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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Has UKIP finally self-destructed?

The decision by UKIP’s only member of parliament, Douglas Carswell, to quit his party to become an independent MP has been a long-time coming.

As the Guardian reports, Carswell, who defected from the Conservative party to UKIP in August 2014, said he was leaving “amicably, cheerfully and in the knowledge that we won”:

He said he would not be standing down before the next general election, and claimed there was no need for a byelection because he was not joining another party. UKIP, he added, had achieved its founding aims with the vote to leave the EU. “After 24 years, we have done it. Brexit is in good hands,” he said.

Shortly after the announcement on Saturday, the Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, said the party had not “benefited financially or organisationally from having Douglas in Westminster”.

“With this in mind, his departure will make no difference to my ability or focus on delivering the reforms I promised when elected as leader,” he said.

I am particularly intrigued as to where this leaves UKIP AM, Mark Reckless. As the Welsh Assembly's website points out, Reckless declares amongst his interests that he is a 'Part-time Director (not a company director) and Company Secretary, UKIP Parliamentary Resource Unit Limited (SO 4.3 - Band 2 - Between 5 hours and 20 hours per week). Company in receipt of House of Commons 'short money'.

I guess that is going to  go by the board now. But where does this leave UKIP? Well on the BBC day-in-day-out it seems. Even when they have no MPs the British Broadcasting Corporations obsession with this quasi-racist party continues unabated.

It is too early to predict the demise of UKIP, but really, what are they for any more? They have taken us to the edge of the abyss with no idea what to do next. They no longer have any representation in the House of Commons, donors are deserting them and once we come out of the EU a major source of income will be denied to them.

Polls suggest the party has lost around a third of its support since the EU referendum, while it has performed worse than expected at recent by-elections.

In the Telegraph, Carswell is quoted as suggesting that there is no longer any need for UKIP to exist. His resignation from the party, has provoked a furious reaction from the party leader, whilst Nigel Farage suggested that the MP jumped before he was pushed.

It is clear that UKIP are more interested in fighting amongst themselves than in serving the electorate.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When Twitter bites back

Social media can be an unrelenting and unsympathetic beast especially if one has built their career on controversy. Katie Hopkins has certainly discovered that is the case and now, rather less sensationally, so has the Conservative MP for Shipley, Phillip Davies.

Mr. Davies is not shy of making his views known. He has repeatedly made headlines for antagonising liberals, left-wingers, and feminists. Last year he attacked “feminist zealots”, got himself elected to Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, and tried to derail a bill intending to protect women against domestic violence.

So when, he stood up in the House of Commons yesterday and told MPs that he has “about 16,000 followers” on the service, “all of whom hate me”, then most of us were unsurprised though somebody might want to show him how to unfollow and block people if he needs to.

The Independent says that Mr Davies made the light-hearted admission in a parliamentary debate about who should be considered a journalist. He said he was “not entirely convinced” that “any moron on Twitter” should qualify as one under legislation:

“I’m not entirely sure of the numbers of people who aren’t on Twitter or Facebook, they’re the sensible ones, it seems to me in the country, that aren’t on Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t think there are that many,” Mr Davies told MPs on Friday.

“I’m not on Facebook, but I am on Twitter. I probably regard it as one of the worst things I did in my life, going on Twitter, madam deputy speaker, I have about 16,000 followers all of whom hate me.

“It’s all very interesting what they have to say, I’m sure, but it seems to me rather pointless, to be perfectly honest. They can hurl as much abuse as they like, it’s all very interesting, it doesn’t bother me, but I’m not entirely sure it gets us anywhere.”

I am almost tempted to follow him myself.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Tories' hapless record on defending an independent judiciary

The failure of Justice Secretary, Liz Truss to defend three judges smeared as “enemies of the people” in the wake of a high court ruling on Article 50 was a particular low-point for the UK's unwritten constitution and the Conservative Government itself.

Newspapers were targeting independent judges, who were doing their job of interpreting democratically decided legislation, and all we had from the politician whose job it is to defend them and the rule of law, was silence.

Quite rightly, the UK's most senior judge has now spoken out on this shameful episode. Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has said that Liz Truss was “completely and utterly wrong” to keep a near-silence in the face of a torrent of abuse directed at the judiciary in the wake of the High Court’s November 2016 Brexit ruling, in which three judges ruled that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, must trigger Article 50 in order to start the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The Independent reports on Lord Thomas evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee in which he said: “The circuit judges were very concerned. They wrote to the Lord Chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying ‘you’re an enemy of the people’.

“It is the only time in the whole of my judicial career that I have had to ask for the police to give us a measure of advice and protection [for Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the case] in relation to the emotions that were being stirred up.”

Former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Igor Judge, said at the time that Ms Truss’s silence constituted a “very serious” failing in her legal obligations: “She is in relative terms a very inexperienced politician with no legal experience, who has been silent, and answered to Downing Street when she should have been independent.”

Lord Thomas said it was Truss’s explicit duty as Lord Chancellor to defend the judges.

He said: “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind she was completely and absolutely wrong. And I am very disappointed,” he said.

“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”

There are times when a Minister must put party considerations aside and do the job they are appointed to. In this instance the Justice Secretary did not fulfil those expectations.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Labour civil war continues

Anybody who thinks that things have quieted down within the Labour Party following Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson's apparent rapprochement will have been rapidly disabused of that thought yesterday when Ken Livingstone went on the offensive.

Ken Livingstone is a close ally of the Labour Leader, though there was no indication that his call for a purge of anti-Corbyn elements had the official endorsement of the Islington North MP. Nevertheless, there is always the thought at the back of one's mind that Livingstone's role is to say the unspeakable on behalf of the leader in a way that is easily deniable if necessary.

According to the Guardian, the former London mayor has demanded the suspension of top Labour MPs he claims are “consciously undermining” Jeremy Corbyn.

The paper says that with tensions in the party already strained over Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Livingstone named top backbenchers Chuka Umunna and Wes Streeting as those he said were damaging the party.

He also called for the reintroduction of automatic re-selection of MPs, reviving the prospect that figures from the centrist wing of the party could be removed by grassroots Corbyn supporters:

Mr Livingstone, himself currently suspended from the party over allegedly anti-Semitic statements, said: “Those that have been most over the top I think should be suspended.

“I think the other thing that Jeremy should do is re-introduce automatic re-selection. It's really ridiculous that MPs in safe seats have a job for life. I'm particularly talking about Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting - basically it's the same group of MPs who were screaming that I'd said Hitler was a Zionist and I was anti-Semitic.

“The moment that issue went on hold, they were then blaming Jeremy for Britain voting to leave (the EU). Just endless criticism. It's only about a dozen of them. The simple fact is they are consciously undermining Jeremy and damaging the Labour Party.”

Talk of automatic reselection will of course set alarm bells ringing for many MPs and feed into the paranoia triggered by Deputy Leader Tom Watson's claim a few days ago of a left wing takeover. No wonder so many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are so unhappy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kamikaze ministers prepared to sacrifice the UK's best interests

At the end of the second world war, aware that they were losing, the Japanese drew on a long standing tradition and sent out pilots on kamikaze missions to deliberately crash into US warships in the hope of sinking them.

It feels a bit like that now as we head into negotiations on the UK's exit from the European Union, with Ministers coming out with more and more bizarre and dangerous positions in an attempt to look tough for the negotiations ahead.

According to the Guardian,Brexiters in the cabinet and other Conservative frontbenchers have privately told colleagues they are relaxed about the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU on to World Trade Organisation rules:

Senior figures within the party have been persuaded by the argument that members of the WTO are less likely to try to punish the UK, while the European Union is looking to exact a political price for Brexit.

They now want to convince others that they should embrace the idea. “People are being told that WTO rules would be the end of the world. We need to explain to them why it isn’t,” said a senior government source. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has also suggested the outcome would be “perfectly OK”.

But with opponents within the Conservative party who previously supported remaining in the EU branding the stance as “ideological baloney”, and even cabinet ministers expressing concerns, the issue looks set to be one of the most divisive facing Theresa May during the EU negotiations.

To leave the EU without an agreement and rely on WTO rules would be disastrous for the UK economy. As former Minister, Anna Soubry says: “There is nothing to be blase or relaxed about choosing for Britain to trade with our biggest economic partner under WTO rules. Every credible assessment done says this would be the worst trading arrangement possible for jobs, investment and growth.”

The Guardian says that in the run-up to the referendum, Treasury research suggested reverting to WTO rules would knock between 5.4% and 9.5% off GDP after 15 years, and blow a £45bn hole in the public finances — though the basis of those forecasts was fiercely contested.

“Relying solely on the WTO rules would result in a significant reduction in the openness of the UK economy to the outside world,” it said. “It would be the alternative with the most negative long-term impact.”

Yet more evidence that having won the referendum the Brexiteers do not have a clue how to now proceed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brexit begins. But who is the Joker?

The joke on Twitter is that the clocks go forward an hour on Sunday 26th March but then go back 60 years on Wednesday 29th March. And that is how it feels as Theresa May announces that she is going to invoke article 50 and commence the Brexit process on that date.

According to the Guardian, European sources have made clear that Britain could be forced to wait until June to embark on formal talks.

Theresa May has made it known that she wants to leave the single market which will be a disaster for the United Kingdom's economy in the view of many experts. Her stance also threatens the future of the union.

The Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide political party opposed to this process and arguing for us to stay in the single market. We want to see a referendum on the final deal so that people can judge whether what they are being presented with is what they originally voted for.

We will now have to see how negotiations go.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Six jobs Osborne could lead to change in the rules

For a long time we have tolerated MPs have other jobs on the basis that the experience adds to what they bring to the Commons chamber. To an extent the timetable of the Commons is designed to accommodate this moonlighting. However, George Osborne's six jobs may well be the straw that broke this particular camel's back.

The Independent reports that Lord Bew, the chair of the Committee of Standards in Public Life has announced that rules on MPs taking second jobs will be reviewed after George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Lord Bew said: “We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs, quite deliberately, up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules.

“We are going to discuss whether our rules on second jobs need to be changed in light of this. We had something that up to a degree worked. It now seems to be getting into rockier waters.”

Lord Bew told the paper the editor role did not fit the current policy on second jobs, but stressed that the issue was “not personal” to Mr Osborne. However, he said his case raised the “issue of how much time MPs have to devote to their parliamentary work”.

George Osborne need not despair however, he has the backing of Tony Blair!!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Are Momentum plotting with Unite to consolidate their hold on Labour?

Those moderate Labour politicians who have decided that if they sit it out long enough then Jeremy Corbyn will self-destruct, enabling them to take back control of their party, may be quite alarmed at this article in today's Observer.

The paper says that plans are afoot for Len McCluskey, once he secures re-election as general secretary of Unite in an internal election next month, to link his super-union directly to Momentum by formally affiliating to it. This would amount to a massive shift of power and financial resources to the pro-Corbyn left.

The plans have been described by Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson as “entryism” and a covert attempt by a leftwing faction to take over the party but that does not appear to have deterred Jon Lansman, the founder of the grassroots organisation Momentum, who was secretly recorded addressing supporters at a meeting of a new branch of the organisation in Richmond, south London, on 1 March.:

On the tape, obtained by the Observer, Lansman issues a call to arms to Momentum supporters, saying they need to make sure the left is far better represented in key positions at all levels of the party so they have control over the levers of power when Corbyn departs and the succession is decided.

Most controversially, Lansman says that if his ally Len McCluskey secures re-election as general secretary of Unite in an internal election next month, the super-union will then link directly to Momentum by formally affiliating to it, in what critics fear would amount to a massive shift of power and financial resources to the pro-Corbyn left.

Announcing what he implies is a done deal with McCluskey, Lansman tells the audience: “Assuming that Len McCluskey wins the general secretaryship, which I think he will, Unite will affiliate to Momentum and will fully participate in Momentum, as will the CWU [the Communications Workers’ Union].”

The extent to which the left is mobilising behind the scenes and looking to Unite to back it at national and constituency levels will greatly alarm Labour moderates. Lansman spells out how Momentum currently lacks money. His mention of a link-up with Unite will invite inevitable speculation that the country’s biggest union – and Labour’s largest donor – is preparing to give money, as well as organisational support, to Momentum, too.

Tom Watson harks back to the 1980s and the ascent of Militant Tendency in his remarks:

Watson, a Unite member, voiced his deep concern about what he said looked like “a private agreement to fund a political faction that is apparently planning to take control of the Labour party, as well as organise in the GMB and Unison”.

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s though there is no Labour leader prepared to put his reputation on the line to stand up to the entryists.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Has Theresa May become an intolerant nouveau brexiteer?

When it comes to leaving the EU there has been no greater Damascene conversion than that of the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May.  After all the now-Prime Minister had backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, declaring in a speech that it was “clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the European Union”.

A more unkind critic than me, might question whether Theresa May's commitment to the European cause was that well entrenched or was she just going through the motions? Either way she has shed her previous convictions with all the vigour and fanaticism of a convert. She is now going for hard Brexit, no quarter given.

I was bemused to read in the Western Mail this morning that Liam Fox believes that it would be "politically irresponsible" for the European Union to erect barriers to trading with the UK after Brexit. Really? What did he expect?

He campaigned to leave the EU, he is part of a Government insisting on leaving the single market. Both courses of action are anti-free trade and in both instances the consequences have been spelt out to Fox and his cronies. If you leave a free trade area then you have to pay tariffs to continue trading with it.

It is the position of Liam Fox and the Brexiteers that is politically irresponsible not the EU, who are only seeking to protect their own position.

The intolerance of any dissent within the Tory Party is best summed up by Michael Heseltine's letter to Theresa May as quoted in the Independent:

Lord Heseltine wrote: “You say in your letter that I will understand the necessity to end that relationship. Here we disagree.

“In the referendum campaign it was recognised that so deeply held and so divided were the views on both sides that members of the Cabinet and other ministers were free to argue and vote against the Government's European policy without sanction.”

“I have repeatedly said you have every right to end my relationship with the Government,” he wrote.

“The simple fact remains that you have changed your mind since the excellent speech you made in the referendum campaign arguing that we should remain in the European Union. I have not.”

Lord Heseltine said that his vote for the House of Lords amendment - which was later overturned by the Commons - could not have delayed or denied Mrs May's ability to trigger withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties.

After Downing Street indicated that Mrs May will wait as long as two weeks after the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act before triggering Article 50, Lord Heseltine said: “The urgency about which we heard so much at the time seems in the event somewhat diminished.”

He said his rebel vote was designed “to give the House of Commons a second chance to enshrine in law a commitment you yourself had already given to allow Parliament a vote on any Brexit deal”.

Does the Prime Minister really want to divide the country in this way. She has said not but her actions defeat her words.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Did a Welsh Tory summon the Spanish Inquisition?

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition apart from the odd Welsh Tory. The Daily Post reports that the Conservative Party has distanced itself from one of its own prominent Brexit campaigners after he appeared to call for the return of religious persecution.

They say that Dr Felix Aubel, who was the West Wales co-ordinator for the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign, responded to a Swedish far-right blogger by asking: “When will today’s Christian Europe say “Enough is Enough”, just like the Christian Spaniards did at the end of the Middle Ages?”

As the paper points out, in the Middle Ages the Spanish Inquisition saw the persecution of Muslims, Jews and others that the Catholic Church saw as heretics.

The process resulted in the expulsion of Jewish and Muslim communities that had called Spain home for centuries and has become notorious for it’s cruelty and violence, at the end of a period which saw Spain’s Christian kingdoms usurp Muslim kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula.

Dr Felix Aubel has been quite rightly disowned by virtually every organisation he has any connection too for this tweet.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer actually read the Tory manifesto?

As predictable as yesterday's u-turn on National Insurance Contributions was, the manner in which it came about was quite remarkable.

As the Telegraph reports, the back-down represents a huge blow to Mr Hammond and is one of the most significant Budget u-turns in modern times. The announcement will leave a £2billion black hole in Mr Hammond's Budget plans which he plans to fund with new measures in his Autumn Budget.

The paper says that up to 100 Tory MPs were said to be prepared to rebel over the issue and even a Tory minister said that the Government had to apologise to Conservative voters:

Mr Hammond's credibility was further undermined when he appeared to admit in the Commons that he had only realised the NI policy breached a manifesto pledge when it was pointed out by the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg.

Asked when he first knew the manifesto was an issue, he told a fellow MP: "Since he asks me the question who first raised the issue of the manifesto I think credit where credit is due. I think it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC, shortly after I said it in the Budget speech."

They go to quote aides as saying that Hammond was aware of the manifesto pledge but if that was the case then why did he not anticipate the furore that followed him breaking it? Did the BBC's political editor know the Tory manifesto better than the Tory cabinet.

Ministers may need to re-read the document fairly quickly before they drop any more clangers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Now Brexit threatens 200,000 construction jobs

The Independent adds to the woe over the potential impact of Brexit by reporting on warnings by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that almost 200,000 construction jobs could be slashed if Britain loses access to the European single market, jeopardising half a billion pounds worth of infrastructure projects and dealing a sharp blow to major UK cities’ global competitiveness.

They say that 8 per cent of the UK’s construction workers are EU nationals, accounting for some 176,500 individuals:

Almost a third of construction professionals surveyed by the professional standards group for the study said that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses, but access to the European single market is critical to being able to do that.

“These figures reveal that the UK construction industry is currently dependent on thousands of EU workers,” said Jeremy Blackburn, RICS’ head of UK policy. “It is in all our interests that we make a success of Brexit, but a loss of access to the single market, has the potential to slowly bring the UK’s £500bn infrastructure pipeline to a standstill,” he added.

Mr Blackburn said that unless UK access to the single market is secured – or alternative plans are implemented – the country will not be able to create the infrastructure needed “to compete on a global stage”.

RICS say that UK construction is already “in the grip of a skills crisis” and that the Government must put interim, transitionary arrangements in place to avoid a potential “cliff edge”. It also said that Westminster must “seek out and attract private investors” that can help safeguard the future of the sector during these turbulent times.

We await Theresa May's response.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Predictions, betrayals and Brexit

Those of us who predicted that a vote to leave the EU could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom are not exactly jumping up and down shouting 'I told you so' this morning as Nicola Sturgeon uses Theresa May's intransigence as an excuse for yet another Scottish independence referendum.

The First Minister of Scotland seems to believe that the prospect of an independent Scotland remaining within the EU will entice more people to support separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. However, all the signs are that the prospect of the Scots being allowed to go it alone within the EU is as delusional as the Tories' belief that leaving the single market is in our best interests.

Meanwhile, back in Parliament, the Brexit bill has been sent up for royal assent without a single one of its 137 words having been amended. Liberal Democrats fought hard to include provisions to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, to ensure MPs have a genuine say on the final deal and to give a vote to the British people on whatever emerges from the Brexit talks.

Alas, the efforts of the Liberal Democrats came to nothing, not least because of the craven capitulation of the Labour Party (with one or two honourable exceptions). As Tim Farron said: “Labour had the chance to block Theresa May’s hard Brexit, but chose to sit on their hands. Tonight there will be families fearful that they are going to be torn apart and feeling they are no longer welcome in Britain. Shame on the government for using people as chips in a casino, and shame on Labour for letting them.”

The  government is taking a narrow referendum vote as a reason to do as it pleases. The truth is that they do not have a mandate to take us out of the single market or to undermine the rights of long-standing EU workers here in the UK.

My view and that of the Liberal Democrats is that if the government wish to pursue a hard Brexit then they must take specific proposals back to the electorate. Their refusal to do so says a great deal about the government we now have and the Labour apologists who are letting them get away with this disregard for democratic process.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The shocking real cost of Brexit

An unpublished Treasury document predicts that Theresa May’s plans to rely on World Trade Organisation tariffs in the case of a hard Brexit will cause a “major economic shock” and is worse than any other option.

The document, which was leaked to the Independent, warns that crashing out of the EU without a trade deal is the "alternative to membership with the most negative long-term impact" on the economy.

They say that the 36-page report uses language far stronger than that employed in the Treasury's published analysis of Brexit's long-term impact on the economy:

The document claims that consumers would no longer benefit from the end to mobile phone roaming charges, EU compensation for delayed flights or cancelled holidays, or protections covering purchases in an EU country. It warns that the WTO regime would mean “new taxes on British trade” – tariffs and duties in the 53 countries with which the EU has free trade agreements. The UK’s privileged access to these markets would be “terminated”, and it “would take years” to strike trade deals and be difficult to replicate the current terms.

“UK agricultural exports to the EU would face new tariffs of 14.4 per cent on average, and non-agricultural goods an average tariff of 4.3 per cent – enough to undermine the competitiveness of some UK businesses,” it says. “The UK would have less access to the [EU] single market than Pakistan, Rwanda or Yemen.

“The EU would trade with the UK on the same terms as it does with countries like China – with no preferential access.”

The report describes the WTO’s coverage of services, which account for almost 80 per cent of the UK economy, as “out of date, based on a set of commitments that are 20 years old. It lacks the ambition the UK’s modern economy needs.“ It argues that, without a trade deal, the EU would have no scope to lower tariff rates for the UK without cutting them for all members of the 164-nation WTO.

“After we left the EU, we’d need to renegotiate the terms of our WTO membership,” the document, drawn up a month before the referendum was held, says. “This would trigger bureaucratic negotiations with other WTO members, lasting for months or years …This could be a very complex exercise involving a review of every tariff line – over 5,000 – to determine what rate the UK wished to apply.”

Although Britain could lower tariffs on EU imports to soften the blow of rising prices, it would have to reduce them by the same amount on all imports from WTO members. “This would put the UK in a weak position if we wanted to negotiate trade deals to secure more market access for UK exporters – other countries might avoid coming to the table if we’d already opened up access to our market.”

Let us hope that the Prime Minister takes note.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Energy companies are 'ripping off millions'

Claims by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that millions of people are over-paying for gas and electricity because of excessive price rises by the big six energy companies have highlighted once again, the need for drastic measures to control the market and protect consumers.

The Observer says that so far this year three large companies have announced price increases of just under 10% on dual-fuel standard variable tariffs, adding about £100 a year to customers’ bills. Last month Npower announced an increase of 9.8% and last week E.ON said it was raising charges by 8.8% from April. They continue:

EDF raised electricity prices in December but cut gas prices, amounting to a 1.2% increase. SSE will announce its plans at the end of this month, while British Gas has said it will freeze prices until August. Several medium-sized suppliers have also raised prices: Good Energy, up 11%, First Utility, up 9.7%, Utilita, up 2.9%, Co-operative energy, up 5%, and Ovo Energy up 1.5%. The latest increases come despite the energy regulator Ofgem recently saying it saw no reason for the big six to raise prices despite upward price pressures, because of the way they hedge when buying power.

Ofgem believe that energy bills now account for 10% of spending in the poorest households, compared with just 5.5% in 2004. A debate has been secured on Thursday by three MPs from across parties, who say that customers are often being switched on to expensive standard variable deals without their knowledge, once their lower tariff periods expired:

According to former Tory Minister, John Penrose: “Loyal customers are being systematically ripped off by big energy firms, and it’s just not fair. Most industries don’t exploit their best customers like this, by quietly switching them on to expensive default tariffs when their existing deal comes to an end. Loyalty should be rewarded, not exploited.”

He is going to propose a new “relative price cap”, under which customers cannot be transferred to a new deal more than 6% more expensive than their expired one.

The paper says that a recent report into the energy market by the Competition and Markets Authority, commissioned by David Cameron before the 2015 general election, found customers had paid £1.4bn a year in “excessive prices” between 2012 and 2015, with those on standard variable tariffs (70% of the total) paying 11% more for their electricity and 15% more for their gas than customers on other tariffs.

This is clearly unacceptable. The government need to step in to break up this oligopoly.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Millionaire former Chancellor gains from budget

When it turns out that the millionaire former Chancellor George Osborne, who presided over the age of austerity during the Cameron years, could be around £120 a year better off following the Budget, then clearly there is something wrong with the UK Government's priorities.

George Osborne is the UK’s highest earning MP thanks to his lucrative outside interests, so £120 is nothing to him. It would however mean a great deal to single mother struggling to get by in a low paid job. Whatever happened to the Chancellor's pledge that those “with the broadest shoulders” should make the greatest contribution to bring down the deficit?

Osborne recently updated his entry in the registry of members’ interests revealing that he will earn £650,000 a year for working just four days a month for global investment firm Black Rock. According to the Independent, industry insiders predict he will make more than £1m annually from Black Rock through the performance of shares he will receive in the New York-based firm.

He has also signed with exclusive public speaking agency, the Washington Speakers’ Bureau, and has earned £786,450 in the space of just five months delivering after-dinner speeches, according to the registry. The paper says that he will earn a further £120,000 a year as a Kissinger Fellow for a US academic programme, working from home.

These seem like pretty broad shoulders to me. Perhaps the Chancellor should go back and redo his sums.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Did the Tories 'cheat' their way to victory in 2015?

As the investigation continues into allegations by Channel Four that the Tories breached their expense limits in certain seats at the last General Election, the Independent quotes two 'whistleblowers' whose testimony could have a significant impact on the outcome of this investigation.

The paper says that two Conservative activists have accused the party of “telling lies” over these allegations. They say that Gregg and Louise Kinsell, who campaigned for the party in several marginal constituencies, said Tory officials’ claims they had not acted illegally were untrue:

An investigation by Channel 4 has found the Conservatives transported busloads of volunteers to marginal seats to help with campaigning, but that these expenses, including travel and accommodation costs, were not registered on local spending reports.

Conservative officials have consistently denied the activists taking part in the 'Battlebus2015' campaign were helping local candidates, instead claiming they were only helping to disseminate national messages. The operation would therefore be classed as a national expense rather than a local one.

Speaking last year, then Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Lots of political parties have these bus tours - you know buses that go round different constituencies and this is a national expense.”

However, Mr and Ms Kinsell said they took part in the Battebus tours and had campaigned for local candidates in every area they visited.

“When you hear that they’re saying that we went down and we were just giving the central government message, no, no we weren’t,” Ms Kinsell told Channel 4.

“I’m not going to lie about that. No we weren’t ... They’re telling lies about what we did. We duped people on the doors. It feels like cheating and I don’t like that... We were on the bus, we know what happened. We know what we were doing, and they know what we were doing.”

She added: “They’ve cheated and formed a government that affects the whole of the country: money, education, NHS, everything and they’ve cheated. How does that make them right to form a government? It doesn’t. It doesn’t and it wouldn’t matter what party they were that stands.”

Ms Kinsell said it was obvious Battlebus activists were there to support local candidates.

“We had leaflets with their name on and rosettes with their name on… [To claim this was a national campaign] is rubbish, absolute rubbish … We were definitely canvassing for the local candidate. will absolutely swear on anything.

“In each area you were speaking about the local candidate and what he wants to do for you, not the big government in London, but what this man who lives here, what he wants to do for you, what he wants to change.”

There was a sense of “let’s cover this up” about the controversy and the nature of what actually happened on the Battlebus tour, she said.

We need to wait to see the outcome of the investigation of course but these latest allegations do not help the Torie' case.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

UKIP in Wales unravels?

Another day, yet another extraordinary story about the dysfunctional Welsh branch of UKIP. According to the BBC the Welsh party's former chairman has left, saying that UKIP is "unravelling" this side of Offa's Dyke.

Chris Smart, who was appointed acting chairman of UKIP's Wales committee last summer, has said he wants to rejoin the Conservatives. In doing so he has raised questions about the strength of the party's operation as it approaches May's local elections:

Mr Smart told BBC Wales he was disappointed the party had failed to resolve the row about its former Welsh leader Nathan Gill, who doubles up as an independent AM and a UKIP MEP.

He was also disappointed by UKIP donor Arron Banks and his feud with the party's only MP, Douglas Carswell.

Mr Carswell is due to open a UKIP office in Pontypool on Thursday.

The party is "unravelling, I would suggest", Mr Smart said.

He said UKIP has no full-time officers in Wales, with local elections less than two months away.

"I can't see it [the election campaign] getting off the ground to be honest," he said.

"From the experience I have had in our branch when I talk to people about being councillors there I don't find much enthusiasm for that," he added.

UKIP won two seats at the last council elections in 2012, but has lost them both.

The question has to be, how long can UKIP hang on as a viable party.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The evidence-free change that will hit young people hard

If it was not bad enough that the decision of the UK Government's to scrap housing benefit for young people is going to put thousands on the streets without support, it turns out that they have made the change without a proper impact assessment. In other words they have acted on instinct, without evidence and without fully understanding or apparently caring about the consequences.

The Independent says that charities have pointed out the plan will save almost no money and could drive up homelessness, as well as disproportionately affect LGBT people or those estranged from their families. But when the Government quietly published secondary legislation to enact the plan on Friday afternoon it provided no evidence that it had done any impact assessment:

On Monday homelessness charity Centrepoint estimated that the policy would make another 9,000 young people homeless. Recent research by Heriot-Watt University found that once exemptions were included the policy would save just £3.3 million pounds. Researchers calculated that just 140 young people would have to be made homeless by the change for knock-on costs to mean the policy actually cost taxpayers more money overall.

Responding for the Government Ms Nokes stressed the claimed limited scope of the policy and said it would tackle “perverse incentive to leave the family home and pass the costs onto a taxpayer”

It is an attempt at social engineering without regard for the consequences to the vulnerable young people who will be hardest hit by the change.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Tory Government stance on child refugees could increase trafficking

Today's Independent reports on the conclusion of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that not accepting child refugees into the UK will increase the risk of child trafficking and exploitation.

They say that when the Government made its surprise announcement last month that the numbers brought in under the resettlement scheme would be capped at 350, it claimed in a written ministerial statement that local authorities had suggested they did not have capacity for hundreds, if not thousands, more.

However,the Home Affairs Select Committee report claims that some local councils have said they have capacity for as many as 4,000 more lone children. The Committee's chair,Labour MP Ms Cooper said: “There is a big gap between what the Government has said, and the evidence we heard from local councils and from organisations like Unicef who are working with child refugees.

“This is too important to get wrong when children’s lives and futures are at risk. That’s why we are making these urgent interim recommendations now.” 

The Home Affairs Select Committee urgent report says the Government’s evidence that re-housing child refugees would act as a “pull” factor to desperate parents and to people smugglers stands in contrast to warnings from charities that closing the route would actually increase the risk of child trafficking and exploitation.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Brexit money to be spent on Brexit not the NHS

Today's Guardian underlines deception that was carried out during the referendum campaign by the leave side by revealing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is expected to use Wednesday’s budget to announce that tax revenues will be used to build up a reserve to deal with uncertainties arising from Brexit, rather than increase spending on the health service. So much for an extra £350m a week.

The paper quotes Phillip Hammond as saying that he is building up a reserve in case of difficulties arising from leaving the EU, although he stopped short from confirming a report in the Sunday Times that it would be £60bn. They say he is expected to raise funds through some tax increases, including one imposed on self-employed workers through a change to national insurance rates. He is also thought to be looking at increases in alcohol duty.

Of course we have not yet left the EU, but despite the bravado by the UK Government that they will not pay a leaving fee they know that if they want to secure a trade deal with the single market then that is precisely what they will have to do.

Not only is the NHS not going to benefit in the short run from the decision to leave, but money that should be going to alleviate pressure on doctors and nurses now is instead being used to fund Brexit, and any possibility that we will get more money for health once we have left is receding into the distance.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Fighting those unwanted subscriptions

I have done it myself, ordered something on Amazon and then inadvertently clicked on same day delivery only to find that I am not subscribed to their internet TV channel. Fortunately, I realised what I had done and managed to unsubscribe straight away. Others are not so lucky.

So I welcome the possibility that next week's Budget might lead to a change in the law to stop consumers accidentally signing up to recurring monthly subscriptions.

The Independent says that research by Citizens Advice estimates that around two million consumers every year have problems cancelling subscriptions, whilst 40 per cent of British people are paying for a subscription that they do not use.

They add that the Government is to consult on a plan that would require companies to properly notify customers when they are about to take payment for subscriptions:

Amazon’s Prime service automatically enrols people who take free trials for a whole year’s £79 payment if they do not cancel within the trial period.

In March 2015 the Advertising Standards Authority banned Amazon from using direct mail to offer “free trials” after it found the shopping giant was misleading consumers about the cost of the service.

Apple Music, Spotify, and Netflix are also examples of services that renew automatically after a free trial.

Some companies already provide notifications for consumers when they are about to take payments.

If the government are going to deal with this then that is very welcome.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

More Tory nonsense on Brexit

I admit that over the last eight months I have struggled to find anything positive about Brexit. As far as I can see it is going to be an unmitigated disaster, at least in the short to medium term.

Businesses will look to relocate within the European free trade area so as to avoid having to pay tariffs on the goods and services they sell to Europe. The City of London financial centre will see many of its institutions hedge their bets by taking jobs over the English channel and goods in the shops will be more expensive because of the impact on the exchange rate and because we are now imposing our own tariffs on imports.

Furthermore, we will no longer be part of the European Arrest Warrant, so it will become more difficult to tackle international crime, whilst even if we do a deal with Europe on trade we will end up paying in and abiding with their rules without any influence on the terms.

Yes, we will find other markets in time but they will not compensate us for what we have lost, simply because they will not be anywhere near the size of the market we have walked away from.

And here in Wales the fate of European structural funds and help for agriculture is in the balance. We do not know if it will be replaced in full by the UK Government or what conditions will be attached to that money. 

I am therefore sceptical about the claim in today''s Western Mail by the Welsh Tory leader that negativity about Brexit is a threat to the prosperity of Wales. Andrew RT Davies believes that Brexit is "a fantastic opportunity to remould the Welsh economy, and to rediscover our resourceful, creative and industrious best.”

Fine words indeed but even he has no concrete ideas or assurances as to what a post-Brexit world will look like. The promises that he and his fellow Brexit campaigners made about extra money for the NHS have evaporated in the cold gaze of reality. His rhetoric carries no currency either.

With all the uncertainty, unanswered questions about Brexit and the determination of this Tory government to take us out of the single market, undermine public services through draconian controls on immigration and their refusal to give the British electorate a say on the final deal it is very difficult to be anything but sceptical.

Until Andrew RT Davies and his party can give us something to be positive about then he should stop lecturing us with such nonsense.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The silent revolt within Labour over Corbyn and Brexit

Whether or not there is a soft coup underway in the Labour Party as alleged by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, there is no doubting that the official opposition is facing a crisis.

Not only are Labour trailing badly in the polls, with Jeremy Corbyn consistently scoring historically poor approval ratings, but they are also losing local council by-elections and have become the first opposition party to lose a Parliamentary seat to the Government since 1982.

But there is a more potent trend that underlines the crisis facing Labour. That is the steady loss of members. According to the Guardian, Labour has lost nearly 26,000 members since last summer:

More than three-quarters of those to leave the party last year had joined after the 2015 general election, a period that saw membership grow rapidly under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Figures reported by the Times showed the number of resignations in 2016 was more than the previous six years combined, while more than 15,465 have left since mid-December.

Up to 7,000 members are said to have resigned last month following Corbyn’s three-line whip on MPs commanding them to support the triggering of Article 50.

The newspaper said the numbers leaving the party could be even higher, as Labour’s systems record active resignations in real time but lapsed memberships appear in the data only after six months.

At the same time, the membership of the only UK-wide party to oppose Brexit, the Liberal Democrats, has grown to record numbers, many of those new members coming from Labour. And figures have shown that Labour raised less money through donations than the Liberal Democrats in the last three months of last year.

This is the first time that the Liberal Democrats have outstripped Labour in fundraising over a quarter, taking in donations totalling £1,972,904 compared with £1,970,055 for Corbyn’s party.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Bridgend Ford is telling signs of what Brexit will mean for Wales

The suggestion by Trade Unions that 1,160 jobs could be lost at the Bridgend Ford plant because of Brexit will be devastating and deeply concerning news for plant workers, their families and the communities they live in.

The First Minister, who is currently in the USA, must of course, immediately seek assurances from Ford Executives on the future of the plant at Bridgend. The future of the Welsh and the local economy depends on it.

First it was the steel workers at Port Talbot who were designated ‘low priority’ by the Conservatives, and now plant workers at Bridgend Ford face an uncertain future, which has been compounded by Theresa May’s chaotic mismanagement of Brexit.

Brexit will mean real pain for ordinary working people across Wales, and the reality is starting to bite. That is why the Liberal Democrats remain committed to Wales’ membership of the Single Market.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Battle lines are drawn as UKIP row escalates

Of all the things for key figures in UKIP to fall out over, a knighthood for Nigel Farage must be the most unlikely, not least because one's immediate reaction is 'what were they thinking earmarking Farage for a knighthood in the first place?'

Nevertheless, the Guardian reports that Farage has again urged colleagues to expel the party's only MP, Douglas Carswell after an extraordinary day of public backbiting in the party:

Amid reports that Carswell is in talks with the Tories about switching back, Farage told the Press Association: “Did he ever leave the Conservatives? He was certainly representing them during the referendum campaign.”

Farage said the MP had to go because “I don’t want my successor to have to put up with the same sabotage and division that I did.”

Oakden was asked to meet Carswell by Ukip’s current leader, Paul Nuttall, as the party descended into fresh chaos after Farage’s call for the MP to be ousted.

Farage unleashed his attacks on Carswell following claims that the MP played a role in blocking a knighthood for the former leader.

The paper says that leaked emails showed Carswell joking that Farage should be given an OBE “for services to headline writers”:

Carswell, who defected from the Conservatives in 2014, responded to Farage with a provocative late-night tweet saying: “Knight night.”

This prompted the millionaire Ukip donor Arron Banks to declare he is ready to stand against Carswell in the 2020 general election. Farage said the comments should not be taken “too seriously”.

However, a subsequent tweet suggested Banks was taking his challenge to Carswell seriously and was making practical arrangements to prepare an election campaign.

“We will have a high street shop in Clacton, professional agent appointed soon and I will be rolling my sleeves up,” said Banks.

Meanwhile, in Wales the BBC say that Carswell's fellow defector from the Conservatives, Mark Reckless, who is a Welsh AM, believes that UKIP's sole MP should stay put.

As UKIP's sole representative in the Commons, Carswell is able to access short money to fund his activities there. According to the Assembly website, Mark Reckless declares amongst his interests that he is a 'Part-time Director (not a company director) and Company Secretary, UKIP Parliamentary Resource Unit Limited (SO 4.3 - Band 2 - Between 5 hours and 20 hours per week). Company in receipt of House of Commons 'short money'.

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