-Brexit campaign failed to put it on the side of their bus.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Burying the prospects of hill farmers

It seems that it is not just the Welsh Government that is in trouble with farmers. The Guardian reports that government officials have buried an analysis of the financial prospects for some of the most vulnerable farmers in the UK after realising it was almost entirely bad news:

The analysis was to have been part of an optimistic look at the financial situation for upland farmers, some of the poorest in the country, but minutes from meetings about the plans obtained through a freedom of information request have revealed concerns were raised about the negative findings.

Farming groups said it was “irresponsible” not to make the analysis public after FOI documents showed officials refused to publish it as ministers would not like it.

According to the minutes:

* One official commented: “Could end up with no pathways to success at the end. We only want to publish if we have something which is positive to tell people.”
* Government officials admitted that upland farmers were falling into financial crisis and may go out of business.
* Officials feared that when upland farmers saw the data showing how much money they would make they would sell up.
* Officials believed upland farmers were dismissive of the environment.

Many upland farmers only remain financially viable because of the EU-derived basic payment scheme (BPS), a system that will be completely phased out by 2027.

Post-Brexit farming payments schemes will be given to farmers who restore nature, but they are easier to access for those who own their land. Many upland farmers are commoners or tenants, and many of the most lucrative options under the BPS replacement, such as creating wildflower meadows, improving soil heath and reducing pesticide use, are geared towards lowland arable farms. This means upland farmers have feared losing BPS and being unable to make enough money under the new scheme to make ends meet.

To remedy this situation, ministers asked officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2022 to draw up a “pathways to success scheme” for upland farmers to show different ways to make their farms profitable under the new scheme.

But at a series of meetings that year, officials raised concerns about the financial analysis and the scheme as a whole, and concluded it would be better not to publish them. Various reasons were given, with one official saying it was “a case of waiting for the political situation to settle”. Another said: “[it is] important we make sure ministers are happy with what we put out into the public environment – sensitivities around that.”

One official said in a meeting that they were waiting to find out from Defra “the number of people expected to go out of business”, and added that many would take the opportunity to reduce the size of their farm or sell up. However, they added: “Worry if you include land sales in options – dangerous option to promote. We should be focusing how to keep rural communities there.” Another official said: “Agree, that’s a capital not revenue income – personal choice. Not a pathway to success.”

Those at the meetings also believed that upland farmers, many of whom work in England’s national parks do not care about the environment: “A lot up until now be dismissive of the environmental side – challenge to get good engagement in that.”

Officials concluded: “We are not in a position to share economic analysis for the foreseeable, nor are we able to commit to a particular date where we can share the information.” The information still has not been shared with farmers or the public.

Brexit is not going well, then.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Tory Plotters

It was inevitable really, that after two more devastating by-election losses, nervous Tory MPs would want to cling to hope, any hope that they might survive the coming deluge, by yet again defenestrating their leader.

The Guardian reports that Tory MPs critical of Rishi Sunak’s leadership are hoping he will stand down voluntarily to avoid the spectacle of a damaging coup and are looking to May’s local elections as a potential crunch point.

A former minister said several Conservative MPs had contacted Graham Brady, who heads the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, to say they want the prime minister to quit, but that they had not sent in letters of no confidence yet.

The former minister said they believed Sunak’s Downing Street was too complacent about the risk he faces after no new public challenges emerged after two heavy byelection defeats for the party this week.

“No 10 think they’re not in much trouble at all over a [leadership] challenge, which feels a bit arrogant,” they said.

“Quite a lot of moderate MPs now agree with the traditional anti-Rishi types to say that the best course of action is not for us to remove him, but for him to stand down voluntarily, and they’re speaking to Graham Brady about it. That’s why you’re not hearing much noise about it.

“I know it’s happening. The magnitude of it is difficult to say. It avoids the pain of removing a PM and might even prevent a protracted leadership contest, if one person emerges as a successor, like Rishi did.”

The situation was less like the removal of Boris Johnson, they said, than “a slower-motion and less contentious Liz Truss”. “It’s not that they think Rishi is terrible, like she was. But he’s had a go for 18 months and the plan isn’t working,” they said.

Quite what they think electing another Tory leader will achieve is unclear. After all, anybody assuming the mantle would only have a few months to make their mark and no time at all to bring together the half-a-dozen factions the Tory party has split into, even if that is possible.

I have a better idea, let's have a general election in May instead and put this Tory government out of their misery once and for all.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The persecution continues

As if sub-postmasters had not suffered enough, the Guardian reports on claims by Henry Staunton, a former Post Office chair, who said that he was told by a senior civil servant to stall compensation pay outs to post office operators so the government could “limp into” the general election.

The paper says that Staunton, who was sacked by the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, last month amid anger over the Horizon scandal, said the request came soon after he took up the role in December 2022. They add that he also alleged that Nick Read, the Post Office chief executive, tried in January to dissuade the government from proceeding with blanket exonerations for operators:

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Staunton, 75, said the request to slow down compensation pay outs appeared to be an attempt to reduce the government’s financial liability before the general election this year.

“Early on, I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spend on compensation and on the replacement of Horizon, and to limp, in quotation marks – I did a file note on it – limp into the election,” Staunton said.

“It was not an anti-postmaster thing, it was just straight financials. I didn’t ask, because I said ‘I’m having no part of it – I’m not here to limp into the election, it’s not the right thing to do by postmasters.’ The word ‘limp’ gives you a snapshot of where they were.”

The government denied Staunton’s claim. It said Staunton was set “concrete objectives” to reach settlements and added: “The government has sped up compensation to victims, and consistently encouraged postmasters to come forward with their claims. To suggest any actions or conversations happened to the contrary is incorrect.”

More than 900 post office operators were prosecuted for stealing money because of incorrect information from the Horizon computer system, in what has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history.

About £140m in compensation has been paid out so far, although many victims are experiencing delays and say the scheme is too bureaucratic.

Staunton, a former chair of WH Smith, alleged Read wrote to the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, last month in an attempt to persuade the government against mass exonerations.

The letter included a legal opinion from the Post Office’s solicitors, Peters & Peters, which suggested many convictions could be defended on appeal, Staunton told the Sunday Times.

He added: “Basically it was trying to undermine the exoneration argument. It was, ‘Most people haven’t come forward because they are guilty as charged’ – ie, think very carefully about exoneration.”

Staunton said he told Read the opinions in the letter were not endorsed by him or “at least half” of the Post Office’s board members, and that “if this got out, we’d be crucified, and rightly so”.

Surely, it's time to bring this saga to a conclusion as quickly as possible and clear those whose lives have been blighted by this scandal together with generous compensation.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Poetry in Motion

I have just published a collection of poems. It can be bought here.

Friday, February 16, 2024

More excessive profits

Today's news that annual profits at British Gas have soared more than tenfold after it tried to recoup costs from the energy crisis, while its parent company announced another £144m payout to shareholders, should come as no surprise to anybody. The big energy companies have been raking in the cash at the expense of poorer customers for a long time now.

The question though, is why are the government allowing them to get away with this behaviour when people are struggling to make ends meet and vulnerable pensioners and others are unable to adequately heat their own home?

The Guardian reports that Centrica released figures on Thursday showing that British Gas, which supplies energy to UK households and businesses, showed its profits jumped to £751m in 2023, up from £72m a year earlier:

The big increase in earnings came after the regulator, Ofgem, raised the energy price cap and allowed the company to recoup some of the costs of having to sell energy below wholesale price to its 10 million customers during the energy crisis.

Suppliers were forced to protect households from a spike in prices, which rose as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, causing dozens of companies to fail.

The price cap rise, and subsequent increase in British Gas profits, pushed Centrica’s pre-tax profit to £6.5bn for 2023, compared with a loss of £240m a year earlier. The company’s preferred figure, which allows for bespoke adjustments, show profits fell 17% to £2.8bn for the year to December.

The chief executive, Chris O’Shea, said efforts to recoup costs supported British Gas profits only in the first half of the year, and the division took a £200m hit in the final six months of 2023.

He defended the remaining profits, which enabled Centrica to pay a final dividend worth £144m to its shareholders. “I said this before and I want to take this opportunity to say it again: to be sustainable you must make a profit. Which is super important because every consumer in the UK is paying £88 for the failure of other energy suppliers in the last few years. If more companies fail, these costs go on to customer bills.”

The final dividend brings Centrica’s one-off payouts to investors to £217m this year. Centrica said it was also voluntarily putting aside £40m to support customers, on top of the £100m spent in 2023.

The most astonishing part of this article however is where Centrica’s boss calls for a “social tariff” that would allow poorer Britons to pay less for gas and electricity compared with those who are better-off. I have also seen reports elsewhere that he wants to abolish the standing charge.

Well, why doesnt Centrica do both? They can afford it and there are no legal obstacles preventing them introducing a better social tariff and not imposing a standing charge. It's time the company put its money where its mouth is.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Tories in downward spiral

It is not a good day for Rishi Sunak. Not only are two by-elections being held today in safe Tory seats, which he is expected to lose, but a new poll is predicting that the Tories will be reduced to just eighty seats at the next election.

The Independent reports that a survey of 18,000 voters found that Sunak is on course to lose more than three quarters of the Tories’ seats, with seventeen ministers are set to be shown the door, including Jeremy Hunt, Grant Shapps, Penny Mordaunt, Gillian Keegan and Mel Stride.

And he can't even fall back on his main promises. Inflation remains stubbornly high, especially in terms of essential food items and energy costs, which affect most people and, according o the Guardian, the UK economy fell into recession at the end of last year as hard-pressed households cut back on spending in response to soaring interest rates and rising living costs.

It's little wonder that most people view the Tories as in freefall, and can't wait to push them on their way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Government as polluters?

The Guardian reports that tThe government is facing a legal challenge over plans to permit housebuilders in England to allow sewage pollution “through the back door”.

The paper says that the campaign group Wild Justice, along with the law firm Leigh Day, have submitted plans for a judicial review over what they term an “unlawful attempt to use guidance to introduce a change that was defeated in the House of Lords last year”.

Currently, in sensitive areas such as the Lake District and Norfolk Broads, housebuilders have to prevent extra sewage going into waterways, either by updating infrastructure or by buying biodiversity credits, which improve the local natural area and counteract the extra pollution. The regulations were first enacted by the EU in an attempt to prevent damaging buildups of algae and other plants that can choke off aquatic life.

Last year, the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, proposed an amendment to the levelling up and regeneration bill, which would strike the directive from the statute book. This would have allowed developers to ignore the rules.

The bill was twice defeated in the House of Lords after Labour made it clear it would oppose the “reckless” plans.

While the bill finally passed, the amendment did not. Now, the government has been accused of trying to bring it back by stealth by publishing a new notice, which says that planning authorities have to presume that water companies have upgraded sewage infrastructure to improve pollution after 1 April 2030, even if they have not.

Although the notice places a requirement on water companies to put these improvements in place, Wild Justice and Leigh Day argue there is no mechanism for this to be checked, so housebuilders can continue to overload water bodies with pollution after the cut-off date.

It's alnost as if this Tory government was intent on enabling pollution.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Targeting the bosses

At last, Ministers are to ban bonuses for water company bosses in England and Wales who fail to prevent illegal sewage spills that pollute rivers, lakes and seas.

The Guardian reports that this new policy, which many campaigners – including Labour and the Liberal Democrats – have been lobbying the government to implement, is to be introduced by the government following public outrage over the impact and scale of recent illegal raw sewage discharges:

The environment secretary, Steve Barclay, is proposing to block payouts to executives of firms that commit criminal acts of water pollution, starting with bonuses in the 2024-25 financial year from April.

Bosses took home more than £26m in bonuses, benefits and incentives over the last four years, despite illegally dumping vast amounts of sewage in waterways.

Senior executives from five of the 11 water companies that deal with sewage pocketed bonuses last year. Executives at the other six firms declined bonuses after public anger.

At the same time, companies have announced plans to increase consumers’ bills by about £156 a year to pay for investment that is aimed at preventing 140,000 annual sewage overflow spills.

Regulator Ofwat will consult on details of the proposed ban later this year but Barclay said the sanction should apply to any company that had committed “serious criminal breaches”.

A bonus could be banned when there has been a successful prosecution for the two most serious categories of pollution, such as causing significant pollution at a bathing site or conservation area, or where a company has been found guilty of serious management failings, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It could apply to chief executives and all executive board members.

If taken forward, Ofwat would implement the measures by changing the conditions of water company licences.

Let's hope that hitting them where it hurts will be enough to encourage the water companies to finally tackle the pollution they are causing all over the UK.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Brexit export hole

The Independent reports that Brexit is leaving a hole of almost £100bn in annual UK exports, making Britain’s economy worse off than if it had remained in the European Union.

Quoting an analysis by the Centre for European Reform (CER), the paper says that businesses that make an array of products including sporting goods, children’s toys, jewellery and medical equipment have struggled the most with border costs imposed by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, leading to 30 per cent less trade between 2020 and 2023 than if Britain had stayed in the trading bloc:

Since leaving the single market, Britain’s export growth has been sluggish behind other advanced economies, leading to missed growth in goods and services exports of around £23bn quarterly, the analysis reveals.

John Springford, an associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform (CER), a pro-EU think tank, said his analysis “shows that Brexit is leading to permanent depression to trade between the UK and the EU”.

“If Brexit hadn’t happened, and we can visit the universe where Remain won the referendum, then trade and [the economy] would be significantly higher,” he said.

Mr Springford dismissed arguments from Brexiteers that further trade deals with countries outside of the EU could make up the economic shortfall.

“That argument violates one of the few absolute certainties we have in international economics, which is that trade with nearby large economies is always going to be much bigger than trade with distant smaller economies,” he said.

Economist Thomas Sampson, an associate professor at the London School of Economics (LSE), said Brexit had been a “drag on the economy” and described Mr Springford as a “respected analyst”. Mr Sampson said that while there was nuance in how to interpret the numbers, you “cannot question the quality of his work”.

The gloomy data supports arguments from other economists that leaving the EU has damaged the UK’s financial health and not freed up the £350m a week for the NHS that Boris Johnson and the Leave campaign promised.

The paper provides a detailed analysis of the impact of Brexit on the UK economy, including that it has already cost the UK economy £140bn in lost growth than it would have had if the UK opted to remain in the customs union and single market and that, looking at the growth through the prism of gross value added (GVA) – the overall value of goods and services – it would leave the UK £311bn worse off by 2035.

Click the link to read the rest.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Cameron 'green crap' cut has cost families as much as £1,000 in single year

The Mirror's quotes research from the Green Britain Foundation which found that the decision by David Cameron to tear up plans to make all new build homes zero carbon added £2.6 billion to energy bills between 2015 and 2022.

The research suggests that the cuts to what Cameron termed “green crap” cost some families as much as £1,000 in a single year. They add that if the rules had not been scrapped, a family in a house built in 2015 would have saved, on average, £2759.52 in the same period.

The paper says that the Code for Sustainable Homes was first launched in 2006 as a voluntary national standard for the construction of new homes with the intention that by 2016 all new homes would be ‘zero carbon’ - generating as much energy as possible on-site through renewable sources such as wind or solar power.

Of course Cameron couldn't scrap this code before 2015 because the Liberal Democrats in coalition would have stopped him. But as soon as he had a majority on his own he acted to remove most of the environmental friendly policies of the past decade.

It seems that Sunak is cut of the same cloth.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Bring on the donors

Another day, another list of new peers, as if the bloated carcass that is the House of Lords could get any bigger. Well apparently it can. And, surprise, surprise, it is the usual suspects being sent to the world's most powerful retirement home for past-it politicians, chums of the great and the good and of course party political donors.

The Guardian reports that a major donor to the Conservative party, who reportedly featured on Boris Johnson’s original resignation honours list, is among 13 new peers announced by the government on Friday evening, eight of them Conservatives.

The paper says that Stuart Marks, a technology entrepreneur who has served as a senior treasurer for the Conservatives, has been given a life peerage, an official announcement said. They add that he has personally donated £119,500 to the party and another £56,500 through his company:

A series of reports named Marks as among those nominated for peerages in Johnson’s resignation honours list, along with MPs including Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams.

However, Marks, Dorries and Adams were among several names reportedly removed from the list.

Another donor handed a peerage on Friday night – as the Commons began a week of recess – was Franck Petitgas, who has worked for Rishi Sunak as a special adviser on business and investment. He has previously given £35,000 to the Conservatives.

Other new Tory peers include Paul Goodman, the former MP who edits the ConservativeHome website; the businesswoman and disability campaigner Rosa Monckton; and two senior councillors – John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk council, and James Jamieson, formerly chair of the Local Government Association.

These new nominations push the size of the Lords to only a few peers away from 800 – there were 784 peers still active before the latest crop. It is the biggest legislative chamber in the world apart from China’s National People’s Congress and slightly less democratic.

Will a Labour government change all this, possibly by bringing in a second elected chamber to replace the Lords? Of course not.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Have Labour abandoned the fuel poor?

One of the consequences of Labour's u-turn on spending £28bn a year to tackle climate change is that its plans to insulate millions of homes have been drastically scaled back.

As the Independent reports, plans to cut energy bills by giving 19 million people warmer homes in a decade could now take up to 14 years to achieve, with Labour now promising only to kit out 5 million properties by 2030.

The party is now set to spend £23.7bn over the course of the next five-year parliament, on top of the £10bn a year it says the government has already committed to.

Sir Keir and his shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, have come under fire for the climbdown, which a former adviser to Tony Blair, John McTernan, said was “probably the most stupid decision the Labour Party’s made”.

A member of Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet also told The Independent the U-turn had been “handled dreadfully” and now risked distracting from two potentially disastrous by-elections for Rishi Sunak next week.

Helping poorer people cut their energy bills by insulating their homes is, of course, a major contributor to any policy to tackle fuel poverty. Instead, millions will continue to struggle to pay for their gas and electricity. 

Not a good look for a party supposedly committed to social justice.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Dilly-dallying Starmer

In perhaps the most-trailed u-turn in modern politics, Keir Starmer is finally set to abandon Labour’s policy to spend £28bn a year on environmental projects. 

The Independent reports that the Labour leader is expected to confirm today that the pledge is being scaled back due to changes in the economic landscape since it was first unveiled in 2021.

However, as the paper points out, this policy reversal comes just days after Starmer said £28bn of annual investment in green initiatives was “desperately needed” and that his support for the spending plan was “unwavering”:

But Sir Keir faced an immediate backlash, with former shadow minister Barry Gardiner calling the decision “economically illiterate, environmentally irresponsible and politically jejune”.

Former adviser to Tony Blair John McTernan said it is “probably the most stupid decision the Labour Party's made”.

And Jeremy Hunt said Labour’s only economic plan is to copy the Conservatives”. The chancellor said: “If their policies flipflop like this in opposition, what sort of chaos would the British people have to endure if they got into power?”

You have to admit that they have a point, as does Barry Gardiner in his subsequent comments, when he says Labour now risks “being so bland that you stand for nothing”. “The government will then write your policies for you, and will say, “you see Labour’s not telling you what they what they’re going to do. It’s going to be this it’s going to be that”.

“They can paint their own picture, so I think politically, it’s strategically incompetent.”

In many ways this is the worst of both worlds for Starmer. 

He is running away from a clear and distinct policy that would make a real difference on a day when it has been confirmned that we are hurtling towards a climate disaster, and he has done so in the face of Tory attacks and after a period of dilly-dallying that undermines any work his spin doctors have been doing to portray him as a strong and decisive leader.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Those Tory own goals

Logging onto the Guardian website this morning I was astonished to find not one but three potential Tory own goals in the news pages.

The first and most expensive in terms of public expenditure was the verdict by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 has raised “urgent unanswered questions” and the government does not yet understand how the £67bn high-speed railway will now function.

The paper says that the cross-party committee has concluded that the remaining London-Birmingham line will be “very poor value for money” with costs now forecast to significantly outweigh the benefits. 

They added that the many ramifications of the decision to cancel the northern leg of HS2 remain unknown, including the impact on other promised rail schemes and how land compulsorily bought to build north of Birmingham would be disposed of.

“Crucially, the Department [for Transport] does not yet understand how HS2 will operate as a functioning railway following recent changes”, they say.

The second news item reports that the UK minister responsible for the building of new pylons has been quietly reshuffled after it emerged he had campaigned against the structures in his own constituency:

The energy minister Andrew Bowie had been in charge of energy networks, including building pylons, since he took up his post in February 2023.

In July he wrote on the blog he runs for constituents in West Aberdeen that concerns among locals about new pylons were “a priority of mine”. He met local anti-pylon campaigners on multiple occasions.

In December the brief was passed to the climate minister Graham Stuart. No announcement was made but a change has been made on the government website.

And then there is the very damaging doctors' strikes in England, which is adding to pressure on the NHS. If, like me, you are wondering why the government has not got around a table with unions and settled this dispute then the Guardian has the answer.

The paper says that Rishi Sunak has been accused of personally holding up a deal to end doctors’ strikes in England despite warnings from the health department and NHS England that waiting lists will continue to soar unless the industrial dispute is resolved:

Sources told the Guardian it had been made “abundantly and repeatedly” clear to the prime minister that there would be no progress on his pledge to drive down NHS waiting lists until a deal was struck.

One official said Sunak had been a “blocker” to progress during talks with both consultants and junior doctors at the end of last year because of concerns that a more generous offer would result in calls for higher pay deals across the health service, in particular for nurses.

Some might call this an act of deliberate sabotage of the Prime Ministers own pledge to reduce waiting lists for treatment. Others may be a little less charitable.

It used to be three strikes and you are out. A general election cannot come too soon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

All bets are off

There can be nothing more insavoury than a British Prime Minister placing a £1,000 bet on the fate of people fleeing war, torture and famine, but the fact that Rishi Sunak took up the wager with Piers Morgan demonstrates better than anything I can say how truly heartless his immmigration policy is.

The Guardian reports that the £1,000 bet on whether deportation flights to Rwanda will take off before the general election has been critised as a Prime Minister who is “out of touch” with working people.

One Labour MP said that “Not a lot of people facing rising mortgages, bills and food prices are casually dropping £1,000 bets", while the SNP have reported Sunak to the independent adviser on ministers’ interests.

But the real scandal is the way that Sunak and his party believe that they can move families around as if they were pawns, irrespective of the consequences for those fleeing for their lives, and in doing so disregard international laws and even the UK courts, who have ruled that Rwanda is unsafe. A judgement, by the way, reinforced by the Home Office, itself, in accepting asylum seekers from that country.

The bet is the final straw, treating asylum as some sort of game. The reality for millions of people is very different indeed.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Another VIP lane

As if the VIP lane fiasco during covid was not bad enough, the Mirror reports on another version that apparently emerged last April, when it is alleged that a Tory minister on a trade mission to India said he would be happy to help the tech firm owned by the family of Rishi Sunak’s wife grow in the UK.

The paper tells us that Trade minister Lord Johnson said he was “keen to see a bigger Infosys presence in the UK and would be happy to do what he could to facilitate that”. Infosys is now vying for UK contracts worth £750m:

The top Tory told the Prime ­Minister’s wife’s family firm he would “do what he could” to ensure the company’s growth in the UK.

We used Freedom of Information laws to force the Government to release details of a meeting between business and trade minister Lord Dominic Johnson and Infosys, the Indian tech company in which Mr Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty has shares.

The papers disclose how the peer told the firm’s executives he was “keen to see a bigger Infosys presence in the UK and would be happy to do what he could to facilitate that”.

Lord Johnson said: “We value the relationship with Infosys and will continue to engage at a Ministerial level when requested of us.”

Labour yesterday blasted the document as damning. It said the Government had serious questions to answer about giving “VIP access” to a business so personally close to the PM. The Lib Dems demanded full transparency.

Details of the meeting in India last April had not been released until we asked for them – and its revelation follows our story last week on how Infosys was potentially in line for millions in public money after being put on an “approved list” of suppliers for public sector contracts worth more than £750million.

At the meeting, Lord Johnson steered Infosys on how to obtain UK visas for its staff and “reassured” them on the prospects for the UK economy.

His officials reported that “despite Brexit ”, Infosys wanted to further boost its £1.8bn-a-year UK business. The PM’s wife owns £624m shares in the IT giant founded by her father. Together with her brother and mother, the family own £2.4billion in shares. Akshata’s Infosys shares earned her £13m last year and help make her husband the UK’s wealthiest-ever Prime Minister.

Now Infosys is planning to increase its workforce in the UK – its second- biggest market – by 20% to 6,000.

One of the firm’s biggest investors is Somerset Capital, co-founded by Lord Johnson, a major Tory party donor who Mr Sunak re-appointed as Trade Minister after he became PM in October 2022.

The India meeting in April 2023 also included discussions over the free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between India and the UK and how it would benefit Infosys. In the briefing notes for Johnson, one bullet point says: “Reassure that the FTA will further create new opportunities and investor friendly policies to support business growth.”

I understand that there is a need for commercial confidentiality when Ministers are engaged in trade talks, but when it involves the Prime Minister's family surely there has to be a level of transparency in these matters. It is almost as if Ministers are going out of their way to destroy trust in politics.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

A serious misstep

It surprises me sometimes how often I agree with Dafydd Wigley, and today is no exception.The former Plaid Cymru leader tells the BBC that plans to bring in a so-called closed list PR system for the Welsh Senedd from 2026 poses "a very great danger".

The plans, which were agreed in principle by MSs this week, will see the number of Members of the Senedd increase for the first time, from 60 to 96, while the way MSs are elected will change, with them being chosen from 16 so-called super-constituencies based on the new Westminster seats, with six members each.

The format to be used is known as the closed list, where voters will have to choose a party, not an individual, and candidates will be elected depending on their party's popularity and their place on the list. It is a form of proportional representation, but not the only one, and certainly not the most desirable form:

Fifty years to the month since he was first elected to the Commons, Lord Wigley has said the new system would destroy the relationship between voters and the people they elect.

"In my period as MP for Caernarfon for a quarter of a century, I regarded the link between myself and my electors as absolutely essential," he said.

"If you put all the power in the hands of a party machine, then it's the people who are going to serve the party best that will get the preference, as opposed to people who will be serving their constituents best, and that is a very important distinction, and it's a very great danger if we go down that road."

Not only is 96 members too large and difficult to justify on cost, workload and efficacy, but the proposed system will hand control of the Senedd to party bosses, it sets the bar very high for smaller parties to get seats, undermining its proportionality, and reduces choice for voters.

My other concern, already reflected in comments in the media, is that people will believe that this is the ONLY form of proportional representation, and will turn against PR for that reason. That would be a major setback for reformers.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

The price we pay

At last some frank admissions by a Brexit-supporting Tory Minister about the downside of the UK leaving the EU.

The Independent reports that conservative minister Andrea Leadsom has dismissed the concerns of business chiefs over the costly new checks imposed on imports from the EU as the “price you pay” for Brexit.

The paper says that this leading Brexiteer defended the “friction” in the new system for physical checks at the border – describing it as “the costs of doing business”:

Ms Leadsom said British firms must “adapt” and could even consider “changing their trading arrangements with the EU” if they wanted to bring down their costs.

Rishi Sunak’s health minister, a senior figure in the Leave campaign, telling Sky News: “Leaving the single market was always going to have implications.”

“I’ve had many constituency cases over the years of people who have changed their trading arrangements with the European Union as a result of different frictions, whether it’s postal cost changing, whether it’s border control,” said Ms Leadsom.

Asked if she was suggesting that UK businesses stop buying from Europe, she said: “No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that businesses need to adapt to meet the changing environment. There are huge opportunities from the rest of the world.”

The former business secretary added: “Obviously, what some businesses will do is continue to trade with the EU and absorb those costs, and others will choose to find access from elsewhere.”

Her comments come after business chiefs warned the new checks could significantly reduce the shelf life of fresh food imported from the EU, and could see some European suppliers quit the UK.

And business groups say some suppliers of specialist products – like French cheeses and Italian meats – will give up on Britain because of the extra expense and “huge hassle” involved.

She also claimed that it was very clear that we would be leaving the single market, which is not what we were told during the referendum campaign. Still, at least people now know who to blame for the rising cost of living.

Friday, February 02, 2024

The long retreat

It is now looking increasingly certain that the only radical policy left in the Labour arsenal, a £28 billion investment in green energy, will be dropped by them before the next election, if not sooner.

The Independent reports that Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds has become the latest senior Labour figure to refuse to confirm whether Labour will stick to this pledge:

The MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, in Greater Manchester, said it was Labour’s “ambition” to carry out the multi-billion pound investment but warned that “sometimes circumstances change”.

The row-back from Rachel Reeves’ 2021 green prosperity plan has been trailed heavily over the last few months, following reported infighting within the shadow cabinet over the funding of the pledge.

Mr Reynolds told Radio 4’s Today programme that the future of the plan depends on the state of the nation’s finances if they win power.

Asked if the party was still committed to the plan, Mr Reynolds said it was merely ‘an ambition.’

Asked directly if Labour was still committed to its pledge, Mr Reynolds, a key ally of Sir Keir Starmer, said: ‘That is our level of ambition but how quickly we get there and if we can get there has to have respect to and heed to the overall position of the economy.’

Pressed by interviewer Nick Robinson, Mr Reynolds declined to commit to a figure in the event of Labour rowing back on the full sum.
His comments follow an equally difficult media performance by his front bench colleague, Tulip Siddiq, who left radio listeners baffled after she compared her party’s economic policies to child murder.

Yesterday, Ms Siddiq said: “It is a commitment depending on the fact it abides by our fiscal rules - everything has to depend on external circumstances.

“It’s like saying to your partner ‘I will marry you but if I suddenly find out you murdered a two-year-old last year, you might not want to’.
“I think that’s what we are saying. If there’s a global financial crisis we need to review our commitments that that time.”

Labour may be on course to win the next election but if they do, nobody can really say what difference it will make.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Not for the EU

As if it wasn't bad enough that we have sabotaged our own economic future by leaving the single market, we are now going to be reminded of this disastrous decision every time we go to the supermarket.

The Mirror reports that as part of the deal to get the DUP back into a power=sharing government, ll meat and dairy products sold anywhere in the UK will now be labelled “Not for EU”

They say that ministers have announced plans to minimise checks on goods crossing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as part of a package of measures to allow power-sharing to resume. MPs will vote on new legislation on Thursday and the Stormont Assembly could sit again as soon as Saturday:

As part of the agreement, all meat and dairy products will have to have “Not for EU” labels regardless of whether they are sold in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. The UK Government last year agreed arrangements with Brussels that mean those moving between Great Britain and Ireland would have to have the labels in a bid to stop them crossing into Ireland, which has different food regulations as it is part of the EU.

But the DUP had raised concerns that some meat and dairy producers might just stop selling their products to Northern Ireland to avoid the extra red tape. To allay those fears, the labelling requirements will be extended to the whole of the UK. Some supermarkets had already started using the labels on meats sold in England, Wales and Scotland.

The UK Government has pledged that it will hold some Cabinet meetings in Northern Ireland in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate its importance, with the first taking place later this year. Civil servants and ministers will get training on the Good Friday Agreement and how to talk about it following concerns that some have appeared ignorant about it in recent years.

Ministers will also publish a series of documents over the next two years highlighting the benefits of Northern Ireland being part of the UK on themes including education, health and defence. It will form part of a campaign aimed at persuading “the majority of people in Northern Ireland that its future is brightest as part of the United Kingdom”.

So, effectively, Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK, while also enjoying the benefits of being able to access the single market. If it's good enough for them, then why not for the rest of us?

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