Grenfell Tower

May returns – but for how long?

This week, Prime Minister Theresa May returned from her holidays and was immediately thrown back into a wind of turmoil; she was criticised for her response to Trump’s comments to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing many to question May’s subservience to President Trump.  May appeared to criticise Donald Trump for his comments about last weekend’s violent far-right rallies in Charlottesville, saying there is “no equivalence” between fascists and their opponents. Her remarks came a day after Trump said left-wing counter-protesters at the white supremacist demonstrations were equally to blame for violent clashes, in which one woman died.

 

With Theresa May now back from her summer holidays, she’ll also have to confront the in-party disputes which surfaced to the public eye before the parliamentary recess.

Speaking of party disputes and possible leadership elections…

Some of you regular readers may recall in my post ‘Government in Mayhem‘, I discussed the issue of Europe and the divide its causing within the Conservative Party, leading to speculation of who will contest the leadership to replace Theresa May. One of those possible contenders was Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, but this week the backbench MP with a reputation as a traditionalist,  dismissed reports he could be the next Tory party leader. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Rees-Mogg said he ““wouldn’t put any money on it” , attributing the rumours to a lack of “pressing UK political news” during Parliament’s August recess. His comments came after two newspapers ran separately sourced stories over the weekend claiming the North East Somerset MP is considering launching a challenge to Theresa May, while a poll of Conservative members last week put him in second place behind Brexit Secretary David Davis.

However, Rees-Mogg has declined to rule out standing in a future leadership contest, which is widely expected to occur before the next General Election due to discontent among Conservatives over May’s performance in June’s vote. Could time be running out for Theresa May?

 

As the inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower gets underway, details were released about the scope of the inquiry which will begin this Monday. The probe, which is being led by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will evaluate the actions of Kensington and Chelsea council in response to the blaze, which killed at least 80 people, as well as the adequacy of fire regulations and the tower’s recent refurbishment. However, it will not consider broader issues relating to social housing policy, a decision in which many survivors and activists have rallied against.

May said she was “determined that the broader questions raised by this fire, including around social housing, are not left unanswered”.

The government says it wants all those affected by the disaster to participate in the investigation, but some survivors have previously threatened to boycott the probe if it does not broach issues such as social housing, which they believe contributed to the blaze.

 

Another Brexit update…

Brexit Secretary David Davis has said a temporary customs arrangement with the EU would be “in both sides’ interest” but that any such transition period should not exceed two years, with a deadline of the 2022 General Election as the “absolute maximum”. The customs union allows goods to travel across the EU free of tariffs and checks. Remaining part of this system would restrict Britain’s ability to sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries, as the customs union imposes a common tariff on goods outside of the bloc. However, ministers say staying in the union for a few years post-Brexit would “enable business to continue as usual” until a new agreement is introduced.

For the post-Brexit customs system, the government intends to seek an “innovative and untested approach” that could mean no customs checks at UK-EU borders. However, Guy Verhofstadt, head negotiator for the European Parliament, has described the idea of “invisible borders” as a “fantasy”.

 

The government has also set out its proposals for the Northern Irish border after Brexit, which it hopes will avoid the need for a ‘hard’ border with customs posts for fear of reigniting conflict between nationalists and unionists in the region. When Brexit talks resume in two weeks, UK officials will ask the EU to grant exemptions for all Northern Irish small traders and farmers from customs and food safety checks. In return, the UK would introduce rules to achieve “regulatory equivalence” with the EU, eliminating the need for inspections of live animals and other goods. Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the land border must be “as seamless as possible” to preserve peace in Northern Ireland.
Commentators however, have raised concerns EU economic migrants could travel through the Republic of Ireland to gain access to the UK, but the government argues it could limit the impact of such undocumented immigration through tighter work permit checks in Britain.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched plans to fit every slaughterhouse in the UK with CCTV as part of an initiative to monitor animal welfare and enforce anti-cruelty laws. Under the proposals, vets will have unrestricted access to the footage, which must be installed in all areas where live animals are present. The government also plans to raise standards for farm animals and domestic pets by updating animal welfare codes, with the first review set to cover chickens bred for meat.

 
Shadow Equalities Minister Sarah Champion has quit the Labour front bench following a backlash against an article published in The Sun on Friday, in which the Rotherham MP wrote, “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”. Champion initially tried to distance herself from the article, but resigned yesterday after expressing concern the controversy would “distract from the crucial issues around child protection”. Her article was written in response to the conviction of 17 men – some of whom were Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian – who were found guilty of raping young girls as part of a sexual grooming network in Newcastle.

 
The sound of Big Ben will be no more…well at least until 2021 to allow for essential repair works to take place. The clock’s famous chimes will sound for a final time at midday on Monday 21st August before being disconnected, but will continue to ring for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. Guess we’ll just have to play videos of the chimes until the repair work is complete eh!

 

MPs will return to their duties in the Commons on 5th September 2017.

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“Give our public sector workers a pay rise!”

The big news this week in the world of British Politics has been over the 1% pay cap on public sector workers. If you’re wondering what the heck is a 1% pay cap, take a seat while this blog post gives you the lowdown…

What is the 1% pay cap on public sector workers?

The cap, first introduced by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in 2013 replaced a two-year pay freeze as part of a wide-ranging austerity package introduced by the coalition government. What this means is many public sector workers since the introduction of the pay cap have not seen a rise in their wages as the cap permits a 1% per cent annual increase in public sector pay. However the wages of those in the private sector has increased ever so slightly in comparison. Take a look at the diagram below…

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

Graph depicts percentage changes between the private and public sector. Source: Source: ONS – Annual % changes in three month average regular pay

 

So why all the fuss now? 

In line with recent tragedies in Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and the fire at Grenfell Tower, our emergency services have been praised by politicians and civilians alike. Everyday and especially in dire times, our public servants go above and beyond which is why many politicians have called for their hard efforts to be recognised by lifting the 1% pay cap to ensure all public servants receive a pay rise.

Senior MPs such as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove are amongst many Conservative cabinet ministers and backbench MPs  who are calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to consider lifting the 1% pay cap for public sector workers. Although Johnson and Gove did not out-rightly suggest the cap should be lifted for all 5.1m public sector workers, they have encouraged Theresa May to listen to an upcoming report by pay review bodies, which most likely will recommend the government lift the cap when it is published later this month. In the  Conservative Party manifesto, they had committed to keeping the cap until 2020.

The Labour Party  have also called for the cap to be lifted as they proposed an amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for an end to the pay cap, however it was rejected by 323 MPs in a vote in the House of Commons as the DUP voted in line with the Conservative Party as part of their informal coalition. In response to Labour’s defeated amendment, the leader of the Party, Jeremy Corbyn, commented:

“Tonight, the Conservatives had an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, by ending cuts to our police and fire service and lifting the public sector pay cap.

“Although government ministers said they had learned the lessons of the general election and were listening to voters, it is clear that nothing has changed.

They had the perfect opportunity to walk the walk, but instead they marched through the lobby to show Tory austerity is business as usual.

While the money is there when the Conservatives need it to keep themselves in office, the rest of the country now face more devastating cuts to our emergency and other vital services.

The Conservatives clearly plan to keep working for a privileged few. Only Labour is ready to form a government that will work for the many.”

 

Despite pressures from the two major political parties, No. 10 Downing Street (where Prime Minister Theresa May resides) have confirmed there will be no changes to the pay cap. The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said they are “working through recommendations” from the public sector pay review bodies and would respond to those recommendations “in due course”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that increasing public sector pay in line with the private sector would cost an extra £6.3bn a year. Some might say if Theresa May can find an extra £1.5bn to keep her position as Prime Minister, she could surely offer the same courtesy and allow public sector workers to have some stability through their pay. But hey, it’s not like we don’t have nurses and teachers leaving the profession, seeking employment across the pond and risking the future of our younger generation…

In addition to the 1% annual rise, some NHS staff also get gradual increases in their pay as they progress in their roles.

The public sector employs millions of people both within central government and local government. This includes:

  • NHS workers (domestic staff, porters, administrators, nurses, doctors etc)
  • Teachers and those who work in education
  • Law enforcement and security
  • Social Services
  • Armed Forces
  • Police
  • Fire Service
  • Justice

And many more…

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the pay review bodies should consider a pay rise for public sector workers in line with the rise in average earnings across the economy.

Other things you may have missed…

Along with Brexit negotiations, the UK government has decided to pull out of the London Fisheries Convention which allows foreign countries to fish in British waters. The Convention was signed in 1964, before the UK joined the EU; withdrawal will take two years. Under the convention, vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are permitted to fish within six and 12 nautical miles off the UK coastline. British vessels will also lose the right to fish in the waters of other nations. Environment Secretary Michael Gove says the withdrawal will let the UK “take back control of our fishing policies”. But Greenpeace UK warned the move alone would not deliver a better future for the UK fishing industry. Looks like the UK really is ‘taking back control’…

 

On the subject of ‘taking back control’…

The government has reportedly dropped its ‘have cake and eat it‘ approach to Brexit, as ongoing negotiations have caused the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) to now accept that Britain must choose between privileged market access and political control in Brexit talks with the European Union. This change of thinking within the government represents a clear departure from the early negotiating position set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech in January. May suggested that Britain would be able to negotiate a Brexit deal based on full access to the European single market without concessions over immigration and payments to the EU. Civil servants have reportedly since told government officials they face a choice between a deal based on preferential access to the single market but surrendering demands for independent immigration and leaving the ECJ, or a “taking back control” agreement cutting all ties with the EU but with a less favourable trade deal.

 

Pensions minister, Guy Opperman, has been criticised for his suggestion that millions of women under the age of 60 who face cuts to their state pension should take up apprenticeships in order to re-enter employment. His comments were made at a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the changes to the law which will mean the state pension age will rise from 60 to 66 by 2020, delaying access to pensions for women born in the 1950s. SNP minister, Mhairi Black has campaigned frequently against the change in law and had told MPs if the Conservatives could find £1bn to strike a deal with the DUP, they could afford to give women the pensions they are due. Despite many ministers across the political parties arguing the changes are unfair, Mr Opperman says the government is committed to “life-long learning” and will make no concessions.

 

The German Green party, which had pushed for LGBT rights for decades, finally got their victory after the German parliament voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage by 393 votes to 226 with four abstentions. As it was a free vote, lawmakers were permitted to vote according to their conscience rather than obeying party lines. The vote which permits LGBT people to marry and adopt was called by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition allies the Social Democrats (SDP). However, Merkel voted against the move. Congrats Germany! 🇧🇪🌈

Who says this blog only comments on British Politics eh! 😉