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Saturday, July 06, 2024

Time to redress the media balance

In many ways Nigel Farage's Reform was a victim of its own hype. For a party that has had years of preferential treatment on the UK media and was being touted as winning thirteen plus seats, to end up with just five must have been a major disappointment. 

What is most disturbing though has been the reaction of the many media outlets who seem to believe that because Farage is now an MP and has four other MPs to back him up, then they are now justified in continuing that sort of coverage.

Let's put this in context. The UK Reform Party have five MPs, the Greens have four, Plaid Cymru have four, the Liberal Dempcrats have 72. None of those parties have had the sort of coverage that Farage and his fellow travellers have had. 

The BBC in particular needs to get its act together on this. Their coverage of Farage has defied their duty to impartiality and balance for a long time now.

Farage may be good entertainment but political coverage is more serious than that. It's time for all media outlets to redress the balance and give the other parties a much bigger slice of the cake.

Friday, July 05, 2024

The discredited first past the post system - updated

It is unusual for the Liberal Democrats to actually benefit from the first past the post voting system but yesterday they were one of the few parties whose seat total actually came close to their percentage of votes - seventy one seats so far or 11% of the available seats for 12% of the vote.

The biggest losers were the Tories who with 121 seats, amounting to 18.6% of the total MPs, actually polled 24% of the votes, while the biggest winner were Labour, whose vote share of 34% barely lifted off its 2019 level of 32.2%, but who have secured 412 seats, the equivalent of 63% of the membership of the House of Commons.

In many ways it is gratifying to see the Tory Party, who so strongly opposed proportional representation in the 2011 referendum get punished in this way. Despite this, I'm not expecting them to change their mind on electoral reform, nor is Keir Starmer going to jeopardise his super-majority in the future by doing a u-turn either.

The combined vote of the Labour and Tory parties amounts to just 58% of those cast, but they hold  83% of the seats between them. That is the smallest share of the vote for the two biggest parties ever.

This election result highlights the basic unfairness of our voting system in a very dramatic way. Surely, it is time to change it to a fairer one in which people actually get what they voted for.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Labour abandons pro-EU voters

The Guardian reports that Keir Starmer has insisted the UK will not rejoin the EU, the single market or the customs union within his lifetime.

The paper says that the Labour leader told reporters on Wednesday he did not think Britain would go back into any of the three blocs while he was alive, all but ruling out rejoining even if he wins a second term in office:

With less than 24 hours to go until polls open, Starmer has largely avoided talking about relations with the EU during the campaign, as Labour seeks to avoid the mistakes it made in 2019 when it alienated Leave voters by promising a second referendum.

Some have suggested this reluctance to talk about the issue masked a desire to pursue re-entry to the customs union or single market during a second Labour term, something other senior figures in the party have failed to rule out. Starmer insisted on Wednesday, however, this was not the case.

Asked whether he could see any circumstances where the UK rejoined the single market or customs union within his lifetime, Starmer said: “No. I don’t think that that is going to happen. I’ve been really clear about not rejoining the EU, the single market or the customs union – or [allowing a] return to freedom of movement.”

He repeated, however, his view that Labour could achieve better trading arrangements with the EU in certain industries. “I do think we could get a better deal than the botched deal we got under Boris Johnson on the trading front, in research and development and on security,” he said.

How exactly Starmer expects to achieve the economic growth that Labour's plans are preditated on achieving without engaging with the EU is not explained. Whatever the answer, it is now clear that those who believe that we need to work more closely with the European Community have no friends in Labour.

If they want to secure higher growth by negotiating deals with the EU and even, perhaps, joining the single community, then their only option is the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Political pariah?

Labour may well be soaring ahead in England, but here in Wales they are not so buoyant and feedback on the doorsteps is that people are disillusioned with their performance in the Senedd, the 20mph default speed limit, £18m a year extra for 36 more Senedd Members and First Minister, Vaughan Gething's donations scandal, and in particular that he is still there despite losing a no confidence vote.

It is no surprise therefore that Nation Cymru has reported that a Labour general election battle bus touring Wales did not have Vaughan Gething as a passenger when it visited the seat where residents’ lives have been made a misery by his criminal donor.

Mr Gething accepted £200k for his Welsh Labour leadership campaign from a company owned by businessman David Neal, who was given two suspended prison sentences for dumping toxic sludge in the Gwent Levels protected landscape.

Another of Mr Neal’s companies has been responsible for the emission of nauseous odours from the Withyhedge landfill site near Haverfordwest for the best part of a year.

At the weekend, the party battle bus visited the new seat of Mid and South Pembrokeshire. But when a number of prominent Welsh Labour politicians disembarked to be greeted by their local candidate Henry Tufnell, there was no sign of the First Minister.

Early in the general election campaign NationCymru revealed how Mr Tufnell had asked Welsh Labour to tell Mr Gething to keep away from his constituency because of the First Minister’s association with Mr Neal.

Mr Tufnell was told off by party apparatchiks for daring to tell the truth to NationCymru and later he and Mr Gething were pictured eating ice creams together on the Pembrokeshire coast.

Since then a damning Dispatches programme has been broadcast on Channel 4 alleging that Mr Neal is under investigation for “mischaracterising” waste sent to Withyhedge so he makes savings on his landfill tax bill.

A Labour insider said: “ Vaughan’s supporters are quick to claim his crisis is just a Cardiff Bay bubble thing. The reality is very different, Pembrokeshire residents have to live with the stink caused by his associate every day. It is no surprise he didn’t fancy joining this particular campaign stunt, and it’s obvious UK Labour want nothing to do with him.

“Vaughan claimed he would be an electoral asset during his leadership campaign, but he has been incredibly low profile throughout the election. His polling numbers are damning, people have made their minds up and it’s only going to get worse if he doesn’t return the dirty donation money.”

We asked Welsh Labour why Mr Gething wasn’t on the campaign bus, but did not receive a response.

It suits the opposition of course to keep Gething in post, but Labour are clearly suffering because of it and it's not going away soon.

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Time to rein in the water companies


The Guardian reports that Thames Water has been urged to show greater transparency over its finances and accused of “financial chicanery” after it emerged its board had approved a £150m dividend hours before its shareholders U-turned on providing emergency funding.

The paper says that the board of the struggling water supplier agreed to the payout at a meeting on 27 March. The following day, the debt-laden company said its investors were no longer willing to provide £500m of funding they had previously pledged, raising the prospect that the company may be temporarily nationalised. Thames Water made no mention of the dividend payment at that point:

The water industry regulator, Ofwat, planned to investigate the circumstances around the dividend paid by Thames, sources said. The company was already under investigation over its decision to pay a separate £37.5m dividend at the time the £150m dividend was paid.

Britain’s biggest water supplier said the payment was made from the regulated company to an intermediate parent company, Kemble Water Eurobond, to “settle a pension top-up payment” and “surrender relief” on tax losses.

Gary Carter, GMB national officer, said: “Thames Water has once again shown an alarming lack of transparency.

“Of course GMB wants our members’ pension pots to get back in the black – but shareholders should be topping it up.

“Instead they’re taking money out of the regulated company, money needed to stop spills and pay our members’ wages.”

He added: “Thames Water needs to front up about its financial chicanery, while shareholders need to cough up to fill the pensions black hole – not customers or taxpayers.”

The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney, who has called for Thames Water to be put into special administration by the government and for it to be reformed as a public benefit company, said: “This is a scandalous payout while our rivers are polluted with sewage and the company stands on the brink of bankruptcy.

“It is concrete evidence of why we need to abolish Ofwat and create a new water regulator with real teeth and power.

“The public will never forgive the Conservative party for how they have let water firms get away with financial mismanagement and environmental vandalism.”

Thames Water is just the tip of an ongoing scandal in which water companies are putting profit before the environment. That is why the Liberal Democrats have put in place a policy to bring these companies to heel. This involves:

* Setting meaningful targets and deadlines for water companies to end sewage discharges inIntroduce a Sewage Tax on water companies profits to fund the cleanup of waterways.to waterways.

* Introducing a Sewage Tax on water companies profits to fund the cleanup of waterways.

* Reducing the number of licences given to water companies permitting them to discharge sewage into rivers.

* Strengthening Ofwat’s powers to hold the companies accountable for discharging raw sewage into rivers.

* Adding local environmental groups onto water companies’ boards.

At the end of the day, however, the obvious solution is to renationalise the companies and have them working for the public benefit once again.

Monday, July 01, 2024

Can we stem the rising far right tide in the UK?

With far right parties topping the polls in France, if exit polls are to be believed, our thoughts must turn to how we can prevent the same thing happening in the UK. This is not just a Nigel Farage-related question, though his party is certainly benefiting from the disillusion that curently exists with politics and politicians in this country.

The Guardian references a report from the Fairness Foundation which concludes that the next government must take decisive action to reduce inequality or risk unprecedented far-right gains.

The paper says that the Foundation has concluded Britain will become more unfair and unequal over the next five years, with growing inequality in health, housing, poverty and the north-south income divide:

More than 30 people from business, academia and civil society have backed the report’s findings in a letter to all party leaders which expresses their dismay at the “lack of political will to address unfairness and inequality” in the UK.

“We believe that this is not only morally wrong, but is causing deep damage to our society, economy and democracy, and undermining the fight against the climate crisis,” they say.

“Failure to act now will make us less healthy, productive, efficient, resilient and cohesive.”

The new report, Canaries, warns that the number of children in relative poverty is set to rise from 30% to 33% by 2028, due to a freeze in housing benefit, the end of cost of living payments and the two-child benefit cap.

It also says that the number of children who live in overcrowded homes will rise from 1.8 million to 2 million by 2030, as housing becomes more expensive.

The average person in south-east England is £195,400 wealthier than in the north, a gap that is expected to grow to £229,000 by 2029 due to the unequal inheritance of wealth.

Education attainment gaps are likely to rise because school budgets are set to decline over the next five years.

Only 25.2% of disadvantaged children get five or more good GCSEs compared with 52.4% of their peers without disadvantages – a gap that has been widening since 2017.

And the earnings gap between chief executives and their employees is also likely to grow. FTSE350 CEOs earn 57 times more than the median wage of their workers and earnings inequality has grown by 20% from 1980 to 2019.

Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said that most people in the UK agree that we must urgently address inequality. “But all the evidence points to the fact that Britain is a deeply unfair and unequal country,” he said.

“This undermines the very foundations of our society, damages our economy and endangers our democracy; and unfairness in Britain looks set to get even worse over the next few years. The canaries in the coal mine are no longer singing, and the next government needs to pay attention.”

Unfairness means people in deprived areas are more likely to fall ill for decades to come, the report says. These types of inequality act as a brake on economic growth, reduce social mobility and fuel social unrest.

Shabna Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said: “There is a real threat that, unless a new government delivers swift and meaningful change to inequality, we will see far-right parties capitalise on desperation and despair and become a real electoral threat.”

The report’s recommendations include a plea to scrap the two-child benefit cap and adopt advice from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust to introduce an “essentials guarantee” – a minimum level of Universal Credit support.

It also backs the Resolution Foundation’s suggestion of creating a £10,000 “citizens inheritance” given to all 30-year-olds, and a “universal savings account” merging pensions, Lifetime ISAs and Help to Save.

If the next government doesnt address this crisis then there is a real possibility of the far right here replicating the success of their sister party in France. Labour, the most likely next government, really needs to step up to the mark on this agenda.

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