We need to talk about income tax: the system is broken

As the parties gear up for an election and set out their vision for a future government, there will be spending pledges aplenty. Although there is definitely room for more borrowing, taxes too should take centre stage.

But conversations about tax shouldn’t just focus on revenue raising but also economic justice. Income taxation is deeply flawed, placing the wealthiest at an unfair advantage.

Firstly, how much of your income is taxable varies wildly depending on how you came to receive it. Work – the means by which most of us pay our bills, is taxed more highly than any other source of income. Whereas, if you make a living from the buying and selling of houses, or from dividends from shares you inherited, you’ll pay much lower average rates of tax than most people working nine to five. 

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the arrangements we have suit the wealthiest – preferential tax treatment for the asset-rich has got to go. It’s a simple matter of fairness. All income should be treated equally. The current system facilitates tax avoidance as the wealthy are able to convert their income into forms which are more lightly taxed. 

Second, income tax is a confusing muddle – a result of piecemeal reforms over the decades and not a terribly coherent system. There are 2 separate taxes on jobs and total income which push in different directions as income increases, as well as differing tax-free allowances and rates on different income sources.

Crucially, depending on how much you earn, the additional tax you pay on any further earnings (the “marginal rate”) varies sharply – creating so called tax cliffs. These cliffs are most dramatic at the very bottom and top of the income distribution.

Consequently, those on the lowest incomes looking to increase their earnings, , will find they’ll pay much higher rates of tax on that extra income, which combined with the withdrawal of in-work benefits means that workers may not be much better off. This unfairly penalises those striving at the bottom.

To prevent these damaging effects, the tax cliff edges should be smoothed out. This can be achieved by designing a formula based system that would mean that as you earn a bit more money you’d pay slightly more of that extra income in tax. 

IPPR has modelled an illustrative scenario that would raise the same amount of revenue as the current system, whilst increasing the take home pay of anyone earning less than £44,800. The scale would start at just 2 per cent, before climbing steadily towards 50 per cent for those earning £100,000+.

However, there is a need to fund our vital public services and political parties will be searching for a way to fund their election promises. The above model could be adapted with a slightly higher starting rate of 6 per cent to raise at least £6bn per annum, whilst still benefiting over three quarters of taxpayers, reducing the squeeze on lower and middle earners. 

If parties want to be really ambitious with public spending, they could alter the formula further to raise £15bn, whilst protecting those earning £37,500 or less from paying more tax than today and avoiding marginal tax rates above 50 per cent. These radical reforms to the tax system would all be progressive, raise some serious cash and crucially could attract a broad coalition of support. 

Taxing income from wealth and work the same, together with the reformulation of the income tax schedule, would amount to a transformation of the taxation of income.

This proposal should warrant serious consideration for any future government hoping to make the public spending increases necessary to reverse nearly a decade of austerity.  

Henry Parkes is a Senior Economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

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Defiance in the Tory ranks as three Conservatives enter pact with Brexit Party

Three local Conservatives have defied Boris Johnson to enter a pro-Brexit coalition with the Brexit Party.  

Just days after Boris Johnson publicly ruled out an election pact with Nigel Farage’s party, three Tory councillors in Hartlepool have announced that they will work alongside the party to challenge Labour for control of the local government

The move is the first time Conservatives have broken ranks since Johnson ruled out a pact with the Brexit Party and came a day after nine Hartlepool councillors from different parties announced that they would be defecting to the Brexit Party.

One of the Conservative councillors Mike Young said that he was “disappointed” that a way forward for Brexit has not emerged.

Young added: “As a coalition, we want to stand by the people of the town, who voted almost 70% to leave the EU, and we will be standing firm and sending a message to parliament and the EU.”

Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said: “It is shocking that Hartlepool’s sitting Labour MP is defying local wishes and fighting to block Brexit […] The British people are tired of their games.”

The pro-Brexit alliance is in direct defiance of the Conservative Party leadership, after a Downing Street spokesman said on Wednesday afternoon: “The PM will not be doing a deal with Nigel Farage.”

A senior Conservative is reported to have added that “Neither Nigel Farage or (political donor) Arron Banks are fit and proper persons and they should never be allowed anywhere near government.”

The refusal to enter into a pact with Farage’s new party will be controversial to some in the Conservative Party.

The new chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group Steve Baker MP has urged Boris Johnson to do a deal with the Brexit Party if there is an election before Britain leaves the EU.

Joe Evans is a journalist and editor. He is on Twitter: @joeevanswrites

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Students need a People’s Vote more than most

It is no secret that the majority of young people, over 70% in fact, voted to remain in the European Union in 2016 and would do so again if given a second say on Brexit. 

My generation and those who follow are proud to be European. We’re proud to have grown up without the horrors of war in Europe. We’re proud to have grown up knowing the peace in Northern Ireland – fragile but still there. And we’re proud and forever grateful for the opportunities afforded to us by membership of the EU.

It’s given us the ability to freely live, love and learn in 27 other countries, the ability to experience other cultures and viewpoints, and the ability to grow our networks, make lifelong friends, and become more tolerant and broad-minded.

But my generation, and future generations, face being sold up the river by a group of Hard Brexiteer politicians who have so readily enjoyed and exploited the rights they now wish to strip from us.

As President of NUS Wales, I represent thousands of young people who did not have the chance to vote in the 2016 referendum. Almost every school-leaving undergraduate at university now didn’t get to vote and didn’t get to participate in the decision that has completely overtaken politics and their future.

But we need to make it clear that it’s not too late, Brexit hasn’t happened yet. And the millions of students in Wales and across the UK who watch as the chaos continues have to do so knowing they did not get to have their say in the decision that caused it.

It has been proven that the Prime Minister is incapable of ending it, parliament is incapable of ending it, there is only one viable way to escape the current deadlock gripping our country that is stopping us being able to talk about anything else that matters to people. 

A mental health crisis gripping U.K Universities, climate change, the housing crisis. Whilst the Brexit chaos continues, these issues, that I know matter so much to so many young people, are being pushed under the rug.

We need a way to solve this mess that doesn’t leave us still in the lurch, and it’s becoming clearer that there’s only one democratic way to do that. 

That way is a People’s Vote. To ensure not just that the millions of young people left out the first time round can decide their future, but that those who voted for a Brexit we now know is unachievable can change their mind. It’s the only way through that doesn’t leave a significant chunk of the population feeling cheated. 

Politicians cannot decide what to do and our future still hangs in the balance, why shouldn’t those who didn’t get to vote but will live with the consequences for the longest help to decide it? 

We know that young people want and need to have a voice in this debate. Campaigns like For our Future’s Sake are mobilising students and young people up and down the country, with more at stake for them than ever, and we will make ourselves heard. I’ve seen the passion and anger from those I represent. 

Because this is not just what they didn’t have the chance to vote for, this is not what anyone voted for. 

As someone elected by students to represent them, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t argue that the newly enfranchised young people deserve a chance to make up their minds. They deserve a chance to be part of a democratic process that will decide the course of their future for decades to come. 

There is a reason why it was reported that Boris Johnson wanted an October election partly to ensure students were less likely to register to vote, and it is because he knows that Brexit is not what they want, and given the chance, they’ll show him this at the ballot box. 

I hope that ballot box is in a second referendum, so that we can finally settle the issue overtaking our country and politics once and for all and allow those enfranchised since 2016 their first Brexit vote, for the sake of their future.

Rob Simkins is the President of the National Union of Students Wales

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Scottish judges rules prorogation is illegal. What happens next?

A panel of judges in the Scottish appeals court ruled Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was illegal on Wednesday.

The ruling overturned an earlier decision that the courts did not have the power to interfere with Boris Johnson’s order to prorogue parliament. 

The appeals court, however, decided that the order was “null and void” after lawyers acting on behalf of 75 MPs and peers said suspending parliament would stifle action on Brexit. 

Despite the ruling, the judges did not issue an injunction which would force parliament to reconvene. Instead, they are waiting on the UK supreme court to issue a final decision.

So what happens next? 

Even though the judges are waiting on the supreme court’s decision on an injunction, the lawyers who worked on behalf of the MPs said that they believe today’s decision meant that prorogation was suspended “with immediate effect”. 

Joylon Maugham QC, a legal campaigner who funded the legal action with his Good Law Project, said the ruling was a win for democracy. 

“I’m relieved that my understanding of the functioning of our democracy – that allows parliament to exercise its vital constitutional role – has been vindicated by Scotland’s highest court.

“This is an incredibly important point of principle. The prime minister mustn’t treat parliament as an inconvenience.”

However, Joanna Cherry QC, the lead applicant on the case, said she did not agree with Maugham that parliament was reconvened immediately. 

“This ruling takes us one step closer to ensuring the UK government cancels their shameful prorogation and blatant plot to force through an extreme Brexit. Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to break the law with impunity,” the MP said. 

The government will now appeal the case to the supreme court, meaning that at least for the moment, parliament is seemingly still suspended. 

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision and will appeal to the UK supreme court. The UK government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda. Proroguing parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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Nordhaus can have his Nobel, but we shouldn’t let his theory gamble with humanity’s future

One of the provisions of the Nobel Prize is that it can never be revoked.

So, William Nordhaus’s Nobel Prize in Economics in 2018 “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis” is safe. But the world isn’t.

When future generations ask why humanity delayed taking action against climate change for so long, Nordhaus’s model will be one of the prime suspects. The model, known as DICE – Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy – is a dangerous gamble for humanity’s future.

Nordhaus’s transgressions are immense. His ‘damage function’ which he uses to estimate global warming damage is incorrect and uses data that has nothing to do with climate change. Despite this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses his model to advise governments about the economic impact of global warming.

Nordhaus and other mainstream climate economists certainly have a lot to answer for. Their thinking has seriously delayed action to avert damage done from climate change. 

The central problem with Nordhaus’s model is the “damage function”, which is a mathematical fiction that has little to do the real world. Using a spurious method, he calculates that 2°C of warming will only reduce global economic output – GDP – by 0.9 percent, and 4°C would cut GDP by 3.6 percent.

These are trivial changes. If it were true, there would be little to worry about. This is the reason that Nordhaus has repeatedly argued that from the point of view of economic rationality an “optimal” path would be 3.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels.

Climate scientists, meanwhile, are truly panicked about a 2°C increase. They assert that global warming must be kept to 2°C or below, or risk tipping us into a “domino-like cascade that could take the Earth’s system to even higher temperatures”.

Nordhaus’s damage, however, function projects a smooth transition. So it is like describing a canoe trip along a river with a waterfall by saying you will descend seven metres for every kilometre paddled. That would describe the river section of the journey very well, but not the part where you plummet over the waterfall.

Nordhaus’ model does not include such drastic tipping points which he claims is in line with work by Professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter and colleagues. That is just plain wrong. Lenton’s team is “focusing on developing early warning of climate tipping points” such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet or disruption of the Gulf Stream. Nordhaus it seems has completely failed to understand climate science.  The only changes he has made to his research over the years have made it less able to handle tipping points.

Other models used by the IPCC to predict the economic consequences of global warming – known as Integrated Assessment Models – are no better informed. They are the source of the IPCC’s claims about the economic impact of climate change that trivialise the danger of extreme temperature changes. For example, the latest IPCC report says that a 2°C rise will reduce GDP by just 0.2 to 2 percent.

These IPCC forecasts are quoted and promoted by climate change deniers and they are taken seriously by economic-growth-obsessed politicians, while the dire warnings of climate scientists are effectively ignored.

For me, Nordhaus’s interventions on climate change have trivialised the dangers, and thereby helped delay critical action to prevent environmental breakdown. He and his fellow economists should be thrown out of the IPCC and replaced by scientists who have a far better understanding of the dangers of unleashing even more energy on our sensitive biosphere.

Nordhaus has led humanity up the garden path towards a possible slaughterhouse. He will take his Nobel Prize to the grave, but we should leave his death march, now.

Steve Keen is a Professor of Economics at Kingston University. This is the second blog in the Not the Nobel economics series.

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Education in England is ‘moving in the wrong direction’, say campaigners

Campaigners have warned that the education system is “moving in the wrong direction” following an OECD report which warned that British students were leaving university with some of the highest loans.

The Education at a Glance 2019 report looks at education in OECD countries and partner countries and provides data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems.

According to the report, tuitions fees in England are higher than in all OECD countries and economies except the United States. 

“The findings of the OECD’s latest Education at a Glance provide another worrying reminder that education in England is moving in the wrong direction and is an outlier compared with other OECD countries. We need a strong education system to build firm foundations for our economic growth,” explained Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

Dr Bousted explained that despite student loans being wiped off after 30 years, the looming burden of debt can put many young people off of going into higher education.

“The study shows that England has among the highest university tuition fees across the OECD and that our students are graduating with enormous debt burdens – approaching £50,000 on average per student. 

“This puts further and higher education out of the reach of many young people and means the UK will struggle to fulfil its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which it has signed up alongside other world leaders. Goal 4 commits it to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” she said. 

As well as a high burden of debt, the report warned that students who attend universities in the UK were not being equipped with the knowledge to navigate life after education. 

“It is more important than ever that young people learn the knowledge and skills needed to navigate our unpredictable and changing world,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

“We must expand opportunities and build stronger bridges with future skills needs so that every student can find their place in society and achieve their full potential.”

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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Authoritarian populism threatens to destroy UK democracy

For a long time Brits have comforted themselves with claims that the UK is a democratic country with robust and accountable institutions.

Recent events show that many of the institutions of democracy are medieval rather than modern. 

He Who Must be Obeyed

Like a medieval king, Prime Minister Boris Johnson requires MPs to slavishly obey his orders.

Last week, 21 Conservative MPs dared to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s order to support a No Deal exit from the European Union (EU).

They were immediately thrown out of the parliamentary party without any hearing or right of appeal.  There is no electoral mandate for leaving the EU without a deal.

Dominic Cummings, unelected main adviser to the Prime Minister, reportedly told an MP: “When are you MPs going to realise that we are leaving on 31 October?” before adding: “We are going to fucking purge you.” 

Cummings is former director of the official Leave campaign and has been held to be in contempt of parliament after failing to appear before MPs investigating fake news. Now he rules the roost over elected MPs and enjoys security clearance to roam the Houses of Parliament.

In the words of former Chancellor Philip Hammond: “the Conservative Party has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction.” 

The September session of parliament was of special significance as the government is committed to leaving the EU on 31 October. But the Prime Minister is not keen on parliamentary scrutiny and privately said that parliament was a “rigmarole” designed to show MPs were “earning their crust”. 

Unaccountable

Johnson’s Conservative Party has no working majority in the House of Commons and he was elected leader of the party and Prime Minister by less than 100,000 members of his party.

Around 15/16 August he secretly made the decision to prorogue parliament, but continued to make public statements to the contrary.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said that that the Cabinet was not given the legal advice on prorogation and she only found out about the suspension of parliament on the morning it was announced.

The formal power to prorogue parliament rests with the Queen, the unelected head of state.

Many people will have reservations about permitting a 93 year old to sign important documents but on 29th August the Queen approved a five-week prorogation of parliament, the longest period since the Second World War.

She was guided by her Private Secretary Edward Young, a former advisor to the Conservative Party.

Parliament cannot vote on the Queen’s decision. There is no public document to explain the prorogation reasoning offered by the Prime Minister to the cabinet, parliament or the public.

Members of parliament cannot bring the Queen to any parliamentary committee to seek information about how the Sovereign exercises her powers. MPs are not permitted to raise matters relating to the Sovereign in the UK parliament. 

People fund the Monarchy but have no way of finding information about its operations. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 enables people to secure information about some operations of the state, but the Act exempts matter relating to communications with the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family.

Danger signs

Like medieval kings, Boris Johnson cannot guarantee that he will comply with the law of the land.

The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill 2017-19, now law, ensures that the UK does not leave the EU on the 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement, unless Parliament approves such a course of action. 

It provides that if parliament has not approved either a withdrawal agreement with the EU or a statement that the UK is to leave the EU without an agreement, the Prime Minister is obliged to ask the European Council for an extension to Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union. The Prime Minister has refused to confirm that he will abide by the law.

For years, the UK press built the bogey that left-leaning politicians are somehow a danger to parliament, rule of law and democracy.

Now we see that the coup is from the right-wing which increasingly wraps itself in garbs of nationalism.

For this, much of the tabloid press lauds Boris Johnson. If the opinions polls are anything to go by, he enjoys considerable support for his practices and is particularly supported by the far-right groups.

Minorities are becoming a convenient scapegoat for UK’s political failures and racism is increasing.

Haven’t we seen all this before? In the 1930s, authoritarian populism enabled the Nazis to take power and destroy democratic institutions in Germany.

The current BBC series ‘The Rise of the Nazis’ shows that authoritarian populism and the intolerance of dissent, an essential ingredient for renewal of democracy, resulted in xenophobia, destruction of society and much more.

The danger signs are flashing. The inexorable descent will continue unless people unite in resistance and transformation of institutions of democracy to secure a better future for all.

Prem Sikka is a Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield, and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward and tweets here.

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London’s arms fair is a horrific farce and must be stopped

Today, the world’s biggest arms fair officially opens in London, a hub for trading in destruction that undermines my work as a Member of the European Parliament working on human rights.

I was there last week with my fellow Green MEPs to help disrupt the set-up of this vicious event, and to highlight that the arms trade is never a solution, only another form of oppression.

Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, with over 1,600 exhibitors.

When I arrived at the ExCeL centre in London, where it is held, military speedboats – quite possibly to be used to enforce hard borders against refugees – were just being towed in.

Police were everywhere along the road, while activists greeted the incoming weapons with as much noise and singing as possible.

Within a few minutes, someone had locked themselves to a truck that was trying to leave the site, effectively closing the road and blocking the set up for a few hours at least.

Why is this important? The weekend before I travelled to London, more than 100 people were killed when a Saudi-led airstrike hit a detention centre in Yemen.

The UK and other Western powers were possibly complicit in this, the United Nations said, due to their selling of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Yet now Saudi arms buyers are coming to London to buy more “maximum effect” weapons.

How will other countries take my work on human rights seriously, given that, as an MEP sent to the European Parliament by the UK, I represent a country that is thus complicit in war crimes such as these – a country that invites the perpetrators of such acts to do their business and buy their weapons here?

And it’s not just Saudi Arabia. Many countries on the UK Foreign Office’s “human rights priority” concern list are invited to this Arms Fair, included Bahrain, Egypt, Uzbekistan – all countries where freedom of association and of opinion have been violently curtailed by the authorities.

Brazil, too, is on the list of attendees, as the UK tries to boost arms exports to that country, despite growing international worry about the fascistic intentions of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The Government may defend DSEI by saying that “security” is necessary, in a turbulent world, especially as conflict is only likely to increase under the pressure of climate change.

But in reality the promotion of arms trading only exacerbates conflict. It is those in power who want to buy arms, and their aim is invariably to secure their own advantage while continuing to oppress those who are powerless and disadvantaged.

The way to solve the problems in our world is not through shoring up violent defences, but through working to break down those systems of oppression, to solve the injustices that give rise to deprivation, conflict and displacement of people, and through mutual learning.

The spirit of resistance among the Stop the Arms Fair protestors was also a spirit of building anew.

On the little plot of land where activists camped there were impromptu gardens. They became the site of conversations about the dangers of colonialism and of nuclear power, the links between climate change and the arms trade and tactics for how to change the system.

Along with my fellow Green MEPs I spoke about the work the European Parliament has been doing to vote for a Europe-wide embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Europe is far from perfect, but I fear that if we leave the European Union we will lose that voice of conscience that the European Parliament has been.

What is vital is that we as MEPs continue to stand in solidarity with those who are calling out the truth about what the arms fair is, and the injustices that it facilitates.

As Green MEPs. we have written to the UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss calling on her to uphold the embargo on Saudi arms deals.

As the arms fair kicks off in London, it is more important than ever for the UK to take up a position on the right side, not the wrong side, of human rights abuses here and elsewhere.

Catherine Rowett is a Green MEP for the East of England

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May knights cricketer convicted of domestic violence

In her resignation honours list, Theresa May has knighted former cricket Geoffrey Boycott along with several Tory donors.

The decision has been criticised by Womens’ Aid as Boycott has a conviction for domestic violence for assaulting his then girlfriend Margaret Moore in a French hotel.

Moore was left with a bruised forehead and blackened eye after the attack. Boycott says she got the injuries through an accidental slip and fall.

Adina Claire, co-acting chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Celebrating a man who was convicted for assaulting his partner sends a dangerous message – that domestic abuse is not taken seriously as a crime.”

“With increasing awareness of domestic abuse, and a domestic abuse bill ready to be taken forward by government, it is extremely disappointing that a knighthood has been recommended for Geoffrey Boycott, who is a convicted perpetrator of domestic abuse.”

When Today Show presenter Martha Kearney started to put Claire’s criticism to Boycott, he interrupted her and replied (at 2.29.27):

“I don’t care a toss about her love. It’s twenty-five years ago. You can take your political nature and…do what ever you want with it. You want to talk to me about my knighthood, very nice of you to have me, but I couldn’t give a toss.”

Boycott said the French court was wrong to find him guilty of assaulting his girlfriend, falsely claiming said that in France you are presumed guilty and have to prove yourself innocent.

This is a common misconception about the French legal system, repeated by Philipine President Duterte among others, but it is not true according to a fact-check by ABS-CBN news.

Boycott said that French courts presuming guilt was one reason he voted to leave the European Union.

Boycott said it was difficult to prove your innocence in another country in a second language.

Like UK courts, French courts use translators and Boycott was represented by a French lawyer called Jean-Luc Cardona.

Boycott’s knighthood was welcomed by Tory MP Julian Lewis and the English Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison.

Theresa May has previously compared herself to Boycott, calling him “one of her cricket heroes”.

An estimated 1.3 million women and 695,000 men experienced domestic abuse in the past year, according to official statistics.

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Three businessmen who gave over £5m to Tories awarded honours by Theresa May

Theresa May has granted honours to three major Tory Party donors in her resignation honours list.

The former Prime Minister has knighted Ehud Sheleg and made Lords of Rami Ranger and Zameer Chowdery.

Between them, the three have given over £5m to the Conservative Party. They are the latest in a long line of Tory donors to be made a knight or Lord.

Ranger’s company Sun Mark has given over £1.3m to the party over the last ten years.

Ranger, who supported May’s leadership bid, was criticised for attending the infamous President’s Club all-male dinner where waitresses were sexually harassed. Ranger says he wasn’t aware of harassment and has learned not to attend all-male dinners.

Ehud Sheleg, an Israeli art dealer and the party’s co-treasurer, has given nearly £3m to the Tories.

Sheleg’s brother and business partner Ran Sheleg was involved in a controversial online investment industry. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Chowdery’s Bestway firm has given over £950,000 to the Conservative Party. In the noughties, he also donated £20,000 to Labour and £6,000 to the Liberal Democrats.

These three are by no means the first Tory donors to be honoured. In 2017, a man called Theodore Agnew was made a Lord after giving the party £150,000.

Others Tory donors made Lords or knights include Stanley Fink, Michael Hintze, Mick Davis and John Henry James Lewis.

As well as giving millions to the Tory Party, Lord Fink is famous for responding to tax avoidance accusations from Ed Milliband by saying: “Everyone does tax avoidance”.

Anti-corruption campaigners at Transparency International have criticised the awarding of honours to donors. In a statement to BuzzFeed, they said:

“Questions have always hung over the curiously strong relationship between big political donations and the awarding of peerages, so whenever a major party donor is nominated to the Lords it’s going to raise eyebrows.”

“Those given the honour of serving in Parliament must be there based solely on merit — not the depth of their pockets. To remove the perception or reality of foul play, the corrupting influence of big money should be taken out of UK politics, including a cap on how much any individual or donor can give in any year.”

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New DWP minister criticised by disabled peoples’ group

The co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has calleld the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Therese Coffey “nasty”.

Coffey replaced Amber Rudd, who resigned over Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy.

DPAC co-founder Linda Burnip told The Morning Star: “Therese Coffey is just the latest in a long line of nasty DWP ministers who have consistently voted to further impoverish disabled people.”

“She has also suggested that pensioners should be forced to pay national insurance contributions to get their pension.”

The Scottish National Party also criticised Coffey. Their work and pensions spokesperson Neil Gray said:

“The Tory government must rule out any plan to further attack older people’s incomes by forcing pensioners to pay National Insurance.”

“It is deeply worrying that the new Tory Work and Pensions Secretary proposed increasing taxes on pensioners – who are already struggling to get by after a decade of Tory cuts.

“The Tories cannot be trusted on pensions. Under the Tories, pensioners have been pushed into poverty and hardship.”

“The UK now has a higher pension age, the lowest state pension in the developed world, injustice facing WASPI women, and cuts to key benefits like the free TV licence.

Therese Coffey has previously been criticised for supporting gambling industry proposals to remove the limit on the number of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals allowed in a betting shop.

She has since received several hundred pounds worth of hospitality from gambling company Ladbrokes.

Coffey also courted controversy by tweeting support for a weedkilling product called Roundup.

This tweet was the day after a court concluded Roundup was dangerous and its producer Monsanto knew this but did not tell consumers.

After this was pointed out to her, she doubled-down on her tweet, claiming you just had to handle it appropriately to manage the risk.

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Hammond is re-writing history – the Tories he joined were already extreme right-wing

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond recently had the Tory party whip taken from him after he voted against a no-deal Brexit.

In response, he said that Johnson and his allies were trying to turn the party into an “extreme right-wing faction”.

“It is not the party, I joined,” he said. Contrasting today’s right-wing Tory party with a mythical tolerant one of the past may make good headlines but it’s highly ahistorical.

According to the Scotsman, Hammond has been campaigning for the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979.

Some of the party’s policies back then were extremely right-wing. This is perhaps unsurprisng as Thatcher used to attend regular dinner and discussion clubs with Enoch Powell, Roger Scruton and a group of hard right MPs.

While Hammond was a Tory activist, rising to become the chair of his local Lewisham East branch and then an MP, Conservative policies included:

  • Section 28 – which banned the promotion of homosexuality.
  • Support for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet
  • Calling Nelson Mandela’s ANC a “terrorist organistaion” and opposing the boycott of and sanctions on South Africa.
  • The closing down of mines, with no plan to replace the jobs lost.
  • Regarding immigration as something “swamping” Britain.

Hammond himself supported re-introducing the death penalty, as late as 1994 and was accused in 2013 of comparing gay marriage to incest – which he denies.

Other Conservatives now being painted as moderate, “One Nation” Conservatives include Oliver Letwin, who once said that encouraging black entrepeneurs would only result in them investing in “discos and drugs”.

Another ex-Tory, now a Liberal Democrat is Philip Lee. He voted against gay marriage and tried to force asylum seekers to disclose their HIV status and demonstrate they do not have Hepatitis B.

To paint these people as ‘moderates’ or ‘liberals’ as a group is a huge over-simplification and, in some individual cases, an outright distortion.

In denouncing the modern Tory party, we shouldn’t whitewash the extremism in the Tory party’s past.

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Greens deny they will stand down for ex-Tories

Green party figures have reacted angrily to claims they would stand aside to give former Tory Rory Stewart a better chance of winning his seat.

The Times’s Caroline Wheeler said the Liberal Democrats may stand aside for Stewart and added “it is understood” that the Green Party would do the same.

The Green Party’s deputy leader Amelia Womack denied this and asked for a correction – which has not been made.

A Green Party spokesperson added: “The report in the Sunday Times suggesting the Green Party might stand down for Rory Stewart in the constituency of Penrith and The Border is completely incorrect and unfounded. We are not in any talks with expelled Tories and we will not be considering this.

“The Green Party is entirely focused on getting rid of the Tory government, remaining in the European Union, addressing the climate emergency and ending the disastrous policy of austerity.”

A local Green Party spokesperson added: “We have a call for candidates for the seat out now and we have every intention of standing. It is in an area where we are fast growing our representation in local government.”

The Green Party, along with Plaid Cymru, did stand aside to help the Liberal Democrats win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

However, standing aside for the Liberal Democrats was controversial within the party and standing aside for former Tories or Change UK is likely to be more so.

Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley previously accused Change UK of “vapid centrism”.

Rory Stewart was one of 21 Tories to be de-selected after voting for parliament to take control of the order paper so a no deal Brexit could be avoided.

He has said that he will run his Penrith and the Border seat as an independent in the next election.

At the last election, Stewart (as a Tory candidate) won 60% of the vote. Labour came second with 26%, the Liberal Democrats got 8% and the Greens got 2%.

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Organising with love: How a new cafe shows the power of community action

In the shadow of Waterloo station, Elizabeth House is a vast metal and concrete structure that was built in the 1840s. It honours the dead of the Great War, and it launched the first Eurostar service in the 1990s.

It has a significant social history. But today it risks being known for something ignoble – the rising tide of homelessness, with rough sleepers clustering around the station.

As a local councillor, this worries me. As a citizen, it angers me. As a local businessman, it puzzles me. That’s why I wanted to do something about it.

When I came to Britain in the 1990s, I waited tables day and night to make my way in a new country. With a mixture of hard work and good fortune I was able to work, save, build a business and buy a home.

But I am all too aware that not everyone enjoyed the good fortune I did more than 20 years ago when I walked into a job.

My experiences helped drive me politically and, now that I hold a local leadership role as mayor, I am keen to create the same opportunities for people in London struggling to get by.

Those people already on the breadline in the 2010s have had to cope with years of austerity driven by misplaced Tory dogma and the ideology of an ever-smaller state.

London is one of the most vibrant and enterprising cities in the world. Its mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been steadfast in his desire to keep the city open, tolerant and rewarding of hard work amid the political chaos of the last three years.

The scale of homelessness in the capital today, however, bears witness to the cruelty and incompetence of successive Tory governments led by out-of-touch leaders like David Cameron, Theresa May and the blustering Boris Johnson.

In Lambeth I am pleased to say we take a different approach. Last month I opened a coffee shop in an empty unit at Elizabeth House that aims to make a difference. ‘With Love’ is a community charitable enterprise with a focus on helping the homeless.

When commuters, tourists and shoppers stop at Waterloo they see ‘With Love’. When they buy our (great-tasting) morning coffee, they are encouraged to buy discounted food or a hot drink and donate it to someone who can’t afford it.

By building opportunities for giving into our daily routine, With Love is making giving easier at the same time as bringing people together, cutting the stigma around homelessness and creating a special type of enterprise. It has the simple aim of being good business that’s also good for the community it serves.

The community business has been made possible by generous supporters including HB Reavis – who have provided the premises rent-free – Ben & Jerry’s, who provided funds for refurbishment, and Coca-Cola, Just Eat, Cobra Beer and Chef Online who all made contributions. 

We are now looking at how to provide training opportunities for unemployed Londoners following the countless studies which show a direct link between a lack of traditional education, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. 

And for the staff we hire to work in With Love, we pay them the London Living Wage and ensure we put fairness at the top of the menu.

With Love will not end homelessness. We know we are just one part of a bigger solution which is being driven by community businesses across the capital. But, by providing food and support, we can strip out the ideology of austerity and make a real difference to the tired and the lonely.

Other Labour councillors across London are now looking at this model (based on sponsorship and using vacant space) to supplement their work tackling the challenges of homelessness.

It’s vital we win the next election and form a progressive Labour government. But projects like this also show what can be done outside of government through the power of community organising.

Ibrahim Dogus is Mayor of Lambeth, an entrepreneur and restaurateur. He is founder of the Centre for Turkey Studies and Centre for Kurdish Progress.

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Boris Johnson’s aides just let slip the underhand motive for an early election date

Aides of Boris Johnson’s have have privately admitted that one of the advantages of an October 15 election is to limit the number of students registering to vote, according to a report in the Times today.

There is fear amongst the Prime Minister’s team that a high youth and student turnout could severely hamper his ability to gain a majority – so an earlier election would be ideal to allow less time for students to register to vote, when they return to universities and colleges for a new term.

Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, co-founder of For our Future’s Sake, said:

“It is unfortunately unsurprising that Boris Johnson’s advisors are aiming for an earlier election, as a misconceived attempt to restrict the student vote.

“Boris Johnson and his team know that young people and learners across Higher and Further Education do not want a vicious No Deal imposed on them, damaging their futures.

“No 10 are right to be scared – this generation of young people will get out and vote for pro-People’s Vote parties, no matter the time of the election.”

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, Professor Toby James – an expert in issues of electoral management at the University of East Anglia – said:

“It is important that the election is designed to be inclusive and to encourage everyone to vote. Unfortunately, many governments fall short of this and use tactics to deliberate restrict participation.

“The government has an opportunity to prove it’s democratic credentials by resourcing local authorities, universities and civil society groups to run outreach campaigns, and set a date that will not adversely affect anyone.”

He added: “Students are one of the most under-registered groups because they are so mobile. Major work will need to be done to encourage them to register to vote ahead of the election.”

A recent report by Prof James highlighted that millions of people who should be on the electoral roll are still missing.

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS President, told LFF that ‘any attempt to restrict the democratic rights of our members will be met with the full force of the National Union of Students’:

“This move shows the extent to which Boris Johnson and his cabinet will go to lock out students voices. His actions this week, in pursuing a no deal Brexit, has been met with fury from students all around the country.

“Let’s be clear: [If this goes ahead] We will launch our largest ever voter registration campaign to get every student, in every campus, and in every classroom into that voting booth.”

Cat Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, said:

“Boris Johnson must not be allowed to rig the election by stopping students from voting. The Tories know that our young people have had enough of being ignored and are a force to be reckoned with.

“Students should register to vote immediately so they can help us to get rid of this Tory government and end austerity.”

Since Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, over one million people have registered to vote, according to official figures.

You can register to vote if you’re not on the electoral roll or have moved house recently here.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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TUC: Union movement urged to join school climate walkouts this month

School students and supporters will urge delegates at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday to back the global school strikes on Friday 20 September.

The lobby, organised by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) comes after the University and College Union (UCU) submitted a motion to the four-day conference calling on trade unionists to support the school students’ efforts, and to join them for 30 minutes in a solidarity walkout on 20 September.

The lobby will take place at 3pm on Sunday, with the UCU’s motion heard on Tuesday afternoon as part of the debate on the economy. The union’s general secretary Jo Grady will support the motion and say that workers should lend 30 minutes of their day on 20 September to the most important issue the planet faces.

The union believes tackling climate change will be central to the development of the British economy in the 21st century and an essential way of improving the lives of working people. The UCU have demanded a just transition to a greener economy.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

“The work done by Greta Thunberg and school students around the world has been inspirational. Now it’s time for the rest of us to catch up.

“As trade unionists it is important that we raise awareness of the impact of climate change, and we hope delegates in Brighton will back our motion. If workers don’t take a stand against climate change and speak with a united voice on the importance of a just transition, then multi-national corporations and anti-worker governments will simply take decisions without us.”

Jake Woodier from the UK Student Climate Network said:

“In the context of the ever-worsening climate crisis, it’s essential that workers are at the forefront of fighting for a just transition.

“That the UCU has put forward this motion to be heard at the TUC congress shows the trade union movement the direction it should be heading in – working in solidarity with those putting most pressure on government and those in positions of power to act now before it’s too late.”

The motion being heard at the union movement’s annual congress reads:

Congress notes:

  1. the Earth’s temperature has already risen by one degree above pre-industrial levels. The autumn IPCC report warned that we only have 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees. Carbon emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 and reach zero carbon by 2050 in order to avoid a dangerous tipping point
  2. the tremendous impact of the school students strikes in shifting government complacency over climate change forcing them to amend the 2008 Climate Change Act
  3. Greta Thunberg’s call for a Climate Strike and for adults and workers to join the global school students strike on the 20th September which will begin a week of action on climate
  4. the solidarity strikes organised by trade unions in Belgium and France. 

Congress believes: 

  1. climate change is a trade union issue
  2. that the future of our planet is at risk if we don’t organise now to force governments to cut emissions in line with the IPCC report
  3. that taxing the very wealthy and closing tax loopholes in line with Labour Party manifesto commitments will meet the cost of cutting emissions
  4. that we must keep the pressure up. The school students have led the way but educators and the trade union movement as a whole must now act to ensure that they don’t fight alone.

Congress resolves:

  • The TUC to call a 30-minute workday solidarity stoppage to coincide with the global school student strike on the 20th September.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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Inside a disastrous couple of days for Boris Johnson’s Brexit brigade

You have to say that “I’d rather die in a ditch”, is rather less-Churchillian than “do or die”. And the odds of Boris Johnson leaving office in 2019 are now 6-4, when in June he blustered that the chances of No Deal were a “million to one against.”

But’s that’s the way this week has gone for the Prime Minister, with the abrupt resignation of his own brother Jo coming on top of a series of highly-damaging Parliamentary defeats and the emergence of the new “Rebel Alliance”.

While most of the speculation is about when a General Election will take place, the only real solution to the problem that is crippling the UK’s political (and much normal) life is a People’s Vote. More and more MPs are again calling out that it’s what we need.

We have been saying all summer that it’s Time To Be Heard. There will be protests around the country this weekend and our massive march will take place on Saturday October 19 in London and the People’s Vote message continues to be the only one that makes sense amidst the madness.

Next Friday September 13th, the people of Newport in Wales get the opportunity to give a full-throated backing to a People’s Vote. For your free tickets, click here.

Johnson told to ditch “overmighty advisers” as brother’s resignation piles on the pressure

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson last night for kicking out of the party the men and women of “character and courage” who sacrificed their careers to do the right thing for their country and constituents in blocking No Deal.

And in a direct attack on Johnson’s right hand man Dominic Cummings he urged him to ditch his “overmighty advisers” before politics is “poisoned beyond repair”.

Mr John told the CBI in Glasgow last night that “we need Government of the highest quality, not Government by bluster and threat in a climate of aggressive bullying.” He warned against the rise of English nationalism and his fears for the Union.

His comments came as Johnson’s own brother Jo quit the front bench after the sacking of 21 rebels this week, saying he had been torn between “family loyalty and the national interest.”

More Conservative MPs continued to resign due to divisions in the party, with former party chair Dame Caroline Spelman saying “I can’t be pro-No Deal when I’ve seen the predictions about what will happen to jobs. And Northern Ireland minister Nick Hurd said he would not stand again.”

Veteran MP Sir Michael Fallon – a Johnson supporter –  announced he will stand down at the next election this morning on the BBC’s Today programme, but called for an amnesty for rebels. He warned that the Conservative Party could lose many Remain supporters in future.

The shifting sands of allegiances in the Commons are making it more and more difficult for Boris Johnson to govern – and add to the uncertainty if and when there is a General Election.

But a destructive No Deal is not yet off the table – and that remains the highest priority.

Labour and Opposition parties set to push back on early election

It is looking more and more likely that Labour and other Opposition parties will work together to once again reject Boris Johnson’s attempt to call a snap General Election on Monday.

Jeremy Corbyn will host a conference call with other leaders today to discuss strategy as the Government prepares to hold a second vote for an election on Monday.

The current view seems to be that opponents to No Deal will hold back from a poll until Boris Johnson has been forced to humiliatingly go back to Europe asking for an extension to Article 50. The SNP have indicated that they would support Labour in this position.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told BBC’s Question Time: “No, we’re not going to support Boris Johnson because – what we want to do more than anything else, in our hearts, in our bones we want a general election of course we do – but at the moment the emergency is we have a dishonest Prime Minister who will use every means possible to get us out of the European Union without a deal.”

She told the BBC’s Today programme this morning: “We need to get this immediate crisis dealt with first.” She promised a People’s Vote after an election to settle the Brexit issue “once and for all”.

During the PM’s controversial visit to a Yorkshire police training academy, he said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than go back to the EU to ask for an extension, which Labour believes could force him to break his promise – or break the law.

One Wakefield passer-by told the Prime Minister he “should be in Brussels, negotiating.” Another told him bluntly: “Get out of my town.” It is an indicator of how divisive a General Election could be while Brexit remains unresolved.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned last night that the UK may not get a “clean break” Brexit and deep division over the EU will dominate UK politics for “many years to come”.

“The story of Brexit does not end if the United Kingdom leaves on 31st October or even January 31st — there is no such thing as a clean break,” Varadkar told the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. “Rather, we just enter a new phase.”

Rees-Mogg forced to apologise to top doctor

Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise last night after comparing the consultant who helped draw up No Deal medical plans to the disgraced ant-vaccine campaigner Andrew Wakefield.

The chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies called his comments “disgraceful” and the BMA joined the chorus of criticism of top neurologist David Nicholl who threatened to sue Rees-Mogg if he repeated the comments outside Parliament.

The two clashed earlier in the week on LBC Radio when Dr Nicholl challenged Rees-Mogg over how many fatalities were acceptable in the event of a destructive No Deal.

It’s clear that Brexit must be put to the people. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the People’s Vote campaign. Sign up to volunteer today. 

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What makes a rebel sackable?

The Tory Party have lost 21 MPs over one rebellious vote on Brexit. But were these MPs serial rebels? were they more or less rebellious than those currently serving in Boris Johnson’s cabinet?

Looking at the excellent data at The Public Whip it is quite clear that the current cabinet were not always so loyal nor those cast out of the Conservative Party always so rebellious.

In general most MPs don’t rebel against their parties very often. They are elected on a manifesto and take that seriously. So a career average of between 0.5% and 1.5% rebellions is fairly standard. Or at least it was before Brexit. But since the last election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has built up a hefty 2% rebellion rate. One can assume this will go down now he’s actually in charge, but then he did vote on Wednesday to hold an election he claims he doesn’t want. So maybe that should count.

Take – for example – Jacob Rees Mogg, who voted against Brexit, in the only form it has so far been offered to Parliament (that of Theresa May’s deal) twice. That’s twice more than many of the rebels. Rees Mogg has a career average of rebelling 4.8% of the time.

Instead of being punished for being a block to Brexit or a serial rebel, he’s now in charge of the business of the house of commons. Though on current evidence it can’t be saying he’s doing a job his boss can be particularly pleased with. But it must be exceedingly hard to be taken seriously as a leader of a house you have rebelled against so often – even if he were to sit up straight.

On the other side is Antoinette Sandbach MP. Who Brexit has taken from a previous career average of 0.3% rebellious to a whopping 12.6% since the 2017 election and the loss of her whip.

The most interesting outlier is the inexplicable case of Nicky Morgan who – after being sacked by Theresa May went from an average of 0.5% overall to 7.1% largely on Brexit-based votes. But today she retains the whip, is serving in the cabinet and has been heard today using the somewhat loaded term “Surrender Bill” to describe the legislation her former anti-Brexit comrades laid down their careers for.

The truth is, the whip has always been somewhat at the whim of the leader. Most used it discreetly aware that a threat is only as good as its promise and in a long parliament its promise only works once.

But neither Boris Johnson nor his advisor-cum-wrecker Dominic Cummings have ever been described as discreet. They have already lost their majority and every vote they have called. How much more are they willing to inflict on the Tory Party and themselves?

Emma Burnell is a freelance journalist with Left Foot Forward and a communcations consultant. 

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Pay Inequality in housebuilders exemplifies our broken economic system

On Thursday, Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, led a Commons debate on the UK’songoing housing crisis on the back of our new High Pay Centre report exposing the shocking scale of pay inequality among the UK’s biggest housing firms.

The report shows that the ten FTSE 350 housebuilding companies spent £150m on executive pay last year. The median pay award for these firms’ CEOs was £2.113m, producing a pay ratio with the average UK construction worker of 89:1.

The worst offenders were all in the FTSE 100: Persimmon (1561:1), Berkeley (331:1), Taylor Wimpey (126:1), and Barratt (113:1).

We also found that it would take the average UK construction worker 92 years to pay for the average UK house price and 19 years to save for the deposit. But the average FTSE 350 housebuilding company CEO could buy 28 houses outright in 1 year and, over 92 years, 2,576 homes.


It’s worth pointing out that the housing crisis is, of course, the result of nearly forty years of structural policy and market failure in land use, the planning system, council housing, and affordable homes. But our findings raise serious questions about the value that these companies are delivering
for wider society.

Our report shows that’s wrong with corporate capitalism and why public trust in the UK’s most prestigious firms is so low. Such inequality is wrong in and of itself. It’s just one example to show why the UK’s current economic and political settlement is unsustainable.

Housing is supposed to be a public good, not just an asset for a handful of lucky executives, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, to feather their nests.

The housing crisis and the role of the housebuilding firms in it shine a spotlight on the basic problem. Companies should be run in the interest of society and not just to produce value for shareholders or payouts for executives.

Homelessness is a national embarrassment. As the Public Accounts Committee recently showed, the government is failing to meet its target of 300,000 new homes per year by a country mile. Over a million people are on a housing waiting list. Tens of thousands of families are trapped in temporary accommodation and thousands are in B&Bs.

Further, housing share prices have been artificially propped up by the inflationary effects of George Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme.

Let’s be fair. Reducing pay inequality in big corporate firms will not solve these problems alone. But pay inequality shows that the culture and priorities of UK corporate governance are misplaced.

Reducing CEO pay would show that UK business has the right priorities and that its interests are aligned with those of wider society.

Dr Ashley Walsh is Head of Policy and Research at the High Pay Centre. All figures in this blog are fully referenced in their report.

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Why Labour should bring May’s deal back from the dead

Last night in parliament, a handful of Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies, passed an amendment to the rebel bill, almost without anyone noticing. The group, ‘Labour MPs for a deal’, led by Stephen Kinnock, hope to resurrect Theresa May’s three times dispatched Withdrawal Agreement. The amendment places an obligation on parliament to hold a fourth vote on the ‘deal’, stating that the purpose for further delay was to seek further time to see it passed.

Its passage still seems unlikely. The Government and Opposition remain opposed and it’s extremely unlikely that any of the parties would include it in their manifestos in the event of a snap election. But the amendment may provide a last opportunity for compromise, at a time when divisions between Leave and Remain are hardening. With the rebel bill leaving the Johnson government hamstrung, Labour MPs could be the architects of a new settlement. One that delivers on the referendum result, while keeping to the party’s Brexit red lines.

Reviving the seemingly doomed deal would be far from miracle work. The group believes, quite rightly, that there was, and still is a majority in parliament for the agreement. Kinnock himself predicts that as many as 50 Labour MPs could vote in favour, a number that may just have seen it carried back in March.

At that time, however, Labour had introduced a three-line whip against the deal. The threat of deselection loomed over MPs’ heads. Labour MPs keen to get a Brexit deal over the line, were loath to put their necks on it. This was even more understandable when the government itself was unsure it had sufficient numbers on its own benches.

However, even in March, as MPs voted on the Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, there were glimmers of hope. Labour’s Lisa Nandy (representing the Leave-voting Wigan) had co-authored an amendment giving parliament much greater leverage over further EU negotiations. Cross-party talks had stagnated, but the government had conceded strong protections on workers’ rights and the environment, inviting anger from its own benches.

A deal on these terms would have represented compromise in its truest sense. Compromise between those that wished to leave the bloc and those that wished to retain close economic ties. Instead, parliament preoccupied itself with a series of indicative votes. It was ultimately an exercise in futility and produced no compromise at all.

By May, the Prime Minister had announced her intention to step aside, and Boris Johnson, banging the drum for No Deal, had emerged as her likely successor. Tory MPs were seduced by his assertion that willpower alone would be enough to draw considerable further concessions from the EU. But his threats to leave without a deal, and his playing fast and loose with parliament, has since sharpened minds.

The rebel bill has stopped a disastrous No Deal, but only temporarily. If we are to find a way out of Brexit purgatory, then MPs will still have to come up with an alternative to Johnson’s brinkmanship. We know MPs are opposed to his strategy, but as the indicative votes showed, it’s unclear what exactly they’re for. Alternatives such as Common Market 2.0 and a customs union were rejected by MPs; revocation of Article 50 remains unconscionable to an overwhelming majority, and with no guarantee it will produce a decisive majority for Leave or Remain, a second referendum will only lead to further division. We are led then, back to Theresa May’s seemingly dead and buried deal.

With the government’s hands now tied, Labour MPs (along with Conservative rebels) can wrestle control over Brexit from the government. The Kinnock amendment will provide a fresh opportunity to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. It will also allow space to legislate for the strongest protections for workers’ rights and the environment anywhere in the EU, and a commitment to close alignment with the EU on trade. It could even provide a caveat for a second referendum further down the line.

As the last five months have shown, there is no parliamentary majority for an alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement. None of the proposed alternatives would be a compromise or provide space to heal the country’s divisions. Labour should breathe new life into May’s deal.

Zachary Hardman is a freelance writer based in London

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Four reasons to fear a Boris-Trump trade deal

As Vice President Mike Pence meets Boris Johnson today, both parties have made it clear that a key priority will be a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK the US.

While a US trade deal has questionable economic benefits to the UK (particularly when compared to staying in the EU), the political motivations are clear: a deal with the US would be a middle-finger to Brussels, a way of ‘Global Britain’ saying that we no longer need our European partners.

For ordinary individuals and civil society, there is much to fear from a US trade deal.

The deal is a threat to the NHS and public services

This is probably the most controversial and politicised aspect of a UK-US trade deal. The Conservatives’ Health and Social Care Act means that NHS contracts are already open to private tendering, but trade deals have the capacity to ‘lock in’ privatisation through ‘standstill’ and ‘ratchet’ clauses. These clauses make it very difficult for governments – such as a future Labour administration – to reverse privatisation measures without being challenged by other parties to the trade agreement.

Furthermore, the US will undoubtedly push for access to valuable patient data, a “treasure trove of data for developers of next-generation medical devices”for its big tech firms. New e-commerce rules in trade deals could prevent the government from insisting that this data is held in the UK, and there are concerns that this could compromise data privacy.

Donald Trump has already voiced his irritation towards the impact of NHS purchasing on drug prices, which he believes harms US pharmaceutical firms. This could see medicine prices rising for patients and the British taxpayer. While Boris has said that the NHS is not on the table, the nature of trade agreements mean that the privatisation of the NHS and impact on ordinary patients is very real.

A US deal would impact on food standards and agriculture

Britain has high standards on food and animal health and welfare, partly thanks to EU membership. The US, on the other hand, has a completely different approach to standards and regulations. While the EU adopts the ‘precautionary principle’ to rule out hazardous goods and practices, the US tends to have a more business-first approach. This has led to a number of policy differences in the US, including:

  • Chlorine washing chicken, which is used to mask poor treatment of animals and unhygienic conditions, has been shown to fail bacteria tests, and might contribute to the US’s poisoning incidence being up to 10 times higher than the UK’s.
  • Hormone fed meat, which is banned in the EU and has uncertain health impacts.
  • The routine use of antibiotics which increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance
  • GM crops; the use of sow stalls; battery-farming of chickens; the use of pesticides banned in the EU for their impact on pollinators, soil and water; and more.

Lower standards are unpopular with the British public:An IPPR survey found that 82% of people favour retaining high food standards to having a trade deal with the US. Nonetheless, the US has prioritised access to the UK food market in its negotiating objectives. This will be a big priority for large US agri-food businesses, and a real threat if the UK is desperate to secure a deal after Brexit.

A US deal could give power to corporate courts and threaten environmental regulation

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in a US trade deal would allow US investors to sue the UK for any measures which they consider to have harmed their profits. These expensive cases take place in secretive arbitration courts. ISDS is especially concerning because it has often been used to challenge environmental policy. For example, German authorities amended laws on pollution following a challenge by Swedish energy firm Vattenfall; US chemicals firm Dow sued Canada over a ban on the pesticide 2,4-D; and many challenges have been brought by Western mining firms against developing countries.

Furthermore, there is a fear that regulation is ‘chilled’ even when ISDS claims are not brought. The threat of a potential claim encourages governments to think twice before introducing important policies, since they face a potential bill if successfully challenged. The UK has committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is very difficult to see how that is consistent with ISDS in a UK-US trade deal.

MPs get no guaranteed say on a US trade deal

Despite the wide range of policy areas which could be affected by a US trade deals, the UK still uses an archaic convention dating back to the 1930s which limits the role of Parliament in scrutinising trade agreements. This means MPs don’t get a guaranteed vote, there are no updates during negotiations and they do not get to see the content of trade deals until they are already signed. Parliamentary committees have recently got very angry about this, but the government has refused to budge. In the same way that MPs had to fight hard for a meaningful say on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, MPs will need to prioritise trade deal scrutiny after Brexit. Otherwise, the concerns of civil society and the wider public will not be democratically represented, and it will be very difficult to stop Boris forcing through a US deal without scrutiny.

David Lawrence is Senior Political Adviser at the Trade Justice Movement, working on Brexit and a future US trade deal. The Trade Justice Movement is a coalition of sixty civil society organisations calling for trade rules that work for people and planet. He can be heard discussing this further on the latest episode of the Remain and Reform Podcast.

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Emperor Boris Johnson revealed his new clothes at PMQs – and it wasn’t pretty

Emperor Boris paraded to the despatch box to proudly show us his new clothes at his first PMQS.

His reputation for oratory and charisma, so crucial to bulldozing his leadership through the internal contest, was shown up as a sham. 

Confronted by a newly fired-up Corbyn, Johnson flailed under sustained questioning about his Brexit plan.

Corbyn’s request for transparency on leaked predictions of food and medicine shortages from his own Government were simply ignored.

Reports that his inner circle are only feigning negotiation with the EU and there is no real alternative to no deal under consideration were also met with bluster.

The best Boris could muster was a groan-worthy gag about the opposition leader being “Caracas”, worthy of Widow Twanky.

Johnson attempted to channel some gravitas from Thatcher by accusing the Labour leader of being “frit” of a general election. 

Flip-flopping on whether or not he wants to go to the polls, the Tory backtracked on his own words from less than 24 hours ago that he did not want an election.

It’s fair to say Corbyn has executed his own screeching handbrake turn by applying the brakes on an election he previously prioritised.

But trust in this prime minister to act with honour has been haemorrhaging since his decision to try to crush opposition to a no deal Brexit by proroguing parliament.

And the rot has reached deep into his own party with the decision to expel 21 former colleagues last night, including the Father of the House and the former Chancellor.  

The Prime Minister’s weak jibe that Corbyn was a “chlorinated chicken” merely left Johnson looking like the roaster.

Charisma is not enough to cover the depth of the crisis Boris finds himself in, and every parliamentary appearance leaves him further exposed.  

Jennifer McKiernan is Editor of Jenesis.News and a lobby journalist.

See also: “Sh*t or bust? It looks like Boris Johnson lied in his first PMQs

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