Newslinks for Saturday 15th May 2021

15 May

Coronavirus 1) PM warns lockdown easing “at risk”

“Boris Johnson has warned that the Indian variant of coronavirus could derail the easing of lockdown restrictions with it on track to become the dominant strain in Britain. The prime minister said the spread of the variant could cause “significant disruption” to the plan for opening up England and that the nation faced “hard choices”. At a Downing Street briefing, he said he wanted to “level with” the public that the variant could delay plans to lift restrictions by June 21. Unlocking might have to be thrown into reverse and he pledged to do “whatever it takes to keep the public safe”. Even so he will press ahead with the third stage of the roadmap for lifting lockdown on Monday, enabling people to mix indoors and allow physical contact for the first time since coronavirus restrictions began.” – The Times

  • It’s right to reopen on Monday but to keep June 21’s unlocking under review – Leader, The Sun
  • There’s no case for delay in reopening – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • The dire SAGE warning that Indian variant could put 10,000 in hospital a day within months – Daily Mail
  • Portugal to allow UK tourists from Monday – BBC
  • The nation needs to get out of lockdown, not linger in fear – Camilla Tominey, Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2) Sturgeon to keep restrictions in Glasgow

“Nicola Sturgeon has cancelled the easing of lockdown in Glasgow on Monday following evidence the more transmissible Indian Covid variant is “driving” the surge of cases in the city. The First Minister said an outbreak in the south side of Scotland’s largest city meant it would join Moray by staying in Level 3 of her lockdown restrictions, while the rest of the mainland moves to Level 2. People are advised not to travel in or out of the two council areas and their 730,000 residents will not be allowed to meet up in one another’s homes or hug loved ones, as is planned in the rest of the country.” – Daily Telegraph

Poots is elected DUP leader

“Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has been elected leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. He succeeds Arlene Foster, who steps down as party leader on 28 May and will then leave her role as NI first minister at the end of June. Mr Poots beat MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to take the top post in the party. It is the first time in the party’s 50-year history that a leadership contest has taken place. Mr Poots received 19 votes and Sir Jeffrey 17 votes. He has said that he would like to remain as agriculture minister and would not take on the role of Northern Ireland first minister if elected party leader.” – BBC

  • He vows to ‘undermine’ Northern Ireland protocol – Daily Telegraph
  • A warning to Westminster and Brussels – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson threatens to suspend all checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea if the EU doesn’t stop its hardline approach – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: Poots and Faulkner

Jenrick announces extra funding to reduce rough sleeping

“More rough sleepers in England will be helped off the streets and into housing this year as part of a £203m programme, the government has announced. Some 2,688 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on any single night in England last autumn. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the money will be given to councils to support shelters and specialist mental health or addiction services. But charity Crisis warned the funding “will only scratch the surface”. The government said its Rough Sleeping Initiative had reduced rough sleeping by nearly a third compared to areas that have not taken part in the programme.” – BBC

Sunak predicts a “green jobs bonanza”

“Britain can look forward to a “brighter future” as the economy bounces back from the ravages of Covid. In an exclusive interview, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said hope and opportunity” is spreading around the country as swathes of businesses welcome back customers from next week. Households had “an enormous amount” of pent up savings ready to fuel a surge in consumer spending, he said. And he predicted a “green jobs bonanza” in the UK’s former industrial heartlands thanks to billions of pounds of Government investment in wind power, carbon capture technology and other clean energy sources. Mr Sunak spoke to the Daily Express during a visit to Humberside…The Chancellor declined to comment on the Daily Express call for zero VAT on goods and services that produce zero carbon emissions.”- Daily Express

  • Amazon set to hire 10,000 UK workers – BBC

Home Office says EU workers denied entry over visas should now get bail

“The government on Friday signalled it would largely end detentions of EU citizens suspected of coming to work in the UK without permission, after an outcry over incidents of people being taken to immigration removal centres. The Home Office said it had “updated” its guidance to immigration officers to “clarify” that overseas nationals who had been refused entry should be allowed bail while awaiting removal “where appropriate”. The statement followed reports that some EU nationals arriving in the UK in recent weeks had been taken to prison-like immigration removal centres — including Colnbrook, near Heathrow, and Yarl’s Wood, in Bedfordshire.” – Financial Times

Green warns that planning reforms will lose votes

“Boris Johnson would be “foolish” to take Conservative voters for granted as he pushes ahead with planning reforms designed to trigger a housebuilding boom, senior Tories have warned. Former cabinet ministers said that deregulation of the planning system would “alienate” the Conservatives’ southern heartlands…Damian Green, the former de facto deputy prime minister, said the election results had shown that the Tory party would be “foolish” to ignore its shire voters, while Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary, said it could not “take the south for granted”. Ministers are determined to make good on a manifesto pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year.” – The Times

>Yesterday: Ben Southwood on Comment: Why planning reform may work this time round, delivering us the new homes that we need

Women must be heard on transgender identity, says new equalities chief

“Women must have the right to question transgender identity without being abused, stigmatised or risking losing their job, the new head of Britain’s equalities watchdog has warned. In her first interview since taking office, the incoming chairwoman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said it was “entirely reasonable” for people to challenge the biological status of women who were born as men. Baroness Falkner of Margravine added it was a “freedom of belief” the commission was determined to protect.” – The Times

Starmer “to build bridges with backbenchers”

“Keir Starmer has appointed well-respected north-east of England MP Sharon Hodgson as his new parliamentary aide, as he seeks to smooth relations with Labour backbenchers after last weekend’s fraught reshuffle. Hodgson, the MP for Washington and Sunderland West since 2010, replaces Carolyn Harris, who resigned earlier this week amid claims that she had stoked up tensions between Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner. As Starmer’s parliamentary private secretary, her job will be to liaise between backbenchers and the leader’s office. Some MPs have complained in recent weeks that they felt neglected by Starmer’s team.” – The Guardian

  • Streeting diagnosed with kidney cancer – BBC
  • Cluskey urged to ditch his heir apparent Beckett – Daily Telegraph
  • Union leader “lied” about Liverpool links – The Times
  • Interview with Angela Rayner – The Times

US envoy arrives in Tel Aviv as violence continues

“A US envoy has arrived in Tel Aviv for de-escalation talks as unrest between Israel and the Palestinians continue. Hady Amr will take part in talks with Israeli, Palestinian and UN officials in the hope of agreeing on a ceasefire. Early on Saturday, Israel conducted air strikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants responded by firing rockets into Israel. The clashes recorded over the past five days mark some of the worst violence in the region in years.” – BBC

Moore: Why we must clamp down on voter fraud

“An infinitely more serious example of the problem had been exposed in Tower Hamlets in London. After long wrangles, the directly-elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman, was found by the Election Court to have used numerous illegal methods to secure his election…Although justice was ultimately done, a worrying feature of the case was the extreme reluctance of the authorities to clamp down on Mr Rahman’s abuses. The ensuing Pickles report on electoral malpractice noted acidly that the Electoral Commission had managed to award a gold star for electoral integrity to Tower Hamlets while all this was going on.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

Oxford University proposal to “decolonise” imperial measurements

“Oxford University has suggested imperial measurements should be “decolonised” over links to the British Empire. The mile, inch, yard, pound and ounce are “tied deeply to the idea of the Empire” and their presence in the curriculum could change, decolonising plans by Oxford’s maths, physics and life sciences faculty suggest. Undergraduates have been recruited (on living wage) to conduct extensive research this summer, alongside scholars, into how Oxford’s science curricula can be made less “Eurocentric”. They will draw up proposals for lecturers to implement any recommendations in syllabuses, in a drive to “diversify” maths and science courses.” – Daily Telegraph

Parris: It’s time we stopped pandering to Travellers

“We should stop forcing local authorities to create Traveller sites, phase out the “ethnic minority” rights of people who are not a race but a doomed mindset, prioritise with the utmost generosity the offer of social housing to Traveller families; and, to those who refuse it, begin a gradual but relentless squeeze on anyone who tries without permission to park their home on public property or the property of others. This should be done with as much humanity as is consistent with telling a group of people honestly that their lifestyle offers them and their children no future, but their country wants to help them change it. Travellers are just people, just human souls like you or me; good, bad or indifferent, like you or me; and victims of their circumstances perhaps more than you or me. There is a place for them but no longer for their way of living.” – Matthew Parris, The Times

News in brief

  • Can Boris keep his roadmap on track? – Kate Andrews, The Spectator
  • Republicans think Jimmy Carter is their best weapon against Biden – Andrew Naughtie, Independent
  • The Oxford Union believes the right can represent the working class – John Redwood
  • Brexit vs Remain – what’s the score when it comes to trade? – Julian Jessop, CapX
  • Why Israel erupted – Shany Mor – Unherd

Poots and Faulkner

15 May

In 1970, James Chichester-Clark resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and as Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister.  He was being pulled in opposite political directions by two different political forces.

The first was Harold Wilson’s Government, which was set on wrestlng control of security policy away from Stormont.  The second was Iain Paisley’s new Protestant Unionist Party, which had recently won two Westminster by-elections.

Chichester-Clark was succeeded by Brian Faulkner, whose earlier resignation from Northern Ireland’s government had been a factor in forcing the resignation of Chichester-Clark’s predecessor, Terence O’Neill.

Faulkner had earlier stood against Chichester-Clark for the Ulster Unionist leadership, losing by a single vote – that cast by O’Neill for Chicester-Clark…his cousin.

Faulkner had served as Northern Ireland’s Minister of Home Affairs during the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he built his reputation as an energetic politician on the right of his party – one that his resignation from O’Neill’s government had done nothing to weaken.

Once Prime Minister, he duly found himself caught between the same pressures as his predecessor.  Forced to choose between a revolting Unionist base and Edward Heath’s Government, he plumped for the latter.

The consequence was his acceptance of the Sunningdale Agreement, a forerunner of the Belfast Agreement, which brought him down – or, rather, was itself brought down by the loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council Strike.

Faulkner then lost the leadership of his party, formed the new Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which flopped, and left active politics in 1976, becoming Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick a year later.

There are many differences between Faulkner and Edwin Poots, yesterday elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.  For a start, Poots will not lead Northern Ireland’s government, as Faulkner did when he became Ulster Unionist leader.

The Alliance Party, which sits nearer the centre of Northern Ireland’s politics, is better developed than it was in 1970, and is well positioned to pick up more middle-class Unionist votes.

And unlike Chichester-Clark, Arlene Foster hasn’t resigned: she continues as First Minister.  Rather, she was ousted by her own party from its leadership.

For all that, and despite Northern Ireland’s changes over 50 years, it shouldn’t be assumed that politics in Northern Ireland must follow a pre-determined script.

Because Poots is a member of the Free Presbytarian Church of Ulster, a young earth creationist, and opposes blood donations from gay people, it is widely assumed that he will tread a very narrow path.

Certainly, he defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17 partly, even largely, because the unionist base is again in revolt – over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the treatment of Bobby Storey’s funeral, and a general sense that its position is under threat.

The turbulence is not as spectacular as that of 1970, but those DUP politicians will hope that Poots’ election will help to reassure Unionist voters, and bolster their own position – as their Ulster Unionist predecessors did of Faulkner’s.

And the new DUP has begun his leadership with that task in mind. “I will be a leader in unionism who will be reaching out to other leaders in unionism. I want to see unionism working together,” he said yesterday.

More broadly, the lack of political leadership in Northern Ireland’s government, the non-sitting of the Assembly for three years, the stalling of the 2015 “Fresh Start for Northern Ireland” programme, and the problems caused by the Protocol are driving a wider destabilisation.

Elections are only a year away, and Sinn Fein could emerge as the largest party – a prospect that does nothing to calm unionists.  So for all Boris Johnson’s lack of interest in Northern Ireland, don’t rule out a big political push from the Government later this year.

It would seek to bolster the Executive, take decisions that have been ducked on legacy, emblems, and the Irish language, and aim to hold Northern Ireland’s politicians to the commitments they signed up to in 2015.

These included the “fresh obligations on Northern Ireland’s elected representatives to work together on their shared objective of ridding society of all forms of paramilitary activity and groups” which the Executive then agreed to.

Poots will probably carry on where he is leaving off and, unlike Faulkner, refuse any compromises that London dangles before him.  But perhaps not.  With Northern Ireland, you never know.

Sarah Ingham: Fat is a lockdown issue

15 May

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

Thanks to the Daily Mail we know that today is not only 15th May 2021 but Day 418 of Lockdown. On Monday, the government is granting us another small sliver of liberty, but irksome restrictions will continue.

The panicked and disproportionate response by the State to the Covid-19 is the ultimate decades-in-the-making triumph for the health and safety culture which characterises the country’s public sector.

The elderly in months of solitary confinement in care homes, masked school children in playground bubbles, funeral mourners ordered to separate, police officers ruling that a takeaway tea constitutes a picnic…It’s all too reminiscent of a callous and irrational mindset that denies a last consoling cigarette to Death Row inmates about to be executed.

As a captive audience under house arrest for months since March 2020, the British public has been bombarded by Government health warnings. The country’s health honchos have bustled into our homes via our screens. Graphs, charts, statistics, variants, R-rates, two metres, tiers…but not obesity.

Given the relentless nagging over the years by state-backed quango queens on every facet of our health, their comparative silence over the links between weight and the world’s latest coronavirus has been deafening.

This time last year as Covid raged, we kept on hearing about ‘underlying health conditions’ which seemed to be further imperilling younger victims of the virus. These mysterious afflictions were never spelt out. Last month, The Lancet published a paper exploring the link between weight and Covid-19. The study, Associations between Body-Mass Index and Covid-19 Severity in 6.9 million people in England (Min Gao et al) states ‘obesity is a major risk factor for adverse outcomes after infection with SARS-CoV-19’.

In the context of the Covid crisis, the country’s corpulence has usually been the, er, elephant in Number 10’s briefing room. When the virus struck him last year, Boris Johnson acknowledged that it was his sizeable girth which landed him in hospital. Today, still more Falstaff than lean and hungry Cassius, the Prime Minister could be the ideal figurehead to lead the national charge, or waddle, back to health.

An episode of Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge asked whether anyone would trade five years of their lives for the perfect body. This provoked horror among those who are on a permanent trigger to denounce fat-shaming.

Today, we are hearing much less about the plus-size body positivity. Ministers, MPs and health officials might want to duck a difficult subject that affects that majority of voters, but the virus has highlighted the deadly consequences of being overweight.

Long before the Covid-19 arrived, the country had a hefty problem. According to the NHS’s 2020 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, the majority of the country – 63 per cent – were overweight; 28 per cent of adults were classified as obese, along with one fifth of Year Six children. In 2018/19, there were 11,117 hospital admissions in England ‘with a primary diagnosis of obesity’ and 876,000 admissions where obesity was a factor in diagnosis.

The Government spent £184 million on Covid-related comms last year, according to Campaign, the ad industry’s bible. All this expensive messaging bossing us to follow its guidance to ‘Stay Home’ has actually worsened the nation’s collective weight problem. In turn, this will worsen the impact of Covid and other illnesses for many sufferers. The best way to ‘Protect the NHS’ and to save lives, and improve the quality of life, is for us to get off the couch, into our trainers and out of our front doors. Almost five million are now on NHS waiting lists for treatment. ‘Patient, heal thyself’ is however unlikely to be a State-backed message.

Pre-vaccine, the most vulnerable to the coronavirus were the elderly. Unlike being old and frail, being overweight is a matter of personal responsibility and active choice. Or rather inactive choice, involving too little movement and too much sugar, including alcohol. Many would like to go down a few sizes but are simply not prepared for the joyless slog.

Few are like Adele, who was in the news last year not for another album release or Grammy but for losing seven stone, calling for the sort of iron self-discipline that most of us are too lazy to summon up. And anyone who simply blames poverty for excess poundage has clearly never set foot in the Cobham branch of Waitrose, Surrey’s mothership of middle-class affluence.

Right now, we have the worst of all worlds. The State continues to restrict personal freedom in a bid, it claims, to save life, while at the same time trying to avoid spelling out the risks to life caused by excess weight.

For the past year, we have collectively sacrificed our freedom, mental health, children’s education and livelihoods to protect the vulnerable from the impact of Covid-19. How far the State continues restricting our freedom of movement will be demonstrated all too vividly later in the month as football fans travel, or not, to Porto for the Champions League final. It is surely now time for those who deliberately choose to make themselves vulnerable to illness, including Covid-19, to start reflecting on their choices and their responsibilities to wider society.

Lockdown was, in part, the sacrifice of liberty to gluttony. Fat is no longer just a feminist issue, as Susie Orbach identified back in 1978, but one that all of us must confront. Without sugar coating.

Leon Mangasarian: Merkeldämmerung. It is past time that the German Chancellor stepped down.

14 May

Dr Leon Mangasarian was an editor and reporter for Bloomberg News, Deutsche-Presse Agentur and United Press International in East Berlin, Bonn, Berlin and Brussels. He received a PhD from the London School of Economics in 1993. He is co-author (with Jan Techau) of a book on German security policy, Führungsmacht Deutschland, and is now a freelance writer living in Potsdam, Germany, and on a farm in southeast Brandenburg state.

All political lives end in failure unless cut off midstream. Angela Merkel proves Enoch Powell’s theorem as her chancellorship staggers to its end after 16 years amid a botched Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

If Merkel had learned one lesson from her mentor, Helmut Kohl, it would have been to get out while the getting was good. He was also tossed out of office after 16 years.

Merkel is departing with no signature achievement. True, she’s dealt with major crises, but her policy responses have at best been fair to middling. Far too often they’ve been flawed, or she simply avoids tough issues.

Germany is failing to get  jabs into people’s arms. Just nine percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, compared with 56 percent in Israel, 35 percent in the US and 27 percent in the UK. Merkel insisted on handing vaccine procurement to the EU and thus to Ursula von der Leyen, a competency-challenged ex-German defense minister co-responsible for wrecking Germany’s Bundeswehr.

Insufficient vaccines is worsened by Germany’s obsession with making sure nobody jumps the queue. Instead of using the nation’s excellent network of general practitioners, the wheel was reinvented by setting up huge vaccination centers. Rationing vaccine by age groups means binning thousands of doses at the end of the day.

This debacle again shows Merkel as the tactician and not a grand strategist. She’s reactive, rather than calculating means to big-picture ends. So notorious is she for dithering that her name has become a new German verb: to “Merkeln” means either to do nothing and avoid making a decision or, when you do, to hide it in gauze and fog.

Merkel’s bad ideas aren’t limited to public health. Here are some of her greatest hits.

Drifting left

Merkel’s fundamental misstep was shoving her once centrist-conservative Christian Democratic Union to the left. The CDU became social democratic, making its conservatives homeless, prompting some to join the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Her 2015 open border migration policy led to the AfD’s resurrection. The Christian Democratic bloc is cratering, with polls putting it at 23 percent, behind the opposition Greens. Under Kohl the Christian Democrats regularly won over 40 percent. In a further act of self-harm, the CDU chose the Merkelist premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, as its chancellor candidate for September’s election.

Merkel is a high-tax leader. Among her first acts was raising value-added tax to 19 percent from 16 percent, and income and other tax burdens have shot up under her chancellorship. German tax revenue was 452 billion euros in her first year in office. In 2019 it was 800 billion euros. Germany now has one of the highest overall tax rates in the OECD club of rich nations.

Overregulation

Meanwhile, the Chancellor failed to revamp Germany’s economy. The last major reform was almost 20 years ago under Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat. It was political suicide on his part, but laid the foundation for prosperity.

Today, German business staggers under suffocating bureaucracy. There’s a stunning example near Berlin, where Tesla is building a “Gigafactory” that will create an estimated 40,000 jobs. Construction is almost finished, but German bureaucrats still refuse to issue a building permit. Elon Musk has been warned he’s investing at his own risk and that if the permit is denied he’ll have to tear down the factory. Merkel thinks more bureaucrats as the answer: since 2016 there’s been a 22 percent increase in the number of employees in her chancellery and ministries.*

Importing power

Germany now has Europe’s highest electricity costs. Households and most businesses pay 43 percent above the EU average. Merkel’s botched renewables shift slams consumers with huge bills subsidising wind and solar. Merkel’s other energy move was to panic after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and move forward the closure of all nuclear plants to 2022. At the same time, she’s speeding up closures of coal-fired power plants.

The result? Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof, which audits government management, warns that Merkelian energy policies risk triggering electricity blackouts. After closing nuclear and coal-fired plants, Germany, on winter days with no sun or wind, will import electricity from France and Poland that’s produced by – you guessed it – nuclear or coal-fired plants.

Russia

Merkel’s other energy/geopolitical debacle is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, running under the Baltic Sea, to bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. The pipeline has pissed off Germany’s NATO and EU allies. (Everyone but Merkel knows the Kremlin uses energy as a political weapon.)

The Poles and the Baltics are furious; Ukraine, the current route of Russian pipelines to Europe, is fearful; and both the Trump and now the Biden administrations pledged sanctions on companies building the pipeline.

Merkel insists Nord Stream 2 is just another business deal.

China

China is Merkel’s favorite among global dictatorships. It’s only a slight exaggeration to describe her chancellorship one long kowtow. She regularly visits China to support German exports and investment. Merkel crowned Germany’s EU presidency by ramming through an EU-China investment accord, despite pleas from the incoming Biden administration to wait.

Merkel is wobbly on minority rights, Beijing’s military operations in the South China Sea, the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong, and threats to Taiwan.

A key part of Germany’s body politic is memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes. There are two parts: never forget history, no matter how awful; and “never again,” as in never tolerate even a hint of genocide. Joschka Fischer, then Foreign Minister, evoked this in backing the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo by saying “never again Auschwitz, never again genocide.”

More than anyone in Germany, the Chancellor must personify these tenets. Yet Merkel has stumbled. “Never again” is brushed off over China’s persecution of the Uighurs. Merkel refuses to follow NATO allies the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, which accuse Beijing of genocide.

Turkey

As for history, Merkel made clear her displeasure over a 2016 German parliament resolution describing the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (Germany’s World War I ally) as genocide. Merkel skipped the vote and then, to make sure that Ankara got the message, her spokesman declared the resolution wasn’t legally binding.

Overlooking a century-old genocide is easier than angering the Turkish government she needed to block migrants from Europe. Merkel and the EU paid Turkey billions so Ankara would do the dirty work of closing EU borders.

Digital

Merkel’s failings are striking in her endless harping about “digitalization.” For all Merkel’s talk, inaction is the result. Forget Estonian-style e-Government. Germans rely on fax machines, signatures and humorless officials wielding stamps and well-inked stamp pads. Anyway, e-Government couldn’t work in Germany because it requires a decent mobile phone system. Merkel has failed to plug the massive holes Germany’s network. I’ve had better mobile service in the remotest parts of Scotland or Namibia.

Politicians everywhere reach their “sell-by” date after eight to ten years. Merkel, despite human decency and incorruptibility, has long since reached hers. Every day she remains in office is a lost day for Germany. This year is wasted for lawmaking with elections in September, followed by coalition negotiations that could run into 2022.

Germany desperately needs a member of parliament, like Leopold Amery in the House of Commons in 1940, to stand up and speak the truth:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing … In the name of God, go!” 

*Simon Haas, Jonas Hermann and Charlotte Eckstein, “Wuchernder Staat: Deutschlands Regierungsapparat wird grösser und grösser,“ Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 10 April 2021.

The State of Hunger  – a foundation for a plan to end the need for food banks

14 May

By Tom Weekes, Research Manager

Yesterday the Trussell Trust released the second State of Hunger report, a comprehensive study of the scale and drivers of hunger in the UK. The report was launched at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ending the Need for Food Banks as part of a wide-ranging discussion of food bank use and destitution, including how to tackle the key drivers of both. The insight provided by the report provides the first step in developing a plan to ensure no one has to be forced to use a food bank.

The cross-party group heard from panellists including Crossbench Peer and former government advisor on social policy Dame Louise Casey, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Helen Barnard, the Trussell Trust’s Emma Revie, and Conservative Peer and Chief Executive of the Legatum Institute Baroness Stroud.

While reflecting on the last year, the discussion broadly welcomed the efforts that the UK Government had made to prevent more people falling into destitution, including the furlough scheme and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. At the same time, panellists across the board recognised that this was not enough to mitigate fully the severe impact of the pandemic on levels of destitution and poverty across the UK.

The panel challenged the UK government to do more. As Dame Louise Casey had earlier written, “The need for food banks is such a sign of failure and it does not have to be this way.” They called on the Government to build a plan to end the need for food banks and ensure that the UK Government’s focus on levelling up includes jobs, incomes, and decent living standards for people.

This year’s report provides a depth of information to form the basis of a plan to end the need for food banks. It confirms the previous findings and expands our understanding of what is driving hunger across the UK.

It highlights three key themes:

  1. Levels of need are driven by a fundamental lack of income.

The vast majority (95%) of people referred to food banks in early 2020 were destitute, meaning that their income was so low that they were unable to afford the essentials in life that we all need. These include essentials such as food, basic toiletries, and clothing. On average the level of income after housing costs for people at food banks was just £248 a month.

In early 2020 95% of people referred to food banks were destitute. The average equivalised monthly income for people referred to food banks. This was just 13% of the UK average.
  1. The design of the social security system is the key driver of low income.

Low income was mainly driven by issues with the social security system, most commonly because of the design of the system itself. During the pandemic we have seen this play out:

of people referred to food banks in mid-2020 owed money to the DWP, up from 38% before the pandemic. of people referred to food banks in mid-2020 in receipt of Universal Credit were repaying an Advance Payment.
  1. Certain groups face a disproportionate risk of needing support than others.

The report highlights that some groups are significantly overrepresented when looking at people that need support from food banks This includes disabled people, with six in ten (62%) of working-age people referred to a food bank in early 2020 reporting having a disability – that’s more than three times the rate in the UK working age population. Single parents, people living alone, and homeless people are also overrepresented.

During the pandemic, these groups largely stayed the same with some key differences. During the pandemic people referred to food banks were more likely to:

11% vs. 2% in early 2020 72% vs. 51% in early 2020 62% vs. 54% in early 2020 24% of households vs. 19% in early 2020
  • First, our social security system must provide everyone with enough income to afford the essentials.
  • Second, local lifelines must be available to get people the right support at the right time.
  • Third, if any strategy tackling hunger and destitution in the UK is to have any weight, it must involve the frontline, including organisations like food banks, and – crucially – people with lived experience.

The evidence from this report can form the basis of a plan to end the need for food banks. To support this we will, alongside speaking to those in power and working with our partners, be writing a regular blog series to unpick these findings in detail, looking at the drivers of need for food banks and the groups most at risk of needing support.

You can help us as we push for a plan to end the need for food banks by signing up to be part of the conversation for a hunger free future at: http://www.trusselltrust.org/hungerfree.

 

 

 

The post The State of Hunger  – a foundation for a plan to end the need for food banks appeared first on The Trussell Trust.

Ben Southwood: Why planning reform may work this time round, delivering us the new homes that we need

14 May

Ben Southwood is Head of Housing, Transport and Urban Space at Policy Exchange

We have been here before. This is not the first time that a Government has, after years of housing troubles, hired advisers who really understand things, appointed a Housing Minister who ‘gets it’, and tried to tackle the planning system. All these previous attempts largely failed, from the late 1980s onwards. But I have a hunch that the latest wave might succeed – because of an appreciation of localism.

We really have been here before. The think tank paper Nimbyism: The disease and the cure is not a 2020 publication, but a 1990 one. It diagnosed our dilemma pretty much the same way as a newspaper column might today: everyone knows the country needs more homes, but no one wants those new homes plonked down next to them.

Indeed my father, who lives in the London suburbs, will tell you that our housing shortage is the country’s biggest problem, immediately before pointing out how the development of his neighbour’s plot killed two of his best mature trees, and caused months of constant vibrations, eight hours a day.

1990 was not even the beginning. Nicholas Ridley, the esolute free-marketeer Northumbrian who popularised the term NIMBY, was responsible for housing policy under the Thatcher government from 1987 to 1989. Ridley believed that planning was the problem, and that liberalisation was the answer. As well as trying to loosen up the rules, he attempted to use his powers as Minister to approve as many developments as possible – getting successful appeals against planning rejections up to their second highest rate ever.

Alas, this turned out to be extremely unpopular. When it was discovered that even Ridley himself opposed housing near his own home, and after a backbench revolt led by SANE Planning, Thatcher moved him over to Trade and Industry.

In the 30 years since, the problems have by and large got worse. Homeownership, accounting for age, peaked in the early 1990s. House price to income ratios have gone up dramatically. Even more people are delaying getting married, settling down, and having children. We have never managed, post war, to add net housing space to our fastest-growing cities at the rate we did in the 1820s or the 1930s. In the medium to long run, this will doom the Conservative party, whose election results seem more and more determined by homeownership in an area.

Many governments over the years have absorbed the same evidence and arguments. The Barker Review in 2004 confirmed them all, and once again Governments took this on board. The Cameron Government also grasped the problem. Like the current Government, it appointed Policy Exchange’s then Head of Housing as the housing special advisor in the Number Ten Policy Unit, and worked to unblock supply. Some things have improved since 2010, but the housing shortages in key places have got even worse.

Why did all of these Governments fail to really make a dent in the problem?

The fundamental reason is that they failed to win the support of existing communities for development near them. New Labour sought to dodge this problem by taking power out of the hands of local authorities and giving it to regional planning bodies, accountable only to the central government.

But in the long run, this doesn’t help. Voters choose their MPs too, and if they hate the housebuilding happening around them, they will eventually force the central government to stop it. This is indeed what has happened, with successive governments scaling back initially ambitious housebuilding targets.

It’s a simple thing for economists to model. The way we currently do things, those who benefit from new homes is everyone who might want to move to an area. Each new development makes it a tiny bit easier for them to move somewhere. But each new development makes things a whole lot worse for people living nearby.

So you have a huge group of people who benefit a tiny amount – so little they don’t even realise it – and a smaller group of people who see themselves as losing out a huge amount. This means an active group of opponents willing to argue and vote, and no strong proponents.

Why do I think the current Government may have seen a way around this?

If you read the Planning White Paper, which is the document summing up this Government’s aims on planning and housing, several themes are obvious. For my purposes, the key theme is local consent. You can see this in their plans to give locals more control over design.  No, design isn’t everything. But their drive to make things ‘provably popular’ is a clear indication that they grasp the fundamental condition of a durable system of housebuilding: they understand that if they deliver a housing reform that local communities hate, it won’t last.

Indeed, at Policy Exchange’s 2018 summer party, Theresa May, now one of the key opponents to planning reform said ‘I’ve long said that design quality is, I think, actually one of the keys to new housing’, referencing the ‘Building Beautiful’ movement.

The most exciting element of the Planning White Paper for me was their suggestion that they might go ‘down’ instead of ‘up’, giving streets more powers to control the sort of development they want to see, as we proposed in Strong Suburbs. This might mean keeping things just as they are, or it might mean turning semi detached houses into a terrace, so everyone has more space for family, or even a lodger. It might just mean neighbours all agreeing to replace uPVC windows with timber.

Robert Conquest said that everyone is conservative about what they know best. The reason people are NIMBYs is that their neighbourhood is one of the things they know best. This instinct is not just reasonable, but inevitable, and governments of the past have inevitably failed when they have attempted to control things from the top, without the consent of the governed. I think this Government might just have found the alternative that works.

Newslinks for Friday 14th May 2021

14 May

Millions face early second vaccine to slow Indian coronavirus strain

“Ten million people could have their second doses of coronavirus vaccines brought forward as the government attempts to stop a faster spreading Indian variant from delaying the end of restrictions. Cases of the variant have more than doubled in a week and Boris Johnson said yesterday that he was “anxious” about the threat posed by the strain to the route out of lockdown. Indoor mixing will go ahead as planned on Monday despite calls yesterday from scientists and Dominic Cummings for it to be postponed. But modelling for Sage has concluded that if the variant is much more than 30 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain it would be a big risk not to delay the final easing of restrictions next month.” – The Times

  • Johnson under fire over failure to close borders to India sooner – Daily Telegraph
  • Over-50s and vulnerable people in Indian variant hotspots will get urgent second doses – Daily Mail
  • Government to push ahead with reopening despite rise in Indian variant cases – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Covid passport plans ‘scaled back’ as ministers question health benefits – Daily Telegraph
  • British tourists in limbo as Portugal extends its ‘state of calamity’ until May 30 – The Times

Fraser Nelson: We really need an inquiry into how Sage forced Britain into lockdown

“We can already look at America, where the states took wildly different approaches, and see the lack of correlation between lockdown stringency and virus control. Importantly, the few countries who did not lock down suffered far less death than Imperial’s models predicted. Sweden ended up with less than half the modelled death toll. Poor old Taiwan was down for 93,000 Covid deaths unless it locked down: it held its nerve and saw only a dozen fatalities. Which brings us to the main problem: why the Sage group of advisers ever ended up with so much power. Such models will always have monstrous error margins: how could they not? But ministers wanted to say they were being guided by “the science” and saw, in Sage, a convenient political shield.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Fjolla Kraniqi in Comment: As we bounce back from Covid-19, ministers must not neglect the loneliness epidemic

Developers who fail to build new homes face ‘use it or lose it’ tax

“Developers will face new “use it or lose it” taxes for failing to build homes on land that already has planning permission amid concerns that more than 1.1 million have been left unbuilt in the past ten years. Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, is considering the levy as the government oversees the biggest shake-up of the planning system for 70 years. About 2.8 million homes have been given the green light for construction since 2010-11, but only 1.6 million have been built, according to analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA). Critics have claimed that such “land banking” has artificially kept house prices high and deprived first-time buyers of the chance to get on the property ladder. Housebuilders have rejected this analysis, and dismissed land banking as a myth.” – The Times

  • Amid fears of a house-building boom, Chipping Norton has gone from Blue to Red – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Nimbyism will cost the Tories new voters – James Forsyth, The Times

>Today: Angela Richardson in Local Government: Lessons from our local election defeats in Surrey

Channel 4 could be privatised as early as this year, Dowden reveals

“Ministers are looking at how they could privatise Channel 4 as early as this year, Oliver Dowden admitted last night. The Culture Sec told MPs that he has instructed officials to look into the best way of “sustaining” the channel as more Brits swap live telly for streaming, leaving its finances in crisis. They haven’t made any firm decisions on whether it will be privatised or not, but ministers have long hinted it may be on the cards. And he suggested it could happen within this Parliament’s session – meaning the next year. He said that broadcasting has rapidly changed in recent years as more flock to Netflix and other streaming services rather than terrestrial telly. The Culture Secretary also said last night he hopes live gigs will be able to return from June 21 – with the full reopening of all venues.” – The Sun

>Today: Gavin Williamson MP in Comment: Skills, jobs and freedom. My priorities for this week’s Queen’s Speech – and the year ahead.

COP26 is last chance to stop global warming, Cabinet minister will warn

“COP26 is our last opportunity to stop global warming, with “no second chances” to act, a Cabinet minister will warn today. Alok Sharma will urge richer countries to pay to help poorer nations to ditch polluting coal. And he will say 2021 is our “last hope” of sticking to strict climate goals to stop Earth from getting so hot it will transform beyond all recognition. He will also say that his young daughters begged him to tell world leaders to act for future generations… His speech at a windfarm today will mark six months until the event.” – The Sun

  • Sharma will urge countries to stop financing new coal power stations – Daily Mail

Cameron endures ‘ritual humiliation’ at hands of MPs

“David Cameron sat impassively, staring into his Zoom camera, as one of his most famous barbs was thrown back at him by Labour MP Rushanara Ali: “You were the future once.” Cameron may have wished he had never aimed that comment at Tony Blair in 2005, as his efforts to explain away the Greensill Capital lobbying affair reinforced the old adage: there is nothing as ex as an ex-prime minister. The former Conservative prime minister endured the darkest of days on June 24 2016 after presiding over the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, but on Thursday he suffered a ritual humiliation at the hands of MPs. Cameron’s insistence that his epic lobbying efforts for Greensill Capital were motivated by a desire to help small companies during the Covid-19 crisis — not his own bank balance — set the scene for a toe-curling Thursday afternoon.” – FT

  • He refuses to disclose ‘generous’ amount he was paid by Greensill Capital – Daily Telegraph
  • MPs push him to reveals pay, shares and perks – The Times

More:

  • Johnson’s county court judgement is struck out after appeal against ‘vexatious’ £535 debt claim- The Sun
  • New adviser on UK ministers’ interests says he will quit if ignored – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Video: Cameron – The actions of former Prime Ministers with commercial interests “can be open to misinterpretation”

Ross has furious row with SNP MP over ‘inept’ chairing of Commons committee

“Douglas Ross has accused a senior SNP of “inept and poor chairing” of the powerful Commons Scottish affairs committee after he focused on a second independence referendum rather than the Covid crisis. The Scottish Tory leader lashed out at Pete Wishart during the committee’s session yesterday after the Nationalist spent the first 20 minutes quizzing Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, about another separation vote. Mr Wishart, the Perth and North Pertshire MP, questioned Mr Jack over last week’s Holyrood election results and whether they gave the SNP a mandate for a referendum. He interrupted the Scottish Secretary repeatedly as he claimed that the SNP increasing its seat tally by one last week, but falling short of a majority, meant the UK Government must now transfer the powers to Nicola Sturgeon for another vote.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Brexit deal blocks life-saving cancer drug in Northern Ireland – The Times

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Last week, Ross secured his ‘Unionist’ base. The next task: selling Scots on the ‘Conservative’ bit.

Labour has no divine right to exist, warns David Miliband

““The writing is on the wall” for the Labour Party after its defeat in Hartlepool, David Miliband has said in the latest warning from a senior Blairite to Sir Keir Starmer. In an interview with Matt Chorley on Times Radio, to be broadcast this morning, the former foreign secretary warned that Labour had no “divine right to exist” and suggested that its leader had yet to set out a platform capable of winning an election. “There’s no point dodging the fact we’ve dug ourselves into a hole,” Miliband said when asked about Labour’s poor local election results and defeat to the Conservatives in Hartlepool last week. “And it’s not just a Corbyn-shaped hole. There are Corbyn elements to the hole, but it’s a bigger hole.”” – The Times

  • One in three Labour voters have no idea what the party stands for – The Sun

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Until Labour stops telling voters they’re wrong, racist, or stupid, it will continue to decline

Opposition suspends Unite leadership nominee over ‘Patel should be deported’ tweet

“Labour has suspended a leadership candidate for the Unite trade union from the party after he called for the home secretary, Priti Patel, to be deported on Twitter. Howard Beckett, the union’s assistant general secretary and a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), has since apologised and deleted the message following criticism. The tweet, in response to an attempt to deport two asylum seekers in Glasgow, read: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. “She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.” Asked about the tweet, a Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour party takes these allegations extremely seriously and appropriate action will be taken.” It was later reported that he had been suspended.” – The Observer

  • Police order release of men detained in immigration raid after Glasgow standoff – Daily Telegraph

SNP win Airdrie and Shotts by-election

“The SNP has won the Airdrie and Shotts by-election, with Anum Qaisar-Javed elected as the new MP to serve the North Lanarkshire area. Qaisar-Javed took first place in the contest ahead of Scottish Labour ‘s Kenneth Stevenson who managed to reduce the SNP’s majority. The vote was triggered by former MP Neil Gray who decided to run for Holyrood in last week’s election for the Nationalists. After he was elected to the corresponding constituency last Friday, Qaisar-Javed, 28, retained the seat he had held – albeit with a majority down on the 5,201 held by Gray in 2019. She polled 10,129 votes, ahead of Stevenson who managed 8,372 votes, a majority of 1,757.” – Daily Record

  • Sturgeon blasted by Lord who says Nationalist leader ‘doesn’t want a referendum’ – Daily Express

More:

Israeli air and ground forces hit targets in Gaza Strip as death toll climbs

“Israel’s military has said its ground and air forces are attacking targets in the Gaza Strip as residents reported a massive bombardment, amid fears that Israel would launch an incursion into the blockaded territory. “[Israel Defense Forces] air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement just after midnight local time, without providing further details. The military later issued a statement saying there were no troops inside the Gaza Strip, suggesting it was not a ground invasion but artillery and tank fire from the border. “Clarification: there are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip. IDF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.” – The Guardian

  • Massive bombardment of Hamas tunnels – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Sir Alan Duncan MP in Comment: The Conservative Party has a moral blind spot about the rights of Palestinians

News in Brief:

  • Mapping the relentless march of the nanny state – Christopher Snowdon, CapX
  • Inclusion is an illusion – Olivia Hartley, The Critic
  • The divisive demand for equality – David Goodhart, UnHerd
  • The C of E’s misguided obsession with statues – Daniel French, The Spectator

Target South Yorkshire. Eleven seats in which the Conservatives are well placed for the next election.

14 May

Here is a table of English Labour constituencies in which the Brexit Party won more than 10 per cent of the vote in the 2019 general election…

…and its vote was bigger than the majority.

Barnsley Central: 11,223 votes   3,571 majority   30 per cent 2nd

Barnsley East: 11,112   3,217   29 2nd

Blaydon: 5,833   5,331   13

Chesterfield: 4,771   1,451   10

Doncaster Central: 6,842   2,278   17

Doncaster North: 8,294   2,370   20

Easington: 6,744   6,581   20

Hemsworth: 5,930   1,180   14

Houghton and Sunderland South: 6,115   3,115   16

Jarrow: 4,122   7,120   10

Kingston Upon Hull East: 5,764   1,239   18

Kingston Upon Hull West and Hessle: 5,683   2,856

Makerfield: 5,817   4,740   13

Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford: 8,032   1,276   17

Rotherham: 6,125   3,121   17

Sheffield South East: 4,478   4,289   11

Stockton North: 3,907   1,027   10

Sunderland Central: 5,047   2,964   12

Washington and Sunderland West: 5,439   3,723   15

Wentworth and Deane: 7,019   2,165   17

  • The seats marked in blue are ones in which if the Brexit Party vote is divided in half, that half is greater than the majority.  They are this column’s eleven Tory targets (assuming present boundaries).
  • There are constituencies in which the Brexit Party vote was more than ten per cent, but in which its vote was smaller than the majority: North Durham, North Tyneside, Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough, South Shields, St Helens North, St Helens South & Whiston, and Wigan.  These aren’t listed above.
  • Ten per cent is an arbitrary figure: we might gone up to 15 per cent or down to five: but one has to start somewhere.

  • In short, the assumption in the seats marked blue is that the Conservatives can gain at the next election more than half the vote won by the Brexit Party in the last one.
  • The key to these putative targets is the size of the Conservative vote in 2019.  The size of the majority in those seven seats named above, but not listed in the table, was boosted by a Tory number relatively low to the Labour number (at least, compared to those seats in the table).
  • To assume that the Tories scoop up only half of the 2019 Brexit Party vote in the table seats is arguably a conservative, small c, assumption.  Were two thirds assumed instead, then Hull West & Hessle, where the Conservatives would fall 18 votes were they to take half the 2019 Brexit Party vote next time, would fall into the blue column.
  • Brexit Party votes moving to the Conservatives would be extremely helpful to some Tory MPs in “Red Wall” seats – for example, to Nigel Fletcher in Don Valley, in which the Brexit Party won over 6000 votes and a 14 per cent share.
  • Every single one of the seats in the table is in the eastern half of England; Tory competitiveness is lower, and Labour more entrenched, in the western half – and the Merseyside constituencies named above: St Helens North, St Helens South & Whiston, and Wigan.
  • It may well, of course, be that all other things aren’t equal: for example, that the actual Tory vote falls next time – thus making this calculation useless.

In the Hartlepool by-election, the Conservative vote rose by 24 per cent, Labour’s vote fell by nine per cent: much of the blue rise will have come from the 10,000 or so 2019 Brexit Party voters.

But a precise estimate is impossible – not least because the turnout last week was 43 per cent, whereas in 2019 it was 58 per cent.  Our bedrock assumption, as above, is that at the next election the Tories can take at least half the 2019 Brexit Party vote.

Finally, we’re using South Yorkshire in a rough and ready sense.  The Hemsworth constituency, for example, is in the West Riding, as is the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, but the centre of gravity of these seats is in South Yorkshire.

Iain Dale: Until Labour stops telling voters they’re wrong, racist, or stupid, it will continue to decline

14 May

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the ‘For the Many’ podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I rarely do a lot of preparation for an interview. Sometimes, the more preparation you do, the worse an interview is. Some interviewers war game every interview they do. I don’t. I find such an approach stultifying. It often just leads to you writing down a list of questions, and then asking them in the order they’re written down in.

My best interviews are invariably ones where I don’t have a single piece of paper in front of me. Yes, it’s risky. Freewheeling always is. But at the age of 58 and three quarters, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. However, there are exceptions to this rule and last night (as you read this) I will have interviewed the Israel Ambassador to London, Tzipi Hovotely, and conducted a phone-in.

I defy anyone to pretend they have a 100 per cent understanding of the Israel/Palestine situation, and everything that has led to the current unrest. So I am writing this column a little earlier than usual on Thursday morning to give me a little more time to read up on the situation.

I don’t call it preparation: I call it avoiding making a tit of yourself, and getting a key fact wrong. I don’t and won’t hide the fact that I am a supporter of Israel but, boy, does it make it hard for its advocates sometimes.

And this is one of them. I was slightly surprised when the Ambassador agreed to take calls from listeners, but delighted at the same time. As a presenter, I know it’s the calls from listeners that can often be far more difficult to handle than the questions from a professional interviewer.

If you missed the hour last night, you can catch up with it on the Global Player or the LBC Youtube Channel. And, next week, we’ll repeat the experience with the Palestinian Ambassador, Husam Zomlot. However balanced you try to be on this subject, though, there will always be people who accuse you of being biased and ignoring one viewpoint or the other. Such is life in the modern social media world.

– – – – – – – – – –

In my weekly email newsletter on Sunday I wrote:

“You can tell an awful lot about a politician by how they react to an election defeat. This week we learned that Sir Keir Starmer is neither a lucky general or is cool under fire.

His interview on Friday afternoon was a textbook classic of how not to react. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn’t seem to comprehend the scale of what had happened.

He promised to take “full responsibility” himself. Twenty four hours later, we learned he had sacked Angela Rayner, the chair of the Labour Party and its campaign co-ordinator.

Given Labour’s problems seem to be a lack of ability to reach out to northern working class voter, it didn’t really seem a good idea to sack a norrthern working class woman.”

– – – – – – – – – –

The week hasn’t exactly improved for the man whose name is now invariably preceded by the word ‘beleaguered’. I find it genuinely perplexing to understand what has happened to Sir Keir since Christmas. During hhis first nine months as Labour leader, he established a positive reputation, and many Conservatives thought that at last they faced an opposition leader that the electorate could imagine as an alternative Prime Minister.

Since then, it’s all gone to pot. And last week’s elections demonstrated how, if not why. Labour had the odd positive result but, overall, they were a disaster. To lose the Hartlepool by-election by a country mile, to lose the West Midlands Mayoralty by a large margin, to come a bad third in Scotland and to lose 322 local council seats was quite the hattrick.

Again, there was little understanding in the Labour Party as to why it had happened. Judging from the lame reshuffle ,Starmer then conducted it was all Valerie Vaz’s fault.

The comment of a defeated northern Labour council leader sums up Labour’s problem. He said: “I hope the electorate don’t live to regret what they’ve done.” Effectively he was saying: it’s not us, it’s you. Too many people in the Labour Party think the electorate must be stupid and thick to vote the way they do. “We know what’s best for you,” they think subliminally.

Grace Blakely, the Tribune columnist, is a living example of this phenomenon – middle/upper middle class intellectuals who think they know how best to improve the life of the peasants – and woe betide those peasants if they don’t take notice of them.

What we are experiencing is another form of ‘peasants’ revolt’: ordinary people are telling their previous lords and masters that they are quite capable of judging things for themselves, thank you very much. They don’t need to be told they’re wrong, racist, or stupid. And until the Labour Party understands that, it will continue to decline in electoral popularity.

– – – – – – – – – –

The slow rise of the Greens is something most of the media has largely ignored. They gained a good clutch of council seats and an extra seat on the London Assembly. They have beaten the Liberal Democrats to be the third party in many of the major contests.

If I were the LibDems and Labour I’d be worried about this, since the Greens are becoming the home of the ‘plague on all your houses’ vote, as well as those who are disillusioned with Labour and the LibDems.

However, they also gained quite a number of seats from the Conservatives. So electoral strategists in all parties would do well to monitor the Greens locally.

If they ever started to build the kind of grassroots local networks that the LibDems did during the 1980s and 1990s, they could become a much bigger electoral threat than they currently are. Expect them to double the number of candidates they field in local council elections next year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if within five years they had got more councillors across the country than the LibDems.