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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Heads in the sand

Considering that there is a general election in five weeks time, Welsh Labour are doing a pretty good job at alienating voters with an astonishing display of arrogance over the scandals surrounding the First Minister.

Nation Cymru reports that key figures in Welsh Labour have been criticised for claiming voters don’t care about donations to Vaughan Gething’s leadership campaign despite a new poll showing that the public overwhelmingly agree he should return the money.

The website says that in the poll conducted on 18-19 May by Redfield and Wilton Strategies in partnership with WalesOnline, 70 per cent of the weighted sample of 900 people from Wales agreed or strongly agreed that the money should be handed back – a call the First Minister has so far rejected.

They add that only 9 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the money should be returned:

Following the announcement of a General Election last week, Mr Gething kicked off Welsh Labour’s campaign in Llandudno.

Speaking with BBC Wales whilst out canvassing, he said the subject of his donation isn’t something Welsh voters want to ask about.

On Politics Wales on Sunday (May 27), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens said she spent two days “out on the doors” with Mr Gething and that the £200,000 donation was “not an issue”.

She said: “We spoke to 400 people in Barry and one person raised the issue of donations. Whilst the media might be churning this story over every single day to give it greater legs – this is not an issue.”

The Labour MP for Cardiff Central added that what matters in this election is “change and economic stability”.

We asked Ms Stevens if she agrees that the polling results show that the donation scandal is a concern for Welsh voters.

We also asked whether she accepts that people in Wales can be concerned about the economy and also have an opinion on the First Minister taking money from a convicted polluter.

Nether she, nor Welsh Labour, responded to our requests for comment.

Redfield and Wilton also polled Welsh voters on Mr Gething’s decision to sack the Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn.

She was accused of being the source of a leak to NationCymru that revealed Mr Gething had deleted messages that should have been provided to the UK Covid Inquiry.

The Delyn MS denied the allegation saying, “I’ve never leaked anything”.

16 per cent of those polled support Mr Gething’s decision to sack the junior minister, whilst 34 per cent disapprove of his decision to do so.

60 per cent of Welsh voters would support the former health minister being asked to return to provide further testimony to the UK Covid Inquiry.

The MP for Rhondda took a similar line on Radio Wales the other day, claiming that voters are not raising the issue of the money on the doorstep.

The big question here is who are these Labour figures talking to, because the donation is a major subject in conversations I am having, and of course it has contributed to a significant fall-off in Gething's approval ratings.

Along with the 20mph default speed limit and the creation of 36 more Senedd Members these issues could well come back to bite Labour in future years.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

National Disservice

Anybody who doubts the authenticity of the Yes Prime Minister episode on bringing back national service, which can be viewed on YouTube here, should read the views of the former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord West in this article in the Independent.

Lord West told the paper that Rishi Sunak’s proposal to enforce national service for teenagers is “hare-brained” and would only serve to deplete Britain’s defence capabilities. He added that the Tories’ general election plan showed Mr Sunak did not understand the level of danger the UK currently faces:

In their first major policy pledge since Mr Sunak hastily announced the election on Wednesday, the Conservatives unveiled plans to reintroduce national service, with school leavers being given the option of either joining the military for a year or doing part-time voluntary service in the community.

In what has widely been seen as a bid to attract Reform voters, the policy – rejected by a government minister only days earlier as a drain on military resources – would see 30,000 teenagers given full-time roles in the armed forces each year.

The Tories pledged to set up a royal commission to work out the details if elected on 4 July, but insist their plan would cost £2.5bn – and propose raiding key levelling up and post-EU funding to pay for it.

But Lord West, who was First Sea Lord from 2002 to 2006, warned that “anyone with the most basic experience of how much it costs, and what it entails, to turn a new recruit into someone that can usefully serve in our armed forces would not need a royal commission to tell them that the proposal as currently presented is utter nonsense”.

“This ill-thought out conscription scheme will increase pressure on defence and waste money,” the former Navy chief wrote, adding: “Rather than enhancing our defence capability, it would further reduce it.”

Britain’s military has shrunk by a third and satisfaction with service life, pay and morale have plunged across the board since the Tories entered power in 2010, Lord West said – accusing Mr Sunak of having ignored these while chancellor and only acting in the headlights of a general election.

“And now, instead of a serious and comprehensive plan to strengthen our defence capabilities, the prime minister says he will plug the gap with 30,000 untrained teenagers doing their year of compulsory work experience,” he wrote.

“That tells me he does not understand the level of danger that our country is facing – or the level of support that our Armed Forces need to respond to it.”

Rubbishing the Tories’ costings, Lord West said that providing training, facilities, accommodation, uniforms, equipment and other necessary supplies would significantly surpass the proposed £2.5bn – while leaving no money to spare for the wider part-time element of the scheme.

Labelling it “a hare-brained idea dreamed up by spin doctors desperate for a headline”, Lord West added: “As an idea, it may belong in the frenzy of an impending election, but it is not a serious plan for the future of our Armed Forces, at a time when the state of the world demands one.”

It looks like it wasn't just the general election that was called on the spur of the moment, the Tories are making up policy on the hoof as well. Anybody would think they don't expect to win.

Friday, May 24, 2024

First gaffe of the campaign

It was inevitable really that the first gaffe of the general election campaign had to come from Rishi Sunak.

As Nation Cymru reports, the prime minister scored an own goal with a footballing gaffe as he met brewery staff in Wales on his campaign tour:

The Prime Minister asked the workers whether they were looking forward to the football later this summer as a potential source of revenue, despite Wales not qualifying for the Euro 2024 tournament.

There was an awkward pause after Mr Sunak asked: “So are you looking forward to all the football?”

One brewery employee answered: “We’re not so invested in it,” to which another responded: “That’s because you guys aren’t in it”.

“A good summer”

The Prime Minister nonetheless insisted that “it’ll be a good summer of sport”.

Mr Sunak has found the back of his own net while talking about the sport before.

The self-described “massive football fan” in 2022 wrongly spoke about his team Southampton FC playing Manchester United at the weekend, when they were in fact facing Leicester City.

Given how marginal the Vale of Glamorgan is, and the fact that it also houses the Welsh football team's training facilities, you would think Sunak might have been better briefed.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Has Sunak saved Gething?

If there was one thing that Welsh First MInister, Vaughan Gething needed, it was a distraction, something to take his own party's mind off the dodgy donation scandal, the deleted WhatsApp messages, the failed trip to India to meet Tata executives who had just returned from London, and the sacking of a Minister over disputed evidence of a leak.

And now he has it; a general election in which nobody in Welsh Labour will want to rock the boat too much in case they disrupt the campaign.

Of course, none of this will stop the opposition focussing on all the problems and issues in an attempt to embarrass Keir Starmer, especially when he ventures across the Severn Bridge into Wales, but, to use an analogy, there is a difference between being under fire in peacetime and having to defend your positions in a war.

Labour MSs may well not want to demoralise the troops anymore than they have to by triggering a leadership contest in the run up to a General Election..

That leaves Gething hoping that by the time Starmer has crossed the threshold of number ten Downing Street in triumph, those calling for his head will have discharged all their ammunition, and it will be all forgotten and forgiven within his own group.

The unknown factor in this is Keir Starmer, himself. Just how ruthless is he? Will he make the same judgement as the Labour group in Cardiff Bay and leave things alone until after 4th July, or will he decide that the embarrassment factor is too much in the middle of an election and push his protégé under a virtual bus?

My betting is on the former, in which case it looks like Rishi Sunak has saved Vaughan Gething's bacon. I hope he sends the Tory PM a thank you card.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A virtual black hole

The Independent reports on a new study that suggests that the internet is slowly disapearing down a virtual black hole as web pages and online content is lost.

The web is often thought of as a place where content lasts forever. But vast swathes of its are being lost as pages are deleted or moved, according to new research.

Of the webpages that existed in 2013, for instance, 38 per cent are now lost. Even newer pages are disappearing: 8 per cent of pages that existed in 2023 are no longer available.

Those pages tend to disappear when they are deleted or moved. That happens on otherwise functional websites, the study from the Pew Research Center indicated, rather than happening when whole websites disappear.

The effect means that vast amounts of news and important reference content are disappearing. Some 23 per cent of news pages include at least one broken link, and 21 per cent of government websites, it said – and 54 per cent of Wikipedia pages include a link in their references that no longer exists.

Much the same effect is happening on social media. A fifth of tweets disappear from the site within months of being posted.

The study was completed by gathering a random samples of almost a million webpages, taken from Common Crawl, a service that archives parts of the internet. Researchers then looked to see whether those pages continued to exist between 2013 and 2023.

It found that 25 per cent of all pages collected between 2013 and 2023 were no longer available. Of those, 16 per cent of pages came from a website that continues to exist, while 9 per cent were located on websites that no longer exist at all.

This is one of the reasons why I tend to quote at length on this blog rather than rely on hotlinks. There are over 20 years of posts here and the further you go back, the more likely it is that the link to a particular story is broken.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Labour play the race card

Nation Cymru report that a divide in Welsh Labour over the leadership of the First Minister appears to have deepened further with one senior Labour source declaring, “we can’t carry on like this”.

They say that this source has indicated to them that some Labour MSs are making plans to move against the First Minister in a no confidence vote, claiming that “It’s going to be a horrible few weeks.” While another senior Labour source told the news website that: “The time will come where many of us will have to say something publicly.”

Gething's case cannot have been helped by the ludicrous claim by Welsh Labour’s BAME committee that some of the criticism by the press “has gone well beyond what one can reasonably call fair scrutiny” and that: 'scrutiny in recent weeks has crossed a line between fair examination and racially influenced attitudes and judgement, with a Black person being held to a higher standard.'

Cabinet Secretary Dawn Bowden in a tweet said: “Racism is in plain sight for those who want to see it” and later added: “The narrative around Vaughan Gething has all the hallmarks of institutional racism that I thought we had left behind a long time ago.”

The Daily Mail article that she referred to is vicious and misguided, but the claim that it is full of 'racially-charged language' as she suggested, is nonsense.

It is hardly surprising that the senior Welsh Labour source claimed to the news site that some of their colleagues had “gone overboard” at the weekend.

Some Labour politicians may be feeling the heat, but the questions that are being asked of Gething are perfectly legitimate and have nothing to do with his racial characteristics. They would be asked of any other politician in his position who had compromised themselves in the same way.

But let's just analyse what Labour are saying here. They are suggesting that because Vaughan Gething is a member of an ethnic minority then he should be judged by a different standard to everybody else.

It's funny how they don't take the same view of Rishi Sunak.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Losing control

The Independent reports that MPs have been warned that the Brexiteer promise of stronger sovereignty has failed and is instead leading to a loss of control of British territories.

They say the claim has come about because the governments of Gibraltar and the UK are close to agreeing a treaty that some fear will see EU Frontier border guards decide who can enter the British overseas territory – and will give them the power to turn away British citizens:

Gibraltar has been a British territory since it was handed to the UK in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, part of a series of agreements that ended the war of the Spanish succession. Spain, though, has long disputed the land on which the RAF Gibraltar air force station is situated, claiming it was part of an illegal landgrab by the British in the 19th century. Spain has been pushing to regain control of the territory for decades.

But there are wider concerns about this treaty with the EU, because of implications of a dilution of British sovereignty in areas such as Northern Ireland and even potentially the UK bases in Cyprus, where pressure is mounting over land that is British sovereign territory.

It is tempting to ask what it is that the Brexiteers expected. They may want to cut the UK off from the rest of the world in pursuit of an illusory soverignty, but as legal expert Catherine Barnard, a professor in European and employment law and deputy director of the think tank UK in a Changing Europe, poimts out, the whole concept is out-of=-date:

During the 2016 referendum, 96 per cent of Gibraltar’s citizens voted in favour of Remain, and last year Mr Picardo won re-election on a mandate to complete his treaty negotiations.

Prof Barnard warned that the row is based on a Brexiteer view of sovereignty that is outdated and rooted in the days of empire.

She said: “Essentially, the Brexiteers, during the referendum and after, were pushing a view of sovereignty that has not been true since the 19th century. Sovereignty is now much more transactional, and as soon as you sign any agreement, you dilute your sovereignty. That is what is going on with Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Sovereignty is no longer absolute.”

Prof Barnard said that in the modern world, sovereignty is a matter of give and take: “You give up part of it to gain something more for your country. That’s what happens with treaties and any sort of international agreement. It is like if I sell my car to you, I no longer have the car, but do have the money you gave me for it.

“We see this in the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU: we can change our environmental regulations, but this would mean we have tariffs imposed on us.”

She added that the issue of “competing sovereignties” could be another potential point of contention between the UK and Gibraltar.

Things really are starting to get interesting now.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

A new Windrush scandal?

The Guardian reports that lawyers and migrant rights campaigners have warned that the government is heading for a repeat of the Windrush scandal after imposing a “cliff edge” deadline for immigrants to switch to new digital visas.

The paper says that an estimated 500,000 or more non-EU immigrants with leave to remain in the UK will need to replace their physical biometric residence permits with digital e-visas by the end of this year. These permits demonstrate proof of their right to reside, rent, work and claim benefits:

In order to access their e-visa, people will need to open a UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) digital account. The Home Office has recently emailed invitations for a trial group of BRP holders to open digital accounts, but as many migrants used their solicitors’ email address as their Home Office contact, many have gone to lawyers rather than the immigrants themselves.

In addition, because personal details were excluded from the invitations for data security reasons, the lawyers would have no idea which of their potentially thousands of clients the emails were meant for, meaning they could not forward them on.

“After 31 December, a person without access to their e-visa will be un­able to prove their status in the UK,” said Zoe Bantleman, legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. “The Home Office has placed them in a similar situation to members of the Windrush generation. They have status, but they cannot prove it.

“Given the poor reach of Home Office communications on the issue, it is fair to assume that there will be thousands of people who do not apply for an e-visa before the end of 2024.”

From this summer any BRP holder can open a UKVI digital account without an invitation. But immigration lawyers fear the government’s planned publicity drive will miss many older or poorer people who may not speak English as their first language or do not have ready access to the internet.

Zoe Dexter, housing and welfare manager at human rights charity the Helen Bamber Foundation, described the government’s plans as chaotic. She said: “The Home Office’s move to digitise proof of identity is bound to take a huge financial toll on hundreds of thousands of people, including refugees and survivors of trafficking and torture, whose proof of ID is linked to the benefits they receive.”

Critics warn the Home Office does not have measures in place to deal with possible technical failures, and that it has created a cliff edge with its deadline. People can still apply for a UKVI digital account after 31 December, but if they are not aware of the new rules they may only discover this when they are unable to prove their right to return from holiday or claim benefits, leading to disruption.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” said Bethan Lant of migrant rights charity Praxis. “People will be un­able to evidence their status through no fault of their own, because the Home Office has not communicated well and has given them a cliff edge after which they are going to struggle to access even the basics. We’re not saying don’t go digital, we’re not saying ‘don’t do this’. We’re saying engage better, do it carefully, do it softly, do it over a period of time.”

Over-reliance on mew technology has always been a weak spot for government, no matter who is in charge, and it always has human consequences. Time for a rethink.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Tories scraping the barrel

Like many others, I am yet to be convinced that Labour are offering anything new in the forthcoming general election, but in the interests of fair play one has to laugh at the Tories response to Keir Starmer's six points of blandness which he launched the other day in an unparalleled snoozefest.

As the Mirror reports the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt has put forward a series of "dodgy dossiers" in an effort to discredit Labour's economic credentials.

Hunt released a 19-page document on Friday which claims Labour’s policies will leave a “black hole of over £10billion a year by 2028-29”, while in a pre-election speech in central London, he claimed Labour would increase taxes to pay for their plans while the Conservatives would cut them.

This is despite the Tories having overseen the tax burden rise to its highest level since World War II:

Mr Hunt, who stood with a backdrop saying "Labour's Tax rises", celebrated the Tories' record of the last 14 years bringing more jobs, investment and growth to the country despite families dealing with higher mortgage payments, higher prices and some 25 tax rises since 2019. He fiercely attacked Labour as he said their plans would leave a £38.5billion gap over the next four years.

“Keir Starmer’s first step will not be the motherhood and apple pie we heard yesterday, but to help himself to you and your family’s wallets,” he said. “When it comes to Labour policies on jobs, welfare reform and tax, the difference if they are elected will be profound and damaging for every family in the country." He also accused Labour of lying and of “fake news” over its attacks on the Tory’s unfunded £46billion plan to abolish national insurance.

Given the Tories record, it is ironic that they are accusing anybody of damaging the economy.

Friday, May 17, 2024

On the brink

Nation Cymru, which is of course funded by the Welsh Government, is showing an admirable independence in its reporting on the Welsh First Minister recently, even suggesting that his time in office may be coming to an end. Lettuce, anybody?

Their latest piece quotes an unnamed Welsh Labour source as saying the sacking of Hannah Blythyn as a minister, for supposedly leaking damaging WhatsApp messages, brings closer the tipping point when the Labour Party accepts that keeping Vaughan Gething in office is more damaging than getting rid of him:

Ms Blythyn’s dismissal – for allegedly leaking iMessages to NationCymru that had been deleted by Mr Gething from a ministerial group chat – has created further turmoil within the Senedd Labour group, already in disarray following our earlier revelation that he accepted donations totalling £200k from a businessman convicted of environmental pollution offences.

Many people in Welsh Labour are angry that Ms Blythyn has been sacked after being accused of leaking messages that showed Mr Gething had misled the UK Covid Inquiry when he claimed that messages on his mobile phone were deleted not by him, but during a refit of the phone by the Senedd’s IT department.

The deleted messages were related to Welsh Government business and should have been handed to the Inquiry with other documentation that was handed over.

A senior Welsh Labour source told NationCymru: “Everyone knows that Vaughan can’t recover from this, but the question is how much longer can he stay in office with new revelations constantly coming out that put him, the party and Wales generally in a bad light.

“The team around Starmer that controls what happens is currently standing by him, although their patience is wearing thin. Vaughan is on the right of the party, so they have no ideological objection to him. If he’d been on the left, they would almost certainly have moved against him by now.

“Equally, if Labour had one or two seats less than we won at the last Senedd election in 2021, he would have gone by now. If they’d been in the majority, the opposition parties could have combined to move a successful vote of no confidence in him.”

Asked whether moves to oust Mr Gething would come from within Welsh Labour or from Keir Starmer’s leadership team, the source said: “It’s likely to be a combination of the two. At the moment, despite the growing disquiet, the view is that removing him would create a bigger storm and be damaging for the party.

“But I just don’t see how a general election campaign can go ahead with Vaughan Gething still in place as the First Minister. Keir Starmer will be coming to Wales, accompanied by political correspondents whose outlets cover the whole of the UK. If Vaughan Gething is sitting next to Starmer at a press conference, he is bound to get asked about the scandals in which Vaughan has been embroiled.

“Starmer’s narrative is about how he’s going to clean up British politics following years of sleaze under the Tories. That’s going to be more difficult to get across if the Welsh Government – the only UK nation where Labour is in charge – is led by a politician who has accepted an enormous sum from a convicted criminal. Given that 80% of media outlets are hostile to Labour, that is not a good look.”

As the news website points out, another issue that creates a potential minefield for Keir Starmer is Gething’s assertion that he would like the excess money from his Welsh Labour leadership campaign spent on diversity programmes:

Figures released to BBC Wales by Mr Gething’s campaign team showed that he spent around £219,000 against £61,000 spent by Jeremy Miles, the rival he narrowly defeated. Mr Gething was left with a surplus of more than £31,600 that he says he will pass over to the Labour Party.

However, Welsh Labour does not exist as a separate accounting unit for the purpose of registering donations, and the excess money would have to be paid to UK Labour.

A Welsh Labour source said: “After all the fuss Keir Starmer and other members of the Shadow Cabinet at Westminster have made about dodgy Tory donations, is Labour really going to accept money that originally came from a criminal? Labour’s reputation will be severely tainted if it does so. Starmer should insist that the money is paid back to David Neal, the convicted polluter who donated it in the first place.

“Trying to launder dirty money by handing it to worthy causes isn’t going to remove the stench from it.”

The last time there was this much turmoil within Welsh Labour and their Senedd group it was over the reign of Alun Michael as First Secretary. Then Aseenbly Members got rid of him in defiance of the UK leadership. This time it looks like it could be a combined effort.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Politics in the long grass

Whatever the reasons given, it surely cannot be a coincidence that the postponement of the Welsh Government's shake up in council tax takes the implementation of the reform to 2028, past the next Senedd Election.

This effective u-turn comes after a similar decision to postpone and change the implementation of new farming subsidy rules, and of course, the u-turn on the default 20mph speed limit.

Are the Welsh Government getting nervous of public opinion all of a sudden, that they are prepared to back down on key policy initiatives to avoid controversy?

If it is really the case that the ruling Labour group have suddenly become controversy-averse, then the leader of the Welsh Tories may be right, it can only be a matter of time before they jettison Vaughan Gething as First Minister before he drags them down with him.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Self-inflicted Brexit chaos

If it wasn't such a mess it would be funny. In their attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable the Brexiteers in government have created precisely the sort of United Kingdom they are opposed to, one that is structurally divided within itself and partly within the jurisdiction of the European Union.

The Independent reports that a ruling by the high court in Northern Ireland effectively means that the Illegal Immigration Act does not apply in that part of the UK.

Furthermore. ministers now have concerns that a similar challenge on the Safety of Rwanda Act, to allow deportation flights, will also be successful in the Northern Irish high court:

The problems appeared to originate from Rishi Sunak’s much vaunted Windsor Framework Agreement with the EU last year designed to try to resolve the chaotic Irish border problems left by Brexit, which were first warned about during the 2016 Brexit referendum by former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair.

Former cabinet minister David Jones, who is deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Brexiteers, said: “We were already aware that the Windsor Framework had resulted in a customs border in the Irish Sea. It now appears to be the case if this judgement stands that it has destroyed the ability of the UK government to determine who should remain in our own borders.”

Another hard line Brexiteer, former home secretary Suella Braverman pointed out that the judgement said that Northern Ireland is “effectively to be treated as part of the EU”.

She said: “Isn’t it now patently clear that the Windsor Framework has served to undermine our sovereignty, undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and, I’m afraid, fundamentally failed on it first contact with reality.”

Belfast South SDLP MP Claire Hanna told the immigration minister that the Tories only had themselves to blame:

She said: “The ECHR isn’t just a key part of the UK’s unwritten constitution it is fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement that is where the commitment to the vindication of rights flows from.

“But, yes, Brexit and the provisions that have followed have underpinned those rights and have allowed for a pursuance of a remedy. Perhaps those who championed the Brexit project might at times better step through the consequences of their actions.”

Brexiteers really are now starting to reap the consequences of a whole series of bad decisions, harking back to the misinformation and lies spouted in the Brexi referendum itself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Tories launch new war on woke

It really is getting to the point where desperate Tories are having to resort to culture wars in a bid to be heard even though all the evidence shows that none of that nonsense is winning them votes.

On the front line is the so-called minister for common sense, Esther McVey who, according to the Guardian, has said that she will crack down on diversity initiatives in the civil service, including banning the wearing of rainbow lanyards:

McVey, who was appointed to Rishi Sunak’s cabinet as a minister without portfolio, said civil servants should be leaving their political views “at the building entrance” and that there should not be a “random pick and mix” of causes on security lanyards.

“They should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK,” she said in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies. “We need to stop the inappropriate back-door politicisation of the civil service, which diverts time and resources from that focus on the public.

“We have too often seen them distracted by fashionable hobbyhorses. Especially when it comes to issues like equality and diversity. People want the public servants to be getting on with the job of making their lives better, not engaging in endless internal discussions about ideology, and I’m not prepared to see pointless job creation schemes for the politically correct.”

McVey said the government would no longer offer contracts for external diversity spending unless they were signed off by a government minister, including those with current contracts, such as Stonewall.

The minister said she aimed to abolish civil service networks for staff, such as those for Muslim staff or LGBTQ+ civil servants. The Civil Service Muslim Network has been suspended after reports that speakers at its events had encouraged officials to lobby ministers over the Gaza conflict.

Ironically of course, this so-called initiative comes on the back of the announcement by Chancellor of the Excehequer, Jeremy Hunt that 66,000 civil service jobs will be axed by March 2025. Will it be last in, first out or will they be targeting the woke employees first?

Quite how any of this will help people get their passport or driving licence quicker is unclear, as is the initiative's impact on the millions waiting for operations with the NHS, the crisis is higher education funding caused by the government's clampdown on overseas student visas, high interest rates, soaring food bills and high energy costs.

These are the issues that the public really care about, on which, this Tory Government has nothing to offer them.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Braverman outflanks Labour on the left

The Independent reports on the astonishing response of Labour's Wes Streeting to calls by the rightwing former home secretary, Suella Braverman to scrap the cap on child benefit for just two children in each household.

Braverman rightly points out that over 400,000 families are affected by this restriction and all the evidence suggests that it is not having the effect of increasing employment or alleviating poverty. Instead, it’s aggravating child poverty:

She said: “The truth is that Conservatives should do more to support families and children on lower incomes... A crucial reform that Frank advocated was to scrap the two-child benefits limit, restricting child tax credits and universal credit to the first two children in a family. If they have a third or fourth child, a low-income family will lose about £3,200 per year."

In response, Streeting doubled down on the decision by shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves last year, to reverse Labour's policy of of scrapping the child benefit cap on the grounds of affordability. 

Instead he asked us to trust Labour on the basis of their record in government fourteen years ago, despite the fact that they are refusing to commit to reforms that will make a difference.

This should be basic stuff for a Labour party who believe in social justice. The fact that they cannot bring themselves to reconsider this policy makes us question yet again what exactly it is that distinguishes them from the present government.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

A serious misstep

Keir Starmer's acceptance of Tory right-winger, Natalie Elphicke into the Labour Party may well have had short-term benefits for his party's ratings, but it has more serious consequences for how it defines his politics and in the way it portrays the Labour Party he wants to create.

That much is clear already in the reaction of Labour Party members and MPs to the defection, however it is the continuing drip of revelations about the Dover MP that is going to do the real damage.

As Nation Cymru reports, the latest blow to Elphicke's credibility is the news that she has been accused of lobbying the justice secretary in 2020 to interfere in her then-husband’s criminal sex offences trial.

They report that Sir Robert Buckland has said that Elphicke approached him when he was lord chancellor and justice secretary before the hearing of Charlie Elphicke’s case:

She allegedly told Sir Robert that it was unfair the case was the first to be heard at Southwark Crown Court after the Covid lockdown and that it was being overseen by Lady Justice Whipple, The Sunday Times reported.

One person present viewed her comments as a bid to have the case moved to a lower-profile court to spare her partner public scrutiny, while another saw it as an attempt to replace the senior judge, according to the newspaper.

Sir Robert rejected her plea, suggesting his intervention could undermine the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciary.

The Tory MP told The Sunday Times: “She was told in no uncertain terms that it would have been completely inappropriate to speak to the judge about the trial at all.”

Ms Elphicke’s former husband and predecessor as MP for Dover was later convicted of sexually assaulting two women and jailed for two years.

She ended the marriage after his conviction but supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying Mr Elphicke had been “attractive, and attracted to women” and “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

Ms Elphicke allegedly also tried to secure him better prison conditions, asking for more comfortable pillows, The Sunday Times reported.

The new Labour MP denies the characterisation of the meeting with Sir Robert and that she asked for improved jail conditions.

And what were her motives for defecting in the first place. Well, as far as her former party are concerned, she quit the Conservatives because she was “bitter” about being denied a ministerial job in charge of housing policy.

They told journalists that Elphicke was enraged at being rejected first by Liz Truss when she entered Downing Street in 2022 and then again by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

I guess we'll never really know, but taking her on-board in the first place is begnning to look like a serious misstep by Starmer.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Long distance politics

The walesonline website reports that First Minister, Vaughan Gething has travelled 4,500 miles to meet senior figures in Tata Steel in an effort to persuade them to adopt a different plan for the Port Talbot Steel works.

The only problem is that he has no money to put on the table to mitigate Tata's one million pound a day losses, and he could have had the same meeting a week before in London. The website says that:

Wales' new First Minister Vaughan Gething has defended flying to India for his first overseas trip since winning the top job, despite meeting an executive who was in London just over a week ago. Mr Gething flew 4,500 miles to Mumbai, India, to tell the company his views on the closure of the two blast furnaces at Port Talbot steelworks.

On Friday morning, Mr Gething met with Tata officials, the most senior of whom was T V Narendran, the CEO and managing director of Tata Steel. It comes just over a week after Mr Narendran was in London for meetings with steel unions, during which time he also did interviews with ITV, BBC and The Times.

A cynic might argue that the trip was put in place to distract from Gething's troubles at home.

Of course a meeting was necessary but why didn't it take place in the UK when the opportunity was there, and in what world does the Welsh Labour Government think that Tata was going to be persuaded to change their mind on the strength of Gething's personality alone?

Friday, May 10, 2024

The backlash continues

The Independent reports that Keir Starmer is facing calls to let “trailblazing” MP Diane Abbott back into Labour as anger mounts over the shock defection to the party of Natalie Elphicke.

They say that the Labour leader is facing a fierce backlash over his decision to welcome Ms Elphicke, a controversial right-wing Conservative who has continually attacked his party over its policies on immigration:

Less than 24 hours after crossing the floor, the MP for Dover was forced to apologise for her comments about her ex-husband’s victims.

Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti told The Independent: “Like others, I look forward to Ms Elphicke’s first in-depth broadcast interview about her political journey to the Labour Party.

“In the meantime, if the tent is big enough for her, I feel sure that Britain’s first Black woman MP, who has sustained more racist and misogynist abuse than anyone, will have her whip restored urgently.”

Earlier, Labour’s chair, Anneliese Dodds, said she has “enormous respect” for Ms Abbott as a trailblazer, but could not comment on an independent process.

Former MP Charlie Elphicke was convicted of sexually assaulting two women and sentenced to two years in prison in 2020. Ms Elphicke supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying he was an “attractive” man who had been “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

In a statement on Thursday, she said: “I have previously, and do, condemn his behaviour towards other women and towards me. It was right that he was prosecuted and I’m sorry for the comments that I made about his victims.”

Ms Abbott was suspended last year after she wrote a letter in which she suggested that Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

Ms Abbott, who was shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, apologised and said that the letter, published in The Observer, had been an “initial draft” and was sent in by mistake.

It stated that Jewish, Irish and traveller communities have experienced “prejudice”, but added: “This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.” Within hours, Labour condemned the remarks, which it said were “offensive and wrong”, and suspended Ms Abbott pending an investigation.

In March she hit out at the party, accusing it of “shocking” racism, after a scandal emerged involving the Conservative Party donor Frank Hester. Rishi Sunak has refused to hand back a £10m donation made by the businessman, who allegedly said Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she should be “shot”.

Ms Abbott criticised Sir Keir, saying: “The position of the current leadership of the Labour Party is disappointing,” adding that he had “seemed equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism. Instead, the entire focus was on the demand that the Tories give Hester back his money, which is surely not the primary point in this case.”

Accepting Elphicke into the Labour Party may have been seen as a coup at the time, but in retrospect it doesn't look such a good move.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Who is Labour's new MP?

I confess to being bewildered by the defection of Dover MP, Natalie Elphicke to Labour. This is an MP who voted for Liz Truss as leader and whose record on immigration is comparable to Nigel Farage. The decision to accept her into the Labour Party is certainly a controversial one amongst Labour MPs.

The Guardian reports that the chair of the Labour party has defended the decision to admit the staunchly rightwing MP while Diane Abbott remains suspended and has been under investigation for more than a year.

They add that the move has been controversial among many female Labour MPs because of Elphicke’s defence of her husband, Charlie, who was convicted of sexual assault in 2020: 

Shortly after his conviction, Elphicke told the Sun he had been the victim of a “terrible miscarriage of justice” and she cast doubt on his victims’ testimonies.

In 2021, Elphicke became one of several MPs to be suspended from the Commons and told to apologise for being found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over her husband’s trial.

Questioned on Thursday about her conduct, Dodds said “this was an incredibly serious case” and that Elphicke had been subjected to a “parliamentary process” – but declined to justify her remarks.

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and former shadow minister for domestic violence, said she was “shocked” by the move and that Elphicke should apologise for her comments, which would have been “very painful” to victims.

“I didn’t believe it at first. It was a bit discombobulating,” Phillips said about Elphicke’s move to Labour on Wednesday night.

Asked about Elphicke’s defence of her then husband, Phillips told ITV’s Peston: “I think she needs to explain it and I think that there is some apologising to be done to victims of those crimes … I’m all for forgiveness but not without contrition.”

Dodds faced questions over how Elphicke could be admitted to the Labour party when Abbott had been waiting a year for the outcome of an investigation into comments she had made about racism.
Abbott was suspended in April 2023 after writing a letter to the Observer that said while Irish, Jewish and Traveller people “undoubtedly experience prejudice”, they do not face racism “all their lives”.

She withdrew her remarks the same day and apologised “for any anguish caused” but has been suspended from the Labour party since. She continues to sit as an independent MP.

The Guardian also outlines some of the controversies that have surrounded Elphicke. They say that she was one of several Conservative MPs who were temporarily suspended from the Commons and told to apologise after being found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over the trial of her ex-husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was jailed for two years in September 2020.

In addition, they say that as recently as a year ago, Elphicke wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Express that was headlined: “Don’t trust Labour on immigration they really want open borders”, and ended with an attack on Keir Starmer, who she described as “Sir Softie”:

Elphicke had also been one of the Tory backbenchers acting as a thorn in the side of Rishi Sunak as he attempted to get legislation on his Rwanda deportation bill through the Commons. At one point she was among rebels who supported an amendment from the former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

Elphicke was criticised in August 2020 for her rhetoric in a video message she tweeted after watching eight migrants come ashore in Kent. She stated: “This is unacceptable that people are breaking into Britain in this way.” Andrew Powell, an immigration and family law barrister, condemned what he said was her “appalling and dehumanising language”.

She also came under fire for choosing Christmas Day in 2021 as the moment to call for an end to small boat crossings in the Channel.

They also say that she has consistently voted for making it easier to remove someone’s British citizenship and has almost always voted for stronger laws and enforcement of immigration rules: 

On green issues, she has been at odds with Labour. As recently as February she voted to reject a climate change test for new oil and gas licences. 

She has also voted in line with Conservative colleagues on attempts to bring air quality targets to be in line with World Health Organization guidelines. 

In other votes she has backed more restrictive regulation of trade union activities.

On balance it is difficult to see why Labour even considered accepting her into the party. The decision certainly leaves one wondering what it is that Labour now stands for.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

All the conspiracies

The Guardian reports that MPs and election candidates are being provided with a guide on recognising conspiracy theories – ranging from false claims about 5G technology to others about vaccines and global organisations such as the International Monetary Fund.

The paper says that the guide was commissioned by Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, who launched it on Tuesday with the shadow leader, Lucy Powell, amid concern about the impact of conspiracies theories, in many cases with antisemitic overtones. The paper lists some of the conspiracies covered:

The Great Reset

Originally a vague set of proposals from the World Economic Forum to encourage governments to move to adopt more equitable policies, the concept has been hijacked by conspiracy theorists claiming it is a bid by a small group to exert control.

Spin-off theories have included claims – fuelled by attempts to reduce meat consumption – that the WEF wants to make people eat insects.

The Great Replacement

A belief that there is a plan to replace the European white population with minority ethnic groups. Far-right European politicians have repeated the claim, which has also been name-checked by more traditional rightwingers such as the French conservative presidential candidate, Valérie Pécresse.


A claim that a paedophile ring is being run by a global elite, sometimes in the form of shape-shifting reptilians. It made inroads into the UK among some of the more extreme anti-vaccine activists during the pandemic.


Linked to the Great Reset theory, the belief holds that 5G technology is unsafe due to radiation from 5G waves. In the UK it has led to a spate of attacks on telecoms engineers since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The war in Ukraine

Pro-Russia narratives, sometimes tied in with antisemitic messaging, have sought to portray the invasion as countering power-grabs by global elites.

Elon Musk, the US billionaire and X owner, is singled out in the guide for tweeting a version of a meme associated with conspiracies about the conflict.

The problem with this guide of course, as the article points out, is that a number of conspiracy theories are being promoted by some of the very MPs who are being warned about them.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Did Gething mislead the Covid inquiry?

Nation Cymru says  that they have evidence that Vaughan Gething misled the UK Covid Inquiry and the Senedd by concealing the fact that he deliberately deleted records of conversations he had with other ministers:

As a witness to the Inquiry, the First Minister insisted that messages had been deleted from his mobile phone not by him, but when it was serviced by the Senedd’s IT department.

But a previously undisclosed message that has been leaked to Nation.Cymru proves that he admitted deleting conversations he had with ministerial colleagues on a group chat.

In a text message posted to the ministerial group chat on Monday August 17 2020, when he was Health Minister, Mr Gething wrote: “I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI [Freedom of Information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.”

The message was written at a time when Wales was still subject to Covid restrictions following the first lockdown, and when ministers were making decisions about the level of interaction between people that should be permitted.

On August 17 – the date of Mr Gething’s message – the Welsh Government announced that A-level and GCSE students would be awarded the grades estimated for them by their teachers. There had been uproar the previous week after 42% of grades were lower than teacher assessments, having been processed by an algorithm.

His admission that he deleted messages contradicts evidence that he gave to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, when he asserted that messages had been deleted during a “security rebuild” of his mobile phone carried out in 2022 by the Senedd’s IT team.

It appears that, contrary to other evidence Mr Gething gave to the Inquiry, decisions about dealing with the pandemic were discussed by him and other ministers in the group chat.

Mr Gething provided a lengthy written “statement of truth” to the Inquiry dated January 3 2024. It runs to 147 pages, at the end of which is a signed declaration by him which states: “I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true. I understand that proceedings may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief of its truth. “

Vaughan Gething’s text message posted to the ministerial group chat on Monday August 17 2020 On March 11 he gave oral evidence to the Inquiry when it was sitting in Cardiff. Immediately before doing so, he made this declaration: “I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Telling lies at a statutory public inquiry, such as the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, amounts to the criminal offence of perjury, which on conviction can lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Other laws may also have been broken. The Inquiries Act 2005, which sets out the legal responsibilities of witnesses to statutory public inquiries, states that all relevant material must be provided to an inquiry, while the Freedom of Information Act has penalties for those who destroy material that would be subject to disclosure.

In his written statement, Mr Gething said that although he would sometimes discuss matters by phone, text, WhatsApp or Microsoft Teams, these informal means of communication were not used to make decisions.

He stated that during the period of the pandemic, he had four mobile phones – two from the Welsh Government and two from the Senedd.

It is unclear whether Mr Gething used a Welsh Government phone or a Senedd phone to participate in the ministerial group chat in which he posted the incriminating message. It is also unclear how many, if any, of these group chat messages were passed to the UK Covid Inquiry, as they should have been.

It's time the First Minister came clean on what exactly he did and did not do with this data.

Update: walesonline reports on exchanges in the Senedd in which Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething has denied he lied to the Covid inquiry and called an accusation he had committed perjury during his evidence "obnoxious".

He told MSs: "The conversation is entirely about a Labour party group meeting, and not about decision-making to do with the pandemic, but it's about comments colleagues made to and about each other. It's about ensuring we don't provide things that are potentially embarrassing but not those things that affect any information about decision-making in the pandemic."

Monday, May 06, 2024

Losing confidence in Brexit

The Independent reports that warnings by the National Farmers Union that a combination of 18 months of bad weather, Brexit and other international events have left confidence in British farming at an all-time low.

They say that NFU President Tom Bradshaw has warned that the collapse in confidence has seen 7,000 agricultural businesses close down since 2019 and is now imperilling food security in Britain:

The NFU’s annual Farmer Confidence Survey was taken between November 2023 and January this year, and Mr Bradshaw noted that if it had been taken today the word “crisis” would need to be added.

He described a “perfect storm” including volatility caused by the war in Ukraine and the effects of covid. While he did not mention Brexit by name Mr Bradshaw listed a number of post-Brexit changes including to the subsidy regime and new international trade deals.

The NFU president blamed 18 months of unusually wet weather for much of the difficulties but also listed a number of problems caused by Brexit, including the Australia and New Zealand trade deals which come with a competitive disadvantage for the UK because of Britain’s higher standards.

However, top of the list of concerns was the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the continuation of the EU subsidy which had supported farms around the UK.

The survey showed that this was the number one issue for farmers with 86 percent naming it as a serious concern.

BPS is being replaced by the Environmental Land Management Scheme but payments have dropped by 50 percent at a time when farmers are having to borrow more.

Mr Bradshaw said: “We have been clear as the NFU for some time of our concern that the move away from the BPS to the public money for public good, while very well-intentioned, has taken food production for granted.

“Our concern is that if members don’t have confidence then we as a country can’t deliver food security. We have all political parties say that food security is national security. If they really mean these words they need to ask themselves what actions they need to take to rebuild farmer confidence.”

He warned “believing we can import our way out of this problem is naive at best and foolish at worst.”

He added: “We need a long-term plan for how we are going to feed 70 million people on an island.”

Mr Bradshaw pointed to another post-Brexit issue on immigration that “we still don’t have a seasonal worker scheme for next year.”

This issue has seen EU citizens, who used to come and pick fruit, stop making the trip following the UK leaving the EU.

It is little consolation, I know, but much of this was forecast ahead of the Brexit vote. You get what you vote for, and many farmers did vote for Brexit at the time.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Tactical voting is the real winner

Thursday's elections are significant for one very important factor, they show that the polls are right and that Rishi Sunak is heading towards a big defeat whenever he calls the general election. 

The results were also encouraging to the Liberal Democrats, who, with one council still to declare, have moved to second place in the number of councillors elected on the night.

But this was not a vote for the opposition parties, it was one designed to get the Tories out, in which electors cast their ballot for the opposition party most likely to achieve that goal.

The Guardian reflects on the consequences for the Liberal Democrats, who are struggling to increase their national vote share, mostly because of ineffective and charisma-free leadership, but who are still poised to capitalise on the public mood and significantly add to their seat tally whenever the election is called.

They say that party officials believe the results have proved that their strategy of ruthlessly targeting Tory wards in the seats they want to win is working and that the results put them on course to challenge the chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the housing and communities secretary Michael Gove in Surrey, and the justice secretary Alex Chalk in Cheltenham, as well as George Osborne’s highly rated former chief of staff Rupert Harrison, running in Bicester:

The local data suggests the Lib Dems won 50% of the vote in Chalk’s seat, compared with 25% for the Tories. The Lib Dems were 10% up across Surrey. In Esher and Walton, seat of the departing former cabinet minister Dominic Raab, they were ahead 43% to 29%. In Tunbridge Wells, another once-safe Tory seat held by the former cabinet minister Greg Clark, the Lib Dems won the local election vote 35% to 28%.

The party has used the local polls to examine whether their tactics were working. They believe they have performed very well where they are challenging the Tories and poorly in Labour-facing wards where they have not been campaigning or asked voters to vote tactically. There are also hopes of a recovery in Nick Clegg’s old seat of Sheffield Hallam, where they are also taking Tory votes.

Sir John Curtice, the election analyst, agreed that the Lib Dems had effectively “bet the farm” on taking on Tory areas. The surgical approach reverses their disastrous 2019 election campaign, when they fought on an anti-Brexit ticket and touted Jo Swinson, their leader at the time, as a potential prime minister. They now feel confident of claiming a big moment on the night of the general election by defeating a major Tory figure.

There is also a continued revival in the south-west, former stronghold of the party. Having won councils in Somerset and Devon in previous years, they secured overall control of Dorset for the first time.

The Lib Dems had hoped to win overall control of Wokingham council, instead falling one seat short. However, that was a contest in which their vote appeared to collapse in areas where Labour is strong and they had not campaigned. They are trying to unseat the former Tory cabinet minister John Redwood at the election. The local election vote share had the Lib Dems ahead 47% to 35%, party sources said.

“We are going to redouble our efforts to oust senior Conservative MPs who have taken their seats for granted,” a Lib Dem source said. “The home counties are turning their backs on a Conservative party they no longer recognise. The Liberal Democrats are flipping the electoral map on its head.”

This strategy could well reap the rewards expected of it, but it is not a long-term plan to grow the party into a national force. By all means exploit the mood of the time, but if we are not also building organisations in less promising areas then, as before, success could be short-lived.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Labour start to break cover on Gething donation

The BBC reports that a former Welsh government minister has told the Senedd that Vaughan Gething should hand back £200,000 taken from a company owned by a man prosecuted for illegally dumping waste.

The broadcaster says that former Transport Minister, Lee Waters has questioned the judgement of the first minister for accepting the donation during the Welsh Labour leadership campaign, from Dauson Environment Group, saying that he was “deeply uncomfortable” with the situation and that it was "shocking" to find where the money had come from:

The former transport minister, who was the public face of the 20mph speed limit policy until he left government in March, made the comments in one of two debates forced by the opposition on the issue.

Labour MSs successfully voted down Tory calls for an independent investigation into the donations, as well as a Plaid Cymru motion for the Senedd to look at a cap on numbers.

Welsh Conservative and Plaid Cymru Senedd members criticised Mr Gething for failing to take part in the discussions.

Mr Gething was absent for most of the proceedings, arriving midway through the second debate called by Plaid Cymru.

Mr Waters had supported Vaughan Gething's rival Jeremy Miles and was one of the few Labour politicians who spoke on the record about the donations during the campaign.

Mr Waters said he had been "struggling to process my feelings" about the issue and he would have rather avoided making the speech.

He said he had not changed his initial view that the donation was "unjustifiable and wrong".

It really "shocked" him that it came from a firm with a conviction for damaging the Gwent Levels, a site of special scientific interest, "at a time that some of us were fighting hard to protect this area".

Mr Gething has said that he has followed the rules over political donations.

"But the issue is not whether the paperwork was correct, it’s whether the judgement was correct," said Mr Waters.

He said 25 years ago "we talked of devolution as the beginning of a new politics; but the reputation of politics, and politicians, seems to be lower than ever".

"The first minister told a Senedd committee last week that his approval ratings haven’t been affected by the controversy. I must say that surprised me, and troubled me."

"Whether the polls bear that out or not, it really isn’t the point. Surely the question isn’t what any of us can get away with, it’s what is right?"

"I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way I am now, in effect, being expected to endorse something I think is just wrong.

"I haven’t spoken out since the donation came to light ten weeks ago. I wanted to give time for the issue to be addressed. But it hasn’t been."

Mr Gething has faced claims that he had broken the code of conduct for ministers, which requires ministers not to accept any gift which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation.

Mr Waters said that ministerial code is not a "legal contract" or a "test to find a loophole"

"It's a code of ethics," he said.

Calling on Mr Gething to do the "right thing," he added: "It would not be a sign of weakness to say it was a mistake to take the donation and now all the facts are known to give it back."

This is damning stuff, and more so when considering that it is being said openly by a Labour MS. But will Gething listen?

Friday, May 03, 2024

Hapless Boris Johnson

The almost uniform laughter in political circles at Boris Johnson being turned away at his local polling station for not having the correct ID has, of course, far more serious undertones.

The Guardian reports that the former prime minister was initially told by polling station staff he would not be allowed to vote in the police and crime commissioner election in South Oxfordshire without proving his identity.

I have seen elsewhere that he brandished an envelope with his name and address on it as proof of who he is, showing once more that the former Prime Minister never really understood the legislation which he promoted in government, something that became apparant by his behaviour during lockdown.

This legislation was designed to suppress anti-Tory votes, a fact that is particularly evident by the fact that many of the forms of ID used by young people are not deemed valid.

In my local polling station, one young person brandished a student ID card only to be told it could not be accepted, nor can a young person's bus pass, though my older persons' pass is acceptable.

The Guardian tells us that the veterans minister apologised to former military personnel who were prevented from using their veterans ID to vote in the local elections in England. 

They add that Downing Street has now said it will “look into” changing the controversial rules, which require photo ID in order to vote, to allow veterans’ ID cards on to the list of valid identification.

Note that they aren't doing the same for young people.

Boris Johnson may have been the latest victim of this gerrymandering but our amusement should not blind us to the need to get rid of this pernicious requirement as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

The trashing of honour in politics

To be fair, there has always been dirty tricks in politics. Reading an account of the life of Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers not so long ago, I was struck at how similar the politics of that era was to the Trumpian world we have today. 

While in Britain, it was fairly common to buy votes and intimidate people into casting their ballot the right way right up to when Gladstone introduced the secret ballot, though there is little doubt it went on well past that time, though not so publicly.

There have been rotten boroughs, slanderous pamphlets and other tricks of the trade for as long as there have been elections, and the internet took all that to a new level with deep fakes to contend with as well.

I commented a few days ago on Conservative party staff and activists secretly operating a network of Facebook groups that have become a hotbed of racism, misinformation and support for criminal damage, while another staffer was caught red-handed buying up domain names for his bosses rival and using them to direct traffic to sites favourable to his cause.

Now, the Guardian reports that Reform UK has chosen to stand by candidates who have promoted conspiracy theories online, called the climate emergency “make-believe” and expressed vaccine-sceptic views.

The paper says that those fringe views, and more, were put forward by a group of seven candidates selected to stand for the rightwing populist party at the next general election – including several who will contest seats that some analysts consider to be their top targets:

Indicating the types of belief that Reform is willing to give a platform to, it said it was “proud” to field them as prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) on Thursday.

Among the views the party has publicly backed are Chris Farmer’s claim the climate emergency was invented as cover for a plan to install dictators in positions of power. The PPC for Gloucester also said a group of mayors representing the world’s leading cities was trying to use the climate emergency to justify banning people from travelling by private car.

Reform has also backed Trevor Lloyd-Jones’s promotion of content online relating to the 15-minute city conspiracy theory.

Lloyd-Jones, who is the party’s candidate in Aldershot – identified as one of Reform’s top targets, spread anti-vaccine content on Facebook, as well as a post that falsely claimed the former health secretary Matt Hancock “killed [pensioners] with midazolam and called it Covid”.

The party has also backed Lynn Murphy – their candidate in Easington, another key seat – who referred to a “make-believe climate crisis” and said: “You are deluded if you think the world is going to end due to climate change.”

In recent months, Reform has been forced to drop a host of PPCs for expressing objectionable views, prompting serious questions about the vetting processes of a party some polls have in third place. Earlier this month, the party’s leader, Richard Tice, claimed it had published its candidates list so the media could carry out vetting on its behalf.

But Reform appears to have changed approach more recently, telling the Mirror days later that it was standing by a candidate accused of posting racist messages online – characterising the posts as merely asking “questions of the leftwing establishment”.

Also deemed acceptable behaviour by Reform was Hamish Haddow’s claim the RNLI, which is often called upon to rescue people who have attempted the perilous Channel crossing to reach the UK, has been “working as a taxi service for illegal immigrants”.

Haddow, the party’s PPC in Chipping Barnet, stood down as a Conservative candidate for local elections in 2022 after saying he was rooting for Vladimir Putin. He claimed later he was joking about the reference to Putin. This did not bar his selection for Reform.

The party has also backed Andrea Whitehead, who has posted online about the chemtrail conspiracy theory, which claims vapour trails left in aircraft’s wake are evidence that malign forces are spraying the populace with dangerous chemicals.

Also judged acceptable by Reform this week was Alex Stevenson’s promotion of anti-vaccine content online. In addition, the prospective candidate for the key Amber Valley seat promoted some of the conspiracy theories pushed by the former Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who lost the whip in January after comparing the use of Covid vaccines to the Holocaust.

Reform has said it will stand by the PPC Noel Matthews, who is also the party official often given responsibility for dropping fellow PPCs whose views have been judged to be too toxic.

Matthews, who stood unsuccessfully in 2019, was reselected for the next general election in the knowledge he had reportedly defended the convicted fraudster and far-right agitator Tommy Robinson online, as well as saying Islamophobia was “made up”.

Far from distancing Reform from such views as those put forward by the seven PPCs, a party spokesperson indicated some were in tune with official party policy.

Well, at least they are being up-front about the type party they are. When it becomes really worrying is if one of these individuals is actually elected.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Tory Rwanda flop?

Putting aside the immoral nature of the very idea of sending refugees fleeing war and famine to an unsafe country with a dodgy humn rights record, and ignoring for now the near half a billion pound cost of sending migrants to Rwanda, money that could be used to fix the asylum system, what could possibly go wrong with the Tory's big idea?

Well, for a start, getting the policy off the starting blocks is not exactly easy. Today's Independent for example, reports that finally, the first failed asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda, but he had to be bribed with £3,000 to agree to go. Others may not be so willing, especially with the prospect of further court challenges in the air.

More fundmamentally, the Mirror tells us that thousands of asylum seekers who have been earmarked by the Home Office for deportation to Rwanda have just vanished. Quelle surprise!

They say that a document published on Monday revealed that out of 5,700 people identified for removal, 2,145 "continue to report to the Home Office and can be located for detention", but it concedes that the Government doesn't know where over half of them are:

Last week the PM said he hopes to start sending people to Rwanda in July after the Safety of Rwanda Act passed into law. The legislation was designed to narrow the grounds of legal challenge.

But the Home Office impact assessment also acknowledges there could be further delays to deportations caused by MPs making last-minute representations to suspend removals. This is because of the long-standing parliamentary convention whereby removals can be suspended until a case has been considered and a response issued to the MP.

The assessment says that given the "novel nature" of the scheme, "we may expect future (Migration and Economic Development Partnership) cases to attract significant attention from MPs, and responders may be overwhelmed by cases, causing a delay or removal to be cancelled pending a response."

In the meantime, an Irish High Court has ruled that the UK is no longer a "safe third country" for returning asylum seekers because of the Rwanda plan, while the latest Home Office figures show that more than 7,000 asylum seekers have arrived on small boats so far this year - a new record for the first four months of a calendar year.

It's not going well for Rishi Sunak's immigration policy.

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