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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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Is the UK government doing enough to invest in themselves as well as our public services?

In the week where President Trump lost yet ANOTHER White House staff member, the UK Conservative government announced plans to invest more money in mental health.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised thousands more mental health workers are to be recruited by the NHS in England, with the aim of treating an extra 1m patients by 2020-21. Announcing the government’s £1.3bn expansion plan, Hunt said it is time to end the “historical imbalance” between mental and physical health services.

 

Under David Cameron’s leadership, billions of pounds of extra investment into mental health was promised, with a similar plan and target of recruitment and care provisions by 2021 so Hunt’s recent promise will be taken with some apprehension….

The recent plans set out by the Health Secretary mainly focus on child and adolescent mental health services, therapists delivering talking therapies for adults and nurses working in crisis care. The plans also include improving staff training, encouraging those who have left the profession to return, and addressing a high dropout rate among trainees.

The plans include:

  • 2,000 more nurses, consultants and therapist posts in child and adolescent mental health services
  • 2,900 additional therapists and health professionals supporting adult talking therapies
  • 4,800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings
  • More mental health support for women around the time they give birth and early intervention teams working with people at risk of psychosis

 

In response to the above plans, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the plans fail to “add up”, stating more money will be required in order to train staff on time.

Despite the government’s optimism, recent data shows many thousands of nursing posts currently remain unfilled and Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, Barbara Keeley, has said more than just money is necessary to overcome recruitment issues, accusing the government of offering “little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale”.

Some might say it is a good thing that the government are committing to investing in mental health services, especially with the long waiting lists for therapists and the shortage of nurses in the profession, so why the criticism? You only have to look at the governments failures on mental health to understand why…

  • Under the Conservative government, budgets for mental health trusts in England fell by ‘more than 8 percent’ in real terms
  • The number of nurses working in mental health fell by 10% since 2010 from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015
  • ‘Inadequate’ mental health services have ‘made it harder for abused children to receive correct help’. Children are therefore forced to deal with the “corrosive consequences” of abuse alone
  • A report by the Kings Trust in 2015 claimed that only 14% of patients said they had received appropriate care in a moment of crisis
  • The same report by the Kings Trust added that the drive in the need to reduce costs has resulted in trusts merging mental health services, embarking on “large-scale transformation programmes aimed at shifting demand away from acute services towards recovery-based and self-management”

 

With such a poor record on mental health investment, it begs us to question whether the Conservative government are doing enough or whether they even know the type of investment that is required in order to tackle the lack of mental health provisions, and more broadly, the care crisis within our NHS.

 

As the Conservatives attempt to invest in mental health, it also appears they may be trying to re-invest in themselves as they reflect on their failures during the 2017 General Election campaign…

 

Theresa May’s former adviser, Nick Timothy told the Daily Telegraph that the Conservative Party’s election campaign should have focused on ‘change not continuity’ .

He admitted that they had underestimated Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and that Downing Street was also guilty of a breakdown in communication with both the public and Whitehall departments.

Timothy was joint Chief of Staff with Fiona Hill and co-wrote the Conservative’s 2017 election manifesto. Looks like he’s admitting his involvement in the party’s demise…good thing he resigned then. But he has since found a new job as a new columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He concluded his interview:

“Overall the lesson of the election for the party and for the government cannot be: ‘Oh well, we tried that and we didn’t win the election we were hoping for so let’s not try it any more’,” he said.

“If the party retreats to a much more orthodox Conservative proposition then I worry that won’t be sufficient to tackle the big problems that the country has and in five years’ time we do risk the election of a dangerous left-wing alternative.”

From the Tories constant failures on NHS funding and mental health investment, it doesn’t look like they know how to tackle the ‘big problems that the country has’ Mr Timothy. Given the latest polling favouring a Labour government, perhaps a left-wing alternative is exactly what’s needed.

 

Another Brexit update…

The Local Government Association (LGA) which represents 370 councils in England and Wales have requested billions of pounds in extra funding from the Treasury once the UK leaves the EU in order to replace the money lost from the bloc’s regeneration funds. The LGA have called on ministers to guarantee regeneration projects will not be forgotten as a consequence of Brexit. It is estimated around £8.4bn will have been allocated to British councils through the European structural and investment funds in the six years leading up to 2020. The government has proposed a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this arm of financial assistance provided by Brussels when the UK leaves the union. Following Brexit, any new projects of regeneration will have to pass an assessment process overseen by the Treasury to receive funding. The calls from local councils come as Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed reports cabinet has agreed to seek a transitional period of three years after leaving the EU, meaning freedom of movement and access to the single market may continue until 2022.

 

Other things you may have missed…

When in business or in any line of work, we all want to trust the people we work with or employ right? Well politicians aren’t exempt as one in five MPs continue to employ a member of their family using taxpayer’s money despite the practice being banned for new members of Parliament. The rules were introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal in 2010, although many MPs were angered by the change, claiming spouses were best able to handle the unpredictable work patterns, long hours, and need for absolute trust between an MP and their secretary or assistant. Campaigners, including Alexandra Runswick, director of voting reform campaign group Unlock Democracy, has said the ban reflects the public’s concerns of nepotism and the potential abuse of public money, but an end date is necessary to bring the rules into force for old and new MPs alike.

 

British Gas has announced it will increase electricity prices by 12.5% from 15th September, in a move set to affect 3.1m UK customers particularly the elderly and those on low incomes. Gas prices will remain unchanged, the average annual duel-fuel bill for a household on a standard tariff will rise by £76 to £1,120 – an increase of 7.3%. Centrica, which owns British Gas, has argued the rise is necessary due to higher distribution costs and the costs of government policy, but Downing Street has denied its policies have caused the price rise. To counter adverse effects on “vulnerable customers” the company has pledged to credit more than 200,000 people on lower incomes with £76.

How very noble.

Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead has criticised the government for abandoning its pre-election promise to cap energy costs and stressed the need to stabilise energy prices.

 

It seems further cuts to the NHS will be made as according to the British Medical Association (BMA), the proposals being discussed could result in longer waiting times, reduced access to services and the closure of some hospitals and facilities. Plans are being made in line with the capped expenditure process, which was introduced this year to limit NHS spending in order to meet budgets. Health service leaders have refused to publish the plans, probably because said plans would be met with great uproar. Despite submitting Freedom of Information requests to NHS Improvement in order to acquire details of the plans, the BMA has so far failed to secure any significant details, leading deputy chairman, Dr David Wrigley, to say, “it is totally unacceptable that proposals of this scale […] are shrouded in such secrecy”.

As providers and receivers of the NHS, surely WE the public have a right to know what the government has planned for our national treasure? Y’know, the same NHS paid for by taxpayers?  Historically, the Conservative Party have known to be opponents of the National Health Service and the welfare state – in 1946, the Tories voted against the formation of the NHS 21 times before the act was passed, including both the Second and Third reading. Remember, ideologically, the Conservative party are against a ‘nanny state’, preferring the free market to take control (hence their obsession with privatisation). How then do we expect this current government to protect and fully fund the NHS when they inherently oppose its existence? If the NHS was so important and adhered to their party values, why then would they be selling it off piece by piece?

One thing’s for sure, neither medical professionals nor recipients of NHS services should stay quiet. The National Health Service is at risk and it is up to us to save it.

A renewed (post-Brexit) ‘special relationship’?

Last week Parliamentarians commenced their summer break, and with a ‘zombie government’ in procession, not much is going in the world of British politics. But even so there are still several issues which continue to be scrutinised and debated, the major one being (you guessed it) BREXIT!

Brexit negotiations commenced in Brussels a few weeks ago now and as expected not much has been agreed but there is indeed much that needs to be compromised on. As Britain looks to seek trade deals outside of the European Union, it seems Britain will rely heavily on it’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, now more than ever.

UK/US Special Relationship: derived from Winston Churchill’s 1946 ‘Iron Curtain Speech’, the term describes the political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

As talks continue, politicians and commentators alike have been trying to hazard a guess as to what trade deals may be made with other countries and how quickly those deals would be able to come to pass. Undoubtedly because of the UK/US special relationship, trade with America would be top of the list. But what exactly would we be trading with them? One thing that has dominated the headlines this week is chlorinated chicken. *cringe*
Earlier this week, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said any trade deal with the US would ‘have to include agriculture’ which sparked fears for the arrival of imported US chicken washed in chlorinated water and hormone-fed beef. Contradicting Fox’s statement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated we should not allow chlorinated chicken to be imported or the UK.

“No. I made it perfectly clear, and this is something on which all members of the Government are agreed. We are not going to dilute our high food-safety standards or our high environmental standards in pursuit of any trade deal. Our position when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and our position now, is to be a leader in environmental standards”

During his appearance on BBC Newsnight, Fox seemed to stand by his position in re-aligning Britain’s relationship with the US, saying there is “no health issue” with chlorine washed chicken and that concerns “lies around some of the secondary issues of animal welfare and it’s perfectly reasonable for people to raise that but it will come much further down the road.”

 

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals left UK farmers competing against less-regulated foreign rivals. They warned that imports from lower-welfare countries could “undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards – contrary to the wishes of the UK industry”.

What this demonstrates is that Brexit is more than just about the economy and immigration; it will have a life-changing impact on every single Briton and will be reflected even in the food we buy and the meals we eat. In a world where many are becoming health conscious (you only have to watch Netflix’s ‘What the Health‘ and rethink your whole diet!), how can we look after ourselves and how can we ensure the food we eat doesn’t have a long-term impact on our health? As we all know, chlorine is more widely used in swimming pools to keep them free of bacteria that can be used to harm us, but there is a BIG difference between swimming in it and ingesting it.

And it’s not only chicken we should be worried about – there are now fears from politicians in Scotland that sub-standard whisky could be imported if the UK strikes a trade deal with the US after Brexit.

The Scotch whisky industry is worth £4bn to Scotland and it is protected from sub-standard products by an EU definition of whisky – but this will change after our European divorce. Politicians in Scotland have thus written to the UK Government, asking for a legal definition of the spirit to be enshrined into law.

Scottish economy secretary Keith Brown said: “Aside from being a key part of Scottish culture and identity, our whisky industry supports around 20,000 jobs. The US made clear in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions that they would support a relaxation of the definition of whisky, which would open the market up to a number of products which do not currently meet that standard”.

It seems where Brexit is concerned, NOTHING is safe…

 

Conservative Party divisions continue…

…and at the heart of those divisions is, you guessed it, BREXIT.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced freedom of movement between Britain and the European Union will end as soon as the UK withdraws from the bloc in March 2019. In response, Home Secretary Amber Rudd commented:

“We are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK.”

Liam Fox, a hard-line brexiteer has said keeping free movement after Brexit would not keep in line with the EU Referendum result of last June. However, Phillip Hammond has said free movement wouldn’t necessarily be curtailed straight after Brexit, reiterating the need for a transitional period and recommending that new trade deals and regulated movement of peoples isn’t done immediately after leaving the union.

It was only last week there were a few leaks made by cabinet ministers in regards to remarks made by the Chancellor, again sparked from divisions over Brexit so this week to see again another fisticuffs only demonstrates the deep emotions over the issue and proves just how difficult this divorce process will be, not just with our European counterparts but on home soil.

Ministers have been particularly vocal over the post-Brexit transitional period and how that should look like. Pro-Brexiteers in visage the free movement of people will and should be different on the day after we leave the EU in comparison to the day before. These comments come from Mr Fox (he seems at odds with everybody this week eh!) who dismissed the idea that there is a broad consensus n Cabinet that free movement would end in name only for three years after Brexit, as part of a transition deal with the European Union.

Critics such as newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, has expressed to the media that the latest schism “reveals a deep, unbridgeable chasm between the Brexit fundamentalist and the pragmatists. Businesses which might have hoped that Philip Hammond had pulled the Government back from a commitment to a catastrophic cliff edge, crashing out of the EU, have been misled. There is no Cabinet consensus for moderation. And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty”.

The Chancellor has said there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel has warned that Britain could have to pay a Brexit divorce bill of up to £54bn.

“It is now time for the European Union to make an analogy with the famous quote of Mrs Thatcher, ‘We want our money back'”

Downing Street expects to reveal plans for a new immigration system later this year, to be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU. Amber Rudd has also commissioned a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of EU migrants, as well as the possible impact of reduced EU migration. Whilst the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has hailed the report as a “sensible first step”, whilst critics have said the study, which is to be published just six months before Brexit, will come a year too late.

 

So much for enjoying the start of summer and listening to May’s call for “strength and unity” eh!

 

Other things you may have missed…

History was made this week as Brenda Hale became the first female president of the Supreme Court. Also another female judge, Lady Justice Black, became the second woman appointed to Britain’s highest court. Hale, a champion of diversity in the judiciary who joined the Supreme Court in 2009, has previously said, “Excellence is important but so is diversity of expertise”, and in 2015 warned the Supreme Court should be ashamed if it does not become more representative of the population. Her appointment is historically important as the Supreme Court has over the years been criticised for it’s lack of female representation in being primarily dominated by men. Hale’s new role shines a light on women being able to sit as judges in the UK’s highest court but we mustn’t sit idly – there is still long way to go in terms of wider representation, for instance appointment of judges from widespread ethnic minorities. Commenting on the announcement, the Bar Council said Hale’s appointment will “serve as an encouragement to all”.

 

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans to ban developers from selling newly built houses as leaseholds to protect homeowners from extortionate fees. Properties in the UK are either sold as freeholds or leaseholds, and those who buy leaseholds must pay fees to a freeholder, who owns the ground the house is built on. These fees – including service charges and ground rents – can increase by vast amounts every year, leaving homeowners paying thousands of pounds on top of their own mortgage payments. Under the proposals, ground rent would be significantly reduced and leaseholds on new builds banned. The planned proposal could prove to help the growing housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London, also giving first time buyers an opportunity to buy a property without the added hassle and cost.

With the way Brexit negotiations are going, we all could do with some good news!

 

Labour needs to be a movement, not a copycat

This week, Labour party members and affiliated supporters have been receiving their ballot papers; as a result, there has been last minute campaigns and continued fighting talk over who is best to lead the party and win the election in 2020.

Labour Leadership Candidates. From l-r: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn

During the campaign period, Jeremy Corbyn has received a lot of support from young people as well as the support from older voters. However, the surge his campaign has created has also received criticism from Blairites and those who sit on the right side of the political spectrum. All this back and forth between the ‘lefties’ and the ‘right-left’ have caused me to consider that actually, the momentum Tony Blair received can actually be compared to the current Corbynmania. Maybe this explains why the other contenders feel threatened by this surge of support. Food for thought eh?

Surely the way Corbyn’s campaign is engaging young people into the political debate is a good thing? Surely bringing something that is different to the status quo opens up the electorates eyes and ears? The fact that so many people across the country support Jeremy Corbyn and what he hopes to offer if he wins the leadership contest proves the electorate is done with ‘New Labour’. I  just don’t understand why so many New Labour supporters and right wing media are smearing his name and doubting his ability to move the party forward. Surely the amount of young people he’s been able to engage and the debates he’s opening speaks for itself? Rather than circumnavigating over the old dilemma of whether socialism is dead, maybe we should be asking ourselves whether New Labour is dead. It certainly may be the beginning of the end of the Thatcher-inspired branch of socialism as in recent weeks, we saw Blair and Brown trying to hold on to their creation, urging supporters to vote for someone other than Corbyn.

Jeremy is the only contesting leader that is providing an alternative, the only one who seems to be listening to what Labour supporters actually want, rather than making the choices and decisions for us. Let’s think about this in another light – why aren’t the media smearing the names of the other candidates standing for the leadership? It’s not because the other leaders haven’t got dirt of their own that’s for sure. Jeremy isn’t pro New Labour. Never has been so he’s seen as the slayer of something these Blairites are trying to hold on to. New Labour had its moment but the moment Tony Blair decided to go to Iraq, it went into cardiac arrest. New Labour is now in a coma, and if Corbyn is elected in a few weeks time, it’ll surely be dead. In a way, i kind of feel sorry for those at the top of the party who have been trying to preserve the foundations of New Labour. I think because it’s been a custom of the party for so long, people who support that branch of socialism have become to fear change. But it’s ironic isn’t it? I mean you hear from politicians that we need to be pragmatic as well as progressive but Jeremy Corbyn enters the contest to do just that and the media and those who oppose him are first to criticise. I guess its the fear talking within them.

It seems people across the country are pleading for an alternative, a party that actually stands for something, a purpose other than solely seeking election victory. You see, because before you can even set a goal, you need to grasp what your purpose is, what you hope to achieve and how you will do so. In order to win the hearts of the people, it doesn’t help by smearing someone’s name in dirt which is what i admire most about Jeremy Corbyn. It must be very hard trying to run a campaign and gain the support of people (hasn’t failed there) when the media and other fellow Labour Party members keep using your views and portraying them in a negative light.

Corbyn’s stance on foreign policy and international relations has also been highlighted and debated. From calling Hamas ‘friends’ to his connections with controversial figures in the Palestinian movement. The backlash against Corbyn’s campaign has gone as far as to base his credibility as leader on the people he knows. Firstly, i’m sure many of us know people with radical views who we talk to and probably consider as our friends, doesn’t mean we hold the same view as them. Secondly, how do we ever expect to achieve peace if we don’t speak to our enemies?! Peace isn’t achieved through endless wars and terror attacks, that’s for sure. This nature of not negotiating with the other side is completely ridiculous. Everyone has to be part of the peace process, including those we consider as the bad guys. That’s how we come to common ground. Wake up people!!!

Rather than dig up dirt on a genuine candidate who speaks his mind regardless of instructions by party whips and so on, why don’t we listen and partake in this new, open and honest politics Corbyn has ignited?

As someone who has worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn many a times, i know he’ll offer something different, something we’ve been wanting for a very long time. A movement. Corbyn’s politics hasn’t been the norm for over 20 years and that my friends is the real fear amongst anti-Corbynites.